363) A Lawyer Examines the Evidence

From The Clergy of America: Anecdotes, 1869, J. B. Lippincott Publishers, Philadelphia

     There lived in Poughkeepsie a venerable lady and her talented son-in-law.  The former was exceedingly anxious about the latter, because of his loose and infidel opinions on religious subjects.  “Oh, sir!” the lady said to me (Bishop Chase), “I wish you to have a serious conversation with my son-in-law on the subject of Christianity.  Perhaps he may hearken to you, though to all of us he turns a deaf ear whenever we speak of the Holy Scriptures.”

     Accordingly, a day was appointed when the interesting young lawyer would join us and some others for tea.  During the conversation, something touching on the Christian religion was introduced.  Contrary to the expectation of his relatives and friends, this interesting gentleman neither evaded nor opposed what was said, but candidly confessed he was differently impressed on that subject from what he had been.  “Till a few days ago,” said he, “I should have brought forward my objections concerning Christianity, and I would have insisted that they should all be satisfactorily answered; but at the present, I feel differently disposed.”

     “And what has caused the change,” I asked.

     “Oh, sir!” said he, “I must tell the whole story.  It relates chiefly to General Hamilton.  You know that pre-eminent character, and that he is not only the greatest in the field of battle, in the senate, and in the court-room, but he is also the most agreeable man in social intercourse.  In pursuit of his professional duties, he passes from New York to Albany, and Poughkeepsie is his stopping-place for rest and social chat.  We young lawyers delight to meet him at Hendrickson’s tavern, and there breathe together the atmosphere of wit and satire.  Not long ago he was here, and we gathered around him, and he greeted us with his usual cordiality.  But there was something altered in his wit; it was solemn, yet more affectionate.  At length, to break the spell, I ventured a story, the edge of which was ridicule against Christians and their creed.  As I finished the anecdote, instead of the loud laugh, the general gravely asked me if I knew what I was talking about.  Confusion is the best name I can give my feelings and behavior before that great man, at such a question from his lips.  Seeing my embarrassment, he said he did not intend to give me pain, but by his question to call my attention to his own case.

     “Not many months ago,” he said, “I was, as you are, doubtful of the truths of Christianity; but some circumstances turned my thoughts to the investigation of the subject, and I now think differently.  I had been in company with some friends of a similar sentiment in New York.  I had indulged in remarks much to the disadvantage of Christians and in disparagement of their religion.  I had gone further than ever before I had done in this way.  Coming home, I stood, late at night, on the door-steps, waiting for my servant.  In this moment of stillness, my thoughts returned to what had just passed at my friend’s, and on what I had said there.  But what, I questioned myself, what if the Christian religion be true!?  The thought certainly was natural, and it produced in my bosom the most alarming feelings.  I was conscious that I had never examined it– not even with that attention which a small retaining fee requires in civil cases.  And so, I determined to make up my mind according to the laws of evidence.  How can one neglect doing so on a question that involves the fate of man’s immortal being?  Where everything is at stake, shall I risk all without inquiry?  Willfully blinding my own eyes, shall I laugh at that which, if true, would laugh me to scorn on the day of judgment?  These questions did not allow me to sleep quietly.  In the morning, I requested of my friends, the clergy, such books as dealt with the evidences of Christianity.  I read them; and the result is that I believe the Christian religion to be the truth— that Jesus is the Son of God, that he made atonement for our sins by his death, and that he arose from the dead for our justification.”

     “This is the substance of General Hamilton’s declaration to me at Hendrickson’s, and you may judge how I feel since.  As I have followed the general in many other respects, so would I imitate him here.  Will you lend me books, that I may read as he did, before I give my opinion?”

      The books were accordingly taken to his house, but he never read them.  A press of business intervened.  He put off his duty till a more convenient season, but that season never came until it was too late.  A sudden disease deprived him of reason and then of life.  This talented and interesting young lawyer passed from a temporal to an eternal state– and let the Word of God tell the rest.

     The story of General Hamilton ought not be forgotten.  It was to me of the deepest interest, and when the news came of the general’s death, it formed the basis of a sermon preached on the second day of July in 1804.


II Peter 1:16  —  We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

I Peter 3:15b-16  —  …Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

John 20:30-31  —  Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Almighty and merciful Father, whose clemency I now presume to implore, after a long life of carelessness and wickedness, have mercy upon me.  I have committed many trespasses; I have neglected many duties.  I have done what thou hast forbidden, and left undone what Thou hast commanded.  Forgive, merciful Lord, my sins, negligences, and ignorances, and enable me, by the Holy Spirit, to amend my life according to thy Holy Word, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.   –Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)