The way in which the subject of Miracles has been treated, and the place which they have had in our discussions, will remain a characteristic feature of both the religious and philosophical tendencies of thought among us. Miracles, if they are real things, are the most awful and august of realities. But, from various causes, one of which, perhaps, is the very word itself, and the way in which it binds into one vague and technical generality a number of most heterogeneous instances, miracles have lost much of their power to interest those who have thought most in sympathy with their generation. They have been summarily and loosely put aside, sometimes avowedly, more often still by implication. Even by those who accepted and maintained them, they have often been touched uncertainly and formally, as if people thought that they were doing a duty, but would like much better to talk about other things which really attracted and filled their minds. In the long course of theological war for the last two centuries, it is hardly too much to say that miracles, as a subject for discussion, have been degraded and worn down from their original significance; vulgarised by passing through the handling of not the highest order of controversialists, who battered and defaced what they bandied about in argument, which was often ingenious and acute, and often mere verbal sophistry, but which, in any case, seldom rose to the true height of the question. Used either as instruments of proof or as fair game for attack, they suffered in the common and popular feeling about them. Taken in a lump, and with little realising of all that they were and implied, they furnished a cheap and tempting material for "short and easy methods" on one side, and on the other side, as it is obvious, a mark for just as easy and tempting objections. They became trite. People got tired of hearing of them, and shy of urging them, and dwelt in preference on other grounds of argument. The more serious feeling and the more profound and original thought of the last half century no longer seemed to give them the value and importance which they had; on both sides a disposition was to be traced to turn aside from them. The deeper religion and the deeper and more enterprising science of the day combined to lower them from their old evidential place. The one threw the moral stress on moral grounds of belief, and seemed inclined to undervalue external proofs. The other more and more yielded to its repugnance to admit the interruption of natural law, and became more and more disinclined even to discuss the supernatural; and, curiously enough, along with this there was in one remarkable school of religious philosophy an increased readiness to believe in miracles as such, without apparently caring much for them as proofs. Of late, indeed, things have taken a different turn. The critical importance of miracles, after for a time having fallen out of prominence behind other questions, has once more made itself felt. Recent controversy has forced them again on men's thoughts, and has made us see that, whether they are accepted or denied, it is idle to ignore them. They mean too much to be evaded. Like all powerful arguments they cut two ways, and of all powerful arguments they are the most clearly two-edged. However we may limit their range, some will remain which we must face; which, according to what is settled about them, either that they are true or not true, will entirely change all that we think of religion. Writers on all sides have begun to be sensible that a decisive point requires their attention, and that its having suffered from an old-fashioned way of handling is no reason why it should not on its own merits engage afresh the interest of serious men, to whom it is certainly of consequence.
The renewed attention of theological writers to the subject of miracles as an element of proof has led to some important discussions upon it, showing in their treatment of a well-worn inquiry that a change in the way of conducting it had become necessary. Of these productions we may place Mr. Mozley's Bampton Lectures for last year among the most original and powerful. They are an example, and a very fine one, of a mode of theological writing which is characteristic of the Church of England, and almost peculiar to it. The distinguishing features of it are a combination of intense seriousness with a self-restrained, severe calmness, and of very vigorous and wide-ranging reasoning on the realities of the case with the least amount of care about artificial symmetry or scholastic completeness. Admirers of the Roman style call it cold, indefinite, wanting in dogmatic coherence, comprehensiveness, and grandeur. Admirers of the German style find little to praise in a cautious bit-by-bit method, content with the tests which have most affinity with common sense, incredulous of exhaustive theories, leaving a large margin for the unaccountable or the unexplained. But it has its merits, one of them being that, dealing very solidly and very acutely with large and real matters of experience, the interest of such writings endures as the starting-point and foundation for future work. Butler out of England is hardly known, certainly he is not much valued either as a divine or a philosopher; but in England, though we criticise him freely, it will be a long time before he is out of date. Mr. Mozley's book belongs to that class of writings of which Butler may be taken as the type. It is strong, genuine argument about difficult matters, fairly facing what is difficult, fairly trying to grapple, not with what appears the gist and strong point of a question, but with what really and at bottom is the knot of it. It is a book the reasoning of which may not satisfy every one; but it is a book in which there is nothing plausible, nothing put in to escape the trouble of thinking out what really comes across the writer's path. This will not recommend it to readers who themselves are not fond of trouble; a book of hard thinking cannot be a book of easy reading; nor is it a book for people to go to who only want available arguments, or to see a question apparently settled in a convenient way. But we think it is a book for people who wish to see a great subject handled on a scale which befits it and with a perception of its real elements. It is a book which will have attractions for those who like to see a powerful mind applying itself without shrinking or holding back, without trick or reserve or show of any kind, as a wrestler closes body to body with his antagonist, to the strength of an adverse and powerful argument. A stern self-constraint excludes everything exclamatory, all glimpses and disclosures of what merely affects the writer, all advantages from an appeal, disguised and indirect perhaps, to the opinion of his own side. But though the work is not rhetorical, it is not the less eloquent; but it is eloquence arising from a keen insight at once into what is real and what is great, and from a singular power of luminous, noble, and expressive statement. There is no excitement about its close subtle trains of reasoning; and there is no affectation,—and therefore no affectation of impartiality. The writer has his conclusions, and he does not pretend to hold a balance between them and their opposites. But in the presence of such a subject he never loses sight of its greatness, its difficulty, its eventfulness; and these thoughts make him throughout his undertaking circumspect, considerate, and calm.
The point of view from which the subject of miracles is looked at in these Lectures is thus stated in the preface. It is plain that two great questions arise—first, Are miracles possible? next, If they are, can any in fact be proved? These two branches of the inquiry involve different classes of considerations. The first is purely philosophical, and stops the inquiry at once if it can be settled in the negative. The other calls in also the aid of history and criticism. Both questions have been followed out of late with great keenness and interest, but it is the first which at present assumes an importance which it never had before, with its tremendous negative answer, revolutionising not only the past, but the whole future of mankind; and it is to the first that Mr. Mozley's work is mainly addressed.
The difficulty which attaches to miracles in the period of thought through which we are now passing is one which is concerned not with their evidence, but with their intrinsic credibility. There has arisen in a certain class of minds an apparent perception of the impossibility of suspensions of physical law. This is one peculiarity of the time; another is a disposition to maintain the disbelief of miracles upon a religious basis, and in a connection with a declared belief in the Christian revelation.
The following Lectures, therefore, are addressed mainly to the fundamental question of the credibility of Miracles, their use and the evidences of them being only touched on subordinately and collaterally. It was thought that such an aim, though in itself a narrow and confined one, was most adapted to the particular need of the day.
As Mr. Mozley says, various points essential to the whole argument, such as testimony, and the criterion between true and false miracles, are touched upon; but what is characteristic of the work is the way in which it deals with the antecedent objection to the possibility and credibility of miracles. It is on this part of the subject that the writer strikes out a line for himself, and puts forth his strength. His argument may be described generally as a plea for reason against imagination and the broad impressions of custom. Experience, such experience as we have of the world and human life, has, in all ages, been really the mould of human thought, and with large exceptions, the main unconscious guide and controller of human belief; and in our own times it has been formally and scientifically recognised as such, and made the exclusive foundation of all possible philosophy. A philosophy of mere experience is not tolerant of miracles; its doctrines exclude them; but, what is of even greater force than its doctrines, the subtle and penetrating atmosphere of feeling and intellectual habits which accompanies it is essentially uncongenial and hostile to them. It is against the undue influence of such results of experience—an influence openly acting in distinct ideas and arguments, but of which the greater portion operates blindly, insensibly, and out of sight—that Mr. Mozley makes a stand on behalf of reason, to which it belongs in the last resort to judge of the lessons of experience. Reason, as it cannot create experience, so it cannot take its place and be its substitute; but what reason can do is to say within what limits experience is paramount as a teacher; and reason abdicates its functions if it declines to do so, for it was given us to work upon and turn to account the unmeaning and brute materials which experience gives us in the rough. The antecedent objection against miracles is, he says, one of experience, but not one of reason. And experience, flowing over its boundaries tyrannically and effacing its limits, is as dangerous to truth and knowledge as reason once was, when it owned no check in nature, and used no test but itself.
Mr. Mozley begins by stating clearly the necessity for coming to a decision on the question of miracles. It cannot remain one of the open questions, at least of religion. There is, as has been said, a disposition to pass by it, and to construct a religion without miracles. The thing is conceivable. We can take what are as a matter of fact the moral results of Christianity, and of that singular power with which it has presided over the improvement of mankind, and alloying and qualifying them with other elements, not on the face of the matter its products, yet in many cases indirectly connected with its working, form something which we may acknowledge as a rule of life, and which may satisfy our inextinguishable longings after the unseen and eternal. It is true that such a religion presupposes Christianity, to which it owes its best and noblest features, and that, as far as we can see, it is inconceivable if Christianity had not first been. Still, we may say that alchemy preceded chemistry, and was not the more true for being the step to what is true. But what we cannot say of such a religion is that it takes the place of Christianity, and is such a religion as Christianity has been and claims to be. There must ever be all the difference in the world between a religion which is or professes to be a revelation, and one which cannot be called such. For a revelation is a direct work and message of God; but that which is the result of a process and progress of rinding out the truth by the experience of ages, or of correcting mistakes, laying aside superstitions and gradually reducing the gross mass of belief to its essential truth, is simply on a level with all other human knowledge, and, as it is about the unseen, can never be verified. If there has been no revelation, there may be religious hopes and misgivings, religious ideas or dreams, religious anticipations and trust; but the truth is, there cannot be a religion in the world. Much less can there be any such thing as Christianity. It is only when we look at it vaguely in outline, without having before our mind what it is in fact and in detail, that we can allow ourselves to think so. There is no transmuting its refractory elements into something which is not itself; and it is nothing if it is not primarily a direct message from God. Limit as we may the manner of this communication, still there remains what makes it different from all other human possessions of truth, that it was a direct message. And that, to whatever extent, involves all that is involved in the idea of miracles. It is, as Mr. Mozley says, inconceivable without miracles.
If, then, a person of evident integrity and loftiness of character rose into notice in a particular country and community eighteen centuries ago, who made these communications about himself—that he had existed before his natural birth, from all eternity, and before the world was, in a state of glory with God; that he was the only-begotten Son of God; that the world itself had been made by him; that he had, however, come down from heaven and assumed the form and nature of man for a particular purpose—viz. to be the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world; that he thus stood in a mysterious and supernatural relation to the whole of mankind; that through him alone mankind had access to God; that he was the head of an invisible kingdom, into which he should gather all the generations of righteous men who had lived in the world; that on his departure from hence he should return to heaven to prepare mansions there for them; and, lastly, that he should descend again at the end of the world to judge the whole human race, on which occasion all that were in their graves should hear his voice and come forth, they that had done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that had done evil unto the resurrection of damnation,—if this person made these assertions about himself, and all that was done was to make the assertions, what would be the inevitable conclusion of sober reason respecting that person? The necessary conclusion of sober reason respecting that person would be that he was disordered in his understanding. What other decision could we come to when a man, looking like one of ourselves, and only exemplifying in his life and circumstances the ordinary course of nature, said this about himself, but that when reason had lost its balance a dream of extraordinary and unearthly grandeur might be the result? By no rational being could a just and benevolent life be accepted as proof of such astonishing announcements. Miracles are the necessary complement then of the truth of such announcements, which without them are purposeless and abortive, the unfinished fragments of a design which is nothing unless it is the whole. They are necessary to the justification of such announcements, which, indeed, unless they are supernatural truths, are the wildest delusions. The matter and its guarantee are the two parts of a revelation, the absence of either of which neutralises and undoes it.
A revelation, in any sense in which it is more than merely a result of the natural progress of the human mind and the gradual clearing up of mistakes, cannot in the nature of things be without miracles, because it is not merely a discovery of ideas and rules of life, but of facts undiscoverable without it. It involves constituent miracles, to use De Quincey's phrase, as part of its substance, and could not claim a bearing without evidential or polemic ones. No other portion or form of proof, however it may approve itself to the ideas of particular periods or minds, can really make up for this. The alleged sinlessness of the Teacher, the internal evidence from adaptation to human nature, the historical argument of the development of Christendom, are, as Mr. Mozley points out, by themselves inadequate, without that further guarantee which is contained in miracles, to prove the Divine origin of a religion. The tendency has been of late to fall back on these attractive parts of the argument, which admit of such varied handling and expression, and come home so naturally to the feelings of an age so busy and so keen in pursuing the secrets of human character, and so fascinated with its unfolding wonders. But take any of them, the argument from results, for instance, perhaps the most powerful of them all. "We cannot," as Mr. Mozley says, "rest too much upon it, so long as we do not charge it with more of the burden of proof than it is in its own nature equal to—viz. the whole. But that it cannot bear." The hard, inevitable question remains at the end, for the most attenuated belief in Christianity as a religion from God—what is the ultimate link which connects it directly with God? The readiness with which we throw ourselves on more congenial topics of proof does not show that, even to our own minds, these proofs could suffice by themselves, miracles being really taken away. The whole power of a complex argument and the reasons why it tells do not always appear on its face. It does not depend merely on what it states, but also on unexpressed, unanalysed, perhaps unrealised grounds, the real force of which would at once start forth if they were taken away. We are told of the obscure rays of the spectrum, rays which have their proof and their effect, only not the same proof and effect as the visible ones which they accompany; and the background and latent suppositions of a great argument are as essential to it as its more prominent and elaborate constructions. And they show their importance sometimes in a remarkable and embarrassing way, when, after a long debate, their presence at the bottom of everything, unnoticed and perhaps unallowed for, is at length disclosed by some obvious and decisive question, which some person had been too careless to think of, and another too shy to ask. We may not care to obtrude miracles; but take them away, and see what becomes of the argument for Christianity.
It must be remembered that when this part of Christian evidence comes so forcibly home to us, and creates that inward assurance which it does, it does this in connection with the proof of miracles in the background, which though it may not for the time be brought into actual view, is still known to be there, and to be ready for use upon being wanted. The indirect proof from results has the greater force, and carries with it the deeper persuasion, because it is additional and auxiliary to the direct proof behind it, upon which it leans all the time, though we may not distinctly notice and estimate this advantage. Were the evidence of moral result to be taken rigidly alone as the one single guarantee for a Divine revelation, it would then be seen that we had calculated its single strength too highly. If there is a species of evidence which is directly appropriate to the thing believed, we cannot suppose, on the strength of the indirect evidence we possess, that we can do without the direct. But miracles are the direct credentials of a revelation; the visible supernatural is the appropriate witness to the invisible supernatural—that proof which goes straight to the point, and, a token being wanted of a Divine communication, is that token. We cannot, therefore, dispense with this evidence. The position that the revelation proves the miracles, and not the miracles the revelation, admits of a good qualified meaning; but, taken literally, it is a double offence against the rule that things are properly proved by the proper proof of them; for a supernatural fact is the proper proof of a supernatural doctrine, while a supernatural doctrine, on the other hand, is certainly not the proper proof of a supernatural fact.
So that, whatever comes of the inquiry, miracles and revelation must go together. There is no separating them. Christianity may claim in them the one decisive proof that could be given of its Divine origin and the truth of its creed; but, at any rate, it must ever be responsible for them.
But suppose a person to say, and to say with truth, that his own individual faith does not rest upon miracles, is he, therefore, released from the defence of miracles? Is the question of their truth or falsehood an irrelevant one to him? Is his faith secure if they are disproved? By no means; if miracles were, although only at the commencement, necessary to Christianity, and were actually wrought, and therefore form part of the Gospel record and are bound up with the Gospel scheme and doctrines, this part of the structure cannot be abandoned without the sacrifice of the other too. To shake the authority of one-half of this body of statement is to shake the authority of the whole. Whether or not the individual makes use of them for the support of his own faith, the miracles are there; and if they are there they must be there either as true miracles or as false ones. If he does not avail himself of their evidence, his belief is still affected by their refutation. Accepting, as he does, the supernatural truths of Christianity and its miracles upon the same report from the same witnesses, upon the authority of the same documents, he cannot help having at any rate this negative interest in them. For if those witnesses and documents deceive us with regard to the miracles, how can we trust them with regard to the doctrines? If they are wrong upon the evidences of a revelation, how can we depend upon their being right as to the nature of that revelation? If their account of visible facts is to be received with an explanation, is not their account of doctrines liable to a like explanation? Revelation, then, even if it does not need the truth of miracles for the benefit of their proof, still requires it in order not to be crushed under the weight of their falsehood…. Thus miracles and the supernatural contents of Christianity must stand or fall together. These two questions—the nature of the revelation, and the evidenceof the revelation—cannot be disjoined. Christianity as a dispensation undiscoverable by human reason, and Christianity as a dispensation authenticated by miracles—these two are in necessary combination. If any do not include the supernatural character of Christianity in their definition of it, regarding the former only as one interpretation of it or one particular traditional form of it, which is separable from the essence—for Christianity as thus defined the support of miracles is not wanted, because the moral truths are their own evidence. But Christianity cannot be maintained as a revelation undiscoverable by human reason, a revelation of a supernatural scheme for man's salvation, without the evidence of miracles.
The question of miracles, then, of the supernatural disclosed in the world of nature, is the vital point for everything that calls itself Christianity. It may be forgotten or disguised; but it is vain to keep it back and put it out of sight. It must be answered; and if we settle it that miracles are incredible, it is idle to waste our time about accommodations with Christianity, or reconstitutions of it. Let us be thankful for what it has done for the world; but let us put it away, both name and thing. It is an attempt after what is in the nature of things impossible to man—a revealed religion, authenticated by God. The shape which this negative answer takes is, as Mr. Mozley points out, much more definite now than it ever was. Miracles were formerly assailed and disbelieved on mixed and often confused grounds; from alleged defect of evidence, from their strangeness, or because they would be laughed at. Foes and defenders looked at them from the outside and in the gross; and perhaps some of those who defended them most keenly had a very imperfect sense of what they really were. The difficulty of accepting them now arises not mainly from want of external evidence, but from having more keenly realised what it is to believe a miracle. As Mr. Mozley says—
How is it that sometimes when the same facts and truths have been before men all their lives, and produced but one impression, a moment comes when they look different from what they did? Some minds may abandon, while others retain, their fundamental position with respect to those facts and truths, but to both they look stranger; they excite a certain surprise which they did not once do. The reasons of this change then it is not always easy for the persons themselves to trace, but of the result they are conscious; and in some this result is a change of belief.
An inward process of this kind has been going on recently in many minds on the subject of miracles; and in some with the latter result. When it came to the question—which every one must sooner or later put to himself on this subject—Did these things really take place? Are they matters of fact?—they have appeared to themselves to be brought to a standstill, and to be obliged to own an inner refusal of their whole reason to admit them among the actual events of the past. This strong repugnance seemed to be the witness of its own truth, to be accompanied by a clear and vivid light, to be a law to the understanding, and to rule without appeal the question of fact…. But when the reality of the past is once apprehended and embraced, then the miraculous occurrences in it are realised too; being realised they excite surprise, and surprise, when it comes in, takes two directions—it either makes belief more real, or it destroys belief. There is an element of doubt in surprise; for this emotion arises because an event is strange, and an event is strange because it goes counter to and jars with presumption. Shall surprise, then, give life to belief or stimulus to doubt? The road of belief and unbelief in the history of some minds thus partly lies over common ground; the two go part of their journey together; they have a common perception in the insight into the real astonishing nature of the facts with which they deal. The majority of mankind, perhaps, owe their belief rather to the outward influence of custom and education than to any strong principle of faith within; and it is to be feared that many, if they came to perceive how wonderful what they believed was, would not find their belief so easy and so matter-of-course a thing as they appear to find it. Custom throws a film over the great facts of religion, and interposes a veil between the mind and truth, which, by preventing wonder, intercepts doubt too, and at the same time excludes from deep belief and protects from disbelief. But deeper faith and disbelief throw off in common the dependence on mere custom, draw aside the interposing veil, place themselves face to face with the contents of the past, and expose themselves alike to the ordeal of wonder.
It is evident that the effect which the visible order of nature has upon some minds is, that as soon as they realise what a miracle is, they are stopped by what appears to them a simple sense of its impossibility. So long as they only believe by habit and education, they accept a miracle without difficulty, because they do not realise it as an event which actually took place in the world; the alteration of the face of the world, and the whole growth of intervening history, throw the miracles of the Gospel into a remote perspective in which they are rather seen as a picture than real occurrences. But as soon as they see that, if these miracles are true, they once really happened, what they feel then is the apparent sense of their impossibility. It is not a question of evidence with them: when they realise, e.g., that our Lord's resurrection, if true, was a visible fact or occurrence, they have the seeming certain perception that it is an impossible occurrence. "I cannot," a person says to himself in effect, "tear myself from the type of experience and join myself to another. I cannot quit order and law for what is eccentric. There is a repulsion between such facts and my belief as strong as that between physical substances. In the mere effort to conceive these amazing scenes as real ones, I fall back upon myself and upon that type of reality which the order of nature has impressed upon me."
The antagonism to the idea of miracles has grown stronger and more definite with the enlarged and more widely-spread conception of invariable natural law, and also, as Mr. Mozley points out, with that increased power in our time of realising the past, which is not the peculiarity of individual writers, but is "part of the thought of the time." But though it has been quickened and sharpened by these influences, it rests ultimately on that sense which all men have in common of the customary and regular in their experience of the world. The world, which we all know, stands alone, cut off from any other; and a miracle is an intrusion, "an interpolation of one order of things into another, confounding two systems which are perfectly distinct." The broad, deep resistance to it which is awakened in the mind when we look abroad on the face of nature is expressed in Emerson's phrase—"A miracle is a monster. It is not one with the blowing clouds or the falling rain." Who can dispute it? Yet the rejoinder is obvious, and has often been given—that neither is man. Man, who looks at nature and thinks and feels about its unconscious unfeeling order; man, with his temptations, his glory, and his shame, his heights of goodness, and depths of infamy, is not one with those innocent and soulless forces so sternly immutable—"the blowing clouds and falling rain." The two awful phenomena which Kant said struck him dumb—the starry heavens, and right and wrong—are vainly to be reduced to the same order of things. Nothing can be stranger than the contrast between the rigid, inevitable sequences of nature, apparently so elastic only because not yet perfectly comprehended, and the consciousness of man in the midst of it. Nothing can be stranger than the juxtaposition of physical law and man's sense of responsibility and choice. Man is an "insertion," an "interpolation in the physical system"; he is "insulated as an anomaly in the midst of matter and material law." Mr. Mozley's words are striking:—
The first appearance, then, of man in nature was the appearance of a new being in nature; and this fact was relatively to the then order of things miraculous; no more physical account can be given of it than could be given of a resurrection to life now. What more entirely new and eccentric fact, indeed, can be imagined than a human soul first rising up amidst an animal and vegetable world? Mere consciousness—was not that of itself a new world within the old one? Mere knowledge—that nature herself became known to a being within herself, was not that the same? Certainly man was not all at once the skilled interpreter of nature, and yet there is some interpretation of nature to which man as such is equal in some degree. He derives an impression from the sight of nature which an animal does not derive; for though the material spectacle is imprinted on its retina, as it is on man's, it does not see what man sees. The sun rose, then, and the sun descended, the stars looked down upon the earth, the mountains climbed to heaven, the cliffs stood upon the shore, the same as now, countless ages before a single being existed who saw it. The counterpart of this whole scene was wanting—the understanding mind; that mirror in which the whole was to be reflected; and when this arose it was a new birth for creation itself, that it became known,—an image in the mind of a conscious being. But even consciousness and knowledge were a less strange and miraculous introduction into the world than conscience.
Thus wholly mysterious in his entrance into this scene, man is now an insulation in it; he came in by no physical law, and his freewill is in utter contrast to that law. What can be more incomprehensible, more heterogeneous, a more ghostly resident in nature, than the sense of right and wrong? What is it? Whence is it? The obligation of man to sacrifice himself for right is a truth which springs out of an abyss, the mere attempt to look down into which confuses the reason. Such is the juxtaposition of mysterious and physical contents in the same system. Man is alone, then, in nature: he alone of all the creatures communes with a Being out of nature; and he divides himself from all other physical life by prophesying, in the face of universal visible decay, his own immortality.
And till this anomaly has been removed—that is, till the last trace of what is moral in man has disappeared under the analysis of science, and what ought to be is resolved into a mere aspect of what is, this deep exception to the dominion of physical law remains as prominent and undeniable as physical law itself.
It is, indeed, avowed by those who reduce man in nature, that upon the admission of free-will, the objection to the miraculous is over, and that it is absurd to allow exception to law in man, and reject it in nature.
But the broad, popular sense of natural order, and the instinctive and common repugnance to a palpable violation of it, have been forged and refined into the philosophical objection to miracles. Two great thinkers of past generations, two of the keenest and clearest intellects which have appeared since the Reformation, laid the foundations of it long ago. Spinoza urged the uselessness of miracles, and Hume their incredibility, with a guarded subtlety and longsighted refinement of statement which made them in advance of their age except with a few. But their reflections have fallen in with a more advanced stage of thought and a taste for increased precision and exactness, and they are beginning to bear their fruit. The great and telling objection to miracles is getting to be, not their want of evidence, but, prior to all question of evidence, the supposed impossibility of fitting them in with a scientific view of nature. Reason, looking at nature and experience, is said to raise an antecedent obstacle to them which no alleged proof of fact can get over. They cannot be, because they are so unlike to everything else in the world, even of the strangest kind, in this point—in avowedly breaking the order of nature. And reason cannot be admitted to take cognizance of their claims and to consider their character, their purpose, their results, their credentials, because the mere supposition of them violates the fundamental conception and condition of science, absolute and invariable law, as well as that common-sense persuasion which everybody has, whether philosopher or not, of the uniformity of the order of the world.
To make room for reason to come in and pronounce upon miracles on their own merits—to clear the ground for the consideration of their actual claims by disposing of the antecedent objection of impossibility, is Mr. Mozley's main object.
Whatever difficulty there is in believing in miracles in general arises from the circumstance that they are in contradiction to or unlike the order of nature. To estimate the force of this difficulty, then, we must first understand what kind of belief it is which we have in the order of nature; for the weight of the objection to the miraculous must depend on the nature of the belief to which the miraculous is opposed.
His examination of the alleged impossibility of miracles may be described as a very subtle turning the tables on Hume and the empirical philosophy. For when it is said that it is contrary to reason to believe in a suspension of the order of nature, he asks on what ground do we believe in the order of nature; and Hume himself supplies the answer. There is nothing of which we have a firmer persuasion. It is the basis of human life and knowledge. We assume at each step, without a doubt, that the future will be like the past. But why? Hume has carefully examined the question, and can find no answer, except the fact that we do assume it. "I apprehend," says Mr. Mozley, accepting Hume's view of the nature of probability, "that when we examine the different reasons which may be assigned for this connection, i.e. for the belief that the future will be like the past, they all come at last to be mere statements of the belief itself, and not reasons to account for it."
Let us imagine the occurrence of a particular physical phenomenon for the first time. Upon that single occurrence we should have but the very faintest expectation of another. If it did occur again once or twice, so far from counting on another recurrence, a cessation would come as the more natural event to us. But let it occur a hundred times, and we should feel no hesitation in inviting persons from a distance to see it; and if it occurred every day for years, its recurrence would then be a certainty to us, its cessation a marvel. But what has taken place in the interim to produce this total change in our belief? From the mere repetition do we know anything more about its cause? No. Then what have we got besides the past repetition itself? Nothing. Why, then, are we so certain of its future repetition? All we can say is that the known casts its shadow before; we project into unborn time the existing types, and the secret skill of nature intercepts the darkness of the future by ever suspending before our eyes, as it were in a mirror, a reflection of the past. We really look at a blank before us, but the mind, full of the scene behind, sees it again in front….
What ground of reason, then, can we assign for our expectation that any part of the course of nature will the next moment be like what it has been up to this moment, i.e. for our belief in the uniformity of nature? None. No demonstrative reason can be given, for the contrary to the recurrence of a fact of nature is no contradiction. No probable reason can be given, for all probable reasoning respecting the course of nature is founded upon this presumption of likeness, and therefore cannot be the foundation of it. No reason can be given for this belief. It is without a reason. It rests upon no rational ground and can be traced to no rational principle. Everything connected with human life depends upon this belief, every practical plan or purpose that we form implies it, every provision we make for the future, every safeguard and caution we employ against it, all calculation, all adjustment of means to ends, supposes this belief; it is this principle alone which renders our experience of the slightest use to us, and without it there would be, so far as we are concerned, no order of nature and no laws of nature; and yet this belief has no more producible reason for it than a speculation of fancy. A natural fact has been repeated; it will be repeated:—I am conscious of utter darkness when I try to see why one of these follows from the other: I not only see no reason, but I perceive that I see none, though I can no more help the expectation than I can stop the circulation of my blood. There is a premiss, and there is a conclusion, but there is a total want of connection between the two. The inference, then, from the one of these to the other rests upon no ground of the understanding; by no search or analysis, however subtle or minute, can we extract from any corner of the human mind and intelligence, however remote, the very faintest reason for it.
Hume, who had urged with great force that miracles were contrary to that probability which is created by experience, had also said that this probability had no producible ground in reason; that, universal, unfailing, indispensable as it was to the course of human life, it was but an instinct which defied analysis, a process of thought and inference for which he vainly sought the rational steps. There is no absurdity, though the greatest impossibility, in supposing this order to stop to-morrow; and, if the world ends at all, its end will be in an increasing degree improbable up to the very last moment. But, if this whole ground of belief is in its own nature avowedly instinctive and independent of reason, what right has it to raise up a bar of intellectual necessity, and to shut out reason from entertaining the question of miracles? They may have grounds which appeal to reason; and an unintelligent instinct forbids reason from fairly considering what they are. Reason cannot get beyond the actual fact of the present state of things for believing in the order of nature; it professes to find no necessity for it; the interruption of that order, therefore, whether probable or not, is not against reason. Philosophy itself, says Mr. Mozley, cuts away the ground on which it had raised its preliminary objection to miracles.
And now the belief in the order of nature being thus, however powerful and useful, an unintelligent impulse of which we can give no rational account, in what way does this discovery affect the question of miracles? In this way, that this belief not having itself its foundation in reason, the ground is gone upon which it could be maintained that miracles as opposed to the order of nature were opposed to reason. There being no producible reason why a new event should be like the hitherto course of nature, no decision of reason is contradicted by its unlikeness. A miracle, in being opposed to our experience, is not only not opposed to necessary reasoning, but to any reasoning. Do I see by a certain perception the connection between these two—It has happened so, it will happen so; then may I reject a new reported fact which has not happened so as an impossibility. But if I do not see the connection between these two by a certain perception, or by any perception, I cannot. For a miracle to be rejected as such, there must, at any rate, be some proposition in the mind of man which is opposed to it; and that proposition can only spring from the quarter to which we have been referring—that of elementary experimental reasoning. But if this experimental reasoning is of that nature which philosophy describes it as being of, i.e. if it is not itself a process of reason, how can there from an irrational process of the mind arise a proposition at all,—to make which is the function of the rational faculty alone? There cannot; and it is evident that the miraculous does not stand in any opposition whatever to reason….
Thus step by step has philosophy loosened the connection of the order of nature with the ground of reason, befriending, in exact proportion as it has done this, the principle of miracles. In the argument against miracles the first objection is that they are against law; and this is answered by saying that we know nothing in nature of law in the sense in which it prevents miracles. Law can only prevent miracles by compelling and making necessary the succession of nature, i.e. in the sense of causation; but science has itself proclaimed the truth that we see no causes in nature, that the whole chain of physical succession is to the eye of reason a rope of sand, consisting of antecedents and consequents, but without a rational link or trace of necessary connection between them. We only know of law in nature in the sense of recurrences in nature, classes of facts, like facts in nature—a chain of which, the junction not being reducible to reason, the interruption is not against reason. The claim of law settled, the next objection in the argument against miracles is that they are against experience; because we expect facts like to those of our experience, and miracles are unlike ones. The weight, then, of the objection of unlikeness to experience depends on the reason which can be produced for the expectation of likeness; and to this call philosophy has replied by the summary confession that we have no reason. Philosophy, then, could not have overthrown more thoroughly than it has done the order of nature as a necessary course of things, or cleared the ground more effectually for the principle of miracles.
Nor, he argues, does this instinct change its nature, or become a necessary law of reason, when it takes the form of an inference from induction. For the last step of the inductive process, the creation of its supposed universal, is, when compared with the real standard of universality acknowledged by reason, an incomplete and more or less precarious process; "it gets out of facts something more than what they actually contain"; and it can give no reason for itself but what the common faith derived from experience can give, the anticipation of uniform recurrence. "The inductive principle," he says, "is only the unreasoning impulse applied to a scientifically ascertained fact, instead of to a vulgarly ascertained fact…. Science has led up to the fact, but there it stops, and for converting the fact into a law a totally unscientific principle comes in, the same as that which generalises the commonest observations in nature."
The scientific part of induction being only the pursuit of a particular fact, miracles cannot in the nature of the case receive any blow from the scientific part of induction; because the existence of one fact does not interfere with the existence of another dissimilar fact. That which does resist the miraculous is the _un_scientific part of induction, or the instinctive generalisation upon this fact…. It does not belong to this principle to lay down speculative positions, and to say what can or cannot take place in the world. It does not belong to it to control religious belief, or to determine that certain acts of God for the revelation of His will to man, reported to have taken place, have not taken place. Such decisions are totally out of its sphere; it can assert the universal as a law, but the universal as a law and the universal as a proposition are wholly distinct. The one asserts the universal as a fact, the other as a presumption; the one as an absolute certainty, the other as a practical certainty, when there is no reason to expect the contrary. The one contains and includes the particular, the other does not; from the one we argue mathematically to the falsehood of any opposite particular; from the other we do not…. For example, one signal miracle, pre-eminent for its grandeur, crowned the evidence of the supernatural character and office of our Lord—our Lord's ascension—His going up with His body of flesh and bones into the sky in the presence of His disciples. "He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they looked stedfastly toward heaven as He went up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight."
Here is an amazing scene, which strikes even the devout believer, coming across it in the sacred page suddenly or by chance, amid the routine of life, with a fresh surprise. Did, then, this event really take place? Or is the evidence of it forestalled by the inductive principle compelling us to remove the scene as such out of the category of matters of fact? The answer is, that the inductive principle is in its own nature only an expectation; and that the expectation, that what is unlike our experience will not happen, is quite consistent with its occurrence in fact. This principle does not pretend to decide the question of fact, which is wholly out of its province and beyond its function. It can only decide the fact by the medium of a universal; the universal proposition that no man has ascended to heaven. But this is a statement which exceeds its power; it is as radically incompetent to pronounce it as the taste or smell is to decide on matters of sight; its function is practical, not logical. No antecedent statement, then, which touches my belief in this scene, is allowed by the laws of thought. Converted indeed into a universal proposition, the inductive principle is omnipotent, and totally annihilates every particular which does not come within its range. The universal statement that no man has ascended into heaven absolutely falsifies the fact that One Man has. But, thus transmuted, the inductive principle issues out of this metamorphose, a fiction not a truth; a weapon of air, which even in the hands of a giant can inflict no blow because it is itself a shadow. The object of assault receives the unsubstantial thrust without a shock, only exposing the want of solidity in the implement of war. The battle against the supernatural has been going on long, and strong men have conducted it, and are conducting it—but what they want is a weapon. The logic of unbelief wants a universal. But no real universal is forthcoming, and it only wastes its strength in wielding a fictitious one.
It is not in reason, which refuses to pronounce upon the possible merely from experience of the actual, that the antecedent objection to miracles is rooted. Yet that the objection is a powerful one the consciousness of every reflecting mind testifies. What, then, is the secret of its force? In a lecture of singular power Mr. Mozley gives his answer. What tells beforehand against miracles is not reason, but imagination. Imagination is often thought to favour especially the supernatural and miraculous. It does do so, no doubt. But the truth is, that imagination tells both ways—as much against the miraculous as for it. The imagination, that faculty by which we give life and body and reality to our intellectual conceptions, takes its character from the intellectual conceptions with which it is habitually associated. It accepts the miraculous or shrinks from it and throws it off, according to the leaning of the mind of which it is the more vivid and, so to speak, passionate expression. And as it may easily exaggerate on one side, so it may just as easily do the same on the other. Every one is familiar with that imaginative exaggeration which fills the world with miracles. But there is another form of imagination, not so distinctly recognised, which is oppressed by the presence of unchanging succession and visible uniformity, which cannot shake off the yoke of custom or allow anything different to seem to it real. The sensitiveness and impressibility of the imagination are affected, and unhealthily affected, not merely by strangeness, but by sameness; to one as to the other it may "passively submit and surrender itself, give way to the mere form of attraction, and, instead of grasping something else, be itself grasped and mastered by some dominant idea." And it is then, in one case as much as in the other, "not a power, but a failing and weakness of nature."
The passive imagination, then, in the present case exaggerates a practical expectation of the uniformity of nature, implanted in us for practical ends, into a scientific or universal proposition; and it does this by surrendering itself to the impression produced by the constant spectacle of the regularity of visible nature. By such a course a person allows the weight and pressure of this idea to grow upon him till it reaches the point of actually restricting his sense of possibility to the mould of physical order…. The order of nature thus stamps upon some minds the idea of its immutability simply by its repetition. The imagination we usually indeed associate with the acceptance of the supernatural rather than with the denial of it; but the passive imagination is in truth neutral; it only increases the force and tightens the hold of any impression upon us, to whatever class the impression may belong, and surrenders itself to a superstitious or a physical idea, as it may be. Materialism itself is the result of imagination, which is so impressed by matter that it cannot realise the existence of spirit.
The great opponent, then, of miracles, considered as possible occurrences, is not reason, but something which on other great subjects is continually found on the opposite side to reason, resisting and counteracting it; that powerful overbearing sense of the actual and the real, which when it is opposed by reason is apt to make reason seem like the creator of mere ideal theories; which gives to arguments implying a different condition of things from one which is familiar to present experience the disadvantage of appearing like artificial and unsubstantial refinements of thought, such as, to the uncultivated mind, appear not merely metaphysical discussions, but what are known to be the most certain reasonings of physical and mathematical science. It is that measure of the probable, impressed upon us by the spectacle; to which we are accustomed all our lives long, of things as we find them, and which repels the possibility of a break or variation; that sense of probability which the keenest of philosophers declares to be incapable of rational analysis, and pronounces allied to irrational portions of our constitution, like custom, and the effect of time, and which is just as much an enemy to invention, to improvement, to a different state of things in the future, as it is to the belief and realising of a different state of things in the past. The antecedent objection to the miraculous is not reason, but an argument which limits and narrows the domain of reason; which excludes dry, abstract, passionless reason—with its appeals to considerations remote from common experience, its demands for severe reflection, its balancing and long chains of thought—from pronouncing on what seems to belong to the flesh and blood realities of life as we know it. Against this tyrannical influence, which may be in a vulgar and popular as in a scientific form, which may be the dull result of habit or the more specious effect of a sensitive and receptive imagination, but which in all cases is at bottom the same, Mr. Mozley claims to appeal to reason:—
To conclude, then, let us suppose an intelligent Christian of the present day asked, not what evidence he has of miracles, but how he can antecedently to all evidence think such amazing occurrences possible, he would reply, "You refer me to a certain sense of impossibility which you suppose me to possess, applying not to mathematics but to facts. Now, on this head, I am conscious of a certain natural resistance in my mind to events unlike the order of nature. But I resist many things which I know to be certain: infinity of space, infinity of time, eternity past, eternity future, the very idea of a God and another world. If I take mere resistance, therefore, for denial, I am confined in every quarter of my mind; I cannot carry out the very laws of reason, I am placed under conditions which are obviously false. I conclude, therefore, that I may resist and believe at the same time. If Providence has implanted in me a certain expectation of uniformity or likeness in nature, there is implied in that very expectations resistance to an _un_like event, which resistance does not cease even when upon evidence I believe the event, but goes on as a mechanical impression, though the reason counterbalances it. Resistance, therefore, is not disbelief, unless by an act of my own reason I give it an absolute veto, which I do not do. My reason is clear upon the point, that there is no disagreement between itself and a miracle as such." … Nor is it dealing artificially with ourselves to exert a force upon our minds against the false certainty of the resisting imagination—such a force as is necessary to enable reason to stand its ground, and bend back again that spring of impression against the miraculous which has illegally tightened itself into a law to the understanding. Reason does not always prevail spontaneously and without effort even in questions of belief; so far from it, that the question of faith against reason may often be more properly termed the question of reason against imagination. It does not seldom require faith to believe reason, isolated as she may be amid vast irrational influences, the weight of custom, the power of association, the strength of passion, the vis inertiae of sense, the mere force of the uniformity of nature as a spectacle—those influences which make up that power of the world which Scripture always speaks of as the antagonist of faith.
The antecedent questions about miracles, before coming to the question of the actual evidence of any, are questions about which reason—reason disengaged and disembarrassed from the arbitrary veto of experience—has a right to give its verdict. Miracles presuppose the existence of God, and it is from reason alone that we get the idea of God; and the antecedent question then is, whether they are really compatible with the idea of God which reason gives us. Mr. Mozley remarks that the question of miracles is really "shut up in the enclosure of one assumption, that of the existence of God"; and that if we believe in a personal Deity with all power over nature, that belief brings along with it the possibility of His interrupting natural order for His own purposes. He also bids us observe that the idea of God which reason gives us is exposed to resistance of the same kind, and from precisely the same forces, in our mental constitution, as the idea of miracles. When reason has finished its overwhelming proof, still there is a step to be taken before the mind embraces the equally overwhelming conclusion—a step which calls for a distinct effort, which obliges the mind, satisfied as it may be, to beat back the counteracting pressure of what is visible and customary. After reason—not opposed to it or independent of it, but growing out of it, yet a distinct and further movement—comes faith. This is the case, not specially in religion, but in all subjects, where the conclusions of reason cannot be subjected to immediate verification. How often, as he observes, do we see persons "who, when they are in possession of the best arguments, and what is more, understand those arguments, are still shaken by almost any opposition, because they want the faculty to trust an argument when they have got one."
Not, however, that the existence of a God is so clearly seen by reason as to dispense with faith; not from any want of cogency in the reasons, but from the amazing nature of the conclusion—that it is so unparalleled, transcendent, and inconceivable a truth to believe. It requires trust to commit oneself to the conclusion of any reasoning, however strong, when such as this is the conclusion: to put enough dependence and reliance upon any premisses, to accept upon the strength of them so immense a result. The issue of the argument is so astonishing that if we do not tremble for its safety, it must be on account of a practical principle in our minds which enables us to confide and trust in reasons, when they are really strong and good ones…. Faith, when for convenience' sake we do distinguish it from reason, is not distinguished from reason by the want of premisses, but by the nature of the conclusions. Are our conclusions of the customary type? Then custom imparts the full sense of security. Are they not of the customary, but of a strange and unknown type? Then the mechanical sense of security is wanting, and a certain trust is required for reposing in them, which we call faith. But that which draws these conclusions is in either case reason. We infer, we go upon reasons, we use premisses in either case. The premisses of faith are not so palpable as those of ordinary reason, but they are as real and solid premisses all the same. Our faith in the existence of a God and a future state is founded upon reasons as much so as the belief in the commonest kind of facts. The reasons are in themselves as strong, but, because the conclusions are marvellous and are not seconded and backed by known parallels or by experience, we do not so passively acquiesce in them; there is an exertion of confidence in depending upon them and assuring ourselves of their force. The inward energy of the reason has to be evoked, when she can no longer lean upon the outward prop of custom, but is thrown back upon herself and the intrinsic force of her premisses. Which reason, not leaning upon custom, is faith; she obtains the latter name when she depends entirely upon her own insight into certain grounds, premisses, and evidences, and follows it though it leads to transcendent, unparalleled, and supernatural conclusions….
Indeed, does not our heart bear witness to the fact that to believe in a God is an exercise of faith? That the universe was produced by the will of a personal Being, that its infinite forces are all the power of that one Being, its infinite relations the perceptions of one Mind—would not this, if any truth could, demand the application of the maxim, Credo quia impossibile? Look at it only as a conception, and does the wildest fiction of the imagination equal it? No premisses, no arguments therefore, can so accommodate this truth to us as not to leave the belief in it an act of mental ascent and trust, of faith as distinguished from sight. Divest reason of its trust, and the universe stops at the impersonal stage—there is no God; and yet, if the first step in religion is the greatest, how is it that the freest and boldest speculator rarely declines it? How is it that the most mysterious of all truths is a universally accepted one? What is it which guards this truth? What is it which makes men shrink from denying it? Why is atheism a crime? Is it that authority still reigns upon one question, and that the voice of all ages is too potent to be withstood?
But the progress of civilisation and thought has impressed this amazing idea on the general mind. It is no matter-of-course conception. The difficulties attending it were long insuperable to the deepest thought as well as to popular belief; and the triumph of the modern and Christian idea of God is the result not merely of the eager forwardness of faith, but of the patient and inquiring waiting of reason. And the question, whether we shall pronounce the miraculous to be impossible as such, is really the question whether we shall once more let this belief go.
The conception of a limited Deity then, i.e. a Being really circumscribed in power, and not verbally only by a confinement to necessary truth, is at variance with our fundamental idea of a God; to depart from which is to retrograde from modern thought to ancient, and to go from Christianity back again to Paganism. The God of ancient religion was either not a personal Being or not an omnipotent Being; the God of modern religion is both. For, indeed, civilisation is not opposed to faith. The idea of the Supreme Being in the mind of European society now is more primitive, more childlike, more imaginative than the idea of the ancient Brahman or Alexandrian philosopher; it is an idea which both of these would have derided as the notion of a child—a negotiosus Deus, who interposes in human affairs and answers prayers. So far from the philosophical conception of the Deity having advanced with civilisation, and the poetical receded, the philosophical has receded and the poetical advanced. The God of whom it is said, "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God; but even the very hairs of your head are numbered," is the object of modern worship. Nor, again, has civilisation shown any signs of rejecting doctrine. Certain ages are, indeed, called the ages of faith; but the bulk of society in this age believes that it lives under a supernatural dispensation, and accepts truths which are not less supernatural, though they have more proof, than some doctrines of the Middle Ages; and, if so, this is an age of faith. It is true that most people do not live up to their faith now; neither did they in the Middle Ages.
Has not modern philosophy, again, shown both more strength and acuteness, and also more faith, than the ancient? I speak of the main current. Those ancient thinkers who reduced the Supreme Being to a negation, with all their subtlety, wanted strength, and settled questions by an easier test than that of modern philosophy. The merit of a modern metaphysician is, like that of a good chemist or naturalist, accurate observation in noting the facts of mind. Is there a contradiction in the idea of creation? Is there a contradiction in the idea of a personal Infinite Being? He examines his own mind, and if he does not see one, he passes the idea. But the ancient speculators decided, without examination of the true facts of mind, by a kind of philosophical fancy; and, according to this loose criterion, the creation of matter and a personal Infinite Being were impossibilities, for they mistook the inconceivable for the impossible. And thus a stringent test has admitted what a loose but capricious test discarded, and the true notion of God has issued safe out of the crucible of modern metaphysics. Reason has shown its strength, but then it has turned that strength back upon itself; it has become its own critic; and in becoming its own critic it has become its own check.
If the belief, then, in a personal Deity lies at the bottom of all religious and virtuous practice, and if the removal of it would be a descent for human nature, the withdrawal of its inspiration and support, and a fall in its whole standard; the failure of the very breath of moral life in the individual and in society; the decay and degeneration of the very stock of mankind;—does a theory which would withdraw miraculous action from the Deity interfere with that belief? If it would, it is but prudent to count the cost of that interference. Would a Deity deprived of miraculous action possess action at all? And would a God who cannot act be a God? If this would be the issue, such an issue is the very last which religious men can desire. The question here has been all throughout, not whether upon any ground, but whether upon a religious ground and by religious believers, the miraculous as such could be rejected. But to that there is but one answer—that it is impossible in reason to separate religion from the supernatural, and upon a religious basis to overthrow miracles….
And so we arrive again by another route at the old turning question; for the question whether man is or is not the vertex of nature, is the question whether there is or is not a God. Does free agency stop at the human stage, or is there a sphere of free-will above the human, in which, as in the human, not physical law but spirit moves matter? And does that free-will penetrate the universal frame invisibly to us, an omnipresent agent? If so, every miracle in Scripture is as natural an event in the universe as any chemical experiment in the physical world; if not, the seat of the great Presiding Will is empty, and nature has no Personal Head; man is her highest point; he finishes her ascent; though by this very supremacy he falls, for under fate he is not free himself; all nature either ascends to God, or descends to law. Is there above the level of material causes a region of Providence? If there is, nature there is moved by the Supreme Free Agent; and of such a realm a miracle is the natural production.
Two rationales of miracles thus present themselves to our choice; one more accommodating to the physical imagination and easy to fall in with, on a level with custom, common conceptions, and ordinary history, and requiring no ascent of the mind to embrace, viz. the solution of miracles as the growth of fancy and legend; the other requiring an ascent of the reason to embrace it, viz. the rationale of the supremacy of a Personal Will in nature. The one is the explanation to which we fall when we dare not trust our reason, but mistake its inconceivable truths for sublime but unsubstantial visions; the other is that to which we rise when we dare trust our reason, and the evidences which it lays before us of the existence of a Personal Supreme Being.
The belief in a personal God thus bringing with it the possibility of miracles, what reason then has to judge is whether it can accept miracles as such, or any set of miracles, as worthy of a reasonable conception of the Divine Nature, and whether it can be fairly said that such miracles have answered a purpose which approves itself to our reason. Testimony will always speak at a disadvantage till we are assured on these points. Into the subject of testimony Mr. Mozley enters only in a general way, though his remarks on the relation of testimony to facts of so exceptional a nature as miracles, and also on the distinct peculiarities of Christian evidence as contrasted with the evidence of all other classes of alleged miracles, are marked by a characteristic combination of acuteness, precision, and broad practical sobriety and moderation. He rebukes with quiet and temperate and yet resolute plainness of statement the misplaced ingenuity which, on different sides, to serve very different causes, has tried to confuse and perplex the claims of the great Christian miracles by comparisons which it is really mere wantonness to make with later ones; for, be they what they may, it is certain that the Gospel miracles, in nature, in evidence, and in purpose and result, are absolutely unique in the world, and have nothing like them. And though the book mainly confines itself to its proper subject, the antecedent question of credibility, some of the most striking remarks in it relate to the way in which the purpose of miracles is visible in those of Christianity, and has been served by them. A miracle is an instrument—an instrument without which revelation is impossible; and Mr. Mozley meets Spinoza's objection to the unmeaning isolation of a miracle by insisting on the distinction, which Spinoza failed to see, between a miracle simply as a wonder for its own sake, and as a means, deriving its use and its value simply from the end which it was to serve. He observes that all the stupendous "marvels of nature do not speak to us in that way in which one miracle does, because they do not tell us that we are not like themselves"; and he remarks on the "perverse determination of Spinoza to look at miracles in that aspect which does not belong to them, and not to look at them in that aspect which does."
He compares miracles with nature, and then says how wise is the order of nature, how meaningless the violation of it; how expressive of the Almighty Mind the one, what a concealment of it the other! But no one pretends to say that a miracle competes with nature, in physical purpose and effectiveness. That is not its object. But a miracle, though it does not profess to compete with nature upon its rival's own ground, has a ghostly force and import which nature has not. If real, it is a token, more pointed and direct than physical order can be, of another world, and of Moral Being and Will in that world.
Thus, regarding miracles as means to fulfil a purpose, Mr. Mozley shows what has come of them. His lecture on "Miracles regarded in their Practical Result" is excelled by some of the others as examples of subtle and searching thought and well-balanced and compact argument; but it is a fine example of the way in which a familiar view can have fresh colour and force thrown into it by the way in which it is treated. He shows that it is impossible in fact to separate from the miracles in which it professed to begin, the greatest and deepest moral change which the world has ever known. This change was made not by miracles but by certain doctrines. The Epistle to the Romans surveyed the moral failure of the world; St. Paul looked on the chasm between knowledge and action, the "unbridged gulf, this incredible inability of man to do what was right, with profound wonder"; but in the face of this hopeless spectacle he dared to prophesy the moral elevation which we have witnessed, and the power to which he looked to bring it about was the Christian doctrines. St. Paul "takes what may be called the high view of human nature—i.e. what human nature is capable of when the proper motive and impulse is applied to it." He sees in Christian doctrine that strong force which is to break down "the vis inertiae of man, to set human nature going, to touch the spring of man's heart"; and he compares with St. Paul's doctrines and hopefulness the doctrinal barrenness, the despair of Mohammedanism:—
If one had to express in a short compass the character of its remarkable founder as a teacher, it would be that that great man had no faith in human nature. There were two things which he thought man could do and would do for the glory of God—transact religious forms, and fight; and upon those two points he was severe; but within the sphere of common practical life, where man's great trial lies, his code exhibits the disdainful laxity of a legislator who accommodates his rule to the recipient, and shows his estimate of the recipient by the accommodation which he adopts. Did we search history for a contrast, we could hardly discover a deeper one than that between St. Paul's overflowing standard of the capabilities of human nature and the oracular cynicism of the great false Prophet. The writer of the Koran does, indeed, if any discerner of hearts ever did, take the measure of mankind; and his measure is the same that Satire has taken, only expressed with the majestic brevity of one who had once lived in the realm of Silence. "Man is weak," says Mahomet. And upon that maxim he legislates…. The keenness of Mahomet's insight into human nature, a wide knowledge of its temptations, persuasives, influences under which it acts, a vast immense capacity of forbearance for it, half grave half genial, half sympathy half scorn, issue in a somewhat Horatian model, the character of the man of experience who despairs of any change in man, and lays down the maxim that we must take him as we find him. It was indeed his supremacy in both faculties, the largeness of the passive nature and the splendour of action, that constituted the secret of his success. The breadth and flexibility of mind that could negotiate with every motive of interest, passion, and pride in man is surprising; there is boundless sagacity; what is wanting is hope, a belief in the capabilities of human nature. There is no upward flight in the teacher's idea of man. Instead of which, the notion of the power of earth, and the impossibility of resisting it, depresses his whole aim, and the shadow of the tomb falls upon the work of the great false Prophet.
The idea of God is akin to the idea of man. "He knows us," says Mahomet. God's knowledge, the vast experience, so to speak, of the Divine Being, His infinite acquaintance with man's frailties and temptations, is appealed to as the ground of confidence. "He is the Wise, the Knowing One," "He is the Knowing, the Wise," "He is easy to be reconciled." Thus is raised a notion of the Supreme Being, which is rather an extension of the character of the large-minded and sagacious man of the world than an extension of man's virtue and holiness. He forgives because He knows too much to be rigid, because sin universal ceases to be sin, and must be given way to. Take a man who has had large opportunity of studying mankind, and has come into contact with every form of human weakness and corruption; such a man is indulgent as a simple consequence of his knowledge, because nothing surprises him. So the God of Mahomet forgives by reason of His vast knowledge.
In contrast with the fruit of this he observes that "the prophecy in the Epistle to the Romans has been fulfilled, and that doctrine has been historically at the bottom of a great change of moral practice in mankind." The key has been found to set man's moral nature in action, to check and reverse that course of universal failure manifest before; and this key is Christian doctrine. "A stimulus has been given to human nature which has extracted an amount of action from it which no Greek or Roman could have believed possible." It is inconceivable that but for such doctrine such results as have been seen in Christendon would have followed; and were it now taken away we cannot see anything else that would have the faintest expectation of taking its place. "Could we commit mankind to a moral Deism without trembling for the result?" Can the enthusiasm for the divinity of human nature stand the test of clear, unsparing observation? Would it not issue in such an estimate of human nature as Mahomet took? "A deification of humanity upon its own grounds, an exaltation which is all height and no depth, wants power because it wants truth. It is not founded upon the facts of human nature, and therefore issues in vain and vapid aspiration, and injures the solidity of man's character." As he says, "The Gospel doctrine of the Incarnation and its effects alone unites the sagacious view of human nature with the enthusiastic." And now what is the historical root and basis from which this one great moral revolution in the world's history, so successful, so fruitful, so inexhaustible, has started?
But if, as the source and inspiration of practice, doctrine has been the foundation of a new state of the world, and of that change which distinguishes the world under Christianity from the world before it, miracles, as the proof of that doctrine, stand before us in a very remarkable and peculiar light. Far from being mere idle feats of power to gratify the love of the marvellous; far even from being mere particular and occasional rescues from the operation of general laws,—they come before us as means for accomplishing the largest and most important practical object that has ever been accomplished in the history of mankind. They lie at the bottom of the difference of the modern from the ancient world; so far, i.e., as that difference is moral. We see as a fact a change in the moral condition of mankind, which marks ancient and modern society as two different states of mankind. What has produced this change, and elicited this new power of action? Doctrine. And what was the proof of that doctrine, or essential to the proof of it? Miracles. The greatness of the result thus throws light upon the propriety of the means, and shows the fitting object which was presented for the introduction of such means—the fitting occasion which had arisen for the use of them; for, indeed, no more weighty, grand, or solemn occasion can be conceived than the foundation of such a new order of things in the world. Extraordinary action of Divine power for such an end has the benefit of a justifying object of incalculable weight; which though not of itself, indeed, proof of the fact, comes with striking force upon the mind in connection with the proper proof. It is reasonable, it is inevitable, that we should be impressed by such a result; for it shows that the miraculous system has been a practical one; that it has been a step in the ladder of man's ascent, the means of introducing those powerful truths which have set his moral nature in action.
Of this work, remarkable in so many ways, we will add but one thing more. It is marked throughout with the most serious and earnest conviction, but it is without a single word, from first to last, of asperity or insinuation against opponents; and this, not from any deficiency of feeling as to the importance of the issue, but from a deliberate and resolutely maintained self-control, and from an overruling ever-present sense of the duty, on themes like these, of a more than judicial calmness.