By Richard Watson
THE EVIDENCES NECESSARY TO AUTHENTICATE A REVELATION.
-Internal Evidence.-Collateral Evidence.
THE second kind of evidence, usually considered as necessary for the attestation of a Divine revelation, is called internal evidence.
This kind of evidence has been already described to be that which arises 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, the ends for which a revelation of the will of God was needed, and for which it must have been given, if it be considered as an act of grace and mercy.
This subject, like the two branches of the external evidence, miracles and prophecy, involves important general principles; and it may require to be the more carefully considered, as opinions have run into extremes. By some it has been doubted, whether what is called "the internal evidence, that is, the excellence of the doctrines and tendency of a revelation, ought to be ranked with the leading evidence of miracles and prophecy, seeing that the proof from miracles and from prophecy is decisive and absolute. For the same reason, however, prophecy might be excluded from the rank of leading evidence, inasmuch as miracles of themselves are, in their evidence, decisive and absolute. If, however, it were contended, that proofs from miracles, prophecy, and internal evidence, are jointly necessary to constitute sufficient proof of the truth of a revelation, there would be reason to dispute the position, under standing by "sufficient evidence" that degree of proof which would render it highly unreasonable, perverse, and culpable, in any one to reject the authority of the revelation. This evidence is afforded by miracles alone; for if there be any force at all in the argument front miracles, it goes to the foil length of rational proof of a Divine attestation, and that both to him who personally witnesses the performance of a real miracle, and to whom it is credibly testified; and nothing more is absolutely necessary to enforce a rational conviction. But if it should please the Divine Author of a revelation to supercede the farther evidence of prophecy, and also that of the obvious trill, and beneficial tendency, of man parts of this revelation, circumstances which must necessarily be often apparent, it ought not to be disregarded in the argument in its favour, nor thought of trifling import; since though it may not be necessary to establish a rational and sufficient proof, it may have a secondary necessity, to arouse attention, to leave objectors more obviously without excuse, and also to accommodate the revelation to that variety which exists in the mental constitutions of men, one mind being excited to attention, and disposed to conviction, more forcibly by one species of proof than by another.
In strict propriety, therefore, miracles may be considered as the primary evidence of the truth of a revelation, and every other species of proof as confirmatory. Prophecy and the internal evidence are leading evidences, but neither of them stand in the foremost place. The same abundance of proof we perceive in nature, for the demonstration of the being and attributes of God. Proofs of time existence of a First Cause, almighty and infinitely wise, more than what is logically sufficient, surround us every where; but who can doubt, that if half the instances of infinite power and wisdom which are seen in the material universe were annihilated there would not be sufficient evidence to demonstrate both these, as perfections of the Maker of the universe?
On the other hand, the proof drawn from the internal evidence by others has been placed first in order, and the force of the evidence from miracles and prophecy is by them made to depend upon the excellence of the doctrine which they are brought forward to confirm, and which ought first to be ascertained. Nothing, say they, is to be received as a revelation from God which does not contain doctrines worthy of the Divine character, and tending to promote the good of mankind.-" necessary mark of a religion coming from God is, that time duties it enjoins are all such as are agreeable to our natural notions of' God, and prefective of the nature, and conducive to the happiness of maim." (Dr. S. CLARKE.)
Now, though it must be instantly granted, that in a revelation from God, there will be nothing contrary to his own character; and that, when it is made in the way of a merciful dispensation, it will contain nothing but what tends to perfect the nature, and promote time happiness of his creatures; it is clear, that to try a professed revelation by our own notions, as to what is worthy of God and beneficial to mankind, is to assume, that, independent of a revelation, we know what God is, or we cannot say what is worthy or unworthy of him ; and that we know, too, time character, and relations, and wants of man so perfectly as to determine what is beneficial to him ; in other words, this sup. poses that we are in circumstances not greatly to need supernatural instruction.
Another objection to the internal evidence being made the primary test of a revelation is, that it renders the external testimony nugabry, or comparatively unimportant. "Surely," observes a late ingenious writer, "in a system which purports to be a revelation from heaven and to contain a history of God's dealings with men, and to develop truths with regard to the moral government of the universe, the knowledge and belief of whelm will lead to happiness here and here-alter, we may expect to find (if its pretensions are well founded) an evidence for its truth, which shall be independent of all external testimony." (ERSKINE on the Internal Evidence, &c.) If this be true, the utility of time evidence of miracles is rendered very questionable. It is either unnecessary, or it is subordinate and dependent; neither of which, by Christian divines at least, can be consistently maintained. The non-necessity of miracles cannot be asserted by them, because they believe them to have been actually performed; and that they are subordinate proofs, and dependent upon the sufficiency of the internal evidence is contradicted by the whole tenor of the Scriptures, which represent them as being in themselves an absolute demonstration of the mission and doctrine of the prophets, at whose instance they were performed, and never direct us to regard their doctrines as a test of the miracles. The miracles of Christ, in particular, were a demonstration, not a partial and conditional, but a complete and absolute demonstration of his mission from God; and "it may be observed, with respect to all the miracles of the New Testament, that their divinity, considered in themselves, is always either expressly asserted, or manifestly implied: and they are accordingly urged as a decisive and absolute proof of the divinity of the doctrine and testimony of those who perform them, without ever taking into consideration the nature of the doctrine, or of the testimony to be confirmed.'
Against this mode of stating the internal evidence, there lies also this logical objection, that it is arguing in a circle ;-the miracles are proved by the doctrine, and then the doctrine by the miracles; an objection from which those who have adopted the notion either of the superior or the co-ordinate rank of the internal evidence, have not, with all their ingenuity and effort, fairly escaped.
Miracles must, therefore, be considered as time leading and absolute evidence of a revelation from God; and "what to me," says a sensible writer, "is, a priori, a strong argument of their being so, is the manifest inconsistency of tile other hypotheses with the very condition of that people for whose sake God should raise up at any time his extraordinary messengers, endued with such miraculous powers. For if God ever favours mankind with such a special revelation of his will, and instructions from heaven, in a way supernatural, it is certainly in that unhappy juncture when the principles and practices of' mankind are so miserably depraved and corrupted, as to want time light and assistance of revelation extremely, and are (humanly speaking) utterly incorrigible without it. Now, to say that, in these particular circumstances, men are not to depend on any real miracles, but, before they admit them as evidence of the prophet's Divine mission, they must carefully examine his doctrine, to see if it be perfectly good and true, is either to suppose these people furnished with principles and knowledge requisite for that purpose, contrary, point blank, to the real truth of' their case; or else it is to assert, that they who are utterly destitute of principles amid knowledge requisite for that work, must, nevertheless, undertake it Without them, and judge of the truth of the prophet's doctrine and authority by their false principles of religion and morality; which, in short, is to fix them immovably where they are already, in old erroneous principles, against any new and true ones that should be offered. Especially with the bulk of mankind, full of darkness and prejudice, this must unavoidably be the consequence; and time more they wanted a reformation in principle, the less capable would they be of receiving it in this method, Thus, for instance: were a teacher sent from heaven With signs and wonders, to a nation of' idolaters, and they previously instructed to regard no miracles of his whatsoever, till they were fully satisfied of the goodness of his doctrine, it is easy to foresee by what rule they would prove his doctrine, and what success he would meet with among them. Add to this, what is likewise exceedingly material the great delays and perplexities attending this way of proceeding. For if every article of doctrine must be discussed and scanned by every per. son to whom it is offered, what slow advances would be made by a Divine revelation among such a people! Hundreds would probably be cut off before they came to the end of their queries, and the prophet might grow decrepit with age, before he gained twenty proselytes in a nation," (CHAPMAN'S Eusebius.)
It is easy to discover the causes which have led to these mistakes, as to time true office of the internal evidence of a Divine revelation.
In the first place, a hypothetic case has been assumed, and it has been asked, "If a doctrine, absurd and wicked, should be attested by miracles, is it to be admitted as Divine, upon their authority 9" The answer is, that this is a case which cannot in the nature of things occur, and cannot, therefore, be made the basis of an argument. We have seen already, that a real miracle can be wrought by none but God, or by his commission, because the contrary supposition would exclude him from the government of the world which he has made and preserved Whenever a real miracle takes place, therefore, in attestation of any doctrine, that doctrine cannot be either unreasonable or impious; and if it should appear so to us, after the reality of the miracle is ascertained, which is not probable ordinarily, our judgment must be erroneous The miracle proves time doctrine, or the ground on which miracles are allowed to have any force of evidence at all, either supreme or subordinate, absolute or dependent, must be given up; for their evidence consists in this-that they are the works of God.
The second cause of the error has been, that the rational evidence of the truths contained in a revelation has been confounded with the authenticating evidence. When once an exhibition of the character, plans, and laws of God is made, though in their nature totally undiscoverable, by human faculties, they carry to the reason of man, so far as they are of a nature to be comprehended by it, the demonstration which accompanies truth of any other kind. For as the eye is formed to receive light, the rational powers of man are formed to receive conviction when the congruity of propositions is made evident. This is rational, but it is not authenticating evidence. Let us suppose that there is no external testimony of' miracles or prophecy vouchsafed to attest that the teacher, through whom we receive those doctrines which appear to us so sublime, so important, so true, received them from God, with a mission to impart them to us. He himself has no means of knowing them to be from God, or of distinguishing them from some happy train of thought, into which his mind has been carried by its own force; nor if he had, have we any means of concluding that they are more than the opinions of a mind, superior in vigor and grasp to our own. They may be true, but they are not attested to be Divine. We have no guarantee of their infallible truth, because our own rational powers are not infallible, nor those of the most gifted human mind. Add then the external testimony, and we have the attestation required. The rational evidence of the doctrine is the same in both cases; but the rational evidence, though to us it is as far, and only as far, as we can claim infallibility for our judgment, the proof of the truth of the doctrine is no proof at all that God has revealed it. In the external testimony alone that proof is found: the degree of rational evidence we have of the truth and excellency of the doctrine may be a farther commendation of it to us, but it is no part of its authority.
From this distinction, the relative importance of the external and the internal evidence of a revelation may be farther illustrated. Rational evidence of the doctrines proposed to us, when it can be had, goes to establish their truth, so far as we can depend upon our judgment; but time external testimony, if satisfactory, establishes their Divine authority, and therefore their absolute truth, and leaves us no appeal. Still far-timer, a revelation, dependent upon internal evidence only, could contain no doctrines, and enjoin no duties, but of which the evidence to our reason should be complete. The least objection grounded on a plausible contrary reason would weaken their force, amid the absence of a clear perception of their congruity with some previous principles, admitted as true, would be the absence of all evidence of their truth whatever. On the other hand, a revelation, with rational proof of a Divine attestation, renders our instruction in many doctrines and duties possible, the rational evidence of whose truth is wanting; and as some doctrines may be true, and highly important to us, which are not capable of this kind of proof, that is, which are not so fully known as to be compared with any received propositions, and determined by them, our knowledge is, in this way, greatly enlarged: the benefits of revelation are extended; and the whole becomes obligatory, and therefore efficient to moral purposes, because it bears upon it the seal of an infallible authority.
The firmer ground on which a revelation, founded upon reasonable external proof of authority, rests, is also obvious. The doctrines in which we need to be instructed arc, the nature of God; our own relations to that invisible Being; his will concerning us; the means of obtaining or securing his favour; the principles of his government; and a future life. These, and others of a similar kind, involve great difficulties, as the history of moral knowledge among mankind sufficiently proves; and that, not only among those who never had the benefits of the Biblical revelation on these subjects, but among those who, not considering it as an authority, have indulged the philosophizing spirit, and judged of these doctrines merely by their rational evidence. This, from the nature of things, appearing under different views to different minds, has produced almost as much contrariety of opinion among them, as we find among the sages of pagan antiquity. The mere rational proof of the truth of such doctrines being therefore, from its nature in many important respects obscure, and liable to diversity of opinion, would lay but a very precarious and shifting foundation for faith in any revelation from God suited to remove the ignorance of man on points so important in doctrine, and so essential to an efficient religion and morality.
On the other hand, the process of obtaining a rational proof of the Divine attestation of a doctrine, by miracles for instance, is of the most simple and decisive kind, and gives to unbelief the character of obvious perverseness and inconsistency. Perverseness, because there is a clear opposition of the will rather than of time judgment in the case; inconcistency, because a much lower degree of evidence is, by the very objectors, acted upon in their most important concerns in life. For who that saw time dead raised to life, in an appeal to the Lord of life, in confirmation of a doctrine professing to be taught by his authority, but must, unless wilful perverseness interposed, acknowledge a Divine testimony; and who that heard the fact reported on time testimony of honest men and competent observers, under circumstances in which no illusion can take place, but must be charged with inconsistency, should he treat the report with skepticism, when, upon the same kind and quantum of evidence, he would so credit any report as to his own affairs, as to risk the greatest interests upon it? In difficult doctrines, of' a kind to give rise to a variety of' opinions, the rational evidence is accompanied with doubt; in such a case as that of the miracle we have supposed, it rests on principles supported by the universal and constant experience of mankind :-l. That the raising of the dead is above human power: 2. That men, unquestionably virtuous in every other respect, are not likely to propagate a deliberate falsehood: and 3. That it contradicts all the known motives to action in human nature, that they should do so, not only without advantage, but at the hazard of reproach, persecution, and death. The evidence of such an attestation is therefore as indubitable as these principles themselves.
The fourth kind of evidence, by which a revelation from God may be confirmed, is the collateral; on which, at present, we need riot say more than adduce some instances, merely to illustrate this kind of testimony.
The collateral evidence of a revelation from God may be its agreement in principle with every former revelation, should previous revelations have been vouchsafed-that it was obviously suited to the circumstances of the world at the time of its communication-that it is adapted to effect the great moral ends which it purposes, and has actually effected them-that if it contain a record of facts, as well as of doctrines, those historical facts agree with the credible traditions and histories of the same times-that monuments, either natural or instituted, remain to attest the truth of its history-that adversaries have made concessions in its favour-and that, should it profess to be a universal and ultimate revelation of the will and mercy of God to man, t maintains its adaptation to the case of the human race, and its efficiency, to the present day. These and many other circumstances nay be ranked under the head of collateral evidence, and some of them will, in their proper place, be applied to the Holy Scriptures.