Theological Institutes

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

By Richard Watson

Chapter 15


IT has been already proved that miracles are possible, that they are appropriate, necessary, and satisfactory evidences of a revelation from God: and that, like other facts, they are capable of being authenticated by credible testimony. These points having been established, the main questions before us are, whether the facts alleged as miraculous in the Old and New Testaments have a sufficient claim to that character, and whether they were wrought in confirmation of the doctrine and mission of the founders of the Jewish and Christian religions.

That definition of a true miracle which we have adopted, may here be conveniently repeated :- A miracle is 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 concurrence, or by the permission of God, for the proof or evi­dence of some particular doctrine, or in attestation of the authority of the particular person.

The force of the argument from miracles lies in this-that as such works are manifestly above human power, and as no created being can effect them, unless empowered by the Author of nature, when they are wrought for such an end as that mentioned in the definition, they are to be considered as authentications of a Divine mission by a special and sensible interposition of God himself.

To adduce all the extraordinary works wrought by Moses and by Christ would be unnecessary. In those we select for examination, the miraculous character will sufficiently appear to bring them within our definition; and it will be recollected that it has been already established that the books which contain the account of these facts must have been written by their reputed authors, and that had not the facts themselves occurred as there related, it is impossible that the people of the age in which the accounts of them were published could have been brought to believe them. On the basis then of the arguments already adduced to prove these great points, it is concluded that we have in the Scriptures a true relation of the facts themselves. Nothing therefore remains but to establish their claims as miracles.

Out of the numerous miracles wrought by the agency of Moses we select, in addition to those before mentioned in chapter ix, the plague of DARKNESS. Two circumstances are to be noted in the relation given of this event, Exodus x. It continued three days, and it afflicted the Egyptians only, for "all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings." The fact here mentioned was of the most public kind: and had it not taken place, every Egyptian and every Israelite could have contradicted the account. The phenomenon was not produced by an eclipse of the sun, for no eclipse of that luminary can endure so long. Some of the Roman writers mention a darkness by day so great that persons were unable to know each other; but we have no historical account of any other darkness so long continued as this, and so intense, that the Egyptians "rose not up from their places for three days." But if any such circumstance had again occurred, and a natural cause could have been assigned for it, vet even then the miraculous character of this event would remain unshaken; for to what but to a supernatural cause could the distinction made between the Israelites and the Egyptians be attributed, when they inhabited a portion of the same country, and when their neighbourhoods were immediately adjoining? Here then are the characters of a true miracle. 'F he established course of natural causes and effects is interrupted by an operation upon that mighty element, the atmosphere. That it was not a chance irregularity in nature, is made apparent from the effect following the volition of a ma!' acting in the name of the Lord of nature, and from its being restrained by that to a certain part of the same country--" Moses stretched out his hand," and tile darkness prevailed, every where but in the dwellings of his own people. 'rile fact has been established by former arguments, and the fact being allowed, the miracle of necessity follows.

The destruction of the FIRST BORN of the Egyptians may be next considered. Here too are several circumstances to be carefully noted. This judgment was threatened in the presence of Pharaoh, before any of the other plagues were brought upon him and his people. The Israelites also were forewarned of it. They were directed to slay a lamb, sprinkle the blood upon their door posts, and prepare for their departure that same night. The stroke was inflicted upon the first born of the Egyptians only, and not upon any other part of the family-it occurred in the same hour-the first born of the Israelites escaped without exception-and the festival of "the passover" was from that night insti­tuted in remembrance of the event. Such a festival could not in the nature of the thing be established in any subsequent age, in commemo­ration of an event which never occurred; and if instituted at the time, the event must have taken place, for by no means could this large body of men have been persuaded that their first born had been saved and those of the Egyptians destroyed, if the facts had not been before their eyes. The history therefore being established, the miracle follows; for the order of nature is sufficiently known to warrant the conclusion, that, if a pestilence were to be assumed as the agent of this calamity, an epidemic disease, however rapid and destructive, comes not upon the threat of a mortal, and makes no such selection as the first born of every family.

The miracle of dividing the waters of the RED SEA has already been mentioned, but merits more particular consideration. In this event we observe, as in the others, circumstances which exclude all possibility of mistake or collusion. The subject of the miracle is the sea; the witnesses of it the host of Israel, who passed through on foot, and tile Egyptian nation, who lost their king and his whole army. The miracu­lous characters of the event are:-The waters are divided, and stand up on each side ;-the instrument is a strong east wind, which begins its operation upon the waters at the stretching out of the hand of Moses, and ceases at the same signal, and that at the precise moment when he return of the waters would be most fatal to the Egyptian pursuing army.

It has, indeed, been asked whether there were not sonic ledges of rocks where the water was shallow, so that an army' at particular times, might pass over; and whether the Etesian winds, which blow strongly ill summer from the northwest, might not blow so violently against the sea as to keep it back "on a heap." But if there were any force in these questions, it is plain that such suppositions would leave the destruction of the Egyptians unaccounted for. To show that there is no weight in them at all, let the place where the passage of the Red Sea was effected be first noted. Some fix it near Suez, at the head of the gulf; but if there were satisfactory evidence of this, it ought also to be taken into the account, that formerly the gulf extended at least twenty-five miles north of Suez, the place where it terminates at present. (Lord Valentia's Travels, vol. iii, p. 344.) But the names of places as well as tradition, fix the passage about ten hours' journey lower down, at Clysma, or the valley of Bedea. The name given by Moses to the place where the Israelites encamped before the sea was divided, was pihahiroth, which signifies "the mouth of the ridge," or of that chain of mountains which line the western coast of the Red Sea; and as there is but one mouth of that chain through which an immense multi­tude of men, women, and children, could possibly pass when flying before their enemies, there can be no doubt whatever respecting the situation of Pihahiroth; and the modern names of conspicuous places in its neighbourhood prove, that those, by whom such names were given, believed that this was the place at which the Israelites passed the sea in safety, and where Pharaoh was drowned. Thus, we have close by Pihahiroth, on the western side of the gulf, a mountain called Attaka, which signifies deliverance. On the eastern coast opposite is a head. hind called Ras Musa, or "the Cape of Moses ;" somewhat lower, Harnanz Faraun, "Pharaoh's Springs ;" while at these places, the general name of the gulf itself is Bahr-al-Kolsum, "the Bay of Submersion," in which there is a whirlpool called Birket Faraun, "the Pool of Pharaoh." This, then, was the passage of the Israelites; and the depth of the sea here is stated by Bruce, who may be consulted as to these localities, at about fourteen fathoms, and the breadth at between three and four leagues. But there is no "ledge of rocks," and as to the "Etesian wind," the same traveller observes, "If the Etesian wind blowing from the northwest in summer, could keep the sea as a wall, on the right, of fifty feet high, still the difficulty would remain of building the wall to the left, or to the north. If the Etesian winds had done this once, they must have repeated it many a time before or since, from the same causes." The wind which actually did blow, according to the history, either as an instrument of dividing the waters, or, which is more probable, as the instrument of drying the ground, after the waters were divided by the immediate energy of the Divine power, was not a north wind, but an "east wind ;" and as Dr. Hales observes, "seems to be introduced by way of anticipation, to exclude the natural agency which might be afterward resorted to for solving the miracle; for it is remark­able that the monsoon in the Red Sea blows the summer half of the year from the north, and the winter half from the south, neither of which could produce the miracle in question."

The miraculous character of this event is, therefore, most strongly marked. An expanse of water, and that water a sea, of from nine to twelve miles broad, known to be exceedingly subject to agitations, is divided, and a wall of water is formed on each hand, affording a passage on dry land for the Israelites. The phenomenon occurs too just as the Egyptian host are on the point of overtaking the fugitives, and ceases at the moment when the latter reach the opposite shore in safety, and When their enemies are in the midst of the passage, in the only position in which the closing of the wall of waters on each side could insure the entire destruction of so large a force!

The falling of the MANNA in the wilderness for forty years, is another unquestionable miracle, and one in which there could be neither mistake on the part of those who were sustained by it, nor fraud on the part of Moses. That this event was not produced by the ordinary course of nature, is rendered certain by the that, that the same wilderness has been travelled by individuals, and by large bodies of men, from the earliest ages to the present, but no such supply of food was ever met with, except on this occasion; and its miraculous character is farther marked by the following circumstances: -l. That it fell but six days in the week: 2. That it fell in such prodigious quantities as sustained three millions of souls: 3. That there fell a double quantity every Friday, to serve the Israelites for the next day, which was their Sabbath: 4. That what was gathered on the first five days of the week 'stank and bred worms, if kept above one day; but that which was gathered on Friday kept sweet for two days: and 5. That it continued falling while the Israelites remained in the wilderness, but ceased as soon as they cams out of it, and got corn to eat in the land of Canaan. (Universal History, 1. 1, c. 7.) Let these very extraordinary particulars be considered, and they at once confirm the fact, while they unequivocally establish the miracle. No people could be deceived in these circumstances; no per. son could persuade them of their truth, if they had not occurred; and the whole was so clearly out of the regular course of nature, as to mark unequivocally the interposition of God. To the majority of the numerous miracles recorded in the Old Testament, the same remarks apply, and upon them the same miraculous characters are as indubitably impressed. If we proceed to those of Christ, the evidence becomes, if possible, more indubitable. They were clearly above the power of either human agency or natural causes: they were public: they were such as could not admit of collusion or deception: they were performed under such circumstances as rendered it impossible for the witnesses and reporters of them to mistake: they were often done in the presence of malignant, scrutinizing, and intelligent enemies, the Jewish rulers, who acknowledged the facts, but attributed them to an evil, supernatural agency; and there is no interruption in the testimony, from the age in which they were wrought, to this day. It would be trifling with the reader to examine instances so well known in their circumstances, for the slightest recollection of the feeding of the multitudes in the desert ;-the healing of the paralytic, who, because of the multitude, was let down from the house top ;-the instant cure of the withered hand in the synagogue, near Jerusalem, where the Pharisees were "watching our Lord whether be would heal on the Sabbath day ;"-the raising from the dead of the daughter of Jairus, the widow's son, and Lazarus; and many other in stances of miraculous power,-will be sufficient to convince any ingenuous mind, that all the characters of real and adequately attested miracles meet in them. That great miracle, the resurrection of our Lord him­self from the dead, so often appealed to by the first teachers of his religion, may, however, be here properly adduced, with its convincing and irrefragable circumstances, as completing this branch of the external evidence.

That it is a miracle in its highest sense for a person actually dead to raise himself again to life, cannot be doubted; and when wrought, as the raising of Christ was, in attestation of a Divine commission, it is evidence of the most irrefragable kind. So it has been regarded by unbelievers, who have bent all their force against it; and so it was regarded by Divine Providence, who rendered its proofs ample and indu­bitable in proportion to its importance. Let us, then, examine the cir­cumstances as recorded in the history.

 In the first place, the reality of Christ's death is circumstantially and fully stated, though if no circumstantial evidence had been adduced, it is not to be supposed that they, who had sought his death with so much eagerness, would be inattentive to the full execution of the sentence for which they had clamoured. The execution was public; he was crucified with common malefactors, in the usual place of execution: the soldiers brake not his legs, the usual practice when they would hasten the death of the malefactor, observing that he was dead already. His enemies knew that he had predicted his resurrection, and would therefore be careful that he should not be removed from the cross before death had actually taken place; and Pilate refused to deliver the body for burial until he had expressly inquired of the officer on duty, whether he were already dead. Nor was he taken away to an unknown or distant tomb. Joseph of Arimathea made no secret of the place where he had buried him. It was in his own family tomb, and the Pharisees knew where to direct the watch which was appointed to guard the body against the approach of his disciples. The reality of the death of Christ is therefore established.

2. But by both parties, by the Pharisees on the one part, and by the disciples on the other, it was agreed, that the body was missing, and that, in the state of death, it Was never more seen! The sepulchre was made Sure, the stone at the mouth being sealed, and a watch of sixty Roman soldiers appointed to guard it, and yet the body was not to be found. Let us see, then, how each party accounts for this fact. The disciples affirm, that two of their company, going early in the morning to the sepulchre to embalm the body, saw an angel descend and roll away the stone, sit upon it, and invite them to see the place where their Lord had lain, informing them that he was risen, and commanding them to tell the other disciples of the fact ;-that others went to the sepulchre, and found not the body, though the grave clothes remained; that, at different times, he appeared to them, both separately and when assembled; that they conversed with him ; that he partook of their food ; that they touched his body; that lie continued to make his appearance among them for nearly six weeks, and then, after many advices, finally led them out as far as Bethany, and, in the presence of them all, ascended into the clouds of heaven. This is the statement of the disciples.

The manner in which the Jewish sanhedrin accounts for the absence of our Lord's body from the sepulchre is, that the Roman soldiers having. slept on their posts, the disciples stole away the corpse. We know of no other account. Neither in their earliest books nor traditions is there. any other attempt to explain the alleged resurrection of Jesus. We are warranted therefore in concluding, that the Pharisees had nothing but this to oppose to the positive testimony of the disciples, who also added, and published it to the world, that the Roman soldiers related to the Pharisees "all the things that were done," the earthquake, the appearance of the angel, &c; but that they were bribed to say, "His. disciples came by night and stole him away, while we slept."

On the statement of the Pharisees we may remark, that though those who were not convinced by our Lord's former miracles were in a state. of mind to resist the impression of his resurrection, yet, in this attempt to;. destroy the testimony of the apostles, they fell below their usual subtlety. in circulating a story which carried with it its own refutation. This however, may he accounted for, from the hurry and agitation of the moment, and the necessity under which they were laid to invent some. thing to amuse the populace, who were not indisposed to charge them with the death of Jesus. Of this it is clear that the Pharisees were apprehensive, "fearing the people," on this as on former occasions. This appears from the manner in which the sanhedrin addressed the, apostles, Acts v, 28: "Did we not straitly command you, that ye should not teach in this name? and behold you have filled Jerusalem with vout doctrine, and INTEND TO BRING THIS MAN'S BLOOD UPON US." The majority of the people were not enemies of Jesus, though the Pharisees were ; and it was a mob of base flows, and strangers, of which Jerusalem was full at the passover. who had been excited to clamour for his death. The body of the Jewish populace heard him gladly; great numbers of them had been deeply impressed by the raising of Lazarus, in the ver neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and had in consequence accompanied him with public acclamations, as the Messiah, into Jerusalem. These sentiments of the people of Jerusalem toward our Lord were transferred to the apostles; for after Peter and John had healed the man at the gate of the temple, and refused to obey the council in keeping silent to Christ, when the chief priests had "farther threatened them, they let them go, finding not how they might punish them BECAUSE OF THE PEOPLE."

It was in a state of considerable agitation, therefore, that this absurd and self-exposed rumour was hastily got up, and as hastily pub­lished. We may add, also, that it was hastily abandoned; for it is remark­able, that it is never adverted to by the Pharisees in any of those legal processes instituted at Jerusalem against the first preachers of Christ as the risen Messiah, within a flow days after the alleged event itself First, Peter and John are brought before their great council; then the whole body of the apostles twice; on all these occasions they affirm the fact of the resurrection, before the very men who had originated the tale of the stealing away of the body, and in none of these instances did the chief priests oppose this story to the explicit testimony of his disciples having seen, felt, and conversed with Jesus, after his passion. This silence cannot be accounted for but on the supposition that, in the presence of the apostles at least, they would not hazard its exposure. If at any time the Roman guards could have been brought forward effectually to con­front the apostles, it was when the whole body of the latter were in cus­tody, and before the council, where indeed the great question at issue between the parties was, whether Jesus were risen from the dead or not. On the one part, the apostles stand before the rulers affirming the fact. and are ready to go into the detail of their testimony: the only testimony which could be opposed to this is that of the Roman soldiers, but not one of the sixty is brought up, and they do not even advert to the rumour which the rulers had proclaimed. On the contrary, one of them, Gamaliel, advises the council to take no farther proceedings, but to let the matter go on, for this reason, that if it were of men it would come to nought, but if of God, they could not overthrow it, and would be found to fight against God himself. Now it is plain that if the Pharisee. themselves believed in the story they had put into the mouths of the Roman soldiers, no doctor of the law, like Gamaliel, would have given such advice, and equally impossible is it that the council should unanimously have agreed to it. With honest proofs of an imposture in their bands, they could never thus have tamely surrendered the public to delusion and their own characters to infamy; nor, if they had, could they have put their non-interference on time ground assumed by Gamaliel. The very Principle of his decision supposes, that both sides acknow­ledged. something very extraordinary which might prove a work of God; and that time would make it manifest. It admitted in point of fact, that JESUS MIGHT BE RISEN AGAIN. The whole council, by adopting Gamaliel's decision, admitted this possibility, or how could time show the whole work, built entirely upon this fact, to e a work of God, or not? And thus Gamaliel, without intending it, certainly, has afforded evidence in favour of the resurrection of our Lord the more powerful from its being incidental.

The absurdity involved in the only testimony ever brought against the resurrection of our Lord, rendered it indeed impossible to maintain the story. That a Roman guard should be found off their watch, or asleep, a fault which the military law of that people punished with death, was most incredible; that, if they were asleep, the timid disciples of Christ should dare to make the attempt, when the noise of removing the stone and bearing away the body might awaken them, is very improbable; and, above all, as it has been often put, either the soldiers were awake or asleep-if awake, why did they suffer a few unarmed peasants and women to take away the body? and if asleep, how came they to know that the disciples were the persons?

Against the resurrection of Christ, we may then with confidence say, there is no testimony whatever; it stands, like every other fact in the evangelic history, entirely uncontradicted from the earliest ages to the present; and though we grant that it does not follow, that, because we do not admit the account given of the absence of our Lord's body from the sepulchre by the Jews, we must therefore admit that of the apostles yet the very inability of those who first objected to the fact of the resurrection to account for the absence of the body, which had been entirely in their own power, affords very strong presumptive evidence in favour of the statement of the disciples. Under such circumstances the loss of the body became itself an extraordinary event. The tomb was carefully closed and sealed by officers appointed for that purpose, a guard was set, and yet the body is missing. The story of the Pharisees does not at all account for the fact; it is too absurd to be for a moment credited; and unless the history of the evangelists be admitted, that singular fact remains still unaccounted for.

But in addition to this presumption, let the circumstances of credibility in the testimony of the disciples be collected, and the evidence becomes indubitable.

The account given by the disciples was not even an improbable one, for allow the miracles wrought by Christ during his life, and the resur­rection follows as a natural conclusion; for before that event can be maintained to be in the lowest sense improbable, the whole history of his public life, in opposition not to the evangelists merely, but, as we have seen, to the testimony of Jews and heathens themselves, must be proved to be a fable.

The manner in which this testimony is given, is in its favour. So far from the evangelists having written in concert, they give an account Of the transaction so varied as to make it clear that they wrote independently of each other; and yet so agreeing in the leading facts, and so easily capable of reconcilement in those minute circumstances in which some discrepancy at first sight appears, that their evidence in every part carries with it the air of honesty and truth.

Their own account sufficiently proves, that they were incredulous as to the fact when announced, and so not disposed to be imposed upon by an imagination. This indeed was impossible; the appearances of Christ were too numerous, and were continued for too long a time,-forty days. They could not mistake, and it is as impossible that they should deceive; impossible that upward of five hundred persons to whom Christ appeared, should have been persuaded by the artful few, that they had seen and conversed with Christ, or to agree, not only without reward, but in renunciation of all interests and in hazard of all dangers and of death itself, to continue to assert a falsehood.

Nor did a long period elapse before the fact of the resurrection was proclaimed; nor was a distant place chosen in which to make the first report of it. These would have been suspicious circumstances; but on the contrary the disciples testify the fact from the day of the resurrec­tion itself. One of them in a public speech at the feast of pentecost, addressed to a mixed multitude, affirms it; and the same testimony is given by the whole college of apostles, before the great council twice: this too was done at Jerusalem, the scene of the whole transaction, and in the presence of those most interested in detecting the falsehood. Their evidence was given, not only before private but public persons, before magistrates and tribunals, "before philosophers and rabbis, before courtiers, before lawyers, before people expert in examining and cross-examining witnesses," and yet what Christian ever impeached his accomplices? or discovered this pretended imposture? or was convicted if prevarication? or was even confronted with others who could contra. diet him as to this or any other matter of fact relative to his religion? To this testimony of the apostles was added the seal of miracles, wrought as publicly, and being as unequivocal in their nature, as open to public investigation, arid as numerous, as those of their Lord himself. The miracle of the gift of tongues was in proof of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ; arid the miracles of healing were wrought by the apostles in their Master's name, and therefore were the proofs both of his resurrection and of their commission. Indeed, of the want of supernatural evidence the Jews, the ancient enemies of Christianity, never complained. They allowed the miracles both of Christ arid his apostles; but by ascribing them to Satan, and regarding them as diabolical delusions and wonders wrought in order to seduce them from the law, their admissions are at once in proof of the truth of the Gospel History, and enable us the account for their resistance to an evidence so majestic and overwhelming.[1]


[1] The evidences of' our Lord's resurrection are fully exhibited in West on the Resurrection, Sherlock's Trial of the Witnesses, and Dr. Cook's Illustration of the Evidence of Christ's Resurrection