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we have seen, to attest God's revelations to the world. But these revelations had now been made; the canon of Scripture was closed; and by the middle of the second century, it had come to be very generally settled. Nothing now remained towards its final adjustment, which could not well be accomplished by unaided human inquiry and criticism. The great end of miraculous interpositions having thus been answered, we might conclude, à priori, that miracles would cease.
Again, it is a fact that, in the age of the apostles, though others besides them frequently wrought miracles, they alone had the power of imparting the gift. This was the gift so frequently imparted, by the laying on of apostolic hands. Thus, when Paul laid his hands on certain disciples whom he found at Ephesus, “the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they spoke with tongues, and prophesied.” They were endowed, at once, with miraculous powers. This was what Simon the sorcerer wished to purchase of the apostles Peter and John for money.
" When Simon Saw that, through the laying on of the apostles' hands, the Holy Ghost was given,” i, e., in his miraculous influences, « he offered them money, saying, give me also this power, that on whosoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.” Simon thought, no doubt, that if he could obtain this apostolic power of imparting the gift of miracles, simply by the laying on of his hands, he should be able to make a great deal of money out of it, and, of course, he could afford to pay liberally for it.
There can be no doubt, I think, that among all those who wrought miracles in the first age of the church, the apostles alone had the power of imparting the gift. But if this be so, then the gift must have ceased with the immediate successors of the Apostles, who could not have lived much beyond the middle of the second century,
If now we turn from these à priori considerations to the facts themselves, as they are detailed on the page of history, we shall be led, I think, to the same conclusion. Two things are noticeable in regard to the miracles which are said to have occurred subsequently to the period I have assigned: 1. The testimony as to their occurrence is often far from being satisfactory. It is remote, roundabout, not current perhaps till after two or three centuries, when it must have passed through many hands. 2. The alleged miracles are, in most instances, of a suspicious character. They may be divided into three classes.
1. They are such events as may be easily accounted for, without the supposition of a miracle. Or,
2. They are manifest (or at least probable) impositions. Or,
3. They are mixed up with so much that is absurd and ridiculous, as to render the whole story incredible.
To the first of the classes here indicated may be referred some of the most notable of the alleged miracles of the ancient church. Such was the miracle, so called, of the thundering legion, which occurred in the latter part of the second century. The Romans were engaged in war with a tribe of Germans, when their army came very near perishing for want of water. In the army were many Christians, as well as pagans, the former of whom earnestly prayed for rain, and the latter as earnestly called upon their gods. In their extremity they were visited with a plentiful shower, which relieved and saved them. Both parties agreed to call the shower a miracle ; the Christians ascribing it to the only living and true God, and the pagans to their own divinities. But obviously it was no miracle at all. It was only a remarkable interposition of providence, by which much suffering was alleviated and many lives were saved.
To the same class may be referred the alleged miracle, at the time of Constantine's conversion. Eusebius' account of this matter is as follows: “While the Emperor was praying with earnest entreaty, a most singular Divine manifestation appeared. A little past the middle of the day, as the sun began to verge towards the west, he saw in the heavens a little over the sun, a bright appearance of the cross, with an inscription upon it, touta vizēt, By this conquer. Amazement seized him, and the whole army at the sight.” The historian goes on to say, that the same night the Emperor saw the sign again in a dream, and received a direction from Christ to frame a standard in the likeness of it, to be borne in future in the front of his armies.
In regard to this statement, the main question is, Is it strictly true? Was there really such an appearance in the heavens, in the view of the Emperor and his whole army, as Eusebius describes? If so, it must have been a matter of immediate and general notoriety, heard of and talked of throughout the empire. How strange, then, is it that it seems to have been entirely unknown for twenty-five years; and then to have leaked out, in a private conversation between the Emperor and Eusebius! Other writers of the age mention the dream of the Emperor, and the consequent change in his military standard ; but none except Eusebius have a word to say about the appearance in the heavens ; nor he, until a full quarter of a century after the alleged appearance was witnessed.
There is no need of impeaching the veracity of Eusebius, or even of the Emperor, in this matter. But the probability is, that it was all a dream, or a vision, occurring (as such things most commonly do) in a state of partial slumber, and when the subject could hardly determine whether he was asleep or awake.
To the same class I refer the miracle of the fire-balls, bursting forth from the earth, which defeated Julian in his mad attempt to rebuild Jerusalem. This event (if it occurred at all) was doubtless of an electric or volcanic character, or was in some way the result of natural causes. There is no necessity for supposing any miracle in the case.
To the same class I also refer another pretended miracle, which took place in the fifth century. I allude to those whose tongues Huneric, the Arian king of the Vandals, caused to be cut out, and who could afterwards pronounce the Nicene creed. The facts here seem to be well attested, and may be in the main true, and yet involve no miracle. The tongues of the confessors may not have been very thoroughly extracted, nor their speech, subsequently, very plain. Other instances are on record, in which persons have been able to speak, with tolerable distinctness, after having lost a considerable portion of the tongue.
Of the second class of alleged miracles, viz: those to be set down as palpable impositions, I might give instances enough to fill a folio. Not only the legends of the Romish church, but the most respectable ancient ecclesiastical histories, are full of them. When Clovis, king of the Franks, was baptized, in the fifth century, a dove is said to have come down from heaven with a phial of holy oil to anoint him. Yet no one, at this day, supposes that such a thing actually took place. It was either a trick got up for the occasion, or an unfounded story forged afterwards.
Such, also, was the alleged miracle upon St. Francis, when an angel descended from heaven, and impressed on him the five wounds of the Savior. That St. Francis received wounds, or had sores, on his hands, feet, and side, is quite probable ; but that an angel from heaven inflicted them-or if he did, that it amounted to a proper miracle-is not so clear. A large proportion of the alleged miracles in the ancient church consisted in the casting out of devils; a kind of performances in which it was very easy for the principal actor to impose, not only on others, but on himself.
But the great mass of the miracles of the early and middle ages fall under the third class to which I referred, viz: the absurd and ridiculous. If any one wishes to amuse himself with stories of this sort, let him read the lives of such men as Simeon the Stylite, or Paul the hermit, or the more respectable history of the venerable Bede. Or he may dip almost anywhere into the Acta Sanctorum of the Romish church, and be sure to find marvels in abundance.
In illustration of what is here said, I may refer to St. Corbin's miracle of the bear, who, having killed one of the Saint's packhorses, was saddled and bridled, and made to serve in its place. There is also the miracle of St. Winnock's handmill, which, when he let go of it to say his prayers, would turn itself. And when a too inquisitive monk looked through a crevice to behold the wonder, he was smitten with blindness for his presumption.
The following is one of the most romantic and marvellous of the class of miracles to which I now refer. St. Winifrid was a THIRD SERIES, VOL. III.
noble lady of Wales. Being a deyout nun, she could not yield to the suit of Caradock, a young prince of the country. Enraged at her obstinate refusal of him, the prince pursued her, and with a cruel blow, cut off her head. And now occurred, instantly, three splendid miracles. 1. The earth opened under the feet of the young villain, and swallowed him up. 2. On the very spot where the nun's head dropped, a spring of water burst forth, at which miracles have been wrought from that day to the present. 3. At that critical moment, St. Benno made his appearance, caught up the nun's head, kissed it, placed it on the bleeding stump, covered it with his mantle, prayed to the Virgin, and said mass; when, lo, St. Winifrid is instantly well! Her head is on her sboulders just as before, and the only visible evidence of the wound is a scarlet line or circle about her neck!
These instances are enough to give some idea of the kind of miracles which are said to have been continued in the church from the beginning to the present time. My readers must decide as to the measure of credit which is to be attached to them. For one, I feel quite satisfied to fall back on my former position,—that the era of miracles closed about the middle of the second century. I have adduced considerations to show that it might reasonably be expected that it would be so; and I know of no well attested historical fact which is not perfectly consistent with this supposition. I do not believe that a proper miracle has been performed on this earth, for the last sixteen hundred years; nor do I expect another, for centuries to come.' The great object of miracles has long since been answered; the canon of Scripture is closed ; God has given to the world all the revelations that are necessary, or that we are to expect, until “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of his Son;" and until that period arrives, a renewal of miracles, I think, is not to be anticipated.
Meanwhile, let us cling to, and rejoice in, that abundantly attested revelation which God, in mercy, has put into our hands. To much of the evidence in support of this revelation-many columns of evidence, as might be easily shown-I have not adverted in this discussion at all. My limits did not admit of it, nor did my object require it. I have simply gone into a consideration of the evidence from miracles. But this alone is conclusive and incontestable. It is such as can never be set aside, but by discrediting the sacred record, and calling in question the truth of the Bible history. If the Bible is true-a point which is here assumed then the miracles which it records actually took place. And if they actually took place as there described, the hand of God was in them, and the seal and sanction of the Almighty is upon the whole of that sacred volume which contains them.
1 Some good men think every instance of regeneration a miracle. But their ideas, either of regeneration, or of the nature and object of miracles, or of both, must be very different from mine.
This, then, is altogether a book by itself. It is the book of books, and is well denominated in our good English tongue, The BIBLE; or (which is the same) The Book. It becomes us all to cherish such a regard for it, that we can never so much as open it without feelings of reverence. We should read and ponder it under the impression that it is in very deed, what it professes to be, God's Book ; that its instructions, its counsels, its predictions, its warnings, its promises, its threatenings, all are from God. And we should “give diligent heed to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in our hearts.”
The knowledge that avails us in the hour of Bible reading, is to be counted with our incorruptible treasures. Next to a heart open to the spirit of God's Word, ranks a mind open to its beauties. The Hebrew scholar is often rewarded for days of toil by the primitive meaning of a single word; for Hebrew words are pictures, and that primitive meaning may reveal to him an image of beauty that shall always delight his imagination, and live freshly in his heart. While, for example, the reader of the English only receives from the line, “the rain is over and gone," the plain thought that the rain has ceased; the reader of the original sees that “the rain has walked away with itself;" and that nature is all alive in Hebrew. For such an one, the Lyrical Poetry of the Bible, quivering with life in its every word, possesses an interest unrivalled by the poetic literature of the world : and although investigation may establish but a few principles concerning it, yet the knowledge of these becomes unspeakably precious to him; such meaning and spirit do they impart to the Sacred Record.
But the Hebrew scholar is not alone in his enjoyment of this subject. All who read with a clear mind our noble Saxon translation of the Bible, can be made to apprehend the peculiar beauty of its Lyrics, when these are drawn out before them in their original forms.
It is much to be regretted that, to the mass of readers, the Bible