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national government to every member of the confederacy, be endangered or denied,- let the rights and privileges of any citizen, or any class of citizens, in any one of our communities be infringed upon, by our municipal authorities,—or in any other way, let personal and social rights be interfered with, and how sharp, and long, and loud, and earnest, and costly, and if needs be, even unto blood, will be the controversy, the disputes, the appeal to public opinion, to judicial investigation, and to the true interpretation of our constitution. In regard to civil liberty, temporal rights, and all personal and social blessings, no man would hesitate to contend earnestly and as often, and as long, as necessity might demand. This freedom of debate and controversy is the mainspring and essential conservator and guardian of free constitutions, repaying for its many incidental evils by activity, energy, knowledge and personal interest in the common weal, awakened by it in every bosom. And just as surely, just as necessarily, and just as profitably will the momentous truths and blessings of the Gospel appear of unspeakable value to every believer, agitate their understandings, inflame their spirits, enkindle their devotion, and when assailed, and denied, excite to controversy and earnest contention.
From the very nature of the case, we conclude that this must be so. What man loves, he clings to and defends; for where the treasure is, there will the heart be also. What is worth proclaiming, is worth preserving, and what we feel it our duty to believe, we feel it our duty to defend. What we value we will maintain and earnestly contend for, against all who would defraud us of it. Things must become the subjects of contention in proportion to their importance, and religion and religious truth being unspeakably the most important things in the world, no man can be either seriously or sincerely a christian, who will not contend earnestly for his faith, and hope, against all opposers. The cause of such contention is not in religion, any more than it is in science or liberty, or social rights. The fault, in every case of controversy, is in the different understandings, tempers, interests, passions, and prejudices of mankind, incited by the great enemy of all peace. As long as these lead to opinions and practices contrary to the truth in science, liberty, or religion, there must be, as the Apostles say, divisions. and contendings and defendings. So long as, on whatever plea, the citadel of truth is assailed, the sentinel must give warning, the garrison must appear under arms, and that citadel must be defended; and he that acts otherwise will and must be a traitor to science, to his country, and to his God.
We appeal to the very nature of the Gospel itself. What is the Gospel? It is the relevation of God's plan of mercy and salvation to guilty, sin ful and perishing man. In reference to God, it discloses God's everlasting purpose and plan for blessing us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,—the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sakes became poor, that we, through his poverty, his blood, his righteousness, might become rich,—the love and condescension of the ever blessed Spirit, who saves us by the washing of regeneration, and by His renewing, sanctifying and comforting influences. Into the name, that is, the belief, worship and service of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, every one is to be discipled, and in all that pertains to their divinity, offices and services, all are to be indoctrinated. In reference to MAN, the Gospel reveals to us that he is “born in sin," "an heir of wrath," "desperately wicked," "dead in trespasses and sins," "already condemned," and incapable, without being born again, of entering the kingdom of God.
In reference to THE WORLD, the Gospel reveals that the whole world lieth in wickedness, being led captive by Satan, who is the god of this world,—that all that is in the world, is not of the Father,—that the whole world is guilty before God, under his wrath and curse, and in the broad way that leadeth to destruction,—that it is commanded to repent and believe the Gospel, in the assurance that he that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.
The Gospel, therefore, in its doctrines and duties, its mysteries and its threatenings, is a scandal to some, and foolishness to others. It is everywhere spoken against, and in every way opposed, or else modified and moulded into conformity to the views and wishes of man's darkened understanding and depraved heart. "I came not" therefore says Christ, "to bring peace on earth, but a sword.” In itself, the Gospel is the tidings of peace and good will to man. But as it throws light into the dark heart, and dark and evil ways of sinful men, men will oppose, resist and contemn it, and thus make that Gospel to be, as it is called, God's sword, which, in itself, is God's embassy of love. The alternative, therefore, is the Gospel with controversy, or no gospel at all. The Gospel is itself a standing controversy, with the cavils, the objections, the doubts, and the blasphemies of men. There is not a truth in the Gospel, nor in the Bible, nor even in natural religion, that is not controverted by the sceptical, unbelieving, proud, and self-conceited wisdom of foolish man. The Atheist denies the very being of God, the Pantheist his personality,--the Deist his word,--the sceptic his providence, the errorist his moral government, his holiness, justice and severity,--and multitudes deny the authority, the claims, the obligations, and the unspeakable worth of the salvation and sanctification to which the Gospel calls. Let us, then, attempt to limit the doctrines to be enforced from the pulpit to those truths which are undisputed, and we are at once brought, not to the abandonment of the Gospel merely, with all its high mysteries, but to everlasting silence upon every truth, natural or Divine.
So it has ever been, and so it will ever be. Truth, in this world, and among the men of this world, is like Ishmael among his enemies. Its hand is against every man, because every man's hand is against it. It must either conquer opposition or die. It is a testimony for God and his truth, against man and his lies; against the devil and his wiles. From the very beginning of man's apostacy, until now, there has been enmity between the serpent and the woman, between the sons of God and the sons of men, between righteous Abel and a Christdenying Cain, between the church and the world, between the word of God, and the traditions and philosophy and wisdom of men. The whole of religion is styled repeatedly "Jehovah's controversy.”—Hos. 4: 1; Micah, 6: 2; Jer. 25, 31. The Scriptures are controversial writings. The whole book of Job is a controversy. The prophets were witnesses for God, and his truth, and contenders for the faith. John the Baptist was a firm and vehement and bold contender and martyr for the truth. The ministry of our blessed Lord was a perpetual controversy, and the Gospels a record of it. The Apostles were left to arrive at truth in many things by "much disputing among themselves,” (Acts, 15:7,) and they convinced Jews and Gentiles by much disputing with both.
The early christians contended against the Jews, Pagans and heresiarchs, of their day, and it was only against the power of the sword, in the face of infamy and death, and with the sacrifice of millions of human lives from age to age, that the truth prevailed and conquered. When the whole power of the Roman empire and of Vandal fury were leagued to destroy and exterminate that very orthodoxy for which we now contend, it was only by controversy and patient endurance that the priceless truth, as it is in Jesus, was preserved and perpetuated, and heresy overthrown.
When the truth nad again been perverted by the man of sin, it was by controversy and faithful contending, even unto blood, that Luther and Calvin, and our fathers in Scotland, and in Ireland, and in France, rescued the truth, and again unfurled its banner to the breeze of Heaven. And it is only by controversy, and contending earnestly, that the truth, in all its purity and power, can ever be maintained and handed down to our posterity, and disseminated throughout the world. The church will remain a living church, and the church of the living God, only so long as she remains the pillar and the ground of the truth,—the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
But if these arguments are insufficient, let us further rernind you that controversy and contending is made an imperative duty by God himself. Ministers must defend as well as preach the truth, and drive away the wolf, as well as protect the sheep. The mouths of deceivers are to be stopped, and gain-sayers must be convinced, who subvert whole houses. If there are damnable heresies, there may be a damnable silence, and a cursed patience, on the part of that watchman who giveth not warning. Woe is unto him, if he do not keep the truth and hold fast the faithful word, and speak the word which becometh sound doctrine. Nor is this woe limited in its effects to their own souls. For it is only when they have declared all the counsel of God that they can feel pure from the blood of other souls crying out for vengeance upon thir unfaithfulness. And it is in view of this fact that many corrupt the word of God, and handle it deceitfully, that all ministers are charged before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing, to reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine, seeing that the time will come when men will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and be turned unto fables. Every minister, therefore, is set for the defence of the Gospel, and not merely for its proclamation.
Not only ministers, however, but every christian is a warrior, under the Captain of his salvation, and under obligation to contend earnestly for the faith, and not to sell it. They must hold it fast, and neither give it away nor suffer it to be taken from them. They must keep it in their heads, by being well established in the faith,-in their hearts, by being filled with the love of the truth,—and in their hands, by being ready to give a reason for it to every one that asketh. They must hold it fast, by per severing devotion to it, and by a zealous defence of it, lest, “being led away by the error of the wicked, they fall from their steadfastness, and at last lose their crown. For he that is content to be a looker-on, while his fellow christians contend earnestly for the faith, shall never be more than a looker-on when they are crowned with that diadem which is laid up for them who have “kept the faith.”
Objections to religious controversy cannot therefore be religious. They are in evident contrariety to the principles of common sense,—to the invariable conduct of mankind in reference to all other truth,—to the necessity of the case,—to the very nature and genius of the Gospel,—to the way in which the truth has, from the beginning until now, been professed and perpetuated,—to the nature and design of the church, and the ministry,—and to the plain and positive commands of God. From whatever motives such opposition to controversy arises, it involves, therefore, the spirit of disobedience, unfaithfulness, and that cowardly timidity and "fear of man which bringeth a snare.” For what is controversy? It is either an oral or written discussion of whatever is controverted as error. Now, to controvert or dispute a point, is only to agitate a question, and sift and weigh its evidence so as to obtain clear and satisfactory ideas of it. And can any man attain to a real personal and assured belief without controversy? It is impossible. Neither can any man maintain his belief, or defend it, but by continually controverting, discussing and weighing all that is presented to his mind, for and against his faith.
Aversion to controversy, when it is based upon a professed regard for the interests of religion, is founded upon misapprehension and mistake. It confounds controversy with contention, and contending with contentiousness, and disputation with a disputatious spirit. It does not distinguish between controversy and the temper in which it may be conducted. Religion demands and necessitates controversy, but it denounces a controversial spirit. The principles which are upheld, the purpose in which it originates, the object for which it is employed, and the spirit in which it is conducted, characterizes any particular controversy as good or evil. If it spring from a mere spirit of contention, from a desire of victory, or a love of display,from personal animosity, and not from love of the truth, christianity will not acknowledge it as her own. If employed on questions unnecessary or unimportant,-if it is made the vehicle of personal malignity, and is carried on in a spirit that rends asunder the bonds of charity and peace, it is equally unchristian. But these evils flow not from the use, but from the abuse, of controversy --not from the truth, but from the evil heart of its defenders,—and are not therefore inseparable from it, nor a prohibition of its use. And these evils, however great, are not worthy to be compared to the evil and guilt of allowing the truth to be lost through indifference, or endangered through our pusillanimity. And all that the Apostle enjoins, is not that spirit of contentiousness, “but that open, manly, unflinching, continuous effort, towards the furtherance