Gordon Haddon Clark

You are currently browsing articles tagged Gordon Haddon Clark.

ClarkGHGordon Haddon Clark was born on this day, August 31st, in 1902. We have written of him previously, but today present a sermon delivered by Dr. Clark in 1947. This message was delivered over WLW, Cincinnati, on the “Church by the Side of the Road” program, Sunday, November 2, 1947. It was subsequently published in THE WITNESS, a magazine published by the Rev. Richard Gray. [Note: If you have old issues of this magazine, I’d love to hear from you!]

Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit|
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the world, and all our woe,
Sing heavenly Muse
. . .”

Hath God Said?

WITH these sonorous phrases, the immortal poet Milton began his great work, Paradise Lost. It was from the opening chapters of the Bible that Milton took his theme.

God had created Adam and Eve perfectly righteous and had given them the well-watered garden of Eden for their enjoyment. The delicious fruits of all the trees were theirs to eat, with but one exception. God commanded them not to eat of that one tree.

Then Satan in the form of a serpent came to tempt Eve. He began by asking her this question: “Hath God said?”

Of course if God had not said, if God had given no commandment to Adam and Eve, then there would have been no reason to abstain from eating of that tree. What Adam and Eve were to do and what they were not to do, depended on what God had said.

Later on in the Bible we read how God spoke to the children of Israel from the thundering crags of Mount Sinai. There God said: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain . . . Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy . Thou shalt not steal . . .”

Considering the disobedience of the Israelites on many occasions, we may imagine that Satan came to them also and asked, “Hath God said?” Of course, if God had not said, Remember the Sabbath day; if God had not commanded, Thou shalt not steal; there would have been no reason to obey. What the Israelites were to do and what they were not to do, depended on what God said.

Today there are multitudes of people who care nothing for these commandments. During the war the armed forces were incredibly profane. In this era of so-called peace, few people remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Juvenile delinquency shows that one, or more likely two, generations have not honored their fathers and mothers. The world has seen not only murders but massacres. Unfortunately, adultery and divorce are so common as to have eaten away the moral fiber of our nation. And stealing goes on, if not in one form, then in another.

But, after all, why should one keep the Sabbath? Why shouldn’t one enjoy adultery and profanity on occasion? Why not get what you can while the getting is good? Hath God said?

Our conduct, so many people affirm, is not to be hampered by ancient traditions. The Ten Commandments may have been good enough for a bygone age; but today we have evolved a new code of ethics and we must conform to the morals of our age and our society.

Maybe there is a God, and maybe there isn’t. It is hard to say. But even if there is a God, he is not the tribal deity of the ancient Jews. The Old Testament is folk lore and superstition. We live today and we must follow the ways of the society in which we live.

This is the teaching that has permeated the educated classes of our country. The sociology departments in our colleges, the psychologists, the philosophers, and the schools of education insist that it is the society in which one Jives that sets the standards of conduct.

The aborigines of Australia have their code of ethics. The tribes of central Africa have another code. American society requires its type of conduct and Chinese society sets different norms. No society can impose its mores on another. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The particular society is the supreme judge.

Now, it happens that society changes, in fact, American society has changed considerably in the last century.

When our grandparents were alive, an accusation of immorality was a serious charge. Later on it became smart to be immoral. Today, however, immorality is too common even to be smart. People no longer use the idea of immorality to indicate blame or the idea of morality to indicate praise. Morality is old fashioned. Instead of these ideas, if a serious accusation is to be made against someone, he is called anti-social. The worst thing to say of a man today is to say that he is anti-social. We no longer listen for the voice of God; we pay attention to the demands of society. Society, the society in which we live, is the supreme judge of our conduct.

But if this modern humanistic theory is true, several interesting conclusions follow. When in Rome do as the Romans do, they say. Conform to the society in which you live. If this be good advice, then was it not right and good for Germans under Hitler to massacre the Jews? If society establishes the rules of conduct, an anti-semitic society justifies anti-semitic conduct. It was not Hitler’s lieutenants, it was not Goering and Goebels who were anti-social; it was Pastor Niemoeller who was anti-social. That was why he was put into a concentration camp. He did not conform to the code of society. Similarly, just before the Protestant Reformation the city of Florence was licentious and gay. Savonarola appeared and rebuked them for their sins. Savonarola was anti-social, and they burned him at the stake. Society was the judge.

And why should not society be the judge, if God has not spoken? Why isn’t anti-semitism right and good, if God has not siad, Thou shalt not kill? If God has not spoken, why should not society murder those who disagree with it?

Niemoeller was anti-social because he believed God had commanded. The Apostle Paul was killed because he believed that God was superior to society. And Jesus Christ was perhaps the most anti-social person who ever lived.

Hath God said? If God has not said, then profanity, murdcr, adultery, theft are all right wherever these actions are customary.

But as for me, 1 do not believe this godless humanism; I do not approve the conduct it produces. I believe that God has spoken. Only on the basis of what God has said can morality be justified. Only on this basis can individual murderers and political massacres be condemned. Only if God has spoken can the old fashioned American principles of freedom challenge the modern forces of a tyrannical society. Only if God has spoken can we have hope in this life and eternal joy in the life to come.

Has God spoken? Yes, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son,” the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever, world without end. Amen.

Tags: , , ,

A Christian Philosopher

ClarkGHA Google search on the name of Gordon Haddon Clark will bring up reference after reference  for you to read.  One of them is from the PCA Historical Center, where his manuscript collection is preserved; a biographical sketch is posted there as well.

Gordon Clark had the advantage, after his birth in 1902, of being reared in a Christian home, and indeed being the son of the manse.  His father, the Rev. David Clark, was a graduate of Princeton Seminary in 1887, where he had studied under the great Reformed thinkers of that era.  Not surprisingly then, young Gordon was raised in a home where the Westminster Shorter Catechism was taught.  In addition, with his father’s library at hand, he had the opportunity to read Reformed masters like Calvin, Warfield, and Hodge.  It was a providential training which would bear tremendous fruit in his later pastoral and educational work.

Dr. Clark served as a Professor of Philosophy first at the University of Pennsylvania and then at Wheaton College from 1929–1944.  It was on August 9, 1944 that he was ordained as a teaching elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by the Presbytery of Philadelphia of that denomination.  Unhappily, that ordination was opposed by some in that church until finally Dr. Clark left the OPC to join the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

It was during this same time that Dr. Clark became a faculty member of Butler University, serving as a Philosophy professor from 1945 to 1973.   Many of his best known books were written during this time at Butler University.  Retiring from Butler, Dr. Clark entered a new phase of his ministry in 1974, when he began teaching at Covenant College. He continued teaching there for about ten years, while also finding time to teach at both Sangre de Christo Seminary in Colorado, and Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia.

When the UPCNA joined the Presbyterian Church in the USA in 1958, Dr. Clark and the church he was the pastor of, in Indianapolis, Indiana, affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod.  The latter group joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and became the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.  Then in 1982, they joined the Presbyterian Church in America, but Dr. Clark joined with the unaffiliated Covenant Presbytery.  Dr. Clark thus had a remarkable relationship with many of the Reformed Presbyterian denominations in the United States.

He passed on to glory in 1985.

Words to live by:  A strong training at home, as Dr. Clark possessed, especially a training in the Westminster Shorter Catechism in younger years, is the missing note of many a covenant family.  But it is never too late to address that omission.  The pastors and Sessions of our Presbyterian congregations need to place that emphasis in the families of the congregation, even appointing a person, such as a retired teacher, to hear recitations of catechism answers each Lord’s Day.  Or heads of families, joined by their wives, need to train up their children in the Shorter Catechism.  It will be a gift which will never lose its influence for good in their hearts and lives.

Tags: , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: