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of the Apostles themselves (excepting their historical narratives) appear to have been, for the most part, controversial ; written, not so much for the purpose of elementary instruction, as for the refutation of errors which had already.crept into the Church. And who does not know, that, in these latter times, the most successful promoters of religious truth are to be found among those who have been challenged to its defence, by bold oppugners of the Faith, or by abettors of specious heresy ?
But while we gratefully acknowledge this, good to have been eventually derived from the labours thus called forth, let us not overlook the positive evils that attend it, nor forget the awful denunciation of our blessed Master, “ Woe unto the world be
cause of offences * !” The offences hereby occasioned are, indeed, neither light nor few. The faith of multitudes is shaken; of some, entirely overthrown. Many are confirmed in unbelief. The corrupt pas: sions of men are fostered; their preju
dices strengthened ; and unchristian acrimony and bitterness too often engendered. Therefore, " although it must needs be " that offences come,” and although the · providence of God renders them instrumental to good more than proportionate to the evil, yet. for that portion of evil, whatever it may be, is the assailant of the truth responsible :-" Woe unto that man
by whom the offence cometh !”
Religious controversy, then, is not to be considered as in itself indicative of an unchristian spirit. It is good or evil, according to the principles which it upholds, the
purpose in which it originates, the object to which it is applied, and the temper with which it is conducted. If it spring from a mere spirit of contention ; from desire of victory, not love of truth ; or from stubbornness that will not be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; Christianity will not acknowledge it for her own. If it be employed on questions unbefitting buman disputation ; questions, inaccessible to our finite understandings, unnecessary or unimportant in their issue, and only
tending to perpetuate strife, or to unsettle the opinions and disquiet the minds of men ; then is it also unworthy of the Christian character. Nor is it void of of. fence, when, however sound its principle, however important its subject, however irrefragable its argument, it is made the vehicle of personal malignity; when it is carried on with a spirit that rends asunder the social ties, and exasperates, instead of endeavouring to soften, the irritable feelings which, even in its mildest aspect, it is but too apt to excite.
But these evil consequences, which flow from the abuse of controversy and from causes by no means necessarily connected with religious discussion, ought not to deter us from its proper use, when truth requires its aid. Controversy is worse than useless, if it have no better end in view than a display of mental superiority, or the self-gratification which, to minds of a certain cast, it appears to afford. For as, in secular disputes, it is the legitimate end of warfare to produce peace; so, in polemical discussion, the attainment of unani
mity ought to be the main object. ' War is waged, because peace cannot be obtained without it. Religious controversy is maintained, because agreement in the truth is not otherwise to be effected. When this necessity is laid upon us, we do but acquit ourselves of an indispensable duty, in defending the charge committed to our care, by the use of those weapons with which the armoury of the Divine Word supplies
Nevertheless, there prevails, in the present day, a spurious kind of liberality, which would teach us to regard with equal complacency almost every diversity of religious opinion, however irreconcileable with the tenéts, which we ourselves believe to be the unsophisticated doctrine of God's word. Hence, though that word is made by many the instrument of spreading religious error, yet, because it is appealed to for the sanction of error as well as of truth, we are often called upon to give the right hand of fellowship even to those by whom it is thus perverted. As if the time were already come when “the wolf should dwell
“ with the lamb, and the leopard lie down Ą with the kid "," and nothing should “ hurt or destroy in all God's holy moun“ tain,” many are lulled into security under a persuasion that error and falsehood are harmless in their nature, and will cease to molest us, if we admit them into our fold. According to this persuasion, Christian charity seems to have lost one of its distinctive characters, that of “ rejoicing “ in the truth ,” and to rejoice rather in sacrificing the truth for the semblance of concord. “ The bond of peace” is no longer to be found in “ unity of spirito;" but diversity and disunion are to work the happy effect.
A boundless latitudinarianism is to supply the place of fixed principles: and to every religionist who professes to derive his tenets from the Scriptures, the plea is to be allowed of an equal adherence to Divine truth; as if the word of God were responsible for whatever of confusion or contrariety may be engrafted upon it by human devices !
b Isa. xi. 6.
c Isa. xi. 9.