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EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.
OBJECT OF THE COURSE. RESPONSIBILITY OF MEN FOR
THEIR OPINIONS. CHRISTIANITY CAPABLE OF CERTAIN PROOF.- THIS SHOWN FROM A COMPARISON OF MATHEMATICAL AND MORAL EVIDENCE, AND FROM AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARGUMENT OF HUME.
In entering upon this course of lectures, there is one impression against which I wish to guard at the outset. It is, that I come here to defend Christianity, as if its truth were a matter of doubt. Not so. I come, not to dispute, but to exhibit truth; to do my part in a great work, which must be done for every generation, by showing them, so that they shall see for themselves, the grounds on which their belief in the Christian religion rests. I come to stand at the door of the temple of Truth, and ask you to go in with me, and see for yourselves the foundation and the shafts of those pillars upon which its dome is reared. I ask you, in the words of one of old, to walk with me about our Zion, and go round about her, to tell the towers thereof, to mark well her bulwarks, to consider her palaces, that ye may tell it to the generation following.*
• Psalm xlviii. 12, 13.
In doing this, I shall hope to be useful to three classes of persons.
To the first belong those who have received Christianity by acquiescence; who have, perhaps, never questioned its truth, but who have never examined its evidence. This class is large, - it is to be feared increasingly so, — and it does not seem to me that the position of mind in which they are placed, and its consequences, are sufficiently regarded.
The claims of the Christian religion present themselves to those who enter upon life in a Christian country, in an attitude entirely different from that in which they were presented at their first announcement, when they made such rapid progress, and when their dominion over the mind of man was so efficient.* Then, no man was born a Christian. If he became one, it was in opposition to the prejudices of education, to ties of kindred, to motives of interest, and often at the sacrifice of reputation and of life. This no man would do except on the ground of the strongest reasons, perceived and assented to by his own mind. Christianity was an aggressive and an uncompromising religion. It attacked every other form of religion, whether Jewish or pagan, and sought to destroy it. It “ turned the world upside down" wherever it came; and the first question which any man would naturally ask was, “What are its claims ? What are the reasons why I should receive it?" And these claims and reasons would be examined with all the attention that could be produced by the stimulus of novelty, and by the deepest personal interest.
See Whately's Logic, Appendix, p. 325.
Now, however, all this is changed. Men are born nominally Christians. The truth of the religion is taken for granted; nothing leads them to question it, nothing to examine it. In this position the mind may open itself to the reception of the religion from a perception of its intrinsic excellence, and its adaptation to the deep wants of man; but the probability is that doubts will arise. The occasions of these are abundant on every hand; the strange state in which the world is; the number of sects; the conduct of Christians ; a companion that ridicules religion ; an infidel book. One objection and doubt makes way for another. The objections come first, and, ere the individual is aware, his respect for religion, and his confidence in it, are undermined. Especially will this be so if a young man travels much, and sees different forms of religion. He will see the Hindoo bowing before his idol, the Turk praying towards Mecca, the Papist kneeling before his saint, and the Protestant attending his church; and, as each seems equally sincere, and equally certain he is right, he will acquire, insensibly perhaps, a general impression that all religions are equally true, or, which is much the same thing, that they are equally false, and any exclusive attachment to the Christian religion will be regarded as bigotry. The religion itself will come to be disliked as a restraint, and despised as a form. It is chiefly from this class that the ranks of fanaticism, on the one hand, and of infidelity, on the other, are filled; and it will often depend on constitutional temperament, or accidental temptation, whether such a one shall become a fanatic or an infidel.
At this point, there is doubtless a fault both in
Christian parents and in Christian ministers. Where there is a proper course of training, this class can never become numerous; but it is numerous in all our congregations now. Needless doubts are not to be awakened, but it is no honor to the Christian religion to receive it by prescription. It is no fault to have those questionings, that desire for insight, - call them doubts if you will, — which always spring up in strong minds, and which will not be quieted till the ground and evidence of those things which they receive are distinctly seen.
Are there such among my hearers ? Them I hope to benefit. I hope to do for them what Luke did for the most excellent Theophilus — to show them the “ certainty” of those things in which they have been instructed; to refer them, as he does again the same person in the Acts, to those 6 infallible proofs" on which the religion rests.
To the second class whom I hope to benefit belong those who have gradually passed from the preceding class into doubt and infidelity. For such, I think, there is hope. They are not unwilling to see evidence. Their position has led them to look at objections first, and they have, perhaps, never had time or opportunity to look at the embodied evidence for Christianity. They have fallen into infidelity from association, from vanity, from fashion; they have not found in it the satisfaction they expected, and they are willing to review the ground, or rather to look candidly, for the first time, at the evidences for this religion.
Besides this class of infidels, there are, however, two others whom I have very little hope of benefiting. One is of those who are made so by their passions,