Endless Punishment an Essential Doctrine of Christianity

Evangelical theology has disintegrated in the past 60 years to the extent that catholic doctrines (i.e. doctrines of the church universal) can be denied, and one can remain an evangelical statesman.

One doctrine to now be regarded an “unessential” to “evangelical faith” is the belief in hell, or the eternal conscious punishment of unbelievers.  It was not always so.  The great 19th century theologian W.G.T. Shedd said “there is no doctrine more necessary in order to the integrity of the evangelical system than that future punishment is eternal”.  Why would he say this?  Because he argues (correctly) that a denial of hell entails that “the whole scheme of redemption by the sufferings of Christ falls to the ground” and that “there can be no evangelical piety without it [hell].”

Shedd states: “The Scriptures represent the sufferings and death of the Son of God as taking the place of the suffering and death due to the sinner for his sin, and in this way delivering him from his desert.  But the sufferings of Christ, it is agreed by all Trinitarians … are infinite in their dignity and value.  They are the agony, not of a creature, but of the incarnate God …  But is it supposable that such an immense oblation would have been provided to redeem man from sin, if sin does not merit the immense penalty of eternal death, and is not to receive it? … We affirm therefore that the doctrine of Christ’s atonement stands or falls with that of endless punishment.  He who denies the latter must logically deny the former.  He who subtracts anything from the demerits of man’s sin, subtracts just so much from the merit of atoning blood…”

For more on this vital topic see Shedd’s The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment.

Hell is not an easy subject, it is not a topic that should be broached without tears in our eyes and a heart that burns with evangelistic zeal (2 Cor. 5:11).  But as it is not a topic that can be avoided, or denied, without grave consequences.

PS If you have never read Shedd’s “Orthodoxy and Hetrodoxy” you are missing a treat.  Think of a 19th century collection of essays in the style Carl Trueman’s little books.  Shedd’s essay “Liberal Bigotry” is priceless.

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