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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.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Friday, December 12, 2014

Further Disputations on the Doctrine of Assurance


If now a person wants the basic answer to the question, Why does one man have faith and another not, or, Why does one man accept the Koran and another the Bible, this is it. God causes the one to believe. But if a person asks some other question or raises an objection, he will have to read the argument over again.  -- Dr. Gordon H. Clark


As a continuing comment on the blog post on assurance over at God's Hammer blog, I want to point out that I am not an opponent of Gordon H. Clark's Scripturalism.  In fact I affirm it, though I would qualify that statement by saying that I might disagree with Clark here and there on minor points.  The issue of saving faith as defined by Clark as knowledge plus belief can be controversial because many of the early Reformers asserted that assurance and saving faith were essentially the same thing.  However, they were not always consistent on this point since obviously new believers can and often do struggle for a long time against known habitual sins before they overcome those sins.  Also, as King David in the Bible proves, Christians can and do fall into grievous sins that cause them to question or doubt their salvation.  And this is well deserved since most Reformed churches require discipline such as exclusion from the Lord's table until the person has repented of their sins.  The doctrine of self examination prior to coming to the Lord's table for communion applies here as well.  (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).


As noted in my previous post, Dr. Gordon H. Clark interacted with other Reformed sources in articulating his position on assurance, which he sharply distinguishes from both justification and sanctification.  Since faith must begin somewhere, it logically follows that assurance is not identical to faith.  Faith and assurance must be distinguished on this point for the consequent of faith cannot be identical to it.  This does not mean, however, that every new believer must struggle long and hard for assurance since not everyone is saved from out of grossly and grievously sinful lifestyles.  


Where Sean Gerety and I part ways, however, is that he asserts that it is never possible to know that one is saved.  He is equivocating on the word "know" here because he is speaking from the view point of logic and rationalism.  Technically speaking, from a strictly epistemological and rational perspective, it is not possible to know that one is saved because as fallen human beings we are all affected by the noetic effects of original sin.  It would require that we be infallible interpreters of our own conscience if we based our salvation on our subjective change of mind and behavior.  (Jeremiah 17:9-10).  Unregenerate men, both elect and reprobate, suppress the truth in unrighteousness.  (Romans 1:18-21).  The difference is that the elect will be granted regeneration and faith while the reprobate is unable to believe.  (John 1:13; 3:3-8; 6:44, 65; Matthew 22:14).  Furthermore, knowledge of our salvation is possible according to the Bible (1 John 5:13).  Whether this knowledge is infallibly understood is another issue.

Furthermore, we are not only imputed with the guilt of Adam's original sin but we also inherit a sinful soul from our parents.  Dr. Clark affirmed the traducian view of the transmission of the sinful nature from one generation to the next; but, he also affirmed the basis for this curse that is imputed to each new generation and transmitted to the next generation by the soul's being derived spiritually from one's parents is the federal headship of Adam over the whole human race.  (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 5:12-21; Psalm 51:4-5; Psalm 58:3; Exodus 20:5; Jeremiah 32:18).


But if the Bible says that we can know we are saved, then we can know that we are saved.  That is the point of view of Scripturalism.  The way the Bible is using the word "know" is in regards to knowing the information in the system of logical and propositional revelation in the Bible, believing it, and then obeying it.  Dr. Clark says that assurance is the result of belief and obedience as the two prerequisites to attaining it.  Of course, regeneration precedes faith and obedience; and, according to Dr. Clark, the will does not participate in regeneration, which is monergistic, but the will does cooperate with believing and obeying.  Dr. Clark asserts that sanctification is synergistic but this is not the same synergism that Arminians propose with their doctrines of libertarian free will, conditional election, and prevenient grace.  Rather, Dr. Clark means that even our cooperation is produced by the decrees and providence of God.  (Philippians 2:12-13; Proverbs 21:1).


Dr. Clark further disagreed with William Cunningham's approval of assurance as coextensive with faith as a "state of mind" that includes "a necessary constituent element" of assurance or trust:


Other proofs might be adduced that the Reformers, when judged of as they should be, by a deliberate and conjunct view of all they have said upon the subject, did not carry their doctrine of assurance to such extremes as we might be warranted in ascribing to them because of some of their more formal statements, intended to tell upon their controversies with Romanists regarding this matter. And more than this, the real difference between the Reformers and the Romanists upon the subject of assurance, when calmly and deliberately investigated, was not quite so important as the combatants on either side imagined, and did not -really respect the precise questions which persons imperfectly acquainted with the works on both sides might naturally enough regard it as involving. 


With respect to the nature of saving faith the principal ground of controversy was this, that the Romanists held that it had its seat in the intellect, and was properly and fundamentally assent (assensus); while the Reformers in general maintained that it had its seat in the will, and was properly and essentially trust (fiducia). The great majority of eminent Protestant divines have adhered to the views of the Reformers upon this point, though some have taken the opposite side, and have held faith, properly so called, to be the mere assent of the understanding to truth propounded by God in His word; while they represent trust and other graces as the fruits or consequences, and not as constituent parts and elements, of faith. This controversy cannot be held to be of very great importance, so long as the advocates of the position, that faith is in itself the simple belief of the truth, admit that true faith necessarily and invariably produces trust and other graces, - an admission which is cheerfully made by all the Protestant defenders of this view, and which its Popish advocates, though refusing in words, are obliged to make in substance in another form. There is an appearance of greater simplicity and metaphysical accuracy in representing faith as in itself a mere assent to truth, and trust and other graces as its necessary consequences. But the right question is, What is the meaning attached in Scripture to the faith which justifies and saves? Upon this question we agree with the Reformers in thinking, that in Scripture usage faith is applied, in its highest and most important sense, only to a state of mind of which trust in Christ as a Saviour is a necessary constituent element.


William Cunningham (0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00). The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (Kindle Locations 2123-2140). Monergism. Kindle Edition. 

[Cunningham's book can be downloaded for free at Monergism.com by clicking here].

Clark disagreed with Cunningham's analysis and opted for faith as knowledge plus assent.  The idea that assurance is a necessary consequence of saving faith also seems to be Clark's view, though he insists on justification which has as its purpose a resulting sanctification.  That sanctification necessarily and consequently results in a change in one's habitual thinking and acting.  The purpose of justification is a resulting sanctification, which in turn produces assurance in the face of one's struggles against sin.  When pushed, however, that we can never be sure if we have enough obedience and knowledge to attain this assurance from the propositions of the infallible Scriptures and how our self examination matches up to that standard, Clark concedes that he agrees with Luther after all.

Perhaps someone will say that it is wrong to seek for a method of achieving assurance. It is a gift of God, we cannot earn it; there is nothing for us to do except to hope that God favors us. Well, it is true that assurance, like faith, is a gift of God, but though regeneration and faith can have no preparation on our part, assurance or at least sanctification requires certain actions by us. Perhaps method is not the proper term, but John tells us that “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” The usual exegesis of “these things” that John wrote is that faith, love, and obedience, while they do not automatically produce assurance, are nonetheless requirements for being a candidate, so to speak, to receive it. Actually love is one form of obedience, since it is commanded, and hence belief and overt obedience are the two prerequisites.

There is, however, a difficulty. It is the same one Luther struggled with before he discovered the doctrine of justification. In Romanism he was supposed to earn his salvation by good works, penance, flagellation, and various monkish practices. But, being very sincere, he was troubled because he could never be sure that he had done enough. A similar difficulty arises here. If we wish to distinguish a valid assurance from a false assurance, how can we know that we have a sufficient theological knowledge and a sufficient degree of obedience to have met the requirements? Do we love deeply enough? Have we satisfied John’s criteria? Is there any devotional writer who has forthrightly faced this problem? It is hard to believe that none of them has thought of it. If as previously stated, Louis Berkhof’s temporary faith can last a lifetime, how can the true be identified in contrast with the false?

Gordon H. Clark (2013-03-04T05:00:00+00:00). What Is The Christian Life? (Kindle Locations 754-768). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

So it is absolutely wrong for Sean Gerety to agree with William Cunningham's P1 and P2 syllogism while ignoring the complete argument by Dr. Clark.   Here is the relevant quote from Cunningham:


The Reformers, in order to show that the assurance which might be attained without either a special revelation or the testimony of the church was full and perfect, were led to identify it with our belief in the doctrines of God’s word, and to represent it as necessarily included or implied in the act or exercise of justifying and saving faith; nay, even sometimes to give it as the very definition of saving faith, that it is a belief that our own sins have been forgiven, and that we have been brought into a state of grace. This seemed to be an obvious and ready method of giving to the belief of our personal safety for eternity the very highest degree of certainty, and hence many of the Reformers were tempted to adopt it.

This view was certainly exaggerated and erroneous. It is very evident that no man can be legitimately assured of his own salvation simply by understanding and believing what is contained or implied in the actual statements of Scripture. Some additional element of a different kind must be brought in, in order to warrant such an assurance; something in the state or condition of the man himself must be in some way ascertained and known in order to this result. It may not, indeed, always require any lengthened or elaborate process of self-examination to ascertain what is needful to be known about men themselves, in order to their being assured that they have been brought into a state of grace. The circumstances that preceded and accompanied their conversion may have been such as to leave them in no doubt about their having passed from darkness to light. Their present consciousness may testify at once and explicitly to the existence in them of those things which the Bible informs us accompany salvation. But still it is true, that another element than anything contained in Scripture must be brought in as a part of the foundation of their assurance. And when they are called upon to state and vindicate to themselves or to others the grounds of their assurance, they must of necessity proceed in substance in the line of the familiar syllogism, “Whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved; I believe, and therefore,” etc.

There is no possibility of avoiding in substance some such process as this; and while the major proposition is proved by Scripture, the minor can be established only by some use of materials derived from consciousness and self-examination. There are no positions connected with religion which can be so certain as those which are directly and immediately taught in Scripture, and which are usually said to be believed with the certainty of faith or of divine faith. The introduction of an element, as necessary to the conclusion, derived from a different source, viz. from the knowledge of what we ourselves are, must be admitted in fairness to complicate the evidence, and to affect the kind if not the degree of the certainty or assurance that may result from it. It is unwarrantable to give as the definition of saving faith, the belief that my sins are forgiven; for it is not true that my sins are forgiven until I believe, and it holds true universally, that God requires us to believe nothing which is not true before we believe it, and which may not be propounded to us to be believed, accompanied at the same time with satisfactory evidence of its truth; and if so, the belief that our sins are forgiven, and that we have been brought into a state of grace, must be posterior in the order of nature,

William Cunningham (0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00). The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (Kindle Locations 2058-2082). Monergism. Kindle Edition.

Clark agreed with the distinction between P1 and P2.  But his answer to the problem was sanctification.  Sanctification is based on the knowledge of Scripture (John 17:17).   If there is a total disconnect between an intellectual apprehension, understanding of the information in Scripture and one's personal knowledge of himself--as Sean Gerety proposes--then it is impossible to know if one is sanctified or not.  It would further be pointless to examine one's self prior to communion because one cannot know anything whatsoever about one's self.  Worse, as Dr. Clark finally admits above, even conceding that belief and obedience are necessary prerequisites for assurance, how would one know if one has known enough of the information in the Bible to attain saving faith or obeyed enough of the commands in the Bible to attain to an acceptable level in the process of sanctification?  Sanctification lasts a lifetime.  (Philippians 3:13-16).  So if we take Sean Gerety's skeptical point of view, the entire epistemological system espoused by Dr. Gordon H. Clark's Scripturalism collapses.  The necessary consequence is therefore agnosticism.

Even Dr. Clark admitted that his view has a problem.  How do you know if you have believed enough or obeyed enough to have assurance?  In the end, Clark had to admit that both Luther and Calvin were right in regards to justification.  Justification by faith alone is the root and ground of assurance, though it is not inseparably connected with or coextensive with assurance.  While the purpose of justification is to produce sanctification and assurance, this assurance would be absolutely impossible without the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Though faith and assurance are not inseparably connected, they are intimately related and assurance could not be possible whatsoever without justification by faith alone and by the doctrine of saving faith, which Dr. Clark defined as notitia (knowledge) plus assensus (belief).  (See:  Gordon H. Clark, "Saving Faith," December 1979, Trinity Review).

When the rubber meets the road, then, assurance is a necessary consequence of saving faith somewhere in the system.  This is where Gerety gets it wrong.  He thinks that particular points are in isolation from other points and in his blog posts Gerety fails to place his remarks within the context of the system of theology in Scripture and summarized by the Westminster Standards.

Dr. Clark contended that the Westminster Confession was slightly off when it says that the elect believer can have an "infallible assurance" of salvation because a subjective assurance is not infallible.  Only Scripture is an infallible revelation from God, not one's subjective apprehension of it.  Also, assurance needs no extra-biblical revelation from God as the papists and the Catabaptists contended.

There is, however, an additional problem that Dr. Clark never addresses.  If there is no additional special revelation, how would regeneration produce faith in the Bible?  According to Dr. Clark, in the end the only way a person can know the Bible is the Word of God and not the Koran is by regeneration:

All of this, naturally, depends on the acceptance of Biblical revelation. The secularists will have none of it. How can you prove, they ask, that the Bible is a divine revelation? Well, of course, a Dogmatist does not try to prove it. The question ignores the preceding argument concerning skepticism, first principles, and suicide. There is, however, another question that secularists can ask and do. It is not an impertinent question. It raises an important issue, the answer to which helps to clarify the dogmatic position. The question is: Granted that one must choose a first indemonstrable principle, how does one decide between two incompatible principles? . . .

. . . The religious form of this philosophical question, the form that occurs in many a volume on religious types, the question hardly anyone fails to ask, is, "Since several religions and several documents claim to be divinely revealed, how does one choose the Bible rather than the Koran?" This question properly understood and seriously put is not impertinent, as the first one was. Sometimes the difference is not understood, in which case it is taken as an objection to Dogmatism. But it is not an objection. Nor should it be directed against Dogmatism alone. Every non-skeptical position, as was made clear earlier, must have a first principle. Rationalists are well aware of this; Empiricists usually ignore or deny it and claim presuppositionless objectivity. But it applies to them with equal force. They too must answer why they assign so basic a position to sensation. Hence there is a perfectly legitimate question, applicable to all types of philosophy, concerning the choice of a first principle.

Dogmatic Christianity has its answer, a clear-cut answer, to this impressive question.  . . .

Gordon H. Clark (2013-08-12T04:00:00+00:00). Three Types of Religious Philosophy (Kindle Locations 1922-1938). Kindle Edition.

Even the Lutheran evidentialist John Warwick Montgomery questions Dr. Clark's Dogmatism with this silly question:

Rejecting this as “fuddled reasoning,” Professor Montgomery, among other things, asks, “How would the presuppositionalist distinguish the Bible he claims to start with a priori from Playboy magazine?”

Gordon H. Clark (2013-08-12T04:00:00+00:00). Three Types of Religious Philosophy (Kindle Locations 2004-2005). Kindle Edition.


And what is Dr. Clark's answer?  I will not quote the rest of his response.  You can read the book yourself by purchasing it at the Trinity Foundation in either paperback or e-book format.  Here is his clincher or zinger:

What now is the question to be answered? It is not, Shall we choose? Or, is it permissible to choose? We must choose; since we are alive we have chosen – either a dogmatic principle or empirical insanity. The question therefore, urged by atheist, evangelical Christian, and evangelistic Moslem, is, Why does anyone choose the Bible rather than the Koran? The answer to this question will also explain how a Christian can present the Gospel to a non-Christian without depending on any logically common proposition in their two systems.

Since all possible knowledge must be contained within the system and deduced from its principles, the dogmatic answer must be found in the Bible itself. The answer is that faith is the gift of God. As Psalm 65:4 says, God chooses a man and causes him to accept Christian Dogmatism. Conversely, the Apostle John informs us that the Pharisees could not believe because God had blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts.  [John 12:39-40; John 10:26].

The initiation of spiritual life, called regeneration, is the immediate work of the Holy Spirit. It is not produced by Abrahamic blood, nor by natural desire, nor by any act of human will. In particular, it is not produced by arguments based on secular and empirical presuppositions. Even if there were a common truth in secularism and Christianity, arguments based on it would not produce faith. What empirical evangelicals think is most necessary, is most useless.
Gordon H. Clark (2013-08-12T04:00:00+00:00). Three Types of Religious Philosophy (Kindle Locations 2130-2140). Kindle Edition.
Clark goes on to say that there is no common ground with the unbeliever.  Reason or logic standing alone is rationalism and rationalism, according to Dr. Clark, always leads to skepticism.  Gerety's error, then is rationalism, and rejecting Clark's Dogmatism as the source for defining the doctrine of assurance.  That is because faith itself is impossible without regeneration:

Even the preaching of the Gospel does not produce faith. However, the preaching of the Gospel does one thing that a fallacious argument from a non-existent common ground cannot do: It provides the propositions that must be believed.

But the belief comes from God: God causes a man to believe; faith is a divine gift. In evangelistic work there can be no appeal to secular, non-Christian material. There is an appeal – it is the appeal of prayer to the Holy Spirit to cause the sinner to accept the truths of the Gospel. Any other appeal is useless.

If now a person wants the basic answer to the question, Why does one man have faith and another not, or, Why does one man accept the Koran and another the Bible, this is it. God causes the one to believe. But if a person asks some other question or raises an objection, he will have to read the argument over again.
Gordon H. Clark (2013-08-12T04:00:00+00:00). Three Types of Religious Philosophy (Kindle Locations 2140-2146). Kindle Edition.
The difficulty here is not that I disagree with Clark's conclusion.  The difficulty is that regeneration is something different from the information in the Bible.  It is not something caused by knowledge.  Assent to the information in the Bible can only be caused by a subjective change in the mind of the person and this change, like sanctification and assurance, is caused by God in the mind or soul of the elect person.  (Titus 3:5; John 3:3-8).  So following the logic of Sean Gerety, if it is impossible to know one is saved, then he is in disagreement with the doctrine of regeneration and with the doctrine of justifying faith.  He is also in disagreement with the doctrine of sanctification and with the doctrine of assurance.  The system of doctrine in the Bible must be accepted as the whole counsel of God.  (Acts 20:27).  Regeneration would appear to be a form of special revelation directly given to the individually elect person, namely that the mind of the elect person is given regeneration and the illumination of the Scriptures so that he or she is enabled to believe that information, be justified, sanctified and obtain a consequent assurance of salvation.

6.      The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. (2 Tim. 3:15–17, Gal. 1:8–9, 2 Thess. 2:2) Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: (John 6:45, 1 Cor 2:9–12) . . .

Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures.
The Westminster confession of faith. (1996). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
And finally, against Gerety's implied view that every elect person must always struggle long and hard to obtain assurance of salvation, the Westminster Larger Catechism puts that to rest:

Question 80

Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation?

Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavour to walk in all good conscience before him, (1 John 2:3) may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded upon the truth of God’ s promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made, (1 Cor. 2:12, 1 John 3:14,18–19,21,24, 1 John 4:13,16, Heb. 6:11–12) and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, (Rom. 8:16) be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation. (1 John 5:13)


The Westminster larger catechism: with scripture proofs. (1996). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Notice that there are conditional results of saving faith prerequisite to attaining an "infallible" assurance.   Election itself is unconditional and is the result of God's eternal and unchanging decrees.  But in the temporal order of the falling out of the decrees according to God's providence, there are conditions that are met by God's irresistible graces in the mind and soul of the elect.  Is it impossible for God to grant an infallible assurance?  If so, then maybe it is impossible for God to regenerate the elect as well?  The infallible assurance is based on the infallible promises of God and the self examination of the elect person as to how his or her thoughts, words and deeds line up with the revealed propositions and commands in the Holy Scriptures.  This question and answer follows immediately after Question 79 dealing with the possibility that elect persons can fall into sin yet are not lost.  Even perseverance does not depend upon the will of the elect because it is God who causes them to persevere.  (See WCF 17:2).

Not everyone has this infallible assurance but that is not to say that everyone must struggle with assurance from their initial conversion.   (See WLC 81).  As stated above, Dr. Clark disagreed with the WCF and WLC on the issue of an infallible assurance.  But since WCF 80 and the 18th chapter of the WCF adequately explain this assurance as being conditioned on saving faith and self examination, it follows that Dr. Clark's concerns are inconsistent with his views on regeneration and illumination as stated in WCF 1:6.  Rejecting extraordinary revelation as the basis for assurance does not entail rejecting infallible assurance since both regeneration and illumination cannot be information in the Bible either.  It is interesting that Dr. Clark only refers to WCF chapter 18 and never mentions question 80 in the WLC. This is the problem Clark never addressed; so as I see it, Dr. Clark was inconsistent in rejecting infallible assurance while accepting regeneration and illumination. And, worse, some of Clark's followers have gone way beyond what Clark intended and have instead opted for an implicit agnosticism which Clark himself rejected on the basis of Dogmatism and regeneration.  So concludes my rambling response to Sean Gerety.

Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.

As proof that Sean Gerety accepts assurance as an emotion or feeling of confidence and not a logical deduction made from Scripture in regards to how your life lines up with the commands of obedience in the Bible, you can read this irrational piece:  Assurance and Knowledge.

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