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unbelief. I have known a good deal, by experience, of the conflict which infidels maintain behind the intrenchments of Hume and other champions of their cause; I have known also something, personally, of conversions among such people; and it has often astonished me to see how immediately a whole system of well-jointed infidelity tumbles to pieces-how entirely the most darling argument against the gospel is changed into folly, and given to the winds, as soon as one realizes that he is a sinner and must stand before God in judgment.
4. Let us pass to our fourth proposition. The testimony in proof of the miracles of the gospel has not diminished in force by the increase of age. It is not an uncommon idea that the transmission of remote events by successive testimony, from generation to generation, weakens their evidence in proportion to the time. It is supposed, that had we lived in the fourth instead of the nineteenth century, we should have possessed the testimonial evidence of the Christian miracles in much greater force than it is now enjoyed. But we deny that there is any reason for this supposition. Mere oral tradition must weaken with age; but written testimony cannot suffer loss as long as the genuineness of the document containing it is unimpaired, and the character of the witnesses is substantiated. For example, suppose it be recorded on the minutes of the Young Men's Society of New York, that on the 13th day of January, 1832, this lecture was delivered to its members, on the Evidences of Christianity, and those
minutes be laid up among its records; and the society exist from generation to generation, keeping a regular account of its transactions, for four hundred years; and at the end of that time some one, searching into its early papers, should read the minutes of the above event-the evidence of the fact would be considered as conclusive as if, instead of four hundred years, only fifty had elapsed since its occurrence. The event would be as certain as the genuineness of the record, and would have no reference to the age of either. Let the society continue a thousand years, and its records being still preserved uncorrupted, the evidence will remain undiminished. We rely upon the testimony in proof of the invasion of Britain by Julius Cæsar, or of Italy by Hannibal, with quite as much confidence as we read of the wars of Charles the First in England. And if our present accounts of those widely remote events shall be preserved to the end of the world, the confidence of our posterity at that time in their historical correctness, cæteris paribus, will be as complete as ours. Indeed, it is only with regard to the facts related in the Bible that men ever talk of any diminution, by the lapse of years, in the credibility of testimony. But with how little reason is evident, when you remember that a matter of historical fact is of the same nature in regard to testimony, whether it be found between the covers of the Bible or those of a Roman historian. For precisely the same reason that the event of this lecture, recorded in the minutes of the Young Men's Society, would retain its evidence unimpaired as long
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. 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 identical 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, and 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 immoral 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