WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE LECTURE ON MIRACLES—LECTURE V.
In the delivery of these Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity, there was a very important point which, if not wholly passed over, was not discussed with the fullness which the nature of the subject demanded. Of this I was myself deeply sensible when the Lectures were composed, and of this I presume my hearers were painfully sensible at the time when they were delivered. I can not doubt that there were persons in the audience who would have been desirous of asking me questions, as I should have been if I had been listening to a course of Lectures on that subject, and I can not deny that questions might have been easily proposed which I could not have answered, and it may have excited some surprise that inquiries which could have been so easily made, and which would have seemed to be so obviously proper, were not more fully considered in the Lectures. These inquiries might have been made by two classes of persons, and if proposed by both or by either, they would seem to be such as to have a claim to a candid answer. (a) It is probable that they may have occurred to the theological students for whom the Lectures were especially prepared, and who might feel that they would be likely to encounter the very difficulties involved in such inquiries in the work of the ministry, and who might have desired to be furnished with the means of allaying doubts which perhaps were suggested by the Lectures, and of removing difficulties which they could easily foresee they would be likely to meet in their professional life; and (A) they are inquiries which would have been made by those who are not believers in the truth of Christianity, if such were present, and who might have found a secret satisfaction in the fact that the difficulties were not met, and that the questions which they would have asked were not solved, and in the belief that the fact that they were not adverted to was, in their apprehension, a tacit confession on the part of the lecturer that the difficulties could not be removed.
These difficulties pertained especially to the subject of miracles—the subject particularly discussed in the fifth Lecture, though often alluded to in the other Lectures.
The difficulty would be expressed, in few words, in the following questions : What evidence is there in favor of the miracles of the Bible stronger than that which can be alleged for witchcraft, necromancy, sorcery, divination, and demonology; for the miracles practiced among the heathen; for the miracles of the early Christian Church subsequent to the time of the apostles, and for the miracles of the Roman Catholic communion? Since, in the progress of the world; in the diffusion of science; in the advances of civilization; in the careful examination of historical testimony, the world has been disabused of belief in these things, or is tending to universal skepticism in regard to them, why should not the same result be reached in regard to the alleged miracles of the Bible, and to all that is claimed there to be supernatural? In other words, why should not the principles of Rationalism, which have been made so effective in relieving the world of superstition, and of unfounded claims to the supernatural, be applied to that which is claimed in the Bible to be supernatural, and the race be effectually delivered from all that remains that is supposed to be a departure from the established laws of nature ?
For the omission in not considering this inquiry there were two reasons:
One was the difficulty of prosecuting the inquiry in a course of Lectures designed to be in their main features of a popular character, in such a manner as to make it interesting to the audience that was to be addressed. The course of Lectures, by the terms of the foundation, was, indeed, designed mainly to be for the benefit of the students of the seminary, and the course prescribed was to be on such subjects as would come before them in their preparation for the ministry, and in this view the points now adverted to would have been eminently appropriate, difficult as it might have been to make the discussion interesting in a public Lecture; but the course was also designed to be, in some measure, a connecting link between the seminary and the public, and it was contemplated that the Lectures should be of such a character as would be interesting to a popular audience, and it would have been difficult to present an argument on these points which would be interesting to such an audience. An argument on the subject, to be of value, must be somewhat abstruse. Such an argument could not have been compressed into a single Lecture, and could not have been appended to the Lecture devoted to the subject of miracles, without protracting it to a length that would Jiave Violated all the rules of propriety. It might have been difficult, moreover, before such an audience, to present the subject in such a manner as not to create more doubts than would have been allayed, and the subject, therefore, was passed over in silence.
The other reason for the omission was, that if the questions had been proposed to me, I should have been constrained to admit that there were difficulties on the subject which I could not then solve.
In reference to these difficulties I made the following remarks in the course of the Lecture on Miracles:
"I confess that of all ^he questions ever asked on the subject of miracles, this is the most perplexing and the most difficult to answer. It is rather to be wondered at that it has not been pressed with more zeal by those who deny the reality of miracles, and that they have placed their objections so extensively on other grounds. From the fact that it is so seldom referred to by skeptics, it is manifest that it does not strike them as it strikes me, and that they, from some cause, are not disposed to use it as I would, if I had no faith in miracles; and perhaps it may savor more of apparent candor than of wise prudence for a believer in the reality of miracles even to make the suggestion.
" The argument might be made very strong, and if there were time to present it here, it might be done in such a manner that it might seem, at least, to be impossible to meet and refute it."*
I might, indeed, have taken refuge from the difficulties adverted to under the plea that on any subject questions may be asked which can not, in the present state of human knowledge, and perhaps with the limited capacities of the human mind, be answered; that it is no certain evidence of the falseness of an opinion, or the weakness of an argument, that such questions can be asked; and that if we were to pause in our investigations of truth at the exact point where a question might be asked which we could not answer, the range of our inquiries would be narrowed down to the smallest conceivable dimensions. Such an answer, however, would not have satisfied an inquirer, and the impression could scarcely have been avoided in such an answer that there was a consciousness that there was something in the question which could not be answered; for while it would be admitted by all persons qualified to judge in such inquiries that questions may be asked on any subject which no one can answer, it must be admitted that questions may be asked on most subjects which, if not answered, will be fatal to an argument. In such a case as that before us, under such circumstances, the inference would be likely to be drawn that this was one of those subjects.
The argument on miracles, therefore, would not be complete if, after having referred so often in the Lecture to this as constituting perhaps the most important point in the evidences of Christianity in the nine* Page 161.
teenth century, and after having, perhaps, suggested doubts which might not have occurred to others, I should allow the Lectures to go forth in a volume, perhaps much beyond the circle of those who heard them, without an attempt, at least, to solve the difficulty, though in doing it I may have occasion on some points to avail myself of the admission that there are difficulties which I can not solve, and that questions may be asked on this subject, as on any other, which we might be compelled to admit that we couldjnot answer.
The point of difficulty, and the question to be solved, may be made apparent by a few remarks:
(a) In a course of Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity in the Nineteenth Century, it was impossible not to advert to the great changes which have occurred in the opinions of the world on the subject of the supernatural and the marvelous in the course of eighteen hundred years—in other words, to the progress of " Rationalism" in that long period. The fact of such a change is apparent on the face of history, and the progress of" Rationalism" becomes a very important part of history, alike in secular and sacred matters, for the principles of Rationalism have been applied as fearlessly to Grecian records and to Roman history as to the Bible. Eighteen hundred years ago there were numerous subjects then supposed to pertain to the region of the supernatural which are now well understood to be connected with the operation of the regular laws of nature, as eclipses, meteors, comets, storms, diseases; and there were numerous other subjects then supposed to be connected with the supernatural, as divination, necromancy, witchcraft, and sorcery, which have been detached from the faith of mankind, and which have taken their place with myths and legends. So far as the facts in regard to this change of opinion are concerned, and so far, in the main, as the causes of this change are concerned, the history has been given to the world in our own time in a work of great learning, with great attractiveness of style, and with a full acquaintance with the subject—a work which leaves nothing in regard to the history of this change to be desired.* It was impossible, in a course of Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity in the Nineteenth Century, not to advert to this history, and not to inquire into the bearing of this change in the sentiments of mankind on the evidences of the miraculous and the supernatural in the Bible. The history of this change I have, therefore, more than once adverted to. The fact of the change can not be called in question; its tendency, as relating to the question of the evidences of revealed religion, is one of the most important inquiries now before the Church and the world.
* History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of nationalism in Europe, by W. B. H. Lecky, M.A., in 2 vols. N. York: D. Appleton and Co., 1866.
(6) The effect of this change, as related to the subjects discussed in these Lectures, are such as the following:
1. A great number of things once regarded as matters of true history are now reduced to the place of legends, myths, fables. One has only to look into Grote's History of Greece, or into Niebuhr's History of Home, or indeed into any history that professes to trace events in the past to their origin, to see, if the expression may be allowed, as derived from the classic writings, that the " god Terminus" has removed the point where authentic history commences very far within what was once regarded as the true boundary, and that the intelligible and reliable accounts of the affairs of the world have their beginning very far within what was once regarded as the proper point from which to reckon the progress of human affairs. It is a very natural inquiry whether the same process of elimination may not properly be applied to the Bible, as well as to the Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman histories.
2. Many things once regarded as supernatural and miraculous, as I have more than once observed, have been reduced to the operation of the regular and established laws of nature. Portents, wonders, comets, eclipses, meteors, diseases, have been taken out of the region of the supernatural, and placed under the rules of natural science, and now constitute subjects of regular instructions in the schools, instead of being regarded with superstitious dread, or made subjects by which one class of men can secure an ascendency over another, or by which the errors and impositions of false religions, under the control of a priesthood, can be kept up in the world. It is a fair question, and one which this age is asking, whether the same principles of explanation can not be applied to all those cases recorded in the Bible which have been commonly relied on as miracles.
3. The world has been disabused, so far as sound science has gone, of its belief in divination, necromancy, demonology, witchcraft, sorcery, and the region of the supernatural has been narrowed to an extent which we can not well estimate by the withdrawal of these things from the causes which affect the progress of human affairs and the destiny of mankind. It is a question which we can not avoid in contemplating this course of things, whether the wonders of the Bible can not be reduced to the same class of events, and may not be explained as those ancient wonders that exerted so much influence on mankind may now be explained, and take their places with the things that derived their influence from the fears, the credulity, and the superstitions of the early ages of the world.
4. There has been a great change on the subject of faith in the miracles in the early Christian Church subsequent to the time of the apostles. If a disbelief in those miracles is not absolutely universal, yet it may be said that it is rapidly becoming so, and that that result is morally certain. For a long time the faith in those miracles was undoubted, and, even among Protestants, the question was not whether such miracles were actually wrought, but at what time they ceased. So universal was the belief in those miracles, that even Mr. Locke consulted Sir Isaac Newton on the question, not whether such miracles were wrought, but at what time they ceased. In one of the letters of Sir Isaac Newton to Mr. Locke there is a somewhat hesitating passage on this subject: "Miracles," says he, "of good credit continued in the Church for about two or three hundred years. Gregorius Thaumaturgus had his name from thence, and was one of the latest who was eminent for that gift; but of their number and frequence I am not able to give you a just account. The history of those ages is very imperfect."—Brewster's Life of Newton, p. 275. The prevalent belief on this subject among the Christian "fathers," to which I may have occasion to advert again, may be learned from St. Augustine, the ablest and most clear-headed of those fathers, and a man of undoubted piety. He solemnly asserts that in his own diocese of Hippo, in the space of two years, no less than seventy miracles had been wrought by the body of St. Stephen, and that in the neighboring province of Calama, where the relic had previously been, the number was incomparably greater. He gives a catalogue of what he deems undoubted miracles, which he says he had selected from a multitude so great that volumes would be required to relate them all. In that catalogue there are no less than five cases of restoration from the dead. —He Civitat. Dei, lib. xxii., c. 8. See, also, Sermons of Augustine (Serm. 28G, § 4); and his Confessions.—B. ix., vii., p. 1G. Since the time of Middleton, and his attack on the veracity of the fathers,* the faith in these early miracles of the Christian Church has to a great extent died away, and the question is an obvious one why the same reasoning which has destroyed the faith of mankind in those miracles should not also be applied to the miracles of the Bible ?
5. The belief in the reality of the Roman Catholic miracles, once so universal in Europe, and made so extensively the basis in maintaining that religion in those countries where it is established, and of extending it among the heathen, has, in the more enlightened and scientific portions of the world, almost wholly passed away. Of course, no such faith is entertained by any of the Protestant nations. No such faith is entertained by scientific men as such. To a great extent, also, there
* A Free Inquiry into the Miraculous Powers which are snpposed to have subsisted in the Christian Church from the Earliest Ages through several successive Centuries, by Conifers Middleton, D.D. London, 1749.
is a general incredulity on the subject among the most intelligent and scientific of the Koman Catholics themselves. On this point, Mr. Lecky, in remarking on the former belief in the supernatural in Europe, makes the following remarks: " All this has now passed away. It has passed away, not only in lands where Protestantism is triumphant, but also in those where the Roman Catholic faith is still acknowledged, and where the mediaeval saints are still venerated. St. Januarius, it is true, continues to liquefy at Naples, and the pastorals of French bishops occasionally relate apparitions of the Virgin among very ignorant and superstitious peasants; but the implicit, indiscriminating acquiescence with which such narratives were once received has long since been replaced by a derisive incredulity. Those who know the tone that is habitually adopted on these subjects by the converted in Roman Catholic countries will admit that, so far from being a subject of triumphant exultation, the very few modern miracles which are related are every where regarded as a scandal, a stumblingblock, and a difficulty. Most educated persons speak of them with undisguised scorn and incredulity; some attempt to evade or explain them away by a natural hypothesis; a very few faintly and apologetically defend them. Nor can it be said that what is manifested is merely a desire for a more minute and accurate examination of the evidence by which they are supported. On the contrary, it will, I think, be admitted that these alleged miracles are commonly rejected with an assurance that is as peremptory and unreasoning as that with which they would have been once received. Nothing can be more rare than a serious examination, by those who disbelieve them, of the testimony on which they rest. They are repudiated, not because they are unsupported, but because they are miraculous. Men are prepared to admit almost any conceivable occurrence of natural improbabilities rather than resort to the hypothesis of supernatural interferences; and this spirit is exhibited not merely by open skeptics, but by men who are sincere, though perhaps not very fervent believers in their church." —History of Rationalism, vol. i., p. 159,160.
The general result of this state of things, or the prevalent feeling on the subject, may be stated in the words of Lecky: " If we put aside the clergy, and those who are most immediately under their influence, we find that this habit of mind is the invariable concomitant of education, and is the especial characteristic of those persons whose intellectual sympathies are most extended, and who therefore represent most faithfully the various intellectual influences of their time." " All history shows that, in exact proportion as nations advance in civilization, the accounts of miracles taking place among them become rarer and rarer, until at last they entirely cease." " The plain fact is, that the
progress of civilization produces invariably a certain tone and habit of thought which makes men recoil from miraculous narratives with an instinctive and immediate repugnance, as though they were essentially incredible, independently of any definite arguments, and in spite of dogmatic teaching."—Ibid, p. 161, 1G2. To what this change may tend may be illustrated by a remark of the Rev. Frederick Temple, D.D., Head-master of Rugby School, in a sermon before the University of Oxford on " The present relations of Science to religion"—a remark that may, without impropriety, be regarded as expressing the sentiments or the fears of many in the Church. He says, " The student of science is learning to look upon fixed laws as universal, and many of the old arguments which science once supplied to religion are in consequence rapidly disappearing. How strikingly altered is our view from that of a few centuries ago is shown by the fact that the miracles recorded in the Bible, which once were looked on as the bulwarks of the faith, are now felt by very many to be difficulties in their way; and commentators endeavor to represent them, not as mere interferences with the laws of nature, but as the natural action of still higher laws belonging to a world whose phenomena are only half revealed to us. It is evident that this change in science necessitates a change in its relation to faith. If law be either almost or altogether universal, we must look for the finger of God in that law—we must expect to find him manifesting his love, his wisdom, his infinity, not in individual acts of will, but in a perfection of legislation rendering all individual action needless; we must find his providence in that perfect adaptation of all the parts of the machine to one another which shall have the effect of tender care, though it proceed by an invariable action."—Recent Inquiries in Theology, p. 489.
The great question now, as I stated in the Lecture on Miracles—the great question of our age in regard to religion, and not less important in regard to science, is, How far this skepticism is to extend? What is its proper limit ? Is the principle to become so universal as to include all the facts claiming to be of a supernatural nature which have actually occurred, or which will occur in our world ? Is it to embrace the whole region of the miraculous and the supernatural, so as to exclude the idea of any direct agency on the part of God, any phenomena—any changes—the antecedents in which are only the divine will and the divine power ? So it is maintained by Rationalists; such, too, is the practical belief of many men whose lives are devoted to science.
The progress of things, the influences of civilization, the discoveries of science in regard to physical laws, have "exorcised" the world, if the expression may be allowed, in regard to sorcery, witchcraft, magic, necromancy, portents and wonders in eclipses, storms, and earthquakes; are these to "exorcise" the world in regard to mesmerism, spiritualism, spirit-rapping, and table-moving; and are they also to " exorcise" it in regard to the belief that Joshua caused the sun to "stand still upon Gibeon,"and the moon "in the valley of Ajalon;" to the stilling of the tempest on the Sea of Tiberias; to the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda; to the opening of the eyes of Bartimeus; to the raising of Lazarus from the grave, and to the resurrection of the Kedeemer himself?
The material inquiry is, What stronger historical evidence is there of the truth of the miracles of the Bible than of the alleged facts respecting witchcraft, sorcery, divination, and necromancy; the alleged marvels in the early history of the world—as the prodigies which, according to Livy, attended the founding of Bome; the alleged miracles in the Christian Church after the death of the apostles; and the alleged miracles of the mediaeval ages, and of the Catholic Church in modern times ? May not the same process of explanation by which the world has been disabused of faith in these things be legitimately applied to the Bible ? Skeptics and Bationalists claim that it may be so, and should be so; the existence of the Christian religion in the world depends on making out the contrary.
The proper points of inquiry, therefore, in the solution of the question would be,
I. The causes which have led to the change in the opinions of the world in regard to the marvelous; and,
II. The question whether the miracles of the Bible can not be explained in the same manner, and whether they may not also take their place with the illusions and deceptions of former ages.
These inquiries manifestly cover the whole ground.
I. The causes which have led to these changes in the opinions of the world in regard to the marvelous.
Those causes are now well understood, and may be referred to in few words.
(1.) The reduction of events which were supposed to be supernatural to the operation of natural laws. In this solution the facts are, of course, admitted, and the effects produced by those facts on the minds of men are admitted also. The explanation is sought in laws that are now well understood, and that imply nothing that is supernatural. Thus, as I have before remarked, eclipses, comets, meteors, that were regarded as marvelous and supernatural in the early periods of the world, indicating by their appearing the pleasure or the displeasure, the favor or the wrath of the gods, or heralding important events, are now reduced to laws that are as regular and as well understood as the ordinary laws of nature, and excite no more alarm or apprehension than the rising or the setting of the sun and the stars.
Very many things are thus withdrawn from the region of the marvelous, and now take their places in the ordinary course of events. The world no longer believes that the harvest-fields are under the control of Ceres; that Neptune rules on the sea; that ./Eolus controls the winds; that Dryads and Fawns preside in the groves; or that the healing properties of medicine are to be traced to the god ^Esculapius — and the woods, and the groves, and the lakes are deserted; the temples of Ceres, and Neptune, and Bacchus, and ^Esculapius are no longer crowded by worshipers, and more substantial and permanent honors are rendered to scientific men who have discovered the laws by which the phenomena are explained than were rendered to the imaginary divinities.
Science, then, just in proportion as it has made progress in the world, has contributed to this change of opinion; has relieved the world of the fears attendant on superstition; and has contributed, if not always to the introduction and establishment of true religion, at least to the removal of superstition and idolatry. The mythology of Greece can never be restored; the Parthenon can never be rebuilt; the Pantheon can never be again a temple for heathen gods and heathen worship.
(2.) The progress of civilization may be referred to as a second cause of this change. This, indeed, would include, in some measure, that which has above been adverted to, the progress of science, for that enters, of course, largely into the progress of civilization. The point to be now adverted to is that which has been dwelt upon so much by Lecky, and which springs from the nature of the case, that, up to a certain period at least, in proportion as society advances in civilization, the belief in the marvelous disappears, and that the very progress of civilization tends to prepare the minds of men to disbelieve in the supernatural altogether, or leads to Rationalism—to Rationalism in a proper use of that word; to "Rationalism," in fact, in the sense in which that word is commonly employed.
And yet, with all the concessions which should be made on that point, it would be a fair inquiry how far the mere progress of civilization would in fact conduct the human mind, or what, in this respect, would be its legitimate influence on the world. It could not fail to be noticed in such an inquiry that mere civilization has never destroyed the love of the marvelous and the belief in the supernatural; that the belief of the marvelous and the supernatural prevailed under the highest forms of civilization in Greece and Rome; that it prevails in the most civilized nations of the world at this day; and that, if one form of belief in the supernatural is banished to any extent from the minds of men by an advanced civilization, another form may take its place not more reconcilable with the sober and chastened laws of science. It can not be forgotten that in this age—an age which we regard as more civilized than any past period, certainly as more civilized than the ages in which a belief in necromancy, divination, and witchcraft prevailed, and, in the apprehension of many in this age, more civilized and advanced than the ages when there was a general faith in miracles, there is a wide-spread belief in mesmerism, in spirit-rapping, in table-turning, and in "spiritualism" —in actual converse with, and communication with, the spirits of departed men, and that this belief is by no means confined to those who lay no claims to a refined civilization, or who are of the most humble walks of life. Scientific men; literary men of no mean name—judges, physicians, lawyers, and " philosophers," are found in the class of those who believe in these marvels; and perhaps the very home of this faith may be found in the most enlightened cities of our own country, in the very vicinity of the most celebrated seats of learning, or in the most refined walks of life.* Yet, while these things arc so, it can not be doubted that the advancing civilization of the world has had an important influence in narrowing the circle of the supernatural and the marvelous, nor that there is a tendency in such civilization to suggest the inquiry whether a perfect civilization would not remove all traces of the miraculous and the marvelous from the world.
(3.) In connection with this, it is to be observed that there has been a course of events in the world that has tended to disabuse mankind of unfounded claims to a favored and peculiar acquaintance with the secrets of nature, to a compact with powerful spiritual beings, to intercourse with the spirits of the departed, and to the special favor of God bestowed on those who were supposed to be remarkable for their piety —the " saints," and this fact has silently and imperceptibly operated to lead men to doubt the reality of any direct divine interposition in human affairs.
(a) The change in the world on the subject of witchcraft has tended to produce this. Formerly the belief in witchcraft was not less universal than the belief in miracles, and the belief was sustained by what
* It can not be improper to refer to the fact that the inventor of the compound blow-pipe in chemistry was a firm believer in mesmerism, spiritualism, spirit-rapping, and table-turning, and that he employed no small part of the leisure which he enjoyed in his later years in lecturing on these subjects; in endeavoring to give a scientific form to these disclosures; and in the mechanical effort to construct a machine, with an appropriate dial, by which the presence of the supernatural agency could be indicated—somewhat on the principle of the magnetic telegraph.
was regarded as the highest possible evidence. Faith in that has, to a great extent, passed away, and the question which men now ask is whether the belief in miracles is any better sustained.
(6) The belief in magic was once as universal as the belief in miracles, and the facts were supposed to be sustained by irrefragable evidence. That belief has also passed away. It has been removed partly by the application of science to the real explanation of the facts, and partly by the knowledge that the alleged facts were merely the results of cunning and imposture, and men, in like manner, ask the question whether the same solution is not to be applied to the whole subject of miracles.
(c) Faith in necromancy, sorcery, and divination has passed away. The world has come to believe that all the facts that were connected with such claims are to be traced to a hallucination of the mind, or to well-executed imposture, and they ask whether the same solution may not be applied to all pretended miracles.
(d) The faith of the world in regard to the reappearance of the dead, and to the visitation of the gods to earth, has passed away, and men have learned to ask whether the same result is not to follow in regard to all the divine manifestations to our world, and to the alleged resurrection of Lazarus and of Christ.
(«) The belief in the early miracles of the Christian Church subsequently to the time of the apostles has passed away, and men have learned to ask significantly what should make a difference between those miracles and the miracles of the New Testament.
(/) Faith in the miracles of the Roman Catholic Church exists nowhere outside of that communion, and to a very limited extent, apart from the priesthood, within, and the world is beginning to ask why the miracles of the Bible should not share the same fate.
Those who defend the miracles of the Bible, it is said, admit the fact that the pretended miracles of the Egyptians in the time of Moses were false; that the miracles of the early Christian Church were false; that the miracles of the Catholic Church are false—that, in fact, men have often been imposed upon in the belief of such wonders, and they ask why should not the principles which they apply so unsparingly to these pretended wonders be applied to all claims of miraculous powers.
(<?) There has been, at the same time, a vast decline of priestly power and influence tending to the same result. The world has come to believe that alike among the heathen, and in the early Christian Church, and in the Roman Catholic communion, the belief in miracles has been kept up, in a good measure, by the influence and the arts of the priesthood. Outside of the Catholic Church that belief is now universal in regard to the pretended miracles in that Church, and the belief that the credit of the miracles in the early Church was to be traced to priestly power has become nearly universal.
Priestly power, as such, is fast dying away in the world—alike among the heathen, in the Roman Catholic portion of the world, in the Greek Church, and in the Protestant world. In proportion as science advances, and the world becomes acquainted with the arts which have so often characterized the priesthood of all religions, the mere power of a priesthood as such dies away. The power bf influencing men by forms and ceremonies; by processions and benedictions ; by splendid vestments and pomp; by the belief that truth flows only from the lips of an anointed priesthood and grace from their hands, dies out among men, and they are led to ask, since so much of religion has undeniably owed its power to the unfounded claims of a priesthood, whether the whole of it can not be resolved into such a belief.
It may be true, indeed, that the real influence of ministers of religion is advancing in other forms, and is keeping pace with the progress of the world, but it is not as priests, or in virtue of any supposed hereditary holiness, or of any superiority over other men as intrusted with the power of pardoning sin, or communicating grace, or delivering dogmas to mankind to be received on their authority, but it is as men who are abreast of their age in intelligence, as entitled to confidence from their moral worth, and to respect for their learning. There is a foundation in the human heart for respect and honor toward the ministers of religion when they rely for their influence on these things; all other respect for them is fast dying away, and with the decline of that profound reverence for a priesthood that characterizes this age as distinguished from former ages, there has been a corresponding decline on the whole subject of faith in the supernatural and the marvelous. Men refuse to embrace doctrines and dogmas in religion on different grounds from those on which they embrace truth on other subjects, not by a reference to miracles, and signs, and wonders, but as founded on reason, and as commending itself to their sober sense of what is right and true.
Perhaps the present state of the world on this subject, as indicating an existing state of mind, can not be better described than in the following passage from the writer to whom I have so often referred:
" Generation after generation the province of the miraculous has contracted, and the circle of skepticism has expanded. Of the two great divisions of these events, one has completely perished. Witchcraft, and diabolical possession, and diabolical disease have long since passed into the region of fables. To disbelieve them was at first the eccentricity of a few isolated thinkers; it was then the distinction of the educated classes in the most advanced nations; it is now the common sentiment of all classes in all countries in Europe. The countless miracles that were once associated with every holy relic and with every village shrine have rapidly and silently disappeared. Year by year the incredulity became more manifest, even when the theological profession was unchanged. Their nunfbers continually lessened, until they at last almost ceased, and any attempt to revive them has been treated with a general and undisguised contempt. The miracles of the fathers are passed over with an incredulous scorn or with a significant silence. The rationalistic spirit has even attempted to explain away those which are recorded in Scripture, and it has materially altered their position in the systems of theology. In all countries, in all churches, in all parties, among men of every variety of character and opinion, we have found the tendency existing. In each nation its development has been a measure of intellectual activity, and has passed in regular course through the different strata of society. During the last century it has advanced with a vastly accelerated rapidity; the old lines of demarkation have been every where obscured, and the spirit of Rationalism has become the great centre to which the intellect of Europe is manifestly tending. If we trace the progress of the movement from its origin to the present day, we find that it has completely altered the whole aspect and complexion of religion. When it began, Christianity was regarded as a system entirely beyond the range and scope of human reason; it was impious to question ; it was impious to examine; it was impious to discriminate. On the other hand, it was visibly instinct with the supernatural. Miracles of every order and degree of magnitude were flashing forth incessantly from all its parts. They excited no skepticism and no surprise. The miraculous element pervaded all literature, explained all difficulties, consecrated all doctrines. Every unusual phenomenon was immediately referred to a supernatural agency, not because there was a passion for the improbable, but because such an explanation seemed far more simple and easy of belief than the obscure theories of science.
" In the present day, Christianity is regarded as a system which courts the strictest investigation, and which, among many other functions, was designed to vivify and stimulate all the energies of man. The idea of the miraculous, which a superficial observer might have once deemed its most prominent characteristic, has been driven from almost all its intrenchments, and now quivers faintly and feebly through the mists of eighteen hundred years.'"*
II. Such, then, being the facts in regard to the change of belief in * Lecky, History of Rationalism, vol. i., p. 194,1C5.
the world on the subject of the marvelous and the supernatural, and such being the causes by which this change is to be explained, the inquiry meets us whether the miracles of the Bible can not be explained in the same manner, and whether they may not in like manner take their place with the illusions and deceptions of former ages. It is clear that if they can thus be explained, and if there is no stronger historical evidence in their favor than could be adduced. for those things which have been referred to, they will soon, in the estimation of mankind, take the same place, and faith in the supernatural will wholly cease among men. Whether they can thus be explained is the point now to be considered. If they can not thus be explained, then the evidence commonly relied on for their support will be unaffected by the changes which have occurred on other subjects, and will remain in all the force attached to undisputed evidence on other well-attested historical facts in the past.
(1.) The miracles of the Bible can not be explained by the operation of natural laws, or, in other words, can not be brought within the range of natural laws. I mean by this, that, if the facts are admitted, there are no powers of nature known to man that would explain or account for them; that is, they could not be arranged and classified under any of the natural sciences. If Lazarus was raised from the grave; if Christ rose from the dead; if the blind were restored to sight by a word or a touch, there are no laws of science—chemistry, natural philosophy, galvanism, electricity, or magnetism to which such facts can be shown to belong; there is no power in connection with those sciences to produce such effects now; there are no principles suggested by those sciences which will explain them.
On this point I made the following remarks in the Lecture on Miracles, which it seems necessary to repeat here, in order that a connected view may be taken of the subject:
Science has not advanced so far as to explain the miracles of the New Testament on any known principles, as it has in these matters, nor has it made any approximation to it. Nay, just so far as it has gone it has demonstrated that those miracles can not be explained on any principles known, or Jikely to be known, to science—gravitation, attraction, repulsion, electricity, galvanism, or the healing properties of vegetables or minerals. The chemist does not open the eyes of the blind by a touch; he does not heal the sick by a word; he does not raise the dead by the blow-pipe or by galvanism. In the language of Mr. Mansel, '' The advance of physical science tends to strengthen rather than to weaken our conviction of the supernatural character of the Christian miracles. In whatever proportion our knowledge of phvsical causation is limited, and the number of unknown natural ngents comparatively large, in the same proportion is the probability that some of these unknown causes, acting in some unknown manner, may have given rise to the alleged marvels. But this probability diminishes when each newly-discovered agent, as its properties become known, is shown to be inadequate to the production of the supposed effects, and as the residue of unknown causes, which might produce them, becomes smaller and smaller. We are told, indeed, that the ' inevitable progress of research must, within a longer or shorter period, unravel «11 that seems most marvelous ;'* but we may be permitted to doubt the relevancy of the remark to the present case, until it has been shown that the advance of science has in some degree enabled men to perform the miracles performed by Christ. When the inevitable progress of research shall have enabled men of modern times to give sight to the blind with a touch, to still tempests with a word, to raise the dead to life, to die themselves, and to rise again, we may allow that the same causes might possibly have been called into operation ten thousand years earlier by some great man in advance of his age. But, until this is done, the unraveling of the marvelous in other phenomena only serves to leave these works in their solitary grandeur, as wrought by the finger of God, unapproached and unapproachable by all the knowledge and all the power of man. The appearance of a comet or the fall of an aerolite may be reduced by the advance of science from a supposed supernatural to a natural occurrence, and this reduction furnishes a reasonable presumption that other phenomena of a like character will in time meet with a like explanation. But the reverse is the case with respect to those phenomena which are narrated as produced by personal agency. In proportion as the science of today surpasses that of former generations, so is the improbability that any man could have done in past times, by natural means, works which no skill of the present age is able to imitate. "t
In addition to these observations, I would now, for the farther illustration of the subject, make the following remarks :
(a) If the miracles of the New Testament were in themselves susceptible of explanation in this manner, it is plain that the authors of the Bible, or those who wrought the miracles, were not, in fact, so far in advance of their own age, or that they had no such knowledge of scientific principles—of the laws of nature—as to enable them to make use of this knowledge in working the alleged miracles. There were events in the Middle Ages, in connection with " magic," which seemed to the masses of men to be miracles; which surpassed all their power of producing or comprehending them; and which conveyed, designedly or undesignedly, to the multitudes the impression that those who * Essays and Reviews, p. 109. t Aids to Faith, p. 21, 22.
wrought them were in league with higher intelligences, or were endowed with supernatural powers. Those events are now susceptible of an easy and natural explanation, as has been shown amply by Sir David Brewster in his work on "Magic." Roger Bacon, for example, was so far in advance of his age in the sciences, that, on the ground of this, he might readily have obtained a reputation for being able to work miracles; and if we were to suppose that Roger Bacon, or any of his contemporaries, had the knowledge which is now possessed by those skilled in chemistry; or could have exhibited the wonderful and sudden transformations of matter now exhibited in the laboratory of the chemist; or that they had the power of multiplying copies of books, with the strictest exactness, almost in an instant; or that they could have multiplied accurate impressions of the human countenance, or of hills, and vales, and trees, and animals, by the action of light; or that they could have transmitted thought and language in a moment over hills and vales, across rivers and along the beds of oceans, it would have been easy for such men to have established the reputation of being workers of miracles. But, apart from all other considerations, now, the authors of the Bible had no such pretensions to knowledge in advance of their age. They were not in a land distinguished for science. They had received no scientific education. They had, so far as appears, no scientific genius. They had nothing which constitutes the " apparatus" of science now. All accounts agree in the fact that they were plain, unlettered men; nor does any thing which they ever said, or wrote, or did, indicate that they had any acquaintance whatever with even the very lowest rudiments of scientific knowledge.
(6) The principles of science can not be so applied as to explain the miracles of the New Testament. Science makes no approximation to an explanation.
This remark is especially true in regard to the resurrection of the dead, and is of special importance, because a single case of restoration to life settles the whole question. If Lazarus was raised from the dead, the Christian religion is from God. Science has settled the principle so that it is now an admitted axiom among all scientific men that the production of life is beyond the power of mere science. Whatever life may be, and whether it will ever be true that men will be able to explain and define what it is, it is reduced to a certainty that men, by the application of scientific principles, can not produce it. No approximation has been made to the power of causing it to exist where there has not been a germ or an ovum, or where it does not already exist, though suspended. Animalcules that seemed to have been dead for ages, and that may be dried and pounded, may be made to revive by the application of moisture ;• a grain of wheat that may have been hidden in the folds of an Egyptian mammy for three thousand years may be made to grow, but no power of man can originate life; none can cause it to exist again when it has become extinct. Until that is done, it may be regarded as settled that the miracles of the New Testament can not be explained by the application of the principles of science. If such a thing is claimed as possible, we may at least demand that the same thing should be done now by scientific men; for assuredly it can not be pretended that in true scientific knowledge the apostles were superior to the scientific men of this generation. If, therefore, it could be shown, as Renan supposed, that the healing of Peter's wife's mother could be explained by some power of mesmerism, yet we have a right, in order to set aside the evidence for the miracles of the New Testament, to demand that there shall be some unmistakable act of raising up the dead —where there is no doubt of the death—as in the case of Lazarus and the Savior; and, to make the argument complete, that it shall be done by a word—by some command which the scientific man has over the dead, and the grave, and the invisible world. As it is certain that men have never done this, and as it is certain that the scientific men of this age, or of future ages, will not even attempt this, it may be regarded as settled that the miracles of the New Testament can not be explained by the application of any principles of science, or can not be brought under the range of natural laws.
(2.) The miracles of the Bible can not be disposed of in the way in which the belief in witchcraft, necromancy, and sorcery has been. The explanation which has been applied to these things, and which has so entirely modified or revolutionized the faith of mankind on these subjects, can not be applied to the miracles of the Bible. In other words, we can not take the explanations; the course of reasoning ; the changes produced by civilization, and the results of calm and sober thinking on these subjects, by which so material a change has been produced in the faith of mankind in regard to these matters, and by the application of the same process reach the same results in respect to the miracles of the Bible.
This is a very material point in the argument; for if the reasoning which has changed the faith of the world in regard to the marvelous and the supernatural on these subjects is of sufficient force to change the faith of the world in all that is supernatural, including the miracles of the Bible as well as other things, then it is manifest that faith in miracles will soon occupy the same place as faith in witchcraft, and necromancy, and sorcery; and as it is now certain that the faith in witchcraft, necromancy, and sorcery which was once held in the world can not be restored in the present state of civilization, and still less under the advanced civilization to which the world is tending, so, if the arguments and explanations which have banished the belief in witchcraft from the world can be legitimately applied to the miracles of the Bible, it will follow that the world is tending rapidly and inevitably to the highest point of Rationalism, where all faith in the supernatural and the marvelous shall cease among men. That this result is desired by many there can be no doubt; that it is secretly believed by many that it will be so there can be as little doubt; and that the tendency of the statements on the causes which have led to the changes in the opinions of the world on these subjects, as they are found in the histories of Rationalism, is to lead to the apprehension that this will be so, there can be as little doubt. No man can rise up from a history of Rationalism, and of the changes which have occurred in regard to the belief of mankind in the marvelous, without asking the question whether the legitimate result of all this is not to remove all faith in the marvelous and the supernatural from the minds of men.
What, then, is witchcraft? What is sorcery, divination, necromancy ? By what means has the faith of mankind in these things been shaken ? Are the same processes of unbelief applicable to the miracles of the Bible ?
Witchcraft, divination, sorcery, necromancy, though they differ specifically from each other, yet so far partake of the same general nature that they can be grouped together, and they so far resemble each other, and so far depend on the same things, that the same explanation in regard to their origin, their prevalence, and their removal from the faith of mankind will be found applicable to them all. It would be impossible that one should retain its hold on the faith of mankind if all the others, or any of the others, should be proved to be a delusion and an imposture. The question is whether the miracles of the Bible will share the same destiny.
I have stated the difficulty on this subject in the Lecture on Miracles (p. 161-165), and perhaps so stated it as to have led to the inquiry—perhaps a painful inquiry—on the minds of some, whether all that is said there might not also be said about miracles. As there can be no desire of concealment in a candid inquiry after truth on any subject, and as it is important to have the difficulty fairly before the mind, I shall copy here what was said on the subject in the Lecture.
A more material and important question still is, Whether there is any stronger evidence in favor of miracles than there is in favor of witchcraft, of sorcery, of the reappearance of the dead, of ghosts, of apparitions ? Is not the evidence in favor of these as strong as any that can be adduced in favor of miracles? Have not these things been matters of universal belief? In what respects is the evidence in favor of the miracles of the Bible stronger than that which can be adduced in favor of witchcraft and sorcery? Does it differ in nature and in degree; and if it differs, is it not in favor of witchcraft and sorcery ? Has not the evidence in favor of the latter been derived from as competent and credible witnesses ? Has it not been brought to us from those who saw the facts alleged ? Has it not been subjected to a close scrutiny in courts of justice—to cross-examinations—to tortures ? Has it not convinced those of highest legal attainments; those accustomed to sift testimony; those who understood the true principles of evidence? Has not the evidence in favor of witchcraft and sorcery had, what the evidence in favor of miracles has not had, the advantage of strict judicial investigation, and been subjected to trial, where evidence should be, before courts of law ? Have not the most eminent judges in the most civilized and enlightened courts of Europe and America admitted the force of such evidence, and on the ground of it committed great numbers of innocent persons to the gallows or to the stake ?
An extract or two from Lecky, in his History of Rationalism in Europe, will show the nature of the difficulty and the force of the objection, though the remarks made by him are in no way designed to support the cause of infidelity: "Por more than fifteen hundred years it was universally believed that the Bible established, in the clearest manner, the reality of the crime [of witchcraft], and that an amount of evidence, so varied and so ample as to preclude the very possibility of doubt, attested its continuance and its prevalence. The clergy denounced it with all the emphasis of authority. The legislators of almost every land enacted laws for its punishment. Acute judges, whose lives were spent in sifting evidence, investigated the question on countless occasions, and condemned the accused. Tens of thousands of victims perished by the most agonizing and protracted torments without exciting the faintest compassion. Nations that were completely separated by position, by interests, and by character, on this one question were united. In almost every province of Germany, but especially in those where clerical influence predominated, the persecution raged with fearful intensity. Seven thousand victims are said to have been burned at Treves, six hundred by the single Bishop of Bamberg, and eight hundred in a single year in the bishopric of Wurtzburg. In France, decrees were passed on the subject by the Parliament of Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux, llheims, Rouen, Dijon, and Rennes, and they were all followed by a harvest of blood. At Toulouse, the seat of the Inquisition, four hundred persons perished for sorcery at a single execution, and fifty at Donay in a single year. Remy, a judge of Nancy, boasted that he had put to death eight hundred witches in sixteen years. The executions that took place at Paris in a few months were, in the emphatic words of an old writer,' almost infinite.' The fugitives who escaped to Spain were there seized and burned by the Inquisition. In Italy a thousand persons were executed in a single year in the province of Como; in the other parts of the country the severity of the inquisitors at last created an absolute rebellion. In Geneva five hundred alleged witches were executed in three months; forty-eight were burned at Constance or Ravensburg, and eighty in the little tpwn of Valery, in Savoy. The Church of Rome proclaimed in every way that was in her power the reality and the continued existence of the crime."
The writer from whom I have made this extract adds: "It is, I ' think, difficult to examine the subject with impartiality, without coming to the conclusion that the historical evidence establishing the reality of witchcraft is so vast and so varied that it is impossible to disbelieve it without what on other subjects we should deem the most extraordinary rashness. The defenders of the belief, who were often men of great and distinguished talent, maintained that there was no fact in all history more fully attested, and that to reject it would be to strike at the root of all historical evidence of the miraculous. The subject was examined in tens of thousands of cases, in almost every country of Europe, by tribunals which included the acutest lawyers and ecclesiastics of the age on the scene at the time when the alleged facts had taken place, and with the assistance of innumerable sworn witnesses. The judges had no motive whatever to desire the condemnation of the accused; and as conviction would be followed by a fearful death, they had the strongest motives to exercise their power with caution and deliberation. In our day it may be said with confidence that it would be altogether impossible for such an amount of evidence to accumulate round a conception which had no basis in fact. If we considered witchcraft probable, a hundredth part of the evidence we possess would have placed it beyond the region of doubt. If it were a natural, but a very improbable fact, our reluctance to believe it would have been completely stifled by the multiplicity of the proofs."*
In reference to this point, I now submit the following remarks: (a) Witchcraft, sorcery, divination, necromancy, all depend essentially on one idea—the idea of a compact with created spirits; not ivith God. The idea is always that of a compact, of an understanding, or of an alliance for certain purposes, and the accomplishing of * See Lecbj, History of Rationalism in Europe, vol. i., p. 28, 34, 30, 37, 3S, 39.
certain things to which the unaided human powers are inadequate, but whick may be quite within the range of the power of such invisible beings. Thus, in necromancy, the foundation of all that^is implied in it is a desire—that desire so natural to man—to penetrate the future. The knowledge necessary for this purpose is not in the power of the most gifted man among the living,* but it is supposed that it must be in the possession of the dead—of those who now reside in the invisible world, and that a compact may be made with them by which that knowledge may be imparted to those who are parties in the agreement. Thus, also, in divination, the idea is essentially the same. It is defined by Webster to be " a foretelling of future events, or discovering things secret or obscure, by the aid of superior beings, or by other than human means." "The ancient heathen philosophers," says " he, " divided divination into two kinds, natural and artificial. Natural divination was supposed to be effected by a kind of inspiration or divine afflatus; artificial divination was effected by certain rites, experiments, or obsservations, as by sacrifices, cakes, flour, wine," etc. The main idea was, that there was some aid derived from spirits superior to man with whom this knowledge was, and from whom it could be obtained by favored persons by compact, or by the performance of certain rites of homage or honor rendered to them.
The same idea was at the foundation of all that there was in witchcraft—a subject in its bearing on the matter before us of much more importance than either necromancy, divination, or sorcery. Few persons, Rationalists or skeptics, would now refer either to necromancy, divination, or sorcery as having any evidence in their favor which would seriously affect the evidence in regard to miraculous events; the subject of witchcraft, however, as we have seen, does materially affect the whole question of evidence, and particularly the evidence in regard to supernatural events, since the proof of witchcraft was brought before courts sitting in judgment on the very cases ; since that proof was so thoroughly examined by men learned in the law, and accustomed to sift evidence; since the alleged facts were supposed to be established by incontrovertible evidence; since such trials involved the question of life or death; and since so many innocent persons were actually put to death on the ground of such evidence.
A witch is defined by Webster to be " a woman who, by compact with the devil, practices sorcery or enchantment." The essential idea always is that of a compact or agreement with the devil, or with evil spirits, by whose aid things are done which are beyond the natural power of those who practiced witchcraft, or which could not be pro
* For an illustration of this thought I may be permitted to refer to the Lecture on Prophecy—Lecture VI.
duced by natural laws, and in which the acts, therefore, are, so far, miraculous or supernatural. Witchcraft, however, is Nevee associated with the idea of divine help or divine power. It never implies a compact with God. It is never supposed that what is done is done by his power. It is always something within the range of beings inferior to God, but superior to man. It is, in this respect, wholly distinguished from the idea of a miracle properly so called, where, as we have seen, the idea is that of an event where the only antecedent is the will and power of God.
The following things, therefore, enter into the idea of witchcraft, and in getting rid of witchcraft by the process of Rationalism, the world has delivered itself from these, and these only: (1.) There is a compact with some spirit or spirits inferior to God, but superior to man. (2.) The spirit with which the compact is made is always a bad, or an evil spirit—as we never associate the idea of witchcraft with a good " demon," or with a holy angel. (3.) The person who is supposed to make the compact, or who is competent to enter into it, is commonly believed to be a woman, and usually an old woman. If there has been a belief in wizards, it has been rare, and the common idea in such a case is merely that of a juggler, a conjuror, or an enchanter. (4.) The matter which pertains to witchcraft is usually some trifling matter; some petty annoyance; some small injury done to property ; some disease brought upon cattle; rarely, if ever, any thing that terminates in death. It never has respect to a work of beneficence or mercy; never is employed in healing diseases; never is alleged to be sufficient to give sight to the blind; never lays claim to the power of raising the dead. In these respects, also, it is distinguished by broad lines of demarkation from all proper ideas of a miracle.
(b) The alleged facts in witchcraft were usually such as could, and did occur, under the operation of natural causes. All the injuries done; all the diseases inflicted; all the annoyances employed; all the calamities that fell upon cattle or upon men; all the blightings of the harvest; all that was involved in the idea of pinching or burning—of palsy, or of withered arms or hands, or a shriveled skin—all these are things which do occur in the world with no necessity of supposing any intervention of superior beings. Not one of them implies, of necessity, the agency of supernatural power; not one of them, as a fact, lies beyond the range of explanation from natural causes. They are, therefore, as facts, wholly without the range of miracles.
(c) The facts in the alleged case of witchcraft are commonly easily established, and there was no difficulty in proving them in the courts; in the matter of miracles the main difficulty is in regard to the facts themselves—whether the sun and moon actually stood still at the command of Joshua; whether the lame man at the pool of Bethesda was actually healed; whether Lazarus was actually dead, and was raised from the dead; whether the Lord Jesus actually came to life again after he had been put to death on the cross. But the alleged facts as pertaining to witchcraft are such as may be easily established—that is, what witches are accused of doing may be matter of clear and definite proof. That a person is afflicted with some form of disease; that property is destroyed; that mischief has occurred in regard to a man's cattle, or that there may be some form of prevalent disease among them; that grain about to ripen may be suddenly blighted in the field—all these may be points of fact that could be easily established, and about which there need be no doubt.
As an illustration of this point, we may take the case of Richard III., as it is stated in history, and as it is represented by Shakspeare. The scene is described by Mr. Hume (History of England, vol. ii., p. 174) in the following manner:
"The Duke of Gloucester was capable of committing the most bloody and treacherous murders with the utmost coolness and indifference.. On taking his place at the council-table, he appeared in the easiest and most jovial humor imaginable. He seemed to indulge himself in familiar conversation with the counselors before they should enter on business; and, having paid some compliments to Morton, bishop of Ely, on the good and early strawberries which he raised in his garden at Holborn, he begged the favor of having a dish of them, which that prelate immediately dispatched a servant to bring to him. The Protector then left the council, as if called away by some other business; but, soon after returning, with an angry and inflamed countenance, he asked them what punishment those deserved that had plotted against his life, who was so nearly related to the king, and was intrusted with the administration of government ? Hastings replied that they merited the punishment of traitors. These traitors, cried the Protector, are the sorceress, my brother's wife, and Jane Shore, his mistress, with others, their associates: see to what a condition they have reduced me by their incantations and witchcraft: upon which he laid bare his arm, all shriveled and decayed. But the counselors, who knew that this infirmity had attended him from his birth, looked on each other with amazement, and above all Lord Hastings, who, as he had, since Edward's death, engaged in an intrigue with Jane Shore, was naturally anxious concerning the issue of these extraordinary proceedings. Certainly, my lord, said he, if they be guilty of these crimes they deserve the severest punishment. And do you reply to me, exclaimed the Protector, with your ifs and your ands ? You are the chief abettor of that witch Shore! You are yourself a traitor; and I swear by St. Paul that I will not dine before your head be brought me. ' He struck the table with his hand; armed men rushed in at the signal; the counselors were thrown into the utmost consternation; and one of the guards, as if by accident or mistake, aimed a blow with a poll-axe at Lord Stanley, who, aware of the danger, slunk under the table; and though he saved his life, received a severe wound in the head, in the Protector's presence. Hastings was seized, was hurried away, and instantly beheaded on a timber-log, which lay in the court of the Tower."
Shakspeare describes the scene in the following words:
" Gloucester. I pray you all, tell me what they deserve
That do conspire my death with devilish plots
Of damned witchcraft; and that have prevailed
Upon my body with their hellish charms?
Hastings. The tender love I bear your grace, my lord,
Makes me most forward in this noble presence
To doom the offenders: Whosoe'er they be,
I say, my lord, they have deserved death.
Gloucester. Then be your eyes the witness of their evil,
Look how I am bewitched; behold mine arm
Is, like a blasted sapling, withered up:
And this is Edward's wife, that monstrous witch,
Consorted with that harlot, strumpet Shore,
That by their witchcraft thus have marked me."
Richard III., Act iii., Scene iv.
Now, about the fact of the withered arm, there could have been no doubt. The evidence was at hand. No one .would call it in question ; no one would dare to dispute it. That fact could have been proved before any court of justice as clearly as any of the facts to which Mr. Lecky refers when he says, "The subject [of witchcraft] was examined in tens of thousands of cases, in almost every country of Europe, by tribunals which included the acutest lawyers and ecclesiastics of the age on the scene at the time when the alleged facts had taken place, and with the assistance of innumerable sworn witnesses."
(rf) The main point, therefore, in witchcraft—the point on which the whole turned, and on which it differed from all the questions connected with miracles, was in Connecting the accused person with The Fact ; in showing that the accused person was the cause of it, or the author of it. Thus, in the case of the Duke of Gloucester, the point on which the whole turned was not the fact that the arm of the duke was dried up, or was shriveled—for of that there was no doubt, but it was whether this had been caused by the wife of Edward and Jane Shore. That the duke affirmed; that would have been the point in a court of justice; that was the only point that would have any bearing on the question of witchcraft. That point—the connection of the accused persons with the alleged and undoubted facts—was the point which was before the courts—the point on which so many hundreds and thousands were condemned to the flames.
And yet how could that point be properly brought before a court of justice ? What evidence could there be that would bear on it ?
It is evident that, in this circumstance, there was all that was necessary for wide-spread illusion, imposture, and wrong; for the indulgence of all that there was in a community of suspicion, malignity, and hatred against particular individuals; all that could be devised to keep up the faith of a community in the marvelous; all that was needful to feed and satisfy the desire for the belief in invisible influences, and to perpetuate a prevalent superstition. For what was demanded in the case was not the proof of certain facts that might be the proper subject of testimony, but the connecting of certain obnoxious persons with those facts; and as soon and as far as the popular idea connected such facts with a certain class of persons—as aged females—there would be no lack of witnesses to testify to such a connection.
It is difficult to account for popular illusions; for the fact that a whole community will be affected with such an illusion at the same time; that it may influence all classes of persons; that it will constitute the characteristic of a certain period or a certain land; that it will, for the time, break down all the ordinary and sober rules of thinking, and override all that is sacred in truth, and solemn in the forms of oaths. It would be easy to adduce now, in any court of justice, almost innumerable witnesses, of most respectable character, that would testify on oath to the alleged facts in regard to table-moving and spirit-rapping. The witnesses of these alleged facts would not by any means be found altogether or mainly among the humblest ranks, or the most ignorant in a community, nor among those who have no proper idea of the solemnity of an oath, or who are ignorant on the subject of evidence. Judges, lawyers, merchants, professors of chemistry, clergymen — men profoundly learned in the sciences, could be found in large numbers who would testify to the reality of the facts, and who would do it with no ascertainable intention of imposing on mankind.
It matters little what is the thing that thus becomes the subject of popular illusion, and it is to be admitted that if the miracles of the New Testament could be brought under this idea, it would not be less difficult to establish their reality than to establish the facts about witchcraft and spirit-rapping. Macaulay, in his History of England, refers to an epidemic of that nature which followed the successful effort of Titus Oates to excite universal alarm in England in regard to the plot to murder the king [Charles II.] ; to hum the city of London ; to revolutionize the kingdom, and to restore it to the dominion of the Papacy. " Every person," says he, " well read in history must have observed that depravity has its temporary modes, which come in and go out like modes of dress and upholstery. It may be doubted whether, in our country, any man ever before the year 1678 invented and related on oath a circumstantial history, altogether fictitious, of a treasonable plot, for the purpose of making himself important by destroying men who had given him no provocation. But in the year 1678 this execrable crime became the fashion, and continued to be so during the twenty years which followed. Preachers designated it as our peculiar national sin, and prophesied that it would draw on us some awful national judgment. Legislators proposed new punishments of terrible severity for this new atrocity. It was not, however, found necessary to resort to those punishments. The fashion changed; and during the last century and a half there has perhaps not been a single instance of this particular kind of wickedness. "*
Any explanation which will account for a popular illusion or a prevalent superstition will account for all the phenomena of witchcraft. The power of such an illusion has often been manifested in the world; perhaps no one has satisfactorily explained the causes. The effect of it is easily understood. It is a species of insanity. It indisposes the mind for calm and sober thought. It gives reality in the view of the mind to that which is desired. It blunts the moral sense, and dims the perception of truth, and perverts all just notions of testimony. It gives reality in the view of the mind to that which is the creation of the imagination, and, under the force of the illusion, annihilates for the time all the ordinary feelings of kindness and humanity. It will lead to the endurance of suffering—to the spirit of martyrdom —on the part of those who embrace the illusion, and it will make them regardless of the severest sufferings of those—though of the tenderest years, and of the gentle sex—on whom the suspicion falls. To pity them in their tortures would be a crime; to aggravate their sufferings would be a merit. In witchcraft it would be a crime of the highest nature to pity those who are in league with the devil; to punish them is to punish the devil himself, and no amount of suffering could be beyond his desert.
(e) It is apparent, therefore, that there is a broad line of distinction between the miracles of the Bible, and witchcraft, necromancy, sorcery, and divination, and that the explanation which would meet the one would not affect the other. It is apparent, also, that in the one case —the case of witchcraft, necromancy, and sorcery, there may be a * History of England, vol. iv., p. 155.
change in the public mind that will effectually banish all belief in these things, that will not necessarily, or in fact, affect the public faith in miracles. That state of the public mind—that phenomenon—is, in fact, reached now. The progress of Rationalism has been such for the past hundred years as almost entirely to banish all belief in witchcraft and necromancy from the world; it has not been shown that the change of mind on that subject has in reality affected the faith of man on the subject of miracles, or that they have, in fact, reasoned from the one to the other. Indeed, it may be assumed as undoubtedly true that those who have become skeptical in this age on the subject of miracles are not conscious to themselves that they have been led to reject the evidence for miracles because they have seen reason to reject the belief in witchcraft, or because the sentiments of the world have changed on that subject. This fact I adverted to in the Lecture on Miracles, and I can not but regard it as a remarkable feet. I do not know that even skeptics in religion, or Rationalists in any form, have urged this as an objection to the faith in miracles, or have stated it as a proposition, as indicating their own state of mind on the subject, that because witchcraft, necromancy, and sorcery are delusions, therefore the miracles of the Bible and all pretended miracles are false. The world at large would not see any connection between such premises and such a conclusion. Skeptics themselves would perceive that the world would not admit the force of such reasoning. As a matter of fact, no such conclusion has been reached from these premises. So far as appears, the faith of mankind in the miracles of the Bible has not been affected by the change which has occurred in regard to the belief in witchcraft, necromancy, and divination. The change adverted to, especially in regard to witchcraft, is a change which has occurred in the Church not less than in the world; for the belief in witchcraft pervaded the whole Church, Catholic and Protestant alike, two centuries ago, and the Church, as is often urged by infidels, and as a matter of fact, was most firm in the belief of witchcraft, and most active in the persecution of those who were supposed to be under its influence (see Lecky, vol. i., p. 28-34), and yet the Church, while it has changed its belief wholly on that subject, has not changed its faith in the belief of the miracles of the Bible, and it is certain that infidelity would make no impression on the Church by arguing from the one to the other.
The reasons of this are now plain. The sphere of witchcraft, necromancy, sorcery, and divination, and the sphere of miracles, is widely different. All, indeed, pertain to the supernatural, but they do not so pertain to it that the one affects the other. The one—witchcraft, necromancy, divination, sorcery—is an alliance with inferior spirits; not with God. It is for purposes of mischief; never for good. The power which it summons, and with which it combines, is an evil—a malignant power. The facts in the case are susceptible of explanation from natural causes. The effects on a community can be traced to a popular illusion. The whole operation—the agents employed, the manner in which they are supposed to effect their marvels, and the effects themselves, are all beneath the dignity of philosophy, beneath religion, beneath God, and beneath the rules of sober reasoning. In reference to the great change produced in the world in our age on the subject of witchcraft, there is undoubtedly much force in the following remarks of Lecky, and those remarks may furnish one cause to show why faith in the miracles of the Bible has not been extensively affected by this change of belief. He says, " If we ask why it is that the world has rejected what was once so universally and so intensely believed—why a narrative of an old woman who had been seen riding on a broomstick, or who was proved to have transformed herself into a wolf, and to have devoured the flocks of her neighbors, is deemed so entirely incredible, most persons would probably be unable to give a very definite answer to the question. It is not because we have examined the evidence and found it insufficient, for the disbelief always precedes, when it does not prevent, examination. It is rather because the idea of absurdity is so strongly attached to such narratives that it is difficult even to consider them with gravity" (vol. i., p. 34). It will instantly occur to the mind that no such process of thought can be applied to the healing of the sick, to the restoration of the blind to sight, or to the raising of the dead.
I infer, therefore, that the process of thought by which the world has been delivered from faith in witchcraft, necromancy, sorcery, and divination, is not applicable to the miracles of the New Testament, and that the miracles of the Bible can not be disposed of in the way in which the belief in witchcraft, necromancy, and sorcery has been.
(3.) The third point in the argument relates to the inquiry whether the miracles of the Bible can be disposed of in the manner in which the miracles alleged to have been wrought in the early Christian Church after the time of the apostles, and at subsequent periods, can be. This inquiry would also embrace the Roman Catholic miracles which are claimed to be wrought in our own times as proofs of the divine origin of the Roman Catholic faith, and in defense of the Roman Catholic Church.
The inquiry is, whether what would be a proper explanation of the one would also apply to the other; whether, on the supposition that these claims in regard to the miracles of the Church subsequent to the times of the apostles are false, the same process of reasoning would show that the miracles of the Bible are false 1 In other words, the inquiry is, whether, on the supposition that the world will settle down into a universal skepticism in regard. to the miracles alleged to have been wrought since the time of the apostles, and especially those claimed to have been wrought in the Roman Catholic Church, as it probably will, the process of thought by which that conclusion will be reached will carry with it necessarily a universal skepticism in regard to the miracles of the Bible ? It is clear that if the same explanation can be given to the one as to the other, the conclusion will be inevitable that they are equally false; if there is no stronger testimony in the one case than in the other, on the supposition that the world has been under a delusion in reference to the facts alleged, then the same conclusion in regard to both classes of miracles is inevitable. It is a great question, therefore, whether the present tendency of the world to Rationalism, as affecting this point, as it undoubtedly exists in the scientific world, in the Protestant churches, and even, as we have seen, in the Roman Catholic communion, is in fact a tendency toward Rationalism or skepticism on the whole subject of miracles, and will lead to the denial of miracles altogether.
It is not necessary to advert farther to the great change which has occurred in the world in reference to the miracles which were alleged to have been wrought in the times subsequent to the apostles. Up to a recent period, the inquiry in ecclesiastical history has been, not whether such miraculous powers existed in the Church, but at what exact point that power ceased. The general impression among Protestants has been, that that power ceased when miracles were no longer necessary for the defense and the diffusion of Christianity. The prevailing opinion on the subject has been undoubtedly expressed by Archbishop Tillotson: " That on the first planting of the Christian religion in the world, God was pleased to accompany it with a miraculous power ; but after it was planted that power ceased, and God left it to be maintained by ordinary ways. "*
It would not conduce to any proper view of the point before us to state farther the changes which have occurred in the opinions of men on the subject; to inquire at what time the power of working miracles in the Church, if it ever existed, ceased; or to consider the question whether such miraculous powers existed or not. The sole inquiry is, whether the miracles of the Bible can be disposed of in the same way as the alleged miracles in the Church subsequent to the time of the apostles; whether an absolute skepticism in regard to the latter of necessity involves an absolute skepticism in regard to the former; whether the two stand or fall together ?
* Sermons, vol. iii., p. 488, ed. 1735.
On this inquiry I submit the following remarks:
First. If miracles were actually wrought in the primitive Church subsequent to the time of the apostles, and continue to be wrought still in the Roman Catholic Church, this would not prove that the miracles of the Bible were false. That one thing has been done does not prove that another has not been. Moreover, in such a case and on such an admission, the possibility of miracles would be established, and the presumption, therefore, would be that they may have occurred as recorded in the Bible. Indeed, if they have occurred in such numbers as it has been claimed that they have done in the Church, then, so far from its being true, as Mr. Hume alleges, that " a uniform experience has established the stability of the laws of nature," the very reverse of this has been established. The admission of the fact of such miracles would destroy the whole argument of Mr. Hume.
Second. If the miracles referred to were not wrought in the primitive Church, and if they are not wrought in the Roman Catholic Church, that does prove that the miracles of the Bible are false. Obviously it may be possible to account for the prevalence of a belief in false miracles, and for well-executed impostures in one case, by explanations which would not be applicable to the other. Illusions in one instance do not prove that illusions extend to every thing ; imposture in one case does not prove that it exists in all cases; that there are deceivers at one time and in one place does not prove that they exist at all times and in all places; the fact that there is counterfeit coin does not prove that there is no genuine coin; that there are false religions in the world does not prove that there is no religion that is genuine. It is clear that the pretended miracles in the primitive Church, and in the Roman Catholic communion, should be examined on their own merits, and be embraced or rejected as the evidence in the case shall demand. If there is reason to reject them, that fact does not prove that there may not be reasons why the account of other miracles should not be embraced as true. No amount of testimony in regard to the alleged fact that the dead were raised subsequent to the time of the apostles, whether for or against such claims, could demonstrate that Lazarus was not raised from the dead; nor should Rationalism and skepticism make a hasty stride from one to the other.
Third. It is possible to account for all that is said to have occurred in the primitive Church after the time of the apostles, and in the Roman Catholic Church, without supposing that there were real miracles wrought. It might be that tricks and jugglery were practiced; it might be that there was collusion and concert in performing the alleged miracle; it might be that the witnesses did not say that they saw
the miracles, but that they were reported to have occurred; it might be that no record was made at the time, but that the belief grew up in a subsequent age; it might be that the alleged miracles were manifestly wrought to sustain a particular form of religion, or a party in the Church, or the claims of a priesthood to a divine appointment, or the truth of a particular doctrine, or to honor a particular saint; it might be that there were rival churches, and that the miracles were manifestly wrought to sustain the one against the other; it might be that there was a susceptibility in the public mind, or in the prevalent belief of the age, which received such accounts without calling them in question; it might be that the belief in the miracles was on the same ground as the belief in prevalent superstitions—as of ghosts, apparitions, witchcraft, table-turning, and spirit-rapping; it might be that the alleged witnesses were not credible witnesses, and that they were never subjected to any test or trial which would show that they were sincere witnesses for truth, and were not impostors. Without affirming now that these things were so, it is affirmed that it is conceivable that they might be so; and the world is undoubtedly coming to that belief in regard to all the pretended miracles in the Roman Catholic Church ; all the marvels of the Middle Ages; and to no small part, at least, of the alleged miracles of the primitive Church after the time of the apostles.
Fourth. The philosophical mode of accounting for the alleged miracles of the primitive Church after the time of the apostles will not explain the facts in regard to the miracles of the New Testament. This remark, for the purpose of the argument, and without in any way affecting injuriously the general conclusion, may be confined to the alleged miracles in the period immediately succeeding the apostles— for it is there that the strength of the argument must lie. If those miracles are disposed of there can be no difficulty in regard to those that follow.
The following facts, then, have been established so as to admit of little or no doubt in regard to those miracles:
(a) That the "apostolic fathers"—as they are commonly called— those who lived in the time of the apostles, and who had, some of them at least, conversed with the apostles, advance no claim to any such miraculous powers, and make no affirmation that such miracles were wrought by any in their own age who were not apostles. Those "fathers" embrace Barnabas, Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Hernias, some of whom survived for half a century after the death of the last of the apostles.* " Here, then," says Middleton (p. 9), " we have
* For the proof of what Is affirmed here and in the remainder of this argument about the alleged miracles in the Church, I refer to the work of Middle
an interval of about half a century, the earliest and purest of all Christian antiquity after the days of the apostles, in which we find not the least reference to any standing power of working miracles, as existed openly in the Church, for the conviction of unbelievers ; but, on the contrary, the strongest reason to presume that the extraordinary gifts of the apostolic age were by this time actually withdrawn."
(i) It is also true that none of the early " fathers" of the Church, succeeding this time, who declare that the power of working miracles existed in the Church, "have any where affirmed that either they themselves, or the apostolic fathers before them, were endowed with any power of working miracles" (Middleton, p. 21). They affirm, indeed, that "such powers were actually subsisting in their days, and were openly exerted in the Church; that they had often seen the wonderful effects of them; and that every body else might see the same, whenever they pleased," but they do not affirm that they had the power, or that they had seen the miracles, nor do they specify the names, the dates, or the persons by whom, or on whom, the miracles were performed. Origen, speaking of the miracle of casting out devils, says that "it was performed by laymen." Mr. Whiston remarks on this subject that "this gift was wholly appropriated by the Savior to the meaner sorts of Christians, with an exclusion even of the clergy, so that after the days of the apostles none of the sacred order ever pretended to it."*
Something, perhaps, may be learned respecting the character of those who pretended to work miracles from the uniform statements of the enemies of Christianity. It is certain that they were always regarded as pretenders and impostors, and were always charged with the practice of fraud. Thus Lucian says that "whenever any crafty juggler, expert in his trade, and who knew how to make a right use of things, went over to the Christians, he was sure to grow rich immediately by making a prey of their simplicity. "t In like manner Celsus represents all the Christian wonder-workers as mere vagabonds and common cheats, " who rambled about to play tricks at fairs and markets ; not in the circles of the wiser and better sort, for among such they never ventured to appear, but wherever they observed a set of raw young fellows, slaves, or fools, there they took care to intrude themselves and to display their arts."t Csecilius calls them " a lurking nation; shunning the light; mute in public; prating in corners. "§
In view of all the statements among the ancients respecting those
ton: A Free Inquiry into the Miraculous Powers which are supposed to have subsisted in the Christian Church from the Earliest Ages, by Canyon Middleton, D.D., ed. London, 1749. * Account of the Demoniacs, p. 52.
t De Mort. Pereg., t. ii., p. 568. i Orig. Con. Cels., 1. 6, p. 284.
5 Minuc. Fel., p. 7. Middleton, p. 22, 23.
who were supposed to work miracles, Middleton makes the following remarks : "The celebrated gifts of those ages were generally engrossed and exercised by private Christians, who used to travel about from city to city to assist the ordinary pastors of the Church and preachers of the Gospel in the conversion of the pagans, by the extraordinary gifts with which they were supposed to be endowed by the Spirit of God, and the miraculous works which they pretended to perform" (p. 24).
In accordance with this view, it is stated that the pretended power of working miracles was committed, not to those who were intrusted with the government of the Church—not to bishops, martyrs, and the chief defenders of the Christian cause, but to boys; to women; to private and obscure laymen ; to even those of abandoned moral character :
Chrysostom, t. ill., p. CO. I t intelligamns, qtuedam miracula etiam sceleratores homines facere, qualia sancti facere non possunt. Angus. Oper., t . L, p. 71.
(c) The character of many of the Christian fathers for credulity and for the want of veracity is such as to render their testimony on this point of great doubt and of little value. They undoubtedly adopted the principle that the Christian religion was true; that it was indispensable for the salvation of men; and that all means were to be employed to propagate it, to convince men of its truth, and to induce them to turn from idolatry to the service of the true God. If the result was reached, that result was, in their apprehension, of much more importance than the means of reaching it. In accordance with this, it is undoubtedly true that false histories were early forged; false and weak interpretations were given to the Scriptures; false narratives of events were given to the world—until the world became full of the legends of the saints and martyrs. If it be true that, as historians of ordinary facts and ordinary events, they report such facts accurately, it is also true that there were numberless narratives in those early ages which were based wholly on fiction, and true also that these were employed in the propagation of religion. Middleton (p. 36-71) has placed these facts beyond question, and these facts would go far to explain the accounts of the early miracles in the Christian Church.