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John Murray

(6 posts)

The Universal Love of God

Spurgeon, contra Hyper-Calvinism, believed in the universal love of God for all men. He also believed, contra Arminianism, in the particular electing love of God for his chosen bride. From what [Spurgeon taught] on the universal love of God, Hyper-Calvinists deduced that Spurgeon did not believe in a special electing love which secures the salvation of all those for whom Christ died. Sometimes Christians of Arminian persuasion, with a superficial knowledge of Spurgeon, have reached the same conclusion on Spurgeon’s position. But this is the same mistake as can be made in reading the Bible itself. All references to divine love in Scripture are not to be interpreted as universal (Arminianism), neither are they all to be made particular (Hyper-Calvinism). There is a differentiation observable in Scripture. In speaking to Christians Spurgeon would often make the difference clear: ‘Beloved, the benevolent love of Jesus is more extended than the lines of his electing love . . . That [i.e. the love revealed in Matthew 23:37] is not the love which beams resplendently upon his chosen, but it is true love for all that.’ God’s special love ‘is not love for all men . . . There is an electing, discriminating, distinguishing love, which is settled upon a chosen people . . . and it is this love which is the true resting place for the saint.’ Arminianism, by making universal benevolence the only love revealed in Scripture, denies the sovereignty of grace and leads men to suppose that God had to make salvation equally available to all. Hyper-Calvinism, on the other hand, denies, in the words of John Murray, ‘that there is a love of God that goes forth to lost men and is manifested in the manifold blessings which all men without distinction enjoy, a love in which non-elect persons are embraced, and a love that comes to its highest expression in the entreaties, overtures and demands of gospel proclamation.’ While holding firmly to these important theological distinctions, Spurgeon did not believe that they were ones which had necessarily to be introduced in presenting the gospel to the unconverted and he warned against the kind of preaching which appears more concerned to safeguard orthodoxy than to save the lost. ‘Many good people think they ought to guard the gospel . . . When we protect it with provisos, and guard it with exceptions, and qualify it with observations, it is like David in Saul’s armour.’ He refused to explain how men could be held accountable for not trusting in a Saviour in whom they were never chosen, on the grounds that Scripture itself offers no explanation. It was enough for him that there is a salvation to be preached with love to all and that he call all to come to Christ and to say, ‘If he died for all those who trust him, I will trust him; if he has offered so great a sacrifice upon the tree for guilty men, I will rely upon that sacrifice and make it the basis of my hope.’ —Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 97–99.

Definite Atonement in Romans

The reconciliation of man to God was not merely begun at the cross, nor was it only made possible; it was accomplished, and it was finished. That fact effectively determines how we must answer the question, “For whom did Christ die?” Jesus died in order to reconcile all believers—mentioned repeatedly here as “we”—to God. Upon the cross, those who believe were truly reconciled to God: For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. —Romans 5:10—11 By its sin, mankind has alienated itself from God. The two parties—holy God and sinful man—are declared enemies who are at spiritual war. God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven toward sinners (1:18), and man’s rebellion and hatred toward God are being revealed, as well (3:10–18). At the cross, Jesus stood between the two offended parties and reconciled God to man and man to God. A real reconciliation occurred there, not a possible one. But not all men are reconciled to God through Christ’s death—only the elect. It was for these only that He died. Murray writes, “Reconciliation is a finished work. The tenses in verses 18, 19, 21 put this beyond doubt. It is not a work being continuously wrought by God; it is something accomplished in the past. God is not only the sole agent but also the agent of action already perfected. . . . He was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Christ took upon Himself the sin and guilt, the condemnation and the curse of those on whose behalf He died.” —Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 363–364.

Definite Atonement in 1 Corinthians

Wednesday··2012·12·05 · 2 Comments
Grammar matters. Personal pronouns demand that we answer the question, “To whom does this refer?” Our doctrines depend on answering correctly. Christ died upon the cross for the sins of all believers. His substitutionary death secured eternal salvation for all who put their trust in Him: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. —1 Corinthians 15:3–4 As a matter of “first importance,” Paul’s preaching focused upon the vicarious death of Christ for “our sins.” John Murray writes, “On whose behalf did Christ offer Himself a sacrifice? . . . In whose stead and on whose behalf was He obedient unto death, even the death of the cross? These are precisely the questions that have to be asked and frankly faced if the matter of the extent of the atonement is to be placed in proper focus. . . . The question is precisely the reference of the death of Christ when this death is viewed as vicarious death, that is to say, as vicarious obedience, as substitutionary sacrifice, and expiation, as effective propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. In a word, it is the strict and proper connotation of the expression “died for” that must be kept in mind. When Paul says . . . “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3), he does not have in mind some blessing that may accrue from the death of Christ but of which we may be deprived in due time and which may thus be forfeited. He is thinking of the stupendous truth that Christ loved him and gave Himself up for him (Gal. 2:20) . . . and that therefore we have redemption through the blood of Christ. He died for “our” sins—those of the elect. —Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 388.

Universal Love

The universal call of the gospel, says Iain Murray, is proof of the universal love of God for all humanity. Universal gospel preaching is proof of the reality of universal divine love. It is the same love of which we read in Ezekiel 33:11: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?’ When the Pharisees complained of Christ, ‘This man receives sinners, and eats with them,’ Jesus responded by speaking of the character of God: he is like the father of the prodigal son who ‘saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him’ (Luke 15:20). Christ’s unwillingness that men should be lost is the same as the Father’s. He desires that all men everywhere should turn and live. As John Murray has written: There is a love of God which goes forth to lost men and is manifested in the manifold blessings which all men without distinction enjoy, a love in which non-elect persons are embraced, and a love which comes to its highest expression in the entreaties, overtures and demands of gospel proclamation. We conclude that the death of Christ is to be preached to all, and preached in the conviction that there is love for all. ‘In the gospel,’ said an eminent preacher of the Scottish Highlands, ‘the provision of God’s love for the salvation of sinners is revealed and offered . . . Faith is a believing God as speaking to me ‘a receiving of what is said as true, because it is the testimony of God, and receiving it as true in its bearing on my own case as a sinner because it is addressed by God to me.’ Another Scots Calvinistic leader put it still more strongly in the words: ‘Men evangelized cannot go to hell but over the bowels of God’s great mercies. They must wade to it through the blood of Christ.’ —Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth, 2005), 114–115.

Real, or Potential?

Did Jesus actually atone for sins on the cross, or did he only achieve a potential atonement? When he said, “It is finished,” was anything really finished, or was the finishing just made possible? Are the sins of lost souls in hell forgiven? These are the questions that must be answered by teachers of universal atonement. John Owen, in his seminal treatment of limited atonement, points out the sequence of Arminian reasoning. First, “Christ died for all and every one, elect and reprobate.” But second, “Most of them for whom Christ died are damned.” According to this view, most of the people for whom Christ offered atonement do not have their sins atoned for. If God intended the salvation of all, His intention clearly failed. John Murray observes: The very nature of Christ’s mission and accomplishment is involved in this question. Did Christ come to make the salvation of all men possible, to remove obstacles that stood in the way of salvation, and merely to make provision for salvation? Or did he come to save his people? . . . Did he come to make men redeemable? Or did he come effectually and infallibly to redeem? The doctrine of the atonement must be radically revised if, as atonement, it applies to those who finally perish as well as to those who are the heirs of eternal life. In that event we should have to dilute the grand categories in terms of which the Scripture defines the atonement and deprive them of their most precious import and glory. —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 54–55.

Random Selections: The Focus of Hope (John Murray)

This random selection (even page, final paragraph) is from The Advent of Christ by John Murray, professor of systematic theology, first at Princeton, and then at Westminster Theological Seminary from 1930–1966. What is the focal point of the Christian hope? What looms highest on the believer’s horizon as he looks to the future? There is but one answer; it is the advent of Christ in glory. This is ‘the blessed hope’, ‘the appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Christ Jesus’ (Tit. 2:13), when he will ‘descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God’ (1 Thess. 4:16; cf. 1 Cor. 15:52). Just as hope itself has suffered eclipse in our day, so has the focus of hope. The scepticism of which Peter warned is so largely ours: ‘Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation’ (2 Peter 3:4). And even believers are too liable to be influenced by current patterns of thought. Let us be alert to the subtlety of unbelief and to Satan’s devices. —The Collected Writings of John Murray (Banner of Truth, 1976), 86–87.


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