Book Review: The Person of Jesus by J. Gresham Machen

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) was one of the most influential Christian intellectuals of the twentieth century. While he may have been on the losing end of important battles in his day (the re-organization of Princeton Theological Seminary, being suspended from the gospel ministry), he was nonetheless a warrior whose courage and stamina enabled him to stand strong where the battle was hottest. This was evident in his writings that defended Christ’s Virgin Birth, the Apostle Paul’s God-given apostolic authority, as well as his masterpiece, Christianity and Liberalism.

Because of the continued attacks on Christianity in our day, Machen’s writings are as relevant as ever. Which is why the Church owes Westminster Theological Seminary a debt of gratitude for its publication, The Person of Jesus: Radio Addresses On the Deity of the Savior.

Based upon radio addresses given by Machen in the 1930s, this short book (101 pages) offers a biblical and succinct defense of the person and deity of Jesus Christ against attacks that were being waged against Him then, and which continue to this day. Machen makes able use of the Scriptures, as well as the Westminster Standards in defending the faith.

As is typical of Machen, he fearlessly takes on his opponents, and exhorts Christians to stand firm:

“Every true man is resentful of slanders against a human friend. Should we not be grieved ten times more by slanders against our God?”

Machen begins by defending the Trinity, and shows how God, through the inspired Scriptures, “allowed us sinful creatures a look into the very depths of the being of God.”

He then spends the next two chapters defining and defending the deity of Christ, where he points out the folly of denying this critical doctrine.

“Do you not see what kind of worship of the moral life of a supposedly purely human Jesus,” he writes, “a Jesus who is regarded merely as the ideal man—do you not see what such worship of such a purely human Jesus really means? It means that the man who engages in it has committed the ancient and terrible sin of worshiping humanity. It means that he has worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, and that is a sin indeed.”

In defending Christ’s divinity, Machen then turns to the Sermon On the Mount. Here, he notes the irony of many liberals who, while denying Christ is God, nonetheless profess their love of this sermon. Do they not see, Machen wonders aloud with his readers, how Christ so clearly states His divine authority? Do they not recognize that only one of His stature could recount, “You have heard that it was said…” about some teaching of God’s Law, and respond with, “But I say to you…”?

Unlike the prophets of old, Machen notes, “[Jesus] does not say, ‘Thus says the Lord.” No, He says, ‘I say.’”

After examining what Jesus said about Himself, Machen turns his attention to Christ’s miracles and resurrection. He discusses how critics have sought to dismantle these supernatural events while holding on to a more friendly, “historical” Jesus. But as Machen notes, if you were to free Jesus from all of the miracles in Scripture, he “would not be worth believing” because He would be just another man.

In fact, Machen concludes, “The outstanding result of a hundred years to separate the natural from the supernatural in the early Christian view of Jesus is that the thing cannot be done.”

Lastly, the author turns to the resurrection, whereby Christ conquered sin and death for His people. Machen demonstrates from history and the Scriptures how Christ’s resurrection had to be, and why it matters:

“You say, my friend, that you have never seen a man who rose from the dead after he had been laid really dead in the tomb? Quite right. Neither have I. You and I have never seen a man who rose from the dead. That is true. But what of it? You and I have never seen a man who rose from the dead; but then you and I have never seen a man like Jesus.”

All in all, The Person of Jesus is a very helpful little book for both new and mature Christians in defending the Christ of the Scriptures.

I highly recommend it.

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