BELIEVE I MIRACLES OR BE JUDGED GUILTY

BY THE REV. S. LEE, B.D.
If I had not done among them the works which none othei
man did, they had not had sin. — John, xv. 24.
When we consider the relation in which God stands with
his rational but fallible creatures, we shall be at no loss to
perceive, that if obedience has been called for on the one
hand, there must have been proposed on the other, sufficient
reason for believing that it was God who made the call ; or,
in other words. If revelation demand an entire acquiescence
on the part of man, without at the same time exercising a
violent restraint upon his reason and will, it must also
propose something adequate to convince him that the claims
thus made are irresistible. The reason of this is obvious
enough. The human mind has, for one reason or other,
something like a natural propensity to religion. We cannot
help believing, that beings superior to ourselves somewhere
exist ; and, consequently, that these ought to be regarded.
We also know (to use a very homely phrase), that whatever
the market calls for will be supplied. And hence it is, that
claims to superior information on the head of religion, have
perhaps been more frequently made, than on any other
subject whatsoever. Tales the most marvellous and interest-
ing possible have been invented, in order to meet the credu-
lity of the many ; and visions, dreams, and apparitions, have
been appealed to, for the purpose of giving currency and
effect to the imposition; and, the consequence has been, that
men have not so much differed as to the being and character
of God, — for most nations have been unanimous on these sub-
jects, — as to what form of religion they ought to follow.
The religion, however, presented to us in the Bible, is of
a character very far different from those usually proposed by
these means. AH we have here is simple, plain, unalluring,
SERMO IV. IXXXV
and in some cases actually forbidding. We have here no-
thing, or next to nothing, calculated to excite the imagina-
tion ; and certainly nothing which pretends either to polish
the manners, or to supply the arts by which the politician
might thrive, or the moralist surprise and dazzle. We have
here a system of the most sublime truths delivered in lan-
guage the most artless possible; accompanied however by
evidences which defy competition, and powers which peremp-
torily demand belief; and, consonant with this is the senti-
ment delivered in our text : " If," says our blessed Lord, " I
had not done among them the works which none other man
did, they had not had sin."
If, then, miraculous operations, such as to demand our
acquiescence, have been afforded for the purpose of effec-
tually recommending divine truth, our next question will
be : How are these to be known to be such ; for Scripture
itself informs us, that false miracles also may be advanced,
and such as may possibly deceive the very elect ? I
answer: The words of our text will supply us with the true
criterion. Works, such as no other man can do, must be
truly miraculous ; — and, whenever these are publicly ad-
vanced, we may rest assured, that a just claim to belief has
been made. It will be necessary here, however, to guard
against misconception in the use of words. When our Lord
uses the term tvorks, we must be careful not to give too
great a latitude to his meaning, for these reasons : There
are works, we know, which some one man may be able to do,
which no other can ; or, which is the same thing in a prac-
tical point of view, to which no other man has been able to
produce an equal. Such are the literary productions of some
of the ancients, and of many of the moderns; feats of valour
or of chivalry ; works of industry or of art, which will per-
haps, for ever remain matters of wonder and delight, and
may probably never be equalled. Again, in the progress of
science and of art, effects may hereafter be brought about,
which some may be disposed at this day to pronounce
IxXXvi SERMO IV.
utterly impossible ; and which, unless duly considered, may
readily enough be supposed to deserve the name of real
miracles. All extraordinary works, however, or events of
this sort, depend not so much on the actual extent of human
power, as they do on the exertion of the human capabilities,
circumscribed as they now are and must for ever remain. The
man, for example, who is blessed with good natural powers,
and becomes by his industry and submission to privations
the most learned man of his own or perhaps of any age, —
the most expert philosopher, or the best mechanic, — will,
nevertheless, possess no more of the power necessary to
raise a man from the dead, enable himself to walk on the
surface of the water, or to make a distinct and definite pre-
diction which is to be fulfilled at the distance of a thousand
years, than the merest peasant or even idiot will. These are
works which confessedly exceed human power ; they involve
conditions which no improvement, of which either the body
or mind is susceptible, can satisfy in any degree; and, there-
fore, we are justified in concluding, that what progress soever
may hereafter be made in the arts or the sciences, the mira-
culous events recorded in our Revelation, being of a character
which has no sort of connection with these, must for ever
retain the character of real tniracles : and consequently, leave
all future generations without a fear of imposition, on the one
hand, or any possible excuse for withholding their assent to
its declarations, on the other.
An objection may, however, here be raised. It may be
said, that we occasionally read, even in the Scriptures them-
selves, of instances of demoniacal exertions having been made,
such as manifestly to exceed human powers ;* and, that these,
according to the doctrine here proposed, must be sufficient
* If tlie apparently miraculous powers of the wise men of Egypt, exerted
in opposition to Moses, be referred to this cause, it may be suggested,
that
we have no reason whatever for supposing that any thing truly
miraculous
was performed by them on that occasion : all they did might have been
done
by juggling; but, when something was advanced by Moses which could
not
SERMO IV. IxXXVii
to recommend what was manifestly erroneous, to general re-
gard and acceptance. I answer : The accounts given of these
demoniacal exertions do not seem to warrant the conclusion
that they were superhuman. That they possessed an amaz-
ing influence on popular belief, there can be no doubt ; and
hence, perhaps, resulted all their potency. My own belief is,
that they went no farther than similar pretensions made in
more modern times have gone ; and, that they consisted of
nothing more than artifices, which every moderately informed
person could easily detect. Omitting, however, what may
have happened in those early times, of which we need not
speak very positively, or even be anxious, we may safely
affirm, that no such influences are now exerted. The spread of
knowledge has, since the times of the Reformation, effectually
superannuated the office of the exorcist, and divested every
sort of magic of all its force throughout Europe ; and,
what is still more to our purpose, such things are now no
where else to be found as realities. The plains of Hindustan,
the wilds of Tartary, the recesses of Ceylon or of China, the
hut of the cannibal, whether of Africa, ew Zealand, or
elsewhere, will not furnish us now with one ivell-attested story
of any thing in the shape of miracle, wrought by demoniacal
agency. I am inclined to believe, therefore, (whatever may
be advanced on this subject by Mohammedans -f- or others),
that those works which man, as such, cannot perform,
are really and truly miraculous ; and, that they could not
have been brought about, without the co-operating will and
power of the Deity. Great practical difficulties may, how-
ever, occasionally present themselves, as to whether certain
given operations or events be truly miraculous or not ; and,
for the sake of meeting these the more efl*ectually, it may be
thus be done by them, they confessed at once that their powers went no
further. Demoniacal possessions seem to have taken place in the days of
our Lord; but in these cases no miracle was attempted, as far as we
know,
by the persons possessed.
f See my Controversial Tracts on Christianity and Mohammedanism.
IxXXViii SERMO IV.
advisable to introduce a few other restrictions into our defi-
nition of a miracle ; and here we cannot do better than to
avail ourselves of the instruction offered for this purpose in
the Scriptures themselves.* If, then, we construct our defini-
tion thus : namely, A miracle is an event such as to exceed the
poiver of man to effect, and is brought about either for the
purpose of fulfilling something predicted in a former revela-
tion, or for furthering its objects and ends in one ivay or
other ; we shall have all we can possibly want ; or, at least,
all upon which any reliance can be placed .i"
These additional restrictions have been given for the
following reasons : first. Miracles do not appear to have been
afforded, except in cases where they were absolutely wanted,
that is to say, either for the purpose of furnishing man with
a revelation at the first, or of fulfilling such parts of it as
consisted of predictions, and stood in need of such fulfilment,
and thus to make it binding upon all. For this latter purpose
were the miracles of our Saviour apparently wrought ; not,
as it might seem, to supply an independent authority to the
declarations of the ew Testament, but only to insure the
conviction, that Jesus was the Christ promised to the
Fathers. The Revelation is, in these respects, now perfect
in all its parts; and hence it is, perhaps, that miracles have
altogether ceased : and, unless we are greatly mistaken, they
ceased just at the period at which their further exhibition
* Deut. chap. xiii. Is. xli. 21 — 23.
t These conditions in the definition of a miracle were first proposed
in my Controversial Tracts on Christianity and Mohammedanism,
Camb.
1824, p. 535, and were afterwards, with some variation, taken up and
applied by the Rev. Mr. Penrose, in his valuable work on Miracles.
If it be said, however, that by this view of the subject too much is taken
for granted, I answer : The miraculous acts or events so taken for
granted,
are such as to admit of no doubt as to their being truly miraculous ac-
cording to our shorter definition : upon tliese therefore we may rely ;
and,
as the definition has been thus augmented only for the sake of
facilitating
our inquiries in later times, no objection, of which I am aware, can be
offered to its form.
SERMO IV. Ixxxix
would be unnecessary.* And, if this be true, every pre-
tension to miracle made since those days, or to be made
hereafter, must necessarily be false ; and such, in truth, all
claims of this sort hitherto made have proved to be.
Another reason for these restrictions is : God carmot be
inconsistent with himself. Every thing, therefore, laying claim
to the authority of a miracle, but tending in any degree to
thwart or contradict the declarations of a prior revelation,
must be false; and, in this case too, of whatever date such
pretended miracle might be, we can have no possible doubt
that it was an imposture.
It will be necessary here to shew in what respects
the usual definition of miracles appears to be defective,
in order to justify the proposal of another. If then we
define a miracle by saying, That it is something which
must suspend or contravene the ordinary operations or laws
of nature, we shall lay down a condition which will prove
useless in a great variety of cases, and inapplicable in many
others. We have, for example, numerous predictions and
other revelations made in the Bible, in which not so much as
one law or operation of nature has either been suspended or
contravened. Such are all or most of the prophecies deli-
vered ; and the same may be said of many of the miraculous
events brought about : such as the Babylonian captivity,
with its termination and the restoration of the Jews to
Palestine, the fall of the Jewish polity, &c. which, taken in
connection with their several circumstances, were truly mira-
culous ; but in which, nevertheless, none of the general laws
or operations of nature were either suspended or in any way
contravened. t Besides, it may be justly doubted, whether we
* There does not seem to be any good reason for believing that miracles
were wrouglit after the Apostolic age; and certainly no miraculous
predic-
tion has been made since that period. — See the Bishop of Lincoln's
History
of the Church, &c. illustrated from Tcrtullian, pp. 9G, 97.
f othing is more common witli Ilumc, Gibbon, and other writers of
their school, than to insist on the position, that by the occurrence of
miracles
g
XC SERMO IV.
have knowledge enough to determine, in a great variety
of cases, when the ordinary laws of nature are suspended
or not : and, although we may lay claim to some general
knowledge on this head, yet it will never be in our power
to affirm, whether many of those things which appear to us
to have been thus brought about, do in truth contravene
or suspend any of the primary laws, under which it has
pleased the Almighty to place this system of things. But
we can determine with sufficient accuracy and certainty,
how far the exertion of human powers, properly so called,
will go : we may, therefore, safely rest our question on these
grounds.
Another consideration, and one of great importance here,
is : o one will, on this view of our question, be left in a
state of doubt, as to what is or is not really a miracle.
With ourselves, as well as with the Mohammedans, the
custom has been (as it necessarily must) to appeal to the
decisions of the learned, in order to know whether any
given event were truly miraculous or not : because, it has
been supposed, where an acquaintance with the sciences
was necessary for this, the ignorant could never be certain,
until assured by others better skilled than themselves, as to
what did or did not constitute a real miracle. We may re-
mark, Where mixed science is necessary to determine such
point (and to the unmixed we cannot appeal), there never
can be knowledge sufficient to produce an assurance, that we
have not been mistaken. Science, therefore, will be unavail-
able in questions of this sort : and, when we look at the
Mohammedan world, and consider to what conclusions some
of the best metaphysicians and philologians ever known
tlie ordinary laws of nature must necessarily have been suspended.
With-
out, however, urging the consideration, that even this could not have
been
too much for the Author of ature to do, provided he thought it
necessary
to do so, we may affirm, that of the miraculous acts or events recorded
in the Bible, very few required any sucli suspension or contravention of
the general laws of nature, if indeed any did.
SERMO IV. XCl
have come, with regard to the Koran,* we shall, perhaps,
see enough to assure us, that our conclusion is borne
out by fact. But, in making our appeal to the extent of
real human power, we introduce a condition upon which
every man of sound mind and some experience can promptly
and safely judge ; and, at the same time, appeal to a mea-
sure, which can readily and effectually be applied to all
questions of this nature.
Having dwelt thus much on the first portion of our text,
we may now proceed to consider the declaration it makes in
the second : " If I had not done among them the works,"
it is said, " which none other man did, they had not had
sin." From what has been said, it must appear, that if it is
reasonable something adequate to produce conviction should
be afforded where a claim to belief is advanced, we have in
our Scriptures the most satisfactory assurances, in this re-
spect, that the claim made is divine. Our business will now
be, to consider the end for which this claim has been made,
and these grounds of faith afforded ; namely, that we mai/
not, to use the language of our text, have sin. ow, without
proceeding to affirm, as some have done, that the human
mind presents us with nothing but a mass of ignorance and
corruption, we can, without at all affecting any positive
doctrine of Scripture, or any truth derived from experience,
affirm, that, notwithstanding all its imperfections, it does
possess many properties which even the angels may envy,
and some, perhaps, which they cannot excel : hopes, desires,
energies, and capabilities, truly ennobling ; sympathies, which
have in some cases borne a character more than earthly ; and
fortitude and perseverance, upon which all the accumulated
evils of life have expended their force in vain. On the
subject, however, of true religion, these otherwise justly
admirable properties are, of themselves, not only uninformed
* See my Controversial Tracts on Christianity and Mohammedanism,
passi)!!.
XCll SERMO IV.
and unprovided with objects and ends worthy of their
endeavours, but they are impotent, torpid, sullen : they
rarely, perhaps never, possess either energy or enterprise
sufficiently potent to urge their possessor to inquiry ; and,
in many cases, they can be roused into action and warmth
only to oppose, injure, or destroy it.
These dispositions are, in the language of the Scriptures,
classed under the general head of unbelief; and, as our
subject is here purely practical, we now proceed to consider
in what way the miraculous exertions of the divine power,
which we have been noticing, ought to be applied.
All unbelief, then, may be considered in two points of
view: first, as to that which is entire; and, secondly, as to
that which is partial. Of that kind of unbelief which is
entire, we shall now say nothing, because it does not appear
to have been contemplated in our text ; and because it is not
likely, that where Moses and the Prophets are disregarded,
any thing we may have now to advance will obtain a patient
hearing. Of the second we may say, that as it applies to a
great number of professing Christians, some of whom hold
the truth in unrighteousness, and others who do not appear
to carry their belief to any profitable extent, a brief and
calm inquiry can never be unacceptable.
Our first question will be, then, as to What effect the
overwhelming demands of our religion have produced on
our own minds individually. The first requisite of belief seems
to be, that we acquiesce fully and entirely in the declara-
tions and example of the Son of God — that we believe, with-
out reserve or qualification, that he has both the power and
the icill, fully and freely to provide for all our wants, and
that we are bound patiently and joyfully to follow his ex-
ample under all circumstances.
With regard to the first of these, namely, an entire faith
in the Son of God, there is but too much reason to believe,
that it is neither found nor felt so universally as some
imagine. If it were, then indeed would our land flourish,
SERMO IV. XClll
and our cities be strangers to complaint. Because he, whose
faith is reposed on this Rock of Ages, will have neither
cause nor disposition to complain. Confidence, attended as
this is, will be sufficient to support his mind, and to raise
his hope above the conflicts of a world, which he knows
shall soon cease ; and to afford him, even here, some anti-
cipation of those purer joys, which it has not yet entered
fully into the heart of man to conceive. On this faith he
can firmly rely — in this hope he can daily make his boast;
because he has discovered and has felt that God himself is
his Friend ; and that Christ, who once died and rose again,
has actually entered the heavens there to prepare a mansion,
a«id to make intercession, for him. Of this he has received
the strongest assurances, which the combined testimony of
history and of miracle can give. He feels too, and knows
he has found, beyond all possibility of doubt and from the
evidence of a power within, which the world can neither
give nor take away, that this doctrine is true, and that it
is of God. Such was the testimony and experience of
the Apostles and Martyrs — such the preaching of Prophets
and of Saints, from the earliest dawn of time, down to
the last death-bed ; and such, from the nature of the case,
must the conviction and the confession be of every true
disciple of Christ.
It is not therefore the conviction or the confession alone
— it is not the strength merely of evidence aftbrded that
Jesus is the Christ, or the human assurance that all things
shall work together for good to them that love God ; nor is it
an impression, however deep this may be, that God so loved
the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoso-
ever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting
life : — these are, indeed, the first principles of the oracles of
God ; and they are those, which the means of grace must first
implant in the belief and in the experience of all who shall
be made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints
in light : — there arc still higher considerations than these :
XCIV SERMO IV.
there must be an actual adoption into the family of heaven,
an enrolment in that number which composes the hosts and
armies of the Lamb ; there must be a death unto sin, and a
new birth unto righteousness; — a burial of the body with
Christ, and a resurrection with him in the renewal of the
mind; there must be a power afforded and realised within, as
sensible as it is glorious, as convincing as it is encouraging,
that the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the
Holy Ghost,* that the love of Christ is administering its
constraining influenceSji- and that God is working within
both to will and to do of his good pleasure.:}; Out of an
obedience to the faith crowned with these testimonies of
the Divine approbation and assistance, grows that restorji-
tion to the Divine Image, which enables man again to be
like his Father which is in heaven, § and to bring forth
fruits to his glory. With such an one, faith has had its
perfect work, its novitiate and its progress, its seed-time,
growth, maturity, and is now white and waving for the
harvest. The growth, the bud, the blossom, have been
healthful ; the rains and the sun from above have co-oper-
ated with the labours of the husbandman ; and now, the pains
of the culture, and the glories of the maturity, wait only
for the last great act of the Lord of the harvest, to be
gathered into the garner, and to enjoy everlasting repose.
It is not merely, therefore, not to have sin, that results from
the faith of Christ; there are still other triumphs of the
cross, other blessings, other wealth, which the Son of God has
to give, and which he does give in the richest abundance ; not
only consolations, but peace, and that the peace of God; not
only evidence strong and overwhelming, but confirmation,
assurance, a testimony within which cometh from above,
and which, while it makes the believer the best citizen of
the world, prepares him for a crown, and a kingdom which
shall endure for ever.
* Rom. V. 5. t 2 Cor. v. 14. t Plul. li. 13. § Matt. v. 16, 45, 48.
SERMO IV. XOV
Throughout life we are instructed, delighted, and in
many cases stimulated to the most arduous undertakings,
by a recital of the greatness of purpose, the unwearied
diligence, or the unparalleled virtue or valour, of some cha-
racter of antiquity ; and, perhaps, most of the deeds either
of arts or arms of modern times have owed their commence-
ment and consummation to some such circumstance : because,
here we find something well suited both to stimulate and to
support the mind under the sacrifices which must always
be made, to bring about any thing truly useful and valu-
able. But what are these to the approbation of the Al-
mighty, and to that eternal glory, splendour, and renown,
which awaits the soul of the faithful disciple ? What com-
parison can here be made with the doubtful results of
human enterprise, and that victory which God has promised,
and of which Christ has afforded an earnest, that it shall be
sure and complete ? If we look for motives to action, surely
it is allowable to seek them where the assurances of suc-
cess are the most potent, and the result to be arrived at
is the most valuable. In this respect, the faith which is
in Christ Jesus admits of no comparison. For, while we
have nothing at all calculated to destroy or to injure a good
name here on earth, but, on the contrary, every thing to
secure and maintain it, we have an assurance that neither
angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor
things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other crea-
ture, shall be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Here the mind is exalted,
not only to the highest and noblest point of human ambition,
but to a degree, which, while it gives efficacy to virtue, carries
with it a demonstration that the power evinced is of God;
and affords an evidence, at once as excellent as it is deci-
sive, that it is this alone, which can effectually raise, bless,
ennoble, and sanctify the soul of man.
It might be thought, however, that such a system of
belief and assurance as this is, would be of too theoretic a
XCVl SERMO IV.
character for beings such as we are ; and, that it would tend
to raise the feelings to such a degree, perhaps, as to destroy
the sympathies and condescensions necessary for the purposes
of human society. It may, indeed, seem so ; and it has, in
fact, proved so, perhaps in every case in which nothing
more than an abstract faith, or an intellectual assurance of
salvation, has been sought or acquired. But here the dis-
ciple, not the discipline, has been to blame. The candidate
for the provisions of grace has overlooked the first and most
necessary qualification for these acquirements, namely, the
humble and the contrite heart — the subjugation of the evil
mind, and of the evil propensities : in short, to learn and
to remember, that unless he manifest, or labour to manifest,
the spirit of Christ, he is none of his, — that though he speak
with the tong-ues of men and of angels, and have not
charity, — and though he have the gift of prophecy, and
understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, — and though
he have all faith, so that he can remove mountains, and
have not charity, he is nothing ! And here it is that the
example of our blessed Lord will never fail us, — that the
commentary, which must not be separated from the text
of our theory, can never be misunderstood : for He spake
as man never spake, insomuch that all wondered at the
gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. He
lived and He died, the just for the unjust, not only that he
may purchase and redeem to himself, and with his own
precious blood, a church and a people zealous of good
works ; but also, that he may afford them a standing and
permanent example, in which they might contemplate and
follow his steps. "Who," as we are instructed, "when he
was reviled, reviled not again ; when he suffered, he threat-
ened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth right-
eously." If any thing can be added to this more than human
exhibition of all that is great and glorious, it must be the
exquisite tenderness manifested over the falling city which
had proved his inveterate foe, but which knew not the time
SERMO IV. XCVU
of her visitation ; or the last agonising and expiring prayer,
" Father, forgive them ; for they know not what they
do." These are sentiments and feelings, which we know
the best in every age, however they might have fallen short
of their full realisation, have admired and extolled, wherever
they have found them : tliey are the virtues, which expe-
rience assures us, bespeak the highest and the noblest minds,
and which alone can make man, what he ought to be, en-
ergetic, courageous, temperate, constant, amiable, holy, and
happy : they are the marks of that high origin to which he
lays an indisputable claim, and they are pledges to the world,
that if he had once lost, he has now regained, the privileges
of his birth-rioht, and has become a child of God. And, if
it be asked, how a rational being can with certainty apply
his powers and his privileges in such a way as to administer
to himself and to all, the greatest portion of happiness at-
tainable on earth, with the assurance of a glorious immor-
tality in heaven, it may, after a recital of the faith and
practice of Jesus, be answered, " Go, and do thou hkewise."
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