Archive for August 2019

John Robbins Quick Quote

August 3, 2019


I have been thinking this week how the knee-jerk reaction to Gordon Clark’s simple definition of faith and saving faith is often misconstrued as some sort of “easy-believism.” For Clark, belief is the assent to an understood proposition. Saving belief is the assent to the understood propositions of the Gospel. What differentiates the two is not some additional psychological disposition or state of mind wrought in the believer thereby making the one saving and the other not. Instead, the difference between genuine saving belief from the non-saving very ordinary and ubiquitous variety (everyone believes an untold number of things from the mundane to the profound), is the meaning attached to the declarative sentences believed, or, simply, the propositions themselves. This isn’t to say that the one who understands and assents to the propositions of the Gospel won’t evidence their beliefs by their actions ala’ James 2, they will. Rather, it is to say that the act of believing itself is what saves a man and unites him to Christ as “the alone instrument of justification” and not the accompanying life the believer will necessarily lead — or struggle to lead — as a result.

In the answer to the question “What is Justifying Faith” the Westminster Confession Larger Catechism 72 makes this crystal clear.

Here is what Q. 72 says:

Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Now, consider the following explanation Dr. Robbin gave to Alan Strange in a letter he submitted to the OPC’s New Horizons magazine which they refused to publish:

Question 72 does indeed have a contrast in mind, but it is not contrasting assent with “receiving and resting,” as Dr. Strange mistakenly supposes. There are two reasons Dr. Strange’s contrast cannot be correct.

First, “receiving and resting” are figures of speech, and “assenting” is literal language. “Receiving and resting” mean “assenting.” Dr. Strange has made the common theological error of taking a figure of speech as literal. Incidentally, that is why he fails to offer any definition of “receiving and resting” that differentiates them from assent. In fact, they are not different, but metaphorical expressions of the literal word, “assent.”

The second reason that Q. 72 is not contrasting “assenting” with “receiving and resting” is that the authors of the Westminster Standards have a different contrast in mind. Reading the Standards with subjectivist presuppositions, Dr. Strange supposes they are contrasting differing psychologies of faith (assent vs. receiving and resting), when they are actually contrasting the truths believed. Psychology was not on the minds of the Westminster Assembly, but making clear what truths had to be believed in order to be saved was. Dr. Strange forgets that the word “faith” has two distinct meanings, one objective and one subjective. The Standards are contrasting belief in the “promise of the Gospel,” that is, in the truth of eternal life, with belief in the “righteousness [of Christ] for pardon of sin, and the accepting and accounting of his person righteous.” They are making clear that the sinner must not only believe in (assent to) salvation from sin and eternal life (which they call the “promise of the Gospel”), but that he must also believe in (assent to) the imputed righteousness of Christ in order to be saved. Their concern is that the proper object of faith is believed, not that some undefined and nebulous mental state must be added to belief in order to make it efficacious. Their message is that belief in eternal life and pardon from sin is not saving faith, but to that must be added belief in Christ and his righteousness as the sole means of obtaining eternal life.

The Westminster Standards clearly teach that the object of faith, Christ and his imputed righteousness, not our subjective mental state, is what saves us. Dr. Strange, like so many today, reads the Westminster Standards with his subjectivist glasses on, and thereby misses and misrepresents what they teach.

Therefore, Dr. Strange is completely wrong when he asserts that “Clark is clearly not within the Reformed tradition in defining faith itself as knowledge and assent alone.” Not only is Clark clearly within that tradition, but he is also the most accurate reporter of what Scripture teaches about saving faith. All your readers should read his book for themselves. [emphasis mine]

%d bloggers like this: