Vaughan’s bridge

That book I was raving about, a couple of posts ago – Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach – says plenty of excellent things, especially in the chapter on the content of the message. That includes this piece of correspondence addressed to RL Dabney by his friend CR Vaughan. Apparently Dabney was on his deathbed, and apparently concerned about whether his faith was strong enough to face the end. Vaughan wrote him with this advice. He asked him, What would a traveller do, if he came to a chasm, and wanted to know if the bridge was strong enough to let him cross?

What does he do, to breed confidence in the bridge? He looks at the bridge; he gets down and examines it. He doesn’t stand at the bridge head and turn his thoughts curiously in on his own mind to see if he has confidence in the bridge. If his examination of the bridge gives him a certain amount of confidence, and yet he wants more, how does he make his faith grow? Why, in the same way: he still continues to examine the bridge.

Now, my dear old man, let your faith take care of itself for a while, and you just think of what you are allowed to trust in. Think of the Master’s power, think of his love; think how he is interested in the soul that searches for him, and will not be comforted until he finds him. Think of what he has done, his work. That blood of his is mightier than all the sins of all the sinners that ever lived. Don’t you think it will master yours?

… May God give you grace, not to lay too much stress on your faith, but to grasp the great ground of confidence, Christ, and all his work and all his personal fitness to be a sinner’s refuge. Faith is only an eye to see him. …

Dabney was one of the greatest Reformed theologians America ever had.


10 thoughts on “Vaughan’s bridge

  1. And, yet, as this letter shows, at the end, Dabney was no more nor less than a sinner saved by grace. As with all of us believers, his great mind travelled to the foot of the Cross – and stayed there. We all have doubts, and Satan is known to attack believers especially fiercely as they approach death. Yet, as with Dabney, focusing on Christ is what carries us over the River.


  2. RL Dabney was both a chaplain and chief of staff in Lt. Gen. Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s Corps for a time during the American Civil War.

    Jackson held RLD in high esteem. He was himself also a devout Christian.

    Jackson came to the river of death before Dabney. Aged 39 he lay a dying of pneumonia at Guinea Station having been wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

    On his death bed, though he became weaker, he remained spiritually strong. Jackson’s words were “It is the Lord’s Day, (10 May 1863) my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.”

    Doctor Hunter McGuire, his physician wrote an account of his final hours and his last words:

    “Afew moments before he died he cried out in delirium, ‘Order AP Hill to prepare for action. Pass the infantry to the front rapidly. Tell Major Hawks….’

    Then he stopped leaving the sentence unfinished.

    Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expresion, as if of relief,………..”

    “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

    I have no doubt that both Jackson and Dabney crossed that river safely when their respective times came to depart this scene for the world to come.


  3. I quite like my friend’s grandmother’s dying bed:

    She, who had been suffering greatly from oesophageal cancer, lay, surrounded by weeping family, barely able to speak. Her eyes were closed. Suddenly, her mouth gaped open, as did her eyes, and she so joyfully exclaimed,

    “Ahhhh! It’s beautiful!”

    and drew her last breath.


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