The following excerpt is taken from Dabney’s sermon “Parental Responsibilities,” preached before the Synod of Virginia in October 1879.
[T]he urgency of parental responsibility appears in a solemn, and even an awful manner, from the nature of the parental relation itself. Perhaps we fail to appreciate its momentous nature by reason of its very commonness and of our familiarity with it. Wherever human society is, there the parent is. Every man was once a child; every human existence begins in a parental relation. Our perpetual familiarity with the light of the sun disqualifies to appreciate its glory and beauty as we would, were we to behold it but once before entering on a life of blindness. Thus, we are so accustomed to see the child proceeding from the parent, that we are incompetent to perceive the solemn nature of the relation. Let us seek to gain a juster view by comparing the human race with that order of angels than which man was made a little lower. It is every way probable that to the angels the power of reproduction, bestowed on Adam and Eve in paradise, appeared the most marvellous and splendid part of this new creation of the Almighty. For the bliss and glory of the elect angels there is no multiplication. The only increase within their reach is that arithmetical addition which may arise out of their individual progress in knowledge, love and happiness. The eternal adoption of Gabriel is assured against all the powers of hell and accidents of time. But Gabriel cannot multiply his happiness and transmit it to beloved offspring of his own likeness. Except as he has communion with his fellow-angels who began their career with him, he remains solitary in his blessedness. But the glory of the Divine beneficence towards the human race appears in this, that the parents, without alienating anything of their own immortality, are able to multiply immortalities in ever-widening and progressive numbers. Thus, by the multiplications of the generations of men, the field of the Divine love and benevolence is widened as time flows on, until the subjects of the Divine benefactions and instruments of the Divine glory on earth unspeakably surpass in number the heavenly hosts. It may be beyond our skill, as it is unnecessary to this argument, to distinguish and allot the several parts of the agency which belong to God and to the human instruments in the origin of a new human soul. It is enough for us to know that God, by his mysterious works of creation and providence, does empower human parents for this amazing result—the origination, out of nothing, of a new being—and that a rational, immortal spirit! How solemn, how high, this prerogative! It raises man nearer the almighty Creator, in his supreme prerogative as Master of all things, than anything else that is done by creatures on earth or in heaven. Angels are not thus endued. The responsibility of this relation is not fully seen by merely regarding the infant as a beautiful animal, organized, in miniature, after the kind of the parents. It is the mysterious propagation of a rational soul that fills the reflecting mind with awe. The parent looks upon the tender face which answers to his caress with an infantile smile; he should see beneath that smile an immortal spark which he has kindled, but can never quench. It must grow, for weal or for woe; it cannot be arrested. Just now it was not. The parents have mysteriously brought it from darkness and nothing. There is no power beneath God’s throne that can remand it back to nothing, should existence prove a curse. Yes; the parents have lighted there an everlasting lamp, which must burn on when the sun shall have been turned into darkness and the moon into blood, either with the glory of heaven or the lurid flame of despair.
The great Southern Presbyterian theologian Robert Lewis Dabney has been mentioned a number of times on this site. It is a very telling indication of our times that such a visionary man is so little known, and usually slandered when mentioned at all. You can find the entire collection of his written works at the Dabney Archive, all of which are well worth reading. However, such a massive undertaking can be a bit overwhelming, and so on Sundays I have been posting bite-sized excerpts from Dabney’s works, with perhaps a little bit of my own commentary. This has been done in hopes of promoting wider readership for this great man. You can find links to all the previous “Dabney on Sunday” posts below.
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