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HONOURABLE AND RIGHT REVEREND
JAMES YORK, D.D.
LOPD WISHOP OF ILY.
When, five years ago, an important station in the University of Cambridge a waited your Lordship’s disposal, you were pleased to offer it to me. The circumstances under which this offer was made, demand a public acknowledgment. I had never seen your Lordship; I possessed no connection which could possibly recommend me to your favour; I was known to you, only by my endeavours, in common with many others, to discharge my duty as a tutor in the University; and by some very imperfect, but certainly well-intended, and, as you thought, useful publications since. In an age by no means wanting in examples of honourable patronage, although this deserve not to be mentioned in respect of the object of your Lordship’s choice, it is inferior to none in the purity and disinterestedness of the motives which suggested it.
How the following work may be received, I pretend not to foretel. My first prayer concerning it is, that it may do good to any: my second hope, that it may assist, what it hath always been my earnest wish to promote, the religious part of an academical education. If in this latter view it might seem, in any degree, to excuse your Lordship’s judgment of its author, I shall be gratified by the reflection, that, to a kindness flowing from public principles, I have made the best public return in my power.
In the mean time, and in every event, I rejoice in the opportunity here afforded me, of testifying the sense I entertain of your Lordship’s conduct, and of a notice which I regard as the most flattering distinction of my life. I am,
With sentiments of gratitude and respect,
Your Lordship’s faithful
unnecessary to prove that stances, is it improbable that a revelation mankind stood in need of a revelation, showd we made ? is it incredible that God because I have met with no serious per- should interpose for such a purpose ? Supson who thinks that, even under the Chris- pose him to design for mankind a future tian revelation, we have too much light, or state; is it unlikely that he should acquaint any degree of assurance which is super- him with it ? fluous. I desire moreover, that, in judging Now in what way can a revelation be of Christianity, it may be remembered, that made, but by miracles? In none which we the question lies between this religion and are able to conceive. Consequently, in none; for, if the Christian religion be whatever degree it is probable, or not very not credible, no one, with whom we have improbable, that a revelation should be to do, will support the pretensions of any communicated to mankind at all; in the other.
same degree is it probable, Suppose, then, the world we live in to improbable, that miracles should be wrought. have had a Creator ; suppose it to appear, Therefore, when miracles are related to have from the predominant aim and tendency of been wrought in the promulgating of a revethe provisions and contrivances observable lation manifestly wanted, and, if true, of in the universe, that the Deity, when he inestimable value, the improbability which formed it, consulted for the happiness of his arises from the miraculous nature of the sensitive creation; suppose the disposition things related, is not greater than the oriwhich dictated this counsel to continue; ginal improbability that such a revelation suppose a part of the creation to have should be imparted by God. received faculties from their Maker, by I wish it, however, to be correctly underwhich they are capable of rendering a stood, in what manner, and to what extent, moral obedience to his will, and of volun- this argument is alleged. We do not astarily pursuing any end for which he has sume the attributes of the Deity, the designed them ; suppose the Creator to in- existence of a future state, in order to prove tend for these, his rational and accountable the reality of miracles. That reality always agents, a second state of existence, in which must be proved by evidence. We assert their situation will be regulated by their only, that in miracles adduced in support of behaviour in the first state, by which sup- revelation, there is not any such antecedent position (and by no other) the objection to improbability as no testimony can surmount. , the divine government in not putting a And for the purpose of maintaining this difference between the good and the bad, assertion, we contend, that the incredibility and the inconsistency of this confusion with of miracles related to have been wrought in the care and benevolence discoverable in attestation of a message from God, conveying the works of the Deity, is done away ; sup- intelligence of a future state of rewards and pose it to be of the utmost importance to punishments, and teaching mankind how to the subjects of this spersation to know prepare themselves for that state, is not in what is intended for them ; that is, suppose itself greater than the event, call it either the knowledge of it to be highly conducive probable or improbable, of the two followto the happiness of the species, a purpose ing propositions being true ; namely, first, which so many provisions of nature are cal- that a future state of existence should be culated to promote : Suppose, nevertheless, destined by God for his human creation ; almost the whole race, either by the imper- and, secondly, that being so destined, he fection of their faculties, the misfortune of should acquaint them with it. It is not their situation, or by the loss of some prior necessary for our purpose,
e that these prorevelation, to want this knowledge, and not positions be capable of proof, or even that, to be likely, without the aid of a new reve- by arguments drawn from the light of nalation, to attain it: Under these circum- ture, they can be made out to be probable ;
it is enough that we are able to say concern. cation which can be affixed to the term ing them, that they are not so violently “contrary to experience,” but one, viz, that improbable, so contradictory to what we of not having ourselves experienced any alieady believe of the divine power and cha- thing similar to the thing related, or such racter, that either the propositions them- things not being generally experienced by selves, or facts strictly connected with the others. I say “ not generally:" for to state propositions (and therefore no further im- concerning the fact in question, that no probable than they are improbable), ought such thing was ever experienced, or that to be rejected at first sight, and to be universal experience is against it, is to rejected by whatever strength or complication assume the subject of the controversy. of evidence they be attested.
Now the improbability which arises from This is the prejudication we would resist. the want (for this properly is a want, not a For to this length does a modern objection contradiction) of experience, is only equal to miracles go, viz. that no human testimony to the probability there is, that, if the thing can in any case render them credible. Í were true, we should experience things simi, think the reflection above stated, that, if lar to it, or that such things would be genethere be a revelation, there must be miracles, rally experienced. Suppose it then to be and that, under the circumstances in which true that miracles were wrought on the first the human species are placed, a revelation promulgation of Christianity, when nothing is not improbable, or not improbable in any but miracles could decide its authority, is it great degree, to be a fair answer to the certain that such miracles would be repeated whole objection,
so often, and in so many places, as to beBut since it is an objection which stands come objects of general experience ? Is it a in the very threshold of our argument, and, probability approaching to certainty ? is it a if admitted, is a bar to every proof, and to probability of any great strength or force ? all future reasoning upon the subject, it may is it such as no evidence can encounter ? be necessary, before we proceed further, to And yet this probability is the exact conexamine the principle upon which it professes verse, and therefore the exact measure, of to be founded ; which principle is concisely the improbability which arises from the this, That it is contrary to experience that a want of experience, and which Mr. Hume miracle should be true, but not contrary to represents as invincible by human testimony. experience that testimony should be false. It is not like alleging a new law of
Now there appears a small ambiguity in nature, or a new experiment in natural phithe term “ experience,” and in the phrases losophy; because, when these are related,
contrary to experience,” or “ contradict- it is expected that, under the same circuming experience,” which it may be necessary stances, the same effect will follow univerto remove in the first place. Strictly speak- sally; and in proportion as this expectation, ing, the narrative of a fact is then only con- is justly entertained, the want of a corretrary to experience, when the fact is related sponding experience negatives the history. to have existed at a time and place, at But to expect concerning a miracle, that it which time and place we being present did should succeed upon a repetition, is to exnot perceive it to exist ; as if it should be pect that which would make it cease to be asserted, that in a particular room, and at a a miracle, which is contrary to its nature as particular hour of a certain day, a man was such, and would totally destroy the use and raised from the dead, in which room, and at purpose for which it was wrought. the time specified, we, being present and The force of experience as an objection looking on, perceived no such event to have to miracles, is founded in the presumption, taken place. Here the assertion is contrary either that the course of nature is invariable, to experience properly so called : and this is or that, if it be ever varied, variations will a contrariety which no evidence can sur- be frequent and general. Has the necessity
It matters nothing, whether the of this alternative been demonstrated ? Perfact be of a miraculous nature, or not. But mit us to call the course of nature the although this be the experience, and the agency of an intelligent Being; and is there contrariety, which archbishop Tillotson al- any good reason for judging this state of the leged in the quotation with which Mr. case to be probable ? Ought we not rather Hume opens his Essay, it is certainly not to expect that such a Being, on occasions that experience, nor that contrariety, which of peculiar importance, may interrupt the Mr. Hume himself intended to object. And, order which he had appointed, yet, that short of this, I know no intelligible signifi- such occasions should return seldom; that