Friday, November 02, 2007

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

In the Editor’s Preface to the third edition of W. G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology, Alan W. Gomes writes that "modern evangelical systems tend to be weaker precisely at those points where Shedd’s is most robust." In this blogger’s opinion, the statement is true with respect not only to modern evangelicalism, but with respect to modern evangelical Calvinism as well. Today’s Calvinism has a view of God that is myopic, emphasizing the sovereignty of God to the exclusion of His love of all mankind. Shedd’s view of the mercy of God would tend to counteract that defect. Here is a marvelous passage, in which Shedd extols the mercy of God as shown in the free offer of the gospel:

The Christian gospel--the universal offer of pardon through the self-sacrifice of one of the divine persons--should silence every objection to the doctrine of endless punishment. For as the case now stands, there is no necessity, so far as the action of God is concerned, that a single human being should ever be the subject of future punishment * * *

For the Scriptures everywhere describe God as naturally and spontaneously merciful and declare that all the legal obstacles to the exercise of this great attribute have been removed by the death of the Son of God 'for the sins of the whole world' (1 John 2:2). In the very center of the holy revelations of Sinai, Jehovah proclaimed it to be his inherent and intrinsic disposition to be 'merciful and gracious, long-suffering, forgiving iniquity and transgression' (Exod. 34:6-7). Nehemiah, after the exile, repeats the doctrine of the Pentateuch: 'You are a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, and of great kindness' (Neh. 9:17). The psalmist declares that 'the Lord is ready to forgive and plenteous in mercy unto all that call upon him' (Ps. 86:5); 'the Lord takes pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy' (147:11). From the twilight of the land of Uz, Elihu, feeling after the promised Redeemer if haply he might find him (Job 33:23), declares that 'God looks upon men, and if any say, I have sinned and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; he will deliver his soul from going down to the pit, and his life shall see the light' (33:27-28). The Bible throughout teaches that the Supreme Being is sensitive to penitence and is moved with compassion and paternal yearning whenever he perceives any sincere spiritual grief. He notices and welcomes the slightest indication of repentance: 'The eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy' (Ps. 33:18); 'whoso confesses and forsakes his sins shall have mercy' (Prov. 28:13). The heavenly Father sees the prodigal when he is 'yet a great way off.' He never 'breaks the bruised reed' nor 'quenches the smoking flax.' If there be in any human creature the broken and contrite heart, divine pity speaks the word of forgiveness and absolution. The humble confession of unworthiness operates almost magically upon the eternal. Incarnate mercy said to the heathen 'woman of Canaan' who asked for only the dogs' crumbs, 'O woman, great is your faith; be it unto you even as you will' (Matt. 15:28). The omnipotent is overcome whenever he sees lowly penitential sorrow. As 'the foolishness of God is wiser than man,' so the self-despairing helplessness of man is stronger than God. When Jacob says to the infinite one, 'I am not worthy of the least of all your mercies,' yet wrestled with him 'until the breaking of the day,' he becomes Israel and 'as a prince has power with God' (Gen. 32:10, 24, 28). When Jehovah hears Ephraim 'bemoaning himself,' and saying, 'Turn me, and I shall be turned,' he answers, 'Ephraim is my dear son. I will surely have mercy upon him' (Jer. 31:18, 20).

Now the only obstruction, and it is a fatal one, to the exercise of this natural and spontaneous mercy of God is the sinner's hardness of heart.

W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3d. edition, pages 930-931. In Shedd’s theology of 1John 2:2, we see a well-rounded view of God’s love for the whole world as expressed in Christ’s expiatory work.

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