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As we need presently need a break and since we still haven’t located the rest of the article shown below (hoping some new reader might help us!), the following is a reprise which we trust will prove profitable. Blessings in Christ our King!

 

aubaff_1924The Auburn Affirmation was first issued on December 261923, in response to the action of the 1923 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. It was then published in its first edition in January of 1924. Affixed to that document were the names of 150 pastors and elders within the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. A subsequent printing issued on May 5, 1924 contained the final list of signators, numbering 1274 names.

The Affirmation was a thinly veiled attack upon core tenets of the Christian faith. By most accounts the Affirmation was a gauntlet thrown down in response to five fundamentals espoused originally in The Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910, a deliverance which was later reaffirmed by the PCUSA General Assemblies of 1916 and 1923. It was specifically the action of the 1923 Assembly that brought about the reaction that was the Auburn Affirmation.

Among those five key doctrines that the Doctrinal Deliverance sought to protect, the virgin birth of Christ was second on the list:

2. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards, that our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. The Shorter Catechism states, Question 22: “Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.”

machen02It was this subject that J. Gresham Machen took up in in the December 1924 issue of The Bible Today, the house organ of The National Bible Institute, an evangelical school located in New York City. Given the issues at hand before the Church that year, Machen’s article would have to be considered one of the earliest replies to the Affirmation signatories, though he does not specifically mention the Affirmation by name in this first part of his discussion. And since we only have the first part of this article available to us, we will have to leave it stand at that, until some gracious donor comes forward with other issues of The Bible Today. We’re looking particularly for vol. 19, no. 4, January 1925. From another source we know that part two of this article appeared on pages 111-115 of that issue. (We’re also looking for any other issues of The Bible Today from the years before 1941).

So, introduction aside, here is the text of “The Virgin Birth” by J. Gresham Machen (1924).

THE BIBLE TO-DAY, 19.3 (December, 1924): 75-79.

The Virgin Birth
By J. Gresham Machen, D.D.,
Assistant Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis in Princeton Theological Seminary

An address delivered at a National Bible Institute Bible Conference, New York City.

ACCORDING to the belief of all the historic branches of the Christian Church, Jesus of Nazareth was born without human father, being conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. In the present lecture we shall consider very briefly the origin of this belief. The belief of the Christian Church in the virgin birth of Christ is a fact of history which requires an explanation. And two kinds of explanation are possible. In the first place, the belief may be explained as being based upon fact. It may be held that the Church came to believe in the virgin birth because as a matter of fact Jesus was born of a virgin. Or in the second place it may be held that the belief arose in some other way. The task of the historian is to balance these two kinds of explanation against each other. Is it easier to explain the belief of the Church in the virgin birth on the hypothesis that it originated in fact or on the hypothesis that it arose in some other way?

I. Belief in the Virgin Birth Based on Fact

We shall first examine the former hypothesis—that the belief in the virgin birth is based upon fact. Of course, the most obvious thing to say is that this belief appears in the New Testament in the clearest possible terms. And most of our time will be taken up in examining the New Testament evidence. But before we come to examine the New Testament evidence it may be well to glance at the later Christian literature.

At the close of the second century, when the Christian literature outside of the New Testament becomes abundant, when we have full information about the belief of the Church at Alexandria, in Asia Minor, at Rome and in the West, we find that everywhere the virgin birth was accepted as a matter of course as one of the essential things in the Christian view of Christ. But this same kind of belief appears also at an earlier time; for example in the old Roman baptismal confession which was the basis of our Apostles’ Creed, in Justin Martyr at the middle of the second century, and in Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, at the beginning of the century. There were, it is true, denials of the virgin birth not only by opponents of Christianity but also by some who professed a kind of Christian faith.

But all of these denials look far more as though they were due to philosophical prepossession than to any genuine historical tradition. The plain fact is that the virgin birth appears just as firmly fixed at the beginning of the second century as at the end of it; it is quite impossible to detect any gradual establishment of the doctrine as though it had to make its way against opposition. Particularly the testimony of Ignatius and of the Apostles’ Creed shows not only that the virgin birth was accepted at a very early time, but that it was accepted as a matter of course and as one of the facts singled out for inclusion even in the briefest summaries of the most important things which the Christian needed to know about Christ. Even this evidence from outside the New Testament would suffice to show that a firm belief in the virgin birth existed in the Christian Church well before the close of the first century.

But still more important is the New Testament evidence, and to that evidence we now turn.

The virgin birth is attested in two of the New Testament books, the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke. The value which will be attributed to this testimony depends of course to a considerable extent upon the view which one holds of each of these two Gospels as a whole. Obviously it will not be possible to discuss these questions here; it would carry us too far afield to discuss the evidence for the early date and high historical value of the two Gospels in which the virgin birth appears. But one remark at least may be made in passing : it may at least be observed that the credit of the great double work, Luke-Acts, has been steadily rising in recent years even in circles which were formerly most hostile. The extraordinary strength of the literary evidence has led even men like Professor von Harnack of Berlin, Professor C. C. Torrey of Yale, and the distinguished historian Professor Eduard Meyer, despite their rejection of the whole supernatural content of the book, to accept the traditional view that Luke-Acts was actually written by Luke the physician, a companion of Paul. It will not be possible here to review that literary evidence in detail; but surely the evidence must be very strong if it has been able to convince even those whose presuppositions render the hypothesis of Lucan authorship so extremely uncomfortable.

But if the Third Gospel was really written by Luke, its testimony as to events in Palestine must surely be received with the greatest possible respect. According to the information derived from the use of the first person plural in the Book of Acts, Luke had been in contact with James, the Lord’s own brother, and with many other members of the primitive Jerusalem Church. Moreover he was in Palestine in A.D. 58 and appears there again two years later; so that presumably he was in the country during the interval. Obviously such a man had the fullest possible opportunity for acquainting himself, not only with events concerning the Gentile mission of Paul but also with events in the life of our Lord in Palestine. It is therefore a matter of no small importance that the virgin birth is narrated in the Third Gospel.

But the virgin birth is not merely narrated in the Third Gospel; it is narrated in a very peculiar part of that Gospel. The first two chapters of the Gospel are possessed of very remarkable literary characteristics. The hand of the author of the whole book has indeed been at work in these chapters, as the elaborate researches of von Harnack and others have clearly shown; but the author’s hand has not been allowed to destroy the underlying literary character of the narrative. And that underlying character is very strongly marked. The truth is that the first two chapters of Luke, with the exception of the typical Greek sentence in Luke 1:1-4, are in spirit and style, as well as in thought, nothing in the world but a bit of the Old Testament embedded in the midst of the New Testament. Nowhere is there a narrative more transparently Jewish and Palestinian than this. It is another question how the Palestinian character of the narrative is to be explained. Some have supposed that Luke used a written Palestinian source, which had already been translated into Greek or which he himself translated; others have supposed that without written sources he has simply caught the truly Semitic flavor of the oral information that came to him in Palestine. At any rate, however the Palestinian character of the narrative is to be explained, that Palestinian character itself is perfectly plain; in the first two chapters of Luke we are evidently dealing with a narrative that came from Palestinian soil.

That fact is of great importance for the question of the virgin birth. It shows that the virgin birth was narrated not merely in Gentile Christian documents but also in the country which was the scene of the narrated event. But there is still another reason why the Palestinian character of the narrative is important. We shall observe in the latter part of the lecture that the great majority of those modern scholars who reject the fact of the virgin birth suppose that the idea of the virgin birth was derived from pagan sources. But if that hypothesis be accepted, the question arises how a pagan idea came to be attested just by the most transparently Jewish and Palestinian portion of the whole New Testament. The Palestinian Judaism of the first century was passionately opposed to pagan influences, especially that loyal type of Palestinian Judaism which appears with such beautiful clearness in Luke 1:2. How could a pagan idea possibly find a place in such a narrative ?

The question is really unanswerable; and in order to attempt to answer it, many modern scholars have had recourse to a truly desperate expedient—they have maintained that the virgin birth was not originally contained in the Palestinian narrative found in the first two chapters of Luke but has been inserted later into that narrative by interpolation. This interpolation theory has been held in two forms. According to the more radical form the virgin birth has been interpolated into the completed Gospel. This hypothesis is opposed by the great weight of manuscript attestation, there being not the slightest evidence among the many hundreds of manuscripts containing the Gospel of Luke that there ever was a form of that Gospel without the verses narrating the virgin birth. A more cautious form of the interpolation theory has therefore sometimes been preferred. According to that more cautious form, although the words attesting the virgin birth formed an original part of the Third Gospel they did not form an original part of the Palestinian source which the author of the Gospel was using in the first two chapters, but were interpolated by the author himself into the source which elsewhere he was closely following.

The Interpolation Theory

What shall be said of this interpolation theory? Very often the best and only refutation of an interpolation theory is the refutation which a distinguished preacher is once said to have applied to theosophy. A lady is reported to have asked the preacher, after one of his lectures, to give her the strongest evidence against theosophy. “Madam,” he replied, “the strongest evidence against theosophy is that there is no evidence in its favor.” Similarly it may be said that the burden of proof is clearly against those who advance an interpolation hypothesis; if no clear evidence can be adduced in its favor the hypothesis must be rejected, and the narrative must be taken as it stands. Even such a consideration alone would be decisive against the interpolation theory regarding the virgin birth in the infancy narrative of the Third Gospel. The advocates of the theory have signally failed to prove their point. The virgin birth is not merely narrated with great clearness in Luke 1:3435, but is implied in several other verses; and no reason at all adequate for supposing that these portions of the narrative have been tampered with has yet been adduced. But as a matter of fact we are in the present case by no means limited to such a merely negative method of defense. The truth is that in the present case we can do far more than disprove the arguments for the interpolation hypothesis; we can also actually prove positively that that hypothesis is false. A careful examination shows clearly that the virgin birth, far from being an addition to the narrative in the first chapter of Luke, is the thing for which the whole narrative exists. There is a clear parallelism between the account of the birth of John and that of the birth of Jesus. Even the birth of John was wonderful, since his parents were old. But the birth of Jesus was more wonderful still, and clearly it is the intention of the narrator to show that it was more wonderful. Are we to suppose that while narrating the wonderful birth of John the narrator simply mentioned an ordinary, non-miraculous birth of Jesus? The supposition is quite contrary to the entire manner in which the narrative is constructed. The truth is that if the virgin birth be removed from the first chapter of Luke the whole point is removed, and the narrative becomes quite meaningless. Never was an interpolation hypothesis more clearly false.

But personally I am very glad that the interpolation hypothesis has been proposed, because it indicates the desperate expedients to which those who deny the virgin birth are reduced. The great majority of those who reject the virgin birth of Christ suppose that the idea arose on pagan ground, and admit that other derivations of the idea are inadequate. But in order to hold this view they are simply forced to hold the interpolation theory regarding the first chapter of Luke; for only so can they explain how a pagan idea came to find a place in so transparently Jewish a narrative. But the interpolation theory being demonstrably false, the whole modern way of explaining the idea of the virgin birth of Christ results in signal failure. The naturalistic historians in other words are forced by their theory to hold the interpolation hypothesis; they stake their all upon that hypothesis. But that hypothesis is clearly false; hence the entire construction falls to the ground.

The Virgin Birth in Matthew

So much then for the account of the virgin birth in Luke. Let us now turn to the Gospel according to Matthew. Here the virgin birth is narrated with a plainness which leaves nothing to be desired. Some men used to say that the first two chapters of the Gospel are a later addition, but this hypothesis has now been almost universally abandoned.

The value of this testimony depends of course upon the view that is held of the Gospel as a whole. But it is generally admitted by scholars of the most diverse points of view that the Gospel was written especially for Jews, and the Jewish character of the infancy narrative in the first two chapters is particularly plain.

If this lecture were being delivered under the conditions that prevailed some years ago it might be thought necessary for us to enter at length into the question of Matthew 1:16. Some time ago the textual question regarding this verse was discussed even in the newspapers and created a good deal of excitement. It was maintained by some persons that an ancient manuscript of the Gospels which was discovered in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai provided a testimony against the virgin birth. The manuscript referred to is the so-called Sinaitic Syriac, a manuscript of an ancient translation of the Gospels into the Syriac language. This manuscript is not, as has sometimes been falsely asserted, the most ancient New Testament manuscript; since it is later than the two greatest
manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, which also have the inestimable advantage of being manuscripts of the original Greek, not of a mere Syriac translation. But the Sinaitic Syriac is a very ancient manuscript, having been produced at about 400 A.D., and despite the fact that the extravagant claims made for it have now for the most part been abandoned, a few words about it may still be in place.

The Sinaitic Syriac Manuscript

The Sinaitic Syriac has a curious reading at Matthew 1:16. But the importance of this witness must not be exaggerated. In order to accept the witness of the Sinaitic Syriac against all other documents one must suppose (1) that this manuscript has correctly reproduced at the point in question the ancient Syriac translation from which it is descended by a process of transmission, (2) that this ancient Syriac translation (which was probably produced in the latter part of the second century) correctly represented at this point the Greek manuscript from which the translation was made, and (3) that that Greek manuscript correctly represented at this point the autograph of the Gospel from which it was descended by a process of transmission. All of this is exceedingly uncertain in view of the over-whelming mass of evidence on the other side. To accept one witness against all the other witnesses is a very precarious kind of textual criticism where the evidence is so exceedingly abundant as it is in the case of the New Testament.

But as a matter of fact the Sinaitic Syriac does not deny the virgin birth at all. It attests the virgin birth in Matthew 1:18-25 just as clearly as do the other manuscripts, and it implies it even in Matthew 1:16. The reading of the Sinaitic Syriac which has given rise to the discussion is (translated into English by Burkett) as follows : “Jacob begat Joseph. Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begat Jesus that is called the Messiah.” That would be self-contradictory if the word “begat” meant what it means in English. But as a matter of fact the scribe of the Sinaitic Syriac, if he thought of what he was doing and was not simply making a careless mistake, clearly used the word “begat” in the sense, “had as a legal descendant.” It is interesting to note that Professor F. C. Burkitt, the greatest British authority on the Syriac manuscripts, who certainly is far from being prejudiced in favor of the virgin birth, holds that even if the original text were simply “Joseph begat Jesus” (which as a matter of fact appears in no manuscript) it would be absolutely without significance as a testimony against the virgin birth; for it would only mean that Joseph had Jesus as his legal heir. The author of the First Gospel is interested in two things, in one of them just as much as in the other. He is interested in showing (1) that Jesus was the heir of David through Joseph and (2) that He was a gift of God to the house of David in a more wonderful way than would have been the case if He had been descended from David by ordinary generation.

Thus even if the Sinaitic Syriac did represent the original text, it would not deny the virgin birth. But as a matter of fact it does not represent the original text at all. The original text of Matthew 1:16 is exactly the text that we are familiar with in our Bibles.

Accordingly we have an unequivocal double witness to the virgin birth of Christ in the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke. These two witnesses are clearly independent. If one thing is clear to modern scholars—and to every common-sense reader—it is that Matthew has not used Luke and Luke has not used Matthew. The very difficulty of fitting the two infancy narratives together is, to the believer in the virgin birth, a blessing in disguise; for it demonstrates at least the complete independence of the two accounts. The unanimity of these two independent witnesses constitutes the very strongest possible testimony to the central fact about which they are perfectly and obviously agreed.

But at this point an objection is often made. The rest of the New Testament, we are told, says nothing about the virgin birth; Paul says nothing about it, neither does Mark. Hence the testimony in favor of it is often said to be weak; and men are often impressed with this argument from silence.

Argument from Silence

Now the argument from silence needs to be used with a great deal of caution. The silence of a writer about any detail is without significance unless it has been shown that if the writer in question had known and accepted that detail he would have been obliged to mention it.

But that is just exactly what cannot be shown in the case of the silence about the virgin birth. Paul, for example, does not mention the virgin birth, and much has been made of his silence. “What is good enough for Paul,” we are told in effect, “is good enough for us; if he got along without the virgin birth we can get along without it too.” It is rather surprising, indeed, to find the Modernists of today advancing that particular argument; it is rather surprising to find them laying down the principle that what is good enough for Paul is good enough for them, and that things which are not found in Paul cannot be essential to Christianity. For the center of their religion is found in the ethical teaching of Jesus, especially in the Golden Rule. But where does Paul say anything about the Golden Rule, and where does he quote at any length the ethical teachings of Jesus? We do not mean at all that the silence about such things in the Epistles shows that Paul did not know or care about the words and example of our Lord. On the contrary there are clear intimations that the reason why the Apostle does not tell more about what Jesus did and said in Palestine is not that these things were to him unimportant but that they were so important that instruction about them had been given at the very beginning in the churches and so did not need to be repeated in the Epistles, which are addressed to special needs. And where Paul does give details about Jesus the incidental way in which he does so shows clearly that there is a great deal else which he would have told if he had found occasion. The all-important passage in I Corinthians 15:3-8 provides a striking example. In that passage Paul gives a list of appearances of the risen Christ. He would not have done so if it had not been for the chance (humanly speaking) of certain mis-understandings that had arisen in Corinth. Yet if he had not done so, it is appalling to think of the inferences which would have been drawn from his silence by modern scholars. And yet, even if the occasion for mentioning the list of appearances had not happened to arise in the Epistles it would still have remained true that that list of appearances was one of the absolutely fundamental elements of teaching which Paul gave to the churches at the very beginning.

That example should make us extremely cautious about drawing inferences from the silence of Paul. In the Epistles Paul mentions very few things about the earthly life of Jesus; yet clearly he knew far more than in the Epistles he has found occasion to tell. It does not at all follow therefore that because he does not mention a thing in the Epistles he did not know about it. Hence the fact that he does not mention the virgin birth does not prove that the virgin birth was to him unknown.

Moreover, although Paul does not mention the virgin birth the entire account which he gives of Jesus as an entirely new beginning in humanity, as the second Adam, is profoundly incongruous with the view that makes Jesus the son, by ordinary generation, of Joseph and Mary. The entire Christology of Paul is a powerful witness to the same event that is narrated in Matthew and Luke; the religion of Paul presupposes a Jesus who was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary.

The silence of Mark is of just as little importance as the silence of Paul. The Gospel according to Mark seems to have been pre-eminently the missionary gospel; it was not intended to give all the facts about Jesus, but simply those which needed to be given first to those who had not already been won to Christ. Reading the Second Gospel, you stand in astonishment like those who were in the synagogue at Capernaum in the scene described in the first chapter. You see the wonderful works of Jesus; you stand afar off looking at Him; you are not introduced to Him with the intimacy of detail which one finds in Matthew and Luke. The fact that Mark does not narrate the virgin birth does not prove that he does not believe in the virgin birth or that it is to him less important than other facts; but shows merely that the narration of the birth of Jesus in any form is quite contrary to the plan of his Gospel, which begins with the public ministry. The most important things that need to be said are not always the first things; and Mark is concerned with the first things that would make an impression even upon those who had not already been won to Christ.

The New Testament does indeed imply that the contemporaries of Jesus in Palestine were unaware of the story of the virgin birth, and perhaps it also “makes probable that the virgin birth formed no part of the earliest missionary preaching of the apostles in Jerusalem. But all that is just what would be expected even if the virgin birth was a fact. The virgin birth was a holy mystery which was capable of the grossest misunderstanding; certainly it would not be spoken of by a person like Mary whose meditative character is so delicately and so vividly depicted in the first two chapters of Luke. It would not be spoken of to the hostile multitude, and least of all would it be spoken of to the brothers of Jesus. Also it would certainly not be mentioned in the earliest public missionary preaching before the crowds in Jerusalem. Only at some time after the resurrection, when the miracle of the virgin birth had at last been vindicated by the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus would Mary breathe the mystery of Jesus’ birth to sympathetic ears. Hence it found its way into the wonderful narrative preserved by Luke and from there into the hearts of Christians of all the ages.

Such is the course of events which would be expected if the virgin birth was a fact. And the attestation of the event in the New Testament is just exactly what is suited to these antecedent probabilities. The attestation in the very nature of the case could not be equal to that of an event like the resurrection, of which there were many eye-witnesses; but it is just what it would naturally be if the event really occurred in the manner in which it is said to have occurred in Matthew and Luke.

But the full force of the New Testament evidence can be appreciated only if the accounts are allowed to speak for themselves. These narratives are wonderfully self-evidencing; they certainly do not read as though they are based on fiction; and they are profoundly congruous with that entire account of Jesus without” which the origin of the Christian religion is an insoluble puzzle.

(To be continued – that is, if we can locate that next issue from 1925!)

 

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There was a good deal of serious scholarship which arose from among the early leaders of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Synod. And of the many who accomplished so much in their study and defense of the Scriptures, the Rev. Dr. R. Laird Harris was easily among the most notable of these scholars.

harris02Robert Laird Harris was born on 10 March 1911 in Brownsburg, Pennsylvania. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Delaware in 1931, a Th.B. from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1935 and a Th.M. from Westminster in 1937. He was licensed in 1935 by the New Castle Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA), and ordained in June 1936 in the Presbyterian Church of America [the original name of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)] at that denomination’s first General Assembly.

He left the OPC late in 1937 to join the newly formed Bible Presbyterian Church. Harris then received an A.M. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1941, and was later part-time instructor in Hebrew there from 1946 to 1947. He obtained his Ph.D. from Dropsie in 1947. Biblical exegesis was Dr. Harris’s field and he taught this for twenty years at Faith Theological Seminary, first as instructor (1937 – 1943), then as assistant professor (1943 – 1947) and finally as professor (1947 – 1956).

Dr. Harris served as moderator of the Bible Presbyterian Synod in 1956, the year in which the denomination divided. Harris defended the validity of church-controlled agencies against those who insisted on independent agencies, and he was one of many faculty members to resign from Faith Seminary that year. He became at that time one of the founding faculty members of Covenant Theological Seminary. He was professor there and chairman of the Old Testament department from 1956 until he retired from full-time teaching in 1981. He remained an occasional lecturer at Covenant, and was also a lecturer in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan and a visiting professor in India, Hong Kong and Germany following his retirement, while also working on further revisions to the New International Version translation of the Bible.

He remained active in church leadership, serving as chairman of the fraternal relations committee of the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod during the late 1950s, when discussion began concerning union between the BPC, Columbus Synod and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod. He remained on that committee through 1965, seeing the effort through to the culmination of ecclesiastical union with the creation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES). In 1982, the RPCES joined the Presbyterian Church in America and Dr. Harris was elected moderator that year for the 10th General Assembly of the PCA.

Harris was not only a teacher and church leader, but a prolific author as well. He published an Introductory Hebrew Grammar, the prize-winningInspiration and Canonicity of the Bible, and additional works such as Your Bible and Man–God’s Eternal Creation. He was editor of The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament and a contributing editor to the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, and wrote articles for the Wycliffe Bible Commentary and Expositor’s Bible. Also, as noted above, Dr. Harris served as chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation that produced the New International Version of the Bible .

Dr. Harris’ first wife, Elizabeth K. Nelson, died in 1980. He later married Anne P. Krauss and they resided for some time in Wilmington, Delaware before declining health prompted a move to the Quarryville Retirement Home in Quarryville, PA. Dr. Robert Laird Harris entered glory on 25 April 2008. The funeral service for Dr. Harris was conducted on 1 May 2008 at the Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church, Quarryville, PA, and internment was on 2 May 2008 in the historic cemetery adjacent to the Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church, New Hope, Pennsylvania.

Words to Live By:
For those who enter upon the study of the Scriptures, especially at the academic level, there is a hidden pitfall. It is a deadly danger which ultimately springs from pride and the imposition of human intellect upon the very Word of God. By God’s grace, Dr. Harris avoided this pitfall and to his dying day, his heart remained humble before the Lord his God. The Puritan theologian John Owen, in his Biblical Theology, gives an excellent summary of both the problem and the proper, necessary approach that any scholar must maintain in the study of the Scriptures:

“Wherever fear and caution have not infused the student’s heart, God is despised. His pleasure is only to dwell in hearts which tremble at His Word. Light or frivolous perusal of the Scriptures is a sickness of soul which leads on to the death of atheism. He who would properly undertake the study of the Bible must keep fixed in his memory, fastened as it were with nails, that stern warning of the Apostle inHebrews 12:28-29, ‘Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.’ Truly, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ If this fear is not experienced in the study of the Word, it will not display itself in any other facet of life.’
— 
Biblical Theology, by John Owen (Soli Deo Gloria, 1996), pp. 699-700

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This day, January 30, marks the birth of Francis August Schaeffer, in 1912.

schaeffer02Dr. Schaeffer began his ministry with the Bible Presbyterian Church, was later a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, and when that denomination was received into the PCA, spent his final few years, from 1982 until his death in 1984, affiliated with the PCA. Dr. Schaeffer was the featured speaker at the 1980 “Consultation on Presbyterian Alternatives” sponsored by the Presbyterian Church in America. His counsel, excerpted here from the full transcript of his Pittsburgh messages, was heard by participants from several Presbyterian communionsAdmittedly another long post today, but please save it to read tomorrow if you don’t have time today.

 

“We Don’t Have Forever.”

BY DR. FRANCIS A. SCHAEFFER (1980; REPRINTED FROM THE PCA MESSENGER)

Two biblical principles must be practiced simultaneously, at each step of the way, if we are to be really Bible-believing Christians.  One is the principle of the practice of the purity of the visible church.  The other is the principle of an observable love among all true Christians.

Those of us who left the old Presbyterian Church USA (the “Northern” Church) 44 years ago made mistakes which marked the movement for years to come.  The second principle often was not practiced. In particular we often failed to manifest an observable love for the fellow believers who stayed in that denomination when others of us left.

Things were said which are very difficult to forget even more than 40 years later.  The periodicals of those who left tended to spend more time attacking the real Christians who stayed in the old denomination than in dealing with the liberals.  Those who came out at times refused to pray with those who had not come out.  Many who left totally broke off all forms of fellowship with true brothers in Christ who did not come out.

What was destroyed was Christ’s command to love each other.  And what was left was often a turning inward, a self-righteousness, a hardness, and, too often, a feeling that withdrawal had made those who came out so right that anything they did could be excused.

Further, having learned these bad habits, they later treated each other badly when the new groups had minor differences among themselves.

We cannot stress both of the principles simultaneously in the flesh.  Sometimes we stress purity without love.  Or we can stress love without purity.  In order to stress both simultaneously we must look moment to moment to the work of Christ and to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Without this, a stress on purity becomes hard, proud, and legalistic.  Without this, a stress on love becomes compromise. Spirituality begins to have real meaning in our lives as we begin to exhibit (and the emphasis here is on exhibit, not just talk) simultaneously the holiness of God and the love of God.  Without our exhibition of both, our marvelous God and Lord is not set forth.  Rather, a caricature is set forth and He is dishonored.

We paid a terrible price for what happened in those early days.  As some of you now come out of your denominations, please do learn from our mistakes.  Each pastor, each congregation must be led by the Holy Spirit.  If some disappoint you, do not turn bitter.

One of the joys of my life occurred at the Lausanne Congress (the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland). Some men from the newly formed Presbyterian Church in America asked me to attend a meeting they and others had called there. When I arrived I found that it was made up of Southern men who had just left the Presbyterian Church US to form the PCA and some Christians who were still in the PCUS. Someone from each side spoke. Both said to me that the meeting was possible because of my voice and especially my little book, The Church Before the Watching World (published by InterVarsity Press). I must say I could have wept, and perhaps I did. It is possible for us to do better than we would naturally do. It is not possible if we ignore the fleshly dangers and fail to look to our living Lord for his strength and grace.

Those of us who left our old denomination in the Thirties had another great problem, as I see it. It was confusion over where to place the basic chasm which marks off who we are. Does that chasm mark us as those who are building Bible-believing churches and that on this side of the chasm we hold the distinctives of being Presbyterian and Reformed? Or is the primary chasm that we are Presbyterian and Reformed and that we are divided from all who are not? The answer makes a great deal of difference.

When we go to a town to start a church, are we going there with the primary motivation to build a church which is loyal to Presbyterians and the Reformed faith, or are we going there to build a church which will preach the Gospel which historic, Bible-believing Christianity holds, and then on this side of that chasm teach that which we believe is true to the Bible in regard to church government and doctrine? The difference makes a difference to our mentality, to our motivation, and to the breadth of our outreach. I must say, to me one view is catholic, biblical and gives good promise of success; the other is introverted and self-limiting, yes, and sectarian. I spoke of a good promise of success. I mean on two levels: First in church growth and a healthy outlook among those we reach; second, in providing leadership in the whole church of Christ.

We alone do not face this problem of putting the chasm at the wrong place, of course. A too zealous mentality on the Lutheran view of the sacraments is the same. A too sectarian mentality in regard to the mode of baptism is another. The zeal of the Plymouth Brethren for an unpaid ministry is often the same. No, it is not just our problem. But it is our problem. To put the chasm in the wrong place is to fail to fulfill our calling, and I am convinced that when we do so we displease our Lord.

Those who remain in the old-line churches have their own set of problems. In contrast to the problem of hardness to which those who withdraw are prone, those who remain are likely to develop a general latitudinarianism. One who accepts ecclesiastical latitudinarianism easily steps into a cooperative latitudinarianism which can become a doctrinal latitudinarianism and especially a letdown on a clear view of Scripture.

This is what happened in certain segments of what I would call the evangelical establishment. Out of the evangelical latitudinarianism of the Thirties and Forties grew the letdown in regard to the Scripture in certain areas of the evangelical structure in the Seventies. Large sections of evangelicalism today put all they can into acting as though it makes no real difference as to whether we hold the historic view of Scripture or the existential view. The existential methodology says that the Bible is authoritative when it teaches “religious” things but not when it touches that which is historic, scientific, or such things as the male/female relationship.

Not all who have stayed in the liberal denominations have done this, by any means, but it is hard to escape.  I don’t see how those who have chosen to stay in (no matter what occurs) can escape a latitudinarian mentality which will struggle to paper over the differences on Scripture in order to keep an external veneer of unity.  That veneer in fact obscures a real lack of unity on the crucial point of Scripture.  And when the doctrinal latitudinarianism sets in we can be sure from all of church history and from observation in our own period of church history that in just a generation or two the line between evangelical and liberal will be lost.

This is already observable in that the liberals largely have shifted to the existential methodology and have expressed great approval that the “moderate evangelicals” have done so.  The trend will surely continue.  Unless we see the new liberalism with its existential methodology as a whole, and reject it as a whole, we will, to the extent to which we tolerate it, be confused in our thinking.  Failure to reject it will also involve us in the general relativism of our day and compromising in our actions.

The second major problem of those who stay in the liberally controlled denominations is the natural tendency to constantly move back the line at which the final stand will be taken.  For example, can you imagine Clarence Macartney, Donald Grey Barnhouse or T. Roland Phillips being in a denomination in which the battle line was the ordination of women?  Can you imagine these great evangelical preachers of the Twenties and Thirties (who stayed in the Presbyterian Church USA) now being in a denomination which refuses to ordain a young man whose only fault was that while he said he would not preach against the ordination of women yet he would not say he had changed his mind that it was unbiblical? Can you imagine that these leaders of the conservative cause in an earlier era would have considered it a victory to have stalled the ordination of practicing homosexuals and practicing lesbians?  What do you think Macartney, Barnhouse, and Phillips would have said about these recent developments?  Such a situation in their denomination would never have been in their minds as in the realm of conceivable.

The line does move back.  In what presbytery of the Northern Presbyterian Church can you bring an ordained man under biblical discipline for holding false views of doctrine and expect him to be disciplined?

Beware of false victories.  Even if a conservative man is elected moderator of the general assembly (as Macartney was in 1924), it would amount to absolutely nothing.  Despite the jubilation among conservatives at Macartney’s election, the bureaucracy simply rolled on, and not too many years later conservative leader J. Gresham Machen could be unfrocked.  Nelson Bell was elected moderator of the Southern Church later (in 1972), and nothing changed.  The power centers of the bureaucracy and the liberally-controlled seminaries were unmoved.

There are always those who say, “don’t break up our ranks … wait a while longer … wait for this … wait for that.” It is always wait.  Never act. But 40 years is a long time to wait when things are always and consistently getting worse.  And (with my present health problem) I tell you soberly, we do not have forever to take that courageous and costly stand for Christ that we sometimes talk about. We do not have forever for that. We hear many coaxing words, but watch for the power structure to strike out when it is threatened. If the liberals’ power is really in danger or if they fear the loss of property, watch out!

What of the future? We live in a day that is fast-moving.  The United States is moving at great speed toward totally humanistic orientation in society and state.  Do you think this will leave our own little projects, our own church, and our own lives untouched?  Don’t be silly. The warnings are on every side. When a San Francisco Orthodox Presbyterian congregation can be dragged into court for breaking the law of discrimination because it dismissed an avowed, practicing homosexual as an organist, can we be so blind as to not hear all the warning bells go off?  When by a ruling of a federal court the will of Congress can be overturned concerning the limitation on the willful killing of unborn children, should not the warning bells go off as to the kind of pressures ahead of us?

Who supports these things?  The liberal denominations do, publicly, formally, and financially.  And it puts into a vise those of us who stand for biblical morality, let alone doctrine.  Beyond the denominations, it is their councils of churches that support not only these things but also terrorist groups. They give moral support and money.  Should we support this by our denominational affiliation? We may seem isolated from the results for a time but that is only because we are too blind to see.

I don’t think we have a lot of time.  The hour is very late, but I don’t think it is too late in this country. This is not a day of retreat and despair.  In America it is still possible to turn things around.  But we don’t have forever.

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Though He was Bound, the Word of God was Not Bound

Bruce Hunt was not totally unprepared for the inevitable.  This Orthodox Presbyterian missionary had been ministering to the Korean Church in Manchuria since 1936.  With the imperial nation of Japan on the offensive, attempts had been made to control the church in lands under their control.  Specifically, the attempt was being made to force all people, including Christians, to engage in emperor worship.  To committed Christians, to those who confessed that Jesus is Lord alone with no other God beside Him, this was unthinkable.  Bruce Hunt not only believed this firmly, but he taught this truth to the church of Korea.  Twice he had been taken down to prison and warned that if he persisted in his teaching, judgment would be waiting.  On October 21, 1941, Bruce Hunt was arrested in Harbin, Manchuria.

For the next year, Rev. Hunt would be separated from his family,  his church family, and his freedom.  But he was not separated from his God and Savior.  In testimony of the gospel, like countless persecuted Christians before him, including the apostle Paul of New Testament times, he witnessed to his tormenting guards, evangelized his fellow inmates, and offered encouragement to others who were being tried for their Christian faith.

In one of the many cells into which he was thrown, he realized that a tiny metal tip on one of his shoe laces provided him with a writing tool.  In the darkness of his cell, he wrote in Korean on the soft walls of the cell the famous verse, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His own begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  You dear reader, surely recognize these words as coming from John 3:16.  It was just one of the many times that he left a witness to the next prisoner who would enter that cell.

Once, he decided to place all ten commandments of the Law of God upon the wall in Korean.  He made it to eight commandments, when a guard saw it and stopped him from completing it.

Another time, he found the time to write Romans 6:23 all the way through.  It said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Finally, when all “tools” to write had been taken away, Scripture texts on  his lips provided divine opportunities to share his Christian faith with guards and fellow prisoners alike.  Quite clearly, while Rev. Hunt was imprisoned, the Word of God was not imprisoned.

Eventually he was exchanged and went back to the United States with his family.

Words to live by:  In our true story about Bruce Hunt writing Scripture texts on the wall of his cell, there is a very real presupposition which was necessary for him to witness in this way.  And it was this.  He had memorized certain portions of the Word of God so that he could write them without having his Bible as a guide.  Question?  If you did not have your Bible present with you to read and write verses of it, how many texts of Scripture have you memorized which could prove to be a comfort to you and a witness to others in prison with you?  Scripture memorization, even with a proliferation of Bible versions today, is a spiritual exercise of our parent’s generation.  Yet, we are closer than they are to difficult times.  Memorize the Word of God!  Begin today.  Start with the texts of salvation.  Ask your pastor what you should memorize.  Ask yourself the question, what verses would I want to know if I was arrested for the sake of the gospel?

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William Andrew McIlwaine was born on April 24, 1893 in Kochi, Japan. He attended Davidson College, graduating with the AB in 1915 and from Union Theological Seminary in 1919 with the BD degree. Upon completion of his studies, he was ordained in May of 1919 and from 1919 until 1942 served as a missionary to Japan, including six months in detention immediately following the outbreak of the war. He returned to the US on an exchange ship in the summer of 1942.

Rev. McIlwaine was then commissioned on June 11, 1943, attending US Army Chaplain School at Harvard University, graduating there in July, 1943. Duty assignments included Station Complement, Camp Ellis, IL, July 1943 to Feb. 1945; Percy Jones Hospital Center, Battle Creek, MI, Feb. to Aug. 1945; special Projects Division, Provost Marshall General’s Office, with duty in Washington, D.C. and Prisoner of War Camp, Huntsville, TX, August 1945 to April 1946. On May 14, 1946 he was separated from active service with the rank of Major.

Dr. McIlwaine then returned to service as a missionary in Japan from 1946 until 1963. He later served as Stated Supply for the McIlwain Memorial Presbyterian Church of Pensacola, Florida from 1969 to 1971. In 1976 he served as moderator of the 4th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). He died on November 30, 1985, at the age of 92.

Aurine Wilkins McIlwaine was born on January 14, 1904 in Hopkinsville, KY; educated at Bethel Women’s Academy and College, obtaining her BS from Cumberland University in 1926. She then graduated from the PCUS Assembly Training School in 1929 and was appointed a missionary on Feb. 13, 1929. On September 3, 1931 she sailed for Korea and remained in faithful service there until 1939.

She married the Rev. William A. McIlwaine on December 28, 1939 in Kwangju, Korea and then went with him to Japan, where together they served as evangelistic missionaries. With only the war years of 1942-1946 interrupting, they served there until their retirement on December 31, 1963.

Mrs. McIlwaine died on December 20, 1982, at the age of 78, following a brief illness. She is buried in Bayview Memorial Park in Pensacola, FL.

What follows is a tribute paid to the McIlwaine’s, in light of their long lives of service to the glory of our Lord and Savior. Above, you have the basic facts of their lives. Below, the substance of their lives, lived out in the reality of redemption which comes through Jesus Christ alone.

FAREWELL TO WILL AND AURINE MCILWAINE
by Benson Cain

June 11, 1963

Kobe Station with Osaka Station
at Mikage, Cain’s Residence

Tonight we are gathered together to say farewell to Will and Aurine. I dare not say farewell really because surely we shall be seeing each other on furlough, and perhaps even in Japan – and certainly in God’s good time, in Heaven. I dare not speak from a personal point of view because then I must expose to the rest of the Station some things that only the McIlwaines and I know. I dare not recall all the personal aspects of our friendship of over ten years lest I not finish here tonight. But I will point out some general facts which we all can recall and appreciate. No matter what I say, I’m sure I’ll have not said enough, and no matter how well I try to say it, the matter won’t really be touched upon at all.

First, I’m going to say that we are saying goodby, for a time at least, to True Servants of God. I’m sure that not a day passes that the McIlwaines don’t serve the Lord in service to others. I can recall, as many of you can, the long nights spent in the office getting ready for the next day’s classes because during the day company had come;—a couple they had known before the war wanted to get started again in the Lord’s service. The sick were visited. Milk was distributed to the pastor’s emaciated children. The new language students had to be housed. As many as could stayed with the McIlwaines and then houses had to be rented. Rugs, desks, food, notebooks and many other little necessities had to be purchased. The thousand and one small services were all done as service unto God by servants of God. Therefore, these small services were always, as now, done cheerfully. They show as much zeal locating an old trunk that must be forwarded to someone as they do in the more spiritual aspects of the work.

Secondly, we are saying goodbye to Personal Friends of each of us regardless of other ties. These servants of God have the particular gift of being able to command the respect of all peoples and therefore all members of our Station and Mission have at one time or another confided in them. It may have been about where to work or the merits of a two-story or one-story house, the dangers of drinking well water or the problems of bachelors or single ladies, or the rigours of married life and rearing children. You can take your pick. They have counseled most of us on most of these problems.

Thirdly, we are saying goodbye to a couple who are Widely Loved beyond the narrow bounds of our Station and Mission. Recently near the Seminary about one-hundred twenty Christians from all over the General Assembly of the Reformed Church gathered to pay tribute to them for their years of faithful service among them. We also claim them, but not exclusively. The seventy graduates of the Kobe Reformed Seminary claim them. The four-hundred graduates of the Kobe School of the Japanese Language are proud to have known them. The Language School itself acknowledges Will as its founder. The Yodogawa Christian Hospital claims them both from the kitchen to the out-patient department, from the early days to today with its increased use­fulness. The Kobe Union Church claims them with many long years of faithful service there. The Motomachi Evangelistic Hall, the Chinese work, the other Reformed Churches in Kobe and some from other denominations all claim them for one reason or another. Many have expressed this gratitude in Kobe as well as in Kochi, Kagawa, Aichi, Gifu, Sendai, Tokyo, and other cities and prefectures where they have recently been honored. Then, there are the other institutions that claim them. Kinjoin Nagoya for many years had Will as a leading figure on the Board of Trustees. Seiwa in Kochi has had Will active in the life of the institution for all these years, not to mention Shikoku Christian College which Will, L.W. Moore, and Jim McAlpine were instrumental in starting in the early days after the war. I could go on and speak about the Inter-Varsity Movement in Japan of which Will is an advisor, the Japan Protestant Conference which elected him as its first president to celebrate the Protestant Centennial in Japan,—then the Japan Protestant Centennial. There must be a dozen more organizations that claim them, but let them do so. At least we are among them.

Fourthly, we are saying goodbye to Educators. I will not dwell on this. Many of you know of Japanese pastors who speak almost perfect English, taught by Aurine; and of Bible-believing and preaching pastors, taught by Will. Canadian Academy, the Kobe Reformed Seminary, and a half-dozen other schools in Japan are indebted to them for their educational services. I once heard someone say that she was never around Will that she didn’t learn something new.  He is not only an authority on the Bible but also on many other subjects.

Fifthly, we are saying goodbye to Evangelists. Lest I separate these two categories of Education and Evangelism too sharply and be criticized—I’ll pass on through this point saying—not separated by any facet of life—all of life is evangelism for them. Scarcely a prayer meeting passes that we don’t sense this by their prayer requests and prayers. I’ve worked some of the Nagoya area where Will was for fifteen years and have seen the fruit which lives on in the churches founded under his leadership. It doesn’t matter if it is the ex-soldier, scrap-dealer at Kaigan dori whose life Will saved after the war, or the shoe-repair man at Mikage—all have been touched by them and I’m sure even yet these too will believe. I’m sure many more will yet believe due to the seed sown by these faithful evangelists.

So tonight we say goodbye to faithful, true servants of Jesus Christ, to personal friends of each of us, to widely loved missionaries beyond our Mission and Station, to Educators among many institutions, to first and last and always evangelists to bring the glad tidings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to Japan.

Yet, in all of this we haven’t mentioned the wonderful sense of humor, the ability to listen with empathy, the doggedness to keep at something until it is accomplished, the wisdom to see God’s hand working in seeming adversity, and the grace to give the other man his way even if he is not due it—just BIGNESS and LOVE. We don’t touch all of this. In fact, all I say is so inadequate that the words of Paul speak best of them in Christ in this way:

 

“Love suffereth long, and is kind;
love envieth not;

Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things,
hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Love never faileth…”

                                                                  I Corinthians 13:4-8a.

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