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, January 22, 2016

Gordon H. Clark: Of Saving Faith

 "That the Spirit of God can in fact operate on our minds and cause us to turn to God has already been discussed in the previous chapters, from which we can now repeat Psalm 65:4..." 

"...the objective difficulty reduces to the question whether the unity of truth can be preserved or whether data, precisely because they are data, must be disconnected and unsystematic."

Dr. Gordon H. Clark

There are many antinomians on the internet who like to quote Dr. Gordon H. Clark out of context as if his view of saving faith as knowledge plus intellectual assent supports their blatant hyper-Calvinism.  However, Dr. Clark held that the Bible is propositional revelation and that all the parts of Scripture fit together into a logical system of theological truth that can be summarized.  The Westminster Confession of Faith is the best summary of the system of propositional truth in the Bible according to Dr. Clark.  Saving faith cannot be divorced from the whole Bible or from the rest of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Saving Faith is in chapter 14 of the WCF, which is listed in order of priority according to Dr. Clark.  The most important doctrine according to the Westminster divines is Scripture.   The Trinity is chapter 2 and predestination is in chapter 3.   

From the article on saving faith posted at the Trinity website we learn that Dr. Clark rejected the threefold view of saving faith as knowledge, assent, and trust.  This is because the Greek word for faith is pisteuo.  The Greek language is used in the Bible, not the Latin Vulgate translation.   The Greek word means faith, assent, belief, trust.  All four terms are precise synonyms and mean the same thing.  So according to Dr. Clark you are saying that if saving faith is knowledge, assent, and trust you are just repeating yourself.  You would be saying that saving faith is knowledge, faith and faith.  Or to put it another way, saving faith is knowledge, belief and belief.  But this is utter nonsense:

The usual evangelical analysis of belief separates it into three parts: notitia, assensus, and fiducia-or understanding, assent, and trust. Perhaps even theologians who use this analysis might omit fiducia if they confined themselves to belief as such; for in a colloquial manner a person who believes that Columbus discovered America in 1492, or in 1374, is not taken as an example of trust. Yet is he not actually an example of confidence?


The crux of the difficulty with the popular analysis of faith into notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust), is that fiducia comes from the same root as fides (faith). Hence this popular analysis reduces to the obviously absurd definition that faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith. Something better than this tautology must be found.
Gordon H. Clark.  "Saving Faith," in the Trinity Review.  December 1979. 

The Van Tilians and other neo-Calvinists accuse Scripturalists of antinomianism because they reject the tautological definition of saving faith as knowledge plus faith plus trust.  Unfortunately, some so-called Clarkians are antinomians and it is not because they reject Clark's definition of saving faith in this article.  But it is because they isolate this one article by Clark which is right on the mark and then ignore the system of theology that Clark advocated.  Clark held that propositions cannot be isolated from one another but must fit into an epistemological and logical system in order for there to be knowledge:

These two difficulties concern the function of the human mid [sic] in its obtaining truth, and may therefore be called subjective. One should also distinguish certain objective considerations, for the two questions, What is truth? and How do we know?, although related, are not identical. Further use of this distinction will be made later; so far as empiricism goes, the objective difficulty reduces to the question whether the unity of truth can be preserved or whether data, precisely because they are data, must be disconnected and unsystematic. A mere mention of this objective difficulty must suffice at this point in view of the contention that the subjective difficulties with empiricism seem to be insuperable.
Dr. Gordon H. Clark in "The Nature of Truth," The Gordon H. Clark Foundation.   (Should say "human mind" where you see sic).

What Clark argued in the above article should be compared with what he also said in his other writings in regards to faith and to the other parts of the system of theological truth deduced from Scripture.

One foolish supporter of Scripturalism stupidly said that assurance of salvation is a feeling of confidence.  But that goes against the theology and philosophy of Dr. Clark who said that truth is not based on feelings but on logical consistency and propositional knowledge.  All knowledge is propositional.  In Dr. Clark's commentary on chapter 14 of the Westminster Confession of Faith he rejects both antinomianism and psychology as elements of saving faith.  By implication that would likewise mean that assurance of salvation is not based on emotional or psychological feelings but on a knowledge of one's own personal propositions that he or she thinks:

CHAPTER XIV—Of Saving Faith

  1.      The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, (Heb. 10:39) is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, (2 Cor. 4:13, Eph. 1:17–19, Eph. 2:8) and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, (Rom. 10:14,17) by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened. (1 Pet. 2:2, Acts 20:32, Rom. 4:11, Luke 17:5, Rom. 1:16–17)
  2.      By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; (John 4:42, 1 Thess. 2:13, 1 John 5:10, Acts 24:14) and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, (Rom. 16:26) trembling at the threatenings, (Isa. 66:2) and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. (Heb. 11:13, 1 Tim. 4:8) But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. (John 1:12, Acts 16:31, Gal. 2:20, Acts 15:11)
  3.      This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; (Heb. 5:13–14, Rom. 4:19–20, Matt. 6:30, Matt. 8:10) may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: (Luke 22:31–32, Eph. 6:16, 1 John 5:4–5) growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, (Heb. 6:11–12, Heb. 10:22) who is both the author and finisher of our faith. (Heb. 12:2)

The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

In commenting on section 1, Dr. Clark says:

The first section of this chapter contains two main ideas: (1) faith is the work of Christ's Spirit within us, and (2) faith is ordinarily produced through the Word of God.
Point one involves the relationship and cooperation between the Spirit and our minds.  Many people are puzzled by the idea that the Spirit of God and the mind of man can cooperate in one and the same mental act.  A theory of free will has led these people to suppose that the human mind is impervious to the control of the Spirit.  But this is not what the Bible says.  That the Spirit can in fact operate on our minds and cause us to turn to God has already been discussed in the previous chapters, from which we may now repeat Psalm 65:4, "Blessed is the man whom thou choosest and causest to approach unto thee."  Here in this chapter it is more explicitly said that faith is produced in the souls of the elect by the Holy Spirit.  Faith is indeed something that we do; it is our own mental activity; but it is an activity that could not have been initiated by any decision of a free will, nor produced by ordinary human striving.  Faith is the gift of God.  We do indeed work out our own salvation [Philippians 2:11-12]; we are the actors; but we work it out in fear and trembling because it is God who works in us so as to cause us not only to do something, but to will to do it in the first place.  And all of this is according to God's good pleasure.  If therefore the Spirit works faith in us, we have faith; if he does does not, we don't.

....Thus it is that wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and faith are produced in our souls by the power of God.  

Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  What Do Presbyterians Believe?  (1965.  Second Edition.  (Unicoi:  Trinity Foundation, 2001).  Pp. 143-144.

As anyone can plainly see, Dr. Clark was correcting a logical error that the neo-Calvinists make in asserting that faith and trust are two different aspects of saving faith.  They cannot be two different things if the two terms are synonymous.  But that is not to say that Clark was teaching antinomianism as both the Van Tilian detractors and the misinformed "Scripturalists" who isolate one article by Dr. Clark from the rest of his writings propose.  Obviously all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, not just the passages that teach justification by the instrumental means of faith and faith alone.  The quote above clearly indicates that saving faith involves knowledge and assent but that saving faith also results in conversion, repentance and sanctification.  Do I really need to quote from other chapters of Dr. Clark's commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith to demonstrate my point?


CHAPTER XIII—Of Sanctification

  1.      They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, (1 Cor. 6:11, Acts 20:32, Phil. 3:10, Rom. 6:5–6) by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them, (John 17:17, Eph. 5:26, 2 Thess. 2:13) the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, (Rom. 6:6,14) and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; (Gal. 5:24, Rom. 8:13) and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, (Col. 1:11, Eph. 3:16–19) to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. (2 Cor. 7:1, Heb. 12:14)

The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

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