Article of the Month
by John Murray
REGENERATION is inseparable from its effects and one of the effects is faith. Without regeneration it is morally and spiritually impossible for a person to believe in Christ, but when a person is regenerated it is morally and spiritually impossible for that person not to believe. Jesus said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me” (John 6:37), and he was referring in this case surely to the giving of the Father in the efficacious drawing of the Father mentioned in the same context (John 6:44, 65). Regeneration is the renewing of the heart and mind, and the renewed heart and mind must act according to their nature.
Regeneration is the act of God and of God alone. But faith is not the act of God; it is not God who believes in Christ for salvation, it is the sinner. It is by God’s grace that a person is able to believe but faith is an activity on the part of the person and of him alone. In faith we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation.
It might be said: this is a strange mixture. God alone regenerates. We alone believe. And we believe in Christ alone for salvation. But this is precisely the way it is. It is well for us to appreciate all that is implied in the combination, for it is God’s way of salvation and it expresses his supreme wisdom and grace. In salvation God does not deal with us as machines; he deals with us as persons and therefore salvation brings the whole range of our activity within its scope. By grace we are saved through faith (cf. Eph. 2:8).
If we are to have a better understanding of what faith is we must examine it as to its warrant and as to its nature.
The Warrant. Faith, as we shall see later, is a whole-souled movement of self-commitment to Christ for salvation from sin and its consequences. It is not unnecessary to ask the question: what warrant does a lost sinner have to commit himself to Christ? How may he know that he will be accepted? How does he know that Christ is able to save? How does he know that this confidence is not misplaced? How does he know that Christ is willing to save him? These are urgent questions, perhaps not urgent for the person who has no true conception of the issues at stake or of the gravity of his lost condition, but exceedingly urgent and pertinent for the person convicted of sin and in whose heart burns the reality and realization of the wrath of God against sin. There are the following facts which constitute the warrant of faith.
1. The Universal Offer of the Gospel. This offer may be regarded from several viewpoints. It may be regarded as invitation, as demand, as promise, and as overture. But from whatever angle we may view it, it is full, free, and unrestricted. The appeals of the gospel cover the whole range of divine prerogative and of human interest. God entreats, he invites, he commands, he calls, he presents the overture of mercy and grace, and he does this to all without distinction or discrimination.
It may surprise us that this universal offer should receive such prominence in the Old Testament. Under the Old Testament the revelation of God’s saving grace was given to a chosen people and to them were committed the oracles of God. The psalmist could sing, “In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel. In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion” (Psalm 76:1, 2). And Jesus could say of this Old Testament period, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). There was a middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile. But it is in the Old Testament we find such an appeal as this: "There is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else” (Isa. 45:21, 22). Again we read: “As I live saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11; cf. 18:23, 32). Here is the most emphatic negation—“I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” affirmation—“but that the wicked turn from his way and live,” asseveration—“as I live saith the Lord God,” exhortation—“turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways,” protestation—“why will ye die?”
If there is universality of exhortation and appeal when God’s covenant grace was concentrated in Israel, how much more apparent must this be when there is now no longer Jew nor Gentile and the middle wall of partition is broken down, when the gospel is proclaimed in terms of Jesus’ commission, "Go ye therefore and disciple all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). The words of Jesus are redolent of this indiscriminate invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28); “him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). And the words of the apostle are unmistakably clear: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at, but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent, inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by the man whom he hath ordained, having given assurance unto all men in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30, 31). It is not simply that God entreats men everywhere that they should turn and repent; he commands them to do so. It is a charge invested with the authority and majesty of his sovereignty as Lord of all. The sovereign imperative of God is brought to bear upon the overture of grace. And that is the end of all contention. From his command to all no one is excluded.
2. The All-Sufficiency and Suitability of the Saviour Presented. Christ presented himself in the glory of his person and in the sufficiency of his saviourhood when he said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), and again, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). It is this truth that is enunciated when it is written, “Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). The sufficiency of his saviourhood rests upon the work he accomplished once for all when he died upon the cross and rose again in triumphant power. But it resides in the efficacy and perfection of his continued activity at the right hand of God. It is because he continues ever and has an unchangeable priesthood that he is able to save them that come unto him and to give them eternal life. When Christ is presented to lost men in the proclamation of the gospel, it is as Saviour he is presented, as one who ever continues to be the embodiment of the salvation he has once for all accomplished. It is not the possibility of salvation that is offered to lost men but the Saviour himself and therefore salvation full and perfect. There is no imperfection in the salvation offered and there is no restriction to its overture—it is full, free, and unrestricted. And this is the warrant of faith.
The faith of which we are now speaking is not the belief that we have been saved but trust in Christ in order that we may be saved. And it is of paramount concern to know that Christ is presented to all without distinction to the end that they may entrust themselves to him for salvation. The gospel offer is not restricted to the elect or even to those for whom Christ died. And the warrant of faith is not the conviction that we are elect or that we are among those for whom, strictly speaking, Christ died but the fact that Christ, in the glory of his person, in the perfection of his finished work, and in the efficacy of his exalted activity as King and Saviour, is presented to us in the full, free, and unrestricted overture of the gospel. It is not as persons convinced of our election nor as persons convinced that we are the special objects of God’s love that we commit ourselves to him but as lost sinners. We entrust ourselves to him not because we believe we have been saved but as lost sinners in order that we may be saved. It is to us in our lost condition that the warrant of faith is given and the warrant is not restricted or circumscribed in any way. In the warrant of faith the rich mercy of God is proffered to the lost and the promise of grace is certified by the veracity and faithfulness of God. This is the ground upon which a lost sinner may commit himself to Christ in full confidence that he will be saved. And no sinner to whom the gospel comes is excluded from the divine warrant for such confidence.
The Nature. There are three things that need to be said about the nature of faith. Faith is knowledge, conviction, and trust.
1. Knowledge. It might seem very confusing to say that faith is knowledge. For is it not one thing to know, another thing to believe? This is partly true. Sometimes we must distinguish between faith and knowledge and place them in contrast to each other. But there is a knowledge that is indispensable to faith. In our ordinary human relations do we trust a person of whom we know nothing, especially when that for which we trust him is of grave importance for us we must know a good deal regarding his identity and his character. How much more must this be the case with that faith which is directed to Christ; for it is faith against all the issues of life and death, of time and eternity. We must know who Christ is, what he has done, and what he is able to do. Otherwise faith would be blind conjecture at the best and foolish mockery at the worst. There must be apprehension of the truth respecting Christ.
Sometimes, indeed, the measure of truth apprehended by the believing person is very small, and we have to appreciate the fact that the faith of some in its initial stages is very elementary. But faith cannot begin in a vacuum of knowledge. Paul reminds us of this very simply when he says, “Faith is of hearing, and hearing of the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
2. Conviction. Faith is assent. We must not only know the truth respecting Christ but we must also believe it to be true. It is possible, of course, for us to understand the import of certain propositions of truth and yet not believe these propositions. All disbelief is of this character, and the more intelligently the import of the truths concerned is understood the more violent may be the disbelief. A person who rejects the virgin birth may understand well what the doctrine of the virgin birth is and for that very reason reject it. But we are now dealing not with disbelief or unbelief but with faith and this obviously implies that the truths known are also accepted as true.
The conviction which enters into faith is not only an assent to the truth respecting Christ but also a recognition of the exact correspondence that there is between the truth of Christ and our deeds as lost sinners. What Christ is as Saviour perfectly dovetails our deepest and most ultimate need. This is just saying that Christ’s sufficiency as Saviour meets the desperateness and hopelessness of our sin and misery. It is conviction which engages, therefore, our greatest interest and which registers the verdict: Christ is exactly suited to all that I am in my sin and misery and to all that I should aspire to be by God’s grace. Christ fits in perfectly to the totality of our situation in its sin, guilt, misery, and ill-desert.
3. Trust. Faith is knowledge passing into conviction, and it is conviction passing into confidence. Faith cannot stop short of self-commitment to Christ, a transference of reliance upon ourselves and all human resources to reliance upon Christ alone for salvation. It is a receiving and resting upon him. It is here that the most characteristic act of faith appears; it is engagement of person to person, the engagement of the sinner as lost to the person of the Saviour able and willing to save. Faith, after all, is not belief of propositions of truth respecting the Saviour, however essential an ingredient of faith such belief is. Faith is trust in a person, the person of Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of the lost. It is entrustment of ourselves to him. It is not simply believing him; it is believing in him and on him.
The Reformers laid special emphasis upon this element of faith. They were opposing the Romish view that faith is assent. It is quite consistent with Romish religion to say that faith is assent. It is the genius of the Romish conception of salvation to intrude mediators between the soul and the Saviour—the Church, the virgin, the sacraments. On the contrary, it is the glory of the gospel of God’s grace that there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. And it was the glory of our Protestant Reformation to discover again the purity of the evangel. The Reformers recognized that the essence of saving faith is to bring the sinner lost and dead in trespasses and sins into direct personal contact with the Saviour himself, contact which is nothing less than that of self-commitment to him in all the glory of his person and perfection of his work as he is freely and fully offered in the gospel.
It is to be remembered that the efficacy of faith does not reside in itself. Faith is not something that merits the favour of God. All the efficacy unto salvation resides in the Saviour. As one has aptly and truly stated the case, it is not faith that saves but faith in Jesus Christ; strictly speaking, it is not even faith in Christ that saves but Christ that saves through faith. Faith unites us to Christ in the bonds of abiding attachment and entrustment and it is this union which insures that the saving power, grace, and virtue of the Saviour become operative in the believer. The specific character of faith is that it looks away from itself and finds its whole interest and object in Christ. He is the absorbing preoccupation of faith.
It is at the point of faith in Christ that our responsibility is engaged to the fullest extent, just as it is in the exercise of faith that our hearts and minds and wills are active to the highest degree. It is not our responsibility to regenerate ourselves. Regeneration is the action of God and of God alone. It is our responsibility to be what regeneration effects. It is our responsibility to be holy. But the act of regeneration does not come within the sphere of our responsible action. Faith does. And we are never relieved of the obligation to believe in Christ to the saving of our souls. The fact that regeneration is the prerequisite of faith in no way relieves us of the responsibility to believe nor does it eliminate the priceless privilege that is ours as Christ and his claims are pressed upon us in full and free overtures of his grace. Our inability is no excuse for our unbelief nor does it provide us with any reason for not believing. As we are presented with Christ in the gospel there is no reason for the rejection of unbelief and all reason demands the entrustment of faith.
The question has been discussed: which is prior, faith or repentance? It is an unnecessary question and the insistence that one is prior to the other futile. There is no priority. The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance. Repentance is admirably defined in the Shorter Catechism. "Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after new obedience.” The interdependence of faith and repentance can be readily seen when we remember that faith is faith in Christ for salvation from sin. But if faith is directed to salvation from sin, there must be hatred of sin and the desire to be saved from it. Such hatred of sin involves repentance which essentially consists in turning from sin unto God. Again, if we remember that repentance is turning from sin unto God, the turning to God implies faith in the mercy of God as revealed in Christ. It is impossible to disentangle faith and repentance. Saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with faith. Regeneration becomes vocal in our minds in the exercises of faith and repentance.
Repentance consists essentially in change of heart and mind and will. The change of heart and mind and will principally respects four things: it is a change of mind respecting God, respecting ourselves, respecting sin, and respecting righteousness. Apart from regeneration our thought of God, of ourselves, of sin, and of righteousness is radically perverted. Regeneration changes our hearts and minds; it radically renews them. Hence there is a radical change in our thinking and feeling. Old things have passed away and all things have become new. It is very important to observe that the faith which is unto salvation is the faith which is accompanied by that change of thought and attitude. Too frequently in evangelical circles and particularly in popular evangelism the momentousness of the change which faith signalizes is not understood or appreciated. There are two fallacies. The one is to put faith out of the context which alone gives it significance and the other is to think of faith in terms simply of decision and rather cheap decision at that. These fallacies are closely related and condition each other. The emphasis upon repentance and upon the deep-seated change of thought and feeling which it involves is precisely what is necessary to correct this impoverished and soul-destroying conception of faith. The nature of repentance serves to accentuate the urgency of the issues at stake in the demand of the gospel, the cleavage with sin which the acceptance of the gospel entails, and the totally new outlook which the faith of the gospel imparts.
Repentance we must not think of as consisting merely in a change of mind in general; it is very particular and concrete. And since it is a change of mind with reference to sin, it is a change of mind with reference to particular sins, sins in all the particularity and individuality which belong to our sins. It is very easy for us to speak of sin, to be very denunciatory respecting sin, and denunciatory respecting the particular sins of other people and yet not be penitent regarding our own particular sins. The test of repentance is the genuineness and resoluteness of our repentance in respect of our own sins, sins characterized by the aggravations which are peculiar to our own selves. Repentance in the case of the Thessalonians manifested itself in the fact that they turned from idols to serve the living God. It was their idolatry which peculiarly evidenced their alienation from God and it was repentance regarding that that proved the genuineness of their faith and of their hope (I Thess. 1 :9, 10).
The gospel is not only that by grace are we saved through faith but it is also the gospel of repentance. When Jesus, after his resurrection, opened the understanding of the disciples that they might understand the Scriptures, he said unto them, “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance unto the remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations” (Luke 24:46, 47). When Peter had preached to the multitude on the occasion of Pentecost and they were constrained to say, “Men and brethren what shall we do?”. Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins” (Acts 2:37, 38). Later on, in like manner, Peter interpreted the exaltation of Christ as exaltation in the capacity of “Prince and Saviour to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). Could anything certify more clearly that the gospel is the gospel of repentance than the fact that Jesus’ heavenly ministry as Saviour is one of dispensing repentance unto the forgiveness of sins? Hence Paul, when he gave an account of his own ministry to the elders from Ephesus, said that he testified "both to the Jews and also to the Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). And the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews indicates that “repentance from dead works” is one of the first principles of the doctrine of Christ (Heb. 6:1). It could not be otherwise. The new life in Christ Jesus means that the bands which bind us to the dominion of sin are broken. The believer is dead to sin by the body of Christ, the old man has been crucified that the body of sin might be destroyed, and henceforth he does not serve sin (Rom. 6:2, 6). This breach with the past registers itself in his consciousness in turning from sin unto God “with full purpose of, and endeavour after new obedience.”
We see, therefore, that the emphasis which the Scripture places upon faith as the condition of salvation is not to be construed as if faith were the only condition. The various exercises or responses of our spirits have their own peculiar function. Repentance is that which describes the response of turning from sin unto God. This is its specific character just as the specific character of faith is to receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation. Repentance reminds us that if the faith we profess is a faith that allows us to walk in the ways of this present evil world, in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, in the fellowship of the works of darkness, then our faith is but mockery and deception. True faith is suffused with penitence. And just as faith is not only a momentary act but an abiding attitude of trust and confidence directed to the Saviour, so repentance results in constant contrition. The broken spirit and the contrite heart are abiding marks of the believing soul. As long as sin remains there must be the consciousness of it and this conviction of our own sinfulness will constrain self-abhorrence, confession, and the plea of forgiveness and cleansing. Christ’s blood is the laver of initial cleansing but it is also the fountain to which the believer must continuously repair. It is at the cross of Christ that repentance has its beginning; it is at the cross of Christ that it must continue to pour out its heart in the tears of confession and contrition. The way of sanctification is the way of contrition for the sin of the past and of the present. The Lord forgives our sins and forgiveness is sealed by the light of his countenance, but we do not forgive ourselves.
John Murray was a graduate of the University of Glasgow (1923) and of Princeton Theological Seminary (1927), and he studied at the University of Edinburgh during 1928 and 1929. In 1929-1930 he served on the faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary. After that he taught at the Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia where he served as Professor of Systematic Theology.
He was a frequent contributor to theological journals and is the author of Christian Baptism (1952), Divorce (1953), Redemption Accomplished and Applied (1955), Principles of Conduct (1957), The Imputation of Adam's Sin (1960), Calvin on the Scriptures and Divine Sovereignty (1960), and The Epistle to the Romans (1968).
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