Page images

“mission.” So far, as Warburton, this author keeps within bounds, but next he proceeds, as Warburton also, to extend his argument from a defence of what is true to a test of what is false. “If we set out with this as a principle, then shall we "easily determine when it was that miracles ceased to be “performed by Christians; for we shall be led to conclude " that the age of Christian miracles must have ceased with the “ age of Christian inspiration. So long as Heaven thought “proper to set apart any particular set of men to be the “ authorized preachers of the new religion revealed to man“ kind, so long, may we rest satisfied, miraculous powers “were continued. But whenever this purpose was answered, "and inspiration ceased to be any longer necessary, by the “complete publication of the Gospel, then would the mi“raculous powers, whose end was to prove the truth of inspiration, be of course withdrawn." Here he determines à priori in the most positive manner the “end” or object of miracles in the designs of Providence. That it is very natural and quite consistent with humility to form antecedent notions of what is likely and what not likely, as in other matters, so as regards the Divine dealings with us, has been implied above; but it is neither reverent nor philosophical in a writer to “think he has it in his power” to dispense with good evidence in behalf of what professes to be a work of God, by means of a summary criterion of his own framing. His very mode of speech, as well as his procedure, reminds us of Hume, who in like manner, when engaged in invalidating the evidence for all miracles whatever, observes that “nothing is so convenient as a decisive argument,” (such as Tillotson's against the Real Presence,) “which must at least “ silence the most arrogant bigotry and superstition, and free “ us from their impertinent solicitations,” and then flatters himself that he has discovered an argument of a like nature,

Pages 239—241. Edit. 1.

“ which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an ever“ lasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and “consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures.”

It is observable that in another place Douglas had said, that “though we may be certain that God will never reverse “ the course of nature but for important ends, (the course of “ nature being the plan of government laid down by Himself,) “ Infinite Wisdom may see ends highly worthy of a miraculous “ interposition, the importance of which may lie hid from our shallow comprehension. Were, therefore, the miracles, about “ the credibility of which we now dispute, events brought “about by invisible agency, though our being able to discover an important end served by a miracle would be no “ weak additional motive to our believing it; yet our not “ being able to discover any such end could be no motive to induce us to reject it, if the testimony produced to confirm “ it be unexceptionable d.” The author is here speaking of the miracles of the Old and New Testaments, which he believes; and, like a religious man, he feels, contrariwise to Hume, that it is not “convenient,” but dangerous to allow of an antecedent test, which, for what he knows, and before he is aware, may be applied in disproof of one or other of those sacred and gracious manifestations. But it is far otherwise when he comes to speak of Ecclesiastical miracles, which he begins with disbelieving without much regard to their evidence, and is engaged, not in examining or confuting, but in burdening with some test or criterion which may avail, in Hume's words, “ to silence bigotry and superstition, and to “ free us from their impertinent solicitations." He acts towards the miracles of the Church as Hume towards the miracles of Scripture.

And surely with less reason than Hume, from a consideration already suggested; because, in being a believer in

o Page 217.

the miracles of Scripture, he deprives himself of that strong antecedent ground against all miracles whatever, both Scriptural and Ecclesiastical, on which Hume took his stand. Allowing, as he is obliged to do, that the Ecclesiastical miracles are possible, because the Scripture miracles are true, he rejects Ecclesiastical miracles as not subserving the object which he arbitrarily assigns for miracles under the Gospel, while he protects the miracles of Scripture, by the cautious proviso, that “Infinite Wisdom may see ends” for an interposition, “ the importance of which may lie hid from our shallow “ comprehension." Yet it is a fairer argument against a miraculous agency, before it has in any case been ascertained, that its object is apparently unimportant, than after such agency has once been manifested. What has been introduced for greater ends may, when once introduced, be made subservient to secondary ones. Parallel cases are of daily occurrence in matters of this world; and if it is allowable, as it is generally understood to be, to argue from final causes in behalf of the being of a God, that is, to apply the analogy of a human framer and work to the relation subsisting between this world and a Creator, surely it is allowable also to illustrate the course of Divine Providence by the methods and procedures of human agents. Now, nothing is more common in scientific and social arrangements than that works, begun for one purpose, should, in the course of operation, be made subservient, as a matter of course, to lesser ones. A mechanical contrivance or a political organization is continued for secondary objects, when the primary has been attained ; and thus miracles begun either for Warburton's object or Douglas's may be continued for others, “the importance of which," in the language of the latter, “may lie hid from our shallow “comprehension.”

Hume judges of professedly Divine acts by experience ; Warburton and Douglas by the probable objects which a

Divine Agent must pursue. Both parties draw extravagant conclusions, and that unphilosophically; but surely we know much less of the designs and purposes of Divine Providence, than of the course of this world. Facts come before us, the All-wise Mind is hidden from us. We have a right to form anticipations about facts; we may not, except very reverently and humbly, attempt to trace, and we dare not prescribe, the rules on which Providence conducts the government of the world. The Apostle warns us, “Who hath known the mind “ of the Lord ? and who hath been His counsellor ?” And surely, a fresh or additional object in the course of Providence presents a less startling difficulty to the mind than an alteration in the laws of nature. If we conquer our indisposition towards the news of such an alteration by reflecting on the Sovereignty of the Creator, let'us not be religious by halves, let us submit our imaginations to the full idea of that inscrutable Sovereignty, nor presume to confine it within bounds narrower than are prescribed by His own attributes.

This, then, is the proper answer to the objection, urged against the post-apostolic miracles, on the ground that the occurrence of miracles does in itself discredit their recurrence, and that the miracles subsequent to those of Scripture differ from them in fact in their objects and circumstances. The ordinary Providence of God is conducted upon a system ; and as even creation is now contemplated by philosophers as possibly subject to fixed laws, so it is more probable than not that there is also a law of supernatural manifestations. And thus the occurrence of miracles is rather a presumption for than against their recurrence; such events being not isolated acts, but the symptoms of the presence of an agency. And again, since every system consists of parts varying in importance and value, so also as regards a dispensation of miracles, “ God hath set every one of them in the body as it “ hath pleased Him ;” and even “ those members which seem

“ to be more feeble” and less "comely” are “necessary," and are sustained by their fellowship with the more honourable.

It may be added that Scripture, as in Mark xvi. 17, 18, certainly does give a primâ facie countenance to the idea that miracles are the privilege of true believers, and that where is faith, there shall be the manifested signs of its Invisible Author. Hence it was the opinion of Grotius e, who is here quoted from his connection with English Theology, and of Barrow, Dodwell, and others, that at least miracles are to be expected to attend on the labours of Missionaries. Now, this Scripture intimation, whether fainter or stronger, does, as far as it goes, add to the presumption in favour of the miracles of Ecclesiastical history, by authoritatively assigning them a place in the scheme of Christianity. But this subject, as well as others touched upon in this section, will more distinctly come into review in those which follow.

e On Mark xvi. 17, Grotius avows his belief in the continuance of a miraculous agency down to this day. He illustrates that text from St. Justin, St. Irenæus, Origen, Tertullian, Minucius Felix, and Lactantius, as regards the power of exorcism, and refers to the acts of Victor of Cilicia in the Martyrology of Ado, and the history of Sabinus, Bishop of Canusium, in Greg. Turon., for instances of miraculous protection against poison. As to missions, he asserts that the presence of miraculous agency is even a test whether the doctrine preached is Christ's. “Si quis etiam nunc gentibus

“ Christi ignaris, (illis enim proprie mi-
“racula inserviunt, 1 Cor. xiv. 22), ita
“ ut ipse annunciari voluit, annunciat,
“ promissionis vim duraturam arbitror.
“ Sunt enim duet auéanta Toù Beoû dwpa.
" Sed nos cujus rei culpa est in nostra
“ignaviâ aut diffidentiâ, id solemus in
“ Deum rejicere." Elsewhere he pro-
fesses his belief in the miracle wrought
upon the Confessors under Hunneric,
who spoke after their tongues were cut
out, and in the ordeals of hot iron in
the middle ages. de Verit. i. 17; and
in the miracles wrought at the tombs of
the Martyrs. ibid. iii. 7. fin. Vid. also
de Antichr. p. 502. col. 2.

« PreviousContinue »