Robert Lewis Dabney on the Source of True Courage

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On the first Sunday of June, 1863, Robert Lewis Dabney delivered a memorial sermon for General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in Richmond, Virginia. The sermon (found in Volume 4 of his Discussions as well as individually on Dabney’s page) was entitled “True Courage,” and took as its text Luke 12:4-5, “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that, have no more than they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell: yea, I say unto you, fear him.” Dabney speaks about the true nature of courage, and proceeds to give several reasons why it is the Christian who can be the bravest individual. The second reason is found in God’s special providence, which is over all His creatures - but over them that fear Him, for their good only. Dabney’s description of the providence of God is well worth five minutes of your time today:

By that almighty and omniscient providence, all events are either produced; or at least permitted, limited, and overruled. There is no creature so great as to resist its power, none so minute as to evade its wisdom. Each particular act among the most multitudinous which confound our attention by their number, or the most fortuitous, which entirely baffle our inquiry into the causes, is regulated by this intelligent purpose of God. Even when the thousand missiles of death, invisible to mortal sight, and sent forth aimless by those who launched them, shoot in inexplicable confusion over the battle-field, his eye gives each one an aim and a purpose, according to the plan of his wisdom. Thus teacheth our Saviour.

Now, the child of God is not taught what is the special will of God as to himself; he has no revelation as to the security of his person. Nor does he presume to predict what particular dispensation God will grant to the cause in which he is embarked. But he knows that, be it what it may, it will be wise, and right, and good. Whether the arrows of death shall smite him or pass him by, he knows no more than the unbelieving sinner; but he knows that neither event can happen him without the purpose and will of his Heavenly Father. And that will, be it whichever it may, is guided by divine wisdom and love. Should the event prove a revelation of God's decision, and this was the place, and this the hour, for life to end; then he accepts it with calm submission; for are not the time and place chosen for him by the All-wise, who loves him from eternity? Him who walks in the true fear of God, God loves. He hath adopted him as his son forever, through his faith on the righteousness of the Redeemer. The divine anger is forever extinguished by the atonement of the Lamb of God, and the unchangeable love of God is conciliated to him by the spotless righteousness of his substitute. The preciousness of the unspeakable gift which God gave for his redemption, even the life of the Only-begotten, and the earnest of the Holy Ghost, bestowed upon him at first while a guilty sinner, are the arguments to this believer, of the richness and strength of God's love to him. He knows that a love so eternal, so free, so strong, in the breast of such a God and Saviour, can leave nothing unbestowed, which divine wisdom perceives to be for his true good. "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things" (Rom. 8: 32). And this love has enlisted for his safeguard, all the attributes of God, which are the security of his own blessedness.

Why dwelleth the divine mind in ineffable, perpetual peace? Not because there are none to assail it; but because God is conscious in himself of infinite resources, for defense and victory; of a knowledge which no cunning can deceive; of a power which no combination can fatigue. Well, these same attributes, which support the stability of Jehovah's throne, surround the weakest child of God, with all the zeal of redeeming love. "The eternal God is his refuge; and underneath him are the everlasting arms'' (Deut. 33: 27). Therefore saith the Apostle, that the believer hath "his heart and mind garrisoned by the peace of God which passeth all understanding" (Phil. 4:7). And therefore our Saviour saith, with a literal emphasis of which our faint hearts are slow to take in the full glory: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you" (John 14: 27). In proportion as God's children have faith to embrace the love of God to them, are they lifted in spirit to his very throne, and can look down upon the rage of battle, and the tumult of the people, with some of the holy disdain, the ineffable security, which constitute the blessedness of God. “Their life is hid with Christ in God.”

A golden maxim from R.L. Dabney

Counsel from Robert Lewis Dabney on the need for preaching to be both doctrinal and practical:

It is the duty of the preacher so to establish the dogmas of the faith in the understandings of the people, that they shall not remain abstract dogmas, but shall reveal their close bearing upon the life. It was a golden maxim of the Protestant fathers, that “doctrines must be preached practically and duties doctrinally.”

The reasons for doctrinal preaching thus defined, may be all traced to the principle that truth is in order to godliness. Sanctification is by the truth. Man is a reasoning creature, and the word and Spirit of God deal with him in conformity with this rational nature. All those emotions and volitions, which have right moral character, are prompted in man by intelligent motives. To say that one has no reason for his volitions, is to describe them as either criminal or merely animal. In the things of God man only feels as he sees, and because he sees with his mind. A moment’s consideration of these obvious facts will convince you that there cannot be, in the nature of the case, any other instrumentality to be used by creatures for inculcating religion and procuring right feeling and action, than that which begins by informing the understanding. The truth, as seen in the light of evidence, is the only possible object of rational emotions. From this point of view, we easily understand how unreasonable are the notions and demands of those good people who decry didactic preaching. “Such discourses,” they say, “are dry and repulsive. They give us merely theology in its bare bones. They inflate the head with conceit without warming the heart. The aim of Christianity is but to make men feel and act right. Let the preacher then aim directly at the heart, producing right feeling, all will be accomplished.” Now, I might assent to the latter statements, and yet raise the question, How shall the heart be reached, except through the head? How can a rational creature be made to feel intelligently, unless we cause his reason to apprehend that which may be the object of rational feeling? If any affection is produced otherwise, it must be merely animal or else evil. Heat without light is blind, as light without heat is cold. The Sun of Righteousness, like the natural luminary, becomes the fountain of life in his appropriate realm by given heat through light. (Sacred Rhetoric, pp. 52-53)

Why Study Natural Theology? - R.L. Dabney Answers

“It may be asked, if Natural Theology cannot save, why study it?

I answer: 1st. It teaches some truths; and no truth is valueless. 2d. When Revelation comes, Natural Theology gives satisfaction to the mind, by showing us two independent lines of proof for sundry great propositions[.] 3d. It excites the craving of the soul for a Revelation. 4th. When that comes, it assists us to verify it, because it meets the very wants which Natural Theology has discovered.” — Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology, Lecture VII, p. 77) — HT: Daniel Kok