08 May, 2016

A Critique of John Murray’s Theory of the Atonement with Regard to the Non-Elect


Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Another Look at Common Grace (2019 edition), pp. 62-68]
The problem of the relation between common grace and the atonement of Christ has always been a perplexing one. Those especially who have stood in the Reformed tradition have hesitated to say that common grace is merited for the wicked in the cross of Jesus Christ. Their hesitancy has reflected their fear of universalizing the atoning work of the Savior.

There is good reason for this hesitancy. It strikes at the very nature of the atonement. The Reformed churches, both on the continent and in the British Isles, who have stood in the tradition of the Protestant Reformation, have understood the Scriptures properly that the death of Christ was a substitutionary work of Christ so that He stood in the place of those for whom He died, bearing the wrath of God for them and paying the full penalty for sin. The atonement of Christ is so complete and perfect that for those for whom Christ died, sin and guilt exist no longer and righteousness and everlasting blessedness is merited for them.
Thus the work of Christ accomplished two things: Christ bore away all the wrath of God against those for whom Christ died; and Christ, by His perfect obedience, secured all the fullness of salvation.
Those who taught (and teach) that the atonement of Christ is for every man head for head are, of necessity, compelled to alter this essential characteristic of Christ’s atoning work. They stand confronted with the obvious fact that not all men are actually forgiven and not all men are saved. But if not all men are forgiven and if not all men are saved, then Christ did not secure for them who are not saved forgiveness of sins and everlasting blessedness. Hence, those who promote universal salvation must fall back on a different conception of the atonement.
Various theories of the atonement have been suggested over the years (as, e.g., the “moral” theory of the atonement, or the “governmental” theory of the atonement) and it is not our intention to discuss this question in detail. The works written on the subject are many. But, whatever the particular theory may be, the heart of it all is that Christ accomplished only one thing on the cross: He only made salvation available for all. He did not actually secure forgiveness and salvation; He only made these gifts available. They actually become the possession of those who, hearkening to the overtures of the gospel, accept Christ as their Savior by an act of their own will.
This conception is sheer Arminianism, and Reformed people have always, with good reason, shied away from it and condemned it as useless for their salvation. It has been well said: “A Christ for all is a Christ for no one.”
This is the dilemma which the proponents of common grace necessarily face. God is a holy God who hates sin and must, to preserve His essential holiness, punish the sinner with death both temporal and eternal. If God would do anything to the sinner but punish him, His holiness would be besmirched and He would no longer be God. The only possibility for God’s favor to rest upon man is if someone would come to bear himself the punishment which is justly due the sinner. This is the work Christ accomplished.
But now, so common grace teaches, God loves all men, is kind and merciful to them, bestows upon them many good gifts in this life, and blesses them with many temporal blessings which flow from the fountain of His grace and mercy. He loves and blesses those who are not saved and bestows good gifts on those who go to hell. How can this love and favor of God come upon those for whom Christ did not die and for whom Christ did not earn blessing?
It is obvious that such favor and blessing cannot come apart from the cross. And so, sensing the force of the problem, many have concluded that the death of Christ is, after all, for all men in some sense of the word.     
This is the position which John Murray takes:

Many benefits accrue to the non-elect from the redemptive work of Christ ... Thus all the good showered on this world, dispensed by Christ in the exercise of his exalted lordship, is related to the death of Christ and accrues to man in one way or another from the death of Christ. If so, it was designed to accrue from the death of Christ ... This is to say that even the non-elect are embraced in the design of the atonement in respect of those blessings falling short of salvation which they enjoy in this life ... [It] would not be improper to say that, in respect of what is entailed for the non-elect, Christ died for them ... [It] is incontrovertible that even those who perish are partakers of numberless benefits that are the fruits of Christ's death ... (Murray, Collected Writings, I, pp. 63-65).

The idea is, therefore, that while Christ actually accomplished salvation full and complete only for the elect, the suffering and death of Christ was so stupendous in its efficacy that additional blessings were also merited for the non-elect. It is (the figure is mine) as if Christ filled to overflowing the cup of salvation, but the overflowing blessings fall upon the reprobate as well.
But there are serious objections to such a conception of the cross.
On the one hand, it seems impossible for these blessings of common grace to come to the reprobate apart from the cross. If these blessings are rooted in God’s love and mercy and are expressions of His favor, such love, mercy, and favor can come only through the cross.
On the other hand, it is impossible to see how these blessings, which are in their very nature of a temporal kind, can be merited by Christ when He died for sin.
The very first objection is that this view has no scriptural basis. It is a logical deduction without biblical foundation. (Note: It is ironic that those who hold to common grace often accuse the Protestant Reformed Churches of “rationalism,” while they themselves often argue rationalistically). It is striking that Murray offers not one shred of evidence from Scripture for such a universalizing of the atonement. He argues for it in this way: 1) The reprobate receive many blessings; 2) These blessings flow from the love and mercy of God; 3) There can be no love and mercy for anyone apart from the cross; 4) Therefore, in some sense, Christ died for every man. This is, in itself, sound argumentation; the problem is with the first premise: “The reprobate receive many blessings.” This is simply not true. And, if the first premise is not true, the need for a universal atonement is not true. We may safely conclude that Scripture gives not the slightest hint that Christ’s meritorious work on the cross accomplished the meriting of temporal blessings for all mankind.
Secondly, the question is one of merit. The Scriptures teach that the work of Christ is meritorious. He earned and merited for the elect that which they could not merit for themselves. He did this great work in obedience to the Father. The elect were given Him from all eternity as His own possession. When He died on the cross, the names of all His elect were in His heart and thought. He consciously and willingly died for each one of them. “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep ... As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15).

This is a great blessedness for God’s people. They, when by faith they flee to the cross for their salvation, know and understand that their names were on the lips of Christ when He entered into the depths of hell to die for them. He loves them more than any other person can possibly love them. When, therefore, Christ cried out: “It is finished,” the believer understands that 2000 years ago on Calvary all his sins were completely taken away so that they exist no longer. At that point all his sins are gone, completely gone, forevermore. Salvation full and free was earned for him so that he can look forward in certainty to everlasting blessedness in heaven. Christ merited this for him.
If then, the cross of Christ was also for the reprobate, did Christ have also all the names of the reprobate in His heart and mind? When He said to God: “I offer the perfect sacrifice for the sins of My people by enduring the fury of Thy wrath,” did He also say, “Father, I offer myself as the sacrifice for those who are not Thy people in order that I may earn for them temporal blessings, even though their end is hell?” This is manifestly absurd.
Thirdly, one may carry this whole idea back to God Himself and His love, mercy, and grace, for that is our starting point when we discuss this question of common grace: common grace flows from a universal love, mercy, and grace.
Did God out of His own eternal and sovereign love for the elect give them to Christ so that Christ might accomplish salvation for them? That is the heart of salvation, and, indeed, this is the blessed truth to which every child of God clings. But, in addition to that, did God give also the reprobate to Christ from all eternity, out of eternal love, in order that Christ might also die for themeven though the death of God’s own Son is for temporal blessings for the reprobate and their end at last the suffering of hell?
Put in this form, it becomes obvious that such cannot be the case. We may, rather abstractly, discuss the extent and the design of the atonement; but put in the concrete form of the believer’s relation to Christ, the whole question strikes at the heart of his faith.
Finally, although the proponents of this universalizing of Christ’s atonement are careful to limit it in such a way that only certain temporal blessings are earned for the reprobate, the fact remains that once having universalized the atonement, even in a limited way, the outcome is bound to be a complete universalizing of the atonement so that the Arminian position is once again brought into the church and a Christ for all is preached from every pulpit. Then salvation is not accomplished; it is only available, and salvation depends upon the will of man.
Various distinctions have been made to try to justify a line of argumentation which makes temporal blessings flow from the cross. Such distinctions have been applied to the love of God. Murray, e.g., distinguishes between a love of benevolence which saves and a love of complacency which is conditional. (Murray, Collected Writings, II, pp. 70-72.)
Similar distinctions have been made in the atonement of Christ, distinctions between such ideas as the extent of the atonement, the design or intent of the atonement, the efficacy of the atonement, etc. Very clearly, Murray speaks of the design of the atonement as being inclusive of the reprobate, although he uses also the term “extent” when he speaks of the blessings which God sends to the reprobate. He writes:

The topic is sometimes spoken of as the design of the atonement. In the discussion the term ‘design’ is frequently the appropriate and convenient term. But there is also an advantage in the term ‘extent’; it has a denotative quality and serves to point up the crux of the question: who are embraced in that which the atonement actually accomplished? For whom were obedience, sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption designed? (Ibid., I, p. 63.)

Another distinction is made between temporal blessings and eternal blessings, the former for all men, the latter for the elect only. But whether the blessings are temporal or eternal, they remain blessings for all that.
Yet another distinction has been made between the sinner and his sin. God loves the sinner, but hates his sin. God loves the sinner as creature, and, therefore, this love for the sinner as creature is the same as His love for all His creatures, including rocks and elm trees. But the sin of the creature God hates. (Cf. Kuiper, The Three Points of Common Grace, p. 11: “God hates the wicked as wicked, but he loves them as His creatures.” Although Kuiper does not make the distinction between sin and the sinner, his idea seems to be the same.)
Yet these distinctions, too, are made in an effort to give some support to common grace without any scriptural basis. It is impossible to find in Scripture any distinction in the love of God. It is impossible, as we have noted, to find any references in Scripture to the effect that the atonement has a broader referent than the elect. It is impossible to find in Scripture any distinction between sin and the sinner. In fact, to state that Scripture teaches that God “loves the sinner, but hates his sin” is in flat contradiction to Psalm 5:5: “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.”
These distinctions, therefore, can only confuse. They are impossible to maintain. And the result is that the people in the pew come to believe that God loves everyone (Note H. J. Kuiper’s comment referred to earlier: “There is no one here in this audience who can say, ‘God hates me.’ Suppose you knew that you will ultimately be lost; even then you could not say, ‘God does not care for me’” (Kuiper, The Three Points, pp. 15-16), that Christ died for every man head for head, and that blessings come to all. The argumentation ends in blatant universalism.
The lines of Scripture are sharp and clear. God eternally loves His people in Christ. He gives them to Christ as Christ’s possession. For them Christ sheds His blood and earns for them forgiveness of sin and life everlasting. Through Christ and His cross the blessings of God come upon those for whom Christ died. They are the blest, while “the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked” (Proverbs 3:33).



Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia

[James] Durham considers whether any mercy bestowed upon the reprobate, and enjoyed by them, may be said to be the proper fruit of or purchase of, Christ’s death. And he answers in the negative. The ... fruits of Christ’s death, he says, are not divided, but they all go together. So that for whom He satisfied and for whom He purchased anything in any respect, He did so in respect of everything. There may be certain consequences of Christ's death of an advantageous kind which reach wicked men. But that is a mere accident. Nay, to the wicked there may be given common gifts, by which the Church is edified and the glory of the Lord advanced; but these belong to the covenant redemption, as promised blessings to God's people.



Adam Gib (1714–1788)

[Source: The Present Truth: A Display of the Secession Testimony (Edinburgh, 1774) vol. 2, Appendix 2, Section 4, pp. 299-302]

There can be no proper enjoyment of any benefits from Christ, as benefits of his mediatory kingdom, but in a way of communion and fellowship with Him, by faith. Thus, no common material benefits, as enjoyed by wicked men or unbelievers, can be looked upon as benefits of his mediatory kingdom, or as the fruits of his purchase. These material benefits, in the most general consideration thereof, do proceed from God as the great Creator and Preserver of the world, in which respect they are common to men and beasts. But more particularly, they always come to men in some Covenant-channel. They come to wicked men, or unbelievers, through the broken Covenant [of Works], in the channel of its curse. And so, whatever material goodness be in these things to them as suited to their fleshly nature, like the goodness thereof unto beasts, yet there is no spiritual goodness attending the same; no divine love, but wrath.



More to come! (DV)

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