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loath to believe them. At least, when he healed any person in private, without thus directing him to notify the cure, he then enjoined secrecy to him, on purpose to obviate all possible suspicions of art or contrivance.
As he had lived, so he died in public ; expired upon a cross, on the top of an eminence near Jerusalem. When buried, he had a public guard set upon his grave, and he arose from thence in the presence of that very guard, and to their astonishment. He appeared afterwards to five hundred brethren at once, to the twelve disciples frequently; ate, drank, and conversed with them for forty days, and was at last taken up into heaven in their sight, by a slow and leisurely ascent.
In all respects and circumstances, the Gospel of Christ shewed itself to proceed from the great Father of Lights, in whom is no darkness at all ; it was established upon proofs, as authentic, public, and solemn, as can well be imagined; bright, evident, and powerful, as the sun at noon day. As its Founder once appealed to his disciples, and said, Handle me, and see ; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have, Luke xxiv. 39.; so may the doctrine itself make a like challenge to its enemies, and say: “ Handle me, and see; for delusion and imposture hath not such substantial evidences, so open, ocular, and sensible a demonstration to boast of, as I have."--This thing was not done in a corner.
II. Secondly, Having thus briefly explained and illustrated the truth contained in these words, I shall now apply myself to (what I.chiefly intended) the drawing from thence those several useful observations and improvements with which it will furnish us. And the
1. First use I will make of it, shall be, to shew from thence, how great an advantage the christian religion hath, on this account, over all other religions, whether true or false! not excepting even the dispensation of Moses,
'Tis true, scarce any religion ever set up in the world, without pretending
sooner or later, to derive its authority from miracles. But then, either those miracles (as they are called) have been acted confessedly in secret; or, if they are said to have been done in public, yet the account, which was given of them, came too late to deserve credit, or to leave room for a disproof. And in both these cases the pretence to them is very suspicious.
Thus, in the first instance, Numa's nightly conferences with a goddess, was a figment, for which the people of Rome had his word only; the truth of the whole transaction was resolved into his single testimony. And such was Mahomet’s vain boast of his receiving several chapters of his Alcoran from the angel Gabriel ; for he wrought no public miracle to enforce this private one; nor did he, that we can learn, pretend to the power of working any. On the contrary, when miracles were demanded of him, he at first (as his followers have done ever since) appealed to the Alcoran itself, as to the greatest and most convincing miracle; which was written (he said) in such a manner, as to carry upon it the plain stamp and evidence of its own divine authority. And this was the only way in which he could make out his intercourse with the angel Gabriel.
Thus again, the several idolatrous religions, in the East and West Indies, are said to have received their sanction from miracles done by the first authors and founders of them: but then the reporters of these facts are so much later than the facts themselves, that 'tis impossible to have any rational assurance concerning the reality of them : [their Mango-Copal, Amida, Brama, and Zaca, are supposed to have achieved wonders) at a time when there was no way of transmitting accounts of them to posterity, but by meinory alone, and some thousands of years before there could be any written monuments of them. Now this, I say, is to build the proof of divine truths upon the certainty of soine accounts, whereof men can never be certain ; it is to establish the belief of a revelation upon things done, or said to be done, in a corner, and which require a new revelation to make them credible.
The Jewish religion was indeed published by God in
a very open and solemn manner, before a whole nation, with thunders and lightnings, and the sound of heavenly trumpets, on the top of mount Sinai. Yet still infidelity finds room to object, that the truth of this revelation de pends upon the testimony of friends only; and that the scene of it is laid in a place, where nobody could be present, but the persons concerned to support the account whether true or false. And should
And should any of these persons have been inclined to contradict it, they could not; because the whole race of them perished in the wilderness, ere a correspondence was as yet opened between them, and any other people.
Such objections, 'tis true, are of no weight, laid in the balance with the evidence given for the truth of those facts; yet it is some advantage to the proof of Gospel miracles, not to be liable even to those little exceptions, and on no side to lie open to any doubts or suspicions whatsoever.' And from hence we may take occasion to consider also in the
2. Second place, how inexcusable they are, who, notwithstanding that open, incontestable manner in which the divine authority of the Gospel was manifested, continue still to stand out against it; to resist, and even to deride, the utmost efforts made by an omnipotent arm towards asserting the mission of Jesus ; parallel them with the mock wonders of Satan, and the impostures of false prophets; and to insinuate, as if they were all equally done by collusion. Such was he, whose name ought not to be mentioned without reproach, and whom, therefore, I shall not mention; but his words are these : “If we look,"
upon the impostures wrought by confederacy, there is nothing, how impossible soever to be done, that is impossible to be believed. For two men conspiring, the one to seem lame, the other to cure him with a charm, will deceive many; but many conspiring, one to seem lame, another to cure him, and all the rest to bear witness, will deceive more." Which was intended to suggest, that the miraculous cures recorded in the Gospel were not really cures, but cheats, and concerted between
says he, “
the seeming objects and authors of them; though the relation of several of these cures be, as I shewed before, so circumstanced, as to make this account of them not only ridiculous, but impossible. He might as well have pretended to explain the miracle of our Saviour's giving eyes to the blind, by reasoning on the medicinal virtues of the clay and the spittle employed on that occasion.
The men who talk at this rate, (as, I fear, many men now do, and that openly, and not in a corner) who can bring themselves thus to confound the plainest marks of truth and falsehood, reality and imposture; and to impute the most clear and demonstrative proofs that ever were given of a Divine power, to confederacy and a juggle; such men, I say, are inexcusable upon all the accounts of right reason and good sense; and incurable by all further methods of proof that can possibly be addressed to them. They are infidels, not because they want sufficient grounds of conviction, but because they resolve not to be otherwise. To no purpose is it to dispute with them about these foundations of our faith ; to no purpose is it to exhort, beseech, persuade, or reprove them: their eyes are shut, that they cannot see ; and their ears stopped, that they cannot hear; and their hearts hard as the nether mill-stone. Our reasonings of this kind, may, indeed, be of some use, in respect of those, who are yet untainted with the principles of infidelity; and may serve to keep such free from the infection: but, to suppose that any good can be done by them upon those, who pretend to have weighed the evidence of the Gospel in a balance, and to have found it light; is a supposition, fit only for those to make, who have not tried it. A
3. Third thing, which we learn from the doctrine of the text, is, to satisfy ourselves of the vanity of those pretences which are made to miracles in the Romish communion. The members of it boast very much of mighty signs and wonders wrought by some canonized, and some uncanonized saints; their legends, their sermons, are full of them; even their great advocate
lays such a stress upon the number and kinds of them, as to make the glory of miracles one of the fifteen notes, by which that church may be discerned to be the only true church of Christ. But now, as confidently, and publicly, as they make these boasts of miracles, we may observe, that the miracles themselves are said to have been done very privately, in religious houses, and in places of secrecy and retirement; in remote regions of the world, whither nobody will go to disprove them; in superstitious countries, where no man hath a mind, or leave, to examine them. And these are circumstances, which smell strongly of imposture and contrivance; for why should things designed for public use and influence, be thus transacted in the dark, without witnesses ! A miracle is, in the nature of it, somewhat done for the conversion of infidels; it is a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: 1 Cor. xiv. 22. And yet it so happens, that popish miracles are generally done at home, before believers, where there is little or no need of them, or doubts concerning them: or if abroad, yet they are placed at such a convenient distance, as not to lie within reach of confutation. In China and Japan these wonder-workers may pretend to have done as many miracles as they please, without the fear of a discovery ; in Spain and Italy they may venture, now and then, to set up for them, where there are so many always ready to favour their pretences, and to run into any pious fraud that can be contrived for them. But in heretical countries (as they term ours) they are very shy, and sparing of their talent this way; and still, the more heresy there is in a country, the fewer miracles are heard of there. How can a man choose but suspect these odd stories, told under such suspicious circumstances ? How can he be blamed for not entertaining them? For, as our Saviour's brethren, once reasoning with him (and they reasoned right, though they applied it wrong) so may we with one of these preienders to miracles : there is no man doth any thing in secret and