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often by all the prophets, in several ages, foretold; how can this be an imposition, or a forgery?
This is particularly insisted on in the "Method with the Jews," and even the deists must confess, that that book we call the Old Testament, was in the hands of the Jews long before our Saviour came into the world. And if they will be at the pains to compare the proph ecies that are there of the Messiah, with the fulfilling of them, as to time, place, and all other circumstances, in the person, birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our blessed Saviour, they will find this proof what our apcstle here calls it, a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts; which God grant. Here is no possibility of deceit or imposture.
Old prophecies (and all these so agreeing) could not have been contrived to countenance a new cheat and nothing could be a cheat that could fulfil all these. For this, therefore, I refer the deists to the "Method with the Jews."
I desire them likewise to look there, Sect. XI., and consider the prophecies given so long ago, of which they see the fulfilling at this day, with their own eyes, of the state of the Jews, for many ages past and at present; without a king, or priest, or temple, or sacrifice, scattered to the four winds, sifted as with a sieve, among all nations; yet so preserved, and always to be, a distinct people from all others of the whole earth. Whereas, those mighty monarchies which oppressed the Jews, and which commanded the world in their turns; and had the greatest human prospect of perpetuity, were to be extinguished as they have been, even that their names should be blotted out from under heaven.
As likewise, that as remarkable of our blessed Saviour, concerning the preservation and progress of the Christian church, when in her swaddling clothes, consisting only of a few poor fishermen. Not by the sword, as that of Mahomet, but under all the persecution of
men and hell; which yet should not prevail against her.
But though I offer these, as not to be slighted by the deists, to which they can show nothing equal in all profane history; and in which it is impossible any cheat can lie; yet I put them not upon the same foot as the prophecies before mentioned of the marks and coming of the Messiah, which have been since the world began.
And that general expectation of the whole earth, at the time of his coming, insisted upon in the "Method with the Jews," Sect. V., is greatly to be noticed.
But, I say, the foregoing prophecies of our Saviour, are so strong a proof, as even miracles would not be sufficient to break their authority.
I mean, if it were possible that a true miracle could be wrought in contradiction to them. For that would be for God to contradict himself.
But no sign or wonder, that could possibly be solved, should shake this evidence.
It is this that keeps the Jews in their obstinacy. Though they cannot deny the matters of fact done by our blessed Saviour, to be truly miracles, if so done as said. Nor can they deny that they were so done, because they have all the four marks before mentioned. Yet they cannot yield! Why? Because they think that the Gospel is in contradiction to the Law. "Which, if it were, the consequence would be unavoidable, that both could not be true. To solve this, is the business of the "Method with the Jews." But the contradiction, which they suppose, is in their comments, that they put upon the law; especially they expect a literal fulfilling of those promises of the restoration of Jerusalem, and outward glories of the church, of which there is so frequent mention in the books of Moses, the Psalms, and all the prophets. And many Christians do expect the same; and take those texts as literally as the Jews do. We do believe and pray for the conversion of the Jews. For this end they have been so
miraculously preserved, according to the prophecies so long before of it. And when that time shall come, as they are the most honorable and ancient of all the nations on the earth, so will their church return to be the mother Christian church, as she was at first; and Rome must surrender to Jerusalem. Then all nations will flow thither. And even Ezekiel's temple may be literally built there, in the metropolis of the whole earth; which Jerusalem must be, when the fulness of the Gentiles, shall meet with the conversion of the Jews. For no nation will contend with the Jews, nor church with Jerusalem, for supremacy. All nations will be ambitious to draw their original from the Jews, whose are the fathers, and from whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came.
Then will be fulfilled that outward grandeur and restoration of the Jews and of Jerusalem, which they expect, pursuant to the prophecies.
They pretend not that this is limited to any particular time of the reign of the Messiah. They are sure it will not be at the beginning; for they expect to go through great conflicts and trials with their Messiah (as the Christian church has done) before his final conquest, and that they come to reign with him. So that this is no obstruction to their embracing of Christianity. They see the same things fulfilled in us, which they expect themselves; and we expect the same things they do.
I tell this to the deists, lest they may think that the Jews have some stronger arguments than they know of; that they are not persuaded by the miracles of our blessed Saviour, and by the fulfilling of ali the prophecies in him, that were made concerning the Messiah.
As I said before, I would not plead even miracles against these.
And if this is sufficient to persuade a Jew, it is much more so to a deist, who labors not under these objections.
Besides, I would not seem to clash with that (in a
sound sense) reasonable caution used by Christian writers, not to put the issue of the truth wholly upon miracles, without this addition, when not done in contradiction to the revelations already given in the Holy Scriptures.
And they do it upon this consideration, though it is impossible to suppose that God would work a real miracle, in contradiction to what he has already revealed; yet men may be imposed upon by false and seeming miracles, and pretended revelations, (as there are many examples, especially in the church of Rome,) and so may be shaken in the faith, if they keep not the holy Scriptures as their rule.
We are told, 2 Thess. xi. 9, of him whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders. And Rev. xiii. 14, xvi. 14, and xix. 20, of the devil and false prophets, working miracles. But the word, in all these places, is only semeia, signs; that is, as it is rendered Matt. xxv. 24; which though sometimes it may be used to signify real miracles, yet not always, nor in these places. For, though every miracle be a sign and a wonder, yet every sign or wonder is not a miracle.
IX. Here it may be proper to consider a common topic of the deists, who, when they are not able to stand out against the evidence of fact, that such and such miracles have been done, then turn about and deny such things to be miracles; at least, that we can never be sure whether any wonderful thing that is shown to us be a true or a false miracle.
And the great argument they go upon is this; that a miracle being that which exceeds the power of nature, we cannot know what exceeds it, unless we know the utmost extent of the power of nature; and no man pretends to know that; therefore, that no man can certainly know whether any event be miraculous. And, consequently, he may be cheated in his judgment between true and false miracles.
To which I answer, that men may be so cheated, and there are many examples of it.
But that, though we may not always know when we are cheated, yet we can certainly tell, in many cases, when we are not cheated.
For though we do not know the utmost extent of the power of nature, perhaps, in any one thing; yet it does not follow, that we know not the nature of any thing, in some measure; and that certainly too. For example; though I do not know the utmost extent of the power of fire, yet I certainly know, that it is the nature of fire to burn; and that, when proper fuel is administered to it, it is contrary to the nature of fire not to consume it. Therefore, if I see three men taken off the street, in their common wearing apparel, and without any preparation cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and that the flame was so fierce, that it burnt up those men that threw them in; and yet, that those who were thrown in, should walk up and down in the bottom of the furnace, and I should see a fourth person with them of glorious appearance, like the Son of God; and that these men should come up again out of the furnace, without any harm, or so much as the smell of fire upon themselves, or their clothes, I could not be deceived in thinking, that there was a stop put to the nature of fire, as to these men; and that it had its effect upon the men whom it burnt at the same time.
Again, though I cannot tell how wonderful and sudden an increase of corn might be produced by the concurrence of many causes, as a warm climate, the fertility of the soil, &c.; yet this I can certainly know, that there is not that natural force in the breath of two or three words spoken, to multiply one small loaf of bread so fast, in the breaking of it, as truly and really, not only in appearance and show to the eye, but to fill the bellies of several thousand hungry persons; and that the fragments should be much more than the bread was at first. So neither in a word spoken, to raise the dead, cure diseases, &c.