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objection against a miracle must be such as strikes directly at the testimony by which it is supported. We might therefore supersede the consideration of all presumptive evidence for the perpetual continuation of miracles in the Christian Church, and proceed to prove it by positive testimony. But as we possess abundance of such evidence, and that of a more satisfactory nature than Protestant writers against Dr Middleton have used to prove the continuation of miracles down to the various periods assumed by them; and as the production of this will add strength and clearness to the positive proofs which we shall afterwards consider, I propose at present to take a view of this presumptive evidence, and to show the ground on which it stands.
II. Though Mr Brook proposes the presumptive evidence for the miracles of the first three ages under several heads, yet these are all reducible to this one proposition and its consequence. “ The exigencies of the Church, for the support and propagation of religion, made it highly becoming Almighty God to work miracles in these ages, therefore it was to be expected, and we may reasonably presume that He did so.” This is the proposition upon which all the different systems of the duration of miracles proceed.
Dr Middleton adopts this as his reason for the continuation of miracles during the apostolic age, yet smiles at his adversaries for extending it beyond that age. He pronounces it highly “rash and presumptuous to form arguments upon the supposed necessity or propriety of a divine interposition in this or that particular case, and to decide upon the motives and views of the Deity by the narrow conceptions of human reason.”—Pref., p. 20. This is certainly a just remark, in which we cordially agree with the Doctor, especially under the authority
of St Paul, who, sensible of this great truth, exclaims, in a rapture of admiration, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! for who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counsellor ?" Rom. xi. 33. And indeed there is nothing wherein our modern Christian infidels more manifestly expose their impious presumption, than in measuring the ways of God by their own narrow conceptions; reducing the works of the Omnipotent to the examination of their judgment, and boldly deciding by the feeble light of their blind understandings what it becomes or does not become the Deity to do.
Instead of this, the Doctor assures us, with no less reason, that “the whole which the wit of man can possibly discover, either of the ways or will of the Creator, must be acquired by a contrary method ; not by imagining vainly within ourselves what may be proper or improper for Him to do, but by looking abroad, and contemplating what He has actually done.” This rule is most judicious, and contains safe ground on which to proceed; for though there must be innumerable cases in which it will become the Almighty to act, though we can by no means judge of the propriety of these a priori, yet certain it is that God will never act either in the ordinary course of His providence, or by an extraordinary interposition, but when this is highly proper and becoming. If we contemplate, then, what Almighty God has actually done, in certain circumstances and for certain ends, we may safely conclude that it highly becomes Him to act in the same manner in similar circumstances, and where the same ends are to be obtained ; and from this we draw as an undoubted consequence, that it is then to be expected, and we may reasonably presume He will do so.
However just and reasonable the above rule is, yet the Doctor is far from being as reasonable in the application of it; for he proceeds to tell us, that the only way by which we are to know what God actually has done, is “by attending seriously to that revelation which He made of Himself from the beginning, and placed continually before our eyes in the wonderful works and beautiful fabric of this visible world.”—Pref., p. 21. Here the Doctor is doubtless to be blamed; for though this might suit a deist, who acknowledges no revelation but in the works of the creation, to admit no other way of knowing what God has done but by contemplating these works, yet it is ridiculous in a Christian who believes the sacred Scriptures to be the Word of God. These sacred writings contain an ample account of the conduct of the Almighty in a great variety of cases concerning the affairs of men, and of the dispositions of His providence in the government of this universe. Not only, then, in the works of the creation, but also in these divine oracles of the Scriptures, we have an ample field wherein to contemplate what God has actually done in many instances, and from them we may conclude with the greatest certainty what is at all times becoming Him to do in similar cases.
III. It is upon this ground that our presumptive evidence for the perpetual continuation of miracles is founded ; and from this will be seen at once the wide difference between the nature of the evidence brought by us, and that used by Dr Middleton and his Protestant adversaries for their systems. Theirs is founded upon this general position, the exigencies of the Church, which each one interprets and applies according to his fancy, judging of the views and motives of the Deity by
the narrow conceptions of human reason. For this the Doctor justly ridicules the others, though he also uses it when it serves his own purpose.
The presumptive evidence which I propose to bring is founded upon solid facts, recorded for our instruction by the authority of God Himself, and from which the conclusion flows with undoubted certainty; so that, though I term it presumptive evidence, yet when the force of it is well considered and fully comprehended, it must be allowed to be evidence of the highest kind, even bordering upon absolute proof.
IV. But though the Doctor, as a Christian, is justly blamed for restricting to the works of the creation the means of knowing what God has actually done, and for excluding, by that limitation, all our knowledge from His holy Scriptures, yet doubtless the works of creation are not to be rejected. On the contrary, they afford us a noble field for such contemplation, and a strong presumptive proof for the continuation of miracles.
When treating of the ends of miracles as manifested by the light of reason, we considered the glorious fabric of this visible creation ; we examined the nature of good and evil with relation to different creatures; we compared the material part of the creation with the rational and intelligent, in order to know their respective value. We considered the intention and views which God had in the inanimate creation, and in all those laws by which the material world is governed. We reviewed the beneficent purposes which are manifest throughout the whole creation; and from our reasonings on these heads, confirmed by revelation, we drew as a necessary consequence, “That the rational and intelligent creatures are the chief, and by far the most excellent, part of the creation; that without them the others are of little or no
ends are estathereto
value; that they are the principal object of the care and attention of the Creator ; that other inferior beings are made only to serve, either mediately or immediately, to their happiness and perfection ;-and therefore, as the present order and laws of nature are established only as subservient to these great ends, and for promoting by them the glory of the Creator, it is not only reasonable, but highly becoming the infinite wisdom and goodness of God, to suspend any of these laws, and alter the present order of things, or to perform any other miraculous effects, either by procuring the happiness and perfection of His rational creatures, or by averting their misery and moral turpitude, or even by inflicting just punishment upon them, as His own honour and glory may require. Nay, should it happen that these ends could not be so perfectly acquired by ordinary means, it would then not only be becoming Almighty God, but even in a manner incumbent on Him to work a miracle in order to procure them.”
In the same chapter we showed that miracles are always much more effectual for procuring happiness and moral good, and for preventing misery and moral evil in intelligent creatures, than ordinary means by the agency of second causes; and therefore, not only that Almighty God may, but that it is most becoming His divine goodness that He should, from time to time use them for such ends. Our reasoning on this subject is not restricted to time nor place; it has equal force in all countries and in all ages. It is as convincing under the Gospel as under the law; in the eighteenth century of Christianity as in the times of the apostles. Wherever, therefore, the happiness or moral perfection of rational creatures is to be promoted, and especially where the ordinary means for doing so are ineffectual or less proper, it is highly becom