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.]

Daily Bible Verse

Friday, September 15, 2023

Is Assurance of Salvation a "Second Blessing"? A Short Response to R. Scott Clark

"Before regeneration a sinful human being does not think this way. He believes that God is too good to condemn anybody, and, besides, he himself is quite respectable. But the gift of faith changes his ideas. Jesus, whom he previously admitted to be an admirable ethical teacher, he now believes to be the Lord of Glory. The sins he has loved, he now hates, or at least begins to hate, for regeneration is not instantaneous perfection."  Dr. Gordon H. Clark

A. W. Pink quoted Walter Marshall, a British non-conformist in 1692:

We are to look upon holiness as a very necessary part of that salvation that is received by faith in Christ. Some are so drenched in a covenant of works that they accuse us of making good works needless to salvation, if we will not acknowledge them to be necessary, either as conditions to procure an interest in Christ, or as preparatives to fit us for receiving Him by faith. And others, when they are taught by the Scriptures that we are saved by faith, even by faith without works, do begin to disregard all obedience to the Law as not at all necessary to salvation, and do account themselves obliged to it only in point of gratitude—if it be wholly neglected, they doubt not but free grace will save them nevertheless. Yea, some are given up to such strong Antinomian[67] delusions, that they account it a part of the liberty from bondage of the Law purchased by the blood of Christ, to make no conscience of breaking the Law in their conduct.

Arthur W. Pink. The Doctrine of Sanctification (Kindle Locations 340-347). Chapel Library. Kindle Edition. 

I understand that R. Scott Clark is opposed to the Federal Vision error.  But the problem I have is that Scott Clark does not differentiate between misrepresentations of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the actual teaching of the Westminster Confession as it is deduced from the Scriptures.  Even worse, R. Scott Clark, who claims to be recovering the Reformed confessions, openly rejects the Westminster Confession on the issue of assurance of salvation.  Or maybe RSC made a typological error?  At any rate, he misquotes the WCF when he says:

Indeed, the divines insisted that believers do finally gain assurance “extraordinary revelation” through “the right use of ordinary means” (i.e., the preaching of the gospel, the use of the sacraments, and prayer). Contra Rome, this doctrine of assurance does not lead believers to lead immoral lives but to lead godly lives. The divines were concerned that people should not think that because they doubt and struggle that they are not or no longer believers. Rather, they were trying to encourage not discourage people.  R. Scott Clark, Heidelblog, "Does The Westminster Confession Contradict Calvin On Assurance And Faith?", October 20, 2016.

Unfortunately, the confession says just the opposite of what I have placed in italics in the quote.  The confession says, 

III. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it:k yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain there unto.l   WCF 18:3.

Westminster Assembly. The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition. Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851. Print.

It is often difficult to understand exactly what RSC is talking about.  Apparently, the Calvin versus the Calvinists school believed that assurance of salvation depended on an initial justification and a subsequent second blessing. Furthermore, I take it that the Calvin versus Calvinism school has something to do with the Federal Vision heresy where the FV proponents wish to make the Westminster Confessional Standards agree with their conflation of the visible church with the invisible church;  their conflation of the visible signs and seals of covenant with the invisible graces is one source of the problem.  Additionally, they misunderstand unconditional election, which God only grants to the elect. The adherents of the Federal Vision contend that election and regeneration are conveyed through baptism into membership in the visible church.  They also say that election and regeneration can be lost if the person commits apostasy or falls into grievous sins.  But this is not the position of the Bible or the Reformed confessions.

Oddly enough, RSC is making a similar error by misreading both John Calvin and the Westminster divines out of context.  I say that because Calvin and the later Westminster divines were indeed dealing with their settings in life or cultural situations.  R. Scott Clark wants to conflate the cultural problems of the 16th and 17th centuries with the 20th and 21st centuries.  Calvin was dealing with the Roman Catholic undermining of the assurance of salvation.  The Westminster divines were dealing with both hypocrisy and the undermining of the assurance of salvation.

There is a dual problem today as well.  But the duality is that almost no one today actually fears God anymore.  So the problem is not so much the lack of assurance of salvation, but rather a lack of concern for their obedience.  Even the Romanists do not fear God anymore.  As Dr. Gordon H. Clark once remarked in relation to the doctrine of repentance, liberals think that God must be too good to damn anyone to hell:

The religious world of the present century has witnessed a tidal wave of anti-intellectualism. Inundated by the outright irrationalism of the Neo-orthodox and the existentialists, popular religion holds every intellectual decision – the acceptance of an intellectual doctrine – to be either insincere or trivial, and that only emotion is genuine and “authentic.” With the prevalence of such views, a further repetition of the Catechism seems called for. Repentance includes an “apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.” Before regeneration a sinful human being does not think this way. He believes that God is too good to condemn anybody, and, besides, he himself is quite respectable. But the gift of faith changes his ideas. Jesus, whom he previously admitted to be an admirable ethical teacher, he now believes to be the Lord of Glory. The sins he has loved, he now hates, or at least begins to hate, for regeneration is not instantaneous perfection. By this change of mind he turns from sin to God; or, more accurately, this change of mind is his turning to God. Nor can this turning or conversion occur without a full purpose and endeavor to obey God’s law. There is nothing insincere in this. To use John Calvin’s remark, it is the pious assent of the mind.

Gordon H. Clark. What Is the Christian Life?  1990.  1992.  Third edition. (Unicoi:  Trinity Foundation, 2012).   Kindle Locations 270-279. Kindle Edition. 

I did my time in Bible college and seminary; but when I read the Heidelblog it is as if I am reading a foreign language.  I have read the classical systematic theologies.  I have read Charles Hodge, Louis Berkhof, Stephen Charnock, Lorraine Boettner, Gordon H. Clark, and even Van Til.  But when I listen to the podcasts from both the Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Westminster Seminary,  Escondido, California or read their posted literature, it is as if I am reading a foreign language.  Most of it has very little to do with the actual Scriptures or the Reformed confessions themselves.  One doctrine that you will never hear any of them mention, or at least only in brief, is the doctrine of predestination.  Almost everything these schools have to say is colored by their rose-colored glasses of common grace and their focus on christology and covenant theology as the alleged center of their system of analogical theology.

The main  problem I have with the Escondido school is the constant barrage of justification by faith alone as if that doctrine is all there is in the Reformed confessions.  The other problem is the constant appeal to modern and postmodern theologians as if their spin on church history is the interpretative grid which must be imposed on both the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions themselves.  These writers, including R. Scott Clark, wish to emphasize the total transcendence of God above all else so that the Scriptures become merely an ectypal condescension to the human level, not the very words of God univocally.  Of course, we are not omniscient and cannot see the total picture or think with super-intelligence as God does.  He knows everything intuitively and directly, while our knowledge as creatures is discursive and revealed to us through the innate image of God, natural revelation and special revelation, but that is another essay for another day.

The issue here is that R. Scott Clark overreacts to the Federal Vision error to the point that he has tendencies to misrepresent the actual warning passages in Scripture and how the Westminster Confession and the Canons of Dort address those issues.  The fact of the matter is that assurance of salvation does not always accompany conversion to Christ.  That's because many persons come from bad backgrounds, being former criminals.  Others come from a Romanist background and have no assurance.  But the vast majority of new converts--who may or may not be regenerate--have an attitude of easy believism.  That's because of the church growth movement and the influence it has on the denominations.  

Although the Escondido school pretends to reject the pragmatism of the church growth movement, they actually practice the same pragmatism.  Without new churches, new members and new ministers, seminaries tend to become irrelevant and die out.  So that means that there can be no real education in what Scripture actually says on the issues or even what the Reformed confessions say.  Instead the other graces of repentance, sanctification, and assurance must be either reinterpreted or downplayed.  John MacArthur, one of R. Scott Clark's most hated targets, at least emphasizes sanctification.  So RSC attacks pastors he does not like.  He continually attacks MacArthur as a legalist but most of the attacks are in fact straw man fallacies.  RSC also totally despises the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark on many levels.  GHC is a "hyper-Calvinist", a rejecter of the free offer and common grace.  He's one of those despised fundamentalists, according to RSC.

John MacArthur even preaches the doctrine of total depravity, which he calls the most hated doctrine in the world.  Although I somewhat agree, I think the most hated doctrine is the doctrine of predestination.  We are told to never talk about that one:  

There is also the case of the Bible professor in a so-called Christian college, who told me, "Even if you believe in predestination, don't let anyone know you do."  He constantly told his students never to study the subject nor mention it in their preaching.  One student who held his professor in high respect was shocked to find that the Bulgarian laborers with whom he worked in Chicago were extremely interested in the forbidden subject.  But if predestination is not to be mentioned, God must have made an embarrassing blunder in revealing it to us.  

Gordon H. Clark.  What Do Presbyterians Believe?  The Westminster Confession Yesterday and Today.  1965  Second edition.  (Unicoi:  Trinity Foundation, 2001).  P. 43. 

To get to my main point of this article, however, it seems to me that RSC and many other so-called Reformed theologians are hypocritical on so many levels that it would take a book length response to analyze them all.  RSC says that assurance cannot be lost but only diminished.  But the WCF says that assurance can be diminished and shaken to the point that it is almost completely lost.  (WCF 18:4).  Not only that, the Westminster divines were not as much concerned with assurance as with hypocrisy.  (WCF 18:1).  In fact, it is possible to have saving faith without having assurance of salvation at all.  (WCF 18:3, quoted above).  The doctrines of grace should not encourage looseness in morality but a growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 3:18).  

...And therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure;m that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience,n the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it from inclining men to looseness.o  (WCF 18:3; 2 Peter 1:10)

Westminster Assembly. The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition. Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851. Print. .

R. Scott Clark and others focus on theology from below instead of the doctrines of sovereign grace taught in the Bible and summarized by the Westminster Standards.  I pray that God will grant them repentance.  The system of propositional truth deduced from the Bible and summarized by the Westminster Standards is what we are obligated to believe as Calvinists and Reformed believers.   

I highly recommend this online edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms:  The Westminster Standards.


Saturday, September 09, 2023

Calvin on Predestination and Original Sin


"To this witless argument I reply, What wonder is it that Pighius should thus, (to use his own expression,) indiscriminately confound all things, in reference to the deep judgments of God, when he knows not how to make the least distinction between remote and proximate CAUSES!"  John Calvin

The third end of man’s creation which is so clearly and powerfully expressed by Solomon (The Lord hath made all things for himself, even the wicked for the day of evil, Prov. 16:4), Pighius attacks in this way.—With reference to God’s condemnation of the reprobate, and his punishment of sin; he argues, “If we say that God in his eternal decrees had any respect to what would happen to each person, after his creation, we must necessarily confess, that the discrimination between the elect and the reprobate, was, in the Divine mind, antecedent to the fall of man. Whence it will follow, that the reprobate are not condemned, because they were ruined in Adam; but because they were already devoted to destruction, even before the fall of Adam.”—To this witless argument I reply, What wonder is it that Pighius should thus, (to use his own expression,) indiscriminately confound all things, in reference to the deep judgments of God, when he knows not how to make the least distinction between remote and proximate CAUSES! After men have looked this way and that way, they can never, by so doing, fix upon the cause of their destruction; nor upon the fault that produced it. And why? because the proximate fault rests with themselves. And should they complain, that the wound is inflicted on them from some other quarter; the internal sense of their mind will bind them fast to the conclusion, that the evil arose from the voluntary defections and fall of the first man.—I know full well, that the insolence of the carnal mind cannot be prevented from immediately bawling, “If God foreknew the fall of Adam, and yet, was unwilling to apply a remedy; we are rather perishing, in our innocence, by his bare external decree, than suffering the just punishment of our sin.” And suppose we grant that nothing was in this way foreseen of God, or thus viewed by Him; the old complaint, concerning original sin, will still be made, and as loud as ever;—“Why was not Adam left to sin for himself, as a private individual, so as to bear the consequences alone? Why was he made to involve us, who deserved no such calamity, in a participation of the same ruin! Nay, under what colour of justice does God visit on us the punishment of another’s fault?” But, after all has been said, that can be said, on the subject; the internal feeling of every man’s heart continues to urge its conviction: nor will it suffer any child of Adam to absolve himself (even himself being his own judge) from the sin, the guilt, or the punishment, consequent on the original transgression of Adam! Nor can any one, in truth, raise a controversy on the matter. For as, on account of the sin of one man, a deadly wound was inflicted on all men; all men at once acknowledge the judgment of God thereon, to be righteous!

Calvin, John, and Hendry H. Cole. Calvin’s Calvinism: A Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God. London: Wertheim and Macintosh, 1856. Print.

(Italics are mine.  CJR)

Is Westminster Seminary California a Calvinist Seminary?

The faculty members of Westminster Seminary, California openly deny that they are Calvinists, and they wish to downgrade the doctrine of predestination.  Richard Muller is their magisterial pope.  Anyone who disagrees with Westminster, California is therefore a hyper-Calvinist, a biblicist, and a trouble maker:

Was Calvin a Calvinist? (wscal.edu)

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Is Preaching the Word of God? Further Comments

"There is no ambiguity in the Calvinistic position.  The Word of God is the sixty-six books of the Bible."  Dr. Gordon H. Clark.

Back in May I posted a short response to Mark Beach, who contends that preaching is the Word of God.  I remembered reading something that Dr. Gordon H. Clark said in response to this.  Clark's remarks appear in his book on the Westminster Confession of Faith, titled, What Do Presbyterians Believe?  The book is only available through the Trinity Foundation website.  I do not endorse everything the Trinity Foundation posts or promotes, but the Trinity Foundation is the only place where Dr. Clark's books are still in print.

Clark contends that the Word of God must be defined, and the definition matters very much.  According to Clark, the Romanists or Roman Catholics tried to add the apocryphal books to the Jewish canon of Scripture, being only thirty-nine books.  His short remarks in the book clearly disagree with Mark Beach:

As it was then, so for us now, it is necessary to define the Word of God.  Not only are the Romanists still with us, but other views are offered as substitutes for the Biblical position.  Karl Barth, previously mentioned, has a chapter on The Word of God in Its Three-fold Form.

For him the first form of the Word of God is the Sunday sermon.  And it must be admitted that we do speak of a good sermon as the preaching of the Word of God.  The second form for Barth is the Bible.  This is a higher form because the Apostles, in spite of their mistakes, knew more than we do.  Then there is a third and higher form.  But if anyone wants to puzzle out what it is, he will have to read Church Dogmatics for himself.  At any rate, we today, as well as the Reformers, need to know what various writers and various religions mean by the phrase the Word of God.  There is no ambiguity in the Calvinist position.  The Word of God is the sixty-six books of the Bible.  

Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  What Do Presbyterians Believe?  The Westminster Confession Yesterday and Today.   1965.  Second edition.  (Unicoi:  Trinity Foundation, 2001).  P. 13.

Unfortunately, Mark Beach is not the only neo-Calvinist who is pushing certain neo-orthodox views.  Michael Horton advocates the speech act theory of preaching as his version of the neo-orthodox doctrine of preaching.  The Gospel Coalition is also pushing this neo-orthodox view of preaching as if the Bible is not propositional revelation.  Instead they assert that preaching is literally a re-illocution of what God said to and through the original prophets and apostles.  This is not just a minor departure from the Reformed and confessional view of the Bible.  This is an in your face and direct contradiction of the view that the Bible is a propositional revelation from God and that the very words of Scripture are breathed out by God.  (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21).  

It is true that the Second Helvetic Confession, written by Heinrich Bullinger, says that preaching the Word of God is the Word of God:

THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library:  The Second Helvetic Confession.

However, if you open the link and read what the actual confession says, clearly Bullinger defines the Bible as the Word of God and that preaching is an expository explanation of the text, not itself a divinely inspired and inerrant re-elocution of another revelation from God:


Of The Holy Scripture Being The True

Word of God

CANONICAL SCRIPTURE. We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures.

And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from the same.  


Bullinger is also rejecting what is normally called the Donatist controversy.  Under persecution in the early centuries of the church, many Christians and ministers denied the faith outwardly to avoid being martyred or persecuted.  He was not advocating a Barthian view of preaching whatsoever.

Postmodernism has infiltrated just about every area of modern life, including journalism.  One has to ask, what is truth?  Journalism itself used to be about making the attempt to report only the facts and to leave opinions and the formation of opinions to the reader.  Now in so-called Reformed churches we are told that preaching is the Word of God.  But do they mean the same thing that Bullinger meant in his day?  Or are they somehow moving the goal posts?  Clearly, Bullinger was upholding the preaching of the Bible itself as a non-negotiable necessity for the outward and general call of the Gospel.  The papists or Romanists of his day apparently denied this because for them the center of the worship and liturgy was the mass, not the preaching of the Gospel.

Another symptom of this move away from the Bible as the sole authority in all matters of faith and practice is the advocation of so-called post-reformation dogmatics as espoused by the magisterium of neo-Calvinist theologians, the chief of whom is allegedly Dr. Robert Muller.  But is this not an appeal to an outside authority or secondary authority in addition to the Bible?  Worse, is it not a fallacy of appealing to authority as an interpretative grid through which the Bible is read and the Reformed confessions are to be understood?

We are told by these experts in ivory towers that we should listen to them instead of reading and studying the Bible for ourselves.  But Scripture tells us that the Jewish Bereans searched the Scriptures to see if the things Paul was saying were true according to the Old Testament canon:  

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11 KJV)

Another problem with the modern neo-Calvinist Evangelicals is that they have rejected the former Evangelical views of Old Princeton and instead have modified them; they reject what they call fundamentalism.  This is another subtle equivocation because the fundamentalists of the early part of the twentieth century were the Evangelicals of their day.  It looks like definitions matter once again.  

Ironically, they claim to be Calvinists, yet claim that Muller's liberal views on post-reformation dogmatics are the interpretative grid through which we are to read Scripture.  According to Muller, the post-reformation Reformers were way more generous to opposing views, and the post-reformation dogmatics were much more broad.  Muller does lots of name dropping with prolific opinion pieces written as if his opinion of the various schools of thought at the time is actually the case.  He appeals not only to the most well known post-reformation scholars of the period, but also to many obscure figures.  Unfortunately, the writings of the more obscure post-reformation scholars are unavailable to the general public or to the laity or even independent scholars; most of what Muller says is to be taken at his word unless you happen to have a library of the classical scholastics at hand.  

Moreover, Muller openly disagrees with the Westminster Standards and even the Three Forms of Unity at several points, claiming that the post-reformation traditions were much more latitudinarian, etc.  But how does admitting that there could have been a downgrading of the original Reformers' initial theological positions prove that we should also depart from the later Reformed confessions and accept Amyraldianism and other heresies?

I, for one, prefer to stay with a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible and the Reformed confessions.  You will often hear the neo-Calvinists advocate for covenantal theology and the central place of Christ in Reformed theology and the Bible.  Of course, no one would object to this, right?  The problem, once again, is that they have redefined the Reformed confessions and the Bible to fit with their modern sensibilities.  After all, double predestination does not fit well with their views on common grace and their implicit and tacit approval of Amyraldianism.  The fact of the matter is that they assert that they approve of the Reformed confessions, while actually disagreeing with what the confessions plainly deduce from the Bible by good and necessary consequence.  

Any plowboy can read the Bible and understand that God is sovereign, yet they wish to emphasize justification by faith alone as the central doctrine of the Bible.  It is not.  While the doctrine of justification is indeed one of the main issues between the Reformers and the Romanists or Papists, it is not the only issue.  Without predestination and providence, the doctrine of the eternal covenant of God with the elect is nonsense.  These purveyors of modern pragmatism claim to oppose the church growth movement and pragmatism, while doing the same thing themselves.  They will appeal to the over-arching metanarrative of the Bible instead of affirming the propositions in Scripture; these propositions can be harmonized into a system of propositional truth and a systematic theology which is deduced from the Bible.   They give lip service to doctrine while making emotional appeals to "Christ the center" and "covenantal" theology; at the same time they attack conservative and fundamentalist Reformed believers as "biblicists" who quote the Bible out of context, while quoting the Bible out of context themselves.  I suppose that the Westminster divines and the Dutch reformers were biblicists as well, since they gave proof texts from the Bible to substantiate what they were saying?

Another problem is that they reject the doctrines of sanctification and assurance as if they were mere afterthoughts.  (WCF chapters 13 and 18). The neo-Calvinists claim that they do not ignore those doctrines while almost never mentioning them.  The purpose of justification does involve assurance since without it we could never attain assurance in the first place.  However, that is not always apparent at conversion, and often the new believer will struggle with habitual sin until he or she attains assurance.  In fact, it is possible to have saving faith without having attained assurance of salvation.  But if the purpose of justification is not to make us good, is it to make us comfortable in habitual sin, giving us a license to sin all that we please?  I think not. The purpose of justification is the consequential other graces.  Justification is not a stand-alone doctrine which is not part of the golden chain of salvation; justification is not necessarily the center of the system of theology taught in the Scriptures.  

All of the words of God in the Bible are profitable for doctrine, not just pet doctrines designed to draw more people to church; this would be just another form of the church growth pragmatism that they claim to oppose, while doing it themselves.  (2 Timothy 3:16 KJV; Acts 20:26-28 KJV).  The point of the Bible is truth, not pragmatism.  Thy Word is truth.  (John 17:17 KJV).


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