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Third place, will not fail to appear, when their original character and circumstances are duly considered, a more convincing proof of the heavenly origin of our religion than any other that could have been produced.
The moral phenomenon, then, which we are now to contemplate, as an irresistible argument for the truth of Christianity, is the propagation of the Gospel by the agency of a few illiterate men: a fact which affords at once a support to our faith as followers of the Redeemer, and an incitement to our zeal as members of the Society which you here represent. The miracle which our Lord employed to gain the world to his religion, was that by which the weak understanding was enabled to overcome the strong, the ignorant to confound the wise, and those who had no knowledge to convince the disputer and to strengthen the believer. It consisted in converting the most civilized, the most learned, the most powerful nations on the face of the earth, to a faith completely opposed to that in which they had been educated, by the ministry of twelve individuals, who were equally unacquainted with letters and with mankind; and who themselves, when they were first called to discharge that important duty, thought of nothing so little as of preaching a new religion to the subtle Greek and the haughty Ro
But, viewed as an argument for the divine origin of our holy faith, and as the means of extending its farther reception among unbelievers, it is of the utmost consequence to remark, that the moral wonder performed by our Lord, in the persons of his Apostles, was of such a nature, that we are not less qualified to form a judgment in respect to it, at the present day, than if we had witnessed its immediate effects at Jerusalem, Ephesus, or Corinth. We know the force of prejudice and superstition, and how unequal the attack is which is made
these high places of human error, by the unassisted arms of truth and reason, and, more particularly, when such arms are wielded by men who have nothing to recommend them but their zeal and honesty. We know how slow the progress of reform is, whenever it directs itself against the habits and indulgences of a proud, a wealthy, and a luxurious people; and how reluctantly they yield to vulgar remonstrance and low-bred importunity, the customs which have grown up with their nation, and distinguished the most brilliant period of their history. In a word, we know, in some degree, the amount of the obstacles which must have opposed themselves to the success of twelve, rude, unlearned, men, in their attempt to abolish the national worship of any old country ; and to substitute in its place a set of opinions, moral precepts, and ritual observances, altogether different from those to which the people had been accustomed. What undertaking was more unlikely to prosper, in the hands of such men as the Apostles originally were, than to bring to a close the splendid ceremonies of the temple of Jerusalem, and to throw down the thousand altars which burned with incenee and the fat of rams in the imperial city of Rome? Such an object, to be effected by such instruments, implied one of the greatest improbabilities that could possibly be imagined: and I need not add, that the success which every where crowned their labours, has been justly held as a strong and very intelligible proof, that the cause which they advocated enjoyed the countenance of heaven.
Are we not, then, entitled to conclude, that the event now mentioned, inasmuch as it was brought to pass by the operation of such secondary causes as coincide in some degree with our own experience, and fall under the cognizance of reason, has become a much stronger foundation for belief than could have been supplied by a more striking deviation from the ordinary
course of providence ? Every reflecting man will be ready to decide in the affirmative, not only because the fact still remains accompanied with its original evidence-the conversion of a large portion of the civilized world to the faith of the gospel—which may be examined again and again, until its true character shall be completely ascertained ; but chiefly because, as we are really ignorant of the exact boundaries which separate the natural from the supernatural, we are very incompetent judges of what, in an ancient narrative, ought to be regarded as miraculous, and what ought not. As knowledge increases among men, miracles are always found to diminish in number; for that which is above nature, in one age, is discovered to be within its limits in the very next. Measuring every thing by his own ignorance, man, in a rude state of society, is constantly surrounded with wonders and prodigies; for which reason, when we read the early history of Pagan nations, we pass over their miracles either as matters of mere childishness-as the inventions of the fraudulent or the devices of the superstitious-but cannot be induced to consider them as a fair interpretation of nature, and far less as a proof of divine interposition.
Accustomed, nay compelled, by the laws of our existence upon earth, to confide in the order and stability of the material universe, the human mind reluctantly yields its belief to the testimony of remote ages in support of facts which, it is conjectured, may not have been carefully examined in connection with those physical causes which a more learned investigation, in modern times, has successfully brought to light. This prejudice of the intellect, for such to a certain extent it may be described, is strengthened in no small degree by the circumstance, that a trust in occasional suspensions of the regular course of nature continues to lurk at the present day, in the darker parts of the world ; and, even of a large body of Christians it may be asserted, that the distance at which they still remain from the light of science and the knowledge of mental philosophy, may be. measured, with considerable exactness, by the confidence which they repose in miraculous interposition.
I must rest satisfied with this general statement of the argument; leaving it to your private thoughts to follow out the train of reasoning which is thereby suggested. But do you not already perceive the grounds of the expediency to which our blessed Saviour alluded,