Our readers will, no doubt, be interested to know the decision reached by the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in re the “Complaint” against the licensure and ordination of Dr. Gordon H. Clark by the Presbytery of Philadelphia, a case we discussed rather elaborately in our paper more than a year ago.
A year ago, the Twelfth General Assembly appointed a committee to investigate the doctrinal implications of the “Complaint”. This committee had finished its work, and presented its report to the Thirteenth General Assembly that convened last May.
A few weeks previous to the convocation of the Assembly a copy of the report prepared on this matter by the committee was sent to me, presumably by some member of the committee. The sender may hereby accept my hearty thanks for the courtesy.
A majority and minority report were offered, the latter by only one member of the committee, Dr. John Murray. It is evident that both the majority and the minority section of the committee took their work very seriously, made a thorough investigation of the matter, and presented their conclusions upon the basis of rather elaborate and, in the main, sound argumentation. The majority report, while expressing doubt with regard to some of Dr. Clark’s replies to questions put to him in his examination by the Presbytery of Philadelphia, denied the arguments of the “Complaint” and found no grounds for condemning the action of the Presbytery in licensing Dr. Clark. The report of the minority does not differ radically with that of the majority. It does not take the position that Dr. Clark errs or that the Presbytery of Philadelphia should have found sufficient ground in the examination to refuse his licensure. It rather holds that the examination of Dr. Clark was insufficient to decide upon his licensure and ordination, and that the Presbytery erred in not continuing the examination till sufficient clarity was obtained. Both reports together cover forty long mimeographed sheets, and required three hours to read to the Assembly.
As to the action of the Thirteenth General Assembly in this case, we quote from The Presbyterian Guardian:
“The assembly defeated a motion to find grounds for complaint against the presbytery’s action in approving Dr. Clark’s examination in theology
an licensing him to preach the gospel; it passed a motion finding grounds for complaint in the matter of the ordination of Dr. Clark, since in this action presbytery had not observed the provisions of the Form of Government which call for a period of time between licensure and ordination.”
The latter part of this decision refers to some rule in the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church which provides for a certain period of time to elapse between licensure and ordination, and even for a second examination before the ordination, if circumstances require this. The decision reads literally as follows:
“The Assembly finds that there is ground for complaint against the Presbytery of Philadelphia, and declares that the Presbytery of Philadelphia on its meeting of July 7, 1944, erred in the decision to deem the examination for licensure sufficient for ordination and in the decision to ordain Dr. Gordon H. Clark at a subsequent meeting of the Presbytery called for that purpose, in that the Presbytery of Philadelphia failed to observe the plain intent of the provisions of the Form of Government XIV, 1; XV, 11, in circumstances which made the propriety of these provisions apparent.”
The meaning of these decisions, therefore, is that the “Complaint” is denied, Dr. Clark is maintained in his office as minister, and that the Presbytery of Philadelphia is rebuked for its improper haste to ordain Dr. Clark. The clerk of the General Assembly was instructed to inform the Presbytery of Philadelphia of these decisions, and added to this information the following;
“This Assembly also implores the Presbytery of Philadelphia to make acknowledgement of these errors and of its failure thereby to preserve the peace of the church, and to report accordingly to the Fourteenth General Assembly.”
The Presbyterian Guardian also informs us that:
“When the Assembly defeated the motion to find ground for complaint in the action of sustaining Dr. Clark’s examination in theology, and proceeded to license him, a number of commissioners asked that their affirmative vote be recorded, and these commissioners, together with others, later filed a formal protest against these decisions of the Assembly.”
While, in the main, we agree with the decisions of the Assembly on grounds sufficiently set forth in our discussion of the “Complaint” more than a year ago, we think it regrettable that the issues involved were not always clearly presented to and determined by the Thirteenth Assembly. Especially is this true with regard to the matter of the question concerning the so- called “general offer of salvation well-meant on the part of God also to the reprobate.” The “Complaint” alleged, and not without ground, that Dr. Clark denied this well-meaning offer of salvation to the reprobate.
The committee itself (Majority Report) held rather definite views on this matter, which, in our opinion, are not Dr. Clark’s. Their conception is expressed in the following paragraph of their report:
“Such passages as Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11 indicate that God not only delights in the repentance of the actually penitent but also has that benevolence towards the wicked whereby He is pleased that they should repent. God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of His goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate. To put this negatively, God does not take delight or pleasure in the death of the wicked. On the contrary, His delight is in mercy. God desires that the reprobate exercise that repentance which they will never exercise and desires for them the enjoyment of good they will never enjoy. And not only so, He desires the exercise of that which they are foreordained not to exercise and He desires for them the enjoyment of good they are foreordained not to enjoy.” p. 27.
More boldly the contradiction could not well be stated. Unless in this paragraph the term “fore- ordination” is to be understood in the Arminian sense, viz., in the sense of reprobation in the ground of foreseen unbelief, this paragraph carries the contradiction into God’s very nature: He foreordained what He dislikes; His decree is contrary to His good pleasure. This implies that He must be eternally filled with sorrow over the condition of the wicked in hell. In our opinion, this is not the teaching of Holy Writ, it is surely not Reformed, but fundamentally Arminian; and we cannot imagine that Dr. Clark would subscribe to this statement. And as to this latter point, the committee itself expresses doubt. We quote from the report:
“It also appears that a question might be raised regarding the answer given by Dr. Clark in reference to the so-called paradox that exists in the offer of salvation to the reprobate: ‘The solution to that paradox is the distinction between the outward public call and the actual call of the Holy Spirit. The call of the Spirit comes to God’s elect only, I don’t see a paradox there, it seems perfectly clear to me.’ (T. 48:2-5).
“The Committee cannot regard this solution of the so-called paradox as an adequate explanation make an offer of salvation to those that are foreordained to damnation? It does not explain the mystery of the co-existence of the full and free offer of salvation and foreordination to damnation to make the obviously necessary distinction between the outward and the inward calk For even after full recognition is given to the truth that God effectually calls only the elect the mystery of God’s will in the offer of salvation to the reprobate still remains.” p. 27.
And the Committee concludes its report as follows:
“The Committee has no zeal for the word ‘paradox’. But the Committee believes that great mystery surrounds this matter. Even the reprobate are the objects of divine benevolence, compassion and loving kindness, not only in the gifts of this present life such as rain and sunshine, food and raiment, but also in the full and free overtures of God’s grace in the gospel. This truth confronts us with the mystery of the divine will and the believer is overwhelmed with wonder at the unfathomable depths of the divine good pleasure.
It may not indeed be said that this mystery should ‘bother’ the believer. It may not even be said that it should cause difficulty for the believer or that the apprehension of this mystery must focus itself in the mind of the believer in the form of an apparent contradiction. But to aver that the distinction between the outward public call and the actual call of the Spirit solves what has been called a ‘paradox’ is, in the judgment of the Committee, to betray a lack of appreciation of the problem involved.” p. 28.
We consider it deplorable, not that Dr. Clark was maintained in his office as minister, in spite of the fact that he, according to our conviction, does not agree with the sentiments expressed by the Committee ; but that these sentiments were expressed on the floor of the Assembly, and, apparently, tacitly assumed to be correct and Reformed or Calvinistic. For they are most certainly not! It is thus, when “current opinions” are openly expressed in an official gathering, and tacitly, without further investigation and without challenge or debate, accepted as the truth, that views, which are, nevertheless errors, come to be looked upon as official dogma’s of the church.
Whether or not the Orthodox Presbyterian Church wants to adopt the views expressed by the Committee or not, is not the question now. But they should not be tacitly accepted.
We deplore that even Dr. Clark, apparently, did not challenge them.
Perhaps, however, the matter may still be clarified at the next General Assembly, for the Thirteenth Assembly passed the following resolution:
“Whereas the purity and the peace of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are of the deepest concern to the General Assembly, and whereas ‘to the General Assembly. . . . belongs the power deciding in all controversies regarding doctrine. . . .’ (Form of Government XI, 5), and whereas there has appeared to be a difference in our church concerning the Scriptural teaching pertaining to the doctrines of the incomprehensibility of God, the position of the intellect in relation to other faculties, the relation of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and the free offer of the gospel, therefore be it resolved that this assembly appoint a committee consisting of Messrs. Murray, Clowney, R. Gray, W. Young, and Stonehouse, to study these doctrines in the light of Scripture and the Westminster Standards in relation to all expressions of views on these doctrines that have appeared or may appear in connection with the discussion of the complaint against the Presbytery of Philadelphia in the matter of the licensure and ordination of Dr. Gordon H. Clark, in order to clarify these matters, and report to the Fourteenth General Assembly.”
We assure the preesnt Committee of our profound interest in their labors, and would appreciate deeply to receive from them a copy of their report when it is ready.