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J. Gresham Machen, writing in 1923:

The present is a time not for ease or pleasure, but for earnest and prayerful work. A terrible crisis unquestionably has arisen in the Church. In the ministry of evangelical churches are to be found hosts of those who reject the gospel of Christ. By the equivocal use of traditional phrases, by the representation of differences of opinion as though they were only differences about the interpretation of the Bible, entrance into the Church was secured for those who are hostile to the very foundations of the faith. And now there are some indications that the fiction of conformity to the past is to be thrown off, and the real meaning of what has been taking place is to be allowed to appear. The Church, it is now apparently supposed, has almost been educated up to the point where the shackles of the Bible can openly be cast away and the doctrine of the Cross of Christ can be relegated to the limbo of discarded subtleties.

Yet there is in the Christian life no room for despair. Only, our hopefulness should not be founded on the sand. It should be founded, not upon a blind ignorance of the danger, but solely upon the precious promises of God. Laymen, as well as ministers, should return, in these trying days, with new earnestness, to the study of the Word of God.

If the Word of God be heeded, the Christian battle will be fought both with love and with faithfulness. Party passions and personal animosities will be put away, but on the other hand, even angels from heaven will be rejected if they preach a gospel different from the blessed gospel of the Cross. Every man must decide upon which side he will stand. God grant that we may decide aright!

What the immediate future may bring we cannot presume to say. The final result indeed is clear. God has not deserted His Church; He has brought her through even darker hours than those which try our courage now, yet the darkest hour has always come before the dawn. We have today the entrance of paganism into the Church in the name of Christianity. But in the second century a similar battle was fought and won. From another point of view, modern liberalism is like the legalism of the middle ages, with its dependence upon the merit of man. And another Reformation in God’s good time will come.

But meanwhile our souls are tried. We can only try to do our duty in humility and in sole reliance upon the Savior who bought us with His blood. The future is in God’s hand, and we do not know the means that He will use in the accomplishment of His will.

--J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, (New Edition; Eerdmans, 2009 [orig., 1923), 150

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2 thoughts on “No Time for Despair”

  1. Jeff says:

    Justin, just what have the “liberals” done so terrible in recent centuries here in the West? Here’s what the “conservatives” pat themselves on the back for:

    1. Teaching that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that any poetic of reading of Genesis 1-2 is “liberal”. Don’t worry about this flying in the face of all available scientific evidence. And if you go visit the lovely “conservative” Creation Museum, one will find that believing in an old earth is basically the root of all sorts of evil. Splendid.

    2. A proud Biblical literalism that tries to sweep inconsistencies and even absurdities under the rug, instead of seeing the Bible as an inspired, but not magical document.

    3. Keeping women in their proper places with a regressive “complementarianism.”

    4. Sexual repression, most notable towards homosexuals, who we are led to believe just “choose” to be evil, based on a few vague Scripture passages that know nothing of modern understandings of sexuality or sexual orientation.

    5. Historically, it was the “conservatives” who used the Bible to argue in favor of slavery. They only moved on from that when they had no other choice.

    6. As we are seeing now, an insistence that everybody who isn’t just like them is going to hell, and a failure to even consider that the Bible might not provide every little answer in regards to various classes of people.

    7. Let’s not forget the lovely things “conservatives” have done historically–both Catholic and Protestant–that have resulted in so much bloodshed. Yes, atheistic Communism has plenty of blood on its hands in the 20th century, but most “liberals” are not atheists or Communists, not to mention “We’ve killed less people than Stalin” is not exactly a great debating point.

    We could go on and on. All to say, I can definitely see why so many people today are choosing atheism and agnosticism. The “conservatives” are the greatest assets to the cause of anti-theism.

    The people who are kept in line do so at the peril of their own minds and just reproduce strategies of fear and dysfunction in others.

  2. Courtney Wisdom says:

    It is so encouraging to see that the current battle is truly an age-old battle. Thank you for these quotes from our spiritual ancestors which remind me that God’s truth will triumph and His church will arise yet again.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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