Gordon Clark on Divine Simplicity

A List of Places where Gordon Clark favorably notes Divine Simplicity.

[Note that in some of these instances Clark might just be relaying the view of the theologian he’s writing about, and not necessarily accepting the doctrine himself. But in other instances approval of Divine Simplicity is clearly his view.]

  1. 1937. A letter from Gordon H. Clark to J. Oliver Buswell, April 3, 1937.

Even in the human being I cannot persuade myself that there is a radical distinction between intellect and will – nor do I mean to be an anti-intellectual. But the activity of the intellect seems to involve volition (a good deal on the part of the students). And reciprocally a thought is an incipient impulse. In the case of God, the simplicity of his reality should favor still more such a identification, rather than a development of divine faculty psychology. If a view like this can be worked out in detail the result might be that God’s nature is his will and the original question, if not answered, might be to that extent clarified. It would then be possible to speak of the nature of God’s will, but no longer of a ‘nature’ independent of and distinct from the will of God. This attracts me because God is a living God, not a Plotinic One or a Spinozistic axiom.

  1. 1957. Thales to Dewey, p. 204-205.

The mystic view is that the doctrines are really false, colloquial accommodations to human limitations. But Anselm believed that God has revealed the truth and that this truth itself, not some ethereal negation of it, could be demonstrated. This must not be taken to imply that certain attributes cannot be denied of God. John Scotus had called God Sun, Star, Breath, and Water, only to empty them of all significance. Anselm keeps the significance and denies that these are attributes of God. But other attributes which are better than these belong to God. He is living, just, wise, powerful, and eternal. At the same time, Anselm is careful to point out that God is not wise or just by participation in a superior Idea. God himself is justice. That is what he is. As this line of reasoning applies to all attributes, so by them we know not merely what sort of being God is, but what God is. And is this not to know his essence, which the negative theologians said was unknowable? However, this concession, if it be a concession, must be made to negativism. Since God is one, without any composition, it follows that Justice is Life, Power is Eternity, and all attributes are the same. Obviously if Justice is God’s essence, and if God’s essence is Power, Just and Power are identical. Each attribute exhausts every other, “because whatever God is essentially in any way, this is all of what he is.”

  1. 1960. “Divine Attributes” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology.

The unity of the attributes therefore is a thesis that cannot be thoughtlessly dismissed. … The short account above might suggest that the attributes are not only the same in God, but with a little thought they appear to be the same to us too.

  1. 1964. “Thomas Aquinas” In Encyclopedia of Christianity.

With respect to man, the term wise signifies a quality distinct both from the man’s strength, from his essence, and from his existence. But with God, essence and existence are identical, and all His attributes merge.

  1. 1968. “Existence of God” in Encyclopedia of Christianity.

The simplicity of God’s being requires His essence to be identical with His existence

  1. 1972. The Johannine Logos. p. 64.

Power, wisdom, and word are identical, for in the simplicity of the divine essence all attributes merge.

  1. c. 1980. First Lessons in Theology.

Are All Attributes One? … A few pages back comments were made on a list of verses, relating to the eternity of God, with the exception of one. That verse was, “I AM THAT I AM.” It is hard to say how much can be drawn from this name, or how much can be read into it. Probably one cannot validly infer from this verse alone that God is pure simple being, and that his essence and attributes are all one reality; but it would be harder to show that this verse ruled out Charnock’s position. It rather supports it.

  1. c. 1980. First Lessons in Theology.

At this juncture the point in question is not the doctrine of the Trinity, which was of course Athanasius’ main interest, but the identification of God with the substance of God. God is not a compound of substance and attributes, the substance standing under the attributes, supporting them lest they fall to earth; nor are the attributes some addition to the substance, completing it. God therefore is his substance; his substance is his attributes; all his attributes are one; and this One is God.

  1. 1982. “The Sovereignty of God.” The Trinity Review Nov.-Dec.

Augustus Toplady wrote, among other things, “Observations on the Divine Attributes.” 3 The simplicity of God and the identity of all the divine attributes, used above to settle the relation between justice and sovereignty, Toplady expresses in the following words. “Although the great and ever blessed God is a Being absolutely simple … he is, nevertheless, in condescension to our weak and contracted faculties, represented in Scripture as possessed of divers properties, or attributes, which though seemingly different from his essence, are in reality essential to him, and constitutive of his very nature” (p. 675, col. 1). Toplady, then, specifies “his eternal wisdom, the absolute freedom and liberty of his will, the perpetuity and unchangeableness, both of himself and his decrees, his omnipotence, justice, and mercy.” The material is so good that it demands great restraint not to quote the entire article, twelve pages of long double columns. Fear not, modern reader, I shall give only a few short paragraphs.

  1. 1985. The Trinity. p. 76

The Biblical data, as it seems to me, adequately support Berkhof’s assertion that “God and his attributes are one.”

  1. 1985. The Trinity. p. 77.

This treatise has already suggested that the attributes are the essence, and that it would be better to drop the word essence and use the word definition. The attributes constitute the definition of God.

9 thoughts on “Gordon Clark on Divine Simplicity”

  1. If more Lutherans read Luther they would be in agreement with the Calvinists on predestination. The only significant difference between Luther and the Calvinists would be on the sacraments.
    Whatever happens, according to Luther, happens because God’s foreknowledge and God’s will are one and the same and whatever happens in providence happens of necessity. The Bondage of the Will. Modern Lutherans agree with Erasmus and Melanchthon’s later semi-pelagianism, not Luther. And, yes, God’s simplicity means that His nature and will are one and the same and eternally immutable.

      1. Dear Reformed Seminarian:
        The doctrine of Divine Simplicity is a difficult doctrine to understand.
        No doubt the doctrine of Divine Simplicity has many implications for our understanding of the Trinity.
        I recently have a discussion with Doug Douma and come to the conclusion that God is “three in Persons and one in Essence” can be understood without resorting to Divine Simplicity.
        The explanatory direction should be to explain what is obscure with what is clear, or at least what is less obscure.
        I find the doctrine of Divine Simplicity to be more obscure than than the doctrine of the Trinity.
        Also, I am a bit allergic to “substance” since reading Gordon Clark’s [The Trinity (1985)].
        A bit shameless on my part to mention this, but I have a blog post that explains along Clarkian lines why the Trinity can be understood without resorting to Divine Simplicity:
        Benjamin Wong

        1. Hi Benjamin,
          I appreciate your comment, and I will certainly read your blog post. My only point in linking my article is to show that Gordon Clark didn’t always speak of Divine Simplicity as if it was a given. But in fact, as the quote in my article proves, he recognized the danger of taking it too far. So in the end, I prefer to classify two different expressions of the doctrine, the first, Divine Simplicity, and the second, Absolute Divine Simplicity. Dealing with the first is difficult enough, but experimenting with the second is, in my experience, a dangerous road to travel.
          Thanks again!

  2. “This treatise has already suggested that the attributes are the essence, and that it would be better to drop the word essence and use the word definition. The attributes constitute the definition of God.”
    This quote shows clearly the Aristotelian influence on Clark. Not a bad thing at all in my opinion. Read Clark’s “Empedocles and Anaxagoras in Aristotle’s de Anima”. In there Clark elucidates Aristotle’s view on essence being definition, and you’ll see that its the same view quoted above, and he accepted it his entire life.

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