Leaving a Godly Legacy


As our family gets older, we are more cognizant of how we are leaving a legacy that inspires and instructs our children toward godliness. A significant benefit in fulfilling this call is found in the example of godly parents whom we have had the privilege of observing. Along this line, the parents of J. Gresham Machen had a reputation of providing such intentional Christian nurture and oversight to their children. In this autobiographical reflection, Machen notes how his parents instilled in him a godly worldview from an early age. In a period of religious apostasy and compromise, the teaching and consistent example of his Christian parents prepared him for his role later in life defending the faith.

My father was a lawyer, whose practice had been one of the best in the State of Maryland. But the success which he attained at the bar did not serve in the slightest to make him narrow in his interests. All his life he was a tremendous reader, and reading to him was never a task. I suppose it never occurred to him to read merely from a sense of duty; he read because he loved to read. . .

With his knowledge of literature there went a keen appreciation of beauty in other fields . . . One of my father’s most marked characteristics was his desire to have contact with the very best. The second-best always left him dissatisfied; and so the editions of the English classics, for example, that found place in his library were always carefully chosen . . . I can hardly think of his love of old books as a “hobby”; it was so utterly spontaneous and devoid of self-consciousness. He loved the beautiful form of the old books, as he loved their contents; and the acquisition of every book on his shelves was a true expression of that love. . . He was a profoundly Christian man, who had read widely and meditated earnestly upon the really great things of our holy faith. . .

Even stronger was the influence of my mother. Like my father, she was an exceedingly wide reader; her book on The Bible in Browning is only one gleaning from a very rich field. Her most marked intellectual characteristic, perhaps, was the catholicity of her tastes. She loved poetry with a deep and discriminating love, but she loved with equal ardor the wonders and beauties of nature. . . I shall never forget the eager delight with which she used to stand with me, when I was very young, upon a ridge in the White Mountains and watch the long shadows creep upward upon the opposite heights. She loved nature in its more majestic aspects, and she also loved the infinite sweetness of woods and fields. . . But beneath my mother’s love of nature and beneath her love of poetry that was inextricably intertwined with that other love, there lay her profound reverence for the author of all beauty and truth. To her God was all in all, and her access to God she found only through the new and living way that the Scriptures point out. I do not see how anyone could know my mother well without being forever sure that whatever else there may be in Christianity, the real heart of Christianity is found in the atoning death of Christ. . .

In both my father and mother, and their associates whom I saw from time to time, I caught a glimpse of a courtlier, richer life and a broader culture than that which dominates the metallic age in which we are living now. It is a vision that I can never forget. . . It has taught me at least that there are things in heaven and earth never dreamed of in our mechanistic world. Someday there may be a true revival of learning, to take the place of the narrowness of our age; and with that revival of learning there may come, as in the sixteenth century, a rediscovery of the gospel of Christ.1


1 J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity in Conflict,” in Selected Shorter Writings, ed. D.G. Hart (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2004), 548-550.

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