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various heresies, and the corruption of manners, flowing from a 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 or other, perplexed in the 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 ? gave an answer of their faith with similar warmth, and in nearly the like terms with Ambrose and Augustine ;4 as these had done in the language of Irenæus and Tertullian ; 5 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 brightly 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 redemption by the cross of Christ ; the joy of pardon ; the peace and love which flow from the inhabitation of
3 Fathers of the 11th and 12th centuries. * Fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries.
Fatbers of the 1st and 2nd centuries.
the Holy Spirit; the blessed fruits of holiness in life, and the calm and triumphant anticipation of the glories of heaven in death, stamp upon him the same impress of a divine religion as was recognized in the apostle's 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 enquirer. The sufficiency 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 enquirers, 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.
Different Christians will state this reason with different degrees of propriety and force; and the same Christian will take a wider or narrower range 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 most satisfactory of all evidences, that 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 when once obtained, almost supersedes the necessity of other kinds of evidence.
This has proved the best defence of Christianity in every age. Like the sun in its noonday warmth, it is 'its own witness. The outward evidences are only introductory to the inward. Christianity is a principle of spiritual life-a divine armoury against our spiritual adversaries
our compass 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 all 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 spirit and manner, especially when giving a reason of his faith. He endeavours to imitate the lowliness and meekness of his Saviour. He cultivates that caution and 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 immense 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 or inconclusive defence--lest he should dishonour those incommunicable prerogatives and attributes of the great God, which should inspire a holy awe and reverence, when any part of his ways is to be vindicated by a creature like man, before his fellow-worms of the earth.