Introductory Remarks on Miracles.
Q. What do you mean by a Miracle?
A. A Miracle is the manifestation of a supernatural Power controlling, in some degree, the Common or established laws of nature.
Q. How many kinds of Miracles are there?
A. Miracles in general may be referred to two classes, Divine Miracles, and what may be called magical or infernal Miracles.
Q. What do you mean by a Divine Miracle?
A. A Divine Miracle is the exertion and effect of a supernatural agency, exercised by the almighty himself for the benefit of Mankind.
Q. And what do you mean by a magical or infernal Miracle?
A. A magical or infernal Miracle is the exercise and effect of magical and infernal agency, separated from Divine Agency, and in opposition to it.
Q. Can you tell me any instances of this latter agency, as recorded in the word of god?
A. It is written in the book of Exodus, that when Moses lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants, all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood; and the fish that were in the river died, and the river stunk, etc. And it is then added, that the Magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments, (Exod. 7:20, 21, 22). Again, it is declared by Jesus Christ, that in the latter days there shall arise false Christs and false Prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that) if it were possible, they shall deceive even the very elect, (Matt. 24:24). The beast also in the Revelation is described as doing great wonders, so as to make fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, and deceives them that dwell on the earth by those Miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the Beast, (Matt. 13:13, 14)
Q. Can you see any reason why the almighty should permit his enemies to exercise a miraculous power in opposition to himself and to his kingdom?
A. Yes: there is every good reason to suppose that the almighty grants this permission for the sake of His own children, or with a view to the trial of their faith, and to its further confirmation in consequence of such trial. For the necessary effect of an infernal or magical Miracle on the mind of a well-disposed person must be to induce doubt respecting the truth of a Divine Miracle, and the result of that doubt would be a clearer discrimination between the two classes of Miracles, and thus finally a rejection of the infernal or magical Miracle, and an establishment of the power and validity of the Divine Miracle.
Q. And what do you conceive to be the discrimination between these two kinds of Miracles?
A. The discrimination is grounded, not so much in the external aspect or form of the two kinds of Miracles, as in their internal characters and qualities. For the internal quality and character, which distinguishes the Divine Miracle is, that it is representative and expressive of the Divine and Spiritual Principles which give it birth. Thus, when Jesus Christ raised the dead to life, this Miracle contained in its inward bosom a Divine and living Principle, and was thus expressive of the operation of that Principle, not only in imparting new life to a dead body, but also in imparting new and spiritual life to a dead soul, by raising it from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. This was the case too with all the other Miracles worked by that incarnate god, every one of which was thus figurative of a divine operation exercised, not on matter only, but on spirit also, producing in the latter an effect corresponding to that which was produced in the former. But in the case of magical or infernal Miracles, no such internal principle was operative, and of course no such principle could be expressed, and therefore the Miracle was a mere outward and dead form, without animation from any spiritual principle of life whatever.
Q. What then would you suppose was the immediate design of the lord’s Miracles?
A. In the first place, his Miracles were incontestable proofs to all his followers of a divine supernatural agency, and not only so, but of a divine mercy and loving-kindness. Thus they produced a double effect on all his penitent disciples, convincing their understandings, in the first place, of the divinity of their lord and master; and, in the next place, operating on their wills, by making them sensible of His divine tenderness and compassion towards the children of men. It is therefore well to be understood, that it was not the intention of His Miracles, to make converts to his doctrine, since there is every reason to believe that no one cart be converted to the Truth by any miraculous testimony whatsoever, agreeable to what is intimated in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, where it is written, If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead. Accordingly Jesus Christ testifies in another place, If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of god ; instructing us by these words, that the qualification to admit the evidence of divine doctrine does not arise so much from miraculous testimony, as from a sincere desire to do the will of god, thus from a well-disposed heart and life. Accordingly the unbelieving Jews were not convinced by our lord’s Miracles, nor does it appear to have been his intention to promote their conviction in that way, and therefore he says in another place, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh for a sign, but there shall no sign be given. The conclusion therefore is, that the lord’s Miracles were intended for the confirmation of the faith of his pious followers; but not for the conviction and conversion of those who had no previous disposition or inclination to become his followers.
Q. But in the Scriptures of the New Testament, mention is made of Signs as well as of Miracles,—how do you distinguish between a Sign and a Miracle?
A. By a Sign is to be understood a divine supernatural agency operative on the understandings of men, and thereby producing conviction respecting religious Truth, which conviction, so far as it relates to the understanding, may at any time be worked by the almighty, and would at all times be wrought, if it was agreeable to the order of his providence, and conducive to the regeneration and consequent salvation of mankind. But inasmuch as such conviction of the understanding, separate from the conversion of the will, would be of no avail, or rather would be injurious to man, by rendering him the subject of a more severe condemnation, supposing him to be unfaithful to it, therefore such signs are not given, and to seek them is declared by Jesus Christ to be the proper mark and character of an evil and adulterous generation. Miracles, on the other hand, do not produce conviction of the understanding only, but are intended to affect the will, as was above observed, and therefore Miracles are vouchsafed of the divine mercy for the reasons above mentioned, because Divine Miracles have a representative signification, by virtue of which they become instructive and edifying to all those who are in a state of mind capable of being benefited by them, in other words, who are in a state of mind sincerely desirous both to know and to do the whole will of their heavenly father.
Q. How ought you then to be affected by a sense of the lord’s Miracles?
A. With unfeigned adoration both of His divine power and divine goodness, manifested in every Miracle which He performed. I ought also to be rightly affected with the significative sense of every Miracle, and with this view to explore attentively what their distinct signification is, that so I may gain a clearer insight into the nature of the divine operation. Lastly, I ought to consider, and to consider seriously, that Jesus Christ, in his adorable mercy, is ever disposed to work all his Miracles in my own mind and life, and since this cannot be done, only so far as I co-operate freely with him in the working of such Miracles, therefore I ought to consider further, that I am appointed, under him, to perform the same Miracles, agreeable to His own declaration, where He says concerning every one of His true followers, The works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to the Father, (John 14:12), I am resolved therefore now on to pay due attention to the meaning and import of every Divine Miracle, and to take heed to my own conduct and conversation, that I may always be in a fit state to be a subject of the Miraculous Operation of my god and saviour, and may thus co-operate with Him in the removal of all my natural infirmities, ignorances and disorders, until I be finally restored, through his Divine Agency, to the full and complete order of that heavenly life, which He is ever willing to re-establish in every principle and degree both of my soul and body. amen.