by J. Gresham Machen
For well over a decade before his untimely death on January 1st, 1937, J. Gresham Machen was recognized by many as the most valiant and eloquent spokesman for orthodox Christianity in America, if not in the entire world. Speaking on the background of many years of collaboration and intimate friendship, but also as a well-informed and keen observer of theological and ecclesiastical developments, Professor Caspar Wistar Hodge of Princeton characterized Dr. Machen as being, at the time of his passing, "the greatest theologian in the English-speaking world" and "the greatest leader of the whole cause of evangelical Christianity." At the same time Dr. R. A. Meek, a prominent Southern Methodist, hailed him as "the first Protestant minister in the nation" and "the ablest exponent and defender of evangelical Christianity." More than a decade earlier Dr. John A. Hutton, influential editor of The British Weekly, introduced him most warmly to his readers and devoted an extended series of feature articles to the book What Is Faith?, which had been published in 1925. And the brilliant Religious Editor of the Boston Evening Transcript, Albert C. Dieffenbach, himself a Unitarian, eulogized him as being "as learned and valiant a spiritual warrior as the Protestant Church has produced in modern times, … a Christian of apostolic ardor," and as one who "sought the truth diligently, devotedly, and with dedication."
Nor was the recognition of Dr. Machen's eminence as a Christian spokesman restricted to the ecclesiastical world. Walter Lippmann, speaking of Christianity and Liberalism, which had been published in 1923, said: "It is an admirable book. For its acumen, for its saliency and for its wit, this cool and stringent defence of orthodox Protestantism is, I think, the best popular argument produced by either side. We shall do well to listen to Dr. Machen. The Liberals have yet to answer him." And H. L. Mencken, himself a skeptic of the deepest dye, singled out Machen on more than one occasion for his heroic defence of Christianity in which—so Mr. Mencken judged—he had every advantage, both logical and moral, over his modernist opponents.
The reputation of Professor Machen was most firmly established by the impact made by his widely read books. His trenchant The Origin of Paul's Religion (1921) and his masterful The Virgin Birth of Christ (1930; rev. edit. 1932) are monumental contributions to the exposition and defence of the Christian Faith, and constitute the chief evidences of his profound and articulate scholarship. New Testament Greek for Beginners (1923 ff.), while designed for elementary instruction, is an admirably concise and lucid textbook which could have been prepared only by a master of the subject and has proved a delight to teachers for twenty-five years. The other books from his pen, though far from superficial, soon gained and still retain a wide popular appeal. In addition to the two works mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, they include especially the volumes of radio addresses entitled The Christian Faith in the Modern World (1936) and The Christian View of Man (1937), in which he presented a fresh and effective exposition of the Christian Faith from his standpoint of whole-hearted commitment to Calvinism as constituting consistent Biblical Christianity.
However basic these books are to a true estimate of Dr. Machen's significance, they do not tell the whole story. Although he was a scholar and teacher of the highest rank, and had few equals in giving perspicuous literary expression to the results of meticulous research, he was far more than a master in the academic sphere. As a preacher and speaker on conference platforms his services were in constant demand. Moreover, he was frequently in the public eye because of his timely and vigorous utterances on the issues of the day. He was one of the most colorful and controversial figures of his time, and it is doubtful that in the ecclesiastical world of the twenties and thirties any religious leader was more constantly in the limelight.
It is these wider and somewhat more popular aspects of Machen's career that are brought especially to view in this collection of sermons and addresses. Moreover, this volume serves the purpose of making available to the reading public a considerable body of materials which otherwise would not be generally accessible. A few of the items published here have indeed become fairly widely known due to circulation in pamphlet form, but merit inclusion in this collection for the very reason that they were among the most influential of his briefer writings. Many others, however, found publication in magazines and newspapers which are not generally available. And a large number owe their presence to the fact that access to the files of Dr. Machen has brought to light manuscripts of sermons and other papers which were not published by the author but which, in many instances, were widely used in the pulpit and on public platforms over a period of many years.
The descriptions which follow provide more specific information concerning the character and occasion of the individual items.
The twenty sermons presented herein, with a few notable exceptions, were not prepared for publication by Dr. Machen, but by the editor of this volume. Several were printed in The Presbyterian Guardian; others now appear in print for the first time. Though not intended for publication, their value is enhanced by the consideration that they were prepared to be preached. And they were preached, most of them time and again. A printed sermon perhaps never is as effective as one that is spoken, and that is surely true of Dr. Machen's sermons. Yet his preaching was so free of the orator's tricks, so simple and unaffected, that it does not share the common fate of the printed sermon when seen in cold type. For his preaching was never a shallow or hollow assembly of words. The message was not contrived to adorn the messenger; the messenger was the mere instrument to herald forth the Word of God.
Although the sermons presented may be regarded as more or less representative of Machen's preaching over a period of two or more decades, the order here is broadly speaking chronological. The first eight sermons, for example, though preached on many occasions, are known to have been delivered in the sequence given during the year in which he was Stated Supply in the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton, 1923–1924.
The two following sermons (IX, X) belong to this same period, although specific evidence is lacking that they were preached in the Princeton series of 1923–1924.
The remaining sermons are distinctive in that they were prepared for special occasions. "The Gospel and Modern Substitutes" (XI) is given substantially in the form in which it was utilized as an address before the 54th State Convention of the Y.M.C.A. held in Indiana, Penna., on April 14th, 1923, but has been edited with the help of another manuscript. It is grouped with the sermons because it was used as such on a number of occasions, and though it is hardly a typical sermon it is assuredly most original and arresting. The three following sermons have in common the fact that they were first delivered in Miller Chapel in Princeton in fulfillment of the responsibility devolving upon the professors to preach to the students once a year. The first of this group (XII) was preached on March 8th, 1925. Soon thereafter thousands of copies in pamphlet form were circulated throughout the world. "Prophets False and True" (XIII) was the chapel sermon for the following year, and, upon invitation of Joseph Fort Newton, editor of Best Sermons, 1926, was included in that volume. "The Good Fight of Faith" (XIV) was preached on March 10th, 1929, and was the last sermon delivered at Princeton, for it was in that year that Dr. Machen resigned his position there. "Constraining Love" (XV) was delivered at the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, later known as The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, on November 12th, 1936.
The final five items in this group (XVI–XX) were radio addresses rather than sermons, but their right to a place here will perhaps not be seriously disputed. In The Christian Faith in the Modern World and The Christian View of Man we possess the popular expositions of Christian doctrine that had been prepared for radio audiences over a period of two seasons. Dr. Machen had expressed the hope of continuing the series for at least two more years and thus of rounding out a survey of Christian doctrine that might prove helpful especially to college students and classes in Bible study generally. In the midst of the third year of this radio ministry, however, he was struck down, and this hope failed of fulfillment. The five messages included here are a selection from twelve manuscripts employed for the broadcasts. Although they were prepared under terrific pressure of responsibilities of many kinds, and were left in an unpolished form, they constitute valuable additions to our knowledge of his message. "The Creeds and Doctrinal Advance" (XVI) was one of the first addresses in the fall of 1936; the final four were delivered on the final four Sundays of his life, the last being given on December 27th, only five days before his death.
Special interest attaches to the next to the last address which was devoted to "The Active Obedience of Christ." For it provides a most illuminating background for a telegram dictated on the last day of his life to his nurse for transmission to his colleague Professor John Murray: "I'm so thankful for active obedience of Christ; no hope without it." Prior to the delivery of that address on December 20th, he had been discussing this precious doctrine with Mr. Murray, and now as he lay at death's door he could not but bear testimony to the confidence that, through the substitutionary atonement of Christ, he enjoyed assurance, not only of full remission of sin and its penalty, but also of being accepted as perfectly obedient and righteous because of the perfect obedience of Christ to the divine will. An exultant note of triumph through the merit of his Saviour was thus sounded forth as he was about to enter the divine presence.
Acknowledgment is hereby made to Harcourt, Brace & Co. for permission to reprint "Prophets False and True." (XIII) from the volume, Best Sermons, 1926, edited by Joseph Fort Newton.
I wish also to express my gratitude to Miss Margaret S. Robinson for assistance in preparing copy and to my wife and the Rev. Leslie W. Sloat for their help in reading proof.
My prayer is that this volume not only may serve to enlarge the understanding and appreciation of the heroic witness of J. Gresham Machen, but also may contribute positively to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to which he gave his life.
Table of Contents
I. God Transcendent
II. Isaiah's Scorn of Idolatry
III. The Fear of God
IV. Sin's Wages and God's Gift
V. The Issue in the Church
VI. The Letter and the Spirit
VII. The Brotherhood in Christ
VIII. The Claims of Love
IX. The Living Saviour
X. Justified by Faith
XI. The Gospel and Modern Substitutes
XII. The Separateness of the Church
XIII. Prophets False and True
XIV. The Good Fight of Faith
XV. Constraining Love
XVI. The Creeds and Doctrinal Advance
XVII. Christ Our Redeemer
XVIII. The Doctrine of the Atonement
XIX. The Active Obedience of Christ
XX. The Bible and the Cross