Imatges de pÓgina
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course of nature; and consequently who can, if he pleases, alter or suspend those laws, and change the course of nature. If he means that miracles are impossible to the conceptions of men, it is granted ; that is, it is granted that men do not conceive how they are wrought; they do not conceive how or in 'what manner a dead body is raised to life, nor how or in what manner a word only should give a blind man sight. In this sense the Considerer's proposition may be true, but then it is nothing to his purpose. Miracles are inconceivable; yes, and so are many things that happen every day, which we do not reckon miraculous. It is inconceivable how matter acts on matter, either in gravitation, attraction, magnetism, or in any other well known operation; but we do not therefore give the lie to our senses, and say it does not act because we cannot conceive how it acts. So that if the Considerer means that miracles are impossible to the reason of men, it is evidently false ; if he means that they are impossible to the conceptions of

be true, but is quite beside his purpose. But let us see how this point is argued in the next page. Perhaps we shall meet with a better reason there. 6. To believe it possible, (that is, for a dead body to rise again,) contradicts this maxim, “that nature is steady and uniform in her operations.?” Nature, or the laws of nature, would doubtless, when not controlled by the author of nature, operate steadily and uniformly. A lion would produce a lion, an acorn an oak : matter would continue to gravitate, human beings to die, and dead bodies to mix with the earth, and not come to life again. What does the maxim prove then? Only that a dead body cannot come to life again in the natural way. Nobody disputes this with the Considerer. The question is, whether it may not be done in a supernatural way; whether the great Author of nature, whenever he thinks it convenient, cannot supersede or suspend the general laws of nature. Will the Considerer deny this? If he believes a God and a providence, as he professes to do, he cannot. Well; but it contradicts the aforesaid maxim, because “one miracle or action done contrary to her (that is, nature's) laws, contradicts all her regular springs and movements, and all that mankind calls truth and reason." How does such an action contradict all nature's uniform move



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ments? Does it imply that her movements are not uniform when uncontrolled ? Nothing like it. Does it imply that they are not uniform in that particular instance ? that is, that her movements in that instance are contrary to the general course of nature ? Most certainly it does, for it is of the essence of a miracle to be contrary to the general course of nature. What then? This proves nothing; it is only giving the thing in dispute as a reason against itself. But let us hear the other part of the reason : “ a miracle contradicts all that mankind calls truth and reason.” How does this appear

? Why, you must take the Considerer's word for it. But does he not know that it is the very thing in question? The inquiry is, whether miracles are contrary to reason. The Considerer undertakes to prove that they are ; and how does he prove Why thus : “ miracles are contrary to reason,

because they contradict this maxim, that nature is steady and uniform in her operations." And how do they contradict this maxim ? Why, because “they contradict what mankind calls truth and reason." Is not this saying that miracles are contrary to reason,

because they are contrary to reason ?

“ A miracle,” the Considerer says, " contradicts all that mankind calls truth and reason.” Let us try it in a particular instance. We read in the gospel that our Saviour walked on the water. What truth or what reason does this contradict? It is a well known truth that all bodies gravitate, and it is another that human bodies will sink in fluids. Does it contradict either or both these truths ? Surely not. All bodies continue to gravitate, and human bodies to sink in fluids, as they did before;

and Christ's own body followed the same law of gravitation, that particular case only excepted. All that this fact supposes is, that there is a power in nature that can suspend the laws of gravity, or change fluids into solids. If this is contradicting truth, let the Considerer show it.

It is an unwelcome and an unprofitable task to deal with an author who gives words only for arguments. By the specimen I have given of this author's reasoning on the natural possibility of miracles, the reader, I believe, will find this to be the case here. He goes on to show that they are impossible in a moral view, that, supposing God to have power over his own works, or, as he expresses it, “ that he can do things contrary to nature, there is no reason that he ever did or will do it.” It is, he thinks, contrary to the perfection of his nature, to his unchangeableness, his wisdom, his justice, and his goodness. Let us see how he proves it.

“ Those,” says he," who found religion on extraordinary pretensions, say that nature, which is the offspring of God, is degenerate and deficient." It is not easy to deal with an author who uses terms so equivocally, that one can come at his meaning only by guess. It is difficult to say what we are to understand by nature. If by nature the Considerer means, what he seems most commonly to understand by it, the constitution of the material world, the proposition is evidently false : extraordinary pretensions do not imply that nature in this sense is deficient, nor indeed do they imply any thing with regard to nature; for what connexion is there between the extraordinary pretensions of the Christian religion, and the perfection of the material world ? When our Lord, for instance, by a word caused the fig-tree to wither, did it suppose any deficiency in the constitution of vegetables? No more than if the tree had been felled by an axe. Whatever the constitution of vegetables, or whatever the constitution of the material world be, such actions declare nothing either as to their perfection or imperfection; they only declare that the God of nature has authority over his own workmanship.

But perhaps by nature the Considerer means human nature, or the moral nature of man. Let us try the proposition in this

“ Those who found religion on extraordinary pretensions, say that human nature, which is the offspring of God, is deficient.” Man is subject to error and corruption; and in this sense human nature may well be said to be deficient, whether God interposes or not. Whether religion be founded on extraordinary pretensions or not, human nature is still deficient; if this be an objection under revealed religion, it is an objection under natural religion too. When a youth is taught to read and to write ; when he is instructed in religion and the sciences; does it not imply that human nature wants help, and is in itself deficient? And what does it imply more when God vouchsafes to help and assist it? It is very improper, it is false



say the offspring of God or the work of God is deficient; but it is not improper to say that man is imperfect. or deficient. The truth is, the sense of the word deficient is different in one case from what it is in the other. God's works are said to be perfect in this particular view, that they are adapted to the end for which they were designed; and yet man or any other created being is imperfect or deficient, when compared with a greater being, and especially when compared with the greatest of all beings.

The Considerer has another argument, which bears a near resemblance to this, and is as follows: “the whole production of God's wisdom, goodness, and power must be a perfect work; therefore cannot be better. If God be a perfect being, his works are perfect, and cannot be mended." The Considerer talks sometimes of Providence; I should be glad to know what is his notion of Providence. He seems to suppose that God formed the universe as a vast machine, with the several orders of beings in it, and then, · like the Epicurean deities, left it to shift for itself, without concerning himself at all about it. If there be such a thing as Providence, which the Considerer himself confesses, if God ever interposes in his own creation, it must be to mend something, though not to mend his own original work. It is not proper to say that God's work is mended by revelation, as the Considerer supposes,


any other sense than it is mended by a good schoolmaster, or an able professor of the sciences. Revelation indeed mends or improves men; that is, it furnishes them with greater and better lights than mere reason could ; but it alters not the nature and constitution of men, it affects not the original workmanship of God.

But farther : the material world is (like all machines of human contrivance) governed by necessary laws, and the constitution of it cannot be altered by any power within itself. But it is not so in the moral world. Man was originally endued with properties of a different kind from those of matter. He has a power over his own actions, a power of improving or depraving his moral nature. One man makes the

proper improvement of the powers which nature gave him, another abuses him. One nation or one age makes high advances in know

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lege and virtue, another is sunk in ignorance and corruption. If such énormities are the natural consequences of the original constitution of man, what reason is there to exclude Providence from regulating and correcting them? If the system of man is to be considered under the notion of one great machine, it must be considered as a machine that has a power within itself of putting itself out of order; and if it should be out of order, as from the nature of its several springs and wheels it may

well be supposed to be, where is the impropriety of the great Artificer interposing and correcting it? If man has a power of choosing good or evil, he may choose the latter ; if he has faculties for discovering truth, he may notwithstanding neglect it, he may overlook or mistake it: it is easy to see what room here is for error and corruption. So that, however perfect the original


may in time, from the nature of the thing, want mending

“ Natural powers,” the Considerer says, are fit to answer all the ends of religion, therefore supernatural powers are needless.” What he means by answering the ends of religion he tells you

in what follows; “ to teach the most excellent morals, with a reasonable belief of one God and providence.” [ shall not dispute with the Considerer how far some men may advance on the strength of mere reason : some have no doubt gone great lengths; but man, the Considerer knows, is not infallible. He may embrace error under the notion of truth, and teach it as such; and the corruption may spread and become general. What is to be done in this case ? The Considerer seems to think that a man of honesty and understanding would be well able to cure his disorder without supernatural endowments. I am not of his opinion ; inveterate error is not to be expelled so easily; human reason and human authority, especially when it comes to be general, do not seem to be a match for it. If we may reason from fact, there is nothing more sure than this. There were no doubt some men of honesty and understanding in the heathen world; but what progress did they make in reforming it? How far did they advance in removing that universal corruption with which it was overrun ? Take a view of paganism from the time of Socrates to the time of Christ, the most enlightened period of antiquity, and see what


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