Monday, December 14, 2009

My Sense of Duty

A selection from a letter by Robert L. Dabney to the esteemed professor of theology at Princeton Seminary, Charles Hodge. Hodge had been trying to persuade Dabney to leave his teaching post at Union Seminary in order to teach Historical Theology at Princeton. The professorship was vacant due to the unexpected death of J. A. Alexander. Dabney refused the invitation despite the pleas of Hodge and the appeal of being a professor at such a famous school. Having given several reasons why he could not accept the offer, he gave as his last reason for remaining at Union, the call of duty. The letter was written April 10, 1860.

Last, I give no little weight to this thought, that I am most probably deciding as a Christian should, because I am deciding contrary to the promptings of ambition, and, indeed, of nearly all the natural affections of carnality.

In the eyes of the Presbyterians of Virginia, Princeton is ever esteemed venerable and attractive. Do not suppose, my dear sir, that I am insensible to her superiority. The man who goes there and does his duty, will have his name blown much further by the trumpet of fame than mine will ever be. He will be in the focus of national observation, at least, for Presbyterians; I shall remain in comparative obscurity. He will teach the many, I the few; for I do not dream that your Seminary will cease to maintain the preeminence so honorably earned; and especially, the faithful and useful man at Princeton will probably receive that most gratifying of all earthly rewards, a united, enlightened, and steady support on the part of the proper constituency of the Seminary, which Presbyterians in Virginia have not always been accustomed to bestow, even on those who attempted to serve them faithfully.

I have my eyes open to all these things, and because my sense of duty outweighs them, I feel a good confidence that it is conscience, and not carnality, which decides me.

The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney, by Thomas Cary Johnson, first published in 1903, reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, p. 205.

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