The question is whether there is a real or apparent contradiction involved in the truth of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.
Let us put both truths in propositional form:
Now, the question is not whether there is a problem here. It may well be that we cannot answer the question how God is able to determine man’s deeds without destroying man’s responsibility. That He is able to do so is asserted plainly by the two propositions stated above. But whether or not we can understand this operation of the sovereign God upon man is not the question. The sole question is whether the two propositions concerning God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are contradictory. This we deny. In fact, they cannot possibly be, for the simple reason that they assert something about two wholly different subjects.
They would be contradictory if the first proposition denied what is affirmed in the second. But this is not true. The first proposition asserts something about God: He is absolutely sovereign and determines the acts of man. The second proposition predicates something about man: he is responsible for his moral acts. Does the first proposition deny that man is responsible? If it does you have here a contradiction. But it does not. Those who like to discover a contradiction here, usually the enemies of the truth of God’s sovereignty, simply take for granted that to assert that God is sovereign even over man’s acts is to say the same as that man is not responsible. It must be pointed out, however, that this is neither expressed nor implied in the first proposition. In the two propositions responsibility is not both confirmed and denied at the same time to man.
The two propositions would, of course, also be contradictory if the second proposition denied what is affirmed in the first. In that case, sovereignty even over the acts of man would be both affirmed and denied to God. But also this is neither expressed nor implied in the two propositions, unless it can first be shown conclusively that to say that man is responsible is the same as declaring that God is not sovereign over his moral acts. And this has never been demonstrated, nor is it self-evident.
If they were really contradictory they could not both be the object of the Christian’s faith. We could only conclude that either the one or the other were not true.
Now, however, since they involve no contradiction, and since both are clearly revealed in Scripture, we accept both, whether or not we can combine them into one concept.
And the attempt to do so, to solve the problem, must be considered laudable.
What pastor has not confronted the necessity, in his catechism classes, to answer a question concerning this problem when he was instructing his pupils in the truth of God’s immutable decrees? And what instructor was satisfied to reply to his earnestly inquiring pupil that here we face a contradiction?
To me it would seem that the solution of the problem, as far as Reformed theology is concerned, must be sought in the direction of properly defining man’s responsibility. If the question is asked how a divinely determined creature can be responsible for his acts, it stands to reason that his freedom and responsibility must be defined as falling within the compass of God’s decrees and sovereignty. Man’s freedom is a creaturely, and, therefore, a dependent freedom. And so is his responsibility.
However this may be, and whether or not Dr. Clark’s solution is acceptable, his attempt to solve the problem is laudable. And it is a very strange procedure to accuse a man of heresy because of the very fact that he attempts a solution of a different problem.
While the attempt on the part of Dr. Clark to solve this problem is labeled as rationalism, the solution he offers is characterized as antinomism.
We quote from the “Complaint”:
“The history of doctrine tells us that the view under discussion is far from innocent. The tenet that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are logically reconcilable has been held by two schools of thought, both of which claimed to be Reformed but neither of which was recognized as Reformed by Reformed churches. One of these schools is Arminianism. It meant to uphold both divine sovereignty and human responsibility, especially the latter, but in its rationalistic attempt to harmonize the two it did great violence to the former. The other school is Antinomianism. It also meant to uphold both divine sovereignty and human responsibility, especially the former, but in its rationalistic attempt to harmonize the two it did great violence to the latter. Dr. Abraham Kuyper has described Antinomianism as a ‘dreadful sin which occurs almost exclusively in the Reformed churches’. He says that what accounts for this phenomenon is a one-sided emphasis in much Reformed preaching on God’s decretive will at the expense of His perceptive will. He deems it essential to hold that Scripture distinguishes between the sphere of divine sovereignty and the sphere of human responsibility, and ‘that this distinction is so absolute that one can never pass from the one into the other.’ (Dictaten Dogmatiek, Locus de Deo, part 3, pp. 113 ff.). In the light of history we cannot but hold that his rationalism exposes Dr. Clark to the peril of Antinomianism.
“Here attention must be called to his treatment of human responsibility in the article ‘Determinism and Responsibility’. Reformed theologians generally are exceedingly circumspect when they discuss the relation of the divine decree and divine providence to the sin of man. There is excellent reason for their carefulness. They are zealous to maintain God’s holiness as well as His sovereignty, not to detract, after the manner of the Antinomians, from human responsibility. But Dr. Clark says boldly: ‘Does the view here proposed make God the Author of sin? Why the learned divines who formulated the various creeds so uniformly permitted such a metaphorical expression to becloud the issue is a puzzle. This view certainly makes God the First and Ultimate Cause of everything. But very slight reflection on the definition of responsibility and its implication of a superior authority shows that God is not responsible for sin’ (p. 22). It is meaningful that Dr. Clark is not careful to say, as so many Reformed theologians are, that God is not the efficient cause of sin (e.g. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 108).” p. 12.
And at the end of this part of the “Complaint” the complainants conclude that Dr. Clark’s “rationalism has resulted in his departing from the historic Reformed doctrine of human responsibility. In his attempt to reconcile by human reason divine sovereignty and human responsibility he has done decided violence to the latter.” p. 13.
Dr. Clark, therefore, is an antinomian rationalist, according to the complainants. His refusal to accept contradictions makes him “one-sided.”
There is nothing original in this accusation.
It has become rather customary in recent years, especially since the Christian Reformed Synod of 1924, to explain all forms of heresies as rationalistic attempts to solve contradictions resulting in one-sidedness. This makes it so very easy to classify one whom we seek to expose as a heretic! You can pick out almost any classification you like. Thus, e.g., undersigned has been labeled an Anabaptist, an Antinomian, an Arminian, a Barthian, etc.
The complainants adopt the same policy.
Arminianism, say they, is the result of a rationalistic attempt to reconcile God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. So is Antinomianism. Both become one-sided in their attempt. So Dr. Clark tries to solve the same problem with the same result of one-sidedness on the Antinomian side. Hence, he is an Antinomian.
But is all this true? Or is it merely an attempt, a purely rationalistic attempt too, on the part of the complainants to find a heretical name for Dr. Clark? Is Arminianism really the result of an attempt to “uphold both divine sovereignty and human responsibility” as the complainants claim? Was it not from the very outset an attempt to deny and disprove the doctrine of absolute predestination and of the sovereignty of God in relation to the freedom of man? And is Antinomianism to be explained as an attempt to solve the problem of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? Anyone that is at all acquainted with the facts knows better. It was concerned with the relation of justification and good works, and rejected the moral law as binding upon Christians. It is true that many of them were also strong in their emphasis on predestination, but this emphasis also was especially applied to their view of the justification of the elect. But Antinomianism cannot be called a rationalistic attempt to harmonize divine sovereignty and human responsibility. And whatever must be thought of Dr. Clark’s attempt to solve this problem, it cannot be branded as Antinomian.
Besides, the indictment that Dr. Clark does violence to or denies the responsibility of man because of his one-sided emphasis on the sovereignty of God, is only a conclusion which the complainants draw from some of his statements. Dr. Clark himself would never admit the truth of the conclusion. He never denies the responsibility of man, nor does he ever present God as the real Author of human acts, though he insists that He determines them. He only maintains that “determinism is consistent with responsibility,” a statement which itself proves that he does not eliminate the responsibility of man in his attempt to harmonize it with God’s sovereignty. It is always dangerous to draw conclusions from someone’s statements in order then to attribute the conclusions to the author of the statements. Let us not forget that enemies of the truth drew conclusions from Paul’s doctrine, accused him of Antinomianism (), and of making God the author of sin and denying the responsibility of man ( ).
It seems to me that this part of the “Complaint” utterly fails to prove its point.