Elisha Mitchell's Mountain

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J.G. Machen once wrote:

One thing is clear — if you are to learn to love the mountains you must go up them by your own power. There is more thrill in the smallest hill in Fairmount Park if you walk up it than there is in the grandest mountain on earth if you go up it in an automobile. There is one curious thing about means of locomotion — the slower and simpler and the closer to nature they are, the more real thrill they give. I have got far more enjoyment out of my two feet than I did out of my bicycle; and I got more enjoyment out of my bicycle than I ever have got out of my motor car; and as for airplanes — well, all I can say is that I wouldn't lower myself by going up in one of the stupid, noisy things! The only way to have the slightest inkling of what a mountain is is to walk or climb up it….There is, far above any earthly mountain peak of vision, a God high and lifted up who, though He is infinitely exalted, yet cares for His children among men. (“Mountains and Why We Love Them”).

Another Presbyterian minister who loved mountains and mountain-climbing — doing so with fragile scientific equipment under strenuous circumstances — was the Rev. Dr. Elisha Mitchell (1793-1857). A professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he was a chemist, a mathematician, and a geologist, as well as a minister of the gospel. On a geological tour of western North Carolina in the Black Mountains in 1828 (with return visits in 1835, 1838, and 1844), he observed a peak that, according to his barometric calculations, was higher than either Grandfather Mountain or Mount Washington in New Hampshire. That peak was then known as Black Dome (or Attakulla to the Cherokee), and he reckoned its height to be 6,672 feet above sea level. Challenged by a former student as to the accuracy of his observations, he made a final trek up the mountain in 1857 to prove his claim. Last seen on June 27, 1857, he never returned from that trip. His body was found on July 8 by a search party at the base of a waterfall, now known as Mitchell Falls. Originally buried in Asheville, North Carolina, his body was re-interred at the top of the peak he had set his eyes and his heart upon - later named in his honor. With modern altimeters, Mount Mitchell is now reckoned to be 6,684 feet above sea level, the highest mountain peak on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. The Rev. Dr. Mitchell now rests above the clouds.

What moves armies and pulls down empires, according to J.G. Machen

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D.G. Hart explains the background for an article that we know as “Christianity and Culture” by J.G. Machen:

An address that the young professor delivered to the Philadelphia Ministers’ Association in the spring of 1912 revealed his maturing thoughts on the ministry. The address was to be a defense of “scientific theological study” that he repeated at the seminary’s opening exercises in the fall of that year. A forthright declaration of the aims of theological education at Princeton, the lecture also contained Machen’s personal confession of faith. It was published a year later in the Princeton Theological Review under the title “Christianity and Culture.” (D.G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America, p. 30).

Machen was concerned about the growing divide between intellectual scholarship and piety that he observed from his role as a teacher. “In his six years as instructor he had become painfully aware of a tendency among students, as well as in the Church as a whole, to set up a sharp disjunction between knowledge and its pursuit, on the one hand, and piety and cultivation, on the other” (Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, p. 155). The wedge of anti-intellectualism from the Fundamentalist camp had a tendency to weaken and undermine the Christian apologetic to the non-Christian world. In Machen’s view, Christianity was being sidelined at the table where important ideas and worldviews were battling it out, and to him this was not acceptable.

It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root. Many would have the seminaries combat error by attacking it as it is taught by its popular exponents. Instead of that they confuse their students with a lot of German names unknown out side the walls of the universities. That method of procedure is based simply upon a profound belief in the pervasiveness of ideas. What is to-day matter of academic speculation begins to-morrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combatted; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate. So as Christians we should try to mould the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity.

Christianity, as the religion of Truth, must engage the minds as well as the hearts of unbelievers, according to Machen. Combatting false ideas is an important aspect of the Christian witness because ideas have consequences. It was just one year after publication of “Christianity and Culture” that the Great War began in Europe, the first of two World Wars in the 20th century. Machen himself served in Europe during the war in a non-combatant role. But above all, in the witness of his life and work, Machen “remains Mr. Valiant-for Truth par excellence” (Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, p. xiii).

New Addition to Log College Press: Machen's Christianity and Liberalism

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January 1, 2019 marked the lapse of copyright restrictions for many books published in the United States in the year 1923. It also marked the 82nd anniversary of the passing of J.G. Machen into glory (which occurred on Jan. 1, 1937). It so happens that one of his most famous books — Christianity and Liberalism — was published in 1923 and is now in the public domain. A faithful friend and reader of our site, Pastor Phil Pockras, was kind enough to alert us to the availability of this particular book, which is now accessible at Machen’s author page.

To whet your appetite for this classic work, here are a few notable quotes that have stood out to this reader:

In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.” - pp. 1-2

A public-school system, if it means the providing of free education for those who desire it, is a noteworthy and beneficent achievement of modern times; but when once it becomes monopolistic it is the most perfect instrument for tyranny which has yet been devised. Freedom of thought in the middle ages was combated by the Inquisition, but the modern method is far more effective.’ – p. 14

Christ died" -- that is history; "Christ died for our sins" -- that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity. – p. 27

The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried" -- that is history. "He loved me and gave Himself for me" -- that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church. – p. 29

Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties. Very different is the Christian ideal. Paganism is optimistic with regard to unaided human nature, whereas Christianity is the religion of the broken heart. – p. 65

If you have read this book already, what are some gems that you can share with our readers? If you have not read this book, please consider downloading it for your reading pleasure. And if you have other suggestions for books that we should add to the site, please contact us directly to let us know. Thanks Phil, and thanks to all our readers, for your support and encouragement!