« ElőzőTovább »
resemblance would be suggested, between the miracles of our Lord and the operations of that benevolent institution. The text is remarkably appropriate-Mark vii. 37, and the sermon, like every other in the volumes before us, abounds in animated passages; but the subject of miraculous agency appears to have called forth a train of subtle and complicated reasoning, far remote from the immediate design of the discourse, and little adapted to excite that powerful sympathy which the occasion so naturally demanded. The reasoning, however, is in itself both interesting and important.-On the malignant insinuation of the Pharisees, that our Lord " cast out devils by the prince of devils,” we find the following remarks.
• This suggestion proceeded upon an assumption, which considered generally, and in the abstract, without an application to any specific case, cannot be denied : they supposed that beings superior to man, but still created beings, whose powers fell short of the divine, might possess that degree of power, over many parts of the universe, which might be adequate to effects quite out of the common course of nature, and that, by a familiarity with some of these superior beings, 'a man might perform miracles.
« Some of the philosophising divines of later times, who, under the mask of 'zeal for religion, have done it more disservice than its open enemies,--some of these, anxious, as they would pretend, for the credit of our l ord's miracles, and for the general evidence of miracles, have gone the length of an absolute denial of these principles, and have ventured to assert, that nothing preternatural can happen in the world, but by an immediate act of God's own power. The assertion in itself is absurd, and in its consequences dangerous: and nothing is to be found in reason or in scripture for its support,--much for its confutation. Analogy is the only ground upon which reason in this question can proceed; and analogy decides for the truth of the general principle of the Pharisees--that subordinate beings may be the immediate agents in many preternatural effects. pp. 232, 3.
The Bishop then, in illustration of this analogical argument, adverts to the physical power which man can exert over the material world, in consequence of the discoveries of science and the contrivances of art; and asks, shall we say that beings superior to man may not have powers of a more considerable extent, which they may exercise in a inore summary way, which produce effects far more wonderful, such as shall be truly miraculous with respect to our conceptions, who have no knowledge of their means ?
Now this analogy appears to us essentially defective. We admit, on other and very different grounds, the proba. bility of existing orders of intelligent beings far superior to man,-and we find such analogical presumption confirmed by the explicit statements of scripture: but the
exertion of a wonderful degree of physical force by a human creature, by no means warrants the supposition that the power of an angel may be preternatural or miraculons. The power thus exercised may be preter-human, it may be above and beyond the sphere of mere mortal agency; but, as the most astonishing efforts of human skill and power are certainly according to the laws of nature, and capable of being explained and accounted for, however mysterious they may appear to a wondering savage, or an unleitered peasant-we should conclude, from the very same analogy as the bishop employs, that the power of Gabriel himself, though altogether incomprehensible to us, is no more than a power perfectly natural to a superior being, and exerted in conformity to the laws of his agency. We admit, however, that a holy and benevolent being of this high order may be the immediate instrument of an agency purely miraculous, an agency in direct controversion of the established laws of nature; because we are assured, on the best evidence, that man himself bath been such an Instrument.
If the analogy fails, however, in the preceding point, it must be still more deficient in the proof, that, because bad as well as good men can exert the powers they possess for most • wonderful purposes, therefore bad as well as good angels, may work miracles. Yet this is the conclusion which the learned Prelate attempts to establish; and by which he supports the 'general principie,' assumed by the Pharisees, that miraculous agency might be, after all, diabolical. On this inference, as a very important question is involved in it, we beg leave to make the following remarks. '
In the first place, there appears in the reasonings of the Bishop, on this subject, an evident confounding of the wonderful with the miraculousmas if the terms were identical, or exactly equivalent in ineaning.-In the next place it reinains to be shewn, that the assumption of the Pharisees was really founded on any 'general or abstract principle,' currently obtaining amongst the Jews. We are disposed to think that there was no such opinion; that the particular assumption in question, arose from the malignity of the Pharisees; and that this malicious perversity of construction, constituted the sin against the Holy Ghost of which they were guilly. The entire scope of the Jewish history implies, that the power and exertion of miraculous agency were not merely considered as proofs of the superiority of the God of the Jews to the gods of surrounding nations; for to illustrate only a supremacy of power and dignity, only a comparative excellence, was never the object
that this inferereave to makeppears in the resounding of the
which Jehovah regarded in his wonderful works;" the proof of this might have been perfectly consistent with polyiheism, which always admitted distinct gradations of divinity; but they were designed to prove, that “the Lord alone" was THE GOD-the only Divine Existence. (1 Kings xviii. 39.) But how could a miracle have established this conclusion, if the power of performing it, by immediate or instrumental agency, were not the exclusive prerogative of God? If an infernal spirit could work a miracle, how could its performance, in any case, secure the unrivalled claims of the Only God to religious adoration? The Greeks and Romans never thought the conjuring of Mercury equal to the thunder of Jove, though they worshipped both; and if the Jehovah of the Jews had demanded only the highest place in the Pantheon, they might have admitted him to its honours. But the idea of comparison was always disdained by the prophetic messengers of the Most High. “ To whom will ye liken God, or what likeness will ye compare unto him," is the triumphant boast of Isaiah. “ Thou art the God that doest wonders," is the devout appeal of the Psalmist. And, in our view, it is little else than deifying the devil, to suppose that the laws of nature, which are under the immediate controul and direction of the Supreme Being, can ever be superseded, or opposed by any power, or for any purposes, in contradiction of the authority and will of the iconly living and true God." The ascription of miraculous power to any superior beings, besides God, and those whom he has commissioned to accomplish his designs, is destructive of all just notions of the universality of Divine Providence, and identifies itself with the Manichean heresy of two principles. But it just occurs to us, that: the Bishop, in the last sermon which he ever composed, has advanced an opinion, which directly refutes the idea of preternatural and miraculous power being either possessed or exercised by angels, whether good or bad, at their own discretion. The refutation is so complete and satisfactory, that we cannot resist the temptation of transcribing the passage, and thus opposing to the sermon, preached in 1796, the philosophising bishop of St. Asaph, in 1805 ;. who reasons in his discourse of the "Watchers and the Holy ones,” in the following manner.
• A potion got ground in the Christian church many ages 6 since, and unfortunately is not yet exploded that God's 6 government of this lower world is carried on by the ad.
ministration of angels--that the different orders have their 6 different departments in government assigned to them. . This system is in truth nothing better than the pagaa
• polytheism, somewhat disguised and qualified; for in • the pagan system every nation had its tutelar deity, all ' subordinate to Jupiter, the sire of gods and men. Some
of those prodigies of ignorance and folly, the rabbins of • the Jews, who lived since ihe dispersion of the nation,
though all would be well, if, for tutelar deities, they • substituted tutelai angels From this substitution the system which I have described arose; and from the Jews, the
Christians, with other fooluries, adopted it. But by o whatever name those deputy gods le called, whether • you call them gods, or demi-gods, or demons, or gevii, or • heroes, or angels,the difere: ce is only in name; the thing
in substance is the same; they are sull deputies, invested 6 with a subordinate, indeed, but with an high authority,
in the exercise of which they are moich at liberty, and at their own discretion. If this opinion were true, it would
be difficult to show that the heathens were much to blauie ' in the worship which they rendered to them--ibey were
certainly more consistent with themselves, than they who
acknowledging the power, withhold the imorship.'--It is" afterwards remarked, that the angels have powers over (the matter of the Universe, analogous to the powers over
it which men possess, greuter in potent, but still limited, " that evil angels are cccasionally perullied to exercise
the same prescribed power, but that all this amounts not to any thing of a discretionary authority.'* '
Angels, good and bad, possess powers analogous to the powers over matter which men possess ;'-but men possess no miraculous power; and therefore, as far as this argument is concerned, by the Bishop's concession, angels can effect nothing, by their own discretionary authority that is preternatural.
But the most important objection which we have to state against that assumption, which he considers as 'undeniable,' is, that it destroys the authority of miracles, as the credentials of a divine commission, or the criteria of sacred truth. Upon the principle of the assumption,' a miracle is a matter of calculation and comparison, not a positive and undeniable attestation, Upon this uncertain ground, only superior, and not exclusive claia.s could be advanced : and, as the previous feelings and prejudices of individuals, would necessarily affect their opinion about mere superiority, the preference would become so variable and capricious, as to destroy altogether ihe value of evidences so am. biguous and undecided. It is obvious, that if miracles are, as the scriptures universally assert them to be, proofs of
* Vol. II. Pp, 413-416.
a divine mission, th:ir immediate design cannot be effected-they are insufficient for their intended purpose-unless they are evidently and exclusively the “ works of God," and appear to be so, previous to any investigation of the doctrinès which they attest to be divine. On this account, the permission of miraculous power to be exerted in defence of a false religion, would be completely destructive of the authority of miracles in defence of one that is true. There would be no meaning in the argument of our Lord “ Believe me for the very works' sake: the works that I “ do, bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me."
The only scriptural illustration which the Bishop employs to prove his principle;' is the account of the magicians who opposed Moses. He is decidedly of opinion, that these conjurors performed miracles;' and that, till the lice were raised up, it was uncertain whether they (the magicians) or Moses, had the best side of the question : he further observes, that the sacred history gives not the least intimation of any imposture in these performances of the magicians. In reply to this we remark, that the scripture no where represents them as miracles, while the exertions of Moses are distinctly expressed by that' term. Be it also noticed, that it is always said, the “ magicians did so by their enchantments;" a word which, in its original composition, convers the idea of that legerdemain deception, and those fallacious appearances, by wbich they imposed upon their spectators. 'We beg leave to 'make one remark more. If the magicians wrought miracles as truly as Móses, in the instances in which they succeeded, how can we explain that solema declaration respecting the turning of the rivers into blood; 6 Thus saith the Lord - In this thou shalt know that I ain the Lord.” Exod. viii. 17. Do we find Moses or the Jews entertaining any suspicion of the authority under which they acted? And is not this de. claration falsified, if we adinit that the manoeuvring of the magicians was miraculous too? *' But we must conclude this lengthened inquiry, and hope that the importance of the subject, and the highly respectable sanction given to what we regard as an erroneous opinion, will applogize for the space we have occupied in the discussion. The remaining discourses, we propose to examine with less prolixity in our next number.
*See this topic very ably shandled, and much at large, io Farmer's Dissertation on Miraclese . .