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OF THE MIRACLES WROUGHT IN CONFIRMATION OF CHRISTIANITY.
God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.—Heb. ii. 4.
WHOEVER impartially considers the Christian religion, cannot but acknowledge the laws and precepts of it to be so reasonable; and the practice of them so evidently to tend not only to the happiness of particular persons, but to the peace and welfare of the world; and the promises and threatenings of the gospel, which are the great motives to persuade men to the obedience of those laws, to be so agreeable to the natural hopes and fears which mankind were always possessed withal; that upon this consideration, it might justly be expected, that the doctrine of Christianity, upon the first publication of it, should have been entertained with a readiness of mind proportionable to the reasonableness of it.
Or if the bare reasonableness of it be not thought inducement enough, we may easily imagine, how God, if he had pleased, could, upon the first appearance of this religion in the world, have given it such advantages, as would mightily have contributed to the more easy reception and entertainment of it. He could have ordered things so, that our blessed Saviour, the author of this doctrine, should have been, as the Jews expected, a great temporal monarch; 348he could have raised him to that dignity, and have armed him with that authority, as must have given him a mighty power and influence over mankind, and would have gained the great, and the wise, and the learned, to have been active instruments in the propagating of this religion, and in persuading men to the embracing of it.
But he, “whose ways are above our ways, and whose thoughts are above our thoughts, as the heavens are above the earth,” did not think fit to have it promoted and carried on this way; nay, he seems on purpose to have stripped it of all secular advantages, that it might be perfectly free from all suspicion of a worldly interest and design, and that it might be evident to all the world, that it was “a plant which his own right hand had planted;” and that it did not owe its establishment to the authority, and wisdom, and contrivance of men, but to the power of God, and to the immediate favour and contrivance of Heaven.
And now, being thus destitute of all worldly assistance, though never so reasonable in itself, it was not likely that it should be able with success to grapple with the lusts and corruptions of men, to which it was so directly opposite; nor with the strong prejudices of their education in a contrary religion, which are always hard to be overcome; nor with the temporal interests of men, which were all at that time to be renounced and quitted for its sake; unless it had some other advantages to make way for it, and to recommend it to the minds of men. For, having no secular baits and allurements to tempt men to the profession of it; no earthly contrivance and assistance to support it and bear it out, but, on the contrary, the most violent and powerful opposition 349raised against it; it was necessary that those who offered it to the world, should be able to give credit to it some other way, and to produce very sensible and convincing arguments of another kind: other wise they might have despaired of ever conquering the prejudices of men against it, and of persuading them to embrace that religion, which was so apparently contrary both to their inclinations and interests.
So that in these circumstances, in order to the full conviction of men, that those who published this doctrine to them came from God, and were commissioned and sent by him to teach the world, it was very fitting, that God himself should give some remarkable testimony to the first preachers of it; and this the text tells us he did, by “bearing witness to them, with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost.”
For the better understanding of these words, we shall do well to reflect upon the design of this Epistle, which was to establish the Jews, who had but newly embraced Christianity, in the steadfast belief and profession of it, notwithstanding the troubles and persecutions which attended it; and to this end the apostle represents to them that the gospel was delivered with more authority, and had a greater confirmation given to it, than the law. The law was delivered by angels; but the gospel by the Son of God: and if the contempt of the law was so severely punished, what might they expect would be the fate of those who should slight and reject the gospel? “If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, which at first began 350to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his Own will?” Συνεπιμαρτυροῦντος τοῦ θεοῦ, “God adjoining this farther testimony of signs and wonders.” The apostles testified what they had heard from our Lord; and to give credit and confirmation to their testimony, God was pleased to endow them with miraculous gifts; “he bare them witness with signs, and wonders, and miracles.” So likewise Acts xiv. 3. it is said, that “God gave testimony to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by the apostles.” Sometimes there are more words put together, to express the giving of this miraculous power: (Acts ii. 22.) “Jesus of Nazareth, approved of God by miracles, and wonders, and signs.” (2 Cor. xii. 12.) St. Paul speaking of himself says, “The signs of an apostle were wrought among you, in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and miracles.” These were the marks of an extraordinary and immediate commission, such as was that of the apostles.
It is to no purpose nicely to inquire into the difference of these words, σημεῖα τέρατα δυνάμεις; “signs, wonders, and miracles,” because in all probability there is no difference intended, it being the manner of the Hebrews, when they would express a great thing, or a great degree of any thing, to heap several words together, signifying the same thing. So we find, (Deut. vi. 5.) “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might;” that is, greatly, with a very ardent and intense degree of affection. So likewise in the text, God is said to “bear witness to the 351apostles, with signs, and wonders, and miracles;” that is, in a very eminent and extraordinary manner, by great and wonderful miracles.
From these words three things offer themselves to our consideration.
First, That miracles are a Divine testimony given to a person or doctrine; “God bearing them testimony, by signs, and wonders, and miracles.”
Secondly, That God gave this testimony to the apostles and first preachers of Christianity, in a very eminent manner: for so the phrase signifies, so many words being multiplied to express the greatness of the thing.
Thirdly, We will consider the reason why miracles are now ceased in the church, and have been for several ages, so that there have been no foot steps of them for a long time.
First, That miracles are a Divine testimony given to a person or doctrine. God is here said “to bear witness to the apostles, with signs, and wonders, and divers miracles;” that is, the miracles which God enabled them to work, were an evidence that their doctrine was from God.
And because there is some difficulty in this argument, therefore, that we may the more distinctly understand of what force this argument or testimony of miracles is, to prove the divinity of any person or doctrine, it will be requisite clearly to state these two things:
I. What a miracle is.
II. In what circumstances, and with what limitations, miracles are a sufficient testimony to the truth and divinity of any doctrine. The clearing of these two things shall be my work at this time.
I. What a miracle is. The shortest and plainest 352description I can give of it, is this: that it is a supernatural effect, evident and wonderful to sense. So that there are two things necessary to a miracle.
1. That it be a supernatural effect.
2. That it be evident and wonderful to sense.
1. That it be a supernatural effect. By a supernatural effect, I mean such an effect, as either in itself, and in its own nature, or in the manner and circumstances of it, exceeds any natural power that we know of to produce it. For there are some things that are miraculous in themselves; others that are only miraculous in the manner and circumstances of their operation. For instance: the resurrection of one from the dead, is a thing which in itself is supernatural, and an effect above any power that we know of in nature to produce; but the healing of several diseases, and the speaking of languages, are not things which are in themselves and in their nature supernatural: for we see that they may be acquired by natural skill and industry: but to heal all sorts of diseases, in an instant, and by a word, and without the application of natural means; and on a sudden to speak languages which a man never learned; these are things which, though they be not in their nature, yet in such circumstances as these, they are supernatural.
I say, that a supernatural effect, is that which is above any natural power that we know of to produce; by which I do not mean, that miracles are always an immediate effect of the Divine power, and consequently that God alone can work them. For angels, good or bad, may do such things as exceed any natural power known to us, and such as we cannot distinguish by any certain marks and characters from those effects which are wrought by 353the immediate power of God; and if we cannot distinguish them they are equally miracles to us. When the angel slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians in one night, this ought in all reason to be reckoned a miracle; and yet this, though done by the command of God, an angel might do by his own power and strength; for “they excel in strength:” but what limitations to set to their power, we cannot tell, only it is finite; so that excepting those things, which the Scripture hath peculiarly appropriated to God, we cannot say what it is that an angel cannot do.
The same may be said concerning evil angels, The devil may work wonders, or assist his instruments to work them. So Pharaoh’s magicians wrought several miracles by the power of the devil, and did some of the very same things that Moses and Aaron did, either really or in appearance, and it is all one whether. For he who to men’s senses turns a rod into a serpent, works as great a miracle to me, as he who really does it; and if I am not to believe a thing to be a miracle, when to my senses it appears to be wrought, I am never to believe any, unless I could make some difference between those miracles which are real, and those that only appear to be wrought; for if we know not how to distinguish them, they are to us all one as if they were real: but if they may be distinguished, then there will be need of another miracle, to shew which are real and which not: and the same question and doubt will arise about that miracle, and so without end.
So that I do not see what is gained by saying, that Pharaoh’s magicians did only delude men’s senses, but did not turn their rods really into serpents, 354as Aaron did his; because this may be said on one side, as well as on the other: for to the standers-by there was no difference, but the one seemed to the senses of the beholders to be as real as the other; and the text makes no difference, but says, “the magicians did in like manner; for they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents, “only Aaron’s had this advantage, that “his rod swallowed up their rods:” but the main difference was here, Moses and Aaron wrought such miracles, as the magicians could not work, neither really, nor in appearance: for when Aaron by smiting the dust with his rod, had turned it into lice, it is said that the magicians attempted to do so with their enchantments, but could not, and then they yielded and acknowledged that it was “the finger of God.” And if they had not been thus plainly overcome, but could to all appearance of sense, have done all those things which Moses and Aaron did, it might justly have been disputed which had been the true prophets.
So that the devil and his instruments may work miracles. Moses plainly supposeth that a false prophet, who comes to seduce the people to idolatry, may work a true sign or wonder. (Deut. xiii. 1, 2.) “If there arise among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder; and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods.” And our blessed Saviour expressly foretells, (Matt. xxiv.) that false Christs and false prophets shall arise after his death, and shew great signs and wonders.
From all which it is evident, that it is not of the essence of a miracle (as many have thought), that it 355be an immediate effect of the Divine power. It is sufficient, that it exceed any natural power that we know of to produce it. And if such effects be not to be esteemed miracles, a miracle would signify nothing; because no man could know when it is wrought, nor distinguish it from those effects which appear to be miraculous, but are not. This is the first property or condition of a miracle, that it be supernatural; that is, such an effect as exceeds any natural power that we know of to produce it. But then,
2. There is another condition also required to a miracle, that it be an effect evident and wonderful to sense: for if we do not see it, it is to us as if it were not, and can be no testimony or proof of any thing, because itself stands in need of an other miracle to give testimony to it, and to prove that it was wrought; and neither in Scripture, nor profane authors, nor in common use of speech, is any thing called a miracle, but what falls under the notice of our senses; a miracle being nothing else but a thing wonderful to sense; and the very end and design of it is to be a sensible proof and conviction to us of something which we do not see.
And for want of this condition, transubstantiation, if it were true, would be no miracle; it would indeed be very supernatural; but for all that, it would not be a sign or wonder; for a sign or wonder is always a sensible thing, something that is wonderful and astonishing to sense, otherwise it is no sign or wonder. That such a change us is pretended in transubstantiation should really be wrought, and yet there should be no sign and appearance of it, is a thing very wonderful; but not to sense: for our senses perceive no change; the 356bread and wine to all our senses remaining just as they were before. Now that a thing should remain to all appearance just as it was, hath nothing at all of wonder in it. We wonder indeed when we see a strange thing done: but no man wonders when he sees nothing done.
So that to speak the truth, transubstantiation, if they will have it a miracle, is such a miracle as any man may work that hath but confidence to face men down that he works it, and the fortune to be believed. And however they of the church of Home are wont to magnify their priests, chiefly upon the account of this miracle, which they say they can work every day, and every hour if they please; yet I cannot understand, how it magnifies them so much; for when this great work (as they call it) is done, there is nothing more appears to be done, than if there were no miracle. Now such a miracle as to all appearance is no miracle, I see no reason why a protestant minister may not work as often as he pleaseth, as well as they: or if he can but have the patience to let it alone, it will work itself: for certainly nothing in the world is easier than to let a thing be as it is, and by speaking a few words over it, to make it just what it was be fore. In short, a miracle is a wonder to sense, and where a man sees nothing that is strange done, there is no miracle; for if he will call it a miracle, when things remain just as they were, and no sensible change is made in them, every man may every day work a thousand such miracles. I come now, in the
II, Second place, to consider in what circumstances, and with what cautions and limitations miracles do give testimony to the truth and divinity 357of any doctrine; for instance, of the Christian doctrine: and for the clearing of this matter, I shall lay down these propositions:
1. That the entire proof of the Christian doctrine or religion, consisting of many considerations, when taken together, make up a full demonstration of the truth of it, when perhaps no one of them, taken singly and by itself, is a convincing and undeniable proof.
The Christian religion hath all the characters of divinity upon it which any religion can be expected to have; whether we consider the doctrine of it, in which there is nothing unworthy of God; for it makes such a representation of God, and gives such directions concerning his worship, as are most agreeable to those apprehensions which the wisest men always had of God, and of that service which is most proper to be given to him. Indeed it declares something concerning God, which is very mysterious and past our comprehensions; but this ought not to offend us, since natural light always did acknowledge the Divine nature to be incomprehensible.
The precepts likewise of this religion are highly reasonable, and such as plainly tend to the perfection and happiness of human nature; and the arguments to enforce these precepts, are not only very powerful in themselves, but very suitable to the natural hopes and fears of men.
Or if we consider the author of this doctrine, our blessed Saviour, he will appear to be a Divine person, “and a teacher sent from God,” by (he clear predictions concerning him long before he came, which, when he came, were exactly fulfilled in him j by the miracles he wrought to give testimony 358of him; by the eminent holiness and virtue of his life; and by innumerable things which he foretold concerning himself, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jewish nation, and the success of his doctrine in the world, which were all afterwards punctually accomplished. All these proved him to be an extraordinary person. But he was likewise declared to be “the Son of God,” by a voice from heaven, and by his resurrection from the dead.
Or if we consider the first publishers of this doctrine, to whom “God bare witness, with signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost,” and the wonderful success they met withal, notwithstanding the outward meanness of their persons, insomuch that their doctrine very suddenly prevailed, and passed like lightning through the world; and in the space of a few years, spread itself beyond the utmost bounds of the vast Roman empire, and this in despite of the most powerful opposition and fiercest persecutions that ever were raised against any religion: so that, like the children of Israel in Egypt, it did thrive under affliction, and the more it was oppressed, the more it grew and multiplied; because there was a Divine power that did visibly accompany the first publishers of it, and men “were not able to resist the Spirit whereby they spake.”
All these together make up a full and convincing demonstration of the truth and divinity of the Christian doctrine: and yet perhaps no one of these alone is a sufficient proof of it. For though a doctrine be never so reasonable in itself, this is no certain argument that it is from God, if no testimony from heaven be given to it; because it may 359be the result and issue of human reason and discourse: and though a doctrine attested by miracles, yet the matter of it may be so unreasonable and absurd, so unworthy of God, and so contrary to the natural notions which men have of him, that no miracles can be sufficient to give confirmation to it; and therefore in some cases the Scripture forbids men to hearken to a prophet, though he work a miracle. (Deut. xiii. 1-3.) “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods (which thou hast not known), and let us serve them: thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet.” And the reason is given, (ver. 5.) “Because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God.” From whence it is plain, that a miracle is not sufficient to establish the worship of a false god.
The sum of what I have said is this: that we do not found our belief of Christianity upon any one argument taken by itself; but upon the whole evidence which we are able to produce for it, in which there is nothing wanting that is proper and reasonable to prove any religion to be from God.
2. But yet miracles are the principal external proof and confirmation of the divinity of a doctrine. I told you before, that some doctrines are so absurd, that a miracle is not a sufficient proof of them: but if a doctrine be such as is no ways unworthy of God, nor contrary to those notions which we have of him, miracles are the highest testimony that can be given to it, and have always been owned by mankind for an evidence of inspiration. And therefore Nicodemus takes it for an acknowledged principle, 360that miracles are “a sign of a teacher sent from God.” (John iii. 2.) “We know that thou art a teacher come from God: for none can do these miracles which thou doest, except God be with him.” And the Scripture constantly resolves the divinity of any person or doctrine into miracles as the chief external evidence that they are from God. This was the testimony which God gave to Moses, to satisfy the people of Israel that he had sent him, (Exod. iv. 1.) “And Moses answered, and said, But behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.” Upon this God tells Moses, that he would give him a power of miracles, to be an evidence to them that “they may believe, that the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hath appeared unto thee.” And all along in the Old Testament, when God sent his prophets to make any new revelation, or upon any extraordinary message, he always gave credit to them, by some sign or wonder. And when he sent his Son into the world, he bare witness to him, by more and greater miracles than Moses, or any of the prophets had wrought. And to this testimony both our Saviour himself and the apostles appeal, as the great evidence of the divinity of their doctrine. When John the Baptist sent his disciples to our Saviour, to be satisfied whether he were the Messias, he refers them to his miracles, (Matt. xi. 4, 5.) “Go and shew John again those things which you do hear and see. The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up.” And, (John v. 36.) “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, 361the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.” And, (Acts ii. 22.) “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you (ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀποδεδειγμένον εἰς ὑμᾶς, a man demonstrated by God to you), by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which he did in the midst of you.” And (Acts xiv. 3.) it is said, that when the apostles preached the gospel, “God gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” From all which it is plain, that our religion appeals to miracles, as the great external confirmation of it.
3. Especially if miracles have all the circumstances of advantage given to them which they are capable of; if they be many and great, public and unquestionable, and universal and of long continuance. And such were the miracles wrought by Moses, and by our Saviour and his apostles, which, for their nature and quality, for the number and continuance of them, and for all other circumstances that may give credit to them, and argue them to be from God, are in no degree to be equalled by those which any other religion hath pretended to.
And in these circumstances, miracles alone in most cases are a sufficient proof of the divinity of a doctrine; for there is a great deal of difference in reason to be made between one or two strange and miraculous effects, and those not of the highest and most unquestionable rank of miracles neither, privately wrought, and before few witnesses; and a long-continued series of miracles of all kinds, and such as are universally acknowledged to be above the power of nature, and those publicly wrought in the face and view of the world, in every city and country, by a great many persons for many years, 362yea, for many ages together. The former may be doubted of, but the latter carry so sensible a conviction with them, that it is not credible, that the Divine goodness should permit so great and over powering a testimony to be given to a falsehood.
4. It cannot be denied, but that God doth some times permit miracles to be wrought for the countenancing of a false doctrine. This the heathens pretended to at their temples and oracles; and it is not incredible, that God should permit the devil to do several strange and extraordinary things; though it be certain that there was a great deal of cheat and imposture mingled with them. To be sure the Scripture owns the working of miracles by false prophets. Moses takes notice of it in his law, and provides against it as a case that might happen; and our Saviour expressly foretells it, (Matt. xxiv.) and so does St. Paul, (2 Thess. ii. 9.) that “the man of sin should come after the working of Satan, with power, and signs, and wonders of lies;” that is, should work miracles to countenance his false and impious doctrines. And the Scripture likewise tells us, for what reason God does sometimes permit this to be done. For the trial of the good: (Deut. xiii. 3.) “For the Lord your God proveth you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your hearts.” And for the hardening of the wicked, by the just judgment of God: (2 Thess. ii. 10-12.) “Because they received not the love of truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them ἐνέργοιαν πλάνης (the efficacy of imposture,) that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned, who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
5. And lastly, God never permits miracles to be 363wrought for the confirmation of a false doctrine, but he affords sufficient marks, whereby those who are free and impartial inquirers after truth, and sincere lovers of it, may distinguish truth from imposture. So our Saviour tells us, that the elect, that is, the true and sincere Christians, should not be deceived by the “signs and wonders of the false Christs and false prophets.” And therefore he was not afraid of having the credit of his doctrine weakened by foretelling that false prophets should work miracles; because he knew when the devil had done his utmost, the difference would be apparent enough between the confirmation which he had given to the Christian doctrine, and what the devil should be able to give to his instruments. As,
1. Either the doctrine would be absurd in itself, and such as no miracles can confirm. As in the case which Moses instanceth in, of a miracle wrought to seduce them from the worship of the one true God, who is naturally known, to the worship of idols. Or else,
2. It would be contrary to that doctrine which had already had a far greater and more Divine confirmation. And this, likewise, is another reason intimated by Moses, why the people should not hearken to a prophet that would seduce them to idolatry, though he should work a miracle; “because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt;” that is, from that God who hath demonstrated himself to them by such a series of great and unquestionable miracles as ought in all reason to bear down any single sign and wonder.
And the case is the same, if miracles should now be pretended for the confirmation of any thing 364plainly contrary to the Christian doctrine, which, being established by such miracles as never were wrought in the world upon any other occasion, it cannot be thought reasonable, that any evidence inferior to this should be able to control it, or to give credit to any thing that contradicted it. And in this case the apostle has expressly forbidden Christians to hearken to a contrary doctrine, “though they themselves, or an angel from heaven, should preach it.” (Gal. i. 8.) Therefore St. Paul expressly lays down this rule, whereby we may judge what miraculous powers are from the Spirit of God, and what not. (1 Cor. xii. 1.) “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant,” that is, what miraculous gifts are from the Spirit of God, and what not; and then (ver. 3.) he gives this rule: “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man, speaking by the Spirit of God, calleth Jesus accursed; and that no man can say, that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost;” that is, if any man pretend to be inspired, and to be endowed with a miraculous power, and yet blasphemeth Christ, this spirit is not from God; but if any man be endowed with this power, and acknowledge Christ, we may safely conclude this power to be from the Holy Ghost. The very same rule St. John lays down yet more plainly: (1 John iv. 1-3.) “Believe not every spirit,” that is, not every one that pretends to the gifts and inspirations of the Spirit; “but try the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, 365is not of God.” And, (ver. 6.) “We are of God; he that knoweth God, heareth us: he that is not of God, heareth not us: hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” This seems at first sight to be a very odd rule, and what every false teacher, and every sect may lay down in favour of themselves, “he that knoweth God, heareth us: he that knoweth not God, heareth not us;” and no thing can make it reasonable, but the consideration that the Christian religion being already so abundantly confirmed beyond contradiction, is itself be come a rule to try spirits or miracles by. Or,
3. The miracles which false prophets work are presently confuted, and upon the spot. Thus Moses confuted and conquered Pharaoh’s magicians, by working miracles which they could not work, which forced them to yield the cause, and acknowledge that it was “the finger of God.” And so likewise Simon Magus, who had gained so great a reputation among the people by his sorceries, as to be called “the mighty power of God,” was confuted by the apostles, who, by the laying on of hands, conferred a miraculous power on men, which he not being able to do, would have purchased it with money. And so Elymas the sorcerer was struck blind by St. Paul. And the miracles of the heathen temples and oracles, upon the preaching of the gospel, ceased, as being ashamed of themselves; as Porphyry, one of the bitterest enemies of Christianity, does expressly acknowledge. Or else,
Lastly, The miracles wrought, or pretended to be wrought, to confirm false doctrines, are such as do, some way or other, confute themselves; or if they be real, are sufficiently detected to be the 366pranks of the devil, and not the great and glorious works of God. Such were the miracles of the heathen deities, wrought so privately and obscurely, and confessedly mixed with so much of imposture, as to bring a just suspicion upon them, that, when they were real, the devil was the author of them. And such were the miracles which are attributed to Mahomet; either grossly absurd and ridiculous, as that of part of the moon coming down into his sleeve, and his remanding it to its place again; or else destitute of all proof and witness, as that of a camel’s speaking to him by night; and his pigeon whispering to him in the ear; which, if it had been intended for a miracle, the pigeon should not have whispered, but have spoken out, that others might have heard it. But Mahomet was so conscious to himself of his own defect in point of miracles, that he laid no weight upon them, being, as he said, “not sent to convert the world by miracles, but to conquer them by force of arms.”
And now I am sorry I have occasion to say it, but it is too true, that the miracles pretended to by the church of Rome, for the confirmation of their erroneous doctrines, are of the same stamp with these, taxed by several of their best writers of imposture and forgery, of fable and romance, so extravagant, and freakish, and fantastical, wrought without any necessity, and serving to no wise end, that they are so far from giving credit to their doctrines, that they are a mighty scandal to them, and to our common Christianity: whereas the truly Divine miracles, reported to us in Scripture, how unlike are they to these? How venerable in themselves, and in all the circumstances with which they are related? never wrought but upon great necessity, 367and for excellent ends, full of benefit and advantage, of mercy and compassion to mankind; and, in a word, such as are every way worthy of their author, having plain characters of the Divine wisdom and goodness stamped upon them.
And thus I have done with the first thing I propounded to speak to, namely, that miracles are a Divine testimony; and in what circumstances, and with what cautions and limitations they are so. I shall at present only draw some inferences from what hath been discoursed upon this argument.
1. What hath been said may satisfy us of the truth and divinity of the Christian doctrine, which had so eminent a testimony given to it from heaven, and did at first so strangely prevail in the world, contrary to all human probability, “not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord.” No man can suppose a religion in circumstances of greater disadvantage, and upon all human accounts more unlikely to sustain and bear up itself, than Christianity was. The first appearance of it was so weak, its beginnings so small, and the instruments employed in the propagation of it so mean and despicable, that no man but would have concluded it must have presently sunk and come to nought; and no other reason can be given of the strange success and prevalency of it, but that “it was of God,” and therefore “it could not be over thrown.”
2. From hence we may judge how groundless the pretences are, which men now-a-days make to inspiration and infallibility; because this is not to be proved and made out any other way but by miracles. For either we must believe every pretence of this kind; and then we are at the mercy of every 368crafty and confident man, to be led by him into what delusions he pleases; or we must only believe those who give some testimony of their inspiration: but the evidence of inspiration was always miracles. This is the testimony which God hath always given to those whom he hath sent upon an extraordinary message to mankind. And this is that which we reasonably demand of our modern enthusiasts, and of the great pretender to infallibility, the bishop of Rome; because nothing can be more vain, than for men to pretend to inspiration, and an infallible spirit, without miracles. And yet I cannot learn that the popes themselves, among all their bound less privileges and powers, do so much as pretend to a power of miracles, which yet is the only thing that can in reason support their pretences to infallibility.
3. You see what an immediate testimony from heaven, God was pleased to give to the first preachers of the Christian doctrine, to qualify them with any probability of success, to contest with violent and almost invincible prejudices of men educated in a contrary religion, and which had the secular authority and laws on its side. For having this Divine seal given to their commission, they did as it were carry the letters-patents of heaven in their hands, and an authority paramount to that of human laws. And therefore the wisdom of God, which does no thing which is superfluous and unnecessary, did not think the apostles sufficiently armed and appointed for this design, by a commission from the mouth of the Son of God, without this Divine seal and testimony of miracles, as a visible evidence of their Divine commission. And, therefore, our Saviour, after he had commissioned them to preach 369the gospel to all nations, commanded them not to enter upon this work, nor “to depart from Jerusalem, till they had received the promise of the Father;” that is, the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, (Acts i. 4.) And so our Saviour explains it, (Luke xxiv. 47.) where, after he had commanded, “That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem,” he adds, (ver. 49.) “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” And to the same purpose, (Acts i. 8.) “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you;” by which he tells us, they were qualified to be “witnesses unto him, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”
4. And lastly, The consideration of what has been said, doth justly upbraid us, that our religion, which hath such evident marks of divinity upon it, and comes down to us confirmed by so many miracles, should yet have so little efficacy upon the lives of the greatest part of those who call themselves Christians. It is true, miracles are now ceased among Christians, our religion being sufficiently established by those that were wrought at first; and now the greatest miracle in these latter ages, is a good man, a true and sincere Christian: but the laws of Christianity are still the same: and the motives and arguments to a good life, are still the same; and though the miraculous gifts of the Spirit have left the world, yet the sealing and sanctifying gifts of the Holy Ghost do still remain. We cannot now speak all languages, as the apostles did: but we may do that 370which is much better, and more pleasing to God; we may live holy and virtuous lives. We have not that faith which works by miracles: but we may have that which is far more excellent, the faith which works by charity: which, if we believe St. Paul, is more than to speak with the tongues of men and angels, more than to prophesy, and to understand all mysteries and all knowledge.
The admirable piety and virtue of the first Christians are still upon record for our imitation: but I know not how it comes to pass, we choose rather lazily to admire those patterns, than vigorously to imitate them; as if the holiness of those times were also miraculous, and not intended for the imitation of succeeding ages; as if it were impossible for us now to lead such lives as they did; as if heaven and earth, God and men, and all things, were altered since that time; as if the Christian religion was now quite dispirited, and had lost all its vigour and force; and as if the Holy Spirit of God had to all intents and purposes forsaken the world, and were retired to the Father.
But our religion is still the same it was: the precepts of it as reasonable, and the promises of it as powerful as ever: God is still the same he was; and Christ still at the right hand of God, making intercession for us; and the Holy Spirit of God still ready to assist us, to every good word and work.
To conclude: we have, beyond comparison, the best and most reasonable religion in the world; a religion which carries along with it the greatest evidence of its truth, which contains the best rules and directions for a good life, which offers the most powerful assistance to the obedience of its laws, and gives the greatest encouragements thereto, by 371the assurance of a blessed immortality in another world. Now the better our religion is, our case is so much the worse, if we be not made good by it. Philosophy had some effect upon the world to make some men temperate and chaste, just and honest in their lives. And the Jewish religion (as weak and imperfect as it was, and though it was but “the shadow of good things to come”) hath yet left us many eminent examples of good and holy men. What then shall become of us, if the best institution in the world, the blessed gospel of the Son of God, have less effect upon us than the doctrine of Pythagoras, and the law of Moses had upon them? “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him! God also bearing them witness with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.—To which blessed and glorious Trinity, be all honour and glory, now and for ever.”372
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