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we are surprised to see such an argument published to the world by a person of Dr Middleton's powers and penetration. But what could he do? The testimony for the continuation of miracles in each succeeding age, down to the present time, was equally strong, and equally attended by every corroborating circumstance, with those of the ages immediately succeeding the apostles; and therefore, if human testimony was admitted to be a sufficient proof of the miracles in the primitive ages, it could never be refused as an equal proof of those in all succeeding ages, which would be giving up the cause at once in favour of Popery. He was under a necessity, therefore, of producing some arguments for rejecting the testimony of all ages, and was forced to take the above, as his cause could furnish nothing better. These, indeed, he produces in the most specious form, and in the most persuasive manner, in order to conceal their weakness. But these were not the reasons by which he himself was persuaded. He had already taken up his opinion before he had invented the reasons. The true ground of his senti-. ments he himself expresses in these words : “If the cause must be determined by the unanimous consent of the fathers, we shall find as much reason to believe these miraculous powers were continued even to the latest ages as to any other, how early and primitive soever after the days of the apostles,” Pref. p. xiv., and therefore, “ by granting them (the Romanists) but a single age of miracles after the times of the apostles, we shall be entangled in a series of difficulties whence we can never fairly extricate ourselves, till we allow the same powers also to the present age."--Introd., p. lxxxii
XLI. We must now take a short review of the principles and proceedings of the Doctor and his adversaries. The principles in which they all agree, at least in
appearance, and upon which they all proceed, are these : “ Christianity must be defended; Popery must be condemned; whatever is necessary for the defence of Christianity must be admitted; whatever tends to establish Popery must be rejected.” The Doctor thinks Christianity will be sufficiently defended if the apostolic miracles be admitted as founded on divine testimony; but that Popery must be established if miracles be admitted in any one age after the apostles on the credit of human testimony. He rejects, therefore, all the miracles recorded after the apostolic age, and declares in plain terms, as his reason for so doing, that miracles are of so peculiar a nature that no human testimony can render them credible; or, in other words, that their innate incredibility is such as cannot be overcome by human testimony.
Mr Brook is of opinion that Christianity cannot stand if the miracles of the first three centuries be rejected; they must therefore be defended. But if those of the succeeding ages were admitted, Popery would be established, and, therefore, they must be disproved. He of course rejects the Doctor's system with respect to the first three centuries; because it would destroy the credit of history and undermine the Gospel : and he rejects his argument from the incredibility of miracles, because, in the mouth of a heathen or a deist, it would with equal strength condemn the miracles of the Scripture itself. He holds, therefore, that miracles, as such, are as capable of proof from human testimony as any other natural event, except they be of such an incredible nature, either in themselves, or in their circumstances, as no human testimony can support. He asserts that the miracles of the first three centuries were by no means of this incredible nature, and therefore, that their existence is evident, from the testimony of the fathers, which is attended with every circumstance to render it undoubted.
But as he thinks that Popery would be established if miracles were allowed after the third age, he endeavours to show that the miracles of the after ages were all of this incredible nature, either in themselves or in their circumstances; and therefore not to be believed upon any human testimony whatever. Those who believe in the continuation of miracles to the end of the fourth century, act in the same manner. They see no such incredibility in the miracles of the fourth age, as appeared to Mr Brook, which could not with equal reason be urged against those of the former three. It is plain to them that the human testimony by which they are supported is, in every respect, equivalent to that on which Mr Brook admits those of the first three centuries, which, therefore, they affirm, cannot be rejected, without falling into the same shocking consequences which he so justly imputes to Dr Middleton's system, and thus they admit the miracles of the fourth age upon the very same principles, and for the same reason, that Mr Brook admits those of the preceding ages. But as it does not suit their purpose to allow miracles after the fourth century, they reject those of the fifth and succeeding ages, exactly as Mr Brook rejects those of the fourth.
Those who allow the continuation of miracles to the end of the fifth or sixth centuries, proceed in the same manner, both in admitting them to those periods, and in rejecting them entirely after. It now remains, therefore, to be shown, that the same arguments used to prove a continuation of miracles to the periods assigned by each of these systems, have equal strength to prove that continuation down to this present day; and that the pretended incredibility of the miracles in after ages is as groundless in itself, and as insufficient to invalidate the force of the testimony for them, as it is against those of any of the first ages, or even against those of the Scripture itself.
I. CO convincing is human testimony, when the wit
a nesses have a thorough knowledge of the facts, and are persons of known integrity, that no one would seriously call it in question ; and if this testimony be attended with the corroborating circumstances mentioned by Mr Brook in the preceding chapter, it gives as full and invincible evidence of the facts attested as we have in the sciences from the strictest demonstration. This is acknowledged in the ordinary affairs of life, and is allowed even in proof of miracles by all the Protestant adversaries of Dr Middleton's system, to be as thorough evidence as a reasonable man can demand, or the nature of things will adnit. But these gentlemen were well aware that in the Catholic Church perfect testimony can be produced for the continuation of miracles in every age even to the present time, and generally attended also with all or most of the corroborating circumstances abovementioned. They were obliged therefore to find some restrictive argument wherewith to diminish the force of such testimony when it told against them, and to show why the miracles said to have happened after their assumed periods should not be believed, even though attested by the most perfect human testimony.