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themselves in the progress of our discoveries ; and
the accumulation of facts collected and arranged by
successive generations, serves to enlarge our concep-
tions of the greatness and the order of that system
to which we belong. But although we do not pre-
tend to be acquainted with the whole course of na-
ture, yet the more that we know, we are the more
confirmed in the belief that there is an established
course : and every true philosopher is encoui'aged


by the fruit of his own researches to entertain the
hope, that some future age will be able to reconcile
with that course, appearances which his ignorance
is at present unable to explain.

Although the business of life and the speculations
of philosophy proceed upon the uniformity of the
course of nature, yet it cannot be understood by
those who believe in the existence of a Supreme In-
telligent Being, that this uniformity excludes his in-
terposition whensoever he sees meet to interpose.
We use the phrase, laws of nature, to express the
method in which, according to our observation, the
Almighty usually operates. We call them laws, be-
cause they are independent of us, because they serve
to account for the most discordant phenomena, and
because the knowledge of them gives us a certain com-
mand over nature. But it would be an abuse of lan-
guage to infer from their being called laws of nature,
that they bind him who established them. It would
be recurring to the principles of atheism, to fate, and
blind necessity, to say that the author of nature is
obliged to act in the manner in which he usually
acts ; and that he cannot, in any given circumstances,
depart from the course which we observe. The de-
parture, indeed, is to us a novelty. We have no
principles by which we can foresee its approach, or
form any conjecture with regard to the measure and
the end of it. But if we conceive worthily of the
Ruler of the universe, we shall believe that all these
departures entered into the great plan which he
formed in the beginning ; that they were ordained
and arranged by him ; and that they arise at the
time which he appointed, and fulfil the purposes of
his wisdom.


There is not then any mutability or weakness in
those occasional interpositions which seem to us to
suspend the laws and to alter the course of nature.
The Almighty Being, who called the universe out
of nothing, whose creating hand gave a beginning
to the course of nature, and whose will must be in-
dependent of that which he himself produced, acts
for wise ends, and at particular seasons, not in
that manner which he has enabled us to trace, but
in another manner concerning which he has not fur-
nished us with the means of forming any expecta-
tion, and which is resolvable merely into his good
pleasure. The one manner is his ordinary admi-
nistration, under which his reasonable offspring en-
joy securitj% advance in the knowledge of nature,
and receive much instruction : the other manner is
his extraordinary administration, which, although
foreseen by him as a part of the scheme of his go-
vernment, appears strange to his intelligent crea-
tures, but which, by this strangeness, may promote
purposes, to them most important and salutary. It
may rouse their attention to the natural proofs of
the being and perfections of God ; it may afford a
practical confutation of the scepticism and material-
ism to which false philosophy often leads ; and, re-
buking the pride and the security of man, may
teach the nations to know that the Lord God reign-
eth " in heaven and in earth, in the seas, and all
deep places." *

To such moral purposes as these, an}^ alteration
of the course of nature, by the immediate interposi-
tion of the Almighty, may be subservient ; and no

* Psalm cxxxv. 6.


man will presume to say that our limited faculties
can assign all the reasons which may induce the
Almighty thus to interpose. But we can clearly
discern one most important end which may be pro-
moted by those alterations of the coiu'se of nature,
in which the agency of men, or other visible minis-
ters of the divine power, is employed.

The circumstances of the intelligent creation may
render it highly expedient that, in addition to that
original revelation of the nature and the will of God
which they enjoy by the light of reason, there should
be superadded an extraordinary revelation, to remove
the errors which had obscured their knowledge, to
enforce the practice of their duty, or to revive and
extend their hopes. The wisest ancient philosophers
wished for a divine revelation ; and to any one who
examines the state of the old heathen world in respect
of religion and morality, it cannot appear unworthy
of the Father of his creatures to bestow such a bless-
ing. This revelation, supposing it to be given, may
either be imparted to every individual mind, or be
confined to a few chosen persons, vested with a com-
mission to communicate the benefits of it to the rest
of the world. It is certainly possible for the Father of
spirits to act upon every individual mind so as to give
that mind the impression of an extraordinary revela-
tion : it is as easy for the Father of spirits to do this,
as to act upon a few minds. But, in this case, de-
partures from the established course of nature vvould
be multiplied without end. In the illumination of
every individual, there would be an immediate ex-
traordinary interposition of the Almighty. But
extraordinary interpositions so frequent ^A'ould lose
their nature, so as to be confounded with the ordi-


nary light of reason and conscience : or if they were
so striking as to be, in every case, clearly discrimi-
nated, they would subdue the understanding, and
overawe the whole soul, so as to extort, by the feeling
of the immediate presence of the Creator, that sub-
mission and obedience which it is the character of a
rational agent to yield with deliberation and from
choice. It appears, therefore, more consistent with
the simplicity of nature, and with the character of
man, that a few persons should be ordained the in-
struments of conveying a divine revelation to their
fellow-creatures ; and that the extraordinary cir-
cumstances which must attend the giving such a re-
velation should be confined to them. But it is not
enough that these persons feel the impression of a di-
vine revelation upon their own minds : it is not enough
that, in their communications with their fellow-crea-
tures, they appear to be possessed of superior know-
ledge, and more enlarged views : it is possible that
their knowledge and views may have been derived
from some natural source ; and we require a clear
indisputable mark to authenticate the singular and
important commission which they profess to bear.
It were presumptuous in us to say what are the
marks of such a commission which the Almighty can
give; for our knowledge of what He can do, is chief-
ly derived from our observation of what He has
done. But we may say, that, according to our ex-
perience of the divine procedui'e, there can be no
mark of a divine commission more striking and more
incontrovertible, than that the persons who bear
it should have the privilege of altering the course of
nature by a word of their mouths. The revelation
made to their minds is invisible ; and all the out-


ward appearances of it may be delusive. But extra-
ordinary works, beyond the power of man, perform-
ed by them, are a sensible outward sign of a power
which can be derived from God alone. If he has in-
vested them with this power, it is not incredible that
he has made a revelation to their minds ; and if they
constantly appeal to the works, which are the sign
of the power, as the evidence of the invisible revela-
tion, and of the commission with which it was ac-
companied, then we must either believe that they
have such a commission, or we are driven to the
horrid supposition that God is the author of a false-
hood, and conspires with these men to deceive his

When I call the extraordinary works performed
by these men, the sign of a power derived from God,
you recollect that all the language which we inter-
pret consists of signs ; i. e. objects and operations
which fall under our senses, employed to indicate that
which is unseen. What are the looks, the words,
and the actions of our fellow-creatures, but signs of
that internal disposition which is hidden from our
view ? What are the appearances which bodies ex-
hibit to our senses, but signs of the inward qualities
which produce these appearances? ^\^lat are the
works of nature, but signs of that supreme intelli-
gence, " whom no man hath seen at any time?" *
Upon this principle, all those events and operations,
beyond the compass of human power, which happen
according to the established course of nature, form
part of the foundations of Natural Religion ; and any
person who foretells or conducts them, only discovers
his acquaintance with that course, and his sagacity

* John i. 18.


in applying what we call the laws of nature. Upon
the same principle, all those events and operations
which happen in opposition to the established course
of nature, imply an exertion of the same power which
established that course, because they counteract it ;
and any person who, by a word, produces such events
and operations, discovers that this power is commit-
ted to him. To command the sun to run his race
until the time of his going down, and to command
him to stand still about a whole day, as in the valley
of Gibeon in the time of .Toslnia, * are two commands
which destroy one another ; and therefore, if we be-
lieve that the will of the Almighty Ruler of the uni-
verse produces an uniform obedience to the first, we
must believe that the obedience which, upon one oc-
casion, was yielded to the second, was the effect of
his will also. As no creature can stop the working
of his hand, every interruption in that course ac-
cording to which he usually operates, happens by his
permission ; and the power of altering the course of
nature, by whomsoever it be exerted, must be deriv-
ed from the Lord of nature.

This is the reasoning upon which we proceed,
when we argue for the truth of a revelation, from
extraordinary M'orks performed by those through
whom it is communicated ; and here we see the im-
jjortant purpose which the Almighty promotes by
employing the agency of men to change the order of
nature. Those changes which proceed immediately
from his liantl, however well fitted to impress his
creatures with a sense of his sovereignty, do not of
themselves prove any new proposition, because their

' Joshua X. r,'— H.


connexion \rith that proposition is not manifest.
But. when visible agents perform works beyond the
|X)wer of man, and contrary to the course of nature,
they give a sign of the interposition of the Aknighty,
which, being applied by their declaration to the doc-
trine which they teach, becomes a voucher of the
truth of what they say. To works of this kind, the
term miracles is properly applied ; and they form
what has been called the seal of heaven, implying
that delegation of the sovereign authority of the
Lord of ail, which appears to be reserved in the con-
duct of providence as the credential of those to whom
a divine conmaission is at any time granted. This
was the rod put into the hand of Moses, wherewith
to do signs and wonders, that Pharaoh and the child-
ren of Israel might believe that the Lord God had
sent him. This was the sign given to Elijah, that
it might be known that he was a man of God : and
tliis was the witness which the Father bore to " Jesus
of Xazareth. a man approved of Grod by miracles,
which God did by him in the midst of the people," *
and to the apostles of Jesus who went forth to preach
the Gosp>el, " the Lord working with them, and con-
firming the word by signs foilowing.' f

The nature of the revelation contained in the books
of the Xew Testament affords a ver\' strong pre-
sumptive proof that it comes from God ; whilst the
works done by Jesus and his Apostles are the direct
proof: and the two proofs conspire with the most
perfect harmony. The presumptive proof explains
the importance and the dignity of that occasion upon
which the Almighty was pleased to make the inter-

• Acts ii. 12. + Mirk xri. 20.


position, of which these works are the sign : The
direct proof accounts for that transcendent excellence,
in the doctrine and the character of the author of this
system, which, upon the supposition of its being of
human origin, appeared to be inexplicable ; and thus
the internal and external evidence of Christianity,
by the aid which they lend to one another, make us
" ready to give an answer to every man that asketh
a reason of the hope that is in us." *

We have found, that the reasoning involved in the
argument from miracles, proceeds upon the same
principles by which a sound theist infers the being
and perfections of God : in both cases, we discover
God by his works, which are to us the signs of his
agency. This analogy between the proofs of natural
and revealed religion is very much illustrated by con-
sidering the particular miracles recorded in the Gos-
pel. When we investigate the evidences of natural
religion, we find that any works manifestly exceed-
ing human power would lead us, in the course of fair
reasoning, to a Being antecedent to the human race,
superior to them in strength, and independent of them
in the mode of his existence. But it is the tran-
scendent grandeur of those works which we behold,
their inimitable beauty, their endless variety, their
harmony, and utility ; it is this infinite superiority
of the works of nature above the works of art, which
renders the argument completely satisfying, and
leaves no doubt in our minds, either of the power or
of the moral character of that Being from whom
they proceed. In like manner, although, in stating
the argument from miracles in support of the Gos-

* 1 Peter iii. 15.


pel, we liave reasoned fairly upon this simple princi-
ple, that they are interruptions of the course of na-
ture, yet, when we come to consider those particular
interruptions upon which the Gospel founds its claim,
we perceive that their nature furnishes a very strong
confirmation of the general argument, and that, like
the other works of God, they proclaim their Author.
In Him who ruled the raging of the sea, and still-
ed the tempest, we recognise the Lord of the uni-
verse. In that command which gave life to the dead,
we recognise the author of life. In the works of
Him who, by a word of his mouth, cured the most
inveterate diseases, unstopped the ears which had
never admitted a sound, opened the eyes which had
never seen the light, conferred upon the most dis-
tracted mind the exercise of reason, and restored the
withered, maimed, distorted limb, we recognise the
Former of our bodies and the Father of our spirits.
This is the very power by which all things consist,
the energy of Him " in whom we live, and move,
and have our being." * The miracles of the Gos-
pel were performed without preparation or concert ;
they were instantaneous in the manner of being
produced, yet their effects were permanent ; and,
like the works of nature, although they came with-
out effort from the hands of the workman, they
bore to be examined by the nicest eye. There
does not appear in them that poverty which marks
all human exertions ; neither the strength nor the
skill of Him who did them seemed to be exhaust-
ed ; but there was a fulness of power, a multipli-
city, a diversity, a readiness in the exercise of it, by

* Acts xvii. 2S.


which they resemble the riches of God that replenish
the earth. Yet they were free from parade and os-
tentation. There were no attempts to dazzle, no
anxiety to set off every work to the best advantage,
no waste of exertion, no frivolous accompaniments ;
but a sobriety, a decorum, all the dignified simplicity
of nature. The extraordinary power which appear-
ed in the miracles of the Gospel was employed not
to hurt or to terrify, but to heal, to comfort, and to
bless. The gracious purpose to which they minister-
ed declared their divine origin ; and they who be-
held a man who had the command of nature, and
" who went about doing good," * dispensing with a
bountiful hand the gifts of heaven, lightening the
burdens of human life, and accompanying every
exercise of his power with a display of tenderness,
condescension, and love, were taught to venerate the
messenger, and the " express image" of that Al-
mighty Lord, whose kingdom excels at once in ma-
jesty and in grace.

As the religion which these miracles were wrought
to attest, is in every respect worthy of God, so they
were selected with divine wisdom to illustrate the
peculiar doctrines of that religion ; and in the ad-
mirable fitness with which the nature of the proof is
accommodated to the nature of the thing to be proved,
we have an instance of the same kind with many
which the creation affords of the perfection of the
divine workmanship. Jesus came preaching for-
giveness of sins ; and he brought with him a sen-
sible sign of his having received a commission to
bestow this invisible gift. Disease was introduced

' * Acts X. 38.


into the world by sin. Jesus therefore cured all
manner of disease that we might know that he had
power to forgive sins also. His being able to re-
move, not by the slow uncertain applications of hu-
man art, but instantly, by a word of his mouth
spoken at any distance, those temporal maladies
which are the present visible fruits of sin, was an
assurance to the world of his being able to remove
the spiritual evils which flow from the same source.
It was a specimen, a symbolical representation of his
character as physician of souls. Jesus was that seed
of the woman who was to bruise the head of the ser-
pent, and he gave in his miracles a sensible sign of
the fall of Satan. The influence which this adver-
sary of mankind in every age exercises over the
minds of men, was in that age connected with a
degree of power over their bodies. It was the ge-
neral belief in Judea, that certain diseases proceeded
from the possession which his emissaries took of the
human body. To the Jews therefore, the casting
out devils was an ocular demonstration that Jesus
was able to destroy the works of the devil. It was
the beginning of the triumphs of this mighty prince,
a trophy which he brought from the land of the ene-
my, to assure his followers of a complete victory. I
have bound the strong man. Do you ask a proof ?
See, I enter his house and spoil his goods. I set
free the mind and conscience which he had enslaved.
My people will feel their freedom, and will need no
foreign proof. But does the world require one ?
See, by the finger of God, I set free those bodies
which Satan torments. His raising the dead was a
practical confirmation of that new doctrine of his
religion, that the hour is coming when they Avho are



in their graves, shall hear his voice, and shall come
forth to the resurrection. You cannot say that the
thing is impossible ; for you see in his miracles a
sample of that almighty power which shall quicken
them that sleep in the dust, a sensible sign that Je-
sus " hath abolished death," and is able to " ran-
som his people from the power of the grave."*

Other miracles of Jesus may be accommodated to
the doctrines of religion, and much spiritual instruc-
tion may be derived from them. But these three,
the cure of diseases, the casting out devils, and the
raising the dead, are applied by himself in the man-
ner which I have stated. They are not only a con-
firmation of his divine mission, by being a display of
the same kind of power which appears in creation and
providence, but, from their nature, they are a proof
of the chai'acteristical doctrines of the Gospel ; and
we are led by considering works so great in them-
selves, and at the same time so apposite to the pur-
pose for which they were wrought, to transfer to the
miracles of Jesus that devout exclamation which an
enlarged view of the creation dictated to the Psal-
mist : " How manifold are thy works, O Lord ; in
wisdom hast thou made them all."t

I have thus stated the, force of that argument
which arises from the miracles of Jesus, as they are
recorded in the New Testament. They who beheld
them said, " When Messias cometh, will he do more
miracles than those which this man doth ? This is
the prophet." ^ They spoke what they felt, and the
deductions of the most enlightened reason upon this

* 2 Tim. i. 10; Hos. xiii. 14. t Psalm civ. 24.

i John vii. 31—40.


subject accord with the feelings of every unbiassed
spectator. But we are not the spectators of the mi-
racles of Jesus : the report only has reached our
ears ; and some farther principles are necessary in
our situation to enable us to apply the argument
from miracles in support of the truth of Christiani-


It appeared more consistent with the simplicity of
nature and the character of man, that one or more
persons should be ordained the instruments of con-
veying an extraordinary revelation to the rest of the
world, than that it should be imparted to every indivi-
dual mind. The commission of these messengers of
heaven may be attested by changes upon the order of
nature, which the Almighty accomplishes through
their agency. But the works which they do, are
objects of sense only to their contemporaries with
whom they converse. Without a perpetual miracle
exhibited in their preservation, those facts which
are the proof of the divine revelation must be trans-
mitted to succeeding ages, by oral or written tradi-
tion, and, like all other facts in the history of for-
mer times, they must constitute part of that infor-
mation which is received upon the credit of testi-
mony. Accordingly we say, that Jesus Christ, for
a few years, did signs and wonders in the presence
of his disciples, and before all the people : the report
of them was carried through the world after his de-
j>arture from it by chosen witnesses, to whom he had


imparted the power of working miracles ; and many
of the miracles done both by him and his apostles
are now written in authentic genuine records which
have reached our days, that we also may believe that
he is the Son of God. Supposing then we admit,
that the eye-witnesses of the miracles of Jesus rea-
soned justly when they considered them as proofs of
a divine commission ; still it remains to be inquired,
whether the evidence which has transmitted these
miracles to us, is sufficient to warrant us in drawing
the same inference which we should have drawn if
we ourselves had seen them.

There are three questions which require to be dis-
cussed upon this subject. Whether miracles are ca-
pable of i3roof ? Whether the testimony borne to the
miracles of Jesus was credible at the time it was
given ? And vidietlier the distance at which we live
from that time destroys, or in any material degree
impairs its original credibility ?

1. It was said by one of the subtlest reasoners of
modern times, that a miracle is incapable of being
proved by testimony. His argument was this :
" Our belief of any fact attested by eye-witnesses
rests upon our experience of the usual conformity of
facts to the reports of witnesses. But a firm and
unalterable experience hath established the laws of
nature. When, therefore, witnesses attest any fact
which is a violation of the laws of nature, here is a
contest of two opposite experiences. The proof against
a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as
entire as any argument from experience can be ima-
gined ; and if so, it cannot be surmounted by a proof
from testimony, because testimony rests upon expe-
rience." Mr. Hume boasted of this reasoning as im-


answerable, and he holds it forth in his Essay on
Miracles as an everlasting check to superstition.
The principles upon which the reasoning proceeds
have been closely sifted, and their fallacy completely
exposed, in Campbell's Dissertation on Miracles ; one
of the best polemical treatises that ever was written.
Mr. Hume meets here with an antagonist who is not

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 32)