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because the honour of God requires, that his servants should be able to vindicate his cause against unbelievers, and to shew them, that the religion which he has instituted, is neither visionary, nor fanciful, but built on a solid foundation of substantial truth. And lastly it his duty, because the spiritual safety of his fellow-mortals, who may have been assailed by scepticism without being fortified by countervailing arguments, requires from him in charity, that he should be able to relieve their doubts, to satisfy their questions, and to give an answer to every man, that asketh him a reason of the hope, that is in him, with meekness and fear.
By all these considerations I am impelled to lay before you the brief epitome, which I have promised, of the evidences of our faith. I shall begin low, and must carry you back with me to the very first elements of religious knowledge. It is true, as a distinguished writer has acutely observed, that to men, already satisfied of the truth and importance of the gospel, few things are less acceptable than to be recalled from the career of their
past conviction, to take up again the original proofs of their faith, and resume the principles of an inquiry, which they have happily answered in the effect of a well-persuaded reason and a regulated life. To such persons the debate with scepticism is a tedious and worn out speculation. Their life has outrun the question. They enjoy what we are asking them to believe. Yet even such persons will (I trust) bear it with patience, if now once in a course of years we turn back from the details of the christian life to its principles, and engage them again in the inquiry, how far the system, which they have learned to value and to realize, is possessed of solidity and strength. I have suggested various reasons, why such an inquiry should never be lost sight of by any of us. To these reasons others might easily be added: and I cannot refrain now from specifying one, which appears to me of infinite importance. It is, that the works and the ways of God are seen to more advantage, the more they are examined. admiration of his character is increased, our
knowledge of his perfections enlarged, our
perception of his wisdom extended, our faith strengthened, our hope established, our love stimulated, whenever we are engaged in looking minutely into those parts of his ways, which are subject to our observation and thus by revisiting the ground, which we have passed, we may often make as much progress as by exploring new, pick up many a gem, which we have heretofore passed unobserved, and gather unexpected motives to an advancement in faith and holiness.
There still remains one other position in the text, with an examination of which we may conclude the subject. Having in us a hope in Christ, and having also a solid reason of our hope, we must be prepared to give that reason to every man, that asketh us, and to give it with meekness and fear. I therefore now pass on in the last place to a consideration of that most valuable purpose, to which according to the doctrine of saint Peter, a more accurate acquaintance with the grounds and reasons of our hope may be applied, namely that of giving a satisfactory answer to others: for
it is evident, that the apostle contemplates advantage to others as well as to ourselves, as the result of having a well-grounded reason for our hope.
Accordingly you are taught in the text, my brethren, that it is incumbent upon us at all times to give an answer to every one, that asketh us a reason of the hope, that is in us, with meekness and fear. The honour of God demands, that we should be always ready to do this; for his name is dishonored by us, when we are not able to maintain his cause by a display of those evidences, which he has presented to our observation: the welfare of our neighbours demands, that we should do it to every man, that asketh us: and our own safety demands, that we should do it with meekness and fear.
My brethren, these are arguments, which shew the importance of obtaining a clear view of the reasons, on which the hope, that is in you, is founded. But the last, which has been mentioned, carries you a step further. It not only implies, that you have a reason of the hope, that is in you, that you have not taken it upon trust,
but according to the measure of your opportunities have examined its proofs, and are satisfied of their validity; but it directs you further, being so satisfied, to give an answer concerning it to every man, that asketh you, and to give it with meekness and fear.
This duty indeed is urged in the text on motives and principles, peculiar to a state of persecution, because, even amidst the cruelties of heathen oppression and the pain of unmerited torture, meekness is still the distinguishing feature of a christian. But then it may fairly be urged, that the gentleness, of which the severest provocation ought not to be suffered to rob us, should be cherished with still greater circumspection, when it is subjected to no severer test than that of occasional contradiction, unreasonable scepticism, perhaps a little idle ridicule, or at worst a perverse misconstruction of our motives, or an unwarranted suspicion of our character.
At the very best, my brethren, we have this treasure in earthen vessels. The treasure is heavenly, the hope glorious. But the vessel, which holds it, is fragile and earthly. The