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extraordinary in the eyes of the people, by his superior knowledge of the powers of nature, and persuade them that these are true miracles; or he may bewitch them with sorceries, as Simon did the people of Samaria : but to convince even ignorant persons that they actually saw before their eyes a fact which had no existence, is what scarcely ever was attempted; and doubtless, though attempted, never could succeed. “Though men,” says Mr Douglas in his Criterion, p. 312, "may believe speculative opinions to be true which are false, yet it is scarcely to be conceived that they can ever so far deceive themselves as to believe they saw facts which they did not really see.” This observation is true of all mankind, of the ignorant and simple as well as the learned and prudent.
IV. The second objection is made by Mr Hume, and seems so strong in his eyes that he thinks it will easily account for all Christian miracles : “A religionist,” says he, “may be an enthusiast, and imagine he sees what has no reality,” Ess, on Mir., p. 185. Here enthusiasm is brought in as able to invert men's senses, and to overturn the constitutional principles of the human frame. Enthusiasm, no doubt, has great power to persuade men to believe as true what is false, and to esteem the whims of their own fancy, or even the suggestions of the devil, as the inspirations of the Holy Ghost; but I doubt if a single instance can be shown where it persuaded any one in his senses that he saw done before him what had no existence. And even though this should happen to the enthusiast himself, who pretends to perform the miracle, or on whom it was performed, are all those enthusiasts too who behold such pretended miracles? Yet many miracles are on record which were performed in the presence of declared enemies, and who could by no means be suspected of enthusiasm. Dr Campbell, in his dissertation on miracles against Mr Hume, answers this objection very solidly from this principle of experience.
V. “That an enthusiast is very liable to be imposed on, in whatever favours the particular species of enthusiasm with which he is affected, none who knows anything of the human heart will deny. But still this frailty hath its limits. For my own part, I cannot find examples of any, even among enthusiasts (unless to the conviction of everybody they were distracted), who did not see and hear in the same manner as other people. Many of this tribe have mistaken the reveries of a heated imagination for the communications of the Divine Spirit, who never in one single instance mistook the operations of their external senses. Without marking this difference, we should make no distinction between the enthusiastic character and the frantic, which are in themselves evidently distinct.”—. Part II. § 1.
In another place, after observing that the whole class of reformers, however useful miracles might have been to their views, yet never attempted to prove their mission or doctrine by these means, he adds: “But how upon our author's (Mr Hume's) principles shall we account for this moderation in the reformers ? Were they, in his judgment, calm inquirers after truth? Were they dispassionate reasoners in defence of it? Far otherwise. He tells us (Hist. Gr. Brit. Jas. I., chap. i.), “They may safely be pronounced to have been universally inflamed with the highest enthusiasm. May not we then, in our turn, safely pronounce, this writer himself being judge, that for a man to imagine he sees what has no reality—to impose in this manner, not only on his own understanding, but even on his external sensesis a pitch of delusion higher than the highest enthusiasm
can produce, and is to be imputed only to downright frenzy? Since the world began, there hath not appeared a more general propensity to the wildest fanaticism than appeared in this island about the middle of the last century. 'Tis astonishing that when the minds of men were intoxicated with enthusiasm, none are to be found who advanced a claim to the power of working miracles—a claim which, in the author's opinion (Mr Hume's), though false, is easily supported and wonderfully successful, especially among enthusiasts.
“It is true, one or two frantic people among the Quakers did actually pretend to such a power ; but this had no other consequence than to bring the pretenders into general contempt. In the beginning of this century, also, the French prophets revived this plea; but by no part of their conduct did they so effectually open the eyes of mankind, bring discredit on their inspirations, and ruin their cause, as by this no less foolish than presumptuous pretence; and though they were so deluded as to imagine that they could restore a dead man to life—nay, though they proceeded so far as to determine and announce beforehand the day and hour of his resurrection, yet none of them were so insane as to imagine they had seen him rise, and not one of them afterwards pretended that their prediction had been fulfilled. Thus even a frenzy which had disordered their intellects could not in this instance overpower their senses.”—Part II. § 2.
From these judicious remarks it plainly follows that the evidence of the senses, with regard to the objects proper to them, is not to be overpowered even by enthusiasm itself; and therefore, that those who are eyewitnesses of any miracle have, from the testimony of their senses, the most absolute and convincing proof of its existence.
VI. This first question being thus disposed of, the answer to the second naturally follows. For if eyewitnesses of a miracle, from the evidence of their senses, can have a full and absolute conviction, they doubtless can give testimony of this to others who were not present, and thus impart to them also as full a conviction as the nature of the case can possibly admit.
A miracle is a fact which depends solely upon the good pleasure and free choice of God; and the proof of its existence must be taken either from the evidence of our senses, if we ourselves see it, or from the testimony of others who have been eyewitnesses. There is no other way by which such facts as depend upon the will of free agents can possibly be proved ; nor can any rational objection be made against their existence, when properly supported by either of these proofs, without directly striking at the proofs themselves, by supposing in them some defect or flaw. If, therefore, they possess all those conditions which, by the very constitution of our nature, command our assent, no objection, solely drawn from arguments extrinsic to these proofs, can have any weight against the evidence of the fact so proved by them. Now, as all the usual arguments brought against the existence of miracles vanish when opposed to the evidence of the senses in eyewitnesses, it follows that if such eyewitnesses are persons of veracity and probity, and possess those other qualities which preclude all suspicion of deceit, their testimony regarding what they saw must afford the most satisfactory conviction that what they assert is true, notwithstanding every metaphysical sophism to the contrary.
We can acquire the knowledge of facts past or distant only by the testimony of others; and the certainty which it affords us is in many cases as full and absolute as we obtain from any other source of knowledge. Nay, when the testimony possesses the necessary conditions, it never fails to produce the most complete conviction.
These conditions are, first, certainty that the witnesses were not themselves deceived ; secondly, certainty that they speak exactly according to their knowledge. When these two conditions concur, or when we believe that they exist, it is impossible to withhold our credit from the testimony. We may doubt if the witnesses were not themselves deceived—we may call in question their veracity; but if we have no doubt upon these points, it is no longer in our power to question the truth of what they say; we are forced to believe it, and to believe it with the utmost assurance, by the very constitution of our nature ; and hence Dr Beattie, after some judicious observations, justly concludes, that“ to believe testimony is agreeable to nature, to reason, and to sound philosophy,” Essay on Truth, chap. ii. $ 8.
VII. Now there are rules to ascertain when testimony is attended with the two conditions above mentionedrules founded on principles born with us, and which are the foundation of human society, and of the whole intercourse between man and man,-namely, “ That men are not fools and devoid of sense. That there are certain rules from which they seldom or never depart in their conduct. That there cannot be a joint combination among them to deceive. That if they sometimes deceive, it is not without some motive, particularly interest. That the whole world never conspires to deceive any man. That no man can deceive the whole world.”
These principles are ascertained by the concurrent belief of mankind, whose general practice is directed by them in the most important affairs of life—in proving genealogy, in settling property, in administering justice, and the