“A Leading Theologian”?: Herman Bavinck on Robert Lewis Dabney

Banner of Truth’s 1967 reprint of Dabney’s, Discussions

In 1967, Banner of Truth rolled out their reprint of Robert Lewis Dabney’s Discussions: Evangelical and Theological (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967; reprint 1982) with an article by Iain Murray: “Reintroducing ‘The Best Teacher of Theology in the United States’” (Banner of Truth Magazine (Jan/Feb 1967): 16–17). The quote in the title (“the best teacher of theology”) was said to be “the opinion of the eminent Archibald Alexander of Princeton,” and this was our first clue that the historical claims in this piece would need to be read critically. Archibald Alexander was born in 1772, and died in 1851, two full years before Dabney first took a position as a professor at Union Theological Seminary. The quote actually comes from another Princeton theologian, Archibald Alexander Hodge (1823–1886), who is cited correctly by Dabney’s first biographer, Thomas Cary Johnson, presumably where Murray mistakenly drew the quote from (The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney, 534). This misattribution in the very title of the article is illuminating.

Almost the entire article by Murray was reprinted as the “Publisher’s Preface” to Volume 1 of the Discussions and serves as the frame through which they wish the reader to receive this work. The dust jacket and the preface are loaded with endorsements from B. B. Warfield, Archibald Alexander [Hodge], and Dabney’s biographer Thomas Cary Johnson, in addition to Murray’s own glowing recommendation. Murray closes his article with a quote from Albert Freundt, Jr., then professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi:

“Dabney should be restudied today, and to the extent that modern adherents of the Reformed Faith make themselves familiar with the writings of this devout Christian scholar, they will appreciate once again a great segment of their rich heritage”

“Preface,” viii

Bavinck, though?

All of the gushing seemed a bit over the top, but the claim that caught my attention the most was this one:

“He was, as two continental theologians, Bavinck and Lecerf, have recognized, one of the leading theologians of America.”

Murray, “Preface,” v.
Herman Bavinck

Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) was a Dutch theologian, best known for his four volume Reformed Dogmatics. He is one my favorite theologians, and I was surprised, and a bit dismayed to hear that he had so endorsed a pro-slavery white-supremacist like Dabney. I had seen this claim elsewhere as well. Douglas Floyd Kelly also claimed that: “Reformed theologians of Europe such as Lecerf, Bavinck, and Barth spoke of Dabney with appreciation and respect” (Kelly, “Robert Lewis Dabney,” in Reformed Theology in America: A History of its Modern Development, ed. David F. Wells, 208). When I wrote my first ever article on Robert Lewis Dabney, published at DesiringGod, I too passed this along: 

“In his time, Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) was considered one of the greatest teachers of theology in the United States. Revered theologians such as Hodge, Shedd, Warfield, Bavinck, and Barth viewed him with appreciation and respect.”

Providence Is No Excuse: Exposing a Reformed White Supremacist

At the time, I wasn’t able to track down all of the citations, but recently, as I’ve been examining how and why a white-supremacist like Dabney was commended to our generation as a “great theologian,” these kinds of endorsements have come under greater scrutiny. The question of this particular post is this: Did Herman Bavinck really consider Dabney to be “one of the leading theologians in America”? Or is this another historical blunder like the misattribution to Archibald Alexander [Hodge]?

Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics

The only reference to Dabney in Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics is in Volume 1: Prolegomena. Chapter 6: “Reformed Dogmatics” (175–204) gives a historical overview of the development of the Reformed theology, starting with Zwingli and ending with the development of “Reformed Theology in North America” (224). In this historical overview, Bavinck notes that “From the outset Reformed theology in North American displayed a variety of very diverse forms” (200), and traces American church history from 1607 to his present (1906). He closes with a section on the Presbyterian churches in America, and describes the split between the New School and Old School Presbyterians. Here is the entire paragraph, including the reference to Dabney:

The Old School found support above all at the theological seminary of Princeton, a school started in 1812 under the auspices of the General Assembly and represented by Dr. Archibald Alexander (1772–1851), Dr. Charles Hodge (1797–1878), author of Systematic Theology, and his son and successor Archibald Alexander Hodge (1823–86), author of Outlines of Theology, and Evangelical Theology. So-called Princeton theology is in the main a reproduction of the Calvinism of the seventeenth century as it was laid down in the Westminster Confession and the Helvetic Consensus and elaborated especially by F. Turretin in his Theology Elenctica. The same system is represented as well by the Southern theologians James H. Thornwell (1812–62), Robert J. Breckinridge (1800–1871), and Robert L. Dabney. One of the youngest representatives of the Old School is W. G. T. Shedd, emeritus professor since 1890 at Union Seminary, New York, and author of the two-volume Dogmatic Theology. However, between Hodge and Shedd there is a remarkable difference. The former is a federalist and creationist, the latter a realist and traducianist. Both, however, agree in taking a very broad view of elections including in it also all the children who die in infancy.”

Reformed Dogmatics, 1:202–203

Regarding the claim that Bavinck considers Dabney a “leading theologian in America” one should note that compared with the other theologians mentioned in this paragraph, Bavinck makes no mention of the seminary where Dabney taught (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia), nor of any of the books Dabney published, nor of any of his theological positions, other than that he was, alongside Thornwell and Breckinridge, one of “the Southern theologians.” Nothing more than this bare description is deemed worthy of mention by Bavinck.

A turn to the index strengthens this assessment. Thornwell, Breckinridge, and Dabney appear just once in all 2000+ pages of the Reformed Dogmatics, in the paragraph just quoted. However, the other figures are referenced and interacted with dozens and dozens of times throughout the work: Archibald Alexander Hodge (13x), Charles Hodge (47x), W. G. T. Shedd (45x), and another American theologian, B. B. Warfield (36x), across all four volumes. If Bavinck’s opinion of a “leading American theologian” is indicated by the amount of interaction with their theological work, Dabney appears to be “leading” the rear of the pack.

Morton H. Smith, Bavinck, and Dabney

Morton H. Smith

How, then, did this claim come to be? Where did Iain Murray get the idea that Bavinck recognized Dabney as “one of the leading theologians in America”? Murray does not offer any footnote or citation for the claim, but it appears that the sentence was lifted almost exactly from Morton H. Smith’s 1962 Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology. Smith’s book (a reprint of his PhD dissertation under G. C. Berkouwer) includes an entire chapter devoted to Robert Lewis Dabney, and he introduces Dabney as a theologian like this:

“Dabney is recognized as one of the greatest of the American Presbyterian theologians of the 19th Century. He is recognized by both Bavinck and Lecerf as one of the leading theologians of America.”

Smith, Studies, 192.

Compare again with Murray:

“He was, as two continental theologians, Bavinck and Lecerf, have recognized, one of the leading theologians of America.”

Smith does give footnotes for both Bavinck and Lecerf, and his footnote for Bavinck points to the single reference we have reproduced above. 

That Smith was directly involved in Banner of Truth’s effort to republish Dabney’s works is indicated just two pages later in Murray’s “Preface” to Discussions; in fact, he is first in the order of thanks: 

“The publishers are grateful to those whose help or advice has contributed to this reprint: Morton H. Smith (whose Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology, 1962, has served to recall attention to Dabney); W. J. Grier, Belfast; John Murray, Westminster Theological Seminary, H. M. Brimm, the Librarian, Union Theological Seminary, Virginia, and Albert H. Freundt, Jr., Professor of Church History and Librarian, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi.”

Discussions, 1:vii
“The Six” directly involved in reprinting Dabney’s Discussions in 1967.

Why would Smith inflate Bavinck’s bare reference to Dabney into a recognition of great status? In Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology, Smith repeatedly expresses the wish for Dabney to become more well known:

Sad to say, that at present, he is largely unknown and forgotten by his own Church today. Certainly, a man such as Dabney is worthy of more serious study than he is usually given. Especially, as there is presently on foot a move toward a Reformed philosophy, it would seem that the writings of such men deserve at least some consideration in the framing of such a system of thought.

Studies, 192.

He points specifically to the lack of reprints of Dabney’s works:

Again, it is greatly to be lamented that both Dabney and Thornwell have fallen into a secondary place in the estimate of modern day theologians. This may be accounted for, in part, by the fact that their works have not seen the reprinting that the writings of both Shedd and Hodge have enjoyed. We believe that were the writings of Dabney and Thornwell to see republication, that they would again gain a wide degree of acceptance among Reformed theologians.

Studies, 193.

Smith was born and raised in Virginia, and “received  from his father a love for the South and the Confederacy… ‘Dad instilled in us a love for the South and the Confederacy… Both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson became personal heroes of mine’” (Joseph Pipa, Jr., “Morton Howison Smith: A Sketch of His Life,” in Confessing Our Hope: Essays in Honor of Morton Howison Smith on His Eightieth Birthday, 4). This love for the Confederacy manifested itself in his love for the Confederate-theologians, including Dabney, and his remarks in Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology resemble a theological version of “The South Will Rise Again.”

Morton Smith the Segregationist

Given his reverence for a 19th century Presbyterian slave-holder, it may not be surprising to learn that Morton H. Smith was a 20th century Presbyterian segregationist.

Smith’s segregationist views were no secret, and were present around the very time that Banner was reprinting Dabney with Smith’s help. Between the publication of Smith’s Studies (1962) and Banner’s first edition of Dabney’s Discussions (1967), Smith published an article in The Presbyterian Guardian entitled “The Racial Problem Facing America” (1964). The best analysis of this article and the historical context surrounding, that I’ve found, is from Bradly Mason: “Then & Now: The Conservative Presbyterian Race Debate in 1964.” Here are just a few quotes from Smith’s article:

“As a matter of practical consideration in a culture that has been sharply segregated for so long, it seems the point of wisdom to keep a segregated pattern in the sanctuary when there is joint worship” (127).

“The reason that so many see a Communist influence in the present [civil rights] movement is that the goal seems to be the same as that of the Marxist philosophy, namely, the levelling of all to a common uniformity. Even if the American Negro movement has not been started or backed by the Communist Party at first, it certainly plays into the hands of the Communists” (127)

“Again, if diversity is God’s revealed way for mankind, one wonders about any program that advocates the inter-marriage of the diverse races in a way which will eradicate the differences that God has established” (127).

“If, on the other hand, it is necessary to separate large groups of different ethnic groups in order to preserve peace between them, there is no harm in such separation as such” (128).

Albert Freundt, Jr.

Smith was not the only Mississippi segregationist involved in Banner of Truth’s reprinting of Dabney’s Discussions. Albert Freundt, Jr., Smith’s fellow teacher at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, was also an outspoken segregationist. In 1962, when James Meredith became the first Black student to integrate The University of Mississippi, (“Ole Miss”), it sparked violent reactions among white-supremacist segregationists. An Episcopal rector in the state, Duncan Gray, went to the campus to “scold the riotous students” and then afterward “led a petition drive among Oxford’s clergy calling for compliance with desegregation orders. Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, and Presbyterian ministers in Oxford called on white Mississippians to acknowledge and repent for their passive acceptance of the conditions that had led to violence.” 

The Citizen

In response, Albert Freundt, Jr., took to the pages of the Citizen’s Council publication The Citizen with an article simply titled: “Oxford Clergy Wrong in Calling for ‘Repentance!’ ” (Citizen, Oct. 1962, 5-6). “It was the federal government and outside agitators, Freundt believed, not white Mississippians, who needed forgiveness for provoking the violence at Ole Miss” (for the above references on Freundt, see Joseph Crespino, In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution (Princeton University Press, 2007), 70–71). The Citizens Council was an organization founded to oppose “Brown v. Board of Education,” and “its work initiated the private school movement across the South and forged national and international networks of white supremacy that would deeply influence the political and cultural landscape of post-civil rights America” (see Stephanie R. Rolph “The Citizens’ Council”). Freundt was “one of the few PCUS [Presbyterian Church in the United States] clergymen ever to contribute to the Citizens’ Council publications” (Chappell, Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, 146).

What is remarkable to me is that, as Bradly Mason notes, all this activity of Smith, Freundt, and Iain Murray—advocating for segregationist positions, and working to retrieve the work of white-supremacist theologians—was taking place “during the height of the Civil Rights movement” (“Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11 do NOT Preclude Justice Advocacy”). At this very same time, just a half hour out of Jackson, Mississippi, John Perkins was fighting as a Black evangelical Christian for Civil Rights in Mendenhall, Mississippi (see Perkins, A Quiet Revolution, and Let Justice Roll Down), and yet, these white Reformed pastors, seminary professors, and publishers, were busy at the work of perpetuating the very forces of white supremacy that Meredith, Perkins and many others were fighting against.

Why? Why would Iain Murray and Banner of Truth work so closely with Southern segregationists like Morton Smith and Albert Freundt, Jr. to re-introduce the works of a white-supremacist slaveholder to the reformed community, in the 1960s? This is a question that I am still wrestling with, but the fundamental answer seems to be “Calvinism.” Adherence to so-called “right doctrine” outweighed the ethical considerations of racism, white-supremacy, slavery, and segregationist beliefs, and thus it was “with particular pleasure” that Murray re-introduced Dabney to the Reformed Evangelical world.

Bavinck on American Racism

But what about Bavinck? Thankfully, we don’t have to speculate about what he actually thought of America and American racism. His recent biographer James Eglinton gives us an account of Bavinck’s visit to the U.S. in 1908 in a section subtitled “Tales of a Racist Disaster: A Warning to Would-Be Emigrés” (Note: a version of this section of Eglinton’s book was also published on his blog as “Bavinck on Racism in America”). After returning to the Netherlands, Bavinck gave several public lectures on his “Impressions of America.”

“In an auditorium so full that listeners were also seated on the stage around the speaker, Bavinck went through the usual motions, discussing the majesty of the ocean and Niagara Falls and the historic influence of the Dutch on American society before speaking in apocalyptic tones of the unfolding di­saster that was racialized hatred in America.”

James Eglinton, Bavinck: A Critical Biography, 248
W. E. B. Du Bois

At one point in the trip Bavinck had been told by a Southerner that “‘negroes are not humans. Canaan went to Lod and took a wife. That wife was an ape.’ (Bavinck disagreed, profoundly.)” (Eglinton 248). Eglinton reports that “In his own study notes from this journey, it is clear that Bavinck made a considerable effort to understand race relations in America.” His reading list include a lecture by Booker T. Washington, as well as W. E. B. Du Bois, ““Die Negerfrage in den Vereinigten Staaten.” This article by Du Bois is available in English translation (on JSTOR here), and some of the material is expanded from chapters in The Souls of Black Folk (“Of the Sons of Master and Man” and “Of the Quest of the Golden Fleece”). 

Bavinck was not blind to the issue of American racism, he looked it square in the eye, and he listened directly to Black voices. Overall, Bavinck’s impressions of the U.S. were so “bleak,” that he “warned an audience of young Dutch Christians of ‘a great dan­ger hidden in today’s emigration to America’” (Eglinton, 248). Bavinck thought that America’s deep racial division: 

“could only be over­come by ‘the way of religion.’ Even then, though, he was struck by the segregated reality of American church attendance. Unless it also underwent a profound transformation, the American church could not offer a solution to the problem of race.”

Eglinton, 248

Not only did Bavinck not commend Robert Lewis Dabney, or other white-supremacist theologians like him, had he ever commented directly on them, he is much more likely to have included them in this same bleak assessment.

Morton Smith, Banner of Truth, and those who have relied on their distorted account of Bavinck need to retract this claim regarding Bavinck and Dabney.

And that includes me.

Further Reading:

1976 – John Perkins, A Quiet Revolution.

1998 – David L. Chappel,“Religious Ideas of the Segregationists.” Journal of American Studies 32.2 (1998): 237–62. (Available on JSTOR)

2005 – David L. Chappell, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005). (Amazon)

2007 – Joseph Crespino, In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution. (Princeton University Press, 2007) (Amazon)

2009 – Peter Slade, Open Friendship in a Closed Society: Mission Mississippi and a Theology of Friendship (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) (Amazon)

2010 – Anthony Bradley, “Why Didn’t They Tell Us?: The Racist & Pro-Segregation Roots Of The Formation Of RTS, The PCA, And The Role Of First Prez In Jackson, Miss In All Of It.”

What’s So Bad About R.L. Dabney?

R.L. Dabney has been so thoroughly whitewashed in reformed evangelical circles that it comes as a surprise when he is criticized for his virulent white-supremacy. The whitewashed version of Dabney started with his close friend and first biographer Thomas Cary Johnson, and was passed along to reformed evangelicals by Iain Murray  (see here, for example) and Banner of Truth publishers. He was then picked up by men like John MacArthur, who gave him unqualified recommendation for over 38 years.

What could possibly be so bad about Dabney? I suspect that very few people have actually read for themselves the kinds of things Dabney said. If they had, I simply cannot imagine them giving him the kind of praise that they have.

Before anyone accuses me of over-reacting to Dabney, or making a mountain out of a molehill, I simply ask you to read for yourself a handful of articles. These are all available for free in the public domain. You can find them on Google Books or on archive.org. I’ve uploaded pdfs of each relevant chapter or address. If you haven’t faced Dabney’s racism and white-supremacy for yourself, you simply cannot make an accurate assessment of his life and legacy. If you only have time to read one, read “Ecclesiastical Equality of Negroes.” If you have time for a second, read “The Negro and the Common School.” Read it all if you really want to know how abhorrent his teaching and influence has been.

“The Moral Character of Slavery,” April–May, 1851 

The earliest record I can find of Dabney’s venomous white-supremacy is in a series of letters published in the Richmond, Enquirer in 1851. The full set of letters can be found here: “[Nine of] Eleven Letters by Chorepiscopus [Robert Lewis Dabney] to the Richmond Enquirer, on “The Moral Character of Slavery,” (1851).” Dabney later “revised, recast, and enlarged” the letters in 1863 in his Defence of Virginia, (And Through Her of the South) — on which, see below. The original letters contain some of the vilest racism in all of Dabney’s work:

But I was about to say that, in considering these supposed evils of slavery, we must remember that the real evil is the presence of three millions of half-civilized foreigners among us; and of this gigantic evil, domestic slavery is the potent and blessed cure. This foreign and semi-barbarous population was placed here by no agency of ours. The cupidity of the forefathers of American and British abolitionists placed it here, against our earnest remonstrances, and left us to find the remedy for its presence. It would have been a curse that would have paralyzed the industry, corrupted the morals, and crushed the development of any nation, thus to have an ignorant, pagan, lazy, uncivilized people intermixed with us, and spread abroad like the frogs of Egypt. The remedy is slavery. And let us ask, what has slavery done to rescue the South and the Africans in these portentous cir­cumstances? It has civilized and christianized the Africans, and has made them, in the view of all who are practically acquainted with their condition, the most comfortable pea­santry in the world. It has produced a paucity of crimes, riots and mobs, that far surpasses the ‘‘land of steady habits,” the boasted North; as is proved by the statistics of crime.— It has rendered political convulsions in our own borders impossible. It has developed a magnificent agriculture, which in spite of the burden of unequal legislation, has enabled the South to maintain a proportionate increase with its gigantic rival. A reference to the statistics of the religious denomi­nations of the country shows that slavery has made about a half a million, one in every six of these pagan savages, a pro­fessor of Christianity. The whole number of converted pa­gans, now church members, connected with the mission churches of the Protestant world, is supposed to be about 191,000, a goodly and encouraging number indeed. But compare these converted pagans with the 500,000 converts from the pagan Africans among us, and we see that through the civilizing agency of domestic slavery, the much-slandered christianity of the South has done far more for the salvation of heathen men than all the religious enterprise of Protestant christendom! And this is, no doubt, but the dawn of the brighter day, which the benevolent affection of the masters will light up around the black population, if they are not interfered with by the schemes of a frantic fanaticism (“Letter 10”).

Letter to Major General Howard, Oct 21, 1865 (pdf here)

In 1865 Dabney wrote a letter to the Chief of the Freedman’s Bureau which was formed to help former black slaves in the aftermath of the civil war. The Letter is a mixture of a rosy white-washed picture of southern slavery, irony and sarcasm when confessing the South’s “inferiority” to the North, and a concluding section on the challenges of helping African-Americans:

“One of your difficulties is in the thriftlessness of the Africans themselves, and their want of intelligent foresight; a trait which was caused, not by domestic servitude, but by the savage condition from which they were taken, and which we had partially corrected when they were taken out of our hands” (41).

“The larger part of them evidently confound liberty with license; and to them, liberty means living without earning a living” (42).

“You have this task then, gently to educate them out of this innocent mistake of Stealing everything which comes to their hand” (43).

“You, sir, are appointed to do what no other mortal has hitherto done successfully: to transmute four millions of slaves, of an alien race and lower culture, all at once into citizens, without allowing them to suffer or deteriorate on your hands” (44).

 

Ecclesiastical Equality of Negroes, Nov. 9, 1867 (pdf here)

This one address encapsulates everything that is wrong with Dabney. Not only was he a white-supremacist, but he influenced his entire Southern Presbyterian denomination in this speech to not grant equality in the church to black preachers. Thus, to the sin of racial animosity, we can add the sin of dividing Christ’s church, and that of influencing many others to stumble. This is Paul and Peter, Galatians 1 territory. Ironically, Dabney quotes Galatians 1 in this address, getting the sense exactly opposite. In Dabney’s surreal version, he himself is Paul, and those arguing for racial equality are Peter.

The effect of this speech was powerful in the Presbyterian assembly. Sean Michael Lucas notes that this speech “turned the tide against racial equality in the Southern Presbyterian church… and set the ‘racial orthodoxy’ of the Southern Presbyterian church for the next hundred years” (Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life, 148–49). The whole thing is really vile, and I urge readers to read it for themselves or they will be incapable of making an honest assessment of Dabney. Here are a few excerpts:

“an insuperable difference of race, made by God and not by man, and of character and social condition, makes it plainly impossible for a black man to teach and rule white Christians to edification” (201)

“I greatly doubt whether a single Presbyterian negro will ever be found to come fully up to that high standard of learning, manners, sanctity, prudence, and moral weight and acceptability which our constitution requires” (202).

“Now, who that knows the negro does not know that his is a subservient race; that he is made to follow, and not to lead; that his temperament, idiosyncrasy and social relation make him untrustworthy as a depository of power?” (203–4).

“Our brethren, turning heart-sore and indignant from their secular affairs, where nothing met their eye but a melancholy ruin, polluted by the intrusion of this inferior and hostile race, looked to their beloved church for a little repose. There at least, said they, is one pure, peaceful spot not yet reached by this pollution and tyranny” (205).

“Every hope of the existence of the church and of state, and of civilization itself, hangs upon our arduous effort to defeat the doctrine of negro suffrage” (205)

“These tyrants know that if they can mix the race of Washington and Lee and Jackson with this base herd which they brought from the fens of Africa, if they can taint the blood which hallowed the plains of Manassas with this sordid stream, the adulterous current will never again swell a Virginian’s heart with a throb noble enough to make a despot tremble… We have before our eyes the proof and illustration of the satanic wisdom of their plan.” (206)

 

A Defense of Virginia and the South, 1867 (pdf here)

Dabney wrote a 350 page defense of slavery, in which he claimed that the Bible supported the slavery and that only infidels and unbelievers disagreed. See here for an assessment of his treatment of the book of Philemon. Sean Michael Lucas offers an insightful analysis of the book on pages 117–128 of his biography of Dabney, which I highly recommend. Portions of this book are “willful propaganda of the highest order and manifestly untrue.” It’s astonishing to me that Doug Wilson calls this work of Dabney’s “excellent.”

“for the African race, such as Providence has made it, and where he has placed it in America, slavery was the righteous, the best, yea, the only tolerable relation” (25).

“domestic slavery here has conferred on the unfortunate black race more true well-being than any other form of society has ever given them” (261).

 

“On the Civil Magistrate” in Systematic Theology, 1871 (pdf here)

But racism doesn’t affect theology, right? No, Dabney’s white supremacy even made it into his systematic theology:

Thus, if the low grade of intelligence, virtue, and civilization of the African in America, disqualified him for being his own guardian, and if his own true welfare, and that of the community, would be plainly marred by this freedom; then the law decided correctly that the African here has no natural right to his self-control, as to his own labour and locomotion. (869)

 

The State Free School System, April 22, 1876 (pdf here)

Here Dabney repeats arguments that he made frequently before about slavery as a “true education” fitting for the condition of the African, and wields it to oppose public-schools in Virginia:

“So, our own country presents an humbler instance in the more respectable of the African freedmen. Tens of thousands of these, ignorant of letters, but trained to practical skill, thought, and resource, by intelligent masters, and imitating their superior breeding and sentiments, present, in every aspect, a far “higher style of man” than your Yankee laborer from his common school, with his shallow smattering and purblind conceit, and his wretched newspaper stuffed with moral garbage from the police-courts, and with false and poisonous heresies in politics and religion. Put such a man in the same arena with the Southern slave from a respectable plantation, and in one week’s time the ascendancy of the Negro, in self-respect, courage, breeding, prowess and practical intelligence, will assert itself palpably to the Yankee and to all spectators. The
slave was, in fact, the educated man” (250).

The Negro and the Common School, 1876 (pdf here)

Dabney goes even further in his attacks against the notion of educating the newly freed slaves in his letter to the editor of the Farmer and Planter:

“The tenor of the argument concedes, what every man, not a fool, knows to be true: that the negroes, as a body, are now glaringly unfit for the privilege of voting. What makes them unfit? Such things as these: The inexorable barrier of alien race, color, and natural character, between them and that other race which constitutes the bulk of Americans: a dense ignorance of the rights and duties of citizenship: an almost universal lack of that share in the property of the country, which alone can give responsibility, patriotic interest and independence to the voter: a general moral grade so deplorably low as to per- mit their being driven or bought like a herd of sheep by the demagogue: a parasitical servility and dependency of nature, which characterizes the race everywhere, and in all ages: an al- most total lack of real persevering aspirations: and last, an obstinate set of false traditions, which bind him as a mere serf to a party, which is the born enemy of every righteous interest of our State” (178–79).

“What is called ‘impartial suffrage’ is, however, permitted by their new Constitution. We should at once avail ourselves of that permission, and without attempting any discrimination on grounds of “race, color, or previous condition of bondage,” establish qualifications both of property and intelligence for the privilege of voting. This would exclude the great multitude of negroes…” (187).

 

Conclusion

Everyone has blind spots. Even our most beloved heroes have feet of clay. However, what should we do when the whole thing is filled with clay? When the blind spot becomes large enough to divide an entire denomination for over 100 years? We need unequivocally repudiate it, lament and ask forgiveness for our unqualified endorsement of such a man, and then rethink whether we ever want to do so again. We can’t even start this process until we see for ourselves what’s really there.

(updated 10/20/2021)

Banner of Truth on Dabney and the Southern Presbyterians: An Index

The following is an index of the books and articles published by Banner of Truth on the Southern Presbyterians, particularly R.L. Dabney, B.M. Palmer, and J.H. Thornwell (Eugene Genovese called Thornwell and Dabney “the South’s most formidable and influential theologians” in his A Consuming Fire, p. 4).

 

Southern Presbyterianism

1992 Kelly, Preachers with Power: Four Stalwarts of the South [Baker, Thornwell, Palmer, Girardeau]

2000 White, Southern Presbyterian Leaders 1683-1911 [Thornwell, Palmer, Dabney, many others]

2012 Calhoun, ‘Our Southern Zion’: Old Columbia Seminary (1828–1927) [Thornwell, Palmer, others]

 

Dabney

Books:

1979 Dabney, Evangelical Eloquence: A Course of Lectures on Preaching

1980 Johnson, The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney

1982 Dabney, Discussions of R.L. Dabney, 3 Vols.

1985 Dabney, Systematic Theology

Articles:

1967 Jan/Feb Murray, “R.L. Dabney of Virginia”

1967 May/Jun Murray, “Reintroducing the Best Teacher of Theology in the United States: Reprint of R.L. Dabney Discussions”

1970 Dabney, “When Morality Becomes Impossible”

1975 Dabney, “Britain: An Inverted Pyramid”

1976 Dabney, “Dabney on Preaching”

1977 Johnson, “Robert L. Dabney”

1977 Johnson, “Facing Blindness” (extract from Dabney)

1978 Wray, “Summary of Robert L. Dabney on Spurious Religious Excitements”

1986 Woods, “Dabney: Prince Among Theologians and Men”

1998 Berry, “Robert Lewis Dabney and the Westminster Standards: A Commemoration”

2015 Dabney, “The Influence of False Philosophies upon Character and Conduct”

 

Palmer

Books:

1987 Johnson, Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer

2014 Palmer, Selected Writings of Benjamin Morgan Palmer

Articles:

1987 Johnson, “Doctrine and Sanctification: Extract from The Life and Letters of Palmer”

2014 Willborn, “Selected Writings of Benjamin Morgan Palmer”

2014 Palmer, “Never Too Late”

 

Thornwell

Books:

1974 Palmer, The Life and Letters of James Henry Thornwell

1986 Thornwell, The Collected Writings of James Henry Thornwell, 4 vols.

Articles:

1965 Thornwell, “When Grace Ceases to be Grace”

1969 Thornwell, “Knowing the Divine Will”

1975 Thornwell, “Zeal for God’s Glory”

1978 Aitken, “Readings from a Covenant Father’s Heart” (from Thornwell’s Letters)

Review: Putting Amazing Back into Grace

Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Michael Horton

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Disappointed By This One

I know lots of people have read this book and absolutely loved it. I had seen it recommended by at least two sources that I highly respect, so I expected it to be great. The truth is, I had to force myself to finish it, and really didn’t enjoy it at all.

It wasn’t the theological perspective. I’m highly sympathetic to Horton’s theology, with the exception of his paedo-baptism. It’s not that I think his book is “unscriptural”. In fact, he quotes hundreds and hundreds of scriptures throughout the book. It’s not that it was difficult to read. Other reviewers, and even J.I. Packer in the foreward, refer to this as “pumping intellectual iron.” (p. 8) I didn’t find it very stimulating at all, and it is curious to me that so many have described it that way.

It seems that it is intended to be a primer of Reformation Theology, put in accessible terms. The 5 points of Calvinism are sprinkled throughout, though given different names. The 5 Solas get their piece. A presbyterian view of the sacraments gets a chapter (infant baptism, the “spiritual presence” of Christ in communion). He concludes with an chapter on amillenial eschatology. Throughout the book Luther is referred to much more frequently than Calvin (hardly at all), though the doctrine is definitely Calvinist and not Lutheran.

One big disappointment for me, was that it felt so canned and pre-packaged. Instead of really digging into the texts of scripture, dozens of texts are simply referenced, and then smothered with thick layer of Systematic Reformation interpretation. It’s not even that I disagree with Reformed Theology, or a systematic approach. Something about the way it was done here was, frankly, kind of boring, and I labored to keep getting through it.

What annoyed me most was the condescending tone toward his own evangelical background. All along the way, he took potshots at what he was taught during his upbringing, with the sense that “I’m so much smarter than that now.” I didn’t think it was necessary, and it detracted from his project.

I understand that this was one of the first books that Horton wrote as a younger man, and so this may just reflect where he was at, at the time. I’m currently reading his Pilgrim Theology and am enjoying it, so I know it’s not the author, probably just this one book.

An introduction to theology that I like better is John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord. Frame is irenic where Horton seems chippy. I found Salvation . . . delightful to read where Putting . . . was a chore for me.

Piper on Lloyd-Jones, part 6: Cessationism Quenches the Spirit

“Therefore, we may say emphatically that Lloyd-Jones was not a Warfieldian cessationist.

I think it is quite without scriptural warrant to say that all these gifts ended with the apostles or the Apostolic Era. I believe there have been undoubted miracles since then. (The Fight of Faith, 786; Joy Unspeakable, 246)

And when he speaks of the need for revival and for the baptism with the Holy Spirit and for a mighty attestation for the word of God today, it is crystal clear in Lloyd-Jones, he meant the same sort of thing as was meant in Acts 14:3, signs and wonders attesting to the Word of God. “It is perfectly clear…” – (Everything is perfectly clear to Martyn Lloyd-Jones) –

It is perfectly clear that in New Testament times, the gospel was authenticated in this way by signs, wonders and miracles of various characters and descriptions … Was it only meant to be true of the early church? … The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary—never! – (you can hear him saying it, can’t you?) – There is no such statement anywhere. (The Sovereign Spirit, 31-32)

He deals with cessationist arguments, and says some mighty powerful things, that I can’t imagine Iain Murray would leave out of his biography, which he did. “To hold such a view as Warfield held is simply to quench the Spirit (SS, 46).  Because Iain Murray was publishing it [Warfield] at the time.  Pushing it.  These views, according to their dear father, Dr. Jones, is the quenching of the Holy Spirit!  and he didn’t want to lose his friends any more than he already was losing them, probably, and so he didn’t want them published until he was gone.

~From “A Passion for Christ Exalting Power

Piper on Lloyd-Jones, part 5: Signs and Wonders

“And now, note, next step, we’re just moving closer and closer in to power evangelism.  Spiritual gifts, healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues, the whole area of signs and wonders, Lloyd-Jones is talking about power evangelism in terms more careful, more clear, more strong than John Wimber ever has, before John Wimber ever thought of it.

He says that spiritual gifts are a part of the authenticating work of revival and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We need the result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is spiritual gifts in their sign form, and it is a “supernatural authentication of the message” (The Sovereign Spirit, 24).

Now, I’m going to back off for a minute, and reflect with you for a minute about what we reformed types have to come to terms with when we love the Word of God and esteem its uniqueness in power.  When we hear Paul say, “Jews desire signs, and Greeks seek wisdom, but  WE PREACH!” I can hear people saying that to Wimber, “WE PREACH! You desire signs, we preach, which is the power of God.” and I can hear them quote Romans 1:16: “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  DON’T DILUTE THE POWER OF GOSPEL BY COMPROMISING IT WITH YOUR SIGNS AND WONDERS AS THOUGH THE GOSPEL WERE TOO WEAK TO SAVE SINNERS!” Do you hear that coming out of Banner of Truth?

Well, it isn’t that simple, is it. And the issue here is not contemporary Vineyard, Third Wave versus Paul; the issue is Paul versus Paul.  Let me try to explain.  Evidently Peter and Paul and Stephen and Philip, who, would you agree with me, were the greatest preachers that the world has ever known.  Evidently they did not think that the attestation of signs and wonders alongside their unparalleled powerful preaching compromised the integrity or the sufficiency or uniqueness of the power of God through the gospel. (Mark 16:20; Acts 14:3; Heb. 2:4). Evidently they didn’t.

Lloyd-Jones is really impressed by this fact.  He says, “If the apostles were incapable of being true witnesses without unusual power, who are we to claim that we can be witnesses without such power?” (SS, 46). And when he said that , he did not mean simply the power of the word. He meant the power of spiritual gifts. And I’ll show you that from a quote:

[Before Pentecost the apostles] were not yet fit to be witnesses … [They] had been with the Lord during the three years of his ministry. They had heard his sermons, they had seen his miracles, they had seen him crucified on the cross, they had seen him dead and buried,  they had seen him after he had risen literally in the body from the grave. These were the men who had been with him in the upper room at Jerusalem after his resurrection to whom he had expounded the Scriptures, and yet it is to these men he says that they must tarry at Jerusalem until they are endued with power from on high. The special purpose, the specific purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to enable us to witness, to bear testimony, and one of the ways in which that happens is through the giving of spiritual gifts. (SS, 120)

Now here’s my answer, I wish Lloyd-Jones had given his but I couldn’t find it.  here’s my answer to the question that we must come to terms with, it is utterly essential, of how the power of the Word of God relates to the authenticating function of signs and wonders.  First of all notice the Bible teaches that the Gospel preached is the power of God unto salvation (1 Cor. 1:23) the Gospel preached is the power of God (Rom 1:16) but, the Bible also says that Paul and Barnabas “remained a long time in Iconium speaking boldly for the Lord,”  Would you dare to equate anybody’s preaching today with that preaching?  That was powerful preaching! They were preaching in Iconium with power, speaking boldly for the Lord, “Who, bore witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.”

Take all the conflicts today, go back to the New Testament and deal with them there. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s today versus the New Testament.  The issue is, how could preaching and signs and wonders not compromise each other then, not now. Forget now! Forget Wimber, forget everything in the 20th Century, explain Acts.  Explain how you could have the best preaching that ever was preached, described as the power of God unto salvation, and have alongside it God bearing witness with signs and wonders attesting to His word of grace, without saying by that, “My word is insufficient by itself.” Why did God compromise His word, by showing off His power physically? That’s the issue, not today.  Who cares about today, it’s the Bible that matters.

Now here is my effort to understand the Bible, which then maybe would help us today. Could we not say, in putting all this together, that signs and wonders – that is, I mean, healings, exorcisms, and so on – signs and wonders function in relation to the word of God, as a striking, wakening channel for the self-authenticating glory of Christ in the gospel? That may be the most important sentence I’ll give you.  Let me say it again: “Could it be, that signs and wonders function as a striking, wakening, channel, along which, through which, the self-authenticating glory of Christ in the Gospel moves, arrives.  I say emphatically, signs and wonders do not save. I say emphatically, signs and wonders do not transform the heart. I say emphatically, the glory of Christ seen in the gospel is the only power that regenerates, converts, transforms the heart, I base that on 2 Cor. 3:18-4:6. But, evidently, God chooses at times to use signs and wonders along side the regenerating word to win a hearing, to shatter the shell of disinterest, to shatter the shell of cynicism, to shatter the shell of false religion, and to help the heart fix its gaze on the glory of Christ in the gospel (see note 42).  Which, as 2 Cor. 4:4 says, is then like God saying “Let there be light” and boom, there is a new creature.

That’s my best effort at how to account, not for what’s happening today, but for what was happening in Paul’s life, and Philip’s life, and Stephen’s life, and Barnabas’s life, and Peter’s life.  The greatest preaching accompanied by signs and wonders.  Not the greatest preaching, so great it doesn’t need signs and wonders.”

~From “A Passion for Christ Exalting Power

Piper on Lloyd-Jones, part 2: “You MUST read Lloyd-Jones”

Revival Is a Baptism of the Holy Spirit

From the beginning of his life Martyn Lloyd-Jones was, in a sense,  a cry for depth.  If I were to sum up, I almost titled this “A Cry for Depth.” If I ever do anything with it I might title it that.  A cry for depth in two areas—1) in Biblical doctrine and 2) in  vital spiritual experience, so Light/heat. Logic/fire. Word/Spirit. Again and again he would be fighting on two fronts: he would be fighting against dead, formal, institutional intellectualism on the one side, and he would be fighting  against superficial, glib, entertainment-oriented, man-centered emotionalism on the other side. He looked out over the world and thought it was in an absolutely desperate condition and he saw the church as very weak and impotent. He said one wing of the church was straining out the gnats of intellectualism and the other was swallowing the camels of evangelical compromise and careless charismatic teaching (The Sovereign Spirit, 55-7). and for Lloyd-Jones the only hope was historic, God-centered revival.  which is really what I want to talk about this morning.

So my aim is this: to talk about the meaning of revival as Lloyd-Jones’ understood it—the sort of power he was seeking,  what he thought it would look like when it came, and how he thought we should seek it.  And then I’m going to be really risky at the end and ask if he practiced what he preached.

More than any other man in this century, I think, Lloyd-Jones has helped  recover the historic meaning of revival.

A revival is a miracle … something that can only be explained as the direct … intervention of God … Men can produce evangelistic campaigns, but they cannot and never have produced a revival (Revival 111-2).

And Lloyd-Jones felt it to be a tremendous tragedy that the historic sense of revival as a sovereign outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church, had been virtually lost by the time he preached about revival  in 1959 on the 100th anniversary of the Welsh Revival. He said in those lectures, “During the last seventy, to eighty years, this whole notion of a visitation, a baptism of God’s Spirit upon the Church, has gone” (The Fight of Faith, 385).  And then he gives this explanation and with this he begins to part ways with almost the entirety of mainline evangelicalism.

The main theological reason that he said there was a prevailing indifference to historic revival and crying out for it is because people had begun to equate what happened on the Day of Pentecost with regeneration. Now let me read the key quote where he describes this view:

Yes, [Acts 2] was the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But we all get that now, (it’s not him talking, he’s quoting the view) and it is unconscious, we are not aware of it, it happens to us the moment we believe and we are regenerated. It is just that act of God which incorporates us into the Body of Christ. That is the baptism of the Spirit. So it is no use your praying to God for some other baptism of the Spirit, or asking God to pour out His Spirit upon the church … It is not surprising that, as that kind of preaching has gained currency, people have stopped praying for revival” (FF, 386).

Revival is when the Spirit comes down, he says, is poured out. And he’s crystal clear that it’s not the same, the baptism with the Holy Spirit is not the same as regeneration.  Here’s the quote, key quote:

I am asserting that you can be a believer, that you can have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, and still not be baptized with the Holy Spirit … The baptism of the Holy Spirit is something that is done by the Lord Jesus Christ not by the Holy Spirit … Our being baptized into the body of Christ is the work of the Spirit [that’s the point of 1 Cor. 12:13], as regeneration is his work, but this is something entirely different; this is Christ’s baptizing us with the Holy Spirit. And I am suggesting that this is something which is therefore obviously distinct from and separate from becoming a Christian, being regenerate, having the Holy Spirit dwelling within you (Joy Unspeakable, 21-3).

And so he laments that by identifying the baptism with the Holy Spirit with regeneration we have made the baptism of the Holy Spirit wholly non-experimental – as the Puritan’s would say — that is unconscious.  You don’t know when it happens,  you only can see perhaps some  later-on moral results from it. That is not, he says, the way it  happened in the books of Acts or the way it was experienced in the early church. (JU, 52). So he spoke with strong words about such a view.  This is very powerful now, knowing where he’s coming from and who his friends were:

Those people who say that [baptism with the Holy Spirit] happens to everybody at regeneration seem to me not only to be denying the New Testament but definitely to be definitely quenching the Spirit” (JU, 141).

Now just ponder that statement.   Therefore he would say, by implication, virtually the whole evangelical church is quenching the Holy Spirit.  That would be Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s opinion.  Dana told me last night that Warren Wiersbe was told by Martyn Lloyd-Jones that he asked these sermons not to be published before he died.  Well, there’s some real clear reasons for that, I think.  He founded the Banner of Truth publishing house.  It is emphatically cessationist.  Now I don’t know how he felt about that, but in 1972 after he had retired, they published B.B. Warfield.  He’s going to emphatically disagree with this book, in a moment.  And Walter Chantry, The Sign of the Apostles.  His biographer does not do him justice, in my judgment, in the chapter on Cross Winds.  He does not own up to what Lloyd-Jones is saying.  You won’t get the straight picture.  You must read Lloyd-Jones.

Review: William Grimshaw of Haworth

William Grimshaw of Haworth by Faith Cook

Another gem from the Great Awakening

I love reading about the figures of the 18th century Great Awakening. The best known, of course, are George Whitefield and John Wesley, as well as Jonathan Edwards in America, but there were dozens of men who who were mightily used by God at the time, and William Grimshaw is one of them.

Grimshaw went to Cambridge, and then entered the ministry as a Church of England minister, all without having been converted. A current of the awakening began to swirl around him, as a book came into his hands (Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices), and men who had believed the gospel began to cross his path. Before long, he himself was converted, and his parish, based in Haworth, began to feel the effects.

Grimshaw was tireless in his efforts to bring the gospel to everyone in his parish. He would sometimes pull unusual stunts to get the attention of his congregants. One time, a group of young people were playing a game instead of attending church on the Sabbath. Grimshaw disguised himself, and hid amongst them, until finally one of them noticed him, and they all fled in fear. Grimshaw later gathered the whole group in church, rebuked and admonished them, and then preached Christ to them, to great affect.

Grimshaw was a preacher, and cared passionately for the souls to be saved. His was an example of An Earnest Ministry, and under the influence of the Wesleys, he also circuited miles and miles around his own parish, preaching the gospel, gathering groups of believers together in to “societies” and then traveling back to them to help their spiritual growth.

John and Charles Wesley preached often in his church, as did Whitefield. John Newton was his friend, and visiting him, and later writing a biography of him. Henry Venn, and the Countess of Huntingdon were also his friends and fellow-laborers.

There are fascinating examples of how he dealt with differences in his day. He tried to find a position between the calvinism of Whitefield and the arminianism of Wesley. He had dealings with many outside of the Church of England – baptists, dissenters, moravians – though he himself resisted strongly any attempts for the methodists to pull out and become dissenters themselves. He is a good example of charity with brethren who differed from him on these points. To one man, who started a baptist church in his own city, and pulled away members from Grimshaw’s church, he said, “God bless thee, James; God bless thy undertaking! Perhaps God has given thee more light than he has given me – God bless thee!” (231)

His life is an example of a man who wore himself out spreading the gospel to everyone he could. Faith Cook is an excellent biographer (see also Selina: Countess of Huntingdon), and she gives Grimshaw the treatment he deserves.

I highly recommend this biography, as well as any others you can find from the Great Awakening. J.C. Ryle’s Christian Leaders of the 18th Century is the place to start, and then branch out to Whitefield, Wesley, HuntingdonDaniel Rowland, and Jonathan Edwards in America.

Oh that we might see an awakening like this today!

Review: A History of the Work of Redemption

A History of the Work of Redemption by Jonathan Edwards

Breathtaking

Jonathan Edwards may have been the first theologian to attempt what we now call “Biblical Theology” as compared with “Systematic.” He intended to write, “a body of divinity in an entire new method, being thrown into the form of a history; considering the affair of Christian Theology, as the whole of it, in each part, stands in reference to the great work of redemption by Jesus Christ… particularly considering all parts of the grand scheme, in their historical order.” Alas, he died before he was able to complete this “body of divinity,” and what we have is the sermons he preached from which he intended to develop a more thorough theology.

What we do have is breathtaking. It is the biblical counterpart to his philosophical The End for Which God Created the World. Where the latter is a tightly woven argument showing that God’s own glory is the ultimate end in the creation of the world, this work shows how that purpose has been worked out throughout all of history. Where the former shows Edwards’s unparalleled analytic and theological abilities, this work puts on display how thoroughly biblical his mind was. He was much more than America’s greatest philosopher; his mind was saturated with scripture to a degree that most will never experience.

The book is split into 3 sections: “From the Fall of Man to the Incarnation of Christ,” “From the Incarnation to His Resurrection,” and “From the Resurrection to the End of the World.” I found all three parts to be enlightening, but particularly the first two which deal specifically with Biblical history.

The book reads much more easily than his philosophical works. He simply moves from one event to another: “next we notice,” “here we observe,” etc. What he notices and observes, from start to finish, is how every single event in history relates to God’s great purpose of redemption in Christ Jesus. It is the original Jesus on Every Page. There is no overt hermeutic on display, covenant or otherwise. Edwards simply shows how every single event in history either prepares the world for Christ’s first or second comings, and the great purposes He accomplished and will accomplish in them.

If you want to see the big picture of the Bible, the unifying thread that runs through every page of Scripture you need to read this book. If you want a framework from which to understand the events of history, biblical or otherwise, and the way God orchestrates everything for his purposes, this is the book for you. Those interested in Biblical Theology ought to read this book.

I found myself exulting in the wonder that is the Bible, in the glorious person of Christ, in the love of our sovereign God who works all things after the counsel of His own will. I found myself greatly encouraged and filled with confidence to serve a God like this who’s plan cannot fail. This may be my favorite work of Edwards’s yet. I cannot recommend it highly enough.