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A DISCOURSE ON MIRACLES.
Tuis tractate may properly be regarded as the de- , (which are different in different men,) it is una.
velopment of the view taken of the subject of voidable that that should be a miracle to one, miracles, in the Essay on the Human Under- which is not so to another. standing. And tkough neither very elaborate nor 2. Another objection to this definition will be, extensive, it will always, for the religious in- that the notion of a miracle thus enlarged, may quirer, possess considerable inierest; partly for coine sometimes to take in operations that have its intrinsic merits, partly because it contains the nothing extraordinary or supernatural in them, ripest thoughts of one of the greatest lights in and thereby invalidate the use of miracles for the philosophy that the world has to boast of. The attesting of divine revelation. passage of the Essay in which he had already, in
To which I answer, not at all, if the testimony
which divine revelation receives from miracles be the earlier part of his life, glanced at the subject, is as follows:-" Though the common experience,
rightly considered. and the ordinary course of things, have justly a
To know that any revelation is from God, it is mighty influence on the minds of men, to make livers it is sent from God; and that cannot be
necessary to know that the messenger that dethem give or refuse credit to any thing proposed known but by some credentials given him by God to their belief; yet there is one case, wherein the himself. Let us see then whether miracles, in my strangeness of the fact lessens not the assent to a sense, be not such credentials, and will not infalli. fair testimony given of it. For where such su- bly direct us right in the search of divine revela . pernatural events are suitable to ends aimed at Lion. by Him, who has the power to change the course It is to be considered, that divine revelation reof nature, there, under such circumstances, they ceives testimony from no other miracles, but such may be the filter to procure belief, by how much as are wrought to witness his mission from God, the more they are beyond or contrary to ordinary that are done in the world, how many or great
who delivers the revelation. All other miracles observation. This is the proper case of miracles, which, well attested, do not only find credit them- wherein there has been, or can be need of mira
soever, revelation is not concerned in. Cases selves, but give it also to other truths, which need cles for the confirmation of revelation, are fewer such confirmation." Book iv. Chap. 16, s 13.— than perhaps is imagined. The heathen worl!, Ed.
amidst an infinite and uncertain jumble of duilies, fables, and worships, had no room for a divine attestation of any one against the rest. Those
owners of many gods were at liberty in their worTo discourse of miracles without defining what ship; and no one of their divinities pretending to one means by the word miracle, is to make a be the one only true God, no one of them could show, but in effect to talk of nothing.
be supposed, in the Pagan scheme, to make use of A miracle, then, I take to be a sensible opera- miracles to establish his worship alone, or to tion, which, being above the comprehension of the abolish that of the other; much less was there spectator, and in his opinion contrary to the esta- any use of miracles to confirm any articles of blished course of nature, is taken by him to be di faith, since no one of them had any such to provine.
pose as necessary to be believed by their votaries; He that is present at the fact, is a spectator : and, therefore, I do not remember any miracles he that believes the history of the fact, puts him- recorded in the Greek or Roman writers, as done self in the place of a spectator.
to confirm any one's mission and doctrine. ConThis definition, it is probable, will not escape formable herunto we find St. Paul, 1 Cor. i. 22, these two exceptions :
takes notice that the Jews (it is true) required 1. That hereby what is a miracle is made very miracles, but as for the Greeks they looked after uncertain: for it depending on the opinion of the something else ; they knew no need or use there spectator, that will be a miracle to one which will was of miracles to recommend any religion to not be so to another.
them. And indeed it is an astonishing mark how In answer to which, it is enough to say, that far the god of this world had blinded men's minds, this objection is of no force, but in the mouth of if we consider that the Gentile world received one who can produce a definition of a miracle not and stuck to a religion, which, not being derived liable to the same exception, which I think not from reason, had no sure foundation in revelation. easy to do; for it being agreed, that a miracle They knew not its original, nor the authors of it, must be that which surpasses the force of nature nor 'seemed concerned to know from whence it in the established, steady laws of causes and ef- came, or by whose authority delivered; and so fects, nothing can be taken to be a miracle but what had no mention or use of miracles for its confirmais judged to exceed those laws. Now every one tion. For though there were here and there some being able to judge of those laws only by his own pretences to revelation, yet there were not so acquaintance with nature, and notions of its force, much as pretences to miracles that attested it.
If we will direct our thoughts by what has been, First, This removes the main difficulty where we must conclude that miracles, as the creden- it presses hardest, and clears the matter from tials of a messenger delivering a divine religion, doubt, when extraordinary and supernatural operhave no place but upon a supposition of one only ations are brought to support opposite missions, true God and that it is so in the nature of the about which methinks more dust has been raised thing, and cannot be otherwise, I think will be by men of leisure than so plain a matter needed. made appear in the sequel of this discourse. Of For since God's power is paramount to all, and no such who have come in the name of the one only opposition can be made against him with an equal true God, professing to bring a law from him, we force to his ; and since his honor and goodness have in history a clear account but of three, viz., can never be supposed to suffer his messenger and Moses, Jesus, and Mahomet. For what the Per- his truth to be borne down by the appearance of a sees say of their Zoroaster, or the Indians of greater power on the side of an impostor, and in their Brama, (not to mention all the wild stories favor of a lie; whenever there is an opposition, of the religions further east) is so obscure, or so and two pretending to be sent from heaven clash, manifestly fabulous, that no account can be made the signs which carry with them the evident marks of it. Now of the three before mentioned, Ma- of a greater power, will always be a certain and homet having none to produce, pretends to no unquestionable evidence, that the truth and divine miracles for the vouching his mission: so that the mission are on that side on which they appear. only revelations that come attested by miracles, For, though the discovery, how the lying wonders being only those of Moses and Christ, and they are or can be produced, be beyond the capacity of confirming each other, the business of miracles, as the ignorant, and often beyond the conception of it stands really in matter of fact, lias no manner the most knowing spectator, who is therefore forced of difficulty in it; and I think the most scrupulous to allow them, in his apprehension, to be above the or sceptical cannot from miracles raise the least force of natural causes and effects; yet he cannot doubt against the divine revelation of the gospel. but know they are not seals set by God to his truth
But since the speculative and learned will be for the attesting of it, since they are opposed by putting of cases which never were, and it may be miracles that carry the evident marks of a greater presumed never will be; since scholars and dispu- and superior power, and therefore they cannot at tants will be raising of questions where there are all shake the authority of one so supported. God none, and enter upon debates whereof there is no can never be thought to suffer that a lie, set up in need; I crave leave to say, that he who comes opposition to a truth coming from him, should be with a message from God to be delivered to the backed with a greater power than he will show world, cannot be refused belief, if he vouches his for the confirmation and propagation of a doctrine mission by a miracle, because his credentials have which he has revealed, to the end it might be bea right to it. For every rational thinking man lieved. The producing of serpents, blood, and must conclude as Nicodemus did: “We know frogs, by the Egyptian sorcerers and by Moses, that thou art a teacher come from God, for no could not
, to the spectators, but appear equally man can do these signs which thou dost, except miraculous; which of the pretenders then had God be with him."
their mission from God, and the truth, on their For example, Jesus of Nazareth professes him- side, could not have been determined if the matself sent from God: he with a word calms a tem- ter had rested there. But when Moses's serpent pest at sea : this one looks on as a miracle, and eat up theirs, when he produced lice which they consequently cannot but receive his doctrine : could not, the decision was easy. It was plain another thinks this might be the effect of chance, Jannes and Jambres acted by an inferior power ; or skill in the weather, and no miracle, and so and their operations, how marvellous and extraorstands out; but afterwards seeing him walk on dinary soever, could not in the least bring in ques. the sea, owns that for a miracle, and believes : tion Moses's mission; that stood the firmer for which yet upon another has not that force, who this opposition, and remained the more unquestion. suspects it may possibly be done by the assistance able after this, than if no such signs had been of a spirit; but yet the same person, seeing after- | brought against it. wards our Saviour cure an inveterate palsy by a So likewise the number, variety, and greatness word, admits that for a miracle, and becomes a of the miracles, wrought for the confirmation of convert. Another overlooking it in this instance, the doctrine delivered by Jesus Christ, carry with afterwards finds a miracle in his giving sight to them such strong marks of an extraordinary divine one born blind, or in raising the dead, or his raising power, that the truth of his mission will stand firm himself from the dead, and so receives his doc- and unquestionable, till any one rising up in oppotrine as a revelation coming from God. By all sition to him shall do greater miracles than he and which it is plain, that where the miracle is ad- his apostles did. For any thing less will not be mitted, the doctrine cannot be rejected; it comes of weight to turn the scales in the opinion of any with the assurance of a divine attestation to him one, whether of an inferior or more exalted underthat allows the miracle, and he cannot question its standing. This is one of those palpable truths truth.
and trials, of which all mankind are judges; and The next thing then is, what shall be a suffi- there needs no assistance of learning, no deep cient inducement to take any extraordinary oper- thought, to come to a certainty in it. Such care ation to be a miracle, i. e. wrought by God him- has God taken that no pretended revelation should self for the attestation of a revelation from him. stand in competition with what is truly divine,
And to this I answer, the carrying with it the that we need but open our eyes to see and be sure marks of a greater power than appears in opposi- which came from him. The marks of his overtion to it. For,
ruling power accompany it; and therefore to this
day we find, that wherever the gospel comes, it and always will be, a visible and sure guide to diprevails, to the beating down the strong holds of vine revelation; by which men may conduct themSatan, and the dislodging the prince of the power selves in their examining of revealed religions, and of darkness, driving him away with all his living be satisfied which they ought to receive as coming wonders ; which is a standing miracle, carrying from God; though they have by no means ability with it the testimony of superiority.
precisely to determine what is, or is not above the What is the uttermost power of natural agents force of any created being; or what operaor created beings, men of the greatest reach can- tions can be performed by none but a divine power, not discover; but that it is not equal to God's om- and require the immediate hand of the Almighty. nipotency is obvious to every one's understand. And therefore we see it is by that our Saviour ing; so that the superior power is an easy, as measures the great unbelief of the Jews, John xv. well as sure guide to revelation, attested by mira. 24, saying, “ If I had not done among them the cles, where they are brought as credentials to an works which no other man did, they had not had embassy from God.
sin; but now have they both seen and hated both And thus, upon the same grounds of supe- me and my Father;" declaring, that they could riority of power, uncontested revelation will stand not but see the power and presence of God in those too.
many miracles he did, which were greater than For the explaining of which, it may be neces ever any other man had done. When God sent sary to premise,
Moses to the children of Israel with a message, 1. That no mission can be looked on to be di- that now, according to his promise, he would revine, that delivers any thing derogating from the deem them by his hand out of Egypt, and furnishhonor of the one, only true, invisible God, or in- ed him with signs and credentials of his mission; consistent with natural religion and the rules of it is very remarkable what God himself says of inorality; because God having discovered to men those signs, Exod. iy. 8: “And it shall come to the unity and majesty of his eternal Godhead, and pass, if they will not believe thee, nor hearken to the truths of natural religion and morality, by the the voice of the first sign (which was turning his light of reason, he cannot be supposed to back the rod into a serpent) that they will believe the voice contrary by revelation : for that would be to de- of the latter sign;" (which was the making his stroy the evidence and the use of reason, without hand leprous by putting it in his bosom ;) God which men cannot be able to distinguish divine further adds, v. 9, “ And it shall come to pass, if revelation from diabolical imposture.
they will not believe also these two signs, neither 2. That it cannot be expected that God should hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the send any one into the world on purpose to inform water of the river and pour upon the dry land: men of things indifferent, and of small moment, or and the water which thou takest out of the river that are knowable by the use of their natural fa- shall become blood upon the dry land.”. Which culties. This would be to lessen the dignity of his of those operations was or was not above the Majesty in favour of our sloth, and in prejudice to force of all created beings, will, I suppose, be hard our reason.
for any man, too hard for a poor brick-maker, to 3. The only case then wherein a mission of any determine ; and therefore the credit and certain one from heaven can be reconciled to the high and reception of the mission, was annexed to neither awful thoughts men ought to have of the Deity, of them, but the prevailing of their attestation must be the revelation of some supernatural truths was heightened by the increase of their number; relating to the glory of God, and some great con- two supernatural operations showing more power cern of men. Supernatural operations attesting than one, and three more than two. God allowed such a revelation may with reason be taken to be that it was natural, that the marks of greater miracles, as carrying the marks of a superior and power should have a greater impression on the overruling power, as long as no revelation accom- minds and belief of the spectators. Accordingly panied with marks of a greater power appears the Jews by this estimate judged of the miracles against it. Such supernatural signs may justly of our Saviour, John vii. 31, where we have this stand good, and be received for divine, i. e. wrought account: “ And many of the people believed on by a power superior to all, till a mission attested him, and said, When Christ cometh will he do by operations of a greater force shall disprove more miracles than these which this man hath them; because it cannot be supposed God should done?” This, perhaps, as it is the plainest, so it suffer his prerogative to be so far usurped by any is also the surest way to preserve
the testimony inferior being, as to permit any creature, depend of miracles in its due force to all sorts and degrees ing on him, to set his seals, the marks of his divine of people. For miracles being the basis on which authority, to a mission coming from him. For divine mission is always established, and consethese supernatural signs being the only means quently that foundation on which the believers of God is conceived to have to satisfy men, as rational any divine revelation must ultimately bottom their creatures, of the certainty of any thing he would faith, this use of them would be lost, if not to all reveal, as coming from himself, can never consent mankind, yet at least to the simple and illiterate, that it should be wrested out of his hands, to serve (which is the far greatest part,) if miracles be dethe ends and establish the authority of an inferior fined to be none but such divine operations as are agent that rivals him. His power being known to in themselves beyond the power of all created have no equal, always will
, and always may be beings, or at least operations contrary to the fixed safely depended on, to show its superiority in vin- and established laws of nature. For as to the dicating his authority, and maintaining every truth latter of those, what are the fixed and established that he hath revealed. So that the marks of a su- laws of nature, philosophers alone, if at least they, perior power accompanying it, always have been, I can pretend to determine. And if they are to be 82
operations performable only by divine power, I narrow cell to things at an infinite distance from doubt whether any man, learned or unlearned, his model and comprehension. can, in most cases, be able to say of any particu Such definitions therefore of miracles, however lar operation that can fall under his senses, that specious in discourse and theory, fail us when we it is certainly a miracle. Before he can come to come to use, and an application of them in partithat certainty, he must know that no created be- cular cases. ing has a power to perform it. We know good These thoughts concerning miracles, were ocand bad angels have abilities and excellencies ex- casioned by my reading Mr. Fleetwood's Essay ceedingly beyond all our poor performances or on Miracles, and the letter written to him on that narrow comprehensions. But to define what is subject. The one of them defining a miracle to the utmost extent of power that any of them has, be an extraordinary operation performable by God is a bold undertaking of a man in the dark, that alone ; and the other writing of miracles without pronounces without seeing, and sets bounds in his any definition of a miracle at all.