Lying Wonders

Gustave Doré's depiction of Satan from John Milton's Paradise Lost

An effect may transcend all the powers of all material causes and the power of man, and nevertheless be within the compass of the ability of superhuman intelligences. There are rational creatures superior to man, endowed with far higher capacities. These exalted intelligences have access to our world; they do exercise their powers in producing effects in the realm of nature; and therefore, it is said, we cannot tell whether an event, admitted to be supernatural (in the limited sense of that word), is to be referred to God or to these spiritual beings. Such is the latitude with which the words "signs and wonders" are used in the Scriptures, that they apply not only to works due to God's immediate agency, but to those effected by the power of evil spirits. On this account many theologians regard the latter as true miracles. They are called "lying wonders," says Gerhard, not as to their form (or nature), but as to their end, i.e., because designed to promote error. Trench takes the same view; he says it is not a matter of doubt to him that the Scriptures attribute real wonders to Satan. The question is not, Whether the works of the Egyptian Magicians and the predicted wonders of Antichrist are to be regarded as tricks and juggleries. It may be admitted that they were, or are to be the works of Satan and his angels. But the question is, Are they to be regarded as true miracles? The answer to this question depends on the meaning of the word. If by a miracle we mean any event transcending the efficiency of physical causes and the power of man, then they are miracles. But if we adhere to the definition above given, which requires that the event be produced by the immediate power of God, they of course are not miracles. They are "lying wonders," not only because intended to sustain the kingdom of lies, but because they falsely profess to be what they are not. Thus Thomas Aquinas says: Demones possunt facere miracula: quæ scilicet homines mirantur, in quantum eorum facultatem et cognitionem excedunt." They are only wonders in the sight of men.

The difficulty of discriminating between miracles and these lying wonders, i.e., between the works of God and the works of Satan, has been anticipated and provided for by the sacred writers themselves. In Deut. xiii. 1-3, Moses says, "If there arise among you a prophet . . . . and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or thine wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet." In Matt. vii. 22, 23, our Lord says, "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Matt. xxiv. 24, "There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." In 2 Thess. ii. 9, the Apostle teaches us that the coming of the man of sin shall be "after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders." These passages teach that supernatural events, i.e., events transcending the power of material causes and the ability of man, may be brought about by the agency of higher intelligences; and that no such supernatural events are to be regarded as of any authority if produced by wicked agents, or for a wicked purpose. It was on this principle our Lord answered the Pharisees who accused Him of casting out devils by Beelzebub the prince of devils. He appealed to the design for which his miracles were wrought to prove that they could not be referred to a Satanic influence. Satan will not coöperate to confirm the truth or to promote good. God cannot coöperate to confirm what is false or to promote evil. So that the character of the agent and the design for which a supernatural event is brought about determine whether it is truly a miracle, or whether it is one of the lying wonders of the devil. From the Scriptures this criterion of miracles was adopted by the Church. Luther says, "Against authenticated doctrines, no signs or wonders, however great or numerous, are to be admitted; for we have the command of God, who said from heaven, `Hear him,' to listen only unto Christ."

Hodge v 1 pp 630-632

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