The Intellectual Integrity of J. Gresham Machen
Many Christians have struggled with their faith when it is confronted with apparently contradictory “reasonable” arguments. For years, J. Gresham Machen faced doubt and wrenching inner conflict, which caused him to delay his own ordination. He emerged from this period with not only greater intellectual strength but also an understanding of the difficulties others faced in such times. In his 1940 memoir of Machen, Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths writes,
Nor was he hard and full of censure against the young men who had to fight agonizing battles in their own souls before full certainty could be found. No,–to them he was patience and help and tenderness. He knew the long dark hours of inner conflict, when faith seems at its nadir and doubt a mocking jailer. He knew these things because he had experienced them, and because he too had walked that road he could help others over its stony places. Many a man today can thank God for the human instrument who helped him to face every problem squarely and fairly, not turning away from any difficulty, but finding the answer in the reasonableness and truth of the Word of God.
There were many who, while they lightly took ordination vows without really meaning them, scoffed at Dr. Machen’s insistence that such vows should be taken sincerely or not at all and, once taken, kept with fidelity. Perhaps they did not know that he had every moral right so to hold. He was graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1905. But he was not ordained–mark the year well until–1914. During a portion of that period he did not know whether he ever could conscientiously apply for ordination. In later years he wrote, “It was not Germany, however, that first brought doubts into my soul; for I had been facing them for years before my German student days. Obviously it is impossible to hold on with the heart to something that one has rejected with the head, and all the usefulness of Christianity can never lead us to be Christians unless the Christian religion is true. But is it true or is it not? That is a serious question indeed.”
Then he mentioned some of the things that helped “as I passed through the long and bitter experience that the raising of this question brought into my life.” It was out of those “dark hours when the lamp burned dim” (as he himself described them) that the insight and strength came with which he helped others in the years that followed.
Thus was fused in him a deep humanity with a passionate insistence upon intellectual integrity. He never shrugged-off problems that were real, as though they did not exist. He never advocated “short cuts” either in preparation for the service of Christ or in the testing of the claims which the Bible makes for itself. He realized that there is no conflict at all between reason and faith, that when rightly understood they coincide. So he did not ask men to “have faith” in something that their minds could not believe. He took them, instead, to the Bible and helped them to see that it is credible, that its truth is demonstrable, that faith is neither a gamble nor a leap in the dark, but a resting upon the character of the self-revealing God.
The rest of the memoir is here at the PCA Historical Center: “Dr. J. Gresham Machen – Unreconstructed Christian: A Memoir.”