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as the society and its minutes should exist together, does the testimony to the great events of primitive Christianity continue to this day unabated.*
The society denominated the church of Christ was in existence when the events recorded in its Scriptures occurred. Its principal institutions are founded upon them. Our New Testament books are the records of the constitution, origin, and early history of that society, which, like those of any other institution of past ages, have been handed down from generation to generation. The members of the Christian church have died from age to age, but the church, the society, the living keeper of these records, the Librarian of the Scriptures, has never died. The passing away of the several individuals who, since the commencement of Christianity, have belonged to this society, has no more to do with the permanence of the institution itself, than have the rapid changes in the particles of the human body with the permanence of the man. There is a personal identity in the midst of continual change. The man of seventy is the very identical man that he was at twenty, though many times have the particles composing his body been entirely changed. Thus the Christian church in her nineteenth century is the same iden- L tical society that existed under that name in the days of the apostles, though so many generations of members have lived and died. She is as capable of remembering the events of her youth, as we are of remembering the events of ours.
The records made
by her members in testimony of those events, and in the age of their occurrence, having been preserved in her possession with the greatest vigilance and the most zealous attachment, are as certain evidence at present, as when they were written, of the facts. related therein. She has been reading those records in her places of worship, in all parts of the world, ever since they were written; and she knows as well that they have preserved their personal identity, in all important respects, their uncorrupt, unmutilated character, as any of us can know that our family Bibles are the same now as when they were purchased. Thus, I think we are warranted in considering our propositions sustained, that the testimony in proof of the miracles of the gospel has not diminished in force by the increase of age.*
5. We proceed to our last proposition, that in being called to examine the credibility of the gospel miracles by the evidence of testimony, we are more favorably situated in regard to moral probation and discipline, than if we had been enabled to judge of them by evidence addressed to our own senses. This will appear from the consideration, that evidence obtained by the investigation of testimony, and appreciated by reflection, is more consistent with the state of probation, and of moral discipline and responsibility in which we are placed, than evidence forced upon us by the involuntary agency of the senses.
We are under trial and discipline, as well as to our understanding as our conduct. We are respon* Wilson's Lectures.
sible as well for what we believe, as for what we do. Precisely the same causes that would persuade a man to immoral practice, may persuade him to im moral principle. The same disposition that would induce him to disobey the precepts, may lead him to deny the doctrines and evidences of the gospel. It is therefore his trial, in part, whether in forming his opinion of religious truth he will so resist evil example and prejudice, and so deny himself the influence of all sinful inclinations and partialities, as to enter with honest candor upon the investigation of what he ought to believe and do, with a full determination to embrace the truth wherever it may appear. Now, with the nature and responsibility of this probationary condition, the evidence of testimony in proof of the Christian miracles is specially consistent. Did those miracles appear before us, as once for special reasons they did before multitudes, forcibly arresting our senses; not only compelling attention, but almost compelling submission, by the palpable and amazing evidences attending them, it is evident that there would remain comparatively but little room for any freedom of mind or will, and consequently for any moral probation. Liberty of will and of decision would be suspended in proportion to the degree in which the senses should be directly and impressively addressed. But the miracles of the gospel addressing, not our senses, but our minds, through the medium of testimony, possess a degree of evidence which, while amply sufficient to satisfy all who examine it with suitable impartiality, is not so overcoming but
that one may reject it if he choose; not so irresistible, but that persons of indolence and indifference, or of pride and prejudice-persons who examine to refute it, more than to ascertain its truth, or whose habits and dispositions set them in direct opposition to the holiness of the gospel, may receive their reward in being allowed to continue unconvinced. They are thus dealt with in a way peculiarly consistent with their character as moral and accountable agents.
The exercise of an active solicitude for the discovery of truth thus presented, and of a fair, impartial consideration of its evidence before conviction, is as truly an exercise of morality, as much an act of moral discipline and of a correct temper of mind, as a correct religious practice would be in one already convinced. It is also as really an exhibition of immorality and dissoluteness to manifest a spirit of indifference, or of prejudice or aversion, in relation to a matter of such infinite importance, as if one should display the same spirit in regard to the most necessary duties of moral living. "Thus, that religion is not intuitively true, but a matter of deduction and inference-that a conviction of its truth is not forced upon every one, but is left to be by some collected with a heedful attention to premises-this as much constitutes religious probation, as much affords opportunity for right and wrong behavior, as any thing whatever."* It tests the heart of the inquirer.
But to illustrate our doctrine, take the case of one who is disposed to put religion away from him* Butler's Analogy, part 2, ch. 6.
who comes to its evidences with a decided wish that it may appear untrue, and examines them under strong aversions and prejudices. Suppose him suddenly arrested by the sight of a miracle wrought in his presence, so that in spite of all his dislikes and evil dispositions, he cannot escape believing. Take then the case of another bearing a precisely similar character, who, having no evidence but that of testimony, is obliged either to discipline his mind into a frame for candid, honest investigation, or else hazard the consequences of an inquiry conducted under the influence of habits and tempers directly hostile to the clear view and impartial acknowledgment of truth. Suppose him to choose the latter alternative, and that he is permitted, in reward for this voluntary perversion of his judgment, to continue in unbelief. I ask, which of these individuals is treated in a way most consistent with his condition as a moral and accountable agent?*
* 66 "If," says Butler, "there are any persons who never set themselves heartily and in earnest to be informed in religion; if there are any who secretly wish it may not prove true, and are less attentive to evidence than to difficulties, and more to objections than to what is said in answer to them—these persons will scarcely be thought in a likely way of seeing the evidence of religion, though it were most certainly true and capable of being ever so fully proved. If any accustom themselves to consider this subject usually in the way of mirth, or sport; if they attend to forms and representations, and inadequate manners of expression, instead of the real things intended by them-for signs often can be no more than inadequately expressive of the things signified-or if they substitute human errors in the room of divine truth, why may not all, or any of these things, hinder some men from