Machen Death Day 2016

While some put their hopes in human accomplishments, Machen reminded seminarians where to place their trust:

God tells us not to be too much impressed by the unbelieving age in which we are living now. Do you think that this is a happy or a blessed age? Oh, no, my friends. Amid all the pomp and glitter and noise and tumult of the age, there are hungry hearts. The law of God has been forgotten, and stark slavery is stalking through the earth —the decay of free institutions in the State and a deeper slavery still in the depths of the soul. High poetry is silent; and machinery, it almost seems, rules all. God has taken the fire of genius from the world. But something far more than genius is being lost—the blessing of a humble and virtuous life. There was a time, twenty-five years ago, when we might have thought that Christian living could be maintained after Christian doctrine was given up. But if we ever made that mistake, we must abandon it today. Where is the sweetness of the Christian home; where is the unswerving integrity of men and women whose lives were founded upon the Word of God? Increasingly these things are being lost. Even men of the world are coming to see with increasing clearness that mankind is standing over an abyss.

I tell you, my friends, it is not altogether an argument against the gospel that this age has given it up; it is rather an argument for the gospel. If this be the condition of the world without Christ, then we may well turn back, while yet there is time, to that from which we have turned away.

That does not mean that we should despise the achievements of the age; it does not mean that we should adopt the “Touch not, taste not, handle not” attitude toward the good things or the wonders of God’s world which Paul condemned in his day; it does not mean that we should consecrate to God an impoverished man, narrowed in interests, narrowed in outlook upon the marvellous universe that God has made. What it does mean is that we should pray God to make these modern achievements not the instruments of human slavery, as increasingly they are threatening to become, but the instruments of that true liberty which consists in the service of God.

But the deepest comfort which God gives us is not found even in considerations such as these: it is not found in reflections upon God’s dealings during the past history of the Church; it is not found in our fellowship with those who love the gospel that we love; it is not found in observation of the defects of this unbelieving age. Valuable are all these considerations, and great is the assurance that they give to our souls. But there is one consideration that is more valuable, and one assurance that is greater still. It is found in the overwhelming glory of the gospel itself.

When we attend to that glory, all the pomp and glitter of an unbelieving age seems like the blackness of night. How wonderful is the divine revelation in God’s Word! How simple, yet how majestic its presentation of the being of God; how dark its picture of the guilt of man; how bright against that background its promise of divine grace! And at the centre of all in this incomparable Book there stands the figure of One in whose presence all wisdom seems to be but folly and all goodness seems to be but filthy rags. If we have His favor, little shall we care henceforth for the favor of the world, and little shall we fear the opposition of an unbelieving age.

That favor is ours, brethren, without merit, without boasting, if we trust in Him. And in that favor we find the real source of our courage in these difficult days. Our deepest comfort is found not in the signs of the times but in the great and precious promises of God.(“Facing the Facts before God,” J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, 199-201)


15 thoughts on “Machen Death Day 2016

  1. It’s cold in the Dakotas

    Those who seek to preserve continuity with the present age, if they make it to the new age, have resurrection as their only hope

    Luke 17: 33 As many as try to keep their lives safe will lose their lives

    Luke 20: 35 But those who are counted worthy to take part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 For they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection.

    II Thessalonians 1: This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels, 8 taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of the lasting destruction of the age to come from the Lord’s presence and from His glorious strength 10 in THAT DAY WHEN HE COMES to be glorified by His saints and to be MARVELED AT by all those who have believed

    Hebrews 11:35 Women received their dead—they were raised to life again. Some men were tortured, not accepting release, in order to gain a better resurrection

    II Peter 3: 13 We wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell.

    Isaiah 53: 4 the heavens will vanish like smoke
    the earth will wear out like a garment,
    and its inhabitants will die like gnats.
    But My salvation will last forever

    Machen–“An universal atonement without a universal salvation is a cold, gloomy doctrine indeed. To say that Christ died for all men alike and that then not all men are saved, to say that Christ died for humanity simply in the mass, and that the choice of those who out of that mass are saved depends upon the greater receptivity of some as compared with others, is a doctrine with no comfort at all.”


  2. High hopes, low hopes, everywhere hopes:

    If New Year’s focuses on the Kingdom of God, does this concede to the modern revolutionary? Does Christmas sap the marrow out of the world by placing our hope beyond it? Gaudium et Spes responds to this common assertion by teaching that no tension should exist between earthly progress and the Christian focus on eternity:

    Christians, on pilgrimage toward the heavenly city, should seek and think of these things which are above. This duty in no way decreases, rather it increases, the importance of their obligation to work with all men in the building of a more human world. Indeed, the mystery of the Christian faith furnishes them with an excellent stimulant and aid to fulfill this duty more courageously and especially to uncover the full meaning of this activity, one which gives to human culture its eminent place in the integral vocation of man (57).

    The Christian vocation, following on the principle of the Incarnation, seeks precisely to bring God to the world, to embody faith within it in order to transform it. It is the vocation of the laity, in particular, to permeate all of human activity with the life of the Church, not to stifle it, but to bring it to a greater perfection in Christ.

    No choices necessary. You can have this world and the next. Woot!


  3. McM-

    Machen couldn’t have believed in universal salvation. What was he driving at? How can a “deepest comfort” be found in the “great and precious promises of God” (quoted by DG) but the doctrine bear “no comfort at all” -?

    Also, would the Reformed deny the existence of theological Hope, since faith is claimed to give assurance of salvation, and one can’t reasonably hope for that which is sure (e.g. Christ had no need of Faith or Hope)?


  4. Machen believes in a particular salvation, procured by particular redemption, extra nos. Salvation is something definite.

    In the article, Machen trumpets the deepest comfort of a secure salvation–to everyone… who believes.

    MM quotes JGM deploring the cold-comfort of a generic, unmindful (of anyone in particular) salvation which is, in the last analysis, dependent on some personal quality inside of us.

    If my hope for my salvation is at all resting in the hope that I’m sufficiently receptive to divine grace that I make “for me” by my cooperation, all God in Christ has done is make salvation “possible.”


  5. Bruce- That makes sense, glad to see consistency (not that I nec. agree). Pro multis / for many / pour la multitude, not por todos / for all.

    Any thoughts on my “hope” question?

    Is there a such thing as supernatural virtue in man (I’d think not), or was Machen referring just to natural (not that natural virtue should be slighted)?


  6. DG quote:”That favor is ours, brethren, without merit, without boasting, if we trust in Him. And in that favor we find the real source of our courage in these difficult days. Our deepest comfort is found not in the signs of the times but in the great and precious promises of God.(“Facing the Facts before God,” J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, 199-201)”

    Amen. THAT is reason to say happy new year! yep, even for 2016

    1 John 3 1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

    2 Peter 1:3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.


  7. Kevin,
    Faith and hope are both terms which Scripture uses in an objective manner, speaking as of facts, persons, propositions, etc.; and in a subjective manner, which has to do with the individual exercise of such virtues. So for example, “the faith” is in Jud.1:3 objective, “the faith once delivered,” or Php.1:27, “the faith of the gospel.” I.e., What I believe is distinct from my act of believing; so that, while properly the two are inseparable, yet if someone “denies the faith,” 1Tim.5:8, still that extra nos thing-which-was-believed has lost nothing for the denial. It did not become (properly speaking) the faith when first someone had faith in it, other than acquiring such a name.

    Hope has a similar use, both as an objective reality, which then acquires the name “hope” by subjective exercise of the virtue. 1Tim.1:1 speaks of “Christ our hope.” Obviously, Christ would never cease being the hope in an objective sense, even if the whole world refused him their subjective hopes.

    Faith and hope are not strict synonyms, but frequently they are close in meaning. Consider Ps.130:5, “I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.” Believing the word of God and hoping in it are practically indistinguishable. When we read of Abraham in Rom.4:18, we have this helpful collocation of the terms, “who against hope believed in hope,” i.e. being past hope, nevertheless he believed hoping.

    Believing (having faith) is usually the “broader” term, because we can have knowledge, assent, and trust in or regarding persons and facts that do not directly excite hope. Whereas, hoping is especially connected with promises made. Rom.8:24, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” I.e., hope remains with us for those things that have yet to be finalized.

    I must dissent, therefore, from your proposal that hope is out of place in the context of assurance. Faith and hope both flourish in assurance. Heb.6:11 speaks of having “the full assurance of hope.” v18 refers to “the hope set before us” (objective) which believers are encouraged to “hold on to.”

    As for Christ not hoping, Nay, he indeed hoped, though he had a qualitatively different hope (or faith/confidence) than we do, still with God (the Father) and the word of God as the same object we have. Heb.5:7-9 show us Christ as a man in extremity learning hope through patience, cf. Rom.5:4 and 15:4. Ps.16:9, referred explicitly to Christ in Act.2:26, speaks of Christ anticipating his burial in which he will “rest in hope” of his resurrection.

    If I understand your last question, re. supernatural/natural virtue: assuming you are speaking of that “quality” (mentioned in my post) inside a man that might lay hold of grace offered; Machen and the Reformed faith in general do deny supernatural virtue in man. We further deny such a thing as the donum superadditum, a virtue Rome teaches man once possessed in Eden and lost by the fall, but has resupplied him by the sacraments.

    On the other hand, we believe that the capacity for saving faith is a pure gift of God, e.g. Eph.8:28; Php.1:29. True faith, together with all sanctified virtues, is “supernatural” inasmuch as it cannot be had apart from divine intervention; but it is a restoration of ruined, depraved and dead human nature due to the fall. Only the spiritual man is fully alive.

    As those convinced of an effectual atonement–one that saves “to the uttermost” those for whom it was offered up–we are therefore convinced that the atonement was definite rather than general. He laid down his life for the sheep, Jn.10:26; and to some listening he warned them: “Ye are not my sheep,” v26. He knows his sheep “by name,” v3. We believe in a definite atonement because we believe in hell. We reject universalism. We reject the thought that some of God’s love goes unrequited. If Jesus died for you, he WILL rescue you. That’s our Hope.

    So for our part, we cannot admit that there could simply be a great gulf of the love of God, an ocean of Christ’s blood, with no names attached to any molecule of it–or none until a man choose it’s healing streams.

    We deny that God gives his gift of salvation at levels of available mercy:
    level 1) a general, indiscriminate benevolence to a crowd of hearers or participants;
    which if this one or that will but do that which (now) lies within them, will be further blessed
    level 2) with saving benefits in answer to their election. Such would be “extra love,” “real love.”

    The first simply makes salvation possible; the second makes it personal, and rests upon human cooperation. He loves (saves) us, because we first love (respond to) him?

    We believe God saves wretched men, who by nature cannot even desire his mercy in a serious way. But those whom he wills, whom he elects, he will never leave nor forsake. They will obtain their desire, expressed by the faith he restores to them.


  8. Kevin, if the Cananites, Perusites, Jebusites, Esau and Judas weren’t saved, how do you come up with universal salvation? You’ve been a Roman Catholic too long.


  9. DG-

    I’ve spent about 3 minutes trying to come up with a response to your comment, but I’ll not speculate and leave it at this: in truth, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    There was something I was not understanding in the two Machen quotes (I knew very well Machen wouldn’t advocate universal salvation) due to a misreading of the first sentence Mark quoted; but Robert has kindly resolved my difficulties.

    Robert – thanks so much for the detailed response. Let me think on it a bit and I’ll get back to you.


  10. Kevin, you seemed to be saying that universal salvation was a promise of God.

    Machen couldn’t have believed in universal salvation. What was he driving at? How can a “deepest comfort” be found in the “great and precious promises of God” (quoted by DG) but the doctrine bear “no comfort at all” -?

    So I questioned an affirmation of universal salvation. Selah.


  11. Machen—“The deepest comfort is not found in observation of the defects of this unbelieving age.”

    John Owen helped replaced King Charles with Cromwell and we still ended up with the George W Bush recession.

    John Owen, It is not surprising that the doctrines of faith became so rapidly corrupted in the churches. With separation from the world spurned, there is no wonder that the glory of the gospel was overshadowed, and superstitious practices flooded in along with the unconverted pagans, until, at length, Christian church discipline was remodeled on the fashion of the pagan secular state.

    Once hypocrites and other unregenerate people began, as it were, to swamp and overwhelm the believers, there soon emerged leaders who were pleased enough to accommodate spiritual doctrines to the prevailing systems of philosophy. And so it came about that faith was neglected, doctrine no longer studied, regeneration equated to the the rite of water baptism,, the majorities at best indifferent about truth, at worst bitterly hostile to truth, to the total over-shadowing of essential things.

    By that time, most of the world had taken up the Christian profession so, at most, everything that had been instituted by Christ had been basely transmuted into another gospel. Strange to tell, it was done without a protest in the Church.” John Owen, Biblical Theology


  12. DG –

    you seemed to be saying that universal salvation was a promise of God.

    Certainly didn’t mean to imply that- that would be to short God’s justice (as I see it) and certainly to rob many of JC’s words of meaning.

    A Calvinist believing in universal salvation is an intriguing thought. Are there such?


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