Page images

that he was right. Thus those who had publicly declared their belief that Jesus could cure them, became in some measure interested parties; so that between the real physical effect produced on them, and their own goodwill to make it appear greater, a bystander might easily be led to think a miracle had been done. But a divine power could not need such a belief on the part of the applicants; on the contrary, one would rather expect it to be displayed where there was no such belief, in order that the miracle might be more indisputable.

V. The answers usually given by Jesus were of such a nature as to dismiss the applicants without any injury to his own credit, whatever might be the result. Matt. viii. 13, “Go thy way, and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” ix. 29, “ According to your faith be it unto you.” xv. 23, “ And his disciples besought him, saying, Send her away, for she crieth after us... 28, Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt." Mark x. 52, “Go thy way; thy faith hath saved thee.” John ix. 7, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.”

VI. In Matthew and Mark, the more decided miracles, such as raising the dead, curing the blind, &c., are admitted to have been done in secret. Matt. viii. 4,“Jesus saith unto him, (the leper,) See thou tell no man, but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest,” &c. ix. 30, “ And Jesus straightly charged them, (the blind men,) saying, See that no man know it." Mark v. 43, “ And he charged them straitly that no man should know it (the raising of Jairus's daughter). vii. 36, “And he charged them that they should tell no man” (the cure of a deaf and dumb man). It is generally added, that, notwithstanding the secrecy of the affair itself, the report of it was soon published abroad. Now, since the best authorities, Jesus himself and those present, must have been silent, (for it can hardly be supposed that his immediate followers so boldly disobeyed him,) it may be fairly doubted whether the report, which by some means got abroad, was exactly true, and consequently whether the stories before us, founded probably on these reports (for in none of them do the writers say they were present, or name their authority) are exactly true; in which doubt we are obliged to bring in other considerations to help us to ascertain the real facts, as has been already attempted. The motive for Jesus's injunction of secrecy is supposed by some to be his fear lest the people should make him a king; but it is remarkable that the only Evangelist who attributes this fear to Jesus, John vi. 15, relates chiefly to miracles done in the most public manner, viz., the marriage feast, the feeding of the multitude, the raising of Lazarus, &c.; from which it appears to have been at least his impression, that Jesus did not in general seek secrecy for his miracles. Matthew and Mark themselves relate abundance of miracles of casting out demons, and healing the sick, as done in the most public manner. The exception, therefore, in the cases alluded to, leaves them open to one or other of these objections ;—either that Jesus required the secrecy because the miracle would not bear public inspection; or that the narrators, aware that the miraculous part was a later addition, endeavoured to make the whole appear consistent by saying that it was by Jesus's command that it had been kept secret.

VII. The miracles were chiefly performed amongst the country people of Galilee, according to Matthew and Mark. The former says, in a loose manner, xxi. 14, “ And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.” But with this exception, and that of the fig-tree, he gives no specific account of any one miracle from the arrival of Jesus at Jerusalem till his death.

VIII. When Jesus was asked to do a public miracle in attestation of his divine mission, he not only refused to do it, but did not even appeal to his previous miracles. Matt. xvi. 1-4, “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and, tempting, desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather; for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to-day; for the sky is red and lowering. Oye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.” Nothing is said of the sign of Jonas in the corresponding place in Mark, viii. 11. A similar but more pointed application is related by John, vi. 30, “ They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou, that we may see and believe ? What dost thou work ? our fathers did eat manna in the desert.” The answer is an assertion, not of his miraculous power, but that he himself is the bread from heaven. It is true that Jesus is made to appeal to his miracles in answer to John the Baptist's disciples, and several times in the discourses attributed to him by John, v. 36, x. 38, xiv. 10. Yet the above instances are sufficient to shew that he did not usually rely upon them as the means of convincing opponents. Nor is it a sufficient answer that the applications were made to him in a captious spirit, and were therefore unworthy of notice. The demand of a sign-or miraculous attestation has been acknowledged to be reasonable by all asserting the divine authority of Jesus after his own lifetime; consequently, from the days of Matthew and John to our own, Christians have been eager to meet it with plentiful accounts of miracles. Moreover, Jesus himself did not pass over the demand on such a pretext. John ii. 18, Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things ? Jesus answered and said unto them, · Destroy this temple (they were in the temple at Jerusalem), “and in three days I will raise it up." From the following verses it appears that all about him at the time understood him to mean the real temple, and so Matthew and Mark seem to have understood it; for they each twice quote the saying, without giving the least hint that it had any other sense. Matt. xxvi. 61, xxvii. 40; Mark xiv. 58, xv. 29. John alone says, that Jesus meant the temple of his body, allowing, however, that it was only after he was risen from the dead that this sense was attributed to the words. Now, if this were the true version of the matter, that Jesus intended his answer to be unintelligible or deceptive to the actual questioners, and convincing to his own disciples only after his death, he seems to have partially failed; for two out of the three Evangelists, who have mentioned the saying, appear to have been as much in the dark concerning its meaning as the Jews themselves. But if, like the latter, we take the saying in its obvious and literal sense, it shews that Jesus did not, on this occasion at least, object to the demand of a miraculous sign; but by his meeting it in this manner, rather than by doing a miracle, or by appealing to some noted one already done,* such as the raising of Lazarus, it is plain that the subsequent custom of referring objectors to these miracles was not adopted by himself. Consequently the genuineness of those parts of his discourses which appeal to his miracles becomes liable to suspicion ; especially since other considerations lead us to conjecture that both John and Matthew were in the habit of attributing to Jesus sayings merely representing their own views and those of their own times.

IX. None of those on whom the miracles were said to be performed come forward themselves to attest them

* The clearing of the temple fixes the date of the conversation to the time after Jesus's last visit to Jerusalem.

in the subsequent part of the history, or play any conspicuous part in the affairs of the church, as gathered from the Acts and Epistles. The author of the Gospel of Nicodemus, which appeared at the end of the third century, has endeavoured to remedy the omission by making the centurion, the blind men, &c., give evidence before Pilate; but the whole is plainly a forgery.

X. The supposed miracles had no effect on many of those who lived in the time of Jesus, and were most capable of appreciating them. John vii. 5, “For neither did his brethren believe in him.” xii. 37, “ But though he had done so many miracles before them (the people), yet they believed not on him.” Matt. xi. 20, “ Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not.” Mark vi. 52, “For they (the disciples) considered not the miracle of the loaves, for their heart was hardened.” By comparing this with Mark xvi. 14, it is plain that the hardness of heart meant a backwardness to believe the miracle, although the account purports that it had just been done before them. Now, an imperfect belief immediately after the event, growing into certainty long afterwards, is just contrary to the process one would expect to see if a miracle had really been done. Then the conviction would be most vivid on the first sight of it. At first the senses declare unequivocally and impartially the impressions made upon them; but the memory seldom preserves long those impressions distinct and unmixed. Passion, prejudice, and interest, gradually diminish, add to, or confuse the image; till, at last, the view remaining in the mind, instead of being a faithful picture of the real event, is one formed by the joint contributions of the memory, the imagination, and the feelings. Thus, from the instance referred to, it appears that even the disciples had some difficulty in believing the miracles at first; and since the disbelief of them came to be stigmatized as hardness

« PreviousContinue »