It is my intention to argue in the following pages the Veracity of the Books of Scripture, from the instances they contain of coincidence without design, in their several parts. On the nature of this argument I shall not much enlarge, but refer my readers for a general view of it to the short dissertation prefixed to the Horæ Paulinæ of Dr. Paley, a work where it is employed as a test of the veracity of St. Paul’s Epistles with singular felicity and force, and for which suitable incidents were certainly much more abundant than those which any other portion of Scripture of the same extent provides; still, however, if the instances which I can offer, gathered from the remainder of Holy Writ, are so numerous, and of such a kind as to preclude the possibility of their being the effect of accident, it is enough. It does not require many circumstantial coincidences to determine the mind of a jury as to the credibility of a witness in our courts, even where the life of a fellow-creature is at stake. I say this, not as a matter of charge, but as a matter of fact, indicating the authority which attaches to this species of evidence, and the confidence universally entertained that it cannot deceive. Neither should it be forgotten, that an argument thus popular, thus applicable to the affairs of common life as a test of truth, derives no small value when enlisted in the cause of Revelation, from the readiness with which it is apprehended and admitted by mankind at large, and from the simplicity of the nature of its appeal; for it springs out of the documents the truth of which it is intended to sustain, and terminates in them; so that he who has these, has the defence of them.
2. Nor is this all. The argument deduced from coincidence without design has further claims, because, if well made out, it establishes the authors of the several books of Scripture as independent witnesses to the facts they relate; and this, whether they consulted each other’s writings or not; for the coincidences, if good for anything, are such as could not result from combination, mutual understanding, or arrangement. If any which I may bring forward may seem to be such as might have so arisen, they are only to be reckoned ill chosen, and dismissed; for it is no small merit of this argument, that it consists of parts, one or more of which (if they be thought unsound) may be detached without any dissolution of the reasoning as a whole. Undesignedness must be apparent in the coincidences, or they are not to the purpose. In our argument we defy people to set down together, or transmit their writings one to another, and produce the like. Truths known independently to each of them, must be at the bottom of documents having such discrepancies and such agreements as these in question. The point, therefore, whether the authors of the books of Scripture have or have not copied from one another, which in the case of some of them has been so much laboured, is thus rendered a matter of comparative indifference. Let them have so done, still by our argument their independence would be secured, and the nature of their testimony be shown to be such as could only result from their separate knowledge of substantial facts.
3. I will add another consideration which seems to me to deserve serious attention: that in several instances the probable truth of a miracle is involved in the coincidence. This is a point which we should distinguish from the general drift of the argument itself. The general drift of our argument is this, that when we see the writers of the Scriptures clearly telling the truth in those cases where we have the means of checking their accounts,—when we see that they are artless, consistent, veracious writers, where we have the opportunity of examining the fact,—it is reasonable to believe that they are telling the truth in those cases where we have not the means of checking them,—that they are veracious where we have not the means of putting them to proof. But the argument I am now pressing is distinct from this. We are hereby called upon, not merely to assent that Moses and the author of the Book of Joshua, for example, or Isaiah and the author of the Book of Kings, or St. Matthew and St. Luke, speak the truth when they record a miracle, because we know them to speak the truth in many other matters (though this would be only reasonable where there is no impeachment of their veracity whatever), but we are called upon to believe a particular miracle, because the very circumstances which attend it furnish the coincidence. I look upon this as a point of very great importance. I do not say that the coincidence in such a case establishes the miracle, but that, by establishing the truth of ordinary incidents which involve the miracle, which compass the miracle round about, and which cannot be separated from the miracle without the utter laceration of the history itself, it goes very near to establish it.
4. On the whole, it is surely a striking fact, and one that could scarcely happen in any continuous fable, however cunningly devised, that annals written by so many hands, embracing so many generations of men, relating to so many different states of society, abounding in supernatural incidents throughout, when brought to this same touchstone of truth, undesignedness, should still not flinch from it; and surely the character of a history, like the character of an individual, when attested by vouchers not of one family, or of one place, or of one date only, but by such as speak to it under various relations, in different situations, and at divers periods of time, can scarcely deceive us.
Perhaps I may add, that the turn which biblical criticism has of late years taken, gives the peculiar argument here employed the advantage of being the word in season; and whilst the articulation of Scripture (so to speak), occupied with its component parts, may possibly cause it to be less regarded than it should be in the mass and as a whole, the effect of this argument is to establish the general truth of Scripture, and with that to content itself—its general truth, I mean, considered with a reference to all practical purposes, which is our chief concern—and thus to pluck the sting out of those critical difficulties, however numerous and however minute, which in themselves have a tendency to excite our suspicion and trouble our peace. Its effect, I say, is to establish the general truth of Scripture, because by this investigation I find occasional tokens of veracity, such as cannot, I think, mislead us, breaking out, as the volume is unrolled,—unconnected, unconcerted, unlooked for; tokens which I hail as guarantees for more facts than they actually cover; as spots which truth has singled out whereon to set her seal, in testimony that the whole document, of which they are a part, is her own act and deed; as pass-words, with which the Providence of God has taken care to furnish his ambassadors, which, though often trifling in themselves, and having no proportion (it may be) to the length or importance of the tidings they accompany, are still enough to prove the bearers to be in the confidence of their Almighty Sovereign, and to be qualified to execute the general commission with which they are charged under his authority.
I shall produce the instances of coincidence without design which I have to offer, in the order of the Books of Scripture that supply them, beginning with the Books of Moses. But before I proceed to individual cases, I will endeavour to develope a principle upon which the Book of Genesis goes as a whole, for this is in itself an example of consistency.