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William Shedd on Concreated Holiness

Discussions of human nature in its original state and the donum superadditum today seem arcane and a minor point at best. This was not the case, however, just one hundred years ago. When one reviews the great American systematic theologies from the Reformed tradition, he will find thorough discussions of anthropology, even (or perhaps especially) the debate between traducianism and creationism, and man’s primitive state, including his original righteousness. William G. T. Shedd lays out the various positions on this matter in his Dogmatic Theology:

Concreated holiness is one of the distinguishing tenets of Augustinianism. Pelagianism denies that holiness is concreated. It asserts that the will of man by creation, and in its first condition, is characterless. Its first act is to originate either holiness or sin. “Non pleni nascimur;” we are not born full of character. Adam’s posterity are born, as he was created, without holiness and without sin. Pelagius, quoted by Augustine: Do peccato originis, XIII. Semipelagianism holds the same opinion; excepting that it concedes a transmission of a vitiated physical nature, which Pelagianism denies. So far as the rational and voluntary nature of man is concerned, the Semipelagian asserts that holiness like sin must be self-originated by each individual. The Tridentine anthropology is a mixture of Pelagianism and Augustinianism. God created man “in puris naturalibus,” without either holiness or sin. This creative act, which left man characterless, God followed with another act by which he endowed man with holiness. Holiness was something supernatural, and not contained in the first creative act. Creation is, thus, imperfect, and is improved by an after- thought. In the Modern church, the Calvinists and early Lutherans adopted the Augustinian view. The Arminians and some of the later Lutherans reject the doctrine of con-created holiness.

Shedd considers one’s position on this matter to be indicative of his continuity with the Augustinian tradition over and against the Pelagian and Semipelagian alternatives. He goes on to explain the implications of this doctrine:

The positive holiness, then, with which man was endowed by creation, consisted in an understanding enlightened in the spiritual knowledge of God and divine things, and a will wholly inclined to them. The following are some of the rational proofs that man was so created.

The maturity and perfection of man suppose it. Adam was not created an infant, but an adult. To suppose him to be vacant of the knowledge of God, and of moral character, in this advanced stage of existence, contradicts the idea of complete and mature manhood. A perfect man who has neither the knowledge nor the love of God, is a contradiction.

The idea of the will as a mental faculty, implies a concreated holiness. Inclination enters into the definition of the will, as necessarily as triangularity does into that of a triangle; as intelligence does into that of an understanding; as properties do into that of a substance. To create a will, therefore, is to create an inclination also. If we should suppose God to create a certain faculty which at the instant of its creation was uninclined, and undetermined either to good or evil, it would not be a voluntary faculty. For a voluntary faculty is one that is marked by voluntariness. It is determined and inclined, and evinces thereby that it is a will. If it is destitute of inclination, it is involuntary; and an involuntary will is a solecism. To say that it will become voluntary by becoming inclined, does not relieve the difficulty. This is to concede that at present it is not voluntary.

The human will is by creation voluntary, as the human understanding is by creation cognitive. When God creates the understanding, he endows it with innate ideas, and laws of thought, by virtue of which it is an intelligent faculty. These are the content of the understanding. And when he creates the human will, he endows it with an inclination, or a disposition, or a self-determination, whatever be the term employed, by virtue of which it is a voluntary faculty. This is the content of the will. As the understanding without this created intelligence in its constitution would not be an understanding at all, so the will without this created voluntariness in its constitution would not be a will at all.

The creation of a finite mind or spirit implies the creation of holiness. Spiritual substance is distinguished from matter, by the characteristic of self-motion, or motion ab intra. Matter must be moved from without, by another material substance impinging upon it. But mind moves from within. Its motion is not from external impact, but is self-motion. Adam was created a spirit. The instant, therefore, that he was created, he had all the characteristics that distinguish spirit from matter. One of these, and one of the most important, is self-motion. But self-motion is self-determination, and self-determination is inclination. The Scripture asserts that Adam was created a “living soul.” Life implies motion; and the motion in this case was not mechanical or material, but the motion of mind. Thus in creating a rational spirit, God creates a self -moving essence, and this is a self-determining will.

If holiness is not created, the creature improves the Creator s work. Augustine (City of God, XII. ix.) thus argues: “Was the good inclination of the good angels created along with them, or did they exist for a time with out it? If along with themselves, then doubtless it was created by him who created them; and as soon as ever they were created, they attached themselves to him who created them with that love which he created in them. But if the good angels existed for a time without a good inclination, and produced it in themselves without God’s interference, then it follows that they made themselves better than he made them. We must therefore acknowledge that not only of holy men, but also of the holy angels, it can be said, that the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto them.”

The dependent nature of finite holiness implies that it is created. Uncreated, independent holiness is possible only in a self-existent and self-sustaining Being. Holiness in the creature is ultimately suspended upon the action of the Creator. It is derived from him. In its first beginning, it must be given both to angels and men. “The nature of virtue,” says Edwards (Efficacious Grace, 43-51), “being a positive thing, can proceed from nothing but God’s immediate influence, and must take its rise from creation, or infusion from God. There can be no one virtuous choice unless God immediately gives it. Reason shows that the first existence of a principle of virtue cannot be given from man himself, nor in any created being whatsoever; but must be immediately given from God. God is said, in Scripture, to give true virtue and purity to the heart of man; to work it in him, to create it, to form it; and with regard to it, we are said to be his workmanship. Lev. 20: 8, I am the Lord which sanctify you; Rom. 11: 26, 27; There shall come out of Zion the deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.”

Anselm (De casu diaboli, xii.) argues similarly for the derivation of holiness in the finite will. He contends that if the will of man or angel be supposed to be created in a state of indifference, without any inclination whatever, it could not begin any self-motion at all. It would remain in different forever, and never have any inclination. A creature with no character will never originate a character. Consequently, the first inclination of the will must be given to the will when the will is made ex nihilo; and since the holy Creator cannot give to his own work a bad inclination, he must give a good one.

That holiness is creatable in man, is proved by the facts of regeneration and sanctification. The regeneration of the soul is the origination of holiness a second time, within it. This is described, in Scripture, as “giving a heart of flesh,” “renewing a right spirit within,” “working in you to will.” This phraseology teaches that God produces a holy inclination. Again, such terms as “creating anew,” “begetting,” “quickening” imply the creation of holiness.

Sanctification likewise proves that holiness is creatable. Sanctification is the increase of holiness; and the increase is by derivation, not by original production. No Christian augments his own holiness by his own isolated decision. The law of sanctification is stated in John 15:4 “Abide in me and I in you: as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in me.” The vine branch bears fruit spontaneously (aph’ heautou). The grape is a vital, not a mechanical product. But this spontaneity is possible to the branch, only in case it is in the vine. Similarly, sanctification is spontaneous and free, yet only as it is derived from Christ the source of holiness. Another passage in point is 2 Cor. 9: 8,”God is able to make all grace abound toward you, so that having all sufficiency (autakreian) in all things, ye may abound to every good work.” This “sufficiency” is that genuine and spontaneous inclination to holiness which impels to good acts; but this inclination is “made to abound ” in the Christian by the grace of God. These facts prove that the spontaneous motion of the will may be a product of God, as well as a characteristic of man; in other words, that a good inclination, while it is the personal quality of a man, may be likewise a created quality in him.

Dogmatic Theology 3rd ed. (P&R, 2003) 494, 496-498

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.