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We rejoice with others in the belief that this age, in comparison with all before it, merits distinction as an age of freedom. We rejoice that it is an age of freedom, as well in the investigation of all truth as in the assertion of all political rights. But what is called the spirit of freedom is not everywhere identical with the cause of truth and right. In one region, it is the calm, deliberate determination to be governed only by just and equal laws; in another, it is the furious, desolating despiser of all laws but those of one's own passion and selfishness. This is seen as well in the discussion of religious truth, as in the vindication of assumed principles of civil liberty. There are certain just and necessary laws to govern us in reasoning, as much as in acting-to regulate the investigation of moral and religious, as well as physical and political subjects. True liberty of mind consists in the right of being governed by these laws, and no other; and at the same time asserts their absolute necessity. But there is a spirit abroad which, under the name of freedom of opinion, would set at defiance all the fundamental laws of reasoning, and denounce, as the offspring of intellectual despotism, whatever principles of moral evidence are at variance with itself. This is licentiousness, not freedom. It is the enemy of law, not of oppression; the very menial of mental degradation, instead of what it boasts itself, the prompter of manly, elevated, independent intellect. This spirit of evil is greatly on the increase, because the name and boast of freedom are circulating far more rapidly in this world, than
the knowledge of its character or the possession of its blessings; because it is so much easier for the mass of society to burst at once the whole body of law by which mind is restrained, than to separate between the precious and the vile; and chiefly because with the many there is too little reflection and too little moral principle, when religion is in question, to appreciate the important difference between the oppression of opinion in matters of reason, and the just government of reason in matters of opinion. Nothing, in truth, has so promoted the freedom of thought, of opinion, and of action, as Christianity. If any thing, under her name, has been guilty of the opposite, it has been, so far forth, the corruption of her character and the denial of her principles. Pure Christianity has ever proclaimed liberty to the captive, as well in mental as in physical slavery. The ages of the purest freedom have been those of her greatest advancement. She courts investigation when it is free, but rejects it when licentious. She is the patroness of law, and will be judged only by law. Bring her trial to the judgment-seat of that inductive philosophy which one of her own children first illustrated, and which on other subjects the world has learned to use so well and prize so highly-let her be judged by the evidence of fact, and she is satisfied. But this reasonable privilege it is more than ever the spirit of self-constituted philosophers, in their loud declamation against the slavery of opinion, and their licentious rebellion against all the laws of reasoning, to refuse. Hence the greater importance that our
present subject, in all its departments, from the most fundamental principles of evidence to the highest point of inductive argument, should be thoroughly studied by all whose interest it is to know, and whose duty it is to vindicate the truth.
But there is one more consideration, in connection with the present age, illustrating the peculiar importance of the study you are now commencing. The evidences of Christianity, while specially assailed, in these times, with a licentiousness and effrontery which the dignity of no truth can countenance, and the chastity of religious truth should never meet, are favored at the same time with advantages for convincing illustration such as no preceding age ever furnished. Time, while it has impaired the strength of none of our ancient arguments, has greatly increased the weight of some, and has added, and is daily adding new auxiliaries to a body of proof which its enemies have never ventured to attack in front. Every new year, in the age and trials of our holy faith, is an additional evidence, that like the pyramids of Memphis, it was made to endure. It wears well. Christianity has been journeying, for the last eighteen hundred years, through unceasing trials. While as
yet an infant in a land of almost Egyptian darkness, a Jewish Pharaoh attempted to strangle her in the cradle. She grew up in contempt and poverty, and began her course, like Israel of old, through a Red sea of relentless persecution. Bitter waters awaited her subsequent progress. Amalek with all the principalities and powers of earth, during more than three cen
turies, opposed her march. Fiery serpents in the wilderness of sin have ever been stinging at her feet. The world has opened no fountain, nor vouchsafed any bread to sustain her. What alliances the nations have ever made with her cause have only given them the greater power to encumber and divide her strength. Her drink has been drawn from the rock; her bread has been gathered in the desert. Nothing that malice, or learning, or power, or perseverance could do to arrest her goings, has been wanting. Even treachery in her own household has often endeavored to betray her into the hands of the enemy. No age has encountered her advance with such a dangerous variety of force, or with a more boastful confidence of success, than the present. And yet, in none since that of the primitive Christians, has her triumph been so glorious or her conquest so extensive. At a time of life when, considering her fiery trials, one ignorant of her nature would expect to see her wrinkled with age and crippled with manifold infirmities, it may be said of her with perfect truth, that though for more than eighteen hundred years she has been journeying through conflicts and trials innumerable, her eye is not dim, nor her natural force abated. She remains unchanged by time, the same precisely as when first proclaimed in the streets of Jerusalem. The shield of faith, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, are neither broken nor decayed, but as ready as in the beginning to go forth "conquering and to conquer." This long and hard experiment proves
that Christianity is formed for all trials, and will survive all enemies. It is the privilege of our age to appreciate the evidence of this with a degree of satisfaction peculiar to itself.
But how different this sublime immutability of Christianity, so much like the eternity of God, from the childish fickleness of infidelity. What is the history of infidelity but a history of changes? Where is the resemblance between the writings of its modern and those of its ancient disciples? What Celsus and Porphyry attempted to maintain against primitive Christianity, none at present would think of advocating; while the positions and reasonings of recent infidels would have been subjects of ridicule among their earliest brethren. "The doctrines which Herbert and Tindal declared to be so evident that God could not make them more evident, were wholly given up as untenable by Hume; and the scepticism of Hume sustained no higher character in the mind of D'Alembert. Mere infidelity gave up natural religion, and Atheism mere infidelity. Atheism is the system at present in vogue. What will succeed it, cannot be foreseen. One consolation however attends the subject, and that is, No other system can be so groundless, so despicable, or so completely ruinous to the morals and happiness of mankind.”*
But there is another aspect in which the study of the evidences of Christianity is presented as especially interesting, in connection with the present age. This
* See the two sermons on the Nature and Danger of Infidel Philosophy, by the late Rev. Theodore Dwight, D. D.