Seven Great Men Who Have Gone before Us
David J. O'Leary
When I was first invited to submit this article, I considered what matters of praise I could lay before the Orthodox Presbyterian Church on her seventy-fifth anniversary. Instead, my mind quickly followed a familiar path to some of the external characteristics that tend to define and discredit this remarkably gifted body of believers with whom I am associated and whom I love.
Somber faces, stern visages, early twentieth-century hymns that alternate between ice and syrup, stagnant churches that justify smallness as a prerequisite to purity, a tendency to reason beyond Scripture, a hint of Protestant hagiolatry with respect to our founding fathers, a lack of self-awareness regarding our sharply divided positions on many issuesand the list goes on. As in a marriage where issues go unresolved for years, it's much easier to criticize than to commend. What keeps me going? Just as it's the people who often frustrate me, so it's the people who inspire me. The people: those who know God, who passionately love the Word, and who give their lives in service to their Savior.
I shall speak of seven of those people, in the order I met them. They have been used of God to inspire my ministry, due to their profound impact on my life. Each is now with the Lord.
Jack Miller was already two years into his church-planting work, New Life Presbyterian Church, when I met him in the early 1970s. As we walked the grounds of Gordon College, he talked about the genius of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. While he had respect for its comprehensiveness, he nevertheless noted that Question 4, though marvelous in its theological insight, neglected to mention love in its definition of God. Jack loved to preach on the love of God. The love of God amazed him and contributed to the special brokenness that a person knew when he met Jack. There was a transparency about him which came from the knowledge that he was a sinner saved by grace. One of his favorite expressions was to call himself a recovering Pharisee. He spoke often of the need to suffer as a Christian and the need to pray. Although I did not know him well, he had an enormous influence on me through the Sonship Program, through his writings, and through personal conversations.
Ed Clowney supported and upheld with distinction the three-office view. Dr. Clowney had two passions. The first was to reflect and study Christ as the central focus of all of Scripture. Such biblical-theological understanding filled his sermons, as they filled his heart and words. Dr. Clowney's second passion was unity. He worked long and hard for the merger of the RPCES, the PCA, and the OPC; first, by organic union; later, by joining (the OPC's role) and receiving (the PCA's role). This proceduredubbed "J&R"found its great defender in Ed Clowney. He had a way with words. Once, when striving to express the glory of the resurrection, he said, "It was not merely a matter of 'a revivified cadaver.' "
Bruce Hunt had recently retired when I first met him and became his tenant. I think he was the greatest man I've known personally. He carried on an itinerant ministry of over two hundred preaching points or churches in Korea. What struck me most about Bruce was his overwhelming endurance and his simple humility. He worked hard and never stopped working. He personally took copies of his book, For a Testimony, to each of our neighbors in Abington, Pennsylvania, at Christmastime. He wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to share the gospel. He was so determined and endured so much that he was imprisoned during the occupation and persecution which occurred in Korea. And he was humble. He never thought he accomplished much for the Lord, and was always gracious to great and small alike. I think his fondest wish was to drop dead while preaching the gospel. As brilliant as he was, he always thought that the hard thinking should be done by other people. He was simply a preacher of the gospel. Even to this day, Korean students who come to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary bow reverently when they hear the name of Bruce Hunt.
Chip Stonehouse was a son-in-law of Bruce Hunt. Chip invited me into the OPC when he asked me to go to Reading, Pennsylvania, to continue the work he had started. Chip had a wonderful gift for bringing many parties together in order to work. He left a core group for me to work with that soon grew as the strength of Chip's work took hold. He was my mentor. Very early in my tenure, I gave great offense to a couple when I was too "forthright" in my counseling. When I told Chip what I had said, he gently rebuked me with one word: "Wow!" Chip was instrumental in the founding of a number of churches in the Presbytery of Philadelphia, and he had a positive impact on many young men who were new to the gospel ministry. And who of us does not remember his wonderful sense of humor?
Harvie Conn had a strong mind and the will to wrestle over theological issues. But you couldn't get him angry. His infectious smile would shine on you as he tore arguments apart or listened with appreciation to your feeble attempts. Before he was a famous missiologist and professor, he was an OP missionary to Korea. I can still see his smile as he told of prostitutes fleeing the local brothel after hearing at a Bible study of the life-delivering power of the gospel. As his eyesight began to fail him later in life, I remember his explanation for why the streets of heaven were clear as crystal. He said it was so that we could all see the Lamb on his throne from any place in the Heavenly City.
George Haney towered over me, but never let me feel unimportant. Humble and gentle though he was, he played a large but generally unacknowledged role in beginning the expansion of Home Missions in the OPC during the last thirty years. When I was stuck not knowing what to do at some points in my ministry, he would urge me to pray and to think and plan. His remarkable courtesy was the result of simple trust. He was a great testimony to me as he suffered at the end of his life. I would say that he was one of the most trusted and loved men in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Meredith Kline was probably the most controversial and creative man I knew. His insight and ability were far beyond the rest of us. Yet when we reflected on it, we often admitted that he was correct. What many people have not known about him was his passion for the gospel and his love for the Lord. As his pastor, I was immediately made self-conscious by the fact that I was preaching to a great Old Testament scholar. When asked about that by my wife, he said, "I am not here to criticize, but to hear God's word." That sums up Meredith Kline: he wanted to hear God's word. During one of his several stints in the hospital dealing with the lymphoma that would later take his life, I sought to encourage him with the words from Revelation, "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints." In response he said, "Like Job." Then he went on to say: "Professors should be careful what they write; they may have to go through it."
As I reflect on the lives of these men, it hits me that the richest treasure in the OPC is men like these who serve in the ministry of the word. They are a major reason why I am in the OPC, despite my criticisms. There are hundreds more who, while still living among us, will not be eulogized. Spare me the long speeches and the painstaking paperwork by which we might be caricatured. Rather, give me great men like these who have gone before us.
The author is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, North Shore, in Ipswich, Mass. New Horizons, June 2011.