Charlotte Arbaleste Duplessis-Mornay – Faithful Chronicler, Devoted Wife, Loving Mother

by Simonetta Carr

            Charlotte Arbaleste’s wife changed drastically when a young man came to town. Native of Paris, she had found refuge in Sedan, in the French Ardennes, after the disastrous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. She had been a widow for five years and had no intention of remarrying. To many noblewomen, widowhood provided a quiet, independent life.

            The man was Philippe Duplessis-Mornay, just a few years older than her. He had just returned from England, where he had fled after the massacre. Apart from their common experience of grief and flight, the two discovered they shared many interests.

            For a start, they had both been raised in families with mixed religious beliefs. Philippe’s mother favored the Huguenots while the father had been a firm Roman Catholic. In Charlotte’s case, it was just the opposite. Both Philippe and Charlotte had become devout Protestants. In fact, he was offering his military services for the Huguenot cause.

            They both loved reading, mathematics, painting, and especially writing. She had written an account of the Bartholomew’s Day massacre and encouraged him to write an essay on life and death – a necessary subject in such calamitous times.

            For eight months, they spent two or three hours a day together. She was impressed by his talents and his “polished and honest conversation,”[1] but wondered about his intentions. Was he courting her? After asking him a few general questions about the expediency of soldiers marrying in dangerous times, she concluded his were just neighborly visits.

            Still, she was concerned of what people would say, and decided it was best for her to move away. She was just making traveling plans when he proposed marriage – a surprising but welcome prospect. Before replying, Charlotte made sure his mother and brother agreed. Other relatives had contrasting opinions. Some warned Philippe that Charlotte was not rich, and offered other suggestions, but he was not interested in exploring other alternatives, nor in pursuing better financial options.

            Being in the service of the Huguenot King Henry of Navarre, who aspired to the French throne, Philippe had to leave on a military campaign soon after his proposal. Mildly wounded, he was captured by the armies of the Roman Catholic Duke of Guise, and released only after Charlotte arranged to pay his ransom. Philippe and Charlotte married in January 1576. As a bridal present, he gave her the book she had urged him to write, A discourse of life and death.

A Life of Travels

            Philippe continued to earn the trust of King Henry, who sent him on several diplomatic missions, including a trip to England from 1577 to 1578 and a trip to the Netherlands from 1581 to 1582. Charlotte joined him each time, as Philippe longed for them “he longed for us to be as much together as the misery of the age allowed.”[2] Their daughter Elizabeth was born in London and their son Philippe in Antwerp, Holland.

            Wherever they went, Charlotte cultivated her husband’s friendships and supported his writing projects, such as his Treatise of the Church, an exhortation to right doctrine, and his Treatise on the Truth of Christianity, an apologetic work against atheism, Islam, and other beliefs. Philippe’s works were appreciated in other countries and readily translated into English.

            Over the years, Charlotte and Philippe had eight children together: four boys and four girls. Of these, only two girls and one boy lived past infancy. In spite of his travels, Philippe made a point to be present at the babies’ births. Once, when he couldn’t make it back on time, he sensed the time when the baby was born.

            When Philippe was away, Charlotte kept in touch with him by mail while she managed his estate and entertained people who came to see him. He often committed to her important messages to pass on to others, and treasured her opinion on his writings.

            Charlotte nourished great hopes for her only surviving son Philippe. Soon after his birth, she began writing a biography of her husband as an example and guide to the boy. The book, which includes her own memoires, is a testimony to her witty personality, unswerving love for her husband, and insightful understanding of theological and political matters. She gave her son a copy when he turned 16, but continued to record new events as they took place.

            Some of her stories reveal her feisty spirit. For example, when she followed her husband to Montauban, France, she discovered that the local church had banned from the Lord’s Supper for her habit of wearing a wig. In fact, the ban extended to her whole family. Her husband, who was busy with organizational meetings, was shocked that a church could administer discipline without giving him notice.

            Besides, both Philippe and Charlotte were persuaded that wearing a wig was a matter of Christian freedom. If it was, as the local pastor asserted, a disobedience to Scriptures, then it should be forbidden in every church. Charlotte sent two long letters to the General Synod of the Reformed Church of France. No answer was recorded, but the family soon moved to Saumur, where Philippe became governor, and the issue never rose again.

            In Saumur, Charlotte contributed to the building of a Protestant church, while Philippe founded a Protestant Academy that kept him busy after King Henry’s abjuration of Protestantism in 1593.

Disappointments and Grief

            Henry’s conversion to Catholicism horrified the Mornay family, but Philippe continued to be loyal to him, facilitating the negotiation of the 1598 Edict of Nantes and negotiating the 1599 annulment of the king’s marriage to Marguerite of Valois. Philippe’s treatise on the eucharist, published in 1600, provoked the king’s anger for its defiance to Roman Catholic doctrines, right when Henry was trying to establish peace. The dispute over the book culminated in a public debate held in the presence of the king, where Philippe was defeated. Philippe thought it was unfair, since only nine of his five thousand passages were determined to be inaccurate.

            Charlotte spoke with pride of their son’s courage in asking Henry’s courtiers, “Are not you clever enough to see that the King, to please the Pope, has sacrificed my father’s honour at his footstool?”[3] In truth, the young man was following in his father’s footsteps. He was a brave soldier, faithfully devoted to the Huguenot cause. She planned to arrange a suitable marriage for him, possibly to the granddaughter of the famed Admiral Gaspar de Coligny.

             Her hopes were crushed in 1605, when her son died in battle. Her last lines describe the manner of his death. He was still recovering from an injury, but had already missed one campaign and was eager to get back to action. He was shot in the chest while rallying the troops to fight.

            “Happy end for him,” she wrote in her Memoires, “born in the Church of God, nourished in His fear, noted for his worth while yet so young, lost in a righteous quarrel and in an honourable action. But for us, the beginning of a sorrow which can only end in death, with no other consolation but what the fear and the grace of God can give us while we chew the bitter cud of our grief.”[4]

            Suddenly, the book on life and death she had encouraged her husband to write came to life as never before, “Diest thou yong?” he had written, “praise God as the mariner that hath had a good winde, soone to bring him to the Porte. … We must rest us in his will, who in the middest of our troubles sets us at rest.”[5]

            Philippe and Charlotte tried to console each other with similar thoughts. “God now calls upon us to make proof of our faith and obedience,” Philippe told her as he gave her the news. “Since it is His doing, we must hold our peace.”[6] She looked for comfort in thinking of worst scenarios. Overall, she realized words were insufficient.

            “Silence best expresses what followed to all who own a heart. We felt as if our entrails were torn from us, our hopes cut off, and our plans and wishes frustrated; we could not converse with one another for a long while, or think of anything else, for, next to God, he had been our one subject of speech and thought; our daughters, notwithstanding our lack of favour at court, being happily married and settled elsewhere after much trouble so as to leave the house in his sole possession, all our thoughts had thenceforward centred round him; we felt that God, in

taking him, had taken everything from us, no doubt to detach us from the world and to save us from all regret at parting, at whatsoever hour he might choose to call us.”[7]

            She might have remembered her husband’s admonitions to leave the times of one’s death in God’s hands, just as her desire to leave this life swelled in her heart. “Truly did I not fear M. du Plessis’ grief, whose love for me grows as my sorrow grows, I would fain not survive him,”[8] she wrote.

            Those were her last lines in the book she had written for her son “to describe the pilgrimage of [their] lives.”[9] Her body, already frail and tried by frequent illnesses, didn’t last long under the emotional strain. She died on May 15, 1606.

            Her husband, crushed by the double blow of death, found comfort in Christ and in the support of his daughters. He lived long enough to write more apologetic books in response to Roman Catholic attacks, and to contribute from afar to the Synod of Dordt to which he had been invited but which King Louis XIII had prevented him from attending.

            When the king deprived him of his governorship of Saumur, Philippe became convinced that his responsibilities in this world were over. He died in 1623. Charlotte’s book was published soon after his death, with the title Memoires de Messier Philippe de Mornay.


[1] Lucy Crump, ed., A Huguenot Family in the XVI century. The Memoirs of Philippe du Mornay, written by his wife, London: Routledge & Sons, p. 139….

[2] Ibid., p. 193

[3] Ibid., p. 58

[4] Ibid., p. 284

[5] Philippe De Mornay, A Discourse on Life and Death, transl. by Mary Sydney, London, 1592,

[6] Charlotte De Mornay, quoted in Lucy Hutchinson, Memoirs of the life of Colonel Hutchinson, London: J. M. Dent, p. xx11,…

[7] Ibid.

[8] Lucy Crump, A Huguenot Family, p. 284

[9] Ibid.


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Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Hell Podcast

by Jonathan Master

Hell Podcast

We managed to catch Jonathan and James in their offices having a conversation about hell. The topic might not be a very popular one, but—if Scripture addresses it—we should pay attention to it.

The Bible uses a few different words referring to hell, describing it as a place of punishment. But, is the word punishment used in the sense of “retribution,” or as meaning “corrective and rehabilitating?” What does scripture describe as being the real purpose of hell, and how does that purpose glorify God? Don’t miss this fascinating conversation.

Show Notes

Matthew 25

Hebrews 9:27

2 Thessalonians 1

Daniel 12

Congratulations to the winners of The Letter and Spirit of Biblical Interpretation from our past episode For Instruction, Doctrine, and Morals. Follow the link to read more on the topic.

Deborah C. – Wheeling, IL

Trevor M. – Syracuse, NY

Johnnymae B. – Ambler, PA

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Word, Sacrament, and Discipline: Sacraments, Grace on Display

by Joel Wood

As a Presbyterian, I often find myself in attendance at the examination of our Seminary students. Our denominational seminary lies is within the borders of our presbytery, so we have a good number of students on an ongoing basis. Like most Reformed Seminaries and Presbyterian denominations, we have students that arrive on our doorstep with little knowledge or conviction of Reformed “Faith and Life.” It is always fun and interesting to watch the students grow and develop in their knowledge, conviction, and application of those. One area that I’ve watched over the years is that of their understanding of the Second Commandment: that we should neither make images of God nor use man-made images in worship. At times, they can make very strong statements: “We are NEVER to use ANY images in worship!!” To which I would reply: “Really?”

Unfortunately, the Presbytery’s time is short, and exams can move quickly, so I never get to have the fun I WANT to have at this point. “Are we really to NEVER use ANY images in worship? Is NOTHING to be pictured for us EVER as we worship the Triune God each Lord’s Day?” While I doubt a student under care would prefer to be cornered in such a way (and I WOULD do it with a smile!), the answers to these questions is clear from Scripture: “We should use ONLY those images that God has commanded to be used; of which, there are three: water, bread, and wine, which picture for us the grace of God in the ministry of the Word and Spirit, sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the feeding of our souls upon his body and blood.” Yes. The Sacraments vividly display for us, signify for us, the benefits we have through Christ in the Covenant of Grace. We are washed by the pure water of the Word. The Holy Spirit flows down upon us in our regeneration. We are born again by the living Spirit. The body and blood of our Lord serve as nourishing realities for us in our march heaven, sustaining our souls, even as our bodies are sustained by the bread and wine. We truly are able to “taste and see that the Lord is good”!

So… is that it? Pictures. Is that all that these millenia-old practices of the Christian church amount to? While the picturing done for us in the Sacraments is plenty, and serves a good purpose for us in our yet-to-be-glorified state, simply put: No. The Sacraments hold more, much more, for those who are in Jesus Christ. They not only provide physical pictures for us, they also give God-ordained guarantees to us! Now, these are not guarantees like we might think of in our human experience: contracts guaranteeing goods and services which we have bought and paid for. Quite the contrary, the Sacraments are sealed unto all those who receive them by faith, as spiritual benefits bought and paid for by Christ, him alone. They are part of the Means of Grace ministry of the church that promises a benefit to worthy receivers[1] upon the working of the Spirit. It is HIS ministry to be had at the proper time.

The Sacraments, these holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, have been given to us directly by God, instituted by him to represent to us Christ and his benefits. We are confirmed in what he has promised to us. And, in the end, it provides a boundary marker between the church and the world. Finally, it encourages our service to God in Christ. All of this given to us by and centered upon His Word.[2]

Be encouraged, dear friend, to not be negligent, then in how you use and experience the Sacraments. Is it “just another baptism” to you? Or a God-ordained appointment to remember your own Baptism, to learn better to live in the Spiritual realities given you by your baptism? Is it “Communion, again?!” Or a joyful time to consider the spiritual growth that has happened since the last time you were gathered to the Lord’s Table? Even a pause to consider how better to wage war against that sin that has been distracting and damaging your soul?

The Lord has given us the Sacraments to bless us, to build us up in the most holy faith. Let us see His grace, clearly on display, for us, as we see, touch, taste, and experience these pictures and promises for us in Christ.

Joel Wood is the pastor of Trinity RPC in Burtonsville, MD, between DC and Baltimore. He holds M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is 1/4 of The Jerusalem Chamber podcast, a roundtable discussion about the doctrine, worship, and piety of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith, 27.3.

[2] Westminster Confession of Faith, 27.1. Rephrased.


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Word, Sacrament, and Discipline: Preaching

by Jeffrey Waddington

During the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers came to the conclusion, in the face of defection and departure from biblical orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and doxology within the medieval Roman Catholic Church, that there needed to be a means whereby a true Christian church could be distinguished from a false or compromised church. Over time these men developed what have come to be called the “marks” of a true church: the faithful proclamation of the Word, the due administration of the sacraments, and proper discipline. These can be seen in Luke’s description of the church in the book of Acts (Acts 2:42 and 5:1-11 immediately come to mind). All of these are interrelated and should not be separated in theory or practice although we can distinguish them. If a body of Christian believers is not manifesting these characteristics of the church, more or less faithfully, then that church fails to win sinners to Christ and to build up saints in the nurture and admonition of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Westminster divines, gathering from 1643 to 1653 further delineated what are called the means of grace: the Word, sacraments, and prayer. These are those ways that God has told us in his Word that he will bless to the nourishment of his people and the evangelization of the nations. In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the divines ask and answer the following question:

Q. 89. How is the word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.

Certainly, the reading of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in personal and family worship is important and a necessary way that God leads his people in their daily walk with him. But as the divines point out in the expression I have highlighted above, it is the public proclamation of the Word of God, that God ordinarily uses to call unbelievers to Christ and that he uses to strengthen, encourage, exhort, and direct his people along paths of righteousness.

When the minister reads and explains the Christ-centered nature of Scripture (per Luke 24:25-26 and 44-49), then God the Holy Spirit works through that proclamation to transform the lives of his people “convincing and converting” and “building” the people “up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation,” as the Westminster divines have put it.

But did you know that when a minister faithfully preaches the text of Scripture in a Christ-exalting way, Christ himself is speaking through the preacher? The Reformed tradition came to see that the preaching of the Word of God is itself the Word of God. In Romans 10:14-17:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

This is a typical English translation (ESV) from the Greek. You should know that the proposition “in” has been supplied by translators and is indeed not only not required but I would suggest goes against what the Apostle Paul is saying here. Paul is not only saying that in preaching people hear the Word which is about Jesus Christ, but in faithful preaching a person hears Christ speaking through the preacher and responds in faith to the gospel message. It is not just your regular minister unpacking the meaning and significance of the Scriptures that you hear week in and week out as you attend public worship. You actually hear Christ speak to you! Undoubtedly this provides us with a greater impetus and motivation to listen to what is said. This doesn’t mean your pastor’s face will glow or that he will float above the platform. Nothing sensational like that needs to happen. What is amazing is that our great prophet, priest, and king, Jesus Christ, is addressing us in the plain and ordinary preaching of the Bible.

Christ addresses us through the preached Word, which is a means of God’s grace and it is a mark of the true church. To put it negatively, if your pastor is not faithfully proclaiming the Scriptures to you, you are not hearing the risen and reigning Lord of glory. I pray that you are fed faithfully and regularly from the pages of God’s Word and so that you hear the voice of the Lord calling you to him.

Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Word, Sacrament, and Discipline: Discipline, a Means & Sign of True Body Life

by Grant Van Leuven

Discussing the three marks of a true church during a seminary class (preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, and disciplining members), our professor emphasized the third by rhetorically asking, “How many true churches are there today?”  His implication was, where are authentic churches to be found existing if there are few disciplinary signs of life?

Church discipline preserves her spiritual vitality and prevents a walking dead witness.  Without disciplinary care to the wounds of Christ’s body, well-fed churches can still bleed to death.  David Engelsma warns, “Failure to discipline guts the preaching.”[[1]

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) explains how true discipleship involves discipline: 

The Lord Jesus, as King and Head of His Church, hath therein appointed government, in the hand of Church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate. (30:1)

To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof, they have power, respectively, to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word, and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the Gospel; and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require. (30:2)

Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offences, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders. (30:3)

For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the Church are to proceed by admonition; suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season; and by excommunication from the Church; according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person. (30:4)

Though this mark may smart by painful physical attrition at times, church discipline can induce spiritual growth.  J.I. Packer observes, “The New Testament clearly shows … that … judicial correctives have a significant place in the maturing of churches and individuals.”[[2]]  Rowland Ward shares about the beloved R.M. McCheyne’s positive experience:

When I first entered upon the work of the ministry among you, I was exceedingly ignorant of the vast importance of church discipline.  I thought that my great work and almost only work was to pray and preach…But it pleased God, who teaches his servants in another way than man teaches, to bless some of the cases of discipline to the manifest and undeniable conversion of the souls of those under our care; and from that hour a new light broke into my mind, and I saw that if preaching be an ordinance of Christ, so is church discipline.[[3]

While I once caught up with another pastor over coffee, he lamented his church’s looming excommunication of an unrepentant member.  His strained face and words expressed great pain.  Yet he also shared how that final step of censure caused a regular attender stalling formal membership to request joining the church, saying, “I need this kind of care over my Christian life.”[[4]

Our King’s seven Revelation church letters are mainly corrective—even graphically and shockingly threatening (especially for the lack of discipline in Thyatira).[[5]]  But His purpose as Governor over His Body members is to save them before they suck the very life out of themselves.

Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Evangelical Church of America in San Diego, CA, since 2010.  He and his wife, Fernanda, have five home-schooled covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, and Gabriel.  He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.

[1] David Engelsma, Bound to Join: Letters on Church Membership, (Jenison, Mich.: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2010), 115.

[2] J.I. Packer, A Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993) , 221.  He provides these Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; Titus 1:10-14; 3:9-11.  He also qualifies this statement saying more is in view than judicial process solely: “Only where the personal disciplines of learning and devotion, worship and fellowship, righteousness and service are being steadily taught in a context of care and accountability … is there a meaningful place for judicial correctives (220-221). 

[3] R.M. McCheyne, Life of Robert Murray McCheyne, Andrew Bonar (reprint London 1960) ; 87-88, in Rowland Ward, The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Study Guide (Melbourne, Australia: New Melbourne Press, 1996) , 187.  Ward also sadly observes on page 186, “ … excommunication is relatively rare in Presbyterian circles particularly in the 20th century.  It is too rare.”

[4] Here it is important to consider WCF 25:2: The visible Church … is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. [Emphasis, GVL]  Our church also recently enjoyed the spiritual and physical life growth of receiving a repentant excommunicated member back into our church’s formal fellowship about a year or so after that last disciplinary measure (having slowly gone through all the previous steps).  This readmitted member now expresses joyful gratitude for the Session’s careful care all along that is now understood and attributed to spiritual development which other church members comment on observing to their own great encouragement. 

[5] Note how Christ closes the letters in Revelation 3:19: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”


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Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Ralph Erskine and His Songs of the Bridegroom

by Simonetta Carr

           Ralph Erskine (1685-1752) was born ten years after his mother Margaret was pronounced dead. The pronouncement had been mistaken, but she would have indeed been dead if a greedy sexton had not laid his eyes on her precious ring. Under cover of night, the sexton disinterred her body. Finding the ring too tight to pull off, he took out a knife and began to cut off her finger. The sudden feeling of pain woke up Margaret, who sat up in her coffin. The sexton ran away in fright, and she walked home to her astonished husband.

            While this incident was probably the most stunning in the family history and provided a great story for generations to come, life for the Erskines continued to be eventful. Ralph’s father Henry (1624–1696) was one of the many ministers who had been ejected from the Church of England for refusing to comply with the 1662 Act of Uniformity (which made the Book of Common Prayer, as well as certain rites, mandatory). Since then, his life consisted of illegal preaching and repeated arrests, with short periods of imprisonment and long exiles. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he enjoyed some peace as minister at Chirnside, Berwickshire, where he died at 72 years of age.

            Ralph, who was 11 at that time, held dear the memory of his father’s teachings that had shaped his life. He continued to be close to his brother Ebenezer (1680-1754). He was also influenced by Ebenezer’s wife Alison Turpie, who helped her husband – initially a joyless minister – to understand the gospel.


            After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, Ralph worked as a tutor until he was licensed to preach. His ministry began in the heat of several disputes, including the Marrow Controversy (regarding the republished Marrow of Modern Divinity). The book, originally published in 1645, was a strong proclamation of the gospel, with a clear distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, however, considered it antinomian and rebuked Ralph and Ebenezer for defending it.

            Indifferent to their censure, Ralph continued to uphold the book’s doctrine in his writings and sermons. “Let us withal remember,” he said, “there is a vast difference betwixt God’s covenant and our covenant, betwixt his promise and our promise. We may break and change a thousand times, but the covenant of grace is unchangeable, and stands fast in Christ.”[1]

            As a pastor, he believed this distinction to be imperative for the wellbeing of his flock. “Many poor Christians mistake matters sadly, by confounding their covenant and engagement to duty with God’s covenant of grace. They covenant to serve the Lord, and the next day they break it. ‘O,’ says the man, ‘the covenant of grace is broken.’ Gross ignorance! The covenant of grace is quite another thing.”

            Another major controversy had to do with patronage – the habit of allowing patrons to assign pastors to specific churches. To many, this brought back memories of the Covenanters’ days, when the Scots fought for the church’s freedom to regulate its worship. Soon riots broke out in the streets.

            Church officials reproved Ebenezer for preaching a sermon against this practice. When he and three other ministers persisted, they were dismissed from the church, and started their own presbytery. This is known as the First Secession.

            Ralph joined the secession three years later, but maintained good relations with other ministers in the Church of Scotland. There is a famous story of his visit to the dying John Willison (1680-1750), a minister who had opposed the ejection of Ebenezer but had chosen not to secede. A lady who was present caught the occasion to gently rebuke Erskine, “Ah, Sir, there will be no Secession in heaven.” Erskine’s reply was prompt: “O Madam, you are under a mistake, for in heaven there will be a complete secession from all sin and sorrow.” Willison was quick to agree.

            Erskine married twice: in 1714 to Margaret Dewar, and in 1732 (two years after her death), to Margaret Simpson. He had ten children with his first wife and four with the second.

            In the last years of his life, he became affected by heart disease. He preached his last sermon in 1752 on Proverbs 3:17 and Job 19:25. He died a few days later, after eight days of fever. 

Singing of Christ’s Love

            Besides his sermons, he is known for his poetry. Today’s readers might be most familiar with his meditation to the smoker of tobacco, in consideration not of health issues (it was actually considered a medicinal herb) of the greater comforts of heaven (each line ending with “Thus think, and smoke tobacco”[2]).

            This was actually an existing meditation, comparing the burning tobacco to the vanity of this life and the black gunk inside the pipe to indwelling sin. Erksine characteristically completed the law-filled poem by adding gospel comfort. Was the tobacco plant cut down for you? So was Christ. Does it has medicinal powers? Christ is the great healer. The poem ends with the appropriate response to the gospel.

The smoke, like burning incense, tow’rs;

So should a praying heart of yours

With ardent cries

Surmount the skies.

Thus think and smoke tobacco.[3]

            The bulk of Erskine’s poems expound important Christian doctrines such as the difference and harmony between law and gospel and between justification and sanctification. The crowning and encompassing thought, however, is the love of Christ for his church.

            Particularly moving is a long meditation on Isaiah 54:5 (“Thy Maker is Thy Husband”), considered in its reverse (“Thy Husband is Thy Maker) – a constant, rhythmic reminder of what it means to be Christ’s chosen bride.

Of light and life, of grace and glore,

In Christ thou art partaker.

Rejoice in him for ever more,

Thy husband is thy maker.


He made thee, yea, made thee his bride,

Nor heeds thine ugly patch.

To what he made he’ll still abide,

Thy husband made the match.[4]

            Throughout the poem, the reader is led to recognize the loving presence of Christ in every facet of life – be it affliction, fear, temptation, success, or even the ordinary, daily duties and comforts – ending each stanza with the same assurance: your Husband is sufficient.

            Erskine highlights Christ’s unconditional and undeserved love for his bride resounds through many of Erskine’s poems, as a motivation to both the incarnation and the cross. Since we are in the Christmas season, I will end with a portion of one of Erskine’s reflections on Christ’s descent to earth in human flesh to bring everlasting peace to a people “who were and ever would have been his foes,” and eternal life to those “whose malice would not let him live,” and to join himself in sacred marriage to “the brat who at his love her spite avows.”[5] If you can recognize yourself in this description, read on.

The burden’s heavy but the back is broad,

The glorious lover is the mighty God.

Kind bowels yearning in the eternal Son,

He left his mighty court, his heavenly throne;

Aside he threw his most divine array

And wrapt his Godhead in a veil of clay.

Angelic armies, who in glory crowned,

With joyful harps his awful throne surround,

Down to the crystal frontier of the sky,

To see the Saviour born, did eagerly fly,

And ever since behold with wonder fresh

Their Sov’reign and our Saviour wrapt in flesh,

Who in this garb did mighty love display,

Restoring what he never took away:

To God his glory, to the law its due,

To heav’n its honor, to the earth its hue,

To man a righteousness divine, complete,

A royal robe, to suit the nuptial rite.

He in her favours, whom he loved so well,

At once did purchase heav’n and vanguish hell.[6]

[1] Ralph Erskine, The Sermons and Other Practical Works, vol. 1, R. Baynes, London, 1821, p. 187

[2] Ralph Erskine, Poetical Works, George & Robert King, London, 1858, p. 305,….

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, p. 161

[5] Ibid, p. 75

[6] See also Gospel Sonnets of Spiritual Songs, ed. by Mike Renihan, Solid Ground Christian Books, Birmingham, Alabama, 2010


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The Sun of Righteousness will Rise

by Mark Johnston

The closing chapters of the Old Testament are set against the looming ‘Dark Ages’ of Ancient Israel. God had spoken through his prophets and his people had persistently ignored his word and strayed from his ways – even after the exile. The final words of Malachi could not be more ominous. The Old Testament ends with the words, ‘…or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction’ (Mal 4.6).

Yet, strangely and wonderfully, this very same chapter contains some of the brightest and most glorious words found anywhere in the Bible: ‘But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings’ (Mal 4.2). Against the backdrop of the deepest darkness of human sin and failure – with the full force of covenant curse it deserves – the hope of covenant grace shines forth.

It is a verse that has long been recognised as a key component in the promise of Advent that runs throughout the entire Old Testament. In that connection it features in well-known Christmas carols and is sometimes read as one of the lessons associated with the promise of the Christ. There is, however, good reason to see it within larger horizons: those bound up with the ‘Advent’ of the Christ in fullest sense.

From an Old Testament perspective, the idea of the coming of the King Messiah was never narrowly focused on Christ’s ‘coming’ through the incarnation. Although this was very much part of it; it was by no means all it had in view. It ties in with the running theme of ‘the Day of the Lord’, which is also features prominently, especially in the Prophets. Although, to the eyes and ears of the original readers of the Hebrew Bible, this seemed to point to a single day in the purposes of God, it actually was intended to direct them to the climactic epoch in the history of redemption.

Malachi alludes to this bifurcated purpose associated with ‘the day’ as he speaks on the one hand of its saving significance; but on the other, of the judgment it will also usher in. When John the Baptist appeared – to whom Malachi also alludes in this final chapter of his prophecy with the promise of the ‘Elijah’ who must appear as the precursor to the Christ (Mal 4. 5) – even he was perplexed as to how God intended to fulfil this predictive promise.

Like many of his fellow-Jews, he assumed God’s salvation and judgment would be revealed simultaneously on the same ‘day’. He says as much in Matthew’s record of his announcement of Jesus as the Christ as the One who would ‘baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire’ (Mt 3.11). However, when he observed that there was plenty of evidence of Spirit baptism on and through Jesus and his ministry, but not the baptism of judgment, he began to wonder about his identification as Messiah. So much so that while he was in prison, he sent his own disciples to Jesus to put the question to him directly (Mt 11.3).

The answer, of course, as we see it in the light of God’s completed revelation in the rest of the New Testament, is that Messiah’s advent encompasses the ‘day’ that dawned with the incarnation; but which ends with the ‘day’ of his his ‘second advent’. On that day, he will send his angels to gather his redeemed people from the four corners of the earth to bring them to the place he has prepared for them. However, that day will also mark the final judgment on all who have rejected him. They will be eternally banished to an altogether different place and existence.

How does this tie in with Malachi’s description of Christ’s coming as ‘the sun of righteousness’ that will ‘rise with healing in its wings’? It is the fact that the salvation Jesus came to usher in through his life, death, resurrection and exaltation can only be fully appreciated against the ‘terrible day of the Lord’ that will dawn when he comes as Judge.

We can never appreciate the salvation of Christ – which we can never deserve – unless we see it against the dark light of his judgment: which we most certainly do deserve. Much and all as we recoil from considering the ugliness and shamefulness of our sin and guilt – even as Christians – only as we do so, will the gospel truly thrill us, as it ought.

As we pause in the lull between Christmas and New Year, the words of Malachi should give us cause to reflect on the state of our own lives, the state of the church and the present state of the world in a way that gives comfort and brings true hope. If we are honest as we consider these three different, but related spheres, what we see can seem utterly depressing. We are not what we ought to be, the church is in constant turmoil here on earth and the nations of the world are careering onwards towards their own self-made ruin. There is no hope if we only ‘see’ what is visible to our human eye.

However, as we live and look in the light of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, then we begin to see things in their true light. As we see the world around us – including family members, friends and neighbours – in their dark and lost condition, we will appreciate what it means for us to have been entrusted with the good news of light, life and salvation. We will be spurred on, in face of the impending judgment, to reason with those who are lost, to persuade them to look to Christ. And, for ourselves as those who know and love him, we will revel in the healing that he alone can give!

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Word, Sacrament, and Discipline: The Offices of Christ

by Stephen Unthank

            All that the church is can be found in her union with Christ. As John Calvin has so memorably put it, “we must remember that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.”[1]          This is true not only of Christian’s individually but of the church corporate as well. Christ is “head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).

            Thus, in considering the church’s union in Christ there arises an interesting connection between who Christ is and what the church is. Specifically, we see a parallel between who Christ is in his threefold office as Prophet, Priest, and King and noting what the marks of a true church are.

            This connection has been picked up in Reformed thinking. The Heidelberg Catechism, in questions 31 and 32, explicitly unite Christ’s mediatorial office as Prophet, Priest, and King and what that means for the church’s membership in Him. Kevin DeYoung, commenting on this connection, writes that the church “[ordained] by the same Father and anointed by the same Spirit, [is] to fulfill, in a lesser way, the same offices as our namesake.”[2] The English reformer and martyr Nicholas Ridley, noting the church’s union in Christ, wrote that the church “which is the spouse of Christ, the body of Christ… is known unto men in this dark world [by these marks]: the sincere preaching of God’s holy word, the due administration of the sacraments, charity, and a faithful observing of ecclesiastical discipline, according to the word of God.”[3]

            Let us examine each office and mark respectively.

            Christ, who is our Prophet, is the clearest revelation of God to us. Not only is he the incarnate Word, the image of the invisible God, but as our Prophet all he teaches us is true and life-giving. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

            And we now have his prophetic teaching given to us through his Apostles, inscripturated and written down for us in our Bible’s (Acts 2:42, 2 Tim. 3:14-17). Christ’s church then is seen, is known, to be a true church in how she teaches that word. Christ preached reconciliation, the forgiveness of sins for entrance into his Kingdom and so too does his church now preach that same message. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

            The church serves Christ our Prophet and showcases Christ in prophetically declaring and rightly preaching his inspired and inscripturated word. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

            Christ, who is our great High Priest, not only came to be our sole mediator but offered himself as our only acceptable sacrifice, dying on our behalf and, three days later and overcoming death on our behalf. And even now he lives to intercede for us, representing his elect before the Father. The church makes this visible in the right administration of her sacraments.

            It is the local church who baptizes members into the body, which is Christ’s church, visibly showing through the sign of baptism someone’s death into Christ. And baptism showcases their being born again into Christ’s resurrection, having in him newness of life as well as the hope of a future resurrection to come.

            So too do we see Christ’s mediatorial priesthood in the Lord’s Supper; his church partaking of the bread and the cup, signifying their communion with Christ’s broken body and their sins washed away by his shed blood. As the church eats and drinks, it showcases their union in and oneness with Christ their High Priest.

            Yes, by faith alone we are forgiven and united to Christ, but it is the right administration of the sacraments which makes this visible to a watching world. Indeed, “as you come to Jesus, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).

            Now, this brings us to Christ’s kingship. Jesus is indeed King of kings, and carries out his office of king in “subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A. 25). As of yet, not every knee has bowed to his supreme rule, but the church, as citizens of his kingdom, has. It is his church which submits to the rule of his word.

            When Peter rightly confessed Christ, Christ as King promised that even the gates of hell could not overcome the church, that is, those united by the same confession. It was there where he also authorized the church to delineate and establish the boundaries of his kingdom, an outworking of Christ’s kingship here on earth. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19).

            What this meant was that the church was to exercise church discipline. If a brother in sin refuses to repent – that is, refuses to submit his life to Christ as King – then, “if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:17-20).

            This is Christ’s kingly rule being deputized and wielded by his church. Certainly a Day will come where Christ our King will delineate with his sword, but now his church wields the keys showcasing to the world what true submission to Christ looks like.

            Thus we see that the marks of a true church – the right preaching of the Word, right administration of the sacraments, and right church discipline – stem out of and find there grounding in Christ’s offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. The church is tasked with making Christ known to the world, and we do so most fully when we preach the Gospel (this is Christ’s prophetic work shown in and through us), when we show the Gospel (this is Christ’s priestly work made visible through us), and when we protect the Gospel (this being Christ’s kingly work seen in and through us).

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3.1.1. The fuller quote, “we must remember that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.”1 Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, he is called ‘our Head’ [Eph. 4:15], and ‘the first-born among many brethren’ [Rom. 8:29]. We also, in turn, are said to be ‘engrafted into him’ [Rom. 11:17], and to ‘put on Christ’ [Gal. 3:27]; for, as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him. It is true that we obtain this by faith.”

[2] Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism (Moody Publishers, 2010), 69. J. Todd Billings writes about the connection between questions 31 and 32 in the Heidelberg Catechism, noting how the doctrine of our union in Christ undergirds the connection and what it means for the church’s ministry today; see J. Todd Billings, Union With Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church (Baker Academic, 2011), 160-165.

[3] The Reformation of the Church: A Collection of Reformed and Puritan Documents on Church Issues, edited by Iain H. Murray (Banner of Truth, 1997), 19.


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Love or Hype?

by Jeffrey Stivason

Several years ago I worked for a funeral director. On one occasion I travelled with him to another city in order to recover a body.  The person, a younger person, had traveled and died while out of town. On the way to the city morgue my boss and I talked together.  I found out later that he was trying to prepare me for what I was about to see. He didn’t do a very good job nor could he have. 

We arrived during the lunch hour and all of the employees were in the office eating take out. Some had burgers and fries and others pizza.  You may wonder how I can still remember.  I assure you that these moments are forever etched in my brain.  When we mentioned why we were there a morgue employee quickly stuffed his mouth with fries and went behind a door and emerged less than a minute later pulling a metal gurney with an unclothed human being lying on it.  The person was a mess and so was I.

I was stunned. It was the first time that I saw death without it first having been made up by the undertaker. Yes, I had been to a number of funerals. And I have heard people say things like, “He looks so good, so natural.” Once someone whispered to me, “She looks so beautiful.  She looks as if she is taking a nap and could wake in a moment.”  What I saw on that gurney was not death after having put on its makeup.  This was the death that still carried a sting. This was ugly. It was anything but natural. It was quite appallingly unnatural.  That’s what made me think of Romans.

Recently I re-read Romans 12:1-13:14. Granted the text has a few topics not the least of which is government. However, this text is primarily about love. Romans 12:9 speaks of genuine love and how brothers out to love one another with a brotherly affection. Then the text goes on to list what that love looks like. It looks like hospitality, service, living in harmony and much more.

What is more, Romans 13:8-14 spells out even more detail regarding this love. It tells us the kind of love that we ought to offer others. It is agape love. The word was essentially unused until Paul recovered and employed it in his letters.  It is a word that locates the impetus for loving in the person who loves rather than the one loved.  It’s the sort of love with which God first loved us when we were sinners and unworthy of His love.  It’s the kind of love that came to live among us that first Christmas.   

Let me put what I’m saying like this; here we have the church described as a living body, which is the most natural thing in the world. A living body is natural.  When you walk by another living person you don’t stand still with your jaw hanging to the ground stunned.  You just walk by.  A body is supposed to be alive. You are supposed to simply walk by. And a church is supposed to be a living body.  Yes, you can paint things up a bit.  You can add makeup here and there.  But you can’t fake agape love for long. It has to come from a living body and when it does it is the most natural thing in the world.  In fact, it is so unmistakable and so natural that it doesn’t need to be hyped. It just is.   

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.

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Word, Sacrament, and Discipline: Discipline, a True Mark?

by Michael Matossian

           Not all the 16th century Protestant Reformers agreed that church discipline should be considered one of the marks of a true church.  Calvin, for example, spoke only of the pure preaching of the word and the right administration of the sacraments.  The Second Helvetic Confession, like Calvin, identified word and sacrament as marks of a true church.  In contrast, the Belgic Confession explicitly included discipline.  In the following century, the Westminster Confession of Faith identified a spectrum of more or less pure churches rather than definitive marks of a true church: “This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them” (WCF 25.4).  Instead of church discipline, the focus turned to public worship as an identifiable mark.

            So, should we regard church discipline as a mark of a true church?  I’m persuaded the answer is a qualified “yes.”  Here’s what I mean.  A church that ignores or refuses to engage in discipline is at best an unhealthy church.  Unhealthy doesn’t automatically translate into being a “not true” church but it does indicate a dangerous trajectory.  Why?

            Central to the purpose of church discipline is to foster submission to Christ.  As discipline is applied, it serves to aid individual Christians and the church as a whole to stay the course in following Jesus.  To be a Christian is to be one who seeks to obey the Lord in all details of life out of gratitude for his love and grace.  Church discipline is a means to foster and encourage obedience to the Lord.  How does this take place?

Broadly construed, church discipline takes two forms: formal and informal. The phrase “formal discipline” is shorthand for the carefully delineated processes, based on Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18, by which serious sins that have become known are addressed by the leadership of the church through official charges and their adjudication in a church court setting.  In these instances, rules are followed to protect the rights of the accused and to be sure accusations are proven true rather than simply assumed.  It would be wrong to apply disciplinary action if the accused is not guilty!  In formal discipline, the hope is for the restoration of the person to a life of obedience to Christ.  Now, if a church doesn’t practice formal discipline, it isn’t immediately disqualified from being a church but it’s certainly missing out on a God-given means to help the members follow Jesus.

            In contrast to formal discipline, “informal discipline” doesn’t follow a specific set of procedures.  Instead, it takes place through preaching and the relationships between members of the church.  In preaching, calls to repentance and faithfulness manifest God’s discipline.  Paul urged Timothy, for example, to include rebuke and reproof in his preaching: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1–2 ESV; emphasis mine).  In preaching, reproof and rebuke is not to be directed to a specific person but to all the listeners, challenging them to search and examine their lives and hearts to see if there be any hurtful way in them (Ps. 139:24), and calling them to confess, repent, and reform their lives for Christ’s honor and God’s glory.  Church discipline is not about putting people out of the church but restoring and strengthening by helping us see where we are weak or in error that we might know what needs changing.

            In the relationships among members of the church, informal discipline takes place as brothers and sisters in Christ admonish one another regularly.  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16a ESV).  If this kind of “one-anothering” takes place, discipline is present since, through the admonishment, Christians are being trained and built up in faith and godly living. Church discipline is about admonishment and encouragement to obey Jesus, not about being penalized for wrongdoing.

            So, is church discipline a mark of a true church?  Put a little differently, is a church faithful to the Lord that doesn’t seek to help its members follow Jesus?  An unfaithful church is on the brink of becoming no true church but a synagogue of Satan (cf. WCF 25.5).  Where there is church discipline, there’s at least the effort to remain faithful and thus to be a true church.

Michael J. Matossian was ordained to gospel ministry in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1998.  He has served since 2009 as Senior Pastor at Emmanuel OPC in Wilmington, Delaware.  He holds a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Marquette University.  He and his wife, Judy, and their Son, Matthew, are all natives of southern California.

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Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.