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atonement

February 20, 2010

Earlier this week I read, or re-read, actually, R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross (an ideal book to read before Easter should you wish to prepare your heart to celebrate). In a chapter looking at the Scriptural motifs of blessing and curse, he looks at the fulfillment of the rite of circumcision.

*****

The sign of the old covenant was circumcision. The cutting of the foreskin had two significances, one positive and one negative, corresponding to the two sanctions. On the positive side, the cutting of the foreskin symbolized that God was cutting out a group of people from the rest, separating them, setting them apart to be a holy nation. The negative aspect was that the Jew who underwent circumcision was saying, “Oh, God, if I fail to keep every one of the terms of this covenant, may I be cut off from You, cut off from Your presence, cut off from the light of Your countenance, cut off from Your blessedness, just as I have now ritually cut off the foreskin of my flesh.”

December 31, 2009

Today we continue our readings in John Murray’s classic book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. We are in the second section of the book which deals with the application of the atonement to God’s elect. We’ve looked at effectual calling and regeneration and turn now to faith and repentance.

Summary
Regeneration, which we looked at last week, is inseparable from its effects, one of which is faith. “Without regeneration,” says Murray, “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.” Regeneration is God’s renewing of the heart and mind and, once renewed, the heart and mind must act in accordance with their new nature.

Looking first to faith Murray examines both the warrant and nature of faith which he defines as “a whole-souled movement of self-commitment to Christ for salvation from sin and its consequences.”

He offers two facts which together constitute the warrant of faith. The first of these is the universal offer of the gospel. This charge is “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.” The second is the all-sufficiency and suitability of the Savior presented. On the basis of his person and work, Christ is the suitable and sufficient Savior. Murray pauses to point out some crucial correctives about the faith he is discussing. “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. … 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.”

He turns next to the nature of the gospel, pointing out that there are three things that need to be said about faith: that it is knowledge, conviction and trust. Faith cannot be a vacuum of knowledge (as many try to present it). Instead, there must be a certain knowledge of facts. But, of course, facts are not enough; there must also be conviction about these facts. And third, there must be trust. “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.” He says also, “Faith … is not belief of propositions of truth respecting the Savior, however essential an ingredient of faith such belief is. Faith is trust in a person, the person of Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the lost. It is entrustment of ourselves to him. It is not simply believing him; it is believing in him and on him.”

Murray turns next to repentance. He shows that there is no real priority in order between faith and repentance for “the faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance.” The essence of repentance is a change of heart and mind and will. This change principally respects four things: “a change of mind respecting God, respecting ourselves, respecting sin, and respecting righteousness.” It is a radical change that strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe about all of life. “The test of repentance,” says Murray, “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.” He concludes this section with pointing the reader to the cross: “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.”

Next Week
For next Thursday please read the next chapter—“Justification.”

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

December 24, 2009

Today, Christmas Eve, we continue with our reading through John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. In the last chapter he provided an examination of the effectual calling; this week he turns to the next step in the chain of events that together comprise the application of the atonement to the elect: regeneration.

Summary
The effectual calling, Murray says, “must carry along with it the appropriate response on the part of the person called. It is God who calls but it is not God who answers the call; it is the person to whom the call is addressed. And this response must enlist the exercise of the heart and mind and will of the person concerned.” But here we are faced with a thorny situation. “How can a person who is dead in trespasses and sins, whose mind is enmity against God, and who cannot do that which is well-pleasing to God answer a call to the fellowship of Christ?” Says Murray when getting to the heart of the problem, “there is a complete incongruity between the glory and virtue to which sinners are called, on the one hand, and the moral and spiritual condition of the called, on the other.” To get from effectual calling to faith and repentance, something must happen to make the dead come to life. What happens is God’s work of regeneration.

We see the grace of God in regeneration. “God’s call, since it is effectual, carries with it the operative grace whereby the person called is enabled to answer the call and to embrace Jesus Christ as he is freely offered the gospel.” And so this effectual call to the gospel is a call that is accompanied by the grace needed to answer it. There is a general call which men are required to heed but for which many are not given necessary grace to answer, and there is an effectual call in which grace is given so men may repent. Thus the effectual call and regeneration go hand-in-hand; one must be accompanied by the other.

In this chapter Murray turns to the story of Nicodemus and especially Jesus’ words to him: “Except one be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” He shows that “water” here refers to the water of washing saying, “This is the purificatory aspect of regeneration. Regeneration must negate the past as well as reconstitute for the future. It must cleanse from sin as well as recreate in righteousness.” He defends the monergistic aspect of regeneration showing it to be a work of God alone, one that is independent of human choice or agency. “We are as dependent upon the Holy Spirit as we are upon the action of our parents in connection with our natural birth. We were not begotten by our father because we decided to be and we were not born of our mother because we decided to be. We were simply begotten and we were born. We did not decide to be born.” And neither does anyone choose to be regenerated. Instead God acts alone in his sovereignty and brings the dead to life. Knowing that men tend to react negatively to such theology he offers this warning: “If we recoil against it, we do well to remember that this recoil is recoil against Christ.”

He moves next to a defines of the change that regeneration must bring about in any believer. There is no believer, no convert, who has not been regenerated. And there can be no regeneration that does not bring about a new kind of life. “Regeneration is the logical and causal explanation of abstinence from sin and freedom from the touch of the evil one.” He says also, “We have a whole catalogue of virtues—belief that Jesus is the Christ, overcoming the world, abstinence from sin, self-control, incapacity to sin, freedom from the touch of the evil one, doing righteousness, love to God and one’s neighbour. And they are all the fruit of regeneration.” “The regenerate person cannot live in sin and be unconverted. And neither can he live any longer in neutral abstraction. He is immediately a member of the kingdom of God, he is spirit, and his action and behaviour must be consonant with that new citizenship.”

Next Week
For next Thursday please read the next chapter—“Faith and Repentance.”

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

December 17, 2009

We continue today with our readings in John Murray’s classic book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Having made our way through the first section with discusses the accomplishment of the atonement, we have now turned to the second part, which discusses its application to the elect. Last week we read the introduction to this section where Murray defended the order of the various acts that together comprise the atonement. This week he turns to effectual calling, the first of these.

Discussion
The first act of God as he saves a people for himself is the effectual call. Murray first distinguishes between a general call (or non-effectual call) and an effectual call, saying “the overtures of grace in the gospel addressed to all men without distinction are very real and we must maintain that doctrine with all its implications for God’s grace, on the one hand, and for man’s responsibility and privilege, on the other.” Though many are called, few are chosen. Though God’s call to all men to repent is sincere, it is not effectual unless he makes it so.

Murray covers the topic under several headings: the author, the nature, the pattern and the priority.

The Author. Here he shows that God is the author of this effectual call. “Calling is an act of God’s grace and power just as regeneration, justification and adoption are.” No man can call himself out of darkness and into light; it requires an act of God’s sovereign grace. “We may not like this doctrine,” he says, “But, if so, it is because we are averse to the grace of God and wish to arrogate to ourselves the prerogative that belongs to God. And we know where that disposition had its origin.” He takes time to point out that it is the Father specifically who is the agent of the effectual call. “He comes into the most intimate relation to his people in the application of redemption by being the specific and particular actor in the inception of such application.”

The Nature. Murray wants to be sure that we properly understand the strength of the word “call.” It is a word that has more power in the Greek than in its English translation. “If we are to understand the strength of this word, as used in this connection, we must use the word ‘summons.’ The action by which God makes his people the partakers of redemption is that of summons. And since it is God’s summons it is efficacious summons.” We may be summoned to appear in court and, even with the authorities threatening punishment if we fail to appear, we can still ultimately decide not to. But when God summons we are unable and unwilling to resist. “The summons is invested with the efficacy by which we are delivered to the destination intended—we are effectively ushered into the fellowship of Christ.” Showing that this is calling into the kingdom of Christ and out of the kingdom of darkness, Murray offers this important warning: “If we find ourselves at home in the ungodliness, lust, and filth of this present world, it is because we have not been called effectually by God’s grace.

The Pattern. “When we do something with intelligence and wisdom we do it with design and according to plan. … How preeminently true this is of God himself. Execution with God is the perfect fulfillment of the designed plan.” Murray then uses this section to point out three of the features of this pattern. First, it is a pattern of determinate purpose. God’s calling is not haphazard or sudden, but has occupied him since time eternal. Second, God’s call is eternal and thus beyond our ability to comprehend. Third, the pattern is devised in Christ so that it cannot be understood apart from him. We must see each member of the godhead as involved in this effectual call. “We have here an index to the perfect harmony and conjunction of the persons of the godhead in those operations which are embraced in the economy of salvation. It is coordination that goes back to the fountainhead of salvation.”

The Priority. Here Murray defends effectual calling as an act that takes place prior to regeneration. Although he admits that no great doctrine is lost if we reverse this order, still he believes that this is the most logical and biblical progression. After offering four points in defense he concludes, “There is good warrant for the conclusion that the application of redemption begins with the sovereign and efficacious summons by which the people of God are ushered into the fellowship of Christ and union with him to the end that they may become partakers of all the grace and virtue which reside in him as Redeemer, Savior, and Lord.”

I really enjoyed this chapter, admiring Murray’s ability to pack so much solid, biblical content into so short a chapter. I look forward to continuing through the book.

Next Week
For next Thursday please read the next chapter—“Regeneration.”

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

December 10, 2009

Today we come to our fifth reading in John Murray’s classic book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve really been looking forward to reaching the book’s second section—the one dealing with the application of the atonement to God’s elect. This week’s reading begins this long-awaited discussion that really comprises the heart of the book and its most distinctively-Reformed teaching.

Summary
The first chapter of this new section provides Murray’s defense for the order in which he will discuss the various acts and processes that together comprise the way in which God has seen fit to save a people for himself. Murray dedicates a chapter to each of nine of these and seeks to do so in the logical order in which they occur. Hence in this chapter, as he provides his rationale for the order of the next nine chapters, he is at the same time providing a brief defense of the Reformed understanding of the order of salvation. Most theologians, Reformed or otherwise, agree with the general order. In any case, for example, justification must precede sanctification and perseverance must precede glorification. There are a couple of items, though, that generate a great deal of disagreement (with God’s call or election being the foremost among them). It is to these that Murray gives the bulk of his attention.

Carefully and logically, appealing to both Scripture and logic, Murray builds his case. Because this is just one small chapter in quite a short book he is unable to do an exhaustive examination of any one of the acts. Instead, then, he offers an overview. But even then it is one that would be difficult to refute.

As I’ve sought to summarize this chapter I’ve realized that no summary can do it justice. Murray moves very quickly and any summary I offer will either be far too long or far too short. Since this is a blog and most people only skim it anyway, I’ll err on the side of brevity. I’ll just skip to the end where we find that Murray settles on this order: calling, regeneration, faith and repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, glorification. He says, “When this order is carefully weighed we find that there is a logic which evinces and brings into clear focus the governing principle of salvation in all of its aspects, the grace of God in its sovereignty and efficacy. Salvation is of the Lord in its application as well as in its conception and accomplishment.” God is sovereign from beginning to end.

Before I turn to other things, I thought I’d make a note of this brief but useful definition of faith—one I felt was worthy of a highlight: “Faith is a whole-souled act of loving trust and self-commitment.” That just about says it, doesn’t it? I don’t know that I could come up with a better and more concise definition.

Next Week
For next Thursday please read the next chapter—“Effectual Calling.” This is likely to be one of the more challenging and contentious chapters in the book so be sure to read it well.

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below.

November 26, 2009

This is week three of our journey through John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. It is Thanksgiving in the United States and it struck me this morning that there are few things we ought to be more thankful for than the perfection of the atonement—the very subject of this week’s chapter. The finality and perfection of Christ’s work gives us such peace and hope and joy that we ought to thank God for it every day, but perhaps this day more than any other.

I’m a bit under the weather and taking a sick day today so I will keep this brief.

Summary
This week’s chapter was shorter than the ones that came before it, but no less important. Here Murray sought to show how the atoning work of Christ was perfect, not so much in the fact that it accomplished what it was meant to accomplish but that it did so fully and finally. He begins the chapter this way: “In Protestant polemics this feature of the atoning work of Christ has been oriented against the Romish tenet that the work of satisfaction accomplished by Christ does not relieve the faithful of the necessity of making satisfaction for sins which they have committed.” Where the Roman Catholic Church teaches that baptism washes away all past sins and all original sin, they hold that when it comes to post-baptismal sins the faithful must make satisfaction either in this life or in purgatory. Protestants, on the other hand, contend that Christ’s work is the only satisfaction for sin and is absolutely perfect and final so that any attempt to add to it is itself sin. With this in the background, Murray seeks to show that the atonement was perfect in that it fully accomplished exactly what it was meant to accomplish.

Murray divides the chapter into four parts, looking at the historic objectivity of the atonement along with its finality, its uniqueness and its intrinsic efficacy.

Of all Murray said in this chapter, these words stood out to me. The truth contained here is just stunning when we stop to consider it. “The atonement is the provision of the Father’s love and grace. But there is equal need for remembering that the work wrought by Christ was in itself intrinsically adequate to meet all the exigencies created by our sin and all the demands of God’s holiness and justice. Christ discharged the debt of sin. He bore our sins and purged them. He did not make a token payment which God accepts in place of the whole. Our debts and not canceled; they are liquidated.” Our debts were not just canceled; they were liquidated. Thank God for that!

Next Week
For next Thursday please read chapter four, “The Extent of the Atonement.” We may as well read the Conclusion for the first section, too, since it is just a couple of pages.

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below.

November 19, 2009

This is week two of our reading project. We are reading our way through John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied, a classic text that provides a thorough treatment of the doctrine of the atonement. Murray is not a man to waste a word, so this book is dense; but he is also a brilliant theologian, so it is well worth the sometimes-difficult read. It is work, but the pay-off is huge.

If you would like to join in the fun, there is still lots of time to do so. You’re only two chapters behind. Simply find a copy of the book and get reading!

Summary
This week’s chapter dealt with the nature of the atonement. I’m not sure that I fully understood the big picture of this chapter but if I did, it went like this. Murray went looking for an “inclusive rubric” under which he could place the atonement. The atonement includes specific categories used to describe Christ’s work: things like sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation and redemption. But he sought to find a heading under which he could place even these terms. The term he settled upon is obedience. “The Scripture…uses this term, or the concept it designates, with sufficient frequency to warrant the conclusion that obedience is generic and therefore embracive enough to be viewed as the unifying or integrating principle.” This leads to a discussion of the difference between Christ’s active obedience and his passive obedience. Murray offers some valuable keys to understanding passive obedience, which I will lead you to read or review on your own. A few things stood out to me in this section, including this: “When we speak of the death of our Lord on the cross as the supreme act of his obedience we are thinking not merely of the overt act of dying upon the tree but also of the disposition, will, and determinate volition which lay back of the overt act.” When we speak of Christ’s passive obedience, we do not speak of passivity, for in all things Christ had a determined will and a determined disposition.

After this discussion of obedience as the “inclusive category in terms of which the atoning work of Christ may be viewed and which establishes at the outset the active agency of Christ in the accomplishment of redemption” he turns to the specific categories the Bible uses to set forth the nature of the atonement.

First, he looks at sacrifice. He says it is a given that Christ’s work is construed as sacrifice so the only real question here is this: what notion of sacrifice governs this pervasive use of the term as it is applied to the work of Christ? This leads to a lengthy discourse on how the New Testament writers would have understood the term based on their cultural and religious setting. “The work of Christ,” he says, “is expiatory, expiatory indeed with a transcendent virtue, efficacy.” Last week I mentioned that Murray can be difficult to read. I leave this sentence as evidence: “It is this amazing conjuncture that the union in him of priestly office and piacular offering evinces.”

Second, he looks at propitiation saying “the idea of propitiation is so woven into the fabric of the Old Testament ritual that it would be impossible to regard that ritual as the pattern of the sacrifice if propitiation did not occupy a similar place in the one great sacrifice once offered.” In other words, sacrifice and propitiation are very closely related to one another. He offers a lengthy but helpful definition of propitiation which includes the idea of “covering.” He carefully shows that sin creates a situation in which we are estranged from God but, even more importantly, in which God is estranged from us. Then he says, “Vengeance is the reaction of the holiness of God to sin, and the covering is that which provides for the removal of divine displeasure which the sin evokes.” Further, “Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”

Third, he turns to reconciliation. “Reconciliation presupposes disrupted relations between God and men. It implies enmity and alienation. This alienation is twofold, our alienation from God and God’s alienation from us. The cause of the alienation is, of course, our sin, but the alienation consists not only in our unholy enmity against God but also in God’s holy alienation from us.”

Fourth and finally, he looks to redemption. He says, “The language of redemption is the language of purchase and more specifically of ransom. And ransom is the securing of a release by the payment of a price.” He warns, though, that we cannot follow this term too far into its parallels with human transactions, lest our constructions become artificial and fanciful. He looks here to law and sin as the means to understand why an act of redemption was necessary within God’s economy. Having shared what Scripture says he concludes “redemption from sin cannot be adequately conceived or formulated except as it comprehends the victory which Christ secured once for all over him who is the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience.”

So, at this point Murray has looked at both the necessity and the nature of the atonement. He continues to lay the groundwork for his eventual examination of the application of redemption. But before he can get there, there are a few more foundational matters to attend to. We will look at those over the next three weeks.

Next Week
For next Thursday please read chapter three, “The Perfection of the Atonement.”

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below.

November 12, 2009

Today we begin another iteration of Reading Classics Together—a project which affords us the structure and accountability to read through some of the classics of the Christian faith. This time around we are reading John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. The structure of the program is simple. We read one chapter per week and then come here to discuss it. Each week I will create a post like this one to introduce the topic and I will give just a brief summary and perhaps a few reflections. And then we can discuss what we’ve read.

If you’d like to join in, all you need to do is find a copy of the book and begin to read along.

Summary

Redemption Accomplished and Applied is a book about the atonement. Most people, when they think of the book, think of the second section which discusses the ordo salutis—the order of salvation. But before Murray can get to the application of the atonement, he must first discuss its accomplishment. He does this in five chapters, the first of which is called “The Necessity of the Atonement.”

This week’s reading was dedicated to answering a simple question: was the atonement necessary? Murray actually asks several clarifying questions: “Why did God become man? Why, having become man, did he die? Why, having died, did he die the accursed death of the cross?” All of these, when put together, speak of necessity. Why was it necessary for Christ to die and was this the only way in which God could accomplish the redemption of his people?

Traditionally Christians have answered in one of two ways. Some have held to hypothetical necessity, a view which says that God could have forgiven sin and saved his people without atonement or satisfaction, but that this was the way he chose to do it. Others have held to consequent absolute necessity, a more traditionally Protestant understanding, which says that if atonement was to take place, it must happen in this way. Murray explains, “The word ‘consequent’ in this designation points to the fact that God’s will or decree to save any is of free and sovereign grace. To save lost men was not of absolute necessity but of the sovereign good pleasure of God. The terms ‘absolute necessity,’ however, indicate that God, having elected some to everlasting life out of his mere good pleasure, was under the necessity of accomplishing this purpose through the sacrifice of his own Son, a necessity arising from the perfections of his own nature.” So while it was not inherently necessary for God to save anyone, if he was to do so, because of his very nature, it had to happen this way.

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to providing five Scriptural proofs that this is the case. Murray shows 1) that there are passages which create a very strong presumption in favor of this inference; 2) that there are passages which definitely suggest that the only alternative to this way of atonement was perdition; 3) that there are passages which teach that the efficacy of Christ’s work is contingent upon the unique constitution of Christ’s person; 4) that the salvation of grace which we experience is a salvation that goes beyond forgiveness of sin but also to justification; 5) that the cross of Christ is the supreme demonstration of God’s love because of its supreme cost.

Having looked to these reasons Murray concludes, “we are constrained to conclude that the kind of necessity which the Scriptural considerations support is that which may be described as absolute or indispensable. … If we keep in view the gravity of sin and the exigencies arising from the holiness of God which must be met in salvation from it, then the doctrine of indispensable necessity makes Calvary intelligible to us and enhances the incomprehensible marvel of both Calvary itself and the sovereign purpose of love which Calvary fulfilled. The more we emphasize the inflexible demands of justice and holiness the more marvelous become the love of God and its provisions.”

Overall I enjoyed this chapter, though I was surprised at how difficult it was to read. I have read much older authors who were easier to understand than Murray! And though I did enjoy it, I find that I am primarily anticipating reading the second section of this book where we learn about Redemption Applied. Still, this chapter was very good and offered a useful defense of the Bible’s teaching that if we were to be saved, this was the only way.

Next Week

For next Thursday please read chapter two, “The Nature of the Atonement.”

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below.