“”We admit,” it is said, “that the gospel of the apostolic church is what it has just been represented as being; we admit that the religion of the apostolic church was not a religion of sunny optimism, not a religion based upon confidence in human nature, but in the fullest sense a religion of redemption. But may we not now return from the apostolic church to Jesus himself; must not his religion and that alone be the standard for the Christian church?”
The amazing thing about this objection is not that it is raised, for it represents a very widespread way of thinking among modern men. But the amazing thing about it is that the assumption upon which it is based is treated as though it were something that would be accepted as a matter of course by evangelical Christian men. That assumption is that the words of Jesus, spoken while he was on earth, are the sole norm of the Christian religion and that accordingly our relation to Jesus is a mere continuation of the relationship in which his disciples stood to him in Galilee. As a matter of fact, this assumption simply begs the whole question. The question is just exactly whether Jesus came primarily to say something or to do something. If he came primarily to say something, if he came simply to initiate by his words and by his example a new type of religious life, then conceivably his recorded words and the example of his deeds constitute the sole standard by which we can determine what Christianity is. But if he came primarily to do something – namely, in his death and resurrection – then the full meaning of what was done could not be explained until after the doing of it was finished. In the latter case, the eighth chapter of Romans is every bit as important in the determination of what Christianity is as is the Sermon on the Mount.
For our part, in company with the whole of the historic Christian church, we hold to the latter view; and therefore we are quite unwilling to substitute the words of Jesus when he was on earth for the Bible of which they are part, as constituting the seat of authority in religion and the authoritative account of what Christianity is. To do so, we think, would be dishonoring to the words of Jesus themselves; for in those words, he directed men both to the Old Testament Scriptures and to the revelation which was to be given by the Holy Spirit to the apostles.
Nevertheless, even if we take the words of Jesus alone, they are amply sufficient to show that the gospel is what the apostolic church held it to be. Jesus did not, indeed, when he was on earth, set forth the full meaning of the redemption that he had come to perform; that he left to the revelation that was to be given by the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he chose. But, although only by way of prophecy, yet plainly enough, he did point forward to the redeeming event that formed the subject matter of the gospel.”
Selected Shorter Writings J. Gresham Machen edited by D.G. Hart, pages 129-130