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with a wooden leg would not receive one of flesh and blood ; nor would the bones of a fractured arm unite at the sound of the episcopal voice; but all forms of disease susceptible of influence through the imagination would be so sensibly relieved by spiritual treatment, that grateful convalescents and enthusiastic eyewitnesses would authenticate the presence of the miraculous; and demons, being invisible, would be ejected by the score, much to the relief of the possessed, and to the edification of the faithful.
Thus obviously originated the evangelical miracles, which, reaching the Gospel-makers of the second century in traditional versions, had grown into those exaggerated violations of natural law which modern science inevitably rejects, as unattested by any reliable proof.
The legendary complications of tradition are clearly shown in the mental confusion with which the evangelical compilers perform their task. (i.) Jesus begins his career as the publicly recognised worker of numerous miracles, anon he discloses anxiety to conceal that he had effected a single cure. (ii.) He wrought miracles to evoke faith, but in the absence of faith he could not work miracles. (iii.) He admits that miracles were necessary to convince the Apostles, and yet refers others to the sign of Jonas swallowed by a whale. (iv.) He declines to establish his mission by a sign from heaven, and yet refers John the Baptist to miracles as the proof of his Messiahship. (v.) He proved the truth of the resurrection by raising men from the dead, and yet supplies no stronger argument in its favour than that Jehovah had said, 'I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is obvious we
cannot accept historical miracles from men so deficient in critical acumen as to overlook the inconsistency of these statements.
The demoniacs of the Evangelists evidently suffered from hysteria, epilepsy, or insanity. When acute mania had subsided in the presence of Jesus, the demon in possession had made his escape ; and when an attack of epilepsy had passed away, another evil spirit had been successfully ejected. The Evangelists are silent as to the future history of these cases; it would have been important to learn whether the patients had a relapse. Jesus may never have seen or heard of them again, but in the case of Mary Magdalene—his constant companion—he cast out seven demons ; in other words, the hysteria or epilepsy from which she suffered was recurrent, in defiance of the miraculous.
How deplorable that Jesus could not rise above the pernicious superstition of demoniac possession ! If it had occurred to him how destructive of his own ideal of a heavenly Father was this monstrous combination of the human and diabolical, he would have assuredly detected and disavowed the divine abasement involved in so barbarous a superstition.
Some evangelical miracles recall the injudicious work of modern editors publishing all available gossip respecting the illustrious dead. How immeasurable the credulity of men who depict Jesus utilising the services of an inspired fish to meet the demands of Roman taxation !1 Hagiology speaks of a crab which carried ashore in its claws a sacred cross dropped by some saint into the sea.
If we piously
1 Matt. xvii. 24-27.
accept the marvellous fish, can we reasonably reject the wondrous crab ? Can moderns who reverence the name of Jesus, accept the miracle of water transformed to wine? How many generations removed from the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount was the man who wrote such words as these !
—This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed in him.' Did the Son of Man glorify himself by actions susceptible of imitation by any dexterous juggler? and was the faith of Apostles won by means which impious scoffers might have called mere sleight of hand ? If these are the signs and wonders which established Christianity, how boundless the field left open for the charlatanism of false prophets !
The legend of the transfiguration records the miraculous appearance of Moses and Elias conversing with Jesus on a mountain, followed by a voice from heaven announcing the Father's approbation of the Son. But as Jesus never revealed the miracle to mankind, and Peter, James, and John, the only witnesses, are absolutely silent on the subject, why should we accept the credibility of improbable and unattested phenomena?
It is said that Peter preached the gospel at Rome; let us, therefore, imagine his informing an educated Roman that he had seen Hebrew prophets, who had been dead for centuries, conversing with his Master on a mountain in Judæa. •Did
Did you, therefore, hasten to proclaim the miracle ?' 'No; our Master commanded us to keep the secret until after he had risen from the dead.' "Then he has risen, and you hold the proof?' • He appeared to us, his eleven Apostles, in the solitude
of a mountain. • What, another private resurrection! But if I accept these statements as facts, shall I also believe the first man who tells me that he has, quite recently, conversed with Romulus and Numa in a valley remote from the haunts of men ?
But what shall we say of miracles involving resurrection from the dead? The first two Gospels record, with conflicting version, but one instance of doubtful restoration to life. Matthew relates that a certain ruler came to Jesus, saying, “ My daughter is even now dead ; but come and lay thy hands on her, and she shall live.'1 But, as Jesus had never professed to restore life to the dead, how could Jairus expect that the ordinary laws of mortality were to be suspended in favour of his daughter? Mark, however, depicts Jairus saying, “ My little daughter lieth at the point of death : I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her ; and she shall live.' 2
Jesus, having arrived at the house of Jairus, found the people there lamenting under the impression that the little girl was dead, but he assured them that she was only asleep, and taking her hand, she immediately
Jesus then requested all present to keep the matter strictly private. Had they obeyed him, we should never have heard the story, and Jesus does not therefore ask us to believe that this was a case of resurrection from the dead.
Luke furnishes a legendary version of this miracle, and adds the resurrection of the widow's son. The motive of this miracle was compassion for a mother's grief; how, therefore, did Jesus escape the importuni
? Mark v. 22, 23, 3 Luke viii. 41-56.
1 Matt. ix. 18.
ties of the entire population of Judæa, urgently soliciting the restoration of their dead? There were no telegraphs in those days, to instantaneously communicate to the remotest limits of the Roman Empire that resurrection from the dead had become an accomplished fact; but the means of communication were sufficiently well organised to draw thousands of excited pilgrims from Athens, Alexandria, Rome, and other great centres of population, hastening to the obscure village of Nain, to hear but one word from the lips of the risen dead, and to implore the great Hebrew Thaumaturgist to summon relatives and friends from the unseen world.
The most dramatic instance of resurrection is recorded by the fourth Evangelist. Jesus was the intimate friend of Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus, who became ill and died. When Jesus heard of the illness of his friend, he said to his disciples, • This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby ;' and, having waited until Lazarus was actually dead and buried, he communicated the fact to his disciples, and said, 'I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe.' If, therefore, Apostles, enjoying the privilege of personal intimacy with Jesus, required so marvellous a confirmation of faith, how much more do we, removed from him by eighteen centuries, need a sign from heaven to reanimate convictions paralysed by the disheartening evidence of primitive and medieval credulity! The body of Lazarus had lain four days in the grave,
1 John xi.