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What is the Common Enumeration of the Miracles alleged in
the Four Gospels to have been performed by Christ; and What the Present Different Leading Views of the Accounts thereof?
SOME commentators reckon only thirty miracles to be distinctly set forth. They would identify Luke's draught of fishes with John's, would exclude from the category Luke's mention of the healing of Malchus' ear, and would consider the account in Matthew and Mark of a disappointing fig-tree as only setting forth a parable.* Ewald thinks there was but one feeding of the multitude.f Archbishop Richard Trench sets down thirty-three, and as occurring in the following order:
Making wine from water (John ii.).
Curing a woman's issuance (Matt. ix., Mark v., Luke viii.); two Galilean blind men (Matt. ix.); a paralytic (Matt. ix., Mark ii., Luke v.); a Galilean leper (Matt. viii., Mark i., Luke v.); a centurion's servant (Matt. viii., Luke vii.); a Capernaum lunatic (Mark i., Luke iv.); and Peter's mother-in-law (Matt. viii., Mark i., Luke iv.).
Raising from death a widow's son (Luke vii.).
Curing a man born blind (John ix.); a man's withered hand (Matt. xii., Mark iii., Luke vi.); an infirm woman (Luke xiii.); a dropsical man (Luke xiv.); ten lepers (Luke xvii.); a Syro-Phoenician woman (Matt. xv., Mark vii.); and a deaf and dumb man (Mark vii.).
Feeding 4,000 men, etc. (Matt. xv., Mark viii.). * See post, chap. xxxv. † Life of Jesus Christ (Glover's translation, p. 198).
says Carl A.
Curing a Bethsaida blind man (Mark viii.); and a boy (Matt. xvii.,
Coin in a fish's mouth (Matt. xvii.).
The principal different views concerning these accounts may perhaps be most conveniently considered in the following order :
(1) The “a priori” theory. God, says Spinoza, is immanent in nature and does not transcend it. He has made its laws so unchangeable and yet so elastic that they shall prove, under every circumstance and in every need, the adequate organs and servants of his will. He never contradicts himself: when he has once made a law, he is not such a victim of caprice as to violate it by a miracle.* (2) The “ orthodox” theory. “The government of a world,"
ase,“ actuated by human freedom, is only possible by means of an inworking of divine freedom. This inworking gives us the philosophical notion of a miracle, which therefore can only be denied with the denial of Providence itself.” Dr. Jonathan Edwards in substance declares that the Supreme Being is not so much a God of nature as a God of men; the world is chiefly, a workshop for the making of men; a miracle is not disorder, but a new order; the shifting of order is not a makeshift of whim, but a condescension of grace to induce, as essential to a specific blessing, a belief in respect to a certain vicegerency, etc., indispensable to any effectual repairing of a jar that got into the machinery of the universe through the exigency of leaving man a free moral agent. That a change of order surprising to man is not disorder may be illustrated by the aloe. The order of the devel. opment of the century plant is not established in ninety-nine years: the “miracle of bloom” in the hundredth year is no disorder.
A miracle is a surprise, but to whom? Not to higher intelligences who see the interiors of nature and know what is about to be from the unbroken links of the ascending series; not to Him who fills those interiors with reality and floods them with his life; but to us who see but one link of the chain, who are ignorant of the long line of antecedents, and who stand where the result first breaks upon *See Theodore Parker's
“Theism." † Lehrbuch der Dogmatik, $ 150
human sight.- Edmund H. Sears (The Fourth Gospel the Heart of Christ, p. 21).
(3) A "quasi-orthodox” theory is that the alleged wonders were merely relative miracles, — miraculous only to those in regard of whom they were first done, -as when a savage believes that a telescope has the power of bringing the far instantaneously near, or a tropic islander is informed by a trustworthy missionary that in a Northern clime the surface of a river has grown so hard that an elephant can safely walk thereon.* Schleiermacher avers that Jesus was able to evoke – as from nature's hidden recesses, from her inward sanctuary
-powers which none other could. These facts, which seem exceptional, were deeply laid in the first constitution of the law, and, at a certain turning-point in the world's history, by the providence of God, who had arranged all things from the beginning of the world for the glory of his son, emerged at his bidding. Dr. Furness would postulate,- Given a man of the character of Jesus, and miracles for him are just as natural as our ordinary occupations and works are for us.
(4) The “ Hume” theory is that the fact of any miracle is a case of conflicting evidence,- that of the testimony of narrators, and that of human experience; that, in balancing the two, the only case in which the evidence for the miracle could be admitted as prevailing would be that in which the falseness or error of the attesting witnesses would be a greater miracle than the miracle which they affirm; and that there is no case in which the evidence for any one miracle is able to outweigh the a priori evidence which is against all miracles.
(5) The “Mill” theory is that, if the evidence produced is such that it is more likely that the set of observations and experiments upon which the law rests should have been inaccurately performed or inaccurately interpreted than that the evidence in question should be false, we may believe the evidence; but then we must abandon the law. And since the law was received on what seemed a complete induction, it can only be rejected on evidence equivalent, as being inconsistent not with any number of approximate generalizations, but with some other and better established law of nature. The doctrine must prove the miracles, not the miracles the doctrine. St. Paul expressly warned the churches, if any one came to them working miracles, to observe what he taught, and, unless he preached
*See some rather exceptional illustrations in Mr. J. T. Trowbridge's “Story of a Monomaniac," Coupon Bonds, and Other Stories, pp. 336, 348, 355.
Christ and him crucified, not to listen to the teaching. And Mr. Mill adds :
There is no reason, therefore, that timid Christians should shrink from accepting the logical canon of the Grounds of Disbelief. And it is not hazarding much to predict that a school which peremptorily rejects all evidences of religion except such as, when relied upon exclusively, the canon in question irreversibly condemns,— which denies to mankind the right to judge of religious doctrine, and bids them depend on miracles as their sole guide,- must, in the present state of the human mind, inevitably fail in its attempt to put itself at the head of the religious feelings and convictions of this country, by whatever learning, argumentative skill, and even in many respects comprehensive views of human affairs its peculiar doctrines may be recommended to the acceptance of thinkers. - John Stuart Mills Logic, Part II., chap. xx., “Grounds of Disbelief."
Archbishop Trench reiterates the same remark: “A miracle does not prove the truth of a doctrine, or the divine mission of him that brings it to pass. The doctrine must first commend itself to the conscience as being good.” And he is also careful to distinguish from the New the Old Testament alleged miracles: the cleaving of the sea, Ex. xiv., 21; of a river, Josh. iii., 14; of the earth, Num. xvi., 31; a rock, Num. XX., II; fire from the sky, II. Kings i., 12; fire made harmless, Dan. iii., 25; and beasts, vi., 22; Jonah ii., 10. As to the Egyptian plagues, Dr. S. Davidson remarks that national traditions account for all that appears miraculous therein.f
Similarly, Dr. Rufus P. Stebbins remarks $ that the Book of Jonah — written after the captivity, and perhaps three hundred years after Jonah lived-indicates, by its subject and the manner of treatment, that it was of the type of “Bel and the Dragon,"
,” “Susannah,” “ Tobit,” “Judith,” and “Daniel,” written to edify patriots. The writer did not intend his readers to believe saints endured just such trials, no more than Bunyan's are to believe that Christian was locked up by a real giant in a real castle, or had a hand-to-hand fight with Apollyon, or Mrs. Stowe's that an Uncle Tom was whipped to death by order of a Legree. Jesus would naturally make a classical allusion to Jonah, as we speak of Christian and Giant Despair, or of Uncle Tom, or of what Æsop's fox did and said. The hymn that Jonah (ii., 1) “prayed unto the Lord his God out
Notes on the Miracles, etc., p. 25.
† As to the alleged increase, in 430 years, of the 70 Israelites who went down to Egypt to 600,000 fighting men, implying an entire population of 2,500,000, see the Encyclopædia Britannica thereon.
I See Christian Register, Oct. 19, 1882.
of the fish's belly” is composed of scraps of poetry gathered from different psalms and strung together with little connection or taste, the writer not being skilful enough to give even the right tenses not to betray the late origin of the composition, “Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.”
Dr. Matthew Arnold remarks:
To engage in an a priori argument to prove that miracles are impossible against an adversary who argues a priori that they are possible, is the vainest labor in the world. ... The human mind, as its experience widens, gets acquainted with the natural history of miracles; it sees how they arise, and slowly, but inevitably, puts them aside.- God and the Bible, p. 42 .
As to the familiar argument of Archbishop Butler,*— that there is no presumption from analogy against some operations which we should now call miraculous, particularly none
against a revelation at the beginning of the world,” etc., – Vicar James B. Mozley thinks it “has not been interfered with by anything that science has brought to light since Butler's time."
But the vicar omits to define the exact scope of his use of the word “science.” $
Pertinent here comes a criticism by Mr. Tyndall :
Mr. Mozley says the death of Arius was not miraculous, because the coincidence of the death of a heresiarch taking place when it was peculiarly advantageous to the orthodox faith ... was not such as to compel the inference of extraordinary divine agency; but it was a special providence, because it carried a reasonable appearance of it. The miracle of the Thundering Legion was a special “ providence, but not a miracle, for the same reason, because the coincidence of an instantaneous fall of rain in answer to prayer carried some appearance, but not proof, of preternatural agency.”... In other words, if a special providence could be proved to be a special providence, it would cease to be a special providence, and become a miracle.... But, instead of speaking of it as a doubtful miracle, he calls it "an invisible miracle." He speaks of the point of contact of supernatural power with the chain of causation being so high up as to be wholly or in part out of sight, whereas the essence of a special providence is the uncertainty whether there is any contact at all, either high or low. By the use of an incorrect term, however, a grave danger is avoided.
* Analogy, etc., ii., chap. ii.
See Dr. J. W. Draper's History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, F. D. Maurice's Claims of the Bible and of Science and Dr. Matthew Arnold's review thereof, and Last Essays on Church and Religion, chap. ii., “Bishop Butler and the Zeitgeist.”