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

by | Feb 14, 2019 | Systematic Theology

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3

In this final post I want to say something else in defense of John Murray’s orthodoxy in spite of his hesitation over the terminology “Covenant of Works” and preference for the terminology “Adamic Administration.” So …

John Murray was not led into error or heterodox views of justification by his hesitations over the terminology, Covenant of Works.  I have already pointed out that John Murray clearly taught in contradistinction to those with whom he is sometimes associated double imputation and the distinction between the active and passive obedience of Christ.[1]  But perhaps no doctrine is more often undermined in the departures from justification sola fide in modern evangelicalism than the doctrine of the traditional meaning of faith alone.  There is the constant tendency to define the exercise of justifying faith as including the faithfulness of obedience to God’s command and including this faithfulness in the quality by which it justifies.  In Redemption: Accomplished and Applied Murray begins by affirming that “In faith we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation.”[2] He goes on to define such faith in a perfectly traditional way as knowledge (notitia), conviction (assensus), and trust (fiducia).[3]  He concludes: “It is to be remembered that the efficacy of faith does not reside in itself.  Faith is not something that merits the favour of God.  All the efficacy of faith unto salvation resides in the Saviour.  As one has aptly and truly stated the case, it is not faith that saves but faith in Jesus Christ; strictly speaking, it is not even faith in Christ that saves but Christ that saves through faith.”[4]

Let us not be guilty of what the Apostle Paul (1 Timothy 6:4) calls “logomachy” (fighting about words) in our defense of orthodox views of justification and the Covenant of Works.  Let us rather judge by righteous judgment and not make John Murray a sinner, as the saying goes, ‘for a word.’ We run the risk of imbibing a prejudice which will steal from us the treasure which John Murray’s writings are to the church.

[1] I am thinking of the implications left by Mark Karlberg when he says that Murray’s hand-picked successor At Westminster was Norman Shepherd: Mark Karlberg, Gospel Grace: The Modern-day Controversy (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 262.

[2] Murray, Redemption, 106.

[3] Murray, Redemption, 110-112.

[4] Murray, Redemption, 112.

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