Sunday, January 01, 2006

Machen For the New Year

Today I had the privilege of preaching from Ecclesiastes 3:11, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." My emphasis was that because God had placed eternity in our hearts, we would remain dissatisfied with earthly things, uncomfortable in time (it either moves too fast or too slow), and that we possess a longing for heaven which would only grow stronger as we age. Calvin wrote about man's innate sense of God's presence (sensus divinitatus), but Christians, by grace, also have a sensus aeternitatus - an awareness that our homeland is in heaven. "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20).

Longing to be with the Savior, and for the heavenly perfection which marks our predestined communion, is the mark of a saint. Protestants don't officially canonize anyone, but there are individuals whose faith, dedication, and sacrifice make their lives seem like bright lights which illuminate our spiritual landscape, if only for a brief time. One such light, J. Gresham Machen, died on New Year's Day, 1937. He was only 55 years old when pneumonia took his life in Bismarck, North Dakota. He was given a glimpse of heaven on his deathbed, and said to his pastoral colleague, Samuel Allen, "Sam, it was glorious, it was glorious." John Piper has a rich tribute and analysis of Machen's life available at this link.

Machen believed the church was looking in the wrong places for solutions to its problems. The church was looking externally, to the culture for answers, when it should be looking internally, to the kingdom of heaven within, which offers eternal and unchanging truth and power.

"The Church is puzzled by the world's indifference. She is trying to overcome it by adapting her message to the fashions of the day. But if, instead, before the conflict, she would descend into the secret place of meditation, if by the clear light of the gospel she would seek an answer not merely to the questions of the hour but, first of all, to the eternal problems of the spiritual world, then perhaps, by God's grace, through His good Spirit, in His good time, she might issue forth once more with power, and an age of doubt might be followed by the dawn of an era of faith" (Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 11, 1913).

At this, the turning of the year, I feel inspired to follow Machen into that secret place of meditation, and be empowered by the gospel to turn away from the tawdriness of the world, and gaze upon that glorious eternity where Christ sits enthroned in majesty. Machen was willing to give his life for that gospel, and so I can at least give my time and my attention.

"The world is lying in misery, we ourselves are sinners, men are perishing in sin every day. The gospel is the sole means of escape; let us preach it to the world while yet we may" (ibid).


Blogger Peter said...

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those whith whom God is well-pleased!

10:21 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Great stuff, Scott. Thank you very much. Never knew Machen died in North Dakota - was he living there?

10:00 AM  
Blogger Scribe said...

Machen was visiting several Presbyterian churches at the invitation of Rev. Allen. It was the Christmas break at Westminster, and his colleagues had noticed he looked worn out. Nonetheless, he took a train and in subzero temperatures went from church to church defending the orthodox Reformed faith. He subsequently contracted an illness which deteriorated into pneumonia. His last recorded words came from a telegram to John Murray exclaiming thankfulness for the active obedience of Christ.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Miss Eagle said...

If only we took Jesus at his word - not the dogma, not the layer on layer, not the circumlocutions and condemnations of the pharasaic/priestly caste - in its simplicity. For instance, Christians could start by refusing to take an oath on the bible and just let their yes be yes and their no be no. They could examine their sacred places for evidence of Mammon and money changers' tables. We could look at who we include and exclude and let commensality be the order of the day. Implementing these simple things alone would revolutionize our lives and give us the relevance among the poor and sick and imprisoned that Jesus had. Your post is beautiful, Ars. Let us practice what he preached - which is not always the same as we preach.

2:19 AM  

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