The Good Fruit of Afflictions in the Life of Robert Louis Dabney

I am currently reading The Life and Letters of Robert Louis Dabney by T. C. Johnson. In reading this biography, I was shocked to learn that Dabney was bereaved of his two oldest children only two weeks apart from one another. Why would the Lord bring such hard providences upon his faithful servant? As I read on, I learned of the good fruit which was born through these difficulties, and I want to share them.

One of his seminary students at the time writes:

[H]e emerged from the gloom of this afflictive dispensation, and resumed his duties with quickened zeal and impressive unction. In his prayers, thereafter, in class-room and chapel, his pupils felt and saw, what is to be but rarely seen, how one of the most imperial of human wills may humbly bow, pass under the rod, and caress with filial affection, the fatherly hand that chastises. In these prayers, he repeated, with notable frequency and characteristic unction words like these, as if he had newly awakened to their import, and was desirous that we all, gathered about him as learners, should realize their consoling influence, and be prepared to comfort others with the comfort wherewith he himself was comforted, in the supreme sorrow of his eventful life: “May we not despise thy chastening, O Lord, nor faint whenever we re rebuked by thee,” etc.

The same student writes of the profound impact that these afflictions had on Dabney’s preaching.

 A lady with whose family Dabney happened to lodge while traveling shortly after this time writes this particularly moving account:

[Some] of our neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Offutt and their little boy, and only child. This child was ill with fever. One morning, I told Dr. Dabney of their grief, and my fears that he would die, asking him if he would not go over with me … He, without hesitation, granted my request. Without ringing, we gently walked through the house to the back parlor, where the child was lying. Mrs. Offutt was on her knees near her child; Dr. Dabney stood erect, between the wide folding-doors, with his arms crossed, silently taking in the whole scene. Soon he walked to the bed, and kneeling near the mother, gave way to a flood of tears such as I then thought I had never seen a man weep. Then he offered such a prayer as you can well imagine that great tender heart, so recently bereaved, would offer for the afflicted parents, and the precious child then almost in the Saviours’s arms. When we arose, he repeated some suitable tender words of the Saviour to the mother, and departed. Mrs. Offutt told me afterwards that that visit of Dr. Dabney did her more good that all the visits and prayers of all her other friends… [T]he dear child was buried in the beautiful Oak Hill Cemetery in a few days.



A friend posted A. W. Pink’s helpful article on X-Mas on his blog, linked below. Pink gives an interesting view from the perspective of Exodus 23:2–“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.”

Pink doesn’t answer all the questions, and he’s not likely to convince those who have no moral qualms about the celebration of Roman Catholic holidays, but the gaps are filled well in a sermon by Rev. Rob McCurley: A Holy God and Holy Days.

Posted in 2012 I read posts on the net and see cute little pics on facebook, made by well meaning Christians, who want to keep “Christ in Christmas.” Why is it so important? I’m not sure what to think about “Christmas” but Christmas seems to be about consumerism and is embraced by believers, unbelievers and […]

via X-Mas — Feileadh Mor

The American Covenanters and Political Activism

In a recent post, I spoke of the political dissent that the American Covenanters of the past taught and practiced and what we can learn from them. However, when such dissent is practiced, many Americans will object that the dissenter is not doing his part to improve the country’s political situation. “After all,” they will say, “you can’t just sit by and let things go to pot!”

In a sense, they’re right. The Christian has a duty to seek the good of his country, and to promote righteousness in it. For a godly example of this, we may look to the same group–the Reformed Presbyterians.

When the bloody conflict that was the American Civil War broke out, many Reformed Presbyterians were convinced that the war was the judgment of God on America for refusing to recognize and submit to the kingship of Christ. Stirred by this conviction, they were moved into action.

They held a conference on national religion in Xenia, Pennsylvania on February, 1863, in which they discussed the sins which led to the war, and the need for national repentance. Such repentance, they were convinced, necessarily involved an alteration of the United States Constitution (Allison). They drafted an amended Preamble to the Constitution:

We, the People of the United States [recognizing the being and attributes of Almighty God, the Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures, the law of God as the paramount rule, and Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior and Lord of all], in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Allison)

At the same time that the Covenanters were meeting in Xenia, another group of Protestants with similar concerns met in Sparta, Illinois. Upon learning of one another’s existence, the two met together in Allegheny, Pennsylvania in January of 1864, and organized the National Reform Organization with the explicit purpose of seeking a Christian amendment to the United States Constitution (Allison).

These Covenanter activists gained the ear of both houses of congress, and of the President himself. “As a result of their efforts a joint resolution was introduced into both Houses of Congress, and referred to the Judiciary Committees. They also secured two hearings before the committee of the House, and one before the Senate committee, all of which were of remarkable interest” (Report 238). Further, they met twice with President Lincoln, and he was enticed to suggest the idea to his cabinet (Moore). Nevertheless, there efforts were not successful. Their amendment was defeated in the House of Representatives, receiving only one positive vote (Report 238).

Although their efforts were unsuccessful, the Covenanters performed their duty of calling the nation to repentance admirably. And they did it without ever casting a vote.

Obviously, the United States has declined a great deal since the mid-nineteenth century. Any serious talk about a Cristian amendment to the constitution today would be laughable. Still, Christians have a duty to do everything they can to influence their rulers and their society for good. They ought to write their congressmen, support pregnancy centers and other virtuous organizations, and speak publicly about the moral concerns of the day.

When it comes down to it, doesn’t an individual have more influence through such activity than he does by merely casting a vote for a representative?


Briles, Derek. “Separation of Church and Hate: A Brief History of the Political Dissent and Abolitionism of the Antebellum Reformed Presbyterian Church, as Evidenced by the Covenanters of South Carolina and Monroe County, Indiana.” Primary Source. Vol 2. Issue 1. Web.

History of Political Dissent in the RPCNA. Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church. 2010. Web.

Lathan, Robert. History of the Associate Reformed Synod of the South. Harrisburg. 1882. Print.

Moore, Joseph S. “Lincoln, God and the Constitution.” Opinionator. The New York Times. 2014. Web.

“Report on National Reform.” Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter. Vol XXXI. 1894. Web.

Textual Criticism from a Reformed Perspective

Textual criticism is one of the most hotly debated issues in the modern church. Additionally, it is an important matter from a practical perspective, as the textual-critical views of Bible publishers and translators have a direct impact on the Bible that the average Christian carries.

As important of an issue as textual criticism is, I think most Christians would have to admit that they don’t know much about it. They don’t know why sections Mark or John are bracketed off in their Bibles, with a footnote which indicates that section may not really belong there. Can we trust the end of Mark? Did Jesus really say, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her“?

Furthermore, do the Reformed confessions have any bearing on these issues? What does the Westminster Confession of Faith mean when it says the Bible is “by God’s singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages”?

If you are wrestling with these issues, let me recommend a short course taught by Dr. Michael Barrett at Geneva Reformed Seminary. It is available on Youtube for free! Dr. Barrett is professor of Old Testament and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and is an expert on the text of the Bible. The course consists of five videos, the shortest of which is about 33 minutes and the longest about 51 minutes.

Please take advantage of this resource! As Dr. Barrett reminds us in the course, ignorance is not our friend!

The American Covenanters and Political Dissent

It is a fairly well-known fact that the Reformed Presbyterians in this country once had a strict principle of political dissent. In keeping with their principles, they would neither hold political office nor vote for candidates for political office. What is often ignored when these things are considered, however, is their rationale for their position.

The Covenanters were not against participating in civil government. What they were against was participating in civil government which required sinful vows on the part of its officers. In the case of the United States government, the vow in question was the oath of office. The President’s oath of office, for example, reads thus: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

What is so wrong with the President’s oath? It is the commitment to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” As most students of Reformed history will know, the Covenanters were establishmentarians. They believed, as the Westminster Confession states, that the civil magistrate “has authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordainances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed” (XXIII. iii.).

Contrast this statement from the Confession with the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The two are clearly at odds. How then, can a Christian who is convinced that the Bible teaches the establishment of religion in good conscience take a vow to “preserve, protect, and defend” the above amendment to the Constitution?

“Okay,” someone may say, “so I can’t take the vow. But does that really mean that I can’t vote for someone else, who has no qualm with the Constitution?” American Covenanter Samuel Wylie answers:

A representative must swear to support the constitution before he can take a seat in the legislative assembly. This oath we have already shown to be immoral, and such as we cannot, in good conscience, swear ourselves; what, therefore, we cannot do ourselves, on account of its immorality, we ought not to employ others to do for us. (The Two Sons Oil)

Ultimately, each Christian must take the path that his conscience, under the Word of God, dictates. In my opinion, however, the statements and stances of our forefathers should not be overlooked.

Lord’s Day, or Day of the Lord?

I had an interesting dialogue with a friend today concerning John’s unique statement in Revelation 1:10: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” Christians have usually understood “Lord’s Day” in this passage to refer to the Christian Sabbath, the first day of the week, but my friend (who is a member of a heretical sect) thinks that it refers to the Day of the Lord mentioned throughout the prophetic writings of the Scriptures.

The strength of my friend’s interpretation (and that of his organization) is that it appears to draw from the rest of the Scriptures to interpret John’s statement. Their argument, however, ignores some important elements of John’s language.

When the Day of the Lord is spoken of anywhere in the New Testament or Septuagint, the Greek phrase is hemera tou kuriou, or a close variation like hemera kuriou. This is true the nineteen times that the phrase is used in the Old Testament, as well as the handful of times in the New. John’s phrase in Revelation 1, however, is te kuriake hemera. This is the only time in the Bible this construction is used, and is only one of two times that the adjective kuriake is used.

The other instance of kuriake in the Scriptures is in I Corinthians 11:20, where it is used to describe the Lord’s Supper (kuriakon deipnon). Ellicott insinuates that Paul himself may have coined the adjective, and that it subsequently came to be applied to the day set apart for Christ, just as it had been used for the meal set apart for Christ.

It is remarkable, then, that John does not use the usual construction for the “Day of the Lord,” but instead chooses to use a word which, so far as the literary evidence is concerned, was specifically used to describe something set apart for religious use. Equally remarkable is the fact that John later refers to the Day of the Lord, and uses the normal construction, with a few alterations: hemeras tes megales tou theou tou pantokratoros (the great Day of God Almighty), Rev. 16:14.

Variations of the term kuriake hemera is used in some of the earliest extrabiblical Christian literature to refer perspicuously to the Christian Sabbath. The Epistle of Barnabas says, kuriaken hagian hemera diagomen–“We keep the Lord’s Day holy;” and the Didache instructs believers to gather kata kuriaken de kuriou–“on the Lord’s [day] of the Lord.” It is apparent that John’s phrase became employed as a technical term for the Christian Sabbath, if it was not already used in that way when John wrote the Apocalypse.

It is clear, then, that the understanding of the Watchtower Society and of other overzealous futurists who want to translate Revelation 1:10 as something like “I came to be by inspiration on the Day of the Lord” deal with the text in an unwarrantable way. Instead, we may rightly understand that John kept a Sabbath on the first day of the week; and that he made it his practice to worship on that day even while in exile.

Interesting Documentary on Scottish Island Religion

Here is an interesting documentary on the religion of the Hebrides in the far North and West of Scotland. It is in these islands that Scottish Presbyterianism has remained most intact, and certain portions of the Hebrides are known as some of the only places in the world where the Sabbath is kept by society at large.

The documentary is entitled I Shall Not Die, taken from Psalm 118:17. The video and sound quality are not great, but I found it encouraging. Featured in the film are individuals from the Free Church of Scotland (the film was made prior to the division in 2000) and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

Watch it Here.

A Couple of Good Resources on Divine Impassibility

The book that is supposed to be the definitive modern treatment of Impassibility from a confessional Reformed perspective, Confessing the Impassible God, is currently on sale for 1/2 off retail price at the RBAP site.

Also, there was an excellent lecture given on the Impassibility of God by Rev. Gavin Beers at a recent colloquium of the Southern Presbytery of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). The address is available here.