Iain Murray: Shepherd Has Reconstructed The Protestant Doctrine Of Justification

1. Regretfully I share the view that matters of substance, not merely of terminology are involved….

2. I am unhappy with the way in which Mr Shepherd represents the historical theology behind the reformed doctrine of justification as stated in the Westminster Confession. I believe that the Confession’s statements are both ‘Lutheran’ and Pauline and consider that Mr Shepherd’s opinion ‘Machen was in error thinking that he meant the same thing by ‘faith alone’ that Luther meant’ is extraordinary. What reformed divine ever attacked Luther on justification? ….

3. The ideas of initial justification and continuing justification far from expressing consistent reformed thought have historically belonged to a school alien to that tradition. These same ideas were formulated, for instance, by the Arminian Methodists….

4. I agree with Mr Shepherd that there is a dangerous Antinomianism present in the more superficial forms of modern Evangelicalism, and also that this stems, not a little, from a failure to relate regeneration correctly with justification.

5. That danger is not, however, due to speaking of faith as the alone instrument in justification. There were the strongest biblical reason for the urgency with which the reformed divines have always distinguished the act of justification from the process of sanctification. We surely need Christ for us, and Christ in us, but the two things are not to be confused as the ground of our acceptance before God. As Machen says, “To say that our faith saves us means that we do not save ourselves even in the slightest measure. Very different would be the case if our salvation was said to be through love….” (What Is Faith?, 1946, 173–4).

6. I agree with Mr Shepherd that an emphasis upon faith only in salvation (to the virtual exclusion of repentance and obedience) is not New Testament Christianity but he fails to show, in my opinion, how his answer to the question ‘why is warning necessary if obedience follows inevitably’ (“The Grace of Justification, p. 14) does not undermine the finality of justification. (To say ‘God deals covenantally with his people’ is not an explanation which is coherent to me).

7. on March 1, 1978, Mr. Shepard comments,’justification is understood most commonly to refer to God’s declarative judgment at conversion’. It is precisely that common understanding which I am afraid he is undermining. Unless Mr. Shepard grants a different sense to the meaning of justification (which he does not want to do) his thesis 22 cannot stand without reconstructing the whole Protestant doctrine of justification.

8. it alarms me that Mr Shepard appears to regard an individual concern over assurance of salvation as ‘Baptistic’ (cf. his charge against Hodge etc). The New Testament very clearly recognizes the danger of a false assurance– Baptized church members will be found among those on Christ’s left hand in the day of judgment. The Holy Spirit is the author of assurance and that assurance is normally related to (not founded upon) the believer’s walk and growth in grace. In what I have read I am left without any clear impression of what doctrine of assurance Mr Shepard holds.

9. it appears to me that”authorities” are quoted improperly, e.g.. I have not the slightest doubt that the John Murray quotes on p. 4 of Mr Shepherd’s “Grace of Justification” (Feb 8, 1979) do not support the case which is now being proposed.

—Iain H. Murray to O. Palmer Robertson and Paul G. Settle 14 January, 1980.

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