Shedd on the atonement, part 4

The final third of Shedd’s account of the atonement in Dogmatic Theology focuses on three related questions. First, the possibility and justice of substitution. Shedd presents a number of points to support the principle. He suggests that there is a difference between the substance of a human and the agency of a human, so that the primary focus of justice is not on the human nature as such but on the sinful agency of the sinner. This allows for substitution. A final point in this discussion is a resort to God’s sovereign administration of justice. The idea of a Calvinistic ‘relaxation’ of justice that allows for a substitute, to be distinguished from Scotus’s and Grotius’s relaxation of the extent of the penalty, is also mentioned. Shedd admits that Christ’s suffering was different in nature or quality from that of ‘a lost man.’ (Shedd 2003: 734) But there remained an equivalence. The value of Christ’s death and sufferings equals the sufferings of a lost world of sinners. Perhaps at this point, Shedd’s abstraction of the idea of justice from the one who is the judge is most apparent. D.A. Carson’s critique of illustrations that compare divine justice with human systems of justice is applicable here. (Hill & JamesIII: 132) Although Shedd is aware of differences between the divine and the human working of justice, his writing often assumes justice as an abstract concept. Justice is personified apart from the person of God.

Second, the vexed question of the extent of the atonement is addressed. Shedd describes two uses of the word ‘extent’. There is a passive use of the word, which is equivalent to the word ‘value’. The intrinsic and real value of Christ’s atonement ‘for the purposes of judicial satisfaction’, that is, the ‘extent’ of the atonement is, in this use of the word, unlimited. Here Shedd also uses the word that is commonly associated with Reformed orthodox discussions of the atonement. It is ‘sufficient’ in value to cover the sins of all humans. But, according to Shedd, the word ‘extent’ also has an active usage, that ‘denotes the act of extending.’ The meaning of the extent of the atonement in this sense becomes a discussion of how the Holy Spirit applies the atonement to individuals. In the words of Shedd, the extent is now the intent. Shedd refers to Shakespeare, Spenser, Browne and Massinger to argue that this active use is the earlier meaning of the word in English literature. The Westminster Confession and Larger Catechism use the word in this sense in their discussions of God’s eternal decree. However, for Shedd, the passive use of the word was the common popular meaning, so that: ‘If the word means value, then the atonement is unlimited; if it means applying, then the atonement is limited.’ (Shedd 2003: 740,741)

In the same way, Shedd distinguished different meanings in the assertion that Christ died for all. This language is appropriate if it means that Christ died the kind of death equivalent to the sins of all people, in that act providing a sufficient and credible basis on which God could offer atonement to individuals. Shedd distinguished between atonement and redemption too. Atonement is in some sense an objective work that stands regardless of God’s purpose for individuals. Shedd included an extended extract from John Owen’s Against Universal Redemption, which states that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for all but that it formally became the ransom price for individuals according to the purposes of God.

Atonement is unlimited but redemption is limited. Shedd recognized that his doctrine of atonement was related both to the doctrine of election, and his understanding of anthropology. There was no separation, or confusion, in the divine decree between these things. Shedd gave five reasons for relating the atonement to God’s purpose in applying it to elect individuals. These included the need for the risen Christ to be an object of faith, and the relation between Christ’s atoning work and his work of intercession (John 17:9).

Finally, Shedd affirms the universal offer of the atonement that is made to all in the gospel. In answer to the apparent anomaly of a universal offer over against a limited application of the atonement, Shedd lists nine arguments in favor of offering the gospel to all people. These arguments include a restatement of the sufficiency of the atonement to cover all sins, and the assertion that God placed no obstacles to the application of the atonement in the case of the non-elect. Human will is the chief obstacle that hinders people from receiving the benefits of the atonement: ‘the real reason of the inefficacy of Christ’s blood is impenitence and unbelief.’ (Shedd 2003: 752) In common with the Reformed orthodox tradition, Shedd also pointed to blessings and benefits that the non-elect receive from the atonement apart from the forgiveness of sins.

Shedd’s account of the doctrine of atonement is typical of the Reformed orthodox tradition of an objective atonement that requires subjective appropriation before particular individuals can be declared to be actually redeemed. In so far as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ relate to this work of atonement there is no substantial difference between the Reformed orthodox view of atonement, and other objective theories of atonement, including those of Barth and Torrance. The differences are seen in theological method, and in the relation of the atonement to other doctrines, especially the doctrines of election, humanity, and the nature of God.

In this regard there are reasons for retaining some interest in Shedd’s theology. This paper has been a survey of Shedd’s discussion of the atonement in his Dogmatic Theology. An intriguing aspect of that work is Shedd’s defence of traducianism in the context of his christology, and, by implication, in relation to his doctrine of atonement. Shedd describes human nature as a substance which can be either individualized or not. As such the whole of human nature was somehow contained within Adam and Eve, including the non-individualized human nature of Christ. Given this, the incarnation of Christ involves taking from the human nature of Mary that part which was destined to be Christ’s. But that human nature was sinful before the incarnation. The work of the Holy Spirit was a sanctifying work, but Shedd suggests that it had to be a justifying work too. Jesus Christ had to be justified and sanctified because his human nature had been part of fallen humanity. (Shedd 2003: 475)

The implication of this cannot be avoided. While the God-man, Jesus Christ, was sinless, Shedd’s mention of the justification of Jesus in his incarnation suggests that the atoning work of Christ was applied to his own human nature. Christ died for his own human nature, as well as for the sins of the world. The obvious differences in methodology, sophistication, and cultural context between Shedd and theologians like Barth and Torrance should not hide from us the similarities, perhaps unintended, between his christology and anthropology and their development of these topics. One example might be Torrance’s discussion of the sinful human nature of Christ, alluded to in his discussion of the incarnation in The Trinitarian Faith.

A modified Reformed orthodox doctrine of the atonement could easily use aspects from these three theologians. It could retain a non-universal understanding of redemption, while identifying Christ fully with humanity and with the new creation. Another way to resolve the question of universalism is to consider the atonement in eschatological perspective. As far as I know Shedd never remotely considered this possibility, but hints of such a view can be found in a sermon of Benjamin B. Warfield on John 3:16. Akin to Pannenberg’s view of history and meaning, in this view all things need to be explained from the perspective of the future kingdom of God. In the new creation the atonement, and redemption, will be seen to be universal.

In conclusion, although Shedd’s work, like so much Reformed orthodox dogmatic writing, is piecemeal, his best insights still provide useful material for constructing fuller accounts of Christ‘s saving work. He illustrates the strengths and the weaknesses of the Reformed orthodox position in its recent forms.

Hill, C.E., & F.K. James III, (eds) 2004
The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological and Practical Perspectives. Essays in honor of Roger R. Nicole. Downers Grove, Ill.:InterVarsity Press

DogmaticTheology.edA.W.Gomes. Phillipsburg,NJ:P&RPublishing



Shedd on the atonement, part 3

Having completed his discussion of vicarious atonement Shedd turned to ask how Christ’s sufferings provided atonement. There are three kinds of suffering: calamity, chastisement and punishment. A distinction between believers and unbelievers becomes more prominent at this point. Chastisement is a form of suffering that believers, as special children of God, experience. All the sufferings of a believer ‘from any cause or source whatever’ are corrective. The due penalty for sins has already been endured by the Redeemer. Even death is not penal for a believer.

But there is a difficulty here in Shedd’s construction. If all suffering in the experience of the believer is chastisement then suffering for unbelievers is to some extent penal. There is no discussion of how the transition from unbelief to belief changes or effects the suffering in a person’s history. It certainly cannot be chastisement because, although Shedd describes a universal fatherhood of God, only believers experience this form of suffering. Chastisement ‘is the form which suffering assumes within the family.’ (Shedd 2003: 712) Shedd describes how physical death in the case of a wicked person is penal because it is designed as such, and it is felt to be such, by the person. But the very same suffering is chastisement not punishment for the believer.

Two implications can be drawn from this part of Shedd’s thought. First, Christ’s atoning work does not exhaust God’s wrath against sin. At least in the lives of unbelievers God still executes just punishment against sinners. Secondly, the relation of God’s justice to the suffering of believers prior to their believing is ambiguous. Does such suffering constitute punishment? Shedd’s logic seems to suggest that it does, so that even in the lives of elect sinners God’s wrath is not exhausted by Christ’s atoning work.

Shedd’s Reformed orthodox view of the atonement tends to a qualitative rather than a quantitative view of Christ’s suffering on the cross. His reason for distinguishing types of suffering is simply to identity the nature of Christ’s suffering. It is retributive. It is the suffering of punishment or penalty. However it is difficult not to critique the assumptions behind these definitions in a way which undermines Shedd’s whole understanding of atonement.

Shedd distinguishes two kinds of ‘penal and atoning sufferings’ in the life of Christ. Ordinary sufferings included all those things that Christ suffered as a human, including the violence of his death. Shedd agreed with Jonathan Edwards that ‘the blood of Christ’s circumcision was as really a part of his vicarious atonement as the blood that flowed from his pierced side.’ (Shedd 2003: 720) The extraordinary sufferings were inflictions on the part of God. These included the temptations in the desert and the suffering of his soul ‘in the garden and on the cross.’ (Shedd 2003: 717) Shedd stresses that these sufferings cannot be explained by the operation of natural laws and psychological principles.

Shedd’s understanding of Christ’s experience on the cross is grounded in his christology. Jesus did not despair of his relationship with the Father. His agonizing cry did not question either the covenant of grace between Father and Son, nor the union of divine and human natures in his own person. It reflected his view of the curse that was upon him and his experience of the temporary desertion of God’s presence. There was a moment on the cross when all the comforting influences of his divine human nature were restrained. Christ wondered in amazement at the agony he was experiencing. He was not ignorant of its cause or purpose. At this point Shedd described God’s work with respect to the suffering and death of Christ on the cross. It was not a selfish emotional act of anger but a selfless and righteous action of wrath which neither disturbed God’s blessedness, nor compassion towards sinners. God was never angry with Christ in a personal sense.

In his 1859 essay on the atonement, Shedd had already described the relationship between divine anger and human anger. (Shedd 1877: 265-317) Included in this extensive essay was the observation that the atonement was not ab extra, but wholly ab intra, an internal work of the divine being. God’s inherent forgiving nature found its expression in the work of atonement. Moreover, human nature recognized the logic of divine wrath, and could reflect God’s nature:

‘a careful examination of what we find in the workings of this part of the human conscience will compel us to transfer in the same species to God, what exists in man in only a finite degree. In other words, the emotion of the human conscience towards sin will be found to be the same in kind with the emotion of God towards sin… we need not shrink from asserting, that this righteous displacency of the moral sense, against the voluntary wickedness, is precisely the same emotion in specie with the wrath of God.’ (Shedd 1877: 276)

So, the experience of the Son on the cross included an understanding of the ‘judicial infliction’ he was suffering. He shared in the divine attributes of justice and love that made the cross necessary. Christ’s suffering was a voluntary suffering. Although atonement supposed divine benevolence it is primarily related to God’s justice. Atonement was necessary not because of God’s mercy but because of his justice. Personal or vicarious atonement cancelled the legal claims of God on sinners.

In a qualification to his argument Shedd admitted that his definition of the vicarious atonement of Christ for sinners was universal. But the work of Christ did not necessarily save all because there was a difference between the relation of Christ’s atonement to God’s justice, and the relation of particular people to Christ’s death: ‘There is an infinite satisfaction that naturally and necessarily cancels legal claims, but unbelief derives no benefit from the fact.’ (Shedd 2003: 724) It followed that the mediator could demand the release of any person from the penalty of sin. Refusal would be unjust. Shedd again refers to Edwards, who described salvation, based upon the work of Christ, as an absolute debt owed to the believer by God.

Shedd does not avoid the obvious implication of his statements at this point. The suffering of Christ is equivalent to the sum total of personal suffering deserved by all humans, but some are not saved: ‘The mere fact that Jesus Christ made satisfaction for human sin, alone and of itself, will save no soul.’ (Shedd 2003: 726) Only faith within the individual leads to the application of the atonement of Christ to that individual. Faith is the means of our claim on Christ.

Shedd, W.G.T. 1877
Theological Essays. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Company

DogmaticTheology.edA.W.Gomes. Phillipsburg,NJ:P&RPublishing



Shedd on Coleridge: part 3 (Trinity)

Coleridge attempted to show that the doctrine of the trinity was rational, that it could be defended without relying solely on divine revelation, and that it was actually a necessary doctrine for any understanding of God as an infinite, self-conscious and personal being.

Shedd illustrated Coleridge's doctrinal contribution by reference to early debates on the subject:

'How could a man like Athanasius, for example, contend so earnestly, and with such truth of counter-statement, against a false idea, unless he had the true idea somewhat clear in his own mind to contend for. And if it be said that this was derived from the bare letter of the Scriptures, and that the whole controversy between the contending parties hinged upon the citation of proof texts, the question arises: How came Athanasius to see such a different truth in these texts from that which his opponents saw in them?'

The answer to this question was found in the antecedent ideas that each side brought to their intepretation of the Scriptures. The Scriptures do not contain a systematic and scientific account of the trinity. The orthodox idea of the trinity developed slowly in the doctrine of the church but it was present from the beginning of Christian church history. It was 'the joint product of scriptural teaching and rational reflection...'

Whether or not Coleridge's philosophical doctrine of the trinity was successful, the assertation that it was a rational and necessary doctrine 'cuts the root of the doctrine of a merely modal Trinity'. But Shedd criticised Coleridge for assuming a tetrad model of the trinity. There was a foundational monad that became a triad in Colderidge's account of the divine nature. This required the idea of development within the Godhead, something which contradicted the classic definition that God is actus purissimus sine ulla potentialitate.

Despite this apparent modalism, Shedd believed that Coleridge's 'practical faith' was basically trinitarian, and that his 'speculative construction of the doctrine' was inconsistent with his own statement that the doctrine was rational and necessary:

'Few minds in the whole history of the Christian church, as we believe, have had more awful and adoring views of the Triune God, or have bowed down in more absolute and lowly worship before the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.'

W.G.T. Shedd, Literary Essays (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1878), pp316-21.

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Shedd on the atonement, part 2

The atonement is vicarious and this implies substitution. Shedd argued that New Testament texts need to be interpreted in their context, but that some texts do suggest that Christ died in the place of, and for the benefit of, sinners. Sin demanded penalty because of the justice of God. This justice could be satisfied by the eternal punishment of sinners, and if God was merely just that would have been the necessary course of action.

God’s compassionate provision of a substitute was an act of mercy: ‘the vicarious atonement of Christ is the sovereign and the judge putting himself in the place of the criminal.’ (Shedd 2003: 693) Personal atonement could only end in the loss of the sinner. Vicarious atonement meant that the believer could receive atonement rather than make it for herself. (Rom.5:11) The Socinian objection that vicarious atonement is unmerciful because it involves strict satisfaction of justice could only be answered from a trinitarian point of view, that is, by reference to the deity of Christ.

Shedd’s language stressed that the atonement was a work of God, so that the penalty for sin was not inflicted on a ‘mere’ creature. Though it was the Son and not the Father that became incarnate and suffered and died, the Father had to suffer the self-sacrifice of giving up the Son. Moreover the unity of being and nature between the Father and the Son meant that the experience was common to both. Shedd quotes Augustine, ‘the mediator was both the offerer and the offering; and he was also one with him to whom the offering was made.’ (Shedd 2003: 695)

Here Shedd claims that none of this contradicts divine impassibility. The divine suffering in the atonement was self-inflicted suffering. Nothing as such, not even anger against sin, could cause God pain or misery. But God could and did experience ‘inward suffering’ in the work of atonement. Shedd held to this while asserting the standard Reformed orthodox view that Christ suffered the pains of death in his human nature only. (Shedd 2003: 737) Shedd’s stinging review of Horace Bushnell’s moral influence theory of the atonement included criticism of Bushnell’s apparently ‘vicious annihilation of the difference between the Infinite and the Finite.’ (Dorrien 2001: 172)

In beginning to discuss the nature of Christ’s atonement Shedd refers to the atonement offerings in Leviticus. The bullock or ram had to suffer bleeding and death, and the person that offered the animal suffered the loss of something valuable. The loss was total because the whole sin offering had to be consumed by fire. (Lev.16:27) Christ described suffering as a part of his own atoning work, and he refused to ease his pain on the cross. (Matt.16:21; 27:34) Suffering is essential to atonement. The sinner’s forgiveness is founded on the suffering of the substitute. This suffering covers the guilt of the sinner so that it becomes ‘invisible to the eye of God the holy.’ (Shedd 2003: 697) Forgiveness becomes inseparably connected with atonement in the biblical representation. (Heb.9:22) This atoning work provided the opportunity for peace within the conscience of the sinner. It also ‘propitiated’ the Holy One, with a consequent release of the penalty of sin.

Divine mercy is more visible in the vicarious infliction of suffering on the sin offering than it is in the personal non-infliction of that suffering with respect to the sinner. Release of the penalty is easy when there is sufficient (just) reason. A vicarious atonement for human sin provides justification for that release. In this discussion, Shedd distinguishes and separates the act of Christ’s atoning work from the securing of the consequences of that work: ‘If God so loves the world as to atone vicariously for its sin, he certainly so loves it as to remit its sin.’ (Shedd 2003: 698) Here is another illustration of the Reformed orthodox tension between the work of atonement and the application of that work. Shedd stresses that the compassion of God is seen in the atonement rather than the subsequent transactions ‘in the depths of a believer’s soul in which God says, “Son, be of good cheer, your sin is forgiven you.”’ (Shedd 2003: 699)

Despite the close relation between atonement and application Shedd’s conclusion is that the atonement is essentially objective. The ‘primary impression’ is upon the party to whom atonement is made. Shedd suggests that the idea of subjective atonement is a contradiction. In a footnote he counters the objection that vicarious atonement involves such a contradiction. If God atones God how can the atonement be objective? Shedd’s answer is not surprising. Jesus Christ does not make satisfaction to himself but to the Trinity. His death has reference to the divine nature. (Shedd 2003: 699) Again, Shedd’s account of the Reformed orthodox doctrine of the atonement illustrates that christological questions form the foundation of soteriology.

The classic biblical figures for the work of atonement are all described as objective. The biblical ideas of ‘propitiation’, ‘reconciliation’ and ‘ransom’ are discussed by Shedd with predictable conclusions in each case. Christ’s atonement ‘covers sin’ from God’s sight. It propitiates God’s wrath against sin. It reconciles God’s justice toward the sinner. It ‘pays a ransom’ to God, certainly not to Satan, for the sinner. None of these figures focus on the sinner. The effect of the death of Christ is upon the divine nature. Only ‘forced and violent’ exegesis can interpret Scripture as teaching a subjective atonement that places all the meaning and effect within the soul of humanity. (Shedd 2003: 702)

At the same time, Scripture teaches that God acts upon God in the work of atonement. In the vicarious atonement theory God is both subject and object, he is both passive and active. This implies that within God wrath and compassion exist simultaneously. Although both wrath and compassion are felt by God towards the sinner, only God’s anger against sin has to be made manifest: ‘Justice is necessary in its exercise, but mercy is optional.’ (Shedd 2003: 704) Whether or not God’s wrath is propitiated depends, ultimately, on the ‘sovereign pleasure’ of God. But the propitiation itself is wholly within God. It is ‘a self-oblation upon the part of the deity himself’ to satisfy ‘constitutional imperatives of the divine nature’. (Shedd 2003: 704) The only alternative to this self-oblation is the personal atonement or punishment of the sinner.

Shedd finds support for this simultaneous compassion and wrath of God in Augustine, Calvin, and Turretin. Shedd refers to Turretin’s distinction between ‘compassion’ and ‘reconciliation’ to explain how God’s compassion for all does not imply universal application of the atonement. God was already compassionate to sinners before the death of Christ. It was this compassion that moved God to provide atonement for sin. Reconciliation was a subsequent act of God based on the atonement. This act is optional and based upon God’s sovereign decision to save particular sinners.

While concentrating on the objective nature of the atonement Shedd did not ignore its relationship to human existence: ‘the objective atonement is intended to be subjectively appropriated by the act of faith in it.’ (Shedd 2003: 708) In an essay published early in his career, Shedd discussed in detail the atonement as a satisfaction for the ethical nature of both God and humans. Human moral sense was pacified in Christ’s atonement. The New Testament represents peace as one particular effect of faith in Christ’s blood. (e.g. Eph.2:13-14) There is a correlation between God’s justice and human conscience.

At this point in Shedd’s thinking there appears another illustration of the tension between the accomplishment and application of atonement. Shedd states that God’s justice is ‘completely satisfied for the sin of man by the death of Christ.’ (Shedd 2003: 709) This is a fact supported by such biblical texts as 1 John 2:2. Unbelief, or lack of appropriation through faith, do not change the fact that Christ’s death is ‘an ample oblation for the sin of the world.’ (Shedd 2003: 709) So, the priestly work of Christ has a similar effect on the believing human conscience as it has upon God’s just nature. This, perhaps perversely, becomes a test of true repentance and faith. One sign of a subjective appropriation of Christ’s atonement is the desire to make a personal atonement. In other words, God’s justice in demanding atonement is recognized and embraced by the believer.

Dorrien, G. 2001
The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900.
Louisville,Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

ed A.W.Gomes. Phillipsburg,NJ:P&RPublishing



Shedd on Coleridge: part 2

Shedd compared Coleridge to Calvin in his estimate of Coleridge as theological voice: ‘No divine, not even Calvin himself, ever expressed himself more decidedly than this author, in respect to such points as the divinity of Christ, the depth and totality of man’s apostasy, and the utter bondage and helplessness of the fallen will…’ Coleridge’s Confession of Faith, which Shedd traces back to 1816, expressed the personality and tri-unity of God, the free and guilty fall of man, the redemption of man by the incarnation and death of the Son, and the regeneration of the human soul by the Holy Spirit.

Although Coleridge appeared to misunderstand the doctrine of justification, Shedd believed that Coleridge’s other doctrinal expressions were thorough. Yet, Shedd noted that Coleridge was not the author of a system of theology or philosophy. Coleridge was a guide to method in theological inquiry. His was an aphoristic style of theological reflection. It encouraged depth, breadth, and certainty of opinion. Christianity could not be discovered by human reason, but it was in accordance with human reason. Divine revelation was divine reason.

Shedd went on to discuss Coleridge on the Trinity, sin, redemption, and inspiration. The defects of Coleridge on these last two subjects 'originated not so much from a moral as from a speculative source.'

Subsequent posts will survey Shedd's account of Coleridge on each of these four doctrines.

W.G.T. Shedd, Literary Essays (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1878), pp310-314, 342.



Shedd on the atonement, part 1

This series of posts presents a survey of W.G.T. Shedd’s doctrine of atonement, principally as found in his Dogmatic Theology, which was first published in 1888. It will describe Shedd’s doctrine of atonement within its distinct tradition, noting common criticisms that Shedd recognised, and others that he was unaware of given his context. The conclusion will suggest that aspects of Shedd’s theology provide possible areas for theological reflection that could renew and revive a Reformed orthodox doctrine of the atonement.

Shedd’s theology can be described as 19th century Reformed orthodoxy in the tradition of the post Reformation dogmatic project of the late 16th and 17th century Reformed church. Shedd ended his career as a Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York, in 1890/1. In the 1860s Shedd had joined the Presbyterian church from his Congregational church background because of his concern about the latitudinarian shift within Congregationalism.

Although Shedd had some peculiar views compared to the dominant Princeton tradition, as a churchman and theologian he fitted into the Old School Presbyterian group as opposed to the mediating New School tradition. Given the leading role of Union in the development of New School theology, Shedd’s place in that institution’s history seems curious. By internal appointment, Shedd had succeeded Henry Boynton Smith, a leading New School theologian, as Union’s professor of systematic theology in 1874. Shedd’s successor, William Adams Brown, was perhaps the leading liberal theologian in America between 1890 and 1920. Brown taught a theology which undermined Shedd’s work on many themes, not least the atonement.

Shedd’s dogmatic account of soteriology begins by discussing the mediatorial offices of Christ. Christ is represented in Scripture as a mediator, and Shedd claims that 1 Tim.2:15 designates the ‘entire theanthropic person Jesus Christ’ as the one mediator between God and humans. Throughout Shedd’s doctrine of atonement the requirement of a God-man to accomplish atonement is stressed. Referring to Gal.3:20, Shedd wrote that the eternal Word had to ‘take man’s nature into union with himself, if he would be a mediator between God and man.’ (Shedd 2003: 675)

His christology may have contained interesting and subtle aspects but it retained the classic two natures distinction, and it applied this distinction in attributing Christ’s suffering to his human nature. Yet, at the same time, Shedd emphasized the active role of God in the work of atonement. The mediator had to be God-man, and the work of atonement was therefore a divine work. Every aspect of the atonement, including the mediator’s obedience to the moral law, was not merely human it was theanthropic. As such the mediator’s work was divine and infinite. (Shedd 2003: 739)

Christ’s role as mediator was marked by condescension and humiliation. ‘Incarnate deity was a step down from unincarnate deity.’ (Shedd 2003: 676) Here Shedd cannot help but communicate in terms that presuppose a distinction between the pre-incarnate Logos and the incarnate Logos. Becoming a mediator between God and humans implies an element of dependence on the part of the mediator. Christ’s active obedience to the law was part of this humiliation, so that in Shedd’s definition the sum total of Christ’s atoning work included his active and passive obedience, even if the principal reference of the active obedience was to law as precept rather than law as penalty. (Shedd 2003: 721)

Although Jesus spoke in history as the mediator he sometimes referred to his preexistent identity. Shedd interprets seemingly contradictory Johannine texts in this way, notably John 10:30, ‘I and my Father are one’, and 14:28, ‘My Father is greater than I.’ However Shedd was clear that the office of mediator was temporary. It began in time, and it would come to an end. Shedd does not discuss the relation between time and eternity at this point. But he does state that the mediatorial work will cease to continue even though there will always be a God-man. (Shedd 2003: 676)

Shedd’s point is that the mediatorial work implied condescension and humility simply because it was temporal. In contrast to his role as creator the mediatorial role is taken on by the Son apart from, or beside, his essential God-ness. The second person of the Trinity ‘might be God the Son without being the mediator; but he could not be God the Son without being God the Creator.’ (Shedd 2003: 677) The reward given to the mediator also implied humility and condescension. It was the Son as God-man who received reward for completion of his work. This reward was the fulfillment of the covenant of mercy between the Father and the Son. Shedd recognised the idea of two covenants of salvation, a covenant between Father and Son, and a covenant of grace between the Father and those that would be saved (the elect). But he described the distinction as secondary, preferring the notion of ‘one evangelical covenant of mercy.’ (Shedd 2003: 679)

When Shedd begins to describe the three offices of Christ as mediator some inconsistencies become apparent. Making reference to the Westminster Confession (7:5; 8:6), Shedd writes that the offices were executed by Christ before, as well as after, his first advent. In particular, Christ executed the office of prophet through the Holy Spirit prior to his incarnation. Shedd admits this himself when he writes that the Logos was not actually the mediator until he assumed human nature, and then immediately discusses the work of the mediator in the Old Testament church. If ‘there was once a time when there was no mediatorial work of salvation going on,’ this period can only exist in Shedd’s construction before the fall of Adam and Eve, if at all. (Shedd 2003: 677)

It could be that the inconsistency was not Shedd’s alone, but one weakness of orthodox christology in general. Nevertheless, perhaps Shedd himself was too conscious of the language of the Westminster Confession to explore the relationship between time, eternity, and Christ’s office as mediator. Throughout his discussion he alludes or refers to confessional language. The first two editions of Dogmatic Theology were published around the same time that revision of the confession was a serious possibility in the Northern Presbyterian church in America.

The priestly office of Christ primarily rests in his atoning death, and in his intercession. These two are connected because intercession is essentially the application of the benefits of Christ’s death. Unlike his prophetic office this role is administered directly by Christ himself. Previous earthly priests were types not delegates of Christ. On his formal assumption of the priestly office, presumably at some point in his earthly ministry, Christ effectively abolished earthly priests and their sacrifices. (Shedd 2003: 687)

Shedd’s discussion of the offices of Christ ends at this point, with no discussion at all of Christ’s kingly role. Originally, Dogmatic Theology was published in three volumes. The third volume was supplemental, listing extended references to other dogmatic works, with occasional comments by Shedd. In the relevant supplemental section, Shedd quotes from Witsius’s work on the Apostles’ Creed. This quote illustrates the common Reformed idea that the mediatorial kingdom exists in history as Christ’s formation of the church. It will end when Christ delivers the kingdom, that is, the church, in its perfect state, to God the Father. (Shedd 2003: 689)

Presbyterian confessional standards described Christ’s kingship with peculiar reference to the church:

"The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation." (Westminster Confession of Faith, 25:2)

While it can be assumed that Shedd understood Christ’s role as king in line with this, the lack of an account of this kingship is a surprising omission in his dogmatic theology. There is no discussion dedicated to ecclesiology in Dogmatic Theology, and the development of ecclesiology does not appear in his History of Christian Doctrine. As such, Shedd’s chapter on the offices of the mediator is merely a prelude to his extensive discussion of the atonement itself.

Shedd, W.G.T. 1877
Theological Essays. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Company

Shedd, W.G.T. 1887
A History of Christian Doctrine. Vol. 2. 9th ed. New York: Scribner’s

DogmaticTheology.edA.W.Gomes. Phillipsburg,NJ:P&RPublishing



Fantastic Shedd!

I'm in the process of completing some papers on Shedd, hence the resurgence of Shed on Shedd posts. I may yet post (in chunks) these papers, although, they are not so hot. However I continue to read Shedd articles, and stuff, and I continue to be amazed.

Check out the quote below, taken from a discourse/sermon that Shedd gave at the Brick Church, New York, November 1862 (I think he was the pastor). The subject, of course, is the civil war. Shedd at this point argued that the war was justified in terms of defending the Union - abolition and emancipation of slaves should be gradual, and was not the purpose of the war. Later (1865/6 I think), the Presbyterian church in the North claimed the war had been about slavery after all.

Never mind that. Here is an illustration of Shedd's fantastic grasp of history:

'...we should render profound thanks to Almighty God, on this day, because the American Government is not waging an unjust war for foreign conquest, but a righteous war against domestic treason and rebellion. ... This is not a war for foreign conquest. It is a war against treason within the realm; as clearly so as those wars by which Great Britain has prevented Scotland and Ireland from becoming independent sovereignties, whenever factions and rebellions have been organized to accomplish this end.'

Taken from, The Union and the War -
W.G.T. Shedd, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: A Miscellany. (New York : Charles Scribner, 1893), 278.

Yikes! Oh dear! What is he on about?

Surely this is yet another historical illustration of the maxim that theologians and preachers should stick to theology and preaching, if, indeed, that is possible. I suspect that is the lesson of history. Theology and preaching can never be kept isolated from (national) politics, and bizarre readings of history.

But, oh dear, Shedd was a professor of history! I've got no idea what wars he is referring to at all, certainly not in the case of Scotland.

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