A Series of Ten Lectures
The Need for and Use of Miracles
MIRACLES AN OBSTACLE TO FAITH.
-- PANTHEISTIC OBJECTIONS.
- OBJECTIONS FROM THE SOVEREIGNTY OF LAW.
-- OBJECTIONS FROM EXPERIENCE.
- NEED AND USE OF MIRACLES.
- MIRACLES CONSONANT WITH THE PERSON AND MISSION OF CHRIST.
- VERIFIED BY HUMAN HISTORY.
- CONSISTENT WITH THE KNOWN METHODS OF THE DIVINE ADMINISTRATION.
THE arguments urged in the preceding Lectures would have been multiplied to waste in any other cause than that in which they are employed. The genuineness of most ancient books, and the authenticity of many universally admitted facts of earlier times, rest on much weaker evidence than sustains the genuineness and authenticity of the Gospels. Testimony as clear, strong, and manifold as we have to the leading facts in the life of Jesus would completely rehabilitate ancient history. Why is this testimony denied or doubted? There was a time when a repugnancy to Christianity on moral grounds accounted to a large extent for such unbelief as prevailed, and when that very unbelief itself had almost the weight of affirmative evidence; for such men as Rousseau, Voltaire, Paine, could hardly have been found on the right side, on the divine side, of any question involving principle and character. The objections of that school were plausible, but superficial, sneers oftener than arguments, and levelled rather at the antecedents and accessories of Christianity than at Christ and his Gospel.
Very different is the case now. Infidelity seldom appears in scurrilous forms, associated with banter and ribaldry. It is frank, honest, earnest, respectful and often even reverent toward the faith it repudiates; and among its expositors are not a few men of pure character, of high scientific attainments, and evidently sincere and zealous in the search for truth. They have no disrelish for the morality of the Gospel, no disesteem for Jesus as an exemplar and a preacher of righteousness, no hostility to Christian institutions. They reject Christianity solely on account of its miraculous element. At the same time, there are others, who with evident sincerity claim to be called Christians, profess to receive Jesus Christ as an unparalleled model of spiritual excellence, and as the wisest teacher of religion and morals that the world has yet seen, who nevertheless repudiate the record of his miracles, and maintain that he was no more or other than any man is capable of becoming. These persons profess to receive the teachings of Christ, not on his authority, but on their own, on account of the accordance of his words with their own intuitions and experience. Yet, in order to be consistent with themselves, they can receive only a limited portion of his teachings; for the paternal providence of God over individual beings and events, the spiritual help granted to aspirants after goodness, and the efficacy of prayer, - all of them prominent in the discourses of Jesus, - are liable to precisely the same objections that are urged against the miraculous narratives.
The alleged incredibility of miracles is my subject this evening.
There is one theory of the universe, very extensively maintained among both philosophers and naturalists, which would render miracles impossible, and, were they possible, worthless; namely, that which denies the existence of a personal God. Thus Renan, an atheist, or a pantheist, - if a distinction is to be made where there is no essential difference, - is entirely self-consistent in maintaining that no evidence can authenticate a miracle. He writes : " I believe that there is not in the universe an intelligence superior to that of man; there is no free existence superior to man, to whom an appreciable share may be assigned in the moral administration, any more than in the material government, of the universe." Of course, then, there exists no being who is not subordinated to the course and laws of nature.
But miracles are denied by many sincere theists, on the ground of their incompatibility with the divine order of the universe, which implies the immutable-ness of natural laws. This order, it is said, has been invariable so far as observation and experience - whether our own or such as it is within our power to verify - are concerned; we cannot conceive of its ever having been suspended or superseded; and our assurance of its present stability is so firm that no amount of evidence could convince us of the occurrence of a miracle now. Still less can any clearness or accumulation of testimony bearing date nearly two thousand years ago suffice to cancel this intrinsic improbability. In approaching this subject, it concerns us to understand at the outset that the discussion cannot, by any possibility, be evaded. It is idle to say that our faith in this nineteenth century is in no need of miracles, in view of the far greater than miracle, - the moral evidence of the worth and power of Christian truth. This may be, nay, ought to be, the case with us, if we have drunk deeply of the spirit of Christ. Nay more, we can conceive that this same moral evidence might have been sufficient for those who lived for many months in his intimacy, and that the sacred flame of piety and love kindled in them might have been passed on from age to age even until now. In view of the contemptuous way in which miracles are treated by a supercilious philosophy, and are looked down upon as beggarly and obsolete elements by some who profess to believe them, we may wish that we were rid of them, and feel that we could defend Christianity all the better without them. But this is out of the question. If the Gospels are genuine, as we have seen reason to believe them to be, the miracles are inseparable from the religion and its Author. There can be no doubt that his earliest and closest followers believed in them. There can be no doubt that he professed to perform them. Christianity, the religion with which the person of Jesus Christ is indissolubly connected, is so allied with miracles that its defence without them is tantamount to its rejection.
In our investigation of this subject, it may be worth our while to inquire how far any man is authorized to deny the possibility of miracles. What created being can know all that it was ever possible for the Creator to do? Does not the denial that miracles are possible involve the assumption of a virtual co-divinity with God, of omniscience, of the capacity of searching and fathoming the depths of the Supreme Intelligence? God alone can know what God can do. If there be a God, infinite and eternal, it is at least conceivable that the cycles of his administration transcend the scrutiny and scope of a being so short-sighted and short-lived as man. If there be a God, his will is the first cause of outward nature; that will might have made it entirely other than it is, so that in the normal course of events there should not have been a single feature in common with the present course; and does not the power of constituting this entire difference include all lesser powers of the same kind and thus, of necessity, the power of modifying at will the existing order of things?
But it is said, Causation is an essential category of human thought. An uncaused effect, or a non-efficient cause, is an absurdity. Very true, and the atheist alone is chargeable with imagining this absurdity. But what are the efficient causes in nature? Has any material agent been so analyzed as to show that there is, in the structure or arrangement of its particles, an inherent reason why it should, of its own force, produce certain effects, and no others? The latest philosophy, as it seems to me on valid grounds, makes of the imponderable elements in the universe - heat, light, magnetism, electricity, gravitation- but one force, identical in its nature, though Protean in its modes of manifestation. Can it be pretended that the physicist has actually manipulated a substance, force, or agency, in which he detects such specific inherent properties as fully account, by physical causation, for the fire, the magnet, the thunderbolt, the gravitating planet? The same force, it is believed, sustains animal and vegetable life, sensation, muscular motion, cerebral action. But who has explored the seat of life, traced it to its source, analyzed its processes? The anatomist may demonstrate the adaptation of the various members and organs of the human body to the functions of the living man; but he cannot say why or how that man ever lived. There is no visible or tangible cause for the life of the man who does or did live, that does not equally exist for the life of the steam-engine which never did and never will live; for, according to the theory of the convertibility of force, the cause of the engine's motion and of the man's life is one and the same. A microscopic dissection of the apple-seed shows the germ from which the tree is developed; but had the man who dissected it lived on a sand waste, and never seen or heard of a tree, he would have found nothing in the structure of the seed from which he could predict the tree; nor, when he first saw a tree, would he even have connected it in thought with the seed that he had analyzed. In fact, we know nothing of efficient causes in nature. We barely know that there are certain invariable sequences within the field of our observation and experience; that some phenomena are always antecedent to and prophetical of others; that is, that we live in an orderly universe. Yet efficient causation there must be. It may reside, though to us untraceable, in the antecedents which we call causes. The Creator may, as the Epicureans maintained, have lodged in the primitive rudimental atoms the power of life, growth, change, renewal, - a power which, without his interposition, can work unspent from the beginning to the end of time. But, on this hypothesis, he who, for wise and benevolent ends, endowed brute matter with this living and unwasting power, may, for equally wise and benevolent reasons, at certain epochs of the world's history have suspended or superseded its action.
But while efficient causes in nature elude our research, do not the identity and convertibility of force point to the Omnipresent God as not only the First Cause, but the sole Cause? Can his presence be inert? Can we conceive of him as eternally quiescent, watching the revolution of the machinery which in the beginning he put in motion? Is not convertible force simply God in nature, varied in manifestation, yet unchanged in power, wisdom, and love? Is there not as sound philosophy, as rich poetry, in the conception of the Hebrew seers, in whose thought " the God of glory thundereth;" " He maketh the clouds his chariot, and walketh upon the wings of the wind;"
" He sendeth the springs into the valleys; " " He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man"? If this be so, it is surely within his omnipotence to perform directly, and without their usual antecedents, acts which are ordinarily preceded by signs that indicate their occurrence in the near future; to convert water into wine without its passing through the various alembics of nature and art; to cure the paralytic without the medicines which are the wonted tokens of his working; to restore life to the inanimate human form, which had drawn every breath of its previous life immediately from his all-pervading Spirit.
But it is said, While we admit the abstract possibility of miracles, they are so entirely opposed to ordinary human experience in our time and in all time, that even else strong testimony cannot make them credible. I answer that, were not this objection capable of being urged, miracles could not occur, or, occurring, would be unmeaning, futile, and worthless. The very idea of miracles presupposes their infrequency, - presupposes a general order of nature, transgressed only at the rarest intervals and for the most momentous ends. Were what we term miracles frequent, there would be no established order of nature, and consequently no miracles properly so called. The only purpose which such events could serve would be to unsettle human calculations and to baffle human expectation. Frequent, they would fail to attract attention, to elicit reverence, to put man in a waiting attitude for the voice of God. Horace's rule for dramatic composition, " Let not a god intervene unless there be a knot worth his untying" * (that is, an occasion worthy of his intervention), involves a principle which, as it applies not so much to the author as to the receptivity of the audience, we may, without irreverence, transfer to the administration of the universe. Did God intervene by miracle except for momentous ends, and at decisive epochs of human history, man is so constituted that this intervention would be of little or no avail.
Now there are objects worthy of the divine intervention. There are ends of incalculable importance to man, which, so far as we can see, can be accomplished only by miracle.
In the first place, a clear apprehension of the personality of God as distinct from nature is attained only through miracle. It is constantly and rightly maintained by the most learned non-Christian writers on the history of religion, by men as familiar with the scriptures of Brahminism and Buddhism as any of us are with the Gospel of John, that the personality of God is an element imported into religious thought solely from the Semitic religions, - that all the other old religions - alike the monotheistic, dualistic, and polytheistic - are mere pantheism, which, they maintain (and here of course I part company with them), tends with the progress of philosophy to become the dominant, and will ultimately be the sole, faith of what is now Christendom. It is, as I have said, no part of my plan to detail the evidences of Judaism; but, were there not ample reason beside to believe the Old Testament miracles authentic, I should believe them solely on account of the pure personal monotheism of the Hebrew Scriptures. Unless, in the strong figure of the psalmist, God had " bowed the heavens and come down," there is no possibility that Judaism should have differed in this respect from the other religions of the civilized or semi-civilized Eastern world. Man's inevitable tendency in the earlier stages of his culture has uniformly been to identify divine power with its manifestations, deity with force, God with nature. The gods of polytheism are separate world-forces, symbolized in the ruder, personified in the more refined, forms of idolatry. With the growth of knowledge, it is ascertained that the universe is not under a multiform administration; that filaments of interdependence and harmony unite its various portions and departments; that fire and air, land and ocean, are parts of the same system; and then the many world-forces are resolved into one or two, either the Soul of the Universe (Anima Mundi), or Ormuzd and Ahriman. But these are not personal gods. They are the life-principle perpetually striving to develop itself in material forms, - each living being emanating from it, and ultimately reabsorbed into it. There is no manifestation of the divine, except in and through nature; therefore God and nature are one. In the higher Greek philosophy, indeed, we have what we may term semi-detached Deity; but the distinct and definite personality of God - the idea which pervades the whole Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and through them the Koran - is reached in no one instance by any non-Semitic religion or philosophy. Still farther, in our own time, the inevitable tendency of the rejection of historical Christianity is toward pantheism. The rationalism of Germany, the liberalism of France, the secularism of England, the free religion of America, are all succumbing to this tendency. Greg, in his " Enigmas of Life," deems it necessary to apologize for clinging to a belief in the divine personality; admits that with his premises he cannot justify it on rational grounds; and says that it is probably due, together with his faith in individual immortality, to the lingering prejudices of a Christian education, - prejudices which have not been strong enough to hold back even the son of such a Christian educator as Thomas Arnold from rejecting a personal God along with the Christ of the Gospels. Strauss, in " The Old Faith and the New," has given the world an invaluable legacy, in his plain and logical development of the natural and inevitable tendency of rationalism to lapse into virtual atheism. At the present moment, the majority in numbers, the overwhelming majority in learning, talent, and influence, among those within the pale of Christendom who are not Christians, are pantheists or atheists.
But miracle is the demonstration of a personal God. It detaches the Creator from his works. It lays bare the Almighty arm to human vision. It shows God, not only in, but above nature, - its Controller, its Sovereign Ruler, under whose hand what seem the adamantine bonds of law are loosed, and forces that had been deemed inflexible become fluent and ductile. From this faith no believer in miracle can fall away. To this faith no religion that rests on miracle can be false. Miracle, then, is God's mode of self-revelation. Imbedded in authentic history, it need not be repeated. Its testimony is coeval in duration with its veracious record. The sublime truth which it embodies is revealed afresh to every believing soul that receives the record.
To pass to another topic, to us of hardly less momentous interest than the being of a personal God, I know not how immortality is to be made certain except by miracle. It is craved by man as he approaches his full development, and the wish naturally begets, but does not authenticate, the belief. There are in man powers and affections adapted to continuous existence, capable of indefinite growth; and the consciousness of these inspires an apprehension - more or less clear and strong - of immortality. There are, too, analogies of nature which authorize the hope of a life beyond death. But analogy can only remove objections. It never has the force of affirmative proof or argument. It may corroborate the belief established on other grounds, but can furnish no sure ground of its own. Moreover, there are in nature fully as numerous analogies of an opposite bearing; and whether these or those of a more hopeful character shall predominate depends on the mood of the hour. The least reassuring aspects of nature are most likely to present themselves to the thought in seasons of bereavement or under the shadow of death, when those of the happiest omen are most needed. Consciousness of immortality there cannot be; for consciousness has a present only, no past but through memory, and no future.
Accordingly, we look all through Pagan antiquity in vain for a parallel to those glorious bursts of ecstatic assurance which we find so often in St. Paul, - the desire to depart and be with Christ, the certainty that there is laid up for him a crown of righteousness, - that the corruptible shall put on incorruption, the mortal be clothed in immortality. Socrates, in dying, hopes that he is going to the society of good men, but is unwilling to make positive and confident affirmation to that effect; and, if we may believe Plato, his chief argument for the future eternity rests on the assumption of the past eternity of individual being. Cicero commences his masterly argument for immortality by showing that, if his reasoning should be found inconclusive, annihilation is no evil; and when his daughter lies dead in his house, he confesses that the proofs that had seemed to him so strong when he committed them to writing yield him no support or consolation. Seneca contradicts himself on this point, and leaves no certain utterance. Marcus Aurelius manifests earnest hope rather than strong faith. Epictetus evidently did not expect a life after death. In Plutarch, indeed, we have no token of serious doubt as to immortality; but this belief occupies with him by no means the foremost place which it holds in the faith and the motive power of every Christian, and in his eminently prosperous career it was exposed to fewer severe trials than occur in ordinary human experience.
This is a subject on which absolute certainty can come only through revelation, oral or visible, - in words that bear the stamp of divinity, or in events which shall show that death is not destruction. As immortality is not a truth of consciousness, and cannot be verified by any human experience that comes within the scope of natural laws, it can be made known to man only in modes in which natural laws are superseded or transcended.
There are yet other fundamental subjects on which the truth is objective as regards man, and, if known at all, must be known by testimony from God; that is, by miracle. To this category belong the divine Fatherhood, the pertinence and efficacy of prayer, and the relations which unrepented sin and repentance establish between man and his Creator, this last being a question coextensive in importance with immortality itself.
All these truths, indeed, have been and are to be transmitted and propagated by the speech and writing of men possessed of only ordinary endowments. But the speech or writing must emanate in the first instance from an authoritative source; else its antiquity or its wide diffusion can create for it no prestige, no claim upon belief. With regard to these subjects, no man has or can have had underived knowledge. Where the evidence of consciousness or intuition is unattainable, no degree of wisdom or goodness can fully authenticate a man's statements. If Jesus Christ was in every thing except his superior wisdom and excellence like you and me, a man with none but self-acquired knowledge and endowments, we can easily understand why he believed and taught immortality; for such a life as he was leading would have seemed to him too precious to perish, and he would have so yearned to live on that the wish by its intensity would have become prophecy to his own thought. But his belief would be no valid ground for mine. His words would have merely the authority which belongs to those of every sound thinker. But if God virtually points to him, and says of him, " This is my Messenger; receive his words as mine," - then those words become not opinion, but truth; not reasoning, but knowledge. They are attested not by the weight and worth of a human intellect and character, but by the only Being in the universe who has underived knowledge in the realm that transcends finite consciousness and experience. Now there is no conceivable way in which God can say this, except by miracle. There must be something in the antecedents, belongings, doings, or experiences of the person thus authenticated, which shall set him apart from all others as a God-marked man, and shall thus constitute his recognized commission as a divinely sent teacher. This commission may be universal and perpetual, though the teacher speak to but few, and early vanish from mortal sight. His words may be recorded with the same accuracy and transmitted with the same fidelity which characterize the record and transmission of utterances of prime importance in judicial and political affairs; and the events that constitute his credentials are as capable of becoming facts of authentic history as any other events of his time. Still farther, these events, if authentic, are a sufficient guaranty for the substantially correct transmission of the words to which they give authority; for if, by events aside from the common course of nature, God attests communications of such a kind as to be obviously designed for and adapted to all men of all ages, it is inconceivable that he should not provide for their authentic and permanent record. For this reason I regard all that is essential in the question of inspiration as involved in the authenticity of the Christian miracles. If God interposed by miracle to teach men of duty, of pardon, of heaven, and of the way to everlasting salvation, we are sure that he has given enduring validity and efficacy to his work, whatever may be our technical formula for the shape of the record or the animus of its writers. Thus miracle may furnish adequate and permanent evidence for the contents of a divine revelation.
It is said, however, that, from the very nature of things, physical facts, material events, cannot attest spiritual truths, which demand evidence of their own order, and can be believed only as recognized by intuition and verified by experience. This statement, which seems plausible, will not bear examination. It is not true even within the legitimate range of experience. We have an undoubting belief of very numerous spiritual facts, truths, and laws, which we are capable of testing, yet never have tested for ourselves. The psychological phenomena of drunkenness and of opium-eating are believed by those who have made no trial of them; and it is a belief, too, which has a decisive effect on conduct, on the one hand deterring not a few from those first steps down the declivity of ruin which it is so hard to retrace, and, on the other hand, sometimes exciting a morbid curiosity as to the fantastic and delirious joy of inebriation. Equally may a thoroughly bad man receive on faith the happiness that results from a virtuous course, and may be thus induced to make first experiments in that direction. It may be said, indeed, that statements of this sort need no miraculous attestation : yet it is conceivable that from a teacher thus sanctioned they might come with a stress of influence on opinion, feeling, and character, not to be otherwise attained; so that, were it only to promulgate what to the developed spiritual consciousness are mere moral truisms, there might be adequate ground for miraculous intervention, in an age of declension and depravity.
As regards such spiritual truths as are objective to our own consciousness, miracle is so far from being an inappropriate evidence, that it may be a manifestation of the very truth to which it bears witness, and so may not only verify, but be, a revelation. Thus, as I have said, an event aside from the wonted order of nature is in itself a manifestation of the fundamental truth of the spiritual universe, - the existence of God independently of nature. What, too, are the miracles of healing in the New Testament but the universal
Providence made visible? What the raising of Lazarus, but the indestructibility of the soul submitted to the evidence of eye, and ear, and hand? As regards other truths, it may be impossible to trace in miracles any specific relation to them, and they, therefore, are not directly proved by miraculous evidence; but, so far as works beyond the ordinary scope of human power authenticate a teacher, they, of necessity, attest the truths which he utters, though they be objective, and therefore not capable of verification by his hearers, or though they be such as can be verified only by the experience to which they open the way and afford the motive.
On yet another ground we may trace what might seem a necessity, or, at least, an adequate occasion for miracle. Jesus Christ professed to be more than a good man and a teacher of piety. He claimed to be the Son of God in a peculiar and pre-eminent sense, and, as Mediator and Redeemer, to stand in certain relations to God and man in which no one else has stood. It is not to our present purpose to define these relations, or rather, it is essential to our purpose to leave them undefined; for the position on which I would base my argument is, that to all Christian believers, of whatever name or creed, Jesus Christ, though man, is more than man, holds a sole place and office with reference to the human race, and thus constitutes in a certain sense and degree a class by himself. If this be so, we may maintain, first, that he could be designated to man as holding this place and office only by miracles; and, secondly, that what we call miracles, though superhuman, may be, as wrought by him, or for him, or through him, no more superhuman than he himself is, but as regards him and his office simply normal, fully as accordant with his place in the universe as the power which man ordinarily exerts over nature is with his place in the universe. These considerations are applicable not only to his own alleged miracles, but equally to those of earlier religious dispensations, typical and prophetic of his coming, and to those wrought under his immediate auspices for the establishment of his advent and mission among the indelible facts of history. If it be maintained that it was intrinsically impossible for the Almighty to put upon the earth a higher being than the normal man, then miracles may be equally impossible; for, when we once begin to limit the infinite attributes of God, we can no longer base any argument on his plenary power. But if it was possible for him to send into the world a greater than man to redeem man, then was it equally possible for him to connect with that Redeemer's advent and earthly life physical phenomena that might indicate and verify his place among men. So far then as, aside from the miraculous narratives, there is recognized in the character of Jesus, in his influence, in his position as a factor in human history, aught in which he stands alone among men, aught that worthily gives him " a name above every name," so far do those miraculous narratives become probable. Did the evangelists represent Jesus as an ordinary man, there would be a manifest incongruity between his person and his alleged miracles. If he was what they say he was, those works of power and love were no more or other than might have been expected of him and through him.
I have thus shown you that there were ends of prime importance, in the promulgation of objective truth which man needed to know, and in the authentication of a Teacher and Redeemer, which could, so far as we can discern, have been effected only by miracles, and which therefore presented occasions that seem worthy of the divine interposition. The probability thus established is confirmed by a view of the condition of mankind before and since Christ. The course of the world before Christ was a constant degeneracy and decline. His advent was at the midnight of history. There had been noble nations: there remained not one. The Greeks had lost what of manliness they once had, and their refinement had degenerated into gross sensuality. The Romans had parted with their purity and truth; while their valor had become rapacity, and their patriotism faction. The imperial city was a hospitable metropolis for the vices as for the gods of all lands, and with regard to every form of depravity the practical maxim alike of court and of populace was, " It is fitting to learn even from an enemy;" and thence and thither, with the pulsation of a common political life to the remotest east and south, and to the confines of impenetrable Scandinavian forests, were outward and refluent currents swollen with the fetid sewage of vice and crime. Religion, such as there had been, was dead. Philosophy survived chiefly under the loosened zone of Epicureanism; for the Stoics, the only really great men that remained, were in numbers a scanty minority among those who claimed to be adepts in liberal culture. In Judæa a heartless formalism had replaced the piety of earlier ages; the harp of praise gave but the retreating echo of its wonted strains; and they who rebuilt the sepulchres of the prophets bore testimony against themselves in professing to honor those whose virtues they suffered to slumber. There was upon the earth no hopeful sign, no source of reforming influence, no fountain for renewed life. A brighter past and a darker future bounded the horizon of every thoughtful man, except so far as Hebrew prophecy had given its color to expectation.
What do we see since that age? Progress, but no decline. Dawn, sunrise, high morning, but no receding of the shadow on the sundial. Barbaric irruptions that fertilize, when they threaten to destroy. Dark ages, like those dreary spring-days whose drenching rains are the harbinger of all that is gladdening in garden, field, and orchard, - ages during which humane principles are taking root, institutions and habits of charity and mercy springing into being, slavery melting away and vanishing. There has not been since the Christian era a century than which we can say that the preceding century was better.
This advance without retrogression has been inseparably connected with Christianity, and that, the Christianity of the Gospels, resting on miraculous evidence. It is primarily in this aspect that Christianity has been received, diffused, and transmitted. We may attach a greater or less importance to individual miracles; but we cannot be mistaken in attributing a preponderant influence to the superhuman element in Christianity, of which these miracles form a part. The Titans of our race had done their best to raise it, and had failed. The earth did not give them a strength which could " spread undivided, operate unspent." It is only the religion which claims to be heaven-born that can grow with the ages. It is only the Saviour who claims to come from the bosom of the Eternal Father, who can be so lifted up that he gives promise of drawing all men to him. When we see that belief in such a religion, in such a Saviour, though mingled with puerilities, superstitions, and absurdities, has proved the mightiest force in the moral universe, alone not yielding to the law of decline and exhaustion to which all other forces have succumbed, it becomes in the highest degree probable that mankind needed such a religion, such a Saviour; and, if so, the miracles that attended its promulgation and his mission were in themselves antecedently probable.
I close by noticing two objections that have been often urged, and with no little plausibility. To some minds miracles are incredible because they seem an afterthought, and imply some initial imperfection in the Creator's work. What was wisely made could not have needed repair. What was fitly planned could not have demanded remedy and re-adjusting. I answer, What was made and placed at the head of this lower world was a race of free agents, with the unrestricted choice of good and evil. What was planned was a system by which, with or without help from a higher power, that race was to work out its own destiny. It may be that such a race, however nobly endowed, if less than divine, could not but try all experiments and sound all depths of moral evil; could not but lapse into a depraved and morally helpless condition from which it could be rescued only by an arm let down from heaven. It may be that in the very nature of things the kingdom of ultimate and universal righteousness, of which the Messianic prophecies give the foreshining, must needs have had its sunken foundation laid in such wrecks of humanity as the waves of time have submerged. If so, Christianity, with its apparatus of superhuman manifestations and events, was not a divine afterthought, but a divine forethought, an essential part of the initial plan of creation, - a plan by which, as the first Adam was the progenitor of a race of sinners that shall, in God's own time, run out and leave only its history, the second Adam should become the progenitor of a race, born not of the flesh, but of the Spirit, of the increase of which there shall be no end till time shall lapse into eternity.
Finally, it has been represented as incredible that in the press and
throng of habitable worlds that gem our night heavens, rank beyond rank,
in realms of telescopic vision which even our figures cannot overtake,
still less our thought conceive, our little planet should have been specially
signalized by a stupendous theophany, with its attendant pageantry of prophecy,
sign, and marvel. In reply, I would ask, Who knows that our planet has
been thus specially signalized? Undoubtedly its spiritual, no less than
its physical, history, has its peculiar features; for Infinite Wisdom has
had no need to repeat itself in the worlds. But how know we but that in
some form or way a theophany has had its place in all realms and orders
of spiritual being; that in methods analogous to those recorded in the
Christian Scriptures God has in all parts of his creation made known his
being, providence, and righteous retribution; and that if there has been,
as there certainly may have been, in other portions of the universe sin,
spiritual defection, soul-peril, he has interposed in mercy like that incarnate
on Calvary, and has won back to loyalty and duty his children in the stars
beyond Arcturus and Orion no less than among the sons of men? Enough for
us that we own what he has done for our fallen race. In the eternity that
lies before us, it may be that the ransomed from among men will be immeasurably
outnumbered by the harps and tongues from worlds to us unknown that shall
swell the self-same redemption song.