Theological Institutes

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

By Richard Watson

Chapter 9


- External Evidence.

THE evidence usually offered in proof of the Divine authority of the Scriptures, may be divided into EXTERNAL, INTERNAL, and COLLATERAL. The external evidence consists of miracles and prophecy; time internal evidence is drawn from the consideration of the doctrines taught, as being consistent with the character of God, and tending to promote the virtue and happiness of man; and the collateral evidence arises from a variety of circumstances, which, less directly than the former, prove the revelation to be of Divine authority, but are yet supposed to be of great weight in the argument. On each of these kinds of evidence we shall offer some general remarks, tending to prepare the way for a demonstration of the Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures.

The principal and most appropriate evidences of a revelation from God, must be external to the revelation itself. This has been before stated; but it may require a larger consideration.

A Divine revelation has been well defined to be "a discovery of some proposition to the mind, which came not in by the usual exer­cise of its faculties, but by sonic miraculous Divine interposition and attestation, either mediate or immediate." (DODDRIDGE'S Lectures, part 5, definition 68.) It is not thought necessary to attempt to prove such a revelation possible; for, as our argument is supposed to be with a person who acknowledges, not only that there is a God, but that he is the Creator of men; it would be absurd in such a one to deny, that he who gave us minds capable of knowledge is not almie, instantly and immediately, to convey knowledge to us; and that he who has given us the power of communicating ideas to each other, should have no means of communicating with us immediately from himself.

We need not inquire whether external evidence of a revelation is in ill cases requisite to him who immediately and at first receives it; for the question is not, whether private revelations leave ever been made by God to individuals, and what evidence is required to authenticate them but what is the kind of evidence which we ought to require of one who professes to have received a revelation of the will of God, with it command to communicate it to us, and to enjoin it upon our accept­ance and submission, as the rule of our opinions and manners.

He may believe that a divine communication has been made to himself; but his belief has no authority to command ours. lie may have actually received it; but we have not the means of knowing it without proof.

That proof is not the high and excellent nature of time truths he teaches: in other words, that which is called the internal evidence can-blot be that proof. For we cannot tell whether the doctrines he teaches, though they should be capable of a higher degree of rational demonstration than any delivered to the world before, may not be time fruits of his own mental labour. He may be conscious that the are not; but we have no means of knowing that of which he is conscious, except by his own testimony. To us therefore they would have no authority but as he opinions of a man, whose intellectual attainments we might admire, but to whom we could not submit as to an infallible guide; and the less so, if any part of time doctrine taught by him were either mysterious and above our reason, or contrary to our interests, prejudices, and passions.

If therefore any person should profess to have received a revelation of truth from God to teach to mankind, and that he was directed to com­mand their obedience to it on pain of the Divine displeasure, he would be asked for some external authentication of his mission; nor would the reasonableness and excellence of his doctrines be accepted in place of this. The latter might entitle him to attention; but nothing short of the former would be thought a ground sufficiently strong for yielding to him an absolute obedience. Without it he might reason, and he heard with respect; but he could not command. On this very reasonable ground, the Jews, on one occasion, asked our Lord, "By what authority doest thou these things ?" and on another, "What sign showed thou unto us ?"

Agreeably to this, the authors both of the Jewish and the Christian revelations profess to have authenticated their mission by the two great external proofs, MIRACLES and PROPHECY; and it remains to be considered whether this kind of authentication be reasonably suffi­cient to command our faith and obedience.

The question is not, whether we may not conceive of external proofs of the mission of Moses, and of Christ and his apostles, differing from those which arc assumed to have been given, and more con­vincing. In whatever way the authentication had been made, we might have conceived of modes of proof differing in kind or more ample in circumstance; so that to ground an objection upon the absence of a particular kind of proof for which we have a preference, would be trifling.[1] But this is the question, is a mission to teach the will of God to man, under his immediate authority, sufficiently authenticated when miracles are really performed, and prophecies actually and une­quivocally accomplished? To this point only the inquiry need now go; for whether real miracles were performed by Moses and Christ, and whether prophecies were actually uttered by them, and received unequivocal accomplishment, will be reserved for a farther stage of the inquiry.

There is a popular, a philosophic, and a theological sense of the tee-an miracle.

A miracle, in the popular sense, is a prodigy, or an extraordinary event, which surprises us by its novelty. In a more accurate and philosophic sense, a miracle is an effect which does not follow from any of the regular laws of nature, or which is inconsistent with sonic known law of it, or contrary to the settled constitution and course of things. Accordingly, all miracles presuppose an established system of nature, within the limits of which they operate, and with the order of which they disagree.

Of a miracle in the theological sense, many definitions have been given.[2] That of Dr. Samuel Clarke is,-" A miracle is a work effected in a manner unusual, or different from the common and regular method of providence, by the interposition of God himself or of some intelligent agent superior to man, for the proof or evidence of some particular doctrine, or in attestation of the authority of some particular person."

Mr. Horne defines a miracle to be "an effect or event contrary to the established constitution or course of things, or a sensible suspen­sion or controlment of, or deviation from, the known laws of nature, wrought either by the immediate act, or by the assistance, or by tine permission of God." (Introduction to the Critical Study of the Scrip­tures, vol. 1, c. 4, sec. 2.) This definition would be more complete in the theological sense, if the last clause in Dr. S. Clarke's definition were added to it, "for the proof or evidence of some particular doctrine, or in attestation of the authority of some particular person." With this addition the definition will be sufficiently satisfactory, as it explains the nature of the phenomenon, and gives the reason or end of its occurrence.

Farmer, in his Dissertation on Miracles," denies to any created intelligences, however high, the power of working miracles, when acting from themselves alone. This dispute is only to be settled by a strict definition of terms; but whatever power may be allowed to superior beings to produce miraculous effects, or effects apparently so, by the control they may be supposed to exert over natural objects; yet, as they are all under the government of God, they have certainly no power to interfere with his work, and time order of his providence at pleasure. Whatever they do, therefore, whether by virtue of natural power or power specially communicated, they must do it by commission, or met least by license.

The miracles under consideration arc such effects as agree with the definition just given, and which are wrought either immediately by God himself, to attest the Divine mission of particular persons, and to authenticate their doctrines; or by superior beings commissioned by him for the same purpose; or by the persons themselves who profess this Divine authority, in order to prove that they have been invested with it by God.

The possibility of miracles wrought by the power of God, can he denied by none but Atheists, or those whose system is substantially Atheistic. Spinosa denies that any power can supersede that of nature; or that any thing can disturb or interrupt the order of things: and 'ac­cordingly he defines a miracle to be "a rare event happening in conse­quence of some laws that are unknown to us." This is a definition of a prodigy, not of a miracle; but if miracles in the proper sense be al­lowed, that is, if the facts themselves which have been commonly called miraculous be not disputed, this method of accounting for them is obvi­ously most absurd; inasmuch as it is supposed that these unknown laws chanced to come into operation, just when men professing to be endued with miraculous powers wished them, while yet such laws were to them unknown. For instance, when Moses contended with the Egyptian magicians, though these laws were unknown to him, he ventured to depend upon their operation, and by chance they served his purpose.

To one who believes in a Supreme Creator of all things, and the de­pendence of all things upon his power and will, miraculous interpositions must be allowed possible, nor is there any thing in them repugnant to our ideas of his wisdom and immutability, and the perfection of his works. They are departures from the ordinary course of God's opera­tion; but this does not arise from any natural necessity, to remedy an unforeseen evil, or to repair imperfections in his work; the reasons for them are moral and not natural reasons, and the ends they are intended to accomplish are moral ends. They remind us, when they occur, that there is a power superior to nature, and that all nature, even to its first and most uniform laws, depends upon Him. They are among the chief means by which be who is by nature invisible, makes himself as it were risible to his creatures, who are so prone to forget him entirely, or to lose sight of him by reason of the interposition of the veil of material objects.[3]

Granting then the possibility of miraculous interposition on the part of the great Author of nature, on special occasions, and for great ends, in what way and under what circumstances does such an interposition authenticate the Divine mission of those who profess to be sent by him to teach his will to mankind?

The argument is, that as the known and established course of nature has been fixed by him who is the Creator and Preserver of all things, it can never be violated, departed from, or controlled, but either immediately by himself; or immediately by other beings at his command, and by his assistance or permission; for if this be not allowed, we must deny either the Divine omnipotence, or his natural government; and, if these be allowed, the other follows. Every real miracle is a work of God, done specially by him, by his permission, or with his concurrence.

In order to distinguish a real miracle, it is necessary that the common course of nature should be understood; for without some antecedent knowledge of the operation of physical causes, an event might be deemed miraculous which was merely strange, and through our ignorance inexplicable. Should an earthquake happen in a country never before visited by such a calamity within the memory of man, by the ignorant it might be considered miraculous; whereas an earthquake is a regular effect of the present established laws of nature.

But as the course of nature and the operation of physical causes are but partially understood, and will perhaps never be fully comprehended by the most inquiring minds, it seems necessary that such miracles as are intended to authenticate any religious system, promulged for the common benefit of mankind, should be effects produced upon objects whose properties have been the subject of common and long observation; that it should be contrary to some known laws by which the objects in question have been uniformly and long observed to be governed; or that the proximate cause of the effect should be known to have no adequate power or adaptation to produce it. When these circumstances occur separately, and more especially when combined, a sufficient antecedent acquaintance with the course of nature exists to warrant the conclusion, that the effect is miraculous, or, in other words, that it is produced by the special interposition of God.

Whether the works ascribed to Moses and to Christ, and recorded in Scripture were actually performed by them, will be considered in another place; but here it is proper to observe, that, assuming their actual occurrence, they are of such a nature as to leave no reasonable doubt of their miraculous character; and from them we may borrow a few instances for the sake of illustrating the preceding observations, with out prejudging the argument.

The rod cast from the hand of Moses becomes a serpent. Here the subject was well known; it was a rod, a branch separated from a tree, and it was obviously contrary to the known and established course of nature, that it should undergo so signal a transformation. If the fact can be proved, the miracle must therefore follow.

The sea is parted at the stretching out of the rod of Moses. Here is no adaptation of the proximate cause to produce the effect, which was obviously in opposition to the known qualities of water. A recession of the sea from the shores would have taken down the whole mass of water from the head of the gulf; but here the waters divide, and, contrary to their nature, stand up on each side, leaving a passage for the host of Israel.

It is in the nature of clouds to be carried about by the wind; but the cloud which went before the Israelites in the wilderness, rested on their tabernacle, moved when they were commanded to march, and directed their course; rested when they were to pitch their tents, and was a pillar of direction by day; and, by night, when it is the nature of clouds to become dark, the rays of the sun no longer permeating them, this cloud shone with the brightness of fire.

In all these cases, if the facts be established, there can be no doubt as to their miraculous character.

Were a physician instantly to give sight to a blind man, by anoint­ing his eyes with a chemical preparation, to the nature and qualities of which we were absolute strangers, the cure would to us, undoubtedly, be wonderful; but we could not pronounce it miraculous, because it might be the physical effect of the operation of the unguent upon the eve. But were he to give sight to his patient, merely by commanding him to receive it, or by anointing his eyes with spittle, we should, with the utmost confidence, pronounce the cure to be a miracle; because we know perfectly, that neither the human voice nor human spittle has, by the established constitution of things, any such power over the diseases of the eye. No one is ignorant, that persons, apparently (lead, are often restored to their families and friends, by being treated, during suspended animation, in the manner recommended by the Humane Society. To the vulgar, and sometimes even to men of science, these resuscitations appear very wonderful; but as they are known to be effected by physical agency, they cannot be considered as miracu­lous deviations from the laws of nature. On the other hand, no one could doubt of his having witnessed a real miracle, who had seen a person, that had been four days dead, come alive out of the grave at the call of another, or who had even beheld a person exhibiting all the common evidences of death, instantly resuscitated, merely by being desired to live." (Gleig's edition of Stackhouse's History of the Bible, vol. iii, p. 241.)

In all such instances, the common course of nature is sufficiently known to support the conclusion, that the power which thus interferes with, and controls it, and produces effects to which the visible, natural causes are known not to be adequate, is God.[4]

But it is also necessary, in order to prove that even these miraculous events arc authentications of a Divine mission, that a direct connection between the power of God, exerted in a miraculous act, and the messenger, and his message, should be established.

The following circumstances would appear sufficiently to establish such a connection :-1. When the miracles occur at the time when he, who professes to have a Divine mission from God, is engaged in making known the will of God to mankind, by communicating the revelation he has received, and performing other acts connected with his office. 2. When, though they arc works above human power, they are wrought by the messenger himself, or follow his volitions. The force of this argument may be thus exhibited :- When such unequivocal miracles as those we have pointed out occur only in connection with an actual profession by certain persons, that they have a Divine authority to teach and command mankind, this is a strong presumption, that the works are wrought by God in order to authenticate this pretension; but when they are performed immediately by these persons themselves, by their own will, and for the express purpose of establishing their mission, inasmuch as they are allowed to be real miracles, which no power, but that of God, can effect, it is thee clear that God is with them, and that his co-operation is an authentic eating and visible seal upon their commission.

It is not necessary, in this stage, to specify the rules by which real and pretended miracles are to be distinguished; nor to inquire whether the Scriptures allow, that, in some cases, miracles have bees wrought in support of falsehood. Both these subjects will be examined when we come to speak of the miracles of Scripture. The ground established is, that miracles are possible; and that, when real miracles occur under the circumstances we have mentioned, they are satisfac­tory evidences of a Divine mission.

But though this should be allowed, and also that the eye witnesses of such miracles would be bound to admit the proof, it has been made; a question, whether their testimony affords sufficient reason to others to admit the fact that such events actually took place, and consequently whether we are bound to acknowledge the authority of that mission, in attestation of which the miracles are said to have been wrought.

If this be admitted, the benefits of a revelation must be confined to those who witnessed its attestation by miracle, or similar attestations must be afforded to every individual; for, as no revelation can be a benefit unless it possess Divine authority, which alone can infallibly mark the distinction between truth and error, should the authentication he partial, the benefit of the communication of an infallible doctrine must also be partial. We are all so much interested in this, because no religious system can plead the authentication of perpetual miracle, that it deserves special consideration. Either this principle is unsound, or we must abandon all hope of discovering a religion of Divine authority.

As miracles are facts, they, like other facts, may be reported to others; and, as in the case of the miracles in question, bearing the cha­racters which have been described, the competency of any man of ordi­nary understanding to determine whether they were actually wrought cannot be doubted; if the witnesses are credible, it is reasonable that their testimony should be admitted: for if the testimony be such as, in matters of the greatest moment to us in the affairs of common life, we should not hesitate to act upon; if it be such, that, in the most important affairs, men do uniformly act upon similar or even weaker testimony; it would be mere perverseness to reject it in the case in question; and would argue rather a disinclination to the doctrine which is thus proved than any rational doubt of the sufficiency of the proof itself.

The objection is put in its strongest form by Mr. Hume, in his Es­says. and the substance of it is,-Experience is the ground of the credit we give to human testimony; but this experience is by no means constant, for we often find men prevaricate and deceive. On the other hand, it is experience, in like manner, which assures us of those laws of nature, in the violation of which the notion of a miracle consists; but this experience is constant and uniform. A miracle is an event which, from its nature, is inconsistent with our experience; but the falsehood of testimony is not inconsistent with experience: it is contrary to ex­perience that miracles should be true, but not contrary to experience that testimony should be false; and, therefore, no human testimony can, in any case, render them credible.

This argument has been met at large by many authors,[5] but the following extracts afford ample refutation :- "The principle of this objection is, that it is contrary to experience that a miracle should be true; but not contrary to experience that testimony should be false.

"Now there appears a small ambiguity in the term 'experience,' and in the phrases 'contrary to experience,' or 'contradicting experience,' which it may be necessary to remove in the first place. Strictly speaking, the narrative of a fact is then only contrary to experience when the fact is related to have existed at a time and place; at which time and place, we, being present, did not perceive it to exist; as if it should be asserted that, in a particular room, and at a particular hour of a certain day, a man was raised from the dead; in which room, and at the time specified, we being present and looking on, perceived no such event to have taken place.

"Here the assertion is contrary to experience, properly so called; and this is a contrariety which no evidence can surmount. It matters nothing whether the fact be of a miraculous nature or not. But although this be the experience and the contrariety, which Archbishop Tillotson alleged in the quotation with which Mr. Hume opens his Essay, it is certainly not that experience, nor that contrariety, which Mr. Hume himself intended to object. And, short of this, I know no intelligible signification which can be affixed to the term 'contrary to experience,' but one, viz., that of not having ourselves experienced any thing similar to the thing related, or such things not being generally experienced by others. I say, 'not generally;' for to state, concerning the fact in question, that no such thing was ever experienced, or that universal experience is against it, is to assume the subject of the controversy.

"Now the improbability which arises from the want (for this properly is a want, not a contradiction,) of experience, is only equal to the probability there is, that if the thing were true, we should experience things similar to it, or that such things would be generally experienced. Suppose it then to be true, that miracles were wrought upon the first promulgation of Christianity, when nothing but miracles could decide its authority, is it certain that such miracles would he repeated so often, and in so many places, as to become objects of general experience ? Is it a probability approaching to certainty? Is it a probability of any great strength or force? Is it such as no evidence can encounter? And yet this probability is the exact converse, and therefore the exact mea sure of the improbability which arises from the want of experience, and which Mr. Hume represents as invincible by human testimony.

"It is not like alleging a new law of nature, or a new experiment in natural philosophy; because, when these are related, it is expected that, under the same circumstances, the same effect will follow universally; and in proportion as this expectation is justly entertained, the want of a corresponding experience negatives the history. But to expect concerning a miracle, that it should succeed upon a repetition, is to expect that which would make it cease to be a miracle, which is contrary to its nature as such, and would totally destroy the use and purpose for which it was wrought.

"The force of experience, as an objection to miracles, is founded in the presumption, either that the course of nature is invariable, or that, if it be ever varied, variations will be frequent and general. Has the necessity of this alternative been demonstrated? Permit us to call the course of nature the agency of an intelligent Being; and is there any good reason for judging this state of the case to be probable? Ought we not rather to expect, that such a Being, on occasions of peculiar importance, may interrupt the order which he had appointed, yet, that such occasions should return seldom; that these interruptions, consequently, should be confined to the experience of a few; that the want of it, therefore, in many, should be matter neither of surprise nor objection?

"But as a continuation of the argument from experience, it is said, that when we advance accounts of miracles, we assign effects without causes; or we attribute effects to causes inadequate to the purpose, or to causes, of the operation of which we have no experience. Of what causes, we may ask, and of what effects does the objection speak? If it be answered, that when we ascribe the cure of time palsy to a touch, of blindness to the anointing of the eves with clay, or the raising of the dead to a word, we lay ourselves open to this imputation; we reply, that we ascribe no such effects to such causes. We perceive no virtue or energy in these things more than in other things of the same kind. They are merely signs, to connect thee miracle with its end. The effect we ascribe simply to the volition of the Deity; of whose existence and power, not to say of whose presence and agency, we leave previous and independent proof. We have, therefore, all we seek for in the works of rational agents-a sufficient power, and an adequate motive. In a word, once believe that there is a God, and miracles are not incredible!

"Mr. Hume states the case of miracles to be, a contest of opposite improbabilities; that is to say, a question whether it be more improbable that the miracle should be true, or time testimony false; and this I think a fair account of the controversy. But herein I remark a want o1 argumentative justice, that, in describing the improbability of miracles, he suppresses all those circumstances of extenuation which result from our knowledge of the existence, power, and disposition of the Deity; his concern in the creation; time end answered by the miracle ; the importance of that end, and its subserviency to the plan pursued in the works of nature. As Mr. Hume has represented the question, miracles are alike incredible to him who is previously assured of the constant agency of a Divine Being, and to him who believes that no such Being exists in the universe. They arc equally incredible, whether related to have been wrought upon occasions the most deserving, and for purposes the most beneficial, or for no assignable end whatever, or for an end Confessedly trifling or pernicious. This surely cannot be a correct statement, In adjusting also the other side of the balance, the strength and weight of testimony, this author has provided an answer to every Possible accumulation of historical proof, by telling us that we are not obliged to explain how the story or the evidence arose. Now I think that we are obliged; not, perhaps, to show by positive accounts how it did, but by a probable hypothesis how it might so happen. The existence of the testimony is a phenomenon; the truth of the fact solves the phenomenon. If we reject this solution, we ought to have some other to rest in; and none, even by our adversaries, can be admitted, which is not consistent with the principles that regulate human affairs and human conduct at present, or which makes men then to have been a different kind of beings from what they are now.

"But the short consideration which, independently of every other, convinces me that there is no solid foundation for Mr. Hume's conclusion, is the following :-When a theorem is proposed to a mathematician, the first thing he does with it is to try it upon a simple case; and if it produce a false result, he is sure that there is some mistake in the demonstration. Now, to proceed in this way with what may be called Mr. Hume's theorem,-If twelve men, whose probity and good sense I had long known, should seriously and circumstantially relate to me an account of a miracle wrought before their eyes, and in which it was impossible that they should be deceived: if the governor of the country, hearing a rumour of this account, should call these men into his presence, and offer them a short proposal, either to confess the imposture, or submit to be tied up to a gibbet ; if they should refuse with one voice to acknowledge that there existed any falsehood or imposture in the case; if this threat were communicated to them separately, yet with no different effect ; if it was at last exe­cuted ; if I myself saw the man, one after another, consenting to be rack. ed, burned, or strangled, rather than give up the truth of their account; still, if Mr. Flume's rule be my guide, I am not to believe them. Now I undertake to say, that there exists not a skeptic in the world who would not believe them, or who would defend such incredulity."-- (PALEY'S Evidences, Preparatory Considerations.)

"The essayist," says the bishop of Llandaff. "who has most elabo­rated drawn out this argument, perplexes the subject, by attempting to adjust, in a sort of metaphysical balance of his own invention, the degrees of probability resulting from what he is pleased to call opposite experiences; viz, the experience of men's veracity, on the one hand, and the experience of the firm and unalterable constitution of the laws of nature, on the other. But the fallacy in this mode of reasoning is obvious. For, in the first place, miracles can, at most, only be contrary to the experience of those who never saw them performed: to say, therefore, that they are contrary to general experience, (including, as it should seem, the experience even of those who profess to have seen and to have examined them,) is to assume tine very point in question. And, in the next place, it is equally fallacious to allege against them the expe­rience of the unalterable constitution of tine laws of nature; because, unless the fact be previously investigated, whether those laws have ever been altered or suspended, this is likewise a gratuitous assumption.

"In truth this boasted balance of probabilities could only be employed with effect, in the cause of infidelity, by counterpoising, against the testimony of those who professed to have seen miracles, the testimony of those (if any such were to be found) who, under the circumstances and with the same opportunities of forming a judgment, professed to have been convinced, that the things which they saw were NOT miracles, but mere impostures and delusions. Here would be indeed experience against experience: and a skeptic might be well employed in estimating the comparative weight of the testimony on either side; in order to judge of the credibility or incredibility of the things proposed to his belief. But when he weighs only the experience of those, to whom the opportunity of judging of a miracle by personal observation has never been afforded, against the experience of those who declare themselves to be eye witnesses of the fact; instead of opposite experiences, properly so called, he is only balancing total inexperience on the one hand, against positive experience on the other.

"Nor will it avail any thing to say, that this particular inexperience of those who have never seen miracles, is compensated by their general experience of the unalterable course of nature. For, as we have already observed, this is altogether a mere petitio prirncipii. It is arguing, upon a supposition wholly incapable of proof, that the course of nature is indeed so unalterably fixed, that even God himself; by whom its laws were ordained, cannot, when he sees fit, suspend their operation.

"There is therefore a palpable fallacy, (however a subtle metaphy­sician may attempt to disguise it by ingenious sophistry,) in repre­senting the experience of mankind as being opposite to the testimony on which our belief of miracles is founded. For, the opposite experiences, as they am-c called, are not contradictory to each other; since there is' (as has been justly observed) 'no inconsistency in believing the man both.' A miracle necessarily supposes an established and generally unaltered (though not unalterable) course of things; for, in its interception of such a course lies the very essence of a miracle, as here understood. Our experience, therefore, of the course of nature leads us to expect its continuance, and to act accordingly; but it does not set aside any proofs, from valid testimony, of a deviation from it: neither can our being personally unacquainted with a matter of fact which took place a thousand years ago, or in a distant part of the world, warrant us in disbelieving the testimony of personal witnesses of the fact. Common sense revolts at the absurdity of considering one man's ignorance or inexperience as a counterpoise to another man's knowledge and experience of a matter of fact. Yet on no better foundation does this favourite argument of infidels appear to rest."

The substance of Dr. Campbell's answer to Mr. Bume's argument has been thus given :- "The evidence arising from human testimony is not solely derived from experience: on the contrary, testimony has a natural influence on belief, antecedent to experience. The early and unlimited assent given to testimony by children, gradually contracts as they 'advance in life; it is therefore more consonant to truth to say, that our diffidence in testimony is the result of experience, than that our faith in it has this foundation. Beside, the uniformity of experience in favour of any fact is not a proof against its being reversed in a particular instance. The evidence arising from the single testimony of a man of known veracity, will go further to establish a belief of its being actually re­versed. If his testimony be confirmed by a few others of the same character, we cannot withhold our, assent to the truth of it. Now, though the operations of nature are governed by uniform laws, and though we have not the testimony of our senses in favour of any vio­lation of them; still, if in particular instances we have the testimony of thousands of our fellow creatures, and those, too, men of strict integrity, swayed by no motives of ambition or interest, and governed by the principles of common sense, that they were actually witnesses of these violations, the constitution of our nature obliges us to believe them.

"Mr. Hume's reasoning is founded upon too limited a view of the laws and course of nature. If we consider things duly, we shall find that lifeless matter is utterly incapable of obeying any laws, or of being endued with any powers; and, therefore, what is usually called the course of nature, can be nothing else than the arbitrary will and pleasure of God, acting continually upon matter according to certain rules of uniformity, still bearing a relation to contingencies. So that it is as easy for the Supreme Being to alter what men think the course of nature, as to preserve it. Those effects, which are produced on the world regularly and indesinently, and which are usually termed the works of nature, prove the constant providence of the Deity; those, on the contrary which, upon any extraordinary occasion, are produced in such a man­ner as it is manifest could not have been either by human power, or by what is called chance, prove undeniably the immediate interposition of the Deity on that especial occasion. God, it must be recollected, is the Governor of the moral as well as of the physical world; and since the moral well being of the universe is of more consequence than its physi­cal order and regularity, it follows obviously, that the laws, conformably with which the material world seems generally to be regulated, are subservient and may occasionally yield to the laws by which the moral world is governed. Although, therefore, a miracle is contrary to the usual course of nature, (and would indeed lose its beneficial effect if it were not so,) it cannot thence be inferred, that it is 'a violation of the laws of nature,' allowing the term to include a regard to moral tenden­cies. The laws by which a wise and holy God governs the world, cannot (unless he is pleased to reveal them) he learnt in any other way than from testimony; since, on this supposition, nothing but testimony can bring us acquainted with the whole series of his dispensations; and this kind of knowledge is absolutely necessary previously to our correctly inferring those laws. Testimony, therefore, must be admitted as constituting the principal means of discovering the real laws by which the universe has been regulated; that testimony assures us, that the apparent course of nature has often been interrupted to produce important moral effects; and we must not at random disregard such testimony, because in estimating its credibility we ought to look almost infinitely more at the moral than at the physical circumstances connected with any particular event."[6]

Such evidence as that of miracles, transmitted to distant times by satisfactory testimony, a revelation may then receive. The fitness of this kind of evidence to render that revelation an instant and universal benefit, wherever it comes, is equally apparent; for, as Mr. Locke observes, (Reasonableness of Christianity,) "the bulk of mankind have not leisure nor capacity for demonstration, nor can they carry a train of proofs; but as to the Worker of miracles, all his commands become principles; there needs no other proof of what he says, but that he said it, and there needs no more than to read the inspired books to be instructed."

Having thus shown, that miracles are possible; that under certain circumstances their reality may be ascertained; that when accompanied by other circumstances which we have also mentioned, they are connected with a definite end, and connect themselves with the Divine mission of those who perform them, and with the truth of their doctrine; that as facts they are the subjects of human testimony, and that credi­ble testimony respecting them lays a competent foundation for our belief in them, and in those revelations which they are clearly designed to attest,-the way is prepared for the consideration of the miracles recorded in Scripture.

PROPHECY is the other great branch of the external evidence of a revelation; and the nature and force of that kind of evidence may fitly be pointed out before either the miracles or prophecies of the Bible are examined: for by ascertaining the general principles on which this kind of evidence rests, the consideration of particular cases will be rendered more easy and satisfactory.

No argument a priori against the possibility of prophecy can be attempted by any one who believes in the existence and infinitely perfect nature of God.

The infidel author of "The Moral Philosopher," indeed, rather insi­nuates than attempts fully to establish a dilemma with which to perplex those who regard prophecy as one of the proofs of a Divine revela­tion. He thinks that either prophecy must respect "events necessary, as depending upon necessary causes, which might be certainly fore­known and predicted;" or that if human actions are free, and effects contingent, the possibility of prophecy must be given up, as it implies foreknowledge, which, if granted, would render them necessary.

The first part of this objection would be allowed, were there no pre­dictions to be adduced in favour of a professed revelation, except such as related to events which human experience has taught to be dependent upon some cause, the existence and necessary operation of which are within the compass of human knowledge. But to foretell such events would not be to prophesy, any more than to say, that it will be light to­morrow at noon, or that on a certain day and hour next year there will occur an eclipse of the sun or moon, when that event has been previously ascertained by astronomical calculation.

If, however, it were allowed, that all events depended upon a chain of necessary causes, yet, in a variety of instances, the argument from prophecy would not be at all affected; for the foretelling of necessary results in certain circumstances is beyond human intelligence, because, they can only be known to Him by whose power those necessary causes on which they depend have been arranged, and who has pre­scribed the times of their operation. To borrow a case, for the sake of illustration, from the Scriptures, though the claims of their predictions are not now in question; let us allow that such a prophecy as that of Isaiah respecting the taking of Babylon by Cyrus was uttered, as it purports to be, more than a century before Cyrus was born, and that all the actions of Cyrus and his army, and those of the Babylonian monarch and his people, were necessitated; is it to be maintained that the chain of necessitating causes running through more than a century could be traced by a human mind, so as to describe the precise manner in which that fatality would unfold itself, even to the turning of the river, the drunken carousal of the inhabitants, and the neglect of shut ting the gates of' the city? This, being by uniform and universal expe­rience known to be above all human apprehension, would therefore prove that the prediction was made in consequence of a communication from a superior and Divine Intelligence. Were events therefore subjected to invincible fate and necessity, there might nevertheless be prophecy.

The other branch of the dilemma is founded on the notion, that if we allow the moral freedom of human actions, prophecy is impossible because certain foreknowledge is contrary to that freedom, and fixes and renders the event necessary.

To this the reply is, that the objection is founded on a false assumption the Divine foreknowledge having no more influence in effectuating, or making certain any event, than human foreknowledge in the degree in which it may exist; there being no moral causality at all in knowledge. This lies in the will, which is the determining, acting principle in every agent; or, as Dr. Samuel Clarke has expressed it in answer to another hind of objector, "God's infallible judgment concerning contingent truths does no more alter the nature of the things and cause them to be necessary, than our judging right at any time concerning a contingent truth, makes it cease to be contingent; or than our science of a present truth is any cause of its being either true or present. Here, therefore. lies the fallacy of our author's argument. Because from God's fore­knowing the existence of timings depending upon a chain of necessary causes, it follows, that the existence of the things must needs be ne­cessary; therefore from cod's judging infallibly concerning thing-: which depend not on necessary but free causes, he concludes that these things also depend not upon free but necessary causes. Contrary, to the supposition in the argument, for it must not be first supposed, that things are in their own nature necessary; but from the power of judging infallibly concerning free events, it must be proved that things, otherwise supposed free, will thereby unavoidably become necessary." The whole question lies in this, Is the simple knowledge of an action a necessitating cause of the action? And the answer must be in the negative, as every man's consciousness will assure him. If the causality of influence, either immediate, or by the arrangement of compelling events, be mixed up with this, the ground is shifted; and it is no longer a question which respects simple prescience.

This metaphysical objection having no foundation in truth, the force of the evidence arising from predictions of events, distant, and out of the power of human sagacity to anticipate, and uttered as authentica­tions of a Divine commission, is apparent. "Such predictions, whether in the form of declaration, description, or representation of things future," as Mr. Boyle justly observes, "are supernatural things, and may properly be ranked among miracles." (BOYLE's Christian Virtuoso.) For when, for instance, the events are distant many years or ages from the uttering of the prediction itself, depending on causes not so much as existing when the prophecy was spoken and recorded, and likewise upon various circumstances and a long arbitrary series of things, and the fluctuating uncertainties of human volitions, and especially when they depend not at all upon any external circumstances, nor upon any cre­ated being, but arise merely from the counsels and appointment of God himself,-such events can be foreknown only by that Being, one of whose attributes is omniscience, and can be foretold by him only to whom the "Father of lights" shall reveal them: so that whoever is manifestly endued with that predictive power, must, in that instance, speak and act by Divine inspiration, and what he pronounces of that kind must be received as the word of God, nothing more being neces­sary to assure us of this, than credible testimony that such predictions were uttered before the event, or conclusive evidence that the records which contain them are of the antiquity to which they pretend. (Vide CHAPMAN'S Eusebius, p. 158; CUDWORTH'S Intellect. Syst. p. 866; VITRINGA in Isa. cap. 41.)


[1] "We know not beforehand what degree or kind of natural information it were to be expected God would afford men, each by his own reason and experience, nor how far he would enable and effectually dispose them to communicate it, whatever it should be, to each other; nor whether the evidence of it would be certain, highly probable, or doubtful; nor whether it would be given with equal. clearness and conviction to all. Nor could we guess, upon any good ground I mean, whether natural knowledge, or even the faculty itself, by which we are capable of attaining it, reason, would be given us at once,' gradually. In like manner we are wholly ignorant what degree of new know ledge, it were to be ex­pected, God would give mankind, by revelation, upon supposition of his affording one; or how far, or in what way, he would interpose miraculously to qualify them, to whom he should originally make the revelation, for communicating the know­ledge given by it, and to secure their doing it to the age in which they should live, and to secure its being transmitted to posterity. We are equally ignorant whether time evidence of it would be certain, or highly probable, or doubtful or whether all who should have any degree of instruction from it, and any de­gree of evidence of its truth, would have the same; or whether the scheme would be revealed at once, or unfolded gradually. Nay, we are not, in any sort, able to judge whether it were to have been expected, that the revelation should have been committed to writing, or left to be handed down, and consequently corrupt­ed, by verbal tradition, and, at length, sunk under it, if mankind so pleased,-and during such time as they are permitted, in the degree they evidently are, to act as they will.

"Now, since it has been shown that we have no principles of reason upon which to judge beforehand, how it were to be expected revelation should have been heft, or what was most suitable to the Divine plan of government in any of the forementioned respects; it must be quite frivolous to object afterward as to any of them, against its being left one way rather than another; for this would be to object against things, upon account of their being different from our expectations, which has been shown to be without reason. And thus we see that the only question concerning the truth of Christianity is, whether it be a real revelation; not whether it be attended with every circumstance which we should have looked for; and concerning the authority of Scripture, whether it be what it claims to be; not whether it be a book of such sort, and so promulged as weak men are apt to fancy a book containing a Divine revelation should be. And, therefore, neither obscurity, nor seeming inaccuracy of style, nor various read­ings, nor early disputes about the authors of particular parts, nor any other things of the like kind, though they had been much more considerable in degree than they are, could overthrow the authority of the Scripture, unless the prophets, apostles, or our Lord, had promised, that the book, containing the Divine revela­tion, should be secure from those things." (BUTLER'S Analogy.)

[2]  The reader may see several of them enumerated and examined in Doddridge's Lectures, part 5.


[3] Bishop Butler has satisfactorily shown, in his Analogy, (part ii, c. 11,) that there can be no such presumption against miracles as to render them, in any wise, incredible, but what would conclude against such uncommon appearances as comets, and against there being any such powers in nature as magnetism and electricity, so contrary to the properties of other bodies not endued with these powers. But he observes, "Take in the consideration of religion, or the moral system of the world, and then we see distinct, particular reasons for miracles, to afford mankind instruction, additional to that of nature, and to attest the truth of it; and our being able to discern reasons for them, gives a positive credibility to the history of theni, in cases where those reasons hold."

"It is impossible," says an oracle among modern unbelievers, (Voltaire,) "that a Being, infinitely wise, should make laws in order to violate them. lie would not derange the machine of his own construction, unless it were for its improve­ment. But as a God, ho hath, without doubt, made it as perfect as possible; or, if he had foreseen any imperfection likely to result from it, he would surely have provided against it from the beginning, and not be under a necessity of changing it afterward. He is both unchangeable and omnipotent, and therefore can nei­ther have any desire to alter the course of nature, nor have any need to do so."

"This argument," says Dr. Van Mildert, "is grounded on a misconception or a misrepresentation of the design of miracles, which is not the remedy of any physical defect, not to rectify any original or accidental imperfections in the laws of nature, but to manifest to the world the interposition of the Almighty, for especial purposes of a moral kind. It is simply to make known to mankind, that it is he who addresses them, and that whatever is accompanied with this species of evidence, comes from him, and claims their implicit belief and obedience. Time perfection, therefore, or imperfection, of thin laws of nature has nothing to do with the question. All natural is subservient to the will of God; and as his existence and attributes are manifest in the ordinary course of nature, so, in the extraor­dinary work of miracles, his will is manifested by the display of his absolute Sovereignty over thee course of nature. Thus, in both instances, the Creator is glorified in his works; and it is made to appear, that by him all things consist,' and that 'for his pleasure they are, and were created.' This seems a sufficient answer to any reasoning, a priori, against miracles, from their supposed inconsistency with the Divine perfections."

[4] It is observable, that no miracles appear to have been wrought by human agency before the time of Moses and Aaron, in whose days, not only had the world long existed, but consequently the course of nature had been observed for a long period: and farther, these first miracles were wrought among a refined and observant people, who had their philosophers, to whom the course of nature, and the operation of physical causes, were Subjects of keen investigation.


[5] See CAMPBELL'S Dissertation on Miracles; Price's Four Dissertations, Diss. 4; Paley's Evidences; ADAM'S Essay on Miracles; Bishop Douglass's Criterion; Dwiawr's Theology, vol. ii; Dr. Hey's Norrisian Lectures, vol. 1, VAN MILDEILT'S Boyle's Lectures, vol. i.

[6] It would be singular, did we not know the inconsistencies of error, that Mr. Hume himself, as Dr. Campbell shows, gives up his own argument.

"I own," these are his words, "there may possibly be miracles, or violations of the usual course of nature, of such a kind as to admit a proof from human testimony, though perhaps [in this he is modest enough, he avers nothing ; perhaps it will be impossible to find any such in all the records of history." To this declaration he subjoins the following supposition -" Suppose all authors, in all languages, agree that from the first of January, 1600, there was a total darkness over the whole earth for eight days; suppose that the tradition of this extraor­dinary event is still strong and lively among the people; that all travellers who return from foreign countries, bring us accounts of the same traditions, without the least variation or contradiction: it is evident that our present philosophers, instead of doubting of that fact, ought to receive it for certain, and ought to search for the causes whence it might be derived." Could one imagine that the person who had made the above acknowledgment, a person too who is justly allowed by all who are acquainted with his writings, to possess uncommon penetration and philosophical abilities, that this were the same individual who had so short a while before affirmed, that "a miracle," or a violation of the course of nature, "supported by any human testimony, is more properly a subject of derision than of argument."

The objection "that successive testimony diminishes, and that so rapidly as to command no assent after a few centuries at most," deserves not so full a refuta­tion, since it is evident, that "testimony continues credible so long as it is transmitted with all those circumstances and conditions which first procured

a Certain degree of merit among men. Who complains of a decay of evidence in relation to the actions of Alexander, Hannibal, Pompey, or Caesar? We never hear persons wishing they had lived ages earlier, that they might have had bet­ter proof that Cyrus was the conqueror of Babylon; that Darius was beaten in several battles by Alexander," &c. (See Dr. 0. Gregory's Letters on the Chris­tian Revelation, vol. i, p. 196.)