Thomas Smyth.

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world lieth in wickedness, being led captive by Satan, who is the
god of this world, — ^that all that is in the world, is not of the
Father, — that the whole world is guilty before God, under his
wrath and curse, and in the broad way that leadeth to destruc-
tion, — that it is commanded to repent and believe the Gospel,
in the assurance that he that believeth shall be saved, and he
that believeth not shall be damned.

The Gospel, therefore, in its doctrines and duties, its mys-
teries and its threatenings, is a scandal to some, and foolishness
to others. It is everywhere spoken against, and in every way
opposed, or else modified and moulded into conformity to the
views and wishes of man's darkened understanding and
depraved heart. "I came not" therefore says Christ, "to bring
peace on earth, but a sword." In itself, the Gospel is the
tidings of peace and good will to man. But as it throws light
into the dark heart, and dark and evil ways of sinful men, men
will oppose, resist and contemn it, and thus make that Gospel
to be, as it is called, God's sword, which, in itself, is God's
embassy of love. The alternative, therefore, is the Gospel zvith
controversy, or no gospel at all. The Gospel is itself a standing
controversy, with the cavils, the objections, the doubts, and the
blasphemies of men. There is not a truth in the Gospel, nor in
the Bible, nor even in natural religion, that is not controverted
by the sceptical, unbelieving, proud, and self-conceited wisdom
of foolish man. The Atheist denies the very being of God, —
the Pantheist his personality, — the Deist his word, — ^the sceptic
his providence, — the errorist his moral government, his holiness,
justice and severity, — and multitudes deny the authority, the

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claims, the obligations, and the unspeakable worth of the salva-
tion and sanctification to which the Gospel calls. Let us, then,*
attempt to limit the doctrines to be enforced from the pulpit to
those truths which are undisputed, and we are at once brought,
not to the abandonment of the Gospel merely, with all its high
mysteries, but to everlasting silence upon every truth, natural or

So it has ever been, and so it will ever be. Truth, in this
world, and among the men of this world, is like Ishmael among
his enemies. Its hand is against every man, because every
man's hand is against it. It must either conquer opposition or
die. It is a testimony for God and his truth, against man and
his lies ; against the devil and his wiles. From the very begin-
ning of man's apostacy, until now, there has been enmity
between the serpent and the woman, between the sons of God
and the sons of men, between righteous Abel and a Christ-
denying Cain, between the church and the world, between the
word of God, and the traditions and philosophy and wisdom of
men. The whole of religion is styled repeatedly "Jehovah's
controversy."— Hos. 4: 1; Micah, 6: 2; Jer. 25, 31. The
Scriptures are controversial writings. The whole book of Job
is a controversy. The prophets were witnesses for God, and
his truth, and contenders for the faith. John the Baptist was a
firm and vehement and bold contender and martyr for the truth.
The ministry of our blessed Lord was a perpetual controversy,
and the Gospels a record of it. The Apostles were left to
arrive at truth in many things by "much disputing among them-
selves," (Acts, 15 : 7,) and they convinced Jews and Gentiles by
much disputing with both.

The early christians contended against the Jews, Pagans and
heresiarchs, of their day, and it was only against the power ot
the sword, in the face of infamy and death, and with the sacri-
fice of millions of human lives from age to age, that the truth
prevailed and conquered. When the whole power of the
Roman empire and of Vandal fury were leagued to destroy and
exterminate that very orthodoxy for which we now contend, it
was only by controversy and patient endurance that the price-
less truth, as it is in Jesus, was preserved and perpetuated, and
heresy overthrown.

When the truth had again been perverted by the man of sin,
it was by controversy and faithful contending, even unto blood,
that Luther and Calvin, and our fathers in Scotland, and in
Ireland, and in France, rescued the truth, and again unfurled its
banner to the breeze of Heaven. And it is only by controversy,
and contending earnestly, that the truth, in all its purity and
power, can ever be maintained and handed down to our pos-

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terity, and disseminated throughout the woild. The church
will remain a living church, and the church of the living God,
only so long as she remains the pillar and the ground of the
truth, — the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

But if these arguments are insufficient, let us further remind
you that controversy and contending is made an imperative duty
by God himself. Ministers must defend as well as preach the
truth, and drive away the wolf, as well as protect the sheep.
The mouths of deceivers are to be stopped, and gain-sayers
must be convinced, who subvert whole houses. If there arc
damnable heresies, there may be a damnable silence, and a
cursed patience, on the part of that watchman who giveth not
warning. Woe is unto him, if he do not keep the truth and
hold fast the faithful word, and speak the word which becometh
sound doctrine. Nor is this woe limited in its effects to their
own souls. For it is only when they have declared all the
counsel of God that they can feel pure from the blood of other
souls crying out for vengeance upon thir unfaithfulness. And
it is in view of this fact that many corrupt the word of God, and
handle it deceitfully, that all ministers are charged before God
and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the
dead at his appearing, to reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long
suffering and doctrine, seeing that the time will come when men
will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall
they heap to themselves teachers, and they shall turn away their
ears from the truth, and be turned unto fables. Every minister,
therefore, is set for the defence of the Gospel, and not mereh
for its proclamation.

Not only ministers, however, but every christian is a warrior,
under the Captain of his salvation, and under obligation to
contend earnestly for the faith, and not to sell it. They must
hold it fast, and neither give it away nor suffer it to be taken
from them. They must keep it in their heads, by being well
established in the faith, — in their hearts, by being filled with the
love of the truth, — ^and in their hands, by being ready to give a
reason for it to every one that asketh. They must hold it fast,
by persevering devotion to it, and by a zealous defence of it,
lest, "being led away by the error of the wicked, they fall from
their steadfastness, and at last lose their crown. For he that is
content to be a looker-on, while his fellow christians contend
earnestly for the faith, shall never be more than a looker-on
when they are crowned with that diadem which is laid up for
them who have "kept the faith."

Objections to religious controversy cannot therefore be reli-
gious. They are in evident contrariety to the principles of

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common sense, — ^to the invariable conduct of mankind in refer-
ence to all other truth, — ^to the necessity of the case, — to the
very nature and genius of the Gospel, — to the way in which the
truth has, from the beginning until now, been professed and
perpetuated, — to the nature and design of the church, and the
ministry, — and to the plain and positive commands of God.
From whatever motives such opposition to controversy arises, it
involves, therefore, the spirit of disobedience, unfaithfulness,
and that cowardly timidity and "fear of man which bringeth a
snare." For what is controversy? It is either an oral or writ-
ten discussion of whatever is controverted as error. Now, to
controvert or dispute a point, is only to agitate a question, and
sift and weigh its evidence so as to obtain clear and satisfactory
ideas of it. And can any man attain to a real personal and
assured belief without controversy? It is impossible. Neither
can any man maintain his belief, or defend it, but by continually
controverting, discussing and weighing all that is presented to
his mind, for and against his faith.

Aversion to controversy, when it is based upon a professed
regard for the interests of religion, is founded upon misappre-
hension and mistake. It confounds controversy with conten-
tion, and contending with contentiousness, and disputation with
a disputatious spirit. It does not distinguish between contro-
versy and the temper in which it may be conducted. Religion
demands and necessitates controversy, but it denounces a con-
troversial spirit. The principles which are upheld, the purpose
in which it originates, the object for which it is employed, and
the spirit in which it is conducted, characterizes any particular
controversy as good or evil. If it spring from a mere spirit
of contention, from a desire of victory, or a love of display, —
from personal animosity, and not from love of the truth, Chris-
tianity will not acknowledge it as her own. If employed on
questions unnecessary or unimportant, — if it is made the
vehicle of personal malignity, and is carried on in a spirit that
rends asunder the bonds of charity and peace, it is equally
unchristian. But these evils flow not from the use, but from
the abuse, of controversy, — not from the truth, but from the
evil heart of its defenders, — ^and are not therefore inseparable
from it, nor a prohibition of its use. And these evils, however
great, are not worthy to be compared to the evil and guilt of
allowing the truth to be lost through indifference, or endan-
gered through our pusillanimity. And all that the Apostle
enjoins, is not that spirit of contentiousness, "but that open,
manly, unflinching, continuous effort, towards the furtherance

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t 1




of the truth, in all circumstances, and in the face of all opposi-
tion, which the truth demands at the hands of those who have
honestly received it; and which it will undoubtedly receive,
from every man who is deeply and thoroughly convinced that
it is the truth, and that all else is but vanity, — ^yea, worse than
vanity, — delusion; delusion and a lie."

But while many, through misapprehension and mistake, are
opposed to religious controversy, many, it is to be feared, are
opposed to it because they are indifferent to, or opposed to the
truth itself. They condemn the contending earnestly for the

J ' faith, because they contemn the faith itself. Some artfully

1 deny controversy, and hold up its abuses and its incidental evils,

1 . in order to destroy free inquiry, which would endanger their

[• I established errors, and their blinded votaries. Others are so

inflated with the idea of their own infallibility, that their insuf-

) I ferable arrogance cannot bear to have oracular declarations,

I which of course are the voice of God, called in question.

I Others, again, oppose controversy, but it is only controversy

for, and in defence of, the truth ; while they are to be freely
permitted to controvert against the truth. Laziness, pride,
intolerance, impiety, indifference to all religious truth, and
above all, a secret feeling that the stirring of the waters of
controversy may arouse their slumbering but uneasy con-
sciences: these, it is to be feared, constitute the prevailing
motives with too many of those who, under the pretence of
peace and charity, and the glory of God and the good of souls,
cry out against all controversy, unless it be about the paltry
questions of some municipal election, or the beggarly elements
of mere earthly things.

And when some even good and pious people affirm that con-
troversy is of no use, we would reply, in the language of Dr.
Beecher, "It is nearer the truth to say, that no great advance
has ever been made in science, religion or politics, without
controversy. And certain it is, that no era of powerful theo-
logical discussion has ever past away, without an abiding effect
in favour of truth. The discussions of Augustine, of Luther,
and of Calvin, are felt to this day ; and the controversial writ-
ings of Edwards, have been to error, what the mounds and
dykes of Holland have been to the sea."

Contending earnestly for the faith, is, therefore, an impera-
tive and all-important christian duty. "Stand fast in one spirit
with one mind, striving together (wrestling together) for the

8— Vol. IX.

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faith of the Gospel, and in nothing terrified by your adver-
saries." "Why halt ye between two opinions ?" When God's
truth is at stake, neutrality must be criminal, and indifference
to the truth is, of all others, the enemy most to be dreaded-
Only let our zeal for the truth be combined with charity for
the persons of all who oppose it. This discrimination between
our accountability for holding and defending the truth, and
the accountability of every man only to God, and not to man,
for his religious opinions, is the true secret by which we may
"speak the truth in love," and so defend it as to maintain peace
and charity, even towards its assailants. This will enable us
to honour the truth, without dishonouring ourselves, — ^to be
firm and calm, — ^and with a warm heart to preserve a cool
head, and a graceful tongue.

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The Province of Reason, Especially in Matters of

1 Thess, V: 21.— 1 Peter, III: lb,— Matthew, VI: 23,— Luke,
XI: 34:,— Rom. I: 22.

In the first of these passages of Scripture, we are taught not
to receive implicitly as the true doctrines of God, what may be
inculcated even by the ministers of God We are to listen to
them with reverence, but not with unthinking acquiescence.
We are, ourselves, to search the Scriptures, to become familiar
with their truths ; and having thus proved that what is taught
is scriptural, and therefore true, we are to hold it fast as
"good," to lay it up in our hearts, and to practise it in our lives.
In accordance with this general precept, our Saviour, on more
than one occasion, called upon his hearers to judge, — ^not of the
truth or reasonableness of what he taught, — (for how could
they believe in heavenly things whose nature transcended their
finite capacities,) — ^but to judge of the evidences which he gave,
that He was an infallible teacher, and that all, therefore, that
he said, was indubitable truth.* The Apostles, also, in enforc-
ing any duty, do not hesitate to appeal to the reason and con-
science of men, and to characterize the whole of piety, both as
it is "the obedience of faith," and as it is the obedience of the
life, a "reasonable service."t

In the second passage we have quoted, christians are
exhorted, in view of the opposition and hatred to which they
and their holy religion are exposed, to see that their knowledge
of God is an experimental, saving and sanctifying knowledge,
that they may be ever ready to give to every one that asketh it,
a reason of the glorious hope that is in them, both as it regards
the irresistible strength of the external evidences of the gospel,
and of the unspeakable peace and power of its internal working
to the salvation of all who believe.

In the third passage, our Saviour compares the reason of
man to the eye. If the eye is prevented from a clear and
perfect vision by any film or impediment, or by want of suffi-
cient light, then, just as surely as we attempt to use it, will it
mislead and injure us. But, if the eye be in itself sound, and

♦John V : 31 ; and x : 37, 38 ; and xxi ; 25. 1 John, iv : 1.
tl Cor x: 15. Rom. xii: 1.

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the light by which it sees be pure, then will its perceptions be
correct, and our steps well ordered. In like manner, reason
may be vitiated, — or its present light may be obscure, — or it
may be wholly incapable of judging of the truth before it, by
reason of its spiritual and supernatural grandeur; and if, in
such circumstances, it is made the judge and standard of truth,
it will, and must, lead us into error. But, when reason is in
itself perfect, and the evidence before it is sufficient and capable
of being fully appreciated and understood, then it will lead us
to right and proper conclusions, both as to truth and duty.

In the last passage quoted, we are informed that such is the
present vitiated and perverted state of human reason, that even
those who have made the most pompous professions of their
love of wisdom, and have claimed to be wise above all others,
have proved themselves to be vain and foolish, — have darkened
their own hearts, and the hearts of others, — have obscured the
knowledge of God, and of duty, preserved to them by primitive
traditionary revelation, — and, not liking to retain this knowl-
edge of God, have been involved in inextricable doubts and
difficulties, both as it regards God and the chief good, and
everlasting life. "Having the understanding darkened, being
alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that was
in them, because of the blindness of their hearts."

We are thus brought to the subject of the present discourse,
namely, the province of reason in matters of religion. It has
been asserted, and is still maintained, theoretically by Deists,
and Unitarians, and by thousands practically, that reason is a
sufficient, and the only necessary guide in matters of religion,
and that revelation is either unnecessary and useless, and there-
fore untrue, or that, being to some extent, and for some pur-
poses, necessary, reason is the standard by which its doctrines
and its duties are to be judged. "Whatever opinion agrees not
with reason, (says Smalcius, one of the fathers of modern
Unitarianism,) is inadmissible in theology, and to admit such
doctrines, we neither can, nor ought to, be induced, even by the
express words of the Spirit of God himself."* According to
Dr. Beard, one of the most recent and very learned defenders
of Uniterianism,t "The fundamental peculiarity of the anti-
trinitarian movement is the deference paid to human intelli-

*See his words quoted at length in Smith's Testimony to the Messiah,
vol. i., pp. 75, 76.

tHistorical and Artistic Illust. of the Trinity, by J. R. Beard, D. D.
London. 1846: p. 196.

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gence as the judge, though not the source of religious truth."
The same author says,* "As witnesses, the Apostles and primi-
tive christians are invaluable ; as authorities, they are revolu-
tionary." "We may be excused, (he continues,) if we think
that these expounders of Christianity did not always rigidly
adhere to its sole and perfect type, as found in the mind of the
Lord Jesus himself."t He also adds, "Let it not be supposed
that, Uieref ore, the writer holds every part of Scripture to be
of equal authority. Such an idea is a gross and pernicious
error. All Scripture is in some way profitable, but all is not
alike valid."

Similar affirmations we might adduce from various acknowl-
edged writers of this denomination of "rational believers," as
they proudly call themselves. But this is needless, as it has
been affirmed among ourselves that "the religious element in
man received a new stimulus and direction at the coming of the
Son of Man, and the promulgation of his holy religion. Yet
its chief and most potent manifestations are still characterized
by much that is arbitrary, wayward, contradictory and incon-
sistent." "God, in the mean time," it is added, "gives us rea-
son to examine, to defend, to correct, to improve, or to
FORSAKE these accompanying errors." Reason, therefore, and
not any written revelation, it is affirmed, is the source, or at
least the arbiter and judge of religious truth. Is it so? This
question, it may be perceived, lies at the foundation of all
inquiries into religious doctrine, and determines at once,
whether God, in His Word, or reason in each individual
HEART, is to be the standard and judge of religious truth.

To come to a proper conclusion on this subject, we must, in
the first place, understand what reason is, and secondly, what
are its capacity, limits, and present condition, and this will at
once point out its province in matters of religion.

What, then, is reason ? Reason, derived from the Latin verb
to think, is the power or faculty of thinking. "It is (says
Locke,) that faculty in man whereby he is supposed to be dis-
tinguished from the beasts, and wherein it is evident he much
surpasses them." "It denotes that power by which we distin-
guish truth from falsehood, and right from wrong, and by
which we are enabled to combine means for the attainment of
particular ends," and "to deduce (adds Webster,) inferences

♦Hist, and Art. Illiwt of the Trinity, p. 7.
tDitto, p. 7.

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from facts or propositions." "Reason (says Isaac Taylor,) is
the mind acting upon its own ideas."* "It is distinguished
from instinct by the knowledge of relations, — or cause and
effect."t To have reason is, therefore, to be rational, moral,
and accountable being, that is, to be a man. But while all men
are thus rational, it must be remembered that he only is reason-
able who acts according to the principles of right reason.

Reason, then, is that sublime spiritual or intellectual nature,
by which man is enabled to know truth, and to obey it, — to
examine the validity of the testimony brought before it, — to
separate the false from the true, — give assent according to the
evidence, and thus arrive at the certainty of knowledge when
the evidence for truth is unexceptionable, — at probability when
the evidence for the truth outweighs objections or difficulties, —
and at comnction of falsehood when there is a plain and posi-
tive disagreement.

To receive nothing as truth but what is thus made certain
by sufficient evidence, to judge and act only upon such rational
grounds, to believe and do nothing but what he is convinced by
the proper use of his reason, and the full, candid and impartial
examination of evidence, he ought to believe and to do, is to
act as a rational being, and to be, in fact, a reasonable being.

Man is commonly spoken of as made up of distinct and sepa-
rate faculties, each independent in its power of action from the
rest. But while such a division may be necessary and impor-
tant for general purposes, it is most delusive, regarded as any
thing more than an abstract classification of the various exer-
cises, attributes, faculties and powers,^-call them what we may,
— of THE ONE rational mind. With a capacity to discern rela-
tions, causes, and eflfects, to deduce conclusions, to act from
motives drawn from the past, the present, and the future,
and to arrive at convictions of the existence and reality of
invisible, spiritual and everlasting things, — this reason or
MIND of man, is just that intelligent, moral and accountable
nature which God has given him. And, although common lan-
guage ascribes a variety of faculties to the soul, imputing one
action to the blindness of passion, another to the evil of our
tempers, another to the heat of imagination, and another to the
calmness of our reason, yet, in reality, the soul is one, and
every thing that is done, is done by man under the active and

See Elements of Thought, by Isaac Taylor, p. 134, and Brown Phi-
)phy, p. 313, ^
tDitto, p. 102.

losqphy, p. 313, 1 vol. ed,

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controlling power of this rational and responsible nature. —
The body, with its animal spirits, desires, and propensities, and
its nervous and physical energy, is made to be subject to the
soul, to be its servant and helper, to co-operate in the further-
ance of every good word and work, and to be restrained from
every thing that is evil in thought, word and deed. The body,
except for the preservation of animal life, cannot act except as
it is acted upon. Passion is passive until it receives power
from the will, and permission from the reason. Emotions can
only suggest, they can not determine our conduct. The
impulses of our nature can only be gratified when the soul, the

Online LibraryThomas SmythComplete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D → online text (page 2 of 68)