Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dabney on the State of the Pulpit

The state of the pulpit may always be taken as an index of that of the Church. Whenever the pulpit is evangelical, the piety of the people is in some degree healthy; a perversion of the pulpit is surely followed by spiritual apostasy in the Church. 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 moulded into conformity with the prevalent human dialectics. God's truth is now shorn of a part of its power over the soul. The 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. The first grade is found in the primitive and in the Reformation churches of the first and the sixteenth centuries. The second grade may be seen in the scholasticism of Clement of Alexandria and his pupils, and in the symbolical discourses with which the continental pulpit echoed during the seventeenth century. The last is found in the Dark Ages and in Rationalism. This cycle is strikingly illustrated also by the history of the New Theology as it is completing itself in our day in America. When the Protestant churches of this country were founded, the ministry had not lost the Reformation impulse, and belonged to the first stage. The generation, unwittingly introduced by the great and good Jonathan Edwards, marks the second; during which the doctrines of grace were not openly impugned, but they were successively stretched into the schemes of metaphysics—the "exercise scheme," the "light scheme," the "greatest benevolence scheme"—which fascinated a people of narrow and partial culture and self-confident temper. The next generation was called to witness the apostasy which turned the truth of God into a lie, and took both the methods and the dogmas of the Socinian and the Pelagian. Let us, my brethren, eschew the ill-starred ambition which seeks to make the body of God's truth a " lay figure" on which to parade the drapery of human philosophy. May we ever be content to exhibit Bible doctrine in its own Bible dress!

Robert Dabney, Sensualistic Rhetoric, 27-29.

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