William Rathbone Greg.

The creed of Christendom: its foundations contrasted with its ..., Volume 2 online

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It makes the fact credible by annulling the argument
drawn from it. Or, to speak more correctly, it
renders prodigies credible, by mahmg them cease to
be miracles}

I. We now proceed to illustrate the first of our two
positions. A miracle, we say, cannot authenticate a
doctrine. A miracle, if genuine, proves the possession,
by him who works it, of superhuman power — ^but it is a
strained and illogical inference to assume that it proves
anything beyond this. This inference, so long and so
universally mad^ — ^and allowed-^arises from a confu-
sion in the popular mind between power and wisdom, —
between the divine nature As a whole, and one of the
divine atlaibutes. It involves the immense and inad-
missible assumption that the possession of superhuman
power neceSfearily implies the possession of superhuman
knowledge also, and the will truly to impart that
knowledge ; that the power to heal diseases, or to

^ If Mr Babbage means, as an expression at page 97 seems to
intimate, that the Creator had provided for these exceptional
occurrences taking place whenever Christ performed a certain
operation which He gave him power to perform, and told him
when to perform — then we are at a loss to discover in what
way the conception varies from, or is superior to, the vulgar
view.



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HIBAC^ES. 119

still the waves, implies and includes a knowledge of
the mind of God. The thoughts of ordinary men,
undistinguishing and crude, jump rapidly to a conclu*
sion in such matters ; and on recognizing (or conceiv-
ing that they recognize) supernatural power in any
individual, at once and without ratiocination endow
him with all other divine attributes, and bow before
him in trembling and supine prostration.

Yet at other times, and in most countries, men
have, by bappy inconsistency, admitted the falseness
of this logic. Wherever there is found a belief in
one evil angel, or in many (and such is the current
nominal belief of Christendom), the distinction be-
^tween the attributes of Deity is made, and power
is divorced from wisdom, truth, and goodness, and in
a great degree from knowledge also. If there be such
existences as Satan, Arimanes, or inferior agencies of
evil — (and who can say that there are not ? What
orthodox Christian but believes there are T) — then
superhuman power exists apart from divine wisdom,
and in antagonism to it ; — then the power to work
miracles involves no knowledge of divine truth, or at
least no mission to teach it — ^nay, may imply the very
opposite, and can therefore authenticate no doctrine
enunciated by the worker.

The common feeling no doubt is, that as all super-
natural power is the special gift of God, He would not
have bestowed it upon any but the good, nor for any
purpose but that of conferring blessings and spreading
truth. But this inference is wholly at variance with



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120 THE CREED OF CHRISTEimOM.

the analogies of the divine economy. All power is
the gift of God — ^the power of intellect, the power of
rank, the power of wealth, as well as the power of
working physical marvels, — ^yet are these given to
the good alone, or chiefly ? — are these bestowed on
those who employ them exclusively, or mainly, in the
service of mercy and truth ? Would not the reverse
of the statement be nearer to the fact ?

So strongly has the force of our position been felt by
reasoners — so plain does it appear that it is the doc-
trine which must authenticate the miracle, not the
miracle which can authenticate the doctrine, — ^that
few could be found at the present day who would not
admit that no miracle worked by a preacher would
induce them to receive from him a doctrine manifestly
dishonouring to God. Many of our modem divines, —
Dr. Arnold, Archdeacon Hare, Mr. Locke, Mr. Trench,
and others, — express this feeling in the strongest
language. Dr. Arnold says ("Christian Course and
Character," notes, pp. 462-3) :

"Faith, without reason, is not properly faith, but
mere power-worship ; and power-worship may be
devil-worship ; for it is reason which entertains the
idea of God — ^an idea essentially made up of truth
and goodness, no less than of power. A sign of power,
exhibited to the senses, might, through them, dispose
the whole man to acknowledge it as divine ; yet power

in itself is not divine, it may be devilish

How can we distinguish God's voice from the voice
of evil? . . • . We distinguish it (and can distin-



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MIBACLES. 121

giiish it no otherwise), by comparing it with that idea
of God which reason intuitively enjoys, the gift of
reason being God's original revelation of himself to
man. Now, if the voice which comes to us from the
unseen world agree not with this idea, we hive no
choice but to pronounce it not to he God's voice : for
no signs of power, in confirmation of it, can alone
prove it to he from Ood."

Locke says : — " I do not deny in the least that
God can do, or hath done, miracles for the confirma-
tion of truth ; I only say that we cannot think He
should do tbem to enforce doctrines or notions of
himself, or any worship of Him, not conformable to
reason, or that we can receive such as truth for the
miracles* sake ; and even in those books which have
the greatest proof of revelation from God, and the
attestation of miracles to confirm their being so, the
miracles are to be judged by the doctrine, and not the
doctrine by the miracles." ^



1 See also Lord King's Life of Locke, i 231 et seq. Trench's
Hukean Lectures for 1845, pp. 8, 9. — ^* After all is done, men
-will feel in the deepest centre of their being, that it is the moral
which must prove the historic, not the historic which can ever prove
the moral ; that evidences drawn from without may be accepted as
the welcome buttresses, but that we can know no other foundations,
of our Faith, than those which itself supplies. Revelation, like
the sun, must be seen by its own light." Hare's Mission of the
Comforter, ii. p. 663. — ^The notion that miracles have an augmenta-
tive and demonstrative efficacy, and that the faith of Christians is
to be grounded upon them, belongs to a much later age, and is in
fact the theological parallel to the materialist hypothesis, that all
our knowledge is derived from the senses."



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122 THE CREED OF CHRISTENDOM.

Further. The idea that a miracle can authenticate
a doctrine, or is needed to do so, involves an additional
fallacy. It implies that our understanding is com*
petent to decide whether an act be divine, but not
whethei* a doctrine be divine ; — ^that the power dis-
played in a prodigy may be sufficient to justify us in
confidently assuming it to be from God, — ^but that the
beauty, the sublimity, the innate light of a doctrine or
a precept cannot be sufficient to warrant us in pro-
nouncing it to be from Him ; — ^that God can impress
his stamp unmistakably on his physical, but not on
his moral emanations ;— that His handwriting is
legible on the sea, or the sky, on the flower, or on the
insect, but not on the soul and intellect of man. It
involves the coarse and monstrous conception that
God's presence in His chosen temple can only be made
manifest by a loud appeal to those external senses
which perish with the flesh ; — that He pervades the
earthquake and the whirlwind, but not ' the still small
voice;' — ^that, in fine, the eye or the ear is a truer
and quicker percipient of Deity than the Spirit which
came forth from Him ; — UuU Ood is more cognizable
by the senses than by tite soul, — ^by the material
philosopher than by the pure-hearted but unlearned
worshipper.

The power to work miracles, then, does not, in the
eye of reason, imply any other supernatural endow-
ment. Neither does it in the eye of Scripture. We
have many indications, in both the Old and the New
Testament, that neither miracles, nor the cognate gift



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MIRACLES. 123

of prophecy, were considered to qualify a Teacher, or
to authenticate his teaching. The possession of mira-
culous and prophetic power is distinctly recognized in
individuals who not only were not divinely authorized
agents or teachers, hut were enemies of God and of his
people. Passing over the remarkable but inconclusive
narratives relative to the Egyptian magicians, and to
Balaam, — ^we find in Deut. xiii. 1-5, an express warn-
ing to the children of Israel against being led astray
by those who shall employ real miraculous or prophetic
gifts to entice them away from the worship of Jehovah,
a warning couched in language which distinctly ex-
presses that the miracle must be judged of by the
doctrine of the thaumaturgist, — ^not be considered to
authenticate it. " If there arise among you a prophet,
or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a
woAder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass,
whereof he spake unto thee, saying. Let us go after
other Gods, which thou hast not known, and let us
serve them ; thou shalt not hearken to the words of
that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams : and that
prophet, or that dreamer of drea/ms shall be put to
death*

The same proposition is affirmed with almost equal
distinctness in Matth. vii. 22, 23. " Many will say to
me in that day. Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied
in thy name ? and in thy name have cast out devils ^
and in thy name done many wonderful works ? And
then will I profess unto them, I never knew you :
depart from me, ye that work iniquity.'* Again,



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1 24 THE CREED OP CHRISTENDOM.

Matth. xxiv. 24, " For there shall arise false Christs,
and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and
wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they
shall deceive the very elect" In Matth. xii. 27, and
Mark ix. 38, Christ clearly admits the power to work
miracles in both his enemies and his ignorera
. If anything further were wanted to show the view
taken by Jesus of this matter, we should find it in his
steady refusal to authenticate his mission by a miracle,
when, in strict conformity to Jewish ideas (and to
divine prescription, if the Mosaic books may be at all
trusted), the rulers of the synagogue, in the plain per-
formance of their official duty, called upon him to
work one. (See Matth. xii 39 ; xvi. 4, and the
parallel passages, as Mark viii. 11.) He reproaches
the deputation for their demands — grieves over it,
according to Mark, — and says positively, " There shall
no sign be given to this generation." In another
conversation with the Pharisees, the same idea is still
more clearly enunciated. He there (John vi. 30-33)
distinctly tells them that though Moses may have
been accredited by miracles, he will be judged of by
his doctrine only. " They said therefore unto him.
What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and
believe thee 1 what dost thou work ? Our fathers did
eat manna in the desert ; as it is written. He gave
them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said
unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave
you not that bread from heaven ; but my Father
giveth you the true bread from heaven. ... I am



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miraci.es. 125

the bread of life," &c. The low estimation in which
miracles were held by the Apostle Paul (2 Cor. xii.
28), clearly shows that he did not regard them as the
credentials of his mission ; and several passages in the
Acts seem to intimate that, by the early Christians,
the possession of the miraculous or prophetic gift was
not considered inconsistent both with false doctrine
and enmity to Christ's Church. (Acts viii. 9-1 1 ;
xiii 6-10; xvi 16; 2 Cor. xL 13.) Finally, we
have the condusive fact that, according to the Gospel
narrative, the power to work miracles had been ex-
pressly conferred upon all the apostles, who " forsook
Jesus and fled" in his day of trial, — ^upon Judas who
betrayed him, — ^upon Peter, who thrice denied him.

It is said, however, by some, that miraculous power
is bestowed upon Prophets, as their credentials ; not
as proving their doctrines, but as proving them to be
sent from God. But, is it not clear, that these
credentials, if they mean anything at all, must mean
that men are to listen to the Prophets who present
them, as God's mouthpieces ? What is the object of
proving them to be sent from God, except for the
sake of the inference that therefore what they teach
must be God's truth t

IL Having now proved our first position, — ^that
miracles cannot authenticate either the doctrines or
the divine commission of the thaumaturgist — ^we pro-
ceed to the establishment of our second thesis^ viz., —



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126 THE CBEED OF CHBISTENDOM.

that miracles cannot be the basis of Christianity, or of
any historical or transmitted religion.

We fully admit at the outset of our argument that
a miracle, as well as any othar occurrence, is capable
of proof by testimony-— provided only the testimony
be adequate ^l kind and in quantity. The testis
mony must be of the same kind as that on which we
should accept any of the more rare and marvellous
among natural phenomena, and must be clear, direct,
and ample, in proportion to the marvellousness, anoma-
lousness, and rarity of the occurrence. This, it
appears to us, is all that philosophy authorizes us to
demand for the authentication of the fact-pa/rt of a
miracle.

Miracles, we say, are not, and never can be, a sure
foundation for a revealed religion — an historic creed.
A true Revelation, addressed to all mankind, and
destined for all ages, must be attested by evidence
adequate and accessible to all men and to all ages.
It must carry with it its own permanent and unfading
credentials. Now, miracles ajre evidence only to those
who see them, or can sift the testimony which affirms
them. Occurrences so anomalous and rare, which
violate the known and regular course of nature, can,
at the utmost, only be admitted on the evidence of
our own senses, or on the carefuUy-sifted testimony
of eye-witnesses. Therefore, a revelation, whose
credentials are miracles, can he a revdation only to
the age i/n which it appea/ra. The superhuman powers
of its Preacher can authenticate it only to those who



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• HIJiA€L£& 127

witness the exertion of them, and — more faintly and
feebly — to those who have received and scrutinized
tlieir direct testimony : — the supeAuman exoellence of
its doctrines may authenticate it through all time, and
must constitute, therefore^ its only adequate and abid-
ing proof.

Now, the essence of the whole question lies in this:
— that we have not the Apostles and Evangelists to
cross-examine; we do not know that they ever were
cross-exammed ; we do not know what was the nature
of the evidence or testimony which satisfied their
minds ; and we have ample indications that they, like
most imperfectly -educated men, were satisfied with
a nature and amount of proof which would never
satisfy us. »

We have stated that we are far from denying the
adequacy of positive and direct testimony to prove a
miracle, if its amount and quality be suitable. What
would be the amount and quality required ? It will
be allowed on all hands that the testimony of one
witness, however competent and .honest, would not
suffice. We must have the concurring testimony of
several competent and iifidepeTideTd witnesses. Mr
Babbage has made a calculation (which mai;iy will
think pueniu, but which assuredly does not overstate
the case), that, to prove some of the chief mirades,
such as the raising of the dead, the concurring testi-
mony of six independent, competent, veracious wit-
nesses will suffice, hut not less.

Now, let us ask. Have we, for any of the gospel



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128 THE CREED OF CHRISTENDOM.

miracles, evidence — ^we do not say as strong as this,
but — approaching to it '{ in the slightest degree similar
to it ? Have we the concurring testimony of six in-
dependent and competent witnesses ? or of five ? or of
three? or of two? Do we know that we have the
testimony even of OTie witness ? Do we know anything
at all about the competency, or the independence of
any of the witnesses ? Have we any reason to be-
lieve that the Evangelists sifted the testimony they
.received ? Have we, in fine, the distinct statement
of any one individual that he saw or wrought such or
such a specific miracle ? No ; but what we have in-
stead is this :— We have four documents, written we
have to giteaa when — ^proceeding from we know not
whom — ^transmitted to us we know not how purely ;
— three of them evidently compositions from oral
testimony or tradition, and clearly Tiot from indepen-
dent testimony ; and all four, not concurring, but
often singularly discrepant; — ^which documents relate
that such miracles were wrought by a certain individual
in a certain place and time. It is obvious that we have
not here even am approach to personal testimony.^
We do not know with the least certainty who any of
these four narrators were ; — not one of them says, "J
witnessed this miracle ;" — we do not, therefore, know
that they were witnesses at all; — ^and we do know
that their testimony was not independent nor always



1 TVe assume here, not that ,the fourth Gospel was not written by
the Apostle John, but simply that we do not know that it was.



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MIRACLES. 129

concurring. At the best, therefore, we have only
documents of unknown date and uncertain authorship,
stating, with paany discrepancies and contradictions,
that certain miraculous occurrences were witnessed by
others, at least thirty years before the record was
composed; — evidence which, in an honest court of
justice, would not suflSce to aflfect person or property
to the slightest possible extent ; — evidence, neverthe-
less, on which we are peremptorily summoned to
accept the most astounding dogmas, and to bow to
the heaviest yoke.

Since, then, for the miracles recorded in the synop-
tical gospels we have not even that degree of evidence
which would be required to establish any remarkable
or questionable occurrence; and since the only superior
authority for those of the fourth Gospel rests on the
suppositioi^ of its being the production of the Apostle
John — ^a supposition doubtful and unproven, to say no
more ; we might be dispensed from entering into any
more close examination of the narratives themselves —
as in a court of justice the jury frequently decide
against the plaintiff on his own showing — ^pronounce
that the appellant has no case, without requiring to
hear the objections of the respondent. But it is
important to call attention to a few considerations
which should long since have warned divines of the
perilous position they had taken up, when they re-
solved to base Christianity upon the miraculous narra-
tives of the Gospel.

1. The whole tenour of the Old Testament, and
II. I



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130 THE CREEP OF CHRISTENDOM.

many passage in the New, plainly indicate either
that the power <rf working miraples was so copapion
in those days as to argu^ nothing yery remarkable in
its possessp;ry or that a belief in miracles was so genpral
and so easily yielded as to reader the testimony of
such facile believers ioadequa^ to pr<)7^ them. Ojx.
the first supposition, they w;ll not warrant th^ in-
ference drawn from them j on the second, tjiey are
themselves questionable.

Now, it is certain that the miracles recorded in the
New Testament do not appear to have produced on
the beholders or th^ hearers the same eflfect as they
would do at the present day, nor to have been regarded
in the same li^t ey^i by the workers of them.
When Jesus was told by his disciples (Mark i?. 38)
that they had found some unauthorized p^rso^ casting
out devils in his name, he expresses no ajnazement —
intimates no doubt as to the g^p,uinenes8 of the
mi/racle — ^but rebukes his disciples for interfering
with the thaumaturgist, sayipg, "Forbid him not;
for there is no man which shall do a mvrade in my
name that can lightly speak evil of me." The casting
out of devils — i,e,, the healing of the more furipus
epileptic and maniacal disorders — yf^& the most fre-
quent and among the most striking VikI the oftenest
appealed to of the miracles of Jesus > yet in the con-
versation already referred to between himself and the
Pharisees (Matth. xiL 24!-?7) be speaks of it as one
that was constantly and habitually performed by their
own exorcists j and, so far fronj insinuating any differ-



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MIBACLES. ISl

e^ce between the two cases, eoppresdy puts them on a
level} Paul, though himself gifted with miraculous
power, and claiming (Rora. xv. J.9 ; 2 Cjor. xii. 1V\
to ]be equally so gifted with aiiy of the other Apostles
(2 Cor. xi. 5), yet places this power very low in the
rank of spiritual endowments (1 Cor. xiL 8, 9, 10,
28)' — distinguishing in both passages miracles or
ihaumaturgic signs from gifts of healing; and speaks
of them in a somewhat slighting tone, which is wholly
irxecoQcilable with the supposition that the miracles of
which he speaks were real and indisputable ones after
the modem signification of tjie worcjl, i.e,, UAquestion-
able deviations froija the observed order (rf nature at
the command of man.

2. Though the miracles of Christ are frequently
rrferred to in the Gospels as his credentials, as proofs
of his divine mission ; yet there are not wanting many
significant indications that they were wrought rather
as a consequence ^nd reward of belief than as means
to produce it. For example, we have the repeated
refusal of Jesus to satisfy the Jewish chiefs by a dis-
play of his miraculous gifts, though we can perceive
nothing imreasonable or unsuitable to pure Judaism

^ Matth. yii 22 ; xziv. 24 ; Gal ill 5, and many other passages,
show how common miracles then were, or were esteemed.

* ^* For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom ; to
another the word of knowledge ; to another faith ; to another the
gifts of healii^; to another the working of miracles; to another
prophecy,'' &c. ^^And God hath set some in the Church, first
apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers ; qfter that miracles,
then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues."



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132 THE CREED OF CHRISTENDOM.

in the demand (Jolin vi. 30). We have the remark-
able fact that Jesus here not only declines to work a
new miracle in attestation of his mission, but does not
even refer his questioners to his former miracles. We
have the reproach of Jesus to the people of Galilee —
"Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not be-
lieve" (John iv. 48), clearly intimating that these
were not the criterions by which he intended his
mission to be judged. On several occasions, before
working a miracle, he ascertains the faith of the
applicant, and speaks of the miracle as if it were to
be the reward, not the provocative, of their faith
(Matthew ix. 27, 29 ; ix, 2 ; viii. 10 ; ix. 22 ; xv.
28 ; Mark i. 40). And, finally, the Evangelists
twice assign the want of faith of the people — ^the
very reason, according to the orthodox view, why
miracles should be worked before them — as the reason
why Jesus would not work them. "And he did not
many mighty works there because of their unbelief*
(Matt xiii. 58). "And he could there do no mighty
work, save that he laid his hands upon a few -sick folk,
and healed them. And he marvelled because of their
unbelief' (Mark vi 5, 6).

3. Neither did his miracles produce general con-
viction — ^nor the conclusion which would have followed
from conviction — in those who witnessed them, whether
friends, enemies, or indifferent spectators. Had they
Appeared to the witnesses in that age in the same
form which they assume in the documents in which
they are handed down to us, conviction must have



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MIBACLEa 133

been inevitable. Yet this was far from being the
case. We read, indeed, frequently that the people
"marvelled" and "glorified God'' — ^and that "the
fame of his wonderful works went throughout all the
land *' — ^but we also find several passages which point
to a very opposite conclusion. *' Then began he to
upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works
were done, because they repented not : Woe unto thee,
Chorazin I woe unto thee, Bethsaida ! for if the mighty
works, which were done in you, had been done in


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Online LibraryWilliam Rathbone GregThe creed of Christendom: its foundations contrasted with its ..., Volume 2 → online text (page 9 of 20)