The Machen you don’t know

I suppose that the title of this post assumes that most of the readers of this blog will know who Machen is — J. Gresham Machen, that is.  I first encountered “him” in NT Greek class in 1992, since we were using Machen’s New Testament Greek for Beginners as our textbook/grammar.

For those who don’t know anything about him, I’ll make this brief.  Machen was, humanly speaking, the founder of both Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, both of which were responses to liberalism (modernism) – Princeton and the PCUSA, respectively.  If you’re interested, John Piper presented a biography of Machen at the 1993 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors titled J. Gresham Machen’s Response to Modernism.

What most people don’t know, perhaps even those who may know a fair amount about Machen, is that he was a lover of mountains, and if my facts are correct, he made at least five separate trips to the Alps to do “real” mountaineering.  I first discovered this when I happened on a small book in the library at Reformed Bible College called What is Christianity?, which is a collection of essays by Machen assembled by Ned Stonehouse.  If I remember correctly, the essay I’m going to refer to here was one of the last two essays in the book.  It’s been thirteen years or so since I last saw the book so I might be off on that detail.

“Mountains and Why We Love Them” was read to a group of pastors in November 1933.  The entire paper is worth your time, especially if this subject interests you.  One paragraph in particular grabbed my attention back in the early ’90s and found its way into the “green book.”  (Some of you may remember that book.)  This is that paragraph:

Then there is something else about that view from the Matterhorn. I felt it partly at least as I stood there, and I wonder whether you can feel it with me. It is this. You are standing there not in any ordinary country, but in the very midst of Europe, looking out from its very centre. Germany just beyond where you can see to the northeast, Italy to the south, France beyond those snows of Mont Blanc. There, in that glorious round spread out before you, that land of Europe, humanity has put forth its best. There it has struggled; there it has fallen; there it has looked upward to God. The history of the race seems to pass before you in an instant of time, concentrated in that fairest of all the lands of the earth. You think of the great men whose memories you love, the men who have struggled there in those countries below you, who have struggled for light and freedom, struggled for beauty, struggled above all for God’s Word. And then you think of the present and its decadence and its slavery, and you desire to weep. It is a pathetic thing to contemplate the history of mankind.

In his address he says much more about the actual climbing and his experiences in the Alps in general, but I think he meant for that paragraph to be the highlight of what he had to say.

I do find it interesting to note how a theologian, pastor and professor who, as Piper would say, had enough “steel” in his backbone to confront the heresies and liberal theology of his day also had a particular inclination for mountains and mountaineering.  Now that’s something to think about.

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