Miracles: The Evidence In The Nineteenth CenTury THAT THEY WERE PERFORMED IN THE FIRST.
I Propose, in this Lecture, to consider the evidence in favor of the divine origin of Christianity as derived from miracles. The particular point which I shall have in view is the evidence as it exists in the nineteenth century that miracles were performed in the first, or as the evidence appeals to the men of this generation. The remarks will have reference to the argument in the present age of the world, and in view of the objections which may be urged by those who deny the divine origin of Christianity as derived from the present state of science, and from the great changes which have occurred in the minds of men on the stability of the laws of nature now after the lapse of eighteen hundred years since Christianity was introduced, and on the whole subject of supernatural interferences and agencies. It is evident that the state of the argument must be somewhat different from what it was when Christianity was first proclaimed, and that it would have been comparatively easy to convince men of the reality of such supernatural interferences as those on which Christianity is based at a time when the belief in such interferences was almost universal. There has been a growing confidence, as science has advanced, in the fixedness of the laws of nature, and it is conceivable that the confidence in the fixedness and stability of those laws might become so strong as to lead men to adopt it as a maxim that all testimony in favor of miracles is to be at once rejected. With many persons that point is already reached. "We summarily," says Strauss (Intr. to the Life of J esus)," reject all miracles, prophecies, narratives of angels and demons, and the like, as simply impossible and irreconcilable with the known and universal laws which govern the course of events." So Renan, and so the Westminster Review, in passages which I have had, or shall have occasion to refer to, adopt this as a maxim. The question whether this is so is, perhaps, the great question which is before mankind in this age; it is certainly a question which the friends of religion in this age are to meet, and in reference to which the enemies of religion are pressing very hard on the faith of the Church.
The essential idea of a miracle is that of an event where the only antecedent is the divine will and the divine power. Theologically considered, it is where such an event occurs as performed in attestation of the divine mission of him who performs it, and as showing that he is authorized to proclaim the law, or to disclose the will of God, as the credentials of an embassador accredit him to a foreign court, and authorize him to declare the will of the government which has sent him.
It is not difficult, therefore, to distinguish the idea of a miracle from that of an ordinary event, and it is not necessary, in order to obtain that idea, to inquire whether it is a suspension of the laws of nature, as theologians have commonly affirmed it to be, or a violation of the laws of nature, as Mr. Hume was pleased to regard it, or as the introduction of a higher law of nature adjusted to the occasion, as Dr. Thomas Brown seems to have regarded it. If there are laws of nature already in operation in relation to that on which the miracle is performed, of course those laws would be " suspended" for the time; whether in any case there would be a " violation" of those laws, or whether all that there is in the case is the introduction of higher laws, are points which, perhaps, are above us, and which would not, at any rate, help us in understanding the real nature of a miracle.
The idea is, that the only antecedent in the case is the divine will—the divine power. That is all that enters into the result. That covers and explains all. In the creation of the world, the only antecedent was the divine will—the divine power. It was not by any established laws; it was not by the use of subordinate agencies; it was not a development from things already existing. In the formation of new races upon the earth in the old geological periods preparatory to the introduction of man, and in the creation of man himself, the only antecedent in each-case was the divine will— the divine power. One race was not developed from another, nor were the elements of the one taken as materials from which to form the other. One race was entirely swept away from the earth, to be succeeded by another, brought into existence in a similar manner, and by the same power. In raising the dead, the only antecedent in the case is the divine will—the divine power. There is nothing in the condition of the dead tending to that; there are no laws of nature operating in the grave in that line or direction ; there is nothing in the condition of the dead—no germ—no hidden life —that can be developed into the new form of being. All the laws of "nature" in the case tend to a different result—to decomposition and permanent death; and if those laws continued to operate with no counteracting will or power, the dead would remain in their graves forever.
This is the essential idea in a miracle. The particular idea, as connected with the evidences of revealed religion, is that this power is put forth in attestation of one who claims to be a messenger from heaven, or in the establishment of some doctrine or truth to be believed by men. Whatever may be the difference of opinion as to the fact of such a divine interposition, there can be none on the question whether such a power, if exerted, would be a sufficient confirmation of a claim to a divine mission, or of the truth of a doctrine proposed to the faith of mankind. Men are so made that they could not believe otherwise, nor can they reason themselves into a contrary belief. Here, at least, the limits of skepticism" are fixed and settled. God would not give this power to an impostor, nor would he put forth this power in defense of a falsehood. Men may believe that there is no God, but they can not believe that, if there is a God, he would raise the dead to confirm a lie or to deceive mankind. Whatever may be their views of God—Fetish, Polytheistic, Monotheistic, Deistic, Christian, Mohammedan, Buddhist, Trinitarian, Unitarian, they will agree in this. They are so made, and they can not think otherwise. Whoever made man, or however, or whenever he was formed, this idea was incorporated into his very nature. His Maker—known or unknown to us—meant that man should believe that if he interposed by his direct will and power, it would be in favor of truth, not of falsehood; in favor of one sent from heaven, and not in favor of an impostor. So men have believed, and so they will believe to the end of time.
As to the evidence of the truth of miracles, the next question is not so much whether those in reference to which the claim would be made are established by SufFicient testimony, as whether they can be established by Any Testimony Whatever. In the language of Mr. Mansel (Aids to Faith, p. 16), "If it once be granted that testimony is admissible in the case, it is scarcely possible to conceive a stronger testimony than that which the Christian miracles can claim." Accordingly, Strauss and Renan assume that a miracle is simply impossible, and that all reference to miracles is to be entirely laid out of the question. Mr. Hume also places the matter expressly on that ground. He says: " A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined."—Essays, vol. ii., p. 108, ed. Phila., 1817. This, too, is the tendency of science, so far as science bears on the subject at all; for just in proportion as men approximate the position that the laws of nature are universal, fixed, and unchangeable, they approximate the position that no human testimony whatever could establish the truth of a miracle. " No testimony," we are told, on high scientific authority, " can reach to the supernatural; testimony can apply only to apparent, sensible facts; testimony can only prove an extraordinary and perhaps inexplicable phenomenon ; that it is due to supernatural causes is entirely dependent on the previous belief and assumption of the parties."* And this is the question. In the language of Mr. Mansel," The question is not the rarity of miracles—no one asserts them to be common; it is not their general improbability—no one asserts them to be generally probable; it is not that they need an extraordinary testimony as compared with other events * Essays and Reviews, p. 107.
—such a testimony we assert they have. It is neither more nor less than their impossibility ; an impossibility to be established on scientific grounds, such as no reasonable man would reject in any other case — grounds such as those on which we believe that the earth goes round the sun, or that chemical elements combine -in definite proportions. In this point of view the argument is altogether of a general character, and is unaffected by any peculiarities of probability or testimony which may distinguish one miraculous narrative from another. If the progress of physical or metaphysical science has shown beyond the possibility of reasonable doubt that miracles are impossible; if, as seems to be the tendency of a recent argument, the assertion of a miracle is now known to be as absurd as the assertion that two and two make five,* it is idle to attempt a comparison between greater or less degrees of probability or testimony."f
In this connection, as showing what is the state of one class of minds on this subject, and perhaps as representing in fact more than would be willing to avow it, I may copy a remark and an illustration of Renan which I have before quoted (Life of Jesus, p. 43, 44, 45) : " None of the miracles," says he, " with which ancient histories are filled, occurred under scientific conditions. Observation, never once contradicted, teaches us that miracles occur only in periods and countries in which they are believed in, and before persons disposed to believe them. No miracle was ever performed before an assembly of men capable of establishing the miraculous character of an act. Neither men of the people nor men of the world are competent for that. Great precautions and a long habit of scientific researcli are requisite.
* Essays and Reviews, p. 141. t Aids to Faith, p. 10.
" We do not say," he adds, in a passage which I have quoted before," miracle is impossible; we say hitherto there has been none proved. Let a thaumaturgist present himself to-morrow with testimony sufficiently important to merit our attention; let him announce that he is able, I will suppose, to raise the dead, what would be done ? A commission composed of physiologists, physicians, chemists, persons experienced in historical criticism, would be appointed. This commission would choose the corpse, make certain that death was real, designate the hall in which the experiment should be made, and regulate the whole system of precautions necessary to leave no room for doubt. If, under such conditions, the resurrection should be performed, a probability almost equal to certainty would be attained. However, as an experiment ought always to be capable of being repeated, as one ought to be capable of doing again what one has done once, and as in the matter of miracles there can be no question of easy or difficult, the thaumaturgist would be invited to reproduce his marvelous act under other circumstances, upon other bodies, in another medium. If the miracle succeeds each time, two things would be proven: first, that supernatural acts do come to pass in the world; second, the power to perform them belongs or is delegated to certain persons. But who does not see that no miracle was ever performed under such conditions; that always hitherto the thaumaturgist has chosen the subject of the experiment, chosen the means, chosen the public; that, moreover, it is, in most cases, the people themselves who, from the undeniable need which they feel of seeing in great events and in great men something divine, create the marvelous legends afterward."
Such are some of the feelings and views which the defenders of miracles are to meet in the nineteenth century.
It is important, then, to remark here that Christianity is founded on a belief of the possibility and the reality of miracles, and on the belief that it is possible to establish the fact that they have occurred by testimony, as firmly as testimony can establish any other fact— that is, so as to make this the basis of faith and of action in our highest interests. No one who receives any thing on the ground of testimony can doubt that Christ claimed the power of working true miracles, as a proof that he came from God. " That ye may know that the Son of Man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house."—Luke, v., 24. "If I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you."—Luke, xi., 20.
No one can doubt, also, that as Jesus claimed the power of working miracles, and appealed to them as proof of his divine mission, so his disciples believed that he actually did work miracles, and went forth to propagate his religion on that ground.
Still farther, no one can doubt, as I showed in the last Lecture, that Christianity was propagated on that ground, and that the belief that it was sustained by miraculous or supernatural agency was one of the main reasons why it was embraced at all, and why it made so rapid progress in the world.
In like manner, no one can doubt that the apostles claimed the same power, and that it was, also, on the belief that they had the power miraculously of speaking foreign languages, of healing the sick, and of raising the dead, that they spread the religion abroad among the nations.
No man can explain the things referred to in the New Testament, and claimed to be miracles, on any principles of optical illusion, of jugglery, of deception, of sleight of hand, of superior knowledge of physical laws, of an acquaintance with the secret powers of nature. Many things that were once regarded as miracles may be thus explained; many things once reckoned among the works of " magic," or that were regarded as supernatural, have been explained on principles of science, by Sir David Brewster, in his work on " Magic ;" many of the tricks of jugglers, that may be above our power to explain them, are yet of easy explanation; many things may be produced in the laboratory of the chemist which may seem to be miraculous to the unlearned, but which are plain to the chemist himself; and many of the things relied on by impostors as proofs that they were from God, can be now easily explained. But the miracles of the New Testament can not thus be explained. Renan has indeed attempted to explain the healing of Peter's wife's mother, and the resurrection of Lazarus, and the alleged resurrection of Jesus, but the world will not accept such explanations. If the facts occurred, they are above the operations of any laws of nature. If the lame were made to walk; if the lepers were cleansed; if the eyes of the blind were opened; if diseases departed by a word; if the dead were restored to life, these things are above any natural laws, and the world will hold the whole to be deceit and imposture, or will believe that they were real miracles, that is, events where the only antecedent was the will and the power of God.
Whether Christianity could or could not have been originally propagated, as it is now to be kept up in the world, without miraculous agency, might be a fair question ; but it is certain that the experiment was not thus made, and that it was not thus propagated. The infidel must concede, at least, that it was, in fact, propagated on the belief that Christ really performed miracles, and that he himself was actually raised from .the dead.
At this stage of the argument, therefore, the following points of statement and inquiry occur:
(1.) Is a miracle possible, that is, in the form in which the question must come before us, not, whether, supposing that there is a God—a being of almighty power who has framed and established the laws of nature—he could set aside his laws, and himself work without them, for no rational man could doubt that; but whether there is by fate, or physical necessity, or otherwise, any such ascertained fixedness and stability of the laws of nature that it can not be believed that they would ever be set aside by the introduction of a higher power working without reference to them ?
(2.) Is it possible to establish the fact if a miracle has been wrought ? Can there be evidence which will properly set aside the presumption of the absolute uniformity of the laws of nature, as derived from experience, or the study of those laws, or from any other cause, that this has actually been done ? Is it not much more probable that men have been deceived, or have been imposed upon, than that those laws have been set aside for any purpose ? Has not the world been full of instances where testimony was false; have there been any corresponding instances or facts in the way in which the affairs of the world are actually managed, that might be considered as parallel to this, or that might be equally regarded as a departure from fixed and regular laws ?
(3.) Is the evidence adduced, even if a miracle has been wrought, such as the case would require ; such as the world might demand; such as would properly satisfy a man accustomed to reason on scientific principles; such as a geologist or astronomer would admit in regard to the condition of the earth in former ages, or the recorded phenomena of the heavenly bodies? Is the evidence such that it ought to convince us ? Does the strength of the testimony at all correspond with the unusual and the improbable nature of the fact ? May it not be demanded that the testimony shall be such as would correspond with the unusual and improbable nature of the fact; that, as there is the strongest presumption against the miracle, so the testimony ought to be not merely that which would establish an ordinary event, but such as would overcome this presumption against it ?
(4.) A more material and important question still is, Whether there is any stronger evidence in favor of miracles than there is in favor of witchcraft, of sorcery, of the reappearance of the dead, of ghosts, of apparitions ? Is not the evidence in favor of these as strong as any that can be adduced in favor of miracles ? Have not these things been matters of universal belief? In what respects is the evidence in favor of the miracles of the Bible stronger than that which can be adduced in favor of witchcraft and sorcery ? Does it differ in nature and in degree; and if it differs, is it not in favor of witchcraft and 'sorcery? Has not the evidence in favor of the latter been derived from as competent and credible witnesses ? Has it not been brought to us from those who saw the facts alleged? Has it not been subjected to a close scrutiny in courts of justice—to cross-examinations—to tortures? Has it not convinced those of highest legal attainments; those accustomed to sift testimony; those who understood the true principles of evidence ? Has not the evidence in favor of witchcraft and sorcery had, what the evidence in favor of miracles has not had, the advantage of strict judicial investigation, and been subjected to trial, where evidence should be, before courts of law ? Have not the most eminent judges in the most civilized and enlightened courts of Europe and America admitted the force of such evidence, and on the ground of it committed great numbers of innocent persons to the gallows or to the stake ?
I confess that of all the questions ever asked on the subject of miracles, this is the most perplexing and the most difficult to answer. It is rather to be wondered at that it has not been pressed with more zeal by those who deny the reality of miracles, and that they have placed their objections so extensively on other grounds. From the fact that it is so seldom referred to by skeptics, it is manifest that it does not strike them as it strikes me, and that they, from some cause, are not disposed to use it as I would, if I had no faith in miracles; and perhaps it may savor more of apparent candor than of wise prudence for a believer in the reality of miracles even to make the suggestion.
The argument might be made very strong, and if there were time to present it here, it might be done in such a manner that it might seem, at least, to be impossible to meet and refute it.
An extract or two from Lecky, in his History of Rationalism in Europe, will show the nature of the difficulty and the force of the objection, though the remarks made by him are in no way designed to support the cause of infidelity: "For more than fifteen hundred years it was universally believed that the Bible established, in the clearest manner, the reality of the crime [of witchcraft], and that an amount of evidence, so varied and so ample as to preclude the very possibility of doubt, attested its continuance and its prevalence. The clergy denounced it with all the emphasis of authority. The legislators of almost every land enacted laws for its punishment. Acute judges, whose lives were spent in sifting evidence, investigated the question on countless occasions, and condemned the accused. Tens of thousands of victims perished by the most agonizing and protracted torments without exciting the faintest compassion. Nations that were completely separated by position, by interests, and by character, on this one question were united. In almost every province of Germany, but especially in those where clerical influence predominated, the persecution raged with fearful intensity. Seven thousand victims are said to have been burned at Treves, six hundred by the single bishop of Bamberg, and eight hundred in a single year in the bishopric of Wurtzburg. In France, decrees were passed on the subject by the Parliaments of Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Rheims, Rouen, Dijon, and Rennes, and they were all followed by a harvest of blood. At Toulouse, the seat of the Inquisition, four hundred persons perished for sorcery at a single execution, and fifty at Douay in a single year. Remy, a judge of Nancy, boasted that he had put to death eight hundred witches in sixteen years. The executions that took place at Paris in a few months were, in the emphatic words of an old writer,' almost infinite.' The fugitives who escaped to Spain were there seized and burned by the Inquisition. In Italy a thousand persons were executed in a single year in the province of Como; in the other parts of the country the severity of the inquisitors at last created an absolute rebellion. In Geneva five hundred alleged witches were executed in three months; forty-eight were burned at Constance or Ravensburg, and eighty in the little town of Valery, in Savoy. The Church of Rome proclaimed in every way that was in her power the reality and the continued existence of the crime."
The writer from whom I have made this extract adds: " It is, I think, difficult to examine the subject with impartiality, without coming to the conclusion that the historical evidence establishing the reality of witchcraft is so vast and so varied that it is impossible to disbelieve it without what on other subjects we should deem the most extraordinary rashness. The defenders of the belief, who were often men of great and distinguished talent, maintained that there was no fact in all history more fully attested, and that to reject it would be to strike at the root of all historical evidence of the miraculous. The subject was examined in tens of thousands of cases, in almost every country of Europe, by tribunals which included the acutest lawyers and ecclesiastics of the age, on the scene at the time when the alleged facts had taken place, and with the assistance of innumerable sworn witnesses. The judges had no motive whatever to desire the condemnation of the accused; and as conviction would be followed by a fearful death, they had the strongest motives to exercise their power with caution and deliberation. In our day it may be said with confidence that it would be altogether impossible for such an amount of evidence to accumulate round a conception which had no basis in fact. If we considered witchcraft probable, a hundredth part of the evidence we possess would have placed it beyond the region of doubt. If it were a natural, but a very improbable fact, our reluctance to believe it would have been completely stifled by the multiplicity of the proofs."*
As materially bearing on the point before us, it would be important to inquire into the changes which have occurred in the world in regard to faith in the miraculous and the supernatural, and to ask to what this change tends, or how it bears on the subject of miracles. But I have not time or ability to do it, and it has been done in a manner which leaves nothing to be desired by Lecky.
Successively, by the slow progress of civilization; by the advances of science; by being able by natural laws to explain what were once regarded as portents and wonders; by a gradual cessation of faith in things that seemed to be established by incontrovertible evidence, eclipses, and meteors, and famines, and earthquakes, and comets, have been removed from the regions of the marvelous, and, in like manner, the faith of mankind in sorcery, and witchcraft, and magic has, to a great extent, passed away. If there are remains of this still lingering in the minds of men, and if new and strange things have been added to these in our age not less absurd and irrational than the faith in witchcraft and sorcery, these are not so general as materially to affect the question before us. It has not yet occurred, as far as I know, to infidelity to place the subject of" table-moving" and " spirit-rapping" on a level with the miracles of the New Testament.
It is a great question now—the great question of our age in regard to religion, and not less important in regard to science—Sow far is this skepticism to extend? What is its proper limit ? Is the principle to become
* See Lecky, History of nationalism in Europe, vol. i., pp. 28, 34, 36, 37, 38, 39.
Bo universal as to include all the facts claiming to be of a supernatural nature which have actually oecurred, or which will occur in our world ? Is it to embrace the whole region of the miraculous and the supernatural, so as to exclude the idea of any direct agency on the part of God, any phenomena—any changes—the antecedents in which are only the divine will and the divine power ? So it is maintained by Rationalists; such, too, is the practical belief of many men whose lives are devoted to science.
The progress of things, the influences of civilization, the discoveries of science in regard to physical laws, have "exorcised" the world, if the expression may be allowed, in regard to sorcery, witchcraft, magic, necromancy, portents and wonders in eclipses, storms, and earthquakes; are these to " exorcise" the world in regard to mesmerism, spiritualism, spirit-rapping, and table - moving; and are they also to " exorcise" it in regard to the belief that Joshua caused the sun to " stand still upon Gibeon," and the moon " in the valley of Ajalon;" in regard to the stilling of the tempest on the Sea of Tiberias ; in regard to the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda; in regard to the opening of the eyes of Bartimeus; in regard to the raising of Lazarus from the grave; in regard to the resurrection of the Redeemer himself?
So say the Rationalist and the skeptic, and here issue is joined.
We approach, then, this great question in this form; and my wish is to show you exactly how this matter lies; what progress is made toward this result; what there is to show that this result can never be reached, and that, notwithstanding all this, the believer in the miracles of the Bible has no cause of alarm as to any such result.
I Bhall, in the remainder of this Lecture, first make some preliminary, or, rather, if you will allow the word, eliminary* remarks, and then show you that this conclusion has not been reached, and that it is impossible for men to reach it, leaving in fact in the nineteenth century the evidence for miracles the same as that of ordinary well-authenticated facts in history oh other subjects.
(a) The first remark is, that the universal belief in miracles and the marvelous; the ease with which such things are credited by men, the most enlightened as well as the unenlightened, statesmen, jurists, ecclesiastics, law-givers, sages—Socrates, Coke, Bacon, Hale, among numberless others—shows that a belief in the supernatural and the marvelous does not shock mankind ; is not contrary to the laws of the human mind; is rather in accordance with some law of our nature that looks for such interventions, and seeks and expects to be gratified. It may be added, also, that this proves that men would naturally expect such an intervention if a revelation were made to mankind.—It is not safe to argue against a universal law of human nature; against deep convictions which have been implanted in the soul of man, and which seek expression in all ages and among all people. Such a method of reasoning will be found, sooner or later, to be fundamentally wrong. We may assume that our Maker did not constitute our being on a universal lie, or incorporate into our nature faith in a universal falsehood. This may be called credulity; superstition ; the fruit of ignorance; prejudice. The material fact, however, is that the mind of man is so made; and that this proves that He who made it designed so to endow it that it would not be shocked by the
* Eliminating, expelling; discharging; throwing off.— Webster.
marvelous and the supernatural, and that men should be prepared to welcome the evidence of the truly miraculous when it is presented to them. It is to be presumed, also, that if this is the original and normal state of the human mind, there would be events under the divine government which would properly correspond with this. The fact that men are made with eyes adapted to vision is presumptive evidence that there would be light corresponding with their structure, and that there would be things to be seen; the original capacity of mankind for knowledge supposes that there would be things to be known; that law of our nature which demands society presupposes that there would be other beings with whom friendships could be formed; the natural desire of men to know God supposes that there is a God to be known; the universal expectation of miracles supposes that there would be miracles in which man could believe.
(b) The second remark is, that the question so much agitated, and so difficult of solution, at what time miracles ceased in the Church, and whether they were or were not continued after the time of the apostles, does not affect the question whether the miracles of the New Testament were really performed; whether, for example, Jesus turned water into wine, or raised Lazarus from the grave. If those miracles which were claimed to be performed in the early Church were false; if those claimed to be wrought by the Holy Coat at Treves were true; if those wrought by the Emperor Vespasian, and at the tomb of St. Francis Xavier, on which Mr. Hume dwells so complacently, were true or were false, it does not prove that God did not interpose by direct power in giving a new religion to the world, and in furnishing attestations that the great messenger came from him. If the Christian fathers worked miracles, it does not prove that Paul did not; if those claimed to have been wrought by the fathers were false, that does not prove that those which Christ claimed to have wrought were false also. If there have been false claimants to the crown of England, that does not prove that the claim of the present sovereign is unfounded.
(c) A third remark is, that it is assuming more than can be proved that direct divine interventions in the affairs "of the universe have ceased now altogether, or that there are no events occurring in which the divine will and the divine power are the only antecedents. Proof on that point is obviously beyond the capacity of man. In the argument of Dr. Clarke on the Being of a God, it was remarked that, unless man was omnipresent, he could not possibly demonstrate that there was no God; for in that part of space beyond him, and which he could not penetrate, it was possible that there might be a God. In like manner we may say that, unless man now is omnipresent, and unless he can bring all the events which occur, seen and unseen, under the explanation of natural laws, it is possible that some of those events may be performed by the direct agency of God. Moreover, it is impossible to prove that God has in any way so pledged or committed himself to abide always by established and regular laws, and never to put forth his direct power in creation, in the government of worlds, or in their destruction, that man can assume this as an axiom or established truth, in relation to the present races of animals now on the earth, or in relation to any new races that he may bring upon the stage. At no one of the old geological periods of our world could it have been shown that God had " committed" or " pledged" himself that he would not sweep off the existing races,
and that he would create no more; nor does the fact of the uniformity of laws, so far as established yet, constitute any such " committal" on the part of God that he will not again interpose by his direct power in the affairs of the universe. It is certain that there are many things occurring which science has not as yet been able to reduce to natural and regular laws, great as is the progress which has been made in that direction ; it is equally certain that but a small part of our own world—land, water, air—has been explored; it is certain that man knows almost nothing of the manner in which things are done in distant worlds; and it is possible that in that vast region of the unknown there may be things occurring which are the direct and immediate result of the will and the power of God. At all events, man is not in a condition to pronounce an opinion on that subject, and he violates one of the rules of sound philosophy when, from so narrow a basis of observed facts, he draws a sweeping and universal conclusion.
(d) A fourth remark is, that it is difficult to see why the facts in a miracle, if a miracle occurs, are not as susceptible of proof as any other facts. If the sun stood still at the command of Joshua, the fact was in itself as susceptible of proof as that the sun seemed to move; if a lame man " leaped as an hart," there would be no more difficulty, one would suppose, in proving that he leaped than that any other man leaped; if one who was sick rose up and carried his couch, there would be no more difficulty in establishing such a fact in regard to him than in regard to another man; and if one who was dead was alive again, that fact, it would seem, would be susceptible of easy proof. The testimony of credible witnesses that they had seen such a man as Lazarus in ordinary life would not be called in question; how would the testimony that they saw him after it was known or affirmed that he was dead vary the nature of the evidence? In what respects does the testimony differ ? What is the testimony when one affirms that he has seen a certain person? How does that differ when the testimony pertains to the same person at another time, even after it was known that he was dead ? If in the one case the fact can be established, why may it not in the other ?
The illusion here, to use no harsher term, is in the supposition as to what is seen in the case. The objector to miracles supposes that it is necessary to see the miracle itself, and that, unless this is seen, there can be no proper testimony in the case. But no witness could possibly see two and two make four, in the abstract. No man pretends that he sees the changes which occur in the growth of a plant, or in the formation of the animal from the embryo, or the fowl from the egg. No man pretends to see the processes in the changes which occur in the laboratory of the chemist. In the last case, as substantially in all these cases, what is seen is the appearance of certain combinations of the elements of matter in one form, and then the appearance of the same elements of matter as they exist in new formations. The testimony of the chemist as to the existence of the latter would be as credible as his testimony in regard to the former, and would require no additional confirmation. No one would call the testimony in question because he had not seen the process of the transformation, or because there was a power there, lying back of the new form assumed, which he could not explain or understand. The facts in the case would in no manner be affected by this consideration, nor, in examining such a witness, would that consideration be allowed to affect the credibility of the testimony. Suppose that that power were the direct power and will of God—as for aught he knows it may be—would that affect the nature of the testimony of the chemist as to the reality of the visible change ? And then suppose that he were called to give testimony as to the fact that a man was blind, and that a man saw, how does the fact that there may lie between the two things the power and the will of God affect the one case more than the other? There are difficulties in such a transformation which no one has been able to explain, but those difficulties in ordinary cases would not be allowed to be a bar to the reception of the testimony as to the preceding and the subsequent facts. Lazarus before his death and Lazarus after his death was precisely the same man; and it is difficult to see how the testimony in regard to him, if exactly the same, should be admitted in the one case and rejected in the other.
(e) One other remark. It is, that science, so far as it has gone, has demonstrated that the alleged miracles of the New Testament, if the facts occurred, can not be explained by the laws of nature, or that they could not have been wrought by any physical laws. Very many things, as we have seen, once deemed supernatural and miraculous, have been shown to be the production of the ordinary laws of nature, and have thus been removed from the region of the marvelous, and have taken their places among things well understood as being in accordance with regular laws. Eclipses, meteors, comets, earthquakes, the lightning, the ignus fatuus —things that once alarmed mankind, have thus, to a great extent, taken their places in the ordinary course of events. ^Esculapius is no longer worshiped as the god of medicine, for it is no longer supposed that there is any direct and supernatural divine agency in the healing art; nor are Ceres or Neptune worshiped as if supernatural divine power were manifested in the rearing of fruits, or in regulating the storm, or in the ebbing and the flowing of the waters of the sea. The magician has given way to the chemist working by established laws. Marvels and wonders, therefore, have been greatly limited and diminished by placing these events under the operation of the regular rules of nature.
Science has not advanced so far, however, as to explain the miracles of the New Testament on any known principles, as it has in these matters, nor has it made any approximation to it. Nay, just so far as it has gone it has demonstrated that those miracles can not be explained on any principles known, or likely to be known, to science—gravitation, attraction, repulsion, electricity, galvanism, or the healing properties of vegetables or minerals. The chemist does not open the eyes of the blind by a touch; he does not heal the sick by a word; he does not raise the dead by the blow-pipe or by galvanism. In the language of Mr. Mansel," The advance of physical science tends to strengthen rather than to weaken our conviction of the supernatural character of the Christian miracles. In whatever proportion our knowledge of physical causation is limited, and the number of unknown natural agents comparatively large, in the same proportion is the probability that some of these unknown causes, acting in some unknown manner, may have given rise to the alleged marvels. But this probability diminishes when each newlydiscovered agent, as its properties become known, is shown to be inadequate to the production of the supposed effects, and as the residue of unknown causes, which might produce them, becomes smaller and smaller. We are told, indeed, that the ' inevitable progress of research must, within a longer or shorter period, unravel all that seems most marvelous ;'* but we may be permitted to doubt the relevancy of the remark to the present case, until it has been shown that the advance of science has in some degree enabled men to perform the miracles performed by Christ. When the inevitable progress of research shall have enabled men of modern times to give sight to the blind with a touch, to still tempests with a word, to raise the dead to life, to die themselves, and to rise again, we may allow that the same causes might possibly have been called into operation ten thousand years earlier, by some great man in advance of his age. But, until this is done, the unraveling of the marvelous in other phenomena only serves to leave these works in their solitary grandeur, as wrought by the finger of God, unapproached and unapproachable by all the knowledge and all the power of man. The appearance of a comet or the fall of an aerolite may be reduced by the advance of science from a supposed supernatural to a natural occurrence; and this reduction furnishes a reasonable presumption that other phenomena of a like character will in time meet with a like explanation. But the reverse is the case with respect to those phenomena which are narrated as produced by personal agency. In proportion as the science of to-day surpasses that of former generations, so is the improbability that any man %ould have done in past times, by natural means, works which no skill of the present age is able to imitate."f
With these general remarks on the subject of miracles, I proceed to state what is the form which the ar
* Essays and Reviews, p. 109. t Aids to Faith, p. 21, 22.
gument assumes in the nineteenth century, or, in the present age of the world, with all the advances which have been made in science; or what points have been established as bearing on the possibility and the credibility of the miracles of the New Testament.
I . The first remark is, that no such universality of the certain and fixed laws of nature as is claimed by those who deny the reality of miracles, has been ascertained and demonstrated; nor can it be. In other words, amidst the infinite number and variety of phenomena which have occurred in our world, and in other worlds, and which are now constantly occurring, it has not been demonstrated, and can not be, that there are none in respect to which the only antecedent is the direct will and power of God. To show that miracles are not possible, and not credible, it is necessary to do this. But this can not be done; for, if there is any thing made clear by science, it is that the human powers of observation and comprehension are not vast enough to establish so universal a proposition. The argument of Newton in regard to " gravitation" could not reach the point that there is, and has been nowhere, any matter that is not moved by another force. The laws of Kepler in regard to planetary motions are not so established in regard to their universality that there may not be, somewhere in the boundlessness of space, worlds held in being, and moved by other forces than these.
The remark now made, so obvious, demonstrates that no one can prove that the uniformity and fixedness of the laws of nature is so " universal" as to exclude the possibility of miracles ; for such a demonstration must take in all events, all worlds, all systems, all beings— angels and God as well as men. Our " experience," of which so much is made by Mr. Hume, pertains only to our own world and to men; it takes in nothing beyond. But, to be complete, the demonstration must take in all worlds, creatures, systems, ages, and cycles of ages, and must establish the fact that in all these things God never does perform, and never has performed, any act by his own immediate power or will, or that no world has been called into being, that no creature has been made, that no event has occurred, where the only antecedent in the case was the divine power and will. Obviously this is wholly beyond the power of man to demonstrate. There have been times in the history of the universe of which no records have come to us. How can man demonstrate what has or what has not been done, then? There are worlds which man has never seen by the naked eye or by the glass. How can he demonstrate what has been or has not been done in those worlds ? There may be beings of whose " experience" man has no knowledge. How can he determine how they came into existence, or prove that among them there are not events produced by the direct power of God ? There may be worlds and systems —" nebulce''—that are so detached from our system that we can not demonstrate that the same laws which govern our system control them, or that, in the infinity of the divine resources, there may not be methods of controlling those worlds which are unknown here. How is man to determine that point ? And, moreover, there may be a spiritual world—a world so detached from all matter, and so wholly independent of matter, that nothing can be inferred in regard to the laws which govern it from the laws of Kepler or Newton. "Who can tell how God may act in that spiritual world ? Who can demonstrate that in that world no event ever occurs where the sole antecedent is the divine power and the divine will ?
As, therefore, no one can prove that there is no God unless he himself is infinite, and can be present in all the immensity of space at the same time, since where he is not there God may be, so it is true that no one can prove that the laws of nature are so fixed and universal that a miracle is impossible, unless he himself can take in the whole of the universe, since it may be true that beyond the sphere of his knowledge there are events the only antecedent of which are the will and the power of God.
The observation now made, if well founded, must meet all that has been said by Mr. Hume in regard to " experience," so far as that bears on the subject. When it is said by him that " as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined," the word " experience," if it has any meaning, must refer to experience that embraces the whole subject ; that is, in relation to all the events to which the question of such uniformity would be applicable. But it is clear that among men there has been no such " experience." There have been, and there are, many events which lie quite beyond any such range of observation hitherto made; there are undoubtedly many things which have not as yet been reduced to any known laws, and it is yet an open question whether they can be; that is, whether the powers of men are adequate to the inquiry, and whether, if they are thus adequate, the events are of such a nature that they can be reduced to regular and fixed laws. In the earlier periods of the world, as already remarked, there were many things that passed under the name of" miracles" and wonders—phenomena which there was no way thus of accounting for—whose causes are now familiar to us, for in the ruder ages of the world they seemed to lie wholly in the regions of the marvelous. As science advances, the circle of those marvelous works is contracted, and a large part of those wonders is reduced to the dominion of fixed laws. The laboratory of the chemist now exhibits many a phenomena which in the Middle Ages would have been classed among the marvelous, now reduced to the regular operation of law; and it can not be doubted that there may be yet in nature many a secret power that has not yet been made the subject of scientific observation, or been brought under the general word " experience." It can not be regarded as improbable that many of those things will thus be carefully observed, arranged, and classified, and that they will be found to be under the control of fixed and unchanging laws ; but the world is not yet far enough advanced to justify the assertion that the " experience" of mankind extends to all these things. Not until this is done, and not until that " experience" shall take in the whole of the distant material worlds and systems, and not until that "experience" shall take in also the whole of the spiritual world, could it be aflirmed that it has been demonstrated by " experience" that there may not be events the sole antecedent of which is the will and the power of God. Man can not, therefore, as jet, prove that miracles are impossible
IT. The second remark in regard tc^miracles, as a sequence of what has already been said, is, that the eflect of the progress of true science is to demonstrate that the hypothesis which refers miracles to unknown natural causes is baseless; and that if the events occurred, they were real miracles. The only possible opinions in regard to the miracles of the New Testament are, that they were not performed at all; or that they were performed, as those who wrought them declared, in virtue of a supernatural power, and in attestation of their own divine mission; or that they " are distorted statements of events reducible to known natural causes." This last was the solution suggested by Paulus, who proposed to explain them on " naturalistic" principles; it is adopted substantially by Prof. Baden Powell;* and it is the explanation of the causes of many of the events referred to as miracles in the New Testament offered by Renan. But, as has been already remarked, and the remark deserves to be repeated, for it is vital to the whole question, science makes no approximation to this solution, but its tendency has all been in the opposite direction—to separate these events more and more from the common operations of nature. The " experience" of the world, in the observation of events, has never gone toward the point that there is a secret power in nature to raise the dead, and if the dead have been raised it has been where the only antecedent in the case has been the power and the will of God. " There remains," therefore, "only the choice between a deeper faith and a bolder unbelief; between accepting the sacred narrative as a true account of miracles actually performed, and rejecting it as wholly fictitious and incredible."f
The case where it is alleged that one has been raised from the dead may be referred to as an illustration of this point. The case supposed is this: First. There was actual—real death. It was not a swoon; not a disease that for a time produced the appearance of death; not suspended animation — it was actual death. Such is supposed in the case of Lazarus, and in the case of
* "On the Study of the Evidences of Christianity."
t Prof. Mansel, Aids to Faith, p. 23.
Jesus himself. Second. There was a restoration to real life; the restoration of the same person; the preservation of personal identity. It was not a phantasm ; not an appearance; not a spirit; not an immaterial substance that deceived the senses. In the case of both Lazarus and Jesus, it was a restoration to real life of the same person. Both are represented as they were before they died; both are recognized by their friends; both eat, walk, talk, have the same sympathies, friendships, affections as before; both are cognizable in all these respects as they were before they died. Third. Science does not do this; does not approach it. There has never been an instance in the " experience" of the world in which it has been done by natural laws; there has never been an instance in which it has been claimed that it has been thus done; there has never been an instance in which there has ever been an approach to it. There have been instances of restoration from suspended animation; there has been spasmodic muscular action produced by galvanism; there may have been a momentary inflation of the lungs; there may have been even a smile produced on the countenance of the dead—the horrible appearance of laughter in the sardonic grin, but there has been no real life, no regular heaving of the lungs, no living real smile produced in one who has been actually dead. Thus far the " experience" of the world on this subject has been as " uniform" as any experience can be, that science lays no claim to the power of raising the dead.
ILL My third remark in regard to miracles in their relation to the laws of nature is, that there is a sense in which those " laws of nature," so fixed and determined, are constantly set aside, or are "violated" by the action of other " laws of nature," that is, they are held absolutely in check so long as those other laws prevail. When the lightning strikes a tree, "it puts an end to all the ordinary development of vegetation," and seems to be a bare conflict of" force with law." Yet it is also true that the lightning follows a law of its own, and that law seems to conflict with law, or that one law sets another aside, and that there are meteorologic laws to which both the lightning and the vegetation are subject.* The same thing is true when the wind raises up the waters of the ocean and piles them in mountains, or when the vapor is upborne and carried by the clouds over valleys and hills, or when the dust of the earth is raised up by the whirlwind—in each case suspending, or " violating," for the time, the law of gravitation, the most " universal" law in nature. This result is perhaps still more manifest in the principle of life, that mysterious and unknown principle which seems to have the power, during its continuance, of " violating" all the laws of nature. By that principle the chemical elements which enter into the composition of the oak are detached from their natural connections as they are found in the air, the earth, and the waters ; the chemical laws which held them in those connections are suspended; they enter, under the principle of life, into new combinations, constituting now the component parts of a tree — the organic structure, the fibre, the bark, the branch, the leaf, the fruit—and they are held together by that principle of life by all the power needful to lift up the enormous mass from the earth, despite the law of gravitation, and to keep it steadfast against the influence of storms and tempests, century after century, until that principle of life shall loose its grasp and become extinct, and then, not before, the chemical laws re* Tracts for Priests and People, p. 342.
sume their power, and the old oak returns to gases and to earths under the resumed operation of those laws. The same thing is still more strikingly manifest in the animal structure, under the principle of life. The elements that make up the human body—carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, lime, iron, sulphur, sodium, potassium, magnesium—are all detached from their natural connections in the air, the earth, and the waters—in the animal, the vegetable, and the mineral world—and are formed into an entirely new combination of bone, sinew, nerves, muscle, with a definite size and shape, moulded and rounded, not by the physical laws of nature, but in spite of those laws, by a principle which " violates" them for the time, and holds them as long as it pleases; and it is not until life decays, and this new power ceases, that the natural chemical laws resume their functions, not now in the form of the living man, but in the grave, where the human frame is resolved into its natural elements. The chemical laws resume their action as soon as life departs, and those laws continue to act again until every particle that composed the human frame enters, under those laws, into new inorganic combinations, or until, under some new principle of life, vegetable or animal, the process is arrested midway, and new forms of life appear. All over the earth, therefore, on the land, in the waters, in the air, nothing is more common than that what are called the " fixed and uniform laws of nature," those laws which Mr. Hume informs us " a firm and unalterable experience has established," are, in fact, suspended —"violated"—held in check and abeyance—by this principle of life, where life is the only antecedent in the result. That a higher power than life — the Life itself, God — may not suspend them; that that higher power may not suspend the laws which regulate life itself, or restore it, has not as yet been established by a " firm and unalterable experience."
IV. In order to a proper understanding of the subject, it is necessary also to take into consideration the element of the will, and the power consequent on that, in reference to the " laws of nature." However fixed and settled those laws may be, the power of the will in man is constantly operating to suspend or interrupt them, that is, constantly producing effects which are not to be ' traced to regular and fixed laws, and which would never be produced by those laws. In other words, the effects are not produced by the laws of matter, but the laws of matter are, for a time, as really disturbed as in the case of a miracle, and fail of striking us as being as remarkable and perplexing only because they are of constant occurrence. It might be said, indeed, that the will itself is subject to fixed laws, and that, after all, the effects are produced by regular and fixed laws; but it is not easy to demonstrate that point, and it is not to be assumed that this is so, or that in the operations of the will there is nothing which can not be reduced to fixed and unvarying laws. At any rate, whatever may be true on that point, it is not to be assumed that it is any more true in reference to the human will than it is in reference to the divine will, and the difficulty in the one case is, as to the point, the same as in the other. In either case it is the introduction of a new power, apart from all force in the mere physical laws of nature, which are regarded as so settled and fixed—" the work of an agent wholly independent of those laws, and who, therefore, neither obeys nor disobeys them" For the time being, so far as the result is concerned, the new agent, or the new power, sets aside or sus
pends the operation of those laws, and the result in the case is to be traced to the new and independent power. Whether God has reserved to himself the right to interfere -with the regular laws of matter, as he has actually conferred it on man, is simply a question as to a fact, and not at all as to the possibility of the thing.
When a man, by the exertion of his will, raises his arm, or walks, or lifts a weight from the ground, he, in each case, suspends or overcomes, for the time, the law of gravitation, so far as he produces an effect which is not to be, and which can not be traced to that law—an effect which that law of gravitation could never in any circumstances produce, and which all the principles involved in the law of gravitation combine to prevent, and the effect produced is to be accounted for wholly by a power above and regardless of it — the power of the will y and in estimating the " experience" of the world in reference to Mr. Hume's argument, we are to take that part into the account as an important and a very common part of the " experience" of mankind— a matter of " experience" quite as common as that pertaining to the " firm and unalterable experience which has established those laws." When a man of his own will throws a stone into the air," the motion of the stone, as soon as it has left his hand, is determined by a combination of purely natural laws, partly by the attraction of the earth, partly by the resistance of the air, partly by the magnitude and direction of the force by which it was thrown." But by what law came it to be thrown at all ? By what law of nature—a law "fixed by an unalterable experience"—did it happen that it left its quiet bed on the ground; that the principle of inertia was overcome; that the law of gravitation which held it there, and would have held it there forever, was interrupted, and that it commenced its course through the air ? Neither the law of gravitation by itself, nor all the laws of nature put together, would ever have caused it to leave the ground and commence that flight through the air; but all the laws of " nature," in fact, combined to resist this, as really as the laws of " nature" combined to resist the raising up of Lazarus to life, or as the laws of "nature" on the Sea of Tiberias combined to keep up the storm, and to resist the power of Jesus, who commanded the winds and the waves to be still. It remains yet to be proved, not asserted, that when God's free will interposes to produce effects which are to be traced to that will alone, there is a more real violation of the laws of nature than there is when the human will interposes and produces changes which are to be traced to that will alone. It may be further added, that if the will of men does produce such disturbances and interruptions of the laws of nature, then, so far from its being true, as Mr. Hume says, that" a firm and unalterable experience has established those laws," it is true that there is almost nothing that is more liable to be disturbed, or that nothing is more common than that there are effects produced which are not to be traced to those laws, but where the only known antecedent is will, and the power consequent on will.
V. A fifth and final remark on the subject is, that the progress of our world, and, as far as we know, the progress of the universe, has not been under the operation of regular and fixed " laws." I mean that there are evidences of divine interposition apart from the operation of such laws, and that the results are such as can not be traced to those laws, but are to be traced to a direct divine interposition, and that, therefore, miracles are not in themselves absurd or impossible.
There are two methods in which, subsequent to the act of creation, the existing state of things on the earth, and in the universe at large, as far as we know, has been produced: the one is by development, or the growth of things under natural laws; the other is by the introduction of a new order of things, into which no former state naturally runs, or which, in no proper sense, can be the result of any antecedents in nature, but which must be traced to a mere interposition of power.
That the former—that of development—exists, no one can doubt; and it can not be denied that this is the regular and ordinary course of things; that is, that there is something which, in the order of nature, precedes the effect; which is the cause of it; which measures it; which contains in embryo all that is produced. Thus the germ of the acorn is developed into the oak, and the ovum is developed into the crocodile, the ostrich, and the barn-yard fowl; thus the slumbering powers of the infant are developed into the physical strength, the poetic genius, or the eloquence of the man. In all such cases there is nothing produced which is not a fair unfolding of what existed in the germ; nothing which is the result of mere power ah extra. The precise limit of this class of operations in nature has not yet been fixed. It is well known that attempts have been made to explain all the phenomena of the universe on this principle. The author of the " Vestiges of Creation" regards this as a sufficient explanation of the origin of the worlds and systems which compose the universe; Dr. Darwin supposes that all the varieties of species on the earth can be explained on this principle; and in this manner it is supposed, as may be true, that new worlds are constantly forming, and that the nebulous masses are now resolving themselves into suns and stars. Perhaps it is not within the range of the human powers to determine the exact limits of this process, and to do it is not material for any purpose connected with revealed religion.
But, while we would concede all that true science can ask on this point, it is still a fact that this has not been the sole or the main agency by which our world exists as it is now. In very many respects it has made advances—has reached higher elevations from age to age—by some new power, the result of creative and supernatural agency, that has come in, over and beyond any thing that can be regarded as the result of development. That power lifts the world to a higher level, and can be best explained on the supposition that it is by direct divine interposition; that is, that the antecedent in the case is the will and the power of God, whether that be called miracle or not.
(a) The ordinary law is, as is claimed by the Atheist for the whole, by a gradual accumulation and development. Men record and preserve the results of past experience. The world gathers up the lessons of the experiments that are made; the history of failures and successes; the inventions in the arts and the discoveries in science; the issues of the experiments to abridge labor, to facilitate travel, to promote domestic comfort, to till the soil, to improve the wild fruits, trees, and grasses; in building houses, in machinery, in navigation. In like manner the world treasures up the wisdom of sages; the results of the battles for freedom; the experiments made in government; the methods of education ; the rules of prudence that regulate domestic life. All these enter into civilization, and we now, in this age and land, are enjoying the avails of all the past wisdom, all the sacrifices, all the toils and perils, and all the discoveries of past ages. Every philosopher has thought for us; every legislator has legislated for us; every traveler has traveled for us; every explorer of unknown lands and seas has done it for us; every patriot has fought and bled for us; every martyr has died for us. Every one who has stricken out an invention in the arts has done it for us, and every one who has made a discovery in science has done it for us. Faust in the art of printing; Gioia, of Amalfi, in discovering the properties of the magnet; Galileo in constructing the telescope; Watt and Fulton in applying steam to the purposes of manufactures, or to travel by sea and by land; Franklin, who " wrested the lightning from heaven and the sceptre from tyrants,"* and Morse, who applied the laws of electro - magnetism to the communication of thought, did it for us. We recline on beds of down, and sit down at tables loaded with luxuries, and dwell in houses of comfort or magnificence, and travel rapidly and safely over lands and seas, and breathe the pure air of freedom as the result of the wisdom and toil of all past ages. The world gathers up the results of the past, and rises gradually to a higher elevation; from that point it does not go backward, for nothing thus accumulated that is valuable is suffered to be lost.
Society and the world in this respect move slowly; for often dark and dreary centuries elapse when the world seems to make no progress—like those slow revolving ages, and cycles of ages, when the deposits were made in the waters which now constitute the rocks, or which, upheaved by some sudden convulsion, constitute the mountains, and bring the beds of * Evipnit coelis fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis.
ancient coal, deposited for man, to the surface of the earth.
(b) There is another method in which the world advances. It is not gradual, but sudden—per saltum—by impulse, not by development. It occurs when the affairs of the world are to be put on a higher level; when the slow process of accumulation, experience, and development would not meet the wants of the world; when the race is to be lifted up suddenly, as the mountains were lifted up, or as the bed of the ocean was suddenly raised to become the abode of races of living beings. Then God creates some great genius and brings it upon the earth. Then some great invention occurs which at once puts the race on a higher level. Then some discovery in science is made that affects at once all the interests of society; that opens new avenues of trade; that facilitates commerce; that diffuses intelligence; that levels mountains; that exalts valleys; that bridges streams or even oceans; that binds the nations into one. Then a new level is reached at once, which in the ordinary course of things would not have been reached for centuries, if it could have been reached at all. The world rises at once to a higher plateau, and moves forward on that, under the slow law of accumulation, till the time arrives when, by some new discovery or new invention, it rises still higher, never again to go backward.
The immediate and efficient antecedent in this is the will and the power of God. It is not by the development of a germ; it is not by the cultivation and expansion of that which before existed in embryo. Genius and talent are the creation of God—created when he pleases; lodged where he pleases; developed under such circumstances as he chooses. Be it poetry, eloquence, inventive power, skill in the fine or the useful arts, it is alike the creation of God.
It is creation—beginning anew, not development— created, not called into existence by circumstances. So God made the mind of Plato, of Socrates, of Newton, of Bacon, of Pascal, of Edwards, of Alfred, Charlemagne, Fulton, Cuvier, Columbus, Washington. The bringing of such minds upon the earth can be regarded as in no proper sense the result of such a " firm and unalterable experience in establishing the laws of nature" as Mr. Hume speaks of; they are as much the result of a divine agency as the creation of the world, or as the healing of the blind man at the Pool of Bethesda.
So, too, the world advanced, as geologists now tell us, before it was fitted for the abode of man, by a series of successive creations. One race of beings was swept away—not developed into another. Each order of monsters had its day, and then passed off the stage to give place to a higher order. The essential fact on the subject, which no man who is properly informed will deny, and which is now stated by geologists as a part of the teaching of their science, is, that entire races were swept away, and were succeeded by others which were in no sense whatever developments of the former— new creations ; new forms of being on the earth—creatures, or forms of being so distinct that the one could not have lived at all in the condition in which the earth then was, and the other was swept away because the earth had become fitted for a higher order of beings. The old monsters—the Plesiosaurian and Ichthyosaurian races—have no successors on earth. The races were swept entirely away, and all that remains of them is found in the rocks. The fossils of the old geological periods reveal successive creations, not successive developments. So man appeared at last, not as a development of the ourang-outang or monkey, but as a new creation—brought upon the stage by creative power when the earth had been fitted up for his abode. In all science there is probably no fact better established than the one now adverted to, that the races were entirely swept off, not developed into new forms or races, and that a new creation appeared, in no sense a resurrection from the old, and that, perhaps, in each case, after an interval of millions of years.
Thus the world advances, also, by some new invention in the arts that can in no proper sense be regarded as a " development" of a previous order of things, or as the result of" fixed and certain laws." Such inventions are often the result, perhaps always, of a suggestion that comes into the mind, having nothing to do with any thing that went before, that can be traced by no law of association to any previous thought in the mind, and whose origin no system of mental philosophy will explain. The suggestion which gives birth to the invention is retained in the mind while a thousand others are dismissed; it is reflected on; it is conned, matured, experimented on, until the invention appears before the world, modifying human affairs, raising the race to a higher level, lifting it up on a new steppe or plateau, along which it travels, or by the help of which it rises higher, until some newer invention, still more brilliant and important than any which preceded, shall lift the race to a higher level still, and be the cause of a still higher advancement. Thus the discoveries of the art of writing, of printing, of gunpowder; of the properties of the magnet, of the telescope, of the microscope, of the application of steam, of the telegraph, have successively modified human affairs, and put the condition of the world on an elevation from which it can never descend —not by " fixed laws;" not by " development;" not by a "firm and unalterable experience," but by a new power.
In like manner, some new disease sent direct from God may materially modify human affairs. The " black death" that reigned in Europe, cutting off, as has been estimated, during the six years of its continuance, twenty-five millions, or a fourth part of the inhabitants of Europe,* depopulating entire districts of country, and spreading consternation every where — in what sense was that a development, " under the laws of a firm and unalterable experience," as Mr. Hume would say ? The small-pox, the cholera—to what " lawSj" thus fixed and settled by " experience," are they to be traced ? Of what previous disease were they the development? Nothing is more certain than that, up to the period of their appearing, the "experience" of the world—of the whole world—was against the small-pox and the cholera, much more than it had been against miraculous and supernatural agencies, and, according to the argument which I am examining, all belief in those diseases is impossible or absurd.
The cases to which I have thus referred show that God has not bound or pledged himself to govern the [ world always, and in all circumstances, by the fixed J laws of nature; that he has not withdrawn from the / world and left it to do its work, as a vast machine, by wheels, and springs, and cogs, and pulleys; that he has reserved to himself the right to interfere when he has important ends to accomplish, by his own free will, in some manner corresponding to the fact, though far above it, that we thus, by our will, interfere with those I * Hecker's Epidemics of the Middle Ages, p. 29.
laws; that, as there were occasions on which it was proper that he should interfere by new acts of creative power in the old geological periods of the world, and when the present order of things was to be inaugurated, so he may now interpose by acts of creation in the distant parts of the universe by bringing new worlds into being, and new orders of creatures upon them; and that, as there have been occasions when the affairs of the world were to be raised to a higher elevation by the creation and endowment of some mind by extraordinary powers, or by some brilliant discovery in science or invention in the arts, so there may have been occasions on which it was proper to interfere by the introduction of a new religion upon the earth, and by attesting its origin as from himself—by so far putting forth his own will and power, independent of natural laws, and suspending those laws for the time, as to open the eyes of the blind, to unstop the ears of the deaf, to cause the lame man to leap as an hart, and to raise the dead from their graves.
Such are the facts in regard to miracles, as I understand them, and such is the state of the evidence on the subject in the nineteenth century.