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First, it calls upon errorists, who have embraced error instead of truth, to show themselves men, and embrace truth instead of error. If they would only exercise their right of private judgment as they ought to do, it would effectually cure them of their errors.
Secondly, this subject calls upon those who hold the truth in unrighteousness, to renounce their enmity and opposition to the great and important doctrines which they know to be true, and cordially embrace the gospel. Let not this be their condemnation, that light has come into the world and into their minds, but they still love darkness rather than light.
Lastly, this subject calls upon those who know and love the truth, to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, and employ every proper method to preserve and promote it. Let them attend more than is the practice at the present day, to the first principles of the oracles of God.
This is a duty which christians are in great danger of neglecting, while so many are lying in wait to deceive the unwary and unguarded.
All must acknowledge, who have read the sacred volume, that it comes to us under a divine signature, and claims to be the word of God. This claim is not founded upon the bare declaration of the sacred writers; but upon the miracles which were wrought to prove their divine mission. To give this argument in favor of revealed religion its proper force, we shall, first, fix and determine the nature of miracles; then point out the professed purpose for which they were wrought; and, in the last place, make it appear that they sufficiently answer the end proposed.
I. We are to explain the nature of miracles. These have been very differently defined by different authors. But without spending time to examine their definitions, it may be sufficient to say, that a miracle is an effect, wrought by God himself, out of the common course of nature.
Though in a loose sense, men may be said to work miracles, yet in a strict and proper sense, they are the immediate production of the Deity. In this light they are uniformly represented in scripture. The miracles of our Saviour are expressly ascribed to God. “ Ye men of Israel, hear these words : Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.” It is plainly said, that “God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul.” And it is no less plainly said, that God wrought miracles in favor of the other apostiles. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation ;- which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles.” Agreeably to these representations, those who are said to work miracles disclaim their own, and acknowledge the divine agency in their production. Christ, speaking of his own miracles, expressly declares, “ The Father, that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." Peter and John disclaim the honor of curing the impotent man, and ascribe it to him, to whom alone it was justly due. “ Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this ? Or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his son Jesus.—And his name, through faith in his name, hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know; yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.” The ancient prophets also disclaimed the power of working miracles, and in the same manner ascribed it to God. When Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have heard say of thee that thou canst understand a dream, to interpret it; Joseph replied, “It is not in me; God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” And when Nebuchadnezzar said unto Daniel, “ Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof? Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days :But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living.”
The manner in which miracles were produced farther shows that they were wrought by the finger of God. There was no natural connection between the miracles of Moses and his own exertions. His throwing down his rod, had no natural tendency to turn it into a serpent; and his taking it up, had no natural tendency to turn it into a rod again. There was no natural connection between the sound of rams' horns, and the falling of the walls of Jericho. And Elisha's casting a stick into the water, was no natural efficient cause of the young prophet's axe rising and swimming upon the surface. In all these instances, the miracles were immediately owing to a divine agency. And the manner in which Christ and the apostles wrought miracles, equally discovers the immediate hand of God. Our Saviour did but say to the sea, Be still ; and it was still. He did but say to the leper, Be thou clean; and immediately the leprosy departed from him. He did but say to the young man, whom they were carrying to the grave, I say unto thee, Arise; and he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. He did but say to Lazarus, Come forth; and he that was dead came forth, bound
hand and foot with grave clothes. Our Lord told his apostles that they might work miracles in the same manner, and if they only said, in faith, to this or that mountain, Be thou removed and cast into the sea, the miraculous effect should instantly follow. Now this manner of working miracles by speaking a word, is a clear evidence that they were wrought by him who said, “ Let there be light, and there was light;" that is, by God himself. The prophets and apostles were only the occasion, and not the efficient cause, of the miracles which are ascribed to them. No natural, nor even delegated power of their own, had the least influence in producing a miraculous effect. This was wholly owing to the immediate power and agency of the Deity, who, strictly speaking, in every instance, wrought the miracle.
It is now time to consider the last branch of our definition, which is, that a miracle must be wrought not only by God himself, but out of the common course of nature. God has been pleased to prescribe a rule of conduct to himself, according to which he commonly operates in governing the affairs of the world. And so long as he acts agreeably to this rule, no effects which he produces, however great or wonderful, can be properly called miracles. But whenever he departs from the common course of nature, and produces any effect, that effect is really a miracle. Accordingly we find that all the miracles which are recorded in scripture were apparently wrought out of the common course of nature. It was out of God's usual course of conduct to cause the Red Sea to divide, roll back, and stand still, while his people passed over on dry ground. It was out of God's usual course of conduct to preserve Daniel in the lion's den, and the three worthies in the burning fiery furnace. And it was contrary to every known law of nature for Christ to cure the lame, heal the sick, and raise the dead, by speaking a word. Thus, according to scripture, a miracle is an effect wrought by God himself out of the common course of nature.
But against this definition it may be objected, in the first place, that we are not fully acquainted with the laws of nature, and therefore we cannot absolutely determine when God does or does not act agreeably to them.
It is true, indeed, we cannot comprehend the utmost bounds of nature, and of consequence cannot determine in all cases whether the laws of nature are superseded or not. But it would be very absurd to infer from this that there are no plain cases in which we can easily and clearly determine that the laws of nature are suspended or counteracted. We often meet with doubtful cases in seeing, hearing and reasoning; but we never infer from these that there are no plain cases, in which we
know that we see and hear and reason according to truth. Supposing we cannot determine whether there was any thing contrary to nature in the cures which were wrought in the pool of Bethesda; yet this does not prove that we cannot determine that there was something contrary to nature in God's dividing the Red Sea, and in Christ's raising the dead to life. Though we cannot fix the precise boundaries of nature, yet we can determine, in plain cases, when it is really counteracted. We know, for instance, that it is the nature of fire to consume human bodies; and therefore we know that nature was counteracted in the preservation of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the burning fiery furnace. Hence our definition of a miracle is just and accurate; though there may be doubtful cases, in which it may be difficult to draw the line exactly between natural and supernatural effects.
But still some may say, Did not the magicians work miracles ? Did not God suppose that a prophet or dreamer of dreams might arise among his people, and give a sign or a wonder? Did not Christ foretel the coming of false prophets, who should show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, were it possible, the very elect?. And did not John represent the Beast which he foretold, as making fire come down from heaven in the sight of men, and deceiving the inhabitants of the earth by the miracles which he performed? These representations seem to refute the notion that none but God can work miracles.
A very few observations are sufficient to remove this plausible objection.
1. It must be allowed that there is a difference between true miracles, and all those things which only resemble them. Let any definition be given of a miracle, and it must be true that there is a difference between a miracle and any thing which only carries the appearance of it. So that all must allow that there is a difference between true and false miracles; or in other words, between real miracles and all those things which only resemble them. This distinction is made in the Bible. Ezekiel declares, concerning the false prophets, “ They have seen vanity and lying divination.” And he thus appeals to them for the truth of his declaration : “Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination?” Paul likewise represents the Man of sin as having power to perform signs and lying wonders; that is, false miracles. According to scripture as well as reason, there must be a difference between true miracles and false. But,
2. There can be no other distinction between true and false miracles, than this: True miracles are wrought by God, and