תמונות בעמוד

and are under the control of appetite, or ambition, or avarice, or revenge. As these were not made infidels by argument, argument will not be likely to reclaim them. “They never think of religion but with a feeling of enmity, and never speak of it but in the language of sneer or abuse.” Another class is of those who have been well characterized as “a cold, speculative, subtle set of skeptics, who attack first principles and confound their readers or hearers with paradoxes.” Apparently influenced by vanity, they adopt principles which would render all argument impossible or nugatory, and which would lead to fundamental and universal skepticism. This class seems not to be as numerous or as dangerous at present as at some former times.*

The third class whom I hope to beņefit consists of Christians themselves. It is one of the conditions of Christian character and efficiency, that, on some ground, there should be such a conviction of the truth of Christianity as to form a basis of action and of self-sacrifice, which, if it should be required, would be carried even to martyrdom. The grounds of such a conviction cannot be too well examined. There is no man, who finds himself called to act upon any conviction, who does not feel his self-respect increased, and his peace of mind enhanced, and his strength for action augmented, when he has a clear perception of the ground of the conviction upon which he acts. And even though he may once have seen the Christian evidences in all their force, and been astonished at the mass of proof, and have been perfectly convinced, yet,

Alexander's Evidences, p. 9.

after a time, these impressions fade away, and it is good for him to have them renewed. It is as when one has looked at the Falls of Niagara, and stood upon the tower, and gone round upon Table rock, and been rowed in the little boat up towards the great fall, and had his mind filled with the scene, but has again been occupied in the business of life till the impression has become indistinct on his mind. He would then gladly return, and have it renewed and deepened.

This feeling of certainty seems to have been one of the elements of the vigorous piety of ancient times. They believed; therefore they spoke. They knew whom they believed ; therefore they were ready to be offered. They spoke of “certainty,” of “ infallible proofs,” of being "eye-witnesses,” of the “ more sure word of prophecy.” Their tread was not that of men who were feeling their way in the twilight of doubtful evidence, but that of men who saw every thing in the light of clear and perfect vision. I would not, indeed, limit the amount of knowledge and conviction with which piety may exist. If it can spring up in the twilight, and grow where doubts overshadow it, and where it never feels the direct rays of truth, we ought to rejoice; but, at the same time, we ought to know that the growth will be feeble, and that the plant must be despoiled of the beauty and fragrance which it will have when it grows as in the light of the open day. To produce this feeling of certainty in one already a Christian, was the avowed object for which the Gospel of Luke was written ; and it is this feeling, containing the elements both of peace and of strength, that I hope to produce and to deepen in the minds of Christians.

But if I am to be useful to either of these classes, it must be with their own coöperation. The principle involved in this assertion, in reference to all moral truth, and, indeed, to all truth the acquisition of which requires attention, is as obvious to philosophy and common sense as it is plainly announced in the Bible. Nothing is more common, in reference to their present, as well as their future interests, than for men “to have eyes and see not.”

Here, however, I am met by the objection that the belief of a man is not within his own power, but that he is compelled to believe according to certain laws of evidence. This objection I do not apprehend to be of very wide influence; but I have met with a few men of intelligence who have held to it, and it has been sustained by some names of high authority. I am therefore bound to notice it.

In this case, as in most others of a similar kind, the objection involves a partial truth, from which its plausibility is derived. It is true, within certain limitations, and under certain conditions, and with respect to certain kinds of truth, that we are not voluntary in our belief; but then these conditions and limitations are such as entirely to sever from this truth any consequence that we are not perfectly ready to admit.

We admit that belief is in no case directly dependent on the will; that in some cases it is entirely independent of it; but he must be exceedingly bigoted, or unobservant of what passes around him, who should affirm that the will has no influence. The influence of the will here is analogous to its influence in many other cases. It is as great as it is over the objects which we see.

It does not depend upon the will of any man,

if he turns his eyes in a particular direction, whether he shall see a tree there. If the tree be there, he must see it, and is compelled to believe in its existence ; but it was entirely within his power not to turn his eyes in that direction, and thus to remain unconvinced, on the highest of all evidence, of the existence of the tree, and unimpressed by its beauty and proportion. It is not by his will directly that man has any control over his thoughts. It is not by willing a thought into the mind that he can call it there; and yet we all know that through attention and habits of association the subjects of our thoughts are, to a great extent, directed by the will.

It is precisely so in respect to belief; and he who denies this, denies the value of candor, and the influence of party spirit, and prejudice, and interest, on the mind. So great is this influence, however, that a keen observer of human nature, and one who will not be suspected of leaning unduly to the doctrine I now advocate, has supposed it to extend even to our belief of mathematical truth. “ Men,” says Hobbes, “ appeal from custom to reason, and from reason to custom, as it serves their turn, receding from custom when their interest requires it, and setting themselves against reason as oft as reason is against them; which is the cause that the doctrine of right and wrong


perpetually disputed both by the pen and the sword; whereas the doctrine of lines and figures is not so, because men care not, in that subject, what is truth, as it is a thing that crosses no man's ambition, or profit, or lust. For, I doubt not, if it had been a thing contrary to any man's right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, that the three

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angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square, that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry, suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.” “ This,” says Hallam, from whose work I make the quotation, “ does not exaggerate the pertinacity of mankind in resisting the evidence of truth when it thwarts the interests or passions of any particular sect or community."* Let a man who hears the fortyseventh proposition of Euclid announced for the first time, trace the steps of the demonstration, and he must believe it to be true ; but let him know that, as soon as he does perceive the evidence of that proposition so as to believe it on that ground, he shall lose his right eye, and he will never trace the evidence, or come to that belief which results from the force of the only

You may tell him it is true, but he will reply that he does not know, he does not see it to be so.

So far, then, from finding in this law of belief —the law by which it is necessitated on condition of a certain amount of evidence perceived by the mind excuse for any who do not receive the evidence of the Christian religion, it is in this very law that I find the ground of their condemnation. Certainly, if God has provided evidence as convincing as that for the fortyseventh of Euclid, so that all men have to do is to examine it with candor, then they must be without excuse if they do not believe. This, I suppose, God has done. He asks no one to believe except on the ground of evidence, and such evidence as ought to command assent.

proper evidence.


Literature of Europe, vol. iii.

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