Archive for the ‘John J. Murray’ Category

John J. Murray on The Scottish Reformation

May 7, 2011

The Reformation 1560: The Greatest Year in Scotland’s History
John J Murray
60 pages, £3.00
Available from Rev David Blunt,

My pastor while I was a student in Edinburgh, John J. Murray, last year wrote a 60 page pamphlet to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the Scottish reformation.  I have been exceptionally remiss to have not mentioned this on the blog until now.  It is, as everything from the pen Mr Murray, worthy of careful attention.  It is written with the burden that:

…the Reformation was first and foremost a mighty work of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual renewal lay at the heart of the transformation which took place. God had mercy on Scotland and delivered her from a dark night. As we face a similar situation today we need to humble ourselves before God and repent of our sins and the sins of the Church and nation. We need to cry to him to once again have mercy on our land. May the light which shone at the Reformation shine again and scatter the darkness of Romanism, unfaithful Protestantism and secularism from our land. ‘O send out thy light and thy truth’ (Psa. 43:3).

An extract chapter is available here.  A commendation from Geoff Thomas is here.  Go get a copy 🙂

Catch the Vision?

October 25, 2008

My dear former pastor John J. Murray recently published a brief history of the recovery of Reformed thought that occurred largely in the early 1960s.  He looks at men like Lloyd Jones, Geoffrey Williams, James Packer, Iain Murray and Prof. John Murray.  The book is well written and an enjoyable and informative read but the most important section is right at the end when Murray picks up on “the vision unfulfilled,” highlighting where the vision of the early 1960s has not come to pass and what is required to recover it.  Murray highlights three points in particular where recovery is necessary:

First Murray highlights that it is vital to maintain “a full-orbed witness to the Reformed faith.”  That is, the church has a duty to confess the whole counsel of God and can not be satisfied with doctrinal minimalism.  Here he quotes Prof. John Murray who asked the question, “Is it sufficient to have a common denominator confession, general and broad enough, to express the faith of all true evangelicals, but lacking in the specifics on which such evangelicals are divided?”  Prof. Murray answered his own question by noting, “the confession to be made is the whole counsel of God.  There is no restriction that may properly be devised, proposed or imposed.  Its faith is the whole counsel of God.”

John J. Murray argues that being satisfied with minimalistic doctrinal confessions simply to achieve unity is to “go back on what has been a development of creeds and confessions of faith over the centuries and … discard[s] the work of the Holy Spirit in the generations of Christian history.”  He further argues that a “full-orbed witness safeguards against the danger of doctrinal indifferentism” quoting Carl Trueman to the effect that minimalistic statements of faith imply “important areas of doctrine, such as sacraments, salvation and the last things are marginalised, relegated to irrelevancies and sometimes all but forgotten.”

So to recover the Reformed faith a desire to recover and confess the whole counsel of God is required.

Second Murray argues “it is vital to maintain zeal for church reform.”  He quotes Packer who stated that “Puritanism was essentially  a movement for church reform, pastoral renewal and evangelism and spiritual revival…”  Murray notes that the reformed recovery of the early 1960’s was largely lead by parachurch organisations (in which Murray himself was involved) whose expectation “was that as a result of the new understanding, new church life and order would arise.”  Highlighting Westminster Chapel as an example Murray notes the movement never really became embedded in the church.  The Chapel itself “resembled more a preaching station than a church.”  Murray’s solution is a return to doctrinally rich church centered reform, “It is clear that the way of trying to unite evangelicals by common adherence to a minimum of essential scriptural truths has not been a success.  The only way that this can be done is through the restoration of a fuller, stronger testimony to the New Testament concept of the church.  She has been formed as a visible, corporate entity under the Headship of Christ and in submission to his Word as her only rule.  She has no authority to limit her corporate testimony to the truths essential to be believed in order to be saved … Is the teaching on government, worship and ministry vital to the well-being of the church?  If we are convinced that they are, we will hold them and seek that the church be restores as near as possible to the pattern set out in Scripture.”

So to recover the reformed faith we must be willing to be reformers and to be reformed.

Third Murray believes the vision of the early 60’s stalled is because “it did not reach down to the level of the family in the way that it did in the Puritan era.”  Murray believes we have essentially lost a robust doctrine of the family, “Reformed Christians, whatever our view on baptism, must place greater emphasis on the solidarity of the family.  The family is a God-given pattern and forms an essential feature of God’s created order.  The created order of the family is not ignored but taken up in God’s redemptive provision.  How good it would be to see that vision restored to church life today!”

So to recover the reformed faith we must take our family responsibilities seriously.

It is not surprising that some evangelical reviews of Murray’s book have been lukewarm as in his concluding diagnosis he points out the great weaknesses of contemporary evangelicalism.  For my part, Murray’s analysis is accurate.  Whilst we may have seen a revival of interest in the doctrines of grace and an abundance of good literature reprinted we have seen a corresponding collapse in any doctrine of the moral law, a revolution (for the worse) in worship practices and have reached a stage where even ‘reformed’ evangelicals can openly question the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture.  We do desperately need to “catch the vision” that Murray outlines, but I suspect for most of evangelicalism that will involve a 180 degree turn from the direction they are headed in.

Weekly Update 23 – Light from an unexpected source!

October 6, 2007

M. Charles Bell’s book Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance (Edinburgh: The Handsel Press, 1985) is one book I have been working through recently.  It is ambitious in scope, in that it aims to give a tour of Scottish theology from John Knox to John MacLeod Campbell (against the background of Calvin) focusing on the issue of assurance and related topics.  A lot of neglected theologians are covered in the book and Durham gets a significant place in the book which is good in that it gives me plenty to work on in my thesis!

Nevertheless, this is not a book that is recommended bedside (or any other kind of) reading.  The author, in my opinion, misreads Calvin and then attempts to set him against 17th C Scottish theology. Incidentally, I think he has also misread Scottish theology to an extent (or at least cast it in as bad a light as possible).  17th C Scottish theology in this book is judged as being simply very bad theology.  The book then is, in my view, historically and theologically suspect.  Having said that the book is not all bad and if you have the ability to sift the (small amount of) wheat from the (large heaps of) chaff there are a number of interesting points made.  One of the best is in Bell’s discussion of Ebenezer Erskine on the gospel offer.  Here are a couple of good quotes.

[Ebenezer Erskine] teaches that only the elect shall savingly close with Christ in the covenant since ‘all saving influences’ of God’s Spirit are peculiar to the elect. (Works, Vol 1, p4,48)… such teaching is, for many, an obstacle to their coming to Christ… [Erskine’s] usual response is to assert that we have nothing to do with election since this is hidden in God’s secret will. (3:100,125,278,431). We should interest ourselves in God’s will as revealed in his promises… The promises, then, are a door by which faith may enter into the new covenant (3:261), and by them ‘the reprobate have as good a revealed warrant for believing as the elect have’ (1:387). In reference to God and his promises, Erskine states that we should view the Scripture’s promises as a genuine revelation of God’s thoughts and feelings towards us, ‘for unbelief is ready to suggest that he says one thing and thinks another’ (2:146). With this statement, Erskine brings us to the heart of the matter, and that is the issue of one’s doctrine of God.

Here Bell notes that Erskine believes and teaches election (for Bell that is a bad thing).  This raises questions in the minds of the hearers of the gospel – am I elect?  How does Erskine respond?  The same way Durham does, by directing us away from the hidden things to the revealed things.  And when we turn to the revealed things we see all, elect and reprobate, have the same warrant to come to Christ.  Interestingly, Erskine, just as Durham does, moves beyond this to assert the sincerity of God in the gospel offer.  Bell’s comment regarding those who have an issue with a genuine gospel offer is to the point, “the issue is one’s doctrine of God”.  If we are unable to maintain the sincerity or well meant nature of the free offer of the gospel then something has gone wrong with our doctrine of God.  Interestingly, D.B. Williams PhD thesis, Herman Hoeksema’s theological method (University of Wales, Lampeter, 2000) notes that Hoeksema’s views on “common grace and the well meant offer could not have been other than they were” given his theological method.  Therefore those who seek to evaluate Hoeksema on the free offer and common grace directly “have entered the Hoeksema edifice at the back door”.  It is his theological method that really drives his particular views.  So to get a handle on denials of the free offer we need to step back from the direct issues and consider theological method and the doctrine of God as well.  That is an important point.  (I haven’t read Williams’ thesis yet – the point I quoted here was from his abstract).

Erskine… urges us to realise that God’s heart as revealed in Jesus Christ is full of grace and love for lost sinners. He pleads that we ‘not think that a God of truth dissembles with you, when he makes offer of his unspeakable gift, or that he offers you a thing he has no mind to give.’ (1:220).

Now Ebenezer Erskine was a thoroughly orthodox Scottish ‘Calvinist’ – he clearly espouses a definite atonement.  Yet he also clearly maintains that the free offer is well meant.  God does not “dissemble” with us in the free offer.  That is, he does not give a false or misleading appearance; he does not put on an appearance of sincerity or merely feign an offer of salvation.  The free offer is genuine, well meant and is not an offer of a thing “he has no mind to give”.

John J. Murray, coming at this from an orthodox angle as opposed to Bell’s unorthodoxy, makes a similar point commenting on Thomas Boston (a close friend of Erskine):  “Boston shows us how to hold the doctrines of election and particular redemption together with the preaching of the full and free offer of Christ to all men.  Holding the most exalted Reformed orthodoxy we can invite sinners to the Lord Jesus… The love that flows from the heart of God to sinners as we see in the parable of the prodigal son is free and unconditional.  Are we guilty of hedging about the love of God so as to protect it? … it is … revealed as a love that desires the salvation of all men.  The offer of Christ and his benefits is a bona fide offer.  We as ambassadors for Christ beseech sinners in God’s stead.” (‘The Marrow Controversy – Thomas Boston and the Free Offer’, Preaching and Revival, The Westminster Conference, 1984).

Marrow theology is reformed theology at its best (and despite some different nuances, e.g. on the covenant of redemption, it is essentially the same theology as Durham).  Read Thomas Boston, Ralph Erskine and Ebenezer Erskine – they will do your soul good!