« EelmineJätka »
And much as these things are noticed by the parties themselves, they are as clearly perceived by readers or hearers. Personal crimination and abuse become apparent. Boastful or reproachful epithets, angry or vindictive feelings too often deform the page, or rankle in the heart of the controversialist. "He is fond of insinuating that his opponent's head or heart, or both, are sadly out of the way. The intention often seems to be to sting an adversary to the quick, and insulting allegations and caustic replies are not spared, where there is reason to think that they will take effect. Thus truth is lost sight of, for the sake of indulging in these improper feelings. Because it is a public altercation, and they have a character for tact, or learning or wit to sustain, they feel too commonly authorised to use such weapons of war. fare.
Undue and covert measures, also, are sometimes employed -measures which involve a dereliction of moral principlein order to defeat an adversary, and to bring his cause into disrepute. The sanctuary of private life is invaded--the confidential communications of friendship are disclosed letters are found, or opened-secret drawers would seem to be unlocked and rifled of their contents, in order to produce the condemnation of a brother controversialist, or help forward the undertaken cause. Nor is it known that these things are confined to one party, or that the suspicion of their having been done in these times, is founded on the temper of any particular individuals. It belongs too much to the controversialist's character, especially in this revolutionary age. This is so much the case, that an eminent writer of this country, who, in ill-health was about to embark on a voyage to Europe, is said in the contingency of his not living to return, to have put his private papers in such a condition, that none would have the privilege of extracting from them those confidential views, which he meant only for the circle of friendship.
Nor is religious controversy, in these days, less a vehicle of bold and unsparing denunciation in general, than it is of other and more private wrongs. There used to be charity once, and room in the heart for Christian reciprocities, towards those who differed somewhat in their views of tenets and measures. But now he who does not agree with us in every thing, particularly in some favorite dogma or plan of procedure, is pelted with reproaches, or called by no gra
SECOND SERIES, VOL. II. NO. IV.
cious name. “If you do not come up to my standard, you are yet in the dark, unprincipled, destitute of religion, and I will annoy you as much as is in my power." Such seems too nearly the import ot much of the controversial language, which has lately been used. We have been astonished to find in the advocacy of certain causes, what a denunciatory tone is held in reference to any that doubt, what a dogmatic, magniloquent, fault-finding style is assumed in order to drive the cautious, or scare the timid into compliance. One would suppose that no apprehension was entertained of one's own liability to be mistaken ; and that the laws of Christian comity and kindness might be violated with impunity. With ministers of the gospel, in some instances, no measures are kept, if they do not sanction all the vagaries which an uncalculating enthusiasm so hastiiy puts forth. In this relation, one can not be a Christian, or faithful to his master, if he goes not with us. Fire must come down from heaven to consume the erring fellow-laborers who will not follow in our train. Even in advocating the cause of peace, the belligerent or denunciatory style is sometimes employed. One says “I am at a loss to conceive how a professed minister of the Gospel can execute his high commission, who stands alooff from peace societies.” Scarcely the right of private judgment seems to be allowed. Shall religious controversy, the vehicle of these slanders and these effusions of uncharitableness, be deemed worthy of that countenance of the Christian community, which it has too often received? We would rather say, with one of the most godly ministers with whom we are acquainted, and the most devoted to his flock“ I could wish, whatever necessity there may be for the more general defences of religion, that these disputes among Christians could be heard of no more." Is not this the genuine dictate of that charity by which more than any thing else, we are known to be Christ's disciples? That we may not seem to have erred ourselves by any severity of remarks on this head, we are free to declare as has already been intimated, that the spirit which is here condemned, is not peculiar to any one party in the great existing controversies which agitate the Christian public. It has infected all parties by far too much, and we cannot but think that the evil deserves to be candidly, but plainly exposed.
5. In religious disputes, like most others, there is a strong tendency to combat merely for victory. There is every appearance to justify us in this conclusion. Whatever may be proposed or intended at the commencement of a debate, it is extremely apt to become a strife wlio or what party shall win the day-it proves too often to be a battle of words, and the object is a triumph. The interests of truth and right seem but a subordinate concern, in the heat of feeling which is engendered. Every Christian mind must view this effect only with regret, and we certainly take no pleasure in commenting upon it. That such however is the issue of this mode of maintaining what is deemed the truth is apparent from the fact, that the dispute is kept up after the appropriate topics are exhausted, after the arguments are ai an end - and then crimination and recrimination are resorted to—what has been once said is said over and over again with agravated personalities; and if the disputants are not wearied out, the public sometimes happily is. In looking over protracted controversies in the church, we shall often find that the later productions are little more than statements, that the one party said thus, and the other party said thus -- that points which have been conceded are charged again upon the disputant—that objections which have been over and over again answered, are urged afresh on his notice, the whole constituting a tedious and most unedifying series of self-vindication.
All this is for victory at the end, if the end comes through the impatience of the community; and then victory is proclaimed; but commonly by both parties. If we are not mistaken, in the many disputations now publicly held on some of the great exciting questions of the day, little is gained on the score of conviction. Each party is determined to be pleased with its own champion, and concludes without fail, that he was the better in his arguments, as his cause was the better cause. So we read the published accounts, perhaps, in every case. Few or none think differently in consequence of all that has been said, except as the silent solitary reflection before alluded to has been in effective operation, in the meanwhile ; and then here and there a convert will be found. It oftener happens, however, that the dispute is left as a sort of heir-loom to the succeeding generation, which is expected to take it up, and do as their fathers did. That this is not an individual opinion, we will show by a quotation from the sober Dr. Scoit, in one of his Practical Observations. “When the members of the same religious fraternity," he says, “are betrayed into dispute aboui some abstruse sentiment, or frivolous ceremony, it commonly proves irreconcilable, and ends in another, and so another division almost in infinitum. In all these facts, not only the pride and folly of man, but the subtility of Sa. tan may be discerned: for love and union are the strength, the ornament, and the very criterion of Christianity, and disunion gives its enemies their most plausible arguments against it.” This latter thought suggests to us at the present place, another reason against religious disputation, in the sense already explained, i. e., as to any encouragement to be afforded to it, and that is
0. It furnishes to the enemies of Christianity an unbappy occasion against this religion. The Gospel is reproached through the bad tempers, the moral infirmities, the want of brotherly love manifested so often by Christian controversialists. Nothing is more common than to judge of the character of religion through the conduct and feelings of its professed friends. This is a very natural medium in which to view it, although it ought to be more especially estimated in its own pure and inspired records, and in its obvious design. This intermediate judgment is partly the result of our constitutional propensities, and cannot always be avoided although it also proceeds from prejudice, depravity, and a particular cherished aversion to religion. It will be agreed nevertheless, that no occasion should be afforded for false conceptions of Christianity-for injurious imputations against it. Yet the embittered controversies which are so incautiously engaged in, do afford occasion - lamentable occasion for the sneers and calumnies of infidels and enemies. They reproach religion on this account, and rejoice in the opportunity. It is a medium most suited to the nefarious purpose of venting their spleen and rage against the best of causes. They are enabled, with too much plausibility, to reverse the delightful remark called forth by the character of primitive Christianity"See how these Christians love one another," and make it read, “ See how these Christians hate one an. other.” Such is too nearly the aspect given to the feelings and intercourse of professed Christians, by means of their party strifes. Who that has the spirit of a man and a Christian, but must blush that so needless an occasion is afforded, for the profanation of a religion whose name and nature is charity?
Besides, the subjects and manner of these dis-utations are very apt to throw an air of suspicion over all religion-to produce infidelity itself. Many a believer has been tempo. rarily shaken, whose notions of that which constitutes Chris. tian character have been shocked by these disagreements and evil passions, inasmuch as they convey an intimation, that however sincerely he may himself have rested on Christ, there was after all a possibility of a common mistake. A distinguished preacher and most pious man remarked to us, that this awful spirit of bitterness and controversy in regard to the topics of Revelation, would almost make him a sceptic but for a few leading explicit principles which it con. tained, But the effect on the unconverted portion of the community is, in this view, more especially disastrous. They are confirmed in their neglect of religion and in some instances pass from simple impenitency to the hopelessness of atheism. This is especially the effect on minds of a certain cast -minds that cannot be made familiar with the weaknesses and wrong conduct of the professed friends of piety, without feeling a disgust for the cause which they advocate. Every man, then, who enters upon controversy of this kind, should well consider in what light he is about to present the holy religion of the Bible before the world. Such an advantage ought not, indeed, to be taken of these instances of human imperfections, and we know that they are often magnified by the unbeliever's own prejudices; yet wherever it is possible, the occasions of them should be most conscientiously shunned.
Religious controversy adds immensely to the morbid excitability of the public mind at this day. It is one of the influences which constitute this excitability. Disputation among Christians, needs rather to be abstracted from the amount of such influences than to be added to them, and to augment their volume. All that is good among us may yet be borne down by such a rush of feeling and excitement, embracing as it does almost every interest which affects human beings - politics, legislation, literature, morals, and religion. Nearly every topic, so is it now managed, enkindles passion. You touch the train, and the whole magazine of combustibles is blown into a flame. No one will doubt that there is danger in this over-working of human susceptibilities. We see it in the mobs, and radicalism, and aggrarianism which have been so rife in these times. Now it is the office and should be the