Machen’s Reply to Lordship Salvation

Very different is the conception of faith which prevails in the liberal Church. According to modern liberalism, faith is essentially the same as “making Christ Master” in one’s life; at least it is by making Christ Master in the life that the welfare of men is sought. But that simply means that salvation is thought to be obtained by our own obedience to the commands of Christ. Such teaching is just a sublimated form of legalism. Not the sacrifice of Christ, on this view, but our own obedience to God’s law, is the ground of hope.
In this way the whole achievement of the Reformation has been given up, and there has been a return to the religion of the Middle Ages. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, God raised up a man who began to read the Epistle to the Galatians with his own eyes. The result was the rediscovery of the doctrine of justification by faith. Upon that rediscovery has been based the whole of our evangelical freedom. As expounded by Luther and Calvin the Epistle to the Galatians became the “Magna Charta of Christian liberty.” But modern liberalism has returned to the old interpretation of Galatians which was urged against the Reformers. Thus Professor Burton’s elaborate commentary on the Epistle, despite all its extremely valuable modern scholarship, is in one respect a mediaeval book; it has returned to an anti-Reformation exegesis, by which Paul is thought to be attacking in the Epistle only the piecemeal morality of the Pharisees. In reality, of course, the object of Paul’s attack is the thought that in any way man can earn his acceptance with God. What Paul is primarily interested in is not spiritual religion over against ceremonialism, but the free grace of God over against human merit

J. Gresham Machen | Christianity and Liberalism, (New York: MacMillan, 1923), 143–144.


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One comment

  1. My great grandfather was a Lutheran seminary professor who taught the ancient languages of scripture. And he was someone who was unafraid to tell people exactly what he thought about various issues. He once visited a local congregation on a Sunday morning and when he left the church the pastor said, “You are a stranger among us and I wish to bid you welcome.” In response my grandfather simply quoted Ephesians 2:12 to him and left without another word. The local pastor just thought he was a crank and dismissed him from his mind.

    After a lengthy period of time the pastor found a letter that my great grandfather had written to him, but he had never read…

    “…He began with an apology for his intrusion and for his awkward use of the English language [being a German immigrant], as he was trying to express himself in his ‘not in his mother’s tongue.’ He then launched out into the bold statement that the pastor to whom he wrote did not preach the Gospel. At this time the reader paused a moment and said to his wife with a laugh, ‘Here is a Dutchman who says I do not preach the Gospel; I wonder if he can teach me.’ Thank God, he did teach him, and before the reading was finished the minister was on his knees before the Lord in confession and humiliation…in substance [the letter] is as follows…

    ‘No doubt you are sincere; no doubt you are trying to do good, but you are evidently afraid to proclaim the Gospel without and ‘if’s’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts.’ You tell people, it is true, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and they shall be saved; but you invariably add some conditions or consequences that must lead them to trust partly in Christ and partly in themselves for salvation. You tell them that they must be baptized and join the church and strive to lead holy lives as the ground of their salvation. Now, if you would insist upon these things as the fruits of faith, it would be right; but when you put them before your hearers as something that must be done in order to gain salvation, and as a reason why God saves us, it is all wrong. You speak as if you would shrink from our Lord’s own words: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.’ You evidently dare not leave a soul hanging to that alone in the confidence of a calm and unfaltering assurance that all is well…”

    He rebuked the pastor for directing sinners to ‘keep on praying until God is merciful.’ He challenged him to point out one place in the Bible that gives any such direction; and he asked how the minister could know that these sinners would not be in hell before they could reach home to pray. He cited Scripture after Scripture to show that the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost by the Apostles teach and immediate, certain, and everlasting salvation to everyone that believeth; and he so swept the scene of all feelings, all efforts, all ordinances, that Christ was left alone on the field of His conflict and victory, the only object that fixed the astonished and admiring gaze of the young minister in the infinite sufficiency of His atoning death, a present, almighty, and unchangeable Savior. Christ had been trusted before, but not apart from every other ground of confidence…”1

    1 taken from “80 Eventful Years: Reminiscences of Ludwig Ernest Fuerbringer,” Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis, 1944, pp. 50-53.

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