1. The external evidences of revealed religion are, in their proper place and sphere, of the highest importance. Christianity rests not upon theory, but upon historical facts sustained by an overwhelming mass of testimony. It is desirable that every Christian, so far as he has opportunity, should make himself acquainted with this testimony for the strengthening of his own faith and the refutation of gainsayers. Nevertheless, many thousands of Christians are fully established in the faith of the gospel who have but a very limited knowledge of the historical proofs by which its divine origin is supported. To them the Bible commends itself as the word of God by its internal character, and the gospel as God's plan of salvation by their inward experience of its divine power, and their outward observation of its power over the hearts and lives of all who truly receive it. This is in accordance with the general analogy of God's works. We might be assured beforehand that a system of religion having God for its author, would shine by its own light, and thus commend itself at once to the human understanding and conscience, irrespective of all outward testimony to its truth. Although the internal evidences of Christianity have already been considered to some extent in connection with those that are outward and historical, it is desirable in the present closing chapter to offer some suggestions pertaining to the internal character of the Bible as a whole, and also to the testimony of Christian experience, individual and general.
2. To every unperverted mind the Bible commends itself at once as the word of God by the wonderful view which it gives of his character and providence. It exhibits one personal God who made and governs the world, without the least trace of polytheism on the one hand, or pantheism on the other -- the two rocks of error upon which every other system of religion in the world has made shipwreck. And this great Spirit, |infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,| is not removed to a distance from us, but is ever nigh to each one of his creatures. He is our Father in heaven, who cares for us and can hear and answer our prayers. His providence extends to all things, great and small. He directs alike the sparrow's flight, and the rise and fall of empires. To the perfect view of God's character and government which the pages of the Bible unfold, no man can add anything, and whoever takes any thing away only mars and mutilates it. How now shall we explain the great fact that the Hebrew people, some thousands of years ago, had this true knowledge of God and his providence, while it was hidden from all other nations? The Bible gives the only reasonable answer: God himself revealed it to them.
The superficial view which accounts for the pure monotheism of the Hebrews from their peculiar national character, is sufficiently refuted by their history. Notwithstanding the severe penalties with which the Mosaic code of laws visited idolatrous practices in every form, the people were perpetually relapsing into the idolatry of the surrounding nations, and could be cured of this propensity only by the oft-repeated judgments of their covenant God.
3. Next we have the wonderful code of morals contained in the Bible. Of its perfection, we in Christian lands have but a dim apprehension, because it is the only system of morals with which we are familiar; but the moment we compare it with any code outside of Christendom, its supreme excellence at once appears.
It is a spiritual code, made for the heart. It proposes to regulate the inward affections of the soul, and through them the outward life. Thus it lays the axe at the root of all sin.
It is a reasonable code, giving to God the first place in the human heart, and to man only a subordinate place. Its first and great commandment is, |Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart;| its second, |Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.| Thus it lays broad and deep the foundations of a righteous character. If any moral proposition is self-evident, it is that such a code as this, which exalts God to the throne of the human soul and humbles man beneath his feet, is not the offspring of human self-love. If any one would know the difference between the Bible and a human code of morals, let him read Cicero's treatise on Duties, perhaps the best system of ethics which pure heathenism ever produced, but from which man's relation to deity is virtually left out.
It is a comprehensive code, not insisting upon one or two favorite virtues, but upon all virtues. Just as the light of the sun is white and glistering because it contains in itself, in due proportion, all the different sorts of rays, so the morality of the Bible shines forth, like the sun, with a pure and dazzling brightness, because it unites in itself, in just proportion, all the duties which men owe to God and each other.
Many who outwardly profess Christianity do not make the precepts of the Bible their rule of life, or they do so only in a very imperfect way, and thus scandal is brought upon the name of Christ, whose servants they profess to be. But it is self-evident that he who obeys the Bible in sincerity and truth is thus made a thoroughly good man; good in his inward principles and feelings, and good in his outward life; good in his relations to God and man; good in prosperity and adversity, in honor and dishonor, in life and death; a good husband and father, a good neighbor, a good citizen. If there is ever to be a perfect state of society on earth, it must come from simple obedience to the precepts of the Bible, obedience full and universal. No man can conceive of any thing more glorious and excellent than this. We may boldly challenge the unbeliever to name a corrupt passion in the heart or a vicious practice in the life that could remain. Let every man love God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself, and bolts and bars, prisons and penitentiaries, would be unnecessary. One might safely journey around the world unarmed and unattended, for every man would be a friend and brother. |Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men,| would reign from pole to pole. The whole earth would be at rest and be quiet: it would break forth into singing. That such a glorious result would certainly come from simple obedience to the precepts of the Bible is undeniable. And can any man persuade himself that this perfect code of morals comes not from heaven, but from sinful man?
4. We have, once more, the wonderful harmony between the different parts of the Bible, written as it was in different and distant ages, and by men who differed widely from each other in natural character and education, and lived in very different states of society. In outward form and institutions the manifestation of God has indeed undergone great changes; for it has existed successively under the patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the Christian dispensations. But if we look beneath the surface to the substance of religion in these different dispensations, we shall find it always the same. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Moses, Samuel, and David, is also the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. While he changes from time to time the outward ordinances of his people, he remains himself |the same yesterday and to-day and for ever.| Under the Old Testament, not less than under the New, he is |the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.| Exod.34:6, 7, etc. Under the New Testament, not less than under the Old, he is to all the despisers of his grace |a consuming fire,| Heb.12:29; and his Son Jesus Christ, whom he sent to save the world, will be revealed hereafter |in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.| 1 Thess.1:7, 8. If the New Testament insists on the obedience of the heart, and not of the outward letter alone, the Old Testament teaches the same doctrine: |Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.| 1 Sam.15:22. |Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.| Psa.51:16, 17. |I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs.| Psa.69:30, 31. |Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.| Amos 5:23, 24. If the Old Testament insists on obedience to all God's commandments as an indispensable condition of salvation, so does the New: |Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and offend in one point, he is guilty of all,| James 2:10; |If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.| Matt.5:29, etc. The Old Testament, as well as the New, teaches the doctrine of regeneration and sanctification by the Holy Ghost: |Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,| Psa.51:10. |Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them.| Ezek.36:25-27. The Old Testament, as well as the New, denounces self-righteousness in every form, and teaches men that they are saved not for the merit of their good works, but through God's free mercy: |Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart dost thou go in to possess their land,| Deut.9:5; |Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel.| Ezekiel 36:32. When the holy men of the Old Testament so often beseech God to hear and answer their prayers for his name's sake, they renounce all claim to be heard on the ground of their own merit. Faith that works by love and purifies the heart from sin -- this is the substance of the religion taught in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. This wonderful unity of doctrine and spirit that pervades the books of the Bible from first to last, finds its natural explanation in the fact that they were all written |by inspiration of God.|
5. The Bible is distinguished from all other books by its power over the human conscience. The apostle says: |The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,| Heb.4:12; and this declaration is confirmed by the experience of every thoughtful reader. Whoever studies the pages of the Bible in an earnest spirit, feels that in them One speaks who has a perfect understanding of his heart in its inmost workings; one who knows not only what he is, but also what he ought to be, and who therefore speaks to him with authority. The young are sometimes advised to study certain authors, that they may thus gain |a knowledge of men.| It cannot be denied that, within the sphere of this world, the knowledge of men which some of these writers possess is admirable. But the Bible contains not only all this knowledge in its most complete and practical form, but also, what is wanting in the authors referred to, a perfect knowledge of men in their higher relation to God. With wonderful accuracy does the Bible describe men's character and conduct as citizens of this world. But here it does not stop. It regards them as subjects of God's everlasting government, and thus as citizens of eternity also; and it portrays in vivid and truthful colors the way in which they harden their hearts, blind their minds, and stupefy their consciences by their continued wilful resistance of God's claim to their supreme love and obedience. In a word, it describes men in their relation to God as well as to their fellow-men; and every man who reads the description, hears within his soul the still small voice of conscience saying, |Thou art the man.| Whence this all-comprehensive knowledge of man contained in the Bible? The answer is: He who made man has described man in his own word with infallible accuracy; |because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man; for he knew what was in man.|
6. We come now to the argument from personal experience. To receive Christ in sincerity and truth, is to know that his salvation is from God. Many thousands have thus a full and joyous conviction of the truth of Christianity. They were oppressed with a deep consciousness of guilt, which no tears of sorrow or supposed good works could remove. But they read in the Holy Scriptures that Jesus is |the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.| They put their trust in his atoning sacrifice, and thus obtained peace of conscience, and joyous access in prayer to God as their Father in heaven. They were earthly in their affections, and able therefore to render to God's holy and spiritual law only an obedience of the letter, which they knew would not be acceptable. But through faith in Christ they have been lifted up to a holy and blessed communion with God, and thus enabled to render to God's law an obedience of love |in the spirit and not in the letter.| They were oppressed with a painful sense of the empty and unsatisfying nature of every thing earthly; but they have found in Christ and his glorious service an all-sufficient portion. In a word, they are assured that the gospel is from God, because it meets all their wants as sinners. They have the same evidence that God made the gospel for the immortal soul, as that he made bread for the stomach, air for the lungs, and light for the eyes. The sincere believer has in himself the witness that the gospel is from heaven, for he is daily experiencing its healing, strengthening, and purifying power. To tell him that the Bible is a cunningly devised fable, is like telling a man who daily feeds on |the finest of the wheat,| and is nourished and strengthened by it, that the field of golden grain which waves before his door is only wormwood and gall; or that the pure water from the bosom of the earth which daily quenches his thirst is a deadly poison; or that the blessed air of heaven which fans his lungs is a pestilential vapor. Not until error becomes the nutriment of the soul and truth its destruction, can this argument from personal experience be set aside or gainsaid.
7. The argument from the character of Jesus has already been considered at length in chap, 4, No.8. It is sufficient to repeat here that the very description of such a character, so gloriously perfect, so far above all that the greatest minds of antiquity ever conceived, is itself a proof of its reality. Very plain men may describe what they have actually seen and heard. But that any man left to himself -- and God would not help in a work of error and delusion -- should have conceived of such a character as that of Jesus of Nazareth, without the reality before him, is impossible; how much more that four unlettered men should have consistently carried out the conception in such a life as that recorded by the four evangelists.
8. Passing now from individual to general experience, we find another proof of the divine origin of the Bible in the power of the gospel -- which includes in itself the whole word of God -- over the human heart. This is closely connected with the preceding head, since the Christian's religion takes the shape of personal love towards the Saviour -- love which is awakened in the sinner's soul, as the New Testament teaches, by the Holy Spirit revealing to him his lost condition and the character and offices of the Redeemer, whereby he is drawn into an inward spiritual union with him. This love of Jesus is the mightiest principle on earth for both doing and suffering. The man of whose soul it has taken full possession is invincible, not in his own strength, but in the strength of Him to whom he has given his supreme confidence and affection. No hardships, privations, or dangers can deter him from Christ's service; no persecutions can drive him from it. In the early days of Christianity, at the period of the Reformation, in many missionary fields in our own time, not only strong men, but tender women and children, have steadfastly endured shame and suffering in every form -- banishment and the spoiling of their goods, imprisonment, torture, and death -- for Christ's sake. In times of worldly peace and prosperity, the power of this principle is dimly seen; but were the Christians of this day required, under penalty of imprisonment, confiscation, and death, to deny Christ, it would at once manifest itself. Many would apostatize, because they are believers only in name; but true believers would remain steadfast, as in the days of old. It is a fact worthy of special notice, that persecution not only fails to conquer those who love Jesus, but it fails also to hinder others from embracing his religion. It has first a winnowing power. It separates from the body of the faithful those who are Christians only in name. Then the manifestation of Christian faith and patience by those who remain steadfast, draws men from the world without to Christ. Hence the maxim, as true as trite, |The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.| The Christian religion at the beginning had no worldly advantages, and it was opposed by all the power of imperial Rome in alliance with the heathen priesthood. Had it been possible that any combination of men should crush it, it must have perished at the outset; but it only grew stronger in the midst of its fierce and powerful enemies. It went through ten bloody persecutions, |conquering and to conquer,| until it overthrew paganism, and became the established religion of the Roman empire. Then it was not strengthened by its alliance with the state, but only corrupted and shorn of its true power. And so it has been ever since. The gospel has always shown itself mightiest to subdue men to Christ, when it has been compelled to rely most exclusively on its own divinely furnished strength. What the apostle said of himself personally, the gospel which he preached can say with equal truth: |When I am weak, then am I strong.| How shall we account for this fact? The only reasonable explanation is, that God is the author of the gospel, and his power is in it, so that it is able to overcome the world without any help from without. Were it the invention of man, we might reasonably expect that it would be greatly strengthened by an alliance with the kings and rulers of the world, instead of being thereby corrupted and weakened, as we find to be the invariable result. Because God made the gospel, and not men, when it is left free to work according to his appointment, it is mighty in its power over the human heart; but the moment worldly men take it under their patronage, that they may make it subservient to their worldly ends, they bind it in fetters, and would kill it, had it not a divine and indestructible life.
9. We notice, further, that the same love of Jesus which makes men invincible to the world without, also enables them to conquer their own corrupt passions, and this is the greater victory of the two. It is easy to declaim on the sins and inconsistencies of visible Christians. The church of Christ, like every thing administered by men, is imperfect. Unworthy men find their way into it, making it, as the great Master foretold, a field in which wheat and tares grow together. Nevertheless, wherever the gospel is preached in its purity, bright examples are found of its power to reclaim the vicious, to make the proud humble, and the earthly-minded heavenly. It draws all who truly receive it, by a gradual but certain process, into a likeness to Christ, which is the sum of all goodness. In proportion also as the principles of the gospel gain ground in any community, they ennoble it, purify it, and inspire it with the spirit of truth and justice. Very imperfectly is our country pervaded by this good leaven. Yet it is this, small as is its measure, which makes the difference between the state of society here at home and in India or China. Many thousands who do not personally receive the gospel thus experience its elevating power. They receive at its hand innumerable precious gifts without understanding or acknowledging the source from which they come.
10. As a final argument, may be named the power of the Christian religion to purify itself from the corruptions introduced into it by men. It is not alone from the world without that Christ's church has been assailed. Corrupt men have arisen within her pale who have set themselves to deny or explain away her essential doctrines, to change her holy practice, or to crush and overlay her with a load of superstitious observances. But the gospel cannot be destroyed by inward any more than by outward enemies. From time to time it asserts its divine origin and invincible power, by bursting the bands imposed on it by men, and throwing off their human additions, thus reappearing in its native purity and strength. So it did on a broad scale at the era of the Reformation, and so it has often done since in narrower fields.
10. Let now the candid inquirer ask himself whether a book which gives such gloriously perfect views of God's character and government; whose code of morals is so spotlessly pure that simple obedience to it is the sum of all goodness, and would, if full and universal, make this world a moral paradise; all whose parts, though written in different and distant ages by men of such diversified character and training, are in perfect harmony with each other; which displays such a wonderful knowledge of man in all his relations to God and his fellow-men, and therefore speaks with such authority and power to his conscience; which reveals a religion that satisfies all the wants of those who embrace it, that makes them victorious alike over outward persecution and inward sinful passion, and that asserts its invincible power by throwing off from itself the corrupt additions of men -- whether such a book can possibly have man for its author. Assuredly in character it resembles not sinful man, but the holy God. It must be from heaven, for it is heavenly in all its features.