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place as many
times, and some more, than what he calls the contrary event. For example: if we have known a thousand deceased persons to have been buried, and none of them to have been raised from the grave ; we cannot rationally believe a man to have been raised from the grave, although we saw him rise ; conversed with him ; and lived with him ever so many years afterwards. Before we begin to believe, that a person was raised from the dead, we must have seen, at least, one more person thus raised, than the whole number who have been buried, and have not risen. Then, and not till then, we shall become possessed of one degree of evidence, that a person has been raised from the dead: the whole influence of all the preceding resurrections being to diminish, successively, the previously existing evidence against the fact, that a person has been raised from the dead. Our own experience of the existence of a miracle is, thus, not to be admitted, as a proof of its existence. But as testimony is founded on experience, and is evidence of a less certain nature; it is clear, that what experience cannot prove can never be evinced by testimony.
This reasoning has a grave and specious appearance, but is plainly destitute of all solidity. Every man knows by his own experience, that the repetition of an event contributes nothing to the proof, or certainty, of its existence. The proof of the existence of any event lies wholly in the testimony of our senses. When the event is, as we customarily say, repeated; that is, when another similar event takes place, our senses in the same manner prove to us the existence of this event. But the evidence, which they give us of the second, has no retrospective influence on the first ; as the evidence, given of the first, has no influence on the second. In each instance the evidence is complete; nor can it be affected by any thing, which may precede it, or succeed it. What is once seen, and known, is as perfectly seen, and known, as it can be; and in the only manner, in which it can be ever seen, and known. If we were to see a man raised from the grave, we should know, that he was thus raised, as perfectly as it could be known by us; nor would it make the least difference in the evidence, or certainty, of this fact, whether thousands, or none, were raised afterwards.
In perfect accordance with these observations has been the conduct of mankind in every age, and country. No tribunal of justice ever asked the question, whether a crime had been twice committed in order to determine with the more certainty, and better evidence, that it had been committed once. No evidence of this nature, before any such tribunal, was ever adduced, or considered as proper to be adduced, to evince the existence of any fact, or to disprove its existence. No individual ever thought of recurring to the testimony of his senses on a former occasion, to strengthen their evidence on a present occasion.
The man born blind, (to apply this scheme directly to miracles) could not possibly feel the necessity, or advantage, of inquiring whether he had been restored to sight before, in order to determine, that he had received it from the hands of Christ; or of asking the question, whether he saw, at any time before, to prove that he saw now. The leper, who acquired his health by the command of Christ, was as perfectly conscious of his restoration, as if he had been restored on twenty former occasions. All around him, also, when they saw the scales fall off with which he had been incrusted, and the bloom of health return; when they beheld his activity renewed, and all the proofs of soundness exhibited to their eyes ; perceived the cure as perfectly, as if they had been witnesses of one hundred preceding cures, of the same nature.
What is true of these, is equally true of all similar cases. Experience, therefore, is capable of completely proving the existence of a miracle.
What we experience we can declare; and declare exactly as it has happened. Were this always done, testimony would have exactly the same strength of evidence, which experience is admitted to possess. It is not, however, always done. Errors, both intentional and unintentional, and those very numerous, accompany the declarations of men. Still the weight of testimony is very great; so great, that the conduct of almost all the important concerns of mankind is regulated entirely, as well as rationally, by the evidence which it contains. Should twelve men, known and proved to possess the uniform character of unimpeachable veracity, declare to one of us, independently, (no one of them being acquainted with the fact, that any other had made the same declaration) that they had seen, in the midst of a public assembly, a leper cleansed, and the white loathsome crust of the leprosy fall off, and the bloom and vigour of health return, at the command of a person, publicly believed to have wrought hundreds of such miracles, and to be distinguished from all men by unexampled wisdom and holiness, every one of us would believe ihe testimony to be true. Especially should we receive their testimony, if we saw these very men endued with new and wonderful wisdom and holiness, professedly derived from the same person; forsaking a religion for which they had felt a bigoted attachment; embracing, and teaching a religion wholly new; and in confirmation of this new religion, professedly taught by God himself, working many miracles; forsaking all earthly enjoyments; voluntarily undergoing all earthly distresses ; and finally yielding their lives to a violent death. A miracle, therefore, can be proved by testimony.
I have already pursued this subject farther than I intended in this discourse. Some other considerations, relative to it, I shall probably mention hereafter. At the present time, I will only remark further, that Mr. Hume, confidently, but erroneously, supposes a presumption to lie strongly against the existence of miracles. The presumption is wholly in favour of their existence. We know, that innumerable miracles have taken place. The Creation of the world is one immense complication of miraculous works; and the first beings of every sort were miraculous existences. As miracles were wrought here; so the analogy of the Divine works, as well as the uniformity of the Divine character, irresistibly compels us to believe, that they will be wrought, wherever a sufficient occasion is presented. The illumination and reformation of mankind is a cause of this nature, existing in the highest degree. That God should work miracles to prove the truth, and spread the influence of Christianity, is, therefore, with the highest reason to be expected; especially as miracles are the most proper, as well as most forcible, of all proofs, that a religion is derived from Him.
III. I shall now attempt to point out the Importance of miracles.
1st. The importance of the miracles of Christ is manifest in the immediate benefit of those, for whom they were wrought.
All the miracles of Christ were glorious acts of beneficence. In his own words, The blind received their sight, and the lame walked; the lepers were cleansed, and the deaf heard ; the dead were raised up, and the poor had the Gospel preached to them. That acts of this general nature were of high importance to those, for whom they were done; and that, multiplied as we are told they were, particularly by St. John, they constituted a mass of beneficence, incalculably interesting to the age and country, in which they existed; will not admit of a doubt.
2dly. The miracles of Christ were of great importance to his character.
They were important, first, as proofs of power. Christ, for the wisest and best reasons, appeared as the son of a carpenter, and lived alway in a state of general humiliation. But it was necessary also, that his character, even in this world, should be distinguished by personal greatness. This distinction nothing could so effectually produce, as the power of controlling, in this manner, the laws of nature, and suspending, or counteracting, in this manner, the agency, by which the affairs of this world are carried on. As Christ wrought miracles in his own name, he was thus proved to possess this power in himself, as an inherent energy. But how superior is this power to all that can be boasted by the greatest men who have ever lived. What conqueror would not cheerfully barter all the power, in which he glories, for the control of wounds and diseases, of winds and waves, of life and death? This power exhibited Christ, in the midst of all his humiliation, as greater than any, and than all, the children of Adam; and surrounded his character with a splendour becoming his mission. How important, how necessary this greatness was to Christ, as the Mediator between God and man, I need not illustrate.
Secondly, The miracles of Christ were necessary, as proofs of his Benevolence.
Benevolence is proved by action. But no actions were ever equally proofs of benevolence with the miraculous actions of Christ, except his condescension, atonement, and intercession. It would not have been possible for Christ, in any other manner, to exhibit the same character with the same strength. No actions could have been equally beneficent. The good done, was the most necessary, and the most useful, to those for whom it was done. Those for whom it was done were persons, to whom it is usually least done; who most need it; to whom it is of the highest consequence; and who, therefore, as objects of Christ's beneficence, illustrate, more clearly than any others could do, this excellence of his character. At the same time, it was beneficence accomplished by a person, possessed of stupendous power and greatness, manifested in the very communication of the good. Those, who possess great power, very rarely manifest, and therefore are justly believed very rarely to possess, an eminent degree of good-will. Intoxicated with their greatness, they are generally employed in displaying it to mankind, and in thus engrossing admiration and applause. From such persons Christ is gloriously distinguished, by employing his own unexampled power solely in communicating kindness to those around him.
In both these great particulars the miracles of Christ invest him with greatness and glory, to which there has been nothing parallel in the present world.
3dly. The miracles of Christ are of vast importance, as proofs of the Divinity of his Mission.
A miracle is an act of infinite power only; and is, therefore, a proof of the immediate agency of God. None, but he, can withhold, suspend, or counteract, his agency, exerted according to the laws of nature.
A miracle becomes a proof of the character, or doctrine, of him by whom it was wrought, by being professedly wrought for the confirmation of either. A miracle is the testimony of God. From the perfect veracity of God it irresistibly results, that he can never give, nor rationally be supposed to give, his testimony to any thing but truth. When, therefore, a miracle is wrought in confirmation of any thing, or as evidence of any thing, we know, that that thing is true, because God has given to it his testimony. The miracles of Christ were wrought, to prove, that the mission and doctrine of Christ were from God. They were, therefore, certainly from God.
To this it may be objected, that miracles are asserted by the Scriptures themselves to have been wrought in confirmation of falsehood: as, for example, by the Magicians, the Witch of Endor, and by Satan in the time of Christ's temptation.
If the Magicians of Egypt wrought miracles, God wrought them, with a view to make the final triumph of his own cause, in the hands of Moses, more the object of public attention, and more strik
ing to the view of mankind. This was done, when the Magicians themselves were put to silence, and forced to confess, that the works of Moses were accomplished by the finger of God. But the truth is, the Magicians wrought no miracles. All that they did was to busy themselves with their enchantments ; by which, every man now knows, that, although the weak and credulous
may be deceived, miracles cannot possibly be accomplished. That this is the real amount of the history, given by Moses, any sober man may, I think, be completely satisfied by reading Farmar's treatise on Miracles.
The Witch of Endor neither wrought, nor expected to work, any miracle. This is clearly evident from her astonishment, and alarm, at the appearance of Samuel. Saul, who expected a miracle, beheld Samuel without any peculiar surprise: she, who expected none, with amazement and terror.
Satan is said by the Evangelists to have taken our Saviour up into a very high mountain, and to have shewn him all the kuugdoms of the world in a moment of time. The Greek word 01xxjusvns, here translated world, very frequently signifies land, or country; and vught to have been thus rendered here: the meaning being no other, than that Satan showed our Saviour the four Tetrarchies, or King. doms, comprised in the land of Judea. In this transaction it will not be pretended, that there was any thing miraculous.
The doctrine, that miracles have been, or may be, wrought in support of falsehood, has been incautiously adopted by several respectable Divines ; and they have taught us, that, we are to try the evidence, furnished by the miracle, by the nature of the doctrine, which it was wrought to prove. This, I apprehend, is infinitely dishonourable to the character of Jehovab; for it supposes, that he may not only countenance, but establish, falsehood. At the same time, it is arguing in a circle. It is employing the doctrine to prove the miracle, and, then, the miracle to prove the doctrine.
That the miracles of Christ were complete proof of his doctrine is clearly evident from the words of Christ himself; when he declares concerning the Jews, that, if he had not done among them such works, as no other man did, they had not had sin ; but that now they had no cloak for their sin.