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Clark Gets the Last Word

In Apologetics, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 29/07/2011 at 08:00

This is the third and last of Dr. Clark’s replies to Buswell’s review and critique of Clark’s work, A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION. Buswell had begun with a review of that work, to which Clark replied, Buswell commented, and so on. As with the Buswell-Van Til exchange, in this exchange Buswell gives his opponent the last word (though in Van Til’s case, Buswell peppered CVT’s final reply with editorial comments. Clark at least faired better, in that regard.

System and Induction


This is the third in a series of short articles by Dr. Clark. The others, accompanied by argumentative editorial comments of my own, are found in the December 1947 and January 1948, issues of The Bible Today. The series was started off by my review of his recent book, A Christian Philosophy of Education, in The Bible Today for October, 1947.

I must confess that, as I see it, Dr. Clark fails in the present article to meet the issues. Rather than repeating, I suggest that the reader who wishes answers to what Dr. Clark says and to the questions he asks here, will find the answers in my editorials in the December and January issues. My arguments have not been answered.

(While searching, the reader might look for the alleged place where I have “admitted that the cosmological argument is a formal logical fallacy.” I haven’t found that place!) For the present then, I shall let Dr. Clark have the last word. I think you are making a great mistake, good brother. Ed.

A sound rule of Biblical exegesis is that the meaning of a crucial word should be determined by the context, the author’s usage, and his intent. For example, the meaning of the words faith, flesh, redeem, sin, life, death, are neither necessarily nor usually just the same in the New Testament as they are in pagan writers. To assume that the meanings are the same would reduce parts of the New Testament to absurdity. Similarly it is a sound rule for criticizing contemporary books to determine the meaning of the author. If one of his words interpreted in one way makes nonsense of some of his paragraphs, it would be wiser to seek another meaning than to jump to the conclusion that the author makes no sense. Furthermore, an author may use the same word in several senses. A critic cannot legitimately require a writer to confine himself to just one strict meaning.

It seems to me that Dr. Buswell in his book review of A Christian Philosophy of Education and in his two Editorial Comments violates this principle of interpretation. He seems to insist, even in his January Editorial Comment, that system can mean only “a more or less consistent or inconsistent complex of thoughts.”

I defended the legitimacy of my usage of the word system by two citations. The first was from Brand Blanshard: The Nature of Thought. Dr. Buswell, it seems to me, confuses the isuue by first objecting to elements of Professor Blanshard’s philosophy. I too am in fundamental disagreement with that philosophy; but the point at issue was not certain phases of rationalistic idealism, but whether the word system can be used in the sense of a perfectly consistent series of propositions. Having thus confused the issue, Dr. Buswell continues by arguing that Professor Blanshard did not so use the word system. His reason is that Professor Blanshard uses the word system in the other sense also. If by “fragmentary systems, whose parts are connected by the most diverse relations” Professor Blanshard indeed means “more or less inconsistent complex of thoughts,” still it does not follow that he has not also used the word in the sense of a perfectly consistent series of truths. An author cannot legitimately be required to use a word in only one sense.

Webster’s Dictionary also, to which Dr. Buswell appeals, allows of several meanings. There is nothing in Webster that requires Dr. Buswell’s preferred meaning. In fact neither Webster nor Funk and Wagnalls even mention Dr. Buswell’s inconsistent complex. Read the rest of this entry »

Buswell Sees Progress!

In Apologetics, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 28/07/2011 at 12:54

Here are Buswell’s comments following Clark’s entry “Concerning System and Demonstration”. For the moment we’ve skipped over the article by Vernon Grounds that appeared in the midst of this series of exchanges between Buswell and Clark. That article will post later. And as is our habit, links to the entire series of articles can be found at the bottom of this post.

Editorial Comment

I DO feel that there is definite progress in Dr. Clark’s thought, or at least in his expression, from the book,[1] through his article in the December issue of The Bible Today, to his present article. The discussion of the word “system’’ grew out of material found on page 163 and following in his book quoted on page 71 in the December Bible Today. Dr. Clark’s statements there[2] “. . . there is no such thing as a common ground between Christianity and a non-Christian system,” led straight forward to his remarks on the way in which a “faithful Christian presents the Christian faith to an unbeliever.” Then followed his statement, “This is not an appeal to a common ground . . .” The word “this” refers directly to the presentation of the Christian faith “to an unbeliever.” It is the idea that we have no common ground when we present the Gospel to an unbeliever, which gave me such great concern.

Now, in this article on System and Demonstration, as well as in his article of last December, I feel that Dr. Clark has removed the “system” of unbelief so far into the abstract that it cannot interfere with evangelism. Thus my purpose is partly accomplished[3]

The readers who are not interested in logic will please doze off while I go on with the next few paragraphs. Those who are concerned about the basic logic of evangelism, the epistemology[4] of Christian evidences, may do well to read carefully, whether they wholly agree or not.

Our discussion of the word “system,” as I have said, starts from Dr. Clark’s words “a non-Christian system.” Naturalism, or anti-super-naturalism, which practically amounts to atheism, is the “system” which most conspicuously confronts us. In discussing such a system of thought, I should define the word “system” as I did in my editorial note in the December Bible Today, as “a more or less consistent or inconsistent complex of thought to which people adhere.” Thus Webster’s Dictionary gives the following to illustrate usage, “the theological system of Augustine; the American system of government; hence, a particular philosophy, religion, etc. ‘Our little systems have their day.’ “

In Robert Flint’s great worksAnti-Theistic Theories, and Agnosticism, he treats of such systems as materialism, pantheism, secularism, etc., showing inconsistencies in each. In a course in history of philosophy we take up such systems as idealism and realism; in history of Christian doctrine we take up scholasticism, Calvinism, Arminianism, etc. All of these “systems” are “more or less consistent or inconsistent complexes of thought.”

Of course my definition (and Webster’s) supported by usage as it is, does not exclude the perfect system of truth as God sees it; nor does it exclude the system of revealed truth. Dr. Clark’s error in citing Presbyterian usage is in his failing to mention that before the statement accepting the Westminster standards “as containing the system of doctrine taught inthe Holy Scriptures,” every Presbyterian minister was required to declare that he believed the Scriptures to be “the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” A “system” may be “more or less consistent or inconsistent”; a “system” taught in an “infallible rule” must be perfectly consistent[5]

I am interested in Dr. Clark’s reference to Prof. Brand Blanshard’s views on “system.” I had said I doubted if any writers in this field ever use the word “system” as meaning “the definitive element as such in a complex of thought. ‘

But this is not Prof. Blanshard’s view at all. He would agree with Dr. Clark and me that the truth is a perfectly consistent system. In the passage to which Dr. Clark refers, he says:

If the end of thought is truth, what is truth? It lies, we shall hold, in system, and above all in that perfect type of system in which each component implies and is implied by every other.

Blanshard is a rationalistic idealist. Dr. Clark is not. I should accept the proposition that the truth is a perfect system, but I deny that the truth “lies [or consists] in system.” Rather, it may be checked by its integration as a criterion. It is true because it is there and because it is so. (Dasein und Sosein). Read the rest of this entry »

Clark Elaborates His Approach

In Apologetics, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 26/07/2011 at 10:34

Clark now replies with some elaboration of his apologetic approach.

Concerning System and Demonstration


Dr. Clark very kindly gives us here a clarification of his use of the word “system”, and further comment on so called “isolated facts”, “neutral facts”, and geometrical “demonstration.” Editorial comment follows his article; see page 114 and following.Ed.

Since the philosophic problems of evidence are of such great importance for the effective presentation of the gospel, I greatly appreciate the generous invitation of Dr. Buswell’s Editorial Note (December 1947) to discuss briefly the notions of “system” and “demonstration.” As an introduction to this matter, I should like first to repeat something from my Comments and place it beside a part of Dr. Buswell’s Editorial Note.

In the Comments I pointed out that the book, A Christian Philosophy of Education, denied a common ground between Christian and non-Christian systems, but it did not deny a common ground between regenerate and unregenerate individuals. Dr. Buswell, quoting the paragraph in his Editorial Note, prefaces the quotation with the statement, “he has made important concessions to the point of my argument.” And he also speaks of “The distinction which Dr. Clark’s reply now makes between a non-Christian system and non-Christian people . . .”  This distinction, Dr. Buswell continues, “seems to me to involve and lead up to a complete surrender of his position.”

To this I wish to repeat that the distinction was not made just “now” in the Comments. It is not at all a “concession” to Dr. Buswell’s review, but on the contrary it is found explicitly in the book itself. Nor is the idea of a system confined to the one paragraph Dr. Buswell quotes. The first chapter of the book virtually defines educational endeavor as the striving toward a system; the argument of the second chapter, involving the criticism of the traditional proofs of God’s existence, depends on the notion of system (cf. pp. 48, 49 and passim); the several chapters against neutrality have the same basis; and in short the notion of system rather permeates the book. I am therefore forced to conclude that Dr. Buswell has viewed as a “concession” what in reality is his own better understanding of what I explicitly said.

In order further to elucidate, I must ask agreement to the proposition that all men are more or less inconsistent. The fact that you and I are born again Christians does not mean that everything we think is Christian truth. This should be obvious because we sometimes contradict each other. If you are right, I am wrong; and in this case what I believe is not a part of the Christian system. Hence clarity requires a sharp distinction between what a given person thinks and what the system really is.[*] If there were no such distinction, the beliefs of anyone who called himself a Christian could be taken for Christianity. Indeed, this is the point of view that Modernism with its anti-intellectualism actually adopts. To define Christianity the modernist does not determine the exact meaning of what the Bible says; he simply notes what ideas happen to be popular in his ecclesiastical fraternity. Accordingly the point must be emphasized that a Christian, even a true Christian, and Christianity are two different things. The Christian is inconsistent. Christianity is the whole consistent truth. Similarly an atheist and atheism are two different things. Atheism, a system, is as consistent as any false system can be. But an individual atheist not only may, but does believe propositions inconsistent with his professed atheism.

[*] Dr. Buswell doubts that the word is ever so used; but cf. Brand Blanshard, The Nature of Thought, Vol. I, p. 78.  Read the rest of this entry »

Buswell’s Surrejoinder

In J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., The Bible Today on 25/07/2011 at 18:51

Dr. Clark’s Comments

Editorial Note 


DR. CLARK has been invited to comment on my review of his book
A Christian Philosophy of Education,[1] and, if he wishes, to carry on a discussion with the editor on the questions involved through several of our monthly issues. I feel that this invitation is in order for several reasons:

(1) Dr. Clark is an earnest Christian and a competent scholar, and even though he may be mistaken (as I think) in some points, his opinions are well worth noting and his spirit will be edifying to all our readers.

(2) This discussion, or call it an argument if you will, is not in the slightest degree tinged with personal antagonism. I have the highest regard for him as a friend and former colleague, and he has expressed himself similarly toward me.

(3) The subject under discussion, the basis and use of Christian evidences in dealing with those who have not yet accepted the Gospel, is of the utmost importance for all Bible-believing Christians. The view which I uphold seems so obvious to some that I find it difficult to impress my students that there is any need of dwelling upon it. “Of course there is common ground for us within the thought complexes of unbelievers. Don’t they speak English! Don’t they study history, geography, science! Doesn’t the Bible say that the common objects of our sciences ‘declare the glory of God’ (Psalm 19) in such a way that ‘their sound went into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world’ (Romans 10:18). Why take time to prove the obvious?”

On the other hand the viewpoint of Dr. Clark is so deeply instilled into the minds of some of our younger scholars and professors that, as I observe the problems of evangelism in our day, the idea that Christian evidences are not transitive to the thought complexes of unbelievers is a serious handicap to the propagation of the Gospel.

I believe great good can be accomplished if the Lord’s people can be aroused to the fact that there is such an issue in the minds of many of our splendid young pastors and teachers.

I am delighted with Dr. Clark’s reply, printed in full in the above pages (pp. 67ff.) for one reason, because he has made important concessions to the point of my argument. The distinction which Dr. Clark’s reply now makes between “a non-Christian system” and non-Christian people, (a distinction not clearly made, I feel, in his book) seems to me to involve and lead up to a complete surrender of his position.

The entire paragraph on this subject in his book (p. 163f) to which I objected is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Clark’s Reply

In J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 24/07/2011 at 18:35

Continuing our series on the 1947-1948 exchange between J. Oliver Buswell and Gordon H. Clark, the following is Clark’s initial reply to Buswell’s review of Clark’s book, A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION. And as with the series of exchanges between Buswell and Van Til, this series too provides a lesson in the exercise of Christian polemics.

Dr. Clark Comments


DR. BUSWELL, whose zeal for the cause of Christ I admire and whose friendship I value, has generously offered me the opportunity to comment on his review[1] of my book, A Christian Philosophy of Education. The points raised in the review are so numerous that it would require more than a volume to deal with them all. I must therefore refrain from analyzing Dr. Buswell’s various arguments against my position, and direct attention to one point, a very important point, where Dr. Buswell has misapprehended my meaning.

On page four Dr. Buswell says, “He denies that we have any common ground, in facts and rationality, with unbelievers.” This does not happen to be the case.

It may be that some contemporary Calvinists, in their efforts to state the Biblical position and to defend it against humanism, have denied “any common ground, in facts and rationality, with unbelievers.” To me, however, this denial seems unscriptural and therefore untrue. All men are made in the image of God, even though the image is marred by sin; and all men are inhabitants of one and the same universe. These are two “grounds” in common.

The quotation from A Christian Philosophy of Education, p. 164, which Dr. Buswell uses in this connection, does not deny such common ground. If it is read in its context, one will see that it says “There is no such thing as a common ground between Christianity and a non-Christian system. From a world naturalistically conceived, one cannot argue to the God of Christianity.”

In this philosophical discussion it has seemed important to me to distinguish between a system of thought and an actual person. Since everyone is fallible, since some people hold more erroneous views than others, it is clear that a given Christian does not have all the truth or all the system. Some of the system he must believe in order personally to be a Christian; some of the system he may not know at all; and some parts of the system he may consciously reject. For example, Calvinists and Arminians accuse each other of rejecting parts of Biblical teaching. Therefore what is true of an inconsistent person is not necessarily true of a consistent system. And I have maintained that there is a common ground among persons, but not among systems.

Dr. Buswell is not the only person who has failed to see this distinction. Probably the fault lies in my manner of expression. Doubtless the immediate interest in Christian schools led to a too concise and therefore obscure formulation of more basic and more general philosophic principles. But that the distinction is important may be shown by noting, in one or two cases, the effect of this misapprehension on other parts of Dr. Buswell’s review.

On page five Dr. Buswell quotes the argument that the resurrection viewed as an isolated historical event does not prove that Christ died for our sin. This should be obvious, for other people have been raised from the dead, and yet they had not died for our sin. Clearly therefore a resurrection does not prove an atonement. Then says Dr. Buswell, Read the rest of this entry »

It’s A Fact!

In David S. Kennedy, Modernism, The Presbyterian on 24/07/2011 at 14:11

The following editorial appeared on the pages of THE PRESBYTERIAN in November of 1924 [vol. 94, no. 45 (6 November 1924): 3-4].
It was provided without indication of authorship, but the Rev. David S. Kennedy was editor-in-chief at that time and thus was the likely author. Associate editors included William L. McEwan, Maitland Alexander, Samuel G. Craig, Clarence E. Macartney and J. Gresham Machen, and I suppose any of these men could also have authored this editorial. The editorial itself speaks a basic truth about the foundation of the Christian faith, while also providing an example of a straight-forward apologetic method for the modern era.

The Factual Basis of Christianity

One of the outstanding characteristics of modern religious liberalism—that which as much as anything else differentiates between it and historical Christianity and especially between it and evangelical Christianity—is its open or implied denial of the factual basis of the Christian religion.

This is particularly evident on the part of Dr. Fosdick, whose pen and tongue are doing so much to commend it to the present generation. His recent letter to the Presbytery of New York makes clear that his refusal to subscribe to the Westminster Confession is due not to the fact that he regards this creed as false as compared with other existing creeds, but rather to the fact that in the nature of the case, no creed can be true in any strict sense of the word. All creeds, all expressions of belief, according to Dr. Fosdick, are but the transient phrasing of what men have experienced within their own souls, with their fellows, or with God. That this holds good, in his estimation, of the doctrinal statements of the Scriptures as truly as it does of the Westminster Confession, is made perfectly clear in his recent book, The Modern Use of the Bible, which is being so widely and persistently advertised at the present time. Apart from the fact that Dr. Fosdick believes that the reduced Jesus left [to] us after literary and historical criticism has done its work was a real, historical person, there is virtually no recognition whatever of the factual basis of Christianity in this book. Everywhere it is maintained that the essential value of the Bible lies in its “reproducible experiences,” not in the historical facts or happenings it records. Dr. Fosdick has the Bible in mind as well as the creeds when he writes : “Christianity is a way of life, incarnate in Christ, that has expressed itself in many formulas, and will yet express itself in many more, and the world will ultimately choose that church which produces the life, whatever the formulas may be in which she carries it” (page 205). When it is considered that a few paragraphs preceding this he says, with the emphasis of italics, of the differences between Lutheranism, Calvinism, Episcopalianism, Methodism, Congregationalism, Unitarianism— defined as an “intellectual” revolt against an incredible metaphysic”—that “nothing matters in all this except the things that lead men into more abundant life” (page 201), it is evident that facts in the sense of events that have happened do not enter into his conception of Christianity at all in any vital way. Read the rest of this entry »

Buswell Reviews Clark (1947)

In J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 23/07/2011 at 13:03

Prior to the series of articles on presuppositionalism that appeared in THE BIBLE TODAY, there was about a year earlier another series begun by Dr. Buswell when he reviewed A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY, by Dr. Gordon H. Clark. This series of exchanges between Buswell and Clark will include the following:

Articles in the Buswell-Clark Series :
1. “A Christian Philosophy of History: A Book Review,” by J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., The Bible Today 41.1 (October 1947): 3-15.
2. “Dr. Clark Comments,” by Gordon H. Clark, The Bible Today 41.3 (December 1947): 67-70.
3.  ”Dr. Clark’s Comments—Editorial Note,” by J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., The Bible Today 41.3 (December 1947): 70-74.
4. “Does the Bible Sanction Apologetic?,” by Vernon Grounds, The Bible Today 41.3 (December 1947): 84-89.
4. “Concerning System and Demonstration,” by Gordon H. Clark, The Bible Today 41.4 (January 1948): 109-114.
5.  ”Editorial Comment,” by J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., The Bible Today 41.4 (January 1948): 114-118.
6. “System and Induction,” by Gordon H. Clark, The Bible Today 41.6 (March 1948): 173-177.

On a related note, see also these articles by the Rev. David S. Clark, father of Gordon H. Clark :
1. The Philosophical Basis of Christianity, by Rev. David S. Clark, The Presbyterian 94.50 (11 December 1924): 6-7.
2. Modernism and the Higher Criticism, by Rev. David S. Clark, D.D., The Presbyterian 95.1 (1 January 1925): 8-9.

“A Christian Philosophy of History”[1]

Dr. Clark is a competent scholar of outstanding achievements, and a well informed, devout Bible-believing Christian. His B.A. and Ph.D. degrees were taken at the University of Pennsylvania. Of unquestioned loyalty to Christ and the Bible, his teaching and his writings have exemplified a high order of learning which does honor to his Phi Beta Kappa key.

It has been remarked by prominent teachers of philosophy, and Dr. Clark calls attention to the fact (p. 6), that whereas the Roman Catholics have presented their philosophy in a fairly well integrated form, based upon the teachings of Thomas Aquinas,[2] the Protestant philosophy has not been presented (at least not as a technical system of metaphysics) in any compact body of philosophical writings.

To meet this need in part Dr. Clark has undertaken to write not a Protestant philosophy in general, but a philosophy of education which, as he says, is one of the important branches of the field.

Dr. Clark has indeed made a noteworthy contribution. Whereas, so far as bulk is concerned, this review may seem critical, I should like to urge that the excellencies of his work so far outweigh the points which I criticize, that there is no comparison. It is hoped that the book will be widely read and circulated not only by school teachers but especially by parents who seriously care to fulfill their obligations in bringing up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” I have heard that someone in conversation once criticized Charles Hodge for the bulk of negative material in a certain portion of his writings. Thereupon Hodge produced a marine map and showed that by far the larger number of notations were to be found in the shallow waters near shore. The great open stretches of the ocean where the sailing is clear were generally characterized by absence of comment. So it is with my review of this product of the workmanship of my good friend and former colleague.


My most basic criticism has to do with Dr. Clark’s theory of evidences. He is one of a group of earnest Bible-believing younger professors who do not regard the traditional arguments for the existence of God as valid, and who give entirely inadequate logical place to the historical data of the Christian message. He denies that we have any common ground, in facts and rationality, with unbelievers. His constructive view is given in the following words:

Persuasion therefore is not an appeal to a common ground or [should read of (?)] non-Christian experience. Persuasion must be regarded as a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. The faithful Christian presents the Christian faith to an unbeliever, he explains it and shows it in all its fulness. Then the Christian prays that the Holy Spirit regenerate his auditor, renew his mind, open his eyes, and enable him to see the truth of what was said. This is not an appeal to a common ground ; it is an appeal to God. (p. 164)

I thoroughly agree with the affirmations in the above quotation. It is the denial of a common ground in factual and reasonable material to which I strongly object. Indeed in our proclamation of the Gospel we are utterly dependent upon the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. No word of ours would have the slightest effect were it not for the fact, promised by the Lord, that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world.” (John 16:8)  In this, however, we have a constant principle of all Christian activity. In explaining our dependence upon the Holy Spirit in evangelistic activities, Paul used the obvious illustration of agriculture. “I planted, Apollos waters ; but God gave the increase.” (I Cor. 3:6)  Is the farmer not on some common ground with his crops, because he trusts God for the increase? The Apostle Paul in his own ministry constantly assumed a direct transitive interaction between his proclamation of the Gospel and the mind of the unbeliever. “Knowing . . . the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.” (II Cor. 5:11)

Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology, Volume III, p. 79f.) points out that the denial of a common rational factual ground between believers and unbelievers is found in certain historical Lutheran writings, but is contrary to the Calvinistic position. Dr. Clark is a “High Calvinist.” It is strange that in our generation several prominent “High Calvinists” have take a distinctly non-Calvinistic position in denying common intellectual ground between believers and unbelievers. Read the rest of this entry »

Read History!

In Uncategorized on 22/07/2011 at 21:47

From THE UNION SEMINARY MAGAZINE, vol. 4, no. 1 (Sept.-Oct. 1892): 10-12. 


Rev. Robert P. Kerr, D.D.

Human history is the resultant of the divine government, and human agency. It is divine because God rules : it is human because man if free.

The study of history is then the study of the two most important questions : What is God? and, What is man? Yes, and another not less momentous : What are the actual, and the ideal, relations between man and God?

The student of history should set out with the belief in God and his government of men. If he does not, and is honest and intelligent, he will arrive at that creed before he has gone far in the annals of humanity. The sublime order and movement forward of the history of civilization, the unvarying sequence of happiness to virtue and of misery to vice, the overruling of evil for good, the ultimate triumph of right over wrong, as well as many other splendid laws written over the face of humanity, proclaim the supreme government of God, and prove his wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

On the other hand, the study of the mass composed of individuals, and of individuals composing the mass, best reveals the nature of man. We learn from the men of other days how those of our own time would act under the same influence. The magnificent capabilities of man are seen in history–what he can attain to in knowledge, in art, in power, in character. The study of history is necessary to the right understanding of all the arts and sciences. Would a man be a soldier? he must know military annals ; a poet? he must acquaint himself with the world’s poets ; a statesman? it is indispensable that he be familiar with the rise, progress, and fall of nations, grasping the causes which have produced these effects ; would he be a theologian? the history of doctrine is second only to a knowledge of the Bible. In fact the study of history is the one great fundamental study which furnishes a foundation for acquirements in all other departments of human research.

God’s own example leads in this, for the greater part of the book of the revelation of divine truth is history. The character of God, and the nature of man, as well as the relations between God and man, are clearly set forth in this greatest of all histories. We are not to understand that God was concerned only in those portions of the history of mankind which makes up the inspired volume. God had indeed a peculiar purpose in these–the development of his plan of salvation ; but God is in all history executing his unchangeable laws, and bringing about his wise designs.

The failure to know history makes men narrow, egotistical, bigoted. Ignorance of history is shown in those who are attracted by the so-called new theology,” which is not new, but old, worn out and exploded long ago. It is doubtful that any thing new in the realm of theological discussion has been brought out during the last two hundred and fifty years. Nearly all of the novelties of our time are the old heresies of the earliest days of Christian history.

One of the best things to cultivate in the human soul is patriotism, and this, if it be intelligent and not merely sentimental, is based on a knowledge of history.

One of the strongest incentives to virtue and heroism is the examples of those who have devoted their lives to the welfare of their country, their church, and to the defence of truth, in loyalty to God. The record of their lives is the world’s greatest riches. Yes, the world’s greatest riches, not excluding the life and work of Jesus, but including it ; for all the truly good and great fall into the same catalogue with him. He ever leading because perfect, and infinitely superior because divine. His divinity lifts his life above all others however good, but not to dissociate it from theirs, and the glory of a good man is that he lives in the same cause with the Son of God.

After all, is history a meaningless tangle? Has it no order, no plan? Yes, a sublime one ; but often misunderstood because incomplete. When it is finished every intelligent creature shall see what God meant by it all. But he who reads history in the light of revealed truth, can now understand its drift, and its ultimate design. What is it? It is the vindication of God’s character impugned by Satan in his rebellion against him, which rebellion was first instituted in heaven, and afterwards imparted to earth. This vindication is not of one attribute, but of God in the fulness of his character. His truth and justice are vindicated in all the destruction of evil, and his love in the salvation of all who will be saved, at the infinite expense of his incarnation and death.

Read history ; but read it in the light of God ; and ever feel that the story as it is told is penned on the pages of time by the overruling hand of the Infinite.

Calvin on the Nature of Scripture

In Uncategorized on 21/07/2011 at 19:51

Currently I’m deep in the middle of processing the Papers of the Rev. Wesley P. Walters. You can track my progress of processing the Walters Collection, here. Rev. Walters was best known as a noted researcher of Mormonism and most of the Walters Collection concerns that research, but he was also a Presbyterian pastor, with much of his ministry spent shepherding the Marissa Presbyterian Church in Marissa, Illinois. That church was originally part of the United Presbyterian denomination, and then after 1958, became part of the UPCUSA. It was in that context that Rev. Walters found himself dealing with the Confession of 1967, authored in large part by Dr. Edward A. Dowey. One particular problem with that document was its view of Scripture. In the report reproduced here, Rev. Walters provides a powerful corrective, showing that behind the views of the Westminster divines stood an equally strong view of Scripture espoused by John Calvin.

Marissa, Illinois
November 19, 1965

Southern Illinois Presbytery

Dear Fellow Presbyters

Since this year is to be a year of study on the proposed Confession of 1967., we are taking the liberty of making the following information available to you for background material.

Professor Dowey and other members of the committee that drafted the new document have expressly stated that It was their intention to revise the position of the Westminster Confession in which the Bible is equated with the Word of God. In speaking of this revision, Professor Dowey and others have indicated that the new document is a return to the Reformation position after Westminster had gone too far afield.

This way of presenting the issue, we feel, is misleading. An examination of the enclosed quotations from Calvin’s writings will show anyone familiar with the Westminster Confession that Westminster is just a condensed summary of Calvin’s position.If we think we must break with the position which has been held universally in the church since the days of the apostolic church, then let us frankly say so. But let us not try to misstate the issue.

While it may be true that the question of inspiration did not receive the emphasis of the Reformation that it did in the centuries that followed, this does not mean that the Reformed Churches did not believe such a doctrine. It means only that it was not an issue between them and the Papal party. Both groups agreed on the inspiration of Scripture, so who would expect them to make a big issue of it?

Even Dr. Dowey admits in his detailed study of Calvin (see his comments at the end of the attached enclosure) that Calvin held to biblical inerrancyin the autographs of Scripture. If we are willing to admit Luther as at all representative of the Reformation thought on the matter it is even more striking. Over and over in his writings Luther has remarks such as the following: “The Scriptures have never erred” (W. XV, 1481) ; “Scripture cannot err” (W. XIX, 1073); “The only book in which no historical or scientific error can occur is the Bible” (W. XIV, 491) ; “It is impossible that Scripture should contradict itself ; it appears so only to the senseless and obstinate hypocrites.” (St.L. IX, 356). We may differ with Luther and Calvin today, but let us not misrepresent them.

We hope you will find the enclosure stimulating to your study and helpful in setting the problem in its true perspective.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

The Session
Marissa U.P. Church
W.P. Walters, Moderator

No man will take stock in a book or writing parts of which are untrue, particularly if he cannot tell which parts are true and which are untrue” – Luther (W. XX. 2275)


Calvin Equates the Bible with the Word of God

But where it pleased God to raise up a more visible form of the church, he willed to have his Word set. down, and sealed in writing, that his priests might seek from it what to teach the people, and that every doctrine to be taught should conform to that rule . . . .

Therefore, that whole body, put together out of law, prophecies, psalms, and histories, was the Lord’s Word for the ancient people, (verbum Domini fuit veteri populo); and to this standard, priests and teacher, even to the coming of Christ, had to conform their teaching.” Institutes IV.8.6 (Library of Christian Classics Edition used throughout).

Let this be a firm principles : No other word is to be held as the Word of God (Dei Verbum), and given place as such in the church, than what, is contained first in the Law and the Prophets, then in the writings of the apostles ; and the only authorized way of teaching in the church is by the prescription and standard of his Word.” Institutes IV.8.8 Read the rest of this entry »

Conservatives Classified and Divided

In Modernism, The Presbyterian on 18/07/2011 at 07:08

It is interesting to find an early description and assessment of the Fundamentalist Movement, this from 1924 and published in 1925. Pictured here is a fair unanimity within the Movement. Already by the time of this writing it is evident that there was a clear division among fundamentalists over millennial issues, but it took another decade for that division to become more formalized and more divisive of fellowship between the two sides. Implicit in this article, as you will see later, were the attempts by modernists to foster division among the modernists. Those attempts had been recognized as early as 1921 and, it might be argued, finally bore fruit in the mid-1930’s. And again in the 1940’s, in the Southern Presbyterian Church, there are indications that behind the effort to speak to the issue of dispensationalism there were the machinations of modernism seeking to divide the conservatives.  

The Rise and Growth of the Fundamentalist Movement
by the Rev. Raymond J. Rutt
[The Presbyterian 95.1 (1 January 1925): 7-8.]

[This article is a brief of the one read by Rev. Raymond J. Rutt, pastor of the Oliver Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, before the Presbyterian Ministers’ Association of Minneapolis, on December 8, 1924.

I regret very much that it has become necessary to classify groups in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. I abhor being called theologically by any other name than Christian, because no other name can fully represent a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But when there appears a group of people within the church who deny the final authority of the whole Bible in faith and practice, and put the human mind in the place of final authority, then I am compelled to submit to a classification of believers, who have always, and do now, believe in the final authority of the whole Bible in all matters of faith, by whatever name they may call themselves.

The name “fundamentalist” has been given to, and quite generally accepted by, those believers in the Christian church who rely upon the whole Bible for their authority. And in contrast, the name “modernist” has also been given, and as generally accepted by those who do not accept the whole Bible as authoritative, but put their own minds above the statements of Holy Writ. I know there are some who feel that fundamentalists and modernists are two extremes, and they prefer to take a middle-of-the-road policy between them. To me, this seems impossible. It is very evident that among modernists, the mind of man has rejected great portions of the Bible. If the mind of man is made supreme over any portion of the Bible, what will keep them from destroying the whole testimony of the Word? The difference between these two elements in the Christian church is not a matter of method or interpretation, but rather a matter of premesis [i.e., premise(s)] of authority. Fundamentalists all agree on the authority of the whole Bible. The question is often asked, “Are the modernists our brethren in the Lord?” I think that depends on how much of the Bible they reject. It is dishonoring God to reject any portion of his Holy Word. And when that rejection continues to the extent of denying doctrines that are essential to salvation, then I cannot consider that person a brother in Christ. Many modernists have gone beyond this limit, and I do not consider them brethren.

There are two kinds of fundamentalists, and yet they both accept the final, absolute and supreme authority of the whole Bible, and agree in the essentials of salvation. Premillennial fundamentalists believe that the coming of the Lord before the millennium, which they feel is imminent, is fundamental to a right understanding of the prophecies, but not fundamental to salvation. The post-millennialist fundamentalists feel the same about their position. Thus we find that both kinds of fundamentalists agree as to essentials of salvation. Read the rest of this entry »