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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 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 uniyerse, 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 regulated 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 benevo. lence 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 incredi
ble that God should intérpose for such a purpose ? Suppose him to design for mankind a future state, is unlikely that he should acquaint them with it?
Now in what way can a revelation be made but by miracles? Jo none which we are able to conceive. Conse. quently, 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 miractes are related to have been wrought in the promulgating of a rerelation 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 improbadility 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, thatą 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 im. probable 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 objeciion 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 rev. elation is not improbable, or not improbable, in any great degree, to be a fair answer to the whole objection.
But since it is an objection which stands in the very threshold of our argument, and, if admitted, is a bar to every proof and to all future reasoning upon the subject, be necessary,
before we proceed farther, to examine the principle upon which it professes to be founded; which principle is concisely this, that it is contrary to experience that a miracle should be true, but not contrary to experience that testimony should be false.
Now there appears a small ambiguity in the term "experience," and in the phrases contrary to experience," or “contradicting experience,” which it may be necessary to remove in the first place. Strictly speaking, the narrative of a fact is then only contrary to experience, when the fact is related to have existed at a time and place, at which time and place we being present, did not perceive it to exist; as if it should be asserted, that in a particular room, and at a particular hour of a certain day, a man was raised from the dead, in which room, and at the time specified, we being present and looking on, perceived no such event to have taken place. Here the assertion is contrary to experience properly so called; and this is a contrariety which no evidence can surmount. It mat. ters nothing whether the fact be of a miraculous nature or not. But although this be the experience, and the contrariety, which Archbp. Tillotson alleged in the quotation with which Mr. Hume opens his essay, it is certainly not that experience, nor that contrariety, which Mr. Hume himself intended to object. And, short of this, 1 know no intelligible signification which can be affixed to the term “ contrary to experience,” but one, viz. that of not having ourselves experienced any thing similar to the thing related, or such things not being generally experi. exced by others. I say not "generally,” for to state, concerning the fact in question, that no such thing was ever experienced, or that universal experience is against it, is to assume the subject of the controversy.
Now the improbability which arises from the want (for this properly is a want, not a contradiction) of experience,
is only equal to the probability there is, that if the thing were true, we should experience things similar to it, or that such things would be generally experienced. Suppose it then to be true, that miracles were wrought upon the first promulgation of Christianity, when nothing but miracles could decide its authority, is it certain that such miracles would be repeated so often, and in so many places, as to become objects of general experience ? Is it a probability approaching to certainty? Is it a probability of any great strength or force ? Is it such as no evidence can encounter? and yet this probability is the exact converse, and therefore the exact measure of the improbability which arises from the want of experience, and which Mr. Hume represents as invincible by human testimony.
It is not like alleging a new law of nature, or a new . experiment in natural philosophy, because, when these are related, it is expected that, under the same circumstances, the same effect will follow universally; and in proportion as this expectation is justly entertained, the want of a corresponding experience negatives the history. But to expect concerning a miracle that it should succeed upon repetition, is to expect that which would make it cease to be a miracle, which is contrary to its nature as such, and would totally destroy the use, and purpose for which it was wrought.
The force of experience as an objection to miracles is founded in the presumption, either that the course of nature is invariable, or that, if it be ever varied, variations will be frequent and general. Has the necessity of this alternative been demonstrated ? Permit us to call the course of nature the agency of an intelligent being and is there any good reason for judging this state of the case to he probable ? Ought we not rather to expect, that such a being, upon occasions of peculiar importance, may interrupt the order which he had appointed, yet, that such occasions should return seidom; that these interruptions consequently should be confined to the experience of a few; that the want of it, therefore, in many, should be .matter neither of surprise por objection?
But as a continuation of the argument from experience, it is said, that, when we advance accounts of miracles, we assiga effects without cause, or we attribute effects to causes inadequate to the purpose, or to causes of the operation
h we have no experience. Of what causes, we may
f what effects does the objection speak? If it be
answered, that when we ascribe the cure of the palsy to a touch, of blindness to the anointing of the eyes with clay, or the raising of the dead to a word, we lay ourselves open to this imputation, we reply that we ascribe no such effects to such causes. We perceive no virtue or energy in these things more than in other things of the same kind. They are merely signs to connect the miracle with its end. The effect we ascribe simply to the volition of the Deity; of whose existence and power, not to say of whose presence and agency, we have previous and independent proof. We have therefore all we seek for in the works of rational agents, a sufficient power and an adequate motive. In a word, once believe that there is a God, and miracles are not incredible.
Mr. Hume states the case of miracles to be a contest of opposite improbabilities; that is to say, a question whether it be more improbable that the miracle should be true, or the testimony false ; and this I think a fair account of the controversy. But herein 1 remark a want of argumentative justice, that, in describing the improbability of miracles, he suppresses all those circumstances of extenuation which result from our knowledge of the existence, power, and disposition of the Deity, his concern in the creation, the end answered by the miracle, the importance of that end, and its subserviency to the plan pursued in the works of nature.
As Mr. Hume has represented the question, miracles are alike incredible to him who is previously assured of the constant agency of a Divine Being, and to him who believes that no such being exists in the universe. They are equally incredible, whether related to have been wrought upon occasions the most deserving, and for purposes the most beneficial, or for no assignable end whatever, or for an end confessedly trifling or pernicious. This surely cannot be a correct statement. In adjusting also the other side of the balance, the strength and weight of testimony, this author has provided an answer to every possible accumulation of historical proof, by telling us, that we are not obliged to explain how the story or the evidence arose. Now I think we are obliged; not, perhaps, to show by positive accounts how it did, but by a probable hypothesis how it might so happen. The existence of the testimony is a phenomenon. The truth of the fact solves the phenomenon. If we reject this solution, we ought to have some other to rest in; and none even by our adversaries can be admitted, which is not consistent with the principles that regulate hu