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of heart, we may infer that their more confident assertion of them in later times was owing to a persuasion that scepticism on this point was a betrayal of the cause of their Master. *
* The object of this work being chiefly an examination of historical evidence, it does not enter into the arguments arising from general considerations concerning the nature of miracles, and their agreement or disagreement with the rest of the divine government. But lately some thoughts of this kind have been suggested to me, by an eminent writer of the present day, which seem to deserve much attention.
The improved science of modern times proves that disease and premature death are the penalties annexed to the abuse of men's powers, and are, in reality, a benevolent provision in order to restrict men to those limits which allow of their greatest moral and physical enjoyment. To remove the penalty in any individual case is so far a cancelling of the general divine law; but to impart such knowledge as shall prevent the penalty from being incurred again, is consistent with it.
It may be presumed that the different parts of the divine plans harmonize with each other, and, therefore, that credentials given by the Deity would not consist in infringements of his own laws.
Christ, by raising the widow's son at Nain, removed the natural penalty of the youth's own ill-regulated conduct, or that of his father's. But if he had taken that occasion to make known the connexion established between imprudence and suffering, by explaining the causes which led to that young man's premature death, he would have acted in accordance with the divine laws, he would have saved many widows' sons from the same fate, and would have given a more permanent and convincing proof of his being a man sent from God.
Most of the miracles attributed to Christ are of the same kind, viz., the removal of natural penalties. If, on opening the book which records his claims as a divine messenger, we were to find, instead of these stories of such difficult verification, declarations of the causes of blindness, fever, and palsy, and warnings to mankind to abstain from the courses which lead to such evils, the book would carry with it an evidence increasing with the lapse of ages; since the possession of such knowledge by a person in the age, country, and circumstances of Christ would be as miraculous as any of the works referred to: and all readers, on finding that the results of the most advanced stages of human knowledge had been anticipated by the peasant of Galilee, must themselves exclaim, “Whence had this man this knowledge, having never learned ?" and, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher sent by God, for no man could have this wisdom, unless God were with him.”
It is said that the moral teaching of Christ presents evidence of this kind, which subject will be considered.
REMARKS ON THE MIRACLES IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
If the miracles attributed to Jesus himself be false, the same is likely to be the case with those attributed to the Apostles, for they professed to derive whatever power they had from him. Nevertheless, it is more satisfactory to examine such direct evidence as there is for these also.
This evidence rests mainly on the testimony of the author of the Acts, who himself intimates that he is the same as the author of the third Gospel, and who has been supposed by all antiquity to be Luke, the companion of Paul, a man of more education, as appears by his style, than most of the first disciples. If he be the same as Silas, which there are good grounds for supposing,* it seems that he joined the church previously to the for Silas is first mentioned, Acts xv. 22, in connexion with Barsabas, as being a chief man among the brethren. Barsabas was one of those who had companied with the Apostles in the lifetime of Jesus, Acts i. 21; but it is unlikely that Silas (or Luke) had done so, because in his Gospel he only lays claim to having had his information from those who were eye-witnesses from the beginning, and not to have been an eye-witness himself. Therefore it is probable that neither was he an eye-witness of the transactions immediately after the death of Jesus; nor, indeed, till a short time before the council at Jerusalem, A.D. 52, since there are many chasms in his history previously to that date. The events up to that time must therefore be considered mainly as what the author had
* Şee chap. v.
REMARKS ON THE MIRACLES IN THE ACTS, &c. 195 learned from others. Although there be not proof that he inserted fictions knowingly, yet from his relating the stories of the healing of Malchus's ear, and the angel in the garden, it appears at least that he was not in the habit of investigating closely stories brought to him, provided they appeared honourable to the common cause; and it has been shewn that he indulged in the practice common to the historians of his time, of inventing suitable speeches for his
personages. It is plain from the Acts that the author himself took a zealous part in the affairs of the church, and it was therefore to be expected that he should share the prevailing disposition to do honour to the cause by publishing its miracles; accordingly, almost every transaction has a miraculous turn given to it. When Stephen is condemned, he sees Jesus in the heavens; when Philip goes to Gaza, it is by command of an angel of the Lord; when he approaches the chariot of the eunuch, it is also by command of the Spirit; and when he leaves him, he is caught away by the Spirit, and found at Azotus.* Before Peter and Cornelius meet, Cornelius has a vision to tell him to send for Peter, and Peter has a vision to prepare him for the message. The angel of Cornelius goes into such particulars as to give him the address of Peter at Simon the tanner's, which he might very well have learned from common report, or from any one of the Christians in Judea. When Paul reaches the coast of Asia opposite to Macedonia, a vision appears to him in the night to tell him to go over into Macedonia. When Herod dies of a disease, he is smitten by an angel of the Lord.
* The distance from Gaza to Azotus is about thirty miles, a less journey than many of those performed by Jesus and the Apostles; so that the chief object of this miracle appears to have been to increase the faith of the eunuch, or of the readers of the Acts.
In this last instance, we have the means of comparing Luke's account with that of another author, nearly cotemporary. Josephus relates thus the death of Herod, Agrippa:
Antiq. book xix. chap. viii, sect. 2, “Now, when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Cesarea, which was formerly called Strato's Tower; and there he exhibited shows in honour of Cæsar, upon his being informed that there was a certain festival celebrated to make vows for his safety. At which festival, a great multitude was gotten together of the principal persons, and such as were of dignity through his province. On the second day of which shows, he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time, the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him: and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place and another from another (though not for his good), that he was a god : and they added, Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature. Upon this, the king did neither rebuke them nor reject their impious flattery. But, as he presently afterwards looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him ;* and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, “I, whom
you am commanded presently to depart this life, while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner.' When he said this, his pain was become violent. Accordingly he was carried into the palace; and the rumour went abroad every where that he would certainly die in a little time. But the multitude presently sat in sackcloth,
call a god,
* When Agrippa was bound by order of Tiberius, an owl appeared on the tree against which he leaned; and a German fellowprisoner foretold to him that he would soon recover his liberty, but that, when the bird appeared again, he would only have five days to live. Antiq. xviii. 6.