Westminster Confession of Faith CHAP. XXI. –

Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath-day.

I. The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. (Rom. 1:20, Acts 17:24, Psalm 69:68, Jer. 10:7, Psalm 31:23, Psalm 18:3, Rom. 10:12, Psalm 62:8, Josh. 24:14, Mark 12:33) But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture. (Deut. 12:32, Matt. 15:9, Act 17:25, Matt. 4:9-10, Deut. 15:1-20, Exod. 20:4-6, Col. 2:23)

II. Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone;(Matt. 4:10, John 5:23, 2 Cor. 13:14) not to angels, saints, or any other creature: (Col. 2:18, Rev. 19:10, Rom. 1:25) and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone. (John 14:6, 1 Tim. 2:5, Col.3:17)

III. Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, (Phil. 4:6) is by God required of all men: (Psalm 65:2) and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, (John 14:13-14, 1 Pet. 2:5) by the help of his Spirit,(Rom. 8:26) according to his will, (1 John 5:14) with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; (Psalm 47:7, Eccl. 5:1-2, Heb. 12:28, Gen. 18:27, James 5:16, James 1:6-7, Mark 11:24, Matt. 6:12-15, Col. 4:2, Eph 6:18) and, if vocal, in a known tongue. (1 Cor. 14:14)

IV. Prayer is to be made for things lawful; (1John 5:14) and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter: (1Tim. 2:1-2, John 17:20, 2 Sam. 7:29, Ruth 4:12) but not for the dead, (2 Sam. 12:21-23,Luke 16:25-26, Rev. 14:13) nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death. (1 John 5:16)

V. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.

VI. Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshiped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself; so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by his Word or providence, calleth thereunto.

VII. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian sabbath.

VIII. This sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11
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A Pastoral Letter

Letterkenny Co. Donegal 25th March 2020

Dear friends across the denomination

These are strange and bewildering times in which we live. How suddenly our world has been brought to a standstill by Covid-19. Drastic measures have had to be taken and everyone’s life has been radically impacted. We have no sense of what the long term outcomes will be personally, socially, emotionally, economically, or in a host of other areas.  

Who would have thought that that which we love to do so much—to physically gather together to worship and to fellowship—would be something we would have to forego for a time for the welfare of each other and society. It deeply grieves ministers and elders to have to have taken these sorts of decisions. We feel like the Psalmist “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD” (Psalm 84:2)

Yet despite all the uncertainty, we can be certain that Christ is head over all things, including this pandemic, for the sake of the church (Eph. 1:22). This pandemic has not caught him unawares, nor will it exhaust his supplies of grace.

When I chose as my theme for Synod’s devotions last June “The Unlikely Ways of God” I had no concept of what lay ahead. We thought on how God often works in ways that are contrary to the world, contrary to perceived wisdom, and even contrary in appearance to the very goals at which he is aiming at. Yet God has a track record of going about his work in the unlikeliest of ways. So in the midst of these strange times let us expect God to work in unlikely ways. 

I long for us to come out of this testing time stronger as individuals, stronger as churches, and stronger as a denomination, recounting how God has become more precious to us, and how we have seen God at work in us, in our families and in our communities.

Let me urge each of you to respond in five ways: • to Trust • to Pray • to Grow • to Care • to Witness

A Call to Trust We live in a world which has had its foundations rocked, where people are deeply afraid. Fear is natural, but we can bring something supernatural to our fear—faith. The old Scottish preacher Alexander MacLaren said, “Fear, then, is the opportunity for faith, and faith is fear transformed by… calling to mind the strength of God and betaking ourselves thereto.”

Let us turn our eyes from the things which cause us to fear, and turn them to the God who stands at the Cross, where his love and commitment to our good are written in the blood of his Son. 

Our world needs to see that we have a hope that nothing, not even the uncertainties of Covid-19, nor the inside of an Intensive Care Unit, can take away—for we can say with Moses, “But the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you” (Deut 23:5). 

Let us also trust him for the spread of the gospel. Since Christ is head over all things for the good of the church—let us expect, pray, and work that the gospel will spread through this, and that there will be more people coming to our churches when we regather once this is over. 

A Call to Prayer “ Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Col 4:2

How often I have said to myself that I would love to pray more, but time is eaten up by other things. Now we have a golden opportunity to grow in our prayer lives. 

Let our prayers be marked by  • a growing worship of our Triune God • a searching of our own hearts and a confessing of our sins • a pleading for our nations that they would turn to God in repentance and faith. That God will use the proclamation of his word in many different ways to build his church. • an urgent supplication for those sick and ill, those involved in treating them and keeping hospitals and medical practices running, those tracing contacts, those involved in keeping essential services running (farmers, shop-keepers, hauliers), for those in government, the vulnerable and afraid, the elderly in nursing homes or isolated in their own homes, etc

Day of Prayer  But this must be bigger than simply our own prayer lives. For that reason I am calling on all members and adherents and whomever may wish to join us to set apart Thursday 2nd April as a denominational Day of Prayer and Fasting for the state of the Church, the Nation and the World. 

A Call to Grow “Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil…” Eph 5:16

This is a time when many of us have time. Let us aim to come out of this stronger in our walk with God than when we started it. There are many resources being made available. Let us take time to read, watch, listen, and to meditate on God’s word. 

There are many things you could do—from the pile of unread books, to working through each occurrence of a phrase/theme from scripture (eg. Do not fear, But God, He is able, or

pride), to watching some of the series of free teaching available from Ligonier and other places. 

I wish to make a special plea to our young people—these days are a gift to you. Use these days to deepen your walk with God, to prepare yourself further for living in this world, to be ready to witness to your friends who will have many questions. And for those of you who haven’t yet put your trust in Christ—now is the time to consider seriously where you will spend eternity.  

A Call to Care “ Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” Gal 6:2

This is an opportunity to think creatively about or fellowship within our congregations. Let’s make sure that we don’t leave anyone behind—not everyone is digitally connected, and those that aren’t are often the most isolated in this situation. 

It is also an opportunity to care for our communities. Are there ways we can be involved, picking up shopping, phoning those who are alone? Christians have the highest example and greatest command to love our neighbour—we should be known as the most caring. 

A Call to Witness The good news of Jesus is always needed and relevant but people around us are more aware than usual that they are not as invincible as they once thought. 

Let us make the most of every opportunity to speak with compassionate grace seasoned with gospel salt. Let us be courageous, offering ourselves for conversation, Bible study and prayer. 

It is my great desire and longing that when we gather after this, that there will be new people coming to our churches, people who have come to faith through our witness in all its forms. 

Finally, may you know God’s care and provision for you and your families in these days ahead. Remember Him who said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) 

And remembering that Paul wrote these words from isolation in prison while facing death: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:4-7)

Every blessing in Christ,

Mark

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11
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THE LORD MY PROVIDER “The Lord is my portion, says my soul.”

“And my God will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philip. 4:19

The anxious care of yesterday has expanded into the pressing need of today. The trouble that was near has come, and the need you anticipated is urgent. Be it so. The life God intends His people should live is not one of sight but of faith, not one for tomorrow but for today. For the most part, He will allow them to have nothing in hand, lest it should mar the simplicity, and so interfere with the operation of their faith. Like the poor widow whose little oil God increased by Elisha, we are often led to exclaim–“Your handmaid has nothing in the house but a jar of oil.” Our dear Lord recognized our daily life of faith, by teaching us to offer the daily prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

The apostle wrote these words in grateful acknowledgment of a gift of love he had just received from the Philippian saints. He had ministered to them of his spiritual things, and they, in return, ministered unto him of their temporal things, “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable and well-pleasing to God.” And now, as if conscious of his inability to make them any adequate return in kind, he instructs them in a truth, and breathes for them a prayer, most precious–“And my God will supply all your needsaccording to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Let your soul anchor itself on this truth, “God is my God,” and though the winds may blow, and the billows surge, and the sky darken, you shall not be moved. Needs may be great and urgent, claimants harsh and pressing, resources clean gone, yet, if the believing soul can take hold of God, and claim its interest and proprietorship in Him, none of these things shall move it. And God is your God, O my soul! Your God in an everlasting covenant, your God in Christ Jesus, your God in a thousand troubles past, your God and your Guide even unto death.

God is as pledged as He is able to supply all our temporalneed. He would have us recognize and deal with Him as the God of providence equally as the God of grace. The divine promise is, “Your bread and your water shall be sure.” Has He ever failed you? He may have brought you to an extremity–the barrel of meal and the cruise of oil well-near exhausted–“not anything in the house but a jar of oil”–yet He knows your need, and at the last will appear and supply it. Faith may be sharply tried, but it shall surely triumph in the end. “Gad, a troop shall overcome him–but he shall overcome at the last.” There may be a present and a temporary defeat of faith in its battle with trying and afflictive circumstances, but, like the tribe of Gad, it “shall overcome at the last.” God shall supply all your temporal needs according to His covenant engagement and inexhaustible resources. Only trust Him.

Above all, is the Lord our spiritualProvider. If He provides for the body, most assuredly, and yet more richly and amply, will He provide for the soul. “There is grain in Egypt.” There is the raining manna and the gushing rock in the desert. All the supplies of the covenant of grace, all the fullness that is in Christ Jesus, all the boundless resources of the Triune Jehovah, are for the needs of the believing soul. You need more faith–Jesus is its Author, and He will increase it. You need more grace–out of His fullness you may draw ‘grace for grace,’ or, as it is in the Greek–wave on wave. You need more love–feed its waning flame at the altar of His, and while you are musing on His wondrous love, the fire of yours shall burn. Thus take all you need to your Heavenly Provider, and He will supply it–not according to your stinted desires, or unbelieving expectations, or personal deserts–but, “according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

“What need shall not our God supply
From His abundant store;
What streams of mercy from on high
An arm almighty pour?

“From Christ, the ever-living spring,
Those ample blessings flow;
Prepare, my lips, His name to sing
Whose heart has loved you so.”

Grace Gems
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11
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All Things from His Fatherly Hand

Kevin DeYoung  | March 13, 2020

As the Lord’s providence would have it, last Sunday—the Sunday before everyone and everything seemed to be taken over by COVID-19—was Lord’s Day 10. If you’ve ever used the Heidelberg Catechism you know the 129 questions and answers are given over 52 Lord’s Days. Week 10 is about providence.

Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?

A. Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 27).

This is my favorite Lord’s Day in the entire Catechism. I love its poetic description of providence. “Sovereignty” is the word we hear more often. That’s a good word too. But if people run out of the room crying whenever you talk to them about sovereignty, try using the word “providence.” For some people God’s sovereignty sounds like nothing but raw, capricious power: “God has absolute power over all things, and you better get used to it.” That kind of thing. And that definition is true in a sense, but divine sovereignty, we must never forget, is sovereignty-for-us. As Eric Liddel’s dad remarked in Chariots of Fire, God may be a dictator, but “Aye, he is a benign, loving dictator.”

Coming to grips with God’s all-encompassing providence requires a massive shift in how we look at the world. It requires changing our vantage point—from seeing the cosmos as a place where man rules and God responds, to beholding a universe where God creates and constantly controls with sovereign love and providential power.

The definition of providence in the Catechism is stunning. All things, yes all things, “come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.” In my previous denomination, I used to ask seminary students being examined for ordination, “How would the Heidelberg Catechism, particularly Lord’s Day 10, help you minister to someone who just lost a job or a child, or just received a frightening diagnosis?” I was often disappointed to hear students who should have been affirming the confessions of their denomination shy away from Heidelberg’s strong, biblical language about providence.

Like most of us, the students were much more at ease using passive language about God’s permissive will or comfortable generalities about God being “in control” than they were about stating precisely and confidently to those in the midst of suffering “this has come from God’s fatherly hand.” And yet, that’s what the Catechism teaches.

And more importantly, so does the Bible.

To be sure, God’s providence is not an excuse to act foolishly or sinfully. Herod and Pontius Pilate, though they did what God had planned beforehand, were still wicked conspirators (Acts 4:25-28). The Bible affirms human responsibility. It also affirms comprehensive divine sovereignty. Prudence, yes. Precautions, yes. And providence, a thousand times yes.

The Bible also affirms, much more massively and frequently than some imagine, God’s power and authority over all things.

The nations are under God’s control (Psalm 2:1-4; 33:10), as is nature (Mark 4:41; Psalm 135:7; 147:18; 148:8), and animals (2 Kings 17:25; Dan. 6:22; Matt. 10:29).

God is sovereign over Satan and evil spirits (Matt. 4:10; 2 Cor. 12:7-8; Mark 1:27).

God uses wicked people for his plans—not just in a “bringing good out of evil” sort of way, but in an active, intentional, “this was God’s plan from the get-go” sort of way (Job 12:16; John 19:11; Gen. 45:8; Luke 22:22; Acts 4:27-28).

God hardens hearts (Ex. 14:17;Josh. 11:20; Rom. 9:18).

God sends trouble and calamity (Judg. 9:23; 1 Sam. 1:5; 16:14; 2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Kings 22:20-23; Isa. 45:6-7; 53:10; Amos 3:6; Ruth 1:20; Eccl. 7:14).

God even puts to death (1 Sam. 2:6, 25; 2 Sam 12:15; 2 Chr. 10:4, 14; Deut. 32:39).

God does what he pleases and his purposes cannot be thwarted (Isa. 46:9-10; Dan. 4:34-35).

In short, God guides all our steps and works all things after the counsel of his will (Prov. 16:33; 20:24; 21:2; Jer. 10:23; Psalm 139:16; Rom. 8:21; Eph. 1:11).

It’s worth noting that Lord’s Day 10 is explaining what the Apostles’ Creed means when it says, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” If God is the creator of all things and truly almighty, then he must continue to be almighty over all that he has created. And if God is a Father, then surely he exercises his authority over his creation and creatures for the good of his beloved children. Providence is nothing more than a belief in “God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth” brought to bear on our present blessings and troubles and buoying our hope into the future.

You can look at providence through the lens of human autonomy and our idolatrous notions of freedom and see a mean God moving tornadoes and influenza like chess pieces in some kind of perverse divine play-time. Or you can look at providence through the lens of Scripture and see a loving God counting the hairs on our heads and directing the sparrows in the sky so that we might live life unafraid.

“What else can we wish for ourselves,” Calvin wrote, “if not even one hair can fall from our head without his will?” There are no accidents in your life. Nothing has been left to chance. Every economic downturn, every novel virus, every oncology report has been sent to us from the God who sees all things, plans all things, and loves us more than we know.

As children of our heavenly Father, divine providence is always for us and never against us. Joseph’s imprisonment seemed pointless, but it makes sense now. Slavery in Egypt makes sense now. Killing the Messiah makes sense now. At some point in the future—whether near or far—the coronavirus will make sense. Whatever difficulty or unknown we may be facing today, it will make sense someday—if not in this life, then certainly in the next.

We all have moments where we fear the unknown. The fact of the matter is our worries may come true, but God will never be untrue to his us. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future. God will always lead us, always listen to us, and always love us in Christ.

God moves in mysterious ways; we may not always understand why life is what it is. But we can face the future unafraid because we know that nothing moves, however mysterious, except by the hand of that great Unmoved Mover who moves all and is moved by none, and that this Mover is not an impersonal force but the God who is our Father in heaven.


Kevin DeYoung

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11
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The Power of Death to Sin

How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer herein? – Rom. 6:2

WHAT SHALL we say then?

Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? With this very serious question, that really implies an indictment against freely justifying grace, the sixth chapter of the epistle to the Romans begins.

There was reason for the question.

The truth of God’s gracious act of justifying the ungodly had been set forth in the preceding chapters of the epistle. The glorious gospel that in the blood of the cross there is the power of justification for sinners that are, in themselves, damnable, had been explained. It is the truth that a man is lost in himself, and that a far as his works are concerned, there is no way out, no hope of obtaining righteousness.

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven upon all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men that hold the truth in unrighteousness. There is, in this respect, no difference between Jews and the Greek: all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Nor is there any hope in the works of the law. By the works of the law no man shall be justified before God, for only the knowledge of sin is by the law. Man’s case, therefore, is hopeless. Whatever he may do, he remains a damnable sinner before the tribunal of God.

But God revealed another an altogether new righteousness, possessing which the sinner is justified, so that his sins are blotted out, he is declared worthy of life and has peace with God. This righteousness is not of man, but of God; it is not of works, but of grace; it is not through the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. In Him this righteousness is revealed. He obtained it for all His own, by His perfect obedience even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. He bore our sin, He took our place in judgment. He suffered the wrath of God in our stead. He died our death. And so He blotted out the guilt of all our transgressions, and merited for us a righteousness that makes us worthy of eternal life and glory.

This righteousness is imputed to us, freely, by grace; and we receive it by faith only, and even this is of grace for it is the gift of God. Our works have no part in this righteousness. Our good works cannot add to it, or render us more perfectly righteous: it is perfect in itself. Nor can our sins render us unworthy of this righteousness: no matter how great or how many our sins may be, in Christ. We are unchangeably and perfectly righteous before God. For “as by the offence of one judgment came upon all to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” And again: “as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteousness.” (Rom. 5:18, 19).

Such is the power of the cross.

On the aspect of the power of the cross we concentrated our attention in the proceeding chapters of the book. The Word of the cross is the power of God unto salvation; by its power we are redeemed from the curse of the law, reconciled to God, delivered from the dominion and fear of death, and our conscience is purged from dead works. Sinners though we be in ourselves, we are righteous before God; damnable though our state may be, in Christ we are justified; the handwriting of God through the blood of Christ, inscribed in our conscience, declares us as righteous, as if we never had committed any sin, yea, as if we personally had paid the penalty for our sins, and kept all God’s commandments ever since!

But does not this doctrine make men careless and profane?

Is there no room, then for the question: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”

The question, it would seem, follows very normally and, what is more, it would appear as if the answer suggested is the only possible and logical conclusion from the doctrine of free justification: let us continue in sin, that grace may abound. The more we sin, the more we create the situation in which grace may truly shine forth in all its glory. By continuing in sin, it would seem, we serve the cause of grace. Let us, then, fathom the depth of sin, that we may taste the fullness of grace.

The opponent of the truth of sovereign grace, and of free justification through grace in Christ, without works, often claim that this is the only possible inference that follows logically from this doctrine. It makes men careless and profane. It offers them an indulgence to sin. Nay, what is worse, it changes sin into a virtue, since it becomes a means to extol the grace of God. You teach, they say, that we are justified before God without works. No matter how deeply and grossly we sin, we ae righteous before God. Righteousness is simply imputed to us. Good works are not its ground: they cannot add to our righteousness. Sin cannot change it: though our sins are as scarlet, though they cry to heaven, in the judgment of God we are declared righteous. Well, then, say they, it us continue in sin: that is the only possible conclusion you can draw from such a doctrine. If it does not make a particle of difference in the judgment of God whether we sin or do good works, by all means let us sin, for this has, as at least the advantage that it brings into bright relief the glory of God’s forgiving mercy.

Thus the opponents of Paul’s day, and the enemies of the so-called “blood theology” of modern times argue against the Scriptural truth of free justification through the blood of the cross, in order to demonstrate the absurdity and pernicious nature of this doctrine. Nor need we deny that, if their argument were correct, and their conclusion true, if it were the tendency of the cross  of Christ to render men secure in their sin, to make men careless and profane, the truth of free justification could no longer be a cause for glorying. In that case, it would indeed be a dangerous doctrine. Then he cross of Christ would be made of none effect.

But they that thus oppose the truth only speak in their ignorance. They have not experienced, neither do they understand the marvellous power of the cross.

For rather than causing men to rest secure in their sin, seeing they are justified without works, so that they become careless and profane in their walk and conversation, the power of the cross has the effect that it causes men deeply to abhor sin, to repent in dust and ashes, and to walk as children of light in the midst of the world. To verify this, just ask, not the enemies of the cross of Christ, but those that have experienced the power of the blood of Jesus unto their justification, and that know what it means to be justified freely by His grace. Ask them, if they have any confidence in their own works as a ground of their righteousness before God, and they will assure you that all their boasting is in the cross of Christ, and in the atoning power of His blood. To them, all other ground is sinking sand. They utterly repudiate it. But again, ask them whether this exclusive confidence in the cross as the ground of their righteousness, does not have the effect upon them now they become careless and profane, induces them to draw the conclusion that it is profitable to continue in sin that grace may abound, and they will reply with holy indignation and abhorrence: God forbid! They will assure you that the power of the cross, as they experienced it, bore the very opposite fruit: it caused them to abhor sin, so eschew it, to flee from it to fight it with all their might. Through the cross they have become the enemies of sin. And for nothing they long for more fervently than to be delivered from the defilement of sin finally and completely. “Live in sin?” they will say, rather amazed that you could approach them with such a proposition, “continue in sin? How could we, that have tested the power of redemption in the cross of Jesus, consider such a possibility, or do such a thing? God forbid!”

This is also the answer of the Scriptures, by the apostle Paul, in the sixth chapter of the Romans. Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! Such a proposition cannot be entertained seriously, even for a moment.

But the apostle does more than merely express the spiritual impossibility of such an attitude on the part of believers. He also sets forth the reason for this impossibility. For he declares that believers are dead to sin. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? And he continues to explain that the justified believer is one that is baptized into Christ, and that, by being so baptized, he is baptized into His death. In fact our old man is crucified with Him, and by this crucifixion the body of sin was destroyed, that we should no longer serve sin. We are, therefore, dead with Christ, and he that is dead is free from sin. Christ died unto sin, we died with Him, and therefore, we must reckon ourselves to be dead unto sin, and alive unto righteousness. Sin, therefore, must not reign in our mortal bodies that we should obey in the lust thereof; nor must we yield our members as instruments of unrighteousness unto unrighteousness. I a word, quite in opposition to the evil slogan: Let us sin, that grace may abound,” the truth is that sin shall have no dominion over us, exactly because we are not under the law but under grace! (Rom. 6:2-14)

Thus the apostle explains the believer’s being dead to sin in the sixth chapter of Romans.

And the same truth is taught by him in other passages of his epistles. Thus, for instance, he write in II Cor. 5:14, 15: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead. And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”

It is plain, therefore, that, according to Scripture, the redeemed in Christ have died with Him, and that now they are dead unto sin, so that sin no longer has the power to reign over them.

It belongs to the power of the cross to render men dead unto sin.

Two questions arise in this connection: 1. What does it mean to be dead unto sin? 2. How is this spiritual state effected by the cross?

In answer to the first question, we should carefully observe that the Bible does not say that sin is dead in the believer, but, on the contrary, that he is dead to sin. The difference is evident. It would be a grievous error to change this expression, or to understand it as meaning the same as the statement that, as long as the believer is in the world, sin is dead in him. For this error would certainly create confusion in the mind and heart of the sincere Christian. Fact is, that when we are engrafted into Christ, and the power of the cross is realized in us, sin is not dead, but remains very much alive. In this life, we never have more than a small beginning of this new obedience. Even the very holies of the saints, he that is farthest advanced on the way of grace and sanctification, still has only a principle of the new life in Christ. Our old nature, earthly and carnal, remains with us till the grave. Not until we breathe our last are we delivered from it. And in that old nature are the motions of sin. And they are very active. In fact, it often seems that, according as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ Jesus, the motions of sin in our members also increase their activity, always attempting to bring us again into bondage. We must, therefore, till the day of our death, heed the exhortation of the Word of God to put off the old man, and put on the new.

Yet, although sin is not dead in the believer, he is surely dead to sin.

The natural man, the sinner apart from Christ, is alive unto sin. Sin is his lord. The power of sin is enthroned in his heart. It is his rightful lord. It has the right to exercise dominion over him, and he is its legal slave. God’s sentence is that the sinner shall die. To this death belongs the spiritual darkness of mind, the perversion of will, the pollution of the desires and inclinations, that make the sinner a slave of sin. From this sin he does not even have the right to be delivered unless atonement is made for his sin. Sin, therefore, has dominion over him. This dominion of sin, however, is not contrary to the will and desire of the sinner, so that he ever longs to be delivered from its bondage. On the contrary, he agrees with it. He is well pleased with the reign of sin. He delights in the service of his evil lord. He is a willing servant. He loves the darkness rather than the light. He yields his members to the service of unrighteousness. He is in bondage, yet, because the service of sin is sweet unto his corrupt taste, he does not feel the oppression of his slavery. He takes sin to his bosom. Quite willingly he allows her. To the service of sin he willingly devotes his body and his soul, his mind and will, all his desires and inclinations. For sin he lives. With sin he agrees. The paths of sin are his delight. He is alive unto sin.

To be dead unto sin is the direct opposite of this. It is the state in which we are no longer under the legal dominion of sin. Sin is no longer our lord. It has no longer the right to reign over us. Just as a slave for whom the price is paid, or that has been declared free by the law, is no longer legally bound to serve his former master, so he that is dead to sin is liberated from the legal dominion of sin by God’s own verdict of liberation. Sin shall not have dominion over him, because he is not under the law but under grace.

Moreover, this sentence of liberation is also realized in him. He is actually, spiritually, liberated from the bondage of Sin. His fetters are broken. Grace instead of sin, the law of the Spirit of life, rather than the law of sin and death, is enthroned in his heart and has do dominion over him. His mind is enlightened, his will is turned about, his heart is renewed, and from that renewed heart all the issues of life move in a direction opposite to that of sin. The result is that he beholds and judges sin in a new light, the light of the love of God. Formerly, he agreed with the dominion of sin, now he radically disagrees with it. Formerly, he always said “yes” when sin said “yes,” and “no” when sin said “no”; now he opposes sin’s “no” with his own “no” with his own “yes,” and sin’s “yes” with his own “no.” When he was alive unto sin he loved the works of darkness, now he is dead unto sin he hates them with all his heart. While in his bondage to sin he yielded his members to the service of unrighteousness, he now strenuously opposes that service.  He is dead unto sin.

O, sin still present with him. And it operates in his members. Ever it attempts to regain its former lordship over him. But all that is within him, according to his inner man, hates and abhors the service of iniquity. Sin is not dead, but he is dead to sin. His entire attitude over against his former lord has radically changed. He is converted. And for the sin that still operates in his members, and ever tempts to divert the vehicle of his life and walk into the old ruts of unrighteousness, he humbles himself before God daily, repents in dust and ashes, and confessing his sins before God, he has no rest till he has found forgiveness in the blood of the Lamb.

He that is in Christ is a new creature: old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new! (II Cor. 5:17)

How, then, would it be possible that the believer in Christ should live according to the slogan: “Let us continue in sin, that grace may abound”? God forbid! How then shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

Now, the source of this tremendous and radical change is in the cross of Christ. That this is the teaching of Scripture we have already seen. Into the death of Christ we are baptized, and we become one plant with Him in His death, and are crucified with Him. And it is because of this fellowship with the death of Christ, that we are dead to sin.

To understand this power of the cross we must consider, in the first place, that the death of Christ is the crucifixion of the old man, the destruction of the body of sin, the dethronement of sin as lord over the human nature. By the “old man” we means the human nature as it is legally in bondage to sin, so that it has no right to be liberated unless the price for its deliverance is paid. In Christ that “old man” was crucified, killed, and buried. For by His perfect obedience, Christ paid the price for our redemption. His death is perfect satisfaction of God’s justice in respect to sin. The result is that all that are n Christ ae free from the law of sin and death. Sin has been deprived of the right to exercise dominion over them. Through the death of Christ they have been purchased free from its lordship. Legally, they are free from, and dead to, sin. For, secondly, we must remember that Christ did not pay the price for His own redemption, but for ours, for all those whom the Father had given Him. He was never in bondage to sin. For He is the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father, and even in the human nature He was perfectly free. Always it was His meat to do the Father’s will. He knew no sin. But He was made sin for His own. He was, so to speak, the Head of a corporation, of which all the elect are members. He represented them in the hour of judgment before God. They were all in Him. Legally, they were one with Him. When He, now more than nineteen centuries ago, was crucified, they were all crucified; when He died, they all died; when He was buried, they were all buried; when He arose from the dead, they all were raised with Him. Hence, their old man was crucified, dead, and buried. When Christ died, they all died unto sin. There and then, the price of their redemption was paid, and sin lost its right and power to have dominion over them.

That is the power of the cross.

Lastly, when this power of the cross is applied unto us personally, so that we are ingrafted into Christ by a true faith, and become one plant with Him, we are at once appropriate, by faith, the atoning death of Christ, as if we ourselves had actually paid for all our sins, and experience this fellowship with His death as a power of liberation from the dominion of sin. When the Spirit of Christ enters into our hearts, and establishes the living fellowship of faith between us and the Christ that died and rose again, and calls us through the gospel, we know that we are free, that we are not under the law but under grace, and that sib shall have no dominion over us. There we reason ourselves dead unto sin, and alive unto righteousness. Then we reveal our having dies unto sin by a hearty repentance and sorrow after God, by our eschewing and abhorring sin and fleeing from its lusts, and by a positive delight in righteousness to serve the living God.

That is the power of the cross.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?

How absurd!

The power of the cross is our death unto sin.

The power of His resurrection is our quickening unto a new life of righteousness.

With Him we might live!

O’ glorious power of Calvary’s tree!

(The power of the cross by Herman Hoeksema. pp. 91-104)

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11
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365 days with Calvin

Guarding against Worry

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” Matthew 6:25

SUGGESTED FURTHER READING: Philippians 4:6-20

Christ reproves the excessive anxiety that people have about having enough food and clothing, but he also offers a remedy for curing this disease. When he forbids people to be anxious, he does not intend that they give up all concerns, for we know that people by nature have such concerns.

But excessive care is condemned for two reasons: either because people can annoy and vex themselves to no good purpose by being more anxious than is proper or their calling demands, or because they take more burdens on themselves than they have a right to do. They rely so heavily on their own efforts that they fail to call upon God to provide.

To guard against such excessive care, we should remember the promise that while unbelievers “rise up early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of sorrows,” believers will obtain rest and sleep through the kindness of God (Ps. 127:2). Though the children of God are not free from work and anxiety, yet we can properly say they do not have to be anxious about life. They may enjoy calm repose because of their reliance on the providence of God.

It is thus clear how far we should go in caring about food. Each of us ought to work as far as his calling requires and the Lord commands; and each of us ought to be led by our own wants to call upon God. We must find the intermediate place between indolent carelessness and unnecessary torments by which unbelievers kill themselves. If we give proper attention to the word of Christ, we shall find that he does not forbid every kind of care but only that which arises from distrust. Take no thought for what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, he says. Distrust belongs to those who tremble for fear of poverty or hunger as if they may be short of provisions at any moment.

FOR MEDITATION: What if I lose my job, if my house payments rises beyond my ability to pay, If I have a heart attack, if I can’t afford to send my children to college-do such “what ifs” keep you awake at night, fretting about life’s possibilities? How can you find rest in Jesus’ assurance that God will provide for you, no matter what?   

365 with Calvin, 19th June    

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“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11
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Jerome Zanchius

Chapter 1.

The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination
Stated and Asserted

WHEREIN THE THERMS COMMONLY MADE USE OF IN TREATING OF THIS SUBJECT ARE DEFINED AND EXPLAINED.

Having considered the attributes of God as laid down in Scripture, and so far cleared our way to the doctrine of predestination. I shall, before I enter further on the subject, explain the principal terms generally made use of when treating of it, and settle their true meaning. In discoursing on the Divine decrees, mention is frequently made of God’s love and hatred, of election and reprobation, and of the Divine purpose, foreknowledge and predestination, each of which we shall distinctly and briefly consider. 

I.-When love is predicated of God, we do not mean that He is possessed of it as a passion or affection. In us it is such, but if, considered in that sense, it should be ascribed to the Deity, it would be utterly subversive of the simplicity, perfection and independency of His being. Love, therefore, when attributed to Him, signifies- (1) His eternal benevolence, i.e., His everlasting will, purpose and determination to deliver, bless and save His people. Of this, no good works wrought by them are in any sense the cause. Neither are even the merits of Christ Himself to be considered as any way moving or exciting this good will of God to His elect, since the gift of Christ, to be their Mediator and Redeemer, is itself an effect of this free and eternal favour borne to them by God the Father (John iii. 16). His love toward them arises merely from “the good pleasure of His own will,” without the least regard to anything ad extra out of Himself.

               (2) The term implies complacency, delight and approbation. With this love God cannot love even His elect as considered in themselves, because in that view they are guilty, polluted sinners, but they were, from all eternity, objects of it, as they stood united to Christ and partakers of His righteousness.

               (3) Love implies actual beneficence, which properly speaking, is nothing else than the effect or accomplishment of the other two: those are the cause of this. This actual beneficence respects all blessings, whether of a temporal, spiritual or eternal nature. Temporal good things are indeed indiscriminately bestowed in a greater or less degree on all, whether elect or reprobate, but they are given in a covenant way and as blessing to the elect only, to whom also the other benefits respecting grace and glory are peculiar. And this love of beneficence, no less than that of benevolence and complacency, is absolutely free, and irrespective of any worthiness in man.

               II.-When hatred is ascribed to God, it implies (1) a negation of benevolence, or a resolution not to have mercy on such and such men, nor to endue them with any of those graces which stands connected with eternal life. So, “Esau have I hated” (Rom. ix.), i.e., “I did, from all eternity, determine within Myself not to have mercy on him.” The sole cause of which awful negation is not merely the unworthiness of the persons hatred, but the sovereignty and freedom of the Divine will. (2) It denotes displeasure and dislike, for sinners who are not interested in Christ cannot but be infinitely displeasing to and loathsome in the sight of eternal purity. (3) It signifies a positive will to punish and destroy the reprobate for their sins, of which will, the infliction of misery upon them hereafter, is but the necessary effect and actual execution.

               III.-The term election, that so very frequently occurs in Scripture, is there taken in a fourfold sense, and most commonly signifies (1) “That eternal, sovereign, unconditional, particular and immutable act of God where He selected some from among all mankind and of every nation under heaven to be redeemed and everlastingly saved by Christ.”

               (2) It sometimes and more rarely signifies “that gracious and almighty act of the Divine Spirit, whereby God actually and visibly separates His elect from the world by effectual calling.” This is nothing but the manifestation and partial fulfilment of the former election, and by it the objects of predestinating grace are sensibly led into the communion of saints, and visibly added to the number of God’s declared professing people. Of this our Lord makes mention: “Because I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”  (John xv. 19). Where it should seem the choice spoken of does not refer so much to God’s eternal, immanent act of election as His open manifest one, whereby He powerfully and efficaciously called the disciples forth from the world of the unconverted, and quickened them from above in conversion.

               (3) By election is sometimes meant, “God’s taking a whole nation, community or body of men into external covenant with Himself by giving them the advantage of revelation, or His written word, as the rule of their belief and practice, when other nations are without it.” In this sense the whole body of the Jewish nation was indiscriminately called elect, because that “unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Deut. vii. 6). Now all that are thus elected are not therefore necessarily saved, but many of them may be, and are, reprobates, as those of whom our Lord says (Matt. xiii. 20), that they “hear the word, and anon with joy receive it,” etc. And the apostle says, “They went out from us” (i.e. , being favoured with the same Gospel revelation we were, they professed themselves true believers, no less than we), “but they were not of us” i.e. , they were not, with us, chosen of God unto everlasting life, nor did they ever in reality possess that faith of His operation which He gave to us, for if they had in this sense “been of us, they would, no doubt, have continued with us” (1 John ii. 19), they would have manifested the sincerity of their professions and the truth of their conversion by enduring to the end and being saved.  And even this external revelation, though it is not necessarily connected with eternal happiness, is nevertheless productive of very many and great advantages to the people and places where it is vouchsafed, and is made known to some nations and kept back* from others, “according to the good pleasure of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”

(4) And, lastly, election sometimes signifies “the temporary designation of some person or persons to the filling up some particular station in the visible church or office in civil life.” So Judas was chosen to the apostleship (John vi. 70), and Saul to be the king of Israel (1 Sam. X. 24). Thus much for the use of the word election.

               IV.-On the contrary, reprobation denotes either (1) God’s eternal preterition of some men, when He chose others to glory, and His predestination of them to fill up the measure of their iniquities and then to receive the just punishment of their crimes, even “destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.” This is the primary, most obvious and most frequent sense in which the word is used. It may likewise signify (2) God’s forbearing to call by His grace those whom He hath thus ordained to condemnation, but this is only a temporary preterition, and a consequence of that which was from eternity. (3) And, lastly, the word may be taken in another sense as denoting God’s refusal to grant to some nations the light of the Gospel revelation. They may be considered as a kind of national reprobation, which yet does not imply that every individual person  who lives in such a county must therefore unavoidably perish forever, any more than that every individual who lives in a land called Christian is therefore in a state of salvation. There are, no doubt, elect persons among the former as well as reprobate ones among the latter. By a very little attention to the context any reader may easily discover in which of these several senses the words elect and reprobate are used whenever they occur in Scripture.

               V.-Mention is frequently made in Scripture of the purpose*of God, which is no other than His gracious intention from eternity of making His elect everlastingly happy in Christ.

               VI.-When foreknowledge is ascribed to God, the word imports (1) that general prescience whereby He knew from all eternity both what He Himself would do, and what His creatures, in consequence of His efficacious and permissive decree, should do likewise. The Divine foreknowledge, considered in this view, is absolutely universal; it extends to all beings that did, do or ever shall exist, and to all actions that ever have been, that are or shall be done. Whether good or evil, natural, civil or moral. (2) The word often denotes that special prescience which has for its objects His own elect, and them  alone, whom He is in a peculiar sense said to know and foreknow (Psalm i:6; John ii.19; Rom. viii. 29; 1 Pet. i:2), and this knowledge is connected with, or rather the same with love, favour and approbation.

               VII.-We came now to consider the meaning of the word predestination, and how it is taken in Scripture. The verb predestinate is of Latin original, and signifies, in that tongue, to deliberate beforehand with one’s self how one shall act: and in consequence of such deliberation to constitute, fore-ordain and predetermine  where, when, how and by whom anything shall be done, and to what end it shall be done. So the Greek verb, IIροοριζω, which exactly answers to the English word predestinate, and is rendered by it, signifies to resolve beforehand within one’s self what to do; and, before the thing resolved on is actually effected, to appoint it to some certain use, and direct it to some determinate end. The Hebrew verb Habhdel has likewise much the same signification.

               Now, none but wise men are capable (especially in matters of great importance) of rightly determining what to do, and how to accomplish a proper end by just, suitable and effectual means; and if this is, confessedly, a very material part of true wisdom, who so fit to dispose of men and assign each individual his sphere of action in this world, and his place in the world to come, as the all-wise God? And yet, alas! How many are there who cavil as those eternal decrees which, were we capable of fully and clearly understanding them, would appear to be as just as they are sovereign and as wise as they are incomprehensible! Divine preordination has for its objects all things that are created: no creature, whether rational or irrational, animate or inanimate, is exempted from its influence. All beings whatever, from the highest angel to the meanest reptile, and from the meanest reptile to the minutest atom, are the objects of God’s eternal decrees and particular providence. However, the ancient fathers only make use of the word predestination as it refers to angels or men, whether good or evil, and it is used by the apostle Paul in a more limited sense still, so as, by it, to mean only that branch of it which respects God’s election and designation of His people to eternal life (Rom. viii. 30: Eph. i. 11).

               But, that we may more justly apprehend the import of this word, and the ides intended to be conveyed by it, it may be proper to observe that the term predestination, theologically taken, admits of a fourfold definition, and may be considered as (1) “that eternal, most wise and immutable decree of God, whereby He did from before all time determine and ordain to create, dispose of and direct to some particular end every person and thing to which He has given, or is yet to give, being, and to make the whole creation subservient to and declarative of His own glory.” Of this decree actual providence is the execution. (2) Predestination may be considered as relating generally to mankind, and them only; and in this view we define it to be “the everlasting sovereign and within himself to create Adam in His own image and likeness, and then to permit his fall; and to suffer him thereby to plunge himself and his whole posterity” (inasmuch as they all sinned in him, not only virtually, but also federally and representatively) “into the dreadful abyss of sin, misery and death” (3) Consider predestination as relating to the elect only, and it is “that eternal, unconditional, particular and irreversible act of the Divine will whereby, in matchless love and adorable sovereignty, God determined with Himself to deliver a certain number of Adam’s degenerate* offspring out of that sinful and miserable estate into which, by his primitive transgression, they were to fall,” and in which sad condition they were equally involved, with those who were not chosen, but, being pitched upon and singled out by God the Father to be vessels of grace and salvation (not for anything in them that could recommend them to His favour or entitle them to His notice, but merely because He would show Himself gracious to them), they were, in time, actually redeemed by Christ, are effectually called by His Spirit, justified, adopted, sanctified, and preserved safe to His heavenly kingdom. The supreme end of this decree is the manifestation of His own infinitely glorious and amiably tremendous perfections; the inferior or subordinate end is the happiness and salvation of them who are thus freely elected. (4) Predestination, as it regards the reprobate, is “that eternal most holy, sovereign and immutable act of God’s will, whereby He hath determined to leave some to perish in their sins, and to justly them.”   (Pp, 57-64)                   

*See Psalm clxvii. 19, 20.

 *The purpose of God does not seem to differ at all from predestination, that being, as well as this, an eternal, free and unchangeable act of His will. Besides, the word “purpose,” when predicated of God in the New Testament, always denotes His design of saving His elect, and that only (Rom 8:28; 9:11; Eph 1:11; 3:11; 2 Tim. 1:9). As does the term “predestination,” which throughout the whole New Testament never signifies the appointment of the non-elect to wrath, but singly and solely the fore-appointment of the elect to grace and glory, though, in common theological writings, predestination is spoken of as extending to whatever God does, both in a way of permission and efficiency, as, in the utmost sense of the term, it does. It is worthy of the reader’s notice that the original word which we render purpose, signifies not only an appointment, but a fore-appointment, and such a fore-appointment as is efficacious and cannot be obstructed, but shall most assuredly issue in a full accomplishment, which gave occasion to the following judicious remark of a late learned writer:”a Paulo saepe usurpatur in electionis negotio, ad designandum consilium hoc Dei non esse inanem quandam et inefficacem velleitatem; sed constans, determinatum, et immutabile Dei propositum. Vox enim est efficaciae summae, ut notant grammatici veteres; et signate vocatur a Paulo, consilium illius, qui efficaciter omnia operatur ex beneplacito suo.” -Turretin. Institut. Tom. 1, loc. 4, quaest. 7. s.12.

* When we say that the decree of predestination to life and death respects man as fallen, we do not mean that the fall was actually antecedent to that decree, for the decree is truly and properly eternal, as all God’s immanent acts undoubtedly are, whereas the fall took place in time. When we intend, then, is only this viz., that God (for reasons, without doubt, worthy of Himself, and of which we are by no means in this life competent judges), having, from everlasting, peremptorily ordained to suffer the fall of Adam, did likewise, from everlasting, consider the human race as fallen; and out of the whole mass of mankind, thus vied and foreknow as impure and obnoxious to condemnation, vouchsafed to select some particular persons (who collectively make up a very great though precisely determinate number) in and on whom He would make known the ineffable riches of His mercy.      

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11
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Daily Light

Master, carest thou not that we perish?

The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.

Every moving think that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.-While the earth remaineth, seedtime ad harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.-God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is…And God opened her eyes, and she saw the well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink. Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? What shall we drink? …for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all things…Trust…in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

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Mk. 4:38; Ps. 145:9; Gen. 9:3; Ge. 8:22; Na. 1:7; Ge. 21:17, 19; Mt. 6:31, 32; 1 Tim. 6:17; 1 Pe. 5:7
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“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11
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Brief Biographical Sketch of Rev. William Stavely

IRISH COVENANTING MINISTER
WHO LABOURED DURING THE LATTER HALF OF THE
EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.

BY
REV. SAMUEL FERGUSON, B.A.

WATERSIDE, LONDONDERRY
JAMES MONTGOMERY, BOOKSELLER, CARLISLE ROAD.

1897.

THE REV. WILLIAM STAVELY. THE subject of this sketch was born at Ferniskey, a townland near Kells, County Antrim, in the year 1743, just two years before the last effort of the Stuarts to regain the throne of England was shattered by the battle of Culloden. His father was Aaron Stavely, whose family had originally come from the neighbourhood of the town of Stavely in England’. Aaron Stavely owned a small freehold property at Ferniskey, and was in comfortable worldly circumstances. He was brought up an Episcopalian, but became a Covenanter from conviction, and having joined the fellowship of the Covenanting Church, remained until the end of his life a consistent, pious, and respectable member of the Church of his deliberate choice. William Stavely’s mother was a daughter of the Rev. Patrick Vance, Presbyterian minister of Ray, County Donegal. Mr. Vance had been ordained as assistant and successor of Rev. Mr. Campbell, who was minister of Ray at the time of the siege of Derry in 16882.

   Mr. Vance died in 1741, about the time of his daughter’s marriage to Aaron Stavely. William Stavely was the only son of the family, which consisted altogether of three children, the other two being Esther, afterwards Mrs. Agnew, who, with her husband, emigrated to New York, and Eliza, who married Mr. Cussack, and with her husband also emigrated to America. Aaron Stavely and his wife early dedicated their only son to God in the work of the ministry of the Covenanting Church, and determined to give him the best education their circumstances could afford. He was sent to a classical school at Antrim as soon as he was able to go, and was maintained there in lodgings, travelling home to Ferniskey generally at the week end that he might not be altogether sundered from home influences. His progress in his studies was rapid, and his perseverance some-what remarkable. The only serious illness he had in his long life was a fever he contracted during his early stay at Antrim. He was overtaken with weakness when going to his father’s on a Saturday afternoon, and, being unable to make his way home, he went to a house by the roadside, and could not be removed for three weeks, until a dangerous fever from which he was suffering had subsided. Whether this illness had any permanent influence on his character we do not know, but we do know that it did not interrupt his studies, even for one month, after his restoration to health, or change his purpose of preparing for the ministry. In due time he entered Glasgow University, where he completed the curriculum required from arts students at the time. If he graduated M.A. no record remains of the fact. It is more than probable that he did not, as he never claimed a degree from his Alma Mater.


    Having fulfilled the requisite course of literary and scientific, as well as theological, training, he was licensed in December, 1769, and after acting as probationer nearly two years, he received a call from the “Covenanted Electors between the Bridge of Dromore and Donaghadee, in the County Down.” This call, of which until lately copies were extant, was signed by 92 persons, and accepted by Mr. Stavely, who was twenty-nine years of age at the time. The ordination took place at Conlig in August, 1772. Among the ministers pre-sent on the occasion we have heard the names of Revs. W. Martin, William James, and Thomas Hamilton. Soon the bounds of his pastoral charge were enlarged beyond the limits named in the call, and extended to Newry and Ballybay. After a time Knockbracken, four miles from Belfast, came to be recognised as the centre of his charge, and there the church was built about 1776. Subsequently an acre of ground was obtained on lease from the landlord, R. M’Neill, Esq., as a burying place.

  The years brought changes. Rev. William James and Rev. Thomas Hamilton died in 1779; Revs. William Martin and Matthew Lynn emi-grated to America, the former in the end of 1772, the latter, with Rev. A. Dobbin, in 1773; and Rev. Robert Young, though labouring in Ireland, had no fixed charge, so that Stavely was the only remain-ing ministerial member of the Irish Reformed Presbytery. Consequently this Presbytery, which had been formed in 1763, now became extinct, and the question arose, What was to be done? Mr. Stavely quickly decided that the only course open was to resume connection with the Scottish Presbytery, and the minutes of that court for 178o state that, being met at Stirling, the submission of the congregations in Ireland was received. In 1776 Mr. Stavely married Miss Mary Donald, of Irishtown (Marymount), near Antrim, and after his marriage he settled at Annsborough House, near Newtownbreda, then a village quite two miles from Belfast, though now, it is needless to say, the very farm and house Mr. Stavely owned is included in the municipal limits of the city. His home at Annsborough was a happy one. Whatever troubles or anxieties were felt outside in his public work, he had nothing but peace and comfort in his domestic life. He had with his house a farm of twenty acres, or thereabouts, the profits from which, added to his annual stipend of, £5o (probably equal in purchasing power to £150 or £200 to-day), with the rent of his own freehold at Ferniskey, and his wife’s property at Irishtown, enabled him to live in ease and comfort and allowed him to devote his whole attention to his ministerial work. To this work, indeed, he gave himself up with whole-hearted dedication and unceasing industry. He had a solid and extensive education to begin with, and to this he united habits of great diligence as a student, so that he kept himself thoroughly abreast of the literature of his time in all subjects that claimed his attention. He was especially careful, we have been told, in his preparation for the pulpit. We have seen the MSS. of some of his sermons and the notes of many others, all of which give evidence of his industry and ability. In pastoral work he was unwearied. The journeys he took on horseback are surprising. He was often away in Counties Monaghan, Cavan, and Armagh indeed throughout Ulster in all weathers. There were few mail coaches at the time, and no railways, while the roads were, as a rule, hardly deserving of the name ; and we are not surprised to hear that on one occasion when near Bailieborough, in County Cavan, he was so utterly fatigued, when travelling in a severe snowstorm, that he got off his horse, and did not care if death overtook him by the way-side. Though weary in the Master’s service he was not weary of it. He had kind  friends, and found open doors everywhere. He commanded respect, and attracted large audiences wherever he went. He was probably the first to establish a Covenanted cause at Sleeth’s Forth, in County Armagh, and was, if not the first, among the first of the Reformed Presbyterian ministers to preach to the scattered Covenanting families in Counties Monaghan1 and Cavan.

   In County Down, in the neighbourhood of Ban-bridge and Scarva, he frequently preached, and, on one occasion at least, he dispensed the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper there. The old meeting-house,2 now an utter ruin on the roadside between Ban-bridge and Scarva, was, we have been told, built largely as a result of his labours.

    At some of the services he held in these places, what would now be called “scenes” took place. On one occasion, when Mr. Stavely was officiating in County Armagh, a neighbouring minister of the Secession Church was present. Mr. Stavely’s text was Hosea v. 15—” I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence and seek my face; in their affliction they will seek Me early,” and his remarks led the Secession minister to rise in the audience and question his doctrine. The Covenanting minister was equal to the occasion. He invited his assailant to state his position, and then replied with such admirable judgment, learning, and temper that he gained the approbation of the large audience. His preaching was evangelical, and combined with a clear statement of the truth very strong and eloquent appeals to the hearts and consciences of the hearers. The notes of some of these sermons were published in the pages of the “Covenanter” and the Scottish “Witness” a number of years ago, and these fragments (skeletons as they are, though of considerable length) strike us by the grasp of Divine truth they shew.
  

   We have been told that on another occasion, when Mr. Stavely was preaching on Testimony-bearing at Brown’s Fort, near Ballybay, in the open air, to an audience numbering several hundreds, a man named Wiggins rose up in the congregation and shouted “Treason, treason,” and threatened to inform the authorities on the preacher. Mr. Stavely went on undismayed until he had done. Wiggins, however, was so excited that he brought a fit of apoplexy on himself, from which he died that same night.

   So powerful and persuasive were Mr. Stavely’s discourses that even Roman Catholics were rivetted to the spot by them, and some of them were led to see the errors of the Roman Church and to forsake it.

   Wherever he went he left a strong impression for good. There was much need for such preaching as his in Ulster at that time. A soul-destroying moderatism overspread the land, and it was the exception, rather than the rule, to find a minister of any Protestant denomination who might truly be called evangelical. Dr. J. S. Reid, in his history of the Presbyterian Church in Ire-land, mentions this lack of evangelical preaching during the latter half of the eighteenth century as a cause of so much spiritual deadness in Ulster, and at the same time he gratefully acknowledges the services rendered to the cause of truth by Rev. William Stavely and his fellow-labourers.1

    It is a noteworthy fact that during the years from the date of Mr. Stavely’s ordination at Conlig in 1772, until his removal from Knockbracken to Kellswater and Cullybackey in 1800, he was the means of laying the foundations of no less than ten or twelve Covenanting congregations.2 No wonder Dr. Reid styles him in one place ” the apostle of the Covenanting Church in Ireland,” and in another connection he speaks of him as ” the most distinguished minister of that denomination in Ulster.”3

   During these years while Mr. Stavely was diligent in his ministry, he was also busy in his study. One evidence of that activity we find in the works from his pen that emanated from the Press. His first literary effort—a large pamphlet (ninety pages) ” Truth Restored, or the new mode of Swearing Religious Oaths by Touching and Kissing a Book Examined ” — was printed at Newry in 1775, three years after his ordination. The subject treated in this work was at that time a burning one among Ulster Presbyterians. In the year 1764 Rev. Thomas Clarke, M.D., Secession minister of Cahans, County Monaghan, was fined 40s with subsequent imprisonment chiefly because he refused to take the oath in the manner then prescribed, by kissing the book, though he declared his readiness to make an oath or affirmation to the same effect in the Scriptural manner with uplifted hand.1 When Dr. Clarke was so severely2 treated, we can understand how it was with others. Under these circumstances it is no wonder that Mr. Stavely took up his pen in exposition and defence of the nature and manner of Scriptural oaths. In the pamphlet on Swearing he gives his reasons for rejecting the form of oath taking then in use, i.e., kissing the Gospels. It is impossible within the compass of a few lines to present a satisfactory outline of his arguments on the subject; it will suffice to mention some of the reasons he adduces in favour of swearing with uplifted hand. Among these he enumerates that an oath, being an act of worship, should be rendered as God requires ; that “kissing the book” is frequently abused ;1 that it is a custom of heathen origin ; that the decalogue requires a holy and reverent use of God’s word, and that there is complete harmony of Scripture precept and example in favour of swearing with uplifted hand. The work is distinguished by the close and accurate acquaintance with the Word of God which it reveals, while it gives evidence of the possession of no mean argumentative power. One thing we can see, Mr. Stavely was in advance of his time on this subject, and it is remarkable that only within the last twenty-five years what he so forcibly contended for has been fully granted to Presbyterians by the Executive in this country.

   In 1795 Mr. Stavely published, by request he tells us, a sermon preached at Newtownards entitled “War Proclaimed and Victory Ensured” or” The Lamb’s Conquests Illustrated.” This publication runs on to 66 large pages. The text of the sermon is Revelation xvii. 14—” These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, for He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and they that are with Him are called and chosen and faithful.” Briefly stated, the pamphlet sets out the principles of the Covenanting Church, as will be gathered from the divisions of the sermon which are—

I. The nature, causes and origin of the war undertaken by these combined forces.

II. The nature of this royal character—Lord of Lords and King of Kings, or the nature of the authority with which He is invested.

  III. By what means He has obtained the victory, with some of the times He has done so.

IV. The character and qualifications of those who are sharers in His victory.

V. Some of the grounds of assurance that all have who are in His service, that they shall be sharers in His victories.

The sermon treats with great wealth of illustration, drawn from Scripture and profane history, of these various points. Some passages in it are striking and powerful, and we can understand that it would produce a very marked effect when delivered by a dignified, eloquent, and earnest preacher. The work was extensively read and highly valued for many years, and beyond question had great influence in moulding the religious and political opinions of some of its readers.

   About this time the French Revolution which broke out in 1789 was exerting a powerful influence all over Western Europe, and one of its concomitants was the infidel writings of Thomas Paine and men of his school. Thomas Paine, the author of the “Age of Reason,” to which Mr. Stavely’s “Appeal to Light” is a reply, was born in Norfolk, England, in 1737. He (Paine) had a checkered career. He was in succession staymaker, seaman, student, merchant, exciseman, usher at an academy, astronomer, grocer, editor, clerk to a committee of congress in America, historiographer to the United States, member of the French Convention, inventor, and author of infidel writings. Clearly he was a man of great but misguided genius, but at the same time of depraved character, and the companion of the very lowest members of society, utterly unreliable as “guide, philosopher and friend” to any who regarded him as such. His book, “The Age of Reason,” was extensively read, both on the Continent and in these kingdoms, and bore evil fruit wherever it was accepted. He was now at the zenith of his influence, and it betokens considerable courage in Mr. Stavely to have ventured to cross swords with him. The “Appeal to Light,” published in 1796, is the largest and most thoughtful of Mr. Stavely’s books orpamphlets.1 It consists of 144 large pages, and is a defence of the Christian religion as revealed in Holy Scriptures against the attacks of infidels and sceptics. He lays down the following five tests2 by which he tries the Bible :—(i) That the matters performed by Moses and the Prophets, by Jesus Christ and His Apostles, and the doctrines by them delivered, be of such a nature that the eyes that saw them, and the ears that heard them, be judges of them. (2) That these actions done, and doctrines delivered, be so public that every description of men may be witnesses. (3) That some significant monuments be instituted and com-memorative actions done, declarative of the rectitude of these actions, and commemorative of the truth and goodness of the words spoken. (4) That these instituted monuments and commemorative actions do commence from the time these doctrines were delivered, and actions performed by Moses and the Prophets, and by Jesus Christ and his Apostles. (5) That these same monuments and commemorative actions have been regularly and without variation observed from the time these actions were done and doctrines delivered unto the present time.

   Round these points a very able argument is built up in defence of the Divine origin of the Scriptures. The statement is put somewhat in this way—if the Bible was not given by God it must then have been given by angels, or by good men, or by bad men. By angels it could not be given, by bad men it would not be produced, as they would not promulgate commandments and precepts that make for righteousness, and so condemn themselves, therefore it must have been written by good men under the inspiration of God, as these men would not lie or impose on themselves or others.

   The book amply repays a careful reading, even in this age when apologetics has come to be recognized as an important branch of theological training. The last section of the work is devoted to a dissertation on the best way to advance the intelligent study of the Bible. Mr. Stavely challenged Paine to a discussion of the whole subject. The terms in which the challenge was conveyed are worthy of being reproduced. He writes—” Was my arm long enough I would stretch it over to the Gallic shore and take you by the hand as a friend of the liberties of men, and a pointed opposer of despots, but when you step out of your way and attempt to destroy the foundations of faith, I must remonstrate with you, and now inform you that if the horrors of war were over, or a free way of communication opened up, in the humble dependence of faith on the author of Divine Revelation, and a fixed trust in the truth and goodness of God, I shall meet you at any given place, and there viva voce, discuss the subject with you, of the Scripture authority, before any witnesses you please.”

   In 1794 we find Mr. Stavely republishing with a preface and notes of his own, Dr. Owen’s sermon on Hebrews xii. 27. Here again his pen was called into exercise by the tendencies of the time. The revolutionary wave was sweeping with deadly effect over Western Europe, and the desire of the editor of this sermon is to call attention to the “things which-cannot be shaken.” Prophecy was a specially interesting study to Mr. Stavely, and finding many of the views he entertained on that subject already well expressed by Robert Fleming, in his Treatise on Prophecy, he published a new edition of that work, to which a few pages by way of preface were added from Stavely’s pen.

   These various productions, all issued from the press previous to the troubles connected with the United Irishmen rising, seem to have exhausted Mr. Stavely’s literary efforts. We are not acquainted with anything published by him subsequent to 1798, though to the end of his days he remained an unusually diligent student.

   He was now approaching the stormy part of his life. He had become a public man, travelling over Ulster and coming into contact with all sorts and conditions of men. Doubtless, he was frequently brought face to face with great hardships endured by the people, cases of oppression by the landlords, and instances of injustice by the Government. Being from his very nature, never to speak of his religious principles, a lover of liberty and justice, he hailed with delight any great popular agitation that gave promise of amelioration to the mass of the people. When the Volunteer movement (which had for its purpose the raising of an armed force for the protection of the country against foreign or domestic foes) was started in 1778 he sympathised with it, and a company was formed in the neighbourhood of Knockbracken, called the Drumbracken Volunteers, many of whom were members of his own congregation. He accepted the position of Captain and he took an active part in its organization. The Belfast newspaper the “Northern Star,”‘ of the time, tells that on one occasion he reviewed his company, being himself dressed as Commanding Officer. But after a little the movement assumed larger proportions, and took on a different hue from that which at first it seemed to have. Almost imperceptibly the United Irishmen sprang from it. The Uniting was at first a non-sectarian movement. Mr. Stavely did not like the trend it soon took, and publicly said so. He had already become concerned with the initial stage and it was difficult, even dangerous, though he was anything but a timid man, to discountenance it completely. He was generally understood to sympathise with its aims, and so became a suspect under the eye of the Government. When the affairs of the kingdom began to approach a crisis, he wisely decided to take the advice of the Scotch Presbytery as to what course Covenanters should pursue in the circumstances, and for this purpose he conferred with the Scottish brethren at Girvan. A short time afterwards, in October, 1796, the following ” Seasonable and necessary information ” was published in the ” Northern Star,”1 “At critical time such as the present is, when the public mind is so much agitated, and so many false alarms are in circulation, we, the members of the Reformed Church, called Presbyterian Dissenters (reproachfully called Mountain Men) hold it our duty to step forward from conscience, and publicly declare, that we hold in the highest abhorrence and detestation, all tumultuous and disorderly meetings, and we utterly disclaim all connection with such, whether publicly or privately held, when anything is said or done, that is prejudicial to the peace, the safety or property of any individual or civil society.

   Done in the name of the Reformed Church in the counties of Antrim and Down.”

    This declaration, whether it came directly from Mr. Stavely or not, evidently could not have been made without his agreement and consent. Not withstanding, information was given to the authorities, through some channel now unknown, shortly after-wards, that in the meeting-house at Knockbracken a large quantity of pikes and other arms was concealed. We do not believe there was any foundation for this allegation. The charge was enough, however, to serve the purpose of those who had made it, and on Sabbath, 25th June, 1797,1 Colonel Barber, accompanied by the “Town-Major” of Belfast, and a considerable troop of cavalry, came to Knock-bracken during Divine Service, and being in the meeting-house green attracted the attention of the large congregation assembled within the house of worship. Mr. Stavely stopped the service and inquired the cause of the excitement, and was made acquainted with the presence of the soldiers. He sent out a message asking the Commanding Officer what was wanted. The answer was given that they had come to arrest Mr. Stavely. The minister immediately closed the Bible, dismissed the congregation, and gave himself up to the soldiers with whom he rode away, his horse’s bridle being linked in the bridles of two of their horses. It was a very warm day, and when the cavalcade had ridden some three or four miles Mr. Stavely begged to get a drink of water, but one of the dragoons drew his sword and struck him on the cheek, giving him a cut, and said, with an oath, that that was sufficient drink for a rebel. He was kept a prisoner during the month of July and until the 26th August, when he was liberated on bail.1We know neither the names of the bailsmen nor the amount of the bail. The latter must have been for a considerable amount, as it is known the Government dreaded his influence with the insurgents and with the people generally. He was trusted as a leader where he was known, and he was well known over four or five counties. Indeed the authorities made seductive promises to him on the condition of his taking the oath of allegiance and throwing in his influence with them. This he utterly refused to do, and so remained under the jealous supervision of the Executive. Perhaps it was because of his determined neutrality that he suffered so much.

   The charge against Mr. Stavely having arms concealed in Knockbracken completely broke down. He proved that he was away from home at the time the arms were alleged to have been concealed. He was now given his liberty until after the battle of Ballynahinch. When the soldiers were returning from that battle he was again seized at his house at Annsborough on the charge of being a general officer of the United Irishmen. This was on the night of the 13th June, 1798. His house was sacked, his furniture burnt, and the soldiers made themselves drunk with wine they found in his house. Fortunately we are able from authentic papers still in possession of Mr. Stavley’s descend-ants to allow him to tell the story of his second imprisonment in his own words. The reference to the arms being concealed in the meeting-house seems to be a revival of the charge under which he was arrested the first time. We quote the statement in its entirety, as it disproves completely the accusation that he had anything to do with the United Irishmen.

   “ARTILLERY BARRACK, August 24, 1798. On the 13th day of June last past, being Tuesday, I was arrested at my own house by a party of the Trainmen, a party of the Monaghan Militia and some Fifeshiremen. No charges whatever were mentioned and no officer was present. They set fire to the house in four rooms and kitchen. They burned my turfstack and carhouse and car, also a variety of articles. They took away that night and three succeeding nights, almost all my furniture, plate and apparel, to the amount of £200 and upwards. I was very ill-used by the military on my way to Belfast, giving me the worst of language. They even refused to give me a drink though I was exceedingly warm. I was put into the common guardhouse and kept there three full weeks; eight days and nights without having a bed to lie on, or even having off my clothes. Sundry times I was insulted by the military, sundry times they threatened to hack me—to hang me—to burn me. One of them swore nine times by the Holy Ghost he would shoot me before I left that yard. On the 22nd night, being Sabbath night, I was ordered out directly under a strong guard and put into the Donegal Arms, where there were about 168 prisoners. I was put into a room with one John Hughes, and kept there ten days; when I was again removed to another apartment and kept three days and three nights, and then on the evening of the Sabbath, I and eleven more were removed to the Artillery Barrack, and here have been kept till this instant, when on a sudden we were informed of our being ordered to go into a prison-ship in the Lough of Belfast.

   It is necessary that I should make some remarks on the by-past part of my conduct during my confinement. I wrote on the second day after my confinement to General Barber, requesting to know for what reason I was arrested. No return was made, but a report of a malicious nature that arms had been secreted in the meeting-house of Knockbracken. though there is no ground whatever for such report. And I do most solemnly declare that I never knew of nor was concerned in, nor believe there was any such thing in existence, as arms of any kind in that house of a hostile nature. I was in a little after called upon by Mr. Pollock, the Crown Solicitor, in the company of General Barber. He mentioned the above instance of the meeting-house, and added that on 25th December he charged me with preaching seditious doctrines, but did not instance any particular. After some time I again wrote to General Barber, to be communicated to General Nugent, requesting trial, and signifying that I neither was present not did I assist in the late insurrection, but was active in restraining all I could from joining that insurrection; and yet I was taken from my own house and my property taken away without any known cause. Then a printed proclamation was offered to all the prisoners, signifying that the King’s royal mercy would be shewn, provided important information be given, and penal obligations entered into to remove to some country not at war with the king. After I had read over this proclamation I returned to the Crown Solicitor in presence of General Barber the following denial of acceptance of said terms:—William Stavely having never taken an oath to United Irishmen, nor occupied any place or post among such men, and being a declared enemy to French principles or any foreign interference with the government of Ireland, cannot for these reasons accept General Nugent’s proclamation.—WILLIAM STAVELY.

   It may here be proper to add my judgment on the public divisions and parties now existing in this country. And first I declare myself a Presbyterian. In this religion I was educated from my earliest youth, and now am so from my own personal choice. By the Presbyterian religion I mean to say that I profess the Reformed Presbyterian Covenanted religion. In the faith of these doctrines I was brought up, and to proclaim them I was ordained in the month of August, 1772, at Conlig, Co. Down. I have hitherto continued preaching and inculcating these doctrines to this time, and no party divisions have in the least altered my judgment in any particular. Neither did I change my practice in public or private, nor did I ever say with my lips or write with my hand or signify by any instrument whatever that I would join with Roman Catholics. And I now declare that I could not join with United Irishmen, because their principles are deistical, their practice very immoral, such I mean as I have any acquaintance with. Such was the practice of Israel under the Old Testament, who were bound up not to join in affinity with the people of the land, nor learn their ways, &c. 2 Cor. vi. 14-18, do most clearly point out the sinfulness of such associations. The contrary conduct is condemned and the offenders very severely punished by many natural calamities and judgments poured out on them for the same. On these, with many other grounds, I have kept myself free through the good hand of God accompanying me to this time.

   Moreover in the spring and winter months past, in a course of ministerial visitation that I was engaged in, I gave solemn warning to every religious society under my inspection to beware of and keep at a due distance from all those sinful associations now existing, adding that Israel were to dwell alone among the nations,’ and this I delivered in my own name and authority, and that of the Presbytery, that they and I were under the inspection of. Yet, alas! some have been seduced away from their duty to God, and at the expense of breaking their religious vows and obligations, have apostatised from the Covenanted Testimony, which is a matter of most serious concern to me. And on these grounds I do not believe that I could be useful to nor comfortable among those people again without very serious evidences of their repentance for past sins and a returning again to God with contrition of heart, declaring that it is against God that they have sinned and in His sight done the evils they are charged with.

   This narrative is drawn and subscribed by me this 24th August, 1798. WILLIAM STAVELY.”

   Accompanying this paper is another written at the same time, setting forth the character and extent of his loss in money £ (70), furniture, &c., and in books. It is just possible that some valuable old manuscripts in connection with the early settlement of persecuted families from Scotland, as well as Minutes of Presbytery, may have been destroyed by the hands of these ruffianly soldiers.

   It may be stated that though Mr. Stavely subsequently sought compensation from the Government for his losses, he never received one farthing. He, himself, was taken away and put on board the prison-ship in Belfast Lough. There he lay, during three or four months, a close prisoner, treated with much harshness and needless severity. Every morning, while he lay in the prison-ship, his wife or his eldest daughter used to go out to one of his fields in sight of the ship and put a white sheet on a bush, as a signal that all was well at Annsborough. During his incarceration his son Joseph (whom he never saw) was born and died. We have before us a copy of “A Declaration” of his religious and political principles, together with a solemn personal covenant founded on Jeremiah xv. 19, 20, 21, bearing date “Prison-ship, 30th September, 1798.” The latter is interesting as revealing his deep personal piety. His companions on board the ship were the famous Rev. W. Steele Dickson, D.D., and a priest. Dr. Dickson was imprisoned ten months, and was then sent to Fort George in the North of Scotland, and not finally liberated until 1802. The priest was, we believe, executed, and an annotated copy of the Bible, which Mr. Stavely purchased from him the night before his trial or execution, remains, though dilapidated, as an heirloom in Mr. Stavely’s family.1

   Ultimately Mr. Stavely was liberated, nothing being distinctly proved against him.2 It is a striking commentary on the procedure of the Government at this time, that on the night before the Battle of Ballynahinch, a man came to Mr. Stavely’s house and sought an interview with him. The stranger, who pretended to be a United Irish-man, asked Mr. Stavely if he had any message to send to the rebel army. Mr. Stavely replied that he had nothing to say. Several other efforts were made to extract an incriminating message, but in vain. Afterwards the man turned out to be a noted Government informer.

   It was said by some that Mr. Stavely took the Oath of Allegiance as the condition of regaining his liberty. Someone asked General Barber if this was so. His reply was conclusive, “Oh, he is too great an old rebel to do anything of the kind.”

   Mr. Stavely took part in many striking incidents during those troublous years. He accompanied Mr. Orr, a wealthy farmer of Farranshane, near Antrim, to the scaffold at Carrickfergus, 17th . October, 1797. The scene on the occasion was one well calculated to move the hardest heart. Orr and Stavely had been acquainted, probably from their school days at Antrim, and when the death sentence was passed on Orr, his friend Stavely, accompanied by Rev. Mr. Hill, came at his request to cheer him by his presence and help him by his prayers. The conviction of Orr rested on very unsatisfactory and inconclusive evidence. He had been tried for administering the United Irishmen’s Oath to two soldiers named Lindesay and Wheatley. So strongly did the Judge of Assize—Chief Baron Yelverton—realise this, that he is said to have sobbed aloud when passing sentence. The populace regarded the sentence as amounting to martyrdom. The inhabitants of Carrickfergus withdrew from the town at the time of the execution, to express their abhorrence of the conduct of the Government in carrying out what they regarded as an act of shameful injustice. A few days after the trial, Orr’s wife sent a memorial to Lady Camden asking her to use her influence with the Viceroy, appealing to her as a wife and a mother to stop the execution. We have never read a more earnest, passionate supplication, but it was of no avail. The law, such as it was, had to take its course. On the day of the execution a chaise was provided to take the condemned man from the jail to the scaffold. At first he declined its use, fearing that by going in it he would be deprived of the company of his friends, Stavely and Hill. The authorities, however, allowed the three men to go together in the carriage. During the short journey, Orr and his companions read in turn Psalm xxiii. and the concluding verses of. I. Cor. xv. At the foot of the scaffold Stavely prayed aloud in the most solemn manner, the friends then embraced one another a last time on earth, and Orr ascended the ladder, and, speaking to the soldiers massed around the gallows in triangular form, and to the multitude beyond, said : —”I die for a persecuted country; Great Jehovah receive my soul; I die in the true faith of a Presbyterian.” In a few seconds the bolt was drawn, and he was in eternity.1 Hence-forth “Remember Orr” became the ominous watchword of the exasperated United Irishmen.

   Another scene, even sadder than this execution, was the death of a young man named Daniel English.’ He was a Covenanter—”a pious and amiable youth ” (says Reid)—who had been charged with leading a party of United Irishmen to the house of Samuel Redmond, of Thornhill, near Connor, with intent to rob and murder. A conviction was obtained against English, and, like most drumhead sentences, it was speedily carried out. The condemned young man was led out from the guardhouse at Ballymena to Connor. He was accompanied by the soldiers and a vast concourse of the inhabitants of the whole district, who assembled to shew their sympathy with him. His arms were pinioned, he was clad in his grave clothes, and Mr. Stavely walked by his side the four miles, alternately reading portions of Scripture to him and praying with him; while the multitude from time to time, as directed by Mr. Stavely, engaged in singing such Psalms as the seventy-fourth, seventy-sixth, and one hundred and nineteenth. At length the mill bridge at Connor was reached. A grave had been dug by the soldiers on the roadside. English stepped over to it, looked into it, and calmly remarked, “It is a new tomb, wherein never man lay.” A countryman who was passing at the time with his horse and cart was pressed into the service, though most reluctantly, and the cart was drawn under the scaffold. Mr. Stavely now prayed for a last time with English, who immediately afterwards knelt by the minister’s side and prayed himself. The condemned man was then assisted into the cart, the while solemnly declaring his innocence of the crime charged against him, the rope was adjusted round his neck, and the cart driven on, leaving his body hanging lifeless. The remains were buried un-coffined, we have been told, in the grave on the roadside, despite the entreaties of his friends, who wished to have him buried in the family burying-ground in Connor Graveyard. This request was only granted by the authorities after three days. It was generally believed at the time that the charge against English was false, and the evidence quite insufficient to secure a conviction. We venture to think such a procession never marched before from Ballymena to Connor, and we trust never will again.1

  These are only two of many painful incidents of those memorable times in which Mr. Stavely took part. He lived to see that the “uniting” was a mistake, and doubtless regretted any countenance he had seemed to give to it. It may fairly be questioned if at any time, beyond the advocacy of his principles as a Covenanting minister, and the testimony he thought it his duty to bear against prevalent evils in the constitution and oppressive partiality in the Executive, he had anything of a real bond of union with the rebels. Certainly he warned his co-presbyter, Rev. Wm. Gibson, of Kellswater, of the danger in being connected with the movement. Of one thing we may be sure, had the Government found any evidence against him they would not have permitted him to go free.

  Still, little as he had to do with the rising, he suffered for it. He was imprisoned, and when released he found his influence for good at Knock-bracken gone. The people affected to blame him for leading them into the trouble, and he on his part suspected some of them of treachery in the matter of the arms alleged to have been concealed in the church. Afterwards when the whole matter was gone into by the Presbytery (which had been re-constituted in 1792), aided by the Scottish brethren, Mr. Stavely suggested—and the suggestion was to his credit—that he himself should be censured for any part he seemed to have had in the agitation, and actually was censured by the Presbytery—the Rev. Hans Boggs, of his own accord, standing with him. It is evident, in view of his own statement, that Mr. Stavely submitted to discipline for the sake of the peace of the Church.

  He did not go back to Knockbracken as minister of the place after the rebellion of 1798. In that or the following year a call was issued for him from Bready, but through some misunderstanding or mismanagement it was never presented. In the year 1800 he was unanimously called to take charge of the congregation in Co. Antrim, comprising chiefly Kellswater and Cullybackey. He now re-moved to a farm near Cullybackey, and ministered with great diligence to the widely scattered charge, which increased very much in numbers under his pastorate. Owing, indeed, to this growth a division of the joint charges became necessary. Cullybackey and Kellswater each was anxious to have his services, and each addressed a call to him. He elected to return to his native district, and so accepted Kellswater in 1813. Again he removed with his family, this time to his wife’s property at Marymount, near Antrim, where he lived until his death.

    The Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland was constituted at Cullybackey in 1811, Mr. Stavely being Moderator and also father of the Synod. His sermon on the occasion was from Hebrews iii. I0, “Wherefore I was grieved with that generation and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.”

   From the date of his settlement at Kellswater his life was uneventful, and a few sentences suffice to tell its story. Every Sabbath when at home he rode by himself six miles to Kellswater, and con-ducted the lengthened services usual at that period, and rode back home, very rarely noticing any one by the way. His rule in the session was firm—perhaps some would say severe—and yet he was universally beloved and respected. His devotional habits were most marked. He would permit nothing to interfere with family worship, and certainly nothing to take precedence of it. His text for the Sabbath was chosen early in the week, and he elaborated the subject until Saturday evening at seven o’clock, when he closed his books, had family worship, then shaved, and retired to rest. He rose early on Sabbath morning, and spent the morning hours in devotional preparation for the work of the day. After all, was it not the best preparation? He was a man of a very strong will—stern, if need were, high-spirited, and somewhat impatient of opposition. To those who knew him he was gentle, and to the members of his own family tender almost to a fault. As an illustration of his strength of will, it is told that he had learned the habit of smoking, but on one occasion at Marymount, having made repeated attempts to light his pipe, he grew dissatisfied, rose and crushed the pipe under his foot, and never afterwards indulged the habit.

   He has been described by one who lived with him at Marymount as a tall and dignified man, with dark, penetrating eyes, possessing a remark- ably strong but musical voice. His manner in the pulpit was impressive and rather cantillating, after the style of preachers in the last century. His sermons produced a remarkable effect on the large congregations that flocked to hear him wherever he went. It is seldom that a minister impresses himself so strongly on his generation. It is now a century since he was in his prime, yet his name is still mentioned in many places in Ulster, and always with respect, veneration, and love.

   He had much to be thankful for in the bodily health he enjoyed. During a ministerial life of fifty-three years, we do not know that he was ever, on account of his health, unfit for his work on the Lord’s Day. But even to the strongest sickness and death come. He had preached at Kellswater and announced the Spring Communion in 1825, but gave evidence of exhaustion. When he came to the Meeting-house Green, the elders gathered round him and assisted him to mount his favourite white pony. He told them that he felt really unwell, and bade them all an affectionate farewell, and turned his horse’s head homewards. When he got to the top of the little hill overlooking the meeting-house, he stopped, turned in the saddle, and looked down on the peaceful river and the sanctuary he loved so well, and bade them also farewell in solemn and affecting words. On reaching Marymount he grew worse, and after one month of rather severe suffering, his spirit was liberated. Needless to say, he died as he had lived, in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through Jesus Christ, his Lord. The Spring Communion was a sad one that year at Kellswater, for Stavely was not there.

   His remains were laid to rest, attended by a vast concourse of mourners, in front of the meeting-house at Kellswater, and a monument, contiguous to that of his distinguished successor, Rev. Professor Dick, D.D., marks the spot.

   Mrs. Stavely outlived her husband by twenty-three years. She died at Marymount in her 89th year, in 1848. Mr. Stavely was survived by a numerous family, their names being — Nancy, married to Mr. Andrew Ferguson, of Ardtrea, Co. Tyrone ; William John, Minister of Dervock and Ballymoney; Esther, married to Rev. Simon Cameron, of Ballylagan; Margaret, married to Mr. Francis M‘Millan; Mary, married to Mr. William Clugston, of Antrim ; Eliza, married to Mr. John Graham, of Bailiesmills, Co. Down; and Jane, who died at Marymount, unmarried.

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11
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