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conclusively proved by Dr Leland in his well-known work on the deplorable state of the ancient heathen world, when gross darkness covered the nations. So deeply sensible was Socrates, the illustrious Greek philosopher, of his own ignorance, that he expressed the earnest wish that a messenger could be sent from heaven to teach the world. And if such a messenger has really been sent down, is it wonderful that He should be endowed with miraculous powers to arrest men's attention, and to convince them that His message is Divine? And is it not expedient and desirable that“ He who came as the conqueror of sin and death, and who had power to lay down His life, and power to take it again, should come also as the Lord of the Body and the Lord of the Spirit, having power over the elements of matter, and over the thoughts of men's minds ?". An eminent modern philosopher has truly said that “the universe is governed, not only by physical, but by moral laws.” “If, then, the spiritual restoration of mankind has in any degree been promoted by means of a religion professing to have been introduced by the aid of miracles, and whose whole truth is involved in the truth of that profession, we have a sufficient reason for the miraculous interposition, superior to any that can be urged for or against it, from considerations derived from the material world” (Mansel, p. 29).
THE VALUE OF MIRACLES AS EVIDENCES.
RANTING, then, that a revelation from God
to man is both possible and desirable, the
question presents itself, To how many persons ought such a revelation to be directly made? Should it be given to every individual in all the world and in every age? Or should it be given to a few persons, selected and commissioned to instruct the rest? Now, as to the first of these modes, it would, no doubt, be possible for God to reveal His will to every person separately. But we should feel greater difficulty in establishing the consistency of this mode, either with the wisdom of God, or with the free agency of man. Besides, such frequent revelations would soon lose their impression and their designed effect, and might come to be confounded with the ordinary light of reason and conscience. Obviously, therefore, the preferable mode would be to impart the revelation to a few persons, selected and accredited to be God's messengers to the rest of the world.
Here, however, another question arises, viz., How can the rest of the world be assured that these few are really commissioned by God, and that they are not giving forth merely their own fallible opinions ? Now, while it would be presumptuous in us to assert
that God might not have proved, in some other way than by miracles, the Divine commission of His servants; yet we may safely assert that there is no other conceivable way which would be more simple, more direct, and more convincing than the power of altering the course of nature by a word, such as that of divid. ing the sea, or bringing down bread from heaven, or raising the dead to life. None can deny, that "power" like this “belongeth unto God” alone, and therefore if He should accompany the message of His servants with such an exertion of almighty power, He would give the clearest possible testimony to the truth of their message, and “set to His seal” that it really comes from Himself. As no creature can arrest the working of His omnipotent arm, so every interruption in the established course of nature can only take place by His appointment, or by His permission. If the “ laws of nature" were at first established by the great Creator, and if a human being is seen to accomplish such an alteration or suspension of those laws, as could neither be effected by human power nor foreseen by human intelligence, while that human being appeals to the miracle in proof of his Divine commission, is it not clear, beyond all controversy, that the miracle was wrought by the power of God, and that it bears most satisfying testimony to the truth of the message which he brings ? Such, then, is the value of miracles as attestations of a Divine revelation.
TO WHAT EXTENT MIRACLES CAN PROVE DOCTRINES.
AVING endeavoured to show, first, that mir
acles are possible; secondly, that they are
expedient and desirable ; and thirdly, what is their proper value as evidences of a Divine revelation, we come now to notice some of the leading objections of modern infidels to the reality of the Bible miracles.
But before doing so, there is another preliminary question on which it is necessary to make a few remarks, viz., How, and to what extent, miracles can prove doctrines to be divinely true? As to this, a difficulty has sometimes been felt, which, however, is more of a speculative than of a practical kind. The question has been asked, Can a miracle be wrought by evil spirits, or can it only proceed from the direct agency of God? And if it can be wrought by the former, how, in such a case, can the miracle prove the doctrine to be true? Now, though this question, viewed as one of pure speculation, or as a theme for metaphysical ingenuity, is attended with some difficulty, yet, as we shall endeavour to show, there is no serious practical difficulty involved in it. Instead, however, of dogmatising confidently on the theoretical question, let it be admitted, for the sake of argument, that it is possible for an evil spirit to work what may appear to be a miracle.
But if an apparent miracle may be wrought by an evil spirit, the question naturally arises, How can any miracle be a conclusive evidence of “the finger of God?” In answer to this, and in explanation of the difficulty, let it be observed that there are three conceivable cases in which a professed revelation may be given to man.
1. The first supposable case is that, in which a professed revelation bears, on the very face of it, obvious falsehoods, or contradictions, or immoralities; as in the instance of the Koran of Mahomet, or the lying wonders of paganism and Popery. Now, as to all these, it may be safely affirmed that not even an undoubted miracle, if it should ever be wrought, could prove such a revelation to have come from the God of truth and holiness; but it ought to be summarily rejected, as coming, not “from above," but from beneath.
2. The second supposable case is that, in which a professed revelation contains pure doctrines and correct morals. Now, in such a case, miracles would be sufficient to prove that God is its Author. If it give just and worthy conceptions of the Divine character, and if its morality be perfectly pure and faultless, then there can be no doubt that it could only proceed from the God of truth and righteousness.
3. But there is a third supposable case (and it is