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A. M. 4035, people brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds, that at least the &c. or 5441. shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them;" and when from (a) “ Paul's body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed Vulg. Er. 30. from them, and evil spirits went out of them."
To sum up what has been said on this subject. Since a real miracle is such an ope ration as can be done by none but God, or such as are appointed by him, and was therefore, in all ages, acknowledged as an authentic proof of a Divine mission; since the prophets, in their predictions of the Messiah, represent him as working miracles of a kind and merciful nature, and our Saviour, when he entered upon his ministry, and assumed that character, displayed a wonderful power in works of the same kind; since that power could proceed from no other cause but a communication from God, and yet to imagine that God would communicate any part of his power to give sanction to an impostor, is a thing repugnant to his sacred attributes; since, upon examination, it appears that all the marks and characters of true miracles concur in the words of Jesus, but violent suspicions of trick and artifice in those that are named in competition with him; since, besides these characters of their truth, the number of those which he did (besides those that were done by persons acting in his name and by his authority) was greater than what all the true workers of miracles, viz. Moses and the prophets, had done through the whole compass of the Old Testament: Since these things appear to be thus, I say, we are under a necessity to conclude, that our Blessed Saviour must have been the true Messiah promised to the Jews, and characterised in the writings of their prophets; that he was the great " Messenger of the Covenant" sent from God; for (b)" if he had not been of God he could have done nothing;" and consequently, that the message which he delivered to us containing this covenant, or (what is all one) that the religion which he hath settled in the world, and confirmed by so many incontestible proofs (so far as the testimony of miracles is available) cannot but be true.
ON THE MIRACLES OF OUR BLESSED SAVIOUR
SINCE the period at which the preceding Dissertation was written, objections have been urged against the reality of miracles in general, and of the Gospel miracles in particular, which seem not to have occurred to the philosophers, who were contemporary with our author. As these objections have been lately stated in perspicuous and very forcible language, and disseminated among all classes of reading people, with the art which distinguishes one of our most popular literary journals, (c) I am unwilling to dismiss from my hands a work of this kind, without attempting at least to expose the sophistry which has been thus employed to undermine the foundations of our holy religion
A miracle has been defined-" An effect or event contrary to the established constitution or course of things," or "a sensible deviation from the known laws of nature." To this definition I am not aware that any objection has ever been made, or indeed can be
(a) Acts xix. 11, 12.
(b) John. ix. 33.
(c) See the Edinburgh Review, No. 46.
Luke vi. 1.
made. That the visible world is governed by stated general rules or laws; or that there From Matth. is an order of physical causes and effects established in every part of the system of na-xil. 1. Mark ii. ture, which falls under our observation, is a fact, which is not, and cannot be, contro- John v. 1. to verted. Effects which are produced by the regular operation of these laws or physical Matth xvii. 14. causes, or which are conformable to the established course of events, are said to be na-uke ix. 37. tural; and every palpable deviation from this constitution of the natural system, and John vii. 1. the correspondent course of events in it, is called a miracle.
Mark ix. 14.
If this definition of a miracle be accurate, no event can be justly deemed miraculous merely because it is strange, or even to us unaccountable; for it may be nothing more than the regular effect of some physical cause operating according to an established though unknown law of nature. In this country earthquakes happen but rarely, and at no stated periods of time; and for monstrous births perhaps no particular and satisfactory account can be given; yet an earthquake is as regular an effect of the established laws of nature as the bursting of a bomb-shell, or the movements of a steam engine; and no man doubts, but that, under particular circumstanses unknown to him, the monster is nature's genuine issue. It is therefore necessary, before we can pronounce an event to be a true miracle, that the circumstances under which it was produced be known, and that the common course of nature be in some degree understood; for in all those cases in which we are totally ignorant of nature, it is impossible to determine what is, or what is not, a deviation from her course. Miracles, therefore, are not, as some have represented them, appeals to our ignorance. They suppose some antecedent knowledge of the course of nature, without which no proper judgment can be formed concerning them; though with it their reality may be so apparent as to leave no room for doubt or disputation.
Thus, were a physician to give instantly sight to a blind man, by anointing his eyes with a chemical preparation, which we had never before seen, and to the nature and qualities of which we were absolute strangers, the cure would to us undoubtedly be wonderful; but we could not pronounce it miraculous, because it might be the physical effect of the operation of the unguent on the eye. But were he to give sight to his patient merely by commanding him to receive it, or by anointing his eyes with spittle, we should with the utmost confidence pronounce the cure to be a miracle; because we know perfectly that neither the human voice, nor human spittle has, by the established constitution of things, any such power over the diseases of the eye. No one is now ignorant, that persons apparently dead are often restored to their families and friends, by being treated, during suspended animation, in the manner recommended by the Humane Society. To the vulgar, and sometimes even to men of science, these resuscitations appear very wonderful; but as they are known to be effected by physical agency, they can never be considered as miraculous deviations from the laws of nature, though they may suggest to different minds very different notions of the state of death. On the other hand, no one could doubt of his having witnessed a real miracle, who had seen a person that had been four days dead, come alive out of the grave at the call of another, or who had even bebeld a person exhibiting all the common evidences of death, instantly resuscitated merely by being desired to live
Thus easy is it to distinguish between such miracles as those of our Blessed Saviour, and the most wonderful phænomena produced by physical causes, operating according to the established laws of nature. Yet it seems difficult to admit, on any occasion, a suspension of these laws; and we may safely pronounce, that they have never been suspended but for some important purpose, which could not otherwise have been accomplished. "Events, says an able writer, (a) may be so extraordinary, that they can hardly be established by any testimony;" and the instance which he gives is of an event, in
A. M. 4035, which I am not aware that any law of nature would be suspended.
"We would not
&c. or 5141. give credit to a man who should affirm that he saw a hundred dice thrown in the air, 31. &c. and that they all fell on the same faces." To such an affirmation I certainly would give Vulg. Er. 30. no credit; for though I think that a hundred dice might all fall on the same faces with
out the suspension of any known law of nature, such an event is so extremely improbable, and of so very little importance in itself, that it would require the evidence of more than one witness to establish its credibility. The author however considers it as the violation of some unknown law of nature, and immediately infers from its not being admitted on the report of one man, "that the probability of the continuance of the laws of nature is superior to every other evidence, and to that of historical facts the best established." In this inference I cannot acquiesce; but before entering into any discussion of the subject, it will be necessary to ascertain with some precision what is meant by the laws of nature, and whence those laws had their origin.
If this profound mathematician (a) be, as his countrymen in general were some years ago, convinced, either that there is no God; or that if there be a God, he is not the moral Governor of the world; or that the present laws of nature, or the established course of things, have existed from all eternity independent of him and of every intellectual being, he is perfectly consistent when he says, that no weight of testimony could prove the miraculous suspension of these laws. It would indeed be ridiculous to talk of miracles to the atheist or fatalist; for if there were no God, or if God were not the moral as well as physical Governor of the world, the very notion of miracles, as it is entertained by Christians, would involve in it a contradiction and absurdity. It is only with THEISTS, therefore, and such theists as, admitting the moral attributes of God, believe that the established course of things, or the laws of nature, were established by HIM for the accomplishment of some great and good purpose, that any discussion can be carried on respecting the evidence necessary to prove the temporary suspension of any one of these laws; for if they be all necessary, and have been from eternity, it is as impossible to suspend them by any power or for any purpose, as it is to render a geometrical axiom false.
That the world, in its present state, has not existed from eternity, has been a thousand times demonstrated (b); but at present I take this fact for granted, because it is only to those by whom it is admitted, that what I have to urge in evidence of the Gospel miracles is addressed. Every theist who acknowledges the moral attributes of God, admits, on the testimony of universal history, sacred and profane, supported as that testimony is by the phenomena of nature, that the present magnificent system was once in a state of chaos, and that it must have been brought, from that state, into its present beautiful order so plainly indicative of design and benevolence, by that God in whom he believes. The laws therefore by which all its movements are directed; by which all the planets primary and secondary revolve round the sun; by which animals and vegetables grow and perish and succeed each other; by which passions and appetites are generated in the human mind; by which mankind are enabled to express their thoughts by articulate sounds; by which the atoms of matter tend towards each other, and when brought into contact cohere together; and in one word, by which every phenomenon corporeal and intellectual is produced, must have been established by him. But of being governed by laws in the proper sense of the word, as men in society are governed by the acts or decrees of the legislature, brute matter is not capable. What then is meant by the laws of nature? Let the theist, to whom I am addressing myself, revolve the question seriously in his own mind, and he will find that the laws of nature can be nothing else than the volition or volitions of that God, who brought the world from the
(b) See the Introduction to the History of the Old Testament, and the Works
(a) Laplace. there referred to.
xii. 1. Mark ii. Luke vi. 1.
Matth. xvii. 14.
state of chaos into that of order. When by his fiat he separated the parts of the hete- From Matth. rogeneous mass, and formed them into those beautiful systems which we behold, it was 23 his will that certain events in each system should regularly succeed each other, and that John v. 1. to the different systems should be so connected among themselves, as to promote some Mark ix. 14. great and wise end which he had in view. It is difficult-I think indeed impossible-Luke ix. 37. to conceive any other end, which a Being all perfect could have in view, than the dif- John vii. 1. fusion of happiness; but the greatest quantity of happiness can be diffused only among the greatest numbers of beings susceptible of it.
Inanimate beings are not capable either of happiness or of misery; but every being endowed with sense is capable of both; and every being endowed with reason as well as sense, is capable of both in a still greater degree. We must conclude, therefore, that it was for the accommodation of sentient and rational beings that events were made to succeed each other in a regular order, and that the order made choice of by perfect wisdom was the best that could have been chosen for promoting the happiness of the whole sentient and intelligent creation. This being the case, we may rest assured that no deviation from that order ever has been, or ever will be, permitted, but for some very important purpose foreseen and provided for by that fiat which established what are called the laws of nature; and that if there had been among the creatures of God no free agents, there never would have been such a deviation from the ordinary course of events, as that which constitutes a miracle. But among those creatures there are free agents, and man is one of them, whose happiness depends in a very great degree on their own conduct; whilst that conduct cannot, like the movements of inanimate matter, be directed in one determinate course by impulse or pressure. Without entering at all into the question of liberty and necessity, I trust that I may assume, as a truth unquestioned and unquestionable, that the relation between motive and action is something quite different from that between cause and effect in physics, and that it is by motives, and not physical causes, that the actions of men are directed.
Let us now suppose that, when the Creator of the world was about to establish that course of events, which we call the laws of nature, in such order as he knew would produce the greatest quantity of happiness to the whole sentient and intelligent creation, he foresaw that man, for whose accommodation chiefly we must suppose this earth to have been fitted up, would bring himself into such circumstances, that his happiness would become impossible, unless some one of these laws should for a time be suspended; may we not suppose that a Being of infinite power and wisdom might make provision for such an event in the very establishment of those laws? To control by force the freedom of the human will would be to destroy that very nature on which depends the greatest happiness of which man is capable (a); but might not some portion of inanimate matter be diverted for a short time from its regular course without the smallest injury to any sentient or intelligent being in the universe? In the journal to which I have already referred, it is confidently affirmed that it could not.
Suppose a man, says this critic, not at all versed in astronomy, who considers the moon merely as a luminous circle that, with certain irregularities, goes round the earth from east to west nearly in twenty-four hours, rising once and setting once in that interval. Let this man be told, from some authority, that he is accustomed to respect, that on a certain day it had been observed at London, that the moon did not set at all, but was visible above the horizon for twenty-four hours there is little doubt that, after making some difficulty about it, he would come at last to be convinced of the truth of the assertion. In this he could not be accused of any extraordinary or irrational credulity. The experience he had of the uniform setting and rising of the moon was but very limited; and the fact alleged might not appear to him more extraordinary than
(a) See this completely proved in Law's edition of King's Essay on the Origin of Evil,
many of the irregularities to which that luminary is subject. Let the same thing be told to an astronomer, in whose mind the rising and setting of the moon were necessarily connected with a vast number of other appearances; who knew, for example; Vulg. Er. 30. that the supposed fact could not have happened, unless the moon had exceedingly de
A. M. 4035, &c. or 3141.
viated from that orbit in which it has always moved; or the position of the earth's axis had been suddenly changed; or that the atmospherical refraction had been encreased to an extent that was never known. Any of all these events must have affected such a vast number of others, that, as no such thing was ever before perceived, an incredible body of evidence is brought to ascertain the continuance of the moon in her regular course. The barrier that generalization and the explanation of causes thus raises against credulity and superstition, the way in which it multiplies the evidence of experience, is highly deserving of attention, and is likely to have a great influence on the future fortunes of the human race. Against the uniformity, therefore, of such laws, it is impossible for testi mony to prevail."
Certainly, it is impossible for such testimony as that supposed, to prevail against the uniformity of any law of nature; for, as I have already observed, if those laws be necessary and eternal, their uniformity can never be interrupted for any purpose or by any power, and if they have been established by a God of perfect wisdom and goodness, we may be assured that they will never be suspended for so unworthy a purpose as only to make the citizens of London stare, and enable one of them to try the credulity of some clown, who believes the moon to consist, according to the Scotch expression, of green cheese! What such a ridiculous tale as this, supposing it ever to have been seriously told, would have to do with superstition, it is not easy to conceive; but the ingenious critic might as well have told us in plain terms, that it is impossible for testimony to render credible what is said of the sun and moon standing still (a) at the call of Joshua; for even his friend, who believes the moon to be a mere luminous circle of cheese, if at all conversant with his Bible, must perceive that this is what he intended to say under the cover of a clumsy apologue.
If the laws of nature be the work of FATE, I readily agree with him that the story of the sun and moon standing still cannot be rendered credible by any testimony. If those laws be, as 1 believe them to be, the constitution of an Almighty and infinitely wise and good God, I likewise readily agree with him, that no testimony could render credible the phenomena of the sun and moon's standing still, but for some important purpose that could not have been otherwise so well accomplished. What the purpose was for which the children of Israel were separated from the idolatrous nations around them, and established in the land of Canaan, has been fully stated elsewhere; and the theist, with whom I am now arguing, will admit that, whether it was real or not, that purpose was of great importance. Great however as that purpose was, for the reasons elsewhere assigned, no testimony could prevail with me to believe, that, for the sake of it, the rotation of the earth on its axis, and the course of the moon in her orbit, were literally arrested, unless the same Almighty power wrought another miracle at the same instant to prevent the natural consequences of the sudden cessation of motions so rapid. Without this second miracle, I am as fully aware as our critic, that those events produced by the first, must have not only affected a vast number of others, but been also productive of mischief-such as the reducing of the earth to a state of chaos-more than sufficient to balance the good expected from the miracle;-nay, that they would have rendered the miracle itself useless by destroying those for whose instruction it was meant to be wrought. I confess, however, that I do not perceive what injury could have been done to any sentient or intelligent being in the solar system, or how the dif ferent planets, of which that system is composed, could have been disturbed in their
(a) Joshua x. 12, 18.