Gresham Machen

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Two eulogies published upon the death of Dr. J. Gresham Machen. One by a close friend, Dr. Clarence E. Macartney; the other by “S. M. R.”, perhaps the editor of The Presbyterian, in the mid-1930’s. (further research required to confirm).

DR. MACARTNEY’S COMMENT ON THE DEATH OF DR. MACHEN

[as published in The Presbyterian, 7 January 1937.]

When I heard of the passing of Dr. Machen, the words of King David over Abner came to mind: “Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?”

Dr. Machen was my classmate at Princeton and a firm friend through all the years that have passed since then. I am glad in this public way to testify to my affection for him, my admiration for his superb intellect, his pre-eminent scholarship, his magnificent courage, and his clear discernment of the spread of apostasy in the Christian Church.

He was the greatest theologian and defender of the Christian faith that the Church of our day has produced. More than any other man of our generation, Dr. Machen tore the mask from the face of unbelief which parades under the name of Modernism in the Christian Church.

He was not only a great scholar and thinker, but a man of remarkable power as an organizer. He leaves behind him three noble institutions which are his chief monument–Westminster Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and the Presbyterian Church of America.

To those who did not know him, Dr. Machen may have seemed austere and censorious. But those who had the privilege of his friendship knew him as a man of the widest culture and a delightful companion.

We shall see him no more in the flesh. His eloquent voice will not be heard again in the pulpits of the land. Yet, “he being dead, yet speaketh.” Like Paul, he kept the faith delivered unto the saints, and like Paul’s noble companion, Barnabas, “He was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost.”

Clarence Edward Macartney.


Dr. J. Gresham Machen

The speedy death after a brief battle with lobar pneumonia which closed the earthly career of Dr. Machen at the age of fifty-five, came to us as a great shock. Dr. Machen was a vigorous personality, a great scholar, yet a very humble and warm-hearted Christian. He endeared himself to his students, among whom the writer is happy to have been numbered at Princeton Seminary. He was the master of all the foremost writings of the destructive critics who did so much to undermine Christian faith, and he taught the riches of the Word with understanding as well as personal belief. He saw the poverty of the general position which was so popular a few years ago, but which has now left its votaries discomfited and bereft in the time of great need. He was a man of Reformation proportions. The Lord’s hand may now appear more plainly with the servant called home, either perpetating [sic] the denomination he started with greater power, or directing these noble men back to our own Church. Certainly we would welcome their return, as we will continue to respect them in their own endeavors.

S. M. R.

 

1925 – Evangelical Students

1929 – WTS

1930 – Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing

1933 – IBPFM

1936 – PCofA/OPC

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“A Quiet Stream Whose Waters Ran Deep”

It was on this day, December 19th, 1915, that Arthur W. Machen, father of Dr. J. Gresham Machen, died, at the age of 88. Arthur W. Machen was a noted Baltimore lawyer and served as a ruling elder in the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church of Baltimore. The following testimony to the life of his father is found in the work Christianity in Conflict, a work which appeared in the volume Contemporary American Theology, edited by Vergilius Ferm (New York: Round Table Press, 1932-1933.

Dr. Machen writes:—

MachenAWMy father, who died in 1915 at the age of eighty-eight, and my mother, who died in 1931 at the age of eighty-two, were both Christians; from them I learned what Christianity is and how it differs from certain modern substitutes. I also learned that Christian conviction can go hand in hand with a broad outlook upon life and with the pursuit of learning.

My father was a lawyer, whose practice had been one of the best in the State of Maryland. But the success which he attained at the bar did not serve in the slightest to make him narrow in his interests. All his life he was a tremendous reader, and reading to him was never a task.

I suppose it never occurred to him to read merely from a sense of duty; he read because he loved to read. He would probably have been greatly amused if anyone had called him a “scholar”; yet his knowledge of Latin and Greek and English and French literature (to say nothing of Italian, which he took up for the fun of it when he was well over eighty and was thus in a period of life which in other men might be regarded as old age) would put our professional scholars to shame.

With his knowledge of literature there went a keen appreciation of beauty in other fields—an appreciation which both my brothers have inherited. One of my father’s most marked characteristics was his desire to have contact with the very best. The second-best always left him dissatisfied; and so the editions of the English classics, for example, that found place in his library were always carefully chosen. As I think of them, I am filled with renewed dismay by the provision of the Vestal Copyright Bill, nearly made a law in the last Congress, which would erect a Chinese wall of exclusion around our many things that are finest and most beautiful in the art of the printing and binding of books.

My father’s special “hobby” was the study and collection of early editions—particularly fifteenth-century editions of the Greek and Latin classics. Some fine old books were handed down to him from his father’s home in Virginia, but others he acquired in the latter part of his long life. His modest means did not suffice, of course, for wholesale acquisitions, but he did try to pick up here and there really good examples of the work of the famous early printers. He was little interested in imperfect copies; everything that he secured was certain to be the very best. I can hardly think of his love of old books as a “hobby”; it was so utterly spontaneous and devoid of self-consciousness. He loved the beautiful form of the old books, as he loved their contents; and the acquisition of every book on his shelves was a true expression of that love.

franklinStPCHe was a profoundly Christian man, who had read widely and meditated earnestly upon the really great things of our holy Faith. His Christian experience was not of the emotional or pietistical type, but was a quiet stream whose waters ran deep. He did not adopt that “Touch not, taste not, handle not” attitude toward the good things or the wonders of God’s world which too often today causes earnest Christian people to consecrate to God only an impoverished man, but in his case true learning and true piety went hand in hand. Every Sunday morning and Sunday night, and on Wednesday night, he was in his place in Church, and a similar faithfulness characterized all his service as an elder in the Presbyterian Church. At that time the Protestant churches had not yet become political lobbies, and Presbyterian elders were chosen not because they were “outstanding men [or women]* in the community,” but because they were men of God. I love to think of that old Presbyterian session in the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church of Baltimore. [pictured, above right]

It is a refreshing memory in these days of ruthless and heartless machinery in the Church. God grant that the memory may some day become actuality again and that the old Christian virtues may be revived!

[* TDPH Editor: Dr. Machen wrote this article in the early 1930’s, when the effort to permit women to serve as ruling elders was gaining ground in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. His bracketed comment should be understood in that light.]

Words to Live By:
Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” – Exodus 20:12.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. – Ephesians 6:1-3.

Image sources:
1. Frontispiece portrait, facing title page, in volume 1 of Stories and Articles, collected by Arthur W. Machen, Jr.  Baltimore : Privately Printed, 1917.
2. Wikipedia page for the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church.

For Further Study:
See the Thomas G. Machen Collection of Incunabula and Fine Printed Books at the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries.
Also at Johns Hopkins, see Machen (Minnie Gresham), Notebook 1874-1904

Also on this day:
December 19, 1794
– Ordination of the Rev. Daniel Dana, then installed as pastor of the historic First Presbyterian church of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

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Day Two of their Second General Assembly The following materials are drawn from the scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. Initially organized as the Presbyterian Church of America, the denomination we now know as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met in its second General Assembly, beginning on Thursday, November 12 and adjourned on Saturday, November 14, 1936. As the retiring moderator of the first Assembly, the Rev. J. Gresham Machen had opened the proceedings with a sermon on 2 Cor. 5:14-15, and the assembled delegates then celebrated the Lord’s Supper. The Rev. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. and the Rev. J. Burton Thwing were nominated for Moderator of the Second General Assembly, and Rev. Buswell was elected to serve, the Rev. Cornelius Van Til and the Rev. Carl McIntire escorting Rev. Buswell to the platform. The election of Rev. Buswell as Moderator was, for one, seen as a way to minimize the possibility of friction over the issue of pre-millennialism, Buswell himself being a pre-millennialist. Ultimately that gambit did not succeed, and the young denomination suffered a split in 1938, with the formation of the overtly pre-millennial Bible Presbyterian Synod.

PCofA_2dGA_Buswell Caption for the news clipping photo at right: At the left is Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., president of Wheaton College, who was elected at the opening business session of the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America here yesterday. he succeeds Dr. J. Gresham Machen, of Philadelphia, show at the right, who was one of the leaders in the revolt of Fundamentalists from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The revolt let to the formation of the new church at the first General Assembly, June 11.

PCofA_2dGA_05NEW CHURCH ACTS FOR POPULAR RULE

Presbyterian of America Goes on Record Against Interlocking Committees.

OPPOSE OFFICIAL CLIQUE

Resolutions placing the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America on record as against “interlocking committees and putting power into the hands of a few men” were adopted today. [i.e., Friday, Nov. 13th]

This action was taken at sessions in the Manufacturers and Bankers’ Club, Broad and Walnut Streets. The Rev. Martin Luther Thomas, of California, in proposing the resolution said such precautions would prevent the church being controlled by a few men at headquarters and guard against “maladministration.”

Members of the new denomination before its formation constantly asserted that the parent Church, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., was controlled by an official clique.

Several commissioners opposed the resolution on the ground that it would create suspicion, but Mr. Thomas said: “It is better to avoid the abuse of power int he beginning than have trouble stemming it later.”

The resolutions were carried by a large majority.

Another resolution calling for a staggering of appointments to committees so as to prevent self-perpetuation of the governing heads, was defeated, when it was pointed out that the organizers of the new church should be given a free hand to carry out their work without interruption.

Wording of the actual resolution:  “In order to avoid interlocking committees, it is the desire of this General Assembly that no man be allowed to serve at the same time on more than one standing committee, board, or agency, except where an emergency exists.” [Minutes, pp. 12]

Words to Live By:
I recall that at a certain meeting of my presbytery, a candidate for the ministry was asked what he liked about the Presbyterian Church in America. With this candidate having grown up in an independent church fellowship, his reply shocked all of us elders at its first sound when he replied, “our Book of Church Order!” What we groaned at, with its very specific ways of doing things, was the very thing he rejoiced in, finding a supply of godly guidelines with which to “do church.” Elder representatives at the above described General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America wanted to profit from the past, especially even from the negative examples of those liberal churchmen and apostate churches where biblical input had been strangled in past PCUSA church assemblies. So important rules were added to the constitution of their newly formed church. Once adopted into practice, the more important outreach of the church could be accomplished with God’s blessing.

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Old Memories, Faded but True

macrae05Today, we’ll take the liberty of cutting ourselves free from the moorings of the calendar, to look at some new material recently received here at the PCA Historical Center. The Rev. John MacRae, son of Dr. Allan A. MacRae, is soon to move into a new field of ministry in Australia. As he prepares for that move, he understandably has been clearing out some files and has recently donated some materials of his father’s. The PCA Historical Center already had received the Allan A. MacRae Manuscript Collection several years ago, but these several files look to be an important addition to that collection.

Among those documents, one caught my eye. The following is the larger part of that document, in which Dr. Allan A. MacRae recounts his memories of Dr. J. Gresham Machen. MacRae first knew Machen as a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, and later as both men were part of the founding faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary. There is no claim that these recollections constitute great literature, but I think you should be able to read past that and enjoy the telling of the story:—

machen03I never had beginning Greek from Machen but I used to hear about his beginning Greek class, how he would make it easy for students by doing all kind of silly pranks, like standing with a book on his head, balanced on his head; standing on a chair and marking something on the blackboard….

During my second and third years I saw a good deal of Machen and got to know him rather well. I believe it was during my first year that I took his very famous course on the book of Galatians, in which he went through the book showing how strongly Paul felt about the importance of redemption through Christ being at the very center of Christianity, and how opposed [Paul was] to anything that would give to anything else a priority [over] our relation to the Lord. It was a very famous course and I enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately Machen’s time was largely taken up with beginning work as he had to give all the elementary courses in Greek and he did not give many advanced courses, so I did not have many courses from him. However, I got to know him very well.

I remember very vividly, after my second year, at the meeting of the General Assembly in Baltimore. There the action of the Board of Directors of Princeton electing him to be professor of apologetics was presented and turned down by the assembly. Union Seminary [New York] could appoint who they wanted, but Princeton Seminary was under control of the General Assembly, and no one could be appointed to a professorship in it without action of the General Assembly. When I came across Henry Sloane Coffin, who had recently become president of Union Seminary, I asked him, when will your election as president of Union be considered by the General Assembly? In answer, he declared, “Union Seminary is not subject to any ecclesiastical denomination.” Dr. Machen used to say, that Union had twenty years before thrown off all control of the General Assembly, and declared itself independent, but having done so, for Union Seminary men to work hard in the General Assembly to prevent his [Machen’s] election as professor of apologetics and to vote against it seemed to him to be utterly wrong.

When I came to Westminster to teach, naturally I had considerable contact with Dr. Machen. At that time Dr. Machen had an apartment high up in a building on 13th Street in Philadelphia, and there he used to hold his checker club, which was really an evening of being at home as he used to have at Princeton Seminary when he would have lots of candy and soft drinks around and boards for chess and checkers and other games. Once I played chess with him and he was thinking of something else, I guess, and I beat him. When I check-mated him, he was quite shocked and immediately said, “We must play again,” and now he beat me completely. I never claimed to be much of a chess player. A short term memory is very important for chess and mine has never been at all good. Machen was certainly far out of my class as a player. I remember Bob Marsden once telling me how he went to see Machen one afternoon in his apartment and Machen talked very cordially to him and seemed perfectly peaceful and at rest and relaxed in every way, and then he looked at his watch and said, “Oh my, I have to go now, I have to catch the train for Chicago.” Marsden was greatly impressed that a man would be so relaxed when he was actually ready to head for a long trip.

In the summer of 1936, I went to the Canadian Rockies and while there, Dr. Machen arrived. I was staying at a little inn a short distance from Lake Louise and he was staying at the Chateau. Dr. Machen was there for vacation, being very busy, but he spent most of his time there working and trying to write and answer for the Christian Reformed paper to a professor in the Seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church, who had criticized Machen’s statement that he was not for prohibition because he did not figure that such practices and habits were the proper area of government to enter into.

Later on Dr. Machen went to South Dakota at the request of one of the ministers of one of the little churches in South Dakota, to speak. It was winter and freezing cold. He had these tiny churches that were maybe fifty miles apart and this man took him in his car and Machen got a bad cold which went into his chest and somebody said you should stop and recover from this. He said, “No, I must meet my appointments.” So he kept going. The result was he got pneumonia and died from it. It seemed to me that his death at that time was really the result of a false conscientiousness that refused to take care of himself when he had made an appointment that would have to be broken otherwise. Actually it meant that many occasions later when he could have given great Christian messages that would have been greatly blessed of the Lord, were lost because of his giving his life at that time for what seems to me to be an insufficient cause.

We used to remember that sermon that Machen gave frequently on the hymn, “There is a Green Hill Far Away.” It was a wonderful presentation of the atonement of Christ and we loved it.

Machen had been a member of the Benham Club. In this Club at the Seminary, which claimed to be the finest social club in the Seminary (they had four eating clubs by the way), in that club everybody had to do stunts. Machen had stunts he made, and whenever there was any gathering where Machen was present, he was always asked for a stunt. He would make those funny faces and say things so interestingly. His great thing they used to ask for was how Bill Adams won the battle of Waterloo. Then he had another one on eloqution in which he made fun of the pronunciation of certain sounds. There was one he gave once which impressed me greatly about the tiger that ate up every member of the family one by one and the father could not bear to kill the tiger because when he saw its fine mild eyes he was just unable to hurt it. I used to love him give this. He gave it only rarely, but after Westminster was founded, when he would give a stunt and the opportunity came to ask for one, I asked for this. Though I had heard it comparatively seldom, while I was in Seminary, we began to hear it rather frequently. Then one time Dr. Dodd was present and Dr. Dodd spoke about the tiger which was the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission. It was very effective the way Dr. Dodd used it. I have not known anybody since who could give stunts the way Dr. Machen could.

Dr. Machen gave talks on radio and used to work all week over these talks. Then he said to me once, “I have been working over these for colloquial language and it is a tremendous job to work over them for a book.” Of course, they published the series in a book, called The Christian Faith and the Modern World. He said, “I have decided to write them as if they were for a book.” Actually they were every bit as effective then as before. They were wonderful talks and his series on that subject was very excellent.

Dr. Machen was a very fine Christian, a lover of the Lord and a lover of the great doctrines of salvation. He had been conditioned by his training and he did not have the realization of the centrality of the Word of God that I wished he might have, though he thoroughly believed in its inerrancy. I remember one time he told me of a minster who had left the denomination he belonged to, and had because he was irritated at their creedal statements and wanted to build his ideas already from the Bible. He was rather amused at this, but he said, “It really is strange what fine theology this man had derived simply from the Bible.”

I remember once hearing of Dr. Machen’s telling of his crossing of the ocean in which Shailer Matthews of the University of Chicago Divinity School was also there. He had many talks with him and said, “We came to the conclusion in the end that there was one point on which we agreed, that both of us liked Boston Baked Beans.” Actually this illustrates Machen’s clear vision of the errors of modernism.

My introduction to Machen came when I came across his book Christianity and Liberalism. I started to read it and could not let it down till I finished it. It was surely a clear presentation of the fact that liberalism belongs not to another religion than Christianity, but to an entirely different type of religion. Machen was a very fine Christian, a fine gentleman, a lover of the Lord, a man with fine personal qualities, but a man who was ridiculed and criticized by those who hated what he stood for and some of their criticisms and attitudes were passed, taken up unthinkingly by other people. It was a great privilege to have had the association that I had with Dr. Machen.

Words to Live By:
J. Gresham Machen is yet another of those who finished the race well. As such, he is a part of that cloud of witnesses, examples to us of those who held fast to the promise of the Gospel. They persevered in looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. May we follow in their example. May our eyes be kept fast upon Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – (Hebrews 12:1-2, KJV).

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What Should Be Done by Christian People Who are in a Modernist Church?
by Dr. J. Gresham Machen

[The following article was originally published in The Presbyterian Guardian, vol. 1, no. 2 (21 October 1935): 22.]

machen03What is the duty of Christian congregations or Christian individuals who find themselves in a church that is dominated by unbelief? Shall they remain in such a church, or shall they withdraw from it and become members of a consistently Christian Church?

That is certainly the question of the hour for the orthodox part of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Various attempts are being made to answer the question. Various considerations are being urged on one side or the other.

If we separate from the existing church organization, it is being said, shall we be able to retain any of our congregational property, or will that all have to be abandoned to the uses of the existing organization?

On the other hand, if we remain in a church that is dominated by unbelief, does that not mean that we are simply heaping up greater resources for the Modernists in future years to use? Will not every gift that we make, every church building that we put up, be turned over ultimately to the uses of unbelief?

No doubt such considerations on one side or the other of this question are very interesting. I am bound to say in passing that the considerations in favor of separation seem to me to be much stronger than the considerations on the other side.

But I propose to the readers of this page that we should now approach the question in an entirely different way. I propose that we should see what the Bible has to say about the matter. Does the Bible permit Christian people to live year after year, decade after decade, in a church that is so largely dominated by unbelief as is the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.?

The answer to that question is surely not difficult. I am not thinking just now so much of individual texts directly bearing on the question, though those texts are not difficult to find and though they are not really balanced by any texts on the other side; but I am thinking of the Bible’s whole teaching about the Church and what the Church ought to mean in the individual’s Christian life. If we read what the Bible says about the Church and then examine the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., can we really put our hands upon our hearts and say in the presence of God that the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. even approximates being what the Bible says a church of Jesus Christ must be or provides that nurture which the Bible says every Christian ought to have?

Now I know very well that we ought to be careful when interrogating the Bible on this point. Sometimes, when the Bible speaks about the Church, it is speaking about the Church as it will finally be when it appears without blemish before Christ. We have no right to demand of the Church militant a perfection that will belong only to the Church triumphant to the Church in its final, glorious state. When the Bible speaks of the Church militant, the Church as it actually appears upon this earth, it detects always the presence of error and sin in that Church, and it does not permit a Christian to withdraw from that Church or any branch of that Church just because that Church or that branch of it is not perfect.

All this is true. But it really does not apply to the situation in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The point is that that Church is very largely dominated by unbelief. It does not merely harbor unbelief here and there. No, it has made unbelief, in the form of a deadly Modernist vagueness, the determinative force in its central official life.

Such a body is hardly what the Bible means by a church at all. The Bible commands Christian people to be members of a true church, even though it be an imperfect one. It represents the nurture provided by such a true church as a necessity, not a luxury, in the Christian life. There must therefore be a separation between the Christian and the Modernist elements in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. That is perfectly clear. The only question is how the separation shall be effected.

Unquestionably the best way would be the way of reform. If Modernism should be removed from the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., and that church should be brought back to conformity with its constitution and with the Word of God, all would be well.

The other way is the way of separation from the existing organization on the part of the loyal part of the church. Only, if the separation comes, it ought to come in such fashion as to make perfectly clear the fact that those who are separating from the present Modernist organization are not founding a “new church,” but are carrying on the true, spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.

Something will no doubt be said regarding both of these possibilities on this page in future issues of The Presbyterian Guardian.

Words to Live By:
It should always be a fearsome thing to propose division or separation, even for reasons such as stated above. And I am quite certain that separation was never a light matter in Dr. Machen’s consideration. In our daily prayers, we ought to regularly pray for the unity of the Body of Christ, the Church. As long as we are in this sinful flesh, there will always be divisions, for our understanding of God’s Word is imperfect. But the way to greater unity rests not in pushing aside the truth of God’s Word, but rather, in pressing forward to know more and more of God’s will, as revealed in the Scriptures.

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