Excerpted from Shedd’s “Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy”:
“Such is St. Paul’s account of the Greek and Roman ethical systems, which were purer than those of Egypt, India, and China. He declares that the holiness and justice of God are plainly taught in them, but denies that his saving mercy is. “The wrath of God,” he says, “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness,” in the human constitution and thereby in all the pagan religions; but the revelation of the compassion of God towards sinners he confines to Christianity.1
If it be objected that St. Paul declares that “God hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth, that they should seek the Lord if haply they might feel after him and find him,” and that missionary records mention instances in which an unevangelized pagan was found with a humble sense of sin, and a longing after Him who is “the Desire of all nations,” the reply is, that this phenomenon is not the effect of ethnic religion but of Divine grace overflowing into paganism. It results from the inward operation of that Holy Spirit “who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth.” Honor to whom honor is due. The transforming power by which a heathen obtains the contrite spirit of the prodigal son, cannot be ascribed to the moral precepts of Socrates, Confucius, and Sakyamuni. The Holy Ghost may and does employ “the law written on the heart,” and rewritten by the heathen sage in his moral system, as a means of conviction of sin, and may follow this with the regeneration of the soul, but this regeneration is due to revealed religion which is gospel, not to natural religion which is only law.
1 Not long ago a young Brahmin of India came to the house of a missionary seeking an interview. In the course of conversation he said: “Many things which Christianity contains I find in Hindooism; but there is one thing which Christianity has and Hindooism has not.” “What is that?” the missionary asked. His reply was striking: “A Saviour.”
We have seen similar blasphemy before in Shedd. I think in other writings he spoke of the contrite spirit of the publican (e.g. “Calvinism: Pure & Mixed”), and here he uses (abuses, rather) the example of the contrite prodigal son. Shedd is saying that those who are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ are NOT lost, but somehow submitted to a righteous they are ignorant of (cf. Romans 10:1-4). It also appears that Shedd believes that the Holy Spirit is able to work this regenerating, convicting power through the writings of pagan sages (which is an insidious form of inclusivism).