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1 we are the more confirmed in this persuasion, by what is written in the prophecies, Then shall the eyes of the bet te opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear, and the lare man shall leap as an hart. But that he also raised the demand and that it is not a fiction of those who wrote the gospels is erident from hence, that, if it had been a fiction, there would have been many recorded to be raised up, and sinh as had been a long time in their graves. But, it not being a fiction, few have been recorded ; for instance, the daughter of a ruler of a synagogue, of whom I do not know why he said. She is not dead but sleepeth, expressing something peculiar to her, not common to all dead persons; and the only son of a widow, on whom be had compassion, and raised to lite, after he bad bid the bearer of the corpse to stop; and the third, Lazarus, who had been buried four days." This is positive to assert the miracles of Christ, and it is also to comment upon them, and that with a considerable degree of accuracy and candour.
lo another passage of the same author,* we meet with the old solution of magic, applied to the miracles of Christ by the adversaries of the religion. * Celsus," saith Origen, “well knowing what great works may be alleged to have been done by Jesus, pretends to grant that the things related of him are true; such as healing diseases, raising the dead, feeding multitudes with a few loaves, of which large fragments were left.”. And then Celsus gives, it seems, an answer to these proofs of our Lord's mission, which, as Origen understood it, resolved the phenomena into magic; for Origen begins his reply, by observing, “ You see that Celsus, in a manner, allows that there is such a thing as magic."
It appears, also from the testimony of St. Jerome, that Porphyry, the most learned and able of the beathen writers against Christianity, resorted to the same solution : “Unless," says he, speaking to Vigilantius, “ according to the manner of the Gentiles, and the profane, of Porphyry and Eunomius, you pretend that these are the tricks of demons."
This magic, these demons, this illusory appearance, this comparison with the tricks of jugglers, by which many of that age accounted so easily for the Christian miracles, and which answers the advocates of Christianity often thought it necessary to refute by arguments drawn from other to
Or. Con. Cels. lib. ii. sec. 48.
Jerome Con. Vigil.
pics, and particularly from prophecy, to which, it seems, these solutions did not apply, we now perceive to be gross subterfuges. That such reasons were ever seriously urged, and seriously received, is only a proof what a gloss and varnish fashion can give to any opinion.
It appears, therefore, that the miracles of Christ, understood, as we understand them, in their literal and historical sense, were positively and precisely asserted and appealed to by the apologists for Christianity; which answers the allegation of the objection.
I am ready, however to admit that the ancient Chris. tian advocates did not insist upon the miracles in argument, so frequently as I should have done. It was their lot to contend with notions of magical agency, against which the mere production of the facts was not sufficient for the convincing of their adversaries : I do not know whether they themselves thought it quite decisive of the controversy. But since it is proved, I conceive with certainty, that the sparingness with wbich they appealed to miracles, was owing peither to their ignorance, nor their doubt of the facts, it is, at any rate, an objection, not to the truth of the history, but to the judgment of its defenders.
CHAP. VI. Want of universality in the knowledge and reception of Chris
tianity, and of greater clearness in the evidence. OF a revelation which came from God, the proof, it has been said, would in all ages be so public and manifest, that no part of the human species would remain ignorant of it, no understanding could tail of being convinced by it.
The advocates of Christianity do not pretend that the evidence of their religion possesses these qualities. They do not deny, that we conceive it to be within the compass of divine power to have communicated to the world a higher degree of assurance, and to have given to his communication a stronger and more extensive influence. For any thing we are able to discern, God could have so formed men, as to have perceived the truths of religion intuitively; or to have carried on a communication with the other worid, whilst they lived in this; or to have seen the individuals of the species, instead of dying, pass to heaven by a sensible transiation. He could have presented a separate miracle to each man's senses. He could have established a standing miracle. He could have caused miracles to be wrought in every different age and country. These, and many more methods, which we may imagine, if we once give loose to our imaginations, are, so far as we can judge, all practicable.
The question, therefore, is not, whether Christianity possesses the highest possible degree of evidence, but whether the not having more evidence, be a sufficient reason for rejecting that which we have.
Now there appears to be no fairer method of judging, concerning any dispensation which is alleged to come from God, when a question is made whether such a dispensation could come from God or not, than by comparing it with other things, which are acknowledged to proceed from the same council, and to be produced by the same agency. If the dispensation in question labour under no other defects than what apparently belong to other dispensations, these seeming defects do not justify us in setting aside the proofs which are offered of its authenticity, if they be otherwise entitled to credit.
Througbout that order then of nature, of which God is the author, what we find is a system of beneficence, but we are seldom or ever able to make out a system of optimism.
I mean, that there are few cases in which, if we permit ourselves to range in possibilities, we cannot suppose something more perfect, and more un objectionable, than what we see. The rain which descends from heaven is confessedly amongst the contrivances of the Creator, for the sustentation of the animals and vegetables which subsist upon the surface of the earth. Yet how partially anů ir. regularly is it supplied ? How much of it falls upon the sea, where it can be of no use ; how often is it wanted where it would be of the greatest? What tracts of conti. nent are rendered desert by the scarcity of it? Or, not to speak of extreme cases, how much, sometimes, do inhabited countries suffer by its deficiency or delay ?- We could imagine, if to imagine were our business, the matter to be otherwise regulated. We could imagine showers to fall, just where and when they would do good; always seasonable, every where sufficient; so distributed as not to leave a field upon the face of the globe scorched by drought, or even a plant withering for the lack of moisture. Yet does the difference between the real case and the imagined case, or the seeming inferiority of the one to the other, author
s us to say, that the present disposition of tbe atmos.
phere is not amongst the productions or the designs of the Deity ?
Does it cheek the inference which we draw from the confessed beneficence of the provision? or does it make us cease to admire the contrivance ?-The observation, which we have exemplified in the single instance of the rain of heaven, may be repeated concerning most of the phenomena of nature: and the true conclusion to which it leads is this, that to inquire what the deity might have done, could have done, or, as we even sometimes presume to speak, ought to have done, or, in hypothetical cases, would have done, and to build any propositions upon such inquiries against evidence of facts, is wholly unwarrantable, It is a mode of reasoning, which will not do in natural history, which will not do in natural religion, which cannot therefore be applied with safety to revelation. It may have some foundation, in certain speculative a priori ideas of the divine attributes; but it has none in experience, or in analogy. The general character of the works of nature is, on the one hand, goodness both in design and effect; and on the other hand, a liability to difficulty, and to oba jections, if such objections be allowed, by reason of seeming incompleteness or uncertainty in attaining their end. Christianity participates of this character. The true similitude between nature and revelation consists in this; that they each bear strong marks of their original; that they each also bear appearances of irregularity and defect. А system of strict optimism may nevertherless be the real system in both cases. But what I contend is, that the proof is hidden from us ; that we ought not to expect to perceive that in revelation, which we hardly perceive in any thing; that beneficence of which we can judge, ought. to satisfy us, that optimism, of which we cannot judge, ought not to be sought after. We can judge of beneficence, because it depends upon effects which we experi.
the relation between the means which we see acting, and the ends which we see produced.
We cannot judge of optimism, because it necessarily implies a compari-on of that which is tried, with that which is not tried: of consequences which we see, with others which we imagine, and concerning many of which it is more than probable, we know nothing ; concerning some, that we have no noiion.
If Christianity be compared with the state and progress of natural religion, the argument of the objector will gain nothing by the comparison. I remember hearing an un.
believer say, that if God had given a revelation, he would have written it in the skies. Are the truths of natural religion written in the skies, or in a language which every one reads? or is this the case with the most useful arts, or the most necessary sciences of human life? An Otahetian or an Esquimaux knows nothing of Christianity; does he know more of the principles of deism or morality ? which, notwithstanding his ignorance, are neither untrue, nor unimportant, nor uncertain. The existence of the Deity is left to be collected from observations, which every man does not make, which every man, perhaps, is not capable of making. Can it be argued, that God does not exist, because if he did, he would let us see him, or discover himself to mankind by proofs, (such as, we may think, the nature of the subject merited) which no inadvertency could miss, no prejudice withstand ?
If Christianity be regarded as a proờidential instrument for the melioration of mankind, its progress and diffusion resembles that of other causes, by which human life is improved. The diversity is not greater, nor the advance more slow in religion, than we find it to be in learning, liberty, gorernment, laws. The Deity hath never touched the crder of nature in vain. The Jewish religion produced great and permanent effects: the Christian religion hath done the same. It hath disposed the world to ameodment. It hath put things in a train. It is by no means improbable that it may become universal, and that the world may continue in that state so long, as that the duration of its reign may bear a vast proportion to the time of its partial influence.
When we argue concerning Christianity, that it must necessarily be true, because it is beneficial, we go perhaps too far on one side ; and we certainly go too far on the other, when we conclude that it must be false, because it is not so efficacious as we could have supposed. The question of its truth is to be tried upon its proper evidence, without deferring much to this sort of argument, on either side. "The evidence," as bishop Butler bath rightly observed, depends upon the judgment we form of human conduct, under given circumstances, of which it may be presumed that we know something; the objection stands upon the supposed conduct of the Deity, under relations with which we are not acquainted.”
What would be the real effect of that overpowering evi. dence which our adversaries required in a revelation, it is