Ten or twelve life-changing books: #10

10. 1990 John Murray, Principles of Conduct [1960]

It’s funny, As we creep closer to the present, I am less certain of the precise date. A typical sign of senility. Or, more charitably: some books attract subsequent re-readings and study.  The effect is more like a fermenting wine than a sudden tipping over the barrel. Once the wine is fully seasoned, it is easy to forget the exact moment that the ingredients were first assembled. I’m giving a probabilistic date.

Murray’s work is simply magnificent. One great virtue is brevity. My paperback version is less than 3/8 inch thick.  It does it by getting right to the point, with dense argumentation.

At the time of discovering this book, I was quite the antinomian theonomist, having succumbed to two grave errors: rejection of the Sabbath day, and embracing of “non-culpable deception.” Murray cured me of both. The Sabbath is rooted in creation, so it cannot be wriggled out of as a mere typological or ceremonial excrescence for Israel. All the passages marshaled to justify lying — and there are far more than just Rahab — are dealt with systematically and relentlessly.

The exposition drives more deeply than the Sunday School result. The fourth commandment does not merely treat of the seventh day, but of the other six as well: the importance and requirement of good work. Truthfulness is rooted in the character of God himself ultimately. Consequently, even inadvertent falsehood involves one in sin, even if the “charge” falls short of what is called lying. Asserting something as true that one does not know to be true involves sin as well — and how our life in the church would be changed for the better if every Christian took that to heart existentially!

The chapter on the marriage ordinance is surprising in its breadth. Watch for the discussion of when imagination has its legitimate place.

The chapter on “Our Lord’s Teaching” puts the center in spirit rather than mere law.

There is an odd appendix on the passage in Gen. 6 about the “sons of God” and “daughters of men,” and the giants. Murray argues for the non-mythological view, but is surprisingly tentative.

There are a few defects. Notably, Murray ratifies the common analogy of master: slave to employer:employee. This I think is dubious. Typically, the employer has a leg up on the employee in terms of the power wielded, but this can be seen as a problematic that a just society needs to resolve, not an ontological reality. Whether the correct solution is more libertarian or fascist, I feel in any case it is not master-slave.

Epochal books like this define the starting groundwork for how the discussion can continue. Now, let it continue.