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Title: Miracles and Supernatural Religion
Author: Whiton, James Morris, 1833-1920
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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   _Portentum non fit contra naturam, sed
 contra quam est nota natura_

                  New York

           _All rights reserved_

                COPYRIGHT, 1903,

 Set up, electrotyped, and published May, 1903.

                 Norwood Press
    J. S. Cushing & Co.--Berwick & Smith Co.
            Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.

Transcriber's Note:

    Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Variant
    spellings have been retained. {=e} represents e with upper macron.


M. B. W.


While the present subject of discussion tempts to many an excursion into
particulars, its treatment is restricted to general outlines, with an
aim simply to clarify current ideas of miracle and the supernatural, so
as to find firm holding ground for tenable positions in the present
"drift period" of theology. The chief exception made to this general
treatment is the discussion given to a class of miracles regarded with
as much incredulity as any, yet as capable as any of being accredited as
probably historical events--the raisings of the "dead." The insistence
of some writers on the virgin birth and corporeal resurrection of Jesus
as essential to Christianity has required brief discussion of these
also, mainly with reference to the reasonableness of that demand. As to
the latter miracle, it must be observed that in the Biblical narratives
taken as a whole, whichever of their discordant features one be disposed
to emphasize, the psychical element clearly preponderates over the
physical and material.

                                                                J. M. W.
   April 11, 1903.


 INTRODUCTORY                                                         13



 The gradual narrowing of the miraculous element in the Bible
   by recent discovery and discussion.--The alarm thereby
   excited in the Church.--The fallacy which generates the
   fear.--The atheistic conception of nature which generates
   the fallacy.--The present outgrowing of this conception.           25


 The present net results of the discussion of the miraculous
   element in the Bible.--Evaporation of the former evidential
   value of miracles.--Further insistence on this value a
   logical blunder.--The transfer of miracles from the
   artillery to the baggage of the Church.--Probability of a
   further reduction of the list of miracles.--Also of a
   further transfer of events reputed miraculous to the domain
   of history.                                                        37


 Arbitrary criticism of the Biblical narratives of the raising
   of the "dead."--Facts which it ignores.--The subject
   related to the phenomena of trance, and records of
   premature burial.--The resuscitation in Elisha's tomb
   probably historical.--Jesus' raising of the ruler's
   daughter plainly such a case.--His raising of the widow's
   son probably such.--The hypothesis that his raising of
   Lazarus may also have been such critically examined.--The
   record allows this supposition.--Further considerations
   favoring it: 1. The supposition threatens no real interest
   of Christianity.--2. Enhances the character of the act as a
   work of mercy.--3. Is independent of the belief of the
   witnesses of the act.--4. Is coherent with the general
   conception of the healing works of Jesus as wrought by a
   peculiar psychical power.--Other cases.--The resurrection
   of Jesus an event in a wholly different order of
   things.--The practical result of regarding these
   resuscitations as in the order of nature.                          47


 A clearer conception of miracle approached.--Works of Jesus
   once reputed miraculous not so reputed now, since not now
   transcending as once the existing range of knowledge and
   power.--This transfer of the miraculous to the natural
   likely to continue.--No hard and fast line between the
   miraculous and the non-miraculous.--Miracle a provisional
   word, its application narrowing in the enlarging mastery of
   the secrets of Nature and of life.                                 75


 Biblical miracles the effluence of extraordinary lives.--Life
   the world's magician and miracle-worker; its miracles now
   termed _prodigies_.--Miracle the natural product of an
   extraordinary endowment of life.--Life the ultimate
   reality.--What any man can achieve is conditioned by the
   psychical quality of his life.--Nothing more natural, more
   supernatural, than life.--The derived life of the world
   filial to the self-existent life of God; "begotten, not
   made."--Miracle as the product of life, the work of God.           85


 The question, old and new, now confronting
   theologians.--Their recent retreat upon the minimum of
   miracle.--The present conflict of opinion in the
   Church.--Its turning-point reached in the antipodal
   turn-about in the treatment of miracles from the old to the
   new apologetics.--Revision of the traditional idea of the
   supernatural required for theological readjustment.                95


 Account to be made of the law of atrophy through disuse.--The
   virgin birth and the corporeal resurrection of Jesus, the
   two miracles still insisted on as the irreducible minimum,
   affected by this law.--The vital truths of the incarnation
   and immortality independent of these miracles.--These
   truths now placed on higher ground in a truer conception of
   the supernatural.--The true supernatural is the spiritual,
   not the miraculous.--Scepticism bred from the contrary
   view.--The miracle-narratives, while less evidential for
   religion, not unimportant for history.--Psychical research
   a needed auxiliary for the scientific critic of these.            107


 The cardinal point in the present discussion the reality not
   of miracles, but of the supernatural.--Fallacy of pointing
   to physical events as essential characteristics of
   supernatural Revelation.--The character of a revelation
   determined not by its circumstances, but by its
   contents.--Moral nature supernatural to physical.--Nature a
   hierarchy of natures.--Supernatural Religion historically
   attested by the moral development it generates.--Transfer
   of its distinctive note from moral ideals to physical
   marvels a costly error.--Jesus' miracles _a_ revelation, of
   a type common with others before and after.--The unique
   Revelation of Jesus was in the higher realm of divine ideas
   and ideals.--These, while unrealized in human life, still
   exhibit the fact of a supernatural Revelation.--The
   distinction of natural and supernatural belongs to the
   period of moral progress up to the spiritual maturity of
   man in the image of God.--The divine possibilities of
   humanity, imaged in Jesus, revealed as our inheritance and
   our prize.                                                        131


In a historical retrospect greater and more revolutionary changes are
seen to have occurred during the nineteenth century than in any century
preceding. In these changes no department of thought and activity has
failed to share, and theological thought has been quite as much affected
as scientific or ethical. Especially remarkable is the changed front of
Christian theologians toward miracles, their distinctly lowered estimate
of the significance of miracle, their antipodal reverse of the long
established treatment of miracles. Referring to this a British
evangelical writer[1] observes that "the intelligent believer of our
own day, ... instead of accepting Christianity on the ground of the
miracles, accepts it in spite of the miracles. Whether he admits these
miracles, or rejects them, his attitude toward them is toward
difficulties, not helps."

By this diametrical change of Christian thought a great amount of
scepticism has already been antiquated. A once famous anti-Christian
book, _Supernatural Religion_, regarded as formidable thirty years ago,
is now as much out of date for relevancy to present theological
conditions as is the old smooth-bore cannon for naval warfare. That
many, indeed, are still unaware of the change that has been experienced
by the leaders of Christian thought, no one acquainted with current
discussions will deny; the fact is indubitable. It is reviewed in the
following pages with the constructive purpose of redeeming the idea of
supernatural Religion from pernicious perversion, and of exhibiting it
in its true spiritual significance. The once highly reputed calculations
made to show how the earth's diurnal revolution could be imperceptibly
stopped for Joshua's convenience, and the contention that the
Mediterranean produced fish with gullets capable of giving passage to
Jonah, are now as dead as the chemical controversy about phlogiston. Yet
some sceptical controversialists are still so far from cultivating the
acquaintance with recent thought which they recommend to Christian
theologians, as to persist in affirmations of amazing ignorance, _e.g._
"It is admitted that miracles alone can attest the reality of divine
revelation."[2] Sponsors for this statement must now be sought among
unlearned Christians, or among a few scholars who survive as
cultivators of the old-fashioned argument from the "evidences." Even
among these latter the tendency to minimize miracle is undeniably
apparent in a reduction of the list classified as such, and still more
in the brevity of the list insisted on for the attestation of

A transitional state of mind is clearly evidenced by the present
division and perplexity of Christian thought concerning the Christian
miracles. Many seem to regard further discussion as profitless, and are
ready to shelve the subject. But this attitude of weariness is also
transitional. There must be some thoroughfare to firm ground and clear
vision. It must be found in agreement, first of all, on the real meaning
of a term so variously and vaguely used as _miracle_. In the present
imperfect state of knowledge it may be impossible to enucleate miracle,
however defined, of all mystery. But even so will much be gained for
clear thinking, if miracle can be reasonably related to the greater
mystery which all accept, though none understand,--the mystery of
_life_. This view of the dynamic relation of life to miracle[3] is here
suggested for what it may prove to be worth.

The great and general change that transfigured theology during the
nineteenth century was characteristically ethical. This, indeed, is the
distinctive feature of the so-called new theology, in contrast with that
which the Protestant Reformers inherited from St. Augustine. God and
Man, Faith, Salvation and Inspiration, Redemption and Atonement,
Judgment and Retribution,--all these themes are now presented in
orthodox pulpits far more conformably to ethical principles, though in
degrees varying with educated intelligence, than was customary in the
sermons of half a century ago. "One great source and spring of
theological progress," says Professor Bowne, in his recent work on
_Theism_, "has been the need of finding a conception of God which the
moral nature could accept. The necessity of moralizing theology has
produced vast changes in that field; and the end is not yet."

The ethical character of the theological change will perhaps be most
obvious in the field of Biblical study, to which the present subject
belongs. The traditional solution of such moral difficulties in the Old
Testament as commands, ostensibly divine, to massacre idolaters has
been quite discarded. It is no longer the mode to say that deeds
seemingly atrocious were not atrocious, because God commanded them.
Writers of orthodox repute now say that the _Thus saith the Lord_, with
which Samuel prefaced his order to exterminate the Amalekites, must be
understood subjectively, as an expression of the prophet's belief, not
objectively, as a divine command communicated to him. This great change
is a quite recent change. If a personal reference may be indulged, it is
not twenty years since the present writer's published protest against
"The Anti-Christian Use of the Bible in the Sunday School,"[4] the
exhibition to children of some vestiges of heathen superstition embedded
in the Old Testament narratives as true illustrations of God's ways
toward men, drew forth from a religious journal a bitter editorial on
"The Old Testament and its New Enemies." But a great light has since
dawned in that quarter. It is no longer deemed subversive of faith in a
divine Revelation to hold that the prophet Gad was not infallible in
regarding the plague which scourged Jerusalem as sent to punish David's
pride in his census of the nation.

A significant fact is presented in the comparison of these two aspects
of the theological change that has come to pass,--the growing importance
of the ethical, and the dwindling importance of the miraculous in the
religious thought of to-day. This may reassure those who fear whereto
such change may grow. The inner significance of such a change is most
auspicious. It portends the displacement of a false by the true
conception of supernatural Religion, and the removal thereby of a
serious antagonism between Science and Christian Theology, as well as of
a serious hindrance of many thoughtful minds from an intelligent embrace
of Christianity.


[1] Professor W. T. Adeney in the _Hibbert Journal_, January, 1903, p.

[2] See the recent new edition of _Supernatural Religion_, "carefully

[3] For an earlier statement of this by the present writer, see a
discourse on "Miracle and Life," in _New Points to Old Texts_. London:
James Clarke & Co., 1889. New York: Thomas Whittaker.

[4] _The New Englander_, September, 1884.




    SYNOPSIS.--The gradual narrowing of the miraculous element in the
    Bible by recent discovery and discussion.--The alarm thereby excited
    in the Church.--The fallacy which generates the fear.--The atheistic
    conception of nature which generates the fallacy.--The present
    outgrowing of this conception.

It is barely forty years since that beloved and fearless Christian
scholar, Dean Stanley, spoke thus of the miracles recorded of the
prophet Elisha: "His works stand alone in the Bible in their likeness to
the acts of mediæval saints. There alone in the Sacred History the gulf
between Biblical and Ecclesiastical miracles almost disappears."[5] It
required some courage to say as much as this then, while the storm of
persecution was raging against Bishop Colenso for his critical work on
the Pentateuch. The evangelical clergymen in England and the United
States then prepared to confess as much as this, with all that it
obviously implies, could have been seated in a small room. But time has
moved on, and the Church, at least the scholars of the Church, have
moved with it. No scholar of more than narrowly local repute now
hesitates to acknowledge the presence of a legendary element both in the
Old Testament and in the New. While the extent of it is still
undetermined, many specimens of it are recognized. It is agreed that the
early narratives in Genesis are of this character, and that it is marked
in such stories as those of Samson, Elijah, and Elisha. Even the
conservative revisers of the Authorized Version have eliminated from the
Fourth Gospel the story of the angel at the pool of Bethesda, and in
their marginal notes on the Third Gospel have admitted a doubt
concerning the historicity of the angel and the bloody sweat in

Furthermore, some events, recognized as historical, have been divested
of the miraculous character once attributed to them,--the crossing of
the Red Sea, for instance, by the Hebrew host. A landslip in the
thirteenth century A.D. has been noted as giving historical character to
the story of the Hebrew host under Joshua's command crossing the Jordan
"on dry ground," but in a perfectly natural way. Other classes of
phenomena once regarded as miraculous have been transferred to the
domain of natural processes by the investigations and discoveries that
have been made in the field of psychical research. The forewarning which
God is said to have given the prophet Ahijah of the visit that the
queen was about to pay him in disguise[6] is now recognized as one of
many cases of the mysterious natural function that we label as
"telepathy." The transformations of unruly, vicious, and mentally
disordered characters by hypnotic influence that have been effected at
the Salpêtrière in Paris, and elsewhere, by physicians expert in
psychical therapeutics are closely analogous to the cures wrought by
Jesus on some victims of "demoniac possession."[7] The cases of
apparition,[8] also, which have been investigated and verified by the
Society for Psychical Research have laid a solid basis of fact for the
Biblical stories of angels, as at least, a class of phenomena to be
regarded as by no means altogether legendary, but having their place
among natural though mysterious occurrences.

But this progressive paring down of the miraculous element in the Bible
has caused outcries of unfeigned alarm. Christian scholars who have
taken part in it are reproached as deserters to the camp of unbelief.
They are accused of banishing God from his world, and of reducing the
course of events to an order of agencies quite undivine. "Miracle,"
writes one of these brethren,[9] "is the personal intervention of God
into the chain of cause and effect." But what does this mean, except
that, when no miracles occur, God is not personally, _i.e._ actively, in
the chain of natural causes and effects? As Professor Drummond says, "If
God appears periodically, he disappears periodically." It is precisely
this view of the subject that really banishes God from his world. Those
who thus define miracle regard miracles as having ceased at the end of
the Apostolic age in the first century. Except, therefore, for the
narrow range of human history that the Bible covers in time and place,
God has not been personally in the chain of natural causes and effects.
Thus close to an atheistic conception of nature does zeal for
traditional orthodoxy unwittingly but really come.

The first pages of the Bible correct this error. "While the earth
remaineth," so God is represented as assuring Noah, "seedtime and
harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night,
shall not cease." The presence of God in his world was thus to be
evinced by his regular sustentation of its natural order, rather than by
irregular occurrences, such as the deluge, in seeming contravention of
it. To seek the evidence of divine activity in human affairs and to
ground one's faith in a controlling Providence in sporadic and cometary
phenomena, rather than in the constant and cumulative signs of it to be
seen in the majestic order of the starry skies, in the reign of
intelligence throughout the cosmos, in the moral evolution of ancient
savagery into modern philanthropy, in the historic manifestation
throughout the centuries of a Power not our own that works for the
increase of righteousness, is a mode of thought which in our time is
being steadily and surely outgrown. It is one of those "idols of the
tribe" whose power alike over civilized and uncivilized men is broken
less by argument than by the ascent of man to wider horizons of

It is for the gain of religion that it should be broken,--of the
spiritual religion whose God is not a tradition, a reminiscence, but a
living presence, inhabiting alike the clod and the star, the flower in
the crannied wall and the life of man. So thinking of God the religious
man may rightly say,[10] "If it is more difficult to believe in
miracles, it is less important. If the extraordinary manifestations of
God recounted in ancient history appear less credible, the ordinary
manifestations of God in current life appear more real. He is seen in
American history not less than in Hebrew history; in the life of to-day
not less than in the life of long ago."


[5] _Lectures on the History of the Jewish Church_, Vol. II, p. 362,
American edition.

[6] 1 Kings xiv. 1-7.

[7] It is not intended to intimate that there is no such darker reality
as a "possession" that is "demoniac" indeed. It cannot be reasonably
pronounced superstitious to judge that there is some probability for
that view. At any rate, it is certain that the problem is not to be
settled by dogmatic pronouncement. It is certain, also, that the burden
of proof rests on those who contend that there can be no such thing. On
the other hand, it may be conceded that the cases recorded in the New
Testament do not seem to be of an essentially devilish kind. On the
general subject of "possession" see F. W. H. Myers's work on _Human
Personality and Survival after Death_, Vol. I. (Longmans, Green & Co.,
New York and London.) Professor William James half humorously remarks:
"The time-honored phenomenon of diabolical possession is on the point of
being admitted by the scientist as a fact, now that he has the name of
hysterodemonopathy by which to apperceive it." _Varieties of Religious
Experience_, p. 501, note.

[8] See _Dictionary of Psychology_, art. "Psychical Research."

[9] Dr. Peloubet, _Teachers' Commentary on the Acts_, 1902.

[10] Dr. Lyman Abbott in _The Outlook_, February 14, 1903.



    SYNOPSIS.--The present net results of the discussion of the
    miraculous element in the Bible.--Evaporation of the former
    evidential value of miracles.--Further insistence on this value a
    logical blunder.--The transfer of miracles from the artillery to the
    baggage of the Church.--Probability of a further reduction of the
    list of miracles.--Also of a further transfer of events reputed
    miraculous to the domain of history.

The cultivation of scientific and historical studies during the last
century, especially in its latter half, has deepened the conviction that

    "Through the ages one increasing purpose runs;"

has disposed a growing number of thoughtful minds to regard occasional
signs and wonders, reported from ancient times, as far less evidential
for the reasonableness of religious faith than the steady sustentation
of the Providential order and the moral progress of the world. Fully
convinced of this, we should now estimate, before proceeding further,
the present net results of the discussion, so far as it has gone, of
what is called the miraculous element in the Bible.

First, its former evidential value in proof of divine Revelation is gone
for the men of to-day. The believer in a divine Revelation does not now,
if he is wise, rest his case at all on the miracles connected with its
original promulgation, as was the fashion not very long since. This for
two reasons; chiefly this: that _the decisive criterion of any truth,
ethical or physical, must be truth of the same kind_. Ethical truth must
be ethically attested. The moral and religious character of the
Revelation presents its credentials of worth in its history of the
moral and religious renovations it has wrought both in individuals and
in society. This is its proper and incontrovertible attestation, in need
of no corroboration from whatever wonderful physical occurrences may
have accompanied its first utterance. Words of God are attested as such
by the work of God which they effect. It may well be believed that those
wonderful occurrences--the Biblical name for which is "signs," or
"powers," terms not carrying, like "miracles," the idea of something
contra-natural[11]--had an evidential value for those to whom the
Revelation originally came. In fact, they were appealed to by the
bearers of the Revelation as evidencing its divine origin by the mighty
works of divine mercy which they wrought for sufferers from the evils of
the world. But whatever their evidential value to the eye-witnesses at
that remote day, it was of the inevitably volatile kind that exhales
away like a perfume with lapse of time. Historic doubts attack remote
events, especially when of the extraordinary character which tempts the
narrator to that magnifying of the marvellous which experience has found
to be a constantly recurring human trait. It is simply impossible that
the original evidential value of the "signs" accompanying the Revelation
should continue permanently unimpaired. To employ them now as
"evidences of Christianity," when the Revelation has won on ethical
grounds recognition of its divine character and can summon history to
bear witness of its divine effects in the moral uplift of the world, is
to imperil the Christian argument by the preposterous logical blunder of
attempting to prove the more certain by the less certain.

A second net result consequent on the preceding may be described as the
transference of miracles from the ordnance department to the
quartermaster's department of the Church. Until recently they were
actively used as part of its armament, none of which could be dispensed
with. Now they are carried as part of its baggage, _impedimenta_, from
which everything superfluous must be removed. It is clearly seen that to
retain all is to imperil the whole. That there are miracles and
miracles is patent to minds that have learned to scan history more
critically than when a scholar like John Milton began his _History of
England_ with the legend of the voyage of "Brute the Trojan." One may
reasonably believe that Jesus healed a case of violent insanity at
Gadara, and reasonably disbelieve that the fire of heaven was twice
obedient to Elijah's call to consume the military companies sent to
arrest him. Cultivated discernment does not now put all Biblical
miracles on a common level of credibility, any more than the historical
work of Herodotus and that of the late Dr. Gardiner. To defend them all
is not to vindicate, but to discredit all alike. The elimination of the
indefensible, the setting aside of the legendary, the transference of
the supposedly miraculous to the order of natural powers and processes
so far as vindicable ground for such critical treatment is discovered,
is the only way to answer the first of all questions concerning the
Bible: How much of this is credible history? Thus it is not only
thoroughly reasonable, but is in the interest of a reasonable belief
that divine agency is revealed rather by the upholding of the
established order of Nature than by any alleged interference therewith.
With what God has established God never interferes. To allege his
interference with his established order is virtually to deny his
constant immanence therein, a failure to recognize the fundamental fact
that "Nature is Spirit," as Principal Fairbairn has said, and all its
processes and powers the various modes of the energizing of the divine

A third net result now highly probable is a still further reduction of
the list of reputed miracles. The critical process of discriminating
the historical from the legendary, and the natural from the non-natural,
is still so comparatively recent that it can hardly be supposed to have
reached its limit. Nor can it be stayed by any impeachment of it as
hostile to Christianity, whose grand argument appeals to its present
ethical effects, not to ancient thaumaturgical accompaniments. There is,
however, a considerable class of cases in which the advancing critical
process is likely even to gain credibility for the Biblical narrative in
a point where it is now widely doubted--the resuscitations of the
apparently dead. Among all the Biblical miracles none have more probably
a secure historical basis.


[11] The Anglicized Latin word, "miracle," indiscriminately used in the
Authorized Version, denotes the superficial character of the act or
event it is applied to, as producing wonder or amazement in the
beholders. The terms commonly employed in the New Testament
(_s{=e}meion_, a sign; _dunamis_, power; less frequently _teras_, a
portent) are of deeper significance, and connote the inner nature of the
occurrence, either as requiring to be pondered for its meaning, or as
the product of a new and peculiar energy.



    SYNOPSIS.--Arbitrary criticism of the Biblical narratives of the
    raising of the "dead."--Facts which it ignores.--The subject related
    to the phenomena of trance, and records of premature burial.--The
    resuscitation in Elisha's tomb probably historical.--Jesus' raising
    of the ruler's daughter plainly a case of this kind.--His raising of
    the widow's son probably such.--The hypothesis that his raising of
    Lazarus may also have been such critically examined.--The record
    allows this supposition.--Further considerations favoring it: 1. The
    real interests of Christianity secure.--2. The miracle as a work of
    mercy.--3. Incompetency of the bystanders' opinion.--4. Congruity
    with the general conception of the healing works of Jesus, as
    wrought by a peculiar psychical power.--Other cases.--The
    resurrection of Jesus an event in a wholly different order of
    things.--The practical result of regarding these resuscitations as
    in the order of nature.

Of resuscitation from apparent death seven cases in all are
recorded,--three in the Old Testament and four in the New. Some critics
arbitrarily reject all but one of these as legendary. Thus Oscar
Holzmann, in his recent _Leben Jesu_, treats the raising of the widow's
son, and of Lazarus. But he accepts the case of the ruler's daughter on
the ground that Jesus is reported as saying that it was not a case of
real but only of apparent death,--"the child is not dead, but sleepeth."
But for the preservation of this saving declaration in the record, this
case also would have been classed with the others as unhistorical. And
yet the admission of one clear case of simulated death, so like real
death as to deceive all the onlookers but Jesus, might reasonably check
the critic with the suggestion that it may not have been a solitary
case.[12] The headlong assumption involved in the discrimination made
between these two classes, viz. that in a case of apparent but unreal
death the primitive tradition can be depended on to put the fact upon
record, is in the highest degree arbitrary and unwarrantable.

The scepticism which lightly contradicts the Biblical narratives of the
raising of the "dead" to life is seemingly ignorant of facts that go far
to place these upon firm ground as historical occurrences. Catalepsy,
or the simulation of death by a trance, in which the body is sometimes
cold and rigid, sensation gone, the heart still, is well known to
medical men.[13] In early times such a condition would inevitably have
been regarded and treated as actual death, without the least suspicion
that it was not so. Even now, the dreadful mistake of so regarding it
sometimes occurs. So cautious a journal as the London _Spectator_ a few
years ago expressed the belief that "a distinct percentage" of premature
burials "occurs every year" in England.

The proper line of critical approach to the study of the Biblical
narratives of the raising of the "dead" is through the well-known facts
of the deathlike trance and premature burial.

Where burial occurred, as in the East, immediately after the apparent
death,[14] resuscitation must have been rare. Yet cases of it were not
unknown. Pliny has a chapter "on those who have revived on being carried
forth for burial." Lord Bacon states that of this there have been "very
many cases." A French writer of the eighteenth century, Bruhier, in his
"_Dissertations sur l'Incertitude de la Mort et l'Abus des
Enterrements_," records seventy-two cases of mistaken pronouncement of
death, fifty-three of revival in the coffin before burial, and
fifty-four of burial alive. A locally famous and thoroughly attested
case in this country is that of the Rev. William Tennent, pastor in
Freehold, New Jersey, in the eighteenth century, who lay apparently dead
for three days, reviving from trance just as his delayed funeral was
about to proceed. One who keeps a scrap-book could easily collect quite
an assortment of such cases, and of such others as have a tragic ending,
both from domestic and foreign journals. A work published some years ago
by Dr. F. Hartmann[15] exhibits one hundred and eight cases as typical
among over seven hundred that have been authenticated.[16]

Facts like these have been strangely overlooked in the hasty judgment
prompted by prejudice against whatever has obtained credence as
miraculous. Some significant considerations must be seriously

It cannot be that no such facts occurred in the long periods covered by
the Biblical writers. Occurring, it is extremely improbable that they
should have altogether escaped embodiment in popular tradition and its
record. Furthermore, while on one hand the custom of speedy burial
rendered them much rarer than they are now under other conditions, and
so much the more extraordinary, the universal ignorance of the causes
involved would have accepted resuscitation as veritable restoration from
actual death. As such it would have passed into tradition. In cases
where it had come to pass in connection with the efforts of a recognized
prophet, or through any contact with him, it would certainly have been
regarded as a genuine miracle.

Among the raisings of the "dead" recorded in the Scriptures probably
none has been so widely doubted by critical readers as the story in the
thirteenth chapter of the second book of Kings, in which a corpse is
restored to life by contact with the bones of Elisha. Dean Stanley's
remark upon the suspicious similarity between the miracles related of
Elisha and those found in Roman Catholic legends of great saints here
seems quite pertinent. Let the record speak for itself.

    "And Elisha died and they buried him. Now the bands of the Moabites
    invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass,
    as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band; and
    they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha; and as soon as the
    man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his

The bizarre character of such a story excusably predisposes many a
critic to stamp it as fabricated to enhance the glory of the great
prophet who had been a pillar of the throne. Yet nothing is more likely
than that tradition has here preserved a bit of history, extraordinary,
but real. There is not the least improbability in regarding the case as
one of the many revivals from the deathlike trance that have been noted
by writers ancient and modern. It is entirely reasonable to suppose that
the trance in which the seemingly dead man lay was broken either by the
shock of his fall into the prophet's tomb, or coincidently therewith;
and stranger coincidences have happened. Such a happening would be
precisely the sort of thing to live in popular tradition, and to be
incorporated into the annals of the time.

Here it may be rejoined that this is only a hypothesis. Only that, to be
sure. But so is the allegation that the story is a mere fantastic
fabrication only a hypothesis. Demonstration of the actual fact past all
controversy being out of the question, all that can be offered for the
attempt to rate the narrative at its proper value, either as history or
as fiction, is hypothesis. The choice lies for us between two
hypotheses. Surely, that hypothesis is the more credible which is based
on a solid body of objective facts, and meets all the conditions of the

Will it be replied to this that the critics can show for their
hypothesis the admitted fact of the human proclivity to invent legends
of miracle? The decisive answer is that the burden of proof rests on him
who contests any statement ostensibly historical. If such a statement be
found to square with admitted objective facts, it must be accepted
notwithstanding considerations drawn from the subjective tendency to
invent extraordinary tales.

Were raisings of the "dead" recorded in the Old Testament alone,
objection would less often be offered to this transference of them,
along with other occurrences once deemed miraculous, to a place in the
natural order of things. The statistics of premature burial and of the
resuscitation of the apparently dead before burial are sufficiently
strong to throw grave doubt on any contention that the resuscitations
narrated of Elijah[17] and Elisha[18] do not belong in that historical
series. It has been frequently observed, however, that there is much
reluctance to apply to the New Testament the methods and canons of
criticism that are applied to the Old. It will be so in the present
case, through apprehension of somehow detracting from the distinctive
glory of Christ. That fear will not disturb one who sees that glory not
in his "mighty works," the like of which were wrought by the prophets,
but in the spiritual majesty of his personality, the divineness of his
message to the world, and of the life and death that illustrated it.

One case, at least, among Jesus' raisings of the "dead," that of the
young daughter of the ruler of the synagogue,[19] is admitted even by
sceptical critics to have been a resuscitation from the trance that
merely simulates death. But the fact that there is a record of his
saying in this case, "the child is not dead, but sleepeth," and no
record of his saying the same at the bier of the widow's son,[20] is
slight ground, yet all the ground there is, against the great
probabilities to the contrary, for regarding the latter case as so
transcendently different from the former as the actual reëmbodiment of a
departed spirit recalled from another world. Were these the only two
cases of restoration to life in the ministry of Jesus, it is most
probable that they would be regarded as of the same kind.

The raising of Lazarus[21] presents peculiar features, in view of which
it is generally regarded as of another kind, and the greatest of
miracles, so stupendous that the Rev. W. J. Dawson, in his recent _Life
of Christ_, written from an evangelical standpoint, says of it: "Even
the most devout mind may be forgiven occasional pangs of incredulity."
But the considerations already presented are certainly sufficient to
justify a reëxamination of the case. And it is to be borne in mind that
the question at issue is, not what the eye-witnesses at that time
believed, not what the Church from that time to this has believed, not
what we are willing to believe, or would like to believe, but what all
the facts with any bearing on the case, taken together, fully justify us
in believing as to the real nature of it.

What Jesus is recorded as saying of it is, of course, of prime
importance. "Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep, but I go that I may
awake him out of sleep." Were this all, the case might easily have been
classed as one of trance. The disciples, however, understood Jesus to
speak of natural sleep. "Then Jesus therefore said unto them plainly,
_Lazarus is dead_." Tradition puts the maximum meaning into this word
"dead." But if this word here qualifies the preceding word, "fallen
asleep," so also is it qualified by that; the two are mutually
explanatory, not contradictory. These alternatives are before us: Is the
maximum or the minimum meaning to be assigned to the crucial word
"dead"? For the minimum, one can say that a deathly trance, already made
virtual death by immediate interment, would amply justify Jesus in using
the word "dead" in order to impress the disciples with the gravity of
the case, as not a natural but a deathly, and, in the existing
situation, a fatal sleep. For the maximum, no more can be advanced than
the hazardous assertion that Jesus _must_ have used the word with
technical precision in its customary sense; an assertion of course
protected from disproof by our ignorance of the actual fact.[22] But
whatever support this view of the case derives from such ignorance is
overbalanced by the support supplied to the other view by the long
history of revivals from the deathly trance, and by the probabilities
which that history creates.

Many, to whom the view here proposed seems not only new, but unwelcome,
and even revolutionary, may reasonably prefer to suspend judgment for
reflection; but meanwhile some further considerations may be

1. Aside from the unwillingness to abandon a long-cherished belief on
any subject whatever, which is both a natural, and, when not pushed to
an unreasonable length, a desirable brake on all inconsiderate change,
no practical interest is threatened by the adoption of the view here
suggested. Religious interest, so far as it is also intelligent, is
certainly not threatened. The evidences of Jesus' divine character and
mission resting, as for modern men it rests, not on remote wonders, but
on now acknowledged facts of an ethical and spiritual kind, is
altogether independent of our conclusion whether it was from actual or
only apparent death that Lazarus was raised. Since all the mighty works
wrought by Jesus, and this among them, were identical in type with those
wrought by the ancient prophets, with whom his countrymen classed him in
his lifetime, their evidential significance could be, even for the
eye-witnesses at that tomb, no greater for him than for an
Elisha,--signs of a divine mission attesting itself by works of mercy.

2. As works of mercy these raisings from the "dead," including that of
Lazarus, rank far higher in the view of them here proposed than in the
traditional view. This regards them as the recall of departed spirits
from what is hoped to be "a better world." Yet this, while it turns
sorrow for a time into joy, involves not only the recurrence of that
sorrow in all its keenness, but also a second tasting of the pains
preliminary to the death-gate, when the time comes to pass that gate
again. But in the other view, a raising from the death that is only
simulated is a merciful deliverance from a calamity greater than simple
death, if that be any calamity at all,--the fate of burial alive. In the
former view, therefore, the quality of mercy, distinctive of the mighty
works of Jesus, is imperfectly demonstrable. In the present view, as the
rescue of the living from death in one of its most horrible forms, it is
abundantly conspicuous.

3. The onlookers by the tomb of Lazarus doubtless regarded his awakening
as revival from actual death. Their opinion, however, does not bind our
judgment any more than it is bound by the opinion of other onlookers,
that Jesus' healing of the insane and epileptic was through the
expulsion of demons that possessed them. In each instance it was
understood as a sign of control over beings belonging to another world.
But such an attestation of Jesus' divine mission, having been superseded
for us by proofs of higher character, is now no more needful for us in
the case of the "dead" than in the case of the "demons."

4. The power of breaking the deathly trance, of quickening the dormant
life, reënergizing the collapsed nervous organism, and ending its
paralysis of sensation and motion, may be reasonably regarded as power
of the same psychical kind that Jesus regularly exerted in healing the
sufferers from nervous disorders who were reputed victims of demoniac
possession.[23] In this view these resuscitations from apparent death
appear in natural coherence with the many other works of mercy that
Jesus wrought as the Great Physician of his people, and may be regarded
as the crown and consummation of all his restorative ministries. Jesus'
thanksgiving after the tomb had been opened--"Father, I thank thee that
thou hast heard me"--shows that he had girded himself for a supreme
effort by concentrating the utmost energy of his spirit in prayer.
Physically parallel with this was the intensity of voice put into his
call to the occupant of the tomb. This is better represented in the
original than in our translation: "He shouted with a great voice,
'Lazarus, come forth.'" The whole record indicates the utmost tension of
all his energies, and closely comports with the view that this stood to
the sequel in the relation of cause to effect.[24] Another circumstance
not without bearing on the case is the energizing power of the intense
sympathy with the bereaved family that stirred the soul of Jesus to weep
and groan with them. And it is not without significance that this strong
factor appears active in the larger number of the Biblical cases,--three
of them only children, two of these the children of the pitiable class
of widows.

Peculiar, then, as was the case of Lazarus, our examination of it
reveals no substantial ground for insisting that it was essentially
unlike the previous case of the ruler's daughter, that it was the
bringing back into a decaying body of a spirit that had entered into the
world of departed souls. The actual fact, of course, is indemonstrable.
Our conclusion has to be formed wholly upon the probabilities of the
case, and must be formed in a reasonable choice between the greater
probability and the less.

The restoration of Dorcas to life by Peter, recorded in the book of
Acts,[25] needs no special discussion beyond the various considerations
already adduced in this chapter. The case of Eutychus, recorded in the
same book,[26] requires mention only lest it should seem to have been
forgotten, as it is not in point at all. The record makes it highly
probable that the supposed death was nothing more than the loss of
consciousness for a few hours in consequence of a fall from the window.

       *       *       *       *       *

If one should here suggest that no mention has yet been made of the
resurrection of Jesus himself, it must be pointed out that this is a
fact of a totally different kind from any of the foregoing cases. To
speak, as many do, of the "resurrection of Lazarus" is a misuse of
words. Resuscitation to life in this world, and resurrection, the rising
up of the released spirit into the life of the world to come, are as
distinct as are the worlds to which they severally belong. We here
consider only the _raisings_ which restored to the virtually dead their
interrupted mortal life. The _rising_ from the mortal into the immortal
state belongs to an entirely different field of study.

       *       *       *       *       *

Apart, then, from traditional prepossessions, examination of the
Biblical narratives discloses nothing to invalidate the hypothesis which
one who is acquainted with the copious record of apparent but unreal
death must seriously and impartially consider. The reputedly miraculous
raisings of the "dead" related in both the Old and the New Testament
may, with entire reason, and without detriment to religion, be classed
with such as are related outside of the Scriptures, in ancient times as
well as modern, and as phenomena wholly within the natural order,
however extraordinary. The practical result of such a conclusion is
likely to be a gain for the historicity of the Scripture narratives in
the estimate of a large class of thoughtful minds.


[12] An objection to the historicity of the raising of Lazarus which is
made on the ground that so great a work, if historical, would have been
related by more than one of the Evangelists, yields on reflection the
possibility that Jesus may have effected more than the three raisings
recorded of him. John is the sole narrator of the raising of Lazarus.
But he omits notice of the two raisings recorded by the other
Evangelists, while Matthew and Mark do not record the raising of the
widow's son recorded by Luke. All this suggests that the record may have
preserved for us specimens rather than a complete list of this class of
miracles. (Compare John xxi. 25.)

[13] "We have frequent cases of trance, ... where the parties seem to
die, but after a time the spirit returns, and life goes on as before. In
all this there is no miracle. Why may not the resuscitations in Christ's
time possibly have been similar cases? Is not this less improbable than
that the natural order of the universe should have been set
aside?"--_The Problem of Final Destiny_, by William B. Brown, D.D.,

[14] On account of the ceremonial "uncleanness" caused by the dead body.
See Numbers v. 2, and many similar passages.

[15] _Buried Alive_ (Universal Truth Publishing Co., Chicago). See also
_Premature Burial_, by D. Walsh (William Wood & Co., New York), and
_Premature Burial_, by W. Tebb and E. P. Vollum (New Amsterdam Book Co.,
New York).

[16] Other writers might be mentioned, as Mme. Necker (1790), Dr. Vigné
(1841). Yet on the other hand it is alleged, that "none of the numerous
stories of this dreadful accident which have obtained credence from time
to time seem to be authentic" (_American Cyclopedia_, art. "Burial").
Allowing a wide margin for exaggeration and credulity, there is
certainly a residuum of fact. A correspondent of the (London)
_Spectator_ a few years since testified to a distressing case in his own

[17] Kings xvii. 17-23.

[18] Kings iv. 32-36.

[19] Mark v. 35-43.

[20] Luke vii. 12-16.

[21] John xi. 11-44.

[22] Was Jesus aware that Lazarus was really not dead? It is impossible
to reach a positive conclusion. In some directions his knowledge was
certainly limited. That he was not aware of the reality might be
inferred from his seeming to have allowed his act to pass for what, in
the view of it here suggested, it was not,--the recall to life of one
actually dead. This, however, assumes the completeness of a record whose
silence on this point cannot be pressed as conclusive. It is, indeed,
unlikely that Jesus knew all that medical men now know. But awareness of
any fact may be in varying degrees from serious suspicion up to positive
certitude. While far from positiveness, awareness may exist in a degree
that gives courage for resolute effort resulting in clear and full
verification. Jesus may have been ignorant of the objective reality of
Lazarus's condition, and yet have been very hopeful of being empowered
by the divine aid he prayed for (John xi. 41) to cope with it

[23] See pages 28, 29, Note.

[24] Jesus' works of healing are explicitly attributed by the
Evangelists to a peculiar power that issued from him. In Mark v. 30,
Luke vi. 19, and viii. 46, the original word _dunamis_, which the
Authorized Version translates "virtue," is more correctly rendered
"power" in the Revised Version. Especially noticeable is the peculiar
phraseology of Mark v. 30: "Jesus perceiving in himself that the power
proceeding from him had gone forth (R. V.)." The peculiar circumstances
of the case suggest that the going forth of this power might be motived
sub-consciously, as well as by conscious volition.

[25] Acts ix. 36-42.

[26] Acts xx. 9-13.



    SYNOPSIS.--A clearer conception of miracle approached.--Works of
    Jesus once reputed miraculous not so reputed now, since not now
    transcending, as once, the existing range of knowledge and
    power.--This transfer of the miraculous to the natural likely to
    continue.--No hard and fast line between the miraculous and the
    non-miraculous.--Miracle a provisional word, its application
    narrowing in the enlarging mastery of the secrets of nature and

At this point it seems possible to approach a clearer understanding of
the proper meaning to attach to the generally ill-defined and hazy term
_miracle_.[27] Matthew Arnold's fantastic illustration of the idea of
miracle by supposing a pen changed to a pen-wiper may fit some miracles,
especially those of the Catholic hagiology, but, if applied to those of
Jesus, would be a caricature. In the New Testament a reputed miracle is
not any sort of wonderful work upon any sort of occasion, but an act of
benevolent will exerted for an immediate benefit,[28] and transcending
the then existing range of human intelligence to explain and power to
achieve. The historic reality of at least some such acts performed by
Jesus is acknowledged by critics as free from the faintest trace of
orthodox bias as Keim: "The picture of Jesus, the worker of miracles,
belongs to the first believers in Christ, and is no invention."

It has already been noted that a considerable number of the then reputed
miracles of Jesus, particularly his works of healing, do not now, as
then, transcend the existing range of knowledge and power, and
accordingly are no longer reputed miraculous. And one cannot reasonably
believe that a limit to the understanding and control of forces in
Nature and mind that now are more or less occult has been already
reached. It is, therefore, not incredible that some of the mighty works
of Jesus, which still transcend the existing limits of knowledge and
power, and so are still reputed miraculous, and are suspected by many as
unhistorical, may in some yet remote and riper stage of humanity be
transferred, as some have already been, to the class of the
non-miraculous and natural.

Dr. Robbins, Dean of the General Theological Seminary, New York, after
remarking that "the word _miracle_ has done more to introduce confusion
into Christian Evidences than any other," goes on to say: "To animals
certain events to them inexplicable are signs of the presence of human
intelligence and power. To men these miracles of Christ are signs of
divine intelligence and power. But how is miracle to be differentiated
from other providential dealings of God? Not by removing him further
from common events. Abstruse speculations concerning the relation of
miracles to other physical phenomena may be safely left to the
adjustment of an age which shall have advanced to a more perfect
synthesis of knowledge than the present can boast."[29]

The truth to which such considerations conduct is, that no hard and fast
line can be drawn between the miraculous and the non-miraculous. To the
untutored mind, like that of the savage who thought it miraculous that a
chip with a message written on it had talked to the recipient, the
simplest thing that he cannot explain is miraculous: "_omne ignotum pro
mirifico_," said Tacitus. As the range of knowledge and power widens,
the range of the miraculous narrows correspondingly. Some twenty years
since, the International Sunday-school Lessons employed as a proof of
the divinity of Christ the reputedly miraculous knowledge which he
evinced in his first interview with Nathanael of a solitary hour in
Nathanael's experience.[30] Since then it has been demonstrated[31] by
psychical research that the natural order of the world includes
telepathy, and the range of the miraculous has been correspondingly
reduced without detriment to the argument for the divinity of Christ,
now rested on less precarious ground.

Under such conditions as we have reviewed a miracle cannot always be one
and the same thing. Miracle must therefore be defined as being what our
whole course of thought has suggested that it is: in general, an elastic
word; in particular, a provisional word,--a word whose application
narrows with the enlarging range of human knowledge[32] and power which
for the time it transcends; a word whose history, in its record of
ranges already transcended, prompts expectation that ranges still beyond
may be transcended in the illimitable progress of mankind. Professor Le
Conte says that miracle is "an occurrence or a phenomenon according to a
law higher than any yet known." Thus it is a case of human ignorance,
not of divine interference.

On the other hand, we must believe that the goal of progress is a flying
goal; that human attainment can never reach finality unless men cease to
be. And so all widening of human knowledge and power must ever disclose
further limitations to be transcended. There will always be a _Beyond_,
in which dwells the secret of laws still undiscovered, that underlie
mysteries unrevealed and marvels unexplained. This will have to be
admitted, especially, by those to whom the marvellous is synonymous
with the incredible. We have not been able to eviscerate even these
prosaic and matter-of-fact modern times of marvels whose secret lies in
the yet uncatalogued or indefinable powers of the mysterious agent that
we name _life_: witness many well verified facts recorded by the Society
for Psychical Research.[33] How, then, is it consistent to affirm that
no such marvels in ancient records are historical realities? Nay, may it
not be true that the ancient days of seers and prophets, the days of
Jesus, days of the sublime strivings of great and lonely souls for
closer converse with the Infinite Spirit behind his mask of Nature,
offered better conditions for marvellous experiences and deeds than
these days of scientific laboratories and factories, and world-markets
and world-politics?


[27] "Early and mediæval theologians agree in conceiving the miraculous
as being above, not contrary to, nature. The question entered on a new
phase when Hume defined a miracle as a violation of nature, and asserted
the impossibility of substantiating its actual occurrence. The modern
discussion has proceeded largely in view of Hume's destructive
criticism. Assuming the possibility of a miracle, the questions of fact
and of definition remain."--_Dictionary of Psychology._

"When we find the definition for which we are searching, the miraculous
will no longer be a problem."--PROFESSOR W. SANDAY, at the Anglican
Church Congress, 1902.

[28] For exceptions see Matthew xxi. 19; Acts xiii. 10, 11.

[29] _A Christian Apologetic_, p. 97.

[30] John i. 47-50.

[31] In the opinion of such psychologists as Professor William James, of
Harvard, the late Professor Henry Sidgwick, of Cambridge, England, and
others of like eminence.

[32] A hint of this was given by Augustine: "Portentum non fit contra
naturam, sed contra quam est nota natura."--_De Civitate Dei._

[33] Consult the late F. W. H. Myers's remarkable volumes on _Human
Personality and Survival after Death_ (Longmans, Green & Co.).



    SYNOPSIS.--Biblical miracles the effluence of extraordinary
    lives.--Life the world's magician and miracle worker; its miracles
    now termed _prodigies_.--Miracle the natural product of an
    extraordinary endowment of life.--Life the ultimate reality.--What
    any man can achieve is conditioned by the psychical quality of his
    life.--Nothing more natural, more supernatural, than life.--The
    derived life of the world filial to the self-existent life of God,
    "begotten, not made."--Miracle, as the product of life, the work of

Be it noted, now, that the marvellous phenomena of the Biblical record,
whatever else be thought of them, are, even to a superficial view, the
extraordinary effluence of extraordinary lives. Here at length we gain a
clearer conception of miracle. _Life_ is the world's great
magician,--life, so familiar, yet so mysterious; so commonplace, yet so
transcendent. No miracle is more marvellous than its doings witnessed in
the biological laboratory, or more inexplicable than its transformation
of dead matter into living flesh, its development of a Shakespeare from
a microscopic bit of protoplasm. But its mysterious processes are too
common for general marvel; we marvel only at the uncommon. The boy Zerah
Colburn in half a minute solved the problem, "How many seconds since the
beginning of the Christian era?" We prefer to call this a prodigy rather
than a miracle,--a distinction more verbal than real; and we fancy we
have explained it when we say that such arithmetical power was a
peculiar endowment of his mental life. Now all of the inexplicable,
inimitable reality that at any time has to be left by the baffled
intellect as an unsolved wonder under the name of miracle is just
that,--_the natural product of an extraordinary endowment of life_. More
of its marvellous capability is latent in common men, in the
subconscious depths of being, than has ever yet flashed forth in the
career of uncommon men. Some scientists say that it depends on chemical
and physical forces. It indeed uses these to build the various bodies it
inhabits, but again it leaves these to destroy those bodies when it
quits them. The most constant and ubiquitous phenomenon in the world,
the ultimate reality in the universe, is _life_, revealing its presence
in innumerable modes of activity, from the dance of atoms in the rock to
the philosophizing of the sage and the aspirations of the saint,--the
creator of Nature, the administrator of the regular processes we call
the laws of Nature, the author of the wonders men call miraculous
because they are uncommon and ill understood.

The works of which any man is naturally capable are conditioned by the
psychical quality of his life, and its power to use the forces of
Nature. Through differences of vital endowment some can use color, as
wonderful painters, and others employ sound, as wonderful musicians, in
ways impossible to those otherwise endowed. So "a poet is born, not
made." So persons of feeble frame, stimulated by disease or frenzied by
passion, have put forth preternatural and prodigious muscular strength.
By what we call "clairvoyant" power life calls up in intelligent
perception things going on far beyond ocular vision. By what we call
"telepathic" power life communicates intelligence with life separated by
miles of space. Such are some of the powers that have been discovered,
and fully attested, but not explained, as belonging to the world's
master magician, _Life_. And when the poet asks,--

                "Ah, what will our children be,
    The men of a hundred thousand, a million summers away?"

we can only answer with the Apostle: "It doth not yet appear what we
shall be." But we cannot deem it likely that the powers of life,

    "Deep seated in our mystic frame,"

and giving forth such flashes of their inherent virtue, have already
reached their ultimate development.

We look with wonder and awe into the secret shrine of life, where two
scarcely visible cells unite to form the human being whose thought shall
arrange the starry heavens in majestic order, and harness the titanic
energies of Nature for the world's work. There we behold the real
supernatural. Nothing is more natural than life, and nothing also more
supernatural. Biology studies all the various forms that the world shows
of it, and affirms that life, though multiform, is one. This embryology
attests, showing that the whole ascent of life through diverse forms
from the lowest to the highest, during the millions of years since life
first manifested its presence on this globe, is recapitulated in the
stages of growth through which the human being passes in the few months
before its birth. And philosophy, which does not seek the living among
the dead, affirms, _omne vivum ex vivo_. The varied but unitary life of
the world is the stream of an exhaustless spring. It is filial to the
life of God, the Father Almighty. What the ancient creed affirmed of the
Christ as the Son of God--whom his beloved disciple recognized as "the
eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto
us[34]"--may be truly affirmed of the mysterious reality that is known
as life: "Begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father;
through whom [or which] all things were made." Looking from the derived
and finite life of the world, visible only in the signs of its presence,
but in its reality no more visible than him "whom no man hath seen, nor
can see," up to the life underived, aboriginal, infinite, we recognize
_God_ and _Life_ as terms of identical significance. How superficial the
notion of miracles as "the personal intervention of God into the chain
of cause and effect," in which he is the constant vital element. If an
event deemed miraculous is ever ascribed, as of old, to "the finger of
God," the reality behind the phenomenon is simply a higher or a stronger
power of life than is recognized in an event of a common type--life that
is one with the infinite and universal Life,

              "Life that in me has rest,
    As I, undying Life, have power in Thee."


[34] 1 John i. 2.



    SYNOPSIS.--The question, both old and new, now confronting
    theologians.--Their recent retreat upon the minimum of miracle.--The
    present conflict of opinion in the Church.--Its turning-point
    reached in the antipodal turn-about in the treatment of miracles
    from the old to the new apologetics.--Revision of the traditional
    idea of the supernatural required for theological readjustment.

The present line of thought has now reached the point where an important
question confronts us,--a question not wholly new. Within the memory of
living men theologians have been compelled to ask themselves: What if
the geologists should establish facts that contradict our Biblically
derived doctrine that the universe was made in a week? Again have they
been constrained to put to themselves the question: What if the
evolutionists should supersede our doctrine that the creation is the
immediate product of successive fiats of the Creator by showing that it
came gradually into existence through the progressive operation of
forces immanent in the cosmos? Still again have they had to face the
question: What if modern criticism by the discovery of demonstrable
errors in the Sacred Writings should fault our doctrine that, as the
Word of God, the Bible is free from all and every error? In every
instance the dreaded concession, when found at length to be enforced by
modern learning, has been found to bring, not the loss that had been
apprehended, but clear gain to the intellectual interests of religion.
Now it is this same sort of question which returns with the
uncertainties and difficulties widely felt in the Church to be gathering
over its hitherto unvexed belief in miracles as signs of a divine
activity more immediate than it has recognized in the regular processes
of Nature.

The majority of uneducated Christians still hold, as formerly in each of
the points just mentioned, to the traditional view. Miracle as a divine
intervention in the natural order, a more close and direct divine
contact with the course of things than is the case in ordinary
experience, they regard as the inseparable and necessary concomitant and
proof of a divine Revelation. To deny miracles, thus understood, is
censured as equivalent to denial of the reality of the Revelation. But
it is rather surprising, because it is rare, to find a man of such note
in literature as Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll affirming[35] that one cannot
be a Christian without believing at least two miracles, the virgin
birth and the physical resurrection of the Christ. Without comment on
the significance of this retreat upon the minimum of miracle, it must
here be noted that a minority of the Church, not inferior to their
brethren in learning and piety, believe that there are no tides in God's
presence in Nature, that his contact with it is always of the closest:--

    "Closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands or feet."

All natural operations are to them divine operations. "Nature," said Dr.
Martineau, "is God's mask, not his competitor." While his agency in
Nature may be _recognized_ at one time more than at another, it _exists_
at any time fully as much as at any other. In the interest of this
fundamental truth of religion they affirm that miracles in the
traditional sense of the word, and in their traditional limitation to
the small measure of time and space covered by Biblical narratives,
never occurred. Events reputed miraculous have indeed occurred, but
simply as unusual, inexplicable phenomena in the natural order of
things, the natural products of exceptionally endowed life, and, whether
in ancient time or modern, the same sort of thing the world over. To the
argument that this involves denial of a supernatural Revelation they
reply that it is mere reasoning in a circle. For if one begs the
question at the outset by defining supernatural Revelation as revelation
necessarily evidenced by miraculous divine intervention, then, of
course, denial of this is denial of that, and how is the argument
advanced? But, besides this, the question-begging definition is a
fallacious confusing of the contents of the Revelation with its
concomitants, and of its essentially spiritual character with phenomena
in the sphere of the senses.

The turning-point in this argument between the two parties in the Church
has been reached in the antipodal change, already referred to, from the
old to the new apologetics,--a change whose inevitable consequences do
not yet seem to be clearly discerned by either party in the discussion.
The contention that denial of miracles as traditionally understood
carries denial of supernatural Revelation has been virtually set aside,
with its question-begging definition and circular reasoning, by the
apologetics now current among believers in at least a minimum of miracle
in the traditional sense of the word,--especially in the two chief
miracles of the virgin birth and the physical resurrection of Jesus. As
an eminent representative of these the late Dr. A. B. Bruce may be
cited. These adduce "the moral miracle," the sinlessness of Jesus, as
evidential for the reality of the physical miracles as its "congruous
accompaniments." "If," says Dr. Bruce, "we receive Him as the great
moral miracle, we shall receive much more for His sake."[36] But what a
turn-about of the traditional argument on the evidences! The older
apologetes argued: This crown of miraculous power bespeaks the royal
dignity of the wearer. The modern apologete reasons: This royal
character must have a crown of miraculous power corresponding with his
moral worth. In this antipodal reverse of Christian thought it is quite
plain that for evidential purposes the miracle is stripped of its
ancient value. And it has already been observed that modern knowledge
has now transferred many of the Biblical miracles to the new rooms
discovered for them in the natural order of things. It is not premature,
therefore, for leaders of Christian thought to put once more to
themselves the question, constantly recurring as learning advances:
What theological readjustment should we have to make, if obliged to
concede that the ancient belief in miracle is not inseparable from
belief in a supernatural Revelation, not indispensable to belief
therein? What modified conception must we form, if constrained to admit
that the living God, ever immanent in Nature, intervenes in Nature no
more at one time than another? What, indeed, but a revised and true in
place of a mistaken conception of the term _Supernatural_?


[35] "The Church asks, and it is entitled to ask the critic: Do you
believe in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ?... If he
replies in the negative, he has missed the way, and has put himself
outside of the Church of Christ."--_The Church's One Foundation_, p. 4.
[Note that "Incarnation" and "Resurrection" are terms which Dr. Nicoll
construes as denoting physical miracles.]

What Dr. Nicoll here means by "outside of the Church" he indicates by
saying elsewhere, that philosophers who reckon goodness as everything,
and miracles as impossible, "are not Christians" (_op. cit._, p. 10).

This conditioning of Christian character upon an intellectual judgment
concerning the reality of remote occurrences is both unbiblical and
unethical, as well as absurd when practically applied. Some years since,
Dr. E. A. Abbott, who admits no miracle in the life of Christ, published
a book, _The Spirit on the Waters_, in which he inculcated the worship
of Christ. Yet, according to Dr. Nicoll, such a man is no Christian!

[36] _The Miraculous Element in the Gospels_, p. 353.



    SYNOPSIS.--Account to be made of the law of atrophy through
    disuse.--The virgin birth and the corporeal resurrection of Jesus,
    the two miracles now insisted on as the irreducible minimum,
    affected by this law.--The vital truths of the incarnation and
    immortality independent of these miracles.--These truths now placed
    on higher ground in a truer conception of the supernatural.--The
    true supernatural is the spiritual, not the miraculous.--Scepticism
    bred from the contrary view.--The miracle narratives, while less
    evidential for religion, not unimportant for history.--Psychical
    research a needful auxiliary for the scientific critic of these.

To the true conception of the supernatural we shall presently come. But
we cannot proceed without briefly reminding ourselves of the certain
consequences of this now far advanced dropping of miracles by modern
apologetics from their ancient use as evidences of a supernatural
Revelation. We are not ignorant of the law, which holds throughout the
material, the mental, and the moral realms, that disuse tends to atrophy
and extinction. Disused organs cease to exist, as in the eyeless
cave-fish. For centuries the story of the miraculous birth of Jesus was
serviceable for confirmation of his claim to be the Son of God. In the
address of the angel of the annunciation to Mary that claim is expressly
rested on the miraculous conception of "the holy thing."[37] But as
ethical enlightenment grows, the conviction grows that, whether the
physiological ground of that claim be tenable or not, the ethical ground
of it is essentially higher. _Father_ and _son_ even in human
relationships are terms of more than physiological import. It is matter
of frequent experience that, where the ethical character of such
relationship is lacking, the physiological counts for nothing.
Moreover, the divine sonship of Jesus in a purely ethical view rests on
ground not only higher but incontestable. And so in our time theologians
prefer to rest it on foundations that cannot be shaken, on his moral
oneness with God, the divineness of his spirit, the ideal perfectness of
his life. The strength of this position being realized, the world begins
to hear from Christian thinkers the innovating affirmation that belief
of the miraculous birth can no longer be deemed essential to
Christianity; else it would not have been left unmentioned in two of the
four Gospels, and in every extant Apostolic letter. And now we hear
theologians saying: "I accept it, but I place it no more among the
evidences of Christianity. I defend it, but cannot employ it in the
defence of supernatural Revelation." Such a stage of thought is only
transitional. An antiquated argument does not long survive in the world
of thought.[38] Military weapons that have become unserviceable soon
find their way either to the museum or the foundry. It is shortsighted
not to foresee the inevitable effect on our theological material of the
law of atrophy through disuse. The case of the miracle is the case of a
pillar originally put in for the support of an ancient roof. When the
roof has a modern truss put beneath it springing from wall to wall, the
pillar becomes an obstacle, and is removed.

But as in such a case the roof, otherwise supported, does not fall in
when the pillar is removed, so neither is the central Christian truth of
the incarnation imperilled by any weakening or vanishing of belief in
the doctrine of the virgin birth. In a discussion of the subject in
Convocation at York, England, while these pages were being written, the
Dean of Ripon (Dr. Boyd Carpenter) urged that it must be borne in mind
that the incarnation and the virgin birth were two different things, and
that some who found difficulty in the latter fully accepted the former.
In a recent sermon Dr. Briggs insists likewise upon this: "The virgin
birth is only one of many statements of the mode of incarnation.... The
doctrine of the incarnation does not depend upon the virgin birth.... It
is only a minor matter connected with the incarnation, and should have a
subordinate place in the doctrine.... At the same time the virgin birth
is a New Testament doctrine, and we must give it its proper place and
importance.... The favorite idea of the incarnation among the people has
ever been the simpler one of the virgin birth, as in the Ave Maria. The
theologians have ever preferred the more profound doctrine of the Hymn
of the Logos [John i. 1-18]."[39] Nay, it may even be found that the
weakening of belief in the incarnation as an isolated and miraculous
event may tend to promote a profounder conception of it, that brings the
divine and the human into touch and union at all points instead of in
one point.[40]

A similar change of thought, less remarked than its significance
deserves, is concerned with that other great miracle, the corporeal
resurrection of Jesus, which such writers as Dr. Nicoll couple with that
of his virgin birth as the irreducible minimum of miracle, belief in
which is essential to Christian discipleship.[41] For many centuries the
resurrection story in the Gospels has served as the conclusive proof
both of the divine sonship of Jesus,[42] and of our own resurrection to
immortality.[43] In the churches it is still popularly regarded as the
supreme, sufficient, and indispensable fact required for the basis of
faith. But in many a Christian mind the thought has dawned, that a
single fact cannot give adequate ground for the general inference of a
universal principle; that a remote historical fact, however strongly
attested, can evince only what _has_ taken place in a given case, not
what _will_ or _must_ occur in other cases; while it is also inevitably
more or less pursued by critical doubt of the attestations supporting

This rising tide of reflection has compelled resort to higher ground, to
the inward evidences in the nature of mind that are more secure from the
doubt to which all that is merely external and historical is exposed. A
clear distinction has been discerned between the _real_ resurrection of
Jesus--his rising from the mortal state into the immortal, and his
_phenomenal_ resurrection--the manifestations of his change that are
related as having been objectively witnessed. What took place in the
invisible world--his real resurrection--is now more emphasized by
Christian thinkers than the phenomenal resurrection in the visible
world. So conservatively orthodox a writer as Dr. G. D. Boardman goes so
far as to say: "After all, the real question in the matter of his
resurrection is not, 'Did Christ's body rise?' That is but a
subordinate, incidental issue." The real question, as Dr. Boardman
admits, is, "Whether Jesus Christ himself is risen, and is alive
to-day."[44] The main stress of Christian thought to-day is not laid, as
formerly, on the phenomena recorded in the story of the resurrection,
but on the psychological, moral, and rational evidences of a
resurrection to immortality that until recent times were comparatively
disregarded.[45] Meanwhile the vindication of the reality of the
phenomena related of the risen Jesus, including his bodily ascension,
though not a matter of indifference to many of those who have found the
higher grounds of faith, has become to them of subordinate importance.

It is well for Christian faith that its supersensuous and impregnable
grounds have been occupied. It is certain that ancient records of
external phenomena cannot in future constitute, as heretofore, the
stronghold of faith. But it is by no means yet certain that they have
lost serviceableness as, at least, outworks of the stronghold. While the
doctrine of the virgin birth seems to be threatened by atrophy, the
doctrine of the bodily resurrection, though retired from primary to
secondary rank, seems to be waiting rather for clarification by further

Something of an objective nature certainly lies at its basis;
_something_ of an external sort, not the product of mere imagination,
took place. To the fact thus indefinitely stated, that hallowing of
Sunday as a day of sacred and joyful observance which is coeval with the
earliest traditions, and antedates all records, is an attestation as
significant as any monumental marble. No hallucination theory, no
gradual rise and growth of hope in the minds of a reflective few, can
account for that solid primeval monument. But _what_ occurred, the
reality in distinctness from any legendary accretions, we shall be
better able to conclude, when the truth shall have been threshed out
concerning the reality, at present strongly attested, and as strongly
controverted, of certain extraordinary but occult psychical powers.[46]

A point of high significance for those who would cultivate a religious
faith not liable to be affected by changes of intellectual outlook or
insight is, that this lower valuation of miracle observable among
Christian thinkers has not been reached through breaches made by
sceptical doubts of the reality of a supernatural Revelation. They
have, of course, felt the reasonableness of the difficulties with which
traditional opinions have been encumbered by the advance of knowledge.
But so far from giving way thereupon to doubts of the reality of divine
Revelation, they have sought and found less assailable defences for
their faith in it than those that sufficed their fathers. And their
satisfaction therewith stands in no sympathy with those who hold it a
mark of enlightenment to assume with Matthew Arnold, that "miracles do
not happen." It has resulted rather from reaching the higher grounds of
religious thought, on which supernatural Revelation is recognized in its
essential character as distinctively moral and spiritual.

The true supernatural is the _spiritual_, not the miraculous, a higher
order of Nature, not a contradiction of Nature. The Revelation of Jesus
was altogether spiritual. It consisted in the ideas of God which he
communicated by his ministry and teaching, by his character and life.
But this, the real supernatural, was not obvious as such to his
contemporaries. They looked for it in the lower region of physical
effects. And here the Church also in its embryonic spiritual life, in
its proneness to externalize religion in forms of rite, and creed, and
organization, has thought to find it. Jesus' reproof, "Except ye see
signs and wonders ye will not believe," is still pertinent to those who
will not have it that the supernatural Revelation--spiritual though it
be--can be recognized or believed in apart from an acknowledgment of
attendant miracles, wrought in physical nature by an intervention of
God. Such a contention, however, is as futile and desperate as was John
Wesley's declaration, "The giving up of witchcraft is in effect the
giving up of the Bible." Such mischievous fallacies succeed only in
blinding many a mind to the real issue which the moral and spiritual
Revelation of Jesus makes with men of the twentieth century. It is these
fallacies, and not their critics, that create the most of

But while the question whether miracles are credible has ceased to be of
vital importance, it has by no means lost all importance. On the
contrary, so long as the path of progress is guided by the lamp of
experience, so long will it be of consequence that the historical record
of experience be found trustworthy. It may suit the overweening pride
which defies both the past and the present to say with Bonaparte, that
history is only a fable that men have agreed to believe. But it is a
human interest, and a satisfaction of normal minds to establish, so far
as reason permits, the credibility of every record ostensibly historic.
To discover that ancient experiences, once supposed to be miraculous
raisings from real death, may reasonably be classed with well attested
experiences of to-day, better understood as resuscitations from a
deathlike trance, should be welcomed by unprejudiced historical critics,
as redeeming portions of the ancient record from mistaken disparagement
as legendary. That further study may accredit as facts, or at least as
founded on facts, some other marvels in that record cannot, except by
arrant dogmatism, be pronounced improbable. Nevertheless, it cannot be
expected that the legendary element, which both the Old and the New
Testament in greater and less degree exhibit, can ever be eliminated.
Such stories as that of the origin of languages at Babel, and that of
the resurrection of ancient saints at Jesus' resurrection are
indubitable cases of it. But the legendary element, though permanent, is
at present undefined. To define it is the problem of the critical
student, a problem most difficult to him whose judgment is least
subjective; and he will welcome every contribution that advancing
knowledge can supply.

Regarding miracle as the natural product of exceptionally endowed life,
there is no source from which more light can be shed on its Biblical
record than in those studies of the exceptional phenomena and occult
powers of life which are prosecuted by the Society for Psychical
Research, whose results are recorded in its published _Proceedings_. For
those familiar with this record the legendary element in the Bible tends
to shrink into smaller compass than many critics assign it. In the
interest both of the Bible and of science it is regrettable that the
results of these researches, though conducted by men of high eminence
in the scientific world, still encounter the same hostile scepticism
even from some Christian believers that Hume directed against the
Biblical miracles. Mr. Gladstone has put himself on record against this
philistinism, saying that "psychical research is by far the most
important work that is being done in the world." Were one disposed to
prophesy, very reasonable grounds could be produced for the prediction
that, great as was the advance of the nineteenth century in physical
knowledge, the twentieth century will witness an advance in psychical
knowledge equally great. In this advance one may not unreasonably
anticipate that some, at least, of the Biblical miracles may be relieved
from the scepticism that now widely discredits them.


[37] Luke i. 35.

[38] To what extent the law of atrophy has begun to work upon the
doctrine of the virgin birth appears in the recent utterance of so
eminent an evangelical scholar as Dr. R. F. Horton, of London. The
following report of his remarks in a Christmas sermon in 1901 is taken
from the _Christian World_, London. "We could not imagine Paul, Peter,
and John all ignoring something essential to the Gospel they preached.
Strictly speaking, this narrative in Matthew and Luke was one of the
latest touches in the Gospel, belonging to a period forty or fifty years
after the Lord had passed away, when men had begun to realize what he
was--the Son of God--and tried to express their conviction in this form
or that." The implication here is unmistakable, that, in Dr. Horton's
view, subjective considerations in the minds of pious believers, rather
than objective fact, form the basis of the story.

[39] See the Sermon on "Born of a Virgin," in the volume on _The
Incarnation of Our Lord_.

[40] "Christian thought has not erred by asserting too much concerning
the incarnation of God, but, on the contrary, too little.... If ever
overblown by blasts of denial, it is for wanting breadth of base.... Men
have disbelieved the incarnation, because told that all there was of it
was in Christ; and they reject what is presented as exceptional to the
general way of God. They must be told to believe more; that the age-long
way of God is in a perpetually increasing incarnation of life, whose
climax and crown is the divine fulness of life in Christ."--From a
discourse by the present writer on "Life and its Incarnations," in the
volume, _New Points to Old Texts_. (James Clarke & Co., London. Thomas
Whittaker, New York, 1889.)

[41] See page 97 and Note.

[42] Romans i. 4.

[43] 1 Corinthians xv. 16-23.

[44] _Our Risen King's Forty Days_, 1902.

[45] In strong contrast with this are the reactionary protests of Dr. W.
R. Nicoll: "To talk of the resurrection of the spirit is preposterous.
The spirit does not die, and therefore cannot rise.... The one
resurrection of which the New Testament knows, the one resurrection
which allows to language any meaning, is the resurrection of the body,
the resurrection which leaves the grave empty" (_op. cit._ p. 134).

It should be noted here that Jesus' argument with the Sadducees on the
resurrection (Luke xx. 37, 38) logically proceeds on the assumption that
living after death and rising after death are convertible terms. Also,
that the contrast involved in the idea of the resurrection (the
_anastasis_, or rising up) is a contrast not between the grave and the
sky, but between the lower life of mortals and the higher life immortal.

For an extended exhibition of this line of evidence see "The Assurance
of Immortality," and "The Present Pledge of Life to Come" (in two
volumes of discourses by the present writer), London, James Clarke & Co.
New York, Thomas Whittaker, 1888 and 1889.

[46] Could it have been only an apparition? The "census of
hallucinations" conducted some ten years since by the Society for
Psychical Research evinced the reality of veridical apparitions of
deceased persons at or near the time of their death, showing the number
of verified cases to be so large as to exclude the supposition of chance
hallucination (see _Proceedings_, August, 1894). Or could it have been a
material body suddenly becoming visible in a closed room, as narrated by
Luke and John? First-class evidence, if there can be any such for such
occurrences, has been exhibited for such phenomena as the passage of
solid substances through intervening doors and walls--easy enough, say
mathematicians, for a being familiar with the "fourth dimension"--and of
the levitation of heavy bodies without physical support. (See
_Proceedings_, January, 1894, and March, 1895.) As to such things
scepticism is doubtless in order, but dogmatic contradiction is not.
_Sub judice lis est._

[47] Professor Borden P. Bowne has thus exhibited this great mistake and
its grievous consequence:--

"In popular thought, religious and irreligious alike, the natural is
supposed to be something that runs itself without any internal guidance
or external interference. The supernatural, on the other hand, if there
be any such thing, is not supposed to manifest itself through the
natural, but by means of portents, prodigies, interpositions, departures
from, or infractions of, natural law in general. The realm of law
belongs to the natural, and the natural runs itself. Hence, if we are to
find anything supernatural, we must look for it in the abnormal, the
chaotic, the lawless, or that which defies all reduction to order that
may be depended on. This notion underlies the traditional debate between
naturalism and supernaturalism.... This unhappy misconception of the
relation of the natural to the supernatural has practically led the
great body of uncritical thinkers into the grotesque inversion of all
reason--the more law and order, the less God."--_Zion's Herald_, August
22, 1900.



    SYNOPSIS.--The cardinal point in the present discussion, the reality
    not of miracles but of the supernatural.--Fallacy of pointing to
    physical events as essential characteristics of supernatural
    Revelation.--The character of a revelation determined not by its
    circumstances, but by its contents.--Moral nature supernatural to
    physical.--Nature a hierarchy of natures.--Supernatural Religion
    historically attested by the moral development it
    generates.--Transfer of its distinctive note from moral ideals to
    physical marvels a costly error.--Jesus' miracles _a_ revelation, of
    a type common with others before and since.--The unique Revelation
    of Jesus was in the higher realm of divine ideas and ideals.--These,
    while unrealized in human life, still exhibit the fact of a
    supernatural Revelation.--The distinction of natural and
    supernatural belongs to the period of moral progress up to the
    spiritual maturity of man in the image of God. The divine
    possibilities of humanity, imaged in Jesus, revealed as our
    inheritance and our prize.

It remains finally to emphasize the point of cardinal importance in the
considerations that have been presented. This is not the reality of
miracles, but the reality of the supernatural, what it really is, as
distinct from what it has been thought to be. The advance of science and
philosophy has brought to the front this question: "Have those who
reject the claims of supernatural Religion been misinformed as to what
it is?" Is it, as they have been told, dependent for its attestation on
signs and wonders occurring in the sphere of the senses? Does it require
acceptance of these, as well as of its teachings? Or is its
characteristic appeal wholly to the higher nature of man, relying for
its attestation on the witness borne to it by this, rather than by
extraordinary phenomena presented to the senses? There is at present no
intellectual interest of Christianity more urgent than this: to present
to minds imbued with modern learning the true conception of the
supernatural and of supernatural Religion.

Miracles, legitimately viewed as the natural product of extraordinary
psychical power, or, to phrase it otherwise, of an exceptional vital
endowment, belong not to the Hebrew race alone, nor did they cease when
the last survivor of the Jewish apostles of Christianity passed away at
the end of the first century. This traditional opinion ought by this
time to have been entombed together with its long defunct relative,
which represented this globe as the fixed centre of the revolving
heavens. Miracles have the same universality as human life. Nor will
their record be closed till the evolution of life is complete. Animal
life, advancing through geologic æons to the advent of man, in him
reached its climax. Spiritual life, appearing in him as a new bud on an
old stock, is evidently far from its climax still. To believe in
miracles, as rightly understood, is to believe in spirit and life, and
in further unfoldings of their still latent powers.

This, however, is just now of subordinate importance. The present
interest of chief moment is a riddance of the hoary fallacy that
vitiates the current idea of a supernatural Revelation by looking for
its specific characteristics to the physical world. By this deplorable
fallacy Christian theology has blinded the minds of many scientific men
to the essential claims of Christianity, with immense damage in the
arrested development of their religious nature through the scepticism
inevitably but needlessly provoked by this great mistake. When Elijah
proclaims to idolaters that their deity is no God, and, as we read,
corroborates his words by calling down fire from heaven to consume his
sacrifice, it is reckoned as supernatural Revelation. But it is not so
reckoned when the sage in the book of Proverbs proclaims to a nation of
religious formalists the moral character of God: "To do righteousness
and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice." This is
accounted as ethical teaching, somewhat in advance of the times. A pagan
rather than a Christian way of thinking is discoverable here. In each of
the cases cited the specific character of supernatural Revelation is
equally evident,--the disclosure of spiritual truth above the natural
thought of the natural men to whom it came. The character of any
revelation is determined by the character of the truth made known, not
by the drapery of circumstances connected with the making known. Clothes
do not make the man, though coarse or careless people may think so. What
belongs to the moral and spiritual order is supernatural to what
belongs to the material and physical order.

This way of thinking will be forced on common minds by thoughtful
observation of common things. Animate nature of the lowest rank, as in
the grass, is of a higher natural order than inanimate nature in the
soil the grass springs from. Sentient nature, as in the ox, is of a
higher order than the non-sentient in the grass. Self-conscious and
reflective nature in the man is of a higher order than the selfless and
non-reflective nature in his beast of burden. In the composite being of
man all these orders of nature coexist, and each higher is supernatural
to the nature below it. Nature, the comprehensive term for _all that
comes into being_, is a hierarchy of natures, rising rank above rank
from the lowest to the highest. The highest nature known to us,
supernatural to all below it, can only be the moral nature, whose full
satisfaction is necessary to the highest satisfaction of a man, and in
whose complete development only can be realized in permanency his
perfected welfare as a social being.

Now it is precisely in the progress of moral development that
supernatural Religion manifests itself as a reality. Religion, indeed,
is as natural to man as Art. But there is religion and Religion, as
there is art and Art--the sexual religion of the primitive Semites, the
animistic religion of China, the spiritual Religion that flowered on the
Mount of the Beatitudes, embryonic religion and Religion adult; all,
indeed, natural, yet of lower and of higher grade. Doubtless, Religion
of whatever grade outranks all other human activities by its distinctive
aspiration to transcend the bounds of space and time and sense, and to
link the individual to the universal; and so all Religion sounds, feebly
or distinctly, the note of the supernatural. But this is the resonant
note of the spiritual Religion which unfolds in the moral progress of
the world. As moral nature is supernatural to the psychical and the
physical, so is its consummate bloom of spiritual Religion to be ranked
as such, relatively to the religions which more or less dimly and
blindly are yearning and groping toward the light that never was on sea
or land. Thus defining the word according to the nature of the thing,
supernatural Religion, with its corollary of supernatural Revelation not
as an apparition from without, but as an unfolding from within, is both
a fact and a factor in the development of spiritual man.

The term _supernatural Religion_ has been rightly applied to that system
of religious conceptions, ideals, and motives, whose effective culture
of the moral nature is attested historically by a moral development
superior to the product of any other known religion. Whether the
greatest saints of Christianity are all of them whiter souls than any
that can be found among the disciples of any other religion, may be
matter for argument. There can be no gainsaying the fact that, of great
and lowly together, no other religion shows so many saints, or has so
advanced the general moral development in lands where it is widely
followed. But its essential character has been obscured, its appeal to
man's highest nature foiled, and its power lamed by the wretched fallacy
that has transferred its distinctive note of the supernatural from its
divine ideals to the physical marvels embedded in the record of its
original promulgation, even conditioning its validity and authority upon
their reality. Such is the false issue which, to the discredit of
Christianity, theology has presented to science. Such is the confusion
of ideas that in the light of modern knowledge inevitably blocks the way
to a reasonable religious faith in multitudes of minds thereby offended.
From this costly error Christian theology at length shows signs that it
is about to extricate itself.[48]

As to the Christian miracles, there can be no reasonable doubt that
"mighty works," deemed by many of his contemporaries superhuman, were
wrought by Jesus. These, whatever they were, must be regarded as the
natural effluence of a transcendently endowed life. Taking place in the
sphere of the senses, they were _a_ revelation of the type seen before
and since in the lives of wonder-workers ancient and modern, in whom the
power of mind over matter, however astonishing and mysterious, is
recognized as belonging to the natural order of things no less than the
unexplored Antarctic belongs to the globe. But _the_ Revelation which he
gave to human thought as a new thing, a heavenly vision unprecedented,
was in the higher realm of the moral and spiritual life. This was the
true supernatural, whose reality and power are separable from all its
environment of circumstances, and wholly independent thereof. The
characteristic ideals of Jesus, his profound consciousness of God, his
filial thought of God, his saturation with the conviction of his moral
oneness with God,[49] his realization of brotherhood with the meanest
human being, still transcend the common level of natural humanity even
among his disciples. As thus transcendent they are supernatural still.
Till reached and realized, they manifest the fact of a supernatural
Revelation in that peerless life as plainly as the sun is manifest in
the splendor of a cloudless day.

In the coming but distant age, when man's spiritual nature, now so
embryonic, shall have become adult, it will doubtless so pervade and
rule the physical and psychical natures which it inhabits that the
distinction between natural and supernatural, so important in the
period of its development, will become foreign alike to thought and
speech. But until the making of man in the image of God is complete,
when the spiritual element in our composite being, now struggling for
development, shall be manifest in its ultimate maturity and ascendency
as the distinctive and proper nature of humanity, it is of supreme
importance for the Christian teacher, who would point and urge to the
heights of being, to free men's minds of error as to what the real
supernatural is. Not the fancied disturber of the world's ordered
harmonies, but that highest Nature which is the moulder, the glory, and
the crown of all the lower.

Imaged to us in the human perfectness of Jesus, the ideal Son of man, it
is revealed as the distinctive inheritance and prize of the humanity
that essays to think the thoughts and walk the ways of God. To each of
us is it given in germ by our human birth, to be fostered and nourished
in converse with the Infinite Presence that inhabits all things, till
its divine possibilities appear in the ultimate "revealing of the sons
of God,"[50] full grown "according to the measure of the stature of the
fulness of Christ."[51]


[48] "Upon the conception of the supernatural as the personal,"
says Professor Nash, "apologetics must found the claims of
Christianity."--_Ethics and Revelation._

[49] The words in which Jesus expresses this are much more extraordinary
and profoundly significant than any of those mighty works of his, the
like of which are recorded of the ancient prophets. Jesus was conscious
of God as living in him, and of himself as living in God, in the unity
of the one eternal life. Not merely as a man _of_ God, but as a man _in_
God, as no other man has consciously been, does Jesus utter such sayings
as, "I am the light of the world," "I and my Father are one." (See
"Jesus the Ideal Man," by the present writer. _The New World_, June,

[50] Romans viii. 19.

[51] Ephesians iv. 13.

                        New Testament Handbooks

                               EDITED BY

                            SHAILER MATHEWS

        _Professor of New Testament History and Interpretation,
                         University of Chicago_

    Arrangements are made for the following volumes, and the publishers
    will, on request, send notice of the issue of each volume as it
    appears and each descriptive circular sent out later; such requests
    for information should state whether address is permanent or not:--


  Prof. MARVIN R. VINCENT, Professor of New Testament Exegesis, Union
  Theological Seminary.                                    [_Now ready._

    Professor Vincent's contributions to the study of the New Testament
    rank him among the first American exegetes. His most recent
    publication is "A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles
    to the Philippians and to Philemon" (_International Critical
    Commentary_), which was preceded by a "Students' New Testament
    Handbook," "Word Studies in the New Testament," and others.


  Prof. HENRY S. NASH, Professor of New Testament Interpretation,
  Cambridge Divinity School.                               [_Now ready._

    Of Professor Nash's "Genesis of the Social Conscience," _The
    Outlook_ said: "The results of Professor Nash's ripe thought are
    presented in a luminous, compact, and often epigrammatic style. The
    treatment is at once masterful and helpful, and the book ought to be
    a quickening influence of the highest kind; it surely will establish
    the fame of its author as a profound thinker, one from whom we have
    a right to expect future inspiration of a kindred sort."


  Prof. B. WISNER BACON, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Yale
  University.                                              [_Now ready._

    Professor Bacon's works in the field of Old Testament criticism
    include "The Triple Tradition of Exodus," and "The Genesis of
    Genesis," a study of the documentary sources of the books of Moses.
    In the field of New Testament study he has published a number of
    brilliant papers, the most recent of which is "The Autobiography of
    Jesus," in the _American Journal of Theology_.


  Prof. SHAILER MATHEWS, Professor of New Testament History and
  Interpretation, The University of Chicago.               [_Now ready._

    _The Congregationalist_ says of Prof. Shailer Mathews's recent work,
    "The Social Teaching of Jesus": "Re-reading deepens the impression
    that the author is scholarly, devout, awake to all modern thought,
    and yet conservative and pre-eminently sane. If, after reading the
    chapters dealing with Jesus' attitude toward man, society, the
    family, the state, and wealth, the reader will not agree with us in
    this opinion, we greatly err as prophets."


  Prof. RUSH RHEES, President of the University of Rochester.

    Professor Rhees is well known from his series of "Inductive Lessons"
    contributed to the _Sunday School Times_. His "Outline of the Life
    of Paul," privately printed, has had a flattering reception from New
    Testament scholars.


  Dr. C. W. VOTAW, Instructor in New Testament Literature, The
  University of Chicago.

    Of Dr. Votaw's "Inductive Study of the Founding of the Christian
    Church," _Modern Church_, Edinburgh, says: "No fuller analysis of
    the later books of the New Testament could be desired, and no better
    programme could be offered for their study, than that afforded in
    the scheme of fifty lessons on the _Founding of the Christian
    Church_, by Clyde W. Votaw. It is well adapted alike for practical
    and more scholarly students of the Bible."


  Prof. GEORGE B. STEVENS, Professor of Systematic Theology, Yale
  University.                                              [_Now ready._

    Professor Stevens's volumes upon "The Johannine Theology," "The
    Pauline Theology," as well as his recent volume on "The Theology of
    the New Testament," have made him probably the most prominent writer
    on biblical theology in America. His new volume will be among the
    most important of his works.


  Prof. E. P. GOULD, Professor of New Testament Interpretation,
  Protestant Episcopal Divinity School, Philadelphia.      [_Now ready._

    Professor Gould's Commentaries on the Gospel of Mark (in the
    _International Critical Commentary_) and the Epistles to the
    Corinthians (in the _American Commentary_) are critical and
    exegetical attempts to supply those elements which are lacking in
    existing works of the same general aim and scope.


  Prof. J. W. PLATNER, Professor of Early Church History, Harvard

    Professor Platner's work will not only treat the writings of the
    early Christian writers, but will also treat of the history of the
    New Testament Canon.


    "An excellent series of scholarly, yet concise and inexpensive New
    Testament handbooks."--_Christian Advocate_, New York.

    "These books are remarkably well suited in language, style, and
    price, to all students of the New Testament."--_The
    Congregationalist_, Boston.

                   *       *       *       *       *

                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

                       66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK

Transcriber's Note (Significant Amendments):

    p. 28, 'Saltpêtrière' amended to _Salpêtrière_.

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