Synonyms really exist; and “definitive sanctification” is not new

Warning: this is a Presbyterian geek post. If it doesn’t seem relevant to you, that is probably because it isn’t. Not worth your time.

I constantly hear that John Murray “came up with” the doctrine of definitive sanctification. Here’s the essay.

This really involves a confusion of semantics over substance. To some extent, Murray himself is a source of this confusion since he insists “regeneration” has to be a different thing (?) or point in the order of salvation. This gets especially weird when he appeals to Titus 3. He seems aware of this, because he then adds a footnote (4):

While regeneration is an all-important factor in definitive sanctification, it would not be proper to subsume the latter under the topic “regeneration.” The reason is that what is most characteristic in definitive sanctification, namely, death to sin by union with Christ in his death and newness of life by union with him in his resurrection, cannot properly be referred to regeneration by the Spirit. There is multiformity to that which occurs at the inception of the Christian life, and each facet must be accorded its own particularity. Calling, for example, as the action of the Father, must not be defined in terms of what is specifically the action of the Holy Spirit, namely, regeneration. Definitive sanctification, likewise, must be allowed its own individuality. We impoverish our conception of definitive grace when we fail to appreciate the distinctiveness of each aspect or indulge in over-simplification.

I don’t see any basis for this assertion. There is every reason in the world to believe that “death to sin by union with Christ in his death and newness of life by union with him in his resurrection” can indeed ” properly be referred to regeneration by the Spirit.” Nor have I ever felt as confident as Murray that different actions toward saving the sinner must only be attributed to one person in the Trinity. I don’t see how we “impoverish” any thing.

In any case, “definitive sanctification” is just another term for “effectual calling,” as the Westminster Confession states:

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.

So, in an instant, at the start of the true Christian life, God makes sinners ready and willing to leave disobedience and embrace obedience. How is this now sanctification.

In fact, it seems to me that the first sentence on sanctification acknowledges that the sanctification was already begun earlier:

They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

If someone can prove that “further” meant additionally I’ll not fight it. But as it stands, it sounds like an admission that Christians are being more sanctified as they continue in or from their effectual calling.

So, while I respect and learn from John Murray, I think he attributed more novelty to his thinking here than he should have done. And likewise, Murray’s enemies have no basis here for pointing to some sort of innovation that makes Murray suspect.

Effectual calling is the beginning of sanctification and later sanctification is the continuance in one’s calling.

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