Clark Not-So-Quick Quote

The following passage is from the section on assurance taken from Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine? (reprinted in What is the Christian Life)  and transcribe in part by James (I just filled in a few blanks).  Since so many people seem very confused regarding the relationship between knowledge and assurance, often confusing the one for the other, the following should help sort things out.     _________________________________________________________________

The Gospel promises the possibility of assurance. It does not quite promise every Christian actual assurance. It is strange that some preachers, some evangelists, even those and especially those already described, talk as if one cannot have faith without having assurance. They give the impression that you must know you are saved, if you are saved. But this is not what the Bible says. The verse from 1 John [5:13], quoted just above, said that John wrote the epistle in order that those who read it might be assured. But if regeneration ipso facto guaranteed assurance, it would not be necessary to write an epistle encouraging assurance and giving direction on how assurance can be obtained.

…II Peter1:5 does not explicitly mention assurance, but the section has to do with God’s “exceeding great and precious promises” with which he “called us to glory and virtue,” so that the remainder of the section describes how we may be assured of profiting by those promises.  Verse five then says, “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to your virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance … for if these things be in you, and abound, they shall make you that ye shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Without minimizing the other items in this list, it is well to emphasize knowledge. If one wishes assurance, he will try to increase his knowledge.   Knowledge is mentioned twice in the section.  Therefore, if one wishes assurance that he is regenerated, let him ask himself, Do I study the Scriptures?  How much of it do I know?  Some people know so very little; some people believe so very little; some evangelists must have so very little assurance.

… The Westminster Confession puts the matter very strongly. “this certainty is not a bar conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidences of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God: which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”

Though the wording is very clear, it may be necessary in this age to point out two places where misunderstanding may arise.  First, the infallibility mentioned is not ours, as if we are infallible. The infallibility belongs to the promises of God. There is no hint here that we rise to the level of the inspired authors of the Bible. This would be a reversal to the Romish position that a supernatural revelation is necessary.  All that is necessary is the Scripture. The second point at which a misunderstanding may occur is the reference to the Spirit witnessing with our spirits. Here too, the same idea is involved. The Spirit witnesses with our spirits as we study the Bible. He does not witness to our spirits, as if giving an additional revelation.  Aside from these two matters, the Westminster Confession is clear.

The fourth and last point with reference to assurance is that, although salvation can never be lost, assurance can. That this is so, and that in addition assurance can be restored, is all seen in a very fine passage in Micah 7:7-9: “Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause and execute judgment for me.  He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.” When David was thus bearing the indignation of the Lord, he prayed, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation…. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O Lord, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Gordon Clark, Theology

6 Comments on “Clark Not-So-Quick Quote”

  1. Hugh McCann Says:

    Well, here’s the end to all debate. Clark said; you believe it; that settles it, eh? 😉

    I’ll hopefully have more later, God willing, but the first two sentences are certainly written authoritatively, aren’t they?

    But merely “the possibility of…,” eh?

    Yes, “John wrote the epistle in order that those who read it might be assured.” Amen.

    This is not a good argument (as we’ve shown elsewhere): “Does But if regeneration ipso facto guaranteed assurance, it would not be necessary to write an epistle encouraging assurance and giving direction on how assurance can be obtained.”

    A Scripture comfort (a fruit of the Spirit) does not necessarily indicate the complete absence of the comfort/ fruit.

    An exhortation to love doesn’t indicate that the one being exhorted does not already love. Paul can tell the Thessalonians to do what they’re already doing:

    But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more {1 Thes. 4:9f}

    Also RE: edification: Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. {1 Thes. 5:11}

    One is to grow in the gifts of the Spirit that s/he already owns and enjoys.

    Does not regeneration ipso facto guarantee love, joy, peace, et. al.?
    Do we not grow in all of these?
    So do the saints grow in their assurance of God’s saving love!

    Regeneration without love is false. So too that which has no assurance. God comforts us. By the Spirit through the word. Just as the Spirit (with his love, joy, faith, et. al.) cannot be completely lost, neither can assurance.

    Then Clark wants to tell us just how to read Westminster.

    But are we not given the same infallible Spirit, word, promises, etc., as the inspired authors, just not the same ministries or immediate inspiration?

    And why is the Spirit not bearing witness TO our spirits, via his word? What does bearing “with” mean? To whom, then? Perhaps Clark’s commentary on 1 John 5:13 or What Presbyterians Believe may yield some clarification.

    To end on a positive note: Clark at least gives a little hope to the assurance-seeker. He rightly sees biblical knowledge (right doctrine) as a key, as well as 1 John 5:13 and 2 Peter 1:5 as strong implications of the attainability of assurance. Peter’s is a command. Both are implicit promises.

    Too, we have Paul’s prayers for such for the Ephesians and the Colossians (indicating the desirability and attainability of assurance), as well as this apostolic wish for others’ assurance: And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end (Hebrews 6:11). Indeed, Hebrews is a long exhortation to hope in/ be assured of God’s saving love in Christ.

    Merry Christmas, Sean, et. al.!

  2. James Says:

    Hugh –

    Galatians 5 does not mention assurance in the list. It’s obvious you don’t approve of Clark’s argument – can you show that assurance is ipso fact guaranteed by regeneration?

    as for the WCF and infallibility – Clark mentions how and how not to take it in context.
    question: if you mean by assurance your own state of mind – as in your being sure of something – are you saying your state of mind is infallible? But how can that be when WCF 81 admits of wavering and intermittent loss [of assurance]?

    “And why is the Spirit not bearing witness TO our spirits, via his word?”

    Clark replies (in his commentary on 1 John and his book “The Holy Spirit”) that the Greek means “with” not “to”. In the latter book Clark mentions the difficulty of determining the audience of the Spirit’s testimony – but does not resolve it (at least not there).

  3. Denson Dube Says:

    But … can anybody tell me or define assurance? In other words, what are we talking about? I might have missed the definition somewhere? It seems to be assumed that we all know what we are carrying on about. Me thinks that could be part of the source of misunderstanding. We probably do not know what we are talking about.

  4. Sean Gerety Says:

    @ Denson. You must have just missed it in the last few hundred posts.


    : the state of being sure or certain about something

    : a strong feeling of confidence about yourself or about being right

    : a strong and definite statement that something will happen or that something is true

  5. Denson Dube Says:

    Thanks Sean. Given these definitions, I do not see any problem with assurance. I still remember as a young man having “a strong feeling of confidence about being right” about a certain young lady’s feelings towards me that I was in a relationship with … yet the hardhearted wench dumped me like a sandbag, after a while. I was in a “state of being sure or certain about her love for me”.
    Assurance can come and go. It means absolutely nothing.
    The problem is “knowing” that one is saved, which is a different issue altogether, an epistemological one.

  6. Sean Gerety Says:

    I know this thread has burned itself out, but I recently read Patrick Baskwell biography on Herman Hoeksema and while Hoeksema didn’t have a developed epistemology anywhere near that of Clark, the author had this to say about Hoeksema’s view of general revelation particularly in light of that mentioned in Romans 1 and elsewhere beginning with a quote from Cornelius Hanko:

    The point is therefore, that the wicked refuse to keep this manifestation of God even in their consciousness. They not only reject it, they will not even allow it to come before their mind’s eye. They drive it out. They bury it beneath the level of their thinking. They will not admit they possess it. In fact, they will not even admit this to themselves. They refuse it room within their consciousness
    continuously so that it never appears there. This is their awful sin. Not for a moment will they tolerate any thought of God whatsoever. This does not deny that it is there. God sees to it that it is. But they bury it continuously and drive it from them whenever they come face to face with it. (Hanko [s.a.]:x.)

    I see the knowledge available to the unbeliever as knowledge that is never really known. It is knowledge, according to Hanko and I think Hoeksema as well, that is not even consciously acknowledged. Because of the totally depraved nature of the unbeliever any knowledge of God in general revelation is automatically and unconsciously suppressed or rejected. It is a natural or involuntary reflex stemming from the depraved nature of the unbelievers mind to do this. Like breathing, it is a simple unconscious reaction. It is also, in this regard, an organic reaction that occurs naturally along the lines of the antithesis. I am convinced by what I have read of Hoeksema that this was indeed his position, although he probably would have phrased it differently. – 289

    While some of the definitions of key terms need to be fleshed out, after all why call it knowledge if it is “never really known,” I think the above tracks nicely with Clark’s view and I also like the idea that what unbelievers are everywhere confronted with a “manifestation of God,” or as Paul says, “that which may be known of God is manifest in them.” Consequently, unbelievers only know God in the sense that the truth of God is always present as they live, move and exist in Him.

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