John Murray’s Mono-Covenantalism

John Murray’s Mono-Covenantalism, by David Gordon, in By Faith Alone, edited by Gary Johnson and Guy Waters (Crossway,2006, p121

I am perfectly happy with retaining the covenant of works, by any label, because it was a historic covenant; what I am less happy with is the language of the covenant of grace, because this is a genuinely unbiblical use of biblical language; biblically, covenant is always a historic arrangement, inaugurated in space and time.

Once covenant refers to an over-arching divine decree or purpose to redeem the elect in Christ, confusion Is sure to follow.  In my opinion, Murray kept what ought to be discarded and discarded what ought to be kept.

John Murray despised dispensationalism. We all disagree with it, but few of us with the passion of John Murray. Indeed, some of the historic premillenialists who left Westminster Seminary complained that Murray’s attack on dispensationalism made them feel  attacked also.

What Murray jettisoned was the notion of distinctions of kind between the covenants. He wrote that was not “any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic.” Murray believed that the only relation God sustains to people is that of Redeemer.  I would argue, by contrast, that God was just as surely Israel’s God when He cursed the nation as when He blessed it.

The first generation of the magisterial Reformers would have emphasized discontinuity; they believed that Rome retained too much continuity with the levitical aspects of the Sinai administration. But the Auburn theology cannot describe covenant theology without reference to dispensationalism, despite the historical reality that covenant theology was here for several centuries before dispensationalism appeared.

My own way of discerning whether a person really has an understanding of covenant theology is to see whether he can describe it without reference to dispensationalism.

When Paul and the other NT writers use the word covenant, there is almost always an immediate contextual clue to which biblical covenant is being referred to, such as “the covenant of circumcision” (Acts 7:8)  The New Testament writers were not mono-covenantal regarding the Old Testament (see Rom 9:4, Eph 2:12; Gal 4:24).

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19 Comments on “John Murray’s Mono-Covenantalism”

  1. David Bishop Says:

    I’m not happy with the covenant of works by any label. I’ve yet to find anyone who can point out just where in the first two chapters of Genesis is there even a hint of what the Bible defines as covenant. You want to call it a relationship of works, fine. But let’s not confuse the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant and so forth by combining their terminology with what Genesis shows to be nothing more than a relationship of works. There was no blood shedding in the first two chapters of Genesis. And covenant, as the Bible defines and uses the term, always requires the shedding of blood.

  2. Neil Robson Says:

    “of the covenant of grace, because this is a genuinely unbiblical use of biblical language; biblically, covenant is always a historic arrangement, inaugurated in space and time.”…..NB a Covenant theologian would hold that the covenant of Grace WAS made in space and time,ie post fall.The covenant that would be held to be pre cosmic, would be the covenant of Salvation between the Father and the Son,the Father giving a people(the elect)to Christ to redeem

  3. wellthmaker Says:

    Plan of Redemption, covenanr of Grace, ultimately the same thing. Don’t get hung up in semantics. God made a covenat in the Godhead between Father Son and Spirit to redeem a people.

    We don’t know the mind of God in this we see the result.
    The people are called covenant people because they are of the covenant in way relation or another. Church is Called out ones. Same thing. One body of redeemed. This is the covenant of Grace. And of course it is the same one made with Abrham and Moses. Admnistrations difeer but the same redemeption and ground are there for all.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    from the Northwest Presbytery question to the OPC—Certain views and formulations of the Mosaic covenant… distinguish the Mosaic covenant from the Abrahamic covenant. The former is referred to as a “law covenant”, a “republication of the covenant of works”, or a covenant with a “works principle”; the latter is described as a “promise covenant.” The use of this language is confusing, since it seems to imply that to some degree the nature or substance of the Mosaic covenant differs from the other administrations of the Covenant of Grace (e.g., the Abrahamic covenant).

    Galatians 3: 6 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed… who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.

    mark: That part after “this is what I mean” is confusing, because it seems to say that the added law is not the same as the covenant previously ratified.

    Galatians 4: 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.

    mark: It is certainly is confusing to tell us that Abraham had two sons. Does this mean that Abraham had two kinds of children? Does this mean that the Abrahamic covenant had more than one promise?

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Verduin, p68–”Great allegorizer that he was, Augustine managed to overpower another Scripture to suit his purpose. Augustine found what he needed in the family situation of Abraham where there were two wives, one a free woman and the other a slave. By this Augustine justified the presence of two kinds of Christians in the church (in both water baptism and Supper), one kind by faith and the other kind without faith…

  6. markmcculley Says:

    David Gordon…I’d like to retain the right, after a generation or two of discussion, to change my mind and remove Murrayism if we discover that his views are genuinely fatal to consistent federalism. My current “tolerance” of his view is due, in no small measure, to the fact that in two of his published works (The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, and the Romans Commentary), Murray defends the historic federal position. ….. Murray’s “recasting” of covenant theology per se remains undiscussable matter in Reformed circles; yet, in my judgment, his re-casting has generated several other important divergences from the historic Reformed tradition: Shepherd, Bahnsen, paedocommunion, and now Auburn. Murray himself embraced none of these errors; his knowledge of historic covenant theology prevented him from ever taking his recasting of covenant theology to these particular consequences. But his followers have not always had the same orthodox instincts; and, following the lead of his implicit mono-covenantalism, they foster errors that Murray himself would not have approved.

    I am especially surprised that the opponents of the alleged “Federal” theologians did not call attention to the following two ironies: The “Federal” theologians deny the historic federal theology (the works/probationary/legal character of the Adamic administration); and they don’t appear to have a biblical understanding of what a covenant is or whether the Bible contains more than one. Simply as a matter of intellectual integrity, theirs should be called “The Non-Federal Vision.” And when they suggest that we need to do theology from a covenantal perspective, we should demand that they do the same, and candidly acknowledge that the Bible not only records a multiplicity of covenants, but also speaks of them in the plural.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    David Gordon—Covenant theology is not merely or primarily a reaction to dispensationalism; nor does it need to define itself merely negatively, by what it is not. Second, references to “the covenant” without explaining which covenant one is referring to, is a dead give-away to Murray’s mono-covenantalism…Murray’s followers confuse:

    -works and faith (Norman Shepherd), since the Mosaic covenant was not primarily characterized by faith, but by works (Gal. 3:12), and, presumptively, the Sinai covenant was not different in kind from the New Covenant;

    -the imputation of the obedience of Christ with our own personal obedience ….

    -the Mosaic civil law with the civil laws of other nations (Greg Bahnsen), since again there is a presumption of continuity between theocratic Israel and other, non-theocratic states;

    -the primary Sinai meal (Passover,which was observed by families) with the primary New covenant meal (the Lord’s Supper, which is expressly distinguished by Paul from family meals), and so paedocommunion, championed by Robert Rayburn and Peter Leithart

  8. markmcculley Says:

    David Gordon—John Murray (and his followers) implicitly believe that the only relation God sustains to people is that of Redeemer (which, by my light, is not a relation but an office, but I won’t quibble). I would argue, by contrast, that God was just as surely Israel’s God when He cursed the nation as when He blessed it.

    God’s pledge to be Israel’s God, via the terms of the Sinai administration, committed Him to curse Israel for disobedience just as much as to bless her for obedience. In being Israel’s “God,” He sustained the relation of covenant Suzerain to her; He did not bless-or-curse any other nation for its covenant fidelity or infidelity. In this sense, He was not the God of other nations as He was the God of Israel. Murray’s (unargued and unarguable) assumption that “I shall be their God” implies gracious redemption, election, or union with Christ, is entirely unmerited (should I say “unwarranted?”) by the biblical evidence.

    The first generation of those to whom the Sinai covenant was given died in the wilderness, in a situation that they perceived as being worse than their situation in Egypt. Why? Because Yahweh was not their God? No; because Yahweh was their God (i.e. Covenant Lord); and because, as such, He was committed to imposing the sanctions of the Sinai covenant upon them. I suppose one could strain language here, and say that it was “gracious” of Yahweh to impose curse-sanctions upon the Israelites (but not upon the nations); but I certainly would take no comfort in God’s “grace,” if it entailed such.

    [DOC]Reflections on the Auburn Theology – T. David’s Page
    http://www.tdgordon.net/theology/auburntheology.doc

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Douglas Bond, Grace Works P and R, 2014 p 92—“There are men today who encourage their congregations to tear out the page between the Old and New Testaments in their Bibles. Zealous to avoid the error of dispensationalism, these men make the continuity of the covenants the foundation of their preaching. But I wonder if it is a foundation that is able to support the scandal of grace. If we care about the distinction between law and gospel…then we will train our ears for those who don’t seem to want to keep the distinction between the old and new covenants.Their insistence on “the continuity of the covenants” may prove to be a code phrase for confusing law and gospel. Where there is a merging of the old and new covenants, it will never be the law diminished by gospel. It will always be the gospel fatally diminished by the law.”

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Hebrews 7: 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descendedfrom Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
    15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him,
    “You are a priest forever,
    after the order of Melchizedek.”
    18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness

  11. markmcculley Says:

    NCT, Gary Long, p 52—“Jeffrey Johnson’s Fatal Flaw is still somewhat hampered by differentiating between ‘the covenant of grace’ and the new covenant, as do the Reformed Paedobaptists, when he asserts that ‘in the new covenant dispensation, the covenant of grace was manifested in its fullness’. Such teaching can be easily misunderstood to be in harmony with the twofold administration of one overarching covenant, instead of one saving purpose.”

  12. markmcculley Says:

    John Owen, comments on Hebrews 8:6-13)—This Sinai covenant thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, OR perished for ever, BUT MOT BY VIRTUE OF THIS SINAI COVENANT. IT…. was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the new covenant promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law to Adam. …No man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ in that respect.

    Calvin—The Old Testament fathers had Christ as mediator of their covenant… The Old Covenant that the Lord had made with the Israelites had not been limited to earthly things, but contained a promise of spiritual and eternal life. (2.10.23)

    The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same. Yet they differ in the mode of dispensation. (2.10.2)
    .
    Calvin on Hebrews 8:6-13

    Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law compares with the covenant of the gospel, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. …But the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. While such confirmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that confirmation.

    The ceremonies were only the accidental properties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it [as opposed to the substance of it]. …The Old Testament of the Lord was the eternal covenant wrapped up in the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies and delivered to the Jews. It became new and eternal only after it was consecrated and established by the blood of Christ. Hence Christ in the Supper calls the cup that he gives to his disciples “the cup of the New Testament in my blood” [Luke 22:20]

    Brandon Adams: Owen said the Old Covenant elect were saved by the promise, and that the promise was separate from the Old Covenant.

    Calvin also said they were saved by the promise, but he said the promise was the very substance of the Old Covenant, not separate from it.

    Owen said Christ’s mediation was limited to the New Covenant, while Calvin said Christ was mediator of the Old Covenant

  13. markmcculley Says:

    https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/i-will-be-god-to-you/

    I Peter 4: 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household, and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?

    Amos 3 Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

    2 “You only have I known
    of all the families of the earth;
    THEREFORE I will punish you
    for all your iniquities.

  14. markmcculley Says:

    Covenants in the Bible.doc – T. David’s Page
    http://www.tdgordon.net/theology/covenants-in-the-bible.doc

    Paul did not refer to the Israelites as having a “covenant,” but “covenants” (“to them ….. I personally affirm the value of these theological constructs, but note that they are theological constructs, our way of making theological sense of the Bible.

  15. markmcculley Says:

    urray’s Appendix B “Leviticus 18:5” from his Romans commentary

    John Murray–The problem that arises from this use of Lev. 18:5 is that the latter text does not appear in a context that deals with legal righteousness as opposed to that of faith.]Lev. 18:5 is in a context in which the claims of God upon his redeemed and covenant people are being asserted and urged upon Israel… It refers NOT to the life accruing from doing in a legalistic framework but to the blessing attendant upon obedience in a redemptive and covenant relationship to God.”

    john Murray—If the Scripture teaches that the Mosaic administration is an administration of the covenant of grace, as the Westminster divines affirm (7.5), then how could Paul have interpreted Lev 18:5 as he has? How could he have taken a passage which, in context, appears to refer to the sanctificational works of a redeemed person within the covenant community, and apply this text to individuals seeking the righteousness of justification on the basis of their performance?… Has Paul misquoted Leviticus 18:5 at Romans 10:5?

    The works principle applied to Adam prior to and apart from God’s condescension to reward his obedience –“All that Adam could have claimed on the basis of equity was justification and life as long as he perfectly obeyed, but not confirmation so as to insure indefectibility.” “Life” according to this principle is not “eternal life” but merely “not death.”

    Brandon Adams– Paul does NOT say “according to a mistaken conception entertained by the person who espouses a law righteousness that no longer applies, the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” Rather, Paul says “Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.”

    If Leviticus 18:5 “refers NOT to the life resulting from doing in a legalistic framework” then Moses did not “write about the righteousness that is based on the law.” Paul did not merely “allude” to Leviticus 18:5, nor did he merely “use the terms of Lev. 18:5.” Paul quoted Moses’ teaching on law-righteousness

    Lecture titled “Justification” contained in his Collected Writings, Murray on extra rewards—While it makes void the gospel 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. This is apparent from such passages as Matthew 10:41; 1 Corinthians 3:8–9, 11–15; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:7. 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. In reference to these two doctrines it is important to observe the following:

    (i) This future reward is not justification and contributes nothing to that which constitutes justification. (ii) This future reward is not salvation. Salvation is by grace and it is not as a reward for works that we are saved. (iii) The reward has reference to the degree of glory bestowed in the state of bliss, that is, the station a person is to occupy in glory and does not have reference to the gift of glory itself. (iv) This reward is not administered because good works earn or merit reward, but because God is graciously pleased to reward them. That is to say it is a reward of grace. (In the Romish scheme good works have real merit and constitute the ground of the title to everlasting life.) The good works are rewarded because they are intrinsically good and well-pleasing to God. They are not rewarded because they earn reward but they are rewarded only as labour, work or service that is the fruit of God’s grace, conformed to his will and therefore intrinsically good and well-pleasing to him. They could not even be rewarded of grace if they were principally and intrinsically evil.

    Murray’s commentary on Romans 2:5-16 rejects the hypothetical view held by older reformed theologians–” The apostle thus speaks, not in the way of abstract hypothesis but of concrete assertion… He says not what God would do were He to proceed in accordance with the primal rule and standard of the law, but what, proceeding according to that rule, He will actually do.’… The determining factor in the rewards of retribution or of glory is not the privileged position of the Jew but evil-doing or well-doing respectively.”

    Murray on Romans 2:13—It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching of this epistle in later chapters. Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture. The burden of this verse is that not the hearers or mere possessors of the law will be justified before God but that in terms of the law the criterion is doing, not hearing. The apostle’s appeal to this principle serves that purpose truly and effectively, and there is no need to import questions that are not relevant to the universe of discourse. …Although the word justify is not used here with reference to the justification which is the grand theme of the epistle, the forensic meaning of the term justify is evident even in this case

    Samuel Waldron—http://www.cbtseminary.org/cbts-blog-original/is-there-a-future-justification-by-works-at-the-day-of-judgment–10/

    Murray’s lecture on justification contained in the Collected Writings affirms that works only have to do with the degree of reward in glory, while in his Romans commentary he affirms that the judgment by works which has the twin consequences of eternal life and wrath is not hypothetical. I see no way to evade the fact of some contradiction between the two statements…

    http://www.cbtseminary.org/cbts-blog-original/is-there-a-future-justification-by-works-at-the-day-of-judgment–8/

    http://feedingonchrist.com/paul-the-law-and-eschatological-justification-three-views-on-romans-213/

    The original Westminster Confession did not cite Leviticus 18:5 anywhere. In light of the resolution that Murray arrived at, he added Lev 18:5 as a proof text to WCF 19.6.

    VI. Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned;[a] yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs, and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives;[c] so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof;[s] although not as due to them by the law, as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace.

    Ex. 19:5–6. 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 an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Deut. 5:33. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess. Matt. 19:17. And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
    OPC Westminster Confession
    (compare with 1646 WCF)

    John Murray-In connection with the promise of life it does not appear justifiable to appeal, as frequently has been done, to the principle enunciated in certain texts (cf. Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12), ‘This do and thou shalt live’. ….From the promise of the Adamic administration we must dissociate all notions of meritorious reward. The promise of confirmed integrity and blessedness was one ANNEXED TO AN OBEDIENCE THAT ADAM OWED and, therefore, was a promise of GRACE

    John Murray– All that Adam could have claimed on the basis of equity was justification and LIFE AS LONG AS HE PERFECTLU OBEYEDi but not confirmation so as to insure indefectibility. Adam could claim the fulfillment of the promise if he stood the probation, but only on the basis of God’s GRACE, not on the basis of justice.

    John Murray–Te Mosaic covenant wasredemptive in character and was continuous with and extensive of the Abrahamic covenants.

    According to this view, in quoting Leviticus 18:5, Paul abstracts the law from its context in the Mosaic Covenant of Grace and applies it to his situation with the Judaizers. Guy P. Waters, in his chapter in The Law is Not of Faith

    http://feedingonchrist.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Guy-Waters-Rom-101.5-Version-2.0.pdf

    https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/murray-on-lev-185-why-did-john-murray-reject-the-covenant-of-works


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