« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
shew their hatred and excuse their resistance to the Gospel, by ascribing the performance of the miracles either to magic or to diabolical agency or to an unhallowed use of the sacred name Jehovah : but the fact itself they universally allow; and this is amply sufficient for our present argument. Jesus and his apostles claimed to work miracles, specially as a test of their divine commission. The Jews and the Pagans alike confess, that miracles were wrought. Is it credible, that they would have done this, unless compelled by the force of irresistible testimony; when an exposure of the fraud, if any fraud existed, would instantaneously have annihilated every pretence to a divine commission? The falshood of these various concurring witnesses, both friends and enemies, Jews and Gentiles, I would not, in the phraseology of Mr. Hume, assert to be a greater miracle than the attested miracles themselves ; because I can form no distinct idea of a miraculous falshood: but this I will venture to say, that the testimony in favour of Christian miracles is so strong and so varied, that it is a less exertion of faith to admit the occurrence of the miracles than to maintain the falshood of the witnesses.
(2.) Deeming the evidence before us quite sufficient to prove, that certain extraordinary actions, purporting to be miracles, were wrought by Christ and his apostles, I have now only to shew, that these actions were real and not simulated miracles.
An infidel, compelled by the force of testimony like the Jews and Pagans of old, might be disposed to concede, that some remarkable deeds were performed by the author and the early preachers of Christianity : but, at the same time, as it may be doubted whether he would resort to magic for a solution, he might deny that these remarkable deeds were effected by any interposition of heaven. The whole matter he might be inclined to resolve into a mere trick or juggle; often, as in the case of pretended exorcisms of demons and cures of sick persons, adroitly and successfully accomplished through the intervention and by the aid of confederates. One man, who is in the secret, pretends to be possessed by a devil : another man, who is also in the secret, affects to labour under some dreadful disorder. When the mechanism of the cheat has been thus duly got up, the word of healing is spoken, and the patient (marvellous to relate) is suddenly restored to perfect health.
Such is the objection, which is now to be considered : and I will begin with fairly confessing, that, had no miracles been wrought save of the above description, it would at least have been very plausible. Certain difficulties, indeed, would still have occurred : for it might well seem strange, that, with all their enmity and all their opportunities, the Jews and the Pagans should never once have detected the fraud ; that not a single confederate, either through fickleness or disgust or penitence or the fear of death, should have made a confession; and, most especially (an argument which I have already insisted upon), that Judas, when he sold and betrayed his Lord, should not have fully exposed to the irritated Jewish rulers the whole of this nefarious imposture. Yet, notwithstanding such difficulties, the objection would have been plausible, and might even upon a well-disposed mind have left a very unpleasant impression *. But the fact is, that
* This objection is well answered by Bp. Douglas, even on its broadest basis : I, on the contrary, shew, that certain miracles were wrought, in which the mechanism of confederacy was physically impossible ; and from their performance I would argue, that the other recorded miracles were real miracles also : for it is absurd to imagine, that he, who could work real miracles, would sometimes resort to collusion for the
purpose producing false miracles. Miracles, the offspring of imposture, can never have any chance to gain credit or to pass undetected, in the time or at the place where they are pretended to be wrought, unless there is a strong confederacy on foot, privy to the imposture, and engaged to carry it on : and this has been generally the case of the most noted pretensions of Popery. But we have the fullest assurance that can possibly be had, that there was not any such confederacy on foot to propagate the miracles of Jesus. Had Christianity indeed been a religion already established in the world, when these miracles were pretended to; and had it been previously believed by those, who believed the miracles : a combination to deceive the public might have been possible ; and the very possibility of such a combination would justly have excited suspicions of its being real. But, when we reflect from what be gs Christianity arose, and in what manner it made its entrance into the world; that Jesus, the great founder of it, had not one follower when he set up his claim, and that it was his
miracles were wrought, which, from their special nature, exclude all possibility either of deception or collusion : and the argument from them is plainly this. If certain miracles were performed, which cannot be accounted for save by the direct intervention of heaven, he, who performed them, must have been a true prophet: but, if he were a true prophet, then all his other miracles, which
miracles which gave birth to his sect, not the sect already established that appealed to his miracles : from these circumstances we may conclude unexceptionably, that there could not possibly be a confederacy, strong enough to obstruct an examination of the facts and to obtrude a history of lies upon the public. But why need I insist upon this, when I can urge farther, that, even though there had been a confederacy among the witnesses of the Gospel miracles, this could not have screened them from detection ; as the persons, who had all the means of inquiry in their hands, were engaged in interest to exert themselves on the occasion, nay, actually did put their power in execution against the reporters of these miracles? Forged miracles may pass current, where power and authority screen them from the too nice inquiry of examiners. But, whenever it shall happen that those who are vested with the supreme power are bent upon opposing and detecting them; the progress which they make can be but small, before the imposture is discovered and sinks into obscurity and contempt. If this observation be well founded, as I am confident it is ; that lying wonders should pass undetected among the Papists, will not be thought strange : for such stories among them have generally been countenanced, if not invented, by those, with whom alone the power of detecting the imposture and of punishing the impostors was lodged. Now the miracles of Jesus, it is notorious, were not thus sheltered -That there was no imposture detected, therefore, could not be owing to want of proper examination. Criterion. p. 302-305.
we might haply have accounted for on the score of collusion, must have been genuine miracles; for it is at once absurd and superfluous to imagine, that he, who in some cases was empowered to work real miracles, should in other cases descend to a base and in fact an unnecessary collusion.
The miracles, which I shall select to exemplify this position, are, the feeding of multitudes with food wholly inadequate to their numbers, and the sudden acquisition of various languages by men who were previously altogether illiterate.
On two several occasions, each time in the neighbourhood of the lake of Tiberias, did Christ perform the first of these miracles. First, he fed five thousand men, beside women and children, with five loaves and two fishes : and, when the whole multitude had eaten to satiety, there remained of the fragments twelve baskets full *. Next, he fed four thousand men, beside women and children, with seven loaves and a few little fishes : and, on this occasion, seven baskets full were left of the broken meat, when all had eaten and had been satisfied t.
Here, I maintain, there was no room either for collusion or deception. Two vast multitudes of both sexes and all ages, accidentally collected together, could not all have been confederates : and, as for any collusion on the part of the disciples alone, the thing was palpably impossible.
Matt. xiv, 13-22,
+ Matt, xv, 32-39.