John Calvin

Redemption Accomplished and Applied

John Murray
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (1955)
236 pages, paper, $10.00


In the 1970's when I was in college it could be dangerous to your popular standing to be labeled a "Calvinist." But the growing interest in Reformed theology, and the broadening respect in American evangelicalism for such reformational thinkers as Michael Horton, R. C. Sproul, and John Armstrong among others, has brought about a welcomed change. It has become not only permissible but almost fashionable to examine and ponder the system of soteriology known as the doctrines of grace, which are often summarized as the five points of Calvinistic theology. As wonderful as this is, the fact remains that the questions and challenges which accompany such a study are as perplexing to day as they ever were. And students of the "tough-minded" theology would do well do discover the masterful writings of past expositors and theologians who grappled successfully with these issues and have left the light of truth to guide us through the darkness. When it comes to issues regarding the death of Christ and its effect and extent, perhaps no one sheds more helpful light than Dr. John Murray in his classic little paperback titled Redemption Accomplished and Applied.

     John Murray, for many years Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster (Philadelphia), is one of those men whose brilliance is displayed in brevity. The succinct and simple style of this book is surely one of its strengths. Throughout its pages there are many one- or two-sentence summaries that catch the reader up on the argument, and serve to tie down firmly in the mind the points being made. When I first read this book several years ago I underlined many of these significant sentences. And I have gone back to them often to find just the right way to understand and communicate difficult theological concepts to my students and congregation. Redemption Accomplished and Applied is not only a good informational read, it is a very usable and important reference for any who would reflect deeply on the plan of redemption.

     As the title implies, the book falls into two parts. In Part One, Murray begins with an effective argument for the consequent absolute necessity of the atonement based on God's decree to save, and on the depravity of sinful man. He next turns to the important question of the nature of the atonement. In this chapter he gives a brilliant treatment of the passive and active obedience of Christ, and demonstrates that a correct understanding and appreciation of these concepts is essential to a biblical view of the atonement. Along the way he gives helpful definitions and explanations for propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. Chapter three finds Murray arguing biblically for the perfection of the atonement over against the Roman Catholic doctrine of continual satisfaction through good works. In a day when some are naively seeking unity with Rome, this chapter is must reading. Murray shows that the absolute perfection of the atonement is clearly understood in its finality and uniqueness.

     In the last chapter of Part One, Murray arrives at the critical question: For whom did Christ die? Most who pick up this book in search of answers to the "limited atonement" puzzle will be tempted to rush directly to this chapter for easy answers. But this would be unwise! Murray's tremendous work in this chapter flows out of his study of topics previously discussed, especially the doctrines of propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. All of these words define aspects of the death of Christ which Murray shows from Scripture to have been accomplished, not simply made possible. For instance, Murray states: "What does redemption mean? It does not mean redeemability, that we are placed in a redeemable position. It means that Christ purchased and procured redemption" (p.63). Those who really desire to understand the questions of the atonement biblically must resist the temptation to skip over the foundational chapters of this book.

     Murray seeks to reeducate the reader regarding the question: For whom did Christ die? He shows that this is not the first question to ask. The first question is, What did Christ accomplish on the cross? If this question is a legitimate one (and Murray shows from text after text that it is) then the answer to this first question will determine the answer to the second. If what Christ accomplished on the cross was the possibility of salvation, then it could be argued that he accomplished this for all men without exception. However, Christ actually accomplished salvation, that is, saved a company of sinners, then it must be that the salvific effects of His death were accomplished only for those who had been elected unto eternal life. This view is defined by Murray as "definite atonement."

     In this chapter Murray interacts with all of the most potent objections to the doctrine of definite atonement. Perhaps his best work is done in answering the objection that such a view of the death of Christ renders the free offer of the gospel to all an impossibility, since salvation was not accomplished for all in the first place. Here Murray ably distinguishes himself from those hyper Calvinists who argue against the obligation to offer salvation through the gospel freely to all. Murray says:

It is frequently objected that this doctrine is inconsistent with the full and free offer of Christ in the gospel. This is a grave misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The truth really is that it is only on the basis of such a doctrine that we can have a free and full offer of Christ to lost men. What is offered to men in the gospel? It is not the possibility of salvation, nor simply the opportunity of salvation. What is offered is salvation. To be more specific, it is Christ Himself in all the glory of the person and in all the perfection of His finished work who is offered. And He is offered as one who made expiation for sin and wrought redemption. But He could not be offered in this capacity or character if He has not secured salvation and accomplished redemption. He could not be offered as Savior and as the one who embodies in himself salvation full and free if He had simply made the salvation of all men possible or merely had made provision for the salvation of all. It is the very doctrine that Christ procured and secured redemption that invests the free offer of the gospel with richness and power (p.65).

     Murray goes on to give a concise answer to many other objections to definite atonement including the texts that use "universal" terms (e.g., all, whole world, etc.) to describe aspects to the death and redemptive plan of God. I have turned to this section many times in my pastoral career and found it simple, insightful, and easy to use with others. He also interacts with every significant passage that is thought to oppose the view of definite atonement and does so with clarity and integrity. As readers might expect, this chapter shines as the jewel of the book.

     In Part Two, Murray surveys the doctrines associated with the application of the redemption purchased at the cross to the believer through the Holy Spirit. This section, containing ten chapters, provides a powerful and easily accessible introduction to biblical soteriology. Beginning with an overview of the order in which the redemptive experience unfolds. Murray takes the reader on a theological journey through the topics of effectual calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, union with Christ, and glorification. Taken together they provide a sound and biblically supported introduction to the way that God saves sinners.

     Two chapters are worthy of specific mention in our day. The first deals with regeneration. Much confusion has arisen from the fundamental error of assuming that regeneration follows faith; i.e., that the sinner believes, and is consequently rewarded with the new life. Murray ably demonstrates from the biblical text that, in reality, regeneration precedes faith, that new life is imparted sovereignly to the elect, and the immediate consequences are faith and repentance. In my judgment, the unwillingness of so many today to accept the biblical order of regeneration and faith accounts for the widespread compromise of the gospel. If new life is so dependent upon the decision of a sinner's will, then pragmatism makes sense; let's do whatever it takes to get a decision! But if a man is dead - both unwilling and unable to come savingly to Christ or even prepare himself to come - then we dare not mess with the purity of the gospel, for it is the "power of God unto salvation."

     Second, the chapter on union with Christ is a much-needed reminder today of a crucial doctrinal area that is largely unknown in our churches. Murray's careful and exegetical study of this mysterious union of Christ and the believer is not only profound and informative, but it also leaves the reader's heart warmed to worship. If our churches knew the truths of union with Christ, and were pushed to reflect deeply on this mystery, our living and our worship would be reformed in a mighty and visible way.

     Classic literature has been defined as those books that are highly praised and seldom read. John Murray's little book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, certainly qualifies as a classic in that it deserves high praise. But, if in being presented as a classic, it scares away the very ones who should read it, I gladly commend it to you as something less. Here is a book that has helped thousands through the years, and it will help many in our day as well. It is time we rediscovered this beautiful little book and made it a classic for a new generation of disciples.

David Hegg
Corona, California

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