« PreviousContinue »
a good though brief manual upon the subject. It must be obvious from the nature of the case, that the scriptural evidence, which might be alleged in such force and fulness for the canon of the Old, must be very scanty, if it exist at all, for the canon of the New Testament-made up, as it has been, not by successive but by contenporaneous authors. Their references to the writings of each other can, in these circumstances, scarcely be looked for, however strong and valuable the concurrence of their independent depositions be, in regard to the great and common subject matter of all their writings. There is an undoubted reference in the writings of Peter to those of Paul, with this most important qualification too, that he as good as calls them scriptures; and assigns them co-ordinate rank and authority with the Jewish scriptures. See 2 Peter ii. 16—where, after having introduced the epistles of Paul to the notice of his readers, he complains of those unlearned and unstable, who wrest them, as they did also the other scriptures, to their own destruction. It has also been contended by some, that Paul in Rom. ii. 16, makes a reference to the Gospel of Luke, when speaking of “my gospel.” This is more doubtful. But to evince the great importance of a prior investigation into the canon of the Old, ere we attempt to investigate the canon of the New Testament to prove, in short, that, even for the object of establishing the authority of the Christian scriptures, the labour of this chapter has not been thrown away—it should be remarked, as an essential steping-stone to the latter inquiry, that our chief argument for the esteem, in which the writings of our evangelists and apostles were held from the earliest days of the church, is, that they are designed by the same title, and that quotations from them are introduced by the same restricted and appropriate phrases, as the more ancient are in the more recent scriptures; and as the Jewish scriptures are, both by Jews and Christians, from the days of the New Testament. It is a mighty circumstance, that Peter should do the same homage to the epistles of Paul that he does to the sacred writings of the Jews, by honouring them with the same title áo reapal—which is tantamount to saying, that the epistles of Paul have as good a title to a place in the Bible, as the Psalms of David or the Prophecies of Isaiah. These titles and peculiar phrases do, in fact, form the great link of communication between the Hebrew and the Christian argument for the canonicity of their respective scriptures; or rather go to identify them both into a common argument. When we read in the New Testament, or in any Jewish author, that “it is written,” we may expect a quotation from the Hebrew scriptures; and when we read the same words in a Christian father, we may expect a quotation from the Christian scriptures. The latter, in fact, designate the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and quote from them both in the very same way. The language which the New Testament uses, when signalizing the works of patriarchs and prophets, over all other works, is bequeathed to the fathers of the Christian church; and they make use of the very same language, by which to signalize, in like manner, the works of the evangelists and apostles. We find through the New
Testament itself, a midway passage from the argument which establishes the canon of the Old to that which establishes the canon of the New Testament; and we shall find it is by the very same midway passage, that, beginning with the inspiration of the Old Testament, we are led more surely and clearly than by any other track, to the inspiration of the New. In both arguments, the mighty importance of that prior investigation, by which we first ascertain what are the Hebrew scriptures, and secondly what is the degree of their authority, is alike obvious.
49. If the reader, whether learned or unlearned, shall undertake such an interior examination of scripture as we have now in a certain degree exemplified, he will find it laborious, but fruitful of the best impressions in favour of its perfect honesty and truth. He will meet with many thousand coincidences, which no impostor could ever have devised ; and such evidences of reality, all beyond the reach of imitation, as will serve to convince and to confirm him, in a manner that no statement by another at second hand can possibly effectuate. The more thoroughly that he explores, the more will the instances of verisimilitude multiply upon his observation ; till he at length sees the semblance to be a substance, and he will feel himself walking on the ground of solid history, and in the midst of actual transactions. It is thus that the Bible as it has been called its own best interpreter, will be also found its own best witness; and that, not a single, but a marvellously sustained
and multiplied testimony—for, looking to the composition of this volume, it is not at the mouth of two or three, but at the mouth at least of thirty witnesses, that the words of it are established.
On the Inspiration of the Old and New
1. The question which respects the Canon of Scripture, is distinct from that which respects the Inspiration of it. The object of the one is to ascertain, what are the actual books, which should be received into this collection of sacred writings.
The object of the other is to ascertain, what are the kind and degree of their authority. We may allow a book to be canonical, and yet maintain opinions of all sorts and varieties in regard to the fulness or the partiality of its inspiration. The disciple of a plenary inspiration may deny to certain of our present scriptural books their title to a place in the canon; or he may contend that certain ex-scriptural books should also have occupancy there. On the other hand the disciple of a partial and limited inspiration, or one who affirms of some books in scripture as the prophetical that they are divinely inspired, while of the others as the historical that they are only the best and most faithful of all human compositions—he may be perfectly satisfied with the actual composition of our present Bible, and find no fault either in defect or in excess with any of its ingredients. The question what ought to be the ingredients of this composition, is altogether distinct from the question which respects the precise quality of these ingredients. It is true that the canonical are signalized above all other books, and are invested with a certain religious authority over the faith and consciences of men. But still it remains to be determined in how far they are thus signalized-by what height or at what distance are they elevated above them ? What is the amount of this distinction ? Whether these scriptures shall be received as absolutely perfect and infallible ?--or must we concede to a certain extent that they are tinged with human infirmity, and must be received some of them at least as the productions only of creditable men, but not out and out as unerring records both of the history which they narrate and of the mind and purposes of the unerring God? After the canon of the scripture is fixed, these are questions which remain to be settled under the all-important theme of the degree of their inspiration.
2. We have already said, that to begin our inquiry with the Inspiration of the Old Testament forms our best outset for the establishment of the Inspiration of the New. In regard to many of the writers in the former collection, such is the profusion of testimonies as to God speaking in them, and the word which they uttered and put into a book being the very word of God, that we shall not attempt a full or adequate exhibition of them. Moses “ wrote all the words of the law.”