True Blue Presbyterianism
(Published in The Presbyterian Magazine, May 1852)
A “True-blue Presbyterian” is an enlightened, true-hearted son of a church that aims at pursuing the chief end of man: to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
1. Historical Antecedents
Let us glance at the origin of this homespun word – often a term of reproach – but, like the banner of Caledonia [the ancient Latin name for Scotland], significant of strength and loyalty.
The term seems to be suggested by some part of the dress which was blue; and some say that, after the fashion of other Presbyterian things, it is taken from the Scriptures. “Did you ever hear of such a word in the Bible?” exclaimed master Charles, who had learned a good deal in the Scriptures, at home and in parochial school. “Stop a minute,” said I, “my young scholar, and bring me the family Bible. Now turn to Numbers, 15th chapter and 38th verse.” The boy, with some amazement, read as follows:
“Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the garment a riband of blue. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them.”
“Well,” said Charles, “I always knew that Presbyterians tried to do the commandments of the Lord, but I never thought of this blue before!”
Without entering deeper into the origin of our clannish blue, (the reproach of which color, by the bye, tinges the vesture of our Congregational brethren, whose far-famed legislation was scandalized with the name of “blue laws”), we will content ourselves with assuming that blue characterized the Scottish tartan from time immemorial, like red the dress of Southern Englishmen, and that in the civil wars of the seventeenth century, a “true-blue Presbyterian” was synonymous with a Scotsman who fought for liberty and his church. What is the meaning of the word now-a-days? That, dear reader, we shall explain very briefly, and in its truest sense. The word has some definite meaning at our hearth-stones, and in our school-houses and churches.
2. A Confessionalist
A true-blue Presbyterian is a Christian who loves the old fashioned Bible doctrines in the Confession of Faith. He lays much stress on God’s sovereignty and the doctrines of grace.
All Presbyterians do not thus magnify revealed truth; this characteristic more properly belongs to the “true-blue.” The Word of God, in its simple and spiritual meaning, as explained in the Confession of Faith, not for “substance of doctrine,” but for true doctrine, is dear to the heart of a thorough Presbyterian.
Though infidels blaspheme, and Arminians deride, and papists mystify, the doctrine of election, it stands forth in the prominence of heaven towering sublimity in the vision of the Christian we are describing. “You need not quote Paul,” said an infidel, combating the doctrine of election, “Paul was a Presbyterian.”
The fathers across the waters, with Calvin and Knox at their head, were thorough believers in all the distinctive doctrines of grace. So were our own great ancestors, Makemie, the Tennants, Dickinson, and Davies. “As to our doctrines,” replied Francis Makemie, when arraigned by the High-church governor of New York, in 1707, “we have our Confession of Faith, which is known to the Christian world.” In that compendium of Bible truth the real Presbyterian believes, as containing the best human interpretation of the Divine will.
3. The Sabbath and Law
He is also a strict friend of the Sabbath and of divine ordinances. A Scot’s Sabbath is a purgatory to a worldling. But the Lord’s day is a day of sober meditation and of spiritual delight to those who have faith in Divine teachings.
Sobriety and joy are not inconsistent terms. May-poles, feasting, and dancing, which agreed with the taste of King Charles’ Christians, were the horror of those of Covenanter stock; whilst attendance on the house of God, and a reverence for its ministrations and ordinances, were the joy of the latter, and will be of their spiritual descendants from generation to generation.
4. The Covenant of Grace
A true-blue Presbyterian exalts the covenant of grace in the training of his children. He dedicates them to God from birth, seeks in their behalf the ordinance of baptism, brings them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, engages with them in family-worship, instructs them in the Bible and Shorter Catechism. He disciplines them on the principles of Solomon, is careful in the selection of their books and companions, sends them to a parochial or religious school, provides for them an honest calling, and in every way endeavors to act upon the truth, “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Far be it from us to arrogate superiority over brethren of other denominations whose doctrinal views and practice coincide in general with those of our church. But it cannot be doubted that thorough Calvinists lay great stress on religious training, both at home and away from home; for what wise Christian would make a distinction in the principles of education, so as to exclude religion from the school-room?
5. A “Conservative”
A thorough Presbyterian is a conservative in church and state. Theological novelties, telegraphed from former ages, do not secure his credence. Extravagances of doctrinal statement he disrelishes. He does not approve of new measures, boisterous excitements, and man’s devices in church affairs. A true friend of revivals, like Dickinson and Alexander, he is unwilling to hazard the permanent interests of religion for doubtful issues, but prefers in all things the good old paths. If others sneer at him, it is a small thing to be judged by man’s judgment. In the state, as a citizen, he is never carried away by the dream-land theories of reformers and infidels.
A true-blue Presbyterian is never found advocating the abolition of capital punishment, resisting the law of the land, affording new facilities for divorces, encouraging agrarianism in any shape. Conservatism, as opposed to extravagance, is the law of his life; the first and second nature of the inner man.
6. A Churchman
A thorough Presbyterian loves his own church. Why should he not? Has he not been nurtured by her care? Does she not hold forth the truth? Are not her methods founded on the Scriptures? The form of church government is not trivial and unimportant matter. Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods and General Assemblies are ramparts, which he may go round about and admire. Her mode of worship, simple, Scriptural, God-ward, uncontaminated by the pomp and circumstance of artificial forms, is dear to his inmost soul. The more simple, the better for him. Hence he dislikes choirs, and abhors organs, as usurpers of the precentor’s place, to stop the voice of the people.
The history of his church is a chapter in Providence which calls forth gratitude to the Giver of mercies. What church has done more to maintain the gospel in purity, and to vindicate civil and religious liberty? Ye Covenanters, worshipping in your glens and fighting for your firesides; ye Huguenots, shut out of France, but not out of Heaven, persecuted witness of grace and truth; ye Puritans of England and Westminster divines, brethren in spirit and in principles; ye ancestors of ours in this goodly land, preachers of the Word with mighty power, and organizers of our Zion in troublous times, we honor you as the servants of the living God, raised up for your mission in His providence! In short, the true Presbyterian’s heart is with his church, which Christ has honored with blessings, and will honor, even with life for evermore.
7. A Missionary
The thorough Presbyterian aims at extending the knowledge of the truth, as he understands it, among all nations. As he loves his church, so he desires to see her excellence perpetuated and extended. He prizes her institutions.
No Missionary Society compares in his judgment with the General Assembly’s Board of Missions; no Education Society has claims equal to the Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church; no Board of Commissioners draws out his sympathy like his own Board of Foreign Missions; no Tract or Sunday-school society comes up to the Board of Publications. These institutions of his church he patronizes on the ground that it is the church’s duty to do her own work, and that no church is better able to attend to her own affairs than his own.
Hence he rallies around Presbyterian institutions, with a view of planting them wherever Providence invites, at home or abroad. A Synod is as useful in India as in Pennsylvania; a religious academy as necessary in Africa as Ohio; and the old-fashioned literature of Calvinistic divines as nutritious the world over as in the highlands and lowlands of Scotland.
A true Presbyterian is no idle religionist, asleep over the wants and woes of his fellow men. With an enterprise as energetic as his doctrines, and with a sense of responsibility stimulated by the sovereignty of his King, he aims at communicating the word of life in its purest form to the millions of mankind.
8. A Protestant
The true Presbyterian is an uncompromising foe to the Man of Sin and Popish idolatry. The Confession of Faith teaches that “such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with Infidels, Papists, and other idolaters;” and that the Pope is “that anti-Christ, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God.”
Whether in Geneva, France, Scotland, Austria, America, the Sandwich Islands [Hawaii], or wherever the Jesuit has penetrated with his guile and guises – whether in this or in preceding ages – the true-blue Presbyterian opposes the scarlet-pointed pageantries and abominations of Romanism.
He has no sympathies with indulgences, masses, purgatory, unctions, crucifixes, impure moralities and soul-deceiving heresies. Like John Knox, he would denounce Popery in the presence of queens, or like Luther, go to contend against it though opposed by devils numerous as house tiles, or like meek-minded Felix Neff, labor among mountains to bring its deluded votaries to a knowledge of the truth.
The thorough Presbyterian, notwithstanding his uncompromising ecclesiastical principles, has a sectarianism more tolerant and magnanimous than that of some sects which boast of larger charity – as will be discovered at the last day.
Whoever reads the severe denunciation of the Savior against formalism and hypocricy, and the tremendous threatenings of the apostles against anti-Christ, knows that Christian charity does not consist in smooth sayings and man-pleasing conduct.
The Presbyterian does not “unchurch” other evangelical denominations, after the manner of some High-church Baptist and Episcopalians, nor does he, on the other hand, seek to co-operate with other sects on conditions which compromise his own principles, and in unions which often end in alienation and strife.
All his views of truth cherish charity toward others; and practically other denominations find that, notwithstanding his peculiarities, they can live with him as peaceably, if not more so, than with those whose professions of brotherly love may exceed him.
Who assists more in relieving the wants of the poor and needy, and in substantial acts of general and public benevolence, outside his own church, than the thorough-going Presbyterian? His sectarianism is an honest and a manly one, without croakings or concealments, and bearing fruits of which he is not ashamed, either before God or man.
10. Alien Righteousness
Finally, the true Presbyterian, after aiming at a life of holiness, which acknowledges its imperfections at the best, wishes to die trusting alone in the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Presbyterianism brings Christ prominently to view, not by the abstractions of philosophy, which the common people cannot understand, but by a tender, personal union through a living faith, which may be realized in every pious heart.
Such a system, in its relation to holiness, produces two effects: – it directly prompts to holiness, and it produces a consciousness of coming short of perfection. Perfect sanctification is the reward of the glorified; and this the believer pants for, and hopes for, only as Christ saves him here from his sins and gives him admission into heaven through His own blood and righteousness. On a dying bed the religious experience of a sincere Presbyterian will be found to magnify Christ and his cross.
His life having been “by the faith of the Son of God, who loved him and gave Himself for him,” his death testifies to the consistent desire “to be found in Him, not having his own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
These remarks on the characteristics of a consistent and loyal Presbyterian are not offered in the spirit of “we are the (only) church,” but simply as descriptive of one of the many shades of doctrinal belief and practice which prevail in the Christian world.