In this concluding article on the providence of God we wish to call attention to the significance of the miracle. We have already noticed that a common interpretation of this phenomenon views it as a supernatural work of the Lord. Attention has also been called to the words which appear in holy writ to designate these mighty works of our God. And we concluded our previous article with the observation that the essential significance of the miracle is expressed by the word “sign”. Before we proceed with the discussion of the true significance of the miracle, let us note first what it is not.
First, miracles must not be viewed as supernatural works of the Lord. The question, then, has been asked whether a miracle is a natural or supernatural work of the Lord. One thing, however, should be plain: either everything is a natural work of the Lord or everything is a supernatural work of God. The Lord is directly operative in all the works of His hands. Of importance in this connection is what we read inin which passage the most natural and ordinary things are called wonders or wonderful works, and we quote: “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so He bringeth them unto their desired haven. Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men.” End of quote. The distinction between the natural and supernatural works of the Lord is fundamentally deistic. The so-called laws of nature simply denote the Lord’s orderly and constant control over the world and all things, and we do well to bear in mind that these laws of nature are never to be separated from Jehovah’s constant control of all things. To make this separation is deistic inasmuch as this conception divorces the Lord from His constant government of the world and all the things that are therein.
Secondly, miracles are not to be regarded as immediate works of God. An immediate work of the Lord, in distinction from a mediate work of God, refers to a work of God which He performs without means. The objection which was voiced against the distinction between natural and supernatural works of God can also be lodged against this distinction. What, in the final analysis, is not an immediate work of the Lord? Does the Lord not do all things immediately? Is it not His almighty and omnipresent power which is constantly directing the world and all its affairs? It is certainly true, is it not, that the Lord is constantly in touch with the entire universe and every part thereof. Never may the world or any part of the world be likened unto an alarm clock which, having been wound, now proceeds to run of itself. All the works of the Lord are necessarily immediate, the fruits of the Lord’s direct operation.
Thirdly, the miracles of holy writ are not to be defined as the unfathomable works of God. The miracles, then, are those works of Jehovah which defy all human understanding. However, this is surely quite impossible. Strictly speaking, there is nothing we understand, and this also applies to the most ordinary and common things. We follow the Lord in the course of His earthly sojourn and behold Him as He feeds the five thousand (not counting the women and children) with but five loaves and two fishes, and are amazed because of the tremendousness of the miracle. Moreover, our amazement increases when we notice at the conclusion of the miracle that the amount of bread is greater than at its beginning. But it also defies human understanding, does it not, how a seed can die in the bosom of the earth and bring forth fruit? We follow the Savior to the tomb of Lazarus and wonder because that disciple of the Lord has been dead four days already. And we look on in all astonishment when, upon the word of the Christ, he who had been dead four days steps forth from his rocky tomb. This we cannot understand. But we are also completely at a loss to understand the birth of a child. The only reason why the latter does not excite our amazement is because we have grown accustomed to these mighty works of the Lord. At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, the Lord changes water into wine, and we take note especially of the fact that, according to the governor of the feast, the wine which Jesus had made was far superior to that which had appeared first at the feast. This, we say, is wonderful. And it is wonderful. But is this more wonderful than that work of God whereby He produces every year clusters of grapes and thereby calls into existence a fruit which can become wine? We look on in amazement when the Lord causes the deaf to hear and have become altogether too accustomed to that wonder of the Lord whereby He causes every day children to be born with the marvelous ability to hear. We think it wonderful when the sun, upon the word of Joshua, stands still for twenty-four hours, and think nothing of that wonderful phenomenon of the rising of the sun every morning. It really makes very little difference, as far as the wonderful works of the Lord are concerned, whether the Lord does things in a way which excites our attention or according to what we call the “laws of nature.” Whatever the Lord does is wonderful; and the Lord does all things.
We read in this text: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him.” The Holland translation reads as follows: “Dit beginsel der teekenen heeft Jezus gedaan te Kana in Galilea, en heeft Zijne heerlijkheid geopenbaard.” Hence, this miracle is not merely the first, the beginning of Jesus’ miracles, but also the principle out of which all subsequent miracles must be explained. This miracle is, therefore, a principle miracle, a sign which explains all subsequent signs and miracles of our Lord.
The Holland translation certainly gives us the true interpretation of this passage. To be sure, the changing of water into wine at Cana of Galilee was the beginning of Christ’s miracles, His first miracle. However, why should Jesus begin with this particular miracle? We believe, do we not, that nothing happens by chance? In fact, it is exactly characteristic of the apostle John to call attention to apparently insignificant but very important details. It is John, for example, who calls our attention to the fact that this miracle at Cana of Galilee occurred the third day, and also that, when the soldier pierced the wound in Jesus’ side at the cross, blood and water came forth. Why, then, should this apostle call our attention to the importance of this mighty work of our Savior? Is it merely to acquaint us with the fact that Christ began His long series of miracles in Cana of Galilee? We understand, I am sure, that the Lord Jesus performed this miracle first for a very definite reason. Indeed, the Holland translation of the text is correct. This is not merely the first miracle; it is not merely the beginning of miracles; it is the principle of miracles. It expresses, fully and completely, the purpose of the coming of the Son of Man and it reveals His glory. Water, we understand, serves to maintain our earthly existence. Hence, water in this miracle may surely be considered as symbolic of the earthly. Wine, on the other hand, symbolizes the heavenly. Wine not only rejoices the heart, causes one to be happy and to rejoice, but it is something extra, above our needs. Besides, wine is the product of what we have at the end of the entire process of fermentation, and it is the complete product, cannot be developed anymore, is aged, perfected. Hence, wine symbolizes the heavenly, the highest and the greatest glory of God’s name in the new heavens and upon the new earth. This also enables us to understand the significance of this miracle. This miracle speaks to us of the Christ, even as He, through His death and resurrection and as the exalted Lord, now in principle in our hearts and soon in the day of His coming upon the clouds of heaven, changes the earthly into the heavenly, lifts His bride, the Church, and with her all things, out of this night of sin and death into the glory of His eternal and heavenly covenant. And inasmuch as this work of redemption is the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus performs this miracle first. All subsequent miracles must be explained in the light of this work of the Lord. And, this also enables us to understand that the chief significance of miracles lies in the fact that they are signs or symbols.
What must we understand by the concept: grace of God? Grace has been commonly defined as God’s unmerited favor which He bestows upon sinners. The grace of God, then, emphasizes the Lord’s unmerited or undeserved goodness to men. We object to this definition of the word “grace.” In the first place, it is not difficult to understand how the theory of a common grace could be concluded from this definition. God, we know, bestows various gifts upon the children of men. He bestows upon man the ability to think and will, to eat and sleep; He gives him food and drink, sunshine and rain, health and all good things. Besides, all these gifts are surely undeserved. This none will dispute. We can certainly not lay claim to the least of the Lord’s good things which He bestows upon us. We certainly do not have the right to anyone of them. Hence, the grace of God is common. The Lord gives good things to men. These good things are undeserved. Conclusion: the Lord is kind and favorably inclined to all men. The fallacy of this reasoning is that it assumes what must be proved. It assumes that these good gifts are necessarily grace. Now we need not at this time enter into a detailed refutation of this conception of common grace. This we have done in the past, and particularly when discussing the attributes of the Lord. But, is it not an amazing thing that, if the grace of the Lord were common, the word as such does not appear on holy writ in that universal sense of the word? The only passage which the late Dr. Hepp quoted in his brochure on common grace was(and we quote: “Let favor be showed the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord”), and this passage certainly does not substantiate the theory of common grace. For grace to be shown to the wicked is surely not the same as to be bestowed upon them, is it? Christ, too, is shown, presented to the wicked in the gospel, is held up before them. This does not necessarily mean that Christ loves them and would save them. The grace of the Lord which is bestowed only upon the people of the Lord is certainly shown, exhibited to others besides the elect. This does not necessarily mean that it is also given to them. But, how strange, is it not, that, if the grace of the Lord were common, it does not appear in that universal sense in holy writ!
However, apart from this unfortunate connection with the theory of common grace, we object to this definition, of grace (unmerited or undeserved favor) also for another reason. If the grace of the Lord be unmerited favor what, then, distinguishes it from mercy and compassion and longsuffering and goodness, etc.? Are they not all unmerited favors of God? Hence, to define the grace of God as the Lord’s unmerited favor upon men does not define the concept as such inasmuch as this definition is also applicable to all the virtues and blessings of the Lord which He bestows upon His people. That the grace of the Lord is undeserved is not because of the fundamental significance of the word but because of the sinner who is the recipient of this goodness of the Lord.
The word: grace, means fundamentally: beauty, attractiveness. Much has been written on this subject in the past. The grace of God is that operation of the love of God by which the Lord delivers His people and Church out of sin and darkness and this present curse of the valley of the shadow of death into the life and glory of His eternal and heavenly covenant. It has sovereignly pleased the Lord to call His people and church and all things as they shall appear in glory out of darkness into light, out of death into life, to erect His eternal and heavenly tabernacle upon and out of the ruins of sin and death. And the grace of God is that power of the living God whereby this amazing deliverance is affected.
Christ Himself is the wonder of grace. He is centrally the wonder of grace. This implies, in the first place, that Christ Himself is the wonder of grace. For He is Immanuel, God with us. Grace is that power of the Lord even as it breaks through our night of sin and darkness and death, and lifts the world of God’s everlasting love into heavenly life and glory and perfection. Hence, the Lord Jesus Christ is surely Himself the wonder of grace because He is Immanuel, God with us. Christ is God, united in the second person, out of the first person and through the third person, with our flesh and blood. Christ is God, even as He, in our human nature, stands in our relation to the law. Christ is God underneath our guilt and shame and death. Our Savior is Jehovah even as He Himself enters into and breaks through our curse to appear in our world as the living God who enters our sin and guilt and appears as bearing all our sin and guilt.
That Christ is centrally the wonder of grace implies, in the second place, that our Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the realization of the grace of God upon His people. He is this in the way of His death and resurrection and glorification. Indeed, He is the realization of our salvation already in His being Immanuel. Christ’s birth is surely the mystery of godliness and the key to our salvation. Seeing the living God underneath our burden of sin and guilt and death and appearing in our relation to the law so that He places His everlasting “shoulders” under the enormous burden of our guilt, we surely have no doubt, have we, as to the question whether He will be able to vanquish the powers of hell and sin and death and merit life and glory everlasting for us? Besides, Jesus is the realization of this grace of God in His suffering and death. He redeems His people out of all the power of the devil, satisfied for them and in their stead the awful justice and righteousness of God, merits for them life and glory everlasting, and lays the foundation for the eternal renewal of all things in heavenly perfection. Moreover, Christ is certainly this wonder of grace also in His ascension and glorification at the Father’s right hand, He is not merely glorified Himself, receiving all power and honor and wisdom and glory, but He also receives as our Head the life-giving Spirit, the Spirit beyond measure, to bestow upon the elect the life and grace He merited for them. In His glorification our eternal and heavenly life has historically been realized. For His life is our life, having been merited for us. And, our receiving of this life is surely assured by the exaltation of our Lord. For the Church of God confesses that the Christ, who suffered and died for her, is now exalted at the right hand of divine power, is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, all things being subject unto Him.
Thirdly, Christ is centrally the wonder of grace because all miracles point to Him, have been performed by Him, and have significance only because of Him. He it is who, as the Son of God to become flesh, performs the miracles throughout the Old Dispensation by His Spirit. Apart from Him the miracles of holy writ have no significance. Of what importance would the passage through the Red Sea be if Christ were not our Red Sea, and of what importance would the flood be except for the truth that in and because of Christ the Sun of righteousness breaks through the night of our sin and guilt and the judgment of God? Without the Lord Jesus Christ the miracles of holy writ simply have no meaning whatsoever. And when He comes into our world of sin and death He Himself performs many miracles, signs and symbols of the work of grace whereof He is the divine realization. Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the wonder of grace, God’s power to lead us out of sin and death into heavenly life and glory.
Hence, the miracles of holy writ are therefore signs and symbols of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Whenever we behold the power of God breaking through our accursed world (a passage through the sea, water out of a rock, sight out of blindness, etc.), we see a symbol of that power of God whereby He accomplishes the same in the spiritual sense of the word. This also explains the peculiar nature of the various diseases mentioned in holy writ: blindness, deafness, lameness, death, leprosy, etc. And this is particularly applicable to the time when the Lord Jesus was among us. These sicknesses are symbols of the dreadful power of sin. We are spiritually blind, deaf, dumb, lame, unable to see and hear and speak and walk. What a picture of the curse of God upon sin! And, finally, through the miracle of divine grace in Jesus Christ our Lord, God will erect out of this present darkness and death new heavens and a new earth, unto the glory and praise of His everlasting grace in Jesus Christ, our Lord.