Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page


In Uncategorized on 18/06/2010 at 16:32

And now for something completely different (as Monty Python used to say):

[excerpted from The English Presbyterian Messenger, New Series, No. 156 (December 1860): 375-376.]

Some of our readers will peruse the following letter with interest and profit. It was not written for publication, but the Lord may make it Useful for the edification of his own people. The friend who kindly sent it to us says :—

“ The enclosed letter, from a deeply tried and experienced Christian in Scotland, was sent to me the other day, along with two others, for my perusal. If you think with me that it is valuable, and can find space for it in “ The Messenger,” it may, perhaps, prove a blessing to some souls. I have copied it, and I forward it to you almost entirely as I received it. You can do with it as you think proper.”

I——–, October 19th, 1800.

My Dear. Brother, — I was very glad to receive your kind and interesting letter. I value exceedingly the Christian friendship and brotherhood which the Lord permits me to enjoy. I value exceedingly your own ; but I desire grace ever to refer it all to the fountain, and to be flung back more than ever on the inestimable friendship of the Blessed One.

Dear brother, if it be sweet to have a friend—another poor, trembling heart like our own, to whom we can unbosom sorrow, assured that all will be looked at through the medium of a loving eye, and where no help can be given, sympathy, at least, will be felt; if this be precious, who can tell the preciousness of the sympathizing love of Jesus, who can feel as well as help, who can deal with us so gently and so wisely. No eye scans us with such gentle love as Jesus. Oh to have faith always as well in the love of his heart as in the power of his hand. Read the rest of this entry »

The “TR” Debates (1977)

In Uncategorized on 15/06/2010 at 21:14

Elsewhere on the web this past week or so, there has been renewed discussion and debate over what amounts to the old expression “TR” (Thoroughly Reformed) and all that it embodies.  Ray Ortlund, Jr. re-posted one of his old blogs, to which Darryl Hart then replied, and finally Lane Keister expounded a bit further on the matter.

This “TR” phrase has been controversial most of its life, and it may surprise some to find out that this all goes back some thirty-five years or more.  For some it has been a term of pride and arrogance (“I am and you’re not”).  For others it has been a handy derogatory expression (“You are and I’m glad I’m not”).  By several accounts, “TR” was an expression coined in the early 1970’s on the campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, in Jackson, MS.  Initially it was more an aspiration–a goal–we want to be thoroughly Reformed.  But it quickly became a label, and as with most labels, there was little good that came from use of the stereotypes that attached on either side of the expression.  So for those following the current discussion, I thought it might be good to remind us that this is not a new debate.  It began at least in 1977, as displayed on the pages of The Presbyterian Journal.

First up was Dr. Jack Scott, a much-loved Old Testament professor at RTS, whose chapel talk was transcribed and published.  Dr. Scott was seeing a problem on the RTS campus, and he spoke to the matter.  Next, The Presbyterian Journal published articles by David R. Gillespie, a student at RTS, and by William E. Hill, Jr., founder of the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, an organization that was important to the subsequent formation of the PCA.  The last article on this topic was by the editor of The Presbyterian Journal, Dr. G. Aiken Taylor, who wrote an editorial titled “Lo, the TR”.  After that, three or four succeeding issues of the magazine displayed letters to the editor on the matter, with all sides (and then some) covered. Read the rest of this entry »

An as-yet mysterious Machen quote

In Christian Education, J. Gresham Machen on 02/06/2010 at 14:39

I’ve come across a quote attributed to Dr. J. Gresham Machen which, so far, I’ve been unable to track down.  If Dr. Machen said this, when and where did he say it?  Context is important and sheds further light on statements made.  Here’s the quote, as embedded in the earliest instance I’ve found of it’s use, in The Christian Observer, vol. 129, no. 1 (1 January 1941), page 1 [the quote I’m researching is shown here in bold type]:

The neglect of the religious life on the part of many people of today helps to rob the next generation of some of the great blessings which our own generation has inherited from the past.  The late Dr. J. Gresham Machen nearly two decades ago spoke these urgent words to the parents of the nation: “America is today running on the momentum of a godly ancestry.  When that momentum goes, God help America!” Christian educators and ministers of the Gospel for many years have been warning us that this momentum is dying out and will ultimately lose its force altogether unless it is handed on by this generation.  This warning is especially needed in a time of uncertainty and crisis such as that through which the world is now passing.  Pertinent, therefore, are the words recently uttered by Dr. Ernest E. Cole, president of the University of the State of New York: “The time has come when some way must be found to instill into all our children the spiritual faith and idealism of the fathers and a healthy reverence for religion.”  This faith that has come to us out of the past must be handed down unimpaired to those who are to come after us.  And there is no way by which this may be done save as we earnestly adhere to and practice “the faith of our fathers” in our own daily walk and conversation.

While there is more provided here than the mere Machen question required, there were two clues in the reference, that Machen’s statement dated to roughly the early 1920’s and that he spoke to parents, perhaps in some message on the topic of education.  I do know that education was a concern of Machen’s, and we even have one of his addresses on the subject posted on the PCA Historical Center web site.  But “On the Necessity of the Christian School” was delivered in 1933, so the date is wrong, and that discourse does not include this quote that we’re trying to locate.

PCA pastor Steven Wright [Bethel PCA, Lake Charles, LA] observed that he “see[s] more attributions of that quote to General Omar Bradley than to Machen when I search on-line.  Some of the language of the quote is found in this statement on p. 48 of Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism (1923):”

“It is especially by such transformation of life, to-day 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.”  [emphasis added]

Pastor Wright then proposed that perhaps Bradley [1893-1981] borrowed (knowingly or unknowingly) Machen’s language.  That may well be, but it would appear from this earlier paragraph in the Christian Observer that the original quote remains quite surely Machen’s.  So until someone can help in this search, we’ll keep looking.