“The lofty doctrine of divine grace, the centre and core of the gospel that Paul preached, did not always dominate the mind and heart of the subsequent church. The Christianity of the Apostolic Fathers, of the Apologists, of Irenaeus, is very different from the Christianity of Paul.
The church meant to be faithful to the apostle; but the pure doctrine of the cross runs counter to the natural man, and not always, even in the church, was it fully understood. Read the Epistle to the Romans first, and then read Irenaeus, and you are conscious of a mighty decline. No longer does the gospel stand out sharp and clear; there is a large admixture of human error; and it might seem as though Christian freedom, after all, was to be entangled in the meshes of a new law” (J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent, p. 129; underlining mine–CD).
Marc aptly writes the following response to this Machen quote:
“The pure doctrine of the cross runs counter to the natural (i.e., unregenerate) man.” So true. Why, then, was “the Christianity of the Apostolic Fathers, of the Apologists, of Irenaeus … very different from the Christianity of Paul”? Why were/are professing churches not faithful to the doctrine the apostle Paul preached? Come on, Machen, the logic is right there in front of your face. It is because the Apostolic Fathers, the Apologists, Irenaeus, and all those in churches that are not faithful to the doctrine the apostle Paul preached, are/were NATURAL (i.e., unregenerate) MEN! “The pure doctrine of the cross runs counter to the natural man.” Does it run counter to the new creature in Christ, the one who has come from darkness to light, from blindness to sight? Of course not. So whenever you find a person who does not believe the pure doctrine of the cross (whether it is Joe Shmoe from Idaho or the “Apostolic Fathers”), you find the NATURAL MAN. So simple, isn’t it?
For Machen it isn’t so simple because he, too, is a natural (i.e., unregenerate) man for whom the pure doctrine of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ runs counter to.
“Because [it is] God who said, Out of darkness Light shall shine, who shone in our hearts to [give the] brightness of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Machen is blinded to the fact that ALL WITHOUT EXCEPTION who are regenerated by the Spirit of God have the “pure doctrine of the cross” revealed to them, and for NONE of them does it “run counter” to. If the brightness of the KNOWLEDGE of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ had been shone in Machen’s heart, then he would know this. Machen does NOT know this. Thus, this Christ-glorifying knowledge has NOT been shone in his darkened heart.