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Calvin and Calvinism » Blog Archive » W.G.T. Shedd (1820–1894) on the Distinction Between Atonement and Redemption


1) 2. Revision is objectionable, because the Confession is a correct statement of ” the system of doctrine contained in the Scriptures.” The system meant in this phrase is universally known as the Calvinistic; not as resting upon the authority of Calvin, but as a convenient designation of that interpretation of Scripture which is common to Augustine, Calvin, the Reformed theologians, and the Westminster divines. The term “evangelical” does not define it, because there are several evangelical systems, but only one Calvinistic. The systems of Arminius, of Wesley, and of the Later-Lutherans, as well as that of Calvin, are alike evangelical, in distinction from anti-evangelical systems like Socinianism and Deism. They are all alike derived from the Bible, and contain the doctrines of the trinity, the incarnation, the apostasy, and the redemption But the Calvinistic interpretation of Scripture, which is the one formulated in the Westminster Standards, differs from these other “evangelical” systems, in teaching unconditional election and preterition, instead of conditional; limited redemption (not atonement) instead of unlimited; regeneration wholly by the Holy Spirit instead of partly; the total inability of the sinner instead of partial. The Calvinistic system, as thus discriminated from the other “evangelical” systems, has been adopted by American Presbyterians for two centuries. Neither Old Lights, nor New Lights; neither Old School, nor New School; have demanded that these tenets which distinguish Calvinism from Arminianism should be eliminated from the creed. They were accepted with equal sincerity by both branches of the Church in the reunion of 1870, and there is no reason for altering the formulas that were satisfactory then, unless the belief of the Church has altered in regard to these distinctive points of Calvinism. William G.T. Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1893), 14-15. See also: William G.T. Shedd, The Proposed Revision of the Westminster Standards, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890), 15.  [Underlining mine.]

2) The question, What is Calvinism? is mainly one of reasoning and discrimination. It relates to a matter of fact. This question will answer itself in the discussion now going on; for this theological system possesses as distinctive features as the Copernican astronomy, and it will be as impossible to confuse and unsettle the religious world respecting the former, as it would be to confuse and unsettle the scientific world respecting the latter. The essential parts of this system are the well-known five points of Calvinism, namely, total depravity in distinction from partial; unconditional election in distinction from conditional; irresistible regenerating grace in distinction from resistible; limited redemption (not atonement) in distinction from universal; the certain perseverance of the regenerate in distinction from their possible apostasy. No one of these points can be rejected without impairing the integrity of Calvinism, any more than one of the points of the mariners’ compass can be omitted and the scheme be complete; any more than one of the contrary five points of Arminianism can be deleted and the theory remain unaltered. William G.T. Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1893), 153-154.  [Underlining mine.]

3) 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. William G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1971), 2:470.  [Underlining mine.]

[Note: For more on Shedd on unlimited atonement, go here.]

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