November 17: W.G.T. Shedd

A Long Name, With an Influential Theology System

William Greenough Thayer Shedd was born in June of 1820 of a distinguished New England lineage. His father was a minister, though it is not clear whether he was a Congregationalist or a Presbyterian pastor. (In early years, both groups were closely aligned in that region.) When William Shedd was eleven years old in 1831, his family moved to Lake Champlain, New York. This enabled William to later attend the University of Vermont, where a teacher introduced him to philosophy and literature. Graduating in 1839, he began to teach in New York City. It was here that William made a public profession of faith and began to attend a Presbyterian Church.

Sensing the call to the ministry, he attended Andover Theological Seminary. There he met and was influenced by Prof. Leonard Woods, who was a solid Old School Presbyterian. Graduating from Andover, Shedd became a pastor in the Congregational denomination in Vermont. Even though he was Old School Reformed in his thinking, he taught briefly at the New School Presbyterian institution of Auburn Theological Seminary, from 1852-1854.

After the Congregationalists decided to stop emphasizing the distinctive doctrines of the Christian faith, Pastor and Professor Shedd made his switch to the Presbyterian distinctives of his younger years. Leaving Auburn, he was professor of church history at Andover from 1853-1862, and then for two years as co-pastor at the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City. His life’s primary work occurred while teaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he was to teach for eleven years, 1874-1892. Just before the end of his teaching ministry,  he wrote his most famous book on “Dogmatic Theology.”

And yes, he took a strong stand against the unbelief of his fellow teacher, Charles Briggs, and Shedd also argued against the revision of the Westminster Standards, which was also being suggested in those days. He died on November 17, 1894.

Words to live by:  When a pastor or professor can summarize his thoughts on paper and in published works, then solid convictions can continue to have an influence for righteousness which would not otherwise be the case if that one just taught or preached in one place in history. Some churches and educational institutions (may their tribe increase) are offering sabbaticals to their pastors and professors for exactly that reason, that is, that they may examine themselves pastorally or professionally in their calling, or write down some thoughts for the benefit of the church at large. Support such efforts, if you are a member of a church, or on a board for higher education. They are that beneficial to the wider church.

Through the Scriptures:   Galatians 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  Improvement of baptism

WLC 167 — “How is our baptism to be improved by us?
A.  The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to,  the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of  sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, a those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.”

Image source: Photo facing page 96 in A History of Auburn Theological Seminary, 1818-1918. Auburn, NY: Auburn Seminary Press, 1918. Scan prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

Rev. Shedd is perhaps most widely remembered for his three-volume work on systematic theology, which was originally published in 1888. Zondervan reprinted the work in 1969 and I’m sure there have been other reprints.

 

Dissertations & Theses—
• Herzer, Mark Andrew, The Influence of Romantic Idealism in the Writings of William Greenough Thayer Shedd. Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 2003; Ph.D. dissertation.

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