[I would like to dedicate this post to all those souls who are battling on a daily basis for the truth of the Gospel as it is found in our Lord, Jesus Christ. I must admit in saying this that I am thinking specifically of those precious souls who, though perhaps unknowingly, are led by the hand of Providence to fight against error in all its myriad forms, though it be effected on most occasions in a very humble mode and mien. –MWP]
Taken and adapted from the Preface of, AN ESSAY ON FAITH, AND ITS CONNECTION WITH GOOD WORKS.
Written by, John Rotheram (1725–1789)
When error prevails…
…there are two ways by which the cause of truth may be maintained; either by a direct and formal refutation of the error, or by a plain and effectual establishment of the truth.
The advocate for truth may descend into the field of controversy, he may engage every adversary that comes in his way, and he may pursue and expose every single error. But error possesses a wide and dark dominion, and he who undertakes the conquest of the whole, undertakes a labor that is almost infinite. It will still find some obscure corner to retire to, from which it will be found hard to dispossess it.
Error is various and changeable; a circumstance of which a skillful adversary will not fail to lake the advantage. When his opinion is ready to be wrested from him, he will take entire possession of it again under another shape. He will lead us through all the mazes of controversy, and whilst we press hard upon him, he will still find a way, amidst all its intricacies, to escape the pursuit.
He who engages in controversy, will find himself entangled in a net, where, though he may think it easy to break each single thread, yet it will be an endless labor to break them all; and whilst he is thus engaged, a skillful adversary will not forget to weave the web anew.
Controversy is apt to bring on personal disputes; and a thousand incidents arise to lead us away from the main point, on which our strength his exercised, and consumed to no purpose. The love of victory is apt to take place over the love of truth. Even where we succeed, there is this circumstance disagreeable to a benevolent mind, that is, that our success must be attended with another’s disgrace.
There is another way of removing error, and that is by a clear and full exposition of the truth. There is something much more pleasing to a liberal mind in the establishment of truth, than in the refutation of error; as the labor is more pleasing to rear a fair and well-proportioned edifice, than to pull down one that is misshapened and ill-proportioned.
It is for want of being furnished early with the principles of truth, that our minds are left open to error, and that so many amongst us are ever fluctuating and unstable, ever ready to follow some new seducer. He who amidst the thickest gloom of ignorance, enthusiasm, and superstition, sets up truth to public view, at once disabuses the deluded multitude. He brings the rising sunbeam to chase away those imaginary forms which kept them in awe, and which owe their existence only to darkness.
The mere removal of error, leaves the mind no more than a blank. And though it be true, that error can hardly be refuted without advancing and presenting to the mind some truths, yet these being only casual and random truths, not digested into order, nor supported on each side by those other truths with which they are closely connected, they are easily withdrawn again and lost. To give truth a solid and lasting establishment, it must be fixed on its first principles as on a basis of unwavering resoluteness; truth must rise upon truth in due proportion and order, and all the parts must be strongly united.
Against a mind thus prepared, the seducer will in vain waste his feeble efforts. The mind where truth resides is free from the power of delusion. And even such as have been enslaved by error, will at the approach of truth, feel their chains fall off as at the bidding of an angel.