January 22, 2007

The Basis of W. G. T. Shedd's (1820–1894) Universal Gospel Offer

The universal offer of the gospel is consistent with the divine purpose of predestination because (1) Christ's atonement is a sufficient satisfaction for the sins of all men and (2) God sincerely desires that every man to whom the atonement is offered would trust in it. His sincerity is evinced by the fact that, in addition to his offer, he encourages and assists man to believe by the aids of his providence — such as the written and spoken word, parental teaching and example, favoring social influences, etc. — and by the operation of the common grace of the Holy Spirit. The fact that God does not in the case of the nonelect bestow special grace to overcome the resisting self-will that renders the gifts of providence and common grace ineffectual does not prove that he is insincere in his desire that man would believe under the influence of common grace any more than the fact that a benevolent man declines to double the amount of his gift, after the gift already offered has been spurned, proves that he did not sincerely desire that the person would take the sum first offered.
W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2003), 349.

Also in W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1888), 1:457.


What interests me about the above quote are the following points:

1) Shedd connects the sincerity of the universal offer to the sufficiency of Christ's satisfaction made for the sins of all men and to God's desire that every man trust in it. Notice that Shedd does not say that Christ's death COULD HAVE BEEN (Owen's hypothetical way of putting it) sufficient for the sins of all men, but that IT IS sufficient. So, it's not just the case that there is a bare sufficiency because of Christ's infinite intrinsic value, but he really suffered or satisfied for the sins of all men in the death he died (an ordained sufficiency). Moreover, Shedd hasn't gutted the revealed will of God of any sense of desire, a want of compliance, willingness, a propensity, an active principle, velleity, or seeking. He sees the revealed will as a "desire" in God (like Calvin) and connects that to the basis for a sincere offer. Shedd's distinction between the secret and revealed will of God is not a distinction without a difference.

2) Shedd is not so decretally bent in his theology so as to gut common grace of the notion that God grants good things with a view to saving. He argues that the common bounties of providence are given to "encourage" and "assist" men to believe savingly. In other words, he's not merely paying lip service to the classical Calvinistic teaching on common grace.

Some higher Calvinists, due to their overly decretal view of things, have significantly distorted or gutted the classical conceptions of Christ's sufficiency, the revealed will and common grace, unlike Shedd. They can only affirm a hypothetical sufficiency, they don't really think the revealed will is a will (it merely points to a passive constitutional "delight" in God for certain abstract principles like repentance), and they don't think that the common bounties of providence stem from a seeking in God for the ultimate well-being of man.

Two serious theological errors have occurred in church history. There are 1) those who are inclined to think that God may not be able to bring to pass what he has determined to bring to pass (his decretal will), and there are 2) those who are inclined to think that God doesn't really will or want compliance to what he commands (his revealed will). To use an analogy from the Lord of the Rings movie, each position is like a ring of power. If you put on the first ring, the decretal will of God turns invisible. If you put on the second ring, the revealed will goes invisible. These two parties, which represent different halves of a false either/or dilemma (since it's really the case that God will bring to pass what he has determined AND he wants compliance to what he commands), continue to wage war against each other today. Both are in desperate need of the balance of W. G. T. Shedd. Because my blog is primarly concerned with taking the second ring of power to Mount Doom, those associated with the second party are not exactly enthusiastic about what I have to say.

No comments: