December 2014

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aubaff_1924The Auburn Affirmation was first issued on December 26, 1923, in response to the action of the 1923 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. It was then published in its first edition in January of 1924. Affixed to that document were the names of 150 pastors and elders within the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. A subsequent printing issued on May 5, 1924 contained the final list of signators, numbering 1274 names.

The Affirmation was a thinly veiled attack upon core tenets of the Christian faith. By most accounts the Affirmation was a gauntlet thrown down in response to five fundamentals espoused originally in The Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910, a deliverance which was later reaffirmed by the PCUSA General Assemblies of 1916 and 1923. It was specifically the action of the 1923 Assembly that brought about the reaction that was the Auburn Affirmation.

Among those five key doctrines that the Doctrinal Deliverance sought to protect, the virgin birth of Christ was second on the list:

2. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards, that our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. The Shorter Catechism states, Question 22: “Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.”

machen02It was this subject that J. Gresham Machen took up in in the December 1924 issue of The Bible Today, the house organ of The National Bible Institute, an evangelical school located in New York City. Given the issues at hand before the Church that year, Machen’s article would have to be considered one of the earliest replies to the Affirmation signatories, though he does not specifically mention the Affirmation by name in this first part of his discussion. And since we only have the first part of this article available to us, we will have to leave it stand at that, until some gracious donor comes forward with other issues of The Bible Today. We’re looking particularly for vol. 19, no. 4, January 1925. From another source we know that part two of this article appeared on pages 111-115 of that issue. (We’re also looking for any other issues of The Bible Today from the years before 1941). 

So, introduction aside, here is the text of “The Virgin Birth” by J. Gresham Machen (1924).

THE BIBLE TO-DAY, 19.3 (December, 1924): 75-79.

The Virgin Birth
By J. Gresham Machen, D.D.,
Assistant Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis in Princeton Theological Seminary

An address delivered at a National Bible Institute Bible Conference, New York City.

ACCORDING to the belief of all the historic branches of the Christian Church, Jesus of Nazareth was born without human father, being conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. In the present lecture we shall consider very briefly the origin of this belief. The belief of the Christian Church in the virgin birth of Christ is a fact of history which requires an explanation. And two kinds of explanation are possible. In the first place, the belief may be explained as being based upon fact. It may be held that the Church came to believe in the virgin birth because as a matter of fact Jesus was born of a virgin. Or in the second place it may be held that the belief arose in some other way. The task of the historian is to balance these two kinds of explanation against each other. Is it easier to explain the belief of the Church in the virgin birth on the hypothesis that it originated in fact or on the hypothesis that it arose in some other way?

I. Belief in the Virgin Birth Based on Fact

We shall first examine the former hypothesis—that the belief in the virgin birth is based upon fact. Of course, the most obvious thing to say is that this belief appears in the New Testament in the clearest possible terms. And most of our time will be taken up in examining the New Testament evidence. But before we come to examine the New Testament evidence it may be well to glance at the later Christian literature.

At the close of the second century, when the Christian literature outside of the New Testament becomes abundant, when we have full information about the belief of the Church at Alexandria, in Asia Minor, at Rome and in the West, we find that everywhere the virgin birth was accepted as a matter of course as one of the essential things in the Christian view of Christ. But this same kind of belief appears also at an earlier time; for example in the old Roman baptismal confession which was the basis of our Apostles’ Creed, in Justin Martyr at the middle of the second century, and in Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, at the beginning of the century. There were, it is true, denials of the virgin birth not only by opponents of Christianity but also by some who professed a kind of Christian faith.

But all of these denials look far more as though they were due to philosophical prepossession than to any genuine historical tradition. The plain fact is that the virgin birth appears just as firmly fixed at the beginning of the second century as at the end of it; it is quite impossible to detect any gradual establishment of the doctrine as though it had to make its way against opposition. Particularly the testimony of Ignatius and of the Apostles’ Creed shows not only that the virgin birth was accepted at a very early time, but that it was accepted as a matter of course and as one of the facts singled out for inclusion even in the briefest summaries of the most important things which the Christian needed to know about Christ. Even this evidence from outside the New Testament would suffice to show that a firm belief in the virgin birth existed in the Christian Church well before the close of the first century.

But still more important is the New Testament evidence, and to that evidence we now turn.

The virgin birth is attested in two of the New Testament books, the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke. The value which will be attributed to this testimony depends of course to a considerable extent upon the view which one holds of each of these two Gospels as a whole. Obviously it will not be possible to discuss these questions here; it would carry us too far afield to discuss the evidence for the early date and high historical value of the two Gospels in which the virgin birth appears. But one remark at least may be made in passing : it may at least be observed that the credit of the great double work, Luke-Acts, has been steadily rising in recent years even in circles which were formerly most hostile. The extraordinary strength of the literary evidence has led even men like Professor von Harnack of Berlin, Professor C. C. Torrey of Yale, and the distinguished historian Professor Eduard Meyer, despite their rejection of the whole supernatural content of the book, to accept the traditional view that Luke-Acts was actually written by Luke the physician, a companion of Paul. It will not be possible here to review that literary evidence in detail; but surely the evidence must be very strong if it has been able to convince even those whose presuppositions render the hypothesis of Lucan authorship so extremely uncomfortable.

But if the Third Gospel was really written by Luke, its testimony as to events in Palestine must surely be received with the greatest possible respect. According to the information derived from the use of the first person plural in the Book of Acts, Luke had been in contact with James, the Lord’s own brother, and with many other members of the primitive Jerusalem Church. Moreover he was in Palestine in A.D. 58 and appears there again two years later; so that presumably he was in the country during the interval. Obviously such a man had the fullest possible opportunity for acquainting himself, not only with events concerning the Gentile mission of Paul but also with events in the life of our Lord in Palestine. It is therefore a matter of no small importance that the virgin birth is narrated in the Third Gospel.

But the virgin birth is not merely narrated in the Third Gospel; it is narrated in a very peculiar part of that Gospel. The first two chapters of the Gospel are possessed of very remarkable literary characteristics. The hand of the author of the whole book has indeed been at work in these chapters, as the elaborate researches of von Harnack and others have clearly shown; but the author’s hand has not been allowed to destroy the underlying literary character of the narrative. And that underlying character is very strongly marked. The truth is that the first two chapters of Luke, with the exception of the typical Greek sentence in Luke 1:1-4, are in spirit and style, as well as in thought, nothing in the world but a bit of the Old Testament embedded in the midst of the New Testament. Nowhere is there a narrative more transparently Jewish and Palestinian than this. It is another question how the Palestinian character of the narrative is to be explained. Some have supposed that Luke used a written Palestinian source, which had already been translated into Greek or which he himself translated; others have supposed that without written sources he has simply caught the truly Semitic flavor of the oral information that came to him in Palestine. At any rate, however the Palestinian character of the narrative is to be explained, that Palestinian character itself is perfectly plain; in the first two chapters of Luke we are evidently dealing with a narrative that came from Palestinian soil.

That fact is of great importance for the question of the virgin birth. It shows that the virgin birth was narrated not merely in Gentile Christian documents but also in the country which was the scene of the narrated event. But there is still another reason why the Palestinian character of the narrative is important. We shall observe in the latter part of the lecture that the great majority of those modern scholars who reject the fact of the virgin birth suppose that the idea of the virgin birth was derived from pagan sources. But if that hypothesis be accepted, the question arises how a pagan idea came to be attested just by the most transparently Jewish and Palestinian portion of the whole New Testament. The Palestinian Judaism of the first century was passionately opposed to pagan influences, especially that loyal type of Palestinian Judaism which appears with such beautiful clearness in Luke 1:2. How could a pagan idea possibly find a place in such a narrative ?

The question is really unanswerable; and in order to attempt to answer it, many modern scholars have had recourse to a truly desperate expedient—they have maintained that the virgin birth was not originally contained in the Palestinian narrative found in the first two chapters of Luke but has been inserted later into that narrative by interpolation. This interpolation theory has been held in two forms. According to the more radical form the virgin birth has been interpolated into the completed Gospel. This hypothesis is opposed by the great weight of manuscript attestation, there being not the slightest evidence among the many hundreds of manuscripts containing the Gospel of Luke that there ever was a form of that Gospel without the verses narrating the virgin birth. A more cautious form of the interpolation theory has therefore sometimes been preferred. According to that more cautious form, although the words attesting the virgin birth formed an original part of the Third Gospel they did not form an original part of the Palestinian source which the author of the Gospel was using in the first two chapters, but were interpolated by the author himself into the source which elsewhere he was closely following.

The Interpolation Theory

What shall be said of this interpolation theory? Very often the best and only refutation of an interpolation theory is the refutation which a distinguished preacher is once said to have applied to theosophy. A lady is reported to have asked the preacher, after one of his lectures, to give her the strongest evidence against theosophy. “Madam,” he replied, “the strongest evidence against theosophy is that there is no evidence in its favor.” Similarly it may be said that the burden of proof is clearly against those who advance an interpolation hypothesis; if no clear evidence can be adduced in its favor the hypothesis must be rejected, and the narrative must be taken as it stands. Even such a consideration alone would be decisive against the interpolation theory regarding the virgin birth in the infancy narrative of the Third Gospel. The advocates of the theory have signally failed to prove their point. The virgin birth is not merely narrated with great clearness in Luke 1:34, 35, but is implied in several other verses; and no reason at all adequate for supposing that these portions of the narrative have been tampered with has yet been adduced. But as a matter of fact we are in the present case by no means limited to such a merely negative method of defense. The truth is that in the present case we can do far more than disprove the arguments for the interpolation hypothesis; we can also actually prove positively that that hypothesis is false. A careful examination shows clearly that the virgin birth, far from being an addition to the narrative in the first chapter of Luke, is the thing for which the whole narrative exists. There is a clear parallelism between the account of the birth of John and that of the birth of Jesus. Even the birth of John was wonderful, since his parents were old. But the birth of Jesus was more wonderful still, and clearly it is the intention of the narrator to show that it was more wonderful. Are we to suppose that while narrating the wonderful birth of John the narrator simply mentioned an ordinary, non-miraculous birth of Jesus? The supposition is quite contrary to the entire manner in which the narrative is constructed. The truth is that if the virgin birth be removed from the first chapter of Luke the whole point is removed, and the narrative becomes quite meaningless. Never was an interpolation hypothesis more clearly false.

But personally I am very glad that the interpolation hypothesis has been proposed, because it indicates the desperate expedients to which those who deny the virgin birth are reduced. The great majority of those who reject the virgin birth of Christ suppose that the idea arose on pagan ground, and admit that other derivations of the idea are inadequate. But in order to hold this view they are simply forced to hold the interpolation theory regarding the first chapter of Luke; for only so can they explain how a pagan idea came to find a place in so transparently Jewish a narrative. But the interpolation theory being demonstrably false, the whole modern way of explaining the idea of the virgin birth of Christ results in signal failure. The naturalistic historians in other words are forced by their theory to hold the interpolation hypothesis; they stake their all upon that hypothesis. But that hypothesis is clearly false; hence the entire construction falls to the ground.

The Virgin Birth in Matthew

So much then for the account of the virgin birth in Luke. Let us now turn to the Gospel according to Matthew. Here the virgin birth is narrated with a plainness which leaves nothing to be desired. Some men used to say that the first two chapters of the Gospel are a later addition, but this hypothesis has now been almost universally abandoned.

The value of this testimony depends of course upon the view that is held of the Gospel as a whole. But it is generally admitted by scholars of the most diverse points of view that the Gospel was written especially for Jews, and the Jewish character of the infancy narrative in the first two chapters is particularly plain.

If this lecture were being delivered under the conditions that prevailed some years ago it might be thought necessary for us to enter at length into the question of Matthew 1:16. Some time ago the textual question regarding this verse was discussed even in the newspapers and created a good deal of excitement. It was maintained by some persons that an ancient manuscript of the Gospels which was discovered in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai provided a testimony against the virgin birth. The manuscript referred to is the so-called Sinaitic Syriac, a manuscript of an ancient translation of the Gospels into the Syriac language. This manuscript is not, as has sometimes been falsely asserted, the most ancient New Testament manuscript; since it is later than the two greatest
manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, which also have the inestimable advantage of being manuscripts of the original Greek, not of a mere Syriac translation. But the Sinaitic Syriac is a very ancient manuscript, having been produced at about 400 A.D., and despite the fact that the extravagant claims made for it have now for the most part been abandoned, a few words about it may still be in place.

The Sinaitic Syriac Manuscript

The Sinaitic Syriac has a curious reading at Matthew 1:16. But the importance of this witness must not be exaggerated. In order to accept the witness of the Sinaitic Syriac against all other documents one must suppose (1) that this manuscript has correctly reproduced at the point in question the ancient Syriac translation from which it is descended by a process of transmission, (2) that this ancient Syriac translation (which was probably produced in the latter part of the second century) correctly represented at this point the Greek manuscript from which the translation was made, and (3) that that Greek manuscript correctly represented at this point the autograph of the Gospel from which it was descended by a process of transmission. All of this is exceedingly uncertain in view of the over-whelming mass of evidence on the other side. To accept one witness against all the other witnesses is a very precarious kind of textual criticism where the evidence is so exceedingly abundant as it is in the case of the New Testament.

But as a matter of fact the Sinaitic Syriac does not deny the virgin birth at all. It attests the virgin birth in Matthew 1:18-25 just as clearly as do the other manuscripts, and it implies it even in Matthew 1:16. The reading of the Sinaitic Syriac which has given rise to the discussion is (translated into English by Burkett) as follows : “Jacob begat Joseph. Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begat Jesus that is called the Messiah.” That would be self-contradictory if the word “begat” meant what it means in English. But as a matter of fact the scribe of the Sinaitic Syriac, if he thought of what he was doing and was not simply making a careless mistake, clearly used the word “begat” in the sense, “had as a legal descendant.” It is interesting to note that Professor F. C. Burkitt, the greatest British authority on the Syriac manuscripts, who certainly is far from being prejudiced in favor of the virgin birth, holds that even if the original text were simply “Joseph begat Jesus” (which as a matter of fact appears in no manuscript) it would be absolutely without significance as a testimony against the virgin birth; for it would only mean that Joseph had Jesus as his legal heir. The author of the First Gospel is interested in two things, in one of them just as much as in the other. He is interested in showing (1) that Jesus was the heir of David through Joseph and (2) that He was a gift of God to the house of David in a more wonderful way than would have been the case if He had been descended from David by ordinary generation.

Thus even if the Sinaitic Syriac did represent the original text, it would not deny the virgin birth. But as a matter of fact it does not represent the original text at all. The original text of Matthew 1:16 is exactly the text that we are familiar with in our Bibles.

Accordingly we have an unequivocal double witness to the virgin birth of Christ in the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke. These two witnesses are clearly independent. If one thing is clear to modern scholars—and to every common-sense reader—it is that Matthew has not used Luke and Luke has not used Matthew. The very difficulty of fitting the two infancy narratives together is, to the believer in the virgin birth, a blessing in disguise; for it demonstrates at least the complete independence of the two accounts. The unanimity of these two independent witnesses constitutes the very strongest possible testimony to the central fact about which they are perfectly and obviously agreed.

But at this point an objection is often made. The rest of the New Testament, we are told, says nothing about the virgin birth; Paul says nothing about it, neither does Mark. Hence the testimony in favor of it is often said to be weak; and men are often impressed with this argument from silence.

Argument from Silence

Now the argument from silence needs to be used with a great deal of caution. The silence of a writer about any detail is without significance unless it has been shown that if the writer in question had known and accepted that detail he would have been obliged to mention it.

But that is just exactly what cannot be shown in the case of the silence about the virgin birth. Paul, for example, does not mention the virgin birth, and much has been made of his silence. “What is good enough for Paul,” we are told in effect, “is good enough for us; if he got along without the virgin birth we can get along without it too.” It is rather surprising, indeed, to find the Modernists of today advancing that particular argument; it is rather surprising to find them laying down the principle that what is good enough for Paul is good enough for them, and that things which are not found in Paul cannot be essential to Christianity. For the center of their religion is found in the ethical teaching of Jesus, especially in the Golden Rule. But where does Paul say anything about the Golden Rule, and where does he quote at any length the ethical teachings of Jesus? We do not mean at all that the silence about such things in the Epistles shows that Paul did not know or care about the words and example of our Lord. On the contrary there are clear intimations that the reason why the Apostle does not tell more about what Jesus did and said in Palestine is not that these things were to him unimportant but that they were so important that instruction about them had been given at the very beginning in the churches and so did not need to be repeated in the Epistles, which are addressed to special needs. And where Paul does give details about Jesus the incidental way in which he does so shows clearly that there is a great deal else which he would have told if he had found occasion. The all-important passage in I Corinthians 15:3-8 provides a striking example. In that passage Paul gives a list of appearances of the risen Christ. He would not have done so if it had not been for the chance (humanly speaking) of certain mis-understandings that had arisen in Corinth. Yet if he had not done so, it is appalling to think of the inferences which would have been drawn from his silence by modern scholars. And yet, even if the occasion for mentioning the list of appearances had not happened to arise in the Epistles it would still have remained true that that list of appearances was one of the absolutely fundamental elements of teaching which Paul gave to the churches at the very beginning.

That example should make us extremely cautious about drawing inferences from the silence of Paul. In the Epistles Paul mentions very few things about the earthly life of Jesus; yet clearly he knew far more than in the Epistles he has found occasion to tell. It does not at all follow therefore that because he does not mention a thing in the Epistles he did not know about it. Hence the fact that he does not mention the virgin birth does not prove that the virgin birth was to him unknown.

Moreover, although Paul does not mention the virgin birth the entire account which he gives of Jesus as an entirely new beginning in humanity, as the second Adam, is profoundly incongruous with the view that makes Jesus the son, by ordinary generation, of Joseph and Mary. The entire Christology of Paul is a powerful witness to the same event that is narrated in Matthew and Luke; the religion of Paul presupposes a Jesus who was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary.

The silence of Mark is of just as little importance as the silence of Paul. The Gospel according to Mark seems to have been pre-eminently the missionary gospel; it was not intended to give all the facts about Jesus, but simply those which needed to be given first to those who had not already been won to Christ. Reading the Second Gospel, you stand in astonishment like those who were in the synagogue at Capernaum in the scene described in the first chapter. You see the wonderful works of Jesus; you stand afar off looking at Him; you are not introduced to Him with the intimacy of detail which one finds in Matthew and Luke. The fact that Mark does not narrate the virgin birth does not prove that he does not believe in the virgin birth or that it is to him less important than other facts; but shows merely that the narration of the birth of Jesus in any form is quite contrary to the plan of his Gospel, which begins with the public ministry. The most important things that need to be said are not always the first things; and Mark is concerned with the first things that would make an impression even upon those who had not already been won to Christ.

The New Testament does indeed imply that the contemporaries of Jesus in Palestine were unaware of the story of the virgin birth, and perhaps it also “makes probable that the virgin birth formed no part of the earliest missionary preaching of the apostles in Jerusalem. But all that is just what would be expected even if the virgin birth was a fact. The virgin birth was a holy mystery which was capable of the grossest misunderstanding; certainly it would not be spoken of by a person like Mary whose meditative character is so delicately and so vividly depicted in the first two chapters of Luke. It would not be spoken of to the hostile multitude, and least of all would it be spoken of to the brothers of Jesus. Also it would certainly not be mentioned in the earliest public missionary preaching before the crowds in Jerusalem. Only at some time after the resurrection, when the miracle of the virgin birth had at last been vindicated by the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus would Mary breathe the mystery of Jesus’ birth to sympathetic ears. Hence it found its way into the wonderful narrative preserved by Luke and from there into the hearts of Christians of all the ages.

Such is the course of events which would be expected if the virgin birth was a fact. And the attestation of the event in the New Testament is just exactly what is suited to these antecedent probabilities. The attestation in the very nature of the case could not be equal to that of an event like the resurrection, of which there were many eye-witnesses; but it is just what it would naturally be if the event really occurred in the manner in which it is said to have occurred in Matthew and Luke.

But the full force of the New Testament evidence can be appreciated only if the accounts are allowed to speak for themselves. These narratives are wonderfully self-evidencing; they certainly do not read as though they are based on fiction; and they are profoundly congruous with that entire account of Jesus without” which the origin of the Christian religion is an insoluble puzzle.

(To be continued – that is, if we can locate that next issue from 1925!)

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Tell Me the Old, Old Story —

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.

This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David.

In order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

While they were there the days were completed for her to give birth.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But  the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;

for today in the city of David there  has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

This will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased:

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this things that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”

So they came in a hurry and found their way  to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.

And all who hear it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Luke 2:1–21

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The Quiet Influence of a Canadian Presbyterian

kikJM

Quiet workers, in God’s kingdom, are often found to have an abiding influence.

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,” – (Col. 3:23, NASB)

In 1965, the following obituary (slightly edited here) appeared on the pages of Christianity Today, observing the passing of one of the founding editors of that magazine:

The Reverend J. Marcellus Kik was one of the first three members of the editorial staff of Christianity Today, from its inception in 1955. When the magazine was initially planned, advice was sought from hundreds of men in this country and abroad. None of the replies showed more depth of understanding and vision for this Christian witness than Mr. Kik’s. His long experience as a pastor and as editor of a church paper in Canada enabled him to make a significant and lasting contribution to this maga­zine, which he served as associate editor.

About 1960, Mr. Kik assumed the post of research editor. In that capacity he spent many months in Europe, particularly in Switzerland and Holland.  In Geneva he received permis­sion to study all minutes’ of the consistory for the period of Calvin’s great ministry in that city, and also the min­utes of the city council dur­ing the same years.  Mr. Kik had these minutes micro­filmed and then translated from seventeenth-century French into English.  These indefatigable efforts brought to light the clear distinction Calvin made between his duties as a Christian citizen and the spiritual role of the corporate church in society.

During 1927 and 1928 Mr. Kik attended Princeton Theological Seminary, and he was part of the first class graduated from Westmin­ster Theological Seminary in the Spring of 1930. For the next twenty­-two years he held pastorates in Canada, where he also conducted a weekly radio program for thirteen years.  He wrote a number of religious books and served on the Board of Trustees of both Westminster Seminary and Gordon College and Divinity School.

Mr. Kik continued his Calvin research up to the week of his death.  In 1964, he underwent radical surgery from which he never fully recovered but which never daunted him in his work and witness for his Lord. He died in Philadelphia on October 22, in 1965.

Funeral services were held in the Second Reformed Church of Little Falls, New Jersey, of which he had been pastor for eleven years before joining the staff of Christianity Today. A testimony to his life echoed through the hymns sung at the service: “O, for a Thousand Tongues,” “Hallelujah! ‘What a Saviour!,” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

Jacob Marcellus Kik was born in Phillipsland, Netherlands on 24 December 1903.  He attended Hope College, graduating in 1927 and then went on to Princeton Seminary, attending there from the Fall semester in 1927 through the Spring semester of 1929. He then transferred to the newly founded Westminster Theological Seminary in the Fall of 1929 along with other Biblical conservatives.  He graduated from Westminster in May of 1930, was ordained by Miramichi Presbytery on 29 October 1930 and pastored the Bass River and West Branch churches in New Brunswick, Canada from 1930 to 1933.

Rev. Kik’s influential role began early on, as noted in this article, speaking of the situation in Canada in the 1930’s and following:

“A pattern had been established. Independent Presbyterian journals presented an opportunity for minorities to present their views and gain an audience. Only a decade after church union, a new independent journal would appear. Bible Christianity owed much to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the 1920s and 1930s from which Canada was largely spared. The magazine, supported by W. D. Reid, minister of the well-heeled Stanley Church, Westmount, Montreal, became known for its outspoken opposition to what it perceived as liberalism in the continuing church. Bible Christianity was edited by J. Marcellus Kik, a Presbyterian minister who was among the first graduates of Westminster Seminary after it split from Princeton in 1929. Kik had been minister in New Brunswick but came to Montreal in 1936 and served there in various capacities (for a time as full-time editor and religious broadcaster) from 1936 to 1952.  [The later Bible Presbyterian, which was published out of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, by dissident Presbyterian minister Malcolm MacKay.]” — Note: Vol. 1, no. 1 of Bible Christianity is now posted in PDF format.

Another article, on the early history of the Banner of Truth Trust, notes the influence of Rev. Kik:

“Among Professor Murray’s chief concerns was the restoration of true preaching.  One who shared this view was the Rev J Marcellus Kik, a trustee of Westminster Seminary. This subject was discussed with Mr. Kik when he was present in London in 1961.  As a result he carried back to Professor Murray in Philadelphia a proposal that a conference should be held for ministers the following year in the UK, concentrating specifically on the need for a renewal of preaching.” [Thus the beginnings of the annual Banner of Truth Pastors’ Conferences.]

Lastly, Rev. Kik’s published works were another avenue of his influence:

A Partial Bibliography for Rev. J. Marcellus Kik—
1934
The Narrow and The Broad Way, and other sermons of salvation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1934. 4 p. l., iii, [13]-106 p.

1935-1951
Editor, Bible Christianity (Dalhousie, New Brunwick, Canada) — [Note: The PCA Historical Center has preserved a nearly complete run of this title. Vol. 1, no. 1 of this title may be viewed here, in PDF format.]

1955ff.
Associate editor of Christianity Today (Washington, D.C.) — [photo of the founding editors, here.]

1956
Voices from Heaven and Hell. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1956. 192 p.

Foreword to Calvin and Augustine, by B.B. Warfield. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1980, 1971, ©1956. pp. i-viii of 507p.

1958
Ecumenism and the Evangelical. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1958, ©1957.  v, 152 p.

1960
Matthew Twenty-Four : An Exposition. Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1960 [2nd ed.]. xii, 115 p.

1961
Historic Reformed Eschatology [S.l. : s.n., 1961), 35 leaves.

1962
Church and State in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1962. 46 p.; 23 cm.

Introduction to Limited Inspiration, by B. B. Warfield. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1962. 32 pp.

1963
The Supreme Court and Prayer in the Public School. Philadelphia, Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1963. 40 p.

1966
Kik, J. Marcellus, Mariano Di Gangi and J. Clyde Henry, Two Confessions: The Westminster Confession of Faith and the proposed Confession of 1967, compared and contrasted. Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1966. 56pp.

1958-1968?
Reviewing religious books. S.l.: s.n., 1958-1968? 10 p.

1971
The Eschatology of Victory. Phillipsbugh, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1978, 1971. ix, 268 p.

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Many 19th-century Presbyterians opposed the practice of slavery. Reformed Presbyterians, while comparatively small in number as a denomination, were notable for being uniformly and resolutely opposed to it.  

The Reformed Presbyterian Argument Against Slavery

Bring up the name of Henry Van Dyke and some might remember the “moderate liberal” who left the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton, New Jersey rather than sit under the preaching of J. Gresham Machen. Some might also know this same Henry Van Dyke as a noted author in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an author whose books were also beautifully bound works of art.

vandykeHJSrBut that was the son, Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Jr. [1852-1933]. Today we start by looking at Henry’s father, Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Sr. [1822-1891, pictured at right]. He was an otherwise orthodox man who served for many years as pastor of the Presbyterian church in Brooklyn, New York. While the son was a prolific author, the father’s published works were primarily sermons and addresses.

Regrettably, Rev. Van Dyke is remembered today, if he is remembered at all, for an infamous sermon in which he attempted to defend the practice of slavery. That sermon was delivered on December 9, 1860, and it was titled “The Character and Influence of Abolitionism.” Perhaps it was the shock of a Northern pastor saying such things, but the sermon gained instant notoriety. Van Dyke’s sermon reduces to four main points:

1. Abolitionism has no foundation in the Scriptures.
2. Its principles have been promulgated by misrepresentation and abuse.
3. It leads, in multitudes of cases, and by a logical process, to utter infidelity.
4. It is the chief cause of the strife that agitates and the danger that threatens our country.”

sloaneJRWSo much for Rev. Van Dyke’s sermon. It serves to introduce you today to the review and rebuttal delivered just a few weeks later, on this day, December 23d, in 1860, by the Rev. J.R.W. Sloane, D.D., [pictured here on the left], who was at that time pastor of the Third Reformed Presbyterian church of New York City. Rev. Sloane later served as professor of theology in the Reformed Presbyterian seminary at Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, from 1868-1886.

The full discourse by Rev. Sloane is too long to reproduce here. But to focus on just the first portion of his review, here is the heart of his reply to Van Dykes first contention, edited for length. He begins:

1. There is no word in the Hebrew language for slave, none for slavery. There is a word for servant, and one for servitude, but no word like our word slavery, denoting a condition of involuntary servitude; no specific term that expresses that form of relation between man and man. Had slavery been a divine institution, as Mr. Van Dyke argues, surely there would have been a word to express the idea specifically. The fact that there is no such word is a strong presumption that there was no such thing.

2. There is no account in the Old Testament of any permission for the sale by one person to another, of a third who was allowed no voice nor will in the transaction; no such transaction is recorded; on the contrary, all such traffic in human flesh, in “slaves and souls of men,” was absolutely prohibited; it never was attempted except in direct violation of the law, and never failed to bring down upon the people the withering curse of Heaven. There was no purchase of men, except from themselves, by voluntary contract for a specified sum, for a definite time, known and agreed upon by the parties; there were no slave-hunts in other countries for a supply of servants; there was not a single barracoon on the borders; there were no slave-pens in the cities –no auction blocks, upon which men, women, and children might be placed and sold to the highest bidder in all the land. You might have passed through all the tribes from Dan to Beersheba, without ever meeting a coffle of slaves!

3. The special statute designed to prevent this crime, “He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death,” (Exod. 21:16) forever brands with the stamp of God’s reprobation and curse American slavery, and rendered the practice of such an iniquity in the Jewish Commonwealtth impossible.

4. The law for the fugitive rendered involuntary servitude in the Hebrew Commonwealth impossible–“Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee; he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best; thou shalt not oppress him.” (Deut. 23:15)

5. The law of Jubilee rendered slavery impossible among the chosen people. “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” No limitation, no restriction; the Jubilee was glorious, because it was a proclamation of liberty to all without distinction; but if it had no reference to the foreign-born servant, it would have been a farce, a mockery, for all Hebrew servants went out at any rate by the law of their service. Mr. Van Dyke affirms that there was no jubilee for the heathen servant, nor for the Hebrew whose ear was bored. The idea, as it relates to the latter, is too absurd to be tolerated for a moment. Is it to be supposed that any man who possessed common sense would, merely because he loved his master, consign himself, wife, children, and children’s children, to the latest generation, to a hopeless bondage?–or, that God would have enacted a law which would have permitted such injustice to arise from such folly? The truth is, that the term forever, in this connection, is idiomatic, and means only to the year of jubilee. The very nature of the regulations as to land and property make this certain. The argument is fully elaborated in the larger works upon this subject. If any thing can be made clear, this has been, that the jubilee was a proclamation throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof; and that the first notes which pealed form every hill-top of Judea, on the first morning of this auspicious year, proclaimed to all servants the termination of their servitude. What a moral obliquity does it argue to find a man desirous to construe every passage in which there is room for a doubt, in favor of this atrocity! I do not wonder that a distinguished man said of such characters, that their god was his devil.

6. The whole nature of the covenant which God made with Israel was for the security of freedom and justice to all, not for the establishment of a hateful tyranny . . .  “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” “Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger, for ye know the heart of a stranger seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” “Thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger. For I am the Lord thy God.” “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, thou shalt love him as thyself, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Lev. 19:33). 

7. I do assert, notwithstanding Mr. Van Dyke’s disclaimer, that the argument for polygamy, the twin sister of slavery, is stronger than for slavery. I can assure him that the day is not far distant when his arguments for oppression will be as abhorrent to all right-thinking men, as those of Brigham Young for the accursed system which he has established in Utah. Polygamy was tolerated, slavery was not.

8. Were we to grant all that these men claim for the system which prevailed in the Jewish Commonwealth, they would be as far from having found any justification of American slavery as ever. They must needs show the same divine warrant as they suppose the Jews to have possessed. They must take all the laws and regulations with it; for in cases of divine authority it will not do to select; all must go together. But how long would American slavery last under those laws?

They would pierce it through and through in a thousand directions. Their enactment would be equivalent to immediate emancipation. American slavery could not live a day under single enactments relating to Hebrew servitude. Give the American slave about three-sevenths or one-half of his time, as was given to the servants among God’s people, and how much would slave property be worth in the South?

But what sort of slavery is it for which Mr. Van Dyke pleads? He can not in accordance with his Presbyterian principles (belief in the unity of the race, descent from Adam, and representation through him,) put it on the ground of diversity of color and inferiority of race. Either of these positions would overthrow his entire system of belief–he knows that God hath made of one blood all nations of men. The logical consequence of his plea then is for the enslaving of the white, as much as the black; but would he dare to say this? What is the ground of right on which he plants himself? This he has not told us. [We?] would be curious to hear an explanation of this point.

Some thirty pages later Rev. Sloane concludes his review with these words, wise words for any time:

This is my answer to the charges, arguments, statements, and perversions of this remarkable discourse, a discourse which marks the lowest point that the northern pulpit has ever reached. Yet I rejoice that it has been preached. It will open blind eyes, and carry its own refutation where my words can never reach. Moreover, I am relieved at the thought that we have touched bottom–there is surely no lower deep.

But, I am asked, what is my remedy for present evils? . . . My remedy is, to stand firm, refuse all compromise, do our whole duty, think, speak, act, just as at other times, and leave the men who make the trouble to furnish the remedy; timidity, not firmness, has been the curse of every great and good cause in which it has been permitted to enter.

Be patient, forbearing, forgiving, kind, this is Christ-like, is divine; seek the best interests–the highest good–of all; but do not swerve a hair’s breadth from the path of duty, for the sake of averting evils which, like the stone of Sisyphus, must evermore return to plague and molest us. . .  This is the hour in which God and Liberty expect every man to do his duty, assured that, as always under the Divine guidance and protection, the path of duty will be found to be the path of safety. Amen.

[emphasis added]

For Further Study:

Review of Rev. Henry J. Van Dyke’s discourse on “The character and influence of abolitionism,” a sermon preached in the Third Reformed Presbyterian Church, Twenty-third Street, New York, on Sabbath evening, December 23, 1860

Life and work of JRWSloane, D. D., professor of theology in the Reformed Presbyterian seminary at Allegheny City, Penn. 1868-1886 and pastor of the Third Reformed Presbyterian church, New York, 1856-1868

The character and influence of abolitionism. A sermon preached in the First Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, on Sabbath evening, Dec. 9th, 1860. by Henry Jackson Van Dyke [1822-1891].

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He Gained the Martyr’s Crown

The enemies of the Covenanters had very long memories. Long after sermons were preached or actions taken, the authorities in Scotland remembered words and actions against them. Such was the case with a young minister by the name of Hugh McKail.

A child of the manse, from Bothwell, Scotland, his pastor father was one of those forced out of his pulpit and parish when he refused to conform to Prelacy.  Little is known of young Hugh’s early days, but he did go to Edinburgh for education. There he was soon marked out as a young man of exceptional ability. For that, upon graduation, he was chosen to be a chaplain and tutor of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir James Stewart. In that Covenanter home, he would sit at the feet of those in leadership positions in the church and learn of the dire situation facing both the church and the state.

In 1661, he applied to the Presbytery for licensure in the ministry. Preaching in a variety of situations, he was quickly recognized by his hearers for his great ability in the Word of God. However, his ministry soon came to an end as it became obvious that he wouldn’t compromise his convictions, just as his father before him.  Preaching his last sermon in a church in Edinburgh, he had a sentence in it which marked him for remembrance by the Prelate forces of his day. He said, “the Church is persecuted by a Pharaoh on the throne, a Haman in the State, and a Judas in the Church.” The identification was obvious to all in the pews that day.

Forced to leave his beloved Scotland, the young twenty-six year old would spend the next three years in Holland. On his return to Scotland, the situation had not improved any and there was a spark of rebellion in the air. That spark was ignited, as my post on November 28 indicated, at the Battle of Rullion Green. Hugh McKail was among the nine hundred in the Covenanter ranks that day. But his own physical weakness removed him before that great battle arrived, and he traveled to Edinburgh instead. There he was arrested by the authorities, not so much for his Covenanter attachments as for his statement made in that Edinburgh church some years before.

Interrogated in prison, he was placed in the Boot, a fearful torture device which all but crushed his leg while he remained silent in voice. He was ordered to die by hanging on December 22, 1666. His exact words that day of death have been preserved through the ages. They were:

Farewell father, mother, friends, and relations; Farewell the world and its delights; farewell meat and drink; farewell sun, moon, and starts; Welcome God and Father; welcome sweet Jesus Christ the mediator of the New Covenant; welcome blessed Spirit of grace, the God of all consolation; welcome glory, welcome eternal life; welcome death!  Into Thy Hands I commit my spirit.”

Words to Live By:
Could Hugh McKail have compromised his convictions and avoided suffering and death? Certainly, and many did. But this young man  was reared by a parent who by his example remained steadfast to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. With such an example like that, it is no wonder the young minister was given over to sacrifice, in loyalty to both the Living and Written Word, come what may to his physical body. Addressing all parents reading these posts on Presbyterian history: Your life preaches all the week. Are those in your family being helped or hindered to follow the Living and Written Word?

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