January 1: A Student Tribute to Dr. Machen (1937)

As most of our readers know, it was on this day, January 1st, in 1937 that the Rev. J. Gresham Machen died from complications of pneumonia, during a speaking tour in North Dakota. We have written before of his death, but seeking to bring something new to the table, here is a tribute which appeared on the pages of The Evangelical Student, a publication of The League of Evangelical Students:—


On January 1, 1937, God called from our midst and unto Himself the Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D.D., Litt.D., Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary and a Trustee of the League of Evangelical Students. In the passing of Dr. Machen the whole Christian world has sustained an irreparable loss. Nowhere will the loss of this great leader and friend be felt more keenly than in the student-world. It was in the student-world that Dr. Machen’s heart lay; it was there that he gave his life in utter abandonment to the cause of Christ. Dr. Machen loved students. This is seen with particular clearness in Dr. Machen’s devotion to the League of Evangelical Students. From its very inception the League of Evangelical Students was close to his heart. To the very end he remained one of the League’s most helpful and faithful friends.

Twelve years ago some students of the old Princeton Seminary returned from a meeting of a students’ association now popularly known as The Interseminary Movement. At this meeting of theological students a spiritual state was disclosed which resulted in the open denial of Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son and man’s only Saviour. The Deity of Jesus and John 3 :16 were rejected as a doctrinal basis of that association. It was even declared by one of the students that “Buddha could save us as well as Christ.” There were Christian leaders then as there are now who counseled these students to stay within this blasphemous movement and to try to “leaven the loaf,” as if by staying in a movement that denied our Lord we could ever raise a testimony to our Lord. In loyalty to Christ these students and many others formed a separate movement on an evangelical basis and named it The League of Evangelical Students. Several of the Professors of this seminary bitterly opposed the League. One Professor even refused to permit the use of student body stationery bearing his name for purposes of furthering this League of Evangelical Students. What did Dr. Machen do at a time like this? Though to befriend these loyal students meant enmity in high places, Dr. Machen stood openly with these students. Their reproach he made his reproach. Under the hostility of personal attack which became cruel and bitter he did not for one moment forsake these students who were standing for the Lord Jesus Christ. He befriended them; he encouraged them; he counseled them; he defended them in high places. He loved them.

Throughout the twelve years of the League’s existence Dr. Machen continued one of its most faithful and interested friends. Exceedingly busy man that he was, he was always willing and anxious to minister to the needs of students. When he was needed as a speaker at League Conventions he would give liberally of his time and means to make that possible. Pressed with the duties of a teacher and a church leader, he would travel hundreds of miles to speak to a humble group of students. To those in doubt and in need of Christian edification he generously offered his monumental books. Never was an inquiring student neglected.
 One of the last acts of Dr. Machen in connection with the League was a lengthy correspondence with a Christian student attending a pagan university. This correspondence culminated in his sending to the student a copy of each of the books he had written. This is but one of a countless number of such incidents. Only the students who have been touched by the warmth of his spirit and the depth of his mind can begin to appreciate just what Dr. Machen’s friendship among students meant.

Dr. Machen is no longer with the League of Evangelical Students. But let it not be thought for a moment that Dr. Machen’s death is a blow of defeat. Quite the contrary, there has already been manifest among the students and the Trustees of the League a spirit of renewed zeal for the cause. Each one of us, by the grace of God, must assume an added responsibility. Relying on the strength of our omnipotent God, we believe the future of the League will be far more glorious than its not inglorious past. The Lord God of J. Gresham Machen is with us yet.

Words to Live By:
Someone once said of J. Gresham Machen, “We loved him because of the enemies he made.” To put it another way, “We loved him because regardless of the consequences, regardless of the opposition, he stood for the truth of God’s Word,”

It is the Lord God who prepares leaders for His Church. We cannot claim that place for ourselves, nor would we want to, if we knew all it entails. Our only duty is to obey His will, regardless of whether we are ordained to leadership or whether we are ordained to mop the floors. The Lord will raise up those whom He will, where He will, and when He will. Pray for those in authority over you, that they would be steadfast in His covenant. Pray and trust the Lord that He would keep you steadfast, and see where He will take you in the coming year.

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