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he himself seeketh to be known openly : if thou do these things, shew thyself to the world, John vii. 4. And whoever totally declines this trial, must not expect to have any credit given, either to the miracles he pretends to have done, or to the message he brings.
But the most absurd pretence of this kind, and the most opposite to the doctrine delivered, is, that famous miracle of the corporeal presence in the eucharist; which is done so much in the dark, that nobody ever did or can see it, either before or after it is done, or even while it is doing; no, not the doer himself, as loudly as he may boast of it. The miracles of the Gospel are so many appeals to the senses of men; but this is a strange new kind of miracle, which is perfectly invisible. To say, that it must be received by faith, that we must believe it to be a miracle; is to destroy the very end and design of miracles; which are works done, in order to procure the belief of somewhat else; and are not therefore, themselves to be believed, and taken for granted. In a word, it is a miracle, the doing of which is so utterly a secret, that it wants another miracle to prove it to be
And yet of all things in the world, it is the most incapable of being proved this way; for miracles being, as I said, appeals to our senses, and transubstantiation a plain contradiction to them; the calling in of a miracle to evince the truth of this doctrine, would be (as one very justly reasoned) “ to prove to a man by what he sees, that he doth not see what he sees.' therefore, the pretended corporeal presence is no miracle; or, if it be one, we are still excusable in not admitting it, since it comes to us in a way so very singular, and demands our assent against the testimony of sense, upon the reports of which all other miracles are founded. Again,
4. Fourthly, the doctrine discoursed of teaches us likewise to reject all pretences to the spirit, to private visions and inward illuminations, by which enthusiastical or designing men endeavour to establish their own particular opinions, and to give them a sacred authority.
." Either, Should these strange things they tell us, be true; yet they are transacted privately, between God and their own souls, and cannot, therefore, reasonably be made a foundation for the public reception of any doctrine, or opinion: [for whenever God intends to establish any thing openly, he gives open proof and evidence of it; his notice reaches always as far as he designs to extend his revelation; and they therefore, who have no sure sign or notice that a truth is revealed, cannot, in reason, be obliged to entertain it.
Thus it would be, I say, supposing these visions and revelations alleged, were really true; whereas, we have, indeed, the best ground in the world for suspecting them to be false ;] since it is evidently contrary to all the divine methods of acting, with which we are acquainted, that God should give a man a commission to publish a new doctrine, and not give him wherewithal to manifest the authority of his commission to others. If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true, John ii. 31., says our Saviour; it is probably not true in itself, it is certainly not necessary to be embraced as true, by those to whom I propose it; and therefore it follows, the works that I do, they bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me, yer. 36. The miracles which a man performs, are the only convincing arguments of his being inspired; and his own affirmation in this case, when divested of these proofs, let it be never so peremptory, cannot reasonably induce a belief of what he affirms.
Thus (for instance) when the dispute was in the church of Rome, between the two orders of Franciscans and Dominicans, about the immaculate conception; one side had visions and revelations for it, and the other side had visions and revelations against it; but neither side thought themselves obliged to take the word of the other; and the rest of the world, that stood by, did not think themselves obliged to take the word of either; but believed or disbelieved the immaculate conception, according as reason, Scripture, and the authority of tradition seemed to determine them, and not
according to the proportion of visions and revelations, vouched for or against it.
5. It will be yet a fifth improvement of what hath been laid down, to observe from hence, how it comes to pass, that miracles have been so long discontinued, and do rarely, very rarely, appear in these latter ages of the world. They were performed at first in so conspicuous, exuberant, and convincing a manner, as to render a continual repetition of the same proofs utterly needless. Had, indeed, these first evidences of a divine power been displayed before a few only, or before many, but suspected witnesses, it might liave been requisite, perhaps, to repeat them often in succeeding times; (so often, perhaps as any single convert to Christianity was to be made :) but being originally wrought, as you have heard, in the face of the sun, before a whole nation of witnesses, and those witnesses enemies; the certainty of them was so well established, and transmitted to after-ages; as that no fair, impartial considerer should be able to doubt of it; and such an one, having no reason to dispute the truth of former miracles, could have no reason, no occasion, to demand new ones. God governs the moral world, as he doth the natural. He made it, indeed, and ordered it, at first, by miracle ; but he steers and conducts the affairs of it ever since, by standing rules and laws, and by the ordinary ministry of second causes. And thus he established the truth of his revelation, at the beginning, by miracle; but, that being once done, he suffers things now to go on in their regular course, without offering every day motives of the same kind, to men, but appealing to those which he hath proposed already; which he knows to be sufficient, and knows, also, that if they do not suffice, no others will; according to that remarkable decision of our Lord's, that such as hear not Moses and the prophets (i. e., reject a revelation already attested by miracles) would not be persuaded, though one arose from the dead, Luke xvi. 31. Further,
6. Sixthly, from the general drift and tenor of the argument we have been handling, it may be justly collected, that the more any doctrine affects secrecy, and declines trials of any sort, the more reason we have to suspect and to examine it: Beloved, believe not every spirit
, (says St. John), but try the spirits, whether they be of God, John iv. 11.; and most particularly those spirits, which desire to be believed without being tried : for this looks, as if they were afraid of being brought to the test; and fear generally arises from a consciousness of guilt, as the same apostle, in this very case, argues : every one (says he) that doeth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh he to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved ; but he that doeth the truth, cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God, John iii. 20, 21.
This reflection cannot but once again put us in mind of those -articles of the Roman Catholic faith, by which it stands distinguished from the faith of all other Christians. We are not allowed to doubt of them, or to reason upon them. They are to be received implicitly, without any particular discussion and inquiry : from the great doctrine of infallibility they proceed, and into that they are finally resolved : as the rivers run into the sea, into the place from whence the rivers come, thither do they return again, Eccl. i. 7. And how can that which hath the stamp of unerring authority upon it, become the proper subject of any
man's private debates and reasonings ! Now this is the greatest prejudice imaginable against the truth of the doctrines of any church, or the sincerity of its pretences : for if what it proposeth to us be true and reasonable, why should it decline the examination and judgment of reason? If all be pure gold, without alloy, how comes it thus to fly the touchstone? 'Tis the property of error only to skulk and hide its head; but truth, we know, is open and barefaced ; like our first parents, in the state of innocence and happiness, naked, but not ashamed. And therefore, though it be very unreasonable in the church of Rome, to impose her
doctrines upon us, without allowing us to examine them; yet it is not unreasonable in us to reject these doctrines, thus proposed, even without examination.
The same inay be said of those wild opinions set up by fanatics and enthusiasts, as dictates of the Spirit, and which they will suffer to be tried by the Spirit only; not by the dead letter of Scripture, or by carnal reasoning. There needs no more than this very consideration, to convince us of the absurdity of their pretences; for if Scripture and reason were for them, they would not be against Scripture and reason: Men do not use to decline the arbitration of their friends.
Far different from this is the conduct of that excellent church, to which we belong: she deals openly and fairly, brings all her doctrines to the light, and invites all her members to search and inquire into them. She desires nothing more, than to be tried at the bar of unbiassed reason, and to be concluded by its sentence: She knows that her testimony is true, and that the truth of it will appear the more, the more it is sifted. Even in those mysteries which she proposes as objects of faith, divinely revealed, she pretends not to shut out the use of reason, but only cautions us to exercise it soberly and discreetly, and to keep it within its due bounds: not to reject a divine truth, because we are ignorant of the particular manner in which it may be made out; not to reason from the properties of finite to those of infinite beings; not to pretend to find contradictions in points, the depth of which we cannot fathom or comprehend. Under these restraints, she encourages us to use our reason, in the discussion of mysteries, as freely as we please; and she questions not, but that the more freely we use it, the more reason we shall find to believe those mysteries, and to revere them.
Would to God, all inen dealt as fairly with her, as she deals with all men! She would not then, by ill tongues and pens, be traduced, as guilty of pious cheats and priestcraft; things, which she detests utterly, and hath done more toward exposing them, where they are