« 上一頁繼續 »
3. He was a prophet: he foretold not only things remote and lying beyond human sagacity, but things improbable and miraculous, which have been accomplished.
4. He wrought miracles numerous and various, worthy of himself, and beneficial to men : and many of these miracles were also prophecies at the same time, and indications of future events ; and so were most of his parables.
5. He never erred or failed in any point, as teacher, prophet, Messias, or worker of miracles. All his promises were accomplished, particularly his remarkable promise that he would support and comfort all those who should be called to suffer and to die for his sake, which hath been illustriously fulfilled in ancient and in modern martyrs.
6. He conferred miraculous and prophetic gifts on his disciples, and they on theirs.
7. His religion was plain and popular, yet pure and holy, and tending to make men wiser and better, and it produced a multitude of good effects in the world.
8. When it was first preached, it could never have made its way without the assistance of miracles.
9. He lived and died an example of all that he taught, of all active and suffering virtues.
10. He had no rival or antagonist to make his anthority appear doubtful, by opposing prophecies to bis prophecies, and miracles to his miracles, from the time that he began his ministry to this day.
It cannot be supposed that there should be any deceit in this complicated evidence, and that falsehood should boast of all the imaginable characters of truth. A learned and ingenious person, but inclined to scepticism, said once to a friend ; You often tell us how dangerous it is to reject the gospel, if it be true; but you consider not that there is the same danger in teaching it, if it be false. What can you say for yourselves when you come to appear before God, if you have misled the people in so important a point ? His friend replied, We will suppose,
you please, that Christianity is not a divine revelation : let us consider the consequence.
The consequence is, that Deism is the only true religion ; and these are its great articles : one God, the immortality of the soul, or its permanency so long as it shall please God, a future state of retribution, the eternal differences of moral good and evil, an obligation to love God and man, and to live righteously and soberly.
All these points are forcibly inculcated by Christianity, and nothing is taught by us that invalidates them. If Christianity be not true, we have been deluded, and have thought too well of those who introduced revealed religion into the world; and that is all. The delusion hath led us into no iniquity, and authorised no crimes: it has been the most innoxious of all errors, an error pleading for every virtue, and dissuading from every vice.
What danger can there be in such a religion, even upon any supposition ? and how can it be imagined that the Father of mercies would not forgive such an error ?
If Christianity be true, the Deist is in an error, and if his error be unavoidable, he is in the hands of a merciful God: but let him take heed that he de
ceive not himself, for if his unbelief arises from evil causes, God is not mocked.
As far as the subsequent miracles mentioned by Christian writers fall short of the distinguishing characters belonging to the works of Christ and his apostles, so far they must fail of giving us the same full persuasion and satisfaction.
That they fall short in many instances, will appear to any one who shall examine them by the characters which we have enumerated above. I shall only observe ;
1. They were not foretold by the prophets. 2. They were not wrought by prophets.
3. They contained in them no prophetic indications of future events.
4. No man ever laid down his life, or even suffered distress and persecution in attestation of them.
Though this be an inquiry proper for those who have learning, leisure, and abilities, yet Christians at present are under no particular obligation to form any notion at all about the subject, any more than about many other things contained in the writings of the fathers, upon which Christianity cannot be said to depend. It were to be wished that the defenders of these iniracles would remember that the dispute is not pro aris et focis, and that the truth of Christianity is out of the question. If we admit the miracles of Christ and of his
apostles, we must not, when we examine the subsequent miracles, bring along with us a prejudice against them, from their own nature, and as they are acts surpassing human power.
Since they are not impossibilities and imply no contradiction, they are to be examined like other facts, with this difference, that they require a stronger confirmation.
But there is in the heart of many persons a bent to an opinion concerning things preternatural, amounting nearly to this proposition, What we never see ; cannot be true. This bent hath seldom been more prevailing than in our age, and it is the business of reason to correct it, since it may mislead us as much as credulity.
In examining these later miracles, we must consider their nature, the end for which they appear to have been performed, their tendency, the effects which they produced, and the credibility of the wit
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, NONLIQUET. Doubt and suspense are then commendable, and God hath so ordered it, that many of our enquiries 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 ancient 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 second 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 anthority in any person, or to augment the power of the clergy, or to decide the religious controversies, or to run down any thing called heresy, and heterodoxy, or to establish any new doctrine, or