miracles and providence

Joel Duff (crinoid@midwest.net)
Thu, 4 Mar 1999 09:52:52 -0500


Its been slow so I thought I would send this more lengthy article at this
time. This is a commentary on a portion of the Wesminster Confession of
Faith (V.III). I found it interesting and I wondered if anyone had any
comments on present day miracles (the understanding of miracles today as it
relates to our understanding of God's providence). As a followup
question, I have always wondered what the ID position was on present day
miracles. Is God still intervening in his creation and if so are these (or
how are) present day miracles fundamentally different that those from his
original creation?

This text was coppied from: http://www.girs.com/library/docs/miracles.html

I would note that I do not know the author but from the other works and
authors at this site I would suspect that most would tend toward a literal
24 hour-day creation.

Begin quoted material:
This is a chapter taken
from our Genevan Institute
for Reformed Studies
syllabus on WCF V
concerning the Providence
of God. It is the position of
this paper that miracles, as
here defined, do not
continue in our age.

Miracles, God's Special Providence
by Bob Burridge

Westminster Confession of Faith V.III God, in His ordinary providence,
makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His

There is a distinction between the natural and the supernatural
God's ability to do all his holy will, the certainty with which he executes his
decrees, and the extent of his decrees to include all that occurs, has
already been
established in our previous lessons on the decrees of God.
The created physical universe includes more than just the energy-matter
continuum. Built into it are the principles which govern how the parts of the
universe effect one another and interact. We call these relationships
physical laws.
Since all that God has made, and all that his providence governs, is an
execution of
his decrees, and since the decrees are ordered to the manifestation of
God's nature
and glory, we must accept that the operations of the universe are not
inherent in the
substance of the universe in itself, but are imbedded in it as a direct
intention of the
Creator in fulfilling his eternal purposes.
Included in the plan of God is that at times he would act directly in
the course of things without following the laws by which he has decreed they
should ordinarily be governed. When God uses and directs secondary causes (see
previous discussion in Lessons 4 and 7) to accomplish his decreed ends we say
this is a natural operation. But when God, acts directly upon the course of
since he is not part of his own created order but is by definition above
it, he is not
bound to follow the ordinary principles of what we perceive to be physical laws.
These immediate acts of God are termed supernatural. They do not violate natural
law. It is more precise to say that such works of God involve principles
that lie
above and behind natural law. The motive comes from the eternal purpose of God
which is also the cause of the ordinary relationships that govern the
This is why the Confession says that God may freely work "without, above
and against" his ordinary providence. Theologians distinguish these two
strains of
providence as "providentia ordinaria" and "providentia extraordinaria" (ordinary
and extraordinary providence). Sometime we call them general and special

Not all is supernatural that appears to be
There is a tendency to say things are supernatural that are in reality only
beyond our ability to explain. Medicines that were thought to be magical in
the past
often come to be identified by their effects upon the body and can be used
in a very
predictable way that seems most natural.
Healing the human body of disease is not generally to be viewed as a
supernatural event. God created the body's immune system to fight various
infections and disorders. Sometimes it works in ways we still cannot fully
or duplicate with medications. The body seems to spontaneously go into remission
even when untreated. This is the common way we get over common colds, flues
and infections. Sometimes more severe diseases seem also to reverse themselves
without any intervention by external treatments. People with various cancers and
heart diseases may be given no hope but recover for reasons medical science
is not
yet able to explain. Such remissions should not be seen as miracle healings
though not fully understood by all men in all times, they are in the realm
of the
natural involving secondary causes rather than supernatural as direct
of God.
There are times when people report symptoms and are convinced they have
specific diseases but there is nothing physically wrong with them. Such
psychosomatic disorders can be reversed simply by convincing the person that the
disease has been removed. Often severe stress, fear, or guilt can bring on such
conditions. When convinced that the disorder is removed by claims to magical or
supernatural means they often will believe that they have been given a
fresh start
and the underlying stress is temporarily suppressed. Such healings are
really not
healings at all. Certainly they ought not to be used as evidences of
miracle healings
by unscrupulous practitioners.
Medical science has made great progress in recent years. But there are many
things that still cannot be explained. The connection between wellness and a
person's attitude is not well understood.

False religion makes use of such remissions
All through history there have been those who would use deceit to gain a
following. Satan is certainly a great orchestrator of deceptions,
particularly if they
would cause people to place their trust in things contrary to reality and in
opposition to the honoring of God as he has revealed himself.
The ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Barbarians and others have all claimed the
ability to perform miracles and supernatural healings to convince people to
them and to submit to their claims. Roman Catholics, modern charismatics and
many other movements and cults use claims to miracles, visions, healings, and
wonders to attest that their message is the authentic truth from God. If
each claim
would be true, then God would be constantly affirming contradictory messages
about himself. This cannot be.
When I was in college, several of us drove to the near-by Florida city of
Tarpon Springs to see the "weeping icon" which had just been proclaimed a true
miracle by the Orthodox church. It was a painting of Mary that had moisture
gathering under the glass over the part of the picture where her hand was
Television evangelists parade streams of people before us who give testimony
to being healed. They throw down crutches, claim to see with formerly blind
and claim to be set free from exotic diseases. They use these testimonials
to entice
the gullible to believe in their unbiblical teachings and support their
Some dangerous deceivers have claimed they have traveled through space to
planets where Jesus has taught them, that God speaks through them as he did in
the Bible, or that Jesus has already come back but was not recognized by
the rest
of us.
We need to establish a view of the supernatural that is not easily
to deceive, if it was possible, even the elect of God. As Jesus said,
Matthew 24:24
"false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and
so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect."
We are warned that we need to test the spirits of those who would ask us to
trust and follow their teachings. Not all who claim to speak for God are
truly his

1 John 4:1 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the
spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false
prophets have gone out into the world."

Events that present themselves as supernatural, though they may not in
reality be
what they seem, are not always honoring to God. Calvin warned (in his Prefatory
address of the Institutes to King Francis I), "We may also fitly remember that
Satan has his miracles, which, though they are deceitful tricks rather than true
powers, are of such sort as to mislead the simple-minded and untutored [2
Thessalonians 2:9-10]. Magicians and enchanters have always been noted for
miracles. Idolatry has been nourished by wonderful miracles, yet these are not
sufficient to sanction for us the superstition either of magicians or of

The term "miracle" can have many meanings.
Charles Hodge explains that the word miracle comes "from 'miror', 'to wonder',
and therefore signifies that which excites wonder (Systematic Theology, Vol
I, pg.
617). Many things may excite our wonder. Even many natural things. This
ordinary use of the term in society is very broad and general. A good copy
machine or a fine tasting margarine have been called "miracles" by the
God has most certainly worked supernaturally. But his supernatural
workings, which we call miracles, are not simply acts designed to stir wonder in
the observers.
The Davis Bible Dictionary explains that true miracles are not merely
or supernatural events where we cannot explain what happens. They are not just
extraordinary providences where God works to accomplish his good purposes
(pp. 526-527).
Certainly God works powerfully to convert a soul to Christ, or to turn a
believer back to God by the influence of the Holy Spirit. They are direct
acts of
God but do not supervene any natural laws or processes in the observable
world. They are acts in the realm of spirits and are neither natural nor
in the sense we have seen these terms established.
Certainly God uses the prayers of his people when we intercede for
someone's health. But this does not imply that God is not still using the immune
system, medical help, or processes we do not yet understand well. these all
involve the use of secondary causes.
Dr. Reymond, of Covenant Theological Seminary, writes, "I do not deny that
miracles of grace and remarkable answers to prayer occur today. I do however
question the occurrence today of what are referred to as genuine miracles of
power." (What About Continuing Revelations... P. 43)
If we termed everything a miracle which God does, including things in the
spirit realm and acts involving second causes, then in once sense
everything would
be a miracle and the word would lose its meaning. It would not be something out
of the ordinary and it would not distinguish the Creator's immediate
by special providence. The whole biblical purpose for such distinct operations
would vanish.

The Purpose of Miracles
Miracles have occurred. But they are not presented in Scripture as mere acts of
benevolence and kindness extended to relieve suffering or restore life.
They are not
simply acts of wonder performed to convince the stubborn and unbelieving. It
should be remembered that very few conversions of the many who observed the
biblical miracles are recorded.
Some cultish groups claim that it is God's will to cure all who are
diseased if
they will only have faith. This is a view that is directly contrary to
Paul prayed three times about his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians
The Lord told him that it would not be taken away because it served a
purpose. By
this infirmity, what ever its nature, was to keep the Apostle from "exalting
himself." It didn't remain because Paul doubted, or that his faith was not
enough. It was God's love and wisdom that left Paul with this affliction for
purposes not immeditely evident.
God does not will that all diseases should be cured. This is not the
purpose of
miracles. He has revealed clearly in Scripture that he can do whatever he
God is able to deliver from every disease or affliction. But the question
is not what
he can do, but what he intends to do and what he actually decrees and does, and
what is meant by the idea of "miracle" in Scripture.
By his natural workings of providence and with the use of secondary means
God often does deliver people from sicknesses and from injuries. We are thankful
for every such deliverance, and we certainly believe in an active, supernatural
God. But we make a dangerous mistake to call these ordinary operations
"miracles." The true miracles of God's direct intervention should not be the
ordinary expectation of his people in every era.
B. B. Warfield writes that God does not, "deal with men atomistically, and
reveal himself and his will to each individual... this is the mystic's
dream. It has
not, however, been God's way. He has chosen rather to deal with the race in its
entirety." The miracles have a larger purpose than the immediate benefits
they may
extend to the individuals directly involved (Miracles p. 26).

When did miracles occur in Scripture?
If you were to lay out a time line of biblical history with creation at one
end and the
completion of the New Testament on the other, and put a dot when each miracle
took place, you would find something astounding! Miracles are not distributed
throughout the whole of time. They are confined almost exclusively to specific
periods, separated by centuries.
Certainly creation itself was a direct and immediate act of God and would
qualify as a miracle. The translation of Enoch in Genesis 5 was separated from
creation by a long unspecified period of time. The various acts of
vengeance upon
sin that followed are more generally classed as judgments rather than
miracles of
power. They include the flood in the time of Noah and the division of the human
race and confusion of languages beginning from the incident at Babel. Each of
these events was separated from the others by what appears to be long ages.
were a few events in the time of Abraham which included supernatural
interventions aside from the use of secondary means. Then there is a long
gap until
the time of Moses ranging from the deliverance of the people from Egypt
until the
conquest of Canaan. Then there is another gap until the time of the kings in the
divided kingdom under the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Then after
another long gap there are several miracles associated with the time of
Daniel and
the latter prophets. After several centuries there is another flurry of
activity in the time of Jesus and the Apostles as the promises of God's covenant
were fulfilled in the work of the Messiah and the establishment of the Apostolic
B. B. Warfield writes, "there is little or no evidence at all for
during the first fifty years of the post-apostolic church" He points out
that such
claims began slowly and increased rapidly as Christianity came more and more to
compromise with paganism around it adopting the superstitions of the world. "...
this stream of miracle-working which has run ... through the history of the
was not original to the church, but entered it from without." (Miracles p. 74)
In each case there is a clear pattern where God's plan of redemption is
advanced significantly, and the truth of it is explained by direct
revelation through
specific chosen spokesmen sent by God. At those times miracles were performed
to authenticate the human delivering the revelation as a true
representative of God.
Geerhardus Vos explains that associated with major events in God's work of
redemption, a period of special revelation occurs to explain the event. He
out that such "objective-central acts" are "never entirely left to speak for
themselves; they are preceded and followed by word-revelation." (Biblical
Theology pp. 14-15)
Warfield shows how at each such time a period of miracles of power occurs to
confirm the truth of the messengers of God. We could illustrate these events as
follows ...

Major Event of Redemption
Explanation by Special Revelation
Authentication by Miracles of Power

This means that once the event is explained the special revelation ends.
When the
special revelation is completed and received the period of miracles ends.
Each is
without purpose without its predecessor and must cease when its job is done.
B. B. Warfield writes that miracles "... belong to revelation periods, and
appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers,
declaring His gracious purposes." (Miracles p. 25)
Until the final stage of redemption in the return of Jesus Christ in
there is no continuing need for added revelation and no promised continuance of
the offices of prophet or apostle. Since no such confirmation is needed the
purpose for miracles will not exist in this church age again until special
resumes at the final consummation.
John Skilton, associate professor of New Testament at Westminster
Theological Seminary, writes, "when the work of the apostles was done, and they
had confirmed the salvation which the Lord began to attest in his earlier
when the church had been planted, the apostolic foundation provided and the New
Testament had been written, there was no further need of the apostolic
office and
of the signs and gifts which had so notably accompanied it. ... With the
death of
the apostles and of others who in the apostolic age had received special
gifts, these
special gifts died out." (Special Gifts for a Special Age p. 3)

Biblical support for this specific purpose for miracles
In 2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul wrote in defense of his apostleship: "The signs of a
true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and
wonders and miracles (works of power)"
This triple expression should be taken as a whole. The supernatural events
where God intervenes immediately have three designations: They are called signs
because they teach us something about God. They are called wonders because they
astonish and amaze us. They are called miracles of power because they are deeds
done by God's power over his creation beyond the way he made it to ordinarily
Paul explained directly that the purpose of these miracles is that they
serve as
signs of true apostleship. They are confirmations from God to attest the message
and the messenger.
Charles Hodge agrees saying, "The signs of an Apostle were the insignia of
the Apostleship." And Dr. Hughes writes, "These signs were confirmatory of the
apostolic work and word, and therefore of the authenticity of the Apostles'
The same three words are found in other places in the New Testament to
convey the same idea.
Mark 16:20 (concluding a much disputed portion) explains that the work of
the eleven Apostles being addressed by Jesus after the resurrection
"confirmed the
word by the signs that followed."
In Acts 2:22 Peter explains, "Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by
God with miracles and wonders and signs."
In Acts 14:3 Paul and Barnabas were at Iconium. It is said that the
Lord "was
bearing witness to the word of his grace, granting that signs and wonders
be done
by their hands."
In Romans 15:19 Paul used these signs as God's evidence that he was at
work in those converted "in the power of signs, and wonders, in the power of the
Spirit." ("Power" is the same root word as "miracle".)
In 2 Thessalonians 2:9 Paul warns of Satan's work in the lawless one "with
all power, and signs and false wonders ..."
In Hebrews 2:4 the writer says, "God also bearing witness with them, both
by signs and wonders and various miracles ..."
These terms are used together in many other places as well (see Acts 2:43,
4:30, 5:12, 7:36, 14:3 & 18:13). Clearly their purpose is to act as
evidences of the
authority of the Apostles.
B. B. Warfield writes, "these gifts ... were part of the credentials of the
Apostles... their function thus confined them distinctly to the Apostolic
and they necessarily passed away with it." (Miracles p. 6)
John Calvin (also in the Institute's Prefatory address), "In demanding
miracles of us they [our antagonists] act dishonestly. For we are not
forging some
new gospel, but are retaining that very gospel whose truth all the miracles that
Jesus Christ and his disciples ever wrought serve to confirm... This false hue
could have been more dazzling if Scripture had not warned us concerning the
legitimate purpose and use of miracles."
Davis' Bible Dictionary retains this idea in its definition of biblical
miracles of
power: "events in the external world, wrought by the immediate power of God and
intended as a sign or attestation." (p. 526)

Therefore, miracles of power do not continue today
The historic position of the Protestant churches, particularly the Reformed
is that
God never promised that miracles of power would continue in Christ's church in
this present era. The extraordinary gifts (such as tongues, prophesy and
of power) have ceased. They fulfilled their purpose by the end of the New
Testament period. What we see today therefore cannot pass the biblical test for
such wonders.