Gresham Machen

You are currently browsing articles tagged Gresham Machen.

Two eulogies published upon the death of Dr. J. Gresham Machen. One by a close friend, Dr. Clarence E. Macartney; the other by “S. M. R.”, perhaps the editor of The Presbyterian, in the mid-1930’s. (further research required to confirm).

DR. MACARTNEY’S COMMENT ON THE DEATH OF DR. MACHEN

[as published in The Presbyterian, 7 January 1937.]

When I heard of the passing of Dr. Machen, the words of King David over Abner came to mind: “Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?”

Dr. Machen was my classmate at Princeton and a firm friend through all the years that have passed since then. I am glad in this public way to testify to my affection for him, my admiration for his superb intellect, his pre-eminent scholarship, his magnificent courage, and his clear discernment of the spread of apostasy in the Christian Church.

He was the greatest theologian and defender of the Christian faith that the Church of our day has produced. More than any other man of our generation, Dr. Machen tore the mask from the face of unbelief which parades under the name of Modernism in the Christian Church.

He was not only a great scholar and thinker, but a man of remarkable power as an organizer. He leaves behind him three noble institutions which are his chief monument–Westminster Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and the Presbyterian Church of America.

To those who did not know him, Dr. Machen may have seemed austere and censorious. But those who had the privilege of his friendship knew him as a man of the widest culture and a delightful companion.

We shall see him no more in the flesh. His eloquent voice will not be heard again in the pulpits of the land. Yet, “he being dead, yet speaketh.” Like Paul, he kept the faith delivered unto the saints, and like Paul’s noble companion, Barnabas, “He was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost.”

Clarence Edward Macartney.


Dr. J. Gresham Machen

The speedy death after a brief battle with lobar pneumonia which closed the earthly career of Dr. Machen at the age of fifty-five, came to us as a great shock. Dr. Machen was a vigorous personality, a great scholar, yet a very humble and warm-hearted Christian. He endeared himself to his students, among whom the writer is happy to have been numbered at Princeton Seminary. He was the master of all the foremost writings of the destructive critics who did so much to undermine Christian faith, and he taught the riches of the Word with understanding as well as personal belief. He saw the poverty of the general position which was so popular a few years ago, but which has now left its votaries discomfited and bereft in the time of great need. He was a man of Reformation proportions. The Lord’s hand may now appear more plainly with the servant called home, either perpetating [sic] the denomination he started with greater power, or directing these noble men back to our own Church. Certainly we would welcome their return, as we will continue to respect them in their own endeavors.

S. M. R.

 

1925 – Evangelical Students

1929 – WTS

1930 – Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing

1933 – IBPFM

1936 – PCofA/OPC

Tags: , , ,

“A Quiet Stream Whose Waters Ran Deep”

It was on this day, December 19th, 1915, that Arthur W. Machen, father of Dr. J. Gresham Machen, died, at the age of 88. Arthur W. Machen was a noted Baltimore lawyer and served as a ruling elder in the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church of Baltimore. The following testimony to the life of his father is found in the work Christianity in Conflict, a work which appeared in the volume Contemporary American Theology, edited by Vergilius Ferm (New York: Round Table Press, 1932-1933.

Dr. Machen writes:—

MachenAWMy father, who died in 1915 at the age of eighty-eight, and my mother, who died in 1931 at the age of eighty-two, were both Christians; from them I learned what Christianity is and how it differs from certain modern substitutes. I also learned that Christian conviction can go hand in hand with a broad outlook upon life and with the pursuit of learning.

My father was a lawyer, whose practice had been one of the best in the State of Maryland. But the success which he attained at the bar did not serve in the slightest to make him narrow in his interests. All his life he was a tremendous reader, and reading to him was never a task.

I suppose it never occurred to him to read merely from a sense of duty; he read because he loved to read. He would probably have been greatly amused if anyone had called him a “scholar”; yet his knowledge of Latin and Greek and English and French literature (to say nothing of Italian, which he took up for the fun of it when he was well over eighty and was thus in a period of life which in other men might be regarded as old age) would put our professional scholars to shame.

With his knowledge of literature there went a keen appreciation of beauty in other fields—an appreciation which both my brothers have inherited. One of my father’s most marked characteristics was his desire to have contact with the very best. The second-best always left him dissatisfied; and so the editions of the English classics, for example, that found place in his library were always carefully chosen. As I think of them, I am filled with renewed dismay by the provision of the Vestal Copyright Bill, nearly made a law in the last Congress, which would erect a Chinese wall of exclusion around our many things that are finest and most beautiful in the art of the printing and binding of books.

My father’s special “hobby” was the study and collection of early editions—particularly fifteenth-century editions of the Greek and Latin classics. Some fine old books were handed down to him from his father’s home in Virginia, but others he acquired in the latter part of his long life. His modest means did not suffice, of course, for wholesale acquisitions, but he did try to pick up here and there really good examples of the work of the famous early printers. He was little interested in imperfect copies; everything that he secured was certain to be the very best. I can hardly think of his love of old books as a “hobby”; it was so utterly spontaneous and devoid of self-consciousness. He loved the beautiful form of the old books, as he loved their contents; and the acquisition of every book on his shelves was a true expression of that love.

franklinStPCHe was a profoundly Christian man, who had read widely and meditated earnestly upon the really great things of our holy Faith. His Christian experience was not of the emotional or pietistical type, but was a quiet stream whose waters ran deep. He did not adopt that “Touch not, taste not, handle not” attitude toward the good things or the wonders of God’s world which too often today causes earnest Christian people to consecrate to God only an impoverished man, but in his case true learning and true piety went hand in hand. Every Sunday morning and Sunday night, and on Wednesday night, he was in his place in Church, and a similar faithfulness characterized all his service as an elder in the Presbyterian Church. At that time the Protestant churches had not yet become political lobbies, and Presbyterian elders were chosen not because they were “outstanding men [or women]* in the community,” but because they were men of God. I love to think of that old Presbyterian session in the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church of Baltimore. [pictured, above right]

It is a refreshing memory in these days of ruthless and heartless machinery in the Church. God grant that the memory may some day become actuality again and that the old Christian virtues may be revived!

[* TDPH Editor: Dr. Machen wrote this article in the early 1930’s, when the effort to permit women to serve as ruling elders was gaining ground in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. His bracketed comment should be understood in that light.]

Words to Live By:
Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” – Exodus 20:12.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. – Ephesians 6:1-3.

Image sources:
1. Frontispiece portrait, facing title page, in volume 1 of Stories and Articles, collected by Arthur W. Machen, Jr.  Baltimore : Privately Printed, 1917.
2. Wikipedia page for the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church.

For Further Study:
See the Thomas G. Machen Collection of Incunabula and Fine Printed Books at the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries.
Also at Johns Hopkins, see Machen (Minnie Gresham), Notebook 1874-1904

Also on this day:
December 19, 1794
– Ordination of the Rev. Daniel Dana, then installed as pastor of the historic First Presbyterian church of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Day Two of their Second General Assembly The following materials are drawn from the scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. Initially organized as the Presbyterian Church of America, the denomination we now know as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met in its second General Assembly, beginning on Thursday, November 12 and adjourned on Saturday, November 14, 1936. As the retiring moderator of the first Assembly, the Rev. J. Gresham Machen had opened the proceedings with a sermon on 2 Cor. 5:14-15, and the assembled delegates then celebrated the Lord’s Supper. The Rev. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. and the Rev. J. Burton Thwing were nominated for Moderator of the Second General Assembly, and Rev. Buswell was elected to serve, the Rev. Cornelius Van Til and the Rev. Carl McIntire escorting Rev. Buswell to the platform. The election of Rev. Buswell as Moderator was, for one, seen as a way to minimize the possibility of friction over the issue of pre-millennialism, Buswell himself being a pre-millennialist. Ultimately that gambit did not succeed, and the young denomination suffered a split in 1938, with the formation of the overtly pre-millennial Bible Presbyterian Synod.

PCofA_2dGA_Buswell Caption for the news clipping photo at right: At the left is Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., president of Wheaton College, who was elected at the opening business session of the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America here yesterday. he succeeds Dr. J. Gresham Machen, of Philadelphia, show at the right, who was one of the leaders in the revolt of Fundamentalists from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The revolt let to the formation of the new church at the first General Assembly, June 11.

PCofA_2dGA_05NEW CHURCH ACTS FOR POPULAR RULE

Presbyterian of America Goes on Record Against Interlocking Committees.

OPPOSE OFFICIAL CLIQUE

Resolutions placing the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America on record as against “interlocking committees and putting power into the hands of a few men” were adopted today. [i.e., Friday, Nov. 13th]

This action was taken at sessions in the Manufacturers and Bankers’ Club, Broad and Walnut Streets. The Rev. Martin Luther Thomas, of California, in proposing the resolution said such precautions would prevent the church being controlled by a few men at headquarters and guard against “maladministration.”

Members of the new denomination before its formation constantly asserted that the parent Church, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., was controlled by an official clique.

Several commissioners opposed the resolution on the ground that it would create suspicion, but Mr. Thomas said: “It is better to avoid the abuse of power int he beginning than have trouble stemming it later.”

The resolutions were carried by a large majority.

Another resolution calling for a staggering of appointments to committees so as to prevent self-perpetuation of the governing heads, was defeated, when it was pointed out that the organizers of the new church should be given a free hand to carry out their work without interruption.

Wording of the actual resolution:  “In order to avoid interlocking committees, it is the desire of this General Assembly that no man be allowed to serve at the same time on more than one standing committee, board, or agency, except where an emergency exists.” [Minutes, pp. 12]

Words to Live By:
I recall that at a certain meeting of my presbytery, a candidate for the ministry was asked what he liked about the Presbyterian Church in America. With this candidate having grown up in an independent church fellowship, his reply shocked all of us elders at its first sound when he replied, “our Book of Church Order!” What we groaned at, with its very specific ways of doing things, was the very thing he rejoiced in, finding a supply of godly guidelines with which to “do church.” Elder representatives at the above described General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America wanted to profit from the past, especially even from the negative examples of those liberal churchmen and apostate churches where biblical input had been strangled in past PCUSA church assemblies. So important rules were added to the constitution of their newly formed church. Once adopted into practice, the more important outreach of the church could be accomplished with God’s blessing.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Old Memories, Faded but True

macrae05Today, we’ll take the liberty of cutting ourselves free from the moorings of the calendar, to look at some new material recently received here at the PCA Historical Center. The Rev. John MacRae, son of Dr. Allan A. MacRae, is soon to move into a new field of ministry in Australia. As he prepares for that move, he understandably has been clearing out some files and has recently donated some materials of his father’s. The PCA Historical Center already had received the Allan A. MacRae Manuscript Collection several years ago, but these several files look to be an important addition to that collection.

Among those documents, one caught my eye. The following is the larger part of that document, in which Dr. Allan A. MacRae recounts his memories of Dr. J. Gresham Machen. MacRae first knew Machen as a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, and later as both men were part of the founding faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary. There is no claim that these recollections constitute great literature, but I think you should be able to read past that and enjoy the telling of the story:—

machen03I never had beginning Greek from Machen but I used to hear about his beginning Greek class, how he would make it easy for students by doing all kind of silly pranks, like standing with a book on his head, balanced on his head; standing on a chair and marking something on the blackboard….

During my second and third years I saw a good deal of Machen and got to know him rather well. I believe it was during my first year that I took his very famous course on the book of Galatians, in which he went through the book showing how strongly Paul felt about the importance of redemption through Christ being at the very center of Christianity, and how opposed [Paul was] to anything that would give to anything else a priority [over] our relation to the Lord. It was a very famous course and I enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately Machen’s time was largely taken up with beginning work as he had to give all the elementary courses in Greek and he did not give many advanced courses, so I did not have many courses from him. However, I got to know him very well.

I remember very vividly, after my second year, at the meeting of the General Assembly in Baltimore. There the action of the Board of Directors of Princeton electing him to be professor of apologetics was presented and turned down by the assembly. Union Seminary [New York] could appoint who they wanted, but Princeton Seminary was under control of the General Assembly, and no one could be appointed to a professorship in it without action of the General Assembly. When I came across Henry Sloane Coffin, who had recently become president of Union Seminary, I asked him, when will your election as president of Union be considered by the General Assembly? In answer, he declared, “Union Seminary is not subject to any ecclesiastical denomination.” Dr. Machen used to say, that Union had twenty years before thrown off all control of the General Assembly, and declared itself independent, but having done so, for Union Seminary men to work hard in the General Assembly to prevent his [Machen’s] election as professor of apologetics and to vote against it seemed to him to be utterly wrong.

When I came to Westminster to teach, naturally I had considerable contact with Dr. Machen. At that time Dr. Machen had an apartment high up in a building on 13th Street in Philadelphia, and there he used to hold his checker club, which was really an evening of being at home as he used to have at Princeton Seminary when he would have lots of candy and soft drinks around and boards for chess and checkers and other games. Once I played chess with him and he was thinking of something else, I guess, and I beat him. When I check-mated him, he was quite shocked and immediately said, “We must play again,” and now he beat me completely. I never claimed to be much of a chess player. A short term memory is very important for chess and mine has never been at all good. Machen was certainly far out of my class as a player. I remember Bob Marsden once telling me how he went to see Machen one afternoon in his apartment and Machen talked very cordially to him and seemed perfectly peaceful and at rest and relaxed in every way, and then he looked at his watch and said, “Oh my, I have to go now, I have to catch the train for Chicago.” Marsden was greatly impressed that a man would be so relaxed when he was actually ready to head for a long trip.

In the summer of 1936, I went to the Canadian Rockies and while there, Dr. Machen arrived. I was staying at a little inn a short distance from Lake Louise and he was staying at the Chateau. Dr. Machen was there for vacation, being very busy, but he spent most of his time there working and trying to write and answer for the Christian Reformed paper to a professor in the Seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church, who had criticized Machen’s statement that he was not for prohibition because he did not figure that such practices and habits were the proper area of government to enter into.

Later on Dr. Machen went to South Dakota at the request of one of the ministers of one of the little churches in South Dakota, to speak. It was winter and freezing cold. He had these tiny churches that were maybe fifty miles apart and this man took him in his car and Machen got a bad cold which went into his chest and somebody said you should stop and recover from this. He said, “No, I must meet my appointments.” So he kept going. The result was he got pneumonia and died from it. It seemed to me that his death at that time was really the result of a false conscientiousness that refused to take care of himself when he had made an appointment that would have to be broken otherwise. Actually it meant that many occasions later when he could have given great Christian messages that would have been greatly blessed of the Lord, were lost because of his giving his life at that time for what seems to me to be an insufficient cause.

We used to remember that sermon that Machen gave frequently on the hymn, “There is a Green Hill Far Away.” It was a wonderful presentation of the atonement of Christ and we loved it.

Machen had been a member of the Benham Club. In this Club at the Seminary, which claimed to be the finest social club in the Seminary (they had four eating clubs by the way), in that club everybody had to do stunts. Machen had stunts he made, and whenever there was any gathering where Machen was present, he was always asked for a stunt. He would make those funny faces and say things so interestingly. His great thing they used to ask for was how Bill Adams won the battle of Waterloo. Then he had another one on eloqution in which he made fun of the pronunciation of certain sounds. There was one he gave once which impressed me greatly about the tiger that ate up every member of the family one by one and the father could not bear to kill the tiger because when he saw its fine mild eyes he was just unable to hurt it. I used to love him give this. He gave it only rarely, but after Westminster was founded, when he would give a stunt and the opportunity came to ask for one, I asked for this. Though I had heard it comparatively seldom, while I was in Seminary, we began to hear it rather frequently. Then one time Dr. Dodd was present and Dr. Dodd spoke about the tiger which was the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission. It was very effective the way Dr. Dodd used it. I have not known anybody since who could give stunts the way Dr. Machen could.

Dr. Machen gave talks on radio and used to work all week over these talks. Then he said to me once, “I have been working over these for colloquial language and it is a tremendous job to work over them for a book.” Of course, they published the series in a book, called The Christian Faith and the Modern World. He said, “I have decided to write them as if they were for a book.” Actually they were every bit as effective then as before. They were wonderful talks and his series on that subject was very excellent.

Dr. Machen was a very fine Christian, a lover of the Lord and a lover of the great doctrines of salvation. He had been conditioned by his training and he did not have the realization of the centrality of the Word of God that I wished he might have, though he thoroughly believed in its inerrancy. I remember one time he told me of a minster who had left the denomination he belonged to, and had because he was irritated at their creedal statements and wanted to build his ideas already from the Bible. He was rather amused at this, but he said, “It really is strange what fine theology this man had derived simply from the Bible.”

I remember once hearing of Dr. Machen’s telling of his crossing of the ocean in which Shailer Matthews of the University of Chicago Divinity School was also there. He had many talks with him and said, “We came to the conclusion in the end that there was one point on which we agreed, that both of us liked Boston Baked Beans.” Actually this illustrates Machen’s clear vision of the errors of modernism.

My introduction to Machen came when I came across his book Christianity and Liberalism. I started to read it and could not let it down till I finished it. It was surely a clear presentation of the fact that liberalism belongs not to another religion than Christianity, but to an entirely different type of religion. Machen was a very fine Christian, a fine gentleman, a lover of the Lord, a man with fine personal qualities, but a man who was ridiculed and criticized by those who hated what he stood for and some of their criticisms and attitudes were passed, taken up unthinkingly by other people. It was a great privilege to have had the association that I had with Dr. Machen.

Words to Live By:
J. Gresham Machen is yet another of those who finished the race well. As such, he is a part of that cloud of witnesses, examples to us of those who held fast to the promise of the Gospel. They persevered in looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. May we follow in their example. May our eyes be kept fast upon Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – (Hebrews 12:1-2, KJV).

Tags: , , , , , , ,

What Should Be Done by Christian People Who are in a Modernist Church?
by Dr. J. Gresham Machen

[The following article was originally published in The Presbyterian Guardian, vol. 1, no. 2 (21 October 1935): 22.]

machen03What is the duty of Christian congregations or Christian individuals who find themselves in a church that is dominated by unbelief? Shall they remain in such a church, or shall they withdraw from it and become members of a consistently Christian Church?

That is certainly the question of the hour for the orthodox part of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Various attempts are being made to answer the question. Various considerations are being urged on one side or the other.

If we separate from the existing church organization, it is being said, shall we be able to retain any of our congregational property, or will that all have to be abandoned to the uses of the existing organization?

On the other hand, if we remain in a church that is dominated by unbelief, does that not mean that we are simply heaping up greater resources for the Modernists in future years to use? Will not every gift that we make, every church building that we put up, be turned over ultimately to the uses of unbelief?

No doubt such considerations on one side or the other of this question are very interesting. I am bound to say in passing that the considerations in favor of separation seem to me to be much stronger than the considerations on the other side.

But I propose to the readers of this page that we should now approach the question in an entirely different way. I propose that we should see what the Bible has to say about the matter. Does the Bible permit Christian people to live year after year, decade after decade, in a church that is so largely dominated by unbelief as is the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.?

The answer to that question is surely not difficult. I am not thinking just now so much of individual texts directly bearing on the question, though those texts are not difficult to find and though they are not really balanced by any texts on the other side; but I am thinking of the Bible’s whole teaching about the Church and what the Church ought to mean in the individual’s Christian life. If we read what the Bible says about the Church and then examine the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., can we really put our hands upon our hearts and say in the presence of God that the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. even approximates being what the Bible says a church of Jesus Christ must be or provides that nurture which the Bible says every Christian ought to have?

Now I know very well that we ought to be careful when interrogating the Bible on this point. Sometimes, when the Bible speaks about the Church, it is speaking about the Church as it will finally be when it appears without blemish before Christ. We have no right to demand of the Church militant a perfection that will belong only to the Church triumphant to the Church in its final, glorious state. When the Bible speaks of the Church militant, the Church as it actually appears upon this earth, it detects always the presence of error and sin in that Church, and it does not permit a Christian to withdraw from that Church or any branch of that Church just because that Church or that branch of it is not perfect.

All this is true. But it really does not apply to the situation in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The point is that that Church is very largely dominated by unbelief. It does not merely harbor unbelief here and there. No, it has made unbelief, in the form of a deadly Modernist vagueness, the determinative force in its central official life.

Such a body is hardly what the Bible means by a church at all. The Bible commands Christian people to be members of a true church, even though it be an imperfect one. It represents the nurture provided by such a true church as a necessity, not a luxury, in the Christian life. There must therefore be a separation between the Christian and the Modernist elements in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. That is perfectly clear. The only question is how the separation shall be effected.

Unquestionably the best way would be the way of reform. If Modernism should be removed from the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., and that church should be brought back to conformity with its constitution and with the Word of God, all would be well.

The other way is the way of separation from the existing organization on the part of the loyal part of the church. Only, if the separation comes, it ought to come in such fashion as to make perfectly clear the fact that those who are separating from the present Modernist organization are not founding a “new church,” but are carrying on the true, spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.

Something will no doubt be said regarding both of these possibilities on this page in future issues of The Presbyterian Guardian.

Words to Live By:
It should always be a fearsome thing to propose division or separation, even for reasons such as stated above. And I am quite certain that separation was never a light matter in Dr. Machen’s consideration. In our daily prayers, we ought to regularly pray for the unity of the Body of Christ, the Church. As long as we are in this sinful flesh, there will always be divisions, for our understanding of God’s Word is imperfect. But the way to greater unity rests not in pushing aside the truth of God’s Word, but rather, in pressing forward to know more and more of God’s will, as revealed in the Scriptures.

Tags: , , , , ,

Time and Again, God Triumphs Over Our Sin

Attempts to reform the Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church, USA were led in part by some of the faculty and board members at Westminster Theological Seminary. When those efforts failed, it was on June 27th in 1933 that the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM) was organized and on October 17, 1933, its constitution was adopted and officers were elected: Rev. J. Gresham Machen serving as president, Rev. Merrill T. MacPherson as vice president, Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths as secretary, and Murray Forrest Thompson, Esq. as treasurer. The General Assembly of 1934 had put the issue rather bluntly, declaring that members of the IBPFM either were to resign or else face church discipline for violation of their ordination vows.

As new evidence kept coming forward, concerning continued modernism in the Board of Foreign Mission, more and more people made the decision to begin supporting the IBPFM. This support of the new board so worried the denomination that it became a major issue at the next general assembly held in Cleveland, Ohio, in May 1934. For one, remember that this was taking place during the depression, and charitable funds were especially tight. That reason is not offered to excuse what happened next, but it does help to explain it. Perhaps it was not surprising then that the 1934 General Assembly adopted a deliverance that stated that every member of the church was required by the constitution to support the missionary program of the church, comparable to the way that each member must take part in the Lord’s Supper.

The Assembly then mandated that each Presbytery was to take action against any of its members who were also members of the IBPFM. Thus the deliverance became known as “The Mandate” and in typical Presbyterian fashion, the consequences of that action unfolded slowly. Over the course of the following two years, about a dozen men and one woman were charged, tried and cast out of the Church. On March 29, 1935, Dr. J. Gresham was declared guilty and suspended from the ministry of the PCUSA, on March 29, 1935. His trial was a travesty, with all doctrinal evidence prohibited by the court. Dr. Roy T. Brumbaugh was tried in absentia. It was a sad conclusion to this chapter in the history of the Church, but one which led to new beginnings. As some of the old Puritans used to say, “God never removes one blessing, but what He gives a greater.”

Pictured below is a letter from the Rev. Walter Vail Watson, in which he mentions his discussions with Dr. Machen and sketches out what must have been some of the first outlines of the later formation of the IBPFM:—

IBPFM_origins
Next, (and I realize this may be more difficult to read), is the text of the press release issued by Dr. Machen upon the official formation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, on October 17, 1933:—

ibpfm_press_release

 

 

A Prayer for Our Times:
Lord, give us honest, godly leaders who will do what is right, regardless of the cost to themselves. Give us leaders who, in all humility, fear You and who thus fear no man. And may we be a humble, repentant people capable of following such leaders, seeking Your glory in all that we say and do.

Images: The documents pictured above are from the J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. Manuscript Collection, preserved at the  PCA Historical Center.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Two Documents and a Digression

Today’s post is something of a modest exercise in exploring the archives, with two documents—both having the same date—drawn from two separate manuscript collections preserved at the PCA Historical Center. Nothing earth-shattering here, though there is some discovery along the way. In this case, the documents connect only in a minor way, though sometimes such connections can shed valuable light.

The first is the bulletin from the 1936 convocation service at Westminster Theological Seminary. Our copy of this bulletin is part of scrapbook no. 4 in the Henry G. Welbon Collection. The second item is a copy of a letter from J. Gresham Machen, found in the J. Oliver Buswell Manuscript Collection.

Pictured below is the service bulletin from the Eighth Annual Opening Exercises of the Westminster Theological Seminary, held on Wednesday, September 30, 1936 in Witherspoon Auditorium. This auditorium was capable of seating one thousand people, and was part of the Witherspoon Building, home of the PCUSA’s Presbyterian Board of Publications. 

To digress a bit, the Witherspoon Building was named for the Rev. John Witherspoon [1723-1794], and is located at 1319-1323 Walnut Street in Philadelphia’s Market East neighborhood. It was designed by architect Joseph M. Huston [1866-1940] and the work was commissioned by the Presbyterian Board of Publications and Sabbath School Work. An eleven-story, steel frame “E”-shaped building, faced with brick and granite, the structure was built between 1895 and 1897. Exterior features include Corinthian and Ionic columns, and terra cotta decorations of statues, medallions, and seals of various boards and agencies of the Presbyterian Church as well as those of related Reformed churches. The famous sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder [1870-1945] designed six of the statues and some of the medallions that graced the building. An additional ten statues of various Biblical figures, were later cast by Samuel Murray and Thomas Eakins and installed in the exterior arches on the eighth floor. All of the statues were removed in the early 1960’s for fear of deterioration and were relocated to the courtyard of the Presbyterian Historical Society. The Witherspoon Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

For the commencement exercises that year, the Seminary had invited Professor H. Henry Meeter of Calvin College, His message, “Thank God and Take Courage,” was subsequently published on the pages of The Presbyterian Guardian, and can be read here (part 1), pp. 6-8 and here (part 2), pp. 27-29.  [It should also be noted that The Meeter Center for Calvin Studies is named in honor of Dr. Meeter.]

WTS_1936_convocation
A Second Document: Machen’s Advice on Deciding Moral and Ethical Conflicts

At some point on that same day, Dr. Machen set to answering some of his mail. How it was that Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. came to have a copy of this letter, is something that will have to remain a mystery. In the letter, Dr. Machen replies to an inquiry from a young woman, giving his advice on how to decide moral and ethical conflicts:

[From the J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. Papers, Box 286, File 16, file copy on green paper, 8.5” x 11”]

J. Gresham Machen
Westminster Theological Seminary
206 S. 13th St., Philadelphia, Pa

September 30, 1936

TO:
Miss Mary J. Gushard
1220 Lincoln Ave.
Prospect Park, Pa

Dear Miss Gushard:

Your letter of Sept. 24th, addressed to me at the Seminary, which I do not visit very often in vacation time, did not come into my hands until yesterday evening. In reply to your inquiry, please let me say that I do not think it to be wrong to attend the theatre. My position regarding these matters is rather c1ear, and. I have held. it for a great many years. It may be set forth in part briefly as follows:

1. It is wrong to do things that are expressly forbidden in the Bible.
2. Where things are not expressly forbidden in the Bible, the individual Christian must determine, in the light of the Bible, whether they are wrong or not, and must act accordingly.
3. It is wrong for one Christian to tyrannize over the conscience of another in these matters.

That being so, I respect very greatly the conscience of a fellow-Christian who cannot conscientiously go to the theatre. I should hate to see him do what he thinks is wrong. I certainly cannot ask him to submit his conscience to mine. On the other hand, he ought not to ask me to submit my conscience to his. With re: to the “separated” life, I should just like to say two things. In the first place, worldliness is a great danger to the Church and consecration is the thing for which we ought to strive with all our might. No mere man, since the Fall, has ever in this life been perfectly consecrated to God; but we ought to strive always to be more and. more consecrated to Him. In the second place, however, there is also an opposite danger. It is the danger of a false asceticism. It is the danger into which those persons in Colosse fell, when thoy said in a way which the Apostle rebukes: “Touch not, taste not, handle not.” We ought to strive against that danger also. Particularly ought we to avoid subjecting our fellow-Christians to rules of our own choosing that go beyond what the Word of God contains.

Such are my principles. I do not claim to have followed them perfectly. Far from it. There have been times beyond number when I have fallen short of them. certainly need to ask God daily to forgive me for my sins. But the principles that I have set forth do seem to me to be in accordance with God’s holy Word, and they are principles which I think we ought to keep before our eyes.

Very sincerely yours, (Signed) J. Gresham Machen

Image source: Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection, Scrapbook number 4, p. 412.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

machen_ShallWeObeyIt was yesterday actually—September 17th, 1936—and not today’s date of September 18th, when Dr. J. Gresham Machen spoke in Westfield, New Jersey on the subject “Shall We Obey God, or Man?”. But as we didn’t want to pass up mention of this occasion, so you will please forgive a bit of backtracking.

This appears to be one of Machen’s messages which is now lost. I did not find any title close to “Shall We Obey God, or Man?” among Dr. Machen’s published works, but if I missed something, please bring it to my attention. Like so much of Machen’s writings, this too would have remained a timely message for our own day. Perhaps there are still some notes, an outline, or even a transcript preserved among the Machen Papers at Westminster Theological Seminary?

DR. J. G. MACHEN SPEAKS HERE SUNDAY.

“Shall We Obey God, or Man?” is the subject to be discussed by Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen of Philadelphia on Sunday at 8 p.m. in the Masonic Temple. This meeting, the last in the series of three sponsored by a local committee interested in the newly organized Presbyterian Church of America, has been planned to bring before the public some of the outstanding issues before the Presbyterian Church today.

Dr. Machen, who is Professor of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and long identified with the fundamentalist group in the Presbyterian Church, today is a national figure. IN 1928 he headed a group of men that left Princeton Seminary and about four years later was instrumental in the founding of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. It was the establishment of this board that brought to a head the fast growing differences between the two groups, for from this board, termed illegal by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Dr. Machen and others were ordered to resign. Their refusal to do so lead finally this year to their withdrawal from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the formation of the Presbyterian Church of America.

Why the matter has been doctrinal rather than administration as claimed by the General Assembly that met in Syracuse last May, in what way the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. has placed the word of man above the word of God and why Conservatives cannot expect to purify the church from within are among the things which will be explained by Dr. Machen.

Acclaimed by his friends and foes alike as the outstanding Greek scholar of the world today, known as an ardent defender of Fundamentalism and the author of numerous well-known books, Dr. Machen will come prepared to state authoritatively the position of the new Presbyterian Church of America.

This same news clipping, pictured at right, can be found in context on the front page of The Westfield, New Jersey Leader, here :
http://archive.wmlnj.org/TheWestfieldLeader/1936/1936-09-17/pg_0001.pdf . Our copy of this clipping is from the scrapbook collection gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon.

Words to Live By:
In every age and era, there are challenges that confront the Christian. There is always the contest, whether to obey God or man. Strive to obey God daily, moment by moment, while the challenges may still be simpler and less painful. Set the habit now. Walk in the light of His Word and make a practice of remembering God’s faithfulness. For one, make a habit of noting His answers to your prayers. Then, when real challenges to obedience come, you should be able to say, “How can I deny Him now, when He has been faithful to me all these years?”

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Jesus Christ is Lord over All of LIfe

William Brenton Greene, Jr., was born this day, August 16th, in 1854 in Providence, Rhode Island.

WBGreeneJrEducated at the College of New Jersey (Princeton University), and graduating there in 1876. he then worked as a teacher while preparing for the ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, 1877-1880. Rev. Greene was ordained by the Presbytery of Boston (PCUSA) on 3 June 1880 and installed as pastor of the First Presbyterian church of Boston, where he served from 1880-1883. He next answered a call to serve as senior pastor of  the Tenth Presbyterian church, in Philadelphia, succeeding Dr. John DeWitt in that post and serving there from 1883-1892. Finally, he was then appointed to serve as the Stuart Professor of the Relations of Philosophy and Science to the Christian Religion, at the Princeton Theological Seminary, a post he held until 1903, after which he held the Chair of Apologetics and Christian Ethics, from 1903 until his death in 1928.  Among his many honors, he was awarded the Doctor of Divinity degree by the College of New Jersey in 1891.

[Note: The College of New Jersey was founded in 1746. The school’s name was then changed to Princeton University during its Sesquicentennial Celebration. in 1896. Particularly in earlier years, the school was commonly referred to as “Nassau,” “Nassau Hall,” “Princeton College,” or “Old North.”]

Upon Greene’s death in 1928, J. Gresham Machen wrote of him, “I loved Dr. Greene. He was absolutely true, when so many were not. He was always at Faculty and Presbytery, no matter how feeble he was. He was one of the best Christians I have ever known.”
[Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, p. 439.]

Dr. Greene is buried at the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.

Words to live by: Quoting from the inaugural address of Dr. William Breton Greene, he opened that address with these thoughtful words:

“A professorship in one of our theological seminaries is no ordinary trust. Its chief function is to teach and to train preachers of the Gospel. Because, therefore, it has “pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe,” the position of a theological professor must be as much more serious than that of the preacher as the work of the medical professor is than that of the physician. The theological teacher cannot fail largely to determine the spiritual health of all the congregations of his pupils.”

Perhaps you’ve never thought of it before now, but doesn’t Dr. Greene’s analysis prompt you to pray for those very seminary professors who train our candidates for the ministry?

Click here to read Dr. Greene’s inaugural address. “The Function of the Reason in Christianity.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

It was on this day, July 28, in 1881 that John Gresham Machen was born. For our Lord’s Day message today, the following message from Dr. Machen was first presented before a meeting of the League of Evangelical Students, a campus ministry which Machen had helped to organize in 1925. His words here remain timely for us today.

FACING THE FACTS BEFORE GOD.

By J. Gresham Machen
[excerpted from The Evangelical Student, 3.1 (October 1931): 6-10.]

In the nineteenth chapter of the Second Book of Kings, we are told how Hezekiah, King of Judah, received a threatening letter from the Assyrian enemy. The letter contained unpalatable truth. It set forth the way in which the King of Assyria had conquered one nation after another—and could the feeble kingdom of Judah escape?

When Hezekiah received the letter, there were three things that he could do with it.

In the first place, he could obey its behest; he could go out and surrender his kingdom to the Assyrian enemy.

In the second place, he could refuse to read the letter; he could ignore its contents. Like another and worse king, with a far better communication than that, he could take out his king’s penknife and cut it up and throw it bit by bit contemptuously into the fire.

As a matter of fact, Hezekiah did neither of these two things. He took the letter with all its unpalatable truth, and read it from beginning to end; he did not close his eyes to any of its threatening. But then he took the letter, with all the threatening that it contained, spread it open in the presence of Almighty God, and asked God to give the answer.

Now we too, believers in the Bible and in the blessed gospel that it contains, have received a threatening letter. It is not a letter signed by any one potentate, like the King of Assyria; but it is a collective letter signed by the men who are dominating the world of today and dominating to an increasing extent the visible Church. It is a letter breathing out threatenings of extinction to those who hold to the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is set forth in God’s Word.

That letter is signed by the men who are dominating increasingly the political and social life of the world. That was not true fifty years ago, at least not in English-speaking countries. Then, to a considerable extent, in those countries at least, public opinion was in favor of the gospel of Christ. Today, almost all over the world, public opinion is increasingly against the gospel of Christ.

The letter of threatening against the gospel is signed also by the men who are dominating the literary and intellectual life of the world. To see that that is true, one needs only to read the popular magazines and the magazines that appeal to persons of literary and intellectual taste; or one needs only to read the books of the day or listen to what comes “over the air”.

The threatening letter is also signed, alas, by the men who are in control of many of the larger branches of the Protestant Church. In the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., for example, to which the writer of this article belongs, four out of eight ministerial members of the Permanent Judicial Commission, which is practically the supreme guardian of the doctrine of the Church, are actually signers of a formal document commonly called the “Auburn Affirmation” which declares to be non- essential even for the ministry the virgin birth of our Lord and four other great verities of the Christian faith; and very slight indeed is the representation of any clear-cut and outspoken evangelicalism in the boards and agencies of the Church. In many other ecclesiastical bodies, the situation, from the Christian point of view, is even worse than it is in ours.

But it is in the colleges and universities and theological seminaries that the threatening letter against the gospel of Christ has been most generally signed. In the faculties of some of our great universities today, you can count almost on the fingers of your two hands the men who believe in the gospel in any definite and outspoken way, and in the student bodies individual believers often seem to themselves to be standing nearly alone.

When we receive this threatening letter, there are three things, that we may do with it.

In the first place, we may obey its behest; we may relinquish our belief in the truth of the Bible; we may simply drift with the current of the times. Very many students in colleges and universities and theological seminaries have made that choice. They came from Christian homes; they are the subject of the prayers of godly parents. But the threatenings and persuasions of the unbelieving world have apparently been too strong for them. They have been unwilling to adopt the unpopular course. And so they have made shipwreck of their faith.

In the second place, we may refuse to read the threatening letter; we may close our eyes to the unpalatable truth that the letter contains. We may say, as so many are saying today, that the Protestant churches of our own country and of the other countries of the world are “fundamentally sound”; we may cry “Peace, peace; when there is no peace”; we may dig our heads like ostriches in the sand; we may refuse to attend to the real situation in the Church and in the world.

I pray God that we may never adopt this method of dealing with the letter of threatening; for if there is one thing that is preventing true prayer today, it is this foolish optimism with regard to the state of the times, this refusal of Christian people to face the true seriousness of the situation in which we stand.

But there is a third choice that we may make when we receive the threatening letter against the gospel of Christ. We may take the letter and read it from beginning to end, not closing our eyes to the threatening that it contains, and then lay the letter, with all its threatenings, open in the presence of Almighty God.

It is to that third choice that the League of Evangelical Students, by its Constitution, is irrevocably committed. The Prologue to the Constitution reads as follows:

“Inasmuch as mutually exclusive conceptions of the nature of the Christian religion exist in the world today and particularly in theological seminaries and other institutions of higher learning: and since it is the duty of those who share and cherish the evangelical faith to witness to it and to strive for its defense and propagation; and in view of the value for this end of common counsel, united effort and Christian fellowship:

“We, the undersigned representatives of Students’ Associations in Theological Seminaries and Schools for the Training of Christian Workers, do hereby form a league organized upon the following principles….”

There we have a clear facing of the situation as it actually is and a brave willingness, despite that situation, to stand for the defense and propagation of the gospel of Christ.

Certain objections are sometimes raised against this method of dealing with the letter of threatening that has come to us today from a hostile world.

In the first place, we are sometimes told, it will discourage the faith of timorous souls if we tell them thus plainly that the world of today is hostile to the gospel of Christ; it will offend Christ’s little ones, men say, if we bid them open their eyes to the real strength of unbelief in the modern world.

But our Lord, at least, never used this method of raising false hopes in those whom He called to be His disciples. He told those who would follow Him to count the cost before they took that step, not to be like a man who starts to build a tower before he has funds to complete it or like a man who puts his hand to the plow and then draws back. He never made it easy, in that sense, to be a disciple of Him (though in another and higher sense His yoke was easy and His burden light); and any faith in the Lord Jesus Christ which is based upon the vain hope that a man can be a disciple of Christ and still have the favor of the world is a faith that is based on shifting sand. No, it is a poor religion which makes a man willing only to walk in golden slippers in the sunshine; and such a religion is bound to fail in the time of need.

In the second place, however, men say that if we face the real condition of the times, we shall be guilty of stirring up controversy in the Church.

No doubt the fact may be admitted. If we face the real situation in the Church and in the world, and decide, despite that situation, to stand firmly for the gospel of Christ, we shall be very likely indeed to find ourselves engaged in controversy. But if we are going to avoid controversy, we might as well close our Bibles; for the New Testament is a controversial book practically from beginning to end. The New Testament writers and our Lord Himself presented truth in sharp contrast with error, and indeed that is the only way in which truth can be presented in any clear and ringing way.

I do not know all the things that will happen when the great revival sweeps over the Church, the great revival for which we long. Certainly I do not know when that revival will come; its coming stands in the Spirit’s power. But about one thing that will happen when that blessing comes I think we can be fairly sure. When a great and true revival comes in the Church, the present miserable, feeble talk about avoidance of controversy on the part of the servants of Jesus Christ will all be swept away as with a mighty flood. A man who is really on fire with his message never talks in that feeble and compromising way, but proclaims the gospel plainly and boldly in the presence of every high thing that is lifted up against the gospel of Christ.

If we do adopt this method of dealing with the present situation in the Church and in the world, if we spread the threatening letter of the adversaries unreservedly before God, there are certain things that God tells us for our comfort. When Hezekiah adopted that method in his day, God sent him Isaiah the son of Amoz, greatest of the prophets, with a message of cheer. But He has His ways of speaking also to us.

In the first place, he tells us for our comfort that this is not the first time of discouragement in the history of the Church. Often the gospel has seemed to superficial observers to be forever forgotten, yet it has burst forth with new power and set the world aflame. Sometimes the darkest hour has just preceded the dawn. So it may be in our time.

In the second place, He tells us that even in this time of unbelief there are far more than seven thousand that have not bowed the knee to the gods of the hour. In these days of doubt and defection and hostility, there are those who love the gospel of Jesus Christ. And how sweet and precious is our fellowship with them in the presence of a hostile world!

It is to be God’s instrument in giving that comfort that the League of Evangelical Students exists. It is founded to say to students on many a campus who are tempted to think that they are standing alone in holding to the gospel of Christ: “No, brethren, you are not alone; we too hold humbly to the truth of God’s Word, and we hold to it not through a mere shallow emotionalism but because to hold to it is a thoroughly reasonable thing, of which a real student need not for one moment be ashamed.”

In the third place, God tells us not to be too much impressed by the unbelieving age in which we are living now. Do you think that this is a happy or a blessed age? Oh, no, my friends. Amid all the pomp and glitter and noise and tumult of the age, there are hungry hearts. The law of God has been forgotten, and stark slavery is stalking through the earth —the decay of free institutions in the State and a deeper slavery still in the depths of the soul. High poetry is silent; and machinery, it almost seems, rules all. God has taken the fire of genius from the world. But something far more than genius is being lost—the blessing of a humble and virtuous life. There was a time, twenty-five years ago, when we might have thought that Christian living could be maintained after Christian doctrine was given up. But if we ever made that mistake, we must abandon it today. Where is the sweetness of the Christian home; where is the unswerving integrity of men and women whose lives were founded upon the Word of God? Increasingly these things are being lost. Even men of the world are coming to see with increasing clearness that mankind is standing over an abyss.

I tell you, my friends, it is not altogether an argument against the gospel that this age has given it up; it is rather an argument for the gospel. If this be the condition of the world without Christ, then we may well turn back, while yet there is time, to that from which we have turned away.

That does not mean that we should despise the achievements of the age; it does not mean that we should adopt the “Touch not, taste not, handle not” attitude toward the good things or the wonders of God’s world which Paul condemned in his day; it does not mean that we should consecrate to God an impoverished man, narrowed in interests, narrowed in outlook upon the marvellous universe that God has made. What it does mean is that we should pray God to make these modern achievements not the instruments of human slavery, as increasingly they are threatening to become, but the instruments of that true liberty which consists in the service of God.

But the deepest comfort which God gives us is not found even in considerations such as these: it is not found in reflections upon God’s dealings during the past history of the Church; it is not found in our fellowship with those who love the gospel that we love; it is not found in observation of the defects of this unbelieving age. Valuable are all these considerations, and great is the assurance that they give to our souls. But there is one consideration that is more valuable, and one assurance that is greater still. It is found in the overwhelming glory of the gospel itself.

When we attend to that glory, all the pomp and glitter of an unbelieving age seems like the blackness of night. How wonderful is the divine revelation in God’s Word! How simple, yet how majestic its presentation of the being of God; how dark its picture of the guilt of man; how bright against that background its promise of divine grace! And at the centre of all in this incomparable Book there stands the figure of One in whose presence all wisdom seems to be but folly and all goodness seems to be but filthy rags. If we have His favor, little shall we care henceforth for the favor of the world, and little shall we fear the opposition of an unbelieving age.

That favor is ours, brethren, without merit, without boasting, if we trust in Him. And in that favor we find the real source of our courage in these difficult days. Our deepest comfort is found not in the signs of the times but in the great and precious promises of God.

Tags: , , , , ,

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: