Some time ago I mentioned (and even may be said to have recommended) Machen’s Letters from The Front edited by Dr Barry Waugh) publication of which was then impending. Although no doubt putting this collection out was a labour of love, the letters cannot be said to throw even a dim light on the development of Machen’s theological outlook. They are almost all written to his mother, to whom Machen was devoted throughout her life. They reveal something of the depth of that devotion. He spent most of his time working for the YMCA in various locations in France. Many of the letters deal with the difficulties of making and selling hot chocolate to the American soldiers, and registering (in restrained terms) the filthy, rat-infested and generally insanitary places that he was sent to live and work. Another theme is the ineptness of the administration of the ‘Y’ even allowing for the disruptions of war. Another is Machen’s loss of his suitcase.
Machen seems to have taken all this docilely, giving evidence of a strong sense of duty, a willingness to work hard, and to take whatever was dished out to him to do, mainly the task of making the chocolate, even when he would have preferred to be engaged in taking services for the men. His conditions (I suppose that he spared his mother the more gruesome and disgusting details) must have been a shock after the comforts of his wealthy upbringing and his life in Princeton. But there is no grumbling or whining. So the letters show a side of Machen’s character, but tell us nothing about what he thought of the war from a theological or Christian standpoint. Not a word. So, a thorough disappointment to anyone, like me, looking for some theological meat, even if it had to be mixed with the chocolate.
For those who think of Machen as a revered father of the church, whose every word is to be savoured and pondered, this book adds to the corpus of his published word. But the rest of us can safely let it pass us by.
Posts in August will include one on Turretin on faith and reason, and one on prayer and silence, and others, perhaps.