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place, that in proportion to the greatness of this hope is the necessity of assuring ourselves, that it rests on a secure foundation : and I proceeded to adduce considerations, which may convince us, how very important it is, that we should be satisfied on good grounds, not only, that there is truth in the religious system, in which we profess to believe, but that there is reality also in our own profession of adherence to it; that the christian hope is not a fable, and that our own interest in it is not a delusion.
For the purpose of assisting you in answering both these questions for your own satisfaction and confirmation in the faith I have announced my intention to enter upon an examination first of the evidences of the christian religion, secondly of its nature (that is of the appointed way of salvation), and thirdly of the means, by which every one of us may be kept in that way, and obtain everlasting life.
This course of investigation will of course occupy us during several weeks; and, as with the divine permission it will be pursued both
morning and evening in a regular order, till the whole shall be finished, it was especially recommended, that young persons should be brought regularly to attend the whole series, that so they may receive a summary of those proofs, on on which their religion depends, of those truths, in which it consists, and of those practices, by which it may be exercised, and thus be ready always to give an answer to every man, that asketh them a reason of the hope, that is in them, with meekness and fear. I say a summary of these things, because at most it is only a summary, and a very brief summary of them, that can be attempted in this place. But, if what shall be said here shall lead to further inquiry and instruction, the attempt, however imperfect, will not have been made in vain.
In the mean time there are a few other observations, which I wish to make, on the duty of instituting such inquiries, and of building our faith, not on the opinions of others, but on reasons, that cannot be shaken, with a view of obviating difficulties and satisfying reasonable doubts. It is obvious, that the great
majority of the christian world (for the lower orders of the community are in every state the great majority) have neither leisure, nor preparation of mind, nor adequate preliminary instruction for entering into an abstruse or elaborate inquiry concerning the evidences of Christianity, or controverted points of doctrine. It is obvious moreover, that children in every class of life, who have been given to the lord in baptism, must be instructed in the truths and duties of christianity, before they are of an age to examine its proofs, or to balance conflicting arguments regarding its nature. Much must in both these cases be received upon trust from the advice, persuasion, and authority of others: and yet there is no limitation to any class of persons in the general exhortation of the apostle, when he says- Be ready always to give an answer to every man, that asketh you a reason of the hope, 'that is in you, with meekness and fear!'
The first question therefore, which I mean to consider this evening, brethren, relates to the degree of knowledge, which is requisite in every instance for a compliance with the
exhortation of the text, and the second to the means, by which those, who profess this knowledge, may be always ready to give an answer to every man, that asketh them a reason of the hope, that is in them, with meekness and fear! May God enable us through his spirit to acquire this readiness, that we may be an united people, animated by a similar disposition of mind to live, to act, to suffer, or to die in the service of our once crucified and now glorified redeemer!
The very constitution of human society, (it has been observed) renders it utterly impossible for one half of mankind to possess either the cultivation of mind, or the freedom from pressing engagements and necessities, which are requisite for entering into a large view of the evidences of divine truth. It cannot therefore be the design of Providence to require from such persons a degree of knowledge, to their acquisition of which the laws of nature present an impassable barrier. Yet is it his declared will, that to the poor the gospel should be preached; and consequently it
may be safely inferred, that the faith of a poor person in the truths of that gospel, though not supported by learned research, or fortified by elaborate inquiry, is sufficient for his salvation. Nevertheless even such persons must have a reason of the hope, that is in them; assuredly they believe in vain.
Let us then consider, what is the actual state of a poor and illiterate hearer of the gospel, who has learned to believe with the heart unto righteousness! If there be any truth in the gospel, he has learned from it not only to believe the word, but to experience its power. He has found himself in some measure changed by it. He has learned to take delight in hearing the gospel; and in proportion as he delights in that charter of his hope, he begins to lose his relish for the gratifications of sin and selfishness. His conscience becomes tender; and he regards any thing, which is contrary to sound doctrine, with greater horror than formerly. His mind is gradually elevated; and he begins to look forward to a state of future blessedness, exemption from sin, and everlasting communion