Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

The Christians of the first century would perhaps assign the reason of their faith in such decisive and energetic terms as these :

“We entertain this blessed hope,” would the Ephesian or Thessalonian converts say, “because we know that the Son of God has died for the redemption of sinful man, and has sisen again from the dead, and sent his apostles with the power of miraculous works, to assure us of the truth of his religion. We saw the holy apostles; we beheld their miracles; we have considered well the discourses of Christ, and the proofs he gave of his mission. We ourselves received, upon believing the divine record, the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Besides this, we are in some measure witnesses of the spiritual benefits of the gospel. It has brought us from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God;' it has revealed to us the one living and glorious Creator of the universe; it has made known to us the fall and ruin of our nature, and a glorious method of recovery by Jesus Christ. We know, we feel, that we are actually delivered from the grossest and most debasing ignorance, idolatry, vice, misery. We cannot, of course, make others understand all this inward power of Christ's religion, till they have received it themselves. But we give them all reasonable satisfaction that the religion is from God, by appealing to the undoubted miracles and the other external evidences which attest the Christian doctrine. And then we show them the fruits of this divine religion in all who obey it. It makes man a 'new creature in Christ Jesus;' it enables him to live a pure and holy and beneficent life; it strengthens him to rejoice in sufferings and death for Christ's sake. And our desire and wish is, to bring others to a subjection of heart to this Saviour, that they may themselves be witnesses of the inward blessing which he bestows. Let them only attend seriously to the question, with prayer for God's grace, and the divine doctrine will begin to work its own way in their hearts; they shall receive the same holy influences as ourselves, and be partakers of the same exalted hope of eternal glory."

This, we may imagine, would be the sort of reply of one who had known the apostles in the flesh, had witnessed their miracles, had heard their doctrines, and had thus seen with his own eyes the external evidences, which we receive now through the medium of authentic history.

In the second and third centuries, the answer would somewhat vary, as the apostles themselves were no longer in person among their converts, but had left the deposit of their doctrine in the sacred gospels and epistles. The appeal, therefore, would be to these writings for the doctrine and precepts of the religion, and to the acknowledged facts of history for its external proof ; but the holy effects of it on the heart and character would still be the main argument in the breast of the Christian, and would lead him to speak the same decisive language as those in the preceding century.

“We cherish the hope of a resurrection to eternal life," would the persecuted Christian converts of the Roman empire, in the third age, probably say, “ because the promise of it is made to us those books which were received by our forefathers, immediately from the hands of the apostles, and which have ever been accounted sacred amongst us. The originals themselves are in the archives of our several churches. Copies of them are sent out every where. Some of our more aged brethren still remember the doctrine which the blessed Polycarp* taught them, having received it from the lips of the beloved disciple St. John, the survivor so long of the other apostles. The facts on which Christianity rests are admitted by our adversaries. But what is the most satisfactory evidence of our religion, to ourselves, is that our God and Saviour attests the truth of it by kindling in our hearts the same love to Christ, the same joy of pardon, the same victory over the vices and idolatries of the world, the same patience under persecution, the same delight in obedience, which sealed the same doctrine in the first age. “Blessed the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefled, and that fadeth not away.' Come with us and you shall partake of these blessings. Behold the effects of them visible and prominent in the holy lives and patient sufferings of Christians. We appeal to the misery and ignorance and vice which you yourselves witness

We invite you to receive the Christian redemption, to comply with the invitations of mercy, and to seek the aid of the Holy Spirit. What evidence can you require more? “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly

around you.

Bishop of Smyrna; he suffered martyrdom A. D, 167 or 8,

our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.""

If we go on to the ninth or tenth or twelfth century, the reason assigned would be substantially the same in the case of the sincere and devout Christian; but the external evidences would of course lean more entirely on historical testimonies. The authentic books of scripture would have to be traced back through each preceding century, to the first. This part of the statement would require to be enlarged, as the

space of time stretched on and lengthened the series of testimonies. Doubts also might now be easily raised by an objector from the mere lapse of time; as well as from the various heresies, the corruption of manners, and the decay of vital piety, in the church. And if the Christian advocate did not himself fully understand the inward grace

and

power of his religion, he might be perplexed by cavils, and linger in some field of debate, perplexed in a maze of subordinate questions.

But to the holy and devoted Christian the reason would chiefly point, as it had ever done, to the hope that was implanted in him by the divine doctrine. Anselm and Bernard* would have given an answer of their faith with similar warmth, and in nearly the like terms with Ambrose and Augustine ; as these had done in the language of Irenæus and Tertullian ;f and they again in that of the first Christians.

In the eighteenth or nineteenth century, the Christian renders the reason of his faith, with no essential difference, if only that faith burn warmly in his breast; that is, if he be really what he professes. The identity of true religion in the human heart; the renovation of a fallen nature; the joy of pardon; the peace and love which flow from the influences of the Holy Spirit; the blessed fruits of holiness in life, and the calm anticipation of the glories of heaven in death, stamp upon him the same impress of a divine religion as was recognized in the apostles' days.

But the deducing of the external evidences on which all this rests, must, from the nature of the case, require more care and attention. The human understanding and conscience, indeed, to which the evidences are addressed, are the same as in the first age. The historians-Jewish, Pagan, Christian-contemporary with the apostles, and attesting the facts of our religion, lie open to every inquirer. The sufficiency also of the evidences contained in the authentic Christian writings, to produce conviction, is just the same. But it is obvious that the arrangement of testimonies, the statement of arguments, the marshalling of witnesses, the clearing of difficulties, the answering of objections, with regard to a subject which for eighteen hundred years has been exposed to the assaults and sophistries of a corrupt and fallen world, must demand habits of research, and the faculty of weighing and removing objections. Still the Christian may now, as in every preceding age, give in a few words the apology for the hope itself which he cherishes not a reason of all the parts of a divine revelation, (which a finite mind is incapable of, from the nature of the case, *) nor an answer to every cavil which ingenuity may invent, nor an account of all the historical matters connected with Christianity—but a reason of the HOPE THAT IS IN HIM, of the practical hold he has of Christianity, of the end and scope of the religion, of the authority on which it rests, of the proofs offered by our Saviour and his apostles to Jewish and Gentile inquirers, of the blessed effects it produces, and of the test to which every one may bring it by submitting to its directions and making a trial of its promises.

* Fathers of the 11th and 12th centuries. # Fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries. # Fathers of the 1st and 2d centuries.

Different Christians will state this reason with different degrees of propriety and force; and the same Christian will take in a wider or narrower circuit of external testimonies, according to the character of the persons whom he addresses. But the object of the humble believer will ever be to bring men to the evidences arising from the inward power and efficacy of religion in renewing the human heart, kindling the love of God, raising man from the ruins of the fall, inspiring him with the noble aim of pleasing God, and communicating to him a lively hope of everlasting life. Whether the plain, unlettered Christian can enter upon the historical proofs or not, he can study the Bible itself, can follow the divine series of evidences adduced by our Lord and his disciples, can humbly sue for the promised grace of the Holy Spirit, and thus lay hold on that substantial, moral, and spiritual benefit, which speaks by its holy effects, and which surpasses in inward force and consolation all other kinds of proof,

[blocks in formation]

-our

This has turned out to be the best defence of Christianity in every age. Like the sun in its noonday warmth, it is its own witness. The outward evidences should ever be introductory to the inward. Christianity is a principle of spiritual life-a divine armory against our spiritual adversariescompass and chart during a tempestuous voyage--the bright morning star in a dark and doubtful night-the only means of reconciliation between a sinner and his offended God—the spring of holiness and peace and joy—the way and pledge and earnest of everlasting life. The best reason of this religion is the effects of it in the heart and conduct. With this, the external arguments assume their proper place as attesting a divine revelation ; without it, they are cold and defective, and void of their most salutary and efficacious fruit.

After these remarks on the answer to be given by the Christian of the reason of his hope, I need scarcely observe, that he is never to forget" that meekness and fear” with which the apostle in the text commands him to present it.

The Christian learns from every doctrine of his religion the importance of a soft and gentle spirit. He knows the corrupt tendencies of a fallen nature generally, and therefore watches against severity, harshness, petulance, airs of superiority and contempt in his tone and manner of giving a reason of his faith. He endeavors to imitate the lowliness and meekness of his Saviour. He cultivates that benevolence and unaffected humility, which become a man who has received such benefits from the hands of God, and who is most anxious to win over his opponent to a share of those blessings which Christianity proposes.

And with this meekness towards man, he will join “ fear" towards that transcendently glorious Being, whose greatest gift to a fallen world he is called to defend, lest he should injure the cause of Christianity by an indiscreet defence-lest he should dishonor those incommunicable prerogatives and attributes of the great God, which ought to inspire a holy awe, when any part of his ways is to be vindicated by a creature like man, before his fellow-worms of the earth.

A reason given of our hope on the practical grounds I have before stated, and in this spirit of "meekness and fear,” will neither betray the interests of religion, nor provoke the feelings of an opponent. On the contrary, if any thing can touch the conscience of an unbeliever, it is a firm but modest testi

« ZurückWeiter »