A Critical Assessment of John Murray's Essay, entitled, The Neccessity of the Atonement..

By William M. Brennan




Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. Since God cannot lie, and he stated this in his word, it follows that the vicarious scarifice was the only way to redemption. For God cannot look upon sin and sinful man cannot approach the glory of a holy God. God is of purer eyes that to behold evil. Therefore, as God is love,this rift between God and his beloved creature, Man created an absolute necessity for the atonement.

It is not a "consequent absolute necessity," as former Westminster Seminary professor, John Murray would have us believe, because God, by virtue of the perfection of his holy moral character has no choice but to redeem. If he did not redeem he would be someone other than who he is. Murray exhibits the height of sophistry when he asserts on the one hand, "Love is not something adventitious; it is not something that God may choose or choose not to be. He is love, and that necessarily, inherently, and eternally." and then takes away what he had just declared, but adding, "it is not inherently necessary to that love which God necessarily and eternally is that he should set such love as issues in redemption and adoption upon uttely undesirable and hell-deserving objects." (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied,Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955, pp. 10-11.)

So Murray would have us believe that although love is the essential property of God's moral nature, he need not exhibit that property toward anyone, because all mankind is undesirable. It is beyond comprehension how such a systematic thinker as John Murray could make such an assertion in the face of all the clear love principles set forth in scripture. Love, as defined by scripture will not allow such an assertion to stand.

Love, says the word of God, ...

... is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Love does not keep a record of wrongs. it does not hold grudges. It seeks the well-being of others and is kind. Jesus tells us the following parable to gives us a graphic illustration of love, defined by example...

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[c]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself." "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
- Luke 10:25-37

So love is not caring for those who please us. It is caring for our enemies. It even means doing good to those who actually hate us. That is the definition of love. Such a love does not permit one to stand by and allow others to perish. It does not permit one to hate anyone, including one's enemies. Rather it requires one to love one's enemies. That is the very definition of true biblical love. That is the character of our Holy God. That is why God summarizes the law with the principles of loving him and our neighbor as ourselves. These are the greatest commandments because they summarize the entire law.

Our Lord defines love explicitely in the Sermon on the Mount.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Mathew 5 :43-48

Perfection is defined then, as loving our enemies and those who hate us. As a good reformed scholar Murray should have realized that the law of God is a reflection of his perfect moral character. Therefore it is a reflection of LOVE. The law requires us to love evil doers. Why. because God does so. Not freely but of necessity. Not a physical necesssity to be sure, but the natural neccessity of consistency of his immutable and perfect moral charater. So contrary to Murray's assertion, love must neccessarily fall upon both the just and the unjust. Thus particular redemption must be framed within the confines of this immutable principle. This leads to the inescapable conclusion that those who are not of the elect, and whom God passes by now, are destined to receive redemption in Christ farther along.

That's why Paul says:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
- Rom 5:6-11