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Belief requires evidence. Of an objection which is made in connection with this view. God has not left himself without witness. Evidence from the structure of the human mind. Evidence from the works of nature. Evidence from the Bible. Unbelievers without excuse.

IT is hardly necessary to say, that the state of mind, which we variously denominate faith or belief, does not depend for its origin, upon a mere act or volition; but upon the appropriate sources or grounds of belief. The structure of the mind is such, that it does not allow a person to believe merely as he chooses or wills to believe; but, on the contrary, requires the belief to be conformed to the evidence appropriate to it.

2.—We are aware, that this view of the subject, which seems to us too obvious to admit of controversy, opens the way, nevertheless, to an objection on the part of some persons, who will be disposed to excuse themselves in unbelief, on the ground that an opposite state is an involuntary one. Their language is, that they would like to believe; but that they are unable to do it without adequate evidence; intimating in the plea or excuse, which they offer, that the requisite evidence is not presented before them.

3.—The answer to all pleas and excuses of this kind is the declaration, which our Heavenly Father himself has authorized, that God
“has not left himself without witness.” Acts 14:15–17. “We preach unto you,” says the Apostle Paul, “that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein; who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless, he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

4.—The difficulty is not in involuntary belief, but in voluntary unbelief; in voluntarily, willfully, perseveringly shutting our eyes to those evidences of God’s existence, and of a supreme moral government, to which every object and every event bears testimony. God has not left himself without a witness in the structure of the human mind; he has not left himself without a witness in the beautiful array of nature’s works; he has not left himself without a witness in the wonderful succession of individual and national providences, which speak, trumpet-tongued, of eternal truth and eternal justice; he has not left himself without a witness in the long succession of consecrated and believing men, who, having the image of God, the divinity within them, were rightly commissioned to testify of him, whose image they bore. “The glorious company of the Apostles,” “the goodly fellowship of the Prophets,” “the noble army of the Martyrs,” “the holy Church throughout the world,” all persons in all ages of the world, of whatever country and of whatever name, who have borne the divine image, have been witnesses, eloquent witnesses for God.

5.—The evidence, which God furnishes, would compel belief, were it not for voluntary opposition. We choose to think of ourselves and of our own interests, to the neglect of all adequate thought of God, and of our religious interests. On this subject, I doubt not, that the feelings of thoughtful and serious men are strong and unalterable. To the suggestion, that God has left himself without witness, or that he has not furnished adequate witness, they can yield no assent. — Referring again to the sources of this witness, to which we have just now briefly alluded, we remark more particularly, that the nature of the human mind is such, that it bears, as it were, the idea of a Supreme Being, and other truths, closely connected with the idea of a Supreme Being, written on its very structure. It is a psychological fact, which a careful observation of the progress of human culture has fully demonstrated, that the human mind, when brought into full and unperverted action, always develops the idea of a God. It is an idea written there in letters uneffaceable; and, though sometimes obscured and deeply hidden, it will always come out and make itself evident, when it is brought to the light. And there too, essential in the structure of the same mind, are the conceptions of truth and justice, of sympathy and benevolence as due from man to his fellow-man, of immutable wrong and immutable right. There is no barbarism so low, so linked to the extreme of moral degradation, where these bright conceptions, in connection with their related emotions, do not exist in greater or less distinctness. The mind, therefore, by its very nature, by a voice which cries out unceasingly from its depths, bears witness for God. Were it not so, heathenism, still more degraded and destitute than it is at present, would have heard no announcement from its moral teachers; would have had no Socrates, no Plato.

6.—The world, of which we are a part, and the systems of worlds with which we are connected, bear witness for God. There is not a tree nor a flower, no river, nor lake, nor cataract, no hill, nor valley, nor mountaintop, nothing on the earth nor under the earth, neither the fruits it bears on its surface nor the minerals it cherishes in its bosom, no insect, nor bird, nor quadruped, nor any other thing of the infinite varieties presented to our notice, which, on a careful examination in itself and its relations, does not bear its testimony.

7.—More than a hundred years ago, Mr. Addison, speaking of the evidences of design in the works of creation, made a remark to this effect, that, if our inquiries should be adequately extended, it would be found, that the earth in its interior structure is as curious and well-contrived a frame, as that of a human body. “We should see,” he says, “the same concatenation and subserviency, the same necessity and usefulness, the same beauty and harmony in all and every of its parts, as what we discover in the body of every single animal.” The mineralogy and geology of modern times have already done enough to verify this suggestion. But if the presence of God, if his wonderful wisdom and power, are seen in layers of earth, in successive strata of rocks, and in the deposition of fossil remains, how much more may they reasonably be expected to be seen in the organized and living bodies that cover the earth’s surface, in animals, and especially in man. And then the heavens above us, the sun, moon, and stars, all give their testimony. So that we may well say, if we had only the book of outward nature to look in, it would be hard to be an unbeliever; and could almost add, in the slightly altered language of a popular poet,

How canst thou disbelieve, and hope to be forgiven!

8.—But God has a testimony also or witness for himself in his providences; in other words, in all events which take place, especially when considered in their moral aspects and relations. The history of nations and individuals furnishes a series of facts, from which, if we could get it from no other source, may be deduced the general proposition, that all actions, which are not merely instinctive, have a moral character; and are attended with a moral retribution. We do not say, that the adjustment of reward and punishment to the moral merit and demerit of actions is entirely perfect in the present life; but it is so much so, as to leave no doubt of a moral government and a moral governor. It is true, that the vicious sometimes succeed in life, becoming rich and honored, while the virtuous suffer in poverty and contempt; but it does not follow from this, that the vicious are happy, or that the virtuous are miserable. The virtuous have an inward consolation, which more than compensates for outward adversities; and the vicious, with scarcely an exception, have inward sorrows, which are none the less deep and real for being concealed under the garb of outward prosperity. The history of man, therefore, including the history of nations as well as of individuals, utters its declarations loudly and impressively, in favor of God and of his government.

9.—But God’s great testimony for himself is his Bible. It is said of the believer, that “he hath the witness in himself.” And so of the Word of God. Considering the early periods of the world, in which it was composed, the nature of the remarkable events which are recorded in it, the imposing character of the moral and religious doctrines which are proclaimed, the illustration of these doctrines in the lives and actions of a series of men such as the world never saw before, and of which the world was not worthy, looking at the subject in this point of view, the candid mind cannot fail to see and to acknowledge, that it is a Book, of which God himself, in some important sense, must have been the author. It seems to us, independently of the external evidence of miracles, that neither the Book, nor the things contained in the Book, could have come into existence without God. It is here, that God proclaims himself, in language both written and acted, in the language of the precept given and the language of the precept lived, which cannot fail to be understood. And hence it is, that Lord Bacon has remarked with so much truth and beauty: “Thy creatures have been my books, but thy scriptures much more. I have sought thee in fields and gardens; but have found thee in thy temples.”

10.—The Bible may be regarded as a sort of proclamation on the part of God, to those who have revolted from him and have gone off in the ways of sin, that He is still the God, and will continue to be the God of those, who will return and acknowledge him to be such. If man is only willing to be saved by the surrender of himself into God’s hands, to be his always and his alone, to be out of his own keeping and subject to the divine keeping, God is willing and desirous to save him. All we have to do is to give ourselves to God; and he will give himself to us in return, in all which is necessary for us. And accordingly it is worthy of notice, that we have in this Book abundant promises, that those, who will sincerely seek to obtain knowledge, shall have assistance. God says in various forms of expression, try to know, and I will help you to know; seek me and ye shall be found of me.

11.—We cannot admit, therefore, any pleas or excuses of the unbeliever, on the ground of a defect of evidence. “We do not believe, that he can deliberately offer such excuses, without compelling his own inward nature to cry out against him. His declaration of unbelief is neither more nor less, than a declaration, that he is too indolent to open his eyes, that he may read what is written not only in God’s Word, but stands out legibly inscribed upon the hands and feet and face of universal nature. Such excuses, which even heathenism rejects, will not stand the final test. Those, who make them, will be found wanting.