Saturday, September 29, 2007

W. G. T. Shedd on 1John 2:2

In this series of articles on the theology of 1John 2:2, I am attempting to show that there is a substantial minority report among Calvinistic and reformed theologians on the meaning of "the whole world" in that passage. In my previous blog entry on this topic, I gave W. G. T. Shedd’s view of limited atonement: "Atonement is unlimited, and redemption is limited." Because Shedd had that view, he was at liberty to see universal aspects of Christ’s atonement in those passages of scripture that speak of the atonement as universal.

In describing the effect produced on the conscience of believers by the reconciliation of God and man, Shedd does not hesitate to say that Christ died for the whole world:

The human conscience is the mirror and index of the divine attribute of justice. The two are correlated. What therefore God's justice demands, man's conscience demands. "Nothing," says Matthew Henry, "can pacify an offended conscience but that which satisfied an offended God." The peace which the believer in Christ’s atonement enjoys, and which is promised by the Redeemer to the believer, is the subjective experience in man that corresponds to the objective reconciliation in God. The pacification of the human conscience is the consequence of the satisfaction of divine justice. God’s justice is completely satisfied for the sin of man by the death of Christ. This is an accomplished fact: "Jesus Christ the righteous is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2). The instant any individual man of this world of mankind believes that divine justice is thus satisfied, his conscience is at rest. The belief is not needed in order to establish the fact. Whether a sinner believes Christ died for sin or not will make no difference with the fact, though it will make a vast difference with him: "If we believe not, yet he abides faithful: he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim. 2:13). Unbelief cannot destroy a fact. Should not a soul henceforth believe on the Son of God, it would nevertheless be a fact that he died an atoning death on Calvary and that this death is an ample oblation for the sin of the world. But it must be remembered that the kind of belief by which a man obtains a personal benefit from the fact of Christ’s death is experimental, not historical or hearsay. * * * And a sinful man may have no skeptical doubt that the death of Christ on Mount Calvary has completely expiated human guilt and may even construct a strong argument in proof of the fact and still have all the miserable experience of an unforgiven sinner, may still have remorse and the fear of death and the damnation of hell.

W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3d. edition, pages 708-9, emphasis added.

One need not be puzzled by Shedd’s statements; he simply saw two aspects to the work of Christ: the universal expiation and the particular application. Part III from Shedd will follow in a few days.

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Reidster said...

Shedd is truly one of the very best on the topic of the atonement. His distinctions (while somewhat problematic in his terminology) are spot on in concept. Also, of very great use in this discussion is John Davenant's "A Dissertaiton on the Death of Christ" which he penned after returning to England having served on the Synod of Dordt. He too holds a wonderful tension.

Steve Costley said...

Thanks Reidster. I agree with you that Shedd's terms are not so accurate; I prefer Dabney's. But their concepts are identical.

I haven't read Davenant, but if you have a link to a source or a quote, please put it in the comment box here.

Thanks for commenting!