The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
but this does not justify the presumption that he will move in direct antagonism to his own laws. God and Nature must necessarily harmonise; their antagonism is impossible.
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
With the unfairness characteristic of the Standard, he contends that because the Deity is represented as unable to operate in direct opposition to Nature, there is, therefore, an unwarrantable limit placed to his potency,—in a word, that it implies a denial of God's omnipotence. The objection is perfectly childish, and as rational as if, because it was alleged that a good man could not, under given circumstances, perpetrate what a perfectly bad man would not hesitate to do, it was contended that the good man was unwarrantably reduced to the dimensions of a genuine imbecile.
A. well-known Roman poet would not tolerate the Deity on the tapis unless there was something to be effected worthy of a god:
Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus Inciderit.
Let us bear this in mind whilst adverting to a miracle of the first class, involving nothing less than Sun and Moon, and Earth and Stirs, and all Creation. A handful of Jews were busily engaged page 301 in braining some ragged Gentiles, and to aid and assist in this very important affair the Deity was invoked, and forthwith operated in a way that indicated the undoubted presence of the Omnipotent. The shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz, was arrested it is true; but that was merely a trifle in the great account. The great clock of Nature was stopped. The law of gravitation was suspended for the nonce; and Sun and Moon, and Earth and Stars would have gone to ruin had not Deity been present to superintend this magnificent operation in favor of two or three thousand obscure Israelites.
When God created man, he supplied him with the requisite amount of intelligence, either in the form of instinct or reason, to deal with the laws of Nature; but had they not been permanent and invariable, they would have been a constant source of difficulty, instead of assistance, to him. We have referred to the law of gravitation : we should be glad to know whenever there was any genuinely authentic account of its variation. Astronomers have made it the basis of calculation up to the time and beyond the time of Christ, and so far, at any rate, has it proved to be invariable in its operation, and free of the shadow of a change. More ancient than the Sun,—than all suns,—gravitation retains Sun, Moon and Stars in their ordained courses, and with a grasp second only to that of Omnipotence. But all-powerful though it be, in the service of God's creatures, it is as delicate in its pressure as it is potent. It attunes the zephyr to its softest sigh—incarnadines the cheek of beauty with its loveliest hues, and guarantees to man his salubrity and a thousand unnumbered and innumerable blessings beside. And whenever was this admirable mechanism out of order or going wrong? Maugre the sacred record, we have no doubt whatever that the behaviour of the sun-dial of Ahaz is erroneously reported. The shadow on that sun-dial, depend upon it, was semper eadem in its record of the progress of the sun in its diurnal march westward. But let us suppose that gravitation pressed unequally for a single week in Australia, and in consequence, that it required double the quantity of wool to raise the lb. weight than was before wanted to produce the same effect. What endless confusion would be the result of such a catastrophe; for were things to resume their old course in a week's time, where is the guarantee that the same irregularity would not again afflict the commercial world?
But for a moment let us revert to the great biblical miracle of all, which, without any apology for saying so, is, in our estimation, no miracle at all. The advent of Jesus Christ was natural enough, if man would have allowed it to remain so. But forgetting the nee deus intersit of Horace, Deity was brought upon the stage for no other earthly purpose, that we can discover, except to show what was very well known before, namely, that men, in their readiness to swallow the absurdest fictions, are, for the most part, fools. Dreaming a dream, Joseph the carpenter is represented page 302 by the Gospels as being half-witted enough to believe that his wife, the Virgin Mary, was with child by the Angel Gabriel; and this same story we ourselves are called upon to believe at the peril of our salvation. Well, at the peril of our salvation, we will most decidedly reject the whole affair as a miserable fabrication. God would not comport himself as he is represented to have done if he could; nay, we maintain (and are fully aware of what we are saying) that he could not—his power being limited by moral considerations—if he would.
We are not, however, so far hostile to miracles as to deny their possibility. Indeed, we are in a position to tender evidence in verification of an apparent impossibility that occurred when we were at school; and we trust that its narration may prove sufficiently interesting to repay the trouble of perusal. One of the many large boarding schools in the county of Bedford was, many years ago, under the superintendence of the Rev. George Keely, a Baptist minister of high repute amongst his co-religionists. One evening the school was in the dining room discussing a light supper, when the Domine appeared in the principal doorway. "Gentlemen !" he exclaimed, at the top of his voice. The hum of conversation instantly subsided, and Mr. Keely went on. "Gentlemen ! I have the pleasure to announce that the Apostle Paul, from the other world, will occupy my pulpit on "Wednesday evening next, at the usual hour." He bowed, turned on his heel, and disappeared." Why ! what can he mean ?" was the universal query, which Joe Jaques disposed of very summarily by declaring, very unreservedly, that it was a lie. This was cutting the knot certainly; but Joe's solution was universally declined. No! no! Mr. Keely would not lie. Still, as no other explanation was attempted, it was agreed to wait till Wednesday night, when it was hoped the mystery would be cleared up. Wednesday night came, and so did the Reverend Mr. Paul, a Baptist minister from the United States of North America. The Rev. Mr. Paul was employed on a mission from the Baptist Churches in America to the Baptist Churches in England. He was therfore properly styled an apostle. We were in the Old world, he came from the New. We were in one world, he came from the other. Therefore, the Apostle Paul from the other world preached to us on the Wednesday evening that it was announced he would do so, and thereby perpetrated as genuine a miracle as the very best of them.