Review of Calvinism: Pure & Mixed by W. G. T. Shedd

Calvinism: Pure & Mixed, A Defence of the Westminster Standards, by W. G. T. Shedd, 1893, Banner of Truth, 1986, Reprinted 1999, 161 pp.

Calvinism: Pure & Mixed is an ironic title to be carried by Banner of Truth since this publisher itself promotes Calvinism sometimes more purely and sometimes in a rather mixed form. In fact, many of the books which Banner of Truth reprints (or publishes for the first time) seem to be chosen specifically to advance their hypo-Calvinistic position on the well-meant offer of the Gospel. This volume, sadly, falls in that category.

On a historical basis Calvinism: Pure and Mixed was written to contest those (mostly liberals) in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in the late 19th century who desired to revise the Westminster Confession of Faith. While Shedd argues adroitly against revising the confession, he probably spends more time trying to elaborate upon his own view, a Calvinism in places weakened by his mixture of it with lesser soteriological views.

Like most moderate Calvinists Shedd argues for infralapsarianism. This position itself isn’t too troubling but, as is typically done, Shedd combines it with other errors. He relies on God’s “permission” of sin (contra John Calvin) to avoid making God the author of sin. (p 31-32) And he translates the “harden” of Romans 9:18 as “do not soften” so that he might try to maintain his view. (p. 52) He also argues “If God does not purpose to make Judas Iscariot ‘a vessel of mercy’, he must of course purpose to leave him ‘a vessel of wrath’” when the text of Romans 9 has God actually making and molding (not simply leaving or passing by) the vessel of wrath. (p. 40)

Repeatedly Shedd argues for the salvation of all infants, a view I’ve only ever seen in context of Arminianism and its kin. (p. 5-6, 15, 62-67, 107-115) He does note however against his own view that “It is sometimes said that the extension of election by the later Calvinism, so as to include all infants as a class instead of a part of them as individuals, is a departure from the Calvinistic system, and a considerable modification of it in the direction of Arminianism.” (p. 109) Shedd’s response to the criticism is unpersuasive, arguing that his view is still Calvinist, but varies only on the quantity of infants saved.

Finally, God’s “common grace,” in Shedd’s view, actually helps man believe but is “nullified solely by the resistance of the non-elect.” (p. 56) The sinner has “defeated” (p. 47) and “frustrated” (p. 73) God’s common grace and “thwarted” (p. 48) God’s benevolent approach to his sinful heart. Shedd’s God simply is not sovereign.

11 thoughts on “Review of Calvinism: Pure & Mixed by W. G. T. Shedd”

  1. Thanks for that review. I have never read Shedd except when he has been quoted by others. Not at all surprised the Banner of Half-truth would promote his view.

  2. Doug, what do you think of this criticism of Banner published in The Trinity Review?
    In 1961, The Banner of Truth Trust printed what they called their “British Revised Edition” of Pink’s book. In the preface to this edition, the publishers note that “the contemporary value of the book could be increased by certain minor revisions and abridgements.”17 What were these “minor” changes? THREE CHAPTERS and ALL FOUR APPENDICES were gone! In an unconscionable, sinister move, The Banner of Truth Trust whisked away 44% of the sections of Pink’s book; and it is obvious from the content of the censored chapters that it was because these chapters condemned as wickedness what The Banner of Truth Trust held dear. The chapters were: “The Sovereignty of God and Reprobation,” “God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility,” and “Difficulties and Objections.” The appendices deal with the false distinction between decretive and permissive will, the foreordaining of the Fall, and treatments of John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 to show that there is not a universal love or propitiation.

    1. I agree with you Larry, I had a similar experience. I do wish Pink were a little more consistent with himself but his unabridged Sovereignty of God really opened my eyes. I hate on page 106 where he says “God’s decree of reprobation was made in consideration of man as fallen, sinful, corrupt, and guilty”. This to me is an about face of what he said on page 105 “God fashions some vessels for dishonor; and by his eternal predetermined decision” and his agreement with Calvin that “Eternal election is God’s predestination of some to salvation and others to destruction”. But we all struggle with consistency.

      1. “God’s decree of reprobation was made in consideration of man as fallen, sinful, corrupt, and guilty”
        Yes, I think I know what you mean and I agree. However, when Pink writes “… in consideration of …” is it possible he means that God’s decree is always concomitant with or through the means of “… man as fallen, sinful, corrupt, and guilty …”? In other words, while God sovereignly decrees reprobation He always does so through the means of man’s own sinfulness? Reprobation (a sovereign divine act) and sinfulness (man’s synergistic part of the reprobating decree) are hand in glove and only separated logically within the ordo salutis and not chronologically, right? I’m just thinking it’s like Dr. R. Reymond’s explanation of the effectual call and regeneration; the effectual call is THROUGH regeneration. At least that’s what came to mind when I read your post.
        This is one of the reasons I have always appreciated Gordon Clark’s clear and precise writing style. If theologians, including Pink, all carefully defined their terms and clearly stated what they meant as consistently and logically as I believe GHC did I think there would be fewer misunderstandings. It would also help, LOL!, if I could write more clearly …

  3. Larry,
    I hope you are right about Pink but he also says on page 106 “First, the doctrine of reprobation does not mean that God takes innocent creatures, makes them wicked, and then damns them” and then goes on to say “God has not created sinful creatures in order to destroy them”.
    I wonder what he thought God’s purpose for Judas was (Mark 14:21, Acts 1:16) ?! I wonder what he thought it means to be destined to stumble and disobey the word (1 Peter 2:8). I wonder what he thought the cause of Christ’s crucifixion was (Acts 2:23)?
    I also like Reymond’s presentation in his Sys Theo.

  4. Yes it appears he was inconsistent. I should read Pink’s “Sovereignty of God” again since it has been over 25 years! Have you read Clark’s “Predestination”?

    1. I have Larry many years ago. It is a great book just wish it was longer. Other good books are No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism by R.K. McGregor Wright and All Things According To God by Kenneth T. Minor.

  5. “Often there is a tendency to drop the qualifying word ‘elect’ from the word ‘infants’, with the suggestion that all babies go to heaven. The Scriptures do not allow us to draw this conclusion.” – Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, p. 154-155.

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