Posted by: jesuswarrior | April 14, 2007

Abortion vs. Murder

I want to start this post with one question, what is the difference between abortion and murder? Surprisingly, the answer is, a few minutes. I just read an article on Fox News about a seventeen year old girl who had stabbed her newly born infant 135 times. I think most decent people would be shocked and horrified at an act like this. And many were, the girl is being sentenced with life in prison. What is ironic about this story is that if the girl had gone a few months earlier and had an abortion, which by the way is a much more horrific way to die than being stabbed, nobody would have said anything. And if some could have their way, this girl could have killed her baby a few days earlier. I don’t know how people can logically make this step in their minds. It boggles mine. That people could legally kill an unborn child but the moment that they are born you are charged with murder, shows that this world’s thinking is totally backwards.

BTW I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while, I had family visiting from out of town.

Posted by: Tony | March 30, 2007

The Free Offer of the Gospel

The Free Offer of the Gospel
By John Murray

with a New Foreword by R. Scott Clark
Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology
The foreword is ©2002 R.S. Clark


This essay was written by John Murray (1898-1975), professor of Systematic Theology in Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and Ned B. Stonehouse (1902-62), the distinguished professor of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia as a committee report to the Fifteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Minutes, 1948, Appendix, pp. 01-63). The present version of the study was taken from the edition published as a pamphlet in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. It was republished in The Collected Writings of John Murray, 4 vol. ed. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976-82), 4:113-132.

The preface to the pamphlet version said that the essay is ” re-printed here with slight corrections in the interests of the gospel and Reformed theology.” If this essay was needed fifty years ago, it is much more necessary now. The historic Reformed doctrine of the free offer of the Gospel is predicated upon a particular view of theology, God and the Scriptures which is under assault by rationalists on the Reformed right, if you will, and the progressive, neo-evangelical, post-conservative on the left.

On the Reformed right (the so-called hyper-Calvinists), there is a strain of rationalism which one finds expressed by thinkers such as Herman Hoeksema, Gordon Clark and John Gerstner, which rejects the doctrine of the Free Offer of the Gospel as implicitly Arminian. They are rationalists inasmuch as they reject this doctrine fundamentally because they find it unreasonable. Reformed theology has been accused for its entire history of beginning with an a priori doctrine of divine sovereignty from which it is said to have deduced its doctrines of double predestination and the federalism. This charge has been shown by modern historical theology (e.g., the massive research of Richard Muller summarized in C. R. Trueman and R. S. Clark, ed., Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment [Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 1999]) to be patently false when applied to the mainstream of historic, confessional Reformed theology. There have been exceptions, and on this question, G. Clark, Hoeksema and Gerstner lived up to the caricature of Reformed theology.

On the left, Progressive, post-conservative neo-evangelical, self-described Open-theists such as Clark Pinnock and Gregory Boyd have not only rejected classic Arminianism, whether that of Arminius himself or that of the Wesleyan varieties, but also the catholic doctrines of foreknowledge and omnipotence. Like the hyper-Calvinists they too are guilty of a form of rationalism. Claiming to reject the catholic doctrine of God as too “Greek” (i.e., too Platonist?) they claim to have constructed a doctrine of God which is more biblical than the historic Christian doctrine. Their claim is false. Upon examination it becomes abundantly clear that they too want a doctrine of God which will make sense to the Postmodern (postfoundationalist) mind and so they have turned Scripture on its head. According to them, God actually repents, halters and changes. Omniscience is redefined to mean that God knows only what can be known. The future, they argue, cannot be known, therefore God does not know it. He cannot control the future, for that would jeopardize the autonomy and dignity of persons, therefore, they surmise, God must be the most excellent chess player, reacting brilliantly to our every initiative. This is nothing if not rationalism.

One hopes that if the confessional Reformed world will again take up heartily the doctrine of the free offer of the gospel, we might provide an exegetically solid and theologically sound response to the heresy of Open Theism and the rationalism of the hyper-Calvinists.

One reason why this most important essay has been lost to the Reformed and evangelical world is because we have forgotten or corrupted three great assumptions on which it was premised: the nature of Christian theology, the catholic (i.e., creedal) and Reformed (i.e., confessional) doctrine of God and the Reformed doctrine of accommodation.

Murray and the 1948 General Assembly of the OPC understood the historic Reformed distinction between theology as God knows it, theology as he reveals it to us and theology as we do it. In our time these distinctions have been lost and replaced with subjectivism of various kinds. Classic Reformed theology (e.g., the 17th century Reformed academic theologians) called theology as God does it, archetypal or theologia archetypa. Theology exists, first of all, in the mind of God. The triune God has a self-understanding and understanding and interpretation of the world is the basis for his revelation to his creatures.

Given the necessary chasm between God and the creature, as taught by Calvin and defended so ably and so long by Cornelius van Til, God must accommodate himself to his creatures. This accommodated revelation of God’s mind and will is ectyptal theology (theologia ectypa). It is based upon God’s self-understanding, but not identical with it. Ectypal theology, as the adjective suggests, is a reflection of the archetypal theology. It is true, but it is accommodated to human creature.

It would appear that neither the Hyper-Calvinists nor the Open-Theists have understood or accounted for this distinction. All revelation is necessarily an accommodation. It is not as if, sometimes we have direct, unmediated access to God and at other times we do not. ” Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father” (John 6:46). Unaccommodated revelation would necessarily be fatal to its objects, since no human may see the unmediated face of God and live (Exodus 34:20). What we are doing now, getting to grips with God’s self-disclosure primarily in Scripture, was described in classic Reformed theology as pilgrim theology (theologia viatorum), a sub-species of ectypal theology. In order to do pilgrim theology properly, one must account for the accommodated nature of divine revelation (ectypal theology).

Sometimes this accommodation is intensified by the use of anthropomorphism (the application of human behavior to God) or anthropopathism (the application of human emotion to God). Thus, in Scripture, God is sometimes said to have eyes (Zech 2:8) or to travel (Gen 20:3) or to repent (Gen 6:6-7). This sort of language has always been interpreted by the catholic Church to be metaphoric or symbolic not because of pagan a priori notions of God, but because of clear Biblical propositions about God which have been used to interpret the narratives in which God reveals himself anthropomorphically. For example, Scripture teaches clearly that God does not change (Mal 3:6) or repent (Numbers 23:19). Therefore, on the analogy of Scripture and by the analogy of the faith, such clear propositions must interpret what are obviously more difficult passages which seem to ascribe human qualities to God. To do otherwise is to reduce the God of Scripture to an incompetent and worse to an idol.

The Reformed doctrine of the free offer of the Gospel is based squarely on the interpretation of Scripture expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, when it says, “I believe in God the Father Almighty….” The God of the Bible is the sovereign Creator of all and Redeemer of all his elect. He is not “cooperator” with an autonomous creation, but its sovereign, free, independent maker. He spoke and by the power of his Word, all that is, has occurred (John 1:3). This is also the doctrine of the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed where God is “uncreate”, “incomprehensible”, “eternal” and “almighty.”

Murray understands rightly that this sovereign God is also free to reveal himself as desiring certain things which he also reveals that he has not willed decretively. Here Murray invoked an ancient distinction in Christian theology, between God’s will considered decretively and preceptively. That is, it is not that God has two wills, but that, given the archetypal/ectypal distinction, there is a distinction to be made in our understanding of his will.

Before God’s will is revealed in Scripture or actuated in the history of salvation or providence, no human knows what God has decreed from all eternity. Therefore it is cupidity to try to guess what God’s secret will before it is realized in history. Nevertheless, God reveals that he has decreed whatsoever comes to pass, and he even sometimes reveals exactly what he has decreed before it happens (e.g., Deut 28 and 30). These declarations of what will transpire do not mean that God is unable to also make moral demands upon his creature, even though the future is predestined (e.g., Deut 30:19), even when the moral demands seem to contradict what we know from Scripture to be his decree. It is because of this tension between God as he is in himself (in se) and as he is toward us (erga nos) that theology distinguishes between God’s decretive and preceptive or moral will.

This distinction between God revealed (Deus revelatus) and God hidden (Deus absconditus) has a long history in Christian theology. It was one of the foundational doctrines of the Reformation. Luther’s entire argument with Erasmus in his Bondage of the Will (1525) was premised upon this distinction. Calvin likewise relied on it throughout the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559).

There is more that could be said about the immediate background of this essay, but this preface threatens to overtake the essay itself. This preface is only an attempt to explain some of the theological categories which Murray used but did not explain in his report. With all this, however, it should not be forgotten that the purpose of a right understanding of the free offer of the Gospel is that we might actually go out, stand in our pulpits and offer Christ the only Savior to needy sinners, trusting in sovereign grace to do its work. It is the preached Gospel that God the Holy Spirit has willed to use to bring his elect to faith (Romans 10:14; Heidelberg Catechism Q. 65).

May our Triune God use this essay to rekindle in our hearts compassion for the lost, and a desire to see all of those for whom Jesus died come to saving faith, by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.

Escondido, California
July 11, 2000




John Murray and Ned B. Stonehouse


It would appear that the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God desires the salvation of all men. The Committee elected by the Twelfth General Assembly in its report to the Thirteenth General Assembly said “God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate” (Minutes, p. 67). It should have been apparent that the aforesaid Committee, in predicating such “desire” of God, was not dealing with the decretive will of God; it was dealing with the free offer of the gospel to all without distinction and that surely respects, not the decretive or secret will of God, but the revealed will. There is no ground for the supposition that the expression was intended to refer to God’s decretive will.

It must be admitted that if the expression were intended to apply to the decretive will of God then there would be, at least, implicit contradiction. For to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate and also that God wills the damnation of the reprobate and apply the former to the same thing as the latter, namely, the decretive will, would be contradiction; it would amount to averring of the same thing, viewed from the same aspect, God wills and God does not will. The question then is: what is implicit in, or lies back of; the full and free offer of the gospel to all without distinction? The word “desire” has come to be used in the debate, not because it is necessarily the most accurate or felicitous word but because it serves to set forth quite sharply a certain implication of the full and free offer of the gospel to all. This implication is that in the free offer there is expressed not simply the bare preceptive will of God but the disposition of lovingkindness on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace. In other words, the gospel is not simply an offer or invitation but also implies that God delights that those to whom the offer comes would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness. And the word “desire” has been used in order to express the thought epitomized in Ezekiel 33:11, which is to the effect that God has pleasure that the wicked turn from his evil way and live. It might as well have been said, “It pleases God that the wicked repent and be saved.”

Again, the expression “God desires,” in the formula that crystallizes the crux of the question, is intended to notify not at all the “seeming” attitude of God but a real attitude, a real disposition of lovingkindness inherent in the free offer to all, in other words, a pleasure or delight in God, contemplating the blessed result to be achieved by compliance with the overture proffered and the invitation given.

Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end. It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.” If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.

Scriptural Basis

The Committee would now respectfully submit some exegetical material bearing upon this question and with a view to the resolution of it.

Matthew 5:44-48. This passage does not indeed deal with the overtures of grace in the gospel. But it does tell us something regarding God’s benevolence that has bearing upon all manifestations of divine grace. The particular aspect of God’s grace reflected upon here is the common gifts of providence, the making of the sun to rise upon evil and good and the sending of rain upon just and unjust. There can be no question but all without distinction reprobate as well as elect, are the beneficiaries of this favour, and it is that fact that is distinctly stated in verse 45.

The significant feature of this text is that this bestowal of favour by God on all alike is adduced as the reason why the disciples are to love their enemies and do them good. There is, of course, a question as to the proper text of verse 44. If we follow the Aleph-B text and omit the clauses, “bless them who curse you, do good to them who hate you” as well as the verb “despitefully use,” the sense is not affected. And besides, these clauses, though they may not belong to the genuine text of Matthew, appear in Luke 6:27,28 in practically the same form. Hence the teaching of our Lord undoubtedly was that the disciples were to love their enemies, do good to those who hated them, bless those who cursed them, and pray for those who despitefully used them and persecuted them. And the reason provided is that God himself bestows his favours upon his enemies. The particular reason mentioned why the disciples are to be guided and animated by the divine example is that they, the disciples, are sons of the Father. The obligation and urge to the love of their enemies and the bestowal of good upon them are here grounded in the filial relation that they sustain to God. Since they are sons of God they must be like their heavenly Father. There can be no doubt but that the main point is the necessity of imitating the divine example and this necessity is peculiarly enforced by the consideration of the filial relation they sustain to God as their heavenly Father.

It is just here, however, that it becomes necessary to note the implications of the similarity established and enforced as the reason for such attitude and conduct with reference to their enemies. The disciples are to love their enemies in order that they may be the sons of their Father; they must imitate their Father. Clearly implied is the thought that God, the Father, loves his enemies and that it is because he loves his enemies that he makes his sun rise upon them and sends them rain. This is just saying that the kindness bestowed in sunshine and rain is the expression of divine love, that back of the bestowal there is an attitude on the part of God, called love, which constrains him to bestow these tokens of his lovingkindness. This informs us that the gifts bestowed by God are not simply gifts which have the effect of good and blessing to those who are the recipients but that they are also a manifestation or expression of lovingkindness and goodness in the heart or will of God with reference to those who are the recipients. The enjoyment on the part of the recipients has its ground as well as its source in this lovingkindness of which the gifts enjoyed are the expression. In other words, these are gifts and are enjoyed because there is in a true and high sense benevolence in the heart of God.

These conclusions are reinforced by verse 48. There can be no question regarding the immediate relevance of verse 48 to the exhortation of verses 44-47, even though it may have a more comprehensive reference. And verse 48 means that what has been adduced by way of divine example in the preceding verses is set forth as epitomizing the divine perfection and as providing the great exemplar by which the believer’s attitude and conduct are to be governed and the goal to which thought and life are to be oriented. The love and beneficence of God to the evil and unjust epitomize the norm of human perfection. It is obvious that this love and beneficence on the part of God are regarded by our Lord himself as not something incidental in God but as that which constitutes an element in the sum of divine perfection. This is made very specific in the parallel passage in Luke 6 :35,36 where we read, “And ye shall be sons of the Most High, because he is kind towards the unthankful and evil. Ye shall be merciful, as your Father is merciful.” This word translated “merciful” is redolent of the pity and compassion in the heart of God that overflow in the bestowments of kindness.

The sum of this study of these passages in Matthew and Luke is simply this, that presupposed in God’s gifts bestowed upon the ungodly there is in God a disposition of love, kindness, mercifulness, and that the actual gifts and the blessing accruing therefrom for the ungodly must not be abstracted from the lovingkindness of which they are the expression. And, of course, we must not think of this lovingkindness as conditioned upon a penitent attitude in the recipients. The lovingkindness rather is exercised towards them in their ungodly state and is expressed in the favours they enjoy. What bearing this may have upon the grace of God manifested in the free offer of the gospel to all without distinction remains to be seen. But we are hereby given a disclosure of goodness in the heart of God and of the relation there is between gifts bestowed and the lovingkindness from which they flow. And there is indicated to us something respecting God’s love or benevolence that we might not or could not entertain if we concentrated our thought simply on the divine decree of reprobation. Furthermore we must remember that there are many gifts enjoyed by the ungodly who are within the pale of the gospel administration which are not enjoyed by those outside, and we shall have to conclude that in respect of these specific favours, enjoyed by such ungodly persons in distinction from others, the same principle of divine benevolence and lovingkindness must obtain, a lovingkindness, too, which must correspond to the character of the specific gifts enjoyed.

Acts 14:17. This text does not express as much as those considered already. But it does witness to the same truth that God gave testimony to his own perfection when he did good to those whom he left to walk in their own ways. God did them good, he sent them rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness. We must infer on the basis of what we found already, that behind this doing of good and bestowal of blessing, as well as behind the gladness of heart which followed, there was the divine goodness and lovingkindness.

Deuteronomy 5:29 (26 in Hebrew); 32:29; Psalm 81:13ff. (81:14ff. in Hebrew); I6aiah 48:18. The purpose of adducing these texts is to note the optative force of that which is expressed. There can be no reasonable question as to the optative force of Deuteronomy 5 :29(26). It is introduced by the idiom mi yitten which literally means “who will give?” but is really a strong optative expression meaning “Oh that there were!” Consequently the text reads, “Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” It is the Lord who is speaking and we shall have to conclude that here we have the expression of earnest desire or wish or will that the people of Israel were of a heart to fear him and keep all his commandments always. It is apparent from the book of Deuteronomy itself (cf. 31:24-29) and from the whole history of Israel that they did not have a heart to fear God and to keep all his commandments always. Since they did not fulfil that which was optatively expressed in 5:29 (26), we must conclude that God had not decreed that they should have such a heart. If God had decreed it, it would have been so. Here therefore we have an instance of desire on the part of God for the fulfilment of that which he had not decreed. in other words, a will on the part of God to that which he had not decretively willed.

In Deuteronomy 32:29 the construction is somewhat different. In our English versions it is translated, “Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end.” This rendering is distinctly optative and has the same effect as Deuteronomy 5:29 (26), considered above. It must be admitted that this is – a perfectly legitimate rendering and interpretation. The conjunction lu with which the verse begins has undoubtedly this optative force. It has such force unquestionably in Genesis 17:18; Numb. 14:2, 20:3; 22:29; Joshua 7:7; Isaiah 63:19, and possibly, if not probably, in Genesis 23:13, 30:34. When lu has this optative force it means “Oh that” or “if only” and expresses strong desire. In view of what we found in Deut. 5:26 there is no reason why the optative force of lu should not be adopted here. We may not however, insist that lu must have optative force here because lu is also used with conditional force, as in Judges 8:19; 13:23; II Samuel 18:12 and elsewhere. If lu is understood conditionally, Deut. 32:29 would be rendered as follows: “If they were wise they would understand this, they would consider their fatter end.” This however, is not the most natural rendering. The optative interpretation is smoother and more meaningful in the context. If this more natural construction is followed it shows the same thing as we found in Deut. 5:26 that earnest desire is expressed for what is contrary to fact (cf.. verse 28)

In Psalm 81:14 it may readily be detected that the conditional force of the conjunction lu cannot reasonably be adopted. The thought is rather distinctly optative, “Oh that my people were hearkening unto me, that Israel would walk in my ways.”

Isaiah 48:18 could readily be rendered conditionally thus: “If thou hadst hearkened to my commandments, thy peace had been as a river and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” It can also be rendered optatively as in our English versions.

It should be noted that even when the conjunction lu is given very distinct conditional force, the optative idea is sometimes rather noticeably in the background. This would very likely be the case in Isaiah 48:18 even if the optative rendering gives way to the conditional. The desirableness of that which is expressed in the condition and its corresponding consequence cannot be suppressed. This can be expressed in our English idiom very well when we render, “If only thou hadst hearkened to my commandments, then had thy peace been as a river” etc. Both the conditional and optative appear here, and there is much to be said in favour of the conclusion that whether we render Isa. 48:18 optatively or conditionally the optative notion still persists, in the former case, of course, directly and in the latter case indirectly.

Should we make full allowance for doubt as to the exact force of the construction in the case of Deut. 32:29 and Isa. 48:18, there can be no room for question but that the Lord represents himself in some of these passages as earnestly desiring the fulfilment of something which he had not in the exercise of his sovereign will actually decreed to come to pass. This bears very directly upon the point at issue.

Matthew 23 :37; Luke 13:34. In this passage there should be no dispute that the will of Christ in the direction of a certain benign result is set in contrast with the will of those who are contemplated as the subjects of such blessing. These two stand in opposition to each other—I have willed (or wished), ye have not willed (or wished).

Not only so. The will of Christ to a certain end is opposed to that which actually occurred. Jesus says he often wished the occurrence of something which did not come to pass and therefore willed (or wished) the occurrence of that which God had not secretly or decretively willed.

That which Jesus willed is stated to be the gathering together of the children of Jerusalem, as a hen gathers together her chickens under her wings. This surely means the gathering together of the people of Jerusalem under his saving and protecting grace. So we have the most emphatic declaration on the part of Christ of his having yearned for the conversion and salvation of the people of Jerusalem

It might be said that Jesus is here giving expression simply to his human desire and that this would not indicate, therefore, the desire or will of God. In other words, it might be said that we are not justified in transferring this expression of his human desire to the divine desire or will, either in respect of Jesus’ own divine consciousness or the divine consciousness of the other persons of the Godhead.

Christ was indeed truly human and his human mind and will operated within the limitations inseparable from human nature. His human nature was not omniscient and could not in the nature of the case be cognisant of the whole decretive will of God. In his human nature he wrought within limits that could not apply to the specifically divine knowledge, desire and will. Hence it might be argued that on this occasion he gave expression to the yearnings of his truly human will and therefore to a will that could not be aware of the whole secret purpose of God. Furthermore, it might be said that Jesus was speaking of what he willed in the past before he was aware, in his human consciousness, of the judgment that was to befall Jerusalem, stated in verses 38, 39. A great deal more might be said along this line that would lend plausibility to such an interpretation.

We are not able to regard such an interpretation of our Lord’s statement as tenable. It is true our Lord was human. It is true he spoke as human. And it is true he spoke these words or gave utterance to this lament through the medium of his human nature. The will he spoke of on this occasion was certainly one that engaged the total exercise of his human desire and will. But there is much more that needs to be considered if we are properly to assess the significance of this incident and of Jesus’ utterance. Jesus is speaking here in his capacity as the Messiah and Saviour. He is speaking therefore as the God-man. He is speaking of the will on his part as the Messiah and Saviour to embrace the people of Jerusalem in the arms of his saving grace and covenant love. The majesty that belongs to his person in this unique capacity shines through the whole episode and it is quite improper to abstract the divine aspect of his person from the capacity in which he gives utterance to this will and from the prerogative in virtue of which he could give expression to the utterance. What needs to be appreciated is that the embrace of which Jesus here speaks is that which he exercises in that unique office and prerogative that belong to him as the God-man Messiah and Saviour. In view of the transcendent, divine function which he says he wished to perform, it would be illegitimate for us to say that here we have simply an example of his human desire or will. It is surely, therefore, a revelation to us of the divine will as well as of the human. Our Lord in the exercise of his most specific and unique function as the God-man gives expression to a yearning will on his part that responsiveness on the part of the people of Jerusalem would have provided the necessary condition for the bestowal of his saving and protecting love, a responsiveness, nevertheless, which it was not the decretive will of God to create in their hearts.

In this connection we must not fail to keep in mind the principle borne out by Jesus’ own repeated declarations, especially as recorded in the Gospel of John, namely, the perfect harmony and coalescence of will on the part of the Father and of the Son (cf. John 12:49,50; 14:10, 24; 17:8). To aver that Jesus in the expressed will of Matt. 23:37 is not disclosing the divine will but simply his own human will would tend towards very grave prejudice to this principle. And, viewing the matter from the standpoint of revelation, how would it affect our conception of Jesus as the supreme revelation of the Father if in this case we were not to regard his words as a transcript of the Father’s will as well as of his own? We can readily see the difficulties that face us if we do not grant the truly revelatory significance of our Lord’s statement.

In this lament over Jerusalem, furthermore, there is surely disclosed to us something of the will of our Lord as the Son of God and divine Son of man that lies back of, and is expressed in, such an invitation as Matthew 11:28. Here we have declared, if we may use the thought of Matthew 23:37, his will to embrace the labouring and heavy laden in the arms of his saving and loving protection. And it is an invitation to all such to take advantage of that will of his. The fulness and freeness of the invitation need not now be argued. Its character as such is patent. It is important, however, to note that the basis and background of this invitation are supplied by the uniqueness of the relation that he sustains to the Father as the Son, the transcendent commission that is given to him as the Son, and the sovereignty, coordinate with that of the Father, which he exercises because of that unique relationship and in that unique capacity. We should not fail to perceive the interrelations of these two passages (Matt. 23:37; 11:28) and to recognize that the former is redolent of his divine prerogative and revelatory of his divine will. Verses 38 and 39 confirm the high prerogative in terms of which he is speaking, for there he pronounces the divine judgment. And in this connection we cannot forget John 5:26,27, “For as the Father hath life in himself, even so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself. And he hath given to him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man.”

Ezekiel 18:23,32; 33:11. It does not appear to us in the least justifiable to limit the reference of these passages to any one class of wicked persons. Suffice it now to mention one or two considerations in support of this conclusion. In Ezekiel 33:4-9 the wicked who actually die in their iniquity are contemplated. It is without warrant to exclude such wicked persons from the scope of the wicked spoken of in verse 11. While it is true that a new paragraph may be regarded as introduced at verse 10, yet the new thought of verse 10 is simply the despairing argument or objection on the part of the house of Israel and does not have the effect of qualifying the denotation or connotation of the wicked mentioned in verse 11, a denotation and a connotation determined by the preceding verses. Again, the emphatic negative of the first part of verse 11 —-“I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked”—admits of no limitation or qualification; it applies to the wicked who actually die in their iniquity. Why then should there be the least disposition to limit those spoken of in the text to any class of wicked persons?

In Ezekiel 18:23 the construction is not without significance. This verse is introduced by the interrogative and then we have the emphatic construction of duplication well known in Hebrew. It might be rendered, “Taking pleasure in, do I take pleasure in ?” The question implies, of course, an emphatic negative. It should also be noted that the verb in this case takes a direct object, namely, “the death of the wicked” (moth rasha without any article). In this case we do not have the preposition be as in Ezekiel 33:11.1 It should be noted that the verb chaphez with such a construction can very properly be rendered by our English word, “desire,” as frequently elsewhere in the Old Testament. Consequently this verse may well be rendered, “Do I at all desire the death of the wicked?” The force of this is obiously the emphatic negative, “I do not by any means desire the death of the wicked,” or to be very literal, “I do not by any means desire the death of a wicked person.

The interrogative construction is continued in the latter part of the verse. Here, however, it is negative in form, implying an affirmative answer to the question just as in the former part the affirmative form implied a negative answer. It reads, “Is it not rather in his turning from his way (the Massoretes read “his ways”) and live?” The clear import is an emphatic asseveration to the effect that the Lord Jehovah delights rather in the turning of the wicked from his evil way that he may live. The adversative form of the sentence may well be rendered thus: “Do I at all desire the death of the wicked, saith the Lord Jehovah, and not rather that he turn from his way and live.

The sum of the matter may be stated in the following propositions. It is absolutely and universally true that God does not delight in or desire the death of a wicked person. It is likewise absolutely and universally true that he delights in the repentance and life of that wicked person. It would surely be quite unwarranted to apply the latter proposition less universally or more restrictively than the former. The adversative construction and the emphatic form by which the protestation is introduced are surely not compatible with any other conclusion. And if we carry over the perfectly proper rendering of the first clause, the thought can be expressed thus, “God does not desire the death of the wicked but rather their repentance and life.”

In Ezekiel 33:11 the construction is somewhat different. The statement is introduced by the oath, “As I live saith the Lord Jehovah.” Then we have the construction with the Hebrew im, which has the force of an emphatic negative and must be rendered, “I have no delight (or pleasure) … in the death of the wicked” (bemoth harasha; in this case the article is used). It should be noted that the preposition be is used in this case, as also in the second part of 18:23 as observed below.2 This is a very frequent construction in Hebrew with reference to delight in persons or things. Interesting examples are II Sam. 24:3; Esther 6:6,7,9,11; Ps. 147:10; Prov. 18:2, Isa. 65:12; Mal 2:17. On certain occasions the Hebrew word could well be translated “desire” in English and the word that follows the preposition taken as the direct object (e.g. II Sam. 24:3).

It has been argued that the preposition be in Ezekiel 33:11b has the force of “when” so that the verse would run, “As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked but when the wicked turns from his way and lives.” And so it has been claimed that all that is said in this verse is that Gor3 is pleased when the wicked turns and cannot be made to support the proposition that God is pleased that the wicked should repent whether they repent or not. On this view it would be maintained that this verse says nothing more than that God is pleased when a wicked man repents but says nothing respecting the pleasure of God in reference to the repentance of those who do not actually repent.

In dealing with this question a few things need be said. (1) A study of the instances where this construction of the verb chaphez with the preposition be occurs would not suggest this interpretation of the force of the preposition be. The usage rather indicates that the preposition points to that upon which pleasure is placed, that to which desire gravitates, that in which delight is taken. That object of pleasure, desire, delight may he conceived of as existing, or as something not actually existent, or as something desirable, that is to say, desired to be. When the object is contemplated as desirable but not actually realized, the thought of chaphez does not at all appear to be simply that delight or pleasure will be derived from the object when it is realized or possessed. That thought is, of course, implied. But there is much more. There is the delight or pleasure or desire that it should come to be, even if the actual occurrence should never take place. Consequently it appears that the notion that Ezekiel 33:1lb simply says that God is pleased when a wicked man repents robs the concept expressed by chaphez be of some of its most characteristic and necessary meaning. It is not in any way denied that this kind of delight is embraced in the expression. But to limit the concept to this notion is without warrant and is not borne out by the usage.

(2) The adversative construction of the verse would not by any means suggest the interpretation that verse 11b says simply that God is pleased when a man repents. In the same clause it is denied that God has pleasure in the death of the wicked. In accordance with 18:23 this means that it is true absolutely and universally that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. This does not mean simply that God does not delight in the death of the wicked when he dies. The denial is much more embracive. In like manner, it would be unnatural for us to suppose that the affirmation of that in which God does take delight is simply the turning of the wicked from his way when it occurs. This is just saying that it is natural to give to the preposition be in the second clause the same force as it has in the first. Rendered literally then the two clauses would read, “I do not have pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather in his turning from his way and that he live.” Paraphrased the thought would be, “It is not pleasing to me that the wicked die but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” And the same kind of absoluteness and universality denied in the one case must be regarded as affirmed in the other.

(3) Confirmation of this interpretation may be derived from the concluding clauses of verse 11, “‘turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, and why will ye die, oh house of Israel.” The thought of the last clause is that there is no reason why they should die. ‘There is no reason because of the grace so emphatically declared in the earlier part of the verse and, by implication, so fully and freely proffered. There will not be any dispute regarding the universality of the exhortation and command in the clause, “turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways.” This is a command that applies to all men without any discrimination or exception. It expresses therefore the will of God to repentance. He wills that all should repent. Nothing less than that is expressed in the universal command. To state the matter more fully, he wills that all should repent and live or be saved. When this is related to the last clause, “why will ye die?” it means that the reason why no one need die, why there is no reason why any should die, is, that God does not will that any should die. He wills rather that they repent and live. This declaration of the will of God to the repentance and life of all, so clearly implied in the two concluding clauses, rests, however, upon the declarations of the two preceding clauses, the clauses with which we are now more particularly concerned. We should conclude, therefore, that the will to universal repentance and life, so unmistakably expressed in the concluding clauses, is also declared or, at least, implied in the words, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” This is just saying that the import of the hortatory and interrogative clauses at the end require or presuppose a will of God to repentance and life, a will to which the bare notion that God is pleased when men repent is not by any means equal. The only adequate way of expressing the will implied in the exhortation is the will that all should repent and it is surely that truth that is declared in the oath supported statement, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked turn from his way and live.

It is not to be forgotten that when it is said that God absolutely and universally takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, we are not here speaking of God’s decretive will. In terms of his decretive will it must be said that God absolutely decrees the eternal death of some wicked and, in that sense, is absolutely pleased so to decree. But in the text it is the will of God’s benevolence (voluntas euarestiss) that is stated, not the will of God’s decree (voluntas eudokiss.) It is, in our judgment, quite unjustifiable to think that in this passage there is any reflection upon the decretive will of God in the word chaphez. And neither is there evidence to show that in the word chaphez there is here any comparative notion to the effect that God takes greater pleasure in saving men than he does in damning them.

It is indeed true that in a few passages in the Old Testament the word chaphez is used with reference to the decretive will of God (cI. Ps. 115:3, 135:6, the substantive chephez, also, in Isa. 44:28; 46:10; 48:14). But in this passage everything points to the conclusion that the good pleasure or delight of God spoken of is viewed entirely from the aspect of benevolent lovingkindness. And it is in terms of that aspect of the divine will that the words “absolutely” and “universally” have been used above.

lsaiah 45:22. There can be no question but the salvation mentioned in this text is salvation in the highest sense. It cannot be weakened to mean temporary or temporal security. The salvation must be of the same character as that referred to in verse 17 and implied in the title appropriated by God himself in verse 21. The text is also an invitation and command to all to turn to God and to be saved. The universalism of this command should be apparent from the expression, “all the ends of the earth.” This is a characteristic Old Testament phrase to designate all nations and peoples. The universal scope is, however, confirmed by the context. There are several intimations of this. In the preceding context the Lord asserts his

Creatorhood (vss. 12,18). This appeal to his Creatorhood has the effect of bringing to the forefront a relationship which he sustains to all men alike. Likewise the Lord protests that he is the only God, that there is none else besides him (vss. 14,18,21). The emphasis on this becomes more specific in the repeated assertion that he alone is the Saviour (vss. 15,20,21). Furthermore, that all men are contemplated is borne out by verse 23, that unto him every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Finally, this note is implied in the scorn that is poured out upon the heathen in verse 20—”They have not knowledge that carry the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save.” All these considerations bear directly upon the universal reference of the appeal in verse 22. It is because God alone is God and because he alone can save that the exhortation is extended to all, “turn ye to me and be ye saved.” We could not place any kind of limitation upon the exhortation without interfering with the universality of the prerogatives claimed by God himself in the context. It is necessary to stress this because it might be thought that the universalism of the command in verse 22 is not distributive universalism but simply ethnical universalism, all nations without distinction but not all people without exception. The considerations of the context would show that there is no exception to the command any more than there is to the sole Creatorhood sole Godhood and sole Saviourhood of the God who extends the appeal.

This text expresses then the will of God in the matter of the call, invitation, appeal, and command of the gospel, namely, the will that all should turn to him and be saved. What God wills in this sense he certainly is pleased to will. If it is his pleasure to will that all repent and be saved, it is surely his pleasure that all repent and be saved. Obviously, however, it is not his decretive will that all repent and be saved. While, on the one hand, he has not decretively willed that all be saved, yet he declares unequivocally that it is his will and, impliedly, his pleasure that all turn and be saved. We are again faced with the mystery and adorable richness of the divine will. It might seem to us that the one rules out the other. But it is not so. There is a multiformity to the divine will that is consonant with the fulness and richness of his divine character, and it is no wonder that we are constrained to how in humble yet exultant amazement before his ineffable greatness and unsearchable judgments. To deny the reality of the divine pleasure directed to the repentance and salvation of all is to fail to accept the witness borne by such a text as this to the manifoldness of fiod’s will and the riches of his grace.

II Peter 3:9. In view of what we have found already there is no reason in the analogy of Scripture why we should not regard this passage as teaching that God in the exercise of his benevolent longsuffering and lovingkindness wills that none should perish but that all should come to repentance. An a priori assumption that this text cannot teach that God wills the repentance and salvation of all is a gravely unsound assumption, for it is not an assumption derived from the analogy of Scripture. In approaching this text there should be no such prejudice. What this text does actually teach will have to be determined, however, by grammatico-historical exegesis of the text and context.

The choice of the verb “is longsuffering” (makrothumei) will be considered first. In Luke 18:7, the only other instance in the New Testament where it refers to the action of God, it probably relates to the elect. But in that case it is employed in the somewhat distinctive sense of “delay” in avenging them. The “longsuffering” (makrothumia) of God, is spoken of several times, and its usage is illuminating. Romans 9:22 presents a clear instance where it has in view an attitude of God towards the reprobate; he “endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath.” In Romans 2:4, it is associated with the goodness and forbearance of God, and subsumed under his goodness, as that which is despised by the impenitent who treasures up for himself wrath in the day of wrath, who does not know that the goodness of God “leadeth him to repentance” (eis metanoian se agei). The choice of the verb agein is to be noted. Since the impenitent are in view, it cannot refer to efficacious grace. Nevertheless, it is a strong verb as its use in Romans 8:14 shows: “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (cf. Gal. 5:18). It must be understood as a constraining influence flowing from the goodness of God which is calculated to bring men to repentance. The construction in Romans 2:4 is remarkably similar to that in II Peter 3:9.

On the background of these passages, the usage by Peter may be considered to advantage. In the last days, Peter says, mockers will mock because the parousia has not come. The day of judgment will nevertheless come. The apparent delay in its coming some count slackness. What is counted as slackness by some should, however, really be recognized as longsuffering (II Peter 3 :3-9). The longsuffering should not be counted as slackness, but as salvation (v. 15). The longsuffering is, then, a positive favor of God towards sinners which is directed to their salvation.

Up to this point, accordingly, the thought is similar to that of Romans 2:4. Men may despise God’s goodness, forbearance and longsuffering towards them, not knowing that that goodness has in view their turning from their sins to God. Men may count the longsuffering as slackness on God’s part, when actually they ought to account it as designed to extend salvation to them.

But this tentative judgment on the basis of the use of makrothumia must be related to the rest of verse 9. This aspect of the question is considerably complicated by the divergence in the textual tradition at this point. The situation is reflected in part in the divergence between AV and ARV: “to us-ward” and “to you-ward.” But there is a further complication due to the fact that there is significant testimony for the preposition dia, resulting in the possibilities: “on your account” or “on our account.’ The reading dia has come to be preferred by Mayor, Moffatt, Greijdanus, RSVmg. The difference between “you” and “us” or “your” and “our” is not especially significant, since in either case the readers of the Epistle would be primarily in view. The actual line-up of authorities does not, however, leave solid external support for the combination “on our account,” though Mayor supports it. The reading “to us-ward” is clearly the weakest reading, judged by external evidence; and it is not commended particularly by other considerations. Hence the choice falls between “to you-ward” and “on your account.” While perhaps it is not possible to decide finally between these two readings, we may judge that the reading “on your account” has a very strong claim. The external evidence for it appears to be at least as strong as for the other competing reading, and transcriptionally it may be preferred as being somewhat more unusual and difficult.

The question now arises as to the specific reference of “you,” whether with the preposition dia or eis. Does the use of this pronoun indicate that reprobate men are out of consideration here? So it has been argued. However, if the reprobate are out of consideration here, the “true believers” would have to be identified with the elect, and the longsuffering of God would have to be understood as the special, saving grace of God manifested to the elect alone. We do not believe that the restriction of the reference to the elect is well-established. The Epistle does not make this restriction. Moreover, since on this view, the believers addressed here are characterized as “living lax Christian lives,” are viewed as requiring repentance, and even as about to “perish” unless they repent, it cannot be argued plausibly that the apostle would not have allowed for the presence of some reprobate among the members of his audience. Even if the “you” is restricted to professing Christians. one cannot exclude the possibility that reprobate men were also in view.

The “you” of this passage can hardly be restricted to the elect. Can it even be restricted to “believers”? Can it be restricted to believers who urgently stand in need of repentance? The determination of this question is bound up with the evaluation of the subordinate clauses. It may be acknowledged that the decision made with regard to “you” will bear upon the meaning of the language that follows. But the reverse is also true. The language of the clauses may be such as to reflect decisively upon the persons referred to in connection with the manifestations of longsuffering. Does not, as a matter of fact, the language “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” set before us a basic antithesis between the death or destruction that awaits impenitent sinners and, by implication, the life eternal which men may enter upon through repentance? God does not wish that any men should perish. His wish is rather that all should enter upon life eternal by coming to repentance. The language in this part of the verse is so absolute that it is highly unnatural to envisage Peter as meaning merely that God does not wish that any believers should perish, but that he rather wishes that all believers who live laxly should repent of their sins. If they are believers, they have already come to repentance, entered upon life, and escaped destruction, even though the struggle against sin and turning from it must continue. The language of the clauses, then, most naturally refers to mankind as a whole as men are faced with the issues of death or life before the day of judgment comes. It does not view men either as elect or reprobate, and so allows that both elect and reprobate make up the totality in view.

The most satisfactory view of II Peter 3:9 is:

1) Peter teaches that the delay of the coming of judgment should be acknowledged as a manifestation of the longsuffering or patience of God with sinners.

2) Peter says that God is longsuffering on your account. It is not because of any slackness in God himself, but because of the consideration of the well-being of men. The pronoun “you” cannot be restricted to the elect. It would certainly include the members of the Christian community as possible benefactors of the longsuffering of God, but in view of considerations adduced above may not fairly be restricted to believers.

3) If the reading “to you-ward” is adopted, the thrust of the passage is not essentially altered. The delay is not due to slackness in God, but is to be regarded as an expression of longsuffering towards men, including very specifically those addressed in the Epistle.

4) The reason or ground for the longsuffering of God until the day of judgment is given in what is said concerning his “willing.” He is longsuffering in that, or because, he does not wish that any men should perish, but rather because he wills or wishes that all should come to repentance. Repentance is the condition of life, without repentance men must perish. But the will of God that men be saved expressed here is not conditional. It is not: I will your salvation if you repent, but: I will that you repent and thus be saved. The two clauses then go far beyond defining the longsuffering of God, for they intimate what is back of his longsuffering. This favour is grounded in God himself; it is an expression of his will with regard to sinners, his will being nothing short of their salvation.

The argument that the longsuffering of God that delays judgment could not concern the reprobate, “for they will never repent” is to be met exactly as Calvin met similar arguments. Following his exegesis of II Peter 3:9, Calvin says: “But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own I ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches out his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them unto himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.”


(1) We have found that the grace of God bestowed in his ordinary providence expresses the love of God, and that this love of God is the source of the gifts bestowed upon and enjoyed by the ungodly as well as the godly. We should expect that herein is disclosed to us a principle that applies to all manifestations of divine grace, namely, that the grace bestowed expresses the lovingkindness in the heart of God and that the gifts bestowed are in their respective variety tokens of a correspondent richness or manifoldness in the divine lovingkindness of which they are the expression.

(2) We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfilment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious, and why he has not brought to pass, in the exercise of his omnipotent power and grace, what is his ardent pleasure lies hid in the sovereign counsel of his will. We should not entertain, however, any prejudice against the notion that God desires or has pleasure in the accomplishment of what he does not decretively will.

(3) Our Lord himself in the exercise of his messianic prerogative provides us with an example of the foregoing as it applies to the matter of salvation. He says expressly that he willed the bestowal of his saving and protecting grace upon those whom neither the Father nor he decreed thus to save and protect.

(4) We found that God reveals himself as not taking pleasure in or desiring the death of those who die but rather as taking pleasure in or desiring the repentance andlife of the wicked. This will of God to repentance and salvation is universalized and reveals to us, therefore, that there is in God a benevolent lovingkindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom he has not decreed to save. This pleasure, will, desire is expressed in the universal call to repentance.

(5) We must conclude, therefore, that our provisional inference on the basis of Matt. 5 :44-48 is borne out by the other passages. The full and free offer of the gospel is a grace bestowed upon all. Such grace is necessarily a manifestation of love or lovingkindness in the heart of God. And this lovingkindness is revealed to be of a character or kind that is correspondent with the grace bestowed. The grace offered is nothing less than salvation in its richness and fulness. The love or lovingkindness that lies back of that offer is not anything less; it is the will to that salvation. In other words, it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work whom God offers in the gospel. The loving and benevolent will that is the source of that offer and that grounds its veracity and reality is the will to the possession of Christ and the enjoyment of the salvation that resides in him.


1 Kittel says that 20 manuscripts read bemoth as in verse 32. If this reading is correct then, of course, what is said respecting the omission of the preposition be does not hold.

2 The only instances we have been able to find in the Old Testament of chaphez be, followed by the infinitive construct, are Ezekiel 18:23b and 33:11b. chaphez without the preposition be is fol1owed by the infinitive construct in other cases cf. Isa. 53:10.

Posted by: Tony | March 28, 2007

Definitive Sanctification by John Murray


John Murray


When we speak of sanctification we generally think of it as that process by which the believer is gradually transformed in heart, mind, will, and conduct and conformed more and more to the will of God and to the image of Christ until at death the disembodied spirit is made perfect in holiness and at the resurrection his body likewise will be conformed to the likeness of the body of Christ’s glory. It is biblical to apply the term “sanctification” to this process of transformation and conformation. But it is a fact too frequently overlooked that in the New Testament the most characteristic terms used with reference to sanctification are used not of a process but of a once-for-all definitive act.


We properly think of calling, regeneration, justification, and adoption as acts of God effected once for all and not requiring or admitting of repetition. It is of their nature to be definitive. But a considerable part of New Testament teaching places sanctification in this category. When Paul, for example, addresses the believers at Corinth as the church of God “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (I Cor. 1:2) and later in the same epistle reminds them that they were washed, sanctified, and justified (I Cor. 6:11), it is apparent that he coordinated their sanctification with effectual calling, with their identity as saints, with regeneration, and with justification. Again, when in II Timothy 2:21 we read, “If a man purge himself from these, he will be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, meet for the master’s use, prepared unto every good work,” there need be no question but the term “sanctified” is used in the same sense. And when he says that “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:25f.), it is most likely that the sanctification referred to is explicated in terms of “the washing of water by the word.” Although in Acts 20:32 and 26:18 “the sanctified” could have reference to the complete sanctification of the age to come, the usage in Paul’s epistles would favor the signification whereby believers are viewed as the sanctified.

The substantive “sanctification” has a similar connotation. “God hath not called us unto uncleanness but in sanctification” (I Thess. 4:7). “God hath chosen you a first fruits unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, unto which he also called you through our gospel” (II Thess. 2:13, 14).1

The terms for purification are used with the same import (Acts 15:9; Eph. 5:26; Tit. 2:14).

We are thus compelled to take account of the fact that the language of sanctification is used with reference to some decisive action that occurs at the inception of the Christian life and one that characterizes the people of God in their identity as called effectually by God’s grace. It would be, therefore, a deflection from biblical patterns of language and conception to think of sanctification exclusively in terms of a progressive work.


What is this sanctification? No passage in the New Testament is more instructive than Romans 6:1-7:6. The teaching here is oriented against the question with which Paul begins: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” a question provoked by the exordium accorded to grace in the preceding context. “Where sin abounded, grace superabounded, that as sin hath reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20, 21). If the grace of God and therefore his glory are magnified the more according as grace overcomes sin, the inference would seem to be: let us continue to sin in order that God’s grace may be the more extolled. It is this inference the apostle rejects with the most emphatic negative at his disposal, properly rendered in the corresponding Hebrew idiom, “God forbid.” The perversity of the inference he lays bare by asking another question: “How shall we who are such as have died to sin live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:2). The pivot of the refutation is: “we died to sin.” What does Paul mean?

He is using the language of that phenomenon with which all are familiar, the event of death. When a person dies he is no longer active in the sphere or realm or relation in reference to which he has died. His connection with that realm has been dissolved; he has no further communications with those who still live in that realm nor do they have with him. He is no longer en rapport with life here; it is no longer the sphere of life and activity for him. The Scripture brings this fact of experience to our attention. “I saw the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not; yea, I sought him, but he could not be found” (Ps. 37:35, 36). “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more” (Ps. 103:15, 16).

In accord with this analogy the person who lives in sin or to sin lives and acts in the realm of sin — it is the sphere of his life and activity. And the person who died to sin no longer lives in that sphere. His tie with it has been broken, and he has been translated into another realm. In the most significant sense those who still live in the realm of sin can say: “I sought him, but he could not be found.” This is the decisive cleavage that the apostle has in view; it is the foundation upon which rests his whole conception of a believer’s life, and it is a cleavage, a breach, a translation as really and decisively true in the sphere of moral and religious relationship as in the ordinary experience of death. There is a once-for-all definitive and irreversible breach with the realm in which sin reigns in and unto death.

The antitheses which the apostle institutes in this passage serve to point up the decisive breach which this change involves. Death in sin means the service of sin as bondservants (vss. 6, 16, 17, 20); sin reigns in our mortal bodies (vs. 12); obedience is rendered to the lusts of sin (vs. 12); we present our members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin and as the bondservants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity (vss. 13, 19); we are free (footloose) in respect of righteousness (vs. 20); sin has dominion over us and we are under law (vs. 14). Death to sin means that the old man has been crucified and the body of sin destroyed — we no longer serve sin (vs. 6); we are justified from sin (vs. 7); we are alive to God and live to him (vss. 10, 11); sin no longer reigns in our mortal body and does not lord it over us (vss. 12, 14); we present ourselves to God and our members as instruments of righteousness to God so that we are servants of righteousness unto holiness (vss. 13, 19); we are under the reign of grace (vs. 14); we render obedience from the heart to the pattern of Christian teaching (vs. 17); the fruit is unto holiness and the end everlasting life (vs. 22). This sustained contrast witnesses to the decisive change. There is no possibility of toning down the antithesis; it appears all along the line of the varying aspects from which life and action are to be viewed. In respect of every criterion by which moral and spiritual life is to be assessed there is absolute differentiation and [this*] (Supplied by the editor) means that there is a decisive and definitive breach with the power and service of sin in the case of every one who has come under the control of the provisions of grace.

Although Paul is the chief exponent of this doctrine it is not to be forgotten that the same strand of thought appears also in one of Peter’s epistles. Of Christ he writes: “Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree, in order that we having died to sins might live to righteousness” (I Pet. 2:24).2 And again Peter writes: “Since therefore Christ hath suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, because he who hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sins, to the end that no longer should he live the rest of the time in the flesh to the lusts of men but to the will of God” (I Pet. 4:1, 2). I take it that in the first passage quoted the thought is after the same pattern that we find in Paul, that those for whom Christ died vicariously are reckoned also as having died in and with Christ and, as Christ’s death was death to sin once for all (cf. Rom. 6:10), so those dying with him die also to sin. And in the second passage the identification with Christ is indicated by the two clauses in identical terms, namely, “suffered in the flesh,” in the first instance applied to Christ and in the second to those being exhorted, with the implication that this suffering in the flesh has as its consequence cessation from sins. The interweaving of the indicative and the imperative is likewise reminiscent of what is so patent in Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

We may now turn to the apostle John. The incisiveness and decisiveness of John’s first epistle appear at no point more striking than where he, in terms peculiar to John himself, deals with the subject of our present interest. We think particularly of I John 3:6-9 in which the antithesis is most pronounced and might readily be interpreted as teaching sinless perfection. There are, however, several considerations which show that sinless perfection is not John’s meaning.

1. If John’s intent was to inculcate sinless perfection, then this passage would prove too much. In that event every regenerate person would be sinlessly perfect and only sinlessly perfect persons would be regenerate. The terms are that “every one who is begotten of God does not do sin . . . and he cannot sin because he is begotten of God” (I Jn. 3:9). On John’s own teaching sinless perfection is not the indispensable accompaniment of regeneration. In I John 2:1, John makes allowance for the incidence of sin in those whom he addresses as “little children” and directs us to the provision for this eventuality: “If any one sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.” Again, it is difficult, to say the least, to interpret the words, “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I Jn. 1:7), as not reflecting on the continuously cleansing efficacy of the blood of Christ. If there is provision for sin in the believer, then regeneration does not insure sinless perfection.

2. John says expressly: “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I Jn. 1:8). If John in this case were thinking of past sin only, we should wonder why he uses the present tense. For on the assumption of sinless perfection there would be no present sin, and the use of the present tense would be misleading and constitute for his readers something of a contradiction to what on the premises would be one of the leading theses of the epistle.

3. John insists that “it hath not yet been manifested what we shall be” (I Jn. 3:2). This is defined for us in the same verse as likeness to the Father, a conformity such as will be achieved when the children of God will see him as he is. Anything short of that conformity is not sinless perfection. But this is precisely the shortcoming John affirms — “It hath not yet been manifested.” This confirmity is the hope entertained and, because it is that hoped for, the outcome for the believer is self-purification after the pattern of the Father’s purity. “Every one who has this hope in him [i.e., the Father] purifieth himself even as he is pure” (I Jn. 3:3). Self-purification implies impurity that needs to be cleansed.

4. John implies that sin may be committed by a believing brother: “If any one see his brother sin a sin not unto death, he will ask, and he will give him life for those who sin not unto death” (I Jn. 5:16). This is incontestably a reference to sin committed by a believer.

Sinless perfection cannot, for these reasons, be the import of John 3:6-9; 5:18. What then does the decisive language of John mean? The usage of our Lord as reported by John in his Gospel provides us with an index to John’s intent in the first epistle.

In answer to the disciple’s question concerning the man born blind: “Who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus said: “Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him” (Jn. 9:2, 3). Jesus could not mean that the son and his parents were sinlessly perfect and had never sinned. The thought is simply that the blindness was not due to some specific sin for which the blindness had been inflicted as a punishment, the assumption underlying the disciples’ question.

In the sequel to the foregoing incident Jesus said to certain of the Pharisees: “If ye were blind, ye should not have sin; but now ye say we see; your sin remaineth” (Jn. 9:41). Again, sinless perfection cannot be in view in Jesus’ statement, “Ye should have no sin.” Jesus is thinking of the particular sin characteristic of the Pharisees, that of self-complacency and self-infatuation. From that sin they would he free if they were humble enough to acknowledge their blindness.

Finally in John’s Gospel, Jesus is reported to have said: “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin. But now they have no cloak for their sin” (Jn. 15:22). Obviously, Jesus is speaking of the great sin of rejecting him and his Father (cf. Jn. 3:19).

Thus, in each instance, though the terms are absolute, some specific sin is in view, and the same principle must apply to the language of John with which we are concerned. Furthermore, in this epistle John himself gives us examples of the differentiation in terms of which we are to interpret his teaching. Whatever may be the sin unto death as distinguished from the sin not unto death (I Jn. 5:16, 17), there is undoubtedly radical differentiation in respect of character and consequence. It is the latter a believer is contemplated as committing but not the former. Since, according to 3:6-9; 5:18, the regenerate do not commit sin, it is surely justifiable to conclude that the sin he does not commit is the sin unto death.

In I John 4:2, 3 the apostle propounds the test of Christian faith. It is the confession that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. John’s antithetic incisiveness appears here again. “Every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God.” The force of verse 3 is that every one that does not confess Jesus, in the identity defined in verse 2, does not confess Jesus at all. We must infer that the sin a regenerate person does not commit is the denial of Jesus as come in the flesh or indeed the failure to confess Jesus Christ as come in the flesh. Speaking positively, everyone begotten of God believes and confesses that Jesus as come in the flesh is the Christ (cf. I Jn. 5:1). This is the faith that overcomes the world, and this victory is the mark of every regenerate person (cf. I Jn. 5:4). The upshot of these propositions is simply that the believer confesses Jesus as come in the flesh, believes that this Jesus is the Christ and that he is the Son of God, and cannot apostatize from this faith. The believer is the one who has secured the victory over the world, is immune to the dominion of the evil one, and is no longer characterized by that which is of the world, “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I Jn. 2:16). It is, therefore, in these terms that we are to interpret the sin that the person begotten of God does not commit and cannot commit.3

John’s language and patterns of thought differ from those of Paul, but the doctrine is to the same effect that for every believer in Jesus as the Christ and as the Son of God there is the decisive and irreversible breach with the world and with its defilement and power. And on the positive side, the characterization is no less significant of the radical differentiation from the realm of the wicked one. The person begotten of God does righteousness, loves and knows God, loves those who are begotten of God, and keeps the commandments of God (I Jn. 2:3-6, 29; 4:7, 20, 21; 5:2, 3).


What are the forces that explain this definitive breach with sin and commitment to holiness and righteousness? The answer is that the saving action of each person of the Godhead at the inception of the process of salvation insures the decisive character of the change thereby effected.

The specific action of the Father is to call men effectually into the fellowship of his Son. In Jesus’ own terms it is to donate men to his own Son in the efficacious operations of grace (cf. Jn. 6:37, 44, 65). The action bespeaks the radical character of the change. The specific action of the Holy Spirit is the washing of regeneration whereby men are instated in the kingdom of God as the kingdom of righteousness, power, life, and peace.4 Again, the action and that to which it is directed indicate the momentous nature of the transformation. It is proper, however, to focus attention upon the action of Christ. This is so for two reasons. First, it is by virtue of what Christ has done that the action of both the Father and the Spirit take effect. Second, this aspect of biblical teaching has been more neglected. The bearing of Jesus’ death and resurrection upon our justification has been in the forefront of Protestant teaching. But their bearing upon sanctification has not been sufficiently appreciated. It is here we find the basic consideration relevant to our present question.

In the teaching of Paul, the pivots of the change in view are death to sin and newness of life. The starting point of Paul’s argument in answer to the false inference that we may continue in sin that grace may abound is, as already observed, that the partakers of grace died to sin. His protestation, “How shall we any longer live in it?” is immediately supported by appeal to the significance of baptism (cf. Rom. 6:3). It is baptism into Jesus’ death that makes valid the pivotal proposition, “we died to sin.” Then Paul proceeds to identify believers with Christ in his burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5). This means, therefore, that not only did Christ die, not only was he buried, not only did he rise from the dead but also all who sustain the relation to him that baptism signifies likewise died, were buried, and rose again to a new life patterned after his resurrection life, No fact is of more basic importance in connection with the death to sin and commitment to holiness than that of identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. And this relation of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the believer is introduced at this point in the development of Paul’s gospel, be it noted, not with reference to justification but in connection with deliverance from the power and defilement of sin. So it is the relation to sanctification that is in the focus of thought. What then is this relation?

It might be said that the relation is that which justification sustains to sanctification, that the death and resurrection of Christ are directly the ground of our justification, that justification is the foundation of sanctification in that it establishes the only proper relation on which a life of holiness can rest, and that the relation of the death and resurrection of Christ to sanctification is this indirect one through the medium of justification. Or it might be said that by his death and resurrection Christ has procured every saving gift — the death and resurrection are therefore the meritorious and procuring cause of sanctification as well as of justification and in this respect are as directly related to sanctification as to justification. All of this is doctrinally true and does not violate the analogy of biblical teaching. But this analysis of the relation of the death and resurrection of Christ to sanctification does not do justice to Paul’s teaching. He brings the death and resurrection of Christ into a much more direct relation to sanctification by way of efficiency and virtue than these foregoing proposals involve. The truth is that our death to sin and newness of life are effected in our identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, and no virtue accruing from the death and resurrection of Christ affects any phase of salvation more directly than the breach with sin and newness of life. And if we do not take account of this direct relationship we miss one of the cardinal features of New Testament teaching. It is not only in Romans 6 that this comes to expression. It is no less patent, for example, in Ephesians 2:1-6. It is the quickening from death in trespasses and sins that is in the forefront when the apostle says: “But God being rich in mercy . . . hath made us alive together with Christ . . . and hath raised us up together.” And again in II Corinthians 5:14, 15 this thought is clearly in view — the death and resurrection of Christ insure that those who are the beneficiaries live not to themselves but to him who died for them and rose again. In Colossians 2:20-3:4 the same doctrine is the basis of both rebuke and entreaty.

There are two questions therefore which require some discussion. First, what is this efficiency, in reference to sanctification, residing in the death and resurrection of Christ? and, second, when did believers die with Christ and rise again to newness of life?

In dealing with the first question it is well to turn to one of the most striking statements of Paul. It is Romans 6:7: “For he who died is justified from sin.” It can be effectively argued that the uniform or, at least, all but uniform usage of Paul in reference to the term “justify” must obtain in this instance and that the proposition must refer to justification and not to sanctification. It must be admitted that to suppose a meaning alien to the forensic import of “justify” would be without warrant. But we have to recognize that it is characteristic of Paul to use the same term with different shades of meaning in the same context and it is possible for him to use this term in its forensic signification without reference to what is specifically justification. The particular context must determine the precise application of a term, and in this case it must be observed that Paul is not treating of justification but dealing with what is properly in the sphere of sanctification, namely, deliverance from the enslaving power of sin. The proposition is adduced in support of the consideration that “we no longer serve sin” (Rom. 6:6). “Justified from sin” must be understood in a way that is appropriate to deliverance from the servitude of sin. If we paraphrase the thought it might be rendered, “He who died is quit of sin.” And when we keep in view the forensic character of the term “justify,” we readily detect what is forensic and at the same time consonant with the apostle’s thesis, namely, the judgment executed upon sin in order that we may enjoy emancipation from its thraldom.

Admittedly, it is difficult for us to grasp this juridical aspect of deliverance from the power of sin and it is also difficult to make clear what is involved. But the difficulty arises perhaps from our failure to think through and appreciate this strand of New Testament teaching. In any case, we must look more carefully at the immediate context and the broader aspects of New Testament doctrine on this subject.

It should be noted that Paul in the context refers to the lordship of sin, of the law, and of death — of sin when he enjoins: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body” (Rom. 6:12) and when he asserts: “Sin shall not lord it over you, for ye are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14); of the law when he says: “But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that in which we were held, so that we might serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6: cf. vss. 1, 4); of death when he reflects on the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Christ being raised from the dead dies no more: death no longer lords it over him” (Rom. 6:9). It is this notion of reigning power as applied to sin, the law, and death that helps us to recognize not only the relevance but the necessity of the judgment executed if we are to be freed from their thraldom, judgment executed in Christ’s death. The lordship wielded by sin cannot be conceived of apart from the power of Satan and of the principalities of iniquity. When our Lord deals with the destruction of Satan’s power it is the language of judgment he uses to express the victory. “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (Jn. 12:31). This verse furnishes us with what is perhaps the clearest parallel to Romans 6:7 and indicates that, in overcoming the realm and reign of this world, there is judgment executed. And our Lord’s word is corroborative of the doctrine more fully unfolded in Paul that the death of Christ is that by which this judgment is fulfilled, for Jesus proceeds: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (vs. 32), a reference to the kind of death he should die (cf. vs. 33 and John 3:14; 8:28).5

We are compelled to reach the conclusion that it is by virtue of our having died with Christ and our being raised with him in his resurrection from the dead that the decisive breach with sin in its power, control, and defilement had been wrought, and that the reason for this is that Christ in his death and resurrection broke the power of sin, triumphed over the god of this world, the prince of darkness, executed judgment upon the world and its ruler, and by that victory delivered all those who were united to him from the power of darkness and translated them into his own kingdom. So intimate is the union between Christ and his people that they were partakers with him in all these triumphal achievements and therefore died to sin, rose with Christ in the power of his resurrection, and have the fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life. As the death and resurrection arc central in the whole process of redemptive accomplishment, so is it central in that by which sanctification itself is wrought in the hearts and lives of God’s people.

The second question with which we are concerned in this connection is: when did believers die with Christ to sin and rise with him to newness of life? It might appear unnecessary to ask this question because, if they died with Christ and rose with him in his resurrection, the time can only be when Christ himself died and rose again. And since Christ himself died once for all and having risen from the dead dies no more, it would appear necessary to restrict our death to sin and entrance upon newness of life (after the likeness of Jesus’ resurrection) to the historic past when Jesus died and rose from the dead. There is the tendency to posit such a severe restriction because it appears to guard and support the interests of objectivity which on all accounts must be maintained in connection with the death and resurrection of Christ. But there are other considerations which must not be discarded. It is to be noted that Paul in one of the passages where this making alive with Christ is so prominent speaks of the same persons as being dead in trespasses and sins, as having at one time walked according to the course of this world, as having conducted their life aforetime in the lusts of the flesh, doing the will of the flesh and of the mind, and says that they were children of wrath even as others (Eph. 2:1-4). And not only so — he says that it was when they were dead in trespasses that they were made alive together with Christ (vs. 5). Furthermore, it is too apparent to need demonstration that the historic events of Calvary and the resurrection from Joseph’s tomb do not register the changes which are continuously being wrought when the people of God are translated from the power of darkness into Christ’s kingdom of life, liberty, and peace.

We are thus faced with the tension arising from the demands of the past historical, on the one hand, and the demands of the ethico-religious, on the other. And we cannot tone down the considerations which weigh in both directions.

If we think of the starting point of Paul’s argument in Romans 6, namely, “we died to sin,” it is obvious that he is dealing with the believer’s actual death to sin. This follows for several reasons. (1) He is giving this as the reason why we no longer live in sin and why it is both absurd and impossible to plead the argument of license, “Let us continue in sin that grace may abound.” The radical cleavage with the power and defilement of sin is conceived of as having taken place and is instituted by the contrast between death to sin and living in sin. (2) The apostle appeals to the significance of baptism to support his thesis that the persons in view no longer live in sin. “Or do ye not know that as many of us as were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised unto his death?” (vs. 3). He is, therefore, dealing with that new life which is represented, signified, and sealed by baptism. Hence, it is vital and spiritual union with Christ that must be in view, a union that results in walking in newness of life after the pattern and in the power of Jesus’ own resurrection (vss. 4, 5). (3) Death to sin is correlative with, if not interpreted in terms of, the crucifixion of the old man, the destruction of the body of sin, and deliverance from the reigning power of sin (vss. 6, 7). It is, therefore, the new man in Christ Jesus who is contemplated as having died to sin. (4) Those in view are not under law but under grace (vs. 14), and the exhortations directed to them are those appropriate to such as have been emancipated from the dominion of sin — sin shall not have the dominion, therefore they are to reckon themselves to be dead to sin and alive to God (vs. 11).

These reasons place beyond question the conclusion that the persons are regarded as the actual partakers of the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection. Examination of the other passages in which this same teaching appears (II Cor. 5:14, 15; Eph. 2:1-6; Col. 3:1-3; I Pet. 4:1-4) will show the same result. So we must conclude that death to sin and newness of life refer to events which occur in the life history of the believer.

Are we, therefore, to suppose that the death of the believer with Christ and the rising again with him have exclusive reference to what takes place within the sphere of the effectual operations of grace in the heart and life of the believer? There are reasons for refusing to grant this inference. (1) We found already that it is impossible to dissociate the death and resurrection of Christ from his identification with those on whose behalf he died and rose again. To make a disjunction here is to rob the death and resurrection of Christ of meaning or purpose; it would make an abstraction impossible in divine conception as well as human. (2) Those on whose behalf Christ died and rose again were chosen in him before the foundation of the world. They were, therefore, in him when he died and rose again, and it is impossible to dissociate them from the death and resurrection of him in whom they were. (3) The apostle constantly interweaves the most explicit references to the death and resurrection of Christ as once-for-all historic events with the teaching respecting actual, experiential death to sin on the part of the believer. His argument for the decisive and irrevocable breach with sin and translation to new life is bound up with the once-for-allness of Jesus’ death. “For in that he died, he died to sin once for all” (vs. 10). This sustained introduction of the once-for-all past historical in a context that clearly deals with what occurs actually and practically in the life history of individuals makes inevitable the interpretation that the past historical conditions the continuously existential, not simply as laying the basis for it and as providing the analogy in the realm of the past historical for what continues to occur in the realm of our experience, but conditions the latter for the reason that something occurred in the past historical which makes necessary what is realized and exemplified in the actual life history of these same persons.

It is necessary to stress both aspects, the past historical and the experiential in their distinctness, on the one hand, and in their inter-dependence, on the other. The experiential must not be allowed to obscure the once-for-all historical, nor the once-for-all historical so to overshadow our thinking that we fail to give proper emphasis to the way in which its meaning and efficacy come to realization in the practical life of the believer. In other words, due emphasis must fall upon the objective and subjective in our dying and rising again with Christ in his death to sin and living again to God. It is only in this way that we can avoid the tendency to deny the vicarious significance of that which Christ wrought once for all in the realm of history as concrete and real as any other historical event.

The principle, or modus operandi, illustrated in this instance as it bears upon the question of sanctification, is not essentially different from that which we find elsewhere in connection with the categories which define for us the atonement itself. Christ expiated the sins of his people in the offering of himself once for all — he purged our sins and sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high (cf. Heb. 1:3). But sins are not actually forgiven until there is repentance and faith. Christ propitiated the wrath of God once for all when he died on the tree. But until we are savingly united to Christ, we are children of wrath even as others. We are reconciled to God by the death of Christ, and reconciliation is an accomplished work, but we are not at peace with God until we are justified. Admittedly, it is difficult to define the precise relations of the past historical to the continuously operative in these cases. To put it more accurately, it is difficult to determine how the finished action of Christ in the past relates itself to those who are contemplated in that action prior to the time when that past action takes effect in their life history. But this difficulty in no way interferes with the distinction between the finished work and its actual application. Any added difficulty there be in connection with our present topic arises not from what is intrinsic to the subject but from our unfamiliarity with this aspect of our relation to the death and resurrection of Christ.

Christ was identified with sin when he died, and for that reason alone did he die upon the accursed tree. But, because it was he who died, he died to sin — he destroyed its power, executed judgment upon it, and rose triumphant as the Lord of righteousness and life. He established thus for men the realm of life. And since his people were in him when he wrought victory and executed judgment, they also must be conceived of, in some mysterious manner that betokens the marvel of divine conception, wisdom, reckoning, and grace yet really in terms of a divine constitution, as having died to sin also and as having been raised up to newness of life. It is this fact that is basic and central. The mysteriousness of it must not be allowed to impair or tone down the reality of it in God’s reckoning and in the actual constitution established by him in the union of his people with Christ. It is basic and central because only by virtue of what did happen in the past and finished historical does it come to pass in the sphere of the practical and existential that we actually come into possession of our identification with Christ when he died to sin and lived unto God.

We see, therefore, that the decisive and definitive breach with sin that occurs at the inception of Christian life is one necessitated by the fact that the death of Christ was decisive and definitive. It is just because we cannot allow for any reversal or repetition of Christ’s death on the tree that we cannot allow for any compromise on the doctrine that every believer has died to sin and no longer lives under its dominion. Sin no longer lords it over him. To equivocate here is to assail the definitiveness of Christ’s death. Likewise, the decisive and definitive entrance upon newness of life in the case of every believer is required by the fact that the resurrection of Christ was decisive and definitive. As we cannot allow for any reversal or repetition of the resurrection, so we cannot allow for any compromise on the doctrine that every believer is a new man, that the old man has been crucified, that the body of sin has been destroyed, and that as a new man in Christ Jesus he serves God in the newness which is none other than that of the Holy Spirit of whom he has become the habitation and his body the temple.


Cf. I Pet. 1:2.
akogenomenoi though not used by Paul in this connection and is legomenon in the New Testament, must be given the force of “having died.”
The interpretation that the regenerate person does not habitually sin labours under two liabilities. (1) The term “habitually” is not a sufficiently well-defined term. (2) This characterization leaves too much of a loophole for the incisiveness of John’s teaching; it allows that the believer might commit certain sins though not habitually. This would contradict the decisiveness of such a statement that the one begotten of God does not sin and cannot sin.
While regeneration is an all-important factor in definitive sanctification, it would not be proper to subsume the latter under the topic “regeneration.” The reason is that what is most characteristic in definitive sanctification, namely, death to sin by union with Christ in his death and newness of life by union with him in his resurrection, cannot properly be referred to regeneration by the Spirit. There is multiformity to that which occurs at the inception of the Christian life, and each facet must be accorded its own particularity. Calling, for example, as the action of the Father, must not be defined in terms of what is specifically the action of the Holy Spirit, namely, regeneration. Definitive sanctification, likewise, must be allowed its own individuality. We impoverish our conception of definitive grace when we fail to appreciate the distinctiveness of each aspect or indulge in over-simplification.
For further treatment of this subject, cf. the present writer, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1959), 1, 277-284.

* This article is appeared in the Calvin Theological Journal, in the April 1967 issue.

Posted by: Tony | March 26, 2007

Law And Grace by John Murray

This is a great article written by John Murray. I have really enjoyed his commentary on Romans and his various articles as well. I’m sure you will be blessed if you make the time to read this.

Law And Grace

By John Murray*


No subject is more intimately bound up with the nature of the gospel than that of law and grace. In the degree to which error is entertained at this point, in the same degree is our conception of the gospel perverted. An erroneous conception of the function of law can be of such a character that it completely vitiates our view of the gospel; and an erroneous conception of the antithesis between law and grace can be of such a character that it demolishes both the substructure and the superstructure of grace. Nothing could advertise this more than the fact that two of the major Epistles of the New Testament, and the two most polemic, have this subject as their theme. Our attention is irresistibly drawn to the gravity of the issue with which the apostle is concerned in his Epistle to the Galatians when we read at the outset, “But even if we or an angel from heaven preach to you any gospel other than that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so now again I say, if anyone preach any gospel to you other than that which ye received, let him be anathema” (Galatians 1:8, 9). And we are no less startled when we read in the same apostle”s Epistle to the Romans, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ on behalf of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:1-3). What was the question that aroused the apostle to such passionate zeal and holy indignation, indignation that has its kinship with the imprecatory utterances of the Old Testament? In a word it was the relation of law and gospel. “I do not make void the grace of God: for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21). “For if a law had been given which could make alive, verily from the law righteousness would have been” (Galatians 3:21). “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20).

The simple truth is that if law is conceived of as contributing in the least degree towards our acceptance with God and our justification by him, then the gospel of grace is a nullity. And the issue is so sharply and incisively drawn that, if we rely in any respect upon compliance with law for our acceptance with God, then Christ will profit us nothing. “Ye have been discharged from Christ whosoever of you are justified by law; ye have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4). But lest we should think that the whole question of the relation of law and grace is thereby resolved, we must be reminded that Paul says also in this polemic, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid, yea we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). We are compelled therefore to recognize that the subject of law and grace is not simply concerned with the antithesis that there is between law and grace, but also with law as that which makes grace necessary and with grace as establishing and confirming law. It is not only the doctrine of grace that must be jealously guarded against distortion by the works of law, but it is also the doctrine of law that must be preserved against the distortions of a spurious concept of grace. This is just saying that we are but echoing the total witness of the apostle of the Gentiles as the champion of the gospel of grace when we say that we must guard grace from the adulteration of legalism and we must guard law from the depredations of antinomianism.

In relation to the topic with which we are concerned now it is the latter that must claim our attention. What is the place of law in the economy of grace?

It is symptomatic of a pattern of thought current in many evangelical circles that the idea of keeping the commandments of God is not consonant with the liberty and spontaneity of the Christian man, that keeping the law has its affinities with legalism and with the principle of works rather than with the principle of grace. It is strange indeed that this kind of antipathy to the notion of keeping commandments should be entertained by any believer who is a serious student of the New Testament. Did not our Lord say, “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)? And did he not say, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father”s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10)? It was John who recorded these sayings of our Lord and it was he, of all the disciples, who was mindful of the Lord”s teaching and example regarding iove, and reproduces that teaching so conspicuously in his first Epistle. We catch something of the tenderness of his entreaty when he writes, “Little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and truth” (I John 3:18), “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, (I John 4:7). But the message oi John has escaped us if we have failed to note John”s emphasis upon the keeping of the commandments of God. “And by this we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that says, I know him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keeps his word, in him verily the iove of God is made perfect” (I John 2:3-5). “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn, we have confidence toward God, and whatsoever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do those things that are well-pleasing in his sight . . . And he who keeps his commandments abides in him and he in him” (I John 3:21, 22, 24). “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (I John 5:3). If we are surprised to find this virtual identification of love to God and the keeping of his commandments, it is because we have overlooked the words of our Lord himself which John had remembered and learned well: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love” (John 15:10) and “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me” (John 14:21). To say the very least, the witness of our Lord and the testimony of John are to the effect that there is indispensable complementation; love will be operative in the keeping of God”s commandments. It is only myopia that prevents us from seeing this, and when there is a persistent animosity to the notion of keeping commandments the only conclusion is that there is either gross ignorance or malignant opposition to the testimony of Jesus.

A great deal of the antipathy to the idea of obligation to keep the commandments of God has arisen from misconception regarding the word of the apostle Paul, “Ye are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). And much apparent support may be derived from this text to justify and reinforce this antipathy. It is easy to see how an insistence that believers are under obligation to keep the law of God would seem to contradict the express statement of the apostle that believers are not under law. In like manner, when Paul says that “before faith came we were kept in ward under law, shut up to the faith about to be revealed” (Galatians 3:23), it is obvious that the bondage implied in being kept in ward under law is terminated with the revelation of faith. Hence to speak of the believer as bound to the obedience of God”s law is to bring the believer again into that bondage which it is the great burden of Paul in both Romans and Galatians to resist and controvert! “For freedom has Christ made us free: let us stand fast therefore and not be entangled again in the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).

It must be appreciated that when Paul says in Romans 6:14, “Ye are not under law but under grace”, there is the sharpest possible antithesis between “under law” and “under grace”, and that in terms of Paul”s intent in this passage these are mutually exclusive. To be “under law” is to be under the dominion of sin; to be “under grace” is to be liberated from that dominion. What then is the antithesis and how does it bear upon our question? To answer this question it is necessary to establish what law as law can do and what law as law cannot do.

What law can do is in some respects quite obvious, in other respects frequently overlooked. (1) Law commands and demands; it propounds what the will of God is. The law of God is the holiness of God coming to expression for the regulation of thought and conduct consonant with his holiness. We must be perfect as God is perfect; the law is that which the perfection of God dictates in order to bring about conformity with his perfection. (2) Law pronounces approval and blessing upon conformity to its demands. The commandment was ordained to life (Romans 7:10), and the man that does the things of the law will live in them (Galatians 3:12). Law not only enunciates justice; it guards justice. It ensures that where there is righteousness to the full extent of its demand there will be the corresponding justification and life. Only when there is deviation from its demands does any adverse judgment proceed from the law. (3) Law pronounces the judgment of condemnation upon every infraction of its precept. The law has nought but curse for any person who has once broken its sanctity; he who is guilty at one point is guilty of all. “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10). (4) Law exposes and convicts of sin. It exposes the sin that may lie hid in the deepest recesses of the heart. The law is Spiritual and as the word of God it is living and powerful, searching the thoughts and intents of the heart (cf. Romans 7:14; Hebrews 4:12). It is this discriminating and searching function of the law that Paul describes when he says. “I had not known lust except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7); the law lays bare the self-complacency that blinds us to the depravity of our hearts. (s) Law excites and incites sin to more virulent and violent transgression. Law, of itself so far from renewing and reforming the depraved heart, only occasions more intensified and confirmed expression of its depravity. “But sin taking occasion through the commandment wrought in me all manner of lust” (Romans 7:8; cf. verses 9, 11, 13). The law, therefore, instead of relieving or relaxing our bondage to sin, intensifies and confirms that bondage. The more the light of the law shines upon and in our depraved hearts, the more the enmity of our minds is roused to opposition, and the more it is made manifest that the mind of the flesh is not subject to the law of God, neither can be.

What law as law cannot do is implicit in what we have found to be the utmost of its potency. (1) Law can do nothing to justify the person who in any particular has violated its sanctity and come under its curse. Law, as law, has no expiatory provision; it exercises no forgiving grace; and it has no power of enablement to the fulfilment of its own demand. It knows no clemency for the remission of guilt; it provides no righteousness to meet our iniquity; it exerts no constraining power to reclaim our waywardness; it knows no mercy to melt our hearts in penitence and new obedience. (a) It can do nothing to relieve the bondage of sin; it accentuates and confirms that bondage. It is this impossibility to alleviate the bondage of sin that is particularly in view in Romans 6:14. The person who is “under law”, the person upon whom only law has been brought to bear, the person whose life has been determined exclusively by the resources and potencies of law, is the bondservant of sin. And the more intelligently and resolutely a person commits himself to law the more abandoned becomes his slavery to sin. Hence deliverance from the bondage of sin must come from an entirely different source.

It is in this light that the apostle”s antithetical expression “under grace” becomes significant. The word “grace” sums up everything that by way of contrast with law is embraced in the provisions of redemption. In terms of Paul”s teaching in this context the redemptive provision consists in our having become dead to the law by the body of Christ (Romans 7:4). Believers died with Christ and they lived again with him in his resurrection (cf Romans 6:8). They have, therefore, come under all the resources of redeeming and renewing grace which find their epitome in the death and resurrection of Christ and find their permanent embodiment in him who was dead and is alive again. The virtue which ever continues to emanate from the death and resurrection of Christ is operative in them through union with Christ in the efficacy of his death and the power of his resurrection life. All of this Paul”s brief expression “under grace” implies. And in respect of the subject with which Paul is dealing there is an absolute antithesis between the potency of law and the potency of grace, between the provisions of law and the provisions of grace. Grace is the sovereign will and power of God coming to expression, not for the regulation of thought and conduct consonant with God”s holiness, but for the deliverance of men from thought and conduct that bind them to the servitude of unholiness. Grace is deliverance from the . dominion of sin and therefore deliverance from that which consists in transgression of the law.

The purity and integrity of the gospel stand or fall with the absoluteness of the antithesis between the function and potency of law, on the one hand, and the function and potency of grace, on the other. But while all this is true it does not by any means follow that the antithesis eliminates all relevance of the law to the believer as a believer. The facile slogan of many a professed evangelical, when confronted with the claims of the law of God, to the effect that he is not under law but under grace, should at least be somewhat disturbed when it is remembered that the same apostle upon whose formula he relies said also that he was not without law to God but under law to Christ (I Corinthians 9:21). This statement of the apostle demands careful examination because it bears the implication that Paul was under law to God and he expressly states that he was under law to Christ. It would seem as if he said the opposite of what he says in Romans 6:14. But in any case what Paul says to the Corinthians prohibits us from taking the formula “not under law” as the complete account of the relation of the believer to the law of God.

Paul is affirming that he was all things to all men to Jews as a Jew, to those under law as under law, to those without law as without law. There is an anomalous contrast here; his conduct at one time would seem to be the moral opposite of what it was at another time. In relation to some he was “as under law” (wJ” uJpov novmon), in relation to others he was “as without law” (wJ” a[nomo”). And it is not only the apparent contradictoriness of the modes of conduct that strikes us as strange; the expressions in themselves are anomalous. How can Paul speak of himself as acting at any time as one “under law”? And how can he speak of himself as acting “without law”? It is not only we, his readers, who sense the anomaly; Paul himself anticipates the question and the implicit objection. Hence he is well aware of the necessity of guarding both expressions from misunderstanding. He adds in reference to the first, “not being myself under law”, and in reference to the second, “not being without law to God but under law to Christ”.

Examination of this passage will disclose something very important respecting Paul”s use of the expression “under law”. When he says that for those under law he behaved as one “under law”, he cannot mean that he behaved as one “under law” in the sense in which he uses that expression in Romans 6:14. In that passage “under law” bears the sense, or at least the implication, of being in bondage to sin. But Paul in I Corinthians 9:20, 21 cannot in the least be suggesting that he behaved as one under bondage to sin. Such a thought is inconceivable and therefore completely removed from the universe of discourse. So he must be using the expression “under law” in some sense other than that of Romans 6:14. And the precise meaning is not obscure. He means “under law” in the sense in which Jews who had not yet understood the significance of the death and resurrection of Christ for the discontinuance of the Mosaic rites and ceremonies considered themselves to be under law, and therefore obliged to keep the rites and customs of the Mosaic economy. When Paul characterizes the people in question as those under law, he is not reflecting upon their moral and spiritual state as one of bondage to sin. All unbelievers are in that category of being in bondage to sin and therefore “under law” in the sense of Romans 6:14 consequently the characterization, “under law” of Romans 6:14 would not differentiate between the diverse sorts of people whom Paul has in view in I Corinthians 9. It must be therefore that “under law” in this latter instance carries the import of being under the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic economy. We are not to suppose that Paul is admitting that any at that stage of redemptive revelation were in reality bound to the observance of the Mosaic rites; he is reflecting simply upon what a certain group of people considered to be their obligation. And when he says that he was for such as one under law, he means that he accommodated himself to the customs and rites which these people observed and to which they considered themselves obligated.

This force of the expression “under law” throws a great deal of light upon the same expression in Galatians 3:23: “Before faith came we were kept in ward under law”. The context makes it abundantly clear that what Paul means by the law in this context is the Mosaic economy. In the preceding verses he asks the question, “What then is the law?” and he answers, “It was added on account of the transgressions” (Galatians 3:19). He is thinking of that economy which was instituted four hundred and thirty years after the giving of the promise to Abraham (cf. verse 17), that economy which, he says, was “ordained through angels in the hand of a mediator” (verse 19). When, in verse 23, he says that “before faith came we were kept in ward under law” he is contrasting the pedagogical nonage and tutelage of the Mosaic economy with the mature sonship and liberty enjoyed by the New Testament believer. He is not here equating the “under law” of which he speaks with the same expression in Romans 6:14; he is not suggesting, far less is he intimating, that the people of Israel who were kept in ward “under law” were under the bondage of sin which is the obvious import of the “under law” of Romans 6:14.

In like manner when Paul says in I Corinthians 9:20 that he became to those under law as under law, he is referring to those who had not yet recognized the epochal change that had been signalized by the New Testament redemptive events, and to his own behaviour in conforming by way of concession to the prejudices and customs of those who considered themselves bound by what were in reality only the temporary provisions of the older economy. And when he appends the qualifying clause, “not being myself under law”, he means that, though accommodating himself by way of expediency to these customs, he did not consider himself under any divine obligation to observe such rites and practices; he was not himself under that law. Again we see how impossible it is to apply the same sense of “not under law” in Romans 6:14 to the “not under law” of I Corinthians 9:20. For if we were to do this then we should have to understand Paul as adjusting his behaviour to the practices of those who were under the dominion of sin, an utterly impossible and unthinkable supposition.

The second qualification which Paul felt constrained to make in I Corinthians 9:20, 21 is the one that is more directly germane to our topic: “not being without law to God but under law to Christ”. He is guarding himself against the inference that, in becoming to those without law as without law, he recognized himself as free from obligation to the law of God and of Christ. What he means when he says that to those without law he became as without law is that, in his relations with such people, he did not conform to Mosaic customs and ordinances. “Without law” in this case is the contrary of “under law” in the same context. And since “under law” means conformity to Mosaic rites, “without law” means the opposite, namely, nonconformity with such rites. But lest this assertion of nonconformity should be misunderstood as implying release from all conformity to law he immediately adds that he is bound in and to the law of God and of Christ. Paul is not lawless in respect to God; he is law-bound in respect to Christ.

The expression Paul uses, “under law to Christ”, is a particularly impressive one. It is as if he had said “inlawed to Christ”, “bound in law to Christ”, “under the obligation of the law of Christ”. The intent of Paul”s terms is not to contrast the law of God and the law of Christ, as if he had said, “not under law to God but rather under law to Christ”. The negative clause is not at all, “not under law to God”, but “not without law to God”. The implication is that he is under law to God and this “under law to God” finds its validation and explanation in his being under law to Christ. Paul asserts most unequivocally, therefore, that he is bound by the law of Christ and of God.

The conclusions to which we must come are as follows.

(1) In one sense the believer is not under law. To be “under law” in this sense is correlative with the dominion and bondservice of sin. The believer has been discharged from the law (Romans 7:6), he has been put to death to the law through the body of Christ (Romans 7:4), and therefore he has died to the law (Romans 7:6). Having died to the law he died to sin (Romans 6:2), and sin will not have dominion over him (Romans 6:14).

(2) In still another sense the believer is not under law; he is not under the ritual law of the Mosaic economy. This pedagogical tutelary bondage has been terminated by the epochal events of Calvary, the resurrection, and Pentecost. Christ redeemed them that were once under this law so that all without distinction may enjoy the mature and unrestrained privilege of sons. Freedom from the law in this specific sense is just as absolute as freedom from law in the preceding sense.

(3) There is another sense in which the believer is “under law”; he is bound in law to God and to Christ. The law of God and of Christ binds him precisely because of his relation to Christ.

This third conclusion is not only derived from I Corinthians 9:21. There are several other considerations which demand the same conclusion. The fallacy of the interpretation that Paul conceives of the believer as in no sense under law and seeks to derive this from Romans 6:14; 7: 1-6 should have been corrected by a more careful study of the context in which these same passages occur.

(1) Romans 6:14 cannot be dissociated from Romans 6:15: “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under law but under grace? God forbid.” The apostle repudiates in the most emphatic way any insinuation to the effect that grace gives licence to sin or provides an inducement to sin. Grace intervenes and rules over us to deliver from the dominion of sin, and therefore establishes and promotes the opposite of sin, namely, righteousness. Deliverance from the dominion of sin does not leave the person in a vacuum or in a state of neutrality; it is deliverance to if it is deliverance from. And it is deliverance to holiness and righteousness. It is this thought that Paul develops in the succeeding verses. He speaks not only of deliverance from sin but of its positive counterpart. “Being then made free from sin ye were made bondservants to righteousness” (Romans 6:18; cf. verse 22). Here he is saying not simply that believers became the servants of righteousness; he is saying that they were the subjects of the action of God”s grace so that they were bound over to righteousness. How can we understand righteousness as the positive opposite of sin unless we construe it as the opposite of what sin is? And if sin is the transgression of the law, righteousness must be conformity to the law. The law of God which Paul characterizes in this Epistle as Spiritual, that is to say, divine in its origin and nature, and holy and just and good after the pattern of him who is its author (Romans 7:12, 14), must be regarded as the criterion of righteousness no less than it is the criterion of sin.

(2) If Paul thought of himself as released from obligation to the law of God, how could he ever have confessed as a believer, “I consent unto the law that it is good.. . I delight in the law of God after the inward man.. . Consequently then I myself with the mind serve the law of God” (Romans 7:16, 22, 25)? It is fully admitted that the inner conflict and tension delineated in Romans 7:14-25 pose acute exegetical difficulties; but there is surely little room for question that when Paul describes his most characteristic self, the self that he most centrally and fundamentally is as one united to Christ in the virtue of his death and the power of his resurrection (cf. Romans 6:2-6), he describes himself as delighting in the law of God and serving that law with his mind. This service is one of bondservice, of commanded commitment; and yet it is not the bondservice of enforced and unwilling servitude. It is service constrained by delight and consent in the deepest recesses of heart and mind and will. It is total commitment, but it is the commitment also of spontaneous delight. The restraint which Paul deplores in this context and which compels him to exclaim “O wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:24) is not the restraint which the law of God imposes, but the restraint arising from the lack of conformity to it, that he wills the good but does not carry it into effect. The burden he bemoans is not the law but that which is its contradiction, the other law in his members warring against the law of his mind (Romans 7:23).

(3) It is eloquent of what Paul had in view in these protestations regarding his delight in, and service of, the law of God that in this same Epistle Paul furnishes us with concrete illustrations of the law to which he refers and of the ways in which conformity to the law is expressed. He does this in the more immediate context of Romans 6:14 when he says, “I had not known lust except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7). But in that part of his Epistle which deals directly with the details of Christian conduct his reference to at least four of the commandments is even more illuminating. “Owe no man anything, but to love one another. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Romans 13:8, 9). What is of particular interest to us at present is to note that Paul regards these precepts of the decalogue, four of which he quotes, as relevant to the behaviour which exemplifies the Christian vocation. The emphasis falls upon the fact that love fulfils them and that they are summed up, or summarized, in the word, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. But, if love fulfils them, we must still bear in mind that they are fulfilled; and if they are fulfilled they exist as precepts which call for fulfilment: and if they are summarized in one word, the summary does not obliterate or abrogate the expansion of which it is a summary. It is futile to try to escape the underlying assumption of Paul”s thought, that the concrete precepts of the decalogue have relevance to the believer as the criteria of that behaviour which love dictates. And it is all the more significant that these criteria should have been enunciated by the apostle in a context where the accent falls upon love itself: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another” (verse 8).

Other passages in Paul”s Epistles yield the same lesson respecting his conception of the place of law in the realm of grace. The situation in the church at Corinth made it necessary for Paul in his first Epistle to devote a considerable part of it to questions which fall within the realm of ethics and in several particulars he was called upon to administer reproof and correction for the misconduct of believers. He takes the occasion to remind them that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. He lists for us a catalogue of sins, thereby illustrating the unrighteousness which excludes from the kingdom of God fornication, idolatry, adultery, effeminacy, sodomy, thievery, covetousness, drunkenness, reviling, extortion (I Corinthians 6:9, 10). His intent is to illustrate the character and conduct which identify those who have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God (cf. verse 10), and he is saying in effect: “You believers have been washed and sanctified and justified, and you cannot play fast and loose with any wrongdoing; as heirs of the kingdom of God you must behave accordingly; you must appreciate the antithesis between the kingdom of God amid the world”. The point of particular interest for our present study is tile criterion, presupposed in Paul”s teaching here, by which this antithesis is to be judged. We need but scan the sins which Paul mentions to discover what this criterion is; the precepts of the decalogue underlie the whole catalogue. Idolatry the first and second commandments; adultery the seventh commandment; theft and extortion the eighth; reviling the ninth and possibly the third; covetousness the tenth. Hence it is only too apparent that the criteria of the equity which characterizes the kingdom of God and the criteria of the iniquity which marks off those who are without God and without hope in the world are those norms of thought and behaviour which are epitomized in the ten commandments. And it is Paul”s plea that the operations of grace (cf. verse 11) make mandatory the integrity of which these precepts are the canons. It is not grace relieving us of the demands signalized in these precepts, but grace establishing the character and status which will bring these demands to effective fruition.

If it should be objected that Paul in this same Epistle provides us with an example of love as exercised in abstraction from law when he commends abstinence from meat offered to idols lest the eating of such meat should be a stumblingblock to the weak, we have not read the passage with sufficient care (I Corinthians 8). It is true that there is no law against the eating of meat offered to idols; the apostle contends in this matter for the liberty of the strong and intelligent believer. No idol is anything in the world, and there is no other God but one. The earth is the Lord”s and the fulness thereof. For the man who entertains this faith, meat is not contaminated by the fact that it was offered by another, who is an idolater, to an idol; he may freely eat and give the Lord thanks. Yet there are certain circumstances under which considerations of love to another will constrain the strong believer to abstain. It might be argued that here love operates in complete abstraction from law and therefore we have an illustration of love acting on the highest level apart from the direction or dictation of law.

Examination of the passage in question will expose the fallacy of such an interpretation. The law of God in its sanctity and authority underlies the whole situation. Why is the intelligent believer enjoined in the circumstances to abstain? Simply and solely because there is the danger of the sin of idolatry on the part of the weak brother, the danger of wounding his weak conscience in the eating of meat as offered to an idol. In other words, it is the danger of transgression, on the part of the weak believer, of the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. Remove that fact from the situation and the whole argument of the apostle is nullified. The law requires that we ourselves abstain from idolatry; but it also requires that we love our neighbour as ourselves. Therefore when our doing what, so far as we ourselves are concerned, is a perfectly innocent act, becomes, and that to our knowledge, the occasion for the commission of sin on the part of another believer, love to our neighbour as ourselves will impel us to abstain from so unloving and unworthy conduct. It is not, however, love abstracted from law but love operating under the authority and sanctity of that commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”.

We have therefore abundant evidence from Paul”s Epistles to elucidate what he means when he says: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: nay, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). This is the protestation with which Paul brings to a conclusion one of the most eloquent statements of the contrast between the function of law and the operation of grace: “But now without the law the righteousness of God is made manifest”; “Where then is boasting? it is excluded. Through what law? of works? Nay, but through the law of faith. For we reckon that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:21, 27, 28). It is a protestation that Paul fully establishes and verifies in the later portions of this Epistle. But, in manner characteristic of the apostle, he interjects at this early point, at the conclusion of his peroration respecting the impotence of law and the efficacy of grace, tile most emphatic warning to the effect that this total impotence of law to justify the ungodly does not carry with it the inference that the law is thereby discarded or abrogated. The inferences so frequently drawn from Romans 6: 14 should have been obviated by the reminder which Paul announces in Romans 3:31, and the context of Romans 6:14 advises us of the reasons why grace does not make the law of none effect. “The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). “The law is Spiritual” (Romans 7:14). It is unqualifiedly and unreservedly good (Romans 7:13, 16, 19, 21). And how could the unreservedly good be relieved of its relevance or deprived of its sanctity?

A good deal of the misconception pertaining to the relation of the law to the believer springs from a biblico-theological error of much broader proportions than a misinterpretation of Paul”s statement in Romans 6:14. It is the misinterpretation of the Mosaic economy and covenant in relation to the new covenant. It has been thought that in the Mosaic covenant there is a sharp antithesis to the principle of promise embodied in the Abrahamic covenant and also to the principle of grace which comes to its efflorescence in the new covenant, and that this antithetical principle which governs the Mosaic covenant and dispensation is that of law in contradistinction from both promise and grace.1

It is thought, therefore, that the Mosaic covenant is tile outstanding example of works of law as opposed to the provisions of promise and grace. It is easy to see how such an interpretation of the Mosaic economy would radically affect our construction not only of the Mosaic economy itself but also of the Abrahamic covenant, on the one hand, and of the new covenant, on the other; the Mosaic would stand in sharp antithesis to both in respect of constitutive and governing principle. And the contrast between law and grace which we find in the New Testament would naturally be interpreted as a contrast between the Mosaic economy and the gospel dispensation of grace. In other words, the real contrast between “under law” and “under grace”, as it appears in Romans 6:14 and Romans 7:1-4, would be exemplified in the realm of the historical unfolding of covenant revelation in the contrast between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant. This interpretation has exercised a profound influence upon the history of interpretation and it has cast its shadow over the exegesis of particular passages. It is necessary for us to consider this question: What is the governing principle of the Mosaic covenant? Is this principle one of law as contrasted with grace and therefore antithetical to that of the new covenant?

There is a plausible case that could be made out for this construction of the Mosaic covenant. The first express reference to the covenant made with Israel at Sinai is framed in terms of obedience to the commandments of God and of keeping the covenant. “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 a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5, 6). And the engagement of the people is in similar terms: “All that the Lord hath spoken will we do and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7). Surely, we might say, these are not the terms of a covenant of grace but the terms of a covenant of legal and contractual stipulations.2 How, we might ask, does the condition of obedience comport with the provisions of an administration of grace? If grace is contingent upon the fulfilment of certain conditions by us, then surely it is no more grace. Hence, it may well be argued, this conditional feature of the Mosaic covenant requires that it be placed in a different category. In dealing with this question we must take several considerations into account.

1. The Mosaic covenant in respect of this condition of obedience is not in a different category from the Abrahamic. “And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations” (Genesis 17:9). Of Abraham God said, “For I know him, that lie will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him” (Genesis 18:19). There is nothing principially different in the necessity of keeping the covenant and of obeying God”s voice, characteristic of the Mosaic covenant, from what is involved in the keeping of the covenant required in the Abrahamic.

2. The Mosaic covenant, no less than the Abrahamic, contemplates a relation of intimacy and fellowship with God epitomized in the promise “I will be your God and ye shall be my people” (cf. Exodus 6:7; 18:1; 19:5, 6; 20:2; Deuteronomy 29:13). Religious relationship on the highest level is in view. If the covenant contemplates religious relationship of such a character, it is inconceivable that the demands of God”s holiness should not come to expression as governing and regulating that fellowship and as conditioning the continued enjoyment of its blessings. This note is frequent in the Pentatcuch (cf. Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7, 26 21:8; Deuteronomy 6:4-15). It is summed up in two words: “Ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2); “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). And the import is that the holiness of God demands holiness on the part of those who enter into such a covenant relation with him. It is the same principle as that expressed in the New Testament, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14), and is reiterated in Old Testament terms by Peter when he says, “As he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation, because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy” (I Peter 1:15; cf. Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; 20:7). The holiness which is demanded by the covenant fellowship is expressed concretely in obedience to the divine commandments. This is really all that needs to be said to demonstrate not only the consonance of the demand for obedience with the covenant as one of religious relationship on the highest level of spirituality but also the necessity of such a demand. It is because the covenant is one of union and communion with God that the condition of obedience is demanded.

3. Not only is holiness, as expressed concretely and practically in obedience, demanded by the covenant fellowship; we must also bear in mind that holiness was itself an integral element of the covenant blessing. Israel had been redeemed and called to be a holy people and holiness might be regarded as the essence of the covenant blessing. For holiness consisted in this, that Israel was a people separated unto the Lord. Their election is meaningless apart from that to which they were elected. And this holiness again is exemplified in obedience to the commandments of God (cf. Psalm 19:7ff.).

4. Holiness, concretely and practically illustrated in obedience, is the means through which the fellowship entailed in the covenant relationship proceeds to its fruition and consummation. This is the burden, for example, of Leviticus 26. It is stated both positively and negatively, by way of promise and by way of threatening. “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them.. . I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:3, 11, 12).

We may therefore sum up the matter by saying that the holiness of God demanded conformity to his holiness, that holiness was of the essence of the covenant privilege, that holiness was the condition of continuance in the enjoyment of the covenant blessings and the medium through which the covenant privilege realized its fruition. Holiness is exemplified in obedience to the commandments of God. Obedience is therefore entirely congruous with, and disobedience entirely contradictory of, the nature of God”s covenant with Israel as one of union and communion with God.

In all of this the demand of obedience in the Mosaic covenant is principially identical with the same demand in the new covenant of the gospel economy. The new covenant also finds its centre in the promise, “I will be your God and ye shall be my people”. The new covenant as an everlasting covenant reaches the zenith of its realization in this: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people” (Revelation 21:3). But we must ask: Do believers continue in this relationship and in the enjoyment of its blessing irrespective of persevering obedience to God”s commands? It is one of the most perilous distortions of the doctrine of grace, and one that has carried with it the saddest records of moral and spiritual disaster, to assume that past privileges, however high they may be, guarantee the security of men irrespective of perseverance in faith and holiness. Believers under the gospel continue in the covenant and in the enjoyment of its privileges because they continue in the fulfilment of the conditions; they continue in faith, love, hope, and obedience. True believers are kept unto the end, unto the eschatological salvation; but they are kept by the power of God through faith (cf. I Peter 1:5). “We are made par- takers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of confidence stedfast unto the end” (Hebrews 3:14). It is through faith and patience we inherit the promises (cf. Hebrews 6:11, 12). We shall be presented holy and unblameable and unreproveable before God if we “continue in the faith grounded and settled and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Colossians 1:22, 23). Paul the apostle could exult in the assurance that his citizenship was in heaven and that one day Christ would change the body of his humiliation and transform it into the likeness of the body of his glory (Philippians 3:20, 21). But co-ordinate with this assurance and as the condition of its entertainment is the protestation, “Brethren, I do not yet reckon myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the goal, unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14). Paul knew well that if he were to attain to the resurrection of the dead all the resources of Christ”s resurrection power must be operative in him and all the energies of his personality enlisted in the exercise of those means through which he would apprehend that for which he was apprehended by Christ Jesus (cf. Philippians 3:10-12). This is just to say that the goal is not reached, the consummation of covenant blessing is not achieved in some automatic fashion but through a process that engages to the utmost the concentrated devotion of the apostle himself. It is not reached irrespective of perseverance, but through perseverance. And this means nothing if it does not mean concentrated obedience to the will of Christ as expressed in his commandments. We readily see, however, that the attainment of the goal is not on the meritorious ground of perseverance and obedience, but through the divinely appointed means of perseverance. Obedience as the appropriate and necessary expression of devotion to Christ does not find its place in a covenant of works or of merit but in a covenant that has its inception and end in pure grace.

The disposition to construe the demand for obedience in the Mosaic economy as having affinity with works rather than grace arises from failure to recognize that the demand for obedience in the Mosaic covenant is principially identical with the same demand under the gospel. When we re-examine the demand for obedience in the Mosaic covenant (cf. Exodus 19:5, 6; 24:7) in the light of the relations of law and grace in the gospel, we shall discover that the complex of ideas is totally alien to a construction in terms of works as opposed to grace. Obedience belongs here no more “to the legal sphere of merit”3 than in the new covenant. The New Testament believer is not without law to God but under law to Christ. He delights in the law of God after the inward man and he therefore reiterates the exclamation of the Old Testament saint, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). And he also is not forgetful that he who was the incarnation and embodiment of virtue, he who is the supreme and perfect example, said, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).



See Appendix E in reference to Lewis Sperry Chafer and cf. also The Scofield Reference Bible, pp. 1115, 1244f.; Charles A. Feinberg: Premillennialism or Amillennialism (Grand Rapids, 1936), pp. 126, 190. The questionis not whether modem dispensationalists actually maintain that, during the dispensation of law, any were actually saved by works of obedience to law. Dispensationalists will acknowledge that in all ages men were saved by the blood of Christ through the grace of God. In Feinberg”s words, “All the blessing in the world in all ages is directly traceable to the death of Christ” (op. cit., p. 210). “Paul”s argument in the fourth chapter of the Romans seeks to make clear that God has always justified guilty sinners by faith” (p. 202; cf. pp. 217f. and Roy L. Aldrich in Bibliotheca Sacra, January, 1955, pp. 49ff.). The question is whether the dispensationalist construction of the Mosaic dispensation is correct and whether the concession that people had been even then saved by grace through the blood of Christ is consistent with this construction. Obviously, if the construction is erroneous, the error involved is of such a character that it must radically affect not only the view entertained of the Mosaic dispensation but of the whole history of revelation, particularly of the revelation embodied in the three pivotal covenants, the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, and the New. For criticism of modern dispensationalism in general cf. Oswald T. Allis: Prophecy and the Church (Philadelphia, 1945). On the place of law in Scripture cf. Patrick Fairbairn: The Revelation of Law in Scripture (New York, 1869).

Cf. my booklet, The Covenant of Grace (London, 1953), for a more detailed study of the concept of covenant and of the Mosaic covenant as one of grace.

Geerhardus Vos: Biblical Theology. Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, 1954), p. 143. The context is worthy of quotation. “It is plain, then, that law-keeping did not figure at that juncture as the meritorious ground of life-inheritance. The latter is based on grace alone, no less emphatically than Paul himself places salvation on that ground. But, while this is so, it might still be objected that law-observance, if not the ground for receiving, is yet made the ground for retention or the privileges inherited Here it can not, or course, be denied that a real connection exists. But the Judaizers went wrong in inferring that the connection must be meritorious, that, if Israel keeps the cherished gifts of Jehovah through observance of His law, this must be so, because in strict justice they had earned them. The connection is of a totally different kind. It belongs not to the legal sphere of merit, but to the symbolico-typical sphere of appropriateness of expression.”


* This article from the Payton Lectures delivered by Professor Murray in March of 1955 at Fuller Theological Seminary.

About the author: John Murray was born in Scotland (1898) and died in 1975. Dr. Murray was a graduate of the University of Glasgow (1923) and of Princeton Theological Seminary (1927), and he studied at the University of Edinburgh during 1928 and 1929. In 1929-1930 he served on the faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary. After that he taught at the Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia where he served as Professor of Systematic Theology. Some of his publications include: “Redemption Accomplished and Applied” (1955, Banner of Truth), “Principles of Conduct” (1957) and his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1959, and 1965).

Posted by: jesuswarrior | March 17, 2007

Refuting The Gap Theory

The Gap Theory was made popular in the late 1700’s by a man by the name of Thomas Chalmers. This view was created to accommodate the beliefs of the secular geologists of that time who began to say that the earth was millions of years old. (They believed that the earth was only millions of years  old at that time, it was not until later that the idea of billions of years was introduced.) The gap theory is based upon the idea of, as some scholars call it, a ruin-reconstruction theory, which will be explained later. They hold to three main lines of thinking.

1. The genesis account must be viewed as literal.
2. They believe that there is an extremely long age for the earth.
3. Most of the geologic strata must fit between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.

The theory is best explained by a quote from W.W. Fields book, Unformed and Undefiled.

Genesis 1.1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the far distant, dateless past, God created a perfect heaven and perfect earth. Satan was ruler of the earth which was peopled by a race of “men” without any souls. Eventually, Satan, who dwelled in a garden of Eden composed of minerals (Ezekial 28), rebelled by desiring to become like God (Isaiah 14). Because of Satan’s fall, sin entered the universe and brought on the earth God’s judgment in the form of a flood (indicated by the water of Genesis 1:2), and then a global ice-age when the light and heat from the sun were somehow removed. All the plant, animal, and human fossils upon the earth today date from this “Lucifer’s flood” and do not bear any genetic relationship with the plants, animals and fossils living upon the earth today. (Unformed and Unfilled, p. 7).

Genesis 1:2 And the Earth was without form and void…

There are some very large problems with this theory though.

1 Gap theorists assume that the earth is very old. They use the same assumption to reach this conclusion as the evolutionists do, to believe that fossils formed at the same rate that they do now, and the assumption that leads them to believe in the geologic column so often used by evolutionists. This column shows that fossils become more and more complex as time goes on. But this creates a problem for the gap theorists, for they hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis, so they cannot accept the geologic column as the evolutionist conclude, and they can’t believe that days in Genesis 1 correlate with the geologic periods so they ascertain that God reshaped the earth and re-created life in the days of Genesis after Lucifer’s flood. This is what the term ruin-reconstruction describes. This judgment supposedly caused the earth to be without form and void. But this makes no sense because if all the geologic strata was created before this flood, but then the earth was without form and void, how could we, today, see all of the layers of rock.

2. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” This is saying that sin entered the world because Adam sinned, and this implies that there was no sin before Adam, however the gap theory says there was sin before any of the world was “re-created” according to the Genesis 1 pattern. This clearly does not line up with scripture.

3. Exodus 20:11 says, “for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day” This clearly says in it, that God made everything that was in heaven and earth in six days. This obviously does not just refer to life, because there is no life in the heavens, or universe. So this is stating that the rocks were also formed during these six days. Now this is not compatible with the gap theory.

4. Also, if the strata was created in the six days of Genesis, then, according to the gap theorists, the fossils have to be in the rock. But the Bible states that God said everything was very good. But if there were fossils then the world was not very good, because in order for a fossil to be formed, death must occur, and God never called death good.

5. The gap theory has not met the demands of evolutionary and uniformitarian scientists, which was the whole idea of the gap theory in the first place.

These problems are enough to dispose of the theory but the greatest of all is that it is simply not compatible with the Bible and it attempts to squeeze the ideas of the world into the Bible and this modifies the it, any theory which does this must be abandoned by the Church. In the next three posts I will examine three other such theories.

The research for this article was found from Answers In Genesis.

Posted by: jesuswarrior | March 16, 2007

Old Earth, A Biblical Concept?

As the rise of evolution and millions of years began and scientists began to believe that the earth was not about six thousand years old as the Bible clearly teaches, the Church was faced with a dilemma. Should they stand up to the world and fight for the biblical truth? Or should they accept what the secular scientists were saying and modify the Bible. Unfortunately, much of the Church chose the latter. Ever since this point theories have been introduced into the Church to explain how evolution could be compatible with the Bible. The four major theories are, The Gap Theory, Progressive Creationism, Framework Hypothesis, and Theistic Evolution. In the next four posts I will take an in-depth view at each theory and show why they are not compatible with the Scriptures.

Posted by: jesuswarrior | March 9, 2007

Hell’s Best Kept Secret, Part 4

Here is the last part of Hells’ Best Kept Secret

Posted by: jesuswarrior | March 7, 2007

Hell’s Best Kept Secret, Part 3

Here is the third part to Hell’s Best Kept Secret

Posted by: jesuswarrior | March 6, 2007

Religion in Public Schools.

When the evolutionary views were supposedly proven correct by scientists, a push was made to remove “religion” from the classroom. Atheistic humanists have tried with all the might to oust the Bible, the Ten Commandments, prayer, and any mention of God. Unfortunately they have succeeded in this endeavor. However religion has NOT been removed from the classroom. Day after day students are drilled with the humanistic RELIGION. Students are told that God does not exist, man is just an accident, there is no moral authority, and the list goes on and on. Although you may not believe that humanism is a religion. If you believe this you are totally uninformed. In 1961 The US SUPREME COURT ruled that humanism is a religion. The IRS has officially declared the humanist organizations are 501-c-3 tax exempt. The only establishments which receive the 501-c-3 tax exemption are RELIGIOUS organizations. So humanists did not truly want religion out of the schools, they want Christianity removed. If they say they want religion out of public schools they should only teach facts, not propaganda. Or If they will not remove ALL forms of religions they should teach students both sides of the issue not just theirs. But if they give both sides students just might choose Christianity, and of course, that is out of the question.

Posted by: jesuswarrior | March 4, 2007

Hell’s Best Kept Secret, Part 2

This is part 2 of the four part video series, Hell’s Best Kept Secret.

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