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diency of the miracle in the eyes of a deist and either of these two points? Because the miracle seems unnecessary or inexpedient to a deist, does it follow that the witnesses were deceived in what they saw with their eyes, or that they voluntarily perjured themselves by swearing contrary to their conscience? How unworthy of a philosopher to argue in such a strain !
XXIV. Their arguments from the unworthiness of the ends of miracles, and from the pretended absurdity of the doctrine attested by them, I have considered more particularly above, and have pointed out whence all their sophistry arises. I shall conclude this subject, therefore, by a few observations on the incredibility of the miraculous facts attested.
One can scarcely think men serious when they object to the existence of miracles on this account; or at least it were to be wished they would explain their meaning of the intrinsic incredibility of a miracle. If they mean that every miraculous fact involves an absolute contradiction-or, in other words, that a miracle is in itself impossible—let them rest upon that in plain terms, and prove it if they can ; but if they allow that miracles are possible, how ridiculous is it to object that any possible fact is intrinsically incredible, when omnipotence itself is supposed to be the agent! Is any possible thing too difficult for God to perform ? is any possible change in His creatures above His strength ? Even Dr Middleton, with reason, dismisses such an objection : “To say that where the facts themselves are incredible," says he, “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.”—Remarks on the Observator, p. 26 et seq.
Mr Locke, whose justness of thought and strength of genius will not readily be called in question, is so far from regarding the extraordinary character of the fact as an argument against its existence, that in certain circumstances he draws the very opposite conclusion : “Though the common experience,” says he, “and the ordinary course of things, have justly a mighty influence on the minds of men, to make them give or refuse credit to anything proposed to their belief, yet there is one case wherein the strangeness of the fact lessens not the assent to a fair testimony given of it. For where such supernatural events are suitable to ends aimed at by Him Who has the power to change the course of nature, there, under such circumstances, they may be the fitter to procure belief, by how much the more they are beyond or contrary to ordinary observation.”—Ess. on the Hum. Und., iv. 16, § 13. This is a just remark, with which we shall here conclude the subject; because afterwards, when treating on the continuation of miracles in the Church of Christ, this objection from the incredibility of the fact must be resumed, and more fully refuted.
ON THE CONTINUATION OF MIRACLES IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST—THE STATE OF THE QUESTION, AND THE CONDUCT OF DR MIDDLETON AND HIS PROTESTANT ADVERSARIES, EXAMINED.
I. W E now come to a point involving the most
important consequences. Of late years men of the greatest ability and learning in the country have been deeply engaged in examining it, and they have published many learned and elaborate treatises in defence of their various systems. Some, with Dr Middleton, have contended that all miracles ceased with the lives of the apostles ; others have asserted that they continued frequent in the Church during the first three centuries, and till the Christian religion was established by law in the Roman empire. Some have extended their duration to the end of the fourth and fifth, and others have endeavoured to show their continuation even during the sixth century. All, however, assert their total cessation at the respective periods which they are pleased to assign.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, reposing with entire confidence on the sacred promises of her divine Master, and convinced by daily experience that these promises will hold good to the end of time, ignores these opinions of her adversaries, and maintains, in opposition to all their conflicting systems, that the power of working miracles never has, and never will be withdrawn from her communion. She maintains that, from time to time, in all preceding ages, Almighty God has raised up great and holy men among her children, by whom He has wrought many miraculous signs and wonders, and that He will never fail to do the same in succeeding ages to the end of the world, in defence of His truth, and to the confusion of all who separate themselves from her.
This constant doctrine of the Catholic Church, if true, shows the folly of her adversaries in their disputes among themselves. Their systems are founded upon a false assumption; they take for granted the very thing which is denied. For if what the Catholic Church teaches be true, that the power of working miracles has never ceased in her communion, how ridiculous is it to pretend to fix a period at which miracles have actually ceased ! Their conflicting opinions serve only to establish her claim ; and the arguments by which they prove the continuation of miracles down to their respective assumed periods of cessation, afford the most convincing proof that they have never ceased at all.
It is not my intention to examine the comparative merits of the various systems. In reference to the main point, they all stand in the same predicament. I acknowledge the abilities of their respective authors in proving beyond reply the continuation of miracles during the several periods assigned by them, but must differ from them in the supposition on which they all proceed, that miracles have actually ceased after any one of these periods ; and what I propose to prove is the truth of the belief of the Catholic Church, that miracles never have ceased, and never will cease, in her communion while the world remains. But before I enter upon this important matter, it will be proper to explain the state of the question, the nature of the miraculous powers, their different kinds, and the teaching of the Scripture concerning them.
II. The extreme opposition which the Christian religion must naturally have encountered at its first promulgation in the world is evident. The incomprehensibility of its sublime mysteries demanded the perfect humiliation of the pride of human intellect. The purity and severity of its morality required the mortification of self-love, and of all the lusts of the heart. Its first preachers were men of no position in life; they were destitute of all human means to assist them in their vast undertaking, and of every earthly qualification which could recommend them to the regard or esteem of the world. Against them were arrayed the deep attachment which mankind naturally have to the religion in which they have been bred, especially when it flatters their inclinations, and lays no restraint upon their passions; the pride and obstinacy of philosophers; the inveterate malice of the heathen priests, and of all whose interest was concerned in the support of heathenism; and, above all, the rage and malice of hell, the power of which was restrained in proportion as the truths of the Gospel gained ground. The power of kingdoms and empires was exerted against Christianity, and it was necessary that Almighty God, its divine Author, should stretch out His omnipotent hand in its defence, and, by miracles suited to the opposing difficulties, enable it to conquer them, and convince mankind that that religion was from Him.