How common the phrase today, "I hate controversy"; it is in most people’s mouths; it is constantly on the lips of the people of God. We venture to assert that controversy is essential to the existence of the Church of God. What did Jesus Christ mean when He said: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword"? He did come as the Prince of Peace, to bring peace between God and men; but He did not come to bring peace between the righteous and the wicked (Matt 10.34), for those who "will live godly shall suffer persecution," they will be opposed by the ungodly. Truth and error, light and darkness, love and hate, cannot walk together; their very nature is to turn one against the other-this is controversy! That men may rightly hate many of the methods of controversy is true; but to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, in His Holy Gospel and Truth, and at the same time to hate controversy is an impossibility. Yet we hear many of the Lord’s people talking of their hate of controversy. We can only hope that it is rather hatred of a word than of the thing itself, rather hatred of the methods of controversy than of controversy.
At the same time we cannot blind our eyes to the fact that the phrase "I hate controversy" represents a condition of things that does exist in the Church of God; there is an increasing opposition to all controversy, to all decided stand for truth. "Peace at any price", even though it involves the betrayal of truth, is the coward cry of many in our day. "Ease at any price, we cannot be troubled, let us sleep on, why disturb our rest, there always have been differences of opinion, and we do not see that after all it matters much who is right or wrong, truth can take care of itself" and many similar expressions all indicate the loss of a vigorous manhood and are the signs of effeminacy and weakness.
We believe that much of the opposition to controversy arises from the consciousness of weakness; a weak grasp of truth will never move a man to contend earnestly for truth. When God burns His truth into the conscience and life of a man, both as to the guilt of sin and deliverance from guilt by the blood of Christ, that man will speak out of the abundance of his heart; he has a hold of truth because truth holds him; such a man is strong in his convictions; he does not think and suppose, but he knows, and his words have a power and authority about them that demonstrate clearly that he is a man taught of God. It was this inward Divine teaching that made the Reformers strong in the Lord; it is the lack of it that makes us today cowardly and weak. Where love to Christ is at a low ebb, there love to truth will be at a low ebb; when love is cool there is no motive power strong enough to make men "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints." If God has "placed us in trust with His gospel" it is all-important that we be found faithful to Him and to that which is committed to our trust. Much of our opposition to controversy arises from faithlessness to our trust. This is a solemn charge, but many consciences know it is true.
A just cause of opposition to controversy is when the controversy is about words and not about principles. "But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes." How sad when God’s people make use of set phrases as a sort of party cry! How ungodly to brand a brother as a heretic because he may not see his way to adopt some phrase that I insist on as a test phrase, but for which I have no Scriptural warrant!
Let us conclude by saying there are godly methods of conducting controversy as well as ungodly methods. The latter tend to drag truth itself down into the mire; the former have been used by God in all ages for the exhibition of His truth in its purity. Where should we be today were it not for the controversial sayings of the Lord Jesus Christ, the holy apostles and prophets, and of men of God all down the ages-Luther, Calvin, Owen, and a host of others innumerable?
The following exhortation is still in force, and is binding upon every member of the Church of God: "earnestly contend for the faith, which was once delivered unto the saints." This is the revealed will of God as to controversy. The Lord give us more grace, that in His fear and in love to the truth and the souls of men we may obey His counsel.
PEACE AND TRUTH The Magazine of the Sovereign Grace Union. 2004:1 By permission.
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