J. Gresham Machen

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Dr. Charles Rosenbury. ErdmanIt was at the momentous Syracuse, N.Y. meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. where Dr. J. Gresham Machen was officially defrocked from the ministry of that denomination. That action in turn then prompted the founding of what was to become the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Also in attendance at that General Assembly in Syracuse was one of Machen’s many adversaries, Dr. Charles R. Erdman, a man who was by all accounts staunchly evangelical. Yet he found himself in opposition to the course taken by Dr. Machen— he found himself siding with those very men who took a decidedly modernist and unbelieving approach to the Scriptures.

The Syracuse Herald gave some coverage of Dr. Erdman’s visit to his birthplace in Fayetteville, NY that year, noting:

“Dr. Erdman was born in Fayetteville, where his father was a Presbyterian minister, but when he was three weeks old, his parents moved to another charge. [Erdman was born on July 20, 1866].

“In spite of the short time Dr. Erdman was a resident of the Onandaga County village, however, he has frequently visited his birthplace and this week, before the adjournment of the General Assembly which he is attending, he will again visit his birthplace, he said Saturday.

“Dr. Erdman’s father, the Rev. William Jacob Erdman, preached in the same church, and lived in the same manse as did the father of Grover Cleveland, former President of the United States. His youngest daughter is the wife of Francis Grover Cleveland, son of the late former President.

“The greater part of Dr. Erdman’s boyhood was passed in Jamestown. He also lived in Chicago where his father was pastor of Dwight L. Moody’s church. He was graduated from Princeton University in 1886 and from Princeton Seminary in 1891. He holds [honorary] doctor’s degrees from Wooster College, Princeton University and Davidson College.

“For six years following his ordination in 1891 he was pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Overbook, Pa. Then he became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown, Pa., where he remained until 1906 when he became a Princeton professor.

“He became a member of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in 1906 and in 1926 was elected as president, an office he still holds. He was elected moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1925. In the same year he was moderator of the New Brunswick Presbytery. In 1910 he was a delegate tot he World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh and in 1922 to the National Christian Council in Shanghai.

“He is the author of many books, including The Ruling Elder, Sunday Afternoon with a Railroad Man, Coming to the Communion, Within the Gates of the Far East, The Return of Christ, The Lord We Love, The Spirit of Christ, The Life of D.L. Moody, and expositions of most of the books of the New Testament.

“Dr. Erdman’s wife was Miss Estelle Pardee of Germantown, daugher of a widely-known coal operator. His son, the Rev. Calvin Pardee Erdman, also a Presbyterian minister, has preached in Hawaii and California….

“The Erdmans have a summer home at Saranac Lake.”

Embedded in that newspaper account are a few clues for the observant reader as to why Dr. Erdman found himself an opponent of Machen. Erdman had become attached to the denominational board of foreign missions, and Machen had been critical of that Board for fielding missionaries who held low views of Scripture. Moreover, Erdman’s personal and family connection to D.L. Moody might indicate a faith and a theology that was more generally evangelical and less confessional or Reformed in nature. Politics may also have had a part. By familial connection with Grover Cleveland, Dr. Erdman may have been a Democrat, whereas J. Gresham Machen was decidedly libertarian in his views and more of a political free-thinker.

Long-time Princeton Seminary professor Charles Erdman passed away on May 9, 1960. [Our apologies! The correct death date for Dr. Erdman is May 9, 1960. The confusion arose by way of his son’s death date—Charles R. Erdman, Jr. died on October 15, 1984.]

Words to Live By:
Why some men make the decisions they do is often a puzzle beyond our understanding. In pondering this point, we realize how much we must seek to live humbly in the fear of the Lord, for there are times when it takes a clear head and a resolute faith if we are to stand fast on the sure counsel of God’s Word. Too many of us are shaped by our associations, much more so than we realize. Seek instead to be shaped by the Word of God. Live each day as honestly as possible, confessing your sin, repenting and seeking the Lord’s mercy and grace.

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The Last of An Amazing Family

Has there every been an equal to one family name serving the same educational institution in the history of American Christianity? We would be hard pressed to find a similar example to the Hodge family at Princeton Theological Seminary.

First, there was Charles Hodge, serving the Lord as a professor from 1820–1878. There is fifty-eight years of continuous service, preparing ministers for the gospel ministry. His “Systematic Theology” has stood the test of time as being the greatest exposition of Reformed theology in America.

Charles Hodge had eight children, including two sons who also taught at Princeton Seminary. Caspar Wistar Hodge taught from 1860 to 1891, while Archibald Alexander Hodge taught from 1877–1886. Both carried on the line of the family name, but more importantly, carried on the same committed to the infallible Word of God as summarized up in the Westminster Standards.

The grandson of Charles Hodge, and son of Caspar Wistar Hodge, was Caspar Wistar Hodge, Jr. He was born this day, September 22, 1870, in Princeton, New Jersey. Studies at Princeton College, the Seminary, and oversees school at the Universities of Heidelberg and Berlin, this grandson of Charles Hodge taught on the collegiate level at Princeton and Lafayette. It was noted that he had a deep Christian spirit and a breadth of learning and scholarship in those assignments.

It was no wonder that he was asked then by the Board of Directors to take over the Chair of Systematic Theology to which his immediate family had made so much a blessing to students down the ages. His inauguration to that post took place on October 11, 1921. It seemed fitting that the grandson of Archibald Alexander, Maitland Alexander, who was the president of the Board of Directors of Princeton, be the one who gave the charge.

This second decade of the twentieth century was a challenging one, in that, at the end of the decade, Princeton Seminary would suffer the loss of both J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson. The former would grieve over the fact that Caspar Hodge would stay on at the faculty of Princeton, after the board was reorganized to allow two signers of the infamous Auburn Affirmation to sit on it. Yet, while Caspar Hodge did stay on, his heart was at Westminster Seminary, in that time and time again, he would send financial contributions to the new seminary. Further, he spoke of the fact that he would openly defend the name of Dr. Machen in conversations, sometimes with heated exchanges. He would go to be the Lord in 1937, having spend thirty-six years at Princeton Seminary, and the last of the famous Hodge family to be associated with this school.

Words to live by:
Doctrinally, this last of the Hodge line at Princeton Seminary was in complete agreement with every other Hodge family of professors, that is, adherence to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as well as adopting the Reformed faith of the Westminster Standards. It is to be both a prayer request as well as a praise item that the message of the gospel goes on through generations. Let us commit ourselves to the family and its spiritual growth in the things of the Lord.

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Even His Name Spoke of Recognition

Born on  this 18th day of September of 1879, Clarence Edward Noble Macartney had one of those names that made you stop and think.  He grew up in  a Covenanter household, with his father, the Rev. John L. Macartney, being a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Northwood, Ohio.  As this town was the home of Geneva College, it was no surprise that his father taught at the new college as a professor of Natural Science.  When the college moved to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, the family moved with it.

But the father was not a well man. Plagued with a respiratory problem, he and the family moved to California for the warmer weather. In fact, twice there was a move in that state, and finally on to Colorado in 1896. There were teaching professions along the way for the father.

All this moving brought a series of schools, which did not stop for the young man Clarence during his collegiate years. They included: the University of Denver, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Harvard, and Yale Divinity School. There was even a stint overseas in several countries. Finally, Clarence McCartney settled down at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studied under B.B. Warfield, Robert Dick Wilson, and Frederick Loetscher.

The Old School Presbyterian theology called him away from the Covenanter denomination of his father and into the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  Ordained soon after seminary, he held pastorates in Patterson, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Macartney was no doubt a conservative in theology.  His Old School Presbyterian training at Princeton Seminary  had guaranteed that, along with his Covenanter background.  And he was to preach that famous sermon, “Shall Unbelief Win?” to counter the Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick’s sermon earlier, “Shall Fundamentalism Win?”

In its early years, he was a member of the board of Westminster Theological Seminary.  One of his favorite professors at Princeton was Robert Dick Wilson, who was at Westminster for one year before death took him. But McCartney was opposed to the starting of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Mission as well as the Constitutional Union’s calls for a new church, if they couldn’t reform the church from the inside. Eventually, he would resign from the board of Westminster Seminary and remain inside the Presbyterian U.S.A. church, even while Machen and others were censured out of the church.  He would go to be with the Lord in 1957.

Words to live by:  It comes down to a simple question.  What is the definition of an apostate church?  J. Gresham Machen and others certainly believed that when nothing is done in the way of church discipline when essential doctrines of the faith have been denied, as was the case with the Auburn Affirmation, then that speaks of a visible church being apostate. Not one single signer of this affirmation was ever brought up on a charge of heresy. Who were brought up for violation of their ordination vows were conservatives like Machen, Woodbridge, Woolley, McIntire, and yes even a David K Myers, among others.  Pray for the purity of the church and  your church in particular. Don’t ever be silent when the truths of God’s Word, the Bible, are being attacked.  And stand for the faith once delivered unto the saints.


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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 »

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Raising a Leader for the Church

During the course of this historic Presbyterian blog, there have been seven references to the life and times of J. Gresham Machen. This is no surprise, because he was God’s choice to lead His true church in tumultuous days of the early twentieth century. This event recognized today begins the whole story  on July 28, 1881, J. Gresham Machen was born in Baltimore, Maryland.

On both sides of his family, there was a firm commitment to the Calvinistic truths of the Westminster Standards.  His grandfather, on his father’s side, was a ruling elder of Old School Presbyterianism. His father, Arthur Machen, was a well-known attorney, and member of the Presbyterian church. Marrying Mary Gresham in 1872, a home was divinely ordered together.

[at right, Arthur W. Machen, father of J. Gresham Machen, pictured at about 75 years of age.]

His mother came from the southern Presbyterian tradition resident in Macon, Georgia.  While we do not know much of her early life, after her marriage to Machen’s father, she exhibited an influence upon young J. Gresham Machen’s life which could not be rivaled.  The whole family was influential members of the  Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.  Machen’s father served as an elder for many years.

When J. Gresham Machen was born, and here we simply quote Ned Stonehouse’s book on J. Gresham Machen,

“he entered a home of devout Christian faith, of a high level of culture and social standing, and of a considerable degree of prosperity.  Both parents were persons of strong character and extraordinary intellectual and spiritual endowments, and our understanding of J. Gresham Machen is illumined as we observe how various qualities and interests of his ancestors were blended in generous portions in his own personality. . . the intense affection and loyalty that distinguished the Machen home were to prove one of the most influential and fascinating factors in shaping the course of things to come.” (p. 39, J. Gresham Machen, by Ned Stonehouse, Eerdmans).

Words to Live By:
Certainly God’s sovereign grace can change an individual’s life for the better, but also God’s grace can use the faithful upbringing of a Christian family into even greater outreach of service.  And the latter was evidenced in the home religion of Dr. J. Gresham Machen.  We simply cannot stress too much the vital principles and practices of a godly home on a child’s life and life work. Parents! Labor hard in prayer and perseverance to make your home a godly one, leading by example and exhortation the faith of your children in the things of the Lord.

To read more of Dr. Machen’s reflections on his own parents and their home, click here.

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