J. N. Darby.
(Notes and Comments Vol. 1.)
What is said, by some, of the suspension or reversal of known laws, in miracles, is a blunder; if it be suspension or reversal really, it must be of a law known or not known, and increase of knowledge cannot change it. That, I judge, is not the point, but exercise of divine will, so that, that takes place which, by the ordinary course of known laws, would not have happened, although the operation of known laws may be, by that will, set in activity. Thus, if a strong east wind dry a passage in the Red Sea for the Israelites, just at that moment natural causes are in operation - produce their natural effect, i.e., their effect according to known laws, only divine will sends the east wind.
There are miracles in which divine will produces immediate effects, independent of known laws - eminently resurrection. The effect of the miracle may vary according to the knowledge or ignorance of men, and men may pretend to miracles falsely, when ignorance is great; and Satan can work them by second causes and appearances, so that a sign or a wonder may come to pass. All this refers to the ways of God, and what He permits; but the fact of a miracle is the divine will being the immediate cause (causans) of what happens, even if natural causae causatae be employed. The devil may be allowed to use causas causatas in a way to deceive, by producing effects by them which, by the course of natural causes in themselves, would not happen.
The only other supposition is, that God ordered all the course of natural causes, wind, quails, etc., so as to produce, at a given moment, the miracles, say of the Red Sea, or flesh for Israel. But this is only a cumbrous miracle, making all nature work for one miracle, because then will that God should not have a will. It is, so to speak, a greater miracle than an immediate interposition, and is just as much the effect of God's particular will. The account in Exodus is much more simple and natural - states the use of natural means, "And the Lord God caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind," etc.
As with God there is no time, the difference is really nothing after all; it is an unusual effect which is the direct effect of the intervention of God. If it be said that an effect of natural causes, which never happened before nor since, was known by God to be coming, and that He brought the Israelites there, just at right place and time, it is only a more cumbrous way of accomplishing the work, and (for now intelligent purpose on God's part is recognised) God's making Moses "go through the pantomime" of lifting up his rod, etc., an explanation I should leave to the taste of those who give it.
280 A miracle is the direct intervention of God, whatever means He uses, with a purpose to be attained. An interference with nature's own course, by combining the direct interference of God in the order of nature, is what we mean by a miracle, when it is a particular intervention as a testimony.
If it be an arrangement of the moral laws themselves, to produce a particular event at a particular moment, in favour of a given people, say dividing the sea, it is, as we have seen, a cumbrous miracle; having nature as a servant is not the point at all.
A miracle that has to be proved is folly; its use is, as a proof, its own evidence, being itself to the apprehension - though other corrections may come in, as a safeguard, but not things to prove it a miracle. I do not at all accept the idea, that that which is the effect of natural laws is a miracle in the time when these laws are not known; because it then comes about by the operation of those laws, without any intervention or purpose of God. If God sets these agents in motion on the demand of an individual, or for any specific cause, there is a miracle for all times - the acting of God's will, in producing a result in power, is the essence of a miracle. It may not be suited to such or such an age - that is a matter of God's wisdom; His purpose is to reveal His judgments, and He will do that most proper for that end.
We may ask how far the devil can work miracles; I know of no limit, if God allow it (as in Egypt, etc.) in the use of natural laws or producing appearances, and they have the primary effect of miracles on those who cannot account for them. The criterion is amply given in Scripture, but beyond nature or deception they cannot go - create a louse, and Satan's instruments are at hand (Exodus 8:16-18); natural agencies he can use, if allowed - changes to any extent as far as I know; God alone can create, or by His own will, of itself, produce or cause what is to accomplish His purpose. He disposes of nature as its Master, and does what He pleases; Satan uses power by inferior power, within the created scene, but cannot go beyond its modification, nor do it when he wills. Up to a certain point there may be the same apparent effects; but they accomplish God's purpose, even if Satan's present object be obtained by it. Jannes and Jambres helped to harden Pharaoh's heart, but it only occasioned the display of God's own power and government or judgment; Satan's are all lying wonders, even if power beyond ours be exercised.
281 The purpose of the miracle enters largely into our means of judging, if a question arises. It is essentially a power above, over, and independent of the laws of nature; Satan may have power over them, if permitted to use it, which we have not, but not above or independent of them - man's will can set aside many of them, but by the use of them; of course Satan may have much greater power - I raise my hand which would, without will, fall, but I use muscles, nerves, magnetism. I do not a bit know, none know how more than I do, how the Magicians' rods were turned into serpents to the eyes of men, only the power is comparatively to me greater, i.e., I could not do it; hence, power beyond my capacity - evident power - does not necessarily control me morally, even if I admit it to be power beyond me - I must know its author, i.e., who is its author.
True miracles must be to demonstrate God, and reveal Him in some way; if a miracle does not do that, it either produces no effect, or sets me against its author - a being who has power but is not God, in whom I confide, whose goodness I know - for a miracle is always a testimony of or to something.
Useless miracles (not useless merely to man's selfish profit - no true ones are simply such) cannot be true, i.e., miracles done which are not a testimony of God.
If power be entrusted, and be so used, as in tongues, it is to be expressed; it may be a witness of government, as in Egypt, and generally in Israel; it may be bounty, and deliverance from evil power, as the Lord's and the Apostles', but, while they are their own evidence as to power, they have always a meaning when they are divine. They bear testimony to something which God is operating; they are dunameis (powers), and terata (wonders), but they are semeia (signs). Hence, "if a sign comes to pass saying, Serve other gods," the sign is not denied as power, but it is judged as permitted, and testing evil - it is evidently not of God, save as a permitted test.
282 But while they may be confirming signs to the Word, and missions of God's servants, they are of the utmost importance as signs of a living, acting God who intervenes, and abidingly so; we profit by them, i.e., as revealing God's ways more by them now than when they were wrought. They might be convinced of them then - they may be now; but the intervention of God is more clearly seen in its character and purpose, when we have them collectively. They verify themselves a posteriori (from the latter) not merely historically, and richly inform the soul. Have the Lord's miracles no character? And note, He conferred power on others to work them - "healing all that were possessed of the devil, for God was with him."
I quite understand that one who knows mere material laws, and gives freewill to man (not morally, but will, I mean) but none to God - who is in a horrible state enough to be content with this world, or to pretend he is, for he is not - will reject any living God, any thing above these laws, because he has no idea above them; material sequence of facts is all he can apprehend - conceives no moral action on man, nor perhaps by him.
But to one who is not thus debased, a miracle is not merely a wonder, which de facto has its evidence of power to him who sees or experiences it, but has its meaning and character in the ways of God, of God intervening amongst men - Moses did not do Christ's miracles, nor Christ those of Moses; the prophets in Judea did none - Elijah and Elisha did.
When God's covenant truth was among His people, miracles were not wrought as by the prophets in Judah - they were in setting up Judaism, in a measure in re-setting up in Samuel, and when away from covenant relationship by Elijah and Elisha, i.e., when they were the needed expression of mercy and power towards His people.
No man can deny the power of God to work a miracle at any time, if we admit He works them at all, but we may learn from Him, His way and what is fitting in it; one who can compare the miracles of Popery, or even of the earlier ages, with those of the New Testament, must have lost moral instinct, and have no scripturally formed discernment. The latter were goodness going about doing good, healing all that were possessed of the devil - the sign that a Saviour God had come into the world - and never for self; Mediaeval were the gratification of self and hierarchical power - miracles of passions, and a destroyer God, if any; they were wrought where the system in which they were enacted universally prevailed, and had power and persecuted, and to sustain it, not to make good a testimony in grace where evil power prevailed - they were the opposite of all divine miracles. Christendom had, as prophesied, gone clean away from its own standing in grace.
283 Any particular miracle of goodness I would examine in the second or third century - nay, even now, what would be called miracles, but which are mere answers to prayer. For miracles were a special, personal gift - effectual prayer was open to all.
I do not deny either the credulity or the incredulity of theologians, both are man - one, imagination, the other reasoning - but neither have anything to do with faith. Witchcraft subsists, in a gentle form, to this day, and is prevalent in England; spiritualism has come in, a necessary reaction against the folly of rationalism, and its degradation of man, in pretending to exalt him. Rationalism takes reason - half, a very poor half of man, because reason can know nothing beyond itself, and yet pretends to limit all to itself; imagination takes another half, with equal folly is more liable to be deceived by Satan, because it has no measure but terror or fancy, but is more false than reason. Neither have God, or God's revelation - the truth which puts all in its place. Imagination without God opens man to every kind of delusion, and to the power of Satanic spirituality - there it works.
Man is formed to have to say to a world beyond him, he must have it without God or with Him - imagination, Satan, or the truth, that is Christ. Now rationalists do not refer to truth, and hence it is a mere question between reason and imagination - the power of the powers of darkness, if there be such, and the power of darkness if it be only reason, for that is, necessarily, the denial of all beyond man's present apprehension; and beyond that, hopes, fears, desires, cravings, imagination will go, in spite of all the rationalists in the world.
But further, the system of reasoning and argument that all is appointed beforehand excludes miracles, because if all is appointed beforehand there could be none, but they are appointed too; the only effect this argument produces in me is, the total absence of all ground and proof. It makes the present state and order of things, the best possible on choice - this as a fixed, subsisting state is monstrous. It may be the best to bring about something, and I believe it is, but to say it is the best, and is so in itself is monstrous - it would suggest, I speak with reverence, incompetency in God. It is all very well for a philosopher writing a book in his study, but for one who has visited the wretchedness of man, and felt for it, thought on the heathen, it comes like ice to the heart - it leaves out Christ and any brighter hope to which this state refers. It excludes God, but a fixed and appointed set of events, all certain beforehand, not fatalism, but brought about by free, uncompelled agents, who have an inclination calculated upon.
284 The reducing miracles to a foreseen part of all the fore-appointed events is very poor in character; they are not more miracles so than another thing, besides it is no answer, but denying miracles, because these fixed events are by causes producing them, and so all foreseen and certain beforehand. But if miracles are the effects of causes, so that with adequate knowledge we may foresee them, they are not miracles at all, for a miracle is the intervention of divine power by divine will, but a man-caused event is not that.
If it be said, a certain state of things will necessarily cause God to interfere in that way, then cause is used for motive, and the whole nature of God brought in as moved by certain states of things. Now I believe that "known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world"; but if I am to take in all events, I must take in Christ's coming in grace, or deny it - His coming again in judgment. I must believe in the setting aside of whole systems as Judaism - a world, as by the flood. This seems to me to take the course of the world not out of the foreseen and fixed events, but of a mere succession of causes which give a certainty, as being withal the best world it could, looked at as now a result of counsel (comparing, as they say, every possibility of worlds), that all results in God's glory.
That if I had God's mind I should have done the same, that there is no doubt of, but that says nothing; but, concluding from the state of things as a course of events, I could not have concluded to the sending the Son of God to die on the cross for sinners. Now it is done, I see divine and infinite glory in it; and most surely it was determined, and a certain truth. But no divine foreknowledge could have looked at that as one of a course of events - divine wisdom could not have known it but as from itself as a source. The free act of God's love, according to wisdom, I grant - the moment I get the acting of God, I get not merely foreseen events and disposing things, but a will. I am sure what God does is the very best, but I cannot take it as a deduction but as the fruit of will.