In connection with our discussion of the proposed merger of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, we have begun to discuss the matter of Arminianism. And in connection with this discussion of Arminianism, we earlier mentioned both the OPC’s treatment of the Clark Case, beginning in 1944, and the booklet by Dr. Murray and Dr. Stonehouse, “The Free Offer of the Gospel.” Both, we said, were evidences of Arminianism in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. And these evidences we propose to discuss now.
Parenthetically, we may remark that there seems to be a revival of interest in the subject of the so-called free offer. Just recently I read two references to it in religious magazines originating in the United Kingdom; and one of these references promises to be an extensive discussion which will eventually appear in booklet form. This furnishes additional reason, therefore, for our discussion.
It will not be necessary in this connection to review the Clark Case and its treatment in detail. For any who may be interested in some research on this subject, there was an extensive discussion of that case in Volumes 21 and 22 of the Standard Bearer, in a series of articles entitled, “The Text of a Complaint.” It will not be necessary for us to review this case, however, because the issue of the so-called free offer as it was part of that case is precisely the same as the issue of the booklet, “The Free Offer of the Gospel.” In fact, the latter had its origin historically in the Clark Case. According to the introduction of the booklet itself, “This study was prepared by the Rev. Professors John Murray and Ned B. Stonehouse of Westminster Theological Seminary, and presented as the report of a committee to the Fifteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church” in 1948. But all this began with the Clark Case in 1944.
What was the Clark Case?
It began in 1944, when a special meeting of the Presbytery (classis) of Philadelphia was held for the purpose of examining Dr. Gordon H. Clark with a view to his licensure and ordination to the ministry. Against the fact that this meeting was called, as well as against its proceedings and decisions, a complaint was directed. Among the dozen signatures to this complaint are such familiar names as R.B. Kuiper, N.B. Stonehouse, and C. Van Til. The second part of the complaint (a lengthy, printed protest) dealt at length with four alleged errors in the theological views of Dr. Clark, errors which became manifest, according to the complainants in the course of Dr. Clark’s examination by the Presbytery and in spite of which the Presbytery decided to license him and proceed to his ordination.
What were the four alleged errors?
The first charge of the Complaint alleged erroneous views on the part of Dr. Clark concerning the incomprehensibility and knowability of God, pp. 2-6, “The Text of a Complaint.” This, at first glance, does not seem to be related to the issue of the free offer. But it appears that there nevertheless was a relation in so far as the issue of the “logic of revelation” is concerned. Perhaps we shall have occasion to refer to this later.
The second charge concerns Dr. Clark’s “view of the relation of the faculty of knowledge, the intellectual faculty, to other faculties of the soul.” (pp. 6-10)
The third part of this section of the Complaint alleges that Dr. Clark is guilty of maintaining “that the relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility to each other presents no difficulty for his thinking and that the two are easily reconcilable before the bar of human reason.” (pp. 10-13) In this connection, the charge against Dr. Clark was really that of rationalism, a charge all too familiar in our Protestant Reformed history, but as false in Dr. Clark’s case as in ours. But again, this third allegation was closely connected with both the first one (concerning God’s knowledge and ours) and the fourth one.
The fourth charge was that “in the course of Dr. Clark’s examination it became abundantly clear that his rationalism keeps him from doing justice to the precious teaching of Scripture that in the gospel God sincerely offers salvation in Christ to all who hear, reprobate as well as elect, and that he has no pleasure in any one’s rejecting this offer but, contrariwise, would have all who hear accept it and be saved.” (pp. 13-15)
Those familiar with our Protestant Reformed history will recognize at once the similarity between the position of the Complaint and that of the First Point of 1924 and its general, well-meant offer of salvation. This was, of course, not mere coincidence: there was a definite Christian Reformed influence in the complaint, an influence which came about through the presence of men among the complainants who had their origin in the Christian Reformed Church.
I will not weary the reader with a detailed account of the proceedings in the Clark Case. Eventually the case went to the General Assembly (roughly equivalent to our synod), a committee was appointed by the Twelfth General Assembly to examine the doctrinal aspects of the Complaint, and this committee reported (with a majority and minority report) to the Thirteenth General Assembly. Although Dr. Clark’s licensure was upheld, neither the majority nor the minority of the committee entertained Dr. Clark’s views on the matter of “apparent contradictions” in Scripture on the matter of the offer of the gospel. Another committee was appointed which was to report to the Fourteenth General Assembly and which was to clarify these doctrinal matters. And, to make a long story short, eventually the booklet, “The Free Offer of the Gospel” came out of this history at the time of the Fifteenth General Assembly in 1948.
The strange thing was that while Dr. Clark’s licensure by the Presbytery of Philadelphia was upheld by the Thirteenth General Assembly, it was the views of the Complaint, especially with respect to the so-called offer of the gospel, which prevailed in the OPC as the final result of this history.
This appears very clearly from a comparison of the booklet, “The Free Offer of the Gospel” with the following description of the differences between Dr. Clark and the complainants by Rev. H. Hoeksema in the Standard Bearer (Vol. 21, pp. 384, ff.):
“Let us try to define the difference between the complainants and Dr. Clark as sharply as we can.
“The difference is not that the complainants insist that the gospel must be preached to all men promiscuously, while Dr. Clark claims that it must be preached only to the elect. This would be quite impossible, seeing that no preacher is able to single out the elect and separate them from the reprobate in this world. They are agreed that the gospel must be preached to all men.
“Nor is the difference that the complainants openly deny the doctrine of reprobation, while Dr. Clark professes to believe this truth. We read in the ‘Complaint’: ‘He believes—as do we all—the doctrine of reprobation. p. 13.
“Again, the difference does not consist in this that the complainants characterize the gospel as an ‘offer’ of Christ or of salvation, while Dr. Clark objects to that term. If the term ‘offer’ is understood in the sense in which it occurs in the confessions, and in which also Calvin uses it (offere, from obfero, meaning to present), there can be no objection to that term, though, to prevent misunderstanding, it would be better to employ the words to present, and presentation.
“Again, even though Dr. Clark objects to the word ‘sincere’ in the sense in which the complainants use that term, afraid to leave the impression that he preaches Arminianism, even this does not touch the real point of difference between them. That God is sincere in the preaching of the gospel no one would dare to deny. As the complainants rightly ask: Would it not be blasphemy to deny this? p. 13.
“But the difference between them does concern the contents of the gospel that must be preached promiscuously to all men.
“It is really not a question to whom one must preach, orhow he must preach, but what he must preach.
“According to the complainants the preacher is called to proclaim to all his hearers that God sincerely seeks the salvation of them all. If this is not their meaning when they write: ‘in the gospel God sincerely offers salvation in Christ to all who hear, reprobate as well as elect,’ their words have no meaning at all.
“According to Dr. Clark, however, the preacher proclaims to all his hearers promiscuously that God sincerely seeks the salvation of all the elect. The elect may be variously named in the preaching: those who repent, they that believe in Christ, that hunger for the bread of life, that thirst for the water of life, that seek, knock, ask, that come to Christ, etc., etc. But they are always the elect.
“We may define the issue still more sharply, and limit it to God’s intention and attitude in the preaching of the gospel with regard to the reprobate.
“For it is more especially about the reprobate and their salvation that the complainants are concerned. Strange though it may seem, paradoxical though it may sound, they want to leave room in the preaching for the salvation of the reprobate. For the sake of clarity, therefore, we can safely leave the elect out of our discussion. That God sincerely seeks their salvation is not a matter of controversy. To drag them into the discussion of this question simply confuses things. The question very really concerns the attitude of God with respect to the reprobate. We may limit the controversy to this question: what must the preacher of the gospel say of God’s intention with respect to the reprobate? And these, too, may be called by different names, such as: the impenitent, the wicked, the unbelievers, etc., etc.
“The answer to this question defines the difference between Dr. Clark and the complainants sharply and precisely.
“The complainants answer: the preacher must say that God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate through the preaching of the gospel.
“Dr. Clark answers: that is not true, the preacher may never say that in the name of God.
“And, in the light of Scripture, he should say: God seeks His own glory and justification in preparing the reprobate for their just damnation even through the preaching of the gospel.”
It is plain from the above description that the views of the complainants prevailed in the booklet, “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” and in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.