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stronger is the evidence which we require : but to assert in the abstract, that no testimony can establish a miracle, more nearly resembles a paradox thrown out for the purpose of exciting astonishment, than a sober and cautious position laid down from a real love of truth. At least, so I should think, that to a plain honest man it would be very apt to appear.
The assertion, however, is not only paradoxical: it is also conveyed through the medium of a train of reasoning, which itself is palpably fallacious. Mr. Hume lays it down as incontrovertible, that a firm and unalterable experience has established those laws of nature, which it is the very essence of a miracle to violate. Now what is this but begging the very point in litigation ? That the firm and unalterable experience of Mr. Hume himself and of those various persons with whom he may
have conversed is in favour of the inviolability of the laws of nature, I can readily allow : but how does this prove the same position in regard to the experience of all ages? Mr. Hume can only testify as to the experience of himself and his friends. What the experience of other persons may have been, he can only learn from credible testimony. It may have agreed with his own experience, or it may have contradicted it. But, of whatever description it may be, Mr. Hume can plainly know nothing about the matter, save from historical evidence. To call therefore his own experience a firm and unalterable experience, meaning by the expression the firm and unalterable experience of all ages, is most undoubtedly to beg the very point in debate : for, while Mr. Hume asserts, that the absolute uniformity of the laws of nature is the firm and unalterable experience of all ages ; this absolute uniformity of the laws of nature is the precise matter, which they, who believe in the occurrence of miracles, deny. Here then we have assertion marshalled against assertion : and, which of the two is to be received as valid, can only, so far as I perceive, be determined by adequate testimony. Under such circumstances, how do the contending parties proceed? Those, who believe in the occasional violation of the laws of nature by the instrumentality of miracles, produce in vindication of their belief what they deem sufficient historical evidence: but Mr. Hume begs the question, by denying that any testimony can be sufficient to establish the fact of a miracle, simply and merely because a miracle contradicts, not universal experience (for this is the litigated point), but the experience of himself and the several persons with whom he has conversed. His reasoning being thus fallacious, his conclusion must of necessity be the same; even if we omit the evident absurdity of the terms in which it is couched. No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falshood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish. Such is Mr. Hume's conclusion from his previous reasoning, the terms of which I have ventured to stigmatize with evident absurdity. For what possible idea can any man frame to himself of the miraculousness of a falshood, in any legitimate sense of the word miraculous ? A miraculous feeding of the hungry, or a miraculous healing of disorders, or a miraculous resuscitation of the dead, we can conceive and understand : but a miraculous falshood, in the same sense of the word miraculous (which the homogeneity of the argument plainly requires), is a perfect incomprehensibility; we can absolutely form no notion whatever of such a thing. Had Mr. Hume said, that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of so strong a description, that the occurrence of the miracle is a more probable event than the falshood of the witnesses ; he would have spoken at once intelligibly and rationally : but, in that case, he would have virtually allowed, that a miracle might be established by adequate testimony. This concession, however, did not suit his purpose: and therefore, after first begging the question, he next surprizes us in his conclusion with the extraordinary phenomenon of a miraculous falshood.
From what has been said, the result is simply as follows. Christianity claims the sanction of miraculous powers. Its claim must be examined like any other historical fact. If the evidence in favour of the claim preponderate, it must be ad
mitted: if the evidence be clearly insufficient, it must be rejected.
Now the evidence, requisite to satisfy a rational inquirer, is of a two-fold description : it must be shewn, that certain actions purporting to be miracles were certainly performed; and it must be shewn, that those actions were real, not simulated, miracles.
(1.) With respect to the performance of various actions, purporting to be miracles and believed to be such both at and after the time of their
performance, the following is the testimony which may be offered.
The belief of some supernatural interposition is, in the abstract, necessary, to account for the fact of the wonderfully rapid propagation of Christianity. We have seen how ineffectually Mr. Gibbon labours to solve the difficulty by natural causes : and, if such a man failed in the attempt, it is not very probable that inferior talents will be more successful. An incontrovertible fact presents itself to us. That fact cannot be accounted for on natural prínciples. Therefore the necessity of the case requires, that supernatural principles of some sort or other should be called in. History cannot proceed without them. We have a knot, which no one but a Deity can untie.
Accordingly, both the founder of Christianity, and the first preachers of it to the world at large, claim the power of working miracles; as being
that special supernatural interposition, which was to accredit them to mankind in the character of messengers indeed sent from God. That the claim was made, is indisputable: and I contend, that, in the very nature of things, either the claim would not have been made, if the power had not been possessed ; or, if it had been made unsuccessfully, the whole scheme of thus recommending the Gospel must have proved abortive. For would any man of common sense risque the failure of his entire plan, by claiming a power, which all the while he knew that he did not possess: or, if he were induced to act a part of such consummate folly, would not his want of success in performing a miracle involve of necessity the ruin of his project ? Supernatural powers are voluntarily made the test of a divine commission. On trial, no such powers are found to be possessed. What is the inevitable result? The pretenders are laughed off the stage, as impudent mountebanks : and their scheme, agreeably to the test proposed by themselves, is universally rejected. Of this necessary consequence of an unaccomplished claim of miraculous powers the impostor Mohammed was so well aware, that he wisely refrained from advancing it. Miracles were indeed required of him, under the natural impression that they would be the credentials of every promulger of a new revelation : but the demand was always evaded, and the power dis