A very warm Christian invite to attend at Kellswater Reformed Presbyterian Church
The Reformation in Ireland
Speaker: Rev Trevor Kirkland
Date: 30th October 7.30pm.
...THAT YE MAY KNOW THE WAY BY WHICH YE MUST GO; FOR YE HAVE NOT PASSED THIS WAY HERETOFORE... Joshua 3:4
A very warm Christian invite to attend at Kellswater Reformed Presbyterian Church
Speaker: Rev Trevor Kirkland
Date: 30th October 7.30pm.
If God be for us, who shall be against us?-The lord is on my side; I shall not fear: what can man do unto me?
Thou has given a banner to them that fear thee.-The LORD is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?… Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.
Behold, God himself is with us for our captain.-The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
These shall make was with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them.
Why do the heavens rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: The LORD shall have them in derision.-Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand for God is with us.
Ex. 17:15 Ro. 8:31; Ps. 118:6; Ps. 60:4; Ps. 27:1, 3; 2 Chr. 13:12; Ps. 46:7; Rev. 17:14; Ps. 2:1,4; Isa. 8;10
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WHO LABOURED DURING THE LATTER HALF OF THE
REV. SAMUEL FERGUSON, B.A.
JAMES MONTGOMERY, BOOKSELLER, CARLISLE ROAD.
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.
This is the conclusion from the whole. Salvation is not from the will of man, nor from his efforts in striving for it, but is entirely of God’s mercy vouchsafed to whom He pleases. What foundation, then, can be discovered in the word of God for those schemes of self-righteousness, which, in a greater or less degree, make salvation depend on man’s own exertions?
There may be here an allusion to Jacob’s desiring the blessing of the birthright, and his running to provide the venison by which he deceived his father; but his obtaining the blessing was solely the consequence of God’s good pleasure, for the means he employed for the purpose merited punishment rather than success. In like manner, the salvation of any man is not to be ascribed to his own good will and diligent endeavors to arrive at it, but solely to the purpose of God according to election, which is ‘not of works, but of Him that calleth.’ It is true, indeed, that believers both will and run, but this is the effect, not the cause, of the grace of God being vouchsafed to them. ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’ To whom is this addressed? To ‘the saints in Christ Jesus,’ in whom God had begun a good work, which He will perform until the day of Jesus Christ — to them who had always obeyed, Philippians 1:1,6,2,2: 12. But besides this, what is the motive or encouragement to work out their salvation? ‘For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.’ Here all the willing and doing of men in the service of God is ascribed to His operation in causing them to will and to do. The whole of the new covenant is a promise of God that He Himself will act efficaciously for the salvation of those whom He will save. ‘I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.’ ‘I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear Me for ever.’ ‘I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me.’ ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them,’ Jeremiah 31,32; Ezekiel 36: In this way the means by which God’s elect are brought to Him, their calling, their justification, their sanctification, their perseverance, and their glorification, are all of God, as was shown in the preceding chapter, and not of themselves. ‘There is great folly,’ say Calvin, ‘in the argument that we are possessed of a certain energy in our zeal, but of such a kind as can effect nothing of itself, unless aided by the mercy of Jehovah, since the Apostle shows that we possess nothing of our own, by excluding all our efforts. To infer that we have the power either of running or willing, is a mere cavil, which Paul denies, and plainly asserts that our will or ardor in the race has not the smallest influence in procuring our election. On the other hand, those merit the severest reproof who continue to indulge in sloth, that they may afford room and opportunity for the grace of God to act; since, although their own industry can accomplish nothing, yet the heavenly zeal inspired by the Father of Lights is endued with active efficacy.’
If any shall oppose the declaration of the Apostle, that it is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy, and assert that the salvation of man depends on conditions which he is obliged to fulfill, then it may be asked, what is the condition? Is it faith? Faith is the gift of God. Is it repentance? Christ is exalted a Prince and a Savior to give repentance. Is it love? God promises to circumcise the heart in order to love Him. Are they good works? His people are the workmanship of God created unto good works. Is it perseverance to the end? They are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. It is true that all these things are commanded and enforced by the most powerful motives, consequently they are duties which require the exercise of our faculties.
But they are assured by the decree of election, and are granted to the elect of God in the proper season; so that, in this view, they are the objects of promise, and the effects of supernatural and Divine influence. ‘Thy people,’ saith Jehovah to the Messiah, ‘shall be willing in the day of Thy power.’ Thus the believer, in running his race, and working out his salvation, is actuated by God, and animated by the consideration of His all-powerful operation in the beginning of his course; of the continuation of His support during its progress; and by the assurance that it shall be effectual in enabling him to overcome all obstacles, and to arrive in safety at its termination.
Robert Haldane commentary on Romans 9 verse 16 (pp. 467-477)
Evil things are happening in homes and families in our land. Daily media reports are sometimes shocking, even unimaginable. There is the shameful abuse of women and children, sexual sins, sometimes committed by fathers violating their own children. We read of the most horrible atrocities imaginable, such as parents murdering their own children, and children their own parents. Even natural affection in the home seems in some cases to be utterly absent. All of these things are clear evidences that we are living in the last days, days of increasing wickedness in the world in which we live. May the Lord in His great mercy preserve us in this evil world, for sometimes these sins come close to us, and we know we are capable of committing them.
We could mention other signs of the deep trouble and distress of the youth in our land. There is increasing apostasy in the church. This takes many forms. One of them is that young people are leaving the church in droves. Many churches have only the aged who remain and gather for worship on the Lord’s Day. Sometimes these parents experience great anguish that their children and young people are gone from the church. Sometimes they do not even care that this is happening. Many in our generation have little or no spiritual interest, and if at all instructed in the home and by the church, when these children grow up to adulthood they leave the church.
Some of the apostasy taking place in the church involves young people who leave doctrinally sound churches, true churches once founded on such doctrine. They then join themselves with mega-churches, where there is little importance given to sound doctrine. All the emphasis in these nominal churches is on feeling excitement, the attraction of large numbers, and popular entertainment styles of worship services. Young people grow up unable to discern truth from error. Many of the younger generation are totally careless about sound doctrine. Popular preachers in mega-churches draw large audiences through promoting pop-psychology and feel-good religion. Others attract the masses by exhorting their members to be involved in all kinds of community action and social issues of the day. They spread the popular philosophy that convinces people that this is where true religion is to be found. As long as you are active in the church doing good in society, perhaps even going to a faraway third-world country where you can be involved in human concerns, world peace, the education of children, cultural renewal, projects that help alleviate world poverty, and assisting where natural catastrophes have happened, then you are involved where Christianity is truly active and significant in the world. Preaching salvation, righteousness, and truth are not important or relevant. Preserving truth and righteousness as the foundation for life, living for and confessing God and Jesus Christ as the only hope of salvation, are not considered important and relevant for Christianity. Promoting God’s glory in a life of true godliness in things like Christian marriage, family life, and the communion of God’s people in His church is just not relevant, and most of that is considered nothing but hypocrisy.
The truly Reformed church maintains the truth of the covenant, according to which God is pleased to continue His church in the line of continued generations of faithful believers. The gospel must be faithfully preached by the true church of Jesus Christ. The truth of the gospel and sound doctrine must be preserved and maintained in her midst. Importantly, arising out of this perspective is the great urgency of instructing our children in God’s foundational institution of the Christian family.
In this article and my next I want to focus on the role and calling of fathers in the covenant home, with what has been said as the background and context. Never before has there been such great urgency of having good fathers in the home as there is today. There is great need for fathers to have a strong influence in their covenant homes. The failure and negligence of covenant fathers in the home will have devastating consequences for the strength of family and for the stability of society, even for our own churches and their future. In our special focus on fathers we are, of course, nor minimizing the important role of covenant mothers as keepers in the home. We are simply recognizing the emphasis that Scripture places on fathers in that they are called to be the heads and strong leaders of their homes, greatly influencing their covenant children by instructing them in the fear of the Lord, by the grace and Spirit of God.
In order for fathers to have the godly influence they ought to in their homes, they must themselves be men who are truly godly, fearing God and keeping His commandments. They themselves must be spiritually minded and have great spiritual concern for their children. They must also love the church of Jesus Christ and the truth God has given to her, the doctrine she is called to maintain and promote in the world and in the sphere of God’s covenant.
Fathers have the God-given relationship to their children that they can by the grace of God have a great influence on their children’s lives by instructing them in the truth and guiding them in the way in which these children must go. A father must be a living example of our Father in heaven in his family, so that believing children will experience the love, care, and comfort of their fathers and submit themselves to his necessary discipline and chastisement for their nurture and development to mature adulthood.
Because of this influence, fathers can also do great evil in their own homes. There is the sober warning of God’s judgment in His law where God warns that He will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation (Ex. 20:5). The wickedness of fathers in the covenant home will have serious consequences of apostasy from the truth in the generations of the church. As fathers, we should all tremble before this warning of the law of God and earnestly pray that God will deliver us from our own personal sins and that He will not cause our sins to have a negative effect on the attitudes and behavior of our children.
Fathers can do great evil in their own marriages and families by their wicked lives. It cannot be denied that there are devastating consequences in families when fathers behave in an ungodly manner. When fathers walk in covetousness, pride, greediness, adultery, divorce, and drunkenness, they will bear evil fruit in the home and family. Even sins such as self-centeredness, unholy ambition, and worldliness will influence the children growing up in the homes of these fathers. God is not mocked; a father will reap what he sows.
Even fatherly neglect of the children will have serious consequences in his family. The father who does not have covenantal love and concern for his children will leave them feeling unloved and uncared for. As covenant children, they need this constant demonstration of love and concern for their own spiritual development, nurture, and sense of wellbeing. The absence of this will often leave deep feelings of bitterness, distress, and confusion within the souls of children.
A worldly father will teach his children to be worldly. A worldly man who does not live his own life in the fear of God will find that his children do not have within them the fear of God, which according to Scripture should be the guiding principle of their lives. A man who is overly committed to his earthly career and occupation, only to increase his wealth and his company’s prosperity so that he does not have the time or energy personally to interact with and influence his children, must not be surprised when his children in later life show little of the fear of God in their lives, in their involvement in the church, and for walking in the good works God has ordained for them to walk in for His glory.
Having said all of the above, we must immediately also comfort faithful fathers in their difficult role. We are completely dependent on the grace of God and the work of His Spirit in the hearts and lives of our children. God in His mercy will also preserve our children in spite of the sins and weaknesses of fathers in the daily task of raising covenant children.
Even in covenant homes where father has been faithful, there are some who still experience the great sorrows and anguish of children who in later life depart from the truth in which they have been instructed, even forsaking the Lord altogether for a life of sin and worldliness. God-fearing fathers must not despair of God’s mercy and wrongly burden themselves with guilt feelings about their own failings and short-comings. They must continue to labor with wayward children, continuing in much prayer that God according to His will and in His great mercy might return wayward sons and daughters of the covenant.
To such wayward children the godly father must be able to say with humility and the grace of God in his own heart, “My son, my daughter, you have grown up in our covenant home. I have instructed you in the fear of God, in keeping His commandments and in confessing and living by the Lord’s truth in your whole life. I have taught you by the example of my own life of the personal sacrifices you must make in life as well as of the ridicule and persecution you must expect from this ungodly world. I have taught about the only hope of salvation as it is in Jesus Christ alone. I have instructed you in the way of truth and righteousness, and of the great reward of the Lord’s blessing on the lives of His people in the way of fearing Him. I have taught you that which I believe in my own heart is the greatest wisdom and the greatest good that will lead to peace with God, life eternal, and glory. But you have willfully and foolishly rejected all of this and chosen the way of wickedness and forsaken the Lord. For this also God will hold you responsible.”
Much of this article has been about warning; it has been somewhat negative, necessarily so. In our next article we are going to discuss the positive instruction of God’s Word summarized in one of the classic passages of the Bible, Ephesians 6: 4. “And you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” This one short verse is full of instruction and encouragement to fathers for their role in their covenant home. This verse is such a great example of verbal inspiration. Every word of this passage in its precise meaning has such great importance. This passage has a negative part to it. In raising of our covenant children, we must be careful not to provoke them to anger. There is great warning here about our behavior towards our covenant children. We want soberly to consider some of the misbehavior and neglect of fathers that can lead to provoking our children to wrath.
Yet, this passage also has volumes of positive instruction and encouragement. Central to this whole passage, as well as to the whole book of Proverbs (written especially for the instruction of our covenant sons and daughters by their parents and again especially for fathers), is one great principle. I refer to the great principle, “the fear of the Lord.” Fathers must instruct their children in the fear of the Lord. Through all their work fathers must labor by the grace and Spirit of God to instill and increase in the hearts of their children the attitude of “the fear of the Lord.” Because of our natural pride, sometimes also sinful and worldly, we want our children to grow up to be successful in life, hopefully even more successful and prosperous than we were. We want our children to have honor among men and success in all their lives. We desire them to reveal that they are very intelligent, gifted, and talented. But we must always be reminded that without the fear of the Lord all of this is nothing more than the vanity of the world and in the end will profit our children very little.
This article was written by Rev. Arie denHartog
by James Anderson
Many observers thought the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court would end the public debate over abortion rights. The issue had been legally settled, it was thought. Subsequent history has proven otherwise. The question of abortion remains as controversial as ever. Nothing close to a consensus has emerged. Polls confirm that public opinion is polarized.
Given the current state of the debate and the cultural influence of the pro-abortion lobby, it’s imperative that Christians from all walks of life—not only those involved in politics—express their pro-life convictions in a consistent, confident, and intelligent fashion. This is no time to back down. We must be ready to give cogent responses to the common charges leveled against the pro-life position.
Before we explore those responses, two points need to be established. First, we should recognize that there’s no serious dispute about whether the Bible and Christian tradition reflect a pro-life stance. Scripture teaches that all human beings are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; 9:6; James 3:9) and that the taking of human life, apart from divinely sanctioned exceptions, is not merely immoral but criminal (Ex. 20:13; Mark 10:19; Rom. 13:9). Furthermore, multiple biblical texts indicate that human life begins at the point of conception (Job 31:15; Pss. 51:5–6; 139:13–16; Jer. 1:5). For these reasons, there has been a consensus among Christians throughout history that abortion is a grave sin. Only in the last half-century, under pressure from a post-Christian culture, has there been any challenge to this consensus.Read Full Article
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.
‘It is a shame’-said the heathen philosopher-‘not to learn morals from the small animals’ Yet what a proof is it of the degradation of the fall, that “man, created in the image of God,” and made wiser than the creation (Gen. 1:26. Job, xxxv. 11), should be sent, as here, to this insignificant school for instruction! The ant, having no guide to direct her work, no overseer to inspect her, or ruler to call her to account yet I gathereth with diligent foresight the summer and harvest store for her winter need. Let the sluggard consider her ways, and be wise. He sleeps over his work, and, if for a moment half-hearted by some rousing call, still pleads for a little sleep, and folds his hands to sleep. Present ease is all he calculates on, all he provides for. The future he carefully keeps out of sight, to be provided for, like the present, when it comes. Thus life runs to waste. Poverty comes step by step as one that travelleth, and, like an armed man. With irresistible violence. (Chapter 10:4; 13:4; 19:15, 24; 20: 4; 21:25; 24:33, 34.)
Perhaps he perverts his Master’s word to excuse his sloth. But, if we are to “take no anxious thought for the morrow” (his true meaning), are we to take none at all? Care is a duty, a parental obligation (2 Cor. 12:14. Comp. Gen. 30:30; 41:33), and therefore, a component part of godliness. Carefulness is a sin (Luke 10: 41. 1 Cor. 7:32), a needless burden to ourselves and unworthy distrust of God. (Matt. 6:25-33.) The diligent use of providential means honours God. (Chapter 10:5; 24:27.)
But much more loudly would we call to the spiritual sluggard. Thou art sleeping away the opportunities of grace “striving to enter in at the strait ate” (Luke 13:24); taking thy salvation for granted; hoping that thou shalt “reap that which thou hast not sown, and gather where thou hast not strawed” (Matthew 25:26)-Go o the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Improve, after this pattern, the summer and harvest season-the time of youth, the present, perhaps the only, moment. The ant hath no guide. How many guides have you-conscience-the Bible-ministers! (Job 32: 8. Ps. 119: 105. Mal. 2:7.) She has no overseer. You are living before Him, whose eyes are as a flame of fire.” (Chapter 15:3, Rev. 1:14, 2:18.) She has no ruler callingher to account. “Every one of us must give account of himself unto God.” (Rom. 14:2.) How long hen wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? – is the solemn remonstrance of ty God. (Comp. chapter 1:22. 1 Kings 18:21.) Thy sleep is not like that of the body refreshing at the dawn of day; but it is that of the poisoned draught, heavier and heavier; the slumber of death, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and Christ shall give thee light.” (Eph. 5:14.) Slight not the call of the present moment. The spell grows stronger as resistance is delayed. Ever day’s slumber makes it more improbable, whether thou wilt ever awaken at all. The intended struggle of to-morrow is a delusion. A thousand such tomorrows there may be; and yet thou mayest be found at last perishing in thy poverty, and the King of terror will come as an armed man to summon thee to judgment.
But how one is made to feel that from this dep slumber no voice but Omnipotence can rouse! Enter the sluggard’s chamber; put aside his curtain; hang over is bed; sound a solemn cry in his ears-How long? Endeavour even to open his eyelids to see the light of day; and yet the spell is too strong for man. He shifts his posture, murmurs his cry-a little more sleep-and slumbers again. Christian! You feel the helplessness of your work. Then call in the power of God in your brother’s behalf-“Lighten his eyes, lest he sleep the sleep of death.” (Ps. 13:3.)
And then as for thyself-grow in intense energy in thy high calling. Remember, faith without diligence is slumbering delusion. Faith is the practical energy of a living faith. Always, therefore, look at sloth, not as n infirmity, but as a sin, affecting the whole man; growing upon us with unperceived power. Allow it therefore no rest, no time to root itself. Resist it in all its forms-bodily mental, spiritual: indulgence of sleep and appetite: self-pleasing in all its subtle and plausible workings. Live by rule. Have your time strictly arranged. Be employed in early work for God. Store the mind with useful knowledge; ever reserving the first place for an industrious and prayerful study of the book of God. “Mortify” this baneful lust “through the Divine Spirit” (Rom. 8:13); drawing all your motives from the death (Ibid. 6:6), the life (Mark. 1.32-35), the rules of Christ (Luke 9:23. Rom. 13:11-14.) Victory will soon declare for you; and how enriching will be the spoil!
We have now reached one of the most solemn and fear-inspiring passages to be found not only in this epistle, but in all the Word of God. May the Holy Spirit fit each of our hearts to approach it in that godly trembling which becomes those who have within their own hearts the seeds of apostasy. Let it be duly considered at the outset that the verses which are now be before us were addressed not to those who made no profession of being genuine Christian, but instead, unto them whom the Spirit of truth owned as “holy brethren partakes of the heavenly calling.” (3:1). Nevertheless He now dehorts them from stepping over the brink of that awful precipice which was before them, and faithfully warns of the certain destruction which would follow did they do so. Instead of replying to this which arguments drawn from the eternal unity of God’s saints, let us seek grace to honestly face the terrible danger which menaces each of us while we remain in this world of sin, and to use all necessary means to avoid so fearful and fatal a calamity.
In the pass, dear reader, there have been thousands who were just as confident that they had been genuinely saved and were truly trusting in the merits of the finished work of Christ to take them safely through to Heaven, as you may be; nevertheless, they are now in the torments of Hell. Their confidence was a carnal one; their “faith,” no better than that which the demons have. Their faith was but a natural one which rested on the bare letter of the Scripture. It was not a supernatural one, wrought in the heart by God. They were too confident that their faith was a saving one to, to thoroughly, searchingly, test it by the Scriptures, to discover whether or no it was bringing forth those fruits which are inseparable from the faith of God’s elect. If they read an article like this, they proudly concluded that it belonged to some one else. S cocksure were they that they were born again so many years ago, they refused to heed the command of 2 Cor. 13:5 “prove your own selves.” And now it is too late. They wasted their day of opportunity, and the “blackness of darkness” is their portion forever.
In view of this solemn and awful fact, the writer earnestly calls upon himself and each reader to get down before God and sincerely cry, “Search me, O God: reveal me to myself. If I am deceived, undeceive me ere it be eternally too late; Enable me to measure myself faithfully by Thy Word, so that I may discover whether or no my heart has been renewed, whether I have abandoned every course of self-will and truly surrendered to Thee; whether I have so repented that I hate all sin, and fervently long to be free from its power, loathe myself and seek diligently to deny myself; whether my faith is that which overcomes the world (1 John 5:4), or whether it be only a mere notional thing which produces no godly living; whether I am a fruitful branch of the vine, or a new creature in Christ, or only a painted hypocrite.” If I have an honest heart, then I am willing, yea anxious to face and know the real truth about myself.
Perhaps some readers are ready to Ay, I already know the truth about myself: I believe what God’s Word tells me: I am a sinner, with no good thing dwelling in me; my only hope is in Christ. Yes, dear friend, but Christ saves His people from their sins. Christ sends His Holy Spirit into their hearts, so that they are radically changed from what they were previously. The Holy Spirit seeds abroad the love of God in the hearts of those He regenerates, and that love is manifested by a deep desire and sincere determination to please Him who loves me. When Christ saves a soul, He saves not only from Hell, but from the love of the world; He delivers him from the far of man, the lusts of the flesh, the love of self. True He has not yet completed this blessed work. True, the sinful nature is not yet eradicated, but one who is saved has been delivered from the dominion (Romans 6:14). Salvation is a supernatural thing, which changes the heart, renews the will, transforms the life, so that it is evident to all around that a miracle of grace has been wrought.
Thus, it is not sufficient for me to ask have I repudiated my own righteousness, have I renounced all my good works to fit me for heaven, am I trusting alone to Christ? Many will earnestly and sincerely affirm these things, who yet give no evidence that they have passed from death unto life. Then what more is necessary for me to ascertain whether or no my faith be a truly saving one? This, there are certain things which accompany salvation” (Hebrews 6:9), things which inseparable from it; and for these I must look, and be sure I have them. A bundle of wood that sends forth neither heat nor smoke, has no fire under it. A tree, which is in summer, bears neither fruit nor leaves, is dead. So a faith which does not issue in godly living, in an obedient walk, in spiritual fruit, is not the faith of God’s elect. O my reader, I beg you to diligently and faithfully examine yourself by the light of God’s unerring Word. Claim not to be a child of Abraham, unless you do the works of Abraham John 8:39).
DOCTRINE.-That man is indeed God’s servant who is devoted to his fear.
There may be weaknesses and failings, but for the main he is swayed by the fear of God.
1. What it is to fear God.
2. Why this is a sure note of God’s servant; because it removes all the lets of obedience.
1st. What is the fear of God. There is a servile and a filial fear; a fear of wrath which the worst may have: “The devils believe and tremble” (James ii.19). And a fear of offending which the best must have: “Happy is the man that feareth alway” (Prov. xxviii.14); a reverend disposition of heart towards God as our sovereign lord and master, yea, as our Father in Jesus Christ.
For the first of these: –
1. A fear of wrath. Every fear of which is not sinful; it is a duty rather than a sin; all God’s children are bound to have tender sense of God’s wrath or displeasure against sin, to make them awful and serious in the spiritual life, as, “Let us serve God with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. xii.28). Mark, upon that account and consideration, as “he is a consuming fire” that should have an influence upon our godly fear; and, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell” (Matt. x.28). The words do not only contain a description of the person who ought to be feared, but the ground and reason why he is to be feared, and therefore it is not simply the fear of which that is sinful, but it is the servility and slavishness of it. Now, what is the servility and slavishness of the fear of wrath? parlty when our own smart and terror is feared more than the displeasing of God; and they have a mind to sin but are afraid of Hell, and it is fear accompanied with hatred. Servile fear, though it keep us from some sins, as a wolf that may be scared from the pray, yet keeps its devouring nature. It is accompanied with hatred for God; all that fear God they hate him; and indeed they could wish there were no God, none to call them to account; they could wish he were not so just and holy as he is; and so here lies the evil of it, not so much as fear of wrath (for that is a grace rightly conversant about its object), but as it tends to this hatred of God; and partly, too, servility lies in this, as it makes us shy of God, and run away from him, rather than draw near to him, as Adam ran into the bushes to hide himself. Holy fear is an awe of God upon the soul, but that keeps us in a holy communion with him; “I will put my fear into their hearts, that they shall not depart from me;” but that fear which makes us fly from God is slavish, and partly as it hath torment and perplexity in it, and so hindereth us in God’s service: “Fear hath torment” in it. The fear of wrath, that is a duty, but slavish fear is such a fear of wrath makes us hate God, and shun his presence, and afraid more of wronging ourselves than wronging of God, and such a fear that hath a torment and perplexity in it, that cannot serve God so cheerfully.
2. There is a filial fear, a fear of reverence. This fear of God was in Christ as mediator (Isa. xi. 1, 2). Among other graces there reckoned up which do belong to Jehovah “the Branch,” to Christ Jesus, this is one, “The fear of the Lord.” Christ, as man, had a reverend affection to his Father whom he served, and this fear it continueth to all eternity in the blessed spirits that are in Heaven. The saints and angels have this kind of far, a dread of the holy God, and a reverent and awful respect to his majesty. It is an essential respect which passeth between the creature and the Creator, and can never be abolished. Now, this fear of reverence consisteth in a high esteem of God, of his majesty, glory, power, and in the sense and continual thoughts of his presence. And then a loathness to sin against God, or to offend in his sight, to do anything that is unseemly when God is a looker-on. What! Can a man sin freely that lives in the sight of the holy God, when he hath a deep sense of his excellency imprinted in his heart? This is that fear which is the note of God’s servants. 2ndly, This must needs be the note of God’s servants because it is the great principle that both hindereth us from sin, and quickeneth us to duty. The fear of God is one of the radical and essential graces which belongeth to a Christian. It is a mighty restraint from sin. The beasts were made to serve men, and how are they held in subjection and obedience to man? “The dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth” (Gen. ix. 2). So we are made for the service of God. Now, how are we kept in subjection to God? When the fear of God is upon our heart, that will not suffer us freely to do anything that is displeasing to God. “God is come to prove you, that his fear may be before your faces that you sin not.” (Exod. xx.20). It is a great remedy against all temptation of gain, and worldly profit, and temporal convenience. Looks, as that man that had a fear of the king upon his heart: “Why didst thou not smite him to the ground?” saith Joab; and the man answered, “Though I should receive a thousand shekels, yet would I not put forth my hand against the king’s son.” (II Sam. xviii. 11, 12). Just such a fear hath a child of God of his heavenly king; no, though I should have never so much offered me to tempt me from my duty; no, I dare not, the Lord hath charged me to the contrary. Or, as when the Rechabites were tempted to drink wine, pots were brought before them to inflame their appetite; no, we dare not. These passages express the workings of heart’s in one that fears God, though temptation be present, and never so much convenience thereby, yet how can they do this wickedness and sin against God.
USE.- It informeth us who are God’s servants. Those that have most of this fear of God planted in their hearts: “He was a faithful man, and feared God above many.” (Neh. vii. 2). And then that they express it in their conversation; God will not take it planted in our hearts, if we do not obey him in those things that are contrary to our interests and natural affections. When God tried Abraham that was to offer his Isaac: “Now I know that thou fearest God, since thou hast not withheld thine only son,” 7c. (Gen. xxii.12). Why was Abraham unknown to God before that time? As Peter told Christ, “Lord, thou knowest all things;” cannot God see the inward springs and motions of our souls, and what affections are there? Could not God tell what was in Abraham? But now I acknowledge. For God will not acknowledge it in this sense until we express it. They are the true servants of God that have his fear planted in their hearts, and express it upon all occasions. (pp. 378-380)
Probably more commentaries, study guides, and helps have been published on the book of Psalms than on any other book of the Bible. It is not my purpose here to supplant those other works. Rather, I want to offer some suggestions to the Christian on how to use the Psalms so that he can then more profitably use these other works on the Psalms.
The Psalms themselves were written throughout the entire period of Old Testament revelation, from the time of Moses (Psalm 90) to the period after the exile (Psalm 126). The titles of seventy-two psalms ascribe them to David, while others are by Solomon, Asaph, Heman, and the sons of Korah. Some of the psalms may have been used in temple worship (hence the phrase “to the choirmaster” in more than fifty psalm titles). The psalms are of different types. Some are laments, both individual (Psalm 42) and corporate (Psalm 44). Some are psalms of thanksgiving (Psalm 100), while others are hymns, or songs of praise (Psalm 96). Some of the psalms are commonly referred to today as “wisdom” psalms, such as Psalms 1 and 119. These psalms tend to be reflections on the Word of God. Some psalms, such as Psalms 69 and 109 are referred to as “imprecatory” psalms, in which the substance of the psalm is a prayer against the enemies of God (an imprecation).Read full Article