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But there is another class of considerations which now invites attention. Nothing has yet been said upon miracles wrought by Jesus before his death and resurrection. Yet, the complexity of the case involves a probability, to say the least, that such miracles must have preceded the great fact of the resurrection; and they are variously implied in the details of the apostolic ministry.
"If Jesus claimed and undertook to work miracles, and if the similar claims of his apostles were genuine, much more must this be believed concerning those of their leader. But it is desirable to shew, from the testimony or admission of enemies, that the Founder of our faith did make such claims, and was, even by themselves, believed to have in some way wrought such works.'—p. 196.
After some preliminary reasonings on the nature and relations of this branch of the inquiry, the Author resumes the labour of exploring the enemies' country and collecting their contributions. We shall give, in an abridged form, the general results.
Statements made by Jews. 1. In the Talmud, it is repeatedly declared that Jesus seduced the people by præternatural powers, secretly obtained in Egypt. 2. Jewish traditional memoirs ascribe his acquisition of these powers to an unlawful procurement of the ineffable name of God, and state his use of them in healing the disabled, cleansing the leprous, and raising the dead. 3. Some ancient books of the Jews against Christianity admit quite as fully that Jesus wrought wonders, but argue that he could not be thus possessed of the divine name, and anxiously endeavour to shew that his wonders must have been the effects of magic and enchantments: thus agreeing to admit the actual existence of the miracles, while differing about their cause. 4. These admissions of Jews are likewise mentioned in the Koran; by Justin Martyr and Tertullian, in the second century; by Chrysostom in the fourth; by Agobard and Alphonsus in the middle ages; and by Sandys, in his Travels in Palestine, two centuries ago. 5. Most of these Jewish accounts, and those of the Talmud in particular, ascribe the influence which Jesus obtained over the minds of the people, to these wondrous works; and some expressly affirm that his condemnation was on account of them.'
Heathen admissions. These stand upon a modified ground of relation. Few heathen authors, or more probably none at all, were in the least likely to have had any personal knowledge of Christ. All their knowledge of his claims, and of the ground on which he made them, was obtained by very remote means of information, often carelessly explored and greatly misunderstood. When we consider, therefore, the secondary character of their information, together with the reluctance naturally felt to introduce the topic,—we shall not expect that references to miracles as wrought by Christ, hy persons in their circumstances, who viewed the new sect with philosophic contempt, or with hatred, or with indifference, or even with a measure of good-humoured respect, would be frequent or distinct. We acquire, however, from the passages quoted and illustrated, some general view of those heathen admissions, differing in degree and spirit.
• It appears that the notions of the Greeks and Romans on this subject were, to say the least, two-fold; or that they adinit of one marked division ; namely, into those of a class who viewed our Saviour's works as Theurgic, i. e. wrought by a divine magic, or honourable commerce with the gods or good dæmons; and those of another much more zealous, who denounced them as Goetic, i. e. wrought by an unlawful commerce with evil dæmons.'
To the former class belong the Emperor Alexander Severus, --probably several other emperors, perhaps Pilate,--and Amelius, the Platonic philosopher. . But this whole class were unlikely to appear in controversy. They could not, as heathens, become public and professed apologists, even partially, of the religion or its author, without being either stigmatized as secretly receiving it, or charged with inconsistency for not doing so. In the second and opposite class are naturally found all the controversialists; men who, from the strong prejudices of heathen learning, or superstition, or vice, combined often with bitterness of temper, were disposed to blacken to the utmost the sect and its founder.
Nor was it difficult for them, by the surmises of a worldly scepticism, or the notions of a mystic and fanatic philosophy, to interpret the most wonderful works as the product of unlawful arts, human or preterhuman.'
· Celsus . . . . states the powers of Jesus to have been such, that, on account of them,-he announced himself as a god ;—which assumption of divinity is the grand object of this philosopher's assault ; who, frequently conceding that certain wonders were wrought by the founder of our faith, labours to degrade them to the level of magical feats, and thus to refute the inference, that he who performed them was Son of God.”
• Hierocles adopts the same line of argument, censuring the Christians for giving divine honours to Jesus, on account of “ certain prodigies,” the occurrence of which he does not at all deny, but which, he contends, may have been produced by the illusions of magic or sorcery.
We find Julian depreciating the miracles of Christ, as not having been magnificent and unequivocal ;--as having failed to convince his own kindred ; and as rather of a lowly, private, and simple character, than mighty and overpowering.
« This same method of desecration and depreciation generally pervades the anonymous objections of the controversial heathen, as they are recorded by Justin, Arnobius, Volusian, and others.' – pp. 217-220.
Having now completed his minute and penetrating survey of these multifarious materials, Mr. Sheppard addresses himself to the discussion of difficulties, not only those which have actually
been adduced by enemies or doubters, but such others as have occurred to his own susceptible and scrutinizing mind. In this, his peculiar talent appears to great advantage. If those pages should ever gain access to an honest sceptic, one who sincerely desires to know that which is true and good, and to detect the false and renounce it, he will feel himself in no little degree indebted for the present here made to him of so masterly and truly generous an investigation. Such a sincere and honest sceptic cannot be a scorner; he cannot but feel the subject of his doubts to be of ineffable importance. Those doubts will be serious anxieties : he will not pride himself upon them: he will not violate conscious truth, by representing them as weightier than they actually are: he will not dart them as poisoned shafts into the bosoms of the simple-hearted and unwary, reckless of the mischief which he is trying to do: he will give himself no rest till he has settled the great question, by means which become a rational and accountable being. Such an inquirer will value a friend like Mr. Sheppard, who sympathizes with his solicitudes, who hides or diminishes no objection, who throws open the door to every difficulty that wears the semblance of honesty, and dismisses it not without fair and kind treatment. We could with pleasure make long extracts from this and similar portions of the work; but our limits will not allow of more than one or two citations. To the objection, 'Why, if Chris
tianity was thus Divinely attested and supported, did not all • oppositions sink and die before it? Why was not its triumph • universal?'--the Author gives a reply of which we shall transcribe some paragraphs.
· The difficulty is raised on suppositions that are not tenable ; namely, that a miracle, when witnessed, must be an irresistible means of conversion; or rather, that there can be no divine revelation, except a miracle be wrought before every one to whom it is proposed; or else, that the outward gift of divine truth, attested by the credible record of miracles, would necessarily imply the accompanying inward gift of a genuine love to that truth'; or, at least, of a ready mind to examine it impartially, with a freedom from prejudice and passion, from levity or enmity of spirit.
• The principle of such a difficulty, though its real extent may not be perceived, appears ultimately atheistical. It would infer that, because God does not effectuate all good, therefore he communicates none; that the heavens do not declare his glory, nor the earth bear witness to his providence, nor conscience to his justice; that nature, in short, affords no divine revelations to man, because man has so often resisted them, and grown dreadfully insensible to their monitions. We have no juster cause to suspect that Christianity is not divine, because it has been often scorned and slighted, or because it has been flagrantly corrupted, than that the sun is not a gift of God, because some men shun its light, or because it does not ripen every fruit on which it VOL. II.- N.S.
shines ; or because the most nutritive grains and cooling fruits, which it does ripen, are continually distilled into liquids which, in the practical use of multitudes, become burning poisons, and sin and misery and death are thus extracted, as it were, out of its pure and vivifying beams. The real wonder is, not that such a religion, though divinely attested, was opposed and rejected by multitudes; but that it should, in its primitive purity, in deep sincerity, and at the price of suffering, have been so often received and so firmly maintained. pp. 281–283.
• It would be a strange inference that, because an instrument is not omnipotent, it is useless or unfit ; that, because a persuasive is not of itself all-sufficient, it might therefore be dispensed with ; that, because the means are not of themselves enough, we should have fewer or none; that, because a medicine had no good effect in certain desperate cases, it was therefore not the best, or should not have been prescribed. p. 157.
Alluding to one of the solemn sneers' of the unjust and insidious Gibbon, Mr. Sheppard, in a few lines, touches a spring which explodes the artful misrepresentation.
• In that too well known paragraph of “temperate irony”, where we are led to suppose that “ the sages of Greece and Rome” viewed the Christian miracles with “supine inattention", (a passage productive of more pain and misgiving to some minds than the subtler sophisms of Hume,) we are seduced into the notion, that nothing but inattention or ignorance could possibly have caused their silence; and then, that their silence, so caused, proves the non-occurrence of the events. But what, if such were not the causes ? What, if we had possessed good evidence of these strange facts, that Helvetius, Diderot, and Voltaire, each became a Christian indeed ; and yet, that neither D'Alembert, Buffon, nor Gibbon, in all their works, had dropped a hint of this? Would their silence prove their “ inattention" or ignorance concerning the facts, and so discredit the evidence? Or would it rather prove something else?' p. 292.
In our bright days and happy country, we are scarcely capable of conceiving the dreadfulness of living under perpetual persecution; and we form ideas far below the truth of the obligations under which we lie to those who 'resisted unto blood, striving against sin.' The following interesting passage will furnish many profitable topics, both to the reason and to the feelings of thinking men.
If there were persecutions, judicial or popular, under Claudius, Nero, Trajan, Adrian, Marcus Aurelius, and Septimius, and these in distant countries, Italy and Gaul, Asia Minor and Africa, (which has appeared in the foregoing pages,) then there was, in all these reigns, a widely spread secl subsisting, to persecute. There is every reason to believe, also, that they were persecuted, in some respects unintermittingly; that there never was a time, even when they might have the lightest personal or relative share of disabilities and wrongs, in which some neighbouring house or village, or city or province, did not afford them instances of heavier injuries sustained by others, which might soon be inflicted in turn upon themselves, or upon those most endeared to them. They must have lived under a constant and afflictive sense of insecurity. The government was despotic, and the change of rulers, both supreme and subordinate, was quick and sudden. If they were now under a lenient emperor, they might have a provincial governor, or local judge, whose pretended clemency was the most wearisome or excruciating kind of rigour* They were exposed to dislike and harshness from their fellow-citizens; in very many instances certainly, from near kindred and connexions also; and, even when times were at the best, the petty persecution of taunts and contumelies could not cease t.
The paths of honourable advancement, both in office and in alliance, were shut against them; and the most promising ways of emolument must have been usually closed. Nor is it, I think, in general enough considered, how much the adherent of a persecuted faith may have his most purely affectionate feelings tried and agitated, in the thought of those sure disadvantages and probable sufferings in which the education which his opinions dictate will involve his family. Think of tender Christian parents, at Lyons, or Vienne, or Smyrna, looking on their unconscious children, in what has been called the
preeminently happy age of the Antonines, when the deaths of Attalus, and Blandina, and Polycarp, and many more martyrs, were fresh in every mind; and when the sufferings of confessors, or the marks of what they had suffered, were visible to every eye. Think of the question of a father's earnest brow, and a mother's silent tears !" Are we bringing up these
poor babes to suffer scorn and outrage, or to meet, at the least, with a hard and adverse course through a hostile world, all for a cunningly devised fable, or a dubious faith ? " Is it to be credited that feelings like these, sure as they were to be most deep and genuine in the same upright and tender hearts that loved the words of life eternal, would not urge to a close and searching examination, as
They betook themselves to what was esteemed by them CLEMENCY and HUMANITY. Nor was it fit (they said that the government of the emperors, who were BENIGN and MERCIFUL to all, should be blemished by any excessive cruelties ; but it was reasonable that the imperial benevolence should extended to all, and that Christians should not suffer capital punishments. From that time, therefore, it was enjoined that their eyes should be plucked out, and one of their legs be debilitated,—tlie most gentle punishment that could be inflicted. Henceforward, upon account of this lenity, it is impossible to reckon up the number of those who had their right
eyes first thrust out with a sword, and then seared with red-hot irons; and of those who had the flexures of their left legs seared with irons; after which they were sent to the copper-mines, not so much for the sake of the service they could do there, as with a view to increase their miseries.' Euseb. Hist. Eccl. VII. 12. (Quoted in Vol. I. p. 280.)
t. It must not be thought that these, however minute or hidden from the eye of history, are not grievous if they be continued. Many a one would rather bear a sword-wound or a scourge for once, than a swarm of mosquitoes for a year.'