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MIRACLES OF CHRIST.
Acts. ii. 22.- Jesus of Nasareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles,
and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also knor.
In a series of discourses, I have considered, at length, the character of Christ, as a Prophet, Priest, and King. I shall now pro
, ceed to investigate his character as a Worker of Miracles.
In the text, Christ is styled Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among the Jews. This approbation is declared to have been testified by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of that People: and of all this, it is asserted, the Jews themselves had been witnesses. These subjects I propose to consider in the following discourse, so far as I shall judge necessary to my general design. I shall, however, neglect the order of the text; and adopt one, more suited to the present purpose.
1. I shall define a Miracle :
A miracle is a suspension, or counteraction, of what are called the Laws of Nature. By the laws of nature I intend those regular courses of Divine agency, which we discern in the world around us. God, to enable us to understand his works, and his character as displayed in them, and to enable us, also, to direct, with success, our own conduct in the various duties of life, and probably for other purposes, has been pleased to conform his own agency to certain rules, formed by his wisdom; called by Philosophers, Laws of nature; and in the Scriptures, Ordinances of Heaven. To these laws all things, with which we are acquainted by experience, are usually conformed. A miracle, is either a suspension, or counteraction, of these laws; or, more definitely, of the progress of things according to these laws. I have chosen both these words, because I would include all possible miracles; and because some events of this kind may more obviously seem to be suspensions, and others counteractions, of these laws.
II. I shall show, that Christ wrought miracles.
In this case, I shall, for the present, assume the story as true, which is told us by the Evangelists concerning the works of Christ; and refer my observations on this subject to another part of the discussion. "Taking it, then, for granted, that Christ really did the
things, ascribed to him in the Gospel; I assert, that a considerable number of these things were real miracles. I say a considerable number, because it would be idle to extend the debate, on the present occasion, to any thing, supposed to be of a dubious nature; and because, after every deduction which can be asked, a sufficient number will remain to satisfy every wish of a Christian, and to overthrow every cavil of an Infidel. Among other examples of this nature, I select the following.
The case of the man, who was born blind: who observed justly concerning it, Since the world began, it was not heard, that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. No arguments are necessary to prove this to have been a miracle in the perfect sense; for every individual knows, that it is a total counteraction of the laws of nature, that clay, made of spittle and earth, and smeared upon the eyes, should restore sight to a person born blind. I select this case the rather, because it was formally examined by the Jewish Sanhedrim, and evinced to have been real, beyond
The case of Christ's walking upon the water in the lake of Gennesaret, is another, equally unexceptionable.
The cures, which he wrought on lepers by his mere word and pleasure; cures, which no other person has been able to perform by any means whatever; are instances of the same nature. Of the same nature, also, are those cases, in which he raised the dead to life ; viz. the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus. That these persons were all really dead, there is not the least room to doubt: that they were all raised to life, is certain.
I shall only add two instances more: one, in which he fed four, and the other, in which he fed five, thousand men, besides women and children, wiih a few loaves of barley bread, and a few little fishes. In this miracle creating power was immediately exerted, with a degree of evidence which nothing could resist, or rationally question.
That all these were miracles, according to the definition, given above, must, I think, be acknowledged without hesitation. Argu
prove this point, therefore, would be superfluous. That these facts really took place, and that the narration, which conveys the knowledge of them to us, is true, has been so often, so clearly, and so unanswerably proved, that to attempt to argue this point here would seem a supererogatory labour. All of you have, or easily can have, access to a numerous train of books, containing this proof, elucidated with high advantage. I shall, therefore, consider this subject in a manner extremely summary, and calculated to exhibit little more than a mere synopsis of evidence, pertaining to the subject. For this end I observe,
1st. The facts were of such a nature, as to be obvious, in the plainest manner, to the senses, and understanding, of all men, possessed of common sense.
2dly. The narrators were eye and ear-witnesses of them.
3dly. They were performed in the most public manner; in the presence of inultitudes, the greater part of whom were opposers of Christ.
4thly. They were generally believed, so generally, as to induce, customarily, the friends of the sick and distressed, wherever Christ came, to apply to him, with absolute confidence in his ability to relieve them: a fact, which proves the universal conviction of the Jewish people, at that time, that Christ certainly and continually wrought miracles. But this conviction could not have existed, to any considerable extent, unless he had actually wrought miracles.
5thly. The Apostles had no possible interest to deceive their fellow-men. They neither gained, could gain, nor attempted to gain, any advantage in the present world by publishing this story. On the contrary, they suffered, through life, the loss of all things, while declaring it, and the religion, of which it was the foundation, to mankind. In the future world, as Jews, believing the Old Testament to be the word of God, they could expect nothing, but perdition, as the reward of their useless imposture.
6thly. They were men, whose integrity has not only been unimpeached, but is singular. This is evinced by the fact, that innumerable multitudes of their countrymen, and of many other nations, embraced the religion which they taught; committed to their guidance their souls, and their everlasting interests; hazarded, and yielded, all that they held dear in this world, for the sake of this religion; and still esteemed these very men, through whose instrumentality they had been brought into these distresses, the very best of mankind. It is also proved by the further fact; that, in the ages immediately succeeding, as well as in those which have followed, their character has, in this respect, stood higher, than that of any other men whatever.
7thly. Their Narratives wear more marks of veracity, than any other which the world can furnish.
8thly. The Existence of these miracles is acknowledged by Jews, and Heathen, as well as Christians; and was wholly uncontradicted by either for fifteen hundred years.
9thly. These Narratives were the genuine productions of those, to whom they are ascribed. That they were written by these persons is unanswerably proved by the testimony of their cotemporaries, and very early followers. That they have come down to us uncorrupted, and unmutilated, is certain, from the age, and coincidence, of numerous Manuscripts; from the Versions early made of them into various languages; from the almost innumerable Quotations from them, found in other books, still extant; from the joint Consent of orthodox Christians and heretics; from the Impossibility of corrupting them with success, because of the fre. quency, and constancy, with which they were read in public and
in private; because of the numerous copies, very early diffused throughout all Christian countries; because of the profound religious veneration, with which they were regarded; and because of the eagle-eyed watchfulness, with which contending sects guarded every passage, which furnished any inducement to corruption, or mutilation.
No other history can boast of these, or one half of these, powerful proofs of its genuineness and authenticity. If, then, we do not admit these narratives to be true, we must bid a final farewell to the admission of all historical testimony:
Mr. Hume has written an Essay, to disprove the existence of the miracles recorded in the Gospel. In the introduction to this Essay, he says, “ he flatters himself, he has discovered an argument, which will prove an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion."
When this Essay first appeared, it was received with universal triumph by Infidels, and with no small degree of alarm by timorous Christians. Since that time, however, it has been repeatedly answered; and triumphantly refuted by Dr. Campbell ; and completely exposed, as a mere mass of sophistry; ingenious indeed, but shamefully disingenuous; and utterly destitute of solid argument, and real evidence.
After such ample refutation, it would be a useless employment for me to enter upon a formal examination of the scheme, contained in this Essay. I shall, therefore, dismiss it with a few observations.
The great doctrine of Mr. Hume is this : “ That, according to the experience of man, all things uniformly exist agreeably to the laws of nature, that every instance of our experience is not only an evidence, that the thing, experienced, exists in the manner which we perceive, but that all the following events of the same kind will also erist in the same manner.
This evidence he considers, also, as increased by every succeeding instance of the same experience. According to his scheme, therefore, the evidence, that any thing. which we perceive by our senses, now exists, is made up of the present testimony of our senses, united with all former testimonies, of the same nature, to facts of the same kind. The existence of any fact, therefore, instead of being completely proved, is only partially proved, by the present testimony of our senses to its existence. According to this scheme, therefore, we, who are present in this house, know, that ourselves and others are present, partly by seeing each other present at this time, and partly by remembering that we have been present heretofore. Of course, the first time we were thus present, we had not the same assurance of this fact, as the second time. This assurance became still greater the third time; greater still the fourth; and thus has gone on accumulating strength in every succeeding instance. Every person, therefore, who has been here one hundred times, has an hundred times the evidence, that he is now here, which he had, when he was here the first time, that he was then present : and I, who, during twenty-four years, have been present many thousand times, know, that I am now here, with a thousand degrees of evidence, more than is possessed, concerning the like fact, by any other person who is present. A scheme of reasoning, which conducts to such a manifest and gross absurdity, must, one would think, have been seen to be false by a man, much less sagacious than Mr. Hume.
Every man of common sense knows, and cannot avoid knowing, even at a glance, that all the evidence which we possess, or can pos. sess, of the existence of any fact, is furnished by the present testimony of our senses to that fact. Of course, every such man knows equally well, that no testimony of the senses to any preceding fact can affect a present fact in any manner whatever. The person, who is now present in this house for the first time, has all the evidence, that he is here, which is possessed by him, who has been here a thousand times before. The evidence of the senses to any single fact is all the evidence, of which that fact is ever capable. Nor can it be increased, even in the minutest degree, by the same evidence, repeated concerning similar facts, existing, afterwards, in any supposable number of instances. He, who has crossed a ferry safely, never thought of crossing it a second time, in order to know whether he was safe, or not.
The influence, which Experience is intended by Mr. Hume to have on our belief of the existence of future events, is of the same nature. Past experience is, by his scheme, the great criterion for determining on all that which is to come. An event, which has already been witnessed a thousand times, is, in his view, to be expected again, with a confidence, exactly proportioned to this number. If an event, on the contrary, has not taken place, it is not to be at all expected ; but regarded as incredible. Thus, if a ferry-boat has crossed the ferry a thousand times without sinking, the probability is, as one thousand to nothing, that it will never sink hereafter.
The Analogy, here referred to, is founded on the general maxim : that the same Causes produce, in the same circumstances, the same effects. The instances, in which causes and circumstances, apparently the same, are really such, are so few, that, in the actual state of things, it can answer Mr. Hume's purpose in a very small number of cases only. Almost always the causes themselves, or the circumstances in which they operate, are, in this mutable world, 80 continually changed, that analogies, founded on this maxim, are rarely exact; and are, therefore, rarely safe rules for forming conclusions. All men are so sensible of this truth, that they easily, and uniformly, admit testimony, as a sufficient proof of the fallacy of such conclusions. The smallest credible testimony will induce any man to believe, that a ferry-boar kas sunk; although it may before have crossed safely, and regularly, for many years. Much Vol. II.