Charles Blount,
Miracles, No Violations of the Laws of Nature
(London, 1683)

Edited from the 1683 edition by Frank Luttmer.

Premonition to the Candid Reader

It is the judgement of most of the ancient Fathers of the Christian Faith, and of the most learned Theologues among the Moderns; that the Authors of the holy Scriptures, when they speak of natural things, do not design to instruct men in Physical Speculations and the Science of Natural Philosophy; but aim only to excite pious Affections in their breasts, and to induce them to the Worship and Veneration of the true God, whom they celebrated in their Writings: whose Power and Goodness they therefore took all fair Occasions to demonstrate, that they might, from as well the natural as civil Order of things, establish in the Minds of the Readers a right and firm Belief thereof. This then being the only End they proposed to themselves, they found themselves obliged so to explicate the visible Works of God and the nature of the things they were to relate, as that they might not, by Novity and Insolency, appear too remote and abhorrent from the common Sense and pre-conceiv'd Opinions of the Vulgar, tho whole narrow Capacity and groveling Wit they were always to condescend; yea even to wrest the general Causes and Ends of the whole Creation in favour of the Peoples Prejudices, as if all things in the Universe were ordained only for the good and benefit of Mankind. Nor could it conduce to this their principal purpose, to insist upon second Causes, or defer much to their Efficacy: but rather in all Contingents or Events to recur immediately to God himself, the First Cause, Author and President of Nature; omitting to give any account of that Apparatus and long Series of causes, which Philosophers use to remark in explaining the Phenomena of Nature, and which Nature her self uses in their production. Whence it is, that these pious Writers compendiously refer all things to the immediate Power of God and to his irresistible Will and Command: leaving men to learn from the Light of Nature or right Reason, (which alone is able to teach it) that the Power of God and the Power of Nature are one and the same, and that all her Laws are his external Decrees. For their business was, not to treat of the Principles of Natural Philosophy (as I said before) but to convince the unthinking Multitude that God is the Origin of all things, that universal Nature is obedient to his Will, and that his Providence presides over and governs all things, as well natural as human; which he so disposes and accommodates, as to make them conspire to the good and happiness of those who follow Piety and Virtue, and to the punishment of the Impious and Vicious: and the Multitude was to be convinced, not be leading their Reason with a long Chain of Premisses and Conclusions Theological; but by surprising their Imagination, and accommodating Events to their common Opinions, however unreasonable in themselves.

This well consider'd, as we are not to admire, if we find in the holy Scripture many memorable things related as Miracles, which yet notwithstanding proceeded from the fixed and immutable Order of Nature, and necessarily flowed from a Serious of Causes ordain'd according to her eternal Laws, that is, from God's Decrees so ought we not rashly to accuse any man of Infidelity, only because he refuses to believe, that those Miracles were effected by the immediate Power of God, such as is not only inconsistent with, but point blank repugnant to the fundamental Laws and Constitutions of Nature, which he in his infinite Wisdom hath made, and made so ample and fertile, as to extend to the certain production of whatever Events he hath will'd and decreed.

For first, among the many Miracles related to be done in favour of the Israelites, there is (I think) none, that can be of apodictically demonstrated to be repugnant to th' established Order of Nature: and then the Power of God being infinite, that of Nature must be so too, because one and the same with the Power of God; but humane Understanding is finite, and consequently incapable to know how far the Laws of Nature extend themselves. In a word therefore, If by a Miracle in the general, you understand nothing else but a certain Work or Effect, the Causes of which cannot be explicated by men ignorant of the Principles of natural things: I acknowledge many such Miracles to have been done in all Ages, and among all Nations. Nay more, if by a Miracle you mean that, the Causes whereof transcend the Capacity even of the most acute and profound Philosopher; I will not deny, but that among the many things related in the Scripture, as Miracles, some are found, that in this sense also may deserve that name; because I do not measure the Power of Nature by the unequal Line of human Wit. But if you will have a Miracle to be such a rare Effect, which is absolutely above or (which really is all one) contrary to the Laws of Nature, or which cannot possibly follow from her fixed and immutable Order: then I dare not believe that any such Miracle hath ever happen'd in Nature, lest I oppose God to God, that is, admit that God changes his own Decrees; which from the Perfection of the divine Nature, I know to be impossible. If you, candid Reader, know so too I have already said more than is necessary to the defence of this innocent Discourse, and therefore acquiesce in hope of being rightly understood.

Of Miracles

Section 1

By Miracles are understood the admirable or wonderful Works of God. But because Men following their own natural Reason, are wont to doubt, whether what is by a Prophet deliver'd for the Command of God, be truly the Command of God, or not; Miracles in the sacred Scriptures are call'd Signs, as signifying the Will of God: as also in Ethnic Writers, for the same Reason, they are call'd Ostenta and Portenta, as showing or portending the divine Will concerning Things to come. That we may therefore understand, what a Miracle is, we must observe, what Works those are, which men generally admire or wonder at. The Things then that cause men to admire any Work or remarkable Effect, are only two. One is, if that work be rare, the like whereof they have seldom or never seen done before: The other, if after the Work is done, they cannot conceive it to have been done by natural Causes, but only by the immediate operation of God himself. For if we understand the natural Causes of the Fact, however rare it be; or if we have often seen the like done before, though we do not conceive the natural Cause thereof; we no longer admire it, nor call it a Miracle. . . .

Thus, for example, if we should hear an Ox or Horse speak, we should call it a Miracle because rare, and of which we are not able to imagine a natural Cause. Thus also in the generation of Animals, every unusual Error or deviation of Nature, might be held for a Miracle. But if a Man or any other Animal generate his like in specie, though we are equally ingorant how this and that is perform'd, we do not take it for a Miracle. Also if a Man should be transform'd into a Stone, 'twould be a Miracle, because rare: but if Wood should be converted into a Stone, because such conversion is often seen, 'tis no Miracle: and yet notwithstanding we are as ignorant how God effects that conversion in Wood, as how he effects it in a Man. The Rain-bow that first appear'd in the Sky, was a Miracle; because the first, that is, the like had never been seen before; and because it was shown by God for a Sign, to signify that the World should never again be destroy'd by a Deluge. But at this day, because Rain-bows are often seen, no man looks upon them as Miracles. Again, many wonderful Works are produced by human Art; yet because after they are effected, we come to understand how and by what means, we therefore not account them for Miracles. For,

Admiration depends for the most part upon men's Knowledge and Experience, so that what seems to be a Miracle to one man, seems not to be so to another. And unskillful and superstitious men are wont to take for great Miracles those things, which the Learned and well experienced do not at all admire. Eclipses of the Sun and Moon have in times past been mistaken for supernatural Effects and Prodigies by the Vulgar; while learned Astronomers understanding the natural Causes of them, have certainly predicted them. Also cunning men confederate among themselves, closely enquiring into and discovering some secret actions of an unwary and simple man, and afterward relating them to him, have been held in great admiration, as if they had come to the knowledge of those Secrets by supernatural means, by divine Revelation at least: when the same Confederates have not been able so easily to impose upon wary and prudent persons. Admiration then (we see) is generally greater or less, according to the various degrees of Science and observation among men; the most ignorant being most prone to wonder: and the Causes of Admiration, which many times makes a Miracle of what is purely natural, we have found to be Rarity and Ignorance.

Section 2

If this Disquisition be yet a little farther pursued, it will soon appear, that Superstition also contributes largely to the belief of Miracles. For the Minds of Men being naturally prone to be agitated betwixt Fear and Hope of the future (the two grand Passions that govern human life) thence it comes to pass, that they very often fancy a certain extraordinary divine power in all Contingents which are unusual, and the natural Causes of which they do not comprehend, as if those Contingents certainly proceeded, not from the order of Nature, but from an immediate operation of God transcending or changing that order; and that they presignified some good or evil Fortune to themselves. For the Vulgar thinks, that the Power and Providence of God is then most apparent, when they observe any Event unusual in Nature, and contrary to the opinion they have from custom conceiv'd of Nature; chiefly if the Event seem to promise anything of Commodity or Advantage to themselves: imagining that the Existence of a supreme Being can be by no way better prov'd than by the inversion of the course of Nature, which they suppose to happen in all unusual Events. Whence it is, that common Heads always accuse those Philosophers of Atheism and design to extirpate the belief of God, at least of his Providence, who endeavor to explicate what they call Miracles by natural Causes, and study to understand the Reasons of them: erroneously conceiving, that God (forsooth) remains idle while Nature acts in her usual Order, and on the contrary, that the power of Nature is suspended, and the action of all natural Causes arrested or frustrated, while God acts. Thus they form in their Brains confused Notions of two distinct Powers, one of God t'other of Nature, which yet they allow to be determined by God: but what to understand by either of these Powers, and wherein the difference they suppose, consists; they know not. Only this they will tell you, that the unusual Works of Nature are Miracles or the Works of God; and partly out of blind Devotion, i.e. Superstition, partly from an itch of opposing wise men that study Nature's Laws and Constitutions, they please themselves in their Ignorance, and think they please God too with their affected Admiration: not considering how much they derogate from his infinite Wisdom, while they conceive the Laws of Nature by him made and establish'd, insufficient to effect all things he hath decreed to produce for the ends in order to which he ordain'd them, without variation. . . .

Section 5

To effect this, I persuade my self, I need do no more but convince the judicious Reader of the verity of these four things. (1) That nothing in the World happens or comes to pass contrary to Nature, but that Nature keeps an eternal, fixed, and immutable Order: (2) That from Miracles we cannot come to understand and certainly know either the Essence, or Existence, or Providence of God; but that all these may far better be collected from the fixed and immutable Order of Nature: (3) That the holy Scripture it self, by the Decrees and Volitions, and consequently the Providence of God, understands nothing else but the very same Order of Nature, which necessarily follows from his eternal Laws: (4) That most men have erred in the manner of interpreting the Miracles recorded in the holy Scriptures. For, these things being well prov'd, I see not what can remain to frustrate my present Design. . . .

Section 11

Here some perhaps will object, that we find in the Scripture very many things, which seem absolutely incapable of Solution be any natural Causes whatsoever; as that the Sins of men could cause Famine, and their Prayers bring down Rain and cause Fertility of the Earth, and that Faith could restore Sight to the Blind, and others equally strange. But this Objection I have (I think) prevented, where I asserted, that it is not the design or scope of the Scriptures to teach the knowledge of things by their next Causes, but only to relate them in that Order or Method, and in those Phrases, by which it may most efficaciously move men, and chiefly the Vulgar, to Devotion and Reverence toward God; for which Reason it many times speaks of Natural things, yea even of God himself very improperly; as aiming to affect and occupy the Imagination of men, not to convince their Reason. For should the Scripture relate the Fall and Devastation of any Empire, Kingdom, or Commonwealth, as politick Historians are wont to do, assigning all the remote, concurrent, and proxime Causes thereof: the Narration would not at all affect and move the common People: who yet are apt to be strongly surpris'd, and as it were charm'd into Admiration and Devotion, when the whole Revolution is described in Strains and Figures of Poesie, and referr'd only to the immediate Power and Decree of God. When therefore the Scripture relates, that the Earth became barren for the Sins of men, or that the Blind recover'd Sight by Faith; we have no more reason to be moved to admiration, than when it tells us, that God is angry, sorrowful, penitent of his Promises or Facts, mindful of his Promise upon sight of the Sign pre-ordain'd and many other like-things, which are either deliver'd Poetically, or related according to the pre-conceiv'd Opinions and Prejudices of the Writer. Wherefore we here absolutely conclude, that all the Events that are truly related in the Scripture to have come to pass, proceeded necessarily (as all other Contingents do) according to the immutable Laws of Nature; and that if any thing be found, which can be apodictically demonstrated to be repugnant to those Laws, or not to have followed from them: we may safely and piously believe the same not to have been dictated by divine Inspiration, but impiously added to the sacred Volumes by sacrilegious men: for whatever is against Nature, is against Reason; and whatever is against Reason, is absurd, and therefore also to be rejected and refuted.

Section 12

But lest any man should, by misinterpreting any Miracle. suspect that he has found in the Scripture something that is repugnant to the Light of Nature or right Reason; it concerns me now to come to the FOURTH and last Part of my present Subject, viz. the Interpretation of Miracles. Of this therefore I will deliver . . . many Thoughts, and by an Example or two endeavor to illustrate them.

It very rarely happens, that men relate any Action simply, and as it was really done, without mixing with it somewhat of their own Judgement. Nay when they see or hear anything new and surprising, unless they circumspectly defend themselves from their own pre-conceived Opinions, they are for the most part prone to be so blinded and pre-possess'd by them, that they apprehend in their Brain quite another thing that what they see or hear to have come to pass; chiefly if the thing done exceed the Capacity of either the Reporter, or the Hearer, and when the same is likely to bring some considerable Advantage or Emolument to the Reporter, if it be believ'd to have come to pass in such or such a manner. Hence doubtless it comes, that men in their Chronicles and Histories rather related their own Conjectures and Opinions, than things as they were really done; and that one and the same Case or Event is by two men, of different Opinions and Judgements, so diversely related, that they seem to speak, not of one Case, but two; and in fine, that it is not very difficult to a man that reads with attention, to investigate the Opinions of the Chronographer or Historian merely from his Narrations. To confirm this, I might bring hither many Examples, as well of Philosophers, who have written Natural Histories, as of Chronographers; if I did not think it superfluous so to do. I will therefore content my self with one pertinent and remarkable Example taken out of holy Scripture, and then leave the Reader from thence to judge of the rest.

In the time of Joshua, the Hebrews (perhaps with all other Nations) believing the Sun to be carried round the Heavens in its diurnal Motion, and the Earth to stand still perpetually; accommodated to this their pre-conceiv'd Opinion, the Miracle that happen'd to them, when they were fighting against those five Kings of the Amorites. For they have not simply related that that day was longer than any other day, but that the Sun and the Moon then stood still , or ceas'd from their Motions. And this could not but serve mightily to their advantage, at that time, to convince their Ethnic Enemies, who adored the Sun and Moon, and to prove by Experience it self, that those celestial Luminaries were under the Command of another God, at whose beck they were forced to stop their Course, and change their natural Order. Wherefore they conceiv'd, partly from Religion, partly from their pre-conveiv'd Opinions, the thing to have come to pass far otherwise than it might really have happen'd; and related the same accordingly. To interpret therefore Scripture-Miracles, and to understand from the Narrations of them, how they really happen'd; 'tis necessary to know the Opinions of those who first reported them, and who transmitted them down to after-Ages by their Writings; and to distinguish the Narrations from that which their Authors Senses might represent to their surpris'd Imaginations: otherwise we shall confound their Opinions and Judgements with the Miracle it self, as it really came to pass; nay more, we shall confound also things which have really happen'd, with things purely imaginary, and which were only Prophetic Representations. For in Scripture many things are related as real, and which were also believ'd to be real even by the Relaters themselves; that notwithstanding were only Representations form'd in the Brain, and merely imaginary: as that God, the supreme Being, descended from Heaven (Exod. 19. v. 28. and Deuteron. 5. v. 28.) upon Mount Sinai, and that the Mountain therefore smok'd, because God came down upon it surrounded by Fire; that Elias ascended to Heaven in a fiery Chariot drawn by fiery Horses: which were only Representations accommodated to their Opinions, who deliver'd them down to us, as they had been represented to them, viz. as things actually done. For all men of Understanding above the Rabble, know, that God hath no right nor left Hand, that he is neither moved nor quiet, uncircumscrib'd by Place, but absolutely infinite, and that in him are comprehended all Perfections. All these Proprieties of his, I say, are known to those considering men, which judge things from the Perceptions of a pure Intellect, and not as the Imagination is affected by the outward Senses; as the Vulgar is wont, which therefore imagines God to be Corporeal, and like an Emperor sitting in a Throne above the Stars in the Convexity of Heaven, the distance of which they believe not to be very great from the Earth. From these gross Imaginations and Opinions of common Heads it is, that the Writers of holy Scripture, accommodating their Narrations many times to vulgar Capacities, describe many Events in Expressions familiar and suitable to those preconceiv'd Opinions; which therefore ought not to be receiv'd by Philosophers as real. Besides, to understand how Miracles really happen'd, 'tis requisite to be well vers'd in all the Idioms, Phrases, and Tropes of the ancient Hebrews: for he that doth not understand and attend to all these, will be apt to feign and add to the Scripture many Miracles, which the Writers of it never thought of; and consequently remain ignorant, not only how the Miracles that have been written, came to pass, but even of the true Sense and Mind of the Writers. For Example, the Prophet Zacharias (chap. 14. v. 7.) speaking of War to come, saith; And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark----But it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night; but at evening time it shall be light, &c. Now by these words he seems to predict a mighty Miracle; and yet to a man conversant in the Language, Phrases, and Style of the Prophets, it will soon appear, that nothing is signified by him but this, That the Battle shall be fiercely fought by both sides, the event of it all the day know only to God, but in the evening the Jews shall obtain the victory: for in such Allegories and Phrases, the Prophets were wont to foretell and write the Victories and Calamities of Nations, signifying those by light and day, these by darkness and night. Thus we find Isaiah (chap.13.) describing the Ruin and Devastation of Babylon in these words; The Stars of Heaven and the Constellations thereof, shall not give their light; the Sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the Moon shall not emit the splendor of her light: which Prodigies no man of Understanding believes to have happen'd at the Destruction of that mighty City; as neither those the same Prophet adds in the subsequent Verse; I will shake the Heavens, and the Earth shall remove out of her place. Thus again in chap. 48. vers. ult. to signify to the Jews that they should return from Babylon to Jerusalem securely, and suffer no thirst in the Journey; he saith; And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts; he caused the water to flow out of the rock for them. By which words, I say, Isaiah intended only this, that the Jews shall find Fountains in the Deserts (as Travelers commonly do) with which they shall mitigate their thirst. For, when by the consent of Cyrus they went to Jerusalem, 'tis evident even from the History of their return thither, that no such Miracles happen'd to them. After this manner of speaking, in the holy Scripture occur very many things, which were only old modes of expression among the Jews, and therefore ought not to be interpreted according to the Letter, chiefly where Miracles are rashly supposed to be intimated. To recite all these, is (after what I have here said) unnecessary; and all I would have remark'd in the general, is only this, that the Hebrews were accustomed in these and the like phrases to speak, not only ornately, but also, and chiefly devoutly. For which very Reason in the 1st. of Kings, chap. 21. and Job 2. v. 9. is found, to bless God, for, to curse: and for the same, they reffer'd all things immediately to God, and therefore the Scripture seems to relate nothing almost but Miracles; and that too when it speaks of things most plainly natural, of which I have already alleged some Examples. When therefore the Scripture tells us, that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh; we are not bound to believe, that is signifies any thing, but this, that Pharaoh was contumacious or obstinate. And where 'tis said, that God opened the Windows of Heaven, we may safely interpret the words to contain no other sense but this; that Rain fell down from the Clouds in great abundance; & sic de aliis. If our Reader then, laying aside all superstitious Prejudices, shall be pleas'd to consider and remark these Instances, and withal know, that in the Scripture many things are related briefly, without any Circumstances, and imperfectly; I am fully persuaded, he will therein find nothing that can be apodictically demonstrated to be repugnant to the Light of Nature or right Reason, but on the contrary many things, which how obscure soever they may seem at first, he will be able, upon a little Examen and Meditation, to understand and interpret according to the genuine sense and meaning of the Writer. And thus, I think, I have with sufficient clearness proved what I intended.

Section 13

But yet, before I put an end to this Discourse, there is one thing more, of which it concerns me to advertise the Reader, and 'tis this; That the Method here proposed for Interpretation of Miracles, ought not to be accommodated to the prejudice of Prophesies occurring frequently in the Scripture. For of these nothing ought to be affirm'd, but what may be concluded from Fundamentals, reveal'd in Scriptures; whereas the Conclusions precedent in this Discourse, have been inferred only from Principles known by the Light of Nature. Prophesy is a thing which transcends the limited Capacity of human Understanding, nor can any man comprehend wherein chiefly it consisteth, unless from Fundamentals reveal'd which are purely Theological. But as for Miracles; because what I here principally enquire (viz. whether we may safely admit, that in Nature any thing can possibly happen, that is repugnant to the eternal Laws of Nature, or that may not follow from them) is a Question Philosophical: I have therefore thought it, as more proper, so also more advised, to investigate the same from Fundamentals or Principles know by the Light of Nature. I say, more advised; because I could have solved this Question from only Positions and Fundamentals of the Scripture it self; to manifest which, I will now briefly show the possibility thereof.

The Scripture in some places affirms of Nature in general, that she perpetually observes a fixed and immutable Order; as in Psal. 148. v. 6. He hath established them {the Heavens and all the Celestial Host, &c.} for ever; he hath made a Decree which shall not pass: and Jerem. 31. v. 35, 36. Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the Sun for a light by day, and the Ordinances of the Moon and the Stars for a light by night, which divideth the Sea when the waves thereof roar.---- If those Ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then, &c. And the Philosopher in his Ecclesiast. I. v. 9. saith expressly, that nothing new happens in Nature: and in vers. 11, 12. illustrating that Assertion, adds, that though a thing may come to pass, which seems new, yet really 'tis not new, but the like hath happen'd in Ages so long since past, that no memory of them has reached down to us: There is, saith he, no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come, with those that shall come after. Again in chap. 3. v. 2. he saith, That God hath appointed a season to everything, and a time to every purpose under the Sun: And at vers. 14. he saith farther, I know that whatsoever God doth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it, &c. All which Texts most clearly teach, that Nature always keeps her fixed and immutable Order, that God hath been the same in all Ages, as well unknown as known to us, and that the Laws of Nature are so perfect and fertile, that nothing can be added unto, nothing detracted from them, and in fine, that Miracles are not looked upon as new things, unless be reason of men's Ignorance. These remarkable Truths therefore are (you see) expressly taught in the sacred Books: but in them it is no where taught, that any thing can happen in Nature, which is repugnant to her eternal Laws, or which is impossible to follow from them; and therefore I think it unreasonable, to impute such Doctrine to the Scripture. To these Arguments be pleas'd to subjoin some of our precedent Reasons, viz. that Miracles require Causes and Circumstances, that they necessarily proceed from the divine Decree, that is (as we have shown even from the Scripture) from the Laws of Nature and her established Order, and in fine, that Miracles may be wrought also by Seducers and Imposters, as is plain from Deut. 13. and Mat. 24. v. 24. and then, I presume, you will perceive it to be genuinely consequent from all these Premises, that Miracles have been natural things, and ought so to be explicated, as to seem neither new (that I may use Solomon's word) nor repugnant to Nature. And that you may the more easily so explicate them, I have set down some certain Rules taken from the Scripture it self. But though I say, that the Scripture teaches these things, yet I do not mean that it teaches them as Precepts or Documents necessary to Salvation, but only that the Prophets embraced them as we do: and therefore it is free for every man to think of them, according as he shall judge it most conducive to his devoting himself to the Worship of God, and the Exercise of Religion, with his whole mind. . . .

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