IX. THE GOVERNMENT OF NATURE.
By George MacDonald
from THE MIRACLES OF OUR LORD
Used with the permission of Johannesen Printing & Publishing.
THE miracles I include in this class are the following:-
1. The turning of water into wine, already treated of, given by St
2. The draught of fishes, given by St Luke.
3. The draught of fishes, given by St John.
4 The feeding of the four thousand, given by St Matthew and St Mark.
5. The feeding of the five thousand, recorded by all the Evangelists.
6. The walking on the sea, given by St Matthew, St Mark, and St John.
7. The stilling of the storm, given by St Matthew, St Mark, and St
8. The fish bringing the piece of money, told by St Matthew alone.
[Included below is the introductory section and sections 2 and 3 only]
These miracles, in common with those already considered, have for their
end the help or deliverance of man. They differ from those, however, in
operating mediately, through a change upon external things, and not at
once on their human objects.
But besides the fact that they have to do with what we call nature,
they would form a class on another ground. In those cases of disease, the
miracles are for the setting right of what has gone wrong, the restoration
of the order of things,-namely, of the original condition of humanity.
No doubt it is a law of nature that where there is sin there should be
suffering; but even its cure helps to restore that righteousness which
is highest nature; for the cure of suffering must not be confounded with
the absence of suffering. But the miracles of which I have now to speak,
show themselves as interfering with what we may call the righteous laws
of nature. Water should wet the foot, should ingulf him who would tread
its surface. Bread should come from the oven last, from the field first.
Fishes should be now here now there, according to laws ill understood of
men-nay, possibly according to a piscine choice quite unknown of men. Wine
should take ripening in the grape and in the bottle. In all these cases
it is otherwise. Yet even in these, I think, the restoration of an original
law-the supremacy of righteous man, is foreshown. While a man cannot order
his own house as he would, something is wrong in him, and therefore in
his house. I think a true man should be able to rule winds and waters and
loaves and fishes, for he comes of the Father who made the house for him.
Had Jesus not been capable of these things, he might have been the best
of men, but either he could not have been a perfect man, or the perfect
God, if such there were, was not in harmony with the perfect man. Man is
not master in his own house because he is not master in himself, because
he is not a law unto himself-is not himself obedient to the law by which
he exists. Harmony, that is law, alone is power. Discord is weakness. God
alone is perfect, living, self-existent law.
I will try, in a few words, to give the ground on which I find it possible
to accept these miracles. I cannot lay it down as for any other man. I
do not wonder at most of those to whom the miracles are a stumbling-block.
I do a little wonder at those who can believe in Christ and yet find them
How God creates, no man can tell. But as man is made in God's image,
he may think about God's work, and dim analogies may arise out of the depth
of his nature which have some resemblance to the way in which God works.
I say then, that, as we are the offspring of God-the children of his will,
like as the thoughts move in a man's mind, we live in God's mind. When
God thinks anything, then that thing is. His thought of it is its life.
Everything is because God thinks it into being. Can it then be very hard
to believe that he should alter by a thought any form or appearance of
things about us?
"It is inconsistent to work otherwise than by law."
True; but we know so little of this law that we cannot say what is
essential in it, and what only the so far irregular consequence of the
unnatural condition of those for whom it was made, but who have not yet
willed God's harmony. We know so little of law that we cannot certainly
say what would be an infringement of this or that law. That which at first
sight appears as such, may be but the operating of a higher law which rightly
dominates the other. It is the law, as we call it, that a stone should
fall to the ground. A man may place his hand beneath the stone, and then,
if his hand be strong enough, it is the law that the stone shall not fall
to the ground. The law has been lawfully prevented from working its full
end. In similar ways, God might stop the working of one law by the intervention
of another. Such intervention, if not understood by us, would be what we
call a miracle. Possibly a different condition of the earth, producible
according to law, might cause everything to fly off from its surface instead
of seeking it. The question is whether or not we can believe that the usual
laws might be set aside by laws including higher principles and wider operations.
All I have to answer is-Give me good reason, and I can. A man may say-"What
seems good reason to you, does not to me." I answer, "We are both accountable
to that being, if such there be, who has lighted in us the candle of judgment.
To him alone we stand or fall. But there must be a final way of right,
towards which every willing heart is led,-and which no one can find who
does not seek it." All I want to show here, is a conceivable region in
which a miracle might take place without any violence done to the order
of things. Our power of belief depends greatly on our power of imagining
a region in which the things might be. I do not see how some people could
believe what to others may offer small difficulty. Let us beware lest what
we call faith be but the mere assent of a mind which has cared and thought
so little about the objects of its so-called faith, that it has never seen
the difficulties they involve. Some such believers are the worst antagonists
of true faith-the children of the Pharisees of old.
If any one say we ought to receive nothing of which we have no experience;
I answer, there is in me a necessity, a desire before which all my experience
shrivels into a mockery. Its complement must lie beyond. We ought, I grant,
to accept nothing for which we cannot see the probability of some sufficient
reason, but I thank God that this sufficient reason is not for me limited
to the realm of experience. To suppose that it was, would change the hope
of a life that might be an ever-burning sacrifice of thanksgiving, into
a poor struggle with events and things and chances-to doom the Psyche to
perpetual imprisonment in the worm. I desire the higher; I care not to
live for the lower. The one would make me despise my fellows and recoil
with disgust from a self I cannot annihilate; the other fills me with humility,
hope, and love. Is the preference for the one over the other foolish then-even
to the meanest judgment?
A higher condition of harmony with law, may one day enable us to do
things which must now appear an interruption of law. I believe it is in
virtue of the absolute harmony in him, his perfect righteousness, that
God can create at all. If man were in harmony with this, if he too were
righteous, he would inherit of his Father a something in his degree correspondent
to the creative power in Him; and the world he inhabits, which is but an
extension of his body, would, I think, be subject to him in a way surpassing
his wildest dreams of dominion, for it would be the perfect dominion of
holy law-a virtue flowing to and from him through the channel of a perfect
obedience. I suspect that our Lord in all his dominion over nature, set
forth only the complete man-man as God means him one day to be. Why should
he not know where the fishes were? or even make them come at his will?
Why should not that will be potent as impulse in them? If we admit what
I hail as the only fundamental idea upon which I can speculate harmoniously
with facts, and as alone disclosing regions wherein contradictions are
soluble, and doubts previsions of loftier truth-I mean the doctrine of
the Incarnation; or if even we admit that Jesus was good beyond any other
goodness we know, why should it not seem possible that the whole region
of inferior things might be more subject to him than to us? And if more,
why not altogether? I believe that some of these miracles were the natural
result of a physical nature perfect from the indwelling of a perfect soul,
whose unity with the Life of all things and in all things was absolute-in
a word, whose sonship was perfect.
If in the human form God thus visited his people, he would naturally
show himself Lord over their circumstances. He will not lord it over their
minds, for such lordship is to him abhorrent: they themselves must see
and rejoice in acknowledging the lordship which makes them free. There
was no grand display, only the simple doing of what at the time was needful.
Some say it is a higher thing to believe of him that he took things just
as they were, and led the revealing life without the aid of wonders. On
any theory this is just what he did as far as his own life was concerned.
But he had no ambition to show himself the best of men. He comes to reveal
the Father. He will work even wonders to that end, for the sake of those
who could not believe as he did and had to be taught it. No miracle was
needful for himself: he saw the root of the matter-the care of God. But
he revealed this root in a few rare and hastened flowers to the eyes that
could not see to the root. There is perfect submission to lower law for
himself, but revelation of the Father to them by the introduction of higher
laws operating in the upper regions bordering upon ours, not separated
from ours by any impassable gulf-rather connected by gently ascending stairs,
many of whose gradations he could blend in one descent. He revealed the
Father as being under no law, but as law itself, and the cause of the laws
we know-the cause of all harmony because himself the harmony. Men had to
be delivered not only from the fear of suffering and death, but from the
fear, which is a kind of worship, of nature. Nature herself must be shown
subject to the Father and to him whom the Father had sent. Men must believe
in the great works of the Father through the little works of the Son: all
that he showed was little to what God was doing. They had to be helped
to see that it was God who did such things as often as they were done.
He it is who causes the corn to grow for man. He gives every fish that
a man eats. Even if things are terrible yet they are God's, and the Lord
will still the storm for their faith in Him-tame a storm, as a man might
tame a wild beast-for his Father measures the waters in the hollow of his
hand, and men are miserable not to know it. For himself, I repeat, his
faith is enough; he sleeps on his pillow nor dreams of perishing.
On the individual miracles of this class, I have not much to say. The
first of them was wrought in the animal kingdom.
He was teaching on the shore of the lake, and the people crowded him.
That he might speak with more freedom, he stepped into an empty boat, and
having prayed Simon the owner of it, who was washing his nets near by,
to thrust it a little from the shore, sat down, and no longer incommoded
by the eagerness of his audience, taught them from the boat. When he had
ended he told Simon to launch out into the deep, and let down his nets
for a draught. Simon had little hope of success, for there had been no
fish there all night; but he obeyed, and caught such a multitude of fishes
that the net broke. They had to call another boat to their aid, and both
began to sink from the overload of fishes. But the great marvel of it wrought
on the mind of Simon as every wonder tends to operate on the mind of an
honest man: it brought his sinfulness before him. In self-abasement he
fell down at Jesus' knees. Whether he thought of any individual sins at
the moment, we cannot tell; but he was painfully dissatisfied with himself.
He knew he was not what he ought to be. I am unwilling however to believe
that such a man desired, save, it may be, as a passing involuntary result
of distress, to be rid of the holy presence. I judge rather that his feeling
was like that of the centurion-that he felt himself unworthy to have the
Lord in his boat. He may have feared that the Lord took him for a good
man, and his honesty could not endure such a mistake: "Depart from me,
for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
The Lord accepted the spirit, therefore not the word of his prayer.
"Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men."
His sense of sinfulness, so far from driving the Lord from him, should
draw other men to him. As soon as that cry broke from his lips, he had
become fit to be a fisher of men. He had begun to abjure that which separated
man from man.
After his resurrection, St John tells us the Lord appeared one morning,
on the shore of the lake, to some of his disciples, who had again been
toiling all night in vain. He told them once more how to cast their net,
and they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.
"It is the Lord," said St John, purer-hearted, perhaps therefore keener-eyed,
than the rest.
Since the same thing had occurred before, Simon had become the fisher
of men, but had sinned grievously against his Lord. He knew that Lord so
much better now, however, that when he heard it was he, instead of crying
Depart from me, he cast himself into the sea to go to him.