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We have already seen that if miracles had not been wrought, our sacred books could not have been received as authentic, and that the religion taught in them could not have made its way in the world. No hypothesis but that of miracles will account for its success. - It has been alleged, with a view to throw suspicion upon the scriptural narrations, that stories of miracles have been cire culated and believed in all ages ; and that, as credulity and the love of the marvellous are so prevalent among mankind, these principles will account for the belief of the Christian miracles. Our antagonists refer us to heathen and popish writings, in which are many similar relations equally entitled, as they insinuate, to attention.

It is true that ancient historians abound in wonderful facts; but there is no evidence that Livy, for example, gave credit to those which he records, and certainly he has stated no grounds on which we should believe them. He does not pretend to have seen any of them himself; they happened long before his time, and they were obviously vague rumours, the consequences of which affected no individual. Some of the miracles were natural events, as the fall of lightning upon a house or a tree, and the descent of stones, or as they are called in modern science aërolites, from the clouds; others were monstrous productions which now and then appear; and others were of the same ridiculous nature with the marvellous stories which are still current among the vulgar. The best authenticated heathen miracles are those which Vespasian performed in Alexandria upon a blind and a lame man. It is questionable whether Tacitus, who relates them with a grave face, himself believed them. At first, Vespasian laughed at the proposal to attempt the feat, and did not proceed till he was excited by his friends, and assured by physicians that the lameness and blindness were curable by proper applications; that is to say, the whole business was a farce; but being acted by a mighty emperor, surrounded by his courtiers and soldiers, and tending to the honour of the tutelar god of the city, it passed without examination. How different were the Christian miracles, performed by a few obscure individuals, in the midst of enemies, and opposed by all the powers of the state !

Popish miracles are without number. Some of them carry their own con futation in their face, being so absurd and ridiculous that even a child would laugh at them. Some, again, are profane and impious in a shocking degree. Not a few of them have been clearly proved to be impostures by the confession of the persons employed in them, and by the discovery of the means by which they were effected; and these destroy the credit of the rest, upon this principle, that if you have once proved a man to be repeatedly guilty of falsehood, you are not bound ever to believe him.

Dr. Douglas, in his Criterion of Miracles, and Dr. Paley after him, have laid down various rules for distinguishing false accounts of miracles from true. No credit is due to relations long posterior to the time; to accounts of miracles which are said to have been performed in a far distant scene; or to transient rumours of wonderful events which soon cease to be mentioned. The miracles of Christianity were wrought on the spot.where, and in the age when, the narrative was published: they have ever since been believed and appealed to as proofs of our religion. No credit is due to reports of miracles in which, to use the words of Paley, “no interest is involved, nothing is to be done or changed in consequence of believing them. Such stories are credited, if the careless assent that is given to them deserve that name, more by the indolence of the hearer, than by his judgment; or, though not much credited, are passed from one to another without inquiry or resistance.”+ But the miracles of Christianity must have awakened all the attention of mankind, because they

• Tacit. Hist. lib. iv,

| Paley's Evidences, part i. prop. il. chap. l.

decided, “ if true, the most important question upon which the human mind can fix its anxiety." Once more, miracles may be suspected when they are reported to be wrought in confirmation of a religion supported by the state, and embraced by the people. All the heathen and popish miracles fall under suspicion on this ground. The miracles of Christianity were wrought against the established religions. The design of them was not to give credit to a sect already existing, but to found one upon the ruins of all other sects. There was no prejudice in their favour; the prejudices of mankind were all hostile to them. It was only by being true that they could accomplish their end; and since they did succeed, we may implicitly confide in the record of them which has been transmitted to us.

LECTURE VIII.

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.

What Miracles prove-Are they alone sufficient to prove a Revelation ?--Argument from

Prophecy-Definition of a Prophecy : Implies Divine Foresight-Characteristics of real Prophecies—Their Force as an Evidence of Revelation-Notice of some particular Prophecies-Argument from the Success of Christianity: Statement and Force of this Argument.

We have shown that miracles are possible, that there is no improbability against them, and that cases may be conceived in which they would be manisestly proper and necessary. It has appeared that God only can work miracles, and that the men who have been employed in them ought to be viewed in no other light than as the instruments by whom his power was exerted. The conclusion from these premises is, that the religion in favour of which miracles have been wrought, is true. We have proved the certainty of the miracles alleged in support of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and hence we are warranted to account them a Divine revelation.

I do not see that this inference can be rationally disputed. I should presume that if a person were once convinced that the miracles related in the Scriptures were really performed, he would not hesitate to give an assent to the doctrines taught in them. Miracles were signs of the presence of God with those who exhibited these seals, as they have been called, by which their commission to communicate his will was attested. Infidels have asked, What connexion is there between truth and power?. meaning that there is no connexion, or that the truth of a doctrine cannot be proved by a miracle. They might have asked with equal wisdom, What connexion is there between a man's signature and the validity of the bill or bond which he has subscribed ? What connexion is there between the credentials of an ambassador and his right to transact the business of his sovereign? If they could perceive the connexion in these cases, they could see it in the other, unless they were wilfully blind. Were it in the power of men to work miracles, we could draw no inference from them respecting the truth of their tenets, because they might be influenced by corrupt motives, and have a design to deceive. But, believing that God is a holy Being, who will not and cannot deceive, because falsehood is contrary to his nature, we hold that the exertion of his power in favour of any religious system, is the highest evidence of its truth. To suppose the contrary is impiety and blasphemy. Those who witnessed the supernatural works by which the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ were confirmed, were furnished with the means of being as fully assured that the revelations proceeded from God, as if they had heard him pronounce them with an audible voice; and we, to whom their testimony to the works has been faithfully transmitted, may have equal confidence in the divinity of these revelations.

It has been asserted by some Christian writers, that miracles alone are not sufficient to prove the truth of a doctrine, and that we must take into the account the nature of the doctrine, as well as the miracles. This has always appeared to me to be reasoning in a circle, as Papists do, when they prove the authority of the Scriptures from the church, and the authority of the church from the Scriptures.' It completely changes the design of miracles, which are no longer decisive proofs but merely testimonials, which when a man can produce, “if he teaches nothing absurd, much more if his doctrines and precepts appear to be good and beneficial, he ought to be obeyed.” So says Dr. Jortin,* and so say others, but with very little wisdom. Who is to determine what is absurd and what is not? May not doctrines which are true seem absurd to the ignorant and prejudiced? Were not the peculiar doctrines of Christianity viewed in this light by both Jews and Gentiles? Who is to judge what is good and beneficial ? Are there not exercises and duties of our religion, the goodness of which is known only by the declarations and promises of God, and could not have been ascertained by reasoning a priori?' The ground on which this opinion rests, is the difficulty of distinguishing true miracles from false. If, by the latter, are meant such signs and wonders as it was intimated by our Lord that false Christs and false prophets would perform, we have already seen that they were merely feats of dexterity. There is reason to believe that the acts of the Egyptian magicians were not exceptions. Let those who talk of miracles as wrought by evil spirits give us a well-attested instance of one. Moses, indeed, has said, “ If there arise among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams.”+ You will, however, observe, that this is only a hypothetical case, and seems to have been intended as a general admonition to beware of those who might entice them to idolatry ; but we do not find that the case supposed was ever realized, for we read nowhere of false prophets among the Jews who wrought miracles, unless you give this name to the wizards, necromancers, and dealers with familiar spirits, whom all allow to have been of the same class with our own jugglers and fortune-tellers. It ought to be farther observed, that the case supposed is that of a sign given to draw men away from a religion already established by miracles. As God cannot contradict himself, we are sure, without any farther inquiry, that those are false miracles which are designed to seduce us to adopt any opinion or practice which he has forbidden. In such a case, too, the one set of miracles will be contradicted by the other; those which are wrought in attestation of truth, bearing such clear marks of omnipotence as to demonstrate that those by which error is supported have emanated from an inferior power. Thus, although the miracles of the Egyptian magicians had been real, yet their evidence was destroyed by the miracles of Moses, which they were not able to imitate. Was it ever heard that a teacher of error divided the sea before his followers; brought down manna from heaven ; stilled a tempest in a moment; fed a multitude with a few loaves; cured all kinds of disease by a word or a touch, and called the dead from the grave? Till some person be produced who supported a system of his own invention by such mighty deeds, we may allow that miracles are sufficient to prove the truth of a revelation, independently of any consideration of its contents. The opposite opinion supposes a capacity in men to decide concerning what is true, and fit, and expedient in religion, which they do not possess. It constitutes reason, in part at least, the judge of revelation; whereas a revelation, being an authoritative declaration of the will of God, demands to be received upon the simple exhibition of its evidence. We are not to inquire whether it is worthy of God, but to believe that it is so, simply because it has manifestly proceeded from him. In a word, this opinion is at variance with the Scriptures, which sooften appeal to miracles as a proof of doctrines; and it represents our Lord as having reasoned inconclusively when he said, “ Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me; or else believe me for the very works' sake."* “ The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.”+ Can any thing be plainer? He rests his claim to be believed solely upon his miracles. Will any person still affirm that miracles are not in themselves sufficient to establish the truth of a doctrine? He must also affirm that our Lord, in the passages quoted, made an unreasonable demand upon his hearers, and that their not believing in him on the ground of his miracles alone, would not have been so criminal as we have been led to suppose.

* Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, book ii.

† Deut. xii, 1–3.

Our first argument for the truth of revealed religion is founded on the miracles which were wrought to attest it. The next is derived from prophecy ; but before we enter upon the illustration of it, we may remark its connxtion with the proof of the genuineness of the sacred writings. We can know that certain parts of them are prophetical, only by having previously ascertained that they were composed before the events which they profess to foretell. Any doubt upon this subject would destroy the argument; and were there reason to believe that they were posterior to the events, we should be under the necessity of pronouncing them to be forgeries. Hence you perceive, that in this discussion, it was an indispensable preliminary to show that the Scriptures were the productions of the persons to whom they are ascribed.

A prophecy is the annunciation of a future event which could not have been foreknown by natural means. Human knowledge is almost entirely confined to things past and present; with a few exceptions, those which are future are the objects only of conjecture. There are, indeed, certain events which we contidenily expeet. We believe, without any mixture of doubt, that in all ages to come, while the world endures, the sun will rise and set, the ocean will ebb and flow, the wind will blow from different points of the compass, and the seasons will change. It requires no prophetic spirit to foretell these events, because they will arise from the constitution and course of nature, or from causes which already exist and are known. It would be a real prophecy if any person could at this moment inform us at what precise period this regular succession will cease ; a prophecy, however, which would have no practical effect, because its truth would not be established till the present system had come to a close, when prophecy and miracles will no longer be wanted. We can also, from what we know of certain individuals, draw probable conclusions respecting their actions in given circumstances; but we proceed upon the general principles of human nature, which are as permanent as the laws of matter, and upon our previous acquaintance with the characters, dispositions, and conduct of the persons in question. Superior sagacity con: sists in quickly and accurately combining the elements of calculations, and anticipating the result. Yet it is almost needless to say, that the best-founded expectations are often disappointed.

John xiv, 11.

| John v. 36.

Every coincidence between an event and something which has been said before, is not to be accounted a prophecy. You may find in an ancient author passages surprisingly applicable to occurrences which were long posterior; but the agreement is manifestly accidental. There is no evidence that the author had any knowledge of the occurrence; nor were the passages ever supposed to have an original reference to it. It may happen, too, that of a variety of conjectures, some shall be realized; but no person of a sound mind would, for this reason, look upon them as more than conjectures. He would say that the accordance was owing to chance, and was not more wonderful than it is to find, among a multitude of portraits, one which bears a resemblance to an acquaintance without being intended for him. Design enters into the idea of prophecy; that is, the words in which it is expressed were spoken for the avowed purpose of giving notice beforehand of an event, hidden at the time from every mortal eye amidst the darkness of futurity.

But, although human foresight could not be the foundation of prophecy, it may be supposed that the knowledge necessary to it might be furnished, not. by God, but by superior beings. If there are evil spirits who interfere in the affairs of mankind, and take pleasure in deceiving them, it will not be doubted that they far excel us in intellectual endowments, and may possess the means of extending their discoveries beyond our limited range. “It is easy to conceive Satan,” as I have elsewhere observed, “ if his preternatural agency upon the mind be admitted to have enabled the subjects of his inspiration to reveal secrets, because deeds committed in darkness and in the closest retirement are open to the inspection of a spirit. He could farther have made them acquainted with distant transactions, the immediate knowledge of which it was impossible to obtain by natural means. He might have given them some notices of futurity by informing them of such things as he intended to do, or as were already in a train to be accomplished. He undoubtedly can conjecture with much greater sagacity than we, what will be the result in a variety of cases from the superior powers of his mind, his longer and more extensive experience, and his more perfect acquaintance with human nature in general, and the dispositions and circumstances of individuals.''* Thus far his knowledge may go; but it is obviously inadequate to such predictions as are found in the records of revelation. It catches a glimpse of the outskirts of futurity, but cannot penetrate into its dark and distant recesses. “ A real prophecy, or the prediction of an event which shall be effected by causes not yet in existence, or which depends upon the free agency of men who shall live a hundred or a thousand years hence, we may safely pronounce him to be as incapable of delivering as the most short-sighted of mortals.”+

It is probable, that if men had formed a previous idea of prophecy, they would have supposed that it would be distinct and particular, giving a clear description of events, and thus guarding against all misapplication, and against all danger of overlooking the fulfilment. This is the character of predictions written after the event, as we see in the pretended Sybilline Oracles, which are often as plain as historical narrative. But there is an obscurity in the prophecies of Scripture, referrible, however, to a different cause from that studied ambiguity to which the obscurity of the heathen oracles was owing, for they were so framed as to admit an application to the event, whatever it might be. Such was the answer to Pyrrhus, when he was going to make war with the Romans :

Aio te Æacida Romanos vincere posse;
Ibis redibis nunquam in bello peribis.

• Lectures on the Acts, second edition, p. 317.

f Ibid.

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