Imagens das páginas

saries. I remark, however, that he here fairly grants that they are all guilty of what I have laid to their charge above, that is, of first adopting their particular systems, and then seeking reasons to support them. We have seen that this is the Doctor's own case, and that therefore he and they must stand or fall together. Hence we find that the very arguments which they use against one another are with equal force retorted against themselves.

In the promises which our Saviour made of miraculous powers to His disciples, as there is not the least hint as to the particular time of their extension, so neither is there of their limitation ; it may therefore be justly retorted on the Doctor in his own words as follows: “This limitation he supplies from his own imagination, and by the help of a postulatum, which all people will grant, that miracles continued as long as they were necessary to the Church, and no longer, he presently limits that necessity to the apostolic age, as he found that most agreeable to the system he had previously entertained about them.” And from this it is plain that the pretended necessity to which they all appeal is an argument turned to any side as these gentlemen please.

XXXV. His next argument is against the proof drawn from the heroic conduct of the martyrs, which he thinks may be easily accounted for from* motives of enthusiasm, a passion for glory and reputation ; from the veneration paid to the sufferers if they survived the trial, the exalted happiness that awaited for them in heaven if they died under it, and the like. The improbability that such motives could produce the conduct which we see in the martyrs, is fully displayed by the writers against the Doctor ; but the great argument against this objection

* Inquiry, 332 et seq.

is, that in the mouth of a heathen or of a deist, it has equal force against the argument drawn from the sufferings of Christ Himself, and the martyrdom of His apostles and others in the apostolic age, in proof of a supernatural dispensation manifested in them. “ These considerations,” says Mr Brook, “cannot be supposed to have had any more effect upon them (the martyrs after the apostles) than they had upon St Peter and St Paul, and some of the rest of the apostles, who met with the same affectionate treatment from their disciples.”

A little after he adds, “It is no more an argument that no extraordinary assistances were granted to the primitive martyrs, because they had an assurance, not only of an immortality of glory, but of extraordinary and distinguished rewards, and of a degree of happiness proportionate to the degree of their suffering, than it is an argument that the Spirit of God did not rest upon Jesus, and in Him dwell the fulness of the Godhead bodily, because He endured the Cross, despising the shame for the glory that was set before Him: Or that no particular communications of God's Holy Spirit were vouchsafed to St Stephen, or no uncommon portions of divine grace were bestowed upon St Paul and the rest of the apostles, because in all their tribulations they had respect unto the recompense of reward, and esteemed those light afflictions, which were but for a moment, not worthy to be compared with the glory that was to be revealed,” Brook's Exam., p. 42-44. Consequently, as the Doctor's objection proves too much against himself, and against the Christian religion, which he professes, it is justly rejected as proving nothing.

XXXVI. A third argument used by the Doctor is taken from the natural incredibility of miraculous facts, which in answering the objection against his system, as

destructive to the credit of all history, he proposes as follows: “ The history of miracles is of a kind totally different from that of common events; the one to be suspected always of course, without the strongest evidence to confirm it; the other to be admitted of course, without as strong reason to suspect it. Ordinary facts, related by a credible person, furnish no cause of doubting from the nature of the thing ; but if they be strange and extraordinary, doubts naturally arise ; and in proportion as they approach towards the marvellous, those doubts still increase and grow stronger; for mere honesty will not warrant them: we require other qualities in the historian,” &c.—Free Inquiry, p. 350.

In answer to this argument, Mr Brook writes thus : “If the Free Inquiry had been the production of an infidel writer, it would be nothing strange to find frequent declarations in it that all miracles are to be suspected of course : that in all such extraordinary events doubts naturally arise, and in proportion as they approach towards the marvellous, those doubts still increase and grow stronger; the consequence of which declarations plainly appears to be, that an higher degree of evidence is required in such cases than any human testimony is able to afford. But in a writer of Dr Middleton's character, who must be supposed to believe all the miracles of the Gospel, and the wonderful propagation of the Christian religion, it is doubtless matter of great surprise to perceive that there have any expressions dropped from his pen which have the least tendency to such an opinion, or that can bear any such construction, or that may give any umbrage to a sincere believer : such a reflection upon the history and evidence of miracles will undermine the foundation of the Gospel history.”—Examin., p. 52.

The force of this answer consists in this, that the miracles related in the ages immediately after the apostles are in themselves neither more extraordinary, nor more incredible, than those related in the Gospel. The presumptive evidence for them is as strong in the one case as in the other. If therefore those of the two succeeding ages are to be rejected on account of their supposed incredibility, those of the apostolic age must for a like reason share the same fate ; for though the Doctor, as a Christian, may pretend to believe these last upon divine authority, yet a heathen or a deist will tell him that the divinity of the revelation depends upon the reality of the miracles, which are the chief proofs of that revelation, and therefore to be believed prior to the revelation ; and that consequently the Doctor's argument against the miracles of these after-ages, from their natural incredibility when used by a heathen or a deist, has precisely the same force against those of the Gospel.

XXXVII. From all that we have said on the use made of the presumptive evidence for the continuation of miracles, I remark, 1. That as the Doctor and his adversaries all agree in allowing a just weight to this presumptive evidence during the periods in which they use it, if an equal, or far superior and better founded presumptive evidence, can be shown for the continuation of miracles after all their pretended periods, even down to the present times, or rather as long as the world shall endure, they cannot in reason reject it.

2. The Doctor's adversaries justly reject his reasons against their presumptive evidence for the continuation of miracles after the apostles, because they can be equally retorted against himself, and are plainly subversive of the very foundation of Christianity. But the reasons which these gentlemen themselves bring against the continuation of miracles after the respective periods assigned by them, are either the very same, or of a similar nature to those brought by the Doctor ; they can equally be retorted against themselves, and are equally subversive of Christianity. It follows, therefore, that all such reasoning can have no weight against the continuation of miracles beyond the periods assigned by them, and that notwithstanding all they have said, true miracles may have continued long enough after those assumed periods. This we shall afterwards clearly show; and in the mean time we proceed to consider what the Doctor and his opponents have said upon the positive testimony for the continuation of miracles.

XXXVIII. With regard to the Doctor, it is not easy to know what his opinion is concerning the nature of the testimony necessary to prove the existence of a miracle. He tells us, as we have just now seen, that the history of miracles is of a kind totally different from that of common events—that mere honesty in those who attest them will not warrant them ; we require other qualities in the historian ; a degree of knowledge, experience, and discernment sufficient to judge of the whole nature and circumstances of the case ; and if any of these be wanting, we necessarily suspend our belief. -Inq., p. 351.

From this one might naturally imagine, that where all these qualities were found, there, at least, we should have a just and convincing attestation of the existence of a miracle. But by what follows he concludes that it is impossible we should rationally give credit to miracles, even where all these qualities appear in the one who attests them ; for eitherthis person who possesses these qualities, and attests the miracles, is a weak man, or a

« AnteriorContinuar »