March 29: Let Us Take Our Stand for the Gospel

Excerpted from THE CHRISTIAN OBSERVER, Vol. XXXI, No. 13 (27 March 1852): 49, column 3.

Dr. Archibald Alexander was, in addition to his service as the first professor at Princeton Seminary, quite dedicated in the work of writing evangelistic tracts, many of which were later gathered and published in the volume, Practical Truths. The following short quote is taken from one such tract:

THE GOSPEL PRECIOUS.

Oh, precious gospel! Will any merciless hand endeavor to tear away from our hearts this best, this last, and sweetest consolation? Would you darken the only avenue through which one ray of hope can enter? Would you tear from the aged and infirm poor, the only prop on which their souls can repose in peace? Would you deprive the dying of their only source of consolation? Would you rob the world of its richest treasure? Would you let loose the flood-gates of every vice, and bring back upon the earth the horrors of superstition or the atrocities of atheism? Then endeavor to subvert the gospel; throw around you the fire-brands of infidelity; laugh at religion; and make a mock of futurity; but be assured, that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. I will persuade myself that a regard for the welfare of their country, if no higher motive, will induce men to respect the Christian religion. And every pious heart will say, rather let the light of the sun be extinguished than the precious light of the gospel.—Dr. Archibald Alexander.

And it is exactly because of that precious Gospel, that some have stood resolutely for the eternal Truth of Scripture:

The Strange Church Trial of a Spiritual Giant.

It all happened around eighty-three years ago. Back in March of 1935, Dr. J. Gresham Machen was before a church court of his peers seeking to defend himself against the serious charges of denying his ordination vows, disapproval of the government and discipline of the church, advocating a rebellious defiance against the lawful authority of the church, and we could go on and on in the charges leveled against this spiritual giant. You would think that he was guilty of the most aggravated doctrinal error or moral shortcomings. But in reality, it came down to a single issue—that of refusing to obey the 1934 mandate of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to cease and desist from supporting an independent board of missionaries, of which board he was the president.

The trial itself was a farce in every sense of the word. Machen’s defense first tried to challenge certain members of the judicial commission itself as biased, seeking to have them recuse themselves, since at least two of these men had signed the theologically liberal Auburn affirmation. That was denied. Then the question of jurisdiction was argued, but that also was not sustained.

At the third session, upon hearing Dr. Machen declare himself “not guilty,” the Commission ruled that certain matters were out-of-bounds in the arguments of the defense case. Those included questions which surrounded the existence of the Auburn Affirmation, signed in 1924.  They next ruled out any question concerning the nature and conduct of the official Board of Foreign Missions, which had prompted much of the problem when it gave its endorsement to the book entitled Rethinking Missions. Further, arguments stemming from the reorganization of Princeton Seminary and the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary were also outlawed by the commission. All of these were part and parcel of Dr. Machen’s defense, since they provided the background of the origin of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

All these rulings paled into insignificance, so to speak, however, when we consider the last ruling of the judicial commission. It stated that the legality of the Thirty-Fourth General Assembly’s Mandate for the ministers, members, and churches to cease supporting the Independent Board and only support the official Board of Foreign Missions could not be questioned.

It was obvious that with all of these rulings, that there was only one verdict which could come forth from this judicial commission, and that was guilty.  And so on this date, March 29, 1935, the judgment of “Guilty” was rendered by this seven member Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.   Appeals to the higher courts were in vain, and J. Gresham Machen was suspended by the church.

Words to Live By:  In whatever issue which confronts us inside or outside the church, we must remember that God is Lord alone of our conscience, with the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments the  only infallible guide of faith and life. Let us hold to those, not fearing what man can do to us.

 

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