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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Monday, December 12, 2011

Clark's Answer to Van Til: On the Offer of the Gospel: Part 12

Clark's Answer to Van Til: On the Offer of the Gospel: Part 12

[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, Part Nine, Part Ten, and Part Eleven. See also, The Answer, in PDF].

On the Offer of the Gospel

The last theological section of the Complaint treats of the offer of the gospel. Since the answer to the Complaint is already so voluminous, brevity at the end might be appreciated. And brevity will be sufficient, for once again the basic accusation is rationalism, and this accusation has already been refuted.

Once again also the complainants show their unwillingness to be satisfied with the wording of the Westminster Confession. In the first section of the Complaint they were not satisfied with the statement of the Confession on the incomprehensibility of God, but wished to impose on it a strange mystical irrationalism; in the second section they were unwilling to be satisfied with the Westminster doctrine which excludes passions from God's consciousness: admitting that Dr. Clark's view is correct, nevertheless they attack it; in the third section the complainants show themselves dissatisfied with the Confession's encouragement of a logical or rational approach to Scripture: here again the complainants take a position that reduces to irrationalism; and now in the last section they ignore the Confession, and appeal to an earlier and inferior creed.

The Church should note that Dr. Clark is in full accord with the Westminster Confession on the offer of the gospel. The Confession VII, iii, states: “Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” With this Dr. Clark is in full accord. The complainants, however, were not satisfied with Dr. Clark's acceptance of the Confession's statement, but insisted on the word sincere in describing the offer of the gospel.

Now as the Complaint (P. 13, 1; O. 51) admits, the word “sincere” is of little significance in any particular phrase because God is sincere in everything he does. There was no need of the Westminster divines' using it; and there was no need of the complainants using it. It is superfluous. This was one of two reasons for Dr. Clark's reluctance to use the term. It has been made clear how necessary it is to define terms accurately. The qualitative difference between the truth of a proposition for man and the same truth for God remains undefined in the Complaint. The word “emotion” is defined carelessly. In this case also Dr. Clark could not know what meaning was to be placed on the word “sincere.” And for this reason he refused to use it. The second reason is closely allied with the first. Because the word “sincere” is of such general application and can be used with various connotations, the Arminians have used it to distinguish their doctrine from ours. The Lutherans do the same thing with the word “earnestly.” According to W. G. Polack, in The Building of a Great Church, page 151, the Missouri Synod in 1881 adopted the following point among others: “We believe, teach, and confess that God has loved the world from eternity, has created all men for salvation and none for damnation, and earnestly desires the salvation of all men.”

These then are the words used by the enemies of Calvinism to make it appear odious. Dr. Clark's refusal to use such words springs from his desire not to be charged with Arminianism. He seems to have been successful, for Arminianism is one accusation the complainants do not make.

The Church would do well to compare the careless questions of the complainants in examining Dr. Clark and their careless language in the Complaint with the excellent precision of a careful theologian like R. L. Dabney. In his Syllabus and Notes (p. 559), he says:

Fifth: When we assert this sincere compassion of God in His common calls to the non-elect, we do not attribute to Him anything futile, or insincere; because, in the expressed condition: that they shall turn, He does not say anywhere, that He has any desire to see anyone saved while continuing a rebel. Nor does He say anywhere, that it is His unconditioned purpose to compel all to turn. But He says, He would like to see all saved provided they all turned. So that His will in the universal call is not out of harmony with His prescience. And last: God's invitations and warnings to those, who, He foresees, will reject them, are the necessary expressions of His perfections. The circumstance that a given sin is foreseen, does not rob it of its moral character; and hence should constitute no reason why a righteous God shall forebear to prohibit and warn against it. That God shall yet permit creatures to commit this sin against His invitations is, therefore, just the old question about the permission of evil. Not a new one.”

Though the complainants might reproach Dabney for trying to answer questions and solve paradoxes instead of letting things stand without explanation, Dabney's statement is the kind of careful wording that is to be approved; This is the form of doctrine that Dr. Clark accepts; and this is sufficient.

* * * * *

Preliminary to the final conclusion of this answer to the Complaint, the Presbytery calls attention to what is required of a Complaint intended, in this case by indirection, to prove a charge of heresy. In the famous Briggs trial fifty years ago, Mr. John J. McCook, a member of the prosecuting committee argued: “It is not necessary to dwell upon the fact that a minister cannot be tried for consequences which may be deduced from his doctrines” (page 4). In the present case, however, it is necessary to dwell upon this fact. The standards the prosecuting committee in the Briggs trial set for itself are not the standards of the present Complaint. This Complaint makes extremely tenuous deductions from Dr. Clark's statements, at times directly contradicting the evidence; Dr. Clark does not acknowledge these deductions; and yet on the basis of these unacknowledged and repudiated deductions the Complaint aks that his licensure and the decision to ordain him be declared null and void. This procedure once noticed ought not to require comment. Would church administration be all possible if ministers are to be condemned on the basis of their opponents' questionable deductions?

In conclusion, the Presbytery denies that the meeting of July 7, 1944, was illegal and that its actions are thus void. The Presbytery judges that the Complaint fails to prove that Dr. Clark's thinking “bears ll the earmarks of rationalism, humanistic intellectualism . . . vicious independence from God” (P. 10, 2; O. 40). The Presbytery denies “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” (P. 15, 3; O. 61). The Presbytery urges the complainants to study this answer to the Complaint; to acknowledge that they have misrepresented Dr. Clark's views, and that they have wronged him in charging that “Dr. Clark studiously avoided answering” (P. 8, 1; O. 30) a question asked him during his examination; and to desist from their Complaint.

[This concludes the Philadelphia Presbytery of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church's answer to The Complaint.]

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