A Most Important Question (Machen)

What is Faith? Machen, J. Gresham cover image What is saving faith?  This is one of the most important questions we can ask and have answered!  I like how J. Gresham Machen addressed the question:

A more “practical” question could hardly be conceived. The preacher says: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved.” But how can a man possibly act on that suggestion, unless he knows what it is to believe. It was at that point that the “doctrinal” preaching of a former generation was far more practical than the “practical” preaching of the present day. I shall never forget the pastor of the church in which I grew up. He was a good preacher in many ways, but his most marked characteristic was the plainness and definiteness with which he told the people what a man should do to be saved. The preachers of the present time allude to the importance of becoming a Christian, but they seldom seem to make the matter the subject of express exposition; they leave the people with a vague impression to the effect that being a Christian is a good thing, but this impression is difficult to translate into action because definite directions are absent. These preachers speak about faith, but they do not tell what faith is.

It is to help in some small way to supply this lack that the present little book (called What is Faith?) has been written. If the way of salvation is faith, it does seem to be highly important to tell people who want to be saved just what faith means. If a preacher cannot do that, he can hardly be a true evangelist.

In seven brief chapters, Machen goes on to give a solid, biblical answer to the important question.  Here are the chapter titles: Faith in God, Faith in Christ, Faith Born of Need, Faith and the Gospel, Faith and Salvation, Faith and Works, and finally, Faith and Hope.  If you’ve not read this book, I very much recommend it.  What is Faith? is not too long or difficult, and it is full of gospel truth and comfort.  For those of you who need a hand to lead you again to Jesus, this book will do that.

The above quote is found in the introduction of Machen’s, What is Faith?

(This post is a re-blog from November 2015)

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

Three Great Acts of Imputation (Machen)

 The Westminster Shorter Catechism, summarizing the biblical teaching on the topic, says that all mankind sinned in Adam, “and fell with him in that first transgression.”    Because Adam was in a covenant situation, our representative, his trespass led to our condemnation (Rom. 5:18).  How does this work?  How come I bear the guilt for Adam’s sin?  J. Gresham Machen explained this very well in The Christian View of Man.  Note how he ties it in with the gospel:

…I should just like to point out to you that if it is impossible in the nature of things for one person to bear the guilt of another person’s sins, then we have none of us the slightest hope of being saved and the gospel is all a delusion and a snare.  At the heart of the gospel is the teaching of the Bible to the effect that Jesus Christ, quite without sin himself, bore the guilt of our sins upon the cross.  If that be true, then we cannot pronounce it impossible that one person should bear the guilt of another person’s sins.

The Apostle Paul insists upon this analogy in the latter part of the fifth chapter of Romans.  In that part of that chapter we find set forth the great Scripture doctrine that is called the doctrine of imputation.

That doctrine, if you take it as the Bible sets it forth as a whole, involves three great acts of imputation.  First, Adam’s first sin is imputed to his descendents.  Second, the sins of saved people are imputed to Christ.  Third, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to saved people.

When the Bible teaches that the sins of saved people are imputed to Christ, that means that Christ on the cross bore the penalty rightly resting on saved people.  He was not deserving of death; he had not sinned at all.  Yet he suffered as though he had sinned.  God treated him as though he had sinned, although he was not a sinner.  The sin for which he died was not a sin that he had committed; it was our sin that was imputed to him.

So when the Bible teaches that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to saved people, that does not mean that the saved people are then actually righteous.  On the contrary, they are sinners.  But they receive the blessed reward of life which Christ’s righteousness deserved.  Christ’s righteousness is not actually theirs, but it is imputed to them.

So that’s what we mean when we talk about being justified by faith alone!

J. Gresham Machen, The Christian View of Man, p. 215-216.

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

The Infallibility of Experts (!?) and Euthanasia (Machen)

The following paragraph is from a radio address that J. G. Machen gave in 1937.  It is highly relevant even in 2017:

“…We have seen in the newspapers recently a good deal of discussion about ‘mercy-killing’ or ‘euthanasia’. Certain physicians say very frankly that they think hopeless invalids, who never by any chance can be of use either to themselves or to anyone else, ought to be put painlessly out of the way.  Are they right?

Well, I dare say a fairly plausible case might be made out for them on the basis of utilitarian ethics.

I am not quite sure – let me say in passing – that even on that basis it is a good cause.  This is a very dangerous business – this business of letting experts determine exactly what people ‘never will be missed.’  For my part, I do not believe in the infallibility of the experts, and I think the tyranny of experts is the worst and most dangerous tyranny that ever was devised.

But, you see, that does not touch the real point.  The real point is that the the modern advocates of euthanasia are arguing the thing out on an entirely different basis from the basis on which the Christian argues it. They are arguing the question on the basis of what is useful – what produces happiness and avoids pain for the human race. The Christian argues it on the basis of a definite divine command. “Thou shalt not kill” settles the matter for the Christian. From the Christian point of view the physician who engages in a mercy-killing is just a murderer. It may also turn out that his mercy-killing is not really merciful in the long run. But that is not the point. The real point is that be it never so merciful, it is murder, and murder is sin.”

“No Christian can hold that morality is just the accumulated self-interest of the race, and that sin is merely conduct opposed to such self-interest.”

J. G. Machen, The Christian View of Man, p. 176-177.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Abandon Facts but Keep Feelings? (Machen)

J. Gresham Machen Liberalism is not new.  The liberal seminary magazines I get in the mail are printed in full color and talk about smartphones, laptops, and podcasts, but the liberalism in them pre-dates today’s technology.  The magazine I got in the mail last week doesn’t mention the cross, sin or the resurrection, and it barely mentions Jesus or the Bible.  But it does talk about social justice, “Christian” art, interfaith dialogues, and debt.  This kind of liberalism has been around quite some time.

J. Gresham Machen and others had to deal with liberalism a century ago.  Back then the liberals didn’t mind letting go of facts as long as they could keep their religious feelings.  In other words, it didn’t matter to them if Jesus actually came back to life.  What was important was that they could feel him living on in their hearts.  Machen addressed this false Christianity quite well:

“It seems to be such a promising solution of our apologetic difficulties just to say that science and religion belong in two entirely different spheres and can never by any chance come into conflict.  It seems to be so easy for religion to purchase peace by abandoning to science the whole sphere of facts in order to retain for itself merely a sphere of feelings and ideals.”

“But in reality these tactics are quite disastrous.  You effect thus a strategic retreat; you retreat into …an inner line of defense whence you think that science can never dislodge you.  You get down into your pragamtist dugout and listen comfortably to the muffled sound of the warfare being carried on above by those who are old-fashioned enough to be interested in truth; you think that whatever creedal changes, whatever intellectual battle there may be, you at least are safe.  You have your Christian experience, and let science and biblical criticism do what they will!”

“But do not comfort yourself.  The enemy in this warfare is good at mopping up captured trenches; he has in his mechanistic psychologists a very efficient mopping up squad.  He will soon drive you out of your refuge; he will destroy whatever decency and liberty you thought you had retained; and you will discover, too late, that the battle is now lost, and that your only real hope lay not into retreating into some anti-intellectualistic dugout but in fighting bravely to prevent the initial capture of the trench.”

“No, the battle between naturalism and supernaturalism, between mechanism and liberty, has to be fought sooner or later; and I do not believe that there is any advantage in letting the enemy choose the ground upon which it shall be fought.  The strongest defense of the Christian religion is the outer defense; a reduced and inconsistent Christianity is weak; our real safety lies in the exultant supernaturalism of God’s Word.”

Exactly.  Abandoning the facts of the faith (like the flood, the exodus, the wilderness wanderings, the monarchy, the miracles of Christ, his death and resurrection, etc.) may seem like a peaceful move, but it only exposes one to the head-on assaults of Satan.  Machen is right: “Our real safety lies in the exultant supernaturalism of God’s Word,” which gives the historical, factual accounts of God’s supernatural intervention to redeem his people from sin through Christ’s cross.  Under that banner, the Christian can bravely fight the battle!

The above quote is found on page 362 of Machen’s Shorter Writings.

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

 

Thank God For the Christmas Season (Machen)

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 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)

Justifying Faith: Not Doing, But Receiving

What is Faith? At its core, justifying faith is not defined by doing, working, performing, or earning.  Paul so very clearly says that a sinner is justified by faith apart from works (Rom. 3:28, Gal. 2:16).  Salvation from sin, misery, and death is a divine gift of sovereign grace, not the reward for work done (Rom. 4:1-5).  A sinner is justified by receiving a gift – Christ and all his benefits.  We are justified by faith alone (apart from works) in Christ alone (in “no one” or “nothing else” at all).  J. G. Machen explains this well:

“That is the center of the Christian religion – the absolutely undeserved and sovereign grace of God, saving sinful men by the gift of Christ upon the cross. Condemnation comes by merit; salvation comes only by grace: condemnation is earned by man; salvation is given by God. The fact of the grace of God runs through the New Testament like a golden thread; indeed for it the New Testament exists. It is found in the words which Jesus spoke in the days of His flesh, as in the parables of the servant coming in from the field and of the laborers in the vineyard; it is found more fully set forth after the redeeming work was done, after the Lord had uttered his triumphant “It is finished” upon the cross. Everywhere the basis of the New Testament is the same — the mysterious, incalculable, wondrous, grace of God, “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“The reception of that gift is faith: faith means not doing something but receiving something; it means not the earning of a reward but the acceptance of a gift. A man can never be said to obtain a thing for himself if be obtains it by faith; indeed to say that he obtains it by faith is only another way of saying that he does not obtain it for himself but permits another to obtain it for him. Faith, in other words, is not active but passive; and to say that we are saved by faith is to say that we do not save ourselves but are saved only by the one in whom our faith is reposed; the faith of man presupposes the sovereign grace of God.”

J. G. Machen, What Is Faith?, p. 194-195.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Jesus, Paul, Redemption, Religion

Around 100 years ago, liberals were driving a big wedge between Paul and Jesus; something similar is still happening today.  For example, some people say that Jesus was a nice teacher of morals (the first Christian and a martyr for the cause), but Paul came in and messed it all up with detailed doctrine. Machen responded to this liberal teaching quite well in The Origin of Paul’s Religion (in 1925). In chapter 4, for example, Machen does a nice job showing how Paul, as an apostle commissioned by Jesus, agreed with Jesus in his teaching and preaching.  Here are two paragraphs I really appreciated:

The details of Jesus’ earthly ministry no doubt had an important place in the thinking of Paul. But they were important, not as an end in themselves, but as a means to an end. They revealed the character of Jesus; they
showed why He was worthy to be trusted. But they did not show what He had done for Paul. The story of Jesus revealed what Jesus had done for others: He had healed the sick; He had given sight to the blind; He had
raised the dead. But for Paul He had done something far greater than all these things—for Paul He had died.

The religion of Paul, in other words, is a religion of redemption. Jesus, according to Paul, came to earth not to say something, but to do something; He was primarily not a teacher, but a Redeemer. He came, not to teach men how to live, but to give them a new life through His atoning death. He was, indeed, also a teacher, and Paul attended to His teaching. But His teaching was all in vain unless it led to the final acceptance of His redemptive work. Not the details of Jesus’ life, therefore, but the redemptive acts of death and resurrection are at the center of the religion of Paul. The teaching and example of Jesus, according to Paul, are valuable only as a means to an end, valuable in order that through a revelation of Jesus’ character saving faith may be induced, and valuable thereafter in order that the saving work may be brought to its fruition in holy living. But all that Jesus said and did was for the purpose of the Cross. “He loved me,” says Paul, “and gave Himself for me.” There is the heart and core of the religion of Paul.

J. G. Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion, p.167 (ch. 4)

shane lems