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throwing a book, proper for his purpose, in his
way? I say, how many things may be brought “about thus, not only in regard of ourselves, but “ other people, who may be concerned in our actions,
either immediately, or in time through perhaps many - intermediate events? For the prosperity or impros
perity of a man, or his fate here, does not intirely
depend upon his own prudence, or imprudence, " but in a great measure upon his situation among the “rest of mankind, and what they do. The natural " effect of his management meeting with such things, " as are the natural effects of the actions of other
men, and being blended with them, the result may " be something not intended or foreseen,” Wollaston Rel. of Nat. Sect. v. p. 106,
These things, according to the light of reason, are not improbable, and, as our author observes, no man can prove the contrary : but whilst we acknowledge the gracious influences of providence in every thing that tends to make us better and wiser and happier, we must be very careful to keep the sober mean between the extremes, the one of excluding the divine interposition in the natural and moral world, the other of destroying human agency, or of ascribing the wild fancies of our own heads to the suggestions of the Holy Spirit.
Le Clerc, giving an account of An Essay on Divine Providence by Robert Burrow, says,
“ Besides a general providence, this author shews " that there are extraordinary occasions, where God in
terposes in a particular manner; as he did formerly " by miracles, and by prophecies, and as he hath “ done since, by particular interpositions, which we cannot, properly, call miracles. It is very probaSt
“ ble, not to say certain, that God can interpose, and " that he doth interpose now, as well as formerly, in “ extraordinary cases, though we perceive it not, be
cause we are not forewarned that it shall be so. “ Things happen, which seem not to be according to " the ordinary course of nature, but by a particular “ intervention of the Deity, though God doth not “ give us previous notice of it, as he did when he “ established the Mosaic and the Christian religion. “ God hath commanded us to call upon him, and hath promised to grant us whatsoever is proper for
And who can doubt of his fulfilling these pro“ mises ? Let us suppose that a good man, and a man “whose welfare is very necessary to his family, which “ he has educated religiously, is in great danger of
dying by a distemper, and that his family earnestly
prays to God for his recovery. Is it not possible “ that they may by their supplications obtain from " God the life and the health of this man, which else
he would not have granted? Upon the supposition " that his disease was mortal, and that without these prayers
God would not have removed it, this would - be a real miracle. In like manner, every thing “ that God gives to those who pray to him, and “ would not else give them, is a miracle, though we
perceive it not, because we know not beforehand $6 that it shall be sa,
“ In the number of these providential interposi
tions, supposing the fact to be true, might be pla“ced what happened on the coasts of Holland and * Zeland, the 14th of July 1672, The United Pro“ vinces having ordered public prayers to God, when “ they feared that the French and English fleets " would make a descent upon their coasts, it came to
pass that when these fleets waited only for the tide, " to land their smaller vessels, it was retarded con“trary to its usual course, for twelve hours, which
disappointed the design, so that the enemies were obliged to defer it to another opportunity, which
they never found, because of a storm that arose af“ terwards and drove them from the coast.
“ A thing of this nature, happening at such a "juncture, to save the country from ruin, was ac“ counted miraculous, and a prediction of it would “ have proved it to have been so. However, as no“ thing falls out, without the concurrence of the di"vine providence, there was great reason to return " thanks to God for the deliverance.
“ In the history of other nations, events of this “ kind are recorded, which, if they had been foretold, “ must have been accounted real miracles.” Le Clerc Bibl. A. et M. xxvi. 391.
Nec dubito quin etiamnum hodie Deus, precibus piorum permotus, multa occulte mutet in animis et corporibus, qua mutatione aerruncet ab hominibus religiosis magnas calamitates, quce iis alioqui contingerent. Multa operatur, quce res nobis faciunt secundiores, et veritati, nobis insciis, prosunt; quamvis talia sub oculos non cadant. Sunt hæc vera miracula, sed Dei sese occultantis, etiam üs, in quorum gratiam hoc facit. Quare seinper nos oportet ad Deum precibus confugere, et omnium eorum, qure nubis secunda eveniunt, gratias ci ugere ; quamvis Deus sua illa occulta auxilia non venditet. Clcricus ad Isai. xlv. 15.
After Constantine, the miracles become extremely suspicious, both from their own frivolous or extravagant nature, or their apparent bad tendency, or many otlrer circumstances which I shall not here examine. I mean not by this that providence never interposed in behalf of the Christian cause. The defeat of Julian's attempt to rebuild the temple may justly be ascribed to a particular providence.
Monkery, and the immoderate veneration of saints and martyrs, and Christianity somewhat adulterated with l'aganism, and the spirit of wrangling and of oppression, and religious controversies imprudently and indecently carried on by all parties, and false miracles, and feigned visions, came hand in hand, and prevailed too much.
There have been some, and there are many persons, who believing the truth of Christianity, doubt of the miracles after the apostolical age, or reject them. Such were Van Dale, and Moyle ; and Le Clerc, who yet was not so far fixed in that opinion as to think it improbable that miracles were wrought in the beginning of the second century.
To these authors will it be permitted to add Middleton ? He declared himself more than once in favour of revelation. Let us therefore err, if it be an error, on the side which is favourable to liim and to his memory, and join him to these ingenious and learned men.
His system was treated by some persons as a novelty; but they should have said, As far as we know ; for be it right, or be it wrong, it certainly is not new.
" When the truth of our religion,” says Moyle, " had been confirmed by so many signal miracles, “ which were never disowned by the heathens them“ selves, it quickly triumphed over all opposition, “ and spread with a wonderful progress over all the
parts of the Roman empire. When Christianity “ had gained such a footing in the world, the work
was half done, and the rest might be safely trusted " to the preaching of our ministers, and the suffering “ of our martyrs ; and the ends of miracles being ful
ly accomplished, it was high time for miracles them“ selves to cease, for God Almighty never wastes " them in vain. This notion I take to be very agree“ able to the general sense of the Protestant divines, "and for this reason I give little credit to any mira“ cles since the days of the apostles. I am loath, I “ confess, to reject all without reserve, for the sake of
remarkable one whic, happened at the rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem under Julian, “ which is so extraordinary in all its circumstances, " and so fully attested, that I do not see with " wliat forehead any man can question the truth of “ it, &c. Though the primitive Christians, in gene“ ral lived up to the full rules of their religion with " the utmost probity and innocence of manners, yet it " is too certain that there were some persons amongst " them, who through a mistaken zeal made no scruple
of lying for the honour of their religion. Their fic* tions found an easy reception in a credulous age, “ and were conveyed down to posterity as certain “ truths. I am not so uncharitable as to charge the “ faults and follies of particular men on the whole “ body of the Christian writers. On the contrary, “ I think them the persons chiefly imposed on, “ and that the far greater part of the fictions which
appear in the authors of the three first centuries,
were not wilful lies of their own invention, but mis“ takes, Aowing from an easy credulity, and warm - sallies of zeal that would not suffer then over-nice“ ly to examine the authority of some facts which