John Murray on Propitiation

8 May

John MurrayI have recently* been reading John Murray’s work, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, and I wanted to share with you some of his well put thoughts on propitiation. I will quote texts from the book (in bold) and then give my thoughts on why I find his words so beautiful and encouraging (italicized).

First, we need to define propitiation, so that we know what we’re talking about…

“In the Hebrew of the Old Testament it is expressed by a word which means “to cover.”…It may be said that the sin, or perhaps the person who has sinned, is covered before the sight of the Lord (p. 30).”

So, in essence, Murray states that propitiation is the covering of our sin, or the covering of sinful people, by the work of Jesus Christ. Namely, His life and death upon the cross.

The question, though, is why? Why do we need Him to cover us?

“Vengeance is the reaction of the holiness of God to sin, and the covering is that which provides for the removal of divine displeasure which the sin evokes…To propitiate means to ‘placate,’ ‘pacify,’ ‘appease,’ ‘conciliate.’ And it is this idea that is applied to the atonement accomplished by Christ (p. 30).”

So we see that we need such a covering for our sin because of the divine displeasure and eventual wrath of God. Yet this is where controversy comes in. I have often heard some people voice their disbelief in God on the basis of the ridiculous idea of “divine child abuse.” Or, to more eloquently put it as an atheist friend of my once said, “Christianity is based upon the idea that God kills himself to save us from himself.” Many others, often from within the Christian camp, criticize this idea as well, refusing to believe in a God of such wrath. One could even say much of the buzz surrounding Rob Bell’s new book has to do with this very issue.

So what, then, does Murray say in response to criticism of propitiation?

“It has been charged that this doctrine represents the Son as winning over the incensed Father to clemency and love, a supposition wholly inconsistent with the fact that the love of God is the very fount from which the atonement springs…It is loose thinking of a deplorable sort to claim that propitiation of the divine wrath does prejudice to or is incompatible with the fullest recognition that the atonement is the provision of the divine love…This propitiation is the fruit of the divine love that provided it (p. 31-32).”

I want to explain this before presenting the second half of his argument. In this section, Murray states that to view Christ’s work as some sort of persuasion with regard to His angry, disgruntled Father would be foolish. In fact, Murray believes that such an idea is contradictory to the fact that it is out of the Father’s love for people that the atonement comes forth. In Christ’s death upon the cross, we see the fullest expression of love that could ever be given. Jesus Christ lived and died for our sins, to cover us from the wrath of God. Thus, it is this covering that is the fruit, or result, of God’s love given to us in Christ.

“Propitiation does not detract from the love and mercy of God; it rather enhances the marvel of his love. For it shows us the cost that redemptive love entails. God is love. But the supreme object of that love is himself.  And because he loves himself supremely he cannot suffer what belongs to the integrity of his character and glory to be compromised or curtailed. That is the reason for the propitiation. God appeases his own holy wrath in the cross of Christ in order that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory (p. 32).”

In this weighty section, I think we see the beauty of propitiation. The fact that God the Father pours out His wrath upon His Son for our sin does not detract from His love and mercy, but rather makes these two traits shine all the more brightly. For God is love, and the supreme object of that love is Himself (Side note: Some object to this idea, but I ask: Then what should be that which God loves most and glories in? For none are greater than He or He would not be God). And because God is perfect in all His character, He cannot allow for sin to compromise that character, or hinder the glory brought to His name. So God accomplishes, or satisfies, everything necessary to 1.) Maintain His perfect character; 2.) Respond justly towards human sin and wickedness; and 3.) Reveal His love and mercy towards man. And He does this in the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are forgiven and saved to eternal life and satisfaction in God, the glory of His name!

I find the idea of Christ’s propitiation a beautiful picture of God’s perfect character, as well as His grace to me, the worst of sinners. It leads me to sit speechlessly amazed by God and eager for the day when Christ returns to fully establish the Kingdom of God.


*This is a post I originally wrote at Blogger.  A pdf version of this post is available at the Resource page. 


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