Strength that comes up a narrow path to a well found truth...
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to individual prosperity these being faith, hope, and charity are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to hinder these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest steps or degrees of the duties of men and citizens? The mere politician, equally with the religiously reverent, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.
Let this simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the most elementary of instruments of investigation for truth in courts of wisdom and justice? Let us with caution indulge the hypothesis that morality can be maintained without a strong reliance through faith in the teachings of religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that individual understanding to a national moral code can prevail in exclusion of religious principle to a missed apprehension of the real nature of the Christian faith.
For, as Christianity appeals to reason and submits its credentials, as it courts and commands the most trying scrutiny, that scrutiny the unbeliever is bound, upon his own principles, to engage forth. If he be fearless of wavering in his unbelief, he will not shrink from the inquiry; or, if truth be his object, he will not resist the only means of its attainment that he may either disprove what he could only doubt of before, or yield to the conviction of positive evidence and undoubted truth. This unhesitating challenge religion gives; that man is neither a champion of infidelity, nor a lover of wisdom or of truth, who will disown or decline it. To the believer such a subject is equally important and interesting..
The apathy of nominal Christians, in the present day, is often contrasted with the zeal of those who first became obedient to the faith. The moral influence of the Christian religion is not what it has been, or what it ought to be. The difference in the character of its professors may be greatly attributed to a fainter impression and less confident assurance of its truth. Those early converts who witnessed the miracles of our Lord and of his apostles, and heard their divine doctrine, and they who received the immediate tradition of those who both saw and heard them, and who could themselves compare the moral darkness from which they had emerged, with the marvelous light of the gospel, founded their faith upon evidence ; possessed the firmest conviction of the truth ; were distinguished by their virtues, as well as by their profession, according to the testimony even of their enemies; cherished the consolations, and were inspired by the hopes of religion ; and lived and died, actuated by the hope of immortality and the certainty of a future state.
To the sincere Christian it must ever be an object of the highest interest to search into the reason of his hope. The farther that he searches, the firmer will be his belief: Knowledge is the fruit of mental labor, the food and the feast of the mind. In the pursuit of knowledge, the greater the excellence of the subject of inquiry, the deeper ought to be the interest, the more ardent the investigation, and the dearer to the mind the acquisition of the truth. And that knowledge which immediately affects the soul, which tends to exalt the moral nature and enlarge the religious capacities of man, which pertains to eternity, which leads not merely to the contemplation of the works of the great Architect of the universe, but seeks also to discover an accredited revelation of his will and a way to his favor, and which rests not in its progress until it find assurance of faith or complete conviction, a witness without as well as a witness within, is surely, " like unto a treasure which a man found hid in a field, and sold all that he had, and bought it."
The contrast, unhappily, needs no explanation. The lives of professing Christians, in general, cease to add a confirmation to the truth of Christianity, while they have often been the plea of unbeliever against it. Yet religion and human nature are still the same as they were when men were first called Christians, and when the believers in Jesus dishonored not his name. But they sought more than a passive and un-examining belief. They knew in whom they believed; they felt the power of every truth which they professed. And the same cause in active operation would be productive of the same effects. The same strong and unwavering faith established on reason and conscious conviction, would be creative of the same peace and joy in believing, and of all their accompanying fruits. And as a mean of destroying the distinction, wherever it exists, between the profession and the reality of faith, it is ever the prescribed duty of all, who profess to believe in the gospel, to search and to try, “to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good," and to " be ready always to give an answer to every man that ask them a reason of the hope that is in them."
And it is delightful to have every doubt removed by the positive proof of the truth of Christianity, to feel that conviction of its certainty, which infidelity can never impart to her votaries, and to receive that assurance of the faith, which is as superior in hope which it communicates as in the certainty on which it rests, to the cheerless and disquieting doubts of the unbelieving mind. Instead of being a mere prejudice of education, which may be easily shaken, belief, thus founded on reason, becomes fixed and immovable; and all the scoffing of the scorner, and speculations of the unknowing person, lie as lightly on the mind, or pass as imperceptibly over it, and make as little impression there, as the spray upon a rock. Ample means for the confirmation of our faith are within our reach. Newton, Bacon, and Locke, whose names stand pre-eminent in human science, to which they opened a path not penetrated before, found proof sufficient for the complete satisfaction of their minds. The internal evidence could not be stronger than it is. There are manifold instances of undesigned coincidences in the Acts and Epistles of the apostles, which give intrinsic proof that they are genuine and authentic.
No better precepts, no stronger motives, than the gospel contains, have ever been inculcated. No system of religion has ever existed in the world at all to be compared to it; and none can be conceived more completely adapted to the necessities and nature of a sinful being like man, endowed with the faculty of reason and with capacities of religion And the miracles were of such a nature as excluded the idea of artifice or delusion;—they were wrought openly in the presence of multitudes; they testified the benevolence of a Savior, as well as the power of the Son of God. The Disciples of Christ could not be deceived respecting them; for they were themselves endowed with the gift of tongues and of prophesying, and with the power of working miracles they devoted their lives to the propagation of the gospel, in opposition to every human interest, and amidst continual sufferings.
Religion deserves a candid examination, and it demands nothing more. The fulfillment of prophecy forms part of the evidence of Christianity. And are the prophecies false, or are they true? Is their fallacy exposed, or their truth ratified by the event? And whether are they thus proved to be the delusions of impostors, or the dictates of inspiration? To the solution of these questions a patient and impartial inquiry alone is requisite; reason alone is appealed to, and no other faith is here necessary but that which arises as the natural and spontaneous fruit of rational conviction. The man who withholds this inquiry, and who will not be impartially guided by its result, is not only reckless of his fate, but devoid of that on which he prides himself the most,—even of all true liberality of sentiment: he is the bigot of infidelity, who will not believe the truth because it is the truth. It is incontestable, that, in a variety of ways, a marvelous change has taken place in the religious and political state of the world since the prophecies were delivered. A system of religion, widely different from those teachings that or then existed, has emanated from the land of Judea, and is being communicated and spread over the civilized world.