Theological Institutes

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

By Richard Watson

Chapter 16


The first objection to the conclusiveness of the argument in favor of the Mosaic and Christian systems which is drawn from their miracles, is grounded upon facts and doctrines supposed to be found in the Scriptures themselves.

It is stated, that the Scriptures assert miraculous acts to have been performed in opposition to the mission and to the doctrine of those who have professed themselves accredited instruments of making known revelations of the will of God to mankind; and that the sacred writers frequently speak of such events as possible, nay as certain future occurrences, even when they have not actually taken place. The question therefore is, how miracles should be conclusive proofs of truth, who they actually have been, or may be wrought, in proof of falsehood. Shall a miracle confirm the belief of one, and not confirm the belief of more Gods than one, if wrought for that purpose ?" (Bishop Fleetwood on Miracles.) The instances usually adduced are the feats of the Egyptian magi in opposition to Moses, and the raising of Samuel by the witch of Endor. The presumptions that such works are considered possible, are drawn from a passage of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy; a prediction respecting false Christs in St. Matthew's Gospel; and the prediction of the man of sin, in the writings of St. Paul: all of which caution the reader against being seduced from the truth, by "signs and wonders" performed by false teachers.

With respect to the miracles, or pretended miracles, wrought by the magicians of Pharaoh, some preliminary considerations are to be noted.

1. That whether the persons called magicians were regular priests or a distinct class of men, they were known to be expert in producing singular effects and apparent transformations in natural objects, for after Moses bad commenced his marvellous operations, they were sent for by Pharaoh to oppose their power and skill to his.

2. That they succeeded, or appeared to succeed, in three attempts to imitate the works of Moses, and were then controlled, or attempted a work beyond their power, and were obliged to acknowledge themselves vanquished by "the finger of God." The rest of the miracles wrought by Moses went on without any attempt at imitation.

3. That these works of whatever kind they might be, were wrought to hold up the idols of Egypt as equal in power to Jehovah, the God of Moses and the Israelites. This is a consideration of importance, and  the fact is easily proved. If they were mere jugglers and performed their wonders by sleight of hand, they did not wish the people to know this, or their influence over them could not have been maintained. They therefore used "enchantments," incongruous and strange ceremonies, rites and offerings, which among all superstitious people have been supposed to have a powerful effect in commanding the influence of supernatural beings in their flavour and subjecting them to their will. We have an instance of this use of" enchantments" in the case of Balaam, who lived in the same age; and this example goes very far, we think, to settle the sense in which the magi used " enchantments;" for though the original word used is different, yet its ideal meaning is equally capable of being applied to the rites of incantation, and in this sense it is confirmed by the whole story.[1] Whatever connection therefore may be supposed to exist between the "enchantments" used and the works performed, or if all connection be denied, this species of religious rite was performed, and the people understood, as it was intended they should understand, that the wonders which the magi per formed were done under the influence of their deities. The object of Pharaoh and the magicians was to show, that their gods were as powerful as the God who had commissioned Moses, and that they could pro feet them from his displeasure, though they should refuse at the command of his commissioned servant to let his people go.

But whatever pretence there was of supernatural assistance, it is con. tended by several writers of great and deserved authority, that no miracles were wrought at all on these occasions ; that, b dexterity and previous preparation, serpents were substituted by the magicians for rods; that a colouring matter was infused into a portion of water; and that as frogs, through the previous miracle of Moses, every where abounded in the land of Egypt, a sufficient number might he easily pro cured to cover some given space ; and they farther argue, that when the miracles of Moses became such as to defy the possibility of the most distant imitation, at that point the simulations of the magi ceased.

The obvious objection to this is, that "Moses describes the works of the magicians in the very same language as he does his own, and therefore there is reason to conclude that they were equally miraculous." To this it is replied, that nothing is more common than to speak of professed jugglers as doing what they pretend or appear to do, and that this language never misleads. But it is also stated, and the observation is of great weight, that the word used by Moses is one of great latitude-"they DID so," that is, in like manner, importing that they attempted some imitation of Moses; because it is used when they failed in their attempt-" they DID SO to bring forth lice; but they could not." Farther, Mr. Farmer, Dr. Hales, and others, contend, that the root of the word translated "enchantments" fitly expresses any "secret artifices or methods of deception, whereby false appearances are imposed upon the spectators." For a farther explanation and defense of this hypothesis, an extract from Farmer's Dissertation on Miracles is given, at the end of the chapter.[2]

Much as these observations deserve attention, it may be very much doubted, whether mere manual dexterity and sleight of hand can sufficiently account for the effects actually produced, if only human ag4s were engaged; and it does not appear impracticable to meet any difficulty which, may arise out of an admission, of supernatural evil age" in the imitation of the three first wonders performed by Moses.

It ought however in the first place to he previously stated, that the history before us is not in fairness to be judged of as an insulated statement, independent of the principles and doctrines of the revelation in which it is found. With that revelation it is bound up, and by the light of its doctrine it is to be judged. No infidel, who would find in Scripture an argument against Scripture, has the right to consider any pas sage separately, or to apply to it the rule of his own theory on religious subjects, unless he has first, by fair and honest argument, disposed of the evidences of the Scriptures themselves. He must disprove the authenticity of the sacred record, and the truth of the facts contained in it,-he must rid himself of every proof of the Divine mission of Moses, and of the evidence of his miracles, before he is entitled to this right; and if he is inadequate to this task, he can only consider the case 'as a difficulty, standing on the admission of the Scriptures themselves, and to be explained, as far as possible, on the principles of that general system of religion which the Scriptures themselves supply. In this nothing' more is asked, than argumentative fairness. The same rule is still more obligatory upon those interpreters who profess to believe in the Divine authority of the sacred records; for by the and of their general principles and unequivocal doctrines, every difficulty which they profess to extract from them, is surely to be examined in order to ascertain its real character. What, however, is the real difficulty in the present case, supposing it to be allowed that the magicians performed works superior to the power of any mere human agent, and therefore supernatural? This it is the more necessary to settle, as the difficulty supposed to arise out of this admission has been exaggerated.

It seems generally to have been supposed, that these counter performances were wrought to contradict the Divine mission of Moses, and that by allowing them to be supernatural, we are brought into the difficulty of supposing, that God may authenticate the mission of his servants by miracles, and that miracles may be wrought also to contradict this attestation, thus leaving us in a state of uncertainty. This view is not however at all countenanced by the history. No intimation is given that the magicians performed their wonders to prove that there was no such God as Jehovah, or that Moses was not commissioned by him. For as they did not deny the works of Moses to be really performed, they could no more deny that he did them by the power of his God, than they would deny that they themselves performed their exploits by the assistance of their gods,-a point which they doubtless wished to impress upon Pharaoh and the people, and for which both were prepared by their previous belief in their idols, and in the effect of incantations. For to suppose that Pharaoh sent for men to play mere juggling tricks, knowing them to be mere jugglers, seems too absurd to be for a moment admitted, except indeed, as some have assumed, that he thought the works of Moses to be sleight of hand deceptions, which he might ex­pose by the imitations of his own jugglers. But nothing of this is even hinted at in the history, and at least the second work of Moses was such as entirely to preclude the idea-the water became blood throughout the whole land of Egypt. It was not intended by these works of the Egyptian magi, to oppose the existence of Jehovah, for there was nothing in polytheism which required it to be denied, that every people had their own local divinities,-nothing indeed which required its votaries to dis. allow the existence of even a Supreme Deity, the "Father of gods and men ;" and that Moses was commissioned by this Jehovah, "the God of the Hebrews," to command Pharaoh to let his people go, was in point of fact acknowledged, rather than denied, by allowing his works, and attempting to imitate them. The argument upon their own principles was certainly as strong for Moses, as for the Egyptian priests. If their extraordinary works proved them the servants of their gods, the works of Moses proved him to be the servant of his God.

Thus in this series of singular transactions was there no evidence from counter miracles, even should it be allowed that real miracles were Wrought, to counteract or nullify the mission of Moses, or to deny the existence or even to question any of the attributes of the true Jehovah. All that can he said is, that singular works, which were intended to pass for miraculous ones, were wrought, not to disprove any thing Which Moses advanced, but to prove that the Egyptian deities had Power equal to the God bf the Jews; and in which contest their votaries ultimately failed-that pretension being abundantly refuted by the transcendent nature and number of the works of Moses; and by their being "plagues," from which the objects of their idolatry could not deliver them, and which, indeed, as the learned Bryant has shown, were intended expressly to humble idolatry itself, and put it to open and bitter shame.

If in this instance we see nothing to contravene the evidence of miracles, as attestations of the Divine commission of Moses, so in no other case recorded in Scripture. The raising of the spirit of Samuel by the witch of Endor, is indeed the only instance of any thing approaching to miraculous agency ascribed to an evil spirit, unless we add the power exercised by Satan over Job, and his bearing our Lord through the air, and placing him upon an exceeding high mountain. But whether these events were properly speaking miraculous, may be more than doubted; and if they were, neither they, nor the raising of Samuel profess to give any evidence in opposition to the mission of any service of God, or to the doctrines taught by him. On the contrary, so far are the Scriptures from affording any examples of miracles, either real or simulated, wrought in direct opposition to the mission and theological doctrine of the inspired messengers of God in any age, that in cases where the authority of the messenger was fairly brought into question, the examples are of a quite different kind. Elijah brought the matter to issue, whether Jehovah or Baal were God; and while the priests of Baal heard neither 'voice nor sound" in return to all their prayers, the God of Israel answered his own prophet by fire, amid by that ratified his servant's commission and his own Divinity before all Israel. The devils in our Lord's days confessed him to be the Son of the most high God. The damsel possessed with a spirit of divination at Thyatira, gave testimony to the mission of the Apostle Paul and his companions. We read of no particular acts performed by Elymas the sorcerer; but, whatever he could perform, when lie attempted to turn away Sergius Paulus from the faith he was struck blind. And thus we find that Scrip­ture does no where represent miracles to have been actually wrought in contradiction of the authority of any whom God had commissioned to teach his will to mankind.

But that the Scriptures assume this as possible, is argued from Deut. xiii, 1, &c,-where the people are commanded not to follow a prophet or dreamer of dreams, who would entice them into idolatry, though he should give them "a sign or wonder, and the sign or wonder come to pass." Here, however, it appears, that not a miracle, but a prophecy of some wonderful event, is spokemai of: for this sign or wonder was to some to pass. Nor can the prediction be considered as more than some shrewd and accidental guess, either from himself, or by the assistance of some evil supernatural agency, (a subject we shall just now consider,) but in fact, falling short, though in some respects wonderful, of a true prediction; because in the eighteenth chapter of this same book, the fulfilment of the words of a prophet is made the conclusive proof of his Divine commission, nor can we suppose the same writer within the distance of a few sentences to contradict himself.

In Matthew xxiv, 24, it is predicted that false Christs and false prophets shall arise and show "great signs and wonders," calculated to de­ceive men, though not "the elect." And in 2 Thess. ii, 8 and 9, the coming of the man of sin is said to be" after the working of Satan with all power, and signs, and lying wonders." The latter prediction refers un­questionably to the papacy, and to works wrought to lead men from the true interpretation of the Gospel, though not to annul in the least the Divine authority of Christ and his apostles; the former supposes works which, as being wrought by false Christs, are opposed to the commission of our Lord, and is indeed the only instance in which a direct contest between the miracles which attest the authority of a Divine messenger, and "great signs and wonders" wrought to attest an opposing and contradictory authority, is spoken of. What these "signs and wonders" may be, it is therefore necessary to ascertain.

In the Thessalonians they are ascribed to the "working of Satan," and in order to bring the general principles of the revelation of the Scriptures to bear upon these, its more obscure and difficult parts, a rule to which we are in fairness bound, it must be observed,

1. That the introduction of sin into the world is ascribed to the malice and seductive cunning of a powerful evil spirit, the head and leader of innumerable others. 2. That when a Redeemer was promised to man, that promise, in its very first annunciation, indicated a long and arduous struggle between HIM and these evil supernatural agents. 3. That it is the fact, that a powerful contest has been main­tained in the world ever since, between truth and error, idolatry, superstition, and will worship, and the pure and authorized worship of the true God. 4. That the Scriptures uniformly represent the Redeemer and Restorer at the head of one party of men in the struggle, and Satan at the head of the other; each making use of men as their instruments, though consistently with their general free agency. 5. That almighty God carries on his purposes to win man back to obe­dience to him, by the exhibition of truth, with its proper evidences; by commands, promises, threats, chastisements, and final punishments; and that Satan opposes this design by exhibitions of error, and false religion, gratifying to the corrupt passions and appetites of men; and especially seeks to influence powerful agents among men to seduce others by their example; and to destroy the truth by persecution and force. 6. That the false religions of the heathen, as well as the cor. ruptions of Christianity, took place under this diabolical influence; and that the idols of the heathen were not only the devices of devils, but often devils themselves,[3] made the objects of the worship of men, either for their wickedness or their supposed power to hurt.[4]

Now as the objection which we are considering is professedly taken from Scripture, its doctrine on this subject must be explained by itself, and for this reason the above particulars have been introduced; but the inquiry must go farther. These evil spirits are in a state of hostility to the truth, and oppose it by endeavouring to seduce men to erroneous opinions, and a corrupt worship. All their power may therefore be expected to be put forth in accomplishment of their designs; but to what does their power extend? This is an important question, and the Scriptures afford us no small degree of assistance in deciding it.

1.                They can perform no work of creation; for this throughout Scrip lure Is constantly attributed to God, and is appealed to by him as the proof of his own Divinity in opposition to idols, and to all beings what. ever-" To whom will ye liken me, or shall I be equal, saith the Holy One? Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things." This claim must of necessity cut off from every other being the power of creating in any degree, that is, of making any thing out of nothing; for a being possessing the power to create an atom out of nothing, could not want the ability of making a world. Nay, creation, in its lower sense, is in this passage denied to any but God; that is, the forming goodly and perfect natural objects, such as the heavens and the. earth are replenished with, from a pre-existent matter, as he formed: all things from matter unorganized and chaotic. No "sign," therefore, no "wonder" which implies creation, is possible to finite beings; and whatever power any of them may have over matter, it cannot extend to any act of creation.

2.                Life and death are out of the power of evil spirits. The dominion of these is so exclusively claimed by God himself in many passages. of Scripture which are familiar, that they need not be cited,-" Unto God the Lord belong the issues from death"-" I kill, and I make alive again." No "signs or wonders," therefore, which imply dominion over these,-the power to produce a living being, or to give life to the dead,-are within the power of evil spirits; these are works of God,

3.                The knowledge of future events, especially of those which depend on free or contingent causes, is not attainable by evil spirits. This is the property of God, who founds upon it the proof of his Deity, and therefore excludes it from all others: "Show the things that are to come hereafter that we may know that ye are gods," isa. xl, 25, 26; xli, '23. (They cannot therefore utter a prediction in the strict and proper sense; though from their great knowledge of human affairs, and their long habits of observation, their conjectures may be surprising, and often accomplished, and so if uttered by any of their servants may have in some cases the appearance of prophecies.

4.                They do not know certainly the thoughts and characters of men. "That," as St. Augustine observes, "they have a great facility in dis­covering what is in the minds of men by the least external sign they give of it, and such as the most sagacious men cannot perceive," and that they may have other means of access too to the mind beside these external signs; and that a constant observation of human character, to which they are led by their favourite work of temptation, gives them great insight into the character and tempers and weakness of indivi­duals, may be granted; but that the absolute, immediate, infallible knowledge of the thoughts and character belongs alone to God, is clearly the doctrine of Scripture: it is the Lord "who searcheth the heart," and "knoweth what is in man ;" and in Jeremiah vii, 9, 10, the knowledge of the heart is attributed exclusively to God alone.

Let all these things then be considered, and we shall be able to ascertain, at least in part, the limits within which this evil agency is able to operate in opposing the truth, and in giving currency to false­hood; at least we shall be able to show, that the Scriptures assign no power to this "working of Satan" to oppose the truth by such "signs and wonders" as many have supposed In no instance can evil spirits oppose the truth, we do not say by equal, or nearly equal miracles and prophecies, but by real ones-of both, their works are but simulations. We take the case of miracles. A creature cannot create; this is the doctrine of Scripture, and it will serve to explain the wonders of the Egyptian magi. They were, we think, very far above the sleight of hand of mere men unassisted; and we have seen, that as idolatry is diabolic, and even is the worship of devils themselves, and the instrument of their opposition to God, the Scriptures suppose them to be exceedingly active in its support. It is perfectly accordant with this principle, therefore, to conclude, that Pharaoh's priests had as much of the assistance of the demons whose ministers they were, as they were able to exert. But then the great principles we have just deduced from Scripture, oblige us to limit this power. It was not a power of working real miracles, but of simulating them in order to uphold the credit of idolatry. Now the three miracles of Moses which were simulated, all involved a creating energy. A serpent was created out of the matter of the rod; the frogs, from their immense multitude, appear also to have been created; and blood was formed out of the matter of water. But in the imitations of the magi, there was no creation: we are forbidden by the doctrine of Scripture to allow this, and therefore there must have been deception and the substitution of one thing for another; which, though performed in a manner apparently much above human adroitness, might be very much within the power of a number of invisible and active spirits. Serpents, in a country where they abound, might be substituted for rods; frogs, which, after they had been brought upon the land by Moses, were numerous enough, might be suddenly thrown upon a cleared place; and the water, which could only be obtained by digging, for the plague of, Moses was upon all the streams and reservoirs, and the quantity being in consequence very limited, might by their invisible activity be easily mixed with blood or a colouring matter. In all this there was something of the imposture of the priests, and much of the assistance of Satan; but in the strict sense no miracle was wrought by either, while the works of Moses were, from their extent, unequivocally miraculous.

For the reasons we have given, no apparent miracles wrought in support of falsehood, can for a moment become rivals of the great miracles by which the revelations of the Scripture are attested. For instance, nothing like that of feeding several thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes can occur, for that supposes creation of the matter and the form of bread and fish; no giving life to the dead, for the issues from death" belong exclusively to God. Accordingly we find in the "signs and wonders" wrought by the false prophets and Christs predicted in Matthew, whether we suppose them mere impostors, or the immediate agents of Satan also, nothing of this decisive kind to attest their mission. THEUDAS promised to divide Jordan, and seduced many to follow him; but he was killed by the Roman troops before he could perform his miracle. Another promised that the walls of Jerusalem should fall down; but his followers were also put to the sword by Felix.

The false Christ, BARCHOCHEBA, raised a large party; but no miracles of his are recorded. Another arose, A. P. 434, and pretended to divide the sea; but hid himself after many of his besotted followers had plunged into it, in faith that it would retire from them, and were drowned. Many other false Christs appeared at different times; but the most noted was SABBATAL SEVI, in 1666. The delusion of the Jews with respect to him was very great. Many of his followers were strangely affected, prophesied of his greatness, and appeared by their contortions to be under some supernatural influence; but the grand seignior having apprehended Sabbatal, gave him the choice of proving his Messiahship, by suffering a body of archers to shoot at him; after which, if he was not wounded, he would acknowledge him to be the Messiah; or, if he declined this, that he should be impaled, or turn Turk. He chose the latter, and the delusion was dissipated.

Now whatever "signs or wonders" may be wrought by any of these, it is clear from the absence of all record of any unequivocal miracle, that they were either illusions or impostures.

The same course of remark applies to prophecy. To know the future certainly, is the special prerogative of God. The false prophet anticipated by Moses in Deuteronomy, who was to utter wonderful pre­dictions which should "come to pass," is not therefore to be supposed to utter predictions strictly and truly, as founded upon an absolute know. ledge of the future. A shrewd man may guess happily in some instances, and his conjectures when accomplished may appear to be "a sign and a wonder," to a people willing to be deceived, because loving the idolatry to which he would lead them. Still farther, the Scripture doctrine does not discountenance the idea of an evil supernatural agency "working" with him; and then the superior sagacity of evil spirits may give to his conjectures, founded upon their own natural foresight of probabilities, a more decided air of prophecy, and thus aid the wicked purpose of seducing men from God's worship. Real and unequivocal prophecy is however impossible to them, amid indeed we have no instance of any approach to it among the false prophets recorded in the Jewish history. The heathen oracles may afford us also a comment on this. They were exceedingly numerous; many of them were highly celebrated; all professed to reveal the future; some wonderful stories are recorded of them; and it is difficult to refer the whole to the impos­ture of priests, though much of that was ultimately detected. That they kept their credit for two thousand years, and were silenced by the spread of the Gospel, and that, almost entirely, before the time of the establishment of Christianity by Constantine, as acknowledged by hea­then authors themselves-that they were in many instances silenced by individual Christians, is openly declared in the apologies of the Chris­tian fathers, so that the Pythonic inspiration could never be renewed- these are all strong presumptions at least, that, in this mockery of the Oracle of Zion, this counterfeit of the standing evidence given by pro­phecy to truth, there was much of diabolical agency, though greatly mingled with imposture.[5] Nevertheless, the ambiguity and obscurity by which the oracles sported with the credulity of the heathen, and miserably seduced them, often to the most diabolical wickednesses, and yet, in many cases, whatever might happen, preserved the appearance of having told the truth, sufficiently proved the want of a certain and clear knowledge of the future; and, upon the showing of their own writers, nothing was ever uttered by an oracle which, considered as prophecy, can be for a moment put in comparison with the least remark able of those Scripture predictions which are brought forward in proof of the truth of the Scriptures. When they are brought into comparison, the most celebrated of them appear contemptible.[6] We may then very confidently conclude, that as Scripture no where represents any "signs or wonders" as actually wrought to contradict the evidence of the Divine commission of Moses, of Christ and his apostles; so in those passages in which it supposes that they may occur, and predicts that they will be wrought in favour of falsehood, and, in the case of the false Christs, in opposition to the true Messiah, they do not give any countenance to the notion, that either real miracles can be wrought, of real predictions uttered, even by the permission of God, in favour of falsehood: for no permission, properly speaking, can be given to any being to do what he has not the natural power to effect; and permission in this case, to mean any thing, must imply that God himself wrought the miracles, and gave the predictions, through the instrumen­tality of a creature it is true, but in fact that he employed his Divine power in opposition to his own truth,-a dishonourable thought which cannot certainly be maintained. His permission may however extend to a license to evil men, and evil spirits too, to employ, against the truth and for the seduction of men, whatever natural power they possess.. This is perfectly consistent with the general doctrine of Scripture; but this permission is granted under rule and limit. Thus the history of Job is highly important, as it shows that evil spirits cannot employ their power against a good man without express permission. An event in the history of Jesus teaches also that they cannot destroy even an animal of the vilest kind, a swine, without the same license. Moral ends too were to be answered in both cases-teaching the doctrine of Providence to future generations by the example of Job; and punishing the Ga­darenes in their property for their violation of the law through covet­ousness. So entirely are these invisible opposers of the truth and plans of Christ under control; and as moral ends are so explicitly marked in these instances, they may be inferred as to every other; where permission to work evil or injury is granted. In the cases indeed before us, such moral purposes do not entirely rest upon inference; but are made evident from the history. The agency of Satan was permitted in sup. port of idolatry in Egypt, only to make the triumph of the true God over idols more illustrious, and to justify his severe judgments upon the Egyptians. The false prophets anticipated in Deuteronomy were permitted, as it is stated, in order "to prove the people." A new circumstance of trial was introduced, which would lead them to compare the pretended predictions of the false prophet with the illustrious and well sustained series of splendid miracles by which the Jewish economy had been established,-a comparison which could not fail to confirm rational and virtuous men in the truth, and to render more inexcusable those light and vain persons who might be seduced. This observation may also be applied to the case of the false Christs. In certain of these cases there is also something judicial. When men have yielded them­selves so far to vice, as to seek error as its excuse, it seems a principle of the Divine government to make their sin their punishment. The Egyptians were besotted with their idolatries; they had rejected the clearest evidences of the truth, and were left to the delusions of the demons they worshipped. The Israelites, in those parts of their history to which Moses refers, were passionately inclined to idolatry; they wished any pretence or sanction for it, and were ready to follow every seducer. What they sought, they found,-occasions of going astray, which would have had no effect upon them had their hearts been right with God. The Jews rejected a spiritual Messiah, with all the evidences of his mission; but were ready to follow any impostor who promised them victory and dominion; they were disposed therefore to listen to every pretence, and to become the dupes of every illusion. But in no instance was the temptation either irresistible, or even strong, except as it was made so by their own violent inclinations to evil, and proneness to find pretences for it. In all the cases here supposed, the temptation to error was never present but in circumstances in which it was con­fronted with the infinitely higher evidence of truth, and that not merely in the number or greatness of the miracles and predictions, but in the very nature of the "signs" themselves,-one being unquestionably miraculous, the other being at best strange and surprising, without a decided miraculous or prophetic character. The sudden and unperceived substitution of serpents for the rods of the magicians, might, if the matter had ended there, have neutralized the effect of the real transformation of Aaron's rod; but then the serpent of Moses swallowed up the others. When frogs were already over all the land of Egypt, the imitation must have been confined to some spot purposely freed from them, and for that reason did not bear an unequivocal character; nor could the turning of water from a well into blood, (no difficult mat­ter to pretend,) rival for an instant the conversion of the waters of the mighty Nile, and the innumerable channels and reservoirs fed by it, into that offensive substance. To these we are to add the miracles Which followed, and which obliged even the magicians to confess "the finger of God." To the people whom the false prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy should attempt to lead astray from the LAW, all its magnificent evidences were known; the glory of God was then between the cherubim; the Urim and Thummim gave their responses; and the government was a standing miracle. To those who followed false Christs, the evidences of the mission of Jesus were known; his unequivocal miracles, it is singular, were never denied by those very Jews who, ever looking out for deception, cried as to the expected Christ, "Lo, he is here, and k, lie is there !" The "working of Satan," and the "lying wonders," mentioned in the Thessalonians, were to take place among a people, who not only had the words of Christ and his apostles, but acknowledged too their Divine authority as established by miracles and prophecies, the unequivocal character of which theirs never even pretended to equal. Thus, in none of the instances adduced in the argument, was there any exposure to inevitable error, by any evidence in favour of falsehood; the evidence of the truth was in all these cases at hand, and presented itself under an obviously distinct and superior character. We conclude therefore that the objection to the conclusive nature of the proof of the truth of the Scriptures from miracles and prophecies grounded upon the supposed admission that miracles may be wrought and prophecies uttered in favour of error, is not only without foundation, but that as far as Scriptural evidence goes on this subject, the demonstrative nature of real miracles and prophecies is, by what it really admits as to "the working of Satan," abundantly confirmed. It does not admit that real miracles can be wrought, or real prophecies uttered; and it never supposes simulated ones, when opposed to revealed truth, but under circumstances in which they can be detected, or which give them an equivocal character, and in which they may be compared with true miracles and predictions, so that none can be deceived by them but those who are violently bent on error and transgression.

Another objection to the conclusiveness of the proof from miracles, is brought from the pretended heathen miracles of Aristeas, Pythagoras, Alexander of Pontus, Vespasian, and Apollonius Tyanaeus, and from ac­counts of miracles in the Romish Church; but as this objection has been very feebly urged by the adversaries of Christianity, as though they themselves were ashamed of the argument, our notice of it shall be brief. For a full consideration of the objection we refer to the authors mentioned below.[7]

With respect to most of these pretended miracles, we may observe, that it was natural to expect that pretences to miraculous powers should be made under every form of religion, since the opinion of the earliest ages was in favour of the occurence of such events; and as truth had been thus sanctioned, it is not surprising that error should attempt to counterfeit its authority. But they are all deficient in evidence. Many of them indeed are absurd, and carry the air of fable; and as to others, it is well observed by Dr. Macknight, (truth of the Gospel History,) that "they are vouched to us by no such testimony as can induce a prudent man to give them credit. They are not reported by any eye witnesses of them, nor by any persons on whom they were wrought. Those who relate them do not even pretend to have received them from eye witnesses; we know them only by vague reports, the original of which no one can exactly trace. The miracles ascribed to Pythagoras w ere not reported until several hundred years after his death; and those of Apollonius, one hundred years after his death." Many instances which are given, especially among the papists, may be resolved into imagination; others, both popish and pagan, into the artifice of priests. who were of the ruling party, and therefore feared no punishment even upon detection; and in almost all cases, we find that they were per­formed in favour of the dominant religion, and before persons whose religious prejudices were to be flattered and strengthened by them, and of course, persons very much disposed to become dupes. Bishop Douglas has laid down the following decisive and clear rules in his Crite­rion," for trying miracles. That we may reasonably suspect any ac­counts of miracles to be false, if they are not published till long after; the time when they are said to have been performed-or if they were not first published in the place where they are said to have been wrought-or if they probably were suffered to pass without examination, in the time, and at the place where they took their rise. These are general grounds of suspicion, to which may be added particular ones, arising from any circumstances which plainly indicate imposture and artifice on the one hand, or credulity and imagination on the other.

Before such tests, all pagan, popish, and other pretended miracles without exception, shrink: and they are not for a moment to be brought into comparison with works wrought publicly-in the sight of thousands, and those often opposers of the system to be established by them-works not by any ingenuity whatever to be resolved into artifice on the one part, or into the effects of imagination on the other-works per­formed before scholars, statesmen, rulers, persecutors; of which the instances are numerous, and the places in which they occurred various works published at the time, and on the very spot-works not in favour of a ruling system, but directed against every other religious establishment under heaven; and, for giving their testimony to which, the original witnesses had therefore to expect, and did in succession receive, reproach, stripes, imprisonment, and death.

It is also of importance to observe, that whatever those pretended miracles might be, whether false or exaggerated relations, or artful impostures; or even were we to admit some of them to have been occurrences of an extraordinary and inexplicable kind, they are for the most part, whether pagan or papal, a sort of insulated occurrences, which do not so much as profess to prove any thing of common interest to the world. As they are destitute of convincing marks of credibility, so they have no inherent propriety, nor any perceptible connection with a design of importance to mankind. But "the Scriptures of the Old Testament record a continued succession of wonderful works, connected also in a most remarkable manner with the system carried on from the fall of Adam to the coming of Christ. The very first promise of a Redeemer, who should bruise the serpent's head, appears to have been accompanied with' a signal miracle, by which the nature of the serpent tribe was instantly changed, and reduced to a state of degradation and baseness, expressive of the final overthrow of that evil spirit, through whose deceits man had fallen from his innocence and glory. The mark set upon Cain was probably some miraculous change in his external appearance, transmitted to his posterity, and serving as a memorial of the first apostasy from the true religion. The general deluge was a signal instance of miraculous punishment inflicted upon the whole human race, when they had departed from the living God, and were become utterly irreclaim­able. The dispersion of Babel, and the confusion of tongues, indicated the Divine purpose of preventing an intermixture of idolaters and Atheists with the worship of the true God. The wonders wrought in Egypt, by the hand of Moses, were pointedly directed against the senseless and abominable idolatries of that devoted country, and were manifestly designed to expose their absurdity and falsehood, as well as to effect the deliverance of God's people, Israel. The subsequent miracles in the desert, had an evident tendency to wean the Israelites from an attach­ment to the false deities of the surrounding nations, and to instruct them by figurative representations in that better covenant, established upon better promises,' of which the Mosaic institute was designed to be a shadow and a type. The settlement of the Israelites in Canaan under their leader Joshua, and their continuance in it for a long succession of ages, were accompanied with a series of wonders, all operating to that one purpose of the Almighty, the separation of his people from a wicked and apostate world, and the preservation of a chosen seed, through whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed. Every miracle wrought under the Jewish theocracy, appears to have been intended, either to correct the superstitions and impieties of the neighbouring nations, and to bring them to a conviction that the Lord Jehovah was the true God, and that beside him there was none other; or to reclaim the Jews, whenever they betrayed a disposition to relapse into heathen­ish abominations, and to forsake that true religion which the Almighty was pledged to uphold throughout all ages, and for the completion of which he was then, in his infinite wisdom, arranging all human events.

"In the miracles which our Lord performed, he not only evinced his Divine power, but fulfilled many important prophecies relating to him as the Messiah. Thus they afforded a two.fold evidence of his authority. In several of them we perceive likewise a striking reference to the especial object of his mission. Continually did he apply these wonder­ful works to the purpose of inculcating and establishing doctrines, no less wonderful and interesting to the sons of men.

"The same may likewise be remarked of the miracles recorded of' the apostles, after our Lord's departure from this world, in none of which do we find any thing done for mere ostentation; but an evi­dent attention to the great purpose of the Gospel, that of 'turning men from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.'

It seems impossible for any thinking man to take such a view as this of the peculiar design and use of the Scripture miracles, and not to perceive in them the unerring counsels of infinite wisdom, as well as the undoubted exertions of infinite power. When we see the several parts of this stupendous scheme thus harmonizing and co-operating for the attainment of one specific object, of the highest importance to the whole race of mankind; we cannot but be struck with a conviction of the absolute impossibility of imposture or enthusiasm, in any part of the proceeding. We are compelled to acknowledge, that they exhibit proofs of Divine agency, carried on in one continued series, such as no other system hath ever pretended to: such as not only surpasses all human ingenuity, but seems impossible to have been effected by any combination of created beings." (VAN MILDERT's Boyle Lectures.)

On miracles therefore, like those which attest the mission of Moses and of Christ, we may safely rest the proof of the authority of both, and say to each of them, though with a due sense of the superiority of the "Son" to the "Servant," "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except GOD be with him."


IN reply to the objection that "Moses describes the works of the magicians in the very same language as he does his own, and therefore that there is reason to conclude that they were equally miraculous," Dr. Farmer remarks,-

"1. That nothing is more common than to speak of professed jugglers, as doing what they pretend and appear to do, and that this language never misleads, When we reflect what sort of men are spoken of, namely, mere impostors on the sight: why might not Moses then use the common popular language when speaking of the magicians, without any danger of misconstruction, inasmuch as the subject he was treating, all the circumstances of the narrative, and the opinion Which the historian was known to entertain of the inefficacy and imposture of magic, did all concur to prevent mistakes?

"2. Moses does not affirm that there was a perfect conformity between his works and those of the magicians; he does not close the respective relations of his own particular miracles, with saying the magicians did that thing, or according to what he did, so did they, a form of speech used on this occasion no less than three times in one chapter, to describe the exact correspondence between' the orders of God and the behaviour of his servants; but makes choice of a word of great latitude, such as does not necessarily express any thing more than a general similitude, such as is consistent with a difference in many important respects, they did so or in like manner as he had.-That a perfect imitation could not be designed by this word, is evident from its being applied to cases in which such an imitation was absolutely impracticable: for, when Aaron had converted all the waters of Egypt into blood, we are told the magicians did so, that is something in like sort. Nor can it be supposed that they covered the land of Egypt with frogs, this had been done already; they could only appear to bring them over some small space cleared for the purpose. But what is more decisive, the word imports nothing more than their attempting some imitation of Moses, for it is used when they failed in their attempt: They did so to bring forth lice, but they could not.

"3. So far is Moses from ascribing the tricks of the magicians to the invocation and power of demons, or to any superior beings whatever, that he does most expressly refer all they did or attempted in imitation of himself to human artifice" and imposture. The original words, which are translated inchantments,[8] are entirely different from that rendered enchantments in other passages of Scripture, and do not carry in them any sort of reference to sorcery or magic, or the inter­position of any spiritual agents; they import deception and concealment, and, ought to have been rendered secret sleights or jugglings, and are thus translated even by those who adopt the common hypothesis with regard to the magicians. These secret sleights and jugglings are expressly referred to the magicians, not to the devil, who is not so much as mentioned in the history. Should we therefore be asked,[9] How it came to pass, in case the works of the magicians were performed by sleight of hand, that Moses has given no hint hereof? we answer, He has not contented himself with a hint of this kind, but, at the same time that,, he ascribes his own miracles to Jehovah, he has, in the most direct terms, resolved every thing done in imitation of them entirely to the fraudulent contrivances of his opposers, to legerdemain or sleight of hand, in contradistinction from magical incantations. Moses therefore could not design to represent their works as real miracles, at the very time he was branding them as impostures.

"It remains only to show, that the works performed by the magicians did not exceed the cause to which they are ascribed; or in other words, the magicians proceeded no farther in imitation of Moses, than human artifice might enable them to go, (while the miracles of Moses were not liable to the same impeachment, and bore upon themselves the plainest signatures of that Divine power to which they are referred.) If this can be proved, the interposition of the devil on this occasion will appear to be an hypothesis invented without any kind of ne­cessity, as it certainly is without any authority from the sacred text.

"1. With regard to the first attempt of the magicians, the turning rods into serpents: it cannot be accounted extraordinary that they should seem to succeed in it, when we consider that these men were famous for the art of dazzling and deceiving the sight; and that serpents, being first rendered tractable and harmless, as they easily may, have had a thousand different tricks played with them, to the astonishment of the spectators.

"2. With regard to the next attempt of the magicians to imitate Moses, who had already turned all the running and standing waters of Egypt into blood, there is no difficulty in accounting for their success in the degree in which they suc­ceeded. For it was during the continuance of this judgment, when no water could be procured but by digging round about the river, that the magicians attempted by some proper preparations to change the colour of the small quantity that was brought them, (probably endeavouring to persuade Pharaoh that they could as easily have turned a. larger quantity into blood.) In a case of this nature imposture might, and, as we learn from history, often did take place. It is re hated by Valerius Maximus, (Lib. i, c. 6,) that the wine poured into the cup of Xerxes was three times changed into blood. But such trifling feats as these could not at all disparage the miracle of Moses; the vast extent of which raised it above the suspicion of fraud, and stamped upon every heart, that was not steeled against all conviction, the strongest impression of its divinity. For he turned their streams, rivers, ponds, and the water in all their receptacles, into blood. And the fish that was in the river (Nile) died; and the river stank, Exod. vii, 19-21.

"3. Pharaoh not yielding to this evidence, God proceeded to farther punishments, and covered the whole hand of Egypt with frogs.[10]  Before these frogs were removed, the magicians undertook to bring into spmo place cleared for the purpose a fresh supply; which they might easily do when there was such plenty every where at hand. Here also the narrow compass of the work exposed it to the suspicion of being effected by human art; to which the miracle of Moses was not liable; the infinite number of frogs which filled the whole kingdom of Egypt, (so that their ovens, beds, and tables, swarmed with them,) being a proof of their immediate miraculous production. Beside, the magicians were unable to procure their removal; which was accomplished by Moses, at the submissive application of Pharaoh, and at the very time that Pharaoh himself chose, the more clearly to convince him that God was the author of these miraculous judgments, and that their infliction or removal did not depend upon the influence of the elements or stars, at set times or in critical junctures, Exod. viii, 3.

"4. The history of the last attempt of the magicians confirms the account here given of all their former ones. Moses turned all the dust of the land into lice; and this plague, like the two preceding ones, being inflicted at the word of Moses, and extended over the whole kingdom of Egypt, must necessarily have been owing, not to human art, but to a Divine power. Nevertheless, the motives upon which the magicians at first engaged in the contest with Moses, the shame of desisting, and some slight appearances of success in their former attempts, prompted them still to carry on the imposture, and to try with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not. With all their skill in magic, and with all their dexterity in deceiving the spectators, they could not even succeed so far as they had done in former instances, by producing a specious counterfeit of this work of Moses. Had they hitherto performed real miracles by the assistance of the devil, how came they to desist now? It cannot be a greater miracle to produce lice, than to turn rods into serpents, water into blood, and to create frogs. It has, indeed, been very often said, that the devil was now laid under a restraint: but hitherto no proof of this assertion has been produced. The Scripture is silent, both as to the devil being now restrained from interposing any farther in favour of the magicians, and as to his having afforded them his assistance on the former occasions. But if we agree with Moses in ascribing to the magicians nothing more than the artifice and dexterity which belonged to their profession; we shall find that their want of success in their last attempt was owing to the different nature and circumstances of their enterprise."


"BUT if at any time evil spirits, by their subtlety and experience, and knowledge of affairs in the world, did foretell things which accordingly came to pass, they were things that happened not long after, and commonly such as them selves did excite and prompt men to. Thus, when the conspiracy against Cesar was come just to be put into execution, and the devil had his agents concerned in it, he could foretell the time and place of his death. But it had been foretold to Pompey, Crassus, and Cesar himself before, as fully informs us from his own knowledge, that they should all die in their beds, and in an honourable old age, who yet all died violent deaths. Wise and observing men have sometimes been able to make strange predictions concerning the state of affairs; and therefore spirits may be much more able to do it. Evil spirits could fortell what they were permitted to inflict or procure: they might have foretold the calamities of Job, or the death of Ahab at Ramoth-gilead.

"The devil could not always foretell what was to come to pass, and therefore his agents had need of their vaults and hollow statues, and other artifices to conceal their ignorance, and help them out when their arts of conjuration failed. But we have no reason to think that the devil, who is so industrious to promote his evil ends, by all possible means, would omit such an opportunity as was given him by the opinion which the heathens had of their oracles; and the trials which Croesus and Trajan made are sufficient to prove that there was something super natural and diabolical in them. Crcasus sent to have many oracles consulted at a set time, and the question to be put to them was, what Croesus himself at that time was doing; and he resolved to be employed about the most improbable thing that could be imagined, for he was boiling a tortoise and a lamb together in a brass pot; and yet the oracle of Delphi discovered to the messengers what the king was then about. Trajan, when he was going into Parthia, sent a blank paper sealed up, to an oracle of Assyria for an answer: the oracle returned him another blank paper, to show that it was not so to be imposed upon.

"But though things of present concernment were discovered both to Craesus and Trajan beyond all human power to know, yet both were imposed upon by ambiguous answers, when they consulted about things future, of which the devil could not attain the knowledge.

"Many of the heathen priests themselves, upon examination, publicly confessed several of their oracles to be impostures and discovered the whole contrivances and management of the deceit, which was entered upon record. And in the rest, the power of the devil was always so limited and restrained, as to afford sufficient means to undeceive men, though many of his predictions might come to pass." JENKINS'S Reasonableness of Christianity.)

"Many of the learned regard all the heathen oracles as the result of the grossest imposture. Some consider them as the work of evil spirits. Others are of opinion, that through these oracles some real prophecies were occasionally vouchsafed to the Gentile world, for their instruction and consolation. But to whichsoever of these opinions we may incline, it will not be difficult to discover a radical difference between these and the Scripture prophecies.

"In the heathen oracles, we cannot discern any clear and unequivocal tokens of genuine prophecy. They were destitute of dignity and importance, had no connection with each other, tended to no object of general concern, and never looked into times remote from their own. We read only of some few predictions and prognostications, scattered among the writings of poets and philosophers, most of which, beside being very weakly authenticated, appear to have been answers to questions of merely local, personal, and temporary concern, relating to the issue of affairs then actually in hand, and to events speedily to be determined. Far from attempting to form any chain of prophecies, respecting things far distant as to time or place, or matters contrary to human probability, and requiring supernatural agency to effect them, the heathen priests and soothsayers did not even pretend to a systematic and connected plan. They hardly dared, indeed, to assume the prophetic character in its full force, but stood trembling, as it were, on the brink of futurity, conscious of their inability to venture beyond the depths of human conjecture. Hence their predictions became so fleeting, so futile, so uninteresting, that they were never collected together as worthy of preservation, but soon fell into disrepute and almost total oblivion.

"The Scripture prophecies, on the other hand, constitute a series of predictions, relating principally to one grand object, of universal importance, the work of man's redemption, and carried on in regular progression through the Patriarchal, Jewish, and Christian dispensations, with a harmony and uniformity of design, clearly indicating one and the same Divine Author, who alone could say, 'Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is none else: I am God, and there is none like me; declaring the end from the begin­ning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.' The genuine prophets of the Almighty beheld these things with a clear and steadfast eye; they declared them with authority and confidence; and they gave, moreover, signs from heaven for the conviction of others. Accordingly their writings have been handed down from age to age; have been preserved with scrupulous fidelity; and have ever been regarded with reverence, from the many incontestable evidences of their accomplishment, and from their inseparable connection with the religious hopes and expectations of mankind." (Bishop of Llandaff.)


[1] "They also did in I lie manner with (heir enchantments The word mymhl, lahatim, Conies from shl, lahat, to burn, to set on fire and probably signifies such incantations as required lustral fires, sacrifices, fumigations, burning of in. reuse, aromatic, and odoriferous dregs, &c, as the means of evoking departed spirits, Or assistant demons, by whose ministry, it is probable, the magicians in question wrought some of their deceptive miracles: for as the term miracle properly signifies something which exceeds the power of nature or art to produce, (see verse 9;) hence there could be no miracle in this case, but those wrought through, the power of God, by the ministry of Moses and Aaron." (Dr. ADAM CLARKE in loc.)

[2] See note A at the end of the chapter.

[3] Some of the demons worshipped by heathens had a benevolent reputation, and these were no doubt suggested by the tradition of good angels; others were malignant, and were none other than the evil angels, devils, handed down by the same tradition. Thus Plutarch says, "It has been a very ancient opinion, that there are malevolent demons, who envy good men, and oppose them in their actions," &c.

[4] The passion of Satan to be worshipped appears strongly marked in our Lord's temptation: "All these will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." In all ages evil and sanguinary beings have been deified. It was so in the time of Moses, and remains so to this day in India and Africa, where devil worship is openly professed. In Ceylon nothing is more common; and in many parts of Africa every village has its devil house.

[5] This subject is acutely and learnedly discussed in "An Answer to M. de Fontenelle's History of Oracles, translated from the French by a Priest of the Church of England."

[6] See note B at the end of the chapter.

[7] MACKNIGHT'S Truth of the Gospel History; DOUGLAS'S Criterion; CAMBELL on Miracles; and PALEY'S Evidences.

[8] The original word used, Exod. viii 11, is Betahatehem; and that which occurs, ch. vii, 22, and ch. viii, 7, 18, is Belatehem; the former is probably derived from Lahat, which signifies to burn, and the substantive aflame or shining sword-blade, and is applied to the flaming sword which guarded the tree of life, Gen. iii, 24. Those who formerly used legerdemain, dazzled and deceived the sight of spectators by the art of brandishing their swords, and sometimes seemed to eat them, and to thrust them into their bodies; and the expression seems to intimate, that the magicians appearing to turn their rods into serpents, was owing to their eluding the eyes of the spectators by a dexterous management of their swords. In the preceding instances they made use of some different contrivance, for the latter word, belatehem, comes from Laat, to cover or hide, (which some think the former word also does,) and therefore fitly expresses any secret artifices or methods of deception, whereby false appearances are imposed upon the spectators.

[9]  As we are by Dr. Macknight, in his Truth of the Gospel History, p. 372.

[10] EXOd. viii, 6-8. Nor, indeed, can it be imagined, that after this or the former plague had been removed, Pharaoh would order his magicians to renew either.