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the beginning, in the wonderful works and beautiful fabric of this visible world.—Pref. to the Free Inquiry, p. 22. We shall see more of the Doctor afterwards.
XIII. We are surprised when we hear men of learning and ability talk in such a strain. If they really think as they write, it is a palpable proof of their extravagant vanity and presumption. With the utmost confidence they set up the idol of their own judgment in opposition to the dictates of nature and common-sense, and even in opposition to the declaration of God Himself. Whilst unable to produce one good proof for their opinion, they either contradict themselves, as we have seen above in Mr Hume, or are obliged to pass extravagant censure upon others, condemning the most pious, virtuous, and learned men in every age of Christianity, which Dr Middleton never hesitates to do in support of his untenable system. Nothing, therefore, will better display the folly of pretending that the existence of miracles, or supernatural facts, is incapable of being proved by human testimony, than to show how diametrically contrary this assertion is to the common sentiments of mankind.
XIV. To begin with the people of God in the old law, how many extraordinary miracles, which had happened in every age from the beginning of the world, were handed down among them from generation to generation by human testimony, and upon this evidence alone were believed with the utmost certainty? They therefore judged this testimony full and sufficient proof of the existence of these miracles, and in their minds it produced complete conviction.
Perhaps it may be said that these miracles were related in the sacred Scriptures, and received from them the sanction of divine testimony. But it is to be observed
that few of the people could themselves make use of these Scriptures; and copies of them were far from being common. We read, in the reign of Josias, that Helcias, the high priest, accidentally found a copy of the law, and sent it to the king ; and that he and all the people were amazed when they heard it read before them (which shows how rare copies of that sacred book must then have been), 4 Kings, xxii. Besides, as to the divinity of this book itself, and consequently the truth of all the wonders it contains, whence did that people receive it? Almighty God did not give to every generation a new revelation. This was done at first by means of the sacred penmen who wrote it, attesting that they did so by inspiration from God, and giving proof of this by the miracles which they performed. This was a convincing proof, to those who thus first received them, that these books were divine ; but it was their testimony to their children, and the testimony of their children to those after them, which was the great means by which both the divinity of the books themselves, and the miracles they contained, were handed down, and upon which they were believed by all succeeding generations.
XV. The case is exactly similar with the whole body of Christians under the new law. These in every age to this day, have believed with the utmost certainty numerous miracles when they saw them sufficiently attested by human testimony. Heathen nations, when converted to Christianity, have given proof of the same. They have believed as undoubted truths all the miracles related in the Gospel. If they did so upon the testimony of those who converted them, without their working new miracles in proof of what they preached, then we have what we desire to prove, that these converted nations esteemed testimony a sufficient ground on which to believe miracles.
If those missionaries themselves wrought miracles to prove the divinity of their mission and their doctrine, still they could not possibly be done before the whole people ; and those who did not witness them could believe them only upon the testimony of those who were present : yet whole nations were converted, and actually believed these miracles upon that testimony, which therefore they judged a sufficient ground for doing so. Nay, the obstinate heathens themselves, who opposed the Christian religion, and used every effort of their genius and learning to find, if possible, a flaw in it, never had the effrontery to deny its miracles. Convinced by the strength of testimony, they acknowledged them, and only sought to evade the consequence by ascribing them to the devil and not to God. But this very evasion shows how much they felt that testimony produces complete conviction in proof of the existence of miracles.
XVI. The greatest condemnation, however, of this opinion of our modern unbelievers, is the express declaration of Almighty God Himself, Whó judges testimony so thorough and complete a proof to convince His reasonable creatures of the existence of miracles, that He appoints this, and this alone, as the proper means to propagate throughout all succeeding generations the knowledge of those glorious miracles which He wrought among His chosen people. Thus, when giving commission to Moses to threaten Pharaoh with the plague of locusts, He tells him that He had wrought so many signs and wonders in favour of His people for this very end, that they and their posterity might know that He was the only true God, and that succeeding generations must be informed of these things by the testimony of those before them. “That thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in
Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them, that ye may know that I am the Lord,” Exod. x. 2. Again, among the many other excellent rules that Moses gave the people before his death, he says on this subject : “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but teach them to thy sons and thy sons' sons,” Deut. iv. 9. Hence we find the royal prophet expressly acknowledging that it was by the testimony of their fathers that they knew all the wonderful things God had done among them : “We have heard with our ears, O God, and our fathers have told us, what works Thou didst in their days, and in the times of old,” Ps. xliv. 1.
Here we see that the testimony of their fathers not only taught them what was done in their time, of which they were eyewitnesses, but also what had been done before their days in the times of old, which they had in like manner received from those before them. Agairi, Ps. lxxviii., he declares his readiness to communicate the knowledge of the law of God, and of all His wondrous works, to his posterity, in obedience to the command which God had given for that purpose : “Give ear, O my people, to my law ; incline your ears to the words of my mouth; I will open my mouth in a parable ; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength, and His wonderful works that He hath done.”
Observe here the resolution which the holy prophet makes to transmit to posterity the law and wondrous works of God, by teaching them to the rising generation ; and he immediately adds his reason: “For He established a testimony in Jacob,and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children : that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children,” Ps. lxxviii. 1, &c.
In this beautiful passage we are assured that the testimony of each present generation to their children was the very means appointed by God for ascertaining in all succeeding ages, not only the law itself, but also the testimony by which it was established at the beginning—“those wonderful works that the Lord had done,” in confirmation of the divine revelation of the law, when He first gave it to their fathers; and that God Himself expressly commands that this should be the means of conveying these things to posterity. After this, what idea must every serious Christian form of the pitiful evasion of a Middleton or a Hume, pretending that the existence of a miracle cannot admit of sufficient proof from human testimony, when we see that God Himself appointed this to be the only means of proving to all posterity the existence of those miracles which He wrought among His people ?
XVII. To this subject also belong those other branches of human testimony—the institution of feasts, the sacred ceremonies of religion, the erecting of public monuments, and the likemas memorials of miracles wrought on different occasions, which Almighty God was also pleased to make use of, and commanded His people to preserve the memory of what these things signified by explaining them to their children after them : see Exod. xiii. 8, 14, for the institution of the feast of unleavened bread, and the sanctification of the first-born; also Deut. vi. 20, &c., for the meaning of the ceremonies of the law ; Joshua,