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WHETHER THE EXISTENCE OF MIRACLES IS
CAPABLE OF PROOF, AND OF WHAT KIND THAT PROOF MUST BE.
I. W E have seen that miracles are possible ;
VV that they consist in certain sensible effects which fall under the cognisance of our senses; and that they are produced by the free-will and pleasure of Almighty God, who, being sovereign Master of all creatures, can dispose of them in whatever way He pleases—either by His own immediate act, or by the operation of His angels. If, therefore, it has ever pleased, or shall please, God to perform a miracle, we may naturally expect it to be as capable of proof as any other fact. It is surprising, then, to see men of ability and learning bewildering themselves in so plain a matter.
They waste their time and misapply their talents in seeking metaphysical sophisms, by. which they pretend to show that the existence of a miracle never can be proved. But in the eyes of common-sense their arguments can have no more weight than the well-known argument of Zeno against the possibility of motion. If in this these gentlemen act against their conscience, and seek to impose upon their fellow-creatures, it is certainly an unpardonable insult to mankind; but if they really think as they speak, it is one of the most humiliating proofs of human weakness, and shows into what a depth of folly man is capable of falling, when, proudly trusting to his own powers, he plunges without a guide into the mazes of imagination.
In the task I have undertaken, I am become debtor to the wise and to the unwise, to the learned and to the unlearned, on this subject; and therefore, however unimportant the present question may appear, yet, as infidelity has made much of it by denying the possibility of proving the existence of miracles, it is necessary to put this point also in its proper light, and to show the weakness and insufficiency of every argument against it. For greater clearness and precision, we may examine first, “If eyewitnesses of a miracle can have sufficient proof of its existence?" Secondly, “ If the existence of miracles can be sufficiently proved to those who themselves are not eyewitnesses ?” We shall consider these points separately.
II. The first question is resolved into this, “How far can we trust our senses in matters of fact which fall entirely under their cognisance?" For if our senses, when applied to their proper objects, give us a full conviction of their existence ; if our knowledge here is intuitive, and incapable of further proof; if by the very constitution of our nature, we believe that we feel the sensations which are excited in our mind, and that the external objects which excite them do actually exist without us,—then it follows that eyewitnesses of any miraculous operation have the fullest proof of its existence which the nature of things can possibly admit, and that this proof must carry complete conviction to the mind. Now, that this is actually the case—that our senses give us an absolute conviction of the existence and effects of material objects, a conviction which it is beyond the power of the most refined reasoning to invalidate—I appeal to experience itself. I appeal to the feelings of our own souls ; nay, to the experience of the most determined adversaries of religion.
Let us suppose that any of those unbelievers saw a miracle performed before his own eyes : a dead man, for instance, raised to life ; a blind man restored to sight; a man walking over a river upon the surface of the water, or the like,-I ask, could he doubt the reality of the facts ? Could he persuade himself that the man whom he formerly saw dead, but now sees walking, speaking, eating, &c., is still dead? that the man whom he knew before to be absolutely blind, but whom he now sees to have as much the use of his sight as he has himself, is notwithstanding still blind ? that the man whom he sees walking upon the surface of the water is in reality walking on dry land ? Could he persuade himself that what he saw with his own eyes was absolutely false, and that the reverse of what he saw was true ?
Let any one call in what he terms the aid of reason ; let him summon up every argument against the existence of miracles ; let him profess that he sees no end worthy of God for performing them ; that the facts are improbable, inexpedient, unnecessary ; that the doctrine al
tested by them seems absurd, unintelligible, and contradictory; that the instruments are weak, and unworthy of the majesty of God. Let even Mr Hume himself appear armed with his “invincible argument ;" let him bring in his “uniform universal experience;" let him put this into the scale along with all the others, and let him say, if he can, that all these reasons put together would be able to raise in his mind the smallest doubt of the real existence of the above miracles, in opposition to the testimony of his own senses, if, as we suppose, he were an eyewitness of them. No, no; every man's experience, and the conviction of his own mind, will teach him that the evidence from the testimony of our senses, in those things which properly belong to them, is an invincible proof, supreme of its kind, which needs no reasoning or argument, but convinces by instinct, and the fixed laws of our nature, with as much certainty as could be derived from the strictest demonstration. Nay, when, from the disorder of the medium, or the unsoundness of the organ, or any other casual circumstance, we suspect that our senses deceive us in some particular instance, we have no other way to examine and correct the deception—we must rest at last on this truth, that our senses, when properly applied, give absolute certainty of their proper objects, and that concerning these we must trust our senses in preference to all reasoning whatsoever.See Beattie's Essay on Truth, chap. ii. § 2.
The answer to our first question, then, is plain and satisfactory—that those who are eyewitnesses of miracles have, from the testimony of their senses, the most convincing, full, and satisfactory proof that the miracles which they see really do exist.
III. Against this I find two objections; the one hinted at by Rousseau, vol. iii. of his Emilius, p. III, in these words : “If we would receive as true all the miracles which the common and ignorant people, through every country of the world, affirm to have seen, every sect would be in the right,” &c. Here he would in: sinuate that the only eyewitnesses produced or producible for the existence of miracles, are common and ignorant persons, and that in such matters they are easily deceived.
In the first place, however, it is absolutely false that such persons are the only eyewitnesses producible for the existence of such miracles as Christianity appeals to. Men remarkable for their extraordinary genius and extensive learning, as well as their veracity and candour, have given the most distinct testimony to miracles of which they themselves were eyewitnesses. But permitting this to pass, the allegation that the common people are easily deceived and ready to be imposed upon, could not in the least degree weaken the evidence for the existence of miracles, even were the common people the only witnesses of them. Miracles are facts which fall under the comprehension of the most simple minds. Ignorant people have eyes and ears as well as the learned —they can know if a man be cripple, blind, sick, or dead, as well as the greatest physician or most learned philosopher; and if they see this man restored again to the use of his limbs, to sight, health, or life, they can discern that change with as great certainty as a Rousseau or a Hume themselves, and can have as perfect and complete conviction.
I acknowledge, indeed, that the multitude may be deceived ; but how? A designing person may gain credit with the many by an outward show of sanctity, and pretend to secret communication with the Deity and His angels, as Mahomet did; or he may perform many things