April 4: Missionary Tributes to J. Gresham Machen (1937)

One of my projects is working to compile an index to the THE INDEPENDENT BOARD BULLETIN, the newsletter of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missionsintending at least to compile that index through the period of 1955-1956.  As I am now working through volume 3 (1937), I have come across the following, which provides a bit of material that many haven’t previously seen. The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, as many are aware, was founded in part by Dr. Machen as a  response to his own denomination’s willingness to send modernists into the mission field.

[Independent Board Bulletin III.4 (April 1937): 10-11.]

These spontaneous tributes on the part of some our missionaries will be of great interest to friends of the Independent Board.

Mr. Hamilton, of Korea, writes :

“It seems impossible to realize that our dear friend, counsellor, teacher and guide has been called Home to Glory. What a loss to us all it will prove to be!

I can’t put into words all that the friendship and teaching of Dr. Machen has meant to me personally. In all our close and intimate friendship I have never heard him enter upon a tirade against any man who was opposed to him in the theological fight. He never went into personal attacks against his foes, but always attacked the principles and practices of those who in any way deviated from the teaching of the Word of God. Vituperation he left to his enemies, and I suppose there has been no man of our generation more unjustly maligned and misrepresented by those who were supposed to be orthodox than he.

Dr. Machen called forth a passionate loyalty on the part of his friends and pupils that few even of those most closely associated with him in the church at large realized. It was not so much personal loyalty, however, as it was a loyalty to the Christ whom he worshipped, and whom he constantly held before the minds of his pupils.

*     *     *     *     *

Mr. Fiol, of India :

“It is hard for us to understand why God should call him home just now when he is needed so badly, but we know that God’s purpose is good and that He will cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him.

Perhaps His purpose is to show us that the success of the new movement does not depend on any human leader, but on God. We know that God will now allow His work to fail but He will raise up other leaders to take Dr. Machen’s place. However, I do feel the loss of Dr. Machen almost as much as if he were a member of my own family. But praise God we can still say, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

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Mr. McIlwaine, of Manchoukuo :

“His labors have ended, but thank God that he has lived, for his work still lives, and while we will sorely miss his counsel and leadership, our trust is in God, and we go out under His standard. I think that Dr. Machen more than any one else is responsible for my return to a true faith in the Bible. I pray that I may realize how fleeting life is, and that I may be spurred on to make better use of my time in the service of the Lord than I have so far.”

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Mr. Rohrbaugh, of Ethiopia.

“It is strange, isn’t it? Dr. Wilson was sparred long enough to see Westminster Seminary firmly established, and now Dr. Machen ends his life’s work by securely establishing the new Church. It is strange, too, how God takes away our human props and throws us completely upon Himself. But the work will remain, not the result of the efforts of a man or of men, but will be known to all as a work of God . . .

Though we mourn his passing, I suppose we should rather give thanks that we have had the privilege of knowing so great a soul and so devoted a servant of God. He loved the fellowship of the faithful and the formation of the new Church must have been as great a joy to him as the defection of the old was a sorrow . . . During my last two years at Princeton I lived on the same floor with him and so knew him quite well, and while at Westminster got to know him much better. I wouldn’t trade that friendship with him for anything in the world.

*     *     *     *     *

Mr. Gaffinof China, writes : 

“I do not know of a man I loved and respected more than him [Dr. Machen], except my own father.”

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Mr. Coray, of Manchoukuo, writes :

The newspapers reporting the death of Dr. Machen referred to him as ‘intolerant,’ ‘bitter,’ ‘harsh,’ ‘critical,’ ‘schismatic.’  These terms of opprobrium reflect the heartless judgment of a crooked and perverse generation upon one of God’s noblemen. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.”

Those who really knew Dr. Machen cannot but deeply resent these slurring thrusts at his character.

I have before me a letter written by him under date February 11, 1935. In it he deplores the action of the Presbytery of Lackawanna in erasing my name from its rolls. ‘It is not punishable by civil laws as certain sins are punishable,’ he wrote, ‘but it is a very black sin indeed.’  The next sentence would astound the Presbytery of Lackawanna were its members to see it.  ‘We shall never give up our prayer that those who committed that sin and other sins may repent and be forgiven.’ In the Presbytery of Lackawanna are men who hated Dr. Machen. The moving spirit in that body took particular pains in going outside his Presbytery to charge Dr. Machen with ‘disturbing the peace of the church.’ I have heard others speak contemptuously of him. Little did they know the man they attacked.

‘Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.’ Is there a finer commentary on our Lord’s injunction than these words, ‘We shall never give up our prayer that those who committed that sin and other sins may repent and be forgiven’? I confess they sent me to my knees.”


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