Viewed in Relation to Modern Thought
by C. A. Row
Bampton Lectures, 1877
London, Frederic Norgate, 1877
[Footnotes are within or following the paragraphs in which they are cited.
Bible citations have been converted to all Arabic numerals.]
Lecture I – The Order of the Christian Argument, Its Nature and Extent.
Supplement I – The Evidences Afforded by the Writings of the New Testament that the Essence of the Christian Revelation Consists in the Objective Fact of the Incarnation.
Supplement II – The Conception of a Miracle Involves Neither a Suspension of the Forces, nor a Violation of the Laws of Nature.
Lecture II – The Superhuman Action of Jesus Christ Verifiable in the History of the Past and the Facts of the Present.
Supplement I – The Evidential Value of Miracles as Affected by Answers to Prayer.
Supplement II – Miracles Wrought in the Physical Universe not the Exclusive Attestation of Our Lord’s Divine Mission.
Lecture III – The Contrast Between the Teaching of Christianity and That of the Philosophers Viewed Evidentially. Lectures 3 & 4
Lecture IV – The Unity of the Character of Christ a Proof of the Historical Reality; and the Logical Value of the Argument from Prophecy.
Supplement I – The Identity of the Portraiture of the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel with the Jesus of the Synoptics.
Supplement II – The Messianic Elements of the Old Testament Inadequate as a Model to Ideologists for the Delineation of the Christ of the New Testament.
Lecture V – The Evidence Afforded by the Writings of the Fathers, Who Fourished Between A.D. 90 and A.D. 180, that the Church was in Possession of an Account of the Actions and Teaching of Our Lord Analogous to that Which is Contained in Our Present Gospels. Lectures 5 & 6
Lecture VI – The Nature and Value of the Pauline Epistles as Historical Documents; and the Evidence They Afford that the Account of Our Lord’s Actions and Teaching Which Was Accepted by the Church Between A.D. 30 and A.D. 90 Was in the Main Outlines Similar to That in Our Gospels.
Supplement – The Incidental Allusions in St. Paul’s Epistles to the Actions and Teaching of Our Lord.
Lecture VII – The Theory of Visions Considered and Refuted. Lectures 7 & 8
Supplement I – The Value of St. Paul’s Testimony to the Fact of the Resurrection
Supplement II – Dr. Carpenter’s Objections to the Evidence of the Christian Miracles Considered.
Lecture VIII – Popular Theories of Inspiration—Their Relation to Scientific Thought
Supplementary Note: Remarks on Professor Mozeley’s Lectures on “Ruling Ideas in Early Ages”
“Jesus with unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord. Then said he unto them, Therefore every Scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth out of his treasure things new and old.” – Matt. 13:51, 52.
The subject which it will be my duty to bring before you in the present course of Lectures, is “Christian Evidences viewed in relation to modern thought.” Not only will the treatment of such a subject carry out the intention of the Founder of this Lectureship, but its careful examination is imperatively demanded by the exigencies of the times in which we live. We are all of us painfully aware, that a large number of men who are eminent in various departments of philosophy, science, and criticism, have ceased to believe in Christianity as a divine revelation. Nor is it less certain that the wide diffusion of their principles has had the effect of suggesting anxious doubts, and even of shaking the faith of a still larger number of persons who would not willingly range themselves in the ranks of unbelief. That this latter class is a very numerous one, is a fact which it is impossible to question. Such persons have a right to our utmost sympathy, especially in those cases, which I fear are numerous, where many of the difficulties which they experience have their origin in some imperfection in our mode of stating the Christian argument. Nor is it less our duty, in accordance with the emphatic warnings of our divine Master, to do our utmost to remove every stumbling block out of the way of professed unbelievers, by placing before them in the simplest form, the grounds on which we claim their acceptance of Christianity as a divine Revelation. It is useless to close our eyes to the fact, that the progress of philosophical, scientific, and critical inquiry during the present century has suggested difficulties which were unfelt when our great defences of Christianity were composed. We need not therefore wonder that they are inadequate to meet them.
On the other hand, it is no less certain that the same causes have disclosed reasons for the acceptance of Christianity which were only imperfectly appreciated by our predecessors. This being the case, a careful reconsideration of the Christian position in relation to the requirements of modern thought is become indispensable.
I propose, therefore, as far as the conditions imposed on me by these Lectures will allow, to take a view of our position, in relation to the chief difficulties which the progress of modern thought has suggested in connection with the evidences on which we have been accustomed to rest the claims of Christianity to be accepted as a divine revelation; and to point out the nature of the ground which the new positions which have been taken by opponents, require us to occupy in its defence. In doing this it will be requisite that I should take a careful survey of those points in the Christian position which require to be defended as essential; and that I should separate from them those which, however interesting they may be in relation to several important questions of theology, are really non-essential to the defence of Christianity as a divine Revelation. It will then be my duty to examine how far our old forms of evidence are valid for the purpose of meeting the difficulties which have been suggested by modern philosophical and critical thought, and to sketch the general outline of the defence necessary to meet the exigencies of our present position. To this latter point the seven concluding Lectures of this course will be exclusively devoted.
I am deeply conscious of the responsibility which is involved in the treatment of this subject, which renders it necessary that I should deal with several of the most critical points of modern controversy. Still it has become the plain duty of Christian men, not to hesitate to meet all difficulties honestly, fearlessly, cautiously and calmly. The time is past for propounding inadequate solutions or for attempting to hold ground which is evidently untenable. Such a course can only be damaging to the Christian cause. Its abandonment, instead of weakening, will strengthen our position. If on the other hand there are important branches of evidences which have been but imperfectly recognized by our predecessors, our duty is without delay to assign them their proper place in the Christian argument. To effect this object these Lectures will be directed.
In the mode of treatment I shall take the text as my motto. It contains a profound and far-seeing truth, which theologians have been greatly prone to overlook. In it the great Teacher affirms that it is the duty of every subordinate teacher of his Gospel to bring out of his treasures things both new and old. Not the old only: for then progress would be impossible. Not the new only: for this would destroy that principle of continuity by which the works of God are linked together; but the new in union with the old, and the old in union with the new. Such a union it is the special glory of Christianity to have effected. Revelation, as it is recorded in the Bible, has not been imparted to us at the first complete and entire, as a rigid code irrespective of the ever-changing conditions of humanity; but it is a plant which has grown in a succession of gradual stages until its culmination in Jesus Christ, just as the Creator has effected his work through a succession of developments, each one of which has been closely interwoven with that which preceded it, until it has culminated in man. In maintaining this analogy to the workings of God in nature Christianity stands in striking contrast to all other professed Revelations; and even to the opinions of no inconsiderable number of those who accept it as divine. Our Lord Himself affirmed that He came not to destroy the law or the prophets; but that on the contrary His purpose was to fill the ideal, of which they only contained an imperfect outline, up to the very full. Hence it has resulted that Revelation has been historical; and therefore it can be only rightly read and understood when it is contemplated in its historical aspect. Consequently Christianity does not consist of a mass of abstract doctrines or precepts, but of a body of historical facts, the proper meaning of which it is the function of theology to explain.
But while Christianity presents no break in point of continuity with former revelations, it vastly transcends them, in the same manner as man who, in respect of his bodily frame is closely allied to the inferior animal races, is raised to an immense elevation above them, both intellectually and morally. It is hardly possible to overestimate the importance of this continuity of Revelation in relation to modern thought. The doctrine of continuity in nature is one of very recent growth; yet continuity in religion was fully accepted as the mode of the divine working by those who composed the records of the Christian Revelation. Nothing is more certain than that they have linked together a series of gradually progressive revelations, each growing out of that which preceded it, without a single break in the continuity of the historic chain. Such an analogy to what modern science affirms to have been the order of the production of the various forms of being which are possessed of life, is a very striking one; and one which at the time when the New Testament was written, would have been beyond the reach of the shrewdest guess, and to which no other religion can put in a claim. The developments of the great religions now existing in the world are developments of retrogression; Christianity alone is a development of progress. “Many prophets and kings,” says Our Lord, “have desired to see the things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear the things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”
But further, while every image employed by the great Teacher implies that the growth of His kingdom would be a slow and gradual process, it is no less clear that He felt assured that it would ultimately penetrate to the centre of humanity. If such be its character, can we wonder that the Christian revelation should contain truths, of which the fullness, like the great works of creation and providence, can only be fully recognized after the lapse of time, and as the result of careful investigation? That great reasoner, Bishop Butler, clearly perceived that it is only in conformity with the analogy of nature, that a book which has been so long in the possession of mankind as the Bible, if it contains a Revelation from God, should contain truths as yet undiscovered; and that events, as they come to pass, should open and ascertain the meaning of Scripture; and that such discoveries should be made “in the same way as all other knowledge is ascertained, by particular persons attending to, comparing, and pursuing intimations, scattered up and down in it, which are overlooked and disregarded by the generality of the world.”*
*I subjoin the entire passage. “And as it is owned that the whole scheme of Scripture is not yet understood, so if it ever comes to be understood before the restitution of all things, and without miraculous interventions, it must be in the same way as natural knowledge is come at, by the continuance and progress of learning and liberty, and by particular persons attending to, comparing and pursuing intimations scattered up and down, which are overlooked and disregarded by the majority of the world. For this is the way in which all improvements are made by thoughtful men, tracing on obscure hints, as it were dropped to its by nature accidentally, or what seems to come into our minds by chance. Nor is it incredible that a book which has been so long in possession of mankind should contain many truths as yet undiscovered, for all the same phenomena and the same faculties of investigation from which such great discoveries have been made in the present and the past age, were equally in possession of mankind several thousand years before. And possibly it might be intended that events as they come to pass should open and ascertain the meaning of several parts of Scripture.” – Analogy, Part II., chap. iii. These remarks are worthy of the deepest attention both of theologians and men of science.
Of this prediction we in the present age are witnessing the fulfillment. Science and research of every kind are throwing light on the pages of the Bible, and we are now viewing many of its supposed affirmations in an altered aspect. Astronomy alone has shown that many positions which were supposed in former times to be deduced from its phraseology, as infallibly certain, were utterly devoid of justification. Numerous others have shared the same fate. Who then can venture to affirm, with the history of the past before us, that additional light may not yet be cast on the contents of the sacred page? Nay, the great apostle affirms that the fullness of the meaning of Revelation will be only gradually unfolded during the ages of the future. [Ephesians 1:10.]
If the knowledge of the full meaning of Revelation, like that of the created Universe, be thus slowly and gradually progressive, it is clearly our duty to accommodate our evidential position to our increasing light, instead of raising an outcry against every fresh discovery of science, as if it was fatal to the claims of Christianity to be accepted as a divine revelation. If the principles which have been laid down by the foresight of the good Bishop, more than a century ago, had been kept steadily in view by theologians, a large proportion of those disputes which are now raging between theologians and men of science would have been rendered impossible.
This power of self-accommodation to the ever-varying aspects of human thought which is possessed by Christianity has a most important bearing on the general character of our evidential position. Nay, it forms one of the strongest proofs of the superhuman insight which was possessed by its Founder, that He has not anchored his religion to the rock of the immovable, as has been done by others, but that He has founded one which is capable of adjusting itself to the entire condition of man. By doing so, he has become the Founder of the eternal religion of human nature. Such a religion must be capable of presenting itself, not in a single and unvarying aspect, but in a manifold and varying one; and consequently the mode of exhibiting its claims which was fitted to one aspect of thought, must become unsuited to another, rendering it necessary that we should bring the new as well as the old out of our treasures.
In considering this subject, it is clear that my first duty must be to institute an inquiry into what constitutes the inner life of Christianity, as distinct from its accessories, and the vehicle through which it has been communicated – what in fact is its essence? The importance of rightly determining this cannot be over-estimated in reference to our mode of stating the Christian argument, for it is evident, whenever we undertake to defend a position, that it is essential to ascertain what portion of the ground constitutes its key; and on it to concentrate our entire force.
What then, I ask, constitutes the essence of the Christian Revelation? Is it a mass of dogmatic, or abstract truth after the manner of other religions; or of reasoned truth, as elaborated by the various philosophic schools; or is its essence to be found in its moral teaching, as numerous unbelievers are in the habit of affirming; or is it an historic life, which constitutes its inner temple, and forms its distinguishing characteristic – in fact, is it the manifestation of a divine being on the sphere of the human, who is the source of all the moral and spiritual power which it contains? This question suggests another: – Must our defence embrace the wide range of everything which is contained in the Bible, in all the multifariousness of its contents; or is there an inner temple of Christianity, which also constitutes its citadel and fortress, on which if we can maintain a firm hold we shall retain the command of the entire Christian position?
The answer to these questions will not only be of the highest importance in its bearing on our general conception of Christianity, but it will determine what must be the only correct method of conducting its defence. Our entire evidences will require to be marshalled and arranged in conformity with the views we entertain on this subject. To use a military metaphor, the extent of the ground which it is necessary to occupy, forms the most important consideration in the mode of posting the forces at our command. A garrison of five thousand men may be capable of holding a particular fortress against the most numerous army; but if the lines are carried five miles in advance, they may be broken through at every point. Precisely the same is it with the defence of Christianity. If we confine it to its central position with the forces at our command its citadel will be impregnable; but if we extend our defences over an indefinite mass of subject matter, only incidentally connected with it, and for that purpose proceed to enlist into our service reasonings of only doubtful validity, we shall thereby endanger our entire position.
The question as to what constitutes the inner life of Christianity, is one which amidst the Babel of the sects that distract the Church, each with intemperate zeal propounding its own formulated system as constituting its essence, is one which at first sight might appear difficult if not impossible to answer. Yet surely an intelligent reader of the New Testament, who perused it for the first time free from the prepossessions of theological systems would return no ambiguous reply. He would affirm as a matter of certainty that one prominent idea pervades its pages and underlies every portion of its teaching – the divine person of Jesus Christ our Lord; and that the central life of Christianity, as it is there depicted, consists neither in a body of dogmas, or precepts, but in an historic life.
This point is so obvious that it seems almost unnecessary to give a formal proof of it. Still as it is vital to my argument, and one which is so generally overlooked by popular theology, I must draw your attention to a few of its salient traits. What then are the points which would force themselves on the attention of my supposed reader? They are indisputably these. He would observe that the four most prominent treatises in the volume are four memoirs, which give a fourfold account of the actions and the teaching of Jesus Christ, by winch he founded Christianity as a religion, and the Church as a Society. These evidently constitute the essence and foundation of the religion, for nothing can be more certain, than that every other portion of the New Testament presupposes the existence of this divine life as the foundation on which it rests.
Next follows another historical work, which details to us the means through which the Church was constituted a visible Institution in the world. One idea is fundamental to the entire book, that Jesus is the Christ, or in other words, that He is the Ruler of God’s spiritual kingdom, on which is founded the summons consequent thereon to men to enroll themselves as His subjects. To this idea, and to this purpose, all the other details of the book are plainly subordinated.*
*This is evidently the burden of the entire book, from the first opening speech of St. Peter to the concluding one of St. Paul. The following passages are summaries of its teaching: – “And daily in the temple and from house to house they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus to be the Christ” (Acts 5:42). “This Jesus whom I preach unto you is Christ.” (17:3). “And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.” (18:5). “To whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus” 28:23).
To these follow twenty-one writings of an historical character in the form of letters. They contain a mass of teaching, doctrinal and moral, pervaded and dominated by one idea which runs through them, that of Jesus as the personal Christ. While they contain doctrinal statements, it is worthy of particular remark that not one of them contains a formulated statement of what constitutes Christianity as a system of dogmatic or abstract truth. On the contrary, such doctrinal statements as are found in them, are wholly wanting in systematic form, and are evidently called forth by the special circumstances of particular communities of Christians to whom the letters are addressed.
But further, every one of them presupposes a Christianity already existing, and the obvious purpose of each letter is to explain it and to accommodate it to the state of thought and feeling as it existed in each particular Church. But throughout the entire contents of these letters, composed by six different writers, each of whom possessed marked mental peculiarities, one common idea unquestionably dominates – that of Jesus as the living personal Christ. Every doctrinal statement is made to have its focus in Him. Every moral precept has a vitality communicated to it by being referred to Him as the centre of obligation and spiritual power. Truth is propounded, but it is truth as it is in Jesus. Over all Christians he reigns by sovereign right. He is the supreme motive to holiness. He is Lord of the conscience. In Him centre all God’s creative and providential acts. The manifested revelation of God is His historic life and actions. He is a great spiritual power, capable of acting on the human heart with energetic might. I fully admit that these points are brought out in different degrees and aspects by these writers. Yet one common thread runs through the entire series. It is not too much to say of every writer that the idea of Jesus as the Christ interpenetrates and modifies his entire thoughts, whether doctrinal or moral. To this even the Epistle of James, where it is least apparent, forms no exception.
Its predominance throughout these writings is no theory, but a fact, and forms the feature which distinguishes them from every other literary composition in the world. Of the dominance of this idea we have a striking example in the epistle to Philemon. In it St. Paul asks a personal favour of a Christian friend on behalf of a delinquent slave. That favour is asked in the name of Christ. There remains one other writing in the New Testament, the Apocalypse. Whatever opinion we may form of the purpose of its author, one thing respecting it is as clear as the existence of the sun in the firmament – that the great prominent idea which penetrates it from one end to the other is that of Jesus as the Christ living and reigning. The removal of this idea from the pages of the New Testament would reduce the residuum of its contents to a shapeless chaos.
These facts then afford the most complete proof that the person of Jesus Christ constitutes the inner centre of Christianity, and underlies its entire system; and that everything else that is connected with it, occupies a position wholly subordinate to this its inner life. From this the inference is plain, that the Revelation which constitutes the essence of Christianity is not a body of dogmatic statements or precepts, but the manifestation of that divine person whose actions and teachings are recorded in the Gospels – or in other words, that the essence of Christianity as distinct from its adjuncts, consists of a number of objective facts, which have actually occurred in the history of the world. Of these facts the original followers of Jesus were the witnesses and proclaimers, and, as far as light was communicated to them by the divine Spirit, the exponents to mankind. We must be careful however to observe that in accordance with their own statements, this exposition is far from having exhausted all their meaning, for the greatest of apostolic writers affirms that a greater unfolding of it is reserved for the ages of the future.*
*“Having made known unto us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself; that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and in earth, even in him.” (Ephes. 1:9, 10). “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the Mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God; according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephes. 3:8, 9, 10.)
What then is the position occupied by the other books in the canon relatively to those which contain the objective facts which constitute Christianity? The Acts of the Apostles convey to us information how that divine Society called the Church was instituted and established in the world, as a visible institution, through whose agency these facts were to exert a mighty influence on mankind, and also inform us as to the mode in which the minds of the Apostles became gradually enlightened as to their meaning and import. The character of the Epistles is clear. They make no professions of being a dogmatic revelation; but in every case they assume the existence of a prior Christianity, which had been communicated orally to the converts, and consisting of such facts of its Founder’s life as proved Him to be the Christ, and which the writers endeavour to unfold, explain, and apply in accordance with the various emergencies of the primitive societies of believers. One of these Churches, that at Corinth, is expressly reminded by St. Paul, that the essence of the Christianity which he had proclaimed among them consisted of a number of such objective facts. [1 Cor. 15:1–8.] These writings are, in the strictest sense of the term, letters which were called forth by the special exigencies of those to whom they are addressed; and in them the Christian revelation is unfolded, and adapted to the requirements, habits, and modes of thought of particular Churches, or individuals, who, having originally been Jews, proselytes, or pagans, had united themselves into a society, whose one bond of union was that Jesus was its Messiah and King.
My position therefore is, that like as we have a great revelation of God in the created universe, which is the manifestation of His eternal power and Godhead; as also we have a second revelation of God, made in the conscience and moral nature of man, which at the same time affords manifestations of the moral character of the Creator, and forms the foundation of moral obligation, so we have a third revelation of His innermost moral and spiritual perfections in the person and work of Jesus Christ our Lord. This revelation may be briefly summed up as consisting of the Incarnation and its results, by means of which the moral and spiritual perfections of God have been exhibited in the actions and teaching of a divine man; or in other words, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If this view be correct, it follows that the personal history of our Lord must constitute the citadel of Christianity, and must therefore form the key of the Christian position, on which, if we can retain a firm hold, we shall remain masters of the entire ground; and other points connected with Christianity will assume their due place and proper subordination. But if this cannot be maintained, the most successful defence of the remaining contents of the Bible will be so much wasted labour. On this point therefore the defence of Christianity must be concentrated.
It is evident if this view is correct, that the proof that the inner temple of Christianity consists in the personal manifestation of Jesus Christ in the sphere of human history, is of the highest importance in reference to the position which ought to be taken by the Christian advocate. But such a proof can only be supplied by an examination of a large number of passages in the New Testament. If I were to do so in the body of this Lecture, it would swell it to an undue length. I will therefore adduce the full proof in a Supplement; and assume for the purpose of this argument that the essence of Christianity consists neither in a body of dogmas nor of precepts, but in a personal history which constitutes a manifestation of the divine on the sphere of the human.
This being so, to prove that Christianity is a divine revelation, it will be only necessary to establish two points.
First. That the person of Jesus Christ is not a manifestation of the ordinary forces which energise in man, but of a power which is superhuman and divine.
Secondly, that the account which the Church possesses of His life, teaching, death, and resurrection, is not an ideal creation, but a body of historic facts.
In determining the extent of the position which must be occupied by the defender of Christianity, it is of the highest importance that we should keep clearly in view the distinction which exists between Revelation on the one hand, and inspiration and theology on the other. On this point great confusion of thought has prevailed; and the result has been that the line of our defence has become dangerously extended. The wide extent of the position, to the defence of which the Christian advocate is supposed to be committed, forms one of the strongholds of popular unbelief. It is also undeniable that theology has in former ages claimed, as its legitimate domains, whole provinces of thought, from which it has had to beat a retreat before the steady advance of scientific knowledge. It will probably have to retire further still before it occupies its rightful position. Such retreats have been attended with disastrous results; and with the experience of the past before us, I must claim the right – it is in fact our duty – to separate the defence of Christianity from every question which is not vitally connected with the Christian position, and to confine it to the historic facts, which form the foundation on which the Church has been erected, and the inner life of Christianity, as a great moral and spiritual power, is based. The consideration of the inferences deducible from these facts is the proper function, not of the Christian advocate, but of the scientific theologian. The relation in which the popular theories of inspiration stand to science, and their bearing on Christianity as a divine revelation, I shall consider in the concluding Lecture of this course; at present it will be only necessary for me to offer a few brief remarks on the distinction between Revelation and Inspiration.
I have already shown that the innermost temple of Christianity, around which the whole might of our defence must be concentrated, is the objective fact of the Incarnation, and the historical truth of the divine life, as recorded in the pages of the Evangelists. But in addition to this great fundamental revelation some of the writers of the New Testament claim to have been the subjects of special revelations, by which the meaning of the great facts which constitute the essence of Christianity was imparted to their minds. These revelations, however, differ widely from that of which I have been speaking; and it is very difficult to lay down a clear distinction between them and the gift which we commonly call inspiration. Thus St. Paul affirms that he received his knowledge of the great principles of Christianity by revelation, and that he did not derive them from any human source.* In other cases we can discover clear traces of the presence of a human element. Thus the slow and gradual influence of the Spirit unfolded to the leaders of the Church what constituted the essential principles of Christianity as distinct from the Judaism in which they had been born and educated. This we know from the history to have been brought about, not so much by a direct infusion of light and knowledge into their minds as by the leading of the events of Providence. Of this we have a remarkable illustration in the account which is given us of the mode in which the enlightenment of Peter was effected, which led to the reception of Cornelius into the Church. In it Peter’s reason cooperated with the divine enlightenment. A vision was the immediate agent, of which several events of Providence suggested the interpretation. Of a similar character was the revelation trade to St. Paul, which led to the first preaching of Christianity in Europe. This forms a remarkable illustration of the relation in which such revelations stood to the ordinary action of the faculties of those who received them. The command to pass into Europe was not one which was given in direct terms. The historian tells us that St. Paul proposed to open a mission in two other places; but that he was hindered by the Spirit. On arriving at Troas he saw a vision of a man of Macedonia standing by him, and saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us. From these circumstances the historian tells us that they assuredly gathered that the Lord had called them to preach the Gospel to them; or in other words, that it was not a direct revelation of the Spirit, but an inference from the vision, united with the fact, that they had been forbidden to preach in two other places. In this case, as in St. Peter’s vision, the divine and the human elements are quite separable from one another, the duty of passing into Macedonia being a rational inference from the divine facts. How far this was the case in the other revelations spoken of by St. Paul, we have no means of judging.
*Thus he writes, “But I certify you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man; for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11, 12). Again, “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the Mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:3, 4). This latter passage implies that the two former chapters may be received as the record of this revelation. Both passages, however, definitely affirm that its subject matter was strictly limited to the communication of Christian truth, and involved no enlightenment beyond its limits.
Both these modes of communicating truth may be designated revelations.
Theoretically, therefore, the New Testament may be said to contain the record of two species of revelations – one, the record of those objective facts, which form God’s great moral and spiritual revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ – and the other, the commentary made by its authors on those facts, as far as their meaning was revealed to them by the Divine Spirit. This latter, however, is so mixed up with the question of inspiration that for all practical purposes it is inseparable from it; and must therefore be dealt with on the same principles as a branch of scientific theology.
It will now be necessary for the purpose of defining clearly the limits of our evidential position to consider the relation in which theology stands to Revelation.
If I have correctly laid down the two previous positions, that Revelation consists of the objective facts, on which Christianity is based, and in a secondary sense, of the disclosures made to Apostolic men respecting their nature and meaning, it follows that the position of theology in relation to Christianity must consist in the elaboration of a body of systematic truth out of the facts and data furnished by Revelation. For evidential purposes it is of the utmost importance to keep this distinction clearly in view, and thereby to guard against that widely spread confusion of thought, which identifies Christianity as a revelation with Christianity as a theology, and has led to the almost indefinite extension of the position which it is supposed to be the duty of the Christian advocate to defend. As a clear perception of the nature of this distinction is of the highest importance in relation to my argument, it is necessary that I should define the position which I take with the utmost clearness.
I observe, therefore, that theology as a science must stand in the same relation to the facts of Revelation as the physical sciences do to the facts of the Universe. The function of these latter is to investigate the facts, to formulate them, and to evolve out of them the truths which they contain. Precisely similar is the function of theology to the facts of Revelation. These form its data. The duty of the theologian is to perform for them an office similar to that which the scientific investigator does for the facts of nature. This being so, the same methods of investigation must be applicable to each, as far as is consistent with their different subject matter.
Both must involve rational processes; both will be liable to the intrusion of human error; and their successful study will be dependent on the employment of a proper method of investigation.
The distinction, therefore, between Christianity as a revelation and Christianity as a theology, becomes clear. Christianity as a revelation consists of those objective facts through which God has manifested to man his moral and spiritual character. Christianity as a theology consists of a body of formulated truths elaborated by reason out of those facts as its data.
It will be objected that, in running this parallel, I overlook the necessity of the influence of the Divine Spirit for the purpose of illuminating the heart and the understanding in the study of theology. I by no means do so. The Baconian method teaches us that physical truth can only be successfully studied by first dissipating those dark mists, and the various idola, which naturally brood over the human understanding, and its founder has elaborately described their nature and character. Precisely analogous is it with the successful study of the data furnished by Revelation. Here even darker mists enshroud our understandings, which must be dissipated before our mental powers can be successfully applied to the study of Christian truth. One of these preconditions is a willingness to do the will of God.* We all know how the progress of scientific knowledge has been impeded in the past by the prepossessions of those who devoted themselves to its study. Witness the failure of the acutest intellects of the ancient world to penetrate the arcana of the Universe. Similar prepossessions are equally fatal to the appreciation of Christian evidences and of Christian truth. The attention of many of the students of the physical sciences may not unfitly be directed to the closeness of the analogy; and they may well be asked to consider whether some of their methods of dealing with Revelation are not due to prepossessions and idola which darken their mental vision, in the same manner as in former ages the same causes have rendered theologians insensible to the realities of physical truth.
*Such a precondition for the effectual appreciation of Revelation is distinctly laid down by Our Lord. “If any man will (θελη, wills, is earnestly desirous of doing) do God’s will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself” (John 7:17). This, though preeminently true of religious truth, is applicable to every kind of truth, except perhaps the evidence of mathematical demonstration. The ethical readiness to accept it is a precondition of its perception.
But the dissipation of these being presupposed in both cases, it follows that in the same manner as physical science is the result of the application of our rational powers to the investigation of the phenomena of the Universe, and mental science results from their application to the facts of mind, and moral science to those of our moral nature and conscience; so theological science is the result of the application of our reason to the data furnished us by Revelation.* In each case our reason is fallible, and we are liable to draw erroneous conclusions, from which fallibility neither theologians nor scientists can claim exemption. In bygone ages the latter have propounded erroneous systems in abundance. Can it be said that theologians have not fallen into similar errors? Or at the present day have we any right to claim an infallibility for our various theological systems, and after the manner of the sects stake the life of Christianity on their truth? Our only safeguard is so to profit by the errors of the past as to lead us to employ better methods of investigation in the future. But let it be observed that like as the errors of philosophers and scientists are unable to obscure the great truth that the Universe is a manifestation of the eternal power and Godhead of the Creator, a truth which will ever be recognized by the unsophisticated heart of man, despite all the theories of atheism and pantheism, so the errors of theologians are unable to hide from us the still greater truth that the moral perfections of God clearly shine forth in the person and work of Jesus Christ our Lord.
*Nothing is more dangerous to the Christian cause than the outcry which various schools of popular theology are in the habit of raising against the use of reason in religious investigations, and the mode in which it is constantly spoken of as opposed to faith. Such persons would do well to meditate on the following passage of Bishop Butler: “I express myself with caution lest I should be misunderstood to vilify reason, which is indeed the only faculty we have wherewith to judge concerning anything, even Revelation itself, or to be misunderstood to assert that a supposed revelation cannot be proved false from internal characters.” – (Analogy, Part II, chap. iii.) Reason is not a perfect light, nor an infallible guide; but as it is the only light and guide which we possess, we shall not improve our condition by extinguishing it.
In making these observations, I by no means wish to deny that the Apostolic epistles contain a theology in a rudimentary form. But viewed in relation to the present subject, the important point to observe is that they are a commentary on the facts of Revelation in a very unsystematic form, just as it was called forth by the exigencies of particular Churches, and that they also form our sole record of the subordinate revelations through which the meaning of the great facts of Christianity was communicated to the primitive believers.
I am aware that there is also another theory, which affirms that these revelations and their meaning have been handed down by the traditions of the Church, and secured from errors by the permanently abiding presence in it of the divine Spirit. But to discuss this question would be to enter into a controversy which has neither limits nor bounds. Its indefinite character alone must exclude it from forming a portion of Christian evidences. Christianity must on other grounds be accepted as a divine revelation before it is possible to accept the theory in question.
My position, therefore, stated generally is, Revelation is throughout essentially divine; systematized theology is a human science.
This being so, the ground which must be occupied and defended by the Christian advocate becomes clear and definite. It is not the wide range of Christian theology, nor any particular theory as to the mode in which Revelation has been communicated, nor as to the degree of inspiration which has been afforded to those by whom its record has been committed to writing; but the proof of the actual presence of a divine element in Christianity. My duty is to show not only that the facts are true, but that the divine is manifested in them. All other considerations stand extraneous to the subject matter of these Lectures.
If this position be correctly taken, the points of controversy between those who affirm and those who deny Christianity to be a divine revelation, are brought within definite limits. We are saved from the necessity of wandering over an indefinite range of subject matter. Numerous controversies now raging have only an indirect bearing on the real point at issue. This, I repeat, is, Have we evidence that there is a manifestation of the divine in Christianity? If this be so, it must be a divine revelation, and a matter of unspeakable importance to mankind. Under the influence of increasing light, whether derived from the study of the Universe, or as Butler has pointed out, of the facts of Revelation itself, we may have to change many of our theological positions, as inadequate exponents of its great realities; but the great fact that God has spoken, and is still speaking to man in Jesus Christ will remain untouched.
Such being the case, it will be desirable that I should enumerate a few of the questions which lie outside the position which the defender of Christianity is called upon to occupy. It is necessary to do so, because the identification of a large number of questions now eagerly debated between Christians and unbelievers with the truth of Christianity itself, not only in the popular mind, but by many earnest inquirers, is one of the chief causes by which the faith of multitudes has been shaken in the present day. This is the reason why I have been careful to lay down the distinction between Christianity as a revelation, and Christianity as a theology. If the view above taken is correct, the whole range of formulated theology, except as far as it is a matter of direct and positive revelation, is extraneous to the question whether Christianity is or is not a divine revelation. The determination whether its statements are legitimate deductions from the facts of Christianity, belongs to scientific theology, and will not affect the divine character of the facts themselves. In a similar manner, various questions connected with the origin of the books of the Old Testament, and their correct interpretation, however profoundly interesting in a theological point of view, form no portion of our evidential position. The defender of Christianity is by no means called upon to prove that they are free from philosophical, scientific, or historical errors, or even from moral imperfections. To use an illustration borrowed from Paley, it is most unwise to stake the truth of Christianity on our ability to prove that every miraculous narrative recorded in its pages must, beyond all controversy, be accepted as an historical fact. To do this, would involve the defender of Christianity in the necessity of maintaining the truth of some special theory of inspiration, against which it is impossible at the present time too earnestly to protest; for its identification with certain theories extensively popular forms one of the strongholds of unbelief. So likewise I accept Paley’s general positions, that the Christian advocate is only concerned with the Old Testament so far as portions of it have received the direct sanction of Our Lord. I by no means overlook the importance of these questions as far as they bear on the elaboration of a true Christian theology; but they must not be allowed to be mixed up with the all-important question, whether Christianity contains a manifestation of the divine, or whether it has been the mere evolution of those moral and spiritual forces which energize in man. To do so is to weaken our position by indefinitely extending it; a movement which can only be profitable to our opponents.
For the same reasons a number of very interesting questions respecting the New Testament which have been made the subjects of most eager controversy form no portion of the position necessary to be maintained by the defender of Christianity as vital to its truth. It is a matter of comparative unimportance in reference to the real issue whether Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene in the year when John the Baptist commenced his ministry; whether Cyrenius was twice governor of Syria; whether Our Lord cured one or two demoniacs at Gadara, or one or two blind men at Jericho; or the precise mode in which Judas died. The successful solution of these and multitudes of similar questions would afford an additional confirmation of the historical accuracy of some of the writers of the New Testament. But such points are often discussed as if the life of Christianity was involved in them, whereas the only point which they really involve is the truth of a particular theory of inspiration. Nor is the question whether each Gospel was written by the person whose name it bears, nor the actual date when its contents were first committed to writing, material to the present issue. Nor is it necessary to prove that the quotations from the Old Testament in the New are accurate renderings of the meaning of the original, nor that the logic of the Epistles is always accurate, when estimated according to our scientific forms of reasoning.* These, and a number of other questions, are profoundly interesting in a theological point of view; but they have no direct bearing on the all-important questions, whether there is evidence that a superhuman power has manifested itself in Christianity; whether the great facts on which Christianity is based were historical realities; whether the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fact, or the belief in it originated in the hallucination of His followers. If all these things can be firmly established, it follows that Christianity must be a divine revelation; and we can afford to wait for the solution of the minor difficulties with which it is attended. To lay down clearly the distinction between points which are essential, and those which are non-essential to the defence of Christianity, is at the present day of the highest importance; because a widespread opinion prevails, that many of the questions that are eagerly discussed in theological controversies are essential to its truth.
*I have selected several of these questions, because they are those by means of which modern unbelief directs some of its sharpest attacks on Christianity as a divine revelation. This indefinite extension of our position is simply to play into the hands of our opponents. They naturally prefer to raise side issues, instead of dealing with the centre of the Christian position. Thus nothing is more common than to raise questions about miracles generally, and the imperfection of the attestation of this or that particular miracle, instead of dealing with, the one great evidential miracle of Christianity, the Resurrection, on the reality of which its truth rests. If they could prove that this was a fiction, they would force the entire Christian position. If it is a fact, Christianity will remain intact, notwithstanding all their attacks on the other miraculous narratives in the Bible. It must be confessed, however, that the defenders of Revelation have greatly encouraged them in this practice, by not insisting on confining the issue to the discussion of this one great question.
Thus ordinary Christians have been led to believe that such questions as – Whether St. Matthew was the author of the Gospel that bears his name; whether the writings of Isaiah consist of two portions, one of which was composed at an earlier, and the other at a later date; whether the Pentateuch in its present form was written by Moses; whether the commonly received Chronology of the Old Testament is, or is not accurate; whether the book of Daniel was composed by the prophet of that name, who lived during the Captivity; whether it is possible to weave the narratives of the Evangelists into an harmonious whole; whether the references made by the earlier Fathers to events in the Evangelical history are citations from our Gospels, and not from others which must have closely resembled them – that all these, and a multitude of similar questions, are so bound up with the acceptance of Christianity as a divine revelation, that they must stand or fall together. Men hear that a vast number of accepted beliefs on these and similar subjects, have been called in question by persons of profound learning, and their faith in Christianity is shaken. What is the cause of this? The true answer is that popular theology has widely diffused the belief that a number of points which are really nonessential to Christianity as a divine revelation are vital to its defence. Unbelievers have not unnaturally accepted this position, and in consequence have loudly proclaimed that the belief in Christianity as a divine revelation is no longer tenable. The assumption that the defence of this wide extent of matter is essential to the Christian position, is unquestionably one of the causes which has led to that widespread shaking of belief which prevails at the present day. The whole question, however, as to the nature and validity of our popular theories of inspiration is a subject of which I must defer the consideration till my concluding Lecture.
My position, therefore, is, that the ground on which the whole of our defences must be concentrated, is the historic reality of the life of Our Lord, as it has been handed down by the traditions of His primitive followers; and that this life has exerted a unique and superhuman power throughout the last eighteen centuries of history. Before, however, I can address myself to the direct proof of this, it will be necessary to consider the relative value of the evidences themselves, the order in which they should be stated, and the modifications in the mode of treatment which are rendered necessary by the requirements of modern thought.
1. The proof of Christianity has been hitherto based on what is called its miraculous attestation. Miracles have been placed in the forefront of the Christian argument, and other evidences have occupied in it a very subordinate position. This is the line of reasoning which modern apologists have all but unanimously adopted.
An opinion however is becoming widely diffused among thoughtful men, that this mode of putting the argument is unsound. I am fully aware of the weight of the authorities who have taken the opposite view to the one which I feel it to be my duty to propound in these Lectures; and who have concurred in placing the evidence of miracles in the forefront of the Christian argument. Of these Paley may be cited as a crucial example. Subsequent writers have followed closely in his steps; and have contented themselves with adducing proof of the possibility of miracles, or with strengthening his central position. Some of them, however, have handled the moral argument far more effectually than it has been done by him; for the principles of his moral philosophy necessarily rendered his treatment of the moral aspects of Christianity inadequate.
I am not aware that any modern writer has suggested the necessity of a complete change of front in our evidential position, although many have attached a far higher value to the moral aspects of Christianity, as evidences of its truth. As however it seems to me that the whole exigencies of modern thought render such a change of front absolutely necessary, I will briefly give reasons why I consider that the moral evidences of Christianity ought to occupy the first place, and its miraculous attestation the second, in the Christian argument.
But as the three following Lectures will chiefly be devoted to the consideration of what I shall designate the moral miracles of Christianity, it will be necessary that I should briefly explain the meaning which I attach to this expression. Our evidential treatises restrict the term miracle to an occurrence in the physical universe the origin of which cannot be accounted for by the action of its ordinary forces. From such an event is inferred the presence of a power or force of a different order, capable of energizing in them, directing, controlling, and bending them in such a manner as to effect a particular purpose, and to bring about a result different from that which would have taken place from their ordinary action. Such an event we designate “a miracle”; and from it we infer the presence of a superhuman power. But why the expression should be limited to occurrences of this kind as constituting the sole divine attestation of Christianity it is difficult to say. Surely there is an order in the moral and spiritual world no less than in the material. Moral and spiritual forces act no less in conformity with moral and spiritual laws than the forces which energize in the physical universe act in conformity with physical laws. If deviations from the accustomed order of the one, or the occurrence of events which cannot be accounted for by the action of any of its known forces, prove the presence of a divine power, so must similar phenomena in the moral and spiritual worlds be manifestations of the energy of a superhuman power. Such manifestations I shall designate “moral miracles,” by which I mean, events occurring in the moral and spiritual world, for the origin of which none of its known forces are sufficient to account. If I can prove that such manifestations have taken place in connection with Christianity, it will be evidence that a superhuman power has manifested itself in it. This being so, the all-important question will be, Are we able to verify in connection with it the presence of such a superhuman power in the history of the past, or in the facts of the present? If we can, I contend that it will afford a far stronger proof of its divine character than that which can be supplied by miracles wrought in the physical universe, which require a long and complicated chain of historical reasoning to establish their truth.
Much confusion has been introduced into our reasonings about miracles by the practice, which has been common to both the opponents and the defenders of Christianity, of using a number of ambiguous terms, so that it has become difficult to express oneself with precision on the subject.* A brief allusion to them is all that will be necessary in this place. Even the word “Supernatural” itself is one which it is almost dangerous for a theist to employ. When we use it to denote God’s mode of action in connection with a revelation, as distinguished from other modes of the divine activity, we run no little danger of making the covert assumption that God is not everywhere energizing in the ordinary forces of the Universe by which we are surrounded; a view which is not only opposed to all sound principles of Theism, but one to which the writers of the Bible are entire strangers. If one thing is more certain than another, it is that the whole series of these writers view the forces of nature as manifestations of the energies of God. In fact the modern distinction between the Natural and the Supernatural is to them unknown.**
*It is worthy of notice that a large proportion of the arguments employed by the author of “Supernatural Religion” against miracles are founded on the ambiguous senses in which the various terms employed in the Christian argument are used. To this their entire plausibility is due. The inconclusiveness of his reasoning is obvious enough to close logical thinkers; but unfortunately the great majority of the readers of such works are not such, and the large number of editions through which this work has passed proves that on them its influence has been sufficiently telling. This alone shows the importance of not allowing our strength to be wasted on a number of side issues, but of confining our defence of Christianity to its great central position.
**This may be affirmed absolutely of the writers of the Old Testament. Thus in the Book of Psalms the energy of God is represented as being quite as much manifested in the daily course of nature as in the miracles of the Exodus. This is not quite so apparent in the New Testament, in which the references to the forces of nature are comparatively rare. But whenever Our Lord refers to nature in His teaching, He uniformly recognizes in it the presence of His Father. According to the Bible both the energies which are constantly exhibiting themselves in the Universe, and the phenomena which we designate miracles, are alike manifestations of the divine activity, the one differing from the other merely in their mode of action.
This confusion has originated in the various senses which have been assigned to the words “Nature,” “Natural,” and their derivatives, and from the ambiguous use of the word “ law,” not only to denote the invariable sequences of events, but also the mode of the action of the forces which energize in the Universe. The all-important question on which the entire controversy turns is, What do we mean by “Nature,” and what class of phenomena do we include under it? Thus if we confine the words “Nature” and “Natural” to matter, its necessary forces and laws, we denote by them a definite class of phenomena; but if we include under them man, his freedom, his intellect, and his moral and spiritual being, we mix up with the former phenomena of a wholly different class and order. But these terms have been used by both sides in this controversy, as though they had a clear and definite meaning, and thus various classes of phenomena fundamentally distinct have become mixed together in hopeless confusion. A similar result has followed from the habitual use of the term “law,” to denote both the invariable sequences and the forces that energize in the material Universe. Can any one wonder at the confusion of thought which has arisen in consequence? The importance of this subject will render it necessary that I should consider it more fully in a supplement to this Lecture.
This confusion of thought in which the whole question of miracles has become involved is a sufficient justification for placing what I have designated the moral miracles of Christianity in the forefront of our evidential position. But this change seems to me to be imperatively called for by the following reasons, in order that we may adapt our evidential position to the requirements of modern thought.
All its requirements point to verification as the great test of truth. The entire history of discovery has proved that theories which are incapable of being submitted to this test have failed to conduct us to the realities of things. Hence has arisen a great difficulty in the way of accepting as actual occurrences such events as, being without counterparts in the modern world, require that their truth should be established by a long and intricate chain of reasoning, owing to the danger that exists, that among its numerous links there may be flaws which have escaped our observation. The habits of reasoning which lie at the foundation of modern science have all tended to confirm the opinion that facts which can receive no kind of verification either in the realities of the present or in the palpable historical events of the past can only be accepted as true on an amount of evidence which is practically demonstrative. Whether this position be right or wrong, it is unquestionable that such is the tendency of modern thought. This has introduced a difficulty into the proof of miracles, which was little felt in former times, as from the nature of the case they cannot be subjected to any species of verification. Very different, however, will it be with those manifestations of a superhuman power energizing in the moral and spiritual worlds, which I shall claim for Christianity. I shall prove that they can be clearly traced in the history of the past, and in the facts of the present, in connection with the person of Jesus Christ, and the Church which He has founded. The facts are plain and simple, requiring no long or intricate historical proof to establish their truth, but admit of an easy verification. As their reality is indisputable, the only question that can arise is, Are they manifestations of a superhuman power, or can they be accounted for as the results of the known forces energizing in man? On this point I shall appeal to your judgment in the following Lectures. Their verifiable character alone forms a sufficient reason for placing them in the forefront of the Christian argument.
2. As miracles, in the sense in which that term is employed in evidential treatises, do not take place in the present day, the only mode of proving their occurrence in former times is by a chain of historical reasoning which involves the necessity of carefully weighing and balancing a large number of intricate probabilities which constitute our historical argument, a process which requires a special training for its due appreciation. In one point of view it must be conceded that modern thought has increased the value of miracles as evidential to a divine commission, if we could either witness them ourselves, or their occurrence could be proved by demonstrative evidence. In the present day our belief in the invariability of the forces of the material Universe, and in the continuity of nature, is of the strongest kind. We are firmly persuaded that this continuity is only capable of being interrupted by the Creator, or by one delegated by Him. To us, therefore, if an indubitable miracle could be performed before our eyes, it would have the highest evidential value, as affording indisputable proof of the intervention of a Being distinct from, and superior to, the forces of the material universe, i.e., God. But very different were the ideas entertained on this subject in former ages. The belief was then all but universal, that other beings were able to interfere with and modify its forces at their pleasure. Consequently, to persons who held such opinions, a miracle only offered evidence of the presence of a superhuman, and not of a divine, power; and its evidential value was diminished in proportion to the prevalence of this belief. As in Our Lord’s days the belief was widespread that demons were capable of exercising this power, He habitually appealed to the moral aspect of His miracles in proof that they were wrought by the finger of God. But while the course of modern thought thus assigns a higher evidential value to miracles, on the supposition that their proof is rigid and exact, this advantage is far more than counterbalanced by the rigid exactitude of the proof which it requires. Nothing sets this difficulty in a stronger light than the prevailing tendency in modern times summarily to reject any account of the occurrence of a miracle without even deigning to inquire into the evidence on which it rests; and this feeling is far from being confined to unbelievers. The Church of Rome professes to possess a continuous miraculous attestation; but whenever we hear of a Romish miracle we set it aside at once without troubling ourselves to inquire into its evidence. This tendency is in some degree increased by the unquestionable fact that this Church has encouraged the belief in miracles which are notoriously false, and therefore stands before us in the character of a convicted impostor. Still we entertain much the same feelings with respect to all similar accounts, be they reported by whom they may.
Men would new accept the reality of a miracle only on the very strongest evidence that it was not the result of delusion or imposture. From these difficulties moral miracles are exempt.
The difficulty which was felt in resting the proof of the divine origin of Christianity on miracles alone is shown by the line of reasoning for the most part adopted by the early apologists, who lived in daily contact with the heathen, when they endeavoured to recommend Christianity to their acceptance. It is evident that with them miracles occupied a very different place in the controversy from that which has been assigned to them by modern writers. One feels a difficulty in believing that if Paley’s argument had been placed before a Father of the second or third century, it would have commended itself to him as an efficient mode of persuading an unbeliever to embrace the Christian faith. With them the moral aspects of Christianity preponderate over the miraculous, as the chief means of winning the assent of the heathen to the Gospel.
3. The usual proof which is adduced for miracles in our common evidential treatises consists in marshalling a very complicated mass of historical evidence, requiring a course of special training for its due appreciation. This alone forms a sufficient reason why it should not occupy the van of the Christian position, while other evidences, capable of a more direct appreciation, are equally available. It is evident that the number of those who have either the ability, the time, or the means of sifting a body of evidence of this description, is comparatively small, and consequently all that others can do, is to take it at secondhand. For example: one of the necessary media of proof for this purpose is to establish the authenticity and genuineness of the Gospels by quotations from the Fathers. A mass of evidence of this description involves the careful balancing of a large number of probabilities, and in the case before us their complication is considerable; and of the effect of the whole the ordinary reader feels himself to be a very imperfect judge. But the whole current of modern thought is steadily moving in an opposite direction. It justly refuses to rest its religious convictions on the authority of others, and demands, on a subject of such profound importance, evidence the value of which each individual can estimate for himself.
I merely adduce this as one out of many difficulties, in which the historical argument, as it is usually set forth, is involved; and which render it highly dangerous to rest upon it the chief weight of the defence of Christianity. The entire field of evidence, as we know, extends over a large body of literature, and fully to estimate its value requires the exercise of a practised judgment. This alone constitutes a decisive reason why, if we can adduce proof of the operation of a superhuman power in Christianity, capable of easy verification in the history of the past and in the facts of the present, we should assign to it the place which the argument from miracles now holds in our ordinary evidential treatises.*
*It has not been sufficiently observed that evidence which may at some former period have been perfectly satisfactory as proving a divine commission to those to whom it was vouchsafed, may have lost much of its force by lapse of time. It is one thing to witness a miracle, and from it to infer the presence of a divine power, and quite another thing to believe, as the result of carefully balancing a long and complicated mass of historical testimony, that a miracle has been performed at some distant period of time. Besides, as many of the witnesses die without leaving any record of their testimony, the evidence is less powerful to us than it must have been to contemporaries, who had the entire evidence before them. It follows, therefore, even if it could be proved that miracles formed the chief attestation of Christianity in the Apostolic age, that it is by no means a necessary result of this that they should form its sole and all-commanding attestation eighteen centuries after they have ceased to be performed. Christianity, however, possesses this most remarkable characteristic. Precisely in proportion as its miracles have diminished in evidential value through lapse of time and the complicated methods thereby rendered necessary to prove their occurrence, the evidence derived from what I have designated its moral miracles becomes stronger and stronger, being testified to alike by the history of the past, and the facts of the present. Christianity is in fact the only religion in the world, the moral evidence of which increases by lapse of time. Contrast with this Mahometanism, the moral evidence of which, if it ever had any, is steadily diminishing.
4. The evidential value of miracles operates less strongly on a large number of minds at the present day, because we have not only to prove that those who have reported them honestly believed that they witnessed them; but that they were at the same time not labouring under any of those mental hallucinations which have unquestionably led persons under their influence to mistake the subjective creations of their own imagination for objective realities. Modern research has proved that such phenomena are not uncommon; and that they have exerted no inconsiderable influence in originating many of the delusions of the past, which were once assigned to the effect of deliberate imposture. Not only is it the case that a large number of occurrences have been reported as true, which rational men now refuse to accept as objective facts; but some of them rest on an attestation far stronger than would be necessary to establish the truth of an ordinary event. In several cases the honesty of the reporters is unquestionable. Consequently the only way of accounting for the belief in them is to assume, that under certain states of mental hallucination, the reality of which has been fully recognized by modern science, they have mistaken impressions purely subjective for external realities. The importance of this is increased, because it is a well ascertained fact that persons are capable of labouring under delusions on particular subjects, while in other respects they are mentally sound.
This principle has been applied as the explanation of some well attested narratives of miracles in past ages, the honesty of the reporters of which it would be difficult to controvert, but the reality of which it would be equally difficult to believe. But we need not wander over the ages of the past for examples of well attested miraculous narratives. At the present day the recently reported miracles in France, which, while they rest on a very high form of attestation, probably none of us accept as objective realities, are instances in point. Still more so are the phenomena of spiritualism, occurring as they are alleged to do, in the very midst of us. These latter, as far as mere attestation goes, unquestionably rest on one which is extremely strong. Their reality is affirmed, not only by large numbers of persons of every variety of mental cultivation, but by men who have been accustomed to estimate legal evidence, and by some who deservedly hold a high rank in departments of physical science, and cannot but be well acquainted with scientific processes of investigation. As their honesty is unquestionable, and on the supposition that they are not the dupes of fraud,* which in some cases is highly improbable, it follows that if the phenomena which they believe themselves to have witnessed are unreal, their belief in them must be owing to their having mistaken subjective impressions for external realities. I have selected the case of spiritualism as an illustration, because it is evident that if we view the question as one of attestation pure and simple, banishing all other considerations, some of its phenomena rest on a testimony which is unusually strong. I propose to discriminate between it and the evidence of Our Lord’s resurrection when I discuss the theory of visions in my seventh Lecture. My object in noticing the subject here is to point out the difficulty and complexity which the existence of such beliefs imports into the historical argument, if we view it as a simple question of attestation.
*I state this on the authority of Dr. Carpenter. While he attributes a large number of these phenomena to fraud, and others to mesmeric influences, he is of opinion that there is a considerable residuum which it is impossible to refer to imposture as their cause.
It has now therefore become necessary to show, not only that the reporters of miracles believed that they actually witnessed them, but also that it was impossible that, in accordance with the explanations which an eminent scientific authority [Dr. Carpenter’s Mental Physiology.] has given of some well-attested spiritualistic phenomena, the belief could have originated in mistaking subjective impressions for external realities. It would be absurd to shut our eyes to the fact that the proof of miracles which have occurred in the distant past, if we view the question exclusively as one of testimony, is rendered far less convincing to a considerable number of minds by the existence of widespread delusions of this description, of which men of unquestionable intelligence, and no small amount of scientific eminence, are a prey. Still further: it complicates the entire question by imposing on us the necessity of clearly discriminating between the evidence of the Christian miracles and those which, although they rest on a strong attestation, we reject as unrealities. These considerations alone furnish the strongest reason why the argument from miracles, as it has been usually stated, should no longer occupy the van of our evidential position, but that it should give place to one which is capable of verification, namely, the superhuman action of Christ in history.
5. Our increased acquaintance with the power of the mind to produce important results by its action on our bodily frames has tended to produce in many a distrust in the evidence of miracles alleged to have been wrought in distant ages, the precise character of which it is now impossible to submit to such a rigid scrutiny, as we would any miracles alleged to have been performed at the present day, before admitting their reality. The limits of this power are unknown; but it is unquestionably extensive and capable of producing results which to ordinary minds would seem miraculous. The eminent physiologist above referred to [Mental Physiology.] has expressed his belief that the stigmata, alleged to have been produced on the bodies of some mediaeval saints, were realities, and that a purely mental influence is adequate to produce them. On such a point I can only quote his authority; but it is unquestionable that within certain limitations, the power is a real one, and capable of producing results which in former ages would have been deemed miraculous. This being so, it places a certain class of cures in an ambiguous position, and deprives them of much of their value as evidential miracles. It is clear, however, that while some of the miracles recorded in the New Testament may be referred to influences of this kind, others lie quite beyond the power of any action of the mind on the body to have effected. Still it cannot be denied that such phenomena, the belief entertained by large numbers of intelligent men in the phenomena of spiritualism, and other kindred delusions, and the existence of a considerable number of well attested miraculous narratives in the history of. the past, the objective reality of which it is impossible to admit, have tended to weaken the force of the argument from miracles, and to increase the difficulty of proof, rendering it necessary, if the entire weight of the Christian argument is to be made to rest on it, clearly to discriminate between the evidence of the one set of miraculous narratives and of the other. The complexity of such an argument is, I think, a sufficient reason why we should place a body of evidence which admits of an easy verification in the forefront of the Christian position, and assign to that of miracles a collateral and subordinate one.
By way of illustration of my general position let us suppose a well informed missionary, endeavouring to win over to the acceptance of Christianity an intelligent Hindoo Theist, well acquainted with all our modern objections. Is it conceivable that he would begin by placing before him the argument from miracles, as it is set forth in our common evidential treatises? Ought he not rather to place in the forefront of his reasoning the moral and spiritual aspects of Christianity, assigning the first place to that mighty energy which eighteen centuries of history testify to be centred in the person of its Founder? To take the former course would not only render it necessary for his proposed convert to enter into the discussion of all the a priori difficulties with which the question of miracles is attended, but also to undertake an intricate and laborious historical investigation, not only for the purpose of estimating the value of the evidence in favour of the Christian miracles but of discriminating between them and the mass of false miracles with which history abounds. To plunge an intelligent heathen into a vast range of inquiries of this description would surely be very unlikely to result in his speedily embracing the Christian faith. But if the order in which the Christian argument is placed in our common evidential treatises would be an unwise mode of placing the claims of Christianity before an intelligent heathen, it surely cannot be a right mode of presenting it for the conviction of unbelievers, the confirmation of waverers, or the strengthening of the Christian in his faith.
In making these observations, it is by no means my intention to depreciate the argument from miracles, which I hope to show in subsequent Lectures to possess a real value when assigned to its due place, in proper subordination to that course of reasoning which the exigencies of modern thought imperatively demand. For this purpose, therefore, in conformity with Our Lord’s precept, “to bring out of our treasures things both new and old,” I propose in the three following Lectures to state the outlines of the argument which I contend should be placed in the forefront of our evidential position. In the next three, I propose to examine the argument for miracles with a view of strengthening those portions of it which the results of modern investigation have shown to be defective. My last Lecture will be devoted to the consideration of the value of existing theories of inspiration and the relation in which they stand to modern science.
The position which I have taken, that the essence of Christianity as distinct from its adjuncts, consists not in a mere body of abstract doctrinal statements, or moral precepts, but in the manifestation of Jesus Christ, his teaching and historic life, is so important, whether we view it in its apologetic or in its theological aspect, as to render it desirable to adduce a larger body of proof in support of it than would have been possible to bring forward in the Lecture itself. I have affirmed that the Christian revelation is not only made by Jesus Christ, but consists in his person, his actions and his teaching: in other words that he is an actual manifestation of the divine in the sphere of the human, revealing to us the innermost aspect of the moral and spiritual character of God, as far as it can be conceived of by finite intelligence. If this position is correctly taken, it has not only a most important bearing on our evidential position, but on the entire range of Christian theology. On the latter subject however I must not enter; but confine my observations to the former.
If the writings of St. John form a legitimate portion of the New Testament canon, the truth of this position must be considered as firmly established. I will therefore adduce the chief points of the evidence which they supply.
The introduction to the first epistle affirms in the most direct terms that the Christian Revelation is made in the historic life and actions of Jesus Christ; that this constitutes the truth which underlies the entire letter, and that its subsequent portions were intended to unfold it, and to form a commentary on it.
“That which was from the beginning,” says he, “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life; for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full.”
Nothing can be more explicit than this statement. The following points are either directly affirmed in it, or deducible from it by the strictest rules of logical inference.
1. That the subject on which the author of the Epistle was going to address those to whom he wrote was “concorning the Word of life,” whom he identified with the historic Jesus.
2. That this “Word of life” was from the beginning, having existed prior to the manifestation of Jesus Christ in history.
3. That this divine life which dwelt in the Logos was manifested to men in the person of Jesus Christ by the Incarnation.
4. That this divine life took so substantial a form that the Apostle had seen it with his eyes, looked upon it, and handled it with his hands. Further, he had had the testimony of his ears to the reality of this divine manifestation: for he had listened throughout the period of his ministry to its heavenly utterances.
5. That the actions and teaching of Jesus Christ constituted this divine life of the Logos, which was originally with the Father, and in Jesus Christ became manifested to men.
6. That the great end and purpose of his Apostolic ministry was to testify to the reality, the facts, and the teachings of this divine manifestation. “We have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” Now the only mode in which it was possible for the Apostle to “show that eternal life” to others was by furnishing details of the actions and teaching of that person in whom it was exhibited. Consequently, as he affirms that his Apostolic ministry was a bearing witness to it, it must evidently have consisted in furnishing to those to whom he ministered details of its manifestation, and in commenting on their meaning. From this it follows that the details of this divine life which the Apostle communicated to the Church formed the essence and foundation of the Christianity which he taught.
7. The communication of what he had seen and heard, was capable of imparting to those to whom it was addressed, communion with the Father, with His Son Jesus Christ, and with one another; in other words, it formed the bond which united the Church together and the basis on which it rested.
Nothing can be more explicit than these statements. They prove that the Apostolic writer certainly viewed the Christian Revelation as consisting in the Incarnation, and the historic manifestation of the divine character and perfections in the life of Jesus Christ. “The life was manifested and we have seen it, and bear witness.” This is his fundamental conception of Christianity, which forms a striking contrast to the modern popular conceptions of it which are usually designated “plans of salvation.” With statements thus explicit it will be superfluous to adduce further evidence from the Epistle that such were the views of its author, for the entire writing is a commentary on it with the introduction as its text. The concluding words will be sufficient. “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” Words cannot be more explicit.
I now proceed to consider the testimony furnished by the Gospel. Its author makes the following affirmations in the prologue: – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him (πάντα δι αυτου εγένετο), and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.” ... “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.” ... “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”
The passage here quoted, with its context, makes it certain that the author’s conception of what constituted the fundamental essence of Christianity was:
First, that all manifestations of the eternal Father were communicated through the divine Logos.
Secondly, that He was both the life and the light of men.
Thirdly, that He became man in the person of Jesus Christ.
Fourthly, that the glory which shone forth in Jesus Christ in the Incarnation was the glory of the only begotten of the Father, of whose perfections, incomprehensible to finite intelligences, He is the sole and adequate manifestation: or, to put the same thought in other words, Jesus Christ in His human manifestation is the objective revelation of the Godhead.
Fifthly, that this revelation was an objective revelation. The Apostle in his personal intercourse with Jesus Christ had beheld in Him “the glory of the only begotten of the Father,” whose life and actions had been the revelation of the Father to men.
Such statements can leave no doubt that the writer of this Gospel viewed the essence of the Christian revelation as consisting in the person and work of Jesus Christ Our Lord, His teaching, His life, death, and resurrection. And not only is this so, but he has represented Our Lord as affirming the same truth in the most decisive language, of which the following are instances. “Philip saith unto Him, Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, have 1. been so long time with you, and yet hest thou not known Me, Philip ! he that bath seen Me bath seen the Father, and how sagest thou, Show us the Father. Believe Me, that I+am in the Father ánd the Father in Me.”—John 14:8–11.
If these words area real utterance of Our Lord, nothing can be more conclusive than that He claimed to constitute revelation in His own person. They form a reply to a direct request made by Philip for a revelation of the Father. “Lord show us the Father, and it sufficeth us!” Our Lord in express words affirms that He constituted such a revelation, “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.” “From henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.” “Believest thou not that I am in the Father and the Father in Me.” No words could convey a more direct affirmation that the apostles during their converse with Our Lord had beheld in His works and character a perfect revelation of the Father. Again, Jesus stood acid cried, “he that believeth on Me, believeth not on Me, but on Him that sent Me, and he that seeth Me, seeth Him that sent Me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth in Me should not abide in darkness.” – John 12:44–46. Again, “I am the light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” – John 8:12. “Then said they unto Him, Where is Thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know Me, nor my Father, for if ye had known Me, ye should have known my Father also,” – 8:19. “If I do not the works of my Father, believe Me not, but if I do, though ye believe not Me, believe the works, that ye may know and believe that the Father is in Me and I in Him.” – (10:37–38).
These passages all affirm the same truth, that the perfections of the Father are manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the revealer of the Father; in fact, He affirms that he that sees Him, sees Him that sent Him; and that the knowledge of Him is the knowledge of the Father. In this capacity He is the light of the world, and the light of life. These assertions, when put together, constitute a most direct affirmation that He is the objective revelation of God. The author of this Gospel also ascribes to Our Lord a number of other assertions respecting Himself and His relation to the Father, all of which presuppose the same truth, but which it will be unnecessary for me to cite.
A similar view runs through the entire writings of St. Paul. The passages which assert that Revelation is made in Christ are exceedingly numerous, and what is greatly to the purpose, the allusions are not only direct but incidental, and made in every variety of form. Of these latter I cite a few examples as showing the extent to which the conception underlies the whole range of the Apostle’s thought. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,” 2 Cor. 5:19. “For of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, that according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” 1 Cor. 1:30, 31. In whom we have redemption. Eph. 1:7. In whom we have attained an inheritance.” 1:11. “The spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” 1:17. The working of God’s mighty power “is wrought in Christ.” 1:30. “In Christ, ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh.” Eph. 2:13. “In Him were all things created.” Col. 1:16. “In Him should all the fullness (i.e. the fullness of the divine perfections), dwell.” Col. 1:19. “In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Col. 2:3. “Ye are complete in Him.” Col. 2:10. “The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love in Christ Jesus.” 1 Tim. 1:14. “Live godly in Christ Jesus.” 2 Tim. 3:12. “The redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 3:24. “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 8:2. “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus.” Rom. 14:14. “The veil is done away in Christ.” 2 Cor. 3:14. “We preach Christ Jesus the Lord.” 2 Cor. 4:5. “The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. 4:6. All these passages in various forms affirm that Revelation was given in the person of Jesus Christ; and their incidental character proves the intense familiarity of the idea to the Apostle’s mind, far more than a number of directly dogmatical assertions. They exhibit it as directly forming the basis on which his religious life was founded. They are consistent with one idea, and with one only, that Revelation was given in his person.
Equally important are some of his assertions when speaking of the progressive character of revelation, and of the purposes formed in the divine mind respecting it. These must be considered in greater detail. Thus we have the remarkable assertion in Rom. 16:25, 26. “Now to Him who is of power to stablish you according to my Gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began (εν αιωνίοις χρόνοις, in the eternal ages), but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.”
This passage enunciates the following truths:—
1. Revelation is no afterthought of the Divine mind, but a part of His eternal purpose, forming with creation one great harmonious plan.
2. It has been kept secret as a hidden truth (μυστήριον) in the divine mind during the eternal ages, but has been manifested in the proclamation of Jesus the Messiah (εν κηρύγματι Ιησου Χριστου).
3. That this revelation is made known to all nations for the obedience of faith; and is a manifestation of the wisdom of God through Jesus Christ.
In conformity with this view the Apostle at the very commencement of the epistle declares that the subject of his writing was “concerning Jesus Christ our Lord.” In Ephesians 3:8–11 he makes the following statement: “Whereof (the Gospel) I am made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me, by the effectual working of His power. Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world (απο των αιώνων) has been hid in God who created all things by (ιν) Jesus Christ, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Similar assertions occur in chap. 1:8, “Wherein He hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will according to the good pleasure, which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in earth, even in Him ... That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him ... according to the working of His mighty power which He wrought in Christ.”
These passages are so important in relation to the present argument that I will enunciate in as many distinct propositions the various affirmations which they contain.
1. They affirm that the Revelation made in Jesus Christ formed one of the eternal purposes of the divine mind, coeval with those which produced his work of Creation; in fact that Creation and Redemption form portions of the same great whole, and that the latter is not a mere remedial measure superinduced in consequence of the failure of the purpose intended by the former.
2. That the Incarnation is the manifestation of this eternal purpose existing in the divine mind.
3. That unsearchable riches both of wisdom and goodness as yet undisclosed in God’s creative work, were manifested in the incarnate Christ.
4. That so entirely coeval in the divine purposes are Creation and the divine self-manifestation in Christ, that the creative work of God itself was given in Him “Who created all timings in Jesus Christ.”
5. That the purpose and effects of the Incarnation are not limited to man, but on the contrary, it is intended to be a manifestation to “the principalities and powers in heavenly places of the manifold wisdom of God.”
6. The ultimate purpose of the Incarnation is, that God might “in the dispensation of the fullness of the times gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, in Him.”
The views thus propounded by the Apostle stand in striking contrast to various schemes of salvation which have become widely diffused by the influence of popular theology, and which profess to give a complete rationale of redemption. Their general theory is that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is a kind of afterthought in the Divine mind, to remedy the failure of His original creative purpose, occasioned by the Fall; in fact, a scheme devised for the mending His marred plan of Creation. Still coarser views of the divine plan in redemption have been extensively popular, exhibiting it in the vulgar form of a bargain between two independent parties, each of whom has thereby become bound to perform his part of the contract. The whole has proceeded from the assumption that it is possible accurately to represent the purposes of the Divine mind in the formularies of human thought. Such theories belong to that worst form of rationalism which makes man and his imperfections the accurate measures of the divine purposes and modus operandi, being closely analogous to that which in a lower stage of mental development is the parent of idolatry, and which has invested deity with some of the worst attributes of human nature, representing God as altogether such a one as ourselves. These assertions of the Apostle as to the extent of the divine purposes in Revelation are of the utmost importance in relation to the subject before us, for nothing has more damaged Christianity with thoughtful men than the idea which has been so generally adopted by various forms of popular Christianity, that these so-called schemes of salvation, not only embody the Christianity of the New Testament, but are coextensive with the divine purpose in Revelation.
Assertions of a similar character are made by the Apostle in the Epistle to the Colossians. Thus he writes: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, Who is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of every creature (πρωτόκος πάσης κτίσευς, the Firstborn before all creation); for in him (εν αυτω) were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers, all things were created by (δι αυτου, through Him), and for Him (εις αυτον, in reference to Him); and He is before all things, and by Him (εν αυτω, in him) all things consist: and He is the head of the body, the Church, who is the beginning (αοχη, the principle of things) the first-born from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him should all the fullness dwell; and having made peace by the blood of His cross, through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, through him, whether they are things on earth, or things in heaven.” Col. 1:14–20. Again: “That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledging of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. As ye therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him, rooted and built up in him and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ, for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and ye are complete in him which is the head of all principality and power.” Col 2:2–10.
These passages make it certain that the Apostle contemplated the person of Jesus Christ as the objective revelation of the Godhead. On this point he lays down the following propositions:—
1. That the fullness of the divine perfections abides in the Incarnate person of Jesus Christ our Lord.
2. That He in His incarnate person is the image (εικων) of the invisible God.
3. That all creation has been constituted in Him, not only this world, but the entire Universe of Being.
4. That He is the instrumental agent (δι αυτου) through whom the creative work has been effected: that it has been formed in reference to Him; and that He had a prior existence to it.
5. That the same person who has been the source of Creation, the instrument through whom it has been effected, and the purpose towards which it tends, is He through whom the revelations of the Father have been communicated, and who has carried out the great work of Redemption.
6. That through the work of Redemption it is the divine purpose to reconcile all things unto Himself, whether things on earth, or things in heaven.
This last assertion proves that according to the views of the Apostle the effects of the Incarnation were not limited to the human race, but would be consummated by uniting to God all things in heaven and earth.
These propositions if accepted as the genuine utterances of the Apostle Paul, fully prove that according to the views entertained by him, the person of Jesus Christ our Lord constitutes the great objective revelation of God, which has manifested forth the divine character during the past and the present, and is destined still further to unfold it in the ages of the future. It is true that the genuineness of the two Epistles which contain the most definite affirmations on this point has been disputed by a number of unbelieving critics, for which one of the chief reasons is their advanced Christology. But although the statements in the other Epistles are somewhat less definite in form, the occasion and purpose of writing them not having called them forth with the same definiteness, yet there are statements, both in the Epistle to the Romans and those to the Corinthians, and even to the Galatians, which prove that the Apostle regarded the Christian revelation as centred in the person of our Lord. The reference which I have above made to these Epistles is far more than sufficient to prove that their author entertained the same views as are more formally enunciated in these latter writings. Whether Paul or any one else was the author of the Epistles to Timothy, these likewise contain a strong affirmation of the same truth. “Great,” says he, “is the mystery of godliness, God (or who) was manifested in the flesh.” If we suppose these Epistles to have been the work of another writer, this would prove the wide acceptance of this view of the essence of Christianity in the Church.
I have not yet referred to the opinions of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, on account of the doubts as to its authorship. It is, however, important, because, if not written by the Apostle, it proves that the Pauline and Johannine views on this subject were accepted by other sections of the Christian Church; for whoever may have been its author, its early date is unquestionable. For this purpose it will be sufficient to cite the opening of the first chapter: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners (πολυμερως και πολυτρόπως, implying the imperfections of former revelations) spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir (κληρονόμος) of all things, by whom (δι ου) also he made the worlds (τους αιωνας επόιησεν, constituted the ages), who being the brightness of his glory (απαύγασμα της δόξης, the outshining of his glory), and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, having by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high.” This passage is a direct affirmation of the Pauline positions. It declares, first, as distinct from the partial manifestations which God made of Himself in former ages in the prophets, that in these last days He has spoken to us in His Son; secondly, that the manifestation in the Son differs from that made in the prophets as the divine differs from the human, He being the inheritor of all things in whom God has constituted the ages; and thirdly, that the Son, in whom God has made this last revelation, is “the shining forth of the divine glories,” the precise resemblance of the divine subsistence, the inheritor of all things, through whom the divine activities in the former ages have been manifested, and that He is the person through whom God has effected His work of providence and redemption. The whole passage therefore affirms, in the most unmistakeable language, that the divine person of Jesus Christ constitutes the objective revelation of God, a view which is consistently carried out through the entire Epistle.
It will be superfluous for me to cite passages from the Apocalypse in proof that similar views were entertained by its author, because it is the idea which underlies the entire book, and forms the groundwork of all its visions. Throughout them Jesus Christ is depicted as the only Revealer of the Father. A single instance will be sufficient. A book containing the divine decrees is represented as seen in the right hand of the Creator of all things. A proclamation is made to every creature in heaven and earth to come forward and establish such a claim of worthiness as would entitle him to take possession of the book, and unfold the divine decrees. All creation fails to establish such a claim. But no sooner does the Incarnate Lamb appear than a universal chorus of acclamation from all God’s creatures pronounces Him worthy; and from henceforth He assumes throughout the whole book, which is the revelation of Jesus Christ, the office of the Revealer of the Father.
The remaining writings of the New Testament, with the exception of the Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, are very brief. One of them, however, the first Epistle of St. Peter, contains an unquestionable reference to the same truth.
“Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed that not unto themselves, but unto us, they did minister the things which are now reported unto you, by them that have preached the Gospel unto you, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, which things the angels desire to look into.” (1:11, 12.)
This passage makes the definite affirmation that the angels desire to look into the things “which were reported by those who have preached the Gospel unto you.” From this two inferences follow. First, that the Christian revelation forms a matter of interest to other beings than men. Secondly, that it consists of a number of objective facts in connection with our Lord’s divine person, viz., “The things reported unto you by them that have preached the Gospel unto you, which things the angels desire to look into.”
This last point is in strict agreement with the remaining contents of the Chapter. The Epistle of James, which contains not a single statement which can be viewed as theoretical, is without any allusion to the subject.
We now come to the Acts of the Apostles. Its subject matter, which is to record the chief incidents in the planting of Christianity, would naturally afford to the writer little opportunity of making definite statements on the point before us. One idea, however, which is closely connected with it, runs through the entire book. The writer affirms that the one great subject of the Apostles’ preaching was, that Jesus was the Christ. Such an affirmation proves that certain historic facts connected with the life of Jesus must have been regarded by them as forming the essence of Christianity. This idea is by the writer identified with Christianity itself. Thus he says of the Apostles that they daily, and from house to house, ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus the Christ.
The only portions of the New Testament requiring any further observations are the Synoptic Gospels. It will be objected that this idea is wanting in them and in the Epistle of James; and consequently that it is not an original, but a subsequent development of Christianity, due to the Johannine and Pauline parties in the Church. To which I reply,
First, that although there is only one statement on this subject in the Synoptics, equally formal with that in the fourth Gospel, it is inaccurate to assert that the idea does not underlie them. Both Matthew and Luke record an utterance of our Lord respecting Himself, which approaches very closely to the strongest affirmations of the fourth Gospel. “At that tine Jesus answered, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knoweth who the Son is but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son; and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” Into the doctrinal statements of this passage I need not at present enter. It is sufficient for my present purpose that it distinctly affirms that the Son is the one Revealer of the Father; and that in terms quite as plain as any which we read in the fourth Gospel, or in the Johannine and Pauline epistles, or in the book of the Revelation.
With this express statement another trait which underlies the whole of these Gospels is in strict agreement, and is only explicable on the supposition of the truth of the assertion in question. I allude to the habitual self-assertion of our Lord, and to the fact that He is uniformly depicted as deriving the whole of His teaching from the sole source of His own self-consciousness. When we consider the mildness, unobtrusiveness, and humility, which these Gospels uniformly attribute to Him, His self-assertion is the most striking phenomenon in all history, and if it had been assigned to any other man, however great, it would have been simply extravagant. But it fits in with exquisite harmony with all the other divine aspects of His character, and can only be explained on the principle that he felt within Him the direct self-consciousness of the presence of the divine. Hence it was that throughout His teaching He referred to no other authority than His own. As He is uniformly depicted by the Synoptics, His consciousness of the divine was immediate and direct, and He felt within Himself an inherent worthiness before which every merely human tie must yield. This trait which underlies the entire structure of the Synoptics, is not only in strict conformity with the great utterance above referred to, but presupposes its truth. I might easily have adduced a far larger mass of evidence on this subject; but I submit that what I have brought forward is abundantly sufficient for my purpose, and proves beyond all question that according to the views of the writers of the New Testament, the person and work of Jesus Christ constitute the very centre and essence of Christianity, and that the Christian revelation is made in His divine person.
A vast amount of confusion has been introduced into the controversy about miracles by the vague use of such terms as “Nature,” “Natural,” “Supernatural,” “The Order of Nature,” “Law,” “Force,” &c., without any attempt to assign to them a definite and consistent meaning. In a controversy of this kind, involving as it must a large number of abstract reasonings, it is of the utmost importance to keep the signification of the chief terms which we employ in it free from ambiguity. These terms, however, have a great variety of meaning, and yet they are habitually used as if they were terms of the utmost precision. Webster’s Dictionary assigns no less than twelve distinct meanings to the word “Nature,” fourteen to “Natural,” and twenty-seven to “Law.” The Duke of Argyll tells us that even in scientific treatises the term “law” is used in not less than five different senses, viz.:—
First – When applied simply to an observed order of facts.
Secondly – To that order as involving the action of some force, or forces, of which nothing more can be known.
Thirdly – As applied to individual forces, the measure of whose operation has been more or less clearly defined or ascertained.
Fourthly – As applied to those combinations of forces which have reference to the fulfillment of purpose or the discharge of functions.
Fifthly – As applied to abstract conceptions of the mind, not corresponding with any actual phenomena, but deduced therefrom as axioms of thought, necessary to an understanding of them. Law in this sense is a reduction of the phenomena not merely to an order of facts but to an order of thought.
Such are the various senses in which this word is employed even by scientific men; yet the Duke is not certain that he has enumerated them all. As this term enters as one of the most important factors into the discussion about miracles, we need not wonder that its ambiguity has opened wide the gate for the introduction of a large number of fallacies.
Equally ambiguous is the term “Nature” and its compounds. As however only two or three of its various significations enter largely into this question, it will be unnecessary to enumerate the others.
First – The term “Nature” is used to denote the material Universe, its necessary forces and laws. This is a class of phenomena definite and distinct, and if its use were confined to them it would be free from ambiguity.
But it is also used to denote another class of phenomena, separated from these by the widest interval, viz., man, his intellectual and moral nature, including his volition. Thus phenomena become complicated together under a common term, which differ from one another as widely as freedom and necessity, the material and moral worlds, with the laws which regulate their action. It is even not unfrequently used to include everything which exists.
When the same term is indiscriminately used to denote phenomena thus widely differing in character, inaccuracy of reasoning is the inevitable result. But when two terms as ambiguous as “nature” and “law” become complicated together, as is necessarily the case in this discussion, the confusion is greatly increased. The whole controversy is chiefly made up of questions respecting the Natural and the Supernatural; whether miracles are the results of a power within, or without nature; whether they are contrary to the laws of nature, or are violations, or suspensions of them, or are violations of its order; or involve the action of some higher natural law; or the introduction of a new force into nature, or whether on these or any other grounds miracles are impossible, irrational, or incredible. This being so, it is evident that if we include under the same terms things so widely different in conception as the phenomena of the material and the moral worlds, nothing but hopeless confusion of thought can be the result. The whole question in fact turns on the meaning which we attach to the terms “Nature,” Natural,” “Supernatural,” “Order of Nature,” “Force,” and “Law.” This last term is constantly used to cover two conceptions which are radically distinct. The first of these is when the word is used to denote an invariable sequence of events. This is unquestionably the more correct meaning to attach to it; and if its use was rigidly limited to it, it would save both theologians and men of science no small amount of useless discussion. The term “law” in its primary meaning is only applicable to man and his actions. It denotes a rule of conduct which he is bound to obey. Hence it has been applied by analogy to the orderly sequences of events in the Material Universe, which are said to observe a certain law. This simply means, that they occur in an invariable order, which we call the law of their recurrence. But nothing is more common in this controversy than to speak of the laws of nature as if they possessed an efficient power, or in ether words to introduce into the conception of law the idea of causation. Yet nothing can be more certain than that in the proper sense of the term, the laws of nature are incapable of effecting any result whatever. They simply denote the invariable sequences of natural phenomena, and nothing more. They are wholly distinct from the causes of things, and those active energies in the Universe which we designate forces. Its forces are the efficient causes; its laws, the invariable sequences of the phenomena which result from the action of its forces. Thus the force of gravitation is quite distinct from the law of gravitation. The force is the active energy; the law is the invariable order of phenomena.
From this simple and obvious meaning the term “law” has become complicated with the conception of cause or force, and thus the laws of nature are habitually spoken of even by scientific men as though they were efficient causes, and language is used respecting them which amounts to little short of their personification. This confusion of thought is brought about as follows: – there is a principle in our minds (how it has originated is immaterial to the subject we are now considering) which irresistibly leads us to believe in the continuity of phenomena; and that a set of sequences which have invariably occurred in times past, will recur in times future. This principle lies at the foundation of the inductive process, and its validity depends on the assumption of its truth. It has been expressed in various forms, the most simple of which is that which affirms the truth of the principle of the continuity of nature; or that like causes must produce like effects. For example, we infer because the sun has risen every day in times past, that it will rise every day inn times future, and we designate the sun’s rising and setting for all future time a law of nature. In this way the conception of necessity, causation, or efficiency becomes mixed up with that of law, instead of simply denoting what it really is, a succession of invariable sequences. Hence when a particular class of events is spoken of as a law of nature, the idea of necessity is superadded to that of invariable sequence.
Thus it is said to be a law of Nature that all men must die. What does such an affirmation mean? It affirms as an observed fact that all men have died; and infers on the principle of continuity that what has taken place in the past, will take place in the future. In consequence of this inference, the proposition becomes altered in form from “all men have died,” to “all men must die;” and thus the conceptions of necessity and causation become confused with the simple one of law as an observed order of phenomena. The proposition “All men must die” involves several assumptions, among the most important of which is, that the same causes must produce like effects in the future, unless other forces interpose which are capable of modifying their action. In this manner the term “law” has been extensively employed both by theologians and men of science to denote not only a set of invariable sequences of phenomena, but the causes which produce them, and the forces which energize in them. In this way it is that great confusion of thought has been introduced into the controversy about miracles. We are told that the laws of nature have effected this or that result; that they act with irresistible power, and a multitude of similar expressions are habitually applied to them, whereas the only active energies are, not the laws, but the forces of nature, and the laws by themselves effect nothing. Thus man’s mortality is said to be a law of nature; i.e. it is an event which has invariably happened in the past, and which on the principle of continuity, we infer, will always happen in the future. But this law does not cause the death of any one, but certain forces which energize, or which fail to energize within us. Even in the primary sense of the word, law, as a rule of human conduct, can effect nothing; the only things which are efficient are the penalties which attend its violation. What effect this confusion of terms has on the clearness and precision of scientific reasonings it would be presumptuous in me to offer an opinion; but in discussions about the possibility of miracles, involving, as they do, the most intricate questions of causation and efficiency, the only result of using the term to denote two such fundamentally distinct classes of phenomena is to invite confusion of thought.
I will now adduce a few examples of the confusion arising from this indiscriminate use of the term “Nature” in union with that of “law”.
One of the moot points of this controversy is, whether miracles are contrary to nature, or involve violations, or suspensions of its laws, and it has been affirmed that it is essential to the conception of a miracle that it should do so. On the other hand the opponents of Revelation affirm that this renders them absolutely incredible. It is evident however that when such a question is raised, the all-important subject for consideration is, what nature are they alleged to be contrary to, or what are the laws which they violate. Nor is it less important that our conceptions should be clear as to what distinguishes that kind of event which we call a miracle from all other occurrences. What then do we mean by a miracle? Viewed merely as an occurrence in the physical universe, it is an event of a very unusual character, for which none of its known forces are sufficient to account. If such an event can be proved to have actually occurred, it leaves only two alternatives, either that its existence must have been due to the action of some unknown force which has manifested itself on this special occasion only, or to the energy of a Being who is able either to combine the existing forces in the Universe in such a manner as to produce the event in question; or to effect the same result by calling into existence a new force; or by the direct agency of his creative will. Viewed merely as an objective occurrence, therefore, there is no difference between a miracle and a very unusual event. The distinction is a creation of the mind, and consists in the fact that the occurrence of the very uncommon event has been subsequently accounted for by the action of the known forces of the Universe, while the other cannot.
Another important factor in the idea of a miracle is that its occurrence is ushered in by a prediction that it is going to happen, and thus it becomes a manifestation of purpose. Theologians however have greatly increased the perplexity of the entire question by introducing into their definition of a miracle some account of the mode of the divine activity by which they suppose it to have been effected. Thus miracles have been defined to be events which involve violations or suspensions of the laws of nature, or are brought about by the action of a higher law of nature on a lower one, or are contrary to nature, or are brought about by the simple energy of God’s creative will. Nothing can be more unwise than to introduce such conceptions into the idea of a miracle. It would only be justifiable if we were acquainted with the modus operandi which God would employ in the performance of one. But of this we are from the nature of the case necessarily ignorant. It is impossible for us to have any abstract knowledge whether God would bring such an occurrence about, by a combination of existing forces, or by neutralizing the action of one force by the superior energy of another, or by the direct action of his creative will. This being so, it is hardly possible to pursue a method which can involve us in greater difficulties than to introduce into our definition of a miracle some theory as to God’s modus operandi in its performance, since from the nature of the case we must be ignorant of the mode in which He works in the Universe, except as far as his action is manifested in its known forces; and into the higher regions of the divine activity we are utterly unable to penetrate. Yet every consistent theist must hold that God is everywhere present energizing in the forces of nature, directing them and controlling them; for if there be a God the energies of the Universe must have issued from Him, and be dependent on Him. This being so, it is absolutely beyond our power to determine by what instrumentality He would effect a miracle if it were His pleasure to work one.
Next: What is the Nature to which miracles are alleged to be contrary, and what are its laws or its order which they are said to violate? Do we include within it the material universe, its necessary forces, and the sequences which inevitably result from their activity; or man, his reason, his free agency; in a word his intellectual and moral nature; or even everything that exists? It is evident that the question whether miracles involve violations of the laws or order of nature, or suspensions of the activity of its forces, or the counteraction of one force and the superior energy of another, will entirely depend on the class of phenomena which we include under the term “Nature.” If we include in it free agency and its results the view which we take of the relation in which miracles stand to it and to its order will be quite different from what it would be, if we confined it to the material universe and its necessary forces. If man is a part of nature, it is evident that a being exists within it who is capable within certain limits of exerting a control over it.
It is unnecessary, in reference to the subject under discussion, to enter into the vexed question of necessity or freedom. All that we need do is to take the facts of consciousness as we find them; and it is wholly unnecessary to enter into a discussion about their origin. As a matter of fact, therefore, it is unquestionable that the forces which energize in the material universe are necessary ones; i.e. they are incapable, by any inherent power, of acting otherwise than they do. If nothing external to them interferes with their action, they will go on to all eternity grinding out the same invariable results, mutually acting and counteracting on one another. The never-ending sequences which result from their energy constitute the order of the material universe, which, if it existed alone, would leave no place for such an occurrence as a miracle, which, as I have said, is an event which manifests purpose. But wholly different is it, if man and the forces which energize in him, form a part of our conception of nature. In that case it becomes certain that a being exists in nature, who is capable of controlling it and modifying its order. It is beyond dispute that man acts on nature, and that the extent and mode of this action is determined, not by the blind action of necessary forces, but by the action of forces which are under the control of intelligent volition, and are capable of manifesting purpose.
It follows, therefore, that the action of man on nature differs wholly in character from that of the blind forces of the material universe which are incapable of acting otherwise than they do, or by any self-direction, of modifying their results. This being so, nature must be made up of two widely different factors, its blind unintelligent forces, and man, who by his intelligence and volition is capable of controlling those forces for the effectuation of purpose. In this point of view a miracle, as a deviation from the order of the material Universe, can be no more contrary to, or violate nature, than those actions of man which effectuate purpose.
It has often been objected that volition is not a force, and is incapable of creating any not already in existence. But for the purpose of this argument it is unnecessary to assume that it either is a force or can create force. One thing respecting it is certain, that it is capable of imparting a direction to, and combining existing forces, and of neutralizing the action of one force by the superior energy of another; and thereby it can effectuate results entirely different from those which would have taken place from the uncontrolled action of forces destitute of self-direction.
It follows, therefore, that man is capable of modifying the order of nature, for it is certain that a wholly different order of events must have taken place, had it not been for his intervention. To this the entire surface of the globe bears witness. Yet every one of the mighty results which man has effected, has been brought about without the suspension of a single force in the universe, or a violation of its laws. It follows, therefore, that whether man be included in Nature, or excluded from it, a being exists who is capable of using its necessary forces for the effectuation of purpose. If we include him, then a being capable of modifying its order exists within it. If, on the other hand, we exclude him from nature, then a being exists outside it who can do the same, without suspending its forces, or interfering with the laws of their activity. From this a further inference is inevitable. What man can do on a limited scale, the Creator of the universe must be able to effect on a much larger one. If man can change the direction of the forces of the universe, combine them, and neutralize one by the superior energy of another in such a way as to effectuate the results of purpose, without suspending them, much more must God be able to do the same for the effectuation of His purposes; since His ability to effectuate the results of purpose without suspending the action of any existing force, or introducing a new one, must be so much the greater as He is mightier and wiser. On the same principles it is no less certain that God can answer prayer, if it be His pleasure to do so, without any such interference with the forces of the universe, as some eminent men of science have affirmed to be necessary, and have, therefore rashly pronounced that the expectation of it is irrational. It may be contrary to His will to answer many prayers which are offered to Him; but this by no means affects the general principle that He can answer them when it is His pleasure to do so, without throwing the order of the universe into confusion.
These observations are not made with the smallest intention of affirming anything as to the agency which God must adopt in the performance of a miracle, on the supposition that it is His pleasure to work one; but for the purpose of guarding against the introduction of needless difficulties into the subject, which cause us to incur the danger of running counter to the truths of science. All that I am desirous of showing is, that the practice which has prevailed of laying down that a miracle must necessarily involve a violation or a suspension of the laws of nature; or that it is effected by the introduction of a higher law to act on a lower, is not only unnecessary, but dangerous; and also that by introducing into our definition of a miracle a number of ambiguous terms, it involves us in confusion of thought. Of this we have a remarkable illustration when a miracle is said to consist in the introduction of a higher law of nature to act on a lower law.* The neutralization of the action of one force by the superior energy of another, is a thing which we witness every day. Thus the chemical forces within a certain range neutralize but do not suspend that of gravitation; and the vital forces do the same for the chemical ones; and effect results wholly different from what would have come to pass from the single action of either of them. This is what man is continually doing, and thus he brings about the results of purpose by skillfully combining those forces over which he can exercise control. But laws can effectuate nothing. To speak therefore of a miracle as the result of the introduction of a higher law on the sphere of nature, is to use words as counters and not as representatives of realities.**
*“So far from this, the true miracle is a higher and purer nature, coming down out of the world of untroubled harmonies into this world of ours, which so many discords have jarred and disturbed; and bringing them back again, though it is for one mysterious prophetic moment, into harmony with that higher. ... We should term the miracle, not an infraction of a law, but behold in it a lower law neutralized, and for a time put out of working by a higher; and of this abundant analogous examples are evermore going forward before our eyes. Continually we behold in the world around us, lower laws held in restraint by higher, mechanic by dynamic, chemical by vital; physical by moral.” – Trench, On Miracles, p. 15. Throughout this whole passage the terms Law and Nature are used without any definite meaning.
**“The chemical laws which would bring about decay in animal substances still subsist, even when they are hemmed in and hindered by the salt which keeps these substances from corruption. The law of sin in a regenerate man is held in continual check by the law of the Spirit of Life; yet it is in his members still, not indeed working, for a mightier law has stepped in, and now holds it in check, but still there, and ready to work.” – Trench, On Miracles, p. 16. Surely such assertions not only confound laws and forces, but almost personify both.
Similar ambiguities result when miracles are said to be violations or suspensions of the laws of nature. The thing probably intended is that they involve suspensions of its forces. Let the question be fairly asked, What laws must a miracle violate, or suspend? Surely not the invariable sequences which are the result of the energies of its forces, as for instance the law of bodies falling in the proportion of the inverse square under the influence of the force of gravitation. Viewed as a set of sequences, there is a sense in which man may be said to produce results contrary to the laws of nature, i.e. of the physical universe, or, to speak more correctly, contrary to the order, which would result from the action of its forces independently of his volition, whenever by a combination of them he brings about an order of events different from that which would have happened without such a combination. This he is accomplishing every day; and thus he introduces into the Universe an order of events different from that which would have occurred without his intervention. But this is in no proper sense a violation of the order of nature. The laws of nature are consequently no more violated by the performance of a miracle than they are by the activities of man.
But it may be objected that a law of nature, viewed as an invariable recurrence of a set of observed phenomena, as for example, that “all men must die,” is violated by such a miracle as that of a resurrection. The whole force of the objection arises from importing into the conception of law that of causal power or force. As far as we use the term to denote a set of phenomena which have been invariable as far as human observation has extended, the effect of the occurrence of a different phenomenon, as for instance, the case of a man’s not dying, would be to render it inapplicable to the occurrences in question. But the fallacy arises from making law a causal power. The expression “it is a law of nature that all men must die” simply means that there are a set of forces in constant operation which unless their action is counteracted by some other force must cause death. But if some counteracting forces could be brought to bear on man’s bodily structure by which the action of those forces which result in death could be neutralized, no violation of the laws of nature would be the result. Thus it would be with a resurrection. What takes place in death? The cessation of the action of those vital forces (be they what they may) which control and neutralize the action of those chemical forces, which, if unrestrained by the former, would cause the dissolution of the frame; and which, when death has taken place, effect that dissolution. Without making any affirmation as to the means by which a resurrection might be effected by God, one thing is clear, that it must involve the reversal of the process of dissolution; or in other words the presence of a power capable of neutralizing the forces which have resulted in death; and the presence of such a vital force as is capable of reconstructing the bodily frame and imparting a renewed activity to its organism. What force or forces may be capable of bringing about such a result, we have no knowledge; but we know that a force exists which in our ignorance of its true nature we call the vital force, which has built up our bodily frames out of a mere germ. This has been effected without the smallest violation of any law or order of nature, though in the course of its activity it has neutralized the action of other forces which would have exerted an opposite influence if left to their unrestrained action. As this process has been effected once without any violation of such order, there is no reason why the might of the Creator should not be able to effect it a second time without any violation of it. Abstractedly we should probably have deemed it impossible to construct a body in the way in which it is actually accomplished; it is therefore impossible for us to affirm that the Creator cannot reverse the process without any violation of the forces, laws, or order of nature. There is nothing in the nature of the case more difficult in the effecting of a resurrection than there is in what God has actually accomplished – the formation of our present bodies by the combination of the forces of the universe which He has under his control. Many of the forces by which the first portions of the process have been effected are hidden ones, but they are real, though they cannot be measured by any of our instruments. So may it be with a resurrection. Surely that Being who has built our bodies by means of forces actually existing in the Universe, without once violating its order, if it be His pleasure to do so, can rebuild them without introducing the smallest particle of confusion into His creative work. Ignorant as we are of the mode of the Creator’s working, we can have no possible ground for affirming that the mode of His action in the performance of a miracle must differ from that of His ordinary providence. He must be a bold man who will venture to affirm that we are acquainted with all the forces of the Universe which are under His control, or all the possible combinations of them by which He may work out results in the distant ages of the future very different from man’s narrow experience in the past.
It follows therefore that we are only encumbering the question with needless difficulties when we introduce into our conception of a miracle some theory as to the mode of the divine action in its performance. It is clear that there is not the smallest necessity to affirm that the performance of one must involve either a directly creative act of God, or a violation or suspension of the action of any law or force in nature. I do not mean to affirm that such may not have been the mode of the divine working, but that it is wholly unnecessary to assert that it must have been. The only thing necessary to the conception of a miracle is that it should be some manifestation of the divine activity which exhibits special purpose on the part of God, and the only thing necessary for its performance is the active operation or the combination of such forces as are adequate to accomplish it.
As on general grounds the introduction of these questions into the controversy about miracles is unnecessary, so it is without any support whatever from anything which is affirmed respecting them in the Bible. If the sacred writers had made any affirmation as to the mode of the divine action in the performance of miracles we should have been compelled to adopt it, and to abide by the consequences of doing so. Whatever difficulties we encounter on this subject are, however, entirely of our own creation, and cannot possibly be charged on Holy Scripture. I have already observed that as far as the Old Testament is concerned no distinction is made between God as the worker of miracles and God as the active agent in Providence. If a miracle is referred to as a wonder, God’s operations in nature are affirmed to be wonderful; if as an act of power, still greater displays of might are ascribed to Him in His ordinary Providence; if it is referred to as a proof of the divine working, so are all the operations of the Universe. “When the waves of the sea arise,” says the Psalmist, “thou stillest them.” “In His hands 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 prepared the dry land.” The writers of the Old Testament were certainly without the smallest idea that God was violating the order of the Universe when He wrought miracles. I am aware that it has been urged that the writers of the Bible did not recognize any order in the Universe at all, but this objection never could have been urged if the most palpable facts had not been carelessly overlooked. [Psalms 19, 33, 104, 111, 139, 148.] Nor is the case different with the New Testament. It contains not a single affirmation as to the modus operandi by which a miracle was accomplished, or a hint that it suspended either the forces or laws of the Universe. On the contrary, during the performance of some of Our Lord’s miracles, the intimations that the forces of the Universe were not suspended are sufficiently definite. We may take Peter’s walking on the water as a crucial example. It has been affirmed that the force of gravitation must have been suspended in his favour. But the narrative affirms the contrary, for the sacred writer tells us that the moment Peter’s faith failed him he began to sink, thus proving that the power of gravitation was not suspended for a moment. The only thing necessary was the presence of some force capable of neutralizing its action on Peter’s body, precisely in the same way as it is constantly neutralized by ourselves whenever we lift a weight from the ground. In whatever way the miracle was performed it is clear that the suspension of the force of gravitation formed no portion of it.
Equally gratuitous is the affirmation that the performance of certain miracles must have involved an act of creative power. As far as we have any hints in the New Testament, it is clear that its authors did not suppose that the performance of a miracle was attended by an act of creation. Thus in the miracle of turning the water into wine, the wine was not produced in the empty jars, but an express direction was given to fill them first with water, and then the water was converted into wine. Of the mode of effecting it we are not informed; but there is nothing to imply that the performance of this miracle added one ounce to the weight of the globe. The jars were filled with water, and the water became wine. God slowly produces the grape out of substances already existing, of which water is the chief, by a set of elaborate combinations of the forces of the Universe. The grapes are gathered by man, and then subjected by him to the action of another set of forces more or less under his control, and by these are converted into wine. This process we think nothing wonderful, because we habitually witness it. In the case of the miracle He turned the water into wine in some other way, by the use of forces of which we have had no prior experience; but there is nothing to imply that in this operation He violated or suspended any force or law of the Universe, or created one particle of matter which was not already in existence. I make this last observation because it is this supposed creation of matter in certain miracles, thereby adding to the weight of the globe, which endangers our coming in collision with physical science. The same observations are applicable to the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. All the materials were at hand, either in the earth, the air, or the water. The ordinary action of God’s Providence makes bread and fish in one way: in a miracle He produces them in another. In the former case we understand some portion of the process, though the remainder is buried in profound darkness. In the latter the whole process is hidden from our view.
Another striking phenomenon in the miracles of the New Testament, pointing to a similar result, is the remarkable economy in the exercise of miraculous power displayed in them. Ordinary means are invariably had recourse to where they are sufficient to effect the end in view; and where they are adequate, miracle is never invoked. Thus, in the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus, the stone is ordered to be removed by human hands; and after the dead man was recalled to life the grave-clothes are directed to be removed by the same agency. So again, after the miracle wrought on Jairus’ daughter, Our Lord, who is described as having miraculously fed the multitudes, directs the parents to furnish her with food. Whatever was the nature of the divine intervention in these miracles it was clearly limited to the smallest possible extent. This economy in the use of miracle forms one of the remarkable characteristics which distinguish those of the New Testament from all other miraculous narratives. In the case of the resurrection of Lazarus a forger would hardly have been able to refrain from ordering the stone to roll back of itself; still less would it have occurred to such a person to direct that a child just raised from the dead should be furnished with a supply of food.
But the overwhelming majority of the miracles of the New Testament were wrought not on dead matter but on the living organism of the human body. Of the mode of action of no force which comes under human observation are we more profoundly ignorant than of the vital ones, or of the mode or extent in which mind can act on matter. In this region, therefore, it is quite clear that a Being, who is thoroughly acquainted with the vital forces, and holds them in His hand, can work miracles without any disturbance of the forces, laws, or order of nature.
In several of the Old. Testament miracles the affirmation of the active presence of what have been designated second causes, or in other words the known forces of the Universe, as the means through which they were accomplished, is direct. Thus the miracle of the dividing of the Red Sea, and of the supply of quails, is asserted to have been effected through the agency of a wind blowing in a particular direction. A similar affirmation is made respecting several of the plagues of Egypt. A similar principle, though less obvious, may be detected in other miracles. All these instances prove that the introduction of a particular theory of the mode of the divine action into the conception of a miracle is entirely uncalled for by anything which is asserted in the pages of the Old or the New Testament. Nor can it be shown to be necessary on any grounds of solid reason.
The whole theory that miracles must be contrary to nature, and that their performance must involve violations or suspensions of its laws and forces, arises out of a practical denial that God is everywhere every moment energizing in nature; in fact it involves the assumption that the Universe is a huge machine, outside which the Creator, if there be a Creator at all, exists – a machine which He has once contrived and set in motion, and will go on for ever grinding out results by the never ceasing activity of its forces, without any further exercise of His power. To such a conception of the Universe a miracle becomes a special intervention of the Creator, interrupting the order of its working, and consequently an indication of His presence in that from which He had previously retired.* Such a conception of God differs wholly from the God of the Bible, which contains the only worthy theistic conception of Him, not only as the Creator of the Universe, a skilful mechanist and chemist, but the Father of those beings whom he has created. Christian theism affirms that God is not only a Being who exists independently of the Universe, but that in Him we live, and move, and exist; that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the compass of the world and they that dwell therein; and that all its forces and energies are the manifestations of His ceaseless activity. What we designate the forces of nature, and miracles, are alike manifestations of God, the latter differing from the former not in the degree of power which they exhibit, nor in the fact that He is more present when He works a miracle than He is in the active energies of those forces in the midst of which we daily live, but in the fact that a miracle is an event fitted to awaken attention by a special manifestation of intelligent purpose, and stamped with the indications of it. As such it constitutes a σημειον, and possesses an evidential value.
*Such a view of the Universe (undoubtedly a very popular one at the present day among scientific men) is involved in the conception of a miracle as the effect of the introduction of a higher law. (See Mozley’s Bampton Lectures, Lecture VI.) The whole idea involves the confusion between the conceptions of law and force which I have already referred to, as well as the mechanical view of the Universe as a bare machine in which He is not immanent, but to the action of which He stands outside.
Lecture II – The Superhuman Action of Jesus Christ in History
“I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.” – John 8:18.
At the conclusion of the last Lecture I offered some general considerations for the purpose of showing that the argument from miracles ought to occupy a less prominent place among the evidences of Christianity, than that which has been assigned to it in our modern apologetic works. The proper function which they discharge in relation to the Christian argument is a matter of such deep importance, that before I proceed to deal with the reconstructive portion of it, I must endeavour to estimate their proper value. While doing so, I must ask you to bear in mind the distinction which I have laid down between the word, “Miracle,” in its ordinary acceptation as an extraordinary occurrence in the physical Universe, and those manifestations of a superhuman power in the moral and spiritual world, which I have designated moral miracles.
I shall assume as the foundation of my argument, that it is an established philosophic truth, that the forces which energize in the moral and spiritual world, act in conformity with moral laws no less than those which dominate in the physical Universe with physical ones. As, therefore, an event which manifests purpose, for the origin of which the known forces of the physical Universe are unable to account, is a physical miracle; so an event in the moral Universe, of the origin of which the forces energizing in man can give no explanation, is a moral miracle; and is, therefore, the manifestation of the energetic presence of a superhuman power.
The moral miracle possesses this advantage over the physical one in point of evidential value. To those who believe in conformity with the theism of the Bible,* that God is energizing in all the forces of nature, there is some difficulty in laying down a clear line of distinction between miracles, and remarkable acts of His providential government, as they are both alike manifestations of a divine energy. (See Supplement I.) On the other hand, those who view the Universe as a piece of self-acting mechanism, are always able to account for the occurrence of an extraordinary event, by assigning it to the action of some force which has never yet come under human observation. But as the long experience of history has made us thoroughly acquainted with the forces which energize in man, an occurrence in the moral world which transcends their power to have produced, is a direct proof of the presence of a superhuman power. Hitherto the attention of evidential writers has been almost exclusively directed to physical miracles, while the evidence afforded by moral ones has been comparatively neglected. I propose, on the contrary, to appeal to the might with which Jesus Christ has energized in history; to His whole character as it is depicted in the Gospels; and to the elevation of His teaching above the conditions which, in conformity with the laws of the moral world, were imposed on Him by the environment of thought in the midst of which He was born and educated, as constituting a proof capable of being verified by the most palpable facts of history, of the presence in Christianity of an element which is superhuman.
*Whatever may be said for any other species of theism, such as that which contemplates the forces of the Universe as having an objective existence, by the action of which it has been evolved, independently of the immanence in them of the Creator, of whose activity they are the manifestations, as an intellectual necessity, it evidently differs widely from the theism of the Bible. If one thing is more certain than another, it is that the Bible contemplates God as immanent in the forces of nature, and that they are the manifestations of His energies, equally as any miracle recorded in its pages. He has not retired from Creation, but is present energizing in it every moment. This is not only beyond all contradiction the theism of the Old Testament, of which the book of Psalms forms a perpetual witness, but also that of the New. Thus Our Lord not only expressly affirms that His Father works hitherto, and He in imitation of Him; but he ascribes to His energetic action the rising of the sun, the falling of rain, the beauty of the flowers, the feeding of the animal races, and a providential care over man, even to the extent that a hair does not fall to the ground without His providence. The God of the Bible is not only immanent in the Universe, and energizing in its forces, but its moral governor, and the Father of rational creatures. The God of philosophy is assumed merely as an intellectual necessity. The authors of The Unseen Universe lay down that it is the duty of science to banish God as far as possible into the regions of the unknowable. With them the Universe is a huge machine. The authors of the Bible affirm that it is our duty to recognize in all His creative works the manifestation of the presence and energies of Him who is our Father.
What then is the evidential value of miracles; and in what relation do they stand to the Christian argument? In answering this question the obvious course is not to start with a number of a priori assumptions, but to ascertain what views the writers of the New Testament have propounded on the subject. Have they in fact made any affirmations respecting the functions of miracles in connection with Christianity, and if so, what are they? Nothing can be more absurd than to claim for them an evidential value which was unknown to those who actually performed them.
Many modern writers have affirmed that miracles constitute the sole evidences of a revelation, and that there are truths in Christianity which would be utterly incredible unless they were thus confirmed. The question, therefore, becomes one of supreme importance – Are such opinions as to the functions of miracles borne out by the contents of the New Testament? Above all what are the grounds on which Our Lord himself rested his claims to a divine Mission? I will answer this latter question first.
It is clear that Our Lord did not rest his claim to be the Christ, nor to the acceptance of his teaching as authoritative and divine, exclusively on the miracles which he performed. Of this the text is one out of many direct affirmations, “I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.” In this passage a marked distinction is laid down between his own testimony and that of his Father to the truth of his divine mission. In what did that distinction consist? His own testimony must have been his self-evidencing divine character; the testimony of his Father, the miracles that he performed. No other distinction is possible. The same truth is brought out in another passage. “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not, but if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works, that ye may see and believe that the Father is in me, and I in Him” (John 4:37, 38).
These words are important, because they are addressed by Our Lord to his opponents, and therefore they throw a clear light on my position. Our Lord affirmed that they ought to have believed in him on his own testimony, i.e. on the evidence afforded by his moral and spiritual character, and his entire working, which he addressed to the depths of the human spirit. If however they were incapable of appreciating this, then he appeals to his miraculous works, yet not as mere wonders or energies of power, but to their entire moral environment; nor even to them as simply evidencing a divine commission, but to their special character as proving his direct union with the Father, as he himself puts it, “that ye may see and believe that the Father is in me and I in him.”
Secondly: the account of the interview between Our Lord and Nicodemus proves that the latter, even from his own low standpoint, did not view miracles alone apart from their attending circumstances as sufficient proofs of a divine commission. “Rabbi,” says he, “we know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no man can do these miracles that thou doest except God be with him.” Such words imply that, in the opinion of the speaker, a certain class of miracles could be wrought without the intervention of God. We are not told how he discriminated between the one class and the other, but there can be little doubt that it must have been by their moral impress. The Divine Speaker, however, rests the acceptance of His testimony on higher grounds than the attestation of miracles wrought for the purpose of confirming the truth of his assertions. “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen, and ye receive not our witness.” He then proceeds in the remainder of the discourse to make a number of affirmations respecting His own divine character, which the whole context makes it clear that Nicodemus must have heard with profound astonishment, yet He not only works no miracle to prove the truth of His affirmations, but does not make any allusion to them as distinct from his general superhuman working.
Here it is important that I should draw attention to the term by which Our Lord throughout this Gospel designates His miracles. They are His works (έργα). By the use of such a term it is clear that He did not view them as a class of actions standing by themselves, but as portions of His divine working. His working included not only His miracles but His entire divine life, His actions, and His teaching. It is a remarkable fact that this use of the word έργα is almost peculiar to Our Lord, proving that He viewed His miracles, not as standing in a class by themselves, but as constituting a portion of the manifestation of the divine which dwelt within Him. The sacred writers, when they refer to miracles, usually designate them as “signs” (σημεια), less frequently, “mighty works” (δυνάμεις), and “wonders” (τέρατα). But Our Lord Himself never uses these terms except when He is stating the views of others respecting them; as when He addressed the nobleman of Capernaum, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.”
Thirdly: the following utterances, even if they stood alone, would afford strong proof that Our Lord considered that He had higher evidences of His divine character than that which could be afforded by mere objective miracles, and that He appealed to these latter only when the others failed. Thus He says to the Jews, “Though ye believe not me, believe the works.” But His “works” are meant to include His whole superhuman working, of which His miracles formed a remarkable portion, and were stamped with the moral perfection of His character. Thus “The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works which I do bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me,” must embrace the whole of that divine work which He came to accomplish. A similar view is propounded in His prayer of intercession, “I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work that thou gayest me to do,” a work which is subsequently defined as consisting in the manifestation of His Father. So likewise in the declaration made to the disciples, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” The working of Our Lord, in short, included the whole of His divine life and actions, in which those who witnessed it, beheld “the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Such a manifestation must necessarily have been self-evidential.
Fourthly: The entire discourse recorded in the eighth chapter definitely affirms that Our Lord laid claim to a higher class of evidence than that of mere objective miracles contemplated as “mighty acts” or “wonders” in proof of His superhuman claims. This chapter is particularly important as bearing on the present question, because throughout it Our Lord is reasoning with His opponents. It will be sufficient to cite the following passage: – “And because I tell you the truth ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? and if I say the truth why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God’s words. Ye therefore hear them not because ye are not of God.”
The entire reasoning throughout this chapter is made to turn on Our Lord’s self-evidencing character. It is most remarkable that throughout the whole argument Our Lord never once refers to a miracle either in its character of a mighty work, a wonder, or even a sign. On the contrary, He rests His claim to be believed in His complete and absolute sinlessness. “Which if you convinceth me of sin?” says He, “and if I say the truth why do ye not believe me?” The perfection of his holiness, as he affirms, constituted the great proof that his teaching was worthy of all acceptation. His testimony was in fact that of an eye-witness who could not fail to know the truth of the things which He uttered by the directness of his intercommunion with God, and his perfect sinlessness was the guarantee of the truth of his assertions. “I speak,” says He, “what I have seen with my Father, and ye do what ye have seen with your Father.” But further: it is worthy of particular notice that immediately after making these declarations, He proceeds to make one of the strongest affirmations of His divine character which is to be found in the Gospels – “Before Abraham was I am.” According to the views which have been entertained by many on this subject, Our Lord ought to have performed one of His greatest miracles in confirmation of the truth of so astounding a statement, as being the only thing which could give it credibility, yet throughout the whole discourse He never once alludes to His miracles, which He surely would have done if He had regarded them as the sole or even the chief guarantee of His veracity.
Fifthly: Another striking proof that Our Lord uniformly appealed to the self-evidencing power manifesting itself in His person is contained in His last discourse. The apostle Philip makes a definite request that He would afford them a visible manifestation of the Father, and declares that if He would do so it would be sufficient for their complete conviction. What is Our Lord’s reply? “Have I been so long time with you, and yet has thou not known me, Philip? He that bath seen me hath seen the Father, and how sayest thou, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself, but the Father who dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me; or else believe me for the works’ sake.” Such an affirmation, even if it stood alone, would prove conclusively that the evidence afforded by the presence of the divine in Our Lord’s person and working ought to occupy a very prominent place in the Christian argument. But further: Our Lord affirmed that He was the light of the world. This is equivalent to the assertion that His person and work were self-evidential; or in other words, as the best proof that the sun is shining is to turn and behold its beams, so the strongest evidence of the existence of the spiritual Sun is the light which He emits. A pretender to be the light of the world, who emits no radiance, is self-convicted of being an impostor.
Sixthly: Although no such explicit affirmations are to be found in the Synoptics, they afford abundant confirmations of the same view. They fully concur with St. John that whenever Our Lord’s opponents challenged Him to work a miracle as a proof of His divine mission, He uniformly refused to do so. This seems inexplicable, if He viewed them as constituting its sole and only proof. But they inform us of the further fact, that He was deeply grieved when this demand was made on Him; that He declared that it was an evil and adulterous generation that sought after a sign of this description; and that the only sign which He would afford them would be the sign of the prophet Jonas, i.e. His own death and resurrection. It seems incredible that persons who have attributed to Our Lord utterances of this description could have held the views laid down in some of our modern evidential treatises that miracles form the exclusive attestation of a divine mission.
Neither the Synoptics nor St. John have once represented Our Lord as performing miracles for the purpose of proving the truth of any doctrine or moral precept uttered by Him. Whenever they mention His motive at all for performing them, they nearly uniformly ascribe it to His divine compassion, or to its being an answer to a prayer for help. The only exceptions are, when Our Lord cured the paralytic in proof that He had power on earth to forgive sins; and when He wrought several miracles in reply to the message sent Him by John the Baptist, “Art thou lie that should come, or look we for another?” In his reply, he directed the messengers to report the miracles they had seen and heard, as proofs of His Messianic character.* To these may be added the miracle of the Resurrection of Lazarus, which is directly stated to have been wrought that the people which stood by might believe that the Father had sent Him. But so far were Our Lord’s miracles from being performed with the direct purpose of proving either doctrines, precepts, or even His divine mission, that in no inconsiderable number of cases, He strictly charged those whom He healed to keep the miracle secret. It is simply impossible that such miracles could have been wrought for directly evidential purposes, though all miracles, as portions of His divine working, and as manifestations of the superhuman power which dwelt within Him, were evidential in the sense so often referred to in St. John’s gospel. In this point of view, they form at the same time portions of the Revelation, and of its evidence.
*St. Luke’s account is as follows: – “When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee saying, Art thou he that should come, or look we for another? And the same hour be cured many of their infirmities, and plagues, and of evil spirits, and unto many that were blind, he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the Gospel is preached. And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Luke 7:20–23). The miracles wrought on this occasion were evidently wrought for an evidential purpose; but they were not merely performed as proofs of a divine commission, but as works which were suitable for the Messiah to perform as part of His divine character. As such, several of them are directly attributed to the Messiah in the Old Testament Scriptures. It should be observed that among them, the preaching the Gospel to the poor holds an equal rank with those occurrences which we commonly designate as miracles, a reference which not only points out the fulfillment of the prediction of the prophet, but draws attention to their moral aspect. Besides, the miracles in question are all works of healing – not wonders wrought in the physical universe – being manifestations of the divine goodness which dwelt in Our Lord; and as such, proofs of His Messianic character.
Such then are Our Lord’s affirmations on this subject. They prove beyond contradiction that He considered His own divine character and working self-evidential; and that it formed a higher attestation to His divine mission than miracles viewed as mere wonders and mighty deeds. Also that the right view to take of the miracles which He performed is, not that they are merely marvellous acts of power, displayed in the physical Universe, but essential portions of His divine working, entirely in harmony with it, and stamped with the same moral impress. Viewed in this aspect, the perfection of His divine character and working constitutes His witness to Himself; and His miracles, bearing the impress of the same character, the testimony of the Father to His Divine Mission.
The self-evidencing power of Our Lord’s divine person and working occupies a very prominent place in the Apostolic Epistles.
1. The affirmations made by St. John on this point in his first Epistle and in the prologue to his Gospel are conclusive. I have fully examined them in a supplement to the first Lecture, and, therefore, I need not adduce them here. It will be sufficient to observe that they affirm in the clearest manner that the highest form of Christian evidence consists in the manifestation of the divine, made in the person of Jesus Christ. This is in fact the burden of the entire Epistle.
2. St. Paul’s mode of placing the claims of Christianity to be accepted as a divine revelation is precisely similar. With his Epistles in our hands it is impossible to doubt that the Apostle viewed the moral and spiritual power residing in the person of Jesus Christ as the all commanding evidence of His Divine Mission. He again and again declares that this had formed the very centre and essence of his teaching; and he appeals to those to whom he wrote as witnesses of the mighty effects which it had wrought in them. That teaching which had been mighty to lay deep the foundation of the Christian Church, and had manifested the energetic power of which they were the monuments, might be summed up in two pregnant sentences – Christ, the power of God, and Christ, the wisdom of God. They make it clear that the Apostle was not in the habit of appealing to miracles as the sole or even the most conclusive evidence of Christianity. In fact, he has never once appealed to them in this light, neither in the Epistles themselves nor in his discourses as recorded in the Acts. With him the great evidential miracle of Christianity is the Resurrection; his references to other miracles wrought by Our Lord are indirect, and only three, or at most four times has he referred to any as having been wrought by himself. These he viewed not as proofs of his divine commission but as manifestations of a divine power residing in Jesus Christ, and, as such, proofs of His Resurrection. Numerous and profound as are his doctrinal statements, and vehement as was the opposition of his opponents to certain aspects of the Gospel which he preached, it never once occurred to him to work a miracle in vindication of their truth. It is clear, therefore, that he could not have regarded miracles as the necessary confirmations of his doctrines.
Portions of the Acts afford on this point strong confirmatory evidence. In dealing with Jews and Proselytes, he is uniformly described as endeavouring to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, not by working miracles in their synagogues, but by reasonings drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures. When he addressed heathen auditories, his first efforts were directed to prove the Unity and Fatherhood of God, and he concludes by referring to the Resurrection as a proof that God would render to men hereafter a righteous retribution according to their deeds. He describes his own teaching as having consisted of two things, repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, but nowhere does he intimate that miracles formed the groundwork or the chief support of his arguments. This is rendered the more remarkable because the historian tells us that he wrought miracles at Cyprus, at Lystra, at Philippi, and at Ephesus; yet neither in his discourses recorded in the Acts nor in his Epistles addressed to these latter Churches does he make a single allusion to them. One miracle, and one only, is habitually appealed to by him, the Resurrection of Our Lord.
3. It will be only necessary to notice one further affirmation made by the writers of the New Testament on this subject, the remarkable one which is contained in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Having spoken of the revelation made of the perfections of God in Our Lord’s divine person the author says, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him, God also bearing them witness (συνεπιμαρτυρουντος του Θεου, God also bearing a joint and additional testimony) with signs, and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will.” – Heb. 2:3, 4.
Here the enumeration of miracles is complete in all the various aspects in which they are presented to us in the New Testament. Respecting them the author makes the following affirmations:—
1. That the great salvation spoken of in the first chapter was announced by Our Lord.
2. That it was confirmed by the testimony of eyewitnesses of the facts.
3. That the various classes of miracles which took place in the Apostolic Church formed a conjoint and additional testimony to its truth, the miracles not standing by themselves but forming a portion of the same divine working (συνεπιμαρτυρουντος του Θεου). In conformity with this, several of the miracles recorded in the Acts of the Apostles are stated to have been wrought in proof of the Resurrection of Our Lord. As such they are affirmed to be manifestations of His living energy rather than proofs of His Divine Mission.
A few further brief remarks will be necessary, as to the nature of some of the other miraculous occurrences recorded in the New Testament.
1. A considerable number of these, while they are manifestations of a superhuman power, were certainly not performed for directly evidential purposes. Some of them were providential, as the liberation of St. Peter from prison. Others were answers to the prayer of faith, as the cures mentioned by St. James, which were effected by prayer, and by anointing the sick with oil in the name of the Lord.* These evidently partook of a semi-miraculous character, and were only evidential as being manifestations of the presence of the divine Spirit abiding in the Church.
*The passage in St. James is as follows: – “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick; and the Lord shah raise him up; and if he hath committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” – James 5:14, 15. The cure is here expressly described as being an answer to prayer; and it is implied that it would be gradually effected. Consequently it is impossible to appeal to it as an evidential miracle, since it forms no attestation to a Divine Mission.
2. Two other cases of miraculous occurrences mentioned in the history are of a very peculiar character; I allude to the cures said to have been wrought by the passing of Peter’s shadow; and by garments which, during his abode at Ephesus, were brought from St. Paul’s person, and applied to the sick. It seems impossible to regard these as intended for evidential purposes. The historian describes the latter as occurrences of a very unusual kind. The manifestation seems to have taken place at Ephesus alone, a city which was especially addicted to the practice of Magic. This latter circumstance must have deprived them, in the eyes of the heathen inhabitants, of any value as proofs of a divine commission. All that they could have proved, would have been the presence of some kind of superhuman agency, similar to those in which they already believed; but they could have had no means of identifying it with that of the only God. But although they could not have been in our modern sense of the word evidential miracles, there was a very important purpose which these, and others which are mentioned in the New Testament, were fitted to subserve, viz. that of arresting attention, and procuring a hearing for the Christian missionary. This purpose has been far too generally overlooked in this controversy. The difficulty which the primitive missionary must have encountered in obtaining a hearing for his message must have been extreme. He was a member of a despised race, and consequently subject to all the disadvantages attending one who belongs to an inferior civilization, when he sets himself up as a teacher of those who consider themselves his superiors. Even our modern missionary finds a difficulty in commanding the attention of his hearers, though he goes armed with all the appliances of a higher civilization, and the advantage of being a member of a dominant race. But if the primitive believers had some of those miraculous endowments which are referred to in the New Testament, such as the gifts of healing, the difficulty in question would have been greatly obviated. Such seems to have been the character of St. Paul’s cure of the cripple at Derbe. To the heathen inhabitants it evidently had no evidential value, as they attributed it to a visit from their own gods. But it served a valuable purpose in procuring their attention to the teaching of two despised Jews. Such also seems to have been the purpose of many of the manifestations of superhuman power in the early Church.
3. To this class belong those numerous superhuman endowments which are described with considerable detail in the Epistles to the Corinthians and repeatedly referred to elsewhere in the New Testament as possessed by large numbers of the primitive believers.
They are uniformly represented as being the fulfillment of the promises of supernatural assistance which were made by Our Lord to His followers, to qualify them for the work of laying deep the foundations of His Church. But with two exceptions, they differ wholly from what we now designate evidential miracles. These gifts, according to the enumeration of St. Paul, were nine in number, two of which only conferred miraculous powers; and the remaining seven, as many distinct mental endowments. The purpose of these latter was evidently providential, conferring a supernatural enlightenment within their special spheres of activity. As such they were fitted to supply the defects in the character and training of the primitive converts, taken, as large numbers of them were, from the lower strata of society, thereby qualifying them for the arduous work of setting up the Church as a visible community in the world, for which their natural powers would have been utterly unfit.* The precise distinction between the two miraculous gifts it is now impossible to determine; but we shall not greatly err, if we suppose that one of them, χαρίσματα ιαμάτων, was the gift mentioned by St. James, and conferred on the missionary those powers which were necessary for commanding the attention of heathen audiences, just as in modern times the union of the functions of missionary and physician is found so influential a mode of procuring attention among uncultivated people. These gifts are uniformly represented as proofs of the energetic action of Christ in the Church; and the results of His resurrection and ascension into heaven; but they are never appealed to as evidential miracles, from which they differed in their entire conception.
*The following is the complete list of them: – 1. The word of wisdom. 2. The word of knowledge. 3. The gift of faith. 4. Gifts of healing, χαρίσματα ιαμάτων. 5. The working of miracles, ενεργήματα δυναμέων. 6. The gift of prophecy. 7. That of discerning of spirits. 8. Divers kinds of tongues. 9. Interpretation. The conclusion of the chapter contains a second list of the same gifts, viewed as qualifications for special offices in the Church. Their order is as follows: – 1. Apostles. 2. Prophets. 3. Teachers. 4. Miracles. 5. Gifts of healing. 6. Helps. 7. Governments. 8. Diversities of tongues. 9. Interpretation. I shall consider the nature and evidential value of these supernatural endowments more at length in the Sixth Lecture.
Such are the affirmations of the New Testament on this subject. From which I draw the following conclusions.
First, that Our Lord’s divine person is self-evidential; and that the various manifestations of the divine which have been exhibited in Him, whether they are recorded in the New Testament, or subsequently manifested in history, constitute the highest evidence that He came forth from God; and therefore that they ought to be placed in the front of the Christian argument.
Secondly, that the evidential value of miracles, viewed merely as objective facts in the physical universe, is subordinate to this, and in estimating it, it is necessary to take into account the moral impress which they bear.
Thirdly, that while all miracles, as being manifestations of the divine on the sphere of the human, have an indirectly evidential value, a considerable number of those wrought by Our Lord were not performed for the purposes of proof; but stand in the same relation to Him as ordinary actions do to other men.
Fourthly, while several of the apostolic miracles were wrought for the express purpose of proving to those who witnessed them the truth of Our Lord’s resurrection, and of His Messianic character consequent thereon, a very considerable number of them were wrought for merely providential purposes, and consequently were only indirectly evidential.
Fifthly, that the great evidential miracle of Christianity is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which, if it can be proved to have been an objective fact, will carry all the other miracles in the Gospels along with it.
Having determined what is the relative importance of these evidences it will now be my duty to lay before you a sketch of the line of argument which the exigencies of modern thought require us to place in the front of the Christian position.
We have seen that the great difficulty with which the argument from miracles is attended is the intricacy of the proof by which it is necessary to establish their occurrence, and the difficulties which have been suggested with respect to portions of that proof. The question, therefore, becomes of the highest importance, Is there any other species of evidence which will lead us to the same result by a less circuitous route? The whole course of modern thought has produced in the minds of men an urgent demand that our beliefs should be based on facts which admit of some species of verification; and a conviction that long processes of reasoning, which are incapable of being submitted to such a test, are unreliable. This being so, the method which I propose to pursue in this inquiry is one which is in strict conformity with the principles of the inductive philosophy. I shall inquire, therefore, whether we can discover either in the history of the past or in the facts of the present anything in Christianity which manifests the action of a superhuman power, and whether it is possible for those facts connected with it, the truth of which is beyond dispute, to be accounted for as the mere result of the forces that energize in man.
I shall base my reasonings only on facts which are either verifiable in the history of the past or of which we have present experience. In drawing inferences from them I shall assume such only to be valid as are in conformity with the realities of human nature and the past experience of history. This mode of inquiry is strictly analogous to that by which our discoveries in physical science have been effected. In fact it involves the application of the inductive method of investigation to the facts and phenomena of Christianity, a method which is strictly in conformity with the requirements of modern thought. I shall therefore directly put the question, Do the known forces which energize in man give any rational account of the might with which Jesus Christ has energized in history? If not, His action in history must be the manifestation of a superhuman power. If we can discern distinct manifestations of a superhuman power energizing in Christianity it will form a far more decisive proof of its being a divine revelation than the long and intricate argument from miracles.
My argument is founded on the principles of common sense. If Christianity is divine we ought to be able to discern in it the clear indications of the operation of a superhuman power. If Jesus Christ really was what the writings of St. John and St. Paul affirm Him to have been surely we ought to be able to discover in Him the action and presence of forces different from those which operate in ordinary humanity. If He is the light of the world that light must be visible to those who seek for it. If He is a living power energizing in the Church, its Governor and Head, indications must exist of that life and energy; or to put the same idea in other words, the action of Jesus Christ in history ought to have been different from that of all other men however great. If a divine attractiveness dwells within Him He ought to manifest such a power of attracting the human heart as has been manifested by none other beside Him. If Jesus Christ was a manifestation of the divine on the sphere of the human, then His entire work and teaching ought to manifest a breadth and depth which has been possessed by no other man – one which is absolutely unique – in fact His entire character, and not merely those actions which are commonly called miraculous, ought to be instinct with the presence of the divine.
The great question, therefore, for us to consider is, Are any such manifestations of the divine discoverable in connection with Jesus Christ? On these and similar points the evidence is of no doubtful character. Present facts, no less than the unquestionable testimony of history, prove that He stands on an elevation, which, among the sons of men, is solitary and alone. But if He be the one man who has no peer, His solitary greatness must be due to some cause different from those forces which have produced not only ordinary men, but all great men; for a unique effect must have a corresponding cause. If so, He must have been a manifestation of the superhuman.
My argument briefly stated will stand thus: – As an event manifesting purpose for which the action of the forces of the Material Universe is unable to account, is a physical miracle, and proves the presence of a power different from those forces, so an event in the moral and spiritual worlds, for which the forces that energize in man are unable to account, must be a moral miracle, and must prove the presence of a superhuman power. I claim on behalf of Jesus Christ, that His character and action in history constitute a manifestation of such a power, the presence of which admits of an actual verification in the history of the past and the facts of the present.
If it be objected to this line of reasoning, that we are not sufficiently acquainted with those forces that energize in man, and the laws of their action, to determine when an event is a moral miracle; and that man may possess within him a number of latent powers of which we have as yet no knowledge, my reply is, that our experience of them lies over an historical period of not less than three thousand years, during which they have had ample opportunity of manifesting themselves and proving what they can accomplish. If, therefore, Jesus Christ was the result of their activity, it is clear that during this long interval of time they must have produced other men at least approaching to His greatness.
Further, if I can establish the fact that Jesus Christ has acted on history with an energy which is absolutely unique, the proof of the miraculous actions attributed to Him in the Gospels will be rendered easy, for it would be far more improbable that such a person did not manifest a superhuman power in the Material Universe, than that he performed the miracles in question. In other words, the a priori difficulties attending them will disappear, and their occurrence can be proved by the evidence which is valid to establish the ordinary facts of history.
Such is my argument. My inquiry, therefore, must be directed to ascertain the following points: – What is there in Christianity, and in its action on history, which distinguishes it from every other system which man has invented in the past or in the present? Is there anything in it which stands out absolutely unique? Surely, if Christianity contains a manifestation of the superhuman, this is where we ought to be able to discover unequivocal traces of its presence. To this question there is only one possible answer – that it stands out in marked contrast to every other human institution, in that its entire system, its inner life, and its sole principle of cohesion is based on the personal history of its Founder.
I ask your deep attention to this most remarkable fact. The inner life of Christianity, as I have shown, consists not in a body of moral precepts, or of dogmas, or in a ritual, or a system of philosophy, but in a personal history. To this the entire history of man presents nothing parallel. Take a careful survey of its wide range. He has originated religions without number; and every form of political and social institution; but the inner life of not one of them is based on the personal history of its founder. Not to speak of other religions of inferior importance, three great religions, exclusive of Christianity, new existing in the world, probably number among their votaries between seven and eight hundred millions of the human family; Braminism, Buddhism and Mahomedanism. Two of these have known founders, whose memory is held in deep reverence by their votaries. Yet the essential principle of each consists in a body of dogmatic teaching, and not in a personal history. As systems of religion, the personal history of their founders might be removed out of them, and leave their fundamental principles intact. The same is true of every other religion which has existed in the past, or still exists in the present. But to take away the person of the Founder of Christianity out of His religion would be its destruction. Its doctrines and its precepts would lose all cohesion; the keystone would be removed from its arch, and its whole superstructure would collapse.
If we take a survey of the various philosophical systems and political and social institutions that have ever existed, we shall arrive at the same result. Individuals may have founded them; but that is all. Their vitality and cohesion have never been based on their own personal histories. A common agreement in a number of dogmatic statements has formed the bond of union among all the philosophic sects which have ever existed in the ancient or the modern world. The last thing which would have occurred to the leaders of ancient thought would have been to found their systems on their own persons. So it has been with every political and social institution. A common end or purpose, not a personal history, has constituted the principle of their inner life.
But, further, although Christianity has set the example of basing itself as a religion, and the Church as a society, on a personal history, it has never yet found a successful imitator. A vast number of sects have sprung up within the Church, but the bond which has imparted to them unity and vitality, has been a doctrinal one, and never the events of an historic life. Here then we are in the presence of a fact which is absolutely unique in the history of man.
It is needless to attempt to prove that the supreme attractiveness of the person of the Founder of Christianity has imparted to the Church the whole of its vitality. To this fact all history bears witness. Nor is its testimony less certain that of all the influences that have been exerted in this earth, that of Jesus has been the most potent. Enumerate all the great men who have ever existed, whether they be kings, conquerors, statesmen, patriots, poets, philosophers, or men of science; and their influence for good will be found to have been as nothing compared with that which has been exerted by Jesus Christ. Why is this? He alone of the sons of men possesses in himself a power of divine attractiveness which can penetrate to the depths of the human heart, and exercise there a mighty moral and spiritual power. What has He accomplished? He who was in outward form a Galilean peasant, who died a malefactor’s death, has founded a spiritual empire which has endured for eighteen centuries of time, and which, despite the vaticinations of unbelievers, shows no signs of decrepitude. Commencing with the smallest beginnings, His empire now embraces all the progressive races of men. Those by whom it has not been accepted are in a state of stagnation and decay. It is the only one which is adapted to every state of civilization. It differs from all other states and communities in that it is founded neither on force nor self-interest, but on persuasion, and the supreme attractiveness of the character of its Founder.* The holiest of men have bowed before Him with the supremest reverence; and have accepted Him as a king who is entitled to reign by right of inherent worthiness, and with the greater eagerness in proportion to their holiness.
*I fully admit that force has been employed in the propagation of Christianity by some of its zealous but mistaken adherents. Two facts must, however, be borne in mind respecting it. First – That this did not take place until several centuries after it had attained a firm footing in the world, when Mahomedanism had set the evil example of propagating religion by the sword. Secondly – That its use is in direct opposition both to the letter and the spirit of the New Testament, which not only repudiates every form of violence for its propagation, but directly affirms that the kingdom of Jesus Christ is based only on persuasion. It is also an unquestionable fact that the influence of force in the propagation of Christianity has been really very inconsiderable.
Such are indisputable facts of history. Even unbelievers are not unwilling to yield to Him the highest place in their pantheon of great men among the benefactors of mankind. But this by no means satisfies the requirements of the case. History affirms that Jesus has not only been a great man among great men, or even the greatest of them, but that He stands at an immeasurable height above them, as their Lord, before whom it is becoming that the greatest of them should bow down. He is the one only catholic man, the one ideal of humanity, for whose presence in and action on history none of the known forces that energize in the moral and spiritual worlds can account. What is the necessary inference from this? I answer, that as those forces which have energized in man from the day of His appearance on this earth have failed to produce His fellow, we must be in the presence of a moral miracle.
It is all important that we should observe in what this mighty influence, or in other words, this supreme greatness of Jesus consists: It is not the mere result of either His doctrinal, or His moral teaching, nor is it simply because His human life constitutes an embodiment of the morality which he taught. Nor is it the mere result of intellectual superiority, nor of all the causes combined which by their united action make a great man in the ordinary acceptation of the term. The mighty influence of Jesus is founded on that divine life which runs through His entire character, as it is depicted by the Evangelists – not merely in those actions which we designate miracles – but in every portion of it. This attractiveness culminates in one aspect of it – the perfection of self-sacrifice manifested in His life, followed by the divinest exhibition of love displayed in His voluntary death. This is it which distinguishes the greatness of Jesus from that of all other men, and constitutes the secret of His power. Wonderful is that great utterance of His, if we view it merely as a prediction: “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
Who would have believed in the possibility of its accomplishment, even if we accept the date which unbelievers have assigned to the composition of the fourth Gospel as that of its utterance? What human foresight could have anticipated the fact that the crucifixion of a Galilean peasant would prove the most attractive influence which has been exerted on the heart of man during all the ages of the future? If this portion of the divine delineation was removed from the portraiture of the Jesus of the Gospels, it would exert no more influence than that of other men who have been good and great.
The testimony of history to the solitary grandeur, and to the might of the influence which has been exerted by Jesus Christ, is indisputable. I cannot better state the facts which it discloses than in the words of an historian, who does not accept Christianity as a Divine Revelation, and whose partiality as a witness cannot be suspected. Mr. Lecky, in the second volume of his History of Morality from Augustus to Charlemagne, writes as follows: – “It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which, through all the changes of eighteen centuries has filled the hearts of men with an impassioned love, and has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has not only been the highest pattern of virtue, but the highest incentive to its practice, and has exerted so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and than all the exhortations of moralists. This has indeed been the well-spring of whatever has been best and purest in the Christian life. Amid all the sins and failings, amid all the priestcraft, the persecution, and fanaticism which have defaced the Church, it has preserved in the character and example of its Founder an enduring principle of regeneration” (vol. ii., p. 8.)
This passage will, I think, be admitted even by unbelievers to be a correct statement of the facts as they are presented to us by history. They all admit of the most certain verification. Jesus Christ has certainly exerted an influence such as is here described by the historian, and he is the only one of the sons of men who has done so. The only thing which can admit of discussion is – What is the legitimate deduction from the facts? Are they consistent with the theory that Christianity has originated in nothing but the action of those forces which for three thousand years of unquestionable history, and for an indefinite period which is semi-historical, have been energizing in man’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual being, and have produced the results which we behold in his past developments? Or do they testify to the presence and energy of a superhuman power? The long course of history has furnished us with abundant materials for forming an accurate judgment as to what the forces which energize in human nature are capable of accomplishing. It is in vain to plead that we are here dealing with a number of unknown quantities. We know that the forces of the moral and spiritual worlds do not work at haphazard, but in a definite order. Here, no less than in the physical Universe, like causes must produce like effects, and different results cannot flow from the same cause. It follows, therefore, if the character of Jesus Christ and his action in history are separated by a profound interval from that of every other man, if He stands at an elevation immeasurably higher than the greatest, the wisest, and the best of men, if His influence for good not only transcends that of single great men, but of all great men united, it is utterly unphilosophical to affirm that He was the simple product of those forces that energize in humanity; on the contrary, the difference in the effect proves a difference in the cause which has produced it. If He were their simple product, how, I ask, has it come to pass that they have produced only this one great perfect man, this single ideal of human nature, and then ceased from their activity for evermore? Such a question urgently demands solution, if our beliefs are to be grounded on rational conviction. The difference in the results proves that the causes which produced them must have been different; in other words, that the greatness of Jesus Christ and His action on history cannot have been due to those forces which have produced other great men, but are manifestations of the energy of a superhuman power.
This conclusion will become more clearly established if I examine each fact as it has been stated by the historian, and place before you separately and conjointly the inferences which they justify.
1. “It has been reserved for Christianity,” says Mr. Lecky, “to present to the world an ideal character, which, through all the changes of eighteen centuries, has filled the hearts of men with an impassioned love.” This character, I need not say, is that of Jesus Christ, as it is depicted in the Gospels. Whether it be the creation of the imagination or an historical reality, space will not allow me to discuss in this place. I have done so in another work. [The Jesus of the Evangelists.] My present argument is unaffected by the question whether it be an ideal or an actual one. The great fact will remain the same, that during eighteen centuries it has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love, and that its power to accomplish this shows no signs of diminution.
The statement before me contains two distinct affirmations. First: The character of Jesus Christ has accomplished this result.
Secondly: that it is the only one in the history of man which has succeeded in doing so. These two affirmations, as matters of fact, rest on evidence which is so plainly written on the pages of history as to render a formal proof unnecessary.
Whence, I ask, has come this power of inspiring the hearts of men with an impassioned love, which has been exhibited by Jesus Christ for a period of more than eighteen centuries after the termination of his earthly life? Why have not other great men exerted a similarly attractive power? If they have not done so to the full extent, why have they not at least made some approaches towards it? Great men have existed in abundance; and not a few of them have been great benefactors of mankind, and to the utmost of their powers have laboured to do them good. But where is the great man, Jesus Christ alone excepted, who has for eighteen centuries after the termination of his earthly life been capable of exciting in the hearts of men an impassioned love? Who among them has called forth a self-sacrificing devotion of heart and life? The memory of other great men we respect and reverence; but not one of them inspires us with impassioned love. Take a careful survey of the entire history of the past. Does Socrates, or Plato, or Aristotle? does Zoroaster, or Confucius, or Sakyamuni? does Mahomet, does even the venerable Howard? Who among the sons of men who have ever existed has kindled towards himself a self-sacrificing love in the smallest degree analogous to that which has been aroused towards Jesus Christ? Even if we assume the character of Jesus to be an ideal creation, the argument is no less cogent. Where is the ideal creation which has exerted this singular power? The interval which separates the earliest of poets from the greatest of living ones is very wide, and contains many illustrious names; yet poetic genius has been unable to create a character which could similarly inspire the hearts of men, and thereby act mightily on man’s moral and spiritual being for eighteen centuries, and afford the promise of continuing to act mightily for ever. Jesus Christ alone has exerted such a power. What then is the inference? I answer that we must be in the presence of the superhuman.
2. The next fact mentioned by the historian is, that this influence has not been merely temporary or local, but has acted on all ages, nations, temperaments and conditions of men; in one word, it has been as wide as humanity itself.
The truth of this will not be far to seek; for it is everywhere stamped on the pages of history. The European, the Asiatic, the African, the aboriginal American, the native of the Polynesian Isles, notwithstanding that these races exhibit the widest divergency of intellect and character, have alike confessed its power. It has surmounted every peculiarity of temperament and of race. Men of the profoundest intellect have been penetrated by it; men of the greatest moral elevation have been raised still higher by its influences; it has touched a chord in the hearts of the uncivilized and the savage; yes, its influence has burst the trammels imposed by nationality, intellectual and moral training, and social condition. It speaks to man as man.
Is it true then that Jesus Christ is the one solitary character known to history who has exerted this influence?
We have had no lack of great men during the ages of the past; great conquerors, great philosophers and great poets – great men of various orders and degrees – who have possessed a wide range of intellectual vision; and I may add, many of whom have been animated by an earnest desire to benefit their fellows according to the light that was in them. But every one of them has been national or local, only partially able to break through the conditions imposed upon them by their birth and their moral and intellectual environment. Not one of them has been capable of speaking to all races, nations, temperaments, and conditions of mankind. No genius is perhaps more catholic than that of Shakespeare; yet compared with Jesus it is narrow. Its influence too is the influence of intellect, not of character. We may feel admiration for it; but to whom is the character divinely attractive? Who is impelled to self-sacrifice by the love of Shakespeare? Whom does it elevate to holiness? Whom has it rescued from moral degradation? None can speak to the universal heart of man but Jesus Christ.
What then is the inference? I answer, that a power must have manifested itself in Him which has burst through those bands by which the greatest of men are chained fast to that spiritual, moral, and intellectual environment in the midst of which they have been born and educated. If He is thus the only really catholic man, it proves the presence in Him of something which exists in no other man, He must be superhuman. Is it, I ask, believable that the very ideal of humanity has been produced and developed in the midst of the atmosphere of Jewish narrowness and exclusiveness, through the sole agency of those forces by which the moral and intellectual character of mankind is generated and produced? To assert its possibility is to deny the reign of law in the moral and spiritual worlds. Thistles cannot produce figs, nor brambles grapes.
3. The next fact mentioned by the historian is, that Jesus is “the highest pattern of virtue” that has ever been exhibited among mankind; in fact, the only one who can be propounded as an actual embodiment of holiness. This has been admitted by numbers of unbelievers. Mr. Mill concurs with Mr. Lecky. To these it would be easy to add a whole chorus of assenting voices. Mr. Mill goes so far as to affirm that even in these modern days the rational sceptic would do well to make Him the subject of imitation, and to live such a life as would meet with His approbation. Nay more, he treats with absolute scorn the idea which has so frequently been thrown out by opponents, that the perfection of the character can have been due to the inventions of His followers, or of the early Christians, whose whole sphere of thought was immeasurably beneath Him. The perfection of the moral character of Jesus therefore is an indisputable fact, which remains unassailed by the minute criticisms of an inconsiderable number of objectors. What the Baptist said of himself is still true of the holiest of men. They are not worthy to unloose the latchet of His sandals.
But if this be so, the question demands solution, how can we account for the moral perfection of Jesus Christ? To say that it is due to His exalted genius is simply to confess our inability to account for it. Why, I ask, is it that this exalted genius has appeared only once among men, if it is nothing more than the offspring of the forces which energize in the production of men? Has nature expended all her powers in His production; and retired ever since wearied with her work. But if one fact respecting man is more certain than another, it is this – characters of commanding moral elevation do not emerge from a hotbed of narrowness, bigotry, and fanaticism. All that great men under such circumstances can effect is to raise themselves to a moderate height above their surroundings. Yet Jesus was by birth a Jew; and His entire surroundings were those of Jewish thought and feeling such as prevailed during the century which preceded and that which followed the Advent, and respecting the character of which history gives ample evidence. Far more might we expect the forces of nature to develop by their unassisted power a venerable Howard out of one born and educated in the moral and spiritual atmosphere of a society of Kaffirs or of Bushmen, than that the perfection of the character of Jesus could be the natural outcome of the condition of Jewish thought during that period of time.
4. But the historian tells us that Jesus Christ has not only been the highest example of virtue, but the highest incentive to its practice. Here then we are in the presence of a fact, which, if true, is of the profoundest significance. Multitudes of men have in different degrees been patterns, though not perfect patterns, of virtue; but the whole course of history presents us with only one character who has been set up as the great motive and incentive to its practice; or, in other words, who constitutes in his person and history a great moral and spiritual power. This person is Jesus Christ our Lord. Some of the great teachers of religion and morality have, with various degrees of modesty, and frequently with the deepest misgivings, ventured to propound their example for the imitation of their followers; but the idea of propounding a teacher as the highest incentive to the practice of holiness, or, in other words, as the mightiest moral and spiritual power that can be brought to bear on man, is to be found in Christianity alone. The fact is, there is no other character known to history, real or fictitious, with respect to whom this would have been possible except Jesus Christ. The idea is one which is absolutely unique.
Let it be observed that to propound a man as an example of virtue, and to propound him as an incentive to its practice, are two things fundamentally distinct. All good men may be used as patterns of virtue in proportion to the degree of their holiness, and the elevation of their characters. There is also a very subordinate sense in which they may be said to be incentives to its practice, if their example is capable of exciting in others a spirit of emulation either to rival or to excel it. But such a power is very limited, nor is it in this sense that Jesus Christ is any incentive to holiness; for no man has yet been found presumptuous enough to think that he can rival or excel the holiness of Jesus. They can also exhort us, urge on us the motives to virtue; in a word, preach to us. But this is all that can be accomplished by even the holiest and the best of men.
Why is this? The answer is evident. A power which is capable of acting as an incentive to holiness, must be one that is capable of energizing on man’s moral and spiritual being. It must be a power capable of exerting an attractive influence; one which can bind the conscience, profoundly stir the emotions and the affections, call into activity all that is good in them, and enable the higher portions of human nature to triumph over those which are meaner and baser. Now there is nothing in an ordinary man, however holy, which can effect this. If done at all, it can only be by the exhibition of an attractiveness capable of seizing on some affection of our moral being; and of a right which is self-assertive to rule the conscience, and make him in whom it dwells the centre of moral and spiritual obligation. Such a power implies worship, adoration, love. Our moral nature, unless debased, refuses to bow before a fellowman, however holy. If therefore one can act on another as a power capable of impelling him to virtue, in the sense in which Jesus Christ is an incentive to holiness, it can only be by right of a superhuman superiority residing within him. Many men have inspired devotion within the sphere of their influence, as has been done by great generals both in ancient and modern times; but it is impossible to produce any man known to history, however great, who has acted as a motive to holiness.
Yet that Jesus Christ is thus presented in the New Testament is apparent from the most casual perusal of its pages. Nor is this merely accidental to its teaching, but of the very essence of it. The Synoptic Gospels, which have been represented as depicting Him in a less divine aspect, represent Him as claiming a right to supersede every tie which binds man to man in favour of Himself; and as grounding that claim on His own inherent worthiness, even to the extent of demanding unlimited sacrifice of self as due to Him. His whole deportment as depicted in these Gospels is that of one who feels that He has an inherent right to reign; and the fourth Gospel and the Apostolic epistles do little more than unfold the idea which runs through the discourses of the Synoptics. It is impossible therefore to affirm that the idea of representing Jesus as the centre of obligation, is an aftergrowth on Christianity. Every record which we possess proves that it formed part of its primary and original conception: yet the originality of the idea is startling, for it is the one solitary attempt to do so known to history. But further: since it has been made, it has not had a single imitator.
The question of fact therefore becomes one of the highest importance. Has the attempt proved a success? Has Jesus Christ energized in history as the mightiest of moral and spiritual powers? Is the evidence clearly legible on its pages? Further, I ask, is it, or is it not a fact, that He is the mightiest incentive to holiness, and self sacrifice, which is energizing at the present hour? There can be no doubt what must be the answer. To remove the action of Jesus Christ out of the history of the last eighteen centuries would be to reduce it to a blank. Whether his character, as depicted in the Gospels, be an ideal or an historical one, does not in any way affect the fact that its energy has been mighty, and that this one solitary attempt to exhibit a character as the highest incentive to virtue and holiness, has proved a great success. I will state the answer of history in the words of Mr. Lecky. “The brief record of three short years of active life, has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and than all the exhortations of moralists.”
Who with the history of the past in his hands can doubt the truth of this statement? Jesus Christ has stamped His impress on the entire range of modern civilization, its modes of thought, its legislation, its social customs, and its morality. If we survey the efforts that have been made for the amelioration of mankind, and the self-sacrifice by which these efforts have been carried out, it is not too much to say, that nine-tenths of it – it would probably be more correct to affirm, that ninety-none hundredths of it – have been called forth by attachment to Him, and by this alone.
I ask you specially to observe, that this result has not been due to the mere teaching of Jesus, great as its influence has been. It has been the result of a personal influence, seated in the record of a life. To this the entire history of Christendom bears witness. This alone has made Him capable of acting as a power, mighty to inspire devotion, love, and adoration. Apart from this, His doctrines and His moral teaching would have exerted as little influence as those of the philosophers and moralists, for what mankind stand in urgent need of is, not wise precepts for the regulation of life, but a moral and spiritual power, capable of making obedience to it an actuality. Nor is His unique power seated in a mere fond reminiscence of departed worth which perishes after a lapse of time; but in self-sacrifice rendered to one who is capable of recognizing that sacrifice which He has Himself evoked.
And, I ask, is He not energizing at this moment? Although we cannot see Him with our eyes, we can verify His present power in the facts of daily experience. The noble army of self-sacrificers in the Christian Church may be counted by hundreds of thousands. Wherever Christianity exists, its rank and file may be found.* Let us put the question to them, What is impelling you to your self-denying exertions? They will answer with unanimous voice, We are constrained by the love of Jesus Christ, and His divine attractiveness – His self-sacrifice for us impels us to sacrifice ourselves for Him. This is a fact which each of us may verify for himself, and it is unique in the history of man. These modern times have set up a phantom called the religion of humanity, whose great moral principle is altruism, or the sacrifice of self to the idea of human nature, i.e., the sum total of men and women who have existed in the past, or will exist in the future – a mere caricature of Christianity. But it is powerless! Where is its army of self-sacrificers? It stamps on the ground, but no legions appear at its bidding. All that its adherents have yet succeeded in accomplishing is to draw largely on the bank of hope.
*It is worthy of remark that this is the case even in the most degraded forms of Christianity, and has been so in every age. The divine rays which issue from the person of its Founder succeed in penetrating those mists of darkness and superstition which have brooded over the Church. Although these have grievously obscured the light, they have never been able to extinguish it. The reason of this is, that the person of Our Lord is so essential to Christianity, that even its most degraded forms cannot wholly destroy His personal Influence; and wherever the bright lineaments of His character disclose themselves they are necessarily an influence for good.
It follows therefore, inasmuch as the idea of making an individual the centre of a great moral and spiritual power is unique in the history of man, and when tried in the person of Jesus Christ, the only being known to history in whom the experiment was possible, has as a matter of unquestionable fact, exerted a mightier influence for good than all philosophers and moralists united, that the power thus manifested in Him must be superhuman.
5. One more fact is noticed by the historian – While the Christian Church, like all other societies which have ever existed, has been infected and defaced by various corruptions, it differs from every other in that it possesses in the character and example of its Founder an ever-enduring principle of regeneration.
Here again the facts of history are indubitable. The Church has been frequently overlaid by superstition; she has sanctioned practices which her Founder expressly forbade: she has, terrible to say, unsheathed the sword, which He expressly enjoined her to put up into its scabbard. All this is true: and its truth only increases the marvellousness of the fact which the historian brings to our notice, that she has ever found in the person of her Founder an enduring principle of regeneration. There is a depth of meaning in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ, which has transcended the actual Christianity of every age – something in fact, which soars high above the discordant Babel of her sects. It has been the universal law of human institutions that their corruptions have resulted in their slow and gradual dissolution. Hence empires have passed away; institutions have become effete; religions have become corrupt. But a principle of ever-renewing vitality has been seated in the bosom of Christianity; and the effect of the unveiling of the person of its Founder before the eyes of men, just as He has been depicted by the Evangelists, free from the false lineaments in which He has been enshrouded by human folly, and human sin, ever has been, and ever will be, the source of a new life to the Church which He has founded. In this respect the Church of Christ differs from every merely human institution.
Finally: let me ask you to observe that each of these manifestations of a superhuman power shining forth in Jesus Christ, do not stand by themselves solitary and alone. Even if they did, their evidential value would be great. But the whole of this evidence, (and it is only some of the most striking portions of it which I have adduced) possesses a cumulative force. I ask you fully to estimate the weight of the whole of it taken together, centring as it does in the person of Jesus Christ. From Him issues, not a single ray of divine light, but a mass of rays all converging in a common focus. Before the brightness of the light which He emits, all other illuminations grow dim, like the stars in the presence of the sun; all other activities are feebleness. There are only two alternatives before us. I will simply state them, and leave it to yourselves to choose which is the most philosophical and rational; Jesus Christ must be either the manifestation of a superhuman power, or of the ordinary forces which act in man, which have energized only this once in His production, and then ceased from their activity forevermore.
There is, I am aware, one other alternative which unbelief propounds, but which space prevents me from discussing here. It is that the Jesus of the Gospels is an ideal character, devoid of historical reality. What does this mean? Its meaning, stripped of all disguises is, that the mightiest power which for eighteen centuries has energized for good, nay more, which at this moment is the cause of nearly every institution for good which exists in Europe, is based on a delusion. This theory, when examined in its details and tested by philosophy and fact, hopelessly breaks down. It will be sufficient here to say, that until it can be shown flint some such shadowy creation has exerted a mightier influence for good during the ages of the past than the most strenuous exertions of the wisest and the best have been able to accomplish, the objection is dashed in pieces against the facts of history and the realities of human life.
But this alternative which unbelief propounds – the only one which it is able to propound – is terrible to contemplate. If it be true, human life is a delusion. It means this, and nothing less: – If the Jesus of the Gospels is an ideal creation, and not an historical reality, then a phantom and a shadow has been the centre of a mightier power, and has exerted a mightier influence for good, than all the realities which have ever existed. Good and wise men have struggled hard, but the results of their combined efforts have been as nothing compared with those which have been accomplished by this unreal creation of a number of distempered brains. If this be so, one thing is true, and one only – that man is walking in a vain shadow and disquieting himself in vain. Why then struggle for truth? for delusions are mightier than realities. Let us therefore take refuge in delusions, for their influence for good has been greater than all the self-sacrifice of the wisest and the best of men. This is the alternative which unbelief presents to us; and I say it is an alternative terrible to contemplate. If so, all is vanity: the present life is a dream; the life to come a blank; and man’s only hope – shall I not rather say, his best hope – to be speedily swallowed up in that eternal silence, out of which he has come, to which he is hastening, and from which there will be no awakening. This is the prospect we are asked to accept in exchange for our Christianity and our belief in that God who is the merciful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and whose dominion endureth throughout all ages; in whose presence there is fullness of joy, and at whose right hand there must be pleasures for evermore.
The question of the evidential value of miracles as necessary proofs of a revelation is in some degree complicated with that of special providences and answers to prayer. Professor Mozley allows that these are unseen miracles, only differing from actual ones in that their manifestation of special purpose is more or less imperfect. It is obvious that if a miracle be viewed simply as an occurrence in the physical Universe, it is impossible clearly to distinguish it from a special providence, because both alike involve such an interference with the order of nature, that a different order of events must have taken place but for the fact of such interference. The idea of a special providence is that the order of events has been diverted for a special purpose, and a new order of sequences introduced, which otherwise would not have existed. I use this language because it is the best that I can employ, although it is unquestionably inaccurate, since the very affirmation that God interferes with the order of the Universe in acts of his special providence amounts almost to a denial that He is always energizing in the production of its usual order; or in other words, that those events which are designated special providences are the effects of God’s action in the Universe, while ordinary providences are not. Having thus pointed out the inaccuracy of the term, I may proceed to use it in its ordinary acceptation.
If special providences and miracles are alike interferences with the order of the Universe, they can only be brought about by some modification in the action of its forces; for the order of nature is nothing else than the sequences which are the results of their activity. In this respect special providences and miracles are alike; and only distinguishable from one another, as far as the one may be a more clear manifestation of purpose than the other. It follows therefore that the evidential value of a miracle as an attestation to a revelation is diminished in proportion to the difficulty of discriminating between the special purpose involved in a miracle, and that which is manifested in what is called an act of God’s special providence: for it is clear that if the same event could subserve two purposes, it could no longer be the distinguishing mark of either.
But a distinction may be laid down between a miracle and a special providence, if the word “miracle” is used only to denote such occurrences as are preceded by a prediction that they are going to happen. Such a prediction would make the purpose of the event apparent as centring in a particular person, and thus constitute a special attestation to him. But here the question becomes complicated with events which are brought about as answers to prayer; and hence the difficulty of discriminating between them and miracles. A special answer to a special prayer, if the petition be for something other than the exertion of an influence on the mind, although the answer may be brought about through the agency of the existing forces of the Universe, necessarily involves some special modification of their action, because the supposition presupposes an order of events introduced in answer to the prayer different from that which would have happened if the petition had not been offered. But the event occurring in answer to a petition is almost as clear a manifestation of purpose as an event occurring after a prediction that it is going to happen, which we call a miracle. Both the one and the other cause the event to point to a particular person; in the one case, to the person who offers the petition and obtains the answer; and in the other, to the person who uttered the prediction on which the miracle followed as the result. In each case it would constitute an attestation to that particular individual, showing that the order of nature has been changed in his favour. Several of the Scriptural miracles are in fact described as answers to prayer; and this increases the difficulty of clearly discriminating between palpable answers to prayer, and what are usually called evidential miracles.
One distinction between them has been laid down, that to constitute an event an evidential miracle, it must be brought about instantaneously; whereas an answer to prayer may be a slow and gradual operation. I doubt, however, whether the distinction is one of real importance, because a series of definite and unquestionable answers to prayer occurring to the same person would be as clear a manifestation of purpose in reference to that individual as any miracle could be, and would prove that God marked him out for His special favour by deviating from His usual course of action at his request. A series of such answers would constitute such a special divine intervention as the Scriptures designate a sign (σημειον). It is true that in some of the Scripture miracles which are described as taking place in answer to prayer, a special command was given that the event should happen after the prayer had been offered, though this is not always the case, as in the resurrections wrought by Elijah and Elisha; and, in fact, many of their other miracles were unaccompanied by a prediction. It is difficult to see how a series of such answers can be distinguished as to their evidential value from a miracle.
This difficulty is increased when a person professes to have been favoured with a long series of answers, all of which are brought about in favour of a particular institution. It is difficult to see how such do not constitute a direct divine attestation in its behalf. I cannot better illustrate my meaning than by referring to the well-known case of Mr. Müller’s Orphan Asylum at Bristol. This institution has been in existence for a considerable number of years, and is one which from a small beginning has grown to very large dimensions. Its founder believes that it owes its support exclusively to the influence of faith and prayer. He disclaims the use of those means by which other religious societies are supported; he makes none of the usual appeals for funds, holds no public meetings, inserts no advertisements, and refuses to employ any organization for the purpose of obtaining pecuniary support. On the contrary, when funds are wanted, prayer is offered for them; and they are believed to come in consequence; and he affirms that this has never failed to supply them in their greatest straits.
But further; not only does Mr. Müller believe that this has supplied him with all the necessary funds for the support of his establishment, but he narrates a considerable number of occurrences as having taken place in answer to his prayers, involving not mere influences exerted on the mind, but direct interferences with the order of nature; as, to adduce a single example, the change of a north wind into a south wind, when in consequence of the failure of his warming apparatus, and the difficulty of repairing it, the children were in danger of suffering from cold. Taking the whole series of these events, and supposing them to have been brought about in the manner in which Mr. Müller believes them to have been, as definite answers to no less definite prayers, they constitute as distinct a divine attestation to the Orphan Asylum as could be given by any series of miracles.
I have cited the Orphan Asylum as a crucial example, because it is so remarkable an institution as to have attracted the attention of unbelievers. Mr. Wallace, who has some claims to be called the originator of the Darwinian theory of evolution, has referred to it in his work on Spiritualism, as a proof of the reality of spiritual influences. He pronounces a just condemnation on Sir W. Thomson’s and Professor Tyndall’s proposal to bring answers to prayer to an experimental test, by separating off two hospitals, one of which should receive the benefit of the united prayers of Christians, and the other should not, and testing the efficacy of such prayers by the results as manifested by the number of recoveries. Accepting the facts in connection with the Orphan Asylum, precisely as they appear to Mr. Müller’s mind, he urges them on their consideration as an unquestionable proof of the efficacy of prayer. He then propounds his own theory as to their origin. He does not consider them as answers to prayer in any Christian sense of the term; but that Mr. Müller by the force of his devotions congregates around him a large number of kindred spirits, who suggest to other men and women of similar feelings, and possessing adequate means, to supply the wants of the Institution. To similar influences Mr. Wallace ascribes no inconsiderable number of the miracles recorded in the Bible, and those which are reported in Church and other histories.
On the discussion of Mr. Wallace’s theories in connection with this subject, I cannot enter here. I have only to do with the facts of the Orphan Institution, as bearing on the evidential value of miracles. I have no intention to dispute the general truth of the facts as stated by Mr. Müller, although it is highly probable that they have received some colouring from his own peculiar opinions. To accept his testimony to the facts is one thing; to accept his views as to the agency which has brought them about is altogether another. If his views on this point are correct, the conclusion is inevitable that the Orphan Asylum has as definite a divine attestation in its favour as it would if its wants were supplied by the most direct form of miracle. In fact, a long series of such immediate answers to a set of definite petitions is of itself a miracle of the most unequivocal description. But it must be remembered that the person who believes himself to have been favoured by this kind of attestation for a long period of years, makes no claims to divine commission of any kind, only to be the founder of a useful institution; nor does he lay claim to any divine illumination as directing him in its superintendence. The divine attestation, which has been given by this long series of answers to prayer, is tendered to the institution, and nothing else. If the facts as narrated by Mr. Müller are assigned by him to their true causes, the value of the testimony of miracles to a divine commission is greatly weakened by them, as in that case it is clear that a series of events, which it is impossible to distinguish from miracles, has been brought about, not for the purpose of attesting a divine commission, or anything resembling it, but for the benefit of an institution which does not differ in point of goodness from a vast number of others. This difficulty is further increased when it is remembered that the principle laid down is, that all other institutions for good might live and prosper by the use of similar means. If so, this would make a set of special interferences with the order of nature not the exception, but the rule of the divine government, thereby depriving a miracle of all evidential value as any attestation to a divine commission.
But I have not to deal with anything theoretical as to what might happen, if other institutions were to adopt similar means of supporting themselves; but with what has actually happened with respect to the Orphan Asylum. I fully concede that it is a very remarkable institution; but I believe that its growth and success can be accounted for by ordinary human causes without having recourse to the theory of special divine interventions.
I observe therefore that although its founder adopts none of the usual methods by which other societies obtain their income, it is clear that he employs means which, although highly efficacious, are nevertheless purely human. It is the single institution of its kind, and appeals to a sentiment which is particularly attractive to a large number of minds, the profession of living by faith: or in other words, of deriving its support from a set of supernatural interventions. All such persons (and their class is a numerous one), take a deep interest in the success of such an institution. Now, although its founder disclaims the use of means, such as are employed by other societies, yet he uses others equally efficacious, among which is the annual publication of a book containing an account of these special interventions during the past year, which is sent to all subscribers. This certainly constitutes an appeal of a very effective character, and one preeminently well fitted to stimulate the particular class of minds to which it is addressed, to large and frequent contributions.
But it may be objected, that however efficacious these means may be now, this will not account for the original setting up of the institution. I think that any one who will carefully investigate the account which Mr. Müller has given of its origin, will be able to assign it to a number of ordinary human causes, without invoking the aid of any special divine interventions in its favour; but to enter on a minute criticism of them would not be desirable in this place.
Many of the events narrated by him which involve special interferences with the order of nature, may be readily accounted for on the principle of coincidences, such as have occurred to each of us during our past lives; and are often of a very remarkable character, but which by no means involve the assumption that they have been brought about by special interferences with the forces of nature in our favour. But it is not my purpose in this place to discuss the abstract question, but only to consider how far such interferences as those alleged to have taken place in connection with the Orphan Asylum, affect the question of miracles, as evidential to a divine revelation. It seems to me to be impossible to distinguish between such occurrences as those above alluded to, if they are brought about in answer to definite petitions, from evidential miracles. They would be simply marks of divine favour to particular persons and institutions; and would consequently be devoid of evidential value as proofs of the reality of a divine commission.
We know from the history of St. Paul that he habitually trusted to God’s ordinary providence for the supply of his wants, rather than to special interventions.* Viewed in connection with the question of the evidential value of miracles, the whole subject of special answers to prayer requires very serious consideration, as it is evident that the analogy between them and miracles is of the closest character. When we offer special requests for special interferences with the ordinary mode of the divine acting, it is only in consonance with Christian humility to add to our prayers that God will be pleased to reject them, if we in our ignorance have asked Him to do what is not in accordance with the divine will. Surely a firm trust in His ordinary providence, and an habitual recognition that the forces of the universe in their daily operation are regulated by His wisdom, and subserving the purposes of His goodness, is quite as religious and reverential a state of mind, as that which is constantly asking Him to make special interventions on our behalf. Many of the prevailing ideas on this subject even among religious men owe their origin to their failing to recognize the teaching of the Bible, that all the forces of the universe are manifestations of the activity of God.
*See the account of the dangers he encountered in his Missionary travels, 2 Cor 12. St. Luke’s narrative of his voyage to home, his shipwreck, and escape, is a striking illustration of the same habitual trust.
It will be seen that the view which I have taken in this and the preceding Lecture respecting the evidential value of miracles, and the relation in which they stand to the Christian revelation, differs very materially from that which has been propounded by Professor Mozley in his first Campton Lecture. So important is this difference that it will be necessary to offer a few additional observations on the subject, for which it was impossible to find room in the Lecture itself.
The view propounded in the Lecture, briefly stated, is as follows: – The essence of the Christian revelation consists in Our Lord’s divine person and work, which constitute Him the visible manifestation of the invisible God, and not in a number of dogmatic statements or moral precepts. His entire character is in fact a manifestation of the divine in union with the human, constituting an harmonious whole, of which the miracles form an important portion of the delineation. In one word, they are viewed as the natural outcome of the divine which dwelt within Him, and which manifested itself as much in His actions and teaching, in the spotless perfection of His character, and above all, in the divine self-sacrifice of His life and death, as in those actions which are usually designated His miracles. Further, while many of the miracles recorded in the New Testament were not wrought for directly evidential purposes (those which are directly affirmed to have been wrought for this purpose being few in number); yet all miracles, like all other manifestations of the divine, must have an indirectly evidential value, as indicating the presence and energy of a superhuman power. Also, while there are recorded in the New Testament a considerable number of doctrinal statements and moral precepts, it is a fact that however startling a statement may have been uttered by Our Lord, or whatever degree of opposition it called forth on the part of His opponents, or of incredulity in His disciples, He never condescends to perform a miracle in order to prove the truth of His assertions, but rests it solely on His own absolute knowledge and veracity.* Nor was such a thing once done by His apostles. In the same manner while He repeatedly appealed to His miracles as evidence of His divine character, He referred to them as portions of His moral working, and only appealed to them separately when the higher form of evidence failed to command assent.
*There are but two apparent exceptions to this rule, viz., that of the cure of the paralytic in proof of His “power on earth to forgive sins,” and the raising of Lazarus, “that the people who stood by might believe that His Father had sent Him.”
This view of the subject seems to me to be rendered necessary by the most direct assertions of the sacred writers. Besides the evidence adduced in the Lecture, a large number of the passages quoted in the Supplement to the first Lecture for the purpose of proving that the essence of the Christian revelation consists in the person and work of Christ, tend equally to prove that the highest attestation to His divine Mission was His self-evidential character. So strong are the assertions on this point in those portions of the 1st Epistle and the Gospel of St. John, to which I have already referred, that any other view seems to me inconsistent with assigning to them canonical authority. The writer affirms that the life of the Logos was manifested. It was the light of men. This light was manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. It shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. He was the true light which enlightens every man that cometh into the world. If these statements are the veritable utterances of the Apostle, they are conclusive on the subject. They make it certain that Jesus Christ must be a manifestation of the divine on the sphere of the human, the Sun of the moral and spiritual worlds, which energizes in them mightily. If this be so, it follows that the character of our evidential position must be such as I have described. First, Jesus Christ and His entire divine working, in which He bears witness to Himself. Secondly, His miracles, viewed as wonders, signs, and mighty deeds.
The entire argument of Professor Mozley rests on a different basis. He considers the essence of Christianity to consist in a number of statements of dogmatic truth, the discovery of which lies beyond the powers of human reason. Of the truth of these statements he maintains that the miracles form the one great attestation and guarantee; or in other words, that they would be absolutely incredible but for their confirmation by miracles. His position is clearly stated in the following passage: – “There is one great necessary purpose, then, which divines assign to miracles, viz., the proof of a Revelation. And certainly if it were the will of God to give a Revelation, there are plain and obvious reasons for asserting that miracles are necessary as the guarantee and voucher of that Revelation. A Revelation is, properly speaking, such only by virtue of telling us something which we could not know without it. But how do we know that that communication of what is undiscoverable by human reason is true. Our reason cannot prove the truth of it, for it is by the very supposition beyond our reason. There must be then some note or sign to certify it, and distinguish it as a true communication from God, which note can be nothing else than a miracle.”
This passage, which contains the essence of the view in question, seems to me to be based on the direct assumption of the point at issue. “A Revelation,” says the Professor, “is properly speaking such only by telling us something that we could not know without it.” This assumption is involved in the use of the word “Telling.” It takes for granted that a Revelation, to be such, must consist in certain abstract statements of truths to be believed, and not of facts such as St. John speaks of, which he could see, hear, and bear witness to. It is in fact assumed not only that a Revelation, to be such, must be a dogmatic Revelation; but that it cannot consist of truths, which have a self-evidencing power to the heart and the conscience, and through them to the understanding. Such a view seems to me not only to contravene the express statements of the fourth Gospel, but the whole of the implied teaching of the Pauline epistles.
I by no means dispute that a Revelation, “to be worthy of the name,” must communicate to us something which was previously unknown. This can certainly be done in many other ways besides in a number of dogmatic propositions. St. Paul definitely affirms that the Universe is a Revelation of God. “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being manifested by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. For that which is known of God is manifest in them, for God has showed it unto them.” Words could hardly have been framed to affirm in a more definite manner that the Universe constitutes a revelation of the eternal power and Godhead of its Creator, and one of so distinct and definite a character that the heathen were without excuse for not attending to it. Yet in making this revelation, God has told us nothing respecting its forces or its laws, but has left them to be discovered by the use of the faculties with which He has endowed us. Of what, I ask, does this revelation consist? Evidently of an immense number of objective facts, showing forth the divine power and wisdom, and in an inferior degree his other attributes. Every creative work of God is unquestionably a discovery of a new truth, and, as such, a revelation of Himself. But it consists of a fact, manifested to man’s understanding, the meaning of which he is capable of discovering; not the dogmatic affirmation of some truth previously unknown. Least of all does such a revelation require to be confirmed by a miracle wrought to attest either its reality or its truth. On the contrary it is self-evidencing, and its miracles, which are God’s creative works, constitute its essence.
In a similar manner another great Revelation of God has been made in man’s conscience and moral nature, by which we learn the law of duty, and that the Creator of the Universe is not only a Being who possesses wisdom and power, but that He is also a moral being.* But here again the revelation does not contain a single dogmatic statement, nor is it confirmed by a single miracle, except that great one which constitutes its essence, the moral nature of man, and the greatest of all marvels, the creation of a free agent.
*Here again St. Paul’s assertions are definite and precise. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law unto them selves; which show the works of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.” – Rom. 2:14, 15.
Again, a resurrection from the dead would constitute a real revelation; even if unaccompanied by a single dogmatic explanation. It would plainly be a discovery of at least one truth which was previously unknown, viz, that man was capable of a renewed life after he had undergone the stroke of death, and would thereby impart a certain degree of reasonableness to the expectation that others would receive the same. So again the appearance of an angel, and an actual conversation with one, would be an unquestionable revelation that there were other orders of intelligences in existence besides men. These, and a multitude of other kindred things, would in the truest sense of the term constitute revelations of truths, to which the unaided power of man’s reason could never have penetrated, yet they are self-evidential, and require no miracle to confirm them. In a similar manner God’s revelation of His moral perfections made in the life and death of Jesus Christ is self-evidential. In it, as St. John says, the divine life is manifested. We can see it, i.e. with the eye of our moral vision, and draw conclusions from it in the same manner, as we do from the other objective revelations of God.
In reply then to the question proposed by Professor Mozley, How do we know that the communication of what is undiscoverable by human reason is true?, I answer, By beholding it. Our reason cannot prove the truth of it until it has been discovered. Granted. But this forms no obstacle to our ability to recognize God in it, when He has thus revealed Himself. Such revelations require no note or sign to certify that they are true communications from God, other than themselves, when contemplated by the eye of reason. It is clear therefore that his remarks are only applicable to such revelations as consist of statements of dogmatic truths which would have been undiscoverable by the unaided human intellect. But whatever connection such truths may have with the Christian Revelation, it is certain that the sacred writers affirm the presence of an objective Revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, apart from the dogmatic assertions which are found in the New Testament.
I fully agree with Professor Mozley that such assertions as some of those made by Our Lord respecting Himself would be incredible if made by one who had passed thirty-three years in converse with mankind without once exhibiting anything superhuman in his character. But it by no means follows that the only way of doing this is by the display of those marvels in the physical universe which we commonly designate miracles. Surely the presence of the divine is as clearly recognizable in superhuman holiness and loveliness as in acts of power in nature. I admit that the divine presence is manifested in the volcano and the earthquake; but it is far more so in the character of Christ our Lord as delineated in the Gospels. Every one of His actions was radiant with superhuman goodness, and surely a character which is a manifestation of superhuman goodness is a stronger guarantee of truthfulness than the performance of any number of marvellous works. Apart from such manifestations the assertions concerning Himself which are attributed to Him in the Gospel of St. John would not be rendered credible by the performance of any number of mere marvels in the physical Universe. Power is no doubt an attribute of God, but moral perfection is no less so. If anything analogous to miracles can be performed by the agency of demons, it is clear that the only means of distinguishing between the divine and the diabolical, must be the moral impress which they bear.
It follows therefore that our acceptance of Our Lord’s testimony respecting himself is founded on His entire divine working, manifested during His life on earth, and not on His miracles pure and simple. Such a person could not but have known whether his statements were true or false. We therefore accept them as we do those of any other witness, on the ground of his adequate knowledge and entire veracity. Professor Mozley has more fully expressed his views on this subject in another passage of this lecture. It has been quoted somewhat unfairly by the author of Supernatural Religion. Still I think that the general mode of putting the case incurs a serious danger of causing misconception. As the passage is a long one, I will only quote its salient points.
“If then a person of evident integrity and loftiness of character rose into notice in a particular country and community eighteen centuries ago, who made these communications about himself, that he had existed before his natural birth, &c., &c.” (here follow a number of affirmations which Our Lord actually made respecting Himself as reported in the fourth Gospel). “If this person made these assertions respecting himself; and all that was done was to make the assertions, what would be the inevitable conclusion of sober reason respecting that person? The necessary conclusion of sober reason respecting that person would be that he was disordered in his understanding. What other decision could we come to, when a man looking like one of ourselves, and only exemplifying in his life and circumstances the ordinary course of nature, [The italics are mine.] said this about himself, but that when reason had lost its balance, a dream of extraordinary and unearthly grandeur might be the result. By no rational being could a just and benevolent life be accepted as proof of such astonishing announcements. Miracles then are the necessary complement of the truth of such announcements, which without them are purposeless and abortive, the unfinished fragments of a design which is nothing unless it is the whole. They are necessary to the justification of such announcements, which unless they are supernatural truths are the wildest delusions. The matter and its guarantee are the two parts of a revelation, the absence of either of which neutralizes and undoes it.”
This passage is misleading, because while it contains statements very closely resembling the facts of the Gospel, Dr. Mozley applies them to a condition of things wholly different from those exhibited in the life of Christ as there depicted. I fully admit that if a mere man, who differed in nothing from ordinary good men made such statements, they would be utterly incredible, and the fair inference would be that he had become suddenly insane. But the Gospels do not tell us that it was an ordinary man like ourselves who made these assertions; but one whose entire character and actions were as much a manifestation of superhuman goodness and holiness, as His miracles were of superhuman power. To assume that Our Lord before He performed His first miracle at Cana, did not differ from an ordinary man, is to beg the whole question. In fact it is simply impossible that He did not, if His own affirmations and those of the writers of the New Testament are true, that he who had seen Him had seen the Father; and that the fullness of Godhead dwelt in His incarnate person. The question is not what we should think of such assertions, if made by a man of ordinary goodness; but what we should think of them, if made by one who during the whole of his past life had been the highest manifestation of the moral perfections of God. St. Luke tells us that even at the age of twelve years Jesus astonished the Jewish doctors by His understanding and answers. Surely during the eighteen years which elapsed between this event and his public ministry, when His manhood had become fully developed, the divine rays must have shone in Him with greater brilliancy. According to Professor Mozley’s position, these assertions, if they had been made by Our Lord before He had performed His first miracle at Cana, might have been justly deemed the results of insanity (we know that the Jews did subsequently affirm that he was mad); but they would have been rendered credible by its performance. Surely such a position is untenable. The error has originated in the incorrect assumption that Our Lord did not differ from an ordinary man until He manifested that difference by the performance of miracles.
But the Professor continues, “Would not a perfectly sinless character be a proof of a revelation? Undoubtedly that would be as great a miracle as any that could be conceived; but where is the proof of perfect sinlessness? No outward life and conduct, however just, benevolent, and irreproachable, could prove this, because goodness depends on the inward motive, and the perfection of the inward motive is not proved by the outward act.” ... “We accept Our Lord’s perfect goodness then on the same evidence upon which we admit the rest of His supernatural character; but not as proved by the outward goodness of His life, by His character, sublime as it was, as it presented itself to the eye.”
First. This affirmation is a very unfortunate one, because it directly traverses one made by Our Lord Himself as reported in the Fourth Gospel, “which of you convinceth me of sin; and if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?” Surely Our Lord here affirms that the inability of any one to convince Him of sin was an adequate proof that His moral character was perfect. He demands to be believed in virtue of His inherent truthfulness; and on the strength of it He proceeds to make the affirmation of His preexistence, “Before Abraham was, I am.” He certainly here distinctly lays down that His absolute sinlessness was a sufficient ground for His affirmation being entitled to the fullest credence.
Secondly. But, says the Professor, how could this sinlessness be known? It is impossible that we could know that any man was sinless unless we could penetrate to his motives, and this we cannot do. Surely this is hypercritical. A being whose entire outward life was a manifestation of absolute moral purity, must have been equally pure in his inward character. “The tree,” says Our Lord, “is known by its fruits.” A being whose actual life is moral perfection, while his inward life is corrupt, must possess a superhuman power of hypocrisy. My answer, therefore, to the question, “How could the perfection of Jesus be proved?” is, By His perfect life. It was a question, not of theory, but of fact. I fully admit “that we accept Our Lord’s perfect goodness on the same evidence on which we admit the rest of His supernatural character,” i.e. by its manifestations. But here let it be observed, the proof of the manifestations of his superhuman power derived from His miracles is dependent on a complicated chain of historical proof; that of His divine working in the history of the past and the facts of the present is patent to the ordinary student of history.
It may be urged. that large numbers of the Jews would not have any evidence that His character was morally stainless; and consequently to such persons it would be no sufficient guarantee of the truth of his assertions. This I fully admit. The same observation is equally true with respect to those who did not witness His miracles; and we know, as matter of fact, that even many who did, ascribed them to demoniacal agency. But it was far more difficult to ascribe His manifestations of divine goodness to such an influence than His miracles, when viewed separately from their moral environment. Both His moral perfection and His miracles could only be evidential as far as He afforded evidence of their reality.
But the character of the evidence has become widely different in the present day from what it was in Our Lord’s. Then the miracles could be witnessed; now they cannot. Then their reality could be tested; now it cannot; now they can only be accepted on the testimony of those who witnessed them. Then the only alternative, if they were accepted as true, was between their being wrought by the finger of God or by Satanic agency. This latter alternative would weigh little now; but we are embarrassed by the length of the chain of the historic proof, and other difficulties peculiar to modern times, which considerably overbalance this advantage. Those who came into direct contact with Jesus were able to behold the divine radiance of His character. This we cannot do; but we have eighteen centuries of experience of the superhuman working of this character in history, and of the laws which regulate the evolution of ordinary men. This furnishes us with materials for judging whether a superhuman power manifested itself in Jesus Christ of which His contemporaries were destitute. We have also the character depicted before our eyes in the pages of the Evangelists. The only question is, whether it is possible that this character can be an ideal one, and of this our means of judging are ample. If any one will set himself thus carefully to balance our losses and our gains, I think that the conclusion at which he will arrive must be that the evidences of the divine mission of Jesus Christ which we now possess are of equal, if not of greater weight, than those which were enjoyed by those who lived in the apostolic age. It is true that we witness no physical miracles now; but we witness mightier moral ones. The moral miracles we can behold and verify: these being established, render our proof of the physical ones comparatively easy, which, when dissevered from that of the moral ones, becomes a balance of intricate probabilities.
The history of John the Baptist fully confirms the positions laid down in the Lecture, that miracles are not the one indispensable proof of a divine mission. The divine mission of John is directly affirmed by Our Lord. “Among those that are born of women,” he says, “there has not arisen a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” These words, if taken strictly, affirm that he was a greater prophet even than Moses. Yet not only do the Synoptics record no miracle as having been performed by him, but the fourth Gospel expressly affirms that he wrought none, while at the same time it attributes to him several dogmatical assertions respecting the superhuman greatness of Our Lord. If it be urged that a miracle was wrought on the occasion of the descent of the divine Spirit on Our Lord at his baptism, I reply, though the special mark to John by which the presence of the Messiah was indicated, and to him in the highest sense evidential, yet it was not so to others. As far as the people are concerned, the evidence of the fourth Gospel is incontestable, “John did no miracle, but all things which John spake of this man were true.”
If it be urged that while miracles may not be necessary to prove a divine mission, yet they are necessary to prove the truth of a revelation, and that John had no revelation to communicate, I reply, that it is equally true that neither Elijah nor Elisha introduced a new revelation, yet the Old Testament ascribes to them a number of miracles. Nor is the affirmation that he had no revelation to communicate strictly accurate: for he was far more a communicator of one than any of the former prophets, in that he pointed out the Messiah as actually come; and authoritatively affirmed that Jesus was He. It is true that the Synoptics describe him rather as a preacher of repentance; but St. John’s Gospel not only affirms that he gave distinct testimony to Jesus as the actual Messiah, but that he made several remarkable statements as to the divine character of His person, one of them being an affirmation referred to by Dr. Mozley, as requiring to be substantiated by miracle, that “He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world;” and if we accept the conclusion of the third chapter as an utterance of the Baptist, and not a meditation of its author, he must have announced yet profounder truths respecting His divine character. Although utterances of this kind are not directly mentioned by the Synoptics, yet they make it certain that John must have given a very clear and well known testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus, for they inform us that after Our Lord had performed the high Messianic act of cleansing the temple, and the Sanhedrim demanded His authority for doing so, He replied by asking their opinion as to the divine mission of John the Baptist; and that after consulting among themselves, they declined to return an answer, on the ground that if they affirmed its reality, Our Lord would fall back on His testimony to Himself as the Messiah; and if they denied it, they were afraid of a serious loss of reputation among the people, who believed in John as a prophet. If miracles are the necessary confirmation of a revelation, it is difficult to understand how a prophet who had a direct divine commission to point out Jesus as the Messiah, was not armed with the power of working them, while that power was so largely possessed by prophets with a mission so inferior as that of Elijah or Elisha. According to the theory which has been commonly accepted, when John the Baptist pointed out Jesus as the Messiah, and declared Him to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” and that “he that believed on Him had everlasting life,” he ought to have wrought a miracle to prove that such extraordinary assertions were true. It is impossible for me to enter here on a discussion of the grounds on which John rested the truth of his divine mission. I am only concerned with it in this place as showing that the affirmation that miracles are indispensable for the proof of its reality, and that certain truths are incredible unless they are attested by them, is not borne out by the statements of the New Testament. I am far from wishing to deny their value as a portion of the attestation given to Jesus as the Messiah, but this is a very different thing from affirming that they constitute the sole attestation, or are absolutely necessary to prove the truth of His utterances. The fact is, that neither abstract nor moral truths can be attested by miracles, viewed merely as marvels or exhibitions of power. As mere exhibitions of power, the greatest miracles recorded in the Bible are transcended by the daily workings of God in Creation and Providence. If we cannot attain to the knowledge of certain truths by the use of our reason, we can only accept them on the testimony of a witness whom we knew to be veracious and to possess adequate means of information.
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