A MIRACLE is supernatural; but it is not unnatural. A miracle is above law; but it is not opposed to law. A miracle is God working on a plane familiar to Himself, but unfamiliar to men, which, transcending human thought and explanation, becomes to men a wonder, marvel and sign.
It follows that a miracle is God’s opportunity to display, first, what He is in Himself, and second, what He is as compared with men. It demonstrates the fact that He is all-powerful and good; and it makes it plain that He is more powerful and good than any man. The continuation of miracles, therefore, is proof to men that there is one God, that He is from everlasting to everlasting, that He is Almighty and that He is full of truth, wisdom and grace.
The miracles of the Old Testament had in them these divine qualities and purposes; and they often produced the effects designed. They revealed God to the ancients—the Scriptures not having been written—as no other acts of His could do; and those ancients feared, revered and worshipped Him accordingly. The ten plagues in Egypt had this beneficent design in them as related to the Egyptians; and they only turned into judgments upon that people as they failed to discern and accept their intent. The miracles of the wilderness were meant to induce the Jews to believe that they had with them a near, a powerful and a loving God, and to confirm and develop their belief in Him.
When God commissioned His prophets to perform miracles, He had the foregoing objects concerning Himself in view. But additionally, He had the design of establishing His servants before men as those whom He had sent, and thus, as those who had the duty and privilege of speaking in His behalf. The miracles wrought by Elijah and Elisha were of this character, and they produced the intended results. They demonstrated God, so that the two prophets were feared as those who possessed the power of God and were revered and heeded as those who had the right to speak for God. Miracles, then, were the signs of God’s presence with the prophets and the credentials of their calling. Generally speaking, when new prophets were sent to Israel, they made clear their appointment and authority by new miracles. It is to be noted, however, that the miracles of the Old Testament were comparatively few in number, and that these few were scattered over a long space of time, there being recorded but fifty in all and these being distributed through a period of about four thousand years. It is to be noted also, that many of these miracles— aside from raising the dead and making the sun to stand still—were comparatively simple in quality, these being related, for the most part, to the objects of nature rather than to the lives of mankind. Among the fifty individual cases recorded—aside from the case of the multitudes healed by looking at the brazen serpent—there are only three which had to do with the healing of the body.
The New Testament miracles are to be divided into two classes: first, those which Christ wrought when He was on earth; and second, those which He wrought, through the apostles and a few others, after He had ascended to heaven. From a general standpoint, they had the same purposes as did the Old Testament ones, that is, they revealed the presence, power and beneficence of God, and they corroborated the claim of those who performed them that they were His authorized and accredited representatives.
In addition, the miracles of Christ, as compared with those of the prophets and apostles, had about them, besides their general character, a particular and unique quality, for they were designed to prove that He was the Messiah, that is, that He was the One who, in Old Testament times, had been spoken of by the prophets, and hence that He was on earth as the fulfillment of the promise that God would dwell among men (Isa. 53:4; Matt. 8:17, 18; 11:2-5; Acts 2:22).
As the promised Messiah, Christ was related to the natural world and to humankind; to the world as its creator and preserver, and to men as their redeemer, sanctifier and benefactor.
These relationships were before Christ in all of His earthly ministry, and designedly and peculiarly in the miracles which He wrought. With the first objective in mind, He began His miracle-working with a nature miracle, turning water into wine; and He continued it with other nature miracles such as stilling the tempest and multiplying the bread and fishes. With the second objective in mind, He began by healing the nobleman’s son; and He continued such manifestations through the years by casting out demons, healing the sick and raising the dead.
Christ seems to have performed only two miracles in the first year of His ministry, the greater part of them being wrought in the second and third years. But in this later time He rapidly multiplied these signs, there being no fewer than thirty-five recorded. Moreover, He compressed all of His miracles into the short space of less than three and a half years. He thus went far beyond all previous and subsequent miracle-workers, which was consistent with His high and unique claims.
It is to be noted that most of Christ’s miracles had to do with the bodies of men, either from the standpoint of maintaining life, such as providing food, or from the standpoint of healing disease, such as casting out demons, making the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak and the lame to walk. Christ did not perform one miracle upon men in judgment. On the contrary, the element of compassion predominated, this entering into all of the miracles which were wrought. But compassion was not the first or largest element in Christ’s miracle-working. His main purpose was to establish the fact before God, angels and men that He was indeed the promised Messiah (Matt. 8:16, 17). This explains the message which He sent to John in prison when the prophet had come to doubt His personality and authority (Matt. 11:2-6).
These last statements are important as related to physical healing. If compassion was the main purpose of Christ in performing miracles, then we may argue that there is much need of compassion now as in the past, and may anticipate the same evidences of it as previously. If, on the other hand, the main objective which Christ had before Him was to prove that He was what He claimed to be, namely, the Son of God, then we must conclude, He having given His proof and substantiated His claim, that the special need of His working miracles, including those of healing, passed away. This is particularly true of the time which eventually followed when the Gospels had been written and had been put into the hands of men, for then there were before them the facts of Christ’s miracle-life, which was all the evidence that was needed of what He had been and was as the Son of God.
In considering the miracles of healing which Christ performed, several things are to be observed. First, Christ’s healings were related to diseases which were more or less peculiar to His time and the country in which He lived, there being a decidedly ancient and Palestinian character to some of the diseases described, as, for instance, leprosy, which is now comparatively rare in civilized lands; and secondly, they were related to diseases which were beyond the power of physicians to heal. This last is specifically stated concerning the case of the woman who had the issue of blood (Luke 8:43-48); and it is implied in other cases, because the diseases, such as blindness, deafness, dumbness, leprosy, lunacy and demon possession, were manifestly beyond any remedial skill which was known to men in those early times, as they are largely beyond such skill now.
To accept as true, even in part, the foregoing statements is to establish an important principle in Christ’s procedure in acts of healing. He chose chiefly those cases for healing which would show His infinite tenderness and mercy by giving healing to those whom men could not heal, and also He chose those which would specially reveal His pre-eminent power as compared with man’s comparative impotence. These two facts explain, in reference to healings, the omissions of the Gospels as well as their statements, for it is to be noted that there is not an intimation in them that Christ did what men could do, namely, set broken bones, fill decayed teeth, correct impaired eyesight where glasses were sufficient, take away headaches, relieve rheumatic and neuralgic pains, etc. It is a great principle with God, that He allows men in all things to do for themselves and their fellowmen what they can do, and, usually, that he steps in and displaces them only when their ability and power have come to an end. This, apparently, was the principle which governed Christ in what He did and did not do in His earthly acts of healing. He allowed the physicians of the day to heal where they could heal; and where they had tried and failed, or where they were, in the nature of the case, unable to act, He demonstrated, at such times, places and ways as He chose, His compassion and deity by healing those who were otherwise incurable.
When we come to the healings wrought by the apostles, two things become apparent; first, we pass out of the sphere of Christ’s unique relationship to miracles, since the apostles, being only men, were not called upon to manifest personal deity (Acts 3:1-6, 12; 14:8-18); and second, we revert to the sphere of relationship which the Old Testament prophets had, since also, being but men, they were not called upon to manifest personal deity (Ex. 7:1-5; 11:1-10; Dan. 2:27, 28). This makes it plain that the purpose of Christ in working miracles through the apostles had a twofold objective, namely, the continued manifestation of His divine power and goodness, and also the giving of indisputable evidence of the apostles’ divine calling and mission. This was the conception which the apostles themselves had of their empowering for miracle-working, including healing, and the claim for themselves which they made before men (Mark 16:15-20; Rom. 15:18, 19; 2 Cor. 12:12).
The above will explain several things in connection with the miracles which the apostles wrought. In reading the record of the Acts, as compared with that of the Gospels, we see a great change in respect to miracles. First, they largely diminish in frequency, and secondly, they alter considerably in kind. The miracle of raising men from the dead runs like a golden thread from the beginning to the end of miracle-working as recorded in the Scriptures, bringing the miracle-acts into unity as to their one source and common purpose. But, aside from the display of this supreme power, the apostles, like the prophets, never duplicated or even approached the record of Christ. He, in His own person and in the short space of three and a half years—I speak of the record as given in the Gospels—performed thirty-five miracles; while a dozen apostles in the course of over thirty years—I speak of the record as given in the Acts—performed about ten.1 it is to be noted that no apostle performed a nature miracle, such as turning water into wine and multiplying bread and fishes, these being reserved for the divine Christ. They were all, besides the two cases of raising the dead, miracles of bodily healing. And here, also, the diseases, as far as the details are recorded, were beyond the healing power of the medical men of that day. It may be concluded, therefore, that the apostles performed comparatively few miracles, and, like their Master, abstained from healing where men could heal, displaying the power committed to them only where physicians were unable to help. This last made their miracles the more effective from the evidential standpoint.
It is to be kept in mind that Christ gave power to the apostles to perform miracles, as had been the case with the prophets, in order to establish them in the confidence of those persons who saw their acts and heard their messages. Also, it is to be remembered that the need of this accrediting, the power having been displayed and the confidence having been obtained, passed away in the passing away of the apostles. And, again, it is to be kept in mind that there cannot be a recurrence of apostolic miracles—whatever else God may grant—because the apostles as a class have ceased to exist, and also, because there is no present need of these as the inspired New Testament is in men’s hands and they have the record in it of the apostolic signs. And, it is to be noted that this is as true of miracles of healing as of any other kind. If, therefore, a miracle of healing at any present time is brought to pass, it may be known at once that it is not an apostolic one, in the sense that Christians are the successors of the apostles, or that they have inherited from them their miracle-power, or that they have miracle-power because they had it. Christ was unique as the Son of God, and hence displayed His miracle-power solely from His standpoint and as related to Himself; and the apostles, including Paul, were unique as those who had seen Christ and were commissioned to establish the church, and hence they displayed their miracle-power solely from their standpoint and as related to themselves. But presentday saints are in a later and lower official order, and hence whatever miracle-power they may display is from their standpoint and as related to themselves. And this brings us to the following deduction: Christ had the greatest place and needed the greatest confirmation, and thus He displayed the greatest miracle-power; the apostles had a lesser place and needed a lesser confirmation, and thus they were required to display a lesser miracle-power; and we have a still lesser place and need a still lesser confirmation, and thus we are required to display a still lesser miracle-power.
If these statements are true, the decrease of miracle manifestation, first, subsequent to the time of Christ, then subsequent to the days of the apostles, and finally, during the period of the post-apostolic church, will readily be understood. As a proof of this thought, I would call this to mind: Christ raised men from the dead; two of the apostles, Peter and Paul, also raised men from the dead; but no saint, from the apostolic time to this, has ever raised any one from the dead; and again, Christ cleansed many lepers; we have no record of any apostle cleansing a leper; and certainly no man since the apostles has ever cleansed a leper. And this is to be particularly noted: the reason for the lessening power, as between the apostles and later disciples, is not to be explained by saying that there has been a spiritual decline from apostolic days to these, so that none has been holy as the apostles were holy and none has believed as they believed; it is to be explained rather by the sovereign choice of God and the peculiar official position, accredited by appropriate gifts, which He designed and permitted the apostles to hold (Acts 5:15; 19:11, 12). The apostolic miracles, therefore, were the divine sign to mankind that God had chosen the apostolic company as Christ’s special representatives and messengers. It follows, for this reason, that their miracles of healing are not necessarily to be repeated.
In addition to the foregoing, it is to be kept in mind that both Christ and the apostles had the definite mission before them of offering the messianic kingdom to the Jews. The Old Testament prophets had made promises of many and large physical blessings to the Jewish people when the kingdom should come. Christ and the apostles, in proclaiming the kingdom, made good the words of the prophets by fulfilling the promises of physical blessing which they had made. This explains why most of the New Testament miracles of Christ were wrought in the second year of His ministry, which was that of His general popularity and acceptance. This also explains why these miracles diminished in the third year of His ministry, which was that of His gradual and final rejection. This also explains why there was a recrudescence of miracles in the early years of the apostles’ ministry, and a diminution of them as their ministry continued. In short, the miraculous acts increased to the degree the Jews accepted Christ and decreased to the degree they rejected Him. When the Jewish nation had finally rejected Christ, as also the apostles, Stephen and Paul, miracles, including miracles of healing, almost ceased. What remained were isolated acts which corroborated the apostolic authority and continued the witness to a living and loving Christ. When the time comes for a new offering of the kingdom to Israel, miracle-working will be renewed (Rev. 11:3-6); and when the kingdom has been established all of the prophetic promises concerning miracles, including healing, good health and long life, will be fulfilled. But now, the kingdom is not being offered to the Jews, for this is the church age. it is not, therefore, the age of miracles, except as God is pleased to manifest His power to individuals, in exceptional circumstances and for specific purposes.
As to the apostles living in the fulness of health and strength, there is no scriptural evidence of this. The silence of the Scripture in this respect indicates that their lives were lived out on a natural plane. It is probable that all of them, as Paul said of himself, were men “appointed unto death” (1 Cor. 4:9). And it is reasonably certain, as the Scripture intimates and tradition affirms, that each one, excepting John, was chosen for a comparatively early ending of life and, at the end, for the peculiar suffering of a martyr’s death. The traditions to this effect are tersely brought together in ’The Bible Handbook, by Dr. Joseph Angus:’