It is logical to treat this subject now.
We have defined the providence of God as the all-comprehensive and almighty power of God whereby He sustains and governs all things with a view to the realization of that purpose which the Lord has sovereignly willed and set before Himself from before the foundation of the world. This power of the Lord, we have noted, is strictly divine and all-comprehensive in the absolute sense of the word. It affects and controls the life of every living creature and every phase of life of each creature throughout the universe.
It is therefore not difficult to understand why we should discuss the Scriptural truth relative the miracle while treating the truth of the providence of the Lord. The miracles are certainly works of God. It is true, as one may readily surmise to the surprise of none, that also this truth of Scripture is being held in disrepute and treated by many with scorn and disdain. We will come back to this in due time. Among us, however, and in confessedly Reformed circles, the miracle is acknowledged in all its Scriptural implications as far as its being a work of God is concerned. This does not mean, of course, that all are agreed with respect to the Scriptural significance of these works of the Lord. Discussing the works of God in general one need not be surprised, therefore, when particular attention is directed to the miracles of holy writ.
Finally, to treat the miracle at this time has also another advantage. The subject to be discussed after we conclude our discussion on the miracles of holy writ is that of Sin. The miracle, as we shall see in due time, can only be understood in the light and in the sphere of God’s redemptive grace. They are, properly speaking, signs and symbols of the grace of God. To discuss the miracle before we turn our attention to the entrance of sin into the world has also this advantage that we give it and the grace of God its proper place in our attempt to understand the works of God. Grace and the redemption of the people of God supersede sin also in the counsel of the Lord. Sin serves Christ and the manifestation of the grace of God. Christ did not merely come because of sin (although it remains true, of course, that sin necessitated the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ) but sin came for the sake of Christ. Christ, we understand, is first in the counsel of God. The miracle, in common with the parable, besides being a sign and symbol of the grace of God, is based upon the Scriptural truth that the Lord, when He called heaven and earth and all things they contain into being, created a high symbol of the heavenly and the heavenly realization of His kingdom in Christ Jesus. This earthy is the sovereignly willed plane upon which the Lord realizes the antithetical development of His covenant and kingdom through sin and grace. Hence, we shall discuss the miracle at this time and prior to our discussion of the coming of sin into the world in order to call attention to the truth that the grace of the Lord supersedes sin and that sin simply serves the manifestation of the wonderful grace of God.
Hence, the matter must be presented correctly.
On the one hand, we must not deviate from the correct Scriptural view relative the providence of God. Government, we have noted, constitutes a vital element of this mighty Scriptural truth. God knows but one purpose and has eternally willed but one goal. The Lord always moves forward. We must not conceive of the Lord’s providence in any dualistic sense of the word. The theory “common grace” must necessarily lead us into this error. God, then, created the world and presented Adam with the mandate to dress and keep the garden. The Lord entertained an original creation idea, namely, this world’s earthly development. This, then, is what people mean when they speak of culture. This culture, this world’s earthly development, the maintaining of the original creation idea, so that the world can “live up” to its original purpose, is attributed to common grace. Fact is, so they reason, the devil made a breach in the works of God when he introduced sin into the world. This in itself is true. The devil, we surely understand, never intended to make a breach, this breach; he did not purpose to destroy the world; he only intended to tear the world away from the living God and subject it unto himself. Except for the intervention of common grace, the world would have perished or become a chaos, and the world’s original creation idea would have been rendered impossible. However, God’s common grace intervenes. Man does not become fully corrupt. He is rendered able in the things that are civil to lead a life which is pleasing and acceptable to God. And throughout the ages God and man are allied against the devil to maintain this outwardly good civil life. Of course, the day is coming when the world will be wholly given over to unrighteousness and evil, as in the days of the Antichrist. But just when this operation of common grace will cease and man will become wholly wicked, or how this tremendous change will occur we have as yet not been told. The theorists of the theory of common grace have not yet informed us how or why this restraining grace of evil and wickedness will no longer operate and check the advance of sin and corruption. This conception of things must, of course, not be tolerated. Any conception which conceives of the Lord as frustrating the work of the devil is, of course, dualistic. Besides, the Lord never retraces His steps. He does not merely maintain an original creation idea and attempt to preserve what once was. Jehovah God always moves forward. Sin occurred according to the sovereign good pleasure of the Lord. The world has no significance in itself. God would eternally and sovereignly gather together all things in Christ Jesus, as we read in Eph. 1:9-10, and we quote: “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 which are on earth; even in Him.” And how beautifully this truth of the one purpose of God throughout the ages in held before us in that marvelous passage in Col. 1:15-20, and we again quote: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by Him 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 Him, and for Him: And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church: Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.”
Consequently, it is well, on the other hand, to understand that God’s providence and the miracle are inseparably related and connected. Too often these two have been separated from each other. Men have been at a loss to give unto the miracle its due and proper place in the divine scheme of things. It is certainly a fact that miracles occupy a prominent place in holy writ. And yet the providence of the Lord and the miracle have been virtually divorced from each other. God’s providence, then, was treated immediately after the discussion of the creation of the world. It is explained merely as the almighty and omnipresent power of God whereby He sustains and preserves what He once had made. And men failed to include in this discussion of God’s Providence the heavenly and eternal restoration of all things. Some simply said that the purpose of the miracle was to remind man forcibly and emphatically of the fact that God is God. Man, then, had become accustomed to God’s “general” revelation. And now the Lord avails Himself of the miracle to call man’s attention to the fact that He is God alone. However, the miracles have another and higher purpose in holy writ. The fact remains that even the miracle will not lead men to the acknowledgment of the living God. The Jews beheld all the miracles of the Lord Jesus and declared that He performed them through Beelzebub. God’s providence includes the heavenly restoration of all things. Sin entered according to the determinate foreknowledge of the Lord. And the miracles, as signs of God’s almighty grace whereby He realizes this heavenly restoration, occupies therefore a fundamental place in the truth of the providence of God.
In the Old Testament.
Miracles occupy a prominent place in the Holy Scriptures already in the Old Testament, whether they are performed directly by the Lord or by the Lord through the instrumentality of His servants, the prophets.
A striking feature of these miracles in the Old Dispensation is their antithetical character. We do not merely read of miracles of salvation and mercy for the people of the Lord, but also of miracles of judgment and destruction of the wicked. Sometimes, as in the land of Egypt, these miracles of the Lord are characterized by this double aspect; salvation and condemnation and destruction. This also, we understand, applies to the flood.
Many miracles are recorded in the Old Testament. The flood is a mighty work of the Lord to destroy the godless generation of that day, and also to save Noah and his family by water in the ark. Noah, we read, was saved by water inasmuch as it was the water which separated him from the wicked world. And he was saved in the ark which, we also understand, is a striking symbol of the Christ. The flood, of course, is of the Lord. The ark, too, is of the Lord inasmuch as the Lord told Noah exactly how he should proceed in the building of it. And we also read that, after Noah and his family had entered the ark, the Lord shut the door, so that, how furious and violent the deluge may have been, they were securely shut in the ark by the everlasting God Himself, another symbol of the fact that the Lord has “shut up” His people securely in Christ, so that, when the deluge of God’s wrath descends upon Him upon the cross of Calvary, we are saved and delivered because we are in Him. The same thing (salvation and destruction) applies to the group of miracles which revolve about the persons of Moses and Joshua. We are all familiar with the ten plagues in the land of Egypt, the passage through the Red Sea, the giving of the law at Sinai, the conquest of the land of Canaan and the passage through the Jordan. These miracles purpose to condemn and destroy the enemies of the living God and His people, and also to provide for Israel a dwelling place in the land of promise. Another group of miracles occurs in the wilderness as, for example, the swallowing up alive of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and their company, as well as the fiery serpents. For the serpent of brass which Moses made and put upon a pole (see Numbers 21) is not only a symbol of the Christ but also of the fiery serpents which had been sent by the Lord among the people of Israel. These serpents were the visitation of the wrath of God upon the sins of His people. Hence, this history holds before us the beautiful truth that the wrath of God surely rests upon our sins but that we are saved because the God of our salvation has visited that wrath upon our iniquity upon His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This explains why the Old Testament symbol of the Christ in this Scriptural narrative assumes the form of a serpent. Still another group of miracles is grouped about the persons of Elijah and Elisha. These miracles occur in the kingdom of the ten tribes for also in that kingdom the Lord continued to have His people. They occur in the days of Ahab and Jezebel, and subsequent days, when heathendom threatened to destroy the entire service of the Lord. We are acquainted with these mighty works of the Lord. Who does not know of the drought which the Lord visited upon the land of Israel upon the word of the fearless Elijah the Tishbite, which he spoke in the palace of the wicked Ahab, and which would be lifted by the Lord upon the word of the same fearless prophet three and one half years later? And how striking is the miracle which is wrought by Elijah in the city of Zarephath when he called back to life the only son of a widow there? The man of God had left the land of Israel to take up his abode in that heathen country while, in the meantime, his life was being sought by his mortal enemy, the wicked king of Israel. There, in the heathen city of Zarephath, the Lord performs a miracle through His servant, Elijah, and reveals to the heathen widow the wonder of grace. This miracle is a symbol of the truth which would be realized in the New Testament, that the Lord would manifest His grace to the Gentiles according to election after its rejection by the Jews (we understand, of course, that the Jew’s rejection of the gospel does not necessarily mean that the grace and salvation of God was offered to them; to reject something does not necessarily imply that it is offered to the one who rejects it.) And then follows the mighty revelation of the living God upon Mount Carmel. Who is not acquainted with the stupid but also wicked attempts of the godless priests of Baal to have their god rain fire down upon the altar which they had erected, with Elijah as he pours water upon and around his altar and his prayer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the subsequent fire which came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice and water also? And then we read of that wonderful running of Elijah before the chariot of Ahab all the way to Jezreel. The miracles of Elijah’s successor, Elisha, exceed in number those of the Old Testament type of John the Baptist. We cannot discuss them at this time. They were miracles of mercy and also of judgment—think of the two she-bears that killed forty and two mocking children.
In the New Testament.
It is not surprising, of course, that the performance of miracles should reach a climax when the Lord visits and redeems His people in the coming of Jesus Christ into our flesh and blood. In fact, we cannot escape the conclusion that an unusual number of sicknesses must have prevailed at the time when the Lord was among us in this valley of the shadow of death. It seems as though the devil concentrated all his evil forces to combat the Anointed of the Lord. And what a wide variety of miracles characterized the works of our Savior! There are miracles, for example, whereby He reveals His power of the “forces of nature,” such as: the changing of water into wine, the wonderful feeding of the multitudes, first the multitude of five thousand and then the multitude of four thousand, not counting the women and the children in each instance, the stilling of the tempest, His walking upon the sea, etc. A second group of miracles reveals His power over the results of sin, all the sicknesses and ills, even death itself. And the nature of these various sicknesses must never escape our attention. These are not ordinary sicknesses which are recorded in the Scriptures. We read of the sicknesses of deafness, blindness, dumbness, lameness, and all these illnesses are symbols of the spiritual power of sin whereby we are unable to hear, see, speak, and walk in the spiritual sense of the word. The striking character of these diseases is that they are absolute. A deaf person cannot hear, a blind person cannot see, and a lame person cannot walk. And, finally, we read of miracles whereby Christ reveals His power over sin itself, its guilt and corruption, and the dominion of the devil, as revealed in the pitiful victims of demon possession. Every conceivable kind of miracle is performed by the Lord. He raises the dead, gives sight to the blind, causes the deaf to hear and the lame to walk, heals the maimed and the leprous, etc. Except for a few exceptions (as, for example, the cursing of the barren fig tree), all our Lord’s miracles are positive works of healing and restoration.
After our Lord Jesus Christ has ascended into the heavens these miracles are continued by Him through the apostles as long as the Lord deems it necessary for the establishment of His Church in the midst of the world. I need not enter into a discussion of these wonders as performed by the apostles. With the death of the apostles these miracles come to an end, and will not again appear until the final appearance of our Lord upon the clouds of heaven when all things shall have been accomplished. Or, if you will, the miracles of our Lord have now entered upon their spiritual and antitypical significance. This is expressed by the Savior in John 14:12, and I quote: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” Without entering into a detailed exposition of these words, we should bear in mind that the Lord here is referring to the spiritual, antitypical fulfillment of His miracles while He was among us in our flesh and blood. Christ’s miracles are signs of the power of His grace whereby the spiritually deaf and blind and dumb and lame sinner is enabled to hear and see and speak and walk. The spiritual wonder of grace is effected by the risen and exalted Lord (this explains why this text mentions Christ’s going to His Father) through the apostles, and these spiritual miracles of grace are surely greater than Christ’s miracles while He was among us even as the body is always greater than its shadow.
This wide and varied character of the miracles of holy writ need not surprise us. We need certainly not be amazed because of their antithetical character. Everything is antithetic. The gospel is a savor of life unto life, but also a savor of death unto death. God loves and saves His own, hates and destroys the world. It is for this reason that God’s revelation of Himself should bear the same two-fold character which also characterizes His miracles. Neither should it surprise us that our Lord Jesus Christ performed so many miracles, and that they are so widely divergent. Sin itself is characterized by this same widely divergent characteristic. Sin has laid hold upon every aspect and phase of our life. Sin exercises its dominion over our entire existence. Hence, the widely divergent character of these miracles of holy writ simply emphasizes the total and complete dominion of sin over us, and, of course, the marvelous character and scope of the grace of the God of our salvation.