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The Heart of Buswell’s Critique

In J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 30/06/2011 at 13:34

Reproduced here is the substance of Dr. Buswell’s critique of Van Til’s work on the Christian Apologetics. I posted yesterday the first two letters between Buswell and Van Til, and a portion of the third letter to which Buswell attaches the details of his critique of CVT’s work on Christian Apologetics.
In this review, Buswell is working with a pre-publication copy and the references cited below are
[frustratinglykeyed to that edition. Dr. Van Til’s book was published two years later(1939) under the auspices of the Reformed Episcopal Theological Seminary of Philadelphia. The published work has 113 pages, where the pre-publication copy had at least 146 pages. Thus it is at least possible that Van Til took some of Buswell’s critiques into account in editing for the final published edition.

Perhaps someone with access to either the pre-publication copy (1937) or the first edition (1939) of CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS will supply us with a copy of same or possibly take up the project of supplying the specific quotes that would make better sense of Buswell’s comments. 

[I’ve added some explanatory notes to the text below, shown in square brackets. Also, Latin phrases have been rendered in italics to facilitate reading. Otherwise the text is an accurate reproduction of the original document, retaining Buswell’s spelling, etc.]

[Update (Overly scholarly bibliographic note) : I’ve received via Interlibrary Loan a copy of the 1939 publication. It is interesting to see that the printing process employed for the 1939 edition was mimeography or stencil duplication (some will remember the old blue ink on paper look).  Also, on the obverse side of the title page, there is this Publisher’s Note: “In order to produce this book at the least possible cost, no proof reading beyond careful typing has been done. Mistakes of which neither the author nor printer are cognizant may have crept in.” The last page of this softcover edition notes that it was “Revised and Printed, January 1939.”]


February
five
19 3 7

Professor Cornelius Van Til
Westminster Theological Seminary
1528 Pine Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My dear Professor Van Til

I must apologize for imposing upon you this lengthy set of notes and remarks. I should not blame you one bit if you simply consigned them to the waste basket.

I have dictated on the dictaphone and corrected all the notes up to page twenty.

I have to leave this afternoon for a Bible conference in Elkhart and shall not have a minute’s time next week. I am therefore sending the notes on to you without having read my secretary’s write-up of the material from page twenty on.

Very cordially yours

(Signed) J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.

It is very presumptuous on my part to write you in such detail in regard to your valuable work on Apologetics I have learned much from reading it and have profited thereby, I feel that your insistence upon the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the trinity and your strong emphasis Upon the absolute self-existence and independence of God, constitute a very necessary and valuable emphasis in our modern world.

The following consists chiefly of a listing and brief discussion of points that troubled me as I read.

Page 2, lines 2 and 6 from the bottom of the page. You seem to use the phrases “full information” and “full interpretation” as synonymous. As I said in my former letter, I have been troubled all the way through your work by your usage of the word “interpretation.” In this context on page 2 of course you do not mean that one would gain either a full interpretation or full information about a snake from the Bible, but I understand that you mean that one would never find out that a snake has a relationship to God as a creature, without looking into the Bible, In this of course I agree. No one has ever reasoned from any fact directly up to God, James Orr makes this very emphatic in “The Christian View of God and the World.” Logically and metaphysically of course there is a direct path of inference from any fact in the universe to God and to the correct view of that fact as a created fact, but historically no one has ever followed that path, independent of revelation.

Page 4, line 17 to 15 from the bottom of the page. If we defend the fortress of Christian theism, we have the world to ourselves logically, but not actually. It then remains for us to persuade and instruct men as God has commanded us and by such logical means as he has put at our disposal. Read the rest of this entry »

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Buswell – Van Til Exchange (1937)

In J. Oliver Buswell on 29/06/2011 at 19:19
This is interesting. In 1937, Cornelius Van Til sent a pre-publication copy of his work on Christian Apologetics to J. Oliver Buswell with a request for his review. The book was later published in 1939 by the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church. At 113 pages in length, the published version was slightly shorter than the version supplied to Buswell.
Dr. Buswell read the book and wrote an initial reply. Van Til then responded to that letter, and finally, Buswell replied with the substance of his critique of Van Til’s work. What is still unclear all these years later is how it was that the three letters were then gathered together, transcribed and reproduced. It is at least that the correspondence was distributed to a wider audience, since the same compilation,
on 8.5″ x 14″ paper, is found in several different collections here at the PCA Historical Center.
The first two letters are reproduced below, followed by the first portion of the third. To do justice to the real substance of Buswell’s critique, as it appears attached to the third and final letter, really demands inclusion of the referenced portions of Van Til’s book. That will take some work, but perhaps by the end of the summer. Or if someone wants a summer project . . .
[There was a later Buswell-Van Til exchange in 1948, and I will plan to post that in the near future.]

BUSWELL’S FIRST LETTER :

January thirty
1937


Professor Cornelius Van Til
Westminster Theological Seminary
1528 Pine Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
My dear Professor Van Til

I have read all but twenty pages of your Apologetics. I could not quite finish the book before reaching home last night, but shall probably read the last twenty pages tomorrow. I think I understood your position in reading the first part of the work, but your reaction toward various historical schools of thought clarifies the whole question in my mind. I shall write up my notes which I made as I went along and send them to you sometime next week if possible, but in the meantime may I ask for just a word to clarify certain general matters?

(1) By what logic can you include the ad hominem destructive argument with an unbeliever without including the direct constructive argument? If your oft-repeated statement is true in regard to the futility of the type of apologetics represented by Dr. Wilson, then knowledge and reason fall to pieces instantly when we begin to talk with an unbeliever. We cannot argue destructively any more than we can constructively. It takes the theistic assumption to prove to an unsaved man that his system is inconsistent or to prove anything for that matter.

(2) In excluding the underlying assumptions of Orr, Hodge, and Wilson, do you also exclude the underlying assumptions of Machen’s two books “The Origin of Paul’s Religion” and “The Virgin Birth”? Would you not have to say that it would be futile to present the arguments of those two books to an unbeliever? I know that Dr. Machen in the last years of his life was deeply affected by and frequently referred to what he learned from men younger than himself on the Westminster faculty. But would you not have to consider it illogical to present those two books, independent of Dr. Machen’s more recent opinions, to an unbelieving student in the University of Chicago?

(3) The third question is one which I have mentioned before, namely, do not your many admissions of the light of intelligence by common grace in lost humanity give plenty of ground for the apologetic method which you exclude?

(4) Several of your terms I wish might be more specifically defined. Your use of the word “interpretation” is not familiar to me and is not one which I have found in any other writer. I think I know what you mean, but I feel that the usage would be misleading to a student. You seem to include explanation, definition, decree, providence, and creation, at times all in this one word interpretation.

Sometimes the fundamental idea of interpretation, viz. explanation, seems to be absent from your use of the word.

Other terms which I wish might be more specifically defined are time, temporal, eternity, and eternal.

Your entire system, viewed constructively, is so excellent, your emphasis upon the doctrine of the trinity and the doctrine of creation is so wholesome, and the barrier by which you exclude the methods of Orr, Hodge, and Wilson, seems to me so flimsy and so non-essential to your own philosophy, that I am led to pursue the argument if you care to do so.

I do not mean to set myself up as a critic but only as an interested friend. I have learned much from reading your works. My criticism really centers about only one negative emphasis in your teaching. I shall write up my notes on details as soon as possible.

Yours in Christian fellowship

JOB/B

(Signed) J, Oliver Buswell, Jr.

*****************************  Read the rest of this entry »

Hodge on Ministerial Vows

In Uncategorized on 29/06/2011 at 17:19

The following was reproduced in THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL  (23 July 1958): 7-10, and was located this afternoon among the Papers of Dr. Frederick W. Evans while searching out a matter for a patron of the Historical Center.

 

The Minister’s Vows And The Confession Of Faith

By Charles Hodge, D.D.

At a recent meeting of our General Assembly [Ed.: This would have been the 98th General Assembly of the PCUS , aka Southern Church] there was considerable discussion about the implications of the minister’s vows as related, to the Westminster Standards. In order to assist in the clarification of thought in the Church we submit an incisive article on this subject written by Dr. Charles Hodge. We give it in an abridged form.

Dr. Charles Hodge is Princeton Seminary’s best known and most influential theologian. He was a prolific writer. His “Systematic Theology” is still used in many Seminaries. For 43 years he was the editor of the Princeton Review. His writings were characterized by clarity in presentation and a complete mastery of his subject. His writings are still relevant because he was preeminently Biblical. It was said, “It is enough for Dr. Hodge to believe a thing to be true that he finds it in the Bible’.”J.R.R.

___________

Circumstances have recently awakened public attention to this important subject. It is one on which a marked diversity of opinion exists between the two portions into which our Church has been divided: and as in May last a direct proposition was made on the part of one branch of the New School body to our General Assembly for a union between them and the Old School, this original point of difference was brought into view. Not only on the floor of the Assembly was this matter referred to, but it has since been the subject of discussion in the public papers, especially in the South. A passing remark made in the last number of this journal, which we supposed expressed a truth which no man could misunderstand or deny, has given rise to strictures which very clearly prove that great obscurity, in many minds, still overhangs the subject. We either differ very much among ourselves, or we have not yet learned to express our meaning in the same terms. It is high time, therefore, that the question should be renewedly discussed.

We have nothing new to say on the subject.

As long ago as October, 1831, we expressed the views which we still hold, and which in a passing sentence were indicated in our number for July last. Those views have passed unanswered and unheeded, so far as we know, for thirty-six years. How is it that the renewed assertion of them has now called forth almost universal condemnation from the Old School press? They have been censured by men who adopt them, and who in private do not hesitate to admit their correctness. This does not imply any unfairness, or any other form of moral obliquity. It is easily accounted for. The proposition, that the adoption of the Confession of Faith does not imply the adoption of every proposition contained in that Confession, might mean much or little. It might be adopted by the most conservative, and is all that the most radical need claim. Still the proposition is undeniably correct.

The fault of the writer, as the Presbyterian of the West, sensibly remarked, is not in what is said, but in what was left unsaid. This fault would have been a very grave one had the subject of subscription to the Confession been under discussion, and had the above proposition been put forth as the whole rule in regard to it. The remark, however, was merely incidental and illustrative. To show the impossibility of our agreeing on a commentary on the whole Bible, we referred to the fact that there are propositions in the Confession of Faith in which we are not agreed. Does any man deny this? If not, where is the harm of saying it? Are we living in a false show? Are we pre- tending to adopt a principle of subscription, which in fact we neither act on for ourselves, nor dream of enforcing on others? Or are we so little certain of our own ground that we are afraid that our enemies will take advantage of us, and proclaim aloud that we have come over to them.

If we really understand ourselves, and are satisfied of the soundness of our principles, the more out-spoken we are the better; better for our own self-respect, and for the respect and confidence of others towards us. If the Christian public, and especially those who have gone out from us, hear us asserting a principle or rule of subscription which they know we do not adopt, it will be hard for them to believe both in our intelligence and sincerity. The question put to every candidate for ordination in our Church, is in these words: “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?” It is plain that a very serious responsibility before God and man is assumed by those who return an affirmative answer to that question. It is something more than ordinary falsehood, if our inward convictions do not correspond with a profession made in presence of the Church, and as the condition of our receiving authority to preach the Gospel. In such a case we lie not only unto man, but unto God; because such professions are of the nature of a vow, that is, a promise or profession made to God.

It is no less plain that the candidate has no right to put his own sense upon the words propounded to him. He has no right to select from all possible meanings which the words may bear, that particular sense which suits his purpose, or which, he thinks, will save his conscience. It is well known that this course has been openly advocated, not only by the Jesuits, but by men of this generation, in this country and in Europe. Read the rest of this entry »

May the Church Rely on Independent Agencies? – Part I

In Bible Presbyterian Church, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Robert H. Cox on 28/06/2011 at 19:15

This question of the Church employing independent agencies came of issue in the Bible Presbyterian Church in the mid-1950s. From its inception, the BPC had taken the posture of having each “agency” of the church—home missions, foreign missions, education, publications, etc.—operate independently of the Church proper. This strategy was a result of the Modernist controversy and the idea was that if one agency “went bad” or fell to modernism, then the other ministries might remain unaffected. In effect the policy was to have every egg in a separate basket. But by the 1950s, there were men in the BPC who were arguing for the establishment of a denomination-run school. That in turn led to a debate over the propriety of independent agencies. One pastor, the Rev. Robert H. Cox, prepared the following paper, a copy of which is located among the Papers of Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. [Box 276, folder 15]. The paper is reproduced here as typed in the original.

“VOLUNTARY ASSOCATIONS,” “BOARDS,” “COMMITTEES” —A Compilation and Analysis of Historical Data Relating to Certain Aspects of Church Polity in American Presbyterianism.

THE QUESTION AT ISSUE : Is there a pattern in the history of the American Presbyterian Church for the operation and control of “benevolent, missionary and educational enterprises”? Was it by “independent agencies”? “committees”? “boards”?

I. THE EARLY DAYS OF AMERICAN PRESBYTERIANISM UP UNTIL 1789

“At the first meeting of which the records remain, in 1707, the General Presbytery adopted the following resolution : ‘That every Minister of the Presbytery supply neighboring desolate places where a Minister is wanting and opportunity of doing good offers.’ At the first meeting of the Synod of Philadelphia it was resolved that it be ‘proposed to the several members of the Synod to contribute something to the raising [of] a fund for pious uses, and that they use their interest with their friends on proper occasions to contribute something to the same purpose ; and that there be chosen a Treasurer to keep what shall be collected, and that what is or may be gathered be disposed of according to the discretion of the Synod.'” (Page 385, What Is Presbyterian Law As Defined By the Church Courts, J. Aspinwall Hodge)

“At the first meeting of the General Presbytery of which we have any record (1707) the missionary character and duty of the Church was recognized.” (ibid, Page 428)

“They (these missions) were under the supervision of the Synod, and appropriations were yearly made from the ‘fund for Indians’ and the collections from the churches. the missionaries were appointed by the Synod. In 1768 a committee of twelve members of Synod was formed and ordered to meet at Elizabethtown, ‘to draw up and concert a general plan to be laid before this Synod at their next meeting, to be approved by them, in order to prepare the way to propagate the Gospel among these benighted people (the Western Indians). Nothing, however, was done. When the General Assembly was formed in 1788, missions among the Western Indians were maintained by the Synod of Virginia, and upon the division of that Synod these missions fell to the Synod of Pittsburgh. Other missions were conducted by other Synods, as among the Southern Indians by the Synod of the Carolinas. Reports were annually made to the General Assembly by the Synods, who appointed the Missionaries and directed the work through a Committee on Missions and a Board of Trust.” (ibid. page 429)

“The Synod of the Carolinas and the Synod of Virginia from the outset managed the missionary business within their own bounds.” (Presbyterians, A Popular Narrative of Their Origin, Progress, Doctrine, and Achievements, George P. Hayes, page 154).

IT IS EVIDENT IN THIS OPENING PERIOD OF AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN HISTORY THAT WE FIND NOTHING OF “INDEPENDENT AGENCIES”, OR EVEN “BOARDS” BUT THE COURTS AND DULY APPOINTED COMMITTEES CARRYING ON THIS WORK.

[To be continued]

Rationale for the Independent Board

In Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. on 28/06/2011 at 18:38

When Machen and his associates formed the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, they thought they had firm ground on which to stand, basing their actions on prior acts and decisions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. In the following letter [from the Buswell Papers, Box 276, folder 15]Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., writing to Dr. Peter Stam, makes some of those reasons clear. There’s a lot going on in this letter and the main thrust of the letter has to do with things that were going on in the Bible Presbyterian Church at that time. However, for our purposes I want to highlight the statement that it was in the Concurrent Resolutions of 1869 that Machen found precedent for the organization of an Independent Board. Though Buswell says in the letter that he has Machen’s correspondence on the subject, I have not yet been able to locate that correspondence among Buswell’s papers. Buswell may have pulled that material and somehow it never returned to his files. If that is the case, it might be possible to access the Machen Papers at Westminster and find a copy of Machen’s letter to Buswell.

May 30, 1955

Dr. Peter Stam
c/o Rev. Donald J. McNair [sic]
2209 North Ballas Road
St. Louis 22, Missouri

Dear Dr. Stam:

Replying to your request for references on data given at Presbytery, here are a few notes which I hope may be helpful.

The “Concurrent Resolutions” as they have been called or the “Concurrent Declarations of the General Assemblies of 1869” as they are designated in the Presbyterian Digest are found in Volume II of my old edition, (1930) under the head “Separations and Reunions” page 37 ff.

The particular section referred to is in the middle of page 38, number 6, “There should be one set of Committees or Boards for Home and Foreign Missions, and the other religious enterprises of the church; which the churches should be encouraged to sustain, though free to cast their contributions into other channels if they desire to do so.”

Machen explained this to me as based upon the fact that the majority of members of the new school had been supporting the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

I am sure I have Machen’s correspondence on the subject somewhere but I am not sure that I shall be able to dig it out before Synod.

Sections 7, 8 and 9 of the Concurrent Resolutions might be interpreted as swinging the balance toward denominational control. However, it could be argued that “supervision” of the seminaries (paragraph 9) did not necessarily mean anything more than visitation by Committees of Accreditation, as under the system which we now have. Certainly it is clear in paragraph 9 that the theological seminaries were perfectly free to do what they pleased under the different Synods and not under the General Assembly, although Princeton certainly was under the General Assembly in the days of our experience.

It certainly corresponds to recent history, that is the history of our particular movement, to leave the questions of boards and agencies perfectly open as your resolution does.

[Editor’s note : cf. Minutes of the Bible Presbyterian Church, 1955, pp. 78-79, Overture from the Presbytery of the Philadelphia Area, which reads in the first paragraph:
“Whereas the concurrent resolution of 1869, adopted by the Old School and New School Churches before they united in 1870, allowing liberty for both independent agencies and agencies within the church were held by Dr. J. Gresham Machen and others to be the logical basis for the formation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, both being considered within the freedom of conscience, and both being within the Presbyterian structure;…” Also, see the end of this post for the text of the referenced Concurrent Resolutions of 1869.] Read the rest of this entry »

Dr. Machen’s Profession of Faith

In J. Gresham Machen on 28/06/2011 at 11:05

The following is taken from THE INDEPENDENT BOARD BULLETIN, the newsletter of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, vol. 1, no. 4 (April 1935), page 5. The statement made here by Machen is made in the light of the pending ecclesiastical trial over Machen’s involvement with the IBPFM. In 1934, the PCUSA had passed a declaration forbidding such involvement and Machen and about a dozen others were soon tried for their refusal to step away from the Independent Board.

H. McAllister Griffiths resigned his position as Managing Editor in August of 1935, leaving over presumed differences with the views of Samuel G. Craig concerning the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, with which Griffiths was heavily involved. By November of that same year, Griffiths had a new post as editor of the newly formed Presbyterian Guardian, as issued by the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union in Philadelphia. The publication later became the denominational magazine for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Griffiths served as editor of The Presbyterian Guardian, from November 1935 through September 1936, at which time he was appointed “ecclesiastical counsel” for the trial involving the name of the newly formed Presbyterian Church of America.

[On Sunday evening, March 17, Dr. Machen preached in the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, Pa.  In his sermon he said:]

“Just before I stand before that Commission next Tuesday morning at ten o’clock in the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton, New Jersey, I have a profession of my faith to make. I cannot make it before the Commission because the Commission has barred from discussion everything really relevant to the questions at issue and has thus refused even to hear my case. But I am going to make it before this congregation tonight, and I know that every real Christian here will sympathize with me when I make it.

My profession of faith is simply that I know nothing of the Christ proclaimed through the Auburn Affirmation, by the Moderator of that Commission. I know nothing of a Christ who is presented to us in a human book containing errors, but know only a Christ presented in a divine Book, the Bible, which is true from beginning to end. I know nothing of a Christ who possibly was and possibly was not born of a virgin, but know only a Christ who was truly conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. I know nothing of a Christ who possibly did and possibly did not work miracles, but know only a Christ who said to the winds and the waves, with the sovereign voice of the Maker and Ruler of all nature, ‘Peace, be still.’ I know nothing of a Christ who possibly did and possibly did not come out of the tomb on the first Easter morning, but know only a Christ who triumphed over sin and the grave and is living now in His glorified body until He shall come again and I shall see Him with my very eyes. I know nothing of a Christ who possibly did and possibly did not die as my substitute on the cross, but know only a Christ who took on Himself the just punishment of my sins and died there in my stead to make me right with the holy God.

I must be true to that Christ of the Bible, despite all efforts of Auburn Affirmationists and the ecclesiastical machinery to make me untrue. I promised to be true to that Christ when I took my solemn ordination pledge as a minister, and I cannot break that promise now. I cannot support the anti-Christian propaganda now being furthered by the official Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  I cannot place the shifting votes of General Assemblies or any other human councils in a place of authority that rightly belongs only to the Word of God.

I have offered to defend my position about both these points. I have offered to prove that the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America is unfaithful to its great trust. I have offered to prove that the actions of the last General Assembly requiring me to resign from The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions is contrary to the Constitution of the Church. The Commission has refused even to listen to my evidence. It has refused to listen to any argument by my counsel, Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths. It will of course condemn me. But I had rather be condemned for an honest adherence to the Bible and to my solemn ordination pledge than enjoy even the highest ecclesiastical honors and emoluments as the reward of dishonesty.”

[excerpted from THE INDEPENDENT BOARD BULLETIN 1.4 (April 1935): 5.]

Griffiths’ Memoir of Machen

In J. Gresham Machen on 27/06/2011 at 21:40

A short article by H. McAllister Griffiths in eulogy of Dr. J. Gresham Machen, written in 1940 and provided here as a sample of his writing.

Dr. Gresham Machen – Unreconstructed Christian: A Memoir
by the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths

Three passing years have cast their shadows over “this little landscape of our life” since that New Year’s Day of 1937 when, having finished the work he had to do on earth, J. Gresham Machen was called into the presence of the Christ he loved.

Time gives perspective, just as distance gives it. It has its own manner of revealing persons and events in truer relative importance. The original facts remain unchanged. We simply see them better.

Neither the character nor the fame of Doctor Machen stands in need of any embellishment. The very attempt would be an exercise in futility. What he was, what he did, and the principles underlying his life in action speak for themselves when rightly perceived and related. And it is my profound conviction, first formed more than fifteen years ago but ever increasing in certainty, that when the long roll of Christ’s servants is called out in the great day, the name “Machen” will belong in that select company of immortals that includes Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Xavier and John Wesley.

What was he, then?

 

In every fiber of his being, he was a redeemed sinner. He was very fearless before men but very humble before God. Everything else sprang from a primary and overwhelming sense of obligation to the grace of God in Christ. He was not his own, never thought of himself as his own, never conserved strength or time or substance for his own indulgence. He spent himself for Christ. And even in those weeks when he could be persuaded to “rest” himself in his beloved Alpine mountain climbing (at which he was far from a novice) he would see, in those stately distances, the majesty and holiness of the sovereign God. I do not mean that he viewed the world of beauty with a merely didactic or moralizing eye. But since his life was a Christ-centered life, since the world of visible forms and events was to him permeated with an eternal purpose, everything beautiful and true and good declared the presence and glory of the One who is ineffable.

John Gresham Machen, born in Baltimore in 1881, learned to know and to love the Lord Jesus Christ at his mother’s knee. His father, as well as his mother, was an exceptional Christian, but the communion between son and mother was especially intimate and sacred. Both parents were persons of culture and refinement in the older, non-debased, meaning of the words. Doctor Machen’s tender tribute to his mother in the short personal sketch given in “Contemporary American Theology” (1932) lifts only a small corner of the veil of his heart. If one is to find any real parallel one must go far back in Christian history, to read in the “Confessions” of Augustine the life and character of Monica, and of the mystical moments shared by mother and son in Ostia, before her death. Read the rest of this entry »

A Modern Day Jonah Story

In Uncategorized on 27/06/2011 at 12:51

Someone was recently searching this site for more information about H. McAllister Griffiths. He was well known in the 1930s and 40s, but is largely forgotten now. He served as ecclesiastical counsel for J. Gresham Machen, Roy T. Brumbaugh and several others who were brought to trial in PCUSA church courts for their involvement with the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Griffiths had been the managing editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, then went on to serve with the IBPFM and later as General Secretary for the American Council of Christian Churches [ACCC].
It was while in that latter position that he fell into some difficulties around 1944. The end result was that Griffiths left to avoid dealing with some matters and simply disappeared from the circles of fellowship of which he had been a part. Griffiths may have taken work in Canada for a time before returning to New York City to work in the public relations field. The rest of the story comes by way of a letter found among the papers of Dr. Allan A. MacRae. It is quite a story, and like the story of Jonah, it proves that the Christian may run, but the Lord will still use even His erring children in His greater plan, when and where He will. Dr. MacRae is here writing to the widow of Dr. William H. Chisholm, and in the course of the letter tells this account:

April 5, 1978

Dear Mrs. Chisholm:

Thank you very much for sending me the excerpts from the biographical sketch of your dear husband by Dr. Louis M. Barnes on September 20, 1977. It contained many facts that I had not previously known. Dr. Chisholm was one of the finest Christians I ever met. His messages in our chapel were a tremendous blessing to all of us.

It interested me to read that he had met you through Hall McAllister Griffiths with whom for a time I was very well acquainted. He had a great influence on Dr. Machen. After a time of very valuable activity in our group, interrupted by a few unfortunate lapses, Hall left us and we heard little about him for a number of years. However, I was happy to be told of a letter that he wrote toward the end of his life, mentioning his activity in helping to word resolutions and reports at a business meeting. He said that at the end of the meeting the vice-president of an important corporation had come to him and said: “Would you tell me how to be saved?” He said, “What makes you think that I can tell you how to be saved?” The man answered, “There is something about your attitude that makes me feel that you can.” Hall said that he then explained the way of salvation and the man bowed his head and received Christ as Savior. Later on Hall received a call from the man’s wife who told him that just a week after the meeting her husband had suddenly died of a heart attack. She said that before he died he had rejoiced greatly in his new-found salvation and that as a result of his witness she also had come to know Christ. I was glad to learn that though Satan had diverted Hall’s activities to quite an extent in his latter years, he still retained the most vital things of the Gospel, and was used to some extent to show forth the glory of the Lord, though far less than your dear husband was.

Hall was almost a genius, but was quite undisciplined. It is one of the faults of our present civilization that those with unusual ability are often undisciplined.

I hope that you and Mary are well and that the Lord is blessing. May He give you strength and bless you in all things.

Cordially yours in Christ.

/s/ Allan A. MacRae

 


Before Clark there was Clark

In The Presbyterian on 27/06/2011 at 10:39

Getting back to our exploration of some of the articles in THE PRESBYTERIAN, there is this by the Rev. David Scott Clark [1859-1939], father of Gordon Haddon Clark.  It would seem the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. There are several other articles by D.S. Clark that appeared in The PRESBYTERIAN, and I will try to post some others in the near future.

The Philosophical Basis of Christianity

By Rev. David S. Clark, D.D.
[The Presbyterian, 94.50 (11 December 1924): 6-7.]

MUCH has been said and written about the philosophical basis of Christianity. It is doubtful if such terms should be used in accurate speech. It is chiefly when Christianity is conceived as a purely subjective phenomenon, or where the subjective elements prevail, that the term finds largest use.

There is indeed a philosophical basis for many men’s conceptions or representations of Christianity. Christianity has often been tinged and warped by philosophical approach. From the Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism of the early centuries to the present-day evolutionary approach, Christianity has suffered from philosophical viewpoints. But the objective facts of Christianity are to be considered historically rather than philosophically. The factual basis of Christianity, to use Professor Machen’s terms, is not to be evaporated in the cauldron of philosophical ebullition. It is true that men often minimize or distort the facts by reason of philosophical preconceptions, and thus produce a mongrel Christianity; but the facts of Christianity constitute the true basis rather than the philosophical accretions or interpretations.

It may be said that, in looking at and evaluating the facts of Christianity, we only substitute one philosophy for another with which we disagree. It is perhaps inevitable that a man will be influenced by whatever philosophy he holds, even in so important a matter as his estimate of Christianity and his presentation of the same. Still it is true, aside from every philosophical bias, that the true basis lies in the facts, and we may say, the historical facts; because Christianity is a historical religion.

This philosophical bias is what is meant by the term “approach,” so glibly used to-day. We are told that the “approach” to the Scriptures and the “approach” to Christianity is entirely different in these modern days, giving us an entirely new view, and requiring a new statement of Christian doctrine, and a reconstruction of religion. These terms are familiar enough and are sure symptoms of an infectious modernism.

Many have been the attempts to re-state Christianity in the terms of philosophical postulates. Schleiermacher’s approach to the Scriptures and to Christianity was from the standpoint of Pantheism. Hence he left the doctrine of a personal God as an open question; repudiated the Old Testament, and dealt in a perfectly arbitrary way with the New Testament. Religious authority was entirely subjective; the effect of the atonement was a moral influence; Christ bore the sins of men only in his fellow feeling and sympathy for them in their struggles and suffering on account of sin. This sympathy draws us into fellowship with Christ to our greater good and blessedness—thus Christ becomes a Saviour and substitute. Christ was divine only in a purely pantheistic sense, being the man who most of all realized his oneness with the Eternal, or possessed, what was called a God-consciousness. Thus philosophy was the basis of Schleiermacher’s perversion of Christianity. Read the rest of this entry »

The Sovereign Lord of History

In Reformation Today, Under the Sun (Nothing New!), Wm. Stanford Reid on 26/06/2011 at 13:34

So frequently throughout Scripture that we tend to overlook it by its very frequency, our Lord God does time and time again instruct us–charge us–command us–to remember His works. It is one of His appointed means by which we can keep our hearts tender and fresh in the love of our Lord and Savior. John Flavel’s excellent treatise, THE MYSTERY OF PROVIDENCE is a wonderful exposition of this same truth. Here in the article below, William Stanford Reid adds his own insight on the importance of history for the Christian.

NEEDED: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

by William Stanford Reid
Reformation Today (Montreal, Canada), 2.4 (February 1953): 11, 17.]

History is God’s possession. This is the repeated assertion of the Scriptures. Whether dealing with individuals such as Pharaoh, Cyrus and Judas, or with nations such as the Jews or with kingdoms such as Babylon, Egypt or Rome, this is always the point of view. Every item, every event of history is worked out according to the purpose and plan of God, “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Moreover, this plan and purpose finds its culmination in redemption, accomplished by Christ and to be made complete at history’s final day.

The implications of this point of view for the history of the Church since apostolic days are numerous. The most important is, however, that Christ, who is “head over all things to the Church” is guiding and ruling His people. He is bringing His elect into the Church and punishing those professing Christians who prove unfaithful. In this way the history of the Church has for the Church a twofold objective. It is a warning of what befalls those who are not obedient. This is mentioned repeatedly in the New Testament. (2 Tim. 3:8; Heb. 3:17-19; Rev. 2,3). At the same time the history of the Church is a means of instruction, whereby it is warned, encouraged and strengthened. (Rom. 4, 9-11; Heb. 11; 1 Cor. 10:11).

For this reason the Christian has a very real obligation to the Church’s history. He, and the Church as a whole, must take it seriously, regarding it as part of God’s means of guiding and directing the Church by the Spirit into all truth. (John 14:26; 16:13). For this reason history is not to be discarded, nor disregarded. It is the revelation of how God deals with His people, which is also the fundamental message of the Bible. The only difference is that the Church does not have since Apostolic days, an inspired record, nor an inspired interpretation. Therefore, it is the Church’s obligation, not only to understand its own history, but also to evaluate and interpret it in the light of God’s Word.

There are, however, dangers at this point. If one adopts a proper point of view, they may not be great, but there is always a tendency towards traditionalism and conservativism. Because this, that or the other doctrine has been believed, or because this, that or the other practice has been followed, such must still be the case. This can only lead to aridity and pharasaism which will bring the Church to the grave.

The greatest danger, however, amongst present day Christians, is in the other direction. They tend to disregard the Church’s history. They adopt the attitude that it is unimportant “Let’s not have Calvin or Wesley or Machen,” they say, “But let us get back to the Scriptures. Only then shall we know the truth.” In this way they are adopting the position, that before this age no one has ever really wrestled with problems of the faith, and what is even more important, no one has ever found a solution. They imply that their problems, their needs and their ideas are absolutely new. Therefore history cannot help. Read the rest of this entry »