« ZurückWeiter »
ART. II.-Notes on the Miracles of our Lord. By RICHARD Che
NEVIX Trench, M.A. Vicar of Itchen Stoke, Essex ; Professor of Divinity, King's College, London, and Examining Chaplain to the Lord Bishop of Oxford. London: John W. Parker. 1846.
Under the unassuming title of “Notes on the Miracles,” Mr Trench has given to the church a volume containing the result of long-continued reverent meditation by himself on the wonderful works of the Son of God, manifest in the flesh, combined with very extensive and careful reading in the authorship of men, orthodox and heterodox, long dead or yet alive. Strong in his natural powers of intellect, he is fit to grapple with whole libraries, and, happily for himself, he has laid all the treasures of his learning at the feet of Him whom he rejoices to call Lord and Saviour. In an age when erudite writing is often directed against the truth, either with a view of reviving mediæval superstition or of inducing men to exalt, above the revelation of God, the darkness of human reasonings, it is refreshing to meet an honest-hearted man, familiar with Fathers, Schoolmen, and Neologian Germans, and yet esteeming the word and Spirit of Christ as the only light of the world.
The work before us consists of two parts, a long preliminary dissertation on the names, nature, authority, controversial history, and apologetic worth of the miracles; and notes (properly socalled) on the miracles considered, one by one, in chronological order. To our mind, the preliminary dissertation is by much the least satisfactory part of the book. The elements from which truth may be educed are in it, but not clear statements of the truth; on the contrary, developments of it are given so partial and incomplete, as often, in our opinion, to be equivalent to error.
In opposing that definition of a miracle, adopted by Spinosa, and after him by Hume, which terms it “the violation of a natural law,” Mr Trench observes, with beauty, that “the true miracle is as an higher and purer nature coming down out of the world of untroubled harmonies into this world of ours, which so many discords have jarred and disturbed, and bringing it back, though it be for one prophetic moment, into harmony with that higher.” On this truth, to meet Spinosa's objection against the possibility of miracles ever being wrought, our author founds another definition of these works as being " above and beyond the nature which we know; but not contrary to it.” The infidel argument is met by the assertion of a higher
nature than that which we feel and see working ; but it will go hard with any one who tries to convince men that depriving fire of its power to burn, and emancipating fluid from the law of gravitation are not doings directly adverse to the present constitution of these elements. It is indeed “the law of the laws of nature that where powers come into conflict the weaker shall give place to the stronger, the lower to the higher;" but the very word “conflict” shows that, even to our author's apprehension, one law may be against another, and the world be kept in its place by counteracting forces, all certainly issuing from one source, and by their measured degrees of strength tending to one end, but in their workings opposing each other, and by that very opposition producing the fair and beautiful order of the universe. When Mr Trench comes to say, after much reasoning in support of his definition, that “miracles are not against nature, however they may be beside and beyond it,” we feel at once that in the first clause of the sentence he is speaking of universal nature ; and that in the second he unconsciously limits the apprehension to the system of laws now working in the world. If the miracle be not against that power which upholds all nature, but only a manifestation of its working, neither is it in the slightest degree “beside or beyond it." If it be “beside and beyond” the ordinary laws of nature, it is in some cases equally against them. It was perfectly open for Mr Trench, without in any way misleading his readers, to have condemned the old definition of a miracle as erroneous by defect. Many of the wonderful works recorded in Scripture are not so much " violations" of nature's ordinary course by suspension of existing laws, and introduction of new powers, as by giving a marvellously increased and accelerated force to some one law already witnessed in daily operation. God equally shows himself the Lord of Nature by augmenting at his word the might of a present law, as by arresting its operation to bring in a contrary power. In speaking of miracles as “violations of natural law,” it is only this last class of phenomena which is readily suggested ; and, therefore, we would not object to a general definition of miracles as supernatural works, if we be allowed to include under it two species—those wrought contrary to known natural law, and those which natural law, in its ordinary process, is simply incompetent to effect.
Mr Trench is by no means satisfied with those“ who, in modern times, have written so-called 'Evidences of Christianity,' and have found in the miracles wrought by its Founder, and in those mainly as acts of power, the exclusive argument for its reception as a Divine revelation.” Being an earnest-minded man, who has felt in his own soul the power of truth, he has no
sympathy with that cold dry school which rests content with believing in miracles without obeying or loving the truths confirmed by signs following. * His conviction that the doctrine can to a certain extent witness for itself, and his indignation at the lifeless and apathetic tone of many “defences of Christianity, in which the whole burden of proof is laid upon the miracles," have led him to an under-valuing of the authority and apologetic worth of these mighty works.
“The fact that the kingdom of lies has its wonders no less than the kingdom of truth, would be alone sufficient to convince us that miracles cannot be appealed to absolutely and simply, in proof of the doctrine which the workers of them proclaim, and God's word expressly declares the same.
(Deut. xiii. 1–5.) A miracle does not prove the truth of a doctrine, or the divine mission of him that brings it to pass. That which alone it claims for him at the first is the right of being listened to. It puts him in the alternative of being from heaven or from hell. The doctrine must first approve itself to the conscience as good, and only then can the miracle seal it as divine.
If men are taught that they should believe in Christ upon no other grounds than that he attested his claims by works of wonder, and that simply, for this they shall do so, how shall they refuse belief to any other who shall come attesting his claims by the same. We have here a paving of the way of antichrist, for we know that he will have his signs and wonders, so if this argument be good he will have a right by the same to claim the faith and allegiance
But no! the miracle must witness for itself, and the doctrine must witness for itself, and then the first is capable of witnessing for the second; and those books of Christian Evidences are utterly maimed and imperfect, fraught with the most perilous consequences, which reverence in the miracle little else than its power, and see in that alone what gives to it its attesting worth, or to the doctrine its authority, as an adequately attested thing." Pp. 23 and 31.
We readily assent to Mr Trench's statement, that a miracle does not by itself“ prove the truth of a doctrine ;" for the possession of strength unquestionably involves not the possession of truth. The worker of a miracle is powerful, but it does not necessarily follow that he is true. Nevertheless his miraculous deeds may be so amazing in their extent of displayed power, as, by themselves, to make it evident that he speaks truth at least in one statement. They may establish, incontrovertibly, that the whole fabric of this world is under his control, and that he can dispose of it, and of all it contains, according to his own pleasure. Therefore we hesitate not to say that Mr Trench is in error, in denying to miracles the power of proving, simply by their element of power, “the Divine mission of those who bring them to pass."
. See on this subject D'Aubigne's masterly essay, “ Miracles; or the Two Errors,” in his “ Discourses and Essays,” recently published by Collins, Glasgow.
The miracles attesting Scripture put out of all controversy the “Divine mission” of its writers; at least to the extent of making it clear that their doctrine is authenticated by Him“ who doeth according to his will in the host of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.” Miracles inferior in power, such as the signs of Antichrist, would not have proved this ; but the miracles of Scripture, from the stupendous greatness of might displayed in them, establish irrefragably that the accompanying doctrines are revealed by the God of heaven and of earth. To minds which have been trained by education to recognise this God as one who cannot lie, the evidence assuring them that Scripture comes from the Ruler of the world is satisfactory proof of its being true in all its statements. Yet this corollary, inferring the truth of revelation from its being supported by miracles, is manifestly a circuitous mode of reasoning, proceeding on the assumption that the Lord of nature is the Holy God of everlasting truth. From the constitution of this world, in which physical and moral evil are so largely present, and from our own weakness and depravity of heart and mind, we have apparent grounds, and a strong tendency to conclude, prior to revelation, that the God of nature is very much such an one as ourselves, and consequently a being capable of falsehood. These grounds, and this tendency, are met and overcome by the surpassing holiness of the word. If the miracles accompanying revelation prove it to come from the Lord of nature, the commandments and doctrines given therein, by themselves, no less certainly prove its origin from the Lord of conscience. The moral sense in man, struggling or overborne by a weight of sinful desires, is awakened to fresh life by the word, as by the voice of its master calling to it, and at once knoweth who speaketh therein. It not merely recognises the precepts and testimonies as “good ;" by their perfect holiness and felt authority it immediately knoweth them to be “ Divine.” The physical eye is not more independent of haloes and rainbows, in its recognition of material light as emanating from the sun, than the eye of the inner man is independent of miracles in recognising the light of holiness as proceeding from Him whom conscience adores. This is the self-evidencing power of the truth felt by the humblest Christian, of which the most intellectual can say no more than that he knows it to be completely satisfactory, because he feels it irresistible; and that he is convinced whoever opens his mind to try it will feel in it the same perfection of moral demonstration. But, with all its completeness for its own end, the proof to be found in the holy character of Scripture doctrine and injunction, 80 satisfactorily establishing that the Bible comes from the Lord of conscience, obviously requires an assumption, that He is iden
VOL. XX. NO. II.
cical with the God of material nature, before it permits us to tonclude that Scripture is given by inspiration from the Lord of heaven and earth. This assumption may be founded on a statement of the word itself, and conscience, impressed by manifestat on of the speaker's holiness, might constrain us to receive it as true. But instantaneous and unassailable is our credence of the statement when we see the speaker suspending, or marvellously increasing, at his word, the force of nature's ordinary processes, and showing himself clearly, even to our dull senses, ruler in all. Beholding his mighty works, we find all doubts as to the identity of the Lord of conscience with the Lord of nature silenced ; and we worship before him as the Most High God.
It is impossible, we think, to conceive any other way in which this question of identity could be more completely rescued from the category of doubtful disputations than that of a sign of physical power being given along with the holy word. The other class of evidences, often appealed to as establishing the Divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, touches it not. The congruity with one another, and mutual infitting of its various books, written by men widely separated in time and place; the unvarying and unwelcome truth of its statements respecting the human heart; the marvellous wisdom of its counsels, and the unsearchable skill shown in preparing and manifesting a scheme of redemption suited to all man's needs, and still preserving, or rather exalting, the holy character and high authority of Jehovah untarnished and unshakeable; all prove Scripture to come, not from human device, but from the very source of intelligence,
—the Fountain of infinite wisdom. But the possession of wisdom, infinitely valuable though it be in its own domain, does not in any way necessarily involve the possession of physical strength; more than the having of strength involves the coexistent possession of holiness, or the possession of holiness that of strength. In natural theology, the line of argument drawn from creation, which leads us to the firm belief of God's almighty power, proceeds from the greatness of the work to the greatness of the cause; and there it ends. Another line, proceeding along the same works but starting from a different point, the skill manifested in creation, leads us to an equally certain conviction that the Creator is infinite in wisdom. Each efficient cause is known by its own effect and by it alonepower by greatness of work—wisdom by the fitness of means for their end-goodness by the benevolent adaptation of the creatures' constitution to the elements in which they live, and by the abundant supply provided for their wants. Thus we read the character of the Creator in the book of nature; and to adopt