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§ 91. Apparent Discrepancies, and Mode of Removing them.
There are apparent contradictions in the several explanations given by Christ of his miracles, and by following them out separately we might arrive at different views of the estimate which he himself placed upon them. But in order to bring perfect harmony out of these apparent contradictions, it is only necessary to distinguish the different points of view in which the miracles present themselves. It has been already said, that miracles can be correctly understood, not when viewed as isolated facts, but in connexion with the whole circle of Divine revelation. Those of Christ, especially, are intelligible only when considered as results of his self-revelation, or, as St. John expresses it, as the manifestation of his glory. They demand, therefore, to be so conceived in connexion as to exhibit vividly his whole image in each of these separate manifestations; and, on the other hand, the same considerations point out, as the highest aim of miracles, the revelation of Christ’s glory in the whole of his personal manifestation.
(1.) Christ’s Object in working Miracles two-fold.
In their formal import miracles are σημεῖα, signs, designed to point from objects of sense to God; powers which, by producing results inexplicable by ordinary agencies, are intended to lead minds yet under the bonds of sense, and unfitted for an immediate spiritual revelation, to yearn after and acknowledge a higher power. But as they were designed to show forth the whole revealed Christ, and as the Divine attributes, in the totality of which the image of God was realized in him, cannot be isolated from each other, so no separate manifestation of power could proceed from him, not at the same time exhibiting all the other attributes belonging to the Divine image. It is clear, therefore, that although miracles, in relation to nature, are especially manifestations of Power, they could not be performed except in cases where the other attributes, the Wisdom and the holy Love, were brought into requisition. For the same reason, too, we cannot conceive Christ’s miracles as epideictic, i. e., wrought for no other purpose than to display his power over the laws of nature. In them, as in all his other actions, the end which he had in view is shown by the given circumstances in each case.
Accordingly, we distinguish a two-fold object of his miracles, the first a material one, i. e., the meeting of some immediate emergency, of some want of man’s earthly life? which his love urged him to satisfy; the 135other and higher one to point himself out to the persons whose earthly necessities were thus relieved, as the One alone capable of satisfying their higher and essential spiritual wants; to raise them from this single exhibition of his glory in the individual miracle to a vivid apprehension of the glory of his entire nature. Nor was this last and higher aim of the miracle confined to the persons immediately concerned; it was to be to all others a sign, that they might believe in Jesus as the Son of God.
(2.) A Susceptibility to receive Impressions from the Miracles presupposed.
But all external influences designed to produce an impression such as we have stated demand a susceptible soil in the minds of those who are to receive them. The revelation of Christ by his works, no more than by his words, could produce a Divine impression without an inward susceptibility of Divine influences. The consciousness of God must exist in the soul, though dormant. The Divine revelation must find some point of contact in human nature before religious faith can spring up; there is no compulsory influence from without by which the unsusceptible soul can be driven to faith by an irresistible necessity.
So, when a carnal, worldly mind is the prevailing tendency, outward phenomena, however extraordinary, pass by, and make no impression. The mighty power of the will cannot be subdued by any external force. The worldly spirit makes every thing which touches it worldly too. Encompassed by Divine powers, it remains closed against them, in its earthly inclinations, thoughts, and feelings. The mind, thus perverted, cheats itself by denying all miracles, because to acknowledge them would oppose its fleshly interests, and contradict the system of delusion to which it is a slave. It calls the powers of sophistry to aid its self-deception, by converting every thing which could tend to undeceive it into a means of deeper delusion; like those Pharisees who, when compelled to acknowledge works beyond explanation by ordinary agencies, referred them to the powers of darkness rather than of light, in order to escape an admission which they were deter mined to evade. So he who totally rejects the supernatural has al ready decided upon all separate cases, and a miracle wrought before his very eyes would not be recognized as such. He might admit the fact as extraordinary, but would involuntarily seek some other explanation. A mode of thinking that controls the mind cannot be shaken by any power acting wholly from without. Such is the might of the free will, which proves its freedom even by its self-created bondage.
Or if miracles do impress the fleshly mind for a moment by the flash of gratification or astonishment which they afford, the impression, made merely upon the senses, is but transitory; for it lacks the point of contact 136in the soul which alone can make it permanent. How quickly are sensible impressions, even the strongest, forgotten when other and contrary ones follow them! And here we find one of the reasons why Christ refused the demand for miracles merely as proofs of his wonderworking power. For those, he said, whose perverted minds could not be roused to repentance by Moses and the prophets, would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead.
How grossly ignorant, then, of human nature must the Deists of the 17th century have been, who plead in opposition to the reality of Christ’s miracles, the comparatively little effect which they produced!205205 Like that strange enthusiast, Daniel Müller, who appeared in Nassau in the transition period between mysticism and rationalism, and in whom these two tendencies joined hands. From the extreme of mystic supernaturalism he passed over to the skeptical conclusions of our modern critics. In his treatise against Lessing he says, “It is impossible that there should have been a Christ 1700 years ago, who literally wrought such wonders as these. Had any man, by his mere word, caused the blind to see and the lame to walk, given health to the leper and strength to the palsied, fed thousands with a few loaves, and even raised the dead, all men must have esteemed him Divine, all men must have followed him. Only imagine what you yourself would have thought of such a man; and human nature is the same in all ages. And with so many followers, the scribes and Pharisees could not have killed him.”—Ilgen’s Zeitschrift, 1834, p. 257.
We shall find, therefore, Christ’s own statements in regard to his miracles to harmonize perfectly with each other, if we properly distinguish the various classes of human character in their religious and moral relations to miracles, and the different relations and tendencies of the miracles themselves.
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