Monday, October 29, 2012

Lest We Forget Our Foundations

     This past Sunday being Reformation Sunday, I wrote an article for our church newsletter concerning a reformer who brought about the birth of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
While not all of you that read this blog may be Presbyterian, we owe a debt of gratitude to all who stood for the truth of God's Word beginning with Martin Luther.  This is just another story of a man who was reformed and always reforming by the Word of God.  He paid a great price in his ministry and so I offer this story to encourage you today.


The statue of John Knox who also preached in the Church of the Holy Rude

     My father used to say,  “ A house is only as good as its foundation.”  I recall that in Scripture Jesus made this point in the parable of the house built upon the rock by the wise man and the house built on sand by the foolish man (Mathew 7:24-27) .  He likened the wise man to one who heard and followed what the Lord taught and the foolish man to one who did not obey.  Our foundation, then, is critical in this day and age of relativism.   If the church is to stand, we must never forget our foundation.  Perhaps, this is what led me to do some research on Ebenezer Erskine, one of the founders of the Associate Presbytery in Scotland from which our denomination was birthed.
     Ebenezer Erskine was born on June 22, 1680 Dryburgh, Scotland.   His father was the Rev. Henry Erskine who had served as a Presbyterian minister in the north of England until he was forced to leave his church along with other Puritans when the British passed the “Act of Conformity”.   At the age of fourteen, he entered the University of Edinburgh, receiving the degree of M.A. in 1697.  He was licensed to preach the Gospel by the presbytery of Kirkcaldy in February 1702.  In 1703, he was ordained minister of Portmoak and extended a call by the elders.  His brother Ralph also pursued and was ordained into the ministry. 
The statue of Ebenezer Erskine outside the Church of the
Holy Rude in Stirling, Scotland
     At the beginning of his service to the Lord, Ebenezer was not attractive as a preacher.  He memorized his sermons and feared forgetting something so he never looked at the congregation.  However, two years into his ministry, the Gospel became real to Him and he began to preach from the abundance of his heart.  Christ crucified became the sum and substance of his preaching.  His congregation grew and many came from as far as 60 miles away to hear him preach.  As a result of his faithful preaching of the Gospel, many came to receive salvation in Christ.
     During the course of his ministry, Ebenezer Erskine, his brother Ralph, Thomas Boston and a number of other pastors became embroiled in a controversy over a certain book “The Marrow of Modern Divinity” written by Edward Fisher in 1646 who had a M.A. from Oxford and studied ecclesiastical history.  This book was read by Rev. Thomas Boston which he recommended to others to read.  He began to preach the doctrines of grace which were discussed in the book.  However, the established Church of Scotland denounced the work and in 1720, an act was passed prohibiting the reading of this work, the preaching of it or writing about it.  Further, pastors were to keep their congregations from reading it as the state church felt it was antinomian (against the Law of God).  The root of the matter, according to Dr. Sinclair Ferguson (ARP pastor in Columbia, S.C.) was the nature of God’s grace.  Also at stake was a discussion of the relationship between saving faith and the assurance of faith.  Dr. Ferguson said the book stressed the Gospel of free grace freely proclaimed to all.  In fact, the book preserved the Bible truth that man does not have to first quit sin before he can be saved.  Only when a man comes to Christ does he have the ability to fully see his sin for what it is and repent of it.  The Church of Scotland was preaching conditional grace saying that a person had to be perfected before they could come to Christ.
     Rev. Erskine and the others protested the act passed by the Synod in written correspondence.  However, the Assembly stuck to their position and rebuked these pastors.  This would eventually lead to a rupture in the church as other controversies were to follow.  However these twelve pastors who stood for Gospel truth are owed a debt of gratitude for so earnestly contending for the faith.
     In 1731, Ebenezer was called to pastor The Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling, Scotland.  At this time, another controversy was about to cause the inevitable split that was to come.  For some time, ministers were chosen by patronage rather than by congregational choice.  The General Assembly was ready to pass an act to keep the peace by allowing “heritors” (land holders and patrons) to decide on a pastor for a vacant church.  Ebenezer Erskine along with 42 other pastors gave a written protest to this act.  However, their protest was not allowed to be read.  Ebenezer decried this action and said:  “What difference does a piece of land make between man and man in the affairs of Christ’s kingdom, which is not of this world?.....I consider that by this Act, the Assembly have sunk one of the principal branches of our Reformation inserted in our books of discipline; I mean the right of the Church and members thereof to choose their own pastors – a privilege with the custody of which we are entrusted.”  The Act was passed and the dissent never entered into record.  With this result, Rev. Erskine preached against the Act from the pulpit and was censured as a result.  Eventually in 1740, he was forced to leave the Church of the Holy Rude as he refused to recant his position.  He and several other pastors who also stood in opposition to this Act, likewise lost their churches and formed the Church of the Secession better known as the Associate Presbytery. 
The Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling, Scotland where both John Knox and Ebenezer Erskine preached.
     Ebenezer Erskine and his congregation formed another Kirk in Stirling, and he remained there until his death on June 2, 1754.  His last sermon was preached from his bed to a company assembled in his room, where he baptized a child, after discoursing on a Bible text.  He faithfully served Christ as a minister for fifty one years.  His foundation was built on Jesus Christ whom he faithfully preached all of his life.
     Last year, my husband and I had the privilege of visiting the grave and statue of Ebenezer Erskine in Stirling, Scotland.  Walking into the Church of the Holy Rude will remain fixed in our minds as we contemplate the sacrifices made by this man of God who stood for the truth of God’s Word and the Doctrines of Grace.   May we, as inheritors of this biblical foundation, continue to search the Scriptures
and carry on this battle for truth as did Ebenezer Erskine.  Selah!

For further reading on this subject, you can go to Google Play for free digital downloads of books on Ebenezer Erskine and “The Marrow of Modern Divinity” by Edward Fisher.  There are also books on the History of the Church in Scotland and elsewhere.  It provides some wonderful free resources.  

I welcome your thoughts on this subject as we contemplate those who have gone before us in the faith.


Christina said...

This was just wonderful Barbara! Thank you for taking the time to introduce us to this great saint who has left the church such an example and heritage.

Barbara Thayer said...

I think about the example of so many who have gone before us Christina. They lived their faith and stood their ground. I pray that I can do the same with every breath I take. The truth is too important especially now! Blessings dear sister!