During World War I, J. Gresham Machen worked with the YMCA behind the lines in France. From the conclusion of Letters from the Front: J. Gresham Machen’s Correspondence from World War I, ed. Barry Waugh (2012), we have the following paragraph on the influence World War I had on Machen.
War provides an opportunity for people to do things that they would never choose to do on their own. Though J. Gresham Machen’s service was that of a non-combatant, he was still faced with conditions that required a considerable ability to adapt to dangerous and culturally different situations. In France, Machen worshipped God as he had the opportunity in churches and special services. Surely, he would rather have been home in a Presbyterian
The October 2012 issue of New Horizons, the denominational magazine of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church devotes its issue to various articles related to the history of Presbyterianism. In addition to articles about Charles Hodge and Geerhardus Vos, there is an article entitled “Faith and Learning: the Heritage of J. Gresham Machen” by Katherine VanDrunen. VanDrunen wrote her PhD dissertation at Loyola at Chicago about Machen’s familial ancestors and draws upon that to provide a fascinating look at the education and biblical instruction Machen received from his formative years through his graduating first in his class at John Hopkins.
Barry Waugh has edited a new book of letters written by J. Gresham Machen during World War I. The book is entitled Letters from the Front: J. Gresham Machen’s Correspondence from World War I. Waugh sat down recently with Camden Bucey and Jeff Waddington at Reformed Forum’s Christ the Center for an interview devoted to his book. Together they discuss Machen’s service as a YMCA secretary in France during WWI, the content of the letters, why Machen served, and how he sought to relate to French culture. You can listen by clicking here.
I ran across a post at the Southern Bread blog from October 2010 referencing an audio recording of an old (1996) talk by Shawn Ritenour at the Ludwig von Mises Institute “brown bag” seminars they ran when I was in graduate school with Shawn. The blogger writes,
“It’s an overview of J. Gresham Machen’s views on the state. He was staunchly anti-state and anti-war. Yet, as a solid Christian theologian he didn’t see how those things conflicted with his faith at all. To the contrary, he saw them as a compliment. This is a very good lecture and worth your time to listen to. If you don’t know Dr. Ritenour’s work, he’s very good. He’s a professor of economics at Grove City College, a Christian liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.”
Shawn Ritenour is author of Foundations of Economics: A Christian View. Two other posts by Dr. Ritenour on this blog:
The June 2006 issue of the OPC journal New Horizons has a wonderful article entitled “What Machen Meant” on Machen’s last words, dictated shortly before his death on January 1, 1937, in a telegram to his friend John Murray: “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”
The March/April 1996 issue of Modern Reformation also has an article by Michael Scott Horton on the same topic: “A Dying Man’s Consolation: The Active and Passive Obedience of Christ.”
Finally, here, from the PCA Historical Center, we have Maitland Alexander’s eulogy for Machen, delivered on January 3, 1937 in Pittsburgh:
On Tuesday of last week Dr. Machen sat in my office and told me his hopes and his plans concerning that theological institution which he himself founded, Westminster Theological Seminary. And then I had a telegram from the hospital in Bismark saying he was very ill, followed up by another bulletin, and then the information that he had passed away. I said to myself, “A prince has fallen in Israel.” What Dr. J. Gresham Machen’s death will mean to the thousands of Bible-believing Christians throughout the world is hard to tell.
I do not hesitate to say that he was the world’s greatest New Testament scholar, and those who attempted to answer him were thrown back like waves that beat against an eternal rock. He was the greatest champion of the Reformed Faith in the world. By the Reformed Faith — I will put it in words that you will understand and I will understand better than that theological phrase — he was the world’s greatest champion of the old-fashioned, evangelical religion. He believed in the eternal purposes of God; he believed that God came down to earth to save the world; he believed in the bodily resurrection of the believer; he believed in the inerrant Bible; and he stood for those things through thick and thin, through the storms of persecution and amid the great efforts that were made to stop him.
I believe Dr. Machen was also a man, as he would have to be, of intense convictions and wonderful courage. I remember after he had had a great setback in his convictions I met him and I expected to find him sunk, as it were as I was myself, and instead I found him bubbling over with triumph. I said to him, “I don’t see how you can feel this way.” “Well,” he said, “the Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice”; and that was the underlying philosophy of his life.
Then, Dr. Machen was a humble Christian. I do not know any man that I have ever known that was as truly humble before his God as he was. He was a man of principle, of course he was a man of intense Bible study. He was a man who gave his heart wholly and unreservedly to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr. Machen was the object of great personal attacks by the men in power in his own Church, which issue finally in the end refused him communion in the Presbyterian Church. It is one of the few things that I have ever felt that made me wish that I was not a Presbyterian. I am ashamed of the Church. And now that Dr. Machen is dead I am wondering: Will his blood be the seed of another Church, or will his blood water the dying elements of evangelical faith so that it will grow into a great and glorious honor of Christ. I believe it will. I believe the result of his death will be almost greater than the results of his life, and if I were standing today s they laid him to rest, I would say, “Servant of God, well done. Rest from thy great employ.” And I would say perhaps to those who were listening, that there are men who are greater in their death than they were in their life, and I would say, “Here was a man who was the greatest of all in his life and in his death generated a power that will almost pull down the adversaries of the Son of God and exalt Him in His Cross high above all things, that men will return from the uttermost ends of the earth to be sprinkled with the blood of the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.”
One hundred thirty years ago today, J. Gresham Machen was born in Baltimore, Maryland to Arthur Webster Machen, an Episcopalian lawyer, and Mary Jones Gresham (pronounced “Gressam”), a faithful Presbyterian who taught her son the Westminster Shorter Catechism from an early age.
Randy Oliver’s biography of J. Gresham Machen helps provide some context to Machen’s theological convictions:
“I have finished Mathu, and nearly finished Mark, and then I am going to begin at the very biginning of the whole bible…It seems to me that on Sunday I can never get a nuf of my catercisum.”
– J. Gresham Machen, age 7
John Gresham Machen, the second of three sons, was born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 28, 1881. His father Arthur W. Machen was fifty-five years of age when Gresham was born. Mr. Machen was a Virginia-born, Harvard-trained lawyer. The elder Machen’s tastes and interests were rooted in the classical tradition of the old South. He read the works of Horace, Thucydides, and Caesar, as well as Read more…