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William Shedd (1820-1894) on God’s Universal and Special Love

April 17, 2009

Shedd:

THE TRUE PROPORTION IN A CREED BETWEEN THE UNIVERSAL AND THE SPECIAL LOVE OF GOD

IT is objected that insufficient emphasis is laid in the Westminster Confession upon the universal offer of mercy, and the common call to faith and repentance, and some even contend that these are not contained in it. Advocates of revision [of the Westminster Confession] demand that them doctrines shall be more particularly enunciated than they now are, and complain that more is said concerning electing love of God in the effectual call than his upon his indiscriminate love in the outward call. In reply to this, mention the these following reasons why the Westminster Confession, in common with all the Reformed creeds, is more full and emphatic regarding the special love of God toward his church than regarding his general love toward the world.

1. The Scriptures themselves are more full and emphatic in the first reference than in the last. A careful examination of the Old and New Testaments will slow that while the universal compassion of God toward sinful men is plainly and frequently taught, yet it is the relation of God as the Savior of his people that constitutes the larger proportion of the teachings of the Prophets, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Epistles. These parts of Scripture are full of God’s dealings with his covenant people, instructing them, expostulating with them, rebuking them, comforting them, helping them–expressing in these and other ways his special love and affection for them, as those whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world. Throughout the Bible men universally are both invited and commanded to believe and repent. No one disputes this. This is God’s universal love. But, whenever the love of God is particularly enlarged upon, carefully delineated, and repeatedly emphasized, in the great majority of instances it is his electing love. The Savior’s last discourses with his disciples, and his last prayer, have for their principal theme the “love of his own which were in the world,” whom “he loved unto the end.” For these he specially supplicates. “I pray for them: I pray not [now] for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine.” The Epistles of Paul also are like the Redeemer’s discourses. So full are they of expanded and glowing descriptions of the electing love of God that the charge of a narrow Jewish conception of the Divine compassion is frequently made against them. The Confession therefore follows the Scriptures in regard to the proportion of doctrine, where it puts the mercy of God toward his people in the foreground. And to object to this proportion is to object to Divine Revelation.

2. The electing love of God and his special grace naturally has the foremost place in the Confession as in Scripture, because it is the only love and glace that is successful with the sinner. The universal love of God in his outward call and common grace is a failure, because it is inadequate to overcome the enmity and resistance with which man meets it. While therefore the sacred writers represent the common call as prompted by the compassion of God toward the sinner, and expressive of his sincere desire that he would hear it, and as aggravating his persistence in the sin of which a free pardon is offered, yet inasmuch as it yields no saving and blessed results, they we see no reason for making it the principal and prominent part of the Divine oracles. But that electing love in the effectual call and irresistible grace, which overcomes the aversion of the sinner and powerfully inclines his hostile will, inasmuch as it is tile principal work of God in the human heart, becomes the principal subject of discourse for ” the holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” They dwell rather on the special grace that triumphs over human depravity, than on the common grace that is defeated by it.

William G.T. Shedd, Calvinism Pure and Mixed (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1893), 107-109. [Underlining mine.]

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeremy Rogers permalink
    April 19, 2009 11:31 am

    SHEDD’S WRITINGS ON ELECTING LOVE AND EFFECTUAL CALL ARE SIMPLE,CLEAR AND FULL OF GRACE! I LOVE IT THANK YOU FOR POSTING THEM.

  2. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    April 24, 2009 7:42 am

    Hey Jeremy,

    Yes, Shedd is very good. It has taken me a long time I think to figure out what he means in some of common grace comments.

    Have you read his comments on the extent of the atonement?

    Thanks for stopping by,
    David

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