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his hand, a delegate of omnipotence to call a dead world into the activities of a new life, to extend its beneficence, and gather strength with every step of its own progress, unwearied with effort, and not satisfied with victory till the last soul shall be converted and saved.
IV. This argument, first beginning as a presumption, then ascending to a prophetic certainty, and then pausing to inspect the inherent force of the Gospel, we add once more, is well sustained by the HISTORY OF THE PAST. If there be any validity in the view we are urging, there ought, after the lapse of eighteen centuries, to be some facts supporting the induction, some signs of vitality and power upon the Gospel-heavens. It is time that reason should be able to see at least something on her own field, while faith sees all things upon the field of her God. Is there any thing to be seen? One or two of the objects that lie on the page of history, will furnish a sufficient response to this question.
1. Christianity has shown its power of progressive life, when contending with the frowns, terrors, and wasting energies of severe persecution. For the first three centuries it was, with almost no intermissions of violence, a persecuted religion: an intolerant Judaism and a powerful Paganism were alike determined to banish it from the world; the sword was kept red with the blood of martyrdom; the confessors of Jesus perished by thousands and hundreds of thousands; scarcely a spot in all the Roman empire furnished a place of safety for a Christian; and yet converts to the Gospel were constantly multiplying, more than replenishing the ranks of the slain, spreading themselves throughout all Palestine, and rapidly extending into every city, village, and country of the Gentile world. By the simple process of individual conversion, and not by any movement or patronage of the state, yea, in spite of the state, without any earthly bribes to tempt human ambition, the work of progression went forward with resistless power, till a persecuted religion itself became the victor without shedding a drop of blood, forever demonstrating its own capacity to outlive the violence of men. It is no answer to this fact to say, that persecution necessarily strengthens what it seeks to destroy. I deny the proposition. "Paganism was persecuted by the Christian Roman emperors; Mohammedanism was grievously persecuted in Spain; Heathenism, in South-America by the Spaniards; Judaism has generally, in all ages, suffered severe persecution;" and yet none of these systems flourished and increased under the ordeal, as did Christianity. The fact is peculiar to the Gospel, showing its power of progress and triumph even when opposed by the rage and cruelty of man. The life of the system, its truth, its evidence, its adaptation to the wants of human nature, and withal its defense by the God of heaven, were, in the early struggle, so fully tested as
never to need another experiment of the same kind. Living then, it can live anywhere, and at any time. No rougher seas await it than those which it has already crossed in safety. Let historic candor state the facts, and Christian reason accept the hopeful inference.
2. Equally obvious is the power of the Gospel when engaged in the war of thought with opposing religious systems. This experiment, too, has been tried sufficiently long, and on a scale sufficiently extensive, to authorize a conclusion. The tenets of a degenerate Judaism were hostile to the pure and simple doctrines of the crucified Nazarene; jealous and corrupt ecclesiastics did all in their power to awaken the prejudices of the common people, meaning to consign the name of Christ to oblivion, or to an immortality of infamy; the sophisms of the logician and the arts of the caviler were alike summoned to this service; and yet the Gospel, as ministered by apostolic hands, was planted in the very bosom of Judaism, in her principal city, under the watchful scrutiny of her Sanhedrim, in her smaller towns, and throughout the entire country; and churches were organized by the conversion of Jews to the faith, no other means being employed but the simple preaching of the word in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Warm was the conflict; long did it last, without any prestige on the side of Christianity, or any temporal inducements to invite mercenary friendships; and yet for years prior to the dispersion of the Jews by the Roman arms, the Gospel presented the palpable marks of a growing and victorious doctrine. Judaism glorying in her ancestry, proud of her prophets, attached to her temple, sacredly sensitive as to her ritual, and harmonizing with the proclivities of a corrupt age, became a waning power under the preaching of the cross of Christ. Her sons, by thousands and tens of thousands, yielded to the force of the new light.
The systems of ancient Roman and Grecian Paganism, confessedly the most polished and inviting superstitions that have ever secured the faith of mortals, are now dead, and have been for centuries; and it was the Gospel that killed them. The blood of martyrs ran in streams; the defenders of idolatry, in all but the element of truth, had the overwhelming advantage; still the Gospel kept pressing forward its victories over the receding foe, till the most attractive and pompous forms of Paganism the world has ever known, disappeared from the earth. Somehow men would be converted in spite of the vigilance and penalties of the state. This victory was not gained by Constantine, who merely accepted a result which the course of Providence was making inevitable, but by the men who fought the battle before Constantine was born-preaching Christ, suffering for Christ, living Christ, converting idolaters to Christ, and organizing churches in the name of Christ. England was once Pagan; all Europe was once
Pagan; this whole continent was once buried in Pagan night; and what, let us ask, has wrought the change which we are now so glad to behold? Nothing but the gradual, progressive, and unceasing growth of Christianity, stretching its energy over the bosom of centuries, taking possession of human faith, and always crowding before it existing systems in order to make room for itself. I submit, whether its power of conquest is not sufficiently shown by facts to give at least some pledge for the future. What it has done so often, for so long a period, under so great a variety of circumstances, frequently under the most signal disadvantages, is enough by the sternest laws of induction to establish its character. The prestige of past success is the prophetic garland with which history now adorns its brow. It can break up all the encampments and batter down all the Gibraltars, in which or behind which false religions seek either their home or their shelter. To pluck up a religious system and plant another in its place, is no ordinary exercise of power; yet this is what Christianity has often done in time past, and, as we infer, can do in all time to come.
3. Nor is the argument less satisfactory, if we consider the capacity of the Gospel to protect itself against fatal corruption and final decay from this cause. It must be confessed, that, as to its purity, Christianity has at times suffered much in the hands of its professed friends. In the very outset, Jewish converts were anxious to ingraft upon it the obsolete system of ritual ordinances, especially the rite of circumcision. When Pagan learning bowed her head to the Gospel, and her philosophers were brought to the Christian altar, then came the age of speculation, giving birth to theological schools with their peculiar tenets, and often adding much that did not belong to the system. At a later period, and by a process of gradual accretion springing from two or three fundamental errors in respect to the polity of the Church, the ponderous and awful system of Papacy sat enthroned upon nearly the whole Christian world, suspending the free activity of thought, interdicting the use of the Scriptures by the laity, outraging the sacred rights of private judgment, corrupting the faith of men, and ruling them with a rod of iron. We can not deny these facts; they are matters of history, and hence it must be admitted, that, as to its purity, Christianity has sailed on troublous seas.
Is the system dead, or is it still alive? We have every evidence of which the case admits, that the Scriptures of both Testaments have been safely preserved during the last eighteen centuries; and hence, that the Bible, as we now read it, teaches the same Gospel that was taught in the days of Paul. This proposition can be proved to any one competent to understand the argument. Moreover, there has been no time in which a true Christianity was not a living fact in the experience and faith of men, no time. in which there were not witnesses and defenders of the truth,
holding one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Ever since the days of the Apostles, there has always been a true Church of Christ among men, as well as a true Bible. The Waldenses, older than the Papacy, and always resisting its corruptions, never bowed the knee to the Pope of Rome. And as to the Papacy herself, many of her ecclesiastics, and doubtless millions of her laity were real Christians, and therefore a living part of the body of Christ. When Luther lifted up his voice, protesting against the iniquities of the age, and publishing the true Gospel, multitudes in the Romish Church were ready to embrace his cause, and they did embrace it; and hence, the Protestant Reformation. These are facts, and I do not think it well for Protestants to be so furiously Protestant as to deny them.
Conceding then, as we cheerfully do, the corruptions of past ages, we are nevertheless happy to present to you a Bible that has outlived this ordeal; and point your eye to a true religion among men that has also outlived it, and is still on its deathless march. Surely a system that has waded through eighteen centuries of human error, and lost neither its identity nor its power, must have some elements of life in it, enough to make a very fair promise for the future. We can see no sources of corruption and internal decay in the future, that are likely to form a severer test than those which have been victoriously met in the past. The dark shadows that have rested on the dial of Christian history, never blotted out the sun. It has continued to shine, and as we infer, will continue to shine to the end of time.
4. We are brought to the same conclusion, if we contemplate the resources of the Gospel in relation to the assaults of a learned and hostile infidelity. There certainly has been no want of effort on the part of infidelity to make out a case against the Bible; nor has there been a total want of learning and talent in conducting this warfare. Hobbes, Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire, and the like, were confessedly men of distinguished ability, fully competent to give at least, a fair example of what can be done by argument for the destruction of the Gospel.
What has been the result? How much impression has infidelity made upon the faith of Christendom? How near has it come to a dethronement of the Bible and the abrogation of Christian beliefs? True, it has gathered some disciples, who have generally been about as much at war with each other as they have been with the Bible; but it never organized them into a solid and compact army; and as for making any great and lasting impression upon the faith of men, infidelity is manifestly a total failure. Its system, whether in the form of atheism, deism, or pantheism, has never been able to take a strong hold of the human mind. This is a matter of fact. Directly, then, Christianity has never suffered but little, and permanently not at all, from the assaults of infidelity.
Indirectly, these attacks have rendered no inconsiderable service to the Christian cause. The argument for the truth of the Bible is doubtless much more perfect, and much better understood, than it would have been if this Bible had not been assailed by foes. Hume, for example, was ready for a jubilee when he had finished his essay on miracles; yet he had not gone to his grave before Christian scholarship revealed the sophisms of the philosophical dreamer, receiving into its bosom a positive power in being called to make a reply. Gibbon and Paine verily supposed that they had made a decided impression adverse to the Bible; but in the answer of a Watson, to speak of no others, the Christian world has ample reason for being satisfied with the result of the argument. In the days of Bishop Butler it was quite fashionable in England, especially among the higher classes, to scoff at religion as a foolish whim, fit only for feeble minds, and this state of facts gave birth to his immortal Analogy-a book which no man can read without being impressed, and which no man can answer without disowning the constitution and course of nature. The attack upon the historic argument is more than met in the labors of a Paley and a Lardner, exploring the ample resources of this field, and showing that if any history on earth be credible, the Bible history is credible. The contents of the Book being brought into question, sharpened the vision of such men as Jenyn and Erskine, first to see, and then to state, the internal marks of its divine origin. Geology, even before it had really become a science, was warmly greeted by the hosts of infidelity; but, alas! for their hopes, not a few Christian scholars had the good sense to interrogate this science for themselves, to study the rocks, to examine the facts as they lie in the bosom of nature; and as the result, we have the two theologies, the biblical and the geological, not only mutually consistent, but in some respects, mutually confirming each other. The Christian world need not now be afraid of geology. It has ceased to have even the appearance of a foe. As far back as the second century, a writer by the name of Celsus, sought to prove that the history of Christ, as given in the four gospels, is not worthy of belief; and in doing this, quoted from these very gospels so largely, that if every Bible on earth were destroyed, we could make out the principal facts of the Saviour's life from the quotations of Celsus. Thus the God of heaven has caused the wrath of man to praise him, using the testimony of an avowed skeptic to show that the gospels, as we now have them, are not a forgery of the dark ages. On this question an enemy testifies to the truth.
An apostle tells us that "we can do nothing against the truth;" and if I mistake not, the history of infidelity, in its attack upon the Bible, affords a pertinent illustration of this remark. Science, whether that which investigates the structure of the globe, or that which discourses with the heavenly bodies, or that which in quires