Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Friday, November 21, 2008

Boreham on Controversy

F W Boreham has been writing about finding himself in controversy when he continues with these personal words:

You know how, when one dominating idea holds all your mind, everything that you see and hear seems to stand related to it. So was it with me.

I was reading at the time an old classic by Isaac Barrow, Newton's famous preceptor. I had scarcely opened the book that morning before the old professor began on this very theme. "Avoid controversy at any cost," he says. "The truth contended for is not worth the passion expended upon it. The benefits of the victory do not atone for the prejudices aroused in the combat. Goodness and virtue may often consist with ignorance and error, seldom with strife and discord."

With a heavy heart, I laid the volume aside; and took down Richard Baxter, who first taught me how to be a minister. But—would you believe it?—I had not got through half a dozen pages before my old master burst out upon me. "Another fatal hindrance," he said, "to a heavenly walk and conversation is our too frequent disputes. A disputatious spirit is a sure sign of an unsanctified spirit. They are usually men least acquainted with the heavenly life who are the most violent disputers about the circumstantiality of religion. Yea, though you were sure that your opinions were true, yet when the chiefest of your zeal is turned to these things, the life of grace soon decays within. The least controverted truths are usually the most weighty and of most necessary and frequent use to our souls." I felt that my old master had but rubbed brine into my smarting wounds, and I returned him sadly to the shelf.

That very afternoon I had occasion to dip into John Wesley's Journal, .and under date October 9, 1741, I stumbled upon this: “I found Mr. Humphreys with Mr. Simpson. They immediately fell upon their favourite subject; on which, when we had disputed two hours, and were just where we were at first, I begged we might exchange controversy for prayer. We did so, and then parted in much love, about two in the morning."

In sheer despair I returned Wesley to his place, and forsook the theologians altogether. I picked up a volume of Darwin which, newly purchased, lay uncut on the desk. But, to my amazement, he was harping on the same old theme. "I rejoice," he said, "that I have avoided controversies, and this I owe to Lyell, who many years ago, in reference to my geological works, strongly advised me never to get entangled in a controversy, as it rarely did any good, and caused a miserable loss of time and temper." I put the volume back on the desk; and, fancying that relief would surely come with fiction, I slipped a novel into my pocket and, after tea, went out into the fields. It happened to be Mark Rutherford's Revolution in Tanner's Lane. Imagine my consternation on finding one of the characters, Zachariah Coleman, talking on this very subject! No controversy can be of any use, he says. "It leads to everlasting debate, and it is not genuine debate, for nobody really ranges himself alongside his enemy's strongest points! It encourages all sorts of sophistry, becomes mere manoeuvring, and saps people's faith in the truth."

I went back to the house. How I spent the rest of the evening does not matter much to you or anybody else; but from that day to this I have never entangled myself in controversy again.'

F W Boreham, The Uttermost Star (London: The Epworth Press, 1919), 156-158.

Interestingly, F W Boreham later commented that his habit of evading controversy and not grasping the nettle was a mistake.

Further information: Boreham and Controversy.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Churchill and Wells engaging in controversy.