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OF THE DIRECT HISTORICAL EVIDENCE OF CHRISTIANITY,
I DEEM it unnecessary to prove that mankind stood
in need of a revelation, because I have met with no serious person who thinks that even under the Christian revelation we have too much light, or any degree of assurance which is superfluous. I desire moreover, that in judging of Christianity it may be remembered, that the question lies between this religion and none: for if the Christian religion be not credible, no one, with whom we have to do, will support the pretensions of any other.
Suppose then the world we live in to have had a Creator; suppose it to appear from the predominant aim and tendency of the provisions and contrivances observable in the universe, that the Deity, when he formed it, consulted for the happiness of his sensitive creation; suppose the disposition which dictated this council to continue; suppose a part of the creation to have received faculties from their Maker, by which they are capable of rendering a moral obedience to his will, and of voluntarily pursuing any end for which he has designed them; suppose the Creator to intend for these his rational and accountable agents, a second state of existence, in which their situation will be regulatVOL. II.
ed by their behaviour in the first state, by which supposition (and by no other) the objection to the Divine government in not putting a difference between the good and the bad, and the inconsistency of this confusion with the care and benevolence discoverable in the works of the Deity is done away; suppose it to be of the utmost importance to the subjects of this dispensation to know what is intended for them, that is, suppose the knowledge of it to be highly conducive to the happiness of the species, a purpose which so many provisions of nature are calculated to promote Suppose, nevertheless, almost the whole race, either by the imperfection of their faculties, the misfortune of their situation, or by the loss of some prior revelation, to want this knowledge, and not to be likely without the aid of a new revelation to attain it; under these circumstances is it improbable that a revelation should be made? Is it incredible that God should interpose for such a purpose ? Suppose him to design for mankind a future state, is it unlikely that he should acquaint them with it?
Now in what way can a revelation be made but by miracles? In none which we are able to conceive. Consequently, in whatever degree it is probable or not very improbable that a revelation should be communicated to mankind at all, in the same degree is it probable or not very improbable that miracles should be wrought. Therefore, when miracles are related to have been wrought in the promulgating of a revelation manifestly wanted, and, if true, of inestimable value, the improbability which arises from the miraculous nature of the things related, is not greater than the original improbability that such a revelation should be imparted by God.
I wish it however to be correctly understood, in what manner, and to what extent, this argument is alleged. We do not assume the attributes of the Deity, or the existence
of a future state, in order to prove the reality of miracles. That reality always must be proved by evidence. We assert only, that in miracles adduced in support of revelation, there is not any such antecedent improbability as no testimony can surmount. And, for the purpose of maintaining this assertion, we contend, that the incredibility of miracles related to have been wrought in attestation of a message from God, conveying intelligence of a future state of rewards and punishments, and teaching mankind how to prepare themselves for that state, is not in itself greater than the event, call it either probable or improbable, of the two following propositions being true: namely, first, that a future state of existence should be destined by God for his human creation; and, secondly, that, being so destined, he should acquaint them with it. It is not necessary for our purpose that these propositions be capable of proof, or even that, by arguments drawn from the light of nature, they can be made out to be probable. It is enough that we are able to say concerning them, that they are not so violently improbable, so contradictory to what we already believe of the Divine power and character, that either the propositions themselves, or facts strictly connected with the propositions (and therefore no farther improbable than they are improbable) ought to be rejected at first sight, and to be rejected by whatever strength or complication of evidence they be attested.
This is the prejudication we would resist. For to this length does a modern objection to miracles go, viz. that no human testimony can in any case render them credible. I think the reflection above stated, that, if there be a revelation, there must be miracles; and that, under the circumstances in which the human species are placed, a revelation is not improbable, or not improbable in any great degree, to be a fair answer to the whole objection.