Calvinism and Salvation Outside the Church
December 13, 2015
You can hardly incriminate the Reformed credentials of William G. T. Shedd (1820-1894). His final academic post was Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, at a time when both Union and Princeton were strongholds of Westminster Calvinism. He wrote a three-volume Dogmatic Theology, which is one of the most important contributions to Reformed theology in America. Wipf & Stock currently publishes several of his other volumes: Literary Essays, Theological Essays, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, A History of Christian Doctrine (two volumes), and his commentary on Romans. They also publish Oliver Crisp’s monograph on Shedd’s harmatology: An American Augustinian. Moreover, Shedd authored a defense of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Calvinism: Pure & Mixed.
Who can be saved?
I have already posted a review of another Calvinist who wrote a lengthy treatment of this question: Who Can Be Saved? Professor Tiessen argues for an “accessibilist” model of the economy of grace, which is a modified version of “inclusivism.” This is my own position. Tiessen cites Shedd at a couple points, though he does not engage with Shedd at any great length. So I decided to consult Shedd’s treatment of this topic in his Dogmatic Theology.
For your reading pleasure, here is Shedd’s discussion of this topic in the second volume of his systematic theology. The underlining is mine:
It does not follow, however, that because God is not obliged to offer pardon to the unevangelized heathen, either here or hereafter, therefore no unevangelized heathen are pardoned. The electing mercy of God reaches to the heathen. It is not the doctrine of the Church, that the entire mass of pagans, without exception, have gone down to endless impenitence and death. That some unevangelized men are saved, in the present life, by an extraordinary exercise of redeeming grace in Christ, has been the hope and belief of Christendon. It was the hope and belief of the elder Calvinists, as it is of the later. [In a footnote, Shedd provides a very lengthy citation from Hermann Witsius’ commentary on the Apostles’ Creed.] The Second Helvetic Confession (I.7), after the remark that the ordinary mode of salvation is by the instrumentality of the written words, adds: “Agnoscimus, interim, deum illuminare posse homines etiam sine externo ministerio, quo et quando velit: id quod ejus potentiae est.”
[“We know, in the mean time, that God can illuminate whom and when he will, even without the external ministry, which is a thing appertaining to his power; but we speak of the usual way of instructing men, delivered unto us from God, both by commandment and examples.” — The Second Helvetic Confession, I.7]
The Westminster Confession (X.3), after saying that “elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when and where and how he pleaseth, “adds, “so also are all other elect persons [regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit] who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word.” This is commonly understood to refer not merely, or mainly, to idiots and insane persons, but to such of the pagan world as God pleases to regenerate without the use of the written revelation. One of the strictest Calvinists of the sixteenth century, Zanchius, whose treatise on predestination was translated by Toplady, after remarking that many nations have never had the privilege of hearing the word, says (Ch. IV.) that “it is not indeed improbable that some individuals in these unenlightened countries may belong to the secret election of grace, and the habit of faith my be wrought in them.” By the term “habit” (habitus), the elder theologians meant an inward disposition of the heart. The “habit of the heart” involves penitence for sin and the longing for its forgiveness and removal. The “habit of faith” is the broken and contrite heart, which expresses itself in the prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” It is certain that the Holy Ghost can produce, if he please, such a disposition and frame of mind in a pagan, without employing, as he commonly does, the written word. …
The true reason for hoping that an unevangelized heathen is saved is not that he was virtuous, but that he was penitent.
[W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), pp. 706-709]
Shedd continues, but you can see what he is doing. This is good theology.
Once again, “It is certain that the Holy Ghost can produce, if he please, such a disposition and frame of mind in a pagan, without employing, as he commonly does, the written word.” Amen. God is God.