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W.G.T. SHEDD (1820–1894), on the Death of Christ

November 2, 2007

Redemption limited, atonement unlimited:

1) Since redemption implies the application of Christ”s atonement, universal or unlimited redemption cannot logically be affirmed by any who hold that faith is wholly the gift of God, and that saving grace is bestowed solely by election. The use of the term “redemption,” consequently, is attended with less ambiguity than that of “atonement,” and it is the term most commonly employed in controversial theology. Atonement is unlimited, and redemption is limited. This statement includes all the Scripture texts: those which assert that Christ died for all men, and those which assert that he died for his people. He who asserts unlimited atonement, and limited redemption, cannot well be misconceived. He is understood to hold that the sacrifice of Christ is unlimited in its value, sufficiency, and publication, but limited in its effectual application. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:470.

On the difference between extent and intent:

1) Having considered the nature and value of Christ’s atonement, we are prepared to consider its extent. Some controversy would have been avoided upon this subject, had there always been a distinct understanding as to the meaning of words. We shall therefore first of all consider this point. The term extent” has two senses in English usage. (a) It has a passive meaning, and is equivalent to value. The “extent” of a man’s farm means the number of acres which it contains. The “extent” of a man’s resources denotes the amount of property which he owns. In this signification of the word, the “extent” of Christ’s atonement would be the intrinsic and real value of it for purposes of judicial satisfaction. In this use of the term, all parties who hold the atonement in any evangelical meaning would concede that the “extent” of the atonement is unlimited. Christ’s death is sufficient in value to satisfy eternal justice for the sins of all mankind. If this were the only meaning of “extent,” we should not be called upon to discuss it any further. For all that has been said under the head of the nature and value of the atonement would answer the question, What is the extent of the atonement? Being an infinite atonement, it has an infinite value. (b) The word has an active signification. It denotes the act of extending. The “extent” of the atonement, in this sense, means its personal application to individuals by the Holy Spirit. The extent is now the intent. The question, What is the extent of the atonement? now means: To whom is the atonement effectually extended? The inquiry now is not, What is the value of the atonement? but, To whom does God purpose to apply its benefits?*

[* footnote:] To “extend “the atonement might be understood to mean, to “offer” the atonement. But this is not the meaning in this connection. To extend, in the sense now being considered, is not only to offer the atonement but also to render it personally efficacious by regenerating grace. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2: 464.

2) In modern English, the term “extent” is so generally employed in the passive signification of value that the active signification has become virtually obsolete, and requires explanation. Writers upon the “extent” of the atonement have sometimes neglected to consider the history of the word, and misunderstanding has arisen between disputants who were really in agreement with each other.

Accordingly, in answering the question as to the “extent” of Christ’s atonement, it must first be settled whether “extent” means its intended application, or its intrinsic value; whether the active or the passive signification of the word is in the mind of the inquirer. If the word means value, then the atonement is unlimited; if it means extending, that is, applying, then the atonement is limited.

The dispute also turns upon the meaning of the preposition “for.” One theologian asserts that Christ died “for” all men, and another denies that Christ died “for” all men. There may be a difference between the two that is reconcilable, and there may be an irreconcilable difference. The preposition “for” denotes an intention of some kind. If, in the case under consideration, the intention is understood to be the purpose on the part of God, both to offer and apply the atonement by working faith and repentance in the sinner’s heart, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, then he who affirms that Christ died “for” all men is in error, and he who denies that Christ died “for” all men holds the truth. These two parties are irreconcilable.

But he who asserts that Christ died “for” all men may understand the intention signified by the preposition to be the purpose on the part of God only to offer the atonement, leaving it to the sinner whether it shall be appropriated through faith and repentance. The intention, in this latter case, does not include so much as in the former, and the preposition is narrower in meaning. When the word “for” is thus defined, the difference between the two parties is reconcilable. The latter means by “for” “intended for offer, or publication;” the former means, “intended for application.”

Again, the preposition “for” is sometimes understood to denote not intention, but value or sufficiency. To say that Christ died “for” all men then means, that his death is sufficient to expiate the guilt of all men. Here, again, the difference is possibly reconcilable between the parties. The one who denies that Christ died “for” all men, takes “for” in the sense of intention to effectually apply. The other who affirms that Christ died “for” all men, takes “for” in the sense of value. As to the question, Which is the most proper use of the word “for?” it is plain that it more naturally conveys the notion of intention, than of sufficiency or value. If it be said to a person, “This money is for you,” he does not understand merely that it is sufficient in value to pay his debt, but that it actually inures to his benefit in paying it. In the scripture statement that Christ “gave himself a ransom for all” (1Timothy 2:6), if the word “for” be made to denote value, so that the text reads, Christ “gave himself a ransom sufficient for all,” a circumlocution is introduced. The preposition “for” does not express the idea of sufficiency or value directly, but through an explanation; but it expresses the idea of intention immediately, and without circumlocution. And this agrees better with the term “ransom,” which denotes subjective redemption rather than objective satisfaction. This remark applies to such a text as that Christ “tasted death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9), which is explained by “many sons” in verse 10. If we interpolate, and say that Christ tasted a death that is sufficient for every man, we indeed state a truth, but we inject into the preposition “for” a larger meaning than accords with the strictly idiomatic use of it. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2: 466-468.

Sufficient satisfaction satisfies for all sin:

1) 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. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:470.

Sins of the world:

1) The greater includes the less. If God’s mercy is great enough to move him to make a vicarious atonement for man’s sin, it is certainly great enough to move him to secure the consequences of such an act. If God’s compassion is great enough to induce him to lay man’s punishment upon his own Son, it is surely great enough to induce him not to lay it upon the believer. If God so loves the world as to atone vicariously for its sin, he certainly so loves it as to remit its sin. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:393.

2) “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. Whenever there is an experimental belief of the actual and accomplished fact of Christ’s atonement, there is a subjective pacification of the conscience corresponding to the objective reconciliation of divine justice. But this subjective effect of Christ’s death is neither the primary nor the whole effect of it. It presupposes the objective satisfaction or propitiation. In this instance, as in all others, the object is prior to the subject and determines its consciousness.” Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:409-11.

3) In the third place, an atonement, either personal or vicarious, when made, naturally and necessarily cancels legal claims. This means that there is such a natural and necessary correlation between vicarious atonement and justice, that the former supplies all that is required by the latter. It does not mean that Christ’s vicarious atonement naturally and necessarily saves every man; because the relation of Christ’s atonement to divine justice is one thing, but the relation of a particular person to Christ’s atonement is a very different thing. Christ’s death as related to the claims of the law upon all mankind, cancels those claims wholly. It is an infinite “propitiation for the sins of the whole world,” 1 John 2:2. But the relation of an impenitent person to this atonement, is that of unbelief and rejection of it. Consequently, what the atonement has effected objectively in reference to the attribute of divine justice, is not effected subjectively in the conscience of the individual. There is an infinite satisfaction that naturally and necessarily cancels legal claims, but unbelief derives no benefit from the fact…

This reasoning applies to vicarious atonement equally with personal. Justice does not require a second sacrifice from Christ, in addition to the first. “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many,” Hebrews 10:28 [sic]. This one offering expiated “the sins of the whole world,” and justice is completely satisfied in reference to them. The death of the God-man naturally and necessarily cancelled all legal claims. When a particular person trusts in this infinite atonement, and it is imputed to him by God, it then becomes his atonement for judicial purposes as really as if he had made it himself, and then it naturally and necessarily cancels his personal guilt, and he has the testimony that it does in his peace of conscience. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:437, 438.

4) VOL. II., p. 441. The expiation of sin is distinguishable from the pardon of it. The former, conceivably, might take place and the latter not. When Christ died on Calvary, the whole mass, so to speak, human sin was expiated merely by that death ; but the whole mass was not pardoned merely by that death. The claims of law and justice for the sins of the whole world were satisfied by the “offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10); but the sins of every individual man were not forgiven and “blotted out” by this transaction. Still another transaction was requisite in order to this: namely, the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the sinner working faith in this expiatory offering, and the declarative act of God saying ” Thy sin is forgiven thee.” The Son of God, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, ” sat down on the right hand of God ” (Heb. 10:12) ; but if the redeeming work of the Trinity had stopped at this point, not a soul of mankind would have been pardoned and justified, yet the expiatory value of the ” one sacrifice “would have been just the same. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3:418.

Christ removes the legal obstacles against all men:

1) “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.

Unlimited expiation must be applied:

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.

Christ shed his blood for those who would reject him:

1) The church of Christ must look out upon the millions of India, China, and Africa, as the Son of God looked down upon them from the heights of the eternal throne, and must behold in them millions upon millions of guilty and lost moral agents. Like him, they must engage in efforts for their salvation, and not waste their energies in futile queryings and doubtings. The problems before the Eternal Mind respecting the sin and salvation of man were far more difficult of solution, than those which beset the mind of the Christian or the skeptic. For our Lord and Saviour knew infallibly how many millions upon millions of the race, for whom he proposed to pour out his life-blood, would reject him. He knew long beforehand how many millions upon millions of this miserable and infatuated race would resist, and ultimately quench, the only Spirit that could renovate and save them. The checkered career of the Christian church, its alternating progress and decline in different ages and countries, the unfaithfulness of his own redeemed, and their lukewarmness in obeying his parting command to evangelize the nations,–the whole career of Christianity, so discouraging in many of its aspects, lay distinct and clear before that omniscient eye. But it did not dampen his love or his ardor (if we may use such a word) for an instant. Even to his own view, much of his love and self-sacrifice would run to waste, so far as the actual redemption of immortal souls is concerned. He knew that, like his prophet, he was to stretch out his hand all day long, yea, ages after ages, to a disobedient and a gainsaying race. But he never faltered, and he never hesitated. He veiled his deity in the “muddy vesture of decay,” and suffered and died in it, with the same willingness and alacrity as if he had foreknown that every human soul would have welcomed the great salvation.

Now, if our Lord and Master, knowing infallibly that millions upon millions would trample upon his blood, and that millions upon millions, through the unfaithfulness of his own church, would never even hear of the passion in Gethsemane and Calvary, if our Lord and Master, in the face of these discouragements, while sternly as the eternal nemesis of God charging home an infinite guilt upon the human race, yet tenderly as a mother for a child received upon his own person the awful vengeance of that nemesis, we and all his people, in all time, must breathe in his spirit and imitate his example. We have no infinite and infallible knowledge by which to discourage us in our efforts at human salvation. We know not who will reject the message, or whether any will. We can not

“look into the seeds of time, And say which grain will grow, and which will not.”

We only know that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses all sin from every soul upon whom it drops. And we know that our Redeemer and King has commanded us to proclaim this fact to every human creature. Events and successes are with him. The church has nothing to do but obey orders, like soldiers in a campaign.

The great and the simple work before the church is to sprinkle the nations with the blood of atonement. This it does, instrumentally, when it preaches forgiveness of sins through Christ’s oblation. The one great and awful fact in human history, me have seen, is the fact of guilt. And the great and glorious fact which the mercy of God has now set over against it, is the fact of atonement. It requires no high degree of civilization to apprehend either of these facts. The benighted pagan is as easily convicted as the most highly educated philosopher; and his reception of the atonement of God is, perhaps, even less hindered by pride and prejudice. Let the church, therefore, dismissing all secondary and inferior aims, however excellent and desirable in themselves, go forth and proclaim to all the nations that ” they are without excuse, because that when they knew God they glorified him not as God;” and also that “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” W.G.T Shedd, The Guilt of the Pagan: A Sermon, (Boston: American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1864), 23-4.

Notes:

Double jeopardy:

1) It is objected that it is unjust to exact personal penalty from any individuals of the human race, if a vicarious penalty equal in value to that due from the whole race has been paid to justice. The injustice alleged in this objection may mean injustice toward the individual unbeliever who is personally punished; or it may mean injustice in regard to what the Divine law is entitled to, on account of man’s sin. An examination will show that there is no injustice done in either respect. (a) When an individual unbeliever is personally punished for his own sins, he receives what he deserves; and there is no injustice in this. The fact that a vicarious atonement has been made that is sufficient to expiate his sins, does not stop justice from punishing him personally for them, unless it can be shown that he is the author of the vicarious atonement. If this were so, then indeed he might complain of the personal satisfaction that is required of him. In this case, one and the same party would make two satisfactions for one and the same sin one vicarious, and one personal. When therefore an individual unbeliever suffers for his own sin, he receives the due reward of his deeds, Luke 23:24. And since he did not make the vicarious atonement “for the sins of the whole world,” and therefore has no more right or title to it, or any of its benefits, than an inhabitant of Saturn, he cannot claim exemption from personal penalty on the ground of it. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:443.

2) The other injustice alleged in the objection, relates to the divine law and government. It is urged that when the unbeliever is personally punished, after an infinite vicarious satisfaction for human sin has been made, justice, in this case, gets more than its dues; which is as unjust as to get less. This is a mathematical objection, and must receive a mathematical answer. The alleged excess in the case is like the addition of a finite number to infinity, which is no increase. The everlasting suffering of all mankind, and still more of only a part, is a finite suffering. Neither the sufferer, nor the duration, is mathematically infinite; for the duration begins, though it does not end. But the suffering of the God-man is mathematically infinite, because his person is absolutely infinite. When, therefore, any amount of finite human suffering is added to the infinite suffering of the Godman, it is no increase of value. Justice, mathematically, gets no more penalty when the suffering of lost men is added to that of Jesus Christ, than it would without this addition. The law is more magnified and honored by the suffering of incarnate God, than it would be by the suffering of all men individually, because its demand for a strictly infinite satisfaction for a strictly infinite evil is more completely met. In this sense, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,” Romans 5:20. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:444.

On pecuniary and penal satisfaction:

1) In saying that the suffering substituted for that of the actual criminal must be of equal value, it is not said that it must be identical suffering. A substituted penalty cannot be an identical penalty, because identical means the same in every respect, Identity is inconsistent with any exchange whatever. To speak of substituting an identical penalty is a contradiction in terms. The identical punishment required by the moral law is personal punishment, involving personal remorse; and remorse can be experienced only by the actual criminal. If, in commercial law, a substituted payment could be prevented, a pecuniary debtor would be compelled to make an identical payment. In this case, he must pay in person and wholly from his own resources. Furthermore, he could not pay silver for gold, but gold for gold; and not only this, but he must pay back exactly the same pieces of gold, the ipsissima pecunia, which he had received. Identical penalty implies sameness without a difference in any particular. Not only is the quantity the same, but the quality is the same. But substituted penalty implies sameness with a difference in some particular. And in the case before us, that of Christ’s satisfaction, the difference is in the quality: the quantity being unchanged. The vicarious suffering of Christ is of equal value with that of all mankind, but is not the same in kind.

Equivalency, not identity, is the characteristic, therefore, of vicarious penalty. The exchange, implied in the term substitution, is of quality not of quantity. One kind of judicial suffering; that is, suffering endured for the purpose of satisfying justice; is substituted for another kind. Christ’s sufferings were of a different nature or quality from those of a lost man. But there was no difference in quantity, or value. A less degree of suffering was not exchanged for a greater degree. The sufferings of the mediator were equal in amount and worth to those whose place they took. Vicarious penalty then is the substitution of an equal quantity, but a different quality of suffering. The mediator suffers differently from the lost world of sinners, but he suffers equally.

Equivalency satisfies justice as completely as identity. One hundred dollars in gold extinguishes a debt of one hundred dollars as completely as does one hundred dollars in silver. If the sufferings of the mediator between God and man are of equal value with those of the world of mankind, they are as complete a satisfaction of justice as the eternal death of mankind would be, although they do not, in their nature or quality, involve any of that sense of personal wickedness and remorse of conscience which enters into the punishment of a lost man. They get their value from the nature of the God-man, and it is the value of what is substituted which justice looks at. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:454-455

[to be continued]

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