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THERE BE, IS NOT MIRACULOUS.
exceptional fashion, by an obtrusive suspension of His own laws for the benefit of a few favored children of preference, or, under the operation of the universal order of Nature, to the common advantage of all His creatures, in silent impartiality and harmony, as He causes the morning sun to rise and the evening dews to fall.
I might proceed a step further, and inquire whether, if such an extension of our earthly horizon enter into God's design, it can rationally be imagined that the Great Framer should find His purpose thwarted by the laws Himself had framed; or whether it does not far better comport with just ideas of God's omnipotence and omniprescience to conclude that, in the original adjustment of the world's economy, such a contingency was foreseen and provided for, as surely as every other human need has been.
Such arguments might not unfairly be made. Yet all a priori reasoning touching God's intentions, and the means we imagine He may select to effect these, seem to me hazarded and inconclusive. I think we do better to take note of God's doings than to set about conjecturing His thoughts, which, we are told, are not as ours. It is safer to reason from our experience of His works than from our conceptions of His attributes; for these are wrapped in mystery, while those are spread open before us.
I rest the case, therefore, not on the vagueness of general induction, but on the direct evidence of phenomena observed. That evidence will be adduced in its proper place. Suffice it for the present to express my conviction, based on experimental proof, that, if the Deity is now permitting communication between mortal creatures in this stage of existence and disembodied spirits in another, He is employing natural causes and general laws to effect His object; not resorting for that purpose to the occasional and the miraculous.
BUTLER'S AND TILLOTSON'S
It will be evident, to the reflecting reader, that the argument running through the preceding chapter applies only in so far as we may accept the popular definition of a miracle; the same adopted by Hume. Some able theologians have assumed a very different one; Butler, for example, in his well-known “Analogy of Religion," in which he favors a view of the subject not very dissimilar to that taken by myself. "There is a real credibility," says he, "in the supposition that it might be part of the original plan of things that there should be miraculous interpositions." And he leaves it in doubt whether we ought "to call every thing in the dispensations of Providence not discoverable without Revelation, nor like the known course of things, miraculous." 11*
Another distinguished prelate speaks more plainly still. In one of his sermons Archbishop Tillotson says, "It is not the essence of a miracle (as many have thought) that it be an immediate effect of the Divine Power. It is sufficient that it exceed any natural power that we know of to produce it."+
This is totally changing the commonly-received definition. If we are not to regard it as "the essence of a miracle that it be an immediate effect of the Divino Power,"-if we may properly call any occurrence miraculous which is not "like the known course of things,"if we may declare each and every phenomenon a miracle which "exceeds any natural power that we know of to produce it," then it is evident that the miracle of one age may be the natural event of the succeeding. In this sense we are living, even now, among miracles.
Nor, if in this we follow Butler and Tillotson, are we
* "Analogy of Religion to the Constitution and Course of Nature," Part II., chap. 2. † Sermor. CLXXXII.
IDEAS OF MIRACLES.
at all invalidating the efficacy of the early Christian miracles. Their influence on the minds of men was the same whether they were the result of partial or of general laws. In point of fact, they did attract attention and add force to the teachings of a system, the innate beauty and moral grandeur of which was insufficient to recommend it to the semi-barbarism of the day. Whatever their character, they did their work. And the mistake as to that character, if mistake it is to be termed, may have been the very means ordained by Providence to cherish and advance, in its infancy, a religion of peace and good will springing up in an age of war and discord. Nor, in one sense, was the error, if as such we are to regard it, one of essence, but rather of manner. The signs and wonders which broke in upon the indifference and awoke the belief of Jew and Gentile, whether they were produced by momentary suspension of law or by its preordained operation, were equally His work from whom all law proceeds. And shall we appreciate God's handiwork the less because, in the progress of His teachings, He gradually unfolds to us the mode in which He moves to perform it? Then in heaven we should less venerate Him than upon earth.
Is it an unreasonable surmise that it may be God's purpose to raise the vail of eighteen hundred years, in proportion as our eyes can bear the light; in proportion as our minds can take in the many things which Christ taught not, in His day, to those who could not bear them; in proportion as we are prepared to receive Christianity, for its intrinsic excellence and on its internal evidence, without the aid of extraneous warrant?
But I put forth these suggestions, touching, as they do, on matters beyond our ken, incidentally and hypothetically only. They are not essential to my argument, nor strictly included in its purpose; that being to treat of modern, not of ancient, miracles.
"It may be said, speaking in strictness, that almost all our knowledge consists of possibilities only."-LA PLACE: Théorie des Probabilités, Introd. p. 1.
In quest of truth there are two modes of proceeding: the one, to sit down, draw upon one's stock of preconceptions; settle, before we enter upon an inquiry, what may be, or ought to be, or must be; make to ourselves, in advance, what we call clear ideas of the naturally possible and impossible; then sally forth, armed against all non-conforming novelties, and with a fixed purpose to waste no time in their examination. The other plan, more modest and Baconian, is to step out into the world, eyes and ears open, an unpledged spectator, our fagot of opinions still unbound and incomplete; no such screen as a must be set up to prevent our seeing and hearing whatever presents itself; no ready-made impossibility prepared to rule out reliable testimony; no prejudgment barring the way against evidence for improbabilities.
Few persons realize how arbitrary and unreliable may be the notions they keep on hand of the improbable. We laugh at Jack's mother, who, when her sailor son sought to persuade her there were flying-fish, resented the attempt as an insult to her understanding, but accepted, unquestioned, the young rogue's story about one of Pharaoh's chariot-wheels brought up on the anchor-fluke from the bottom of the Red Sea. Yet the old lady is one of a large class, numbering learned and
lettered celebrities among its members, who have their flying-fish, insulting to the understanding, as well as she. These are a frequent phenomenon within the precincts of scientific academies and royal institutions.
We forget, after a time, what have been the flyingfish of the past. It needs official reference to convince us now that for nearly half a century after Harvey's brilliant discovery the Paris Academy of Medicine listened to those who classed it among the impossibilities. We have almost forgotten that, until the commencement of the present century, the old ladies of the scientific world rejected, as resentfully as their prototype of the story, all allegations going to prove the reality of aerolites.†
Meteoric stones and the circulation of the blood have now lost their piscatory character, are struck off the
In the records of the Paris Royal Society of Medicine we read that, as late as the year 1672, a candidate for membership, François Bazin, sought to conciliate the favor of that learned body by selecting as his theme the impossibility of the circulation of the blood; (" ergo sanguinis motus circularis impossibilis.") Harvey had given to the world his great discovery in the year 1628; but forty-four years sufficed not to procure for it the sanction of official medical authority in the French capital.
†The fall of larger or smaller mineral masses, usually called meteoric stones, was long set down by the scientific world as among popular fables, notwithstanding the testimony of all antiquity in its favor. Stones alleged to have dropped from heaven were preserved in various ancient temples, as at Cybele. Plutarch, in his life of Lysander, describes a celebrated aerolite which fell in Thrace, near the mouth of the Ægos Potamos. But these and a hundred other analogous cases, recorded throughout the past, failed to dispel scientific incredulity, until Chladni, a naturalist of Wurtemberg, verified the fall of a meteorite at Sienna, in Tuscany, on the 16th of June, 1794. His report of the marvel staggered the skepticism of many. Yet it was not till nine years afterward-when, to wit, on the 26th of April, 1803, an aerolite fell in broad daylight at L'Aigle, in Normandy-that all doubt was removed. The Paris Academy of Sciences appointed a commission to institute inquiries into this case; and their report settled the question. Howard, an English naturalist, afterward prepared a list of all the aerolites known to have fallen on our earth up to the year 1818; and Chladni continued the list to the year 1824.