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speaks itself divine, in the distinguishing purity of all its precepts, and the visible superiority of its wisdom.
Here the caviller again puts in his word. Christ, he says, could not always exercise his miraculous power, Mark vi. 5, but only when the faith of the person disordered assisted his own cure; whereas the evidence of his mission arising from the performance of his miracles, the miracle ought to have been previously exhibited, that the faith might follow.
It is said, indeed, that Christ'could do no mighty work in his own country, because of their unbelief;' but it is also said, in the same place, that he laid his hands on a few sick folk, and healed them.' Our blessed Saviour did not come into the world to cast pearls before swine,'nor to heal such scornful wretches, as were made infidels purely by their pride. At the time when he was repulsed by his countrymen, they had sufficient evidence both of his wisdom and power; for they could say, 'What wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?' They, nevertheless, asked, with the utmost contempt, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary? Were miracles to be thrown away on people in this way of thinking? When it is said, 'he could do no mighty work' among such, the evangelist, no doubt, meant, that he could not, consistently with his mission, and with the infinite dignity of his person, exhibit the effects of his divine power, in a place where they were to be treated with contempt, or, at best, only gazed at, as food for their impertinent curiosity. It was for the same reason that the saucy desire of Herod was not gratified, nor any miracles wrought, by way of experiment; but only when the wants and distresses of mankind, of the humble, and of the well disposed, rendered them proper objects of compassion. As to faith in the sick, it was not always made necessary to his cure; for the absent were often healed, and the dead raised to life. But as often as faith might be reasonably expected, it was required; because they who did not believe what Moses and the prophets had said concerning Christ, were very unworthy, and, in all probability, as unfit, to receive farther opportunity of conviction by the miracles of our Saviour. Miracles, indeed, must go before faith, where no foundation of belief could have been previously laid; but where it could, and through pride and contempt was not, new
missions, either from above or below, could not in reason be expected, although by a Herod, a Dives, or the very eminent inhabitants of Nazareth, who were too great truly to believe, unless on the preaching of a man of quality. With such personages religion, and its prooss, never had, never can have, any thing to do. They have infinitely more respect for a civil lie from the mouth of a dignified sharper, than for a plain truth from the worthiest man that lives, if his hands have ever earned him a morsel of bread. The objectors of rank and figure take it very ill too, for the same reason, I suppose, that Christ did not prove the miracle of his resurrection by a personal appearance before Pilate, Herod, the high-priest, and sanhedrim; as if religion, after repeated neglects and contempts, were to wait on the grandees with evidence proportionable to the infidel slowness of their assent. Our blessed Saviour, however, judged infinitely better in not meanly courting the testimony of men, who had already basely bought, sold, and complimented away, his life; men corrupt enough to be capable of stilling any truth, or vouching any falsehood, or, in short, committing any villainy, that might help to support a grandeur, already raised on vile intrigues, and infamous enormities, of the same kind.
But, after all, they who object, that faith ought to follow the miracles, and not go before them, as Christ required it should, do not consider, that the miracles were by no means wrought merely for the sake of the persons on whom they were wrought, but chiefly for the conviction of others, and indeed of all mankind. Christ shews this was the intention, when he is about to raise Lazarus from the dead; for he saith, John xi. 14, 15, · Lazarus is dead; and I am glad for your sakes, that I was not there (to the intent ye may believe).' Here conviction and faith are made the natural consequence of a miracle performed on one who was dead; that is, in a case where the faith of the person to be restored was out of the question. Such was the effect proposed by all the other miracles. They were not to be performed, it is true, for the benefit of hardened and contemptuous infidels, but of such persons as had that degree of faith, which might be reasonably expected of them ; and were not performed even on them, but in order principally to the conviction of millions, who neither had, nor could have, the faith intended,
without them. The objection, therefore, is impertinent; because the thing it requires, is the very thing proposed, and provided for, by all the miracles.
As we have already shewn, that real miracles are the only conceivable proofs of a true revelation, and that those which vouch Christianity to us, were real miracles, it now only re- . mains to be shewn, that these miracles were actually wrought. But here, as in the last head, I am prevented by such performances, as have put this matter beyond all question. Yet I shall, as briefly as I can, sketch out the evidence, on which we believe the miracles of our blessed Saviour were really exbibited, as they are set forth in the New Testament.
There is no historical fact better known, than that Christianity took its rise in an age when human learning, philosophy, and refinements of all kinds, were carried as high as the wit of man was able to push them. It is equally well known, that this system of religion was not propagated by policy, by power, or by men of great abilities and address, but by men every way unqualified for great attempts, in opposition to all the learning, all the bigotry, all the force and cruelty, that both Judaism and Paganism could muster against it. It is notwithstanding farther known, that our religion made a most rapid progress over the world, and, in the space of two centuries, drew in above one half of the Roman empire, and had, moreover, rooted itself in many other nations beyond the verges of that empire.
Now, to a rational man, this must seem utterly unaccountable, by all the rules and methods from whence success in human affairs is always known to proceed. In this instance, the illiterate baffle the learned, the simple outwit the politic, and the weak subdue the strong, with infinitely greater expedition, than was ever known in any other, where the contrary qualities had the ascendant. Hence it is but natural to suppose the interposition of some power more than human. As Christianity confessedly inculcates a pure, a rational, and a most operative system of morality, this must be supposed a good rather than an evil power.
If the mind, after having taken this distant view of Christianity, in its marvellous progress, hath the curiosity to draw a little nearer, and inquire into the ancient records of a phenomenon so very extraordinary, it finds all ascribed, as
it was ready to conjecture, to a conviction raised by miracles, whereof an historical account, kept with a watchfulness and scrupulosity, not known in any other case, hath been all along preserved from the days of those who penned it immediately after they saw the miracles performed. In this account he sees Christ frequently appealing to the eyes and senses of all men, on the spot, and at the instant, he performed his miracles. He sees his immediate followers, who also wrought the like wonders themselves, and spoke to all nations in their mother tongue, though they neither did, nor possibly could have, learned their languages, preaching up their Master, and his religion, to the world, in the teeth of continual and terrible persecutions, and dying on crosses, and in flames, rather than recede, in the smallest tittle, from either the history of their Master, wonderful, as it is, or his principles, irksome as they seem to flesh and blood. If he guides his eyes a little lower into the Christian history, he sees the same work carried on with the same spirit, by a much greater number of preachers, and mankind running over by thousands to them, in every country, in spite of repeated persecutions, persevered in with such an obstinate fury, as was never heard of in cases where the provocation was most irritating, although, in this, there was absolutely none; but, on the part of the Christians, every wbere a perfectly passive resignation; nay, a joy in tortures, and a sort of rapture in the very agonies of a frightful and untimely death ; which demonstrated the presence of an invisible Comforter.
After seeing all this, our inquirer can now easily account for the progress of Christianity, a thing impossible on any other footing, and wonders only at the miracles, to which it was owing. But let him not wonder, that an Almighty Being can, or an infinitely gracious Being should, do such things for the salvation of his creatures. Considering God's goodness, and our wants, it must have been by far more wonderful, if such things had never been done. Without a revelation, we could not have been reclaimed; without miracles, a revelation could not have been proved, or propagated ; without both, man, the creature, the image of God, must have lived in sin, and died in despair, and the infinitely merciful Being must have looked on without concern. Miracles therefore are rather causes of conviction, than surprise. Cast your eyes over the face of the earth, and up to heaven : Do you see any thing but miracles? Is not nature herself a miracle? Was not all raised out of nothing by the divine power? Was not every thing adapted, beautified, stationed, by a miracle of wisdom, and bestowed on God's intellectual creatures, by a miracle of goodness? And can you still be surprised at the miracles of his Providence, and at his suspending the course of nature, for a time, in order to the redemption of mankind ? It is true, a miracle is, by its etymology, somewhat that is wonderful; but as man himself, and the whole world round him, is a system of miracles, he is apt to consider all this, purely because it is ordinary and common, as no way surprising; and wonders, with a hesitating belief, at such occurrences as are by no means more marvellous, only because they are more unusual. This, however, hath something in it too low and gross, too like the vulgar, to be found in a man of elevated thoughts and sound judgment. Bad as the world is, such a man is not apt to be surprised, when he sees another acting the part that becomes him, though such sights are not very common. And why should he think it strange, that the gracious Father of all should care for the happiness of his creatures ; or, caring, should provide for that happiness by extraordinary means, when the ordinary are incapable of answering that beneficent end? If such performances as we call miracles, because they are against the nature of things, and are rarely seen, were exhibited every day, they would cease to strike us, or prove any thing, although still as really miracles, as at the first. Their frequency would deprive them of our attention, and sink them, in common estimation, to a level with the miracles of nature.
But he who looks on nature itself as a most astonishing production of infinite wisdom and power, would continue for ever to regard them in the same light; because he could not but see their contrariety to nature, nor avoid considering that the production and reversal of nature require an equal power. If there were any intellectual spirits in being before the creation of the first material system, they must have considered that creation in the same light as we do a miracle, that is, as an astonishing effect of infinite power. But they would not have