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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.


   

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