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Of the Supposed Presumption against a Revelation, consid ered as Miraculous.
HAVING shown the importance of the Christian revelation, and the obligations which we are under seriously to attend to it, upon supposition of its truth or its credibility; the next thing in order is, to consider the supposed presumptions against revelation in general, which shall be the subject of this chapter; and the objections against the Christian in particular, which shall be the subject of some following * For it seems the most natural method to remove these prejudices against Christianity, before we proceed to the consideration of the positive evidence for it, and the objections against that evidence.†
It is, I think, commonly supposed, that there is some peculiar presumption, from the analogy of nature, against the Christian scheme of things, at least against miracles; so as that stronger evidence is necessary to prove the truth and reality of them, than would be sufficient to convince us of other events or matters of fact. Indeed, the consideration of this supposed presumption cannot but be thought very insignificant by many persons; yet, as it belongs to the sub ject of this treatise, so it may tend to open the mind, and remove some prejudices; however needless the consideration of it be, upon its own account.
I. I find no appearance of a presumption, from the anal ogy of nature, against the general scheme of Christianity that God created and invisibly governs the world by Jesus Christ, and by him also will hereafter judge it in righteousness, i. e. render to every one according to his works; and that good men are under the secret influence of his Spirit.
Whether these things are, or are not, to be called miraculous, is, perhaps, only a question about words; or, however, is of no moment in the case. If the analogy of nature raises any presumption against this general scheme of Christianity, it must be, either because it is not discoverable by reason or experience, or else because it is unlike that course of nature, which is. But analogy raises no presumption against the truth of this scheme, upon either of these accounts.
First, There is no presumption, from analogy, against the truth of it, upon account of its not being discoverable by reason or experience. For, suppose one who never heard of revelation, of the most improved understanding, and acquainted with our whole system of natural philosophy and natural religion; such a one could not but be sensible, that it was but a very small part of the natural and moral system of the universe, which he was acquainted with. He could not but be sensible, that there must be innumerable things, in the dispensations of Providence past, in the invisible government over the world at present carrying on, and in what is to come, of which he was wholly ignorant, and which could not be discovered without revelation. Whether the scheme of nature be, in the strictest sense, infinite or not, it is evidently vast, even beyond all possible imagination. And, doubtless, that part of it which is opened to our view, is but as a point, in comparison of the whole plan of Providence, reaching throughout eternity, past and future; in comparison of what is even now going on in the remote parts of the boundless universe; nay, in comparison of the whole scheme of this world. And, therefore, that things lie beyond the natural reach of our faculties, is no sort of presumption against the truth and reality of them; because it is certain, there are innumerable things in the constitution and government of the universe, which are thus beyond the natural reach of our faculties. Secondly, Analogy raises no presumption against any of the things contained in this general doctrine of Scripture now mentioned, upon account of their being unlike the known course of nature. For there is no presumption at all, from analogy, that the whole course of things, or divine government, naturally unknown to us, and every thing in it, is like to any thing in that which is known; and therefore no peculiar presumption against any thing in the former, upon account of its being unlike to any thing in
the latter. And in the constitution and natural government of the world, as well as in the moral government of it, we see things, in a great degree, unlike one another; and there. fore ought not to wonder at such unlikeness between things visible and invisible. However, the scheme of Christianity is by no means entirely unlike the scheme of nature; as will appear in the following part of this treatise.
The notion of a miracle, considered as a proof of a divine mission, has been stated with great exactness by divines; and is, I think, sufficiently understood by every one. There are also invisible miracles; the incarnation of Christ, for instance, which, being secret, cannot be alledged as a proof of such a mission; but require themselves to be proved by visible miracles. Revelation, itself, too, is miraculous and miracles are the proof of it; and the supposed presump tion against these shall presently be considered. All which I have been observing here is, that, whether we choose to call every thing in the dispensations of Providence, not dis. coverable without revelation, nor like the known course of things, miraculous; and whether the general Christian dis pensation now mentioned, is to be called so, or not; the fore going observations seem certainly to show, that there is no presumption against it, from the analogy of nature.
II. There is no presumption, from analogy, against some operations, which we should now call miraculous; particularly, none against a revelation, at the beginning of the world; nothing of such presumptions against it, as is supposed to be implied or expressed in the word miraculous. For a miracle, in its very notion, is relative to a course of nature; and implies somewhat different from it, considered as being so. Now, either there was no course of nature at the time which we are speaking of; or if there were, we are not acquainted what the course of nature is upon the first peopling of worlds. And therefore the question, whether mankind had a revelation made to them at that time is to be considered, not as a question concerning a miracle, but as a common question of fact. And we have the like reason, be it more or less, to admit the report of tradition concerning this question and concerning common matters of fact of the same antiquity; for instance, what part of the earth was first peopled.
Or thus: When mankind was first placed in this state, there was a power exerted, totally different from the present course of nature. Now, whether this power, thus wholly
different from the present course of nature; for we cannot properly apply to it the word miraculous; whether this power stopped immediately after it had made man, or went on, and exerted itself farther in giving him a revelation, is a question of the same kind, as whether an ordinary power exerted itself in such a particular degree and manner, or not.
Or suppose the power exerted in the formation of the world be considered as miraculous, or rather, be called by the name, the case will not be different; since it must be acknowledged, that such a power was exerted. For supposing it acknowledged that our Saviour spent some years in a course of working miracles; there is no more presumption, worth men tioning, against his having exerted this miraculous power, in a certain degree greater, than in a certain degree less; in one or two more instances, than in one or two fewer; in this, than in another manner.
It is evident, then, that there can be no peculiar presumption, from the analogy of nature, against supposing a revelation, when man was first placed upon the earth.
Add, that there does not appear the least intimation in history or tradition, that religion was first reasoned out; but the whole of history and tradition makes for the other side, that it came into the world by revelation. Indeed, the state of religion in the first ages, of which we have any account seems to suppose and imply, that this was the original of it amongst mankind. And these reflections together, without taking in the peculiar authority of Scripture, amount to real and very material degree of evidence, that there was a revelation at the beginning of the world. Now this, as it is a confirmation of natural religion, and therefore mentioned in the former part of this treatise; so, likewise, it has a tendency to remove any prejudices against a subsequent revelation.
III. But still it may be objected, that there is some peculiar presumption from analogy, against miracles; particularly against revelation, after the settlement and during the continuance of a course of nature.
Now, with regard to this supposed presumption, it is to be observed in general, that before we can have ground for raising what can, with any propriety, be called an argument from analogy, for or against revelation considered as some. what miraculous, we must be acquainted with a similar of
parallel case. But the history of some other world, seemingly in like circumstances with our own, is no more than a parallel case; and therefore nothing short of this can be so. Yet, could we come at a presumptive proof, for or against a reve lation, from being informed whether such world had one, or not; such a proof, being drawn from one single instance only, must be infinitely precarious. More particularly: First of all, There is a very strong presumption against common speculative truths, and against the most ordinary facts, before the proof of them; which yet is overcome by almost any proof. There is a presumption of millions to one, against the story of Cæsar, or of any other man. For suppose a number of common facts so and so circumstanced, of which one had no kind of proof, should happen to come into one's thoughts; every one would, without any possible doubt, conclude them to be false. And the like may be said of a single common fact. And from hence it appears, that the question of importance, as to the matter before us, is, concerning the degree of the peculiar presumption supposed against miracles; not whether there be any peculiar presumption at all against them. For, if there be the presumption of millions to one, against the most common facts, what can a small presump tion, additional to this, amount to, though it be peculiar? It cannot be estimated, and is as nothing. The only material question is, whether there be any such presumption against miracles, as to render them in any sort incredible? Secondly, If we leave out the consideration of religion, we are in such total darkness, upon what causes, occasions, reasons, or cir cumstances, the present course of nature depends, that there does not appear any improbability for or against supposing, that five or six thousand years may have given scope for causes, occasions, reasons, or circumstances, from whence miraculous interpositions may have arisen. And from this, joined with the foregoing observation, it will follow, that there must be a presumption, beyond all comparison, greater, agains the particular common facts just now instanced in, than against miracles in general; before any evidence of either. But, thirdly, Take in the consideration of religion, or the moral system of the world, and then we see distinct particular reasons for miracles; to afford mankind instruction additional to that of nature, and to attest the truth of it. And this gives a real credibility to the supposition, that it might be part of the original plan of things, that there should be miraculous interpositions. Then, lastly, Miracles must not be