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: But suppose that all the historians who treat of England: should agree, that, on the first of January 1600, Queen Elizabeth died; that both before and after her death she was seen by her physicians and the whole court, as is usual with persons of her rank; that her successor was acknows ledged and proclaimed by the parliament; and that, after being interred for a month, she again appeared, resumedi the throne, and governed England for three years; I must confess that I should be surprised at the concurrence of so many odd circumstances, but should not have the least inclination to believe so miraculous an event. ' I should not doubt of her pretended death, and of those other public circumstances that followed it: I should only assert it to have been pretended, and that it neither was, nor possibly could be real. You would in vain object to me the diffi culty, and almost impossibility of deceiving the world in an affair of such consequence; the wisdom and solid judga ment of that renowned Queen ; with the little or no ada vantage which she could reap from so poor an artifice: All this might astonish me; but I would still reply, that the knavery and folly of men are' such common phenomena; that I should rather believe the most extraordinary events to arise from their concurrence, than admit of sá signal a violation of the laws of nature. . ; .? Isso
But should this miracle be ascribed to any new system of religion; men, in all ages, have been so much imposed on by ridiculous stories of that kind, that this very circumstance would be a full proof of a cheat, and sufficient, with all men of sense, not only to make them reject the fact, but even reject it without farther examination. Though the being to whom the miracle is ascribed be in this case Almighty, it does not, upon that account, become a whit more probable; since it is impossible for us to know the
attributes or actions of such a Being, otherwise than from the experience which we have of his productions in the usual course of nature. This still reduces us to past observation, and obliges us to compare the instances of the violation of truth in the testimony of men, with those of the violation of the laws of nature by miracles, in order to judge which of them is most likely and probable. As the violations of truth are more common in the testimony concerning religious miracles than in that concerning any other matter of fact; this must diminish very much the authority of the former testimony, and make us form a general resolution never to lend any attention to it, with whatever specious pretence it may be covered.
Lord Bacon seems to have embraced the same principles of reasoning. “We ought,” says he, “ to make a col“ lection or particular history of all monsters and prodi“ gious births or productions, and in a word of every thing ki new, rare, and extraordinary in nature. But this must 6 be done with the most severe scrutiny, lest we depart “ from truth. Above all, every relation must be consi“ dered as suspicious which depends in any degree upon 5 religion, as the prodigies of Livy: And no less so every 66 thing that is to be found in the writers on natural magic “ or alchymy, or such authors who seem all of them to “ have an unconquerable appetite for falsehood and fa« blea." · I am the better pleased with the method of reasoning here delivered, as I think it may serve to confound those dangerous friends, or disguised enemies, to the Christian religion, who have undertaken to defend it by the principles of human reason. Our most holy religion is founded
* Nov. Org. lib. i. aph. 29.
on Faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of exa posing it to put it to such a trial as it is by no means fitted to endure. To make this more evident, let us ex amine those miracles related in scripture; and, not to lose ourselves in too wide a field, let us confine ourselves to such as we find in the Pentateuch, which we shall examine, according to the principles of these pretended Christians, not as the word or testimony of God himself, but as the production of a mere human writer and historian. Here then we are first to consider a book, presented to us by a barbarous and ignorant people, written in an age when they were still more barbarous, and in all probability long after the facts which it relates, corroborated by no concurring testimony, and resembling those fabulous accounts which every nation gives of its origin. Upon reading this book, we find it full of prodigies and miracles. It gives an account of a state of the world and of human nature entirely different from the present : Qf our fall from that state : Of the age of man, extended to near a thousand years: Of the destruction of the world by a deluge: Of the arbitrary choice of one people as the favourites of heaven; and that people the countrymen of the author : Of
their deliverance from bondage by prodigies the most asto· nishing imaginable: I desire any one to lay his hand upon his heart, and, after a serious consideration, declare, whether he thinks that the falsehood of such a book, supported by such a testimony, would be more extraordinary and miraculous than all the miracles it relates; which is, however, necessary to make it be received, according to the measures of probability above established.
What we have said of miracles, may be applied, without any variation, to prophecies; and indeed all prophecies are real miracles, and as such only can be admitted as proofs of any revelation. If it did not exceed the capacity of human nature to foretell future events, it would be absurd to employ any prophecy as an argument for a divine mission or authority from heaven. So that, upon the whole, we may conclude, that the Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.
OF A PARTICULAR PROVIDENCE AND OF A FUTURE
I was lately engaged in conversation with a friend who loves sceptical paradoxes; where, though he advanced many principles, of which I can by no means approve, yet as they seem to be curious, and to bear some relation to the chain of reasoning carried on throughout this inquiry, I shall here copy them from my memory as accurately as I can, in order to submit them to the judgment of the reader. - Our conversation began with my admiring the singular good fortune of philosophy, which, as it requires entire liberty above all other privileges, and chiefly flourishes from the free opposition of sentiments and argumentation, received its first birth in an age and country of freedom and toleration, and was never cramped, even in its most extravagant principles, by any creeds, confessions, or penal statutes. For, except the banishment of Protagoras, and the death of Socrates, which last event proceeded partly from other motives, there are scarcely any instances to be met with, in ancient history, of this bigotted jealousy, with which the present age is so much infested. Epicurus lived at Athens to an advanced age, in peace and