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Next in the catalogue of professed apologists we may place Origen, who it is well known, published a formal defence of Christianity, in answer to Celsus, a heathen, who had written a discourse against it. I know no expressions, by which a plainer or more positive appeal to the Christian miracles can be made, than the expressions used by Origen; “Undoubtedly we do think him to be the Christ, and the Son of God, because he healed the lame and the blind; and we are the more confirmed in this persuasion, by what is written in the prophecies: Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear, and the lame man shall leap as an hart.' But that he also raised the dead, and that it is not a fiction of those who wrote the Gospels, is evident from hence, that, if it had been a fiction, there would have been many recorded to be raised up, and such as had been a long time in their graves. But, it not being a fiction, few have been recorded : for instance, the daughter of a ruler of a synagogue, of whom I do not know why he said, She is not dead but sleepeth, expressing something peculiar to her, not common to all dead persons : and the only son of a widow, on whom he had compassion, and raised him to life, after he had bid the bearers of the corpse to stop ; and the third, Lazarus, who had been buried four days.” This is positively to assert the miracles of Christ, and it is also to comment upon them, and that with a considerable degree of accuracy and candour. In another
passage of the same author, we meet with the old solution of magick applied to the miracles of Christ by the adversaries of the religion. “Celsus,” saith Origen,
, “ well knowing what great works may be alleged to have been done by Jesus, pretends to grant that the things related of him are true; such as healing diseases, raising the dead, feeding multitudes with a few loaves, of which large frag
ients were left*.” And then Celsus gives, it seems, an answer to these proofs of our Lord's mission, which, as Origen understood it, resolved the phenomena into magick; for Origen begins his reply, by observing, “ You see that Celsus in a manner allows that there is such a thing as magickt.”
It appears also from the testimony of St. Jerome, that Porphyry, the most learned and able of the heathen writers against Christianity, resorted to the same solution :
Unless,” says he, speaking to Vigilantius, “ according to the manner of the gentiles and the profane, of Porphyry and Eunomius, you pretend that these are the tricks of demonst."
This magick, these demons, this illusory appearance, this comparison with the tricks of jugglers, by which many of that age accounted so easily for the Christian miracles, and which answers the advocates of Christianity often thought it necessary to refute by arguments drawn from other topicks, and particularly from prophecy (to which, it seems, these solutions did not apply), we now perceive to be gross subterfuges. That such reasons were ever seriously urged, and seriously received, is only a proof, what a gloss and varnish fashion can give to any opinion.
It appears, therefore, that the miracles of Christ, understood, as we understand them, in their literal and historical sense, were positively and precisely asserted and appealed to by the apologists for Christianity ; which answers the allegation of the objection.
I am ready, however, to admit, that the ancient Christian advocates did not insist upon the miracles in argument,
Orig. cont. Cels. lib. ii. sect. 48. † Lard. Jewish and Heath. Test. vol. ii. p. 294, ed. quarto. # Jerome cont. Vigil. VOL. II.
so frequently as I should have done. It was their lot to contend with notions of magical agency, against which the mere production of the facts was not sufficient for the convincing of their adversaries; I do not know whether they themselves thought it quite decisive of the controversy. But since it is proved, I conceive with certainty, that the sparingness with which they appealed to miracles, was owing neither to their ignorance, nor their doubt of the facts, it is, at any rate, an objection, not to the truth of the history, but to the judgment of its defenders.
Want of universality in the knowledge and reception of
Christianity, and of greater clearness in the evidence. Or a revelation which really came from God, the proof, it has been said, would in all ages be so publick and manifest, that no part of the human species would remain ignorant of it, no understanding could fail of being convinced by it.
The advocates of Christianity do not pretend that the evidence of their religion possesses these qualities. They do not deny that we can conceive it to be within the compass of divine power, to have communicated to the world a higher degree of assurance, and to have given to his communication a stronger and more extensive influence. For any thing we are able to discern, God could have so formed men, as to have perceived the truths of religion intuitively; or to have carried on a communication with the other world, whilst they lived in this ; or to have seen the individuals of the species, instead of dying, pass to heaven by a sensible translation. He could have presented a separate miracle to each man's senses. He could have established a standing miracle. He could have caused miracles to be wrought in every different age and country. These, and many more methods, which we may imagine, if we once give loose to our imaginations, are, so far as we can judge, all practicable.
The question, therefore, is not, whether Christianity possesses the highest possible degree of evidence, but whether the not having more evidence, be a sufficient reason for rejecting that which we have.
Now there appears to be no fairer method of judging, conterning any dispensation which is alleged to come from God, when a question is made whether such a dispensation could come from God or not, than by comparing it with other things which are acknowledged to proceed from the same council, and to be produced by the same agency. If the dispensation in question labour under no defects but what apparently belong to other dispensations, these seeming defects do not justify us, in setting aside the proofs which are offered of its authenticity, if they be otherwise entitled to credit.
Throughout that order then of nature, of which God is the author, what we find is a system of beneficence, we are seldom or ever able to make out a system of optimism. I mean, that there are few cases in which, if we permit ourselves to range in possibilities, we cannot suppose something more perfect, and more unobjectionable, than what we
The rain which descends from heaven, is confessedly amongst the contrivances of the Creator, for the sustentation of the animals and vegetables which subsist upon
the surface of the earth. Yet how partially and irregularly is it supplied ! How much of it falls upon the sea, , where it can be of no use ; how often is it wanted where it would be of the greatest! What tracts of continent are rendered deserts by the scarcity of it! Or, not to speak of extreme cases, how much, sometimes, do inhabited coun
tries suffer by its deficiency or delay !-We could imagine, if to imagine were our business, the matter to be otherwise regulated. We could imagine showers to fall, just where and when they would do good ; always seasonable, every where sufficient; so distributed as not to leave a field upon the face of the globe scorched by drought, or even a plant withering for the lack of moisture. Yet, does the difference between the real case and the imagined case, or the seeming inferiority of the one to the other, authorize us to say, that the present disposition of the atmosphere is not amongst the productions or the designs of the Deity? Does it check the inference which we draw from the confessed beneficence of the provision ? or does it make us cease to admire the contrivance !--The observation, which we have exemplified in the single instance of the rain of heaven, may be repeated concerning most of the phenomena of nature: and the true conclusion to which it leads is this, that to inquire what the Deity might have done, could have done, or, as we even sometimes presume to speak, ought to have done, or, in hypothetical cases, would have done, and to build any propositions upon such inquiries against evidence of facts, is wholly unwarrantable. It is a mode of reasoning which will not do in natural history, which will not do in natural religion, which cannot therefore be applied with safety to revelation. It may have some foundation, in certain speculative a priori ideas of the divine attributes ; but it has none in experience, or in analogy. The general character of the works of nature is, on the one hand, goodness both in design and effect; and, on the other hand, a liability to difficulty, and to objections, if such objections be allowed, by reason of seeming incompleteness or uncertainty in attaining their end. Christianity participates of this character. The true similitude between nature and revelation consists in this ; that they each