By Charles H. Welch
Miracle. The following definition of a miracle we have found written in the margin of a theological work, but are not sure that it is a quotation. If it is, it may be taken from Theological Institutes, by Rev. R. Watson.
Under the heading BAPTISM, some of the teaching of the N.T. concerning supernatural gifts has been discussed, and that article should be considered as a supplement to the one now before us. There are seven words used in the Greek N.T. which are translated mirac1e, which we will set out before the reader:
Many of the miracles of Christ were miracles of healing. Never did He work a miracle of judgment upon a son of man. The withered fig-tree and the destruction of the herd of swine are the nearest approaches to miracles of judgment, but in neither case did they touch a human being. On the contrary, the blind receive their sight, the dumb speak, the deaf hear, lepers are cleansed, and infirmities are cured. Even the dead are brought back to life again, thousands are fed with a few loaves and fishes, and the marriage at Cana is graced by His miraculous provision. The winds and the waves obey the voice of the Lord, the fish of the sea yield themselves to the net, or to pay the tribute at His command; demons and evil spirits are cast out and the possessed set free. On two occasions the Lord passed through a crowd unseen.
The first record of miracles in the Gospels is that of Matthew 4:23,24:
The result of these mighty works was that:
A glance at the map shows that early in the Lord's ministry His mighty works were known through the length and breadth of the land. It is important to observe the setting in which these miracles were wrought. The miracles were not mere exhibitions of power, neither were they performed to strike terror into the observers, for they were all of one character, viz., miracles of healing, and attracted followers from all parts of the country. The miracles formed a supplement, to TEACHING and PREACHING. The last reference to miracles in the Gospel narrative says the same thing, "and they went forth and PREACHED every where, the Lord WORKlNG with them, and confirming the WORD with signs following" (Mark 16:20).
Again in Matthew ten we find the same connexion, "As ye go, PREACH, saying, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, heal the sick, c1eanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons". Yet again the necessary association of preaching and miracles is implied in Matthew eleven. "He departed thence to TEACH and to PREACH n their cities. Now when John had heard in the prison the WORKS of Christ". The object (or at least a prominent object) with which the miracles were wrought is given in Matthew 11:20, "Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not". The close connexion between miracles and the testimony is also indicated in Matthew 13:58, "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief". Matthew 9:35 presents a practical repetition of Matthew 4:23, as the reader can observe, and should be read in connexion with the commission of Matthew ten.
One of the characteristic accompaniments of the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom was the presence of miracles. One of the characteristic features of the preaching of the Mystery is the absence of miracles. We might notice the extent of the miraculous healing given in Matthew 4:23,24, "healing all manner of sickness and all manner of diseases"; "all sick people that were taken with divers diseases, and torments, and those which were possessed with demons, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy, and He healed them".
Details are given more fully as the narrative advances, and when we see the complete list of the mighty works that are recorded in the Gospels we shall begin to realize what a confirmation is given to His ministry; and when we add to that the testimony of John 21 :25, "there are also many other things which Jesus Dm, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written", the confirmation of Messiahship must have been overwhelming. Yet they crucified Him! Yet they repented not! What a testimony then to the nature of the human heart.
The three miracles that are recorded in Matthew 8: 1-15 are suggestive
of much teaching.
The Pharisee in his prayer thanked God that he was not born (1) a Gentile,
(2) a Slave, or (3) a Woman (see the Jewish Prayer Book), which position
of "splendid isolation" is gloriously done away "in Christ" for Galatians
3:28 shows that there is
Here in these three opening miracles the Lord breaks through traditional
barriers; He touched a Leper! He
healed a Gentile! He healed a Woman!
There is a dispensational lesson here which the reader should ob serve,
as well as a moral one. Both the leper and the woman were healed by personal
contact; the Gentile, however, was healed at a distance. The peculiarity
comes out again in Matthew 15:21-28; in both cases, too, reference is
made to the great faith of the
Gentile. The miracles, like the parables, are distributed with reference
to the purpose before the writer. Let us observe the way in which they
occur in the Gospel of Matthew.
(1) THE 'TWELVE MIRACLES THAT PRECEDE
Twelve separate miracles are recorded by Matthew. Eight separate signs are recorded by John. Evidently, therefore, the writers of these "Gospels" made a choice of the event to suit the purpose of their respective narratives.
We know that twelve is associated with Israel, and with government. Let us look at these twelve miracles together, and notice anything that will help us to see what their special purpose may be:
The miracles oll into a well-defined group.
The Miracles after the rejection
The first set of seven miracles are not so much signs, as mirac1es of compassion. "He went about doing good. And Jesus . . . was moved with compassion" (14:14). The feeding of the 5,000 resembles the feeding of the 4,000 and there again the Lord says, "I have compassion on the multitude".
The second series of seven begins to foreshadow the development of events. Immediately after the glory of the Transfiguration, the Lord deals with a difficult case of demon possession, and makes reference to a faith capable of removing mountains. Then follows the mirac1e of the tribute money and its question:
Has the reader observed one great difference between the miracles performed before the twelfth chapter and those after it? In the case of those that are detailed in the first half of Matthew, Christ works them entirely alone. A change comes with this new series.
The disciples are the ones first addressed with regard to the feeding of the 5,000. "Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat." While the disciples were utterly unable to comply with the task, they have an ample share in its outworking. Peter evidently began to realize that the working of miracles in conjunction with the Lord was now expected, for he asks the Lord to bid him come to Him upon the water!
The repetition of the feeding of the 5,000 by the feeding of the 4,000 seemed intentional, but the disciples did not at the time appear to grasp the Lord's purpose. The Lord rebukes both lack of memory and lack of faith as to these two miracles (16:5-12). He rebukes the lack of faith again when the disciples confessed their inability to cast out the demon (17:20), and reminds them that prayer and fasting were essentials. Peter shares, however humbly, in the miracle of the tribute money; the disciples take a part in the miracle of the colt, and when the disciples marvelled at the withering of the fig tree, they are again reminded of the faith which removes mountains. There is a reason for this; "greater works than these shall ye do, because I go to My Father, " said the Lord, and Mark sixteen closes with the following words, "the Lord working with them, confirming the Word with signs following". These are, therefore, all indications of the coming dispensation of Pentecost. All was now awaiting that sign of all signs, the sign of the prophet Jonah.
The references to the coming of the King, and the Hosannas to the Son of David, again indicate how near the common people were to accepting the Lord as the Messiah. What a dreadful charge lies at the door of their spiritual rulers, who instructed them to choose Barabbas instead of Christ! How soon wilI this piece of history be repeated on a grander scale? Spiritist activity seems to indicate that the Lord and the False Christ are near.
There are two miracles which we reserve for more detailed consideration
owing to their bearing upon the dispensational outlook, namely, that of
the woman of Canaan, and that of the withered Fig Tree. We will now deal
(2) Two MIRACLES OF DISPENSATIONAL IMPORTANCE
Matthew 15:21-28 and 21 :19
All the miracles, as well as all the parables, have a definite dispensational
character, but the two we select in this article have that character in
a very prominent way. The first of the two took place near the close of
the Lord His ministry as the Son of Abraham. Soon after working the first
miracle the Lord began to speak of His approaching death, while soon after
the second Re was led away to be crucified. A simple outline of the mirac1e
of Matthew 15:21-28 is as follows:
The woman was a woman of Canaan, a Gentile, a Syrophenician (Mark 7:26), and she approached the Lord, calling Rim by His title, "Son of David". Now as Son of David Re came to be King, "King of the Jews" (Matt. 2:2; 27:37,42). This sovereignty was primarily of an exclusive character. The promise to David regarding his throne will be fulfilled in Christ, and in its primary interpretation it has no place for any nation but Israel. When the kingdom is established and that King is reigning, then world-wide blessing will result. So it was that the Saviour, Who so often was moved with compassion as Re contemplated fallen and suffering man, "answered her not a word".
His reply to the disciples' request reveals the reason of this strange silence, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel". These words, to weak faith, would have sounded as the death-knell of hope. The woman, however, penetrated the reply, and learned its lesson. As Son of David He could do nothing for her; she must therefore drop that title and approach Rim simply as Lord; she had no such rights in Rim as Son of David as Israel had. "Then came she and word shipped Him saying, Lord, help me." This request draws from the Lord a personal answer, but what will He say? Will He grant her request? "He answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to kunarion (little dogs)." At first sight this answer seems as forbidding as the former one. Israel were the lost sheep, what had He, their Shepherd, to do with dogs? Israel were the children of the house; surely it was not right to take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs?
The faith of this woman enabled her to believe that what He spoke to her was absolute truth, and she seized upon the word He had used for dogs. As the reader will know, the dog is a term of reproach throughout the East, and is a symbol of all that is depraved, forsaken, and cast out, e.g. "without are dogs". The Lord in His reply said "little dogs", or, as we say, puppies. The rule regarding the dog has an exception in the case of the little puppy; children in the East, like children in the West, like to pet and fondle the little puppies, and for a short time they are allowed inside the house. "Truth, Lord," replied the woman, "yet the puppies eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." She knew that the exclusiveness of the Lord's ministry to Israel was not for any mean or narrow reason; a saved Israel will be saved not for their own sake, but that all the families of the earth may be blessed in them.
The twofold aspect of this phase of God's dealings is emphasized in Romans 15:8,9, "Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers" -this is an exc1usive ministry to Israel with reference to promises made in the past-"and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy"-this follows as the designed sequence. So it was that the woman sought the crumbs. She gave Israel their rightful place; they were the Masters (the very same word twice rendered "Lord"). She was but a little dog; they sat at the table and she could only expect the crumbs. As soon as this was recognized, blessing came. How vital to this woman's case was a correct appreciation of dispensational truth! How many today are perplexed because the Lord answers not a word, simply because they are asking amiss! The miracle clearly shows us what was the relationship between Israel and the nations at the time of the Lord's earthly ministry. In Romans eleven, the figure changes to that of wild olive branches grafted into the true olive. In Ephesians two it further changes to the creation of one new man. Which shall we believe, the Scriptures rightly divided or those who speak against "dispensational" truth?
The second miracle has also a dispensational character. Here is a symbol of Israel as a nation, the fig tree. The fig, the vine, and the olive represent Israel in various capacities:
In the prophecy of Luke the Lord separates the fig tree from all others-"Behold the fig tree, and all the' trees" (Luke 21 :29-31). The sign of the Lord's return is found in the budding of the nation, and all the nations; a day is coming when "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fi1lthe world with fruit" (Isa. 27 :6). At the time, however, when the miracle was performed, the Lord found "leaves only". The crowd had spread their garments in the road, had cut down branches from the trees and scattered them on the road, they had shouted saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David"; but it was "leaves only". The same crowd within a few days were prevailed upon to cry, "away with Him, crucify Him". The Lord had foretold this in Matthew 13:5,6:
The Hosannas were leaves only, fruit depends upon root. The scorching sun indicates persecution:
The fig tree and those hearers on stony ground withered. Such was the parable of Israel, they began to cumber the earth; soon the word would go forth, "cut it down". Israel will bring forth no fruit until the age (translated "for ever").
It is deeply suggestive to us all to note the fact that the only miracle of judgment which the Lord performed was upon a tree. Never did He work such upon a human being. The only other occasion where anything resembling a judgment might be found is the case of the swine which were choked. Yet here it was the swine, not the men, who were drowned. Thus these two mirac1es, taken together, speak of the blessing going out to the Gentiles, and the cutting off, for the time being, of an unfruitful people. In this case there are lessons for all to learn, lessons not rendered the less pointed by seeing them in their true dispensational perspective.
We will conclude this section with a word concerning the presence of
the miraculous in the Scriptures. One of the most obvious reasons for
a miracle is that it "confirms" that which purports to be a revelation
from God. Anyone can declare that what he has to teach is a message received
direct from heaven, and there are always enough gullible souls ready to
make a following. Consequently we find that the miracle is referred to
as a confirmation in several passages of Scripture.
When the Apostle defended his office against those who would have discredited him, he appealed unto this confirming evidence of miracle.
The confirmation is most obvious in the cases of Moses. It demanded the greatest courage on the part of Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand the release of Israel, and it was extremely unlikely that Israel would respond without some clear attestation from above.
The answer of the Lord was in the nature of miraculous signs: the serpent, typifying Satan, and leprosy typifying sin. Even the Lord Himself appealed to the miracles He wrought saying:
Thus it is demonstrated that miracles were given to confirm the revelation to Moses, to the Apostles and to Christ Himself. This is so natural, so expected, that the very ones who object to the presence of mirac1e in the Bible, would be the first to affirm that the Bible could not be a revelation from God if no miracles accompanied its unfolding. Then again, it is objected that miracles are unscientific. The laws of nature cannot thus be set aside. Miracles cannot happen, and no "proof" can be entertained. We all know this kind of argument. One would imagine that the laws of nature actually exist outside the mind of the scientist who frames them. Many so-called laws of nature have been deposed from their throne, to be taken by others, which in turn will be eclipsed. We see a stone fall to the earth and we speak of "the law of gravitation". God, the Creator, Who planned that stones should fall downward, is supposed to be utterly unable to do what is done every minute of waking life. We have only to intro duce a PERSON into creation, and water flows upward, light produces sound, masses of metal float on water or fly through the air, in every case breaking or altering the operation of certain "laws of nature".
Take a simple illustration. We spend several hours on the edge of a cliff, letting pebble after pebble go, and demonstrating that it is a law of nature, that anything that is let go at the top of the cliff will most certainly fall to the bottom. A little child comes toddling to the edge of the cliff, slips and begins to fall, but mother love brushes aside the laws of nature so patiently and so scientifically demonstrated by us, puts out an arm, intercepts the child and saves its life. That is all that a miracle is. The interposition of a Person, and if that person be God, what limits shall we put to His power? Instead, therefore, of speaking of miracles as though it were unreasonable to expect them, it is altogether the other way. Grant a God of almighty power, grant a people redeemed by love, and we have granted all that is necessary for the interposition of mirac1e wherever and whenever it should be so demanded. Finally, if the ordinary chain of cause and effect binds the hand of God as with a fetter, prayer would be just a waste of time. Every answer to prayer, is the interposition of a Father's hand athwart the otherwise remorseless sequence of cause and effect. So from every angle that the matter of miracle is approached it is found to be rational, to be expected if God is God, and if the Scriptures are his revealed will to man. See article entitled CONFIRMATION.