“Natural” is that system or kosmos in which we are placed, and which follows constant natural laws; and therewith man’s agency, placed in that system, and in power over the lower part of it, according to his measure—a sphere whose laws are the subject of man’s will, and in which he disposes of their agencies in this lower world. “Supernatural” is a power which in its activity is above and beyond that system. It may use the ordinary powers of nature; miracle does not consist in acting without them; but if it use them, they are not set in activity by the sequence of natural law, but by the will of the supernatural power, and by it directly. I light a fire, and produce steam from water; but here it is not the simple fiat of power that heat should be of itself; I produce it by natural laws on which I am dependent. God may by an east wind blow and drive back the Red Sea, or bring quails; but He causes the wind to blow where He will: this I cannot do. If Satan can do it as permitted, it may be supernatural also, but this is limited. God may order things so that we may fall under the effect of natural causes; but this, though divine ordering, is not a miracle, though equally divine power; it belongs to another sphere, the relationship between man and God. It is not in the sphere of natural causes, acting above or beyond them, to produce effects in that sphere.
But then, as to miracles, and the idea of making them the result of natural causes, in a sphere of which much is yet unknown to us, Christianity rests on the truth of resurrection, which is certainly not according to the course of nature. And of this the Duke of Argyll can only say, Why should it seem incredible to you that God can raise the dead? No doubt God can, and He has raised Christ Himself. But that is shirking the question.
But besides, to a man lame or blind from his birth a word heals or gives sight. This is not the unknown course of nature, unless you make God’s power (which is to Him the course of nature and will, in which He does what pleases Him in heaven and earth) to be the course of nature. But a word, and the word of a man, doing this is not the course of nature, save what is natural to God. To talk of it as such is to make the course of nature and fixed laws mean nothing. It is God’s nature in goodness and power, if you will, but acting in sovereign goodness; for love, though His nature, is in its operation sovereign, and, if it acts according to laws, they are moral laws, the laws of His own nature. That word commands the agencies of the physical laws as in the lame or blind, and they then produce their natural effect. But in that word of command is the power of the miracle, according to the centurion’s faith; “Speak the word [logo], and my servant shall be healed.” Natural action was restored, but by direct power.
But this thought of God’s acting according to laws involves a great fallacy from using the term in a double sense. God does act according to His nature, or, if you please, according to the laws of His nature, that is, its uniform unchangeable principles when He acts, and the manifestations of which constitute His glory. He is righteous and holy; He cannot he, and He cannot be not Himself. His acts manifest Himself. Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father; but this was no physical effect of a cause operating without will in itself. God has ordered a system of cause and effect, but there is no will in it. We call its laws, established fixed laws, because the effect is uniform, regularly and always produced, though I doubt not the causa causans is always operative, and necessary to the effects. But in the acting of God, though all such acts are consistent with His nature, and must be so, it is not the cause of acting. God’s will is the cause, though we readily understand His will cannot act contrary to His nature; nay, His nature may set His will in activity.
“God so loved the world, that he gave,” etc. This is not a material necessity imposed apart from will in what acts; it is moral, displaying a nature by a will. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord”; but this does not make holiness something necessarily producing an effect, as gravity acts universally in matter. There is nothing to do with cause and effect in it. So miracles of goodness prove God’s nature when wrought because He works them, but they are not always wrought as a natural consequence attached to anything. God acts. These, when they are wrought, are according to, and display, His nature: but they are not the necessary and constant effects of that nature as a producing cause. God is always such, and, if He acts, so acts as not to deny Himself—it were impossible; but He does all things according to the counsels of His own will. To confound the physical laws of the creature, always operating as constituted by the Creator, with the sovereign power who constituted that order, to whom none can say, What doest Thou? is a great moral blunder.
Law is a uniform course prescribed by adequate authority.
The Duke of Argyll’s book is useful in the main, but as in the case of miracles, so in creation, stops short of Christian ground and truth. The things which were seen were not made of the things which do appear. In the beginning God created. That there may be proofs of progress and developed design, and of laws, and of uniformity in it, may be all true: but this does not hinder that they exist, and the law too, by the fiat of the Creator.