Controversy, Religious

Controversy, Religious 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 human disputation; questions inaccessible to our finite understandings, unnecessary or unimportant in their issde, and only tending to perpetuate strife, or to unsettle the minds of men, then it is also unworthy of the Christian character. Nor is it void of offence when, however sound its principles, 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 endeavoring to soften, the irritable feelings, which, even in its mildest aspect, it is but too apt to excite. But those 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 religious polemics, the attainment of unanimity 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 all indispensable duty in defending the charge committed to our care by the use of those weapons with which the armory of the divine Word supplies us. See Van Mildert, Bampton Lectures.

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