In our preceding article we called attention to a second objection lodged against the usual definition of miracles (a miracle is an event, in the external world, brought about by the immediate efficiency or simple volition of God), that they should be referred to some higher, occult law of nature and not to the immediate agency of God. Hodge’s answer to this objection is also pertinent and decisive:
(1). With regard to this theory, it may be remarked in the first place, that it is a perfectly gratuitous hypothesis (simply something taken for granted — H.V.) It assumed the existence of laws of nature without necessity and without evidence (a miracle, then, is ascribed to some hidden law of nature, which has lain dormant for ages, and then suddenly begins to operate in the bringing forth of that particular miracle; these hidden laws of nature are otherwise wholly unnecessary and they are hidden away in nature without evidence — H.V.). By laws, in such connections, is usually meant either the ordered sequence of events, or the power by which that sequence is secured. In either case there is this ordered sequence. But where is the evidence that anywhere in the universe the living of the dead, the recovery of the sick, the stilling of the storm, and the swimming of iron, follow as matters of course on a command? The Church doctrine on miracles gives a simple, rational, and satisfactory account of their occurrence, which renders all assumption of unknown laws unnecessary and unjustifiable. It is utterly impossible to prove, as this theory assumes, that every physical effect must have a physical cause. Our own wills are causes in the sphere of nature; and the omnipotent will of God is not tied to any one mode of operation
(2) This hypothesis is not only unnecessary, but it is unsatisfactory. There are miracles which transcend not only all known, but all possible laws of nature. Nature cannot create. It cannot originate life; otherwise it would be God, and nothing beyond nature would be necessary to account for the universe and for all that it contains. As, therefore, there are miracles which cannot be accounted for by “a higher law of nature,” it is clear that they are to be referred to the immediate power of God, and not to some unknown physical force. All theists are obliged to acknowledge this immediate agency of God in the original act of creation. Then there were no laws or forces through which his efficiency could be exercised. The fact, therefore, on which the Church doctrine on this subject rests must be admitted. (this must be self-evident. If nothing occurs in the universe through the immediate agency or power of the Lord, how is it possible to account for the creation of the heavens and the earth, or how is it possible to account for the existence of anything? If things have their origin within themselves, how must we explain the origin of the beginning of the universe?)
(3). The Scriptures not only are silent about any higher law as the cause of miraculous events, but they always refer them to the immediate power of God. Christ said He cast out devils by the finger of God. He never referred to anything but his own will as the efficient antecedent of the effect produced, “I will, be thou clean.” He healed by a touch — by a word. When he gave miraculous powers to the Apostles, He did not make them alchemists. They did not claim knowledge of occult laws. Peter, when called to account for the healing of the lame man in the temple, said that it was the name of Christ, faith in his name that had made the man every whit whole. It is moreover plain that, on this theory, miracles must lose their value as proofs of a divine commission. If the Apostles did the wonders which they performed by the knowledge of, or through the efficiency of natural laws, then they are on the level of the experimenter who makes water freeze in a red hot spoon. If God be not the author of the miracle, it does not prove a divine message.
(4). There is force also in what the Rev. J. B. Mozley says: “To say that the material fact which takes place in a miracle admits of being referred to an unknown natural cause, is not to say that the miracle itself does. A miracle is the material fact as coinciding with an express announcement or with express supernatural pretensions in the agent. It is this correspondence of two facts which constitutes a miracle. It a person says to a blind man, ‘See,’ and he sees, it is not the sudden return of sight alone that we have to account for, but its return at that particular moment. For it is morally impossible that this exact agreement of an event with a command or notification could have been by mere chance, or, as we should say, been an extraordinary coincidence, especially if it is repeated in other causes.” It is very certain that no one who saw Lazarus rise from the grave, when Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth,” ever thought of any physical law as the cause of that event.
Hodge also calls attention to miracles and extraordinary providences. Another objection that has been lodged against the usual definition of miracles is that this definition is not sufficiently comprehensive. This definition does not cover a large class of miracles recorded in the Scriptures. The Word of God speaks of miracles in which the Lord operates, not immediately, but providentially, through means, as in the sudden rising of a fog which conceals an army and thus saves it from destruction, or in a storm which disperses a hostile fleet and thus saves a nation. We may also apply this to the plagues sent by the Lord upon Egypt, to the flight of quails to supply the wants of God’s people in the desert, and to the draught of fishes recorded in the Gospels. Trench makes the distinction between “providential” and “absolute” miracles. Hodge answers this objection against the usual definition of the miracle by declaring that this want of comprehensiveness does not seem to be sufficient reason for rejecting the common definition of a miracle. Whereas there is a large class of miracles recorded in the Scriptures to which this common definition of the miracle applies, and the Word of God stresses this aspect of the miracle, this definition should stand. Besides, these “providential” miracles in the Word of God do not lose their significance when viewed in a class by themselves. It is true, of course, that the flocks of locusts or of quails would not, of themselves, have been proof of nay special divine intervention; but, when taking into consideration that these events occur upon the word of Moses, then it is plain that they do occur only through the will of God, and that therefore they are not merely natural phenomena.
As far as the possibility of miracles is concerned, Hodge also treats this aspect of the subject on pages 626-629. Of course, this possibility is denied by all those who do not make distinction between God and nature. This, we know, is the terrible heresy of Pantheism. This Pantheistic theory, which teaches that the government of the world is not the determination of events by an extramundane intelligence, but by reason as immanent in the cosmical forces themselves and in their relation, precludes the possibility of the miracle. Then, the possibility of the miracle is also denied by those who declare that, although the world’s material and mental have real existence, there is no causality that proceeds from God. Second causes are only the occasions or the modes in which the divine efficiency is exerted. As a certain writer declares: “The operations of God, when uniform, we call laws; when rare or isolated, we call them miracles.” The only difference is in our mode of viewing them. But, is this principally not the same as saying that miracles are supernatural works of God? And, is this not in harmony with the common definition of the miracle, namely that the miracle is an event brought about by the immediate efficiency or simple volition of God? Is it therefore not necessary that we seek the true character of the miracle in something else rather than by viewing it as an immediate, supernatural operation of the Lord?
A third objection against the possibility of miracles, and of the same character, is that miracles suppose separate, individual acts of the Divine will, and this, it is claimed, is inconsistent with the nature of an Absolute Being. Such a God, it is claimed, cannot be absolute. In turning Himself from one act to another, or now putting forth a certain kind of efficiency (the extraordinary), and then resting again, He does and is at one moment what He does not and is not at another, and thus falls into the category of the changeable, the temporary and the finite. Of course, this objection is lodged against miracles by those who would explain all things as developing from forces residing in nature itself. They appeal to the unchangeableness of God, but this is merely a subterfuge. They do not wish to maintain the unchangeableness of the Lord, but they would rule Him out of all things. They seek to destroy the truth that the Lord intervenes in and through the history of this world. This, of course, is impossible. If all things occur and develop from forces residing in nature itself, what must one say of the creation of the heavens and the earth and all the things in the earth? Then also the heavens and the earth must have developed out of themselves. This, of course, is the teaching of Evolution. Nevertheless, also this objection against the possibility of miracles seems to point to the necessity of seeking the essence of the miracle somewhere else than in the supernatural sphere.
A fourth objection against the possibility of miracles is founded on the deistical theory that the relation of God to the world is analogous to that of a mechanist to a machine. A mechanist has no occasion to interfere in the working of an engine which he has made, except to correct its irregularities; so, if God interferes in the natural order of events as produced by the secondary causes which He has ordained, it can only be because of the imperfection of His work. As this cannot be rationally admitted, neither can the doctrine of miracles, which supposes such special interference, be admitted. This objection is answered by showing that the relation of God to the world is not that of a mechanist to a machine, but of an everywhere-present, all-controlling, intelligent will. The doctrine of miracles, therefore, is founded on the doctrine of theism (not to be confounded with deism), that is, of an extramundane personal God, Who, being distinct from the world, upholds and governs it according to His own will. Whatever secondary causes there may be, the Divine efficiency does not supersede these causes, but upholds and guides them in their operations. But at the same time this almighty and omnipresent Being is free to act with or without or against those causes, as He sees fit. Hence, it is just as consistent with His nature and with His relation to the world that the effects of His power should be immediate, that is, without the intervention of natural causes, as through their instrumentality. The Word of God certainly emphasizes the truth that the Lord never divorces Himself from the things He has made. He is the almighty and everywhere-present God. Whether He acts immediately or through means, He is constantly upholding the universe and everything therein, and He may certainly operate in all the works of His hands as He sees fit. Nevertheless, it is well to seek the definition of the miracle elsewhere. We do not favor the distinction between the natural and the supernatural. We believe that the essence and purpose of the Scriptural miracle must be sought in the sphere of Divine grace. To this, the Lord willing, we will call attention the next time.