John Howard Marsden.

The evils which have resulted at various times from a misapprehension of our Lord's miracles : eight discourses preached before the University of Cambridge in the year MDCCCXLIV ... online

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LIBRARY

OF THE

Theological Seminary,

PRINCETON, N. J.

BR 45 .H84 1844 ' .ono 1
Marsden, John Howard, 1803-

1891.
The evils which have
resulted at various times



-^m/^ieivv^- "-iU^c^-i^ti^ .



THE EVILS WHICH HAVE RESULTED AT VARIOUS TIMES FROM
A MISAPPREHENSION OF OUR LORD'S MIRACLES.



EIGHT DISCOURSES

PREACHED BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY

OF CAMBRIDGE IN THE YEAR

MDCCCXLIV.

AT THE LECTURE FOUNDED BY THE
REV. JOHN HULSE, M.A.

BY THE y^

REV. JOHN HOWARD MARSDEN, E.D.

KECTOR OF GREAT OlliLEY, ESSKX, A.ND l.ATE FELIXtW
OF ST, JOHN'S COLIJ.GE,




LONDON

W I L L I A M PI C K E R I N G

MDCCCXLV



TO

THE REV. WILLIAM HODGSON, D.D.

IIASTICR OF ST, PUTER'S COLLEGE, ANU LATE VICE CHANCELLOR,

THE REV. WILLIAM WHEWELL, D.D.

MASTER OK TRINITY COLLEGE,

AND

THE REV. RALPH TATHAM, D.D.

MASTER OF ST. JOHN's COLLEGE,

%liZ0z Mmnv0z0,

PREACHED BY THEIR APPOINTMENT,

ARE MOST RESPECTFULLY

INSCRIBED.



THE duty of the Lecturer or Preacher, appointed under
the Will of the late Rev. John Hulse, M. A. of St.
John's College, was originally to preach twenty Sermons
during the year at St. Mary's Church in Cambridge; upon
" The Evidence for Revealed Religion ; the Truth and
Excellence of Christianity; or the more difficult Texts
and obscure parts of the Holy Scriptures, such as might
appear to be more generally useful and necessary to be
explained."

By an order of the Court of Chancery, the number of
Lectures has been reduced to eight : and the Preacher is
required to print them within twelve months after the
delivery of the last Lecture.




LECTURE I.

Recapitulation of the former Course. — A revelation such as that of
Jesus could not have been established without miracles. — Certain cases
in which it might be otherwise. — Mahometanism, and the modern
imposture of Mormonism. — Objections to miraculous evidence in the
abstract.

Exodus iv. 1.

But, behold, they xoill not believe me, nor hearken to my voice : for they will
say, — The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.



LECTURE II.

Alleged partiality in the mode of evidence by miracles. — This not the case
with our Lord's miracles. — Reason why their effect upon the Jews was
not overpowering. — Prevalent belief in the powers of magic.

Luke xi. 15.
But some of them said, — He casteth out devils by Beelzebub the Prince of devils.

LECTURE III.

Our Lord's miracles of a character different from what the Jews had been
accustomed to. — Yet in harmony with His doctrine, — And both of them
incompatible with the notion of an evil agency.

John x. 21.
These are not the words of one that hath a devil.

LECTURE IV.

In what sense our Lord came *' not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil " it.
— The Jews could have no valid ground of objection to Ilim on this
account. — The sin against the Holy Ghost. — Observations on the charge
of arguing in a circle.

Matthew xii. 31.

All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men : hit ihc blasphemy
(igninst the Holy Ghost sitall not be forgiven unto men.



VI II COiVTENTS.



LECTURE V.



The question proposed, — whether in the miracles themselves there was
any hidden meaning. — Metaphorical actions frequently mentioned in
Scripture. — Alleged grounds for believing that in certain miracles a
spiritual meaning was intended. — Need of extreme caution in seeking
for it.

Matthew xiii. 51.

Have ye understood all these things?



LECTURE VI.

Rules for our guidance in spiritual interpretation. — Rashness of some
allegorists. — Their arguments in self-defence. — Danger of tampering
with the miracles. — Instances of mystical interpretation. — Vagueness
and uncertainty of it.

2 Timothy iv. 4.

And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto
fables.

LECTURE VII.

Inquiry into the origin and history of allegorical interpretation.— Philo. —
Clement of Alexandria. — Origen. — Its tendency when employed with-
out discretion.

2 Timothy iv. 4.

And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto
fables.

LECTURE Vlir.

Gradual progress of its evil effects upon Woolston. — His early admiration
of Origen. — Growing distaste for the letter of Scripture. — Denial of the
literal narrative of the miracles. — Attempt to justify himself by the
example of the Fathers. — Gross misrepresentations of them. — His
objections to the miracles of healing. — To the destruction of the barren
fig-tree. — Conclusion.









LECTURE I.

[PREACHED ON EASTER DAY.]

EXODUS IV. 1.

BEHOLD, THEY AVILL NOT BELIEVE ME, NOR HEARKEN TO MY

VOICE : FOR THEY WILL SAY, THE LORD HATH NOT APPEARED

UNTO THEE.

IN the former course of these Lectures, our attention
was directed to certain important announcements
made by our blessed Saviour to Nicodemus, at the
commencement of his ministry ; and in particular to
the clear intimation which he gave of his future re-
jection by the Jewish rulers, and of his death upon
the cross. We endeavoured to trace the process by
which these predictions were fulfilled ; — the mode in
which men's passions and prejudices operated in
accomplishing the designs of Providence. We found
reason to believe that our Lord was rejected, because
he did not answer the popular interpretation of those
ancient prophecies, which described in magnificent

B



2 LECTURE I.

phrase and metaphor the glories of the Messiah. We
found also, that having been rejected, he was by the
same persons condemned to death : — being made ame-
nable to the law against blasphemers, on the ground
of his having claimed a divine character in calling
himself the Son of God. And we know that all this
was done in open defiance of his miracles. The works
were acknowledged to be supernatural, and yet the
commission was not recognized as divine. Their evi-
dence was set aside on the presumption that they
were wrought by a Satanic agency, and not by any
special interposition of God.

According, then, to the popular definition of " a
miracle," the great question which presented itself to
the Jews of old was, — whether the immediate agency
in the production of the miracles of Jesus, was that
of the Almighty, or of demons. Or, — if it be under-
stood that a miracle cannot be wrought without the
direct interposition of God, — whether the works of
Jesus were miracles, or not. This question it is now
proposed to investigate. We are about to examine how
far those unhappy men were justified in acting, as they
did, on the assumption that the works which w^re
exhibited before their eyes, — such being the character
of him who wrought them, — such the character of
his teaching, — and such the character of the works
themselves, — were merely Satan's devices to under-
mine their faith, and to seduce them from their alle-
oiance to Jeliovali.



LECTURE I. 3

This proposed arrangement will not only afford
me the advantage of pursuing one continuous line
throughout the two courses of these Lectures, but
will also embrace both of the great subjects to which
the Lecturer is especially directed to turn his atten-
tion : namely, the " explanation of Scripture," and
the demonstration of the " evidence " upon which the
divine authority of Scripture rests. In the former
course, we were employed in examining an important
passage in the Gospel of St. John ; a passage, which
although neither peculiarly difficult nor obscure, may
nevertheless be fairly classed among those, which the
Founder of the Lecture has pointed out, as " more
generally useful to be explained." And now we pro-
ceed to investigate a most essential branch of the evi-
dences for revealed religion, namely the ** evidence"
of miracles.

When a revelation is published to mankind by one
who professes to bear a commission to that effect
from the Supreme Governor of the Universe, it is
only natural that he should be required to exhibit his
credentials. His own bare assertion is not enough.
There must be some convincing token of the divine
presence and authority : we must see and recognize
the broad seal of heaven. No doctrine, however holy
and excellent it may be, however consonant with our
natural apprehension of the divine attributes, will at
first make its way among men without some other
force than that of its own intrinsic goodness. If he



4 LrXTURE I.

who proclaims it, be a man of apparent sincerity, for
the doctrine's sake, and for his own sake, we may be
disposed to believe him ; or at all events to be of
opinion, that there is a greater probability of his being
an authorized messenger than the reverse. But no
further effect than this will be produced, even upon
the thoughtful and well-disposed. If the Almighty
has in truth communicated to him a direct revelation,
as He did to the prophets of old, tliere can be no
doubt that his soul is possessed with an irresistible
conviction of the divine original of that which he pro-
claims. But inasmuch as no man is a competent
judge of what passes in the bosom of another, this in-
ward sense can be no ground of conviction to any save
the immediate recipient. For how can men either
satisfy themselves or convince others, that this self-
called messenger from heaven is in reality so void of
deceit as he appears to be ? Or how can they be
satisfied that he has not mistaken the impression of a
dream, or the musings of imagination, for reality ? —
And while he makes so little way with the serious and
thoughtful portion of the world, upon the great bulk
of mankind, with their evil habits and blind preju-
dices, he will produce no impression whatever.
What moral effect did all the arguments and all the
eloquence of ancient philosophy produce upon the
character of the multitude in Rome and Athens ?
How many converts from idolatry were made by their
dialogues on the nature of the Gods : — how many bad



LECTURE I,



men were brought over to the practice of virtue, by
their disquisitions upon good and evil ? The disease
was too deeply rooted to be expelled by so feeble a
remedy. Philosophy was taught, indeed, but it was
not practised even by the teachers themselves: and it
is acknowledged, that the disciples derived no more
advantage from it, than a sick man would, by merely
listening to the discourses of a physician, without
following his advice.

In short, it will scarcely admit of a question, that
in order to enforce upon mankind the observance of
any stringent precept "of moral discipline, in oppo-
sition to the selfish passions of their nature, it is
necessary in the first place to arouse their attention ; —
and then to convince them, by some forcible and ex-
peditious mode of proof, that it is the voice of God
that speaketh. There must be no long and laborious
deductions for them to follow out, no tracing of the
dependence of one truth upon another through a
tedious and intricate line of consequences. It must
be something which all can understand ; something
of which they will see the meaning and perceive the
force at once. A vast majority of mankind are far too
busily occupied in providing for their daily suste-
nance, to find much leisure for the discussion of an
argument. They look around, and they see in the
works of the creation, a standing evidence of God's
existence and attributes. In the continued order of
the universe they see a sure demonstration of his



6 LECTURE I.

constant Providence. It is on the theatre of nature
that they behold the Almighty continually declaring
himself; and hence, if he should see fit to make any
new and special discovery of his will, it is here that
they are prepared to look for the evidence of it.
Supposing, therefore, that one should come to them
as a messenger from heaven, and in proof of his mis-
sion should give sight to the blind, or walk upon the
sea, or raise a dead man from the grave, — this is pre-
cisely the kind of evidence to make an impression
upon them. Every one who can distinguish between
blindness and the faculty of sight, between a dead
corpse and a living man, is able to comprehend its
force. However men may be engrossed with worldly
business, they will pause to examine it. Like Moses,
when the Lord appeared to him in the wilderness,
'' they will turn aside, and see this great sight, why
the bush is not burnt." ^

With the generality of mankind, then, even the
truths of natural religion will require some super-
natural authority to impress them, with their neces-
sary obligations, upon the mind. How much more,
then, will such supernatural authority be required, to
introduce those mysterious doctrines and positive
institutions, which it may please tlie Almighty to
superadd to the religion of nature ! If miracles be



Exodus iii. 3.



LECTURE r. 7

required to confirm man's belief in the great doctrine
of the immortality of the soul, how much more
necessary will they be to induce a faith in such mys-
teries as the distinction of persons in the Godhead,
and the salvation of mankind by the blood and inter-
cession of a Redeemer ! In vain would it be to pro-
claim the nature and efficacy of the Sacraments, and
the resurrection of the body from the grave — in vain
to preach forgiveness of wrong to the revengeful, and
beneficence to the selfish, — in vain to exhort the
churlish to do to others as he would have others do
to him, — unless the messenger speak with more than
human authority. No revelation, in short, upon
those points which are of the most overwhelming im-
portance, will be received without the evidence of
miracles : and the more important the doctrine, the
more needful will it be to bring a supernatural con-
firmation of it. Without miracles, the messenger will
be thrust aside, like one who reproved a wrongful
man in the days of old ; and they will cry out, —
" Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?"'^
Fearful, if not despairing, he will be constrained to
exclaim, — " Behold, they will not believe me, nor
hearken to my voice, for they say, — The Lord hath
not appeared unto thee."

Circumstances, however, inay occur, in which it
might be possible for a pretended messenger from

2 Exodus ii. 14.



8 LECTURE I.

heaven in some degree to establish his claim to divine
authority, without the aid of miracles.

If, for instance, to some untutored and barbarous
race of men, whose traditional know^ledge of the truth
is debased and darkened, if not totally lost, in idolatry,
— if to such a race of men there should be offered a
pretended revelation, having for its basis the great
principle of the unity of God, and giving out that
the truth, originally delivered to the Prophets and
Patriarchs of old, was now to be restored to its ori-
ginal purity. If this revelation should contain no
strict precepts of humiliation and self-denial, imposing
little or no restraint upon the sensual appetites, re-
quiring no change of heart, placing among its primary
obligations, the easy and salubrious rites of an out-
ward ceremonial. If at first, while powerless, it
should speak the language of peace and toleration ;
and having, by degrees, stirred up a warlike spirit
among a courageous race of men, should then begin
to breathe fiery denunciations against its opponents ;
announcing a divine commission to exterminate un-
believers, and to propagate the true faith at the point
of the sword. If it should find a ready access to the
hearts of men, by promising the most exquisite joys
of a voluptuous paradise to those whose destiny it
may be to expend their lives in the cause, and to
those who survive to divide the spoil, every gratifi-
cation of avarice and lust; declaring that a drop of
blood shed in the cause of God, or a night spent in



LECTURE r.



arms, is of more avail than many clays' fasting and
prayer; and offering a higher reward in heaven to
those v^ho fight for the faith, than to those v^^ho
merely perform the peaceful and obscure duties of
domestic life. If it should describe in glowing terms
the future anguish of infidels, and the still more
bitter torment of apostates. If it should abstain from
any interference with the sacred character of more
ancient forms of faith ; offering at first little or no
violence to religious prejudices ; treating, with an
affectation of respect, names that have been held in
reverenceof old:— professing to be sent for the express
purpose of healing divisions, and to bind men toge-
ther in one common and universal faith ; and yet
turning to its own advantage the mutual hostility of
contending sects. Under such circumstances as these,
— in the absence of many of those obstacles which
must have impeded the progress of the Gospel of
Christ, — it might be possible for this pretended
revelation to gain a footing in the world, although
unsupported by miracles. For if once its author
succeeds in establishing a spiritual dominion over
the minds of a small body of followers, he may then
persuade them that the evidence of miracles is unne-
cessary : or he may venture, perhaps, to assert the
performance of miracles, without the inconvenience
of being called upon for proof. Such was the case of
old with the pretended Prophet of Arabia ; and such
also, in some respects, has been the case with another



10 LECTURE r.

Impostor vvlioni it has been reserved for our own age
to produce, in one of the remoter and less civilized
states of the great republic of the West.^

To institute a parallel betvi^een these two pretended
messengers from heaven, — between the conqueror of
Arabia, the founder of a civil and religious empire,
the author of a mighty revolution, which changed
the features, whether social or political, of half the
countries of the known world ; — to institute a com-
parison between one, to whom, so far as he brought
his idolatrous countrymen to the knowledge and wor-
ship of one Supreme Creator, must certainly be
awarded the credit of having opened their eyes to
some faint glimmering of the truth ; — to institute a
comparison between him and that Impostor of mo-
dern times, will scarcely be thought to be — what
in truth it is — a work of serious and sober earnestness.
But when it is considered, that with all the apparent
disadvantages of mean origin, and unlettered ignor-
ance, and infamous reputation,* — with so little about
him to spread the contagion of enthusiasm, — with
scarcely one better quality to redeem the falsehood
and treachery, the cruelty and selfishness of his cha-
racter ; — well described by one who knows him well,
as *' a polluted mass of corruption, iniquity and
fraud ;" — when it is considered that this man, in the

^ The founder of the American Sect of Mormonites.
* See an account of the Sect of Mormonites, by the Rev. H.
Caswall.



LECTURE I. 11

nineteenth century, and among professing Christians,
has in our own country attached to himself several
thousand disciples, and not less than a hundred thou-
sand in the West, during a period in which the faith of
Mahomet was working its slow and painful progress
in comparative obscurity. When we see him already
assuming the regal office as well as the sacerdotal,
giving laws to his Medina,^ raising new fortifications,
assembling an army round his person, and indulging
in projects of conquest and spoliation.^ When all this
is considered, it will appear that in the two cases
there is at least one striking similarity ; — each afford-
ing an instance of the wonderful effects accomplished
by religious fanaticism, in the hands of subtle and
unscrupulous ambition.

Were it not a departure from the object which we
have more immediately in view, it w^ould be an easy
task to give in detail, the points of resemblance be-
tween them. In each of these pretended revelations,
it is acknowledged that Moses and our blessed Sa-
viour were Prophets, and that Jesus was greater than
all who had preceded him. In fact, the modern im-
postor has engrafted his own scriptures upon the
historical part of the Bible ; putting them forth as a
continuation or supplement : and like the Koran, they

5 ''The Holy City of Nauvoo," on the Mississippi, — which is
stated to contain already 12,000 inhabitants,

^ Soon after this, the pretended Prophet lost his life in a popular
tumult ; and yet his followers are still increasing-.



12 LECTURE I.

are a palpable imitation of Holy Writ, both in thought
and diction. In each of these pretended revelations
there is a studious assertion of the wonderful dignity
and infallibility of its own Prophet. Each abounds
in promises rather than precepts, and each is diffuse
and circumstantial in its description of a future state.
If the Arabian Prophet placed the practical part of
religion in the observance of an easy code of morals,
and a not very onerous ceremonial ; the other makes
it to consist, for the most part, in feeling and impulse ;
— estimating the believer's growth not by the degree
of fidelity with which he performs the moral duties
of life, but by the amount of pleasurable sensations
which he may be able to excite in his own bosom.
In each the standard of morals is far below that of
the Gospel ; and each makes a special allowance for
the irregularities of its own Prophet. In each there
is a studied perversion and falsification of the Bible ;
and in the latter, this species of impiety is of the
most revolting description. The point, however, to
which our attention must be especially directed, is
that of miracles. In each it is tacitly acknowledged
that miracles are needful, for miraculous visions
are made the very basis upon which the revelation
rests ; but in each there is a positive disclaimer
of all 7xal miracles, that is, of all such as depend
upon external and independent testimony. Each of
these impostors " bears record of himself;" and his
record is nothing more than the unsupported asser-



LECTURE I. 13

tion of a bold and profligate adventurer. When the
Prophet of Mecca expatiated upon the inimitable
beauties of his Koran, — challenging either angels or
men to equal the transcendent beauties of a single
passage, and appealing to the perfection of his reve-
lation as a sufficient proof of its divine origin, — his
opponents called upon him for some visible sign from
heaven. They desired that he vs^ould bring down an
angel to confirm his mission; that he w^ould create a
garden in the desert, or kindle a conflagration in the
unbelieving city. To which he replied, that if they
would not believe in God's word which he had pro-
mulgated, although a revelation should be given by
which mountains are removed, or the earth cloven in
sunder, or the dead caused to speak, it would still be
ineffectual . He told them that God in his merciful
providence refuses such signs and wonders, as would
depreciate the merit of faith, and aggravate the guilt
of infidelity. And that the only reason for which he
had not been sent with the evidence of miracles, like
other prophets before him, was, that the miracles of
those prophets had been charged with imposture.

Similar in purport, but marked with a more auda-
cious impiety, are the answers given to a similar de-
mand by the Prophet of the West. In one place he
denies that the miracles of the Bible were intended
to be any attestation of a divine commission ; assert-
ing that they were simply acts of compassion, wrought
for the special benefit of those particular believers



14 LECTURE I.

who were the objects of them. In another place, the
reply is abruptly given in a perverted passage of
Scripture — '* A wicked and adulterous nation seeketh
for a sign, and verily there shall no sign be given
them." In another, the inquirer is gravely dismissed
with the following advice : — " If you wish to receive
proof of the doctrine, ask in faith, as we have done,
and it shall be given you." In other words, — first
believe, then inquire, and then you shall know it to
be true. And yet, in the face of this attempt to de-
preciate the evidence of miracles, it is upon miracu-
lous evidence indirectly, that is, upon the pretended
evidence of prophecy, that this impostor founds his
claim. He alleges the preternatural discovery of
a number of sacred documents, collected and com-
posed by an inspired Jew in the fourth century, and
hidden in the earth from that time to the present.
In these documents it is predicted that a seer shall
arise in the latter days, who shall be divinely com-
missioned to bring them forth from their hiding place ;
adding to them other words which God shall speak
unto him ; and amid many conflicting opinions,


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Online LibraryJohn Howard MarsdenThe evils which have resulted at various times from a misapprehension of our Lord's miracles : eight discourses preached before the University of Cambridge in the year MDCCCXLIV ... → online text (page 1 of 11)