Sandemanian Pandemonium

Sandemanian Pandemonium:

Saving Faith in the Views of Gordon H. Clark and Robert Sandeman

by Rev. Douglas J. Douma

The publication in 2004 of Gordon Clark’s What is Saving Faith, a combined edition of his Faith and Saving Faith (1983) and The Johannine Logos (1972), occasioned renewed discussion of Clark’s view of saving faith. In that same year, Orthodox Presbyterian Church minster Alan D. Strange reviewed the book in Mid-America Theological Journal.[1] He praised aspects of Clark’s thought on faith but ultimately concluded that Clark’s position “falls short of a full, biblical definition.” Also before the year was out, Doug Barnes, a United Reformed Church pastor, followed with critical comments on Clark’s view of faith in a four-article series in Christian Renewal, the final part of which was soon republished in Banner of Truth along with a response letter from John Robbins.[2]

Robbins’s letter was a response not only to Barnes’s four-part article, but also to the article “Sandemanianism at the Westminster Conference” by Geoff Thomas in Banner of Truth.[3] There, Thomas seems to be the first in writing to suggest a Clark–Sandeman connection. He wrote:

Sandeman held that bare assent to the work of Christ is alone necessary. … His works are repetitive and of low intellectual worth. What form has Sandemanian’s understanding of faith as bare assent taken in the 21st century? Some in the Conference suggested the worst kinds of ‘History of Redemption’ preaching with its absolutising of exegesis. Also there are study groups, Protestant and Catholic, which assure those who say they now believe the teaching of the first few lessons that that believing has made them Christians. One also privately thinks that the late Gordon Clark’s definition of saving faith is too near Sandemanian ideas to be acceptable.

This is the entirety of the comment on a Clark–Sandeman connection; an opinion Thomas notes of an un-named person, and without any accompanying argumentation. Following this one comment, pandemonium has generally reigned on discussion of the topic.

While Banner of Truth titled their section publishing Robbins’s letter as “Further Development, ‘Gordon Clark was not a Sandemanian,’” Robbins never actually stated a conclusion on that question in his letter. Rather, he wrote that Sandeman is being used “as a bogeyman to scare people away from reading Dr. Clark” and that the true question should be “Does Clark agree with Scripture?” He then defended Clark on that point.

While the most important question with respect to Clark’s view of saving faith is whether it agrees with scripture, the question of whether Clark’s view is near Sandeman’s has intrigued me enough to research it. Thus, answering that question will be the main purpose of this article.

SAVING FAITH IN THE VIEW OF SANDEMAN AND GLAS

Robert Sandeman (1718-1771) was a Scottish minister perhaps most well-known for his view of saving faith. On this doctrine, like many others, Sandeman followed the teachings of his father-in-law, minister John Glas (1695-1773). Opposing the idea of a national church and favoring Congregationalism[4] Glas was deposed in 1730 from the ministry of the established Church of Scotland. He went on to form a denomination known as the Glasites. Sandeman later served as an elder in multiple Glasite churches in Scotland and traveled to America to plant additional churches. Sandeman’s death in 1771, coupled with the denomination’s overly strict church discipline and Loyalist sympathies in the American War of Independence contributed to its stunted growth and slow but eventual demise.

Theologically, Sandeman got nearly all of his views from Glas. In fact, one dictionary biography of Sandeman claims, “Sandeman added nothing to the principles of theology and church polity adopted by Glas.”[5] But because Sandeman’s Letters on Theron and Aspasio found a wide audience, the views he shared with Glas became more commonly known as Sandemanian. Since Sandeman and Glas held essential the same views—inclusive of their view of saving faith—it is worth noting Glas’s writings on the subject as well as Sandeman’s.

The view of saving faith held by John Glas is seen in his 1729 The Testimony of the King of Martyrs Concerning His Kingdom. There, Glas wrote:

Thus the scripture notion of faith agrees with the common notion of faith and belief among men, a persuasion of a thing upon testimony, but that faith whereby we believe the gospel has been very much darkened, by the many things that have been said in the description of it, while that which is most properly faith has been either shut up in a narrow and dark corner of the description, or almost excluded from it, as a thing presupposed unto faith, and not that very faith itself, whereby we are justified and saved. And some have so defined faith, as to take into its own nature the whole gospel obedience. Agreeably to this, we have heard in sermons, that it has two hands, one to receive Christ, and another to give ourselves away to him; and when we are pressed and exhorted to believe in Christ, it is as if we were urged to put forth some (we do not know what act of the will) or to give forth something towards Christ by God’s help, by which we are to be saved, on account of the connection made in the promise betwixt salvation and that deed, whatever it be, which is called faith. By this means the hearers of the gospel are set on to seek to do that deed, that work, called faith, to save them, and entitle them to eternal life; and serious souls are perplexed with many fruitless inquiries in themselves whether they have this thing called faith, while that which lies at the bottom of the most part of their doubts, is either the weakness or the want of the persuasion of this truth, and their taking no notice of it, because it is not much noticed in the accounts of faith that are made to them; and it is foolishly reckoned by many, that the belief of the truth is a common thing, and that it is no great matter to attain unto it, tho’ the apostle hath said ‘God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the spirit, and belief of the truth,’ 2 Thes. ii. 13. This glorious truth containing in it Christ the end of the law for righteousness unto every one that believe it, is able to give rest to the weary soul, to make a blessed calm in the most troubled conscience, and to raise up the most desperate sinner unto a lively hope.”[6]

Sandeman followed this Glasite view in his Letters on Theron and Aspasio (1757).[7] There, addressed to Anglican minister James Hervey (1714-1758), Sandeman wrote against “popular preachers” who “make offers of Christ and all his benefits unto men, upon certain terms, and to assure them of the benefits on their complying with the terms.”[8] Sandeman’s driving purpose was to avoid adding anything of human merit to the Gospel of God’s grace. He wrote:

“I speak of those teachers, who, having largely insisted on the corruptions of human nature, concluded the world guilty before God, eloquently set forth the necessity of an atonement, zealously maintained the scriptural doctrine concerning the person and work of Christ; yet, after all, leave us as much in the dark as to our comfort, as if Jesus Christ had never appeared; and mark out as insuperable a task for us, as if he had not finished his work; while, with great assiduity and earnestness, they are busied in describing to us, animating us with various encouragements, and furnishing us with manifold instructions, how to perform that strange something which is to make out our connection with Christ, and bring his righteousness home to us; that something which has got many names, and includes divers considerations; all which have been supposed to be comprehended under the scriptural expression FAITH; as to which, after all they have told us about it, we are at a great loss to tell distinctly what it is, or what we are doing when we perform it, if not greater, than when they began.”[9]

And he illustrated his point well in the following:

“Methinks I see first a decent respectable company advancing to the house of prayer, and then stepping forward with a graceful assurance, beginning their address thus: ‘We give thee thanks, O God, for the aversion we feel to sin, and for every other amiable qualification by which thou hast distinguished us from other men; we bless thee for every fine endowment wherewith thou has ornamented us, and more especially for the peculiar right thou has given us of advancing our claim to all the blessings of the kingdom of thy Messiah; whom we prize above all things, and to whose merits we are indebted for every advantage we enjoy. We humbly acknowledge that our qualifications are by no means the ground of our right. For, had it not been for thy grace assisting our feeble efforts, we might have been as yet like other men, drinking up iniquity like water. We acknowledge the righteousness of thy Messiah to be the only meritorious cause of all our happiness. For his sake, therefore, we earnestly beg the continuance of thy grace, that we may always come into thy house of prayer with a comfortable assurance, and may never be filled with confusion of face in thy presence. Behind them, at some distance, I see an abject company approaching, with remorse in their faces, as if they had just come from the gratification of some guilty passion. They dare not venture beyond the porch, as if afraid to pollute the sacred mansion, but pointing toward the inner recess where the propitiatory stand, they are encouraged to utter these words, “God be propitious to us sinners.”[10]

Following these criticisms, some pages later Sandeman explained his own view:

“The testimony of the apostles, concerning God well pleased in his beloved Son, conveys to the ends of the earth the knowledge of what they saw. Every one who believes their testimony, or is persuaded that it is true, has the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, even as the apostles had the sight of it. And this knowledge gives light or a ray of good hope toward God in the heart, where nothing but darkness or despair took place before. So all who have this knowledge, are said to be called out of darkness into his marvellous light.”[11]

Thus Sandeman held that saving faith was equivalent to belief. And he warned against adding anything else to it:

But one thing in the general may be freely said, that where the faith necessary to justification is described, every epithet, word, name, or phrase, prefixed or subjoined to Faith, not meant as description of the truth believed, but of some good motion, disposition, or exercise of the human soul about it, is intended, and really serves, instead of clearing our way, to blindfold and decoy us; to impose upon us, and make us take brass for gold, and chaff for wheat; to lead us to establish our own, in opposition to the divine righteousness; even while our mouths and our ears are filled with high sounding words about the latter.”[12]

Such additions Sandeman saws as fruits of faith rather than elements essential to faith. He wrote:

If in this, or any other part of the New Testament, more be meant by receiving Christ, than by knowing him, or believing on him, then I am ready to show, that more than faith is meant, namely, faith with its fruits and effects.13

GORDON CLARK’S VIEW OF SAVING FAITH

Looking at their theological views more broadly, Glas and Sandeman were, in some ways, precursors to the Restorationist Movement. While, unlike the Restorationists, they held to a Calvinist soteriology and were paedobaptists, they did hold to Congregationalism and were opposed to having written confessions; hallmarks of the later Restorationist Movement. Also like the Restorationists, the Glasites/Sandemanians looked to the New Testament church as a model for their own, and in so doing they settled on practices such as foot-washing, holy kissing, and communion as a meal.

As a confessional Presbyterian Clark would have naturally opposed many of the Sandemanian views. Other than the proposed similarity between Clark’s and Sandeman’s view of faith, there is no indication that Clark was influenced by Sandeman. Having gone through Clark’s published works, articles, personal papers, and correspondence, I’ve not found a single reference to Robert Sandeman or John Glas. If Clark’s view is in some way similar to Sandeman’s it is more likely coincidence than influence.

Evidence of Clark’s view of faith comes as early 1939 when, in a letter to J. Oliver Buswell, he equated faith and belief, and distinguished saving faith from the faith of the devil. He wrote,

We put our faith or belief in Christ’s finished work for us; the devil does not.”[14]

By the time of Clark’s 1957 article “Faith and Reason” his view was definite. There in a section labeled “The Element of Trust,” he wrote:

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.”[15]

Then in 1973, writing the entry for “Faith” in Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics, Clark noted:

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.”[16]

He further critiqued the addition of fiducia to the definition of faith in an article on “Saving Faith” in the Trinity Review in 1979:

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). 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.”[17]

The place where Clark’s views on faith are most thoroughly detailed however is his Faith and Saving Faithpublished in 1983. There Clark surveyed the history of views of saving faith and brought together arguments for his own position. Some of these will be noted later in this article.

Having read the views of saving faith in Clark and Sandeman/Glas, I believe it is of value to list some elements in common in their views.

SOME ELEMENTS IN COMMON BETWEEN THE VIEW OF SAVING FAITH IN CLARK AND SANDEMAN

Common Element #1. Faith is belief.

That Sandeman held that faith is belief is evident not only in what I’ve quoted previously, but also noted by John Howard Smith in The Perfect Rule of the Christian Christian, A History of Sandemanianism in the Eighteenth Century. Smith wrote:

“No distinction is made between ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ in Sandeman’s thought. The terms are used interchangeably and regarded as identical, regardless of whether they are found in the Synoptic Gospels, John’s writings, or the epistles of Paul.”[18]

And likewise for Clark, in addition to quotes provided earlier, let this one from his Faith and Saving Faith suffice:

“It is clear that the Greek verb pisteuo is properly translated believe; and it would have been much better if the noun pistis had been translated belief.”[19]

Common Element #2. Saving Faith is a species of generic faith to be distinguished in the object believed, not the psychology of the believer.

Rather than thinking the apostles had invented some new usage of the term “faith” when applying it to that saving instrument in the Scriptures, Clark, like Glas and Sandeman, held that the Biblical writers were using the term just as it was known in the common language of the day.

First, we see that John Glas wrote:

“Thus the scripture-notion of faith agrees with the common notion of faith and belief among men, a persuasion of a thing upon testimony.”[20]

Likewise, John Howard Smith notes of Sandeman:

“He [Sandeman] repeatedly argued that the concept of faith used in scripture is no different from the ‘common’ usage of the term.”[21]

Clark’s view, matching Glas and Sandeman, is as clear if not more so:

“But saving faith is a species of faith in general.”[22]

“faith in pickles and faith in God are psychologically identical; the difference lies in the object.”[23]

Common Element #3. Opposition to a third term in the definition of faith.

Having defined faith as belief, Clark, like Sandeman and Glas, opposed adding any additional terms to the definition. It should be noted that they actually opposed not only the addition of a third term to the definition of faith, but a fourth term, a fifth term, etc., for theologians have added all sorts of additional terms (most often trust, assurance, love, or even “awe”).

We start again with Glas, repeating a quote from earlier:

And some have so defined faith, as to take into its own nature the whole gospel obedience. Agreeably to this, we have heard in sermons, that it has two hands, one to receive Christ, and another to give ourselves away to him; and when we are pressed and exhorted to believe in Christ, it is as if we were urged to put forth some (we do not know what act of the will) or to give forth something towards Christ by God’s help, by which we are to be saved, on account of the connection made in the promise betwixt salvation and that deed, whatever it be, which is called faith. By this means the hearers of the gospel are set on to seek to do that deed, that work, called faith, to save them, and entitle them to eternal life; and serious souls are perplexed with many fruitless inquiries in themselves whether they have this thing called faith.”[24]

And repeating a quote from Sandeman:

“they are busied in describing to us, animating us with various encouragements, and furnishing us with manifold instructions, how to perform that strange something which is to make out our connection with Christ, and bring his righteousness home to us; that somethng whch has got many names, and includes divers considerations; all which have been supposed to be comprehended under the scriptural expression FAITH; as to which, after all they have told us about it, we are at a great loss to tell distinctly what it is, or what we are doing when we perform it, if not greater, than when they began.”[25]

And finally, repeating a quote from Clark:

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.’”[26]

While these three similarities between the views of saving faith in Clark and Sandeman might be the most notable, it is not an exhaustive list. One might add also that they each make a strong distinction between faith and the effects of faith.

While some elements in common between the view of saving faith in Clark and Sandeman have been noted that does not mean they are in agreement on all points. Without the rigorous analysis perhaps necessary, I might note that one difference might be that Glas held that the belief of devils is not saving because it is of a different nature than that of a saved man[27] while Clark held that it was not saving because it is of a different object (or insufficient propositions).[28] Other differences, though I haven’t been able to fully discern them, might be in the theologians’ respective views of the relationship of faith to assurance and repentance, and perhaps in the role in which they grant man in believing (Sandeman/Glas arguing man is entirely passive, and Clark perhaps holding that while passive in receiving faith, man is then made active in believing.)

CONCLUSION

While there are differences between the respective views of saving faith of Robert Sandeman and Gordon Clark, the elements in common are substantial and noteworthy. Yet while Clark‘s view of saving faith has significant elements in common with Sandeman, one could perhaps as easily note his many similarities to Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, or a number of other theologians.

Here we return to Robbin’s question: is Clark’s view of saving faith Biblical? Since I see so much confusion in those who have critiqued Clark, I recommend a very thorough study and consideration of Clark’s Faith and Saving Faith before you form your own conclusions.

[1] Alan D. Strange, Review of What is Saving Faith? by Gordon H. ClarkMid-America Theological Journal, 15, 2004, 217-226.

[2] Doug Barnes, “What is Gordon Clark’s Saving Faith?,” Christian Renewal, October 27, 2004; “Calvin & Machen: Clark’s Allies?,”Christian Renewal, November 17, 2004; “Salvation by belief alone versus Scripture,”Christian Renewal, December 1, 2004; “Trust – The missing element,” Christian Renewal, December 15, 2004. See also: “Gordon Clark and Sandemaniansim,”Banner of Truth, January 10, 2005. https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2005/gordon-clark-and-sandemanianism/

[3] Geoff Thomas, “Sandemanianism at the Westminster Conference,”The Banner of Truth.https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2004/sandemanianism-at-the-westminster-conference/

[4] Though, according to John Hornsby, the Glasites were not strict Congregationalists. He writes, “The Glasite societies represent a form of church order which might be denominated Presbyterian Independency or Congregational Presbyterianism rather than strict Congregationalism such as that taught by Robert Browne and other Fathers of Independency in the late Sixteenth and early Seventeenth centuries.”—John Thomas Hornsby, “John Glas.” PhD diss., Edinburgh University, 1936, 114.

[5] Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. L., Russen—Scobell, New York: MacMillan, 1897, 256.

[6] The Testimony of the King of Martyrs Concerning His Kingdom, John Glas, 1729, reprinted 1776, Edinburgh: J. Mennons, 209-210.

[7] Hervey is said to have brought the views of the Marrow Men to England. “In England attention was drawn afresh to the Marrow when celebrated James Hervey adopted the views of the Scottish Representers, especially on the subject of faith and the element of appropriating assurance in every act of that saving grace.” … Soon after the English clergyman wrote thus to a friend: “I never read the Marrow till this instant (1755) and I find by not reading I have sustained a considerable loss. It is a most valuable book; the doctrines it contains are the life of my soul and the very joy of my heart. Whatever some people may think of them I sincerely wish to live and die under their influence.” (Introduction by the Editor to The Marrow of Modern Divinity, ed. C. G. M’Crie, Glasgow: David Bryce and Son, 1902, p. xxvi – xxvii). The views of Glas and Sandeman should in some ways be seen as a reaction to the errors of Marrow. Opposing the well-meant offer of Marrow, Sandeman wrote, “The gospel, which foretells the final perdition of so many of its hearers, so many seriously and zealously exercised about it, can never warrant us to persuade every one who hears it, to believe that Christ died for him; unless we shall say that Christ died for every individual of mankind, and consequently, that none of mankind owe their salvation wholly to his death.”—Letters on Theron and Aspasio by Robert Sandeman, 1757, 1838 edition, New York: John S. Taylor,12.

[8]Letters on Theron and Aspasio by Robert Sandeman, 1757, 1838 edition, New York: John S. Taylor, p. 19. As to who these preachers were, Sandeman comments, “I have nowhere observed the Jewish disgust at the bare truth, or, which is the same thing, the bare work of Christ, more evident than among the admirers of the doctrine of Messrs. Marshall, Boston, Erskines, Whitefield, Wesley, and such like.”—ibid., 86.

[9]Letters on Theron and Aspasio by Robert Sandeman, 1757, 1838 edition, New York: John S. Taylor, 7-8.

[10] Ibid., 40-41.

[11] Ibid., 95.

[12] Ibid., 282.

[13] Ibid., 319.

[14] Gordon Clark to J. Oliver Buswell, Feb. 9, 1939. See: Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark, ed. Thomas W. Juodaitis and Douglas J. Douma, Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2017, 87-91.

[15] Gordon H. Clark, “Faith and Reason” Christianity Today, Feb. 18 and Mar. 4. 1957. Vol I., No. 10, and Vol I, No. 11. http://gordonhclark.reformed.info/faith-and-reason-by-gordon-h-clark/

[16] Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics. Faith. 1973. http://gordonhclark.reformed.info/faith-by-gordon-h-clark/

[17] Gordon H. Clark, “Saving Faith” The Trinity Review Dec., 1979 http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=10

[18] The Perfect Rule of the Christian Christian, A History of Sandemanianism in the Eighteenth Century, John Howard Smith, Albany: SUNY Press, 2008, 74.

[19] Faith and Saving Faith, Gordon H. Clark, Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1983, 2nd edition 1990, 98.

[20] The Testimony of the King of Martyrs Concerning His Kingdom, John Glas, 1729, reprinted 1776, Edinburgh: J. Mennons, 209.

[21] The Perfect Rule of the Christian Christian, A History of Sandemanianism in the Eighteenth Century, John Howard Smith, Albany: SUNY Press, 2008, 74.

[22] Faith and Saving Faith, Gordon H. Clark, Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1983, 2nd edition 1990, 3.

[23] Faith and Saving Faith, Gordon H. Clark, Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1983, 2nd edition 1990, 78.

[24] The Testimony of the King of Martyrs Concerning His Kingdom, John Glas, 1729, reprinted 1776, Edinburgh: J. Mennons, 209-210.

[25] Letters on Theron and Aspasio by Robert Sandeman, 1757, 1838 edition, New York: John S. Taylor, 7-8.

[26] Gordon H. Clark, “Faith and Reason” Christianity Today, Feb. 18 and Mar. 4. 1957. Vol I., No. 10, and Vol I, No. 11. http://gordonhclark.reformed.info/faith-and-reason-by-gordon-h-clark/

[27] “Even Glas was obliged to affirm that mere belief, such as the faith of devils, possesses no saving quality—that belief of the truth is ‘of a different nature from their belief,’ as is shown by its fruits, though he will not allow that ‘there must be more in faith, than the belief of the truth of the gospel.’”—John Thomas Hornsby, “John Glas.” PhD diss., Edinburgh University, 1936, 240.

[28] “The belief that causes the devils to shudder is the belief that God is one.”—Religion, Reason, and RevelationGordon H. Clark, Hobbs, NM: The Trinity Foundation, 1961, 2nd Edition 1995, 102. See also: “[Faith of the devils] is no more than a belief in monotheism.’”—Faith and Saving Faith, Gordon H. Clark, Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1983, 2nd edition 1990, 47.

 

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About douglasdouma

I am a husband to beautiful wife, an ordained minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church - Hanover Presbytery, and founder of Sola - Appalachian Christian Retreat (www.discoversola.com). In addition to blogging at this site I am the author of The Presbyterian Philosopher - The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf&Stock, 2017) and compiling editor of Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark (Trinity Foundation, 2017). I have a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering (University of Michigan), a master's in business administration (Wake Forest University) and a master of divinity (Sangre de Cristo Seminary). I'm an avid hiker, having completed a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian trail in 2013 and the first 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016.
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9 Responses to Sandemanian Pandemonium

  1. Scott Gordon says:

    Doug,
    A fair and helpful comparison of Clark and Sandeman. You mentioned Hornsby and Smiths’ informative biographies of John Glas, I would also bring attention to Geoffrey Cantor’s excellent biography “Michael Faraday: Sandemanian and Scientist” and on the Scotch Baptists, Google “Archibald M’Lean, 1733-1812 Baptist Pioneer in Scotland” by Robert Dawson Mitchell https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1842/10264/0074056c.pdf?sequence… . Although I would caution people back to the primary sources as it is not unheard of that people either misunderstand authors or intentionally misrepresent them. I do not want hagiographies, but none of the authors are favorable to Sandemanian doctrine. For instance, I have seen a lot of historians say Sandemanians held to foot washing but I have not seen a primary source for that. I admittedly have not made it through Glas’s five volumes yet!

    I am also curious about the name “Sandemanian”. It seems to me it should be Sandemanist or Sandemanism. Did somebody want to infer they are maniacs? After all it is Calvinism not Calvinianism. I do appreciate these scholars desire to bring light to this neglected theological movement. I am not going to hold my breath waiting for Banner of Truth to write a bio of these men.

    Why did Clark think the belief of God being one alone would cause demons to tremble? In scripture it seems to be tied to their belief in their damnation (Matt. 8:29).

    • douglasdouma says:

      On foot-washing, in John Howard Smith’s “The Perfect Rule of the Christian Religion” he notes,

      “Other practices sanctioned by Glas and associated with sociability among church member were the ‘kiss of charity’ and foot-washing. Long-abandoned, these earliest Christian practices generated much consternation and derisive comment from non-Glasites, but Glad insisted that they many references to them placed them as central to Christian social interaction.” – p. 53

      He references Glas’s “A Treatise on the Lord’s Supper.” There Glas argued in favor of foot-washing.

      You might also find a primary source reference to Sandemanian foot-washing in “My Life” (1907) an autobiography of G. R. Sims which Hornsby cites. If you can find the book! I haven’t looked.

      In the two published places I cited where Clark mentions “the faith of devils” he does not provide any arguments as to why he believes it is merely monotheism. Maybe the “belief in damnation” comes from knowing that God IS; that God exists and is sovereign.

  2. Scott Gordon says:

    Thanks Doug,

    It has been years since I read Glas’s treatise on the Lord’s Supper so I will revisit it. I am curious if Glas held foot washing as a church ordinance or just an act of hospitality as Archibald M’Lean held.

    If you want Sandeman’s view of Repentance to compare with Clark’s it is in Letter 6 of Letters on Theron and Aspasio on p.349.

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  4. brandonadams says:

    Doug,
    Thanks for taking on this question. I’d like to contribute by offering one extremely important difference between their views.

    Clark agrees with the notitia-assensus-fiducia view that one must trust in Christ in order to be saved. His criticism is simply that trust is not something psychologically different than assent, so it is unhelpful and inaccurate to place it in a separate category. His concern in the matter was simply to provide a more careful definition of terms, rather than to overturn the substance of the view as intended by most men.

    Sandeman, on the other hand, definitely wanted to overturn the substance of the view taught by “popular preaches” like Thomas Boston and the Erskines. He says their preaching sends people to hell. Why? Well, in large part, because they say an individual must be converted and must exercise their will in order to be saved. Sandeman denied that any action of man, any act of the will at all, was necessary to be saved. All that was necessary was to hear and understand an accurate proclamation of the historical facts of the gospel. One contemporary critic noted “It is Mr. Sandeman’s belief that faith is a simple belief of testimony : a passive belief of truth produced in the mind by evidence ; something which exists and produces acceptance with God, previous to any spiritual act of the will whatever,… This view of faith makes it an involuntary act of the mind.”

    Sandeman said

    ‘Hear and your soul shall live’ (Is. 44:9). Every one, then, who is born of the Spirit, lives merely by what he hears, without his performing any duty at all; unless we shall say, it was the duty of Lazarus to hear and live, upon the uttering of the call, Come forth. He lives, I say, by what he hears: so the sole reason he has to give for his comfort, is a substantial fact reported by irrefragable testimony. And the reason or spring of his comfort, is the influencing principle of his life and practice. This is the sum of all that the Scripture speaks about conversion, regeneration, or the new birth…

    It matters not much, how near these teachers bring the gift of righteousness to me, if still it must cost me as much labour to come within reach of it, as to conform my heart to the law of God. This being plainly the case, what advantage have we by the gospel? We may say, it indeed brings a righteousness considerably near to us, yet, in order to come within reach of it, Ave must have all those good dispositions that are necessary for the fulfilling of the law…

    While the popular preachers, in conformity to their several acts of faith, distinguish the human heart into the understanding, will, and affections, they address themselves in an especial manner to the will and affections of men, in order to work them up to some ground of hope from thence ;…

    the Scripture plainly shows, that all who are relieved by the gospel, so are born of God, are born not of the will of man in any shape wherein that will can be considered. The conveyance of the salutary truth to them for their relief, as much prevents every motion of their will, as did the sending of the Saviour into the world to die for men ; yea, as did the Divine gracious purpose before the world was. The popular preachers do, indeed, admit something like the Scriptural notion of believing, into a corner of their account of faith, under the title of the assent of faith. But, then, it lies in so remote and so dark a corner, as scarcely to be seen. And if it be at all thought of, it is made little or no account of ; yea, it is often marked with dishonourable epithets. Hence it is, that we hear some talking of the vanity of an historical and speculative faith ; yet, if the gospel- history be true, every one who believes it shall be saved…

    we may safely affirm, that he who admits no other speculation about the Divine grace, but what arises from that history, is a child of God, and an heir of eternal life. However common a thing the belief of the gospel-history may be supposed to be, yet if we attend to things instead of unmeaning words, and think of the same gospel which the apostles believed and taught, we shall find that there is as much room for Isaiah’s complaint now as formerly ; Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?

    Many of the popular preachers are sworn enemies to the belief of the truth as the sole ground of hope. For instance, Mr. E. Erskine says,*

    “Christ is offered particularly to every man ; there is not a soul hearing me, but, in God’s name, I offer Christ unto him as if called by name and sirname. Beware, my friends, of a general, doubtsome faith, abjured in our national covenant, as a branch of Popery. A general persuasion of the mercy of God in Christ, and of Christ’s ability and willingness to save all that come to him, will not do the business : no; devils and reprobates may, and do actually believe it. There must, therefore, of necessity be a persuasion and belief of this, with particular application thereof unto a man’s own soul.”

    Isaac Backus, another contemporary, said

    “But this pretender to Paul’s goſpel, encoura geth finners to hope that either they were justified in infancy,or elſe may be at the clofe of life ; and teach eth them that the deity makes little account of our thoughts thro’ all the buſy feenes of life… And what does all Mr. S’s re ligion come to at last, more than fpeculative notions about the truth, and ſome outward doings, without tbinking he is posteſs’d of any good principle by which he stands more nearly related to God than other men ; and without being tonſcious of having experienced any inward change, fo as to aft from right motives, or aestring fo to do !”
    https://books.google.com/books?id=FPQrAAAAYAAJ&lpg=PA340&ots=Aa_W4_rdp5&dq=isaac%20backus%20sandeman&pg=PA340#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Sandeman said

    A perſon by being “brought to the knowledge of the truth, is not there “ by led to think himſelf poſſeſs’d of ſome goodprin “ ciple, by which he stands more nearly related to “ God than he was,or than other men. His comfort does not lie in thinking on any change he has un . “ dergone, but he is comiorted in thinking on what ** is without him, on what is abſent from him, everi “ on what is in Heaven.”

    From what I gather, he taught that you must simply hear the historical facts of the gospel in order to be saved. Faith does not include any voluntary act of the will. Because of this he denied there was any change in man that corresponded to his faith or any change that was required in order to believe. There is no need for regeneration in order to have faith. This is directly contrary to Clark, who said “it is hard to find a phrase descriptive of belief better than voluntary assent.” Clark agreed with the biblical understanding of reformed theology regarding the nature of our wills and the necessity of regeneration.

    From: “Glasites” article on Wikipedia.org website, incorporating text from 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica and 1907 edition of The Nuttall Encyclopaedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Glas; viewed 26 September 2005):

    Glasites, or Sandemanians, were a Christian sect, founded in about 1730 in Scotland by John Glas. It spread into England and America, but is now practically extinct.

    Glas dissented from the Westminster Confession only in his views as to the spiritual nature of the church and the functions of the civil magistrate. But his son-in-law Robert Sandeman added a distinctive doctrine as to the nature of faith which is thus stated on his tombstone: “That the bare death of Jesus Christ without a thought or deed on the part of man, is sufficient to present the chief of sinners spotless before God.”

    Another contemporary of Sandeman, Scottish Presbyterian John Erskine (Cunningham referred to him as “probably the greatest divine in the Church of Scotland in the latter part of last century”), held to Clark’s view and wrote an essay on it https://archive.org/details/theologicaldisse00ersk/page/138. He notes “I cannot see, that confounding faith with its inseparable attendants, or necessary effects, is consistent with the important doctrine of justification by faith only… Assent or persuasion is the only notion of faith, which, without straining, will apply to every scripture, where any kind of faith is mentioned. Let the unbiased reader consult his Bible, and judge for himself.” In the preface he notes

    Attention to Scripture suggested to me the idea of Faith in the third dissertation. I can cite no uninspired book in support of it. The late President Edwards [Erskine was pen-pals with Edwards and published Edwards’ volume on biblical theology posthumously], in his excellent Treatise on Religious Affections, and some other writers, have indeed laid down principles, from which it may, in my apprehension, be fairly inferred. Yet their ideas of the nature of faith, are so difference form ine, that certainly they discerned not that inference. The careless Reader may imagine me favourable to Mr. Sandiman’s Hypothesis. But a little reflection will discover a very considerable difference in our sentiments. Mean time, his mistakes about faith are much less offensive, than his discouraging unconverted sinners from using the means of grace in order to conversion, and his harshly censuring Divines as teaching a smooth way to hell, who have clearly asserted those truths, the right belief of which constitutes men Christians.

    In the next century, Scottish theologian John Brown references Glas favorably many times throughout his commentary on Galatians, including on the nature of faith. http://scripturalism.com/john-brown-on-believing-vs-believing-in/

    Eventually I would love to write on this topic, but I don’t see it happening any time soon so I’ll dump my perspective here: The issue is absolutely connected to the concept of a national/established church. In a national church, every citizen is a member of the church birth. All that they have to do to remain in good standing is publicly affirm (“assent”) to the creeds when they come of age. Yet this was not intended to mean they were saved. Thus Puritans rightly preached that one must be converted (though they wrongly affirmed this “historical faith” was assent to the gospel). So in the 18th and 19th centuries you have numerous theologians arguing against the national church concept also arguing for a proper view of the nature of saving faith: Glas’ whole book is against the national church. Brown was likewise opposed, as was Erskine (Dissertations I and II in the same volume are directly against the national church). James Carlile, writing in 1823 refers to “many” who argue thus (and of course he lumps them in with Sandeman and calls them his followers): “Mr. Sandeman and his followers, the two reviewers alluded to in the title, Mr. [Thomas] Erskine, Mr. Jones, Mr. Dore, and many others” https://books.google.com/books?id=-RI3AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA121&dq=essay+on+faith+erskine&hl=en&sa=X&ei=E_RfVdqxLIXboATb2YGwCg&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=true

    Here is Thomas Erskine’s essay (1822 – a lawyer and lay theologian)
    https://books.google.com/books?id=ar0HAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA5&dq=essay+on+faith+erskine&hl=en&sa=X&ei=E_RfVdqxLIXboATb2YGwCg&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=true

    let us consider how, and to what extent, the introduction of scholastic metaphysics into religion has obscured and perplexed the subject of faith.

    Theological writers have distinguished and described different kinds of faith, as speculative and practical, — historical, saving and realizing faith. It would be of little consequence what names we gave to faith, or to any thing else, provided these names did not interfere with the distinctness of our ideas of the things to which they are attached ; but as we must be sensible that they do very much interfere with these ideas, we ought to be on our guard against any false impressions which may be received from an incorrect use of them. Is it not evident that this way of speaking has a natural tendency to draw the attention away from the thing to be believed, and to engage it in a fruitless examination of the mental operation of believing? And yet is it not true, that we see and hear of more anxiety amongst religious people, about their faith being of the right kind, than about their believing the right things? A sincere man, who has never questioned the Divine authority of the Scripture, and who can converse and reason well on its doctrines, yet finds perhaps that the state of his mind and the tenor of his life do not agree with the Scripture rule. He is very sensible that there is an error some where, but instead of suspecting that there is something in the very essentials of Christian doctrine which he has never yet understood thoroughly, the probability is that he, and his advisers, if he ask advice, come to the conclu sion that his faith is of a wrong kind, that it is speculative or historical, and not true saving faith. Of course this conclusion sends him not to the study of the Bible, but to the investigation of his own feelings, or rather of the laws of his own mind. He leaves that truth which God has revealed and blessed as the medicine of our natures, and bewilders himself in a metaphysical labyrinth.

    A true faith does not properly refer to the mode of believing, but to the object believed. It means the belief of a true thing. As a cor rect memory does not refer to the process by which the impression is made, but to the ac curate representation of the fact remembered.

    We are so much accustomed to satisfy ourselves with vague ideas on the subject of religion, that we are easily deceived by a general resemblance of statements with regard to it; and the word faith has been so much withdrawn from common use, and so much devoted to reli gious purposes, that it has very much lost its real import. To have faith in a thing, to be lieve a thing, and to understand a thing as a truth, are expressions of the same import.

    Finally, here is a fascinating 1659 commentary on the Apostles’ Creed from a patristics expert who argues for belief as assent and says the definition of saving faith as more than assent is not found in the early Greek fathers, but rather starts with Augustine in the Latin church. http://scripturalism.com/john-pearson-on-the-history-of-believing-vs-believing-in-and-its-definition-as-assent/

    I have some further comments I can make showing how controversy with (genuine) hyper-Calvinism in the 18th century revealed the error of the traditional definition of saving faith by showing that no unregenerate person can actually understand and assent to the gospel.

    Anyways, have fun digging in, if you are inclined 🙂

    • douglasdouma says:

      Thanks! I had mentioned “Sandeman/Glas arguing man is entirely passive, and Clark perhaps holding that while passive in receiving faith, man is then made active in believing.” I think you are elaborating on the same (or a similar) point. And it is this point also that has been under discussion with two articles I’ve written on sanctification. Some more hyper-calvinistic or Sandemanian persons struggle to see anything beyond the passive in man. But while man is certainly passive in regeneration, man then believes. Man is made to believe by God, but yet it is man who believes. So I say man is “made active.” Maybe there is a better grammatical term.

      • brandonadams says:

        Thanks Doug, I’ll take a look at those more recent posts. I think it’s a huge difference between Sandeman and Clark and is the root of the widespread rejection of Sandeman (again, I don’t think Glas agreed with Sandeman on this point).

  5. Scott Gordon says:

    In defense of Sandeman and Sandemanianism (as I consider myself one) we absolutely do hold that Faith is the cause and works are the effect. The Sandemanian, Samuel Pike wrote this in his book The Nature and Evidences of Saving Faith… https://www.amazon.com/Nature-Evidences-Saving-Substance-Sermons/dp/1385687754/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
    Sandeman held to the perseverance of the saints. He was sure to make faith’s object (Christ) the cause of our salvation and not the will of man nor his affections! This is why it is important to study a view from primary sources when possible and not relying on critics like the revivalist Isaac Backus for your information. While I agree Clark differed with Sandeman, I think it obvious he disagreed with The London Baptist Confession where it teaches different kinds of faith (14:3) and John Owen’s distinction between historical faith and saving faith in his Faith and its Evidences.

    I appreciate a lot of Clark’s book What is Saving Faith? but I do think it would have been better and more consistent if he had consulted with Sandeman’s Letters on Theron and Aspasio. I often hear Clarkians complain of so and so not dealing with the arguments by Clark’s book but I share the same feeling with the lack of serious reflection of Sandeman’s. He who has an ear to hear!

  6. Pingback: GHC Review 32: Faith and Saving Faith | A Place for Thoughts

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