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transaction of church duties. The public prayer-meeting at the opening of the Conference session, when the blessing of Heaven is invoked, is evidence of this, and has in past years left its savour of life in many hearts. Rarely, indeed, has the Spirit so richly bestowed His quickening energies as upon these occasions. The united faith of Christ's chosen ambassadors has then prevailed with God. His faithfulness has been tested by their appeal to the promises and confidence in the unchanging word. Who shall estimate the beneficial influences, attending this devotional and spiritual service, upon the individuals engaging in it and the subsequent deliberations of the Conference ?
It is earnestly to be desired that the churches of Methodism will imitate the example thus given, and join in supplication on behalf of the coming gathering of ministers and laymen. These prayers are highly valued and desired. Indeed, neglecting to make use of a power in which they are accustomed to profess unqualified faith, they would be unfaithful to duty. The work intrusted to their keeping and guardianship is the Lord's. But the eternal welfare of redeemned souls depends upon individual fidelity. Personal responsibility cannot be ignored. The church is mighty in proportion to the moral power of her members. At a solemn time like the present, the intercessions and prayers of the multitudes of our Israel are capable of rendering important service to the cause of truth. And we cannot doubt that the Conference will be frequently remembered at the family altar in every Wesleyan household in the land.
The approach of Conference presses home the fact that another year has nearly closed. The record of its deeds is on high. The good done and victories won, as well as the opportunities wasted and defeats sustained, are known to our Divine Head. Humility must unite with our thankfulDess. With a complete organization and attractive fields of labour before us, have we done what we could ? That other churches present similar signs of spiritual feebleness with ourselves, is no justification for the comparatively small extension we have witnessed in recent years. We cannot afford to languish, and be easily satisfied, in days when religious error is taking hold upon intelligence, and an intolerant Popery is earnestly striving to gain for itself a liberty it will never bestow upon others. Encroaching superstition is imperilling many churches of our land. Methodism has never given forth an uncertain doctrine, or countenanced unmeaning ceremonies. And if ever a faithful warning was needed, or a determined stand against false doctrine was required, these are the perilous times in which the church should announce and reiterate her protests.
T. H. E.
OUR LORD'S MIRACLES. What is a miracle ? and wherein do miracles differ from the ordinary operations of God in nature?
The nature of a miracle will perhaps be brought out more clearly by an
answer to the latter question, than it would be by a formal definition. What are called “ processes of nature," are effects of Divine power, just as much as the miracle itself. The notion that ascribes natural phenomena to “ the laws of nature,”-unless at the same time God be regarded as administering those laws, that is to say, unless they are viewed simply as indicating the Divine methods of working,—is calculated to put God “far from us.” For if He does not operate in the immediate law, where does He operate? In the next, which is the cause of the former? There would be just the same difficulty here. So that if we once admit the principle that God does not act immediately in every case, we shall inevitably be driven to limit the Divine agency to the first impulse ; and in the long chain of causes just to admit that He merely holds the first link, which would be the very next door to Atheism.
In the miracle, then, God is not nearer to us than He is in His ordinary every-day operations in the world of nature. He was not nearer when He multiplied the bread by which He miraculously fed the famishing multitudes, than He is when He multiplies the seed in the soil until it becomes & harvest of ripe grain. And the one is just as wonderful, and as inexplicable, too, as to the mode in which it is effected, as was the other. What are called “laws of nature,” are too often allowed to hide God from our view; to conceal the agent, while exhibiting his work. But in the miracle, God comes out of His hiding-place, and we feel compelled to recognise His presence and power. There is, unquestionably, a natural law of healing ;* otherwise the sick would never recover except under medical treatment. The great Hoffmann expressively called it “the art of God," and had so much confidence in it, that in many cases he felt strongly inclined to leave his patients wholly to it. The wisest physician is he who takes as little as possible out of the hands of nature.
Now when Christ cured diseases by a touch, and in an instant, we may understand that it was as much as to say, "I will teach you a lesson which you are prone to overlook,—that when a person gets well by : process of nature,' as it is called, and without medicine, it is I who cure him. And even when medicine is used, it is I who give it its efficacy; it is simply the method by which I effect the patient's cure.” A similar line of remark would equally apply to all those other matters which are commonly regarded as mere natural processes. So that the miracle, among other important lessons, was designed to teach us that God's immediate hand is to be recognised in the ordinary operations of nature, just as much as in the miracle itself; to bring back to our recollection the muchforgotten truth, that “He is not far from every one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have our being." (Acts xvii. 27, 28.)
Nor is there in the miracle a manifestation of greater power than there is in the natural process. There was not more power displayed in changing the water into wine, at the marriage of Cana, in Galilee, than there is in
* The vis medicatrix naturæ.
changing the particles of earth, and water, and the various gases which float in the atmosphere, and intermingle with the soil, into grapes; and then afterwards, by vinous fermentation, changing the juice of the grapes into wine. And although in the one case the wine was made in an instant, while in the other it takes several months, they are both equally wonderful, and the one indicates just as much Divine power as the other. It has, indeed, been affirmed by some of the German commentators, that our Lord's miracles were simply “accelerated processes of nature.” But this is plainly an error. The miracle of the water made wine, (and perhaps one or two more,) at the first glance, may look something like “ an accelerated natural process ;” but when we come to look carefully into the circumstances of that miracle, we shall find that it differs from a natural process in more respects than that it was accomplished more quickly. If Christ had commanded a vine to produce grapes, and it had done so in an instant ; and then, if He had so accelerated the natural process of vinous fermentation that the grapes had been instantly turned into wine ; there would have been some ground for the expression : but as the fact was, there is none whatever. Again, how could Christ's feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fishes be construed into “an accelerated process of nature ?" Nature does, indeed, develop the seed into corn, from which bread may manufactured; but she never develops a seed of corn into a loaf of bread, much less does she ever develop one loaf into many.
Nature develops the spawn of the parent fish into a great number of little fishes; but there is certainly no process of nature by which dead fishes are multiplied. Thus the miracle is not a “ process of nature,” but one altogether different. There is the same Divine Agent in the one case as the other, and an equal manifestation also of His power; but the mode of His acting in the miracle is different from, though not in opposition to, that in which He acts in “natural processes."
It is still true, however, that an event which, considered merely in itself, is nothing more than an ordinary fact in nature, may become miraculous by the time when it occurs, or the circumstances which attend it. Though it was very unlikely, yet no one could say that it was quite impossible, for a storm of thunder and lightning to occur in Palestine at the time of “wheat harvest,” by the ordinary laws of nature. But when it is considered that the storm came in answer to the prayer of Samuel, (1 Sam. xii. 17,) and for the purpose of authenticating him as a messenger of the Most High, its miraculous character must be at once admitted; for even if it were denied to be a miracle of power, we shall be obliged to admit that it was, at least, a miracle of knowledge. There is nothing miraculous in the bare fact of a man falling down suddenly dead; for many have done so under the influence of certain diseases. But when Ananias, “bearing” the solemn “words" of Peter, “fell down, and gave up the ghost," this was a miracle. It was not miraculous simply that a storm should suddenly cease on the Galilean lake ; but it was miraculous that it should cease instantly at the command of the Son of God. That Egypt should be visited with a swarm
of locusts, and that they should depart after a time, was not miraculous ; for the plague of locusts was not unknown in that country. But that they should come at the command of Moses, and depart at his bidding, were both miraculous.
We next observe that there is ample room for miracles in God's arrangement of the universe ; that the miracle involves no contradiction to the established order of things. Spinoza said that miracles were impossible; that such were the Divine arrangements, that they were manifestly shut out. According to this theory, it was just as impossible that there ever should be a miracle, as it was that the three angles of a triangle should ever amount to either more or less than two right angles. Indeed, the definition of a miracle, which formerly was not unfrequently given, lent but too much countenance to this view. How often has a miracle, even in works on theology, been described to be “a violation of some known law of nature ?" But is it conceivable that God, the great Lawgiver, the Giver of physical law, just as much as of moral law, could " violate ” His own enactments? The violation of law is everywhere represented as a wrong. “Sin is the transgression of” God's moral “law ;” and we are sure that He cannot violate that. It would contradict His infinite purity. And why should it be thought that God can “violate” His own physical laws ? Is not the wilful violation of these by His creatures sinful? If a man deliberately violate the physiological laws of health, does not God mark His displeasure in various ways,-by sickness, disease, and a premature death? And is not the act morally wrong, besides ? It is therefore altogether incredible that God should pupish His creatures for the violation of the physical laws of the universe, and yet do the same thing Himself whenever He works a miracle. If, therefore, the miracle were only possible as “a violation of law,” we should be obliged to discard it altogether.
But this is not the fact. None of nature's laws are violated by miracles. The miracle and nature are in beautiful harmony. The miracle, it is true, works in a higher sphere than nature, but there is no contrariety between them. To regard the miracle as a violation of natural laws, moreover, meets with no support from analogy. Do not certain chemical laws tend to decom pose animal flesh, and render it putrid ? But you can hold decomposition in check by an antiseptic. If the human body were deprived of the principle of life, it would speedily be decomposed. Are we to infer, then, that those chemical laws which tend to its dissolution are violated, or to infer that they are simply held in abeyance by the higher laws of life? Then, if the latter, why say that natural laws, speaking generally, are" violated” by the miracle? No one imagines that the chemical laws are “violated” either by the antiseptic or by the principle of life.
We may derive another illustration from the crystallization of water. The law of attraction tends to give water a spherical forin, as we see in the drops of descending rain; but the higher law of crystallization steps in and forms the drop of water into a beautiful mathematical figure. But no one imagines that the former law is thereby “violated."
Have we not also something analogous to this in the scheme of redemption itself? There is no violation of one “jot or tittle” of the moral law, in saving men from sin and its penal consequences, according to the Gospel scheme. On the contrary," the law is magnified and made honourable.” And yet man could never have been saved by a mere process of law. It required the extraordinary, the miraculous interposition of God's redeeming love to effect this. The interposition was something above law, but not contrary to it. Why, then, should it be thought that the miracle violates physical law, any more than redemption violates moral law? Are not the cases analogous ?
But what force do miracles possess as proofs of the truth of any particular doctrine? Would a miracle be sufficient to authenticate any doctrine? If a mighty work were wrought, such as we might be willing, in the abstract, to term miraculous, would that be sufficient to authenticate a doctrine undoubtedly immoral? No one ventures to say that it would. Plainly, then, the miracle itself requires, in the first place, to be authenticated by the doctrine; and only when the doctrine is in accordance with sound morality, and in other respects worthy of God, can the miracle be understood to authenticate it. It may be thought, at first sight, that this is reasoning in a circle,* but it is not. Both the doctrine and the miracle have at the outset their own separate and independent authentication. Independently of the miracle, we know the doctrine which
supports to be in harmony with the unchangeable principles of moral law, and that it is not inconsistent with the Divine character that He should reveal it to man, since man could not have known it without such revelation. Independently of the doctrine, we see that the act appealed to in support of it has all the characteristics of a genuine miracle. Miracles "are visible proofs of Divine approbation, as well as of Divine power;" approbation of the teacher and of the doctrine taught. On any other principle we should not be safe. We know not the powers possessed by those superior beings, those "angels of light,” that we read of in Scripture. Nor do we know how far evil angels have power over nature, nor how far they may be permitted to go in doing it wonderful works." We certainly tead of “lying wonders” in the New Testament. Not things utterly false
* The “ doctrine" is before the miracle : “Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.” So our Lord, John s. 38 : “Though Je believe not me, believe the works ; i. &., that "ye may be led on to the higher faith of the unity of myself and the Father, of which I speak.” And again, John xiv. 11 : “ Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake:"_“ believe me,” that is, at least ôlà épya. To believe on the assertion of the Word is a “more excellent way” than believing upon testimony of the "work." Qui Christo de se loquenti credit, in Christum credit.Bengel. He who believes Christ speaking of Himself, believes in Christ. So in the reply of Jesus to Thor as : “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed : blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” It would be well if, in the mcdern warfare about the “evidences,” this were always kept in view.-Edit. TOL. XI.-FIFTH SERIES.