Many thousands of persons have a full and joyous conviction of the truth of Christianity from their own experience, who yet feel a reasonable desire to examine the historic evidence
by which it is confirmed, if not for the strengthening of their own faith, yet for the purpose of silencing gainsayers, and guarding the young against the cavils of infidelity. It is our duty to give to those who ask us a reason of the hope that is in us; and although our own personal experience may be to ourselves a satisfactory ground of assurance, we cannot ask others to take the gospel on our testimony alone. It is highly desirable that we understand and be able to set forth with clearness and convincing power the proofs that this plan of salvation has God for its author.
Then there is a class of earnest inquirers who find themselves perplexed with the difficulties which they hear urged against the gospel, and which they find themselves unable to solve in a satisfactory way. It is of the highest importance that such persons be met in a candid spirit; that the immense mass of evidence by which the Christian religion is sustained be clearly set before them; and that they understand that a religion thus supported is not to be rejected on the ground that there are difficulties connected with it which have not yet been solved -- perhaps never can be solved here below.
Are you, reader, such an earnest inquirer after truth? We present to you in the following pages a brief summary of the historic evidence by which the Bible, with the plan of salvation which it reveals, is shown to be the word of God; and we wish, here at the outset, to suggest to you some cautions respecting the state of mind with which this great inquiry is to be pursued.
First of all, we remind you that, whatever else may be uncertain, you know that you must soon die, and try for yourself the realities of the unseen world. The question now before you is, Whether God has spoken from heaven, and made any revelations concerning that world. If so, they are more precious than gold; for in the decisive hour of death you will wish to know not what man, the sinner, has reasoned and conjectured concerning a future judgment, forgiveness of sin, and the life to come; but what God, the Judge, has declared. Now the Bible claims to contain such a message from God. If its claims are valid, it will not flatter you and speak to you smooth things, but will tell you the truth. And you must be prepared to receive the truth, though it condemn you. Sooner or later you must meet the truth face to face: be ready to do so now; you have no interest in error; falsehood and delusion cannot help you, but will destroy you.
Do not come to the examination of this great question with the idea that you must clear away all mysteries connected with the gospel before you believe it. The world in which you live is full of mysteries. One would think that if any thing could be fully comprehended, it must be the acts of which we are ourselves the authors. By a volition you raise your hand to your head; but how is the act performed? True, there is in your body an apparatus of nerves, muscles, joints, and the like; but in what way does the human will have power over this apparatus? No man can answer this question: it is wrapped in deep mystery. Why be offended, then, because the way of salvation revealed in the Bible has like mysteries -- mysteries concerning not your duty, but God's secret and inscrutable methods of acting?
And since the question now before you is not one of mere speculation, but one that concerns your immediate duty, be on your guard against the seductive influence of sinful passion and sinful habit. There is a deep and solemn meaning in the words of Jesus: |Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.| Corrupt feeling in the heart and corrupt practice in the life have a terrible power to blind the mind. The man who comes to the examination of the Bible with a determination to persist in doing what he knows to be wrong, or in omitting what he knows to be right, will certainly err from the truth; for he is not in a proper state of mind to love it and welcome it to his soul.
Remember also that it is not the grosser passions and forms of vice alone that darken the understanding and alienate the heart from the truth. Pride, vanity, ambition, avarice -- in a word, the spirit of self-seeking and self-exaltation in every form -- will effectually hinder the man in whose bosom they bear sway from coming to the knowledge of the truth; for they will incline him to seek a religion which flatters him and promises him impunity in sin, and will fatally prejudice him against a system of doctrines and duties so holy and humbling as that contained in the Bible. Take, as a comprehensive rule for the investigation of this weighty question, the words of the Saviour: |If any man will do his will| -- the will of God -- |he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.| So far as you already know the will of God, do it; do it sincerely, earnestly, and prayerfully, and God will give you more light. He loves the truth, and sympathizes with all earnest and sincere inquirers after it. He never leaves to fatal error and delusion any but those who love falsehood rather than truth, because they have pleasure in unrighteousness. Open your heart to the light of heaven, and God will shine into it from above; so that, in the beautiful words of our Saviour, |the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.|