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The Proof From Miracles - Part 2

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Therefore we would not allow ourselves to start with any metaphysical conception at all, not with the mono-theistic idea, as it is styled, any more than with the pan-theistic idea; and, indeed, we are quite sure that Israel himself began with nothing of the kind. The idea of God, as it is given us in the Bible, rests, we say, not on a meta-physical conception of the necessity of certain deductions from our ideas of cause, existence, identity, and the like ; but on a moral perception of a rule of conduct not of our own making, into which we are born, and which exists whether we will or no ; of awe at its grandeur and necessity, and of gratitude at its beneficence. This is the great original revelation made to Israel, this is his ' Eternal.

Man, however, as Goethe says, never knows how anthropomorphic he is. Israel described his Eternal in the language of poetry and emotion, and could not thus describe him but with the characters of a man. Scientifically he never attempted to describe him at all. But still the Eternal was ever at last reducible, for Israel, to the reality of experience out of which the revelation sprang ; he was ' the righteous Eternal who loveth righteousness.' They who `seek the Eternal,' and they who `follow after righteousness,' were identical ; just as, conversely, they who ' fear the Eternal,' and they who ' depart from evil,' were identical.' Above all : `Blessed is the man that feareth the Eternal ;' ' it is joy to the just to do judgment ;' ' righteousness tendeth to life;" the righteous is an .everlasting foundation.'

But, as time went on, facts seemed, we saw, to contradict this fundamental belief, to refute this faith in the Eternal ; material forces prevailed, and God appeared, as they say, to be on the side of the big battalions. The great unrighteous kingdoms of the world, kingdoms which cared far less than Israel for righteousness and for the Eternal who makes for righteousness, overpowered Israel. Prophecy assured him that the triumph of the Eternal's cause and people was certain : Behold the Eternal's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save. The triumph was but adjourned through Israel's own sins : Your iniquities have separated between you and your God. Prophecy directed its hearers to the future, and promised them a new, everlasting kingdom, under a heaven-sent leader. The characters of this kingdom and leader were more spiritualised by one prophet, more materialised by another. As time went on, in the last centuries before our era, they became increasingly turbid and phantasmagorical. In addition to his original experimental belief in the Almighty Eternal who makes for righteousness, Israel had now a vast Aberglaube, an after or extra-belief, not experimental, in an approaching kingdom of the saints, to be established by an Anointed, a Messiah, or by ` one like the Son of Man,' commissioned from the Ancient of Days and corning in the clouds of heaven.

Jesus came, calling himself the Messiah, the Son of Man, the Son of God ; and the question is, what is the true meaning of these assertions of his, and of all his teaching? It is the same question we had about the Old Testament. Is the language scientific, or is it, as we say, literary?—that is, the language of poetry and emotion, approximative language, thrown out, as it were, at certain great objects which the human mind augurs and feels after, but not language accurately defining them? Popular religion says, we know, that the language is scientific; that the God of the Old Testament is a great Personal First Cause, who thinks and loves (for this too, it seems, we ought to have added), the moral and intelligent Governor of the universe. Learned religion, the metaphysical theology of our bishops, proves or confirms the existence of this personal God by abstruse reasoning from our ideas of cause, design, existence, identity, and so on. Popular religion rests it altogether on revelation and miracle. The God of Israel, for popular religion, is a magnified and non-natural man who has really worked stupendous miracles, whereas the Gods of the heathen were vainly imagined to be able to work them, but could not, and had therefore no real existence. Of this God, Jesus for popular religion is the Son. He came to appease God's. wrath against sinful men by the sacrifice of himself ; and he proved his Sonship by a course of stupendous miracles, and by the wonderful accomplishment in him of the supernatural Messianic predictions of prophecy. Here, again, learned religion elucidates and develops the relation of the Son to the Father by a copious exhibition of metaphysics ; but for popular religion the relationship, and the authority of Jesus which derives from it, is altogether established by miracle.

Now, we have seen that our bishops and their meta-physics are so little convincing, that many people throw the Bible quite aside and will not attend to it, because they are given to understand that the metaphysics go necessarily along with it, and that one cannot be taken without the other. So far, then, the talents of the Bishops of Winchester and Gloucester, and their zeal to do something for the honour of the Eternal Son's Godhead, may be said to be actual obstacles to the receiving and studying of the Bible. But the same may now be also said of the popular theology which rests the Bible's authority and the Christian religion on miracle. To a great many persons this is tantamount to stopping their use of the Bible and of the Christian religion; for they have made up their minds that what is popularly called miracle never does really happen, and that the belief in it arises out of either ignorance or mistake. To these persons we restore the use of the Bible, if, while showing them that the Bible-language is not scientific, but the language of common speech or of poetry and eloquence, approximative language thrown out at certain great objects of consciousness which it does not pretend to define fully, we convince them at the same time that this language deals with facts of positive experience, most momentous and real.

We have sought to do this for the Old Testament first, and we now seek to do it for the New. But our attempt has in view those who are incredulous about the Bible and inclined to throw it aside, not those who at present receive it on the grounds supplied either by popular theology or by metaphysical theology. For persons of this kind, what we say neither will have, nor seeks to have, any constraining force at all ; only it is rendered necessary by the want of constraining force, for others than themselves, in their own theology. How little constraining force metaphysical dogma has, we all see. And we have shown, too, how the proof from the fulfilment in Jesus Christ of a number of detailed predictions, supposed to have been made with supernatural prescience about him long beforehand, is losing, and seems likely more and more to lose, its constraining force. It is found that the predictions and their fulfilment are not what they are said to be.

Now we come to miracles, more specially so called. And we have to see whether the constraining force of this proof, too, must not be admitted to be far less than it used to be, and whether some other source of authority for the Bible is not much to be desired.

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