It has become the popular habit not only to doubt but to discard miracle as not only unnecessary to, but inconsistent with, the objects of true religion. The object of this book is to show that this habit does not rest on rational grounds, but, on the contrary, is opposed both to facts that are undeniable when thoroughly looked into, and to necessities intrinsically appertaining to the nature of the subject.
The miracles of Romish tradition, and the legends and mythical prodigies of the numerous faiths and superstitions to be found under the sun, are rightly scouted as the figments of fancy and the inventions of a designing fanaticism; but it is a hasty and enormous blunder to include in this verdict the things recorded in the writings of Moses, the prophets and the apostles. The two things are as distinct as the light of the stars and the flare of the naphtha lamps on the stalls of a street fair. Men of sense have but to compare the two things to see the difference. There have been genuine miracles (the evidence of this is positively not impugnable); and that there should be fictitious and counterfeit miracles is not only not surprising, but what is to be expected from the working of things among men; a thing that, rightly construed, is one of the many evidences of the genuine.
The nature and necessity of the genuine miracles of the past are discussed in the following pages with reference to the modern scientific temper. This temper is to be respected and valued in so far as it demands exactness and accuracy of knowledge; at the same time, it requires to have imposed on it the limitations arising out of its own maxims. Scientific inference easily runs into speculative licence and even into axiomatic dogmatism, with the disastrous result of barring the way to coordinate truth in other departments of really more practical importance than science’s own discoveries.
This is shown to be the case in the modern attitude on the subject of miracle. The most important of the works of God on earth is effaced for the mass of educated people by the application of scientific maxims in an unscientific way. The plan adopted in the course of this work is not on the old scholastic lines. The subject is treated historically, which, while admitting of as thorough a consideration of the abstract phases of the subject as a formal treatise, has the advantage of being more interesting, and supplying a greater diversity of materials in the illustration of the subject.
The book is companion to a previous work on The Ways of Providence. It is a necessary supplement to that work, showing that the basis of all our knowledge of the operations of God in Providential channels, lies in the evidence of His existence, and the revelation of His will furnished in the “miracles, wonders, and signs” wrought in the midst of Israel in ages which, though past, are only past in the sense of being the preliminary part of a programme of divine wisdom and power which reaches forward to ages of glory and perfection.