The Guilt of the Pagan, The Reprobate Mind

Taken and adapted from a sermon titled “The Guilt of the Pagan” which was
presented to the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, May 3, 1863.
Written by William G. T. Shedd.
Edited for thought, sense and space.

condemnation WebThis brings us to the consideration of the reprobate mind…

…which St. Paul rests his position that the pagan world is in a state of condemnation. He concedes that man outside of the pale of revelation is characterized, not indeed by total, but by great ignorance of God and divine things; that his moral knowledge is exceedingly dim and highly distorted. But the fault is in himself that it is so.

“As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.” The question very naturally arises, and is frequently urged by the unbeliever, How comes it to pass that the knowledge of God, of which the apostle speaks, and which he affirms to be innate and constitutional to the human mind, should become so vitiated in the pagan world? The majority of mankind are polytheists and idolaters, and have been for thousands of years. Can it be that St. Paul is correct in affirming that the doctrine that there is only one God is native to the human mind, –that the pagan “knows” this God, and yet does not glorify him as God? The majority of mankind are earthly and sensual, and have been for thousands of years. Can it be that St. Paul is correct in saying that there is a moral law written upon their heart, forbidding such carnality, and enjoining purity and holiness?

The theory that the pagan is possessed of such an amount and degree of moral knowledge as has been specified has awakened some apprehensions in the minds of some Christian theologians, and has led them unintentionally to foster the opposite theory,which, if strictly adhered to, would lift off all responsibility from the pagan world, would bring them in innocent at the bar of God, and would render the whole enterprise of Christian missions a superfluity and an absurdity.

Their motive has been good. They have feared to attribute any degree of accurate knowledge of God and the moral law to the pagan world, lest they should thereby conflict with the doctrine of total depravity. They have erroneously supposed that if they should concede to every man, by virtue of his moral constitution, some correct apprehensions of ethics and natural religion, it would follow that there is some native goodness in him.

But light in the intellect is very different from life and affection in the heart. It is one thing to know the law of God, and quite another thing to obey it.

Even if we should concede to the degraded pagan, or the degraded dweller in the haunts of vice in Christian lands, all the intellectual knowledge of God and the moral law that is possessed by the ruined archangel himself, we should not be adding a particle to his moral character or his moral excellence. There is nothing of a holy quality in the mere intellectual perception that there is one Supreme Being, and that he has issued a pure and holy law for the guidance of all rational creatures.

The mere doctrine of the Divine Unity will save no man.

There is no redemptive power in it. It forgives no sin, and it delivers from no bondage to sin. “Thou believest,”says St. James, ” that there is one God; thou doest well; the devils also believe and tremble.” Satan himself is a monotheist, and knows very clearly all the commandments of God; but his heart and will are in demoniacal antagonism with them. And so it is, even in a lower degree, in the instance of the pagan and of the natural man in every age and in every clime. This intellectual perception, this constitutional apprehension of the first principles of natural religion, instead of lifting up disobedient man into a higher and more favorable position before the eternal bar, casts him down to a deeper perdition.

These facts prove that the pagan man is under supervision; that he is under the righteous despotism of moral ideas and convictions; that God is not far from him; that he lives and moves and has his being in his Maker; and that God does not leave himself without witness in his constitutional structure. Therefore it is, that this sea of rational intelligence thus surges and sways in the masses of paganism; sometimes dashing the creature up the heights, and sometimes sending him down into the depths.

But we answer no, to the question that is put by the objector, for a second reason that is still more conclusive, because it is still more practical. The guilt of the pagan can not be reduced to a minimum and disappear, because, wherever he is found, he is found to be self-willed and determined in sin. He does not like to retain truth in his mind, or to obey it in his heart.

There is not a single individual of them all who has been necessitated to do wrong. Each one of them has a will of his own, and loves the sin that is destroying him more than he loves the holiness that would save him. Notwithstanding all the horrible accompaniments of sin in heathen society, the wretched creature prefers to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season rather than come out and separate himself from the unclean thing, and begin that holy warfare and obedience to which his God and Saviour invite him. This, we repeat, proves that the sin is not forced upon the rational creature. For if he hated his sin, nay, if he felt weary and heavy-laden because of it, he would leave it.

If the positions that have been taken are correct, natural religion consigns the entire pagan world to eternal perdition.

Men are condemned already, previous to redemption, by the law written on their hearts;by their natural convictions of moral truth; by natural religion,whose truths and dictates they have failed to put in practice. And it is precisely because the pagan world has not obeyed the principles of natural religion, and is under a curse and a bondage therefore, that it is in perishing need of the truths of revealed religion.

Therefore, only know that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses all sin…

…from every soul upon whom it drops. And we know that our Redeemer and King has commanded us to proclaim this fact to every human creature. Events and successes are with him.

The church has nothing to do but obey orders, like soldiers in a campaign.

The great and the simple work before the church is to sprinkle the nations with the blood of atonement. This it does, instrumentally, when it preaches forgiveness of sins through Christ’s oblation. The one great and awful fact in human history, we have seen, is the fact of guilt. And the great and glorious fact which the mercy of God has now set over against it, is the fact of atonement. It requires no high degree of civilization to apprehend either of these facts. The benighted pagan is as easily convicted as the most highly educated philosopher; and his reception of the atonement of God is, perhaps, even less hindered by pride and prejudice.

Let the church, therefore, dismissing all secondary and inferior aims, however excellent and desirable in themselves, go forth and proclaim to all the nations that “they are without excuse, because that when they knew God they glorified him not as God;” and also that ” God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The Guilt of the Pagan, Part 1.

Taken and adapted from a sermon titled The Guilt of the Pagan” which was
presented to the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, May 3, 1863.
Written by William G. T. Shedd

tumblr_llypuguF0F1qd6pkuo1_500“They are without excuse; because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.”

–Romans 1:20, 21, 28.

Unless the guilt of the pagan world can be proved…

…the missionary enterprises of the Christian church, from the days of the Apostles to the present time, have all been a waste of labor.

Nay more, if the sin and ill-desert of the entire human race, in all its generations, can not be established, then the Christian religion itself, involving the incarnation of God, is an attempt to supply a demand that has no real existence.

Both theoretical and practical Christianity stands or falls with the doctrine of the universal guilt of man.

It is no wonder therefore, that the apostle Paul, in the opening of the most systematic and logical treatise in the New Testament, –the Epistle to the Romans, –enters upon a line of argument to demonstrate the ill-desert of every human creature without exception,and to prove that before an unerring tribunal, and in the final day of adjudication, “every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God.” In conducting his argument, the apostle relies upon two facts, in particular, to establish his position.

The first is, that however dim or imperfect man’s knowledge of God and the moral law may be, he nevertheless knows more than he puts in practice. Of the millions of idolaters in cultivated Greece and Rome, and the millions of idolaters in that barbaric world which lay outside of the Greco-Roman civilization, he affirms, that they “are without excuse; because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God.”

And the second fact upon which he founds his charge of guilt is, that the dim perception of God and the moral law, as well as the idolatrous notions that were formed upon these subjects, both alike originated in the wicked inclination of the heart. These pagans, he says, “did not like to retain God in their knowledge,” and, therefore, “God gave them over to a reprobate mind.” The apostle vindicates the ways of God in the condemnation of man, because human conscience, be it much or little, is always in advance of human character; and, also, because all the various forms of human error respecting the divine being and attributes, all the idolatry and superstition of the barbaric races of mankind, originate not in man’s created and rational constitution, but in the sin of his apostate and corrupt heart. These two facts,in the judgment of St. Paul, justify the damnation of the heathen; and to their examination we now proceed, under the light of St. Paul’s inspiration and reasoning.

The idea of God is the most important and comprehensive of all the ideas of which the human mind is possessed.

It is the foundation of religion, of all right doctrine, and all right conduct. A correct intuition of it leads to correct religious theories and practice; while any erroneous or defective view of the Supreme Being will pervade the whole domain of religion,and exert a most pernicious influence upon the character and conduct of men. It is this great idea of the Deity, inborn and constitutional to the human mind, which St. Paul seizes; and he flashes its penetrating light into the recesses of the pagan heart. He traces back the horrible depravity of the heathen world, which he depicts with a pen as sharp as that of Juvenal, but with none of Juvenal’s bitterness and vitriolic sarcasm, to a distorted and false conception of the divine being and attributes.

But he does not, for an instant, concede that this distorted and false conception is founded in the original structure and constitution of the human soul, and that this moral ignorance is necessary and inevitable to the pagan. This mutilated idea of the Supreme Being was not inlaid in the rational creature, on that morning of creation, when God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” On the contrary, the apostle affirms, that in the moral constitution of a rational soul, and in the works of creation and providence, the Creator has given to all men the media to a correct idea of himself,and asserts, by implication, that if they had always employed these media, they would have always possessed this idea. “The wrath of God,” he says, “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who held the truth in unrighteousness, because that which may be known of God, is manifest in them, for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him, even His eternal power and godhead, are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made, so that they are without excuse; because that when they knew God they glorified him not as God.”

This is said, be it remembered, of the pagan world; and from this reasoning it appears that the pagan mind has not kept what was committed to it. It has not employed the moral instrumentalities, nor elicited the moral truths with which it has been furnished. This reasoning implies that the pagan man by his constitutional structure knows more of his Maker than he puts in practice; that he possesses a talent which he hides in the earth; that he has a pound which he keeps laid up in a napkin.

When Napoleon was returning from his campaign in Egypt and Syria, he was seated one night upon the deck of the vessel under the open canopy of the heavens, surrounded by his captains and generals. The conversation had taken a skeptical direction, and most of the party had combated the doctrine of the Divine Existence. Napoleon sat silent and musing, apparently taking no interest in the discussion, when suddenly raising his hand, and pointing at the crystalline firmament, crowded with its mildly-shining planets and its keen glittering stars, he broke out, in those startling tones that so often electrified a million of men: “Gentlemen, who made all that?” The “eternal power and godhead” of the Creator are impressed by “the things that are made;” and these words of Napoleon to his atheistic captains silenced them.

Select the most brutish pagan that can be found; take him out under a clear starlit heaven, and ask him who made all that, and the idea of a Superior Being,” superior to all his fetishes and idols,” possessing eternal power and godhead, immediately emerges in his consciousness. The instant the missionary takes this lustful idolater away from the circle of his idols,and brings him face to face with the heavens and the earth, as Napoleon brought his captains, the constitutional idea dawns again, and the pagan trembles before the unseen Power.

In order to establish the guiltiness of a rational creature before the bar of God, it is not necessary to show that he has lived in the seventh heavens, and under a blaze of moral intelligence like that of the archangel Gabriel. It is only necessary to show that he has enjoyed some degree of moral light, and that he has not lived up to it.

Any creature who knows more than he practices, is a guilty creature. If the light in the pagan’s intellect concerning God and the moral law, small though it be, is yet actually in advance of the inclination and affections of his heart and the actions of his life,he deserves to be punished like any and every other creature under the divine government of whom the same thing is true.

For this reason, the church has believed the declaration of the apostle John, that “the whole world lies in wickedness,” and has endeavored to obey the command of Him who came to redeem pagans as much as nominal Christians, to go and preach the gospel to every creature, because every creature is a guilty creature.

Evidences of Regeneration, and Evidences of the Doctrine of the Saint’s Perseverance.

Written by, William G. T. Shedd.
Taken from, “Sermons to the Spiritual Man.”
Edited for thought and space. 

i-hate-you-but-not-reallyThe duty of the Christian is, to assure himself upon scriptural grounds of his regeneration…

…and then to “work out his salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that worketh in him to will and to do.” The fact that he is a new creature, if established, is a proof that God is helping him in the struggle with indwelling sin; and when God helps, victory is sure in the end. Believers are commanded to “examine themselves,” not for the purpose of seeing whether they are perfectly sanctified, but “whether they be in the faith.” We may make our self-examination minister to our discouragement, and hindrance in the Christian race, if, instead of instituting it for the purpose of discovering whether we have a penitent spirit, and do cordially accept Christ as our righteousness, we enter upon it for the purpose of discovering if we are entirely free from corruption.

Remainders of the old fallen nature may exist in connection with true faith in Christ, and a new heart.

Paul bemoans himself, saying: “The good which I would I do not; but the evil which I would not that I do.” But Paul was certain that he trusted in the blood of Christ for the remission of sin; that he was a new man in Christ Jesus, and influenced by totally different motives from those that actuated him when he persecuted the Church of Christ; that he loved Christ more than the whole universe, and “counted all things but dung that he might win Christ,” and become a perfect creature in him.

The first and chief thing, therefore, which the Christian should have in his eye, in all his self-examination, is, to determine upon scriptural grounds whether he is a renewed man. The evidences of regeneration are plain, and plainly stated. We have already hinted at them. A sense of guilt and cordial acceptance of Christ’s atonement, a desire to be justified by his precious blood, a peaceful confidence in God’s righteousness and method of justifying a sinner –this is the first and infallible token of a new heart, and a right spirit. Then, secondly, a weariness of sin, “a groaning, being burdened” under its lingering presence and remaining power, a growing desire to be entirely delivered from it, and a purer simpler hungering after holiness –these are the other evidences of regeneration.

Search yourselves to see whether these things be in you,

…and if you find them really, though it may be faintly and feebly, in your experience, do not be discouraged because along with them you discover remaining corruption. Remember that as a man struck with death is a dead man, so a soul that has been quickened into life is a living soul, even though the remnants of disease still hang about it and upon it. The “new man” in Christ Jesus will eventually slay stone-dead the “old man” of sin. The “strong man” has entered into the house, and bound the occupant hand and foot, and he will in time “spoil his house.”

The truth that God will carry forward his work in the renewed soul, and that the principle of piety implanted by Divine grace will develop to perfection, may indeed be abused by the false Christian; but this is no reason why the genuine child of God should not use it for his encouragement, and progress in this divine life.

One of the evidences of regeneration, however, if considered, will prevent all misuse of the doctrine of the saint’s perseverance.

A “groaning, being burdened” by the remaining presence of sin, is a sign of being a new creature. How can a man have this grief and sadness of heart at the sight of his indwelling corruption, and at the same time roll sin as a sweet morsel under the tongue? How shall one, whose great burden it is, that he is tied to the body of sin and death, proceed to make that burden heavier and heavier, by a life of ease, indifference and worldliness? “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?”

No, my brother, if you really groan, being burdened because you are still so worldly, so proud, so selfish, so sinful, you are a new creature.

You never did this in the days of your impenitency. You were “alive without the law,” then. You did not feel the heavy, weary, weight pressing down upon you. You did not say with the Psalmist, as you now do: “My sin is ever before me.” This very imperfection which you now painfully feel, is the very evidence that you are on the way to perfection; it is the sign that there is a new principle of holiness implanted in your soul, one of whose effects is this very consciousness of remaining corruption, and one of whose glorious results will be the final and eternal eradication of it, when the soul leaves the body and enters paradise.

The child of God therefore, should not be discouraged because he discovers indwelling sin, and imperfection, within himself. 

A believer in the Lord Jesus Christ ought never to be discouraged. He ought to be humble, watchful, nay, sometimes fearful, but never despondent, or despairing. David, Paul, and the Colossian church were imperfect. But they were new men in Christ Jesus, and they are now perfectly holy and happy in heaven.

Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  William Greenough Thayer Shedd (1820 –1894), was an American Presbyterian Theologian born in Acton, Massachusetts.

In 1835, Shedd enrolled at the University of Vermont, He graduated from University of Vermont in 1839 and taught school for one year, during which time he began to attend the Presbyterian Church. Being called to the ministry, Shedd entered Andover Theological Seminary in 1840 and studied under theologian Leonard Woods. He graduated in 1843.

After a short pastorate at Brandon, Vermont, he was successively professor of English literature at the University of Vermont (1845–1852), professor of sacred rhetoric in Auburn Theological Seminary (1852–1854), professor of church history in Andover Theological Seminary (1854–1862), and, after one year (1862–1863) as associate pastor of the Brick Church of New York City, of sacred literature (1863–1874) and of systematic theology (1874–1890) in Union Theological Seminary. He died in New York City on November 17, 1894.

Dr. Shedd was a high Calvinist and was one of the greatest systematic theologians of the American Presbyterian church. His great work was Dogmatic Theology (3 vols, 1888–1894). He served as editor of Coleridge’s Complete Works (7 vols, New York, 1894), and he also wrote: Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1856), in which he applied to history the doctrine of organic evolution. Discourses and Essays (1856) A Manual of Church History (2 vols, 1857), a translation of Guericke A History of Christian Doctrine (2 vols, 1863) Homiletics and Pastoral Theology (1867) Sermons to the Natural Man (1871) Theological Essays (1877) Literary Essays (1878) Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1879) Sermons to the Spiritual Man (1884) The Doctrine of Endless Punishment (1885)