Griffiths’ Memoir of Machen

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. Continue reading “Griffiths’ Memoir of Machen”

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A Modern Day Jonah Story

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