John Murray and the Covenant of Works (1 of 4)

by | Jan 30, 2019 | Systematic Theology

[Recently, I submitted an essay for an upcoming book in memory Dr. Robert Paul Martin entitled:  A Contemporary Treatment of the Covenant of Works in the Tradition of John Murray.  I do not intend to reproduce the entirety of that essay in these blog posts.  I introduced my treatment of the Covenant of Works with some Preliminary Thoughts on John Murray and the Covenant of Works.  I did so because John Murray’s treatment of this subject (which he entitled, “The Adamic Administration”) has caused many rumors and suspicions about his orthodoxy among some Reformed folks.  I have always felt that these suspicions were unfair. In these Preliminary Thoughts I explain why.]

Those in the mainstream of the Reformed tradition have become increasingly sensitive to the importance of holding proper views of the Covenant of Works if one is to hold and defend the traditional Protestant and Reformed doctrine of justification.  The modern voices calling for a revision of this article of faith (which has been called the article of the standing or falling of the church) have one after another made clear their opposition to the notion of the Covenant of Works as it has been held and defended in the Reformed tradition.  The proponents of the New Perspective on Paul, the advocates of the Federal Vision, and those allied with John Piper’s mentor Daniel Fuller have generally denied the Covenant of Works and universally revised the Protestant and Reformed doctrine of justification.[1]

There is, indeed, in my view an important and logical connection between right views of the Covenant of Works and the Protestant doctrine of justification.  It is not surprising, then, that inadequate views of the Covenant of Works have increasingly been recognized as dangerous, suspicious, and tantamount to a denial of the traditional doctrine of justification. While such suspicions are understandable and may even be proper, they are not always well-grounded.  Innocent people have sometimes been caught in the crossfire over the Covenant of Works and been accused of views which they have not taught.  Those whose views of justification are mostly or entirely traditionally Protestant have been accused of heterodoxy and associated with the New Perspective on Paul or the Federal Vision because their views of the Covenant of Works have not come up to the standards of their critics.  While we do well to understand that proper views of the Covenant of Works are the final and firm foundations of the traditional Protestant doctrine of justification, we must not accuse those who fail to dot our I’s or cross our T’s with heterodoxy.  We must allow people to be logically inconsistent with their basically orthodox views of justification in their inadequate views of the Covenant of Works.  Of course, we must point out to them the danger in their inconsistent views of the Covenant of Works, but we must not accuse them of actually holding views which we think their errors logically lead to.  People are inconsistent.

[1] Sam Waldron, Faith, Obedience, and Justification: Current Evangelical Departures from Sola Fide (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2006), 127-223.

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