By Dint of Argument

John Newton observes concerning Paul’s disputation with the epicurean and stoic philosophers in Acts 17:

” … their syllogisms soon failed them, and they were forced to retreat to their last refuge, an affected wit and raillery. Unable to answer the force of his discourses, they triumphed without a victory, and expressed their contempt of him and his doctrine by a word of the lowest and most despicable signification, which our version not improperly renders, a babbler; but perhaps no term in our language can sufficiently express the poignancy of the original” (John Newton, Works).

In many of the theological collisions we have with the adherents of tolerant Calvinism there is often more affected raillery than that of affected wit. But even if there be more affected wit, alas, it is presented to us (or about us) in lieu of an actual argument.

The heretic Isaac Watts articulates quite well what many true Christians experience from those God-haters who stumble at the Stone of Stumbling and are offended at the Rock of Offense (see:

“There is another manner of proposing our own opinions, or rather opposing the opinions of others, which demands mention here, and that is, when persons make a jest serve instead of an argument; when they refute what they call an error by a turn of wit, and answer every objection against their own sentiment, by a casting a sneer upon the objector. These scoffers practise [sic] with success upon weak and cowardly spirits: such as have not been well established in religion or morality have been laughed out of the best principles by a confident buffoon; they have yielded up their opinions to a witty banter, and sold their faith and religion for a jest” (Isaac Watts, Logic p. 221).

Of course we are not “proposing our own opinions” on essential gospel doctrine but we see many times how the God-haters “make a jest serve instead of an argument” (and many times the jest is slanderous).

Newton continued:

“Others so entirely mistook the state of the question, that they thought he was a publisher or setter forth of strange gods. They thought that Jesus and the Resurrection were deities they had not before heard of; and his discourse always turning upon these topics, they concluded (indeed with reason) that his only business and desire was to proclaim to all, the Divinity whom he worshipped. And it is no wonder that, from a half attention to his words, they should be induced to personify the Resurrection as a deity, since the Heathens had altars erected not only to Honour, Virtue, and Liberty, but to the vices and disorders of human nature, such as Fear, Famine, and Fevers.

This weak mistake gave occasion to summon him before the council who bore the name of Areopagus, or the Hill of Mars, from the place where they met; an assembly in high estimation for authority and wisdom, and whose particular office it was to superintend the public religion, and preserve it from innovation. It does not appear, however, that he underwent a formal trial before them. His opponents rather seemed disposed to gratify their curiosity than their malice: their politeness perhaps, made them something averse to the severer forms of persecution, and content with the less invidious (though to many not less formidable) methods of scorn and ridicule” (John Newton, Works).

The truth that “every natural (that is, unregenerate) descendant of Adam is completely polluted with hatred of the true and living God” allows for many different ways of enunciating and expressing this “enmity towards God” (Romans 8:7) and hatred for His people — from the non-violent arrogant jests and ridicule of the apostle Paul, to the violent seething rage that sought out stones to shut up and snuff out the scathing denunciations of Stephen (cf. John 15:20). Likewise, true Christians today experience different forms and expressions of persecution from those (e.g., Arminians, Tolerant Calvinists, irreligious agnostics, etc.) who know not the One who sent Christ (John 15:21).