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Life of Jesus Christ in Its Historical Connexion and Historical Developement.
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§ 85. Negative Element of the Miracle.—Its Insufficiency.

We must distinguish in the Miracle a negative and a positive element. The former consists simply in this, that a certain event, either in the world of nature or man, is inexplicable by any known laws or powers. Events, however, thus simply inexplicable,198198   A prodigium, or τέρας, but no σημεῖον, distinguishing these words according to their original import. and even acknowledged to be so, are not miracles, unless they bear upon religious interests. Many will admit certain facts to be inexplicable by an) known laws, and at the same time refuse to grant them a miraculous or supernatural character. Some are led, by an unprejudiced admission of the facts, to acknowledge, without any regard whatever to religion, that they transcend the limits of existing science, and content themselves with that acknowledgment; leaving it to the progress of natural philosophy or psychology to discover the laws, as yet unknown, that will explain the mysterious phenomena. Or, if the narrative of facts be such as to preclude even the possibility of such subsequent discovery and solution, they seek an explanation in ascribing chasms and deficiencies to the account, and withhold, for the time at least, their judgment upon the facts themselves; while a spur is given to inquiry and research, in order, if possible, by some process of combination or conjecture, to fill up the existing gaps of the narrative.

Even an objective (real) deviation from ordinary phenomena may be admitted by those who refuse to admit of miracles, in the religious sense of the term. That is, indeed, a narrow and ignorant skepticism which measures every thing by the stiff standard of known laws, and passes sentence at once upon every fact, no matter how well attested, which transcends those laws; but a more profound and scientific philosophy knows that there are powers yet undiscovered, which will explain many apparent anomalies. With such minds we can more readily come to an understanding in regard to the historical truth of a narrative of extraordinary events. No unprejudiced reader of history can deny the occurrence of inexplicable phenomena in all past ages; and even those of magnetism, ill-defined as they are as yet, have taught us not to decide so promptly against every thing that goes beyond our knowledge of the powers of nature.

Yet we must not suppose that all this gains any thing directly to the cause of religion, within whose sphere alone the conception of the miracle is a reality. It leaves us still in the domain of nature and of natural agencies. It is not upon this road, therefore, that we can lead men to recognize the supernatural and the Divine; to admit the powers of heaven as manifesting themselves upon earth. Miracles belong to a region of holiness and freedom, to which neither experience, nor observation, nor scientific discovery can lead. There is no bridge between this domain and that of natural phenomena. Only by means of our inward affinity for this spiritual kingdom, only by hearing and obeying, in the stillness of the soul, the voice of God within us, can we reach those lofty regions. If there be obstacles in our way, no science can remove them.

In fact, the mode of thinking to which we have refereed, instead of necessarily leading to Theism (the only religious stand-point; for religion demands something supramundane, and must enter the sphere of another world), is perfectly consistent with the Pantheistic view of the world, and may be used to confirm it. It is not the results of experience which fix our point of view; but the latter, independently assumed on other grounds, gives character to all our judgments of the former. Nay, by applying natural laws to religious phenomena, one may view new religions simply as proceeding from the laws of the developement of the universe, in order to form new epochs in the history of the world, and thence consider the founders of such religions as organs of the soul of the world, concentrating in them the hidden powers of nature. This was the view of Pomponatius, who thought that in this way, while denying every thing supernatural, he could admit many of what others call miracles. It is true, there are some of the miracles of the Bible which, on the face of them, admit of no such explanation, but one who holds such views will find no great difficulty in doubting every account of miraculous events which cannot be made to harmonize with them; as Pomponatius did, who could not with sincerity, after an utter denial of the supernatural, abandon his ground simply because come of the miracles could not be explained by it.


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