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By day, along the astonished lands,
There rose the choral hymn of praise,
But present still, though now unseen
Our harps we left by Babel's streams,
On the reasonableness of Christian faith.-BUCKMINSTER.
It is a common artifice, of those who wish to depreciate the value of this essential principle of a christian's life, to represent faith as something opposed to reason. So far is this from being true, that faith is, in fact, the most reasonable thing in the world ; and, wherever religion is not concerned, the universal practice of mankind evinces, that suchi a principle is indispensable to the most common exercise of the understanding, and to the daily conduct of life. Faith is reasonable, because it is the involuntary homage which the mind pays to the preponderance of evidence. Faith, that is not founded on testimony, is no longer faith.
* Pron. commonly, por-tent- like o in nor.
And as it is sufficient evidence only, on which a rational faith can be supported, so if the whole of this evidence is intelligibly presented to a sound understanding, it will not fail to command belief. An eye, not affected by disease, easily distinguishes colors ; and we unavoidably believe the existence of the objects within the sphere of its vision. Now the laws of moral probability are just as sure as the laws of vision. That the same exhibition of facts, or the same próc'ess of reasoning, does not produce equal conviction on different minds, is not more surprising than that the same glasses will not make objects equally distinct to eyes differently affected. But, to conclude, from this variety of effect, that the objects presented do not exist, or that the laws of vision are ill-founded and absurd, would be no more unreasonable than to assume the folly of religious faith, or to doubt the rational conviction of a pious and impartial inquirer, merely because the whole world are not believers.
We cannot wonder, that the evidences, on which our christian faith is built, do not produce universal conviction, when we remember, that this is a religion, which contradicts many of the selfish propensities of the heart, and is at war with all the lusts to which we are habitually enslaved. It is a religion, wnich condemns many of our habits, and requires us to moderate our growing attachment to a world we cannot bear to leave; a religion, which often opposes our passions, which shows us the folly of our fondest expectations, which alarms our sleeping fears, undervalues the objects of our estimation, requires the surrender of our prejudices, and makes it necessary for us to be in readiness to yield up even our comforts and our life.
Astonishing would it be, indeed, if a system like this should command universal belief, if prejudice should have nothing to object, captiousness nothing to cavil at, and indifference no excuses. Astonishing, indeed, would it be, if the evidences of such a revelation should be received, with equal facility, by the worldly and the spiritual, the careless and the inquisitive, the proud and the humble, the ambitious and the unaspiring, the man immersed in pleasure and dissipation, and the man who has been long disciplined in the school of disappointment and affliction.
Neither is religious faith unreasonable, because it includes miraculous events, nor because it embraces a series of truths, which no individual reason could have ascertained, or of which it may not, even now, see the necessity. It is on this account, however, that we so often hear faith opposed to reason; but, on the same principle, faith in any extraordinary occurrence would be ofposed to reason.
The only objection to the credibility of miracles is, that they are contrary to general experience ; for to say, that they are contrary to universal experience, is to assume the very fact in question. Because they are supernatural, no testimony, it is maintained, can make it reasonable to believe them. This would not be just, even if the miracles which religious faith embraces were separate, insulated facts, which had no connexions with any other interesting truths ; much less when they make part of a grand system, altogether worthy the interposition of God to establish.
The extraordinary nature of miraculous facts, considered by themselves, is, it is true, a presumption against them, but a presumption, which sufficient testimony ought as fairly to remove, as it does remove the previous improbability of ordinary facts, not supernatural. A man, born and living within the tropics, who had never seen water congealed, would, no doubt, think it a very strange story, if a traveller from the north should assure him, that the same substance, which he had always seen liquid, was, every year, in other countries, converted into a solid mass capable of sustaining the greatest weights.
What could more decisively contradict all the experience of the tropical inhabitant, and even the experience of those with whom he had always been connected? Yet should we not think it very unreasonable, if he should, in this case, persist in discrediting the testimony even of a single man, whose veracity he had no reason to suspect, and much more, if he should persist in opposition to the concurrent and continually increasing testimony of numbers ? Let this be an illustration of the reasonableness of your faith in miracles.
As it respects the credibility of revelation, you have this alternative. Will you believe, that the pure system of christian faith, which appeared eighteen hundred years ago, in one of the obscurest regions of the Roman empire, at the moment of the highest mental cultivation and of the lowest moral degeneracy, which superseded at once all the curious fabrics of pagan philosophy, which spread almost instantaneously through the civilized world in opposition to the prejudices, the pride and the persecution of the times, which has already had the most beneficial influence on society, and been the source of almost all the melioration of the human character, and which is now the chief support of the harmony, the domestic happiness, the morals and the intellectual improvement of the best part of the world—will you believe, I say, that this system originated in the unaided reflections of twelve Jewish fishermen on the sea of Galilee, with the son of a carpenter at their head? Or will you admit a supposition, which solves all the wonders of this case, which accounts at once for the perfection of the system, and the miracle of its propagation, that Jesus was, as he professed to be, the prophet of God, and that his apostles were, as they declared, empowered to perform the miracles, which subdued the incredulity of the world.
I appeal to you, ye departed masters of pagan wisdom, Plato, Socrates, Cicero, which of these alternatives is the most rational, the most worthy of a philosophical assent? Your systems have passed away, like the light clouds, which chase one another over the hemisphere; but the gospel of Jeşus Christ, the sun of righteousness, pursues its equal and luminous career, uninterrupted and unobscured. Surely, if a miracle of the New Testament is incredible, what will you say of the enormous faith of a man, who believes in that monster of improbability, which we have described, the simply human origin and progress of christianity.
On the importance of Christian faith.-BUCKMINSTER. The value of christian faith may be estimated from the consolations it affords.
Who would look back upon the history of the world with the eye of incredulity, after having once read it with the eye of faith? To the man of faith it is the story of God's operations. To the unbeliever it is only the record of the strange sports of a race of agents, as uncontrolled, as they are unaccountable. To the man of faith every portion of history is part of a vast plan, conceived, ages ago, in the mind of Omnipotence, which has been fitted precisely to the period it was intended to occupy. The whole series of events forms a magnificent and symmetrical fabric to the eye of pious contemplation; and though the dome be in the clouds, and the top, from its loftiness, be indiscernible to mortal vision, yet the foundations are so deep and solid, that we are sure they are intended to support something permanent and grand.
To the skeptic all the events of all the ages of the world are but a scattered crowd of useless and indigested materials. In his mind all is darkness, all is incomprehensible. The light of prophecy illuminates not to him the obscurity of ancient annals. He sees in them neither design nor operation, neither tendencies nor conclusions. To him the wonderful knowledge of one people is just as interesting, as the desperate ignorance of another. In the deliverance, which God has sometimes wrought for the oppressed, he sees nothing but the fact; and in the oppression and decline of haughty empires, nothing but the common accidents of national "fortune. Going about to account for events, according to what he calls general laws, he never for a moment considers, that all laws, whether physical, political, or moral, imply a legislator, and are contrived to serve some "purpose. Because he cannot always, by his shorta sighted vision, discover the tendencies of the mighty events, of which this earth has been the theatre, he looks on the drama of existence around him as proceeding without a plan. Is that principle, then, of no importance, which raises man above what his eyes see, or his ears hear, or his touch feels, at present, and shows him the vast chain of human events, fastened eternally to the throne of God, and returning, after embracing the universe, again to link itself to the footstool of Omnipotence ?
Would you know the value of this principle of faith to the bereaved ? Go, and follow a corpse to the grave. See the body deposited there, and hear the earth thrown in upon all that remains of your friend. Return now, if you will, and brood over the lesson, which your senses have given you, and derive from it what consolation you can.
You have learned nothing but an unconsoling faet. No voice of comfort issues from the tomb. All is still there, and blank and lifeless, and has been so for ages.
You see nothing but bodies dissolving and successively mingling with the clods which cover them, the grass growing over the spot, and the trees, waving in sullen majesty