William Stevenson.

A conference upon the miracles of our Blessed Savior : wherein all the objections against them proposed in Mr. Woolston's six Discourses, and several other greater difficulties, are fully stated and considered ... online

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to ; and be forced to continue where he was.
: 4.) If he had any diftant Home to go to (which



A Conference upon

SECT III: does not fecm probable,) he might have no
pofiible way of being convey* d thither. And
feeing he cou'd have no hopes of being cured
any other way than by bathing in the Pool,
we cannot wonder that he lay patiently at a
place he cou'd not remove from.

y. If he had no Friend to help him, or
Home to go to ; one wou'd wonder how he
fubfifted at the Pool.

N. The five Porches at Betbefda were proba-
bly a kind of Hofpital, where the Neceffities
of infirm and helplefs poor People were reliev'd.
Or he might have lived upon the Charity and
Alms of his difeafed Neighbours who lay at
the Pool. We cannot fuppofe that triey were
all poor and deftitute , or that they wou'd be
fo inhuman as to let the poor Man perifh.
3. P ; M. St. John's Account of the Pool of Be-
tbefda, and the wonderful Cures wrought by
bathing in it, has no good Foundation in Hi-
ftory, and merits no Man's Credit. Jofephus
fays nothing of it ; tho' he profefledly wrote
the Hiftory of the Jewijh Nation ; and feems
to omit nothing that makes for the Honour
of his Country. And can you think St. John's
fingle Authority fufficient to convey this Story
down to us ?

^ N. Why not ? You know " there are fe-

" veral Prodigys as well as political Events
" of antient Times, that, tho' they are report-
" ed but by one Hiftorian, meet with Credit."
And I hope that St. John's Teftimony will be
allow'd to be equal to another Writer's.
All that can be inferred from the Silence of
JofepbuS) is either that he had not heard of the
Cures at Betbefda ; or forgot to mention them :
or that he did not think they were miraculous :


Our S A v I o uVf Miracles] \ \ 3

and if they were wrought by natural Caufes SECT.
(as feems probable) we cannot wonder at his s ^v
taking no Notice of them. He has omitted
feveral Things of far greater Moment.

M. Tho' it is hardly probable but that this D irc. 3 ,
Story if true muft have had the fortune to be * 9 '
told by others ; yet St. John's Teflimony mail
pafs fooner than another Man's, if the Matter
be in itfelf credible and well circumftanced.
But the Story before us is related blindly, im-
perfectly, and with Circumftances monftroufly
incredible. To convince you of this, I need
only ask what was the true Occafion of an An-
gel's Defcent into this Pool ? Was it to warn
and bathe himfelf? Whether did he defcend
with his Head or his Feet foremoil ? How
often did he vouchfafe his defcent into the

N. All your Queflions and Difficulties are
founded upon a vulgar Miftake in fuppofing
that an Angel came down to the Pool to trou*
ble the Waters. "AJ^AO? generally fignifys a
MeJJenger. But in Scripture when it denotes a
Meflenger (or heavenly Spirit) coming imme-
diately from God, it is render'd an Angel. Now
in the Paflage of St. John, this ambiguous
Term being commonly fuppofed to fignify an
Angel, (or a Meffenger fent from Heaven ;)
fome wonderful Virtue was thought to be com-
municated to the Water, upon his coming
down to trouble or move it. If inftead of, an
Angel, our Translators had render'd, SiyytKts
a MeJJenger, as they * might have done ; this


by onr Tranflators venderM Kdeffenger
ill 'VveraL places ; particularly in the following bijlufi-
cal Narr.itheS ; Lnk. vii. 24. Ch. ix. 5 4. ^ Cor. xii. 7.
I Jm.

ii4 d Conference upon

SECT. Ill- wou'd have fuggefted a more eafy and rational
^-'V-*-' way of accounting for the medicinal Virtue of
the Pool at Belbefda^ than by bringing an An-
gel on purpofe from Heaven to move the Wa-

M. What MeJJenger do you imagin St. John
meant ? Who was he ? Whence came he ? And
what was his Bufmefs ?

N. To give a fatisfactory Anfwer to your
Queftions, I rrmft, put you in mind that the
Pool here called Bethefda was not far from the
'Temple of Jerusalem ; where there muft have
been a proper Receptacle and Conveyance for
the Blood of the Sacrifices, and the Water
they were wafh't in : and that betwixt the
Temple and the Pool, there was probably a
Channel of Communication by which the bloody
Water from the Temple was convey'd into the
upper end of the Pool. And it is likely that
clofe by the Pool there was a Sluce or Flood-
gate fixt at the Mouth of the^Channel i that
when a fufficient Number of Sacrifices were
offer'd, and the Receptacle at the Temple was
full, the bloody Water might by the Channel
be let down at once into the Pool. On fuch
occafions a Meffenger^ who came down from the
Temple, probably acquainted the diieafed in
the Porches at Betbefda^ before he drew up the
Sluce, and let down the bloody Water: which,
flowing in with force, was the more effectual-
ly agitated and mixt with the Water of the
Pool j and had the greater Efficacy in curing
fome particular Diiterapers. It is uncertain


Jam. ii. 25. And I think it ought to have been ren-
der'd Monger too, and not Angul, in Acts xii. 15. Gal.
iv. 14. and i Ccr. xi. 10. compared \\ith 2 Cor. viii.
23. and i Ccr. xi. 16.

Our S A v i o u RV Miracles. 1 1 5

whether the healing Virtue of this mixt Wa- SECT.TU.
ter was owing chiefly to the Blood of the Sa-
crifices, or to fome medicinal Quality in the
Water of the Pool ; or to both when duely
agitated. But there can be no Reafon to have
recourfe to any divine or miraculous Power in
the Cafe ; and far lefs to fuppofe that an An-
gel came down from Heaven to trouble the
Water : feeing a MeJJenger fent down to the
Pool (who was probably an Under-officer of
the Temple) cou'd eafily agitate the Water,
by opening the Since, and letting down the
bloody Water from the Temple into it ; and
perhaps by going down himfelf afterwards into
the Pool, to trouble and mix the Waters more
forcibly. ,

M. Had the Angel's coming down from
Heaven to the Pool to give a healing Virtue
to the Waters, been a Cbriftian Miracle, it
wou'd have pad current. But fmce it is too

freat a favour to be allow'd to the wicked
ews > you turn the heavenly Angel into a com-
mon MeJJenger , and account for the Cures at
Bethefda in a natural way. I cannot but ob-
ferve here, that tho* you will not allow Mr.
W. and me to make one fingle Suppofition*
when we endeavour to explain fome of Jefus's
Miracles ; but infift rigidly upon Proof and
pofitive Evidence of what we fay : yet in this
Cafe, with the help of perhaps^ and probably?
you have form'd a Scheme that you cannot
pretend has any Foundation either in Scripture,
or Hiftory.

N. The chief Things in this Scheme (as you

call it) are undoubted Facls attefred by St.

John : and the other particulars are founded

upon thefe (or other well-known) Fac*ts ; and

I 2 naturally

1 1 6 A Conference upon

SECT. III. naturally arife from them. St. John tells us
v *-"V^- y that the Pool of Betbefda was at (e, in) Jeru-
falem , and therefore it cou'd not be far from
the Temple. (By * fome it was fuppos'd to be
fo near, that the Sacrifices after they were kil-
led were wafh't in the Pool ; and then deli-
ver'd to the Priefts.) He fays that the Water
of this Pool had a healing Virtue only when it
was troubled, or moved : that, in order to this,
, a Mejenger came down to move the Waters r
and then whofoever of the difeafed flept firft
into the Water, was cured of his Illnefs. So
far we have St. John's Teilimony. Now fince
there were vail Numbers of Sacrifices offer'd
in the Temple at all the great Feajls of the
Jews -, there muft have been fome large Re-
ceptacle for the Blood of thefe Sacrifices -, and
for Water enough to walh them in : and like-
wife fome Conveyance or other to carry off
this bloody Water, as often as there was oo
cafion. The chief thing that I fuppofe, and
cannot dire&ly prove, is, that there was a Chart*
. nel of Communication betwixt the 'Temple and
the Pool, by which the bloody Water was at
proper times let down from the Temple into
it , and a Sluce to flop it from flowing in con-
flan tly, in fmall Quantity s, and with little
force. And even this cannot be reckon'd a
precarious or improbable Suppofition. For,
fince the Pool was not far from the Temple,
and that there muft have been a proper Re-
ceptacle for the bloody W T ater of the Sacrifices,
and fome way of conveying it from the Tem-
ple -, we cannot think of a more likely Con-
veyance, than by fuch a Channel as I fuppofe


* See Dr. Hammond's Notes on Jol. v. 2.

Our SAVIOUR'* Miracles. 117

there was betwixt the Receptacle at the Tern-
pie, and the Pool. Now admitting this one
particular, every thing elfe will follow of
courfe. The MeJJenger who came down from
the Temple muft agitate and trouble the Wa-
ter, by drawing up the Sluce, and letting the
bloody Water flow in with force into the Pool. /
And from the Mixture of thefe Waters in the
Heat of the Day, a healing Virtue wou'd na-
turally a rife.

M. If this happen'd but once in a Year (as Difc. 3. p.
Cbry/bftom thought) it is not likely that a great **'
Number of difeafed People wou'd have wait-
ed in the Porches of the Pool : efpecially when
they were fure that one of them only cou'd be
cured at a time.

N. I'm of your mind. And therefore fmce
St. John allures us, that Numbers of the dif-
eafed ujually lay at the Pool i we muft con-
clude that Chryfoftom was much out in his Con-
jefture. It is more likely that the time of the
MeJJenger's coming down was very uncertain :
and that the bloody Water was let into the
Pool not only every Day of each great Feaft,
which included a whole Week ; but as often as
there was a Quantity of bloody Water fuffici-
en,t to give a healing Virtue to the Pool ;
which might be found out by Experience, and
repeated Trials. St. John tells us the Mef-
fenger came down, K<XT<* K*igo\ ; which may
be render'd, * from time to time , that is, as of-
ten as there was occafion. And feeing there
were dayly Sacrifices offerM in the Temple ;
we may reafonably fuppofe that the Recepta-
cle ther/e might be often emptyed : and that
I 3 there-

* Thus in 'Acts ii. 46. KMT* o\MV t is rightly
from Houfe to Houfe,

1 1 8 A Conference upon

SECT. ill. therefore many difeafed Perfons were cured at
the Pool every Year ; or at leail had an op-
portunity of finding that their Difeafes were in-

M. But why was there only one difeafed
Perfor. cured at a time ? This is a very unac-
countable Circumftance ; and enough to make
us fufpect the Truth of the whole Story.

N. The upper Part of the Pool, into which
the difeafed went down, might be fo narrow,
that it cou'd not conveniently hold more than
two or three at a time ; namely, the difeafed
Perfon, and his Afiiftant, and perhaps the Mef-
fenger from the Temple ; who after letting-
out the bloody Water into the Pool, might
farther agitate the mixt Waters, while the dif-
eafed Perfon bath'd in them.

M. It feems very improbable that any part
of a Pool mou'd be fo narrow as to hold but
two or three Perfons.

N. It might be artificially contrived fo when
the Porches over it were built, that the bloody
Water being mixt at firft with a fmall Quanti-.
ty of Water in the bathing part of the Pool,
the healing Virtue of the Water and Blood,
forcibly mixt, might be the greater ; and the
opportunities of healing the difeafed be the
more frequent. If the upper or bathing part
of the Pool adjoyning to the Channel from the
Temple had not been made narrow, the bloody
Water wou'd have been too foon diffufed over
the Pool ; and have loft its medicinal Virtue,
by being mixt with too great a quantity of o-
ther Water : but being confin'd within a pro-
per Compafs fit for bathing in, it muft flow
down the Pbol gently by fome narrow out-let ;
and no fader than it came from the Channel.


Our SAVIOUR 's Miracles. 119

This is at leafl a confident and probable Ac- SECT. Iir.
count of the Cures wrought by the Waters of
Bethefda. There is another Account of it in
Dr. Hammond's Notes on the place ; who cau-
tioufly rejects the vulgar Notion of an Angel's
coming down from Heaven to trouble the Wa-
ters : and imputes their healing Virtue chiefly
to the Sacrifices being wafh't in the Pool, af-
ter they were killed. But whether this, or the
conveying of the Blood, viz. of the Sacrifices,
as well as the Water they were wafh't in, by a
Channel from the Temple to the Pool, be
more .probable , and likelyeft to give a medi-
cinal Quality to the Pool, I leave others to
determin. Either view of the Cafe will fuffi-
ciently account for the healing Virtue of the
Waters of Bethefda in fome particular Diftem-
pers, without any Miracle. And as the Doctor
rightly obferves here, the Chriftian Religion
is no-way concerned in the Miraculoufnefs of
any Cure wrought at that Pool ; feeing this
Benefit was afforded the Jews before Cbrift's
coming ; and was continued to them at the
time of their refuting and crucifying of Je-

M. Ay, there is the Cafe. The defcent of
an Angel into the Pool being fuppofed to be
a Jewijb Miracle ; that Orthodox Divine made
no Scruple of explaining it away. But had he
taken the fame freedom with any Miracle of
Jefus, he wou'd have been fufpe6ted of Infide-
lity, and charg'd with Profanenefs. And if
you were to publifh the Account you have
now given us of the Cures wrought at Bethefda ,
you wou'd pafs among fome of your Brethren
for a very Free-Thinker.

I 4 TV. I

i2o A Conference ufon

SFCT.III. TV. I endeavour always to lay afide Preju^

* S -'V^ ' dice and Prepofleflion ; that I may think and
judge as freely, and impartially of every thing
as- 1 can. And I lay it down as a Maxim,
that thofe Facts onjy are to be reckon'd mira-
culous * which cannot be rationally and confift-
ently accounted for in a natural way. Now
fince you and I agree, that the common Cures
at the Pool of Bethefda might very well be
wrought without the help of an Angel ; I think
we may difmifs this Point, and proceed to fome

pin 23. p. M. The chief Objections are flill to come.

* 5 * For inftance j fuppofing there was no Angel

concern'd in the Cures wrought at the Pool ;
how came it tq pafs that there was not better
care taken by the Civil Magiftrates ofjerufa-
lem about the difpofal of the Favour or Privi-
lege of being cured, to this or that poor Man,
according to their NecefTitys, or Deferts, or
the time of their coming to the Pool, as Equi-
ty feem'd to require. To fuppofe they wou'd
leave fuch a Favour to the ftruggle of a Mul-
titude is abfurd and incredible.

N. If the Magiftrates appointed any Officer
to infpect this Affair, he might prefer and af-
fift thofe that cou'd befl reward him. And
for that Reafon the foor lame Man whom our
Saviour cured, wou'd Hill have been neglect-
ed. But what if they miftook or neglected
their Duty in this Cafe ; and did not take care
to preferve good Order at the Pool ? What if
they, or thofe they entruiled, were not quite fo
righteous and vigilant as they ought to have
been ? Is this a Suppofition fo abfurd and in-
credible as to invalidate St. John's Teftimo-
ny ? The Character of the Rulers and People


Our S A v I o u &s Miracles. 1 2 1

ofjerafalem drawn by a Jew, (who knew them SECT. III.
perfectly well,, and cannot be fuppofed to mif-
reprefent them,) is this. " How is the faith- ira.
ful CITY \Jernfalertf] become an Harlot I-
Thy Princes, [or, Rulers,] are Rebellious
and Companions of Thieves. Every-one
loveth Gifts ; and followeth after Rewards.
They judge not the Fatherlefs ; neither doth
" the Caule of the Widow come unto them."
Thus it was in Ifaiab's time : and we * find
they were not better in our Saviour's Days. Is
it incredible then to think that there was the
leaft Negleft, Corruption, or Mifmanagement a-
mong Jewijh Magiftrates ; or indeed among
any Rulers whatever ? I'm furpriz'd that Mr.
W. fhou'd have mentioned this among his Ob-

M. What think you thqn of the forts of im- Difc 3<
potent Folk that lay at the Pool to be cured ; tf-
the Blind, the Half, and die Withered? What
did any of tbefe there ? Cou'd any of them be
fuppos'd nimble enough of Foot to ftep down
firft into the Waters, and carry off the Prize
of Sanation, before many others of various Di-
ftempers ?

N. Experience probably had fhown that the
Waters were beneficial chiefly to fuch kind of
difeafed Perfons -, and perhaps to them only.
The Evangelift fays indeed, that wbofcever ftept
in firft after the troubling of the Water, was
made whole of whatfoever Difeafe he had. But
it feems reafonable to reftrain that general Ex-
preffion, to whichfoever of the impotent Per-
fons that were fpoken of before : fo that the
firft of them who went into the Pool was cured


* See Jof. <b Bell. Jud. /. 7- c. 8.


A Conference ufon

SECT. III. of his lilnefs ; whether he was Blind, Halt, or
^OT^ Wither* & Indeed fuch Perfons were more like-
ly than other difeafed to reap Benefit by bath-
ing in fuch bloody Water as was let down
from the Temple into the Pool, For, furpri-
zing Cures of this kind have been wrought by
putting a lame Arm or Leg into the , Belly of
a Beaft as foon as it is open*d ; or by apply-
ing the warm Intrails, or the Skin of a Sheep
newly flea'd, to the Limb affetfted. And fee-
ing the Blood of the Sacrifices and the Water
their Intrails were wafh't in, might be quick-
ly convey'd almoft warm (fomfetimes) into the
Pool, in the Heat of the Day -, the mixt Wa-
ters of it might in a great Degree have the
like healing Quality ; and be particularly fit
for curing any fort of Lamenefs, or diibrders
of the Mufcles or Nerves, rather than other

Difc. 3. p. M. Whatever the Virtue of the Waters
might be none of the Perfons St. John mentions
cou'd expect the Benefit of them, for want of
good Feet and Eyes : and therefore they might
as well have flayed at home, as have reforted
to Bethefda for a Cure. He muft therefore
have forgot himfelf; or blunder'd egregioufly.
There might be many of other Diftempers ; 'but
there cou'd be neither blind, halt, nor wither* d,
- without fuch an Abfurdity as abfolutely dif-
parages the Story , and blafts the Credit of
the' Relator. I know not what Fools the dif-
eafed ofjerufalem might be of old , but if there
was fuch a. -Prize of Health to be ftrove for
by the diftemper'd of London, I appeal to all
Men of common-fenfe, whether the blind, the
lame, and the withered wou'd offer to put in
for it.

N. They

Our SAVIOUR'^ Miracles. 1 2 3

N. They did not come to the Pool toftrive SECT. III.
who fhou'd be firft healed ; but to be cured ^-^V*-'
as foon as they conveniently cou'd. Tho' one
only cou'd go into the Pool at a time -, yet
each might have his Turn : and all of them
hope to be cured at laft. Even the want of good
Eyes and Feet cou'd not be fuch a hinderance
as you feem to imagin. For, the fame Eyes
and Feet that brought them to the Pool, might
ferve to help them into it. No doubt they
had the Afliftance of their Friends when oc-
cafion required it. And it was for want of
this only, that the poor lame Man was fo long
neglected. If the Blind and Lame had had
good Feet and Eyes 9 they cou'd not have come to
Bethcfda for a Cure. It is ftrange that the very
want o/what they came for to the Pool, fhou'd
be thought a Reafon why they ought to have
fayed at fame! And it is hard that while Mr.
W. falls into the groflfeft Abfurditys ; he fhou'd
charge his own fenfelt-fs Blunders upon the

M. I have ftill one Objection more againft oifc. 3. p.
this Story, and it is fo very ftrong, that it 49 '
abfolutely deftroys the fame of Jejits for a
worker of Miracles. In the five Porches by
the Pool of Bethefda, there lay a great Mul-
titude of impotent Folk, blind, halt, and wi-
thered: why then did not Jefus heal them?
Here was a rare opportunity for difplaying
his healing and Almighty Power: and why
did he not exercife it to the relief of that Mul-
titude of impotent Folk ? If he cou'd not cure
them ; there is an end of his Power of Miracles.
And if he wou'd not ; it was want of Mercy
and Compafiion in him. Which way fo-
ever we take this Cafe, it turns to the dif-
honour of the Holy Jefus.

N. This

24 ^ Conference upon

.IIIj N. This Objection admits of feveral An-
fwers : and each of them I think is fatisfaftory.
And (i.) Tho* Jefus did not cure the other
difeafed Perfons that -lay in the Porches of
Betbefda, when he heal'd the lame Man ; per-
haps he did it afterwards , on a more proper
occafion ; when there might be more Witnefles
prefent , and particularly fome of the Scribes
and PharifeeS) or Rulers of Synagogues ;
before fome of whom he often chofe to per-
form his miraculous Cures. The filence of the
Evangelifts is no Argument againft this Sup-
pofition : fmce Chnft certainly did * many
Miracles, which none of them do particularly
mention. (2.) In Cafe Jefus healed but one
of many that perhaps lay then at the Pool,
there might be fufficient Reafons for his fing-
ling out him, and not curing the reft. He
had probably lain longer there than any of
the others. He was helplefs and deftitute.
And his Illnefs fecms to have been incurable.
While the reft having Friends to afiift them,
and Difeafes lefs inveterate, might be cured
in a natural way by bathing in the Pool : fo
that to beftow a miraculous Cure upon them
might be unneceiTary. (3.) It is likely that
the difeafed at Bethefda did not .defire any
Relief from Jefus. For, it does not appear either
from this Pafiage of St. John, or any Part of
the Gofpels, that he ever rejected any that
came to him for Relief. But if he over-look't
thofe who did not apply themfelves to him-,
that can be no Argument either againft his
Mercy, or his miraculous Power. Of both he
gave fufficient Proofs in the numerous Won-

* See Man. iv. ^3, 14. Ch. ix. 35. M-fr. i. 34.
Luk, iv. 40. Job. vi. :,

Our S A v i o u R'J Miracles. T 2 5

tiers he wrought. And if he ever neglected SECT. Ill
any diltrefs't Perfons, we muft conclude that
he had wife Reafons for it. He might know
that the Ends of Providence in afflicting them,
were not as yet obtain'd : that their Cure
wou'd have prevented their Repentance; and
have confirm'd them in their Wickednefs :
or that their Afflictions tended more to their
Improvement in all Virtue and Goodnefs,
than Eafe, Health, and Profperity cou'd do.
Either of thefe, (or perhaps other unknown)
Reafons mfght be fufficient tojuftify our Sa-
viour's curing one Perfon only at Bethefda^
and over-looking the reft. (4.) The chief De-
fign of his Miracles was not to relieve Peo-
ple's prefent Wants, Pains, and Troubles.
This was but a fecondary View, and a fubordi-
nate End, in the many wonderful Cures, and
other Miracles he wrought. The main defign
of them was to prove his divine Mifiiom, and
to attelt the Truth of his Doctrine: not fo
much to relieve People's bodily Difeafes, as
the Diforders of their Soul : to awaken, in-
ftruct, improve, and change their Minds ;
and to make them not only found and well ;
but wife, and good. When thefe higher
Aims cou*d not be attained in fome degree,
Miracles were improper. Therefore Jefus
wrought his, only upon important Occafions ;
as Wifdom directed him : upon fuch Perfons
generally, as by the Afflictions they labour'd
under, had attain'd to that patient, humble,
and fubmifllve Temper, that truft in God,
and due regard to Truth, which is meant by
the Faith that Jefus ufually required in thofe
whom he miraculoufly healed, or at leaft in
fuch as brought them to him. Where this


126 A Conference .upon

SECT. III. Faith or upright Difpofitioii of Mind was
1 not found ; neither in the difeafed Perfons
themfelves, nor in the People among whom
they lived ; he cou'd not do many wonderful
Works : that is, it wou'd have been in vain, and
imprudent for him to have wrought many
Miracles among them. His divine Power
was always the fame : and he was always equally
kind and beneficent to Mankind ; and com-
paflionate towards the miferable. But both
his Power and his Goodnefs were necefTarily
directed by Wifdom -, which always reftrain'd
him from every imprudent Aft ; and from
. working any Miracle that wou'd have
been either ufelefs, improper ', or unfeafon-
able. And fuch perhaps the miraculous Cures
wou'd have been, that he might have wrought
on the difeafed at Bethefda. But, (5.) CbrifP*
not curing every infirm Perfon he might fee
there, is juft fuch a Proof of his wanting ei-
ther fufficient Goodnefs, or a miraculous Power ;
as the Almighty's not preventing, or not
miraculoufly removing, all kind of Difeafes

Online LibraryWilliam StevensonA conference upon the miracles of our Blessed Savior : wherein all the objections against them proposed in Mr. Woolston's six Discourses, and several other greater difficulties, are fully stated and considered ... → online text (page 10 of 31)