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like, nor have been ever able, or can be supposed to be able so to imitate them, but that upon carefully examining and comparing them, we may easily see a vast difference. If, therefore, a man's giving orders under his own hand and seal be allowed to be a sufficient notification of his will and pleasure, and maketh it reasonable for his children and servants to obey those orders, though it is not impossible they may be counterfeited; then the command of God coming to us, confirmed with the attestation of miracles of such a nature as no imposture was ever attended with (and such I have shown were the miracles wrought at the establishment of the Jewish and Christian dispensation) is a sufficient ground for our yielding obedience to such commands. And our not apprehending the things required to be in themselves antecedently necessary in their own nature, cannot be a sufficient reason for our rejecting them; because, upon this supposition, they come to us upon the authority or testimony of God himself, who by the author's own concession hath a right of commanding us in things of a positive nature.
It ought to be observed, that at the same time that this writer doth all he can to show that miracles can be no proof at all of any doctrine or revelation at all as coming from God, he would not be thought to insinuate that miracles are of no use, and can serve to no purpose at all in religion. He saith that miracles, especially if
“ wrought for the good of mankind, and with a visible regard for their interest and happiness, are perhaps the most effectual means of removing prejudices and procuring attention to what is delivered,' pp. 98, 99. But I do not see how this can be made to consist upon his scheme. If it be supposed that miracles can in any case be so circumstanced as to yield a sufficient attestation to the divine mission of the person who is enabled to work these miracles, and to the truth and divinity of the doctrines and precepts that are confirmed by these miracles; then when I see a person performing such extraordinary works, above all the power of man, this will naturally command and engage my attention to what he delivers. But if it be supposed that they can never be of such a nature and so circumstanced as to give any attestation to the divine mission of any person, or to the truth and divine original of any doctrine, I can see no reason why I should attend to a doctrine more for being accompanied with miracles, than if it were not so, or why I should concern myself about miracles at all; because, if ever so true or good, they can give no attestation, and furnish no proof; or, as this writer expresseth it, 'can prove nothing at all, and ought to have no weight or influence with any body.'
All the use he is pleased to assign for the miracles wrought by Christ and his apostles is, that they tended to convince the people that they were no enemies to God, and to their country, and disposed them coolly and soberly to consider the nature and tendency of the doctrines they had to propose to them ;' but that they were not designed for a proof of the truth or divinity of those doctrines, see p. 98. But does not our Saviour himself frequently and plainly appeal to the wonderful works he wrought as the proper evidences of his divine mission, and as bearing witness to him and to his doctrine? Does not he often expressly put the proof upon this, and suppose it to be a proof so strong as would leave the Jews utterly inexcusable if they did not believe him? And the effect these miracles properly had upon those that attended to them is well expressed by Nicodemus, We know that thou art a teacher sent from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him,' John iii. 2. Nor had the Pharisees any other way of avoiding the force of this, than by saying that he did his miracles by the assistance of the devil : a blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, (which our Saviour pronounces never to be forgiven, as being the most obstinate and malicious opposition to divine truth, and a resisting the utmost evidence. This may
be sufficient to show what assurance those who themselves were witnesses to such a series of miraculous attestations might have of that doctrine or, law coming from God, which they beheld thus attested and confirmed. But there is another thing that deserves to be considered, and that is, what reasonable ground of assurance they may also have of a doctrine or law coming from God, who did not themselves see those miracles whereby it was attested and confirmed, or did not live in the age when those miracles were wrought. Can it be reasonable for such to receive doctrines and laws as of divine authority, upon the evidence of miracles which they themselves were not eye witnesses of ? In answer to this, I think it cannot be reasonably denied, that
supposing miracles may be so circumstanced as to be in themselves a sufficient proof to those that saw them, then they are also a sufficient proof to others, in proportion to the assurance they have that those miracles were really done. So that the question is reduced to this: whether there may be such evidence given of miracles done in former ages as make it reasonable for those that live in succeeding ages to believe, and be persuaded that those miracles were wrought? For if so, then, supposing miracles to be a proof, they are obliged to believe that the doctrines and laws which were attested by these miracles came originally by revelation from God, and are to be received as of divine authority. Now this depends upon another question, and that is, whether in any case we can have sufficient assurance of facts which we ourselves did not see, or which were done in former ages ? It is not sufficient to prove things uncertain, and not to be depended upon, to say that we have them by human tradition and testimony, that is, by the testimony of men that are neither infallible nor impeccable. For human tradition and testimony may be so circumstanced as to yield sufficient assurance that those facts were done in past ages, or such laws enacted : and therefore the man that should doubt of them, and give no other reason for his doubting, or rejecting them but this, that they came from human tradition and testimony, would only render himself ridiculous.
This author, to show the insufficiency of tradition for conveying
doctrines and laws of religion, is pleased to compare it to a parent or master's writing ‘ to another person, and he to a third, and the third to a fourth, and so on to the hundreth or thousandth hand, which orders were at last come to his family, about something of near interest and concern between him and them. In this case it is said that children and servants would not be justly blamed if they should 'suspend their obedience till they heard from him in a more direct and unexceptionable way,' pp. 88, 89. But this instance doth not at all come up to the point. The case should be put thus, supposing laws to have been enacted in former ages, and those laws committed to writing, the question is, whether those laws may not be transmitted to posterity with such evidence, that we may
have assurance sufficient to convince any reasonable person that those laws were really enacted, and that these are the very laws? And whether it would be esteemed a good reason, or accepted as a proper excuse for doubting of the authority of those laws, or refusing obedience to them, that we ourselves did not live in the age when those laws were made; and that they are transmitted to us through the hands of persons capable of an intention to deceive us, or of being themselves deceived. Again, supposing facts to have been done in former ages of considerable importance, and those facts recorded at the time in which they were done, the question is, whether they may not be transmitted to us in authentic records, with such evidence that it would be perfectly unreasonable to doubt of them; and whether it would diminish the credit of them, that the writings which contain an account of those facts have been spread through many hands, often transcribed, dispersed among different nations, and translated into various languages? One would think, by our author's manner of representing it, that he intended to insinuate that this would render the accounts uncertain; whereas there being many copies of them is a much greater security than if there were but a few extant.
It cannot be denied, that laws had originally from Revelation, are as capable of being transmitted to posterity as any other laws; and miraculous facts, done in attestation of those laws, may be of such a nature, and so circumstanced, as to be capable of being transmitted to succeeding ages as well as any other facts. If, therefore, it be allowed that any laws or facts may be so transmitted, that those who live in after ages may have a reasonable assurance, sufficient to convince them that these are the
laws which were enacted, and that these facts were really done; then it must also be allowed that the laws which came originally by Revelation, and the facts whereby those laws were attested and confirmed, may be transmitted to us in such a manner, and with such a degree of evidence, that we cannot reasonably doubt of their being the very laws which were originally published by revelation from God, and that those miraculous facts were really wrought. If we refuse to receive those laws or believe those facts, because we ourselves did not see them, or live in the age when the laws were first given, and the facts were done, though they come to us transmitted with such
other case ;
evidence as we ourselves would count sufficient in
any this is certainly a most unreasonable conduct, and will hardly be justified to the great Governor of the world. To insist upon it, that those laws should be again promulgated in the manner in which they were published at first, and that the extraordinary miraculous facts wrought in attestation of them, should be done over again in every age, and in every nation, for the satisfaction of every single person (for one man in one age and one country hath as much right to expect and demand it in another) would be a most absurd demand ; it would be unbecoming the divine wisdom to grant them; and indeed, such extraordinary attestations, by being continually repeated, would cease to be extraordinary, and be regarded no more than common things, and so would lose their force. It is enough that they are transmitted to us in such a manner, and with such evidence that it would be perfectly unreasonable to doubt whether these are the very laws that were originally given as from God, and whether these facts were really done. And it might easily be proved, and hath been often shown, that the Scripture laws and doctrines, and the facts whereby they were attested and confirmed, are transmitted to us with an evidence that scarce any other laws, or any other facts done in former ages were ever attended with.*
Our author himself does not deny, that ' a matter of revelation is as capable of being conveyed down to posterity as any other matter of fact, of what nature or kind soever, and that either this must be allowed, or we must reject all historical evidence of every other kind. And then he saith, that he must still insist upon it, that 'no reason or proof can be given of any revelation as coming from God, but the moral fitness and reasonableness of the thing itself, in its own nature, antecedent to, and abstracted from, any such tradition or human testimony; and consequently, that tradition or human testimony is here brought in, to no manner of purpose and without effect,' p. 85. This writer often puts me in mind of what he is pleased to say, concerning the common run of onr enthusiastic pulpiteers, whose manner,' he tells us, it ‘is always first to beg the main point in question, and then triumph upon it as a thing proved,' p. 88. This is the manner of our author, who repeats it on all occasions that moral truth and fitness is the only evidence or proof of any doctrine or law as coming from God; and without offering any argument to prove it, but only supposing it, makes use of this all along as a demonstration that miracles can be no proof or evidence of the divine original of any doctrine or law. And if you will but grant him that the other is the only proof, then he will easily show that this is not a proof. But since it hath been shown that miracles may be of such a nature as to yield a sufficient proof of the divine original and authority of doctrines and laws attested and confirmed by those miracles; then if
See to this purpose, Answer to Christianity as old as the Creation, Part II. chap. iv. v. vi.
human tradition and testimony may give us a reasonable and sufficient assurance that those miracles were really wrought, it is evident that it is here brought in to very good purpose.
And that human tradition may be so circumstanced as to give sufficient assurance that these miracles were really wrought, is as true as that human tradition can give us a sufficient assurance of any past facts; nor can this be reasonably denied, except upon this principle, that no past facts can be transmitted to us with sufficient evidence for a reasonable man to depend upon. A thing which the enemies of Revelation have not yet ventured to assert.
All the use he is pleased to allow to tradition or human testimony in matters of religion is this, • That we may be probably assured from tradition and human testimony what our fore-fathers believed about God and religion, and what reasons they assigned for it; but whether they ought to have believed as they did, or whether their reasons will hold good or not, is another question, concerning which tradition or human testimony can never inform us,' p. 85. Let us, therefore, proceed upon his own state of the case. I am not to believe any religion to be true and divine, merely because my ancestors believed it; but if I know what the grounds were upon which they believed it, and am satisfied that the grounds were just, then I am obliged to believe it upon those grounds as well as they were. And supposing the grounds upon which it was first received and submitted to as of divine authority, were, besides the good tendency of its doctrines and laws, the illustrious miraculous attestations whereby it was confirmed, tradition may give me a sufficient assurance to satisfy any reasonable mind of the truth of those extraordinary miraculous facts, or that those facts were really done. And this is all that tradition or human testimony is properly brought for. For whether those facts were a sufficient proof of the divine authority of the revelation attested and confirmed by them, must be he judged not by tradition but by our own reason, upon considering the nature and circumstances of those facts and attestations. And if our own reason convinceth us that those facts, supposing them true, were proper and sufficient attestations to the divine original of that revelation, and if also we have all the proof that can be reasonably desired that the facts are true, then we are obliged to receive that revelation as coming from God, and as of divine authority. And indeed the proof of those facts is so strong, they are transmitted to us with such convincing evidence, that I am persuaded few resist the argument taken from the facts in favour of Christianity, but who would have been among the unbelieving, had they lived in the very age in which those facts were done. For the true reason of their not believing, is not that there is not sufficient proof of those facts to convince and satisfy a reasonable mind, and such as is esteemed sufficient in any other case; but it is owing to certain prejudices and dispositions of mind, which probably would have hindered their submitting to the evidence brought for the Christian Revelation, had they themselves been eye-witnesses to the facts. And we may well reckon our author one of this make