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    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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The Message of Witnesses

J. Gresham MachenThe truth of Christianity must be handled with care, particularly in sharing it with others. We are called to be witnesses as J. Gresham Machen explains below:

The character of Christianity as founded upon a message is summed up in the words of the eighth verse of the first chapter of Acts — ’Ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’ It is entirely unnecessary, for the present purpose, to argue about the historical value of the Book of Acts or to discuss the question whether Jesus really spoke the words just quoted. In any case the verse must be recognized as an adequate summary of what is known about primitive Christianity. From the beginning Christianity was a campaign of witnessing. And the witnessing did not concern merely what Jesus was doing within the recesses of the individual life. To take the words of Acts in that way is to do violence to the context and to all the evidence. On the contrary, the Epistles of Paul and all the sources make it abundantly plain that the testimony was primarily not to inner spiritual facts but to what Jesus had done once and for all in His death and resurrection.

Christianity is based, then, upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness. But if so, it is rather important that the Christian worker should tell the truth. When a man takes his seat upon the witness stand, it makes little difference what the cut of his coat is, or whether his sentences are nicely turned. The important thing is that he tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If we are to be truly Christians, then, it does make a vast difference what our teachings are, and it is by no means aside from the point to set forth the teachings of Christianity in contrast with the teachings of the chief modern rival of Christianity.

The chief modern rival of Christianity is ‘liberalism.’ An examination of the teachings of liberalism in comparison with those of Christianity will show that at every point the two movements are in direct opposition. (Christianity and Liberalism)

Only a Difference of Opinion?

J. Gresham MachenA difference of opinion concerning doctrine may take place between two equally sincere Christians. When this happens, should this difference be treated as a trifle? J. Gresham Machen explains:

[One] difference of opinion which can subsist in the midst of Christian fellowship is the difference of opinion about the mode of efficacy of the sacraments. That difference is indeed serious, and to deny its seriousness is a far greater error than to take the wrong side in the controversy itself. It is often said that the divided condition of Christendom is an evil, and so it is. But the evil consists in the existence of the errors which cause the divisions and not at all in the recognition of those errors when once they exist. It was a great calamity when at the ‘Marburg Conference’ between Luther and the representatives of the Swiss Reformation, Luther wrote on the table with regard to the Lord’s Supper, ‘This is my body,’ and said to Zwingli and Oecolampadius, ‘You have another spirit.’ That difference of opinion led to the breach between the Lutheran and the Reformed branches of the Church, and caused Protestantism to lose much of the ground that might otherwise have been gained. It was a great calamity indeed. But the calamity was due to the fact that Luther (as we believe) was wrong about the Lord’s Supper; and it would have been a far greater calamity if being wrong about the Supper he had represented the whole question as a trifling affair. Luther was wrong about the Supper, but not nearly so wrong as he would have been if, being wrong, he had said to his opponents: ‘Brethren, this matter is a trifle; and it makes really very little difference what a man thinks about the table of the Lord.’ Such indifferentism would have been far more deadly than all the divisions between the branches of the Church. A Luther who would have compromised with regard to the Lord’s Supper never would have said at the Diet of Worms, ‘Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen.’ Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith. (Christianity and Liberalism)

Are All Points of Doctrine Equally Important?

WATCH FOR CHRIST’S RETURNVarious areas of Christian doctrine have received special attention at different periods in the history of the church. The peculiar interest of our age seems to be eschatology. I, however, hope that no doctrine of eschatology will be the center of the Christian’s faith. J. Gresham Machen writes on this subject:

We do not mean, in insisting upon the doctrinal basis of Christianity, that all points of doctrine are equally important. It is perfectly possible for Christian fellowship to be maintained despite differences of opinion.

One such difference of opinion, which has been attaining increasing prominence in recent years, concerns the order of events in connection with the Lord’s return. A large number of Christian people believe that when evil has reached its climax in the world, the Lord Jesus will return to this earth in bodily presence to bring about a reign of righteousness which will last a thousand years, and that only after that period the end of the world will come. That belief, in the opinion of the present writer, is an error, arrived at by a false interpretation of the Word of God; we do not think that the prophecies of the Bible permit so definite a mapping-out of future events. The Lord will come again, and it will be no mere ‘spiritual’ coming in the modern sense – so much is clear – but that so little will be accomplished by the present dispensation of the Holy Spirit and so much will be left to be accomplished by the Lord in bodily presence – such a view we cannot find to be justified by the words of Scripture. What is our attitude, then, with regard to this debate? Certainly it cannot be an attitude of indifference. The recrudescence [return again] of ‘Chiliasm’ or ‘premillennialism’ in the modern Church causes us serious concern; it is coupled, we think, with a false method of interpreting Scripture which in the long run will be productive of harm. Yet how great is our agreement with those who hold the premillennial view! They share to the full our reverence for the authority of the Bible, and differ from us only in the interpretation of the Bible; they share our ascription of deity to the Lord Jesus, and our supernaturalistic conception both of the entrance of Jesus into the world and of the consummation when He shall come again. Certainly, then, from our point of view, their error, serious though it may be, is not deadly error; and Christian fellowship, with loyalty not only to the Bible but to the great creeds of the Church, can still unite us with them. It is therefore highly misleading when modern liberals represent the present issue in the Church, both in the mission field and at home, as being an issue between premillennialism and the opposite view. It is really an issue between Christianity, whether premillennial or not, on the one side, and a naturalistic negation of all Christianity on the other. (Christianity and Liberalism)

Christianity: A Life

J. Gresham MachenChristian service consists primarily in the propagation of a message. If Christian fellowship is to be maintained, the message must become the very basis of all life. J. Gresham Machen writes:

The early Christians, to the astonishment of their neighbors, lived a strange new kind of life—a life of honesty, of purity and of unselfishness. And from the Christian community all other types of life were excluded in the strictest way. From the beginning, Christianity was certainly a life.

But how was the life produced? It might conceivably have been produced by exhortation. That method had often been tried in the ancient world; in the Hellenistic age there were many wandering preachers who told men how they ought to live. But such exhortation proved to be powerless. Although the ideals of the Cynic and Stoic preachers were high, these preachers never succeeded in transforming society. The strange thing about Christianity was that it adopted an entirely different method. It transformed the lives of men not by appealing to the human will, but by telling a story; not by exhortation, but by the narration of an event. It is no wonder that such a method seemed strange. Could anything be more impractical than the attempt to influence conduct by rehearsing events concerning the death of a religious teacher? That is what Paul called ‘the foolishness of the message.’ It seemed foolish to the ancient world, and it seems foolish to liberal preachers today. But the strange thing is that it works. The effects of it appear even in this world. Where the most eloquent exhortation fails, the simple story of an event succeeds; the lives of men are transformed by a piece of news.

It is especially by such transformation of life, today as always, that the Christian message is commended to the attention of men. Certainly, then, it does make an enormous difference whether our lives be right. If our doctrine be true, and our lives be wrong, how terrible is our sin! For then we have brought despite upon the truth itself. On the other hand, however, it is also very sad when men use the social graces which God has given them, and the moral momentum of a godly ancestry, to commend a message which is false. Nothing in the world can take the place of truth. (Christianity and Liberalism)

Christianity, Doctrine and Salvation

J. Gresham MachenDoctrine makes all the difference in the world. Christianity is a way of life that offers salvation from sin and moral change in the life of the individual. Moderns who unequivocally accept that new ideas are always better than the old, however, often challenge the foundation of living this new life. J. Gresham Machen writes:

In no branch of science, would there be any real advance if every generation started fresh with no dependence upon what past generations have achieved. Yet in theology, vituperation [harshly abusive criticism] of the past seems to be thought essential to progress. And upon what base slanders the vituperation is based! After listening to modern tirades against the great creeds of the Church, one receives rather a shock when one turns to the Westminster Confession, for example, or to that tenderest and most theological of books, the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ of John Bunyan, and discovers that in doing so one has turned from shallow modern phrases to a ‘dead orthodoxy’ that is pulsating with life in every word. In such orthodoxy, there is life enough to set the whole world aglow with Christian love.

As a matter of fact, however, in the modern vituperation of ‘doctrine,’ it is not merely the great theologians or the great creeds that are being attacked, but the New Testament and our Lord Himself. In rejecting doctrine, the liberal preacher is rejecting the simple words of Paul’ ‘Who loved me and gave Himself for me,’ just as much as the Homoousian of the Nicene Creed. [the mainstream Christological belief that Jesus Christ was of the same substance as God.] For the word, ‘doctrine’ is really used not in its narrowest, but in its broadest sense. The liberal preacher is really rejecting the whole basis of Christianity, which is a religion founded not on aspirations, but on facts. 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. (Christianity and Liberalism)

Respect for the Doctrine of Christ’s Saving Power

J. Gresham MachenThere exists a body of facts at the very foundation of the Christian religion, which have to be treated with respect. These facts are called doctrine. J. Gresham Machen writes:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2 ESV)

It is vain, then, to speak of reposing trust in the Person without believing the message. … Without the eighth chapter of Romans, the mere story of the earthly life of Jesus would be remote and dead; for it is through the eighth chapter of Romans, or the message, which that chapter contains, that Jesus becomes our Savior today.

The truth is that when men speak of trust in Jesus’ Person, as being possible without acceptance of the message of His death and resurrection, they do not really mean trust at all. What they designate as trust is really admiration or reverence. They reverence Jesus as the supreme Person of all history and the supreme revealer of God. But trust can come only when the supreme Person extends His saving power to us. ‘He went about doing good,’ ‘He spake words such as never man spake,’ ‘He is the express image of God’—that is reverence; ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’—that is faith.

But the words ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’ are in historical form; they constitute an account of something that happened. And they add to the fact the meaning of the fact; they contain in essence the whole profound theology of redemption through the blood of Christ. Christian doctrine lies at the very roots of faith. It must be admitted, then, that if we are to have a non-doctrinal religion, or a doctrinal religion founded merely on general truth, we must give up not only Paul, not only the primitive Jerusalem Church, but also Jesus Himself. (Christianity and Liberalism)

Trust in Christ

Machen's Christianity and LiberalismEveryone knows that trust involves a personal relationship between the person who trusts and him in whom the trust is placed. Trust in Christ is also a personal relationship which is established by the theology of the Cross. According to J. Gresham Machen:

[T]he Christian message contains more than the fact of the resurrection. It is not enough to know that Jesus is alive; it is not enough to know that a wonderful Person lived in the first century of the Christian era and that Person still lives, somewhere and somehow, today. Jesus lives, and that is well; but what good is it to us? We are like the inhabitants of far-off Syria or Phoenicia in the days of His flesh. There is a wonderful Person who can heal every ill of body and mind. But, alas, we are not with Him, and the way is far. How shall we come into His presence? How shall contact be established between us and Him? For the people of ancient Galilee contact was established by a touch of Jesus’ hand or a word from His lips. But for us the problem is not so easy. We cannot find Him by the lake shore or in crowded houses; we cannot be lowered into any room where He sits amid scribes and Pharisees. If we employ only our own methods of search, we shall find ourselves on a fruitless pilgrimage. Surely we need guidance, if we are to find our Savior.

And in the New Testament we find guidance full and free – guidance so complete as to remove all doubt, yet so simple that a child can understand. Contact with Jesus according to the New Testament is established by what Jesus does, not for others, but for us.

The account of what Jesus did for others is indeed necessary. By reading how He went about doing good, how He healed the sick and raised the dead and forgave sins, we learn that He is a Person who is worthy of trust. But such knowledge is to the Christian man not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It is not enough to know that Jesus is a Person worthy of trust; it is also necessary to know that He is willing to have us trust Him. It is not enough that He saved others; we need to know also that He has saved us. That knowledge is given in the story of the Cross. For us Jesus does not merely place His fingers in the ears and say, ‘Be opened”; for us He does not merely say ‘Arise and walk.’ For us He has done a greater thing – for us He died. Our dreadful guilt, the condemnation of God’s law – it was wiped out by an act of grace. That is the message which brings Jesus near to us, and makes Him not merely the Savior of the men of Galilee long ago, but the Savior of you and me. (Christianity and Liberalism)

Jesus and His Message

J. Gresham MachenIt is useless to say you trust in Jesus Christ without believing His message. Trust in Christ is personal and can only be entered into by way of the theology of the Cross. J. Gresham Machen writes:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV)

Even the disciples, to whom the teaching of Jesus was first addressed, knew well that they needed more than guidance in the way that they should go. … They did not yet know fully how Jesus could make them children of God; but they did know that He could do it and He alone. And in that trust all the theology of the great Christian creeds was in expectation contained.

At this point, an objection may arise. May we not—the modern liberal will say— may we not now return to that simple trust of the disciples? May we not cease to ask how Jesus saves; may we not simply leave the way to Him? … Should not our trust be in a Person rather than in a message; in Jesus, rather than in what Jesus did; in Jesus’ character rather than in Jesus’ death?

Plausible words these are—plausible, and pitifully vain. Can we really return to Galilee; are we really in the same situation as those who came to Jesus when He was on earth? Can we hear Him say to us, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’? These are serious questions, and they cannot Preacherpossibly be ignored. … But we are separated by nineteen centuries from the One who alone could give us aid. How can we bridge the gulf of time that separates us from Jesus?

Some persons would bridge the gulf by the mere use of the historical imagination. ‘Jesus is not dead,’ we are told, ‘but lives on through His recorded words and deeds; we do not need even to believe it all; even a part is sufficient; the wonderful personality of Jesus shines out clear from the Gospel story. Jesus, in other words, may still be known; let us simply—without theology, without controversy, without inquiry about miracles—abandon ourselves to His spell, and He will heal us.’ …

Certainly the Jesus of the Gospels is a real, a living Person. But that is not the only question. We are going forward far too fast. Jesus lives in the Gospels—so much may freely be admitted—but we of the twentieth century, how may we come into vital relation to Him? He died nineteen hundred years ago. . . .

Let us not deceive ourselves. A Jewish teacher of the first century can never satisfy the longing of our souls. Clothe Him with all the art of modern research, throw upon Him the warm, deceptive calcium-light of modern sentimentality; and despite it all common sense will come to its rights again, and for our brief hour of self-deception— as though we had been with Jesus—will wreak upon us the revenge of hopeless disillusionment.

But, says the modern preacher, are we not, in being satisfied with the ‘historical’ Jesus, the great teacher who proclaimed the Kingdom of God, merely restoring the simplicity of the primitive gospel? No, we answer, you are not, but, temporally at least, you are not so very far wrong. You are really returning to a very primitive stage in the life of the Church. Only, that stage is not the GolgothaGalilean springtime. For in Galilee men had a living Savior. There was one time and one time only when the disciples lived, like you, merely on the memory of Jesus. When was it? It was a gloomy, desperate time. It was the three sad days after the crucifixion. Then and then only did Jesus’ disciples regard Him merely as a blessed memory. ‘We trusted,’ they said, ‘that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel. . . .’

What was it that within a few days transformed a band of mourners into the spiritual conquerors of the world? It was not the memory of Jesus’ life; it was not the inspiration which came from past contact with Him. But it was the message, ‘He is risen.’ That message alone gave to the disciples a living Savior. It and it alone can give to us a living Savior today. We shall never have vital contact with Jesus if we attend to His person and neglect the message; for it is the message which makes Him ours. (Christianity and Liberalism)

Paganism

Paganism writes:

“Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties. Very different is the Christian ideal. Paganism is optimistic with regard to unaided human nature, whereas Christianity is the religion of the broken heart.” (Christianity and Liberalism)

The Golden Rule

J. Gresham Machen

The more we study the Sermon on the Mount we begin to realize, like all the rest of the New Testament; it really leads a man straight to the foot of the Cross. J. Gresham Machen writes:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV)

This passage is in some respects a favorite with modern liberal teachers; for it is interpreted—falsely, it is true, yet plausibly—as meaning that all that a man needs to attain standing with God is an approximately right performance of his duties to his fellow-men, and not any assent to a creed or even any direct relation to Jesus. But have those who quote the passage triumphantly in this way ever stopped to reflect upon the other side of the picture—upon the stupendous fact that in this same passage the eternal destinies of men are made dependent upon the word of Jesus? Jesus here represents Himself as seated on the judgment-seat of all the earth, separating whom He will forever from the bliss that is involved in being present with Him. Could anything be further removed than such a Jesus from the humble teacher of righteousness appealed to by modern liberalism? Clearly it is impossible to escape from theology, even in the chosen precincts of the Sermon on the Mount. A stupendous theology, with Jesus’ own Person at the center of it, is the presupposition of the whole teaching.

But may not that theology still be removed? May we not get rid of the bizarre, theological element which has intruded itself even into the Sermon on the Mount, and content ourselves merely with the ethical portion of the discourse? The question, from the point of view of modern liberalism, is natural. But it must be answered with an emphatic negative. For the fact is that the ethic of the discourse, taken by itself, will not work at all. The Golden Rule furnishes an example. ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’—is that rule a rule of universal application, will it really solve all the problems of society? A little experience shows that such is not the case. Help a drunkard to get rid of his evil habit, and you will soon come to distrust the modern interpretation of the Golden Rule. The trouble is that the drunkard’s companions apply the rule only too well; they do unto him exactly what they would have him do unto them —by buying him a drink. The Golden Rule becomes a powerful obstacle in the way of moral advance. But the trouble does not lie in the rule itself; it lies in the modern interpretation of the rule. The error consists in supposing that the Golden Rule, with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, is addressed to the whole world. As a matter of fact the whole discourse is expressly addressed to Jesus’ disciples; and from them the great world outside is distinguished in the plainest possible way. The persons to whom the Golden Rule is addressed are persons in whom a great change has been wrought—a change which fits them for entrance into the Kingdom of God. Such persons will have pure desires; they, and they only, can safely do unto others as they would have others do unto them, for the things that they would have others do unto them are high and pure. (Christianity and Liberalism)

 

The Son of God

J. Gresham MachenJesus represents Himself as seated on the judgment-seat over the entire world, separating whom He will from the heaven of being present with Him. Could anything be further from the humble teacher of righteousness appealed to by modern liberalism? J. Gresham Machen writes:

The teaching of Jesus was rooted in doctrine. It was rooted in doctrine because it depended upon a stupendous presentation of Jesus’ own Person. The assertion is often made, indeed, that Jesus kept His own Person out of His gospel, and came forward merely as the supreme prophet of God. That assertion lies at the very root of the modern liberal conception of the life of Christ. But common as it is, it is radically false. And it is interesting to observe how the liberal historians themselves, so soon as they begin to deal seriously with the sources, are obliged to admit that the real Jesus was not all that they could have liked Jesus to be. … Trained historians, despite their own desires, are obliged to admit that there was an element in the real Jesus which refuses to be pressed into any such mold. There is to the liberal historians, as Heitmuller has significantly said, ‘something almost uncanny’ about Jesus.

This ‘uncanny’ element in Jesus is found in His Messianic consciousness. The strange fact is that this pure teacher of righteousness appealed to by modern liberalism, this classical exponent of the non-doctrinal religion which is supposed to underlie all the historical religions as the irreducible truth remaining after the doctrinal accretions have been removed—the strange fact is that this supreme revealer of eternal truth supposed that He was to be the chief actor in a world catastrophe and was to sit in judgment upon the whole earth. Such is the stupendous form in which Jesus applied to Himself the category of Messiahship.

It is interesting to observe how modern men have dealt with the Messianic consciousness of Jesus. Some, like Mr. H. G. Wells, have practically ignored it. Without discussing the question whether it be historical or not they have practically treated it as though it did not exist, and have not allowed it to disturb them at all in their construction of the sage of Nazareth. The Jesus thus reconstructed may be useful as investing modern programs with the sanctity of His hallowed name; Mr. Wells may find it edifying to associate Jesus with Confucius in a brotherhood of beneficent vagueness. But what ought to be clearly understood is that such a Jesus Jesus the Messiahhas nothing to do with history. He is a purely imaginary figure, a symbol and not a fact.

Others, more seriously, have recognized the existence of the problem, but have sought to avoid it by denying that Jesus ever thought that He was the Messiah, and by supporting their denial, not by mere assertions, but by a critical examination of the sources. . . .

And when the Gospel account of Jesus is considered closely, it is found to involve the Messianic consciousness throughout. Even those parts of the Gospels which have been regarded as most purely ethical are found to be based altogether upon Jesus’ lofty claims. The Sermon on the Mount is a striking example. It is the fashion now to place the Sermon on the Mount in contrast with the rest of the New Testament. ‘We will have nothing to do with theology,’ men say in effect, ‘we will have nothing to do with miracles, with atonement, or with heaven or with hell. For us the Golden Rule is a sufficient guide of life; in the simple principles of the Sermon on the Mount we discover a solution of all the problems of society.’ It is indeed rather strange that men can speak in this way. Certainly it is rather derogatory to Jesus to assert that never except in one brief part of His recorded words did He say anything that is worth while. But even in the Sermon on the Mount there is far more than some men suppose. Men say that it contains no theology) in reality it contains theology of the most stupendous kind. In particular, it contains the loftiest possible presentation of Jesus’ own Person. That presentation appears in the strange note of authority which pervades the whole discourse; it appears in the recurrent words, ‘But I say unto you.’ Jesus plainly puts His own words on equality with what He certainly regarded as the divine words of Scripture; He claimed the right to legislate for the Kingdom of God. Let it not be objected that this note of authority involves merely a prophetic consciousness in Jesus, a mere right to speak in God’s name as God’s Spirit might lead. For what prophet ever spoke in this way? The prophets said, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ but Jesus said, ‘I say.’ We have no mere prophet here, no mere humble exponent of the will of God; but a stupendous Person speaking in a manner which for any other person would be abominable and absurd. (Christianity and Liberalism)

History and Doctrine

Jesus did not content Himself with the articulation of permanent moral principles. He announced an approaching event and gave an account of its meaning. When He gave an account of the meaning He rooted it in the significance of historical facts. J. Gresham Machen writes:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV)

The primitive Church was concerned not merely with what Jesus had said, but also, and primarily, with what Jesus had done. The world was to be redeemed through the proclamation of an event. And with the event went the meaning of the event; and the setting forth of the event with the meaning of the event was doctrine. These two elements are always combined in the Christian message. The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. . . .

It has already been admitted that if doctrine is to be abandoned, Paul must be abandoned: it may now be admitted that if doctrine is to be abandoned, even the primitive Jerusalem Church, with its message of the resurrection, must be abandoned. . . .

Must we really take such a step as that? It would certainly be an extraordinary step. A great religion derived its power from the message of the redeeming work of Christ; without that message Jesus and His disciples would soon have been forgotten. The same message, with its implications, has been the very heart and soul of the Christian movement throughout the centuries. . . .

It is not true that in basing Christianity upon an event the disciples of Jesus were departing from the teaching of their Master. For certainly Jesus Himself did the same thing. Jesus did not content Himself with enunciating general principles of religion and ethics; the picture of Jesus as a sage similar to Confucius, uttering wise maxims about conduct, may satisfy Mr. H. G. Wells, as he trips along lightly over the problems of history, but it disappears as soon as one engages seriously in historical research. ‘Repent,’ said Jesus, ‘for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ The gospel which Jesus proclaimed in Galilee consisted in the proclamation of a coming Kingdom. But clearly Jesus regarded the coming of the Kingdom as an event, or as a series of events. No doubt He also regarded the Kingdom as a present reality in the souls of men; no doubt He represented the Kingdom in one sense as already present. We shall not really succeed in getting along without this aspect of the matter in our interpretation of Jesus’ words. But we shall also not get along without the other aspect, according to which the coming of the Kingdom depended upon definite and catastrophic events. But if Jesus regarded the coming of the Kingdom as dependent upon a definite event, then His teaching was similar at the decisive point to that of the primitive Church; neither He nor the primitive Church enunciated merely general and permanent principles of religion; both of them, on the contrary, made the message depend upon something that happened. Only, in the teaching of Jesus the happening was represented as being still in the future, while in that of the Jerusalem Church the first act of it at least lay already in the past. Jesus proclaimed the event as coming; the disciples proclaimed part of it at least as already past; but the important thing is that both Jesus and the disciples did proclaim an event. Jesus was certainly not a mere enunciator of permanent truths, like the modern liberal preacher; on the contrary He was conscious of standing at the turning-point of the ages, when what had never been was now to come to be. (Christianity and Liberalism)

The Meaning of Faith

J. Gresham Machen:

“The true reason why faith is given such an exclusive place by the New Testament, so far as the attainment of salvation is concerned, over against love and over against everything else in man…is that faith means receiving something, not doing something or even being something. To say, therefore, that our faith saves us means that we do not save ourselves even in slightest measure, but that God saves us.” (What is Faith?)

Paul and Doctrine

Can you separate history, doctrine, and Paul from the Christian experience? J. Gresham Machen explains why not:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV)

Paul was no advocate of an undogmatic religion; he was interested above everything else in the objective and universal truth of his message. So much will probably be admitted by serious historians, no matter what their own personal attitude toward the religion of Paul may be. Sometimes, indeed, the modern liberal preacher seeks to produce an opposite impression by quoting out of their context words of Paul which he interprets in a way as far removed as possible from the original sense. The truth is, it is hard to give Paul up. The modern liberal desires to produce upon the minds of simple Christians (and upon his own mind) the impression of some sort of continuity between modern liberalism and the thought and life of the great Apostle. But such an impression is altogether misleading. Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of Jesus; he was not interested merely in general principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its center. If Christianity is to be made independent of doctrine, then [Paulism] must be removed from Christianity root and branch. . . .

Many attempts have indeed been made to separate the religion of Paul sharply from that of the primitive Jerusalem Church; many attempts have been made to show that Paul introduced an entirely new principle into the Christian movement or even was the founder of a new religion. But all such attempts have resulted in failure. The Pauline Epistles themselves attest a fundamental unity of principle between Paul and the original companions of Jesus, and the whole early history of the Church becomes unintelligible except on the basis of such unity. Certainly with regard to the fundamentally doctrinal character of Christianity Paul was no innovator. The fact appears in the whole character of Paul’s relationship to the Jerusalem Church as it is attested by the Epistles, and it also appears with startling clearness in the precious passage in 1 Cor. xv. 3-7 where Paul summarizes the tradition which he had received from the primitive Church. What is it that forms the content of that primitive teaching? Is it a general principle of the fatherliness of God or the brotherliness of man? Is it a vague admiration for the character of Jesus such as that which prevails in the modern Church? Nothing could be further from the fact. ‘Christ died for our sins,’ said the primitive disciples, ‘according to the Scriptures; he was buried; he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’ From the beginning, the Christian gospel, as indeed the name ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’ implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine. ‘Christ died’—that is history; ‘Christ died for our sins’—that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity. (Christianity and Liberalism)

There is only One Gospel!

J. Gresham Machen clearly distinguishes the differences between the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by Paul from the false teachings of the Judaizers in this excerpt from his writings below:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV)

[W]hat was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers? What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah; there is not a shadow of evidence that they objected to Paul’s lofty view of the person of Christ. Without the slightest doubt, they believed that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary to salvation. But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer’s own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical – not even, perhaps, the temporal – order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern ‘practical’ Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm . . . Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity.

As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the differences between the Judaizers and himself were the differences between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the differences between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

Paul certainly was right. The differences which divided him from the Judaizers was no mere theological subtlety, but concerned the very heart and core of the religion of Christ. ‘Just as I am without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me’ – that was what Paul was contending for in Galatia; that hymn would never have been written if the Judaizers had won. And without the thing which that hymn expresses there is no Christianity at all. (“Christianity and Liberalism”)

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