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W.G.T. Shedd on the Removal of Legal Obstacles

January 6, 2009

Shedd

1) It may be asked, If atonement naturally and necessarily cancels guilt, why does not the vicarious atonement of Christ save all men indiscriminately, as the Universalist contends? The substituted suffering of Christ being infinite is equal in value to the personal suffering of all mankind; why then are not all men upon the same footing and in the class of the saved, by virtue of it? The answer is, Because it is a natural impossibility. Vicarious atonement without faith in it is powerless to save. It is not the making of this atonement, but the trusting in it, that saves the sinner. “By faith are ye saved. He that believeth shall be saved,” Ephesians 2:8; Mark 16:16. The making of this atonement merely satisfies the legal claims, and this is all that it does. If it were made, but never imputed and appropriated, it would result in no salvation. A substituted satisfaction of justice without an act of trust in it, would be useless to sinners. It is as naturally impossible that Christ’s death should save from punishment one who does not confide in it, as that a loaf of bread should save from starvation a man who does not eat it. The assertion that because the atonement of Christ is sufficient for all men, therefore no men are lost, is as absurd as the assertion that because the grain produced in the year 1880 was sufficient to support the life of all men on the globe, therefore no men died of starvation during that year. The mere fact that Jesus Christ made satisfaction for human sin, alone and of itself, will save no soul. Christ, conceivably, might have died precisely as he did, and his death have been just as valuable for expiatory purposes as it is, but if his death had not been followed with the work of the Holy Ghost and the act of faith on the part of individual men, he would have died in vain. Unless his objective work is subjectively appropriated, it is useless, so far as personal salvation is concerned. Christ’s suffering is sufficient to cancel the guilt of all men, and in its own nature completely satisfies the broken law. But all men do not make it their own atonement by faith in it; by pleading the merit of it in prayer, and mentioning it as the reason and ground of their pardon. They do not regard and use it as their own possession, and blessing. It is nothing for them but a historical fact. In this state of things, the atonement of Christ is powerless to save. It remains in the possession of Christ who made it, and has not been transferred to the individual. In the scripture phrase, it has not been imputed. There may be a sum of money in the hands of a rich man that is sufficient in amount to pay the debts of a million of debtors; but unless they individually take money from his hands into their own, they cannot pay their debts with it. There must be a personal act of each debtor, in order that this suns of money on deposit may actually extinguish individual indebtedness. Should one of the debtors, when payment is demanded of him, merely say that there is an abundance of money on deposit, but take no steps himself to get it and pay it to his creditor, he would be told that an undrawn deposit is not a payment of a debt.  Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:440-441.

2) “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 centre 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. The existing necessity for hell punishment is not chargeable upon God. It is the proud and obstinate man who makes hell. It is his impenitence that feeds its perpetual fires. For so long as the transgressor does not grieve for sin, and does not even acknowledge it, it cannot be pardoned. Almightiness itself cannot forgive impenitence, any more than it can make a square circle. Impenitence after sinning is a more determined and worse form of sin, than sinning is in and of itself. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:749-51.



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