By J. C. Philpot
Controversy is a subject that we usually avoid, as
often tending more to strife and to "minister questions, rather than godly
edifying, which is in faith." Imputations are made, harsh speeches used, and
in the warmth of the moment expressions dropped as much at variance with the
precepts as with the spirit of the gospel. The controversial writings of
neither Toplady nor Huntington, eminent as both were in grace and gifts, are
totally free from this blot. Yet at times controversy is not only
unavoidable, but necessary. When Arianism arose in the fourth century, an
Athanasius was needed to rebut and destroy it. When Pelagianism sprang up in
the fifth century, an Augustine was required to overthrow it. In later days,
by the controversial writings of Luther, Popery received a deadly wound;
Toplady's sharp pen penetrated through John Wesley's Arminian coat of mail;
and Huntington's powerful arguments demolished the moral law as a rule of
life to believers. In fact, as there is not a truth which has not been
attacked and denied, nor an imaginable error which has not been broached,
controversy is inevitable, unless we would see truth trampled under foot.
An important error, we will say, is advanced by some man
of name and influence, and sedulously propagated by him and his followers.
If not at once detected and exposed, this error gradually gains ground, and
at last may become established as a truth. Such was the rise and progress of
most of the errors of Popery. They were broached by men of learning or
influence, and as all opposition to them was prevented by persecution, they
became in time almost universally recognized. Controversy is, therefore, in
such cases indispensable, and becomes a blessing to the church. It is in
fact, under such circumstances, a necessary branch of "contending earnestly
for the faith once delivered unto the saints." Controversy has winnowed
truth from error; controversy has torn to pieces the robes of Satan
transformed into an angel of light; and controversy has established on a
firm basis, one by one, well near every article of our most holy faith.
There is nothing, then, in controversy itself
intrinsically wrong. It is the abuse, not the use, which has so often made
it objectionable. We desire, then, to approach the controversy before us in
the spirit of the gospel, and, as far as we have light on the subject, to
enter upon it without partiality or any respect of persons, our aim being,
not men or ministers, but truth. It is a subject, to our mind, of weight and
importance, as involving vital, essential truth. It is not a mere strife of
words—a dispute about non-essentials, but touches the very foundation on
which the church is built. This is, therefore, our main reason, as it must
form our chief apology, for introducing the present controversy into the
pages of the "Gospel Standard."
As our object is not men, but truth, we shall take no
notice of any harsh speeches made on either side. Truth is not forwarded by
such weapons, and, in our judgment, both parties have erred here.
The truth, on this momentous subject, can only be found
in the Scriptures. All arguments, therefore, founded upon mere natural
reasoning—all assertions that this or that view is absurd, irrational,
improbable, or impossible, must be laid aside.