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ON THE DEGREE OF EVIDENCE THAT OUGHT TO

BE EXPECTED IN MATTERS OF REVELATION. As, on the one side, it is a great errour, in all cases, to expect such evidence, as the nature of the subject renders impossible; so it is as weak, on the other side, to lay the stress of important truths on such evidence, as is in its own nature unsatisfactory and precarious: or to assert, with great assurance, what can no way be proved, even by that sort of evidence which is proper for the subject in debate. An instance of the first sort we have in Autolicus, an heathen, in his debates with Theophilus of Antioch; who appears weakly to have insisted upon seeing the God of the Christians, ere he would believe his existence; while one of the known attributes of that God is, that he is invisible. And almost equally preposterous would any philosophical sceptic now be, who should require the sight of the air in which we breathe, before he would believe that there was such an element at all. Whereas it is clear, that the air may be demonstrated to be sufficiently sensible and real, by a thousand experiments; while yet none of those experiments can render it visible to us : just as the existence of a supreme Being may be demonstrated by innumerable arguments, although none of those arguments imply even the possibility of his being properly seen by any of his creatures. But then, that we may keep a mean here, and may neither on one side, expect in our religious inquiries, overbearing, or strictly mathematic evidence, such as is impossible to be denied or doubted of by any; which would render the constant design of Providence, already stated, entirely ineffectual, and force both good and bad to be believers, without any regard to their qualifications and temper of mind : nor, on the other. side, may we depend on such weak and precarious arguments, as are not really sufficient or satisfactory to even fair, honest, and impartial men. I intend here to consider what that degree of evidence is which ought to be insisted on; without, which we are not, and with which we are obliged to acquiesce in divine matters. Now this degree, of evidence I take to be that, and no other, which upright judges are determined by in all their important affairs of estate and life, that come before. them; and according to which, they ever aim to give sentence in their courts of judicature. I choose to instance in this judicial evidence, and these judicial determinations especially, because the persons concerned in such matters are, by long use, and the nature of their employment, generally speaking, the best and most sagacious discoverers of truth, and those that judge the most unbiassedly and fairly, concerning sufficient or insufficient evidence, of all others. Such upright judges then, never expect strictly undeniable or mathematic evidence; which they know is, in human affairs, absolutely impossible to be had : they do not require that the witnesses they examine should be infallible, or impeccable, which they are sensible would be alike wild and ridiculous; yet do they expect full, sufficient, or convincing evidence; and such as is plainly superior to what is alleged on the other side: and they require that the witnesses they believe, be, so far

VOL. I.

as they are able to discover, of a good character, upright, and faithful. Nor do they think it too much trouble to use their utmost skill and sagacity in discovering where the truth lies; how far the witnesses agree with or contradict each other ; and which way the several circumstances may be best compared, so as to find out any forgery, or detect any knavery which may be suspected in any branches of the evidence before them. They do not themselves pretend to judge of the reality or obligation of any ancient laws, or acts of parliament, from their own mere guesses or inclinations, but from the authenticness of the records which contain them; and though they are not able always to see the reason, or occasion, or wisdom of such laws, or acts of parliament; yet do they, upon full external evidence that they are genuine, allow and execute the same, as considering themselves to be not legislators, but judges; and owning that ancient laws, and ancient facts, are to be known not by guesses or supposals, but by the production of ancient records, and original evidence for their reality. Nor in such their procedure do they think themselves guilty in their sentences, if at any time afterwards they discover that they have been imposed upon by false witnesses, or forged records ; supposing, I mean, that they are conscious, that they did their utmost to discover the truth, and went exactly by the best evidence that lay before them; as knowing they have done their duty, and must in such a case be blameless before God and man, notwithstanding the mistake in the sentences themselves. Now this is that procedure which I would earnestly recommend to those that have a mind to inquire to good purpose into revealed religion ; that after they have taken care to purge themselves from all those vices which will make it their great interest that religion should be false; after they have resolved upon honesty, impartiality, and modesty, which are virtues by the law of nature; after they have devoutly implored the divine assistance and blessing on this their important undertaking; which is a duty likewise they are obliged to by the same law of nature; that after all this preparation, I say, they will set about the inquiry itself, in the very same manner that has been already described, and that all our upright judges proceed by in the discovery of truth. Let them spare for no pains, but consult all the originals, whenever they can come at them; and let them use all that diligence, sagacity, and judgment, which they are masters of, in order to see what real external evidence there is for the truth of the facts on which the Jewish and Christian religions do depend. I here speak of the truth of facts, as the surest way to determine us in this inquiry; because all the world, I think, owns, that if those facts be true, these institutions. of religion must also be true, or be derived from God; and that no particular difficulties, as to the reasons of several laws, or the conduct of Providence in several cases, which those institutions no where pretend to give us a full account of, can be sufficient to set aside the convincing evidence which the truth of such facts brings along with it. For example: those who are well satisfied of the truth of the Mosaic history; of the ten miraculous

plagues with which the God of Israel smote the Egyptians; of the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, while the Israelites were miraculously conducted through the same; and of the amazing manner wherein the decalogue was given by God to that people at Mount Sinai; will, for certain, believe that the Jewish religion was in the main derived from God, though he should find several occasional passages in the Jewish sacred books, which he could not account for, and several ritual laws given that nation, which he could not guess at the reasons why they were given them. And the case is the very same as to the miraculous resurrection, and glorious ascension of our blessed Saviour, Jesus Christ, with regard to the New Testament; on which account I reckon that the truth of such facts is to be principally inquired into, when we have a mind to satisfy ourselves in the variety of the Jewish and Christian religions. And if it be alleged that some of these facts are too remote to afford us any certain means of discovery at this distance of time; I answer, that then we are to select such of those facts as we can examine, and to search into the acknowledgment or denial of those that are ancienter, in the oldest testimonies now extant; into the effects and consequences, and standing memorials of such facts in after ages, and how far they were real, and allowed to be so; and in short, we are to determine concerning them, by the best evidence we can now have; and not let a bare suspicion, or a wish that things had been otherwise, overbalance our real evidence of facts in any case whatsoever. I do not mean that our inquirer is to have no re

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