Christian Consciousness, a Witness For God
Text.--Isa. 43:10: "Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord."
When I first became religious, it seemed to me very wonderful that in all the
preaching I had heard, there had been so little said of the testimony of personal
experience. I had often heard appeals to the external evidences of revelation, such
as make the reception of the testimony a mere matter of opinion; but I had rarely
heard any allusion to the testimony of Christian Consciousness. This seemed to me
a great omission.
I propose now to call your attention to the following points,
I. The religion of the Bible is a matter of consciousness.
II. Religious consciousness -- the consciousness of religious truth -- is the highest possible proof of the reality of religion.
III. Witnesses, who testify from consciousness, supposing them to be credible, are the best possible, and such testimony is the best possible.
IV. All counter testimony is merely negative and amounts to nothing.
I. True religion is a matter of consciousness.
Again, he is conscious of possessing various knowledge which he had not before. He knows God. Before conversion, he had the conviction that there is a God, but this alone is no proper knowledge of God. After conversion, he truly knows God. So the Bible teaches. It invites men to acquaint themselves with God, and assumes that when converted they do in fact come to know God in a far higher sense than ever before.
II. Consciousness of religious truth is the highest proof possible of the reality
On all subjects in which consciousness is legitimate proof, it is the highest proof possible. We cannot doubt that of which we are conscious. We know it to be true. No other testimony carries to our minds such conviction. If therefore we confine ourselves strictly to what we know in consciousness, we cannot be mistaken.
III. Witnesses who testify from consciousness, supposing them to be credible, are the best witnesses possible, and their testimony the best possible.
IV. All counter testimony is merely negative and amounts to nothing.
To illustrate this let us make a supposition. Though very strong, it will not be so strong as the case of Christian testimony which I adduce it to illustrate.
1. The objection that religious faith is a prejudice of education and nothing better, is altogether groundless, Some young men say -- I have not examined this subject myself. I have been told so and so; -- nothing more. Hence I can easily throw off opinions that have no other and better foundations.
My dear friend, don't you believe your father and your mother? Can you doubt that they love you and mean to tell you the truth? No matter if they have not so much science or so much education in general as many others. This thing is one of experience and not of science; and don't you see that they must know enough to make their experience the best possible testimony?
The fact is, that the testimony on which they rely is the very best that can be. They say what they know, and teach you what they have felt. These are matters of consciousness to them. Furthermore, you know they love you, and cannot wish to deceive you. Why not then accept their testimony?
2. It is objected, very foolishly, that people are influenced to believe the Bible, by what men say to them. True enough they are, and truly they ought to be. They ought to be influenced by good testimony; why not? God made us to believe in good testimony, and society could not exist otherwise.
3. The great mass of men who admit the truth of revelation and of revealed religion, do it on proper grounds. They do not hold this belief on the ground of an original examination of all the external evidences, but on the evidence of consciousness, either their own, or that of others. This is perfectly substantial and indubitable evidence.
4. It is indeed true that when the doctrines of the Bible are brought clearly before unconverted men, they usually ensure a conviction of their truth. They appear so reasonable that few men are unreasonable enough to deny their truth. But in nine cases out of ten in which men are converted to God, they believed the Bible on its internal evidence, as revealed in Christian consciousness and brought to them by God's witnesses. They have never seen miracles wrought, but they have seen men turned from sin to God and made new creatures in Christ. And they have had the good sense to infer that such great changes must indicate a power more than human. I said they had not seen miracles. In the first ages of Christianity, God deemed it wise to sanction by miracles the men who were to teach and write His word by authority. We have no evidence that miracles are wrought now.
5. It is a great error that so little stress is laid on the testimony of consciousness. Theodore Parker stands up in Boston declaring, that Jesus is only a man and not to be relied on to teach an infallible system of truth. Openly does he reject all proof from consciousness. He thinks the question of revelation is simply and wholly historic. Yet if he would, he might see that there are thousands who can testify that they know God, and that they know Jesus Christ. They can confirm the great doctrines of revelation most triumphantly by their own experience.
It is a great error when Christians allow themselves to be driven by infidels from the testimony of experience to the evidence of the historic argument. They should not allow their enemies to choose the strong-hold in which Christians shall entrench themselves, nor the weapons they shall use in their warfare for truth. Let Christians see that they know their own strength and then use it.
Suppose one should try to prove to me that I do not know God, nor the power of His truth. Shall I try to prove the Bible to be from God by any foreign historic testimony? No; I come at once to my consciousness. Does he reject this? He has no right to reject it. I know what the sinning state is and what the Christian state is also. My experience perhaps takes a broader range than his.
Suppose he denies the real divinity of Christ, and affirms that He is only a man. We meet him with the testimony of Christian consciousness. For almost two thousand years, Christians have been enjoying communion with Christ -- thousands at the same moment in every part of the world. They know this to be the case. They are perfectly conscious of this communion. How will the Unitarian, or rather the humanitarian, explain this? Is Jesus an omnipresent man? Is He so near omniscient too that He can hold communion of mind and heart with thousands of His people at the same instant, "always even to the end of the world?"
It is a great error that Christians should withhold this testimony of experience. Sometimes they are too modest, and seem to think it will be obtrusive. But this is a false modesty. It inflicts a great wrong on the cause of truth. It is a wrong to God. They ought to become His witnesses. It should be remembered that these great gospel truths are not only in the Bible, but they are in us -- in our hearts. Therefore we ought to get over this false modesty which is dumb as to the testimony of consciousness, and not allow the defenders of inspiration to be driven back on to the ground of the historic evidences only.
This testimony settles all the great questions of theology; the divinity and work of Christ; the depravity of man; the work of the Spirit; and the fact of repentance. All these great truths find ample attestation in Christian experience.
Bearing upon the truth of the Christian religion, a very pertinent case is related, on this wise: -- a lawyer attended a public religious conference; took his seat and began to make notes of things said. After the meeting had progressed considerably he arose and said -- I came into this meeting to take testimony. I was anxious to know whether there actually is any sufficient evidence for the Christian faith. I have taken down the names of sixty witnesses. They all speak of what they do know and testify what they have felt. I am constrained to admit that no men could possibly be better certified of the facts than they. Besides, I know these men and I must admit their honesty. I should believe them on any other subject which they understood. I am compelled to believe them now. As I have been taught and trained to receive testimony, I cannot reject this. No testimony was ever stronger. So he said.
Is not this altogether reasonable? Yes, here was testimony enough. A tenth part of which would convict any man of murder.
This point of our argument is specially forcible now. What clouds of fresh witnesses are rising up in all the land! Indeed God has never since the Christian era suffered His truth to lack this sort of testimony; yet it comes in special copiousness in our own day. Will you not believe it?
6. How awful it must be to bear a false testimony as to God! Professed Christians do this when they forsake Him, and dishonor His truth.
How guilty also it must be to withhold evidence and fail to testify when God calls you to bear witness for Him! It must be awful to bear contradictory testimony, now this and now that. Better it were none at all!! Nothing so shakes the confidence of intelligent men of the world.
Again, it is fearful for the minister to preach the gospel and his church to unpreach it; for him to show what Christian experience is, and his church to gainsay every word of it by their ungodly lives. We should remember that worldly men are always by, taking notes. They are sure to take down our testimony. We ought to see to it that they have no excuse for getting it wrong, and also that they have no false testimony to get. The lawyer did so till he had the testimony of sixty witnesses. Think of that! So it is always. Somebody is noting down our daily testimony. All men are bound to take this testimony. One such witness is good against any amount of negative testimony. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses, shall every word be established."
Probably every one of you would say -- "I have seen some good witnesses on whom I am bound to rely." One evening while I was in N.Y., a Christian lady introduced to me her husband, then in an anxious state of mind, and soon afterwards converted. Then he said to me -- "I have been from early youth skeptically inclined, but my wife has made it impossible for me to become a skeptic. Before me continually was her holy life and her wise and timely conversation, always convincing me and compelling me to believe the gospel a reality. Hers was a constant testimony. I could not gainsay it; I could not disbelieve the gospel in the face of such evidence of its power." So he said to me. Ought not such testimony to be conclusive?
But many of you are saying -- "I am no skeptic. but I am not ready yet to become a Christian. I cannot make up my mind to begin yet." At one of the meetings in N.Y last winter, the captain of the Brig that spoke the steamer, Central America, just before she went to the bottom of the Atlantic, rose and gave a brief account of that event. Just before nightfall, as the brig came near enough to see the situation of the Central America, her captain saw that something was wrong, therefore bore down towards her to offer his aid. Hauling up near enough to be heard, he put his trumpet to his lips and shouted -- "Can I render you any assistance?" The steamer's captain shouted back -- "Lay by me till morning." Again the brig's captain cried -- "Shall I not render you some assistance?" The second time and again the third, the steamer returned the same answer -- "Lay by me till morning." "Hang out your lights then, so that I can keep you in my eye till the morning comes." The steamer hung out her lights; but before ten o'clock, they went down beneath the surges of the Atlantic.
That, said the captain as he spoke in the meeting, is just what I have been doing in the salvation of my soul. Jesus shouted to me in my distress -- Shall I come near and render you some assistance? But I only answered -- "Lay by me till morning." But when the steamer went down to the bottom and I thought of her captain's cry -- "Lay by me till morning," it made such an impression on my mind, that I said, I cannot wait any longer, lest my vessel go down beneath the fearful billows before another morning dawns.
And now, dear young friends, out on the treacherous ocean of life; bearing down on the breakers of damnation; when Jesus Christ draws near you and hails aloud -- Can I offer you any assistance? Will you answer Him -- "Lay by me till morning?" Will you say that? Ah, should that hoped for morning never dawn on you! Who is that, lifting up His voice and crying aloud -- Can I render you any assistance? That loving voice -- whose is it? Will you put Him over till morning? Alas! that morning may never come!
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
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