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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.
IN these words, three things offer themselves to our consideration.
First, That miracles are a Divine testimony given to a person or doctrine.
Secondly, That God gave this testimony to the apostles and first publishers of the gospel in a very eminent manner. Of these two I have discoursed at large, and now proceed to the
Third and last thing which I proposed, viz. the reason why these miracles are now ceased in the Christian church, and have been for a long time, so that there have been no footsteps of this miraculous power for many ages. And in the handling of this argument, I shall do these three things:
I. Shew that these miraculous gifts and powers have ceased in the Christian church for several ages.
II. I shall assign a plain reason of the ceasing of miracles after such a time.
III. Answer the objection from the innumerable miracles which have been and are still pretended to be wrought in the church of Rome.
I. I shall shew, that these miraculous powers and gifts have ceased in the church for several ages.389
That they are now ceased we find by certain experience; nor are they pretended to at this day by any part of the Christian church, except the church of Rome, where yet they are nothing so plentiful now-a-days, as they were in those ignorant ages, from the time of the degeneracy and corruption of the western church down to the Reformation; and now chiefly pretended to in those parts of the Roman communion, where their religion reigns without any contradiction, and the people are under the awe and lash of the Inquisition, so that they dare neither gainsay, nor offer to detect the forgery and imposture of them; and yet here is less need of them, be cause the people are all of a mind, and believe as the church would have them, and dare not for their lives do otherwise. For where the Inquisition rules, and ignorance, the mother, not of true devotion, but of credulity and superstition, is carefully preserved, there is no need of miracles to make people believe what they have a mind to: but in other places, where their religion is opposed, and there is great occasion for them, both to confirm those of their own religion, and to reduce heretics and unbelievers, there is little or no pretence to them, as I shall shew by and by.
So that all over the Christian church, except in the church of Rome, all pretence to these miraculous powers and gifts is now ceased, and hath been for many ages. St. Chrysostom, speaking of his time, which was about four hundred years after Christ, says that these miraculous powers were then ceased, and speaks as if no footsteps of them were left in the pastors and governors of the church, much less among private Christians; for which he gives us this substantial reason (which I shall speak to afterwards) 390that Christianity being now already established by miracles, there was no reason to expect the continuance of them. St. Augustine indeed, sometime after, speaks of many miraculous things done at sepulchres of the martyrs. But this doth not contradict what St. Chrysostom had said, be cause he speaks of the living teachers and members of the church, in whom those miraculous gifts and powers were ceased: but that the same miraculous cures were wrought upon the prayers of Christians, at the tombs of the martyrs, is a confirmation of the thing, that God designed to honour the primitive Christians and martyrs with these gifts, and not to continue them to the succeeding ages of the church; and therefore God was pleased that so many wonderful things should be done at their sepulchres, to shew that he did intend, that these miraculous powers and gifts should die with them, and continue no longer in the living members of the church.
II. I shall now assign a plain reason of the ceasing of these miraculous gifts after such a time; namely, because there was not the like necessity and occasion for them, that there was before. They were at first in a great degree necessary to introduce the gospel into the world, which was destitute of all other helps and advantages, to recommend it to the esteem and liking of mankind; to give credit to a new doctrine and religion, so contrary to the inveterate prejudices of men, bred up in another religion very different from this, and so opposite to the lusts and interests of men; to make way for the more speedy and effectual planting of this religion in the world; to strengthen the hands of the first publishers of it, and to give credit to their testimony, 391 concerning that strange relation of theirs, of the resurrection of Christ from the dead; to be a sensible evidence and conviction to men, of the divinity of that new doctrine which was preached unto them, and to support and confirm them in the belief and profession of it, against those terrible sufferings and persecutions, which for the sake of it they were exposed to. For these reasons God was pleased to shed abroad so plentifully these miraculous gifts, among the first preachers of Christianity; and as these reasons ceased or abated, so did these miraculous powers and gifts; and therefore, as soon as the gospel was planted, which it was in a great part of the then known world, during the lives of the apostles, the gift of tongues ceased, and we hear no more of it, because there was no farther use and occasion for it. Other gifts did continue longer, but abated by degrees, according as Christianity gained ground and establishment, and they grew less frequent, as there was less need of them. The power of casting out devils, which was most common (for every Christian had it) continued longest; and there was reason it should continue so long as the devil reigned, and the pagan idolatry was kept up, to shew that the Spirit of Christ was superior to the devil, and would finally overcome him, and over throw his kingdom, according to that of St. John, (1 John iv. 4.) “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” And this appeared in that they were able in the name of Christ to cast him out, wherever he had taken possession, which God permitted to be very frequent in those times, for the more glorious manifestation of his power, “in casting out the prince of this world.” 392But when the powers of the world became Christian, and the heathen idolatry was every where over thrown, and Satan’s kingdom every where destroyed, then this miraculous gift also ceased, there being no farther occasion for it. And now that “the kingdoms of the world were become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ,” and that the gospel was planted, and had taken firm root and was fully settled and established, these miraculous powers, which were at first necessary to balance the mighty difficulties and oppositions which Christianity met withal, and to supply the want of all manner of countenance from the civil authority, were with drawn and did cease, because there was no need of their longer continuance.
Besides that it is to be considered, that those miraculous powers which manifested themselves in the first ages of Christianity, were intended by God to give a standing confirmation to it in after ages; as the miracles that were wrought at the giving of the law, and the bringing of the children of Israel into Canaan, were designed for a standing confirmation of the Jewish religion, the memory whereof was so carefully preserved and transmitted to after ages, that they needed not to be repeated.
I come now in the
Third and last place to answer that objection from the innumerable miracles which have been, and still are pretended to be, wrought in the church of Rome. And so indeed we find that the Arians and other heretics in former times pretended to miracles, for the confirmation of their errors, a good while after miracles were generally ceased in the Christian church, which shews that this is no new or strange thing.393
In answer to this objection, I desire these following particulars may be considered:
First, That the most learned and judicious writers of the Roman church do acknowledge that there is no necessity of miracles now, and that Christianity is sufficiently established by the miracles which were wrought at first to give testimony to it; and therefore, not being necessary, without manifest evidence of fact, it is not necessary to believe that they are continued.
Secondly, The miracles pretended to by the church of Rome are of very doubtful and suspected credit, even among the wisest persons of their own communion; and therefore, I hope they do not expect we should give much credit to those miracles, of the truth of which they themselves are in so much doubt, that they are generally looked upon by the more prudent and learned among them as pious frauds, to raise and entertain the devotion of the weak and ignorant. Several of them have been convicted of fraud and imposture, not only here in England, in times of popery, and at the beginning of the Reformation, but in other countries, where that religion bears sway.
And it is observable, that the greatest part of the history of these miracles (which they call legends) was written in the romance age, and much in the same style, with the like wantonness and extravagance of fancy, and fulsome absurdity of invention, and, it is to be feared, with the like regard to truth. And I know not whether romances had not their name, as well as their original, from these Roman legends, of which they are exact copies and imitations; and as these were sacred, so those were a sort of civil legends, in which they represented 394their heroes doing the like absurd feats and miracles in chivalry, as their saints in their legends are said to do in religion; and they were both written by the lazy and unlearned monks, and by them dressed up and fitted to the gust of those ignorant and superstitious ages.
And yet these legends of “lying wonders” have not only been put into the hands of the people, but lessons out of them have been taken, as out of the Scriptures, and distributed into the public offices of their church, to be read there, as the Scriptures are, and instead of them; only with this difference—that the people are permitted to have the Scriptures only in an unknown tongue, but the legends, out of which these lessons are taken, they are permitted to have at home, in their own tongue; as if there was no danger of error or heresy from false stories, but only from the word of truth. And herein is remarkably fulfilled that prophecy concerning the followers of antichrist, (2 Thess. ii. 11.) that “be cause they received not the truth in the love of it, God would send them strong delusions, (ἐνέργειαν πλάνης, the efficacy of imposture,) that they should believe a lie.” And how could they more solemnly declare the belief and love of lies, than by putting these ridiculous fables into the public offices of the church, in place of the Holy Scriptures; and at the same time that they deny to the people the use of the Scriptures in a known tongue, to permit them the use, and to recommend to them the reading, of these lying legends, out of which these ridiculous lessons are taken?
Thirdly, The miracles of the church of Rome, supposing several of them to be true, have such marks and characters upon them, as render it very 395suspicious that they are not operations of God, or good spirits, but the working of Satan. If any man have but the patience to rake into these dung hills, and to read over these legends, even as they have by the latter collectors and compilers been purged and reformed, he shall find the miracles recited in them, to be generally of one stamp, very foolish and absurd, frivolous and trifling, wrought without any necessity, upon no good occasion, to no wise end and purpose; so that one may know them by their very countenances to be the tricks and pranks of the devil, and not the great and glorious works of God, such as are the miracles recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
Fourthly, The miracles of the church of Rome, taking them for true, are very impertinently and unreasonably wrought. When and where there is no need and occasion for them, they are very rife and frequent; but where there is greatest occasion for them, and most reason to expect them, they are either not at all, or very rarely so much as pretended to. In times and places where their religion did most absolutely bear sway, and few or none durst oppose it, and where the doctrines which they pretended to confirm by these miracles were most generally believed, as in those long, dark, and ignorant times before the Reformation, and now in Italy and Spain, where the Inquisition forceth them all to be of one belief, or to profess to be so; in these times and places, where there was least need and occasion for miracles, then and there did they most abound, even more, (if we may believe their histories) for several ages before the Reformation, than in the times of our Saviour and his apostles. But since the Reformation, and that many of their doctrines 396are called in question and disbelieved, miracles are grown rare, and almost ceased, even in popish countries; and they have had but very ill success with those few they have pretended to; witness the miracle at Angiers in France, of a child appearing over the altar at the time of mass, to convince all people of the doctrine of transubstantiation, with which the papists made such a noise here in England about fourteen or fifteen years ago, and which at last was discovered to be an artificial juggle and contrivance of some cunning priest, and published to the world for a cheat, by the honest and worthy bishop of that place.
But where there seems to be the most need of them, they are most wanting: as for the conversion of heathens, and the conviction of heretic infidels. For the conversion of heathens: in which case, if men did sincerely design the propagation of the true and uncorrupted Christianity, I do not see why miracles might not yet reasonably be expected; but yet for all this, we hear of very few miracles, not so much as the gift of tongues, even upon this occasion. In the first planting of the West Indies, we hear of no miracles, except the most prodigious cruelties that ever were in the world, to the infinite scandal of the Christian name. And in the East Indies, and China, Xaverius and the first missionaries speak with no assurance of any miracles wrought by them; and since that time, they have so depraved the Christian religion there, by concealing a most essential part of it, the death and sufferings of our Saviour, as if they were “ashamed of the cross of Christ/ that it is not credible, that God should vouchsafe the countenance of miracles to those who “preach another gospel.”397
And then for the conviction of heretics (as they are pleased to call us protestants) one would think miracles (since they have that power) would be very proper for that purpose to be wrought among them; as now here in England, where they are continually endeavouring (but especially of late with more than usual vigour and hopes) to restore their religion, and yet for all this, we cannot prevail with them to favour us with the sight of one miracle, in order to our conviction; but if they have any, they keep them private among themselves, though both reason and Scripture tell us, that miracles were not intended for them that believe, but to convince them that believe not.
Fifthly, He from whom of all persons in that church we might expect the most and greatest miracles, does not, so far as I can learn, pretend at all to that gift; I mean the head of their church, the pope, who, both as he is vicar of Christ, and successor of St. Peter in his full power and office, or if he be not his successor, yet as he is his shadow, and pretends to be his successor, might fairly pretend to a power of miracles above any in that church; and I have often wondered why he does not: but it seems he contents himself with infallibility, which is privilege and power enough for one man; and indeed, if he had it, and could satisfy others that he hath it, that would serve his turn without miracles: but the mischief of it is, there is no other external evidence which can reasonably satisfy others of any man’s inspiration or infallibility, but miracles; and therefore, the pope hath done very unadvisedly, in pretending to one without the other, when he hath the same right and title to both; that is, none at all.398
Sixthly, Most of the doctrines in difference between us and the church of Rome, which they chiefly pretend to confirm by these miracles, are not capable of being confirmed by them. There are three sorts of doctrines, two of which are in their own nature incapable of being confirmed by a miracle, and a third upon supposition of its contrariety to the Christian doctrine, which hath already had an unquestionable Divine confirmation.
1. No doctrine which is contrary to sense, is capable of being confirmed by a miracle, as transubstantiation; which, because it necessarily requires the renouncing of our senses, in order to the belief of it, for that very reason miracles can give no credit to it. For that which depends on the certainty of sense, as miracles certainly do, can be no competent argument to prove that which is contrary to sense, as transubstantiation is.
2. No doctrine that does countenance or enjoin idolatry is capable of being confirmed by a miracle. This is evident from Deut. xiii. where Moses supposeth that a prophet might work a sign or a wonder; but if it was to seduce them from the worship of the true God, who is naturally known, to the worship of idols, in that case they were not. to hearken to him, notwithstanding he wrought a miracle; but the church of Rome teacheth idolatry in their worship of images, and of the host, and in the invocation of saints and angels.
3. No doctrine contrary to any part of the Christian doctrine, which hath already received an unquestionable Divine confirmation, is capable of being confirmed by the miracles pretended to in the church of Rome, if they were real. For I hope they have not the face to pretend their miracles to 399be equal to those of our Saviour and his apostles, either for the certainty or greatness of them; and I have already shewn, that they notoriously want both the credit and certainty of our Saviour’s miracles, and the marks of their divinity.
Now several of the doctrines of that church are directly contrary to, or inconsistent with, the doctrines of Christianity. Their endeavour to conceal from people the doctrine of the gospel, contained in the Holy Scriptures, is a notorious contradiction to the design of the gospel, and to that particular miracle whereby the knowledge of it was conveyed to the world, the gift of tongues; and then the ser vice of God in an unknown tongue, which is inconsistent with true devotion, contrary to edification, and to the plain scope and design of a whole chapter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. And so likewise is the communion in one kind, to our Saviour’s express institution; and the repetition of Christ’s sacrifice, to as express a declaration of the apostle to the Hebrews to the contrary, as it is possible for words to make.
Seventhly and lastly, which falls heaviest upon them of all, the chief prophecies of the New Testament, which are concerning false prophets, and concerning antichrist, have marked him out by this character, that he should be a great worker of miracles, and magnify himself upon this pretence. (Matt. xxiv. 24.) “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch that (if it were possible) they shall deceive the very elect.” And (2 Thess. ii. 9, 10.) St. Paul foretells there, that in the great degeneracy and falling away of the Christian church, “the man of sin shall come after the working of Satan, with all power, 400and signs, and wonders of lies,” that is, either false miracles, or miracles wrought to confirm false doctrines, “and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness,” all the legerdemain and juggling tricks of falsehood and imposture; and certainly nothing was ever more visible than these are in the church of Rome; whether we consider their impudent forgeries of writings (which they have not the face now to deny), or the nature and character of their miracles. So that though Bellarmine is pleased to make miracles one of the marks of the true church, yet the miracles of the church of Rome, if we consider all the circumstances of them, are one of the plainest marks of antichrist, and the very brand of the beast, as we find him described, (Rev. xiii. 13, 14.) “And he doth great wonders, and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth, by means of those miracles which he had power to do.”
And now the church of Rome may be allowed to work miracles; and yet Divine miracles, such as were wrought for the first confirmation of Christianity, may be ceased in the church; which is a sufficient answer to the objection, and upon the whole matter shews, that the miracles pretended to in the church of Rome, are so far from giving any confirmation to her doctrines, that they are rather an evident proof that she is the apostate and antichristian church.
I might now draw two or three inferences from this whole discourse. As,
I. We have great reason to admire the wisdom and goodness of God in the dispensation of the gospel, that, by the sending down of his Holy Spirit to endow the first publishers of this heavenly doctrine with such miraculous gifts and powers, he hath given such 401abundant testimony to the truth of our religion, and such firm grounds for our faith to rely upon.
II. The consideration of what hath been said convinceth men of the great sin of infidelity, and the unreasonableness of it, after so clear conviction and demonstration as God hath given to the world of the truth of Christianity.
III. And lastly, They who believe the gospel, are utterly inexcusable, if they do not obey it, and live according to it. For this is the great end of all the miracles which God hath wrought for the confirmation of Christianity, that by the belief of the gospel men might be brought to “the obedience of faith,” and live conformably to the precepts of that holy religion, which the Son of God by so many miracles hath planted and preserved in the world. But these I have1212 See Sermon CXCVII. vol. viii. p. 397. discoursed of on another occasion, and therefore shall insist upon them no farther at this time.402
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