Machen on Indicative and Imperative (Gospel and Law)

Virgin Birth of Christ 

“It seems never to have occurred to the adherents of this religion [an imitation of Jesus religion] that there is such a thing as sin, and that sin places an awful gulf between man and God.  But those convictions, though they are unpopular at the present time, are certainly quite central in the Christian religion.  From the beginning Christianity was the religion of the broken heart; it is based upon the conviction that there is an awful gulf between man and God which none but God can bridge.  The Bible tells us how this gulf was bridged; and that means the Bible is a record of facts.”

Of what avail, without the redeeming acts of God, are all the lofty ideals of Psalmists and Prophets, all the teaching and example of Jesus?  In themselves they can bring us nothing but despair.  We Christians are not interested merely in what God commands, but also in what God did; in a triumphant indicative; our salvation depends squarely upon history; the Bible contains that history, and unless that history is true the authority of the Bible is gone and we who have put our trust in the Bible are without hope”  (J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ [New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1932], 385) (emphasis added).

The last chapter of The Virgin Birth is outstanding (the whole book is, but some of it is quite dated).  In the final chapter, Machen hammers home the gospel, showing how “imitating Jesus” is not the essence of Christianity because “imitating Jesus” doesn’t necessarily depend upon historical facts.  Nor is “imitating Jesus” the gospel.  Note well the imperative (law) and the “triumphant” indicative (gospel) above; Machen knew the difference!


sunnyside, wa

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