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utterly impossible ; and which, unless duly considered, may
An objection may, however, here be raised. It may be said, that we occasionally read, even in the Scriptures themselves, of instances of demoniacal exertions having been made, such as manifestly to exceed human powers ; * and, that these, according to the doctrine here proposed, must be sufficient
* If the apparently miraculous powers of the wise men of Egypt, exerted in opposition to Moses, be referred to this cause, it may be suggested, that we have no reason whatever for supposing that any thing truly miraculous was performed by them on that occasion : all they did might have been done by juggling; but, when something was advanced by Moses which could not
to recommend what was manifestly erroneous, to general regard and acceptance. I answer: The accounts given of these demoniacal exertions do not seem to warrant the conclusion that they were superhuman. That they possessed an amazing influence on popular belief, there can be no doubt; and hence, perhaps, resulted all their potency. My own belief is, that they went no farther than similar pretensions made in more modern times have gone; and, that they consisted of nothing more than artifices, which every moderately informed person could easily detect. Omitting, however, what may have happened in those early times, of which we need not speak very positively, or even be anxious, we may safely affirm, that no such influences are now exerted. The spread of knowledge has, since the times of the Reformation, effectually superannuated the office of the exorcist, and divested every sort of magic of all its force throughout Europe ; and, what is still more to our purpose, such things are now no where else to be found as realities. The plains of Hindustan, the wilds of Tartary, the recesses of Ceylon or of China, the hut of the cannibal, whether of Africa, New Zealand, or elsewhere, will not furnish us now with one well-attested story of any thing in the shape of miracle, wrought by demoniacal agency. I am inclined to believe, therefore, (whatever may be advanced on this subject by Mohammedans f or others), that those works which man, as such, cannot perform, are really and truly miraculous; and, that they could not have been brought about, without the co-operating will and power of the Deity. Great practical difficulties may, however, occasionally present themselves, as to whether certain given operations or events be truly miraculous or not; and, for the sake of meeting these the more effectually, it may be
thus be done by them, they confessed at once that their powers went no further. Demoniacal possessions seem to have taken place in the days of our Lord; but in these cases no miracle was attempted, as far as we know, by the persons possessed.
+ See my Controversial Tracts on Christianity and Mohammedanism.
advisable to introduce a few other restrictions into our definition of a miracle ; and here we cannot do better than to avail ourselves of the instruction offered for this purpose in the Scriptures themselves.* If, then, we construct our definition thus : namely, A miracle is an event such as to exceed the power of man to effect, and is brought about either for the purpose of fulfilling something predicted in a former revelation, or for furthering its objects and ends in one way or other; we shall have all we can possibly want; or, at least, upon which
reliance can be placed.t These additional restrictions have been given for the following reasons: first, Miracles do not appear to have been afforded, except in cases where they were absolutely wanted, that is to say, either for the purpose of furnishing man with a revelation at the first, or of fulfilling such parts of it as consisted of predictions, and stood in need of such fulfilment, and thus to make it binding upon all. For this latter purpose were the miracles of our Saviour apparently wrought; not, as it might seem, to supply an independent authority to the declarations of the New Testament, but only to insure the conviction, that Jesus was the Christ promised to the Fathers. The Revelation is, in these respects, now perfect in all its parts; and hence it is, perhaps, that miracles have altogether ceased : and, unless we are greatly mistaken, they ceased just at the period at which their further exhibition would be unnecessary.*
* Deut. chap. xiii. Is. xli. 21–23.
+ These conditions in the definition of a miracle were first proposed in my Controversial Tracts on Christianity and Mohammedanism, Camb. 1824, p. 535, and were afterwards, with some variation, taken up and applied by the Rev. Mr. Penrose, in his valuable work on Miracles. If it be said, however, that by this view of the subject too much is taken for granted, I answer: The miraculous acts or events so taken for granted, are such as to admit of no doubt as to their being truly miraculous according to our shorter definition : upon these therefore we may rely; and, as the definition has been thus augmented only for the sake of facilitating our inquiries in later times, no objection, of which I am aware, can be offered to its form.'
And, if this be true, every pretension to miracle made since those days, or to be made hereafter, must necessarily be false ; and such, in truth, all claims of this sort hitherto made have proved to be.
Another reason for these restrictions is: God cannot be inconsistent with himself. Every thing, therefore, laying claim to the authority of a miracle, but tending in any degree to thwart or contradict the declarations of a prior revelation, must be false ; and, in this case too, of whatever date such pretended miracle might be, we can have no possible doubt that it was an imposture.
It will be necessary here to shew in what respects the usual definition of miracles appears to be defective, in order to justify the proposal of another.
If then we define a miracle by saying, That it is something which must suspend or contravene the ordinary operations or laws of nature, we shall lay down a condition which will prove useless in a great variety of cases, and inapplicable in many others. We have, for example, numerous predictions and other revelations made in the Bible, in which not so much as one law or operation of nature has either been suspended or contravened. Such are all or most of the prophecies delivered ; and the same may be said of many of the miraculous events brought about: such as the Babylonian captivity, with its termination and the restoration of the Jews to Palestine, the fall of the Jewish polity, &c. which, taken in connection with their several circumstances, were truly miraculous; but in which, nevertheless, none of the general laws or operations of nature were either suspended or in any way contravened.+ Besides, it may be justly doubted, whether we
There does not seem to be any good reason for believing that miracles were wrought after the Apostolic age; and certainly no miraculous prediction has been made since that period. See the Bishop of Lincoln's History of the Church, &c. illustrated from Tertullian, pp. 96, 97.
† Nothing is more common with Hume, Gibbon, and other writers of their school, than to insist on the position, that by the occurrence of miracles
have knowledge enough to determine, in a great variety of cases, when the ordinary laws of nature are suspended or not: and, although we may lay claim to some general knowledge on this head, yet it will never be in our power to affirm, whether many of those things which appear to us to have been thus brought about, do in truth contravene or suspend any of the primary laws, under which it has pleased the Almighty to place this system of things. But we can determine with sufficient accuracy and certainty, how far the exertion of human powers, properly so called, will go : we may, therefore, safely rest our question on these grounds.
Another consideration, and one of great importance here, is : No one will, on this view of our question, be left in a state of doubt, as to what is or is not really a miracle. With ourselves, as well as with the Mohammedans, the custom has been (as it necessarily must) to appeal to the decisions of the learned, in order to know whether any given event were truly miraculous or not : because, it has been supposed, where an acquaintance with the sciences was necessary for this, the ignorant could never be certain, until assured by others better skilled than themselves, as to what did or did not constitute a real miracle. We may remark, Where mixed science is necessary to determine such point (and to the unmixed we cannot appeal), there never can be knowledge sufficient to produce an assurance, that we have not been mistaken. Science, therefore, will be unavailable in questions of this sort : and, when we look at the Mohammedan world, and consider to what conclusions some of the best metaphysicians and philologians ever known
the ordinary laws of nature must necessarily have been suspended. Without, however, urging the consideration, that even this could not have been too much for the Author of Nature to do, provided he thought it necessary to do so, we may affirm, that of the miraculous acts or events recorded in the Bible, very few required any such suspension or contravention of the general laws of nature, if indeed any did.