The Voice in Speech and Song


Chapter 43—No Harsh Words nor Debating Spirit

Use of Truth As a Scourge—In the past you have presented the truth in a fierce way, using it as if it were a scourge. This has not glorified the Lord. You have given the people the rich treasures of God's Word, but your manner has been so condemnatory that they have turned from them. You have not taught the truth in the way that Christ taught it. You present it in a way that mars its influence.... Your heart needs to be filled with the converting grace of Christ.—Evangelism, 173, 174. VSS 238.1

No Help by Harshness—Preach the truth, but restrain the words which show a harsh spirit; for such words cannot help or enlighten anyone.—Evangelism, 575, 576. VSS 238.2

Effect of One Drop of Gall—Every sermon you preach, every article you write, may be all true; but one drop of gall in it will be poison to the hearer or the reader. Because of that drop of poison, one will discard all your good and acceptable words. Another will feed on the poison; for he loves such harsh words; he follows your example, and talks just as you talk. Thus the evil is multiplied.—Testimonies for the Church 6:123. VSS 238.3

Our Tongue As the Pen of a Ready Writer—Be careful that you do not rail once. We want the Holy Spirit of God to be life and voice for us. Our tongue should be as the pen of a ready writer, because the Spirit of God is speaking through the human agent. When you use that twit and fling, you have stirred in some of yourself, and we do not want anything of that mixture.—Evangelism, 172. VSS 239.1

On Guard Every Moment—Young preachers, and men who have once been ministers, who have been coarse and rough in their manners, making expressions in their conversation which were not perfectly modest and chaste, are not fit to engage in this work until they give evidence of an entire reform. One word spoken unadvisedly may do more harm than a series of meetings held by them will do good. They leave the standard of truth, which should be ever exalted, lowered to the dust before the community. Their converts generally come up no higher than the standard raised for them by the ministers. Men who are standing between the living and the dead should be just right. The minister should not be off his guard for a single moment. He is laboring to elevate others by bringing them up upon the platform of truth. Let him show to others that the truth has done something for him. He should see the evil of these careless, rough, vulgar expressions, and should put away and despise everything of this character. Unless he does this, his converts will pattern after him.—Testimonies for the Church 1:445, 446. VSS 239.2

Closed and Locked Doors—Let everyone bear in mind that we are in no case to invite persecution. We are not to use words that are harsh and cutting. Keep them out of every article written, drop them out of every address given. Let the Word of God do the cutting, the rebuking; let finite men hide and abide in Jesus Christ. Let the Spirit of Christ appear. Let all be guarded in their words, lest they place those not of our faith in deadly opposition against us, and give Satan an opportunity to use the unadvised words to hedge up our way. “Do nothing before the time.” When God gives a close, cutting message it will be His work, not prompted by the impulse of finite beings. Man's cutting and slashing with the two-edged sword will hedge up our way, so that we shall find doors closed and locked against us.—Manuscript 95, 1894 VSS 240.1

No Reference to Opponents’ Claims—The Holy Spirit will apply the word that is spoken in love to the soul. But let it be understood that no good is accomplished when the voice or the pen expresses that which is harsh, or even expresses the truth in a harsh manner. Let the region of human passion be passed by, lest the truth be misapprehended, misinterpreted, and misconstrued. The truth will have quickening power that is spoken under the full influence of the grace of Christ. God's plan is first to reach the heart. Speak the truth and let Him carry forward the reformatory power and principle; but let us not work according to our own individual impulse. VSS 240.2

What matter of good can be accomplished for souls who are in darkness by castigating them with denunciations? Those who have not a knowledge of the truth, who are blinded and warped in judgment, do not understand what it means. Speak the truth in love. Let the tenderness of Christ come in to the soul. Make no special reference to what opponents say, but let the truth alone be spoken—“It is written.” The truth will cut to the quick. Let not your own spirit and passions mingle with the truth as common fire with the sacred flame. Plainly unfold the Word in all its impressiveness. VSS 241.1

Many who are now the bitterest opponents of truth are acting up to their honest convictions of duty, but they will yet see the truth, and become its warm advocates. Those who now treat them with ridicule, who manifest a harsh spirit toward them, will fall under temptation, and bring reproach upon the cause of God, and cause the loss of souls through their indiscretion. Many who go into the field at the call made at the eleventh hour, will through the grace of Christ so present the truth, that they will be accounted first. VSS 241.2

We are not to voice inconsistency. It is our work to advance the light, to inculcate ideas in the spirit of meekness and dependence upon God. Let us seek to become overcomers, and thus receive the overcomers’ reward. Do all in your power to reflect light, to bring souls to a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, but abstain from speaking irritating and provoking words. Present the truth in its simplicity, for it must be confessed before man as it involves their eternal interest.—Letter 36, 1895. VSS 241.3

No Combative Armor—The combative armor, the debating spirit, must be laid off. If we would be Christlike we must reach men where they are.—Evangelism, 249. VSS 242.1

Inappropriate Debate—We have the most solemn message of truth ever borne to the world. This truth is more and more respected by unbelievers because it cannot be controverted. In view of this fact, our young men become self-confident and self-inflated. They take the truths which have been brought out by other minds, and without study or earnest prayer meet opponents and engage in contests, indulging in sharp speeches and witticisms, flattering themselves that this is doing the work of a gospel minister. In order to be fitted for God's work, these men need as thorough a conversion as Paul experienced. Ministers must be living representatives of the truth they preach. They must have greater spiritual life, characterized by greater simplicity.—Testimonies for the Church 4:446. VSS 242.2

More Argument, More Opposition—Often, as you seek to present the truth, opposition will be aroused; but if you seek to meet the opposition with argument, you will only multiply it, and that you cannot afford to do. Hold to the affirmative.—Testimonies for the Church 9:147. VSS 242.3

Limitations of Debate—Never should you enter a discussion where so much is at stake, relying upon your aptness to handle strong arguments. If it cannot be well avoided, enter the conflict, but enter upon it with firm trust in God and in the spirit of humility, in the spirit of Jesus, who has bidden you learn of Him, who is meek and lowly in heart. And then in order to glorify God and exemplify the character of Christ, you should never take unlawful advantage of your opponent. Lay aside sarcasm and playing upon words. Remember that you are in a combat with Satan and his angels, as well as with the man.—Testimonies for the Church 1:626. VSS 242.4

No Sign of Self-Sufficiency—Speak no word, do no deed, that will confirm any in unbelief. VSS 243.1

If anyone shall seek to draw the workers into debate or controversy on political or other questions, take no heed to either persuasion or challenge. Carry forward the work of God firmly and strongly, but in the meekness of Christ and as quietly as possible. Let no human boasting be heard. Let no sign of self-sufficiency be made. Let it be seen that God has called us to handle sacred trusts; preach the Word, be diligent, earnest, and fervent.—Testimonies for the Church 6:122. VSS 243.2

Debating Ministers Not Good Shepherds—Some ministers who have been long in the work of preaching present truth have made great failures in their labors. They have educated themselves as combatants. They have studied out argumentative subjects for the object of discussion, and these subjects which they have prepared they love to use. The truth of God is plain, clear, and conclusive. It is harmonious and, in contrast with error, shines with clearness and beauty. Its consistency commends it to the judgment of every heart that is not filled with prejudice. Our preachers present the arguments upon the truth, which have been made ready for them, and, if there are no hindrances, the truth bears away the victory. But I was shown that in many cases the poor instrument takes the credit of the victory gained, and the people, who are more earthly than spiritual, praise and honor the instrument, while the truth of God is not exalted by the victory it gained. VSS 243.3

Those who love to engage in discussion generally lose their spirituality. They do not trust in God as they should. They have the theory of the truth prepared to whip an opponent. The feelings of their own unsanctified hearts have prepared many sharp, close things to use as a snap to their whip to irritate and provoke their opponent. The Spirit of Christ has no part in this. While furnished with conclusive arguments, the debater soon thinks that he is strong enough to triumph over his opponent, and God is left out of the matter. Some of our ministers have made discussion their principal business. When in the midst of the excitement raised by discussion, they seem nerved up, and feel strong and talk strong; and in the excitement many things pass with the people as all right, which in themselves are decidedly wrong and a shame to him who was guilty of uttering words so unbecoming a Christian minister. VSS 244.1

These things have a bad influence on ministers who are handling sacred, elevated truths, truths which are to prove as a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death, to those who hear them. Generally the influence of discussions upon our ministers is to make them self-sufficient and exalted in their own estimation. This is not all. Those who love to debate are unfitted for being pastors to the flock. They have trained their minds to meet opponents and to say sarcastic things, and they cannot come down to meet hearts that are sorrowing and need to be comforted. VSS 245.1

They have also dwelt so much upon the argumentative that they have neglected the practical subjects that the flock of God need. They have but little knowledge of the sermons of Christ, which enter into the everyday life of the Christian, and they have but little disposition to study them. They have risen above the simplicity of the work. When they were little in their own eyes, God helped them; angels of God ministered unto them and made their labors highly successful in convincing men and women of the truth. But in the training of their minds for discussion they frequently become coarse and rough. They lose the interest and tender sympathy which should ever attend the efforts of a shepherd of Christ. VSS 245.2

Debating ministers are generally disqualified to help the flock where they most need help. Having neglected practical religion in their own hearts and lives, they cannot teach it to the flock. Unless there is an excitement, they do not know how to labor; they seem shorn of their strength. If they try to speak, they do not seem to know how to present a subject that is proper for the occasion. When they should present a subject which will feed the flock of God, and which will reach and melt hearts, they go back to some of the old stereotyped matter and go through the arranged arguments, which are dry and uninteresting. Thus, instead of light and life, they bring darkness to the flock and also to their own souls.—Testimonies for the Church 3:215, 216. VSS 245.3