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Accordingly, there are not wanting 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 we trust 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 wit
nesses. 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 au appeal to facts. The internal character and the blessed effects of Christianity must be cleared from the errors and misrepresentations which have in different ages obscured them. The obstructions of a long array of errors, which the corruption of man has engendered, 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 weakens the impression of the facts 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 they require from the lapse of time, a more laborious examination, to obviate all the difficulties of a scrupulous mind.
3. Then the decayed state of piety, and the neglect of religious education, require 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, favours 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 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 restate the vast importance of Christianity, its irrefragable evidence, its internal excellency, its mighty benefits. In such a day it is necessary to pause in the ordinary course of pastoral instruction, and confirm the minds of the
attended to, and the best course of argument to be taken.
Nor, again, do I consider it to be 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 perverseness of the human mind and the numberless topics connected with the history of Christianity, an inexhaustible subject. This is better resigned to those learned authors whose labours have enriched this department of our literature.
But there is a practical and much more important, as well as 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, dwells chiefly on the holy effects which it produces in the life of the believer, displays the internal excellencies of the religion itself, and thus appeals to the conscience and heart of every sincere enquirer. .
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 argument of its practical and most persuasive topics-it is to leave the question of Christianity as a dry theory and barren speculation-it is to forget all the topics connected with the ruin of the fall, and with the blessedness of that stupendous scheme of recovery which is most calculated to affect the heart of man. It is to construct a portal, and take away the 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, I am persuaded, that to a plain understanding, 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 that 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
6“ A disposition too generally exists to consider the question of evidence as something apart from the Bible; or something which we ought to study before we venture to make ourselves acquainted with the Bible.”
Franks's Hulsean Lectures, 1821, p. 45.