Are there still miracles today and how should we view miracles today? Is this special gift still found in the church? The author also looks at false miracles, and at the notion that miracles have stopped when Scripture was completed (cessationism). The relation of Word of God, miracle and faith is also discussed.

Source: The Monthly Record, 1997. 4 pages.

Miracles Today? Were the Miracles only for Bible Times and People?

Both in the Old and New Testaments, the miracles stand guard over the unfolding revelation of God's salvation, calling men and women to respond to the fact of a supernatural redemption.

A more problematic question concerns the issue of whether or not miracles still happen. The validity of the claims of miraculous occur­rence must be taken seriously. For it is clear that a prima facie case can be made out for the continuance of the miracles. After all, the power of God is an immutable power. The Christ who commissions His church to evangelise the world declares that all power in Heaven and in earth is given to Him. It is on that basis that the mission­ary work of the church is undertaken; and it is because "the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (Revelation 19:6) that the people of God evange­lise with confidence. The same power that made the lame to walk and the blind to see has lost none of its potential.

There are also passages which appear to teach that miracles will always accompany the work of the church in the world. Although the authenticity of the ending of Mark has been disputed by some, those who accept its validity are told that,

these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak in new languages; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken to them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with (them), and confirming the word with signs following.Mark 16:17- ­20

There is here the promise that believers will be followed with miracles, and the observation that the presence of the risen Lord with His church was to be confirmed by the miraculous signs.

Nor can we make too much of the alleged disjunction between Acts and the epistles in this connection. Some have responded to the claim that Acts is full of miracles by saying that not Acts but the epistles are to be our guide. But this is to drive a wedge too far; and the epistles themselves at places only tend to confirm what is observed in Acts, that it was through "mighty signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit of God" that Paul "fully preached the Gospel of Christ" (Romans 15:19). And in 1 Corinthians 12:10 and 28, miracles and healings, along with other signs, are included among the gifts given by the risen Lord to His church in the world, along with knowledge, faith and prophecy. Indeed, at 1 Corinthians 12:27, Paul declares that "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" a statement that is applicable to the workings of Christ's church in every place and locality; and it is of this church that Paul goes on to say that Christ has set in it apostles, teachers, gifts of miracles, healings, governments, and so on.

Nor can we simply rubbish the claims of those who profess to have seen or experienced, or even performed miracles. It is far easier to take issue with a proposition of philosophy or theology than with a testimony of experience; and when a man says that he has performed a miracle, or that he has seen a miracle, his claim cannot be lightly dismissed. After all, the authenticity of the New Testament kerugma is rooted in the apostolic eye­witness testimony of the majesty of Christ (2 Peter 1:16; cf. 1 John 1:1-3). Ought not the claim of contemporary Christians to have been involved in miracles at some level be equally valid and authoritative in the church?

False Miracles🔗

One approach to such claims is to respond with the counter-claim that the Bible prophesies false miracles as well as genuine ones. Indeed, throughout the Scriptures we find the phenom­enon of false and counterfeit miracles being performed. The magicians of Egypt were able to imitate the miracles of Moses and Aaron (to do "in like manner with their enchantments", Exo­dus 7:11), and turn their rods into serpents. Instead of being amazed at the supernatural power of Moses, Pharaoh is content that his magicians can do the same thing. As Matthew Henry puts it, "to the seed of the serpent, these serpents were no amazement". There is clearly supernatural power here; "we must think", says W.H. Grispen, "of satanic power... The magicians could suc­ceed because God allowed them to" (BSC Commentary on Exodus 7:11-12).

The denouement of such activity recorded in the Bible is seen in the activity of the Man of Sin of 2 Thessalonians 2, "whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deception of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (9-10). To which Paul adds that it was God who gave the Man of Sin and his followers over to "strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all may be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness". The explanation of the false miracles is not that they are not truly supernatural acts, but that they are imme­diately the working of Satan, subject to the authority of God, who allows delusion and hardening against the Gospel.

Impos­tors, says Calvin, in their working of miracles are the ministers of God's vengeance, in order that the reprobate may be taken in their snares.

While not every claim to the mi­raculous can be dismissed as false, the Bible reminds us of the tendency of Satan to counterfeit the truth. He transforms himself into an angel of light; little wonder that he impresses men by transforming sticks into serpents. The delusion is shat­tered when men appear before the Judge claiming exemption from the punishment of a lost eternity on the basis of having performed exorcisms and having done many wonderful works, only to be told by Christ that He never knew them. It is possible to work wonders and be lost.

The Case for Cessationism🔗

But while this is a genuinely biblical response, it cannot be our total response. False miracles are evidences only that some alleged miracles are not genuinely of God. Even granting their falseness, they still beg the question, if they do not answer it, of whether miracles still occur. The cessationist position is build on several other layers of testimony.

The first is the gradual removal from this world of the apostles, and of those who received the Holy Spirit from them by the laying on of hands. We observe, as B.B. Warfield puts it, that "the confinement of the supernatural gifts by the Scriptures to those who had them conferred upon them by the Apostles, affords a ready explana­tion of all the historical facts. It explains the unobserved dying out of these gifts" (Counterfeit Miracles, p.24). This key, says Warfield, unlocks all the "historical puzzles" in connection with the miracles: their distribution by God to the first-century church, confined to the apostles and to some of their contemporaries, and marks the boundaries within which the miracu­lous gift operated in the New Testament church. It is not that the church became less dependent on attestative miracles; but rather that the foundation was laid with those who were given the power to work the miracles. It is on the foundation of the apostles and prophets that the church is built now, with Christ Himself the chief corner stone.

The second principle here is the consummate act of redemption which the cross displays. The miracles were both revelationary in themselves, and were in­terpretative of the revelation of God's salvation. They revealed God's power and the glory of the eternal Son, and they shed light upon the unfolding drama of God's redemption in the history of the world. The implication is that "Since miracles in the Bible are tied to God's special revela­tion of Himself and of His program, centering in the Lord Jesus Christ as God incarnate, 'who was delivered for our of­fences, and was raised again for our justification' (Romans 4:25), miracles in the biblical pattern do not occur today" (J. A. Witmer, 'The Doctrine of Miracles' in The BibSac Reader, p, 20). The defini­tive and terminative nature of God's redemption in Christ brings the story of a worked-out righteousness to a conclusion, and allows us to view the drama as a whole. And it is to a completed work that the Gospel calls sinners. The cessation of the miracles, therefore, goes hand in hand with the accomplishment of redemption.

The third principle is the closing of the canon of Scripture. When the perfect is come, what is in part is done away with. The application of this principle to the provision of a full and sufficient Scripture means that all that was shadowy and par­tial is eclipsed by something better. With the close of the revelation period, "the period of miracle-working had passed by also, as a matter of mere course" (Coun­terfeit Miracles, p.26). Yet many fail to see that to have a closed canon, a complete Bible, is a greater privilege than to see the lame walking or the dead rising. Christ Himself speaks of this when He reports Abraham as saying,

If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one should rise from the dead.Luke 16:31

The fourth principle is the fact that faith is independent of miracles. It is the word which produces faith, and not ex­traordinary, supernatural signs. To be sure, faith embraces an objective revela­tion, demonstrated by extraordinary miracles; but faith hastens itself to the word, carrying the miracles with it in its embrace to rest content with an accom­plished redemption. God "doth not, in our regeneration, possess the mind with any enthusiastical impressions" (John Owen, Vol. 3, p.318). Owen comments on Ephesians 2:8, where faith is declared to be the 'gift of God' that "our own ability, be it what it will, however assisted and excited, and God's gift, are contradistinguished" (p.324).

To be sure, the New Testament says that many believed when they saw the miracles. But as Calvin reminds us in his commentary on Acts, "Miracles must never be separated from the word". The effec­tive means by which the Spirit of God works faith in the heart is the word applied with conviction and power. On Christ's authority, we know that the miracles testi­fied of Him, and pointed to Him. The evidence of miracles, as Hodge has it, "is ... subordinate and inferior to that of the truth itself".

Your Day for a Miracle?🔗

Among recent titles in the Chris­tian publishing world have been books like Benny Hinn's This is your day for a Mira­cle, Geoff and Hope Price's Miracles: True Stories of how God acts today (which one Christian magazine recommends with the blurb — "Geoff and Hope Price provide compelling evidence that God's miracles are not confined to the pages of the Bible... He is just as active today as He has ever been") and John White's When the Spirit comes with power: Signs and Wonders among God's People. These popular works sell the line that biblical miracles are norma­tive and definitive for the ongoing work of the church. What is our response to be?

First, we assert our confidence in the wonder-working God of the Bible. It is still true that with Him all things are possible, and still true that God's people can do all things with Christ strengthening them. The God who performs great deeds of strength and might is still able to under­take for all who put their trust in Him. The success of the church's evangelistic en­deavour hinges not upon the intrigue or the capabilities of men, but upon the glorious workings of God. As Asa reminds us in 2 Chronicles 14:11, it is nothing for God to help His people. But it is everything for them.

Second, we must ask - what do the biblical miracles mean for us in today's world? This is the kind of question on which liberal, existential theology builds, but it is the very stuff of exposition. New Testament scholarship has looked at the miracles as an a priori impossibility; to be viewed as a literary device, and nothing more. The Roman Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx asks "even if Jesus had done all this, in a historical and literal sense, what would that signify for us here and now?" (Jesus: An Experiment in Christology, p.181). Schillebeeckx drives a wedge between the Jesus viewed by the punitive church as the eschatological wonder-worker, and the Jesus that relates to the modern world. Hermeneutics, he argues, must restructure the interpretations of the first generation disciples to make these relevant for today's believer.

Evangelical scholarship of the New Testament can hardly go down this road. Yet it must drop a bridge where liberalism ewes a wedge, seeing not a disparity but a contemporaneity in the miracles of Jesus as the Bible relates to modern society. For His power is abundantly greater than our behest requests, and will be so to the end flume (Ephesians 3:20-21). But as Walter Lamer points out, "The jump from the 'then' of the original text to the 'now' of the modern audience has received so little attention in our evangelical training centers ad pulpit practice that our best efforts are bong crippled" (Towards an Exegetical Theology, p.202). The healing miracles are saying to us that healing is possible, not certain; and that God is able to restore and cure. The nature miracles are calling us to the God who is sovereign over, and not simply in the cosmos. The resurrection miracles give us hope in death, anticipat­ing as they do the resurrection of all. There is a journey to be made from the then to the now, in the application of biblical truth to modern life.

Which begs a third point: there are miracles for which we are invited to pray without ceasing. Every conversion is a miracle. Revival is a miracle. Healing is a miracle. And undoubtedly, people are converted, revivals take place, people are healed. Undoubtedly, God intervenes. While we must guard against the philoso­phy, for example, that sickness is not God's will for a Christian, we believe in miracu­lous healing. If we could not believe in conversion and revival, by the immediate presence and power of God, we could not continue in our calling. Our confidence is that miracles may happen, not that they must.

Fourth, we believe that there is one supreme validating test of the Spirit's pres­ence; and it is not the presence of spectacular signs. For all the miracles wrought within the first thirty years of the New Testament church, the period covered by Acts, the record of apostolic evangelism concludes with the great words:

and Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

The normative, regulative pattern of church development and growth is the preaching of Christ. That is the definitive mark of Spirit-filled, Spirit-led preaching: He takes of the things of Christ and reveals them. The Pentecostal outpouring con­firmed the disciples in their love for, and adherence to, the apostles' doctrine. The only adequate standard and test of Holy Spirit power is true doctrine and doctrinal truth.

For there is no miracle like having the truth in our possession.

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