January 1

This Day in Presbyterian History :

Faithful unto Death

God’s servant in the battle for the Bible in the early part of the twentieth century was J. Gresham Machen.  Born into Old School Presbyterianism in 1881, Machen was educated at the Reformed bastion of orthodoxy, Princeton Theological Seminary.  After further education overseas, he returned to his alma mater to teach in the New Testament field.  It was there that he first saw the approaching apostasy which eventually enveloped all the agencies of the church, including the theological institutions of the Presbyterian church.  When some who had denied the fundamentals of the faith were placed on the Board of Trustees of Princeton Seminary, he and three other professors left to begin Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in 1930.  Three years later, he began the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, seeking to organize a biblical missions board within the church.  That organization led to his deposition from the Presbyterian church in 1936.

In the closing days of 1936, he was invited to North Dakota by a few Princeton graduates who were ministering in that state.  Despite a cold, the fifty-five year old theologian went by train in the midst of winter,  seeking to draw out a remnant for the faith once delivered unto the saints.  Rev. David K. Myers,  who graduated from Princeton in 1929, and father of this contributor, picked him up at the train station.  He observed how his former professor was violently shaking from the frigid weather, despite a heavy overcoat.  After fulfilling a couple of speaking engagements, he was hospitalized with pneumonia.  His heath deteriorated rapidly in that Bismarck North Dakota hospital.

Dying words remarked about the grandness of the Reformed faith.  A last telegram to fellow Westminster professor John Murray exclaimed that there was no hope without the active obedience of Christ. He died at 7;30 p.m.  on January 1, 1937.  His funeral took place at Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 5. The tombstone reads in Greek, “Faithful unto Death.

Words to Live By:  “We have today the entrance of paganism into the Church in the name of Christianity.  But in the second century a similar battle was fought and won.  Another Reformation in God’s good time will come.”  J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Liberalism,” p. 178

Through the Scriptures: Genesis chapters 1, 2 (Note: We begin a daily reading through the Bible.)

Through the Standards: Duty and destiny of people
[Westminster Larger Catechism # 1 (hereafter WLC); Westminster Shorter Catechism #1 (hereafter WSC)]

WLC 1: ‘What is the chief and highest end of man?
A: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”

WSC 1:  “What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

The J. Gresham Machen Manuscript Collection is preserved at the Montgomery Library on the campus of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. Separately, the staff of the PCA Historical Center have gathered a modest collection of Machen-related materials, a list of which may be viewed here.

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  1. Matt’s avatar

    Looks good, Wayne!

  2. Bennett B. Wethered’s avatar

    Thank you for starting up this website. It can be a great blessing for God’s people to be reminded of their history, of what God has done in His church in times past.

    I wish that this entry, in particular, was written slightly differently. As a native Baltimorean (like Machen), and a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (earlier a member of a PCA church for over 15 years), I see something missing. – The first paragraph should have ended with, “He led a number of like-minded Presbyterians out of the northern Presbyterian church, starting, in June of 1936, the ‘Presbyterian Church of America,’ the first name of what is now The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” The second paragraph refers to his having been “invited to North Dakota by a few Princeton graduates who were ministering in that state.” That is true, but it was in their roles as pastor of young OPC churches that he visited them, not as a fellow Princeton alum.

    Also, while you only have so much space, his actual last quotes are quite marvelous and touching. ‘Sam, isn’t the Reformed Faith grand?’ and ‘I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.’ He also had a vision of heaven, upon which he remarked, ‘Sam, it was glorious, it was glorious.’

    Thanks again for the site. I hope you present a picture of the heritage of all the various godly Presbyterian bodies. To God be the glory alone!

  3. Kathy Stegall’s avatar

    Thank you for starting this website, David. I’m sure it will help my knowledge of church history. If this first day is any indication, it will be very interesting as well!

  4. RN’s avatar

    “Christianity and Liberalism” is monumental.

  5. Mary Peterman’s avatar

    I am so thankful for this daily devotional and historical information. What a blessing! Thank you, David and Wayne!

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