« הקודםהמשך »
comfort left them in their misery; from the rich and great the only curb that can restrain their passions; tear from the heart all remorse of vice, all hopes of virtue; and still boast themselves the benefactors of mankind. "Truth,' they say, 'is never hurtful to man. I believe that as well as they ; and the same, in my opinion, is a proof that what they teach is not the truth.”* Such are the singular expressions of a noted infidel, into whose mind the truth sometimes forced an entrance, in spite of all his levity of mind and profligacy of life. They are the confessions of one of the chief actors in the farce of natural religion, and by leading us behind the scenes, display in a most impressive light, that if deism be the only substitute of christianity, we must have no religion or that of Jesus. So that, in examining the evidences of christianity, we should solemnly feel that the question before us is of no less magnitude than whether life and immortality have been brought to light by the gospel, or they are still involved in deep and confounding darkness; whether religion is revealed in the Bible, or every thing on earth under the name of religion is false and impotent. Now, when it is considered what desolation would sweep at once over all the interests of society, were the restraint of religion withdrawn from the flood-gates of human corruption; what immense benefits have ensued, and must ensue, even by the confession of some of its most violent opposers, from the diffusion of the gospel ; what happy effects upon the character and present happiness of its genuine disciples it has always pro duced ; reforming their lives, purifying their hearts, elevating their affections, healing the wounds of the guilty, taking away the sting of death, and lighting even the sepulchre with a hope full of glory; when it is considered what high claims the gospel asserts to an unlimited sovereignty over all our affections and faculties, requiring our entire submissioni, promising to every devout believer eternal life, and to all that refuse its claims everlasting wo: it must at once be evident that the subject before us is no matter of mere intellectual interest, but one in which every expectant of eternity has an immeasurable stake. No mind has any right to indifference here. Without the most wonderful folly no mind can be indifferent here. Whether the claims of the gospel are the claims of God is a question to which in point of importance no other can pretend a comparison, except this one-Believing in those claims, am I surrendered to their governance ?
* Gandolphy's Defence of the Ancient Faith : quoted in Gregory's Letters, i., pp. 6 and 7.
But I speak to a great many who have no difficulty on this head, being fully satisfied that the gospel of Christ is a divine revelation. What concern have they with the investigation before us? “Much every way.” The question for them to ask, is, on what grounds are we satisfied ? Are we believers in christianity because we were born of believing parents, and have always lived in a Christian country; or because we have considered the excellence and weighed the proofs of this religion, and are intelligently persuaded that it deserves our reliance? I am well aware that there are many truly devoted followers of Christ who have never made the evidences of christianity their study, and in argument with an infidel, would be easily confounded by superior skill and information ; but whose belief nevertheless is, in the highest degree, that of rational conviction, since they possess in themselves the best of all evidence that the gospel of Christ is “the power and wisdom of God,” having experienced its transforming, purifying, elevating, and erilightening efficacy upon their own hearts and characters. Did such believers abound, christianity would be much less in need of other evidence. Were all that call themselves Christians thus experimentally convinced of the preciousness of the gospel, I would still urge upon them the duty and advantage of studying as far as possible the various arguments which
illustrate the divinity of its origin. I would urge it on considerations of personal pleasure and spiritual improvement. There is a rich feast of knowledge and of devout contemplation to be found in this study. The serious believer, who has not pursued it, has yet to learn with what wonderful and impressive light the God of the gospel has manifested its truth. Its evidences are not only convincing, but delightfully plain; astonishingly accumulated, and of immense variety, as well as strength. He who will take the pains not only to pursue the single line of argument which may seem enough to satisfy his own mind; but devoutly to follow up, in succession, all those great avenues which lead to the gospel as the central fountain of truth, will be presented, at every step, with such evident marks of the finger of God; he will hear from every quarter such reiterated assurances of: “this is the way; walk thou in it," he will find himself so enclosed on every hand by insurmountable evidences shutting him up unto the faith of Christ, that new views will open upon him of the real cause and guilt and danger of all unbelief; new emotions of gratitude and admiration will arise in his heart for a revelation so divinely attested; his zeal will receive a new impulse to follow and promote such heavenly light.
But I would urge this study on all serious believers, who have the means of pursuing it, as a matter of duty. It is not enough that they are well satisfied. They have a cause to defend and promote, as well as a faith to love and enjoy. It is enjoined on them, by the authority of their Divine Master, that they be ready to give to every man that asketh them, a reason of the hope that is in them. They must be able to answer intelligently the question: Why do you believe in christianity ? For this purpose, it is not enough to be able to speak of a sense of the truth, arising from an inward experience of its power and blessedness. This is excellent evidence for one's own mind; but it cannot be felt or understood by an unbeliever. The Christian advocate must have a knowledge of the arguments by which infidelity may be confounded; as well as an experience of the benefits for which the gospel should be loved. To obtain this in proportion to his abilities, he is bound by the all-important consideration that the religion of Jesus cannot be content while one soul remains in the rejection of her light and life. She seeks not only to be maintained, but to bring all mankind to her blessings. The benevolence of a Christian should stimulate him to be well armed for the controversy with unbelievers. Benevolence, while it should constrain the infidel most carefully to conceal his opinions lest others be so unhappy as to feel their ague and catch their blight, should invigorate the believer with the liveliest zeal to bring over his fellow-creatures to the adoption of a faith so glorious in its hopes and so ennobling in its influence. Even on the supposition that christianity were false, unspeakably better should we think it, to be deluded by consolations which, though groundless, would be still so precious; than enlightened by an infidelity which shrouds its disciples in such darkness, and drowns them in such confusion.
But if such are the weighty considerations which should induce an experienced Christian to study the evidences of christianity, while he carries in his own breast the strongest of all assurances of its having the witness of the Spirit of God, how much more should this subject receive the attention of that numerous portion of the population of a Christian land who, while they are called Christians, have never experienced in their hearts the blessedness of the gospel. These are eminently dependent on this study for all rational and steadfast belief. Being destitute of the anchor obtained by an inward sense of the divine excellence of the truth as it is in Jesus, they must spread their sails to the influence of external evidence, or be liable to be tossed about with every wind of doctrine, and wrecked against the cliffs of infidelity. It is a matter of great importance that the attention of this class should be much more extensively obtained to the proofs of the religion in which they profess to believe. Multitudes of men, well informed on other subjects, are believers, for hardly any other reason than because their parents were so, and the fashion of society is on this side. The same considerations that make them Christians in this land, would have made them enemies of christianity in others : Pagans in India, Mohammedans in Turkey. They can give a better reason for every other opinion they profess, than for their acknowledgment of the gospel of Christ. The efforts of infidels, combining ingenious sophistry with high pretensions to learning, and coming into alliance with strong dispositions of human nature, have an open field, and must be expected to do a fearful work among minds thus undisciplined and unarmed. It is only in the lowest possible sense of the word that they can receive the name of believers. Instead of adding strength to the cause of christianity, by their numbers, they rather embarrass it by their ignorance of its weapons, and bring it into disrepute by the ease with which they are entrapped in the snares of the enemy. They have no conception what a truth that is which they so carelessly acknowledge; how impressively it is true; with what awful authority it is invested; what a wonder is involved in professing to believe and refusing to obey it. Do I speak to any who are thus situated ? I would earnestly exhort them, for their own satisfaction and steadfastness as believers in revelation, for the purpose of realizing how solemnly the living God has called them to submit as well as assent, to the gospel of Christ, and for the honour of a religion which 50 abounds in the best of reasons, to make a serious study of the evidences of christianity.