History

Illegal Immigrants from the US, and the partitioning of the El Norte nation

In the early 1800’s Mexico was inundated with illegal immigrants from the United States, who were seeking land and opportunity there. Many were concerned about the immigrants’ resistance to learning the Spanish language and to assimilate and Mexicanize, and also their distinct practices like slavery, which was illegal in Mexico but not in the US. But despite these concerns, Mexico decided to grant the illegal US immigrants legal rights and citizenship in Mexico if they would cooperate and follow the law. In the end the immigrants decided to fight to become an independent state. They were joined in their struggle by nortenos, Mexicans from the northern parts of Mexico where the immigrants had settled. The result of wars with Texas patriots, and with the US, was that Mexico lost a third of its territory to the United States. In these areas, many nortenos still reside. They are not immigrants. They were there before the US Americans were, members of a distinct culture and nation/ethnicity called El Norte, which straddles both sides of the Rio Grande river, is distinct from the nation/culture of central Mexico, and has always had closer economic, cultural, and social ties and similarities with the US to the north than it has to Mexico City to the south. The US/Mexico border essentially cuts through the center of the El Norte nation. How might this historical perspective inform the immigration debate?

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Machen on Smoking

“The fellows are in my room now on the last Sunday night, smoking the cigars and eating the oranges which it has been the greatest delight I ever had to provide whenever possible. My idea of delight is a Princeton room full of fellows smoking. When I think what an aid tobacco is to friendship and Christian patience, I have sometimes regretted that I never began to smoke.” Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, 1987, p. 506.

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The Cause for the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving in 1623, in their own words

Reformed Fellowship of Bellevue

image from wikipedia

Separatist father William Bradford explains the events which led to a celebration of the First Thanksgiving in the English colonies in America.  It was in grateful response to God for a specific providential deliverance in the year that this day was held at Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts in 1623.

Bradford writes,

“I may not here omit how, not withstand all their great pains and industry, and the great hopes of a large cop, the Lord seemed to blast, and take away the same, and to threaten further and more sore famine unto them. By a great drought which continued from the third week in May, till about the middle of July, without any rain and with great heat for the most part, insomuch as the corn began to wither away though it was set with fish, the moisture whereof helped it much. Yet at length it began to languish…

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Independent Ministers In the Welsh Methodist Connexion

[Mr. Thomas Gray] lived among the Methodists and with them only he mixed.  Many ministers came over from the Independents in this way, the Rev. Benjamin Thomas being another example.  It was hardly considered that a formal reception was necessary for them.  Almost imperceptibly to themselves and to others, they slipped into their places within the Connexion.

Jones and Morgan, The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, The Banner of Truth Trust, vol II, 198.

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Protected: Vasari’s Mural Commemorating the Massacre of Protestant Christians on St. Bartholomew’s Day

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Review of “John McMillan” by Dwight Raymond Guthrie

Guthrie, Dwight Raymond, John McMillan: Apostle of Presbyterianism to the West 1752-1833, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1952.

I have to admit that I love to read about the history of Christianity on the American frontier.  This book has added interest for me because it is all about the events that established and founded the region where I grew up.  The names of persons, places, towns, hills, rivers, creeks, schools, and churches described in this book bring back childhood memories for me.  It is written from a Christian perspective of admiration for the life and ministry of John McMillan.

McMillan was a man for his time.  He was an able preacher and theologian, yet Guthrie chiefly notes him for his indomitable strength of character.  McMillan was plainspoken, and could be bluntly direct in the way that he interacted with people.  It took a hardy soul to live, minister, and plant churches on what was then the western frontier.  Having studied at the legendary “Log College”, McMillan was pious, a preacher of the gospel, a maintainer of theological orthodoxy, a revivalist, and a concerned pastor.  Through McMillan’s ministry, several churches, two colleges and a seminary were founded.

This book contains fascinating descriptions of the lives, character, and culture of the people who first settled this part of the country, as well as colorful anecdotes.  The people of western Pennsylvania were under threat of Indian attack at any time, and they went to the meetinghouse to worship armed with their longrifles.  Guthrie notes that one particular minister was known for always checking his rifle prior to reading out his sermon text.  Often the ministers were not paid their promised salaries.  While there were some churches where the trustees willfully reneged on their obligation, at other times the people were under extreme financial hardship themselves and barely able to survive.  Guthrie relates a tale about one church unable to pay its minister’s salary.  It commissioned a couple of its members to take a barge full of newly-ground flour on a dangerous and risky voyage down the Ohio river to the Mississippi to the favorable market in New Orleans in order to procure the cash to pay their minister what they owed him.  Now that’s being resourceful!  Guthrie relates McMillan’s response to political situations, like that of the Whiskey Rebellion.  He was adamantly against the rebellion and refused to administer the Lord’s Supper until they submitted to the civil government.

All in all this book is an enjoyable read.  It will be of interest to those who would like to know more about the history of western Pennsylvania.

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6 Reasons to Read Pierre Viret: The Angel of the Reformation by R. A. Sheats

I’ve just had the pleasure of completing Pierre Viret: The Angel of the Reformation by R. A. Sheats.  This is the finest specimen of a spiritual biography that I can recall reading in recent memory.  Here are 6 reasons why I recommend that you read it.

1. It is an action-packed, page-turning thriller.  From conflicts with Romanists, Protestant magistrates trying to control the church, & ignorant parishioners, to empoisonment, to illness, to blessed fruit, to a surprisingly gentle character in the face of opposition, capture, and imprisonment, I just couldn’t put this book down.  The action is non-stop.

2. It is well-written.  Sheats writes with an effusiveness and expressiveness of style that can only come from being immersed in 16th century French literature for months without end.  Her English prose ebbs, flows, and punches.

3. It is doxological.  As a spiritual biography should be, it glorifies God in all things.  This book will drive you to your knees in thanks to God for His mighty acts in history.

4. It fills in important historical gaps.  Pierre Viret (1511-1571) is a name that is largely forgotten, but it clearly should not be.  Viret, along with the more famous Calvin and Farel together formed the triumvirate.  These three pastors worked closely together, were dear friends, and were used mightily in French-speaking Switzerland.

5. Pierre Viret is an inspirational figure.  Dauntless, courageous, always loving, gentle, and pastoral.  Here are some notable quotes from the author:  “If Farel was the Peter of the French Reformation, and Calvin was the Paul, without a doubt Viret was the John.”  “The only thing that holds me to my post is Him. –Pierre Viret”

6. The beautiful glossy color photographs on location in Switzerland and France.  They made me want to go visit all those places.  Now, I have to someday.  Honestly.

I won’t say that you must read it.  I will only say that if you don’t, you’re really missing out.

Order here.

Read my expanded book review on the Ordained Servant Online.

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Pastoral Letter 12/1/13

Greetings in the name of Him who came to save His people from their sins!

As I type I can feel the leftover turkey and yams churning in my stomach.  We have much to be thankful for, and the upcoming Advent season gives us even more reason to be thankful, for it is this time of year that we pause to remember God’s gift of His Son Jesus Christ, God from all eternity, conceived and born in due time, predestined before the foundation of the world to come as the Savior of Sinners.

Although the Bible does not fix for us the date of the birth of Christ, Christmas is an ancient tradition in the Christian Church.  The date of December 25th began to be observed in Rome in the 4th century.  (The 4th century church father John Chrysostom notes that there was a longstanding tradition already in the Church that Jesus was born during the winter time dating back long before this time.)  Around the same period, in the Eastern churches of Greece and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), Epiphany was starting to become a popular festival on January 6th celebrating Jesus’ birth, the visit of the wise men, and baptism by John in the Jordan River.  While the celebration of Epiphany spread westward, the celebration of Christmas spread eastward and southward to the churches.

nicholas   strikes arius detail

Nicholas of Myra strikes Arius at the Council of Nicaea; Fresco in the Soumela monastery, Turkey

In this period of time there was a great controversy in the Christian church due to a teaching of a preacher in Alexandria, Egypt named Arius that from all eternity “the Son was not.”  He taught that only the Father was the eternal God and that Jesus the son was a lesser god who had been created by the Father at a point in time prior to creation.  (This doctrine is similar to the teaching of some modern groups, for example the “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”)  Arius’ teaching caught on like wildfire because many people found it easier to understand and accept than the biblical teaching on the Trinity: One God in Three Persons (cf. Matthew 28:19.)  But God in His providence raised up great preachers to oppose this teaching, men like the Greek fathers Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus, Basil the Great, and John “golden mouth” Chrysostom.  They knew that without a Savior who is both fully God and fully man, with two distinct natures in one person, there could be no reconciliation of a holy God with sinful man, and there would be no salvation.  These church fathers thought that a new festival on December 25th would provide a valuable opportunity to proclaim the truth about the person of Christ, that God the Son, being fully God from all eternity with the Father and the Spirit, took to Himself a full yet previously un-impersonated human nature, and became man, in the womb of the virgin Mary.  They used Christmas as a defense against Arius and his false teaching about Christ.  It was Gregory Nazianzus who said in reference to John 1:1, “What better way to celebrate Him who is the Word, than by preaching the word?”  Christmas caught on in churches all over the world as a time to hear sermons on the incarnation of Christ, and in the end, it was probably one of the great influences which wound up leading to the decision of the Council of Nicaea in favor of the biblical teaching on who Christ is.  (At the council, according to tradition, there was one minister from the city of Myra in Asia Minor named Nicholas, who is said to have struck Arius in the face during a council session when he said, “The Son was not” in an attempt to knock some sense into him.  Nicholas was defending the biblical doctrine of Christ being fully God, and was also known for being generous to the poor.  He is the origin of the “Santa Claus” stories.)  The results of this council were encodified in the Nicene Creed, an important and historical statement of the doctrine of Christ and the Trinity.

As we reflect on Christ during this season, let us be thankful to God for leading His Church to the truth about who He is, guiding her through history, and remember that salvation is only in Him who being God from all eternity, became man in the womb of the virgin Mary, was born in a stable, and continues to be God and man, in one person, with two distinct natures forever, the Mediator between God and sinful man.

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The Lausanne Academy

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Indeed, in the days prior to the establishment of Calvin’s Academy in Geneva in 1559, the preeminent place of study in the pays de Vaud was unquestionably Lausanne.  The Academy turned out countless pastors for the Reformed faith, and aside from the preachers who left the Academy to proceed as missionaries to the surrounding Roman Catholic countries were many world-renowned men of the Faith who also received their training at Viret’s school.  Some such students included Zacharias Ursinus and Casper Olevianus, authors of the Heidelberg Catechism of 1562, and Guido de Bres, author of the Belgic Confession of 1561.

R. A. Sheats, Pierre Viret: The Angel of the Reformation, p. 92

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A Trio of Tales

Sixteen Seasons

Sometimes we as modern people are quite fond of making a distinction between the head and the heart, between, for example, what goes on at seminary and “what really matters.” We send our young(ish) men off to this small building in west Hamilton where they learn about Dogmatics, and Symbolics, and Hermeneutics, and Poimenics. While those men argue about how far we can go with applying the typological hermeneutic to Scripture, the rest of us get up in the morning and build houses, and milk cows, and mow lawns, and take care of kids. You know, the stuff of real life.

In the first place, sure; there is some truth to that. My son doesn’t need to know how to exegete Tiddler the Fish, and Arenda’s not interested in the final cause of my moustache (which is, of course, contemplative beauty). But if there’s some truth there, it’s also a…

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