The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate
Publication Dates: 1867-1965

A Historical Sketch - by Rev. R.W. Chesnut

Our church magazine has never held as popular a place in the Church as it should have held. Indeed, from the beginning of our denomination, the church magazine has been treated as a matter of secondary importance. Many subjects received due attention, but we search in vain for any evidence that a church paper of any kind was ever thought of as an essential in the life and usefulness of the Church, as an educator in the social and spiritual life of the Church.

From the beginning of our history records were kept, but for years no mention is made of any established medium through which the leaders of the Church could communicate with the membership. The first that we have found is mentioned in connection with the publication of the "Pastoral Letter," which led to discussion iin 1832. Synod recommended that the "Letter" be discussed through the medium of the American Christian Expositor, so that every member of Synod might have knowledge of its contents and avail himself of the importance of the discussion. For this reason we infer that hte Expositor was the medium through which the members of the Church were kept informed of the progress and work of the organizatio of which they were members; but there seems to be no evidence that it was recognized as the official Church paper.

The next publication of importance in the Church was The Banner of the Covenant. When it was first published is not clear to us. In looking over the copies in our hands, published in 1850, we find a very excellent magazine, for each month of the year; but the volume is not mentioned, and also in later years we find this same omission. This was a serious error; hence, we cannot determine the date of the first issue. However, it was published regularly until the disaffection of 1868, and because of the dispute that culminated at that time another magazine was started in 1866, called the Reformed Presbyterian Advocate. The Advocate has now reached its 85th year in A.D. 1951. [Volume 1, Number 1 was dated January, 1867. The final issue of the Advocate was Volume 99, Number 2, dated February, 1965.]

During all these years many changes have been made, and sometimes its life has been despaired of, even by its best friends.

The Advocate was first published by Dr. David Steele, pastor of the Fourth church of Philadelphia. Rev. Nevin Woodside, of Brooklyn, was his able partner. The printing was done by George S. Ferguson, 25 North Sixth Street, Philadelphia. The printing was of an excellent quality and, under conditions throughout the Church, the Advocate was the bond that bound together the varoius congregations of General Synod. Its monthly visits were welcomed by all who appreciated good, wholesome reading in their homes. The subscription was $1.50 per year.

At a later date Revs. J.Y. Boice and J.F. Morton became the Editors, but the printing was done in Philadelphia so the editorial burden fell on Dr. Boice until 1891.

In 1890 Rev. John Graham, pastor of the First church of Philadelphia, began to publish a small paper for the benefit of his own congregation. This was soon merged with the Advocate, under the title of the Advocate and Ensign. Revs. Boice and Graham carefully considered the merger, and Rev. Graham addressed General Synod on the matter. See Minutes of 1891.

It was resolved that a committee of three be appointed to take the matter under immediate consideration and report to the present Synod. This committee offered the following recommendations (See page 80, Minutes of 1891):
1. The importance of providing a paper devoted to the interests of our own Church should not be called in question.
2. That the Editors should be fully sustained in their pecuniary responsibilities and in no case be left to the exigencies of a vacillating subscription list.
3. That to secure this a stock company be formed, consisting of such persons in our various congregations as, for the sake of the Church, will enter into its constitution.
4. That the committee be authorized to select or unite such persons to formation of such a company; the company to be called "The Advocate and Ensign Association of the Reformed Presbyterian Church."
5. That it shall be the duty of such association to secure the publication by supplementing any deficiency resulting from the want of subscriptions or delinquents in payment of their subscriptions.
6. That an agent be provided in each congregation to secure subscriptions and look to the local interests of the paper in the congregation for which he is appointed.
Resolved, that the report be approved and that hereafter The Advocate and Ensign appear in pamphlet form. The name of Robert Abbot was added to the committee, and the name of Mr. Thomas Gibson was substituted for Dr. Morton.
Resolved, that 200 shares of stock in the Advocate and Ensign at $5 a share be issued by the committee, and that the new paper be issued every two weeks, or twice a month.

In expectation of these resolutions being carried out, the price of the subscriptions was lowered to $1 per year.

During the year absolutely nothing was done by the committee, and the Synod never took any action at any later date. Synod at that time practically abandoned all efforts to help the Church paper, and left it to the tender mercies of whoever might come to the rescue. Hence, Rev. Graham, being a young man with some experience, ability, and ambition, entered the work heartily. But on learning the facts, both he and Dr. Boice were ready to turn the whole matter over to anyone who would take it.

During the summer of 1892 Revs. Boice and Graham handed over the mailing list to Rev. R.W. Chesnut, pastor of the Marissa congregatin, who undertook the work. He had no experience in printing or editorial work, and his only asset was a will and determination to do the seeminly impossible.

He agreed to publish two issues each month, containing twenty pages each, with covers; or forty-four pages each month. The first issue was mailed out in September, 1892. The type was all set by hand. Soon after beginning the work the principal compositor became sick, help was scarce, and the Editor was obliged to learn typesetting and continue the work when necessary for three years. He thus became printer as well as Editor. Thus, by peculiar circumstances, he became the only available printer in General Synod, who was able to publish the Advocate on his own responsibility.

Our Church Magazine (Concluded) by Rev. Robert W. Chesnut, Ph.D.

In 1895 I borrowed $100 and bought a small printing plant on the installment plan and undertook a new adventure. From this time until December 1897, the subscriptions paid fo the Advocate, and the job work paid for the installments on the plant. However, through the stress of adverse circumstances, it seemed that a change was necessary; and as there is always someone to take up anything that seems to be prospering, Rev. Thomas Peebles, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, bought the plant and the good will was thrown in for good measure. He was a very able man and so far as his work was concerned no man could have done better; but knowing nothing about printing or machinery, he was obliged to take the printer's word, who claimed that the press was not as represented. Payment was refused but the machinery held. This state of affairs continued for two years, when I took a new way of settling the trouble. I again borrowed one hundred dollars, bought another plant, and started another magazine. The Witness was larger than the Advocate. One year of this changed Mr. Peebles' mind and the plant was returned, on condition that I pay the freight. A few minutes' work with the wrench made the presss as good as new. "All is well that ends well."

The Advocate and Witness were combined under the title of the Witness and Missionary Advocate.
The combined mailing list was much reduced from its former size. Disagreements are usually unprofitable.

The Synod never took any part in or gave any advice in this matter. Our slogan was "Orthodoxy vs. Heterodoxy" and we pressed forward. In 1904 Synod decided to remain doctrinally a Reformation Church.

Soon after this the title Advocate was restored to our church magazine and we passed through some interesting and profitable experiences. But because of the unsettled conditions in some parts of the Church, the Advocate had some trying days aheasd, and the gains of the past decade were mostly lost. Just when it seemed that progress was being made in all lines, a general discontent and the "Church union" craze had begun its work of destruction.

Union with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. was the disturbing element. In 1903 a committee of five, one from each Presbytery, was appointed. The members were as follows: Dr. David Steele, Rev. James D. Steele, Rev. Thomas Watters, Rev. David McKinney, and rev. R.W. Chesnut. The first four gentlemen were all for union, and they were all trained in ecclesiastical politics. The fifth member was in favor of discussing the merits of the whole subject in the Advocate, that all mgiht know what we should do in such an important decision. It was soon discovered that some of those who had been our most trusted and loyal leaders were in favor of a union with an unorthodox body that was offering us inducements that they were not able to fulfill, putting us to a disadvantage. Thus the struggle began, and in the end, church union was defeated. This led to other matters that brought about the defection of the New York and Vermont Presbytery in 1905 and 1906. In the midst of these trials unavoidable circumstances made it necessary to turn the Advocate over to Mr. S.C. Wright of Cedarville, Ohio. He was a printer with sufficient equipment to do all the necessary work and considered the man of the hour.

The subscriptions at that time numbered about 360. The agreement was made in December 1909 without the advice or counsel of anyone--as usual. Up to this time General Synod had never contributed to the support of the Advocate financially or shown any special favors; and Mr. Wright soon discovered in his new job that his "bed was so short that he cou;ld not stretch himself in it, and the covers were so narrow that he could not wrap himself in them." This led him to appear through a representative at the Synod of 1911 and ask for an annual subsidy of $250. This was cheerfully granted and always promptly paid; but later it proved to be insufficient. Later the Advocate was placed into the hands of Professors Jurkat and McChesney. They did the work well until 1918, although the financial burden was too heavy for them to bear.

In 1917 Prof. McChesney asked the writer to take up the work as publisher again, for the third time. I asked for a year to consider the matter, and in 1918 took the Advocate again with the understanding that Synod would continue the annual subsidy. However, this made it necessary to buy another printing plant, which this time I was able to do without borrowing.

Our home was now in Philadelphia, where we lived until October, 1919. At that time we returned to Duanesburg to take up the second pastorate of that congregation, and become preacher, farmer, and rpinter. Here the work was carried on until 1945, when the work was given up for good because of age and physical infirmities.

At this point Mr. J.W. Graham of Industry, Penna., took up the work and carried it on through many difficulties and with considerable efficiency. Mr. Graham resigned at the Synod of 1951 and Rev. Harry H. Meiners, pastor of the Duanesburg congregation, was appointed his successor as Editor and Publisher.

But what about the future? During all these years I do not remember that General Synod has taken such action as appointing an Editor, except its grant of a subsidy as mentioned above. These two actions of Synod's showing its responsibility for the church magazine are worthy of special mention. Keeping in mind the foregoing, we shall call the attention of our readers to a few facts that are worhty of their serious consideration. While the Synod of 1911 paid its appropriation and other obligations, meeting the cost of composition, paper, and Advocate mailing costs, there was a large amount of labor either to employ or to be done by the publisher. This was such work as making up the forms, all the printing press work, folding, assembling, binding, trimming, mailing, and all business accounting and correspondence. This was done tby the publisher and his family during three periods of time covering thirty-five years, for which he and family never made any charges or recieved a penny. The Editor received $75 salary annually. This work at a low cost was about $20 a month, or $240 a year, during those times. Now multiply that by thirty-five years and you will have the value in labor, from 1900 to 1909 and from 1918 to 1945. This is the reason why you will notice in the annual reports to Synod that the Advocate was issued all these years for $30 to $35 a month, and also the reason why others not so favorably situated could not do the work any cheaper than it has been done. This is why the Advocate survived at all. All who have tried the work have done their best and deserve our appreciation.

When I began the publishing of the magazine the third time there were only 191 paying subscriptions on the list.

The new Editor has our sympathy and should have the help of every member of General Synod. The subscription price must be raised to $2 per year to put it on a sounder financial basis. Nothing else will put it on an equal footing with other magazines and give it a chance to live and grow. Its life and the life of hte Church depends on it. To follow our old policy will ruin any business.

Again, the Advocate should not have to be hunting a new home every few years. In the past sixtyyears it has had to seek a new home in five states: Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and New York.

This sketch until 1892 is historically correct; from that time until the present it is a matter of facts observed through personal experience.

With thanks for the past and brighter hopes for the future.

Yours very truly,

Rev. R.W. Chesnut, Ph.D.

[reprinted from the Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, Volume 85, No. 10 (October 1951) pages 79-80 and Vol. 85, No. 11 (November 1951), pages 95-96].

In a subsequent issue of the Advocate, the Rev. Charles B. Holliday, Editor from November 1956 - December 1959, wrote the following account on the future of the Advocate:


The January issue of the Reformed Presbyterian Advocate will mark a new milestone in its publication. Not only will it be the beginning of the 94th year of publication, but the entire format will be new and enlarged. The Advocate and The Witness will be combined. The Witness is published in Willow Grove, PA by Dr. Richard Gray pastor of the Calvary Presbyterian Church (Reformed Presbyterian). The name of the Advocate will be used. In addition to the combining of the two magazines a clsoe cooperation will be maintained with the Bible Presbyterian Reporter which will give us a much larger source of material and cut publication cost.

The Reverence Harry H. Meiners, former pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Duanesburg, NY and also editor of the Advocate from August 1951 to October 1956 will assuem the duties of editor. This appointment was made last May by the General Synod meeting in Philadelphia.

The retiring editor would like to express his appreciation to the Reverence Carl A. Stewart who served as Church News Editor, the local church news reproters and subscription representatives of the various congregations, and the pastors for their contribution of articles. Mr. Maurice Jackson of the Jackson Church Press has been most helpful and cooperative in the publication of the Advocate in Pittsburgh.

We are looking forward to a larger and better Advocate. this can be achieved as we all work together and give our full support and cooperation to the new editor. His address is 1818 Missouri Avenue, Las Cruces, New Mexico. All news items, articles and subscriptions should be sent to him.

[reprinted from the December 1959 issue of the Reformed Presbyterian Advocate (Vol. 93, No. 10)]







©PCA Historical Center, 12330 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO, 2011. All Rights Reserved.