Faith and Miracles

by Glenn Conjurske

We read in John 2:23-25, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man.” On this scripture Harry Ironside writes, “A faith that rests upon miracles is not a saving faith. A faith that rests upon signs and wonders does not bring salvation to anyone.”1 We long ago learned to expect this kind of assertion from Ironside, but it is a little surprising to read the same from J. N. Darby, who says, “A faith founded on miracles, though God vouchsafed this confirmation, is no saving faith at all: Jesus did not commit himself to it.”2 It is a little surprising, I say, to see the author of the Synopsis of the Books of the Bible so ignorant of the actual content of the Bible. He grants that God “vouchsafed this confirmation,” but why God would do so is hard to tell, if the faith founded upon it were of no avail.

From such statements I turn to the Scriptures themselves, where we find, in the first place, numerous statements of the fact that various people believed in Christ as a result of the miracles which he did, without a hint that their faith was defective or unavailing.

John 1:48-50. “Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, BECAUSE I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, BELIEVEST thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these.”

John 2:11. “This beginning of MIRACLES did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory, and his disciples BELIEVED on him.”

John 4:53. “So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself BELIEVED, and his whole house.”

John 7:31. “And many of the people BELIEVED on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more MIRACLES than these which this man hath done?”

John 11:45. “Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did [the raising of Lazarus], BELIEVED on him.”

Acts 9:34-35. “And Peter said unto him, Æneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately. And all that dwelt in Lydda and Saron saw him, and TURNED TO THE LORD.”

Acts 9:41-42. “And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many BELIEVED in the Lord.”

Acts 13:9-12. “Then Saul (who also is called Paul), filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, and said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness, and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, BELIEVED, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.”

It would be strange indeed that the Bible should relate all these cases of FAITH arising as the result of MIRACLES—-and all without the least hint that anything was amiss—-if that faith were invalid or unavailing. On the basis of these accounts alone we may certainly conclude that whatever was amiss or missing in John 2:23, the difficulty did not lie in the fact that their faith was based upon miracles.

But there is more. The Lord himself appealed to his miracles to persuade men to believe in him. In John 5:36 he says, “The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me,” and in John 10:25-26, “The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me, but ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” Again, in John 10:37-38, “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not, but if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works, that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.” And to his own disciples, “And now I have told you before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass, ye might believe.” (John 14:29).

On the other side, men are censured for failing to believe on the basis of the miracles: “But though he had done so many MIRACLES before them, yet they BELIEVED NOT on him.” (John 12:37). And once more, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father.” (John 15:24).

Beyond all this, we have the explicit statement of John that he recorded the miracles of Christ for the purpose of begetting saving faith. He says in John 20:30-31, “And many other SIGNS truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written, THAT YE MIGHT BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing YE MIGHT HAVE LIFE through his name.” This settles the matter.

However we explain John 2:23, then, it is plain that the explanation is not that their faith was unavailing because it was founded upon miracles. I say but little about that here. No doubt their faith was “dead,” being “without works,” but why it was so may be another question. The nature of saving faith is a deep matter, concerning which I fear there is but little inquiry in our day, and what inquiry there is avails little, being hindered by shallow ideas of faith and simplistic solutions of difficulties. One of those simplistic solutions is the notion that faith founded upon miracles is unavailing. This is closely allied to another false notion, namely, that faith consists of believing without evidence, whereas true faith is always founded ultimately upon evidence. I enter no further into the subject at this time, but endeavor only to clear away one notion which is evidently false.

Glenn Conjurske