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Doctrine of Endless Punishment
By William Greenough Thayer Shedd
In this brief (3 long chapters) work, Shedd (Presbyterian) presents us with the biblical argument for endless punishment. This work probably would be directed against Universalists that deny eternal punishment.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction and the History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment
2. The Biblical Argument for the Doctrine of Endless Punishment
3. The Rational Argument for the Doctrine of Endless Punishment
Two reprints have been used: 1. Banner of Truth (“First Banner of Truth edition 1986″ says “First published 1885″ (1885 only refers to the original publication of the last chapter — “The Rational Argument” in The North American Review) — back of title page date is probably taken from the date with the signature at the end of the preface or from the first sentence of the preface. This is really a photocopy of the second edition of 1887). 2. Klock & Klock, 1980 reprint of the original 1886 edition. Originally published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1886. BOTH are photo copies. The following copy follows the 1887 edition and inserts the footnotes or endnotes in the text.
Spelling, punctuation, language (including Bible quotations), have been updated and Bible references have been added where missing. Italics are reserved for Bible quotations and book titles. Bold type is used for emphasis.
A. Allison Lewis–October 1995
William Greenough Thayer Shedd
Presbyterian; born at Acton: MA, June 21, 1820; died at New York: NY, November 17, 1894. He was graduated from the University of Vermont, 1839; and from Andover Theological Seminary, 1843; became Congregational pastor at Brandon, VT, 1844; professor of English literature, University of Vermont, 1845; of sacred rhetoric in Auburn (Presbyterian) Theological Seminary, 1852; of church history in Andover (Congregational) Theological Seminary, 1853; associate pastor of the Brick (Presbyterian) Church, New York City, 1862; professor of Biblical literature in Union Theological Seminary, New York: NY, 1863-74; and of systematic theology, 1874-90, where he was known for the rigid logic and close compactness of his system, embodied in his Dogmatic Theology (vols. i.-ii., Worcester, 1889; vol. iii., New York, 1894). He translated from the German of Francis Theremin, Eloquence a Virtue (New York: NY, 1850), and H. E. F. Guericke’s Manual of Church History (2 vols., Andover: MA, 1860-70); and wrote A History of Christian Doctrine (2 vols., New York: NY, 1865); Homiletics and Pastoral Theology (1867); Sermons to the Natural Man (1871); Theological Essays (1877); Commentary on Romans (1879); Sermons to the Spiritual Man (1884); The Doctrine of Endless Punishment (1886); and Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (New York: NY, 1893). [Bibliography: J. De Witt, in Presbyterian and Reformed Review, vi (1895), 295-322. Reprinted in: Jackson, Samuel Macauley, ed. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Vol. X) New York: NY, Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1911. pp. 388-9].
Shedd was a direct descendant of the New England Puritans and a “child of the manse.” With an other worldliness mind-set he had a “tendency to live in view of the unseen.”
He taught and wrote against the errors of universalism which were entering the Presbyterian churches. In his Theological Essays Dr. Shedd included a lengthy treatment on “The Doctrine of Original Sin.” Later, in his Dogmatic Theology he extended his treatment to include a thorough refutation of erroneous views of the atonement. Finally, in The Biblical Doctrine of Endless Punishment, he provided a clear apology for the nature and the necessity for judgment following the rejection of Christ’s offer of salvation.
At the request of the editor of the North American Review, the author of this book prepared an argument in defense of the doctrine of Endless Punishment, which was published in the number of that periodical for February, 1885. It was agreed that the writer should have the right to republish it at a future time. Only the rational argument was presented in the article. The author now reproduces it, adding the Biblical argument, and a brief historical sketch.
Every doctrine has its day to be attacked, and defended. Just now, that of Eternal Retribution is strenuously combated, not only outside of the church, but to some extent within it. Whoever preaches it is said, by some, not “to preach to the times”–as if the sin of this time were privileged, and stood in a different relation to the law and judgment of God, from that of other times.
The argument from Scripture here given turns principally upon the meaning of Sheol and Hades, and of the adjective aiwnioV. In determining the signification of the former, the author has relied mainly upon the logic and aim of the inspired writers. The reasoning of a writer is a clue to his technical terms. When his object unquestionably is to alarm and deter, it is rational to infer that his phraseology has a meaning in his own mind that is adapted to this. When, therefore, the wicked are threatened with a Sheol and a Hades, it must be an erroneous interpretation that empties them of all the force of a threat. And such is the interpretation which denies that either term denotes the place of retributive suffering.
It is freely acknowledged, that if the meaning of Sheol, or Hades, is to be derived from the usage of a majority of the fathers, and the schoolmen generally, it has no special and exclusive reference to the wicked, and is not of the nature of an evil for them alone. If Sheol, or Hades, is nothing but an underworld for all souls, then it is morally nondescriptive, and whatever of danger there may be in an underworld pertains alike to the righteous and the wicked. But if the Scriptures themselves, and their interpretation by a portion of the fathers, and the reformers generally, are consulted, it is claimed that the position taken in this book, that Sheol, or Hades, is the equivalent of the modern Hell, will hold. It is with eschatology as it is with ecclesiastical polity. If the authority of the Post Nicene fathers and the schoolmen is conceded to be the chief determinant of the questions at issue, the prelatist [priestly traditions] will carry the day. But if the Bible and the interpretation of the Apostolic and Reformation churches are appealed to, he [the prelatist] will lose it. The simplicity of the faith was departed from, when under Hellenizing influences in the church the Heathen Orcus was substituted for the Biblical Hades. A superstitious and materializing eschatology came in along with the corruption of the Christian system, and held sway for a thousand years, until the return to the Scriptures themselves by the leaders of the Reformation, restored the older and purer type of doctrine.
Although the author, in the prosecution of the argument, does not turn aside to enlarge on the awfulness of the doctrine of Endless Punishment, it must not be supposed that he is unimpressed by it. It is a doctrine which throws in its solemn shadows on even the most careless human life. No man is utterly indifferent to the possible issues of the great Hereafter. The fall and eternal ruin of an immortal spirit is the most dreadful event conceivable. That some of God’s rational and self-determined creatures will forever be in deadly enmity to Him, cannot be thought of without sorrow and awe. But from the nature of finite free will, it is a possibility; and it is revealed to us as a fact, as clearly as the facts of incarnation and redemption. Neither the Christian ministry, nor the Christian church, are responsible for the doctrine of Eternal Perdition. It is given in charge to the ministry, and to the church, by the Lord Christ Himself, in His last commission, as a truth to be preached to every creature. If they are false to this trust, His message to the church of Ephesus is for them: Remember from where you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come to you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of his place, except you repent [REV 2:5]. The question, How many are to be saved? the Son of God refused to answer–thereby implying that His mercy is unobligated and sovereign. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy [ROM 9:15]. It becomes man the sinner, not to murmur at this. That incarnate God Who has vicariously suffered more for man’s sin, than any man has or will personally, surely has the right to determine the method and extent of His own self-immolating compassion. To the transgressor who says, Lord, if You will, You can make me clean, He answers, I will, be clean [MAR 1:40]. But to the transgressor who looks on redemption as something to which he is entitled, He replies, as in the parable, Is it not lawful for Me, to do what I will with My own? [MAT 20:15].
The kindest way, therefore, for both the preacher and the hearer is, to follow the revealed Word of God, and teach the plain and exact truth. Eternal perdition is like any other danger. In order to escape danger, one must believe in it. Disbelief of it is sure destruction. To be forewarned, is to be forearmed. Those who foresee an evil, prepare for it and avoid it; but the simple pass on and are punished [PRO 22:3]. Speaking generally, those who believe that there is a Hell, and intelligently fear it, as they are commanded to do by Christ Himself, will escape it; and those who deny that there is a Hell, and ridicule it, will fall into it. Hence the minister of Christ must be as plain as Christ, as solemn as Christ, and as tender as Christ, in the announcement of this fearful truth. When He was come near, He beheld the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, at least in this your day, the things which belong to your peace! but now they are hid from your eyes’ [LUK 19:41, 42].
The dogmatic bearings of Universalism are not to be overlooked. The rejection of the doctrine of Endless Punishment cuts the ground from under the gospel. Salvation supposes a prior damnation. He who denies that he deserves eternal death cannot be saved from it so long as he persists in his denial [emphasis added - aal]. If his denial is the truth, he needs no salvation. If his denial is an error, the error prevents penitence for sin, and this prevents pardon. No error, consequently, is more fatal than that of Universalism. It blots out the attribute of retributive justice; transmutes sin into misfortune, instead of guilt; turns all suffering into chastisement; converts the atonement work of Christ into moral influence; and makes it a debt due to man, instead of an unmerited boon from God. No teaching is more radical and revolutionizing, in its influence upon the Christian system. The attempt to retain the evangelical theology in connection with it is futile.
The destructive nature of the error is still more apparent in practical theology. Could it be proved that the Christian church have been deceived in finding the doctrine of Endless Punishment in the Christian Scriptures, and that there is no such thing, havoc would be made of all the liturgies of the Church, as well as of its literature. Consider the following petition from the “Morning Prayer for Families,” in the Book of Common Prayer used in the Episcopal church: “Keep in our minds a lively remembrance of that great day in which we must give a strict account of our thoughts, words, and actions, and according to the works done in the body be eternally rewarded or punished by Him Whom You have appointed the Judge of living and dead, Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” Suppose, after uttering this petition, the person to say to himself: “There is no eternal punishment.” Consider, again, that searching and anguished cry from the Litany: “From Your wrath, and from everlasting damnation, Good Lord, deliver us,” and imagine a bystander to say to the soul that has just agonized this prayer: “You fool, there is no everlasting damnation.” And the effect of this denial is equally destructive in devotional literature. Take the doctrine of eternal perdition, and the antithetic doctrine of eternal salvation, out of the Confessions of Augustine; out of the Sermons of Chrysostom; out of the Imitation of à Kempis; out of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; out of Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and Dying; out of Baxter’s Saints’ Everlasting Rest; and what is left?
UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, NEW YORK, November 18, 1885.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
The author avails himself of the opportunity afforded by the issue of a second edition of this volume, to revise and somewhat enlarge it. He has added pp. 163-169 to the body of the work, for the purpose of calling attention to the important truth that the necessity for endless retribution is grounded in the action of man, not of God. “God,” says Augustine [Trinity IV. xii], “made not death [Wisdom 1:13], since He was not Himself the cause of death; but yet death was inflicted on the sinner through His most just retribution. Just as the judge inflicts punishment on the guilty; yet it is not the justice of the judge, but the desert of the crime, which is the cause of the punishment.” It is the author of sin who is the author of Hell. The opponent of endless punishment should, therefore, level his reproaches against sin and the sinner, not against holiness and God.
An Appendix has also been added to the volume, for the purpose of expanding and strengthening some of the positions taken in it. The material is to a considerable extent derived from the writings of others. It is put into the form of notes, which are referred to by their several numbers on the pages of the volume [changed the form and these notes have been integrated into the text within square brackets - aal].
NEW YORK, November 4, 1887.