J. Gresham Machen

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These were tumultuous times in the history of the church, and in the midst of them Brumbaugh moved to Tacoma to become the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. He was forty-one years old and had a wife and four children. The First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma boasted a formal membership of 1,850, with about 1,000 attending regularly; it was one of the largest in the denomination on the West Coast. The church edifice was a grand structure, and the church was organized with programs for everyone. The church had been without a pastor for a year, and there were some strong elders on the session of the church who were in charge of the program. One of the foremost programs of the church was the Scofield Bible Study classes conducted by the elders. Dr. Brumbaugh came to Tacoma by car from Philadelphia, which was an exciting trip at that time. During most of the trip, his son Roy stood in the front passenger compartment with his hand on the top of the windshield. The issues that were present on the East Coast were also present on the West Coast to some degree.

The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM) was formally organized on October 17,1933, and the Rev. J. Gresham Machen was elected as its first president. As new revelations continued to appear pertaining to the modernism in the Board of Foreign Mission, more and more people converted over to support of the IBPFM. This support of the new board worried the denomination so that it became a major issue at the next general assembly held in Cleveland, Ohio, in May 1934. That general assembly adopted a deliverance that stated that every member of the church is required by the constitution to support the missionary program of the church in the way that each member must take part in the Lord’s Supper. Each Presbytery was mandated to take action against its members who were also members of the IBPFM. The deliverance became known as “The Mandate” and the consequences of it would play out over the course of the next year. Finally the controversy that had simmered for more than a decade was going to be decided in the church courts.

Back in Tacoma, the First Presbyterian Church prospered in many respects, and Brumbaugh, the evangelist, preached the gospel, and many people made professions of faith. However, there was an undercurrent of dissension in the local church that was a microcosm of the denominational controversy. In the local church there was a group of elders who had their plan for the church and a strong pastor who had his plan. As the controversy intensified nationally, it intensified locally and small differences that might have been overlooked in a more peaceable climate became big issues. The lines of demarcation were established and it became apparent that there would eventually be a showdown. It took over a year for the Mandate to trickle down to the local level. It was the presbyteries that were instructed to implement the mandate and there were periods of notification in accordance with the Book of Discipline, and procedures that carried over till the summer and fall of 1935. All the while, sides were taken in the First Presbyterian Church and it was a difficult time to carry on the work of the church. If Brumbaugh left the church, he would lose the building, his pension, the prestige of being pastor to one of the largest churches in the denomination, and other attendant privileges.

In spite of all of this, on August 21, 1935, Brumbaugh informed the denomination of his withdrawal from the PCUSA. Finally he was free. On Thursday night, August 22, 1935, the first meeting of the First Independent Church of  Tacoma was held with over 700 in attendance. Ironically, the only facility available to accommodate the new church was a Scottish Rites Temple, right across the alley from the First Presbyterian Church. A new church had begun, fresh and free from denominational control. It was a wonderful feeling of excitement and expectation. As the different presbyteries dealt with other members of the Independent Board, many were suspended, some were admonished or rebuked; and one presbytery, the Presbytery of Chester, refused to take action against the Rev. Wilbur M. Smith, who had followed Brumbaugh at the Coatesville Presbyterian Church. Brumbaugh was tried in absentia and suspended from the PCUSA. On March 29, 1935, Dr. J. Gresham was declared guilty in a sham of a trial and suspended from the ministry of the PCUSA. A sad chapter in Presbyterian church history had come to an end. The same church that had suspended Dr. Charles A. Briggs for heresy in 1893, had, in 1935, suspended Dr. J. Gresham Machen from its ministry for his FAITHFUL ADHERANCE TO THE WORD OF GOD.

Dr. Roy T. Brumbaugh continued on as Pastor of the Tacoma Bible Presbyterian Church until his death on January 3, 1957. The last twenty years of that ministry, although not without controversy, saw an active, enthusiastic, evangelistic church, with a special emphasis on the military personnel from the local military bases.

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This day, January 18th, marks the publication in 1937 of H.L. Mencken’s now famous obituary in memory of Dr. J. Gresham Machen. Here was perhaps a fine example of Proverbs 16:7—”When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” As James Daniel Barr has noted elsewhere:

Even the atheist Mencken, who often wrote caustically against those who held the Christian faith, actually defended Machen’s stance. After a cogent analysis of Machen’s argument, he completely sided with him, saying: “The body of doctrine known as Modernism is completely incompatible, not only with anything rationally describable as Christianity, but also with anything deserving to pass as religion in general” (Mencken, 1937, p. 15). Furthermore, he said, the efforts of modernists to square their positon with the faith in the Bible “is a vain enterprise” (1937). Mencken concluded by saying that though Machen tried to persuade his fellow Presbyterians throughout his career, “he failed–but he was undoubtedly right” (1937).

H. L. MENCKEN’S OBITUARY OF MACHEN

The Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D. D., who died out in North Dakota on New Year’s Day, got, on the whole, a bad press while he lived, and even his obituaries did much less than justice to him. To newspaper reporters, as to other antinomians, a combat between Christians over a matter of dogma is essentially a comic affair, and in consequence Dr. Machen’s heroic struggles to save Calvinism in the Republic were usually depicted in ribald, or, at all events, in somewhat skeptical terms. The generality of readers, I suppose, gathered thereby the notion that he was simply another Fundamentalist on the order of William Jennings Bryan and the simian faithful of Appalachia. But he was actually a man of great learning, and, what is more, of sharp intelligence.

What caused him to quit the Princeton Theological Seminary and found a seminary of his own was his complete inability, as a theologian, to square the disingenuous evasions of Modernism with the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and polluting Christianity in the Modernist manner would be its complete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essential postulates, however respectable their motives.

Thus he fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind of literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works. Most of the other Protestant churches have gone the same way, but Dr. Machen’s attention, as a Presbyterian, was naturally concentrated upon his own connection. His one and only purpose was to hold it [the Church] resolutely to what he conceived to be the true faith. When that enterprise met with opposition he fought vigorously, and though he lost in the end and was forced out of Princeton it must be manifest that he marched off to Philadelphia with all the honors of war.

My interest in Dr. Machen while he lived, though it was large, was not personal, for I never had the honor of meeting him. Moreover, the doctrine that he preached seemed to me, and still seems to me, to be excessively dubious. I stand much more chance of being converted to spiritualism, to Christian Science or even to the New Deal than to Calvinism, which occupies a place, in my cabinet of private horrors, but little removed from that of cannibalism. But Dr. Machen had the same clear right to believe in it that I have to disbelieve in it, and though I could not yield to his reasoning I could at least admire, and did greatly admire, his remarkable clarity and cogency as an apologist, allowing him his primary assumptions.

These assumptions were also made, at least in theory, by his opponents, and thereby he had them by the ear. Claiming to be Christians as he was, and of the Calvinish persuasion, they endeavored fatuously to get rid of all the inescapable implications of their position. On the one hand they sought to retain membership in the fellowship of the faithful, but on the other hand they presumed to repeal and reenact with amendments the body of doctrine on which that fellowship rested. In particular, they essayed to overhaul the scriptural authority which lay at the bottom of the whole matter, retaining what coincided with their private notions and rejecting whatever upset them.

Upon this contumacy Dr. Machen fell with loud shouts of alarm. He denied absolutely that anyone had a right to revise and sophisticate Holy Writ. Either it was the Word of God or it was not the Word of God, and if it was, then it was equally authoritative in all its details, and had to be accepted or rejected as a whole. Anyone was free to reject it, but no one was free to mutilate it or to read things into it that were not there. Thus the issue with the Modernists was clearly joined, and Dr. Machen argued them quite out of court, and sent them scurrying back to their literary and sociological Kaffeeklatsche. His operations, to be sure, did not prove that Holy Writ was infallible either as history or as theology, but they at least disposed of those who proposed to read it as they might read a newspaper, believing what they chose and rejecting what they chose.

In his own position there was never the least shadow of inconsistency. When the Prohibition imbecility fell upon the country, and a multitude of theological quacks, including not a few eminent Presbyterians, sought to read support for it into the New Testament, he attacked them with great vigor, and routed them easily. He not only proved that there was nothing in the teachings of Jesus to support so monstrous a folly; he proved abundantly that the known teachings of Jesus were unalterably against it. And having set forth that proof, he refused, as a convinced and honest Christian, to have anything to do with the dry jehad.

This rebellion against a craze that now seems so incredible and so far away was not the chief cause of his break with his ecclesiastical superiors, but it was probably responsible for a large part of their extraordinary dudgeon against him. The Presbyterian Church, like the other evangelical churches, was taken for a dizzy ride by Prohibition. Led into the heresy by fanatics of low mental visibility, it presently found itself cheek by jowl with all sorts of criminals, and fast losing the respect of sensible people. Its bigwigs thus became extremely jumpy on the subject, and resented bitterly every exposure of their lamentable folly.

The fantastic William Jennings Bryan, in his day the country’s most distinguished Presbyterian layman, was against Dr. Machen on the issue of Prohibition but with him on the issue of Modernism. But Bryan’s support, of course, was of little value or consolation to so intelligent a man. Bryan was a Fundamentalist of the Tennessee or barnyard school. His theological ideas were those of a somewhat backward child of 8, and his defense of Holy Writ at Dayton during the Scopes trial was so ignorant and stupid that it must have given Dr. Machen a great deal of pain. Dr. Machen himself was to Bryan as the Matterhorn is to a wart. His Biblical studies had been wide and deep, and he was familiar with the almost interminable literature of the subject. Moreover, he was an adept theologian, and had a wealth of professional knowledge to support his ideas. Bryan could only bawl.

It is my belief, as a friendly neutral in all such high and ghostly matters, that the body of doctrine known as Modernism is completely incompatible, not only with anything rationally describable as Christianity, but also with anything deserving to pass as religion in general. Religion, if it is to retain any genuine significance, can never be reduced to a series of sweet attitudes, possible to anyone not actually in jail for felony. It is, on the contrary, a corpus of powerful and profound convictions, many of them not open to logical analysis. Its inherent improbabilities are not sources of weakness to it, but of strength. It is potent in a man in proportion as he is willing to reject all overt evidences, and accept its fundamental postulates, however unprovable they may be by secular means, as massive and incontrovertible facts.

These postulates, at least in the Western world, have been challenged in recent years on many grounds, and in consequence there has been a considerable decline in religious belief. There was a time, two or three centuries ago, when the overwhelming majority of educated men were believers, but that is apparently true no longer. Indeed, it is my impression that at least two-thirds of them are now frank skeptics. But it is one thing to reject religion altogether, and quite another thing to try to save it by pumping out of it all its essential substance, leaving it in the equivocal position of a sort of pseudo-science, comparable to graphology, “education,” or osteopathy.

That, it seems to me, is what the Modernists have done, no doubt with the best intentions in the world. They have tried to get rid of all the logical difficulties of religion, and yet preserve a generally pious cast of mind. It is a vain enterprise. What they have left, once they have achieved their imprudent scavenging, is hardly more than a row of hollow platitudes, as empty as [of] psychological force and effect as so many nursery rhymes. They may be good people and they may even be contented and happy, but they are no more religious than Dr. Einstein. Religion is something else again–in Henrik Ibsen’s phrase, something far more deep-down-diving and mudupbringing, Dr. Machen tried to impress that obvious fact upon his fellow adherents of the Geneva Mohammed. He failed–but he was undoubtedly right.

[H.L. Mencken’s eulogy for Dr. J. Gresham Machen originally appeared in The Baltimore Evening Sun on January 18, 1937, second section, page 15.]

 

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On this day, Neovember 20: 

janeway_sm021774 — Birth of Jacob Jones Janeway, in the city of New York, the eldest child of George and Effie (Ten Eyck) Janeway. The year 1797 found the young man diligent in the use of the means of grace, and seeking growth in the divine life. “In reviewing my conduct, I felt that my sins were pardoned. In the morning exercise, on Monday, I was somewhat earnest in pleading with God. Towards the end of the week too much absorbed in study.” “This week my soul has been somewhat refreshed. I see that my heart is deceitful and easily ensnared by the world. Though we depart from God in our affections, yet if we strive to return he will accept and help us. Remember, O my soul, the exhortation, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure. To this end I must be circumspect in my conduct, diligent and active.”

alexander_jw_sm1849 — Inauguration of the Rev. James W. Alexander, D.D., as professor of ecclesiastical history and church government in the theological seminary at Princeton. Born near Gordonsville, Virginia, in 1804, the eldest son of Archibald Alexander, James was raised in a household filled with theological giants of the faith. His father was the president of Hampden-Sydney College at that time. But by the time that schooling had begun for James, his father had taken the pulpit of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1807. Then in 1812, as the new seminary called Princeton began in New Jersey, the Alexander family moved there and Archibald Alexander became the first professor of that new divinity school. Young James graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1820. And while he studied theology at Princeton Seminary from 1822–1824, he would not be ordained by the historic Hanover Presbytery until 1827, having first served about three years as a tutor. He died on July 31, 1859.

league1925 — The First Annual Conference of the League of Evangelical Students was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, November 20-24, 1925. At this conference nineteen schools were represented, eleven theological seminaries and eight Bible schools, and these represented student bodies from Texas to Canada and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Conference, with its keynote on unswerving loyalty to the Bible as the only authoritative rule of faith and practice, was held on the campus of Calvin Theological Seminary and Dr. J. Gresham Machen spoke on the theme, “The Church’s Historic Fight against Modernism from Within.” An early 20th-century campus ministry, the League ran its course in a brief fifteen years, overtaken by the wider appeal of InterVarsity.

Harold Samuel Laird1936 — The Rev. Harold S. Laird, pastor of the First Independent Church, Wilmington, was elected president of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions [IBPFM], succeeding the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen. Dr. Machen had also retired that same year as Moderator of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. The IBPFM had been organized in 1933 in response to the failure of the PCUSA to remove modernists from the foreign mission field. In reaction, the PCUSA’s General Assembly had, in 1934, issued a “Mandate” forbidding PCUSA ministers and laity from involvement with the IPBFM. Their refusal to step down from their participation with the IBPFM led to Machen and about a dozen others being defrocked or otherwise kicked out of the denomination.

soltau_addison_sm021952 — Addison Soltau was ordained on this day in 1952 and installed as pastor of the First Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Memphia, Tennessee. Born in Seoul, Korea, the son of missionary parents T. Stanley and Mary Cross (Campbell) Soltau, Addison came from a long and illustrious line of noteworthy Christians. He graduated from Wheaton College in 1949 and prepared for the ministry at Faith Theological Seminary, later earning a Th.M. degree from Calvin Seminary in 1966 and the Th.D. from Concordia Seminary in 1982. Leaving his pulpit in Tennessee, he labored as a missionary in Japan from 1953-1970, served as a professor at Reformed Bible College and at Covenant Theological Seminary, and has, since 1989, served on the pastoral staff of several churches in Florida. He is currently an associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs, in Margate, Florida.

Words to Live By:
I suppose we could simply have stretched out the events of this twentieth day of November into the next six years with the six posts listed above, but it seemed good to explore some of the notable events and people for this date all at once. In that way, we behold the Lord’s providence of sovereignly governing both good and bad events on this day in Presbyterian history. James reminds us of the significance of one day when he asks and answers, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 1:14, ESVOpen in Logos Bible Software (if available)) To be sure, who among the people and events mentioned above ever wondered what else occurred on their day of November 20? That is why all of us need to take the words of James to heart when he wrote in verse 15, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15, ESV). Use this last biblical thought as a prayer today as you read this post, and venture out into your world.

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An Assembly of Great Blessings

With over four hundred attendees, the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America met in the large auditorium of the Manufacturers’ and Bankers’ Club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, beginning on Thursday,November 12, 1936.  Present were 64 teaching elders and 26 ruling elders, with numerous guests. The photograph below serves to document that occasion. To my knowledge, no photograph has been discovered of their first General Assembly, which met in June of 1936.

The first Moderator of the new denomination, J. Gresham Machen, preached from2 Corinthians 5:14, 15.  The text reads, “for the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”  Speaking on the love of Christ being a constraining force, Dr. Machen, in a message not soon forgotten by those who heard him, stated that Christians should not live to themselves but live unto Christ.

Taking the position of Moderator was the Rev. J. Oliver Buswell, D.D., president of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.  He was to moderate the meeting in good fashion as a moderator should do, without fear of discipline or the ridicule of biblical positions.

This General Assembly adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as they stood before the 1903 additions enacted by the P.C.U.S.A. general assemblies.  Thus the Presbyterian Church of America put itself on record as being a truly Reformed church.

Various reports came on this day and over the next two days, from committees set up by the previous Assembly in June of 1936. These included Home Missions and Church Extension, with report of 13 home missionaries already at work in the field.  Present among them was one home missionary to South Dakota, the Rev. David K. Myers, this writer’s father. The Committee on Foreign Missions also reported, encouraging support for the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. However, it also spoke about the establishment of an official  Board  of  Foreign  Missions  from the denomination at the next General Assembly.

Westminster Seminary was recommended to the pastors and congregations as worthy of their prayers and financial support. Held over to the next General Assembly was the adoption of a Form of Government, Book of Discipline, and Directory for Worship. The assembly was dissolved on Saturday evening, November 14, 1936

Also on this day, November 12, in 1886, Archibald Alexander Hodge died in Princeton, New Jersey.

PCofA_2dGA_MinutesWords to live by:  This writer can read the minutes of the Second General Assembly, as he has a copy of them before him, but the spirit of the meeting was only to be enjoyed by those who were actually present.  It must have been a joyous meeting to realize that since just that previous June of 1936, the number of ministers had increased from 35 pastors to 107 ministers in the Presbyterian Church of America.  God was doing a great work in this spiritual successor to the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  Take time to look at your church choice, and if it is an Evangelical and Reformed Church, rejoice in what is happening in it as a sign of God’s blessings.  Indeed, support it with your tithes and offerings.  It probably is not perfect.  No church this side of glory is perfect. But if it is committed to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and the Great Commission, then give thanks for it, pray for it, and support it.

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Dr. Charles Rosenbury. ErdmanIt was at the momentous Syracuse, N.Y. meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. where Dr. J. Gresham Machen was officially defrocked from the ministry of that denomination. That action in turn then prompted the founding of what was to become the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Also in attendance at that General Assembly in Syracuse was one of Machen’s many adversaries, Dr. Charles R. Erdman, a man who was by all accounts staunchly evangelical. Yet he found himself in opposition to the course taken by Dr. Machen— he found himself siding with those very men who took a decidedly modernist and unbelieving approach to the Scriptures.

The Syracuse Herald gave some coverage of Dr. Erdman’s visit to his birthplace in Fayetteville, NY that year, noting:

“Dr. Erdman was born in Fayetteville, where his father was a Presbyterian minister, but when he was three weeks old, his parents moved to another charge. [Erdman was born on July 20, 1866].

“In spite of the short time Dr. Erdman was a resident of the Onandaga County village, however, he has frequently visited his birthplace and this week, before the adjournment of the General Assembly which he is attending, he will again visit his birthplace, he said Saturday.

“Dr. Erdman’s father, the Rev. William Jacob Erdman, preached in the same church, and lived in the same manse as did the father of Grover Cleveland, former President of the United States. His youngest daughter is the wife of Francis Grover Cleveland, son of the late former President.

“The greater part of Dr. Erdman’s boyhood was passed in Jamestown. He also lived in Chicago where his father was pastor of Dwight L. Moody’s church. He was graduated from Princeton University in 1886 and from Princeton Seminary in 1891. He holds [honorary] doctor’s degrees from Wooster College, Princeton University and Davidson College.

“For six years following his ordination in 1891 he was pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Overbook, Pa. Then he became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown, Pa., where he remained until 1906 when he became a Princeton professor.

“He became a member of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in 1906 and in 1926 was elected as president, an office he still holds. He was elected moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1925. In the same year he was moderator of the New Brunswick Presbytery. In 1910 he was a delegate tot he World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh and in 1922 to the National Christian Council in Shanghai.

“He is the author of many books, including The Ruling Elder, Sunday Afternoon with a Railroad Man, Coming to the Communion, Within the Gates of the Far East, The Return of Christ, The Lord We Love, The Spirit of Christ, The Life of D.L. Moody, and expositions of most of the books of the New Testament.

“Dr. Erdman’s wife was Miss Estelle Pardee of Germantown, daugher of a widely-known coal operator. His son, the Rev. Calvin Pardee Erdman, also a Presbyterian minister, has preached in Hawaii and California….

“The Erdmans have a summer home at Saranac Lake.”

Embedded in that newspaper account are a few clues for the observant reader as to why Dr. Erdman found himself an opponent of Machen. Erdman had become attached to the denominational board of foreign missions, and Machen had been critical of that Board for fielding missionaries who held low views of Scripture. Moreover, Erdman’s personal and family connection to D.L. Moody might indicate a faith and a theology that was more generally evangelical and less confessional or Reformed in nature. Politics may also have had a part. By familial connection with Grover Cleveland, Dr. Erdman may have been a Democrat, whereas J. Gresham Machen was decidedly libertarian in his views and more of a political free-thinker.

Long-time Princeton Seminary professor Charles Erdman passed away on May 9, 1960. [Our apologies! The correct death date for Dr. Erdman is May 9, 1960. The confusion arose by way of his son’s death date—Charles R. Erdman, Jr. died on October 15, 1984.]

Words to Live By:
Why some men make the decisions they do is often a puzzle beyond our understanding. In pondering this point, we realize how much we must seek to live humbly in the fear of the Lord, for there are times when it takes a clear head and a resolute faith if we are to stand fast on the sure counsel of God’s Word. Too many of us are shaped by our associations, much more so than we realize. Seek instead to be shaped by the Word of God. Live each day as honestly as possible, confessing your sin, repenting and seeking the Lord’s mercy and grace.

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The Last of An Amazing Family

Has there every been an equal to one family name serving the same educational institution in the history of American Christianity? We would be hard pressed to find a similar example to the Hodge family at Princeton Theological Seminary.

First, there was Charles Hodge, serving the Lord as a professor from 1820–1878. There is fifty-eight years of continuous service, preparing ministers for the gospel ministry. His “Systematic Theology” has stood the test of time as being the greatest exposition of Reformed theology in America.

Charles Hodge had eight children, including two sons who also taught at Princeton Seminary. Caspar Wistar Hodge taught from 1860 to 1891, while Archibald Alexander Hodge taught from 1877–1886. Both carried on the line of the family name, but more importantly, carried on the same committed to the infallible Word of God as summarized up in the Westminster Standards.

The grandson of Charles Hodge, and son of Caspar Wistar Hodge, was Caspar Wistar Hodge, Jr. He was born this day, September 22, 1870, in Princeton, New Jersey. Studies at Princeton College, the Seminary, and oversees school at the Universities of Heidelberg and Berlin, this grandson of Charles Hodge taught on the collegiate level at Princeton and Lafayette. It was noted that he had a deep Christian spirit and a breadth of learning and scholarship in those assignments.

It was no wonder that he was asked then by the Board of Directors to take over the Chair of Systematic Theology to which his immediate family had made so much a blessing to students down the ages. His inauguration to that post took place on October 11, 1921. It seemed fitting that the grandson of Archibald Alexander, Maitland Alexander, who was the president of the Board of Directors of Princeton, be the one who gave the charge.

This second decade of the twentieth century was a challenging one, in that, at the end of the decade, Princeton Seminary would suffer the loss of both J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson. The former would grieve over the fact that Caspar Hodge would stay on at the faculty of Princeton, after the board was reorganized to allow two signers of the infamous Auburn Affirmation to sit on it. Yet, while Caspar Hodge did stay on, his heart was at Westminster Seminary, in that time and time again, he would send financial contributions to the new seminary. Further, he spoke of the fact that he would openly defend the name of Dr. Machen in conversations, sometimes with heated exchanges. He would go to be the Lord in 1937, having spend thirty-six years at Princeton Seminary, and the last of the famous Hodge family to be associated with this school.

Words to live by:
Doctrinally, this last of the Hodge line at Princeton Seminary was in complete agreement with every other Hodge family of professors, that is, adherence to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as well as adopting the Reformed faith of the Westminster Standards. It is to be both a prayer request as well as a praise item that the message of the gospel goes on through generations. Let us commit ourselves to the family and its spiritual growth in the things of the Lord.

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Even His Name Spoke of Recognition

Born on  this 18th day of September of 1879, Clarence Edward Noble Macartney had one of those names that made you stop and think.  He grew up in  a Covenanter household, with his father, the Rev. John L. Macartney, being a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Northwood, Ohio.  As this town was the home of Geneva College, it was no surprise that his father taught at the new college as a professor of Natural Science.  When the college moved to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, the family moved with it.

But the father was not a well man. Plagued with a respiratory problem, he and the family moved to California for the warmer weather. In fact, twice there was a move in that state, and finally on to Colorado in 1896. There were teaching professions along the way for the father.

All this moving brought a series of schools, which did not stop for the young man Clarence during his collegiate years. They included: the University of Denver, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Harvard, and Yale Divinity School. There was even a stint overseas in several countries. Finally, Clarence McCartney settled down at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studied under B.B. Warfield, Robert Dick Wilson, and Frederick Loetscher.

The Old School Presbyterian theology called him away from the Covenanter denomination of his father and into the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  Ordained soon after seminary, he held pastorates in Patterson, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Macartney was no doubt a conservative in theology.  His Old School Presbyterian training at Princeton Seminary  had guaranteed that, along with his Covenanter background.  And he was to preach that famous sermon, “Shall Unbelief Win?” to counter the Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick’s sermon earlier, “Shall Fundamentalism Win?”

In its early years, he was a member of the board of Westminster Theological Seminary.  One of his favorite professors at Princeton was Robert Dick Wilson, who was at Westminster for one year before death took him. But McCartney was opposed to the starting of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Mission as well as the Constitutional Union’s calls for a new church, if they couldn’t reform the church from the inside. Eventually, he would resign from the board of Westminster Seminary and remain inside the Presbyterian U.S.A. church, even while Machen and others were censured out of the church.  He would go to be with the Lord in 1957.

Words to live by:  It comes down to a simple question.  What is the definition of an apostate church?  J. Gresham Machen and others certainly believed that when nothing is done in the way of church discipline when essential doctrines of the faith have been denied, as was the case with the Auburn Affirmation, then that speaks of a visible church being apostate. Not one single signer of this affirmation was ever brought up on a charge of heresy. Who were brought up for violation of their ordination vows were conservatives like Machen, Woodbridge, Woolley, McIntire, and yes even a David K Myers, among others.  Pray for the purity of the church and  your church in particular. Don’t ever be silent when the truths of God’s Word, the Bible, are being attacked.  And stand for the faith once delivered unto the saints.

 

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Dr. J. Gresham Machen’s address on “The Necessity of the Christian School” remains timely, and is permanently posted here. But to refresh your memory :

The Necessity of the Christian School
machen03by Dr. J. Gresham Machen, Professor of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pa.. This is a reprint of a lecture given by Dr. Machen at the Educational Convention held in Chicago under the auspices of the National Union of Christian Schools, August, 1933.

Two Reasons for the Christian School
In the first place, then, the Christian school is important for the maintenance of American liberty.
The Christian school is to be favored for two reasons. In the first place, it is important for American liberty; in the second place, it is important for the propagation of the Christian religion. These two reasons are not equally important; indeed, the latter includes the former as it includes every other legitimate human interest. But I want to speak of these two reasons in turn.

We are witnessing in our day a world-wide attack upon the fundamental principles of civil and religious freedom. In some countries, such as Italy, the attack has been blatant and unashamed; Mussolini despises democracy and does not mind saying so. A similar despotism now prevails in Germany; and in Russia freedom is being crushed out by what is perhaps the most complete and systematic tyranny that the world has every seen.

But exactly the same tendency that is manifested in extreme form in those countries, is also being manifested, more slowly but none the less surely, in America. It has been given an enormous impetus first by the war and now by the economic depression; but aside form these external stimuli it has its roots in a fundamental deterioration of the American people. Gradually the people has come to value principle less and creature comfort more; increasingly it has come to prefer prosperity to freedom; and even in the field of prosperity it cannot be said that the effect is satisfactory.

The result of this decadence in the American people is seen in the rapid growth of a centralized bureaucracy which is the thing against which the Constitution of the United States was most clearly intended to guard.

The Attack Upon Liberty
In the presence of this apparent collapse of free democracy, any descendant of the liberty-loving races of mankind may well stand dismayed; and to those liberty-loving races no doubt most of my hearers tonight belong. I am of the Anglo-Saxon race; many of you belong to a race whose part in the history of human freedom is if anything still more glorious; and as we all contemplate the struggle of our fathers in the winning of that freedom which their descendants seem now to be so willing to give up, we are impressed anew with the fact that it is far easier to destroy than to create. It took many centuries of struggle — much blood and many tears — to establish the fundamental principles of our civil and religious liberty; but one made generation is sufficient to throw them all away.

It is true, the attack upon liberty is nothing new. Always there have been tyrants in the world; almost always tyranny has begun by being superficially beneficent, and always it has ended by being both superficially and radically cruel.
But while tyranny itself is nothing new, the technique of tyranny has been enormously improved in our day; the tyranny of the scientific expert is the most crushing tyranny of all. That tyranny is being exercised most effectively in the field of education. A monopolistic system of education controlled by the State is far more efficient in crushing our liberty than the cruder weapons of fire and sword. Against this monopoly of education by the State the Christian school brings a salutary protest; it contends for the right of parents to bring up their children in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and not in the manner prescribed by the State.

That right has been attacked in America in recent years in the most blatant possible ways. In Oregon, a law was actually passed some years ago requiring all children to attend the public schools — thus taking the children from the control of their parents and placing them under the despotic control of whatever superintendent of education might happen to be in office in the district in which they resided. In Nebraska, a law was passed forbidding the study of languages other than English, even in private schools, until the child was too old to learn them well. That was really a law making literary education a crime. In New York, one of the abominable Lusk Laws placed even private tutors under state supervision and control. Read the rest of this entry »

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Raising a Leader for the Church

During the course of this historic Presbyterian blog, there have been seven references to the life and times of J. Gresham Machen. This is no surprise, because he was God’s choice to lead His true church in tumultuous days of the early twentieth century. This event recognized today begins the whole story  on July 28, 1881, J. Gresham Machen was born in Baltimore, Maryland.

On both sides of his family, there was a firm commitment to the Calvinistic truths of the Westminster Standards.  His grandfather, on his father’s side, was a ruling elder of Old School Presbyterianism. His father, Arthur Machen, was a well-known attorney, and member of the Presbyterian church. Marrying Mary Gresham in 1872, a home was divinely ordered together.

[at right, Arthur W. Machen, father of J. Gresham Machen, pictured at about 75 years of age.]

His mother came from the southern Presbyterian tradition resident in Macon, Georgia.  While we do not know much of her early life, after her marriage to Machen’s father, she exhibited an influence upon young J. Gresham Machen’s life which could not be rivaled.  The whole family was influential members of the  Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.  Machen’s father served as an elder for many years.

When J. Gresham Machen was born, and here we simply quote Ned Stonehouse’s book on J. Gresham Machen,

“he entered a home of devout Christian faith, of a high level of culture and social standing, and of a considerable degree of prosperity.  Both parents were persons of strong character and extraordinary intellectual and spiritual endowments, and our understanding of J. Gresham Machen is illumined as we observe how various qualities and interests of his ancestors were blended in generous portions in his own personality. . . the intense affection and loyalty that distinguished the Machen home were to prove one of the most influential and fascinating factors in shaping the course of things to come.” (p. 39, J. Gresham Machen, by Ned Stonehouse, Eerdmans).

Words to Live By:
Certainly God’s sovereign grace can change an individual’s life for the better, but also God’s grace can use the faithful upbringing of a Christian family into even greater outreach of service.  And the latter was evidenced in the home religion of Dr. J. Gresham Machen.  We simply cannot stress too much the vital principles and practices of a godly home on a child’s life and life work. Parents! Labor hard in prayer and perseverance to make your home a godly one, leading by example and exhortation the faith of your children in the things of the Lord.

To read more of Dr. Machen’s reflections on his own parents and their home, click here.

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Sad Schism Among the Saints

They were united in their conviction over the apostasy of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  A number of the teaching and ruling elders had suffered over expulsion from the rolls of the visible church.  Others had lost church buildings, manses, and pensions.  But in God’s providence, they had gathered in great rejoicing to begin a new church faithful to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They were one in coming out of the apostasy, but it was not too long before the members of the Presbyterian Church of America were divided over other issues.  It was at the third General Assembly of the P.C.A. in Philadelphia, as reported by the June 26th, 1937 Presbyterian Guardian, that these divisive issues came to the floor of the assembly.

The first one dealt with the issue of Independency versus ecclesiastical Presbyterianism within the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.  Obviously, since 1933 at its organization, this mission board had not been affiliated with any denomination.  It was independent of it.  Independent agencies had always had a place within the American Presbyterian Church.  But now with the advent of the Presbyterian Church of America, the majority of the elders desired that a Presbyterian affiliation be adhered to again.  When Dr. J. Gresham Machen was voted off as president of the Independent Board, his place was filled by an Independent Presbyterian, with no affiliation with the new Presbyterian Church of America.  Further, the vice-president’s position was also filled by an individual who was independent of any ecclesiastical relationship to Presbyterianism.  Many members, including the General Secretary, Rev. Charles Woodbridge, resigned from the Independent Board.

The commissioners to the Third General Assembly, meeting in Philadelphia at the Spruce Street Baptist Church, overwhelmingly voted that the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was no longer to be an agency for foreign missions by the Presbyterian Church of America.  By that same margin, they voted to endorse a new Committee on Foreign Missions by the P.C.A.

The second issue dealt with whether total abstinence from alcoholic beverages was to be the position of the church.  While it was acknowledged that the greater number of delegates to the assembly abstained from alcohol, yet they were  hesitant to make it a rule for the church, but instead leave it as a matter of Christian liberty to its membership.  This position was especially difficult for pastors in the middle west of the country who were fighting the saloon trade in western towns.  Given the national issue then in the country over the temperance issue, it was thought that this would have been a wise decision.  But again the Assembly refused by a wide margin to make total abstinence the only true principle of temperance.

It is interesting that Westminster Theological Seminary, soon after this assembly, stated to its students, that “to avoid any misconception by the public, a rule is established forbidding all beverage use of alcoholic liquors upon the grounds and in the buildings of the seminary.”

A third issue which led to this division had to do with what was termed “the millennial question.” Those leaving to form the Bible Presbyterian synod held primarily to an historic premillennial position. They tended also to see dispensationalism in a more favorable light, even if they themselves were not dispensationalists. By contrast, those remaining in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church fell mainly in the amillennial camp, with some fewer holding to postmillennialism.

At the end of this assembly, those who  had been in the minority on both of these issues, gathered to begin what became the Bible Presbyterian church. (See June 4) What had been a united front before the watching world became two smaller church bodies of Presbyterians.

Words to Live By:   It is easy to look back at a later date and see the “right thing” to do.  But it is obvious that there were unfounded rumors of wild drinking parties on Westminster Seminary grounds as well as  a lack of understanding by some elders of the challenges facing pastors of western churches.  To be sure, the guiding wisdom of a J. Gresham Machen was missing from the assembly with his entrance into the heavenly kingdom earlier that year.  But all elders, both teaching and ruling elders, are to filled with the Spirit.  And working within the framework of love, deal wisely with others who differ from them in points of contention.   Let us learn to do this in our own circles.

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