Rev. Calvin Knox Cummings
Note: This is the Tenth Anniversary Address Delivered Before the Thirteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1946 and published originally as a two part series.
“Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone who is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:37).
Christ is before the judgment seat of Pontius Pilate. The Jewish Sanhedrin, however illegally, has tried and condemned Jesus. Unable to exact the penalty of death, they would have Jesus tried according to Roman law and condemned by Roman authority.
Pilate asks Jesus, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” Jesus replies, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” Jesus is not being captious; He is not seeking to evade the issue. He wants to know whether Pilate is asking this question from a Roman viewpoint or from a Jewish viewpoint. If Pilate has in mind the Roman concept of a king, Christ will have to answer the question in one way, if the Jewish concept of a king as Messiah, in another way. Pilate’s reply to Jesus makes it clear that Pilate does not have in mind the Jewish but the Roman concept of a king. Pilate replies: “Am I a Jew?” which in effect is to say, “Why would I be speaking from a Jewish viewpoint; I am not a Jew.” Realizing that Pilate has in mind the Roman concept of a kingdom, Jesus seeks to disabuse Pilate’s mind of the utterly erroneous concept that he has of Christ’s kingship. “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.” My kingdom, Pilate, is not a kingdom of the sword and spear. My kingdom is not carnal but spiritual.
Pilate is confused. You say you are a king, but then you seem to deny that you are a king. How can you be a king and not fight? “Art thou a king then?”; are you or are you not a king, demands Pilate. In His reply Jesus seeks to define exactly what kind of a king He is in terms that the Roman mind of Pilate can grasp. “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” In these words Jesus sets forth the nature of His kingship and kingdom, and the method by which His kingship is exercised and His kingdom extended and maintained.
Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of truth. Truth is of the very essence of His kingship and kingdom. Evangelical Christians in general, and Reformed theologians in particular, have frequently dwelt upon the kingdom as a kingdom of righteousness and blessedness. This is rightly so. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,” wrote Paul. But too seldom is proper attention and emphasis given to the fact that the kingdom is characterized also by truth. The King of this kingdom is the embodiment and personification of all truth. “I am the truth,” He affirms. “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” writes John. “In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” declares Paul. It follows that the kingdom whose character is determined by the king is also characterized by truth. It is built upon Him Who is the truth. It is composed of those who have been conquered by and are ruled over by Him Who is the truth. “Every one who is of the truth heareth my voice.”
Pilate resented Christ’s answer. Such egotism, such dogmatism, such narrow exclusivism, Pilate thought. Swiftly and sharply he rebuffs Jesus. “What is truth?” said jesting Pilate, and did not wait for an answer. You don’t know the truth; I don’t know the truth; nobody knows the truth. Perhaps Pilate had come to this conclusion through the study of philosophy where he beheld the confusion and contradictions of human minds. More likely, however, Pilate’s indifference and agnosticism had its roots in the Roman type of mind which was interested in the practical and concrete rather than in the theoretical and abstract, in the externals of pomp and power rather than in the deeper meaning of life.
This spirit of agnosticism and indifference toward truth has been the prevailing spirit of the decade in which the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has borne its witness. Materialistic agnosticism has been the dominant philosophy of the land. The things of science and the senses alone are regarded as real; the things unseen cannot be known. In the field of education truth is regarded as relative. Truth is that which works; therefore, what is true today may not be true tomorrow. The plain man on the street has been caught in the vortex of modern secularism which has ruled God out of every sphere of His universe. Whirl has been king. As a result, when we have gone forth with the truth of God we have confronted a stone wall of indifference and prejudice. Within the visible church itself there has been widespread and deep-seated indifference and antipathy toward doctrine. One of the hallmarks of modern Protestantism has been “Life, not creed.” The hall-mark of modern religion is that of religious syncretism. In 1932 appeared the book Re-thinking Missions, reappraising the cause of Protestant missions. In this book the writers say of the missionary, he “will look forward not to the destruction of these religions (of Asia) but to their continued coexistence with Christianity, each stimulating the other’s growth toward the ultimate goal, unity in the completest religious truth” (p. 44).
To us it has been given as members and ministers of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to unfurl before the hosts of modern indifferentism and agnosticism the banner of truth. What a glorious calling and privilege to stand with Christ before these modern Pilates and declare with conviction and confidence born of the Spirit that there is truth! Herein is the genius of the Orthodox Presbyterian testimony: there is truth, we have the truth, and that truth we count dearer than life itself. As we have given this witness, with Jesus we have been misunderstood. Such egotism, dogmatism, and narrowness! men have charged. They have misunderstood. “For we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake.” The truth resides not in us but in Him. Jesus is the truth! His Word is truth! All of His revealed will is truth. These are the convictions that brought the Orthodox Presbyterian Church into being and alone justify its continuance. Bound up in the witness of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is the very heart of Christianity—Christ. Modernism in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. constituted a frontal attack upon the very center of historic redemptive Christianity, the deity of Christ. The Auburn Affirmation, signed by 1293 Presbyterian ministers, declared concerning the bodily resurrection of Christ, His substitutionary death for our sins, His miracles, and His Virgin birth, that “these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures” and “we are opposed to any attempt to elevate these doctrinal statements, or any of them, to the position of tests for ordination or for good standing in our church” (p. 6). This is an attack upon Christ’s deity. Pilate disrobed Jesus of His royalty and put upon Him the robe of mockery. Modernism did far worse; it divested Jesus of His deity and put upon Him the filthy rags of sinful humanity—that, nothing less than that. A signer of this Christ-destroying document is now the General Secretary of the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., which controls the whole educational program of that church, including such vital work as the editing of a new hymnbook and providing Sunday school and young people’s lessons.
The message of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is quite a different message. It is the supernatural Christ and His Word—the Bible. After ten years there is no need to revise or reappraise our message in the light of modern criticism. The validity of our message rests not upon any “will to believe” but upon the authority of Jesus. “I am the truth” (John 14:6) affirms Jesus. Again, “If ye continue in my word … ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31). Of Christ Paul affirmed: “In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Our Lord has provided the proof for these claims in the fact of His resurrection. On twelve different occasions He appeared to men, demonstrating His bodily resurrection from the dead. The modern critic rejects this as inadequate evidence for the Deity of Jesus on the basis that we today would not believe that some departed loved one had risen simply on the basis that some people testified that they had seen our loved one. We would have to see for ourselves. Perhaps so; we could hardly be persuaded by any amount of evidence that an ordinary human being by his own power could be raised again from the dead. But, you see, Jesus was no ordinary man. If He were we would have reason to doubt that His appearances were true appearances. But Jesus by His sinless life, and many mighty miracles which are woven into the warp and woof of His life, gave evidence that He was a very extraordinary person indeed, a truly supernatural person. His life and works lead us to believe and expect that Jesus was just such a person as His resurrection confirmed Him to be—the Son of God. As Dr. Machen so ably contended in his Christianity and Liberalism—the book which Walter Lippman says the Liberals have never answered—at the center of Christianity stands the supernatural figure of Jesus, and before that figure all criticism will ultimately fall.
The written Word, the Bible, is likewise the truth. Upon every page of the Old and the New Testament is the imprimatur of Jesus. To declare the Scriptures to be without error, according to the signers of the Auburn Affirmation, “impairs their supreme authority” and “is without warrant of the Scriptures” (p. 5). But Jesus spoke quite differently. His every attitude toward the Bible was such as could be produced only by regarding the Bible as the Word of God. “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35); “It is written” (Matthew 4:4); “How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26:54). These words reveal His view of the Old Testament. He promised to the writers or approvers of the New Testament: “whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matthew 16:19), “when he the Spirit of truth is come he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). If we may not regard the Bible as true, neither may we regard Christ as true. He can no longer be regarded as a trustworthy teacher of any truth. To accept the full truthfulness of the Bible is the only position consistent with faith in Christ. And to accept this Word of God as true is to involve ourselves in an acceptance of the whole counsel of God as revealed in the Bible which is known as the Reformed Faith.
The future of the witness of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church depends in large measure upon our ability to perpetuate and deepen those convictions concerning the truths of consistent historic redemptive Christianity which brought our church into being. The kingdom is where the truth is. There should we be.
O Word of God incarnate, O wisdom from on high
O truth unchanged, unchanging, O light of our dark sky
We praise thee for the radiance that from the hallowed page
A lantern to our footsteps, shines on from age to age.
Jesus in His testimony before Pilate also describes the method whereby His kingdom is to be extended. Jesus has just told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.” Pilate, my weapons are not carnal; my kingdom is not advanced by physical force. There is but one method whereby my kingdom can be truly extended, that is by the truth, by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. “To this end was I born and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” This was the only method that Christ or the apostles ever employed in the work of the kingdom. “On that last day of the feast Jesus stood and cried saying, If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink.” When the golden candelabras no longer cast their light over Jerusalem, Jesus stood forth and declared “I am the light of the world.” He proclaimed Himself the sinner’s Savior. Paul declared, “I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” “For we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord.” The exaltation of the truth of God in Christ and His revealed Word is the only method that is prescribed by Christ for the extension and maintenance of His kingdom. It was to a Peter confessing the Christ as the Son of God that Jesus declared, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” To the twelve Christ revealed, “and ye shall bear witness because ye have been with me from the beginning.”
Furthermore, this is the only method that God has promised to bless. It is only promised of His Word of truth, “it shall not return unto me void but it shall accomplish that which I please” (Isaiah 55:11). It is the Word of God that is “living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It is only the witness to the truth of Christ that the Holy Spirit can bless. Christ said, “the Spirit shall testify of me.” It was when Christ crucified and risen was preached that first three thousand, then five thousand, and then more than could be numbered were added to the church after Pentecost. It was when the Gospel was again rediscovered and preached that a mighty Reformation was wrought in the sixteenth century that swept like wildfire through the world. The great revivals under Whitefield, Wesley, and Moody came of the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The abundant and manifest blessing of the Lord upon the witness of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church during these past ten years has demonstrated anew that God still honors the preaching of His Word and of His Son.
There is nothing more practical than the truth; there is nothing more powerful. The thing that augurs well for the future of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is her continued concern for the truth. Far from discouraging us, it should be for our encouragement. Where there is a growing lack of concern for the truth, the demise of that witness to the truth is being written.
We do not advance the kingdom, then, when we deny the truth. This is so obvious that it would appear to be a truism. And yet this is precisely the method that the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. would employ to advance the kingdom. During the past generation there has been and continues to be in that communion a consuming desire for bigness. This desire has come to expression in various movements looking toward union with other churches. But at what price bigness? In 1920 at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. much time was spent in talking dollars and cents but not one minute was spent discussing the basis of proposed church union which would destroy Christianity at its very roots. Talk of expansion through union continues in that communion but there is scarcely any concern over the truth-condemning and soul-destroying work of Modernist ministers and missionaries which honeycomb the church. Never will the true kingdom be extended in this manner. The greater the growth of such a kingdom, the more monstrous will be the kingdom of error, unbelief, and sin!
Nor do we advance the kingdom by compromising the truth. In 1934 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. issued a mandate declaring, “A church member or an individual church that will not give to promote the officially authorized missionary program of the Presbyterian Church is in exactly the same position with reference to the constitution of the Church as a church member or an individual church that would refuse to ‘take part in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper …” (Minutes, 1934, p. 110). There were evangelical Christians at that time who advised against disobeying this mandate on the ground that to disobey would mean to lose church property or to prevent young men from entering the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. We will still be free to preach the gospel, they declared. They soon found, however, that they were not to be free to preach the truth about Modernism in the church. Furthermore, it was very clear that obedience to this command would involve support of missionaries who denied the gospel. At this time Dr. Machen and others with him declared, “Obedience to the order in the way demanded by the General Assembly would involve support of a propaganda that is contrary to the gospel of Christ. Obedience to the order in the way demanded by the General Assembly would involve substitution of a human authority for the authority of the Word of God” (Statement of Dr. Machen before New Brunswick Presbytery, September 25, 1934, p. 14). He then went across the country preaching that telling sermon on the temptations of Jesus, where it is taught so plainly that we may never do evil that good may come. After ten years we have seen with abundant clarity that Dr. Machen’s uncompromising stand for the truth is the only way whereby the truth can be truly advanced. As the fruit of this cleaving to the truth there is the vigorous and growing testimony of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. From 32 ministers and a mere handful of churches this witness has now grown to include over 100 ministers and some 88 churches and chapels. How many new churches true to the Word of God have those who sold the truth to serve the hour established? Write me if you know of one. Dr. Machen was one hundred percent right: we cannot advance the kingdom of truth by miserable compromise.
Some sincere Christians think that they can advance the cause of the kingdom of truth by diluting the truth. In the language of the day they would “shake down” the creeds of the church. We can understand why some would advocate this. In the first assault of Modernism upon the forces of Christianity the ranks of evangelical Christianity were decimated. We might liken it to the Battle of the Bulge in fury and losses sustained. The natural reaction was for Christians in various denominations to feel their oneness in the face of a common enemy. This was and is as it should be. There was a strong feeling that we needed to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, regardless of our denominational affiliations, in fighting a common foe. Dr. Machen was the first to recognize the merit of such a position and readily joined hands with all lovers of the Bible and led them forth bravely and ably to destroy Modernism. But Dr. Machen realized that the Christian faith could best be defended from the citadel of the Reformed Faith. Here was an invulnerable fortress: consistent supernaturalism. Here was a fortress every parapet of which bristled with effective weapons to destroy the enemy. Let us not try to defend ourselves from the mud huts of Arminianism or Dispensationalism; let there be a Presbyterian Church with the glorious Westminster Confession of Faith as our standard. There is our banner around which to rally—the Reformed Faith. The church must be a Presbyterian church; the unofficial organ must be a Presbyterian GUARDIAN.
The means by which the kingdom is advanced, then, is witnessing to the truth. The Bible tells us how we can most effectively witness to God’s truth.
We are to witness militantly to the truth. Jesus said, “I came not to bring peace but a sword.” He brings peace with God, to be sure, but only as He first disturbs our peace with sin and error by proclaiming the truth. This does not mean that we are always or ever to look for a fight. God forbid! Nor does it mean that we are to be indiscreet and inexpedient. We are to be “as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” But what it does mean is that we must wage a constant warfare against error and unbelief without and within. The greatest of the apostles, Paul, was a fighter. He characterized his ministry at its conclusion with these words: ”I have fought a good fight.” My first and most dominant impression of Dr. Machen was that he was always contending. What, I naively thought as a young college student, would Dr. Machen do when the conflict was over and the division was effected? Then it dawned upon me one day as I was reading the Bible that always we must fight against unbelief and sin. Always will the Orthodox Presbyterian Church have to contend. Let us prepare ourselves and our people for that. Let us pray that increasingly we may join issue with the hosts of unbelief and sin in the world and church-modernism, secularism, Communism, and Romanism.
Paul admonished the Ephesians that they were always to speak the truth “in love.” “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge and faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–6). We can appreciate how some might have an aversion toward these sentiments. Frequently they were used by Modernists to cut the nerve of evangelical opposition. Those who contended against Modernism were said to lack love. Dr. Machen aptly replied, what we need is not less love but more love, more love for Christ’s little ones whose souls are put in peril by wolves in sheep’s clothing. O for a rebirth of abounding Christian love—love for the souls of the lost. Jesus had it. “Seeing the multitudes He was moved with compassion toward them because they were scattered abroad as sheep not having a shepherd.” Paul had it. “I could wish that I were accursed from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” It was said of D. L. Moody that he could not speak to a man about hell without tears in his voice. How speak we the truth?
God’s Word requires that we speak the truth sincerely—that our lives conform to the gospel we profess. “Faith without works is dead.” The Reformed Faith without Reformed works is dead also. We who have so much light sometimes live so poorly. If there is anyone who should live a consistent Christian life it is we; we have the most consistent faith. At the heart and center of our faith is the sovereignty of God, the corollary of which is the responsibility of man to bring all of his thoughts and actions into conformity to the will of God. And yet a ministerial friend well known for his Calvinism once testified that he who had all his life been a Sabbatarian was really taught how to keep the Lord’s Day holy by a much less Calvinistic wife. We observe the success that others with less light have in their ministry and we ask why. It is not that they have light that we do not have but because they really live up to the light that they do have and God blesses it. God grant that our daily prayer may be, “Lord I am Thine, entirely Thine, purchased and saved by blood divine; with full consent Thine I would be, and own Thy sovereign right in me.”
Finally, God would have us witness to His truth confidently. Ours has been a difficult task these ten years. The Lord alone knows how hard it has been for some. But there is a danger in certain attitudes that sometimes surge into our souls. Some may be tempted to do like Peter who felt that he must help Christ out; they begin to cut corners with the truth and periodically hide the full light of the gospel under a bushel. Others may be inclined in true defeatist fashion just to steel themselves or resign themselves to the fact that they don’t think the truth of the gospel will succeed in our generation. But there is another attitude. It is the attitude of Jesus here before Pilate. He has been betrayed by one of His own, denied by another. His disciples, save for John, have forsaken Him in cowardice. The Sanhedrin has condemned Him; Pilate is utterly indifferent to the truth. Soon He must die for the truth. Jesus neither fears nor becomes discouraged. With majestic serenity, with quiet confidence, with holy boldness, He bears witness to the truth. Kill Him they may, but the truth never! His death can only advance the truth. Carlisle might say, “poor fellow, that’s the end of him.” Pilate thought so too. But Christ knew otherwise: I am the king; I shall conquer. “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” So mighty would His conquest be that one of the greatest conquerors of all time would testify of Him: “His Gospel, His apparition, His Empire, His march across the ages and the realms, is for me a prodigy, a mystery insoluble, which plunges me into a reverence which I cannot escape, a mystery which is there before my eyes, a mystery which I can neither deny nor explain. Here I see nothing human.” “The gates of hell shall not prevail against my church.”
Paul knew “fightings without and fears within.” How his heart trembled, how he would weep over the little churches he established in the midst of a hostile world. Would they survive? Would he survive the plots of men against his life? But wherever Paul went with boldness, confidence, and manifest blessing he preached the unsearchable riches of Christ—to the Jews a stumbling block, to the Greeks foolishness, but to us which are saved, Christ the wisdom of God and Christ the power of God.
Such was the spirit of Dr. Machen, our leader under God. “Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” he would preach to little groups scattered throughout the country. With confidence and cheer he wrote on the occasion of the formation of the new church: “How can we who form that group have the temerity to stand against the whole current of the world and of the visible Church? How can we stand against so many men who are so much abler and stronger than we? Our answer is plain. It is because of the Bible. Those persons who are against us in this contention are also against the Word of God, and the Word of God stands sure … at the beginning it will be only a very little group. What is more, it will be a very weak little group, and a very sinful little group, utterly without any merit or strength of its own. How then can it survive? For one reason only. Because it is in the care and keeping of God, because it is founded upon His unchanging Word. Even the smallest and weakest group is strong if it can hear Jesus say: “Fear not, little flock.”
We would conclude with the words of Him who witnessed so perfectly to the truth to which Dr. Machen and all of us witness so imperfectly: “Thou sayest I am a King. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” Jesus is King! By His truth He shall go forth conquering and to conquer until He return again in power and great glory and the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.
Reprinted from the Presbyterian Guardian, Volume 15, No 11, June 10, 1946 and Volume 15, No 12, June 25, 1946. The OPC Committee for the Historian has made the archives of the Presbyterian Guardian available online!