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could have any existence. Neither can it be supposed that men in their senses would combine to give out and attest, as consistent with their own knowledge, what they knew not only to be false, but an impossibility, as this very circumstance must immediately expose them to detection, and to the utmost shame and infamy.
VIII. Here then we might justly conclude this argument; for as the only reason brought against the existence of the fully attested iniracles of after-ages, is their supposed incredibility, if this falls to the ground, as we have seen it does, no just exception can be taken against them. When sufficiently attested, they are undoubtedly to be admitted. But as great stress is laid upon this argument, and as several different kinds of incredibility are advanced in its support, I shall examine each of them in particular, as stated by Mr Brook.
First, however, it will be necessary to discover, if possible, what these gentlemen themselves mean by incredibility, and what is the precise idea which they attach to the word. I do not find that they give an exact definition of it ; and from their writings it would seem that they are not agreed about its meaning ; nay, there is reason to think that it is used by the same person in different senses, as best suits his purpose.
IX. To begin with Dr Middleton : In the quotation from the Free Inquiry given above, chap. xii. $ 38, from the conditions of testimony which he there requires to prove the existence of any miraculous fact, it would appear to be his opinion that this incredibility is something real arising from just causes, and natural to every miracle whatever. But in his remarks on the Observator, p. 40, he entirely changes his opinion, and represents it as a mere ideal appearance, seated in our imagination ; for the Observator having alleged that those miracles which are not incredible in themselves ought always to be admitted when sufficiently attested, and those only rejected which are in themselves incredible, the Doctor replies : “To say that, where the facts themselves are incredible, such miracles are to be rejected, is to beg the question and not to prove it; a too precarious way of reasoning ! because what is incredible to me may seem credible to another.” Here, then, according to the Doctor, the credibility or incredibility of a miracle is just as we fancy it to be ; and is this a reasonable ground to overrule the utmost weight of human testimony ?
X. Mr Brook, who treats this subject more at large in the first chapter of his Examination, speaking of the presumptive evidence for the miracles of the first three centuries, expresses himself thus : “What may with great plausibilility of reason be urged against the miracles of the fourth and fifth centuries, can here have no place. There is no ridiculousness or incredibility in the miracles themselves which are said to have been wrought : there is no impertinence, absurdity, or impiety in the ends for which they are supposed to have been performed, to shock the faith of a true Christian, or to raise any suspicion of the miraculousness of these facts: there is no apparent reason against our belief of miracles in those days : there is a strong presumption of their truth and reality : the miraculousness of those events which are recorded by the primitive writers of the Church is no objection to the credibility of them. We can discover manifestly the propriety and necessity of divine interpositions from the circumstances of those times ; and where such a propriety and necessity appears, no Christian can have any reasonable objection to the belief of them ; for every Christian, from the nature of his profession, must be supposed to think that the working of
miracles is no way inconsistent with the idea of that God whom he serveth.”
In these words, which are an abridgment of his sixth chapter, against the continuance of miracles after the third century, we find all that can well be said of the incredibility of any miracle. From this, then, I shall endeavour to put the true meaning of this term in its proper light, that we may form a distinct idea of it, and not bewilder our minds by any ambiguity. We shall thus be the better able to judge what weight it ought to have in the present argument.
XI. A miracle, then, is incredible when, for solid reasons, it cannot possibly obtain belief from a reasonable person. This incredibility may be conceived to arise from two causes, either from the fact itself, or from the circumstances in which it is said to have been performed. The uncommon nature of the fact, its amazing greatness, however stupendous, can never render it incredible in itself, unless it involve a contradiction, and be absolutely impossible ; because, where Omnipotence is supposed to be the agent, nothing that is possible can be in itself incredible, as is plain to common sense. The incredibility, then, of the fact is in reality the same thing with its impossibility.
Again, the incredibility of any possible fact will arise from its circumstances, when they are such as to render it unworthy of Almighty God, or contrary to His divine perfections to perform it. This may be termed a moral, and the former a physical incredibility; and these two comprehend the whole idea attached by Mr Brook to this word, in all he states in the above quotation. The circumstances supposed by him to render a fact incredible which is in itself possible, are various and of different kinds. Some of the most remarkable we have already considered when treating on the “Ends and Instruments of Miracles." I shall here examine the others with the particular application made of them by Mr Brook, and shall expose their weakness and fatal consequences.
He observes that in the first three centuries there were manifest reasons of necessity and expediency for the good of the Church, which made it becoming that Almighty God should work many miracles, but that all those ceased at least from the days of Chrysostom. “Now, as the concurrence of Providence,” says he, “is never wanting upon important and necessary occasions, so it is never exercised in a superfluous and impertinent manner;" and therefore this change of circumstances in the necessities of the Church gives every reason to believe that miracles were then withdrawn.” In answer to this I observe, that all the reasons of necessity and expediency, produced by Mr Brook in his chapter on the presumptive evidence for the miracles of the first three ages, are reduced to this one: “The propagation of Christianity at the beginning required the help of miracles;" from which he argues thus: “When Christianity was propagated and established, it required them no longer; therefore they were then withdrawn.” Here it is supposed, “that Christianity stood in need of miracles only for its propagation among the heathens;" and, “ that this need of Christianity is the only reason worthy of God for which to work miracles.”
The latter of these, when speaking of the ends of miracles, we have seen to be a manifest falsehood; the former we shall afterwards see is equally untrue, when we come to consider the presumptive reasons for the continuation of miracles ; and, consequently, this reason for the incredibility of the miracles of after ages is of no
value. Besides, this argument in the mouth of a heathen or deist would equally prove that no miracles were wrought among the people of God in the old law after their full establishment in the land of promise ; for whatever reasons of necessity or expediency might be produced as presumptive proofs for the miracles wrought by God in establishing that religion, all these had entirely ceased; and, therefore, according to this argument, miracles after that period become utterly incredible, for“ Providence never concurs in a superfluous and impertinent manner !”
XII. His second reason against the credibility of the miracles of the after-ages is from their number. “The number of the miracles,” says he, “pretended to have been wrought in the fourth and fifth centuries is itself another just exception to the truth and credibility of them.” This is a singular argument; however, he adds his reasons. “It may reasonably be presumed,” says he, " that as the benefit of miraculous powers began to be less and less wanted in proportion to the increase and power of the Christians, so the use and exercise of them began gradually to decline; at least it cannot, I think, fairly be imagined, that as the real exigencies of the Church were continually lessening, miracles should become still more and more numerous; yet, in fact, we find, if the writers of these ages deserve any credit, that the power of working miracles was more extensive and universal in the time of Chrysostom and afterwards than in the days of the apostles themselves. Nor was the benefit of these miracles confined to societies of men only; it extended itself even to the caves and dens of beasts; the wonder-workers of those days, retired from the company and converse of their fellow-creatures, fixed their abodes in mountainous and desert places, and