When The Rebellious Will Is Renewed… (Murray)

I always enjoy reading John Murray’s sermons.  I recently read a brief sermon Murray gave on John 6:37, where Jesus said, “All those that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (NIV).  Here’s a helpful section in which Murray talks about the Father’s donation (gift) to the Son (…”those that the Father gives me…”):

“We are sometimes amazed at the conversion of certain people.  They seem to be the most unlikely people to be savingly affected by the gospel, the most unlikely candidates for discipleship.  In the first century when the early church began to feel the full brunt of opposition to the gospel, there was one man who breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.  This man went to the high priest and asked of him letters to Damascus that, if he found any of this way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.”

“In that day people might well have said: ‘If anyone is to be one to the faith of the gospel, it is not Saul of Tarsus.’  And the enemies of the gospel might well have said: ‘If there is anyone on whom we can rely for persecution of the church, it is Saul of Tarsus.’  For this man verily thought with himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.”

“But, behold, it was Saul of Tarsus who was converted.  And the history of the church of Christ is marked by similar surprises for the people of God and the enemies of the gospel.  Why have such people become partakers of saving grace and trophies of redemption?  Why have they become the called of Jesus Christ?  The text gives the answer.  God the Father has drawn them and donated them to his Son.”

“Think of it.  When a sinner comes to Christ in the commitment of faith, when the rebellious will is renewed and tears of penitence begin to flow, it is because a mysterious transaction has been taking place between the persons of the Godhead.  The Father has been making a presentation, a donation to his own Son.  Perish the thought that coming to Christ finds its explanation in the sovereign determinations of the human will.  It finds its explanation in the sovereign will of God the Father.”

“When a sinner comes to Christ, this event is the reflex of effectual donation of that person by the Father to the Son.  And if any person has that child-like faith in Christ whereby Christ is made wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, whereby he is made precious as all in all, be assured that God the Father took delight in you and took delight in causing raptures of joy to spring up in the breast of his own Son.  The Father presented you to Christ in the effectual donation of his grace.  And take no credit or glory to yourself.”

John Murray, Collected Writings, volume 3, page 206.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Exegetical Basis for Total Depravity and Total Inability (Murray)

Epistle to the Romans One aspect of the doctrines of grace is the insistence that man, by nature, is unable and unwilling to come to Jesus in repentance and faith. Apart from saving grace, a sinner is corrupt in every part of his being and morally incapable of doing good in God’s sight.  Although he isn’t as wicked as he could be, he is dead in sin and his will is in bondage to sin.  Of course, the Reformers taught these things, as did other in history before them.  But is there a biblical basis for these teachings?  Yes.  For one of several examples, consider Romans 8:7-8, which says, “…The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (NASB).

Here are some of John Murray’s helpful comments on these verses:

“Verse 7 gives the reason why the mind of the flesh is death [v.6].  It is ‘enmity against God.’  …It defines the mind of the flesh, the mind characterizing those who are ‘after the flesh’ and ‘in the flesh’, as one that is conditioned and governed by ‘enmity’, enmity of which God is the object.  Enmity towards God is the actuating principle and governing propension of the mind of the flesh.”

“…The last clause, ‘neither indeed can it be’, points to the impossibility that resides in the mind of the flesh and means nothing less than it is a moral and psychological impossibility for those who are ‘in the flesh’ to have any disposition of obedience with respect to the law of God.”

“…The apostle…expressly states what is to the effect that it is a moral and psychological impossibility for those who are in the flesh to do anything that elicits the divine approval and good pleasure.  Here we have nothing less than the doctrine of the total inability of the natural man, that is to say, total inability to be well-pleasing to God or to do what is well-pleasing in his sight.”

“…In the whole passage we have the biblical basis for the doctrines of total depravity and total inability.  It should be recognized, therefore, that resistance to these doctrines must come to terms not simply with the present-day proponents of these doctrines but with the apostle himself.  ‘Enmity against God’ is nothing other than total depravity and ‘cannot please God’ nothing less than total inability.”

John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 286-7.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 45015

 

 

Saying No to Church = Divorcing Christ from His Bride (Murray)

Some people today believe they can be a Christian without being part of a church.  I know of people who call themselves Christians yet purposely do not associate with a local church fellowship.  This is an unbiblical attitude that results in an unbiblical lifestyle.  Hebrews 10 talks about not forsaking the assembly, and 1 John says that people who went out from the Christian group were really not part of the group (Heb 10:25 & 1 John 2:19).  John Murray gave a good reminder of the tight bond between Christ and his bride, the church:

“We cannot think of Christ properly apart from the church.  All the offices he exercises as head over all things, he exercises on behalf of the church.  If we think of the church apart from Christ, or transfer to the church prerogatives that belong only to Christ, then we are guilty of idolatry.  But if we think of Christ apart from the church, then we are guilty of a dismemberment that severs what God has joined together.  We are divorcing Christ from his only bride.  The central doctrine of the Christian faith should remind us of the evil of such divorce, for this doctrine is that ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it’ (Eph. 5:25).”

Since Christ loved his church that much, so should his followers!  True, the church is not perfect.  But Christ didn’t run away from it or forsake it, instead he loved the church and died for it!  So the Christian must not run away from the church or forsake it, but love it, pray for it, and join with it – out of love for and obedience to Christ.

John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray Volume 1, p. 238.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Christ Still Teaches (Murray)

  In the first few sentences of Acts, Luke said that in his former book (which we now call the Gospel of Luke), he wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach… (Acts 1:1 NIV).  One thing this means is that the book we now call Acts (Luke’s second book) is a record of what Jesus continued to do and teach even though he had ascended into heaven.  As John Murray wrote, Jesus “is ever active in the exercise of his prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices.”

The fact that Jesus continued to teach after his ascension is of paramount importance for the authority of Christ in the teaching of the apostles and in the books of the New Testament.  Prior to his ascension Christ’s teaching was directly by word of mouth.  But afterwards he taught by a different mode.  He taught by the ministry of appointed witnesses and inspired writers.  The New Testament, all of which was written after Jesus’ ascension, is not one whit less the teaching of our Lord than that delivered verbally during the days of his flesh.  How utterly false it is to set up a contrast between the authority of Jesus’ spoken words and the authority of the New Testament as Scripture.  The latter is the teaching of Christ given in his own appointed way after his ascension.

We are reminded of Jesus’ word to the disciples: ‘I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, comes he will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:12, 13).  It is from his own lips the certification of Luke’s statement in our text (Acts 1:1-2).  The guiding of the Holy Spirit into all truth does not suspend Jesus’ own speaking.  ‘I have yet many things to say to you.’  But he says these things through the Holy Spirit and thus there is the seal of both divine persons, the Son and the Spirit.

So we don’t need a red-letter Bible, nor do we need to put Jesus’ spoken words on a higher level than the Spirit-inspired words of Paul (or the other human authors of the New Testament)!  Murray ends the paragraph like this:

Let us prize with the ardor of our soul what Jesus continues to do, and teach.  He is the living, acting, and teaching Lord.

John Murray, Collected Writings, volume 1, pages 41-41.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Lifeless Doctrine? (Murray)

I appreciate these words of John Murray in his sermon on 2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (NASB).

“In a perfect world all we would need is truth and right.  For, then there would be no antithesis.  But the Scripture is not for a perfect world, not for a world of ideals, but for the world that is, steeped in the iniquity of error and wrong.  Scripture is corrective because it is redemptive.  Untruth is to be corrected by truth and wrong by right.”

“Doctrine concerns the whole wide range of thought respecting God, the world, man, man’s paramount interests, his destiny.  If doctrine is to us cold, dead, and lifeless, then there are only two alternatives.  Either our doctrine is not of Scripture or we ourselves are cold and lifeless.

We do nothing properly without thought and we think nothing aright except as we think the truth of him who is the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God.  Lack of interest in biblical doctrine is lack of interest in God and his will for us.  And this is godlessness.”

John Murray, “Holy Scripture” in The Collected Writings of John Murray, volume 3, page 260.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Uniqueness of Scripture

One of the attributes of Scripture that we might not think about so much is the fact that it is completely unique.  Scripture is the only clear, sufficient, necessary, authoritative, and perfect source of saving knowledge of our Triune God (Ps. 12:6, 2 Pet. 1:21, John 10:35, Rom. 3:4, 2 Tim. 3:15-17, etc.).  John Murray stated this well in a lecture he gave to an Inter-Varsity Fellowship group in 1960:

“Apart from the Scriptures and the knowledge derived from them, we today would be in complete darkness respecting the content of our Christian faith.  We must not deceive ourselves as to the darkness and confusion that would be ours if there were no Bible.  We depend upon the message of Scripture for every tenet of our faith, for every ray of redemptive light that illumines our minds, and for every ray of hope against the issues of time and eternity.  Christianity for us today without the Bible is something inconceivable.”

“…Scripture is unique, not because it takes the place of God, nor the place of Christ, but because of its relationship to God, to Christ, and to the Holy Spirit.  It is unique because it is the only way whereby we come into relationship to God in the redemptive revelation of his grace, and the only way whereby Christ in the uniqueness that belongs to him as the Son of God incarnate, as the crucified, risen, and ascended Redeemer, comes within the orbit of our knowledge, faith, experience, and hope.  We have no encounter with God, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit in terms of saving and redeeming grace apart from Scripture.  It is the only revelation to us of God’s redemptive will.  That is its uniqueness.”

This is one of the main reasons why the apostle Paul told Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13) – writings which are able to make a person wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15).  In fact, all Scripture, Paul said, is not only breathed out by God, but profitable for teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).  And not only does faith come by hearing the word (Rom. 10:17), the word is also able to build up and sustain that faith (Acts 20:32).  Scripture is for sure unique, so we cherish it, believe it, and do what it says as God’s word to us.

John Murray, “The Infallibility of Scripture” in Thy Word is Still Truth, p. 967ff, and The Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 1.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Arguments Against Term Eldership

Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol 2: Systematic Theology In confessional Reformed and Presbyterian circles, elders are typically elected by the congregation based on the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Although it differs a bit in various Reformed and Presbyterian churches, typically men who are elected to the office of elder serve for several years (i.e. 3), then take several years “off,” then sometimes serve again (assuming the elder doesn’t move away, get divested of his office, or become unable to serve for serious health/personal reasons.).

But is this type of “term” or “class” eldership the most biblically prudent way to go?  John Murray says it is not.  He argues that the office of elder is a lifetime office.  I tend to agree.  Here are some points Murray makes against term eldership:

“…The idea of being ordained to office for a limited period of time is without warrant from the New Testament, and is contrary to the implications of election and ordination.   …While the New Testament does not expressly legislate against term eldership, there are considerations which fall into the category of good and necessary inference, and which militate against the propriety of this practice.  These considerations are derived from the implications which underlie or inhere in the acts of electing and ordaining to this office, implications which are incompatible with the idea of term eldership.”

“…[First,] the gifts for eldership [i.e. in 1 Tim. 3, Titus 5, Acts 20] are not of a temporary character.  …The simple fact is that when a man possesses certain endowments which qualify him for eldership, we must proceed on the assumption that they are abiding, and permanently qualify him for the discharge of the functions of the office.”

“…There is [also] the argument that pertains to the unity of ruling office.  In respect of ruling the church of God, the ruling elder and the teaching elder [pastor] are on complete parity.  When the teaching elder is ordained, he is ordained to rule as well as to teach, and his ruling function is just as permanent as his teaching function.”

Murray also gives some practical considerations against term eldership: “1) It tends to create in the minds of the people the notion of trial periods.  That should have no place whatsoever in the election of elders. 2) It tends to develop such a notion in the minds of elders themselves, and therefore a decreased sense of responsibility and office. 3) It interferes with the continuity, and therefore with the sense of responsibility, as also with the stability of the office. 4) It may occasion the removal of good elders as well as bad ones. 5) It may minister to party division and strife. 6) It is rather liable to give the impression of representative government and of democracy.  Presbyterianism is not democratic. 7) It tends to promote the idea that the eldership should be passed around.”

Of course Murray gives more biblical and practical defense of his position.  You can read the entire article in Volume 2 of his Collected Writings and it is also found (with some helpful explanation) in Witmer’s The Shepherd Leader.

shane lems
hammond, wi