Abbildungen der Seite

with a bold and impious prevarication, in that very thing whereby he proposes to teach all men the fear of himself, and the love of truth?

May God, of his infinite goodness, after having so far left us to the trial of our own infirmity, be graciously pleased to avert the horrible evil from us, and to give us truth and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen,



JOHN v. 36.

The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I

do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.

Our blessed Saviour, having every where represented himself as the Messiah, or messenger of God, sent into the world to teach and redeem mankind, here pleads the credentials of his mission, and appeals to the works which the Father had given him to finish,' as a full proof, that he came immediately from the Father, and was then employed in executing the gracious purposes of his Father. That these works were thoroughly well qualified to prove this great point to all men, and more especially to the Jews, who knew, or ought to have known, that the prophets had foretold them as the peculiar distinguishing works of Christ, I shall endeavour to shew, in this and the following Discourse. In this I shall treat of the works only.

What these were, we may see throughout the Gospels ; namely, ‘miracles ;' such as, giving health to the sick, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, life to the dead, and driving out devils.

I shall shew, in the first place, That this was a demonstrative proof of our Saviour's mission;

And, in the second, That it was actually given.

From whence we must conclude, that all he taught, or empowered others to teach, under the authority of this proof, was true, and ought to be believed, as uttered and revealed by God himself.

To clear up the first point, it will be proper to begin with stating the right notion of a miracle. A miracle then is a work so evidently superior or contrary to the known nature of things, that nothing, but the power of God, can be supposed to effect it. Although the work of creation required this power, and therefore demonstrates the being of a God, yet we do not call it properly a miracle; because from thence arose that nature of things, which we regard as ordinary and stated, and therefore do not wonder at, or, at least, do not take it for a proof of any thing more than the existence of its own proper cause. In this I accommodate myself to the general use or acceptation of the word ; although, otherwise, there is no difference between the exemplification of the Divine power in nature, or against it. They equally demonstrate the finger of God, and, to a rational mind, are equally wonderful. As none but God could make the world, we may be sure, none but God can change the natural course of things, can reverse the stated chain of causes and effects, or produce any effect without a natural cause. We must also take it for granted, that if God, in any particular instance, or for any occasional purpose, communicates such a power, it must be confined to certain bounds, and cannot be exercised otherwise, than according to the commission or license granted with it, by the fountain of all power.

If any of the miracles, wrought in attestation of our religion, may be ascribed to a less powerful agent than God; for instance, walking on the water, or causing iron to swim; we have, nevertheless, a right to insist on them as authentic proofs of a divine mission in the workers; because they are evidently contrary to the known course of nature; because they are performed in order to an end worthy of the divine intendment; and because we have sufficient reason to judge, that God, the source of all power, could not have empowered, either in the way of command or permission, any creature so to interpose in a work of this nature, as that his intelligent creatures should be deceived in the only criterion, whereby a real mission from him may be distinguished from

that which is only pretended. All works therefore performed, as in the foregoing instances, against the known course of nature, and avowedly for a good end, of the highest importance, must be attributed to God, either as immediately causing, or else as commanding, or, at least, as permitting them, for that good end; and consequently, take them in what light you will, must prove the divinity of the worker's mission.

Pursuant to what hath been laid down, were any thing, directly contrary to nature, performed in the sight of one wholly unacquainted with nature, he could not understand it as a miracle, that is, as supernatural, or as a proof of any point whatsoever, beyond that of an equivalent cause. It would be really a miracle, or a wonderful effect of the Divine power, but not to his understanding. This shews, that the naturally invariable course of things, or agency of causes, must be so far clearly understood by those to whom a miracle is exhibited in the way of proof, as nature is counteracted, reversed, or suspended, by that miracle ; or it can neither appear a miracle, nor a proof, to them. A man may be greatly surprised at a very striking effect or performance, which he never saw, nor heard of before ; but he can with no certainty conclude it the effect of a divine and supernatural cause, if he knows no part of nature, to which it is evidently contrary; or knows not so much of nature in general, as to see nature alone could not possibly produce it. We cannot conceive, that Adam, supposing bim destitute of all knowledge, but what he acquired by experience, could have been affected with the sight of his son Abel alive, some days after he knew him to be dead, in the same mane ner, as one of us should be, did the like happen to ourselves, now that we know, by the experience of all men, in all ages, what death is, and that no dead man naturally revives.

There is no other method by which the stated laws and principles of nature may be known, but by experiment. The natural philosophers of former ages, although they all planned their systems on this basis (for they could not possibly have another), yet, paying too little respect to it, and building on too few, or too hasty, experiments, did but bewilder themselves in the search of natural causes, and gave us little else than mere whims and dreams for discoveries. Bacon was the first who put the study of nature in a proper course; and Boyle and Newton, following that course, arrived at certainty in many things, that had been utterly unknown, or but darkly guessed at, before their times. But they sought only for hidden principles, or remote causes; whereas all the rest of mankind have been, since the creation, employed, by an unavoidable necessity, in making such experiments as discover the ordinary and common causes of things. In this respect, every plain illiterate man is an experimental philosopher, who, by infinite trials, hath made himself so far acquainted with nature, as his own occasions require. Hence it is, that he knows the difference between sight and blind ness, between hearing and deafness, between the free use of his limbs and lameness, between health and sickness, and between life and death, with more certainty, because on the strength of more experiments, made either by himself or others, than Newton did the difference between his own attraction, and the pressure of Cartesius. Yet had any one, in the midst of Sir Isaac's successful experiments, made in proof of his attraction, come in, and, by a single word, taught his ball of lead to ascend in open air, or caused his two bodies, already approaching by the force of attraction, suddenly to fly asunder, he must have taken the phenomenon for the effect of a supernatural cause, or else, contrary to all his experience, have given up his attraction, as neither natural nor stated. And why is the plain man to form any other conclusion, when, in direct opposition to the uniform experience of himself and all other men, he sees the blind endued with sight, the sick restored to health, or the dead raised to life, in a moment, and by a word or touch ; or actually feels the delightful change wrought in himself?

But here the objector says, These changes may proceed from natural causes, unknown to us. The powers of nature, he tells us, and we grant it, are very great, and often hidden from the bulk of mankind; while some men, or some other creatures superior to men, who happen to be acquainted with them, may so turn the force of these prepollent natural powers against the operation of weaker, but more obvious, causes, as to produce those effects we call iniracles. Of this, he says, we see instances every day; as, in the cure of agues, by the bark; of rheumatisms, by the electrical shock; and of various other disorders, by secret nostrums. He says, moreover, that many common experiments in natural philosophy, and the tricks of legerdemain, seem perfectly miraculous to the vulgar. How far, he farther urges, the powers of nature may go, or may be known, and applied, by men, or separate spirits, we cannot tell; and therefore cannot be sure the performances we Christians call miraculous, might not have been effected without having recourse to a divine power.

We are obliged to hear him out, and must own, his objection might have a great deal in it, were it not for one defect; namely, that it is nothing to the purpose. Surely common sense must tell us, there is an immense difference between such effects as are produced by medicines, by instruments, by a long apparatus, and never without them; and such as are exhibited by a word or touch, without medicines, without instruments, without any apparatus. It is no matter what the secret powers of nature may be; it is evident, that, in the case before us, no power of nature was applied, but a power, if we may judge by ourselves, and universal experience, directly contrary, or quite superior, to those powers of nature, that are known to act with the greatest force, and without the smallest variation, since the origin of things.

As to the agency of separate spirits; allowing the objector a right to call them in, which is more perhaps than he will, in good earnest, allow himself, we may say the same of them that we do of men; they cannot supersede that course of nature, which God hath impressed on his works, without his assistance. If they are good beings, they will not choose to do it, in case they can; if they are evil beings, God will neither empower nor permit them to overturn what he hath established in the natural, in order only to introduce enormities in the moral world. It may seem somewhat odd, that men who believe little or nothing of angels, devils, or separate spirits, and, on most occasions, make a jest of such beings, should nevertheless, to serve the present turn, introduce them in a serious argument by way of poetical machinery, when nothing else can extricate them from a difficulty that pinches too close for their skill in sophistry; although, VOL. I,

2 K

« ZurückWeiter »