The Modern Quandary of a Sinless Jesus

With respect to the sinlessness of Jesus modern liberal historians find themselves in a quandary. To affirm that He was sinless means to relinquish much of that ease of defending liberal religion which the liberal historians are anxious to preserve, and involves hazardous assumptions with regard to the nature of sin. For if sin is merely imperfection, how can an absolute negation of it be ventured upon within a process of nature which is supposed to be ever changing and ever advancing? The very idea of “sinlessness,” much more the reality of it, requires us to conceive of sin as transgression of a fixed law or a fixed standard, and involves the conception of an absolute goodness. But to that conception of an absolute goodness the modern evolutionary view of the world properly speaking has no right.

At any rate, if such absolute goodness is to be allowed to intrude at a definite point in the present world-process, we are involved in that supernaturalism which, as will be observed later, is the very thing that the modern reconstruction of Christianity is most anxious to avoid. Once affirm that Jesus was sinless and all other men sinful, and you have entered into irreconcilable conflict with the whole modern point of view. On the other hand, if there are scientific objections, from the liberal point of view, against an affirmation of the sinlessness of Jesus, there are also very obvious religious objections against an opposite affirmation of His sinfulness–difficulties for modern liberalism as well as for the theology of the historic Church. If Jesus was sinful like other men, the last remnant of his uniqueness would seem to have disappeared, and all continuity with the previous development of Christianity would seem to be destroyed.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Kindle Edition)

The Religion of the Broken Heart

In saying that Christianity is the religion of the broken heart, we do not mean that Christianity ends with the broken heart; we do not mean that the characteristic Christian attitude is a continual beating on the breast or a continual crying of “Woe is me.” Nothing could be further from the fact. On the contrary, Christianity means that sin is faced once for all, and then is cast, by the grace of God, forever into the depths of the sea. The trouble with the paganism of ancient Greece, as with the paganism of modern times, was not in the superstructure, which was glorious, but in the foundation, which was rotten. There was always something to be covered up; the enthusiasm of the architect was maintained only by ignoring the disturbing fact of sin. In Christianity, on the other hand, nothing needs to be covered up. The fact of sin is faced squarely once for all, and is dealt with by the grace of God. But then, after sin has been removed by the grace of God, the Christian can proceed to develop joyously every faculty that God has given him. Such is the higher Christian humanism–a humanism founded not upon human pride but upon divine grace.

But although Christianity does not end with the broken heart, it does begin with the broken heart; it begins with the consciousness of sin. Without the consciousness of sin, the whole of the gospel will seem to be an idle tale. But how can the consciousness of sin be revived? Something no doubt can be accomplished by the proclamation of the law of God, for the law reveals transgressions. The whole of the law, moreover, should be proclaimed. It will hardly be wise to adopt the suggestion (recently offered among many suggestions as to the ways in which we shall have to modify our message in order to retain the allegiance of the returning soldiers) that we must stop treating the little sins as though they were big sins. That suggestion means apparently that we must not worry too much about the little sins, but must let them remain unmolested.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Kindle Edition)

If You Really Love Our Fellow Man, Invite Him into the House of God

The modern doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God which is being celebrated as “the essence of Christianity,” really belongs at best only to that vague natural religion which forms the presupposition which the Christian preacher can use when the gospel is to be proclaimed; and when it is regarded as a reassuring, all-sufficient thing, it comes into direct opposition to the New Testament. The gospel itself refers to something entirely different; the really distinctive New Testament teaching about the fatherhood of God concerns only those who have been brought into the household of faith.

There is nothing narrow about such teaching; for the door of the household of faith is open wide to all. That door is the “new and living way” which Jesus opened by His blood. And if we really love our fellow men, we shall not go about the world, with the liberal preacher, trying to make men satisfied with the coldness of a vague natural religion. But by the preaching of the gospel we shall invite them into the warmth and joy of the house of God. Christianity offers men all that is offered by the modern liberal teaching about the universal fatherhood of God; but it is Christianity only because it offers also infinitely more.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Kindle Edition)

The Unparalleled Impoverishment of Human Life

The modern world represents in some respects an enormous improvement over the world in which our ancestors lived; but in other respects it exhibits a lamentable decline. The improvement appears in the physical conditions of life, but in the spiritual realm there is a corresponding loss. The loss is clearest, perhaps, in the realm of art. Despite the mighty revolution which has been produced in the external conditions of life, no great poet is now living to celebrate the change; humanity has suddenly become dumb. . . . The art that still subsists is largely imitative, and where it is not imitative it is usually bizarre. Even the appreciation of the glories of the past is gradually being lost, under the influence of a utilitarian education that concerns itself only with the production of physical well-being. . .

This unprecedented decline in literature and art is only one manifestation of a more far-reaching phenomenon. . . . The whole development of modern society has tended mightily toward the limitation of the realm of freedom for the individual man. . . . The result is an unparalleled impoverishment of human life. Personality can only be developed in the realm of individual choice. And that realm, in the modern state, is being slowly but steadily contracted. The tendency is making itself felt especially in the sphere of education. The object of education, it is now assumed, is the production of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. But the greatest happiness for the greatest number, it is assumed further, can be defined only by the will of the majority. Idiosyncrasies in education, therefore, it is said, must be avoided, and the choice of schools must be taken away from the individual parent and placed in the hands of the state. The state then exercises its authority through the instruments that are ready to hand, and at once, therefore, the child is placed under the control of psychological experts, themselves without the slightest acquaintance with the higher realms of human life, who proceed to prevent any such acquaintance being gained by those who come under their care. Such a result is being slightly delayed in America by the remnants of Anglo-Saxon individualism, but the signs of the times are all contrary to the maintenance of this halfway position; liberty is certainly held by but a precarious tenure when once its underlying principles have been lost. For a time it looked as though the utilitarianism which came into vogue in the middle of the nineteenth century would be a purely academic matter, without influence upon daily life. But such appearances have proved to be deceptive. The dominant tendency, even in a country like America, which formerly prided itself on its freedom from bureaucratic regulation of the details of life, is toward a drab utilitarianism in which all higher aspirations are to be lost.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Kindle Edition)

Only If A Substitute is Provided

Can the penalty of sin resting upon all mankind be remitted? Plainly not, if God is to remain God. That penalty of sin was ordained in the law of God, and the law of God was no mere arbitrary and changeable arrangement but an expression of the nature of God Himself. If the penalty of sin were remitted, God would become unrighteous, and that God will not become unrighteous is the most certain thing that can possibly be conceived.

How then can sinful men be saved? In one way only. Only if a substitute is provided who shall pay for them the just penalty of God’s law.

The Bible teaches that such a substitute has a matter of fact been provided. The substitute is Jesus Christ. The law’s demands of penalty must be satisfied. There is no escaping that. But Jesus Christ satisfied those demands for us when He died instead of us on the cross.

J Gresham Machen, The Doctrine of the Atonement: Three Lectures (Kindle Edition)

Around the Interweb (11/07)

Don’t Use Email for Correction

C.J. Mahaney and James MacDonald discuss why email isn’t the best way to offer correction to a brother or sister:

HT: The Gospel Coalition Blog

In Other News

Prayer request: I’m preaching tonight as part of Harvest Bible Chapel London’s first service night at the Men’s Mission in town. Please pray for gospel fruit.

Health: Justin Taylor interviews Matt Chandler about how life has changed in the year since he learned he has cancer.

New Websites: The new Crossway.org and ESV.org have launched; go check them out.

Audio: This month’s free audio book at ChristianAudio.com is Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper.

Free Book: Grace to You is offering John MacArthur’s next book, Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ, free in exchange for a bit of info. Here’s the book trailer:

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of John Sowers’ Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story.

The fear of man vs. the fear of God (vide0)

On Christians using the f-word (fundamentalist, that is).

Think Biblically: J. Gresham Machen on pragmatism and the (post) modern preacher

Pragmatism Destroys the Possibility of Progress

…it is unreasonable, the pragmatist theologian says, to reject the physics and chemistry of the first century or the seventeenth century and yet maintain unchanged the theology of those past ages; why should theology be exempt from the universal law of progress?

But . . . far from advocating progress in theology, the current pragmatism really destroys very possibility of progress. For progress involves something to progress to as well as something to progress from. And in the intellectual sphere the current pragmatism can find no goal of progress in an objective norm of truth; one doctrine, according to the pragmatist view, may be just as good as an exactly contradictory doctrine, provided it suits a particular generation or a particular group of persons. The changes in scientific hypotheses represent true progress because they are increasingly close approximations to an objectively and externally existent body of facts; while the changes advocated by pragmatist theologians are not progress at all but the meaningless changes of a kaleidoscope…

At this point, then, we find the really important divergence of opinion in the religious world at the present day; the difference of attitude toward theology or toward doctrine goes far deeper than any mere divergence in detail. The modern depreciation of theology results logically in the most complete skepticism. it is not merely that the ancient creeds, and the Bible upon which they are based, are criticized—indeed we ourselves certainly think that they ought constantly to be criticized in order that it may be seen that they will stand the test—but hte really serious trouble is that the modern pragmatist, on account of the very nature of his philosophy, has nothing to put in there place. Theology, according to him, may be useful; but it can never by any possibility be true. As Dr. Fosdick observes, the liberalism of today must necessarily produce an intellectual formulation which will become the orthodoxy of tomorrow, and which will then in turn have to give place to a new liberalism; and so on (we suppose) ad infinitum.

This is what the plain man in the Church has difficulty in understanding; he does not yet appreciate the real gravity of the issue. He does not see that it makes very little difference how much or how little of the creeds of the Church the Modernist preacher affirms, or how much or how little of the Biblical teaching from which the creeds are derived. He might affirm every jot and tittle of the Westminster Confession, for example, and yet be separated by a great gulf from the Reformed Faith. it is not that part is denied and the rest affirmed; but all is denied because all is affirmed merely as useful or symbolic and not as true.

J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, pp. 31-32, 34