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fiery Eruption which defeated that Emperor's Attempt to retuild the Temple at Jerusalem* ; thither I refer the learned Reader, who will there meet with all the various evidence of the Fact, abundantly sufficient to support and establish it; together with a full confutation of all the cavils opposed to its certainty and necessity.
To conclude this subject with a recapitulation of what I undertook to prove, namely, that the MIRACLES in the Christian Dispcusation, which exact credit of reasonable mcn, may be all comprised under one or other of these Divisions, viz.
I. Under that SPECIES OF MIRACLES which serves for CREDENTIALS to the Mission of Jesus Christ and his first Disciples and followers.
II. Or under that which makes an essential part in the integrity or completion of the Gospel-System.
III. Or, lastly, under that in which the Deity immediately interposes, to vindicate the credit of his own predictions, when impious Men þave entered into a
to Not that it is my purpose positively to brand, as FALSE, every pretended Miracle recorded in ecclesiastical and civil History, which wants this favourable capacity of being reduced to one or other of the Species explained above. All that I contend for is, that those Miracles, still remaining unsupported by the nature of that Evidence, which I have shewn ought to force conviction from every reasonable Mind, should be at present excluded from the privilege of that conviction.
Indecd the greater part may be safely given up, for idle and knavish tales of monkish invention. Of the rest, which yet stand undiscredited by any considerable marks of Inposture, ire may safely suspend our belief, 'till time hath attorded further lights to direct our judgment.
Nor will the contining our Assent to Niracles, thus broughít within the limits of an apparent SUFFICIENT, CAUSE, be less beneficial to Religion in general
, than it is' subversive of the vain Philosophy in vogue, which attempts to discredit all extraordinary interpositions of Providence whatsoever, as we shall now shew. See Vol. viii. of this Edit.
1. The bringing MIRACLES within these bounds will afford a mark of distinction, never to be effaced, between those of the GOSPEL, and those which PAGANISM and its Advocates object to us. For I may venture to affirm, that, amongst those pretended Miracles in the Pagan World, there cannot be found one that carries along with it any thing that bears the least resemblance to a SUFFICIENT CAUSE. And there is strong reason to believe, that the Deity, without such an occason, would never interfere amongst the Gentiles; because such an interposition would, besides the vanity of it, have a natural and direct tendency to rivet men in their idolatry.
But the principal use of confining MIRACLES within these bounds will be the giving an immediate check to Fraud and SUPERSTITION, when in their full career, to abuse and enslave a foolish World. For that strange infirmity of the human mind, viz. a fondness for the MARVELLOUS (begot by a misconception of nature, and nursed by the pride of self-importance), always made the deluded multitude thankless and averse to those who would bring them to their senses.
-Cui sic extortu voluptas. And if Men be so fond of the Marvellous for the mere pleasure of the ADMIRATION which it creates, what must be their zeal to propagate those strange things, in which Religion is supposed to be concerned ? Every disorderly passion now conspires to blot and deform the fair face of Nature, with Prodigies and Portents.
Such frightful Visions, even the earliest Ages of Christianity raised up. The Prodigies of ANTICHRIST (says the Apostle) have been after the working of Satan, with Powers and Signs and LYING WONDERS*.
This, it is true, should make THEOLOGIANS cautious; but it should not make our PHILOSOPHERS presumptuous or vain. For even these Intimados of Nature know no more of Her than what lies just before them, in common with those whom they inost affect to despise: And all they know, if not a MIRACLE, is yet a MYSTERY.
Let these her Closet-acquaintance-steal, as they are able, to her inmost recesses, they can bring nothing from 2 Thess. ii. 9.
thepce concerning God's natural and moral Government, as the Poet finely expresses it,
BUT. UNDECIPHERED CHARACTERS, which only teach us the need we have of a better Decipherer, than that Reason on which these inen so proudly rely.
CHAP. VI. BŪT now, besides these extraordinary Gifts, properly called MIRACLES, with which the first Preachers of the Gospel were intrusted, for its more speedy propagation, they were endowed with another, and more complicated kind of supernatural Power, namely, ProPHECY, in which a: MIRACULOUS power was eminently included.
With PROPHECY, or with that simpler species of divine Virtue, MIBACLES, was the Church of Christ at that thne supplied; as one or the other was best suited to the various uses of Religion.
In explaining this matter, which the importance of the subject requires us to do more at large, it will be necessary just to repeat what has been observed before; that in the first propagation of a new Religion from Heaven, the Will of God must be attested by MIRACLES; since nothing less than this instant Evidence is suficient to assure us of its divine original.
But when this hath been fully and largely afforded, the power of Miracles (where Miracles do not make a constant and essential part in the nature of the Dispensation, as they did in the Jewish) is with good reason withdrawn from the Servants and Ministers of Religion: And the CHURCH is from thenceforth left, at least for some time, to support itself on the TRADITIONAL. EXEMPLIFICATion of this evidence; something less forcible than the ORIGINAL RECORD, of which the first and better ages of Christianity had been in possession.
But by the time this MIRACULOUS power began to fail, another was preparing to supply its place, of still greater efficacy; I mean, that of PROPHECY.
For the sovereign Master, who no less manifests his constant PRESENCE to the moral than to the physical
government of the World, has been graciously pleased to give to the later ages of the Church more than an equivalent for what he had bestowed upon the earlier, in beginning to shower down on his chosen servants of the NEW COVENANT the riches of PROPHECY as the
power of working MIRACLES abated. So early, I
So early, I say, was this preparation made for that stronger and more lasting support; a support not yet, indeed, improved into Evidence ; nor was the Evidence wanted, while Miracles, in a sort, remained. Besides, it could not, in the nature of things, become Evidence, till soine time after its first enunciation: for till the more considerable events of a PROPHECY, which contained the future and later fortunes of the Gospel, had arisen, and been brought, by degrees, into EXISTENCE, the Prophecy could afford no conviction of its truth.
Yet, in this wonderful disposition of things, we see the divine Hand by which they were conducted.
To proceed. PROPIECIES were now more clearly and simply, now more obscurely and enigmatically enounced, just as the nature of the subject or the cir-, cumstances of the time required.—Yet still we haye ventured to call PROPHECY a stronger and more lasting Evidence than MIRACLES. And this will deserve our attention!' The evidence from MIRACLES seems, by its natore, to lessen somewhat by time; while that from ProPHECY gathers strength by it, and grows more and more convictive, till the gradual and full completion of all its parts makes the splendour of it irresistible.
Hence the wisdom of the divine Disposer is still further seen, in making PROPHECY, not only the strongest, but the Last and CONCLUDING Evidence of a Religion, which, as it was the completion of the whole scheme of REVÉLATION, so having (as it would seem) the largest portion of its course yet to run, that species of Evidence which does not lose, but gain strength, by time, was best
, fitted to accompany it to its utmost period.
But to go on with our more general reflections on the whole.
This DOUBLE EVIDENCE, in support of Revealed Religion, hath always been the same throughout every
mode of God's moral Dispensations. The records of sacred History confirm this Truth.
Under the Jewish economy, although Miracles, by reason of the peculiar form of the Republic, were necessarily attendant on its administration, throughout a course of many ages (that is, during all the time in which the affairs of this people were conducted by an extraordinary Providence), yet God's inspired Servants, were, together with the power of working MIRACLES, endowed with the gift of PROPHECY. For, although the extraordinary Providence, and consequently MIRACLES, which made a part of it, continued much longer than would have been necessary, had MIRACLES, amongst the Jews been of no other use than they were in the Christian Church, viz. to
vidence the divinity of the Revelation; yet as that Providence, and consequently this miraculous attendant on it, were to cease long before the abolition of the TheoCRACY; the other evidence of PROPHECY, in the absence of MIRACLES, was graciously bestowed on the Jewish Church likewise.
Hence the inspired Ministers of it, Daniel in particular, foretold more circumstantially and minutely than the rest, the various fortunes of that Church and Republic, from its decay, in their own times, to the entire dissoJution of it by the introduction of a better system.
In the like manner St. Join, under the New CoveNANT, did, by the same divine Spirit, predict the fortuyes. of the Christian Church, from the flourishing condition of it, in his own time, through all the disasters of the corrupt ages that followed, to the happy consummatiou of all things.
In both cases, for the reasons above given, PROPHECY could not be urged as instant evidence, at the time it was delivered, but was kept entire and reserved for the use of those ages when MIRACLES having long ceased in the Christian Church, and were declining in the Jewish, seemed to necd this other and further support.
From all these, and from many other considerations to be further urged, it will appear, that, of this double Eviz dence to the truth of Revelation, viz. MIRACLES and PROPIECY, the latter, as we lave said, is of superior force and cfficacy.