September 10, 2008

More from W. G. T. Shedd (1820–1894) on the Universal Gospel Offer

The question arises, If the atonement of Christ is not intended to be universally applied, why should it be universally offered?

The gospel offer is to be made to every man because:

1. It is the divine command. Matt. 16:5. God has forbidden his ministers to except any man, in the offer.

2. No offer of the atonement is possible, but a universal offer. In order to be offered at all, Christ's sacrifice must be offered indiscriminately. A limited offer of the atonement to the elect only, would require a revelation from God informing the preacher who they are. As there is no such revelation, and the herald is in ignorance on this point, he cannot offer the gospel to some and refuse it to others. In this state of things there is no alternative but to preach Christ to everybody, or to nobody.

3. The atonement is sufficient in value to expiate the sin of all men indiscriminately; and this fact should be stated because it is a fact. There are no claims of justice not yet satisfied; there is no sin of man for which an infinite atonement has not been provided. "All things are now ready." Therefore the call to "come" is universal. It is plain, that the offer of the atonement should be regulated by its intrinsic nature and sufficiency, not by the obstacles that prevent its efficacy. The extent to which a medicine is offered is not limited by the number of persons favorably disposed to buy it and use it. Its adaptation to disease is the sole consideration in selling it, and consequently it is offered to everybody.

4. God opposes no obstacle to the efficacy of the atonement, in the instance of the non-elect. (a) He exerts no direct efficiency to prevent the non-elect from trusting in the atonement. The decree of reprobation is permissive. God leaves the non-elect to do as he likes. (b) There is no compulsion from the external circumstances in which the providence of God has placed the non-elect. On the contrary, the outward circumstances, especially in Christendom, favor instead of hindering trust in Christ's atonement. And so, in a less degree, do the outward circumstances in Heathendom. "The goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering of God [tend to] lead to repentance," Rom. 2:4; Acts 14:17; 17:26–30. (c) The special grace which God bestows upon the elect does not prevent the non-elect from believing; neither does it render faith any more difficult for him. The non-elect receives common grace, and common grace would incline the human will if it were not defeated by the human will. If the sinner should make no hostile opposition, common grace would be equivalent to saving grace. Acts 7:51, "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost." 2 Tim. 3:8, "As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth." See Howe's remarks on common grace. Oracles, II. ii.

5. The atonement of Christ is to be offered indiscriminately, because God desires that every man would believe in it. "God," says Turrettin (IV.xvii.33), "delights in the conversion and eternal life of the sinner, as a thing pleasing in itself, and congruous with his infinitely compassionate nature, and therefore demands from man as a duty due from him (tanquam officium debitum) to turn if he would live." Substitute in this passage "faith and repentance " for "conversion and eternal life," and it is equally true. It is the divine delight in faith and repentance, and the divine desire for its exercise, that warrants the offer of the benefits of Christ's atonement to the non-elect. Plainly, the offer of the atonement ought to be regulated by the divine desire, and not by the aversion of the non-elect. God in offering his own atonement should be guided by his own feeling, and not by that of sinful man. Because the non-elect does not take delight in faith and repentance is surely no reason why God, who does take delight in it, should be debarred from saying to him, "Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?" May not God express his sincere feeling and desire to any except those who are in sympathy with him, and have the same species of feeling? If a man has a kind and compassionate nature, it is uureasonable to require that he suppress its promptings in case he sees a proud and surly person who is unwilling to accept a gift. The benevolent nature is unlimited in its desire. It wishes well-being to everybody, and hence its offers are universal. They may be made to a churlish and ill-natured man and be rejected, but they are good and kind offers nevertheless, and they are none the less sincere, though they accomplish nothing.

The universal offer of the benefits of Christ's atonement springs out of God's will of complacency. Ezek. 33:11, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his evil way and live." God may properly call upon the non-elect to do a thing that God delights in, simply because he does delight in it. The divine desire is not altered by the divine decree of preterition. Though God decides not to overcome by special grace the obstinate aversion which resists common grace, yet his delight in faith and repentance remains the same. His desire for the sinner's faith and repentance is not diminished in the least by the resistance which it meets from the non-elect, nor by the fact that for reasons sufficient he does not decide to overcome this resistance.

6. It is the non-elect himself, not God, who prevents the efficacy of the atonement. For the real reason of the inefficacy of Christ's blood is impenitence and unbelief . Consequently the author of impenitence and unbelief is the author of limited redemption. God is not the cause of a sinner's impenitence and unbelief, merely because he does not overcome his impenitence and unbelief. If a man flings himself into the water and drowns, a spectator upon the bank cannot be called the cause of that man's death. Non-prevention is not causation. The efficient and responsible cause of the suicide is the suicide's free will. In like manner, the non-elect himself, by his impenitence and unbelief, is the responsible cause of the inefficacy of Christ's expiation. God is blameless in respect to the limitation of redemption; man is guilty in respect to it. God is only the indirect and occasional cause of it; man is the immediate and efficient cause of it. This being the state of the case, there is nothing self-contradictory in the universal offer of the atonement upon the part of God. If either of the following suppositions were true, it would be fatal to the universal offer: (a) If at the time of offering Christ's atonement God was actively preventing the non-elect from believing, the offer would be inconsistent. (b) If at the time of offering it God were working upon the will of the non-elect to strengthen his aversion to the atonement, the offer would be inconsistent. (c) If God were the efficient author of that apostasy and sinfulness which enslaves the human will and renders it unable to believe in Christ without special grace, then the offer of the atonement unaccompanied with the offer of special grace would be inconsistent. But none of these suppositions are true.

7. The offer of the atonement is universal, because, when God calls upon men universally to believe, he does not call upon them to believe that they are elected, or that Christ died for them in particular. He calls upon them to believe that Christ died for sin, for sinners, for the world; that there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved; that the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin; and that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. The atonement is not offered to an individual either as an elect man, or as a non-elect man; but as a man, and a sinner, simply. Men are commanded to believe in the sufficiency of the atonement, not in its predestinated application to themselves as individuals. The belief that Christ died for the individual himself is the assurance of faith, and is more than saving faith. It is the end, not the beginning of the process of salvation. God does not demand assurance of faith as the first act of faith. "Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith, true believers may wait long before they obtain it." L. C. 81. "In whom, after ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise," Eph. 1:13.

8. The atonement is to be offered to all, because the preacher is to hope and expect from God the best and not the worst for every man. He is consequently to expect the election of his hearer, rather than his reprobation. The fact of the external call favors election, not reprobation. The external call embraces the following particulars: (a) Hearing the word. (b) Religious education by parents and friends. (c) Common grace, experienced in conviction of sin, fear of death and judgment, general anxiety, and dissatisfaction with this life. Upon such grounds as these, the individual is to be encouraged to believe that God's purpose is to elect him rather than to reprobate him. If a person fears that he is of the non-elect, he should be assured rather that he is mistaken in this fear than that he is correct in it; because God has done more for him that tends to his salvation than to his perdition.

9. The atonement is to be offered to all men, because even those who shall prove in the day of judgment to be non-elect do yet receive benefits and blessings from it. Turretin, (XVI.xiv.11) mentions the following benefits: (a) The preaching of the gospel, whereby paganism with its idolatry, superstition, and wretchedness is abolished. (b) The extremes of human depravity are restrained, (c) Many temporal blessings and gifts of providence are bestowed. Rom. 2:4; Acts 14:17. (d) Punishment is postponed and delayed. Acts 17:30; Rom. 3:25. "The grace of the Redeemer," says Bates (Eternal Judgment), "is so far universal, that upon his account the indulgent providence of God invited the heathen to repentance. His renewed benefits that sweetened their lives, Rom. 2:4, and his powerful patience in forbearing so long to cut them off, when their impurities were so provoking, was a testimony of his inclination to clemency upon their reformation, Acts 14:17. And for their abusing his favors, and resisting the methods of his goodness, they will be inexcusable to themselves, and their condemnation righteous to their own conscience.", II.

The reasons for the universal offer of the atonement, thus far, have had reference to God's relation to the offer. They go to show that the act upon his part is neither self-contradictory, nor insincere. But there is another class of reasons that have reference to man's relation to the offer. And these we now proceed to mention.

1. The atonement is to be offered to every man, because it is the duty of every man to trust in it. The atonement is in this particular like the decalogue. The moral law is to be preached to every man, because it is every man's duty to obey it. The question whether every man will obey it has nothing to do with the universal proclamation of the law. It is a fact that the law will have been preached in vain to many persons, but this is no reason why it should not have been preached to them. They were under obligation to obey it, and this justified its proclamation to them. Still more than this, the moral law should be preached to every man even though no man is able to keep it perfectly in his own strength. The slavery of the human will to sin is no reason why the primary and original duty which the human will owes to God should not be stated and enjoined, because this slavery has been produced by man, not by God. In like manner faith in Christ's atonement should be required as a duty from every man, notwithstanding the fact that "no man can come unto Christ except the Father draw him," John 6:44; that "faith is not of ourselves, but is the gift of God," Eph. 2:8; and that Christ is "the author and finisher of faith," Heb. 12:2. Man's inability, without the grace of God, to penitently trust in Christ's atonement, being self-caused like his inability to perfectly keep the moral law without the same grace, still leaves his duty in the case binding upon him. The purpose of God to bestow grace is not the measure of man's duty. Neither is the power that man has as fallen the measure of man's duty. Only the power that man had as unfallen, and by creation, is the measure of it.

2. The offer of Christ's atonement for sin should be universal, because it is the most impressive mode of preaching the law. In exhibiting the nature of Christ's sacrifice, and its sufficiency to atone for all sin, and especially in showing the necessity of it in order to the remission of any sin whatever, the spirituality and extent of the divine law are presented more powerfully than they can be in any other manner. The offer of the atonement is consequently a direct means of producing a sense of guilt and condemnation, without which faith in Christ is impossible.

3. The offer of the atonement to an unbeliever is adapted to disclose the aversion and obstinacy of his own will. This method of forgiving sin displeases him. It is humbling. If he were invited to make a personal atonement, this would fall in with his inclination. But to do no atoning work at all, and simply to trust in the atoning work of another, is the most unwelcome act that human pride can be summoned to perform. Belief in vicarious atonement is distasteful and repulsive to the natural man, because he is a proud man. When, therefore, a man is informed that there is no forgiveness of sin but through Christ's atonement, that this atonement is ample for the forgiveness of every man, and that nothing but unbelief will prevent any man's forgiveness, his attention is immediately directed to his own disinclination to trust in this atonement, and aversion to this method of forgiveness. But this experience is highly useful. It causes him to know his helplessness, even in respect to so fundamental an act as faith. The consequence is, that he betakes himself to God in prayer that he may be inclined and enabled to believe. Larger Catechism, 59, 67.
W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1888), 2:482–489.

Also in W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed., edited by Alan W. Gomes (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2003), 750–754.


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