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New Jerry Colly Library
ADDRESSED TO THE
REV. SAMUEL MILLER, D. D.
IN REPLY TO HIS
LETTERS CONCERNING THE CONSTITUTION
AND ORDER OF THE
IN WHICH THERE IS AN HUMBLE ATTEMPT TO SHEW THAT
. BEING INTRODUCTORY TO AN EXAMINATION OF
THE WHOLE WORK.
BY THOMAS Y. HOW. ~~.
PRINTED BY SEWARD AND WILLIAMS,
I HAVE lately read your "LETTERS concerning the
CONSTITUTION and ORDER of the CHRISTIAN MINISTRY ;" and would take the liberty of submitting to you a few remarks upon them.
It is not my intention to enter into a detailed examination of what you have advanced. This would require much time, and would swell the present address far beyond the limits within which it is my wish to confine it.
Your letters, it is well known, are the result of several years of laborious attention to the subject which they discuss. To postpone a reply, long enough to go through them minutely, would be to defeat my purpose in writing. On some future occasion, I may, perhaps, trouble you a gain; at present, I wish to submit to the public a general review of your performance; satisfied that a refutation of the leading arguments, on which it relies, will be considered, by every candid and intelligent reader, as a refutation of the work itself. Nor is it my design, even, to examine all the divisions under which you have considered the subject. I shall, at this time, attend, particularly, to your preliminary remarks, and to the proof of the divine institution of presbyterial government, which you attempt to derive from the sacred scriptures; noticing, cursorily, such other parts of your work, as may be briefly commented on, in consistency with the principal object before me.
Controversy, in the present state of the world, is una voidable. Opinions are infinitely various. Comparison of these, for the purpose of determining between them, is the object of controversy; and, unless such comparison he
made, the intellectual world must stand still. Whilst men differ in sentiment, they must debate. What are most of the branches of science but controversy reduced to system! Truth is one, and eternal. If it possess any value, it ought to be contended for; indeed, if it be not contended for, it will inevitably be lost. To condemn controversy, then; what is it but to say that truth is not more valuable than error! Labor is the destiny of man. His mind, no more than his body, can be nourished without effort. Not more certain is it that weeds will overrun and choak a neglected field, than that error will spring up, and spread every where, unless firmly and perseveringly opposed. The moral, not less than the physical soil, must be cultivated with inces
Controversy rouses the human mind into action; sharpening and invigorating its powers. Truths, which are made the subject of discussion, are always better understood, and their importance more correctly estimated. That liberality, which places all opinions upon a level, is a false liberality; indicating, in the mind which it sways, a much stronger love of ease, than of duty. Where such spirit prevails, the characteristic doctrines of the gospel must soon be forgotten, or despised. Look at the immortal works, in defence and illustration of divine truth, which learned men have produced! We owe these to the spirit of enquiry; and, if that strong dislike to religious controversy, which appears to be now so prevalent, had governed the conduct of Christian scholars, we might, even at this day, have been groping in the darkness of papal idolatry and superstition.
Consider, for a moment, the incomparable writings of the DIVINES of the CHURCH of ENGLAND. How do they enrich the republic of letters! What an impregnable bulwark do they oppose to the assaults of infidelity! What a clear and splendid light do they shed upon the whole system of revealed truth! At one period, you find these unrivalled scholars contending, with all their zeal, against the errors and corruptions of popery; at another, enforcing the obligation of Christian morals, against the fanatical opinion which exalted faith, at the expense of works; and, of late, how triumphantly have they vindicated the great doctrines of the divinity of the Savior, and of his meritorious sacrifice and death, which lie at the very foundation of the whole Christian scheme! At all periods, you see them
illustrating the sense of scripture; explaining the particular nature of its language; pointing out the superior excellence of its moral system; and unfolding those evidences which irresistibly establish the divinity of its origin.
Such have been the fruits of controversial discussion.
As long as we value truth, we must contend for it. Striving, and striving incessantly, is the condition on which it is possessed. Man was intended for activity. Vigorous and persevering exertion, therefore, is rendered necessary to the acquisition and enjoyment of every important blessing.
The scriptures speak, on this subject, a plain and a strong language; expressly commanding us to "hold fast the form of sound words," and "earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints." This, like every other injunction of holy writ, is founded in a deep knowledge of the state of the world, and of the nature of man. Truth will be opposed; religion will be abused and ridiculed; and, unless you contend, and contend earnestly, you will lose both the one, and the other.
Deeply, indeed, is it to be lamented that controversy should, so often, be disgraced by the arts of chicane, and by the rage of invective. But what good thing is there that is not liable to abuse; or, that is not frequently abused! Every thing reminds us that this is a probationary state; and few cases are there which call, more loudly, for self government, than the management of a dispute in which an important truth is to be rescued from the arts of misrepresentation, or to be defended against the clamors of violence. The apostles themselves knew not what temper they were of; for they would have called down fire from heaven upon a city which refused to receive them. Let the rebuke of their blessed master, on the occasion, be a lesson to all his followers! He requires us to fight his battles, and strenuously to support and propagate his doctrine; but he requires us to do it in the mild spirit of his own celestial wisdom.
You will not suppose, sir, that these remarks have any individual application; or, that I consider you as entertaining an opinion different from that which I have been endeavoring to enforce. No. The observations are intended to be general; and I have thought it not improper to say a few words, in a preliminary way, relative to the uses of controversy, the unreasonableness of the prejudice against it, and the spirit in which it ought to be conducted.