Godfrey: Machen Was Recovering The Reformed Confession

Dr. Machen was right when he stated of the liberals: “By the equivocal use of traditional phrases, by the representation of differences of opinion as though they were only differences about the interpretation of the Bible, entrance into the Church was secured for those who are hostile to the very foundations of the faith.” But the liberals denied such charges, and by using ambiguous language, they persuaded many that they were not as bad as their critics claimed.

…The division of opinion among conservative leaders and the optimism of many conservatives disposed them to shy away from a fight. As early as 1915, Dr. Machen saw the potential danger of this situation: “The mass of the Church here is still conservative — but conservative in an ignorant, non-polemic, sweetness-and-light kind of way which is just meat for the wolves. I do not mean to use harsh phrases in a harsh way, and my language must be understood to be biblical.” As Paul had warned the Ephesian elders about wolves attacking the sheep of the church, so Dr. Machen worried that the sheep of the church in his day were very vulnerable to liberal wolves.

…While Dr. Machen was often seen as the greatest intellectual leader of the fundamentalist movement, he was not entirely comfortable with the fundamentalist movement. He did not believe that it was enough to defend just five fundamentals of the faith. He believed that fundamentalism was too individualistic, too reductionistic, and too unconcerned with history. For Machen, true Christianity was an historic community with a full and coherent theology. True Christianity, as Dr. Machen knew it in the Reformed tradition, came to doctrinal expression in a full confession of faith, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith. Read more»

W. Robert Godfrey, “A Call To Thoughtful Vigilance,” Tabletalk (Feb, 2018) (HT: Presbycast)

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Machen ultimately swallowed too much of the liberalism he claimed to eschew concerning creation/evolution. He seemed to support Theistic evolution which is incompatible with the gospel and even destroys it.

    • Chris,

      I think you’ve been misinformed. Machen held to the so-called “Day-Age” view of creation, wherein the days of creation were correlated to the ages of the earth and so he held to an old earth (as do many conservative, Bible-believing people today) but he was not an evolutionist. Some have suggested that B. B. Warfield held to theistic evolution but that is disputed. I haven’t resolved that question for myself.

      If you have evidence from Machen’s writings to the contrary, I should like to see it.

      One certainly cannot equate holding to an old earth (to which I tend) with “liberalism” nor with theistic evolution.

    • Chris,

      See RRC on the QIRC.


      The Young Earth view depends upon adding up the chronologies. That’s a poor reading of those texts.


      The chronologies were inspired inerrantly by the Spirit but not to teach us the age of the earth. It’s an abuse of the text to use them that way.

      See the section in RRC on geocentrism. This reading of the chronologies is the same kind of approach.

    • Hello Dr. Clark,

      In your response to Christ you said the following:

      “The chronologies were not inspired inerrantly by the Spirit and Moses didn’t write them to teach us the age of the earth. It’s an abuse of the text to use them that way.”

      I agree with your statement that “Moses didn’t write them to teach us the age of the earth”…but I am perplexed by the part where you say that the “chronologies were not inspired inerrantly by the Spirit” …

      Can you explain what you mean by this?

      • Adam,

        I tried to do too much in one compound sentence. That’s the source of the confusion. I affirm heartily the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of every word of holy Scripture.

        I was trying to deny that the Spirit intended us to use the chronologies to find the age of the earth. I was trying to deny that Moses intended us to determine the age of the earth from the chronologies.

        I’ve revised the sentence thus

        The chronologies were inspired inerrantly by the Spirit but not to teach us the age of the earth. It’s an abuse of the text to use them that way.

  2. Isn’t it interesting that doctrinal error always comes to the churches under the guise of an improvement. Liberalism wants to make the bible more believable, moralism attempts to provide a better incentive to sanctification, and open theism wants to make Good more understandable. These are all attempts at making human reason, rather than the Word, the ultimate basis for our faith. This is the religion of rationalism. Dr. Machen was very right to call it the antithesis of the of the Christian faith, a different religion altogether. More than ever we need the guidance of our confessions to discern sound doctrine, so that we may navigate the morass of error that threatens our churches.

  3. Hello Clark,
    I am reading through your curriculum on Covenant theology and it is very helpful. Quick question: I know you don’t refer to Particular Baptist theology as reformed, and I agree, but would you call 20th century Baptists, who are more in line with the Reformed confessions on covenant theology even as they reject infant baptism, reformed?

    • Toluwaniyi,
      Have you listened to the lectures, on the Heidelcast, I Will Be a God to You and To your Children? In this series of lectures, Dr. Clark explains how the Abrahamic covenant is central to Reformed theology. (Gen. 15) Here God makes an oath to Abraham (Heb. 6) He confirms the covenant of grace, informally given in the garden, with a formal ratification. He cuts a unilateral covenant showing that it is God, as the second Adam, who will keep all of the stipulations of the covenant of works, which the first Adam broke and suffer the curse of death for Abraham and his children–those who believe the promise. This is the new covenant, formally promising salvation on the basis of faith, replacing the old covenant that promised glorified eternal life with God on the condition of perfect obedience by the federal head, Adam. That is because God is the federal head under the new covenant of grace. Christ, the God\man sealed that covenant, realizing the everlasting new covenant with His blood. (Heb. 9)

      Circumcision was given as the sign that it is to you and your children, where the cutting off shows the bloody death and cutting off of Christ. This is replaced by unbloody baptism because the bloody sacrifice was finished, ending the old Mosaic administration of ceremonies that involved sacrifices and circumcision that only pointed to God’s ultimate sacrifice. So baptism is the circumcision of Christ. It identifies us with the death of Christ, which circumcision represented as a type. The promise to you and your children has never been revoked. (Col. 2) As infants were initiated into the covenant outwardly by circumcision, so infants are still initiated by baptism in the established new covenant, as we see in the household baptisms in Acts and Peter’s sermon. ( Acts 2: 39) This understanding of Scripture is foundational to Reformed theology, but it is denied by Baptists of all stripes, that is why they so adamantly are opposed to infant baptism.

    • Toluwaniyi,

      There are varieties among the Particular Baptists. I have addressed your question here:


      In some respects John Gill’s version of covenant theology was similar to the Reformed but it was substantially dissimilar in important respects. The version to which I think you refer I call the “Old Predestinarian Baptists.” There is reason to think that they read the Second London Confession through the lenses of the WCF. As some of the Particular Baptists are noting now, this view (OPB) is not the same as the earliest Particular Baptists, who dissented from the Reformed even more radically. No, the post-WWII Predestinarian Baptists are not Reformed because they still do not hold a Reformed covenant theology, as I explain in the series.

      At any rate, check out the series beginning with part 1 and you see my analysis of the significant differences between the various Baptist groups and the Reformed.

  4. Toluwaniyi: How can those “who are more in line with the Reformed confessions on covenant theology” reject infant baptism? The simple answer is that despite their protestations, they are not Reformed. One request: Out of respect could you possibly address the moderator as “Dr. Clark”? Addressing someone by thir last name only when you are not a close acquaintance is considered rude.

    • Bob, I was referring to the fact that 20th century baptists affirm the OT covenants as gracious. Dr Clark has said that it isnt possible to be reformed and deny the the OT post-fall covenants were of grace, so I was curious as to where he saw these form of baptists as being.

    • Toluwan,
      That is why 1689 Federalism is anxious to bring back the theology of 17th century writers like Nehemiah Code, John Spilsbury, and Benjamin Keach, they are concerned that in adopting a more “Reformed” understanding, they are in danger of losing their Baptist distinctives. These writers see the substance of the OT covenants to be of works for earthly rewards and only the new covenant, confirmed in the blood of Christ, to be the new covenant, where Christ is the substance. They do not see the OT covenants administering grace, by pointing to Christ in the types and shadows. Therefore they see no connection between circumcision and baptism. To them baptism is unique to the new\covenant of grace, which they see as only existing since the death and resurrection of Christ.

      While the modern Baptists see more of a continuity of grace throughout Scripture, they see the new covenant as unique to the period after the death and resurrection of Christ, and through a more fully realized eschatology, where the new covenant promises of Jeremiah 31 are already fully realized in the here and now. Therefore the Church can only have a regenerate membership, so there is only one way of being in the covenant, that is by having regenerate membership, confirmed by believer’s baptism.

      The Reformed see the new covenant as inaugurated, but not fully realized until Christ returns and purifies the church. Therefore, until Christ returns it will have a mixed membership, where only God knows who is truly regenerate, just like it always has throughout the history of God’s people. All covenant children are to be initiated into the church outwardly, according to the Abrahamic \new covenant, through the sacrament of baptism, which is a visible, tangible pledge to them, given to them in there infant helplessness, before they could do anything to save themselves, so that if they believe the promise first given to our father Abraham, they will be saved. So that is the connection with circumcision that all Baptists deny, but which is foundational to Reformed theology. They have a different hermeneutic, or understanding of the bible, the church, and who are the people of God.

    • Toluwaniyi: Reformed theology isn’t something where you can borrow a few elements of it and call yourself “Reformed”. It’s a system of beliefs. Unfortunately the Particular Baptists just don’t embrace the entire body of beliefs by which they could be identified as Reformed.

    • Thanks Angela, I’m going through Dr Ckark’s curriculum now so this should be the final question!

    • Toluwan,
      I appreciate your interest and desire to better understand the Reformed faith. In my long life, “through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come.” I confess, I am shamelessly taking advantage of the Heidelblog to share, in the hope that it might be helpful for young Christians, to read about some of the things I have learned the hard way, by faltering and stumbling, and the Lord’s corrections. I am most happy to think that my sharing might be a help to you somehow.

    • Thank you Angela, your comments and responses have been very helpful. Were it not for people like you and Dr Clark I would probably have given up on studying Peadobaptism and CT ages ago, it can be very discouraging when everyone around you (including parents) are firmly within the Baptist camp.

Comments are closed.