The Christians Duty to his enemies by R.L Dabney

The Christian Duty toward his enemies

Presbyterian Minister Robert Dabney, 1820 -1898


It may be surmised that this is a duty whose “metes and bounds” are ill understood by many of the people of God, and consequently, the minds of many of them are harassed with doubts and temptations concerning it. On the one hand, many, perhaps, excuse to themselves criminal emotions under the name of virtuous indignation, and on the other some of them afflict themselves with compunctions for and vain endeavors against feelings which are both proper and natural to us as rational beings.


The embarrassment is increased by the current opinion that there is inconsistency between the teachings and examples of the Old Testament and the New upon this subject. Men read in the former the stern language of the imprecatory Psalms, for instance, of the thirty-fifth, the thirty-ninth, the one hundred and ninth, and thirty ninth, where the inspired man prays: “Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul . . . Let them be as chaff before the wind, and let the angel of the Lord chase them”; or describes the persecuted church as crying to her oppressors: “Happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us”; or protests: “Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? And am I not grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred.” They then turn to the Sermon on the Mount and read the words of our Lord: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use and persecute you.” They thereupon imagine a discrepancy, if not a contradiction, between them, and adopt the mischievous conclusion that the two Testaments contain different codes of Christian ethics. This notion, it is to be feared, has a general prevalency. What is more common than to hear Christians, who should be well informed, and who profess full reverence for the inspiration of the whole Scriptures, speak of the morality of the Old Testament, of the Hebrew saint, of the prophet, as harsh, austere, and forbiddening, while that of the New Testament, of Jesus, and of the Christian is sweet and forgiving?


All these notions are of Socinian or rationalistic origin, and are incompatible with an honest belief in the actual inspiration of the Scriptures. In inspiration is but an “elevation of the consciousness,” a quickening of the intuitions of the transcendental reason, an exaltation of the soul, of the same generic kind with the other impulses of genius, only of a higher grade, then it can be understood how prophets and apostles may contradict each other, although yet they may teach us noble lessons, and such as common men would never have found out of themselves. But if “All Scripture (the apostle means the Old Testament) is theopneustic,” if “holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” to “lead them into all truth,” then a real discrepancy between them is impossible; for all truths must be harmonious among themselves. …

The same view commends itself irresistibly to the plain mind from this fact, that Jesus Christ, not to add the apostles, suspended the truth of his mission and doctrine on the infallibility and holiness of the Old Testament. His appeal is ever to them. He cites Moses and the prophets as though he thought their testimony must be the end of strife. Now, if they are not inspired and true, it follows irresistibly that Jesus Christ was either mistaken or he was dishonest. Absit impietas. In either case, he is no Redeemer for us. And, indeed, the former alternative of this dilemma is inadmissible for one who claimed, as he did, an infallible knowledge of himself, a preexistence of the era of Abraham and the prophets and the authority of the Messiah by whose Spirit those prophets spoke, So that, if the Old Testament were imperfect, Jesus of Nazareth would stand convicted of criminal attempts of imposture.

There is a second reason why such an explanation cannot be applied to the supposed vindictiveness of Old Testament morals: that the same sentiments are expressed in the New Testament, and the same maxims of forbearance which are cited as so lovely in the latter are set forth, both by precept and example, in the former, so that, if a discrepancy is asserted, it must not be between David and Christ, Hebrew and Christian, but both Testaments must be charged with contradicting themselves, as well as each other. Thus, in Acts viii. 20, Peter exclaims to Simon Magus, “They money perish with thee!” In Acts xxiii. 3, Paul sternly denounces the persecuting chief priest, “God shall mite thee, thou whited wall!” and in 2 Tim. Iv 14 distinctly expresses a prayer for retribution upon Alexander, the copper-smith of Ephesus: He “did me much evil; the Lord reward him according to his works.” In 2 Thess I:7-10, Christ’s coming “in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that know not God,” is subject of admiration in all them that believe. In the Apocalypse vi. 10, the souls of the martyrs under the altar are heard crying with a loud voice: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” and in Matt. Xi. 20, and xxiii: 13, Jesus of Nazareth is heard denouncing awful woes upon the enemies of truth.

On the other hand, the Old Testament contains substantially the same precepts of forgiveness, and example of forbearance, which are so much admired in the New. First, the great truth, which lies at the root of all this subject, that retribution is the exclusive function of the Lord, was first published in the Old Testament, and it is thence Paul quotes it, in Rom. Xii. 10, It is written, Vengeance is mine, saith Lord.” It is written a thousand years before *Deut. Xxxii:35, Lev.xix:18), “To me belongeth vengeance and recompense”; recognized by David as a rule for him (1 Sam. Xxiv:12) towards his deadly enemy, Saul,- “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee;  but my hand shall not be upon thee”;  repeated in Psalm xciv:1, “O lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth”; and  cited against evil men, as a rule which they had violated, twice in Ezek. Xxv: 12, 15, “Edom and the Philistines have taken vengeance, and have the greatly offended.” The lovely precept for rendering good for evil is enjoined upon the Israelites in a form most perspicuous and impressive to a pastoral people: “If thou meet thine enemy’s ass or his ox going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.” (Ex. Xxiii:4) Israel was enjoined to practice tenderness toward foreigners, a  duty ignored then by the pagan world, and especially toward Egyptians, their late ruthless oppressors, (Ex. Xxii:21; Deut. Xxiii:7). …


This age has witness a whole spawn of religionist, very rife and rampant in some parts of the church, who pretentiously declares themselves the apostles of a lovelier Christianity than that of the sweet Psalmist of Israel. His ethics were entirely too vindictive and barbarous to them, forsooth; and they with their peace societies, and new lights would teach the world a milder and more beneficent code!


4 Responses to “The Christians Duty to his enemies by R.L Dabney”

  1. Justin Says:

    Very good. I appreciate Dabney very much.

    I ran across your site after seeing a comment you left on Tuininga’s site. I’ll follow your writing and look forward to intereacting more!

    • mintdill Says:

      Hi Justin, Thanks for checking the blog out.. This blog just normally about things when I want to post a very long thing on facebook or something since facebook limits the amount of characters you can type unless you multi-post comment which is a big hassle. So I don’t update this every day.. But feel free to check in time to time.. I am working on another blog that is more extensive regarding Covenanter Theonomy with tons and tons of quotes and links to PDF files of whole historical works. I haven’t made it public yet (wanted to get the bulk up on it first) but will post the blog address hopefully soon.. I’ll post the link here on this blog as well..

    • mintdill Says:

      I just checked out your blog and see we have much in common regarding covenanter beliefs… awesome… 😀

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