Sunday, January 23, 2011

Shedd on Knowledge in the Afterlife

I spent the afternoon reading a sermon by American Presbyterian theologian W.G.T. Shedd (1820-1894) titled "The Future State a Self-Conscious State." This was taken from his volume Sermons to the Natural Man. In the sermon, Shedd argues that our quality of knowledge in the afterlife will differ significantly from what we enjoy here. Specifically, Shedd is focused on the knowledge which natural men - who do not know God - will enjoy in the afterlife.

Shedd's sermon is based on 1 Cor. 13:12, which reads, "Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

The three broad points which Shedd's sermon is laying forth are as follows:
I. "The human mind, in eternity, will have a distinct and unvarying perception of the character of God." Shedd - nearly quoting Lewis (anachronistically), says the following: "The future state of every man is to be an open and unavoidable vision of God. If he delights in the view, he will be blessed; if he loathes it, he will be miserable. This is the substance of heaven and hell. This is the key to the eternal destiny of every human soul. If a man love God, he shall gaze at him and adore; if he hate God, he shall gaze at him and gnaw his tongue for pain."

II. "He will know himself even as he is known by God." This is so dreadful, says Shedd, because man spends so much time hiding behind willful self-deception, which will no longer protect man once he knows himself as God knows him.

III. He will have "a clear understanding of the nature and wants of the soul." Connected to this point, he says the following: "Man has that in his constitution, which needs God, and which cannot be at rest except in God. A state of sin is a state of alienation and separation from the Creator. It is, consequently, in its intrinsic nature, a state of restlessness and dissatisfaction."
In the beginning, Shedd argues that "a false theory of the future state will not protect a man from future misery." He then argues, on top of this, that "indifference and carelessness respecting the future life will not protect the soul from future misery." (This point seems especially relevant in our own day of shallow thinking, frequent distraction, and naively optimistic indifference.)

In his conclusion to part one of the sermon, Shedd concludes that "only faith in Christ and a new heart can protect the soul from future misery." He goes on:
You must love this holiness without which no man can see the Lord. You may approve of it, you may praise it in other men, but if there is no affectionate going out of your own heart toward, the holy God, you are not in right relations to Him.
I just shared the cliff's notes version of the sermon, but it is almost a shameful summary, because it is one of the most glorious and tremendously insightful sermons I have read in recent memory. In conclusion, I want to recommend Shedd's volume of 20 sermons in Sermons to the Natural Man. You can get this volume for free in various formats from Project Gutenberg by clicking here.

1 comment:

Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!