From the Baptist Magazine, 1810
The Christian Apologist
That the Christian is not called to a human tribunal in the present day on account of his attachment to Christ should excite his gratitude and thankfulness. That there are occasions, however, when it is necessary for him to give a reason of his faith, will be readily admitted. There are occasions, not only when infidelity, with unblushing face, makes her impudent assaults, when unitarianism, the more dangerous, as she is more specious and pretending, sets at work her subtle engines, when scepticism proposes her well studied doubts, but when the adversary of our souls, mightily and by stratagem essays to shake our foundations. The apostle Peter has given a fine description of the Christian Apologist in his first Epistle iii.15, 16. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be always ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. Having a good conscience, that whereas they speak evil of you as of evil doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. It is not the design of this paper to enter fully into the traits of his character as drawn by the apostolic hand. We give merely the outline.
He possesses a good conscience. Conscience is that power in man termed a moral power. As the eye is formed for sight, as the ear is evidently an organ for sound, so the conscience is the directory of man’s actions. As the viceroy of God in the empire of the soul, it takes cognizance of every transaction there, and passes sentence according to truth. There is an evil conscience, a conscience seared with a hot iron, and there is a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men. The way in which an evil conscience becomes a good one is thus described: Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
The second trait here given is a good conversation. It is the natural result of the renewing of the mind or purifying the conscience; and is always found in conjunction therewith. The former trait respected his concerns with God, the present his deportment among men. The apostle James admonishes, Let him shew out of a good conversation his works, with meekness of wisdom. As the doctrines of the gospel are according to godliness, so is the christian’s conversation. Such a conversation will put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Only let your conversation be as becometh the gospel. Such a conversation is a good one, because,
Thirdly. It is in Christ. The Saviour is indeed the Alpha and the Omega of the christian; as he is not his own but bought with a price, so is he bound to glorify God with his body and spirit which are God’s. As we have received Christ, so are we to walk with him. We must receive supplies out of his fulness, for all our needs. Our citizenship is in heaven, where Jesus is, and where the treasure is there will the heart be also. Thus much must suffice for his character. Now to
His hope. The hope which the gospel inspires is a hope which maketh not ashamed. A hope fixed on the “oath and promise” can never be put to shame.
“Eternal power performs the word,
And fills all heaven with endless praise.”
It is as the anchor sure and stedfast entering into that within the vail.
The gospel bears his spirits up,
A faithful and unchanging God
Lays the foundation of his hope
In oaths and promises and blood
He hopes shortly to arrive at the port of eternal rest, where the shield of faith and the anchor of hope shall be exchanged for a crown of glory, where instead of the storms and billows of life’s tempestuated ocean, he shall taste the unceasing fruition of God and the Lamb.
The Christian Apologist is to be always ready, however, while here, to give an answer to every one that asketh him a reason of the hope that is in him.
It is contended by some that reason is every thing in religion, and by others that her dictates are to be totally disregarded therein. While we would avoid the Scylla on one hand, we should be careful of the Charybdis on the other. Reason has undoubtedly her office in religion, but she is not superior to revelation; otherwise the latter were [valueless]. May we not safely say, that her place is that of examining the evidences of revelation? That point once established, she has nothing to do but to submit her eclipsed [candle] to the torch of revealed Truth. The self-esteeming sceptic may object, in vain, the incomprehensibility of the gospel. We acknowledge it. We rejoice in a system, which whilst to fathom its mysteries defies the intelligence of a Newton,–a Boyle,–a Locke, is, as to the sum of its requisitions, perspicuous to the capacity of a child. It derides indeed the folly of human wisdom, yet it exalts the humble and contrite spirit. It is, throughout, a system all perfect, and such as meets the circumstances of man in his present condition. It is therefore capable of defense on the ground of sound reason. Defended it is, by a mass of external evidence, through which neither the infuriated enemies of the cross on earth, nor the embodied hosts of hell can ever cut their way. It can produce the evidence of prophecy, fulfilled, fulfilling, and evidently about to be fulfilled; the evidence of history, the records of a people ever kept distinct from the nations of the world. Moreover, evidence of profane history, and especially the evidence of miracle. A species of evidence this, which must prove an impregnable fortress, if all other were wanting; which even its most inveterate foes could not resist: for by referring miracles to satanic influence, they do but confirm the facts, and expose their own malignant folly.
It may be said that it is necessary to possess some ability and extent of reading, to defend the gospel in this way. Let not the unlettered christian be dismayed; there are yet internal evidences, more sure and certain, if possible, than the former; with these every poor and unschooled christian can and will be acquainted. These are his citadel, his strong tower. The illiterate christian may lose his outposts, he may be driven from the exterior works, but from the internal strongholds he can never be forced. The divine tendency of the scriptures, as a whole, the scope and design of its doctrine, the holiness of its precepts, the character of its penmen, the manner in which their testimony is given–form such a body of evidence, as cannot certainly be produced for any other volume, and such as completely and forever establishes to our mind the divinity of our own. To suppose this volume the work of man, would be equally absurd and contradictory. For it is impossible that wicked men should be so well-disposed as to write a volume such as this; and it is equally impossible that good men should attempt to impose on us, a work of their own in the name of the Deity, attended as it is with the most divine and awful sanctions. May we be increasingly careful, as well to inspect the books of nature and of providence, but especially, and more ardently, the book of grace, saying, with our own poet,
“Should all the forms which men devise
Assault my faith, with treach’rous art,
I’d call them vanity and lies
And bind the gospel to my heart.”