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John Robbins“Many people in relatively orthodox churches are confused about sanctification,” wrote John Robbins in the forward to Gordon Clark’s book Sanctification.

And not only is there a great deal of confusion about sanctification, but the errors people make on this doctrine place them in two broad categories: mystics and workers.

Mystics, as Robbins points out, are those who say of sanctification, “Let go and let God.” They tend to be Charismatics. On the other hand, the workers think that justification is by grace but sanctification is by works. Such persons tend to be Reformed.

Neither of these approaches to sanctification is Biblical.

Before talking about what sanctification is, Robbins notes that salvation, “from start to finish, from election to glorification, from eternity to eternity, is all of grace.”

Robbins notes that justification – God’s declaring us legally righteous and pardoning all our sins – is by grace alone, through faith alone apart from any works. Further, justification is wholly outside us. It is a work that God has done for us by imputing – to impute means to ascribe or to reckon – Christ’s perfect righteousness to us. Justification is not a work done in us.

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John RobbinsThe following sermon was preached by John Robbins at Reformation Chapel in Unicoi Tennessee. Last week I featured part one of this sermon.  Today, I present part two. To read part one, please click here. The transcription is my own.

– Steve Matthews

Well, Luke continues in verse five,

Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how he spoke to you while he was still in Galilee.’

Well, these women are terrified. These men suddenly appear, and the women are terrified. Luke says they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth. And the angels speak to them and say, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

This reminds you of the opening chapter of Acts, where Luke is telling about the apostles watching Jesus being assumed into heaven. And two men again appear, maybe the same two angels, and speak to the apostles, and they say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here staring up into heaven?” They ask them a question again. And here the angels ask the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead. And then they tell them, “He is not here, but is risen. Remember how he spoke to you.” And this makes it clear about the important of words. See, we’re told in the first chapter of John that the Word preceded the visible creation, that everything that was created was preceded by the Word. The Word comes first, the Logos comes first. And many people get everything backwards, they think events, or history, or creation come first, rather than the Word.

But notice here no one witnesses the resurrection event. And what the women receive are words from the angels. They’re told specifically, “He is not here. He is risen. He is living. He’s not among the dead.” And then the angels remind them of Jesus’ own words that he spoke while he was still with him. Their faith rests on the testimony of Jesus and the testimony of the angels. The women did not see the resurrection event, but they received these words from Christ and from the angels.

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For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.

Romans 1:20

John Robbins

If you’ve ever read a book or heard a lecture on Christian apologetics, there’s a good chance Romans 1:19-20 were brought up. Perhaps these verses were cited as proof that all men know God, so that no one could claim ignorance of God on judgment day. That, of course, is true. Responsibility is based on knowledge, and since God has revealed himself to all men, all men are accountable to him.

Bible commentators, as well as the authors of the Westminster Confession, have identified two ways in which God reveals himself to men: general revelation and special revelation.

Special revelation is identical with the 66 books of the Bible. The Scriptures are God’s written, propositional revelation, which principally teach us, “What man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man,” in the words of the Shorter Catechism.

But what about general revelation? Just what is it that is meant by this term? The most common answer is that general revelation is identical with nature. We are told that when men look to the heavens and see the stars, or cast their eyes upon the majestic mountains they behold God’s attributes and, to that extent, know him and are therefore rightfully held responsible by him, even if they have never so much as heard the name of Jesus Christ.

Here’s one example of this line of reasoning.

Paul stresses the reality and universality of divine revelation, which is perpetual (“since the creation,” v.20) and perspicuous (“clearly seen,” v.20). Divine invisibility, eternity, and power are all expressed in and through the created order…The invisible God is revealed through the visible medium of creation. This revelation is manifest; it is not obscured but clearly seen (New Geneva Study Bible).

The commentators manifestly argue that one can reason from visible creation to an invisible God, but does this really make sense? On one hand, such an argument is appealing to Christians. We believe in God and rightfully want others to share that belief. But simply because we like the conclusion of an argument does not mean that it is a good argument. This is the case even if the conclusion of argument – that there is an immortal, invisible all wise God who created and sustains the world – is true.

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WIPFSTOCK_TemplateDoug Douma’s recently published biography of Gordon Clark titled The Presbyterian Philosopher has garnered a lot of positive attention.

I’ve just started reading it, so I’m not in a position to write a review. For reviews of the entire book, please see here for David Engelsma’s, here for Sean Gerety’s, and here for Tom Juodaitis’.

But having just read through the Introduction, I was very favorably impressed with Douma’s summary of Scripturalism, the name given to Clark’s philosophical system by John Robbins. Writes Douma,

The philosophy of Gordon Clark has been called Scripturalism because of his reliance on the truth of Scripture as his fundamental axiom or presupposition. Stated simply, his axiom is “The Bible is the Word of God.” Scripturalism teaches that the Bible is a revelation of truth from God, who Himself determines truth and is the source of all truth. In this theory, the prepositions of Scripture are true because they are given by inspiration of God, who cannot lie. For Clark, the Bible, the sixty-six books accepted by most Protestant churches, is a set of true propositions. All knowledge currently available to man are these propositions along with any additional propositions that can be logically deduced from them.”

Among the key terms in this paragraph is “axiom.” An axiom is an unproven first principle. All systems of thought, including Christianity, have unproven first principles. Both Clark and Robbins held that the axiom of Christianity is, “The Bible alone is the Word of God.”

Some Christians may be disturbed at that thought that one cannot prove the Bible is true. Somehow it doesn’t seem quite right to say this. It almost seems tantamount to casting doubt on the Scriptures and denying the entirety of the Christian faith.

I asked John Robbins about this once in an email, which (unfortunately!) I no longer have. But I recall quite well the gist of what he told me.

He explained that all thinking – this includes every philosophical system ever devised, secular or religious – must begin somewhere. That is to say, all systems of thought must have first principles, axioms, and that these axioms, because they are the starting point from which a system of thought is deduced, are by definition unproven and unprovable.

A moment’s reflection reveals why this is so. If one could prove an axiom, a first principle, then it would no longer be a first principle, whatever argument used to prove the original axiom would take over in this role.

Getting back to the axiom of Scripture, if we attempted, as some do, to prove that the Bible is the Word of God, the Bible would not be the foundation of our faith, but our own argument used to prove the inspiration of Scripture.

We would be lending more credence to our own ideas than to God’s revelation. And to do this would be impious, for there is nothing more sure than a word from God, who cannot lie.

In the end, the Christian’s belief in the inspiration 66 books of the Bible does not rest on any argument devised by man. But rather, as the Westminster Confession puts it,

[O]ur full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness, by and with the Word, in our hearts.

In other words, the Christian’s belief in the Bible is the product of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit who causes us to understand and agree with the propositions – a proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence – in the Bible.

This is not to say that the inspiration of the Bible cannot be defended. Clark wrote quite extensively in defense of the inspiration of Scripture. See God’s Hammer
for Clark’s devastating critique of various modernist theologians who sought to deny the doctrine of Scripture.

But what it does mean is that as Christians we do not have the burden of proving our first principles to unbelievers. Instead, we assume the truth of the Scriptures and use them to tear down the many high things in our day that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God.


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daniel-and-neb

Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

One of the key points of Gordon Clark’s Scripturalism is that we are just as dependent on God for knowledge as we are for salvation.

 

Those in the Reformed community, at least those who are actually Christians, will readily admit that salvation is by grace alone, through belief alone, in Christ alone.

But oddly, many of the same people are sound on the doctrine of salvation at the same time hold to a theory of knowledge (epistemology) that is at odds with their view of salvation.

It is not uncommon to hear some Christians talk as though there are two sources of knowledge, revelation in the 66 books of the Bible and sense experience (empiricism).

This admixture of revelation and sense experience in Christian thought can be traced back to Thomas Aquinas. John Robbins explains,

Thomas Aquinas, the great thirteenth-century Roman Catholic theologian, tried to combine two axioms in his system: the secular axiom of sense experience, which he obtained from Aristotle, and the Christian axiom of revelation, which he obtained from the Bible. His synthesis was unsuccessful. The subsequent career of western philosophy is the story of the collapse of Thomas’ unstable Aristotelian-Christian condominium (An Introduction to Gordon H. Clark)

One of the problems with Protestantism over the centuries is that it never produced a philosopher who challenged Aquinas’ theory of knowledge. As a result, Aquinas’ erroneous synthesis of “the secular axiom of sense experience…and the Christian axiom of revelation” was accepted by large segments of the Christian church.

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egyptAmong the besetting sins of Old Testament Israel was an unfortunate tendency do what seemed right in their own eyes. When faced with a difficult situation, many times the Israelites, both the common people and the leadership, chose to wing it rather than to seek God’s face.

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God condemned this way of thinking in no uncertain terms.

“Woe to the rebellious children,” says the LORD,

“Who take counsel, but not of Me,

And who devise plans, but not of My Spirit,

That they may add sin to sin;

Who walk to go down to Egypt,

And have not asked My advice,

To strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh,

And to trust in the shadow of Egypt!” (Isaiah 30:1, 2)

Some commentators believe that the likely targets of these words originally were King Hezekiah’s counselors. Assuming that is the case, how can we apply these words to what is going on in our own day? To do this, a little history is in order.

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The Religious Wars of the 21st Century by John W. Robbins – http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=53101448594

Conservatism, An Autopsy by John W. Robbins – http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=115

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