The Christian Faith in the Modern World

Topic: Revelation Type: Book Author: J. Gresham Machen 

Chapter 6


In the last few talks in this little series, I have been speaking to you about the inspiration of the Bible. I have been saying that the Bible is the Word of God and that as such it is completely true in matters of fact and completely authoritative when it issues commands.

That is certainly a good deal to say; it is certainly a large claim for me to make in behalf of a book that many people regard merely as a collection of Hebrew religious literature.

The question arises whether the claim is justified, whether the Bible is really and truly the Word of God.

I have a great deal of sympathy for those who raise that question, and I do not think that it is a question that ought to be dodged. If you should come into the classes that I try to conduct at Westminster Seminary, I do not believe that you would charge me with dodging the question. I do try as best I can—only, I wish my best were better—to show the students how we can deal with people who do not yet believe in the inspiration of the Bible. We cannot help them very much if we just assume that they already believe what we believe. Instead, we ought to try to understand their present position and then lead them logically from one thing to another until finally we can show them that the Bible is, as we believe it is, the Word of God.

When I say that, I do not mean that everyone who comes to believe in the inspiration of the Bible passes successively through those logical steps. In countless cases conviction as to the divine authority of the Bible comes in very much more immediate fashion. A man hears some true preacher of the gospel. The preacher speaks on the authority of a book which lies open there on the pulpit. As the words of that book are expounded, the man who listens finds that the secrets of his heart are revealed. It is as though a cloak had been pulled away. The man suddenly sees himself as God sees him. He suddenly comes to see that he is a sinner under the just wrath and curse of God. Then from the same strange book there comes a wonderful offer of pardon. It comes with a strange kind of sovereign authority. The preacher, as he expounds the book, seems to be an ambassador of the King, a messenger of the living God. The man who hears needs no further reflection, no further argument. The Holy Spirit has opened the doors of his heart. "That book is the Word of the living God," he says; "God has found me out, I have heard His voice, I am His for ever."

Yes, it is in this way, sometimes, and not by elaborate argument, that a man becomes convinced that the Bible is the Word of God.

Yet that does not mean that argument is unnecessary. Even that man in our illustration may meet criticism of his new found conviction. People may tell him that the book which he thinks to be the Word of God is really full of errors and absurdities. How is he going to meet such criticism? Well, "that depends." He may be able, because of his intellectual gifts, to meet the criticism squarely; he may be able to meet the critics on their own ground and to show that as a matter of fact the Bible is not full of errors and absurdities. Or he may be a simple soul unable to say any more to the critics of his new-found conviction than that which was said by that man in the ninth chapter of John: One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see [JOH 9:25].

But whatever may be possible to that converted man in our illustration, it is perfectly clear, when you take the Christian world as a whole, that convictions are held by but a precarious tenure if those who hold them continue, on principle, to ignore objections. After all, truth is essentially one. I may be convinced with my whole soul that the Bible is the Word of God; but if my neighbor adduces considerations to show that it is really full of error, I cannot be indifferent to those considerations. I can, indeed, say to him: "Your considerations are wrong, and because they are wrong I can with a good conscience hold on to my convictions." Or I can say to him: "What you say is true enough in itself, but it is irrelevant to the question whether the Bible is the Word of God." But I do not see how in the world I can say to him: "Your considerations may be contrary to my conviction that the Bible is the Word of God, but I am not interested in them; go on holding to them if you want to do so, but do please agree with me also in holding that the Bible is the Word of God."

No, I cannot possibly say that. This last attitude is surely quite absurd. Two contradictory things cannot both be true. We cannot go on holding to the Bible as the Word of God and at the same time admit the truth of considerations that are contrary to that conviction of ours.

I believe with all my soul, in other words, in the necessity of Christian apologetics, the necessity of a reasoned defense of the Christian Faith, and in particular a reasoned defense of the Christian conviction that the Bible is the Word of God.

Some years ago I attended a conference of Christian students. Various methods of Christian testimony were being discussed, and particularly the question was being discussed whether it is necessary to engage in a reasoned defense of the Christian faith. In the course of the discussion, a gentleman who had had considerable experience in work among students arose and said that according to his experience you never win a man to Christ until you quit arguing with him [1PE 3:15 - aal]. Well, do you know, my friends, when he said that I was not impressed one tiny little bit. Of course a man never was won to Christ merely by argument. That is perfectly clear. There must be the mysterious work of the Spirit of God in the new birth. Without that, all our arguments are quite useless. But because argument is insufficient, it does not follow that it is unnecessary. What the Holy Spirit does in the new birth is not to make a man a Christian regardless of the evidence, but on the contrary to clear away the mists from his eyes and enable him to attend to the evidence [See ROM 10:13-17 - aal].

So I believe in the reasoned defense of the inspiration of the Bible. Sometimes it is immediately useful in bringing a man to Christ. It is graciously used by the Spirit of God to that end. But its chief use is of a somewhat different kind. Its chief use is in enabling Christian people to answer the legitimate questions, not of vigorous opponents of Christianity, but of people who are seeking the truth and are troubled by the hostile voices that are heard on every hand.

Sometimes, when I have given a lecture in defense of the truth of the Bible, a lecture, for example, which has adduced considerations to show that Christ really did rise from the dead on the third day, somebody has come up to me afterwards and has said very kindly something to the following effect: "We liked your lecture all right, but the trouble is that the people who need it are not here; we who are here are all Christian people, we are all convinced already that the Bible is true, so that we are not the ones who really needed to listen to what you had to say."

When people have told me that I have not been too much discouraged. It is true, I do wish that those persons who do not agree with me might occasionally give me a hearing. It does seem rather surprising that people who pride themselves on being so broadminded should take their information about what is called by its opponents "Fundamentalism" from newspaper clippings or from accounts of "Fundamentalism" written by opponents on the basis of newspaper clippings, instead of reading what these so-called "Fundamentalists," these conservatives, these Christians, have published in serious books over their own signatures, or instead of listening to what they have to say when they lecture. But although I do wish that my opponents in this debate would give me a fairer hearing, yet I am not too much discouraged when they are not present at one of my lectures. You see, what I am trying to do in such a lecture is not so much to win directly people who are opponents of the Bible as to give to Christian parents who may be present or to Christian Sunday School teachers materials that they can use, not with those whose backs are up against Christianity, but with the children in their own homes or in their Sunday School classes, the children who love them and want to be Christians as they are Christians, but are troubled by the voices against Christianity that are heard on every side.

Yes, I certainly do believe in Christian apologetics; I certainly do believe in the necessity of the reasoned defense of the truth of the Bible. I have felt it to be my duty to engage in it myself, to the very best of my very limited ability; but what is really important is that many persons far, far abler than I should engage in this great work.

Certainly neglect of this work will be to the loss of countless precious souls. Some years ago a kind of anti-intellectualism prevailed widely in the Church. Scholars were despised by evangelists; theological seminaries were regarded either as nurseries of unbelief or else as places where men engaged in dry-as-dust pursuits remote from living reality.

Well, many theological seminaries today are nurseries of unbelief; and because they are nurseries of unbelief the churches that they serve have become unbelieving churches too. As go the theological seminaries, so goes the church. That is certainly true in the long run. Look out upon the condition of the Church throughout the world today, and you will see that it is true.

But why is it that so many theological seminaries have become nurseries of unbelief and have dragged the churches that they serve down with them? It is partly because of that anti-intellectualistic attitude of pastors and evangelists, of which I spoke just now. Despising scholarship as they did, and leaving it in possession of the enemy, they discover today that in the long run they cannot get along without it. When real revival comes in the Church, we may be perfectly sure of one thing. We may be perfectly sure that with it and as a vital part of it will come a revival of Christian learning. That was true of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, and it will be true of every reformation or revival that does any more than merely scratch the surface.

I do wish people would read the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians more often than they seem to do—that chapter where Paul speaks of the diversity of gifts and of that one Spirit who gives to each one separately as He wills [1CO 12:11]. If they did read that great chapter more carefully, they would see that what was true of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in the apostolic age is also true of the gifts which the Holy Spirit still graciously bestows upon the Church. It is still quite true that one gift cannot do without the others. Certainly it is true that evangelism cannot do without Christian scholarship. I do not like to think of the relationship between Christian scholarship and evangelism as being a balance between the two things. I do not like to say: "Let us have evangelism, but not so much evangelism as to crowd out Christian scholarship." No, the true state of the case is that you can hardly have evangelism unless you have Christian scholarship; and the more Christian scholarship you have, so much the more evangelism. Out of real theological seminaries, where the Bible is expounded and defended, come ministers and evangelists who know what they believe and why they believe it; and the preaching of such ministers and evangelists is graciously used of God for the salvation of precious souls. There is no guess work about that. Look about you today, and you will see that it is simply a fact.

Well, perhaps you may say that I have said enough about the necessity of defending the Bible and ought now to go on and defend it. Obviously I cannot do so today, since my time is nearly up. Also I am not going to be able to do so in any great detail in the following talks of this series, because in this particular series I am going to talk about what the Bible teaches rather than about the reasons which impel us to believe that the Bible is true. At some future time I should particularly love to study the New Testament with you, for example, in order to show you how wonderful are the evidences of its truth, and how wonderfully those evidences of truthfulness confirm our conviction that the whole Bible is indeed the Word of God.

But even now, even in the present talk, I cannot leave you without saying just a word about the way in which we come to that great conviction about the Bible. I want just to indicate very briefly one great argument for the inspiration and divine authority of Holy Scripture. Mind you, it is not the only argument; but I am just singling it out by way of example this afternoon.

That argument is found in the testimony of Jesus Christ. In the first century of our era there lived in Palestine a man called Jesus of Nazareth. We have certain records of His life in the New Testament. I want you to study them at least as historical documents. If you are not yet ready to take them as part of the inspired Word of God, as I do, study them at least, fairly, as historical documents.

If you do study them thus fairly, you will be impressed by the picture which they give of Jesus Christ. That picture is evidently the picture of a real person. Of that there can be no doubt. But it is also the picture of a very strange person. The Jesus of the Gospels advanced stupendous claims and substantiated those claims by a sovereign power over the forces of nature. He seemed to command nature as nature’s Maker and nature’s God. He was clearly a supernatural person.

Modern men have tried to separate the supernatural from the natural in the Gospel picture of Jesus. "We shall just remove these antiquated supernatural trappings from the picture," they have said to themselves, "and then we shall have a picture of the real Jesus, a great religious genius and nothing more." But the effort to make that separation has been a failure. The supernatural element in the Gospel picture of Jesus has proved to be an integral part of the whole. It cannot be separated from the rest in that easy, artificial way. The Gospel picture of Jesus is supernatural through and through.

Some radicals of the present day are drawing the logical conclusion. Since the supernatural is inseparable from the rest and since they will not accept the supernatural, they are letting the whole go. They are telling us that we cannot know anything at all with any certainty about Jesus.

Such skepticism is preposterous. It will never hold the field. You need not be afraid of it at all, my friends. The picture in the Gospels is too vivid. It is too incapable of having been invented. It is evidently the picture of a real person.

So the age-long bewilderment of unsaved men in the presence of Jesus still goes on. Jesus will not let men go. They will not accept His stupendous claims; they will not accept Him as their Savior. But He continues to intrigue and baffle them. He refuses to be pushed into their little molds. They stand bewildered in His presence.

There is only one escape from that bewilderment. It is to accept Jesus after all. Refuse to believe that the picture is true, and all is bewilderment and confusion in your view of the earliest age of the Church; accept the picture as true, and all is plain. Everything then fits into its proper place. The key has been found to solve the mighty riddle.

The supernatural Jesus is thus the key to a right understanding of early Christian history. But He is also the key to far more than that. Mankind stands in the presence of more riddles than the riddle of New Testament times. All about us are riddles—the riddle of our existence, the riddle of the universe, the riddle of our misery and our sin. To all those riddles Jesus, as the New Testament presents Him, provides the key. He is the key not to some things but to everything. Very comprehensive, very wonderfully cumulative, very profound and very compelling is the evidence for the reality of the supernatural Christ.

But if we are convinced by that evidence, we must take the consequences. If we are convinced that Jesus is what the New Testament says He is, then the word of Jesus becomes for us law. We cannot then choose whether we will believe Him when He speaks. We must believe. His authority then must for us be decisive in all disputes.

On many questions our records do not record any decision of Jesus. But on one question His decision is plain. It is plain to us not only after we have become convinced that the records of His life are divinely inspired and therefore altogether without error. It is plain even when we take those records merely as reasonably accurate history. If one thing is clear to the historian, it is that Jesus of Nazareth held to the full truthfulness of the Old Testament Scriptures; it is that Jesus held that high view of the divine authority of the Old Testament which is held by despised believers in the Bible today.

That is admitted even by those who have a low opinion of the truthfulness of the Gospels. Jesus, they admit, held that view of the Bible which was held generally by the Jews of His day. They are sorry to admit that. "Too bad," they say, "that Jesus, whom we admire so much, was in this respect a child of His time!" But admit it, if they are scholars, they must. Jesus did certainly believe that the Old Testament was the very Word of God, and He certainly placed that belief at the very heart of His life as a man.

But if He thus pointed back to the Old Testament and founded His human life upon it, He also pointed forward to the New. He chose apostles. He endowed them with a supernatural authority. In exercise of that authority, they gave the New Testament books to the Church. No man who believes what Jesus says can, if he is consistent, help taking the whole Bible as the very Word of God.

When we do take the whole Bible thus as the very Word of God, we find rich and manifold confirmation of our decision. We find it in the marvelous unity of Holy Scripture—what the Westminster Confession calls "the consent of all the parts." We find it in the countless evidences of truthfulness in detail. We find it in the utter dissimilarity of this book to other books. We find it in the sweetness and peace of a life grounded upon what this book tells. Yes, my friends, very rich and varied, yet marvelously convergent, is the evidence that bids us take the Bible as the Word of God.

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This Page Last Updated: 12/07/98 A. Allison Lewis