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there is a variety also in the extraordinary-that of beings invested with miraculous powers some may have greater or less capacity to perform them, according to the dignity of their character, and the importance of their mission--that some may be empowered to restore diseases, some to foretell future events, some to forgive sins, some to raise the dead, and some to accomplish all these stupendous works. But if the argument from analogy be unsatisfactory, it must be owned, that the acknowledgment of a divine power cuts off all right of determining whether it shall be exerted in few or many instances, in this manner or in that;—the effects by the supposition exceed all human agency, they are explicable only by the interposition of the divine, and of course all ordinary measures of more or less difficult, more or less proper, become inadequate, and, it is to be feared, sometimes fallacious. Thus in the nature of things, if Christ be enabled to work miracles, he might with the same ease literally move a mountain as restore the limbs of a paralytic; if he were an inspired teacher of righteousness, he might with equal propriety forgive sins as reward virtues.
Perhaps the progress of human conceptions may lead to a conclusion the very opposite of that which is usually admitted. If the cause is to be measured by the effect, miracles upon the first superficial view demonstrate less power than the general frame of the universe. Reasoning from our own experience of comparative difficulties, we should conclude the force which suspended the planets, but for the shortest time, as inferior to that which preserved their regu
lar motions through a long succession of ages ;guided only by our own ideas of fitness, we should say it is more probable that a penitent would be pardoned, than that a paralytic should be instantaneously cured. I would not be understood to insinuate, that in either case we judge by an unerring rule, or that in reality it is more proper and more easy for the Deity to do one than the other, because our ideas suggested only by the operations of finite beings, could guide us to such a conclusion ; but I do contend, that the cavils of Jews and infidels are inconsistent with the measure by which they profess to regulate their opinions, and that to our imagination at least there is less difficulty in conceiving a planet arrested in its career for a moment, than moved for a thousand years—in conceiving bodily organs restored to their use than originally created-in conceiving a repentant sinner pardoned than a paralytic cured at a touch, by a word, in an instant.
The result of the arguments here adduced is this --that the miracles in the nature of things are not impossible, and that in many situations to which we are exposed from our infirmities and our vices, they may be eminently useful in recalling the attention of men to violated duties and neglected truths, in checking their rashness, enlightening their ignorance, and rectifying their mistakes. This tendency has been acknowledged by persons whom we cannot suspect of credulity upon the topics of philosophy, or of superstition on those of piety. An ancient writer * affects to retract those tenets whieh denied
an over-ruling providence, when he had heard the sound of thunder on a serene and undisturbed sky; and it was explicitly confessed by a modern infidel,* that he would immediately renounce his system, could he be permitted to see a dead man rise from
The laws of nature, I have maintained, are neither a defensible nor intelligible term, than as it is understood to imply the whole of God's dispensations ; but the distinction between ordinary and extraordinary interpositions is extremely momentous to creatures short-sighted as ourselves, whether we would investigate the natural causes of things, or defend the truth of revelation.
Among persons of inquisitive and cultivated minds, the knowledge of a God must be first obtained by our observation of the ordinary-till this is done, the extraordinary, whether known to us by experience or testimony, can answer no religious purpose; and therefore one of the writers abovementioned did not reason inconsistently, when he ascribed
wonderful as well as familiar event to the agency of blind, unintelligent chance. He had first conceived the fortuitous concourse of atoms capable of producing a world; and, therefore, if any surprising change took place in the external appearances of things, he reasonably imputed the less effect to the same case which effected the greater. But when the being and the attributes of a Deity have been collected from the usual operations of nature, the mind becomes prepared to acknowledge the same power in any deviation from the customary course of things. Christ professed to teach the word of God, and to establish the divinity of his mission, by the miraculous works of God; and it is evident that the existence of a Deity must have been antecedently allowed, and some general notions of his natural and moral governments admitted by those to whom he addressed himself.
Here, then, let us pause, and admire the wisdom of the Divine dispensations, as they were accommodated to the different conditions of mankind. There is great reason to believe that the existence of a Deity was not at first reasoned out by the unaided faculties of men, and even they who now argue from the effects to an intelligent cause, received their first notions of that cause from education, and by laborious reflection have converted a prejudice into a rational conviction. A most subtle and determined advocate for infidelity has not only confessed, but endeavoured to prove, that polytheism would be the most natural religion of men; and, by this very attempt, he has furnished a strong argument for the expediency, and I will add the probability, of a revelation respecting the Divine unity. This probability is farther confirmed by the testimony of sacred history, where we are informed that in the infancy of the world God vouchsafed repeated communications concerning himself, his will, and his works. In the very first ages, revelation was requisite to convey the knowledge of one supreme Governor, and in succeeding generations it
was equally necessary to perpetuate the belief of the same truth. If, indeed, we consider the disadvantageous circumstances of mankind in these earlier times, the grossness of their manners, the fierceness of their passions, the scantiness of their attainments, the little proficiency they made in arts, and their total ignorance of science, we shall, upon general principles, be utterly unable to explain how persons who were so like or so inferior to their fellow-creatures in other respects, should be so unlike and superior to them in the possession of this great and interesting doctrine. In later times, when the reason of men, most vigorously employed upon other subjects, was most wretchedly depraved on those of theology, it has pleased God to close the series of his revelations by the promulgation of a law inculcating such precepts as are highly beneficial to mankind in the most refined state of society, and supported by such evidences as are admirably suited to the genius of the religion itself, and the pretensions of its author. And if we reflect on the condition of the world when that law was published, we shall be at a loss to account for its triumphs over the stubbornness of prejudice and the fury of persecution, unless the supernatural causes assigned for its success had a real and unequivocal operation.
To conclude. Christianity, we may boast, has enabled men to carry the arts of civilization to the summit of excellence; it has enlarged the circle of human knowledge; it has produced those just habits of thinking in religious topics, which have