There is another miracle I do not believe,--the resurrection. I want to speak about it as we would about any ordinary transaction. In the first place, I do not believe that any miracle was ever performed, and if there was, you cannot prove it. Why? Because it is altogether more reasonable to believe that the people were mistaken about it than that it happened. And why? Because, according to human experience, we know that people will not always tell the truth, and we never saw a miracle ourselves, and we must be governed by our experience; and if we go by our experience, we must say that the miracle never happened--that the witnesses were mistaken.
A man comes into Jerusalem, and the first thing he does is to cure the blind. He lets the light of day visit the night of blindness. The eyes are opened, and the world is again pictured upon the brain. Another man is clothed with leprosy. He touches him and the disease falls from him, and he stands pure, and clean, and whole. Another man is deformed, wrinkled, and bent. He touches him, and throws around him again the garment of youth! A man is in his grave, and he says, "Come forth!" And the man walks in life, feeling his heart throb and his blood going joyously through his veins. They say that actually happened. I do not know.
There is one wonderful thing about the dead people that were raised--we do not hear of them any more. What became of them? If there was a man in this city who had been raised from the dead, I would go to see him to-night. I would say, "Where were you when you got the notice to come back? What kind of a country is it? What kind of opening there for a young man? How did you like it? Did you meet there the friends you had lost? Is there a world without death, without pain, without a tear? Is there a land without a grave, and where good-bye is never heard? Nobody ever paid the slightest attention to the dead who had been raised. They did not even excite interest when they died the second time. Nobody said, "Why, that man is not afraid. He has been there once. He has walked through the valley of the shadow." Not a word. They pass quietly away.
I do not believe these miracles. There is something wrong somewhere about that business. I may suffer eternal punishment for all this, but I cannot, I do not, believe.
There was a man who did all these things, and thereupon they crucified him. Let us be honest. Suppose a man came into this city and should meet a funeral procession, and say. "Who is dead?" and they should reply, "The son of a widow; her only support." Suppose he should say to the procession, "Halt!" and to the undertaker, "Take out that coffin, unscrew that lid. Young man, I say unto thee, arise! " and the dead should step from the coffin and in a moment afterward hold his mother in his arms. Suppose this stranger should go to your cemetery and find some woman holding a little child in each hand. while the tears fell upon a new-made grave. and he should say to her, "Who lies buried here?" and she should reply, "My husband;" and he should cry, "I say unto thee, oh grave, give up thy dead!" and the husband should rise, and in a moment after have his lips upon his wife's, and the little children with their arms around his neck; do you think that the people of this city would kill him? Do you think any one would wish to crucify him? Do you not rather believe that every one who had a loved one out in that cemetery would go to him, even upon their knees, and beg him to give back their dead. Do you believe that any man was ever crucified who was the master of death?
Let me tell you to-night if there shall ever appear upon this earth the master, the monarch, of death, all human knees will touch the earth. He will not be crucified. All the living who fear death; all the living who have lost a loved one, will bow to him. And yet we are told that this worker of miracles, this man who could clothe the dead dust in the throbbing flesh of life, was crucified. I do not believe that he worked the miracles, I do not believe that he raised the dead, I do not believe that he claimed to be the Son of God. These things were told long after he was dead; told because the ignorant multitude demanded mystery and wonder; told, because at that time the miraculous was believed of all the illustrious dead. Stories that made Christianity powerful then, weaken it now. He who gains a triumph in a conflict with a devil, will be defeated by science.
There is another thing about these foolish miracles. All could have been imitated. Men could pretend to be blind; confederates could feign sickness, and even death.
It is not very difficult to limp or to hold an arm as though it were paralyzed; or to say that one is afflicted with "an issue of blood." It is easy to say that the son of a widow was raised from the dead, and if you fail to give the name of the son, or his mother, or the time and place where the wonder occurred, it is quite difficult to show that it did not happen.
No one can be called upon to disprove anything that has not apparently been established. I say apparently, because there can he no real evidence in support of a miracle.
How could we prove, for instance, the miracle of the loaves and fishes? There were plenty of other loaves and other fishes in the world? Each one of the five thousand could have had a loaf and a fish with him. We would have to show that there was no other possible way for the people to get the bread and fish except by miracle, and then we are only half through. We must then show that they did, in fact, get enough to feed five thousand people, and that more was left than was had in the beginning.
Of course this is simply impossible. And let me ask, why was not the miracle substantiated by some of the multitude?
Would it not have been a greater wonder if Christ had created instead of multiplied the loaves and fishes?
How can we now prove that a certain person more than eighteen hundred years ago was possessed by seven devils?
How was it ever possible to prove a thing like that?
How can it be established that some evil spirits could talk while others were dumb, and that the dumb ones were the hardest to control?
If Christ wished to convince his fellow-men by miracles, why did he not do something that could not by any means have been a counterfeit?
Instead of healing a withered arm, why did he not find some man whose arm had been cut off, and make another grow?
If he wanted to raise the dead, why did he not raise some man of importance, some one known to all?
Why did he do his miracles in the obscurity of the village, in the darkness of the hovel? Why call back to life people so insignificant that the public did not know of their death?
Suppose that in May, 1865, a man had pretended to raise some person by the name of Smith from the dead, and suppose a religion had been founded on that miracle, would it not be natural for people, hundreds of years after the pretended miracle, to ask why the founder of that religion did not raise from the dead Abraham Lincoln, instead of the unknown and obscure Mr. Smith?
How could any man now, in any court, by any known rule of evidence, substantiate one of the miracles of Christ?
Must we believe anything that cannot in any way be substantiated?
If miracles were necessary to convince men eighteen centuries ago, are they not necessary now?
After all, how many men did Christ convince with his miracles? How many walked beneath the standard of the master of Nature?
How did it happen that so many miracles convinced so few? I will tell you. The miracles were never performed. No other explanation is possible.
It is infinitely absurd to say that a man who cured the sick, the halt and blind, raised the dead, cast out devils, controlled the winds and waves, created food and held obedient to his will the forces of the world, was put to death by men who knew his superhuman power and who had seen his wondrous works. If the crucifixion was public, the miracles were private. If the miracles had been public, the crucifixion could not have been. Do away with the miracles, and the superhuman character of Christ is destroyed. He becomes what he really was--a man. Do away with the wonders, and the teachings of Christ cease to be authoritative. They are then worth the reason, the truth that is in them, and nothing more. Do away with the miracles, and then we can measure the utterances of Christ with the standard of our reason. We are no longer intellectual serfs, believing what is unreasonable in obedience to the command of a supposed god. We no longer take counsel of our fears, of our cowardice, but boldly defend what our reason maintains.
Christ takes his appropriate place with the other teachers of mankind. His life becomes reasonable and admirable. We have a man who hated oppression; who despised and denounced superstition and hypocrisy; who attacked the heartless church of his time; who excited the hatred of bigots and priests, and who rather than be false to his conception of truth, met and bravely suffered even death.
The miracle of the resurrection I do not and cannot believe. If it was the fact, if the dead Christ rose from the grave, why did he not appear to his enemies? Why did he not visit Pontius Pilate? Why did he not call upon Caiaphas, the high priest? upon Herod? Why did he not again enter the temple and end the old dispute with demonstration? Why did he not confront the Roman soldiers who had taken money to falsely swear that his body had been stolen by his friends? Why did he not make another triumphal entry into Jerusalem? Why did he not say to the multitude: "Here are the wounds in my feet, and in my hands, and in my side. I am the one you endeavored to kill, but Death is my slave"? Simply because the resurrection is a myth. It makes no difference with his teachings. They are just as good whether he wrought miracles or not. Twice two are four: that needs no miracle. Twice two are five--a miracle can not help that. Christ's teachings are worth their effect upon the human race. It makes no difference about miracle or wonder. In that day every one believed in the impossible. Nobody had any standing as teacher, philosopher, governor, king, general, about whom there was not supposed to be something miraculous. The earth was covered with the sons and daughters of gods and goddesses.
In Greece, in Rome, in Egypt, in India, every great man was supposed to have had either a god for his father, or a goddess for his mother. They accounted for genius by divine origin. Earth and heaven were at that time near together. It was but a step for the gods from the blue arch to the green earth. Every lake and valley and mountain top was made rich with legends of the loves of gods. How could the early Christians have made converts to a man, among a people who believed so thoroughly in gods--in gods that had lived upon the earth; among a people who had erected temples to the sons and daughters of gods? Such people could not have been induced to worship a man--a man born among barbarous people, citizen of a nation weak and poor and paying tribute to the Roman power. The early Christians therefore preached the gospel of a god.