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Miracles: Water Made Wine

Miracles:  Water Made Wine

“This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory.” (John 2:11)

It is very instructive, particularly when any course of teaching like our present one is undertaken, to notice the way in which the Church has chosen the passages of Scripture which are to be read on the different Sundays. I told you, that in our series of doctrinal sermons I should follow the great events of our Lord’s life as brought before us by the Church. Now let us observe what she has done for us about this time of the year. We have passed the nativity of Christ: His circumcision: His manifestation to the Gentiles. Last Sunday the Gospel contained the narrative of the only event recorded as having happened during His youth. On that I did not preach to you: both because I had once treated it fully before, and because I had already said so much on the perfect manhood of our Lord, which that wondrous story most concerns.

But now let us observe the six following Sundays, beginning with this one, the second after Epiphany. Today we have for our Gospel the miracle of the water turned into wine: next Sunday, the healing of the leper and of the centurion’s servant, which occur together in Matt. 8: the Sunday after, the three miracles of the stilling the storm, the casting out the devils at Gadara, and the destruction of the swine, which also occur together in the same chapter. Then on the next Sunday, the fifth after Epiphany, we have the parable of the tares of the field: and missing the sixth, which occurs but seldom, and has a peculiar subject of its own, on Septuagesima Sunday we have another parable, that of the laborers in the vineyard: and on the next, Sexagesima, that of the Sower: the next Sunday to that introducing the solemn season of Lent with a Gospel pointedly announcing our Lord’s sufferings for our sins.

Thus we have before us, as there are this year five Sundays after Epiphany, three Sundays of miracles, and three of parables. And this circumstance will guide me in choosing our subjects for those Sundays.

Our Blessed Lord’s Person is the great center of all Christian doctrines. According as you do, or do not, see clearly who He is, and what was and is His work, you will or will not be sound in the faith, and led on to true and blessed belief in the other great verities of His religion. I shall need therefore no apology for devoting these six Sundays to the subjects thus pointed out to us; three to our Lord’s miracles,—three to His parables and discourses. May God guide me to speak, and you to hear, that which is according to His will, and the mind of His Spirit.

We are then to speak of CHRIST’S MIRACLES.
And first, WHAT IS A MIRACLE? This is a most important question: for on the right answer to it depends, whether we understand or not of what use Christ’s miracles were when they were wrought, and what purpose they are intended to serve for us now, and for the Church to the end of time. A miracle is an interference with the common course of nature by some power above nature. Thus an earthquake or a volcanic eruption is not a miracle, because it is a result, though an unusual result, of natural causes: a comet is not a miracle, because it is, though a rare thing in nature, yet brought about by no divine interference, but occurring in the course of nature herself. Divine interference might exalt either of these into miracles, by specially announcing them as sent for a purpose: as the prophetic voice of Samuel did thus exalt into a miracle the thunderstorm in the wheat harvest, when he foretold it as a sign of God’s anger for Israel’s sin. The healing of a disease is not a miracle, if brought about by ordinary means, although we know that God’s blessing must be given on those means; but it is a miracle, if it is produced by a word, or a touch, and would at once shew that he who did it possessed some power greater than that of nature, and of man, nature’s servant. Some power greater, I said: and I said it purposely: for all miracles do not come from God: some come from God’s enemy and ours, the devil, and from his agents and subordinate powers. The magicians of Egypt were able to perform the same miracles as Moses, up to a certain point: and we have it from the lips of our Lord himself, that the Antichrist of the latter days, when he shall appear, shall shew signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if it were possible, even the elect of God. St. Paul also speaks of the same Antichrist as “him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and might and lying wonders.” Mere miracles then are no proof of a divine mission, but only of some power from heaven or hell superior to that of man, and of nature in her ordinary working.

I shall have occasion to return to this point again by and by, and to say a good deal upon it. Meantime one general remark must be made here in the outset. It will be plain to you that any one who believes in a personal Author and Governor of nature, will have no difficulty in believing in miracles. The same Almighty Being who made and upholds nature, can interfere, whenever it pleases Him, with the ordinary course of nature, which He has Himself prescribed. To say that He cannot do this, is to deny His almightiness, and consequently His existence. To say that He never will be pleased thus to interfere, is manifestly foolish and presumptuous in the extreme: we cannot set bounds to His purposes, nor tell beforehand how He may be pleased to accomplish them. It does not follow, because we have never witnessed an unusual exertion of His power, that such never take place. By the same argument we might refuse to believe any wonderful thing which we have not ourselves seen. Then again, every one who believes in the existence of spirits and powers of evil must allow that they exist and act only by permission of God, and for mysterious purposes of His. And the trial of our faith and obedience is certainly one of those purposes. There is then no antecedent difficulty in believing that miraculous powers are granted, or have been at certain times granted, to these evil spirits, to exercise the faith of men: and Scripture positively assures us that such is the case. Whenever a man refuses to believe in miracles, one of two things must be the case: either, believing the possibility of miracles, he does not think the evidence enough on which the miracle is sought to be established; or, disbelieving their possibility, and thinking no evidence sufficient to establish them, he must, if he be consistent, also disbelieve the existence of,—or the continued government of the world by,—an Almighty Creator and Upholder. We, while we believe the evidence of the Scripture miracles to be sufficient to prove them to be facts, take the former course, with regard to the recorded miracles of the Saints of the Church of Rome, and to those which she from time to time reports in our own days: we believe well-attested miracles, but we do not believe these, which we find will not bear the test of a searching examination into their facts. The unbeliever takes the latter course, when he refuses to receive the miracles related in Holy Scripture, on the ground of its being impossible or improbable that they should have happened. I say, the unbeliever; meaning he who rejects Christ and Christianity: for it is clearly impossible to receive Christ as the Savior, and not to credit those very works to which He constantly appealed for the truth of His mission.

But now it is time to return to the more interesting matter which we just now left. If there are good and had miracles,—miracles of divine goodness, and miracles of lying spirits,—one thing must be very plain to us: viz. that by miracles alone no man can be proved to be sent from God. He may be proved to be sent either from God, or from God’s and man’s enemy: but miracles alone will not determine which.

And now we have come to the point as regards our blessed Lord Himself. Our enquiry to-day, on which we wish to gain some information for ourselves, is, What were our Lord’s miracles, as regards their place in His great work? They held a very important place, but they did not hold the chief place, in the evidences of His mission. He often appeals to them in proof that He came from God: but He does so in a peculiar manner, and one very instructive to us. He himself actually at one time had to reply to the charge that he wrought them by Satanic influence. “This man casteth out devils by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” And the way in which He answered the accusation is most instructive. He did it, not by appealing to the greatness, or even to the beneficence of his miracles alone, but by asserting that if it were so, Satan would be divided against himself. Our Lord was his well-known opponent,—the man of truth, the man of purity, the man of God; whose meat and drink it was to do God’s will; and the idea of Satan working by means of this man would imply that Satan was his own enemy, and therefore could not stand, but must have an end. And this is just the course which our Lord ever took with regard to His miracles. You will find it in St. John’s Gospel most plainly set forth. There the Evangelist’s purpose evidently is, not merely to relate the events as they happened, and the discourses as they were delivered; but so to collect and group them together that they may best illustrate our blessed Lord’s purpose and method of manifesting himself to men. And you will ever find Him in that Gospel insisting on this point in all His conflicts and controversies with the Jews,—that His life was holy and blameless; that He was a good man, and spoke good, and did good, and shewed them good. This was the great and firm basis on which Jesus rested for the acceptation of his ministry and mission; that none could convict him of sin; that He was like God, and of God. And now came in His miracles; not as chief proofs, but as proofs in aid, of this pure and holy life and mission. They were wonderful works; they were suspensions of the course of nature: this shewed Him to be one endowed with supernatural power. He turned water into wine:—He spoke and the winds were silent:—He commanded diseases with a word. So far the power might be from above or from beneath. But, coupled with his holy and blameless life, and his love for God, and obedience to God, these works of power took another character, and became signs, St. John’s usual word for them; signs whence He came: they could have but one source,—they could not be from Satan; He could not be a magician, in league with the powers of evil:—they were proofs that He was what he asserted himself to be,—from God, and the Son of God:—they became, when viewed together with the consistent and unvarying character of his teaching and life, most valuable and decisive evidences to his Messiahship. “No man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him,” said the Jewish Rabbi to Him: “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.”

But besides that our Lord’s miracles came in aid of His spotless and holy life to prove Him the Son of God, they have a distinct and most important meaning and teaching of their own. This will be best introduced by for a moment comparing them with the thousands of reported heathen and middle-age miracles which have been reported in history and legend. What was the meaning and import of all these? What good did they do? What result came of them? Can any instruction be got from them, or is any meaning for men’s souls concealed beneath them? But with every one of our Lord’s miracles, this is otherwise. They are full of goodness to the bodies and souls of men. Each of them has its own fitness as adapted to His great work, and to the will of the Father which He came to accomplish. Each one tends, in its place, as St. John says of this one in our Gospel, to manifest forth His glory: shews forth some gracious attribute, some deep sympathy: testifies to Him as the light, or life, or consolation, or sustenance, of man and man’s world. Let us take general instances, which we shall be able afterwards to follow out into particulars, in the miracles which are brought before us in the Gospels for these three Sundays.

Sin is, as we have seen, the great disease of our nature, which this divine Savior came to heal. Bodily disease is not only a type, it is the consequence of sin. So that when our Lord puts forth His hand to heal, or speaks the words which are followed by healing, He is forwarding, at the same time that He is prefiguring and illustrating, His healing power for the whole world, for men’s bodies and souls alike: when He raises the dead, He is conquering Death, the result of sin, and He is giving a foretaste of the day when all that are in the grave, shall hear His voice: when He feeds the five thousand or the four thousand in the wilderness, He himself teaches us that He is not only doing a beneficent act to men’s bodies, but is teaching them that He is the Bread of life for their souls: when He casts out devils in relief of the peculiar spiritual affliction of that time, He is teaching us that He came to destroy the works of the devil. Some of the miracles are acted parables: similar lessons of instruction are conveyed by them to those which at other times He expressed in his teaching. We have a notable example of this in the miracle of the withering fig-tree, in which He sets forth to us, in connection with his well-known parable, the barrenness, and the punishment, of unfruitful Israel.

So that our Lord’s miracles form a precious and most important body of proofs of his holy mission and his Sonship of God: and not only this, but they come powerfully in aid of his discourses, in setting before us the truth of his divine Person and Work. We know his Power by them; we are assured of his Wisdom and his Love. The faithful soul, in its wants and its weaknesses, finds these testimonies to his loving-kindness a rich treasure-house of personal comfort.

I will devote the rest of my sermon to considering how this is so with regard to the class of miracles to which that in our Gospel to-day belongs.

That class is a very remarkable one. And it is especially worthy of note, that our Lord should choose a miracle of such a character with which to open his whole course of supernatural working. For it is one in which we have not the healing of disease, not the abolition of death, not the freeing men from any of the plainer and more obvious consequences of sin, but the supply of a want which was not a need, the ministering to mere festive joy, not to destitution and distress. It may at first sight appear strange that such a miracle should be selected by our Lord as one especially calculated to manifest forth his glory, and to cause his disciples to believe on him. There is then all reason why we should closely examine it and try to discern its worthiness for such a place and office.

Our first observation shall be this: that whereas other of our Lord’s miracles concern some particular portion of human infirmity, or divine power and mercy, we might well expect this one, which was to begin and head them, to convey a lesson of a more general nature respecting both ourselves and Him who wrought it. And such indeed it does convey. We see Him here as the true source of all joy and happiness: we see Him in his highest and most blessed influence on man and that which belongs to man. For He came, as we insisted last Sunday in preaching to you on the universality of His Gospel, to heal and elevate and bless our whole nature, in all its wants, all its employments, all its joys.

And what is it that we find Him here doing? The holy estate of marriage was instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency. It is an institution still in full force among us, and dating from before the time of the first ravages of sin. Sin indeed has abused it, and counterfeited it, and interfered with its blessedness: but for all that, its own holiness and purity, and capability for blessing and elevating humanity, still remain for those who use it aright, in the faith and fear of God, and in holy forbearance and love. What occasion then so fitting for the Son of God to shew his divine power of blessing and hallowing humanity, as that of a marriage? He might have entered the abode of sickness and healed with a word, as often afterwards: He might have stood over the bed of death and called back the parted spirit: each of these miracles would have had, as each ever has, its own deep and blessed significance: but we may venture to say, that neither of them would have spread so wide, or risen so high, in its manifestation of the Redeemer’s glory, as did this one. Those would regard more the means whereby the great work of Redemption was to be accomplished,—the healing of sin, the overcoming of death: but this shews us the blessed work completed, and in its most glorious result. “These things speak I to you that your joy may be full.” This was the tendency of his discourses, and of the writings of his apostles:—and thus, in ministering to the fulness of human joy, He is going further, and shewing more completely the glory of his Incarnation in our nature, than if He had ministered to human sorrow,—because under Him and in His Kingdom, all sorrow is but a means to joy,—all sorrow ends in joy. “Ye now therefore have sorrow,” He says to His disciples of their orphan state in the world: “but I will come and see you again, and ye shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”

Take yet another view of this miracle. The gift which our Lord bestowed in it is ever used in Scripture, however it has been perverted by man’s evil and sinful lusts, as setting forth to us the invigorating and cheering effects of the Spirit of God on man’s heart. “The Lord will make a feast of wines on the lees well refined:”—“Come ye, buy wine and milk without money and without price:”—these are the prophetic representations of the rich blessings of the Christian covenant. And so our Lord, in opening His treasure of these rich blessings, does so by imparting the lower gift, the type of His better and more lasting bestowal. And St. John has thought it worth while to record, that the wine which He bestowed was the best of its kind, as all His gifts are better than any other gifts: as His works of nature and His works of grace are ever the best and the noblest, marvels of skill and mercy:—for He doeth all things well.

All this was manifesting forth His glory, and the character of His work on earth: and so it was, when He turned water into wine, the baser element into the nobler, the weaker into the stronger. For thus He ever does with all that is merely ours, when He comes with His transforming power and His heavenly grace. By that power the weak becomes strong, the earthly becomes heavenly, the transitory becomes abiding and eternal. It is He alone who can turn the mere flashes of human joy into a holy and steady flame which even the grave shall not extinguish: He alone, who can change the sorrow of the world, which worketh death, into godly sorrow, which bringeth forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness:—who bestows the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.

But more manifestations of His glory yet remain behind. He did all this simply by His own creative power. And the process was hidden from human view. In the vessels, or in pouring from vessel to vessel, did His power in a moment work that wondrous change, which is yearly during a whole season wrought by Him in nature, when the moisture of the earth is taken up by the vine, circulates as sap in the branch and the bud and the bloom, becomes ripened into the juice of the grape,—and yet more, being by man’s labor gathered, pressed, fermented, put by, after years mellows into the good wine. He, who commonly creates by means and secondary causes, can do without them when He will; will do without them, when it pleases Him, in the bringing about of His great purposes.

Yet again. There is something in the very order of His course here which is instructive to us. “Thou hast kept the good wine until now,” says the ruler of the feast. Ever His best, last:—not even His best first, as the world, anxious for present shew, present effect, careless about the distant future. It is not His way to be very gracious at first, and then to cool towards His people: to invite them to Him, and then fall back from them: His mercies are new every morning: He giveth more grace,—grace for grace: and evermore those who have loved Him longest love Him best, those who have served Him longest can tell most of His loving-kindness. He keeps His best until last. Never, till we sit down in the Kingdom of God, shall we know the fulness of joy which is in His presence, and the pleasures which are at His right hand. There none will be disappointed: every one will know and confess that He has kept His best bestowal, till body and soul and spirit were ready to be filled full with it.

But lastly, all this He will do, not at our time, but at His own. See how His blessed Mother urged him forward, being convinced in her own believing heart that He could and would do, what He eventually really did. But mark the reproof which even she earned from Him—“Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.” And so do many of us, my brethren, without half her faith and clearness of insight into His purposes, often urge Him forward for our own ease or consolation, or as we fancy, for His greater and speedier glorification: but the same answer awaits us,—if not from His lips, yet from His Providence: we shall be thrust back, and kept standing without and disappointed of our earnest wish, till His time is come: and then, but not till then, will He help us, and clear us, and justify us, and save us, and glorify us:—then when we are fittest,—then when His will is ripest,—then, when it is best.

Such, my beloved, are some of the lessons to be learned, some of the rich consolations to be drawn, from this one miracle of our Blessed Lord. Notice the effect in our text:—His disciples believed on Him. O may this same result be produced on every one of you. You have heard in these sermons of your deep need of Him,—of His eternal Godhead,—His grace in becoming man for you,—and now to-day of His glory as manifested by His miracles generally, and by this one in particular. And to what purpose shall I have spoken and you have heard these things, unless some hearts here be brought to receive Him for their Savior and Lord: to trust in His power and mercy, to thirst for a share in His glory?

Go and think of Him, and pray to Him, and serve Him: strive by prayer, by obedience, by patience and hope in believing, for more of His spirit and His likeness, that one day your vile body may be changed, by a far more wonderful miracle, to be as His glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine (pp. 82–96). London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)


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