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social storms which he foresaw, and in reference to his own speedy departure from the earth, he spoke on the question—“On what power under God may we set our hopes ? On truth, which will at last gain the victory over all error; on virtue, which can never be destroyed; on right, which eventually overpowers all wrong.
• Bretschneider was ready for, and often spoke of death ; but he spoke of it with a composure and cheerfulness which can arise from nothing but a consciousness of duty faithfully performed.' This, whatever desirable qualities it had, was not such an end as the Christian may hope to die. Higher authorities than that of Rationalism have uttered words no less momentous in this matter than true and everlasting. Thus spake Jesus: “So likewise
ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants ; we have done that which was our duty to do.' (Luke xvii. 10.) Thus spake Paul: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand; I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith ; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing.' (2 Tim. iv. 6–9. Compare i. 12.)
Towards the close of our first volume* we took up the question, • What has God spoken?' and gave a general view of the evidence by which God himself has provided that his communications to mankind may be discriminated and ascertained. We stated this evidence to consist of two kinds, the external and the internal; the external being again divisible into two parts, the one derivable from prophecy, and the other from miracles. To a brief consideration of the evidence supplied by prophecy the remainder of our last paper was devoted; and we now proceed to survey that which is afforded by miraculous action.
Upon this topic, which has given rise to so much controversy, and has been involved in so much perplexity, without, however, losing anything either of its importance or its power, we shall endeavour to speak prudently, but we shall speak without either fear or hesitation. The subject asks nothing but attentive and impartial consideration.
In the outset of our discussion it is proper to pay some attention to the fact, and to show how amply it stands before us, that God has employed miraculous action to attest his communications to mankind. The case of Moses naturally and immediately occurs to us as
* Christian Spectator, vol. i. p. 657.
example of this. When God had commissioned him to speak to the children of Israel, and to say to them, “Thus saith the Lord God of your fathers,' the sacred narrative thus proceeds :
• And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee. And the Lord said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand : that they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee. And the Lord said furthermore unto him, Put now thine hand into thy bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow. And he said, Put thine hand into thy bosom again. And he put his hand into his bosom again ; and plucked it out of his bosom, and, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land : and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land.'—Exodus iv. 1-9.
Not to do more than refer in passing to the miraculous powers exercised with a similar view by Joshua, Samuel, Elijah, and others of the Hebrew prophets, let us proceed to observe that it was by similar evidence that the Messiah proposed to make good his own standing in the world. That he, in point of fact, wrought many miracles, was at once the affirmation of his friends and the confession of his enemies ; and the purpose for which he did so is expressly stated by his own lips : The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, BEAR WITNESS OF ME THAT THE FATHER HATH SENT ME. Believe me for the very works' sake.'* And this design of his miracles is pointedly set forth in his treatment of John's disciples, when, at the suggestion of their master, they came to Jesus, and asked him, 'Art thou he that should come, or look we for another? Our Lord's response to this inquiry the evangelist gives us in the following terms :
* And in the same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits ; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus, answering, said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.'—Luke vii. 21—23.
We might follow up this statement by referring to the miraculous powers exercised by the apostles and some of their contemporaries; but we have said enough, we think, to make the fact quite clear that God has been pleased to employ miracles in attestation of his communications to mankind.
Let us now try if we can make clear to ourselves and to our readers the nature of a miracle, or explain what a miracle is.
* John v. 36; xiv, 11.
bially attends all attempts at definition, and much that is infelicitous has practically attended the attempts to define a miracle; but we cannot get on without a definition, and the patent mistakes of others may, perhaps, teach us caution, and lead us right.
The word miracle affords no clue to the idea which we want. It is formed from the Latin verb miro, to wonder, and has etymologically the simple signification of a wonderful thing ; but many things may be wonderful, which are not, in the sense in which the word is now commonly used, miraculous. We shall do better if we select a fact of the miraculous class, and inquire into its constituent elements. Take, for example, Christ's raising to life the deceased youth whom a widowed mother was following to his grave out of the gate of Nain. This effect, doubtless, resulted from the exercise of divine power ; but in this respect it did not differ from an immense multitude of other occurrences, which also result from the exercise of divine power; and, consequently, viewed in this aspect alone, it was not miraculous. It resulted from an exercise of divine power in some way peculiar; it was a case in which divine power was exercised in a manner differing from its ordinary operation. What was this difference and peculiarity? Divine power in the physical world is ordinarily exercised in a way that is mediate, or indirect—that is, by the operation of second causes, as medicine cures disease ; but here is an effect produced not by the intervention of any second cause, but by an exercise of divine power direct and immediate. Our definition of a miracle, then, is, that it is an effect resulting from an immediate exertion of divine power in the physical world. In a broader view, a miracle may be regarded in two aspects, the one generic, and the other specific: in its generic aspect it is, in common with all natural phenomena, an effect produced by an exercise of divine power ; in its specific aspect it is, unlike all other phenomena, an effect produced by divine power immediately exerted.
From this definition of a miracle we may pass to the consideration of the general subject. This it will be necessary to take up in a manner somewhat controversial, inasmuch as the miraculous attestation of divine revelation has been opposed, not only with great tenacity, but on very various grounds. It may be well to have these distinctly before
The miraculous attestation of divine revelation is assaulted in the -following methods :
First, by denying the value of miraculous attestation.
To put all these ideas into a single sentence, our opponents tell us that a miracle is impossible ; or that, if it be not impossible, it is improbable; or that, if it be not improbable, no report of it can be credible ; or that, if a reported miracle might be credible, the miracles actually reported are false; or that, if the reported miracles were true, their attestation would be worthless. Thus we are challenged to battle at every point: but we will not decline the challenge.
In noticing these topics, it will be convenient to begin with the last of them, and work our way backwards.
In the first place, then, we are told that a miracle is not possible.
We answer this assertion in two ways. First, by translating it into plainer terms, in which its falsehood becomes obvious. A miracle, it is alleged, is impossible ; that is to say, an immediate exercise of divine power is impossible. But if so, then was creation impossible, for that was an immediate exercise of divine power ; but creation clearly was not impossible, since it was actually effected. And further, if an immediate exercise of divine power is not possible, no exercise of divine power at all is possible; because the first exercise of divine power must of necessity be immediate, and, if there cannot be a first, there cannot be a second, or any subsequent exercise of it.
We further answer the assertion now before us by proposing a question, and asking why this, which is evidently not true in fact, should be supposed ? The only reply we get to this question is, that the universe is acted on by physical powers, which are governed by fixed and immutable laws. These alleged laws are dignified with a grand appellation—the laws of nature—and they are conceived to operate, not merely independently of the Creator, but in such manner as to exclude his interposition. But this view of things is altogether fallacious. The active powers of the physical world are nothing apart from God; they are strictly forms of His activity, only thrown one step further back by the insertion of an intermediate physical cause. And as his power is the energy, so his will is really the law or rule of its action. When, indeed, we look at the universe, not as from a standing point in the divine nature, from which its realities present themselves to us, but from the standing point occupied by ourselves amidst its phenomena, then we see effects, which tell us that there are energies at work, and regular effects, which assure us that all are working according to rule; and hence we come to speak of nature as having laws, and of those laws as if they were not only powers, but beings. No fallacy can be more transparent than this to a thoughtful mind, and none, certainly, ought to be more carefully guarded against, since the seed of atheism is in it. The entire operation of second causes, with all their vastness and diversity, is resolvable, and requires to be resolved, into the simple operation of a first cause, without which in its immediate exercise, continued as well as primary, it must in every department instantly cease. Were God, the living spring, to withdraw from the created universe, all the wheels of this magnificent machinery would come to a stand. So far, consequently, from an immediate exercise of divine power being impossible, such an exertion of it is incessant, and the question whether it shall be employed to produce an ordinary or an extraordinary effect, a regular or an irregular result, is one that lies wholly, as a question of expediency, within the Divine mind.
We are now told, in the second place, that, granting the possibility of a miracle, it is in the highest degree improbable.
This allegation cannot, of course, be taken absolutely; because, if so, it would infer the high improbability of creation itself, which was an immediate exercise of divine power, and the first and greatest of miracles. Should any one choose to extend the argument so far, the fact of creation having taken place would, at least, prove it to be worthless.
We suppose, however, that it is intended to assume creation as a fact, together with the regular operation of physical energies in it; and then to say, that since God has been pleased to govern the universe by fixed laws, it is in the highest degree improbable that he will depart from them. To a limited extent, there need be no difficulty in admitting the general principle thus laid down. Undoubtedly, the Author of the universe framed it with infinite skill, and must be supposed to be bent on honouring-that is, on maintaining-the ordinances he has insti. tuted. This principle, however, must be admitted in a limited sense only; it cannot be held as absolute. With whatever skill the great Artificer may have constructed the physical mechanism, and however strongly his glory may seem to require that his wisdom should be honoured by its careful maintenance, it is clearly within the range of possibility that some occasion may arise on which, for a great purpose otherwise unattainable, he may see fit to modify its action. And who shall judge of such a contingency? Is it for us to judge? This is a mere argument from human ignorance and presumption. The determination of such an issue clearly lies, not with human or any other created intelligence, but with the supreme and sovereign Ruler. To take this out of his hands, and to make ourselves definitive judges of the probability of miraculous interposition, is as impertinent as it is unphilosophical
Miracles being neither impossible nor improbable, it is next contended that, if they occur, they cannot be proved, either by sense or by testimony, so that their occurrence must be useless.
We commence our remarks on this allegation by observing, that it would be really an extreme infelicity in the constitution of things, if such exercises of divine power as belong to the category of miracles could be wrought, but not ascertained; more especially when the benignant and all-important purposes for which they may be conceived to be wrought are taken into consideration. For God to have produced such a state of things as this, would have been to shut himself out from his own works, and to preclude himself from communication with his rational creatures, under circumstances of, perhaps, inconceivable and eternal moment. It is difficult to suppose that he should have subjected himself to such a restriction as this, or have forged such a fetter for his own arm. Indeed, were the constitution of the universe really such, this itself might be regarded as a defect which it were a worthy object of a miraculous interposition to remedy.
But why, let us ask, should it be impossible to arrive at the knowledge of a miracle? Every miracle is a fact, and a fact claiming credence only so far as it is, like other facts, brought within the sphere of our knowledge, either directly or indirectly, by observation or by testimony. These sources of information being credible in all other cases, why are they not so in the case of a miracle? Because, we are told, they are,