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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 effort 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 honor of a religion which so abounds in the best of reasons for our belief, to make a serious study of the evidences of Christianity.
To any whose minds are not settled with regard to this momentous question, or who consider them. selves as having arrived at a definite opinion against the divine authority of the gospel, need I say a word to show why they, above all others, should give the subject in view their most serious and diligent attention? Suppose they should become fixed in the rejection of Christianity, and to the influence of their example on the side of infidelity should add the effort of argument, tending to weaken the faith of others, and to increase the number of enemies to Christ; and finally, should be convinced on the verge of the graveas many of this mind have been most painfully convinced—or in eternity should have it discovered to them, that what they have been setting at naught was no less than God's own revelation, the gospel of Him who cometh to judge the quick and dead, and that what they had embraced and led others to embrace in its stead, was only a miserable offspring of human pride and folly, a spirit of delusion and eternal destruction; what then would seem the importance of a serious application of mind and heart to this study—the madness of treating it with indifference, or pursuing it without the strictest impartiality? That such a discovery is at least as likely as the contrary, even infidels, in their continual declarations that all beyond the grave is unknown, have given impressive confessions. That it is at least exceedingly probable, independently of positive evidence, the unbeliever cannot but fear when he surveys the history of the world, and sees what minds and what hearts, what men of learning and of holiness have been ready to suffer any earthly loss or pain, rather than be unassociated with the eternal blessedness of the discipleship of Christ.
I have now exhibited something of the incomparable importance of the question before us, as considered by itself. There is an additional importance in its present investigation, arising out of the peculiar character of the present times.
We rejoice with others in the belief that this age, in comparison with all before it, merits distinction as an age of freedom. We rejoice that it is an age of freedom, as well in the investigation of all truth as in the assertion of all political rights. But what is called the spirit of freedom is not everywhere identical with the cause of truth and right. In one region, it is the calm, deliberate determination to be governed only by just and equal laws; in another, it is the furious, desolating despiser of all laws but those of one's own passion and selfishness.
This is seen as well in the discussion of religious truth, as in the vindication of assumed principles of civil liberty. There are certain just and necessary laws to govern us in reasoning, as much as in acting to regulate the investigation of moral and religious, as well as physical and political subjects. True liberty of mind consists in the right of being governed by these laws, and no other; and at the same time asserts their absolute necessity. But there is a spirit abroad which,
, under the name of freedom of opinion, would set at defiance all the fundamental laws of reasoning, and denounce, as the offspring of intellectual despotism, whatever principles of moral evidence are at variance with itself. This is licentiousness, not freedom. It is the enemy of law, not of oppression; the very menial of mental degradation, instead of what it boasts itself, the prompter of manly, elevated, independent intellect. This spirit of evil is greatly on the increase, because the name and boast of freedom are circulating far more rapidly in this world, than
the knowledge of its character or the possession of its blessings; because it is so much easier for the mass of society to burst at once the whole body of law by which mind is restrained, than to separate between the precious and the vile; and chiefly because with the many there is too little reflection and too little moral principle, when religion is in question, to appreciate the important difference between the oppression of opinion in matters of reason, and the just government of reason in matters of opinion. Nothing, in truth, has so promoted the freedom of thought, of opinion, and of action, as Christianity. If any thing, under her name, has been guilty of the opposite, it has been, so far forth, the corruption of her character and the denial of her principles.
Pure Christianity has ever proclaimed liberty to the captive, as well in mental as in physical slavery. The ages of the purest freedom have been those of her greatest advancement. She courts investigation when it is free, but rejects it when licentious. She is the patroness of law, and will be judged only by law. Bring her trial to the judgment-seat of that inductive philosophy which one of her own children first illus. trated, and which on other subjects the world has learned to use so well and prize so highly-- let her be judged by the evidence of fact, and she is satisfied. But this reasonable privilege it is more than ever the spirit of self-constituted philosophers, in their loud declamation against the slavery of opinion, and their licentious rebellion against all the laws of reasoning, to refuse. Hence the greater importance that our