Different constructions are put upon this term. Some associate with it the idea of arriving for the mastery; and this may have arisen from the fact, that controvertists so frequently appear to have little else in view. But this is not the necessary meaning of the word; the proper definition of the term is, ti dispute or agitate different opinions; and however indisposed many appear to be towards controversy, it is impossible to maintain Truth without it.
Christ maintained a continual controversy with the enemies of Truth; and although His bare word was sufficient to establish any part, yet he condescended to use arguments with his opponents. Thus in establishing his claim to the Messiahship,“he argues from his work.” John x. 38; and when charged with being under satanic influence, he refutes the charge by a very plain and conclusive argument (Mat. xii. 24-27). The Apostles were engaged in a perpetual controversy both with Jews and others with whom they came in contact; and all succeeding ministers of the gospel have followed their example, and will have to do so as long as Truth has an enemy in the world. Indeed there has nothing ever engaged the attention of man that is so well worth contending for as the Truth of the Gospel, as it involves interests of infinitely greater importance than any other subject ever presented to his view.
The question of dispute that arise partake of greater or less importance, according to the magnitude of the subjects involved. For instance, questions at times arise in the church that elicit considerable discussion, and sometimes much warmth, which, nevertheless, are not of sufficient magnitude to justify a discussion; while others are of such a nature as to render a total surrender of the essential truth of the gospel, or a separation unavoidable. Questions of the former class have often agitated the church, and at times have produced considerable excitement; but while there existed an agreement on the more essential points of gospel faith and order, those difficulties would generally subside, either by a surrender of one part, or an agreement to let each enjoy his own peculiar views, without breaking fellowship. In this class of questions we might venture to rank the subject of the imposition of hands – a question that has frequently agitated the Particular Baptists; and though conducted at times with much warmth, yet, by the great body of Old Fashioned Baptists, it has not been considered of sufficient moments to effect their fellowship. But when questions of the latter class enter the church, they seldom if ever terminate short of a total separation. It is from questions of this class that the controversy which now agitates us has arisen, and from which arise the distinctions of Old and New School Baptists. These two parties are now in the field, and the questions at issue involve the very vitals of Truth, both as relates to gospel faith and order; the former touching the ground of a sinner’s hope, and the latter the visibility of the church. Both of these are of too great importance to admit of a compromise or even of silence. The New School party has every advantage on its side, excepting that of Truth It has learning, talent, wealth and popular opinion – of either of which the Old School have comparatively little; yet, while it has truth on its side, it has nothing to fear; for though truth may fall in the streets, and its friends sink into obscurity, yet it will ultimately rise and triumph.
If I have understood the ostensible object of your paper, it is to maintain the Old School cause in opposition to the New School doctrines and plans of operation; if so, may we not look upon those questions which have been regarded as of minor importance, and which have agitated the church previous to the present division, as unconnected with the present controversy, and rather foreign from the design of your increasingly valuable paper? I hope I shall not be considered as viewing any thing pertaining to our duty, as christians, unimportant, or that I would wish to cramp brethren in a free expression of their views at a time when it would not be likely to operate unfavorably on the common cause. The subject of the Imposition of hands, has occupied a considerable place in the Signs of late; and notwithstanding I have not any objection to seeing the views of brethren on the subject, nor to derive all the information I can on the point; yet I fear, if pursued, it may operate unfavorably on the main question at issue. We all know enough of human nature to know, that when we engage in a contest we are loath to yield, and that in conducting our part we are at times led insensibly to employ expressions calculated to excite unpleasant feelings, and elicit something like retaliation; and I have thought upon the whole, as we have a formidable enemy in the field, directing his main efforts against the citadel of Truth, whether it would not be better to direct our united efforts in defence of those precious truths of the gospel, now assailed on every point, than to indulge in the discussion of subjects of minor importance at the risk of harmony.
I hope the brethren who have written on this subject will excuse the freedom I have taken, when I inform them that the above remarks have been dictated by no other motive than an ardent desire that we may be enabled to move on harmoniously, in maintaining the great truths of the gospel against the formidable enemies by which they are now assailed. You are at liberty to dispose of these few remarks as you think best, and believe me,
Yours, as ever, in the Bonds of the Gospel,
Signs of the Times
Volume 4, No. 2.
January 15, 1836