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ONE of the great arguments for the truth of Christianity
is taken from the miracles of our Saviour and his apostles.
It seems to be rashness for us, who know so little of the powers of intellectual and spiritual agents, and of the scheme of Divine Providence, to affirm that (the miracles of the Old and New Testament excepted) God never wrought any, or never suffered any to be wrought by spirits good or evil. It is true that fraud, and fiction, and credulity, and ignorance of natural powers, and a strong imagina tion, and a disordered understanding, and misguided zeal, have been the parents of ten thousand false wonders.
Van Dale rejected every thing of the preternatural kind which is related to have appeared in the Pagan world, and resolved it all into imposture, and said that there were no real miracles, any more than real predictions, except those of which God was the author: but Le Clerc, in his account of Van Dale's works, shows that this is affirming too much, and talking unphilosophically, and that we have not sufficient grounds to determine in so positive a manner. Bibl. Chois. iii. p. 106. Le Clerc might perhaps have fallen into Van Dale's opinion, to which he had a certain propensity, if he had not been a careful reader of Cudworth and Grew. These two Christian philosophers led him into another way of thinking, and suggested to him strong motives for hesitation.
A miracle is a sensible operation, contrary to the common course of nature, wrought either by the immediate act, or by the assistance, or by the permission, of God.
Miracles cannot directly prove the truth or falsehood, the VOL. II.
reasonableness or absurdity, of any doctrine. As they are appeals to our senses, so are doctrines to our reason. They are properly credentials and testimonials, which when a man can produce openly and fairly, if he teach nothing absurd, much more if his doctrines and precepts appear to be good and beneficial, he ought to be obeyed.
Some learned men have affirmed that God alone can work miracles; which is not to be proved by reason, nor to be reconciled with the scriptures, without giving them the torture, and stretching or paring them to the hypothesis; and the contrary notion is more prevalent. But opinions fall and rise again, and we may expect to see this discarded system set up to try its fortune once more.
This inconvenience attends it, that if every miraculous operation be ascribed to God alone, when once a miracle is judged to be well attested, all inquiries into the reasonableness of the doctrine which it was wrought to support are in a manner superseded; but in the other system, which supposes that evil spirits may work miracles as well as good ones, full leave is left to examine the doctrines, and less danger of being led astray.
But God will not permit evil spirits to delude men. Say to delude wise and good men to their hurt; and it is He permits evil men to impose upon some persons by false wonders and impostures, and then, Homo homini dæmon' as to the consequences, the effect is the same, and the believer is deluded, though no devil overreach him.
THE MIRACLES recorded in the New Testament recommend themselves to our belief upon the following ac
1. They were wrought by persons who gave other proofs of their mission, and who rest not the whole of their cause upon miracles, but insist also upon the reasonableness of their doctrines, and offer them to exami nation.
2. By persons who appealed to God, and declared that they would perform them. By acting in the name of the God and Father of all, they gave the best kind of proof that they were supported by him, and thereby prevented ob
jections that the wonder might happen by chance, or be effected by a secret fatal power of which themselves knew nothing, or by evil dæmons, or for other ends and purposes; and they laid themselves under a necessity of fulfilling their promises, or of passing for impostors.
3. By persons known to be poor, unlearned, of a low condition, and destitute of great friends and powerful patrons.
4. They were performed in a public manner; which is a circumstance necessary to establish their credit: for though miracles may be wrought in secret, and cannot be disproved, only because they were seen by few, yet they often afford motives for suspicion; and a wise inquirer would perhaps suspend his assent in such cases, and pass no judgment about them.
5. The writers of the New Testament, when they relate the miracles, often name the time, the place, the occasion, the circumstances, the diseases that were removed, the persons healed or raised, the persons who were present, and the things that were said and done by friends and foes on the occasion, giving men an opportunity to inquire into the facts, and to disprove them if they were able.
Quadratus, who wrote his Apology for Christianity about A. D. 124. says that there were persons alive, even in his days, upon whom Christ had wrought miracles; and it is very probable that some of those who were cured of their infirmities, and raised from the dead, by our Saviour, were preserved by Providence to an extreme old age, to be living witnesses of his power and goodness. Apud Euseb. iv. 3.
6. They were performed before enemies, or unbelievers, or doubters, and persons not yet convinced; as indeed it was highly fit that they should; for miracles, în the main, are not so much designed for those who believe, as for those who believe not, and who are as yet undetermined, and want proper motives of persuasion.
7. They were wrought in a learned age and civilized countries, and in the politest and best inhabited parts of the world, where persons are not easily deluded, and are rather disposed to hesitate upon strange and unexpected ap
pearances, and to examine, than to be ductile and over credulous.
8. They were accompanied with no appearance of pride, vanity, and ostentation. When a man preaches up himself, and assumes haughty airs of importance and superiority, he gives cause for suspicion. Such was the case of Simon the magician, as St. Luke represents him, who seems to have had for his principal view to pass for a very great person amongst the Samaritans. But the behaviour of the apostles, in this respect, was unexceptionable; and our Saviour, during his ministry, acted as a servant and a prophet sent from God, ascribing all his miracles to his Father.
9. They were wrought for no worldly advantage. As nothing of that kind was sought, so nothing was obtained, by our Lord and by his disciples. Obscure indeed they could not be, who were endued with such powers, and despised they could not be by their friends and followers; but these were small temporal advantages, set against the obloquy, the opposition, the injuries, the afflictions, and the sufferings which they underwent. To do good, and to receive evil, was their portion, and poverty was their lot and their choice. C Quæ tamen passos apostolos scimus, manifesta doctrina est; hanc intelligo solam acta decurrens; nihil quæro; carceres illic, et vincula, et flagella, et saxa, et gladii, et impetus Judæorum, et cœtus nationum, et tribunorum elogia, et regum auditoria, et proconsulum tribunalia, et Cæsaris nomen, interpretem non habent.' Tertullian, Scorpiac p. 633. where instead of 'solam' it should be sola' or solùm;' and forhabent -interpretem non avent,' or 'havent :' want not, stand not in need of an interpreter.
10. They were wrought in confirmation of doctrines good and useful to mankind. The excellence of Christian morality will not be contested by fair and candid adversaries; and the few objections which may be made to it are grounded on passages not rightly understood, nor justly interpreted.
11. They were performed at a time when men wanted neither power nor inclination to expose them if they were
impostures, and were in no danger of being called atheists and heretics, and of being insulted by the populace, and persecuted by the civil magistrate for deriding them.
12. They were various and numerous, and of a permanent nature, and might be reviewed and re-examined. When our Saviour was risen from the dead, it could not be said of him, that he appeared only like a phantom for
Ostendunt terris hunc tantum fata, neque ultra
for he showed himself alive to his apostles by many repeated infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days.
13. They had nothing fantastical and cruel, but were acts of kindness and beneficence, calculated to excite gratitude more than fear, and to persuade rather than to terrify. Our Saviour performed no miracles of the severe kind, and the apostles very few, and no more than were necessary for wise and good purposes.
14. They prevailed upon many persons to quit the religion in which they had been educated, and with it ease and pleasure and worldly conveniences, to give up ample fortunes, to disoblige their dearest friends and relations, to offend rulers and magistrates, to leave their country, and to suffer all kinds of temporal evils, and the loss of life.
15. They were attested by proper witnesses. The disciples of Christ saw the miracles of their master, and died in confirmation of them, particularly of his resurrection. St. Paul appeals to the church of the Corinthians, that he had wrought miracles amongst them, and that they had miraculous gifts conferred upon them by the Holy Spirit. See Disc. ii. on the Christ. Relig.
16. They were foretold by the prophets, and such as the Jews expected, and had reason to expect, from the Messias. Isaias speaks of times when miracles should be performed, and of a person who should open the eyes of the blind, and cause the lame to walk, and heal the diseased; which when Christ performed, he might justly affirm that he was the person promised by the prophet.
Jesus said, Go and show John again those things