Sixty years ago on the first day of 1937 a twentieth-century Mr. Valiant-for-Truth entered into his rest and reward. J. Gresham Machen had upheld authentic Christianity at great personal cost and, from a human standpoint, may be said to have lost on all fronts as what he stood for ceased to hold sway in (Princeton) Seminary, in the (Presbyterian) Church and in (American) society at large. Donald Guthrie, former lecturer in New Testament in the London Bible College reviewed Ned Stonehouse’s biography of Machen (published by the Trust in 1987 and still in print) and wrote:
It may be wondered what contribution a recollection of Machen’s struggle in the first part of this century can make to our present scene. It must be remembered that Machen lived and worked at the height of the Liberal versus Fundamentalism controversy and was strongly coloured by it. Machen saw Liberalism as a threat to the foundations of the Christian faith and this accounts for his uncompromising stand. Although the radical liberalism of that time has now receded, it cannot be said that the conflict is over. A clearer understanding of the issues for which Machen fought would challenge the church of the eighties to be more alert to the insidious influences of a non-Biblical basis. The history of the church since Machen’s death in 1937 has shown that the threat has not lessened although it presents itself in somewhat different forms (The Churchman, vol. 1, 1988).
We do well, therefore, to remind ourselves of some of the truths which Machen upheld and which we must maintain. These quotes are all taken from his four books which are available from the Trust.1
In March this year a selection of Machen’s writings was produced by Skilton House Ministries.2
The Changing Times
‘There are many things that change, but there is one thing that does not change. It is the Word of the living and true God. The world is in decadence, the visible Church is to a considerable extent apostate; but when God speaks we can trust Him, and His Word stands for ever sure’ (The Christian View of Man, p. 14).
The Christian Faith
‘The Christian religion is no form of mysticism, but is founded upon a body of facts; the facts are recorded in the Bible; and if the supposed facts were not facts at all, then Christianity and the Bible would certainly sink into a common ruin’ (God Transcendent, p. 16).
‘The creeds of Christendom are not expressions of Christian experience. They are summary statements of what God has told us in His word. Far from the subject-matter of the creeds being derived from Christian experience, it is Christian experience which is based upon the truth contained in the creeds; and the truth contained in the creeds is derived from the Bible, which is the Word of God’ (God Transcendent, p. 158).
Theology — True and False
‘Theology . . . is just as much a science as chemistry . . . The two sciences, it is true, differ widely in their subject matter; they differ widely in the character of the evidence upon which their conclusions are based; in particular they differ widely in the qualifications required of the investigator: but they are both sciences, because they are both concerned with the acquisition and orderly arrangement of a body of truth . . . The modern depreciation of theology results logically in the most complete skepticism . . . [It is not] the symbolic expression of religious experience’ (What is Faith?, pp. 33, 35).
The Being of God
‘This sovereign Person is Lord not only of mankind but of all nature. He is very different from what modern men are accustomed to call, by a perversion of a great truth, the “immanent” God. He pervades all, but He also transcends all, and He has never abandoned His freedom in the presence of the things that He has made’ (God Transcendent, p. 17).
‘His actions are free in the sense that they are not determined by anything external to Him. But they certainly are determined by His own nature. They will always be holy ... [and] just and good ... [and never] purposeless . . . The choices of God’s will are always . . . determined by the ends which His infinite knowledge and His infinite wisdom place before Him ... His actions are not the chance swingings hither and yon of something within Him that can be called His will, but they are the actions of the majestic unity of His being, and they are determined by high and holy ends ‘ (The Christian View of Man, pp. 26-29).
‘But as we shrink in guilty fear from these high things, God has put forth His hand to draw us near. He has not concealed from us the uncleanness of our sin; He has confirmed in letters of flame the condemnation of our hearts. But He has conquered sin and guilt by an act of love. He has come in the Person of the Son and borne our guilt: God’s love has cast out fear’ (God Transcendent, p. 20).
‘How wonderfully rich is that supernatural revelation [of salvation] as it is found in the Bible! How far it transcends the revelation of God through nature! The whole doctrine of the Trinity, the whole appearance and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the entire application of the work of Christ to the believer through the Holy Spirit, the whole glorious promise of a world to come — these things are not told us through nature; they are told us in the Bible and in the Bible alone. They are told us by a revelation that is not natural but supernatural’ (The Christian View of Man, p. 17).
‘The study [of the Bible] will do us harm rather than good if it keeps us from applying the Bible to ourselves. There is no reason, however, why it should have any such effect. On the contrary if we study aright, the Bible will become to us more and more a living Book. . . . In the wonderful richness and variety of the Bible due to the varying experience of its human writers, we shall see the bountiful hand of the divine Author of the whole’ (The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History, p. 17).
‘God has been very good; He has spoken to us in gracious fashion; He has condescended to persuade where he might have spoken only in tone of cold command. He has condescended to win our hearts by the variety and beauty of His book’ (God Transcendent, p. 16).
1. The Christian View of Man; God Transcendent; The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History; What is Faith?
2. This is volume 7 of the series ‘The New Testament Student’ and contains valuable biographical pieces on Machen together with the first of a two-part bibliography of all his writings. It is available from Westminster Discount Books, Philadelphia.
Discuss this article and other topics in our Discussion Board