Vain Disputings

“But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.”

Titus 3:9

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

Eph. 4:29

“But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”

Gal. 5:15




Anthony Burgess – ‘On Vain Disputing’  PDF  1652, 13 pages, being an excerpt from Sermon 2 and the whole of Sermon 51 from his Spiritual Refining, in modern English  

Burgess (†1664), one of the Westminster divines, shows the unprofitbleness of vain disputes in religion that edify none, but only pine away the soul as the lean kine of Pharaoh’s Egypt, at the expense of living grace in the soul.



John Trapp Quotes

Commentary on the Bible, 1662

“When Doeg blasted David, he thinks the better of himself, Ps. 52:8.”

on Luke 6:26

“…that vain puffing up… whereby men do not increase, but swell; grow bigger indeed, but weaker, as a gouty hand.”

on Col. 2:19

“Christ commands not only by force of argument to convince them, Jude 22, but also to handle them gently, and in meekness to instruct them.”

on 2 Tim. 2:25

“Shake off vain questionists as great triflers.”

on 2 Tim. 2:23

“This made Strigelius when he was on his death-bed bless God that now he should be freed from the cruel and implacable hatreds of dissenting divines.  (Melch. Ad. In Vit. Strig.)”

on Phil. 1:16





Heal me,of this lust of mine of always vindicating myself.

Samuel Rutherford  1658

Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church Discipline, Epistle to the Reader

For when the head is filled with topics, and none of the flamings of Christ’s love in the heart, how dry are all disputes?  For too often dispute in the head weakens love in the heart.  And what can our paper-industry add to the spotless truth of our Lord Jesus?  O that opinions were down, and the Gospel up; and sides and parties might fall, and Christ stand; and that all names, sects and ways were low, and the Lord alone exalted!


Anthony Burgess  1652

Spiritual Refining, Sermon 2, p. 7-8, 1652

Secondly, by this practical knowledge and exercise you will be taken off from all needless and vain disputations in matters of religion, and will be more solicitous at home in your own heart.  In former times when the people of God were busy about the touchstone and trial of grace in themselves, they did not launch out into such deep and unprofitable questions, but now of late since believers have busied themselves in disputes and controversies, and new opinions, this practical knowledge of grace is much neglected.  You shall find men sooner disputing about faith than living by faith, talking of heavenly-mindedness than being so indeed.  Thus the trees in God’s garden sprout up into suckers and barren boughs, and bear little fruit upon them, 1 Tim. 6:4

The apostle does excellently describe such a temper, he calls it ‘doting about questions’, or as it is in the Greek, ‘sick and languishing’; Even as much fretting and vexation consumes the flesh of the body, so do proud and vain affectations of new opinions pine away the soul.  What is this but to think that a stone may become bread, and a serpent fish?  As it is a minister’s duty to preach only those things that are profitable, the sower went out to sow good seed, not poison, or empty chaff; so it is also required of private Christians, that they do think, confer of, and study those things only that may edify and practically build up their souls. 

I would not hereby discourage an endeavor in Christians to grow in knowledge.  The apostle reproves some for being babes, and that he could not speak unto them as spiritual but as carnal, only they must know, that faith has efficacious purifying acts as well as knowing acts, and therefore our increase must be equal both quoad notitiam, and efficaciam, [being translated:] in respect of knowledge and efficacy also.  A Christian may grow either quoad amplitudinem scientiae or efficaciam scientiae, [being explained] the enlargement of his knowledge both in respect of the matter, he may know more things than he did, as also in the manner, more clearly, evidently and firmly than he did, or else in the efficacy of his knowledge, though he do not more things then he did, yet he knows them more practically, they have a greater influence upon his heart and affections, they move and inflame him more then ever they did; now though the former way of increase be necessary and pleasing to God, yet this is much more. 

Take heed then that we be not like Pharaoh’s lean kine, that devour many questions, but yet are as starved and ill-favored as before.  When one came with a curious question to our Savior, asking Him, ‘Whether many should be saved?’  How pertinently does our Savior answer him, ‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate’.  This therefore discovers the necessity of importunate pressing and urging practical knowledge upon people in these days, Ubi malunt homines disputare quàm vivere, [being paraphrased:] they had rather argue than live.  As little boys in sport strive who shall strike most sparks out of their iron, not intending to kindle thereby for their use, so do Christians strive who shall strike out the most subtle and finest spun notions, not intending the profit of their souls therein.


Matthew Henry

Commentary on Romans 14:1-6

Differences of opinion prevailed even among the immediate followers of Christ and their disciples.  Nor did St. Paul attempt to end them.  Compelled assent to any doctrine, or conformity to outward observances without being convinced, would be hypocritical and of no avail.  Attempts for producing absolute oneness of mind among Christians would be useless.  Let not Christian fellowship be disturbed with strifes of words.  It will be good for us to ask ourselves, when tempted to disdain and blame our brethren; Has not God owned them? and if he has, dare I disown them?…  We usurp the place of God when we take upon us thus to judge the thoughts and intentions of others, which are out of our view…  But it is not enough that our consciences consent to what we do; it is necessary that it be certified from the word of God.  Take heed of acting against a doubting conscience.  We are all apt to make our own views the standard of truth, to deem things certain which to others appear doubtful.  Thus Christians often despise or condemn each other, about doubtful matters of no moment.  A thankful regard to God, the Author and Giver of all our mercies, sanctifies and sweetens them. 


Jonathan Edwards

There is much folly, when I am quite sure I am in the right.. in entering into a vehement or long debate upon it.  


John Wesley  †1791

Are you persuaded you see more clearly than me? It is not unlikely that you may. Then treat me as you would desire to be treated yourself upon a change of circumstances. Point me out a better way than I have yet known. Show me it is so by plain proof of Scripture. And if I linger in the path I have been accustomed to tread, and therefore I am unwilling to leave it, labour with me a little; take me by the hand and lead me as I am able to bear. But be not discouraged if I entreat you not to beat me down in order to quicken my pace: I can go but feebly and slowly at best: ~then~ I should not be able to go at all. May I not request you, further, not to give me hard names; in order to bring me into the right way. Suppose I was ever so much in the wrong, I doubt this would not set me right. Rather it would make me run so much the further from you, and so get more and more out of the way.

Nay! perhaps if you are angry, so shall I be too; and then there will be small hopes of finding the truth. If once anger arises, its smoke will so dim the eyes of my soul that I shall be able to see nothing clearly. For God’s sake, if it be possible to avoid it, let us not provoke one another to wrath. Let us not kindle in each other this fire of hell; much less blow it up into a flame. If we could discern truth by that dreadful light, would it not be loss rather than gain? For how far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love! We may die without the knowledge of many truths, and yet be carried into Abraham’s bosom. But if we die without love, what will knowledge avail? Just as much as it avails the devil and his angels!


John Newton  †1807

If you account him as a BELIEVER, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.”

The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him or treat him harshly!  The Lord bears with you likewise and expects that you should show tenderness to others—from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.  In a little while you will meet in heaven—he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now!  Anticipate that period in your thoughts and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an UNCONVERTED person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger!  Alas!  “He knows not what he does!”  But you know who has made you to differ from him.  If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel!  You were both equally blind by nature.  If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes—and not his!




“He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof comes envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings… from such withdraw yourself.”

1 Tim. 6:4-5




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