September 2: Tribute to a Humble Man

It was on this day, September 2d, in 1937 that an article appeared on the pages of The Christian Beacon, a tribute to Dr. J. Gresham Machen, written by one who knew him well, Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths. Regrettably, when I looked, this particular issue of The Christian Beacon was not available to me. But as the article was actually published in serial form, in five parts, I will take the liberty to instead reproduce here an earlier portion of this tribute, Part IV, from the August 26, 1937 issue. Even in serial form, this section of it is lengthy and I can only give our readers selected portions:—

I have carefully read the tributes paid to Dr. Machen since his death, by both friend and foe. Some of the former were poured from the white crucible of great and sudden grief. Others, while recognizing his greatness, were written by those who, per se, were incapable of understanding the relation of his character to the cause that was the passion of his whole being. But not any of them all, I feel, has been able quite to grasp and to convey the combination of qualities that made him the man he was. I certainly do not pretend to be able to do so now, but shall do the best, chiefly, that I can.

machen02As I remember long years of intimate association, the quality that stands out most clearly was Dr. Machen’s deep, Christian humanity. God gave him mental powers of a supreme order, and he developed them and used them in the service of the Giver. Though God in this particular set him apart from other men, he never set himself apart from other men. He was deeply and genuinely human. Like us he knew hours of exaltation and disappointment. He was profoundly humble when he had every natural inducement not to be. Nor was it that assumed humility which is so offensive, but a true humility which came from the very center of his being. It had its roots, without any doubt, in the great experience of having prostrated himself at the foot of the Cross. He had learned the love of Christ at the knee of a Christian mother, an unusually gifted and cultured lady who exercised a consecrated influence over both his mind and soul. But if his Christian experience did not come like sudden lightning, it was nevertheless like a luminous and always present pillar of fire in his soul. He loved Isaac Watts’ hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and in it the words ‘And pour contempt on all my pride’ were peculiarly characteristic of his life. He was always, everywhere, whatever he was doing, a sinner saved by grace. From this as a center every activity and interest of his life radiated in concentric circles. Because of it he had an almost infinite capacity for friendship, loved, as Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare, ‘little short of idolatry’ by those who knew him well. He would, of course, have repudiated any affection for him which took the place of that owed to God. But in his friendships he gave himself without stint, both in counsel and in more material ways if his friends were in trouble and need. And there were others who had bitterly attacked him, who, when they were in want, were the recipients of his help sent through third parties who were strictly charged never to reveal the source of the gift.

Dr. Machen’s chief intellectual characteristic was not his great learning (concerning which he was not in the least self-conscious) but was perhaps his passion for consistency. If he was right he wanted to be right all the way. He had the most orderly mind of any man I ever knew. No one could read The Origin of Paul’s Religion (his greatest book, I think) without being reminded of the progress of a supremely led army over a varied terrain, with each objective clearly defined and occupied on schedule. Not an inch of ground that was not covered, and when one arrived at the end of the book, one felt like an eye-witness of a brilliantly conceived and consummated military campaign. But how the analogy breaks down as one finds in the book not merely the progress of a relentlessly ordered mind, but the beating of a heart filled to over-flowing with love for Christ and those for whom He died!

I have spoken before of the love which Dr. Machen drew from so many. He had friends because he knew how to be a friend. The acknowledged leader of a movement he always treated his associates not as underlings but as equals. A man of wide and broad culture he exerted a charm that was spontaneous and genuine because it was not a matter of the surface merely, but like everything else about him, sprang from his heart. And he possessed that saving grace, a sense of humor. A man who can laugh at himself at times, is in good mental health.

When he died it was with his harness on. (The word ‘harness’ refers to the armor worn by soldiers in ancient and medieval times, not to that worn by horses.) He literally spent himself in the cause he loved, used up his reserves of strength, and fell the easy victim to sudden disease brought on by a quick change from a warm to sub-zero climate when he was already suffering with a heavy cold. Now, in God’s inscrutable providence, he has gone to be with Christ. To many of us it was a bitter separation and tragedy. But I can never forget the sermon Dr. Machen preached at the funeral of the gifted young minister, Henry Atkinson, in Wildwood, New Jersey. His work was done, said Dr. Machen. We could not see it. But God did, else He would not have taken His servant home. And so it is now with the one who that day preached the sermon. His work, though we could not see it, was done. God had higher uses and greater blessings for him there in ‘the deep wells of light’ where he can rest his eyes forever on the face of the Lord he loved, all earth’s dissonance forgotten in the Beatific Vision.

[Words to Live By:]
It is something to have known such a man, for they come out rarely on the human scene. May all of us, who loved him be the better for it. Despite the differences which separate some of us who once fought the battle shoulder to shoulder under his leadership, may we differ, when we must, not as enemies. Holding the truth as we see it in utmost fidelity, let us always comport ourselves as Christian brethren who owe a duty to ‘Christ’s little ones’ and who stand upon a common level as only sinners saved by grace.

[excerpted from The Christian Beacon, Vol. II, No. 29 (26 August 1937): 1, 2, 8.

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