« السابقةمتابعة »
the character of the founder of Christianity, below that of many of his own disciples, who have suffered greater pains than his, with the utmost fortitude.
Thus, after the severest search into our Lord's conduct, it appears that none of the ordinary actions of his life can be censured with justice. To his parents he was ever dutiful. The abuses in the temple he reformed with a zeal similar to that which the Jewish prophets in ancient times had often thewn. 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 designs and actions. The stubborn incorrigibleness of the Scribes and Pharisees, made it necessary that he should denounce woes against them, that the people might be led to a just notion of their character. He rode into Jerusalem on an ass, amidst the acclamations of the people, to publish his claim to the dignity and character of Messiah. Withal, his forrow and affiction in the garden of Gethsemane was perfectly consistent with entire resignation ; while, at the same time, it shewed in the most lively colours the greatness of the pains which he then endured. In short, his whole behaviour was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from finners; and therefore was perfectly such as became the Son of God in the human nature.
SECT. II. Shewing that miracles in general are posible, and that they are capable of
proof. 1. THE opposers of revelation affect to treat miracles in general with contempt, as things in their own nature impossible. Hence, without any examination at ali, they reject the Gospels as utterly unworthy of credit, merely on account of the miracles which they contain. But that miracles are things naturally possible, will appear from what follows. To use the definition which our adversaries give of a miracle, it is a deviation from, or alteration of, the established course of nature. Now that such things may be, is perfectly agreeable to the notions mankind have of the operations of the Deity. The laws of nature, called by some immutable, are nothing, on the principles of Theism, but the rules whereby God directs himself in his operations throughout the mundane system. These laws he may alter at his pleasure; unless we affirm, that the Deity is neceffitated in his actions
, and cannot suspend the exertions of his power. These doubtless are the sentiments 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 consequence, they find no difficulty in supposing that, as often as he pleases, he can differ from the ordinary methods which he has prescribed to himself in the government of the universe. A miracle, therefore, is by no means a thing in its own nature impoffible.---This reasoning is confirmed by the persuasion which has universally prevailed concerning miracies. For mankind are fo far from having any general prejudices against such things, that they have ever looked upon them as what
might be expected. Accordingly the belief of miracles has prevailed so universally, even from the beginning, that there never was a nation which did not boast of prodigies, whether real or fupposed. But a persuasion fo general, could scarcely have found place in the breasts of mankind, if the object of ic had been a real impossibility.
2. Next we are told, that though the possibility of miracles should be granted, they can never be rendered credible by human testimony. The person who sees 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 reason why one man believes the testimony of another, is that the fact attested is agreeable to his own experiences. If therefore a man pretends to attest things altogether repugnant to the whole course of human experience, his attestation is to be rejected, because the evidence arising from one's own experience must always preponderate that of another man's testimony, which is neither more nor less than that other's experience reported to us. But this argument, however specious, 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 existence from those of their kind who went before them. So invariable is this law, that not one instance can be produced of the creation of any substance whatever. And as the world may by this argument be demonstrated to have had no beginning, so 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 seasons, are the same ; nay, there is not to be observed in the whole compass of nature, so much as a single particle of matter annihilated, far less do we find any considerable portion of the system destroyed. The creation therefore, and destruction of the world, being wholly out of the road of human experience, cannot be received as facts, on the authority of any attestation whatever. --Farther, according to this method of arguing, no natural phænomenon can be rendered credible, if it happens to have no place in the country where the person lives, to whom it is proposed as an object of belief. For instance, the existence of snow and ice, being contrary to the experience of the inhabitants of certain climates, could not to them be rendered credible by the attestation even of whole nations with whom such things are common.
To 001clude : allowing this method of reasoning to be just, many things will occur, in which a man ought not to trust his own sensés. For seeing experience is the only measure of poflibility, if our experiences concerning any matter are fewer on the one side than on the other, the fewer ought to yield to the greater. The wiseft men, how
ever, often in practice contradi&t this maxim, believing many things firmly, though the experiences which support them are fewer in number than those which oppose them. Thus appeareth the absurdity of the rule of belief, which the opposers of revelation are so anxious to establish, with a view to destroy the credit of the Gospel miracles.
-Secondly, the argument under consideration, turned againft the Gospel miracles, does not proceed rightly on its own principles. For though it were really necessary, to render human testimony credible, that it be agreeable to the former experience of mankind, the miracles of Jesus and of his apostles would still be worthy of credit, notwithstanding no man living at present ever beheld any thing like a miracle. I begin the proof of this point with observing, that the relations of things are very different from the laws of the material system. The latter, depending entirely on the will of God, may be changed; but the relations of things, resulting necessarily from their natures, are absolutely 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 fallhood. These are plain impoffibilities, beyond the reach even of the divine power, being direct contradi&ions. It follows, therefore, that if among men one invariably true could be found, his attestation of any matter within the compass of poffibility, would deserve the highest credit: because reason teaches the absolute impossibility of such a perfon’s falsifying. It must be owned, indeed, that perfection in truth is not to be had in the present corrupted state of our species. Neverthelefs, reason and experience concur in assuring 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 person, by so much does the difficulty of that person's falsifying increase. The fact is, all men love truth, and practise it, unless they are diverted from it by some 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 most common. If the lie is told in a serious affair, where truth is most expected, it is detestable. If it relates to a subject of near concernment, and leads one into errors which prove fatal for life, it is monstrous. 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 least advantage to the person who thus propagates the falfhood, no words can paint its baseness ; it is devilish, and altogether horrible. In short, cases and circumstances may eafily be supposed, wherein, with the ordinary degree of veracity common to good men, it is next to impoffible for them to falsify. Besides, it ought to be remembered, that in the human heart there are many and strong fupports of veracity, which render it morally impossible for him who is under their complicated influence to be guilty of deceit. For
instance, let us suppose the person who bears testimony in the matters and circumstances above mentioned, is poffefled 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 distance from deceiving others. Unto honefty and benevolence, join the fear of God; and experience will declare, that the person who lives under the united power of these three, cannot posibly go about in the name of the Deity, deceiving mankind into the belief of matters, which not only expose them every where to be massacred, but which must ruin them eternally: and all this without the least advantage to himself. The truth is, so 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 ftriatly impoffible for the person who is poffeffed of them: to be guilty of a single lie, yet they may render him absolutely incapable of a " long track or course of deliberate deceit,". in matters of the highest importance. This impossibility, I think, the universal voice of human experience teaches : and with it the suggestions of reason agree; as it is an impossibility resulting 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 misery of multitudes depend : if they are in their nature things so obvious to fense, that, in judging of them, the person who reports them could not be deceived; if they are attested by a great number of witnesses, whose veracity, benevolence, and piety, are undoubted, whose relations are perfectly consistent, and whose testimony is delivered with that calm affurance which is natural to truth; if these witnesses had no manner of interest of their own to promote by such an atteftation: last of all, if they proved the sincerity with which they gave their testimony, by sealing it with their blood : I say, in these circumstances, an atteftation of any possible matter, however extraordinary it may be, deserves the highest credit, even upon the principles of belief contended for by modern infidels. Because both reason and experience assure us, that it is morally impossible for such persons to falsify in such a case, as it would imply a total suspension of all the effential principles, by which the human mind is known to be conducted : consequently their falsifying would be more miraculous a great deal, than any
of the matters which they have related; and to refuse 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 adversaries of revelation, with a view to destroy the credit of the Gospel miracles in particular, are mere fophisms, and ought to be treated as such by those who deal candidly in this controverly.
ascribed to our Lord in the Gospels.
The immediate ends likewise of the particular miracles mentioned in the Gospels render them probable ; for they were such as became the Son of God.' Jesus 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 some signal blessing. In short, all of them tended to good. Nor can any instance be mentioned, except two, where even by accident Christ's miracles proved in the least hurtful. The withering of the barren fig-tree, and the destruction of the herd of swine in the country of the Gadarenes, are the miracles I have in view. These, together with the many cures of Demoniacs, which are all thought incredible, because no such possessions of devils are observed now-a-days ; and the turning of water into wine at the marriage in Cana, which is thought indecent, on account of the largeness of the quantity of wine that was produced ; and the resurrection of Lazarus, which is ridiculed, because he is faid to have come forth bound hand and foot; are the only miracles which our adversaries have pretended to find fault with, as inconfistent with our Lord's character and pretensions.
1. With respect to the iniracle 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 dispose, not of the estates only, but of the lives of men, If so, we may as reasonably find fault with the providence of God, because he destroys men's goods by fire, and hail, and furious storms, as object against the miracle of the fig-tree, or that of the Demoniacs, on account of the hurt done by them to indi
The good produced by the natural evils which happen, has even been judged reason sufficient for admitting them into the system of the universe. In like manner the more valuable moral purposes, answered by the miracles objected against, ought to apologize for the place which they have in revelation; notwithstanding they occafioned some loss to individuals. Thus the withering of the fig-tree, being a sensible and affecting representation of the punishment of moral unfruitfulness, under the best advantages possible, might have been of great use to the Jews, in awakening them to a fenfe of their danger, from the impending judgments of God. Besides, as this miracle was performed by Jesus in the character of a prophet, it had a great and evident propriety; being fimilar, though vastly superior