MIRACLES AND REVELATION. [To THE EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR."]
SIR,--At the risk of giving rise to a discussion which some of your readers may perhaps deprecate, I wish to call attention through your columns to what seems to me a very important error in the treatment of a subject most important at the present day, when a growth of credulous superstition appears to be springing up along- side of a materialistic fatalism. I refer to the conception of the supernatural put forth by Mr. Mozley in his recently published Bampton Lectures, a work which, by the learning, ability, and fairness shown in it, demands the most respectful attention.
Mr. Mozley undertakes to establish an a priori probability for the accounts of miracles contained in the Scriptures, especially in the New Testament, by a chain of argument which I take the liberty of presenting in an order somewhat differing from his arrangement, that I may the better exhibit what appears to be its logical connection. It rests on a proposition, assumed to be the result of natural religion (pp. 70-80), that there is an invisible world, comprising " God, angels, departed spirits, heaven and hell," which is "supernatural," i. e., " out of the order of nature," " life, the human soul, conscience, reason, and will" being "natural," because they are in the order of nature, or part of our constant experience (p. 86, foot note). The function of revelation is to give us the information which, from the nature of the case, we cannot acquire by experience, about this supernatural world, and
miracles, which are at once natural and supernatural—" in nature in the sense of visibility, but not in the order of nature "—are requisite to guarantee the trustworthiness of any alleged revelation (pp. 7, 86). Hence, if a revelation is admitted to be within the divine design, miracles are " not an anomaly or irregularity, but part of the system of the Universe," the " instrument of com- munication between the visible and invisible worlds " (p. 23). The observed uniformity of natural order furnishes no valid argument against their occurrence, because the belief in this uniformity is only an instinct common to animals and men (p. 44), unwarrantably converted by the human imagination from the practical use which is its true object into " an intellectual theorem,—that the order of nature is immutable" (p. 66). If we attribute personality and conscious will to God, there can be no question as to the existence of a power sufficient to work miracles, for "the Universal Cause must have power to suspend its own effects, provided it only has the will " (p. 105). To such a power therefore, acting exceptionally in nature, and not by any " un- known law," miracles are to be attributed (p. 163). The belief in them is a trial of faith, only as the belief in an omnipotent Deity is a trial of faith (p. 135). If this is admitted, the evidence for miracles legitimately enters into the province of testimony (p. 137). It is supported by the immense practical benefits attained for mankind by means of the great doctrines of Chris- tianity, which could not have been communicated without the evidence of miracles (p. 167). And although " there has been a constant stream of miraculous pretension in the world," "heathen, Christian, and philosophical or scientific" (p. 204), it is possible to point out peculiarities in the "nature, object, and evidence" of the Scriptural miracles which " vindicate their claim to distinctive [evidential] truth and divine source" (p. 206). The brief outline here given of this remarkable attempt to steer the vessel of Anglican orthodoxy clear of the opposing rocks, the faith in the order of nature and the faith in ecclesiastical miracles, may suffice to show on how many points it invites discussion. Such a point, for instance, is the astounding paradox that the probability of the recurrence of any natural phenomenon can never rise above that due to the instinctive judgment shared by us with all animals, that what has been may be again (Lecture ii.) But I confine myself to what appears to me to be the fundamental error affecting the whole of Mr. Mozley's argument, namely, his identification of the " invisible" with the " unseen."
That the " visible" shows us the "invisible," teaching us that " the things which are seen are not made of the things which do appear," is a truth proclaimed by science with ever increasing clearness and cogency, as she resolves one set of phenomena after another into results of infinitesimal movements, not less incapable of being discerned by the eye of the body than the purely spiritual principles of will, imagination, and reflection, and thus perpetually brings the sensible nearer to union with that supra-sensible power, to which man, when he attained the power of reasoning upon the origin of nature and of himself, generally referred that origin. It was most natural that in so doing man should place the seat of this invisible might above that sky whence all that made the charm of life on the earth, light, and warmth, and fertilizing showers, appeared to descend, and which impressed him with awe by its flashing lightnings and rolling thunders, and with ennobling delight by the majesty and beauty of its starry dome. Most natural that he should imagine this heavenly world to possess a constitution opposed and superior in every respect to his earthly residence, for in truth this imagination embodied his own highest being, projected out of himself. But the whole course of man's religious history seems to me to have been a gradual leading of man by his Divine Parent to perceive that the spiritual is not antagonistic to the material, but its source ; that the supernatural is that which underlies and expresses itself through the natural; and that the true "kingdom of heaven" is not without man, either in this present or in any other home where his spirit may dwell among those " many mansions," the scenes of divine power and goodness, but, as Christ tells us, " within," in his will and affec- tions. It is not to the scriptures of the Old or New Testament that we must turn, if we would get detailed descriptions of that " supernatural world " about which Mr: Mozley supposes it to be the office of revelation to give us trustworthy information, but to the Shastras, or the Tripataka, or the Itoran, to a Homer or a Pindar, a Dante or a Milton. Of this unseen world, what the Bible tells us is pretty well summed up in the assurance that there is " a reward for the righteous," a God who " judgeth all men," and will " recompense every one according to his works." Its object is to tell us not of the unseen, but of that which never can be seen,—of Him with whom we have to do, here on earth, no less than any other sphere of existence. And for this purpose it does not appear why disturbances of natural order should be required. The very conception of the personality of God, which forms the key- stone of Mr. Mozley's argument, is, as he has observed (p. 99), assumed in the Bible. There is no attempt to prove it by miracles.
If, then, there is not that necessity for miracles, as a bridge between two worlds, which Mr. Mozley supposes, is there any other ground for the belief in miraculous action? I apprehend that there is such a ground in the principle on which religion depends ; but, in the application of that principle at the present day in support of this belief, it seems to me that we are liable to fall into two great errors, which practically defeat our own object. These errors are-1. The non-appreciation of the difference between the modern notion of miracle and the Scriptural notion of a "sign and wonder ;" 2. The confusion of supernatural with antinatural.
1. Miracles are commonly treated by divines as acts by which God asserts the supremacy of His will over nature, which is represented as if it were a cunningly devised machine, thrown out of gear now and then by the maker to show that he is its master (Mozley, 164, 359, note). I venture to say that this notion is neither supported by the Scriptures nor warranted by reason. It is not supported by the Scriptures, for they represent all natural phenomena as immediate acts of the divine will, sym- bolized by that action of speech in which the human will seems to express itself immediately. " He spake, and it was made. He commanded, and it stood fast." That God is almighty is no doubt the teaching of the Bible. But this almightiness is not a power dif- ferent from that shown in nature. It is the very power shown in those natural works in which Psalm civ. says that Jehovah rejoices, and to which, not to any interruption of their natural order, the sublime conclusion of the book of Job appeals as the foundation for man's trust in God. That the Divine Will regulates the minutest events is Christ's teaching, but the extent to which He carries this doctrine shows that He identified this will with what we now call natural laws. Can it be contended that there is a will of God besides that expressed in the pull of the earth and the resistance of the air, which determines the fall of a hair ; or a will settling when a sparrow shall die, besides that manifested by what we call the laws of life ? What the Bible calls the " word of God," and what we call the " laws of nature," are the same thing Under different names. What the writers of the Bible call " signs and wonders" are to them only unusual natural phenomena, like the coming of a great comet. All nature was to them simply a series of wonders, in which they recognized indeed the goodness of Jehovah, who had ordained that "seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter should not fail so long as the earth abideth," and who " feedeth the young lions that call upon him," and marvelled at His power in setting the feeble "sand as a boundary to the sea by a perpetual decree ;" but as they had no idea of that constitution of things discovered by European research, in virtue of which natural bodies stand in certain fixed relations to each other, called by us their " laws," because from them the phenomena arising out of this constitution may be predicted, they had no ground whatever for supposing that any natural pheno- mena, however extraordinary, indicated a kind of power different to that which produced the ordinary phenomena. Is there any intimation in the Bible that they did entertain such a supposition ? I know of none.
Thus the modern notion of miracle as a suspension of natural order has no foundation in the Scriptures, which never hint that any act is contrary to this order. Has it any warranty in reason, from what we know of the principle of will? I conceive not. If we ask what this suspension of natural law really signifies, we shall find that it is equivalent to acts done without means. A body weighing a pound on the earth would weigh twenty-nine pounds if taken to the sun, but no one would call this increase of weight miraculous. To make such an increase miraculous, it must be produced without any appropriate means, by what is called an act of will. But in such an action will is confused with wish or imagination. I can wish that one pound may become twenty, but the wish by itself will have no effect. Again, I can imagine such a change to take place, that is, I can by an act of my will put together words expressing this notion, but I cannot produce the change by such a combination. In truth, in these actions I employ one-half only of the faculty of will,—that which determines the ends or objects to be effected. But there is another half not less important, namely, the selection of the means suitable for executing theae ends. The principle of will as I find it in my own conscious- ness includes both these factors, and since it is only from my Own consciousness that I know anything at all about will, I have no right to call the power of acting without means an exercise of will, even supposing Such a power to be possible. Thus I am not justi- fied by anything which I know about will in supposing that the will of God can act without means, nor am I led to such a sup- position by anything which I find in nature. Nature, so far as she has been studied, is a storehouse of a few indefinitely multiplied means, namely, the elements of chymistry, whereby are produced a ceaseless variety of ends. So that if, as the Bible declares, nature arises from the will of God, that will resembles the principle of will in man, in always working out its ends by suitable ends, and therefore cannot work miracles. In truth, the modern notion of miracle, like the kindred notion of Providence, which converts it into a special divine action mani- fested in such desirable events as cannot be foreseen, drives God out of nature, while the Scriptural notion, which sees God's providence in every natural act, like the Scriptural notion of " signs and wonders," which sees in them only unusual natural phenomena, brings God close to man in nature, where religious trust seeks for Him. Modern divines no doubt intend to uphold our faith in the personality of God by these notions of miracle and providence, but they really cut up the root of this faith by ascrib- ing to God a power different in kind from that power of will known to us, on which our consciousness of personality depends.
2. These considerations may serve to show that the belief in miraculous action is far from being of that importance to religion which Mr. Mozley asserts, and that at the present day those who hold that the will of God always works by producing natural order, and therefore can never interfere with that order, accord with the teaching of the Bible much more closely than those who suppose that there are two kinds of divine action, one natural and one supernatural, shown by interferences with the natural. They bring us to the second cause of error above noticed, the confusion of supernatural with anti-natural action. The true supernatural is, I apprehend, the principle of will, which originates nature in order to express itself—as the means of effecting its ends. Let it not be feared that by this mode of conception God must sink into nature. We see by our own experience that the faculty of will, that great mystery of being, subsists as a conscious power, distinct both from the ends chosen by it and the means selected to accomplish them. And the order of nature itself furnishes a proof that the Same distinctive character belongs to the will of God. Nature offers to our observation a creative power, ever supplying the means of organized-life, associated with an organizing wisdom ever adapting those means to the ends of organization—two Hypostases, whose relations cannot be more expressively indicated than by that language about the Father and the Son, to which the Catholic Church was led by the effort to express her faith in the Divinity of Christ. Between these correlative powers we must assume a communicating principle, to which we can give no name more suitable than that name of Love, which the New Testament declares that God is ; while for this principle there remains a special function, agreeing with that ascribed by the Church to the Holy Spirit, in the influence exercisable on the wills of the indi- viduals to whom the creative power and organizing wisdom of God give existence.
Thus conceived, the Godhead must continue an object of worship, incapable of identification with any of its works, and in this creed, for which the course of man's religious history up to the coming of Christ may, I think, be shown to be one continuous preparation, religions trust may rest, without disquieting itself about the wonders which are said to have attended certain stages of its for- mation. I say without being disquieted, because it is idle to disguise from ourselves that these wonders have for us an aspect very different from that borne by them of old. To those who wrote our Bible they were only unusual natural phenomena. To us, if they are accurately described, they can be only unintelligible exceptions to nature, not true " signs and wonders," but "mira- cles ;" and as such, I feel, with Mr. Baden Powell, in spite of all that Mr. Mozley's ingenuity can urge to the contrary, that they are at the present day " among the main difficulties and hin- drances to the acceptance of Christianity ;" " objects, not evi- dences of faith " (Mosley, pp. 346, 147 ; and Powell's Evi- dences of Christianity, pp. 140, 143). But does this circum- stance destroy their religious value? I say no. The belief in such phenomena had its proper sphere in an age when " signs and wonders " seemed part of the natural order of things. It has done its work if it has served to introduce to a place in man's convictions abiding spiritual truths. We who can sun our- selves in the light and warmth of these truths, which for us rest oh more sure foundations, should not despise, though we may no longer require, the instruments employed in producing convictions which without this aid might never have been attained at all. Is it not clear that even such phenomena as the appearances of Christ after His crucifixion, or His visible ascension into the clouds, are to us of value onlyas accessories to our belief in His ever living presence with us, and in proportion as we perceive that this belief rests on a broader basis, must become indifferent to us, apart from any question as to the good faith of the narrators? Yet who can doubt but that these narratives were highly instrumental in originating the Catholic conception of His divine personality?
The real evidence for that conception rests, as appears to me, upon a foundation feu• more solid than can be furnished by any accounts of past wonders, namely, upon the traces of a providential design, extending to the earliest beginnings of human civilization known to us, and destined to prepare the way for the coming of Him who, Himself the source of the organizing wisdom displayed in nature, should produce, by the manifestation of His perfect will under the conditions of human life, the crown of all organization, in a body of persons who, "beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord,,may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory, by the Lord, the Spirit." That remarkable powers of healing disease should have attended the human person of Christ, is a proposition which modern investigation leads us to accept, rather than to question as a natural possibility. Such powers, since they would be the most appropriate means of attract- ing the attention of men, to the spiritual realities which He came to disclose, have in them that a priori probability for which Mr. Mozley contends, and therefore may well maintain their place among the evidences for the Christian faith. But the strength of that evidence lies, as I conceive, in the many converging lines of distinct influences, social, political, intellectual, moral, each matured by long ages of independent development, which combined with the extraordinary personal qualities of Jesus to produce or diffuse the belief in Him. A conception which alone gives a consistent meaning to the great indisputable facts of human history, cannot be displaced by any criticism of historical details. On this faith, then, we may safely take our stand, calmly allowing physicarand Biblical research to follow their own course, and satisfied that whatever modifications they may make in our notions of the instrumentality through which the belief in the essential divinity of Christ was produced, this belief will remain unaffected by these modifications. E. V. N.
[We gladly insert this thoughtful letter, though entirely differing from the writer's view of the spiritual value of the facts called (perhaps by a false philosophy) miraculous, and properly called supernatural. We hold with St. Paul that without the resurrec- tion of Christ ' our hope' would be, if not quite ' vain,' at least only a hope, instead of a profound faith, and the God whom our Lord revealed would have remained what He always was before, except to the Jews, a shadowy power. " E. V. N." sees clearly, and has explained powerfully, the danger of a conflict between science and Christianity, the seeds of which are not properly con- tained in the Jewish mode of thought at all. But we do not believe that any revelation destined to affect widely the life of man could have failed to demonstrate the personal divine will behind what we call nature, and within Him of whom it was said that it " was not possible for Him to be holden of death."—En. Spectator.]