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§ 95. Christ appealed to the Miracles as Testimonies; John, xv., 24.—Three different Stages of Faith.

Although Christ appeals (in John’s Gospel) to the miracles as testimonies of his works, we are not to understand him as appealing to them simply as displays of power, for the grounds already stated. Yet he does, in more than one instance, declare them to be signs, in the world of sense, of a higher power, designed to lead minds as yet unsusceptible of direct spiritual impressions, to acknowledge such influences. “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin.”210210   John, xv., 24.

In viewing the miracles thus as means of awakening and strengthening faith, we must distinguish different stand-points in the developement of faith. On the lowest stage stood those who, instead of being drawn by an undeniable want of their spiritual nature, inspired by the power of God working within them, had to be attracted by a feeling of physical want, and by impressions made upon their outward senses. Yet, like his heavenly Father, whose providence leads men to spiritual things even by means of their physical necessities, Christ condescended to this human weakness, sighing, at the same time, that such means should be indispensable to turn men’s eyes to that which lies nearest to their spiritual being. “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.”211211   John, iv., 48.

A higher stage was occupied by those who were, indeed, led to seek the Messiah by a sense of spiritual need, but whose religious feelings were debased by the admixture of various sensuous elements. As these 139were yet in some degree in bondage to sense, and sought the Saviour without perfectly apprehending him as the object of their search, they had to be led to know him by miracles suited to their condition. Such was the case with the Apostles generally, before their religious feelings were purified by continued personal intercourse with Christ. He condescended to this condition, in order to lead men from it to a higher stage of religious life; but yet represented it as subordinate to that purer stage in which they should receive the whole impression of his person, and obtain a full intuition of the mode in which God dwelt and wrought in Him. Jesus said unto Nathanael, “Because I said I saw thee under the fig-tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these. Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.212212   John, i., 50, 51.

A far loftier stage of faith was that which, proceeding from an inward living fountain, did not wait for miracles to call it forth, but went before and expected them as natural manifestations of the already acknowledged God. Such a presupposed faith, instead of being summoned by the miracles, rather summoned them, as did the pagan centurion whom Christ offered to the Jews as a model: “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”213213   Matt., viii., 10.

It appears, therefore, that Christ considered that to be the highest stage of religious developement in which faith arose, not from the sensible evidence of miracles, but from an immediate Divine impression finding a point of contact in the soul itself—from a direct experience of that wherein alone the soul could fully satisfy its wants; such a faith as testifies to previous motions of the Divine life in the soul. We have an illustration in Peter, who expressed his profound sense of the blessings that had flowed to him from fellowship with Christ, in his acknowledgment, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”214214   Matt., xvi., 16, 17. This acknowledgment itself might have been made by Peter at an earlier period; but the way in which he made it at that critical moment, and the feeling which inspired it, showed that he had obtained a new intuition of Christ as the Son of God. It was for this that Christ called him; “blessed,” because the drawing of the Father had led him to the Son, and the Father had revealed himself to him in the Son. Peter made his confession, at that time, in opposition to others,215215   Matt., xvi., 14. who, although they had a dawning consciousness of Christ’s higher nature, did not yet recognize him as the Son of God. The spirit in which he made it is illustrated by a similar confession made by him in view of the defection of many who had been led by “the revelation of flesh and blood” to believe 140in Jesus, and had afterward abandoned him,216216   John, vi., 66. for the very reason that their faith had so low an origin: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe, and we are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”217217   John. vi., 69.

And so, when Thomas doubted, Christ condescended to give him a visible proof of his resurrection;218218   John, xx.. 27. but at the same time he declared that that was a higher faith which needed no such support. but rested, with undoubting confidence, upon the inward experience of Divine manifestations. “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.”

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