Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ESSAY X.

MIRACLE S.

. PART I.

T HERE is in Dr. Tillotson's writings an argu

1 ment against the real presence, which is as concise, and elegant, and strong as any argument can poffibly be suppos'd against a doctrine, that is fo little worthy of a serious refutation. 'Tis acknowleged on all hands, fays that learned prelate, that the authority, either of the scripture or of tradition, is founded merely in the testimony of the apostles, who were eye-witnesses to those miracles of our Sa. viour, by which he prov'd his divine million. Our evidence, then, for the truth of the Christian relie gion is less than the evidence for the truth of our senses; because, even in the first authors of our religion, it was no greater; and 'tis evident it must diminish in palling from them to their disciples; nor can any one be so certain of the truth of their testimony as of the immediate obje&ts of his senses. But a weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger ; and therefore, were the doctrine of the real presence ever fo clearly reveal'd in scripture, 'twere direály contrary to the rules of just reasoning to give our assent to it. It contradicts sense, tho' both the scripture and tradition, on which it is supposod to be built, carry not such evidence with them as sense; when they are consider'd merely as external evidences, and are not brought home to every one's breast, by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit. that this guide is not altogether infallible, but in some cases is apt to lead us into errors and mistakes. One, who, in our climate, should expect better wea. ther in any week of June than in one of December, would reason juftly and conformable to experience ; but 'tis certain, that he may happen, in the event, to find himself mistaken. However, we may observe, that, in such a case, he would have no cause to complain of experience ; because it commonly informs us beforehand of the uncertainty, by that contrariety of events, which we may learn from a diligent obfer. vation. All effects follow not with like certainty from their suppos'd causes. Some events are found, in all countries and all ages, to have been constantly conjoind together : Others are found to have been more variable, and sometimes to disappoint our ex pectations ; so that in our reasonings concerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence.

diminish

Nothing is so convenient as a decisive argument of this kind, which must at least filence the most arrogant bigotry and superstition, and free us from their impertinent sollicitations. I flatter myself, that I have discover'd an argument of a like nature, which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures. For so long, I presume, will the accounts of miracles and prodigies be found in all his. tory, sacred and prophane.

Tho' experience be our only guide in reasoning concerning matters of fact; it must be acknowleged,

[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence. In such conclusions as are founded on an infallible experience, he expects the event with the last degree of assurance, and regards his past experience as a full proof of the future existence of that event. In other cases, he proceeds with more caution : He weighs the opposite experiments: He conVOL. II.

- ; fiders

fiders which side is supported by the greatest number of experiments: To that fide he inclines, with doubt and hesitation ; and when at last he fixes his judgment, the evidence exceeds not what we properly call probability. All probability, then, supposes an opposition of experiments and observations; where the one fide is found to over-balance the other, and to produce a degree of evidence, proportion'd to the superiority. A hundred instances or experiments on one fide, and fifty on another, afford a very doubtful expectation of any event; tho' a hundred uniform experiments, with only one contradictory one, reasonably beget a pretty strong degree of assurance. In all cases, we must balance the opposite experiments, where they are opposite, and deduct the lefser number from the greater, in order to know the exact force of the superior evidence.

To apply these principles to a particular instance ; we may observe, that there is no species of reasoning more common,' more useful, and even necessary to human life, than that deriv'd from the testimony of men, and the reports of eye-witnesses and spectators. This species of reasoning, perhaps, one may deny to be founded on the relation of cause and ef. fect. I shall not dispute about a word. It will be sufficient to observe, that our assurance in any argu. ment of this kind is deriv'd from no other principle

than

than our observation of the veracity of human teftimony, and of the usual conformity of facts to the reports of witnesses. It being a general maxini, that no objects have any discoverable connexion to. gether, and that all the inferences, which we can draw from one to another, are founded merely on our experience of their constant and regular conjunc. tion ; 'tis evident that we ought not to make an ex. ception to this maxim in favour of human testimony, whose connexion with any events seems, in itself, as little necessary as any other. Did not mens imagi- , nation naturally follow their memory; had they not commonly an inclination to truth and a sentiment of probity ; were they not sensible to fame, when de. tected in a falfhood: Were not these, I say, discover'd by experience to be qualities, inherent in human nature, we should never repose the least confidence in human testimony. A man delirious, or noted for fallhood and villany, has no manner of weight or

authority with us.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

And as the evidence, derivd from witnesses and haman teftimony, is founded on past experience, fo it varies with the experience, and is regarded either as a proof or a probability, according as the conjun&tion 'betwixt any particular kind of report and any kind of objects, has been found to be con. Itant or variable. There are a number of circumH2

flances

« ZurückWeiter »