“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” —Acts 17:11
The Death of J. Gresham Machen,
January 1, 1937
he First World War shattered, for many intellectuals, what remained of the philosophical and theological presuppositions that had undergirded Western Civilization for centuries. While those ideas had been under attack for generations, the utter devastation and slaughter of the War had profound implications for the cultural world that emerged in the 1920s. Liberal theologians, especially in Germany, seemed to have a free field of fire against the orthodox Christian views of the Bible’s authorship, inerrancy, historicity, and accuracy—an influence known appropriately as “Modernism.” Those challenges raged in the late 19th Century and early 20th, and now seemed poised to completely overwhelm the Church. A modest and brilliant champion from Princeton stepped into the lists to defend the Faith in America, John Gresham Machen. He became liberal Protestantism’s greatest nightmare.
J. Gresham Machen, as he was best known, was born to a very devout Southern Presbyterian mother, and grew up in a genteel social milieu in Baltimore, in the last decade of the 19th Century. He graduated first in his class at Johns Hopkins in the classics in 1901, and from Princeton Seminary in 1905. Machen then sailed to Europe to immerse himself in the courses taught by the greatest modernist seminary professors and philosophers in Germany. By God’s grace, he saw through the friendliness and camaraderie of the great liberals, to challenge and refute their heresies and false assumptions.
J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)
Upon his return to Princeton as Professor of New Testament in 1906, Machen developed a reputation for his challenges to both mainstream American pietistic Protestantism and the deadly cancer of European liberalism. His forthright apologetics came from a historic and Calvinistic foundation based on the virgin birth of Christ and the absolute historical integrity of the Bible. He took a year off to serve in the YMCA canteens in France during WWI. Upon his return, the intellectual challenges multiplied as did the controversies that followed his stands against the liberals.
Princeton Theological Seminary Class of 1922, during Machen’s tenure as Professor of New Testament (1906-1929)
Princeton Theological Seminary in the 1800s
Liberal Protestantism “reduced Christianity to a set of general religious principles regarding the moral teachings of Jesus,” and they emphasized God’s love over all of His attributes, especially justice and man’s accountability for his sin. Machen asserted that liberalism was not just a form of Christianity, but an entirely different religion—not the Christianity of the Bible. His beliefs were rapidly declining in adherents at Princeton and in the Presbyterian Church USA to which he belonged, as more and more biblical doctrines were rejected and replaced by modern philosophical presuppositions. Liberalism penetrated the foreign mission board of the PCUSA, and in response, Machen helped create a conservative but “Independent Board of Foreign Missions,” based on fidelity to the inspired Word of God. In 1935, he was tried in the Church Courts and suspended from the ministry for fomenting “schism” in the Church.
This Fundamentalist cartoon, first published in 1922, portrays Modernism as the descent from Christianity to atheism
Machen was instrumental in the formation of what became the Orthodox Presbyterian Church denomination and the creation of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, to train ministers loyal to the Word of God and uncompromising on the historic Christian doctrines. A number of Princeton theologians joined with him in the endeavor.
Machen Hall, Westminster Theological Seminary—notable alumni of the seminary include Francis Schaeffer, Greg Bahnsen and Alistair Begg, among others
In December of 1936, he came down with pneumonia while preaching in North Dakota and died on January 1, 1937, aged 55. Throughout the post-war era, Machen became the champion of the “fundamentalists” of America for his ability to meet the liberals on their own grounds and bring a scholarly and profound defense of Reformation Protestant theology. While men from other denominations embraced his defense of the faith, his own church proceeded to disavow him and the Word on which he stood. J. Gresham Machen did not fit into the radical fundamentalist rejection of alcohol, tobacco, and other extra-biblical cultural appurtenances, but he fought to the death over the historicity of the Bible, the Virgin Birth, and the Deity of Christ. His bestselling books took their place among Christian classics: The Origin of Paul’s Religion (1921), Christianity and Liberalism (1923), and The Virgin Birth of Christ (1930), among several others. With the death of Machen, the Church lost a great champion who was raised up by God in a volatile time for the Church in America.
Machen’s 1923 book Christianity and Liberalism was named one of the top 100 books of the twentieth century by Christianity Today one of the top 100 books of the millennium by World magazine
J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Study, by Ned Stonehouse (Eerdmans, 1954)
Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America, by D.G. Hart (P&R, 1994)
“Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.” —Rev. 2:10
The Martyrdom of Hugh M’Kail, December 22, 1666
he roll of Christian martyrs extends back in time to the days following the resurrection of Our Lord. It continues daily in many far-flung nations of the earth. Jesus Himself told the Apostles to expect to die for their faith, a prospect they embraced, not knowing the time, place, or character of their death. Some of the saddest and yet the most triumphant stories of the few martyrs we know by name, are the ones murdered in “Christian” countries by men claiming to be fellow-believers.
The Signing of the National Covenant in Greyfriars Churchyard, 1638
as portrayed by William Hole
Hugh M’Kail was born in 1640, and raised by his namesake uncle, in the midst of the “Second Reformation” in Scotland. The National Covenant had been recently circulated and signed by multiple thousands, the General Assembly had excommunicated the corrupt Anglican bishops in Scotland, the national legislature was filled with Church elders who were in almost total sympathy with the godly transformation of the Church and the culture, as the greatest spiritual revival since the days of John Knox swept through the nation. Hugh joined in the joyous triumph of spiritual renewal, even as the dark clouds of controversy and political disruption ensued in the 1650s.
Charles II of England (1630-1685)
Having lived through the turmoil of Cromwellian occupation and division in the churches, Hugh attended the University of Edinburgh, where he received intense training for taking his place in Scotland among the ministers still loyal to the Covenants. He ardently defended the belief that the Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, and the Bible determinative of how God should be worshipped. At the time of his graduation in 1660, such a belief was considered treason by the new King of England, Charles II, recently returned from European exile and determined to exert his headship and control over all the churches of the realm through the rule of his bishops, regardless of the resistance of Presbyterian Scotland. Twenty-year-old Hugh was licensed to preach by his presbytery in 1661, and began what would prove to be just one year of public preaching.
A Scottish conventicle (illegal church service)
Hugh M’Kail’s powerful and effective sermons came to an end in the High Church of Scotland, St. Giles, on the Sunday before more than 400 ministers were expelled from their pulpits in Scotland by order of the monarch. They had refused to renounce the National Covenant, at the heart of which was sworn affirmation of the “crown rights of Jesus Christ over the Church”. In his last sermon M’Kail said the Church and the people of God had been “persecuted by a Pharaoh upon the throne, a Haman in the State, and a Judas in the Church”. A party of horsemen were sent the next day to apprehend him, but Hugh escaped Edinburgh and hid out at his father’s house near Liberton, today a suburb of Edinburgh. For the next four years he managed to avoid arrest, for dissenting preachers continued to minister in conventicles (illegal worship services) and were attacked and punished by teams of commandos sent out by the government for that purpose.
“The Boot”, a device of torture, used to slowly crush the leg
In 1666, after a brutal attack on an elderly man in Dumfries, some young Covenanters rescued him and in the ensuing fracas, killed a soldier. Realizing fierce retribution would be coming, the men took up arms and called for others to join them. In the course of a long march to Edinburgh to seek a redress of grievances, the 900 Covenanters, mostly farmers, few with firearms, were met by an army of 3,000 soldiers who were called out to stop them, and a battle ensued at Rullion Green in the Pentland Hills. Hugh M’Kail joined the march briefly, although he was suffering from a wasting disease, exhausted and broken down. The day before the engagement, Hugh dropped out and left to return home.
Seized along the way, carrying a sword and mounted, the pastor was taken to Edinburgh and thrown in the tollbooth prison. The “Secret Council” interrogated him, demanding an account of his participation and the names of everyone that he knew who had joined in the armed protest. Refusing to or unable to comply, Hugh was encased in the most painful torture device of the times known as “The Boot”. That instrument destroyed his leg, with no result of information. He affirmed his loyalty to both King and Covenant, and declared his innocence of any rebellion. The Council convicted him of treason, nonetheless, for not agreeing to the Royal Supremacy over the Church and for joining a rebellion designed to overthrow his authority.
Hugh M’Kail tortured with the Boot
The original site of the “Mercat Cross”, High Street, Edinburgh, where many were martyred
On December 22, 1666 Hugh M’Kail went to the scaffold at the “Mercat Cross”, where other martyrs, like James Guthrie before him and Donald Cargill after, were executed. With praise on his lips to be counted worthy of dying for Christ, all of his last words were recorded by his father and cell-mates, as well as the multitude of weeping onlookers, for he was greatly beloved.
Scene of Hugh M’Kail’s execution, December 22, 1666, amid “such a lamentation”, says historian James Kirkton, “as was never known in Scotland before, not one dry cheek upon all the street, or in all the numberless windows in the market-place.”
It is not possible to know how much longer Hugh M’Kail would have lived, given his ill-health and his participation in the conventicles, had he not ridden out to satisfy his curiosity about the protesters marching on Edinburgh. Nonetheless, his forthright testimony, willingness to obey Christ regardless of the unbiblical dictates of the state to conform, and his confidence of his future in heaven, provide a sobering and faithful example for us today.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” —Micah 6:8
Ratification of the Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791
he creation of the American Republic under the Constitution of the United States, in 1787, came into being through extremely contentious debates and competing visions of the place of a central government in a confederacy of states. The loose union of rebellious states had held together under the Articles of Confederation beginning in 1777, and there were many people satisfied with the arrangement. George Washington was not one of them, nor James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. Representatives of twelve of the states met for four months in a convention to modify the Articles, hoping to make them more unifying and practical, now that the weaknesses of the Articles had manifested themselves in various crises, like tax collection, small domestic insurrections, and disrespect from foreign powers. They met in closed sessions, scrapped the Articles of Confederation, and created an entirely new structure, ingeniously formulated, and unlike any nation previously known in history.
First page of the Articles of Confederation which were debated by the Second Continental Congress in 1776-77 and came into force March 1, 1781
George Washington presides over the signing of the Constitution during the convention which took place in Philadelphia from May 25 to September 17, 1787
In order to implement the new plan of government, the states elected representatives to attend ratification conventions in each state to review and approve the document. The new Constitution created a tripartite central government, with a bicameral legislature, a President, and a Supreme Court. The Founders hated and vilified the idea of democracy and thus built a republic anchored in a combination of men who served two year terms and staggered six year terms, chosen by the states. Satisfied the new structure of government could handle any contingency by the men of virtue and probity, elected by the people. They hoped that the compromises they had made, insured the solution to any potential strife.
George Washington (1732-1799) was among those not satisfied with the arrangement under the Articles of Confederation
In most of the ratification conventions, resistance to acceptance of the new plan of union found expression in the arguments of men known as the “anti-federalists.” The debates between the contending parties in the State of Virginia perhaps best exemplified the resistance to the new Constitution. On the pro-ratification side stood George Washington and James Madison. Leading the opposition were Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Judge Tyler. The central complaint of the opponents to the Constitution was the absence of guarantees of protection of the ancient rights of the citizens, from potential tyranny of the central government. The “Federalists” won ratification after promising the addition of a bill of rights, to be added soon after approval of the document. The “Bill of Rights” was ratified December 15, 1791 and took the form of ten amendments designed to guarantee the most basic rights inherited from the English Common Law and the Magna Carta.
Patrick Henry (1736-1799)
Delegate to 1st and 2nd Continental Congress, 1st and 6th post-colonial Governor of Virginia, and a vocal opponent of the Constitution who pushed for a bill of rights after its ratification
George Mason (1725-1792)
Principal author of The Virginia Declaration of Rights which served as a basis for the United States Bill of Rights and one of three delegates who refused to sign the Constitution
The first amendment prohibited Congress from establishing a particular denomination of the Church as the State Church, in contrast to what the English government had done with the Anglican Church, and had maintained in several of the colonies before independence. Nor could they prohibit the worship of particular churches. This amendment also guaranteed freedom of speech and the press, and the right to assemble and petition for a “redress of grievances.”
The second amendment recognized the right to organize militias and protected the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
In order to protect the powers of the states, the tenth amendment reasserted that the central government possessed only the powers actually mentioned in the Constitution as their responsibility, and all others were reserved to the states.
First page of an original copy of the Bill of Rights, including the twelve articles of amendment proposed in 1789, ten of which (articles 3-12), became part of the United States Constitution in 1791. What is here labeled as the Third Amendment is actually what we now know as the First Amendment, what is labeled as the Fourth is now known as the Second, and so on.
Since the days of the Founders, other amendments to the Constitution have been added, and the original ten have undergone reinterpretation, especially in modern times. The theory that the Constitution is a “living, breathing document” that changes in meaning with the whims and opinions of each American generation, is the majority view in the law schools today, with only a few exceptions. The interpretive rubric that the words as they were originally intended ought to continue as the basis of the interpretation of the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, is known as “original intent,” and is under attack in every case the Supreme Court and inferior courts choose to hear. Attempts to resurrect the true meaning of the Bill of Rights brings charges of racism, anti-democracy, and fascism against the few “conservative” jurists within the judicial system. Perhaps the Founders were correct when they declared that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would only succeed among a “moral and religious people” led by honest and patriotic leaders.
“. . . [H]ow long shall the wicked triumph? . . . They break in pieces thy people, O LORD, and afflict thine heritage. . . . But the LORD is my defense; and my God is the rock of my refuge. And He shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; yea, the LORD our God shall cut them off.” —Psalm 94:3, 5, 22-23
The Death of the Duke of Alba,
December 12, 1582
ernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, 3rd Duke of Alba, 4th Marquess of Coria, 3rd Count of Salvatierra de Tormes, 2nd Count of Piedrahita, 8th Lord of Valdecorneja, Grandee of Spain, Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and recipient of the Golden Rose, awarded by the Pope for service to the Catholic Church; he was a Spanish Castilian nobleman (if you couldn’t have guessed), general, diplomat, and butcher of Protestants during the eighty-year war with the Netherlands. He became known as “The Iron Duke” when serving as Governor of the Netherlands; some historians believe he killed more Protestants because they were Protestants, than the entire Roman Empire murdered all types of Christians because they were Christians, more than a thousand years earlier. The Duke of Alba is considered the greatest of Spain’s generals.
Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, 3rd Duke of Alba (1507-1582), known as the Grand Duke of Alba in Spain and Portugal, and as the Iron Duke in the Netherlands
Fernando was trained by a famous Benedictine monk and a Renaissance poet, and was thus steeped in Roman Catholicism and Humanism from an early age. He mastered Latin, French, English, and German, suitable to a Castilian nobleman destined for international service and renown. At the age of seventeen, Fernando went to war (1524), where he made a name for himself, and was appointed governor of a strategic Basque town. Inheriting the ducal title from his grandfather in 1531, Alba went on to serve both the Holy Roman Emperor and Spanish King Philip II the rest of his life.
The Protestant Reformation, begun in Germany, spread to every corner of Europe in one form or another—Lutheran, Calvinist, or Anabaptist. All three forms found welcome adherents in the northern part of Europe known as the Netherlands, a hugely profitable part of the growing Spanish Empire. Calvinism especially took root among the most prosperous cities of the Dutch people of “The Low Countries”, whose maritime trade connections for woolen goods and fish produced immense wealth. King Philip II of Spain was horrified to see Protestantism flourishing in the Netherlands and committing the attendant destruction of idols and religious sites. He sent the Duke of Alba to stamp out the “heretics” for the greater glory of the Catholic Church, and to restore order with the soldiers of Spain—the only standing professional army in Europe.
Coat of arms of the 3rd Duke of Alba
King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598)
Alba had already fought in the Four Years’ War in Italy, the Ottoman-Habsburg War, and the Spanish invasion of Rome. He had led Spain’s armies in the Schmalkaldic War to destroy the Lutherans, and now had free reign to put an end to the Dutch Calvinists and their leader William the Silent, and to restore Spanish sovereignty. Alba’s ferocity and deadly use of the Spanish Inquisition, spawned by the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent, resulted in further revolt and what became known as “The Eighty Years’ War”, beginning in 1566.
The Battle of Pavia (northern Italy) in 1525, during the Four Years’ War (1521-1526)
Part of the Ottoman–Habsburg Wars, the Conquest of Tunis in 1535 was the engagement in which Alba first distinguished himself
When he first arrived in the Netherlands, Alba established the “Council of Troubles”, known by the Dutch as the “Council of Blood”. He called for all the Dutch nobles to meet with him in peace, to negotiate a settlement, with immunity and safe conduct. When they arrived, he had them arrested along with 9,000 other Protestants, and murdered the most prominent leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, and a thousand others. He revoked all prior treaties that had been made with Philip’s half-sister, Margaret of Parma, the former Spanish regent, and he turned loose the Inquisition to do their job rounding up and executing “heretics.” Many of the Provinces revolted against Spain.
A 1616 engraving depicting the Duke of Alba presiding over the Council of Troubles
A French army of Huguenots attacked from across the border, but were defeated and massacred. William of Orange attacked the Spanish juggernaut with his tiny exile army, suffering several severe defeats. The Dutch corsairs known as the “Sea Beggars” won a few engagements at sea, which brought several coastal cities to the side of the rebels. City after city fell to Alba’s troops, ending in total massacre on several occasions.
Wars were the most expensive endeavor a nation could embark on. Alba was forced to levy high taxes on all the Netherlands, sending several important trading cities into the arms of the “rebels.” After five years, and the execution of more than 5,000 people—not counting those killed in battle or wiped out in the capture of cities—Philip recalled the Duke of Alba to Spain and sent new generals to deal with the situation.
William the Silent, Prince of Orange (1533-1584)
The Duke of Alba later in life
In 1580, a dynastic crisis enveloped Portugal, and a successor not approved by Philip of Spain brought the seventy-two-year-old Duke of Alba out of retirement. He led 20,000 troops into Portugal, defeated the Portuguese army, and installed as king the man approved by Philip, uniting the two countries under Spanish control. The now sickly Alba, showered with more military honors, died suddenly in 1582, mourned in Spain as their greatest general, but remembered in Holland as the Iron Duke who tried to destroy the Reformation via murder, violence, and war, but who ultimately failed. The Dutch eventually won their independence of Spain and became a Calvinistic Republic. Alba never knew.
Alba’s remains are at the Convento de San Esteban, Salamanca, Spain
The Rise of the Dutch Republic, by American historian John L. Motley, published in 1856, went through multiple editions and sold hundreds of thousands of copies in every major European language. It is considered by some historians the best written history of a nation published before the 20th Century.
“When the righteous triumph, there is great glory; but when the wicked rise, men conceal themselves.” —Proverbs 28:12
Warren Commission Established,
November 29, 1963
n November 22, 1963, someone assassinated President John F. Kennedy at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Those are the only facts that have not been contended since that day. The President was already thinking about the upcoming election in 1964 and planned several trips to lay the groundwork for campaigning and shoring up political support, especially in Texas, where intra-party feuding needed smoothing over. He plotted out a two-day, five-city tour of the Lone Star State, accompanied by his wife—her first public foray since the loss of their baby Patrick in August. He would be welcomed to San Antonio by his Texan Vice President Lyndon Johnson and joined by the conservative Democratic Governor, John Connolly.
View of the Presidential motorcade as it approaches Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas
On the second day of his tour, President Kennedy was warmly greeted in Fort Worth on the morning of the 22nd. He then took a thirteen-minute flight to Love Field in Dallas, where he embarked in a motorcade, with Governor and Mrs. Connolly joining him and his wife Jackie in a convertible, with the Vice President following in the motorcade. Large crowds lined the streets along the ten-mile route that wound its way through downtown Dallas, on its way to the Trade Mart, where the President was due for lunch and another speech to business and civic leaders. Their route took them at a slow roll, about eleven miles per hour, through Dealey Plaza and past the six-story Book Depository, where a sniper lay in wait.
Dealey Plaza with the Texas School Book Depository visible (top center)
Moments before the assassination, the presidential motorcade makes its way down Main Street in Dallas, with President Kennedy and the First Lady visible in the back seat. Texas Governor John Connally and his wife Nellie are seated in the row in front of the Kennedys.
At about 12:30pm, shots were fired into the open top car, and both President Kennedy and Governor Connolly were struck. The Secret Service driver rushed to Parkland Hospital, where the forty-six-year-old President was declared dead about 1:00pm. Governor Connolly survived. About a half hour later, a Dallas police officer, J.D. Tippett, accosted a suspicious pedestrian three miles from the shooting and was himself shot to death by the suspect.
After shots are fired, Jackie Kennedy is seen crawling over the trunk of the limousine, while Secret Service agent Clint Hill climbs aboard
Arrested in a movie theatre, Lee Harvey Oswald was booked on suspicion of the murder of both the President and the police officer. Two days later, Jack Ruby (born Jacob Rubenstein), a nightclub owner with a sordid past and underworld connections, murdered Oswald while under police custody. Convicted of Oswald’s murder, Ruby died in prison two years later, while awaiting a new trial. One week after the assassination, the new President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, appointed a commission to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy, led by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren. The Commission also included the most powerful Democratic Senator, Richard Russell of Georgia, a Republican Senator, John Cooper, House minority leader, Gerald Ford, Democratic heavyweight Congressman Hale Boggs, the Director of the CIA Allen Dulles, and the former President of the World Bank, John McCloy.
Mugshot of Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) during a previous arrest in New Orleans in August of 1963
Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald while Oswald is in police custody
The Warren Commission met in the National Archives Building. Their final report of 888 pages and 26 volumes of supporting documents, included depositions of 522 witnesses and 3,100 exhibits. The sealed records—of indeterminate length and with redactions—have been parceled out over the past fifty-four years in response to new rules regarding transparency in the investigation, until only two percent of the Commission Archives are still not available for examination.
The Commission concluded that Oswald acted alone and was the sole shooter, firing three shots from the book depository window. They found no evidence that the Dallas Police were in collusion with Jack Ruby. They found no evidence that Oswald and Ruby were connected to any conspiracies, foreign or domestic, in the assassination of President Kennedy. The Commission could find no definitive motive for Oswald’s actions. Criticism, skepticism, alternative explanations, and conspiracy theories immediately abounded upon release of the Commission report. Books, movies, lectures and investigations have proliferated since that day in 1963, to the point that few people accept the conclusions of the Warren Report. Even members of the Commission and President Johnson himself, now all dead, expressed doubts about some of their conclusions. The main conspiracy theories suggest, or in some cases, absolutely assert, that one or a combination of the following characters were behind the assassination: Vice-President Johnson himself, Fidel Castro, the Russians, the Italian Mafia, the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, or other government agency.
The Warren Report, as compiled in book format by the Associated Press
Members of the Warren Commission present their report on the assassination of John F. Kennedy to President Lyndon Johnson
Probably no event in American history has received more attention, nor a government report been more often accused of cover-ups, corruption, and conspiracy than the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Warren Report that followed.