« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
one will believe or not is left to his free and voluntary choice; his probationary character is inviolate; his reason and his will are perfectly responsible. If he desire not to believe; if his heart revolt against the gospel on account of the humility and repentance and holiness and self-denial it demands of him; if he study its nature and evidence carelessly, proudly, and partially; if he consult more the objector than the advocate, and try to invent reasons for unbelief more than arguments for the contrary; if he love vice, and would retain his sins, he may easily convince himself against the claims of the gospel. God has left unclosed many avenues by which such a man may escape into infidelity. He is wisely punished by being permitted to go in thereat. God may justly take him at his word, and condemn him to the darkness and final misery of rejecting what he investigated so unjustly. It is the wisdom of God that his truth does not, in offering conviction to such examiners, afford at the same time encouragement to such unworthiness.
OUR last lecture was occupied in settling certain preliminaries, for the purpose of being enabled in this to enter directly upon the work of weighing the testimony to the miracles of Christ and his apostles The question to which we now proceed may be stated thus: The Lord Jesus Christ claimed to be received as a teacher come from God for the purpose of communicating a divine revelation. His apostles claimed to be received as his inspired and divinely commissioned agents in publishing that revelation. All appealed to miracles as the credentials of their embassy. None can deny that such credentials, plainly ascertained, are certain proof of the sanction of God. The appeal to them is therefore unquestionably fair. The point, then, which remains to be determined is, HAVE
WE SATISFACTORY EVIDENCE THAT GENUINE MIRACLES WERE WROUGHT BY THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES?
In answer to this question, we might proceed on a plan of argument which would occupy but a few moments. In the lecture preceding the last, we ascertained the credibility of the gospel history; in other words, that we have the strongest reason to rely implicitly on the narratives contained therein, as to all matters of fact. Now, it is there related, that
on a certain occasion our Saviour was followed by five thousand men into a desert place, where they were in need of food; that all the food at hand was five barley loaves and a few small fishes; that of these he commanded his disciples to distribute to the multitude; and after they had all eaten and were filled, the fragments remaining were much more in quantity than the original loaves and fishes. These are plain statements, related in the gospel as unquestionable facts. The gospel history being credible, they must be true. To call that a credible history, and then suppose it unworthy of reliance in such prominent particulars, would be absurd. But these facts constitute a miracle. There must have been a miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Consequently, in having proved the credibility of the gospel history, we have proved that in this case a miracle was wrought.
Thus might we proceed with regard to a great variety of other statements, as to the works of Christ and his apostles; and I fully believe that, in strict justice, nothing more ought to be required in evidence of the gospel miracles, than what has been already adduced in proof of the credibility of the narratives contained in the New Testament. But inasmuch as our object is not merely to exhibit a sound and conclusive` argument, such as ought to satisfy every mind, but so to present the great variety and abundance of proof in support of Christianity, that no attentive, candid mind can help being satisfied, we will adopt a broader plan.
Before proceeding any further, let it be remarked, that the religion of the Bible is THE ONLY ONE which, in its first introduction, appealed to miracles for evidence of the divine authority of its teachers. Under the religion of the Bible I include the dispensation of Moses and that of Christ, as exhibiting essentially the same religion, though more largely and clearly revealed under the latter than under the former. Both dispensations were introduced and sanctioned by miracles. Now, I know it is a common supposition, that the same mode of attestation was resorted to by all the false religions that ever gained acceptance in the world, and that this was the chief cause of their ascendency in the public mind; but the truth is, that no religion, except that of the Bible, was ever set up by appeal to miracles as the credentials of its founder. We speak of miracles which are capable of being witnessed and investigated by others. It is not asserted that many wonderful things of a miraculous nature have not been pretended to and boasted among the disciples of sundry false religions. The annals of paganism abound with relations of auguries and oracles and apparitions. Many miraculous, not to say ridiculous marvels, are asserted of Mohammed. But the remark is applicable to all of these things, and is of great importance in connection with our present object, that they were asserted not as proofs of religions appealing to them for credentials, but only as appendages of religions already set up, and previously received on considerations entirely independent of the truth or falsehood of such marvels.
It was the credit and influence of a religion already established which gave them all their currency, and not their evidence which established the religion with which they were respectively connected. The prodigies of heathenism, unaccompanied as they were by any pretence of proof, had no manner of reference to the setting up of a new system of faith, or of a teacher pretending to a divine commission. Miraculous stories were published of Mohammed by writers of six and eight centuries after his death, but no such pretensions were made by himself. On the contrary, he expressly disclaimed miraculous powers. In the Koran it is written of him, "Nothing hindered us from sending thee with miracles, except that the former nations have charged them with imposture." Again, "They say, unless a sign be sent down unto him from his Lord, we will not believe; answer, signs are in the power of God alone, and I am no more than a public preacher. Is it not sufficient for them that we have sent down unto them the book of the Koran, to be read unto them?" We grant that Mohammed did give out to the credulity of his followers a few marvellous doings; but they were such as cannot be included under the title of sensible miracles, inasmuch as he always took the discreet precaution of having no witness but himself, entirely avoiding the hazardous experiment of resting the evidence of his divine mission upon the testimony of any eyes more disinterested than his own.
But how can it be accounted for that one of such high pretensions-aware, as he was, of the success