* Chapter 9, in the Clark-VanTil Controversy (Hobbs, New Mexico: The Trinity Foundation, 1995.) Reprinted by permission. See the editorial in this issue.
The last point of the Complaint concerns the so-called sincere offer of salvation on the part of God to all men, particularly to the reprobate.
Here the Complaint descends from the stratosphere of philosophical contemplation and theological debate to the lower spheres of plain, even superficial reasoning, where even common mortals that may have been present at the examination of Dr. Clark and at the subsequent debate about the questions involved, must have felt that they were able to participate in the discussion.
Here, too, the Complaint reveals, more clearly than anywhere else, its distinctly Christian Reformed tendency, particularly its sympathy with the three well-known decrees of the Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924.
Because it is especially on this point that the controversy of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, which, as it now appears, is to be continued in the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is identical with our own controversy with the Christian Reformed Church in 1924, it may not be superfluous to refresh our memory in this respect, so we will try to analyze the argument of the Complaint somewhat in detail.
If the standpoint of Dr. Clark with respect to the paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility was described as more than amazing, his view in re the “well-meaning offer” is characterized as “surpassing strange” (13).
The complainants put it this way:
In the course of Dr. Clark’s examination by Presbytery 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 (13).
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 theComplaint: “He believes—as do we all—the doctrine of reprobation” (13).
Again, the difference does not consist in that the complainants characterize the Gospel as an “offer” of Christ or as 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, andpresentation.
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?” (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, or how 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 their 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.
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.
That, in thus formulating the difference, I am not doing an injustice to the complainants is very plain from their own words. They say that in the preaching of the Gospel God sincerely offers salvation in Christ to the reprobate, that He has no pleasure in their rejection of the offer, that He would have them, the reprobate, accept the Gospel, and that He would have them be saved. Besides, it is in this sense that they interpret Ezekiel 33:11: God has no pleasure in the death of the reprobate, He would have them live; andII Peter 3:9: God does not will that the reprobate should perish, but that they all come to repentance; andMatthew 23:37: Christ would have gathered the reprobate under His wings; and I Timothy 2:3, 4: God our Savior will have all the reprobate to be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:13, 14). And it is with the doctrine of universal salvation in mind that they write: “The supreme importance for evangelism of maintaining the Reformed doctrine of the gospel as a universal and sincere offer is self-evident” (14).
Now, you might object, as also Dr. Clark does, that this involves a direct contradiction: God sincerely seeks the salvation of those whom He has from eternity determined not to save. Or: God would have that sinner live whom He does not quicken. Or: God would have the sinner, whom He does not give faith, to accept the gospel. Or: God would have that sinner come to Christ whom He does not draw and who cannot come.
You might object that this is not rational.
But this objection would be of no avail to persuade the complainants of their error. They admit that this is irrational. But they do not want to be rational on this point. In fact, if you should insist on being rational in this respect, they would call you a “rationalist,” and at once proceed to seek your expulsion from the church as a dangerous heretic. The whole Complaintagainst Dr. Clark is really concentrated in and based on this one alleged error of his: He claims that the Word of God and the Christian faith are not irrational. According to the complainants, to be reasonable is to be a rationalist. They write that the trouble with Dr. Clark is that
his rationalism does not permit him to let the two stand unreconciled alongside each other. Rather than do that he would modify the gospel in the interest of reprobation. [This, you understand, is a slanderous remark—H.H.] Otherwise expressed, he makes the same error as does the Arminian, although he moves in the opposite direction. The Arminian cannot harmonize divine reprobation with the sincere divine offer of salvation to all who hear; hence, he rejects the former. Neither can Dr. Clark harmonize the two, and so he detracts from the latter. Rationalism accounts for both errors (13).
To accuse the complainants of irrationalism is, therefore, of no avail as far as they are concerned. They openly admit—they are even boasting of—their irrational position. To be irrational is, according to them, the glory of a humble, Christian faith.
We shall, therefore, have to prove to them that in their claim that God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate in the preaching of the Gospel, they not only contradict themselves, but they directly contradict Scripture.
And this we hope to do, not because Dr. Clark is in need of our defense, but because we are interested in the pure Reformed truth, and cannot allow it to be camouflaged and corrupted by some self-confessed irrationalists.
But before we proceed to do so, we must prove two things: 1. That the position of the complainants is not irrational as they claim, but involves an Arminian conception of reprobation. 2. That their argumentation on this point in the Complaint is very superficial, and characterized by many errors.
In this issue, we will have room only to elucidate point 1.
After all, even though the complainants themselves insist on being irrational, we will have to deal with them according to the rules of logic. If they refuse to be treated rationally, they really forfeit the right to present a complaint to any assembly of normal Christians. And treating them as rational human beings, we must insist that they do not and cannot possibly accept the proposition: God sincerely seeks the salvation of those whom He has sovereignly from eternity determined to be damned.
In other words: I know that they claim to believe this, but I deny their claim; I do not accept it.
Hence, I must try to rationalize their position for them. How can any man, with a show of rationality, insist that God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate? Only when they define reprobation as that eternal act of God according to which He determined to damn all those whom He eternally foresaw as rejecting the Gospel.
In other words, I insist that the position of the complainants, as soon as you reject their claim to irrationalism, is purely Arminian.
And their irrationalism is only an attempt to camouflage their real position.