The prospect of eternal punishment represents an insurmountable obstacle for many. Christianity is often rejected outright for its doctrine of hell, and even believers occasionally hold skeptical views. This volume was prepared to address this difficult doctrine for those both inside and outside the church.
In The Doctrine of Endless Punishment, Shedd makes a rational case and a biblical case for the doctrine, along with a historical sketch. He surveys the depiction of hell in the Bible, along with the technical terms use. He grounds the doctrine of endless punishment not in history, the Bible, or the church, but in the decrees of God.
“The principal deviation from the catholic doctrine of endless retribution was in the Alexandrine school, founded by Clement and Origen. The position taken by them was, that ‘the punishments of the condemned are not eternal, but only remedial; the devil himself being capable of amelioration’ (Gieseler. I. 214). Thus early was the question raised, whether the suffering to which Christ sentences the wicked is for the purpose of correcting and educating the transgressor, or of vindicating and satisfying the law he has broken—a question which is the key to the whole controversy.” (Pages 2–3)
“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. They who foresee an evil, prepare for it and avoid it; but ‘the simple pass on and are punished.’ 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.” (Page vi)
“The common opinion in the Ancient church was, that the future punishment of the impenitent wicked is endless.” (Page 1)
“The fall and eternal ruin of an immortal spirit is the most dreadful event conceivable.” (Page v)
“The strongest support of the doctrine of Endless Punishment is the teaching of Christ, the Redeemer of man. Though the doctrine is plainly taught in the Pauline Epistles, and other parts of Scripture, yet without the explicit and reiterated statements of God incarnate, it is doubtful whether so awful a truth would have had such a conspicuous place as it always has had in the creed of Christendom.” (Page 12)
William Shedd (1820–1894) is considered one of the greatest theologians of the American Presbyterian church. He studied at the University of Vermont under James Marsh, where he encountered the writings of Samuel Taylor. Shedd graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in 1843 and, soon after, became a minister for a congregational church in Vermont for two years.
Shedd taught at many universities, including University of Vermont, Auburn Theological Seminary, Andover Theological Seminary, and Union Theological Seminary. While at Union, Shedd defended the Reformed theology of Old School Presbyterian against the increasing influence of modernism and higher criticism.
One of Shedd’s better-known titles is Dogmatic Theology. Other titles include A History of Christian Doctrine and The Doctrine of Endless Punishment, which can be found in the William G. T. Shedd Collection.