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The determination to choose nothing is a determination not to choose the truth, and this draws after it the condemnation of those who love darkness rather than light. The most high God having given us his word as the rule of our faith and duty, a neglect to seek its counsel because men wrangle about its meaning, is to make the hazard of going wrong a reason for never being anxious to go right. It would be like the excuse of a servant, who, having in common with others received his master's orders to repair to a certain place, should resolve not to stir because his fellow-servants quarreled about the road. Their disobedience could never justify his. Nor is there a man upon earth who would not pronounce it to be the plea of a fool, that out of his pure love of peace he had never been at the trouble to ascertain the import of his master's instructions ! The fact is, that no medium can be assigned between receiving and rejecting the truth. If rejected, we seal our own perdition-if received, we must reject whatever is hostile to it; that is, we must institute a comparison between conflicting claims, which is precisely the object of controversy.
Pursuing the argument a little farther, we shall perceive, in the
3d place, That in disclaiming all controversy, we set out with a principle which it is impossible to carry through.
In what department of society, or on what subject of discourse, do the thoughts of men accord ? The law has long been celebrated for its fertility in litigation. Medicine is hardly inferior to the bar; agriculture keeps up a sharp debate with commerce; and the politician has always to navigate a “tempestuous sea.”
Not a project, a character, nor an incident, can be introduced into common conversation without calling forth different strictures, according to the views, habits, relations, and tempers of the company. And it is by no means unusual for some, who abhor controversy in religion, to be both talkative and disputatious, if not dogmatic and bitter, on other matters. The world is a vast scene of strife. A man must either take it as he finds it, and bear his part in the general collision, or else go out of it altogether. It is the inevitable consequence of imperfect knowledge and depraved appetite, of that confusion of intellect and corruption of heart which flow from sin. When, therefore, we are under the necessity of either being exiled from society, or of giving and receiving contradiction; and when we submit to this necessity without murmuring in all cases but those which concern religion, what is it but to declare that principles affecting our duty toward God, the highest happiness of our nature, and our responsibility for a future
state, are the only things not worth contending for?
The pretense, that religion is a concern too solemn and sacred for the passions of controversy, is like the pretense with which some justify their “restraining prayer before God;" that he is too high and holy to be approached by such beings as they are. And thus, to display their reverence, they become profane, and live like atheists from pure devotion! Both are cases of error without excuse; we may neither be light in prayer nor wrathful in debate.
If it be alledged that religion loses more than she gains by controversy, this, with an allowance for the mismanagement of unskillful advocates, is a direct censure of her champions, and a surrender of her cause. Are they who espouse such an opinion prepared for its consequences ? Are they willing to say, that when the world was lying in ignorance, in wickedness, and in wo, the introduction of light from above produced more evil than good? That the gospel is a plague and not a blessing, because, through the malignity of its foes, it has often brought a sword instead of peace? That it had been better for men never to have known the
way of righteousness,” than risk opposition in following it? That the reformation of religion was a senseless scheme; that the martyrs died
like fools; and that all the heroes who have been" valiant for the truth”—all the “ministers of grace" who have explained and established it-all the “apostles, and prophets, and wise men,” whom the wisdom of God commissioned to reveal it--and that wisdom itself in the person of Jesus Christ—were disturbers of human tranquillity, and spent their time in no better labor than that of " turning the world upside down?" If you start at these things, what do you mean by asserting that "religion suffers from controversy ?” For all, prophets, apostles, wise men, and the Redeemer himself, fought her battles, and yielded their latest breath in her defense!
You cannot stop even here. Religion, you say, suffers from controversy. Then it cannot endure investigation. It shrinks from the touch of reason, for controversy is reasoning; and, of course, it cannot be true, for truth never yet declined the test, nor sustained the slightest harm from the most fiery ordeal. On the assumption, therefore, that religion has truth on her side, you can hardly do her a greater injury than to forbid her entering into the lists with her antagonists. They will represent, and argue, and declaim. They will solicit, and soothe, and flatter, and sneer, till they pervert the judgment of many, and seduce the affections of more; and
religion, betrayed and insulted, her banner thrown down, her weapons shivered, her lips sealed, her limbs bound“ in affliction and iron," is to be laid at their feet and left to their mercy, , in testimony of the respect and attachment of her friends! It was not in this way that they formerly treated her, nor is it to this treatment that we owe our privileges. Her enemies, potent, subtle, and persevering, were encountered by her sons, and defeated as often as they ventured into the field. Those masterly defenses of revelation, those profound researches into its sense, that flood of light which has been poured upon its peculiar doctrines and its benign institutions, are the recompense of the war which Christian zeal and talent have waged in its
Had apathy like ours enthralled the spirit of our fathers, we should hardly have been able, at this day, to distinguish in religion between our right hand and our left.
The prejudice, therefore, against religious controversy, is irrational and hurtful. It is a prejudice against the progress and victories of truth. The misconduct of opponents to each other, is a personal concern. It disgraces themselves, but belongs - not to the nature or merits of any controversy. This, in itself considered, is but the comparison of jarring opinions; with a reference, in matters of religion, to the scripVOL. III.