By Dan Walters
Brother Jerry R. Phillips has written a series of articles on miracles in Facts for Faith, a publication previously connected with the Gospel Guardian and edited by Brother Gordon Wilson. A number of his points have been made by other writers on miracles in recent years. It is my belief that these brethren are mistaken in their views and are making potentially dangerous statements concerning miracles.
Brother Phillips begins by defining miracles as “those events which nature, left to herself, could never produce.” It is his belief that miracles are in harmony with the laws of nature, and that they cannot be contradictions of nature since they both proceed from the same source. Any natural occurrence which shows the guiding hand of God is, according to Phillips, a miracle. Thus he goes on to include providence, discipline, and answered prayer among the miracles. Of each of these workings he says, “It is divine. It is above nature. It is a miracle.”
He does not teach that the spiritual gifts are still with us today, though he is less than emphatic in his denial of. this possibility. He says, “these manifestations of the Spirit were apparently temporary in that peculiar form . . . .” He also says that “a sophisticated study of 1 Cor. 13 may result in a variance of interpretation regarding the time and reason for the termination for these gifts. . . .” The conclusion that the gifts were terminated ” . . . is not to be taken as tantamount to the declaration that miracles have ceased. . . .”
I mention his lack of assurance on this question because it is my belief that his views make it impossible for anyone holding them to successfully oppose neo-pentecostalism. Let us return to his definition of miracles and see whether it is scriptural. All of the events described as miracles in the Bible are contrary to the laws of nature as we know them, even if nature were being influenced or guided in one direction or another. There is no instance where providence, discipline, or answered prayer within the confines of natural law is referred to as a miracle. Miracles were very definite events about which no honest person could be mistaken. This is illustrated by the fact that the miracles of Jesus are numbered. The turning of water into wine is called the “beginning of miracles,” (John 2:11). The healing of the nobleman’s son at Capernaum is called “the second miracle that Jesus did” (John 4:54). If any answered prayer or any act of providence were a miracle, then such miracles of Jesus could not be accurately numbered. It is true that Brother Phillips tries to separate the signs and wonders of New Testament times from “miracles” of today. But the point is that his definition of a miracle does not come from the Bible.
Miracles are harmonious with nature only in the sense that both come from God and both fulfill God’s purpose. But miracles do contradict nature in the sense that they defy certain natural laws which at all other times remain in operation. A miracle can best be called a temporary suspension of natural law.
Brother Phillips tries to prove that the miracles of Jesus were compatible with natural law by saying that they “were predicated on the fact that God had already ordained in nature similar events.” Of the first miracle of Jesus he says, “God has been making wine out of water since He first caused it to rain.” Nonsense! God has never done any such thing. Wine is composed not only of water but of acids and sugars which could never be derived from water in a million years by natural processes. Brother Phillips mentions other miracles which seem to fit his theory, but there is one miracle he completely ignores: the time that Jesus walked on the water. The natural laws of gravity and of the relative density of water and of human flesh preclude the possibility of anyone walking on the water as long as such laws remain in effect. One or more of these natural laws had to be suspended in order for Jesus to walk on the water. The only other possibility is that another unknown force came into play which allowed the body of Jesus to overcome normal hindrances. Such an additional force would nullify the effect of natural law and thus be equal to its suspension.
Brother Phillips tries to show that miracles still occur by saying, “Any answered prayer is assistance from. God. Any assistance, from God based upon petition: could not be called a natural occurrence. Any supernatural occurrence is a miracle. If not, then we pray in vain.” He is unable to see how God can operate within the framework of natural law, without doing anything supernatural, and still cause certain events to occur which would not have occurred without His help. Why cannot the God who made nature use nature without going beyond any of the limitations He has imposed? There are many choices within nature. A man may live, or he may die. A flood may occur at a certain place at a certain time, or it may not. If God chooses to sometimes influence these choices in order to answer prayer, why must this be called a miracle or labeled as supernatural?
Brother Phillips would have us pray for miracles today. And I mean “honest-to-goodness” miracles. He says,. “For many prayer has become little more than meaningless formality bordering on blasphemous hypocrisy. It is no longer unusual to observe at the bedsides of those terminally ill a half-hearted, standing request for God to give the patient a restful night. Instead there should be the fervent, humble, dependent cry for the Father to heal the afflicted one.” Remember that this hypothetical patient is “terminally ill.” That means he is definitely dying and that there is no hope of his recovery. Still we are told to pray for his recovery-which would be indeed a miracle. Why not have the lame and the blind and the dying to come together in a public assembly and there let the preacher pray for them? Is there really any difference? If Brother Phillips is not advocating miraculous divine healing of the type accepted by Pentecostals, then he should explain himself. If I can pray for God to work a miracle and heal a dying man, then why cannot I pray to walk on the water in order to save a drowning swimmer?
No, brethren, we cannot have it both ways. Either miracles still occur or miracles have ceased. If they still occur, then we had better see about a union with the Holiness people. If they have ceased, then we should neither pray for them nor expect them. Brethren, some of us are not merely drifting; we are being swept along in the rapids and are about to plunge over Niagara Falls without even a barrel!
Truth Magazine, XX:5, p. 11-12
February 5, 1976