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.
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.
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.
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.