Mr Murray On The Distinction Between Law And Grace

…the purity and integrity of the gospel stands or falls with the absoluteness of the antithesis between the function and potency of law, one the one hand, and the function and potency of grace, on the other.

—John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 186.

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  1. John Murray, The Covenant of Grace— How then are we to construe the conditions of which we have spoken? The continued enjoyment of this grace and of the relation established is contingent upon the fulfillment of certain conditions. For apart from the fulfillment of these conditions the grace bestowed and the relation established are meaningless. Grace bestowed implies a subject and reception on the part of that subject. The relation established implies mutuality.

    But the conditions in view are not conditions of bestowal. They are simply the reciprocal responses of faith, love and obedience, apart from which the enjoyment of the covenant blessing and of the covenant relation is inconceivable….Viewed in this light that the breaking of the covenant takes on an entirely different complexion. It is not the failure to meet the terms of a pact nor failure to respond to the offer of favorable terms of contractual agreement. It is unfaithfulness to a relation constituted and to grace dispensed. By breaking the covenant what is broken is not the condition of bestowal but the condition of consummated fruition.”

    It should be noted also that the necessity of keeping the covenant is bound up with the particularism of this covenant. The covenant does not yield its blessing to all indiscriminately. The discrimination which this covenant exemplifies accentuates the sovereignty of God in the bestowal of its grace and the fulfillment of its promises. This particularization is correlative with the spirituality of the grace bestowed and the relation constituted and it is also consonant with the exactitude of its demands.

    A covenant which yields its blessing indiscriminately is not one that can be kept or broken. We see again, therefore, that the intensification which particularism illustrates serves to accentuate the keeping which is indispensable to the fruition of the covenant grace.

  2. Thanks for this quote, Dr. Clark. I’ve had some interactions recently with Reformed guys who say that the Law-Gospel distinction applies only to justification, not to sanctification. Yikes. Paul in Romans 7:13-8:4 would beg to differ, I think. Wasn’t Luther’s despair as a monk driven by the Roman Catholic confusion of Law & Gospel in sanctification / the Christian life? The Law-Gospel distinction is THE hermeneutical key which spawned the Reformation. May we never forget it.

    • Saw this and wanted to say something real quick…would love to talk further…

      Righteousness revealed in Christ alone…the Law and Prophets pointed to it Rom. 3, Received by faith alone…Rom. 3

      Luther’s despair was over collapsing Sanctification into Justification…seeking to be accepted by his works not Christ’s works.

      The antithesis between Law/Gospel stops, the moment we are reconciled to God by faith in Christ. John Bunyan said the law is a stick that crushes unbelievers, (law is enemy) Christ covers us from the beating (Gospel, adoption through propitiation) and then hands us the stick to walk the path of God. (third use of the Law)

      Read Romans 8:5-8.. Who are those that please God? Those who submit to His Law… not as merit for salvation but the Law is our guide to loving God. The problem is not the Law…the problem is our heart. Ezekiel 36…God promises to give a new heart…a new heart to do what?

      Those who receive Christ have the Law written on their heart…how can the Law remain our enemy? Remember the Exodus? Which came first? Passover or Sinai? Obedience to the Law is the only response to Grace not the other way around? Why did God save us? To give us a new nature…Ephesians 2:8-10. Israel failed due to seeking a righteousness of their own not the righteousness by faith, submitting to Christ’s righteousness. Romans 10:1-4. Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness. The Law drives us to Christ and Christ drives us to the Law, alive by the Spirit, walking in love to God.

      love and prayers!

      • Brett,

        Well, law and gospel do sweetly meet, in Christ and our relation to the law does change, in Christ, and the law no longer condemns us but we should be careful not to erase the antithesis.

        Even in Christ, even once one is a believer, even after the terms of the law, of the covenant of works have been met for us, even after the curse of the law has been removed from us, the law does not say: Christ has done for you. That remains the announcement, The law still says, “do this.” There are gospel imperatives, yes, but here is where I find Heidelberg Catechism 115 most helpful:

        115. Why then does God so strictly enjoin the ten Commandments upon us, since in this life no one can keep them?

        First, that as long as we live we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ; secondly, that without ceasing we diligently ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we be renewed more and more after the image of God, until we attain the goal of perfection after this life.

        The gospel does not teach us the greatness of our sin and misery and even in sanctification, even for the regenerated, justified believer, the law still teaches us our sin and misery. It still drives us back to Christ.

        This is why the catechism is in three parts: Guilt (law), Grace (gospel), and gratitude (flowing from our new life in Christ, from the gospel, from our union with Christ through faith).

  3. Thanks Dr. Clark! I guess the term “antithesis” needs unpacking… The Law is always condemning sin, transgressions, the Law is good and holy, sanctifying us. This is not in question with “antithesis”. However, I think the Law/Gospel distinction seen as a continuing “antithesis” in the life of the believer harms by keeping disciples focused only on 2nd use and not moving in the power of the Spirit to 3rd use. Which you articulated very well. “Sweetly Meet”! Would you agree?

  4. Hi Brett,
    Do you believe that Romans 7:13-25 addresses Paul’s experience as a Christian? If not, why not? If so, doesn’t it seem apparent that the good, holy, just and spiritual Law which Paul delighted in as a regenerated man continued to expose his remaining sin? Do we not see him making a distinction between that Law and the good news of future deliverance (v. 25) and the present verdict of “no condemnation” because of what Christ has done for us (8:1-4)?

    And Amen to Dr. Clark’s comments above.

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