Student Life

Newspapers, Legacies, and True Homecomings

Did you know that A.J. Gordon founded and published his own monthly Christian newspaper?

While serving as a pastor at Clarendon Street Church in Boston, and amid his other ever-in-process writing projects (he wrote a collection of books, sermons, hymns, and letters), Dr. Gordon devoted Monday mornings to preparing editions of his publication, The Watchword. The monthly ran for almost two decades from 1878 to 1897 and launched with a distinct devotion “to the advocacy of the primitive faith, the primitive hope, and the primitive charity.”  

The first edition of the first volume was published in October 1878 — 145 years ago this weekend. The “Salutatory” section of this first edition asks the question A.J. Gordon knew his audience would be asking: Why a Christian newspaper? 

Double Vision

“It would seem there are religious newspapers enough already, without adding another … to the list,” he wrote. But he assures the reader that the newspaper was only launched “after mature deliberation, and in obedience to what some believe to be a growing demand.”  The writers and editors of The Watchword saw a need in their community — a need for spiritual reinvigoration centered on the truth of Christ. 

Through this publication, Gordon sought to promote the “primitive faith” for which, after all, there can never be too many advocates. However, he aimed to build up the community with expository commentary, not provoke — to effectively “[present] the doctrines of grace biblically rather than theologically.”. 

But what is the long-lasting value of this “primitive faith” if it does not inspire “primitive hope?” Gordon and his team believed this “to be sadly obscured and neglected by the great mass of Christians of [their] day.” The Watchword sought to discuss this hope thrown into a “dark eclipse” by contemporary Christians — and how a renewed vigor for the imminence of Christ might restore it. 

The pursuit of faith and hope is in vain unless it is motivated by love. The “Salutatory” of this first edition makes it clear that The Watchword was not some elite source of theological truth, but rather sought to edify the community. When the motivation behind writing is “primitive charity,” the promotion of sound faith is not threatened by a “clash of carnal weapons” between Christians who hold different doctrinal views. 

My first thought after stumbling upon nearly two decades of Christian editorial work from our college founder was how did I not know about this sooner? What a rich resource of Biblical exposition and encouragement!

My second thought followed quickly: A.J. Gordon had a commitment both to sound faith and to a community truly alive in Christ — a community undeniably hopeful and undoubtedly filled with His love. Is this not what we still strive toward at Gordon College, nearly 150 years later?

More specifically, the vision and history of The Watchword are poignantly reminiscent of the vision and founding of the Gordon Review

The “Editorial” section of the first edition of The Watchword has a brief column on advertising:

“What if someone should find a religious paper on the idea of sacrifice instead of profit, ignoring all idea of getting gain from advertisements, except perhaps those … as are in the direct line of the paper’s mission? Wouldn’t such a journal give an idea of the superiority of religious truth to all things else which would be extremely salutary?”

The Gordon Review also arose out of a need — a need for sound faith on this campus. A need for the hope we profess. A need for healthy discussions about issues that seek to divide us from each other and from Christ. Our team continues to address these needs as we promote and defend the historic, Christ-centered mission of this school. In light of this, I was so encouraged by the relevancy of these words from 1878, and their still-timely call to cling to our vision — both as a publication and a college.

Continuing In Our Calling

This weekend is homecoming weekend at Gordon College — a time when the history and the legacy of the school are at the forefront. Alumni are returning for reunions, the Fighting Scots are defending the turf, and current students are settled in for the semester. 

But part of our legacy as a Christian institution is recognizing the peace-filled truth that our “homecoming” is not merely a weekend-long, physical one. 

Featured in this first edition of The Watchword is an article by A.J. Gordon titled “Why Written: A Bible Reading.” I’d say his first sentence pretty clearly lays out a thesis of sorts:

“Nothing is more important for us than the discovery that the word of God is the absolute resting place for our faith. Christ is indeed the supreme object of faith; but, since we know him only through the Scriptures, we must believe the word in order to believe on Christ.” 

Why does it so often feel like we have a hard time truly believing what we know? I know Christ is the all-sufficient sacrifice for my sins. So why do I still act as if my own efforts save me? I know He is coming again. So why do I give into complacency and apathy when He could return at any moment? I know I need to be clothed in humility. So why do I choose pride?

In this piece, A.J. Gordon points out that “The constant tendency is for believers to search in their own hearts for the evidence of their renewal and sonship.” Of course, Christians will notice the difference in their hearts as they are transformed to be like Christ. However, “The testimony of the word is first: the testimony of consciousness is secondary.” 

We are not supposed to know the truth before we believe it. We believe the truth so that we may know it.

God’s word is true whether we believe it or not. But by believing in Christ — the Word made flesh — this truth is written on our hearts, and we come to know it as our own. This knowing leads to a life where primitive faith meets primitive hope and primitive charity — a life to the full truly defined by Christ. 

Each morning brings with it a renewed invitation to know the One who calls us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. True homecoming is daily believing the Scriptures and trusting Christ for eternal life — of waiting on and watching for the Word.

With the help of the Lord, the Gordon Review continues in its commitment to Christ, His invitation to know Him, and the historical mission of our school to answer this call — all as we anticipate the true homecoming. 

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:31

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Tim Morgan

Thanks for this message. I recently found all the back issues of The Watchword online. AJ Gordon without question used this journalistic periodical to share a gospel-based point of view on the urgent issues of the day. Very inspiring!