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rious and opposite apprehensions in different persons. Now if we examine what idea the free-thinker entertains of our established Religion, we shall find it a bundle of superstitions, absurdities, tyranny, and priestcraft, carrying such an improbability of being the work of God, as perhaps no reasonable man would think overcome by the evidences alleged: therefore it is a mercy to the unbeliever, that these evidences are not more glaring, because they might mislead him into a Religion he is much better without, than if he received it in that disfigured state whereinto it has been cast by his misapprehension.
13. Then the other improbability, of relations being made or defended and gaining ground without sufficient evidence, may likewise receive abatement by the circumstances found to attend it. Interest may engage men to impose upon others, and the desire of ingratiating with the powerful or the populace, raise defenders to an opinion they do not believe. Good policy will sometimes suggest inventions to keep an ignorant people in order, who could not be brought to see the benefit of regularity and concord : and the reputation of an able disputant urges some to maintain a point without ever considering it calmly. Notions early imbibed, and never called in question among the company usually conversed with, or having a connection with the profession engaged in, will often give a secret bias to the honestest minds to support what they esteemed the common cause. A fondness for the miraculous, interwoven in many constitutions, has a surprising efficacy upon the imagination, changing the nature of things, and making their very improbability a motive for believing them. I have myself heard stories of apparitions, deaths foreboded by the party being seen in two places at once, and the like,,
upon testimony that would have convinced me of any common fact without leaving the least shadow of doubt, and this by persons who I was satisfied had no artifice nor intention to deceive me. And when this happens to be the national humor, one may expect it should run far greater lengths than we can have experienced in this country of reason and ridicule, which for once may very properly join in alliance against such an enemy.
But where such propensity is seconded by religious zeal, it is easy to imagine what wonders they may work by their united force, perverting the senses to give false evidence, falsifying the records of the memory, making men undesignedly add circum-. stances that never happened to a real transaction, pick up stories from anybody upon the slightest foundation, and report them again confidently as of their own knowledge. For every miracle full evidenced would be an incontestible proof of the being and dominion of a God, therefore all remissness in believing or defending it, is looked upon as the sin of Atheism : which produces a positiveness and eagerness of assertion that nothing can compare with, except party zeal. Now whoever would go through a full and fair examination of supernatural history, ought to take all these things into consideration, and give them each their just and proper weight in determining his judgment.
14. It is not my business to apply any of these circumstances, nor to poise their respective weights in particular cases, for this belongs rather to ecclesiastical history and knowledge of the world, than to philosophy: it would be carrying the shoe-inaker beyond his last, and encroaching upon the province of divines. They may please to consider, it is service enough for one private man to have acted as pioneer, endeavoring to level that intrenchment of absolute incredibility wherewith the enemy used to keep them at a distance, so that they may come directly to a general action : and to have reminded them of the several quarters in the adverse camp, that they may take care to make the action general, and not in the hurry of pursuit leave vacant spaces unoccupied, where the enemy rallying from time to time may renew the fight unexpectedly.
For I would wish to have the faith of mankind compact and solid throughout : sound not only in the articles believed, but in the foundations for believing. It is not unprecedented for men to build a real truth on hollow ground, in which case their faith is rather good fortune than good conduct, and will be apt to shake and totter grievously in the storms of opposition, or batteries of ridicule. If I have any title to meddle with the merits of the cause, it must be in that part respecting the internal evidence, which we observed before has a just and strong weight in the determination, and probably does actually cast the balance with most persons : but Religion, as, has been already remarked, does not consist so much in a set of articles, as in the sense impressed by them upon the mind : so that the same outward form of profession may contain very different Religions, some frivolous, absurd, and wicked, others noble, rational, and holy, according as diversely understood or apprehended in the mind of the hearer. Therefore what I am next going upon may be of some moment towards determining the judgment, which is to attempt explaining some of the orthodox tenets by the theory I have endeavored to sketch out in this work upon the principles of human reason, aiming to find out such a sense of them, without violence or wresting, as may coincide or prove reconcilable therewith. By which whoever happens to come into my explanations will see what degree of improbability still remains for the divine to overcome by skilful management of his weapons of external evidence.
15. Before I quit this subject, it may not be amiss to bestow a little consideration upon the design of miracles, so far as discoverable to our apprehension. The interposition of Omnipotence in the formation of a world, and the daily creation of Souls for children, were made essential parts in the original constitution of universal nature, without which the rest of the divine plan would have remained imperfect, nor could have taken effect. For without the former, neither this Earth we inhabit, nor the productions formed therein could have had a being, and without the latter the race of men could not be preserved npon earth: so that those may be ranked among the principal lines of the plan necessary to support and sustain one another. But these, how much soever esteemed the immediate work of God, are not vulgarly styled miracles: for if a hundred young fellows and a hundred girls of vigorous constitutions intermarry, it would be thought more a miracle if they did not produce a living child among them at the twelvemonth's end, than that they should produce many: what are commonly understood as miracles can scarcely be thought necessary to carry on the courses of nature, or supply any defects in the provisions made for them. We cannot well imagine a rod changed into a serpent, because there were not serpents enow generated in the natural way, nor water turned into wine to prevent interruption in the innocent jollities of a wedding: such motives must appear of too little importance and dignity to give motion to the arm of Omnipotence.
Therefore we suppose none other intention of miracles than to work upon the minds of men : they were anciently called signs and wonders, their very name by its Latin derivation implies a thing to be wondered at, as the Greek term Thauma does a thing to be stared at, and they are frequently declared to have been performed for manifesting the power of God. We may know likewise upon the authority of Saint Paul, if not by our own understanding, that the contemplation of visible nature would lead to the knowledge of God, if duly attended to, but men in general were so immersed among sensible objects, and the pursuit of their pleasures and private interests, that they could never rise to a competent degree of that knowledge, so we may conclude the principal design of miracles was to supply the defect of clearness in their understandings. There may be another use of them for giving credence to express messengers sent upon some particular errand, but this relates only occasionally to the persons who were to receive the message : so the general purpose of them remains
none other than to impress a sense of the being, the power, and dominion of God upon the hearts of mankind.
Therefore miracles were most plentifully employed in the earliest and ignorant ages, and have gradually decreased as men improved in observation and knowledge. The Angels conversed familiarly upon earth no longer than the patriarchal times, but afterwards appeared very rarely, upon solemn and extraordinary occasions : Urim and Thummim scarce held throughout the Jewish monarchy : prophecy ceased upon the coming of Christ, and some doctors hold all other supernatural powers died with the Apostles; at least I may say, without offence in this land of freedom, there has been nothing of miracle, prophecy, or revelation for the last thousand years, but we are left to the records of ancient days, and those subject to many disputations upon their authenticity. From this method of proceeding in the government of the moral world, we may gather that mankind in successive generations stands less and less in need of signs and wonders; and what supernatural operation may still be judged requisite for us is dispensed by the secret imperceptible influences of the Comforter, promised to be our light and director.
But we are not to expect he will operate in a visible, sensible manner, nor to look for him in transports and ecstacies, and sudden flashes of illumination. We are told his office lies in teaching us all things, but ecstacy and transport are not methods of teaching: he conveys instruction to us through the channel of our own understanding, and what lights he vouchsafes to afford seem to us the discoveries of our own understanding. Wherefore it behoves us to make an honest, humble, industrious use of this faculty, upon which we may depend with more assurance than our forefathers, since we have the promise of so powerful an assistant to make up for its natural infirmities : and perhaps when he shall have finished his work, even the remembrance of former miracles may be innocently and harmlessly dropped. Upon these considerations it must be acknowledged, that our cotemporary, divines act prudently in being less copious upon those topics than their predecessors, but applying themselves principally to clear and
open that channel by which alone we now receive our spiritual food, reserving their externals for such who could not otherwise be brought to that just and lively sense of the divine dominion and attributes, and habitual dependence upon Providence, which are the grand sources of human happiness both in this world, and that which is to come.
Although our Church acknowledges miracles to be ceased, nevertheless, I take it to be one of her principal doctrines, that the Spirit of God, or more properly God the Holy Ghost, does still operate upon men, enabling them to discern truths and exert a vigor of mind in the performance of good works they could not have done by their natural powers. Nor is this a contradiction to the cessation of miracles any more than the doctrine of creating souls for children, because such assistance is necessary to work out our salvation: but we have seen before, that miracle is understood of signs and wonders whose principal use is none other than to strike upon the senses; whereas this supernatural operation is of indispensable use, performed upon that account and not as an evidence of anything else, but itself requires other evidence to prove its reality.
I have nothing to do with the proofs of there being such a divine interposition ; those I suppose must be drawn from the sacred Scriptures, and left to the management of divines : no more belongs to me than to examine what we are to understand when we hear them talk of the grace of God, and tell us that no good thing can be done effectually without it: for it would be too hasty to reject, and of little service to adopt, what they say, until we have gotten a competent knowledge of the matter alleged. Now to gain a clearer conception, and avoid the perplexities consequent upon taking a subject too much in the gross, let us consider separately the effect produced in the mind at seasons of grace, and what causes may be supposed to produce that effect. But these, too, merit a distinct inquiry, yet are commonly blended together under the same term : for we speak of a man having grace, which must denote the state of his understanding and temper of his mind, or the degree of activity exerted, and of this being owing to the grace of God, which must refer to the act of the donor.
2. Nobody can miss observing what varieties there are in the clearness of his faculties and vigor of his spirits fitting him for any common business, profession, science, or enterprize he can undertake, more at one time than another. Sometimes he finds himself tasteless, inactive, and dull : he strives and toils without making any progress, all is task, and burden, and blunder, nor can he do his work to satisfy himself: another, while he sees everything at a glance, his scenes appear full, his objects distinct and lively,