Discussing the miracle as revealed to us in holy writ, we concluded our preceding article by calling attention to the wide and varied character of the miracles of holy writ. This varied character of the miracles need not surprise us. Sin is characterized by this same widely divergent characteristic. Hence, the widely divergent character of these miracles simply emphasizes the total and complete dominion of sin over us and, of course, the marvelous character and scope of the grace of the living God. Before proceeding to the true significance of the miracle we would first call attention to the common interpretation of this Scriptural phenomenon.
We quote the following from his “Reformed Dogmatics,” pages 176-178, under the heading: “Extraordinary Providences or Miracles.”
There is undoubtedly a certain uniformity in nature; there are laws controlling the operation of second causes in the physical world. But let us remember that these merely represent God’s usual method of working in nature. It is His good pleasure to work in an orderly way, and through secondary causes. But this does not mean that He cannot depart from the established order, and cannot produce an extraordinary effect, which does not result from natural causes, by a single volition, if He deems it desirable for the end in view. When God works miracles, He produces extraordinary effects in a supernatural way. This means that miracles are above nature. Shall we also say that they are contrary to nature? Older Reformed theologians did not hesitate to speak of them as a breach or a violation of the laws of nature. Sometimes they said that in the case of a miracle the order of nature was temporarily suspended. Dr. Bruin maintains that this view is correct in his Het Christelijke Geloof en de Beoefening der Natuurwetenschap, and takes exception to the views of Woljer, Dennert, and Bavinck. But the correctness of that older terminology may well be doubted. When a miracle is performed the laws of nature are not violated, but superseded at a particular point by a higher manifestation of the will of God. The forces of nature are not annihilated or suspended, but are only counteracted at a particular point by a force superior to the powers of nature.
We would note the following in connection with the above quotation of Prof. L. Berkhof. It is plain from this quotation that Prof. Berkhof identifies the miracle with something supernatural, i.e., something above nature. Some miracles are altogether above nature whereas other occur contra media, but that which constitutes a miracle is its supernatural character. It is true that the professor, when discussing the purpose of the miracle, declares that they “are connected with the economy of redemption, a redemption which they often prefigure and symbolize,” but it must be granted that this hardly receives the emphasis in his discussion of the miracle in Holy Writ. He seeks the essence of the miracle in its supernatural character.
Another thing to which we would call attention in connection with this quotation from Prof. Berkhof is the following, and we quote again: “Miracles are objected to especially on the ground that they imply a violation of the laws of nature. Some seek to escape the difficulty by assuming with Augustine that they were merely exceptions to nature as we know it, implying that, if we had a fuller knowledge of nature, we would be able to account for them in a perfectly natural way. But this is an untenable position, since it assumes two orders of nature, which are contrary to each other.”—end of quote. Here the professor declares that the position of Augustine is untenable because it assumes two orders of nature which are contrary to each other. Augustine had taught that miracles merely imply a violation of the laws of nature, as we know nature, but not in the real, actual sense of the word. And now Prof. Berkhof asserts that this position of the renowned Church Father is untenable because it assumes two orders of nature which are contrary to each other. Does not the professor recall his teaching in regard to the gospel as an offer of salvation, and the love of God to all sinners? Does he not recall that we object to this presentation because it would maintain two lines of thought contrary to each other? And does he not recall that when we complain that it is impossible to teach that God loves and hates the same sinner at the same time, etc., we received the answer that this contradiction is only apparent, appears merely as such to us? May he, then, reject Augustine’s conception of the miracle simply because the Church Father assumed two orders of nature which are contrary to each other? Did not Augustine speak of “nature as we know it”?
Be this as it may, Prof. Berkhof’s definition of the miracle is clear. Although it is true that he also calls attention to their symbolic significance, nevertheless the essence of the miracle lies in its supernatural character.
The late Prof. H. Bavinck also speaks of the miracles as we might expect. In his book, “Magnalia Dei” (Great Works of God) he writes the following (pages 65-69), and we quote and translate: “If we agree with the Holy Scriptures in these fundamental thoughts and therefore stand upon the basis of Theism, every ground disappears to militate against or doubt the possibility of miracles. For whatever occurs in nature or in history is then an act, a work of God, and in that sense a wonder. And that so-called miracles are nothing but a special manifestation of the same Godly power which works in all things. It works in those things in various ways, through various means (second causes), according to various laws and therefore also with various results. It has not been said unjustly that it is a wonder for the stone that the plant grows, for the plant a wonder that the animal moves about, for the animal a wonder that man thinks, and that it is therefore for man a wonder that God raises the dead. If God works with His omnipresent and almighty power through all creatures as His means, why should He not be able to work with the same power in a different way and through other means than those which we know from the ordinary course of nature and of history? Miracles are therefore no violation of the laws of nature. For these are fully acknowledged by holy writ although not summed up and formulated therein; fact is, the regulations of all of nature are established, according to Scripture, in the nature covenant of God with Noah,. But, even as man subjects the earth and governs nature through his culture with his mind and will, thus God has the power to render this created world subordinate to the realization of His counsel. The miracles prove that the Lord, and not the world, is God.
This argumentation, now, would not be necessary for man if he had not fallen. Then he would have known and acknowledged God out of all the works of His hands . . . .
In the Old Testament the miracles go hand in hand with judgment and redemption. The flood is a means to destroy the godless generation of that day and to save Noah and his own in the ark. The miracles which are grouped about the persons of Moses and Joshua: the plagues in Egypt, the passage through the Red Sea, the law giving on Sinai, the entering into and conquest of Canaan, purpose to judge the enemies of God and His people and to provide for His own people a safe dwelling place of promise . . . .
All the miracles of the Old Testament have this in common that, negatively, they accomplish a judgment over the peoples and, positively, they create and preserve among the people of Israel a sphere for the continuous revelation of God . . . . And when this purpose has been reached, then the full revelation is about to break forth in the person of Christ.
This person of Christ is itself a miracle, in His origin, in His essence, in His words and works, the wonder of world history. Hence, the miracles which He performs are miracles of a peculiar nature. First, He performs many miracles during His earthly life, namely: miracles whereby He demonstrates His power over nature (the change of water into wine, wonderful feeding, stilling of the storm, walking upon the sea etc.); thereupon miracles whereby He demon- His power over the results of sin, the sicknesses and illnesses, the miseries of life and, finally, miracles whereby He proves His power over sin itself, its guilt and pollution and the dominion of Satan (forgiveness of sins, dispelling of Satan and the evil spirits). These three kinds of miracles reveal the peculiarity of the person of Christ . . . .
The person of Christ approaches us more clearly in the miracles which were performed not by Him but in Him and with Him. These miracles especially reveal to us who and what He is. His supernatural conception, His wonderful living and dying, His resurrection, ascension, and sitting at the right hand of God are miracles of redemption preeminently. They demonstrate, much more than the works which were performed by Jesus, His complete power over sin and its results, over Satan and his entire dominion. And they likewise reveal more clearly than those works that this power is a redeeming, a saving power, which will not gain a complete victory until the new heaven and the new earth.
The miracles, which were performed in the apostolic age by the first witnesses, are to be viewed as works of the exalted Christ,, . They were necessary to demonstrate that Jesus, who had been rejected by the world, nailed to the cross and now regarded as dead, lived and had all power not only in heaven but also upon the earth. The miracles in the Old Testament reveal that Jehovah is God and there is none beside Him. The miracles of the New Testament show that Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, who was crucified by the Jews, was raised from the dead by God and exalted at His right hand to be a prince and Savior, , . When this purpose has been reached, a congregation having been planted in the world which believes and confesses this revelation of the Father in the Son through the communion of the Holy Spirit, then the externally visible miracles cease, but the spiritual miracles of regeneration and conversion continue in the church until the fullness of the Gentiles have entered and all Israel have been saved. At the end of time the miracles of the future will appear, according to the testimony of holy writ, the appearing of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment and the new heaven and earth.
All of revelation and, in that revelation, all the miracles also will reach their objective and culminate in the restoration of the fallen human race, the recreation of the world, the acknowledging of God as God. They are therefore not a strange element, not an arbitrary addition to the revelation of God. But they constitute a necessary, an indispensable part of it. They are themselves revelation. In word and in deed God makes Himself known in all His virtues and perfections.”—end of quote.
It appears from this lengthy quotation that the late Prof. Bavinck sees more in the miracle than a supernatural work of God. And although the late professor emphasizes the thought that in the miracle the Lord gives an undeniable testimony unto man that He alone is God and that He alone rules, yet he discusses the miracle in connection with God’s plan of salvation, though we would have preferred that he had sought exactly in this plan of salvation the essential significance of the miracle.
Our quotation from this author’s book, “The Miracles of the Savior,” will be brief. It is as follows: “The miracles are, generally speaking, instruments of Divine revelation. God would transfer His thoughts to the consciousness of man. Unto that end He does not merely speak immediately to man, through the inspiration of the heart or with audible voice, but He also uses many different means. Thus the Lord revealed Himself in the Old Dispensation through dreams and visions, through which He even presented Himself to heathens as Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar . . . . But God also reveals Himself through and in His works, through all His works. The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth His handiwork. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard . . . . But we must distinguish between the order which God ordinarily follows also in the preservation and governing of all things, and the extraordinary deeds of might whereby God sovereignly departs from this ordinary order. This we call then the miracles in the narrow sense: the readily discernible manifestations of His power and majesty. We therefore would define the miracles as those phenomena whose connection and inner operation man cannot fathom, and which are called into existence only by God’s omnipotence, outside the common order of nature.”—end of quote.
It is true that this author later makes the observation that miracles are also signs of His work of atonement and the Godly blessings which He bestows upon His people, remarking in this connection that it was not merely the purpose of the Lord to heal a few people or to raise from the dead. It is evident, however, from this quotation that this author also views the miracle as a supernatural work of God through which the Lord reveals that He alone is God and that He alone works and rules.