Weekly Update 32 – WGT Shedd on WCF 7:3

W.G.T Shedd is one of my favourite theologians.  Of course, I don’t agree with everything he said but, taken as a whole, his Dogmatic Theology is a work of brilliance.

Among his many other works Shedd also has a small volume entitled: Calvinism: Pure and Mixed.  In this work Shedd has a chapter entitled The Westminster Standards and the Offer of Mercy.  What Shedd tries to do in this short chapter is clarify the teaching of the Westminster Standards on the free offer of the gospel.  The following are his comments on WCoF 7:3:

Confession vii. 3, declares that ‘man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that (legal) covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe’.  Two distinct and different things are mentioned here: (a) an offer of salvation; (b) a promise of the Holy Spirit to make the unwilling sinner willing to accept it.  The number of those to whom the offer of salvation is made is unlimited; [the number] of those to whom the promise of the Spirit to ‘make them willing’ is made, is limited by ‘ordination to life’ or election.  It is clear that God may desire that to be done by man under the influence of his common grace in the common call, which he may not decide and purpose to make him do by the operation of his special grace in the effectual call.  His desire that sinners would hear his universal call to repentance may be, and is unlimited; but his purpose to overcome their unwillingness and incline them to repentance may be, and is limited.  God offers Christ’s sacrifice to every man, without exception, and assures him that if he will trust in it he shall be saved, and gives him common grace to encourage him to believe.  This is proof that God loves his soul and desires its salvation.  But God does not, in addition to this universal offer of mercy, promise to overcome man’s aversion to believe and repent and his resistance of common grace.  Election and preterition have no reference to the offer of salvation or to common grace.  They relate only to special grace and the effectual application of Christ’s sacrifice.  The universal offer of mercy taught in this section evinces the universality of God’s compassion towards sinners.

W.G.T Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999, 26-27

Is Shedd being historically accurate in his description here?  Is that really what WCoF 7:3 means?  Coming to a thesis near you soon… (But if you are a regular reader here no doubt you will be able to guess my take on Shedd’s view!)

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2 Responses to “Weekly Update 32 – WGT Shedd on WCF 7:3”

  1. GLW Johnson Says:

    This was Shedd’s last book before his death. The indiviual that Shedd had in view in writing this was none other than his former colleague at Union, Charles A. Briggs. Allan Gomes has a good overview of the matter in his editoral remarks in the third edition of Shedd’s ‘Dogmatic Theology’.

  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Dear Pastor Johnson

    Thanks for commenting. The third edition of Shedd’s DT by P&R was very well done indeed.

    Shedd has a very important chapter in his book Calvinism Pure & Mixed called ‘Denominational Honesty and Honour’ where Briggs & sadly many others are in view. What he says there is of perennial importance. I give a couple of examples for readers who may not be familiar with Shedd’s writings to encourage you to take up and read:

    “There may be honest heresy, but not honest dishonesty. A heretic who acknowledges that he is such, is a better man than he who pretends to be orthodox while subscribing to a creed which he dislikes, and which he saps under pretence of improving it and adapting it to the times. The honest heretic leaves the Church with which he no longer agrees; but the insincere subscriber remains within it in order to carry out his plan of demoralisation.” (p152).

    “…those who are charged with heresy commonly define orthodoxy in their own way, and claim not to have departed from what they regard as the essentials of the denominational system. The Arminian party in the Dort controversy… The Semi-Arians… complained that their statements were misapprehended by their opponents, and contended that the Church was mistaken in supposing that they could not be harmonised with the ancestral faith.” (p156). The “you are misunderstanding me” defence is as old as heresy itself.

    Every blessing
    Donald John

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