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The works of such a being as we suppose Christ to be, will possess a special divine character and import. They cannot, therefore, be considered apart from himself, or apart from each other. They belong to a supernatural system for the restoration of man to the lost image of God. Hence, in our humble judgment, a serious error has been committed in the discussion of this subject, by isolating the miracles from the essence of Christianity, as itself supernatural, just as if miracles did not form an integral part of the gospel dispensation, whose fair and massive proportions can be estimated only when contemplated as a divine whole. The majority who have written upon miracles have vindicated their title to our respect, as the external defence of Christianity, treating them simply as redoubts and outposts of the sacred citadel; on which account they have seemed to reason in a circle, proving
This chapter, with some additions, appeared in the July number of the Christian Review for 1853.
Christianity by the miracles, and the miracles by Christianity. They have admitted, on Hume's own ground, that no amount of testimony will establish a lying wonder, or what may be termed an immoral miracle, that is, a miracle wrought in defence of error and imposture, all of them taking it for granted that such miracles may be performed through satanic or other equivalent agency.
Hence they have been compelled to defend Christianity by that which Christianity alone can authenticate as divine. Having courageously fought the battle of miracles, and, as they supposed, gained the victory, they have found themselves obliged to fight it all over again in defending Christianity itself. Thus it has come to pass, in the estimation of some of the ablest speculative thinkers, that, instead of being a defence to Christianity, miracles have proved its greatest hinderance. For, without the essence of Christianity, as a religion of purity and power, miracles, as supernatural manifestations, would be utterly indefensible. Some devout men have been able to retain the miracles only by means of the perfect and supernatural religion with which they are associated; a striking instance of which may be found in the case of the eloquent Schleiermacher.
For the same reason, sceptical writers, like
Hume, Spinoza, Comte, Emerson, Parker, and others, have readily disposed of technical and isolated miracles as simple prodigies, or, as they choose to call them, “violations of the laws of nature.” Standing alone, outside of Christianity, they have easily swept them aside by the philosophy of “nature," or of immutable law, whether material or ideal. Even those of them
. who believe in a personal God, as Parker professes to do, have no hesitation in denying miracles, in themselves considered; for God, in their view, cannot be supposed to violate or even suspend the law of his own universe, that is, the common course and constitution of things. Miracles, even if admitted as possible, on the theory of these men, stand alone, and require for their establishment a peculiar kind and amount of proof. Hence they set themselves to weaken the force of that proof, often with apparent success, long before the gospel, as a system, is touched at all. Their assumption, too, about " the violation of nature,” which, in some sense, may be considered impossible, is made plausible on the same ground; so that the Christian faith seems demolished before a single blow has fallen upon its proper fabric.
Let us pass, however, into the heart of the magnificent structure of our common Christianity, founded upon the Rock of Ages, and
towering high towards the illuminated heavens ; and even if we admit that the miracles, as such, are its outer buttresses, we shall see, at a glance, - that they are a part of the whole, and only add to its symmetry and strength. The materials, too, are precisely the same, though the interior portions may present a more delicate architectural finish ; for they are all the product of a celestial hand. The whole, as supernatural and divine, must stand or fall together.
Is there a personal God ? Has he a distinct, productive, all-controlling will? In other words, is he, the all-creative One, a Spirit, immanent, it may be, in nature, and yet superior to nature ? Is man, too, though finite, a distinct, productive will, a rational and responsible agent, formed in the image of God? Is the outer universe, then, or what we call nature, with all its forces, dynamic or mechanical, under God, a mere agent or instrument; and can God control it with the sovereignty of a master? If so, then creations and re-creations, vital changes and transformations, new species and new eras, renovations, redemptions, miracles, as supernatural divine manifestations, are possible, are probable. The spiritual, the supernatural, the religious, are all possible and real.
Here we have a foundation on which to base our reasonings in reference to Christianity, which we claim to be, under God, a supernatural system, a new beginning or spiritual creation, through the medium of the Divine Logos, or incarnate Word, in which miracles play a most important part, not in violation of nature, but as above and beyond nature, being the more direct and tangible demonstrations of the life-giving or
But “to the law and the testimony;" for in this matter we must correct and control all speculative reasonings by a reference to the facts in the case.
How stands the matter in the Christian records? This is our first inquiry. It is proper, however, to remark, that our word miracles (which simply signifies wonders, though, in the use we now make of it, involving the idea of the supernatural or divine) is somewhat indefinite, and scarcely covers the whole series of supernatural acts or works, by which our Lord not only attested, but accomplished, his mission. In the New Testament, quite a variety of terms are used to designate them, not simply as wonders, but as special divine acts, such as might naturally constitute or accompany a divine mission. They are called " signs,” as it were divine signatures or seals, “gifts,” “gifts of the Holy Ghost," “ powers," powers,” “works," "mighty
“ works," that is, special divine operations, indicating the presence and sanction of the Deity.