Murray was, in my view, the Reformed theologian of the 20th Century. (Maybe as a fellow Highlander I’m biased!) If only his voice had been listened to things would be different to what they are now. On worship, the Lord’s Day and on the free offer of the gospel (to name but three) Murray applied historic reformed theology faithfully to the contemporary Church scene. Another area on which Murray testifies to the church today is that of justification. In is Collected Writings 2:219-222 Murray discusses “Justification and Good Works”. His thoughts on this follow.
Murray begins his discussion be highlighting the potential conflict between justification by faith alone and the necessity of good works: “It has been objected that the doctrine of justification by free grace through faith alone is inimical to the interests of ethical living and of good works, that it tends to the lascivious and licentious principle, ‘let us do evil that good may come’.” Murray meets this objection to justification by faith alone with five points of response.
First, justification “is only one part or aspect of the redemptive process and must never be viewed in disjunction from its place in the context of all the other steps of the process.” That is, “redemption is unto holiness and justification as a part of the process cannot be to the opposite end.”
Secondly justification by faith alone “is the only basis upon which good works can be performed.” Murray argues that without the confidence of an already complete and perfect justification by faith all works done will be tainted by a fear of guilt and alienation from God. Justification by faith alone frees us from this and enables us to serve God.
Third, Murray argues that justification by faith alone is not inimical to good works in that “since faith is a whole-souled movement of trust in Christ, its very spring and motive is salvation from sin. How can it be an incentive to sin?”
Fourth, Murray simply states that the faith that does not produce good works is not the faith that justifies.
Finally Murray states that while “it makes void the gospel [note the strength of this statement!] to introduce works in connection with justification, nevertheless works done in faith, from the motive of love to God, in obedience to the revealed will of God and to the end of his glory are intrinsically good and acceptable to God. As such they will be the criterion of reward in the life to come.” Murray refers to Mat 10:41; 1 Cor 3:8-9, 11-15, 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10 and 2 Tim 4:7 to make his case. He argues that “we must maintain therefore, justification complete and irrevocable by grace through faith and apart from works, and at the same time, future reward according to works.” Murray made four important clarification to his point here. In the first place “this future reward is not justification and contributes nothing to that which constitutes justification.” Secondly “this future reward is not salvation. Salvation is by grace and it is not a reward for works…” Third “the reward has reference to the station a person is to occupy in glory and does not have reference to the gift of glory itself.” Fourth “this reward is not administered because good works earn or merit reward, but because God is graciously pleased to reward them.”
This then is how Murray defended justification by faith alone apart from works from the charge of licentiousness. It is a tragedy that the works of Murray are not read and loved more today.