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Mankind have indeed always expected that God would reveal himself to them by working some things above the course of nature; and therefore there never was any false religion set up, but it professed to be confirmed by some miraculous works or appearances; but these very attempts serve to set forth to greater advantage the undeniable miracles of the scripture.
Mahomet wisely disclaimed the performance of miracles as a test of his divine mission; and though he was not sparing in his account of sensible communications from heaven, his own statements represent him as at once the object of them, and the sole witness.
The prodigies of the heathen were few in number, were attested by no credible witnesses, were insulated and solitary wonders, were never submitted to the senses and examination of mankind, were at best rather subjects of speculative curiosity, than matters with which any serious truth was connected. They totally differ from the miracles of Christ in all their leading features, as well as in their connexion, import, and final cause. Their foundation was
religion, and more adapted, so to speak, to a learned period, when contemporary writings could hand down with ease to future ages the authentic records of the minutest divine operations.
chiefly rumour or fable; the wonders themselves are easily resolved into natural causes; the persons who recorded them lived at a remote age and in a distant country. Besides, there is no proof that any of these religions was set up in the first instance by means of these alleged supernatural works. Not a single miracle can be named that was ever offered as a test of any of these religions before it was established. Their miracles were appendages, not proofs; and the reception of them was the effect, not the cause of a belief in the religion with which they were connected.16
The Christian doctrine looks down on all these pretences from the glorious height on which it stands. The conviction of the probability of miracles for attesting the divine will, in the minds of all who admit the being and providence of God prepared the way; and the miserable impotency of all false religions in their pretences to them, left the whole field unoccupied for the clear and undoubted miraculous operations which usher in the scripture revelation. They stand as the single series of divine works, to attest the single series of divine communications which was ever made to man.
16 The above remarks, with a slight variation, apply to the miraculous works ascribed to the Roman Catholic Saints.
And here let us observe, that, as under the head of the authenticity, we found that the Christian books were the only records professing to contain a divine revelation written by the first teachers of that revelation, and submitted to the examination of mankind; and as again under the head of the credibility of those. books, we discovered that no account of the admitted facts of Christianity was ever given but the narrative therein contained ; so now, under the head of miraculous operations, we see that no other religion was ever attempted to be established in the first instance by miracles, but the religion of the bible. Thus solitary, in unapproachable dignity, stands the proof of the gospel.
I. Are you not then convinced, for I must pass on to the conCLUSION, by the statements laid before you? I address the docile and sincere. Does not the impression left on your minds by the review of the Christian miracles, resemble that which was produced on the multitudes in whose presence they were first wrought? Yes, all your previous hesitation and doubts are dispersed. You feel the force of truth. You are astonished beyond measure. You glorify God, with the people in our text, saying, We never saw it on this fashion. You bear witness to the grace
and power and divine mission of the Son of God.
The impression, the first dictate of the unsophisticated conscience, the language of the heart of man, on reading the miracles of Christ, is, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel. This is the prophet that was to come into the world. He hath done all things well. We have probably now quite as strong evidence of the divine miracles as the first Christians. We have not seen them indeed with our eyes, and so the sensible proof cannot be so lively, but other parts of the demonstration are more clear to us. The concurring marks of the Messiahship of Christ are more distinct; the direct miraculous character of the wonderful works is better recognized. Those doubts, for instance, which arose from the notions of magic, of the occult powers of nature, and the agency of evil spirits, are passed away; and with the brighter light of modern philosophy and science, we distinguish far more deci. sively the miracles of Christ from the ordinary course of God's providence
II. Let us then yield to the conviction which these miracles are designed to produce. Let us pray to God for his grace that we may renounce all interfering prejudices and appetites,
and submit unreservedly to the Christian doctrine. Miracles only serve to introduce the Saviour, to verify his doctrine, to send us to his promises, his warnings, his encouragements. Miracles cannot give a right disposition of heart. That must be sought for from the Holy Spirit, whom our risen Lord poured out upon his church. We have great cause to fear for ourselves. If we harden our hearts to the voice of conscience, no arguments can convince, no moral proofs subdue. It is probable that external evidences to miracles COULD NOT be stronger than ours actually are, considering the nature and circumstances of man as a responsible creature.7 But this is nothing if the heart be fixed on the world and sensual pleasure; if the will be debauched by vice; if the understanding be perverted and blinded by pride and conceit.
Let the example of the heathen philosophers at the time of our Lord, be a warning to us. For what did Tacitus and Suetonius and Seneca and Pliny know of the Christian doctrine ? What conviction did the miraculous works of Christ produce on their minds? The preaching of the cross was foolishness to them. In their proud search after wisdom, and their