Monday, January 17, 2011

The immediate effectiveness of the gospel

In this excerpt, from J. Gresham Machen's classic tome Christianity and Liberalism, discusses the immediacy of the gospel. The gospel is historical fact; it really did happen so many years ago in such-and-such a place. But so what? Who cares? Socrates drank hemlock, John Lennon was killed by a deranged fan, and Jesus died on the cross. What is all the fuss about? The fuss is about a real event that happened in real time that effects us profoundly right now. The gospel saves me from sin and brings me to God today! And that is good news. Here is what Machen had to say:

It is true that the Christian gospel is an account, not of something that happened yesterday, but of something that happened long ago; but the important thing is that it really happened. If it really happened, then it makes little difference when it happened. No matter when it happened, whether yesterday or in the first century, it remains a real gospel, a real piece of news.

The happening of long ago, moreover, is in this case confirmed by present experience. The Christian man receives first the account which the New Testament gives of the atoning death of Christ. That account is history. But if true it has effects in the present, and it can be tested by its effects. The Christian man makes trial of the Christian message, and making trial of it he finds it to be true. Experience does not provide a substitute for the documentary evidence, but it does confirm that evidence. The word of the Cross no longer seems to the Christian to be merely a far-off thing, merely a matter to be disputed about by trained theologians. On the contrary, it is received into the Christian's inmost soul, and every day and hour of the Christian's life brings new confirmation of its truth.

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