John Stoughton

(1807—1897) Congregational minister

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John Stoughton was born in Norwich on 18 November 1807 and died in London on 24 October 1897. He was trained for the Congregational ministry at Highbury College, graduating via University College London. He served at William Street, Windsor (1832–43), and then began his distinguished ministry at Allen Street, Kensington (1843–75). He held the Chair of Historical Theology at New [Congregational] College, London (1872–84), and was Chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales in 1856. The DD of Edinburgh University was conferred upon him in 1868. A man of wide culture and of an ecumenical spirit, Stoughton published a number of historical works, some of which reflected the foreign travel in which he delighted. Like many prominent ministers he was invited to give a lecture on behalf of the Christian Evidence Society, and this he did on 16 May 1871. Hence his only published contribution to apologetics: The Nature and Value of the Miraculous Testimony to Christianity (1871). He here bypasses some of the standard objections against miracles conceived as violations of the law of nature by pointing out that the New Testament miracles are not said to be violations or suspensions of law, or interferences with law, or contradictions of law. Rather, ‘They are depicted … in their connection with Him who claimed to be the Redeemer of mankind …’ (The Nature and Value of the Miraculous Testimony to Christianity (1871), p. 6). Accordingly, Stoughton focuses on the New Testament miracles as ‘signs, – replete with ulterior meaning, and testifying to the character and work of Him through whom they were accomplished’ (The Nature and Value of the Miraculous Testimony to Christianity (1871), p. 7). The appeal to miracle in no way violates the principle of the constancy of nature, and scientists who say that miracles in Stoughton's sense are impossible are simply stepping outside their brief. When positivism is consistent it cannot contradict the supernatural; the doctrine of universal physical necessity would destroy all ideas of freedom and moral responsibility; and while we may agree with Hume that miracles are contrary to common experience, to deny that they are ‘contrary to human experience, taken in the widest point of view, is to beg the question at issue’ (The Nature and Value of the Miraculous Testimony to Christianity (1871), p. 20). The purpose of biblical signs is to authenticate revelation ‘by means of evidence corresponding with its own supernatural origin and character’ (The Nature and Value of the Miraculous Testimony to Christianity (1871), p. 23).

From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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