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and which are often called the “ laws of nature :" some of these laws are known and understood by us; of others, the wisest men are ignorant. A miracle is a work out of the common course of these laws, and can only be effected by the direct and manifest interposition of Divine power. The word "
miracle,” in its original sense, is of the same import as wonder:" not that all wonderful events are miracles. An event may happen both strange and unaccountable, but that does not prove it to be miraculous, since it may
arise out of ordinary laws which are to us unknown. Before, therefore, we pronounce any thing which is extraordinary to be a miracle, we must first inquire, whether or not it is in accordance with the ordinary laws of the universe. Many things that were formerly considered miraculous by the ignorant, are now known not to be so: the light of science has made plain what was once dark and mysterious. An earthquake, which swallows up a city, is a wonderful event, but it is not a miracle. When a comet moved across the heavens, the common people formerly regarded it with dismay; the nature and course of comets are now, however, better understood. When the moon passes between the earth and the sun, causing darkness at noon-day; or when the rainbow shows its brilliant colours on the clouds, though many even in our day may regard them with awe, they are only effects of well-known causes.
“ Were a physician to cure a blind man by anointing his eyes with an ointment, which we had never before seen, and to the nature and effects of which we were quite strangers, the cure might be considered wonderful; but we could not
say it was miraculous, because, for any thing we know, it might be only the natural effect of the ointment on the eyes. But were he to give sight to a blind man merely by commanding him to see, or by anointing his eyes with spittle, we should, with the utmost confidence, pronounce the cure to be a miracle; for we know that neither the human voice, nor human spittle, has such power over the diseases of the eye.
The Jews expected that all who claimed to be prophets should prove their mission by some visible sign, as did Moses, Elijan, Elisha, and others. For when the common course of things is changed, it is a sign that the
who can alter it must act by the power of God, who first settled and still governs all things. Miracles, therefore, were regarded as evidence of the truth of doctrines: for it is certain God would not lend his aid to deceive his creatures, by permitting miracles to be done in proof of that which is false.
A Divine promise had been given to Moses, that a great Prophet should be raised up for the people of Israel; and it was foretold, that when he appeared he should be known by the greatness and variety of the miracles he wrought. By these signs he should be distinguished from ail pretenders. Isaiah foretold, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped: then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing,” Isa. xxxv. 5, 6: see also Isa. xlii. 7. Jesus appealed to these results as the evidence that he was from God: see Luke vii. 21, 22 ; John iii. 2; v. 36; ix. 31, 33; x. 25, 37; Acts xi. 22.
If we refer to these passages, we shall see the
great design of the Saviour's miracles. They were not done merely, nor chiefly, for the benefit of those who received relief; (God can and does now fully compensate for a defect or suffering by some blessing;) much less to excite wonder, and gratify curiosity: they were the signs that God approved him; that he was the Prophet — the Messiah. They were also the evidence that what he taught was true; and were intended to call the attention of the people to the doctrines he made known.
There have, however, been impostors in almost every age of the world, who have pretended to work miracles, and have deceived many with their “ lying wonders,” 2 Thess. ii. 9; Matt. xxiv. 24; and because of these false signs, some persons have doubted whether real miracles were ever performed. But, as Pascal says, “Instead of arguing from the false miracles against the true, we ought, on the contrary, to infer the true from the false. I conclude that there never could have been false miracles, but on account of others which were true. For were there nothing of the kind, it had been impossible for men to have devised such things, and more impossible for others to have believed them." There would be no counterfeit coin, if there were not real coin. Bishop Douglas, Dr. Campbell, and other writers, have shown that the miracles of the Scripture are supported by evidence widely different from that which is brought forward to support those that are false.
The prodigies said to have been done in ancient times, in pagan countries, as well as those asserted of Romish saints, may be thus classed : 1, they were either natural events, which the ignorance of the age did not understand; or, 2, they were
frauds contrived by designing men; or, 3, they are destitute of evidence, being represented to have been done in secret, or else recorded in ages long after the time.
Infidels have searched the pages of history to discover any remarkable incidents which might prejudice the miracles of Scripture. The Roman historian Tacitus relates, that it was commonly believed that the emperor Vespasian had wrought two miracles; they have, therefore, seized upon the narrative, and have boldly, though falsely, asserted that the evidence in their favour is as strong as for those recorded in Scripture. The contrast, however, is singular and instructive.
The historian states, that the emperor Vespasian cured a blind man by means of his spittle, and a lame man by touching him with his foot. Now, where is the evidence for these cures ? Tacitus does not profess to have been an eye witness of the transactions; he only gives them upon report: he does not say that he believed them himself; and he even speaks with contempt of the Egyptian god, through whose power they were stated to have been wrought. While another historian, Suetonius, declares that the whole was a fraud, planned to establish the new emperor in his authority. He had been raised from a humble station to the highest earthly honour, and he wished to secure the reverence of the people. The account has been fully examined, and shown to be wanting in the marks which prove a real miracle, by Bishop Douglas, in his Criterion of Miracles; Dr. Campbell, in his Dissertation on Miracles; and Dr. Paley, in his Evidences of Christianity. Another instance of deception will be found in
the case of Mohammed, who said he was sent by God to reveal his will more perfectly than it had been made known by Moses, or our Lord Jesus. This false prophet declared, that one night, when lying on his bed, he was carried to heaven; that he was borne upward through a succession of heavens, and placed in the immediate presence of God, where he beheld many wonders, which would have occupied a long time only rapidly to glance at each; yet, he says, such was the quickness of his flight to the highest glory, and back again, that a pitcher of water, which he overturned when leaving his room, had not fully run out when he arrived safely again in his chamber. He had been to heaven, seen many wonders there, and returned from his journey, in the space of a few seconds! How unlike is this to the narratives of the Scripture! For who saw Mohammed go to heaven? There was not one witness of his flight. When was it done? In the darkness of the night. What is it intended to teach? It teaches nothing; it illustrates no doctrine. What is its use? It answers no useful end whatever. Nor shall we be the more ready to believe it, because his uncle, who was one of his chief disciples, threatened, “O prophet! whosoever rises against thee, I will dash out his teeth, tear out his eyes, break his legs, and kill him.” It was in this spirit of deceit and violence, that the followers of the false prophet forced their religion on the nations around them.
In contrast with the vague testimony of the historian Tacitus, and the conduct of the followers of Mohammed, let us place the testimony and conduct of the disciples of our Saviour. They were the chief witnesses of his miracles, and