John Murray’s helpful book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, has become over the last fifty years somewhat of a classic as a doctrinal synopsis of the death of Christ and the salvific blessings that flow from it. This theological work will be beneficial for both those who are well-read in theology and for laymen who are seeking to better understand and enjoy the work of Christ and its fruits. His careful discussion of the key soteriological terminology will prove to be of great value. The title of the book serves to divide it nicely into its two parts: “Redemption Accomplished” and “Redemption Applied.”
In part one, Murray examines the issue of the atonement of Christ, discussing its necessity, nature, perfection, and extent. After establishing the real and actual accomplishments of Christ’s death for His people, he turns his attention to the issue of how the benefits that flow from that death become the experience of those for whom they were intended.
The application section begins in part two with a discussion of the ordo salutis. Murray argues that there is sufficient scriptural warrant for establishing with a high level of certainty the order of the various salvation events (80). He begins with effectual calling, followed by regeneration, conversion, which is the two-sided faith and repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and finally glorification. He addresses union with Christ prior to glorification, but doesn’t place it there in the ordo.
Concerning the necessity of the atonement, Murray defends the position of absolute necessity as opposed to hypothetical necessity. God was not under obligation to save, but if He was to save (given the world as He chose to create it), He had no option other than providing the God-man to be the substitute for sinners. Some of his argumentation to prove this point is weak, but for the most part he makes a strong case.
Murray sums up the atonement—“sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption”—with the word “obedience” (19). He suggests that Christ’s obedience—both active and passive—is the broadest umbrella term for understanding the whole of the atonement. He has a helpful discussion on both aspects of that obedience: (1) bearing the penalty for the broken law and thereby removing the guilt of sin, and (2) fulfilling the law’s requirements and thereby earning righteousness with God.1 With regard to reconciliation, he argues that the primary focus is on God’s alienation from us rather than our enmity toward God (34). Our sin certainly is the cause of God’s alienation, but His estrangement is in the forefront of the biblical portrait.
Murray writes as a five-point Calvinist, so some issues are taken for granted, which may need further biblical support for the unconvinced reader. For example, his discussion on the priority of regeneration to faith will not necessarily persuade those who are opposed to this viewpoint. However, it does not appear that Murray is seeking to persuade those who disagree as much as he is setting forth the biblical teaching on salvation that he assumes he already shares in common with his reader. This could be said as well for how he deals with God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation, planned in His eternal, unconditional election and manifested in His irresistibly bringing sinners to experience His salvation.
Although his chapter on the extent of the atonement is not exhaustive by any means, it is a nice summary that makes some good argumentation for particular redemption. Based on the foundation of the previous chapters where he established the inherent efficacy and real accomplishments of Christ death, the discussion on extent is the natural and necessary logical deduction, although he does deal with numerous biblical texts that are difficult to dispute—foremost of which are Romans 8:32 and 2 Corinthians 5:14–15. Murray seeks to establish the biblical teaching on the real and actual accomplishments of Christ’s death over against the potential, provisional atonement that is the logical necessity for the unlimited atonement position.
Coming to the conclusion that he does, Murray seeks to deal with the text that seems to support the unlimited atonement view—1 John 2:2. He gives three reasons why John would have said, “. . . not for ours only, but for the whole world.” First, John was setting forth the scope of the propitiation as not being limited to the disciples or to the believers to whom he was writing, but to all people in all places. The atonement has an “ethic universalism” and is for every tongue and tribe and people and nation (73). Second, John was stressing the exclusivity of Christ’s propitiation.2 There is no other way to satisfy God and remove sin. Anyone who would be right with God must do so through Christ and His propitiatory work. Finally, John was setting forth the perpetuity of the atonement (74). It was not just good for the early church, but will retain its efficacy and power until the end of the age.
Murray’s chapter on the believer’s union with Christ seems to be somewhat misplaced in the book. Murray himself admits this, anticipating the question of “why there has not been up to this point some treatment of union with Christ” (161). This excellent chapter seems to be the thread that unites the whole together, and, as Murray admits, “is not simply a step in the application of redemption” (161). Rather, he argues that it really is the “central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation” (161). The believer’s union with Christ was planned eternally in God’s election of us “in Christ.” There is also a sense in which the believer was united to Christ in the accomplishing of redemption. His people died with Him and were raised with Him. Then there is the application when the believer first experiences this union with Christ, which takes place by means of the effectual call to salvation (165). In essence, no aspect of salvation—past, present, or future—can be viewed apart from Christ and His connection with His people. This truly is the heart of redemption in all its phases—arrangement, accomplishment, and application.
Although Murray makes a strong case for an effectual and thus limited atonement, he does not allow this to weaken his stance on the universal, free offer of the gospel. Many so-called Calvinists have erred at this point, but Murray argues that rather than weakening the position, “it is the very doctrine that Christ procured and secured redemption that invests the free offer of the gospel with richness and power” (65). Far from deteriorating the universal offer of the gospel, an effectual atonement is really the best basis for such an offer.
This book will continue to be a classic for years to come for its concise exposition of the cross and its application. Its clarity and organization make it an excellent overview of the doctrine of salvation. Although Murray follows in the Reformed tradition, he has many insights that will challenge the reader to think and reevaluate his understanding of the gospel. Even for readers who may not embrace Murray’s Calvinism there is much profit to be gained.
- One thing Murray emphasized in this regard is that the active obedience of Christ is not equivalent to His life while the passive obedience is equivalent to His death. What divides them is not when they took place, but what aspect of the laws demands they were fulfilling (21). ↩
- The insertion of the intensive pronoun seems to support this emphasis: “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins. . . .” ↩