Occasional Papers eBook

Richard William Church
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 447 pages of information about Occasional Papers.

The way in which the subject of Miracles has been treated, and the place which they have had in our discussions, will remain a characteristic feature of both the religious and philosophical tendencies of thought among us.  Miracles, if they are real things, are the most awful and august of realities.  But, from various causes, one of which, perhaps, is the very word itself, and the way in which it binds into one vague and technical generality a number of most heterogeneous instances, miracles have lost much of their power to interest those who have thought most in sympathy with their generation.  They have been summarily and loosely put aside, sometimes avowedly, more often still by implication.  Even by those who accepted and maintained them, they have often been touched uncertainly and formally, as if people thought that they were doing a duty, but would like much better to talk about other things which really attracted and filled their minds.  In the long course of theological war for the last two centuries, it is hardly too much to say that miracles, as a subject for discussion, have been degraded and worn down from their original significance; vulgarised by passing through the handling of not the highest order of controversialists, who battered and defaced what they bandied about in argument, which was often ingenious and acute, and often mere verbal sophistry, but which, in any case, seldom rose to the true height of the question.  Used either as instruments of proof or as fair game for attack, they suffered in the common and popular feeling about them.  Taken in a lump, and with little realising of all that they were and implied, they furnished a cheap and tempting material for “short and easy methods” on one side, and on the other side, as it is obvious, a mark for just as easy and tempting objections.  They became trite.  People got tired of hearing of them, and shy of urging them, and dwelt in preference on other grounds of argument.  The more serious feeling and the more profound and original thought of the last half century no longer seemed to give them the value and importance which they had; on both sides a disposition was to be traced to turn aside from them.  The deeper religion and the deeper and more enterprising science of the day combined to lower them from their old evidential place.  The one threw the moral stress on moral grounds of belief, and seemed inclined to undervalue external proofs.  The other more and more yielded to its repugnance to admit the interruption of natural law, and became more and more disinclined even to discuss the supernatural; and, curiously enough, along with this there was in one remarkable school of religious philosophy an increased readiness to believe in miracles as such, without apparently caring much for them as proofs.  Of late, indeed, things have taken a different turn.  The critical importance of miracles, after for a time having fallen out of prominence behind other questions, has once more made itself felt. 

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