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A Vindication Of Three Of Our Blessed Saviours Miracles by Nathaniel Lardner

Section III. Answer to Mr. W's third objection.

Our author says: p.19. By way of objection to the letter of these three miracles, Let us consider the condition of the persons raised from the dead. -- Where then was his wisdom and prudence to chuse these three persons above others to that honour? p.20. I answer, that Jesus did not ordinarily choose the subjects of his miracles, but heal'd those chiefly who earnestly implored his mercy, or who pressed on him to be healed, or importunately desired it of him by others, when they could not possibly come to him themselves. It was great wisdom and prudence in him not ordinarily to choose persons, or to do a miracle without being first earnestly sought to for it. If he had acted otherwise, it would have been made use of as an exception against the truth and reality of the miracle, and the extent of his power. Indeed the widow of Naim's son was in some sense chosen but since he was publickly carried forth to burial, and the meeting of the corpse was perfectly casual, this choice is unexceptionable.

Jairus's daughter was an insignificant girl of twelve years old. -- The widow of Naim's son too was but a youth, and whether older than the girl above is doubtful, p.21.

Never the worse at all, on any account whatever, The power of raising a girl is as great as that of raising a woman; and a boy of twelve years old, as a man of forty. The suspicion of cheat and fraud is less; the benignity of Jesus is greater, in that he disdained not the meaner objects.

But that an insignificant boy and girl (forfooth!) and the obscure Lazarus, are preferr'd by Jesus to such publick and more deserving persons is unaccountable, p.25.

The obscurity of Lazarus is no objection at all, as appears from what has been already said concerning the two others. The more inconsiderable Lazarus was, the benignity of Jesus is the greater. But they were none of them preferred to others. Were there any other dead persons proposed to Jesus to be raised, whom he refused to concern himself with, though he raised these? None at all. If by preferring is meant choosing out of the number of those, who died in Judea during our Saviour's ministry; it has been answered already. Jesus could not ordinarily choose an object, without being defined. It might have had an appearance of ostentation, and enemies would have said of fraud and deceit.

Jesus raised the dead, and wrought other miracles, say our divines often, not only to manifest his own power and glory, but his love to mankind. For which reason his miracles are useful and beneficial, as well as stupendous and supernatural acts. -- On this topick our divines are very copious, as if no more useful and wonderful works could be done, than what he did, p.23. Instead of a boy and a girl, and even of Lazarus, who were all of no consequence to the publick, either before or since, I should think Jesus ought to have raised a useful magistrate, &c. p.24.

Divines say very truly, that most of our Saviour's miracles were acts of beneficence to those on whom they were performed, and were in this respect suitable to the goodness and excellence of his doctrine, and to the goodness and meekness of disposition, that appeared in all the other parts of his life. But the main design of a miracle is not the profit of him, who is the subject of it, nor of others his friends or relations, who are interested in him. The great use of a miracle is to attest the divine mission of him who works it, and to give authority to the message or doctrine which he brings. And for this purpose the raising a poor day-labourer is as useful, as raising a prince; and opening the eyes of a blind beggar by the way side, as curing a powerful magistrate, or a wealthy merchant.

It is not the intention of divines to strain the notion of our Saviour's beneficence toward all the miserable objects that were in Judea, as if he had been obliged to act to the utmost of his power for the temporal advantage of men at that time. Mr. W. acknowledges as much. That Jesus ought to have raised all that died, wherever he came, during the time of his ministry, none, I presume, can hold, p.20.

That a miracle may be of use to confirm the character of a prophet, and the truth of his doctrine, it is necessary not only that it be done, but that it be known to be done by him, or the divine power concurring with him. Jesus, when at Jerusalem, might have healed a sick person in Galilee, without the person himself, or any other knowing who cured him. But this, tho' an act of goodness, would not have made known our Saviour's character. Let us give an instance. Jesus might have immediately healed the daughter of Jairus (as he did the centurion's servant, Matth. viii.) upon Jairus's coming to him, and desiring him to come and lay his hands on her. And this would have been perhaps an act of greater goodness to her, than to raise her after she was dead. But then we had not had the proof of his power and divine character, and of the truth of his doctrine, which we now have from the miracle of raising her from the dead,. Nay he might have healed her, before her case came to be so desperate as to oblige her father to come to him for help. This would have been a still greater act of goodness to her and her friends, if we measure goodness and beneficence purely with a regard to the temporal ease and advantage of men.

The spiritual interests of men are more considerable than their bodily, temporal interests. The spiritual interests of many are to be preferred to the temporal interests of a few other. Tho' therefore it might have been many ways more for the temporal advantage of Lazarus and his family, for Jesus to have cured that sickness of which he died, when his sisters first sent to him; yet it was infinitely greater benignity, with regard to the spiritual interests of mankind (of all the sincere and inquisitive, the children of wisdom at that time, and among them, of Lazarus and his sisters, and also of all such persons in future times) not to interpose at first, but to come up to Bethanie, and there raise Lazarus from the dead, after he had been buried four days.

I will proceed to one thing more, without observing intermediate steps or gradations. Our blessed Saviour might have healed all the persons he cured during his ministry, and also many others, without their coming to him, or without their so much as thinking of him, and without any one else knowing that those cures were wrought by him: But then neither the men of that age, nor we, had had the proof we now have from his works, of the certainty of a future life, and of the other parts of Christ's doctrine, so admirably suited to raise men from sin to holinesse, from earth to heaven, and to turn them from satan to God: We had also lost that, eminent and undeniable proof they now afford us of our Lord's great charmer: We had not been assured, as we now are, of that unspeakable instance of the love of God, in sending his Son into the world for our salvation.

How far Jesus may have extended his goodness even to the bodies of men, during his abode here on earth, beyond all those miraculous instances of his power for attesting his character, we cannot tell. But it was necessary that the exercise of his goodness in the way of working miracles for the proof of his mission and doctrine should be chiefly confined to those who were disposed to ask help of him; whether they were poor or wealthy, mean and obscure, or rich, learned and honourable: and that the exercise of his goodness should be also regulated in a great measure by the nature of their desires. This way his miraculous works are free from ostentation, and are unexceptionable.

But yet, when he had an opportunity of doing good, without incurring the suspicion of ostentation or concert, he readily manifested his compassion and benignity to the distressed; as he did in particular to the widow of Naim, whose son he raised to life when he was carried out to be interred.

And herein indeed appear wisdom and goodness, that those acts of beneficence perform'd by him on the bodies of men, and those perhaps chiefly poor and mean persons, such mostly having come to him, tho' some wealthy and honourable (all however who came to him, none having been refused, and some who never sought to him) have been made to subserve the great design of almighty God in saving mankind; and give credit to that doctrine, which is of such admirable use and tendence to cure the minds of men of all evil habits and dispositions: To cure, I say, the minds of men, not of one country or age, but of all the world in all time. This is the wisdom of God, and the power of God, and the goodness of God.

I should think, says Mr. W. p.24. Jesus ought to have raised an useful magistrate, whose life had been a common blessing; an industrious merchant, whose death was a public loss.

The design of Christ in coming into the world was not barely to promote the temporal advantage of men, but for an infinitely higher end, For which reason, I should think, he should cure and raise those, whose cure or restoration would most serve this end. These are they only, who might be cured without suspicion of cheat or fraud; which are chiefly such as voluntarily came to him, or whom he casually met with; whether magistrates or subjects, wealthy or poor.

Soon after he says, p.25: Such instances of his power would have demonstrated him to be a most benign as well as a mighty Agent; and none in interest or prejudice could have opened their mouths against him, especially if the persons raised from the dead were selected upon the recommendation of this or that city.

Ridiculous! should Jesus have gone to the magistrates and people of some town or city, and tell them: If they had lately lost any useful magistrate or worthy citizen, whom they wished to have restored again to life, and would be pleased to recommend such person to him, he would raise him up? I think no minister or messenger of God, endowed with the power of working miracles, would be guilty of such meanness. And if no such persons came to Jesus, it was not his fault. However there were some such, and they were not refused, but were as readily gratified as any other. Thus in the case of the centurion, whole servant was sick and ready to die, we are assured, that when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, and when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, that he was worthy for whom he should do this, Luke vii.2, 3. And one of the persons raised to life by Jesus was the daughter of a ruler of a synagogue. And if any others had been recommended in a like manner by rulers or elders, there is no reason to doubt but they would have been received.

But certainly it was by no means needful, that the miracles of Jesus, of any kind, should be generally perform'd on magistrates and wealthy men, or at their recommendation. This method might have serv'd indeed to stop mens mouths,but not to convince them: There is an observation of Origen in his answer to Cellus, which is much more judicious than any thing said by our author upon this subject. |It is not, says Origen , a number of impostors met together, who in compliance with the orders of a king or emperour have decreed, that he [Jesus] should be made a God; but the creator of the world himself, &c.| It is much more for the honour of Jesus, for the credit of his miracles and religion, and for the satisfaction of men in all times, that his miracles and doctrine obtained belief and esteem without the power and authority of magistrates, by the force of their own internal excellence and evidence.

But now I am speaking, says Mr. W. of the fitness and unfitness of deceased persons, to have this grand miracle wrought on them; it comes into my head to ask, Why Jesus raised not John the Baptist to life again? A person of greater merits, and more worthy of the favour of Jesus, and of this miracle, could not be. -- This is a very reasonable question, p.25. A very silly one, most people will think. John the Baptist had performed his work and finished his course. If he had been soon raised to life again, the value and merit of his testimony given to Jesus had been much weaken'd. If it had been related in the history of Jesus that John the Baptist had been raised again to life by him; Mr. W. might have said, It gave ground .for suspicion of collusion between the Principal and the forerunner.

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