This section is from the book "Faith - Healing. Christian Science And Kindred Phenomena", by James Monroe Buckley. Also available from Amazon: Faith-Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena.
It has been suggested that if faith-healing can be demonstrated to be subjective, what is called conversion can be accounted for similarly. If by conversion is meant the cataleptic condition which occurred among Congregationalists in the time of Jonathan Edwards, certain Presbyterians and Baptists in the early part of this century in the South and West, and the early Methodists, and is still common among colored people, Second Adventists, and the Salvation Army, and not wholly unknown among others, T admit that such phenomena are of natural origin.
But if conversion is understood to mean a recognition of sinfulness, genuine repentance, and complete trust in the promises of God, accompanied by a controlling determination to live hereafter in obedience to the law of God, this is radically different. Such an experience may be sufficiently intense to produce tears of sorrow or joy, trances, or even lunacy. But neither the lunacy, the trances, nor the tears are essential parts of the conversion. They are results of emotional excitement, differing in individuals according to temperament and education. If these results are believed to have a divine origin—especially when the susceptible are exposed to the contagion of immense crowds swayed by a common impulse and acted upon by oratory—hundreds may succumb to the epidemic who do not experience any moral change, while others who are thus excited may at the same time be genuinely reformed.
The inquiry has been made why these principles do not apply to the miracles of Christ; why I do not sift the evidence in the same way, and explain the facts on the same grounds. What, then, does the New Testament say, and is it rational to believe it?
The first question relates to the issue with the faith-healers. If they performed such works as are recorded of Jesus Christ, a writer professing to believe in his divinity would be compelled to admit their claims to supernatural assistance. But the point made against them is that they do not perform works similar to his.
The credibility of the record concerning Christ's works is a question which cannot be raised by Christians, whether they hold the superstitions of the faith-healers or not.
It is conceded that probably no such sifting of the evidence was attempted as can be made of what takes place in this scientific age, that there was a predisposition to accept miracles, and that the ascendancy of G religious teachers was maintained largely by the belief of the people in their power to work miracles. To affirm, however, as some do, that there was no investigation, is an exaggeration. The Jews, who did not believe Christ, had every motive to examine the evidence as thoroughly as possible. Still, we possess only the testimony of those who thought they saw. If they beheld and understood, their testimony is conclusive; but standing alone it would be insufficient.
Yet it is rational to accept the record, although we have not the opportunity of seeing the miracles or testing the evidence by scientific methods. A miracle of wisdom may be as convincing as one of physical force. The resurrection from the dead declared of Jesus Christ could not be more contrary to the laws of nature than the conception of such a life and character as his if he never existed. His discourses are as far above human wisdom as his recorded works transcend human power.
The prophecies which the Jews then held and still preserve, taken in connection with their character and history as a nation, afford a powerful presumption of the truth of the narrative. In the ordinary course of human events the death of Christ, after he had made such claims, would have destroyed the confidence of his apostles and scattered them; but their lives were transformed after his death. This is inexplicable unless he appeared again and sustained them by miraculous gifts.
Of the effect of a belief in the teachings of Christ I have had much observation. It convinces me of their truth; for what reforms human nature, developing all that is good, sustaining it in the endeavor to suppress what is evil, supporting it in the difficulties of life, and illuminating death with a loftier hope than life had ever allowed, furnishes evidence of its truth, not in the scientific method, but in a manner equally convincing. Because the record of miraculous facts concerning Christ is inseparably connected with these teachings, it is rational to believe it.
Later ages have had no experience of the ways of God in making special revelations to men; but these things were performed for such a purpose. To allege the experience of modern times against the credibility of extraordinary events then appears no less unphilo-sophical than to bring forward that record in favor of miracles now.
Faraday, " the father of modern experimental chemistry," began his celebrated lecture on the Education of the Judgment thus:
Before entering upon the subject, I must make ono distinction, which, however it may appear to others, is to me of the utmost importance. High as man is placed above tho creatures around him, there is a higher and far more exalted position within his view; and the ways are infinite in which ho occupies his thoughts about the fears or hopes or expectations of a future life. I believe that the truth of that future cannot be brought to his knowledge by any exertion of his mental powers, however exalted they may be; that it is made known to him by other teaching than his own, and is received through simple belief of the testimony given. Let no one suppose for a moment that the self-education I am about to commend in respect of the things of this life extends to any considerations of the hope set before us, as if man by reasoning could find out God. It would be improper here to enter upon this subject further than to claim an absolute distinction between religious and ordinary belief. I shall be reproached with the weakness of refusing to apply those mental operations which I think good in respect of high things to the very highest. I am content to bear the reproach. Yet, even in earthly matters, I believe that the invisible things of him from tho creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even Ins eternal power and Godhead; and I have never seen anything incompatible between those things of man which can be known by the spirit of man which is within him, and those higher things concerning his future which he cannot know by that spirit.
I would not shield myself behind a great name from the charge of inconsistency, but have brought forward this passage because it states, what the life of Faraday illustrated;—the compatibility of intense devotion to the scientific method in its proper sphere, with a full recognition of its limitations, of the value of moral evidence, and of the difference between grounds of belief in nature and revelation.