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mature, the end for which they appear to have been performed, their tendency, the effects which they produced, and the credibility of the witnesses.
In this inquiry we shall find it scarcely possible to arrive at absolute certainty: of probability there is a variety of degrees; and a high degree of probability is sufficient to require and justify our assent, and differs little from certainty.
As the probability is more or less, such must be the credit which we give to it.
If the case be perplexed, we are not to form any judgment besides 'non liquet.' Doubt and suspense are then commendable, and God hath so ordered it, that many
of our inquiries must end thus, to teach us at least modesty and humility
The Christians of the second and third centuries, from Justin Martyr downwards, affirm that miracles were from time to time wrought amongst them : their consent in this seems to have been uniform and unanimous; which cannot be said for many of the miracles after Constantine, which, though received by the greater number, were suspected or rejected by some.
The general good character of these antient Christians, which yet is always to be understood with some exceptions; their low and afflicted state, their pious behaviour under it, their want of a divine support and encouragement to keep them constant to their profession, their remote situation from each other in various parts of the known world, their great numbers, and their success in converting multitudes; their open appeals to the Pagans in their Apologies, and the knowledge which the Pagans probably had of those appeals; the persons who attest these things, some of whom were confessors and martyrs, others learned, ingenious, and of a fair character, incline us to think that miracles did not entirely cease in those times, and that Christians could not combine together in carrying on impostures, or be able to impose them upon those whom they had converted, or be imposed upon themselves by dishonest brethren. It is strange that they should have been able to maintain so good a reputation as they did amongst the more moderate and unprejudiced Pagans, and have had the success amongst
them which they had, if they were so disposed to forging and to defending forged miracles.
According to the accounts which the writers of the sea cond and third centuries have given us of these miracles, it appears not that they were performed in an absurd and superstitious way, but usually by plain and religious, and apostolical methods, as by prayer and invocation of Jesus; nor doth it appear that they were usually wrought for lucre, or to vest extraordinary authority in any person, or to augment the power of the clergy, or to decide religious controversies, or to run down any thing called heresy, and heterodoxy, or to establish any new doctrine, or to encourage and recommend voluntary and foolish austeri. ties, a solitary life, vows of celibacy and virginity, worshipping of wood, rags, and bones, invocation of saints, &c. If a man, moved by these reasons, and by reverence to the antient Christians, should assent to the miracles attested by them, he ought not to be slighted, insulted, and ridiculed for it by those who have the same faith and hope, and acknowledge the same Lord and Master.
Such are the arguments in favour of the miracles of the second and third centuries; to which on the other hand is objected, the credulity of many of the Christians, the enthusiastic temper of others, the disingenuity of some of them in the matter of pious frauds; a disposition which Christians had in common with other people, to admit too easily any thing that favoured their own cause, and an unwillingness to oppose it; the forgeries of books, epistles, edicts, and reports, contrived by some of them, and received by others; the accounts of the miracles, which seem often founded upon hearsays and tradition, and many miracles notoriously and undeniably false, which are confidently reported by fathers and writers of the fourth and fifth centuries, who made no conscience of affirming the most childish absurdities in the marvellous way.
To these objections may be added, the force of imagina. tion, and of a strong persuasion, which may have a strange and surprising effect in removing some bodily disorders, so that the cure shall be thought preternatural, both by the person who is relieved, and by those who have contributed to his recovery, and by those who are present; and
yet they may be all deceived, and all innocent of sign to impose upon mankind. Such seems to be the case , mentioned by Minucius Felix concerning evil spirits, who being adjured, 'vel exșiliunt statim, vel evanescunt gradatim, prout fides patientis adjuvat, vel gratia curantis adspirat.' 27. for it is hardly to be supposed that miracles of this kind are wrought by halves, and by slow degrees.
It may be further observed, that the miracles mentioned by the apologists and antient fathers of the second and third centuries are usually healing the sick, and casting out evil spirits,-miracles in which there is room for some error and deception; we hear nothing of causing the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the lepers to be cleansed.
Add to this, that notions of morality d have in some points varied in the Christian world, and been more or less strict in different times and places. The writing of books or epistles under borrowed names, and imposing them as genuine upon the public, is a thing of bad consequence, and an immorality; yet hath it been done by men who perhaps in other respects were honest. Writers of the fourth and fifth centuries have attested miracles which either they knew to be false, or did not know to be true; and yet many of them, in all probability, would have died rather than have renounced Christianity, and for no reward in the world would have borne false witness in a trial. There have been Christians who have readily fought duels upon slender occasions, and for a point of honour, and who would as readily have died for their religion.
Men will be inclined to determine this controverted question according to their preconceived notions, and their accustomed way of thinking; for there appears to be a
d. De tout tems, je n'en excepte que les tems apostoliques, les evêques se sont crus' autorisez à user de ces fraudes pieuses qui tendent au salut des hommes. Les ouvrages supposez en sont une preuve, et la facilité avec laquelle les peres ajoutoient foi à ces mauvais ouvrages, fait voir que s'ils n'étoient pas complices de la fraude, ils n'étoient pas scrupuleux à en profiter. Beausobre Hist. de Manich, ji. 756.
sort of fatality in opinions of this kind, which when once taken up are seldom laid down. But, upon the whole, the arguments seem to preponderate a little on the side of the antient opinion, so as to incline us to suppose that miracles were sometimes wrought amongst the Christians, though at present it may be no easy matter to point them out distinctly.
Thus much may seem probable :—that in the second and third centuries, some sick persons were restored to health by the prayers of their brethren; that some virtuous Pagans had their doubts and prejudices removed, and were called to Christianity by divine impulses, dreams, or visions; and that the martyrs and confessors received an extraordinary assistance from God, enabling them to undergo horrible tortures and sufferings with amazing patience and constancy; which divine assistance, whether it may properly be called miraculous, it matters not much to inquire, for we will not dispute about words.
Whilst the church of Christ was subject to insults and persecution from the Pagan powers, and in a low and distressed condition, the Christians assembled together as often as they could, and took all possible care to instruct, and animate, and comfort, and relieve one another. When any of them were sick, the congregation prayed for them, and the presbyters visited them, and invoked the name of the Lord over them. Many of them recovered, and the recovery was accounted miraculous, and perhaps was oftentimes really and sometimes evidently so. It is impossible to show that it was unworthy of the divine power thus to exert itself for the consolation of the afflicted Christians, and for an evidence that God was with them of a truth. Great things are said in the Scriptures concerning the efficacy of prayer, to whose persuasive force may be applied what Pindar hath so elegantly feigned of music and poesy :
Και τον αιχματαν κεραυνον σβεννύεις
As the doctrines of divine influences upon the mind of man, and of the efficacy of prayer, are connected with the
doctrine of a particular providence, let us produce a few remarks on this subject, made by ingenious men who never passed for enthusiasts.
• Some thoughts and designs may be caused by the suggestion, and impulse, or other silent communications of some spiritual being; perhaps the Deity himself. For that such imperceptible influences and still whispers may be, none of us all can positively deny that is, we cannot know certainly that there are no such things. On the contrary, I believe there are but few of them who have made observa. tions upon themselves and their affairs, but must, when they reflect on life past, and the various adventures and events of it, find many instances in which their usual judgment and sense of things cannot but seem to them. selves to have been overruled, they knew not by what, nor how, nor why, (i. e. they have done things which afterwards they wonder how they came to do ;) and that these actions have had consequences very remarkable in their history. I speak not here of men dementated with wine, or inchanted with some temptation: the thing holds true of men even in their sober and more considering sea
• That there may be possibly such inspirations of new thoughts and counsels, may perhaps further appear from this; that we so frequently find thoughts arising in our heads, into which we are led by no discourse, nothing we read, no clue of reasoning ; but they surprise and come upon us from we know not what quarter. If they proceeded from the mobility of spirits, straggling out of order, and fortuitous affections of the brain, or were of the nature of dreams, why are they not as wild, incoherent, and extravagant as they are? Not to add, that the world has generally acknowledged, and therefore seems to have experienced, some assistance and directions given to good men by the Deity; that men have been many times infatuated, and lost to themselves, &c. If any one should object, that if men are thus overruled in their actings, then they are deprived of their liberty, &c. the answer is, that though man is a free agent, he may not be free as to every thing.
His freedom may be restrained, and he