Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

“ down to the time of the Reformation; which

same succession is still further deduced by persons of the most eminent character for their

probity, learning, and dignity in the romish “church to this very day. So that the only doubt 5 which can remain with us is, whether the church “ historians are to be trusted or not; for if any “ credit be due to them in the present case, it “ must reach either to all, or to none; because the “ reason for believing them, in any one age, will “ be found to be of equal force in all, as far as it

depends on the characters of the persons attesting, “ or the nature of the things attested.”

Pursuing his argument, doctor Middleton confined the power of working miracles, to the apostolic age. According to his system, it was bestowed on the apostles, and during the lives of the apostles on others; but it ceased entirely on the decease of all the apostles, and never more appeared in the christian world. After generally noticing the miracles of the six first ages, “ I see nothing,” says this learned and acute writer*,

" which can stop “the progress from the sixth age down to the

present, from pope Gregory the Great to popė “ Clement the Twelfth; for each succeeding age “ will furnish miracles, and witnesses too of as “ good credit as those of the sixth. Grant the “ romanist but a single age of miracles after the "times of the apostles, we shall be entangled in a “ series of difficulties, whence we can never fairly

Inti. 1. XXXII. XCVI.

extricate ourselves, unless we allow the same powers also to the present age. ”

Such was doctor Middleton's system, respecting the miracles wrought in the christian church. He supported it in the work, which we have mentioned, with great ability. It gave considerable alarm : an host of divines rose in arms against him; and a controversial war ensued. The assailants displayed learning and talent; but, when doctor Middleton asked the overwhelming question,– What greater right to credit does the testimony admitted by you possess, than the testimony which you reject ? --it must be admitted that he received no satisfactory answer.

On the other hand, when the adversaries of doctor Middleton turned upon him, and asked, Why greater credit should be given to the writers of the apostolic age, than to the writers of the succeeding ages? this question was found to be equally overwhelming; and the doctor could never be brought to give it a direct answer. If he answered it, in consistency with the opinions which he himself avowed, and attempted to enforce against his adversaries, he must have said, that the apostolic and the succeeding writers were entitled to the same degree of credit. From this it would have followed, that, as he thought the succeeding writers entitled to no credit, neither did he think the apostolic writers entitled to any. This, it was evident, would sap the very foundations of christianity. Aware of this, doctor Middleton always evaded the question. This did not escape the observation,

either of his adversaries, or of the general observers of the controversy; and it thus became almost an universal opinion, that his “ Free Enquiry” was virtually, and perhaps intentionally, an attack upon all miracles, and through them, on christianity itself.

“ Doctor Middleton's undertaking,” says Mr. Chalmers in his Biographical Dictionary, “ justly “ alarmed the clergy, and all friends to religion ; “since it was impossible to succeed, without taint

ing, in some degree, the scripture miracles. They

thought, too, that even the canon of scripture “ must not be a little affected, if the fathers, on “ whose credit the authenticity of its books in some measure depended, were so utterly despised."

It is true that doctor Middleton might have answered, that the difference between the apostolic writers, so far at least as the case rested between the writers of the New Testament, and the writers in after-times, was, that the former were inspired; and that all they related was, therefore, necessarily true. But this answer would only have removed the difficulty by a single step. In reply to it, the doctor's adversaries would have asked,-On what he considered the evidence of the inspiration of the New Testament, or even the evidence of the authenticity of a single copy of it to rest?

- To this question, doctor Middleton must have answered, -on human testimony. The overwhelming question would then have immediately followed,—What right to credit does the testimony for it possess, upon your principles, that is not pos

sessed, in an equal degree, by the testimony in favour of the miracles of every age ?-in favour even of some which you so superciliously reject? To this question doctor Middleton could have made no reply.

Such was the result of this celebrated controversy. It produced a great sensation, and made impressions which have not been obliterated.

In general, roman-catholics kept aloof from it. They perceived how greatly it served their cause. They thought it clear, that --when doctor Middleton proved, against his antagonists, that the evidence brought by them in support of the miracles, which they allowed was not greater than the evidence produced for the miracles which they rejected, -he completely established the roman-catholic doctrine of the uninterrupted succession of miracles in their church: and that, on the other hand, when the adversaries of doctor Middleton proved against him, that the inspiration of the New Testament, and even the authenticity of its text, could only be proved by testimony,--they completely established the roman-catholic doctrine of tradition.

It does not appear from the “ Book of the Church,” whether, in respect to the point under consideration, we should class you with doctor Middleton, or with doctor Middleton's antagonists. If with the former, we wish you to explain, in some future edition of your work, in what manner, without resorting to tradition, it can be proved that the sacred writings are inspired; and, therefore, entitled to the superior credit which doctor Middleton

claimed for them :-If with the latter, we wish to see your reasons for preferring the miracles, whieh preceded the period assigned by the antagonists of the doctor for the cessation of miracles, to those which followed that period.

But, -while the roman catholics assert, that it has pleased Almighty God to work in every age, from the first preaching of the gospel to the present time, many and incontestible miracles in favour of his church and her doctrines, they admit, without qualification, that no miracles, except those which are related in the Old or the New Testament, are articles of faith; that a person may disbelieve every other miracle, and may even disbelieve the existence of the persons, through whose intercession they are related to have been wrought, without ceasing to be a roman-catholic. This is equally agreeable to religion and common sense ; for all miracles, which are not recorded in holy writ, depend on human reasoning: now, human reasoning being always fallible, all miracles depending on it rest on fallible proof; and, consequently, may be untrue. Hence the divines of the roman-catholic church never impose the belief of particular miracles, either upon the body of the faithful or upon individuals; they only recommend the belief of them; nor do they recommend the belief of any, the credibility of which does not appear to them to be supported by evidence of the very highest nature; and, while they contend that the evidence is of this description, and cannot, therefore, be rationally disbelieved, they admit that it is still no more than

« VorigeDoorgaan »