« السابقةمتابعة »
that the solution is incomparably harder to grapple with than the difficulty. I deny not, that there are passages in the gospels, where a disease is in one place spoken of as an infliction of an evil spirit, and in another as a mere disease. But this does not at all affect the point in dispute; because the question is not, whether the dæmoniacs spoken of in the gospels were not persons labouring under a bodily complaint besides the possession by evil spirits; but, whether the people said to be possessed, were at all possessed, or not. If a person, whose brain was distempered, was likewise possessed with an evil spirit, he might with sufficient propriety be spoke of in one place as a lunatic, and in another, as a dæmoniac. : I should humbly judge it a much more easy and natural way of getting over this difficulty, to proceed upon our Saviour's answer to bis disciples, concerning the man born blind. “Neither did this man sin,” says he, (in any extraordinary manner,) nor his parents; but that the works of God might bo máte nianifest in him." if the whole human species are offenders, and at all times deserving of punishment, where is the difficulty of conceiving, that it might be suitable to the Divine scheme of government, that at the time of our Saviour's appearance, or any other period, a greater variety of punishments might be suffered to fall upon a guilty race of beings, and afterwards, through the Divine mercy, their sufferings might be abated. Particularly, is there not even a propriety in God's giving to Satan, and his angels, the ancient and inveterate opposers of the Messiah, and his kingdom, a short triumph over mankind, in order to render the Messiah's victory over him more conspicuous, and more glorious. This, I say, on the supposition, that possession by evil spirits, was altogether peculiar to those ancient times; and that there is at · present, absolutely, no such thing in any country in the world. But, before any body can positively affirm, that there is no such thing, in our times, as possession by spirits, he must be sure of his knowing perfectly the natures, and powers of spirits, and be able to show the absolute impossibility of a spirit's having communication with embodied minds; and must be capable of showing, that all
S the symptoms and appearances in diseases, in madness, and in dreams, are utterly inconsistent with the notion of spirits having any concern with our species. Now, to establish this negative, will be so far from being easy to do, that, on the contrary, universal opinion, as well as probability, and the whole current of revelation, are on the opposite side. Who can say that it is absurd, to imagine such a state of the human frame, especially of the brain, as may give spiritual agents an opportunity of making impressions upon the mind? Who can say, that sleep may not lay the mind open to the impressions of foreign beings; and that waking again, may not, by some laws of Nature unknown to us, exclude their communications Who can say, that part (I do not say all) of the symptoms in phrenetic, epileptic, lunatic, and melancholic cases, especially in the more violent paroxysms, may not be owing to the agency of spirits ? Were this to be allowed, it would not at all vacaie the use of medicines or dieting. For if the access of spirits to our minds, depends upon the state of our bodies, which it is no way absurd to suppose,
it is evident, an alteration in the state of the body may prevent their access to our minds, and deprive them of all power over us; and in that, light medicines and regimen may be effectual, even against spirits, so far as they may be concerned, by being so against the natural disorder of the frame, occasioned merely by the disease. So that there may, for any thing we know to the contrary, be dreams, in which foreign agents may be concerned, and there may be others, occasioned by mere fumes of indigestion, as the poet speaks. There may be epileptics, and maniacs, who are so from mere obstructions and disorders in the brain and nerves; and there may, at this day, be others attacked by those maladies, whose distress may be heightened by wicked spirits. The amazing strength of even women and youths, in some of their violent fits, seems to countenance a suspicion that something acts in them, separate from their own natural force, and which is hardly to be accounted for from any extraordinary flow of animal spirits. And why in Scripture we should have so many accounts of revelations communicated in dreams; from whence, probably the heathens, ever since Homer, have had the same no
tion; seems unaccountable upon any other footing, than that of supposing some natural mechanical connexion between a particular state of the bodily frame, and communication from separate spirits. The behaviour of the prophet in the Old Testament, who calls for an instrument of music, when he waits for an inspiration, does likewise countenance the same notion; as if the natural effect of melody, was to open the way to the mind, in a mechanical manner, in order to the more full admission of the superpatural communications. To conclude what I would say on the difficulty of the dæmoniacs in the gospel-history, I do not pretend to decide which is the true solution. All I contend for is, That to explain away the reality of the presence of spirits, is, in my opinion, unwarrantable and dangerous, and removing a less difficulty to put a greater in its place.
To return to the general objection I was upon before this digression, which was, That we have no reason to believe there ever were any miracles, because we have no experience of any in our times; I have to say farther, that the objection is not founded upon truth; at least not upon an unquestionable truth. For many persons of good judgment have declared it to be their opinion, that among the innumerable fictitious accounts of supernatural appearances and prodigies, some, even in these later ages, are in such a manner authenticated, that to deny them, a man must deny every information he can receive by any means whatever, hesides his own immediate senses, which does not seem highly rational. Besides, are not the completions of a multitude of prophecies, which we have at this day,extant before our eyes, as the predicted lasting ruinous state of Babylon and Tyre, the total subjection to the latest ages, of the once illustrious kingdom of Egypt, the remaining marks of the general deluge; the unequalled and unaccountable condition of the Jews for so long a period of time; the establishment and continuance to the end of the world of the Christian religion-are not these standing miracles conspicuous in our time? But of this more elsewhere. Upon the whole, it is evident, that if the objection was founded on truth, it could not be valid, because different periods may require different measures of government; and to say that there could never have been any miracles, because there are none now, (were it true that there are no effects of miraculous interposition remaining in our times,) would be as absurd as to say, that the axis of the earth must point exactly the same way it did two thousand years ago; whereas the observations of ancient astronomers have put the doctrine of its continual change of direction, and the procession of the equinoxes, out of all possible doubt. But if the objection is not founded upon truth, it must of course fall to the ground.
Prophecy is a miraculous history, or account of events before they happen. This being unquestionably above the reach of human capacity, it is a proper and convincing evidence, that the revelation in which it is given is not a human production. To pretend to determine the foundation, or the modus of the prescience of the actions of free agents, may be wholly out of our reach in the present state. But we can form some conception of its being possible, in some such manner as the following, though it may not perhaps be safe to affirm that the following is a true account of it.
Do we not commonly see instances of very sound judgments passed by wise men on the future conduct of others? May we not suppose, that angels, or other beings of superior reach, may be capable, from their more exact knowledge of human nature, to pass a much more certain judgment of the future behaviour of our species ? And is there any thing less to be expected, than that He who made us, who perfectly knows our frame, who immediately perceives the most secret motions of our mind, and likewise foresees with the utmost exactness, and without a possibility of being deceived, the whole proceeding and concurrent circumstances in which any of bis creatures can at any future time be engaged, (as it is evident, that all things are the effect of his directing providence, except the actions of free creatures, to whom he has given liberty and power of action within a certain sphere,) is any thing less to be expected, I say, than that our infinitely wise Creator should form a judgment, suitable to his wisdom, of the future conduct of his creatures? And to imagine that this judgment should at all affect the future be
haviour of the creature, seems as groundless as to conclude that one created being's judging of the future conduct of another, should actually influence and overrule bis conduct. The judgment is, by the supposition, formed upon the character of the person judged of, not the character influenced by the judgment. There are some passages of Scripture, which seem to lead us to this manner of conception of this difficult point.
• Wben David, (1 Sam. xxii. 12.) pursued by the inveterate hatred of king Saul, consulted the oracle, whether, if he staid in the city of Keilah, the people of that city would give him up enemy;
the answer he received was, That they would. It is plain in this case, that the Divine prescience of the conduct of that people, in the event of David's trusting himself into their hands, did not arise from God's having decreed that they should give up David : for if it had been decreed, it must have come to pass. Nor was their treachery foreknown because it was future : For it was not future, having been disappointed, and never coming to be executed. Nor could it be eventually predetermined, that in case of David's staying in the city the people should give him up into the hands of his enemy. For the event shows, that it was not the Di. vine scheme that he should fall into the snare, but that he should escape it. There seems nothing therefore left to conclude, but that the Divine prescience of the conduct of the people of Keilah, was founded in a thorough and perfect insight into the treacherous character of that people, and perhaps the knowledge of actual designs form. ed by them to betray David into the hands of the king.
Again, when God foretells (Gen. xviii. 19.) that Abrabraham would “command his household after him, and they would keep the way of the Lord ;”” he plainly shows upon what that prescience was grounded, in saying, "I know him, that he will command," &c. That is, I so fully know his zeal and affection for the true God, that I foresee he will set up and support my worship in his family, and enjoin it to his posterity, in opposition to the idolatry and polytheism which prevails among the heathen around.
In the same manner, in the New Testament, though