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so far in power and reputation, they are insensibly drawn in to give their sanction to the sign performed by the Hebrews, for the sake of their own credit, and no sooner is it stamped for currency, with their image and superscription, than they and their abettors are confounded, by seeing the wretched impression of their art effaced, absorbed, annihilated; and no image remains visible, but that of the living and true God. The power which swallowed up the magicians' rods, could as easily have prevented the transmutation; but the confutation is much more complete by the one, than it would have been by the other. Impiety has shut her own mouth, and infidelity stands stripped of her last and only plea.
An opportunity is here presented of instituting an inquiry, which has greatly employed and violently divided the learned and ingenious; namely, whether the supernatural effects here, and elsewhere in scripture ascribed to the agency of demons and malignant spirits, through the practice of magical arts, were real miracles, that is, alterations of the known and established laws of nature, by the permission of God; or only dexterous impositions, practised by the subtle artists, on the simple and credulous, giving the appearance of reality to what had no existence? We shall not take upon us to determine, whether of these two opinions is most conformable to reason, and to the analogy of faith. But the opportunity having offered, we shall take the liberty of suggesting some considerations, tending less to settle the question, than to show that, perhaps, it is not capable of solution. But our grand aim shall be to show, that, which ever side men are pleased to take, the miracles wrought in support of truth, through the agency of the Author of all good, preserve all their superiority, and the truth itself shines in all its lustre.
And, first, if we try the cause by the letter of the narration of Moses, it will immediately strike every
reader, that these extraordinary facts were actually produced by the power of the devil. The history relates the change that passed on the magicians' rods, in the self-same terms, which describe the transmutation of Aaron's; and the name given to these execrable men, is the same that belongs to persons who have devoted themselves to the wicked one. On the other hand we know, that scripture, in describing natural objects, usually accommodates itself to the prevailing notions of the
ages and nations in which the inspired authors lived and wrote; that it condescends even to adopt the language, the ideas, and the prejudices of the vulgar; and, that it employs, not the accurate language and just ideas of philosophy, but those of common life, in treating the greatest and most important subjects. We thence conclude, that whether the enchantments of the magicians produced real miracles, or were deceptions merely, the Spirit of God would certainly have narrated the fact in the self-same terms. From the letter of the sacred history, therefore, we can draw no conclusive argument from either side of the question.
We shall have equal reason to suspend our judgment, if we try, secondly, to decide it by the relations transmitted to us from various ages and regions of the world, concerning real or seeming enchantments. It would perhaps, be as difficult to persuade the men of our own age, that such a thing as witchcraft ever existed, as it would have been to convince our ancestors in former ages, that most of the effects ascribed to Sa
an and his agents, had no foundation but in the cunning, dexterity and knavery of one part of mankind, practising on the ignorance, credulity and simplicity of another. But, as it would betray a silly and ridicu. lous easiness of belief, on the one hand, to admit as true, the ten thousand stories, which the time of ignorance devised, related and believed; and with which our own childhood may have been scared and alarmed; so, it would certainly be an unreasonable and absurd degree of scepticism, on the other, to reject as fabulous every relation of this sort, however well authenticated. Wise and good men have proved, by arguments amounting almost to demonstration, the absurdity of admitting the actual interference of a diabolical power in order to deceive mankind. And wise and good men, by evidence apparently as clear and satisfactory, have endeavoured to establish the certainty of such interference in particular instances. And this seems a good reason against pronouncing hastily upon the nature of the sorceries practised by the magicians of Egypt. We shall find ourselves equally in the dark, if we attempt to form our judgment in the third place, on metaphysical notions. Our minds are exceedingly limited with respect to all objects, and particularly with respect to the nature of spirits. We know, from experience, that the soul, little as it comprehends its own nature and essence, has a wonderful influence over every particle of that body to which it is united: but we can form no notion of the power and influence, which spirits of a different order may possess over larger portions of matter, and even over our bodies, and, of consequence, over our minds. Much less are we able to conceive what an extent of power the Father of spirits may, for wise purposes, have permitted to evil spirits, over the whole world of nature, which has fallen into disorder, and is labouring under the curse of Heaven, on account of man's apostacy. The limited nature of human understanding, therefore, likewise forbids us to decide too peremptorily on a subject so obviously involved in difficulty.
Finally, the principles of religion here refuse to lend us their aid. In whatever tends to convey saving light to the soul, or peace to the conscience; in all that relates to the government of the heart, or the wise conduct of the life,
religion is ever at hand, and kindly offers her aid, nay, presses it upon us; but, in questions of doubtful disputation, in which men rather aim
at gratifying a restless curiosity, or wild imagination, than at improving the understanding, or mending the heart, revelation rather checks and represses inquiry, than promises or lends her assistance. It is sufficient then, for our purpose, to say, that of whatever nature were the incantations of the Egyptian magicians, and whatever their effects, the God of truth, by the hand of Moses and Aaron, put his infinite superiority beyond a possibility of doubt; and extorted an acknowledgment of it from the mouths of the magicians themselves. But, though they are put to silence, and Pharaoh is confounded, by the miracle of Aaron's rod swallowing up their rods, yet they are not brought to see the in sufficiency of their art, neither is he yet reduced to yield obedience to an authority asserted by so high a hand. A miracle, therefore, which only threatened, but continued harmless; a miracle which proved fatal only to the instruments of sorcery and enchantment, failing to produce compliance, it becomes at length necessary to follow up the remonstrance of reason and humanity, and the evidence of signs, powerful indeed, yet innocent, by the operation of signs that shall be felt: signs, which shall address themselves to the understanding, and the senses, at once; and shall force conviction upon the most careless and incredulous.
Their river, Nile, was the chief ground of glorifying to the Egyptians. It was the ornament of their country, and the source of its fertility. Deriving the moisture, necessary to fructification, from thence,
they vainly boasted that they were independent of the heavens; standing in no need, like the rest of the world, of the refreshing drops which fall from thence. Egypt, therefore, is first smitten, in the darling source of its pride; and that which presumptuously put itself in the place of God, first feels the power of God; and becomes, not a cause of vain-glorious boasting, but a loathing and an abomination to its worshippers. Smitten with the awful rod, its waters are instantly and unia
versally turned into blood. Horrid change! An inundation of the river too scanty, threatened a famine: an inundation too copious, threatened a deluge. But, O dreadful reflection the river no longer flows with that precious refreshing Auid, which gives drink and renewed vigour to thirsty man, to thirsty cattle, to the parched ground; but a fluid which taints the air; which excites abhorrence, instead of satisfying the appetite; and which kills what it contains, instead of communicating life and fruitfulness wherever it is diffused. And should it rise and swell, what is it? An abominable deluge of blood. Its streams had been often stained with the blood of human innocents; and its savage master is now punished with seeing its vast channel filled, from shore to shore, with one crimson tide. In this awful glass we are made to see, that whatsoever men exalt in the room of God and worship as God, will sooner or later become a loathing or a curse to them; and that the instrument of their sin assuredly will be converted, at length, into the instrument of their punishment.
“ And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments.” Foolish, unhappy men; to try to in. crease an evil which was already intolerable! If their art could have done any thing, it had been more wisely employed in endeavouring to purify and sweeten those polluted streams. To succeed in multiplying blood was ruinous. The greater the power of their art, the more pernicious it was to themselves and to their country. And this is the whole extent of the boasted power of Satan: it is a power to do evil, a power to destroy: but a power destitute both of capacity and of inclination to do good. Whereas that of Heaven, though it be an ability to do evil, is an ability to this effect, which it exercises rarely, and with reluctance; whereas the doing of good, and the diffusing of happiness, is its habitual object, and its constant employment. Vain man would be independent, and sometimes boasts that