« ZurückWeiter »
without them. The objection, therefore, is impertinent; because the thing it requires, is the very thing proposed, and provided for, by all the miracles.
As we have already shewn, that real miracles are the only conceivable proofs of a true revelation, and that those which vouch Christianity to us, were real miracles, it now only remains to be shewn, that these miracles were actually wrought. But here, as in the last head, I am prevented by such performances, as have put this matter beyond all question. Yet I shall, as briefly as I can, sketch out the evidence, on which we believe the miracles of our blessed Saviour were really exhibited, as they are set forth in the New Testament.
There is no historical fact better known, than that Christianity took its rise in an age when human learning, philosophy, and refinements of all kinds, were carried as high as the wit of man was able to push them. It is equally well known, that this system of religion was not propagated by policy, by power, or by men of great abilities and address, but by men every way unqualified for great attempts, in opposition to all the learning, all the bigotry, all the force and cruelty, that both Judaism and Paganism could muster against it. It is notwithstanding farther known, that our religion made a most rapid progress over the world, and, in the space of two centuries, drew in above one half of the Roman empire, and had, moreover, rooted itself in many other nations beyond the verges of that empire.
Now, to a rational man, this must seem utterly unaccountable, by all the rules and methods from whence success in human affairs is always known to proceed. In this instance, the illiterate baffle the learned, the simple outwit the politic, and the weak subdue the strong, with infinitely greater expedition, than was ever known in any other, where the contrary qualities had the ascendant. Hence it is but natural to suppose the interposition of some power more than human. As Christianity confessedly inculcates a pure, a rational, and a most operative system of morality, this must be supposed a good rather than an evil power.
If the mind, after having taken this distant view of Christianity, in its marvellous progress, bath the curiosity to draw a little nearer, and inquire into the ancient records of a phenomenon so very extraordinary, it finds all ascribed, as it was ready to conjecture, to a conviction raised by miracles, whereof an historical account, kept with a watchfulness and scrupulosity, not known in any other case, hath been all along preserved from the days of those who penned it immediately after they saw the miracles performed. In this account he sees Christ frequently appealing to the eyes and senses of all men, on the spot, and at the instant, he performed his miracles. He sees his immediate followers, who also wrought the like wonders themselves, and spoke to all nations in their mother tongue, though they neither did, nor possibly could have, learned their languages, preaching up their Master, and his religion, to the world, in the teeth of continual and terrible persecutions, and dying on crosses, and in flames, rather than recede, in the smallest tittle, from either the history of their Master, wonderful, as it is, or his principles, irksome as they seem to flesh and blood. If he guides his eyes a little lower into the Christian history, he sees the same work carried on with the same spirit, by a much greater number of preachers, and mankind running over by thousands to them, in every country, in spite of repeated persecutions, persevered in with such an obstinate fury, as was never heard of in cases where the provocation was most irritating, although, in this, there was absolutely none; but, on the part of the Christians, every where a perfectly passive resignation; nay, a joy in tortures, and a sort of rapture in the very agonies of a frightful and untimely death ; which demonstrated the presence of an invisible Comforter.
After seeing all this, our inquirer can now easily account for the progress of Christianity, a thing impossible on any other footing, and wonders only at the miracles, to which it was owing. But let him not wonder, that an Almighty Being can, or an infinitely gracious Being should, do such things for the salvation of his creatures. Considering God's goodness, and our wants, it must have been by far more wonderful, if such things had never been done. Without a revelation, we could not have been reclaimed; without miracles, a revelation could not have been proved, or propagated ; without both, man, the creature, the image of God, must have lived in sin, and died in despair, and the infinitely merciful Being must have looked on without concern. Miracles therefore are rather causes of conviction, than surprise. Cast your eyes over the face of the earth, and up to heaven : Do you see any thing but miracles? Is not nature herself a miracle? Was not all raised out of nothing by the divine power? Was not every thing adapted, beautified, stationed, by a miracle of wisdom, and bestowed on God's intellectual creatures, by a miracle of goodness? And can you still be surprised at the miracles of his Providence, and at his suspending the course of nature, for a time, in order to the redemption of mankind ? It is true, a miracle is, by its etymology, somewhat that is wonderful; but as man himself, and the whole world round him, is a system of miracles, he is apt to consider all this, purely because it is ordinary and common, as no way surprising; and wonders, with a hesitating belief, at such occurrences as are by no means more marvellous, only because they are more unusual. This, however, hath something in it too low and gross, too like the vulgar, to be found in a man of elevated thoughts and sound judgment. Bad as the world is, such a man is not apt to be surprised, when he sees another acting the part that becomes him, though such sights are not very common. And why should he think it strange, that the gracious Father of all should care for the happiness of his creatures; or, caring, should provide for that happiness by extraordinary means, when the ordinary are incapable of answering that beneficent end? If such performances as we call miracles, because they are against the nature of things, and are rarely seen, were exhibited every day, they would cease to strike us, or prove any thing, although still as really miracles, as at the first. Their frequency would deprive them of our attention, and sink them, in common estimation, to a level with the miracles of nature. But he who looks on nature itself as a most astonishing production of infinite wisdom and power, would continue for ever to regard them in the same light; because he could not but see their contrariety to nature, nor avoid considering that the production and reversal of nature require an equal power. If there were any intellectual spirits in being before the creation of the first material system, they must have considered that creation in the same light as we do a miracle, that is, as an astonishing effect of infinite power. But they would not have
been at all surprised to see the Creator manifest his wisdom and power; because they must have considered those attributes as active and operative principles in the mind of the Deity.· Neither ought we to be surprised, that his mercy and goodness should be equally operative in the work of redemption, or that his power, prompted by those amiable attributes, should have displayed itself, as well as in the work of creation. God had at least as strong reasons for redeeming as for creating the world; or, to speak a little nearer to the language of Scripture, he had as many, and as inducing, motives to the new as to the old creation. As it is therefore no way surprising, either that a Being infinitely communicative should create, or a Being infinitely gracious should repair; so our wonder is not to be excited at the exertion of his power in the one instance, more than in the other, but only at the amazing effects of its immensity in both.
If this doctrine is received as true (and it is certainly too well founded to be rejected by right reason), it will prepare the mind, as readily to receive the proofs of revelation, from the extraordinary miracles exhibited in attestation of it, as the proofs of God's existence, from the mere ordinary miracles of nature. Hence it will appear, that there is nothing wanting to make the Deist a Christian, on his own principles, but to satisfy him, that the scriptural miracles were really wrought. And it will be infinitely easier to give him that satisfaction, if he comes to the inquiry under a clear conviction ; first, that mankind required a reformation; secondly, that none but he who made them could reform them; and thirdly, that the repair and reformation of the intellectual world, once perverted, must as strongly be the object of divine intention, as the creation both of that, and of the material world, which was made only for that. Now I will be bold to say, these three points are as evident, as reason and experience can make any thing. Yet, God hath never, to this day, taken the necessary steps to our reformation, if the Christian revelation is not from him, if its inspirations are not his dictates, and its other miracles his peculiar works. No religion, pretending to revelation, carries the genuine signs of divine original, but this. This therefore alone hath a full right to the reasonings here laid down, and consequently is the only true religion.
Let us then, without reserve, give our understandings to its proofs, and our hearts to the methods of reformation it proposes ; and may its gracious Author bless it to us, for the sake of his own infinite merits. Now, to the ever-blessed Trinity be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, henceforward for evermore. Amen.
CHRISTIANITY PROVED BY PROPHECIES.
Rev. xix. 10.
The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
By the testimony of Jesus' here is to be understood, that proof which Christ hath given of himself, as the Saviour of mankind, and which he hath also enabled his servants to give, by the spirit of prophecy, or the power of foretelling future events. That this is a strong and undeniable proof of a mission from God, cannot be doubted by him who considers, that none but God can foresee such events as depend on the free elections of men, not yet in being. When such events are predicted long before, and do actually happen, we must ascribe the prediction to infinite wisdom, and take it for granted, that the angel, or man, employed to utter it, was empowered by God himself so to do. And whatsoever point such predictions are brought to prove, we must receive as a truth, because the wisdom of God cannot be employed to attest a falsehood. Common sense tells us, the God of truth would never lend his prescience for evil purposes, such as, to support imposture, and give credit to lies.
As therefore we prove the being of God by the works of creation, inasmuch as none but he can create; and his interposition by miracles, inasmuch as none but he can reverse the laws of nature and creation ; so likewise, when such events as none but he can foresee are predicted long