J. N. Darby.
(Notes and Comments Vol. 1.)
Law is an imposed rule. But there is a difference, a law imposed on material objects which have no will - they go on without will, i.e., in themselves, in the manner imposed upon them; where there is a will the law is outside it, even if the will coincides with it, and it is obligatory, even if the will resists, if there is authority to impose it. It does not follow that it is arbitrary, because it may be the perfect rule of the relations in which the person bound by its exists. But further, the constant action of motive will is not inconsistent with an imposed rule; nay, more, that law or imposed rule may exist where the motive will only is in operation, when external power acts. I have a tube, so and so perforated, or a stringed instrument, so and so tuned; if I play, it gives necessarily, being so tuned, a given sound, but gives no sound at all if power from without does not move it. But matter does not move of itself, without something we call "force." It is moved; this force, therefore, must always act, otherwise the constancy of action, i.e., the law, is not there.
I am aware it is held by physicists, that motion once imparted, goes on (save resistance), but this is only mystification; what makes it do so? It is force - let it turn to heat or anything you please; it is a force producing an effect, which is not in the matter, as it may act differently on it - move, produce heat, light, etc.
Nature is the property or quality of any being or thing; His nature and His name is Love - man has a depraved nature - it is the nature of iron to rust linen. "Natural" is somewhat different, it is used for the sequence of the property or quality, in relationship with other things, which, when constant, we call a law; how it has it has nothing to do with what the word means - but in fact, we only know that sequence experimentally, this, experience gives us the knowledge of - what is natural.
Testimony is another source of knowledge, and, in moral things, conscience, but in what is subject to man (testimony may reveal what is not, conscience has nothing to do with it). We learn what is natural by experience, because the constancy of sequence is only so known by human knowledge - that is Science; God even has been pleased so to subject Himself, not to mind, but to human knowledge - not a law, or sequence, any such inference may fail - "hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us"; so that law, or an imposed uniform rule, is only so known.
287 In this sense, what is supernatural is not knowable, is unthinkable. We cannot know a priori the nature of a thing - they say Adam did in giving names - at any rate we do not. But that there are other sources of knowledge is evident; there is testimony, not to what is law, or must be according to nature while it subsists - for I cannot say it always will - but to facts, which may be more important than sequence by a law; that my father died yesterday, though according to a law of nature, I know by testimony, not by the law that produced it.
Knowledge of what must be, if nature continues as it is, or as long as it does, cannot be separated from law; calling it a law is that knowledge - the knowledge of constancy of sequence. Hence, saying a thing beyond the natural is unthinkable, is tautology, merely repeating that, what is natural is natural, i.e., a constant sequence, whose constancy is known by observing it, and is only true, assuming that it continues; sufficient for ordinary purposes of life, but not real knowledge. In fact, Science, it appears, shows the contrary - that the state of things carries its dissolution with it, as it proves a beginning. But this kind of knowledge cannot apply where will is exercised. I may judge how a person will act, from long acquaintance with him probably pretty certainly, if my apprehension is at the height of his nature morally, not otherwise, i.e., consciousness of what it is in myself, makes me know how it will work in him; but that is not in knowledge, save in abstract as to perfect nature, when I am competent to estimate the perfection. But per se, knowledge cannot judge of will, and to say will does not exist is folly; it can judge of motives, or nature which operate in producing a positive action of will, but it cannot, by experience, judge of what is not yet in operation.
Now I admit that God acts from nature, but then I must have the power to apprehend that nature, and therefore possess it - "he that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love" - man acts from motives; One has a Sovereign will, in which, however, He acts from His own nature; man, under influences; matter, by its given nature or imposed influences. Knowledge and the facts or state of things are confounded. As far as I know it, I know how God will act, from His nature - this known by testimony and facts - though by His dwelling in us by the Christian - I know how man will act, who has a will subordinated, by knowing his motives as far as I do so - I know how matter will act, which has no will, by fixed laws which govern it, which therefore, as far as exact knowledge goes, is, assuming its continuance, certain, because there is no will.
288 Science knows, alone knows, this lowest kind of knowledge - the sequence of facts where there is no will; all else is unknowable to it, because it is necessarily for man thinkable, flowing from the natural conclusion innate in man, and necessary to govern his conduct naturally, i.e., in material things (but no further) - that, if one thing has followed another ten times, it will the eleventh, I conclude to a law of nature from natural effects, but it is only a conclusion thinkable - practical, not absolute certainty; quite sufficient for action, but no absolute certainty - that is only by testimony, assuming the testimony to be absolutely true. It is not the question whether it cannot be false, but of the nature of the certainty. If true, it is absolutely true, there is no thinkableness nor conclusion about it.
Reason tells me what must be, testimony what is, hence reason can never go beyond the scope of its own powers, never really tells me what is, never gives me certainty. It is not its business to tell me what is, but from what is to draw a conclusion, necessarily, consequently, within the limit of its own powers. It cannot say yes or no beyond them. Miracles have nothing to do with the use of means or not, the character of the miracle may. Where will puts the powers of nature in motion when they would not be, or in a way they would not otherwise be, by divine will, there is a miracle, as dividing the Red Sea. Jehovah sent a strong east wind. That was a miracle (assuming the fact on testimony, we speak of its nature). The resurrection of the Lord, again a fact resting on testimony - here was no use of natural means, but experimental knowledge upset by a fact, not denying the general law of death, but reversing it in the fact, but a fact which confirmed the law; but was no law at all.
Miracle is God's intervention as above and independent of law. Man acts by will, but is not independent, or above it - hence his action is not supernatural, is not a miracle, though his will acts independently in it as will; he can use natural means by will, as subject to the laws that govern them, above their own experimental action when there is no will, not by the known divine machinery of nature going on, but set in motion by his will, on which therefore I cannot count as a necessary consequence; I melt iron, set wood on fire - the sequence of that is a natural law, but I set in motion the quality or activity in the given instance; I raise my hand - but there is no natural sequence of hand-raising, only that when will so acts, the consequence will follow - how, we cannot say, further than material means. Bushnell's definition: "a process from itself according to a uniform law," though nearest the mark is, I think, fatally wrong in the word "from" - say "within" only, and it is right then; also "by mere nature could not" is defective, read "by mere nature would not."
289 The unbeliever rejects the intervention of God, His will being at work above all means, even if He work by them - he would no more believe God's immediate will divided the Red Sea, than that the blessed Lord rose from the dead. It is God's intervention of His own will, that unbelief does not like; because it does not like God, and would exalt man, whom he reduces to the very lowest kind of knowledge, and that abstractedly uncertain, for reason knows no facts, but draws conclusions.
As to mathematics, there is no conclusion really from reasoning, but the ascertainment of facts. The demonstration that certain forms or expression of quantity are equal or not - equivalent in value; there is no law in the matter, no sequence, nothing to experiment.
Revelation deals with nothing subject to law, nor of its reign. Revelation is of facts, or it may be nature; certain things follow necessarily but not as by a law. It deals with conscience and heart, putting God in His place - not with reason at all, in its nature it does not. Of the power of reason as absolutely incapable of knowing God I have spoken elsewhere; here I speak of the nature of revelation, that it deals with facts, reveals them, not with reasoning - it is testimony.
The mere fact that the revealed thing does not come in any sequence or law, proves nothing, because the assumption that nothing can be but what I know by experience is perfectly groundless. Admitting all in the system, subject to reason, to be governed by law, that cannot prove there is nothing outside it - that is not a subject of reasoning, but of testimony.
290 This is the glory of the resurrection, that it stands out a matter of pure power, and no sequence of any thing, nor by any law. This may be added. How far is there a reign of law in moral things? There can be none; in consequence of moral things - government - there may be. I may see that to a certain course of conduct consequences are attached, but, in itself, each moral act is by itself, acting up to or inconsistently with the relationships in which we stand, or allowing will or lusts to govern us; it may have sequences in government, but the act is what it is, without anything to do with what follows.
As to revealed things, if we had absolutely the mind and nature of God, the things revealed to us might be known as necessarily flowing from that nature. But this is not the reign of law, but the moral fruit of a nature which acts spontaneously, according to itself, and cannot be known experimentally until learned, and then not as a law but as acts which display it. But to know this a priori would be to be God, to have the nature and being, and there is but God who is God; when He has acted we learn what He is by it, if our eye is morally open; and if I have learned His ways in part as we may, it is not a sequence of cause and effect in the creature, but the expression of a nature which expresses itself, morally by will (the reign of law is without will) or by motives which govern it.
The actings of a living nature, which expresses itself, are spontaneous, or do not express the nature. There are in creatures passions which may be roused by what acts on them, as fierce anger or passion as it is therefore called, a kind of emotion of spontaneity and subjection to external excitement.
Christianity rests specifically, while recognising the reign of law in its own sphere, on that which is outside and above it - the resurrection, i.e., the natural reign of law. It was morally impossible that Christ could be left under the power of death; he who believes He was the Son of God knows He could not be holden of it. But when I say "morally," it takes it out of the category of natural sequences, and means impossible, God being what He is, and Christ what He was.
As to Creation, it is a matter of testimony - we cannot really conceive a form existing without a maker; but we cannot conceive now, for if we could it would not be creation - productive means would exist which correspond to the capacity of my nature, which is not that of a creator, ex nihilo nihil fit (out of nothing nothing comes) only expresses the extent of human capacity, both intrinsic and experimental - of this I have spoken elsewhere. Not the idea, which is nowhere right naturally, but the consciousness of God is everywhere in man; as to ideas, what proves there must be a Creator, proves we can have no idea of Him - we cannot tell what creation is, or it would not be creation, and as the reign of law applies to the order of what is, what is objectively thinkable cannot apply to creation, which as an idea is not thinkable as to what, though necessary to formal being, which is thinkable, i.e., subject to reason. Creation, i.e., what is created is thinkable; creating is not. The causa causata of schoolmen is law; causa causans is God.