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neither penalties nor any other means can do any thing; yet it may be true however, that when admonitions and entreaties fail, there is no human means left, but penalties, to bring prejudiced persons to hear and consider what may convince them of their errors, and discover the truth to them. And then penalties will be necessary in respect to that end as a human means.
In which words, if you mean an answer to my argument, it is this, that force is necessary, because to bring men into the right way there is other human means necessary, besides admonitions and persuasions. For else what have we to do with human in the case ? But it is no small advantage one owes to logic, that where sense and reason fall short, a distinction ready at hand may eke it out. Force, when persuasions will not prevail, is necessary, say you, because it is the only means left. When you are told it is not the only means left, and so cannot be necessary on that account: you reply, that “ when admonitions and entreaties fail, there is no human means left, but penalties, to bring prejudiced persons to hear and consider what may convince them of their errors, and discover the truth to them: and then penalties will be necessary in respect to that end, as a human means."
Suppose it be urged to you, when your moderate lower penalties fail, there is no human means left but dragooning and such other severities, which you say you condemn as much as I,“ to bring prejudiced persons to hear and consider what may convince them of their errors, and discover the truth to them ;" and then dragooning, imprisonment, scourging, fining, &c. will be necessary in respect to that end, as a human means; what can you say but this ? that you are empowered to judge what degrees of human means are necessary, but others are not. For without such a confidence in your own judgment, where God has neither said how much, nor that any force is necessary; I think this is as good an argument for the highest, as yours is for the lower penalties. When “admonitions and entreaties will not prevail, then penalties, lower penalties, some degrees of force will be necessary, say you, as a human means.'
And when your lower penalties, your some degrees of force, will not prevail, then higher degrees will be necessary,say I, as a human means. And my reason is the same with yours, because there is no other means, i.e. human means, left. Show me how your argument concludes for lower punishments being necessary, and mine not for higher, even to dragooning, “et eris mihi magnus Apollo.”
But let us apply this to your succedaneum of miracles, and then it will be much more admirable. You tell us, admonitions and entreaties not prevailing to bring men into the right way," force is necessary, because there is no other means left.” To that it is said, yes, there is other means left, the grace of God. Ay, but, say you, that will not do; because you speak only of human means. So that, according to your way of ar. guing, some other human means is necessary: for you yourself tell us, that the means you were speaking of, where you say, “ that when admonitions and entreaties will not do, what other means is there left but force ? were human means." Your words are, “ which any one, who reads that paragraph, will find to be only human means." By this argument, then, other human means are necessary besides preaching and persuasion, and those human means you have found out to be either force or miracles: the latter are certainly notable human
And your distinction of human means serves you to very good purpose, having brought miracles to be one of your human means. Preaching and admonitions, say you, are not sufficient to bring men into the right way; something else is necessary : yes, the grace of God; no, say you, that will not do, it is not human means: it is necessary to have other human means; therefore, in the three or four first centuries after Christianity, the insufficiency of preaching and admonitions was made up with miracles, and thus the necessity of other human means is made good. But to consider a little farther your miracles as supplying the want of force.
The question between us here is, whether the Christian religion did not prevail, in the first ages of the
church, by its own beauty, force, and reasonableness, without the assistance of force ? I say it did, and therefore external force is not necessary. To this you reply, “ that it cannot prevail by its own light and strength, without the assistance either of miracles, or of authority; and therefore the Christian religion not being still accompanied with miracles, force is now necessary.” So that, to make your equivalent of miracles correspond with your necessary means of force, you seem to require an actual application of miracles, or of force, to prevail with men to receive the Gospel ; i. e. men could not be prevailed with to receive the Gospel without actually seeing of miracles. For when you tell us, that “ you are sure I cannot say the Christian religion is still accompanied with miracles, as it was at its first planting," I hope you do not mean that the Gospel is not still accompanied with an undoubted testimony that miracles were done by the first publishers of it, which was as much of miracles, as I suppose the greatest part of those had, with whom the Christian religion prevailed, till it was “ supported and encouraged, as you tell us, by the laws of the empire :" for I think you will not say, or if you should, you could not expect to be believed, that all, or the greatest part of those, that embraced the Christian religion, before it was supported by the laws of the empire, which was not till the fourth century, had actually miracles done before them, to work upon them. And all those, who were not eye-witnesses of miracles done in their presence, it is plain had no other miracles than we have ; that is, upon report ; and it is probable not so many, nor so well attested, as we have. The greatest part then, of those who were converted, at least, in some of those ages, before Christianity was supported by the laws of the empire, I think you must allow, were wrought upon by bare preaching, and such miracles as we still have, miracles at a distance, related miracles. In others, and those the greatest number, prejudice was not so removed, that they were prevailed on to consider, to consider as they ought, i. e. in your language, to consider so as to embrace. If they had not so considered in our days, what, according to your scheme, must have been done to them, that did not
consider as they ought ? Force must have been applied to them. What therefore in the primitive church was to be done to them ? Why! your succedaneum miracles, actual miracles, such as you deny the Christian religion to be still accompanied with, must have been done in their presence, to work upon them. Will you say this was so, and make a new church-history for us, and outdo those writers who have been thought pretty liberal of miracles? If you do not, you must confess miracles supplied not the place of force; and so let fall all your fine contrivance about the necessity either of force or miracles; and perhaps you will think it at last a more becoming modesty, not to set the divine power and providence on work by rules, and for the ends of your hypothesis, without having any thing in authentic history, much less in divine and unerring revelation, to justify you. But force and power deserve something more than ordinary and allowable arts or arguments, to get and keep them : “ si violandum sit jus, regnandi causâ violandum est."
If the testimony of miracles having been done were sufficient to make the Gospel prevail, without force, on those who were not eye-witnesses of them; we have that still, and so upon that account need not force to supply the want of it; but if truth must have either the law of the country, or actual miracles to support it
, what became of it after the reign of Constantine the Great, under all those emperors that were erroneous or heretical ? It supported itself in Piedmont, and France, and Turkey, many ages without force or miracles : and it spread itself in divers nations and kingdoms of the north and east, without any force, or other miracles than those that were done many ages before. So that I think you will, upon second thoughts, not deny, but that the true religion is able to prevail now, as it did at first, and has done since in many places, without assistance from the powers in being; by its own beauty, force, and reasonableness, whereof well-attested miracles are a part.
But the account you give us of miracles will deserve to be a little examined. We have it in these words: “ Considering that those extraordinary means were not
withdrawn till by their help Christianity had prevailed to be received for the religion of the empire, and to be supported and encouraged by the laws of it; you cannot, you say, but think it highly probable, (if we may be allowed to guess at the counsels of infinite wisdom) that God was pleased to continue them till then; not so much for any necessity there was of them all that while, for the evincing the truth of the Christian religion, as to supply the want of the magistrate's assistance." Miracles then, if what you say be true, were continued till “ Christianity was received for the religion of the empire, not so much to evince the truth of the Christian religion, as to supply the want of the magistrate's assistance.” But in this the learned author, whose testimony you quote, fails you. For he tells you that the chief use of miracles in the church, after the truth of the Christian religion had been sufficiently confirmed by them in the world, was to oppose the false and pretended miracles of heretics and heathens; and answerable hereunto miracles ceased and returned again, as such oppositions made them more or less necessary. Accordingly miracles, which before had abated, in
Trajan's and Hadrian's time, which was in the latter end of the first, or beginning of the second century, did again revive to confound the magical delusions of the heretics of that time. And in the third century the heretics using no such tricks, and the faith being confirmed, they by degrees ceased, of which there then, be says, could be no imaginable necessity. His words are, “ Et quidem eo minus necessaria sunt pro veterum principiis recentiora illa miracula, quod hæreticos, quos appellant, nullos adversarios habeant, qui contraria illis dogmata astruant miraculis. Sic enim vidimus, apud veteres, dum nulli ecclesiam exercerent adversarii, seu hæretici, seu Gentiles ; aut satis illi præteritis miraculis fuissent refutati ; aut nullas ipsi præstigias opponerent quæ veris essent miraculis oppugnandæ ; subductam deinde paulatim esse mirificam illam spiritûs virtutem. Ortos sub Trajano Hadrianoque hæreticos ostendimus præstigiis magicis fuisse usos, et proinde miraculorum verorum in ecclesiâ usum una revixisse. Ne dicam præ