What is the Scriptural idea of the miracle, or wonder? We can understand that the miracle should be discussed in connection with the providence of God, and particularly with that aspect of God’s providence which is known as Government. When discussing the providence of the Lord we distinguish between Preservation, Cooperation and Government. And Government stresses that aspect of God’s providence whereby the Lord guides all things to their own determinate end, as willed by Him from before the foundations of the world. These miracles or works of God, we have noted, are often defined as events, in the external world, brought about by the immediate efficiency, or simple volition of God. Miracles, therefore, are immediate works of the Lord. A miracle is often viewed as an extraordinary work of God. We can then certainly understand the remark of Bretschneider: “The operations of God, when uniform, we call laws; when rare or isolated, we call them miracles.”
The true significance of the miracles in Holy Writ can be understood only when we understand that the miracle belongs in the sphere of Divine grace. The miracles of Scripture are usually discussed in connection with God’s Providence and then, as we have already noted, particularly with that aspect of the Lord’s Providence which is known as Government. Only, we must have a clear conception of this phase of God’s Providence. In our treatment of this operation of God, we emphasized that, from the beginning of the history of the world, God causes all things to work together unto the realization of His eternal counsel in the new heavens and upon the new earth. This includes the entrance of sin into the world. We must conceive of two spheres of life, a natural and earthly sphere and a spiritual and heavenly sphere. The former, the natural sphere, is then sustained by “Common Grace,” whereas the latter is the sphere of God’s Special Grace. When God created the heavens and the earth, He had in mind an original creation ordinance, a development of the world and its powers from a natural point of view. Sin disturbed this original plan of the Lord. And now the Lord would maintain this original creation ordinance. He realizes this by His operation of “Common Grace.” And the result is that a natural sphere is called into existence in which, apart from regeneration and salvation, the natural man can develop a worldly culture and life which is pleasing to God and acceptable in His sight.
In this conception of “Common Grace” the miracle of Holy Writ really has no place. This theory of “Common Grace” really has no place in it for the supernatural, the Lord’s Divine and irresistible grace. To be sure, this theory speaks of a certain common grace. And this common grace checked the process of sin in Adam, so that he did not wholly corrupt, and it also enabled him and all mankind to do that which is good in the sight of God. However, in the first place, this applies to all mankind, and not only to the elect. In the second place, it is of effect only in the sphere of civic righteousness, in the sphere of this natural life. And, in the third place, it must not be confused with God’s special grace, and must be divorced from Christ and from the cross of Calvary, although there are those who claim that the cross of Calvary is also the ground for this common grace. Be this all as it may, it is clear that this common grace renders man not wholly corrupt, enables him to retain glimmerings or remnants of his natural goodness and righteousness, so that he is able to do much good in the sight of God. And any theory of natural goodness, without redeeming and regenerating grace, renders in that measure the Lord’s Divine and irresistible grace unnecessary. This is also verified in the early history of our Protestant Reformed Churches. This early history of our churches is inseparably connected with what is known in this history as the Dr. Jansen case. Dr. R. Jansen was a professor in Calvin Seminary during the years 1914-1922. He was deposed in 1922. He entertained and taught heretical views with respect to such doctrines as — miracles and Divine inspiration. There were also other issues, but we need not call attention to them at this time. Dr. Jansen, however, attempted to answer and silence his accusers by calling attention to the fact that, whereas he believed in the doctrine of Common Grace, they (especially the Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema) did not understand him because of their denial of this doctrine. Neither is it difficult to understand this counter charge of the accused professor. The denial of Common Grace, of course, emphasizes the absolute antithesis between the church and the world. Denying Common Grace, we maintain that the Divine penalty of death was executed upon mankind when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, that the human race was wholly given over to sin and darkness, that man, created in the image of God, became the image of the devil, lost all his original spiritual gifts, became an enemy of God and a friend and ally of the devil in the all-comprehensive sense of the word. Dr. Jansen did not see the need of infallible inspiration, that Moses received the law exclusively from the Lord, that the Church of God, in the Old Dispensation, was exclusively the product of Divine grace, or the wonder of Divine grace. And, why should he see this need in the light of the teaching of Common Grace? Is there not much good in the world? Why, then, should Moses borrow from heathen nations, as far as the law is concerned, and why should it be necessary for him to be dependent exclusively upon the Lord? Why, in the light of Common Grace, should there not be many sources from which the Mediator of the Old Dispensation would be able to draw? If, on the other hand, the absolute antithesis be maintained between the Church and the World, then we can understand that all revelation of the truth and salvation is exclusivelyDivine, and that the Church of God in the midst of the world is wholly a wonder of Divine grace.
Calling attention to the several words which are used in Scripture to express the idea of the miracle, Rev. Hoeksema writes in his Dogmatics as follows (Anthropology, Locus II):
Several words are used to express our idea of a miracle. There is first of all the Hebrew term PELE’, from the verb PALA’, which means “to separate, to distinguish, to make distinguished, to make wonderful, extraordinary.” A miracle, therefore, is a work of God that strikes the attention by being extraordinary. This corresponds to the Greek word thauma, a marvelous work. Of course, all the works of God are marvels, whether we see a sunset or the raising of the dead: but our senses are so dulled that our special attention must be aroused to behold them as the works of the Almighty. A similar significance has the noun MOPHETH, often used in combination with the word ‘OTHOTH in the phrase ‘OTHOTH UMPOPHeTHiM, signs and wonders, like the Greek semeia kai terata. The MOPHeTHLM, or terata, are splendid works or deeds that stand out because of their manifestation of great power and wisdom. And signs are the visible tokens of the presence of the extraordinary and marvelous power of God. They are also called GOBHUROTH, mighty works, dunameis, evga megaleia.
Miracles have been defined as supernatural works of God. The distinction is made between the natural and the supernatural (above nature). What is really meant with this distinction? Supernatural works are works of God, in which the Lord, in a special sense, operates in the affairs of the children of men and causes His power to be known and displayed. But, is it possible for one who believes in the Scriptural doctrine of the providence of God to distinguish between the natural and the supernatural? This is fundamentally Deism. Deism is the conception which advocates that the world develops of itself. According to this heresy, the world is like a clock which the Lord winds up at the beginning of time and which is then left to run of itself. To the things natural, then, belong the so-called laws of nature. That the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, that “whatsoever goes up must come down,” that the farmer sows his seed in the springtime and harvests his crop in the autumn, that food nourishes and strengthens and drink refreshes, — all these things are natural things, the laws of nature. Miracles, then, are supernatural. The Lord, as it were, “steps in” and reveals His power in a special way. However, are not all things either “natural” or “supernatural”? These so-called “laws of nature” are surely nothing else than the Lord’s orderly control over all things. Nature never operates of itself. Or, if we wish to speak of the “supernatural,” is not everything supernatural? The Word of God surely does not distinguish between the natural and the supernatural. The things which we call natural are always works of God, manifestations of the omnipresent power of God by which He sustains and governs all things. The most common things, things that occur daily, are works of the Most High. It is for this reason that the Word of God calls the most common events the works of God, as in Ps. 107:23-32:
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! Let them exalt him also in the congregation -of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
Notice, please, that the psalmist in these verses speaks of the most ordinary things. He speaks of them who go down in ships, that do business in great waters. And, as they traffic upon the seas, they encounter storms. The Lord makes them to reel to and fro and to stagger like a drunken man, and He also makes the storm a calm, so that the waves become still. We would surely call these things the most ordinary events in life, but the psalmist speaks of them as the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep. And this is the language of the Word of God throughout. Who pays any attention to a sparrow as it falls off the housetop, but the Word of God tells us that no sparrow falls off the housetop without the will of our heavenly Father. We behold the lilies of the field, see their beauty, and view these flowers as though they are the most natural things in the world. And yet we read in the Scriptures that it is the Lord Who clotheth them with this beauty; in fact, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed with a beauty and glory as these lilies of the field. The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, and we think nothing of it. We simply take this for granted, and view this wonder as a “natural law.” But the Word of God informs us that He causes His sun to rise upon the just and the unjust and also causes His rain to fall upon the evil and the good. So, the distinction between the “natural” and the “supernatural” hardly holds for the believing child of God who believes in the providence of the Lord. To him, everything speaks of the wonders and mighty works of the Lord. It is the Lord Who by His almighty and omnipresent power, causes all things to be and to develop in the midst of the world. That we do not often see these wonders of the Lord is because of the dullness of our senses; our eyes are too often closed to behold these wonders of our God as they occur daily all around us.