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   Chapter 7 THAT A MIRACULOUS REVELATION IS CREDIBLE.

The Truth of Christianity By William Harry Turton Characters: 23819

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


A Divine messenger would probably have credentials.

(A.) Superhuman Signs.

These include superhuman knowledge, afterwards verified (such as prophecy), and superhuman coincidences; and there is nothing incredible in either.

(B.) Supernatural Signs, or Miracles.

These are 'marvels specially worked by God as signs to confirm a revelation.' This definition is threefold, referring to their outward appearance, cause, and purpose.

(1.) Miracles as marvels: though they seem to be contrary to experience, they are not really so, for we have no experience of the proper kind to refer to.

(2.) Miracles as special works of God: they only interfere with the uniformity of nature in the same way that human works interfere with it.

(3.) Miracles as signs: there is nothing to show that they are inconsistent with God's Character.

We decided in the last chapter that it was somewhat probable for God to make a revelation to man, that is to say, to certain men, for them to make known to others. And if so, it is also probable that these men would have some means of showing that the knowledge had come from God and not from themselves. In other words, if God sends a message to man, it is probable that the messenger would have credentials. And this is especially so when we remember that men have often appeared in the world's history who professed to have a revelation from God, and have misled mankind in consequence. Is it not probable, then, that if God really did give a revelation, He would take care that His true messengers should have credentials which would distinguish them from all the others?

These credentials, then, or signs, must plainly be such as could not be imitated by man; and must therefore of necessity be superhuman, if not supernatural. So we may divide them into these two classes; and we have now to consider whether they are credible. By this is meant something more than merely possible; for the possibility of such signs follows at once from the existence of God. But are they credible? is there, that is, at least a slight chance that they would occur?

(A.) Superhuman Signs.

These include, to begin with, superhuman knowledge, which can be afterwards verified, such as prophecy. And there is no difficulty here, provided we admit a revelation at all. The only possible objection refers to prophecies regarding human conduct; which it may be said would interfere with man's freedom. But this is only part of the more general objection that any foreknowledge on God's part would interfere with man's freedom, which we have already considered in Chapter II.; and there is no special difficulty in regard to prophecies. In every case, as said before, God merely foreknows the use man will make of his freedom. Therefore the event will not occur because it was foretold, but rather it was foretold because God knew that it would occur.

Superhuman coincidences form another, and very important class of superhuman signs. In these a man's acts or sayings are confirmed by natural events coinciding with them in a remarkable manner. For example, suppose a prophet claimed to have a revelation from God; and, as a proof of this, invited the people to witness a sacrifice on a cloudless day. He then killed an animal, and placed it on an altar of stones, but put no fire under it, and even threw water over it. Suddenly, however, a thunderstorm arose, and the sacrifice was struck by lightning. Now the thunderstorm might have arisen and the lightning might have struck on that particular spot, in strict accordance with natural laws. Yet the coincidence of this occurring just when and where the prophet wanted it, would tend strongly to show that God, Who must have foreknown and designed the coincidence, meant to confirm what the prophet said.

Or, to put the argument in other words, the lightning would seem to have struck the sacrifice on purpose; and therefore such events have been popularly described as natural forces acting rationally. Of course, as a rule, the forces of nature do not act rationally. A falling meteorite, for instance, does not go a yard out of its way to kill anyone, or to spare him. Man, on the other hand, does act rationally. His acts are directed for a purpose, and thus show design. And, in the events we are considering, the forces of nature seem also to act with a purpose; and this makes it probable that the Author of these forces was really acting with this purpose. In short, the events seem to have been not only superhuman, but designed coincidences. And they present no difficulty whatever from a scientific point of view, as they are part of the ordinary course of nature.

Of course, the value of such coincidences varies greatly according to whether the event is of a usual or unusual character. In the latter case, more especially if the event is very unusual or the coincidence very striking, they are popularly called miracles. And they may have considerable value, though there is always a slight chance of the agreement being, as we might say, accidental.

(B.) Supernatural Signs.

We pass on now to supernatural signs or Miracles in the strict sense; which we will define as marvels specially worked by God as signs to confirm a revelation. This definition has, of course, been chosen so as to suit the miracles recorded in the Bible, and it is really threefold. In the first place, a miracle is described as to its outward appearance. It is a marvel-that is to say, a strange and unusual event, which we cannot account for, and which thus attracts attention. Secondly, it is described as to its cause. This marvel is said to have been specially worked by God-that is to say, by some action on His part different from His usual action in nature. While, lastly, it is described as to its purpose; it is a marvel worked by God as a sign to confirm a revelation.

The first of these aspects is expressed in the Old Testament by the word wonder, the second by such phrases as God's mighty hand or outstretched arm, and the third by the word sign; all these terms being often used together. While in the New Testament the words used are wonders, mighty works, and signs, which again exactly correspond to these three aspects of the miracles. And it should be noticed these aspects are not chosen merely to suit the present argument, since other events can and ought to be looked at in the same way, not as mere facts, but also with reference to their alleged cause and purpose. And to show the great importance of this, we will consider an event from modern history; and select the well-known example of the Mont Cenis Tunnel.

Suppose, then, that anyone heard of this as a marvel only, the cause and purpose being left out of account. Suppose, that is, he heard that a small straight cavity of uniform size, and several miles long, had been formed under a range of mountains; and that it had begun as two cavities, one from each end, which after years of growth, had exactly met in the middle. He would at once pronounce the event incredible, for the cavity is quite unlike all natural cavities.

But now suppose the next point, as to its cause, to be introduced. It is said to be something more than a natural cavity, and to be the work of man. All previous difficulties would now vanish, but fresh ones would arise. For numbers of men must have worked together for years to excavate such a cavity, and from what we know of human nature, men will only do this for commercial or profitable ends, and not for boring useless holes through mountains; so the event is still practically incredible.

But now suppose the last point of purpose to be introduced. It is said that this is not a mere useless hole bored through a mountain; but a hole bored for a particular purpose; it is, in fact, a railway tunnel. Then all difficulties would disappear. Of course, whether we believe the tunnel was actually made depends upon what evidence we have; but it is clear that when we consider the cause by which, and the purpose for which, it is said to have been made, there is nothing incredible about it.

Now a similar method must be adopted in regard to miracles. They must not be regarded simply as marvels, but as marvels said to have been brought about by an adequate cause, and for a sufficient purpose. And it is just these elements of cause and purpose which may make the marvels credible. We will consider these points in turn.

(1.) Miracles as marvels.

The first aspect of miracles is that of marvels. As such, they are events which seem to be contrary to our experience-contrary, that is, to what our experience of apparently similar events would lead us to expect. Suppose, for instance, it were stated that on one occasion three men were thrown into a furnace, but instead of being burnt to death they walked about, and in a few minutes came out alive and unhurt.

Such a marvel would be contrary to our experience, and that it would be therefore very improbable is obvious. But is this improbability sufficient in all cases to make the event incredible, no matter what testimony there may be in its favour? Hume's argument that it is sufficient is well known. He says we can only judge of the probability of anything, whether it be the occurrence of an event, or the truthfulness of the narrator, by experience. And as it is contrary to experience for miracles to be true, but not contrary to experience for testimony to be false, the balance of probability must always be against the miracle.

But of course this reasoning, if true, must apply to all alleged events which are contrary to experience; and yet such events have occurred by the thousand. Let us take a single example. Everyone has had some experience as to how far it is possible to hear the human voice distinctly, and till the last half century, the limit has always been fixed at a few hundred yards. Now, suppose anyone were told for the first time that it was possible to speak right across England, he would justly say that it was utterly contrary to experience. No one, he would think, could possibly speak loud enough to be heard even twenty miles away. But ought he to add that it was therefore incredible?

From this it is clear that there must be some flaw in Hume's argument; and it is easily discovered. For the argument regards the event only as a marvel, and without reference to its cause. But we have no right to leave this out of account, nor do we in ordinary affairs. When anyone first hears of a marvel, he does not merely compare it with his previous experience, and then come to a decision; in which case, as Hume supposes, it might be always against the marvel. But he first inquires how this strange event is said to have been brought about. For if any cause is stated to have been at work as to the influence of which he knows nothing, then he has no experience of the proper kind to appeal to. There is the testimony in favour of the event as before; and if he disbelieves it, he does so, not because it is contrary to his experience, but because he thinks the supposed cause either did not exist, or would not have had the effect asserted.

A reference to the previous example will make this quite plain. When the man first heard of persons talking across England, instead of at once declaring it incredible, he would, if a reasonable man, inquire as to the cause of this. He would then be told that a wire was stretched across England with an instrument called a telephone at each end. Now, as to the possibility or adequacy of such a contrivance he might doubt a good deal; but one thing would be quite clear, that this was a case to which his experience, however large, did not apply.

Here, then, is the explanation of Hume's argument. So long as a marvel, contrary to experience, is regarded only as a marvel, the probability must be always against its truth. But if we inqu

ire as to how it was brought about, and find that some cause is said to have been at work, as to the influence of which we are ignorant, then the argument is no longer applicable. We have simply no experience of the proper kind to appeal to.

Now this is precisely the case with regard to miracles. As marvels they seem contrary to experience; but they claim to have a special cause, to be specially worked by God-that is to say, by some action on His part different from His usual action in nature; and of the influence of this cause we have no experience whatever. We may, of course, deny its existence or doubt its adequacy; but the argument, that the event is contrary to experience, vanishes.

It is clear then that the fact of miracles appearing to be contrary to experience is no reason for disbelieving them, though it might be a reason for disbelieving other alleged marvels, because they claim to have a special cause, by which to account for this special character. We have now to examine whether this special cause really existed-that is to say, we pass on to the second aspect of the miracles; our conclusion thus far being that they are credible as marvels, if it be credible that they were specially worked by God.

(2.) Miracles as special works of God.

Now, any special action on God's part is often thought to present great difficulties, as interfering with the uniformity of nature. But, as we shall see, it would only interfere with it in the same way that human action interferes with it. Neither of them violates the laws of nature, though both are able to bring about results which nature of itself could not have brought about.

In the case of human action this is quite obvious. Suppose, for example, a clock with an iron pendulum is placed on a table and keeps perfect time. Suddenly, without anyone touching it, it begins to gain rapidly, and then, after a short time, goes on as before. To anyone unacquainted with the cause, this would appear a marvel: and might even be thought incredible, as (assuming the clock to be properly constructed) it would seem to imply some alteration in the laws of motion, or the force of gravity. Yet we know a man can easily produce such a marvel by holding a magnet under the table. The disturbing cause, it will be noticed, was not really the magnet, which always acts according to law; nor the hand which held it; but the action of the human will on matter. This took place in the man's brain, and enabled him to move first his hand, and then the magnet. Thus we may say the marvel was produced by natural means supernaturally applied; for the magnet was undoubtedly a natural means, yet nature of itself would never have used it in the way described. It required something above nature (something super-natural) and this was the free will of man.

Now, miracles claim to have been produced in a somewhat similar, though to us unknown, manner by the action of God's Will on matter, that is to say, by natural means supernaturally applied; and, if so, they are certainly credible, under this head. For we know that God has the power of acting on matter, and that He used it once in creating the universe, so He might use it again if He thought fit.

Moreover, God's knowledge of the laws of nature is complete, while man's is only partial. As, then, man, with his limited power over nature and partial knowledge of its laws, can produce marvels so unlike nature's ordinary course (a steam engine, for instance), yet without violating any of its laws; still more can God, Who has complete power over nature, and complete knowledge of its laws. For to deny this would be to deny to God the power which we concede to man; and which we must remember, God Himself has given to man. And this would lead to the strange conclusion that God has enabled man to do what He cannot do Himself. No doubt we cannot imagine how God can exert His Will over matter, but neither can we imagine how we can do it ourselves. The difficulty is as great in the one case as in the other.

From this it is clear that miracles need not violate natural laws. And though at first one might be inclined to dispute this with regard to particular miracles; the statement is quite correct, provided we make due allowance for our own ignorance. Take, for example, the supposed case of the men in the furnace. We certainly do not know how their bodies were kept cool, but we cannot say it was impossible. For extreme heat, and even extreme cold, may be very close together, as is shown by the well-known experiment of freezing mercury inside a red-hot crucible. As a mere marvel this is quite as wonderful as the men in the furnace; and an ignorant man would probably pronounce both to be equally incredible.

Or, to take another example, suppose it were said that on one occasion a few loaves of bread were miraculously increased so as to feed some thousands of persons: could we say that this must have violated natural laws? Certainly not, for bread is composed of carbon, and other elements, which were in abundance all round. And though we only know one way of forming them into bread, which is by means of a living plant, we cannot say that this is the only method. Indeed, there is nothing incredible in substances like bread being made artificially some day. Of course in all marvels produced by man, we know the special cause at work, but this does not justify us in saying that in a miracle, merely because we do not know it, the laws of nature must be violated.

Moreover there is much to be said in favour of what is usually called God's immanence in nature, but which would perhaps be better described as nature's immanence in God.[9] This means that all natural forces are due to the present and immediate action of God's Will; and if it is correct, it greatly lessens the difficulty as to miracles. For then there would be no interference with nature at all, leave alone violating its laws, God would be working there all the time, only in a miracle He would not be working in exactly the same way as in ordinary events.

[9] Acts 17. 28; Col. 1. 17.

But in any case there is, as we have shown, nothing incredible in the way in which miracles are said to be caused, provided it is credible that God should wish to use His power over nature in the assumed manner; for natural forces are anyhow His servants, not His masters. And this brings us to the third aspect of the miracles; for whether God would wish to act in a certain way depends of course on what purpose He had in doing so.

(3.) Miracles as signs.

Now the purpose for which miracles are said to be worked is as signs to confirm a revelation. Therefore, since we have already shown that it is somewhat probable that God would make a revelation, we have now only to inquire whether miracles are suitable means for confirming it. And they appear to be the most suitable means possible; for they would both attract men's attention to the revelation, and also convince them of its superhuman character; which are precisely the two points required.

It may still be objected, however, that God's character, as shown by nature, is Unchangeable; and therefore it is most improbable that He would at times act in a special manner with regard to natural events. And the more nature is studied the stronger does this objection appear; since there are thousands of cases, such as storms and earthquakes, when it seems to us that a slight interference with nature would be most beneficial to man, yet it never occurs. Or the objection may be otherwise expressed by saying that a miracle would reflect on either the Wisdom or the Power of God; since, if All-Wise, He would have foreseen the occasion, and if All-Powerful, He would have provided for it; so any subsequent interference with nature is something like having to remedy a fault.

This is no doubt the most serious objection to miracles, but it is by no means insuperable. For, to begin with, God is a Free Being, Who does not always act the same (Chapter I.). And when we turn to the only other free being we know of, which is man himself, what do we find? A man may, as a rule, act uniformly, yet on some special occasion, and for some special reason, he may, and often does, act differently; and why should not God do the same? Indeed the only changelessness in a man which we could admire, would be that of moral character, always and invariably acting right. And for all we know the changelessness of God may be only of such a kind, and this certainly would not prevent Him from acting in some special manner, in order to obtain some special purpose.

Secondly, in the case before us, it is even probable that He would do so, since the chief object of the miracles could not have been obtained by the ordinary course of nature, though their immediate effects might have been. For example, instead of healing men miraculously, they might be healed naturally; but then there would be no evidence that the healer was sent by God, and was speaking in His name. In short, the messenger would be without credentials; and, as we have already shown, this seems unlikely.

Thirdly, though miracles do not show God's changelessness in the same manner as the unchanging course of nature, they are not inconsistent with it. For no one supposes them to be after-thoughts with God, but to have been planned from the very beginning. And if God always intended to make a revelation to man, and always intended that when He did so, He would confirm it by miracles, they would involve no inconsistency or change on His part.

Fourthly, there may be some other attributes of God which miracles show, and which the ordinary course of nature does not; such as His superiority over nature itself on the one hand, and the interest He takes in man on the other. One object of a revelation might be to convince man that though God was the Ruler of the Universe, He yet cared for man's happiness and valued his affections. And how could such a revelation as this, be better confirmed than by an (apparent) interference with nature for the benefit of man. For this would show, as nothing else could show, both that there was a Being above nature, and that He cared for man more than He cared for nature.

And it entirely agrees with what we decided in the last chapter, that the whole of nature seems to be only a means to an end, the end being the moral training of man, enabling, that is, a free man to become a righteous man. And if so, it is out of the question to think that in order to further this end-the very end for which nature itself exists-God might not, if He thought fit, interfere with the course of nature. We may therefore answer the objection in one sentence, God is All-Good, as well as All-Wise, and All-Powerful; and His Goodness might induce Him to use miracles, though by His Wisdom and Power He might have dispensed with them.

We may now sum up the present argument. We showed that miracles are credible both as marvels and as special works of God, if it be credible that they were brought about as signs to confirm a revelation. And we have now shown that, supposing God to make a revelation, which we have already admitted, there is nothing inconsistent with His character as far as we know it, and therefore nothing in the slightest degree incredible, in His using such signs, as one of the means of confirming its truth. On the whole, then, we conclude that a Miraculous Revelation is certainly credible. Whether one has ever been made will be discussed in the following chapters.

PART II.

THE JEWISH RELIGION.

CHAP. VIII. THAT THE ACCOUNT OF THE CREATION WAS DIVINELY REVEALED.

" IX. THAT ITS ORIGIN WAS CONFIRMED BY MIRACLES.

" X. THAT ITS HISTORY WAS CONFIRMED BY MIRACLES.

" XI. THAT ITS HISTORY WAS ALSO CONFIRMED BY PROPHECIES.

" XII. THAT THE JEWISH RELIGION IS PROBABLY TRUE.

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