HAVE MIRACLES CEASED?
T. PIERCE BROWN
It is amazing almost beyond belief that there are those who profess to be preachers of the gospel, who in years past would be expected to call Bible things by Bible names, who use the word “miracle” to refer to a baby being born, an astounding event that would not be normally expected, or almost anything that cannot be explained logically. We therefore think it proper to write on a theme that we thought had been reasonably well settled in the minds of most members of the Lord’s church. Perhaps this should impress upon us that we must never assume that we are more than one generation away from apostasy, and there needs to be a continual emphasis on every Biblical doctrine, however simple it may sound to some of us.
There are many preachers of various denominations who claim the ability to perform miracles. The Bible teaches that although God still has the same eternal and unlimited power He always had, miracles in the Bible sense are no longer being done. A miracle, by definition, is an instance of God’s direct action, in such a fashion that it was a sign of special power in the one who performed it, as distinguished from His indirect action through natural laws. For example, when Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish, it was a miracle. Two fish multiplying in accordance with natural laws is an act of God, and demonstrates the power and wisdom of God, but not miraculous.
The two most common Greek words translated “miracle” are “dunamis” and “semeion.” They are both used in Acts 2:22 and8:13, translated “miracles” and “signs.” The word, “dunamis” is translated “miracle” only 7 times, but “power” 77 times. As far as we know, no one claims that God has no power today, nor does anyone claim that every time the word “sign” is used in the Bible it refers to a miracle. Judas gave a sign in Mt. 26:48 when he kissed Jesus, but there was no miracle involved. However, when Jesus or the Apostles did “special miracles” (Acts19:11) or signs to confirm the word (Mark16:17-20) they were shown in the context to be wrought by the special power of God. If there were a forest fire roaring through the woods toward your house, and just before it got to your house a strong wind shifted and it moved in another direction, God may have caused the wind to shift, but you could not prove it, and it would not be called a miracle in the Bible sense.
The Lord taught that many would claim to prophesy, expel demons, and perform many wonderful works that He would not know, and would not authorize (Mt. 7:22-23). Servants of Satan would be able to display “power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9). How can we tell what is a false miracle?
Notice some things about the healing miracles of Christ and the Apostles that may help us to discern. First, Jesus did not publicize His healing to create a sensational reputation, but even commanded those healed to “tell no man” in some situations (Mt. 8:1-4,9:27-31). Second, they healed all sorts of diseases, such as blindness since birth, lameness for 40 years, raising the dead, and all sorts of “hopeless” situations–far different to those who claim to do such today. Third, he did no partial healing. They were made whole in that very hour without any failures. Fourth, he did not heal merely by faith, but by Divine power. The modern failures which claim “You did not have enough faith” fail to explain that the dead men whom Christ raised did not have faith, and the lame man whom the Apostles healed did not have faith. Christ and the Apostles had the faith and the power. Fifth, those healings were without question genuine. They were not simply hidden tumors or aching bones, or things that had to have the testimony of the one healed, or the one professing to do the healing. Sixth, their healing had no relationship to the raising of money or acquiring it. In Acts 3:6, Peter says, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee.”
The purpose for miracles needs to be understood for us to fully grasp why they are not now done. When we see Moses going intoEgyptto deliver the Israelites, God gave him the power to perform miracles to confirm that he had been sent by Jehovah. The miracles of Jesus were to confirm his mission and Deity (Mt. 11:2-5, John20:30,31). The Apostles worked miracles to confirm the fact that the word they preached was authoritative (Mk.16:20, Heb. 2:3-4). Notice: A thing once confirmed is always and forever confirmed. Moses does not have to come back and work miracles to show that he was God’s spokesman! Jesus is not coming back and work miracles to prove Himself to be the Son of God! We are given the written word to make believers (John20:30-31) and if the written word is not enough, neither would one believe if he saw the dead raised (Luke16:19-31).
All these things do not deny that God does things that are beyond our understanding. We may not understand how a red cow eats green grass and makes white milk and yellow butter, or why the grass is green in the first place, but that does not mean it is a miracle. God always started things by miracles, then continues them by natural law–whether it be the human race, the church of the Lord, or anything else.
In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 Paul gives various gifts that were given to those in the early church for the purpose of confirming the word. Among those are the working of miracles (v. 10). He shows in verses 28-30 that not all persons even in that day had those gifts, then in verse 31 shows a more excellent way. Love (charity in the King James Version) was worth more than any of the gifts, but he says in chapter 13:8 that those gifts would cease. That which is perfect (the completed will of God) has come and been confirmed, so the need for miraculous gifts has ceased.
In our judgment, some brethren, in an effort to prove the falsity of the Pentecostals, and those in the church who speak so ignorantly of God working miracles today, have taken a position that is untenable. This is probably one of the reasons that brethren often pray for God to bless the hands that wait on the sick, and the means that are used to restore them, for they assume that if God blesses the person and removes his disease it would be a miracle. It would not, for it could not be used to prove either the power of prayer, or the soundness of the one who prayed.
On one occasion, there was a member of the congregation for which I preached who had cancer of the liver and various other parts of the body. The doctor simply sewed her back up and said, “There is no hope for her. She will die in terrible pain, for we do not have enough medicine to prevent it. I have had many such operations, and all of them suffer greatly.” I said, “Doctor, I will talk to someone who knows more about it than you.” He was shocked, but I did. I did not pray for her to get well, but did pray that if it were not necessary for her to suffer that God allow her not to suffer. I was with her every day until she died a few weeks later, and she never took any pain medicine, nor did she suffer, although her stomach and liver were practically destroyed with cancer. I do not know that God did anything at all, and if He did, there was no miracle, for there was no visible sign that would prove that I was God’s spokesman and preaching the pure gospel. That gives neither any other person nor me the right to say that God did not do anything except through “natural means.” There were no natural means used of which we were aware, for she took no pain medicine.
In another congregation where I preached, there is a man still living at about age 95, who was told by the doctor about 40 years ago that he had incurable cancer of the stomach, and would be dead in a few months. Whether God did anything special I do not know, but none of us has a right to affirm that if He did, it would be a miracle. For it to be a miracle in the Bible sense, there would be some recognized relationship between some person doing something and the cure resulting therefrom. Let us never get into the position of trying to dictate to God what He can and cannot do when He has not revealed it. He has revealed that the power to work miracles as was done to confirm the word is no longer with us. He has not revealed that He has no power to do things that are beyond our comprehension that could not be done without His direct intervention. It may make as much sense to God for you to pray, “God, cure the cancer” as it would to pray, “Bless the hands that operate.” You do not know what or how He is going to do either one, but a miracle is no more necessary in one case than in the other. That is, God can cure cancer directly just as easily as he can bless the hands directly. Neither would be a miracle in the Bible sense of the term.