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expression. We do not insist, that others should adopt our form of words; but we have no doubt, that the obvious meaning of these words is in accordance with the Bible, and can be sustained by an appeal to that infallible test. It is unnecessary to add, that we have not attempted to present the reader with a summary, which should comprise all the important truths of revealed religion.
These doctrines, and all others necessarily connected with them and forming a part of the same system, have been received in all churches and by all individuals, who have been understandingly called orthodox. These doctrines we believe, and in them we rejoice. We believe them, because we think them to be clearly revealed in the word of God, and not because they have been held and defended by such men as Luther and Calvin, Hooker and Owen, Baxter and Edwards, however pious and eminent these individuals may have been. We call no man master.
We submit to no man's authority. We hold ourselves bound by the law and the testimony; and if any man's arguments or theories will not abide this ordeal, they are to be rejected. Our motto is, Let God be true, but every man a liar.
It is common for the projectors of a new periodical publication to give a general outline of the several classes of subjects, which they intend to embody in their work. To this practice there seems to be no reasonable objection. We therefore proceed to specify some of the larger divisions of subjects, which will solicit the attention of our readers : premising, however, that we are not scrupulous to present these divisions, in the order of their relative importance; and that all are not to be expected in every number.
From what we have already said it is apparent, that a principal object in the establishment of a new magazine is the promotion of truth;
which is to be done not only by explaining what the truth is, and proving it when explained, but also by exposing error, even though we should be obliged to speak boldly and plainly, of artifice and sophistry. Discussions of this kind are what is usually called controversy; and against religious controversy some serious and reflecting persons have formed a prejudice, which, however ill founded, should be regarded with tenderness. Some of the reasons, why we think religious controversy may be, and often is, lawful, expedient, and an imperious duty, are the following.
1. Men are exceedingly prone to fall into error on religious subjects. This is evident from Scripture and the whole history of mankind. But such error is highly injurious to the souls of men, and should therefore be exposed, that as many guards as possible may be set up against it. These guards, when set up in season, do actually accomplish their end.
2. The example of prophets, apostles, and the Saviour himself, warrants a resort to controversy, whenever the interests of truth require it; and of this exigency a well instructed disciple is to
judge, as well as of any other. The prophets made all the arts and practices of idolaters as odious and contemptible as possible. Our Saviour exposed all the perverse doctrines and unauthorized traditions of the scribes and pharisees, although such an exposure was in the highest degree mortifying and exasperating to their minds. The apostles spoke with great severity of the heresies rising in their day, and warned the church against others, which were subsequently to appear.
Is it said, that the prophets and apostles were inspired, and that our Saviour was the fountain of wisdom itself? True; and on this very account their example is perfect, and may be safely followed; unless, indeed, it be assumed that uninspired men cannot distinguish error from truth, and therefore have no right to be confident in any thing, nor to express an opinion either for or against any position. But if universal skepticism, in regard to all the great doctrines of religion, is to be the favorite system, where is the use of revelation? There is no more arrogance in deciding that certain doctrines are erroneous, absurd, and demoralizing in their tendency, than there is in deciding that certain other doctrines are true, consistent with each other, and salutary in their influence. Indeed, we may safely go further, and affirm, that on many subjects, it is easier to decide that certain doctrines are wrong, than to ascertain satisfactorily what is right. Error is very apt to be palpable, variant, and easily exposed; whereas the truth, in cases where revelation has not made it clear, may elude the researches of the keenest human intellect.
3. The inspired writers directed the church, in all future ages, to contend for the faith, to expose lurking heresies, and to silence gainsayers. When Paul said of many vain talkers and deceivers,' that their “mouths must be stopped,” he doubtless intended that their errors should be refuted, in so decisive and unanswerable a manner, that nothing more could be said; and a thousand times, since the days of Paul, the abettors of error have been effectually silenced.
4. The success of the Reformation is an illustrious attestation to the value of religious controversy. What could Luther have done, if he had been forbidden to say any thing about error in doctrine, or in practice? How could he have taught the truth without aiming a deadly blow at error? How could he have gained the public ear, or attracted the public eye, if he had not fearlessly exposed the enormous abuses of the Papal system?
5. Controversy has always been the great instrument of recovering individuals and communities from the dominion of error. Ignorance never enlightens itself. Prejudice never corrects itself. Abuses never reform themselves. Depravity never purifies itself. In all these cases, there must be an extraneous and opposing influence, or there can be no remedy. We would not intimate, that all errors are equally dangerous, nor that all originate from depravity. It is not to be concealed, however, that those doctrines, which are subversive of the Gospel, have their origin in the pride of the human heart, which prepares the way for the delusions of a vain philosophy.
6. The descendants of the Puritans should be the last men in the world to doubt respecting the efficacy of religious controversy. There is not a single principle of civil liberty or of religious toleration, there is nothing virtuous or honorable among men, for which, in some form or other, and at some time or other, the Puritans were not obliged to contend against dangerous error, as well as against the arm of power and oppression; and, from the first settlement of this country to the present day, with the exception of a few transient slumbers, the children of the Pilgrims have not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God, both in the annunciation of truth, and in the exposure and refutation of error.
Among the most common objections to religious controversy are several, which we will now proceed to specify.
It is said that controversy sours the temper, both of the writers and the readers, and is therefore injurious to the character of all, who are affected by it. Candor requires that we admit there is danger of this. Men are sadly depraved; and are exposed to danger from every quarter. Whoever undertakes to write, on any controverted point, should see well to it, that his motives are good, his statements and reasonings fair, and his manner such as not to give unnecessary offence. He should not forget his own weakness, nor his own sinfulness; and especially he should be continually mindful of the approaching judgment, when a final decision will be pronounced upon his own character and the character of his adversaries. Before this tribunal, neither misrepresentations, nor names, nor numbers, nor professions, nor confidence, will avail anything. But to say that no man shall argue on the subject of religion, till he is totally exempt from weakness and sinfulness, would be equivalent to saying, that no man shall attempt to discriminate between truth and error, on any subject which relates to his standing in the sight of God and to his eternal destination.
Again; it is said, that religious controversy does no good. In some cases, no doubt, this is true. The topic under discussion may be so insignificant, or so much a mere matter of speculation, as to be unworthy of controversy; or it may be conducted in so violent a manner, on both sides, as to do no good, but much evil. Whether this is so, in any given instance, the writers and speakers must judge, under a proper sense of their responsibility. The same rules, however, should be applied to other subjects, as to religion. Is all political discussion to be proscribed, because violent partisans make it an instrument of inflaming the worst
passions in the community? Shall physicians never express their thoughts, in regard to the nature and causes of a disease, for fear they should sometimes lose their temper, or fly off into extravagant theories?
The fact is, that controversy does much good; and it is by bold, determined, and persevering controversy, that religious truth has been defended against prevailing error, and brought out, from under the accumulated rubbish of centuries, and presented to the delighted eyes of millions, who would otherwise never have seen its pure and heavenly light. In a well instructed, intelligent community, where the truth is generally received and obeyed, controversy is usually unnecessary, and might be very unprofitable. such a community, where suitable talents are employed, and proper vigilance exerted, the direct teaching of the truth, without much reference to opposing error, is altogether preferable to controversial discussion. But when false doctrines have crept in privily, nothing but a decided testimony against them, and a clear exposure of their inconsistency with God's word, and with enlightened reason, will meet the exigencies of the case. And here we must be permitted to remark, that one of the grandest distinctions of truth is, that its champions are bold, fearless, and frank, even when their number is small and a world is in arms against them; while the patrons of error work in secret, and conceal their motives, views, and objects, till they have gained strength enough to insure a good degree of popularity to their measures and opinions, as they are cautiously and gradually developed. This mark, indelibly fixed by the pen of inspiration, and confirmed by all experience, is of great value in ascertaining what is truth and what is error.
Further; it is objected to religious controversy, that it separates friends, makes dissensions in neighborhoods, and even destroys the peace of families. This is just what our Lord declared the Gospel itself would do; and, in a most important sense, was designed to do. Shall we then decline to accept the Gospel? Religious controversy may interrupt the peace of families, by inducing some of the members to receive the truth in the love of it, and thus disturbing the consciences and irritating the minds of other members who hate it: and this, far from being an occasion of reproach or grief, is a good ground for joy and exultation, which could only be increased by the cordial reception of the truth, on the part of all the members. Such is sometimes happily the case; but our Saviour's words imply, that it is not ordinarily to be expected. It very frequently happens, however, that those members of a family, who bitterly opposed the truth, when it forced itself upon them, fell under its influence, one after another, till they all blessed the day when it first excited their attention.
Once more; it is said that controversialists sometimes employ ridicule and satire, and thus exasperate each other, without making
any advances in the discovery of truth. We cheerfully admit, that a habit of resorting to ridicule and satire is not to be cherished. Grave subjects, should, in general, be discussed in a grave manner. Yet the Bible contains examples of the keenest satire and the most confounding irony. Elijah, Isaiah and Jeremiah, presented idolatry in very ridiculous attitudes. If a writer, whatever may be his pretensions, is evidently advocating a bad cause by unfair means; and if a just representation of his arguments, inconsistencies, or vain boastings, causes him to appear ridiculous, we see not why it is unlawful thus to expose him. But the case should be clear, and the offence unquestionable, before resort should be had to this weapon.
The foregoing objections are sometimes made to religious controversy by real friends of truth; but always, in such cases, as we think, in consequence of misapprehension, or because the subject is not viewed in all its bearings. Others object for very different reasons; that is, because they are themselves the abettors of error, and wish to pursue their secret course undetected and unopposed. These persons talk loudly of the evils of controversy, while they are managing their own side with all imaginable dexterity. They seem to think it no more than fair, that they should be allowed to present their sentiments in the most favorable light, and to throw just as much discredit upon their adversaries, as they can do without provoking determined resistance to their plans. After arrogating to themselves all the learning, and wisdom, and liberality, and candor, they will sometimes be so kind as to admit, that among those who hold a different system there are some well meaning people, though of quite narrow views. Now we do not think it becomes the friends of truth, of any age or country, to remain silent in such circumstances. In doing so, they would be traitors to that Divine Master, to whom they are bound by so many and so strong obligations; and traitors to the church, in which they are set for the defence and confirmation of the Gospel.
We would never justify controversy for selfish or sectarian purposes. We would utterly discountenance every thing among Christians, which looks like seeking preeminence, or personal exaltation. And to bring the matter home to our own times, and our own pages, we intend to do nothing, which should give pain to professed disciples of Christ, to whatever denomination they belong, who receive the great truths of revealed religion, and adorn their profession by exemplary lives. That there are many such, called by various names, we not only believe, but rejoice in believing. Every man, who gives evidence that he loves the Lord Jesus Christ, we gladly receive as a friend and brother ; even though he should appear to be under the influence of some remaining error. In the controversial department of our work, we should be sorry to have anything found, which will grieve such a man; and we VOL. I.