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mony thus borne to the evidences of religion, connected with a pure and consistent course of life. This is our best defence, as our apostle himself declares in the words which follow the text: “Having a good conscience, that whereas they speak evil of you as evil-doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”
It is upon these general principles that I propose to deliver the course of Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity, of which this is the first.
I am, indeed, far, very far, from thinking that it is advisable to dwell too frequently on the evidences of our religion. The business of life is carried on, not by defending principles, but by acting on them. It is our wisdom, generally, as the ministers of religion, to take for granted the preliminary questions which have so often been proved, and to employ ourselves in the unfolding of the Christian faith, and in the application of it to the heart and conscience. But I conceive that the example of our Lord and his apostles, and the necessities of the case, make it obligatory upon us, from time to time, to give some public instructions upon the grounds of our faith. The text has the force of a universal rule. It is addressed to the Christians in common who were scattered over different provinces in Asia, and it directs them to be “always ready to give an answer to every man,” whether friend or foe, “ who asked a reason of the hope that was in them.” We are not, indeed, always to enter at length upon the apology for our religion ; but we are " always to be ready," to be prepared with such information, that we may not be taken off our guard ; to have something like a facility of stating the reasons of our faith. And though this may be done briefly, where the whole subject is thoroughly understood, yet the previous information takes a wide circuit; and, in a literary and inquisitive age, like the present, it seems to be the duty of the minister of religion, as well as of parents and instructers of youth, to communicate the materials of such a defence, and state the chief points necessary to be attended to, and the best course of argument to be taken.
Still it is far from expedient, in the sacred temple of the Most High, and during the course of the public devotions, to enter upon the whole wide question of the Evidences of Christianity, which has become, through the numberless topics connected with the history of Christianity, an inexhaustible
subject. This is better resigned to those learned authors whose labors have enriched this department of our literature. But there is a practical and much more important, as well as more easy, view of the subject implied in the direction of the text; which, after laying the foundation of the historical evidences sufficiently to bring the religion before us as of divine origin, displays the internal'excellencies of the religion itself, and thus appeals to the conscience and heart of every sincere inquirer.
It seems to me one of the most unhappy effects of a declining piety in these later ages, that the Evidences of Christianity should so often have been separated from its characteristic excellency, the revelation of a hope for lost man in the death of Jesus Christ our Lord. This is to rob the great question of its most persuasive arguments-it is to leave the question of Christianity as a dry theory and barren speculation—it is to forget all the evidences flowing from the ruin of the fall, and the blessedness of that stupendous scheme of recovery which is in Christ Jesus. It is to build a portal, whilst we demolish the very edifice into which it should conduct us !
If the question can only be replaced on the practical footing where the early centuries left it, with such addition of historical matter as the space of time demands, the Evidences of Christianity may be easily made out in a clear and satisfactory manner. Let men study it in a teachable spirit, let them trace it out in the sacred records themselves, let them see how the historical testimonies lead to the inward excellencies of the religion itself, as raising up sinful man to a hope of everlasting life by the Son and Spirit of God ; let them perceive the mutual relation of the different branches of the subject, and they will still be competent to form a sound judgment on every part, not excepting the historical.
Juries are continually determining on similar questions of fact, when submitted to their decision. The points rest ultimately on common sense. To discuss all the difficult parts of our jurisprudence, is one thing ; but to be able to seize a matter of fact, and determine upon the credibility of testimony, is another. So, in the question of the Christian religion, a plain man may be soon puzzled and bewildered with the sophistries of an adversary, and yet when the whole subject is simply and practically opened, and the leading points of the evidence placed in due order before him, he may be able to come to a safe and just conclusion.
He cannot, indeed, mistake. The goodness of God has provided him with such a mass of external testimony, and the internal evidence is throughout so level to his capacity of judgment, that he cannot fail of being able to give a sufficient
answer to every one that asketh hin a reason of the hope that is in him.” And it is for the sake of others, rather than for himself, that in a reading and sceptical age, it is desirable he should be furnished with the means of an argumentative defence of his faith.
Accordingly, there are many motives, partly of a general nature, and partly derived from the peculiar circumstances of our country, to engage us in the present design.
1. The young require it of our hands. We must deliver down to the next age what we received from the preceding. We must not let the inexperienced Christian go out into the world merely with the general persuasion of the truth of his religion. We must give him some furniture of knowledge in a day like the present, when irreligion stalks abroad, when the spirit of inquiry is pushed into the regions of impiety or scepticism, and the mind is exposed to the injection of harassing doubts and suspicions. We call on the young to ratify the engagements made for them at their baptism; and it is but right that we should put them in possession of the chief reasons of the hope which is beginning to animate their breasts. They need something more than the simple word of their parents
and ministers. 2. The lapse of time requires it of our hands. We are now so far removed from the age when Christianity took its rise, that the facts of it rest on a longer series of testimonies. The proof of the authenticity of the sacred books demands an arrangement of the train of witnesses. The miracles must be defended. The volume of prophecy, as it unfolds, requires more time and care. We must establish what we say of the first promulgation of the gospel by an appeal to facts. The internal character and the blessed effects of Christianity must be cleared from the calumnies and misapprehensions which have in different ages obscured them. The obstructions of a long array of errors, engendered by the corruption of man, must be swept away.
Now all this cannot be done without pains and attention. The distance of time does not, indeed, weaken the force of conviction when produced by the proper testimonies ; but it does weaken the impression of the fact till the testimony is detailed; and it allows also of any thing being said. The wide
space of eighteen centuries gives room for assertions and misrepresentations of every sort-absurd enough when examined—but still requiring to be examined, or outweighed by other and more practical considerations. The title-deeds of the heavenly inheritance are as authentic as in the first age, and where the hope of it is powerful on the heart and life, the process of proof is easy; but the lapse of time demands a more laborious examination, to obviate the difficulties of a scrupulous mind.
3. Then the neglect of religious education requires this of our hands. The tendency of human nature is so strong to a secular and worldly and formal tone of religion, and the external peace which Christianity has in this country long enjoyed, favors so much the insidious evil, as almost to have extinguished amongst us that bright flame of holy faith and hope in our crucified Lord, which sustained the martyrs and confessors of the primitive church. In such a day, infidelity, the secret infidelity of the heart, always spreads; because Christianity being defended chiefly on the footing of external evidences, and the strong-hold of religion, its inward grace and spirituality, being less generally understood, the rising generation are unprepared for a subtle adversary. Men hang loosely upon the Christian profession. Religious education is neglected. The precious deposit of the faith is handed down with little care. The Bible is not studied. The young are unfurnished with knowledge and unfortified with holy principles of judgment. In such a day it is essential to re-impress the minds of youth with the real importance of Christianity, its evidence, its internal excellency, its mighty benefits. In such a day it is necessary to pause in the ordinary course of pastoral instruction, and supply the omissions of education, and solemnly inculcate the paramount evidences of Christianity. In such a day it is more than ever necessary to rekindle the flame of Christian faith and hope, by awakening the consciences of men, and calling them up from a mere indifferent adhesion to the national creed, to a warm and practical perception of the blessed hope which Christianity inspires, and for the sake of which all the external evidences have been accumulated.
4. Then, in the present age, we have seen the moral desoa lations which a spurious philosophy has spread far and wide ----we have heard the loud claims set up for the sovereignty
of human reason—we have been astonished to see a wild and enthusiastical scheme of pretended benevolence raised on the ruins of personal virtue and domestic and civil duties. The most daring and unblushing attacks have been made upon the foundations of all religion-attacks addressed to the common people, and sapping all the first principles of social order and domestic peace. The storm has spent itself. The irruption has become its own cure. It has convinced us of the necessity of that religion which ensures peace and good-will to man. But enough mischief remains. The minister of religion must erect again the standard of the Cross, and display aloft the torch of revelation to guide a bewildered world.
5. It is partly a result of this spurious philosophy, and partly the effect of other causes, that the Christian religion has been too frequently passed by and slighted in our literature, in our projects of education, in our schemes of benevolence, in our plans for diffusing useful knowledge, even where it is far from being expressly disavowed. It has come to be a received maxim with many, that the peculiarities of the Christian faith are, as if by common consent, to be kept out of sight. Our piety rises no higher than natural religion. All beyond is bigotry and superstition. A temporizing policy like this blights with a deadly indifference all the bloom of Christianity, robs it of its peculiar glory, and reduces it to the cold detail of external morals. The channels of public information are poisoned. A pernicious neutrality prevails. Education is divorced from religion. Knowledge is account ed sufficient to restrain the passions and purify the heart. The hope of eternal life in Christ Jesus, the fall of man, the redemption of the cross, the grace of the Holy Spirit, are forgotten, evaded, opposed, maligned. Unless, therefore, heavenly wisdom “utter her voice” loudly “in the streets,” and plant the standard of Christianity, as the rallying point of youth, “ in the openings of the gates," and amidst the crowds of our population, we must expect the most daring invasions of human folly, and a still further weakening, in the next age, of the sacred bulwarks of our common faith.
6. As the unavoidable effect of all this, the minds of Christians, generally, are in more danger than usual from the assault of sceptical doubts. The very excitement of the present day on subjects connected with religion, which has kept pace with the assaults of infidelity, leaves the uninformed