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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Correspondence. — The Bible and the Miraculous


The Bible and the Miraculous.

Sir,—In your reply to Bishop Perry's pamphlet you give a list of mirac-ulous occurrences (p. 71) to which you challenge the assent of rational readers. But I observe that these miracles are nearly all on one side, if I may use the expression; they were all performed by accredited agents of Jehovah, by men "approved of God by miracles and signs and wonders." (Acts ii. 22), and therefore will be regarded by those who have no insuperable objections to the miraculous as regular credentials of God's ministers. But there is another side to the miraculous; there were wonders wrought by the enemies of God; running through the whole of the Bible there is a rich vein of prodigies, which the champions of literal interpretation are bound also to accept, and into this it may be worth while to examine. Throughout the whole history of the Israelites, magicians, wizards, witches and familiar spirits are mentioned as commonly as thieves and burglars in modern times. Thus (Gen. xli. 8) Pharaoh called in the magicians to interpret his dream before he had recourse to Joseph. Again (Exodus vii. 10), when Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and it became a serpent, the magicians cast down their rods and they also became serpents: Aaron's rod-serpent, however, showing its superiority by swallowing their rod-serpents and afterwards resuming its original form. The magicians, moreover, imitated the genuine prophet in making the Nile to become blood (Exodus vii. 22), and in calling up frogs (Exodus viii. 7), but they were not able to turn dust into lice (Exodus viii. 18), and therefore accepted this prodigy as the work of God. Passing on to the Levitical law we find several enactments against wizards and necromancers (Exodus xxii. 8, Lev. xix 26-31, xx. 6-27, and Deut. xxiii. 10). Such were not to be allowed to live; they were to be stoned to death. More than this, there are directions given to meet the case of false prophets (Deut. xviii. 20), and of prophets who, being real wonderworkers, should use their influences for a bad purpose (Deut. xiii. 1). As we reach the era of Saul, the first Hebrew monarch, we find him troubled with an evil spirit (1 Sam. xvi 23), which, however, is subdued by a few airs upon a harp. But when Saul was approaching the end of his career, having slaughtered the priests contrary to law (1 Sam. xxii. 18), and exterminated all the witches according to law (1 Sam. xxviii. 3), the gloomy monarch in his desire to learn his fate was glad to seek the aid of a woman of the very class that he had put to death. And then we have a circumstantial account of the apparition of Samuel summoned from the land of shades to inform Saul of his impending fate. We hear again of wizards being consulted by King Manasseh (2 Kings xxi. 6), and being extirpated by King Josiah (2 Kings xxiii. 24). Enough of this subject for the Old Testament. Turning to the New, we find Jesus (Matt. xii. 27) observing, "If I by Beelzebub cast out-devils, by whom do your sons cast them out?" clearly showing that the power to cast out devils was in those days regarded as nothing remarkable. One passage may very well be quoted to show how the mind of a Jew was page 150 familiarised to the notion of miracles (John vii. 31), "When Christ cometh will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?" In the book of Acts we find repeated mention of sorcerers—(viii. 9) of Simon Magus, (xiii. 6) of Elymas or Barjesus, (xvi. 16) of a certain damsel having a spirit of divination, (xix. 13) of certain vagabond Jews, exorcists, who attempted to cast out a devil and failed miserably. And, finally, in the Epistle of Jude (v. 9) we are informed that the Archangel Michael had a dispute with the devil about the body of Moses, and used no strong language, not even calling his opponent a "moral leper"—more courtesy than has been shown by Dean McNeile to Bishop Temple.

Now, having gone through all this at the risk of being tedious, I ask the believers in the whole Bible, from cover to cover, do they accept it all? are they prepared to maintain, not merely that certain persons specially favoured of God might have worked wonders, but that this power should have been given to hundreds of persons, scattered up and down the history of the Israelites, from the time of the Patriarchs to the destruction of Jerusalem? e.g., that a great prophet should have been called back again to earth by a bad woman, directly against the Divine law, to foretell the fate of a bad man? If not, what becomes of the infallibility of the English Bible?