THE MIRACLES OF THE LORD JESUS WERE EVIDENCES OF HIS LOVE,
AND VERY SECONDARILY, EVIDENCES OF HIS DOCTRINE.
When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool; but while I am coming; another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed and walk.–JOHN v. 6, 7, 8.
ON Sunday last, we intimated that we should this morning consider the subject of miracles, as they are introduced to us in the history of our Divine Redeemer’s life in the world; and, also, as they have been presented to the reflections of the student, in the work now famous, the Essays and Reviews.
The miracles alluded to, are those wondrous displays of Divine power, by which both the Jewish and the Christian dispensations were established in the world. To us, the evidences of these miracles, inwoven as they are with both parts of that Divine Revelation, which is the power of God unto salvation, appear complete and triumphant.
That the Jewish nation, with its marvelous tenacity of character–a tenacity that has been proof against Christian persuasion and persecution alike, for nearly twenty centuries, –against bribes, blandishments, and terrors, wielded by caliph, emperor, king, or pope, and yet found everywhere, in the east, in the mast, in the north, in the south, with its ancient faith and costly customs, witnessing to the law of Moses, is a standing miracle. That this nation was induced to leave Egypt, not only their own history attests, but Egyptian monuments confirm; that they were induced to accept a system of religion painful, costly, multifarious, permeating their whole existence, loading them with rites and sacrifices, involving them in great self-denial, there must have been some adequate cause. Their miraculous history gives one. Without that, they are the enigma of the world–the sphynx, far more than that of Egypt, which refuses to unfold its mystery.
Institutions affecting the whole nation–circumcision, the passover, and the other national feasts, to celebrate miracles declared to have taken place before the eyes of the whole people, and which declarations the whole people must have known to be false, if they did not really happen, were established in the life-times of the first-actors; those institutions were accepted, nationalized, worked into the Jews nature with a depth and power that are visible still, and energetic still. Only one solution for this standing miracle seems to be philosophical, viz., that there. Must have been adequate cause for all this. The Divine will, manifested by Omnipotence working the wonders alleged, bringing Israel out with a mighty hand end a stretched-out arm, is such an adequate cause. If it be not the real one, what is? On this foundation, the prophets rise, and the psalmist sings, a glorious superstructure! The Israelitish lawgiver spoke the language which gives a solution perfectly easy when he said:-
And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying what mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God commanded you? Thus shalt thou say unto thy son, We were Pharaohs bondmen in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt, with a mighty hand, and the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household before our eyes, and he brought us out from thence, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he sware to our fathers.
And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is this day. And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He hath commanded us. In the Christian MIRACLES we have the same exhibition of Divine power, but in a gentler, tenderer form. It is the Healer, the Teacher, the Savior, that appears in them all. The sacred system of the New Testament recognizes the sacred books of the Old, and vouches for their truth. With the New Testament, miracles are inextricably bound up. They are recognized by the Savior, by the apostles. The wonders said to be done were such that there could be no mistake about them. The man blind from his birth, the hungry multitudes, the lepers, the paralytics, presented cases about which there could be no mistake. Either they were truly done as they are described, or no character in the New Testament can remain its worthy of veneration. The disciples went out, however, declaring their risen Lord wherever they went. They declared His miracles; they were Jews, declaring a system higher than that of Moses; they obtained the hatred of their people; they went out into hostile nations declaring everywhere as facts, what they must have known to be frauds, if they were so. These facts were to introduce a system of righteousness, truth, and purity; they were preachers of these sacred things; yet, if the things they avouched were untrue, things not of opinion or of metaphysical difference, but matters of fact, about which eye-witnesses could not be mistaken, they preached, they averred, they declared, they taught that not only the doctrines were true, but the MIRACLES were true. They did this in pain and privation, in reiterated peril and persecution; they all, probably, sealed their testimony with their blood. Could all this be done, and the alleged facts be false? It is a terrible amount of incredulity that unbelief demands.
The Christian religion is an enormous fact. No one can deny its existence or its influence in modifying and improving the history of the human race. It has its own sacred books, existing in the first century, with corroborative epistles, referred to by a stream of writers from the second century downwards.
The sacred books of the Christian religion, between twenty and thirty in number, belonging to the first century of Christianity, are the fountains of its history. Though they are now gathered into one volume, and have usually been bound together since the Nicene Council, A. D. 324, yet, in reality, they present separate authentications of the facts of the Christian religion being what they are professed to be. The system thus introduced won its way over Jew and over barbarian, with both doctrine and miracle, in a continued widening stream to the present day.
Let the acceptance of Christianity by the apostles, their self-immolation for a fraud to support a religion that condemned them to everlasting punishment, as the knowing abettors of imposition, be accounted for if they were really not the preachers of truth. Let their success be explained in an age of philosophy, of high art, of eloquence, and of unbelief Cicero informs us that the augurs no longer believed the mysteries in which they were the officiators, but laughed at the follies into which the old religions had sunk. How came it that this new thing, without the venerable prestige custom and antiquity, imposing restraints long unfelt, involving changes of the most serious character, exposing its converts to privation, to persecution, and to scorn, still spread its influence and gained its victories, if all the while it was as baseless as that which it displaced? It was not an age of myths (meaning deep wisdom parabolic form), in the good and sacred sense of that term. That age was long gone by proposition in the time of the Savior must either be a fact, if it professed to be a fact, or it must be a falsehood.
Yet in that age Christianity with its miracles, won acceptance both from philosopher and peasant, great and small. No demonstration of its falsehood appeared. It took deep root; it spread its benign influence among the nations. Though mingling with, and often polluted by, the streams of barbarism and heathenism with which it came in contact, it lived on still, like the sacred corn in the hands of the mummy, it was already to spring again wherever favorable soil was found. These considerations will present broad, deep, prima facie evidences that Christianity is Divine; its facts are true, its statements worthy of all acceptation.
Besides, we trust to show that the MIRACLES themselves are not open to the objections that have been suggested by the Essays and Reviews; but, on the contrary, they are Divine lessons, exhibiting by objective demonstration the mighty power of the Redeemer–unfolding for human consolation the mode by which the Divine Physician heals our sorrows, and performs mental miracles in every age.
We are satisfied that both the miracles and their meaning will come out of this trial, with fuller acceptance than over, and that the really thoughtful will find their confidence in the providence of the Most High, more deeply rooted by the examination they have given to the foundations of their faith.
We must observe, however, that the remarks in the parts of the Essays and Reviews which treat upon this subject, are in many respects exceedingly valuable, exceedingly suggestive. They are not by any means what the fears of some, and the bigotry of others, have figured them to be. They are not altogether unworthy of consideration, nor do they necessarily lead to infidelity. By many considerations, they tend to correct the false notions of miracles that have been prevalent in the world for a long time. They are worthy, at least, of the perusal of men of true religion.
It should never be forgotten that truth is true of itself, and of itself worthy of all acceptation. No number of wonders worked will ever make that which is false in itself, true. That two and two make four, we ought to believe, because it is so; that two and two make five, a thoughtful man will never believe, even if a thousand miracles were wrought to prove it. Truth is given to men who have minds proper for the reception of truth, for its own sake. To men duly sensible of this, miracles are of no value whatever, as evidences of truth. They would rather impede a real intellectual belief, than promote it. Our blessed Lord himself evidently taught this concerning miracles, both in practice and in precept. He never wrought a miracle to compel faith, though He appeared to them when addressing such as valued them. His miracles were works of mercy. As would not compel belief. Of Jesus, in His own country, it is said (Matt. xiii. 66), He did not many mighty works, because of their unbelief.
On another occasion He said, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, but no sign shall be given, but the sign of the prophet Jonas (Matt. xii. 39); that is, that man should repent. It is, then, a mistake to regard miracles as tests of truth to the thoughtful man. Far better is it at all times to remember that truth is so beautiful a thing–a thing so infinitely valuable of itself–that it ought to charm the hearts, guide the minds, and bless the souls of all immortal beings, for its own sake. We ought to feel with the poet Cowper, when he says
And truth alone, where’er my lot be cast,
In scenes of plenty, or the pining waste,
Shall be my chosen theme, my glory
To the last.
That the argument for miracles has been pushed much beyond legitimate bounds, must be admitted. Paley and the crowd of writers of the century preceding him, who make miracles the logical foundation of the Christian faith, attribute far more to miracles than our Lord or His apostles did, or than a thoughtful inquirer at the present day will be inclined to do. In the extravagances of those who have overrated the importance of miracles in the grand system of an intelligent faith, the most powerful arguments of Professor Laden Powell find their strength and justification. In the admissions he himself makes, the Gospel accounts of miracles may easily be embraced and defended.
First. Let us record those admissions.
Secondly. Review the objections.
Thirdly. Take a general view of the miracles, and refer to their relation to the ordinary laws of nature, and their meaning.
Fourthly. Apply our view of miracles, and their necessity when they were wrought, to the case of the impotent man.
First, then, let us review the admissions of Professor Powell.
The reason of the hope that is in us is not restricted to external signs, nor to any one kind of evidence; but consists of such assurance as may be most satisfactory to each earnest individual inquirers own mind.
And the true acceptance of the entire revealed manifestation of Christianity will be most worthily based on that assurances of faith, by which the apostle affirms me stand (2 Cor. ii. 24); but which, in accordance with his emphatic declaration, must rest, not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God. 1 Cor. ii. 5p. 144.
True, the reason of the hope that is in us is not restricted to external signs, or to any one kind of evidence. Hence it does not reject the evidence of miracles, any more than it rejects all the other evidences of truth which offer themselves to faith, to love, and to historical research, to reasonable evidence of testimony, and to the ever-increasing spiritual insight of him who does the will of God, and therefore knows of the doctrine whether from God or not. John vii. 17.
Second admission. The most seemingly improbable events in human history may be perfectly credible, on sufficient testimony, however contradicting ordinary experience of human motives and conduct; simply because we cannot assign any limits to the varieties of human dispositions, passions, or tendencies; or the extent to which they may he influenced by circumstances, of which, perhaps, we have little or no knowledge to guide us. But no such cases would have the remotest applicability to alleged violations of the laws of matter, or interruptions of the course of physical causes.–p 132.
This admission, that seemingly improbable events in human history may be credible on sufficient testimony, will go very far to reconcile the acceptance of miracles in the dealings of Divine Providence with His creatures in securing human progress, if sufficient testimony shall be offered to convince the earnest inquirer that, an epoch of human history existed in which miracles were of use to secure the attention of a dull and groveling age to the principles, upon the acceptance of which, human progress to a state in which miracles would be altogether needless, would depend. The history of miracles, is certainly a part of human history.
Third admission. By the Jews, we know such manifestations, especially the power of healing, were held to constitute the distinctive marks of the Messiah, according to the prophecies of their Scriptures. Isa. xxxv. 3, 4. Signs of an improper or irrelevant kind were refused, and even those which were granted, were not necessarily nor universally conclusive.
With some, they were so; but with the many, the case was different. The Pharisees set down the miracles of Christ to the power of evil spirits; and, in other cases, no conviction was produced, not even on the apostles.
Even Nicodemus, notwithstanding his logical reasoning, was but half convinced. While Jesus himself, especially to His disciples in private, referred to His works as only secondary and subsidiary to the higher evidence of His character and doctrine, which was so conspicuous and convincing even to His enemies as to draw forth the admission, Never man spake like this man–p. 116.
Fourth admission. All moral evidence must especially have respect to the parties to be convinced. Signs might be adapted to the state of moral or intellectual progress of one age or one class of persons, and not be suited to that of others. With the contemporaries of Christ and the apostles, it was not a question of testimony or credibility; it was not the were occurrence of what they all regarded as a supernatural event, as such, but the particular character to be assigned to it, which was the point in question. And it is to the entire difference in the ideas, prepossessions, mode and grounds of belief in those times, that me may trace the reason why miracles, which would be incredible now, were not so in the age and under the circumstances in which they are stated to have occurred (p 117).
The force of the appeal to miracles mast ever be essentially dependent on the pre-conceptions of the parties addressed. p. 118.
Here, the necessity of miracles, as appeals to the prepossessions of that time, is so fully admitted, that the ways of God to men in that age would certainly be fully justified in appealing to them by miracles, when their prepossessions required such an appeal; as now Providence is justified in appealing by the higher evidences of truth which apply themselves to the rational powers of men. It is of no force to say all were not then convinced by miracles–all are not sow convinced by reasons. The Christian Church was established by the one–it is now continued by the other.
The establishment of the Christian Church was a moral event of such magnitude, and consequences so momentous have flowed, and do now flow, from it, that they amply justify the miracle of the Incarnation: and that event, the presence of the Source of life among His creatures, openly, could not but be attended by more striking displays of the presence of Deity, than usual. The Incarnate God was there, and virtue must go out from Him. In this admission, too, it is conceded that the Savior himself and His apostles assumed the miracles to have been wrought. There is no attempt to describe them as the myths of a later age, clothing with wonders what was simple enough at first. So that, if Professor Powell should not admit the reality of the miracles, there would seem only one conclusion remaining–namely, a denial of the sincerity and integrity of the Savior and His apostles; a conclusion not by any means admissible, at the same time with the frequent reference to His Divine character, by many of the writers, and His sacredness and wisdom by all.
Fifth admission. Dean Trench has evinced a higher view of physical philosophy than we might have expected from the were promptings of philology and literature, when he affirms that we continually behold lower laws held in restraint by higher; mechanic by dynamic, chemical by vital, physical by moral: remarks which, if only followed out, entirely accord with the conclusion of universal subordination of causation; though we must remark, in passing, that the meaning of moral laws controlling physical, is not very clear. (p. 134.)
The importance of this admission on the general argument of Professor Powell for the fixity and regularity of two laws of nature. is extremely great; for the difficulty with many, in the reception of the Gospel narratives, arises from a mental assumption that nature not only operates by fixed laws, but that these unerringly present an external uniformity quite constant, and devoid of even apparent exceptions. But, as Dean Trench observes, this is not the case.
The action of chemical laws is frequently suspended or intensified by magnetic and vital forces. We cannot admit the character of the worthy Deans remark to be doubtful, of which our Essayist does not seem over-confident. It is no new doctrine, that healthy action in the body largely depends upon a healthy moral activity in the soul.
Pure joy, stimulates a healthy circulation; pining anxiety, impoverishes and perverts the system. The circulation, impeded in one direction, will find its way in another. The broken limb will have its weakness guarded for a time by the production of a collar, which holds the fractured parts together until the wonted order and strength have been restored. Nature is no blind, unconscious machine, nor stinted to one fixed and meager path. Nature is benevolent and merciful, and, though everywhere actuated by law, it is a law with broad and tender margins. There is an abundant provision of means overflowing with appliances to restore and to heal.
We are astonished at the learned Professor finding difficulty in apprehending either the meaning or the truth of the assertion that moral laws often control physical. What are half the diseases of mankind but the results of effects in the body produced by faulty conditions of mind? Moral laws have disturbed the physical. Is it not a common observation that the laws of vital chemistry are very different, in their action, from the laws of the mechanical chemistry of the outer world, and of the laboratory? Nay, is not the whole system, beautiful and glorious as it is, by which the tissues and organs of the body are wrought into all their wondrous, exquisite, perfect forms, the controlling of the dead powers of nature, the seizure of its substances, and their reproduction in those forms of loveliness, which announce the play of the Divine laws of moral and spiritual life–an instance of the moral laws controlling the physical? The warm blush is surely not the result of simple circulation; the eye glistening with love, suffused with joy, fixed by firmness, is not the creature of the laws, which make the mirror, uncontrolled. What, indeed, is the whole domain of life, but the play of powers controlling gravitation, subduing and transforming its laws at the behest of higher laws? The simple movement of the arm, at the dictate of the will and intellect, is an example of the control of the downward tendency which its matter ordinarily has, by the higher powers of the soul. Wherever life reigns, there the material is subdued, and made plastic by the moral and higher laws of the inner sphere of things. What transforms the previously healthy juices of the serpents food into the hateful poison of its tooth, but the malignant chemistry of its malevolence?
What but the strange operation of rage and cruelty transforms the otherwise harmless saliva of the feline tribes, into fluids deadly in their nature? All organized nature, indeed, is but a theater, in which the physical is transformed and transfigured by the increasing activities of inner and Diviner qualities. The refined beauty of the lilies of the field and of the petals of the rose, the rich hues of the butterfly tribes, and the glistening luster of the hummingbirds, are not the were collocation of dead laws–they are the physical, seized and transfused, and fixed and filled, with living beauty.
In this play of life upon matter, daily miracles, in the true sense, occur; higher laws come down, suspending and transforming the lower, and exhibiting effects so truly wonderful, that they only cease to be miraculous, because they are so common. The life that draws to itself the heavy humus in the time of spring, and out of the dull mass robes nature in its gorgeous green, its flowers of myriad hues, its trees of graceful beauty and of goodly fruits, presents innumerable illustrations of higher laws controlling lower; each would be a miracle, if it but rarely happened. it less a miracle, because the mercy is so multiplied? And if me look still higher, and see the magnificent laboratory of life in the human body, what wonders disclose themselves! When animated by a healthy mind, diffusing joy and order through the system, the laws of cohesion are suspended, changed, subjected to new and astonishing combinations; and out of the simplest elements of food, the subtle tissues of the brain and nervous system, the heart and lungs, the arteries and veins, the muscle, sinew, and bone, the cartilage, hair, and nails, with all their marvelous forms, are educed. And, all this scene of miracles presents, ever the mastery of living and moral laws over those of matter and of death.
In this region, too, of outer and of inner life, we have extraordinary compensations for shortcomings and defects. The branch, unable to find light in one direction, will adapt itself, and rise or fall, or contort itself, to find it in another. The artery, injured and forbidden to flow in one direction, will make for itself a new path, anastomose afresh, and win its way by another.
The broken bone has soon its ends secured and held together by the callus, which sustains it for the time, until the, inner weaving is complete, and all is strong again. Nature is merciful as well as good, and miracles are daily wrought, if we but seek them, and seek them especially, in those higher scenes of being, where the physical laws are controlled by the moral.
The last admission, or rather crowd of admissions, we would notice, is made by Mr. Powell when he says:To conclude, an alleged miracle can only be regarded in one of two ways–either abstractedly as a physical event, and therefore to be investigated by reason and physical evidence, and referred to physical causes, possibly to known causes, but at all events to some higher cause or law, if at present unknown; it then ceases to be super-natural, yet still might be appealed to support of religious truth, especially as referring to the state of knowledge and apprehensions of the parties addressed in past ages, or as connected with religious doctrine, regarded in a sacred light, asserted on the authority of inspiration (p. 142). This seems to cover the whole ground required by the Gospel miracles. They were required by the state of knowledge and apprehensions of the parties addressed in past ages. They were the results, no doubt, of higher causes or laws, known or unknown; and were appealed to, on the authority of inspiration, in support of religious truth, in a peculiar age and state of mankind. This, according to Mr. Powell, would justify miracles; especially, as he further remarks, when they are regarded as involving more or less of the parabolic or mythic (spiritual) character; or, at any rate, as received in connection with, and for the salts of, the doctrine inculcated.
This really grants all that the Gospel narratives require.
Undoubtedly, the miracles must have had causes grounded in laws known or unknown; undoubtedly, they were adapted to the apprehension and mode of thought of the parties addressed; undoubtedly, they had a parabolic character.
How, with these admissions, Mr. Powell could still seem to insinuate that miracles could not have been wrought, seems of itself to approach the miraculous, though not on the gratifying side.
Mr. Powell’s great source of difficulty would seem to be a materialistic idea of law, as a final cause. Law would appear to be with a species of Fetish worshiped as Deity. Refer a thing to LAW, and it ceases to be supernatural; religion loses it; it is in nature and from nature, and in nature and from nature, by science and by reason, we neither have, nor can possibly have, any evidence of a Deity working miracles. But, why not? It is answered, because an natural effects come from laws.
Laws uncaused, and self-evolving, of which the Professor speaks, seem to be no more rational than the miracle uncaused, to which he objects so strongly. Nature with him seems to be an endless concatenation of things, ever in motion, subject to blind objectless powers, which he calls laws, forming an iron destiny over unresting, but having no aim. If this were indeed the universe, well might the soul seek refuge from the relentless crush of such unmeaning powers in the Nirvana of Boodism, if that, indeed, be annihilation. But no, the universe belongs not to blind law, but to the living God. His adorable infinite love is the ever-active center whence suns and systems are evolved and ruled. Almighty Love desires to bless others, and these are His instrumentalities for forming an ever-increasing ever-multiplying heaven; all laws–and laws are everywhere–are filled by this grand law. Every law is subordinate to this sublime aim. Law is not a functionless, purposeless thing. Each law, however limited, has its part to do in the production of universal good. It is Eternal Love working in Divine order.
What, then, are laws? Are they anything but the decisions of the law-giver? If laws are constant, if they are universal, if they are wise, if they are benevolent, do they not imply ONE who upholds them, and who is loving, wise, omnipresent, ever-operative? How can the admission that everywhere, and in every domain and degree of existence laws prevail, cut us off from Him who supports, who fills, and energies the whole with the Spirit of Infinite and Eternal Love?
Laws, then, truly considered, do not shut us from, but rather draw us toward, Him, in whom we live, and move, and have our being; they show us everywhere a Deity working miracles and the objections of Professor Powell do not in fact impugn the real doctrine of miracles, viewed in the relation they have to other facts in the history of the Divine dealings with man; but only serve to correct certain unfounded ideas, in relation to miracles, which have indeed prevailed with many writers, and in high places, but which are immature inferences by which truth has been obscured, and which the Essays and Reviews will probably assist to disperse.
The characteristics of miracles which Professor Powell considers unfounded are two, and neither of them are really inherent in Divine miracles themselves: they apply only to ill-founded views and definitions, entertained by short-sighted reasoners upon the subject.
The first is, The main assertion of Paley, that it is impossible to conceive a revelation given, except by means of miracles (p. 140). The second is urged against miracles in the old theological sense, as isolated, unrelated, and uncaused; whereas no physical fact can be conceived as unique, or without analogy and relation to others, and to the whole system of natural causes (p. 142).
Neither of these objections apply to miracles, rightly regarded.
Miracles are not the sole evidences, or chief evidences, of religion; and, yet, they may have had their past to play, in relation to the time and people to whom they were addressed. This is admitted, as we have seen, by Professor Powell. He says: In whatever light we regard the evidences of religion, to be of any effect, whether external or internal, they must always have a special reference to the peculiar capacity and apprehension of the party addressed (p. 125). This was also the argument of several of the Reformers, as Luther; Huss, and others have reasonably contemplated the miracles as a part of the peculiarities of the first outward manifestation and development of Christianity: like all other portions of the Divine dispensations, specially adapted to the age and condition of those to whom they were immediately addressed; but restricted, apparently, to those ages, and, at any rate, not continued in the same form to subsequent times, when the application of them would be inappropriate.
The force of the appeal to miracles must ever be essentially dependent on the preconceptions of the parties addressed (p. 118). If we add to these considerations the view presented by Dr. Temple, that every age through which humanity has passed has had its relation, backwards and forwards, to every other: if all Humanity has proceeded through stages similar to those of one individual, and may be regarded as one vast man, and if, as professor Powell declares in this objection, no physical fact can be conceived as unique, or without analogy and relation to others, and to the whole system of natural causes, the period when miracles were required, would have its miracles, as surely as the age of Humanity’s infancy would have its innocent poetry, its graceful allegories; the age of Egypt, its sacred learning; the age of Greece, its sense of the beautiful in nature and in art; the age of Rome, the sense of law and duty; with Asiatic culture, ever running side by side, and yearning for the spiritual; while Israels types and shadows, her prophets and holy memories, served to supply the literal stage on which the Redeemer could come, and, at earths lowest point in declension, show the wonders of His Godhead, the tenderness of His mercy, and the deep mysteries of His unutterable love.
If to procure the acceptance of the Christian religion amongst a peculiarly literal, but a peculiarly tenacious race–a race who would receive it, not as Greeks, who would have discussed it as a new form of philosophy, and then let it pass; but who would accept it as a thing to live for, and to die for, the great fact of the universe–it was essential that the miracles which take place mentally with others, should take bodily form with them, and, through them, a basis be laid for the salvation and regeneration of mankind; does not the concatenation of causes demand that these causes should not be withheld? The miracles, though having a spiritual bearing, were not were myths. The Jews were not a mythical people, nor the age of the Redeemer a mythical age. The childhood of the world was over, as Dr. Temple observes, when our Lord appeared upon earth. Mr. Jowett also remarks truly:
It (the decay of the Greek language) may be numbered among the causes which favored the growth of Christianity. That degeneracy was a preparation for the Gospel–the decaying soil in which the new elements of life were to come forth, the beginning of another state of man, in which language, and mythology, and philosophy, were no longer to exert the same constraining power as in the ancient world (p. 390). The foundation then laid must be real, intensely real; so that all the future superstructure might be steady. The Jews saw no inner glory–the veil was on their hearts; but by laying the roots of religion deep amongst them, there a provision for its magnificent branches covering all nations, affording shelter and blessing to all.
It is true, as Mr. Wilson states, that there is a spiritual significance of the Transfiguration, of opening blind eyes, of causing the tongue of the stammer to speak plainly, of feeding multitudes with bread in the wilderness, of cleansing leprosy, which is the same, whether we admit; the literal history of these events to be externally true or not; but spiritual significances are not perceived by men whose eyes are covered by the slims of sin. They must, be first led to receive truth by inducements adapted to them, and as they obey they acquire higher powers of perception; their mental atmosphere clears, their inner eyes are opened, and they behold wondrous things out of the law. The Redeemer always estimated belief, on the evidence of miracles, as a very low form of faith; yet he admitted it, as adapted to the states and requirements of some. When John sent two of his disciples to learn for themselves if the Savior were really the Messiah, or their should still look for another Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the deed are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them (Matt. xi. 4, 5). This appeal, by the Holy One Himself, shows that He regarded these evidences as true evidences, and proper for those to whom they were adapted. He always places the miraculous proof in this secondary, but necessary, light. Then came the Jews round about Him, and said unto Him, How long dost thou make us to doubt?
If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not; the works that I do in my Fathers name: they bear witness of me (John x. 24, 25). Believe me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me; or else believe me for the very works sake (John xiv. 11). This belief, from the ground of inner yearnings after truth and goodness is first, and from the evidence of the work, second; but both are real, both are true, or nothing is real, nothing is true.
These evidences did their work. By them Christianity was received and established among men. The Divine seed has grown; the little one has become a thousand; the small one a strong nation. The faith of Him who was despised and rejected of men, has spread, and is spreading, ever preparing itself for purer, and higher achievements, and more splendid triumphs. It embraces and transfuses three hundred millions of mankind, including all the dominant races. Nothing higher can be conceived than its doctrines of love and wisdom. It has within it the principles of unlimited progress, and its aim is to transform the world into a resemblance to heaven. Esto perpetua, must be the aspiration of every devout and holy heart. That same heart can never believe that all this superstructure of good is based on fraud. Miracles then had their part assigned them in the training of the world; they did their part, and had their influence. Their history has its part to do, its influence to exert, and will perform its work in the experience of every redeemed soul
The parts of the whole argument sere supplied, either by different portions of the same Essay in some cases, or by the different Essays taken together.
It is admitted often that the age when the miracles were performed, was one when such proofs were likely to be effective. It is admitted that the early Church triumphed, and largely, by their means. It is admitted that the Christian Church is the worlds great educator and that by example. It is admitted that the miracles perpetually teach, by their spiritual significance, lessons of purity, elevation, and wisdom. Surely the argument requires, that to accomplish all these blessings, the foundation should be laid in truth.
That there is higher evidence than that of miracles, we have been the Savior ever taught, and the thoughtful will readily admit. Nothing can be truer than truth. Truth is itself the evidence of all other things, when clearly seen. It is spiritual light, and as its sacred splendors are reflected from object to object, it reveals to the spirits eye the substance of things hoped for. Yet sometimes we need assistance to uncover the windows, and let in the light to open the blind eyes that we may see clearly. This assistance outward and may give. This, reach hither the finger, did for the disciple Thomas. This the miracles did for the Jews. No number of miracles can prove a falsehood to be true. There are minds, however, whom a startling occurrence will assist to receive a truth. Minds, thoughtful, conscientious, and progressive, do not need miracles; they see the truth better without them, than with them. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed; yet minds of a lower caste, who will not believe unless they see the print of the nails, are not despised by Him who cares for the sparrow. They see, they believe, and they yield the hearts frank acknowledgment, My Lord, and my God.
An objection near akin to that which we are now discussing is felt by some, namely, that a miracle is a strange and unusual thing in the universe–that nature knows no miracles. Mr. Powell says,Of a Deity working miracles, me can have, in nature, and from nature, no proof whatever. We suspect, however, that he is here using the word miracle in the sense to which he objects–a sense absurd, as a thing uncaused. But in the proper sense of miracle, that which the word itself implies a wonderful thing, we live amongst miracles daily. He is a shallow observer who sees no miracles. Everything is miraculous. What is more wonderful than that from the commencement of this discourse, we, who have appeared to be almost motionless, have moved a thousand miles through space. What enormous power does this imply! This ponderous earth with all its oceans, its continents, and their myriads of myriads of creatures, rational and irrational, borne with inconceivable rapidity onwards, and yet enjoying the advantage of complete stability and rest. Life is a miracle.
What wondrous power is that which displays itself in the unconscious embryo, and gradually evolves the infant man, with all his capabilities, his perfections, and his beauties! Who can sufficiently admire the momentary constant miracle by which the blood pulsates in the heart, and all the arteries, seventy times in every minute, and supplies the needs of the whole body! What a miracle is that by which the lungs heave and play, and purify the system, bringing the ocean of air into communion with the powers of life! How miraculous is that marvelous operation of the organs of nutrition by which each is found in its right place, and does its right work, and food is transformed into all the wonderful constituents of the body–each bone, each muscle, each sinew, each fibre, each nerve, each tissue, each nail, each hair, formed as it ought to be, and fitted in its proper place. Miracles are everywhere. Love Infinite only can explain them all, operating through all the innumerable channels through which it flows to bless.
Tell me not of the power required to work a miracle; the power that makes the sun rise is illimitable. Tell me not of the unlikelihood of the Deity descending to operate special wonders for his people. If they were needful, if they had a part to bear in the worlds salvation, the same Divine Love that works wonders for us every moment yes, for the meanest thing that lives–would not fail to do the wonders requisite to accomplish His great end, the establishment of a Church, to train souls for heaven.
It has been objected to the belief in miracles, that they are inadmissible, because they are contrary to the laws of nature. And a very common description of a miracle by those who have relied upon miracles as evidences of Divine Revelation, has been, that it was an action performed in contravention of the laws of nature, by a messenger from heaven, as an attestation of his character. This description, however, is essentially defective, and does not apply to the miracles of the Savior. They were wonders performed by the Redeemer, God manifest in the flesh. It is God always who doeth great wonders. The New Testament doctrine is, that He who made the world (John i. 10), assumed the humanity, the son of His Love (Col. i. 17) by the instrumentality of the virgin (Luke i. 35), and, therefore, Jehovah. Himself was there, for mans redemption. The worlds Maker and Controller was there, and not one act was done, which He is not constantly doing.
Were the fact of the Incarnation denied, of course, that would then be the doctrine to be established. This great Christian truth is not controverted in the Essays. Several of the writers admit that the Savior of men was higher than all men. He was One whom, as Professor Jowett writes, we do not name with heroes and prophets, because He was above them. The Scripture doctrine undoubtedly is, that Jehovah would become mans Savior (Isa. xl. 3, 10; xliii. 11; xlv 15, 21; Hosea xiii. 4), and that, in Jesus the earth beheld the presence of God in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. God was manifest. The Word was made flesh. God was with us, the very Creator, by whom all things were made. (John i. 3.) God over all, blessed for ever. (Rom. ix. 5.) We do not further dwell upon this, because me are not; at present concerned with its deniers. But, that doctrine admitted, then the miracles are neither contrary to the laws of nature, nor anything at all unusual. They were the acts of the God of Heaven tabernacling for the time among men, and manifesting openly and palpably the Divine works He is ever doing, in the more secret operations of ordinary nature.
The first miracle of the Savior was the turning of water into wine. Here, by the way, we may notice that Jesus, and His disciples, were at Cana in Galilee, where the first miracle was wrought, evidently showing that the disciples had not been converted by miracles, but by the higher influences of His life and doctrine, addressed to their inner reverence for truth and goodness. Jesus turned the water into wine. He does this every year. What are the generous juices of our vine-harvests, but water turned into wine. The act, no doubt, was symbolic. It shadowed for the truth, that when Jesus visits the soul, and blesses the unition of heart and mind together, by faith and love being in harmony, or when He is present at lifes most important rite, and man and wife are united in love to each other, and in communion with Him, the cold truth of duty, the water of purification is transformed into the warm, generous wine of truth, glowing with love. But in both senses, there was nothing contrary to the usual law.
The wonder was brought by Him who transmutes in the transcendent chemistry of the vine-stock, every year, the rains of spring and summer into the generous juices of the autumnal wine.
Take we another miracle. The second act of Omnipotent love was the removal of fever from the nobleman’s son. (John iv. 54). And, afterwards, Jesus healed the sick from all the country round. Here, again, there was no act contravening the laws of nature. God always heals the sick. The medical man removes the hindrances to healing.
The wise physician, skilled our woes to heal,
Is more than armies to the public weal.
But, he is only an instrument. God is the true restorer of health. God was present as the Savior, and virtue what out from Him, and healed them all. The miracles of every-day are slower, but in essence they are the same as those of Galileo. None but Jesus can impart health. Wise Physicians know this, and give all honor to the Divine physician; and when both physician and patient fed this, the healing comas more surely and more rapidly. When the Lord Jesus was personally present, His word healed, and healed at once. This was but natural. When the Sovereign is personally present, a fiat takes effect at once, which in other cases is slow, from the necessary intervention of many stages. Then, because the Divine Omnipotence was manifested, and because the bodily cures were the symbols of spiritual cures (which are rapidly effected when the soul comes in agonizing energy to the Savior), healing immediately followed.
The fever of the body, which the Saviors second miracle cured, was a symbol, doubtless, as well as a reality. The study of the diseases healed by the Redeemer, will be a study and a salutary lesson for evermore. He only can Divinely minister to a mind diseased, and truly heal and bless. Has not the spirit feverish states equally with the body? Are there not violent inflammations, in which passion inflamed to fury, bursts all bonds, and perils everything good with instant destruction? Is there not the pining, weeping consumption of the soul, in which health becomes gradually less and loss, until the hateful, suffocating miasma poisons the blood of all the living active power for good, and the soul dies to every noble, virtuous, holy thought, thenceforth a miserable crawler on God’s earth–dead while he liveth?
There are blind souls, deaf hearts, spirits dumb, affections palsied, powers withered, lives maimed and halt now, that require to learn that they may be healed, by the same Savior that healed the sufferers in days of yore. And the Divine stories in the Gospels are the records of the particulars by which these great lessons may be learned. The same power, that effected those cures, will effect these; and, if the penitent is earnest, as speedily too. Earth was the witness of these wonders, for earthly men; the soul may witness still greater wonders now. Greater things shall ye do, because I go to the Father. (John xiv. 12.)
Another reason why the cure was rapid, doubtless was because the greater portion of the diseases healed, were from demoniacal possessions. This is often stated. The world was in its lowest state of debasement. Evil spirits, which work more subtly, in the dispositions and thoughts of man, usually, at that time, took bodily possession, and enslaved their victims both mentally and physically. Men were mesmerized by hell, biologised by infernals. The fatal influences of the powers of darkness, overpowering the souls of men, and inflicting the most horrible of diseases, constituted the grand necessity for the descent of the Redeemer. When the enemy came in like a flood, the Spirit; of the Lord lifted up a standard against him, and the Redeemer came to Zion. (Isa. lix 19.)
That the diseases cured by the Savior were usually of this abnormal kind, is often intimated.. (Mark ix. 17, 27; Luke xiii. 16). When the Lord came into the world, the enemy came in like a flood, and none but Jehovah Himself could redeem and save. This is declared in the Old Testament, New: I am the Lord (Jehovah) thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no God but me, for there is NO SAVIOR beside ME. O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help. I will ransom them from the power of the grave (hell)*. I will redeem them from death.
O death I will be thy plagues. O grave (hell), I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes. (Hos. Xiii. 4; ix. 14).
Sheol, in Hebrew, like hades in Greek, refers to a living world after death, and chiefly to the bad portion of it. It is chiefly rendered grave, in our common version, though occasionally hell. Deut. xxxii. 22; 2 Sam. xxii. 6; Isa. xxviii. 15.
For this purpose he assumed our outward humanity as the Son–Son of God, and Son of man. A humanity that was Divine, and a Divinity that was human, appeared in Him, that hell might be approached, and hell might be conquered. He, the only God, was the only self-existent, real man. We are men derived from, and imperfect images of Him.
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up a horn of salvation (the humanity) in the house of His servant David. That we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life (Luke i. 58, 69, 74, 75). For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil (1 John iii. 8). Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself partook of the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb. ii. 14, 15).
This, then, is the statement of the Scriptures, of the necessity for the Incarnation, and the purpose the Redeemer had to accomplish. It is the explanation of the healing influences he shed around Him. It is also the key of the history of our race. Humanity slowly declined to a certain point bordering on diabolism; since the Incarnation it has been slowly rising, and its progress is still upwards towards a wise, a developed, and regenerated humanity–a golden age re-constituted, enriched with all the stores of science, philosophy, and experience.
When the Redeemer was accomplishing His work, no wonder that health tool; the place of disease. The sent of innumerable mischiefs was in the inner world, the mental world of causes; as He expelled the powers of darkness from the world, all the evils they inflicted would naturally disappear. Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, to come out of him, and enter no more into him, would naturally be followed by good.
Jesus took him (the delivered child) by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose (Mark ix. 25-27). When the Conqueror of hell was there, each possessed one, however miserable, however torn, would hear the words, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit; and would soon be found sitting and clothed, and in his right mind. Mark v. 15. But in both cases, those of ordinary sicknesses and of demon-inflicted ills, their cure was performed by the Divine Physician, who always really cures; and though done quickly in one case, and slowly in another, the difference of time makes no difference in the law. The miracles were illustrations, not contraventions, of the ordinary law.
The stilling of the tempest on the sea of Galilee is another illustration of the same truth. Many have been startled at this miracle, who forget the miracle, performed twice every day–the rising and ebbing of the tide. You stand and watch the waters as they retire; they slacken and decrease gradually more and more, until they have reached their lowest; then some invisible power changes the order, and they as gradually advance majestically to their highest point, and then again retire. This wondrous operation is constantly going on–an illustration of Omnipotence. The superficial, self-satisfied philosopher presumes he has given a full explanation of all this when he has pronounced the talismanic words, Oh, that all takes place by regular law. But what is law? Is law anything but the utterance of will? The philosopher who has grouped all the facts he knows on a particular subject, and concludes that some law exists which pervades them, and around which they operate, has already gone into the unseen. He has trusted the conclusion of his reason, which has taken him from matter to law from the enter to the inner; it is but the repetition of the process which concludes the other step, and says law, too, must have its underlying cause; and this is the case with all the laws of nature, whose laws must be subject to higher laws, and these to higher, as in the human system, and all be sustained and subordinated to Omnipotent Will, Love, whose expression in the universe is Divine Order.
Professor Powell indeed speaks of the self-sustaining and self-evolving powers which pervade all nature. But this is begging the question.
Reason knows nothing of self-sustaining, self-evolving powers in nature. Self-creation is a prima facie absurdity. And what is self-evolving power? To us, self-sustaining, self-evolving powers in nature, are effects without causes the perpetual-motion theory at which the Professor elsewhere justly smiles. Laws exist everywhere laws upon laws, in series wonderful and innumerable, and in order Divine; but each law is only the form of a force, and force resolves itself at last into the will of Him that sets it in motion. Finite force and law come from finite will. No engine will exist without the, will of its maker–no engine will start without the will of the engineer. Precisely so the innumerable laws and the infinite forces present in nature, imply the infinite strength and will of One who creates, who sustains, who animates, and who governs all with unutterable love, order, and skill.
When this adorable One presented Himself in human form as the Son, in whom was the Father (John xiv. 8-10), He ruled the sea, because He always rules it; He stilled the tempest because it is He who ever gives law to the stormy winds. The Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is His also. The sea is His, and He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Admitting His Divine character in His human form and this is the very essence of the Christian religion, and is admitted by the Essayists–then the difficulty disappears at once. When the Lord Jesus said, Peace, be still, and the wind ceased, and there was a great calm, all was perfectly natural and in order. The same Almighty Love spoke which rules the sea at all times. To understand it, we have but adoringly to utter the question from our hearts, What manner of man is this, that well the wind and the sea obey Him? (Mark iv. 41.)
The spiritual significance of the calming of the storm in Galilee, illustrates the point we are endeavoring to enforce, equally with the literal. We are all making the voyage of life. Each has his little bark, and guides it as best he can, over the sea of human opinion, and often finds himself in a storm. The billows rise, all things threaten to overwhelm.
Assailing views, impelled by fierce gusts of purpose, inflamed by passion, alarm us with the horrors of impending death. Who, then, can hush the tempest into silence, and reduce the storm to rest, but He who rules all nature; He who said, in the midst of the dark horrors of the eventful night on the troubled waters in Galilee, Peace, be still. The law is the same, the love is the same, the Divine Person is the same.
Let us apply ourselves to the last form of miracle, the raising of the dead. This takes place every moment, and by Him who said, I am the Resurrection and the life. True, in the ordinary resurrections, men rise into another world, but that constitutes no real difference. They have a body, as before, though a spiritual body (1 Cor. xv. 44); they are men, as before, though spiritual men (Rev. vii. 9); they live in a world, as before, though a spiritual world (Heb. xi. 16). The same glorious Being who raised Lazarus, raises all. That He who was life in Himself should impart life, is what we can at once admit, and rejoice in. Instead of wondering that the Giver of Life should impart it, when it was needed to illustrate His mission of raising a dead and sunken humanity to renewed life and vigor, the wonder would have been, if He had not done so. Being presented before men in the outer world, on the threshold, as it were, of existence, He did before the visible eye, what He is every moment invisibly doing; the Doer is the same, the law by which it is done, is the same. A spiritual law was brought down to earth, that earth might witness the great truth that the One Giver of natural and spiritual life was present for mans redemption, and as a sign to the spiritually dead in all ages, that Christ would give them life. This act, was a symbol for ever, of the raising by the Savior of the human soul from sin. Awake, it says, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light (Eph. v. 14).
The only thing extraordinary in these wonders, or miracles, is, that they were done by the visible God, whereas ordinarily they were done by the invisible, and done immediately, instead of in the usual mediate mode, by which the Divine assistance is given.
But, in this, is illustrated the very necessity for the incarnation. Mankind had sung too low for the usual modes of help.
They were gross, benighted, enveloped, enslaved, by the powers of darkness, beyond all the ordinary means of recovery. The law given by the disposition of angels (Acts vii. 53) was too weak, the Father whose voice they had not heard, and whose shape they had not seen, was too vague to kindle their chilled hearts, and vivify the benumbed faith. God must come down, or they could never rise. He would not be less Divine in becoming a Divine man. He was from eternity the Alone Man in His infinite love and wisdom, that is, in the first principles of humanity. It was necessary that He might draw His children from their degradation to Himself, that He should become a man in last or outermost things, and thus be the First, and the Last (Rev. i.17). Without this, there could be no salvation for the human race; no love, no faith, no hope, no light no victory over self and sin. Men were sitting in darkness and the shadow of death; and there, unless their Father became their Redeemer, hey must remain.
The professors of were law, would coldly say, so be it, all must perish. The law says so much must be done for human help, and if that does not suffice, they must perish. But not so says the Spirit of Love. None must perish, that call be saved. Law is tame, love is the wonder-worker. Law says, it has obeyed the rule; love says there must, if necessary, be new rules. Life is continually showing the play of these two principles mere low, that adheres to routine, and in crises always breaks down, and love that comes to the rescue, stoops to save, and wonderfully succeeds. In the late Crimean war the troops were perishing in the severe weather, from the want of warm clothing for night and for day. There was abundance of that which was requisite in store, but, before the doors of the storehouses could be opened, many signatures must be obtained, and the parties to give them were distant, and in divers places. The men were starving, dying; the authorities were shaking their heads, but there was no hell, for it; the rules of the service could not be broken. Human lives must be sacrificed to the majesty of rule. Then came female love to help. Miss Nightingale heard of the difficulty, and saw the sad results. She hesitated not for a moment.
Punish me, she said, if you please, but I will have those doors broken open. I will take the responsibility, but the men shall be saved. The stores wore set free, abundance of warm bedding and clothes were procured, and preserved health and life announced the triumph of love over were law.
In the history of one of our best kings we have another striking illustration of the triumph of love over routine, the illustration of love stooping to save. The Danes had wasted England in young Alfred’s time, so that the king was forced to hide, the nobles were destroyed, or disheartened, the people were dispersed or overawed. This had continued for a considerable time. Success had made the victorious Danes careless, and hope had begun to show faint life among the Saxons. King Alfred called a little band around him, and animated by patriotism, they determined to strive once more for freedom and for country. They longed for correct information concerning the Danish enemies, but knew not how to get it. The kings love for his country, suggested the means. He undertook to become a minstrel, he took the minstrels dress, sung to the soldiers, sung to the Danish general. In a little time, he gained all the information he needed, and this led the way to the deliverance of the country, and to one of the grand turning points of her history. Routine would be shocked, no doubt, at a king becoming a poor player on the harp; but patriotic love stooped, and conquered. Was he less a king in the poor minstrels garb, than when surrounded by royal splendor? Was he not more a king? An act so great, love so patriotic, would have made royal any man. His love jeopardized its own safety, when needful, that others might be delivered, and the nation be saved. Love, therefore, is the wonder-worker. Love stoops to save, and because God is Infinite Love, He descended to perishing man.
The miracle narrated in our test, illustrates all our positions. At the pool of Bethesda, with its five porches, there was a means of healing. An angel went down at a certain season, and troubled the water; whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stept in, was made whole, of whatsoever disease he had.
This, a miracle of itself, as the Jewish Dispensation by the ministry of angels was, among them it answered for the sick in ordinary times; but, there was one poor person there, who bad been suffering thirty and eight years.
He was too weak to fulfil the conditions; others constantly came before him; and unless some other, and unlooked for help, came, there he must lie and perish. But Jesus saw him lie, came to him, and said, Wilt then be made whole? He was the very one the Savior selected.. Jesus looked at him in his helplessness and said, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And, immediately, the men was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked; and on the same day was the Sabbath.
This act of mercy was done by our Lord, not only from benevolence to the impotent man, but as a symbol of the Divine tenderness, to the helpless, everywhere. The pool of Bethesda (the house of mercy) with its water, its five porches, and the healing by angelic influences, represented the Word as it had been, the House of Mercy to a multitude of impotent folk, of blind, and halt, and withered. The five porches represent the sense of the letter, the outside sense, in which, great numbers lie impotent for good, blind to all the true light of wisdom, halting continually in their moral walk, having no spiritual freshness, life, or vigor about them, withered. The angel who came down and troubled the water, before the healing took place, represents the angelic influence, by means of which Divine life was conveyed to the world in all previous dispensations, when men had not seen God at any time (John i. 18). This angelic arrangement, through which the Divine flowed, was represented by the angel who spoke to Moses at the bush; by the angel, who led Israel in the pillar: by the angels, through whom the law was given. Heb. ii. 3.
The angelic arrangement was strong enough at first, and in ordinary times, to succor, to save, and to heal, man. Those who could rise up when they saw the waters moved, who could co-operate, when they saw the Word, living, as it were. But the time came, when there wits a vast multitude, like the impotent man, too weak, to rise and seek for a blessing. Help must come to them. They are powerless–impotent. God must come to them, or there is no salvation. A love less than that of a descending Savior, will not suffice, to kindle life, in the dying embers of worn out hearts.
These, like the impotent man must lie and die, if they are only to be served by ordinary rule. But Divine love sees them lie, and comes to them. Divine love, saw men universally lie perishing, and came to them. They were too low to lay hold on God as the distant incomprehensible Deity, therefore God came down to them as the Divine man. They could not find the Father afar off, they must see the Father in Him. In His tenderness, they might feel the Fathers love; in His counsels, they might see the Fathers wisdom; in His beneficence they might acknowledge the Fathers care; in His pure power, before which evil spirits quailed, they might know the Conqueror of hell; in His resurrection of Himself, they might perceive His power to raise and bless them; in His ascent to heaven, and filling all things with His Holy Spirit, they had the, witness that wherever two or three were gathered together, there He would be in the midst of them.
And, all this was done, not only for their comfort, but for ours. Have there not been seasons when we have been impotent, and lain for a long time, in that case. No one helps us. We have no man to care for us. We are weak and forlorn. We mourn, but apparently no help comes. We fear we must, lie there, and there perish. But no, Divine Love cares for us. Jesus comes. A wonderful presence of the Savior is revealed to us. We feel a new hope awakened in us, and an inquiry felt like a living voice, Wilt thou be made whole? We scarcely dare to hope; we cannot expect so great a blessing. We have been disappointed so often before, we dare not presume upon help now. Presently the Divine voice comes again, Rise, take up thy bed and walk. The heart is elevated, the mind filled with light, our whole being is invigorated. We stop forward, strong in all purposes of Good Jesus has visited us, as He visited the impotent man, and blessed us, as He blessed him.
When God is thus a healer and inspirer to the soul, He is not thought of as the incomprehensible Ruler of the universe, grandly and coldly distant, not as the great Machine Mover, the Infinite Mechanic, ruling only in His omnipotent might. So long as He is thus thought of, the soul lies helpless, impotent to rise, impotent to walk.
But when God comes down to man, infinitely loving and merciful, He comes as Jesus, and thus He wakes and wins the heart. He does not speak to man as cold philosophy does, You ought to do right; you ought to be perfect; go and do what you are not able to do. He says, not, oven, become whole, but, wilt thou be made whole? He fills the soul with new life and joy, and thus brings salvation home to that house. Rise, He says, rise to nobler purposes, to higher aims. Rise to holier love, to angelic excellencies. Take up thy bed and walk.
The bed is a resting place for the night. The souls night is a stilts or shade, or of gloom, and depression. Some nights are pleasant, some are tempestuous, but in all our nights, we find comfort and restoration in a good bed. Our doctrinal system is such a bed for the souls night. We lie upon it, we lest upon it, and we rise recruited to the labors of a new day. Take up thy bed, had its significance for us in the Saviors address to the restored man. Bed is a good place for the night, but not a good place for the day. The soul may lie in its bed, in the night time of trouble, or sorrow, is the trials of life, or in times of exhaustion and repose, but it must not lie too long. Do not dwell with doctrine too long. Do not let that which has been a bed in your night time, be still your bed in the day time. Take up your bed, lift up your doctrine. Walk in the, way of true progress, walk in the duties and uses of daily life. Walk in the path of the Divine commandments. Walk joyously, vigorously, ever onwards, steadily, firmly, listening to the voice that says, This is the way, walk thou in it.
It is not without significance that the duration of the impotent mans infirmity is mentioned–thirty and eight years. No doubt that was the real time, but it also had its spiritual lesson to give. Three, seven, and eight, were sacred numbers, much used among the ancients generally; and in the Old Testament, their frequent and peculiar use, may be noticed. Three, and numbers derived from three, are symbolic of that which is complete in mental things. Hence, me have the three branches on the vine in the Egyptian butlers dream, three baskets in the bakers (Gen. xl.); the three measures of meal, into which heaven was put; and the Saviors saying; Today and tomorrow I cast out devils, and do cures, and the third day I shall be perfected (Luke xiii. 32).
Seven is the number especially appropriated to things most complete in relation to the affections; either complete in their fullness and holiness, or complete in their decay. This use of the number seven as the symbol of what is sacred and complete, is most frequent in the Scriptures. We have the seven days of the week, the seven lambs of the morning offering, the seven lamps of the golden candlestick, the seven Spirits of God. Eight, represents a new commencement; the completion of a former series being involved in seven. The period, thirty and eight, then, implied a completion of all former means of salvation, and a preparation for the new help to come. So it is with a soul about to be blessed with spiritual help. It has tried, and found wanting all its former plans and purposes. It is completely satisfied there is no help in any of them: yet it yearns still for a higher state, a new beginning. It sighs, but hardly hopes for better things.
I would, but cannot rest,
In God’s most holy will;
I know what He appoints is
Yet murmur at it still.
But, if indeed I would,
Though nothing I can do;
Yet the desire is something good,
For which my thanks are due.
The Divine narrative adds–And, on that same day, was the Sabbath.
The Sabbath of the week, is an emblem of the Sabbath of the soul. The Sabbath of the soul is that peaceful state, after struggle and deliverance, when we come into holy rest. No doubt it was the Sabbath day when this cure was effected; but it was mentioned thus to point to a spiritual lesson of far deeper meaning. Whenever the sick soul is restored to health, on that same day is the Sabbath. A holy tranquility, takes the place of suffering; a Divine peace is felt, passing all understanding. Anxiety, pain, sorrow, remorse, foreboding, all vanish; and an interior quiet, with a sweet delight, and confidence, and joy unspeakable, diffuse themselves over the soul. That same day is the Sabbath.
The state of conflict now is past,
The long temptations cease;
Darkness and storms no longer last.
The soul is blessed with peace.
The sum of all our considerations is, that the miracles of our Lord, and of those for which the Divine Word vouches, were as real as if they were literal facts, and nothing more; but at the same time they were so ordered by Divine Providence as if they had spiritual lessons to teach, and nothing more. They were beneficial, to those who experienced them at first, in a natural manner; they are beneficial to Christians of all ages, in a spiritual manner.
Two propositions put forth by the authors of the Essays, in separate portions, when brought together, seem to demand our conclusions, which, however, these authors fail to draw. They admit the value of the spiritual significance of the miracles (Powell, p. 142; Wilson, pp. 202-204); they admit the age, in which the miracles were alleged to have taken place, was one to which such evidences were accommodated and essential (pp. 118, 119; Temple, p. 202). The legitimate conclusion is, that Divine Providence would give what was required, and lay the foundation of the progress of the world upon truth, not upon illusion. The authors of some of the Essays, however, just point to conclusions which would perpetrate the extreme faults to which incomplete reflections would lead. In some portions they hint at mythical and parabolical modes of viewing the historical parts of Scripture, pushed to an extreme which would destroy their character as real history altogether; while in others they lay down the canon that the Scripture has only one sense, which, if that one sense is discovered to be not actual fact, would destroy their value altogether. This is manifestly to be inconsistent with the two truths which we have noticed above, which demand literal miracles, but with a spiritual significance, and plunging into the two errors of pushing the letter too far, and having nothing but the letter; and yet pushing parable too far, and destroying real history.
Of course, no one will deny that there are very many parts in the Divine Word purely parabolic, both in the Old Testament and in the New; but either the statement that they are parables, or something in the contest, or in the circumstances, plainly indicate their character.
One instance also of border-land may be given, where, although the main incidents were outward facts, some portions of the narrative, which appear to be objective, must really have been, subjective. We allude to the temptation in the Wilderness. The scenes described as presented by the powers of darkness can only have been realized in the mental consciousness of the Redeemer. There is no earthly mountain in existence, where all the kingdoms of the world could have been seen, in a moment of time. But evil spirits can present phantasies to the mind in temptation, in which the sensations for the time are as vivid as are those of outward life. This scene, which appears to have been witnessed by the Savior alone, and the immediate spiritual actors, the infernals, at first, presented in one personified form, as the Devil (see Mark v. 2, 9, 15), and the angels subsequently, who came and ministered to the Savior–is certainly best explained as a mental one. Spirits, can only be visible, to spiritual perception.
The term, too, led up of the spirit, [Greek: aneichthei ton Pneumatos] is so like [Greek: en Pveumati] of St. John (Rev. i. 10), in which, he described the commencement of his spiritual experience, that one may adopt without difficulty a solution so simple and so clear. It was a temptation presented to the consciousness of the Redeemer, prefiguring the temptations which mentally assail all His followers, urging them to three great classes of evils: the desire to interfere with the arrangements of Providence, for the supply of their wants, turn stones into bread (v. 3); the presumption from spiritual pride to tempt Providence by rashness, (v. 6), (to cast themselves down needlessly); and the lust of human glory and the desire for great possessions. Being taken to a high mountain, and shown all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them (v. 8). To accept these as inward, not as outward occurrences, is not a vitiation of our rule, for temptations are really always inward, and these are leading illustrations of great classes. The devil takes us all upon high mountains, and shows us magnificent prospects, which he paints with the gaudy colors of phantasy, and which he promises to give. Alas, for those, who accept as realities these false and airy visions.
Stern truths come, at last, to condemn a life wasted, hopes withered, a soul cheated and desecrated, talents prostituted, and a career that might have been a blessing to mankind, a mockery to the world, and a curse to itself. Happy they who learn from the great Savior to say, to all such baseless promises as evil proffers, Get thee hence, Satan. They, too, will find the tempter will leave them, and angels will come to minister consolation, peace, hope, and joy.
We cannot conclude this discourse, without, once more pressing upon our beloved friends, a deep and steady faith in the reality of the miracles, as recorded in the Gospels. They were the outward and visible signs, of the present God. They were not contrary to the laws of nature. Nature daily obeys her God, who is daily the Wonder-worker. Love is higher than law, and sometimes brings forth higher laws to adapt and modify the lower, when the end requires it. The highest law, the redemption of mankind, required the Highest Love to descend and raise humanity from its depths of degradation, exhibit its own transcendent tenderness and goodness, to warm and attach the hearts of debased mortals to itself, and transform them by the Holy Spirit to a new and regenerated life. The Highest stooped to seek and to save that which was lost. The Day-spring from on high visited us. This was the miracle of miracles; the Incarnation of Love Divine; the appearance of the Infinite in the finite; the manifestation of the Godhead in manhood; the Good Shepherd seeking His sheep. Yet, great as this miracle was–Jehovah bowing the heavens and coming down to begin a new and sanctified humanity, by sanctifying our nature, first in Himself and from Himself, sending out the Holy Spirit with the new flesh and new blood, the goodness and truth, which give eternal life–it would have been a far greater miracle if He had not descended. What! Infinite Love see the world He had created perish, and extend no hand to help? What! God allow hell to triumph, and not interfere to succor and to save? Oh, no! it is impossible. Can a mother forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee (Isa. xlix. 15).
Thy maker is thy husband: the Lord (Jehovah) of Hosts is his name: and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: the God of the whole earth shall he be called (Isa. liv. 5). God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them (2 Cor. v. 19). So let us adoringly confess the mercy of our Heavenly Father who became our Savior; and, while me rejoice in this miracle, and the others which flowed from it, rejoice that there is something higher and deeper than law, than routine, both among men and in the Deity Himself that love to which all things are possible, among men, and from which, and for which, all laws flow, even in God Himself, for God is Love.
Author: Jonathan Bayley—Twelve Discourses (1862)