William Paley.

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neus, most of which are related to have been
performed in India; no evidence remaining that
either the miracles ascribed to him, or the history
of those miracles, were ever heard of in India.
Those of Francis Xavier, the Indian missionary,
with many others of the Romish breviary, are lia-
ble to tbe same objection, viz. that the accounts
of them were published at a vast distance from the
supposed scene of the wonders.!

III. We lay out of the case transient rmnours.
Upon the first publication of an extraordinary ac-
count, or even of an article of ordinary intelligence,
no one, who is not personally acquainted with the
transaction, can knoyv whether it be true or false,
because any man may publish any story. It is in
the future confirmation, or contradiction, of the
account ; in its permanency, or its disappearance ;
its dying away into silence, or its increasing in
notoriety ; its being followed up by subsequent
accounts, and being repeated in different and in-
dependent accounts ; that solid truth is distinguish-
ed from fugitive lies. This distinction is altogether
on the side of Christianity. The story did not
drop. On the contrary, it was succeeded by a
train of action and events dependent upon it.
The accounts, which we have in our hands, were
composed after the first reports must have sub-
sided. They were followed by a train of writings
upon the subject. The historical testimonies of
the transaction were many and various, and con-
nected with letters, discourses, controversies, apo-
logies, successively produced by the same transac-

IV. We may lay out of the case what I call
naked history. It has been said, that if the pro-
digies of the Jewish history had been found only
in fragments of Manetho, or Berosus, we should
have paid no regard to them: and I am willing to
admit this. If we knew nothing of the fact, but
from the fragment ; if we possessed no proof that
these accounts had been credited and acted upon,
from times, probably, as ancient as the accounts
themselves ; if we had no visible effects connected
with the history, no subsequent or collateral testi-
mony to confirm it ; under these circumstances, I
think that it would be undeserving of credit. But
this certainly is not our case. In appreciating
the evidence of Christianity, the books are to be
combined with the institution; with the preva-
lency of the religion at this day; with the time
and place of its origin ; which are acknowledged
points ; with the circumstances of its rise and pro-
gress, as collected from external history ; with the
fact of our present books being received by the
votaries of the institution from the beginning;
with that of other books coming after these, filled

Douglas's Ciiterion of Miracles, p. 74.

* The succession of many eminent bishops of Jerusa-
lem in the first three centuries, is distinctly preserved;
as Alexander, A. D. 212, who succeeded Narcissus, then
116 vears old.

t Douglas's Crit \, fA.



with accounts of effects and consequences result-
;ing from the transaction, or referring to the trans-
action, or built upon it; lastly, with the consider-
ation of the number and variety of the books
themselves, the difierent writers from which they
proceed, the different views with which they were
written, so disagreeing as to repel the suspicion of
confederacy, so agreeing as to show that they were
founded in a common original, i. e. in a story sub-
stantidly the same. Whether this proof be satis-
factory or not, it is properly a cumulation of evi-
dence, b)' no means a naked or solitary record.

V. A mark of historical truth, although only
in a certain way, and to a certain degree, is par-
ticulariti/, in names, dates, places, circumstances,
and in the order of events preceding or following
the transaction : of which kind, for instance, is
the particularity in the description of Saint Paul's
voyage and shipwreck, in the 27th chapter of the
Acts, which no man, I think, can read without
being convinced that the writer was there; and
also in the account of the cure and examination
of the blind man, in the ninth chapter of Saint
John's Gospel, which bears every mark of per-
sonal knowledge on the part of the historian.* I
do not deny that fiction has often the particularity
of truth ; but then it is of studied and elaborate
fiction, or of a formal attempt to deceive, that we
observe this. Since, however, experience proves
that particularity is riot confined to truth, I have
stated that it is a proof of truth only to a certain
extent, i. e. it reduces the question to this, whe-
ther we can depend or not upon the probity of the
relater'^ which is a considerable advance in our
present argument ; tor an express attempt to de-
ceive, in which case alone particularity can ap-
pear without truth, is charged upon the evange-
lists by few. If the historian acknowledge himself
to have received his intelligence from others, the
particularity of the narrative shows, prima facie,
the accuracy of liis inquiries, and the fulness of
his information. This remark belongs to Saint
Luke's history. Of the particularity which we
allege, many examples may be found in all the
Gospels. And it is very difficult to conceive, that
such numerous particularities, as are almost every
where to be met with in the Scriptures, should be
raised out of nothing, or be spun out of the imagi-
nation without any fact to go upon.t

It is to be remarked, however, that this particu-
larity is only to be looked for in direct history. It
is not natural in references or allusions, which yet,
in other respects, often afford, as far as they go,
the most unsuspicious evidence.

VI. We lay out of the case such stories of su-
pernatural events, as require, on the part of the
hearer, nothing more than an otiose assent ; stories
upon which nothing depends, in which no inte-

* P.ntli tliese chapters ought to be read for the sake
of tliis very observation.

t "There is always some truth where there are con-
siderable particularities related; and they always seem
to b«ar some proportion to one anotlier. Thus there is
a great want of the particulars of time, place, and per-
sons, in Manelho's account of the Egyptian Dynasties,
Ctesias's of the Assyrian Kings, and those which the
technical chronologers have given of the ancient king-
Jonis of Greece: and agreeably thereto, the accounts
have much fiction and falsehood, with some truth :
whereas, Thiicydides's History of the Pelopnnnesian
War, andCifisar'sof the War in Gaul, in both which
the particulars of time, place, and persons, are mention-
ed, are universally esteemed true to a great degree of
exactness."— Hartley, vol. ii. p. 109.

rest is involved, nothing is to he done or changed
in consequence of believing them. Such stories
are credited, if the careless assent that is given to
them deserve that name, more by the indolence of
the hearer, than by his judgment: or, though not
nmcli credited, are passed from one to another
without inquiry or resistance. To this case, and
to this case alone, belongs what is called the love
of the marvellous. I have never known it carry
men farther. Men do not suffer pcrseeution from
the love of the marvellous. Of the indifferent na-
ture we are speaking of, are most vulgar errors
and popular superstitions; most, for instance, of
the current reports of apparitions. Nothing de-
pends upon their being true or false. But not,
surely, of this kind were the alleged miracles of
Christ and Iris apostles. They decided, if true,
the most important question upon which the hu-
man mind can fix its anxiety. They claimed to
regulate the opinions of mankind, upon subjects
in which they are not only deeply concerned, but
usually refractory and obstinate. Men could not
be utterly careless in such a case as this. If a
Jew took up the story, he found his darling par-
tiality to his own nation and law wounded ; if a
Gentile, he found his idolatry and polytheism re-
probated and condemned. Whoever entertained
the account, whether Jew or Gentile, could not
avoid the following reflection: — " If these things
be true, I must give up the opinions and princi-
ples in which I have been brought up, the religion
in which my fathers lived and died." It is not
conceivable that a man should do this Ujfon any
idle report or frivolous account, or indeed, without
being fully satisfied and convinced of the truth
and credibility of the narrative to which he trust-
ed. But it did not stop at opinions. They who
believed Christianity, acted upon it. Many made
it the express business of their lives to publish the
intelligence. It was required of those who ad-
mitted that intelligence, to cliange forthwith their
conduct and their principles, to take up a difier
ent course of life, to part with their habits anc
gratifications, and begin a new set of rules, ant
system of behaviour. The apostles, at least, were
interested not to sacrifice their ease, their fortunes
and their lives, for an idle tale ; nmltitudes besides
them were induced, by the same tale, to encoun-
ter ojiposition, danger, and suffl'rings.

If it be said, that the mere pronrise of a future
state would do all tlris ; I answer, that the mere
promise of a future state, without any evidence
to give credit or assurance to it, would do notliing.
A few wandering fishermen talking of a resurrec-
tion of the dead, could produce no effect. If it be
farther said, that men easily believe what they
anxiously desire; I again answer that, in my
opinion, the very contrary of this is nearer to the
truth. Anxiety of desire, earnestness of expecta-
tion, the vastness of an event, rather cause men
to disbelieve, to doubt, to dread a fallacy, to dis-
trust, and to examine. When our Lord's resur-
rection was first reported to the apostles, they did
not believe, we are told, for joy. This was natu-
ral, and is agreeable to ex]jerience.

VII. We have laid out of the case those ac-
counts which require no more than a simple as-
sent ; and we now also lay out of the case those
which come merely in affirmance of opinions
already formed. This last circumstance is of the
utmost importance to notice well. It has long
been observed, that Popish miracles happen in



Popish countries ; that they make no converts :
which prove;3 that stories are accepted, when they
fall in witli principles already fixed, with the pub-
lic sentiments, or with the sentiments of a party
already engaged on the side the miracle supports,
which would not be attempted to be produced- in
the face of enemies, in opposition to reigning
tenets or favourite prejudices, or when, if they be
believed, the belief nnist draw men away from
their preconceived and habitual opinions, from
their modes of life and rules of action. In the
former case, men may not only receive a miracu-
lous account, bat may both act and suffer on the
side and in tlie cause, which the miracle supports,
yet not act or suffer for the miracle, but in pur-
suance of a prior persuasion. The miracle, like
any other argument which only confirms what
was before believed, is admitted with little ex-
amination. In the moral as in the natural world,
it is change which requires a cause. Men are
easily fortified in their old opinions, driven from
them with great difficulty. Now how does this
apply to the Christian history 1 The miracles,
there recorded, were wrought in the midst erf ene-
mies, under a government, a priesthood, and a
magistracy, decidedly and vehemently adverse to
them, and to the pretensions which they support-
ed. They were Protestant miracles in a Popish
country ; they were Popish miracles in tlie midst
of Protestants. They produced a change; they
establi-shcd a society upon the spot, adhering to
the beli^^f of them ; they made converts ; and those
wiio wer6 converted gave up to the testimony
their most fixed opinions and most favourite pre-
judices. They who acted and suffered in the
cause, acted and suffered for the nnracles : for
there was no anterior persuasion to induce them,
no prior reverence, prejudice, or partiality, to take
hold of Jesus had not one follower wlien he set
up his claim. His miracles gave birth to his sect.
No part of this description belongs to the ordinary
evidence of Heathen or Popish miracles. Even
most of the miracles alleged to have been perform-
ed by Christians, in the second and third century
of its era, want this confirmation. It constitutes
indeed a line of partition between the origin and
the progress of Christianity. Frauds and falla-
cies might mix themselves with the progress,
which could not possibly take place in the com-
mencement of the religion ; at least, according to
any laws of human conduct that we are acquaint-
ed with. What should suggest to the first propa-
gators of Christianity, especially to fishermen,
tax-gatherers, and husbandmen, such a thought
as that of changing the religion of tlie world ;
what could hear them through the difficulties in
which the attempt engaged them ; what could
procure any degree of success to the attempt ; are
questions which apply, with great force, to the
setting out cf the institution, with less, to every
future stage of it.

To hear some men talk, one wonld suppose the
setting up of a religion by miracles to be a thing
of every day's experience ; whereas the whole cur- i
rent of history is against it. Hath any founder
of a new sect amongst Christians pretended to
miraculous powers, and succeeded by his preten-
sions 1 " Were these powers claimed or exercised
by the founders of the sects of the Waldenses
and Albigenses! Did Wickliffe in England pre-
tend to it i Did Huss or Jerome in Bohemia 1
Did Luther in Germany, Zuinglius in Switzer-

land, Calvin in France, or any of the reformers,
advance this plea "?"* The French prophets, in
the beginning of the present century, t venHired
to allege miraculous evidence, and immediately
ruined their cause by their temerity. " Concern-
ing the religion of ancient Rome, of Turkey,
of Siain, of China, a single miracle cannot be
named, that was ever offered as a test of any of
those religions before their establishment." t

We may add to what has been observed of the
distinction which we are considering, that, where
miracles are alleged merely in affirmance of a
prior opinion, they who believe the doctrine may
sometimes propagate a belief of the miracles which
they do not themselves entertain. This is the
case of what are called pious frauds; but it is a
case, I apprehend, which talies place solely in
support of a persuasion already established. At
least it does not hold of the apostolical history. If
the apostles did not believe the miracles, they did
not lielieve the religion ; and, without this belief,
where was the piety, what place was there for any
thing which could bear the name or colour of
piety, in puHishing and attesting miracles in its
behalf 1 If it be said that any promote the belief
of revelation, and of any accounts which favour
that belief, because they think them, whether well
or ill founded, of public and political utihty; I
answer, tliat if a character exist, v^hich can with
less justice than another be ascribed to the foun-
ders of the Christian religion;itisthat of politicians,
or of men capable of entertaining political views.
The truth is, that there is no assignable character
which will account for the conduct of the apostles,
supposing their story to be false. If bad men,
what could have induced them to take such pains
to promote virtue'? If good men, they would not
ha^•e gone about the country with a string of lies
in their mouths.

In appreciating the credit of an}' miraculous
story, these are distinctions which relate to the
evidence. There are other distinctions, of great
moment in the question, which relate to the mira-
cles themselves. Of which latter kind the fol-
lowing ought carefully to be retained.

I. It is not necessary to admit as a miracle,
what can be resolved into a false perception. Of
this nature was the demon of Socrates ; the visions
of Saint Anthony', and of many others; the vision
which Lord Flerbert of Cherbnry describes him-
self to have seen ; Colonel Gardner's vision, as re-
lated in his life, written b}' Dr. Doddridge. All
these may be accounted for by a momentary
insanity ; for the characteristic symptom of huriian
madness is the rising up in the mind of images
not distinguishable by the patient from impres-
sions upon the senses. § The cases, however, in
which the possibility of this delusion exists, ore
divided from the cases in which it does not exist,
by many, and those not obscure marks. They
are, for the most part, cases of visions or voices.
The object is hardly ever touched. The vision
submits not to be handled. One sense does not
confirm another. They are likewise al-
v\'avs cases of a solitary witness. It is in the
highest degree improbable, and I know not, indeed,
whether it hath ever been the fact, that the same
derangement of the mental organs should seize

* Campbell on Miracles, p. 120. ed. 1766.
t The eighteenth. J Aflams on Mir. p. 7S.

§ Batty on Lunacy.



(lifl'erent persons af the same time; a derangement,
I meoJi, so much the same, as to represent to
their iinarrination the same objects. Lastly, these
are always cases of momentary miracles; by
which term I mean to denote miracles, of which
the whole existence is of short duration, in con-
tradistinction to miracles which are attended with
permanent effects. The appearance of a spectre,
the hearing of a supernatural sound, is a moment-
ary miracle. The sensible proof is gone, when
the apparition or sound is over. But if a person
born blind be restored to sight, a notorious cripple
to the use of his limbs, or a dead man to life, here
is a permanent eflect produced by supernatural
means. The change indeed was instantaneous,
but the proof continues. The subject of the mira-
cle remains. The man cured or restored is there :
his former condition was known, and his present
condition may he examined. This can by no
jiossibility be resolved into false perception : and
of this kind are by far the greater part of the mi-
racles recorded in the New I'estament. > When
Lazarus was raised from the dead, he did not
merely move, and speak, and die again ; or come
out of the grave, and vanish away. He returned
to his home and family, and there continued ; for
we find him, some time afterward in the same
town, sitting at table with Jesus and his sisters ;
visited by great multitudes of the Jews, as a sub-
ject of curiosity; giving by his presence so much
uneasiness to the Jewish rulers as to heget in
them a design of destroying him. * No delusion
can account for this. The French projihets in
England, some time since, gave out that one of
their teachers would come to life again ; but their
enthusiasm never made them believe that they
actually saw him alive. The blind man, whose
restoration to siaht at Jerusalem is recorded in the
ninth chapter of St. John's Gospel, did not quit
the place or conceal himself from inquiry. On
the contrary, he was forthcoming, to answer the
call, to satisfy the scrutiny, and to sustain the
brow-beating of Christ's angry and powerful
enemies. When the cripple at the gate of the
temple was suddenly cured by Peter, + he did not
immediately relapse into his former lameness, or
disappear out of the city; but boldly and honestly
produced himself along with the apostles, when
they were brought the next day before the Jewish
council, t Here, though the miracle was sudden,
the proof was permanent. The lameness had
been notorious, the cure continued. This there-
fore, could not be the effect of any momentary de-
lirium, either in the subject or in the witnesses of
the transaction. It is the same with the greatest
number of the Scripture miracles. There are
other cases of a mixed nature, in which, although
the principal miracle be momentary, some circum-
stance combined with it is permanent. Of this
kind is the history of St. Paul's conversion. §
The sudden light and sound, the vision and the
voice, upon the road to Damascus, were moment-
ary : but Paul's blindness for three days in conse-
quence of what had happened; the communica-
tion made to Ananias in antithcr place, and by a
vision independent of the former; Ananias finding
out Paul in consequence of intelligence so receiv-
ed, and finding him in the condition described,
arwl Paul's recovery of his sight upon Ananias's

» John xii. 1, 2, 9, 10.
t lb. iv. 14.

t Acts iii. 2.
§ lb. ix.

laying his hands upon him; are circumstances,
which take the transaction, and the principal
miracle as included in it, entirely out of the case
of momentary miracles, or of such as may be ac-
counted for by false perceptions. Exactly the
same thing may be observed of Peter's vision pre-
paratory to the call of Cornelius, and of its con
nexion with what was imparted in a distant place
to Cornelius himself, and with the message dis-
patched by Cornelius to Peter. The vision might
be a dream ; the message could not. Either com-
munication, taken separately, might be a delusion;
the concurrence of the two was impossible to hap-
pen without a supernatural cause.

Beside the risk of delusion which attaches upon
momentary miracles, there is also much more
room for imposture. The account cannot be
examined at the moment ; and, when that is also
a moment of hurry and confusion, it may not be
diflicult for men of influence to gain credit to any
.story which they may to have believed. This
is precisely the case of one of the best attested of
the miracles of Old Rome, the appearance of Cas-
tor and Pollux in the battle fought by Posthumius
with the Latins at the lake Regillus. There is
no doubt but that Posthumius after the battle,
spread the report of such an appearance. No
person could deny it whilst it was said to last. No
person, perhaps, had any inclination to dispute it
afterward; or, if they had, could say with ]!Osi-
tiveness, what was or what was not seen, by some
or other of the army, in the dismay and amidst
the tumult of a battle.

In assigning false perceptions as the origin to
which some miraculous accounts may be referred,
I have not mentioned claims to inspiration, illu-:
minations, secret notices or directions, internal
sensations, or consciousnesses of being acted upon
by spiritual influences, good or bad ; because
these, appealing to no external proof however
convincing they may be to the persons themselves,
form no part of what can be accounted miraculous
evidence. Their own credibility stands upon
their alliance with other miracles. The discus-
sion, therefore, of all such pretensions may be

II. It is not necessary to bring into the compa-
rison what may be called tentative miracles ; that
is, where, out of a great number of trials, some
succeeded ; and in the accounts of which, although
the narrative of the successful cases be alone pre-
served, and that of the unsuccessful cases sunk,
yet enough is staled to show that the cases pro-
duced are only a few out of man}' in which the
.same means have been employed. This observa-
tion bears, with considerable force, upon the
ancient oracles and auguries, in which a single
coincidence of the event with the prediction is
talked of and magnified, whilst failures are for-
gotten, or suppressed, or accounted for. It is also
applicable to the cures wrought by relics, and at
the tombs of saints. The boasted efficacy of the
king's touch, upon which Mr. Hume lays some
stress, falls under the same description. Nothing
is alleged concerning it, which is not alleged of
various nostrums, namely, out of many thousands
who have used them, certified proofs of a few who
have recovered after them. No solution of this
sort is a[)plicable to the miracles of the Go.spel.
There is nothing in the narrative, which can
induce, or even allow us to believe, that Christ
attempted cures in many instances, and succeeded



in a fe\« ; or that he ever made the attempt in vain.
He did not profess to heal every where all that
were sick; on the contrary, he told the Jews,
evidently meaning to represent his own case, that,
" although many widows were in Israel in the
days ot'Elias, when the heaven was shut up three
years and six months, when great famine was
throughout all the land, yet unto none of them
was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon,

Online LibraryWilliam PaleyThe works of William Paley ... : containing his life, moral and political philosophy, evidences of christianity, natural theology, tracts, Horae Paulinae, clergyman's companion, and sermons, printed verbatim from the original editions, complete in one volume → online text (page 84 of 161)