Page images
PDF
EPUB

spirit of divination. These are reported to have ut. tered their predictions in what is called extasy or trance, that is, whilst they underwent a temporary suspension both of their reason and of their senses. Accordingly they are represented as mere machines, not acting but acted upon, and passive like the fute into which the musician blows. This is what has been called organic inspiration. In imitation of one remarkable class of these, the sorcerers and soothsayers among the Jews (who, like those of the same craft among Pagans, reaped considerable profit from abusing the credulity of the rabble), had acquired a wonderful mode of speaking, in which they did not appear to employ the common organs of speech, and were thence termed syyaspyuusol, ventriloqui, bellyspeakers. It is in allusion to this practice that Isaiah denominates them the wizzards 29 that peep and that mutter, whose speech seemed to rise out of the ground, and to whisper out of the dust 30.

Totally different was the method of the prophets of the true God. The matter, or all that concerned the thoughts, was given them : what concerned the manner, or enunciation, was left to themselves. The only exception the Rabbies mention is Balaam, whose prophecy appeared to them to have been emitted in spite of himself. But this case, if it was as they imagine, which may be justly doubted, was extraordinary. In all other cases, the prophets had, when prophesying, the same command over their own ac. tions, over their members and organs, as at other times. They might speak, or forbear; they might begin, and desist, when they pleased ; they might decline the task assigned them, and disobey the divine command. No doubt when they acted thus, they sinned very heinously, and were exposed to the wrath of Heaven. Of the danger of such disobedience we have two signal examples, in the prophet who was sent to prophesy against the altar erected by Jeroboam at Bethel, and in the prophet Jonah.

29 Isaiah, viii, 19.

30 Isaiah, xxix. 4,

But that men continued still free agents, and had it in their power to make a very injudicious use of the spiritual gifts and illuminations which they had received from above, is manifest from the regulations, on this subject, established by the Apostle Paul, in the church of Corinth. The words wherewith he concludes his directions on this topic are very apposite to my present purpose. The spirits of the prophets, says he 31, are subject to the prophets. Such is the difference between those who are guided by the Spirit of Truth, and those who are under the inAuence of a Spirit of error. There is therefore no reason to doubt that the sacred writers were permit. ted to employ the style and idiom most familiar to them, in delivering the truths with which they were inspired. So far only they were over-ruled, in point of expression, by the divine Spirit, that nothing could be introduced tending, in any way, to obstruct the intention of the whole. And sometimes, especially

pre

31 1 Cor. xiv, 32.

in the prediction of future events, such terms would be suggested, as would, even beyond the prophet's apprehension, conduce to further that end. The great object of divine regard, and subject of revelation, is things, not words. And were it possible to obtain a translation of scripture absolutely faultless, the translation would be, in all respects, as valuable as the original.

e

$ 4. But is not this doctrine, it may be said, liable to an objection also from the gift of tongues conferred on the Apostles and others, for the promulgation of the gospel ? In the languages with which those primitive ministers were miraculously furnished, it may be objected, they could not have any style of their own, as a style is purely the effect of habit, and of insensible imitation. This objection, however, is easily obviated: First, as they received by inspiration those tongues only, whereof they had previously no knowledge, it is not probable, at least it is not certain, that this gift had any place in the writings of the New Testament: that in most of them it had not, is manifest. But, 2dly, if in some it had, the most natural supposition is, first, that the knowledge of the tongue, wherewith the Holy Ghost inspired the sacred writers, must have been, in them, precisely such a knowledge and such a readiness in finding words and expressions, as is, in others, the effect of daily practice. This is even a necessary consequence of supposing that the language itself, and not the words of particular speeches (according to Dr. Mid

dleton's notion 2), was the gift of the Spirit : 2dly, That their acquaintance with the tongue, supernaturally communicated, must have been such as would render their teaching in it best adapted to the apprehensions of the people with whom they would be most conversant, or such as they would have most readily acquired among them in the natural way. Now on this hypothesis, which appears on many accounts the most rational, the influence of habit, of native idiom, and of particular genius and turn of thinking, would be the same on the writer's style as though he had acquired the language in the ordinary way.

As to the hypothesis of the author above mentioned, it is not more irrational in itself, than it is destitute of evidence. It is irrational, as it excludes the primary use, the conversion of the nations, for which, by the general acknowledgment of Christians in all ages, the gift of tongues was bestowed on the Apostles, and represents this extraordinary power, as serving merely to astonish the hearers, the only purpose, according to him, for which it ever was exerted. And as to evidence, the great support of his system is an argument which has been sufficiently considered already, the defects of the style of the sacred writers, when examined by the rules of the rhetoricians, and the example of the orators of Athens. For, because Cicero and the Greek philosophers were of opinion, that if Jupiter spoke Greek, he would speak like Plato, the learned doctor cannot conceive that a

32 Essay on the Gift of Tongues.

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »