The Evidence of Christianity admits of being brought home individually, with convincing power, to every man's bosom.
It is never to be forgotten that those who are called to examine the divine pretensions of Christianity are the very persons
interested in its communications. To man it distinctly makes its appeal, and in him it proposes to effect that mighty renovation
of which it speaks. Should it be true, then, to its own assumed character, it will undoubtedly verify its several claims
in the personal consciousness of all its recipients. I choose to begin here, because I am satisfied that no man can sit down
to investigate the truth of his Bible, who does not stand in need of light on the subjects of which it treats. Every man's
conscience may suggest to him that he has offended against God, that he has violated, in innumerable instances, his own sense
of right and wrong, and that there may be some fearful retribution awaiting transgressors in another and unknown state of
existence. But whatever reason may surmise on these subjects, she has no balm with which to soothe an anguished conscience,
no system of propitiation by which to relieve a guilty and foreboding mind, no mediator between the offended Majesty of Heaven
and his erring creatures. It is Christianity alone
which opens up a door of hope to an apostate race; every thing besides is utter conjecture. Infidels may boast of the composure and satisfaction they feel in contemplating the issues of the present life; but their exemption from anxious dread is but one instance out of many in which the voice of conscience is silenced by that spirit of utter and reckless scepticism, which on the one hand rejects a mass of well-authenticated evidence, and on the other professes firm belief and unshaken confidence in its own dogmas, without so much as a title of proof to support them.
The man, then, who examines Christianity in a right spirit, may expect to perceive, in its intimate bearing on his own case,
that it is God. If he is in that state of mind which is suitable to a rational creature anxious to know the will of God,
he will find in Christianity what he can discover no where else. Is he conscious of sin? It reveals to him its true character,
traces it to its source, and points to its consequences. Is he the subject of legitmate dread and apprehension in prospect
of standing before an offended God? It tells him how his guilt may be effectually removed, and how the peace of an accusiing
conscience may be restored. Is he oppressed whenever he thinks of the divine purity, and contrasts it with a nature ever
prone to evil? It proposes to subject him to a healing and remedial process, by which moral health is to be restored to
his diseased soul, and by which he is to be taught to delight in God, and to aspire after his likeness. Is he mournfully sensible of the fact, that "all is vanity and vexation of spirit," and that nothing under the sun can satisfy the desire of a mind panting after immortality? It opens up to his view sources of never-ending delight, it brings him to the very fountain of all happiness, it shows him how his fondest expectations may be realized, it tells him how to delight in God, and how to draw near in acceptable worship to him whom angels adore, and before whom the spirits of darkness flee in terror and dismay.
It becomes every man who sets himself to the task of examining Christianity, to fix his attention on the following momentous
inquiry:—"Is this professed revelation adapted to my necessities? to my fear and hopes? to the circumstances by which I am
surrounded? and to the prospects which stretch before me?" If, upon minute inquiry, it is found to be thus adapted to our
fallen state, it will surely carry along with it a striking demonstration of its divine origin; and if, upon actual experiment,
we find that the reception of Christianity allays our guilty fears, gives peace to our troubled consciences, quenches the
thirst of sin, inspires the hope of immortality, supplies motives for patient endurance, and sheds the lustre of moral loveliness
and purity over the character in whom it dwells,
then may we assure ourselves of the source whence it sprung, and then may we enter, with a full heart, into the meaning of the beloved disciple when he says, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself."
"I think," said the good and great Richard Baxter, "that in the hearing and reading of the Bible, God's Spirit often so concurreth, as that the will itself should be touched with an internal gust and savor of the goodness contained in the doctrine, and as the same time the understanding with an internal irradiation, which breeds such a certain apprehension of the verity of it, as nature gives men of natural principles. And I am persuaded that this, increased by more experience and love, doth hold most Christians faster to Christ than naked reasonings could do. And were it not for this, unlearned, ignorant persons were still in danger of apostacy by every subtle caviller that assaults them. And I believe that all true Christians have this kind of internal knowledge from a suitableness of the truth and goodness of the Gospel to their now quickened, illuminated, and sanctified souls."
Let no one venture to reject Christianity, then, who has never made it the subject of his intense regard, in connection with
the exigencies which press upon his own condition and prospects. It can be but ill understood by the man who has never looked
at it in its adaptation to his own case. It is in indivi-
dual, as well as a general remedy; and the true study of Christianity is the examination of its coincidence with the wants and wishes, the hopes and fears, which press upon, every son and daughter of Adam. For the want of this close inspection of the individual aim of Christinaity, it is to be feared that thousands either reject it, or are utterly indifferent to it. But how contrary is all this to the spirit of true science, which rejects nothing, and admits nothing, but upon actual experiment.
Let Christianity be fairly put to the test; let it be taken home with unhesitating confidence to the heart; let its divine remedies be applied to the distempered mind; let its proffered influence be implored; let its true character as a restoratve system be fully and impartially tried, and then, should it after all, fail to impart peace, to heal the malady of the soul, to answer its own professed designs, let it be held up to that obloquy which it deserves.
But where is the man who ever betook himself to Christianity without finding it to be the refuge of his weary mind? Who could
ever, upon actual trial, charge it with a lack of faithfulness to its own pretensions? Who ever embraced its animating hopes
without finding them productive of peace, and purity, and joy? Who ever became a true Christian without feeling the self-evidencing
power of the Gospel? Who ever believed on the Son of God without having proof, in his own mind, that the
Bible is true? Who ever made actual trial of Christianity without finding it to be the "wisdom of God, and the power of God," to be the salvation of his soul? Who ever knew the truth as it is in Jesus without being made free by it from the thraldom of sin and the bondage of corruption? The man who is a genuine believer, is as fully conscious as he is of existence, that Christianity is no cunningly devised fable. It has established its throne in the deep-seated convictions of his heart. He has felt the transformation it has wrought: "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." His entire character has been favorably affected by it. Upon his once gloomy path it has shed the light of immortality; it has taught him to "rejoice even in tribulation;" it has changed all the aspects of life, by throwing over them the hues of eternity; it has conferred on him a reality of happiness which the whole creation had no power of imparting. In his own person he beholds a monument of the truth and excellence of Christianity, which forbids him for ever to doubt. By other evidences, indeed, his faith is confirmed; but in his peace of mind, in that "hope which is full of immortality," and in the heavenward bearing of his once earthly character, he is enabled to feel that Christianity is no "cunningly devised fable."
Having briefly looked at what may be regarded as the experimental evidence which Christianity is
capable of planting in every man's bosom, we may now advance to other parts of this momentous subject.