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Faith in God (J. Gresham Machen)

Faith in God (J. Gresham Machen)

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Published by Lane Chaplin
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http://www.lanechaplin.com

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Published by: Lane Chaplin on Sep 06, 2008
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12/24/2012

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Faith in God 
 
 J. Gresham Machen
 Machen (1881-1937) was Professor of New Testament, first at Princeton Theological Seminary, and afterwards at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. Excerpts from 
What is Faith?
(1925).
 It is impossible to have faith in a person without having knowledge of theperson. In the classic treatment of faith in the Epistle to the Hebrews, there is averse that goes to the very root of the matter. "He that cometh to God," theauthor says, "must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them thatdiligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). Religion is here made to depend absolutelyupon doctrine; the one who comes to God must not only believe
in 
a person, buthe must also believe
that 
something is true; faith is here declared to involveacceptance of a proposition. It is impossible, according to the Epistle to theHebrews, to have faith in a person without accepting with the mind the factsabout the person.Confidence in a person is more than intellectual assent to a series of propositionsabout the person, but it always involves those propositions, and becomesimpossible the moment they are denied. It is quite impossible to trust a personabout whom one assents to propositions that make the person untrustworthy, orfails to assent to propositions that make him trustworthy. Assent to certainpropositions is not the whole of faith, but it is an absolutely necessary element infaith. So assent to certain propositions about God is not all of faith in God, but itis necessary to faith in God; and Christian faith, in particular, though it is morethan assent to a creed, is absolutely impossible without assent to a creed. Onecannot trust a God whom one holds with the mind to be either non-existent oruntrustworthy.According to the New Testament, communion with God or faith in God isdependent upon the doctrine of his existence. But it is dependent upon otherdoctrines in addition to that. "He that cometh to God," says the Epistle to theHebrews, "must believe that he is,
and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him 
." In this latter part of the sentence, we have, expressed in a concrete way,the great truth of the personality of God. What we have is a presentation of whatthe Bible elsewhere calls the "living" God. God not only exists, but is a freePerson who can act. The same truth appears with even greater clearness in thethird verse of the same great chapter. "Through faith we understand," says theauthor, "that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things whichare seen were not made of things which do appear." Here we have, expressed
 
with a clearness that leaves nothing to be desired, the doctrine of creation out ofnothing, and that doctrine is said to be received by faith. It is the same doctrinethat appears in the first verse of the Bible, "In the beginning God created theheaven and the earth," and that really is presupposed in the Bible from beginningto the end.Certain things, according to the Bible, are known about God, and without thesethings there can be no faith. The Bible teaches plainly that God has given to mana faculty of reason which is capable of apprehending truth, even truth aboutGod. That does not mean that we finite creatures can find out God by our ownsearching; but it does mean that God has made us capable of receiving theinformation which He chooses to give. I cannot evolve an account of China out ofmy own inner consciousness, but I am perfectly capable of understanding theaccount which comes to me from travelers who have been there themselves. Soour reason is certainly insufficient to tell us about God unless He revealsHimself; but it is capable (or would be capable if it were not clouded by sin) ofreceiving revelation when once it is given. The knowledge that God hasgraciously given us of Himself is the basis of our confidence in Him; the God ofthe Bible is One whom it is reasonable to trust.How then may we attain to this knowledge of God that is so necessary to faith;how may we become acquainted with Him? God is known through the Bible. Itpresents God in loving action, in the course of history, for the salvation of sinfulmen. From Genesis to Revelation, from Eden to Calvary, as the covenant God ofIsrael and as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, all through the variedcourse of Bible story, God appears in the fulfillment of one loving plan. We seevarious aspects of His person; He appears in anger as well as in love. But it isplainly the same Person throughout: we rise from the BibleI think we can sayit without irreverence —with a knowledge of the character of God. There is areal analogy here to our relation with an earthly friend. How do we come toknow one another? Not all at once, but by years of observation of one another'sactions. We have seen a friend in time of danger, and he has been brave; we havegone to him in perplexity, and he has been wise; we have had recourse to him intime of trouble, and he has given us his sympathy. So gradually, with the years,on the basis of many, many such experiences, we have come to love him andrevere him. So it is, somewhat, with the knowledge of God that we obtain fromthe Bible. In the Bible we see God in action; we see Him in fiery indignationwiping out the foulness of Sodom; we see Him leading Israellike a flock; we seeHim giving His only begotten Son for the sins of the world. And by what we seewe learn to know Him.Redemption was accomplished, according to the New Testament, by an event inthe external world, at a definite time in the world's history, when the Lord Jesus
 
died upon the cross and rose again. It is Christ, therefore, very naturally, who isordinarily represented as the object of faith. In the case of our relation to Jesus,we are committing to Him the most precious thing that we possess —our ownimmortal souls. It is a stupendous act of trust. And it can be justified only by anappeal to facts.The facts which justify our appeal to Jesus concern not only His goodness butalso His power. We might be convinced of His goodness, and yet not trust Himwith those eternal concerns of the soul. He might have the will to help and notthe power. We might be in the position of the ship-captain's child in the touchingstory, who, when all on shipboard were in terror because of an awful storm,learned that his father was on the bridge and went peacefully to sleep. Theconfidence of the child very probably was misplaced; but it was misplaced notbecause the captain was not faithful and good, but because the best of men hasno power to command the wind and the sea that they should obey him. Is ourconfidence in Jesus equally misplaced? It is misplaced if Jesus was the poor,weak enthusiast that He is represented as being by those who regard Him simplyas a Jewish teacher. But very different is the case if He was the Person presentedin the Word of God.It is one thing to hold that the ethical principles which Jesus enunciated willsolve the problems of society, and quite a different thing to trust Him as theeternal Son of God, come voluntarily to earth for our redemption, now risenfrom the dead and holding communion with those who commit their lives toHim. A man can admire General Washington, for example, and accept theprinciples of his life; yet one cannot be said to trust him, for the simple reasonthat he died over a hundred years ago. His soldiers could trust him: for in theirday he was alive; but we cannot trust him, because now he is dead.But the words of Jesus that are recorded in the New Testament make itabundantly plain that the gospel which Jesus proclaimed was, at its very center, agospel about Him; it did far more than set forth a way of approach to God which Jesus Himself followed, for it presented Jesus as Himself the way. According tothe New Testament our Lord presented Himself not merely as Teacher andExample and Leader but also, and primarily, as Savior; He offered Himself tosinful men as One who alone could give them entrance into the Kingdom of God."The Son of Man," He said, "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, andto give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). He invited men not merely tohave faith in God like the faith which He had in God, but He invited them tohave faith in Him. He clearly regarded Himself as Messiah, not in some lowermeaning of the word, but as the heavenly Son of Man who was to come with theclouds of heaven and be the instrument in judging the world.

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