Satan is Incapable of True Miracles

William Perkins
The Damned Art of Witchcraft
Works IX, pp. 312-316.

Wonders are of two sorts: either true and plain, or lying and deceitful.

1. True Wonders.

A true wonder is a rare work, done by the power of God simply, either above or against the power of nature, and it is properly called a miracle. The Scripture is plentiful in examples of this kind. Of this sort was the dividing of the Red Sea and making it dry land by a mighty east wind, that the children of Israel might pass through it (Exod. 14:21). For though the east wind is naturally of great force to move the waters and to dry the earth, yet to part the sea asunder, and to make the waters to stand as walls on each side, and the bottom of the sea as a pavement, this is a work simply above the natural power of any wind, and therefore is a miracle. Again, such were the wonders done by Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh in Egypt, one whereof, in the stead of many, was the turning of Aaron’s rod into a serpent, a work truly miraculous. For it is above the power of natural generation that the substance of one creature should be really turned into the substance of another, as the substance of a rod into the substance of a serpent. Of the like kind were the standing of the sun in the firmament without moving in its course for a whole day (Josh. 10:13), the going back of the sun in the firmament ten degrees (2 Kings 20:11), the preservation of the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the midst of the hot, fiery furnace (Dan. 3:25), and of Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. 6:22), the feeding of five thousand men, beside women and children, with five loaves and two fishes (Matt. 14:20–21), the curing of the eyes of the blind man with spittle and clay tempered together (John 9:6–7), etc.

Only God is Capable of True Miracles.

Now the effecting of a miracle in this kind is a work proper to God only. And no creature (man or angel) can do anything either above or contrary to nature, but He alone who is the Creator. For as God in the beginning made all things of nothing, so He has reserved to Himself, as a peculiar work of His almighty power, to change or abolish the substance, property, motion, and use of any creature. The reason is, because He is the Author and Creator of nature, and therefore at His pleasure, He is perfectly able to command, restrain, enlarge, or extend the power and strength thereof without the help or assistance of the creature.

Again, the working of a miracle is a kind of creation, for therein a thing is made to be, which was not before. And this must needs be proper to God alone by whose power things that are were once produced out of things that did not appear. The conclusion therefore must needs be this, which David confesses, “God only doth wondrous things” (Ps. 136:4), that is, works simply wonderful.

Obj. Men of God have done miracles.

But it is alleged to the contrary that the prophets in the Old Testament, and the apostles in the New, did work miracles. I answer, they did so. But how? Not by their own power, but by the power of God, being only His instruments, whom He used for some special purpose in those works, and such as did not themselves cause the miracle, but God in and by them. The same do Peter and John acknowledge when they had restored the lame man to the perfect use of his limbs: “that by their power and godliness, they had not made the man to go” (Acts 3:12).

Again, it is objected that our Savior Christ in His manhood wrought many miracles, as those before mentioned, and many more. Answer. Christ, as He was man, did something in the working of miracles, but not all. For in every miraculous work there are two things: the work itself and the acting or dispensing of the work. The work itself, being by nature and substance miraculous, considering it was above or against the order of natural causes, did not proceed from Christ as man, but from Him as God. But the dispensation of the same, in this or that visible manner, to the view of men, was done and performed by His manhood. For example, the raising up of Lazarus out of the grave, having been dead four days, was a miracle. To the effecting whereof both the Godhead and the manhood of Christ concurred by their several and distinct actions. The manhood only uttered the voice, and bid Lazarus come forth, but it was the Godhead of Christ that fetched his soul from heaven, and put it again into his body, yea, which gave life and power to Lazarus to hear the voice uttered, to rise and come forth (John 11:43). In like manner, when He gave sight to the blind (Matt. 20:34), He touched their eyes with the hands of His manhood, but the power of opening them, and making them to see, came from His Godhead, whereby He was able to do all things. And in all other miraculous works which He did, the miracle was always wrought by His divine power only. The outward actions and circumstances that accompanied the same proceeded from Him as He was man.

Now, if Christ, as He is man, cannot work a true miracle, then no mere creature can do it, no not the angels themselves, and consequently not Satan, it being a mere supernatural work, performed only by the omnipotent power of God.

2. Lying and Deceitful Wonders.

The second sort of wonders are lying and deceitful, which also are extraordinary works in regard of man, because they proceed not from the usual and ordinary course of nature. And yet, they are not miracles, because they are done by the virtue of nature, and not above or against nature simply, but above and against the ordinary course thereof. And these are properly such wonders as are done by Satan and his instruments, examples whereof we shall see afterwards.

Angels are Capable of Extraordinary Works.

If any man in reason thinks it unlikely that a creature should be able to work extraordinarily by natural means, he must remember that though God has reserved to Himself alone the power of abolishing and changing nature, the order whereof He set and established in the creation, yet the alteration of the ordinary course of nature He has put in the power of His strongest creatures (angels and devils). That the angels have received this power and do execute the same upon His command or permission, is manifest by Scripture, and the proof of it is not so necessary in this place. But that Satan is able to do extraordinary works by the help of nature (which is the question in hand) shall appear if we consider in him these things:

1. The Devil’s Nature is Above Man’s.

First, the devil is by nature a spirit and, therefore, of great understanding, knowledge, and capacity, in all natural things of whatsoever sort, quality, and condition, whether they are causes or effects, whether of a simple or mixed nature. By reason whereof he can search more deeply and narrowly into the grounds of things than all corporal creatures that are clothed with flesh and blood.

2. The Devil is Ancient and Experienced.

Second, he is an ancient spirit, whose skill has been confirmed by experience of the course of nature for the space almost of six thousand years. Hence, he has attained to the knowledge of many secrets, and by long observation of the effects is able to discern and judge of hidden causes in nature, which man in likelihood cannot come unto by ordinary means, for want of that opportunity both of understanding and experience. Hereupon it is that whereas in nature there are some properties, causes, and effects, which man never imagined to be; some that men did once know, but are now forgotten; some that men knew not, but might know; and thousands which can hardly (or not at all) be known. All these are most familiar unto him because in themselves they are no wonders, but only mysteries and secrets, the virtue and effect whereof he has at times observed since his creation.

3. The Devil is a Powerful Creature.

Third, he is a spirit of wonderful power and might, able to shake the earth, and to confound the creatures inferior to him in nature and condition, if he were not restrained by the omnipotent power of God. And this power, as it was great by his creation, so it is not impaired by his fall, but rather increased and made more forcible by his irreconcilable malice, which he bears to mankind, especially the seed of the woman.

4. The Devil is Quick.

Fourth, there is in the devil an admirable quickness and agility, proceeding from his spiritual nature, whereby he can very speedily and in short space of time convey himself and other creatures into places far distant from one another.

The Devil is Limited by His Nature and by God’s Will.

By these four helps, Satan is enabled to do strange works. Strange, I say, to man whose knowledge since the fall is mingled with much ignorance, even in natural things; whose experience is of short continuance, and much hindered by forgetfulness; whose agility by reason of his gross nature is nothing, if he had not the help of other creatures; and whose power is but weakness and infirmity in comparison of Satan’s.

Yet if there is any further doubt as to how Satan can by these helps work wonders, we may be resolved of the truth thereof by considering three other things:

First, that by reason of his great knowledge and skill in nature he is able to apply creature to creature, and the causes efficient to the matter, and thereby bring things to pass that are in common conceit impossible.

Second, he has power to move them, not only according to the ordinary course, but with much more speed and celerity.

Third, as he can apply and move, so by his spiritual nature he is able, if God permits, to convey himself into the substance of the creature, without any penetration of dimensions. And, being in the creature, although it is ever so solid, he can work therein, not only according to the principles of the nature thereof, but as far as the strength and ability of those principles will possibly reach and extend themselves. Thus, it appears that the devil can in general work wonders.

Now more particularly, the devil’s wonders are of two sorts: illusions or real actions…. [See next post]


2 thoughts on “Satan is Incapable of True Miracles

  1. […] They were not done by the devil because the devil cannot make a true creature, either serpent or frog. How does that appear? Answer. To make a true creature of any sort by producing the same out of the causes is a work serving to continue the creation and is indeed a kind of creation. Now the devil, as he cannot create a thing at the first, so he is not able to continue the same by a new creation; that being a property belonging to God only. [cf. Satan is Incapable of True Miracles]. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s