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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Friday, December 09, 2011

Clark's Answer to Van Til: On Intellect, Will, and Emotions: Part 10

Clark's Answer to Van Til: On Intellect, Will, and Emotions: Part 10

[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 above. The following is Clark's response to Van Til in regards to his views on human psychology. See Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, and Part Nine. See also, The Answer, in PDF].

The argument so far is quite sufficient to dispose of this section of the Complaint, but certain minor insinuations and misrepresentations ought to be noted in passing to prevent the Church from attributing to Dr. Clark the implications that the complainants attempt to force on him.

First, there is a certain method of argumentation that is pervasively prejudicial. The Complaint continually quotes standard theologians and makes statements of sound theology in a manner calculated to give the impression that Dr. Clark does not accept these standard positions. It would be laborious to examine each case separately. But since the Complaint misrepresents Dr. Clark when it cites evidence (and the evidence often contradicts what is asserted), the reader should be wary of accepting as true insinuations without evidence. Second, the Complaint says (P. 7, 2; O. 27), “The activity of the will which Dr. Clark subordinates to intellection seems to be little more than 'a voluntary act of paying attention,' which results in an intellectual apprehension (29:3-4).” However the transcript contradicts this assertion. The transcript (29:3-4) reads, “The intellectual apprehension is the result of a voluntary act of paying attention. You cannot know anything unless by an act of will, and yet, the knowing itself is an act of intellectual apprehension because of its volitional aspects.” The last five words of this quotation from the transcript do not make sense, yet the preceding part of the sentence is clear. It says that with every intellectual act there must be a voluntary act of paying attention. From this familiar Augustinian position the complainants deduce the absurd conclusion that the only action of the will is a voluntary paying of attention. One might as well argue that since some Greeks are Athenians, all Greeks are Athenians. The complainants argue that since intellectual apprehension requires voluntary attention, there is no other form of volitional activity. Aside from historical background and aside from questions of logic the transcript itself furnished sufficient evidence to show the falsity of the assertion now under discussion. In the transcript (17, 3), Dr. Clark refers to the fourth commandment as an object for voluntary obedience; and on pag 32, 4 he mentions the eighth commandment as requiring an act of obedience. Obviously obedience to these is not merely voluntary attention to their words so as to understand them. Such attention is necessary but it is not the only form of volitional action.

A third of these minor points—minor for the purpose of refuting the Complaint—is the attempt to understand Dr. Clark as predicating of God the same hierarchical relationship as the discussion has attributed to man. Now, aside from denying emotional upsets to God, and this is good Reformed theology, Dr. Clark said nothing about the relation of intellect and will in God. But the general argument (P. 8, 1-2; O. 30, 31), proceeds on the assumption that Dr. Clark asserts a primacy of the intellect in God as well as in man. Because of this underlying assumption they assert (P. 8, 2; O. 31), “Reformed theology seems to be barren of any references to a primacy of the intellect in God. In fact, every indication is that whatever distinguishable faculties exist in God are equally fundamental, equally prominent, equally significant, and of equal functional level.” Since Dr. Clark made no remarks on the subject, the argument is beside the point. But since the complainants have introduced such extraneous matter, it is wise to include in this reply the quotation from Breckenridge referred to above.

Robert J. Breckenridge, The Knowledge of God Objectively Considered, 1858, page 289, writes:

Intellect and Will appertain exclusively to that which is spiritual; and Power is inseparable from our primary conception of Will, directed by Intelligence. When we add to the infinite spirit thus endowed, Wisdom and Knowledge as infinite as they, and all as infinite as the essence of which all of them are Attributes; we may be said to have as complete a conception as we can entertain of the sublime outline of God's rational nature, considered separately as far as we are able to do so. Whatever may be the nature of that ineffaceable distinction, which we express by The True and The False; it is inconceivable that such a Being should not eternally perceive it and eternally respect it. If his own nature is the foundation of the distinction, then the distinction is commensurate with his Being; that is, it is an infinite and eternal distinction. It is in the light of that distinction that our rational faculties take cognizance of whatever is submitted to them; it is on its reality that all increase in knowledge and all growth in wisdom on our part depend. Without it, it is not easy, if it be possible, to affix any idea to what we call Intelligence; and if it be obliterated, we obliterate at the same time the distinction between Good and Evil, since the Good is always the True, and the Evil is always the False. It is thus the rational nature of God underlies the moral nature of God; and while both aspects of his Being afford the most distinct means of surveying and comprehending it, the rational goes before the moral.” Ibid., page 426: “Passing to the moral nature of God, and to such infinite Perfections as Love, attended by Goodness and Mercy, and ordained in Justice and Longsuffering, we readily see the connection of all such affections with the divine Will: and as we contemplate in man's moral nature the image of this moral nature of God, we perceive the same connections of these moral qualities with each other, and with his Will.”

As a matter of fact Dr. Clark does not hold to a primacy of the intellect in God, but the above quotation shows that contrary to the assertion of the Complaint, this view has appeared in Reformed theology.

A fourth of these minor points is the accusation that Dr. Clark “studiously avoided answering” a certain question (P. 8, 1; O. 30); the reference being to page 16 of the transcript. Dr. Clark did not studiously avoid answering any question. The question as reported in the transcript is as follows:

Q. When the Confession of Faith says: 'God is without body, parts, or passions,' does it mean God is lacking in feeling or emotion? A. It does. Q. I'll define feelings and emotions: I mean—affection is the sense of principle activity with reference to objections. Now I'll repeat the question if you wish. A. Go ahead. Q. And by feeling or emotion I mean—in the sense of principal activity with reference to objects. A. I forget which way to answer that—yes or no. Q. The Confession of Faith says: 'God is without body, or parts.' A. The answer is yes, but I protest against the awful English of your statement, the word: 'emotion'--never mind that English. Q. You mean that God has never acted upon anything aside from himself? A. I don't understand you. Q. What I would like to know is this: We can call these feelings or emotions in God, and I would define them as analogous to our feelings and emotions and affections in the sense that that they are active principles, active with reference to objects. For example: God is angry with the wicked; God loves his people eternally; would you deny that? A. That is right, right; What you say is right. Q. That is what the Confession means? A. No, what—not what it means right there—not what the Confession means.

Obviously Dr. Clark was merely telling the truth when he said, “I don't understand you.” The question is virtually unintelligible. There is no evidence of intent to avoid an answer. The transcript shows that Dr. Clark holds that God is angry with the wicked, that God eternally loves his people; but this is not what the Confession is talking about when it says God is without body, parts, or passions.

Fifth and last: the Complaint asserts (P. 10, 2; O. 40), Dr. Clark does not deny the necessity or fact of regeneration but he makes no absolute qualitative distinction between the knowledge of the unregenerate man and the knowledge of the regenerate man. With the same ease, the same 'common sense,' the unregenerate and the regenerate man can understand propositions revealed to man (p. 20; 28:13-16; 31:13-17; 34:13-35:2).” If the complainants had quoted these passages from the transcript instead of merely referring to them, everyone could have seen that all but the last have nothing to do with the matter of regeneration, and that the last is contradictory of their assertion. The discussion had centered on the proposition “two times two equals four.” Dr. Clark had asserted that any man who knows this proposition knows it by means of the definitions of the numbers and by the laws of logic. Then the transcript continues:

Q. Where do we get those laws of logic? A. 'Every man that cometh into the world.' (Obviously the transcript omits part of the quotation.) [Charlie's note: see John 1:9 KJV]. Q. Is it possible that by the effective sin, man will not be able to deduce by the propositions concerning God? A. That is often the case.”

In other words, the complainants imply that Dr. Clark holds that regeneration does not renew the mind or that sin has not affected it; whereas Dr. Clark said specifically that sin often causes men to commit logical fallacies. Thus the complainants cite evidence that is not only irrelevant, but also evidence that contradicts their charge. Some further study of the knowledge of a regenerate man and of an unregenerate man might prove profitable, but the subject can be accorded only the briefest mention. Both the regenerate and the unregenerate can with the same ease understand the proposition, Christ died for sinners. Regeneration, in spite of the theory of the Complaint, is not a change in the understanding of these words. The difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate lies in the fact that the former believes the proposition and the latter does not. The regenerate acknowledges Christ as Lord; the other does not. The one is a willing subject; the other is a rebel. Regeneration is not necessarily a change in understanding propositions. An unregenerate man may understand the proposition that “Christ died for sinner,” but far from knowing it to be true, he thinks it to be false. Strictly speaking he knows only that “the Scriptures teach Christ died for sinners.” When he is regenerated, his understanding of the proposition may undergo no change at all; what happens is that he now accepts as true what previously he merely understood. He no longer knows merely “the Scriptures teach Christ died for sinners”; he now knows “Christ died for sinners.” Nothing in these considerations is intended to suggest that regeneration is here completely described. These remarks only bear briefly on the change of knowledge involved in regeneration. The renewal of the original image of God and the Spirit's implantation of new “habits” would require extended treatment.

The complainants continue with their accusation, saying “there is not one shred of evidence that man's religious activity undergoes any qualitative change through regeneration.” This accusation is more sweeping than the former; the former referred only to change in knowledge and understanding, while this is an accusation that covers all religious activity. But the admission of the Complaint itself that “Dr. Clark does not deny the necessity or fact of regeneration,” undermines its whole position on this matter. To grasp the situation correctly, it must be noted first that the examination before Prebytery did not concern the matter of regeneration. There is no reason therefore to expect much on the subject in the transcript. In the six­ hour examination at the March meeting of the Presbytery, Dr. Clark satisfied the Presbytery on this subject as well as on the remainder of the Confession so that there was no need to repeat the matter. The complainants wanted to discuss these other philosophical subtleties, with the result that the transcript contains little on regeneration. And in these circumstances, the complainants now charge Dr. Clark with “rationalism, humanistic intellectualism . . . vicious independence from God” (P. 10, 2; O. 40). As there is little evidence in the transcript, it may be permissible to refer to some of Dr. Clark's writings. In another section of the Complaint the complainants make such a reference; and presumeably this answer to the Complaint may do the same. This then is what Dr. Clark says in his Readings in Ethics, pp. 115-118.

But Christianity has not merely a totally different aim but a radically opposed one. In the New Testament instead of the development of the natural abilities the desirable thing is found to be the death of the natural man and the birth of a new and supernatural man. The death of the old nature is necessary because of its corruption. Even before birth every individual is implicated in Adam's original sin and alienated from the life of God. 'The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.' The result is that all have sinned, there is none righteous or capable of pleasing God in any respect whatever . . . . This new birth is accomplished not by the will of man but by the will of God which gives to those who believe on his only begotten Son the power to become the sons of God . . . . Since then man must be redeemed from sin by the blood of Jesus before he can live a truly moral life, the chief end of man will not be the development of his corrupt, unspiritual nature.”

And these are the words of one whom the complainants charge with “humanistic intellectualism” and “vicious independence from God.”

In conclusion the Presbytery believes that this section of the Complaint utterly fails to prove that Dr. Clark is out of accord with the system of doctrine of the Confession; They are not strictly theological doctrines at all, but tenuous implications from these doctrines; and the implications are fallacious. Therefore this section of the Complaint fails to show that the Philadelphia Presbytery was in error in licensing and ordaining Dr. Clark.

[This concludes the section on the Intellect, Will and Emotions. The next section is On Sovereignty and Responsibility. To be continued.]

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