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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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God sees fit to carry on his common operations on established and uniform principles. These principles, whether relating to the physical or moral world, are called the laws of nature. And by the laws of nature the most enlightened philosophers and divines have understood the uniform plan according to which, or the uniform manner in which, God exercises His power throughout the created universe.

This uniform method of divine operation is evidently conducive to the most important ends. It manifests the immutable wisdom and goodness of God, and, in ways too many to be here specified, promotes the welfare of His creatures. Without the influence of this uniformity, rational beings would have no effectual motive to effort, and the affairs of the universe, intelligent and unintelligent, would be in a state of total confusion. And this general fact may be considered as a sufficient reason why God, in the common course of His providence, has adopted a uniform method of operation in preference to any other.

But if, in conducting the affairs of his great empire, God sees, in any particular case, as good a reason for a deviation from this uniform order, as there is generally for uniformity, that is, if the glory of his attributes and the good of His creatures require it—and no one can say that such a case may not occur—then, unquestionably, the unchangeable God will cause such a deviation; in other words, will work miracles.

It is admitted that no man, apart from the knowledge of facts, could ever, by, mere reasoning, have arrived at a confident belief, that the conjuncture supposed would certainly occur. But to us who know that mankind are so depraved and wretched, and that the efforts of human wisdom to obtain relief have been in vain, the importance of a special divine interposition is very apparent. And being informed what the plan is, which a merciful God has adopted for our recovery to holiness and happiness, and being satisfied that this plan, so perfectly suited to the end in view, could never have been discovered by man, and never executed, except by a divine dispensation involving miracles, we conclude, that the introduction of a new and miraculous dispensation was in the highest degree an honor to God and a blessing to the world. The mode which God has chosen to impart the knowledge of this dispensation to man, is that of making a revelation to a number of individuals, who are to write and publish it for the benefit of the world. This revelation to individuals is made in such a manner as renders it certain to their minds, that the revelation is from God. But how can that revelation be made available to others? It will not answer the purpose for those who receive it merely to declare that God has made such a revelation to them, and authorized them to proclaim it to their fellow-creatures. For how shall we know that they are not deceivers? Or, if their character is such as to repel any suspicion of this kind, how shall we know that they are not themselves deceived? Have we not a right, nay, are we not bound in duty, to ask for evidence of the divine authority of what they reveal? But what evidence will suffice? The reply is obvious. The revelation, in order to be of use to us, as it is to those who receive it directly from God, must not only be declared by them to us, but must have a divine attestation. In other words, those who declare it to us must show, by some incontestable proof, that it is from God. Such proof is found in a miracle. If an event takes place which we know to be contrary to the laws of nature, we at once recognize it as the special act of him who is the God of nature, and who alone can suspend its laws, and produce effects in another way. The evidence of a direct interposition of God given in this way is irresistible. No man, no infidel, could witness an obvious miracle, without being struck with awe, and recognizing the finger of God.

It is clear that no event, which can be accounted for on natural principles, can prove a supernatural interposition, or contain a divine attestation to the truth of a prophet's claim. But when we look at an event which cannot be traced to the laws of nature, and is clearly above them, such as the burning of the wood upon the altar in the case of Elijah's controversy with the false prophets, or the resurrection of Lazarus, we cannot avoid the conviction, that the Lord of heaven and earth does, by such a miracle, give his testimony, that Elijah is his prophet, and that Jesus is the Messiah. The evidence arising from miracles is so striking and conclusive, that there is no way for an infidel to evade it, but to deny the existence of miracles, and to hold that all the events called miraculous may be accounted for according to the laws of nature.

Hume arrays uniformsexperience against the credibility of miracles. But the shallow sophistry of his argument has been fully exposed by Campbell, Paley, and many others. We inquire what and how much he means by uniform experience. Does he mean his own experience? But because he has never witnessed a miracle, does it follow that others have not? Does he mean the uniform experience of the greater part of mankind? But how does he know that the experience of a smaller, part has not been different from that of the greater part? Does he mean, then, the uniform experience of all mankind in all ages? How then does his argument stand? He undertakes to prove that no man has ever witnessed or experienced a miracle, and his real argument is, that no one has ever witnessed or experienced it. In other words, to prove that there has never been a miracle, he asserts that there never has been a miracle. This is the nature of his argument—an example of begging the question, which a man of Hume's logical powers would never have resorted to, had it not been for his enmity to religion.

The miraculous events recorded in the Scriptures, particularly those which took place in the times of Moses and Christ, have all the marks which are necessary to prove them to have been matters of fact, and worthy of full credit, and to distinguish them from the feats of jugglers and impostors. This has been shown very satisfactorily by Leslie, Paley, Douglas, and many others. These miracles took place in the most public manner, and in the presence of many witnesses; so that there was opportunity to subject them to the most searching scrutiny. Good men and bad men were able and disposed to examine them thoroughly, and to prove them to have been impostures, if they had been so.

A large number of men, of unquestionable honesty and intelligence, constantly affirmed that the miracles took place before their eyes. And some of these original witnesses wrote and published histories of the facts, in the places where they were alleged to have occurred, and near the time of their occurrence. In these histories it was openly asserted that the miracles, as described, were publicly known and acknowledged to have taken place; and this no one took upon him to contradict, or to question. Moreover, many persons who stood forth as witnesses of these miracles passed their lives in labors, dangers, and sufferings, in attestation of the accounts they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief of the truth of those accounts; and, from the same motive, they voluntarily submitted to new rules of conduct; while nothing like this is true respecting any other pretended miracles.

It has been a long agitated question, whether miracles have ever been wrought, or can be consistently supposed to be wrought, by apostate spirits.

It is sufficient to say here, that it would be evidently inconsistent with the character of God to empower or to suffer wicked beings to work miracles in support of falsehood. And if wicked spirits in the time of Christ had power to produce preternatural effects upon the minds or bodies of men, and if those effects are to be ranked among real miracles (which, however, we do not affirm), still the end of miracles is not contravened. For those very operations of evil spirits were under the control of divine providence, and were made in two ways to subserve the cause of Christ. First; they furnished an occasion, as doubtless they were designed to do, for Christ to show His power over evil spirits, and, by His superior miracles, to give a new proof of His Messiahship. Secondly; the evil spirits themselves were constrained to give their testimony, that Jesus was the Christ, the Holy One of Israel.

As to the time when the miraculous dispensation ceased, we can only remark, that the power of working miracles, which belonged pre-eminently to Christ and His apostles, and, in inferior degrees, to many other Christians in the apostolic age, subsided gradually. After the great object of supernatural works was accomplished in the establishment of the Christian religion, with all its sacred truths, and its divinely appointed institutions, during the life of Christ and His apostles, there appears to have been no further occasion for miracles, and no satisfactory evidence that they actually occurred.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Miracles'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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