A miracle may be defined to be a plain and manifest exercise by a man, or by God at the call of a man, of those powers which belong only to the Creator and Lord of nature; and this for the declared object of attesting that a divine mission is given to that man. It is not, therefore, the wonder, the exception to common experience, that constitutes the miracle, as is assumed both in the popular use of the word and by most objectors against miracles. No phenomenon in nature, however unusual, no event in the course of God's providence, however unexpected, is a miracle unless it can be traced to the agency of man (including prayer under the term agency), and unless it be put forth as a proof of divine mission. Prodigies and special providences are not miracles. (A miracle is not a violation of the laws of nature. It is God's acting upon nature in a degree far beyond our powers, but the same king of act as our wills are continually exerting upon nature. We do not in lifting a stone interfere with any law of nature, but exert a higher force among the laws. Prof. Tyndall says that "science does assert that without a disturbance of natural law quite as serious as the stoppage of an eclipse, or the rolling of the St. Lawrence up the falls of Niagara, no act of humiliation, individual or nation, could call one shower from heaven." And yet men by firing cannon during battle can cause a shower: does that cause such a commotion among the laws of nature? The exertion of a will upon the laws does not make a disturbance of natural law; and a miracle is simply the exertion of God's will upon nature.--ED.) Again, the term "nature" suggests to many persons the idea of a great system of things endowed with powers and forces of its own--a sort of machine, set a-going originally by a first cause, but continuing its motions of itself. Hence we are apt to imagine that a change in the motion or operation of any part of it by God would produce the same disturbance of the other parts as such a change would be likely to produce in them if made by us or by any other natural agent. But if the motions and operations of material things be produced really by the divine will, then his choosing to change, for a special purpose, the ordinary motion of one part does not necessarily or probably imply his choosing to change the ordinary motions of other parts in a way not at all requisite for the accomplishment of that special purpose. It is as easy for him to continue the ordinary course of the rest, with the change of one part, as of all the phenomena without any change at all. Thus, though the stoppage of the motion of the earth in the ordinary course of nature would be attended with terrible convulsions, the stoppage of the earth miraculously, for a special purpose to be served by that only, would not of itself be followed by any such consequences. (Indeed, by the action of gravitation it could be stopped, as a stone thrown up is stopped, in less than two minutes, and yet so gently as not to stir the smallest feather or mote on its surface.--ED.) From the same conception of nature as a machine, we are apt to think of interferences with the ordinary course of nature as implying some imperfection in it. But it is manifest that this is a false analogy; for the reason why machines are made is to save us trouble; and, therefore, they are more perfect in proportion as they answer this purpose. But no one can seriously imagine that the universe is a machine for the purpose of saving trouble to the Almighty. Again, when miracles are described as "interferences with the law of nature," this description makes them appear improbable to many minds, from their not sufficiently considering that the laws of nature interfere with one another, and that we cannot get rid of "interferences" upon any hypothesis consistent with experience. The circumstances of the Christian miracles are utterly unlike those of any pretended instances of magical wonders. This difference consists in-- (1) The greatness, number, completeness and publicity of the miracles. (2) In the character of the miracles. They were all beneficial, helpful, instructive, and worthy of God as their author. (3) The natural beneficial tendency of the doctrine they attested. (4) The connection of them with a whole scheme of revelation extending from the origin of the human race to the time of Christ.
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