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subject of religion, liable to mistake and error, but yet capable of receiving instruction, and intended to enjoy immortality in a better state of being. If, then, we can suppose him to have been without knowledge on this subject (and without it he must have necessarily been, until he received it from some Being superior to himself), how, it may be asked, was he ever to acquire it? Man, as such, had it not either to enjoy in himself or to impart to others ; and yet, it would not only have been unmerciful, but cruel, that it should be withheld. The high and immortal destinies of the soul must, in such a case, have remained unknown and undeveloped ; the warmest feelings of the heart have for ever lain dormant; hope, the best motive to exertion implanted in our nature, could scarcely have had an existence in a world like this, abounding in temptations, mortifications, and trials; and the confessedly noblest work of an all-wise Creator could not but have been the most unhappy being to be found amongst the works of his hands.
In the universal darkness, then, which must under this supposition have necessarily prevailed, we can imagine it possible that some reflecting minds might have come to the conclusion that there was a Supreme Ruler who governed all things after the counsel of his own will; and that, although oppression, affliction, and sorrow, might be the lot of the virtuous here, there must be, nevertheless, an hereafter, in which judgment would be pronounced against wickedness, and an adequate reward apportioned to a patient endurance in well doing And, if we allow this, at what shall we have arrived ? Not that all this would have been certain; but only that it would have been probable,-a conclusion too weak either to disarm the hand of the oppressor, or to raise the heart or the hopes of the sufferer: and, to have gone one step further would have been utter imposition ; and as such, would on the very best supposition generally be treated as falsehood, and its propagator as a liar and a wretch. If, then, the knowledge of God's will was at all to be made known to man, in a way. calculated to produce its due effect, I will now affirm, that this could have been done only by miracle ; or, in other words, in such a way as to carry with it the conviction that it was in truth the Word of God. In this case, but in no other, could men entertain an assurance that imposition had not been practised upon them, and that they could give an entire and hearty reception and consent to the whole matter revealed. It is not merely probable, therefore, that miracle would be resorted to in this case, but it was absolutely necessary that it should; because a Revelation, properly so called, could have been made in no other way. So far, therefore, is the occurrence of miracle from being improbable, that it is absolutely necessary, to the establishment of a true religion in the world.
The last objection, that this is incapable of proof, is likewise futile. Believers do not here argue in a circle, as the objectors affirm; but proceed on grounds as legitimate as they are truly convincing. If, say they, the Scriptures assure us, as matter of history, that the Almighty openly revealed his laws in the presence of the whole camp of the Israelites ; and, if we are also assured by the concurrent testimony of the persons then present, as well as that (originally received from them) of their posterity throughout all succeeding ages,-men, let it be remembered, who made no hesitation to rebel and resist the constituted authorities whenever it suited their purposes to do so,—we have reasons sufficient for believing that this was the fact; but none that it was not; unless indeed we are bound not to believe the declarations of any book professing to give accounts of which we had no previous knowledge: which is absurd. There are, moreover, other considerations, and such as to make it morally impossible that this was not the fact. We have predictions made on occasions similar to this, stretching out through periods of some thousands of years ; which, it should be observed, are generally of the most particular character, specifying times, families, persons, places, events, and their consequences, in a manner setting perfectly
at defiance all the doctrines of probabilities, with which science ever has been, or ever can be, acquainted. These are, in many cases, cited as miraculous, and the whole heathen world is openly challenged to do the like (which however was not likely to be attempted), they are then, with their fulfilling events, left as land-marks for the satisfaction and conviction of all future generations, that the hand of God was in this. It is true, these are all found in the Bible, as the objectors urge; and, it may be asked, Why should they not? If collateral history can now be adduced, to shew that the whole is false, let it be brought forward. Their being recorded surely affords the best opportunity now, as it formerly did, for their refutation and explosion. But this, as far as it is collateral, inquiry has shewn to be on the side of the Revelation and against the objectors.
Again; if these things were false, why have not the enemies of Revelation, and in this case the friends of truth, recorded the errors, and exposed the delusion? Why have not the histories of Trogus Pompeius, as epitomised by Justin, the fragments of Sanchoniathon, Manetho, Berosus, the writings of Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and others, laid open and exposed the fraud ?* Or, to come lower down, Why did not Porphyry, Julian the Apostate, Hierocles, Iamblichus, Lucian, Antoninus Pius, or some of the literati of his court, convince the Roman world, that this was all mistake and imposition? Or, Why was not this done either at Athens or in Egypt, before the ancient records, now lost, were placed beyond the reach of inquiry? Had this indeed ever been done, or could it now be, we should have grounds for suspicion, that the writers of the Bible have been partial and unworthy of credit; but, to affirm that their testimony ought not to be received, supported as it is by the nature of the case, confirmed as it is by the fulfilment of the predictions alluded to, and established as it is beyond contradiction by all the collateral history now extant, is to my mind a proposition so monstrous and so unreasonable, that, did I not see it recorded and reprinted again and again, I should be induced to believe it never had an existence, but was one of those pious, or rather impious, frauds, which have, from time to time, been practised upon the world.
* Some most valuable testimonies to the Scripture histories are to be found in the Præparatio Evangelica of Eusebius,-a work which is at this day too little read.
The grounds, therefore, upon which Christians believe the miracles recorded in the Bible, are not implicitly relied upon, because they are chiefly found there; but, because, being found at all, recommended and confirmed as they are beyond all possible reason for doubt, they are worthy of all acceptation, at least until testimony equally convincing shall have been proposed, and shall have proved the contrary. For similar reasons it is, that we believe Grecian and Roman history: not, because it has been recorded by Grecian or Roman writers, respectively; but, because it has been recorded by persons whose testimony we have no good reason to call in question : and the same would have been the case, had these facts been reduced to writing by Englishmen, or Frenchmen, provided we had reason to believe they had either been eye-witnesses of the facts themselves, or had made use of documents, which there is good ground for believing were worthy of credit. The proof, consequently, which is made out by Christians, as to the fact of miracles having been performed, is perfectly on a par with those offered as to the occurrence of those historical events which no one has hitherto called in question ; with this difference, the witnesses in the one case had neither national nor individual vanity to support, with the additional circumstance, that many of them sealed their testimony with their blood : in confirmation, let it be remembered, of a religion which, had they borne testimony to a lie, must have left them entirely destitute with regard to the present world, and hopeless as to that which is to come.
The next question we have to do with, and which is perhaps peculiar to this school of divines, is the following: Although, say they, many events recorded in the Scriptures are there related as miraculous, and were most probably believed to be so by those who committed them to writing ; yet, when we consider the low state of the sciences in their times, and also find that all these events can be accounted for by having recourse to natural causes, we are bound to reject the miraculous character ascribed to them, while we are willing to allow both the honesty and good intentions of those who have delivered them down to us.
Suppose then, we allow, that the sciences never arrived at any high degree of cultivation among the Jews, which was probably the case; How will the question now stand ?-If it can be shewn, that the writers of either the Old or New Testament have called in the aid of science, and failed in its application, there will, indeed, be reason to suspect that, whatever their facts were, their philosophy was wrong. But the truth is, they have called in no such aid. They have simply told us, that such or such an event happened at such or such a time or place, – that Moses, or David, or Isaiah, or some other Prophet, left such or such a prediction on record, which, at so many years afterwards was expected to come to pass : and which was actually fulfilled, at the time, and in the manner specified. We have now to judge of facts, not of philosophy; of events, together with the passages predicting them, or the circumstances attending them: and, from all that I can discover, the state of science either at this or that period, has not with these the most distant point of connection. They have indeed been recorded as being, and they actually are, beyond the power of man, however aided by human science, or human experience, to effect.* Besides, the solutions offered by the objectors are not founded on any known science whatsoever; they consist only of conjectures
See pp. 138, &c. of the following Dissertations