“Dabney is a very helpful writer” – John MacArthur (here)
“One of the wonderful old past generation American preachers was a man named R.L. Dabney. And reading him is always refreshing. He’s like a Puritan out of his time and out of his place.” – John MacArthur (here)
John MacArthur has quoted and recommended R.L. Dabney regularly over the years, both in his preaching and at various conferences, without ever mentioning his views on slavery and white-supremacy.
Dabney on Preaching
The first reference I can find is also MacArthur’s favorite: Dabney on the “three stages through which preaching has repeatedly passed with the same results.” He found this in Dabney’s, Evangelical Eloquence: A Course of Lectures of Preaching:
Dabney says, “And it is exceedingly instructive to note that there are three stages through which preaching has repeatedly passed with the same results. The first is that in which scriptural truth is faithfully presented in scriptural garb. That is to say, not only are all the doctrines asserted which truly belong to the revealed system of redemption, but they are presented in that dress and connection in which the Holy Spirit has presented them without seeking any other from human science. This state of the pulpit marks the golden age of the church. The second is the transition stage. In this, the doctrines taught are still those of the Scriptures, but their relations are molded into conformity with the prevalent human dialectics.” That’s a hundred-year-old book.
“God’s truth is now shorn of a part of its power over the soul. A third stage is then near in which not only are the methods and explanations conformed to the philosophy of the day, but the doctrines themselves contradict the truth of the Word. Again and again have the clergy traveled this descending scale and always with the same disastrous result.” So he says, “May we ever be content to exhibit Bible doctrine in its own Bible dress.” You can’t improve on it because that’s the way God chose to communicate it. Now, we’re in that transition, aren’t we, evangelicals? There’s still some Christian doctrine but nobody wants to put it in the Bible dress.
([Feb 3, 1980?] – Insight into a Pastor’s Heart, Part 1)
Dabney on preaching–the need for expositional preaching, and the three stages–is MacArthur’s most often cited reference, all the way up to last year.
— Feb 10, 1980 – Insight into a Pastor’s Heart, Part 2
— Oct 29, 2000 – Deliverance: From Sin to Righteousness, Part 2
— Feb 22, 2009 – The Consequences of Non-expositional Preaching, Part 1
— Oct 23, 2011 – Exposition: The Heart of Biblical Ministry
— Nov 6, 2011 – Modeling Bible Study Through Preaching
Dabney on Other Doctrines
MacArthur did not just quote Dabney on preaching, but on a number of other subjects as well:
— May 9, 1993 – Saving Grace, Part 2 – quotes three times from Dabney’s, The Five Points of Calvinism.
— Jan 1, 1995 – The Love of God, Part 4 – quotes Dabney giving the example of George Washington signing the death warrant of Major Andre.
— Mar 14, 2004 – Divine Holiness in Human Flesh – “R. L. Dabney said, “‘Holiness is to be regarded, not as a distinct attribute, but as the sum of all God’s moral perfection.'” (repeated at the 2004 Ligonier conference).
***Update: on March 10, 2019 MacArthur preached another sermon citing this Dabney quote on “holiness is not to be regarded as a distinct attribute…” (The Lord’s Vengeance, Part 4) Thanks to Erin Harding for pointing this out.
— Mar 17, 2013 – Usurping the Seat of Christ:
“R.L. Dabney, who was an American Reformed theologian from two centuries earlier, said, “Our decadent, half-corrupted Protestantism in action, blindly and criminally betraying her own interests and duties.” That’s what we do. Even then he could say that. Our decadent, half-corrupted Protestantism is in action.” quoting from Dabney, “The Attractions of Popery.” [Note: in the immediate context of the quote, Dabney launches directly into a critique of “The Jacobin theory of political rights,” which, for Dabney, included all forms of abolitionism. It’s a strange article to quote from, in my opinion.]
MacArthur at Larger Conferences
In 2002 he expounded on the “three stages of preaching” at his Shepherd’s conference message (March 8, 2002 – The Sufficiency of God’s Grace), recommending Dabney to a large gathering of other pastors. “Dabney is a very helpful writer” he says at the 27:25 mark and speaks on him until 32:00.
MacArthur quoted Dabney in his message at the 2004 Ligonier Conference (Mar 12, 2004 – There Is No Other: The Holiness of God): “R. L. Dabney wrote, ‘Holiness is to be regarded not as a distinct attribute, but as the result of all God’s moral perfection together.'”
At his own Strange Fire conference in 2013, MacArthur includes Dabney in a list alongside Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, and others (Jul 14, 2013 – Strange Fire Q&A, Part 2):
“You’ve got twenty centuries when nobody was affirming that except aberrant groups. Voices from church history, we have John Chrysostom, the fourth century, Augustine, Theodoret of Cyrus in the fifth century, Martin Luther in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, John Calvin, John Owen, Thomas Watson, Matthew Henry, John Gill, Jonathan Edwards, James Buchanan, Robert Dabney in the nineteenth century, Charles Spurgeon in the nineteenth century, George Smeaten in the nineteenth century, the great Abraham Kuyper in the nineteenth and a little into the twentieth, William Shedd in the nineteenth, Benjamin Warfield in the twentieth century, Arthur Pink, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, they all are cessationists. They all declare that these things have ceased. So to say that there has been a continual stream of legitimate, biblical scholarship conviction and confidence in the sign gifts is just not the case.”
As recently as 2019 MacArthur was still quoting Dabney from the pulpit, calling him “an American Puritan of sorts,” and referencing his quote on holiness (March 10, 2019, The Lord’s Vengeance, Part 4)
MacArthur’s Unqualified Endorsement of Dabney
In messages spanning over
38 39 years of ministry, MacArthur has repeatedly quoted and recommended Dabney to both his own church and to the broader evangelical world through conferences. After searching his site (gty.org) I have been unable to find a single qualification or caveat, let alone a warning or caution regarding Dabney’s racism, white supremacy, and views on slavery. The only words have been words of explicit commendation or tacit endorsement by way of citation.
(Note: if any reader can point me to a place where he has made such qualification, I would gladly include it here).