You are currently browsing articles tagged Germany.

Our time is short today, and we find sufficient reason to remind ourselves of a post well worth reviewing:

Birth of a Giant.

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was born on this day, November 5th, in 1851.

warfield_1864For God-fearing parents, every birth must bring some small trepidation, along with great hope and promise. We trust the Lord, we seek to live exemplary lives and strive to diligently do our part to raise our children, that they might never know a time when they did not trust in Christ Jesus for their salvation and rely upon Him completely. Child-rearing truly is a humbling thing, casting us upon the Lord, praying for His grace and mercy.

At the same time, some children, even from a young age, show great maturity and promise.  You can see it in their face. Such a child, I think, was Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield. 

All of the Warfield children were patiently led to memorize both the Shorter and Larger Catechisms, as well as the associated Scripture proof texts. Benjamin’s brother Ethelbert recounted that in their home “the shorter catechism was ordinarily completed in the sixth year, followed at once by the proofs from the Scriptures, and then by the larger catechism, with an appropriate amount of Scripture memorized in regular course each Sabbath afternoon.” In 1867, at the age of 16, he became a member of the Second Presbyterian church in Lexington, KY.

In 1868, he began the Sophomore year at Princeton College, graduating in 1871, with a strong interest in the sciences and a desire to pursue further studies in Scotland and Germany. But it was not until he returned home in 1872 that he announced his intention to explore a call to the ministry. That had long been his mother’s prayer for her sons, that they would become ministers of the Gospel. In 1873, he began his preparation for the ministry at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

Years later, Warfield wrote a brief article on the value of the Shorter Catechism. Warfield writes:

What is ‘the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism’? We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface: ‘What is the chief end of man?’ On receiving the countersign, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever’ — ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!’ ‘Why, that was just what I was thinking of you,’ was the rejoinder.

It is worth while to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God. So apt, that we cannot afford to have them miss the chance of it. ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.’

[B.B. Warfield, “Is the Shorter Catechism Worth While?” in The Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 1 (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed), 1970), pp. 381ff.]

[Note: It is tempting to think that Warfield may have come by this anecdote through his own extended family. There were a number of men in the Breckinridge family who were military officers. Of these, Ethelbert Ludlow Dudley Breckinridge, an 1898 graduate of Princeton University and a lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1906, seems the most likely candidate to fit the details of the story. Moreover, the San Francisco earthquake would appear to be the most probable setting of the story.]

warfield1867b_75Words to live by: God bless faithful parents! May He equip, encourage, sustain, and support those loving parents who know that they must daily rely completely upon the Lord in the raising of their children. Child-rearing is entirely a matter of trusting prayerfully in the grace of God. Patiently love them, spend sacrificial time with them, live exemplary lives in front of them. But above all, pray daily for them, that God by His grace would save them to the uttermost. You never know when a child will grow up to be greatly used in the advance of the Lord’s kingdom.

Image sources : Original photographs preserved at the PCA Historical Center. Scans prepared by the Center’s staff. Photo 1, Benjamin B. Warfield, 1864, age 13. Photo 2, B.B. Warfield, 1867, age 16.

Tags: , , ,

Our post today comes from guest author, Rev. David W. Hall, excerpted from chapter 2 of his book, The Genevan Reformation and the American Founding. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2003). That Zwingli was a key figure in the Protestant Reformation is undeniable, and so it seems appropriate to include this account of him here today on the anniversary of his death.

Zwingli: Patriot Reformer of German Speaking Switzerland
by Rev. David W. Hall

William Farel was the pioneer of the Reformation in Geneva, but closer to Germany another fiery minister preceded him by a few years. Huldrych Zwingli (b. 1484), a Swiss reformer immediately prior to Calvin, also recognized that resistance was legitimate if a civil ruler ordered the squelching of true religion (as in Acts 4-5). However, he qualified that such resistance should only occur with the support of the large majority and without murder or war.  Nonetheless, by the Peasants’ War (1525), Protestant extremists scandalized the movement with their sectarian rebellion against the King of Germany. The Peasants’ War slowed the momentum of Protestant support for resistance, and itself was an instance of experience shaping a theology of the state.

Just prior to Calvin’s surge, Zwingli, a contemporary of Luther, began his work in Zurich. Zwingli studied at universities in Basle, Bern, and Vienna. In 1506, he was selected to be the parish priest in confederated Glarus. Whether he was “an out-and-out democrat”  or not, it is certainly the case that he tried to reform all of society from the church outward. He served as a chaplain in the fateful 1515 Battle at Marignano, a turning point for the Swiss psyche, and later accompanied Protestant troops in skirmishes against Catholics, dying a courageous death in a 1531 battle. Despite his unfortunate demise, later American clergymen could draw on his example and would accompany Colonial militias into battle against the British.

Zwingli first served as a pastor in idyllic Einsiedeln (still the home of one of the most ornate monasteries in the world) for two years (1516-1518), prior to beginning his thundering ministry at Zurich’s Grossmunster church on January 1, 1519, making him one of the earliest declared Protestants in the world. Throughout his tenure, Zwingli labored for a political practice that conformed both religion and politics to the precepts of the Bible.  Although he never held civil office, he frequently advised local magistrates and served on numerous commissions to resolve diplomatic or political matters. However, not all Swiss citizens agreed with him. While his colleague Vadianus convinced St. Gallen of the Protestant cause, and while Bern, Basle, and Zurich created a Protestant alliance, interestingly the Forest states (the three original mountain cantons) preserved their allegiance to Catholicism.  An armed conflict between the two alliances was only narrowly averted by the Peace of Cappel, which legitimized the local choice of religion for each Swiss canton from that time on.

Some historians have suggested that Zwingli changed his views over his life. Recent studies, however, have defended the consistency of his thought over time. Robert Walton vindicates Zwingli from the onerous charge of theocrat as it is used in modern times. Certainly, Zwingli expected cooperation between the two distinct jurisdictions of church and state. That cooperation, much like the practice of colonial America, however, is different from assigning the care of both church and state to the same officers. Rather than confusing the terminology, the more helpful way to understand the Swiss Reformer’s position is to ask, as Robert Walton does: What place did Zwingli assign to the magistrate and to the clergy in order to realize the rule of God?  Instead of attempting to combine the spheres of government, Zwingli simply submitted, as Calvin would later, both sacred and secular jurisdictions to transcendental norms.

Certainly Zwingli and Calvin desired the rule of God over government. That is altogether different, though, from confusing the rule of God with the acts of certain politicians. A separation of legitimate jurisdictions (though not an immunization of the state from religion) is as apparent in these Swiss Reformers as it is in Colonial American pastors a century later. They did not endeavor to submit the city government to the church and its officers. If anything, Zwingli sought to deprive the clergy of the secular authority and wealth it had gained since the end of the eleventh century, because he believed that these secular concerns had diverted the clergy from its God-given function, the preaching of the Gospel.  The clergy’s role was to give God’s counsel, lest the city governors lacked the best wisdom. Earlier attempts to castigate Zwingli as a theocrat, who was bent on the clergy ruling political measures dictatorially, stand corrected in view of recent scholarship.

Zwingli hoped to renew the church from within, and subsequently to have the church reform society. Of the inherent overflow of spirituality into ethics, Zwingli claimed, “Christianity has always served the public justice most powerfully.” In later correspondence, Zwingli would contrast the effect of the spread of biblical truths with those of secular reason, boasting of Zurich as the leading Christian municipality in adapting its laws and political officials to the Christian faith. Zurich’s ethical overflow was noted as follows: “each desires to anticipate the other with kindness, to oblige with gentleness, to share the labor of the other, to lighten his burden, for each cares for all as brothers; blasphemy is abominated, piety is esteemed and is increased among all.”  These Swiss Reformers believed that a view of life which included God’s standards would result in humanitarian action by private citizens. The chief calling of the clergy was not to rule the city council but to reform the conscience.

Accordingly, Zwingli distinguished between the inward thrust of the ministry of the church and the outer containment by the secular magistrate. In so doing, Zwingli circumscribed the domain of the civil officer. While he might supportively protect external matters of the church (e. g., church attendance, performance of duty by the ministers, the offering of the sacraments, the architecture of the building), secular officials “could not force one to believe, for the realm of faith, Christ’s kingdom, had nothing to do with the world. The true church obviously did not depend upon the Zurich government, nor was it confined to the limits of the canton; it was universal.”  Thus, he explained, “if your rulers wish to be Christian, they must allow the clear word of God to be preached and afterward let it work.” Importantly, he also distinguished various jurisdictions, noting that “the authority which the government has over our temporal goods and bodies cannot extend over the soul.”

Several of his Sixty-Seven Articles (1523) directly addressed the role of the civil governor. In these articles, he rejected the notion that ministers should command civil matters, maintained that the good governor could promote measures that comported with biblical practices, and encouraged rulers to support “an externally pious Christian city.”

Prior to Zwingli’s arrival at Zurich, the city was governed by a Small Council of 26 and a Great Council of 212, similar to the form eventually adopted in Geneva.  The Zurich councils were involved in many areas of life, and Christian magistrates were to seek the common good. The magistrates were to maintain the faith, and keep it from reverting to Catholic patterns. As early as 1450, Zurich’s counterpart, Basle, stated its purpose similarly: “Above all, the government of each city is to be established for this: to increase and to consolidate the honor of God and to repulse all evil and especially gross sin and misdeed, according to the regulation of the Holy Christian World.”  With similar words, most Swiss cantons that embraced Protestantism should not be tarred and feathered with the theocrat slur, merely for the customary support of religion, especially if the church was to be protected during its reformation.

Zwingli’s preaching was magnetic, exhibited a strong patriotism, and addressed major problems besetting the entire Swiss Confederacy.  With up to a third of the city attending his preaching, his popularity discouraged civil officers from opposing his ideas. Such moral suasion would prove more lasting, for Zwingli and Calvin, than any theocratic imposition. Like Calvin, his ideas would have international impact.

The effect of his preaching is seen in altered treatment of the poor as Reformation ideas began to be implemented in the city. The Zurich city council refused to give assistance to beggars, pimps, drunkards, and adulterers. Moreover, insisting on the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor, failure to attend church and other immoral behavior disqualified a poor person from receiving financial assistance.  However, this was, rightly or wrongly, by order of the magistrate, not by pulpit decree. Zwingli would continue to preach guidance for the city council, but that was different from the pulpit directly wielding the civil sword. Of the moral impact of this Reformation preaching, Zwingli’s successor Bullinger wrote, “Before the preaching of the gospel, Zurich was in Switzerland what Corinth was in Greece.”

As an outworking of the Christian faith, Zwingli also called for the end of mercenary excursions, a longstanding tradition associated with the highly skilled native military. Even though the termination of mercenary service might leave the Swiss vulnerable to the French, as well as introduce negative economic impact (higher unemployment and less income in some cantons), Zwingli led his city to lessen its warring ways—a quite radical step for the time. In his 1522 Godly Admonition to the Oldest Confederates at Schwyz, the Zurich reformer desired to persuade the citizens of Schwyz to abandon mercenary tactics and replace those with the ethics of Christ. In that tract, Zwingli hinted that the early Swiss confederates had a unique covenantal relationship with God, much like OT Israel. Sounding like later Puritan American preachers, he indicated that recent defeats such as Marignano  were providential indicators of God’s curse. In the process, he rebuked greed, bribery, violence, sloth, and wrongful war. Robert Walton summarizes Zwingli’s tenets: “The cantons of the Confederacy stand in a covenant relationship with God; they are the Israel of the present. Political stability and national freedom depend upon the proper obedience to the Lord.”  In a May 1522 response that foreshadowed the historic Swiss neutrality, the canton of Schwyz agreed to avoid foreign alliances for the next quarter century. However, supporters of the mercenary system reversed that agreement in August.  In any event, at this early stage it is evident that Zwingli sought social change by preaching and writing, not primarily by political coercion.

On January 29, 1523, Switzerland, and much of the West through her, entered a new age, thanks to Zwingli’s leadership. In a day when elections were rarities, over 600 people gathered to hear a dispute between Zwingli and a Catholic debater. This meeting (the first of many) introduced a virtually new style of decision making: citizens would have free assembly and free speech, and then they would freely choose which course to pursue. What began as a referendum on religion, i. e., whether to be a Protestant or a Catholic establishment, paved the way for many future civic choices.  Once begun, there was no turning back and the West has a fiery preacher to thank in part.

Robert Walton has correctly observed a delicate balance of power in Zwingli’s thought. He writes: “The division of power between the magistrate and the pastor was based upon his doctrine of divine and human righteousness. The magistrate exercised all secular power and had the right to direct the external affairs of the church. The Christian magistrate . . . made possible the preaching of the Gospel by the pastor. The knowledge of the Gospel that the pastor proclaimed prevented the ruler from becoming a tyrant . . .”  Walton has clarified that the Swiss reformers were not strictly theocrats, but believed in each God-ordained sphere of government performing its own duty—and not usurping the jurisdiction of the other.

Zwingli died in the second battle of Cappel on this day, October 9, in 1531, only 47 years old. He was initially injured while attending a wounded soldier, later pummeled by stones, and finally stabbed with a spear. Upon learning that the flamboyant patriot was wounded, the opposing forces rallied to kill him, only after he was given an opportunity to recant of his Protestantism, which he refused with these words: “They may kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul.”  The same battle took the lives of 500 Zurichers, several pastors, and 10% of Zurich’s ruling Great Council of 200.

Four centuries after his birth, Zwingli’s influence was honored with a bronze statue prominently displayed at the foot of the Wasserkirche in Zurich. The statue, designed by a Roman Catholic sculptor,  commemorated Zwingli with Bible in one hand and a sword in the other. As late as a century ago, a full century after the American Revolution, Zwingli was still revered by his countrymen as a force for education, democracy, and courage. His bold opposition to tyranny was a lasting icon for both American and Swiss patriots, until the rise of an age that thought itself too enlightened to be associated with a brave clergyman who changed the West. In the spring of 1999, the statue was removed from its prominent position, long a tourist site, under a program of “cleansing.” In the process, vestiges of the historical impact of Protestant Christianity on a nation, a continent, and a hemisphere were eradicated.

Walton notes that although Zwingli pursued goals informed by the Bible, he did not seek them by theocratic measures. Both minister and magistrate were to do their own jobs, and the clergy were not to “interfere with the Christian magistrate’s performance of the duties that God had assigned him.”  He is also correct that Zwingli only initiated certain trends. The growth of his ideas, however, was stunted both by military conflict and by counter-reactions. It would remain for William Farel and Calvin to revive reform measures in the French speaking part of the Confederacy a decade later.

Tags: , , ,

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 »

Tags: , , ,

Exchanging a Cross for a Crown

Do you realize that, to the surprise of countless Christians, Presbyterianism has produced some of the most noteworthy evangelists in history, especially in the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds?   We say “surprise to countless Christians” because it is wrongly thought that our understanding of Calvinism would prohibit us from being evangelists.  But it is rather a case of because we are convinced of Calvinist truth in the Holy Scriptures, that we are zealous of winning souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The inspired writer Luke sums up our confidence, when in Acts 13:48, he described the gospel’s effect being preached by Paul “as  many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (ESV)

One of the greatest Presbyterian evangelists of that time period was William Edward Biederwolf.  Born in 1867, he was the seventh child of two German Presbyterians, Michael and Abolana Biederwolf of Monticello, Indiana.  After schooling in the area, he taught school for a while.  Attending Wabash College in Indiana, a Sunday School class began to pray for his conversion.  In fact, each of them wrote a letter, urging him to receive Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.  At age 20, he did just that, becoming a Christian.

He then went to Princeton University, and Princeton Seminary, graduating in 1895.  Marrying a hometown gal the next year, he studied overseas in Germany at the University of Berlin and the Sorbonne.  Well educated for his life’s calling then, he returned to the United States where he was called to the pulpit of Broadway Presbyterian Church in Loganport, Indiana in 1897.  It was a short ministry as the war clouds of the Spanish-American War loomed on the horizon. He enlisted as a chaplain of the 131st Second Voluntary Regiment  of the 13th Calvary, serving six months in Cuba.  He would write  on his experience and the regiment he served afterwards,  as a spiritual servant of Christ.

Beginning the new year and millennium of 1900, he entered evangelism as a full-time preacher of the gospel.  For the next 39 years before he passed away on September 3, 1939, he made three world tours of evangelism.  And yet the most dramatic evangelistic ministry he engaged in was in a town in Pennsylvania, called Oil City.  In the winter of 1914 on the eve of World War I, he had thousands attending in the bitter cold of north-west Pennsylvania, with the result that the whole town from the mayor down to the ordinary citizen, was stirred in  deep concern about the things of God and their place in it.

His closing years was spent associated with the Winona Lake Bible Conference and School of Theology.  After a long illness, he spoke the title of this devotional about his exchange of a cross of a crown to his wife, and died the next day.

Words to live by:  Christian reader, you can go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit, sharing by life and lips, to your unsaved loved ones, neighbors, school friends, fellow workers at your jobs, and even strangers whom you meet in divine appointments, the unsearchable riches of Christ and Him crucified, knowing that those who are ordained to eternal life, will believe the gospel and be saved.  Claim this text of Acts 13:48 as your confidence, and go, be witnesses of Christ.

Tags: , , ,

This paper was read before a group of ministers in Philadelphia on November 27, 1933. It was subsequently published in Christianity Today (August 1934) and in a collection of Machen’s essays edited by Ned B. Stonehouse, published under the title What Is Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951). The address was again separately reprinted in 2002 by the Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and can also be found online at the OPC website :

Mountains and Why We Love Them
by J. Gresham Machen

machen_climbingWhat right have I to speak about mountain-climbing? The answer is very simple. I have none whatever. I have, indeed, been in the Alps four times. The first time I got up Monte Rosa, the second highest of the Alps, and one or two others of the easier Zermatt peaks. On my second visit I had some glorious days in the Grossglockner group and on a few summits in the Zillerthal Alps and also made my first visit to that beautiful liberty-loving land of South Tirol, where, as a result of a war fought to “make the world safe for democracy,” Mussolini is now engaged in the systematic destruction of a language and civilization that has set its mark upon the very face of the landscape for many centuries. On my third visit, in 1913, I did my most ambitious climbing, all in the Eastern Alps, getting up the Kleine Zinne by the north face, certain of the sporty Cortina courses, and also the Campanile di Val Montanaia, which is not considered altogether easy. In 1932 I was on three of the first-class Zermatt peaks.

Why, then, have I no right to talk about mountain-climbing? For the simple reason that I did all of these climbs with good guides, safeguarded by perfectly good Alpine ropes. An Alpine guide is said to be able to get a sack of meal up the Matterhorn about as well as he can get some tourists up, and then those tourists go home and boast what great mountaineers they are. Well, I differed from the proverbial sack of meal in two particulars: (1) I am a little superior to the sack of meal in climbing ability; (2) the sack of meal is unaware of the fact that it is not a mountaineer, and I am fully aware of the fact that I am not. The man who leads on the rope is the man who has to be a real mountaineer, and I never did that. I am less than the least of the thousands of real climbers who go to the Alps every summer and climb without guides.

But although I am not a mountaineer, I do love the mountains and I have loved them ever since I can remember anything at all. It is about the love of the mountains, rather than about the mountains, that I am venturing to read this little paper today.

Can the love of the mountains be conveyed to those who have it not? I am not sure. Perhaps if a man is not born with that love it is almost as hopeless to try to bring it to him as it would be to explain what color is to a blind man or to try to make President Roosevelt understand the Constitution of the United States. But on the whole I do believe that the love of the mountains can at least be cultivated, and if I can do anything whatever toward getting you to cultivate it, the purpose of this little paper will be amply attained.

One thing is clear—if you are to learn to love the mountains you must go up them by your own power. There is more thrill in the smallest hill in Fairmount Park if you walk up it than there is in the grandest mountain on earth if you go up it in an automobile. There is one curious thing about means of locomotion—the slower and simpler and the closer to nature they are, the more real thrill they give. I have got far more enjoyment out of my two feet than I did out of my bicycle; and I got more enjoyment out of my bicycle than I ever have got out of my motor car; and as for airplanes—well, all I can say is that I wouldn’t lower myself by going up in one of the stupid, noisy things! The only way to have the slightest inkling of what a mountain is is to walk or climb up it.

Photo 1 of 3 from correspondence of J. Gresham Machen to Allan A. MacRae, dated 4 August 1935.

The Mettelhorn in the foreground, 4192 m., & in the background, the Weisshorn, 4512 m.


Now I want you to feel something of what I feel when I am with the mountains that I love. To that end I am not going to ask you to go with me to any out-of-the-way place, but I am just going to take you to one of the most familiar tourist’s objectives, one of the places to which one goes on every ordinary European tour—namely, to Zermatt—and in Zermatt I am not going to take you on any really difficult climbs but merely up one or two of the peaks by the ordinary routes which modern mountaineers despise. I want you to look at Zermatt for a few minutes not with the eyes of a tourist, and not with the eyes of a devotee of mountaineering in its ultra-modern aspects, but with the eyes of a man who, whatever his limitations, does truly love the mountains.

In Zermatt, after I arrived on July 15, 1932, I secured Alois Graven as my guide; and on a number of the more ambitious expeditions I had also Gottfried Perren, who also is a guide of the first class. What Ty Cobb was on a baseball diamond and Bill Tilden is on the courts, that such men are on a steep snow or ice slope, or negotiating a difficult rock, Ueberhang. It is a joy as I have done in Switzerland and in the Eastern Alps, to see really good climbers at work.

At this point I just want to say a word for Swiss and Austrian guides. Justice is not done to them, in my judgment, in many of the books on climbing. You see, it is not they who write the books. They rank as professionals, and the tourists who hire them as “gentleman”; but in many cases I am inclined to think that the truer gentleman is the guide. I am quite sure that that was the case when I went with Alois Graven.

In addition to climbing practice on the wrong side of the cocky little Riffelhorn and on the ridge of the Untergabelhorn—which climbing practice prevented me from buttoning my back collar button without agony for a week—and in addition to an interesting glacier expedition around the back side of the Breithorn and up Pollux (13,430 feet) and Caster (13,850) and down by the Fellikjoch through the ice fall of the Zwillingsgletscher, on which expedition I made my first acquaintance with really bad weather in the high Alps and the curious optical illusions which it causes—it was perfectly amazing to see the way in which near the summit of Caster the leading guide would feel with his ice-axe for the edge of the ridge in what I could have sworn to be a perfectly innocent expanse of easy snowfield right there in plain view before our feet, and it was also perfectly amazing to see the way in which little pieces of ice on the glacier were rolled by way of experimentation down what looked like perfectly innocent slopes, to see whether they would simply disappear in crevasses which I could have sworn not to be there (if they disappeared we didn’t because we took the hint and chose some other way through the labyrinth)—after these various preliminary expeditions and despite the agony of a deep sore on my right foot in view of which the Swiss doctor whom I consulted told me that as a physician he would tell me to quit but that as a man he knew I would not do so and that therefore he would patch me up as well as possible, and despite the even greater agony of a strained stomach muscle which I got when I extricated myself and was extricated one day from a miniature crevasse and which made me, the following night in the Theodul hut, feel as helpless as a turtle laid on its back, so that getting out of my bunk became a difficult mountaineering feat—after these preliminary expeditions and despite these and other agonies due to a man’s giving a fifty-year-old body twenty-year-old treatment, I got up three first-class Zermatt peaks; the Zinalrothorn, the Matterhorn, and the Dent Blanche. Of these three, I have not time—or rather you have not time (for I for my part should just love to go on talking about the mountains for hours and Niagara would have nothing on me for running on)—I say, of these you have not time for me to tell about more than one. It is very hard for me to choose among the three. The Zinalrothorn, I think, is the most varied and interesting as a climb; the Dent Blanche has always had the reputation of being the most difficult of all the Zermatt peaks, and it is a glorious mountain indeed, a mountain that does not intrude its splendors upon the mob but keeps them for those who will penetrate into the vastnesses or will mount to the heights whence true nobility appears in its real proportions. I should love to tell you of that crowning day of my month at Zermatt, when after leaving the Schönbühl Hut at about 2.30 A.M. (after a disappointment the previous night when my guides had assisted in a rescue expedition that took one injured climber and the body of one who was killed in an accident on the Zmutt Ridge of the Matterhorn, opposite the hut where we were staying, down to Zermatt so that we all arrived there about 2 A.M., about the time when it had been planned that we should leave the hut for our climb) we made our way by lantern light up into the strange upper recesses of the Schönbühl Glacier, then by the dawning light of the day across the glacier, across the bottom of a couloir safe in the morning but not a place where one lingers when the warmth of afternoon has affected the hanging glacier two thousand feet above, then to the top of the Wandfluh, the great south ridge, at first broad and easy but contracting above to its serrated knife-edge form, then around the “great gendarme” and around or over the others of the rock towers on the ridge, until at last that glorious and unbelievable moment came when the last few feet of the sharp snow ridge could be seen with nothing above but a vacancy of blue, and when I became conscious of the fact that I was actually standing on the summit of the Dent Blanche.

Photo 1 of 3 from correspondence of J. Gresham Machen to Allan A. MacRae, dated 4 August 1935.

The Matterhorn, 4505 m. and Dent d’Herens, 4180.

But the Matterhorn is a symbol as well as a mountain, and so I am going to spend the few minutes that remain in telling you about that.

There is a curious thing when you first see the Matterhorn on a fresh arrival at Zermatt. You think your memory has preserved for you an adequate picture of what it is like. But you see that you were wrong. The reality is far more unbelievable than any memory of it can be. A man who sees the Matterhorn standing at that amazing angle above the Zermatt street can believe that such a thing exists only when he keeps his eyes actually fastened upon it.

When I arrived on July 15, 1932, the great mountain had not yet been ascended that summer. The masses of fresh snow were too great; the weather had not been right. That is one way in which this mountain retains its dignity even in the evil days upon which it has fallen when duffers such as I can stand upon its summit. In storm, it can be almost as perilous as ever even to those who follow the despised easiest route.

It was that despised easiest route, of course, which I followed—though my guide led me to have hopes of doing the Zmutt Ridge before I got through. On Monday, August 1st, we went up to the “Belvedere,” the tiny little hotel (if you can call it such) that stands right next to the old Matterhorn Hut at 10,700 feet. We went up there intending to ascend the Matterhorn the next day. But alas for human hopes. Nobody ascended the Matterhorn the next day, nor the day after that, nor that whole week. On Wednesday we with several other parties went a little way, but high wind and cold and snow soon drove us back. The Matterhorn may be sadly tamed, but you cannot play with it when the weather is not right. That applies to experts as well as to novices like me. I waited at the Belvedere all that week until Friday. It is not the most comfortable of summer resorts, and I really think that the stay that I made in it was one of the longest that any guest had ever made. Its little cubby-holes of rooms are admirable as Frigidaires, but as living quarters they are “not so hot.” People came and people went; very polyglot was the conversation: but I remained. I told them that I was the hermit or the Einsiedler of the Belvedere. At last, however, even I gave it up. On Friday I returned to Zermatt, in plenty of time for the Saturday night bath!

The next Monday we toiled again up that five thousand feet to the Belvedere, and this time all went well. On Tuesday, August 9th, I stood on what I suppose is, next to Mt. Everest, the most famous mountain in the world.

From the Belvedere to the summit is about four thousand feet. The Matterhorn differs from every other great Alpine peak that I know anything about in that when you ascend it by the usual route you do not once set foot on a glacier. You climb near the northeast ridge—for the most part not on the actual ridge itself but on the east face near the ridge. In some places in the lower part there is some danger from falling stones, especially if other parties are climbing above. There is scarcely anything that the blasé modern mountaineer calls rock climbing of even respectable difficulty; but it is practically all rock climbing or clambering of a sort, and it seems quite interesting enough to the novice. The most precipitous part is above what is called “the shoulder,” and it was from near this part that the four members of Whymper’s party fell 4,000 feet to their death when they were descending after the first ascent in 1865. There are now fixed ropes at places in this part. You grasp the hanging rope with one hand and find the holds in the rock with the other. It took me five hours and forty minutes to make the ascent from the Belvedere. It would certainly have been no great achievement for an athlete; but I am not an athlete and never was one, and I was then fifty-one years of age and have an elevator in the building where I live. The rarefied air affected me more than it used to do in my earlier years, and the mountain is about 14,700 feet high. I shall never forget those last few breathless steps when I realized that only a few feet of easy snow separated me from the summit of the Matterhorn. When I stood there at last—the place where more than any other place on earth I had hoped all my life that I might stand—I was afraid I was going to break down and weep for joy.

Photo 1 of 3 from correspondence of J. Gresham Machen to Allan A. MacRae, dated 4 August 1935.

The summit of the Matterhorn (Mont Cervin)

The summit looks the part. It is not indeed a peak, as you would think it was from looking at the pictures which are taken from Zermatt, but a ridge—a ridge with the so-called Italian summit at one end and the so-called Swiss summit three feet higher at the other. Yes, it is a ridge. But what a ridge! On the south you look directly over the stupendous precipice of the south face to the green fields of Valtournanche. On the north you look down an immensely steep snow slope—with a vacancy beyond that is even more impressive than an actual view over the great north precipice would be. As for the distant prospect, I shall not try to describe it, for the simple reason that it is indescribable. Southward you look out over the mysterious infinity of the Italian plain with the snows of Monte Viso one hundred miles away. To the west, the great snow dome of Mont Blanc stands over a jumble of snow peaks; and it looks the monarch that it is. To the north the near peaks of the Weisshorn and the Dent Blanche, and on the horizon beyond the Rhone Valley a marvelous glittering galaxy of the Jungfrau and the Finsteraarhorn and the other mountains of the Benese Oberland. To the east, between the Strahlhorn and Monte Rosa, the snows of the Weissthorn are like a great sheet let down from heaven, exceeding white and glistering, so as no fuller on earth can white them; and beyond, fold on fold, soft in the dim distance, the ranges of the Eastern Alps.

Then there is something else about that view from the Matterhorn. I felt it partly at least as I stood there, and I wonder whether you can feel it with me. It is this. You are standing there not in any ordinary country, but in the very midst of Europe, looking out from its very centre. Germany just beyond where you can see to the northeast, Italy to the south, France beyond those snows of Mont Blanc. There, in that glorious round spread out before you, that land of Europe, humanity has put forth its best. There it has struggled; there it has fallen; there it has looked upward to God. The history of the race seems to pass before you in an instant of time, concentrated in that fairest of all the lands of the earth. You think of the great men whose memories you love, the men who have struggled there in those countries below you, who have struggled for light and freedom, struggled for beauty, struggled above all for God’s Word. And then you think of the present and its decadence and its slavery, and you desire to weep. It is a pathetic thing to contemplate the history of mankind.

I know that there are people who tell us contemptuously that always there are croakers who look always to the past, croakers who think that the good old times are the best. But I for my part refuse to acquiesce in this relativism which refuses to take stock of the times in which we are living. It does seem to me that there can never be any true advance, and above all there can never be any true prayer, unless a man does pause occasionally, as on some mountain vantage ground, to try, at least, to evaluate the age in which he is living. And when I do that, I cannot for the life of me see how any man with even the slightest knowledge of history can help recognizing the fact that we are living in a time of sad decadence—a decadence only thinly disguised by the material achievements of our age, which already are beginning to pall on us like a new toy. When Mussolini makes war deliberately and openly upon democracy and freedom, and is much admired for doing so even in countries like ours; when an ignorant ruffian is dictator of Germany, until recently the most highly educated country in the world—when we contemplate these things I do not see how we can possibly help seeing that something is radically wrong. Just read the latest utterances of our own General Johnson, his cheap and vulgar abuse of a recent appointee of our President, the cheap tirades in which he develops his view that economics are bunk—and then compare that kind of thing with the state papers of a Jefferson or a Washington—and you will inevitably come to the conclusion that we are living in a time when decadence has set in on a gigantic scale.

What will be the end of that European civilization, of which I had a survey from my mountain vantage ground—of that European civilization and its daughter in America? What does the future hold in store? Will Luther prove to have lived in vain? Will all the dreams of liberty issue into some vast industrial machine? Will even nature be reduced to standard, as in our country the sweetness of the woods and hills is being destroyed, as I have seen them destroyed in Maine, by the uniformities and artificialities and officialdom of our national parks? Will the so-called “Child Labor Amendment” and other similar measures be adopted, to the destruction of all the decencies and privacies of the home? Will some dreadful second law of thermodynamics apply in the spiritual as in the material realm? Will all things in church and state be reduced to one dead level, coming at last to an equilibrium in which all liberty and all high aspirations will be gone? Will that be the end of all humanity’s hopes? I can see no escape from that conclusion in the signs of the times; too inexorable seems to me to be the march of events. No, I can see only one alternative. The alternative is that there is a God—a God who in His own good time will bring forward great men again to do His will, great men to resist the tyranny of experts and lead humanity out again into the realms of light and freedom, great men, above all, who will be messengers of His grace. There is, far above any earthly mountain peak of vision, a God high and lifted up who, though He is infinitely exalted, yet cares for His children among men.

What have I from my visits to the mountains, not only from those in the Alps, but also, for example, from that delightful twenty-four-mile walk which I took one day last summer in the White Mountains over the whole Twin Mountain range? The answer is that I have memories. Memory, in some respects, is a very terrible thing. Who has not experienced how, after we have forgotten some recent hurt in the hours of sleep, the memory of it comes back to us on our awaking as though it were some dreadful physical blow. Happy is the man who can in such moments repeat the words of the Psalmist and who in doing so regards them not merely as the words of the Psalmist but as the Word of God. But memory is also given us for our comfort; and so in hours of darkness and discouragement I love to think of that sharp summit ridge of the Matterhorn piercing the blue or the majesty and the beauty of that world spread out at my feet when I stood on the summit of the Dent Blanche.

Words to Live By:
God will, in His own good time, bring forward great men again to do His will, great men who will resist the tyranny of experts and lead humanity out again into the realms of light and freedom, great men, above all, who will be messengers of His grace. There is, far above any earthly mountain peak of vision, a God high and lifted up who, though He is infinitely exalted, yet cares for His children among men.

Image sources: The images from the Alps are scanned from postcards sent back by Dr. Machen in a letter to Dr. Allan A. MacRae. To read more about this address by Dr. Machen, click here.

Tags: , , ,

« Older entries