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Mr.W. begins his fifth Discourse, p. 1, 2, with saying, that he is now to take into examination • the three miracles of Jesus's raising the dead, viz. of Jairus's daughter, Matt. ix. Mark v. • Luke viii. of the widow of Nain's son, Luke vii. and of Lazarus, John xi.; the literal stories • of which, he says, he shall shew to consist of absurdities, improbabilities, and incredibilities, in • order to the mystical interpretation of them.'
I have read over his examination of these miracles, and am still of opinion, that the histories of them are credible.
1. I will therefore first consider all his objections against these literal stories. II. I will consider the Jewish Rabbi's letter inserted in this discourse.
III. I will shew, that the histories of these three miracles are well circumstanced, and have in them the marks and tokens of credibility.
ANSWER TO MR. WOOLSTON'S FIRST OBJECTION.
Mr. W. says in his preamble, before he comes to propose his objections in form : that these • three miracles are not equally great, but differ in degree, is visible enough to every one that • but cursorily reads, and compares their stories one with another ;—the greatest of the three, * and indeed the greatest miracle, that Jesus is supposed to have wrought, is that of Lazarus's resurrection; which, in truth, was a most prodigious miracle, if his corpse was putrefied and stank; and if there were no just exceptions to be made to the credibility of the story. Next • to that, in magnitude, is Jesus's raising of the widow's son, as they were carrying him to his • burial.--The least of the three is that of his raising Jairus's daughter, p. 4, 5.'
For my own part, I will not pretend to affirm, that these three miracles are equally great, though the difference is small: but I should think it highly probable, that the being which can give life to a person really dead, though but for a quarter of an hour, or even a minute, is able also to raise to life another that has been dead many days. The length of time in which a person has lain dead from the time he expired does indeed somewhat increase the certainty of his death. But the difficulty of the work of a resurrection from real death is so very great, that length of time from the decease can add but little to it. This alone (if it be true) ruins Mr. W's first observation, however plausible it may have appeared to some.
And he himself says, p. 3. • He believes, it will be granted on all hands, that the restoring a person, indisputably dead, to • life again, is a stupendous miracle.'
If then it shall be made appear, that the three persons here mentioned were indisputably dead, and raised to life again ; or that there are no just exceptions against the credibility of these stories; we have in the gospels three stupendous miracles, which were wrought by Jesus Christ; and we have no occasion to have recourse to any mystical interpretations.
1. • Observe,' says he, p. 6, that the unnatural and preposterous order of time, in which ' these miracles are related, justly brings them under suspicion of fable and forgery. The greatest of the three is indisputably that of Lazarus’s resurrection; but since this is only mentioned by
• St. John, who wrote his gospel after the other evangelists; here is too much room for cavil • and question, whether this story be not entirely his invention : again, if Matthew, the first
writer, had recorded only the story of Lazarus, whose resurrection was the greatest miracle, • and if Luke had added that of the widow of Nain's son; and John, lastly, had remembered us
of Jairus's daughter—then all had been well; and no objection had hence lain against the • credit of any of these miracles, or against the authority of the evangelists : but this unnatural • and preposterous order of time, in which these miracles are recorded (the greatest being post
poned to the last) administers just occasion of suspicion of the truth and credibility of all their • stories,' p. 9. 16.
On the contrary I maintain, that St. John the last evangelist's recording a miracle omitted by the former, even supposing it to be greater than any related by them, does not administer any just occasion of suspicion of the truth and credibility of all their three stories, or of any one of them.
If there be any force in this argument of Mr. W. it must lie in some one or more of these following suppositions :
1. That some of the three former evangelists have expressly declared, they have related all the miracles, or all the greatest miracles, which Jesus ever wrought, or which they knew of.
2. Or, if they have not expressly declared this, that however they have in their way of writing shewn an affectation of mightily increasing the number of our Saviour's miracles, or of setting down all, and especially the greatest which they knew of.
3. Or else, that the later evangelists have betrayed a fondness in their gospels, to record more in number, or greater in degree, than those who went before them; and thereby give ground for suspicion of forgery and invention.
4. Or lastly, that the omission of a miracle recorded by the last evangelist, if it had been really done, is absolutely unaccountable.
i. • That some of the three former evangelists have expressly declared, they have related all the miracles, or all the greatest miracles that Jesus ever did, or that they knew of.' This they have none of them said. Nor is it so much as pretended, they have said so.
Indeed they have often declared the contrary.
2. Or, • If they have not expressly declared this; that the former evangelists have however by their way and manner of writing shewn an affectation of mightily increasing the number of 'our Saviour's miracles, or of setting down all, and especially the greatest which they knew of." This Mr. W. charges them with: . To aggrandize the fame of their Master, as a worker of
miracles,' he says, was the design of all the evangelists, especially of the three first,' p. 7. This does not appear from their histories, but quite the contrary. Having related two or three miracles wrought by Jesus, in any place, they content themselves therewith, though they knew of many others. St. Matthew, in his eighth chapter, having set down the miraculous cures of a leper, of the centurion's servant, and of Peter's wife's mother, relates no more miracles particularly, but only says in general: “ When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils : and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick," Matt. viii. 16. And in divers other places he affirms many to have been healed, and many other mighty works to have been done, beside those he puts down. Mark has taken the same summary method upon many occasions. “ And at even,” says he, “ when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils,” Mark i. 32, 34. St. Luke has followed the same compendious way of writing. Having related a cure, in a synagogue, of a man which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and of Simon's wife's mother, he adds: “Now when the sun was setting, all they which had any sick with divers diseases, brought them unto him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And devils also came out of many, crying out and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God,” Luke iv. 40, 41.
As they do not multiply their particular relations of miracles, but omit great numbers which they knew of, so neither do they affect always to take the greatest in degree, or those that seem
I do not pretend to understand all the various degrees of miracles. But it appears to me a more showy and affecting work to cure a demoniac, than to heal a person with a fever. But yet Matthew, in the chapter just quoted, at the same time that he relates the cure of Simon's
St. Matthew says,
wife's mother, omits all particular accounts of those which were that same day delivered from evil spirits, though there were many such instances. There is in all the gospels but one particular account of any person cured by only touching the hem of Christ's garment, namely, the woman with the bloody issue. And yet there were many other such cases. that in the land of Genneserat, they “ besought him, that they might only touch the hem of his garment, and as many as touched were made perfectly whole,” Matt. xiv. 35, 36. St. Mark assures us of the same thing. “ For he had healed many, insomuch that they pressed upon him for to touch hiin, as many as had plagues,” Mark iii. io. And in another place he says: “Whithersoever he entered,--they laid their sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch, if it were but the BORDER of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole,' ch. vi. 56. St. Luke also confirms this account: “ And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of hiin, and healed them all,” Luke vi. 19.
Nay, there is a great deal of reason to think, that the evangelists did know of more persons raised to life by Jesus, than those they have particularly mentioned. St. Luke, having given the history of raising up the young man, says immediately: “ And the disciples of John shewed him of all these things. And John calling unto him two of his disciples, sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come, or look we for another ?—Then Jesus answering, said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard, how that the blind see, the lame walk,—the dead are raised,” Luke vii, 18, 19, 22. In St. Matthew our Lord says the same thing in his answer to John's inquiry: “ The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk-the dead are raised up,” Matt. xi. 5. He says, “ The dead are raised,” in the plural number. St. Matthew therefore must have known of more than one, though he has given the particular history of the ruler of the synagogue's daughter only.
Farther, in answer to this assertion, that the design of all the evangelists was to aggrandize the fame of their master, as a worker of miracles; I would observe, that the gospels, though but short histories, are not filled with accounts of miracles. There are whole chapters together containing nothing but an account of our Saviour's pure and heavenly doctrine.
Other chapters contain nothing but parables, which are also interspersed here and there in other parts of the narration. Other chapters are taken up with the cavils of the Pharisees and others, and our Saviour's answers to them, with discourses to the disciples, and divers other matters. So that the miracles alone, separate from the discourses and arguings which they occasioned, make but a moderate part of the gospels. Many miracles undoubtedly the evangelists have related. Nor had Jesus proved himself to be the Messiah, if many miracles had not been performed by him. Such things were expected of the Messiah, when he came, by every body. Therefore it was, that, as St. John observes, “ Many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did,” John ii. 23. And in another place, “ Many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?” ch. vii. 31. Nor is there any ostentation in the working of any of these miracles, or in the manner in which they are related: but they are done for the confirmation of that excellent doctrine which Christ taught, and that all men might know that the Father had sent him, and that the word he taught was not his own but the Father's. - If I do not the works of my Father,” says he to the Jews, “ believe me not.
“ believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works, that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him,” John X. 37, 38. And to the disciples : “ The words that I speak_unto you, I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwells in me, he doth the works. Believe me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very work's sake," ch. xiv. 10, 11.
Since then the first three evangelists appear not to have given an account of all the miracles of Jesus which they knew of, nor of all his greatest miracles, nor of all those which he had raised from the dead: since they have not filled up their gospels with accounts of miracles or other wonderful appearances, and have written all without any marks of affectation or ostentation; it can be no prejudice to the credit of another later historian of Jesus, though he relate some few particular miracles not expressly mentioned by the foregoing.
3. . Or else, that the latter evangelists have in their gospels betrayed a fondness to record • more in number, or greater in degree, than those that went before : and thereby give ground • for suspicion of forgery and invention. Here St. John, the last evangelist, in point of number, is perfectly innocent; he not having related half so many miracles, as any one of the former. The offence therefore, if there be any, must be this, that later evangelists relate greater miracles than the foregoing. And this Mr. W. would insinuate to have been the practice of all in general. For he says, p. 11. • That the first was sparing and modest in his romance; • and the second, being sensible of the insufficiency of the former's tale, devises a miracle of a
bigger size; which still not proving sufficient to the end proposed, the third writer, rather than his • Prophet's honour should sink for want of a resurrection miracle, forges a story of a monstrously • huge one.' To this I answer, that a general conclusion ought not to be drawn from a particular instance or two: supposing that the raising of the widow's son of Nain, related by Luke, be greater than that of raising Jairus's daughter, recorded by Matthew; and that the raising of Lazarus recorded by St. John be greater than either of the two former, a suspicion of forgery and invention cannot be fairly admitted, unless an affectation of enlarging miracles appear also upon other occasions. For which reason we will take a view of the conduct, first of all, of the three former evangelists, and then of St. John.
In the first place we will take a view of the conduct of the three former evangelists. Matthew relates a story of Christ's feeding a multitude in a miraculous manner. He says, there were five thousand of them fed with five loaves, and that twelve baskets of fragments were taken up, Matt. xiv. Neither St. Mark, (ch. vi.) or St. Luke (ch. ix.) have related a greater miracle of this kind; but tell the same story with the same circumstances: whereas, if they had been disposed to invent, the two later evangelists might have easily told a much greater miracle of this sort than Matthew had done. Again, St. Matthew has given an account of raising Jairus's daughter, ch. ix. 18. St. Mark wrote after him, and yet he has not told any greater resurrection story, but only the same, ch. v. 23. Nay, sometimes a later evangelist lessens a miracle that had been told by a former : so far are they from forging huge miracles, rather than their Master's honour should sink for want of them. Thus Matthew tells of two possessed with devils in the country of the Gergesenes, healed by Jesus, chap. viii. 28. But Mark, who wrotė after him, mentions but one of those men, ch. v. 1. Matthew also speaks of two blind men restored to sight near Jericho, ch. xx. 29; Mark mentions only Bartimeus, ch. X. 46, and St. Luke says: “ There was a certain blind man by the way side begging,” &c. ch. viii. 35.
There is another thing very observable. One and the same evangelist, who has given an account of a very great miracle of a certain kind, does sometimes a good while after relate another miracle of the same sort, but a great deal less than the former.
Thus Matthew first gives a history of " five thousand fed with five loaves and two fishes, and says there were “twelve baskets of fragments,” ch. xiv. But when he afterwards speaks of another miracle of this kind, he mentions but “ four thousand fcd with seven loaves and a few small fishes,” and but “ seven baskets full of fragments,” ch. xv.
These miracles are in the like order recorded in St. Mark, ch. vi. viii. Nay, if the raising of the widow of Nain's son be a greater miracle than raising Jairus's daughter, as Mr. W. supposes, then St. Luke has given an account of his resurrection stories also in this method. For the former is in the seventh, and the latter in the eighth chapter of his gospel.
It is utterly unaccountable, that a forger of miracles should fall into such a method. He who forges stories of miracles knows they are false. His reader's mind must be humoured. By a lesser he may be prepared to receive a greater, which, if told first, had perhaps induced him to throw away the whole tale. Besides a forger of miracles certainly designs to entertain his reader, whereas in this way, instead of being entertained, he must be disappointed. And there can be no reason assigned, why the evangelists should have taken this method, (as I have shewn they have done, more than one of them, in several instances,) but that they had a strict regard to truth, and that the things they relate had been indeed so done. It serves to convince us also, that they had no undue desire to aggrandize their Master; that they have not used art in their compositions, or indulged their own fancy or invention; but have followed a certain train of real, though wonderful and surprising actions.
Now we will take a view of the conduct of St. John, the last evangelist. It is St. John in particular, that Mr. W. means when he says: · The third writer, rather than his Prophet's
honour should sink for want of a resurrection miracle, forges'a story of a monstrously huge one,' p. 11. But this is somewhat strange, that Mr. W. should impute such an action to St. John; since he has himself said, p. 7, That to aggrandize their Master, as a worker of miracles, was the design especially of the three first. Moreover Mr. W. allows, p. 9, that one resurrection miracle is sufficient. Why then should it be thought, that St. John hath given an account of one raised from the dead, but that he knew it had been really done?
But not to rely on these observations of Mr. W. though so much in our favour: let us observe St. John's conduct on other occasions; one instance, as I said, not being sufficient. It is he who has informed us of the turning water into wine at Cana in Galilee, John ii. 1. I am fully persuaded this was a real miracle. But it appears to me, (and I suppose to others likewise) one of the least miracles any where ascribed to our Saviour. If St. John forged miracles, why did he put down here so inconsiderable an one? Why did he not tell an huge one ? He had full "scope here, as much as any where, the former evangelists not having begun so soon in this account of our Saviour's ministry: as is well known to those who are at all acquainted with the harmony of the gospels.
Nor may any say, that the reason of St. John's relating here so small a miracle was, that he judged it not proper to tell a great miracle at first, but to reserve such an one, and particularly the huge miracle of Lazarus’s resurrection, for the last. For soon after this he relates a sur- . prising miracle of a great cure wrought on a person at a distance, and that the son of a nobleman. “ So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee.--And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him, that he would come down and heal his son, for he was at the POINT OF DEATH,Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way, thy son liveth.” And afterwards upon inquiry “ when the fever left him, the father knew that it was at the same hour in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth. This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judea into Galilee,” John iv. 40–54.
Let us view St. John in another place. In the sixth chapter of his gospel he relates a story of Christ's feeding a multitude in a miraculous manner, which is, that he fed “ five thousand people with five barley loaves and two small fishes,” and that they took up “twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained.” This is just the same with what the three other evangelists had told before. But why did not St. John, if he indulged invention, forge here, or somewhere else, a story of a monstrously huge miracle? It had been altogether as easy for him to have told a story of about ten or twelve thousand men, or more, fed with two loaves and one small fish: and to add, that when all had eaten to satisfaction, there were twenty or thirty baskets full of fragments taken up.
There is no reason then to suspect the truth of the history of Lazarus's resurrection, purely because it is a greater miracle than those recorded by the former evangelists. If the miracle recorded by St. John be greater than those recorded by them, it is not owing (for any thing that yet appears) to St. John's invention, but to truth and real matter of fact, and his regard to it, which was equally the concern of them all.
4. The last pretended ground of suspicion of fable and forgery' to be considered is, . That • the first evangelist's omission of a miracle recorded by the last, if the miracle had been really
done, is absolutely unaccountable.' Let us hear Mr. W. who is here very copious, in his way, saying the same thing over and over in different words; · What could be the reason,' he asks, .p. 6, that Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who all wrote their gospels before John, should omit to • record this remarkable and most illustrious miracle of Lazarus ? - What then was the reason, I • ask it again, that the three first evangelists neglected to record this renowned miracle of • Lazarus ? ' p. 8.
To which I answer, that we are under no obligation to account for the omission of the former evangelists. It would be no sufficient ground to refuse our assent to St. John's history of the raising of Lazarus, though we could think of no manner of reason at all for its being omitted
the three former.
However a variety of reasons for this omission offer themselves. I have already shewn, the evangelists have not affected to increase the number of our Saviour's miracles, but passed by many, and those very great ones, which they knew very well. Mr. W. himself allows, that one miracle of a resurrection is sufficient. He says likewise, p. 3, that the restoring a person indis
putably dead, to life again, is a stupendous miracle.'(I hope to shew hereafter, that every person said to have been raised to life by our Saviour had been certainly dead, and that therefore every one of these instances are stupendous miracles.) If then the least of these is a stupendous miracle, why should we cavil with the evangelists for not putting down every one of