Clark Quick Quote

“In describing the nature of faith, fundamentalists, evangelicals, and even modernists in a certain way, stress the element of trust … A preacher may draw a parallel between trusting in Christ and trusting in a chair. Belief that the chair is solid and comfortable, mere intellectual assent to such a proposition will not rest your weary bones. You must, the preacher insists, actually sit in the chair. Or, as another minister recently said, mere belief that a bank is safe and sound will not protect your cash or give you any interest.  You must actually put your money in the bank. Similarly, so goes the argument, you can believe all that the Bible says about Christ and it will do you no good.  Such illustrations as these are constantly used, in spite of the fact that the Bible itself says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”

There is here at least a lack of analysis, a confounding of something Scriptural and something that is not, a failure to equate two sides of an analogy. The weak point of such illustrations is that they compare faith with the physical act of sitting in a chair and distinguish it from belief. Belief in Christ does not rest your weary bones, for belief is mere assent. In addition you must actually sit down or deposit your money in the bank. But this analogy does not hold. The distinction between believing that a chair is comfortable and the act of sitting in it is perfectly obvious. But in the spiritual realm there is no physical action; there is mental action only: hence the act of sitting down, if it means anything at all, must refer to something completely internal, and yet different from belief. Belief that the chair has been made to stand for belief in Christ, and according to the illustration belief in Christ does not save. Something else is needed. But what is this something else that corresponds to the physical act of sitting down?  This is the question that is seldom if ever answered. The evangelists put all their stress on sitting down, but never identify its analogue.” Religion, Reason, and Revelation 95-96.

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28 Comments on “Clark Quick Quote”

  1. Steve M Says:

    Those who use these analogies (at least the ones with whom I am familiar), use them in an attempt to imply that works are an ingredient of faith (of the saving variety). The same ones then vehemently deny that they are teaching justifation by faith and works.

    The Apostle Paul says:
    “To him who works not, but belives on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”

    Paul clearly distinguishes between faith and works in more than just this instance. In this instance, he makes it clear that works play no role whatsoever in justification. The verbal and mental gymastics that some folks will go to in order to miss this point is mind-boggling.

    Discussions with them usually become tedious (though still necessary) at some point.

  2. Pht Says:

    Every time I hear people using analogies to try and clarify things I immediately think of this reference:

    Mark 4:10-12
    And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

    I have the urge to get out the clue-bat and hit them and ask them if they’ve ever read this passage or the other ones like it.

    IMO, If you can’t explain something in clearly in simple lay terms without using an analogy … you don’t understand it yourself.

    Or maybe you do understand it, and you could explain it simply, but you’re trying to confuse everyone about your topic.


    It’s a sign of our unconformed minds that we always try to add something “more” to saving belief than simply understanding+assent to the truth of what is understood.”

    I suspect this may be in no small part due to the problem that our churches don’t teach about the idea of logical necessary consequence.

    People don’t understand that IF you actually understand and assent to the gospel, you WILL, as a necessary consequence of that belief, behave in a certain way.

  3. Sean Gerety Says:

    Clearly Clark didn’t anticipate the FV men who clearly identify the analogue to sitting down and that is obeying the law. As Peter Leithart said:

    “We do have the same obligation that Adam (and Abraham, and Moses, and David and Jesus) had, namely, the obedience of faith. And, yes, covenant faithfulness is the way of salvation, for the “doers of the law will be justified” at the final judgment” (Prosecution’s Brief, page 8).

    Faith alone is not the way of salvation, but doing the law is. Leithart isn’t alone as the vast majority in the PCA think that no one is saved by simply believing the Gospel. If they paid attention to Clark they wouldn’t now be reaping what they’ve sowed.

  4. JR Says:

    I would tend to say the analogy could be akin to that of repentence (also rightly seen as a work of God, not of our own works, but an outward testimony of faith that abides in us).
    WCF 11.2 Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.
    WCF 11.4 God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect; and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification nevertheless, they are not justified, until
    the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.
    WCF 11.5 God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and, although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly
    displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.

  5. Steve M Says:

    I am sitting on an airplane right now. On my way to this seat, I passed by many seats that I believed would support my weight, but I didn’t sit in any of them. I am still, none-the-less, thoroughly convinced that any of them would have supported my weight. I would have chosen one in the exit row, but someone beat me to it. He was bigger than me and it is supporting his weight, so I have no reason to believe it wouldn’t support mine. There is obviously something about trusting a chair that I don’t understand.

  6. I recently bought and read the e-book version of What Is the Christian Life? It seems to me that Clark’s understanding of justification and sanctification follows the systematic propositions laid out in the Westminster Confession. According to the Confession, the assurance of salvation can be lost if we are disobedient. But election and salvation itself cannot be lost. Also, Clark clearly said that salvation is the total package, not simply singling out “eternal security” as a one time decision. The perseverance of the saints involves setbacks and such but the believing elect are brought to repentance. But what is even more to the point is that Clark himself pointed out that we can never know enough or obey enough to attain to an absolute knowledge of whether or not we know enough or obey enough to know the difference between a false assurance and a true assurance. For this we can only look to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Without it we are right back in the Federal Vision/Papist error of works righteousness and self-justification:

    Perhaps someone will say that it is wrong to seek for a method of achieving assurance. It is a gift of God, we cannot earn it; there is nothing for us to do except to hope that God favors us. Well, it is true that assurance, like faith, is a gift of God, but though regeneration and faith can have no preparation on our part, assurance or at least sanctification requires certain actions by us. Perhaps method is not the proper term, but John tells us that “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” The usual exegesis of “these things” that John wrote is that faith, love, and obedience, while they do not automatically produce assurance, are nonetheless requirements for being a candidate, so to speak, to receive it. Actually love is one form of obedience, since it is commanded, and hence belief and overt obedience are the two prerequisites.

    There is, however, a difficulty. It is the same one Luther struggled with before he discovered the doctrine of justification. In Romanism he was supposed to earn his salvation by good works, penance, flagellation, and various monkish practices. But, being very sincere, he was troubled because he could never be sure that he had done enough. A similar difficulty arises here. If we wish to distinguish a valid assurance from a false assurance, how can we know that we have a sufficient theological knowledge and a sufficient degree of obedience to have met the requirements? Do we love deeply enough? Have we satisfied John’s criteria? Is there any devotional writer who has forthrightly faced this problem? It is hard to believe that none of them has thought of it. If as previously stated, Louis Berkhof’s temporary faith can last a lifetime, how can the true be identified in contrast with the false?

    Gordon H. Clark (2013-03-04T05:00:00+00:00). What Is The Christian Life? (Kindle Locations 754-768). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

    It seems to me that apostasy is a real possibility as many who were apparently believers have decided to reject their assent to the truth and instead accept a false system of propositions. Perseverance is an actual perseverance, not merely a contingent or hypothetical perseverance. Yet, until the hour of death we do not and cannot know as humans whether or not that person will be given the gift of repentance.

    Clearly easy believism is wrong. But in my opinion, so is Lordship salvation. That view gives a false assurance based on obedience. As Clark says above we cannot know if we have obeyed enough or that we know enough. Although obedience is certainly a contributor to our assurance, ultimately assurance is rooted in justification by faith alone. I’m sure Clark said that in other places but it would take too long to dig out the quotes.

    Since we are not God we cannot intuitively know as God knows. Thus, we can only operate through the means/instrument of belief, faith, assent. It is the obedience and faithfulness of Christ in his active obedience that merits for the elect their salvation. It is his passive obedience that vicariously substitutes for the penalty due to the elect sinner.

    Sincerely in Christ,


  7. Lauren Kuo Says:

    It seems like there is a continual confusion between works and fruit. The unconverted look at obedience as works to earn one’s justification. The Federal Vision falls (and I really mean “falls”) into this category. The converted, on the other hand, look at obedience as the fruit of one’s justification. That is why the Bible tells us to work OUT our salvation – to show what a truly born-again redeemed sinner looks like. Since the Federal Vision teaches only one covenant – not two – its followers still remain stuck in the covenant of works – obedience to the law. And, we can see what this unconverted state looks like as Paul relates his previous state in Galatians 1:13.

  8. Amen. A tree is supported by its roots, not the other way around. Romans 11:18. And a living tree produces fruits of repentance and obedience Philippians 1:9-11, albeit imperfect obedience. Isaiah 64:6. But even the plowing of the wicked is sinful in God’s eyes. Proverbs 21:4. Without faith it is impossible to please Him.. Hebrews 11:6….

  9. Hugh McCann Says:

    The four nastiest words to Arminians, Federal Visionaries, Papists, most ‘Reformed’ folk, et. al.:

    belief is mere assent!

    Say it over and over to yourself and to your friends.

    Belief is mere assent.

  10. Hugh McCann Says:

    Steve M – Hope you’re safe home from your travels!

    Getting on an airplane, on your way to your seat, you passed by many seats that you believed would support your weight ~These represent the false ‘christs’ or the false teachers who try to lead us astray.~ but you didn’t sit in any of them. ~For you hungered & thirsted after the true righteousness!

    You were still, none-the-less, thoroughly convinced that any of them would have supported your weight. ~They try to seduce you with flattering words, saying to you, “Lo, here is Christ, or there!”

    You would have chosen one in the exit row ~To avoid the false teachers!~ but someone ~Non-elect~ beat you to it.

    He was bigger than you ~The ‘strong man’? A ‘super-apostle’?~ and it supported his weight ~False gospels may deliver from some outward wickedness, but they never truly save from sin.

    So you have no reason to believe it wouldn’t support yours. ~The false teachers ARE attractive, no doubt!

    There is obviously something about trusting a chair that you don’t understand. ~Me too, obviously! 😉

  11. Denson Dube Says:

    We must always keep in mind that it is not by our own righteousness, wisdom or merit in any form whatsoever, that we have come to believe the truth, but through God’s predestinating grace and for his own glory. Those who do not, it has not been given to them.
    @And yes, Hugh, belief is mere assent. We are saved through mere assent to the gospel propositions. Those who advocate for total surrender, total commitment, etc etc are literally beyond belief.

  12. Hugh McCann Says:

    Nice turn of phrase, Denson, in your last sentence @ 1:50am.

  13. Hugh McCann Says:

    Hey everybody – the ‘Tabletalk’ magazine for June, 2013 is about –you guessed it– faith & repentance”! Yea!

    The illustration therein is not of a chair, but of “three people …dropped without food or water into the middle of a very large field full of land mines…” (pp. 8f). 😛

    In his “What Faith is and Is Not,” Guy Richard (1st PCA, Gulfport, MS) has the tri-fold faith thing going strong, including some impressive Latin! As well as the “offer” of the gospel! Guy authored the Ligonier booklet, What is Faith? 😦

    Guy’s fiducia: “This element consists in a personal trust in Christ as he is offered in the gospel and a complete reliance upon him for salvation.” 😡
    This is anonymous, but standard fare in Reformed-land: : “…the faith that justifies us, includes three aspects,” blah blah blah… 😥

  14. justbybelief Says:

    belief [faith] is mere assent


    Some, also, turn repentance into a work (amending of life), so that, repenting and believing is synonymous with faith plus works.

    I jettisoned Ligonier in the early 90’s by God’s grace.


  15. Gordon H. Clark:

    As so often in the epistles, here too Paul completely rules out all human claims to merit. Salvation is a free gift. It originates entirely from God and not at all from the will or actions of man. If indeed the Christian voluntarily corrects his conduct and advances in sanctification, it is because God gives him the ability and the will. True enough, we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, but we do so because God works in us both to will and to do, and this divine working depends solely on God’s good pleasure. — Gordon H. Clark.

    Commentaries on Paul’s Epistles: Ephesians. (Unicoi: Trinity Foundation, 1985), page 27. [Cf. Ephesians 1:6 KJV]. [/blockquote]

  16. Lauren Kuo Says:

    True faith also gives the genuine believer a vision of man’s nature apart from God’s grace but also keeps us from despairing of anyone. Ironically, the Federal Vision false gospel aids in bringing home that truth.

  17. Steve M Says:

    I had a discussion on the subject of faith with Turretin Fan in which he alluded to the chair illustration. If anyone is interested in reading it, I have posted it on my blog. I hope it might serve as food for thought for anyone interested in the subject.

  18. Hugh McCann Says:

    T-fan absolves Augustine, too. Little worth, methinks. 😦

  19. justbybelief Says:

    Faith is a gift from God. Understanding what faith is, is a gift from God. Man in his natural state is hostile to the things of God. The natural mind cannot conceive of a salvation devoid of human effort accomplished by someone else, and that even the ability to receive it–that which comes by words, a proclamation of propositions–is a gift as well.

    Who in their right mind fights against a wonderful gift that he is unable to earn?

  20. Hugh McCann Says:

    J2B – Who in their right mind fights against a wonderful gift that he is unable to earn?

    DD – Those who advocate for total surrender, total commitment, etc etc are literally beyond belief.

    J2B – Man in his natural state is hostile to the things of God.


  21. justbybelief Says:

    “Those who advocate for total surrender, total commitment, etc etc are literally beyond belief.”

    Yes! They’re out of a right state of mind.

  22. Jon Says:

    Belief may be mere assent at the start, though I suspect it must become something more with time.

  23. Steve M Says:

    Jon: “Belief may be mere assent at the start, though I suspect it must become something more with time,”

    “Mere” assent to what?

  24. Jon Says:

    To the Gospel, Steve.

  25. Jon Says:

    Mere assent to the Gospel may constitute the beginning of the life of faith. That mere assent, however, will undoubtedly grow into a lively faith and an enduring hope if that person has believed.

  26. Jon Says:

    The old question is: what comes first? I believe God’s grace precedes us at all times. It precedes everything we do. So when we hear the faith message, the message of the gospel, that Christ died for our sins and rose so we can live again, we can believe. If we do, God’s Spirit regenerates us. His grace goes before us and his Spirit follows. This, I think, is the order, though I could be wrong.

  27. Jon Says:

    The calvinist view is that the Spirit goes ahead of us to regenerate us, allowing us to have faith. We believe because we are regenerated, they say. The armminian says we believe bevause of God’s grace, and after we believe, we gain the Holy Spirit. Scripture has been read boht ways.

  28. Roger Says:

    The calvinist view is that the Spirit goes ahead of us to regenerate us, allowing us to have faith. We believe because we are regenerated, they say. The armminian says we believe bevause of God’s grace, and after we believe, we gain the Holy Spirit. Scripture has been read boht ways.

    Yes, and the Arminian reading is false. Scripture plainly teaches that “the natural man [i.e., unregenerate] does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) A spiritually dead man cannot receive or know the spiritual message of the gospel, period. Indeed, “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3) Arminians are willfully blind to the clear teaching of Scripture.

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