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the character of the founder of Chriftianity, below that of many his own difciples, who have suffered greater pains than his, with the utmoft fortitude.
Thus, after the fevereft fearch into our Lord's conduct, it appears that none of the ordinary actions of his life can be cenfured with juftice. To his parents he was ever dutiful. The abuses in the temple he reformed with a zeal fimilar to that which the Jewish prophets in ancient times had often fhewn. His choice of Judas for an apostle did not betray any ignorance of the man's character: he did it to prove the purity of his own defigns and actions. The ftubborn incorrigibleness of the Scribes and Pharifees, made it neceffary that he fhould denounce woes against them, that the people might be led to a juft notion of their character. He rode into Jerufalem on an ass, amidst the acclamations of the people, to publish his claim to the dignity and character of Meffiah. Withal, his forrow and affiction in the garden of Gethsemane was perfectly confiftent with entire refignation; while, at the fame time, it fhewed in the moft lively colours the greatnefs of the pains which he then endured. In fhort, his whole behaviour was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from finners; and therefore was perfectly fuch as became the Son of God in the human nature.
Shewing that miracles in general are possible, and that they are capable of proof.
1. THE oppofers of revelation affect to treat miracles in general with contempt, as things in their own nature impoffible. Hence, without any examination at all, they reject the Gospels as utterly unworthy of credit, merely on account of the miracles which they contain. But that miracles are things naturally poffible, will appear from what follows. To ufe the definition which our adverfaries give of a miracle, it is a deviation from, or alteration of, the established courfe of nature. Now that fuch things may be, is perfectly agreeable to the notions mankind have of the operations of the Deity. The laws of nature, called by fome immutable, are nothing, on the principles of Theifm, but the rules whereby God directs himself in his operations throughout the mundane fyftem. Thefe laws he may alter at his pleasure; unless we affirm, that the Deity is neceffitated in his actions, and cannot fufpend the exertions of his power. Thefe doubtless are the fentiments of Atheists: but all who acknowledge the existence of an Intelligent Mind the Creator of the Universe, believe him to be perfectly independent in his operations. Of confequence, they find no difficulty in fuppofing that, as often as he pleafes, he can differ from the ordinary methods which he has prefcribed to himself in the government of the univerfe. A miracle, therefore, is by no means a thing in its own nature impoffible. This reafoning is confirmed by the perfuafion which has univerfally prevailed concerning miracles. For mankind are fo far from having any general prejudices against fuch things, that they have ever looked upon them as what
might be expected. Accordingly the belief of miracles has prevailed fo univerfally, even from the beginning, that there never was a nation which did not boast of prodigies, whether real or fuppofed. But a perfuafion fo general, could fcarcely have found place in the breasts of mankind, if the object of it had been a real impoffibility.
2. Next we are told, that though the poffibility of miracles fhould be granted, they can never be rendered credible by human teftimony. The person who fees them, or is the subject of them, may believe them but others, to whom he reports them, cannot confiftently with prudence receive them.It is pretended, that the only reafon why one man believes the teftimony of another, is that the fact attefted is agreeable to his own experiences. If therefore a man pretends to atteft things altogether repugnant to the whole courfe of human experience, his atteftation is to be rejected, because the evidence arifing from one's own experience muft always preponderate that of another man's teftimony, which is neither more nor less than that other's experience reported to us.But this argument, however fpecious, is at bottom both trifling and fallacious. For, in the first place, it will prove too much; namely, that the world had no beginning, the making of things out of nothing being contrary to all human experience, which teaches us, that the various races of animals are produced from parents, who in like manner had their exiftence from those of their kind who went before them. So invariable is this law, that not one inftance can be produced of the creation of any fubftance whatever. And as the world may by this argument be demonftrated to have had no beginning, fo we may prove in like manner that it will have no end. For experience teaches, that all things continue exactly in the order wherein we found them at our coming into the world. The revolutions of the heavenly bodies are the fame: the changes produced in the face of nature by the feafons, are the fame; nay, there is not to be observed in the whole compafs of nature, fo much as a fingle particle of matter annihilated, far lefs do we find any confiderable portion of the fyftem deftroyed. The creation therefore, and deftruction of the world, being wholly out of the road of human experience, cannot be received as facts, on the authority of any atteftation whatever. --Farther, according to this method of arguing, no natural phanomenon can be rendered credible, if it happens to have no place in the country where the perfon lives, to whom it is propofed as an object of belief. For inftance, the existence of fnow and ice, being contrary to the experience of the inhabitants of certain climates, could not to them be rendered credible by the atteftation even of whole nations with whom fuch things are common.To conclude: allowing this method of reafoning to be juft, many things will occur, in which a man ought not to truft his own fenfes. For seeing experience is the only measure of poffibility, if our experiences concerning any matter are fewer on the one fide than on the other, the fewer ought to yield to the greater. The wifeft men, how
ever, often in practice contradict this maxim, believing many things firmly, though the experiences which support them are fewer in number than those which oppofe them. Thus appeareth the abfurdity of the rule of belief, which the oppofers of revelation are fo anxious to establish, with a view to destroy the credit of the Gospel miracles.
-Secondly, the argument under confideration, turned against the Gofpel miracles, does not proceed rightly on its own principles. For though it were really neceffary, to render human teftimony credible, that it be agreeable to the former experience of mankind, the miracles of Jefus and of his apoftles would ftill be worthy of credit, notwithstanding no man living at prefent ever beheld any thing like a miracle. I begin the proof of this point with obferving, that the relations of things are very different from the laws of the material fyftem. The latter, depending entirely on the will of God, may be changed; but the relations of things, refulting neceffarily from their natures, are abfolutely immutable. And therefore, while the Deity can easily make iron to swim on water, contrary to the laws of gravitation, he cannot make any part of a thing greater than the whole, nor a being perfectly true capable of falfhood. These are plain impoffibilities, beyond the reach even of the divine power, being direct contradictions. It follows, therefore, that if among men one invariably true could be found, his atteftation of any matter within the compafs of poffibility, would deferve the highest credit: because reason teaches the abfolute impoffibility of fuch a perfon's falfifying. It must be owned, indeed, that perfection in truth is not to be had in the prefent corrupted state of our fpecies. Nevertheless, reason and experience concur in affuring us, that human nature is capable of this moral quality to a very high degree; and that by how much the power of truth prevails in the mind of any perfon, by fo much does the difficulty of that perfon's falfifying increafe. The fact is, all men love truth, and practise it, unless they are diverted from it by fome temptation falling in their way. They have likewise an high efteem of probity in others: and where they meet with it, they fail not to bestow the praise that is due to it. Few are without a strong natural sense of the baseness of a lie, even in matters moft common. If the lie is told in a ferious affair, where truth is most expected, it is deteftable. If it relates to a subject of near concernment, and leads one into errors which prove fatal for life, it is monftrous. But if this falfhood, fo pernicious, is delivered in the name of God, and committed to writing, with a view to deceive thousands in after-times, to their ruin, without any the leaft advantage to the perfon who thus propagates the falfhood, no words can paint its baseness; it is deviiish, and altogether horrible. In fhort, cafes and circumftances may eafily be fuppofed, wherein, with the ordinary degree of veracity common to good men, it is next to impoffible for them to falfify.Befides, it ought to be remembered, that in the human heart there are many and strong fupports of veracity, which render it morally impoffible for him who is under their complicated influence to be guilty of deceit. For
inftance, let us fuppofe the person who bears teftimony in the matters and circumstances above mentioned, is poffeffed of a great degree of benevolence towards mankind; this principle, it is plain, as well as his own honesty, and the acknowledged importance of the matter, will place him at the utmost diftance from deceiving others. Unto honefty and benevolence, join the fear of God; and experience will declare, that the perfon who lives under the united power of these three, cannot poffibly go about in the name of the Deity, deceiving mankind into the belief of matters, which not only expofe them every where to be maffacred, but which must ruin them eternally and all this without the least advantage to himself. The truth is, fo many virtues may enter into the composition of a human character, that though neither any one of them alone, nor all of them together, may make it ftrictly impoffible for the perfon who is poffeffed of them to be guilty of a fingle lie, yet they may render him abfolutely incapable of a "long track or courfe of deliberate deceit," in matters of the highest importance. This impoffibility, I think, the univerfal voice of human experience teaches: and with it the fuggeftions of reafon agree; as it is an impoffibility refulting from the natures and relations of things.
I therefore infer, that when matters of fact, however extraordinary, are reported to have happened, if they are not impoffible, if they are matters of great moment, on which the happiness or mifery of multitudes depend if they are in their nature things so obvious to sense, that, in judging of them, the perfon who reports them could not be deceived; if they are attefted by a great number of witneffes, whose veracity, benevolence, and piety, are undoubted, whose relations are perfectly confiftent, and whofe teftimony is delivered with that calm affurance which is natural to truth; if these witneffes had no manner of intereft of their own to promote by fuch an atteftation: last of all, if they proved the fincerity with which they gave their teftimony, by fealing it with their blood: I say, in these circumftances, an atteftation of any poffible matter, however extraordinary it may be, deferves the highest credit, even upon the principles of belief contended for by modern infidels. Because both reafon and experience affure us, that it is morally impoffible for fuch persons to falfify in such a cafe, as it would imply a total fufpenfion of all the effential principles, by which the human mind is known to be conducted: confequently their falfifying would be more miraculous a great deal, than any of the matters which they have related; and to refufe them credit, would be to contradict the most frequent, the most important, and the most undoubted experiences of the human mind. Thus it appears, that the objections which have been raised against miracles in general, by the adverfaries of revelation, with a view to deftroy the credit of the Gospel miracles in particular, are mere fophifms, and ought to be treated as fuch by those who deal candidly in this controversy.
Shewing that no juft objection can be urged against the particular miracles afcribed to our Lord in the Gospels.
THE primary and general end of the miracles performed by the founder of the Christian religion, was to confirm his miffion. Confidered in this view, they are all abundantly probable, being naturally adapted to fhew that he acted by commiffion from God. Moreover, in his miracles there was a greatnefs which plainly demonftrated them to be the works of God. Nor do we find the least circumftance accompanying any of them, by which we can fay it was difparaged. The immediate ends likewife of the particular miracles mentioned in the Gospels render them probable; for they were fuch as became the Son of God. Jefus never wrought any miracles lightly. No trifling purposes were accomplished by them. They were performed, to relieve mankind from the miseries of life, or to bestow upon them fome fignal bleffing. In fhort, all of them tended to good. Nor can any inftance be mentioned, except two, where even by accident Chrift's miracles proved in the leaft hurtful. The withering of the barren fig-tree, and the deftruction of the herd of fwine in the country of the Gadarenes, are the miracles I have in view. Thefe, together with the many cures of Demoniacs, which are all thought incredible, because no fuch poffeffions of devils are obferved now-a-days; and the turning of water into wine at the marriage in Cana, which is thought indecent, on ac count of the largenefs of the quantity of wine that was produced; and the refurrection of Lazarus, which is ridiculed, because he is faid to have come forth bound hand and foot; are the only miracles which our adverfaries have pretended to find fault with, as inconfiftent with our Lord's character and pretenfions.
1. With refpect to the miracle of the fig-tree, it ought to be confidered, that as the earth and the fulness thereof is the Lord's, it is his right to difpofe, not of the eftates only, but of the lives of men. If fo, we may as reasonably find fault with the providence of God, because he deftroys men's goods by fire, and hail, and furious ftorms, as object against the miracle of the fig-tree, or that of the Demoniacs, on account of the hurt done by them to individuals. The good produced by the natural evils which happen, has even been judged reafon fufficient for admitting them into the fyftem of the univerfe. In like manner the more valuable moral purposes, answered by the miracles objected againft, ought to apologize for the place which they have in revelation; notwithstanding they occafioned fome lofs to individuals. Thus the withering of the fig-tree, being a fenfible and affecting reprefentation of the punishment of moral unfruitfulness, under the best advantages poffible, might have been of great ufe to the Jews, in awakening them to a fenfe of their danger, from the impending judgments of God. Befides, as this miracle was performed by Jefus in the character of a prophet, it had a great and evident propriety; being fimilar, though vastly superior