This page introduces a series of short fortnightly essays on the great verities of the Christian religion. The material will be drawn from many sources. The first ten essays are from the pen of the late J. Gresham Machen, distinguished New Testament scholar. These are excerpted from radio addresses published after his death by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company under the title, “The Christian Faith in the Modern World,” and soon to be reissued in paperback.—ED.

No thoughtful man can possibly look out upon the world today without observing that we are in the midst of a tremendous emergency. It does seem perfectly clear to thoughtful people, whether they are Christians or not, that humanity is standing over an abyss.

At such a time, is it any wonder that this world with its pressing problems should seem to many persons quite sufficient to occupy all our thoughts; is it any wonder that the pressing problems that are before our very eyes should crowd out attention to God and to an unseen world?

Persons who adopt that attitude may with some plausibility argue that the most important thing that you have to do for a man is not always the first thing that you must do for him. If a man is in the water, drowning, the most important thing to do for him is to preach the Gospel to him for the saving of his soul. But that is not the first thing to do for him. The first thing to do for him is to pull him out of the water and give him artificial respiration.

It might seem to be the same way with humanity as a whole. Humanity is drowning in the water, or, to change the figure slightly, is sinking in the mire. The first thing to do might seem to be to pull it out, in order that after it has been pulled out we may ask it to deal with the unseen things. Let the Church show what it can do with the plain emergency as it actually exists in this world—so the argument might run—and then, if it proves able to do that, the world may think it worth listening to if it talks about God.

Plausible reasoning this is—plausible but utterly untrue.

In the first place, the program that this reasoning proposes will not work. It proposes that we shall first deal with the political and social emergency, and then afterwards deal with the unseen things. But what was it that brought the emergency upon us in the first place? Was it something in the realm of that which can be seen? Not at all. The physical resources of the world were amply sufficient for the world’s needs. No, the thing that brought the emergency upon us was something in the realm of the unseen things.

Moreover, if it was something within that realm that brought the emergency to us in the first place, it is also something in that realm that keeps the emergency with us today. The distress of the world is due clearly to an evil that is within the soul of man.

Hence these so-called “practical” men who would neglect the realm of the soul and of the soul’s relations to God in order to deal with the economic problems of the day are the most impractical people that could possibly be imagined.

The truth is that that analogy of the drowning man does not apply to the evils of society. To pull a drowning man out of the water is a simple physical effort. But to pull society out of the mire into which it has fallen today is not a simple physical effort at all, but is a highly complex matter; and at the very heart of it is that mysterious portion of the mechanism which is known as the soul of man.

It is impossible, therefore, to deal first with the social and political evils of the day, and then deal afterwards with the unseen things, for the simple reason that without dealing with the unseen things you cannot deal successfully with those social and political problems at all.

God has so ordered the course of this world that in this case—unlike that case of the drowning man—it is impossible to attain the lower end until the higher end has been attained. It is impossible to deal successfully even with these political and social problems until we have come to be right with God. No emergency can possibly be so pressing as to permit us to postpone attention to the unseen things.

Indeed, the emergency ought to have exactly the opposite effect; the evils of the time, instead of leading us away from God, ought to lead us to him.

Is this not a time when we ought seriously to ask ourselves whether there is not some lost secret which must be regained if humanity is to be saved from the abyss?

I am asking you to turn away from yourself and your opinions and your troubles; and I am asking you to turn instead to a word from God.

Where can I find that word? Not in myself and not in you, but in an old Book that has been sealed by the seals of prejudice and unbelief but that will, if it is rediscovered, again set the world aflame and that will show you, be you wise or unwise, rich or poor, the way by which you can come into communion with the living God.—J. G. M.

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