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      That Old Obstacle...
      (J. Gresham Machen)

      Tuesday, December 4, 2007


      With the apparent wave of ignorance that now is upon a lot of what is professing to be the church, I believe this clip from J. Gresham Machen's book What is Faith? is quite appropriate. Todd Friel of Way of the Master Radio did a piece yesterday which talked of there being some sort of "peace treatise" being discussed between some evangelicals and Islam. (You can listen to the clip in the video below.) How can a "believer" have peace with people that say Jesus is not the Son of God and was not crucified unless they themselves become apostate and cater to unbelief? Is our duty as believers to make sure we are well liked by liars and anti-christs? (This is Scriptural language - 1John 2:22) As Jesus Christ said, you're either with him or against him. If you're not gathering with him, you're scattering abroad. (Matthew 12:30) There is no neutrality. Seek to understand what Machen is saying, and realize that he wrote this about 90 years ago. It holds true that the Truth is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb. 13:8) That's why we can read pastors who wrote something 1,000 days ago or 1,000 years ago and it still be relevant at any time if the pastor is speaking truth. The truth never changes. Our Lord came in the flesh almost 2,007 years ago. Do we discount his words too because they're "past the time limit"? Unbelievers try to convince us we "don't have a leg to stand on" by trying to convince us that we're actually using their leg to stand. What they refuse to take into account is that true believers do not need their "leg" and are in no way requesting the use of it.



      The whole trouble is that faith is being considered merely as a beneficent quality of the soul without respect to the reality or unreality of its object; and the moment faith comes to be considered in that way, in that moment it is destroyed.

      Yet at first sight the modern attitude seems to be full of promise; it avoids, for example, the immense difficulty involved in differences of creed. Let a man, it is urged, hold to be true whatever helps him, and let him not interfere with whatever helps his neighbor. What difference does it make, we are asked, what does the work just so the work is done; what difference does it make whether the disease is cured by Christian Science or by simple faith in Christ Jesus? Some people seem to find even bare materialism a helpful doctrine conducive to a calm and healthy life, preventing morbid fears and nervous strains. If so, why should we unsettle their "faith" by talking about guilt and retribution? There is unfortunately one great obstacle in the way of such a broad eclecticism. It is a very real obstacle, though at times it seems to be not a bit practical. It is the old obstacle truth. That was a great scheme of Lessing's Nathan der Weise, to let Judaism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity live peacefully side by side, each contributing its quota to the common good of humanity; and the plan has attained enormous popularity since Lessing's day by the admission, to the proposed league of religions, of all the faiths of mankind. But the great trouble is, a creed can be efficient only so long as it is held to be true; if I make my creed effective in my life I can do so only because I regard it as true. But in so doing I am obliged by an inexorable necessity to regard the creed of my neighbor, if it is contradictory to mine, as false. That weakens his faith in his creed, provided he is at all affected by my opinions; he is no longer so sure of the truth of it; and so soon as he is no longer sure of the truth of it, it loses its efficiency. Or if, in deference to my neighbor and the usefulness of his creed, I keep my creed in the background, that tends to weaken my faith in my creed; I come to have the feeling that what must be kept in the dark will not bear the light of day; my creed ceases to be effective in my life. The fact is that all creeds are laying claim to the same thing, namely truth. Consequently, despite all that is said, the creeds, if they are to be held with any fervor, if they are really to have any power, must be opposed to one another; they simply cannot allow one another to work on in peace. If therefore, we want the work to proceed, we must face and settle this conflict of the means; we cannot call on men's beliefs to help us unless we determine what it is that is to be believed.A faith that can consent to avoid proselytizing among other faiths is not really faith at all.

      An objection, however, may remain. What we have said may perhaps sound very logical, and yet it seems to be contradicted by the actual experience of the race. Physicians, for example, are very practical persons; and yet they tell us that faith in very absurd things sometimes brings beneficent and far-reaching results. If, therefore, faith in such diverse and contradictory things brings results, if it relieves the distresses of suffering humanity, how can we have the heart to insist on logical consistency in the things that are believed? On the contrary, it is urged, let us be satisfied with any kind of faith just so it does the work; it makes no difference what is believed just so the health giving attitude of faith is there; the less dogmatic faith is, the purer it is, because it is the less weakened by the dangerous alloy of knowledge.

      It is perfectly clear that such an employment of faith is bringing results. But the curious thing is that if faith be employed in this particular way it is always employment of the faith of other people that brings the results, and never employment of one's own faith. For the man who can speak in this way is himself always not a believer but a skeptic. The basal fact about faith is that all faith has an object; all faith is not only possessed by someone, but it consists in confidence in someone. An outsider may not think that it is really the object that does the work; from his scientific vantage ground, he may see clearly that it is just the faith itself, considered merely as a psychological phenomenon, that is the important thing, and that any other object would have answered as well. But the one who does the believing is always convinced just exactly that it is not the faith but the object which is helping him; the moment he becomes convinced that the object was not really important and that it was really just his own faith that was helping him, at that moment his faith disappears. It was that previous false belief, then the belief that it was the object and not the faith that was doing the work it was that false belief that helped him.

      Now things that are false will apparently do some rather useful things. If we may be permitted to use again, and to apply a little further, an illustration that we have already used in a different connection, it may be remarked that a counterfeit note will buy many useful commodities until it is found out. It will, for example, buy a dinner; and a dinner will keep a man alive no matter how it is obtained. But just when I am buying the dinner for some poor man who needs it very badly indeed, an expert tells me that that useful result is being accomplished by a counterfeit note. "The miserable theorized," I may be tempted to exclaim, "the miserable traditionalist, the miserable demolisher of everything that pragmatism holds most dear! While he is discussing the question of the origin of that note though every up-to-date man knows that the origin of a thing is unimportant, and that what is really important is the goal to which it tends while he is going into learned details about the primitive history of that note, a poor man is suffering for lack of food." So it is, if the current view be correct, with faith; faith, we are told, is so very useful that we must not ask the question whether the things that it leads us to accept are true or
      false.

      Plausible are the ways in which men are seeking to justify this circulation of counterfeit currency in the spiritual sphere; it is perfectly right, we are told, so long as it is not found out. That principle has even been ingeniously applied to the ordinary currency of the realm; if a counterfeit note were absolutely perfect, it has been said, so that by no possibility could it ever be detected, what harm should we be doing to a man if we passed it out to him with his change? Probably it will not be necessary to point out at least to the readers of the present book the fallacy in this moral tour de force; and that fallacy would really apply to the spiritual currency as well as to five-dollar notes. By circulating bad money we should be diminishing the value of good money, and so should be robbing the generality of our fellow-men. But after all, that question is purely academic; as a matter of fact counterfeit notes are never sure not to be found out. And neither is bad currency in the spiritual sphere. It is a dangerous thing to encourage faith in what is not true, for the sake of the immediate benefits which such faith brings; because the greater be the building that is erected on such a foundation, the greater will be the inevitable crash when the crash finally comes.

      Such counterfeits should be removed, not in the interests of destruction, but in order to leave room for the pure gold the existence of which is implied by the presence of the counterfeits. There is counterfeit money in the world, but that does not mean that all money is counterfeit. Indeed it means the exact opposite. There could be no counterfeit money unless there were genuine money for it to imitate. And the principle applies to the spiritual realm. There is in the world much faith in what is false; but there could hardly be faith in what is false unless there were also somewhere faith in what is true. Now we Christians think that we have found faith in what is true when we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel. We are well aware of what has been said against that gospel; we are well aware of the unpopularity that besets a man the moment he holds any one thing to be true and rejects as false whatever is contradictory to it; we are fully conscious of the risk that we are taking when we abandon a merely eclectic attitude and put all our confidence in one thing and one thing only. But we are ready to take the risk. This world is a dark place without Christ; we have found no other salvation either in ourselves or in others; and for our part, therefore, despite doubts and fears, we are prepared to take Christ at His word and launch forth into the deep at His command. It is a great venture, this venture of faith; there are difficulties in the way of it; we have not solved all mysteries or resolved all doubts. But though our minds are still darkened, though we have attained no rigidly mathematical proof, we have attained at least certitude enough to cause us to risk our lives. Will Christ desert us when we have thus committed ourselves to Him? There are men about us who tell us that He will; there are voices within us that whisper to us doubts; but we must act in accordance with the best light that is given us, and doing so we have decided for our part to distrust our doubts and base our lives, despite all, upon Christ.







      - J. Gresham Machen from What is Faith?









      (You can listen to Todd Friel's comments about the apparent "peace treaty with Christianity and Islam" here:)

      "Peace at All Costs, Truth if Possible." ...?




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