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REV. DR. CONYERS MIDDLETON,
OCCASIONED BY HIS LATE FREE INQUIRY.
January 4, 1748-9. Rev. Sir,
1. IN your late Inquiry, you endeavour to prove, first, That there were no miracles wrought in the primitive church; secondly, That all the primitive Fathers were fools or knaves, and most of them both one and the other. And it is easy to observe, the whole tenor of your argument tends to prove, thirdly, That no miracles were wrought by Christ or his apostles; and, fourthly, That those too were fools or knaves, or both.
2. I am not agreed with you on any of these heads. My reasons I shall lay before you, in as free a manner (though not in so smooth or laboured language) as you have laid yours before the world.
3. But I have neither inclination nor leisure to follow you step by step through three hundred and seventy-three quarto pages. I shall therefore set aside all I find in your work which does not touch the merits of the cause : and likewise contract the question itself to the three first centuries. For I have no more to do with the writers or miracles of the fourth, than with those of the fourteenth century.
4. You will naturally ask, “Why do you stop there? What reason can you give for this ? If you allow miracles before the empire became Christian, why not afterwards too? I answer, because, “After the empire became Christian,” (they are your own words,) “a gene. ral corruption both of faith and morals infected the Christian church: which by that revolution, as St. Jerome says, lost as much of its virtue, as it had gained of wealth and power,'” (p. 123.) And this very reason St. Chrysostom himself gave in the words you have afterwards cited ; . There are some who ask, Why are not miracles performed still? Why are there no persons who raise the dead, and cure diseases ? 'To which he replies, “That it was owing to the want of faith, and virtue, and piety in those times.'
1. You begin your preface by observing, that “the inquiry was intended to have been published” some time ago; but upon reflection, you resolved to " give out first some sketch of what you were projecting:" (preface, p. 1) and accordingly; "published the introductory discourse" by itself, though “ foreseeing it would encounter all the opposition that prejudice, bigotry, and superstition, are ever prepared to give to all inquiries” (p. 2) of this nature.
But it was your « comfort, that this would excite candid inquirers to weigh the merit and consequences of it,” p. 3.
2. The consequences of it are tolerably plain, even to free the good people of England from all that “prejudice, bigotry, and superstition,” vulgarly called Christianity. But it is not so plain, that “this is the sole expedient which can secure the Protestant religion against the efforts of Rome," (ibid.) It may be doubted, whether Deism is the sole expedient to secure us against Popery. For some are of opinion, there are persons in the world who are neither Deists nor Papists.
3. You open the cause artfully enough, by a quotation from Mr. Locke, (p. 4.) But we are agreed to build our faith on no man's authority. His reasons will be considered in their place.
“ Those who have written against his and your opinion,” you say, have shown great eagerness, but little knowledge of the question : urged by the hopes of honours, and prepared to fight for every establishment, that offers such pay to its defenders,” (p. 5.) I have not read one of these : yet I would fain believe, that neither the hope of honour, nor the desire of pay, was the sole or indeed the main motive that urged either them or you to engage in writing.
But I grant, they are overseen, if they argue against you, by citing " the testimonies of the ancient Fathers:" (p. 6.) seeing they might easily perceive you pay no more regard to these than to the evangelists or apostles. Neither do I commend them if they “insinuate jealousies of consequences dangerous to Christianity," (ibid.) Why they should insinuate these, I cannot conceive: I need not insinuate that the sun shines at noonday. You have “opened too great a glare to the public,” (p. 7,) to leave them any room for such insinuation. Though (to save appearances) you gravely declare still, “Were my argument allowed to be true, the credit of the gospelmiracles could not in any degree be shaken by it,” p. 6.
4. So far is flourish. Now we come to the point. - The present question," you say, “depends on the joint credibility of the facts, and of the witnesses who attest them, especially on the for
For if the facts be incredible, no testimony can alter the nature of things,” (p. 9.) All this is mosť true. You go on,
« The credibility of facts lies open to the trial of our reason and senses. But the credibility of witnesses depends on a variety of principles wholly concealed from us. And though in many cases it may reasonably be presumed, yet in none can it be certainly known,” (p. 10.) Sir, will you retract this or defend it? If you defend, and can prove, as well as assert it, then farewell the credit of all history, not
only sacred, but profane. If the credibility of witnesses” (of all
5. But for fear any, considering how “ frank and open” your na-
take care to inform them soon after: “ The whole which the wit of man can possibly discover, either of the ways or will of the Creator, must be acquired by attending seriously,” (To what? To the Jewish or Christian revelation ? No: but) “to that revelation which he hath made of himself from the beginning, in the beautiful fabric of this visible world." p. 22.
6. I believe your opponents will not hereafter urge you, either with “ that passage from St. Mark,” or any other from Scripture. At least I will not; unless I forget myself, as I observe you have done just now. For you said but now, “ Before we proceed to examine testimonies for the decision of this dispute, our first care should be, to inform ourselves of the nature of those miraculous powers, which are the subject of it, as they are represented to us in the history of the gospel.” (p. 10.) Very true; “ This should be our first care.” I was therefore all attention to hear your account of “the nature of those powers, as they are represented to us in the gospel.” But alas ! You say not a word more about it; but slip away to those “ zealous champions who have attempted” (bold men as they are) “to refute the introductory discourse.'
Perhaps you will say, “ Yes, I repeat that text from St. Mark.” You do; yet not describing the nature of those powers; but only to open the way to “one of your antagonists ;” (p. 12) of whom you yourself affirm, that “not one of them seems to have spent a thought in considering those powers as they are set forth in the New Testament.” (p. 11.) Consequently, the bare repeating that text does not prove you (any more than they) to have spent one thought upon the subject."
7. From this antagonist you ramble away to another; (p. 13) after a long citation from whom, you subjoin, “It being agreed then, that in the original promise there is no intimation of any particular period to which their continuance was limited.” (p. 14.) Sir, you have lost your way.
We have as yet nothing to do with their "continuance. For till we have learned from those sacred records” (I use your own words) “what they were, and in what manner exerted by the apostles, we cannot form a proper judgment of those evidences which are brought either to confirm or confute their conti
nuance in the church; and must consequently dispute at random, as chance or prejudice may prompt us, about things unknown to us." p. 15. 17.
Now, Sir, if this be true, (as without doubt it is,) then it necessarily follows, that seeing, from the beginning of your book to the end, you spend not one page to inform either yourself or your readers, concerning the nature of these miraculous powers, as they are represented to us in the history of the gospel:" you "dispute" throughOut the whole " at random, as chance or prejudice prompts you, about things unknown to you."
8. Your reply to “ the adversaries of your scheme,” (p. 11,) I may let alone for the present; and the rather, because the arguments used therein will occur again and again. Only I would here take notice of one assertion, “that the miraculous powers conferred on the apostles themselves were imparted just at the moment of their exertion, and withdrawn again as soon as those particular occasione were served.” (p. 23.) You should not have asserted this, be it true or false, without soine stronger proof. “ This, I say, is evident,” (ibid.) is not a sufficient proof; nor, “A treatise is prepared on that subject.” (p. 24.) Neither is it proved by that comment of Grotius* on our Lord's promise, which, literally translated, runs thus : “ To every believer there was then given some wonderful power,
which was to exert itself, not indeed always, but when there was occasion."
9. But waiving this : I grant “the single point in dispute is, Whether the testimony of the Fathers be a sufficient ground to believe, that miraculous gifts subsisted at all, after the days of the apostles ?” (p. 27.) But with this you interweave another question, Whether the Fathers were not all fools or knaves ? In treating of which you strongly intimate, first, That such gists did never subsist, and, secondly, That the apostles were equally wise and good, with the wonder-workers (your favourite term,) that followed them.
When therefore you add, "My opinion is this, that after our Lord's ascension, the extraordinary gifts he had promised were poured out on the apostles, and the other primary instruments of planting the gospel; in order to enable them to overrule the inveterate prejudices both of the Jews and Gentiles, and to bear up against the discouraging shocks of popular rage and persecution.” (p. 28.) I look
all this to be mere grimace. You believe not one word of what you say. You cannot possibly, if you believe what you said before. For who can believe both sides of a contradiction?
10. However, I will suppose you do believe it, and will argue with you from your own words. But first let us have a few more of them. (p. 28.) “ In process of time, as miraculous powers began to be less and less wanted, so they began gradually to decline, till they were finally withdrawn. (p. 29.) And this may probably be
* Grotius in Mar. xvi. 17. Non omnibus omnia—ita tamen cuilibet credenti tunc data sit admirabilis facultas, quæ se, non semper quidem, sed data occasione explicaret.