RPM, Volume 16, Number 30, July 20 to July 26, 2014

Systematic Theology

By R. L. Dabney, D. D., LL. D.

Note to the Reader

(Accompanying the First Edition.)

Ad Lectorem.—Our preceptor in Theology having given to the classes the course of lectures which he had delivered to previous ones, to be used by us in any manner we found most convenient for our assistance in this study, we have printed them in this form for private circulation among ourselves and our predecessors and successors in the Seminary. Our reasons for doing so are the following: We found these lectures useful, so far as we had proceeded, in assisting our comprehension of the textbooks. As Dr. Dabney announced a change in the method of his instruction, in which he would cease to deliver the lectures orally, from his chair; and placed them in manuscript format at the disposal of the students, we desired to continue to avail ourselves of their assistance. To provide ourselves with copies, and to extend their use to subsequent fellow-students, the most convenient and obvious mode was to print them. This has been done at the expense of the students of 1878; and a small number of copies, beyond our own need, has been struck off.

A few explanations may be necessary for the understanding of the method of study, of which these notes form a part. The system consists of recitations on lessons from textbooks, chiefly the Confession of Faith and Turrettin's Elenctic Theology, oral instructions and explanations of the Professor, the preparation and reading of Theses by the students upon the topics under discussion, and finally, review recitations upon the whole. The design is to combine, as far as may be, the assistance of the living teacher with the cultivation of the powers of memory, comparison, judgment, reasoning and expression, by the researches of the students themselves, and to fix the knowledge acquired by repeated views of it. When a "head" of divinity is approached, the first step which our professor takes, is to propound to us, upon the black-board, a short, comprehensive syllabus of its discussion, in the form of questions; the whole prefaced by a suitable lesson in the textbook. Our first business is to master and recite this lesson. Having hence gotten, from our standard author, a trustworthy outline of the discussion, we proceed next to investigate the same subject, as time allows, in other writers, both friendly and hostile, preliminary to the composition of a thesis. It is to guide this research, that the syllabus, with its numerous references to books, has been given us. These have been carefully selected by the Professor, so as to direct to the ablest and most thorough accessible authors, who defend and impugn the truth. The references may, in many cases, be far more numerous than any Seminary student can possibly read, at the time, with the duties of the other departments upon his hands. To guide his selection, therefore, the most important authority is named first, under each question, [it may be from our textbook or from some other], then the next in value, and last, those others which the student may consult with profit at his greater leisure. The syllabus with its references we find one of the most valuable features of our course; it guides not only our first investigations, but those of subsequent years, when the exigencies of our pastoral work may require us to return and make a wider research into the same subject. It directs our inquiries intelligently, and rescues us from the drudgery of wading through masses of literary rubbish to find the opinions of the really influential minds, by giving us some of the experience of one older than ourselves, whose duty it has been to examine many books upon theology and its kindred sciences.

After the results of our own research have been presented, it has been Dr. Dabney's usage to declare his own view of the whole subject; and these lectures form the mass of what is printed below. They take the form therefore of resumes of the discussion already seen in the books; oftentimes, reciting in plainer or fresher shape even the arguments of the textbook itself, when the previous examination has revealed the fact that the class have had difficulty in grasping them, and often reproducing the views to which the other references of the syllabus had already directed us. It needs hardly to be added, that the Professor of course made no pretense of originality, save in the mode of connecting, harmonizing, or refuting some of the statements passed in review. Indeed, it seemed ever to be his aim to show us how to get for ourselves, in advance of his help, all the things to which in his final lecture he assisted us. These lectures henceforth in the hands of the classes, will take the place of a subordinate textbook, along with the others; and the time formerly devoted to their oral delivery will be applied to giving us the fruits of other researches in advance of the existing course.

It only remains that we indicate the order of subjects. This is chiefly that observed in the Confession of Faith. But the course begins with Natural Theology, which is then followed by a brief review of the doctrines of psychology and ethics, which are most involved in the study of theology. This being done, the lectures proceed to revealed theology, assuming, as a postulate established by another department in the Seminary, the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures.

The form in which the lectures are presented to our comrades is dictated by the necessity of having them issued from the press weekly, in order to meet our immediate wants in the progress of the course. It need only be said in conclusion that this printing is done by Dr. Dabney's consent.


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