Chapter 4


            In summary, we have so far proposed two points.  First, miracles had a special significance in the days of Jesus and the apostles that fell away once Revelation had been completed.  Secondly, it cannot be concluded from the first point that there is no further possibility of miracles.  Christ our King lives at the right hand of God as Head of the congregation and as Head of humanity.  There is power radiating from Him and there is no good reason to think that that power can no longer triumph over nature.  We insist on the continued possibility of miracles.

            At the same time, we have to agree that neither the miracles performed by the apostles nor those of later times were greater than those performed by Jesus Himself.  We have only to think about the miracle at Cana, about the feeding of the multitude, about walking on the sea or stilling the storm, or about the three raised from the dead to sense that the glory of the apostolic miracles in no way surpassed those of Christ. We do not mean to belittle the apostolic miracles or to demean their significance, but we do deny that the miracles of the apostles outranked those of Christ.  Nevertheless, Christ has emphatically declared that His church would perform more and greater things than He Himself has done.  The difficult question then arises as to where we are to look for this “greater” and of what it consists.

            We are not satisfied with what certain commentators offer in this respect.  They point to four things.  They say that the apostles shared the Holy Spirit with others through the laying on of hands.  Further, they point to their speaking in unusual languages, to the spreading of the Gospel throughout the Roman empire and, finally, to what is recorded in Mark 16:17-18, where we read, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”1212Kuyper’s day, Bible translators have generally agreed that these last few verses of the Gospel of Mark were not part of the original manuscripts.  Most recent Bible translators relegate them to a note.  However, the passage does correctly summarize what in fact took place, according to the book of Acts. It is obvious that not every believer would be able to perform such miracles.  It can only mean that throughout the ages such things will occur.

            Still we are not convinced that in those works of the apostles there was something “greater” than we find in the works of Christ.  This assertion is especially true for their spiritual works.  True, the preaching of Jesus was restricted to Palestine, while Paul preached in Spain and Peter in Babylonia, but this difference does not qualify the work of the apostles as “greater.”  It is no more than an extension and continuation of what Jesus started.  They were no more than imitators.  Those who are today bringing the gospel to the farthest corners of the earth still do not perform works greater than those of Christ.  Similarly, the laying on of hands by the apostles cannot be described as greater than when Christ breathed on his disciples, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  Even the speaking in unusual languages is not a miracle performed by the apostles.  Rather, it was an expression of their souls that occurred without any intention on their part.  It was more in the nature of a momentary ecstasy.  Besides, who would argue that speaking in other languages is superior to the stilling of the storm or the feeding of the five thousand?  And when you take the acts of the apostles referred to in the passage quoted above, one can hardly regard these as greater than those performed by Christ.  Besides, till today people in various cultures, whether Africa or India, conjure and control snakes.  He who refuses to be diverted by superficial arguments will realize that these commentators fail to do justice to the promise of Jesus.

            Allow me to recommend a totally different point of view.  The opinion we are about to advance is based on the difference or contrast between two approaches or attitudes to nature.  The one can be described as a general lack of awareness that leads to instinctive action.  We could call that an attitude of “instinctive unconsciousness.”  The other attitude is developed by a conscious studious manipulation of nature.  We will refer to it as the “conscious analytical” or some variation of that.1313 As already mentioned in the Introduction, I, the translator, consider Kuyper’s writing to be an example of a style emerging from the “instinctive unconsciousness.”

            Let us illustrate this contrast by a reference to cooking.  The average housewife in any culture is a good cook who knows exactly what spices to put in a dish and how much.  If you were to ask how much spice to put in or why, she would not be able to answer, for her knowledge is instinctive.  She has never consciously analyzed her recipes.  She just knows.  Now you take that same cook and put her through a home economics course where everything is analyzed and explained.  Her attitude will change from a natural, instinctive unconscious application of skills learned in someone’s kitchen to a kind of conscious, studious, academic approach.  What used to be done well unconsciously is now done consciously, aware of all the whys and wherefores, of the exact measure of each ingredient, a teaspoon of this or a cup of that.  In some countries, such a cook may not have taken a course, but she has at her disposal a library of cookbooks that have the same effect.

            A further illustration comes from “farming,” an occupation associated with the world of instinctive unconsciousness, or “agriculture,” a term more related to the studious, conscious approach to that endeavour.  In Isaiah 28:24-29, we have the picture of a traditional farmer who knows his trade very well.  From where does he get his skill and knowledge?  The prophet explains that “his God instructs him and teaches him the right way.”  “All this comes from the Lord Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.”  Here is a description of farming as conducted by unschooled people who go about their business in an instinctive way.  They have a talent, a gift, a practical, instinctive but unconscious way of doing things that God Himself has taught them through the generations.  Such farmers may never have heard about agricultural schools, extension services, intensive agriculture or any other modern agricultural phenomena.  However, once people begin to avail themselves of modern developments in agriculture, they change over from an instinctive, unconscious approach to a more conscious, studious method, which enables one to explain and give adequate reasons for the methods used.  As modernization progresses in this area, the modern farmer will become more conscious about the chemical composition of the soil, the requirements of the various seeds and all the factors that influence the growing process.  The motivating factor will no longer be that the forefathers have handed down this or that method.

            In some cultures this change from the unconscious to the conscious approach has gone further than in others.  And as we illustrated it by reference to cooking and farming, two basic human activities, so it either is developing or has developed in all aspects of culture.  Traditionally, parents raised their children without any knowledge of pedagogy—and they often did a good job.  But today one will find mothers, especially in the Western world, reach for various books about raising children.  Traditionally, people would learn various trades and establish all kinds of industries, usually small, without conscious analysis or feasibility studies.  There were no trade schools or technical colleges.  Today such knowledge is despised and not recognized.  Everything must be learned and consciously analyzed in a recognized institution.  Traditionally, all improvements in whatever area were expressions of life itself, of the instinctive urges that motivated people, but that instinct is now in danger of being stunted, dulled, discouraged.  It is being or has been replaced by the conscious, analytical studious approach.

            Another example is that of the field of art.  Artists of all kinds have presented their artistic products, all of them motivated by this same instinctive unconscious urge.  Often they produced art at such a high level that they are admired for generations and even centuries.  All modern societies look back upon the artistic heritage of their unconscious stage with admiration, as glorious artifacts of their past.  All peoples tend to admire the paintings, music and other forms of art of what they consider their classical heritage of past centuries, the products of their instinctive unconscious phase.  The artists of the past seldom, if ever, read any books on art or attended art schools.  They all worked instinctively, by inspiration.

            Today, the modern artist must increasingly avail herself of the new institutions of art colleges or academies, of literature that discusses true and false art, of conferences and workshops where new methods may be developed.  Art criticism has become a field for professional engagement.  Libraries have large sections of literature on aesthetics.

            There is thus an evolution taking place in all cultures, advanced more in some than in others, from the instinctive to the conscious approach.  Now that these instinctive factors are gradually receding and even disappearing, we find ourselves motivated by a conscious penetration into the laws of nature to achieve a higher, more communal and much more powerful mastery over nature and even over life itself.  This more conscious approach of today misses some of the charm that was associated with the earlier attitude, but it puts us on a higher level, multiplies our powers and equips us as rational beings for greater achievements.  Under the former approach, each triumph over nature was an independent achievement with hardly any relationship to other discoveries or inventions.  Today, our power over nature has become communal property; everyone share in it.  In distinction to the former piecemeal approach to nature, we now confront nature as a whole with our communal power.  Together, we have penetrated the mysteries of nature.  We have discovered its composition and the laws that govern her movements.  In this shift from the instinctive unconscious to the conscious, analytical approach to nature we face an evolutionary development of extraordinary proportions, for it places the human race over against nature with a much higher measure of power and control.

            Our human civilization started with the instinctive unconscious approach rather than the conscious analytical.  The instinctive stage is the one during which God Himself, directly, without any mediation, shows humanity the way and helps it develop this inner power.  It is exactly as the prophet Isaiah put it in the earlier quotation.  It was impossible for civilization to start with the conscious analytical, for the conscious knowledge of nature had not yet developed.  If cultural development had to wait for the analytical approach, no progress would ever have been made, for no one possessed the wherewithal to analyze nature.  Thus it was wonderful grace that God enabled the human race to achieve such great heights through this instinctive approach during the first period.  The original mastery over nature that was part of mankind’s created inheritance broke down under sin and the curse, but it did not disappear completely immediately after the fall.  It continued to operate among the nations in slackening measure, slowly fading away.  Its after-effects, however, soon degenerated into magic and eventually shriveled away.  Nevertheless, the inspiration of the instinctive life continued through the ages to carry cultural development along.  It was able to carry civilization to a high level.1414I know a young Nigerian who created a new type of Christian songs that combined aspects of the traditional music of his ethnic group with Christian themes.  In a short time he composed a considerable number of songs that were so popular that his songs were sung even by people of other ethnic groups.  Then the young man went to a teachers’ college – and that was the end of his creativity.  His instinctive unconscious approach was stunted by the new consciousness he achieved through study.  However, since his was not a music or art college, he simply dropped his artistic activities.  His new consciousness did not help the development of his musical and poetic talents.  It appears that it was impossible for him to combine the earlier instinctive approach in art with a more conscious attitude to life in general.  The two approaches seem mutually exclusive.  In Nigeria, the emphasis on paper credentials has seriously contributed to this partially unfortunate development. Archeology has surprised us with its discoveries of high civilizations like those of Egypt and Canaan in the days of Abraham.

            Of course, it cannot be denied that even in those eras of long ago the analytical was not lacking altogether.  Imitation has always been part of human life and imitation involves study.  Without denying that factor, we insist that the peculiar character of cultural development was basically that of inherent talent, of instinctive motivation, while whatever analysis was done was practiced in a superficial way and remained peripheral.

            This stage could not last indefinitely.  Once our race began to research into the deep recesses of nature and discovered the hidden powers within it to make them subservient to culture, we achieved a much greater power over nature.  It will not serve us well to lament over the romance and poetry of the past that was lost in the process and replaced by cold, prosaic analysis.  This prosaic evolution was inevitable and could not be postponed indefinitely.  Given our created urge to exercise dominion, humanity had eventually to penetrate into the depth of nature to find its hidden powers and thus to re-establish dominion.

            And so it happened.  First there was the period of the after-effects of our original powers from the Garden of Eden.  This period was followed by the flowering of our instinctive life.  Today we find ourselves in the third period in which our mastery over nature increases rapidly through systematic analysis.  This difference can be illustrated in the difference between the way in which traditional societies seek to heal the sick with amulets and incantations on the one hand and the diagnosis and treatment of the sick by the modern medic on the other hand, who has analysed the human body from within and is able to discover the basic cause of the disease.  This is not to deny that traditional medicine men do heal people.  It can even be acknowledged that there were certain effective diagnoses and medications in the past that are now ignored to our own hurt.  Modern medical technology continues to be plagued by the way it has contempt for much healing in the past.  But surely we all realize that the understanding of disease, the level of knowledge and of medical technology has reached a much higher plateau.  We also realize that in this period of conscious research we have taken a much stronger position vis a vis diseases than was the case in the era of tradition and instinct.  Thus, we ought not to look back to the era with nostalgia, even though we should recognize its relative successes.  Our rational power resides in the conscious life, not in the instinctive approach.  Only when we approach nature with our consciously analytical methods can we once again exercise dominion over nature that reminds us of our royal calling to subdue it.  Compared to the past, we recognize in this conscious approach something of the greater works of which Christ spoke.

            In this context I want to return to Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed as well as that about yeast or leaven (Mat. 13, Mark 4).  It is common for us to spiritualize these parables, but in so doing we miss their point entirely.  Throughout Jesus’ works and words He always kept body and soul, spirit and matter, visible and invisible together in one totality.  In the light of that, what right do we have to exclude the empirical, the physical, and the visible that are so prominent in these parables from Jesus’ prophecy and to consider only their spiritual aspect?  When Jesus spoke of the “more” that was awaiting us, He referred precisely to His works, among which His miraculous works automatically drew the most attention.  Most of those miracles revealed His power over the visible, the material and physical aspects of nature.  Hence, let us not separate what Jesus always regarded as one.  He concerned Himself with the whole person, both with poverty of the soul and with misery of the body.  Over against both of these He was Redeemer, the Liberator.  He delivered from sin as well as from the misery that encompasses us.

            It was in this context that Jesus pointed to the little mustard seed.  It is so very, very tiny.  But this tiny seed sprouts, grows up and goes through a process at the end of which we have a tree with its branches reaching out far and wide within which the birds of heaven make their home and which provides shade from the heat of the sun.  And so, said Jesus, it would be with the seed of the Kingdom.  It looks insignificant and trivial at the time it sprouts.  But then it begins to grow and go through an organic process until it is like the tree with its wide branches in the middle of the world to offer comfort and protection to people in their sin and in their physical miseries.  The parable points to a dynamic situation in which we proceed through a series of stages of history.  It points to a penetration of the seed of that kingdom influence throughout our lives and to a future wherein both the spiritual and the material effects of that seed will become plain for all to see.  There is a constant “more.”

            Similarly, the parable of the leaven or yeast illustrates for us the same process in its hidden action.  The miracle here is that when the yeast has come into contact with the flour, it sets into motion a mighty process.  Jesus’ interest here was not in the external, instinctive action of the woman who bakes, but in what happens with that yeast in the flour as it works quite independently from the woman to obey the powers hidden within it.  Jesus penetrated the secrets of nature and showed how powers are hidden within it that would automatically set the process into motion until it would reach its fulfillment according to the natural laws governing this process.

            What right or reason would we have to restrict the significance of this meaningful prophecy about this kingdom process to the spiritual?  Is it not more legitimate to relate this process of the Kingdom to all of human culture?  Does not the power of this Kingdom touch our lives at all levels—spiritual, social and material?  And is that penetrative action in all areas not the result of that yeast or leaven?  When the Christian faith entered the world, it touched all the factors and laws of human society and by so doing completely changed the face of society.  Contrast the cultures that have been penetrated by that yeast and those that have not.  Where this faith has motivated people, it has affected their lives at all fronts, spiritually, socially and materially, and has elevated life to a higher level just as the bread rises through the fermentation of the yeast hidden in it.

            When you take the above perspective, you do not have to search long for evidence, for it is plain for all to see that wherever this liberation and elevation of the spirit has taken place, it is there that people have dedicated themselves to research and knowledge of nature and there that the control of nature has been increased in such a wonderful way.  True, the Greeks and Romans were also engaged in some research and among the Arabs considerable successes were booked.  Nevertheless, the greatest scientific revolution was initiated and developed where the Spirit of God had liberated the human spirit with His touch.  And though it is true that science has subsequently turned its back to the Christian religion, the spirit, the motivating force that has guided this process arose and developed where that spirit had penetrated society.  If it were not for Jesus and the penetration of His Kingdom in the West, its people would still cringe helplessly before the gods of nature as did their ancestors.  It would be an insult to His greatness, were we to deny that Jesus did not foresee or intend this development.  He is the King of this process.  Unto Him is given all power in heaven and on earth.  When Jesus placed the leaven of His Kingdom in the bread of human society and promised the disciples that they would do works greater than His own, He in fact prophesied that this leaven would one day elevate all of society.  Though we admire His miracles, wherever His spirit of liberation strode, we see those greater works, we see a new and wonderful power and authority over nature that has been achieved through persistent, conscious analysis of its secret powers.  And the works emerging from that development Jesus described as greater than His own.

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