Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Reading Classics Together

January 30, 2010

Once again, I’m a couple of days late with this next entry in Reading Classics Together. Being on the road for almost the entire week played havoc with my schedule (though I did remember to bring the book with me). Again I’m indebted to Rebecca Stark for providing a great post that I was able to “borrow.”

*****

John Murray starts this chapter by admitting that there are, at first glance, strong arguments against the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. We all know, from scripture and history and our own experience, those who have appeared to be genuine believers but have fallen away from the faith.

The first step, then, in building the case for this doctrine is establishing what it is not. “It does not mean,” he writes, “that every one who professes faith in Christ and who is accepted as a believer in the fellowship of the saints is secure for eternity and may entertain the assurance of eternal salvation.”

No, Jesus himself give us the criterion for determining true believers: true believers continue in the faith until the end. The kind of temporary faith that doesn’t endure can look very much like the real thing.

…[I]t is possible to have very uplifting, ennobling, reforming, and exhilarating experience of the power and truth of the gospel, to come into such close contact with he supernatural forces which are operative in God’s kingdom of grace that these forces produce effects in us which to human observation are hardly distinguishable from those produced by God’s regenerating and sanctifying grace and yet be not partakers of Christ and heirs of eternal life.

But true believers persevere. They sin, they may backslide, but they will not finally fall away because they “are kept by the power of God through faith” until the end.

What scripture does Murray appeal to in his defense of perseverance of the saints? He starts with Romans 8:28-30, the Golden Chain of Redemption. The called are justified and the justified are glorified. If true saints—those who are called and justified—can be lost, it would go against what Paul is plainly teaching in these verses.

Next he moves to the teachings of Jesus in John 6 and 10. Jesus says that those given to him by the Father—who are also those who believe, who are also those who come to him, who are also those who are drawn by the Father—will be raised on the last day. And no one who is given to Jesus by the Father can be snatched away. In fact, believers have a kind of double security because they are held in the hand of Christ and the hand of the Father. Two powerful hands are grasping us tightly until the end.

Have we not in this truth new reason to marvel at the grace of God and the immutability of his love?

When my kids were younger, they’d enthusiastically affirm something by saying, “Yes! Yes! Double yes!” Doubly held so that we can never perish gets a double yes from me.

*****

For next week, please read chapter 9, Union with Christ.

January 21, 2010

Today we continue in our readings in John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. We are now eleven readings in with only three to go. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but this has without a doubt been one of my favorite classics to read together. I have learned a lot from it and have highlighted a huge percentage of the words. I know it’s a book I will return to often.

Summary
This week’s chapter deals with sanctification. Murray begins with a couple of presuppositions. Primarily, he wants to show the close relationship between sanctification and both calling and regeneration (both of which we’ve already discussed). “Sanctification,” he says, “is a work of God in us, and calling and regeneration are acts of God which have their immediate effects in us.” So these three are bound together in the fact that each of them is an inward act of change unlike, for example, justification or adoption which are instead changes of status about and outside of us. He would also have us know that sanctification particularly concerns the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer and who directs this work. And finally, he wants the reader to know that sanctification is a necessary work that will be present in the life of every believer. “Sin is dethroned in every person who is effectually called and regenerated. … The Holy Spirit is the controlling and directing agent in every regenerate person. Hence the fundamental principle, the governing disposition, the prevailing character of every regenerate person is holiness—he is ‘Spiritual’ and he delights in the law of the Lord after the inward man.” He says also, “He who died and rose again with Christ is freed from sin, and sin will not exercise the dominion.”

Murray turns next to the concern of sanctification, showing what it is that the Holy Spirit actually does in this ongoing act. “This deliverance from the power of sin secured by union with Christ and from the defilement of sin secured by regeneration does not eliminate all sin from the heart and life of the believer. … Sanctification is concerned precisely with this fact and it has as its aim the elimination of all sin and complete conformation to the image of God’s own son, to be holy as the Lord is holy.” He offers several considerations:

First, all sin in the believer is the contradiction of God’s holiness. It is “the contradiction of all [the believer is] as a regenerate person and son of God. It is the contradiction of God himself, after whose image he has been recreated.”

Second, the presence of sin in the believer involves conflict in his heart and life. “The more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Savior, the more he must recoil against every lack of conformity to the holiness of God. The deeper his apprehension of the majesty of God, the greater the intensity of his love to God, the more persistent his yearning for the attainment of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, the more conscious will he be of the gravity of the sin which remains and the more poignant will be his detestation of it.”

Third, there must be a constant and increasing appreciation that though sin still remains it does not have the mastery. “There is a total difference between surviving sin and reigning sin, the regenerate in conflict with sin and the unregenerate complacent to sin. It is one thing for sin to live in us: it is another for us to live in sin. It is one thing for the enemy to occupy the capital; it is another for his defeated hosts to harass the garrisons of the kingdom.” He says also, “It is the concern of sanctification that sin be more and more mortified and holiness ingenerated and cultivated.”

Next, Murray discusses the agent of sanctification, showing that ultimately it is God who sanctifies and, specifically, the Holy Spirit. He shows that we must “realize our complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit. We must not forget, of course, that our activity is enlisted to the fullest extent in the process of our sanctification. But we must not rely upon our own strength of resolution or purpose.” Though we are active in sanctification, we are active only through the power of the Spirit.

Further, “it is as the Spirit of Christ and as the Spirit of him who raised up Christ from the dead that the Holy Spirit sanctifies.” We must not think of the Spirit’s work of sanctification apart from Christ’s work on the cross.

Finally, Murray looks to the means of sanctification, saying, “We must also take account of the fact that sanctification is a process that draws within its scope the conscious life of the believer. The sanctified are not passive or quiescent in this process. … God’s working in us is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the relation strictly one of co-operation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjunction or co-ordination of both produced the required results.” Rather, “the relation is that because God works we work. All working out of salvation on our part is the effect of God’s working in us, not the willing to the exclusion of the doing and not the doing to the exclusion of the willing, but both the willing and the doing.”

This is a lifelong struggle and one that involves the whole being. “The exhortations to action with which the Scripture is pervaded are all to the effect of reminding us that our whole being is intensely active in that process which has as its goal the predestinating purpose of God that we should be conformed to the image of his Son.”

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

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.

January 15, 2010

I am a day late with this week’s Reading Classics Together. I had something else I wanted to post yesterday, so bumped this back just one day. I trust no one was too bothered! Today we continue in our journey through John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. To this point he has taught about effectual calling, regeneration, faith and repentance, and justification. Today we come to the great doctrine of adoption, one that has undoubtedly been much neglected.

Summary
“By adoption the redeemed become sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty; they are introduced into and given the privileges of God’s family. … We become children of God by the bestowment of a right or by the conferring of authority, and this is given to them who believe on Jesus’ name.” Murray turns immediately to an examination of adoption in light of the other acts of God’s grace. He shows:

First, that adoption needs to be distinguished from both justification and regeneration. Though all are inexorably linked one to the others, we cannot allow ourselves to blur the important distinctions between them. Murray says adoption “is never separate from justification and regeneration. The person who is justified is always the recipient of sonship.

Second, adoption, like justification, is a judicial act. “In other words, it is the bestowal of a status, or standing, not the generating within us of a new nature or character.”

Third, “Those adopted into God’s family are also given the Spirit of adoption whereby they are able to recognize their sonship and exercise the privileges which go with it.”

Fourth, there is a close relationship between adoption and regeneration. So close is the relationship “that some would say that we are sons of God both by participation of nature and by deed of adoption.” Murray, though he admits the possibility, says there is no conclusive evidence to support this. “There is a very close interdependence between the generative act of God’s grace (regeneration) and the adoptive. When God adopts men and women into his family he insures that not only may they have the rights and privileges of his sons and daughters but also the nature or disposition consonant with such a status.” This he does by regeneration.

Murray makes it clear that adoption “is an act of transfer, from an alien family into the family of God himself. This is surely the apex of grace and privilege.” Have you stopped recently to consider what it means that you have been adopted into the family of God? Should this not cause you to pause and to praise him?

A good bit of the chapter concerns itself with the nature of the fatherhood we speak of in adoption. “Adoption is concerned with the fatherhood of God in relation to men.” Here Murray wants to ensure that we realize that there is a sense in which God is Father to all men (as their Creator) yet that adoption is a special kind of fatherhood offered only to those who have been justified. He shows also that the relation in adoption is specifically between the believer and the Father, not the believer and the Son or Holy Spirit. He says, “The people of God are the sons of God the Father and he sustains to them this highest and most intimate of relationships. This fact enhances the marvel of the relationship established by adoption. The first person of the Godhead is not only the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ but is also the God and Father of those who believe in Jesus’ name. … Though the relationship of Fatherhood differs, it is the same person who is Father of the Lord Jesus Christ in the ineffable mystery of the trinity who is the Father of believers in the mystery of his adoptive grace.”

He closes with this great question: “Could anything disclose the marvel of adoption or certify the security of its tenure and privilege more effectively than the fact that the Father himself, on account of whom are all things and through whom are all things, who made the captain of salvation perfect through sufferings, becomes by deed of grace the Father of the many sons whom he will bring to glory?” Ponder that for a few moments this morning.

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

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.

January 07, 2010

Once again we come to a Thursday and with it another edition of Reading Classics Together. This week we come to one of the best chapters of all in John Murray’s great work Redemption Accomplished and Applied.

Summary
This week’s chapter deals with the amazing doctrine of justification. And here you can’t help but sense that Murray could write book after book on the topic. Trying to distill the beauty of justification into a short chapter must have been quite a challenge to him. Yet he did an amazing job of it.

He begins by writing about the question that plagues human beings: how can man be right with God? “It is not simply, how can man be just with God, but how can sinful man be just with God? In the last analysis sin is always against God, and the essence of sin is to be against God. The person who is against God cannot be right with God. For if we are against God then God is against us. It could not be otherwise. God cannot be indifferent to or complacent towards that which is the contradiction of himself. His very perfection requires the recoil of righteous indignation. And that is God’s wrath.” This is a serious problem, of course, but one that troubles very few people for few stop to consider the gravity of their offense against God. “This is the reason why the grand article of justification does not ring the bells in the innermost depths of our spirit.” This is why, when you share the gospel, so often you see no heartfelt response to it. Until a person understand his offense against God, he cannot understand his need for a Savior.

If we are to appreciate what Christ has done, “our thinking must be revolutionized by the realism of the wrath of God, of the reality and gravity of our guilt, and of the divine condemnation. … The question is really not so much: how can man be just with God; but how can sinful man become just with God? The question in this form points us to the necessity of a complete reversal in our relation to God. Justification is the answer and justification is the act of God’s free grace.”

Looking at justification in common usage (outside the Bible) Murray says it is “a declaration of pronouncement respecting the relation of the person to the law which he, the judge, is required to administer.” Justification, then, is forensic. “It has to do with a judgment given, declared, pronounced; it is judicial or juridical or forensic.” He looks quickly to regeneration again, saying “Regeneration is an act of God in us; justification is a judgment of God with respect to us. The distinction is like that of the distinction between the act of a surgeon and the act of a judge. The surgeon, when he removes inward cancer, does something in us. That is not what a judge does—he gives a verdict regarding our judicial status. If we are innocent he declares accordingly.” Murray says that “the purity of the gospel is bound up with the recognition of this distinction.” This means that justification is and remains the article of the standing or falling Church.

The question now arises, how can God declare a person to be righteous when that is so evidently not the case? How can a sinful, defiled man who is at enmity with God be declared righteous by God? “The peculiarity of God’s action consists in this: that he causes to be the righteous state or relation which is declared to be.” So God not only declares righteous but he first makes righteous. “What God does in this case is that he constitutes the new and righteous judicial relation as well as declares the new relation to be. He constitutes the ungodly righteous, and consequently can declare them to be righteous.” He says further, “Justification is therefore a constitutive act whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account and we are accordingly accepted as righteous in God’s sight.” And he offers these beautiful, soul-stirring words: “God cannot but accept into his favour those who are invested with the righteousness of his own Son.” First God makes a man righteous through the work of Christ and then he declares what is now the reality—that this man is, indeed, righteous.

Murray wants to ensure that the reader understands the role of faith in all of this. He says that the Bible “speaks always of our being justified by faith, or through faith, or upon faith, but never speaks of our being justified on account of faith or because of faith.” In other words, faith itself is not the righteousness that God accepts. “If we are to find the righteousness which supplies the basis of the full and perfect justification which God bestows upon the ungodly we cannot find it in anything that resides in us, nor in anything which God does in us, nor in anything we do. We must look away from ourselves to something which is of an entirely different sort in an entirely different direction.” And, of course, we must then look to Christ. We find that the righteousness is his and that faith is a free gift of God, given so we can and must believe in him.

Let me close with just a couple of other great quotes. “That we are justified by faith is what engenders hope in a convicted sinner’s heart. He knows he has nothing to offer. And this truth assures him that he needs nothing to offer, yea, it assures that it is an abomination to God to presume to offer.” And finally, “No one has entrusted himself to Christ for deliverance from the guilt of sin who has not also entrusted himself to him for deliverance from the power of sin.” As goes the guilt, so goes the power. Praise God!

What a great chapter this was. There is no doctrine more precious to me than the doctrine of justification and this chapter stirred my heart as it told of the great love and mercy of God in justifying even a sinner like me.

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

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 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.

December 05, 2009

I am running late with this week’s entry in Reading Classics Together. I blame the Leadership series I was writing as I did not want to disrupt it by posting off-topic. I’ve asked Rebecca Stark who blogs at Rebecca Writes (her blog was one of the first I ever started reading on a regular basis) if she would provide this week’s summary. Polite Canadian that she is, she kindly agreed. So this week’s summary comes via Rebecca.

Summary
This chapter is a discussion of the extent of the atonement and makes the case for limited atonement (also called particular redemption or definite atonement). Murray starts out by noting and giving examples to prove that the use of universal terms (like all, world, etc.) in relation to the atonement doesn’t settle the question because those terms are frequently used in scripture to mean something less than every person who has ever lived.

Then he goes on to frame the question that is considered in this chapter, first laying out what it is not:

The question is not whether many benefits short of justification and salvation accrue to men from the death of Christ.

The death of Christ is designed, says Murray, to bring to all people certain benefits in this life. He doesn’t list these specifically, but I understand them to be all the things that come from common grace: God’s life-sustaining provisions and the indiscriminate proclamation of the gospel, for instance.

Rather, the question under discussion is this:

On whose behalf did [Christ] propitiate the wrath of God? Whom did he reconcile in the body of his flesh through death? …In whose stead and on whose behalf was he obedient unto death, even the death of the cross?

The saving efficacy of the atonement, Murray argues, applies to Christ’s own people. Christ did not come to merely make people redeemable, but to actually redeem. You’ll recognise this, of course, as the doctrine of limited atonement.

Once common objection to limited atonement is that it undercuts the offer of the gospel. Murray argues that this is not true; but rather, it is this efficacy of Christ’s atonement that gives the gospel its force.

It is because Christ procured and secured redemption that he is an all-sufficient and suitable Saviour. It is as such he is offered, and the faith that this offer demands is the faith of self-commitment to him as the one who is the eternal embodiment of the efficacy accruing from obedience completed and from redemption secured.

In the second section of this chapter, Murray looks at two scriptural arguments for limited atonement. First, there is Romans 8:31-39, where Paul connects the giving of Christ to the giving of all the gifts that come from saving grace, including justification, Christ’s intercession, and security in the love of Christ. Since these things are not given universally, Christ’s atonement cannot be universal.

And second, there are all the places in Paul’s writings where Christ’s death for believers is connected with their death with him and then with their being raised with him.

We have, therefore, the following sequence of propositions, established by the specific utterances of the apostle. All for whom Christ died also died in Christ. All who died in Christ rose again with Christ. This rising again in Christ is a rising to newness of life after the likeness of of Christ’s resurrection. To die with Christ is, therefore, to die to sin and to rise with him to the life of new obedience, to live not to ourselves but to him who died for us and rose again. The inference is inevitable that those for whom Christ died are those and those only who died to sin and live to righteousness.

I remember reading this chapter many years ago and finding these two scriptural arguments for limited atonement to be very strong ones. I still do.

And then, to end the chapter, Murray considers two texts used to argue against limited atonement. One is 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, which says that Christ died for all. But this is one of the passages  like those mentioned directly above where Paul connects Christ’s death to dying with him and rising with him, so rather than arguing against limited atonement, it actually argues for it.

There’s also 1 John 2:2, which is one of the most commonly used texts in support of unlimited atonement. Murray gives several reasons why “for the whole world” in this verse should not be taken universally.

To sum up and end the chapter:

[W]hen we examine the Scripture we find that the glory of the cross of Christ is bound up with the effectiveness of its accomplishment. Christ redeemed us to God by his blood, he gave himself a ransom that he might deliver us from all iniquity. The atonement is efficacious substitution.


Next Week
For next Thursday please read the next chapter. This moves us into the heart of the book—a look at the application 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 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.

Pages