What Happened to Miracles?
A Look at Charismatic Gifts

Rev. Donald C. Elifson
1973

Preface

The information in this booklet is selected from notes that I have used for the past twenty-five years in the dispensational survey course I was privileged to teach at Grace Bible College.

During these twenty-five years, the influence of the charismatic movement has grown to where even the Roman Catholic Church is involved. Yet this is not strange, since the Church of Rome has always claimed power to perform miracles as proof of its divine origin.

Biblical faith not only rejects salvation by works, but also rejects all claims of evidential miracles being performed today.

Introduction

Some people believe that God is performing miracles, and others deny that God is performing miracles today. Those who insist that God is performing miracles today are not unanimous in their definition of a miracle. Many Christians use the term "miracle" to describe the new birth or regeneration, sanctification, and other aspects of the Christian life. Other Christians insist on much more than spiritual benefits. They claim that God is healing the sick, giving ability to speak in new tongues, and giving power to cast out demons and even to raise the dead. These signs, according to this theory, are of an evidential nature, that is, to prove the truth of the gospel which they are preaching.

Christians often do not understand each other's terms and therefore are unable to converse intelligently and Scripturally on many subjects, especially the subject of miracles.

Three Ways in Which God Works

God is the living God and a God of action, but not all His works are in the same realm. Theologians have rightly said that God works in three ways.

God Works Through the Laws of Nature

This means that God works through second causes, or, in other words, the common processes of nature--the growth of man, animals, plants; the regulation of the sun, moon, and stars; unusual events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The Westminster Confession of Faith truly says, "God, in His ordinary providence, makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure."

God Works Through His Spirit Upon the Hearts of Men

In this category would be found the Spirit's work of regeneration, sanctification, and illumination. Many Christians, like Martin Luther, would call this work of the Spirit a miracle. Thus, Luther says, "Conversion is the greatest of all miracles." "Every day witnesses miracle after miracle; that any village adheres to the Gospel when a hundred thousand devils are arrayed against it, or that the truth is maintained in this wicked world, is a continued miracle compared to which healing the sick or raising the dead is a mere trifle." This idea is found in the current song, "It Took a Miracle to Save My Soul".

If this is what all Christians meant by God performing miracles today, there would be no controversy, but many insist that God is healing the sick without the use of means, and even raising the dead, to prove that the message they preach is true.

God Works Through Miracles

A miracle, as we define it, is an event in the external world in the presence of witnesses due to the immediate agency of God, usually to prove that the one who performs the miracle has a revelation from God.

As one studies the miracles performed by Jesus Christ, it is obvious that the events were in the external world, such as, raising the dead, making the blind to see, feeding the five thousand, and walking on the water. Christ's miracles were performed in the presence of competent witnesses. Paul says they were not done in a corner--i.e., some obscure place with no witnesses. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Paul provides a long list of witnesses to the greatest of all miracles--the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead was due to the word of Jesus Christ, "Lazarus, come forth." There was no cooperation of secondary causes; it was an act of the will of Jesus Christ. He said to the leper, "I will; be thou clean." Immediately the leper was cleansed (Matt. 8:1-4).

The Scriptures Abound with Assertions
that Miracles Prove the Divine Origin of a Message or Revelation

The Miracles Performed by Jesus Were of an Evidential Nature

While he was in jail, John the Baptist became discouraged concerning whether Jesus really was the Messiah. He sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he really was the prophesied Messiah or not. Jesus answered the question by an appeal to the miracles he performed. He said,

"Go and tell John the things which you hear and see. The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matt. 11:5).

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus Christ continually referred to His works as the evidence to prove that He was the Son of God:

"For the works which the Father has given Me to finish--the very works that I do--bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me" (John 5:36). "The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of Me" (John 10:25).

Christ stated that if He had not performed miracles that no other man did, people would not be guilty of sin in rejecting Him.

"If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father" (John 15:24).

The writer to the Hebrews says that people will not escape the wrath of God if they neglect so great salvation, because God has given so much evidence that the Gospel is true.

"God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will" (Heb. 2:3-4).

The reason people will receive a greater damnation who reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ is simple: they have made a liar out of God. God has given many infallible proofs concerning the facts of the Gospel. The person who does not believe cannot claim there is lack of evidence that the Gospel is true. God says that the unbeliever has an evil heart of unbelief (Heb. 3:12.) It is absolutely just of God to condemn anyone who has the audacity to call God a liar:

"He who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son" (1 John 5:10).

The Miracles Performed by the Twelve Apostles Were of an Evidential Nature

"These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: 'Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give'" (Matt. 10:5-8).

The Twelve Apostles continued to perform miracles after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Peter and John healed the lame man, which is recorded in the third chapter of the book of Acts. The shadow of Peter healed the sick (Acts 5:15-16). The Apostle Peter raised Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36-42). The Apostles claimed that the miracles in their ministry were done in the name of Jesus of Nazareth to prove that God raised Him from the dead:

"If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole" (Acts 4:9,10).

God could have justly condemned the nation of Israel at the cross for rejecting Jesus Christ, but in mercy He gave the nation of Israel abundant evidence that Jesus was the Messiah by the miracles the apostles performed during the early part of the book of Acts. On the basis of evidence, God commanded Israel to repent of the sin of rejecting Christ, but as a nation they refused to be converted (Acts 3:19,20).

The Miracles of the Apostle Paul Were of an Evidential Nature

When Paul was separated to the office of the Apostle of the Gentiles in Acts 13, Dr. Luke records how Paul performed a miracle of judgment upon Elymus, the Jewish sorcerer. The Gentile Sergius Paulus was so impressed by the miracle that he believed.

"Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord" (Acts 13:12).

Throughout the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul performed miracles. In fact, he duplicated every miracle that the Apostle Peter did. He asserts in 2 Corinthians 11:5, "For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles."

The twelve apostles and the Jewish believers were under no obligation to believe the claims of Paul unless he could prove them. In the record of the church council at Jerusalem found in Acts 15, the only thing recorded of Paul is the miracles he and Barnabas wrought among the Gentiles, "...declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them" (Acts 15:12).

From this text and others it is evident that miracles were performed by Paul among the Gentiles as well we among the Jews to prove the divine origin of his message. The text of Romans 15:18-19 says Christ worked through him "...in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient--in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God."

The signs of an apostle were proof that Jesus Christ had revealed Himself to Paul and had also made known to him the Dispensation of the Mystery. The Jews rightfully required a sign because God had promised that when the Messiah would come, "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing" (Isa. 35:5,6). Christ did not contradict this prophecy when he said, "A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign" (Matt. 16:4). The context reveals that the Pharisees and Sadducees came to tempt him. They desired a sign from heaven--i.e., they wanted Jesus to perform some spectacular miracle like calling down fire from heaven. The Beast who will be the world leader during the coming Great Tribulation period will call down fire from heaven (Rev. 13:13).

In his second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul is forced to defend his apostolic authority against his enemies. Among the many evidences of his authority to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, he mentions that he performed at Corinth, in the country of Greece, the signs of an apostle:

"Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds" (2 Cor. 12:12).

Some of the believers at Corinth had gifts of the Spirit, such as the gift of healing, speaking in tongues, etc., but it is obvious that they did not have the signs of an apostle because if they did, Paul's claims were irrelevant. If the Corinthians could perform as many miracles as Paul or of the same quality, then Paul's claims would have had no influence on the Corinthians.

The New Testament miracles should be placed in three categories.

First, the miracles of Christ were of the highest nature. No other person stopped the waves of the sea or raised a man from the dead when decomposition had already begun. Above all, Christ raised Himself from the dead (John 2:19; 10:18).

Second, the miracles of the Apostles were of a lower caliber than those of Christ. The "greater works" of John 14:12 refer to more people being converted by the Apostles through the coming of the Holy Spirit, not miraculous gifts.

Third, the gifts given to ordinary believers during the period of the book of Acts were inferior to those of the official Apostles--i.e., the Twelve and Paul.

The above miracles are not being done today. God has established the truth of the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles by miracles performed by Christ and the Apostles over a period of about forty years of the first century. These miracles are recorded in the Bible. They were performed in the presence of competent witnesses. People are commanded to believe on the basis of the facts recorded in the Bible, not because of miracles being performed today, because there are no evidential miracles today.

Proof that Miracles Have Ceased

The Apostle Paul Predicted That the Miraculous Gifts Would Cease

In 1 Corinthians 13:8 Paul wrote,

"Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away."

This text does not mean that the prophecies of the Bible will fail, but that the gift of prophecy would be withdrawn. No person can speak directly from God today. Our only source of spiritual knowledge is found in the Bible.

Also, the ability to speak in a language one has never studied is no longer granted. Even those who claim the gift of tongues have to study language. The apostles on the Day of Pentecost spoke in languages they had never spoken before. The Holy Spirit gave them this gift. No one has this gift today!

Some claim the gift of tongues mentioned by Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians was a state of ecstasy because it was called "an unknown tongue." However, that gift was the same as the gift on the Day of Pentecost, i.e., an actual language spoken somewhere on the face of this earth. The reason an interpreter was needed at Corinth was because not all languages were represented in that city as they were in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5, 8-11). For example, at Corinth a believer might speak in Egyptian, but no one was present in that church who could understand Egyptian. Therefore, Paul forbad speaking in a tongue unknown to any person in the church unless an interpreter was present (1 Cor. 14:13-19, 27,28).

A Comparison of the Gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 with Those of Ephesians 4:11 Proves
that the Miraculous Gifts Have Ceased

Paul's prediction in 1 Corinthians 8 was fulfilled at the close of the period covered by the book of Acts. In the epistle to the Ephesians, he again enumerates the gifts given by the ascended Christ:

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11).

Why are the miraculous gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians not listed in Ephesians? The answer is plain--Christ withdrew the miraculous gifts. The gifts of Apostles and prophets ceased with the completion of the books of the New Testament. With the death of John, the apostolic office ceased. In order to be an apostle, a person must have seen the resurrected Christ; he must be able to perform miracles and must have had a divine revelation from Christ. There are no apostles or prophets today.

Paul Commanded Timothy to Use Medicine for His Sickness

"No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities" (1 Tim. 5:23).

Paul told the Philippians that he had no minister like Timothy; they had worked together like father and son (Phil. 2:19-23). But Timothy's faithfulness to the Lord did not keep him from having many infirmities of the body. Paul did not send Timothy a handkerchief or an apron as he did to sick people during the period of the book of Acts (Acts 19:11,12). No doubt Dr. Luke, whom Paul called "the beloved physician" (Col. 4:14), told Paul to send the medicinal prescription to Timothy. Many of God's faithful saints are in the same condition as Timothy.

God did heal Epaphroditus from a serious sickness, as Paul records in Philippians 2:25-30, but this was not because he was a more spiritual believer than Timothy. It was because of God's sovereign will. Paul did not exercise any gift of healing in his case. Paul states that God had mercy on him. If it is His will, God does heal the sick sometimes without means, but usually by medicine and surgery. God does not heal anyone today for evidential purposes to prove that a person is a Christian or that he has a divine revelation. It is a presumptuous sin to assert that it is always God's will to heal the sick Christian. Many so-called divine healers teach that unbelief is keeping many of God's saints sick. This author has challenged so-called divine healers to debate the subject, but everyone has refused.

Paul Did Not Heal Trophimus

Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:20, "Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick." Why did Paul not heal this faithful companion who was preaching the gospel together with him? During the book of Acts, Paul was healing everywhere he went. But after Paul arrived at Rome, God withdrew the miraculous gifts because the truth of the Gospel had already been established by miraculous gifts to both Jew and Gentile. Now God commands people to believe on the grounds of past evidence recorded in the Bible, not on the ground of present miraculous gifts.

Concluding Comments

Because many sincere Christians have failed to "rightly divide the word of truth," they are confused about the claims that miraculous gifts are still in the church today. Many sick Christians feel they have failed to have the faith necessary for healing.

History and experience teach that God gives "a thorn in the flesh" to many believers for their spiritual good. As in the Apostle Paul's case, Christ will not remove the thorn, but He gives sufficient grace (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Perfect health for the body will be realized at the coming of the Lord (Rom. 8:18-23). Christ's death provides for the redemption of the saint's physical body (Eph. 1:14). The question is, "When will the body be redeemed?" The charismatics say now. The Bible says, in effect, "Not now but at the coming of the Lord." This is what Paul means in Romans 8:22-23.

"For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now."

The charismatic says, "Yes, this is true of the unsaved." Listen to the rest of what Paul says:

"Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body."

Paul does not say we are waiting for the charismatic movement but that we are to wait for the coming of the Lord.

The devil has always supported a false worship by means of "lying wonders" (2 Thess. 2:9,10). The devil performed lying wonders through the magicians in Egypt who opposed Moses. He is still deceiving people today by means of false miracles and will yet come to the climax of his deception during the coming Great Tribulation Period.

The unsaved are deceived to the extent of damnation. Many sincere Christians are being deceived to the extent of being confused, and many are disappointed because they are not experiencing what the charismatics preach. Not all in the movement are of the devil, but the devil is using them to confuse many people.

The dispensational position of a complete revelation of the mystery of the Church, which is Christ's Body, is the answer to the charismatic movement (Eph. 3:1-6).

Today, God commands people to believe that Jesus Christ shed His precious blood for their sins and rose again for their justification. We are to believe on the basis of the written Word, the Bible, not on the basis of the charismatic movement.

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