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that it seems to have been created on purpose for the needs and uses of man in this life, for virtue and for hopes, for faith and for charity, to make us to believe by love, and to love by believing; for in heaven they that see and love, cannot choose but love, and see, and comprehend; for it is a reward, and fills all their faculties, and is not possessed by us, but itself possesses us.
In this world where we are to do something ourselves, though all by the grace of God, that which we do of ourselves is nothing else but to work as we ourselves can,—which indeed happens to be in propositions, as it is in the love of God; this cannot fail us, but we may fail of it: and so are the sentences of religion, infallible in themselves, but we may be deceived, while by a fallible way we proceed to infallible notices, for nothing else could endear our labour and our love, our search and our obedience; and therefore, this must be sufficient and acceptable, if we do what we can: but then this also will secure our confidence: and in the noises of Christendom, when disputing fellows say their brother is damned for not believing them, we need not to regard any such noises, if we proceed prudently as we can, and honestly as we ought; probable motives of our understanding are our sufficient conduct, and then we have this warrant: Brethren, if our hearts condemn us not, then have we peace towards God a.” And God would never have inspired his church with prudence, or made any such virtue, if the things which were put under the conduct of it, that is, probabilities, were not instrumental to the service of God, and to the verification of all its just and proper productions.
Probable arguments are like little stars, every one of which will be useless as to our conduct and enlightening; but when they are tied together by order and vicinity, by the finger of God and the hand of an angel, they make a constellation, and are not only powerful in their influence, but like a bright angel, to guide and to enlighten our way. And although the light is not great as the light of the sun or moon, yet mariners sail by their conduct: and though with trepidation and some danger, yet very regularly they enter into the haven. This heap of probable inducements is not of power as a mathematical and physical demonstration, which, is in discourse as the sun is in heaven, but it makes a milky and a white path, visible enough to walk securely.
a 1 John, iii. 21.
And next to these tapers of effective reason, drawn from the nature and from the events, and the accidents and the expectations and experiences of things, stands the grandeur of a long and united authority; the understanding thus reasoning, That it is not credible that this thing should have escaped the wiser heads of all the great personages in the world, who stood at the chairs of princes, or sat in the ruler's chair, and should only appear to two or three bold, illiterate, or vicious persons, ruled by lusts, and overruled by evil habits; but in this we have the same security and the same confidence that timorous persons have in the dark; they are pleased, and can see what is and what is not, if there be a candle--but in the dark, they are less fearful, if they be in company. This
way of arguing some are pleased to call a moral demonstration: not that it can make a proposition clear and bright, and quit from clouds and obscurity, as a natural demonstration can; for I may in this case use Aristotle's saying, τούτο μεν αληθές, αλλ' ου σαφές, « Things of this nature may be very true, but are not very evident;" but it can produce the same effect, that is, it can lead into truth, not with as much brightness, but with as much certainty and infallibility in the event of things. For a man may as prosperously and certainly arrive at his journey's end, though but conducted by him that went the way but once before him, as if he had a straight path walked in on both sides; so may we find truth as certainly by probabilities, as by demonstrations: we are not 80 sure that we find it, but it is oftentimes as surely found. And if the heap arrive at that which we call a moral demonstration, it is as certain that no moral demonstration can be opposed against it, as that no natural demonstration can be brought in contradiction to a natural. For the understanding cannot call any thing a moral demonstration, till, by considering the particulars on both sides, the reasonableness of one, and the unreasonableness of the other, with a cold scent, and liberty of spirit, and an unbiassed will, it hath passed the sentence for the truth; and since, in this case, all the opposition is between strength and power on one side, and weakness and pretence on the other, it is impossible that the opposite parts should be demonstrations or seem so to the same man. And this appears by this also, that some propositions which are only proved by a conjugation of probable inducements, have yet obtained as certain and as regular events as a natural demonstration, and are believed equally, constantly, and perpetually by all wise men, and the understanding does regularly receive the same impression, and give the same assent, and for ever draws forth the same conclusions,—when it is not abused with differing prejudices and preoccupations, when its liberty and powers are not enfeebled with customs, example and contrary breeding, while it is not bribed by interest, or hurried away by passion.
Of this I shall choose to give one instance, which as it is of the greatest concernment in the world in itself, so the gay impieties and bold wits of the world, who are witty against none more than God and God's wisdom, have made it now to be but too seasonable, and that is, that the religion of Jesus Christ, or the Christian religion, is from God;' concerning which I will not now pretend to bring in all the particulars whereby each part of it can be verified, but by heaping together such heads of probabilities which are, or may be, the cause of an infinite persuasion; and this I had rather choose to do for these reasons :
1. Because many men excellently learned have already discoursed largely of the truth of Christianity, and approved by a direct and close congression with other religious, by examination of the contrary pretences, refutation of their arguments, answering their objections, and have by direct force so far prevailed, that all the reason of the world appears to stand on the Christian side: and for me to do it now, as there is no just occasion ministered by this argument, so neither can it be useful and necessary.
2. In that way of arguing, every man that is an adversary can answer one argument, and some can reprove many; and none can prevail singly to possess all the understanding, and to fill all the corners of consideration, but in a moral demonstration that can be supplied.
3. In the other way an adversary supposes himself to prevail, when he can answer the arguments singly: and the discourses in that method are like the servants sent singly to gather fruits of the husbandmen, they killed them as fast as they came, and a man may kill a whole kingdom over, if the opponents come by single persons; but a moral demonstration is like an army which can lose single persons, and yet prevail, but yet cannot be beaten, unless it be beaten all.
4. The few little things that atheistical persons prate against the holy Jesus and his most excellent religion, are infinitely outweighed by the multitude and variety of things to be said for it; and let the others stand (as if they meet with persons that cannot answer them), yet they are sure this greater ought to prevail, because it possesses all the corners of reason, and meets with every instance, and complies with the manner of a man, and is fitted to the nature of things, and complies with the will, and persuades the understanding, and is a guard against the tricks of sophisters, and does not only effect its purpose by direct influence, but is secured by reflection upon itself, and does more by its indirect strength, and by a back blow, than by its first operations; and, therefore,
This instance and this way of argument may be of more use to those persons who cannot so dispute, but that they are apt to be abused by little things, by talkings and imperfect arguings; it may be a defensative against trifling objections, and the impious pratings of the nequam ingeniosi,' the witty fools, while the men are armed by love and prudence, and wise securities to stand with confidence and piety against talkings and intrigues of danger; for by this way best, “ Wisdom is justified of all her children.”
An Instance of moral Demonstration, or a Conjugation of
Probabilities, proving that the Religion of Jesus Christ is from God.
This discourse, of all the disputables in the world, shall require the fewest things to be granted; even nothing but what was evident, even nothing but the very subject of the question, viz. That there was such a man as Jesus Christ, that he pretended such things and taught such doctrines : for he that will prove these things to be from God, must be allowed that they were from something or other. But this postulate I do not ask for need, but for order's sake and art; for what the histories of that age reported as a public affair, as one of the most eminent trans
actions of the world, that which made so much noise, which caused so many changes, which occasioned so many wars, which divided so many hearts, which altered so many families, which procured so many deaths, which obtained so many laws in favour, and suffered so many rescripts in the disfavour of itself; that which was not done in a corner, but was thirty-three years and more in acting; which caused so many sects, and was opposed by so much art, and so much power, that it might not grow; which filled the world with noise; which effected such great changes in the bodies of men, by curing the diseased, and smiting the contumacious or the hypocrites; which drew so many eyes, and filled so many tongues, and employed so many pens, and was the care and the question of the whole world at that time, and immediately after; that which was consigned by public acts and records of courts, which was in the books of friends and enemies; which came accompanied and remarked with eclipses, and stars, and prodigies of heaven and earth, that which the Jews, even in spite, and against their wills, confessed, and which the witty adversaries intending to overthrow, could never so much as challenge of want of truth in the matter of fact and story; that which they who are infinitely concerned that it should not be believed, or more, that it had never been,—do yet only labour to make to appear not to have been divine: Certainly, this thing is so certain that it was, that the defenders of it need not account it a kindness to have it presupposed; for never was any story in the world that had so many degrees of credibility, as the story of the person, life and death of Jesus Christ: and if he had not been a true prophet, yet that he was in the world, and said and did such things cannot be denied; for, even concerning Mahomet, we make no question but he was in the world, and led a great part of mankind after him, and what was less proved we infinitely believe; and what all men say, and no man denies, and was notorious in itself, of this we may make further inquiries whether it was all that which it pretended: for that it did make pretences, and was in the world, needs no more probation.
But now, whether Jesus Christ was sent from God, and delivered the will of God, we are to take accounts from all the things of the world which were on him, or about him, or