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A Scottish Classic on Sanctification: James Fraser of Alness’s “Explication” of Romans 6:1-8:4

Rev. Angus Stewart


For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14).


At the biennial British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) Conference, it is customary to have a special lecture. Typically, this speech either relates to the place of the conference or it ties in with its subject. By this reckoning, the 2014 BRF Conference had a very special lecture because it concerned both the conference location (Scotland) and its theme: “Be Ye Holy: The Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification.” Thus this chapter is entitled “A Scottish Classic on Sanctification: James Fraser of Alness’s ‘Explication’ of Romans 6:1-8:4.”

At this point, three obvious questions may be forming in your mind. First, who is James Fraser? I never heard tell of him! Second, where is Alness? Third, what is James Fraser of Alness’s “Explication” of Romans 6:1-8:4?

Let us start with the question that is easiest to answer: Where is Alness? Alness is a town in Ross-shire in the north of Scotland. It is 15 miles as the crow flies north of Inverness. It is 175 miles by road north of Gartmore House, the venue of the 2014 BRF Conference.

Moving from the place to the man, James Fraser was a Scottish Presbyterian minister. His dates are 1700 (a nice round number that is easy to remember) to 1769. This means that our author was born ten years after the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland (1690) and he died seven years before the American Declaration of Independence (1776). So James Fraser lived between the Battle of the Boyne and the Declaration of Independence. In order to help place him, it may also be helpful to mention two of his well-known contemporaries: Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the American theologian in New England, and John Wesley (1703-1791), the Arminian revivalist in old England.

The connection between the man, James Fraser, and the town of Alness (and particularly one house in it) is very strong. James Fraser was a son of the manse. In American terminology, he was a PK, a preacher’s kid. To be more precise, he was a son of the Church of Scotland manse in Alness. In that Church of Scotland manse in Alness, James Fraser spent the first eleven years of his life. In that same house his father, John, died in 1711, whereupon he left that manse. Fifteen years later, our author returned to that very house in which he spent his first eleven years. This time, it was not as a son of the manse but as the minister in the manse.

James Fraser’s 1726 ordination appears to us to have been a very strange affair. He was inducted in a corner of the graveyard because the church doors were locked and, for good measure, guarded. The local laird disapproved of this evangelical and confessional Presbyterian man, so he set his retainers and tenants to bar the young ordinand’s way into the building. The congregation had to make do with the church graveyard for James Fraser’s ordination. I assume—the records do not tell us—that the weather was dry.

In that Church of Scotland manse, James Fraser spent the remaining 43 years of his life, for the whole of his ministry was spent in his one charge in Alness. Thus, in two periods of residency, 54 of James Fraser’s 69 years were spent in the same house.

It was in that Alness Presbyterian manse, a few months before he died, that Rev. Fraser completed the manuscript of his famous work, A Treatise on Sanctification: An Explication of Romans Chapters 6, 7 & 8:1-4.1 This is the way it is entitled in my modern edition of the book but its original name was much longer.2 James Fraser’s hand-written document contained “scarcely an error, and seldom even an erasure can be found” (xxiv). Extremely little proofreading and editing were needed. This is an amazing thing. I made more emendations in writing the manuscript for my speech, and even more changes for this chapter, than James Fraser needed in the writing of a fine 500-page book!


Classic Book

Having said a little bit about the place (Alness) and the man (James Fraser) and their connection, what about the book? Why should we be concerned with a book that was written about 250 years ago? Well, listen to some weighty commendations of James Fraser’s volume on sanctification.

Donald Sage declares it “one of the profoundest theological treatises ever written on ‘Sanctification.’”3 John McPherson refers to it as “a masterpiece in its own department” (vii). C. H. Spurgeon, citing Dr. John Brown with approval, states that it is “well worth studying.”4 A. W. Pink, in his work on sanctification, quotes James Fraser’s book favourably twice.5 The invaluable Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology calls it “widely influential.”6

Here are some longer endorsements. Sinclair B. Ferguson, who provided the foreword to the attractive, recent edition, refers to it as “a valuable work by a remarkable man,” adding,

[James Fraser’s] grasp of Paul’s teaching is an impressive advance on that of many of his predecessors and contemporaries in the reformed tradition. Dare one say that he is both clearer and more satisfactory than even Calvin? (iii, iv).

Better than John Calvin, “Dare one say?” High praise indeed!

This is the glowing tribute of the doughty John Kennedy of Dingwall:

[James Fraser’s] work on sanctification gives the most satisfactory explanation of that difficult portion of Scripture expounded in it, which has yet been produced. For exact analysis, polemical skill, and wise practical application of the truth, there are very few works which excel it.7

The best exposition of Romans 6:1-8:4 in the first eighteen centuries since those inspired words were penned by the apostle Paul! A lofty claim!

In his masterful Scottish Theology, John MacLeod writes,

In the 18th century the northern counties [of Scotland] produced an outstanding divine in the person of James Fraser of Alness, whose work on Sanctification is one of the classics of our Scottish Theology. It is a very thorough discussion of the teaching of Paul in Romans vi. to viii. 4 ... in his positive Exegesis he shows himself a very solid and sensitive interpreter and in his statement of doctrine a judicious and masterly divine.8

John MacLeod’s phrase, “one of the classics of our Scottish Theology,” led me to title this chapter, “A Scottish Classic on Sanctification: James Fraser of Alness’s ‘Explication’ of Romans 6:1-8:4.”


Book’s Contents

The treatise apparently originated “in the form of sermons or lectures” James Fraser gave on Romans (xxvi). His material on Romans 6:1-8:4 was later re-worked into a book. Though a doctrinal work, this theological treatise is also eminently practical; these are among Fraser’s closing words:

It becomes [Christians], who, by being justified through faith, and brought under grace [in sanctification], are made free ... to have continual recourse to the Lord, and to the promises of the new covenant, for renewed influences of grace, to enable them to hold on in their course of faith and holiness; and to encourage their hearts, and support their hope with this comfortable consideration, that sin shall not have dominion over them, as not being under the law, but under grace (493).

In the last sentence of his treatise, our author turns from God’s people to their pastors:

It becomes ministers to labour in leading persons to know themselves and to know Christ, to mark out to them by the light of God’s word the way in which they ought to walk, and to enforce holy practice by evangelical principles, arguments, and motives, which alone will have effect (493; italics mine).

As to the form of the book, it is basically a commentary on Romans 6:1-8:4. The treatise contains introductions to two chapters in Romans, chapters 6 and 7, the only two chapters that are covered in their entirety in the commentary. After the introductions to chapters 6 and 7, we have the “explication.”9 Explication is interpretation, explanation, exposition or exegesis.

After each verse is explicated, that is to say, expounded or explained, James Fraser gives a paraphrase of it. This paraphrasing of Scripture was a very common and accepted method in his day, though not so much in ours (xxvii). In paraphrasing, Rev. Fraser gives the sense of each verse in his own words. This is significant because the liberals of his day paraphrased too. They, however, would deceitfully insert their own ideas into their paraphrases. In rebutting them, James Fraser also wrote paraphrases, but faithful and helpful ones!

In appropriate places after the explications and the paraphrases, there are two “essays,” which today we would probably call excursuses. Fraser has an “Essay on Penal Sanction of the Law,” which explains that the law punishes with the extreme sanction of death, over against the erroneous view of learned men of his day (187-214), and an “Essay on Promise under Old Testament,” proving that spiritual blessings and eternal life were promised and enjoyed in the Old Testament, contrary to the Dutchman, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), and the liberals (223-242).

There is also a “dissertation” on the scope of Romans 7:14-25 (254-352), about which I will say more later. The book concludes with a lengthy “appendix,” consisting of four sections and covering almost one hundred pages (397-493).


Literary Opponents: English Arminians

Who were James Fraser’s chief literary opponents in his book on sanctification, since, according to the old adage, a man is known by his enemies? The man whom James Fraser most opposes, and whom he even mentions in his very first page, is John Locke (1632-1704). His will be a new name to some readers; even for some of those for whom his is not a new name, his mention here may be a surprise.

John Locke is considered to be “Probably the greatest, and certainly the most influential, English philosopher.”10 At birth, according to Locke, the mind is a tabula rasa, a blank slate—an idea hard to fit with the truth of original sin or the reality of our conscience. Locke was an empiricist, holding that all knowledge is determined only by experience which is derived from the five senses. Locke was also a political philosopher, who taught a form of the social contract theory which held that, if the ruler oversteps the bounds, he can legitimately be deposed and even ought to be deposed.

Here are three interesting facts about John Locke. First, John Locke spent five years in the Netherlands (1683-1688), where he “came into close contact with the Remonstrants’ movement [i.e., the Arminians], whose theological views were very similar to his own.”11 Second, John Locke accompanied Mary II, the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and the wife of William III of Orange, Britain’s only Dutch king, back from the Netherlands to England in 1688. Third, over the next century, Locke’s political ideas crossed the Atlantic and influenced America’s Founding Fathers, including especially Thomas Jefferson, and the Declaration of Independence which is largely Jefferson’s work. There is a part in that document which refers to a “long train of abuses” allegedly perpetrated by the British King George III, with that phrase, a “long train of abuses,” being lifted verbatim from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1689).

What especially concerns us now is a religious work by John Locke, for the English philosopher also wrote about theology. This religious book was published posthumously in 1707, which, incidentally, was the year of the union between the English and Scottish Parliaments. It was a commentary on some of Paul’s epistles, the first five as they are arranged in our English Bibles: Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians and Ephesians. The title tells us the form of his commentary: A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians. Note the word “Paraphrase.”

John Locke’s peculiar views of Romans 5, 6 and 7 are very interesting in the history of exegesis. According to Locke, Romans 5 is not about the justification of believing Jews and Gentiles, and the original sin of all Jews and Gentiles. It is about the heathen state from which Gentile (not Jewish) Christians were delivered. For the English philosopher, Romans 6-7 do not treat the sanctification of believing Jews and Gentiles. For Locke, Romans 6 treats the heathen state from which Gentile (not Jewish) Christians were saved and Romans 7 concerns the bondage to the ceremonial law (not the moral law) from which Jewish (not Gentile) Christians are liberated.

What we need to understand is that Locke’s view represents a radical rethink of Romans in the eighteenth century which is not unlike another radical rethink of Romans in our own day, that of the New Perspective on Paul and N. T. Wright. Locke was saying in his day, like the New Perspective and N. T. Wright in ours, that almost everybody else got it wrong and that he was going to tell the world what Romans really means.12

Three other major opponents of James Fraser in his great work on sanctification bear noting. All three were English and all three were enemies of God’s sovereign grace, like Locke himself. Henry Hammond (1605-1660), influenced by Arminianism, especially through Hugo Grotius, wrote Paraphrase and Annotations on the New Testament (1653). Daniel Whitby (1638-1726), who was refuted by Jonathan Edwards in his work The Freedom of the Will (1754), wrote Paraphrase and Commentary on the New Testament (1700). Unlike Hammond and Whitby, Dr. John Taylor of Norwich (1694-1761) was not an Anglican but a dissenter or nonconformist. Dr. Taylor wrote A Paraphrase With Notes on the Epistle to the Romans (1745) and he was opposed by Jonathan Edwards in The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1758).13


Ecclesiastical Opponents: Scottish Moderates

Leaving the English authors opposed by our theologian, we head north to consider James Fraser’s eighteenth-century Church of Scotland bedevilled by a group called the Moderates. What were the characteristics of the Moderate party in the established Scottish church?14 For them, religious earnestness and zeal were deplored as “enthusiasm,” a most detestable abuse of religion. The key thing for a Moderate was intellectual and social respectability.

Preaching is to be restricted to learned discourses on moral themes. Biblical doctrine is too deep; you have to be moderate! The Westminster Standards, for these pseudo-Presbyterian Moderates in Scotland, are to be studiously ignored as much as possible; if ever you do mention them, it is to be with a sneer, as if no respectable modern man could ever believe them. Reformed confessionalism is too much; you have to be moderate! As regards church discipline, if anyone is so much as suspected of heresy or immorality, such a person must be shielded, supported and encouraged because church discipline is over-strict, for you have to be moderate! If the state infringes on the crown rights of King Jesus in His church, the church must compromise and go the way of least resistance because there is no point risking conflict, for you have to be moderate! You will recognize in this brief description of the spirit of Moderatism that it is very like liberalism in our own day.

How did Moderatism in the eighteenth-century Scottish kirk react to the great truths and themes in the doctrinal part of Romans, namely chapters 1-11? I am referring here to man’s total depravity and original sin (Rom. 1; 2; 3; 5), the lostness of the unevangelized heathen and the necessity of missionary work (Rom. 1; 2; 3; 10; 11), justification by faith alone (Rom. 3; 4; 5; 8; 9; 10), and election and reprobation (Rom. 8; 9; 11). The Scottish Moderates either ignored these great doctrines or questioned them or watered them down or simply denied them, as did the English Arminians.15 Again, they were very like the liberals of our day because they too cannot cope with the powerful theological section of the key doctrinal book of the Bible (Rom. 1-11).

To this list of the chief doctrines in Romans 1-11, another must be added: sanctification (Rom. 6; 7; 8), the theme of this chapter and this book. Instead of gospel sanctification, the Moderates substituted man’s reason and common sense, and thus moralism, legalism, social duties and outward decency. They held to works righteousness in the form of salvation by character and conduct.16

Underlying the Moderates’ view of holiness, and providing its intellectual basis and defence, stood Locke, Whitby, Hammond and Taylor (and others) with their free-willism and paraphrase commentaries on Romans 6-8. In the decree of God and according to James Fraser’s wisdom and inclination, he chose to write on sanctification. While other men dealt with their Arminian attacks on the bondage of the will, original sin, justification, etc., our author decided to address the issue by way of an exposition of Romans 6:1-8:4, the key passage in all the Bible on sanctification. James Fraser did this by means of a commentary which included paraphrases so that, whereas the liberals put Paul’s inspired words in their own deceptive formulations to introduce their own ideas, he expressed the apostle’s teaching in his own words to explain what Paul is truly saying and not put false doctrine in his mouth. Thus James Fraser wrote what the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology calls “an anti-Arminian doctrinal exposition of Rom. 6:1-8:4,” which is both a defence of the faith and a call to real Christian godliness.17



So how does James Fraser begin his explication? Exactly the same way that the apostle does in Romans 6! First, he points out that there can be no sanctification without justification by faith alone: “there can indeed be no true sanctification of a sinner, but by means, and in consequence of grace abounding in justification by faith, and not by works” (36). Contra the Moderates, Fraser taught that we need to be justified by faith alone in Christ alone before we can ever live a holy life to God’s glory.

Second, Fraser declares, as does Paul, that the only way to be holy is to be dead to sin. Being dead to sin is not merely an obligation, something that we ought to do (38-41, 48); it is “actualWe ARE dead to sin,” according to Romans 6:2 (38; emphases Fraser’s). The Scottish theologian explains that our death to sin is not merely our external baptism with water (44-45, 47-48) or our membership in an instituted church (53-55), the view of the Moderates. Our death to sin is not merely something we do or something we have done or something we ought to do (73). Our being dead to sin, which is the principle thing in sanctification, is something that God does to and in us. It is a real spiritual death to (the dominion of) sin. The Moderates were outraged: “What is that man talking about? That’s too deep. The people of God don’t need that; they just need moral instruction!”

This means that two great blessings of our salvation were purchased by Jesus Christ on the cross. He died for our sins (justification) and we died to sin when we died in Him (sanctification). By the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ, we are “free from the reign and dominion of sin” (42), though not altogether free in this life from sin’s presence and power. Fraser is teaching that faith looks to the cross of our Saviour, both for justification and sanctification. Faith looks to the cross for justification because the Lord died on the cross for our transgressions, and faith looks to the cross for sanctification because in His death on the cross we died to the reign and dominion of sin. The Moderates were appalled: “You can’t preach mysteries like that to the common people in the pews! You need to be moderate!”

In his explication of Romans 6:12, Fraser encourages the child of God with the truth and calling of sanctification:

The apostle now proceeds to exhort the believers against sin, and to the practice of holiness; and insists to that purpose to the end of the chapter. Having represented the privilege, advantage, and blessedness of the state of the believer, of the sincere Christian; what he had brought forth on that subject gave him great advantage with regard to the exhortation he now enters on; and suggests the strongest arguments and motives imaginable to enforce it. The grace that hath made believers free from the reign of sin, hath put them under the greatest obligation to avoid, resist, and mortify it; under the greatest obligation to all duty, and to the practice of holiness (77).18

This is of great practical importance to God’s people, as Pastor Fraser observes,

For it will be often found that the children of God have no greater trial of faith, or greater difficulty in exercising it, than in what concerneth their comfort in reference to sin that dwelleth in them, and their hope of deliverance from it (308).

James Fraser notes that sanctification is presented in Romans 6 with regard to sin and in Romans 7 with regard to the law. The unregenerate are “under” the law, just as much as they are “under” sin. The unregenerate are under the dominion of the law, just as much as they are under the dominion of sin. The unregenerate are in bondage to the law, just as much as they are in bondage to sin. The unregenerate are slaves to the law, just as much as they are slaves to sin. Fraser declares,

Sinners under the law, and in the flesh, are under the dominion of sin, its servants and slaves (chap. vi. 14, 17, 20), unable by any powers of their own to deliver themselves from that slavery, or from under that dominion. The notion of dominion and slavery imports no less (399).

It is only those who are dead to sin through the death of Jesus Christ and who are dead to the law because they are married to Jesus Christ, who can “bring forth” good works as “fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4). A godly life is a blessed reality only for those free from spiritual slavery, contrary to all Moderatism.

As a solid Protestant theologian, James Fraser believed that “the true conversion [and sanctification] of man” consists of “two parts,” both “the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 88). The saint is not only transferred from the bondage of sin; he is also made the willing slave of the living God in Jesus Christ:

The servant of God is absolutely his as to his person, and that by the original right of creation and sovereignty, and by the superadded right of grace and redemption. Yea, the servant of God hath freely and fully, by his own choice, given himself up to the Lord, to be his, as a man’s bond-servant is his, being bought with his money, or born in his house. So the Psalmist acknowledges (Ps. cxvi. 16), I am thy servant, and the son of thy handmaid. But there is otherwise great odds, with regard to the liberty of mind and spirit, the confidence, consolation, and hope, very opposite to a state of slavery or bondage, which the Christian hath in the service of his natural and rightful Lord; whom he is, at the same time, to consider as his Father, and himself as a son by the adoption of grace, and an heir. On these accounts, though the Christian is the absolute property of his Lord, and absolutely subject to his sovereignty and will, yet his state is not that of slavery and bondage. To him the law, which expresses his Master’s will and is the rule of his service, is the perfect law of liberty (James i. 25) (103; italics Fraser’s).


James Fraser’s Enslaved Father and Slave-Owning Grandson

At this point, it is worth bringing in an interesting piece of biography regarding James Fraser’s father, John (xiv-xvii). Our author’s father was arrested with others for attending a nonconformist conventicle or religious meeting in London “in the beginning of 1685” (xiv). James II, who was the United Kingdom’s last Roman Catholic monarch, acceded to the throne on 6 February, 1685, so it may well have been in the early days of his reign that John Fraser and these other nonconformists were arrested. From London, James Fraser’s father was imprisoned in Dunnotar Castle, which is south of Stonehaven, which is south of Aberdeen.19

John Fraser was sentenced by the law and sold to unscrupulous men, who traded him and others as slaves to labour in the American colony of New Jersey. The New Jersey Court annulled their slavery on the grounds that they had not voluntarily accepted their servitude nor had they boarded the ship to America of their own volition. So James Fraser’s father was under the law, condemned by the law, in bondage, sold into slavery and released from the bondage of slavery. These are the issues dealt with by his son in a spiritual and expository way in his commentary on Romans 6:1-8:4, and the experiences of the father may have prompted the pen of the son.

After his release, James Fraser’s father moved north from New Jersey to Connecticut, where he was licensed to preach. Later, on hearing that the Dutchman William of Orange had replaced the Romanist James II on the British throne, John Fraser deemed it safe to return to his native Scotland. He ministered in Glencorse (1691-1695). In 1696, John was inducted into the Church of Scotland congregation in Alness. In four years, his son James Fraser would be born, to be brought up in the Alness manse.

Having gone back a generation to our author’s father, we now go forward two generations to James Fraser’s grandson, also called James Fraser, who owned a plantation in South America which was served by African slaves. Then it was a Dutch colony (1627-1815). At the end of the Napoleonic wars, it became a British colony (1815 onwards) and the area in which James Fraser’s grandson worked is now a part of Guyana. That same grandson, known as James Fraser of Pitcalzean, who ran a plantation served by slaves, drowned in a shipwreck off the Irish coast, early in 1801.20 Thus James Fraser, who wrote so powerfully of spiritual slavery and liberation from it in sanctification, had a father who experienced both the bondage of physical slavery and freedom from it, and a grandson who owned slaves.


Romans 7:14-25

Returning to James Fraser’s commentary, we come to Romans 7:14-25, which has, for over one and a half millennia, been a fierce theological battleground. There are basically two views of the person in this passage. One is that he is a regenerate man struggling with indwelling sin. This is the position presented forcibly by the great Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Ambrose of Milan (337-397), an earlier church father, held the same view (254). This is also the position of the Reformed and James Fraser himself (xxx). The other view is that the man in the second half of Roman 7 is unregenerate. This is the teaching of that heretic Arminius (1560-1609), in which he was preceded by the Socinians and long before that by the Pelagians. This is also the view of Whitby, Taylor and the Scottish Moderates.

James Fraser has a dissertation on this very topic of almost one hundred pages (254-352) followed by five pages of paraphrases (352-356). He introduces the subject and its doctrinal importance (254-259). Who is Paul talking about? Is this the struggle within the believer or is this a battle of an unregenerate person? Our author notes several general considerations (259-270). He proves that nothing in the passage is inconsistent with the state of grace (270-281). He demonstrates that much in the passage is inconsistent with an unregenerate state (281-331). Then he answers various objections (331-345) and gives practical uses (345-352).

This is John McPherson’s evaluation of this part of James Fraser of Alness’s great treatise: “I certainly do not know where, in all the range of Biblical literature, there is to be found anything like this dissertation as an acute and thoroughly satisfactory demonstration” that Romans 7:14-25 speaks of a regenerate person (xxix). Thus McPherson refers to this section as “perhaps the gem of the whole work” (xxviii).

Here are three other commendations of our author’s thorough treatment of this highly significant and controversial passage. Robert Haldane (1764-1842), who hailed from Gleneagles in Scotland, refers to James Fraser’s “excellent exposition of this [seventh] chapter [of Romans]” and quotes Fraser twice.21 John Murray, another Scot, who laboured in America for much of his life, called this “One of the ablest and most thorough treatments of the question and of the considerations in support of the view that Paul is describing his experience in a state of grace.”22 Of the twenty-three works listed by the American commentator, William Hendriksen, in defence of the Reformed interpretation of Romans 7:14-25, James Fraser gives far and away the longest discussion of this key passage.23


Eight Benefits

Moving now to one section of his appendix, James Fraser lists eight benefits or advantages arising from being “under grace,” in sanctification, and not being under sin or under the law (401-413). I am going to paraphrase Fraser’s points to make them shorter and simpler.

First, being under grace opens to us all the treasures of heavenly blessings (401-402). By nature, fallen man, being under the dominion of sin and the law, is under the curse. But if God is for us, in justification and sanctification, all the divine blessings are ours because we are in Christ and under grace (Eph. 1:3).

Second, in the way of “holy living and practice” (402), we have the comfort of the indwelling Spirit (402-403).

Third, being under grace, we have the right and ability to approach God in public and private worship (Heb. 9:14), unlike those who are under sin and under the law (403-404).

Fourth, since we are under grace, we have the Word of God to sanctify, illumine, instruct, guide, correct, reprove, warn, promise, comfort, strengthen and quicken us (405).

Fifth, being justified and sanctified, “all providential dispensations” will strengthen us “in the Lord’s ways,” whether they are “favourable” or even if we “have the cross to bear” (406). As our theologian put it,

The grace which God’s people, freely justified, are under, will direct everything in an effectual tendency to their sanctification and furtherance in holiness ... How different the case of men of the world, who, though under an external dispensation of grace, yet are not under grace as to the real state of their souls! (405, 407).

Sixth, being under grace, the great coming day of the Lord is a comforting thought, which stirs us up to do good works (407-408). By such a hope, we purify ourselves, even as our Saviour is pure (I John 3:3) (408). But for those who are under sin, the law and condemnation, Christ’s return brings thoughts of “terror,” “alarm and confusion” (407).

Seventh, being justified and sanctified, we are assured that the Lord Jesus will preserve us so that we persevere in holiness by His grace (408-410). Thus sanctification includes the perseverance of the saints (Eph. 5:26-27).

What do you think receives the last and longest treatment of the eight benefits or advantages of being under grace in our Scottish theologian’s appendix? The covenant (410-413)! The grace that we are under is “the grace of the new covenant” (410). What is James Fraser’s favourite text regarding the covenant in his magnum opus? Jeremiah 32:40. He refers to it three times in his appendix (410, 411, 412) and cites it frequently throughout the book: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, [so] that they shall not depart from me.”24 In the covenant, God puts His fear in us so that we will walk in His ways and never apostatize. To express it slightly differently, in the covenant, God so works in us that we will follow Him in the way of a holy life as friends and slaves of Jesus Christ.

Fraser writes of God’s unconditional covenant with His people:

If the tenor of the covenant were thus: I will not cease to do them good, on condition that they cleave to me, obey me, and not depart from me; if, I say, the covenant amounted to no more than this, it would be a law-covenant, even if there should be some abatement in the condition, in condescension to human infirmity. Whereas the covenant of grace is a covenant of promise, that gives security, by mere grace, on all hands, with regard to the sanctification of God’s people, and their preservation in a state and course of holiness, to their final salvation. The right inheritance is not by the law, or by works (411; italics mine).

Then he quotes Romans 4:14, 16:

For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by GRACE, to the end the PROMISE might be SURE to all the seed (411; emphases Fraser’s).

When our theologian speaks of “all the seed,” he means all the elect seed, those for whom Christ died, those who believe in Jesus (e.g., 74-75, 91-92, 159, 161, 175, 180, 235, 398, 456, 482).25

Pastor Fraser concludes,

Concerning holiness, this is evidently the issue of our whole discussion, viz. that the grace of the new covenant hath provided for the advancement of holiness and good works, and for the sanctification of God’s people, in a manner and degree much beyond what the sentiments of the adversaries of grace [including the English Arminians and the Scottish Moderates] will allow them to admit (484).


James Fraser’s Own Sanctification

James Fraser practised what he preached and wrote:

[He] was a man of singular wisdom and great integrity, and steady friendship. He was a faithful counsellor; while his courteous behaviour as a gentleman, his piety as a Christian, and his great learning and knowledge as a divine, made him highly acceptable to all ranks.26

I end with two biographical points which helped James Fraser in his own sanctification. Both are striking instances of God’s use of providence in making him personally holy and both involve women.

First, in Alness Church of Scotland, there was a monthly Tuesday morning question session with the ladies (xix-xx). These women came “with a great variety and wealth of difficult questions in what might be called casuistic divinity” (xx). James Fraser soberly considered this to be “the most serious and trying part of his work as a minister” (xx). In parting from the elders after the monthly session meeting, he would ask them to pray earnestly for him for divine grace in performing the hardest part of his labours: answering the hard questions put to him by the ladies of the church! This greatly assisted his sanctification in promoting humility and prayerful study of Scripture.

Second, James Fraser tells us that his wife was a great aid in his sanctification. But this was not in the way you might think! According to John Kennedy of Dingwall, his wife was a “cold, unfeeling, bold, unheeding, worldly woman.”27 She did not even feed him properly. The congregation got to hear of this, so “A godly acquaintance arranged with him to leave a supply of food in a certain place beside his usual walk, of which he might avail himself when starved at home.”28 John Kennedy further describes this sorry marriage: “Even light and fire in his study were denied to him on the long, cold winter evenings.” Remember, James Fraser lived in the chilly north of Scotland! Since “his study was the only place of refuge from the cruel scourge of his wife’s tongue and temper, there, shivering and in the dark, he used to spend his winter evenings at home.”29 What a pitiable sight!

To continue, in the words of John Kennedy of Dingwall,

But the godly husband had learned to thank the Lord for the discipline of this trial. Being once at a Presbytery dinner alone, amidst a group of moderates, one of them proposed, as a toast, the health of their wives, and, turning to Mr Fraser, said, as he winked at his companions, “You, of course, will cordially join in drinking to this toast.” “So I will and so I ought,” Mr Fraser said, “for mine has been a better wife to me than any one of yours has been to you.” “How so?” they all exclaimed. “She has sent me,” was the reply, “seven times a day to my knees when I would not otherwise have gone, and that is more than any of you can say of yours.”30

1 James Fraser, A Treatise on Sanctification: An Explication of Romans Chapters 6, 7 & 8:1-4 (Audubon, NJ: Old Paths Publications, 1992). Hereafter the page numbers of this book will appear in parentheses.
2 This is its first and full title: The Scripture Doctrine of Sanctification; being a critical explanation and paraphrase of the sixth and seventh chapters of the Epistle to the Romans and the four first verses of the eighth chapter. Wherein the true scope and sense of that most important and much disputed context is cleared and asserted, against the false interpretations of Grotius, Hammond, Locke, Whitby, Taylor, Alexander, &c. With a Large Appendix wherein the Apostle’s Doctrine, Principles, and Reasoning, are applied to the Purposes of Holy Practice, and of Evangelical Preaching (1774).
3 Quoted in Hugh M. Cartwright, “James Fraser of Alness: 2. His Magnum Opus,The Free Presbyterian Magazine, vol. 115, no. 6 (June, 2010), p. 170.
4 Quoted in Charles H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries: A Reference Guide to the Best Bible Study Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, rev. 1988), p. 158.
5 Arthur W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification (Choteau, MT: Gospel Missions, no date), pp. 175-176, 184.
6 A. P. F. Sell, “Fraser, James,” in Nigel M. de S. Cameron (organizing ed.), Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993), p. 335.
7 John Kennedy, The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire (Inverness: “Northern Chronicle” Office/Edinburgh: Norman MacLeod, rev. 1897), p. 38.
8 John MacLeod, Scottish Theology (Edinburgh: Free Church of Scotland, 1943), pp. 329-330.
9 This word, though strange to us, is used by James Fraser throughout his book and in its modern title, and so is likewise used in the title of this article and throughout it.
10 “Locke, John,” in Jennifer Speake (ed.), A Dictionary of Philosophy (London: Pan Books, 1984), p. 204.
11 Ibid., p. 205.
12 Contrary to the Federal Vision, which leans heavily upon the New Perspective on Paul and N. T. Wright, James Fraser states that justifying faith does not include “evangelical obedience and good works,” nor does “its virtue and effect in justifying ... arise from its certain connection with subsequent holiness and good works” (37; cf. 357-358).
13 James Fraser explains that his theological lineage is that of “the great Augustine, in his book De Spiritu et Litera” (487) and Martin Luther in “his own excellent treatise, Concerning the Enslaved Will (de Servo Arbitrio)” (1525) against Erasmus (485). Our Scottish author castigates free will as “that impotent idol, that hath been set up against the glories of divine grace” (484).
14 John MacLeod has an accessible and helpful treatment of Moderatism (Scottish Theology, pp. 198-212), including several of the satirical maxims of John Witherspoon (1723-1794) (pp. 205-206), who would become the sixth president (1768-1794) of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), following Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Davies, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
15 E.g., John Taylor declared, “Virtuous heathens shall be eternally saved” (325).
16 Yet, as John MacLeod observes of the Moderates, “Their profession of moderation had worked its way to such a pitch that they satisfied themselves with being moderate not only in their faith but in their love to God and moderate in their obedience to His will, while they inclined to be immoderate in the licence they allowed themselves and their allies. For it was notorious that as they indulged their liberties they went beyond bounds in disregard to the law of God. Those liberties showed themselves in the excesses of intemperance at which they winked or in which they indulged, and in the easy way in which they turned a blind eye to what they excused as the amiable or good-humoured vices or peccadilloes of their boon companions” (Scottish Theology, pp. 201-202).
17 Sell, “Fraser, James,” p. 335.
18 Thus our theologian taught the “more and more” of sanctification (296; cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 70, 76, 81, 89, 115, 123).
19 One of the two BRF Conference day trips in 2014 included the Magdalen Chapel in Edinburgh which contains a picture of Dunnotar Castle, with a list of those who were imprisoned there, including John Fraser, our author’s father.
20 Cf. “James Fraser of Pitcalzean” (
21 Robert Haldane, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (London: Banner, repr. 1958), pp. 295-296.
22 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), vol. 1, p. 257, n. 22.
23 William Hendriksen, Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), vol. 1, pp. 229-230.
24 Jeremiah 32:40 is perhaps the most cited text in James Fraser’s A Treatise on Sanctification (e.g., 92, 316, 410, 411, 412, 460, 478), excepting verses from Romans 6:1-8:4, of course.
25 James Fraser declares that “the common doctrine of the Scriptures [is] that the covenant is, in the first place, made with Jesus Christ the second Adam; and hence God is called the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore the promises and blessings of the covenant descend through Christ, and, in his right, to those who believe in him” (229-230; cf. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 31). A lot more could be said regarding James Fraser’s teaching on the covenant (e.g., 74-75, 91-92, 136-137, 182-183, 226-230, 315-316, 320, 410-413, 460, 478-479, 484, 493).
26 Quoted in Kennedy, Days of the Fathers, p. 37, n. 1.
27 Ibid., p. 41. Hugh M. Cartwright refers to her as “an unfeeling person whose lack of sympathy with her husband was one of the great trials of his life” (“James Fraser of Alness: 1. The Man,” The Free Presbyterian Magazine, vol. 115, no. 5 [May, 2010], p. 137). One wonders how he ever came to marry such a lass!
28 Kennedy, Days of the Fathers, p. 41.
29 Ibid., p. 41.
30 Ibid., pp. 41-42.