« PreviousContinue »
self to be disputed out of his senses. But if all these engines fail of doing the work; yet,
Laftly, ime, and a fucceffion of other objects, will bring it about. Every day the impreffion lofes somewhat of its force and grows weaker, till at length it comes to lie under the same disa advantage with the standing proofs of the gospel, that is, to be diftant; and, accordingly, to uperate also (as those, and all other distant things do) but faintly upon careless unawakened minds. They, who attend fick beds, will tell you, how often they have met with cases not unlike this ; wherein men, upon the near approach of death, have been rouzed up into fuch a lively sense of their guilt, fuch a passionate degree of concern and remorse, that, if ten thousand ghosts had appeared to them, and hell itfelf had been laid open flaming to their view, they fcarce could have had a fuller conviction, or a greater dread of their danger : and yet, no fooner had their dirtemper left them, but their good thoughts and resolutions began to leave them too; till they had at last, perhaps, forgotten their first fears and agonies as much, as if they had never felt them; their folemn vows and promises as thoroughly, as if they had never made them. Thus, in all likelihood, would it be with a libertine, who should have a visit made to him from the other world : The first horror and astonishment it raised, would go off by degrees, as new thoughts, new diver: fions, came on; it would be driven out by business, or pleasure, or the various accidents of life, that might afterwards befal him; till, at last, he came, perhaps, to reflect upon it, with as much
indifference, indifference, as if it were a story only, which he had heard, or read, and which he himself was no way concerned in.
hitherto I have supposed, That the evidence of one risen from the dead, hath really the ad. vantage, in point of force and efficacy, of any standing revelation, how well foever attested and and confirmed ; and, proceeding on that suppo. fition, I have endeavoured to thew, That such evidence, however in itself forcible, would certainly not be complied with. But the truth is, and, upon a fair balance of the advantages on either side, it will appear, That the common standing rules of the gospel are a more probable and powerful means of conviction than
such meflage or miracle: And that,
First For this plain reason, because they include in them that very kind of evidence, which is supposed to be so powerful ; and do, withal, afford us several other additional proofs, of great force and clearness.
Among many arguments, by which the truth of our religion is made out to us, this is but one, that the promulgers of it, felus Christ, and his apostles, did that very thing which is required to be done ;, raised men and women from the dead, not once only, but often, in an indisputable manner, and before many witnesses. St. Peter raised Dorcas: Our Saviour raised the ruler's daughter, the widow's son, and Lazarus ; the first of these, when she had just expired; the second, as he was carried to the grave on his bier; and the third, after he had been some time buried. And having, by thesc gradual advances,
manifested his divine power; he at last exerted the highest and most glorious degree of it; and raised himself also, by his own all-quickening virtue, and according to his own express predictio
We did not indeed see these things done; but we have such authentic accounts of them, that we can no more doubt of their reality, than if we had actually seen them. For though no evidence affects the fancy fo strongly as that of fense; yer there is other evidence, which gives as full satisfaction, and as clear a conviction to our rea, fon; so that there are some distant matters of fact of the truth of which we are as certain, as we are of what happens before our eyes ;
the concurring accounts many
such witnesses, as were every way qualified to inform us, and could have no interest in deceiving us, and sealed the truth of their testimony with their blood, rendering it (morally, as we speak, or, as we might speak) absolutely iinpoffible that these things shall be false. And what can we say more for the evidence that comes by the senses? for cán any thing be more certain than that, which 'tis impoflible. should not be true? And of this nature are ma. ny of those miraculous facts, upon which the truth of our religion is founded; particularly, that most important miracle of all, the refurreca tion of our Lord : It is so convincingly attested, by such persons, with such circumstances, that they, who give themselves leisure to confider and weigh the testimony, arwhat distance foever they are placed from the fact itself, cannot help closing with it ; nor can they entertain doubt of the resurrection, than they do of the cruVOL II.
cifixion of Jefus. And therefore, I fay, if this miracle of Ch A's rifing from the dead heretofore be not sufficient to convince a resolved libertine ; neither would the raising of one now from the dead be sufficient for that purpose ; fince it would only be, the doing thatover again which hath been done already, and of the truth of which (all things considered) we have as much reason to be fatisfied, asif weourselves had stood by and seen it.
Thus far the old standing proofs of the gospel, and the new miracle demanded, aro (in reality and right reason) equal; and thould therefore (reasonably) have equal influence and effect. But there are also several other acceffary proofs, by which the truth of the gospel was further demona strated. It was attested by miracles ofall sorts, done in great variety and number; by the visible center. ing of all the old prophecies in the person of Christ, and by the completion of those prophecies fince, which he himself uttered; by the holy and unblemished lives, the exemplary sufferings and deaths, of the publishers of this religion, and by the furpaffing excellence of that heavenly doctrine which they published; finally, by the miraculous increafe of the professors of Christianity, without any visible grounds and causes, and contrary to all human probability and appearance. Now, if the proof of a future state, by an immediate apa pearance of one from the dead, be (in truth, and at the bottom) but equal, to that fingle proof of Christianity taken from our Lord's resurrection ; how much inferior muft it be to thefe feveral proofs united ? And therefore, how little probability is there, that he, who is not wrought upon
by the one, would be convinced by the other? But I have not time to pursue this fruitful head of argument as far as it deserves ; by displaying, first, the general evidences of our religion, in all their force and brightness, and then, comparing them with that of a particular apparition; and, by this means, calculating, as it werc, the several degreçs of credibility and conviction, by which the one Jurpaffeth the other. Such an attempt would carry me beyond the bounds of a single discourse. I have room only at present to suggest a general re. flexion or two, which may contribute to illustrate this point; and proceed therefore to observe,
Secondly, Another great advantage which the Itanding proofs of the gospel have over such an extraordinary appearance; that this hath all its force at once, upon the first impression, and is ever afterwards in a declining state; so that the longer it continues upon the mind, and the oftener it is thought of, the more it loses: Whereas those, on the contrary gain strength and ground upon us by degrees; and the more they are conGdered and weighed, the more they are approved.
There is a like difference between the ways in which these several proofs operate, as there is between the several impressions made upon thoughtful minds by the works of art and nature. The works of art, which are extremely nice and curious, strike and surprise us most upon the first view; but the better we are acquainted with them, the less we wonder at them: Whereas the works of nature will bear a thousand views and reviews, and will still appear new to us,; the more frequent,