The Need for Creeds

Do you wonder what it means to be a confessional Presbyterian? It is one thing to understand Presbyterianism, a form of church government and worship; it is another to understand the importance and value of confessions or creeds. 

We have some resources to help understand Presbyterianism, of course; but this post is especially meant to highlight resources on confessionalism, as understood by Presbyterians, which are available at Log College Press. 

  • Samuel Miller, The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions (1824);
  • Francis Robert Beattie, "A Brief Description of the Great Christian Creeds" and "The Nature and uses of Religious Creeds" in The Presbyterian Standards: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (1896);
  • Robert Lewis Dabney, "The Doctrinal Contents of the Confession—Its Fundamental and Regulative ideas; and the Necessity and Value of Creeds" in Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647-1897 (1897);
  • James D. Tadlock, "The Relation of the [Westminster] Standards to Other Creeds" in Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647-1897 (1897);
  • B.B. Warfield, The Significance of the Westminster Standards as a Creed (1898); and
  • Egbert Watson Smith, The Creed of Presbyterians (1901).

    These works have much to say about why we need to articulate Scriptural truths in creedal form, and how they benefit the church. Take a look and consider especially what Miller, Beattie, and Dabney have to say about the need for creeds. 

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

Dabney Translated: January 3, 1898

Have you read the lectures given by Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1898) in October 1897 on the penal satisfaction of the atonement of Christ? These lectures, given at Davidson College, North Carolina and Columbia (South Carolina) Seminary, while Dabney was frail and blind, comprise the last written work of his life, published posthumously as Christ Our Penal Substitute (1898). 

Read an account of these lectures and the reception given to them, and of Dabney's final days, in Thomas Cary Johnson (1859-1936)'s Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney (1903), pp. 520 ff.

Dabney's writings, of course, are in English, but to speak of his translation is to recall that on January 3, 1898, he left this world for a better, heavenly country. His final lectures remind us of a precious truth - that we need the vicarious substitution of One who was perfect, righteous and holy, who alone could pay the penalty for our sins, and that because we are sinners, there is no hope for us apart from this precious gospel truth! 

The Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney

Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1898)'s essays and papers on various topics were collected and edited in four volumes during his lifetime by Rev. C.R. Vaughan. In 1999, a fifth volume of his papers, which includes a 115-page previously unpublished poem by Dabney entitled "Christology of the Angels," was edited by J.H. Varner and published by Sprinkle Publications. All five volumes, which are a treasury of insights theological and otherwise, are now available to read online at Log College Press. 

1) Theological and Evangelical (1890)

2) Evangelical (1891)

3) Philosophical (1892)

4) Secular (1897)

5) Miscellaneous (1999) 

Have you heard of these 19th century Presbyterian systematic theologies?

Most pastors and seminary students are aware of Charles Hodge's three volume Systematic TheologyIt is one of the most recognized works of the 19th century, and can be purchased here. But this set certainly was not the only systematic theology published by Presbyterians in the 19th century. Sometimes remembered are William Greenough Thayer Shedd's Dogmatic Theology (you can purchase the modern edition of this book here) and Robert Lewis Dabney's Systematic Theology (you can purchase the Banner of Truth reprint of this volume here). Very few people know that Robert Jefferson Breckinridge published a two volume systematic theology, entitled The Knowledge of God Objective Considered and The Knowledge of God Subjectively Considered

Older systematic theologies weren't asking all the same questions we ask today, of course - but that's a big reason why they are so helpful to use. They ask questions we don't even know we need to be asking. So the next time you're wrestling with a theological question, dip into one of these volumes and see what riches you might find.