SALE: Carson/Gaffin/Piper

There is a great deal going on now at Westminster Bookstore… three books for $20! Get D.A. Carson’s “Collected Writings on Scripture,” and the respective festschrifts of Richard Gaffin and John Piper, “Resurrection and Eschatology” and “For the Fame of God’s Name”—all for just $20! Click the links above or image below for more info.

Of course, you could buy them individually for up to 72% off, but why not save around 80% by buying all three?

Advertisements

The Nature and Extent of the Atonement

The following is an adaptation of a presentation I gave at the latest Northwest Ohio Reformation Society meeting. Our topic was “Redemption Accomplished and Applied,” borrowing from John Murray’s classic text on the gospel. I was tasked with covering the application of redemption and decided to focus on the nature and extent of the atonement.

What is Redemption?

According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, the concept of redemption “includes the ideas of loosing from a bond, setting free from captivity or slavery, buying back something lost or sold, exchanging something in one’s possession for something possessed by another, and ransoming.” In the Old Testament, there are three main ideas involving redemption: substitution, deliverance, and atonement. These themes are gradually unfolded throughout the Old Testament, and in the inter-testemental period (roughly 400 years between the time of Malachi and the birth of Jesus) they were generally understood to have an eschatological or end times’ fulfillment in the Messiah. They drew parallels from the bondage of Israel and Babylonian captivity and their own temporal circumstances or physical reality. While many people alive during Jesus’ earthly ministry saw the Messiah as a victorious military leader who would conquer Rome, deliver Israel from oppression, and set up a material Kingdom, we see from the New Testament documents that Jesus Messiah had other plans—His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). God’s plan for substitution, deliverance, and atonement involved the sinless Christ who would deliver His people from their sin as a vicarious propitiatory sacrifice. He would provide pardon and reconciliation by satisfying the wrath of God with His precious blood.

Redemption Accomplished

In the first section of his book, “Redemption Accomplished and Applied”, John Murray writes about four aspects of redemption, or the atonement of Jesus Christ; namely, its necessity, nature, perfection, and extent. I’d like to focus on the nature and extent of the atonement in this post.

The Nature of the Atonement
The redemptive work of Jesus Christ is a labor of obedience. According to John 5:30, Jesus says “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Likewise, in John 6:38, He says “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” So, Jesus will was perfectly in tune with the Father’s. He lived a life of perfect obedience to God the Father. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 5:19: “through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” He incorporates federal headship to explain the nature of the atonement. In other words, Adam our representative, committed cosmic treason and we have been alienated from God… but if we are united in Christ, if He is our representative—our federal head, we have been reconciled with the Father through the obedience of Christ. Theologians typically identify two types of obedience: Active and Passive.

Active Obedience
When we speak of “active obedience,” we are essentially talking about the life of Christ. While the active and passive obedience of Jesus should not be so starkly contrasted and categorized to indicate no overlap or continuity, for our purposes today, we will approach this aspect of obedience as his perfection with regard to the Law. Murray explains, “Christ as the Vicar [or representative] of His people came under the curse and condemnation due to sin and He also fulfilled the law of God in all its positive requirements. In other words, He took care of the guilt of sin and perfectly fulfilled the demands of righteousness. He perfectly met both the penal [or judicial] and the preceptive [or legal] requirements of God’s law.” (pp. 21–22) Paul says that “when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4–5) Calvin comments: “from the time when he took on the form of a servant, he began to pay the price of liberation in order to redeem us.” (Institutes, 2.16.5)

Passive Obedience
When we say “passive,” it does not mean that Jesus was somehow absent from His exertion of obedience. Generally speaking, the passive obedience of Christ refers to His humbling Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death… on a cross (Phil. 2:8). According to Murray, this “obedience was vicarious [substitutionary] in the bearing of the full judgment of God upon sin, and it was vicarious in the full discharge of the demands of righteousness. His obedience becomes the ground of the remission of sin and of actual justification… It was that obedience, brought to its consummate fruition on the cross, that constituted Him an all-sufficient and perfect Savior.” (pp. 22, 23) The classic Old Testament Messianic prophecy of the Suffering Servant helps us here:

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:3–6)

We see here the language of substitutionary sacrifice… “He bore our griefs,” “He carried our sorrows,” “He was pierced through for our transfgressions,” “He was crushed for our iniquities,” “The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,” “we are healed by His scourgings,” “the Lord has cause the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” Over and over, we read of the Messiah’s vicarious atonement.

Moving on, I’d like for us to take a look at a few of the concepts related to the atonement. Namely, Sacrifice, Propitiation, and Reconciliation.

Sacrifice
The sacrificial theme is at the heart of the Scriptures. We see in Genesis 22 when Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord provided a substitutionary sacrifice via the ram in the thicket (v. 13). In Exodus 12, the Passover Lamb was an unblemished sacrifice that was slaughtered and the blood was a sign for the Lord’s wrath to “pass over” the households of the faithful. The Levitical system also has substitutionary and sacrificial relevance. Michael Lawrence points out the following details in his book “Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church” (pp. 156–157):

  • Only clean animals without defect can be sacrificed.
  • Every firstborn Israelite, who represents the nation as a whole, must be redeemed with a sacrificial substitute.
  • Prominent is the taking of life and the shedding of a blameless victim’s blood.
  • The idea of a substitute is also prominent… if anyone brings a sacrifice, “He is to lay His hand on the head of the burnt offering and it will be accepted on his behalf.” (Lev. 1:4)
  • Sacrifices now begin and end every single day in God’s temple, presented by priests who serve as intermediaries between God and His sinful people.
  • There are additional sacrifices that mark the beginning of each week, each month, and each season.
  • At the pinnacle of this entire system of sacrifice was the Day of Atonement. The high priest alone took the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat, the symbolic throne of God, to make atonement for His own sins and the sins of the people.

In the New Testament, it is plain to see that Jesus is the culmination and fulfillment of this sacrificial element of true religion. John the Baptizer calls him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Apostle Paul likewise says that “Christ our Passover… has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor. 5:7). The author of Hebrews also says that He offered Himself up as a sacrifice once for all (Heb. 7:28) and “at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Heb. 9:26)

Propitiation
Secondly, we see the language of propitiation with regard to redemption. Propitiation, according to Murray, “presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.” (p. 30) In other words, propitiation is satisfaction and/or removal of the wrath of God. It is fascinating that the word for “mercy seat” (‘kap-oh-reth’ in Hebrew), which was the lid to the Ark of the Covenant, was rendered “propitiatorium” (which means the place of propitiation) when the Old Testament was translated into Latin. While the mercy seat in the Levitical context, where the sprinkled blood of the spotless lamb symbolized propitiation… the true mercy seat and the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, made absolute propitiation by the shedding of His blood. According to Scripture, “God displayed [Jesus] publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” (Rom. 3:25) “He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Heb. 2:17)

Reconciliation
Lastly, with regard to the nature of the atonement, I’d like to shift focus to reconciliation. As I mentioned earlier, sinful humanity has been estranged from God. The accomplishment of redemption reconciles sinners with the Holy God. Paul writes in Romans:

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Rom. 5:8–11)

Furthermore, we see the grace of God in reconciling us to Himself by the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:17–21)

Not only has God reconciled a people to Himself in Christ, but by His grace, He has made Christians ambassadors of reconciliation! Listen to Murray again: “The reconciliation of which the Scripture speaks, as accomplished by the death of Christ, contemplates… the relation of God to us. It presupposes a relation of alienation and it effects a relation of favor and peace. This new relation is constituted by the removal of the ground for the alienation. The ground is sin and guilt. The removal is wrought in the vicarious work of Christ, when 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. This is the epitome of divine grace and love. It is God’s own provision and it is his accomplishment. God Himself in His own Son has removed the ground of offence and we receive the reconciliation.” (p. 42) God is the divine benefactor of reconciliation. He has taken the initiative upon Himself to accomplish redemption for His people. This leads us to the scope or extent of the atonement.

The Extent of the Atonement
The extent of the atonement is quite a hot-button issue. There has been no shortage of debate over the question: “for whom did Christ die?” The doctrine known as “Limited Atonement” is often misunderstood and gets a bad rap since the name seems to imply that there are limitations to the redemptive work of Christ. In discussion about the extent of the atonement, it has been observed that regardless of one’s position… everyone “limits” the atonement in one way or another. The Calvinist believes that the extent or scope of the atonement is limited in that it is reserved for a particular people—namely, the Church. But the Arminian limits the efficacy or power of the atonement by saying that Christ died for all people, even those who deny Him and await judgment and hell. This brings us to an important thing to consider when the question, “for whom did Christ die?” An appropriate follow-up question would be, “to whom is the atonement applied to?”

As I mentioned, the concept of “limited atonement” is often misconstrued. Partially responsible, is the terminology employed. A more appropriate phrase that many of you will undoubtedly be familiar with is “Particular Redemption.” This term is to be preferred since it alludes to the doctrine of election: there is a particular group of people (i.e. the Church) who will be redeemed. Also implied in this is that there is a certainty of accomplishment. Another expression that is employed is “Definite Atonement,” which carries a similar sentiment. Redemption was not just made possible by the work of Christ—it was actually accomplished. Murray points out, “[Redemption] does not mean redeemability, that we are placed in a redeemable position. It means that Christ purchased and procured redemption.” (p. 63) According to Titus 2:14, He “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” The atonement which Christ has made is effectual. As the accomplishment of redemption is effective, so is the application of it. This brings up an important point I alluded to earlier… those who receive the Holy Spirit—those who are born again by the effecual power of the Holy Spirit—are the same people whom Christ has died for. He has accomplished redemption for a particular people and they are the recipients of the benefits and blessings of its application.

I’d like to conclude by pointing out an important New Testament truth that Murray touches on… the fact that “those for whom Christ died, have themselves also died in Christ.” (p. 69) Paul writes in Romans 6 that “we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (Rom. 6:4–7) Those who believe the gospel and trust in the Person and work of Christ have died with Him, been buried with Him, and will be resurrected and glorified in Him. It is evident here, that the answer to the question, “for whom did Christ die?” is “those who have died in Christ and have been raised to new life.”

Now, it is important to point out that this is a doctrine to throw around carelessly. We must exercise wisdom and pastoral concern with regard to “Particular Redemption.” Often, this teaching is oddly criticized because it appears to be elitist. That is, detractors imply that proponents of Definite Atonement are arrogant and have reason to boast since they have been chosen by God. This cannot be farther from the truth. Paul points in Ephesians 2 that we have been saved by grace through faith… it is not of ourselves—it is a gift of God—we cannot boast in our works. (Eph. 2:8–9) This doctrine is not of arrogance… it is of humiliation! There is nothing special in us that compels God to save us… it is because of the sovereign good pleasure of God that He decides to set His love upon us. The doctrine of election is not a very popular teaching in contemporary evangelicalism… but it is biblical. And we should faithfully preach it and teach it in our churches, emphasizing the grace of God in salvation for His glory.

For more on this subject, please visit the Systematic Theology page.

Recommended reading:

Notable & Newsworthy

Here are the links and articles for the day…

Get John Stott’s “The Cross of Christ” for 50% OFF from Westminster Bookstore

Enter to win three Sovereign Grace Music albums and books by John Piper and Mez McConnell at 20 Schemes

Enter to win a stack of books by Russell Moore, Daniel Darling, Trillia Newbell, John Piper, and Mez McConnell from ERLC and 20 Schemes

Get D.A. Carson’s “Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians” for $2.51 on Amazon Kindle (sale ends 05/22)

Get Kevin DeYoung’s “Crazy Busy” for just $3.99 for Amazon Kindle (sale ends 05/31)

Enter to win Philip Graham Ryken’s “Salvation by Crucifixion” from Reformation21

Read books or get out of the ministry

Itchy trigger warnings, academic freedom, and college education

Richard Phillips on assurance of salvation through obedience to God’s commands

FREE D.A. Carson lectures on the book of Hebrews

Denny Burk on the New Testament as normative basis for sexual ethics

Thailand declares martial law amidst political unrest

“If you are bored with the gospel, you need to take a deep look at the sin of your heart. More seriously, if the gospel does not resonate in your heart, check and see that you are truly converted.” (J. Mack Stiles)

“Perhaps you complain the tool is dull, the minister is dead and cold. You should have whetted and sharpened him with your prayer.” (Thomas Watson)

Please take some time to browse the rest of the site (the other pages are located in the tabs above). There are a number of articles, FREE e-books, and book recommendations to help you grow. Check out the Systematic Theology page or Pastoral Theology page first… enjoy!

Westminster Wednesday

THE WESTMINSTER LARGER CATECHISM

What Man Ought to Believe Concerning God…

Question 7:

Q. What is God?

A. God is a Spirit (John 4:24), in and of himself infinite in being (Ex. 3:14; Job 11:7–9), glory (Acts 7:2), blessedness (1 Tim. 6:15), and perfection (Matt. 5:48); all-sufficient (Gen. 17:1), eternal (Ps. 90:2), unchangeable (Mal. 3:6), incomprehensible (1 Kings 8:27), every where present (Ps. 139:1–13), almighty (Rev. 4:8), knowing all things (Heb. 4:13; Ps. 147:5), most wise (Rom. 16:27), most holy (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 15:4), most just (Deut. 34:2), most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth (Ex. 34:6).

 

QUESTION 6

 

THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH

Chapter I: Of the Holy Scripture

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

 

ARTICLE 6

 

For more on this subject, please visit the Systematic Theology page.

Recommended reading:

Westminster Wednesday

THE WESTMINSTER LARGER CATECHISM

What Man Ought to Believe Concerning God…

Question 6:

Q. What do the Scriptures make known of God?

A. The Scriptures make known what God is (Heb. 11:6), the persons in the Godhead (1 John 5:17), His decrees (Acts 15:14–15, 18), and the execution of His decrees (Acts 4:27–28).

 

Question 5

 

THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH

Chapter I: Of the Holy Scripture

VI. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

 

ARTICLE 5

 

For more on this subject, please visit the Systematic Theology page.

 

Recommended reading:

 

The Mediator: God and Man

THE MEDIATOR: GOD AND MAN

“Man in innocence could not penetrate to God without a Mediator, much less could he after the fall…

It deeply concerned us, that He who was to be our Mediator should be very God and very man. If the necessity be inquired into, it was not what is commonly termed simple or absolute, but flowed from the divine decree on which the salvation of man depended… Our iniquities, like a cloud intervening between Him and us, having utterly alienated us from the kingdom of heaven, none but a person reaching to Him could be the medium of restoring peace. But who could thus reach to Him? Could any of the sons of Adam? All of them, with their parents, shuddered at the sight of God. Could any of the angels? They had need of a head, by connection with which they might adhere to their God entirely and inseparably. What then? The case was certainly desperate, if the Godhead itself did not descend to us, it being impossible for us to ascend. Thus the Son of God behooved to become our Immanuel, i.e., God with us; and in such a way, that by mutual union His divinity and our nature might be combined; otherwise,  neither was the proximity near enough, nor the affinity strong enough, to give us hope that God would dwell with us; so great was the repugnance between our pollution and the spotless purity of God. Had man remained free from all taint, he was of too humble a condition to penetrate to God without a Mediator. What, then must it have been, when by fatal ruin he was plunged into death and hell, defiled by so many stains, made loathsome corruption; in fine, overwhelmed with every curse? It is not without cause, therefore, that Paul, when he would set forth Christ as the Mediator, distinctly declares Him to be man. There is, says he, ‘one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 2:5). He might have called Him God, or at least, omitting to call Him God, he might also have omitted to call Him man; but because the Spirit, speaking by his mouth, knew our infirmity, he opportunely provides for it by the most appropriate remedy, setting the Son of God familiarly before us as one of ourselves. That no one, therefore, may feel perplexed where to seek the Mediator, or by what means to reach Him, the Spirit, by calling Him man, reminds us that He is near, no, contiguous to us, inasmuch as He is our flesh. And, indeed, he intimates the same thing in another place, where he explains a greater length that He is not a high priest who “cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).” (John Calvin)

For more on this subject, please visit the Systematic Theology page.

Westminster Wednesday

THE WESTMINSTER LARGER CATECHISM

Question 4:

Q. How does it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God?

A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty (Hos. 8:12; 1 Cor. 2:6–7, 13; Ps. 119:18, 129) and purity (Ps. 12:6; 119:140); by the consent of all the parts (Acts 10:43; 26:22); and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God (Rom. 3:19, 27); by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation (Acts 18:28; Heb. 4:12; Jam. 1:18; Ps. 19:7–9; Rom. 15:4; Acts 20:32): but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God (John 16:13–14; 1 John 2:20, 27; John 20:31).

QUESTION 3

 

THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH

Chapter I: Of Holy Scripture

IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

ARTICLE 3

 

For more on the subject, please visit the Systematic Theology page.

 

Recommended reading:

Zondervan NIV Application Commentary Sale

9780802881663

All of Zondervan’s e-book editions of the NIV Application Commentary set are just $4.99 each. Click here to see the entire collection.

 

Recommended reading:

The Greatest of Our High Priest

THE GREATEST OF OUR HIGH PRIEST

“What makes a mediator effective is His acceptability to both parties who need to be reconciled to one another… as God, He can speak to God on equal terms; as man, He knows how to represent us perfectly… Jesus, the Son of God, a High Priest, who by virtue of possessing those two natures is perfectly qualified to bridge the gulf between a holy God, and a sinful humanity.” (Arturo Azurdia III)

For more on the subject, visit Spirit Empowered Preaching.

 

Recommended reading:

 

Family Friday

THE FAMILY DISCIPLINE

“‘Train up a child in the way he should go’ is the injunction God lays on us. But it is, moreover, the principle on which He Himself is acting with His Church. He is training up His children here. This is the true character of His dealings with them. The education of His saints is the object He has in view. It is training for the kingdom; it is education for eternity.

How momentous, then, is the training! It is God who is carrying it on by the Holy Spirit. It is the Church, which is the Body of Christ, that is the subject of it. And it is to prepare her for an everlasting kingdom! In bringing many sons unto glory, it was needful that even the Captain of their through suffering. Surely, then, God lays vast stress upon this discipline. In His estimation it is no unimportant nor unmeaning exercise. Knowing this, the apostle exhorts us on this very point, ‘My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord.’ It is too solemn to be despised, too education of God’s family is concerned with it. The preparation of an heir of glory depends on it.” (Horatius Bonar)

For more on the subject, visit the Pastoral Theology page.

 

Recommended reading: