Stephen Mason Merrill.

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The two discourses composing this book
may be regarded as the outgrowth of recent
discussions on the credibility of miracles as
recorded in the Scriptures, of which dis-
cussion Chicago seemed to be the storm-
center. The one by Bishop Merrill was de-
livered, by request, before the Methodist
Ministers' Association of that city, and so
satisfactory was it to that body that it was
unanimously adopted as the sense of the
meeting on the question then being so vigor-
ously discussed by the public press. It was
printed in the Northwestern Christian Ad-
vocate, and also issued in pamphlet form,
and many thousands of copies circulated. At
the request of the Publishers, the Bishop
has revised and enlarged it considevably for
presentation in this volume.

4 Publishers' Preface.

A few weeks later Bishop H. W. Warren
addressed the Methodist Social Union of
Chicago on the same subject, by request of
that body. This is a representative body,
and the audience of over seven hundred,
mostly composed of the laity, was greatly
delighted with the address, and requests for
its publication became both numerous and
insistent; so much so that we were glad to
be able to comply. As the two discourses
treat the subject from different standpoints,
and cover the ground so completely, we have
thought it wise to issue them in a single
volume, to which arrangement both bishops
have very promptly assented. We send them
forth with the hope and prayer that they
may satisfy many who have become en-
tangled with doubts, and strengthen those
who believe in miracles as recorded in the
Holy Scriptures.

Jennings & Pye.


By Bishop S. M. MERRILL, LL. D.


'1 BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus
Christ his only Son, our Lord; a word
who was conceived by the Holy Personal.
Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary: suffered
under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead,
and buried; the third day he rose from the
dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth
at the right hand of God the Father Al-
mighty; from thence he shall come to judge
the quick and the dead." Then, of course,
I believe in miracles.

My faith in the Bible as the Word of
God has not been shaken by any new dis-
coveries in science, history, archaeology, or
criticism; nor has my mind been disturbed

8 Miracles.

by any recent agitation touching the pos-
sibility of miracles, or the probability of
their having occurred just as reported in
the gospel records. There is no reason for
alarm in the presence of the fullest and
freest investigation of all the facts which
modern learning is supposed to have found
in opposition to the faith we have long
cherished. God has not left himself without
witness, and his truth will triumph in spite
of the boastings of adversaries. In fact, the
matters alleged as new discoveries, antago-
nistic to the Scriptures, whether in science,
or philosophy, or history, or philology, or
exegesis, are not nearly so numerous nor so
decisive in bearing, so far as the issue be-
tween faith and unbelief is concerned, as
they are supposed to be, or as the enemies
of the gospel would have us believe. It
is really astonishing, wlien we take the whole
situation into the account, how little there

Miracles. 9

is in the heresies of modern times that can
not be traced to the times before the period
of the Eeformation, and what small ad-
vances the skepticism and rationalism of to-
day have made beyond the infidelity of cen-
turies gone by. From what we hear about
the discoveries of our times, and of the
progress of knowledge which sheds light on
the moral relations of men and on the dis-
pensations of the Almighty, one would be
led to suppose that scholarship is a new
thing — that we are just emerging from bar-
barism — and that the men who laid the
foundations of our civilization, of our gov-
ernments, of our schools, and of our
Churches, were pigmies in comparison with
the giants of our day, if not ignorant and
deluded fanatics.

It is not denied, however, that the shift-
ings of unbelief and the changes of method
in the attacks upon the citadel of our faith

10 Miracles.

call for new adjustments of the defenses
of truth and new statements of the grounds
General ^^ ^^^^ allegiance to Him who is
Principles, himself the miracle of the ages,
the incarnate Word of God. More and more
we are coming to recognize the fact that the
object of our faith is the person of the Son
of God, and that the hottest battles of the
future, as of the past, will rage about this
central idea of the manifestation of God
in human flesh. All other questions and
issues, and all speculations and theorizings
about miracles and inspiration, will pass
from the front and become incidental in
the presence of this supreme issue. ^'What
think ye of Christ?" is the question of
questions, and so momentous is it that an
answer of some kind must be given from
every person who pretends to possess and
exercise the gift of reason. If Jesus of
Nazareth was the Christ, he was what he


claimed to be, not only in position and office,
but in origin and nature, coming down from
heaven, and bearing the image and per-
fections of God. He was above nature —
superior to nature — independent of nature
in the essential elements of his being, and
therefore able to control all the natural
forces that stood between him and any re-
sult necessary to reveal God or to accom-
plish the object of his mission. What he
did of an extraordinary character was done
to declare what he was, and to make known
the purpose for which he came into the
world. If he was not a supernatural per-
son, he was either deceived or a deceiver,
and either conclusion is fatal to his pre-
tensions as a Teacher sent from God. But
if he was himself supernatural, then super-
natural works were his natural testimonials
and his proper witnesses. To these he ap-
pealed, and on their testimony he depended


for his success in planting his kingdom
among men.

It is true that we depend more largely
than formerly upon the internal evidences
of the authority of the Scriptures, and pos-
sibly give higher place to the inner attesta-
tions of consciousness and of conscience and
reason, but we do not discard, and would
not discount the external evidences which
have been so valuable in the past. Miracles
and prophecy, verified as real, have ever
stood, and ever will stand, as competent and
accepted proofs of the Divine approval of
those who come as messengers of God.
Prophecy is also miracle; for he who fore-
tells contingent events beyond the possible
knowledge of the unaided human intellect
gives the highest proof of supernatural en-
dowment and of the inspiration which is
from God. A miracle of knowledge is not
less a miracle than the most wonderful ef-

Miracles. 13

fects produced in the realm of physical

Miracles in their nature are extraordinary,
out of harmony with the ordinary course
of things, having a sphere of their own, and
are not to be expected in ordinary con-
ditions ; nor are they to be reduced to order,
or to be classified as events to be brought
under the cognizance of reason, or to be
explained as to their process or mode, but
only to be attested as to the fact of their
occurrence, either by the senses of those
present to witness them, or by a sufficiency
of testimony vouchsafed to those who are
not in reach for ocular demonstrations.
All the works of God are wonderful, but
cAl the wonderful works of God are not
miracles. Miracles are prodigies, but all
prodigies are not miracles. All miracles are
the work of God, and so manifestly the work
of God that both the senses and the reason

14 Miracles.

apprehend the agenc}^ of God at once upon
witnessing them, while reason does the same
in those to whom the testimony of their
occurrence comes with convincing power.
The immediate agency of God is the essen-
tial thought, and that whether they are
wrought with or without human or other
visible instrumentalities, and therefore they
are wonderful to us, and incomprehensible,
not only in the phenomena attending and
attesting them, but also in their occasion
and design.

The attitude of any particular person
towards miracles must depend on his concep-

Qod and tion of God, and of the relation
Nature. q£ q^^j ^q jj^q external universe.
If, like Spinoza, or in any Pantheistic way,
he identifies God with the universe or with
nature, then what God does nature does,
and nature works blindly and of necessity,
and miracles are out of the question; for in


such a system nature alone works, and all
events, whether more or less marvelous, are
results of fixed law, and without moral de-
sign. Neither Pantheism nor outright
Atheism can find any place for miracles.

The old Augustinian conception of God
working in nature by immediate agency and
arbitrary will, almost to the exclusion of
any intrinsic force in matter, or any other
thing worthy the name of natural law, shuts
out the idea of miracles nearly if not quite
as effectually as does that of the Pantheist.
If God in his immanence is so efficient in
nature that his will is the only law, and
second causes have no place, that inference
is not rash which holds all effects and all
events, whether seemingly ordinary or ex-
traordinary, to be alike natural and alike
miraculous. Unless we can distinguish God
from nature, and conceive of him as above
nature, and independent of it, and yet recog-

16 Miracles.

nize nature as a system governed by law —
the laws enstamped on nature being so re-
lated to the system as to be an essential
part of it — it is not possible for us to form
an adequate idea of either nature or of
miracles. God is God, and nature is nature.
This is absolute truth. God is no part of
nature, and nature is no part of God. God
is not of nature, but nature is of God. "For
of him, and through him, and unto him are
all things.^' If God of his own fullness
created the universe and ordained its laws,
and has never abdicated his sovereignty, he
is its Proprietor and Euler, and may at his
will touch and retard or hasten any move-
ment of its vast machinery, or interject new
forces without violence or interruption to
its general order or harmony. In this con-
ception only do we find a place for miracles,
and here we find ample room.

The denial of the divinity of Christ and


of his supernatural birth does not neces-
sarily exclude miracles, as God has some-
times wrought miracles, according to the
Scriptures, by the hands of men of like
nature with ourselves; but the denial of the
possibility of miracles shuts the door against
the belief in his supernatural birth, and
against any conception of an incarnation.
It requires that he who claimed to come
from God, as other men do not come, be
looked upon as making a false claim, and
therefore as consciously or unconsciously
deceiving the people. 'No more serious im-
plication of his wisdom or his integrity can
be made. Infidels hesitate not to make it,
nor do Pantheists, if any distinction be-
tween these classes be allowable; but so-
called "liberalists," who profess respect for
the Scriptures, and for the Founder of
Christianity as the wisest and best of men,
can not with any consistency take such

18 Miracles.

ground, although the necessities of their
prior and chief assumption compel them to
do it.

This rejection of the testimony concern-
ing the supernatural birth is sometimes
rated among the new things brought to light
by late discoveries, or as resulting from the
advanced thought of our day, which has
just reached the point of freedom from the
bondage of supernaturalism and subserv-
iency to myths and legends. But it is in
fact an old, old heresy, the reproduction of
Socinianism, with scarcely the semblance of
new clothing with which to cover its ancient
deformities. It may be ^^liberalism,'' but it
can not be Christianity. Although labeled
all over with Scripture names and phrases,
its kinship and fellowship must be with thft
enemies of the cross of Christ, and, as will
appear later, its legitimate outcome is the
repudiation of the Son of Mary as an open

Miracles. 19

fraud. It is the sheerest folly to reject
the Scriptural account of the miracles of
Christ — those attributed to him — and yet to
speak respectfully of him and of his apostles
who wrote or inspired the record of his say-
ings and doings. If their testimony can not
be received as to facts, or concerning the
events daily occurring in his life and in their
own lives, much less can it be relied upon
when it purports to give account of his
parables, addresses, and teachings in relation
to the mysteries of God's purposes and
works. Until one is ready to go to the ex-
tent of denouncing the entire record os the
fabrication of designing men, there is
neither reason nor propriety in rejecting
part of it, while holding respect for the par-
ties to its production. It is all honest, or
it is all dishonest.

What, then, is the real attitude of the
skeptic with regard to the New Tesament

20 Miracles.

record? An accurate portrayal would bring
us a picture full of contradictions, of
The Attitude grotesque and absurd posturings,
of Skeptics, deeply colored with the most re-
pulsive bigotries. Eationalists and "liberal-
ists" join hands in cherishing doubts and in
casting opprobrium upon belief in the super-
natural; but beyond this their harmony dis-
appears. All manner of fantastic conjec-
tures take the place of sober investigation,
while abounding credulity usurps the sphere
of intelligent faith. Loosened from loyalty
to a Divine personality, they plunge into the
wildest speculations, forgetting, apparently,
that they are bound to believe something of
a positive character, as well as those who
receive the record as an authoritative revela-
tion from God. It is not enough that they
disbelieve in miracles; they must believe in
something that excludes miracles. It is not
enough that they reject the evidences that


Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living
God ; they must believe he was human, with-
out any other divinity than such as they
attribute to all men, and that he was a vic-
tim of deception, or a willful deceiver. Their
negative posture in unbelief must carry with
it some kind of positive belief with regard
to the origin of the world, and the sources
and efficiency of the laws of nature, and the
forces which hold the universe in its course
through the ages. Practically they at once
admit and deny the credibility of the gospel
records, admitting them with full confidence
for some purposes, and denying them for
others. Most of them aver that Jesus of
Xazareth was a good man, and yet a de-
ceiver; that he was the embodiment of the
highest human wisdom, and yet a deluded
fanatic; that he was modest, sincere, and
humble, and yet egotistical, pretentious, and
self-asserting to the last degree. The fact

22 Miracles.

is that to all classes of doubters, of every
type and grade, he is to-day, as of old, the
stumbling-block and foolishness. All things
pertaining to faith hinge on the view taken
of him who is the Founder of the Church,
the subject and substance of the gospel, the
Alpha and Omega of the scheme of human
redemption. What he was in hunself is and
must be determinative of what he was to
the universe, and especially of his relation
to humanity, and of the works proper to
reveal him to the intelligent apprehension
of those wdth whom he came in contact. If
he himself was superhuman, it is not strange
that supernatural works attended him and
attested his words. This is the last analysis,
and by it faith in Christianity and in
miracles must stand or fall.

Think not that we venture too much in
placing such stress on the evidences of his
divinity. The risk is great, but it is here.

Miracles. 23

There is no evading it. He was all that
he claimed to be, and all that the gospel
claims for him, or he was not. We accept
this claim, or we reject it. There is no
middle ground. The most inconsistent of
men are they who deny his divinity, and yet
regard him as the ideal man of virtue and

Nor do we perpetrate the fallacy of argu-
ing in a circle, proving his divinity by his
miracles, and his miracles by his divinity;
but, depending on competent and adequate
testimony for the facts in the record of his
life, including his miracles and his teach-
ing, we discover that his mighty works are
not out of harmony with his nature, and
that these being attested to us as the product
of his power, are not to be rejected or
treated as if affirmed to be the result of
ordinary human agency or the product of
natural law. Miraculous deeds flow from

24 Miracles.

such a source with less wonder to us than
from a man of our own tj^pe, and when we
study them it is necessary to apply rules
and tests suited to the higher order of
heing. Then, discovering that his works are
ahove the capacity of human power, we
rationally conclude that he who performed
them is superhuman. Thus his works tes-
tify of him that his claim to affiliation with
God is well founded, and with this fact at-
tested we no longer hesitate to accord to
him the divinity which makes miracles pos-
sible and credible. How different this atti-
tude from that of the skeptic, and especially
that of the"liberalist!"

It has been a question, through all the

conflicts of faith and unbelief, as to whether

Human ^'^J human testimony is capable

Testimony, ^f satisfying the demands of

reason as to events so extraordinary as

miracles. It is to the interest of unbelief

Miracles. 25

to assume the negative on this point, as
it does in almost every question, denying
and denying, and calling for proofs, while
persistently refusing to accept any proof
tendered as at all competent or satisfying.
The habit of doubting and denying grows
with use, and becomes a sort of nature in
men who cherish it, rendering it next to
impossible to give fair play to reason in
weighing testimony that tends to establish
an unwelcome fact or an undesired propo-
sition. Thus, by an easily explainable
process, the habitual doubter becomes a prey
to his extreme cautiousness, hampering the
faculty which he aims to cultivate, and sub-
jects reason to prejudice, instead of en-
throning it as the guide of his life. It is a
familiar saying that it is easy to believe
what one wishes to believe. There is, doubt-
less, some truth in this; but there is much
more force in the principle when applied

26 Miracles.

the other way — that is, that it is hard
to believe what one does not wish to be-
lieve. This palpable fact has given rise to
that other saying, "Convince a man against
his will/^ etc.

Aside from all this, it is not denied that
the demands of reason are variable in dif-
ferent individuals, so that what will satisfy
one and command ready assent, will fall far
short of proving satisfactory to another.
There are innate differences in men in this
respect, as in almost everything relating to
the mind, the dispositions, and the will. All
these forces, idiosj^ncracies, and inclinations
come into exercise in connection with the
activities of the reason in determining the
value of testimony, especially where the emo-
tions and passions are to be affected by the
conclusion. One man has a vivid imagina-
tion, with a predisposition to the marvelous,
while another is cold, unimpressible, scarcely

Miracles. 27

at all susceptible to influences from the
supersensuous; and still another is stolid,
sensual, and greatly lacking in the power
of spiritual perception. Plainly it is easier
for some men to believe in miracles than
it is for others, as some men more easily
apprehend moral truth, and more readily
yield to its sway, than do others. In view
of this diversity of human gifts and capa-
bilities, it is scarcely other than a truism
to allege that it is easier for some men to
be saved than it is for others. It is there-
fore impossible to fix upon any standard,
or grade, or character of testimony that is
indispensable in all cases, or that should be
deemed adequate for all persons and under
all circumstances. As in everything relat-
ing to the building up of human character,
there comes a point where each one must
exercise the ultimate power of his selfhood,
and decide what shall be the controlling

28 Miracles.

motive of his life, so in the matter of be-
lief there is necessity that every man's
reason and conscience shall act independ-
ently in deciding as to the degree of pre-
ponderance of testimony required in de-
termining whether to receive or reject what
purports to be the truth of God. In other
words, a forced decision, if not impossible
in itself, is out of harmony with that in-
vincible freedom which is the highest en-
dowment of our nature, the essential of
virtue and vice in personal character, and
the basis of responsibility. Whether we
agree to it or not, or whether we compre-
hend in our consciousness or not the stand-
ard governing our decisions, human testi-
mony is a chief factor in every step of our
advancement in knowledge, and in all the
progress we make in science and in achieve-
ment. It controls us in the highest con-
cerns of this life, in business, in social re-

Miracles. 29

lations, and in much that makes for char-
acter; and unless we utterly mistake the
bearings of conduct and character on the
great hereafter, the influence of human tes-
timony will enter largely into the determina-
tion of our destiny forever. We would
neither magnify nor disparage its power in
matters of faith, but we must accord to it
the office it holds of necessity, and certainly
we can do nothing less than recognize its
agency and work where it becomes, as it
so often does, the only possible channel for
transmitting to us, and from us to others,
the highest forms of knowledge which intel-
lect, reason, or conscience can receive or

To decry human testimony is a favorite
exercise with those who reject the super-
natural in the Scriptures, and deny the
miracles therein recorded. They seem to
emphasize deliberately what the psalmist ut-


tered in haste as an impulsive outburst of
disgust when things went badly. It is well
The for us not to imitate their ex-
Argument, ample or spirit, but to treat
their difficulties with candor. They feel the
force of the reasoning of unbelievers of a
former generation, and whatever of force
there is in it must be met with all sober-
ness. It is not enough that it has been
answered again and again, for so long as
it is reiterated as something newly discov-
ered, it will be necessary to look it in the
face as if never seen before. Hume put
the argument against miracles into the
shape which has been the standard with
rationalists ever since his day, and the later
efforts of skeptics have not improved it.

It assumes to balance human experience
against human testimony, always to the dis-
advantage of human testimony. If the
balancing could be done fairly, with all the

Miracles. 31

elements in the scales, there might be some-
thing of value in the process, but the con-
ditions for a complete test are a False
impossible. All the experiences Balance.
and observations should be obtained under
the same circumstances in order to a right-
ful comparison; but as this is out of the
question, the result is that we are only
called to consider the experience of persons
not present to witness alleged phenomena,
set over against the experience of those who
were present, and who testify positively and
intelligently as to what they saw and heard.
The assumed balance of experience against
testimony is such only in name.

To those who witnessed the alleged
miracles of the New Testament, the senses
of the body and mind, the faculties of reason
and judgment, performed the office which
human testimony performs for us. As the
observed phenomena impressed the reason of

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Online LibraryStephen Mason MerrillDiscourses on miracles → online text (page 1 of 5)