Machen’s Last Words

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.”

130 years ago today: J. Gresham Machen’s birth

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.

Here is a post from Martin Downes at from two years ago, commemorating Machen’s birthday.

Machen’s Childhood

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 Continue reading “Machen’s Childhood”

Why Did Machen Never Marry?

I was curious as to why J. Gresham Machen never married. Apparently, he came close, but the woman was a unitarian, so the relationship never moved beyond a romantic attraction. See more here, at Triablogue.

Machen on Tobacco

Zac Wyse at the After Darkness, Light blog mentions this little anti-fundamentalist gem from Machen: “The fellows are in my room now on the last Sunday night, smoking the cigars and eating the oranges which it has been the greatest delight I ever had to provide whenever possible. My idea of delight is a Princeton room full of fellows smoking. When I think what an aid tobacco is to friendship and Christian patience, I have sometimes regretted that I never began to smoke.” Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, 1987, p. 506.

And then there is this wonderful little commentary on the propensity of conservative Protestants (and others) to light up, from Rodney Clapp: “The Nicotine Journal.” Among the names: Bonhoeffer, Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, Tolkein….

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.”