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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
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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. In 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 con- • troversy 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
confidently hope that nothing will be admitted, which shall give to such a man just ground of complaint or alarm.
The feelings, which Christians are to entertain towards those, whom they regard as opposers of the truth, and subverters of the Gospel, should be benevolent only; but this benevolence should be qualified, according to the character of those toward whom it is directed. Such a man as Voltaire, for instance, is to be regarded as the enemy of the human race, and far more guilty than the greatest tyrant or oppressor that ever lived. A more decent infidel, like Hume, does an injury to society incomparably greater, than falls within the power of ordinary transgressors against the laws of morality and decorum. Yet, toward such men even, we should feel no emotions inconsistent with good will. We should desire, indeed, that the inclination to do evil may be taken from them; and that they may be made sensible of their guilt and danger, and penitent for their sins.
If any serious and professedly Christian writer should teach principles utterly subversive of the Gospel, (and Paul would support us in making a much stronger supposition,) we cannot regard him otherwise, than as an enemy of the cross of Christ. In judging what is utterly subversive of the Gospel, we are bound to be candid, and to be guided by the Scriptures only. If we are not to rely on our own understandings, nor to decide according to our preconceived opinions, it is equally true that we are not to give up the Scriptures out of deference to the understanding of our adversaries, or respect for their preconceived opinions. If we conscientiously believe, after impartial examination, that a writer is laboring to destroy the whole fabric of Christianity, it is no infringement of the law of love for us to declare what we believe. Nay more, the law of love may impel us to such a declaration. And here we would express an earnest desire, that all opposers of the truth, by whatever name they choose to call themselves, and in whatever party they are found, may be rescued from their perilous condition, brought to sincere repentance, and made partakers of the divine favor.
In any discussions of a controversial nature, which shall appear in our pages, it is our intention to avoid invidious personalities. By this phrase we mean all attempts to present the character of individuals before the public, in an unfavorable light, except as their character is disclosed in their own writings, or by their known official conduct, and as an exposure is demanded by a regard to the highest interests of men. Especially shall we avoid the application of offensive epithets to individuals, in such a manner as would seem intended to make them personally odious.
These general views and principles, on the subject of religious controversy, we have thought it our duty to express, at the first announcement of our designs. It is not to be understood, however, that our work is to be exclusively controversial; or that controversy is to predominate. In some numbers it may occupy a considerable space. In others, perhaps, it will not be found at all. Beside discussions of this kind, it is contemplated that something will appear, in almost every number, under several other general divisions, which the limits of this article will not permit us to describe at large.
The doctrines of the Bible, in the form which is sometimes called didactic theology, should be occasionally stated, explained, and proved, for the edification and consolation of the pious, and the benefit of all classes of the community.
Revivals of religion, those glorious manifestations of divine power and love, by which our country has been greatly distinguished, should be presented in their true character; and every religious magazine should act as the guardian of the churches in this respect. The nature of revivals, the proofs of their genuineness, the best means of promoting them, and their happy results, afford topics for many interesting papers.
To the department of Reviews a considerable portion of our pages will be devoted; and here we shall seek that variety as to subjects, the length of the articles, and the style of writers, which will be likely to make the work an interesting inmate of well educated Christian families. Under this head, brief notices of new publications will find a place. It is obvious, also, that reviews furnish occasions for all the various kinds of discussion, which will be most likely to command public attention.
A religious magazine, conducted on proper principles, will be the friend of all great plans of Christian benevolence. The exertions of the present day, in favor of the universal dissemination of the Bible, the preaching of the Gospel throughout the world, and the religious education of all classes of people, in every country, will require to be sustained by able writers, in all the departments of literature.
Miscellaneous communications on preaching, and other means of public instruction, on the morality of the Gospel, on the pernicious tendency of fashionable amusements, on the odious character and demoralizing effects of war, and numerous other subjects of general interest, will find a ready admission. Brief hints, useful suggestions, and pithy exhibitions of important truth, though requiring but little room, often produce great results. Pieces of this kind, judiciously expressed, will be very acceptable to the conductors of the work, and doubtless to their readers.
Remarks on public measures, which have a bearing on the interests of religion and morality, and thus on the prosperity of the Redeemer's kingdom, will not be deemed unsuitable to our work. Nor shall we feel bound to abstain from examining the conduct of public men, whenever it has an important relation to these great