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

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Answer: Gordon H. Clark's Response Part Two: On Incomprehensibility

[The following is the continuation of The Answer given by Dr. Gordon H. Clark and his supporters to The Complaint by Dr. Cornelius Van Til and his supporters. The Answer will be given in installments as time permits. To read the pdf image file click on the links. The following is installment one of the chapter on incomprehensibility.]

On Incomprehensibility

In turning from the legal aspect of the Complaint to the theological aspects, the Presbytery wishes first of all to underscore the tenuous subtlety of the questions involved. Note well that Dr. Clark without equivocation subscribed to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The second examination concerned itself largely with the philosophical implications of certain phrases in the Confession and the particular interpretations which the questioners, now the complainants, placed upon them. This fact must be made clear to everyone who desires to see this Complaint in its true light. Dr. Clark accepts the Westminster Confession of Faith. The complainants found no objection to Dr. Clark's doctrinal views under the heading of the verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture, the creation, providence and miracles, or the fall of man. The complainants have not attempted to attack Dr. Clark's doctrine of the atonement, effectual calling, justification by faith, sanctification, or eschatology. It is therefore not surprising that at the most largely attended meeting of the Presbytery of Philadelphia in history Dr. Clark's examination in theology was sustained by more than a three-fourths vote of the Presbytery. Even some of the complainants themselves at that meeting of Presbytery voted to sustain the examination in theology. More than three-fourths of the Presbytery of Philadelphia were satisfied of Dr. Clark's adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

And now a Complaint against the Presbytery is signed by thirteen persons alleging errors in Dr. Clark's views regarding (1) the incomprehensibility of God and the relationship of God's knowledge to man's knowledge; (2) the relationships among the intellect, will, and emotions; (3) the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility; (4) the offer of the gospel to man. Underlying all the charges is an assumption that Dr. Clark's thinking “bears all the earmarks of rationalism, humanistic intellectualism” and “vicious independence from God” (P. 10, 2; O. 40).

The first section of the Complaint is concerned with the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God. Before analyzing this section step by step the Presbytery thinks it best to make some general observations on the doctrine in question. The Complaint, as will be seen, charges “that Dr. Clark's view of the incomprehensibility of God is definitely at variance with the meaning that this doctrine has had in Christian theology” (P. 5, 1; O. 18). This charge assumes that throughout Christian theology this doctrine has had but one definite meaning, for the Complaint (P. 4, 2; O. 15) also refers to “its uniform significance in the history of Christian thought”; the charge assumes that the complainants' theory is that one definite meaning; and that Dr. Clark in disagreeing with them rejects this uniform element in Christian theology. These assumptions, however, are false. The incomprehensibility of God, as explained by Dionysus the Areopagite, is quite different from the doctrine as explained by Charles Hodge. A comparison between two other theologians might show other differences, even though less violent. The assumption that it is possible to determine “the meaning that this doctrine has had in Christian theology” is therefore a false assumption. Furthermore, several of the particular points at issue in this Complaint have received far from exhaustive treatment in the history of theology. The Presbytery cannot assert that no book or manuscript has ever discussed these points, but it can assert that there is no well defined position recognized by any large number of theologians.

The view of the Complaint is that “God because of his very nature must remain incomprehensible to man” (P. 2, 3: O. 8); it is “not the doctrine that God can be known only if he makes himself known and in so far as he makes himself known” (ibid.). Moreover all knowledge which man can attain differs from the knowledge of God “in a qualitative sense and not merely in degree” (P. 4, 2; O. 15). Thus God's knowledge and man's knowledge do not “coincide at any single point” (P. 5, 3; O. 21). A proposition does not “have the same meaning for man as for God” (P. 5, 2; O. 20). Man's knowledge is “analogical to the knowledge God possesses, but it can never be identified with the knowledge” which God “possesses of the same proposition” (P. 5, 3; O. 21). “The divine knowledge as divine transcends human knowledge as human, even when that human knowledge is a knowledge communicated by God” (P. 3, 1; O. 9).“Because of his very nature as infinite and absolute the knowledge which God posseses of himself and of all things must remain a mystery which the finite mind of man cannot penetrate” (ibid.). This latter statement does not mean merely that man cannot penetrate this mystery unaided by revelation; it means that even revelation by God could not make man understand the mystery, for the preceding sentences assert that it is the nature of God that renders him incomprehensible, not the lack of a revelation about it. As the analysis proceeds, these quotations with the argument from which they are taken will be seen to imply two chief points. First, there is some truth that God cannot put into propositional form; this portion of truth cannot be expressed conceptually. Second, the portion of truth that God can express in propositional form never has the same meaning for man as it has for God. Every proposition that man knows has a qualitatively different meaning for God. Man can grasp only an analogy of the truth, which, because it is an analogy, is not the truth itself.

On the other hand Dr. Clark contends that the doctrine of the incomprehensibilty of God as set forth in Scripture and in the Confession of Faith includes the following points: 1. The essence of God's being is incomprehensible to man except as God reveals truths concerning his own nature; 2. The manner of God's knowing an eternal intuition, is impossible for man; 3. Man can never know exhaustively and completely God's knowledge of any truth in all its relationships and implications; because every truth has an infinite number of relationships and implications and since each of these implications in turn has other infinite implications, these must ever, even in heaven, remain inexhaustible for man; 4. But, Dr. Clark maintains, the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God does not mean that a proposition, e. g., two times two are four, has one meaning for man and a qualitatively different meaning for God, or that some truth is conceptual and other truth is non-conceptual in nature.

Here is the crux of the issue. By insisting that God's knowledge is qualitatively different from that of man and that “his knowledge and our knowledge” do not “coincide at any single point,” the Complaint is advancing a theory of a two-fold truth; while Dr. Clark holds that the nature of truth is one, that if man knows any item of truth, both God and man know that same identical item, and that on this item God's knowledge and man's knowledge coincide. According to the Complaint man can never know even one item of truth God knows; man can know only an “analogical” truth, and this analogical truth is not the same truth that God knows, for the truth that God knows is “qualitatively” different, and God cannot reveal it to man because man is a creature. To repeat: the truth that God knows and the truth that man knows are never the same truth, for they do not “coincide at any single point.” God's knowledge therefore would be incomprehensible to man for the specific reason that God could not reveal any particular fact about it without destroying the “Creator-creature relationship.” Dr. Clark holds that God can reveal any item of knowledge in propositional form without destroying the Creator-creature relationship, and that such a revealed proposition has the same meaning for God and for man when, as is sometimes the case, man understands it. Now, what is the meaning of the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God taught in Scripture and the Confession of Faith? Though the Complaint asserts that its “doctrine of incomprehensibility is the teaching of Scripture” and that it is “taught in many passages and is implicit in the doctrine of the divine transcendence which is everywhere taught or presupposed in Scripture,” it cites only a few passages, doubtless chosen because they are thought to present the strongest Scriptural proof of the doctrine. The first of these passages is Psalm 145:3, “His greatness is unsearchable.” The second passage cited is Isaiah 40:28, “There is no searching of his understanding.” And the third is from an uninspired speaker in Job 11:7, 8, “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection? It is as high as heaven: what canst thou do? Deeper than Sheol; what canst thou know?” The Hebrew root for search in these three passages is chaqar, which means to search or to examine. The passages all teach that man by his own unaided efforts cannot search out God's greatness or understanding. They do not teach that God cannot reveal any particular proposition about his greatness, for they are in fact themselves propositions about the greatness and understanding of God. How much God will reveal to man is quite another question; but these verses do not imply that there is a phase of God's knowledge that God cannot reveal, if he chooses to do so. And they certainly do not imply that some truth is non-conceptual in nature. Just what sort of truth would non-conceptual truth be?

1 Timothy 6:16, “dwelling in light unapproachable, whom no man hath seen or can see,” is quoted as proving that “man the creature may never trespass or even draw near to contemplate God as he is in himself” (P. 4, 3; O. 17). But this is not what the verse says. The verse does not say that man cannot contemplate or think about God; it says that man cannot see him. Theophilus, quoted by Meyer, in loc., understands the verb to see literally, and makes the verse mean that God is an invisible spirit. It is the mystic Dionysius who takes the verb to see in the intellectual sense of to contemplate, and makes the verse mean that God is unthinkable. That this mystical interpretation of negative theology is wrong, and that the verb to see in this particular verse must be understood literally, is substantiated by Job 19:26, 27, “yet in my flesh (or, without my flesh) shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself.” Superficially, Job seems to contradict Paul. The Hebrew verb in Job, chazah, often means to contemplate. It must mean contemplation here, for the literal meaning of physical sight would make the verse inconsistent with the Scriptural teaching of the spirituality of God. The literal meaning in Job would make the verse untrue. Hence Job definitely asserts that man will contemplate God. Since 1 Timothy 6:16 cannot contradict the teaching of Job, it must refer to literal sight, not to contemplation, and therefore the exegesis of the Complaint is thus shown to be mistaken. The spirituality and the invisibility of God, not his unthinkability, is also taught in John 1:18 and John 6:46, and to this teaching the former of these verses expressly adds the fact of revelation. Therefore these verses should not have been cited to prove that God has knowledge which he cannot reveal to man.

Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong unto Jehovah God; but the thinks that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever,” also supports Dr. Clark's view of the knowledge of God. Man cannot of himself discover God's secrets; he can know only what God reveals to him; but when truths are revealed, they are revealed to be understood, for they “belong unto us and to our children forever.” Further, no one has a right to set a limit on the power of God to reveal in heaven any item which is now among the secret things. Until it is revealed, man cannot discover it; it is indeed incomprehensible because it is unrevealed.

Two other passages cited likewise agree with Dr. Clark's view: Matthew 11:27 (and Luke 10:22), “Neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.” Only the Son has that original and underived knowledge of the Father, which can initiate a revelation. Man cannot know God unless the Son “willeth to reveal him.” But when the Son reveals God, man can know him truly insofar as he is revealed, and that knowledge is true knowledge, true both for God and for man.

Romans 11:33, cited in the Complaint but not quoted, also teaches the same Scriptural doctrine that Dr. Clark accepts. None of these verses gives a hint of the Complaint's strange teaching that there is a part of God's knowledge which he cannot reveal to man, did he choose to do so, without destroying the distinction between the Creator and the creature. It is pertinent to ask just how the distinction between the Creator and the creature would be destroyed, if God made man understand some given item of knowledge so that God's knowledge and man's knowledge coincided at the point revealed by God to man. Of course God's knowledge of the subject would not be exhausted by what he revealed to man, but insofar as man understood the one revealed truth, his knowledge would coincide with that part of God's knowledge that God has chosen to reveal. The given proposition would be true both for God and for man; but what God does not reveal remains incomprehensible.

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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