It is my conviction that if there is any doctrine worthy of study and repeated study, it is the doctrine of redemption or atonement, which is the focal point of the Christian faith. Before I offer my thoughts on the book, it is worthy to note the etymology of atonement.
The word atonement was created by the multi-lingual English Protestant reformer and scholar, William Tyndale. Realizing there was no English word to accurately describe God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, he described it as “at” “onement”. Let us not also forget, it was Tyndale who first translated the Scriptures into English in 1525 under severe persecution which he was eventually hanged and burned.
The last two years have been particularly rich for me regarding my soteriological studies, maybe almost to a fault, somewhat neglecting other doctrines of the faith. But since this is the centrality of the faith, logically I assume that it will benefit me in the other areas as I continue to study the Scriptures from this reference point. I admit that I am in awe of God’s grace toward us in Christ before time began and when mentally digested and meditated on, who wouldn’t be? The gospel is beautiful and taking time to gaze at the intricacies of that beauty does my soul well.
The title aptly describes the two perspectives of redemption which Murray richly explores: its accomplishment by Christ and its application for the believer. Specifically, part one of the book looks at the necessity, the nature, the perfection and the extent of the atonement. Part two takes the reader through the application of the atonement looking at the ordo salutis from effectual calling to glorification. Murray’s reformed soteriological views are biblically linked with well thought precision. Though his verbosity can make the read laborious, it is well worth the time and effort to understand and appreciate so great a salvation.
From whence does God work His own
redeeming plan to its end
From His sovereignty He did atone
and freed us from our sin
Part I – Redemption Accomplished
The onset of the book delves into the necessity of the atonement. But Murray’s intent isn’t to elaborate on the necessity itself, but rather the necessity of the peculiar manner in which our redemption was met. He calls it “consequent absolute necessity”. Concerning consequent, Murray’s point is that salvation arose merely out of the pleasure of God’s good will, though He didn’t have to. Concerning the absolute necessity aspect, he labors from Scripture to show why Christ alone is uniquely qualified to secure the salvation of God for sin, which includes redemptive eschatological implications.
Next, Murray leads us to understand the nature of the atonement, highlighting in thoughtful detail, the propitious and reconciliatory nature of Christ’s sacrifice stemming from God’s love. (1 John 4:10) Murray says, “God appeases his own holy wrath in the cross of Christ in order that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory.”
It would do no man any good to celebrate atonement if for some reason it lacked security and could be perverted. So as to establish men with confidence, from Scripture, Murray draws out the perfection of the atonement. Murray defends the perfection of the atonement from four perspectives: its historicity (Gal. 4:4-5), its finality (Heb. 1:3, 5:12, 25-28), its uniqueness and its intrinsic efficacious nature. (Eph. 2:4-5, Heb. 5:9) Murray stresses why Christ’s atonement is perfect in a few, but resounding words. “Christ procured redemption and therefore he secured it. He met in himself and swallowed up the full toll of divine condemnation and judgment against sin.”
Concluding the first part of the book, Murray now turns his attention to the extent of the atonement. After defending the sufficiency of atonement, it is only natural to focus on to whom is the atonement applied. In other words – For whom did Christ die? Was Christ’s death meant to make men savable? Or was His death meant to actually save men from God’s wrath? Both views contain the idea of limited atonement, but with contrasting ends in mind. From one perspective, Christ died for the sins of every person, but only those who effect the atonement by their resident faith will be saved. From the other perspective Christ died for those given to Him by the Father and procured salvation, including saving faith. The first view is typically noted as the Arminian view which limits the effect of the cross while widening the scope of the cross. The second view is typically noted as the Calvinist view which limits its scope but effectually saves the elect. In his interbiblical defense of justification, Murray says, “Christ did not come to make people redeemable, but to actually redeem a people to Himself.”
Part II – Redemption Applied
After laboring to show the sufficiency and beauty of atonement in Christ, Murray turns his attention to the order of the acts and processes of each stage of redemption or ordo salutis. The chief text that sheds light on God’s wisdom in salvation is Romans 8:28-30. Murray keenly points the reader to the first cause of redemption, namely the purpose of God as the end of verse 28 declares. It is this fact that sets in motion the succeeding acts and processes of redemption in verses 29-30 : foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified. This unbreakable chain starts in eternity, continues in time and culminates in eternity.
Dutifully, Murray adds implicit links to this chain and spends a few chapters explaining how each implicit issue links to the explicit issues perfectly together to give us a detailed view of God’s redemption. Respectively and logically ordered, the chapters focus on effectual calling, regeneration, faith and repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, union with Christ and glorification.
In my estimation, Murray’s thoughts on the believers mysterious union with Christ is the pinnacle of the entire book. Murray draws out the trinitarian aspects of our union with Christ and makes this definitive statement:
Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.
Murray closes the curtain spending the last chapter discussing glorification and its Christocentric implications (Philippians 3:21). Murray says the congruity of redemption shall be revealed when the glory of Christ and the glory His body, believers, are revealed on that day. What an amazing scene!
If you have an appetite for understanding the doctrine of the atonement or redemption, I highly encourage you to purchase and thoughtfully read this book.
About the Author (from back cover)
John Murray (1898-1975) was born in Scotland and educated in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Princeton. He spent most of his distinguished career teaching systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He also wrote Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics and the volume of Romans in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series.