While there are some gaps in Shedd, he is strong precisely where the modern church is weak (if I may borrow a phrase from Packer). This updated edition by Gomes is a masterpiece. It is magnificently bound, has accessible foonotes, but yet handles nicely.
True, Shedd does have his hobbyhorses and they sometimes keep him from addressing other issues (e.g., church government) but he brings undiscussed material to the table from a perspective of one long schooled in the Christian tradition. I will focus on several key themes: traducianism, the human will. soteriology, and endless punishment.
Shedd’s Traducianisim applies the idea of species to body and soul (431). The key question: when God created Adam and Eve, did he create in and with them the invisible substance of all the succeeding generations of men? And by this “invisible substance” Shedd simply means the “principle of life itself” (434). Key argument: the whole female was produced out of the male (439).
Traducianism refuses to separate punishment from culpability. On semipelagian views, we are punished (death) for that which we aren’t culpable (Adam’s sin). But does this ruin the Adam/Christ parallel? No. Shedd says it is a fallacy to think that if penal suffering can be imputed, so must sin (462). Righteousness can be imputed two ways: meritoriously and unmeritoriously. Sin can’t. Righteousness is a gift. Sin is wages.
Shedd has a good explanation of Romans 5. Infants sinned in Adam, but not after the likeness of Adam. They only sinned in the probationary sense, not in Adam’s postlapsarian sins (479).
Shedd makes the distinction between “voluntary” and “volitional.” If man’s will is in a state of indifference with no inclination whatsoever, it could never begin self-motion. Freedom of the will, on a biblical view, is primarily self-determination to a single end, not a choice between two yet unchosen contraries (503). Pelagian psychology defines freedom as indifference (suppl. 4.2.6). Scriptural psychology sees it as the spontaneous inclining of the will to what God commands and aversion of what he forbids. The Pelagian view is wholly in volitions.
Therefore, for Shedd, inclination is not volition. The first activity of the will is inclination, not volition (504). Man is biased in his will before he chooses. Inclination terminates on the soul. Volition on the body. Inclination is the central action of the will; volition is the superficial action (519). The action of the will is best termed voluntary. The superficial action is volitionary.
All volitionary acts of choice are performed to satisfy the prevailing inclination of the wil (520).
Volitions are means.
The doctrine of endless punishment is associated with the denial of those tenets which are logically and closely connected with it: original sin, vicarious atonement, and regeneration (885). But before we get to his conclusion, we must look at Shedd’s logical (but brutal) refutation of conditional immortality:
1. Annihilationism is false for the following reasons:
1.1 Death is the opposite of birth and birth does not mean the creation of substance.
1.2 The spiritually dead are described in scripture as conscious.
1.3 The extinction of consciousness is not the nature of punishment. The essence of punishment is suffering, and suffering implies consciousness.
1.4 According to this theory, brutes are punished
1.5 The advocate of conditional immortality, in teaching the extinction of consciousness as eternal death, implies that the continuance of consciousness is eternal life. But mere consciousness is not happiness. Judas was conscious, certainly, when he hung himself, but he was not happy (899)
Rational argument: endless punishment, outside of its scriptural defense, needs three points: a just God, man has free agency, and that sin is a voluntary action (911). The objection that endless punishment is overkill for a temporary sin/crime fails to understand the nature of punishment. You aren’t ever punished for the duration of the crime committed. You are punished, for example, for murdering someone (which usually takes just an instant), not on how long the stabbing took.
The continuous nature of guilt necessitates the endlessness of retribution. Sinners in hell are hardened in their sin. In the very act of transgressing the law of God, there is a reflex action of the human will upon itself, whereby it becomes unable to perfectly keep that law” (923). And the endless suffering of a finite being isn’t exactly “infinite.” The being is finite, since he has a beginning.
As Gomes noted in his introduction, this book is a literary feast. While Shedd leaves many topics undiscussed, he is unsurpassed in his own way. Hodge might have been the better organizer and Dabney the most penetrating thinker, but Shedd is the best writer and probably the most powerful thinker.