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Thus you are forewarned; take heed therefore that
ye be not deceived.
Christ and his apostles foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, and many other events, and wrought a variety of miracles in confirmation of their own character and authority. False Christs were to arise showing signs and wonders. Who were these false Christs? Jews, without question. And whom would they deceive? Their own countrymen. And when were they to arise ? After the ascension of Christ, when his predictions began to be accomplished, and whilst his disciples were endued with miraculous powers. And what was to be the end of the wonders, real or fictitious, of the false Christs? To incite the Jews to sedition and rebellion, and to persuade them that God would never forsake them. But misery and ruin brake in upon the nation like a torrent, and showed the folly of trusting in such liars. If for a time these impostors succeeded, and seduced some persons, yet the time was short, and the deluded persons were men devoted to destruction, and so no harm arose from it, either to good men, or to the Gentile world, or to the gospel of Christ.
The destruction of Jerusalem, therefore, soon decided the controversy between the Christians and the false prophets, and showed on which side the truth lay, and who had the spirit of God.
Our Saviour says of those impostors, “They shall show wonders.' It appears not evidently from these words that they should really work miracles. They shall show them, that is, they shall pretend to it, and make people think so,
-- truly or falsely, it mattered not ; and Christ forbad his followers to regard any thing that they should teach, or to take their wonders into consideration, because the event would very soon discover them to be false prophets and pernicious guides, and that was enough.
CONCERNING the miracles of the apostles, it is most probable that they could not be performed by them at their own discretion, but only when they had an impulse from the Holy Ghost, who alone knew the proper times and
the just occasions. When St. Paul was sent as a prisoner to appear before Cæsar at Rome, it seems to have been expedient for the honour of Christianity, that he should have the reputation of being a holy man, favoured by heaven, who had the spirit of prophecy, and had performed wonderful works; or else Nero, and the courtiers, and the prætorian guards, would have despised him, as a setter forth of strange doctrines, and a fanatic. Therefore the Spirit of God so ordered it, that he foretold the loss of the ship, and the safe landing of all the passengers, and wrought several miracles at Malta, and that kind of miracles which will gain the love and favour of men, namely, healing the sick, and thence was highly respected by Julius the centurion, who had the care of him, and who, when he delivered his prisoners to the captain of the guard at Rome, informed him, no doubt, of all that had happened in the voyage ; which accounts for the good treatment St. Paul received at court, and for the permission granted him of dwelling in his own hired house, with only one soldier to guard him, and for the converts whom he seems to have made even in Cæsar's household.
Let us now sum up briefly, and in few words, the main evidences of the truth of our religion.
1. Christ was foretold by the prophets. Of tħe things predicted concerning him, some were miraculous, some improbable, some seemingly irreconcileable, and all of them beyond the reach of human conjecture; and yet in him they all centred, and were united and reconciled.
To this must be added the amazing harmony, analogy, and correspondence between the Old and New Testament, not only in the direct prophecies, but in the types, rites, ceremonies, and events contained in the former, and fulfilled in a sublimer sense in the latter, which upon the whole could never be the effect of blind chance.
The Old and New Testament confirm each other : the prophetic parts of the former support the Gospel, and the miracles and prophecies and success of Christ and his apostles support the Old Testament
• The authenticity of the books of the New Testament stands conVOL. II.
2. Christ knew the hearts of men, as he showed upon all occasions ; a knowledge which Almighty God represents in Scripture as so peculiar to himself, that he cannot be supposed to suffer those to partake of it who are not sent by him.
3. He was a prophet: he foretold not only things remote, and lying beyond human sagacity, but things improbable and miraculous, which have been accomplished.
4. He wrought miracles numerous and various, worthy of himself, and beneficial to men: and many of these miracles were also prophecies at the same time, and indications of future events; and so were most of his parables.
5. He never erred or failed in any point, as teacher, prophet, Messias, or worker of miracles. All his promises were accomplished, particularly his remarkable promise that he would support and comfort all those who should be called to suffer and to die for his sake; which hath been illustriously fulfilled in antient and in modern martyrs.
6. He conferred miraculous and prophetic gifts on his disciples, and they on theirs.
7. His religion was plain and popular, yet pure and holy, and tending to make men wiser and better, and it produced a multitude of good effects in the world.
8. When it was first preached, it could never have made its way without the assistance of miracles.
firmed by many proofs internal and external, some of which we have represented already; and the truth of the facts and doctrines contained in those books must be established by the same arguments which show the truth of Christianity.
We know the Scriptures to be the word of God,' say some persons, • because the Spirit tells us so.' But how will you convince us that you have the Spirit and what is the rule by which we may distinguish your pretensions from fanaticism?
When a man carefully examines the arguments for the divine authority of the Scriptures, and sees the force of them, and assents to them, he may reasonably conclude that the Holy Spirit has assisted him; but his belief, though thus assisted, is grounded upon evidence, upon inferences justly drawn from just premises; and faith must be founded upon reason, or it must be fanatical credulity. There is no medium.
9. He lived and died an example of all that he taught, of all active and suffering virtues.
10. He had no rival or antagonist, to make his authority appear doubtful, by opposing prophecies to his prophecies, and miracles to his miracles, from the time that he began his ministry to this day.
It cannot be supposed that there should be any deceit in this complicated evidence, and that falsehood should boast of all the imaginable characters of truth.
A LEARNED and ingenious person, but inclined to scepticism, said once to a friend, "* You often tell us how dangerous it is to reject the gospel, if it be true ; but you consider not that there is the same danger in teaching it, if it be false. What can you say for yourselves when you come to appear before God, if you have misled the people in so important a point ?'
His friend replied, “ We will suppose, if you please, that Christianity is not a divine revelation : let us consider the consequence.
' The consequence is, that deism is the only true religion; and these are its great articles: one God, the immortality of the soul, or its permanency so long as it shall please God, a future state of retribution, the eternal differences of moral good and evil, an obligation to love God and man, and to live righteously and soberly.
All these points are forcibly inculcated by Christianity, and nothing is taught by us that invalidates them. If Christianity be not true, we have been deluded, and have thought too well of those who introduced revealed religion into the world, and that is all. The delusion hath led us into no iniquity, and authorized no crimes: it has been the most innoxious of all errors, an error pleading for every virtue, and dissuading from every vice. .
• 'What danger can there be in such a religion, even upon any supposition ? and how can it be imagined that the Father of mercies would not forgive such an error ?
• If Christianity be true, the deist is in an error ; and if his error be unavoidable, he is in the hands of a merciful God: but let him take heed that he deceive not himself;
• God is not
for, if his unbelief arise from evil causes, mocked.'
As far as the subsequent miracles mentioned by Christian writers fall short of the distinguishing characters belonging to the works of Christ and his apostles, so far they must fail of giving us the same full persuasion and satisfaction.
That they fall short in many instances, will appear to any one who shall examine them by the characters which we have enumerated above. I shall only observe:
1. They were not foretold by the prophets. 2. They were not wrought by prophets.
3. They contained in them no prophetic indications of future events.
4. No man ever laid down his life, or even suffered distress and persecution, in attestation of them.
Though this be an inquiry proper for those who have learning, leisure, and abilities, yet Christians at present are under no particular obligation to form any notion at all about the subject, any more than about many other things contained in the writings of the fathers, upon which Christianity cannot be said to depend. It were to be wished that the defenders of these miracles would remember that the dispute is not pro aris et focis,' and that the truth of Christianity is out of the question.
If we admit the miracles of Christ and of his apostles, we must not, when we examine the subsequent miracles, bring along with us a prejudice against them, from their own nature, and as they are acts surpassing human power.
Since they are not impossibilities, and imply no contradiction, they are to be examined like other facts; with this difference, that they require a stronger confirmation.
But there is in the heart of many persons a bent to an opinion concerning things preternatural, amounting nearly to this proposition : 'What we never saw cannot be true.' This bent hath seldom been more prevailing than in our age, and it is the business of reason to correct it, since it may mislead us as much as credulity.
In examining these later miracles, we must consider theis