Love is the Best Casuist

Casuistry - what is it? Simply put, it is the application of moral principles to practical situations. These are sometimes referred to as "cases of conscience." Yet, hear what Robert Lewis Dabney has to say about the benefit of private godly conference being the more proper place for such cases of conscience to be addressed, rather than the pulpit. 

"I do not conceive that much of casuistry should he introduced into practical sermons. This belongs rather to the pastor's study than to the desk. The minute distinctions by which nice cases are to be adjusted, if they be addressed to a promiscuous company of persons not vitally interested in the particular problem, will be surely misunderstood by many. Thus they will minister to the morbid scruples of some consciences and to the license of others. And even in our private instructions love is the best casuist. Let the great principles of gospel love be presented with a breadth and warmth which, instead of dissecting, will dissipate the doubt." -- Sacred Rhetoric; Or, A Course of Lectures on Preaching, p. 63

Sabbath Afternoon Conferences

In keeping with the Puritan practice of "godly conference," grounded on 1 Cor. 14.29-31 and 1 Thess. 5.20, there were Sabbath afternoon conferences at Princeton Theological Seminary, "in which [those involved] talk[ed] over together the blessed promises of our God, and seek[ed] to learn better his will for the ordering of our lives" (Robert Jefferson Breckinridge, quoted in David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary: Faith and Learning, Vol. 2, p. 126). 

After Archibald Alexander and Samuel Miller, the tradition was continued by Charles Hodge. We have his Conference Papers (1879), which, according to Francis Patton, "are simply the theology of the lecture room thrown into homiletic form, with rich and precious application to Christian experience" (Francis Landey Patton, "Charles Hodge," The Princeton Review Vol. 1, No. 6 (1886), quoted in James M. Garrettson, ed., Pastor-Teachers of Old Princeton: Memorial Addresses for the Faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary, 1812-1921, p. 303). 

Hodge's "favorite pupil," William Irvin, had this to say about the Sabbath afternoon conferences led by Hodge:

"No triumph of his with tongue or pen ever so thrilled and moved human hearts as did his utterances at the Sabbath afternoon conferences in the Seminary Oratory, which will live in the immortal memory of every Princeton student. A subject would be given out on the Sunday before, generally some one which involved practical, experimental, spiritual religion—such as Christian fidelity, love of God's word, prayer, the Lord's Supper, the great commission. After brief opening services by the students, the Professors spoke in turn; but Dr. Hodge's was the voice which all waited to hear. Sitting quietly in his chair, with a simple ease which seemed born of the moment, but was really the fruit of careful preparation, even with the pen, he would pour out a tide of thought and feeling which moved and melted all—solemn, searching, touching, tender—his eye sometimes kindling and his voice swelling or trembling with the force of sacred emotion, while thought and language at times rose to a grandeur which held us spellbound. Few went away from those consecrated meetings without feeling in their hearts that there was nothing good and pure and noble in Christian character which he who would be a worthy minister of Christ ought not to covet for his own" (A.A. Hodge, The Life of Charles Hodge, p. 459).

These conference papers are a spiritual treasure indeed. Download them now for future Sabbath afternoon reading and meditation.