Posts Tagged ‘Gordon Clark’

The Reformed Faith and the Westminster Confession

The Reformed Faith and the Westminster Confession

Gordon H. Clark

Editor’s note: This address was originally delivered in Weaverville, North Carolina, August 17, 1955. It was first printed in the second edition of God’s Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics (1987 & 1995). Although written 55 years ago, the content of this address is very applicable to the church today. There are many presbyterian denominations that claim to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and Catechisms, but by the decisions of their general assemblies and presbyteries, and by their practice, these churches deny the system of doctrine taught in these standards. Witness the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s (OPC) 2003 General Assembly decision to exonerate John Kinnaird, after the Presbytery of Philadelphia had found him guilty of teaching the error of justification by faith and works. Additionally, the OPC’s “Report of the Committee to Study the Views of Creation” presented to the 2004 General Assembly stated that widely divergent teachings on the nature and length of the days of creation in Genesis 1 all fall into the category of “literal” and “historical” interpretations; therefore, contradictory views of the days of creation can be held as orthodox within the OPC. Witness also the Northwest Presbytery of the Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC) and its recent report wherein it agrees with the OPC’s decision to overturn Elder John Kinnaird’s heresy charges. And most recently, witness the Pacific Northwest Presbytery (PNW) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and its exoneration of Federal Visionist Peter Leithart, and its refrain that the PNW committee “does not judge Dr. Leithart’s views to be out of accord with the WCF.” Do these churches and other churches that claim the Westminster Standards as the constitutional standards of their church truly subscribe to them, or merely pay lip service to them?


By the invitation of The Southern Presbyterian Journal I have the privilege of addressing this distinguished and consecrated audience on the subject of “The Reformed Faith and the Westminster Confession.” This title is not to be interpreted as introducing and exposition of the Confession’s thirty-three chapters with their several articles. Nor does it announce an historical account of the Westminster Assembly and the later role of its creed. On the contrary, I propose to speak of the significance of the Westminster Confession as an existing document, a document to which ministers and churches subscribe as defining their policy and stating their reason for existence, a document that distinguishes Biblical Christianity from all other forms of thought and belief. Moreover I hope to indicate, all too briefly, its significance with reference to contemporary circumstances. For this purpose it seems best to divide the document into two parts, Chapter I and all the rest.

Chapter I of the Westminster Confession asserts that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God written. Its sixty-six books are all given by inspiration of God. The authority for which Holy Scripture ought to be believed and obeyed depends wholly upon God, the author thereof. In these books the whole counsel of God for man’s salvation is either expressly set down or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from its statements. Therefore, concludes Chapter I, the Supreme Judge, by whom all decrees of councils and doctrines of men are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other than the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.

One day I stood beside a small lake in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming. Water flowed out of the lake from both ends. The water that flowed out one end descended into stifling canyons and blistering deserts of Utah and Arizona; the water that flowed out the other end of this lake went through the fertile fields of the Midwest. I was standing on the great continental divide.

Metaphorically the first chapter of the Westminster Confession is a continental divide. Although the written Word of God has been the touchstone of pure doctrine in all ages, the twentieth century shows still more clearly that this chapter forms the great divide between two types of religion, or to make it of broader application, between two types of philosophy. Perhaps it would be plainer to say that the acceptance of the Bible as God’s written revelation separates true Christianity from all other types of thought. In order to be specific and in order to face our immediate responsibilities, let us select two contemporary schools of philosophy, each of which in its own way contrasts sharply with the first chapter of our Confession.

Atheism

The first of these two – and the more obviously anti-Christian movement – is variously called naturalism, secularism, or humanism. These names are simply more complimentary titles for what formerly was bluntly called atheism. The purpose of this meeting may not seem to call for a discussion of atheism; with its denial of God and therefore of revelation, naturalism may appear to be a philosophical development that the church can afford to ignore. But a church that ignores secular humanism is simply shutting its eyes to the situation around about and failing to maintain the first chapter of the Confession against all opponents. Unfortunately brevity is required, and therefore without any reference to Communism, the most blatant form of atheism, mention will be made only of certain political and certain educational events on the American scene.

God and Logic

God and Logic

Gordon H. Clark

In thinking about God, Calvinists almost immediately repeat the Shorter Catechism and say, “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.” Perhaps we do not pause to clarify our ideas of spirit, but hurry on to the attributes of “wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” But pause: Spirit, Wisdom, Truth. Psalm 31:5 addresses God as “O Lord God of truth.John 17:3 says,” This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God….” 1 John 5:6 says, “the Spirit is truth.” Such verses as these indicate that God is a rational, thinking being whose thought exhibits the structure of Aristotelian logic.

If anyone objects to Aristotelian logic in this connection-and presumably he does not want to replace it with the Boolean-Russellian symbolic logic-let him ask and answer whether it is true for God that if all dogs have teeth, some dogs-spaniels-have teeth? Do those who contrast this “merely human logic” with a divine logic mean that for God all dogs may have teeth while spaniels do not? Similarly, with “merely human” arithmetic: two plus two is four for man, but is it eleven for God? Ever since Bernard distrusted Abelard, it has been a mark of piety in some quarters to disparage “mere human reason”; and at the present time existentialistic, neo-orthodox authors object to “straight-line” inference and insist that faith must “curb” logic. Thus they not only refuse to make logic an axiom, but reserve the right to repudiate it. In opposition to the latter view, the following argument will continue to insist on the necessity of logic; and with respect to the contention that Scripture cannot be axiomatic because logic must be, it will be necessary to spell out in greater detail the meaning of Scriptural revelation.

Now, since in this context verbal revelation is a revelation from God, the discussion will begin with the relation between God and logic. Afterward will come the relation between logic and the Scripture. And finally the discussion will turn to logic in man.

The Trinity

The Trinity

Gordon H. Clark

In the New Testament the three Persons are clearly portrayed, and the people of God in this age must face the problem of how the three can be one and the one three. The Old Testament is by no means abrogated. We are not polytheists or tri-theists, but monotheists; and Gregory of Nazianzen well said, “I cannot think of the one, but I am immediately surrounded with the splendor of the three; nor can I clearly discover the three but I am suddenly carried back to the one.” Christians are monotheists and Trinitarians. As Calvin (Institutes, I, xiii, 2) said, “While he declares himself to be but One, he proposes himself to be distinctly considered in Three Persons, without apprehending which, we have only a bare empty name of God floating in our brains, without any idea of the true God.”

For this very reason it seems that Calvin overdoes his warnings against vain curiosity. No doubt some people waste time in idle curiosity; but they must be few in number, for the general populace spends very little time considering the Trinity or any other part of Christianity. Of course, it is also true that all of us make mistakes in our theology. No one is in errant. Therefore, as Calvin says, we should be prudent, careful, and reverent. We must consider every doctrine, not the Trinity only, from every angle. We must ask: Is our exegesis correct? Are our summaries as complete as required? Are our inferences valid? But with all due caution, it still seems that modern man should be urged to be more curious about the faith, rather than less.

The Cosmological Argument

The Cosmological Argument

Gordon H. Clark

Thomas Aquinas rejected the Platonic cast of Augustine’s theology and based his thought on Aristotle. Therefore he had no time for the ontological argument, but reconstructed the cosmological argument. To refer again to the question of knowledge, the difference between these two arguments is basically a difference in epistemology: For Augustine it was not necessary to start with sensory experience, for one could go directly from the soul to God; but Aquinas wrote, “The human intellect …. is at first like a clean tablet on which nothing is written” (Summa Theologica I, Q:97, 2). It is sensation that writes on the tabula rasa. The mind has no form of its own. All its contents come from sensation. On this basis, Thomas gave five arguments for God’s existence; but the first four are almost identical, and the fifth is so little different, that only the first will be reproduced here:

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain and evident to our senses that in the world some things are in motion. Now, whatever is moved is moved by another, for nothing can be moved except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is moved; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e., that it should move itself. Therefore whatever is moved must be moved by another. If that by which it is moved be itself moved, then this also must needs be moved by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and consequently no other mover, seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are moved by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is moved by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at the first mover, moved by no other, and this everyone understands to be God.

Saving Faith by Gordon H. Clark

Saving Faith

Gordon H. Clark

Though the Larger Catechism does not address itself directly to the psychological analysis of faith or belief, this problem is one that has merited the attention, not only of Christian theologians, but also of secular philosophers. These secularists, even when they are not so successful as the theologians, have one advantage; to wit, their task is simpler because they do not consider religious complications. Many theological discussions fall into confusion because elements necessary to saving faith are assigned to any belief whatever. Here one must first try to analyze belief as such, and then characterize those beliefs, or that belief, which justifies.

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 Logos by Gordon H Clark

The Logos

Gordon H. Clark

Editor’s note: Dr. Gordon Clark gave this lecture titled “The Logos” to the teachers at Chattanooga Christian School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1984, the same year that The Biblical Doctrine of Man was published.

By your gracious invitation I am here this morning to lecture, as it was suggested to me, on the first verse of John’s Gospel, where Christ is called the Logos. I published a small book on The Johannine Logos, and if anything in this short lecture interests you, you will find more complete exposition in that book.

Statistics may not provide the most interesting type of introduction, but it does not burden the brain nor injure the intellect to know that John’s Gospel uses the term Logos forty times. What is more surprising, indeed disconcerting, is that the Greek term logos can be translated by forty different English words. Liddell and Scott’s great lexicon has more than five columns, each ninety lines long, of its various meanings. The word word is hardly ever the correct translation. Liddell and Scott say explicitly that it “rarely means a single word” (page 1058, column 2).

The reason our Bibles translate logos as word is that Jerome, a monk of the early fifth century, mistranslated it as verbum. Jerome’s Vulgate, as it is called, became the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, and the texts Jerome used have become the mainstay of contemporary liberal versions. The Latin term Verbum became Word in English, though I do not know why it did not become verb, as it actually is in a new Catholic French version, La Bible de Jerusalem. At any rate, Logos hardly ever means a single word. But it has forty or more other meanings.

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