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to back the contrary by revelation : for that would be to destroy the evidence and the use of reason, without which men cannot be able to distinguish divine revelation from diabolical imposture.
2. That it cannot be expected that God should send any one into the world on purpose to inform men of things indifferent, and of small moment, or that are knowable by the use of their natural faculties. This would be to lessen the dignity of his majesty in favour of our sloth, and in prejudice to our reason.
3. The only case then wherein a mission of any one from heaven can be reconciled to the high and awful thoughts men ought to have of the Deity, must be the revelation of some supernatural truths relating to the glory of God, and some great concern of men. Supernatural operations attesting such a revelation may with reason be taken to be miracles, as carrying the marks of a superiour and over-ruling power, as long as no revelation accompanied with marks of a greater power appears against it. Such supernatural signs may justly stand good, and be received for divine, i. e. wrought by a power superiour to all, till a mission attested by operations of a greater force shall disprove them: because it cannot be supposed, God should suffer his prerogative to be so far usurped by any inferiour being, as to permit any creature, depending on him, to set his se als, the marks of his divine authority, to a mission coming from him. For these supernatural signs being the only means God is conceived to have to satisfy men as rational creatures of the certainty of any thing he would reveal, as coming from himself, can never consent that it should be wrested out of his hands, to serve the ends and establish the authority of an inferiour agent that rivals him. His power being known to have no equal, always will, and always may be safely depended on, to show its superiority in vindicating his authority, and maintaining every truth that he hath revealed. So that the marks of a superiour po companying it, always have been, and always visible and sure guide to divinvelatior men may conduct themselves
the minds and belief of the spectators. Accordingly the jews, by this estimate, judged of the miracles of our Saviour, John vii. 31, where we have this account, “ And many of the people believed on him, and said, “ When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than “ these which this man hath done?” This, perhaps, as it is the plainest, so it is also the surest way to preserve the testimony of miracles in its due force to all sorts and degrees of people. For miracles being the basis on which divine mission is always established, and consequently that foundation on which the believers of
any divine revelation must ultimately bottom their faith, this use of them would be lost, if not to all mankind, yet at least to the simple and illiterate, (which is the far greatest part,) if miracles be defined to be none but such divine operations as are in themselves beyond the power of all created beings, or at least operations contrary to the fixed and established laws of nature. For as to the latter of those, what are the fixed and established laws of nature, philosophers alone, if at least they, can pretend to determine. And if they are to be operations performable only by divine power, I doubt whether any man, learned or unlearned, can in most cases be able to say of any particular operation, that can fall under his senses, that it is certainly a miracle. Before he can come to that certainty, he must know that no created being has a power to perform it We know good and bad angels have abilities and excellencies exceedingly beyond all our poor performances or narrow comprehensions. But to define what is the utmost extent of power that any of them has, is a bold undertaking of a man in the dark, that pronounces without seeing, and sets bounds in his narrow cell to things at an infinite distance from his model and com. prehension.
Such definitions therefore of miracles, however specious in discourse and theory, fail us when we come to use, and an application of them in particular cases. 1701-2.
“ These thoughts concerning miracles, were occa“ sioned by my reading Mr. Fleetwood's Essay on
Miracles, and the letter writ to him on that subject. “ The one of them defining a miracle to be an extra“ ordinary operation performable by God alone : and “ the other writing of miracles without any definition of a miracle at all.”
RELATING TO THE
L I F E
ANTHONY First Earl of SHAFTESBURY,
TO WHICH ARE ADDED,
Three LETTERS writ by the Earl of Shaftesbury while
Prisoner in the Tower; one to King Charles II, another to the Duke of York, a Third to a noble Lord : found with Mr. LOCKE'S MEMOIRS, &c.
BEING at Oxford in the beginning of the civil war (for he was on that side as long as he had any hopes to serve his country there) he was brought one day to King Charles I, by the lord Falkland, his friend, then secretary of state, and presented to him as having something to offer to his majesty worth his consideration. At this audience he told the king that he thought he could put an end to the war if his majesty pleased, and would assist him in it. The King answered, that he was a very young man for so great an undertaking. Sir, replied he, that will not be the worse for your affairs, provided I do the business ; whereupon the king showing a willingness to hear him, he discoursed to him to this purpose :