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righteousness; to establish, not a temporal covenant SERM.
XX. for a little spot of earth, but an everlasting testament for all the world, importing endless beatitude in heaven. God therefore surely would not balk his road upon such an occasion, nor refuse his especial testimonials to so great a personage, and to so good a design.
5. If we consider the general reasons assignable, why God hath been wont to proceed in this manner, or why he should use it upon any occasion, they are with strongest force applicable to this case. The most general reasons why God doth ever interpose extraordinarily, or produce works supernatural, are, to assert palpably his own divinity and providence; strongly to encourage devotion and piety in men: for he by suspending or thwarting the course of nature plainly declareth himself the maker and master thereof; that he freely made the world, and freely doth uphold it; that he hath not tied his own hands, nor confined his power within limits; but is superior to and free from all laws, excepting those of indefectible holiness and goodness; and consequently that all things do not proceed in a track of dead fatality. He thereby also assureth us, that he hath an especial regard unto and a care over men, and wisely ordereth human affairs by his providence, frequently (as wisdom directeth and occasion requireth) interposing his hand for the succour, encouragement, and reward of good men; that therefore it is not vain to hope and trust in him; that prayers and devotions are available to procure good from him; that repentance and obedience are no less profitable for us, than acceptable to him; that also he freely and justly dispenseth recompenses suitable to men's actions volun
SERM. tarily performed; that in fine there is a foundation XX.
of religion, and a ground of justice between God and man: these things are most evidently and effectually demonstrated by extraordinary attestations; and when therefore could they more seasonably be used, than when God by the Messias intended to call all the world to the acknowledgment and obedience of himself, to the practice of all piety and goodness, with assurances of fit reward, in regard to such practice? If further to excite men's attention and regard, to breed awe and reverence in men's minds, to confound the impudence, and to bend or break the obstinacy of men, are main ends and proper effects of such testimonies; whether we consider the Messias's person, the nature of his undertaking, or the persons with whom he was to deal, it is plain (as we have shewed) that his business would best deserve and most need them : no dispensation could better deserve them for worth and consequence; none could more need them for greatness and difficulty.
Such reasons may be assigned for the necessity and usefulness of divine attestations in this case : but in opposition to these discourses, and in derogation to this way of confirming any truth or authority, it may be said, that no such testifications can well serve to such purposes; for that the like have
been and may be applied to the persuasion of error Deut. xii. and impiety by false prophets and antichrists, by Matt. xxiv. magicians and wizards; who not only have cun
ningly counterfeited, but really executed very prodigious and wondrous things, in a manner unaccountable to human philosophy. Since also there are wicked spirits, in subtilty and power far exceeding us, who are able easily to divert the natural course SERM. of things; and the limits of whose power in work. XX. ing so, it is hard for us to discern or define; a how can we be assured, that what is done in this kind doth not proceed from them, but from a virtue divine? how can it be a certain and convincing argument of truth? may we not here object that of Tertullian, saying, that our Lord pronouncing that many impostors should come, and do miracles, shewed thereby the faith grounded on miracles to be temerariousb. To this suggestion we may in general return, that Aug.de
24. 2 Thess. ii. 2.
Civ. Dei, x. seeing the doing such things is the chief and most 16. effectual way whereby God, beyond the resistance of doubt or dispute, can in some cases assure us concerning his mind and will, (whereby he can bestow honour and credit to any instrument employed by him, to any revelation proceeding from him,) it cannot but (notwithstanding that cross instance) reasonably be supposed, that God however doth reserve the power thereof in some eminent and discernible manner peculiar to himself, for the promoting his own service. That also at least God being the author and establisher of nature, and the continual sustainer of it by his free providence, it is not likely that he will suffer the laws and course thereof to be much violated, except upon occasions very considerable, and for very good purposes; no inferior cause being able to determine his voluntary influence or
* Πώς oύν ου σχέτλιον από των αυτών έργων τον μεν Θεόν, τους δε γοήτας peicas; Cels. apud Orig. lib. ii. p. 89.
Siquidem edicens multos venturos, et signa facturos, temerariam plane signorum et virtutum fidem ostendit, ut apud pseudochristianos facillimarum. Tert, in Marc. ïïi. 2.
SERM. providential concourse to the accomplishment of deXX. signs contrary to his will and purpose. That also
the natural goodness and justice of God, the constant care and providence he exerciseth over this world, the particular relations he beareth toward mankind, (as the Maker and Father, the Lord and Governor thereof,) the honour and interest of truth, of religion, of virtue, (whose protector and patron he is, and declareth himself,) the necessary regard he also, in connexion with the rest, doth bear to his own honour and glory, do all conspire to persuade, that God will never endure such things to be performed in any high manner, so that good and wellmeaning people shall be very liable to be thereby extremely seduced into error; or that himself shall be intolerably mocked by the enemies of his glory and our good. This may serve to render it probable, that the objection is capable of a solution.
But to answer more distinctly and particularly; we do grant, that God sometimes for special reasons
(for wise probation of some persons and just punish-Cor. xi.19. ment of others ; for to approve some men's sincerity
and constancy, to detect other men's naughtiness and vanity) may permit such things (in some man
ner, in some degree such) to be effected by the inRev. xiii. fluence of wicked spirits, or the fraud of wicked
men; yet then it will never be very hard for moderately wise and well-disposed persons to distinguish such feats from those acts which issue from the positive and direct efficacy of God, for authorizing his messengers and confirming his truth: we may usually discern them to come from bad causes by their nature; we may certainly detect them by their design and influence.
2 Thess. ii. 9, IJ. Deut. xiii. I, &c. Matt. xxiv. 24.
There are some things so great, that it is not rea- SERM. sonable to conceive, that any such inferior power is_XX. able to do them; or, if they were able, that God should permit their power actually to be exerted, and to succeed in doing them : such is the making any general or grand alteration in the course of nature; which being God's great work and establishment, the which he doth, as the prophets speak, Jer. v. 22. govern by a standing law, and preserve according Ps. cxlviii. to a perpetual decree, which cannot pass ; yea according to a covenant, which his faithfulness is in a manner engaged to observe ; it is not probable that he will suffer any creature to disturb or disorder: this experience well confirmeth ; for had bad spirits a power of crossing nature so, such is their malice and proneness to do mischief, that the world would soon have been turned by them into confusion and ruin ; that all things therein go in so kindly and steady a course, is an argument of their small power and influence upon things ; that God holdeth the reins fast in his own hands, reserving to himself only as Lord paramount of nature a power to dispense with any of its main laws; that it is he alone, Ps. cxxxvi. who, as the Psalmist saith, doeth great wonders. Ixxxvi. 10. There are also some things, which although not of Deut.iii.24. so great and general consequence, are yet of so difficult performance, that it is improbable any creature should effect them; such was the turning of dust into lice, which the devils could not enable the Egyptian sorcerers to perform ; to prepare or dispose so much dust for the reception of souls, and to furnish so many souls for the dust, did, it seems, exceed their ability; whence they were forced to confess of that miracle done by Moses, This is the finger of God. Exod. viii.
4. lxxii. 18.