Jesus as Social Reformer?

The Social Significance
of Jesus Christ

by Samuel G. Craig
Christianity Today 2.5 (Mid-September 1931): 1-2.]

IT would be misleading to speak of Jesus Christ as a social reformer. It is well within the truth, however, to say that He has been the most effective of social reformers. A comparison between the social conditions that prevailed before His advent and those that prevail in Christendom today, supplemented by a comparison between social conditions in Christian and non-Christian lands, evidence His unique effectiveness as a social reformer. Bad as are existing social conditions throughout Christendom, they would be infinitely worse were it not for the leaven He cast into the meal of humanity. Moreover if Christianity should cease to function in this world, there is every reason to believe not only that no further progress would be made along these lines but that what has been gained would be lost. The thought we have in mind has perhaps received its most eloquent expression in the oft-quoted words of James Russell Lowell

“When the microscopic search of scepticism which has hunted the heavens and sounded the seas to disprove the existence of a Creator has turned its attention to human society, and found a place on this planet, ten miles square, where a decent man can live in decency, comfort and security, supporting and educating his children, unspoiled and unpolluted; a place where” age is reverenced, infancy protected, manhood respected, womanhood honored, and human life held in due regard—when sceptics can find such a place, ten miles square on this globe, where the gospel of Christ has not gone and cleared the way, and laid the foundations, and made decency and security possible, it will be in order for the sceptical literati to move thither and ventilate their views. But as long as these very men are dependent upon the very religion which they discard for every privilege which they enjoy, they may well hesitate a little before they seek to rob the Christian of his hope, and humanity of its faith in that Saviour who alone has given to man that hope of life eternal which makes life tolerable and society possible, and robs death of its terrors and the grave of its gloom.”

Wherein lies the secret of Christ’s unique effectiveness as a social reformer? Unquestionably it lies in His ability to deal with sin. Other social reformers, except as they have been His followers, have had much to say about imperfect legislation, unfavorable environment, and such like; but they have had little to say about sin, notwithstanding the fact that sin on the part of somebody is the great root-cause of social misery. “Take away from the history of humanity,” to cite the late James Orr, “all the evils which have come on man through his own folly, sin, and vice; through the follies and vices of society; through tyranny, misgovernment and oppression; through the cruelty and inhumanity of man to man; and how vast a portion of the problem of evil would already be solved! What myriads of lives have been sacrificed on the shrines of Bacchus and Lust; what untold misery has been inflicted on the race to gratify the unscrupulous ambitions of ruthless conquerors; what tears and groans have sprung from the institution of slavery; what Wretchedness is hourly inflicted on human hearts by domestic tyranny, private selfishness, the preying of the strong on the weak, the dishonesty and chicanery of society! . . . If all the suffering and sorrow which follows directly or indirectly from human sin could be abstracted, what a happy world after all this would be!” If Jesus had had as little to say about sin as have so many of our modern social reformers, His efforts along the line of social betterment would have been as ineffectual as theirs. His work has proven effective while that of others has proven ineffective because He alone is able to deal adequately with sin. It is this ability that puts Him in a class by Himself among social reformers; moreover it is because He possesses this ability that in Him alone is found any adequate warrant for supposing that a kingdom in which justice shall prevail, in which love shall be the law and happiness the universal condition, may yet prevail on the earth.

But while Christians, because of their faith in Jesus Christ, may expect a renewed earth wherein dwelleth righteousness we are not to suppose that as a class they are committed to any specific social scheme. Christianity as such does not take sides between the advocates of the present social order and that proposed, for instance, by the Socialists. Unquestionably there is much in the present social order, such as child labor, sweat shops, white slavery, alcoholism, unfair distribution of wealth, race hatred, militarism, that must be eliminated before anything like Christianity’s hope for this world will have been realized. Equally unquestionable it is that there is much about Socialism (as it is commonly advocated), such as its irreligion, its materialism, its class hatred, that must be eliminated before it can even pretend to be in harmony with a social order that could rightly be called Christian. Continue reading “Jesus as Social Reformer?”


Samuel Craig’s Review of Machen’s Virgin Birth of Christ

THE VIRGIN BIRTH OF CHRIST by J. Gresham Machen, DD., Litt. D., Professor of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. Harper & Brothers, New York and London. 1930.
[Christianity Today 1.1 (May, 1930): 13.]

This volume sustains, and more than sustains, Dr. Machen’s reputation as not only one of the world’s foremost New Testament scholars but as one of the ablest defenders of historic Christianity. His former books, The Origin of Paul’s Religion (1921), Christianity and Liberalism (1923) and What is Faith? (1925), have so whetted the appetites of their thousands of readers that the announcement of a new book by Dr. Machen fills them with eager expectancy — whatever may be their theological position. It will be recalled that Mr. Walter Lippmann, whose theological position is about as far removed as possible from that of Dr. Machen’s, in his widely read book, A Preface to Morals, not only speaks of Dr. Machen as “both a scholar and a gentleman” but says of his book, Christianity and Liberalism:

“It is an admirable book. For its acumen, for its saliency, and for its wit, this cool and stringent defense of orthodox Protestantism is, I think, the best popular argument produced by either side in the current controversy. We shall do well to listen to Dr. Machen.”

Dr. Machen’s latest book, it is true, like The Origin of Paul’s Religion, moves throughout in the field of exact scholarship. It would be difficult to point to a book anywhere that is more thorough-going in its recital and examination of all that bears upon the subject with which it deals. But while this is the case, Dr. Machen writes so simply and lucidly that men and women of intelligence everywhere, whatever their standing as technical scholars, will be able to read it with understanding and profit. Certainly no minister or Bible teacher of adults can afford to ignore this book. To the reviewer at least it is a source of much satisfaction to know that what is confessedly the most exhaustive and most scholarly book on the problem of the Virgin Birth of Christ ever published, at least in English, has been written by a man who after having acquainted himself with everything of importance that has been written on the subject since the first century, no matter in what language, holds to the historic belief of the Christian Church that its founder was born without human father, being conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary.

It is impossible in the space at our disposal to do more than indicate the contents of this book — a book that is all but certain to remain the standard book on the subject for many years to come.

Dr. Machen begins by pointing out that whatever we may think of the virgin birth as a historic fact we cannot deny that the historic Christian Church has all but universally held to the belief that Christ was virgin born. Continue reading “Samuel Craig’s Review of Machen’s Virgin Birth of Christ”

Chalmers #8 : The Cause of Doctrinal Troubles

The Cause Of The Doctrinal Trouble In The Northern Presbyterian Church

(“Exploring Avenues Of Acquaintance And Co-operation”)
By Chalmers W. Alexander
Jackson, Miss.
[THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL 8.13 (1 November 1949): 9-11.]

This is the eighth in the series of articles by Chalmers W. Alexander under the heading, “Exploring Avenues of Acquaintance And Co-operation.” This is an informative new series of articles written by one of the most able laymen in the Southern Presbyterian Church.

What has been the principal cause of the doctrinal disturbance in the Northern Presbyterian Church?

Origin Of The Doctrinal Disturbance

In order to understand fully the answer to that question it is necessary to look back briefly over some of the events which took place in the early history of Presbyterianism in America. By the close of the eighteenth century, the Presbyterian Church in this country found itself working side by side with the Congregational Church in trying to build churches and furnish ministers for the nation’s expanding population, which was spreading throughout the Middle West. And in 1801 a plan of union was adopted whereby the Presbyterian General Assembly and the General Association of the State of Connecticut (Congregational) should work together, rather than in competition.

Old School” Theology Versus “New School” Theology

This union of 1801 marks the earliest discernible beginning of the decline of what we now refer to as the Northern Presbyterian Church, for the Congregational churches adhered to the liberal “New School” theology. This liberal “New School” theology differed from the Presbyterian, or conservative “Old School,” theology in several important points of doctrine.

The conservative “Old School” theology of the Presbyterians rested solidly on the teachings of the Holy Bible as they are outlined in the Westminster Confession of Faith and in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The liberal “New School” theology differed from its teachings, for instance, with reference to the extent of the guilt of Adam as it is imputed to his descendents, and with reference to the Calvinist doctrine of the definite atonement of Christ.

The New England theologians, who were the trainers of the Congregational ministers, were not inclined to consider very seriously the principles which meant much to the Presbyterian ministers who, for the most part, came from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Consequently friction developed between the two denominational groups, and in 1837 they severed their relationship.

The Presbyterian Groups Separate

But prior to 1837, the liberal “New School” theology of the Congregational Church had been embraced by some of the Presbyterian ministers. Accordingly, within a few months after the separation of the Congregational Church and the Presbyterian Church, there occurred a separation between the conservative “Old School” and the liberal “New School” groups which now existed in the Presbyterian Church. Continue reading “Chalmers #8 : The Cause of Doctrinal Troubles”

“The Saving Christ,” by B.B. Warfield

The Saving Christ : A Sermon
by the late Benjamin B. Warfield, D.D., LL.D.
[Christianity Today 1.1 (May 1930): 11-12, 19.]

B. B. Warfield at the time of his death was the leading Calvinistic theologian in the English speaking world, ranking in this respect with the great Dutch theologians/ Abraham Kuyper and Hermann Bavinck. In him a mind of rare power, extraordinary erudition and a remarkable facility for accurate and concise expression was united with a deeply Christian heart and an earnest evangelical zeal. . . . Dr. Warfield’s sermons have been spoken of as “models of the better sort of University preaching” and it seems fitting that the first sermon printed in “Christianity Today” should be from one who for so many years was a standing illustration of the fact that the most searching critical and historical investigation strengthens rather than weakens belief in the Bible as the Word of God and in Christ as the alone and all-sufficient Saviour. 

Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”—I Tim. i. I5. (R. V.)

IN these words we have the first of a short series of five “faithful sayings,” or current Christian commonplaces, incidentally adduced by the apostle Paul in what we commonly call his Pastoral Epistles. They are a remarkable series and their appearance on the face of these New Testament writings is almost as remarkable as their contents.

Consider what the phenomenon is that is brought before us in these “faithful sayings.” Here is the apostle writing to his assistants in the proclamation of? the gospel, little more than a third of a century, say, after the crucifixion of his Lord — scarcely thirty-three years after he had himself entered upon the great ministry that had been committed to him of preaching to the Gentiles the words of this life. Yet he is already able to remind them of the blessed contents of the gospel message in words that are the product of Christian experience in the hearts of the community. For just what these “faithful sayings” are, is a body of utterances in which the essence of the gospel as been crystallized by those who have tasted and seen its preciousness. Continue reading ““The Saving Christ,” by B.B. Warfield”

“The Present Situation in the Presbyterian Church,” by J. Gresham Machen (1930)

Yet another article by Dr. J. Gresham Machen which, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t been made widely available on the web. Here Machen remains farsighted at least and nearly prophetic in his insight.  

The Present Situation in the Presbyterian Church
By the Rev. J. G. Machen, D.D., Litt.D.,
Professor of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia
[Christianity Today 1.1 (May, 1930): 5-7.]

THE present situation in the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. is only one phase of a situation that prevails in the Protestant churches throughout the world. Everywhere—in the countries of Europe and in mission lands—Christianity finds itself in a mighty conflict with an alien type of religious belief and life. This alien type of religious belief and life appears in many different forms, and expresses itself in many different ways; but at bottom it is everywhere the same. Disparagement of doctrine, decrying of controversy, sinking of doctrinal differences in a program of peace and work, the craze for organizational unions, the “interpretation” of the Bible and of the great Christian creeds to make them mean almost their exact opposite, the substitution of vague swelling words for a clear-cut proclamation of the Cross of Christ, exaltation of experience” at the expense of God’s written Word—these are everywhere the marks of one great and deadly enemy to the Christian faith.

The enemy is made the more dangerous because it is found within, rather than without, the Church. Definite opponents of the Christian religion could have been more easily met; but now as in ancient times Satan has preferred to labor for the most part in the dark. The change has come very quietly and very gradually. There have been few open breaks; there have been comparatively few open denials; good men, in their ignorance, have often become emissaries of unbelief. The Gospel has not been openly contradicted, but it has been quietly pushed aside. Continue reading ““The Present Situation in the Presbyterian Church,” by J. Gresham Machen (1930)”

A Brief History of The Presbyterian Magazine

With the start of its 96th year of publication, the editors of The Presbyterian saw fit to review briefly the magazine’s history.  On the front cover they published the following information:


Early in 1831, a group of Presbyterian men in Philadelphia, and vicinity conceived the idea of founding a religious paper, to advance the interests of the kingdom in general and of their own denomination in particular.  Throughout these years the following have been the editors, in the order of their service:

  • Rev. John Burtt,
  • Rev. James W. Alexander, D.D.
  • Rev. William M. Engles, D.D.
  • Rev. John Leyburn, D.D.
  • Rev. Matthew B. Grier, D.D.
  • Rev. E.E. Adams, D.D.
  • Rev. Samuel A. Mutchmore, D.D.
  • Rev. W.W. McKinney, D.D., LL.D.
  • Rev. Edward B. Hodge, D.D.
  • Rev. Walter A. Brooks, D.D.
  • Rev. David S. Kennedy, D.D.
  • Rev. Samuel G. Craig, D.D.

and various leaders of the Church or active workers, who have served as associates or on the editorial staff. Continue reading “A Brief History of The Presbyterian Magazine”

“The Present Attack Upon Historic Christianity”

Continuing in our series on conservative Presbyterian responses to the Auburn Affirmation and events following, this editorial from The Presbyterian moves the discussion to the root of the matter, as seen by the editor.  There are references to other developments, such as the Committee of Fifteen, and these will have to be explored later.  Of particular note in this editorial is what might arguably be one of the first inklings of a general call for separation from unbelief.  The editor states in his concluding paragraph, “The necessity for all true evangelicals uniting in one solid body against these united and determined attacks is most apparent and vital…evangelicals will be most effective if each company or denomination proceed under their respective organization.”
I should also mention that in one of the next issues
[11 February], it is noted that the Rev. Samuel G. Craig took over the post of editor.  It is possible therefore that he, rather than David S. Kennedy, may have been the author of this unsigned editorial.   

The Present Attack Upon Historic Christianity [The Presbyterian 96-3  (21 January 1926): 2.]

No sincere, intelligent man, Christian or non-Christian, will deny that an open and avowedly destructive attack is being directed with violence against evangelical, historic Christianity. It is of the first importance that all true Christians be aroused and informed as to the nature and extent of this conflict and the consideration of the best means of resisting it.

This present conflict against evangelical Christianity is the first geographically universal conflict in the history of the Church. It appears in every continent, in every mission field, home and foreign, in the long-established churches, and in every denomination.

The purpose of this conflict is to destroy the very foundation of evangelical Christianity, including both doctrine and morals. Continue reading ““The Present Attack Upon Historic Christianity””

“The Mission of the Church,” by J. Gresham Machen (1926)

The initial motivation in this series on conservative Presbyterian response to the Auburn Affirmation was to find if there was in fact any response prior to the 1930s.  The first critiques that I could locate were dated well into the 1930s.  But digging a bit deeper, the prevailing conservative Presbyterian voice of the 1920s turned out to be The Presbyterian, a long-standing publication whose final two conservative editors were the Rev. David S. Kennedy and  the Rev. Samuel G. Craig.  As it turns out, there was initial opposition to the Auburn Affirmation published on the pages of The Presbyterian (and perhaps elsewhere–time will tell).  It’s just that this particular publication is all but lost to history.  We are striving to bring back some of this important content, as it continues to speak abiding truths.

The Mission of the Church*
By Professor J. Gresham Machen, D.D.

[*An Address delivered under the title, “Safeguarding the Church,” before the Presbyterian Ministers’ Association in Philadelphia, 1 March 1926, and (under the title, “What the Church Stands For”) previously in the Washington and Compton Avenue Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, 12 February 1926.  Excerpted from The Presbyterian and Herald and Presbyter 96.14  (8 April 1926): 8-11.]

Before we can consider the mission of the Church, we must determine what the Church is. What are its limits? What forms a part of it and what does not? Where is the true Christian Church to be found?

According to the Westminster Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church, the invisible Church is to be distinguished from the visible Church. The invisible Church consists of the whole number of those who are saved; the visible Church consists of those who profess the true religion, together with their children. There is absolutely no warrant in Scripture for supposing that any particular branch of the visible Church will necessarily be preserved. Always, it is true, there will be a visible Church upon the earth, but any particular Church organization may become so corrupt as to be not a true Church of Christ, but (as the Confession of Faith puts it), “a synagogue of Satan.” Continue reading ““The Mission of the Church,” by J. Gresham Machen (1926)”

The Modernist Controversy through a Journalist’s Eyes, Parts 12 & 13 (1933)

This is the final segment in this biographical sketch of Dr. Samuel G. Craig.  I will be posting a link to the full account as one single file before long.


Thoughtful Christians are not minimizing the signs of the times.  Days of increasing apostasy may be upon us, and ours may be the age of which Jesus asked the pathetic question, “When the Son of Man cometh shall He find faith on the earth?”  Devout students of the Scriptures are among those who think so.  They are not fanatics; they are awaiting the return of Jesus with an expectancy like Simeon’s.  It ill becomes any reader of the New Testament to ask, “Where is the promise of His coming? for all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”  Jesus is coming.  The Gospels and Epistles glow with the definite promise.  Upon one of our long night-watches the day will break and the shadows forever flee away. Continue reading “The Modernist Controversy through a Journalist’s Eyes, Parts 12 & 13 (1933)”

The Modernist Controversy through a Journalist’s Eyes, Part VIII (1933)

Part VIII.

It is profitless to thresh over the old straw of the Presbyterian controversy. The field is gleaned and the grain garnered. But Princeton Theological Seminary looms so large in Presbyterian history and Dr. Craig came so close to prevailing upon the Presbyterian Church to continue the maintenance of Princeton in its former glory, that considered simply as a feat in journalism the achievement deserves a thorough-going examination. Continue reading “The Modernist Controversy through a Journalist’s Eyes, Part VIII (1933)”