Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

man of known abilities. “A weak man, indeed,” says the Doctor, “if honest, may attest common events as credibly as the wisest; yet can hardly make any report that is credible of such as are miraculous; because a suspicion will always occur that his weakness and imperfect knowledge of the extent of human art had been imposed upon by the craft of cunning jugglers. On the other hand, should a man of known abilities and judgment relate to us things miraculous, or undertake to perform them himself, the very notion of his skill, without an assurance also of his integrity, would excite only the greater suspicion of him, especially if he had any interest to promote, or any favourite opinion to recommend by the authority of such works; because a pretension to miracles has, in all ages and nations, been found the most effectual instrument of impostors towards deluding the multitude and gaining their ends upon them.”

-Free Inq., ibid. From this whole passage it is evident that, in the Doctor's opinion, it is impossible that any human testimony should exist sufficient to convince us of the existence of miracles.

The folly of this opinion we have seen above; and, indeed, as Mr Brook justly observes, if the Doctor's reasoning in the above passage were true, it would “undermine the foundation of the Gospel history,” because it would have the same strength in the mouth of a deist or a heathen against all the miracles related in the Scripture, as it has against miracles in general as used by the Doctor ; for the heathen or deist would, with equal reason, say that either the sacred writers, who relate these miracles, were “weak men,” or “men of known abilities," and in either case, according to the Doctor's mode of arguing, no credit could be given to their testimony, especially as they certainly had most

“ favourite opinions to recommend,” and we can have no certain proof of their integrity but what is drawn from their own testimony.

However, that this is the Doctor's real opinion that no human testimony can form sufficient proof for the existence of miracles, not only appears from the above passage, but also from what he says in his preface concerning the concurrent testimony of church historians in all ages ; "for there is not,” says he, "a single point in all history so constantly, explicitly, and unanimously affirmed by them all, as the continual succession of miracles in every age down to the reformation; and it is farther deduced by persons of the most eminent character for their probity, learning, and dignity in the Roman Church to this very day.” Here the Doctor fairly acknowledges the concurrence of these essential qualifications which he requires in those who attest miracles; men of the most eminent "probity and learning,” or which is doubtless the same, "of the most eminent honesty, integrity and knowledge ;” and yet he rejects their testimony, and would have us believe that all these men of characters so eminent in all ages, were only “crafty knaves and silly fools, from whom nothing candid or impartial can be expected” on this subject of miracles, whatever credit they deserve in other things which they relate.

Whether this be reasoning like a rational being I leave to the Doctor's admirers to decide. But as the argument used by him in the above quotation from this dilemma, that the persons attesting miracles are either “weak,” or of “known abilities,” may deceive by a show of reason, I refer to what I have said above, chap. xi. in examining the question, “Whether eyewitnesses themselves can have a convincing proof from their senses

that the miracles Doctor's reasoning

opposition that

that the miracles they see really exist ?" There it will appear that the Doctor's reasoning in the above passage is entirely founded on a false supposition that miracles are not plain facts, lying open to the testimony of the senses, of which the most simple and illiterate person is as able to judge as the most learned philosopher; whereas the contrary is undoubtedly the case with the generality of miracles, especially such as are principally referred to as proofs of doctrines.

XXXIX. The Doctor's Protestant adversaries, then, justly condemn this his opinion as subversive, not only of the faith and credit of all history, but of the Gospel itself, and therefore as altogether unworthy of a Christian, and utterly inexcusable in one who professes that name; and they lay down such 'qualifications and circumstances attending testimony, as render it a certain and unquestionable proof even of the existence of miracles, when it is accompanied by them. Some of their sentiments on this head we have seen above, chap. xi., when considering the nature of the proof for the existence of miracles; but as Mr Brook is particularly explicit upon it, I shall here relate the substance of his remarks.

“First,” he justly observes, that “the validity of an evidence given to a matter of fact, either viva voce, or in writing, is not determined by the particular opinions which the witnesses may espouse in other matters, but by their knowledge of the things which they attest, and by their own integrity. In courts of civil judicature, where the nature of this evidence is best understood and most fairly examined, the character of a witness, and the competency of his knowledge as to the particular point under debate, is the only subject of inquiry, not his doctrines or persuasions. No distinction is made between a member of the Church of England and a Sectarist; between a Romanist and a Protestant; between a Deist and a Christian. If their knowledge and veracity is unquestionable, the evidence of them all is admitted without exception. The same method is constantly pursued in all the dealings which men have with one another.”

“The measures of credibility in historical facts are exactly of the same nature. The whimsical and extravagant doctrines of an historian, his strange and erroneous opinions in matters of speculation, do .not at all affect the truth of his history, if his testimony as a witness, that is, if his knowledge and veracity be unexceptionable—and our want of belief in this case is not occasioned by want of evidence—but either by the force of some strong prejudices on the mind of the person to whom the thing is related, or by the improbability of the fact itself, which no human testimony is able to support. Whatever evidence is fair and reasonable in common historical facts will likewise be fair and reasonable in facts of an extraordinary and miraculous kind, if the nature and circumstances are such as not to render them liable to any material objection ; for in such a case they are upon the same level with ordinary events, and therefore can require no higher degree of evidence.”—Brook's Examin., chap. iv.

Secondly, he lays down the circumstances required in testimony, in order to render the evidence for miracles arising from it above all exception ; which are, 1. When there is the concurrent testimony of various writers of different principles and persuasions, who lived in the very times when these facts happened, and were themselves eyewitnesses of them. Nothing, indeed, but the force of truth, and the reality of the things themselves, is able to create an agreement so unanimous and univer

sal. 2. This becomes still stronger when it is confirmed by the testimony even of enemies themselves, and is contradicted by none. 3. When such testimony is given, and published to the world in the face of the most violent enemies, at a time when the truth of the facts attested might easily have been disproved, and a detection of the least fraud or fiction would most effectually have ruined the credit and authority of the witnesses, have heightened the malice of their adversaries, and have proved the lasting disgrace of their party. 4. All this is still more strongly corroborated when those who give the testimony profess it to be a firm tenet of their belief that every lie is criminal in the sight of God, and that he will not fail to punish those who speak untruths, even for the advancement of a good cause.

XL. From these principles, Mr Brook, with great reason, vindicates the miracles of the three first ages; because all the above circumstances concur in the testimony given by the fathers of those ages, for the exist

ence of miracles in their days; whereas the exceptions made by Dr Middleton against their testimony are only taken from their particular opinions in speculative points, their mistakes in interpreting some parts of Scripture, their errors in the etymologies of language, their being misinformed regarding the authenticity of some books, and suchlike failings, of which the Doctor imagines he finds them guilty, and from which he concludes that they were all knaves or fools; and that their testimony for the existence of miracles which fell under the observation of their own senses, is absolutely unworthy of credit, even though attended with all the above circumstances.

This conclusion is justly set aside by Mr Brook, and the Doctor's other Protestant adversaries ; and indeed

« AnteriorContinuar »