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THE NATURAL HISTORY OF MAN IN HIS SPIRITUAL
By SAMUEL ADAMS, M. D., Professor of Chemistry and Natural History, Illinois College.
The Necessity of a Miraculous Revelation. In a previous article we argued the probability of a miraculous revelation on the ground of a universal anticipation of the human race. We also touched upon certain rationalistic objections to miracles, based first upon the assumption of their incredibility, and secondly upon the allegation of their inutility, even though it were admitted, that they were not incredible, and though it had been proved, that they had actually been wrought.
The first form of the objection assumes the incredibility of miracles. This objection, when analyzed, amounts to this : “The mind instinctively believes in a uniform order of nature, and ever clings to that belief as true. A miracle assumes to be a deviation from the uniform order of nature, and is thus contrary to an inevitable instinctive belief of the human mind, and, therefore, utterly incredible.”
Now we are ready to admit, that the mind spontaneously believes in a uniform order of nature, and that nature conforms to that belief. Nay more, we contend that this belief and the conformity of nature to it, are essential to the possible conception and very existence of a miracle. For if the mind did not believe
а in an established order of nature, how could it recognize a deviation from that order? And if there be absolutely no order of nature, how can there be a deviation from it?
Admitting, however, all that the objector alleges with regard to the order of nature, and the corresponding belief of the human mind, we affirm that it is also true, that the mind just as spontaneously believes that under certain circumstances there will be a deviation from the established order of nature. In proof that such a belief exists, we need do little more than refer to the railings of infidelity against the alleged credulity and su
* Bib. Repos. Oct. 1844., p. 353.
perstition of mankind in believing in all sorts of impostures in the form of pretended miracles. Such greediness for the marvellous and miraculous, such readiness to swallow the vilest impostures in the form of alledged miracles, does not look much like an instinctive reluctance in the human mind to admit, in any circumstances, a deviation from the order of nature. On the contrary, we recognize in these facts a universal anticipation of a miraculous manifestation of the Power that rules the universe. Call it credulity,-call it superstition,-call it the tyranny of custom,—there it is, interwoven with every thread and fibre of the complicated web of human history. As far back as history penetrates into the twilight of antiquity, man has been waiting and watching for a miraculous revelation. From time immemorial, the anxious spirit has been watching for some mysterious hand to lift the curtain that hides futurity, and listening for some miraculous voice to break the silence of ages and give utterance to those truths which might solve the dark enigma of human destiny. It is not true, therefore, that the spontaneous convictions and anticipations of the human mind are opposed to the credibility of miracles. On the contrary, a miraculous revelation has ever been one of the most urgent of the felt wants of humanity.
But, says the objector, “if it be admitted that miracles are credible, and even though it were proved, that they have actually been wrought, still they prove nothing, and can therefore be of no possible utility as an accompaniment to a revelation. For reason, says he, is adequate to attain all needed truth without the aid of miracles.”
But if, as we have contended above, there be a conscious want of the human race which nothing but miracles can supply, it then follows that whatever can supply that want, possesses the very essence of utility. But we suppose the objector will be satisfied with nothing short of a specification of the precise point of utility involved in the question. Let us proceed then to an examination of the objection and to a specific reply.
This objection, when analyzed, is based upon one of two assumptions, which though somewhat allied to each other are nevertheless essentially distinct. It is assumed, either that reason is adequate to reveal all that the well-being of man requires him to know,-or that such is the affinity of reason for the truth, that the latter need only be uttered in order to gain universal acceptance; and that miracles can consequently add nothing to the convincing power of simple utterance.
The first of these assumptions was discussed somewhat in detail in the article referred to above. We there attempted to show, that reason is not the light, but the eye of the soul,-not the reVealer, but the perceiver of truth. We are aware, however, that
the language of many able writers on the philosophy of the human mind is in seeming conflict with the position which we there attempted to maintain. We hear of the “a priori intuitions of reason," of ideas or “truths of the pure reason," and of" original suggestion” as a source of ideas. Reason in these various aspects seems to be spoken of as a revealer of truth.
Now, we are ready to admit that reason, in an appropriate sense, is a source of ideas—of knowledge. But we believe that these ideas are suggested to the reason, and not revealed by it. We regard reason as the spiritual eye, by which the mind penetrates beneath the material and the sensible, and recognizes the spiritual and the unseen. And we hold, that like the eye of the body, it reaches its objects through the instrumentality of a medium. The facts of perception, the facts of consciousness, and living utterance, we conceive to be the medium through which truth is revealed to the reason. Thus the facts of perception reveal the reality of the external world. Our conscious exertion of causal power suggests the idea and discloses the existence of
The facts of perception and of consciousness combined, reveal the existence of an intelligent, omnipotent cause in nature. And simple testimony is often the only medium through which the mind can reach important truth. To the brute, however, the mighty spectacle of nature and his own consciousness, reveal no unseen cause, because he is destitute of the faculty of reason,-he has no eye to recognize the invisible.
The second assumption, alluded to above, alledges that such is the affinity of reason for the truth, that the latter needs no extraneous support, and carries conviction by its own inherent power,—and that for this very reason a miracle can prove nothing, though it may have actually occurred as a matter of fact. The morality of the sermon on the Mount and of our Saviour's teaching generally, is frequently referred to as a specimen of truth, that binds the reason and conscience independently of the person, by whom it was uttered, or of the circumstances in which it was published. Let us investigate this power of unaided reason to attain to the belief of all essential truth.
1. It must be admitted that reason is adequate to attain those truths, which lie along the every day path of life and are involved in our hourly experience. Thus the facts of daily consciousness reveal to the mind the moral freedom and responsibility of man ; and no miracle is needed to substantiate this truth. So also the phenomena of nature reveal the existence of an unseen cause.
2. Reason is adequate to recognize truth when uttered by superior minds, even though unaided, it could never have reached it. A mind which is incapable of pursuing without aid a given train of mathematical reasoning, may still be able to follow another mind through that same train of reasoning, and to obtain thereby a clear conception of all the truths involved in the process. Again, an important moral truth or precept, which is never thought of by the mass of mankind, and perhaps is never likely to be thought of by them, may, by finding a simple, clear, and distinct utterance, compel universal conviction, and ever after become a controlling element in society. Such a truth needs no miracle to secure its acceptance with a candid and sincere mind. “ All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." What can miracles,what can argument add to the convincing power of this simple utterance? The moment the meaning of these words is apprehended, it flashes upon the mind like a new inspiration, and reason responds, “ This is Divine truth,—this is right.” Dwell upon the principle involved in this precept, and it widens and expands before the spiritual eye, till it fills the whole inoral hemisphere; and the mind rests in its final ascendancy as the ultimatum of human hope—the consummation of human perfection on earth. A certain scribe once came to Jesus Christ and inquired of Him what was the first commandment of all. Jesus replies in those well-known and memorable words, which enjoin supreme and perfect love to God, and impartial love to man. "Well, master, thou hast said the truth,” was the unhesitating response. Here we have the most important, comprehensive, and far-reaching utterance, that ever fell from the lips of Jesus of Nazareth, received, as it would seem, without the aid of miracles, by the simple power of truth over a sincere mind.
At this admission we may suppose the objector returning again to the charge. “If the reception of moral truth,” he might say, , “ depends upon the appeal, which it makes to the reason by its own inherent power, where is the necessity for miracles? It may be, that he who utters the truth has obtained his knowledge by miraculous communication with the Deity; yet as the reception of the truth by others is supposed to depend upon neither the fact nor the knowledge of any particular mode of its communication to the one who utters it, but upon its inherent power to compel conviction," where, it may be asked again, is the necessity for miracles to accompany revealed truth?
If moral precepts, and those truths which they involve, were the only subjects on which mankind needed to be enlightened, there would be substantial force in this objection. Man might
. still need to be enlightened from above, and the revealer of truth might still need miraculous inspiration ; while the fact of such inspiration might rest a secret in his own bosom, unattested by any outward manifestation of miracles on his part. In admitting, however, the form of this objection, as far as it goes, it is important to distinguish between the utility of miracles for proving moral truths, and their agency in preparing the mind to attend with candor and earnestness to the declaration of truth. This last point remains to be discussed in the following pages.
But moral truths and precepts are not the only subjects on which the mind of man needs light from above. There are certain great questions of fact concerning the relations and destiny of man, on which the human race needs to be enlightened. Now it is obvious, that our belief as to matters of fact, in every instance which has not come within the range of our own observation or experience, must rest wholly on testimony. There is a difference in this respect between a moral truth and a matter of fact. Take an illustration : « To intend good is right”_"to intend evil is wrong.” These propositions, the moment they are comprehended, are felt to be the expressions of absolute truth. Such is not the case with a proposition concerning a mere question of fact. For instance, take the proposition, "There is such a city as London.” Every one who has not visited that city,
. depends for his belief of the proposition upon some form of testimony. The mind instinctively feels that the moral propositions must be true, whether ever uttered in words or not; while that which concerns a matter of fact may, without absurdity be false, though repeated a thousand times.
As our belief in matters of fact, which lie beyond the reach of our own observation, is based upon testimony, it must ultimately rest on the credibility of that testimony. Let us, therefore, look at some of those points, upon which, as matters of fact, the highest moral well-being of man requires that he should be enlightened; and let us consider what is required to render testimony credible on these points.
More than three thousand years ago the anxious question was asked, “If a man die shall he live again ??! Age after age this agonizing inquiry went forth without meeting any satisfactory response. The human race groaned and travailed in pain with this torturing question, now racked with painful doubts and fears, and now clinging with a death-grasp to a trembling hope. The mind of man fluctuated between hope and fear with the changing lights and shadows that varied the aspects of nature around him. He looked upon the gathering shades of evening and shuddered at the thought of that night of death, which must soon overtake him, and perhaps forever engulf his hoping, conscious being in blank oblivion." He looked upon the decay of autumn. and saw in it the emblem of his own fate ; he wished he could see the type of his own destiny in the revival of spring. He contemplated the face of nature, and felt sure that the shadows of night would give place to a new day,—that
“ Kind Nature the embryo blossom would save," but his heart died within him as he anxiously inquired