“In Those Dark Hours” (Machen)

 

J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings

(This is a re-post from September, 2010)

In the early 1900s, J. Gresham Machen faced intense spiritual struggles – he was asking some deep questions about Christianity.  There were three people who helped him through it: Francis Patton, Bishop Blougram, and his own dear mother.  Here’s what he said of his mother – how she helped him through his spiritual struggles.

“Another thing used to be said to me by my mother in those dark hours when the lamp burned dim, when I thought that faith was gone and shipwreck had been made of my soul.  ‘Christ,’ she used to say, ‘keeps firmer hold on us than we keep on him.’”

“That means, at least, when translated into worldly terms, that we ought to distrust our moods.  Many a man has fallen into despair because, losing the heavenly vision for a moment, passing through the dull lowlands of life, he takes such experience as though it were permanent, and desserts a well-grounded conviction which was the real foundation of his life.  Faith is often diversified by doubt, but a man should not desert the conviction of his better moments because the dark moments come.”

“But my mother’s word meant something far deeper than all that.  It meant rather that salvation by faith does not mean that we are saved because we keep ourselves at every moment in an ideally perfect attitude of confidence in Christ.  No, we are saved because, having once been united to Christ by faith, we are his forever.  Calvinism is a very comforting doctrine indeed.  Without its comfort, I think I should have perished long ago in the castle of Giant Despair.”

The above quote is found on page 561 of Machen’s Selected Shorter Writings.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Thank God for the Christmas Season [Machen]

God Transcendent In a sermon preached soon before his death in 1936, J. G. Machen explained how the Bible puts an “enormous emphasis” on the death of Christ.  He also noted how the Christian church places a great emphasis on Christ’s death – we “chiefly commemorate” the death of Christ because it is God’s wisdom and our salvation.  He continues,

“I do not mean that it is wrong for us to commemorate the birth of Jesus.  We have just celebrated Christmas, and it is right for us to do so.  Happy at this Christmas season through which we have just passed have been those to whom it has not been just a time of worldly festivity but a time of commemoration of the coming of our blessed Savior into the world.  Happy have been those men and women and little children who have heard, underlying all their Christmas joys, and have heard in simple and childlike faith, the sweet story that is told us in Matthew and Luke.  Happy have been those celebrants of Christmas to whom the angels have brought again, in the reading of the Word of God, their good tidings of great joy.”

“Yes, I say, thank God for the Christmas season; thank God for the softening it brings to stony hearts; thank God for the recognition that it brings for the little children whom Jesus took into His arms; thank God even for the strange, sweet sadness that it brings to us together with its joys, as we think of the loved ones who are gone.  Yes, it is well that we should celebrate the Christmas season, and may God ever give us a childlike heart that we may celebrate it aright” (p. 203).

Machen goes on to note once again that the Bible very much emphasizes Christ’s death, and that we commemorate and celebrate that event not just once a year, but every time we share in the Lord’s Table.

“The birth of Jesus was important not in itself but because it made possible His death.  Jesus came into this world to die, and it is to His death that the sinner turns when he seeks salvation for his soul” (p. 204).

As the saying goes, the cross follows the cradle.  May we rejoice in both this Christmas season!

J. G. Machen, God Transcendent (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

(This was originally posted in December, 2012)

The Indicative and Imperative (Machen)

Virgin Birth of Christ

Here’s what J. G. Machen said about the “imitation of Christ” movement just over 100 years ago:

“It seems never to have occurred to the adherents of this 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” 

The last chapter of The Virgin Birth is outstanding (the whole book is, but some of it is a bit 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 and so should we!

The above quote is found in (J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ [New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1932], 385) (emphasis added).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Which Jesus Do You Worship? (Machen)

 Many people will say something positive about Jesus.  I’ve heard someone who didn’t profess to be a Christian tell me he thought Jesus was a good guy.  I also had a Mormon get upset with me because I told him the Mormon religion and the Christian faith are worlds apart.  He got in my face and passionately told me loved Jesus in his heart.  I was wondering “which Jesus?”  J. Gresham Machen wrote well about this in chapter two of The Person of JesusHis argument was that the Christ who walked among us long ago, Jesus of Nazareth, is who Scripture says he is: God-in-the-flesh, truly man and truly God.  Here’s Machen:

“…It is not a sin to worship Jesus.  On the contrary, it is the highest and noblest privilege and duty ever given to man.  It is not a sin to worship the real Jesus.  It is not a sin to worship the Jesus who is God and man.  But it is a sin to manufacture a Jesus who was man only and not God, and then after you have manufactured that purely human Jesus to bow down and worship him.”

J. Gresham Machen, The Person of Jesus, p.24.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Christian Religion and Facts (Machen)

 The Christian faith is not based on feelings and emotions, but facts and truth.  The Christian religion is historical in that its main doctrines and teachings are part of history.  The Christian faith is a historical faith.  Scripture is a what we call a record of redemptive history, things that God did in history to save his people.  Of course, the centerpiece of redemptive history is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Son.  The overwhelming witness of the Scriptures is that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners and three days later rose from the grave.  J. Gresham Machen commented well on this fact:

…If the Christian religion is founded upon historical facts, then there is something in the Christian message which can never possibly change.  There is one good thing about facts – they stay put.  If a thing really happened, the passage of years can never possibly make it into a thing that did not happen.  If the body of Jesus really emerged from the tomb on the first Easter morning, then no possible advance of science can change that fact one whit.  The advance of science may conceivably show that the alleged fact was never a fact at all; it may conceivably show that the earliest Christians were wrong when they said that Christ rose from the dead the third day.  But to say that the statement of fact was true in the first century, but because of the advance of science it is no longer true – that is to say what is plainly absurd.  The Christian religion is founded squarely upon a message that sets forth facts.  If that message is false, then the religion that is founded on it must of course be abandoned; but if it is true, then the Christian church must still deliver the message faithfully as it did on the morning of the first Easter Day.

J. G. Machen, Selected Shorter Writings, p. 95.

Shane Lems
Covent Presbyterian Chruch (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

A Low View of the Law Brings Legalism (Machen)

I really appreciate J. G. Machen’s discussion of the law in chapter four of What is Faith?  The first line is especially insightful:

“So it always is: a low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace.  Pray [to] God that the high view may again prevail; that Mount Sinai may again overhang the path and shoot forth flames, in order that the men of our time may, like Christian in the allegory, meet some true Evangelist, who shall point them out the old, old way, through the little wicket gate, to the place somewhat ascending where they shall really see the Cross and the figure of Him that did hang thereon, that at that sight the burden of the guilt of sin, which no human hand could remove, may fall from their back into a sepulchre beside the way, and that then, with wondrous lightness and freedom and joy, they may walk the Christian path, through the Valley of Humiliation and the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and up over the Delectable Mountains, until at last they pass triumphant across the river into the City of God.”

J. G. Machen, What is Faith, p. 142.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Imitating Christ: Good, but not Gospel

God’s people should seek to be like Christ.  As Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, NIV).  But our imitating Christ is not the gospel.  J. G. Machen explained this well:

“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).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI