Skeletons of a Course of
By Charles G. Finney
Divine Authority Of The Bible
1. Such evidence only is to be expected as the nature of the case admits. The divine authority of the Bible is a question of fact. It is a fact of remote antiquity. Facts of antiquity may be proved by contemporaneous history. In case any such history exists oral traditions are not admissible as evidence because they are not the best evidence which the nature of the case admits. Whenever a fact is of such remote antiquity as to have no contemporaneous history, in this case tradition may be received as the best evidence which the nature of the case admits. And when the tradition is manifestly ancient, unbroken, and uncontradicted either by facts or opposing traditions, it is good evidence, and amounts to proof.
2. The burden of proof is always on the affirmative side of the question, or on him who affirms a fact, until the fact is so established in the absence of counter proof, as to demand belief.
3. Where an objection is an affirmation, or consists in an alleged fact, it must be proved, or it is of no weight. E.g.--If to the fact that the Bible is a revelation from God, it is objected that the Bible is the work of priestcraft, or a fabrication of political men for wicked purposes, this affirmation must be proved or it can be of no weight.
4. A witness in order to establish a fact must be both competent and credible. Competency relates to the propriety of his being heard at all. A competent witness is one against whom where is no such objection as to exclude him altogether from being heard.
Credibility relates to the degree of credit to which the testimony of a witness is entitled. A credible witness is one whose testimony ought to be believed.
5. A record in order to be proof, must be both authentic and genuine. Its authenticity relates to its authorship. Until its authenticity be established, or that it was written by the author to whom it is ascribed, it is incompetent and cannot be received in evidence.
Its genuineness relates to its being either the original document, or a true copy, without material alterations or interpolations. The competency or credibility of any written document, depends of course, upon the competency and credibility of its author. If its author be competent and credible, and the authenticity and genuineness of the record be established, the record is then the best evidence which the nature of the case admits.
6. Where a record does not claim to be the original document, but only a genuine copy, an editorial, or explanatory remark, so situated as to be plainly distinguished from the body of the work itself, is not fatal or injurious; but may be rather confirmatory of the truth of the record.
7. If a record be made up of several independent documents, all relating to the same subject, or compiled and collected and arranged in the order of a book, the credibility of the book is not at all diminished, by such additional remarks of the compiler as, while they can be easily distinguished from the words of the original authors, may yet be important in establishing their connection, and showing their mutual relations or dates.
The credibility of a witness is affected by his interest in the question at issue. If he testifies in favour of his own interest this detracts from his credibility. If he testifies against his own interest, this fact enhances the value of his testimony. This is also true of a letter or any other written document, where an author was interested in the question upon which he was writing. If he wrote on the side of his own interest, the credibility of what he writes, is affected as his oral testimony would be under the same circumstances. So also, if what he wrote was contrary to his interest, it enhances the value of his written as would be the case with his oral testimony.
9. Where there are several witnesses to a fact or collection of facts, there must be a substantial agreement among them, else they will destroy each other's testimony. If they flatly contradict each other in regard to the same facts, their testimony must go for nothing.
10. The same is true of written documents if they are adduced in proof of any fact or collection of facts, there must be a substantial agreement among them, or they do not amount to proof.
11. But such apparent discrepancies as demonstrate the absence of collusion among the witnesses or writers greatly strengthen the proof, if upon close examination it be found that the discrepancies are not real.
12. The proof of any fact or collection of facts is strengthened by the number of competent and credible witnesses testifying to the same fact or facts, or when one witness testifies to one fact, and another to another, if all the fact testified to are consistent with, or dependent upon each other.
13. Proof is greatly strengthened by the testimony of competent and credible witnesses to a great number of independent facts or incidents which, when compared together, are seen to be entirely consistent with each other.
14. The proof is still farther strengthened if these facts have extended through a series of years or centuries, have occurred at different places, and cover in the whole, a large extent of territory. These circumstances strengthen the proof because they forbid the idea of collusion or design on the part of those connected with these circumstances at the times and places when and where they occurred, to impose on the credulity of coming generations.
15. Any thing, and every thing that precludes the idea of collusion among the witnesses or writers, among whose statements or writings there is a substantial coincidence, gives weight to their testimony. Their agreement with each other, and with themselves, when they wrote at different places and periods, and under different circumstances, is always to be taken into the account as greatly strengthening the proof.
16. The absence of counter testimony when such testimony might be expected, if the affirmative of the question were not true, is a circumstance that strengthens the proof: E.g.: the utter absence of all counter testimony in regard to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is a circumstance that greatly confirms the evidence of his resurrection, in as much as, that under the circumstances of the case, it is incredible that no counter testimony should exist, if, as a matter of fact he had not risen from the dead. Also the fact of the entire absence of all counter proof in respect to the authenticity, genuineness, and credibility of any book of the Bible, for it is utterly incredible that all the enemies of Christianity should be, and should always have been unable to disprove either the authenticity or genuineness of a single book of the Bible, if they were not authentic and genuine.
17. Cavils are not to set aside evidence, or even to be noticed, if it is plain that they are nothing but cavils.
18. The power of working miracles confers the highest competency and credibility upon the witness who professes to bring a revelation from God, as a well attested miracle can be nothing else than the seal or testimony of God to the truth of what he asserts.
19. The well attested record of a miracle is as good evidence of the fact of the miracle, as the testimony of eyewitnesses would be.
20. The spirit of Prophecy, or the foretelling of future events which actually come to pass, and which none but God could have foreknown, is conclusive evidence, that the prophet bears a revelation from God.
I come now to the direct discussion of the subject.
First. A farther revelation from God than that made in the works of creation and providence, is needed.
l. As a matter of fact the true God was
known in this world, to a very limited extent. Even the greatest
and wisest of men had but very little if any right knowledge
of the true God.
2. The way of salvation for sinners could not be known by the light of nature, and consequently a revelation that would convey this knowledge was imperiously demanded.
3. As a matter of fact, there was no such knowledge among men, as could sanctify them and fit them for heaven.
4. The greatest philosophers on earth felt themselves to be altogether in the dark in regard to that kind of service which God would accept, and altogether doubtful whether God could by any possibility forgive sin.
5. The state of the entire heathen world, even the most learned and polished nations of both ancient and modern times, demonstrates that without the Bible, the light of nature does not as a matter of fact, make men holy.
6. If men never have been, in any nation or generation, made holy without a direct revelation of the will of God to men, it is not at all likely that they ever will be, and therefore certain that a farther revelation from God is needed.
Second. A revelation from God is possible.
This seems to be true a priori, and is therefore to be taken for granted till the contrary be proved. That God, who made mankind, should be able to communicate his will to them, seems to be self evident, and until the contrary be proved, is to be taken for granted.
Third. The partial revelation made in the works of God, rendered a farther revelation probable.
1. The benevolence of God as manifested
in the works of creation and providence, renders it probable
that he would make a farther revelation to mankind.
2. Our moral constitution is such, that we are as a matter of fact, capable of indefinite moral improvement. And as the light of nature does not secure the moral perfection of which our nature is capable, it is unreasonable to suppose that the author of our nature would leave us without higher and more efficient means of improvement. And as these means of improvement could be nothing else than a more perfect knowledge of himself and of his will, such a revelation was highly probable.
3. The great ignorance of mankind, taken in connection with their great necessities and their great desire to know more of the universe and of its author, rendered it highly probable that such a revelation would be given. This was felt, and even predicted by some of the wisest heathen philosophers.
4. The notices in nature both within and without us of moral government--that men are the subjects of moral law, and are going forward to a state of retribution, when properly considered, are calculated to beget the expectation of a farther revelation from God than was contained in the works of creation and providence.
5. The notices within us of our own immortality, being so great as to beget the general conviction that we are immortal, also rendered it highly probable that some more definite revelation in relation to the will of God and the future destiny of man would be given.
6. More especially, the universal consciousness of sin, that has every where manifested itself in all ages and nations, and the great perplexity and ignorance of mankind in regard to its first existence in this world, its desert, and whether it could be forgiven, and on what conditions, and what would be the consequence if unrepented of and unforgiven, not only rendered a further revelation necessary, but highly probable.
Fourth. The Scriptures are a Revelation from God.
Under this head I am to show,
I. The Authenticity of the Bible.
II. Its Genuineness.
III. Its Credibility.
I. The Authenticity of the Bible.
I will begin with the authenticity of the New Testament, for if this can be established it will render the proof of the authenticity of the Old Testament more easy and convincing.
l. Here as there is contemporaneous history, that is the best proof which the nature of the case admits, that the several books of the New testament were written by the authors to whom they are ascribed. It will not be expected that in a mere skeleton, I should give quotations from history. In this skeleton form I can only say, that it is the universal testimony of contemporary historians both Christian and Infidel, that those books were written by the authors to whom they are ascribed. By contemporary historians, I mean those who wrote either at, or immediately subsequent to the time, in which these writings purport to have been written. It is certain from these historians, both infidel and christian, that the several books of the New Testament were then in existence, that they were the reputed writings of the authors whose names they bear, and that these men were universally understood to be their authors.
2. It is agreed by the best judges of the Greek language, that the New Testament must have been written by native Jews, at the very time when it purports to have been written. It is written in Hebraistic Greek. None but a Jew who had been brought up in Palestine could have written this dialect, nor could such Jews have written it, before about the time at which it purports to have been written; because, until about that time, the Jews who were natives of Palestine did not understand Greek. Nor could it have been written in Hebraistic Greek, by any generation subsequent to the Apostles, as after the destruction of Jerusalem the Hebraistic Greek ceased to be used.
3. Another consideration that goes to establish the authenticity of the books of the New Testament is, that they are writings of such a nature as would not have been unjustly claimed from ambitious motives by ambitious men. Nor would they have been claimed for ambitious men by their particular friends.
4. The absence of all counter testimony in relation to the authenticity of the New Testament is a strong, and it would seem, conclusive evidence in support of its authenticity, as it would seem utterly incredible that no evidence should exist that these books were written by other than their reputed authors, if that had been in fact the case.
5. Had it been possible the Jews, and jarring Christian sects, would have impeached the authenticity of these books; and the fact that they have not, and especially that the Jews have not, who were highly interested to do so, and who possessed every possible advantage for doing so, were the thing possible in itself; amounts to a demonstration that these books are authentic.
6. The authenticity of such of them as could be questioned, has been denied, and ample proof has been adduced to substantiate their authenticity.
Particulars respecting the authenticity of each particular book belong more properly to the department of biblical Literature. What has been said must suffice in respect to the authenticity of the New Testament as a whole.
II. The Genuineness of the Bible.
I will next establish the genuineness of the New Testament, after which it may be properly introduced in proof of the authenticity and genuineness of the Old Testament. The credibility of the two Testaments, will be discussed at the same time.
The New Testament which we now have, does not claim to be the original document, but only purports to be a true copy of the original. That it is so, will appear:
1. From the fact, that the various jarring Christian sects which have existed from the time of their publication, would at once have detected any material addition to, subtraction from, or alteration of them.
2. The enemies of Christianity, especially the Jews, and infidels, have always been on the watch, and would have instantly detected any material alterations in those writings.
3. Among thirty thousand manuscript copies of the New Testament, not a single material alteration or omission can be found.
4. Any redundant book or passage would have created confusion. The Apocryphal books are an illustration of this. Those books contain doctrines and state facts, inconsistent with each other, with the rest of the Bible, and with other facts of which we have the most ample proof. This is as might be expected, were any books to set up the claim of a divine revelation, that were not so in fact.
5. The genuineness of the New Testament is established by the fact, that nearly every sentence of it is quoted by one and another of the early friends and enemies of Christianity. And from their quotations it is certain that the text was then just what it is now, as the words as they are found in our Testament exactly correspond with those quotations.
I will now examine the authenticity of the Old Testament.
1. Of the Pentateuch, or of the five books ascribed to Moses. Here I observe, that there is no cotemporaneous history, as these books were in existence long before any written history that has come down to us. Tradition, therefore, previous to all history, is the best evidence the nature of the case admits. And as this tradition is manifestly as ancient as the writings themselves, and universal among the Jews, and uniform, it amounts to the most convincing proof. For tradition uniformly ascribes the five books of the Pentateuch to Moses as their author.
2. The earliest Jewish writings which we have confirm this tradition. The Prophets are unvarying in their testimony, that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch. Christ also, and all the writers of the New Testament confirm this tradition, and bear an unvarying testimony to this truth.
3. Josephus, and all Jewish historians, as far back as they go, bear their unequivocal testimony to the authenticity of the Pentateuch.
4. There is no counter testimony, either traditionary or historical, which is unaccountable, and it would seem impossible, if Moses were not the real author of these books. What has been adduced then is good proof, and sufficient to establish such a fact in a court of law.
I will examine the authenticity of the other books of the Old Testament.
1. It is not pretended that the authors of every part of the Old Testament were certainly known. Nor is it to be expected, that writings of such very remote antiquity, and in a case in which there is little or no cotemporary history, should all be traced with exact certainty to their real authors. But that these books were all compiled, and of course received by inspired men, is a fact of which there is, to say the least, satisfactory evidence. There are two traditions among the Jews which are easily reconcilable with each other, that seem to set this subject in a satisfactory point of view. One tradition is that the books were compiled by Ezra; and the other tradition is, that they were compiled by Nehemiah. From all the circumstances of the case the probability is, that they were both concerned in their compilation.
2. All Jewish history, so far as I know, accords with these traditions.
3. Josephus mentions all the books of the Old Testament as canonical, and in the order in which they occur in our Bible.
4. Christ and his Apostles confirm their authenticity.
5. The Jews have been and are interested to impeach the authenticity of the books of the Old Testament, as they are appealed to by Christians to establish the Messiahship of Christ. The Jews certainly possessed the most ample opportunities and means of impeaching the authenticity of these books, if such a thing were possible, and in their controversy with Christians, they have been in the highest degree interested to do so; and the fact that they have not done so, amounts almost to a demonstration, that those books are really authentic.
Let me now examine the Genuineness of the books of the Old Testament.
1. The jarring sects among the Jews, who held various systems of philosophy, and of course gave a different interpretation of many passages of the sacred oracles, would naturally and certainly have detected any material alteration in them, had any such thing occurred, either by accident or design.
2. The Jews always used extreme caution in preserving their sacred writings from corruption or alteration. They numbered the lines, and words, and letters of every book, and kept such records, as would show the exact middle word or letter of every book. And to many such like devices did they have recourse, to prevent the possibility of alteration by any transcriber, either by accident or design.
3. The New Testament abundantly establishes the genuineness of the Old. Christ repeatedly rebuked the Jews, for their unwritten traditions, many of which were inconsistent with the letter and spirit of their sacred writings; but in no case did he complain of them for having adulterated the scriptures themselves, He uniformly speaks of the writings of the Old Testament as they existed in his day, as being genuine. The Apostles follow his example, and confirm abundantly the genuineness of the different books of the Old Testament.
III. The Credibility of the Bible.
I will now establish the credibility of both Testaments. This may be done by evidence both external and internal.
1. That the writers were competent witnesses, or so circumstanced as that nothing can be alleged as a reason why their testimony should not be received, is beyond dispute.
2. The credibility of the writers, or that they were men of good character, is not that I know of called in question.
3. The authenticity then of these books is presumptive evidence of their credibility.
4. Their genuineness is also presumptive evidence of their credibility, as it shows:
(1.) The high and sacred regard in which they were held by those who possessed them, and who possessed the highest means of judging, whether they were or were not a revelation from God.
(2.) Their genuineness is evidence of their credibility, inasmuch as it manifests a direct providence in preserving them from loss and interpolations.
5. Universal tradition anterior to history, of such events as might be expected to be thus preserved; e.g, the deluge, and the preservation of one family, in a vessel or ark. It is found to be true, that in every part of the world traditionary accounts of this event are preserved.
6. Geology confirms the Mosaic account of creation, when that account is rightly understood.
7. The credibility of the scriptures is confirmed, by the advance of various sciences, and by those sciences too, which in the infancy of their existence threatened to develop facts, inconsistent with the credibility of the Bible. But the greater maturity of those sciences shows that they are all confirmatory of the truth of the sacred writings.
8. There are no opposing facts; i.e. there is no established fact of history or science, that militates against any fact or doctrine of the Bible. And that this should be so is wholly incredible, were not the Bible true.
9. History by both friends and enemies, as far back as it goes, confirms the credibility of the Bible.
10. It is said that the records of the Roman Empire confirm the principal facts in relation to the death and resurrection of Christ, and many other things recorded in the Bible.
11. The existence of the ordinances of both Testaments, is evidence that they must have been instituted at the time, and for the purposes at which and for which the Bible asserts them to have been instituted.
Almost innumerable other external evidences might be adduced; but --
I pass to examine some of the internal evidences of their credibility.
1. Prophecy. The agreement of prophecy with the facts of history is admitted. But it is said that the prophecies were written after the facts occurred. To this I answer:
(1.) That there is abundant proof to the contrary.
(2.) Many of the most important prophecies are now fulfilling and to be fulfilled. These prophecies were written many hundred, and some of them many thousand years since, and cannot therefore, by any possibility, have been written after the occurrence of the facts which they predicted.
(3.) Many of these prophecies were of such a nature as to render it utterly impossible for any one but God to foresee and foretell them. Prophecy, then, with its fulfillment, is conclusive evidence of the credibility of the Bible.
2 Miracles. The miracles recorded in the Bible are admitted as facts; but, by the enemies of revelation are ascribed to delusion, or to infernal agency. It is said that Roman Catholics and the heathen have recorded miracles, in attestation of the truths of their religion. I answer:
(1.) These pretended miracles are all widely different, in kind and circumstances, from those recorded in the Bible. They are not well established by proof. They were not wrought under such circumstances as to render delusion and deception impossible. There is not one of them that can compare with the miracles of Christ and his Apostles, or with the fact of the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
(2.) The gift of languages is another miracle, between which and the pretended miracles in support of other religions, there is no analogy. Miracles are nothing else than the seal of God to that truth, in confirmation of which they are wrought. See Hebrews 2:4: "God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will."
3. There is a substantial and marvelous agreement among a great number of writers, recording a great number of facts, extended through a great number of years and spread over a great extent of territory.
4. There are such apparent, and yet not real discrepancies, among them, as to forbid the supposition of any collusion or common design among them to deceive their readers.
5. The integrity and manifest disinterestedness of the writers, in recording their own faults, are evidence of their credibility.
6. They could have no conceivable motive to impose upon mankind. They certainly could gain nothing earthly by it. And it is absurd to suppose that they could hope to gain a heavenly inheritance, by inducing mankind to believe a lie.
7. They were not only not interested to impose upon mankind, but were in the highest degree interested not to publish those writings especially, if they were untrue. Their publishing those doctrines was certain to make them great trouble in this world, and, if untrue, to bring down the wrath of God upon them in the next.
8. Their circumstances, their lives, and death, attest the sincerity of the writers, and that they really believed what they wrote to be true.
9. The facts were of such a nature, as that they could not be deceived in respect to their truth. They could be inspected by all their senses. The miracles which they recorded were not wrought in darkness, nor in secret, nor in the presence of only a few friends. They were performed in the most public manner and in the presence of all classes of persons. They were so various and of such a nature as to preclude the possibility of deception.
10. There is a marvelous internal correspondence, between these writings and all known facts of history, and philosophy, natural, mental, and moral.
11. The recorded facts are many of them confirmed by various and wide spread traditions, ancient medals, and inscriptions, confirmatory of their truth.
12. Another internal evidence of the truth of the Bible is its agreement with our moral nature and consciousness. Did it contradict our consciousness, or the express affirmations of our reason, we could not believe it. But it most perfectly accords with both; which is a most unaccountable circumstance, upon any other supposition than that the Bible is a revelation from God.
13. The Bible exactly describes the character of man, as established by the history of the world, and explains the otherwise inexplicable mystery of his present condition.
14. Another evidence of the credibility of the Bible is found in the fact, that it is exactly suited to the character and wants of mankind.
15. The Bible places the salvation of men upon a rational and practicable foundation, by rendering forgiveness consistent with a due administration of justice, and at the same time providing adequate means for the reformation of men.
16. The exact accordance between the facts and doctrines of the Bible and the works of creation, is a strong evidence that they both have the same Author.
17. The system of moral government revealed in the Bible, ought to be, and must be the law and government of God.
18. It explains and reconciles the providence of God, and the moral condition of this world, with his character and attributes as manifested in creation.
19. Its tendency to promote good morals, to support good and overthrow evil governments, are facts which strongly confirm its truth.
20. The tendency of the doctrines of the Bible to beget a happy life and a peaceful death, is felt and acknowledged by infidels themselves. It is a contradiction to say that falsehood could produce these effects. Falsehood is what is contrary to the nature and reality of things. But such effects can be ascribed only to what is according to the nature and reality of things, and therefore the Bible must be true.
21. The exact accordance of the Bible with the doctrines of natural religion when properly understood, is demonstration of its credibility.
22. The success of the gospel demonstrates its adaptedness to overthrow whatever is false, and contrary to nature and reality, and this is demonstration of its truth.
23. It challenges investigation, and triumphs in proportion to the scrutiny it receives.
24. The Bible was written by good men or bad men. If by good men, it is what it professes to be; for good men would not lie. If by bad men, then wicked men understood spiritual subjects, devised a system of religion sufficiently spiritual and powerful, and in such exact accordance with the nature and relations of things, as to overthrow all error and sin, and were the perfection of reformers and benefactors of mankind.
25. Many facts were published which might have been and certainly would have been disproved, if untrue, by both Jews and Gentiles. The miracles and resurrection of Christ, and the miracles of the Apostles, among the Gentiles, could have been and would have been disproved if untrue.
26. The writers of the Bible mention many facts as having occurred among those to whom they wrote, of which facts they must have had knowledge, or have known that the writers' statements were false.
27. The Acts of the Apostles is or was perhaps the most easily disproved, if untrue, of any book in the world. Yet no one fact, among the great number recorded in that book, has been disproved.
28. The numerous and manifestly undesigned coincidences of the Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles, strongly corroborate the truth of both.
29. The entire agreement of the two Testaments with each other, considering the circumstances of the case, is strongly confirmatory of their credibility.
30. The standing and increasing evidence from the fulfillment of prophecy, seems to put the credibility of the Bible beyond dispute.
1. If this testimony does not establish the truth and divine authority of the Bible, there is an end of attempting to establish anything by evidence.
2. If all this testimony can exist and yet the Bible fail to be true, it is the greatest miracle in the universe.
3. If the Bible be true, everything is plain, and the whole mystery of our existence and circumstances is explained. If the Bible is untrue we are all afloat. The existence of the universe, the existence, and character, and destiny of man, are highly enigmatical, and we are left in the most distressing darkness and uncertainty, in regard to everything which we need to know.