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

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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

Saved by Love (Machen)

What is Faith? Here are some great words from a great book:

“Even before we could love as we ought to love, even before we could do or feel anything aright, we were saved by faith; we were saved by abandoning all confidence in our own thoughts or feelings or actions and by simply allowing ourselves to be saved by God.”

“In one sense, indeed, we were saved by love; that indeed is an even profounder fact than that we were saved by faith.  Yes, we were saved by love, but it was by a greater love than the love in our cold and sinful hearts; we were saved by love, but it was not our love for God but God’s love for us, God’s love for us by which he gave the Lord Jesus to die for us upon the cross.  ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’  That  love alone is the love that saves.  And the means by which it saves is faith.”

“Thus the beginning of the Christian life is not an achievement but an experience; the soul of the man who is saved is not, at the moment of salvation, active, but passive; salvation is the work of God and God alone.”

J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith, p. 196-7.

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

Jesus Was Not A Christian

What is Faith? Funny thing: when we read the phrase, “Jesus was not a Christian,” some might pause and at first be inclined to disagree.  But biblically speaking, it’s true.  Jesus was not a Christian!  J. Gresham Machen explained this quite well around 90 years ago:

“According to a very widespread way of thinking Jesus was the Founder of the Christian religion because He was the first to live the Christian life, in other words because He was Himself the first Christian.  According to our view, on the other hand, Jesus stands in a far more fundamental and intimate relation to Christianity than that; He was, we hold, the Founder of our religion not because He was the first Christian, but because He made Christianity possibly by His redeeming work.”

“…Many persons hold up their hands in amazement at our assertion that Jesus was not a Christian, while we in turn regard it as the very height of blasphemy to say that He was a Christian.  ‘Christianity,’ to us, is a way of getting rid of sin; and therefore to say that Jesus was a Christian would be to deny His holiness.”

“‘But,’ it is said, ‘do you mean to tell us that if a man lives a life like the life of Jesus but rejects the doctrine of the redeeming work in Christ in His death and resurrection, he is not a Christian?’  The question, in one form or another, is often asked; but the answer is very simple.  Of course if a man really lives a life like the life of Jesus, all is well; such a man is indeed not a Christian, but he is something better than a Christian – he is a being who has never lost his high estate of sonship with God.”

“But our trouble is that our lives, to say nothing of the lives of these who confidently appeal to their own similarity to Jesus, do not seem to be like the life of Jesus.  Unlike Jesus, we are sinners, and hence, unlike Him, we become Christians; we are sinners, and hence we accept with thankfulness the redeeming love of the Lord Jesus Christ, who had pity on us and made us right with God, through no merit of our own, by His atoning death.”

J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008), 110-111.

shane lems

War Hymns? Ambiguous Hymns?

J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings In 1933 the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A published a completely new hymnal.  It was a significant event in the history of the PCUSA as it opened the door even further for liberalism and modernism.  J. Gresham Machen wrote a critical review of the hymnal in the December issue of “Christianity Today” that same year.  Here are two excerpts from it that I thought were interesting and helpful.

“…We are glad that the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ …is absent from the new book.  Opinions may differ about the political views out of which that poem was born.  Some of us may agree with them; some of us may disagree.  But one things is clear – a fiery war song like that one has no place in the worship of a Christian congregation.”

“…What characterizes the new hymns above anything else is their deadly vagueness.  Such vagueness cannot, of course, be exhibited in any review; it can be appreciated only when a man reads the new hymns through for himself.  This vagueness is altogether attractive to the nondoctrinal Modernism that now dominates the visible church, but to the Christian heart it is almost as depressing as definitely and clearly unscriptural teaching would be.  Let it be clearly understood, therefore, that what we shall now say in criticism of individual hymns is only supplementary to the central indictment that they ignore the great central verities [truths] of the faith and particularly the heart and core of the Bible which is found in the shed blood of Christ our sacrifice.”

Ambiguous hymns weren’t confined to the 1933 hymnal; they are alive and well today on Christian radio, overhead church projectors, and worship band playlists.  I agree with Machen: ambiguous hymns are “almost as depressing as definitely and clearly unscriptural teaching” is.

(Note: You can find the rest of Machen’s helpful article in his Shorter Writings.)

shane lems
hammond, wi