Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Text of a Complaint: Part Six of the Clark/Van Til Controversy

[The following is the conclusion of the complaint made by Cornelius Van Til and his supporters against Dr. Gordon H. Clark and their opposition to his ordination as a teaching elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The implications of the thoughts of Van Til continue to this day at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia and in the denominations drawing their ministers from that institution. Remember that even if the charges seem legitimate at a first reading all is not clear until one has heard both sides of a matter (Proverbs 18:17). I will be typing  out the response from Gordoon H. Clark and his supporters soon. To read the entire article see Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five. See Part One for the link to the Answer given by Dr. Gordon H. Clark to the Complaint.]

The Text of a Complaint: Part Six of the Clark/Van Til Controversy

Here then is a situation which is inadequately described as amazing. There is a problem which has baffled the greatest theologians of history. Not even Holy Scripture offers a solution. But Dr. Clark asserts unblushingly that for his thinking the problem has ceased being a problem. Here is something phenomenal. What accounts for it? The most charitable, and no doubt the correct, explanation is that Dr. Clark has come under the spell of rationalism. It is difficult indeed to escape the conclusion that by his refusal to permit the scriptural teaching of divine sovereignty and the scriptural teaching of human responsibility to stand alongside each other and by his claim that he has fully reconciled them with each other before the bar of human reason Dr. Clark has fallen into the error of rationalism. To be sure, he is not a rationalist in the sense that he substitutes human reason for divine revelation as such. But, to say nothing of his finding the solution of the problem of the relation to each other of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the teaching of pagan philosophers who were totally ignorant of the teaching of Holy Writ on either of these subjects, it is clear that Dr. Clark regards Scripture from the viewpoint of a system which to the mind of man must be harmonious in all its parts. The inevitable outcome is rationalism in the interpretation of Scripture. And that too is rationalism. Although Dr. Clark does not claim actually to possess at the present moment the solution of every Scriptural paradox, yet his rationalism leaves room at best for only a temporary subjection of human reason to the divine Word.

The history of doctrine tells us that the view under discussion is far from innocent. The tenet that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are logically reconcilable has been held by two schools of thought, both of which claimed to be Reformed but neither of which was recognized as Reformed by the Reformed churches. One of these schools is Arminianism. It meant to uphold both divine sovereignty and human responsibility, especially the latter, but in its rationalistic attempt to harmonize the two it did great violence to the former. The other school is Antinomianism. It also meant to uphold both divine sovereignty and human responsibility, especially the former, but in its rationalistic attempt to harmonize the two it did great violence to the latter. Dr. Abraham Kuyper has described Antinomianism as “dreadful sin which occurs almost exclusively in the Reformed churches”. He says that what accounts for this phenomenon is a one-sided emphasis in much Reformed preaching on God's decretive will at the expense of his preceptive will. He deems it essential to hold that Scripture dinstinguishes between the sphere of divine sovereignty and the sphere of human responsibility and “that this dinstinction is so absolute that one can never pass from the one into the other” (Dictaten Dogmatiek, Locus de Deo, part 3, pp. 113f.). In light of history we cannot but hold that his rationalism exposes Dr. Clark to the peril of Antinomianism.

Here attention must be called to his treatment of human responsibility in the article “Determinism and Responsibility”. Reformed theologians generally are exceedingly circumspect when they discuss the relation of the divine decree and divine providence to the sin of man. There is excellent reason for their carefulness. They are zealous to maintain God's holiness as well as his sovereignty, and they are just as zealous, while upholding divine sovereignty, not to detract, after the manner of the Antinomians, from human responsibility. But Dr. Clark says boldy: “Does the view here proposed make God the Author of sin? Why the learned divines who formulated the various creeds so uniformly permitted such a metaphorical expression to becloud the issue is a puzzle. This view most certainly makes God the First and Ultimate Cause of everything. But very slight reflection on the definition of responsibility and its implication of a superior authority shows that God is not responsible for sin” (p. 22). It It is meaningful that Dr. Clark is not careful to say, as so many Reformed theologians are, that God is not the efficient cause of sin (e.g. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 108.

Dr. Clark adds significantly:

It follows from this that determinism is consistent with responsibility and the concept of freedom which was introduced only to guarantee responsibility is useless. Of course man is still a “free agent” for that merely means, as Hodge says, that man has the power to make a decision. It is difficult to understand then, why so much effort should be wasted in the attempt to make the power of deciding consistent with the certainty of deciding. If there be any mystery about it, as the Brief Statement says, it is one of the theologian's own choosing. For God both gives the power and determines how it shall be used. God is Sovereign (p. 22).

To sever human responsibility from human freedom, as is here done, is a serious departure from generally accepted Reformed theology. Charles Hodge says that a truth “of which every man is convinced from the very constitution of his nature” is “that none but free agents can be accountable for their character or conduct” (Systematic Theology, vol. II, p. 293). He contends further that the Bible teaches “that man is a free and responsible agent, because he is the author of his own acts, and because he is determined to act by nothing out of himself” (p. 307). But Dr. Clark contends without qualification that God both gives the power of deciding “and determines how it shall be used”. The Westminster Confession of Faith also links together human liberty and human responsibility when it says “God from eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (III, I). To be sure, the term “responsibility” is not employed here, as is the term “liberty”, but in the statement that God is not the author of sin it is plainly implied that man is the author of sin and hence responsible for it.

We conclude, in spite of Dr. Clark's professed adherence to chapter III, section I, of the Confession (3:11-19), that his rationalism has resulted in his departing from the historic Reformed doctrine of human responsibility. In his attempt to reconcile by human reason divine sovereignty and human responsibility he has done decided violence to the latter.

IV. In the course of Dr. Clark's examination by Presbytery it became abundantly clear that his rationalism keeps him from doing justice to the precious teaching of Scripture that in the gospel God sincerely offers salvation in Christ to all who hear, reprobate as well as elect, and that he has no pleasure in any one's rejecting this offer but, contrariwise, would have all who hear accept it and be saved.

Dr. Clark constantly speaks of the gospel as a command. That it is a command permits of no doubt. But only reluctantly does he admit that the gospel is also an offer and an invitation (8:9, 10; 23:5-24; 48:21-25). This is strange, to say the least. The Westminster Confession of Faith (VII, III) say that in the covenant of grace God “freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ”. And the Shorter Catechism (Q. 86) defines faith in Jesus Christ as “a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel”.

Dr. Clark stedfastly refuses to describe as sincere the offer which God makes to sinners in the gospel (e.g., 7:8-15; 10:10-18; 24:3f.). This is surpassing strange. To be sure, the Westminster standards do not employ the word sincere in this connection; but is it not a foregone conclusion that the offer is sincere? Would it not be blasphemy to deny this? For that very reason there was no need of the Westminster divines' describing the gospel offer as sincere. Its sincerity goes without saying. But obviously that is not Dr. Clark's reason for refusing to characterize it as sincere.

When the Arminian controversy was at its height the Reformed churches faced a different situation. It was contended emphatically by the Arminians that the Reformed doctrine of reprobation rules out the sincerity of God's offer of salvation to the reprobate and that, consequently, the Reformed faith has a gospel only for the elect. Precisely the sincerity of the gospel offer was now at issue. And so we find the Synod of Dort, which was summoned to deal with the Arminian heresy and which consisted of representatives of the Reformed churches of almost all of Europe, declaring unmistakably and emphatically:

As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and truly declared in his Word what will be acceptable to him; namely, that all who are called should comply with the invitation (Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine, art. 8).

In the course of his examination Dr. Clark did indeed express agreement with this teaching of Dort (24:5-20), but he made it clear in doing so he conceived of the gospel as a command (48:24-49:9. See also 8:9f.). He said that it is the preceptive will of God that those who hear shall believe the gospel, and it is “acceptable” to God that they do so because he insists on being obeyed. But the Synod of Dort obviously meant much more than that when it employed the word “acceptable”. That appears from its description of the gospel as an invitation, from its insistence that all who are called are called “unfeignedly”, as well as from the fact that it was refuting the Arminian contention that the Reformed faith leaves no room for a sincere offer of salvation made by God to the reprobate. What the authors of the Canons had in mind was that God has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).

In this connection reference must again be made to Dr. Clark's view that God has no emotions. If this definition of emotions be granted, God certainly has none. But at this point in the examination it appeared that Dr. Clark regards God as being without feelings of any kind. He denied emphatically that Ezekiel 33:11 and the statement in the Canons of Dort which was just discussed can have any reference to emotions in God, for God has no emotions (49:15-50:1). See also 29:11f.). Clearly Dr. Clark is consistent here in his rationalism.

The reason for Dr. Clark's failure to do justice to the aspect of the gospel under discussion is apparent. He believes—as do we all—the doctrine of reprobation. But he cannot allow of any conception of the gospel which to his thinking might do the slightest violence to this doctrine. Thus he is compelled to bring his view of the gospel into harmony with this doctrine. Having done that, he can say, as he does, that he sees no logical conflict whatever between the gospel and reprobation. In a word, his rationalism does not permit him to let the two stand unreconciled alongside each other. Rather than do that he would modify the gospel in the interest of reprobation. Otherwise expressed, he makes the same error as does the Arminian, although he moves in the opposite direction. The Arminian cannot harmonize the divine reprobation with the sincere divine offer of salvation to all who hear; hence he rejects the former. Neither can Dr. Clark harmonize the two, and so he detracts from the latter. Rationalism accounts for both errors.

It is not difficult to show that both Calvin and the outstanding Reformed theologians of recent times stressed, on the basis of Holy Scripture, which is the primary standard of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the sincerity of the divine offer of salvation in the case of all to whom it comes, the reprobate as well as the elect, even though these theologians confessed to their inability to harmonize this view of the gospel with the scriptural teaching of reprobation.

Ezekiel 18:23 reads:

Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God?; and not that he should return from his ways, and live?

Calvin comments:

God desires nothing more earnestly than that those who were perishing and rushing to destruction should return into the way of safety. And for this reason not only is the Gospel spread abroad in the world, but God wished to bear witness through all ages how inclined he is to pity . . . What the prophet now says is very true, that God wills not the death of a sinner, because he meets him of his own accord, and is not only prepared to receive all who fly to his pity, but he calls them towards him with a loud voice, when sees how they are alienated from all hope of safety . . . If one again objects—this is making God act with duplicity, the answer is ready, that God always wishes the same thing, though by different ways, and in a manner inscrutable to us. Although, therefore, God's will is simple, yet great variety is involved in it, so far as our senses are concerned. Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish.

In 1 Peter 3:9 it is said that the Lord is “not willing than any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”.

Says Calvin:

So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost . . . But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world”.

In Matthew 23:37 Christ, addressing Jerusalem, says

How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Calvin remarks:

We now perceive the reason why Christ, speaking in the person of God, compares himself to a hen . . . By this he means that, whenever the Word of God is exhibited to us, he opens his bosom to us with maternal kindness, and, not satisfied with this, condescends to the humble affection of a hen watching over her chickens.

In his volume Calvin on Common Grace Herman Kuiper enumerates a long list of passages in John's gospel, to take but a single book, in which Calvin finds “the idea that God invites both elect and reprobate men to salvation and offers salvation to all men promiscuously”. The list follows: John 1:6; 1:11; 1:29; 1:36, 37; 1:43; 3:14, 15; 3:16; 3:17, 18; 3:36; 4:19; 5:35; 5:40; 6:31, 32; 6:36; 6:49, 50; 6:66; 8:21; 12:47, 48; 15:22; 17:3; 20:23 (p. 148). The same writer puts the question:

How can it be said that God is solicitous for the salvation of and wills the repentance of those whom he has predestinated to everlasting perdition in His eternal counsel?

Speaking of Calvin's teaching of reprobation on the one hand and on the other of his teaching of the sincere offer of salvation to all to whom the gospel comes, he asserts:

We may as well try to budge a mountain of solid granite with our finger as endeavor to harmonize these declarations.

He reasons on:

Must we then conclude that Calvin taught that God has a double will and is at variance with Himself? Our author [Calvin] expressly declares that he emphatically repudiates the view that God has more than one will. He explicitly teaches that we must not think that God has a double will. God does not in Himself will opposites. But it is impossible for us to comprehend and fathom the Most High. To our apprehension the will of God is manifold. As far as we can see, God does will what seems to be opposed to His will.

Kuiper concludes:

In short, Calvin makes it plain that in his view the paradoxes which we have just reviewed are paradoxes involved in the teaching of Holy Scripture itself (pp. 223f.).

In his Systematic Theology, vol. II, p. 644, Charles Hodge says:

It is further said to be inconsistent with the sincerity of God, to offer salvation to those whom he has predetermined to leave to the just recompense of their sins. It is enough to say in answer to this objection, so strenuously urged by Lutherans and Arminians, that is bears with equal force against the doctrine of God's foreknowledge, which they admit to be an essential attribute of his nature . . . There is no real difficulty in either case except what is purely subjective. It is in us, in our limited and partial apprehensions; and in our inability to comprehend the ways of our God, which are past finding out.

And after quoting 1 Timothy 2:3, 4, “God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”, together with Ezekiel 33:11, he says:

God forbid that any man should teach anything inconsistent with these precious declarations of the Word of God. They clearly teach that God is a benevolent Being; that He delights not in the sufferings of his creatures . . . God pities even the wicked whom He condemns, as a father pities the disobedient child whom He chastises. And as the father can truthfully and with a full heart say that he delights not in the sufferings of his child, so our Father in heaven can say, that He delights not in the death of the wicked (p. 651).

Says Herman Bavinck in his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, vol. IV, p. 7:

Although through calling salvation becomes the portion of but a few, . . . it [calling] nevertheless has great value and significance for those also who reject it. It is for all without exception proof of God's infinite love and it seals the statement that He has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but therein that he turn and live.

In The Christian View of Man, pp. 74f., J. Gresham Machen says:

The doctrine of predestination does not mean that God rejoices in the death of a sinner. The Bible distinctly says the contrary. Hear that great verse in the thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel: 'As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.

He goes on to say that in his opinion 1 Timothy 2:4 “means very much what that great Ezekiel passage means”.

Berkhof in his Systematic Theology, pp. 460ff., upholds both the universality and the sincerity of the gospel invitation. He says:

It is not confined to any age or nation or class of men. It comes to both the just and the unjust, the elect and the reprobate.

He offers as irrefutable proof Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else”. He proceeds:

The external calling is a calling in good faith, a calling that is seriously meant. It is not an invitation coupled with the hope that it will not be accepted. When God calls the sinner to accept Christ by faith He earnestly desires this; and when He promises those who repent and believe eternal life, His promise is dependable. This follows from the very nature, from the veracity, of God. It is blasphemous to think that God would be guilty of equivocation and deception, that He would say one thing and mean another, that He would earnestly plead with the sinner to repent and believe unto salvation, and at the same time not desire it in any sense of the word.

And when faced with the objection that according to this doctrine God offers the forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those for whom he has not intended these gifts, Berkhof admits frankly that there is “a real difficulty” at this point, but insists that it may not be assumed that there is a contradiction.

Incidentally it maybe remarked here that when, in 1924, one of the very few churches in this country which takes the Reformed faith seriously deposed certain ministers of the gospel, one ground, among others, for this action was the denial by these ministers of the sincerity of the divine offer of salvation to all men.

The supreme importance for evangelism of maintaining the Reformed doctrine of the gospel as a universal and sincere offer of salvation is self evident.

Again we are confronted by a situation which is inadequately described as amazing. Once more there is a problem which has left the greatest theologians of history baffled. The very Word of God does not present a solution. But Dr. Clark asserts unblushingly that for his thinking the difficulty is non-existent (35:20-36:2; 47:1f.). Here is something phenomenal. What accounts for it? The most charitable, and no doubt the correct, explanation is that Dr. Clark has fallen under the spell of rationalism. Rather than subject his reason to the divine Word he insists on logically harmonizing with each other two evident but seemingly contradictory teachings of that Word, although in the process he detracts from one of these teachings.

The conclusion is inescapable that Dr. Clark's rationalism has resulted in his obscuring—to say the very least—a signficant teaching of Scripture—a truth which constitutes one off the most glorious aspects of the gospel of the grace of God.

* * *

It will appear from the above examination of the views of Dr. Clark as they were propounded to the Presbytery of Philadelphia that these errors are far from being peripheral. The very doctrine of God is undermined by a failure to maintain a qualitative distinction between the knowledge of God and the knowledge possible to man, thus denying the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God and impinging in a most serious fashion upon the transcendence of the Creator over the creature. The interpretation of Christianity as being fundamentally intellectualism subordinates the volition to the intellect in a manner that is flagrantly in violation of the teaching of Scripture and of the Reformed theology. Similarly emotion as an element in the mind of God and in the mind of the Christian is disallowed. And the views concerning human responsibility and of the free offer of the gospel likewise clearly affect decisively one's conception of matter that are of the greatest possible moment to every Christian.

Nor do these errors concern only isolated details. In all of these matters there is manifest a rationalistic approach to Christian theology. The highest activity in man is the intellectual activity; his highest goal is the intellectual contemplation of God. In connection with his answer to the question as to the extent to which man may comprehend God, Clark admits the dependence of man upon the revelation of God but, on the basis of a rationalistic dialectic, maintains that any knowledge that man possesses of any item must coincide with God's knowledge of the same item in order to be true knowledge, thus failing to distinguish between the Creator's knowledge of any thing and creaturely knowledge of the same thing. And, even though he speaks of the infinity of God's knowledge, he does not rise above a quantitative distinction between the content of the knowledge of God and the content of the knowledge which man may possess. And in pursuance of his effort to penetrate into the mind of God he sets aside, or attempts to set aside, by resort to reason, the paradoxes which Reformed theology has recognized as existing for the human mind between the divine foreordination and human responsibility and between predestination and the divine offer of salvation to all men, with the consequences that the doctrines of human responsibility and of the free offer of salvation to all fail to be set forth in any adequate way. These innovations are then not curiosities of an innocent sort, but concern some of the most central doctrines of the Christian faith, including even the all-decisive subject of the doctrine of God. And the result of this rationalistic approach to theology is a failure to maintain the balanced, comprehensively Biblical, character of historic, classic Calvinism which is set forth in the standards of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

In bringing this complaint to the attention of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, the complainants further petition the Presbytery to make amends as follows:

If the Presbytery is not ready to acknowledge that the meeting of July 7th was illegal and that all of its acts and decisions are therefore null and void, the complainants request that it acknowledge that various views of Dr. Clark as set forth in that meeting, and with which this complaint is concerned, are in error and in conflict with the constitutional requirements for licensure and ordination, and that, therefore, the decision to sustain his theological examination, the decision to waive two years of study in a theological seminary, the decision to proceed to license Dr. Clark and the action of licensing him, the decision to deem the examination for licensure sufficient for ordination, and the decision to ordain Dr. Clark, were in error and unconstitutional, and are, therefore, null and void.



The undersigned hereby subscribes to the complaint against certain actions of the Presbyery of Philadelphia taken at its meeting on July 7th, 1944, to the extent of concurring in the statement of the reasons for the complaint as set forth herein: LESLIE W. SLOAT.

Reasonable Christian Blog Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; Answer. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen. 1662 Book of Common Prayer

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