GHC Review 42: The Atonement

GHC Review 42; The Atonement

The Atonement, by Gordon H. Clark, Hobbs, NM: The Trinity Foundation, 1987, 2nd edition 1996, 145 pp.

This is another volume that was originally a chapter in Gordon Clark’s systematic theology. Thus its publication date is about a decade later than it was originally written.

We find here that Clark approves of the “Covenant of Redemption” (p. 11-17) He writes, “such an agreement between the Father and the Son is by no means an obscure idea buried in one or two subsidiary phrases. On the contrary, the Scripture gives ample foundation to the doctrine.” (p. 13) And he then provides support. In a couple places Clark speaks of the Covenant of Redemption as being between the Father and the Son. Elsewhere (maybe O. Palmer Robertson? I’ve heard the Holy Spirit included in this covenant as well. It seems that Clark would agree, for he notes “1 Peter 1:2 also indicates a concerted plan in which the three persons of the Trinity all have a part.” (p. 16)

Clark then has a section on the Covenant of Grace. He notes, “The covenant with Noah may properly be viewed as an early form of the covenant of grace. God explained the covenant in fuller detail to Abraham.” (p. 19) In this section Clark provides a pithy critique of the errors of dispensationalism. This section is the lengthiest in Clark’s writings to address covenant theology, yet I don’t think there is any answer there to the question of “republication.” Still this quote is worth repeating:

“The Mosaic ritual, Paul explains, was a temporary arrangement because of the sins of the Israelites. It was to cease when the Messiah should come. Even during the Mosaic administration, the Abrahamic covenant was not disannulled, set aside, invalidated, or made of no effect. The Abrahamic covenant was operative all through the alleged dispensation of law. No one was ever saved by keeping the law. No one ever kept the law. Salvation, now, then, and always has been by grace through faith alone. Hence, from the fall of Adam there has been one, just one, continuing covenant of grace.” (p. 27)

In the section on “The Incarnation” we find one of Clark’s most quoted statements: “A paradox is a charleyhorse between the ears that can be eliminated by a rational massage.” (p. 32)

There is much of interest in this volume, but I was particularly drawn to the section on “The Vicarious Sacrifice” which is a defense of Substitutionary Atonement. Ever since I met someone at L’Abri who told me they deny this doctrine, I’ve been keen to understand better the Biblical view. Clark gives plenty of Scriptural support for it. (pp. 64 and 65)

Probably most of Clark’s readers are already Calvinists. So to an extent this book is preaching to the choir. But even a Calvinist can improve his understanding of the details. For non-Calvinists, I’d recommend reading Clark’s Biblical Predestination first and then The Atonement. You probably should read his Logic as well, and I always recommend Steele and Thomas’s Five Points of Calvinism, Defined and Defended.

I did have to laugh later in the volume when I came to Clark’s comment on John Murray:

“One must be careful when reading the works of John Murray. He has a remarkable control of the English language, is in most cases quite orthodox, but is sometimes deficient in logic. In addition to the example just cited, his booklet The Free Offer of the Gospel comes to a strange conclusion.” (p. 89)

Clark explains of that booklet written by Murray and Ned Stonehouse, “The two authors have used exegesis and argument in such a way as to produce a contradiction. But they are so sure of their arguments that they are unwilling to admit that they could have possibly made a mistake. This is not intellectual modesty. When one’s thoughts lead to contradiction, the logical and humble thing to do is to go back and find where the mistake occurred.” (p. 90)

In a section on traducianism, Clark gives Scriptural argumentation for the position. He writes, “Notes too that Genesis 46:26 speaks of ‘the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins.’” And, he notes, “When Even was taken from Adam’s side, there is no mention of he creation of a second soul. Eve totally came out of Adam (1 Corinthians 11:8).” (p. 113) “The most important argument for traducianism is based on Genesis 2:2, 3. ‘God … rested from all his work.’ ‘In six days the Lord made the Heaven and the Earth … and rest the seventh day’ (Exodus 20:11). ‘God rested from all his works (apo panton ton ergon)’ (Hebrews 4:4).” Creationism (of souls) has “the difficulty of thinking that God immediately creates sinful souls.” (p. 115) Throughout this section Clark refers to Charles Hodge’s opposition to traducianism and opposition realism. While Clark is then opposed to Hodge, he notes, “I consider Charles Hodge by far the best of all American theologians.” But, says Clark, “his Scottish common sense philosophy was fortified with too much usquebaugh before he imbibed it.” (p. 118)

The penultimate chapter on “The Sovereignty of God” is the lengthiest treatment in any of Clark’s writings of the idea of “necessity.” He argues not only that the method of salvation God chose was necessary, but that “Everything is necessary.” “Every detail is a part of the all-comprehensive divine decree. God foreordains whatever comes to pass.” (p. 132) Clark finds his defense for this necessitarianism in the immutability of God. He explains, “To suppose that anything could have been otherwise is to suppose that God could have been otherwise than he is. The salvation of the elect is part of the sovereign plan by which the universe goes on. God had to create–not because there was some power external to him, but because he is God. A God who might not create, or would not have created, is simply not the Biblical God.” (p. 133)

The final chapter then is a concise defense of limited atonement.

The cover of my copy of the book (the 2nd edition) is so uninspiring that I’ve chosen in this instance to include my desk as background to a picture of it. The desk at least cannot be less inspiring.

For the previous review in this series see here.

For the next review in this series see here.

8 thoughts on “GHC Review 42: The Atonement”

  1. Pingback: GHC Review 41: Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism | A Place for Thoughts

  2. Pingback: GHC Review 43: Predestination | A Place for Thoughts

  3. Thanks for this review Doug. My copy has the crucifixion scene on the front. I prefer the earlier Trinity Foundation editions because they have bolder fonts and are easier to read!

  4. Doug,
    What is the “dark theory of general propitiation” of Clarks Herman Hoeksema is referring to in The Clark-Van Til Controversy?
    Also I assume Clark did not hold to the seventh day of creation as being a 24 hour period! (Isa. 45:7, Rev. 21)

    1. I’m not sure what that “dark theory” is! Do you have the page number for that reference? Well, it wouldn’t help me much right now anyways since all my books are packed in boxes for my upcoming move.

  5. Doug,
    The quote comes from page 17. Herman is quoting from a pamphlet by Clark entitled “His People” and goes on to say that if he were to formulate a complaint against Dr. Clark, he would have attacked his “dark theory of general propitiation”. He goes on to say that the complainants must not consider this in conflict with the Reformed view. I have never read this pamphlet and was wondering if Clark taught the same thing quoted in his book “The Atonement”.

    I hope your moving is going well!

    1. Here is the pamphlet:

      Probably Hoeksema is eyeing the third paragraph:

      “There is of course a sense in which Christ died for all men. He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, as this same John tells us in his first epistle. No greater sacrifice would be needed even if all men were to be saved. But obviously Christ is not the propitiation for all sin in the sense that he saves all men, but only in a vague, general sense.”

      One might almost think that Clark is holding to a sufficient/efficient distinction as some theologians are known to do. But I don’t think that he is (or does). I think Clark is only saying that Christ’s death is sufficient FOR AS MANY AS God wants it to be applied to. This is the problem in general with talking about such hypotheticals. They always get you in trouble!

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