THE CHRlSTlAN MlRACLES,
OR, MIRACLES AS ATTESTING A DIVINE REVELATION*
The Christian religion claims the acceptance and obedience of all men upon the ground that it is a system of truth and duty revealed by God. It professes to give evidence that it is from God. It points to its internal characteristics as proof that it has come from God's wisdom; it points to its external accompaniments as proof that it has come from God's power. By its internal characteristics we mean a supernatural adaptation to human wants, as attested by those who have really received it. By its external accompaniments, we mean a series of supernatural events attending its original publication, such as only God could work, and such as leave no reasonable doubt that the Author of nature is also the Author of the scheme of doctrine promulgated in his name.
Among Christian apologists of the last quarter-century, there has been a tendency to lay the stress of argument upon the internal evidences. Much has been done to show the supernatural character of the Scripture teaching. The unity of revelation, the superiority of the New Testament system of morality, the conception of Christ's person and character presented there, the witness of Jesus to his own divinity and lordship, have all been adduced as proving its divine origin. Bnt while we gratefully accept the results of these recent studies of the book itself, we must still record our belief that the internal evidence of Christianity is necessarily secondary and supplementary. Of itself and by itself, it is insufficient to substantiate the divine authority of the Christian system.
For in the Christian system we include more than the New Testament morality; we include all that teaehing with regard to the divine nature and methods of dealing, in view of which we speak of Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Regeneration, Judgment, Immortality. Internal evidence might possibly suffice to secure acceptance of the Christian morality, for reason can recognize its sublime elevation; but the doctrines which chiefly make the Bible what it is — a revelation of supernatural and saving truth — are all beyond the power of reason to discover, or even to demonstrate, after they have been made known. "Of what use," says Lessing, "would be a revelation that revealed nothing?" But if the Scriptures be in any proper sense a revelation, an unveiling of truth, which is above and beyond our natural powers, it is necessary that they be accompanied by some external proof
* An Essay read before the Baptist Pastors' Conference of tbe State of New York, Dinshamton, Oct. 23, 1878, and printed in tbe Baptist Review, April, 1879.
that they are from God; else the very greatness of the truth may only perplex and affront us.
It has been suggested, indeed, that God's testimony to the truth of a revelation might be given not externally, but internally, by direct action of his spirit upon the mind, and that for this reason any external certification by miracles must be regarded as unnecessary. But can we be sure that the method of internal certification is the preferable one? It labors under certain manifest disadvantages. It cannot in the nature of the case furnish so clear an evidence of its divine authorship. Being internal, how can it be known that it comes from a God external to the soul? What is needed is absolute certainty on the part of the recipient that the communication is from such a God, and that the truth communicated is not subjective, but independent of the mind's consciousness of it. But it is essential to inward communications that to the person receiving them they appear, at least in the beginning, as original discoveries of his own. Only by reflection can it be determined that they come from without, not from within, and, in the case of doctrines or commands that stagger the reason, some other assurance than mere logic can give is absolutely needed to convince the recipient that these seeming communications from God are not the vagaries of his own brain. Thus we very naturally find Gideon begging for an outward sign that he is not self-deceived. Even in the case of the original recipient of a revelation, outward certification seems to confer an important advantage. But what is an advantage to the person to whom the revelation is first communicated, is an absolute necessity to the multitude to whom he proclaims his message. If his possession of new ideas of doctrine and duty is not proof even to himself that these ideas are true, much less is it proof to others. Without some external sign that God has sent him, his mere declaration of the fact is utterly untrustworthy. As a communicator of new truth, of which reason is incompetent to judge, he needs and he must have divine credentials before Lis word can bind the moral action of men. Is it said that God can make the same revelation at the same moment inwardly to the mind of each separate individual of the race? Granting this to be true, as an abstract proposition, is it not manifest that the methods of God's working are actually different from this? Great secular truths are first made the possession of some favored nation, and of some favored individual in that nation, in order that through the individual they may be imparted to the nation, and through the nation to mankind. So we may expect religious truths to be directly communicated by God, not to all, but to single members of the race, and then indirectly through their voice and testimony to the world. There is economy in the use of natural force; shall there not be also economy of the supernatural? Shall we have exertions of supernatural power by the thousand million, in the internal life of all of earth's inhabitants, in order to communicate the divine ideas? And then, shall these be supplemented by miracles wrought in the case of each, to convince each that the original communication is from God? Surely in place of a scheme of internal certification which requires for its execution such a multitude of supernatural acta, we may well prefer the plan of external certification which requires but few. If one act of divine certification will answer the purpose, we may believe that God will not employ a million. But a million are needed if internal evidence alone is admissible, while upon a plan which admits external evidence, we need but a single one. In condescension to human weakness, God may give us more, yet it still remains true that a single miracle like that of Christ's resurrection may substantiate the divine authority of all his claims and teachings, and bear upon its Atlantean shoulders the weight of Christianity itself.
Nor is the defense of the Christian miracles an optional matter with those who accept the internal evidences. For the internal and the external are so inextricably interwoven, that loss of faith in the one involves loss of faith in the other. However impressive the doctrine of Scripture may be, if it be accompanied by falsehood in matters of fact, it is proved thereby to have not a divine but a human origin. But facts are not merely accompaniments here—they are the centre and core of its teaching. Its main doctrines claim to be facts as well as doctrines, and to be doctrines only because they are facts. The incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ are valuable for purposes of doctrine, only as they are first allowed to be facts of history. But such facts as these are miracles. And therefore Christianity stands or falls with its miracles. As a scheme of faith and a method of salvation it has no claim upon us, unless the supernatural facts which constitute its essence, and by which it declares itself attested, were historical realities. If Jesus did not take human flesh in other than the common method of natural generation, if he did not do works beyond all human or natural powers to accomplish, above all, if he did not rise from the dead, he is a proved impostor, his claim to be a teacher commissioned by God is falsified, and Christianity, as a system divinely authoritative and obligatory, exists no longer.
While we urge, however, the primary importance of these external evidences of our religion, we would never sunder them from the internal. There is something of truth in the maxim of Pascal, that the miracles prove the doctrine and the doctrine proves the miracles. The two go together. Miracles do not stand alone as evidences. Power alone cannot prove a divine commission. Purity of life and doctrine must go with the miracles to assure us that a religious teacher has come from God. The miracles and the doctrine mutually supplement each other and form parts of one whole. The absence of either would throw suspicion upon the teacher who failed to produce it. In the case of apparently supernatural works wrought by a teacher of flagrant immorality, any explanation would be preferable to holding that they were wrought by God. We are even willing to grant that over certain minds and certain ages the internal evidence may have greater power than the external. It is probable that men in the present generation are more frequently led from faith in the transforming efficacy of the Christian religion to faith in its outward facts, than through the reverse process. Still we must not be blinded to the fact that the order of chronological apprehension is not necessarily the order of logical connection and dependence. The internal evidences have power to convince, only because the external facts are assumed to be worthy of confidence; they lose all independent value so soon as the external facts are found to be without historical foundation. While therefore we claim other evidence than that of miracles, we hold that this is logically the prior and the more important. It has been well said that a supernatural fact is the proper proof of a supernatural doctrine, but a supernatural doctrine is not the proper proof of a supernatural fact.
Nor do we, with these explanations, regard the Christian miracles as a burden rather than a support. To the beginner in geometry the first proposition is a burden until he has mastered it; then it becomes the firm basis and foundation of the second. So we hold that the possibility and probability of miracles may be proved to the candid mind, and that the Christian miracles may be shown to be not incredible, but on the other hand to rest upon evidence sufficient to warrant rational conviction of their historical reality. So much having been done, the miracles will take their place as solid substructions of the edifice of doctrine; we shall walk the upper floors with confidence because we know the foundation is secure. We are persuaded that the very prevalent suspicion of the miraculous which so frequently prevents the acceptance of Christianity and prejudices even the examination of its records, ought to vanish before a reconsideration and restatement of the doctrine of miracles. That miracles have been in the least discredited is doubtless due in some degree to the partial view of the uerse which modern physical science has given us. But other science has made progress likewise. The sciences of mind and of morals have right to be heard also. We are persuaded that one who embraces these as well as the science of matter in his scheme of knowledge, and who regards nature and the supernatural together as constituting the one system of God, ought to find no serious difficulty, either intellectual or practical, in the acceptance of the Christian miracles.
But, not to anticipate, let us define at once what we mean by a miracle. We mean an event in nature, so extraordinary in itself, and so coinciding with the prophecy or command of a religious teacher or leader, as fully to warrant the conviction on the part of those who witness it that God has wrought it with the design of certifying that this teacher or leader is commissioned by him. Here are several elements, which, for the sake of distinctness, it may be well to state separately. A miracle, then, is an event in nature. By nature we mean what is not God and what is not made in the image of God — in other words, the physical world. The realm of mind and will, inasmuch as this is free and not embraced in the chain of physical causation, is not a part of nature, but belongs to the supernatural. Regeneration, therefore, as a spiritual work of God, does not occur in the realm of nature, and is not a miracle. A miracle is an event that can be witnessed. There is something in it that is palpable to the senses. In the restoration of sight to the blind, though the method of the wonder is not manifest, the change from blindness to sight is visible. In resurrection of the dead, although the reentrance of the spirit into its mortal tenement is not matter of observation, the fact that the man was dead, and that now he lives again, is patent to all. But creation is not a miracle, because, among other reasons, there was no eye to witness it.
Again, the miracle is an extraordinary event in nature. It cannot be explained as part of a series of regularly recurring sequences. It falls under no law of nature in the sense of being referable to any order of known facts. It is exceptional, unique. If there be any law that regulates its occurrence, it is not a law which otherwise manifests itself in the present system of the physical uerse. And yet the apparent want of connection with the present physical order is not so remarkable as the actual connection with another and higher domain — that of intelligence and will. For the mere description of the unique physical event does not complete the account of the miracle, else the falling of a meteoric stone might be a miracle. The miracle is a combination of two things — an extraordinary occurrence in nature, and the coinciding prophecy or command of a religions teacher.
Still further, in the case of the miracle, the extraordinariness of the event and the prediction or command of the messenger are so connected, that our intuition of design leaves us no alternative but to infer that God is the author of the coincidence, and that, with the purpose of giving evidence that the messenger has been sent by him. Here we see the difference between miracle and special providence. In the latter the connection of the event with the religious purpose to be served thereby is not so close as to render an opposite explanation impossible. Some warrant is furnished for believing it designed for a particular religious end, but not what may be called full warrant. With the miracle it is otherwise. When Christ appeals to his works as evidences that the Father has sent him, and declares that, in still further testimony to this fact, he will rise from the dead on the third day, the believer in his resurrection must also be a believer in his commission from God, or else hold that God could and did work a miracle in support of falsehood. So inevitable is such a conclusion, that we find even Spinoza declaring that he would break his system in pieces and embrace without reluctance the ordinary faith of Christians, if he could once be persuaded of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead.
It will be observed that in our definition we take no ground with regard to that much disputed question whether the miracle be a suspension or violation of natural law, nor with regard to that other question as vigorously pressed of late, whether the miracle absolutely dispenses with all physical means and antecedents, and is the result simply of an immediate volition of God. It is our belief that the Christian miracles might be successfully defended, even if both these questions were answered in the affirmative. But on the other hand, it is our belief also, that Christian apologists have here allowed themselves too frequently to fight their battle upon ground chosen by their enemies. It was Hume who first stigmatized the miracle as a violation or suspension of natural law, and the transgression of the order which God had himself appointed was declared to be the greatest of absurdities and enormities. But Scripture gives no sign that the miracle is thus conceived of by those who wrote it, nor is there the slightest necessity that we should accept Hume's assumption as to the method in which God must work, if he work at all. Again, it is too often taken for granted that miracle is equivalent to divine fiat, reaching its goal with absolute exclusion of natural means. But Scripture compels us to no such view. On the other hand it points to the East wind as the means by which the Red Sea was parted at the Exodus and leaves it not improbable that the sinking of a considerable area in Western Asia was the physical cause of the deluge, and a simoom of the desert the physical cause of the destruction of the host of Sennacherib. What was God's method here — what was his method in the working of any particular miracle, we do not know. We would have it distinctly understood that we do not have and that we do not think it necessary to have, any particular theory as to the method of them. But when the opponents of the Christian miracles first identify our doctrine with their preconceived notions of it, and then trinmph because they have, in their own estimation, proved those notions to be absurd, it is time for us to show that other conceptions are at least possible.
Miracles, we claim, may be wrought by God, while yet no physical law is suspended or violated. To sustain this proposition it is only necessary to refer to facts within the range of our common experience. We know that lower forces and laws in nature are counteracted and transcended by the higher, while yet these lower forces and laws are not suspended or annihilated, but are merged in the higher and made to assist in accomplishing results to which they are altogether unequal when left to themselves. Imagine, for example, that no forces or laws were in operation except the purely mechanical ones, such as gravitation and cohesion. In such a merely mechanical creation, let the reaction of carbonate of lime and sulphuric acid for the first time occur. Here is disintegration and effervescence, such as no merely mechanical law can explain. And why? Because a new force of a higher sort has begun to act, namely, a chemical force. This accomplishes what gravitation and cohesion never could. It counteracts these tendencies to knit together, while it transcends them. But no one will maintain that the laws of gravitation and cohesion are annihilated or suspended or violated in the least degree. They are still active and operative, and influence to a considerable extent the disposition of the material particles under the action of the higher force. And yet, to the merely mechanical creation, this same reaction of carbonate of lime and sulphuric acid is a chemical miracle.
Again, imagine a world where as yet no forces or laws exist except the mechanical and chemical. In such a world let a seed-corn be planted and begin to grow. Here is a new force that abstracts from the soil and bears aloft to every portion of the organism the moisture and nutriment suited to its needs. Mechanical laws, such as gravitation and cohesion, may say nay; but they are obliged to yield, and even to help the growing structure and make it strong. Here is a new force that conquers chemistry also, and presses it into service ; for every leaf performs the wonderful feat which man accomplishes only with long art and imposing mechanism—the feat of decomposing carbonic acid, taking the carbon for food and throwing the oxygen away — yet performs it to quietly that the leaf is not even stirred by the process. To the merely mechanical and chemical creation this vegetable transformation is a vital miracle. The new force does what gravitation and chemistry never could, to the end of time. But is any mechanical or chemical law annihilated, suspended, or violated? By no means. Both sorts of law are operative all the time. Partly because they are operative, does the plant preserve its balance, maintain its strength, secure its proper sustenance.
These are instances drawn from nature only. But we know equally well that an event in nature may be caused by an agent outside of and above nature. The human will can act upon nature and can produce results which nature left to herself never could accomplish, while yet no law of nature is suspended or violated. To put this in a clear light, let me remind you of the German philosopher Fichte's illustration of the unchangeableness of natural sequences. He bids us imagine a pebble swept on to a high place upon the beach, by the strongest wave of a stormy day, and then speculates upon the changes in nature which would have been requisite to land the pebble one foot further upon the sand. The wave must have been of greater volume, the wind that drove it of greater force. The preceding state of the atmosphere by which the wind was occasioned, and its degree of strength determined, must have been different from what it actually was, and the previous changes which gave rise to this particular weather must have been different also. We must suppose a different temperature from that which actually existed, and a different constitution of the bodies which influenced that temperature, not only in distant Africa where the wind took its rise, but in every other country of the globe. In short, the philosopher must suppose a different make-up of the whole system of things from the beginning, in order that a single pebble might lie in a different place. So he argues the impossibility of any modification in the existing condition of material agents, unless through the invariable operation of a series of eternally impressed consequences following in some necessary chain of orderly connection.
But Mansel suggests the answer to Fichte. The answer is as follows: Let us make one alteration in the circumstances supposed. Let us imagine that, after the winds and waves have done their utmost, I go down to the beach, and, lifting the pebble from its place, I deposit it a foot further up upon the sand. Is the student of physical science prepared to enumerate a similar chain of material antecedents which must have been other than they were, before I could have chosen to deposit the pebble on any other spot than that on which it is now lying? In other words, is human thought and will determined in its sequences and conclusions by natural laws? No one except the fatalist will say this. We know, on the contrary, that while nature's laws are rigid, there is a power superior to these laws, and exempt from their control, namely, the power of the personal will, and that in the will of man we have an instance of an efficient cause in the highest sense of that term, acting among and along with the physical causes of the material world, and producing results which would not have been brought about by any invariable sequence of physical causes left to their own action. We have evidence, in fine, of an elasticity in the constitution of nature, which permits the influence of human power on the phenomena of the world to be exercised or suspended at will, without affecting in the least the stability of the great system of things. If I throw a stone into the air, its fall is determined by natural laws, but can any man say that my throwing it was the mere result of natural laws? Nay, my free will — something above nature — has done it, nor has any law of nature been violated thereby.
An additional illustration will enable us to apply this principle to the subject in hand. Suppose I stand by the side of a swiftly running stream and hold a heavy piece of iron upon my flat, extended palm, in such a way that my hand is submerged and the top of the iron is just visible above the surface of the water. Why does not the iron sink? Because my hand is underneath it. Is the law of gravitation suspended? No, nothing but the axe is suspended. How do I kuow that gravitation still operates? Because the axe has weight. I hold it steadily in its place only by effort. If gravitation were not acting, the axe would be swept away like a straw by the rapid current. I have counteracted the working of gravitation; I have pressed it into my service, and compelled it to do what left to itself it never would, namely, keep a piece of iron immovable at the surface of the water; I have transcended the powers of natural law by bringing in a new force, namely, the force of my own personal will. From the point of view of mere physical nature, here is a miracle of will. Yet no law of nature is annihilated, suspended, or violated. And now, if man can do as much as this, cannot God do the same, and, by putting his hand beneath the iron, make the axe to swim at the prophet's word?
But it is urged that the analogy is far from complete, for the reason that man's body at least is a part of nature, and that here is a use of means. The hand is put underneath the axe. But God has no hands. We reply that before man puts his hand under the axe, he must move his hand. And in moving his hand, his will comes directly in contact with his own physical organism. We do not know how spirit operates upon matter, but we do know that in the human body this operation is a, fact. Every time I lift my arm, I know that I rule matter and compel it to serve me. I do this freely, and no law is violated or suspended therein. With this constant proof before me, that spirit can act directly upon matter, I must surely believe that the Spirit that is everywhere present can act directly upon matter. And this we can maintain without holding that God is confined to the uerse, and finds in it his sensorinm; that he is in nature does not prove that he is not also above nature. What the human will, considered as a supernatural force, and what the chemical and vital forces of nature itself, are demonstrably able to accomplish, cannot be regarded as beyond the power of God, so long as God dwells in and controls the uerse. In other words, if a God be possible, then miracles are possible. The same God who created the second causes that exist in nature, can supplement their action when it pleases him. It is no more impossible for him to multiply the five loaves so that they feed five thousand, than to multiply the handful of wheat in the earth so that it produces the harvest. He who provides remedial agents for the diseases of the body, can dispense with these agents, and can heal diseases by his word. He who gives life at the beginning, can say: "Lazarus, come forth!" Being more directly in contact with nature than is the human will with its physical orgauism, he can produce new results in nature. The impossibility of the miracle can be maintained only upon principles either of Atheism or of Pautheism— either upon the ground that there is no God, or that there is no God except the God that is immanent in nature, a God without consciousness, freedom, or holiness, a God identical with the uerse itself.
A second question was proposed, this namely: Does the miracle, so far as it is a merely physical fact, necessarily involve an immediate volition of God at the time of its occurrence? It has been intimated that there are certain of the extraordinary events of Scripture which seem capable of explanation without this hypothesis. The wonders of the Red Sea, of the deluge, of Sennacherib's destruction, were such. If these were miracles, the immediate act of God may have been simply the communication to the prophet of such knowledge of the event, that he was enabled to foretell or command in virtue of that communication. Archbishop Trench has proposed to set such instances as these by themselves and call them "providential miracles," thus intimating that the wonder of them consisted, not in immediate intervention or change in the order of nature, but in the providential arrangement of the event and of the prophecy, so that they coincided with one another, and together gave evidence of the divine commission of the prophet who foretold or commanded them. The outward event may be part of a chain of physical antecedents and consequents, the remarkable and exceptional result of merely natural causes, yet in its connection with the prophetic word it may be a visible token from God. Let us again remind ourselves of the definition of a miracle. A miracle is not simply an extraordinary physical event, but an extraordinary physical event in peculiar connection with the word of a religious teacher or leader. Even if we should grant, therefore, that no divine volition goes to the production of the physical event except what goes to the production of any other event in nature, still we need not deny the direct agency of God in the prophetic announcement with which this event was accompanied. The immediate volition would simply be relegated to the mental and spiritual world and find its sphere of working there. Even if all miracles should be explained in this way, we should not lose the evidence of the divine presence and working in the miracle as a whole. The prophet's knowledge would prove God to be with him, and would completely substantiate his claims.
This theory of the miracle was broached by Babbage, in his celebrated Bridgewater Treatise. Babbage, it will be remembered, was the inventor of the great calculating machine to whose construction Parliament made so large appropriations. In his treatise, he illustrates his view of the miracle by the working of his arithmetical engine. It was so constructed that upon setting it in motion, the regular series of whole numbers presented themselves at an aperture in the front of the machine,— one, two, three, four, and so on to ten, eleven, twelve, each successive number consisting of the last preceding with the addition of a single unit, till the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions were reached.— After observing this uniform sequence for days and weeks together, the spectator might not unnaturally conclude that succession by regular additions of one was the law of the machine. But lo ! after the number ton million is reached, there is a sudden leap. We have not ten million and one, but 100,000,000, and thereafter the machine reverts to its former law of succession. Suppose now that the maker declares the provision for this sudden leap to have been made in the original construction of the machine — suppose him to foretell the change just before its occurrence. Do you esteem his skill greater, or less, than you would esteem it, if he should directly cause the change by touching a secret spring before your eyes? Evidently the proof of skill would be the greater, the more clearly it could be shown that the final result was all provided for in the original making. So, says Mr. Babbage, the uerse may be a vast machine. It may be constructed in such a way that the general law of it shall be uniform phenomena, but with special provision for isolated events which this general law is insufficient to explain. The regular sequences of nature are the successive appearances of the integral numbers. Miracles are the sudden leaps from ten millions to a hundred millions. But both the regular sequences and the sudden leaps were all ordained at the beginning, the only difference between them being that the former occur according to known law, while the latter reveal a law unknown except to the Contriver of the system.
Now, to such a view of miracles as this, we would not oppose a direct and uersal negative. Certain of the Scripture miracles may be harmonized with this view. That miracles are called "wonders," "signs," "works," "powers," "new things," " wrought by the finger of God," does not disprove the theory, for God is said to work all things. "My Father worketh hitherto and I work," said Christ, though here he spoke of his perpetual upholding of nature and government of history. The miracles might be "works of God " par excellence, simply because they waken in men's minds more distinctly the thought of the divine Being who is always present and always active whether men recognize him or not. Miracles on this view would be '' unusual, while natural law is habitual, divine action. The natural is itself only a prolonged, and so unnoticed, supernatural." We could readily grant that that man was a believer in miracles who held this theory, provided he also held to a supernatural communication from God as coincident with it. Perhaps we cannot even demonstrate that this conception of the miracle is incorrect. At the same time we prefer the view which holds to immediate divine operation in the realm of nature as well as in the realm of mind, and that because of its greater fitness to accomplish the object aimed at in the miracle. That object is the giving of a sign. What is needed is the most indubitable proof of the divine intent to attest the commission of the person in connection with whose prediction or command the work is wrought. It is probable that the miracle, if wrought at all, will be so wrought as to secure its own signality. But upon the view here considered, this signality does not seem to be perfectly secured. For it would always be possible for the objector to assert that the so-called prophet had by merely human skill penetrated into the secrets of nature and discovered the law of the machine. There have been navigators who have used their knowledge of an approaching eclipse to convince a savage chief that they possessed superhuman powers and were entitled to divine homage, and threats backed up by an immediate darkening of the sun have proved very effectual. In the middle ages the telephone could have been used with great success to simulate a voice from heaven. Now, apart from the accompanying purity of life and doctrine which must distinguish the genuine miracle, we should naturally expect that there would also be such a method of bringing about the outward phenomenon, that there would be least chance of ascribing the knowledge of it to mere natural or scientific foresight. As Dr. Newman has said: "It is antecedently improbable that the Almighty should rest the credit of his revelation upon events which but obscurely implied his immediate presence."
Still another illustration of this view is given by Ephraim Peabody, and the mention of it may enable us to fix attention more clearly upon still another defect inherent in this method of explaining the miracle. "A story is told of a clock on one of the high cathedral towers of the older world, so constructed that at the close of a century it strikes the years as it ordinarily strikes the hours. As a hundred years come to a close, suddenly, in the immense mass of complicated mechanism, a little wheel turns, a pin slides into the appointed place, and in the shadows of the night the bell tolls a requiem over the generations which during a century have lived and labored aud been buried around it. One of these generations might live and die and -witness nothing peculiar. The clock would have what wo call an established order of its own; but what should we say, when, at the midnight which brought the century to a close, it sounded over the sleeping city, rousing all to listen to the world's age? Would it be a violation of law? No, only a variation of the accustomed order, produced by the intervention of a force always existing but never appearing in this way until the appointed moment had arrived. The tolling of the century would be a variation from the observed order of the clock; but, to the artist in constructing it, it would have formed a part of that order. So a miracle is a variation of the order of nature as it has appeared to us; but, to the Author of nature, it was a part of that predestined order — a part of that order of which he is at all times the immediate author and sustainer; miraculous to us, seen from our human point of view, but no miracle to God ; to our circumscribed vision a violation of law, but to God only a part in the great plan and progress of the law of the uerse."
Now it is evident that here, as in the illustration from the calculating engine, there is a law of recurreuce. What happens with the clock at the end of one century will happen at the end of another. What happens at the ten million and first turn of the machine will happen again with the next series of similar turns. In the matter of miracles, however, such recurreuce is wholly unproved. No one miracle is like another; they do not occur at regular intervals; both in quality aud in quantity they bear all the marks of proceeding from spontaneity and freedom. If, therefore, we are to look to some unknown law of nature as the immediate physical cause and explanation of them, it must be a law which has in each case only one application. The theory would then assert only this, that God has provided in the construction of the uerse for isolated and exceptional events along the course of history,— isolated aud exceptional events which have for their office the confirmation of the claims of teachers sent by him,— isolated and exceptional events which cannot be brought under the law of the general order, nor under any law of special order among themselves. It is evidently a misuse of the term law, to speak of it as embracing such events as these, for law respects clasfien of phenomena, not isolated facts. Or if we strain the term law to embrace them, what does it mean more than simple command, the ordaining of an individual result? And how can this bo distinguished from the direct volition of God except in the one respect, that his volition in the former case is executed by the use of means, whereas in the latter he simply speaks and it is done? But those with whom we argue are the last to claim that even the ordinary operations of nature are carried on without God. The world, while it has a separate existence and a measure of independence, is yet upheld by God's mighty will, so that nothing comes to pass in which he is not active as preserver and maintainer. He who imposed upon the uerse the law of miracles must himself supervise its execution. Does auch a law as this — a law which cannot execute itself — differ so essentially from divine volition, to make it worth while to quarrel about the name? And since we have evidence of the divine will in miracles, but no evidence, in the vast majority of cases, that natural means are employed in the working of them, is it not best to define them from the known rather than from the unknown? We know that they are the result of divine volitions; in most cases we have no knowledge of intermediate agencies used in producing them. It seems most accordant with our knowledge, therefore, to regard the miracle, even apart from its coincidence with the word of a religious teacher, as an event in nature which, though not contravening any natural law, the laws of nature, even if they were fully known to us, would not becompetent to explain.
That miracles are possible, however, does not prove them to be probable. To this question of the probability of miracles, let us now address ourselves. And here we find too frequently, among apologetical writers, a prior assumption that miracles are as probable as other and ordinary events. The attitude of these same apologists towards so-called modern miracles sufficiently shows that this assumption very imperfectly represents the facts. We are compelled to grant and we as frankly acknowledge that, so long as we confine our attention to nature, there is a presumption against miracles. The experience of each of us testifies that, so far as our observation has gone, the operation of natural law has been uniform. We perceive the advantages of this uniformity. A general uniformity is necessary in order to make possible a rational calculation of the future and a proper ordering of human life. But while we acknowledge this, we deny that this uniformity is absolute and uersal. It is certainly not a truth of reason, that can have no exceptions, like the axiom that the whole is greater than any one of its parts. Perhaps the most striking instance of belief in the uniformity of nature is that which leads mankind to expect the rising of to-morrow morning's sun. But no one can examine this belief without being convinced that there is no necessity about it like the necessity that two and two should make four. Attempt to conceive of two and two making five, and you violate a first principle of reason. But there is no self-contradiction in the thought that to-morrow should see no sunrise. Experience of the past is not experience of the future. Experience of the past gives no absolute certainty of the future. "Like the ster n lights of a ship," as Coleridge says, "it illuminates only the track over which it has passed." Hence experience cannot warrant belief in absolute and uersal uniformity, except upon the absurd hypothesis that experience is identical with absolute and uersal knowledge. Nor is it of any avail to point to the principal of induction —as if this bridged the gulf and converted the probable into the necessary; for induction of observed instances warrants only an expectation of the future — it never can prove that future to exist or to be of any definite character. Says Mr. Huxley : — "It is very convenient to indicate that all the conditions of belief have been fulfilled in this case of gravitation, by calling the statement that unsupported stones will fall to the ground a law of nature. But when, as commonly happens, we change 'will' into 'must,'we introduce an idea of necessity which has no warrant in the observed facts, and has no warranty that I can discover elsewhere. For my part, I utterly repudiate and anathematize the intruder. Fact I know, and law I know; but what is this necessity, but an empty shadow of the mind's own throwing?"
Any proper account of the inductive process must regard it as presupposing the uniformity of nature. But this uniformity of nature is not itself an ultimate truth — there is a greater truth back of that, namely, uersal .design. From one or more observed instances I can argue to those which have not been observed, only upon the assumption that the uerse has been rationally constructed, so that its various parts correspond to one -another and to the investigating faculties of man. But this is virtually to say that the principle of final cause underlies the principle of efficient cause, and that this latter must find its limit in the former. In the words of Dr. Porter: "If efficient causes and physical laws must acknowledge themselves indebted to final causes in order to command our confidence, then they must also confess their subjection to the same and be ready to stand aside and be suspended whenever the principle of final cause shall require. In other .words, the order of nature may be broken whenever the principle of final cause shall require; that is, whenever the claims of the so-called reason of things, or of alleged moral and religious interests, may demand an inroad upon its regularity either in special acts of creation or in exertions of miraculous agency." "The principle of final cause will not only render the service of sustaining our confidence in the stability of the laws of nature under all ordinary circumstances, but will also account for such extraordinary deviations from this order as may be required in the history of man." The qualifications to be made in the phraseology of Dr. Porter, as to suspension of law, will readily occur to us, after what has previously been said. The substantial truth remains intact that, since we cannot conduct the process of scientific induction at all without assuming that a principle of design pervades the uerse and constitutes it a rational whole, the uniformity which we see about us is a uniformity which has its limitations in this very principle of design, and may be expected to give way when there exists a sufficient reason therefor in the mind of him who made it. If induction itself is f ounded upon design, then design is greater than induction, and may embrace facts for which mere induction can never account.
Not only is it not true that the uniformity of nature is a truth of reason, which admits of no exceptions, but it is true that science herself reveals the existence of breaks in this uniformity. The limited explorations of European geologists have given rise to the unif ormitarian theory of the earth's progress. But the later investigations of Clarence King, Superintendent of the United States Survey of the Forty-ninth Parallel, conducted over an extent of territory such as British scientists have never traversed, have apparently demonstrated that cataclysms occurred in the past history of the planet so vast and so tremendous in their influence upon the various forms of life that only the most plastic of these forms survived. The edict went forth to every living creature: 'Change or die!' So the geological leaps were accompanied with biological leaps so great as to be equivalent to new creations. But not only in the changes from one organic form to another do we see evidence adverse to the theory of perpetually uniform sequences in nature. The introductions successively of vegetable life, of animal life, of human life, and finally of the life of Jesus Christ, are utterly inexplicable from their respective antecedents. Science knows absolutely uothing of spontaneous generation, absolutely nothing of the evolution of the organic from the inorganic, or of man's intellectual and moral powers from those of the brute. The new beginnings I have mentioned canuot be rationally accounted for except by the coming down upon nature of a power above nature, in other words, by new creations in the absolute sense. When science can product; bacteria from ammonia and water, change any lower creature into a responsible being, construct a Christ out of a man consciously guilty, then and only then can she afford to speak slightingly of miracles.
The testimony of nature, then, is simply this: Although there is a presumption against miracles, there is nothing in experience or in the primitive ideas of the mind which renders investigation of their claims unnecessary. But there is another world than that of nature. The physical is supplemented by the moral, and finds in the moral its explanation and end. It is unscientific to conclude that miracles are improbable, simply upon the testimony of the physical uerse; for the reason that the physical uerse is but the half, and the lower half, of the great system. What is improbable when judged from the point of view of mere physics, may be eminently probable when judged from the point of view of morals. If then we can show that even the physical uerse has relations to the moral, and is made to serve it, we do much to compel a transfer of the controversy from the physical, to the moral, realm. And this we maintain. There is a moral law inlaid in nature. We could conceive a system in which the violation of moral obligation might be accompanied with the highest physical well-being. Pride and even licentiousness might be the path to health. But the present order of the world is different. As the uerse is at present constructed, honesty is the best policy. Sin is its own detecter and judge and tormentor. In the very framework of matter and of mind is inwrought the tendency to punish vice and reward virtue. The uerse does not exist for itself alone — a great dumb show from age to age. The mere circling of world about world, growth and decay, life and death — theso are not all. The uerse has an end beyond and above itself. It is for moral ends and moral beings. So much is made plain to us by the in working of the moral law into the constitution and course of nature. And if the uerse is made to subserve moral ends, if it exists for the contemplation and use of moral beings, if it is constructed for the purpose of revealing to them God's law, and the God who is the source of law, then it is probable that the God of nature will produce effects aside from those of natural law, whenever there are sufficiently important ends to be served thereby. In short, if the moral ends for which the uerse exists are not attained by the operation of natural law alone, it is probable that these ends will be attained by methods beyond and above those of natural law. All that is needed to render miracles probable is a 'digrtus vindire nodus,'—an exigency worthy of the interposition.
Ls there such an exigency? We claim that the moral disorder of the world is such an exigency. This moral disorder is not a part of the original creation, nor is it the work of God. If it were, we should not hope for rectification. But it is man's work, and results from the free acts of man's will. To deny that man may mar the Creator's handiwork, is to deny consciousness and conscience. These testify to man's freedom and sole responsibility for moral evil; these testify that God is the hater and punisher of it. If now, through no fault of the maker, the watch has been suffered to get out of order so that it no longer fulfils its end of keeping time, shall any fancied sacredness about its mechanism prevent the rectification of that disorder, and the touch of the regulator by the maker's hand? In the original design of the watch, the winding up and setting of the regulator were provided for. Subsequent repair and readjustment are but the carrying out of the ultimate purpose of the mechanism, that it should correctly mark the hours. And when the moral world, through no fault of its Author, has ceased to fulfil its end of representing and reflecting the divine holiness, shall it be thought improbable that God should make bare the arm which the garment of nature had hid, and make known bin power by setting at work new principles of holiness and life? When the lower world ha* become so sundered from the higher as to forget its true meaning and end, is it strange that the higher should touch the lower, and that changes in this lower should result? We claim, therefore, that the existence of moral disorder consequent upon the free acts of man's will changes the presumption against miracles into a presumption in their favor, so that, in a true sense, the non-appearance of miracles would be the greatest of miracles.
Our judgment with regard to the probability of miracles will depend in great part upon the extent to which we perceive this moral disorder in the world and in our own breasts. The degree to which we perceive this will depend, in turn, upon the conception we cherish with regard to God. As Dr. Mozley has intimated, there are two ruling ideas of God. The one gathers round conscience, the other round a physical centre. The one looks upon God as. the supreme mundane Intelligence, penetrating and pervading the physical uerse, and manifested in all the tides of the world's life and civilization. The other regards him as the high and holy One — the God of infinite moral purity, whose voice conscience echoes, and who is the Governor and Judge of all human souls. If we take the former view exclusively or even predominantly, the regular order of nature's successions will seem a full and sufficient revelation of the Almighty, and then there is no place for miracles — they are an impertinence and a contradiction. But if we take the latter view, then the contrast between the spotless purity of God and the uersal sin of the world will unspeakably affect us; the whole course of nature will seem out of joint, the end of creation unattained, and all things in heaven and earth, man's nature and God's nature as well, will seem to cry out for the world's deliverance and redemption. On this view, miracles have a place, and a fit place, in the whole scheme of things; they are antecedently probable. And therefore the denial of miracles on the part of those who hold the former view of God ought not to perplex us, or to shake our faith. They deny miracles, because they have not the whole evidence before them. The moral argument in favor of miracles has no force to them, because they have no eye for the facts on which it is based. But their not seeing them does annihilate them. The moral wants of the world, once apprehended, render miracles probable, as the accompaniments and attestations of a divine revelation.
Miracles are probable; but whether they have actually taken place is a question of evidence. What amount of testimony is necessary to prove a miracle? We reply: No more than is requisite to prove the occurrence of any other unusual, but confessedly possible, event. Hume indeed argued that a miracle is so contradictory of all human experience that it is more reasonable to believe any amount of testimony false than to believe a miracle to be true. But the argument is fallacious. It is chargeable with a petitio principii. It assumes that a miracle is contrary to all human experience. But, by all human experience, Hume can mean only our personal experience. We have not seen a miracle. But others say that they have. To make our own experience the measure of all human experience, would make the proof of any absolutely new fact impossible. Even the evidence of our own senses would be insufficient to prove a miracle; for what is contrary to our past experience would be incredible. Even if God should work a miracle, he could, on this view, never prove it. What is this general experience of mankind, that is held to render the miracle incredible? It is merely negative experience. When one man testifies that he witnessed the commission of a certain crime, shall it be sufficient in rebuttal to bring a hundred men who were not present and who declare that they never saw any such thing? Negative testimony can never neutralize that which is positive, except upon principles which would invalidate all testimony whatsoever. And how do we know what general experience is? Why, only from testimony. Yet Hume commits the self-contradiction of seeking to overthrow our faith in human testimony, by adducing to the contrary the general experience of men of which we know only through testimony. Moreover, Hume's view requires belief in a greater wonder than those which it would escape. That multitudes of intelligent and honest men should, against all their interests, unite in deliberate and persistent falsehood, under the circumstances narrated in the New Testament record, involves a change in the sequences of the mental and spiritual world far more incredible than are the miracles of Christ and his apostles.
What have we now proved, and where does the argument thus far leave us? In our judgment, we have proved that, granting the fact of a revelation, miracles are necessary to attest it; that there is nothing in the relation of miracles to natural law to render them impossible; that there is nothing in the relation of miracles to the laws of evidence to render them improbable. They can be subjects of testimony, like other facts. Provided the facts are certified by witnesses who in other matters are recognized as competent and credible, there is no more rational warrant for rejecting miracles than for rejecting accounts of eclipses and of darkeuings of the sun.
But because miracles are possible and probable, it does not follow that we must accept as miracle all that comes to us under that name. We are simply bound to consider without prepossession each case of the apparently miraculous that presents itself, and to decide it upon its own merits. Now we do not propose to take up the New Testament miracles singly and in detail. It will be sufficient to point out the proper course to be pursued in further investigation of the subject. That course, we are persuaded, is to take first of all that great central miracle upon which Christianity rests her claims and to which the church looks back as to the source of her life — I mean the miracle of Christ's resurrection. To that miracle we have as witnesses two of the evangelists and the Apostle Paul, each of whom personally saw Jesus after he had risen from the dead, and these witnesses represent the faith of a great body of early believers for whom they speak. "Like banners of a hidden army, or peaks of a distant mountain range, they represent and are sustained by compact and continuous bodies below." The accounts of these witnesses would have been contradicted if contradiction had been possible. That multitudes believed their story, and against all their w orldly interests became disciples of Christ, is proof that they believed it to be true. The existence of the church, the existence of Christianity itself, with its doctrines and its ordinances, is inexplicable except upon the hypothesis that what these witnesses believed, was true. The supposition of dream or delusion, of myth or romance, of apparition or imagination, is utterly incompetent to solve the problem how keen-witted and brave-hearted and truthloving men became converts to a faith they had bitterly opposed, and went to imprisonment and martyrdom in its defense. It is irrational to suppose that this mighty fabric of Christian faith and life which has so blessed the world has its foundation either in fraud or in self-deception. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ, once granted, carries with it directly or indirectly all the other miracles of the New Testament. That one mirac'e proves Jesus Christ to be a teacher sent from God; proves his words to be a revelation from God to men; proves his asserted oneness with God and equality with God to be a fact. The coming of such a Being into history is the most wonderful of all events. From this point of view, the miracles of his life assume a new aspect. They are fit manifestations of the incarnate Deity, fit accompaniments of the miracles of his coning and his resurrection. But more than this, the miracles of the New Testament carry with them the miracles of the Old. These are the fitting preludes aud preparations for the coming of God into the world which he created, — fifting si^ns and prophecies to make the world ready for the great event. And so, as a matter of fact, the great epochs of miracles are coincident with the great epochs of revelation. About Moses, the.giver of the law, about the prophets as interpreters of the law, there are congeries of miracles. We find them just where we should expect them, the natural accompaniments and attestations of those new communications from God which at successive periods prepared the way for the coming of his Son. And this shows us why they have ceased. They were candles before the dawn — put out after the sun has risen; serving to draw attention to new truth, they naturally pass away when the truth has gained currency and foothold. Clustering around the person of the divine Redeemer and ceasing when his kingdom has been founded, they are to occur again only when he comes the second time in the clouds of heaven to usher in the final consummation.
Thus we regard the resurrection of Christ as the central proof of Christianity. For this reason it was a main subject of apostolic preaching and a main teaching of the ordinances. It remains to-day just what it then was. We challenge the world to dispute the fact of Christ's resurrection, and the fact 1 icing conceded, we challenge the world to show cause why it should not accept Christ and Christianity. Th s one fact of Christ's resurrection admitted, and the battle is substantially won. With regard to particular instances of miracle in the Old Testament or the New, there may be questions which we cannot answer and difficulties which we cannot solve. Christianity does not stand or fall with any single one of these, so long as the resurrection of Christ is held to be matter of history. We may not be able to mark the precise time when miracles ceased. There is reason to believe that they ceased with the first century, or at any rate with the passing away of those upon whom the apostles had laid their hands. So long as the Scripture canon was incomplete, there was need of miracles. When documentary evidence was at hand, miracles were seen no longer. The fathers of the second century speak of miracles, but they confess that they are of a class widely different from the wonders wrought in the days of the apostles. And so of mediaeval and modern miracles. The Scripture recognizes the existence of counterfeit miracles and denominates them 'lying wonders.' These counterfeit miracles, in various ages, argue that the belief in miracles is natural to the race and that somewhere there must exist the true. They serve to show that not all supernatural occurrences are of divine origin, and to impress upon us the necessity of careful examination before we give them credence. False miracles may commonly be distinguished from the true, by their acompaniments of immoral conduct or of doctrine contradictory to truth already revealed, as in modern spiritualism ; by their internal characteristics of inanity or extravagance, as in the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius, or in the miracles of the Apocryphal New Testament; in the insufficiency of the object which they are designed to further, as in the case of Apollonins of Tyana, or of the miracles said to accompany the publication of the doctrine of the immaculate conception; or finally, in their lack of substantiating evidence, as in mediteval miracles, which are seldom if ever attested by contemporary and disinterested witnesses.
A simple comparison of other so-called miracles with those of Scripture suffices to show the vast superiority of the latter in sobriety, in benevolence, in purpose, in evidence. Mahomet disclaimed all power to work miracles, and appealed to the Koran in lieu of them, so that its paragraphs are called aidt, or 'sign.' But later legends relate that Mahomet caused darkness a', noon, whereupon the moon flew to him, and after going seven times round the Eaaba, bowed to him, then entered his right sleeve, and, slipping oxit at the left, split into two halves, which after severally retiring to the extreme east and west, were once more united to each other. These were truly signs from heaven, but they make no impression upon us. The fable of St. Alban, the first martyr of Britain, illustrates to us the nature of mediieval miracles. The saint walks about, after his head is cut off, and, that he may not be wholly deprived of that useful portion of his body, he carries it in his hand. Mediaeval miracles were part of a complicated system of deceit and evil, constructed to further the secular interests of a domineering church. Antecedently improbable, from their connection with the organization of which they are the representatives, they fail to pass either of the tests which distinguish the true miracle from the false. But in the New Testament all these tests are met. Here is purity of life in the teachers who work them, accompanied by the proclamation of doctrine not only consistent with God's past teachings, but constituting the keystone of the arch of revelation ; here are sobriety and grandeur, benevolence and wisdom, united in every act; here are objects worthy of divine intervention, the attesting of the divine commission of his Son and the certification that what he teaches is God's authoritative word of life and salvation; here is evidence of the occurrence of these miracles from eye-witnesses of keen discernment and irreproachable integrity, who had no conceivable motive for dishonesty, and who imperiled their lives by the testimony they gave — witnesses who mutually support each other without the possibility of collusion, and whose testimony perfectly agrees with collateral facts and circumstances, so far as these can be ascertained from the most rigorous investigations into the literature and history of their time. No other religion professes to be attested by miracles at all; uo other miracles of any age present evidence of their genuineness comparable to these. Indeed, the result of extended investigation is simply this: The Christian miracles are the only series of miracles that have the slightest claim to rational credence, yet no man can rationally doubt that the Christian miracles were wrought by God.
Here we might leave our theme. We make but one closing remark. The belief in many fancied manifestations of the supernatural has vanished with the advance of civilization. Sir Matthew Hale and his belief in witches are things of the past. But the belief in the Christian miracles has not vanished: it has not decreased; it sways a larger number of minds, and minds of higher quality and culture, to-day than ever before. With civilization, the belief in other wonders disappears. With civilization, the belief in the Christian miracles steadily and irresistibly advances. It is an instance of survival of the fittest. It is inexplicable, except by difference of kind between the faith and the superstition. And the faith whose progress is never retrograde, but whose dominion perpetually widens, unless the laws of mind and of history be changed in the interest of unbelief, must some day inevitably embrace among its adherents the total race of man.