Strifes of Words and Hobby Horses

By Sylvester Hassell

The Gospel Messenger–January 1894

In THE GOSPEL MESSENGER Of January, 1884, Eld. W. M. Mitchell truthfully and excellently wrote: “In various parts of the United States a factions spirit has for years been manifesting itself among brethren, and while there may be in some instances a real difference in some cardinal principle of doctrine, or order, yet in most cases it is more a strife over men, or a contest of unprofitable words, subverting the hearers, than anything edifying to Christians. If carnal or selfish motives have introduced a dispute, the argument will be conducted in a bad spirit, forming parties who will misconstrue and misrepresent each other. If preachers consume the time which should be employed in feeding the flock of God, by casting stones at the sheep and trying to kill other under-shepherds, much distress will follow. If they should take their precious time from preaching the truth in love by making a personal thrust at others, or a personal defense of themselves, a bad spirit will be engendered in their brethren, and thereby they will be led away from the meek and gentle spirit of the gospel.”

I have long believed and said (Church History, page 621, footnote) that the differences among Primitive Baptists are mainly wars of words, and would disappear if the parties could meet each other in person and the right spirit. The Apostle Paul, writing by inspiration of God, repeatedly {1Ti 6:3-5,20-21; 2Ti 2:14-18,23-26} forbids our engaging in what he calls “logomachies,” or wars of words, and “profane and vain babbling,” “oppositions of science falsely so called,” and “foolish and unlearned questions which gender strifes.” He declares that these wordy wars proceed from the devil, {1Co 14:33; 1Ti 3:6; 4:1; 6:5; 2Ti 2:26} from spiritual disease, {1Ti 6:3-4; 2Ti 2:17} pride, {1Ti 6:4} corruption, {1Ti 6:5; 2Ti 2:16-17} avarice, {1Ti 6:10} philosophy, {1Ti 6:20; Col 2:8} and heresy; {1Ti 6:10,21; 2Ti 2:18} that they produce jealousy, rivalry, evil speaking, unjust suspicions, and vain disputations, and are unprofitable, and, instead of edifying, subvert others, and tend to destroy and overthrow their faith. {1Ti 6:4-5,10,21; 2Ti 2:14-18,23,26} Every person unhappily affected with such an empty, irreligious, and unmoral sophistomania is “proud,” says the Apostle, {1Ti 6:4} that is, as the original word literally means, is “beclouded,” “filled with the fumes of self-conceit” (like the “novice” in 1Ti 3:6–the same word being used there by the Apostle), “knowing nothing” (so darkened that he can see nothing clearly), “doting” (that is, “diseased,” “morbidly anxious,”) not about substantial and eternal realities, but “about subtleties and disputes of words,” (or hair-splitting distinctions, abstract ideas, vain speculations, frivolous allegorizings or philosophizings), “corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth,” {1Ti 6:4-5} as even the people of God are, when not sustained or illuminated by the Spirit. When in the flesh, we are all of us liable to this dreadful disease; and, when so afflicted, we may enter into heated disputes with our brethren on subjects in regard to which we are really agreed, while we differ only in the words that we use–especially when the subjects of our controversies are such deep and unfathomable mysteries as the nature of God and of the human soul, predestination, redemption, and regeneration, the origin of sin, the exact condition of Adam before his fall, and the exact result of his fall. It is the mark of the highest wisdom to receive all the statements of the Scriptures on these deep mysteries with all the humility and teachableness of a little child, {Lu 18:17} and not to seek to pry into the secret things that belong to God, {De 29:29} and exercise ourselves in great matters and things too high for us, {Ps 133:1} and rail at our brethren who do not express themselves exactly as we do, who do not adopt all our shibboleths, on these profound subjects that no human being has ever been able to understand and explain. Neither upon these nor upon any other subject should we ever wilfully distort and misrepresent the views of others; and upon all subjects we should, as much as possible, endeavor to lay aside all prejudice, partiality, and prepossession, and to ascertain “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” which alone can do us any real and lasting good.

A precise definition of the controverted words in the beginning, would often prevent disputation.

Every spiritually enlightened subject of grace believes, not in three Gods, but in a Three-One God–Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that the soul of man is immaterial and had a beginning, but will never have an end; that God works all things according to the counsel of His own holy will, but did not create nor can He fellowship sin, which is the willful transgression of His holy law, and which He forbids, threatens, and punishes; that Christ, by His own obedience unto death, ramsoned all His people from sin and hell; that God of His own will, and by His own Spirit, makes all His people partakers of the Divine nature, and new creatures in Christ Jesus, and yet that sin also continues to dwell in them until the death of their bodies; that sin could not have originated from an eternally, infinitely, and unchangeably holy God, but must have originated from His creatures whom He suffered to disobey Him; and that Adam, before his fall, was in the image of his Maker, and very good and upright, and yet, when left to himself, and without any compulsion from his holy and merciful Lord, preferred his wife to his Creator, and knowingly and wilfully sinned against God, and thus subjected not only himself but all his unborn posterity to the awful yet just penalty of death, or separation from God, and that nothing but the Divine mercy can save either him or them from that penalty. The wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err in these plainly revealed truths of the Scriptures; and the wisest saint that ever lived on earth, never fully understood them. It is the part, not of spiritual faith, but of carnal rationalism, to seek to solve these problems which our Creator has placed above our present capacities.


Another mania or crankiness, very similar to the last-mentioned, and often connected with it, is the riding of hobbies–a species of fanaticism or idolatry, which exaggerates one point of real or imagined truth at the expense of all others, and which, against all facts, arguments, and entreaties, pursues its relentless course to the destruction of the peace and fellowship of churches and Associations, glories in the confusions and divisions that it causes, and does its utmost to make them world-wide and everlasting. The fanatic has but one idea (or that one idea possesses him), and he hates all who oppose his madness, and, if he thought it would crown his theory with success, he would, in his derangement, almost set the world on fire. Though fighting against God, and moving heaven and earth to destroy the church of God, he is, like Saul of Tarsus, conscientious, and thinks he is doing a faithful and wonderful service for God and His people. It is a real friendship to such a one, thus possessed and deluded of the devil transformed as an angel of light, to break in pieces his dangerous idol, as Hezekiah did the idolized Serpent of Brass; {2Ki 18:4} but nothing short of the almighty power of the Lord can cast out the evil spirit from him, and make him sit down in his right mind, quiet and clothed, at the feet of Jesus, and in fellowship and peace with his brethren.

Some of the hobbies ridden by a few of our brethren to the injury both of themselves and of the Primitive Baptist cause, are predestination, feet-washing (both of which may be carried to unscriptural and idolatrous extremes), two-seedism, eternal vital unionism, meansism, and pseudo (false) spiritualism. May the God of Israel keep us from making idols of these or other things, substituting them for the Lord Jesus, bowing down to them, and sacrificing to them all things else–our own peace, and the peace and visibility of the church and the glory of God. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” {Ex 20:3} “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” {Mt 4:9} Idolatry has been the greatest curse of the church and the world.

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