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John Murray (the Baptist) vs James Bannerman (the Presbyterian) on The Church

December 5, 2016 3 comments

One of the primary foundations of infant baptism is the concept of an external church member, with external church privileges, stemming from an external covenant of grace. While saving faith is a required condition for the invisible church, it is not a condition of the visible church. Therefore the church consists of both true believers and false believers, along with their children.

James Bannerman

James Bannerman, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, published the popular The Church of Christ in 1868. He explains this concept as it relates to the visible/invisible church distinction.

Now, at the outset, it is not unimportant to remark, that when we speak of the Church invisible and the Church visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ has founded two Churches on earth, but only one; and we affirm that that one Church is to be regarded under two distinct aspects. As the Church invisible, it consists of the whole number of the elect, who are vitally united to Christ the Head, and of none other. As the Church visible, it consists of all those who profess the faith of Christ, together with their children…

The Church invisible stands with respect to its members, in an inward and spiritual relationship to Christ, whereas the Church visible stands to Him in an outward relationship only… involving no more than the promise and enjoyment of outward privileges…

This external relationship, in which the members of the visible Church stand to Christ, as having been brought into a Church state from out of the world, has been often spoken of by theologians under the name of an external covenant or federal relationship. Whatever name may be given to it, there is no doubt that there is a real and important relationship into which the members of the visible Church have entered, to be distinguished alike from the state of the world without, and from the state of the invisible Church within…

[T]he formal professor may not possess that faith unfeigned and that vital union to the Saviour which will obtain for him the internal and saving blessing which the real believer will find in the ordinances; but there are external privileges which he may and does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession and observance; and although he falls short of the saving benefit which the spiritual Christian finds in Christ’s Church, yet the benefits he actually enjoys are both real and important. This relation of the mere formal professor and member of the visible Church to Christ may be called an external covenant and outward federal union, or not. But under whatever name, it is important to bear in mind that there is such a relationship, involving both real responsibilities and real privileges; and that it is this relationship, as contradistinguished from an inward and saving one, that makes the difference between the members of the visible and the members of the invisible Church of Christ.

That is a principle foundation of paedobaptism, and Bannerman knew it. He goes on to explain that this particular view of the distinction between the visible and invisible church is what separates Presbyterianism from Congregationalism and paedobaptism from credobaptism.

The principles now illustrated, in regard to the real distinction and yet the real connection between the Church invisible and the Church visible, bear with them very important consequences. It may be well to indicate, without illustrating in detail, their bearings in four different directions.

In the first place, the doctrine in regard to the visible and invisible Church which we have laid down, if it be a correct and scriptural one, has a most important and decisive bearing upon the principles of Independents in reference to Church communion…

[T]he conclusions to which the principles already laid down, in regard to the Church in its twofold character of visible and invisible, seem to lead on the subject of its membership. Independents in general have rejected this distinction, and denied that there is ground in Scripture for asserting the existence of an outward society of professing Christians standing in an outward relation to Christ, and made up of nominal as well as actual believers…

In the second place, the principles in regard to the visible and invisible Church already indicated have a very important bearing on the question of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of Infant Baptism… [T]he doctrine of the visible Church and its external covenant relationship to Christ, lays the foundation for those views of Church membership which justify us in regarding the infants of professing Christians as entitled to share the communion and privileges of the Church

The Independent view, which insists on the possession of a saving faith in Christ as the only footing on which Church membership can be conceded, and the only title to the enjoyment of Church ordinances, tends very directly, if consistently carried out, to deprive the infants of professing Christians of their right to be regarded as members of the Church, or to claim the benefit of its ordinances.

John Murray

Writing 100 years later, John Murray criticized Bannerman’s (Presbyterianism’s) argument regarding the visible/invisible church distinction. Murray wrote about this issue on multiple occasions. His essay The Church: Its Definition in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid is found in Volume I of his Collected Writings. He also wrote about it in The Theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith, found in Volume IV.

In the former, he argues

It has been common to make a sharp distinction between the church visible and the church invisible and with this distinction to apply definitions by which the differentiation can be maintained. This position calls for examination in the light of Scripture…

The distinction between the church visible and the church invisible is not well-grounded in terms of Scripture, and the abuses to which the distinction has been subjected require correction…

Strictly speaking, it is not proper to speak of the ‘visible church’. According to Scripture we should speak of ‘the church’ and conceive of it as that visible entity that exists and functions in accord with the institution of Christ as Head, the church that is the body of Christ indwelt and directed by the Holy Spirit, consisting of those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, manifested in the congregations of the faithful, and finally the church glorious, holy and without blemish.

Murray’s point is liable to misunderstanding. In fact, Federal Vision proponents have  called upon Murray in defense of their rejection of the invisible church. But that is certainly not what Murray meant. He defines the church in terms typically reserved for the invisible church and says they apply to the visible church as well. He does not reject the invisible church at all.

His third chapter in Christian Baptism titled “The Church” actually brings great clarity to his position. It is excellent. I could honestly quote and endorse the entire chapter (save the last paragraph and 2-3 sentences elsewhere). I will try to be as concise as I can in quoting him here.

The Church as Invisible

The church is therefore circumscribed by the facts of regeneration and faith, facts which in themselves are spiritual and invisible. For this reason no man or organisation of men is able infallibly to determine who are regenerate and who are not, who are true believers and who are not… For these reasons, if for not others, we must recognize that there is an aspect of invisibility that attaches to the concept of the church. *21

*21 In order to avoid the misconstructions and misconceptions frequently associated with the distinction between the church visible and invisible it is more proper to speak of the church as invisible and the church as visible or of the aspects of invisibility and visibility attaching to the church rather than of the visible church and the invisible church. The terms visible and invisible are aspects from which the church may be viewed. James Bannerman states this well: “When we speak of the Church invisible and the Church visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ has founded two Churches on earth, but only one; and we affirm that that one Church is to be regarded under two distinct aspects” (op. cit., Vol. I, p. 29). But Bannerman does not appear to carry out this emphasis consistently in his subsequent discussion. He proceeds to define the visible church and the invisible respectively in terms of distinctions which do not appear to be borne out by the usage of Scripture itself.

Our approach to this question of the church must take account of the fact that every one who has a place in the organization which is visible and known to men is not by that mere token necessarily united to Christ by regeneration and faith. It is the distinction between that which is visible to men and what is known and viewed only perfectly by God that is guarded by saying that there is to the church and aspect of invisibility

The Church as Visible

[T]hose united to Christ form the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful… We cannot think of the church invisible as anything that exists in abstraction or apart from the overt expression which the spiritual and invisible facts of union and communion with Christ demand…

[H]uman agency and responsibility are operative in the church… [H]ow does this administration on the part of men relate itself to those spiritual and invisible facts by which the church is constituted? Men are n o t omniscient. and they, are fallible… What we find in the New Testament is that the constituting bond of communion w a s common faith in Christ and that the condition of admission to the fellowship was this same common faith (cf. Acts 2:38‐42: 8:13. 35~38: 10:34-38; 16:14, 15, 31‐ 33). This faith. however. did not have any automatic way of evidencing itself and, consequently. could become effective in gaining admission to the fellowship of the saints only by confession or profession. This means that faith was registered by confession, and the criterion by which the church exercised its administrative responsibility in the admission of members was confession…

This profession, though it is a profession that only a true believer can honestly and truly make, is, nevertheless, of such a nature that those who do not have true faith may make it to the satisfaction of those responsible for that administration whereby admission is secured into the fellowship of the church (cf. Acts 8:13, 20-23). We are here faced with the anomaly that the visible entity which is called the church may comprise within its membership those who do not really and truly belong to the body of Christ… This is an anomaly which must be fully appreciated and we must not make attempts to eliminate it. There are two dangers we must avoid and into which we are too liable to fall. *24

The first danger is to construe the confession as not a confession of true and saving faith but simply of intellectual and historical faith. In this way it might appear that the discrepancy between the fact that the church consists of those who are members of the body of Christ and the fact that many may be admitted into the fellowship of the visible church who are not truly members of the body of Christ is removed. It is a false solution. There is no warrant whatsoever for supposing that the confession which we find in the New Testament, by which members were admitted into the fellowship of the church, was a profession of mere intellectual or historical belief. It was the confession of like nature with that which Peter made at Caesarea Philippi, a confession which elicited from our Lord the benediction, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). It is most instructive in this regard that the confession of Peter provided the occasion for the most significant disclosure made by our Lord respecting the church: “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). However we may interpret the word “rock” in this utterance there can be no question but that the church confession is the kind of confession made by Peter. And this means that the confession requisite for membership in the church is the confession of Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God, as Savior, and as Lord. It is a profession of true and saving faith.

It is not by any means the prerogative of those who administer the government and disicpline of the church to determine whether the professino made is a true and sincere profession of such faith. A judgment of this kind would exceed the warrant of men. But it is the prerogative and duty of those who rule in the church of God to make plain, both in the instruction and examination of candidates for admission, what the meaning of the profession is and to insist that only the regenerate, only those united to Christ by faith, can truly make the profession required. There is thus the fullest scope for the examination of candidates in ascertaining the intelligence and consistency of the profession made, in instructing candidates respecting the nature of the Christian confession, in dissuading those who do not have true faith from making the profession which they cannot sincerely and honestly make, and in maintaining the purity of the church against the entrance of the ignorant and profane. But this examination, it must be remembered, is not conducted on the premise that to the officers of the church or to the church as a communion is given the prerogative to determine who are regenerate and who are not. It is conducted, rather, on the basis that to the ministry of the church belongs the obligation to insure as far as possible by instruction and warning that only those united to Christ will make the confession which only. such can truly make. It is the function of the church to demand an intelligent, credible, and uncontradicted confession that Jesus isthe Christ, the Son of the living God.

Murray the Congregationalist

To clarify, Murray is here rejecting the Presbyterian view of profession and adopting the Congregational view (his footnote 24 recommends Williston Walker’s The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, Chapter XI “For a history of thought and debate on this question” – see also Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea). Recall what Bannerman said above. Mere formal profession devoid of saving faith (what is known as “historical faith”) is all that is required for membership in the visible church.

[T]he formal professor may not possess that faith unfeigned and that vital union to the Saviour which will obtain for him the internal and saving blessing which the real believer will find in the ordinances; but there are external privileges which he may and does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession and observance; and although he falls short of the saving benefit which the spiritual Christian finds in Christ’s Church, yet the benefits he actually enjoys are both real and important. This relation of the mere formal professor and member of the visible Church to Christ may be called an external covenant and outward federal union, or not. But under whatever name, it is important to bear in mind that there is such a relationship, involving both real responsibilities and real privileges; and that it is this relationship, as contradistinguished from an inward and saving one, that makes the difference between the members of the visible and the members of the invisible Church of Christ.

This is what Murray is explicitly rejecting. What is required is saving faith, not historical faith. Bannerman identified this as the Independent (Congregationalist) view. “The Independent view, which insists on the possession of a saving faith in Christ as the only footing on which Church membership can be conceded…”

Samuel Rutherford, one of the leading members of the Westminster Assembly (Dr. Guy Richard says “Rutherford had a huge impact upon the Assembly” and Chad Van Dixhoorn says Rutherford was the second-most prominent speaker on the floor of the Assembly), faced this argument in his day. He responded to the Congregationalists thus:

Therefore these words must import that nothing is more required for the church to confer the seal of the covenant without sin, but that the children be descended of parents professing the truth and faith, though the parents (indeed, as concerning any real union of faith) be plain strangers to the covenant [inwardly], and are members of the church only as an arm of wood is a member of the body.  Which being true, as it must be said, the assumption [of the Separatists] is weak and sick.

For the question is: what is it to be externally within the covenant? 

It is not to see all known sins, to be a chosen people, a people taught of God [inwardly], as this argument would say.

1. For then God would not have commanded Joshua (Josh. 5) to circumcise all Israel because their fathers were externally within the covenant.

2. For their fathers were a generation of unbelievers who knew not God, who tempted Him, grieved his holy Spirit in the wilderness, and professed themselves by their murmuring never to be truly within the covenant [inwardly].

Then to profess the doctrine of the covenant is but to be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).  And so by this it is clear that Joshua had commandment of God to give the seal of the covenant to their children, who [the parents] were as openly wicked against the Lord, as murderers, drunkards, swearers, etc.

3. This argument [of the Separatists] will prove that circumcision could lawfully be given to none but the children of parents within the covenant, that is, professedly known to be faithful, holy, and separated from the profane world in the judgment of charity. This has no warrant of the Word.  For:

1. The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2 [see also verses 6-7]). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

2. What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews. O, says Mr. Best, they were behooved [required] to be members of the church, whose infants might lawfully be circumcised.  I answer: that is ignotum per ignotius [unknown per the unknown].  Show me one person being a born Jew whose child the Lord forbid to circumcise?

3. What is it to be a member of the Jewish Church? Is it to be a visible saint and taught of God [inwardly]?  I [admit this to be] true: that was required indeed to make men acceptable before God.  But to make one a visible member of the visible Jewish church, nothing was required but to be a born Jew, profess God’s truth, and keep from external ceremonial pollutions.  I mean: to be a member of the visible church, [is] to keep external and church communion with the rest of God’s people.

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

John Murray the Baptist

Murray continues:

The second danger that must be avoided is the tendency to define the church in such a way as would seem to eliminate or at least tone down the discrepancy or anomaly with which we are dealing. This again is a mistake. Our definition of the church must not be framed in terms of an accommodation by which we make provision, within our definition, for the inclusion of hypocrites, that is to say, of those who profess to be Christ’s but are not really his. Our definition of the church must be framed in terms of the constitutive principle, to wit, that the church consists of those who are united to Christ and are members of his body. It is the communion of saints. And it is precisely that body of believers in fellowship with Christ and with one another, associated together in the world in accordance with Christ’s institution, which is called in the New Testament “the church” and is what we often call the visible church. We may not abandon this constitutive principle, we may not accommodate our definition in order to make allowance for the fact that some make the profession who do not have the faith and who enter into the fellowship without the bond that constitutes it.*26

*26 It is very easy to fall into this kind of accommodation when we begin to apply the distinction between the church as invisible and the church as visible. And, indeed, it may appear to be necessary in order to avoid other pitfalls of the Romish doctrine of the church. In the esteem of the present writer this appears rather conspicuously in James Bannerman’s excellent work, The Church of Christ. His definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage (cf. op. cit. Vol. I, pp. 29ff). The terms in which Bannerman develops the distinction between visible and invisible and frames his definition of the visible church seem to provide us with a very simple and effective polemic against Rome. The controversy with Rome must, of course, be unabated, but it does not appear to be sound to conduct this controversy on the basis of a definition which does not find its counterpart in the Biblical usage with reference to the church.

I Cor. 1:1, 2… provides us with Paul’s concept of the church at Corinth, namely, those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, and he does not conceive of the church in broader terms so as to distinguish between the church and those sanctified and called…

Paul recognised that there was old leaven in the church at Corinth, leaven which needed to be purged out. But when he addresses the church he does not address it as a community to be defined in terms of old leaven and new unleavened bread. He does not define the church in terms which would make allowance for both elements. No, he addresses the church as those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, and who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…

It is true that hypocrites may secure admission to the church. As we have seen, the very administration which Christ has instituted for the admission of members allows for that. There are disciples who are not truly disciples, and there are branches in the vine which are not vitally and abidingly in the vine. But while we fully recognise this fact we must at the same time distinguish between the constitutive principle in terms of which the church is defined, on the one hand, and the de facto situation arising from the way in which Christ has chosen to administer the affairs of his church in the world, on the other. The inclusion and exclusion are in the hands of fallible men. This administration is of divine institution. Hence those who are not Christ’s gain admission.*27 Here is the anomaly. We have to recognise and contain it. It persists in its sharpness because we refuse to define the church in lower terms than the body of Christ and the communion of the saints. It is that definition that creates the anomaly and we may not revise the definition in order to relieve the tension…

*27 Cf. Calvin: Inst. IV, i, 7 and 8.
In refraining from the attempt to define the church in terms of an accommodation that will make allowance for the inclusion of hypocrites we are following the same lines as would have to be followed in defining the kingdom of God. We are not forgetful of the parables of the tares and the wheat and of the drag net. There is a mixture in the kingdom, and Christ will at the end gather out of his kingdom all things that offend and them which do iniquity. But we may not define the kingdom of God in terms of accommodation to this de facto situation. We must define it in terms of the rule and realm of righteousness, life, and peace.

What we have here from Murray is the exact argument I have made previously regarding the church (See Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?). False believers who are not united to Christ are part of the visible church de facto only because their “inclusion and exclusion are in the hands of fallible men.” But according to God, who sees rightly, they are not part of the church, the body of Christ. The visible/invisible church distinction is the distinction between man’s fallible perspective and God’s infallible perspective. Murray’s student Edmund P. Clowny (the first president of Westminster Theological Seminary) noted “The confusion about the relation of the aspects of visibility and invisibility of the church can only grow until it is again recognized that the church as invisible is not some abstract ideal, but simply the church as God sees it, in contrast with the church as we see it.” (“Distinctive Emphases in Presbyterian Church Polity,” in Pressing Toward the Mark)

This same point was made by James Ussher.

But are none to be accounted members of this [visible] Church, but such as are true believers, and so inseparably united unto Christ their head? Truly and properly none other. (1 John 2.19)… [they are] in humane judgement accounted members of the true Church, and Saints by calling, (1 Cor 1.1) until the Lord (who only knoweth his) do make known the contrary.

Cited in Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?

And by the Second Helvetic Confession:

Whence the Church of God may be termed invisible; not because the men from whom the Church is gathered are invisible, but because, being hidden from our eyes and known only to God, it often secretly escapes human judgment… not all that are reckoned in the number of the Church are saints, and living and true members of the Church. For there are many hypocrites… But eventually the character of these men, for the most part, will be disclosed. For the apostle John says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would indeed have continued with us” (I John 2:19). And although while they simulate piety they are not of the Church, yet they are considered to be in the Church, just as traitors in a state are numbered among its citizens before they are discovered…

Chapter XVII

And Wilhelmus à Brakel:

As one person cannot be divided into an invisible and a visible person, one may not divide the church into a visible and invisible church, for then it would seem as if there were two churches, each being a different church. One may also not divide the church into a visible and invisible church as far as the members themselves are concerned, as if the one had different members from the other… This is, in our opinion, an erroneous view, generating many confusing thoughts and expressions concerning the church… If one understands the differentiation between the external and internal church to be but a twofold view and perspective of one and the same church, and does not hold to a twofold membership relationship, all is well and our proposition is confirmed: The differentiation between an external and internal church on the basis of membership and relationship is not good. One and the same church, consisting of true believers only, can either be viewed in reference to her internal spiritual condition, or in reference to her external manifestation in the world. This is what we have stated…

The church is a congregation of true believers. The unconverted, even though they have made confession of faith, have been accepted into the fellowship of the church, live without offense, and have been admitted to the use of the sacraments, the unconverted, I repeat, are not true members of the church. This is so whether the church is viewed in her internal, spiritual condition or in her public gatherings whereby she manifests herself externally to the world. The unconverted are not members of the external, visible church. Believers only constitute the true church. They alone are members of the church, regardless of how one views them.

Cited in Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?

Murray applies this to the question of baptism.

The resolution of the anomaly, that there are some who, from the standpoint of administration, rightly receive the sign and seal of that which in reality they do not possess, is not to be sought along the line of the distinction between an external covenant relationship and the internal spiritual relationship but rather in the consideration that there is a discrepancy between the secret operations and purposes of God in his saving grace, on the one hand, and the divinely instituted method of administering the covenant in the world, on the other. In other words, the administration of the rite that is the sign and seal of the covenant has to be conducted not in accordance with God’s secret operations and infallible purposes of grace but in accordance with certain requirements which fallible men may execute and apply. The divine method of administering the covenant in the world is that God commits to fallible men the ordinances of administration. These ordinances have to be dispensed in accordance with requirements which fallible men may apply. But the requirements that may be applied by men are not the measure of God’s secret and efficacious operations of grace. To be very specific, baptism is not administered by revelation of God’s secret will. It is properly administered when certain conditions of divine prescription, conditions with reference to which fallible men are in a position to judge, have been fulfilled. This is the divine institution. (52)

Of course, as Bannerman warned, Murray’s view of the church, “if consistently carried out… deprive[s] the infants of professing Christians of their right to be regarded as members of the Church.” But Bannerman’s warning here comes in the same section where he addresses the Romish view of the church. Thus we may paraphrase Murray’s rebuke of Bannerman’s polemic accommodation.

 It is very easy to fall into this kind of accommodation when we begin to apply the distinction between the church as invisible and the church as visible. And, indeed, it may appear to be necessary in order to avoid other pitfalls of the Baptist doctrine of the church. In the esteem of the present writer this appears rather conspicuously in James Bannerman’s excellent work, The Church of Christ. His definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage (cf. op. cit. Vol. I, pp. 29ff). The terms in which Bannerman develops the distinction between visible and invisible and frames his definition of the visible church seem to provide us with a very simple and effective polemic against the Baptists. The controversy with Baptists must, of course, be unabated, but it does not appear to be sound to conduct this controversy on the basis of a definition which does not find its counterpart in the Biblical usage with reference to the church.

What About Abraham?

Of course Murray goes on to argue for infant baptism on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant. But so did the Congregationalists. And, as older Presbyterians warned, their argument ultimately failed (both theoretically and practically) because of their definition of the church.

Murray argues:

The basic premise of the argument for infant baptism is that the New Testament economy is the unfolding and fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham and that the necessary implication is the unity and continuity of the church…

With reference to circumcision it must be fully appreciated that it was not essentially or primarily the sign of family, racial, or national identity. Any significance which circumcision possessed along the line of national identity or privilege was secondary and derived. Its primary and essential significance was that it was a sign and seal of the highest and richest spiritual blessing which God bestows upon men… [W]e have no authority whatsoever to say that circumcision was simply the sign of an external relationship…

What was the Abrahamic covenant in the highest reaches of its meaning?  Undeniably and simply: “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (cf. Gen. 17:7; Exod 19:5, 6; Deut 7:6; 14:2; Jer 31:33). In a word it is union and communion with Jehovah, the God of Israel… Baptism, which is the sign of the covenant under the new economy as circumcision was under the old, bears essentially the same import as did circumcision.

Congregationalists made this argument in the 17th century. Here is how Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford responded:

[T]here was no more required of the circumcised but that they were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, and by that same reason, there is no more required of infants that they may be baptized but that they be born in the Christian church.  For the Christian baptism, and the Jewish circumcision in substance are all one (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11; Jer. 9:26; Jer. 4:4; 1 Pet. 3:21,22)…

If the root be holy, so also are the branches (Rom. 11:16).  Now this holiness cannot be meant of personal and inherent holiness, for it is not true in that sense.  If the fathers and forefathers be truly sanctified and are believers, then [it would follow] are the branches and children sanctified and believers.  But the contrary we see in wicked Absalom born of holy David, and many others.  Therefore, this holiness must be the holiness of the nation, not of persons.  It must be a holiness because of their elected and chosen parents (the patriarchs, prophets, and the holy seed of the Jews), and so [it must be] the holiness federal, or the holiness of the [external] covenant.

If then the Jews in Paul’s time were holy by covenant (howbeit for the present the sons were branches broken off for unbelief), how much more then (seeing God has chosen the race and nation of the gentiles and is become a God to us and to our seed), that the seed [of those in the covenant] must be holy with a holiness of the chosen nation and an external holiness of the covenant, notwithstanding that the father and mother were as wicked as the Jews who slew the Lord of Glory…

If external profession be sufficient (without a longer examination) to baptize the aged by the apostolic practice (as we see in Simon Magus, Acts 8:13, and in Ananias and Saphira, Acts 2:38-39,44-45, compared with Acts 5:1-2): then the profession of faith in the forefathers is enough for us to judge their forefathers within the covenant and consenters to the covenant.  For when many thousands at once are said to enter into covenant with God (as is clear, Deut. 29:10-13; Josh. 24:24,25; 2 Chron. 15:9-12), they could not give any larger proofs or evidences of their faith of the covenant than a solemn assembling together and a verbal oath (or saying, ‘Amen’, or ‘So be it,’ as Deut. 27:14,17), after which they were reputed to be in the covenant, and so their seed also [were reputed to be] in the covenant…

The proposition he [the Congregationalist] proves from Gen. 17:10, ‘This is my covenant… and every man-child amongst you shall be circumcised,’ and Rom. 4:11, ‘He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith.’  The assumption, he and others, prove [this way]: because murderers, drunkards, swearers, and whose children we baptize, declare themselves not to be Christians (nor faithful, nor saints by their wicked life) and so not within the covenant.  This argument also the Separatists use.

Answer:

…If the former be said it will follow that God speaks (Gen. 17) only to Abraham and his sons by faith (according to the promise) and only to believers.

But God speaks to all Abraham’s sons according to the flesh:

Because [otherwise] God should speak an untruth: that He were a God by real union of faith to all that are commanded to be circumcised.  For He commanded thousands to be circumcised to whom He was not a God by real union of faith. 

Therefore these words must import that nothing is more required for the church to confer the seal of the covenant without sin, but that the children be descended of parents professing the truth and faith, though the parents (indeed, as concerning any real union of faith) be plain strangers to the covenant [inwardly], and are members of the church only as an arm of wood is a member of the body.  Which being true, as it must be said, the assumption [of the Separatists] is weak and sick.

For the question is: what is it to be externally within the covenant?

It is not to see all known sins, to be a chosen people, a people taught of God [inwardly], as this argument would say.

1. For then God would not have commanded Joshua (Josh. 5) to circumcise all Israel because their fathers were externally within the covenant.

2. For their fathers were a generation of unbelievers who knew not God, who tempted Him, grieved his holy Spirit in the wilderness, and professed themselves by their murmuring never to be truly within the covenant [inwardly].

Then to profess the doctrine of the covenant is but to be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).  And so by this it is clear that Joshua had commandment of God to give the seal of the covenant to their children, who [the parents] were as openly wicked against the Lord, as murderers, drunkards, swearers, etc.

3. This argument [of the Separatists] will prove that circumcision could lawfully be given to none but the children of parents within the covenant, that is, professedly known to be faithful, holy, and separated from the profane world in the judgment of charity. This has no warrant of the Word.  For:

1. The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2 [see also verses 6-7]). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

2. What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews. O, says Mr. Best, they were behooved [required] to be members of the church, whose infants might lawfully be circumcised.  I answer: that is ignotum per ignotius [unknown per the unknown].  Show me one person being a born Jew whose child the Lord forbid to circumcise?

3. What is it to be a member of the Jewish Church? Is it to be a visible saint and taught of God [inwardly]?  I [admit this to be] true: that was required indeed to make men acceptable before God.  But to make one a visible member of the visible Jewish church, nothing was required but to be a born Jew, profess God’s truth, and keep from external ceremonial pollutions.  I mean: to be a member of the visible church, [is] to keep external and church communion with the rest of God’s people...

So they cite scriptures that by no force of reason do speak for them, as Rom. 4:11 and Rom. 11:16, which say nothing but that ‘if the root be holy’ with the holiness federal and of the external profession, then so are the branches.  But the place speaks nothing of true inherent holiness: for then all holy parents should have holy and visible saints coming out of their loins, which is against scripture and experience…

By this our divines lose their best argument against Anabaptists: namely, that children of Christians are to be baptized by that same warrant that infants under the Law were circumcised.  But none was circumcised but a member of the visible church under the Law.  Now this you gainsay, who would have all clean and unclean baptized; and so you leave your pattern.

Answer:

We leave our pattern in no sort.  For all were circumcised that were born of circumcised parents within the church of the Jews.  So all are to be baptized that are born of Christians and baptized parents professing the faith.

But, say they: drunkards, murderers, sorcerers, swearers, and ignorant atheists, both fathers and mothers, whose children you baptize, do not profess the faith, for in works they deny and bely their profession.

Answer:

1. Then you will have the children of none to be baptized but those whose parents are sound and sincere professors in the judgment of charity. But so Joshua failed who circumcised the children of all professing themselves to be Abraham’s sons carnally, though Joshua knew and was an eye witness that their fathers did deny and bely their profession.  And John baptized the seed of all (Matt 3) that professed the faith of the Messiah, although he knew them to be a generation of vipers.

They often require that one of the parents be a believer or else the child cannot be clean, nor lawfully baptized.  They repose on that place (1 Cor. 7:14):

‘For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else’ (that is, if both were unbelievers) ‘were your children unclean’ (that is not within the covenant) ‘but now are they holy.’

And they allege Theodore Beza and David Pareus for this.

Answer:  But they mistake the word ‘unbelieving.’  For by ‘unbelieving’ in that place (as the Professors of Leyden do well observe[15]) is meant infidel gentiles that are without the church and profess not Christ [not unbelievers within the visible chuch], as is clear from the text

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

In other words, Rutherford explains that Scripture is clear the “Jewish church” was not “the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful.” Rather, the “Jewish church” was made by the promise of God to Abraham’s sons according to the flesh establishing an external covenant.  To be part of the “Jewish church” was “[T]o be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).” Therefore, if Murray correctly recognizes that the New Testament defines the church as “the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful” then “By this our divine loses his argument against Anabaptists: namely, that children of Christians are to be baptized by that same warrant that infants under the Law were circumcised.”

In sum, Murray is correct that paedobaptism’s “definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage.” Therefore it cannot “justify us in regarding the infants of professing Christians as entitled to share the communion and privileges of the Church.”

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OPC Report on Republication – Background

October 24, 2016 8 comments

The OPC Report on Republication was the culmination of several decades of dispute within the OPC. The dispute is particularly interesting because it represents two divergent schools within Presbyterianism that are both fighting to uphold a particular doctrine at the expense of another particular doctrine. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the Westminster Confession is contradictory in what it says about the Mosaic Covenant. It’s a very detailed argument, so please read that post. In short, it is not possible to affirm both that the Mosaic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace and that there was a Covenant of Works made with Adam.

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John Murray

In the previous post, I suggested that Murray’s rejection of the Covenant of Works was driven by his attempt to resolve this contradiction. Thus he retained the Westminster teaching that the Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace at the expense of the Westminster doctrine of the Covenant of Works.

One of Murray’s students, Meredith G. Kline demurred from Murray early on (listen to the first few episodes of the Glory Cloud Podcast for some timeline on Kline). Kline began to

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Kline at bottom

move in the opposite direction, seeing the Covenant of Works as essential to the law/gospel distinction and therefore rejecting the Westminster doctrine of the Mosaic Covenant as the Covenant of Grace, arguing instead that it was a separate covenant that operated on the works principle for life in the land of Canaan. There was development in Kline’s thought over the decades on this. The OPC Report notes that

At least two controversies helped Kline sharpen his conception of the unique typological function of Abraham and national Israel, and those controversies pertain to the covenant theology of Norman Shepherd, on the one hand, and the theonomic ethics of Greg Bahnsen, on the other… Kline’s development of the typology of both Abraham and Israel depends in significant ways on his response to these controversies, as he seeks to clarify the unique features of redemptive typology pertaining to both Abraham and national Israel…

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Greg Bahnsen

Kline offers an integration of the historia salutis and the ordo salutis, seeking to give a biblically nuanced account of the way in which the obedience of key figures in redemptive history relates to the eschatological inheritance (Adam or Christ) or the typal kingdom (Abraham and national Israel). He adds nuance and clarity to his views based in part on his polemical engagement with the theology of Norman Shepherd and theonomic ethics of Greg Bahnsen, even if those figures are not always identified…

The development from Treaty of the Great King to Kingdom Prologue and God, Heaven and Har-Mageddon turns on clarifying the works principle in Israel as it finds its genesis in Abraham and his unique obedience as a type of Christ. The controversies with Shepherd and Bahnsen supplied polemical contexts for developing the unique features of redemptive typology that extend many of the insights from Vos, but in a way that does not undermine Murray’s insistence on a substantially gracious Mosaic covenant. The development of Abraham as the historical figure who supplies the redemptive historical prototype for the works principle that will come to apply to national Israel develops after the controversies with Shepherd and Bahnsen in the 1970s and 1980s, but in a way that bears organic continuity with his earlier work from the 1960’s.

For an elaboration on Bahnsen in this context, see Theonomy, Greg Bahnsen, and the Federal Vision?

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Norman Shepherd

Who exactly was Norman Shepherd? He too was a student of Murray’s. He was selected by Murray as his successor as professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary. Controversy arose when he students began failing their ordination exams. When asked how we are justified, they answered “through faith and works.” When asked where they were taught that, they said “Professor Shepherd.” Thus began a decade long battle to rid the seminary and the church of Shepherd’s false gospel. Surrounded by politics, Shepherd was eventually dismissed, but not officially for any theological reasons. Charges were scheduled to be brought against him in the OPC, but he fled to the CRC beforehand, where he remains today. I strongly recommend reading O. Palmer Robertson’s careful account of everything that occurred at Westminster regarding Shepherd titled The Current Justification Controversy. Shepherd is considered the godfather of the Federal Vision.

Some want to paint Shepherd as an oddity that came and went but had no lasting impact on Westminster or the OPC. However, it’s not that simple. As I said, Shepherd was selected by Murray as his successor. When Shepherd left, he was succeeded by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Gaffin is three years younger than Shepherd and was a student of Murray’s as well. He taught alongside Shepherd and was his primary defender during the controversy (see Gaffin’s open letter from 1981). In fact, he continued to support Shepherd long after he left, endorsing his 2002 book The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism with these words:

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Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

This lucid and highly readable study provides valuable instruction on what it means to live in covenant with God. God’s covenant is the only way of life that fully honors both the absolute, all-embracing sovereignty of his saving grace and the full, uninhibited activity of his people. The Call of Grace should benefit anyone concerned about biblical growth in Christian life and witness.

Gaffin theoretically distanced himself from Shepherd by participating in the OPC Report on Justification in 2006 which was critical of Shepherd, but no explicit statement and recanting of his support for Shepherd has occurred. The basis of Shepherd’s false gospel of justification through faith and works is his rejection of the “works-merit paradigm” in favor of the “faith-grace” or “covenantal” paradigm. In a 2002 lecture titled “What’s All the Fuss?”, Shepherd explains

Well the preceding is only a sampling of the problems we run into on the works-merit paradigm. We become uncomfortable expressing biblical doctrines using biblical language. Texts get bent out of shape in order to make them fit into a paradigm that does not arise out of Scripture and is foreign to Scripture. And without meaning to do so or wanting to do so we can find ourselves compromising the integrity of what is written in the Word of God.

The biblical paradigm, I would suggest to you, is one that is consistently covenantal without the schizophrenic antithesis between the covenant of works and an antithetical covenant of grace.

The 1982 Reason and Specifications Supporting the Action of the Board of Trustees in Removing Professor Shepherd states

Mr. Shepherd rejects not only the term “covenant of works” but the possibility of any merit or reward attaching to the obedience of Adam in the creation covenant. He holds that faithful obedience is the condition of all covenants in contrast to the distinction made in the Westminster Confession. The Westminster Confession states in Chapter Vll that the first covenant “was a covenant of works wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.” In contrast, in the second covenant, the covenant of grace, the Lord “freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved.”

Shepherd was clearly building upon Murray’s rejection of the Covenant of Works. As we saw in the last post on Murray, he slammed on the breaks when his revisions lead him straight towards a justification by faith and works, particularly in Romans 2:13, but he had no consistent reason for doing so. Murray argued 2:13 (“the doers of the law will be justified”) was hypothetical in direct contradiction to his argument in v6 that the judgment was not hypothetical. Shepherd continued the logically trajectory, further working out the implications of a rejection of the Covenant of Works. 1978 he wrote 34 Theses on Justification in Relation to Faith, Repentance, and Good Works. Note thesis 20

20. The Pauline affirmation in Romans 2:13, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compare Luke 8:21; James 1:22-25).

Many will object that Shepherd’s theology was entirely different than Murray’s. As this is not intended to be a full treatment of the issue, and it is a very detailed topic, I encourage you to look into it yourself and make up your own mind. However, for our present purpose, it is worth recalling what we read from Ligon Duncan in the post on Murray.

Murray held to his objections [to the Covenant of Works] and to this day, Westminster Seminary has tended to be a little bit skittish about the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace framework.

There is no indication that Gaffin rejected Murray and Shepherd’s rejection of the Covenant of Works and every indication that he agrees with them. A fuller treatment of Gaffin will have to await another day (something I intend to get to, Lord willing). However, I do want to mention an important point regarding continuity with and progression of Murray’s revisionism. We saw before that Murray added Leviticus 18:5 and Matthew 19:17 as proof texts for WCF 19.6. The OPC continued that work.

The Sixty-sixth General Assembly (1999) elected a Committee on Proof Texts for the Larger Catechism (consisting of Stephen A. Pribble [chairman], George W. Knight III, Steven F. Miller, and Peter J. Wallace). It presented a list of proof texts to the Sixty-seventh General Assembly (2000), and the Sixty-eighth General Assembly (2001) approved the proof texts (with corrections) for publication.

http://www.opc.org/documents/Preface.pdf

The list included the addition of Romans 2:6,7,13,16 as proof-texts for WLC90, which states

Q. 90. What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?

A. At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.

Note particularly that v13 was included, which says it is “the doers of the law who will be justified.” Recall that Murray stopped short and claimed this was only hypothetical, not actual – but this contradicted his comments earlier in the passage. The OPC apparently recognized this and carried Murray’s logic through to v13, just as Shepherd did. At the day of judgment, the righteous will be justified because they are doers of the law and not hearers only. (Note that the OPC has since reversed this position and deleted the proof-text. See comment box below).

1416327524kinnairdsAnother Westminster Seminary graduate (same age as Shepherd) was John Kinnaird. Kinnaird very publicly defended Shepherd during the controversy and continued to support him long after. As an elder, he taught that “It is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous on that Day of Judgement.” “Inside the city are those who do righteousness and outside are those who do evil.”

Romans 2 puts it this way.  “God will give to each person according to what he has done.  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil there will be wrath and anger.”   Now by this we know the decision, the judgement as to who enters the city and who stays outside for eternity will be made on that great day of judgement in accordance with what you have done in this life.   In fact our scripture lesson says the very same thing at verse 12.  Behold I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done….

These good works are a required condition if we would stand in the Day of Judgement and they are supplied by God to all His people.

Every description of the Judgement events speak of these good works. Without them, no one will see God.  Our God is not unjust.  His judgements are always righteous and in accordance with the facts of the case

Who are these people who thus benefit ‑ who stand on the Day of Judgement? They are those who obey the law who will be declared righteous…

There will be glory, honor, and peace on the Day of Judgement for everyone who does good. [Romans 2] verse 10. Who are these people who thus benefit – who stand on the Day of Judgement? They are those who obey the law who will be declared righteous, verse 13. When God declares them righteous, that is a forensic declaration of righteousness…. This is a judicial scene, the Day of Judgement. It is an act of God sitting as Judge. It is justification – a forensic act of God whereby he declares a person righteous. God is able to make this declaration on That Day because it is a truth. Something has happened to change those who were once sinful. What is it?… Paul says, verses 14 and 15, these are those who by nature, a new nature, do the things required by the law.

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(Note the verbatim wording of Murray with regards to God’s judgment and the principle of equity).

An elderly couple in Kinnaird’s congregation brought charges against him for teaching justification by faith and works. The congregation (“session”) found him guilty. He appealed to his presbytery, which upheld the guilty verdict. So he appealed to the OPC General Assembly. The General Assembly determined that the session and presbytery had erred in convicting him. A main point in the GA’s decision to overturn the prior verdicts was that Kinnaird’s language was in keeping with the OPC’s standards – specifically WLC 90’s reference to Romans 2:13, which had just been added 2 years earlier. “There is strong evidence that it is allowable in the OPC to interpret Romans 2:13 (as Mr. Kinnaird does) as a description of something that will be done to the righteous at the day of judgment.” (GA Advisory Committee)

I encourage you to read through the trial documents yourself.

During the original trial, Gaffin was called to testify as an expert witness in defense of Kinnaird. I encourage you to read the transcript. Keep in mind Gaffin’s defense did not save Kinnaird in trial. He was still found guilty. One section is particularly pertinent.

RG: We could point up that as to the Romans (I believe Dr. Lillback did this last week if I am correctly informed) that at the …. so far as the Romans 2 passage is concerned, while a large number of Reformed exegetes have understood the scenario there, the final judgment scenario there,  on the positive side, in verse 7 and 10 and 13.  Have understood that in a hypothetical sense – or as we might put it – as a genuine offer of the law – not the gospel – a genuine offer of the law as a means of justification, or salvation which no one, in fact, can fulfill. While that is an established reformed understanding,  there have also been other exegetes, within the reformed tradition, that have questioned that hypothetical understanding.  And you see that at least for verses 6 to 11 very clearly in John Murray’s Romans commentary.  And I would refer us to that discussion,  if none other in that regard…

RG : Murray in his Romans commentary, the passage in Romans 2 that runs, particularly the segment that runs through verse 11.   2:6 to 11.  He understands that to be describing what will actually be the case for believers.  At the day of judgment they will … when God’s righteous judgment will be … when God will give to each person according to his works … that will, in terms of verse 7 … believers will be those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality.  And they will receive eternal life.  That is John Murray’s teaching on that passage.

AW :   John Murray in commenting on Romans 2:13 … I believe probably to 15 … but it’s at least on 2:13.  Here’s a quotation from his commentary. He says

It needs to be noted, however, that at this point the apostle restricts himself to the judgment of condemnation.  And this advises us that he is dealing now with the equity of God’s judgment of damnation as it is brought to bear upon men who fall into these two categories.  This is significant.  Whatever is meant by those who are >without law’ there is no suggestion to the effect that any who are >without law’ attain to the reward of eternal life.

It’s page 69 of  The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans as published by Eerdmans.

So … on the one hand … can you reconcile the two statements by John Murray here?

RG : Yeah,  I think … Sorry.  I didn’t bring my commentary along and … [Mr. Gaffin is given a copy of the commentary from one of the panel members.]   This is from page 71 on 2:13.  Let me read it, what Murray says and then comment.

It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching on this epistle in later chapters.  Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture.

That … I think is to my mind,  what needs to be highlighted here.  My own view would be that following … well, my own view would be … that … I think Murray is leaving it an open question here.  He’s not addressing … he is saying two things.  Number one, no conflict with what Paul teaches later in the letter.  Number two, whether or not there will be anyone at the final judgment justified by works – as Paul expressed there – is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture.  I think really it’s regrettable we don’t have Professor Murray here to ask this question because I think … my own view in the light of what he has said,  and said so clearly about the judgment according to works in two … in verse six … that… it … that would argue for understanding verse 13 here in the same way as describing an actual positive outcomeBut he does, as you are pointing out,  back away from that.  But I can’t … see I think in my own view … it is Professor Murray that is in a bit of a tension here … and the question really needs … I can’t reconcile Murray for you on that regard,  which is the question I heard you asking me.  And I would just accent again that in his understanding of verses 6-11,  he has broken with a large number of Reformed interpreters in arguing that that describes a real judgment scenario with a positive outcome.  Which is also how I would understand verse 13 … and well, you can ask Mr. Kinnaird how he understands it.

AW :  I guess my point would simply would be that John Murray did not definitively use this chapter in Romans 2 to teach … you know, a judgment for … let me say it this way, that John Murray did use his understanding in this to affirm a more traditional – if you want to say –  a traditional or long held view that Romans chapter two was affirming universal condemnation more than any particular manner in which believers are justified.

RG :  Sorry about that, I do have to differ with  Y

AW : O.K., that is fine …

RG :  I think in verses 6 to 11 he does break,  if you will with others, Charles Hodge, Haldane, in arguing that the judgment according to works is not hypothetical on it’s positive side… but will have a positive … it’s describing a positive, a real positive scenario in the case of believers.  And see that I think is really the issue here.  Let’s concede what Murray says about the verse 13 which … this is not … this is not a … this is a point that I am willing to be corrected on, that verse 13 does not describe an actual, an actual scenario at the final judgment.  You still have the final judgment according to works as a reality, according to Murray.

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Meredith G. Kline

So there we see the consequences of Murray’s rejection of the Westminster Confession’s doctrine of the Covenant of Works. Meredith Kline was one of the most vocal critics of Shepherd. In 1994 he penned a very important essay for the OPC magazine New Horizons titled “Covenant Theology Under Attack” in an attempt to defend the doctrine of the Covenant of Works and its corresponding works-merit principle. However, its content was deemed too controversial and was edited for publication. The original essay can be read in full here. Kline said

Recounted in the lore about the founding of our movement is the stirring testimony of the dying Machen in a telegram sent to John Murray: “I’m so thankful for active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”…

The assault on classic covenant theology of which [Daniel] Fuller has become a vociferous spokesman is being endorsed by some prominent leaders within even the broadly Reformed wing of evangelicalism. And the sad fact is that this theology, which undermines the biblical truths that provided Machen with his dying comfort, has had its aiders and abettors within the very movement that Machen founded. Strangely, it was the one who received Machen’s deathbed telegram who opened the door a considerable crack for the views inimical to the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ…

The door left ajar by Murray was thrown wide open to Fuller’s theology by Murray’s successor… Though the ensuing controversy over Shepherd’s views led to his departure, his teaching was not officially renounced by ecclesiastical or seminary arms of our movement, and key elements of the Fuller-Shepherd theology continue to be advocated among us.

Regretfully, in this same essay, Kline argues that in order to defend the Covenant of Works, the concept of God’s voluntary condescension in rewarding Adam’s obedience (WCF 7.1) must be rejected. So Murray rejected 7.2 and in order to refute Shepherd, Kline rejected 7.1.

But the primary manner in which Kline sought to defend the law/gospel distinction was by recognizing the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works. Contrary to Murray, Leviticus 18:5 was in fact a statement of the principle of works in antithesis to the principle of faith – but it was limited to life and blessing in the land of Canaan, not eternal life. Thus to retain the Covenant of Works, Kline recognized it was necessary to jettison the Mosaic Covenant of Grace (thus rejecting WCF 7.5-6, 19.2).

Kline’s revisionism began to cause a stir. One of Kline’s disciples, Charles Lee Irons was brought to trial for his Klinean view of the Mosaic Covenant, specifically the relationship between the Decalogue and the moral law [Irons helpfully corrected the original wording of this section – see comment section below]. Irons lost the trial and his appeal to the GA was rejected. He chose to withdraw from the OPC and said the following in his letter of withdrawal:

I am not prepared to say that the OPC has fallen into irreparable apostasy, but something is terribly amiss with a denomination that is willing to indefinitely suspend me from the ministry for holding a position that is part of “a significant and vital stream of Reformed, Presbyterian, and confessional thought,” and then turns right around the very next day and fails to censure a man who teaches a doctrine of justification that has never been part of any stream within the orthodox Reformed tradition, indeed, that denies the very reason for the Reformation itself. The implication is staggering:  Murray’s recasting of covenant theology is now an essential test of orthodoxy in the OPC, but the historic Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone is not.

These two rulings of the 70th GA have caused me great sadness, but perhaps they will become a wake-up call to the OPC. I hope and pray that the OPC corrects its course and renews its commitment to the doctrine of justification as clarified by the Law-Gospel contrast taught by Paul and reaffirmed by the Reformers.

Several men began working to demonstrate historical precedent for Kline’s view. In his popular thesis paper “WORKS IN THE MOSAIC COVENANT: A REFORMED TAXONOMY” Brenton C. Ferry explains that he began working on the thesis

during the time of the Lee Irons’ trial in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Lee was proposing and affirming Samuel Bolton’s (1606-1654) view of the Mosaic Covenant, creating the assumption that this was Meredith Kline’s view, which it is not. Worse, Lee was portrayed by men in our denomination as an antinomian, which he is not. The result: he was wrongly deposed. I was a delegate at the General Assembly when Lee lost his appeal. It was most disheartening, but also confirmation that the church needs an accessible outline which reflects the contours of our tradition’s conception of the Mosaic Covenant.

He also recounts his ordination exam.

The research for this thesis began following my ordination exam by the Presbytery of the Southeast in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in October 2000. Towards the end of an otherwise mundane exam, a minister named Patrick Ramsey asked if the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works or a covenant of grace.1 “A covenant of works,” I answered. The room became enlivened. My exam was sustained on condition that I study this issue.

A simplified summary of Ferry’s thesis became a chapter in the Westminster Seminary California-led book “The Law is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant” (2009). The book opens with a 6-page “fictional” narrative of the ordination examination of someone who follows Kline’s view (the intro is written by Westminster Seminary California faculty Bryan Estelle, David VanDrunen, and J.V. Fesko). “The preceding fictional narrative introduces the real issue with which the book deals, namely, the doctrine of republication, which holds that the covenant of works was, in some sense, republished in the Mosaic Covenant at Sinai.” Thus “republication” became code for Kline’s view, even though Kline never used the term, and at the same time introduced considerable confusion by the qualifier “in some sense.” Because it was “in some sense” republished, they could call upon historic support from men who were diametrically opposed to Kline’s view, yet who also affirmed the works principle in the Adamic Covenant of Works in opposition to John Murray. Thus “republication” became the historic idea that Murray rejected, and at the same time the new revision Kline introduced. The book caused more heat than light, largely because of its intentionally vague thesis (“in some sense”).

Many, many more writings have been published that are either directly or tangentially related to this dispute in the OPC over the works principle and the corresponding law/gospel distinction. Just as Ferry and others sought to find historical precedent for Kline’s theology, Mark Jones and others took on the task of finding historical precedent for Gaffin’s theology. The debate has largely centered around Westminster Theological Seminary (representing Murray) and Westminster Seminary California (representing Kline) – or East vs. West as it is referred. The debate often becomes quite heated.

So that is what has led to the OPC Report on Republication. Two leading reformed theologians of the 20th century attempted to retain different aspects of Westminster’s contradictory view of the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Works, leading each theologian to reject other essential aspects of Westminster’s system of theology. In an attempt to save their own confessional skin, Klinians have mistakenly conceded that Murray’s rejection of the Covenant of Works did not affect Westminster’s system of theology.

Murray did not accept the Standards’ teaching regarding the Covenant of Works… Murray did not believe that he held to the common Reformed position that was historically advocated by Reformed theologians or by the Westminster Standards. In fact, he saw himself as a self-avowed revisionist on the subject of covenant theology…

Recall that the principle of Old School subscription states that a subscriber may take exception to propositions in the Standards. The subscriber may take exceptions to propositions so long as those exceptions do not undermine the overall system. With this in mind, we can see that though Murray reconstructs the Confession’s doctrine of the covenant, his reconstruction still retains the integrity of the overall system…

This is how, then, Murray can still subscribe to the Standards—his conclusions, though through a reconstructed and revised route, do not affect the overall system.

-J.V. Fesko The Legacy of Old School Confession Subscription in the OPC

Opponents of Kline have not made the same mistake. They recognize that his rejection of several points of the Westminster Standards do affect the system of theology. The OPC Report states

One may hold that the Mosaic covenant differs in substance from the covenant of grace, without necessarily compromising the idea of the one way of salvation throughout history. The question our report is addressing is whether one can hold to such positions without compromising the system of doctrine taught in our standards…

in the case of substantial republication, an aggregation of tensions has arisen at times such that, when taken together, they create dissonance that begin to reverberate system-wide

Murray on Lev. 18:5 – Why Did John Murray Reject the Covenant of Works?

October 17, 2016 8 comments

[Lord willing, I will further revise/expand this post in the future (feedback is appreciated). I’m posting it for now to provide context for the OPC Report on Republication.]

John Murray said he rejected the Covenant of Works for two reasons:

(1) The term is not felicitous, for the reason that the elements of grace entering into the administration are not properly provided for by the term ‘works’.

(2) It is not designated a covenant in Scripture. Hosea 6:7 may be interpreted otherwise and does not provide the basis for such a construction of the Adamic economy. Besides, Scripture always uses the term covenant, when applied to God’s administration to men, in reference to a provision that is redemptive or closely related to redemptive design. Covenant in Scripture denotes the oath-bound confirmation of promise and involves a security which the Adamic economy did not bestow.

The Adamic Administration

Some have argued that John Murray did not reject the covenant of works. They insist that all the elements of the Covenant of Works are present in his view, he just chose not to use that language. This argument has plausibility with regards to Murray’s rejection of the term “covenant.” All one has to do is point out that he defined covenant wrong. He still held to all the elements of a covenant with Adam when covenant is properly defined.

However, most tend to overlook the much more important reason Murray had for rejecting the Covenant of Works. Murray explicitly argued that the reward of eternal life would not have been by works. It would have been a gift of God’s grace, not a reward of debt according to justice. What Murray was rejecting was the concept of ex pacto or covenantal merit, known as “the works principle.” Thus, while one could argue he held to an Adamic Covenant (by rejecting Murray’s definition of covenant), he did not hold to an Adamic Covenant of Works.

Part of his argument is that there is no works principle found anywhere in Scripture – pre or post-fall. “In connection with the promise of life it does not appear justifiable to appeal, as frequently has been done, to the principle enunciated in certain texts (cf. Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12), ‘This do and thou shalt live’.”

In a paper on confessional subscription, J.V. Fesko says

Murray did not accept the Standards’ teaching regarding the Covenant of Works… Murray did not believe that he held to the common Reformed position that was historically advocated by Reformed theologians or by the Westminster Standards. In fact, he saw himself as a self-avowed revisionist on the subject of covenant theology…

What led Murray to reject the Covenant of Works?

Many focus on the rise of dispensationalism and Murray’s response to it as an explanation for his rejection of the Covenant of Works. In other words, he just over-reacted to dispensationalism by flattening out all of Scripture.

However, Murray actually said he was influenced by Karl Barth on this point. Ligon Duncan explains:

Now, here is the inside scoop. As Donald Macleod talked with John Murray when he came back from Scotland, there were a number of things that had made a major impact on Murray with regard to Covenant Theology. For one thing, Murray was impacted by Vos and by a guy named Adolph Desmond. Desmond was a big time German New Testament scholar at the turn of the twentieth century who had argued very strongly that Covenant should not be translated as a contract or a treaty or a mutual relationship, but it ought to be translated as a disposition or a testament, something that was one-sided as opposed to two-sided. And Desmond did this because he had uncovered all this literature from Greek legal documents contemporary to the New Testament and many New Testament scholars followed Desmond for a period of time. His views have since then been overturned, but he was very influential in the first part of the twentieth century. And so Murray was very influenced by this one-sided idea of covenant. And he found the obediential aspect of the historic Covenant of Works to be a little two-sided for his taste. So, you will see him, when he defines covenant in his little tract called The Covenant of Grace, he will define it in a very one-sided, a very monopluric sort of way. And he is following Vos there and he is following Desmond.

But, the other interesting thing is, is that Murray indicated to Macleod that he had actually been impacted a bit by Barth’s argumentation on the nature of the Covenant of Works and so although Murray would have been stridently in opposition to Barth’s doctrine of the Scripture and his doctrine of the Atonement, yet he was swayed to a certain extent by some of Barth’s arguments regarding Covenant of Works. And Macleod had opportunity to interact with him on that and argue against those particular points, but Murray held to his objections and to this day, Westminster Seminary has tended to be a little bit skittish about the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace framework.

Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace (lecture)

Cornelis P. Venema elaborates in a journal article titled Recent Criticisms of the Covenant of Works in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Murray, though a faithful exponent of the system of doctrine contained in the WCF, was perhaps more critical of this aspect of the WCF than he was of any other.  Based upon his own biblical-theological reflection, Murray offered several of what he believed were needed correctives to the traditional formulations of federal theology, including the classical form found in the WCF…

There are several respects in which Murray’s treatment of this Adamic administration differs from traditional covenant theology.  As we have already noted, this difference is partially terminological… But the divergence is far more than terminological…

This promise [of eternal life] would not be granted upon the principle of strict justice or merit — God’s justice does not require that Adam should ever be granted the status of immutability in fellowship with God — but would be expression of God’s undeserved favor…

[In connection with the promise of life it does not appear justifiable to appeal, as frequently has been done, to the principle enunciated in certain texts (cf. Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12), ‘This do and thou shalt live’. The principle asserted in these texts is the principle of equity, that righteousness is always followed by the corresponding award. From the promise of the Adamic administration we must dissociate all notions of meritorious reward. The promise of confirmed integrity and blessedness was one annexed to an obedience that Adam owed and, therefore, was a promise of grace. All that Adam could have claimed on the basis of equity was justification and life as long as he perfectly obeyed, but not confirmation so as to insure indefectibility. Adam could claim the fulfilment of the promise if he stood the probation, but only on the basis of God’s faithfulness, not on the basis of justice.]

Murray also challenged another commonplace of the older federal theology, namely, that the Mosaic economy or covenant included within itself a repetition of the obligation of obedience, first enunciated in the covenant of works.

The view that in the Mosaic covenant there was a repetition of the so-called covenant of works, current among covenant theologians, is a grave misconception and involves an erroneous construction of the Mosaic covenant, as well as fails to assess the uniqueness of the Adamic administration.  The Mosaic covenant was distinctly redemptive in character and was continuous with and extensive of the Abrahamic covenants.[32]

Apparently, because Murray wants to emphasize the gracious and sovereign disposition of the Adamic arrangement, as well as the essential graciousness of the biblical covenant of grace, he does not want to admit the legal requirement of obedience to be as integral to this arrangement or the post-fall covenant of grace, as was typically the case in the history of covenant theology.

Venema goes on to argue that WCF 7.1, which describes God’s voluntary condescension in the creation of the Covenant of Works, satisfactorily answers Murray’s concerns about the gracious nature of the promise of eternal life.

This emphasis upon all of God’s covenants as voluntary condescensions preserves, it seems to me, the WCF from the charge of depriving the original covenant of the element of God’s favor and goodness, as though it were only a matter of strict justice between a Master and his servant.  Moreover, by its apparent distinction between the original natural state in which “reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him [God] as their Creator” and the covenant of works, the WCF preserves the element of unmerited bestowal and grant in this original covenant.  It simply cannot be argued convincingly that the WCF neglects this component of the original covenant relationship between God and the creature before the fall into sin and the institution of the covenant of grace.

Leviticus 18:5

But if WCF 7.1 easily addresses Murray’s concern, why did Murray still have a concern? Did he not understand 7.1? That’s possible – after all, Van Til certainly caused some confusion. But I don’t think that was the case with Murray. As the chair of systematic theology and one acquainted with historical theology, I doubt Murray was oblivious to something that was obvious to Venema.

In fact, I think it was actually Murray’s acquaintance with the confession and his systematic concern that motivated his revision. I think Murray recognized that the Westminster Confession is self-contradictory on this point and he sought to iron it out.

If you recall Murray’s quote above about the works principle, he mentions Lev 18:5, Gal 3:12, Rom 10:5 as the texts frequently appealed to to articulate the works principle of the Covenant of Works. The WCF cites Gal 3:12 and Rom 10:5 as proof of the covenant of works (in the catechism as well). However, it does not quote Lev 18:5. Why not? Well, because Leviticus 18:5 states the terms of the Mosaic Covenant, which the Westminster Confession says is the Covenant of Grace. Therefore Leviticus 18:5 cannot be a statement of the terms of the Covenant of Works.

In a very helpful WTJ essay titled In Defense of Moses, D. Patrick Ramsey explains why Leviticus 18:5 was not included in the Standards as a proof-text for the Covenant of Works.

Objection 4: In expounding the covenant of works made with Adam the Westminster Confession of Faith uses Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:12 as proof texts. Both of these texts quote Lev 18:5, which refers to the Mosaic Covenant. Therefore, the Divines understood the Mosaic Covenant to be a covenant of works.

The texts that the Westminster Standards used to expound the Covenant of Works are Gen 1:26-27; 2:17; Job 28:28; Eccl 7:29; Rom 2:14-15; 5:12-20; 10:5; Gal 3:10; 3:12 (WCF 7.2; 19.1). None of these texts are from the Mosaic Covenant; however, Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:10, 12 quote verses from the Mosaic Covenant.

The reasons for appealing to these New Testament quotations of Moses vary among the writings of the Puritans. [1] Some believed that they taught that the Covenant of Works was renewed at Mount Sinai though with evangelical purposes and intentions… [2] A similar position stated that these passages taught that the Mosaic Law contained a restatement of the principle of works. It was not re-established or renewed, only republished and repeated in order to drive men to Christ…

[3] A third Puritan position understood the proof texts used by the Westminster Confession of Faith to refer to the Law absolutely or separated from the Gospel. When the Mosaic Law is taken out of its context, then and only then does it become contrary to the Gospel by becoming the matter (describes the righteousness required in the Covenant of Works) and/or form (offers life by works) of the Covenant of Works. Hence, passages like Deut 27:26 and Lev 18:5 did not, in their original intent, renew or repeat the Covenant of Works.

The Pharisees and Judaizers of Paul’s day distorted the Law by separating it from the Gospel and used it for their justification before God. Paul’s quotations of Moses in Romans and Galatians are thus referring to the Jews’ perversion of the Law. In so doing the apostle expounds the principle of works, which is applicable to the Covenant of Works made with Adam.

Of these three possible explanations for the use of Gal 3:10, 12 and Rom 10:5 as proof texts for the Covenant of Works, the third is the most likely. This is so because the Divines did not use Lev 18:5, Deut 27:26, or any passage pertaining to the Mosaic Covenant as proof texts. If they had understood the Mosaic Covenant to be a renewal or republication of the Covenant of Works, they probably would have appealed to the Law of Moses directly, as many Puritans did.

So, according to this view, the moral law itself, separated from the Gospel, contains the works principle. In it’s original context, Leviticus 18:5 is a statement of the moral law in the Covenant of Grace. But in quoting Leviticus 18:5, Paul abstracts the law from it’s context in the Mosaic Covenant of Grace and applies it to his situation with the Judaizers. Guy P. Waters, in his chapter in The Law is Not of Faith titled Romans 10:5 and the Covenant of Works? argues this point.

Paul considers the moral demands of the Mosaic law, in distinction from the gracious covenant in which they were formally promulgated, to set forth the standard of righteousness required by the covenant of works.[1]

[1]  This position for which I will be arguing is essentially that argued by Anthony Burgess, “The Law (as to this purpose) may be considered more largely, as that whole doctrine delivered on Mount Sinai, with the preface and promises adjoyned, and all things that may be reduced to it; or more strictly, as it is an abstracted rule of righteousnesse, holding forth life upon no termes, but perfect obedience. Now take it in the former sense, it was a Covenant of grace; take it in the later sense, as abstracted from Moses his administration of it, and so it was not of grace, but workes,” Vindiciae Legis: Or, A Vindication of the Morall Law and the Covenants, from the Errours of
Papists, Arminians, Socinians, and more especially, Antinomians. In XXX. Lectures, preached at Laurence-Jury, London (2d ed.; London, 1647), 235. Anthony Burgess was a member of the Westminster Assembly and served on the committee that drafted WCF 19 (“Of the Law of God”). 

Waters actually quotes from Murray’s Appendix B “Leviticus 18:5” from his Romans commentary at this point, demonstrating Murray has accurately pinpointed a crucial question.

John Murray observes that “[The problem that arises from this use of Lev. 18:5 is that the latter text does not appear in a context that deals with legal righteousness as opposed to that of faith.] Lev. 18:5 is in a context in which the claims of God upon his redeemed and covenant people are being asserted and urged upon Israel… [It] refers not to the life accruing from doing in a legalistic framework but to the blessing attendant upon obedience in a redemptive and covenant relationship to God.” If the Scripture teaches that the Mosaic administration is an administration of the covenant of grace, as the Westminster divines affirm (7.5), then how could Paul have interpreted Lev 18:5 as he has? How could he have taken a passage which, in context, appears to refer to the sanctificational works of a redeemed person within the covenant community, and apply this text to individuals seeking the righteousness of justification on the basis of their performance?… Has Paul misquoted Leviticus 18:5 at Romans 10:5?

Waters’ proposed solution is that the moral law itself inherently includes the works principle (ex pacto merit) unless the works principle is stripped away by coming to us through the hand of Christ, as it did in the Mosaic Covenant. As I demonstrated in another post, the problem with this view is that it contradicts WCF 7.1, which teaches that the law itself does not offer any reward for obedience to the law and therefore does not include any works principle. The works principle is only added to the law in the Covenant of Works.

Murray was sharper than Waters on this point. I believe he recognized that Waters’ solution (repeating a historic solution) was no solution at all because it was self-contradictory in that it conflated the law and the covenant of works on this point while elsewhere necessarily distinguishing them (see the Waters post).

Murray’s Solution

Commenting on Romans 10:5, Murray says that “’The man that doeth the righteousness of the law shall live thereby”, is, of itself, an adequate and watertight definition of the principle of legalism. (See Appendix B, pp. 249ff., for fuller discussion.)”  In Appendix B: Leviticus 18:5 he argues that this principle is “the principle of equity in God’s government” and there are “three distinct relationships in which [it] has relevance.”

1… Wherever there is righteousness to the full extent of God’s demand there must also be the corresponding justification and life… God’s judgment is always according to truth. Perfect righteousness must elicit God’s favour or complacency and with this favour is the life that is commensurate with it. This would have obtained for Adam in sinless integrity apart from any special constitution that special grace would have contemplated.

Note well: this principle applied to Adam prior to and apart from God’s condescension to reward his obedience – that is, prior to and apart from any Covenant of Works. Recall what Murray said in his Adamic Administration essay. “All that Adam could have claimed on the basis of equity was justification and life as long as he perfectly obeyed, but not confirmation so as to insure indefectibility.” In other words, “life” according to this principle is not “eternal life” but merely “not death.”

2. The principle ‘the man who does shall live’ must be regarded as totally inoperative within the realm of sin… In alluding to Lev. 18:5 at this point he uses the formula ‘the man that doeth… shall live thereby’ as a proper expression in itself of the principle of works-righteousness in contrast with the righteousness of faith. We have no right to contest the apostle’s right to use the terms of Lev. 18:5 for this purpose since they do describe that which holds true when law-righteousness is operative unto justification and life and also express the conception entertained by the person who espouses the same as the way of acceptance with God (cf. also Gal. 3:12).

In other words, the second relationship is in reference to the first, but at a time when man has already fallen. It is a hypothetical statement of what is true if man had not fallen, but that is now “totally inoperative within the realm of sin.” This is how Paul uses it in Romans 10:5. He is adopting “the conception entertained by the person who espouses” righteousness by the law.

3… righteousness and life are never separable. Within the realm of justification by grace through faith there is not only acceptance with God as righteous in the righteousness of Christ but there is also the new life which the believer lives… So Paul can say in the most absolute terms, ‘If ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (8:13). In the realm of grace, therefore, obedience is the way of life. He that does the commandments of God lives in them. The fruit of the Spirit is well-pleasing to God… It is this principle that appears in Lev. 18:5…

Lev. 18:1-5 is parallel to Exod. 20:1-17; Deut 5:6-21… The whole passage is no more “legalistic” than are the ten commandments. Hence the words “which if a man do, he shall live in them” (vs. 5) refers not to the life accruing from doing in a legalistic framework but to the blessing attendant upon obedience in a redemptive and covenant relationship to God.

Note the difference between Murray and Waters. Waters says Paul can quote Leviticus 18:5 on this point because the moral demands of the law itself set forth the works principle found in the Covenant of Works. When the gracious covenant context is added to the law, this works principle is removed. Waters notes that WCF 7.2 references Romans 10:5. Murray rejects the confession on this point arguing there is no works principle and no Covenant of Works.

The problem with Murray’s attempted explanation is that it does not sufficiently explain how Paul can quote Leviticus 18:5 as expressing law righteousness since it, in fact, does not. Paul does not say “according to a mistaken conception entertained by the person who espouses a law righteousness that no longer applies, the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” Rather, Paul says “Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” If Leviticus 18:5 “refers not to the life accuring from doing in a legalistic framework” then Moses did not “write about the righteousness that is based on the law.” Paul did not merely “allude” to Leviticus 18:5, nor did he merely “use the terms of Lev. 18:5.” Paul quoted Moses’ teaching on law-righteousness.

WCF 19.6

When the OPC was formed, it established a Committee on Texts and Proof Texts, headed by John Murray.

As a preliminary step toward the printing of the doctrinal standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Seventh General Assembly (1940) established a Committee on Texts and Proof Texts (consisting of John Murray [chairman], E. J. Young, and Ned B. Stonehouse, who was replaced in 1941 by John H. Skilton) to study the texts and proof texts of those documents. That Committee submitted to the Eighteenth General Assembly (1951) “the text of the Confession of Faith, together with the proof texts as revised by the Committee.” The text, except for the revisions that had been adopted by the Second General Assembly in 1936, was “derived from the original manuscript written by Cornelius Burges in 1646, edited by S. W. Carruthers [in 1937] and published by the Presbyterian Church of England in 1946.” That text of the Confession, with a few corrections, was adopted by the Twentysecond General Assembly (1955), approved by nearly all the presbyteries, and adopted again by the Twenty-third General Assembly (1956). The proof texts prepared by the Committee were accepted for publication. The Confession was then published with these proof texts (as citations, not full texts) by the Committee on Christian Education and reprinted by Great Commission Publications

The Scripture proof texts were originally prepared by the Westminster divines, revised over the years by a succession of committees, and approved for publication by various general assemblies of the OPC, but are not a part of the constitution itself.

http://www.opc.org/documents/Preface.pdf

The original Westminster Confession did not cite Leviticus 18:5 anywhere. In light of the resolution that Murray arrived at, he added Lev 18:5 as a proof text to WCF 19.6.

VI. Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned;[a] yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs, and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives;[c] so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof;[s] although not as due to them by the law, as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace.

s. Ex. 19:5–6. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Deut. 5:33. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess. Lev. 18:5. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord. Matt. 19:17. And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Lev. 26:1–13. … If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.… For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.… And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.… 2 Cor. 6:16. And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Eph. 6:2–3. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. Ps. 19:11. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Ps. 37:11. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. Matt. 5:5. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

OPC Westminster Confession
(compare with 1646 WCF)

Judgment According to Works

Note that Matthew 19:17 was added as well. This raises an interesting question as to how Murray saw this principle in relation to “life” and the final judgment for the redeemed Christian. In a lecture titled “Justification” contained in his Collected Writings, Murray says

While it makes void the gospel to introduce works in connection with justification, nevertheless works done in faith, from the motive of love to God, in obedience to the revealed will of God and to the end of his glory are intrinsically good and acceptable to God. As such they will be the criterion of reward in the life to come. This is apparent from such passages as Matthew 10:41; 1 Corinthians 3:8–9, 11–15; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:7. We must maintain therefore, justification complete and irrevocable by grace through faith and apart from works, and at the same time, future reward according to works. In reference to these two doctrines it is important to observe the following:

(i) This future reward is not justification and contributes nothing to that which constitutes justification. (ii) This future reward is not salvation. Salvation is by grace and it is not as a reward for works that we are saved. (iii) The reward has reference to the degree of glory bestowed in the state of bliss, that is, the station a person is to occupy in glory and does not have reference to the gift of glory itself. (iv) This reward is not administered because good works earn or merit reward, but because God is graciously pleased to reward them. That is to say it is a reward of grace. (In the Romish scheme good works have real merit and constitute the ground of the title to everlasting life.) The good works are rewarded because they are intrinsically good and well-pleasing to God. They are not rewarded because they earn reward but they are rewarded only as labour, work or service that is the fruit of God’s grace, conformed to his will and therefore intrinsically good and well-pleasing to him. They could not even be rewarded of grace if they were principally and intrinsically evil.

He held that there was a future judgment for God’s redeemed people, but only to determine the degree of reward they will receive in glory, not whether they will enter glory. However, as we just saw, Matthew 19:17 was cited in order to explain “what blessings [Christians] may expect upon the performance” of the law. Matthew 19:17 is Jesus’ answer to the rich young man who asked “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” – that is, to enter glory, as Jesus replied “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Thus there appears to be a bit of tension in Murray’s thought on this point. Note his commentary on Romans 2:5-16 where he rejects the hypothetical view held by older reformed theologians.

The reward of this aspiration is in like manner the eschatology of the believer, “eternal life”… Could God judge any unto the reward of eternal life (cf. vs. 7) if works are the criteria? ‘The apostle thus speaks, not in the way of abstract hypothesis but of concrete assertion… He says not what God would do were He to proceed in accordance with the primal rule and standard of the law, but what, proceeding according to that rule, He will actually do.’… The determining factor in the rewards of retribution or of glory is not the privileged position of the Jew but evil-doing or well-doing respectively.

Samuel Waldron notes

Murray’s lecture on justification contained in the Collected Writings affirms that works only have to do with the degree of reward in glory, while in his Romans commentary he affirms that the judgment by works which has the twin consequences of eternal life and wrath is not hypothetical.  I see no way to evade the fact of some contradiction between the two statements…

I think a good argument could be made that the Romans commentary contains Murray’s more mature and definitive thoughts.  This is so for two reasons.  First, as Iain Murray notes in his introduction to CW 2 (vi-ix) Murray resisted appeals to publish the class lectures from which the article on justification in CW 2 is taken.  It seems clear, then, that his commentary which he wrote for publication should be given some precedence over the lecture in CW 2.  Also the commentary was published in 1959 only 7 years before his retirement from Westminster in 1966.  The lecture likely dates from much earlier in his tenure at Westminster where he taught systematic theology from 1930.

Is There a Future Justification by Works at the Day of Judgment? # 10

So there appears to be development in Murray’s thought as he works out the implications of Leviticus 18:5. Returning to his commentary, note that verse 13 goes on to say “the doers of the law who will be justified,” which leads Murray directly towards a dangerous position. He attempts to put on the brakes

It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching of this epistle in later chapters. Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture. The burden of this verse is that not the hearers or mere possessors of the law will be justified before God but that in terms of the law the criterion is doing, not hearing. The apostle’s appeal to this principle serves that purpose truly and effectively, and there is no need to import questions that are not relevant to the universe of discourse.

This is the first occasion that the word “justify” is used in this epistle. Although it is not used here with reference to the justification which is the grand theme of the epistle, the forensic meaning of the term is evident even in this case. “Shall be justified” is synonymous with “just before God” and the latter refers to standing or status in the sight of God. To justify, therefore, would be the action whereby men would be recognized as just before God or the action whereby men are given the status of being just in God’s sight. For a fuller treatment of the nature of justification and the meaning of the terms the reader is referred to the appendix on this subject (pp. 336 ff).

Murray attempts to backpedal by arguing that “will be justified” is hypothetical, in direct contradiction to his previous statements about the passage. As a result, you will actually get two different interpretations of Murray, some saying he denied the hypothetical interpretation, others saying he agreed with it. (See here and here as examples)

Conclusion

In an attempt to work out the contradictions in the system of theology found in the Westminster Confession, particularly the idea that the Mosaic Covenant of Works was the Covenant of Grace, John Murray rejected the Covenant of Works on the grounds that Scripture does not teach a “works principle” in Leviticus 18:5 or anywhere else. Contrary to Guy Waters and others, Murray recognized that Leviticus 18:5 was the statement of a principle – the principle of equity – not simply the law itself. He therefore recognized that the principle found in Leviticus 18:5 and Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 must be the same. He recognized that if the principle found in Leviticus 18:5 is part of the terms of the Covenant of Grace, then that principle is not part of the terms of a Covenant of Works. Therefore the principle found in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 is not a Covenant of Works. Therefore Scripture does not teach a Covenant of Works.

As Murray began to iron out Westminster’s inconsistent appeal to Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12, he also began to iron out the implications of his view for the rest of his theology. We saw progression in his thought in the wrong direction – towards a false gospel of justification by works. He slammed on the breaks, but without a consistent explanation as to why – leaving it to his successors to work out.

Murray Conflicted on Future Justification?

Sam Waldron has been blogging a response to Lee Irons, in which Waldron defends the idea of a future justification according to works. You can find it here http://www.mctsowensboro.org/mcts-blog/author/sam-waldron/

The focus of the essay is to articulate John Murray’s view of Romans 2:13, which Waldron shares. In one of his posts, he mentioned that Robert Reymond shares Murray’s view – which got me curious. I took a look at Reymond’s Paul: Missionary Theologian and found some inconsistency:

Dr. Waldron, I hope to have time to study your posts in this series. I have to say they still raise a number of questions.

One question comes from the Reymond reference you gave here. On p. 535 Reymond says:

“Paul teaches that not only unbelievers but believers as well will be judged in the judgment of the Eschataon (Rom 14:10, 12; 1 Cor 3:12-15; 2 Cor 5:10). To those who, by persistence in doing good, seek glory, honor, and immortality, that is, to those who do good, God will grant eternal life, glory, honor, and peace (Rom 2:7, 10). The criteria of this judgment will be their works.”but later on p. 537 he quotes Murray saying:

“We must maintain therefore, justification complete and irrevocable by grace through faith and apart from works, and at the same time, future reward according to works. In reference to these two doctrines it is important to observe the following:

(i) This future reward is not justification and contributes nothing to that which constitutes justification. (ii) This future reward is not salvation. Salvation is by grace and it is not as a reward for works that we are saved.”Those two statements appear quite contradictory to me. It seems the only way to avoid contradiction would be to argue that justification and salvation do not include or consist of eternal life.

Dr. Waldron took the time to look into it and said the following:

Brandon responded by indicating that there is a contradiction between what John Murray affirms in his Collected Writings 2:221 and what he affirms in his Romans commentary on Romans 2:6 at 1:62-63.  Having investigated the matter, I discover that Brandon seems to be correct.  That is, Murray’s lecture on justification contained in the Collected Writings affirms that works only have to do with the degree of reward in glory, while in his Romans commentary he affirms that the judgment by works which has the twin consequences of eternal life and wrath is not hypothetical.  I see no way to evade the fact of some contradiction between the two statements.

http://www.mctsowensboro.org/mcts-blog/is-there-a-future-justification-by-works-at-the-day-of-judgment–10/

Regretfully he concludes that he thinks Murray’s commentary on Romans should take precedent, meaning Murray would not affirm the second quote. I would be very curious to hear Reymond’s thoughts on this. If pointed out, would he see these things as contradictory, or did he include both of them in his book because he thought they were not contradictory?