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I conclude therefore, that though these things are in themselves most true, yea, as true as the most evident proposition in the mathematics; yet because they are not at all evident, they are utterly unable to give evidence to the truth of that doctrine which does assert them.
2dly, The second argument of the truth of Christ's doctrine, and consequently of his divinity, is from the fulfilling of prophecies in his person. An argument no question very solid, and really conclusive; but perhaps not so clear and demonstrative as to silence very great exceptions.
For the ways of interpreting prophecies are so various, as to be here attended with such allowances, and there again bound up with such limitations, such distinctions between the literal and mystical intention of them, and such great difficulty to prove when one is to be pitched upon, and when the other, that he who shall look into this matter will find, that this argument is not so absolutely full, nor so totally commands down the difficulty, as to render all additional arguments superfluous.
The modern Jews are so expert and versed in this particular, that there is not a text or prophecy throughout all the Old Testament, but they will readily give you such an interpretation of it as shall not at all relate to Jesus Christ. Nay, and there have not been wanting some such amongst the Christians; one I am sure there has been, who has endeavoured to shew, that all or most of those places in the Old Testament, which the Christian church generally applies to Christ, have had an actual and literal completion in some other before him, and so belong to him only by accommodation; which
to a Jew (should you dispute with him, would upon another beg the question) would signify as much as nothing
Though when such persons have shewn all the tricks they can upon the scripture, for I must needs call it shewing tricks upon it rather than expounding it; I say, still there remain some portions of it which point to Christ with such a pregnant and invincible clearness, such as the twenty-second Psalm and the fifty-third of Isaiah, that they cannot, without an apparent force, and a visible wresting them from their genuine sense, be applied to any else. And what good design to Christian religion any one could have in giving them such an interpretation, as makes them, in the first and literal purport of them, not at all to relate to Christ, surpasses my understanding to give any tolerable account of.
3dly, The third argument is taken from the wonderful works that Christ did during his lifetime; all which were undoubtedly high proofs of the truth of the doctrine which they were brought to prove, and consequently of the divinity of Christ's person and of his mission. They were the syllogisms of heaven, and the argumentations of omnipotence.
Yet over these also Christ's resurrection had a vast preeminence, and that I prove upon the strength of these two considerations.
1st, That all the miracles Christ did, supposing that his resurrection had not followed, would not have had sufficient efficacy to have proved him to be the Messias. But his resurrection alone, taking it single and by itself, and without any relation to his precedent miracles, had been a full and undeniable proof of the truth of his doctrine and the di
vinity of his person. The former part of the assertion is clear from that of St. Paul, 1 Cor. xv. 14, If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain ; and in the 17th verse, Ye are yet in your sins. Now before Christ's death all his miracles were actually done, and yet, notwithstanding all these, the apostle lays this supposition, that in case then he had not rose from the dead, the whole proof of the gospel had fallen to the ground, and been buried with him in the same grave.
And for the other part of the assertion, that Christ's resurrection alone, without respect to his miracles, had been a sufficient demonstration of the truth of his doctrine, that appears upon these two accounts.
1st, That the thing considered absolutely in itself, according to the greatness and wonder of it, did transcend and outweigh all the rest of his works put together.
2dly, That it had a more intimate and near connection with his doctrine than any of the rest; and that not only by way of inference, as a sign proving it, but by way of real effect, as it enabled him to give being and subsistence to the things which he had said and promised. He had promised to send the gifts of the Holy Ghost upon his disciples, to fit them to promulge the gospel; he had promised also to raise up those that believed in him to life eternal at the last day: which are two of the principal parts and pillars of the doctrine delivered by him. But for him to have done this, not rising from the dead, but continuing under a state of death, had been utterly impossible.
2dly, The second consideration upon which I
ground the preeminence of Christ's resurrection above all the rest of his miracles, is the general opinion and judgment that the world had of both. For besides, that upon Christ's doing the most strange and signal of his miracles, you will find that they did not convince men so potently, but that while some believed, as many or more went away with the same unbelief of him that they brought ; so we shall find moreover, that they were still resolving them into some other cause, short of a divine power; as, that he cast out devils by the prince of the devils, Matt. xii. 24. And they generally looked upon him as a conjurer, and as one who had commerce with a more potent spirit or demon, by whose assistance he was too hard for the rest. But now observe, when they came to that great and difficult problem of his resurrection, they never attempted to assign any causes of that besides the power of God, so as by that means to depress the miraculousness of it; but they absolutely deny the matter of fact, and set themselves to prove that there was no such thing.
And to this day the modern Jews, who hold Christ to have been an impostor, do yet for all that grant the history of his miracles; that he did most of those strange, stupendous works reported of him ; but still they persist in a denial of his resurrection.
All which shews, that they tacitly confess, that should they grant this one thing, that Christ was risen from the dead, they could have no reason to except against his person or doctrine ; but must needs acknowledge, that being owned in such an immediate, undeniable way by the power of God himself, and that in the grand and crowning passage
of his doctrine, all that he said was true, and consequently that he himself was the Messias, and Son of God.
But they thought his other miracles carried no such cogent evidence in them, but that they had so much to except against their being convinced by them, as to warrant their unbelief.
Which exceptions, I conceive, may be reduced to these two heads.
1st, The great difficulty of discerning when an action is really a miracle; which difficulty lies in this : that since a miracle is properly such an action as exceeds the force and power of natural or second causes ; to the discerning of it so to be, it is required, that a man knows the utmost extent and just measure of the power of those causes, how far it extends, and where it ends, before he can certainly pronounce that such an action or effect does exceed it; and consequently that it is a miracle. But now, I defy the greatest and the most indefatigable searchers of nature to give me in such an account of the activity and force of all natural causes, as to state the just boundaries and portions of their power. I cannot easily believe that any one would be so impudent, as to pretend to such an achievement.
But admit that some men, by the singular dexterity of their wit, and their profound experience, were able to do this; yet how will vulgar minds, which have neither ability nor opportunity to make these inquiries, be able to assure themselves, that such an action is above the force of nature, and therefore to be ascribed to a supernatural power ?
These men, not being able to look beyond the outward bulk and first appearance of an action, deter