“An Essay on Mr. Hume’s Essay on Miracles” (1752)
by William Adams (1706-1789)
Mr. Hume hath many of the talents of a fine writer, and hath justly obtained that character by the agreeable Essays moral and political, with which he has obliged the world. What he hath wrote well will create a prejudice in favour of his errors; and these will have all their bad influence, when recommended by so able an advocate. The present is a subject of the greatest importance, and the author expresses a particular satisfaction in his performance. These are reasons for considering it carefully, and for guarding ourselves against being deceived by the artifice or eloquence of the writer.
He begins with challenging, a little indirectly, the thanks of the publick, for a discovery, which, he apprehends, will be of universal service to mankind. This is nothing less than an infallible cure for superstition.
“I flatter myself,” says he, “that I have discovered an argument, which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and, consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures; for so long, I suppose, will the accounts of miracles and prodigies be found in all profane history.”
The virtues of this specifick are such, that it exterminates all religions alike; as he shews, by trying its strength upon the Christian, which, where it prevails, is perhaps more obstinate and hard of cure than any other. Here, however, it has been known to fail. I have given it a fair trial, and known it tried by others, without the least effect, and think I can prove that there is no one ingredient of any virtue or efficacy in it.
The secret itself is contained in the compass of a few lines: and therefore, to give some port and figure to it, the author has thought necessary to introduce it with some preliminary observations.
In the first of these, his meaning seems to be to lay down this as a principle - that all our reasonings concerning matter of fact are founded wholly on experience:
“Tho’ experience be our only guide in reasoning concerning matters of fact, it must be acknowledged, that this guide is not altogether infallible, but in some cases is apt to lead us into errors and mistakes. One, who in our climate should expect better weather in any week of June than in one of December, would reason justly and conformable to experience; but 'tis certain, that he may happen in the event to find himself mistaken. However, we may observe, that in such a case he would have no cause to complain of experience; because it commonly informs us beforehand of the uncertainty, by that contrariety of events which we may learn from a diligent observation.”
In illustrating this observation, both here and elsewhere, he seems to confine it to such events as are future:
“An hundred instances or experiments on one side, and fifty on another, afford a very doubtful expectation of any event; tho' an hundred uniform experiments, with only one contradictory one, do reasonably beget a very strong degree of assurance.”
Here then I readily allow, that in reasoning concerning future contingencies experience is the best guide we have, tho' in many cases, as will hereafter be seen, a very uncertain one.
This observation is followed by a prudent caution.
“A wise man,” he tells us, “proportions his belief to the evidence. In such conclusions as are founded on an infallible experience he expects the event with the last degree of assurance, and regards his past experience as a full proof of the future existence of that event. In other cases he proceeds with more caution: he weighs the opposite experiments; he considers which side is supported by the greatest number of experiments: to that side he inclines, with doubt and hesitation; and, when at last he fixes his judgment, the evidence exceeds not what we properly call probability. - In all cases we must ballance the opposite experiments, where they are opposite, and deduct the lesser number from the greater, in order to know the exact force of the superior evidence.”
This logick is very just, and what, I am persuaded, every man of the plainest understanding knows how to practise, without learning it from the schools, or from this author's refinements on the curious and sublime subject (as he calls it) of probability. He then proceeds –
“To apply these principles to a particular instance: We may observe, there is no species of reasoning more common, more useful, and even necessary to human life, than that derived from the testimony of men, and the reports of eye-witnesses and spectators. This species of reasoning perhaps one may deny to be founded on the relation of cause and effect. I shall not dispute about a word. ‘Twill be sufficient to observe, that our assurance, in any argument of this kind, is derived from no other principle than our observation of the veracity of human testimony, and of the usual conformity of facts to the reports of witnesses.”
‘Tis difficult to say what the author would here exemplify, there being no clear connexion betwixt this and the preceding paragraphs. But, if I may presume to explain it, his argument stands thus: The principle he set out with, was, that our reasoning about matters of fact depends wholly upon experience. This he hath proved concerning such events as are future: he now wants to prove the same concerning facts that are past. Here he is aware, that, besides experience, we have another guide, which is the testimony of history, that of witnesses, &c. These he does not chuse to distinguish from the former, but insinuates, that the evidence of testimony is included in that of experience, or that every argument from testimony is only an argument from experience, for-as-much as the truth of that depends ultimately upon this. “The ultimate standard,” he tells us below, “by which we determine disputes of this kind, is always derived from experience and observation.” Now it is true, that the evidence of testimony must be resolved at last into experience: but this experience is of a species entirely distinct from that on which the natural probability of any fact attested rests: nor does it consist, as this author asserts, in our observation of the veracity of human testimony, and of the usual conformity of facts with the reports of witnesses. It is built upon other principles, to which the author himself leads us in the words that follow:
“Did not men's imagination naturally follow their memory - had they not commonly an inclination to truth, and a sentiment of probity were they not sensible to shame, when detected in a falshood - Were not these, I say, discovered by experience to be qualities inherent in human nature, we should never repose the least confidence in human testimony.”
The first of these motives I do not understand. Of the rest I shall observe, that their force we collect, not so much from our observation of other men, as from our own feeling, and a consciousness of what passes within our own breast. We perceive in ourselves, that a love and reverence for truth is natural to the mind of man: and the same self-experience teaches us, that there are certain other principles in human nature, by which the veracity of men may be tried, and the truth of testimony be often put out of doubt, as will be hereafter seen.
The next observation is, that,
“as the evidence derived from witnesses and human testimony is founded on past experience, so it varies with the experience, and is regarded either as a proof or probability, according as the conjunction betwixt any particular kind of report and any kind of objects has been found to be constant or variable.”
Here again the author's meaning is lost in a thicket of words, which it is difficult for a common eye to penetrate. Let the reader try what he can make of the conjunction varying betwixt any particular report and any kind of objects. The credibility of an historical fact depends upon the credibility of the fact itself, and that of the historian or witnesses who relate it. These should be always considered distinctly; tho’ the author, for reasons of his own, chuses to confound them. The latter of these depends in part upon principles that are fixed and invariable, such as those the author has just mentioned, which are general principles of human nature; and in part too on the personal character of the relator, the interest he has in the fact related, and other circumstances. As these circumstances vary, the evidence varies, and the fact becomes more or less credible. And so, concerning the natural credibility of the fact, this is greater or less, according as our own, and the observation of others, in cases of a similar nature, has been more or less uniform. Something like this I take to be the author's meaning in this place: and this is the amount of all that follows in this and the next paragraph. My design, therefore, in this remark, is, not to contest the author’s principles, which, as far as I understand them, are right enough; but to shew that his style and manner of writing tend to embarrass the subject, and perplex the reader.
We are now coming nearer to the matter in question.
“Suppose,” says the author, “that the fact, which the testimony endeavours to establish, partakes of the extraordinary and the marvellous; in that case, the evidence resulting from the testimony receives a diminution greater or less, in proportion as the fact is more or less unusual. When the fact attested is such a one as has seldom fallen under our observation, here is a contest of two opposite experiences; of which the one destroys the other, as far as its force goes, and the superior can only operate on the mind by the force which remains. The very same principle of experience, which gives us a certain degree of assurance in the testimony of witnesses, gives us also, in this case, another degree of assurance against the fact which they endeavour to establish.”
Here the author seems to suppose, that a want of experience, in any case, is the same with experiencing the contrary. When a fact attested hath seldom fallen under our observation, “here is, says he, a contest of two opposite experiences:” but, in reality, here is no experience at all; only a fact not observed on one side, and positive evidence, or the fact attested, on the other - a very unequal contest! as we shall presently see; the slightest positive testimony being, for the most part, an over-ballance to the strongest negative evidence that can be produced. I grant, however, all that the author's argument requires, viz. that experience teaches us, of many things, that they are improbable, and not to be hastily believed; of others, that they are naturally incredible: but these are so, not because they an unusual or unobserved, but because there is a known disproportion betwixt the cause assigned and the effect, or because the fact asserted is a contradiction to some known and universal truth.
These premisses he now draws to a point, and makes them center in one conclusive argument against miracles:
“To increase the probability against the testimony of witnesses, let us suppose, that the fact which they affirm, instead of being only marvellous, is really miraculous; and suppose also, that the testimony considered apart and in itself, amounts to an entire proof: in that case. there is proof against proof, of which the strongest must prevail, but still with a diminution of its force in proportion to that of its antagonist.”
I have just allowed, that there are facts which experience assures us an wholly incredible: but of these I shall assert, that no good testimony car be produced in their favour. Truth is always consistent with itself; and no one truth can ever be contradicted by another. The author is, therefore, toe kind in supposing that miracles may admit of full proof from testimony. I shall take no advantage of this concession, but readily acknowledge, that if they are proved a priori to be incredible, it will be a vain attempt to prove them by testimony. Let us see, then, what the author alledges in bar of this proof. His batteries are now mounted, and he begins the attack.
“A miracle,” says he, “is a violation of the laws of nature; and, as a firm and unalterable experience hath established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all men must die - that lead cannot by itself remain suspended in the air - that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water - unless it be, that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or, in other words, a miracle, to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. ‘Tis no miracle, that a man in seeming good health should die of a sudden; because such a kind of death, tho’ more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen: but 'tis a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that hath never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be an uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit the appellation. And, as an uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle: nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle render’d credible, but by an opposite proof that is superior.”
I have endeavoured to preserve the strength of this argument entire, by collecting everything that is of any import to it in the observations that precede it: and, that the reader may see it in its strongest light, I shall here repeat it, as it is again summ’d up by the author at the end of his Essay:
“It appears, that no testimony for any kind of miracle can ever amount to a probability, much less to a proof; and that, even supposing it amounted to a proof, ‘twould be opposed by another proof, derived from the very nature of the fact which it would endeavour to establish. ‘Tis experience alone which gives authority to human testimony; and ‘tis the same experience which assures us of the laws of nature. When, therefore, these two kinds of experience are contrary, we have nothing to do but subtract the one from the other, and embrace an opinion, either on the one side or the other, with that assurance which arises from the remainder. But, according to the principle here explained, this subtraction, with regard to all popular religions, amounts to an entire annihilation: and, therefore, we may establish it as a maxim, that no human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for any such system of religion.”
This is the author's great discovery. The whole secret is out. And here one cannot but wonder to see a position, which is laid down by all that write in defence of miracles, pleaded as a decisive argument against them, and to find the experience of all mankind brought in evidence against all the religions of the world. An experienced uniformity in the course of nature hath been always thought necessary to the belief and use of miracles. These are indeed relative ideas. There must be an ordinary regular course of nature, before there can be any thing extraordinary. A river must flow, before its stream can be interrupted. It is strange, therefore, that this uniformity, which is implied in the nature of a miracle, should at the same time be inconsistent with it. This is to suppose, that the existence of a miracle is a contradiction in terms; and as such indeed the author seems to treat it: “A miracle supported by any human testimony is more properly a subject of derision than of argument:” And again, “What have we to oppose to such a cloud of witnesses, but the absolute impossibility or miraculous nature of the events?” A modest reader can scarce look such assurance as this in the face: he will be apt to mistrust his own apprehension, and think there is more in these big words than he readily sees. The first reading gave me suspicions of this kind; but, having recovered my self, and taken courage to review it, I fear not to assert, that all the experience the author can bring will amount to neither proof nor argument against the belief of miracles. Let him, if he pleases, plead his own experience - that he has never seen or been witness to any miracle - that he has always found the course of nature to be the same and unchanged: but does this experience teach him, that the laws of nature are necessary and immutable - that there is no power in being sufficient to suspend or alter them - or that there can be no reasons to induce such a power to act? ‘Till one or other of these can be proved from experience, it is no evidence in the present case, and, instead of deciding the matter in question, is wholly impertinent and foreign to it. Can the southern climates experience that there is no frost in the north? Or, can Mr. Hume experience that I have never seen fire kindled by a touch from ice? This negative evidence, tho’ multiplied infinitely, would still be negative: and the fact last mentioned might be true, and capable of very easy proof from testimony, as I shal1 presently shew, tho’ all the world should agree that they had never seen the like.
The uniformity of nature is no way impeached or brought in question by the supposition of miracles. The concurring testimony of mankind to the course of nature is not contradicted by those who have experienced contrary appearances in a few instances. The idea of a miracle unites and reconciles these seeming differences. By supposing the facts in question to be miraculous, the uniformity of nature is preserved, and the facts are accounted for upon another principle entirely consistent with it. Thus, experience teacheth us that lead and iron are heavier than water: but a man, by projecting these heavy bodies, may make them swim in water, or fly in air. Should the same be done by any invisible power, it would be a miracle. But the uniformity of nature is no more disturbed in this case than the former: nor is the general experience, which witnesses to the superior gravity of these bodies, any proof that they may not be raised in air and water by some invisible agent, as well as by the power of man. All that experience teaches is the comparative weight of these bodies. If, therefore, they are seen to float in mediums lighter than themselves, this must be the effect of art or strength: but, if it be done without any visible art or power, it must be done then by some art or power that is invisible; that is, it must be miraculous. This is the process by which we infer the existence of miracles; which is, therefore, so far from being contradicted by that experience upon which the laws of nature are established, that it is closely connected and stands in the fairest agreement with it.
The question then will remain - Whether any such invisible agents have ever interposed in producing visible effects? Against the possibility of this, tho’ the author is pleased to pronounce it impossible, he hath offered no argument (and, indeed, none can possibly be offered): against the credibility of it, the experience which he pleads is no argument at all. This experience proves a course of nature; but, whether this is ever interrupted, is still a question. This experience teaches what may be ordinarily expected from common causes and in the common course of things: but miraculous interpositions, which we are inquiring after, are, by their nature and essence, extraordinary and out of the common course of nature. Miracles, if at all, are effects of an extraordinary power upon extraordinary occasions: consequently, common experience can determine nothing concerning them. That such occasions may arise, both in the natural and moral world, is easy to conceive. The greatest of natural philosophers hath thought, that the frame of the world will want, in a course of time, the hand that made to retouch and refit it. The greatest of moral philosophers hath thought it a reasonable hope, that God would some time send a messenger from heaven to instruct men in the great duties of religion and morality.
As to the question of fact - Whether any such interpositions have been ever known or observed? this must be tried, like all other historical facts, by the testimony of those who relate it, and the credit of the first witnesses who have vouched it; and not, as this author would have it, by the testimony of others of those who lived in distant times and places. There is mention of a comet, a little before the Achaian war, which appeared as big as the sun. If this were well attested by the astronomers of that time, it would be trifling to object against it that the like had never been observed before or since. And just as pertinent is it to alledge the experience of ages and countries against miracles which are said to be wrought in other times and other countries.
But, in truth, were the world to give evidence in the present question, they would, I am persuaded, depose very differently from what this author expects. A great part of mankind have given their testimony to the credibility of miracles: they have actually believed them. By this author's account, all the religions in the world have been founded upon this belief. if this be true, we have universal testimony to the credibility of miracles. How then can there be universal experience against them? The author tells us that we must judge of testimony by experience. It is more certain that we must judge of the experience of men by their testimony.
It is far from true that all religions have been founded on miracles. None but the Christian and Jewish appear to be so founded. But there is a sort of miracles, which men of all religions have agreed in believing. “A miracle,” as this author says, “may be either discoverable by men, or not. This alters not its nature and essence.” Many things appear to us to be effected by natural means, the first springs of which may be moved by the immediate hand-of God. But every such interposition, in overruling or giving a new direction to the course of nature, is, as the author allows, miraculous. If then Providence ever interposes in punishing exemplary wickedness, or in the support of eminent virtue - in averting evil, or bestowing good - these are miracles. But these have been universally believed. These blessings of heaven have been implored and acknowledged, and these judgments deprecated, in the publick and private prayers of mankind, from the beginning of the world to this time.
We cannot indeed argue, from these supposed interpositions, that therefore Providence will interpose in a visible and sensible manner. But it follows, that such interpositions are possible; it follows, that they are credible. If we believe these miraculous interpositions, when they do not appear to our senses, what should hinder us from believing the like upon the report of our senses, or of credible persons who give witness to them? If there are general reasons for concealing these interpositions, may there not too be special reasons for signalizing them at times to the senses and notice of mankind? It is certain, that, if any such reasons can be assigned, all that is difficult of belief in miracles will be removed. Now, though we cannot indeed look into the counsels of Providence, nor, without presumption, pronounce what is fit for God, in any supposed circumstance, to do; yet, in judging of past facts or miracles, that are questioned, we can readily see whether any great end, worthy of God, hath been answered by them: and, if this appear to be the case, it will create a presumption in their favour: and, if, farther-, it shall seem that this end could not have been compassed by any other means, this will amount to some proof of their reality.
To see this matter in the clearest light, it may be proper to consider more distinctly the grounds of that credibility, which we allow, in different degrees, to historical facts. This depends, as I have said, on the credibility of the facts themselves, and on that of the historian or witnesses who relate them.
The credibility of any fact in itself, as this author frequently tells us, depends upon its analogy with the known course of nature. But the powers of nature are so imperfectly known to us, that in most cases we argue with great uncertainty from this principle. A consequence of this is, that testimony is, for the most part, of much greater force to establish the truth of past facts, than experience. It would have been thought highly incredible a few years ago, that an animal might be propagated by cutting it in pieces - that you might, by dividing one living creature, give life to an hundred of the same species. Yet this sort of Hydra has been discovered; and the fact, tho’ contrary to the whole analogy of nature, was readily believed, when it had been experienced and testified by very few. In like manner, I have no doubt that the magnet loses its polarity in very cold latitudes. I believe this upon the testimony of one man, tho’ the experience of travellers in all climates before attests the contrary. Here the most uniform experience is outweighed by a single evidence. The reason is, that the experience of other countries is only a negative evidence in this question. This experience was indeed, before the fact was tried, a very strong presumption against it. The most cautious sailor would have ventured his fortune and life upon it. Yet is this presumption of no weight in the question of past fact, when compared with the slightest testimony.
In cases where a sufficient cause is assigned, an effect, however new and strange, may become credible, or even probable, in itself, without any testimony to support it. That fire should be kindled by a touch from ice,
is contrary to the experience of some thousand years. But electricity is a cause given equal to the effect. From this time then the fact becomes credible, and even probable, tho’ it were not tried and proved by anyone witness.
In moral or intelligent agents we look for moral causes - for reasons or motives to induce them to act, as well as for the natural powers of acting. And, where both a final and efficient cause appear equal to the effect, the effect, however strange in itself, will become credible by testimony, if not probable without it. It is possible for a man to swim across the Hellespont. The possibility of this fact will make it credible upon sufficient testimony: but, if a competent reason is assigned for his hazardous enterprize (such as the escaping certain death) this will make it credible upon the slightest testimony, or even probable without any.
The result then is - that whatever is possible, or in the lowest degree credible, is capable of a proof from testimony - that the strongest presumption from experience is of little force against positive evidence and that, where a cause is assigned equal to any effect, the event is rendered credible upon common testimony, and sometimes probable without any.
But there are, it is granted, many cases, which we may, from nature and experience, pronounce to be impossible. It is impossible that a fact or proposition should be true, when the cause assigned is unequal to the effect. Now, the proportion of causes to effects, the natural powers of agents, and the force of moral causes on the mind, we know, to a good degree, from experience. If we cannot precisely determine the force of natural agents, we can, in most cases, assign limits which they cannot pass. For instance: We cannot precisely mark out the bounds of human power; but we can, in all cases, say to what it does not extend. If the strength of men, at a medium, be equal to one, that of king Augustus or Hercules may be equal to two; but it cannot be equal to two hundred. A physician may restore a dying man to health; but he cannot restore a dead man to life. Of all such events, as raising the dead, calming the winds or seas, curing diseases, with a word, we may fairly pronounce, that they are impossible to human strength, and therefore, when imputed to it, are incredible; because a force equal to two cannot produce an effect equal to two hundred. In this case experience decides with sufficient authority against the fact. And this, I suppose, the author mistook for an argument against miracles.
But who ever attributed these facts to human power? Those who record, and those who believe, miracles, universally ascribe them to a power superior to man. They agree, that they far exceed all human strength, and therefore are an argument of the concurrence and agency of some superior power. Against the interposition of such superior power, experience, as we have seen, can determine nothing. If common experience does not attest or acknowledge such interpositions, the answer is given - common occasions do not call for them. The common wants of nature are provided for by the common course of nature. Extraordinary occasions only can call for extraordinary interpositions. Of these occasions we are not the proper judges: but, that many such may arise in the government of free agents, seems obvious even to us.
If men, by a bad use of their liberty, should sink themselves into a moral incapacity of answering the ends of their creation - if they should lose sight of God and religion and all the great motives to holiness and virtue, and this evil should become general and past all natural hopes of recovery - it is very supposeable that God may interpose, by a special act of his Providence, in restoring them to a capacity of serving him, and of attaining that happiness for which they were created. If virtue, and that knowledge which is necessary to it, are worthy the care of Providence - and if these were in danger of perishing out of the world - why should it be thought incredible that God should send a righteous man to recall men to virtue, to teach the doctrines and enforce the duties of religion, with a clear and express authority? This mission of a prophet would be miraculous: but the miracle would not appear; and therefore other miracles would be necessary to attest its truth. Superior knowledge and virtue are not sufficient to characterize a prophet: he must do such things as no man can do, except God were with him, before his mission or character will be acknowledged for divine. Here then is a reason, which, whenever it can be pleaded, will make miracles every way credible, and as capable of proof from testimony as any matter of fact whatsoever.
In the examination of past facts, if no such end appears to have been answered by the miracles alledged, this will be a strong presumption against them. On the other hand, if any great consequences have followed - if, for instance, it should appear from history, that natural religion had, when lost, by the help of these miracles, whether real or pretended, been revived in all its purity, and established in many nations as the will of God - this will be a strong presumption in their favour: And, if there appear no other assignable cause, which could give birth to this great event, but the miracles pretended, this will be a good proof of their reality.
We come next to consider the credibility derived to facts from testimony. This depends in general upon the principles of human nature, which we can argue with the more certainty from, because we experience them in ourselves, as well as observe them in others. We are made naturally to love truth, and to hate and abhor falshood and deceit. The shame of being detected in a lye, and the reproach that ever follows it, is a full proof of this. Even in matters of no moment, in the most transient discourse, where men think it unnecessary to attend to what they say, were there no temptation from vanity or a desire of pleasing, they would never deviate from truth. But this principle will operate far more strongly, where men are called upon to attend, have leisure to consider, and give their testimony deliberately: it will operate more strongly on good men than bad - in cases of great moment than in matters of indifference.
Could we be absolutely certain, in any case, that a man had no interest, real or supposed, in deceiving - that he had no motive to deceive - we might depend with absolute certainty upon the truth of his evidence. Now, this assurance we may have from circumstances that cannot deceive us. Incapable as we are of penetrating into all the reserves and recesses of the human mind, there is yet a certain and infallible test, by which the veracity of men may in many cases be tried. For example: If the person attesting gives up every known interest for the sake of his testimony, without any known prospect of advantage - if he is exposed by it to present sufferings, and is threatened with yet greater - if he persists under all the discouragements that can be thought of, and goes through a long series of evils, which, by receding from his testimony, he might prevent - and, lastly, if he gives up life itself for a painful and ignominious death - this is such a proof of sincerity as cannot be resisted. In this case, we are not only assured that the witness is free from every corrupt biass, but that he has the highest regard for truth. Nothing but a conscious sense of this, with the hope of a future reward from the God of truth, can support men under a loss of all things, and under the actual suffering of all the evils of life. A good man may give up his interest for the sake of truth: a bad man will sacrifice truth to interest: but no man will give up interest and truth together for nothing, or for the sake of falshood, which is worse than nothing.
The maxims we here argue from are the most certain and uncontroverted of any in morality - That men act from motives, and that good, real or apparent, is the object, the motive and aim of every action. The laws by which the moral world is governed are as certain and infallible as those of the natural. The passions, appetites, and senses of mankind act, and are acted upon, with as much uniformity as any powers and principles in nature. That men should love falshood rather than truth - that they should chuse labour and travail, shame and misery, before pleasure, ease, and esteem - is as much a violation of the laws of nature, as it is for lead or iron to hang unsupported in the air, or for the voice of a man to raise the dead to life: but this, I have granted to the author, is, not miraculous, but impossible, and shall therefore have his leave, I hope, to assert, that falshood, thus attested, is impossible - in other words, that testimony, thus tried and proved, is infallible and certain.
It remains, indeed, that witnesses the most upright and unsuspected may be mistaken in their testimony: they may be deceived themselves; and therefore their testimony, even thus proved, is not to be securely relied on. But, happily, miracles, at least all that we dispute with this author, are of such a nature, that it is impossible to be deceived about them. Facts that are visible and palpable to the senses of mankind, that are done in open day-light, that lie open to scrutiny and observation for a long time together, present witnesses must know whether they see or not. They who report them as eye-witnesses cannot be deceived themselves in the belief of them, however they may intend to deceive others.
I conclude then, that miracles, when there appears a sufficient cause for working them, are credible in themselves that, when they come under the cognizance of our senses, they are proper matter of testimony, and, when attested by witnesses who have sufficient opportunities of convincing themselves, and give sufficient proof of their conviction, have a right to command our faith.
And here I accept the author's alternative, without complaining of the insidious terms in which it is expressed.
“The plain consequence,” says he, “is (and ‘tis a general maxim worthy of our attention) that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falshood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish: and even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force which remains after deducting the inferior. - If the falshood of any person's testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates, then, and not 'till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.”
By miraculous it is plain that the author here means, in the popular sense of the word, wonderful or incredible. I assert then, that miracles may be made so credible by circumstances and concurring facts, and so supported by testimony, that, if we reject them, we must believe things more incredible, or, as the author would have us speak, more miraculous than the miracles themselves.
The miracles I shall mention are those in the Christian Gospel - healing the sick without any visible means, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead to life, &c. all which are said to be performed by the power of God for ends the most worthy of himself, viz. to restore religion and morality to their true principles, and to establish the practice of them in the world. The character of those who were appointed to this work, and the doctrines which they taught, correspond perfectly with this design: great as it was, they undertook it with alacrity and confidence, declaring from the beginning that their commission was to go and teach all nations: the miracles which they attest, as giving authority to their doctrine, they assert from their own knowledge, as what they saw with their eyes, and handled with their hands: the number of these facts, and the numbers attesting them, were very great: they concurred, without variation, in the same doctrine, and in the same testimony: they submitted, with the same courage and constancy, to the greatest persecutions and afflictions, in confirmation of their truth, and, when called to it (as many of them were) laid down their lives for its sake: they foresaw from the beginning the opposition they met with, and foretold, with the fullest assurance, their success against it; and the event justified their predictions; the religion they taught was in a short time established in a great part of the world.
Here, now, the attempt itself, if not spirited and supported by truth, is wholly strange and unaccountable. That men of low birth and education should conceive a design of new-modelling the religion of all nations, and reforming their manners, by the laws of temperance, purity, and charity that bad men should concur in an end so great and godlike, or good men in means so impious as fraud and imposture - that men of craft or address should chuse for the hero of their story one who was chronicled as a malefactor, and who had been put to death by the consent of a whole people - one, too, that had abused their confidence, and misled them by false hopes into an endless train of miseries - all this is contrary to nature, and therefore, by the author's rule, impossible.
The zeal with which they carried on this design, traversing seas and kingdoms, without rest, and without weariness - a zeal which could not be exceeded by the most righteous men in the most righteous cause - this, if not prompted by duty and a strong conviction of the truths they taught, is still more incredible.
The excellency of the religion they taught, in its worship and morality –far surpassing all human wisdom and philosophy, and the sole end of which is to make men honest, sincere, and virtuous, if it be the work of ignorance and fraud, is equally strange and mysterious.
The success of this design is yet a greater miracle. In this chain of wonders the event is the most miraculous part. The establishment of the Gospel in an hundred different nations, its victory over Jews and Gentiles, over the power and policy of the wisest and greatest people, over the pride of learning and the obstinacy of ignorance, over the prejudices of religion and those of sin and irreligion, is an event the most wonderful of any in history. But this is a miracle which we see before our eyes: it is a miraculous fact that must be ascribed to a miraculous cause. Even granting the truth of the Gospel miracles, the instruments in propagating it were so unequal to the work, that nothing but the power of God, accompanying and working with them, can account for its success. It was still a miracle that it should prosper in their hands. But, without either truth or providence to support it, this success would be more than miraculous - it would be impossible.
The testimony directly given to these miracles is strongly confirmed by the character of the witnesses, who, as far as appears even from the testimony of their enemies, were unblameable in their lives and manners - men of conscience and religion. Their writings breathe a spirit of piety, a zeal for God and good works, that is not equalled by any writings in the world: they carry in them such marks of candor, truth, and simplicity, as cannot be imitated: all which can never consist with the daring impiety of usurping the most sacred of all characters, and preaching a false religion to the world.
The numbers that engaged in this design, tho’ dispersed in different regions, agreed perfectly in the same report. It was in the power of any of these, or of the accomplices that must be concerned with them, to defeat the whole, by discovering the fraud: and it cannot be, that not one should, by fear or interest, persuasion or torture, be prevailed on to discover it.
They put their testimony to the trial, by claiming a power of working miracles themselves: they displayed this power frequently and publickly, and so submitted their truth to the eyes and senses of all about them. This pretence, if false, must have defeated the most probable and hopeful scheme; if true, it was no more than necessary to the difficulties of this. The event was - great numbers were every day converted to the faith. But this conduct cannot, any more than the event, be reconciled to the character or supposition of imposture.
Lastly, They gave the highest proof that can be given to the veracity of testimony, by going thro' the fiery trial of persecution, in all its various forms of imprisonment, torture, and death. This began with the very beginning of Christianity. They saw it evidently before their eyes, and plainly devoted themselves from the first to a life of sufferings and affliction. They gave up ease and security, country, kindred, family, and friends, to be treated every-where with contempt and contumely, to conflict with poverty and want, to be persecuted from city to city, sentenced to imprisonment and stripes, and, at last, to die by stoning, by the sword, or the cross. But this, in support of falshood and wrong, is so contrary to human nature, that it is absolutely incredible.
The supposition then, that the miracles of the Gospel are false, is full of wonders, prodigies, things unnatural, and which experience, the author's criterion in matters of fact, pronounces to be impossible.
And what now is that contrariety to nature, which is pleaded against the possibility of miracles? “A miracle,” the author tells us, “may be accurately defined a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity or by the interposal of some invisible agent.” But this definition is neither accurate nor consistent with itself. The laws of nature are the laws of God: and, if God should occasionally change or invert any of these, there is no law, that I know of, against it - no law of God or nature broken by it. But, in fact, where miracles are supposed, there is no change made in these laws. I have shewn, that all that's unnatural in miracles is only appearance. There is nothing contrary to nature in supposing the dead to be raised, or the winds controlled by a power equal to the effect. It was no way contrary to the nature of God to reveal his will to mankind, in order to reform their corruptions, and to conduct them to virtue and happiness. On the contrary, this might be piously hoped for from his wisdom and goodness. It was no way contrary to the nature and condition of men. It appears from the history of mankind, that natural religion was at this time universally corrupted, and that no other probable means were left of restoring it. Reason and philosophy had tried their strength in vain. It was, therefore, on the part of man, highly expedient and desireable. In fact, to this revelation, whether real or pretended, and to no other cause, it is owing, that the great truths of nature, concerning God, a Providence, and a future state, are now so widely spread, and that half the world, instead of dumb idols, are serving the living God: and, if all the good ends, that might be expected, are not yet answered by it, yet the seed of the word is sown, the foundations of true religion are laid, and there is hope that it will in time enlarge its borders, and prevail, where it is received, with more effect and influence. It cannot be denied, that the Gospel is an adequate provision for the wants, a remedy for all the infirmities, of mankind. There is nothing, that can be wished for in a rule of duty, that is not comprehended in it. The miracles, then, that attest it, are accounted for to our reason: we have God, the cause of all things, for their author: and a sufficient reason is assigned for the divine interposition. And this will, at the same time, account for all the wonders that followed: the actions sufferings, and success of the Apostles will, upon this scheme, appear easy, consistent, and natural.
But, if this account be not admitted, these will remain so many contradictions to nature and experience, and it will lie upon the author to reconcile them to our belief. If the common motives to human actions, interest, passion, and prejudice, cannot be pleaded in answer to these difficulties, what other account can be given of them? Some cause must be assigned adequate to the effect. For men to act without motives is as unnatural, as it is for a body to sink without weight - to act against the force of motives is as contrary to nature, as it is for a stone to ascend against the laws of gravity. Hear what this author says himself in another Essay:
“We cannot make use of a more convincing argument, than to prove that the actions ascribed to any person are directly contrary to the course of nature, and that no human motives, in such circumstances, could even induce him to such a conduct.”
The author tells us, that in this case we must reject the greater miracle. But miracle is too soft a name for these inconsistencies. Could he shew, that God, or some invisible agent, had interposed in confounding the reason and understanding of all that preached or believed the Gospel, in changing their nature, and giving a contrary direction to their passions, affections, and instincts, they would then be miracles, and proper objects of our belief. But this I shall presume impossible to be proved, because no end can be assigned for such interposition, but merely to deceive mankind - an end so unworthy of God, and contrary to the perfections of his nature, that we may pronounce it impossible for him to promote, or even to permit it to take effect.
Here, then, I may call upon the author, in his own words, to lay his hand upon his heart, and declare, whether the miracles of the Gospel could possibly have been better attested, if true whether there is anyone condition wanting that can add credibility to them - whether there is any thing so contrary to nature in these miracles, as in the testimony given, and the belief gained, to them, if false - whether it is not easier to believe the miracles true, than that so many miraculous consequences (a natural effect of true miracles) should arise from them, if false, - or, lastly, whether it be not more credible that God should work these miracles for so great an end as that of giving birth and establishment to Christianity, than that he should work more and greater miracles to confound and deceive mankind. When he has ball anced his account of the impossibility of miracles with the evidence for those of the Gospel, and subtracted the former from the latter, this subtraction will certainly amount to an entire annihilation.
Let us now see the poor case which the author puts at last to illustrate and crown his argument:
“When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact he relates should really have happened: I weigh the one miracle against the other, and, according to the superiority which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle.”
The author’s argument requires him to prove, that no miracles, however circumstanced, can be made credible by any testimony whatsoever. But, in the case supposed, the miracle has not one circumstance to make it credible, nor the testimony one condition to confirm its truth. A dead man we may suppose raised to life without any reason, use, or end whatsoever: and a dead man may be raised for some extraordinary purpose of Providence, as to give authority and character to the special messengers of God. Now, tho’ the former of these cannot be made credible by the naked testimony of one man, the latter may be made credible by the attestation of many, especially, if they give proof, that they were neither deceived themselves, nor intended to deceive others. Tho’ one man, unassisted, cannot lift a weight of twenty tuns, twenty men, with the help of engines, may lift the weight of one. I agree with the author, that, when a man is said to rise, like the ghost in Prince Edward, only to set again, it is more credible, that the testimony is false, than the miracle true: but, when I see an effect worthy of Providence, in which the religion, virtue, and morality of a great part of mankind are concerned, brought about by the belief of this or such-like miracles, and find, upon inquiry, that this miracle is attested by a great number of persons who lived and died confessors and martyrs to it, the falshood of such testimony appears to me far more miraculous than such a miracle.
The author puts the same case, with the addition of some particulars, in the second part of his Essay:
“Suppose that all the historians who treat of England should agree, that, on the first of January, 1600, queen Elizabeth died - that, both before and after her death, she was seen by her physicians and the whole court, as is usual with persons of her rank - that her successor was acknowledged and proclaimed by parliament - and that, after having been interred a month, she again appeared, took possession of the and governed England three years: I must confess I should be surprized at the concurrence of so many odd circumstances, but should not have the least inclination to believe so miraculous an event.”
Here, again, the fact supposed is the strangest and most unaccountable that the author could well conceive, because no final cause appears to make it in any degree credible. But when was any such fact attested by historians? If the author thinks the story incredible, I think it as incredible that any good historian should relate it: if he thinks it incredible, because it is a miracle, I think it incredible that God should work such a miracle for nothing.
But the importance of miracles is, it seems, with the author, a thing of no consideration: this, which we considered as a circumstance that gives the highest credibility to the Gospel miracles, is, at last, the very reason why he rejects them as incredible.
“I beg,” says he, “that the limitation here made may be remarked, when I say, that a miracle can never he proved, so as to be a foundation of a system of religion; for I own, that otherwise, there may possibly be miracles, or violations of the usual course of nature, of such a kind, as to admit, of proof from human testimony, tho’ perhaps it will be impossible to find any such in all the records of history.”
This concession is very remarkable, and appears to me to be fairly giving up the argument: for, if miracles may be wrought in cases of less moment, why may they not in greater? or, is religion the last and least of all things in the opinion of this author? I confess myself at a loss to guess what can be his intention in this place. If, in compromise for the other miracles which he here grants us unasked, he expects us to give up all that have religion for their object, it will indeed answer his purpose very well. He may grant other miracles possible, and yet make good his argument against them. But these are not so easily dealt with. The surest way not to believe them is not to examine them. And this he wisely recommends as the best expedient that been tried against them.
“If a miracle,” says he, “be ascribed to any new system of religion, men, in all ages, have been so much imposed on by ridiculous stories of that kind, that this very circumstance would be a full proof of a cheat, and sufficient, with all men of sense, not only to make them reject the fact, but even reject it without farther examination.”
This indeed, is a short way with religion and miracles; and we must own, that the author hath found out at last a decisive argument against them.
Little as it is that the author has done in the first part of his Essay, he seems to think it more them enough, and that half his pains might have been spared;
“In the foregoing reasoning, we have supposed, that the testimony upon which a miracle is founded may possibly amount to an entire proof, and that the falshood of the testimony would be a kind of prodigy. But ‘tis easy to shew, that we have been a great deal too liberal in our concessions, and that there never was a miraculous event, in any history, established on so full an evidence.”
But, if the author was so sure of his strength, why this corps de reserve, a body of troops that have been for ever harassed, and are yet untired, in the service of infidelity?
The first of these veteran bands is drawn as follows: “There is not,” says he,
“to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men of such unquestioned good sense, education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves - of such undoubted integrity, as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others of such credit and reputation in the eyes of mankind, as to have a great deal to lose, in case of being detected in a falshood - and, at the same time, attesting facts performed in such a publick manner, and in so celebrated a part of the world, as to render the detection unavoidable: all which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men.”
The reader will allow me to suppose, that the author has in view, both here and throughout his Essay, the Christian miracles, which we have been considering. Now, the objections here made have been so frequently and fully answered by the advocates of Christianity, that it is quite piteous to see the author, after proclaiming a victory, calling in such poor auxiliaries to his relief.
As to the first condition here required, there never was perhaps a fact directly attested by so many witnesses as the miracles in question. We have still upon record the express depositions of many in the writings of the Apostles. The conversion of every single person to Christianity was, in truth, a dear and precise testimony to these facts; for this religion was wholly built upon them. Now, besides the twelve Apostles and seventy Disciples chosen to preach the Gospel, a great number more were converted by the miracles and resurrection of Christ. But those that gave this witness to the miracles of the Apostles were without number. Never was there a doctrine that spread so swiftly thro’ the world, or that gained so many present and immediate witnesses to its truth.
The Apostles and first Disciples had not, many of them, the advantages of education and learning. But what learning is required to enable men to see with their eyes and hear with their ears? The miracles they attest were plain facts, the objects of sense. Folly itself could not be deceived in them: and sure folly could never so successfully deceive. These men, illiterate as they were and void of art or eloquence, did what this author, with all his arguments, will never be able to do: they got the better of all the religions in the world about them, and established their own in different and distant countries. They had, therefore, we may hope, sense enough to testify what their eyes had seen and their hands had handled.
They had not perhaps any great reputation to lose. But the good name of a poor man is as dear to him as that of the greatest. If they had no publick character to lose, they had publick infamy to dread: and this they incurred, not by being detected in a falshood, but by persevering in the truth. If it was little that they gave up to follow Christ, it was, however, all that they had. And what they gained was a negative quantity, and must be put to the side of their losses: they gained hunger and thirst, toil and labour, watchings and fastings, scorn and reproach, scourgings and death. They lost, then, enough to evidence their sincerity. They gave every proof, that ever was given by man, to the truth of their testimony.
As to the notoriety of the facts, they were done in the most publick manner - in places of constant resort - many of them in Jerusalem, at times of the greatest concourse: and, what is more, they were done in direct opposition to the prejudices of all that saw them - before the most vigilant and powerful enemies, who did not, as this author tells us wise men commonly do, “think the matter too inconsiderable to deserve their attention,” but exerted their utmost industry and authority in suppressing this new religion; putting its head and leader to death, suborning false witnesses to discredit him and his miracles, and proceeding immediately, by imprisoning some, and killing others, to deter and disperse his followers. These miracles, therefore, were wrought in the very place where their detection was most certain and unavoidable; and the testimony given to them was given in the same publick manner and in the same place.
The author is well aware, that the testimony of the Apostles and first Christians, if the miracles were false (I mean, the fact of giving such testimony) and the miraculous events that followed in consequence of them, will be thought, upon reflexion, at least as incredible as the miracles themselves; and therefore, to abate our wonder on this head, he observes,
“secondly, that there is a principle in human nature, which, if strictly examined, will be found to diminish extremely the assurance we might have from human testimony in any kind of prodigy. The maxim, by which we commonly conduct ourselves in our reasonings, is, that the objects of which we have no experience resemble those of which we have - that what we have found to be most usual is always most probable. But, tho’, in proceeding by this rule, we readily reject any fact that is unusual or incredible in an ordinary degree, yet, in advancing farther, the mind observes not always the same rule; but, when any thing is affirmed utterly absurd and miraculous, it rather the more readily admits such a fact upon account of the very circumstance which ought to destroy all its authority. The passion of surprise and wonder arising from miracles, being an agreeable emotion, gives a sensible tendency towards the belief of those events from which it is derived.”
The love of novelty is, indeed, a natural passion; it is no other than the love of knowledge, which God hath implanted in the mind for the wisest reasons: and for the same reasons we may be assured that he hath not laid snares to betray us into error, and much less hath placed in us a principle, as the author here supposes, the tendency of which is to make us believe things, merely because they are incredible. “With what greediness,” saith he, “are the miraculous accounts of travellers received, their descriptions of sea and land monsters, their relations of wonderful adventures, strange men, and uncouth manners!” It is true that every new discovery gratifies our love of knowledge, and gives pleasure to the mind: but it must have the appearance of truth to do so. Tho’ we love to be informed, we do not love to be deceived. A single miracle would risk the credit of the best-esteemed travels. But, according to this author's principle, the voyage to Lilliput or Laputa must meet with more credit than that of Anson or Ellis.
But, if the love of novelty will not reconcile us to miracles, that of religion will make us believe any thing. “If the spirit of religion joins itself to the love of wonder, there is an end of common sense.” If the author means, that men are more apt to believe miracles in the cause of religion than in any other case, he is so far in the right. Where should men expect or believe miraculous interpositions, but where it is most worthy of God to interpose? But it does not follow, that religion is a friend to false miracles, or an enemy to common sense. On the contrary, right notions of the divine nature and perfections, which religion teaches, are a necessary help to distinguish true miracles from false. Now, the Jews, in general, were better instructed in these points than the wisest of the Heathens. The men of Athens were far more superstitious than the most ignorant of the Hebrews. The false wonders of magick, witchcraft, and necromancy, these were taught by their law to hold in contempt, and, consequently, were less liable to be practised upon by appearances of this sort. And, of the Apostles and first Christians, it is certain, that they had all the security against delusion and error of this kind, that a rational piety and the noblest sentiments of God and a Providence could give them.
“a religionist may be an enthusiast, and imagine he sees what has no reality: he may know his narration to be false, and yet persevere in it, with the best intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause; or, even where this delusion has no place, vanity, excited by so strong a temptation, operates on him more powerfully than on the rest of mankind in any other circumstances, and self-interest with equal force: his auditors may not have, and commonly have not, sufficient judgment to canvas his evidence; what judgment they have they renounce upon principle in these sublime and mysterious subjects.”
Here, it is confessed, the author has touched upon a very powerful and fruitful source of error. Men, whose passions are stronger than their reason, will be guilty of excess in religion as well as in other things. A zeal for opinions frequently makes men conclude their own cause to be the cause of God; and, from wishing that Heaven may declare in their favour, they are easily led to believe such interpositions upon the slightest testimony. But, tho’ this principle will make men believe false miracles, it will not overpower their senses, or make them see what has no reality. The French prophets were extravagant enough to expect that one of their principal teachers would come to life again; but, with all their enthusiasm, none could believe that he saw this miracle: on the contrary, this disappointment opened their eyes, and the pretence to miracle ruined their cause. Nor can I allow, with the author, that men of the best intentions can propagate a known falshood for the sake of truth. An honest man may be hasty in believing; but he cannot be a deceiver or impostor. It is certain, the religion of Christ disdains such pious frauds, and his Apostles have forbad and condemned them in terms as severe as language can express: nor is it a principle in this religion, as this writer would insinuate, that men should renounce their judgment in inquiries of this sort: on the contrary, they are injoined carefully to examine the truth of miracles and doctrines, before they believe them.
But, granting the author's principles in their full extent, the miracles of the Gospel will be no way affected by them: For, first, the Apostles are free from all tincture and appearance of enthusiasm; witness the writings which they have left behind them, and that system of doctrines and morals contained in them: in their piety nothing over-passionate, rapturous, or ecstatick appears, but all is rational, sober, and temperate: their zeal for their master and his religion never transports them into complaints or invectives against his enemies or their own, or into any strained elogiums or panegyricks upon his character: they recite all that is wonderful in his actions, without exclamation, without vehement asseveration, with an undoubting, unguarded simplicity, that is highly singular and remarkable: their whole conduct, in like manner, was void of ostentation, steady, uniform, and regular throughout: they were not only consistent each with himself (which a fanatick spirit seldom is) but all pursued the same plan, without varying or change, with the most perfect harmony and agreement. And, secondly, whatever influence, from passion or prejudice, the witnesses to Christianity were under, this operated the contrary way, and must dispose them to reject, rather than receive, the miracles: the Apostles themselves were Jews, and zealous of the traditions and customs of their ancestors: the other converts, whether Jews or Pagans, were prejudiced, as strongly as they could be, by religion, against the Gospel: bigotry and enthusiasm rose up every-where in persecution against it: nothing but reason and conviction could induce men to declare for it: every passion, every interest, and every prejudice persuaded against this belief: and, in fact, every single conversion to it was not barely the testimony of an unprejudiced judge, but the testimony of an enemy to its truth.
“The wise,” says the author, in another place,
“lend a very academick faith to every report which favours the passion of the reporter, whether it magnifies his country, his family, or himself, or in any other way strikes in with his natural inclinations and propensities. But what greater temptation than to appear a missionary, a prophet, an ambassador from heaven? Who would not encounter many dangers and difficulties to attain so sublime a character?”
Where this character is indeed attended with honour and respect, it will be natural for ambitious men to desire it. But the head and leader of this sect had been every-where reviled and persecuted, and was crucified as a malefactor: his followers every-where shared the same fate. What temptation was there to appear his prophet or ambassador? What vanity or self-interest was gratified by it?
But, thirdly, the author tells us,
“it forms a very strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous relations, that they are always found chiefly to abound amongst ignorant and barbarous nations; or, if a civilised people has ever given admission to any of them, that people will be found to have received them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors, who transmitted them with that inviolable sanction and authority which always attends antient and received opinions.”
This argument, we presume, has been already answered. The miracles of the Gospel were, as we have said, performed where they were most suspected. The Jews were by no means a barbarous people, and they were freer from superstition than any other nation in the world. These miracles were immediately canvassed with all the severity that the prejudice of enemies could suggest. Some who were healed of their diseases were sent immediately to the priests, on purpose, as it seems, that they might undergo the strictest inquisition. Others were called before the council, examined, and threatened, and every means tried to refute and silence them. This religion did not get strength in the dark, and then adventure itself by degrees into the light: it was openly proclaimed, from the first, in the temple and in the synagogue, where the Jews always resorted: and, when the Apostles had filled Jerusalem and Judaea with their doctrines, Rome and Athens were some of the next scenes of their ministry.
Under this head we are entertained with a long story from the Pseudomantis of Lucian. “It was,” saith the author,
“a wise policy in that cunning impostor, Alexander, who, tho' now forgotten, was once so famous, to lay the first scene of his impostures in Paphlagonia, where, as Lucian tells us, the people were extremely ignorant and stupid, and ready to swallow even the grossest delusion. People at a distance, who are weak enough to think the matter at all worth inquiry, have no opportunity of receiving better information. The stories come magnified to them by an hundred circumstances. Fools are industrious to propagate the delusion; while the wise and learned are contented, in general, to deride its absurdity, without informing themselves of the particular facts, by which it may be distinctly refuted. And thus the impostor above-mentioned was enabled to proceed, from his ignorant Paphlagonians, to the inlisting votaries even among the Grecian philosophers and men of the most eminent rank and distinction in Rome - nay, could engage the attention of the sage emperor, Marcus Aurelius, so far as to make him trust the success of a military expedition to his delusive prophecies.”
But what, if this famous impostor never pretended to miracles? It is said, indeed, that he had his emissaries in distant countries, who reported this, among other things, to his honour: but there is no appearance in his history of his ever counterfeiting or pretending to this power. It was his policy not to hazard his reputation on so dangerous an issue. Ignorant and stupid as his Paphlagonians were, it might have been too much for all his art to impose false facts upon their eyes and senses. He had, by a bold and successful cheat of another kind, established his character among this people, who, Lucian tells us, differed from brutes in nothing but their outward form. He had the fortune too to gain the ear of a famous Roman general, who, by the same author's account, was formed to be the dupe of every pretender. This seems to have got him some name in Rome. But I find none, that deserve to be called philosophers, among his votaries. It is certain, that the sight of a Christian or an Epicurean disconcerted all his management. They were always drove from his presence, having the confidence, no doubt, to deride the prophet and his oracles. Everyone must believe, upon the representation here made, that the emperor Antonine had undertaken the expedition mentioned at the instigation of the impostor, or, at least, had concerted measures with him for pursuing it. But the oracle given out by this pretended prophet was voluntary and unasked, in order, if the event had happened, as was probable, to increase his own credit. And, superstitious as this great emperor and philosopher was, he did nothing, in pursuance of it, but what the wisest general might have done to humour the superstition and folly of his soldiers, and to inspire them with a confidence of victory. It no-where appears that he hazarded the least point, or altered anyone of his measures, in consequence of it. But, if it were true that this impudent impostor had this learned emperor and the schools of Greece among his admirers, this would only prove how much the wisest part of mankind were enslaved by superstition, before Christianity released them from it.
The author adds, as a fourth reason which diminishes the authority of prodigies,
“that there is no testimony for any, even those which have not been expressly detected, that is not opposed by an infinite number of witnesses; so that not only the miracle destroys the credit of the testimony, but even the testimony destroys itself. To make this the better understood, let us consider, that, in matters of religion, whatever is different is contrary, and that 'tis impossible the religions of antient Rome, of Turkey, of Siam, and of China should, all of them, be established on any solid foundation. Every miracle, therefore, pretended to have been wrought in any of these religions (and all of them abound in miracles) as its direct scope is to establish the particular system to which it is attributed, so it has the same force, tho’ more indirectly, to overthrow every other system: in destroying a rival-system, it likewise destroys the credit of those miracles on which that system was established: so that all the prodigies of different religions are to be regarded as contrary facts, and the evidence of these prodigies, whether weak or strong, as opposite to each other.”
This argument, he is apprehensive, will appear too subtle and refined: but the only fault of it is, that it has no foundation in truth. The author cannot name a single miracle, that was ever offered as a test of any of these religions, before their establishment, or to authorise any pretended prophet to teach such religion. Mahomet expressly disclaims this power in many places of his Koran. It appears, from his manner of speaking of it, that he knew what advantage this pretence would give to his cause, and even felt the want of it: yet, with all the assistance that art and power could give him, he durst not hazard so dangerous an experiment. The author would make us believe that miracles are to be met with in almost every page of antient history:
“When we peruse the first histories of all nations, we are apt to imagine ourselves transported into some new world, where the whole frame of nature is disjointed, and every element performs its operations in a different manner from what it does at present. Battles, revolutions, pestilences, famines, and deaths are never the effects of those natural causes which we experience.”
But the truth is, they are very thinly sown in the writings of the heathens. Portents and prodigies I call not by that name. These are to be accounted for from natural causes, or owe their existence to a frighted or disturbed imagination. Of miracles, properly speaking, there are very few upon record: most of these are given up, by the historians who relate them, as
vulgar fables, unworthy of belief, and none are so attested as to make them in any degree credible. Of this the author has undesignedly given us a full proof in the story which immediately follows:
“One of the best-attested miracles in all profane history is that which Tacitus reports of Vespasian, who cured a blind man in Alexandria by means of his spittle, and a lame man by the mere touch of his foot, in obedience to a vision of the god Serapis, who had enjoined them to have recourse to the emperor of these miraculous and extraordinary cures.” This, the author seems to insinuate, is as well attested as any Christian miracle, and may be made as good an argument for the religion of the antient Egyptians as any miracle for any religion whatsoever: “Every circumstance,” says he, “adds weight to the testimony, and might be displayed at large with all the force of argument and eloquence, if anyone were now concerned to enforce the evidence of that exploded and idolatrous superstition.” The occasion being so tempting, he has tried his hand, and shewn us how far this miracle may be parallell’d with those of the Gospel:
“The gravity, solidity, age, and probity of so great an emperor, who, thro' the whole course of his life, conversed in a familiar way with his friends and courtiers, and never affected those extraordinary airs of divinity assumed by Alexander and Demetrius - The historian a contemporary writer, noted for candor and veracity, and, withal, the greatest and most penetrating genius, perhaps, of all antiquity, and so free from any tendency to superstition and credulity, that he even lies under the contrary imputation of atheism and profaneness - The persons, from whose testimony he related the miracle, of established character for judgment and veracity (as we may well suppose) eye-witnesses of the fact, and confirming their verdict, after the Flavian family were despoiled of the empire, and could no longer give any reward, as the price of a lye: Utrumque, qui interfuere, nunc quoque memorant, postquam nullum mendacis pretium. To which if we add the publick nature of the fact, as related, it will appear, that no evidence can well be supposed stronger for so gross and so palpable a falshood.”
As to the character of this wise emperor, Suetonius, who has wrote his life, tells us, that he had long before this conceived hopes of the empire, from certain idle dreams and omens, of which he has reckoned up eight or ten, as ridiculous as any in history: that immediately before this, when he was now proclaimed emperor by some of the legions, and had strengthened himself by several alliances, he condescended, notwithstanding his probity and gravity, to give out a miracle upon his own authority, to make himself considerable in the eyes of the people; pretending that, in the temple of Serapis, where he went alone, de firmitate imperii auspicium facturus, one Basilides, who was known at the time to be far distant and unable to travel, had appeared to him, offering him crowns and garlands - a certain omen (as he and his courtiers interpreted the word Basilides) of the royal dignity. As for the credit of the historian, he was no witness of the fact, nor, for ought we know, ever conversed with those that saw it; and the testimony he gives to it does by no means amount to a proof that he believed it himself. To what purpose, then, is the character he gives us of his veracity, penetrating genius, and incredulous turn of mind? But, if the testimony of the historian be not admitted, the witnesses, from whose testimony he related it, were of established character for veracity and judgment. This, indeed, is to the purpose. On this point the whole merits of the cause must rest. How, then, is this proved to us? Why, the author says it may well be supposed, and the historian tells us that they persisted in the report, when they could gain nothing by the fraud. But how does it appear that they had never received any reward for their verdict? The emperor, tho’ he affected not the airs of divinity, yet was well pleased with his new title, and, no doubt, was well understood to look with a favourable eye on those who contributed to support it. The good uses to which this miracle served are honestly told us both by Suetonius and Tacitus: Auctoritas, et quasi majestas qucedam, ut scilicet inopinato et adhuc novo principii deeat, haec quoque accessit, Suet. Miracula even ere, queis ccelestis favor et qucedam in Vespasianum inclinatio numinum ostenderetur, Tacit. The Alexandrians could not but have an interest in gaining the favour of this prince: the persons cured are said to be Ź plebe Alexandrina, probably unknown to these witnesses and to all the Romans about Vespasian: the partisans of the new emperor were prepared to welcome and improve everything that looked in his favour: the physicians, who were consulted whether these disorders were curable, declared that they were: Where, then, is the wonder that two men should be instructed to act the part of lame and blind, when they were sure of succeeding in the fraud, and of being well rewarded (as we may well suppose) for their pains?
This story is followed by two other, as marketable proofs of the credulity of mankind, which, having obtained in Christian countries, may perhaps be thought more opposite to the author's purpose of discrediting the Christian miracles. “There is also,” saith he,
“a very memorable story related by cardinal de Retz, and which may well deserve our consideration: When that intriguing politician fled into Spain, to avoid the persecution of his enemies, he passed thro’ Saragossa, the capital of Arragon, where he was shewn, in the cathedral church, a man who had served twenty years as a doorkeeper of the church, and was well known to every body in town who had ever paid their devotions at the cathedral: he had been seen for so long a time wanting a leg, but recovered that limb by the rubbing of holy oil upon the stump; and, when the cardinal examined it, he found it to be a true natural leg, like the other. This miracle was vouched by all the canons of the church; and the whole company of the town was appealed to for a confirmation of the fact, whom the cardinal found, by their zealous devotion, to be thorough believers of the miracle. Here the relater was also contemporary with the supposed prodigy, of an incredulous and libertine character, as well as of great genius - the miracle of so singular a nature as could scarce admit of a counterfeit - and the witnesses very numerous, and all of them, in a manner spectators of the fact to which they gave their testimony: and what add mightily to the force of the evidence and may double our surprize on the occasion, is, that the cardinal himself who relates the story, seems not to give any credit to it, and, consequently cannot be suspected of any concurrence in the holy fraud.”
The story is, indeed, remarkable, as the author has told it. First, the relater was a cardinal and a man of great genius; and, tho’ he had never seen the wooden leg, yet he satisfied himself that the man had now two natural legs, like another man. It does not, indeed, appear, that he examined all or any of the cannons, or that he discoursed with any body in town about it: but he found, by the devotion of the people, that they believed the man to have had a wooden leg. Then, the cardinal was a man of libertine character, and, which is still more wonderful, and adds mightily to the evidence, he did not believe the story himself. This climax of evidence and wonder still rising upon us is very extraordinary. The relater of the story was a cardinal, and therefore a good evidence of a Romish miracle: he was of a libertine character, and therefore had the better right to be believed: but, what puts the evidence out of question, he did not believe the story himself; which, again, is doubly surprizing, as the author observes, because he was naturally of an incredulous temper. This is the first story. The second deserves a more serious attention.
“There, surely, never was so great a number of miracles ascribed to one person, as those which were lately said to have been wrought in France upon the tomb of Abbé Paris, the famous Jansenist, with whose sanctity the people were so long deluded. The curing of the sick, giving hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind, were every-where talked of as the usual effects of that holy sepulchre. But, what is more extraordinary, many of the miracles were immediately proved, upon the spot, before judges of unquestioned integrity, attested by witnesses of credit and distinction, in a learned age, and on the most eminent theatre that is now in the world. Nor is this all: a relation of them was published and dispersed everywhere: nor were the Jesuits, tho’ a learned body, supported by the civil magistrate, and determined enemies to those opinions in whose favour the miracles were said to have been wrought, ever able distinctly to refute or detect them. Where shall we find such a number of circumstances agreeing to the corroboration of one fact? and what have we to oppose to such a cloud of witnesses, but the absolute impossibility or miraculous nature of the events which they relate? And this, surely, in the eyes of all reasonable people, will alone be regarded as a sufficient refutation.”
The author has here asserted many things that he will not be able to support. The miracles pretended were, many of them, refuted upon the spot: a judicial inquest was made by the archbishop of Paris into one of the most celebrated, and the cheat was fully detected: the lieutenant of the police brought many to confess that the part they had acted was all artifice and pretence; and an ordinance was hereupon issued from the court for apprehending all that were concerned in such frauds: the archbishop of Sens exhibited a publick charge against more than twenty, as palpable and discovered cheats: and Mr. Montgeron, the professed advocate of these miracles, of whom we shall have more to say hereafter, does not, in his answer, pretend to defend a fourth part of these: and the author may see his defence of these, and of all the other miracles he defends, distinctly refuted in the Critiques generale of Mr. Des Voeux. The most usual effects of this sepulchre were not the cures, but distempers - a sort of convulsions, which seized alike the sound and the sick, and were attended with such strange appearances as brought great contempt and ridicule upon the other miracles of this saint. These convulsions, we are told by skilful physicians, are easily counterfeited, and, from being counterfeited, frequently become real and habitual: they are too so communicable, by a sort of sympathy, to persons of weak nerves, that this distemper, it is well known, is for this reason excluded some of our great hospitals; it having been found that, when one is seized, it spreads, like infection, thro’ a whole ward. This will account for the great numbers who are said to have felt this extraordinary effect from visiting the Abbe's tomb.
I deny not that there were real cures wrought upon the sick that were brought there: but the same, I dare pronounce, would happen, if a thousand people, taken at a venture, were at any time removed from their sick chambers in London to St. Paul's Churchyard or the Park, especially, if they went with any strong hope of a cure: in such a number, some are always upon the point of recovery - many only want to fancy themselves well - others may be flattered for a time into this belief, while they are ill - and many more, by fresh air and motion, and especially by forbearing the use of other means, will find a change for the better: but, that the blind received their sight, or the deaf were restored to hearing, by these visits, I deny that we have any competent or tolerable evidence. This sanguine writer does, indeed, take upon him to answer for the credit of the witnesses and the integrity of the judges. But these miracles were never proved in a judicial way. The vouchers produced for them are only certificates collected from all sorts of persons, who were neither interrogated by judge or council, nor confronted by other witnesses: they only left their depositions or affidavits in the hands of a notary, who was not concerned to examine, or even to know, the persons who made them, or whether they gave in their own or fictitious names. The credit, therefore, of the witnesses was never proved by any trial whatsoever.
Doctor Middleton, who has likewise set out the evidence of these miracles with great parade, is pleased to tell us that
“the reality of them is attested by some of the principal physicians and surgeons in France, as well as the clergy of the first dignity, several of whom were eye-witnesses of them, who presented a verbal process of each to the archbishops, with a petition, signed by above twenty cures or rectors of the parishes of Paris, desiring that they might be authentically registered, and solemnly published to the people, as true miracles.”
Anyone, who reads this in connexion with what goes before it, will be led to believe that a great number of these miracles had been confirmed by this verbal process: but there never were, as far as I can inform myself, more than four or five thus proved by order of the cardinal Noailles. Whether the petition mentioned was presented by physicians and clergy of the first dignity, as the doctor's words seem to import, I will not take upon me to controvert: but, in all that I have read, I find only that it was presented by the twenty-two cures who signed it. The doctor might have told us too that it was rejected as well as presented, and the archbishops reasons for rejecting it, which were nothing less than palpable falshoods and contradictions, legally proved, par des informations juridiques, on the witnesses, and even in the depositions taken by order of the cardinal de Noailles: he might have told us that thirty of the most eminent Jansenist doctors, who were supposed to have an interest in supporting these miracles, protested against the abuse that was made of them, and published many good reasons for not believing them - that, if some physicians of note pronounced the cures in question to be miraculous, many more, who had better opportunities of informing themselves, judged the contrary - that one of the faculty published a treatise to account for the phaenomenon of the convulsions in a natural way and several who were consulted on the other” pretended cures, declared the whole to be fiction and imposture.
All that was real in these phaenomena may be accounted for from nature: but a great part was certainly appearance, and owing to art. The Abbe Paris, as doctor Middleton has told us,
“was a zealous Jansenist, and a warm opposer of the bull or constitution Unigenitus, by which the doctrines of this sect were expressly condemned: he died in 1725, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Medard in Paris, whither the great reputation of his sanctity drew many people to visit his tomb, and pay their devotions to him as a saint; and this concourse, gradually increasing, made him soon be considered as a subject proper to revive the credit of that party, now utterly depressed by the power of the Jesuits, supported by the authority of the court.”
Half the city of Paris, and many among them of rank, took part with the appellants against this bull. The saint was, therefore, sure to have justice done him. Most of these, if they did not believe, yet wished well to his miracles, for the sake of mortifying the Jesuits and their party.
“But the evidence of these miracles is still preserved in the pompous volume of Mons. de Montgeron, a person of eminent rank in Paris, who, Dr. Middleton tells us, dedicated and presented it to the king in person, being induced, as the author declares, by the incontestable evidence of the facts, by which he himself, from a libertine and professed Deist, became a sincere convert to the Christian faith.” As the credit of these boasted miracles rests almost wholly on this book of Mr. Montgeron, the reader will not be displeased, if we stop a little to consider the character of the work and its author.
This book was published, as we are advertised at the beginning, to demonstrate, among other things, the justice of the cause of the appellants against the bull Unigenitus: but it was so far from answering the purpose of reviving the credit of the Jansenists or their miracles, that from this time they sunk into greater disgrace than ever; while the author was cashiered from his employment, sent first to the Bastile, and afterwards into banishment. The author declares himself converted to Christianity by the evidence of these facts: but it is strange to observe, from his own history of this conversion, that it was wrought without his either seeing or examining the evidence of anyone of these miracles. It appears, from this history, that the author was early impressed with a sense of religion - that, having given himself up to a life of pleasure and debauch, he was, on a certain occasion, so struck with remorse, as to shut himself up in a convent, with design to spend his days in penitence and retirement - that, returning again to his former life, he endeavoured to free himself from the checks of conscience by reading the books of Deists, and persuading himself that religion was a cheat - that the unchristian bull Unigenitus, which just then appeared, helped much to confirm him in this belief: but the fears of religion still kept hold of him, and, particularly, on the first report of our Abbe's miracles, his conscience took the alarm, and put him upon inquiring in earnest into the truth of religion - that, upon hearing a second time of these miracles, he resolved to visit the tomb, and make a strict inquiry into their truth - that, coming there, he was immediately struck with the ardor that appeared in the devotion of the people; strongly impressed with which, he fell himself on his knees, and addressed a short prayer to the saint, beseeching him, “That, if indeed he still lived, and had any power with the Almighty, he would pity his blindness and intercede for him, that his mind might be enlightened, and the cloud removed which held him in darkness!” Upon which, immediately, while he continued some hours on his knees, all the arguments for religion, which he had ever heard or read, presented themselves to his mind, and passed in review before him, with such force and conviction, that he became from that moment a zealous and confirmed Christian. Here, you see, the author, without waiting for any miracle, or inquiring into those which he had heard, was not only converted to Christianity, but became a determined believer of all the miracles of this saint. And from this short sketch we may easily make out his character, which was plainly that of a wrongheaded and violent man, that could think coolly about nothing, changing, as fancy or temper led him, from one opinion, from one extreme, to another, and governed throughout by passion or prejudice, and not by reason.
His book was published ten (or, according to Dr. Middleton, twelve) years after the Abbe’s death; and ‘tis a collection of nine cures, selected out of the great number which are said to have been wrought in all this time; the first of which I shall present my reader with, in a few words, as a specimen of the rest: A Spanish youth, at the age of ten years, lost entirely the sight of the left eye by violent rheum and inflammation: a few years after, receiving a blow upon the right eye, he became almost blind for some days, but, by proper remedies, recovered his sight again: at the age of sixteen, this eye was attacked with a fluxion and inflammation like to that which had destroyed the other, but was soon recovered, by the application of a certain water, so far as to allow him for two or three months after to prosecute his studies: but, the disorder then returning, and the same remedy being found ineffectual, he continued in this state, without the application of any remedy, near two months; at the end of which, hearing of the Abbe Paris’s miracles, he resolved, with the consent of his governors, who were zealous Jansenists, to apply to the Abbe’s tomb: he entered upon a neuvaine, or nine-days devotion, in honour of the saint, and to supplicate his assistance: the effect was, that his pains redoubled, and the inflammation increased; but towards the end of the term these bad symptoms abated, and his eye at last became strong enough to bear the light, and to permit him to return to his studies: and all this without the use of any other means than saving the eye from reading for three months, shutting out the light, and bathing it in the two last days with a little decoction of mallow-roots with laudanum, prescribed by an oculist; and this too owed all its virtue to the manner of applying it, which was not with a common linen rag, but a piece of the shirt in which the Abbe died, and some of the earth in which he was buried. A certain Jansenist physician, who saw this eye two days before the cure, judging it to be a disorder of the optick nerve, expressed some doubt whether it were curable, and, being told afterwards that no human means had been used, inclined to think the cure miraculous. This, I suppose, is one of the principal physicians, who, Dr. Middleton tells us, attested the truth of these miracles. But it is certain that many other physicians and oculists, both in France and Spain, thought otherwise, and prescribed bleeding, bathing, and use of different medicines for it. The left eye, in the mean time, remained in its former state, uncured; and the eye which was healed relapsed some time after, and was again cured by bleeding. This is the first miracle, as it is related by this author, and attested by many vouchers and certificates printed along with it - a story too contemptible for argument or remark. But, if the reader desires to see the false colouring in which the writer has dressed it, and the inconsistencies and prevarication of the witnesses, detected, he may find this done, to his entire satisfaction, in the letters above mentioned, and in the nineteenth and twentieth tomes of the Bibliotheque raisonnée; from which, and Mr. Vernet's Traité de la Verité de la Religion Chretienne, most of these remarks are taken.
The evidence, then, for these miracles, tho’ set out with much eloquent pomp, when examined, is found to amount to very little. But this is acknowledged, that the credulity of mankind is very fully proved by this and the other legendary miracles of Popery, and that hence an argument of seeming weight still lies against the miracles of the Gospel: for, if so many other miracles have been believed rashly and without reason, it is possible that these may likewise have been received upon incompetent testimony: and, if this be possible, must it not also be allowed more probable, than that events so strange and contrary to the common course of nature should be true? This is the inference, we may presume, the author would have us make from the stories he hath related: and this objection he has incidentally dropped in several parts of his Essay:
“The many instances of forged miracles, and prophecies, and supernatural events, which, in all ages, have either been detected by contrary evidence, or which detect themselves by their absurdity, mark sufficiently the strong propensity of mankind to the extraordinary and the marvellous, and ought reasonably to beget a suspicion against all relations of this kind:”
And again, in the place above cited,
“Should a miracle be ascribed to any new system of religion, men, in all ages, have been so much imposed on by ridiculous stories of that kind, that this very circumstance would be sufficient, with all men of sense, not only to make them reject the fact, but even reject it without farther examination.”
As this is one of the most specious and prevailing arguments against the miracles of religion, it will deserve a distinct answer.
To the first consequence, then, which the author here draws from the credulity of men, I readily agree - That miracles and facts of an extraordinary nature may be justly suspected, ‘till sufficient evidence of their reality be thought of, and the testimony, by which they are supported, is confirmed by the surest test of truth. If miracles, therefore, are in any case credible, they are in this; if testimony is in any case to be relied on, it is in this. But what are the ends proposed or answered by the miracles of Popery? More offerings are, perhaps, brought to the shrine at Loretto, more gain is made of the relicks of the saints. But are any nations brought to the faith, or is any single infidel converted, by them? Then, the testimony which vouches them is implicitly received, and the veracity of the witnesses confirmed by no proof or trial. There is no one condition here to make miracles credible - no one circumstance to credit the evidence that supports them. There is, therefore, no consequence to be drawn from these to the miracles of the Gospel.
And the same observation will hold, tho’ not with equal force, of the miracles recorded in the church before the times of Popery: there were not the same antecedent reasons for working them, nor the same great consequences attending them: and when were any called, at the hazard of their fortunes and lives, to attest them? We are not, therefore, to be alarmed, if the truth of these miracles is sometimes brought in question, or even if many of them should be proved to be false; since the miracles of Christ and his Apostles are no way affected by this, and the Gospel wants no miracles, but its own, to support it: nor, indeed, can we do a greater injury to the cause of Christianity, than to parallel these, even supposing them true, with the canonical miracles of Scripture; since, tho’ both may be equally true, yet the evidence upon which we receive them, and, consequently, the reasons for believing them, are not equal, but the one, in its weight and force, infinitely transcends the other. Nor is it any reproach to Christianity, or any just cause of offence to pious Christians, if the fathers of the church, men justly celebrated for their piety and virtue, and even for their learning and abilities, are found to have given too easy credit to these miracles. Learning and piety are no security against errors of this kind. On the contrary, men of this character, as they are often less practised in the arts of men, and less apt to suspect design and fraud in others, may lie more open to be deceived. Men may be prejudiced, even by piety and virtue, to such opinions as are thought favourable to piety and virtue, and, where any thing is thought of good tendency, may think it good to believe it. A little acquaintance with history will teach us, if our own observation does not, that men of great abilities and of the most upright intentions may be hasty in believing and zealous in supporting the belief of fables, especially where the cause of virtue or religion is supposed to be promoted by them.
We may, therefore, retain our veneration for the piety and good works of these eminent lights of the church, without believing every thing that they believed: we may believe many of the facts which they have recorded to be false, without hurting Christianity, or in the least impairing the evidence of the Gospel.
I might, under this head, have observed that false miracles are almost a natural consequence of true, and, therefore, their prevalence and reception is rather a presumption of the existence of true miracles than an argument against them. Could we foresee that a series of miracles would be wrought in any country, and a publick worship and religion be established in consequence of it, we might presume that miracles would be there more frequently pretended and counterfeited than in any other place. True miracles, like true money, will give a currency to false: and the authority and character, which they give to those that work them, will excite the crafty and ambitious to imitate them. On the other hand, where no prior miracles are acknowledged, there is less temptation to counterfeit this power, and more difficulty of succeeding in it. In fact, the false pretences of miracles among Christians are no more than might be expected, in consequence of the truth and certainty of the first miracles of Christianity; and, if the number of these has been far greater in the Christian world than elsewhere, it is an argument that there, if any-where, true miracles have been wrought. The reader will be pleased to see this argument in the words of Dr. Middleton:
“The innumerable forgeries of this sort, which have been imposed upon mankind in all ages, are so far from weakening the credibility of the Jewish and Christian miracles, that they strengthen it: for how could we account for a practice so universal, of forgoing miracles for the support of false religions, if on some occasions they had not actually been wrought for confirmation of a true one? or, how is it possible that so many spurious copies should pass upon the world, without some genuine original from which they were drawn, whose known existence and tried success might give an appearance of probability to the counterfeit? Now, of all the miracles of antiquity, there are none that can pretend to the character of originals, but those of the Old and New Testament, which, tho’ the oldest by far of all others of which any monuments now remain in the world, have yet maintained their credit to this day, thro' the perpetual opposition and scrutiny of ages; whilst all the rival productions of fraud and craft have long ago been successively exploded, and sunk into utter contempt - an event that cannot reasonably be ascribed to any other cause, but to the natural force and effect of truth, which, tho’ defaced for a time by the wit, or depressed by the power, of man, is sure still to triumph in the end over all the false mimicry of art and the vain efforts of human policy.”
The remainder of this Essay is little more than a rude insult on the Scriptures and the Christian religion. For fear his readers should mistake his meaning, and not apply his argument where he intended, the author proceeds, with a smiling grimace, to tell us, “that our most holy religion is founded on faith, not on reason; and ‘tis a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is by no means fitted to endure.” This he pretends to make evident by examining the miracles related in the Pentateuch: “Here,” says he,
“we are to consider a book presented to us by a barbarous and ignorant people, wrote in an age when they were still more barbarous, and, in all probability, long after the facts it relates, corroborated by no concurring testimony, and resembling those fabulous accounts which every nation gives of its origin. Upon reading this book, we find it full of prodigies and miracles: it gives an account of a state of the world and of human nature entirely different from the present - of our fall from that state - of the age of man extended to near a thousand years - of the destruction of the world by a deluge - of the arbitrary choice of one people as the favourites of heaven, and that people the countrymen of the author - of their deliverance from bondage by prodigies the most astonishing imaginable: I desire anyone to lay his hand upon his heart, and, after serious consideration, declare, whether he thinks that the falshood of such a book, supported by such a testimony, would be more extraordinary and miraculous than all the miracles it relates; which is, however, necessary to make it be received, according to the measures of probability above established.”
If the Jews were thus more than barbarous at the time when these books were wrote, whence, without a miracle, could they learn all the great truths relating to the being and attributes of God, which the most learned part of the world were for many ages after in total ignorance about? Whence could the religion and laws of this people so far exceed those of the wisest Heathens, and come out at once, in their first infancy, thus perfect and entire; when all human systems are found to grow up by degrees, and to ripen, after many improvements; into perfection? The Jews had but little commerce with other nations, and, therefore, did not excel in the literary and other arts of Greece: but the same Scriptures, which prove that they were earlier in possession of the most useful and sublime parts of knowledge, secured them likewise from ever sinking into that barbarity which the author charges upon them. Let anyone compare the book of Genesis, which he treats with so much freedom, and which is by many centuries the oldest book in the world, with any of the earliest heathen historians -let him compare the psalms of David with the hymns of Callimachus or Orpheus - let him read the history of Josephus, who was just contemporary with Christ and his Apostles - and he will incline to judge more favourably of this people.
The great events recorded in this history have no connexion with the argument of miracles, and, therefore, do not belong to this place. But these are corroborated by the strongest concurring testimony that can be desired to facts that are, most of them, older than the use of letters itself. The traditions of every country seem all to point to one and the same original. The late invention of arts and sciences, the foundation of cities and empires, the manner of peopling the world, and the number of its present inhabitants, seem all to prove that the world had its beginning no earlier than the period assigned by Moses, and agree perfectly with the account of the deluge. There are no monuments of antiquity which give room to suspect the world of earlier original. The first authors of Greece and Egypt speak of the chaos, of the abyss of waters that covered the earth, of man’s being formed out of the ground, and of his first innocence. From these, one of the Latin poets has described the creation, the state of innocence, the gradual corruption of mankind, and the deluge, in a manner very nearly resembling that of Moses. The memory of the general flood, which destroyed the whole race of men and animals, except one family, seems to have been preserved for some ages among almost all nations. Lucian tells us, the tradition among both the Greeks and Syrians was, that this was a judgment from heaven on the wickedness of mankind: he describes the manner of the flood, the ark in which some of every kind were preserved, and many other particulars, just as we have them in the book of Genesis. Plutarch, alluding to the same tradition, mentions the ark, and even the dove that was sent forth to see if the waters were abated. A great number of antient authors, who mention the deluge, and give witness to the building of Babel, the burning of Sodom, and many other great events in the Mosaick history, are reckoned up by Josephus, Grotius, and others. The present surface of the earth, the shells of fish that are found in midland countries, and even on the tops of mountains, and the remains of landanimals at very great depths in the earth, are still surviving monuments of the deluge. It is almost certain that the world began to be peopled about the plains of Babylon and near where the ark is said to have rested. From the east colonies of men were sent westward; and from thence we can trace pretty distinctly the progress of arts and sciences. The long lives of the first men are spoken of by all the Heathens. This fact is so far from discrediting the Mosaick history, that Monsieur Pascal reckons it a full proof of the fidelity of the author: “This historian,” says he, “has brought the deluge, and even the creation, so near his own time, by means of the few generations which he counts between them, that the memory of them could not but be still fresh and lively in the minds of all the Jewish nation.” In the line of tradition there are but five steps betwixt Moses and the first man. “Therefore, the creation and the deluge are indubitably true. This argument,” says he, “must be acknowledged for conclusive by those who apprehend its process.” The longevity of men in the first ages seems necessary for the better peopling of the world, the invention and improvement of arts, and for propagating religious and all useful knowledge, when they depended wholly on tradition. And I am persuaded that this author cannot even invent a more probable or rational account of peopling the world than this which he affects to deride.
The other insinuations, which he has thrown out to discredit these books, have been so often refuted, that it is tedious to go over them again. The authority of an historian is not, sure, the worse for his being the countrymen of those whose history he writes. The character of Moses is remarkably free from all partiality to himself and his countrymen: he faithfully records all the obstinacy and perverse behaviour of the latter, and frequently reproaches them with it in the severest terms: he spares not his own failings, or those of his nearest friends, and omits many things, which are recorded by others, to his honour: the future government of the Israelites he left not to his own tribe, but to that of Judah, and, in the appointment of his immediate successor, had no regard to his own family, but left them undistinguished and mixed with the common Levites.
As to the arbitrary preference of this people, a distinction in religious privileges is perfectly agreeable to the analogy of God's dispensations to mankind, both natural and moral. But the Jewish dispensation ought not to be considered apart, but in connexion with the Christian, in which it ended. These are but different parts of one and the same scheme, which naturally illustrate and confirm each other's authority. “And, from this view of them,” says Dr. Middleton,
“we see the weakness of that objection commonly made to the Mosaick part, on the account of its being calculated for the use only of a peculiar people; whereas, in truth, it was the beginning of an universal system, which, from the time of Moses, was gradually manifested to the world by the successive missions of the Prophets, ‘till that fulness of time, or coming of the Messiah, when life and immortality were brought to light by the Gospel, or the chief good and the happiness of man perfectly revealed to him.”
The origin of this people is so far from resembling the fabulous accounts of other nations, that it is quite singular, and in all respects different from any other. They are a numerous people, sprung from the loins of one man, and have continued unmixed with the rest of the world, if we reckon from the time of Abraham, when they were first marked out by promise of God to his posterity, near 4000 years - a great part of the age of the world, and approaching very near to the time when it was last peopled by the posterity of Noah. Their very existence at this time, taken with all its circumstances, is a miracle, which gives credit to all the miracles of Moses.
The books, which record these miracles, were certainly wrote soon after the facts; since the religion, laws, and polity of the Jews were wholly built upon them. These books are the great charter by which they were incorporated into a nation. These miracles are the only sanction which gives authority to the laws they contain. The miracles were wrought in the face of all Israel, and many of them under observation for a long time together. The books, that record them, were of publick authority and daily resort. It was, therefore, impossible, if false, that they should obtain credit for a day. The very being of these laws is a proof of the miracles connected with them; since the latter, if false, must have discovered the falshood of the former. By appealing to these facts, it was put in the power of everyone to see through, or, rather, it was put out of their power not to see through, the imposture. The memory of these facts was not only preserved in these records, but they were written, if I may so speak, and recorded in the daily customs and religious ceremonies of the Jews. The Passover was instituted in memory of their coming out of Egypt - the feast of Pentecost in token of the law being given upon mount Sinai fifty days after - that of Tabernacles in remembrance of their encamping in the desart - and, in the form of dedicating or offering their first-fruits, a solemn commemoration was injoined of the signs and wonders by which they were delivered out of Egypt. The belief, therefore, of the miracles must of necessity be as antient as their religion; and, indeed, without these, their religion, government, and even their present existence, as a people, would be more miraculous than all the miracles recorded in the Pentateuch. We are now come to the conclusion of this celebrated Essay: “Upon the whole,” says he,
“we may conclude, that the Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: and whoever is moved by faith to assent to it is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.”
The author, in one of his Essays, complains of a want of politeness and civility in those who defend religion against the attacks of the Free-thinkers, “whose moderation and good manners,” He tells us, “are very conspicuous, when compared with the furious zeal and scurrility of their adversaries.” But who can, without some impatience, see a religion which he holds sacred, and which hath established itself purely by reason and argument, treated with this open scorn and abuse? Has this author lived in the time of Sir Isaac Newton, Mr. Locke, and Mr. Addison? Can he know that these men gloried in the name of Christians, that the first of them employed many of his best hours in studying and illustrating the Scriptures, and that the other two have wrote professedly in the defence of this religion, and yet think himself at liberty to treat all that believe it as men that are incapable of reasoning or thinking? The charge, which he has here brought against the advocates of Christianity, is so far from being true, that I dare rest the whole merits of the controversy upon this issue. Let any one read the authors he mentions, Collins and Tindal, with Morgan, Gordon, and the later writers in this cause, and compare them with their antagonists, Chandler, Conybeare, Leland, Foster, and judge on which side the temper and moderation lies. And yet, if men claim some authority to opinions which have the publick voice on their side, where is the wonder or the blame? It is nothing unnatural for men thus supported to assume a confidence, and to expect some deference and modesty from their adversaries. But, when men oppose established opinions with an air of authority, and decide against the publick - when they profess to doubt, and yet dictate, about every thing, and act at once the Sceptick and the Dogmatist - this is a character, which, however it may be accounted for, can never be excused. And I here ask my reader, whether he has any-where met with either a more sceptical, disputatious turn of mind, or a more imperious, dogmatical style, than in the writings of this author? It is remarkable with what ease and alacrity he hath asserted the fact before us. But this cavalier manner is familiar to him. He tells us, in another Essay, “that the Quakers are perhaps the only regular body of Deists in the universe:” And again, “that the leading Whigs have always been either Deists or professed Latitudinarians in their principles, that is,” says he, “friends to toleration, and indifferent to any particular sect of Christians.” Now, it is certain that the Quakers profess the belief of Christianity as universally as any sect whatsoever. And what right has the author to charge a whole body of men with such flagrant insincerity? As to the Whigs, the principles of toleration are certainly Christian principles, and do by no means imply an indifference to any sect, much less a coldness to religion in general: and, if the best Christians are usually the best subjects and citizens (which I think an indisputable truth) I should hope their principles would be no impediment to their faith. I am sure, however, they have no reason to thank this author for his compliment.
They who believe religion must think that the cause of virtue and the happiness of mankind are bound up in it: and this will justify a degree of zeal and ardor in its defence. But what is there to call for or excuse this spirit in those who oppose it? If the author be a friend to virtue, which, from his elegance of mind and taste, I scarce can doubt – if he be a friend to natural religion, which a person of so much thought and reflexion sure must be – what principles has he in reserve for the support of these, when Christianity is taken away? The best philosophy, as I have already said, availed but little in reforming the religions or morals of mankind: and, as to the philosophy of this author, it is, as far as I understand it, as ill calculated for this purpose as any I have met with. But, indeed, religion can never be supported, or virtue taught, with any force or effect, by the reasonings of philosophers. The world will never be governed by metaphysical ideas of honour and beauty, decency of action, and the fitness of things. It is the author's own observation, that “an abstracted, invisible object, like that which natural religion alone presents to us, cannot long actuate the mind, or be of any moment in life. To render the passion of continuance, we must find some method of affecting the senses and imagination, and must embrace some historical as well as philosophical accounts of the Divinity. Popular superstitions,” says he, “and observances are even found to be of use in this particular.” The great thing to be wished, then, for the interest of virtue and the good of mankind, is, that the maxims of natural religion should be fixed and assured by an authority that is decisive – that a rule of duty should be taught as the will and law of God – that the sanctions of this law, a future state and a judgment to come, should be known alike to all, both small and great – that the hopes of pardon should be assured to the penitent sinner – that there should be an institution to propagate this knowledge, and to spread it thro’ the world – that there should be a publick worship set up, and a discipline and oeconomy prescribed, to train men to piety and virtue: but all this, and much more to the advantage of virtue, we have in the Christian religion. Can the author tell us where else they are to be found? If he is looking out a cure for superstition, I venture to assure him, that, with all his researches into metaphysicks and morals, he will never find any equal to that religion which he endeavours to explode; which in a few years did infinitely more towards freeing the world from the fear and folly of prodigies, omens, dreams, and oracles, than all the philosophy in the world had done in many ages. If, unhappily, this religion is still corrupted by superstitious mixtures, these I freely commit to the mercy of the author. But Christianity is not to answer for these any more than for the other errors and vices of mankind, which, however it aims to correct, it does not pretend to eradicate. And even these will be better and more successfully opposed by fair argument and civility than with insult and reproach. Where a liberty of debate and free inquiry is allowed, it is unpardonable to insult the pub lick that allows it. “There is a degree of doubt and caution and modesty, which in all kinds of scrutiny and decision, ought for ever to accompany a just reasoner.”
 Philosophical Essays concerning human understanding, p. 174.
 Philosophical Essays, p 174.
 P. 175.
 P. 175.
 Essay on probability, p. 97.
 P. 176.
 It may with more propriety be said, that the evidence of experience is included in that of testimony, than the contrary. Our own experience reaches around and goes back but a little way. But the experience of others, upon which we chiefly depend, is derived to us wholly from history and tradition, that is, from testimony. And it is obvious to observe, that, in a question of fact, the testimony of negative witnesses, how many soever, is, for the most part, no evidence at all; while positive testimony must, more or less, have its weight.
 P. 177.
 P. 177.
 P. 179.
 P. 179.
 P. 180.
 P. 198.
 P. 194.
 P. 195.
 Newton Opt. ed. Lat. p. 346.
 Socrates in Platonis Alcibiade 2°, sub finem.
 Seneca Nat. Quaest. lib. 7, cap. 15.
 P. 181.
 P. 165.
 Mr. Ellis, in his account of the North-West Passage.
 Every proposition or fact asserted is certainly true or false. By credible or probable we mean, not any thing real in the character of the proposition or fact, but only its appearance to us, or to the person who estimates this credibility. A thing is said to be credible, when it wants and is thought capable of proof - to be probable, when there appear more reasons for than against believing it. Credible is more than possible, and impossible more than incredible. Again, probable is more than credible, and incredible is more than improbable. But these words are used in common language somewhat promiscuously. Thus, what is highly probable is said to be highly credible, and what is very improbable to be very incredible. Hence, there are all degrees of incredible and credible, before you arrive at probability. After this, credible and probable are the same, and admit again of all degrees, ‘till you arrive at moral certainty. The same thing then may be credible in all these different degrees to different persons. That the earth is round - that it is constantly spinning about like a top, and travelling with a very swift motion, while the sun and the heavens stand still - This to one part of mankind is wholly incredible, and to another morally certain. The credibility, therefore, or comparative incredibility of any fact is, for the most part, too loose a bottom to ground any argument or inference upon. The same testimony may likewise be variously credible to different persons. But the evidence of this is far more distinct, and its force more easily ascertained. The truth of testimony, where it is doubtful, may be proved many different ways: that of doubtful facts can be made clear only by testimony, which is indeed, after all, the proper proof of facts.
Experience is the general testimony of mankind to general truths. Testimony, as it is here opposed to experience, is the attestation of particular persons to particular facts. The former of these witnesses to the credibility of facts; the latter gives evidence directly to their reality or existence. From the former we collect, that May is on this side the line a warmer month than December: but the certainty of this in particular instances is only to be proved, and the contrary may be proved, from the latter. We may indeed, as I have granted, in some cases, infer from the former of these the certainty or impossibility of facts. But even here this limitation or condition is always understood - that we know the whole of the case - that no cause intervenes, which is unknown or does not appear to us. And therefore, in the strongest cases that can be supposed, experience is no bar to the evidence of testimony; because it is very possible, in almost all cases, that such cause may intervene. Should I see a stone climb up hill, or a piece of solid iron swim in water, I could not doubt the fact, how incredible soever in itself. Suppose the same to rest upon the testimony of others: I cannot, indeed, see with the eyes of other men; but I can see that they have eyes, as well as myself: and, if their veracity is proved, as I assert it may, even to our eyes and senses (I mean, by sensible and visible facts) I have then nearly as good evidence for the fact, as if I had seen it myself. I might perhaps conclude, that the effect was produced by some invisible agent; but, whether this can be discovered or not, the fact must still be admitted. All this is unwarily allowed by the author himself, in terms as strong as can be desired:
“Suppose all authors in all languages agree, that, from the first of January, 1600, there was a total darkness over the whole earth for eight days: Suppose that the tradition of this extraordinary event is still strong and lively among the people; that all travellers, who return from foreign countries, bring us accounts of the same tradition, without the least variation or contradiction: ‘Tis evident, that our present philosophers, instead of doubting of that fact, ought to receive it for certain, and ought to search for the causes whence it might be derived.” P. 199.
The author of the Free Inquiry into the miraculous Powers of the primitive Church has stated this matter in a very different light. He supposes, that we have the evidence of sense for the natural credibility of facts, and seems to infer, that, when we argue from hence, we go upon surer ground than when we argue from testimony, which he represents as ever dark and doubtful, and amounting only to a reasonable presumption, at best: the contrary to which, in almost every particular, is, I think, the truth. As the principles laid down by this author are very general, and may be easily misapplied, beyond his intention, in the present question, it will not be improper to compare them with what has been said.
“The question concerning these miraculous powers depends,” says he, “upon the joint credibility of the facts pretended to have been produced, and of the witnesses who attest them: if either part be infirm, their credit must sink in proportion, and, if the facts especially be incredible, must of course fall to the ground, because no force of testimony can alter the nature of things. 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, tho’ in many cases it may reasonably be presumed, yet in none can it certainly be known: for it is common with men, out of crafty and selfish views, to dissemble and deceive: but plain facts cannot delude us - cannot speak any other language, or give any other information, than that of truth. The testimony, therefore, of facts, as it is offer’d to our senses, carries, with it the surest instruction in all cases, which God, in the ordinary course of his providence, has thought fit to appoint for the guidance of human life.” (Preface, p. 9.)
In answer to which, I shall not deny that the credibility of facts may in many cases be tried by our senses; but this is generally learnt from experience, or the common testimony of mankind: And, 2dly, this credibility, however learnt or proved, is no direct evidence of the reality or existence of any doubtful fact; since the fact may be highly credible, and yet never exist - may be in a great degree incredible, and yet certainly true. What the author calls the testimony of facts offered to our senses is in this case only the testimony of our senses, or that of other men, to the existence, not of the fact in question, but of other facts that are supposed analogous or similar to it; which, tho' in many cases it may amount to a very high presumption, yet is in none a direct proof of any doubtful fact: Whereas, 3dly, testimony is a direct evidence to the existence or reality, not of similar facts, but of the fact itself: and therefore, in judging of past or distant facts, where we cannot have the evidence of our senses, the testimony of those who have this evidence is, not only the surest, but the only method of instruction which Providence bas appointed for our guidance thro’ life. All that we certainly know of such facts is derived from this source. The truth of testimony is always presumed, where there are no particular reasons to suspect it. This presumption alone will give more weight, as we have seen, to a single testimony, and make it better evidence for the truth of facts, than a very high degree of presumption drawn from analogy is against it. 4thly, This presumption may be increased to any degree by the concurrence of other testimony; which concurrence too is itself a distinct proof of the fact attested. Lastly, The veracity of every single witness may be proved by plain and indisputable facts, as will be seen more fully hereafter. If then improbable or incredible facts require stronger evidence to support them, the weight of testimony may be increased, and the proofs that support it multiplied, infinitely; and, consequently, whatever is not absolutely impossible may be thus proved. The force of testimony cannot indeed alter the nature of things: but it can make things improbable become probable - it can give credibility, and even certainty, to things that were before incredible.
 P. 182.
 P. 181.
 P. 135.
 P. 182.
 A late play, called Edward the Black Prince.
 P. 200.
 P. 199.
 P. 200.
 P. 183.
 P. 183.
 P. 198.
 P. 184.
 P. 185.
 P. 185.
 P. 196.
 P. 186.
 P. 188.
 P. 190.
 There is a wide difference betwixt establishing false miracles by the help of a false religion and establishing a false religion by the help of false miracles. Nothing is more easy than the former, or more difficult than the latter.
 P. 187.
 P. 192.
 P. 193.
 P. 195.
 Free Inquiry, p. 225.
 The verbal process I take to be a narrative of the fact drawn upon the spot by a magistrate (in the present case, by a commissary appointed for that purpose) upon a view of the place and circumstances, an examination of the parties, and the deposition of witnesses.
 See letter 7th of the Critique of Mr. Des Voeux. This judicious writer, who is now minister of the French church in Dublin was himself a Jansanist and an inhabitant of Paris at the time when these miracles were celebrated. This circumstance, which adds to the credit of his verdict, doctor Middleton, who had seen his book, and therefore must know it, chuses to conceal, and to represent him only as a Protestant writer. This may be excused. But it is too much to assert that “he does not deny the facts, but only endeavours to make the miraculous nature of them suspected:” for near a fourth part of this book, which consists of nine letters, in two volumes, 12mo, is taken up in disproving these facts, and the title at the head of one of the longest letters is Ou l’on fait voir, per les pieces meme que Mr. de Montgeron produit, que les faits qu'il publie ne sont pas vrais.
 Free Inquiry, p. 223.
 Free Inquiry, p. 224.
 P. 186.
 P. 200.
 Prefatory Discourse to a Letter from Rome, p. 88.
 P. 201.
 An universal deluge will, I suppose, be allowed one of the most miraculous facts in the history of the Old Testament. The difficulties that on all sides surround it are as great as can easily be conceived. And hence many Christian writers (among whom is the learned Mr. Wollaston) have thought it sufficient to believe that this flood was topical, confined to a small part of Asia; and that the genius of the language in which the relation is delivered, and the manner of writing history in it, will account for all the rest. But, the more we improve in natural knowledge, the more reasons we see for believing this history in the literal and largest sense. One of the latest and ablest writers upon this subject confirms what the best natural historians have observed - that the shells of fishes are found in great quantities in all parts of the world - that the Lapides Judaici, which are gathered on the top of mount Carmel, are evidently the remains of a sea-animal - that the Alps and Pyrenaean mountains abound with others - and that there is not a mountain in the world, in which there have been tolerable opportunities of inquiring, where remains of sea-animals have not been found: he tells us, that many of those which are found in great abundance in our island are natives of other seas - that the horns of Indian deer are found in great clusters, and always at considerable depths, in many parts of England, and sometimes under a stratum of sea-shells: and hence, tho’ writing upon another question, he concludes, “it is equally certain, that, wherever they are found, water must have at one time overflowed, since there is no other possible means of their being brought there; and, since they are found in every part of the earth, the tops of the highest mountains not excepted, that overflowing of water must have been universal.” Hill's Remarks on Phil. Trans. p. 53. Here, then, we have one of the most disputable parts of the bible-history confirmed and proved by indisputable fact and experiment. In the mean time, it must be observed that the miracles upon which the Christian and Jewish religions were built have an evidence of their own, distinct from that of other parts of this history; and that, tho’ it were allowed that many errors may have crept into the historical parts of this book, yet the truth of these religions, and the faith of those miracles upon which they are built, would remain unshaken.
 Pascal's Thoughts, p. 86.
 Prefatory Discourse to the Letter from Rome. p. 88.
 P. 203
 Essays moral and political, p. 62.
 The author tells us, that, “in all controversies, those who oppose the established and popular opinions affect a most extraordinary gentleness and moderation, in order to soften, as much as possible, any prejudices that may lie against them.” (Essays moral and political, p. 62.) But the fact is notoriously otherwise. In establishments of every kind, the party which forms the opposition, if they have the liberty to speak out, is usually the most furious and loud in invective. The reason is, the most furious and vehement spirits are the most impatient of control, and the most forward to oppose. A man that is a tyrant in his own temper is sure to complain of tyranny in his superiors; and a proud man will always think you proud, if you differ from him, whatever authority and whatever modesty you may have on your side. Thus the celebrated author of the Patriot King pronounces the most candid of all writers to be a presumptuous Dogmatist for daring to differ from him in opinion, even before it was known. This consummate writer, not content to shine in his own sphere, assumes the nod, and will give the law in metaphysicks as well as politicks. “I would not say, says he, “that God governs by a rule that we know or may know as well as he, and upon our knowledge of which he appeals to men for the justice of his proceedings towards them, which a famous divine has impiously advanced in a pretended demonstration of his being and attributes: God forbid!” (Patriot King, p. 94.) I learn from hence, that the famous divine spoken of has the misfortune to have fallen under the displeasure of this author, and that he has a sovereign contempt for all that do so. But, what his offence is, I am still at a loss to conjecture. I think myself certain, that he has no-where said what the author charges him with, “that we know or may know the rule by which God governs as well as he.” He has, indeed, said, “that God himself, tho’ he has no superior, from whose will to receive any law of his actions, yet disdains not to observe the rule of equity and goodness as the law of all his actions in the government of the world, and condescends to appeal even to men for the righteousness and equity of his judgments (as in Ezek. xviii.); that (not barely his infinite power, but) the rules of this eternal law are the true foundation and the measure of his dominion over his creatures.” (Ninth edition, p. 218.) But what is this more than the author himself has said, in terms as free, in the very page that is stained with this censure? “That God is not an arbitrary, but a limited monarch, limited by the rule which infinite wisdom prescribes to infinite power - that he does always that which is fittest to be done - and that this fitness, of which no created power is a competent judge, results from the various natures and the more various relations of things.” He adds, “So that, as creator of all systems by which these natures and relations are constituted, he prescribed to himself the rule which he follows as governor of every system of being.” This, tho’ no candid reader will complain of it, is more crude and perplexed than any thing I remember in the author here arraigned. God does always what is right and fit. But right and fit were not made what they are, when this or any other system of beings was made. The fitness of every action, the same circumstances supposed, was always and ever will be the same. The rule is eternal and immutable as truth itself, and its authority is as universal, extending to all beings and to all possible systems of being; as the author we are speaking of has, with equal modesty and clearness, asserted and proved immediately before the passage here cited. If he has said, farther, that God appeals to men for the justice of his proceedings, he has given his authority for thisan authority which a Christian divine must think decisive. And what doth this amount to more than saying that God hath implanted in men a sense of what is just, merciful, and good, and that all his dispensations are agreeable to our ideas of justice, mercy, and goodness? Does not the astronomer try the works of God by the laws of mechanism and geometry, when he pronounces that they are done in number, weight, and measure? And must we not have some measure of justice, mercy, and goodness, when we attribute these to the Deity? To say that we can see the wisdom of God in his works is not saying that we are as wise as God himself: nor does our seeing the fitness and equity of his proceedings in some instances imply that we are competent judges of or can see the reason of his proceedings in all. As the author has not pointed out the passages in the writer he excepts against, I can only guess this to be the place. But, if he has anywhere dropped an expression that may seem less accurate or proper upon this subject, the author might have pardoned it, who confesses, in the same page, that he cannot express himself on this subject properly, and that, when our ideas are inadequate, our expression must needs be improper. To return: We have here a phaenomenon, which, to those who have not studied human nature, will appear altogether singular: Lord B-----e Complaining of the impiety, pride, and presumption of Dr. Clarke. Established opinions and an established character provoked his resentment: Rather than submit to another, he will contradict himself. And this, I take it, is the principle from which most of Mr. Hume's philosophy is derived; to whose extraordinary gentleness and modesty that of this writer (to speak in the elegant phrase of the latter) (P. 148) is but as the positive degree to the superlative.
Est genus hominum, qui esse primos se omnium rerum volunt, Nec sunt.
 Essays moral and political, p. 111
 The character of this author's philosophical writings, which I should not otherwise have attempted, may be given in his own words, where he speaks of the Alciphron and other works of the ingenious and good Bishop Berkeley: They admit of no answer, and produce no conviction: their only effect is to cause that momentary amazement and irresolution and confusion, which is the result of Scepticism.” Essays moral and political, p. 240.
 Essays moral and political, p. 231.
 Philosophical Essays, p. 250.