controversies and disputes
(Letters of John Newton)
Beware of engaging in theological disputes, without evident necessity, and some probable hope of usefulness. They tend to eat out the life and savor of religion, and to make the soul lean and dry.
I am not to expect others to see with my eyes! I am deeply convinced of the truth of John the Baptist's aphorism in John 3:27, "A man can receive nothing—except it be given him from Heaven." I well know, that the little measure of knowledge I have obtained in the things of God—has not been owing to my own wisdom and teachableness, but to God's goodness. Nor did I learn everything all at once—God has been pleased to exercise much patience towards me, for the past twenty-seven years—since He first gave me a desire of learning from Himself. He has graciously accommodated Himself to my weakness, borne with my mistakes, and helped me through innumerable prejudices, which, but for His mercy, would have been insuperable hindrances! I have therefore no right to be angry, impatient, or censorious to others, especially as I have still much to learn, and am so poorly influenced by what I seem to know!
I am weary of theological controversies and disputes, and desire to choose for myself, and to point out to others, Mary's part—to sit at Jesus' feet, and to hear His words. I cannot, I must not, I dare not—be contentious! Only, as a witness for God, I am ready to bear my simple testimony to what I have known of His truth, whenever I am properly called to it.
The longer I live, the more I see of the vanity and the sinfulness of our unchristian disputes! They eat up the very vitals of religion! I allow that every branch of Gospel truth is precious, that errors are abounding, and that it is our duty to bear an honest testimony to what the Lord has enabled us to find comfort in, and to instruct with meekness such as are willing to be instructed. But I cannot see that it is my duty; nay, I believe it would be my sin—to attempt to beat my notions into other people's heads!