Thoughts on Samuel Clarke’s 55 Theses, Part 2: Theses 16-30

I am in general agreement with the views Clarke expresses in his theses. There are, however, a few points of disagreement over details, and things that I believe could benefit from further clarification or commentary, that I set out to supply in these posts.

Respecting thesis 17, Clarke seems to rely very heavily on the opinion of the ancient writers. They, of course, serve well as witnesses to what is true; but what is known to be true, is ordinarily known only on the basis of demonstration from the holy scriptures, as the only special revelation ordinarily available to us, and thus, the only ordinary basis for knowledge of doctrinal truth. What Clarke says may be supplemented by a brief demonstration from the scriptures, that the Father begat the Son as an act of will.

This can be seen from that fact that scripture lays out, as a rule, that God does as He pleases (Ps 115:3, Ps 135:6). What God does, then, is what He has pleased to do, what he has willed to do; and it is unfitting to a pious notion of God to suppose that He is encumbered by any external necessity, He Who alone is from none, having no cause, source, nor origin, and owing nothing of what He is to anyone. He Himself is supreme in authority and headship over all absolutely (thus He is called, in scripture, the Lord God Pantokrator, or Supreme Governor over all), and so is under the authority of none. He is from none, and under the authority of none; He simply is without cause, source, or origin; and all things are from Him, and under His Godhood, dominion, and authority, even His own Son and Spirit, and all creation He has made through His Son.

Since, then, as a rule, the Father does what he wills, we may then safely say that what He does, is what He has willed to do. The question then of whether God begat the Son by an act of will is then simply reduced to the question, did God beget the Son? If He did, He did so willingly; and He most certainly did, according to the clear testimony of scripture.

In thesis 19, Clarke for some reason adds that the Spirit is not only from the Father, which He truly is, but that He is from the Father through the Son. Why a man so committed to sola scriptura, and willing to throw off common biases to look at theological matters as rationally and objectionably as possible, would here maintain the filoque, is an utter mystery to this author. Surely it is plausible; but what appears to be wanting, is any definite reason to suppose that it positively is the case, from the holy scriptures. Without demonstration of a given point of doctrine from the holy scriptures, it can hardly be regarded as definitely being true, or rightly be made a point of dogma.

Thesis 25 may be clarified further, in my opinion, to note particularly that Godhood, or divinity, biblically, is dominion. As Sir Isaac Newton observed:

“This Being [God] governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator [Greek word usually translated “Almighty”], or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually signifies a Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)

This Clarke seems to acknowledge, but does not state as clearly as may be desired, and is perhaps too vague in his notion of what Godhood is, as in general being relative- which it is; but does not clearly define it, as it is, as being dominion specifically.

 

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