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Miracles And Supernatural Religion by James Morris Whiton

II SYNOPSIS.--The present net results of the discussion of the miraculous element in the Bible.--Evaporation of the former evidential value of miracles.--Further insistence on this value a logical blunder.--The transfer of miracles from the artillery to t

The cultivation of scientific and historical studies during the last century, especially in its latter half, has deepened the conviction that

|Through the ages one increasing purpose runs;|

has disposed a growing number of thoughtful minds to regard occasional signs and wonders, reported from ancient times, as far less evidential for the reasonableness of religious faith than the steady sustentation of the Providential order and the moral progress of the world. Fully convinced of this, we should now estimate, before proceeding further, the present net results of the discussion, so far as it has gone, of what is called the miraculous element in the Bible.

First, its former evidential value in proof of divine Revelation is gone for the men of to-day. The believer in a divine Revelation does not now, if he is wise, rest his case at all on the miracles connected with its original promulgation, as was the fashion not very long since. This for two reasons; chiefly this: that the decisive criterion of any truth, ethical or physical, must be truth of the same kind. Ethical truth must be ethically attested. The moral and religious character of the Revelation presents its credentials of worth in its history of the moral and religious renovations it has wrought both in individuals and in society. This is its proper and incontrovertible attestation, in need of no corroboration from whatever wonderful physical occurrences may have accompanied its first utterance. Words of God are attested as such by the work of God which they effect. It may well be believed that those wonderful occurrences -- the Biblical name for which is |signs,| or |powers,| terms not carrying, like |miracles,| the idea of something contra-natural -- had an evidential value for those to whom the Revelation originally came. In fact, they were appealed to by the bearers of the Revelation as evidencing its divine origin by the mighty works of divine mercy which they wrought for sufferers from the evils of the world. But whatever their evidential value to the eye-witnesses at that remote day, it was of the inevitably volatile kind that exhales away like a perfume with lapse of time. Historic doubts attack remote events, especially when of the extraordinary character which tempts the narrator to that magnifying of the marvellous which experience has found to be a constantly recurring human trait. It is simply impossible that the original evidential value of the |signs| accompanying the Revelation should continue permanently unimpaired. To employ them now as |evidences of Christianity,| when the Revelation has won on ethical grounds recognition of its divine character and can summon history to bear witness of its divine effects in the moral uplift of the world, is to imperil the Christian argument by the preposterous logical blunder of attempting to prove the more certain by the less certain.

A second net result consequent on the preceding may be described as the transference of miracles from the ordnance department to the quartermaster's department of the Church. Until recently they were actively used as part of its armament, none of which could be dispensed with. Now they are carried as part of its baggage, impedimenta, from which everything superfluous must be removed. It is clearly seen that to retain all is to imperil the whole. That there are miracles and miracles is patent to minds that have learned to scan history more critically than when a scholar like John Milton began his History of England with the legend of the voyage of |Brute the Trojan.| One may reasonably believe that Jesus healed a case of violent insanity at Gadara, and reasonably disbelieve that the fire of heaven was twice obedient to Elijah's call to consume the military companies sent to arrest him. Cultivated discernment does not now put all Biblical miracles on a common level of credibility, any more than the historical work of Herodotus and that of the late Dr. Gardiner. To defend them all is not to vindicate, but to discredit all alike. The elimination of the indefensible, the setting aside of the legendary, the transference of the supposedly miraculous to the order of natural powers and processes so far as vindicable ground for such critical treatment is discovered, is the only way to answer the first of all questions concerning the Bible: How much of this is credible history? Thus it is not only thoroughly reasonable, but is in the interest of a reasonable belief that divine agency is revealed rather by the upholding of the established order of Nature than by any alleged interference therewith. With what God has established God never interferes. To allege his interference with his established order is virtually to deny his constant immanence therein, a failure to recognize the fundamental fact that |Nature is Spirit,| as Principal Fairbairn has said, and all its processes and powers the various modes of the energizing of the divine Will.

A third net result now highly probable is a still further reduction of the list of reputed miracles. The critical process of discriminating the historical from the legendary, and the natural from the non-natural, is still so comparatively recent that it can hardly be supposed to have reached its limit. Nor can it be stayed by any impeachment of it as hostile to Christianity, whose grand argument appeals to its present ethical effects, not to ancient thaumaturgical accompaniments. There is, however, a considerable class of cases in which the advancing critical process is likely even to gain credibility for the Biblical narrative in a point where it is now widely doubted -- the resuscitations of the apparently dead. Among all the Biblical miracles none have more probably a secure historical basis.


The Anglicized Latin word, |miracle,| indiscriminately used in the Authorized Version, denotes the superficial character of the act or event it is applied to, as producing wonder or amazement in the beholders. The terms commonly employed in the New Testament (s{=e}meion, a sign; dunamis, power; less frequently teras, a portent) are of deeper significance, and connote the inner nature of the occurrence, either as requiring to be pondered for its meaning, or as the product of a new and peculiar energy.

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