Evangelism and Definite Atonement[?] (Murray)

 Sometimes people say that the doctrines of grace get in the way of evangelism.  They say that Calvinism is a detriment when sharing the gospel.  However, when approached biblically, the doctrines of grace actually help us share the gospel better in various ways.  For one excellent example, here’s what John Murray wrote about evangelism and definite atonement:

“It is often argued that the doctrine of definite or limited atonement is quite foreign and even inimical to the interests of evangelism.  For how, it may be plausibly protested, can salvation be freely offered to the lost and its claims pressed upon them if salvation has been procured only for a limited number?  Proper analysis of the salvation offered to lost men will show, however, that only on the basis of a definite atonement can full salvation be offered to lost men.  True evangelism must ever bear in mind that it is not the mere possibility of salvation, nor simply provision for salvation, that is offered freely in the gospel.  It is rather salvation full, perfect, and free.  For it is Christ in all the glory of his person as Savior and Redeemer, and in all the perfection of his finished work, who is offered to sinners in the gospel.

This glory and this perfection that reside in Christ as Savior have come to reside in him only by virtue of what he has done in his capacity as the captain of salvation.  And what he has done in th is capacity is not that he made the salvation of all men possible, nor that he made provision for the salvation of all, but rather that he wrought and purchased redemption.  It is salvation with such completeness and perfection that is presented to lost men in the full, free, and unfettered call of the gospel.  But only on the basis of a limited atonement could such salvation and redemption be wrought, and only on the basis of a limited atonement can such salvation be offered.

…If we universalize the extent of the atonement we must limit its efficacy, and when we limit its efficacy it is an impoverished and truncated salvation that the ministers of evangelism have to offer.  Just as we mutilate the salvation offered, so do we empty our message of the irresistible appeal that the proclamation of a full and perfect salvation provides.  Evangelism thereby not only proves itself unfaithful to the fulness of the gospel, but also robs itself of that which is indispensable to its effectiveness, namely, the recognition on the part of men of the claim, privilege, and opportunity that the full and free offer of Christ entails.

John Murray, “The Message of Evangelism,” in Collected Writings, vol. 1, p 127-8.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Legalism, Love, and the Law

 One of my favorite shorter articles on Christian ethics is John Murray’s contribution simply called, “The Christian Ethic.”  At one point in this article he discussed how God’s law and love relate in Christian ethics.  He gave three specifics: The primacy of love, the priority in love, and the specific nature of the correlation of law and love.

The section I’ll post below made me think of legalism.  Legalists are very law-heavy and quick to judge others when it comes to the details of the law.  Legalists will quickly condemn Christians, preachers, books, Christian music, and so forth if these things do not measure up to their law-heavy and detailed standards.  Legalists are always upset with someone or something and they rarely encourage, help, or share the burden of those who are (in their eyes) inferior.  They are quick to complain and condemn, but slow to encourage and help.  I don’t think it is an overstatement to say this: the more legalistic a person is, the less he or she truly loves others.  The opposite is also true.

Here’s Murray’s discussion of the primacy of love in the law:

  1. Love is primary because only by love can the commandments be fulfilled.  Love is emotive, motive, impulsive, and expulsive.  It is emotive in that it constrains affection for its object, motive because it is the spring of action, impulsive because it impels to action, expulsive in that it expels what is alien to the interests of its object.  We know only too well what a grievous burden is formal compliance with commandments when there is no love.  Why is labor so distasteful, why so much heartlessness, and with heartlessness deterioration in quality and the mark of dishonesty on the product?  It is because there is no love.  Most tragic of all is the evidence of this in the highest of vocations [callings] and the discharge of the most sacred functions.  The apostle reminds us: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” [NASB].

This quote is found on page 178 of John Murray’s Collected Writings, page 178.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Taking the Sufficiency of Scripture Seriously (Murray)

 John Murray’s article, “The Finality and Sufficiency of Scripture” is a wonderful explanation of those twin biblical truths about Scripture.  One section of this article that I read today had some comments in it that are still applicable for us in our setting:

Here, I believe, we have too often made the mistake of not taking seriously the doctrine [of Scripture] we profess.” If Scripture is the inscripturated revelation of the gospel and of God’s mind and will, if it is the only revelation of this character that we possess, then it is this revelation in all its fulness, richness, wisdom, and power that must be applied to man in whatever religious, moral, mental situation he is to be found.  It is because we have not esteemed and prized the perfection of Scripture and its finality, that we have resorted to other techniques, expedients, and methods of dealing with the dilemma that confronts us all if we are alive to the needs of this hour.

Later Murray wrote,

..Let us learn from our tradition, let us prize our heritage, let us enter into other men’s labours; but let us also know that it is not the tradition of the past, not a precious heritage, and not the labours of the fathers, that are to serve this generation and this hour, but the Word of the living and abiding God deposited for us in Holy Scripture, and this Word as ministered by the church.  And we must bring forth from its inexhaustible treasures, in exposition, proclamation, and application what is the wisdom and power of God for man in this age in all the particularity of his need, as for man in every age.  There will then be commanding relevance, for it will be the message from God in the unction and power of the Spirit, not derived from the modern mentality, but declared to the modern mentality in all the desperateness of its anxiety and misery.

…Let us reassess the significance of Scripture as the Word of God and let us come to a deeper appreciation of the deposit of revelation God in his grace and wisdom has given unto us as the living Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, and let us know and experience its power in its sufficiency for every exigency of our individual and collective need, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts.

John Murray, Collected Writings, Vol. 1, p. 21-22.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Sanctity of the Moral Law (or: Constrained to Come to Calvary) (Murray)

Murray vol 1 In 1935, at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, John Murray gave an address called, “The Sanctity of the Moral Law.”  (“Sanctity” in this context means holiness or sacredness.)  In this address Murray  talked about the moral law which is summarized in the Ten Commandments.  Murray’s lecture is a very helpful discussion of the moral law and its importance for Christians.  I appreciate how he ended this address:

“As we recognize the awful sanctity that surrounds the law, we shall certainly be crushed with a sense of our own hell-deserving guilt and hopeless inability.  We shall certainly be constrained to cry out, ‘Woe is me for I am undone.’  ‘Surely I am more stupid than any man, and I have not the understanding of a man’ (Is. 6:5; Prov. 30:2).  But in that condition there falls upon our ears and into our hearts the sweet news of the gospel, the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer and Lord.  “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3:13).  We shall be constrained to come to Calvary.

But when we come to Calvary for the expiation of our guilt and the remission of our sin, it is not to diminish our esteem of that law nor relax our sense of its awful sanctity and binding authority.  Oh no!  …When we are possessed by the sense of the authority and sanctity of the moral law, we must come to Calvary if any true and living hope is to be engendered within us.  But when we rise from our prostration before the Cross, it is not to find the moral law abrogated, but to find it by the grace of God wrought into the very fiber of the new life in Christ Jesus.

If the Cross of Christ does not fulfill in us the passion of righteousness, we have misinterpreted the whole scheme of divine redemption.  ‘For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh’ (Rom. 8:3).  Is it that the moral law might cease to bind and regulate?  Oh no! But ‘that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’

John Murray, Collected Writings vol. 1, p. 203-204.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Rome’s ‘Tyrannical Distortion’ (Murray)

 The Roman Catholic Church neither believes nor teaches that Scripture is the highest authority and only source of inspired and infallible truth for God’s people. In other words, they do not teach or believe “sola Scriptura.”  In fact, at the Second Vatican Council, Rome said that “…it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything that has been revealed.  Therefore both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence.”  Along with Scripture and Tradition, Rome also says that the decrees of the Pope are infallible and must be revered and obeyed: “In virtue of his office, the Roman Pontiff…enjoys infallibility when he makes a definitive pronouncement of doctrine on faith or morals….”

For those of us in Protestant and Reformation circles, this teaching is absolutely unbiblical and terribly repulsive in many ways.  When we refuse ecumenical ties with Rome, we do so on firm biblical grounds.  I appreciate John Murray’s response (d. 1975) to the topic of Rome’s authority:

“What we do find in the claims of the Roman Catholic Church is a pretentious superstructure, based upon assumptions for which there is no evidence in the revelation God has given us.  The consequence is a tyrannical distortion of what our Lord himself affirmed, and the Scriptures of the New Testament witness, respecting apostolic authority.  The most recent pronouncements of Rome continue to reiterate and enforce the usurpations in respect of authority whereby the basic principles that God alone is the source of all authority, and his revealed will the norm, are made void in the magisterium of the Church, and most particularly in the supreme magisterium of the Roman Pontiff.  It is the irony of this usurpation that in Roman claims we have the most blatant example of lording it over God’s heritage in contravention of Peter’s own inspired utterance: ‘Neither as lording it over those committed to your charge, but becoming examples to the flock’ (1 Pet 5:3).

John Murray, Collected Writings, Vol. I, page 302.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

“Some Pastors and Teachers” – Not for Pastors Only

 I recently started reading Sinclair Ferguson’s newest book, Some Pastors and Teachers.  I have to admit I am a bit disappointed to find out it is mostly a collection of previously published material.  Around 30 of the 39 chapters have been published elsewhere (Baker, Christian Focus, IVP, P&R, Ligonier, etc.).  I was expecting this book to be a book on pastoral theology.  However, the topics are more along these lines: around half of the book is historical theology (summaries of John Calvin, John Owen, and John Murray’s various teachings), the rest of the book is on systematic theology (Scripture, the atonement, justification, etc.) and there’s a section on preaching (preaching the atonement, exegetical preaching, etc.).  So it’s not exactly a book on pastoral theology, and I don’t think the title and subtitle are accurate.  Its title should have something to do with a collection or anthology or something along those lines.

Having said that, and having already read some of this material in other publications, I can say the content is solid and helpful.  There is a wealth of Christian truth in it!   This book really isn’t just for pastors; it’s for anyone who wants a good Reformed resource for learning more about Calvin, Owen, and Murray’s theology and other Reformed topics like justification, faith alone, repentance, and so forth.  Some Pastors and Teachers contains just under 800 pages of good theology that is also practical theology.

I’ll come back and mention parts of this book in the near future as I read the chapters I haven’t already read elsewhere.  For now, if you’re interested in a collection (or anthology?) of articles by Sinclair Ferguson on historical theology, systematic theology, and preaching, you’ll for sure want to check this one out: Some Pastors and Teachers.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Grace Knows No Human Contribution (Murray)

Murray vol 1 John Murray’s article called “The Grace of God” is a wonderful brief summary of how Scripture talks about the sovereign grace of God in salvation (election, the atonement, justification, and sanctification).  Here are a few parts I especially appreciated:

The grace of God comes to its richest expression in redemption and salvation.  How plainly this is set forth in Paul’s well-known word, ‘By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8)!  When he says, ‘and that not of yourselves,’ he is reminding us of the true nature of grace, that its whole urge and explanation reside in God.  It may be easy to give formal assent to this text.  Every evangelical Christian will do so.  But how ready we are to shy away from its implications!  In reality we deny the truth here asserted when we introduce at any point in the whole span and process of salvation a decisive autonomy on the part of man.  If salvation at any point is contingent upon some contribution which man himself makes, then at that point it is of ourselves, and to that extent it is not of grace.  Paul’s definition ‘and that not of yourselves’ is thereby effaced and the true nature of grace is denied.

…If grace is in operation, if it has any place, it must have the whole place, it must be exclusively operative.  If we are justified to any degree by works of law, we are debtors to do the whole law (cf. Gal. 5:3) and justification must be wholly of law.  Here again we have the same principle exemplified and confirmed: grace knows no human contribution.  If of grace, then it is wholly and exclusively of grace.  Since salvation is of grace, it is all of grace.  Human autonomy is excluded at every point as decisively as at the point of justification.

Grace alone means exactly that: salvation is all, only, and exclusively of grace – grace alone!

John Murray, Collected Writings, vol 1, p. 121-122.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015