E. Mac Davis, First Pastor of Dillingham Presbyterian Church

E. Mac Davis a.k.a. Edmund McMillan Davis (June 21, 1869 – August 6, 1905) was the founding pastor of Dillingham Presbyterian Church. The son of Alexander and Emily Jane (McMillan) Davis, he first made a public confession of his faith in the First Presbyterian Church of Knoxville at the age of fifteen. He earned a B. A. and was class valedictorian in 1890 at the University of Tennessee. In 1892 he earned an M.A. from the same school and was an instructor of Latin and English there from 1890-1893. He then studied at Union Theological Seminary* in Richmond, VA and graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1896. Thereafter he returned to the University of Tennessee as an instructor of Hebrew History and Literature (1896-1897). In 1897 Davis began his pastorate at Dillingham Presbyterian Church and remained there until 1904. From there he took a pastorate in McDonough, Georgia (in the Atlanta Presbytery) but died young the next year from “mental and physical exhaustion after a week’s meeting in the hot weather.”

Following the founding of Dillingham Presbyterian Church in 1897, and his marriage to Miss Janie Watkins Carrington of Sunnyside, Virginia in March 1899 (with whom he would have one son and two daughters), Davis next appears in the record making a request for needed items for the people of the community; specifically for used text-books and barrels of children’s clothing, as shipping by barrel was cheaper than box. (Presbyterian Standard, Charlotte, May 18, 1899. Vol XLI, No. 20.) The same source notes that Davis conducted religious services at “Barnardsville, Democrat, Dillingham, Terry’s Fork, Paint Fork, Sugar Creek, Rock View and Carson’s School house.”

Synod minutes note that Davis was the first to reside in the manse of Dillingham Presbyterian Church. They read, “The manse at Barnardsville has been completed, and Brother Davis is occupying it.” (Minutes of the Eighty-Eight Annual Session of the Synod of North Carolina, Held and Charlotte N.C., October, 1901. pg. 422-423)

Like his predecessor R. P Smith, E. Mac Davis noted the conditions in the North Carolina mountains. He wrote, “The majority of the preachers are as unread as the people themselves, unread in history and frequently unread in the Scriptures. The average preacher could not pass an examination for entrance into the sixth grade of a city school. Not one in three owns a Bible dictionary or concordance. They receive the Bible as the ipsissima verba of revelation. An appeal to it is the end of controversy—the end in one sense and the beginning in another.”

Regarding his time while pastor at Dillingham Presbyterian Church, it has been written of him, “Rev. Davis is said to have been directly responsible for the enactment of a law prohibiting the manufacture and sale of whiskey within two miles of any church in Buncombe County. He personally went to Raleigh with the petition and remained until the bill was passed by the legislature. This law, however, only affected government licensed distilleries. There still remained a number of illegal moonshine operations in the coves of more remote sections of Big Ivy.” (Dillingham’s of Big Ivy, Buncombe, and Related Families. Margaret Haile, Gateway Press, 1985)

Likewise, synod minutes note, “Brother Davis has won a great victory in his field by his valiant labors resulting in the passage of a prohibition bills covering all territory in Buncombe, Madison, and Yancey counties, except incorporated towns. We cannot over estimate what this means in the advancement of the cause of Christ in that section.” (Minutes of the Eighty-Eight Annual Session of the Synod of North Carolina, Held and Charlotte N.C., October, 1901. pg. 422-423)

The Asheville-Citizen Times recorded, “REV. E. MAC. DAVIS TO CARRY PETITIONS AND LETTERS TO RALEIGH. Editor The Citizen: The people of Ivy township are thoroughly aroused against the distillery operated and the distillery proposed to be operated between Democrat and Barnardsvllle on Big Ivy creek.” (Asheville Citizen-Times, Monday, February 11, 1901, pg. 3.)

The Charlotte news later recorded, “Until the late Rev. E. Mack Davis began preaching there about 12 years ago, the gospel was seldom heard in that section. Mr. Davis was an honored member of this Synod and did a most effective work. Moonshiners warned him that if he did not cease preaching he would be killed. He did not heed the warning, hut continued to preach. He went at once to Asheville and his life insured for ten thousand dollars, with the provision that if he should be killed the money should be used in erecting ten new church buildings in the part of the state where he was preaching. He was not killed, but his horse was cruelly treated and his hair was clipped so close as to cause the animal to resemble a mule as much as possible. Mr. Davis turned this misfortune of the horse to good account, however, he had photographs of him taken and sold enough of them to build a new church.” (The Charlotte News, Thursday, October 7, 1910, p. 7.)

Finally his deeds were recalled and recorded in the Presbyterian Standard upon his death in 1905: “In a county that had been celebrated for its number of murders, he did not hesitate to threaten the illicit distillers with detection and arrest, and on more than one occasion he led the revenue officers to the stills and helped in breaking up those sources of demoralization. It is probable that his very boldness saved his life, — that and his unfailing humor. When some of his enemies shaved his horse’s tail and mane Mr. Davis rode Jumbo to Asheville, had a photograph taken of the disfigured steed, and sold enough of them to contribute very largely to the building of a new church, upon the completion of which he publicly thanked the perpetrators of the joke.” (The Presbyterian Standard, January 4, 1905 Vol. XLVII -No. 1)

*While at Union Seminary, Davis wrote the following article: “The Distinctive Element in Christian Morality” Union Seminary Magazine, Richmond, VA, Vol. VI, No. 1, September-October, 1894.

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Robert Perry Smith, “The Shepherd of the Hills”

In the library of Dillingham Presbyterian Church there hangs on the wall pictures of each pastor to have called the church home. The first of these has a plaque noting “Rev. Robert P. Smith, 1896 Church Planter.” Though the honor of “Founding Pastor” of Dillingham Presbyterian Church is reserved for the second plaque on the wall – E. Mac Davis – it was Smith, working for the Asheville Presbytery, who likely preached the first sermon at the spot and whose efforts laid the groundwork for the church plant.

Robert Perry Smith (Mar. 24, 1851 – Feb. 4, 1936) was quite an accomplished man. Though orphaned at age 12, he later graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary (in Columbia, SC). He was the principle of Reidville Boys Academy (1874-1875), Reidville Girls Academy (1877-1885), and the 2nd President of Presbyterian College (Clinton, SC) (1885-1888). In 1888 he went to work in the mountains of North Carolina. After first serving as a pastor in Gastonia, NC, he worked for the Presbytery of Asheville as the Superintendent of Home Mission Work for thirty-three years. In that role he planted a number of churches in the region and, in 1904, organized the Mountain Orphanage in Crabtree near Canton, NC. The orphanage, which operated from 1907 to 1922 in Balfour, NC, moved next to its present site in Black Mountain, NC where it continues operating today as the Black Mountain Home for Children, Youth, & Families. Smith’s dedication to the mountain churches and people earned him the nickname “The Shepherd of the Hills.”

Smith was married to Ella Louise Reid (July 4, 1853 – Jan. 3, 1934), the daughter of Presbyterian minister Rev. Robert H. Reid, of whom Reidville, SC is named. In 1931 he wrote Experiences in Mountain Mission Work published by The Presbyterian Committee of Publication in Richmond, VA. He died in Asheville in 1936 and his body is buried there at Riverside Cemetery. His wife preceded him in death by two years.

Smith’s book Experiences in Mountain Mission Work tells of the interesting and unusual happenings in his travels and work in the isolated mountain regions.

Just getting to the mission field was challenging itself. Smith writes, “Of necessity the roads followed the courses of the streams. Much of the way they occupied the same space. Often the stranger asked: ‘Is the creek in the road, or is the road in the creek?’”

Recalling the all-too-common illiteracy there he wrote, “There was not a book of any kind in the home and not a member of the family could read.” (p. 24) Though “deprived of school privileges and possessing a meager vocabulary,” Smith writes of the people, “they do not hesitate to pass beyond Webster and coin a word when it is needed.” (p.30)

Poverty forced the people of the region to be industrious and insightful. For example, one man told Smith, “Twenty-two years ago I went South on a trading trip and with other things I bought this box of matches and paid fifteen cents for it. We have used only four or five out of it.” (p. 28)

That Smith and the preachers who came to the Western NC mountains were well-needed and wanted is seen in a story of Smith’s of one lady he met who had a church certificate in her trunk lying there for thirty-two years. When asked whey she didn’t just join another church she said: “I kept hoping that a Presbyterian preacher would come some day and I wanted to have a Presbyterian home for him and give him a Presbyterian welcome. I have lived to see my hopes realized, I am glad to see you.” (p. 116)

Dillinghams of Big Ivy, Buncombe County, N.C. and related families. Margaret Wallis Haile, Gateway press 1985.
Experiences in Mountain Mission Work, Robert Perry Smith, The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, Richmond, VA, 1931.

RP Smith on Left

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“Selected Letters of Gordon Haddon Clark” to be published.

I’ve signed a contract with The Trinity Foundation to publish a collection of select letters of Gordon H. Clark. I expect we’ll get it to print within a few months. All permissions are in place from the various archives and individuals who’ve provided letters.

During my work on “The Presbyterian Philosopher” I began typing up some of Dr. Clark’s letters to make an easily-searchable collection. With the assistance of Jaime Rodriguez Jr., Samuel Colon, and Errol Ng, I now have all extant letters of Dr. Clark’s typed up.

There are about 915 total letters, which makes for a 1200 page volume far to large to publish. So I’ve selected the most important letters, about 145 of them, for the final cut into “Selected Letters.”

Why should you be interested in this book? Well, for starters, there are 5 letters between Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til. We’ve also included correspondence with J. Gresham Machen, J. Oliver Buswell, Edward Carnell, John Robbins, and a number of others. There are comments in these letters which will further your understanding of Dr. Clark’s philosophy and others that will give you insights into 20th century American Presbyterian history.

I’ll post again when the book is ready for sale.

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Ronald Nash on Clark and Van Til

[This is a book review philosopher Ronald Nash wrote for Christianity Today in their January 16, 1970 edition.]

Attack on Human Autonomy

A Christian Theory of Knowledge, by Cornelius Van Til (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969, 390 pp., $6.50), is reviewed by Ronald H. Nash, director of the Graduate Program in Humanities, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green.

No student of Christian theology and philosophy should regard his education as complete until he has carefully worked his way through at least one of Professor Van Til’s books. In this extension of his earlier Defense of the Faith, Van Til continues his attack on all systems of thought that exalt the autonomy of man at the expense of the sovereign God of the Scriptures. If God is sovereign, nothing can be above him (such as the laws of logic) or can exist independently of him (such as “facts”). Human knowledge is impossible unless man’s knowledge is analogical of the divine knowledge, that is, unless man thinks God’s thoughts after him. Van Til’s purpose in this book is to show modern man the relevance of Christianity by demonstrating that only Christianity has the answers to the questions that modern thought seeks in vain.

The thesis of modern theology, philosophy, and science is that “nothing can be said conceptually about a God who is above what Kant calls the world of phenomena, the world of experience.” But, Van Til counters, if the God of Christian theism does not exist (or cannot be known), then Chance is ultimate. And if Chance is ultimate, then nothing (neither words, nor thoughts, nor events) can have any meaning. But if nothing has meaning, it is impossible to deny (or affirm) the existence of God or anything else. The effort to eliminate God turns out to be self-defeating. “If Christian theism is not true, then nothing is true…. So far as modern thought is not based upon the presupposition of the truth of Christianity it is lost in utter darkness. Christianity is the only alternative to chaos.” The “death of God” is simply the inevitable result of the elevation of autonomous man over God. It is what we should have expected all along.

The foundation of all non-Christian thought is the presupposition of human autonomy. Van Til is especially hard on non-Reformed Christians who try to support their faith by appeals to logic, to “facts,” or to probability. If God is sovereign, neither he nor his Word can be compromised by such appeals. Van Til also attacks (correctly, I think) the modern dialectical approach to Scriptures, which prides itself on its “dialogue” with modern man. The dialogue is spurious, Van Til contends, because the Christ presented by dialectical theology is a Christ that no one can know.

While Van Til devotes space to several of his critics (Floyd Hamilton and J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.), his book does not contain one reference to the man who over the years has offered the most serious objections to his position. I am referring to Van Til’s “fellow Calvinist,” Gordon Clark of Butler University. Clark continues to be concerned over the qualitative difference that exists in Van Til’s system between the divine and human knowledge. According to Van Til, God’s knowledge and man’s do not (and cannot) coincide at a single point, from which it follows that no proposition can mean the same thing to God and man. Clark’s contention is then that Van Til’s view leads to skepticism, because if God knows all truth and man’s “knowledge” does not coincide with what God knows at a single point, then man does not possess knowledge. Until Van Til answers this objection, I must agree with Clark.

I have several objections of my own, also. All Van Til’s conclusions are supposed to follow from the principles set forth in his first three chapters, but it is exactly at this point that his argument is weakest. Take, for example, his defense of the Scriptures. Like Van Til, I believe in the authority and the inspiration of the Bible. But so far as the ultimate validity of his system is concerned, everything depends on Van Til’s ability to defend the authority of the Scriptures without making any appeal to logic or to “facts.” He argues then that the authority of the Scriptures is self-attesting.

As I see it, a self-attesting truth is one that cannot be questioned. A good example of a self-attesting truth would be an analytic statement like “All bachelors are unmarried man.” No evidence can be offered that could throw the truth of this statement into questions; no evidence is even needed to support its truth. But in the case of the Scriptures, even Van Til admits that there are problems. He does not think the problems are sufficient to undermine the authority of the Bible, but the important thing here is his recognition that problems do exist. I fail to understand how a system of truth that faces problems which even Van Til admits may never be fully resolved (see page 35) can be self-attesting.

A second problem concerns Van Til’s peculiar understanding of the term fact. It is impossible, he argues, to separate a fact from its ultimate interpretation, which means God’s interpretation. I am willing to grant this, but how is a sincere disciple of Van Til supposed to know when his facts are God-interpreted? When they are consistent with the Scriptures? Hardly, for the Bible says nothing about most of the facts in question. When our interpretation coincides with God’s? Hardly, for we must never forget that there is no point of identity between the divine and human knowledge. I contend then that Van Til’s use of “facts” is vacuous, since there is no way for man to know when his facts are God-interpreted.

Finally, I am most uncomfortable in the presence of Van Til’s treatment of logic, which he derides as a test of truth. Yet at the same time, he warns that we must not take the biblical teaching about both divine sovereignty and human responsibility as a contradiction. In fact, he admits on the bottom of page 38 that the presence of a logical contradiction in the Bible would be evidence against the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God. For the life of me, I cannot understand this vacillating use of logic. It looks very much as if Van Til introduces logic when it is convenient and ushers it out the back door when it is no longer needed.

I believe these problems are serious. But I do not think they detract from the importance of this book or from Van Til’s stature as one of the most important and original Christian apologists of this century.

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The OPC’s Forgotten Letters – Samuel Allen

Here is the text of seven letters sent by Rev. Samuel Allen to ministers of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the 1940s. You will not see these in any OPC history book. Why? See for yourself.

April 14, 1947. TEACH, EVANGELIZE, CONTEND No. 1

This letter is going to be a one page mimeographed sheet designed to aid the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in fulfilling its call to teach the gospel in accord with the Word of God and the doctrinal system contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms; to evangelize the lost, using every method that is in conformity with Scripture and our sub-standards; and to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is a great Church. It is so not because of its size numerically, nor because of the great influence it wields in the world today, nor because of the extent of its physical resources, but because it seeks to honor God and His Word. Its founders were great in their effort to reform the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. They were great in refusing to bow down to the infidels and compromisers of that Church who insisted that they obey a mandate which made loyalty to Church and loyalty to Christ synonymous. They were great as they left the prestige and security which association with a large denomination gives when that denomination made it impossible to stay in and contend for the faith. They were great [as?] they did not flinch from breaking with old friends in their communities and in organizing continuing Churches or new Churches in the face of overwhelming disapproval from both the world and the organized Church in general. They were great in their opposition to modernists and compromisers of every kind. They were great as they emphasized doctrine in a non-doctrinal age. They were great in their efforts to evangelize.

I am glad to be in a Church with such a background. I am glad to be in a Church where I can teach, evangelize and contend without fear of being disciplined as a trouble-maker. I am glad to be in a Church where I can be sure that every minister in it would preach the Word if they occupied my pulpit. God has raised us up as a Church not merely to teach the Truth. Such a Church would be disposed toward what is call cold-orthodoxy. Nor has our Church been raised up merely to evangelize. Such a Church would be disposed toward shallowness and superficiality. Nor has our Church been raised up merely to contend for the faith. Such a Church would be disposed toward schism. But God has raised us up to do all three — teach the Truth, evangelize the lost and contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. To this I am certain that all O.P.C.ers will agree.

Why is it then, that a division exists which threatens to split our denomination and further scandalize the Church of Christ? Why is it that we who have so much in common find ourselves using so much of our energy battling one another rather than the enemies of Christ? Why is it that we do not heed the new commandment that we should love one another as He has loved us? Why, despite the blessing of God on our denomination during the year, is there a lack of enthusiasm concerning the future? WHAT IS THE PRIMARY CAUSE OF THE DIVISION? WHAT STEPS MUST BE TAKEN TO HEAL THE BREACH?’

A letter will be sent out each week dealing with the struggle in the O.P.C. If any pastor desires extra copies, let the writer know.

[Samuel J. Allen]

April 21, 1947 CAUSE OF DIVISIONNo. 2.

What is the chief cause of the division in the O.P.C.? Is there a simple answer to this question? If so, the whole Church should know it. I believe there is and the purpose of this page is to answer that question.

The chief cause of the division in the O.P.C. is the opposition of many ministers and laymen to the leadership of the professors of Westminster Seminary. The professors have a very definite idea of what constitutes the Reformed Faith and Reformed practice. This conception is believed by many to be much narrower than that of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms as interpreted and practiced by American Presbyterian theologians. The professors have always looked upon anyone who veered from their conception as not being truly Reformed.

The list of those who are considered as not truly Reformed has grown throughout the years. It includes men who have given their time, energy and lives for what they considered the Reformed Faith; men who have suffered breakdowns, who have been alienated from their families, who have suffered the loss of friends and who have sacrificed worldly prestige and security. Looked upon by the professors as not being truly Reformed, such men were and are barred from teaching at Westminster Seminary or being members of its Board of Trustees or having anything to say about the editorial policy of the Presbyterian Guardian.

The list includes Carl McIntire, Allan MacRae, Charles Woodbridge, Cary N. Weisiger who left our Church and Robert Strong, Clifford Smith, Gordon Clark, Edwin Rian, Floyd Hamilton, the writer and probably a majority of the ministers of the O.P.C.

Why are these men considered not truly Reformed? Carl McIntire and Allan MacRae were premillennialists who believed in the Moody type of evangelism and a type of separated life for the Christian generally accepted by Bible-believing Protestants in America. The professors and those whose allegiance they had [held?] that theO.P.C. could not be truly Reformed with these men and others of the type in its fold. Many of us came to believe that what was derided as “Fundamentalism” was as bad as modernism. Great was the relief when they left the Church. I confess my sin and ask God’s pardon for my part in that conflict. It was not so much what I said as the way I said it. It was the sinful complacency which made me think that their going would enable us to be a truly Reformed Church. Charles Woodbridge and Cary Weisiger could not be trusted to exercise leadership in a truly Reformed Church for they were tainted with a liking for some of the elements of “Fundamentalism”. Most of us who are opposing the professors are likewise tainted. In addition, Gordon Clark has a different theory of knowledge than that taught at Westminster Seminary. The professors sincerely believe that there is no place for us in a truly Reformed Church. We believe that there is.

[Samuel J. Allen]

April 28, 1947. Forthrightness.No. 3.

The professors do not hesitate to contrast what they believe to be their forthrightness in facing issues with what has been referred to by some as the political methods of their opponents. If it is forthrightness to raise issue after issue to the lofty plane of principle and to declare that the decision rendered by the Church will decide whether it wishes to be truly Reformed or not, then the professors have been forthright. But if the issues raised are not principial [sic] but matters upon which truly Reformed people can and do differ, then the professors are not forthright but schismatic.

There have always been men in truly Reformed Churches who have opposed Premillennial doctrine very strongly, who have opposed what they considered a piety not taught in Scripture, who have opposed an emotional type of evangelism which they thought minimized the importance of sound doctrine, and who have opposed cooperation of any kind with other church bodies as a lowering of Reformed distinctiveness; but very few in America indeed have maintained that such men should not be in a truly Reformed Church. Even the professors have not been forthright enough to say that. Can you imagine what the O.P.C. would be like if every Premillennialist, everyone who believed it sinful to drink alcoholic beverages, everyone who believed in the popular evangelistic meeting, and everyone who believed that all Bible-believing Christians should on the basis of great fundamental doctrines present a common front to Modernism, Roman Catholicism and Secularism were declared non-Reformed and unfit to hold office? Even the professors are not forthright enough to say that. They are willing that such should remain in the Church and that such should have liberty within the Church and that such should support the agencies of the Church, plus institutions like Westminster Seminary and the Presbyterian Guardian; but they are not willing to see anyone whom they consider to be tainted with these errors have any real influence in deciding the policy of Westminster Seminary or the Presbyterian Guardian. That is why they are so afraid of letting the O.P.C. have anything to say about the policy of these institutions. That is why they do not trust the O.P.C. That is why they are apparently willing to wreck and split the O.P.C. rather than permit it to have a say as to the education of its future ministers or a voice in the running of a magazine that is looked upon by many as an organ of the Church. THAT IS APPARENTLY THE REASON WHY THEY HAVE ALWAYS MADE THE O.P.C. FEEL THAT THEY WOULD LEAVE ITS MEMBERSHIP IF THE ISSUES THEY RAISE ARE NOT DECIDED FAVORABLY.

If such a club is held over your head it is not possible to speak as plainly as you would like. Schism is a great sin and one that rends asunder the body of Christ. The threat of a split was enough to make us work carefully and politically rather than recklessly and irresponsibly. Very reluctantly I have come to the opinion that the professors are more interested in the Seminary than they are in the O.P.C.

One does not like to oppose his brethren in the Lord. One does not like to speak against the policy of a Seminary which honors God’s Word. But when one is convinced that that policy is suicidal in its effect upon the Church he hasn’t much choice left. He could tire of strife and go back to a compromising Church in the Federal Council. He could retire to his own local Church and forget the denomination, but this is not Presbyterianism. Or he can contend (despite threat of division) for a Church which unites a strong doctrinal emphasis with the best elements of what is termed “Fundamentalism”, a Church in which there is room for both professors and dissenters.

[Samuel J. Allen]

May 5, 1947. Consistency. No. 4.

Every minister of the O. P. C. believes that the Presbyterian system of doctrine is the most consistent expression of the Christian faith. If each did not so believe he should leave its communion and unite with another which he believes to be more consistent.

The O.P.C. owes a debt of gratitude to the professors of Westminster Seminary for the doctrinal consciousness of the men who have graduated therefrom, for the emphasis on catechetical instruction, for the emphasis put on the sovereignty of God in every sphere of life and for the brakes which they have put on much enthusiasm which is not thoroughly grounded on God’s Word. Their consistency has had a great deal to do with the good foundation of our Church.

Would that I could say that their consistency was always helpful! If it were I would have been spared the pain of writing these letters. It is no pleasure to oppose men who stand on the Word of God, men who have attained a high standing in the world of conservative scholarship, men whose friendship I value, men whose leadership I followed wholly for over six years.

But there is a place where consistency ceases to be a jewel and degenerates into that foolish consistency which Emerson says is “the hobgoblin of small minds.” I believe that this place is reached when what we believe are the implications of an opponent’s position, though denied by him, are raised to the high plane of principle upon which there can be no compromise.

Consistency had a jewel-like quality when the professors pointed out the errors of modern-dispensationalism and the errors and tendencies of “Fundamentalism” in general. But it was foolish consistency that caused them to take the stand that a church could not say that it was expedient to abstain from drinking of alcoholic beverages. It was and is foolish consistency to make hobgoblins out of men like McIntire, Strong, Smith, Clark, Hamilton and others. It is foolish consistency which compels men to go on the defensive and spend their lives and energies repelling as enemies those who want to be friends, whose enthusiasm and talents are needed in the common cause. It is foolish consistency which causes the best minds in our Church to argue for four years without reaching a common understanding as to the definition of terms. It is this foolish consistency which makes the professors unfit to exercise practical and inspirational leadership.

It might be consistent to demand that every church member be truly Reformed. It might be consistent to demand that the Church use wine and unleavened bread in observing the Lord’s Supper. It might be consistent to insist on a closed communion. It might be consistent to bar members of oath-bound secret societies from membership in the Church. But what kind of a Church would we have if we insisted upon being consistent in these instances? Let us have the consistency of the jewel-like quality which makes the Reformed faith the only adequate answer to the heresies and paganism of our day.

[Samuel J. Allen]

May 12, 1947. MILITANCY No. 5.

Until what is now the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was formed the graduates of Westminster Seminary, particularly those who entered the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., were distinguished by their militant stand against modernistic unbelief. Shortly before the formation of the O. P. C., another emphasis became apparent. It manifested itself in articles against modern-dispensationalism and the non-Reformed character of much of what is called fundamentalism, as for instance its tendency toward independency and its failure to interpret correctly the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. This emphasis was necessary because it was increasingly evident that the judicial cases before the courts of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. would be decided in a manner that might cause the formation of a new denomination. If so, an effort had to be made to enlighten followers as to what constitutes a real Presbyterian Church. We were determined that whatever Church were formed would be a real Presbyterian Church, not only as to creed (as witness the removal of the 1903 amendments to the Westminster Confession of Faith after our formation) but also as to practice. We were determined not only to believe the Reformed faith, but to preach and practice it as well. All of us are still determined in this. I now think that the formation of the Independent Presbyterian Board was a mistake, but that does not alter the fact that the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. made decisions which make it impossible for a minister or a layman to remain in it and contend for the faith. Those decisions made imperative the formation of such a body as the O. P. C. I now think the fight on Christian liberty was a frightful mistake, but we cannot turn back history. We have the O. P. C. and every officer therein is pledged to make it a real Reformed Church. I believe there is agreement on this point. The late Dr. J. Gresham Machen certainly was in agreement with this added emphasis.

The professors of Westminster Seminary in the present controversy firmly believe that they are standing where Dr. Machen would have them stand. I do not presume to know where Dr. Machen would stand in the Clark case, the Mahaffy case, the Rian case, the Tichenor case, the Gregory case, the Hamilton case. (Only one of these was an official case, but the others were relentlessly grilled to ascertain whether or not they held to the alleged heresy or heresies of Dr. Clark.) But I do know and unhesitatingly state that regardless of where he stood he would not have become less militant against Modernism than against Bible-believing Christians, particularly those who claimed to be Reformed and have suffered for what they considered the Reformed faith.

There is a passive militancy and an active militancy. Passive militancy consists of writing and speaking against unbelief without actually coming into contact with unbelievers. Active militancy is the type which seeks out the enemy to dislodge them from an entrenched position and to destroy them (God willing). Both are needed. Dr. Machen possessed them both. The professors seem to have the passive type against modernism and the active type against other Bible-believers who call themselves Reformed.

[Samuel J. Allen]


The clergy and members of the O.P.C. have ever been on the defensive on the subject of “growth”. It is a very touchy subject for the simple reason that there has been comparatively little growth numerically in our denomination. What is true of our denomination is even more true of Westminster Seminary.

The apologists for this condition are apt to say that “we cannot expect any rapid growth if we are going to be true to the Reformed faith and be a truly Reformed Church. Instead of worrying about lack of growth we should worry about growth.” “With growth comes impunity and errors of every kind” is the line that has often encouraged pastors as they seek to gain converts to the Reformed faith.

Orthodox Presbyterian ministers are experts on this defeatist topic. The Reformed faith, say they, is the full-orbed gospel; it is an enemy to the natural man and all his schemes to save himself and the world. We cannot expect the natural man to be interested therein. Again we cannot expect our present non-intellectual age and non-doctrinal age to be enthusiastic about the Faith which is probably more intellectual and doctrinal than any other in Christendom. Pessimism has ever pervaded our ranks and appears in many instances to have borne the fruit or a martyr-like joy in our comparative purity.

To lack this exalted attitude and to think that growth may be the mark of God’s approval on our ministry is one of the signs of an impure inclusivist who should not be elected to any standing committee of our Church according to the martyr. I profess to be an inclusivist in this respect. There is very rarely any excuse as to why a born-again gospel minister is not successful in winning souls to Christ. In saying this I am condemning myself probably more than any other minister in our denomination. Our lack of enthusiasm in our work cannot be blamed on others but sometimes I think that perhaps it is due to trying to win people to a system of doctrine rather than to Christ. People must be won to Christ before they can be truly enthusiastic about the Reformed faith.

I am also an inclusivist in that I think that a person can be a minister and an elder of our Church who is a Premillennialist or an exponent of the Moody type of evangelism, or a believer in the so-called separated life, or a believer in co-operation with other Bible-believing evangelicals in the battle against Modernism and other enemies of the Gospel. The professors and others probably believe this also; but I may go further than they when I state that every minister or elder of this type if qualified is as much entitled to the confidence of the Church and election to the Standing Committees as they are.

I am not an inclusivist in the sense that I will tolerate Arminianism or Modernism within our fold, or in the sense that I favor union with other Bible-believers on any other basis than agreement in doctrine, or in the sense that I desire growth more than purity of doctrine, and neither is anyone else that I know in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

[Samuel J. Allen]

May 19, 1947. GENERAL ASSEMBLYNo. 7.

On May 22, the 14th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church will meet at Cedar Grove, Wisconsin.

The most important business at that Assembly is in my opinion the election of members to the various Standing Committees of the Church. These Committees furnish leadership for the denomination in its mission and educational work.

I do not think that it would serve the best interests of our Church to have these Committees dominated by the professors and those who apparently approve their policy 100%.

I want to review some reasons for this conviction.

1. There is at least a strong isolationist tendency in the makeup of most of these men making it practically impossible for them to cooperate with anyone who does not agree with them 100%.

2. There is a definite psychology among them which causes them almost without exception to expend their energies against those whom they deem enemies of their viewpoint, and woefully weak in boldly coming to grips with avowed and open enemies of the Gospel. They have therefore not provided the practical and inspirational leadership needed by the O.P.C. Such leadership demands a continual offensive against the enemies of the Gospel, the world, the flesh, and the devil and to win precious souls to Christ.

3. These failures are very likely to make them obstructionists as in my opinion some of them were when they failed to approve the appointment of Rev. and Mrs. Floyd Hamilton to serve in Korea.

4. These failures also account for their large contribution to the turmoil and endless controversies which have plagued our Church since its inception and particularly in the last five or six years. They have been experts in making mountains out of mole-hills. The battle on Christian liberty, the battle about the Committee of Nine, the battle about the ordination of Dr. Gordon Clark with all the skirmishes accompanying it could all have been avoided if they had exercised practical judgment and Christian charity.

Take the case of Dr. Clark–In the report on the doctrine of incomprehensibility signed by Professors Stonehouse and Murray, there is an admission that the complainants erred in assuming that the teaching of Reformed theologians on the subject was uniform; there is also an admission that some of the statements of the complainants were infelicitous and misleading. But these men hold in the same report that Dr. Clark should have seen that in its main thrust the Complaint could not possibly have meant that man cannot know God. They are demanding of Dr. Clark and the men who wrote the Answer to the Complaint a discernment and a charitable attitude which, if they themselves had exercised the same attitude when they first charged Clark with the heresy, denied by him repeatedly, of making men omniscient, would have spared the Church the awful experience through which it is passing.

They have treated and continue to treat former friends as the basest of heretics; and despite the admissions of the above-mentioned report, they insist on making the so-called Clark case a test of orthodoxy for ministers of the O.P.C.

In my opinion it would be catastrophic to continue such men in leadership.

[Samuel J. Allen]

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Gordon Clark’s View of Faith

Gordon Clark’s well-known twofold definition of faith as (1) intellectual understanding and (2) assent challenges the traditional tripartite reformed view of faith (fides) as (1) understanding (notitia), (2) assent (assensus) and 3 trust (fiducia).

It has been alleged by some, however, that Clark held not to the former view, but to the latter. See: https://godshammer.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/whitefield-follies/ How this mistake could be made is difficult to determine, for Clark’s view is clear and frequent in his writings. It is the purpose of this article, therefore, to document the sources for Clark’s view of faith to show that he did hold to the twofold not the threefold view.

A series of letters between Clark and J. Oliver Buswell concern Clark’s view of faith in 1939:

First, Clark writes to Buswell on January 6th, 1939:

Your article on pisteuo is an excellent summary of the usage of the word and I am glad to have read it. But it really attacks a different problem than the one now under discussion. On p.29 you reject faith as intellectual assent, but do not give an explicit reason. The implicit reason seems to me to be that intellectual assent is unethical, non-moral. With this I should disagree. Our thinking is our chief moral problem. Every thought is either moral or immoral. And I heartily agree that faith is ethical. But I cannot draw the conclusion that therefore it is not intellectual.

Buswell responds on January 26th, 1939:

Faith is assent, intellectual assent, but faith is more than that, otherwise the devil has faith, and those described in the first chapter of Romans as knowing God must also be regarded as having had faith.

And Clark responds on February 9th, 1939:

Of course faith in Christ produces volitional action; the belief which the devils entertain also produces volitional action; but in neither case is it necessary to deny that faith is an act of the mind or intellect. … All I can say is that of course the devil has faith; he does not have saving faith, or faith in Christ; but it is true that he believes some things. The distinction between the faith the devil has and the kind the regenerate man has, is not in the mental function involved, but it is a difference of object. We put our faith or belief in Christ’s finished work for us; the devil does not. But in both cases, belief is intellectual; at any rate I do not see how we can believe anything with the emotions or with the will. And my argument has centered on the mental or conscious function, assuming, or regardless of the object. My impression is that our difficulties have arisen by not keeping the clear distinction between two beliefs or faiths (both intellectual) and between faith and its products – for even the devil’s faith produces works: good faith, good works; bad faith, bad works: but faith is always intellectual, works may not be.

These letters show that Clark’s view of faith was not some view he came to later in life, nor something modified in his writings by his publisher John Robbins who he didn’t meet until the early 1970s.

Clark’s view is seen in a number of other places as well:

Writing about “The Element of Trust” in an article on “Faith and Reason” for Christianity Today in 1957 (http://gordonhclark.reformed.info/faith-and-reason-by-gordon-h-clark/), Clark writes,

In describing the nature of faith, fundamentalists, evangelicals and even modernists in a certain way stress the element of trust. A preacher may draw a parallel between trusting in Christ and trusting in a chair. Belief that the chair is solid and comfortable, mere intellectual assent to such a proposition, will not rest your weary bones. You must, the preacher insists, actually sit in the chair. Similarly, so goes the argument, you can believe all that the Bible says about Christ and it will do you no good. Such illustrations as these are constantly used, in spite of the fact that the Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”

In an article on Faith for Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics in 1973 (http://gordonhclark.reformed.info/faith-by-gordon-h-clark/)
Clark writes,

The early Reformers were inclined to include assurance of salvation in their definition of faith. But there were many variations. Cunningham (cf. bibliography) reports seven different views. Later Reformed theologians definitely excluded assurance (cf. the Westminster Confession), but came to add fiducia, as a third element in addition to knowledge and assent. They failed, however, to give an intelligible account of fiducia, restricting themselves to synonyms or illustrations (cf. Thomas Manton, Exposition of the Epistle of James, pp.216ff., Marshallton, Del., Sovereign Grace Book Club, 196-). This defective view is so common today that many ministers have never heard of the earlier Reformed views

In his unpublished Introduction to Theology, chapter 7 on “Salvation,” circa 1977, I have in his own handwriting:

The crux of the difficulty with the popular analysis of faith into notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust), is that fiducia comes from the same root as fides (faith). [Clark footnotes: The Latin fides is not a good synonym for the Greek pisteuo.] Hence this popular analysis reduces to the obviously absurd definition that faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith. Something better than this tautology must be found.

(The exact same quote is found in “Saving Faith” in The Trinity Review, December 1979.)

In “What is Saving Faith” in The Trinity Review Clark is quoted from his 1983 book Faith and Saving Faith:

The most common Protestant analysis is that fides is a combination of notitia, assensus, and fiducia. If these last three Latin words can be explained, then one may compare fides and pistis or pisteuoo to see if they are synonymous. If these Latin terms cannot be clearly defined, then they do not constitute an analysis of faith… What better conclusion can there be other than the express statements of the Bible? Permit just one outside of John. Romans 10:9-10 say, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your mind that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” There is no mystical getting behind, under, or above the text; the only consent there is, is belief in the propositions. Believe these, with understanding, and you shall be saved. Anyone who says otherwise contradicts the repeated rheemata of Scripture.”

The truth or falsity of Clark’s view has been argued for in many other places and so will not be discussed here. But these references should dispense with any thoughts he had sympathy for the traditional view of faith or that his view was modified by later supporters.

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Was Gordon Clark a Theonomist?

In answering such a question as “Are you a Theonomist?”, Gordon Clark’s own common procedure was to start with defining the terms. Following such a procedure we must first define what a Theonomist is if we are to answer the question “Was Gordon Clark a Theonomist?” Once having the definition we can compare Theonomy to Clark’s own writings to see if there is a match.

Defining “Theonomy” is more difficult than one might first assume. Self-avowed Theonomists regularly declare that what their opponents understand Theonomy to be is flawed, but their own varied efforts to define the term are often to blame for the misunderstanding.

We cannot define Theonomy (as some Theonomists do) simply as “God’s Law” as the translation of the Greek roots Theos and nomos combine to be. Defining Theonomy as such leaves open the question at issue – what is God’s law?, what does God require of us today? We must, as C. Jay Engel has explained, avoid the “Theonomist trap” (http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/theology/combating-the-theonomists-trap/) “Theonomist Trappers” declare that other Christians’ views of the law are only non-Biblical “autonomy” (man’s law), but as Engel writes, “The great assumption made by the Theonomist Trapper is that in rejecting the applicability of the Mosaic Judicial Law, we are also rejecting God’s law as a whole.” In short, many Christians believe in the primacy of God’s revealed law over man’s self-made law, but there are yet different viewpoints about the applicability of God’s law, particularly the civil law.

Nor can we define Theonomy (as some Theonomists do) based on its hermenuetic, for its hermeneutic (that we should accept everything in the Old Testament not abrogated by the New Testament) is agreed to by many of Theonomy’s Reformed critics, but fails to answer that which is in dispute – that is, which laws are abrogated?

The best definition of Theonomy is not to be found in its Greek roots, nor in its hermeneutic, but in the “Theonomic Thesis.” It is this “Thesis” that distinguishes Theonomy from non-Theonomy. I believe Brandon Adams properly defines the Thesis when he writes that Theonomy is “the belief that all nations today are obligated to obey Israel’s judicial laws because they [those laws] have not been abrogated.” (https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/04/24/1689-federalism-theonomy/) In the 2015 debate between Joel McDurmon (a proponent of Theonomy) and J. D. Hall (a critic) McDurmon similarly defended the position, “Mosaic Civil Laws are obligatory for Civil Governments Today.” Though not explicitly stated in these definitions, it seems to me that what is implied is that ALL Mosaic civil laws are obligatory for civil governments today. This definition fits better in line with the rhetoric of Bahnsen of Theonomy as “the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail.”

Others disagree with this definition, believing Theonomy to only demand the obligation of nations today to obey SOME, rather than ALL, of Israel’s judicial laws. In fact, McDurmon, a leader of the Theonomy movement as president of American Vision, seems to have backed off of the “ALL” implied by the position he defended in the debate and has instead argued for the “SOME” position. He writes in 2016 that Theonomy is, “the biblical teaching that Mosaic Law contains perpetual moral standards for living, including some civil laws, which remain obligatory for today.” And argues that “no Theonomist would say that all Mosaic civil laws remain obligatory.” (http://americanvision.org/13785/theonomy-a-simple-definition/)

It was a similar wavering between two incompatible positions which led John Robbins to critique Greg Bahnsen in the former’s article on “Theonomic Schizophrenia.” (http://trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=69) Robbins writes,

Let me exercise a little 1ogical rigor here, since Dr. Bahnsen fails to do so: Either “not one stroke of the law will become invalid until the end of the world” or “some changes have been made.” Dr. Bahnsen cannot maintain that the Old Testament food laws are still valid but not binding. Dr. Bahnsen cannot eat his Theonomic pork and have it too.

Whether Theonomy is the view that only SOME of the judicial laws remain obligatory or the view that ALL of them do, it is a view that is not in accord in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 19, which states that NONE of them (in themselves) are obligatory. The Confession reads,

To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

So, did Gordon Clark agree to the Theonomic Thesis? Did Gordon Clark agree that nations today are obligated to obey Israel’s judicial laws, whether “SOME” or “ALL” of them?

Bahnsen seems to imply a link of Clark to Theonomy, footnooting Clark in No Other Standard, p. 69. The quote, which Bahnsen reproduced from Clark’s unpublished systematic theology (published later in Sanctification, p. 61) reads,

“The correct principle of interpretation is not the Baptist one of discarding everything in the Old Testament not reasserted in the New; but rather the acceptance of everything in the Old not abrogated by New Testament teaching.”

The implied link is that since Clark shares the same hermenuetic as Theonomy, he must be a Theonomist! But, although Clark held this hermeneutical view in agreement with Bahnsen, it does not mean that Clark held to the “Theonomic Thesis.” One could hold to the principle just quoted, but believe ALL the OT civil laws to be abrogated in the NT.

Rather than any evidence of Clark holding to the “Theonomic Thesis” (in either form; SOME or ALL), Clark held to the view of the Westminster Confession of Faith. He wrote in What Do Presbyterians Believe (p.183-184),

“The Old Testament also prescribed certain civil laws for the nation of Israel. The details of these laws are not obligatory on other nations, though the principles of equity that underlie them are.”

This should be of no surprise to anyone who has read Clark’s writings, for all over them he praises the Confession.

Further evidence of Clark’s opposition to Bahnsen’s view is found in correspondence between Clark and Robbins. https://douglasdouma.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/clark-robbins-and-theonomy/ Here Clark refers to Bahnsen as “not in accord with the Reformed position.” Additionally, during my research into Clark’s life for The Presbyterian Philosopher, I was told by Clark’s son-in-law Dwight Zeller that Clark explicitly told him he was not a Theonomist.

So, by what “other standard” (as Bahnsen asks) would Clark propose to base contemporary civil laws if not basing them on the civil laws of Israel in the Old Testament? Clark holds, as we’ve seen, what he refers to as the “Reformed position”, specifically the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The Confession’s position is that of general equity – the application of the moral law written upon our hearts and summarized in the 10 commandments to determine civil laws in this New Testament era. (see: http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/theology/1-cor-513-is-the-general-equity-of-deut-2221/ and http://www.peterwallace.org/old/essays/equity.htm). Note particular the quote from Calvin:

It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing else than a testimony of natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men. Consequently, the entire scheme of this equity of which we are now speaking has been prescribed in it. Hence, this equity alone must be the goal and rule and limit of all laws. (Institutes IV.xx.15-16)

This is also Clark’s position. (The Confessions “not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require” is not, as some Theonomists hold, the idea that we should apply everything from the Mosaic civil law which we could possibly apply today, but refers rather to the idea that some civil laws today, based on the moral law, may happen to be equivalent to a civil law of the Old Testament.)

Noting his understanding of Clark’s position, Robbins writes to Clark on April 9, 1980:

My position is that of the Westminster Confession, which states that the general equity of the judicial laws binds us even today. I believe you also take this position in your 1957 essay on The Christian and the Law in which you cite passages from the Old Testament commanding the care of animals.

This essay of Clark’s is reproduced in Essays on Ethics and Politics. Clark writes at the end of the essay, “P. S. If you have chickens, a horse, or a pet dog, study Exodus 20:10; 23:5, 12: Deuteronomy 25:4; Proverbs 12:10; Matthew 12:11; and feed them.”

Exodus 20:10 -“But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates”

Exodus 23:5 – “If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.”

Exodus 23:12 – “Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.”

Deuteronomy 25:4 – “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.”

Proverbs 12:10 – “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”

Matthew 12:11 – “And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?”

Not all of these references are to the 10 commandments, but all refer to the moral laws which are summarized in the 10 commandments. Clark speaks not of the equity between modern and Mosaic civil laws, but of the principles of equity which underlie them. That is, the moral law. And so we must conclude that Clark agrees with the Confession and was not a Theonomist.

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