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ON THE BOOKS OF THE JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN REVELATION, AND THE DEGREE OF AUTHORITY WHICH BELONGS TO THEM.
On the Canon of Scripture ; and, more especially,
of the Old Testament.
1. The term “canon” has long been employed, to distinguish the real or authoritative books of revelation from all other books, whether they pretended to this high character or not. The origin and significancy of the word in this particular application of it, seem not very clear. In the primitive use of it, it denoted the tongue of a balance-whence, by no very distant transition, it came to mean a rule or standard. Every book that is the genuine work of an inspired man, is an absolute rule of faith or life for all who are addressed by it. St. Paul, in Gal. vi. 16, speaks of those who “walk according to this rule," ZAVOVI TOUTW; and in Phil. ii. 16, he says
“ó let us walk by the same rule " TQ QUTW ZAVOVE.
To walk according to the rtain doctrines or precepts, is to walk the rule and direction of the scriptures
them—which may be well therefore ical, because of their prerogative to ise of the authority which belongs to
them. Certain it is, that the term, in this sense and application of it, was very early, and at length very generally made use of in the christian church.
in phrases of constant recurrence throughout the works of Irenæus, Clemens Alexandrinus, Athanasius, Epiphanius, Jerome, Augustine, Eusebius and others.
2. We may be well assured that all those books which were admitted into the canon, obtained this high distinction, because of the peculiar respect and confidence in which they were held at the time, and which signalized them over all other books. But the testimony of these other and inferior books is regarded by many as the main, the fundamental evidence, for the canonical rank of our present scriptures. In the treatment of this question, we are liable to the same delusion as that which we have already attempted to expose. · We are apt to look on the Bible, the whole Bible, as one book; and, instead of admitting its evidence in favour of itself, to search for the testimonies of writers external to the Bible-as if these constituted the only external evidence for the canon which can anywhere be found. It is forgotten that the Bible consists of no less than sixty-six separate compositions, all of them possessing the highest authority in ancient esteem—else they would never have been preferred to the place which they now occupy. The very circumstance which has caused their testimony to be overlooked, is that which gives the greatest possible weight and value to it. When a scriptural writer is deponed to by an exscriptural—this is a testimony of some account in favour of the former.
But of far higher account surely, as generally the more ancient, and certainly the most trusted at the time by the best and most competent judges, must be the testimonies of the scriptural writers in favour of each other. These last testimonies have certainly been much overlooked, as if hidden from observation by being placed within the four corners of the Bible. If so, they are a hidden treasure
-nor have we been made aware of the whole richness and power of the argument in behalf of scripture, till we have collected all the rays of evidence which pass and repass from one independent part of this great collection to another. There is a descending stream of light in the testimonies of subsequent writers; and these have drawn the principal attention of inquirers. But there is, in our estimation, a surpassing radiance of primitive and central light, in the testimonies of the original writers; and so, at least, as to furnish the strongest internal evidence for the canon of the Old Testament. The later scriptures must of course participate less in this advantage-as they depend more on the citations and references of succeeding authors. But it is truly fortunate, that, for the greater distance at which the more ancient record stands from the present age, and so the less satisfactory evidence by which it is either followed or encompassed, we should enjoy so full a compensation in that evidence which it harbours within the receptacle of its own bosom. We propose, therefore, that our chief attention should be given to this peculiar evidence for the canon of the Old Testament-as illustrative of a principle for which we have the highest value; and which we have stated and enforced in another place.* It will afterwards appear, how much the establishment of the canonicity, if it may be so termed, of the Old Testament, prepares the way for the inspiration both of the Old and of the New.
3. We are not to imagine, however, that the exscriptural evidence for the canon of the Old Testament is either weak or scanty.
We have much of this evidence in the Apocrypha, from which also we gather, as we do abundantly from other history besides, the zeal and tenacity of the Jewish nation on the subject of their own sacred writings. In the first book of Maccabees, written, it is generally thought about a century before the birth of Christ, and, 'as the best judges hold, by a more authentic historian than even Josephus, we have a vivid description of the sufferings of the Jews, under the persecution which they sustained from Antiochus Epiphanes. Among other cruelties we are told that “when they (the persecutors) had rent in pieces the books of the law which they found, they burnt them with fire. And wheresoever was found with any the book of the testament, or if any consented to the law, the king's commandment was, that they should put him to death.”+ This is confirmed by Josephus, whose history indeed of this period is very much taken from the book that we are now quoting. “ If there were any sacred book, or the law found, it was destroyed, and those with whom they were found miserably perish