Theological Institutes

Part First - Evidences of The Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures

By Richard Watson

Chapter 1


THE theological system of the Holy Scriptures being the subject of our inquiries, it is essential to our undertaking to establish their Divine authority. But before the direct evidence which the case admits is adduced, our attention may be profitably engaged by several consider­ations, which afford presumptive evidence in favour of the revelations of the Old and New Testaments. These are of so much weight that they ought not, in fairness, to be overlooked; nor can their force be easily resisted by the impartial inquirer.

The moral agency of man is a principle on which much depends in such an investigation; and, from its bearing upon the question at issue, requires our first notice.

He is a moral agent who is capable of performing moral actions; and an action is rendered moral by two circumstances,-that it is voluntary,- and that it has respect to some rule which determines it to be good or evil. "Moral good and evil," says LOCKE, "is the conformity or disagreement of our voluntary actions to some law, whereby good or evil is drawn upon us from the will or power of the law maker,"

The terms found in all languages, and the laws which have been enacted in all states with accompanying penalties, as well as the praise or dispraise which men in all ages have expressed respecting the conduct of each other, sufficiently show that man has always been considered as an agent actually performing, or capable of performing moral actions, for as such he has been treated. No one ever thought of making laws to regulate the conduct of the inferior animals; or of holding them up to public censure or approbation.

The rules by which the moral quality of actions has been determined are, however, not those only which have been embodied in the legisla­tion of civil communities. Many actions would be judged good or evil, were all civil codes abolished; and others are daily condemned or approved in the judgment of mankind, which are not of a kind to be recognized by public laws. Of the moral nature of human actions there must have been a perception in the minds of men, previous to the enactment of laws. Upon this common perception all law is founded, and claims the consent and support of society; for in all human legislative codes there is an express or tacit appeal to principles previously acknow­ledged, as reasons for their enactment.

This distinction in the moral quality of actions previous to the esta­blishment of civil regulations, and independent of them, may in part he traced to its having been observed, that certain actions are injurious to society, and that to abstain from them is essential to its well being. Murder and they may be given as instances. It has also been perceived, that such actions result from certain affections of the mind; and the in­dulgence or restraint of such affections has therefore been also regarded as a moral act. Anger, revenge, and cupidity, have been deemed evils as the sources of injuries of various kinds; and humanity, self government, and integrity, have been ranked among the virtues; and thus both cer­tain actions, and the principles from which they spring, have, from their effect upon society, been determined to be good or evil.

But it has likewise been observed by every man, that individual hap­piness, as truly as social order and interests, is materially affected by particular acts, and by those feelings of time heart which give rise to them; as for instance, by anger, malice, envy, impatience, cupidity, &c; and that whatever civilized men in all places and in all ages have agreed to call VICE, is inimical to health of body, or to peace of mind, or to both. This, it is true, has had little influence upon human conduct; but it has been acknowledged by the poets, sages, and satirists of all countries, and is adverted to as matter of universal experience. While therefore there is in the moral condition and habits of man something which propels him to vice, uncorrected by the miseries which it never fails to inflict. There is also something in the constitution of the human soul which renders vice subversive of its happiness, and something in the established law and nature of things, which renders vice incompatible with the col­lective interests of men in the social state.

Let that then be granted by time THEIST which he cannot consistently deny, the existence of a Supreme Creator, of infinite power, wisdom, goodness, and justice, who has both made men and continues to govern them; and the strongest presumption is afforded by the very constitution of the nature of man, and the relations established among human affairs, which with so much constancy dissociate happiness from vicious pas­sions, health from intemperance, the peace, security, and improvement of society from violence and injustice,-that the course of action which best secures human happiness, has the sanction of His will, or in other words that HE, by these circumstances, bias given his authority in favour of the practice of virtue, and opposed it to the practice of vice[1].

But though that perception of the difference of moral actions which is antecedent to human laws, must have been strongly confirmed by these facts of experience, and by such observations, we have no reason to conclude that those rules by which thee moral quality of actions has, in all ages, been determined, were formed solely from a course of observation on their tendency to promote or obstruct human happiness; because we cannot collect either from history or tradition, that the world was ever without such rules, though they were often warped and corrupted. The evidence of both, on the contrary, shows, that so far from these rules having originated from observing what was injurious and what beneficial to mankind, there has been, among almost all nations, a constant reference to a declared will of the Supreme God, or of sup­posed deities, as the rule which determines the good or the evil of the conduct of men; which will was considered by them as a law, prescrib­ing the one and restraining the other under the sanction, not only of our being left to the natural injurious consequences of vicious habit and practice in time present life, or of continuing to enjoy time benefits of obedience in personal and social happiness here; but of positive re-ward and positive punishment in a future life.

Whoever speculated on the subject of morals and moral obligation in any age, was previously furnished with these general notions and dis­tinctions. They were in the world before him; and if all tradition be not a fable, if the testimony of all antiquity, whether found in poets or historians, be not delusive, they were in the world in those early periods when the great body of the human race remained near time original seat of the parent families of all the modern and now widely extended nations of the earth; and in those early periods they were not regarded as distinctions of mere human opinion and consent, but were invested with a Divine authority.

We have then before us two, presumptions, each of great weight. FIRST, that those actions which among men have almost universally been judged good, have the implied sanction of the will of our wise and good Creator being found in experience, and by the constitution of our nature and of human society, most conducive to human happiness. And, SECOND, that they were originally in some mode or other prescribed and enjoined as his law, and their contraries prohibited.

If therefore there is presumptive evidence of only ordinary strength, that the rule by which our actions are determined to be good or evil is primarily a law of the Creator, we are all deeply interested in ascertain­ing where that law exists in its clearest manifestation. For ignorance of the law, in whole or in part, will be no excuse for disobedience, if we have the opportunity of acquainting ourselves with it; and an accurate acquaintance with the rule may assist our practice in cases of which human laws take no cognizance, and which the wilfully corrupted general judgment of mankind may have darkened. And should it appear either that in many things we have offended more deeply than we suspect, whether wilfully or from an evitable ignorance; or that, from some common accident which has befallen our nature, we have lost the power of entire obedience without time use of new and extraordinary means, the knowledge of the rule is of the utmost consequence to us, because by it we may be enabled to ascertain the precise relation in which we stand to God our Maker; the dangers we have incurred; and the means of escape, if any have been placed within our reach.


[1] "As the manifold appearances of design and of final causes, in the constitution of the world, prove it to be the work of an intelligent mind; so the particular final causes of pleasure and pain, distributed among his creatures, prove that they are under his government-what may be called his natural government of creatures endued with sense and reason. This, however, implies somewhat more than seems usually attended to when we speak of God's natural government of the world. It implies government of the very same kind with that which a master exercises over his servants, or a civil magistrate over his subjects."- (Bishop BUTLER.)