J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937): Sturdy contenders for the truth

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“What is the duty of Christian men at such at time? What is the duty, in particular, of Christian officers in the Church?

In the first place, they should encourage those who are engaging in the intellectual and spiritual struggle. They should not say, in the sense in which some laymen say it, that more time should be devoted to the propagation of Christianity, and less to the defense of Christianity. Certainly there should be propagation of Christianity. Believers should certainly not content themselves with warding off attacks, but should also unfold in an orderly and positive way the full riches of the gospel. But far more is usually meant by those who call for less defense and more propagation. What they really intend is the discouragement of the whole intellectual defense of the faith. And their words come as a blow in the face of those who are fighting the great battle. As a matter of fact, not less time, but more time, should be devoted to the defense of the gospel. Indeed, truth cannot be stated clearly at all without being set over against error. Thus a large part of the New Testament is polemic; the enunciation of evangelical truth was occasioned by the errors which had arisen in the churches. So it will always be, on account of the fundamental laws of the human mind. Moreover, the present crisis must be taken into account. There may have been a day when there could be propagation of Christianity without defense. But such a day at any rate is past. At the present time, when the opponents of the gospel are almost in control of our churches, the slightest avoidance of the defense of the gospel is just sheer unfaithfulness to the Lord. There have been previous great crises in the history of the Church, crises almost comparable to this. One appeared in the second century, when the very life of Christendom was threatened by the Gnostics. Another came in the Middle Ages when the gospel of God’s grace seemed forgotten. In such times of crisis, God has always saved the Church. But He has always saved it not by theological pacifists, but by sturdy contenders for the truth.”

– J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), Christianity & Liberalism, p. 146-147

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J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937): The triumphant indicative

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“Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity – liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.”

– J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), Christianity and Liberalism, p. 39

J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937): The things that are sometimes thought the hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending

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“…the liberal attempt at reconciling Christianity with modern science has really relinquished everything distinctive of Christianity, so that what remains is in essentials only that same indefinite type of religious aspiration which was in the world before Christianity came upon the scene. In trying to remove from Christianity everything that could possibly be objected to in the name of science, in trying to bribe off the enemy by those concessions which the enemy most desires, the apologist has really abandoned what he started out to defend. Here as in many other departments of life it appears that the things that are sometimes thought the hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending.”

– J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937), Christianity & Liberalism, p. 6

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) on fearing God rather than men

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“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him, which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28

“Luke records a similar saying of Jesus: “But I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear. Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear him.” There are those who tell us that fear ought to be banished from religion; we ought, it is said, no more to hold before men’s eyes the fear of hell; fear, it is said, is an ignoble thing. Those who speak in this way certainly have no right to appeal to Jesus; for Jesus certainly did employ, and insistently, the motive of fear. If you eschew altogether that motive in religion, you are in striking contradiction to Jesus. Here, as at many other points, a choice must be made between the real Jesus and much that falsely bears His name today. But which is right? Is Jesus right, or are those right who put out of their minds the fear of hell? Is fear altogether an ignoble thing? Is a man necessarily degraded by being afraid?”

“I think, my friends, that it depends altogether upon that of which one is afraid. The words of our text, with the solemn inculcation of fear, are also a ringing denunciation of fear: the “Fear him” is balanced by “Fear not.” The fear of God is here made a way of overcoming the fear of man. And the heroic centuries of Christian history have provided abundant testimony to its efficaciousness. With the fear of God before their eyes, the heroes of the faith have boldly stood before kings and governors and said, ‘Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen’.”

– J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), God Transcendent

J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937) on the love of God

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“It is a strange thing that when men talk about the love of God, they show by every word they utter that they have no conception at all of the depths of God’s love.  If you want to find an instance of true gratitude for the infinite grace of God, do not go to those who think of God’s love as something that cost nothing, but go rather to those who in agony of soul have faced the awful fact of the guilt of sin, and then have come to know with a trembling wonder that the miracle of all miracles has been accomplished, and that the eternal Son has died in their stead.”

– J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937), Selected Shorter Writings, p. 32

J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937) on false conversion

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“Last week it was reported that the churches of America increased their membership by 690,000. Are you encouraged by these figures? I for my part am not encouraged a bit. I have indeed my own grounds for encouragement, especially those which are found in the great and precious promises of God. But these figures have no place among them. How many of these 690,000 names do you think are really written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? A small proportion, I fear.

Church membership today often means nothing more, as has well been said, than a vague admiration for the moral character of Jesus; the church in countless communities is little more than a Rotary Club. One day, as I was walking through a neighboring city, I saw not an altar with an inscription to an unknown god, but something that filled me with far more sorrow than that could have done. I saw a church with a large sign on it, which read somewhat like this: ‘Not a member? Come in and help us make this a better community.’ Truly we have wandered far from the day when entrance into the Church involved confession of faith in Christ as the Savior from sin.”

– J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937), The Separateness of the Church: A Sermon Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary on Sunday, March 8, 1925.

This was spoken in 1925. I wonder what Machen would say about today’s churches.