Page images

arrange them in some regular form. If, in this state, you should consider them worthy a place in the Pioneer, they are at your service.

The Bible is an invaluable treasure. We cannot estimate it too highly. But we depreciate its real value, when we admit the authenticity of the whole or any of its parts, on mistaken or insufficient proofs. To assert that the whole of the Bible is inspired, that every word therein was dictated by the Spirit of God, and that the sacred penmen only recorded that which they were impelled to do by the Divine afflatus, gives, in my opinion, the most powerful support to Infidelity, tends to undermine the real authority of the Scriptures, and deprives them of that influence which they are well calculated to possess over the human mind. Överdoing is always undoing. Tell a man that every word of the Scriptures is inspired, he will naturally expect to find that assertion in the Sacred Writings themselves, and will look for a proof of its truth before he thinks about the doctrines contained in them: and when he finds that the Scriptures never, in any part, lay claim to such plenary inspiration-when he finds, that they, like other books, have been subject to variations in the text, to corruptions and interpolations, will he not naturally incline to disregard their authority? The faith of many has been thus unsettled, and religion altogether neglected or abandoned, because what they have been accustomed to look upon as the very foundation of religion, is altogether destitute of proof.

With respect to the great multitude of professing Christians, I fear it is no exaggeration to say, that, if the church to which they belong, or the leading members of it, had agreed together to take away one-half of the writings of the Bible, and substitute other pious works of their own, they would have found no difficulty in persuading the people to receive and acknowledge all as immediately revealed and dictated from above. Indeed, I believe it would by no means be difficult to find many in England, who regard the authority of the Common Prayer-Book, and, in Scotland, the Confession of Faith, as equal with that of the Bible, and who would think it an impiety as great to question the inspiration of the one, as of the other.

St. Paul asserts the inestimable value of the Scriptures, but not their plenary inspiration, when he says, 2 Tim.

iii. 16, Πάσα γραφη θεοπνευστος και ωφελιμος προς διδασκαλιαν, προς ελεγχον, προς επανορθωσιν προς παιδειαν την E din. Which I would translate, supplying the substantive verb εστι after θεόπνευστος, All Scripture divinely inspired is also profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. And is not this as correct a translation as that of the authorised version? What Scripture does the Apostle mean? Certainly such as St. Peter speaks of, 2 Pet. i. 21, “For the prophecy in old time came not by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Neither of these passages can possibly refer to any part of the New Testament. They speak only of the writings of the Old; nor do they determine which of those writings were divinely inspired. But St. Paul says, that such as were so, were able to make a man wise unto salvation, through the faith that is in Christ Jesus. The truth of many of the prophecies in the Old Testament, is confirmed by the events recorded in the New. The doctrines there delivered, are explained and brought home to the understanding more clearly by the Gospel Revelation. All the writings of the Old Testament, whether inspired or not, had indeed their use, and were written for the instruction of mankind; and the writings of the New Testament, however the question of their inspiration may be determined, contain the most simple, most pure, most perfect system of religion any where to be found in the world. It signifies but little, whether the writings themselves were dictated by divine inspiration; admit the books to be genuine, and they undoubtedly contain a faithful record of a religion which came from God himself.

The Scriptures are unquestionably the most ancient and most authentic repository of all religious knowledge. They contain the most express testimonies to the being and government of God. They speak of his holding communion with the human race. They record many revelations of his will to mankind. From them we learn what was the state of religion from the beginning of the world, with those who had the best means of instruction, whose opinions were appealed to, before those opinions were committed to writing.*

Job viii. 8.

Many of the best defenders of the authority of the Scriptures, men who were not willing to take upon trust all that others had said before them, have thought that the divine inspiration of the Scriptures is not the direct object of the Christian's faith. The Church of God existed from the beginning, two thousand years before any law was written. The faith of the Gospel existed in the writers of the New Testament upon other testimony, and was generally spread and planted in the world, before any part of the New Testament was committed to writing.* We hear of no miracle to attest the divine authority of any book or writing, but only the truth of the doctrine which has been since recorded. We are never told that the terms of salvation are a belief in the divine inspiration of a certain number of books. Is it not a palpable mistake to suppose, that there was no infallible rule of faith before there were any Scriptures? Is it not erroneous to suppose, that none can be brought to a true faith by the preaching of men, even where the Scriptures are wickedly suppressed? If the sum of the Gospel be taught, and men are induced to live in the true spirit of it, is not the end of the Scriptures answered?

A man who sincerely believes that the religion taught in the Scriptures is true, but who questions the authenticity of some of the books, or of some particular passages in them, is no infidel. Luther rejected the Epistle of James, but surely Luther was a believer in Christianity. Seven of the books of the New Testament, were not admitted as canonical by the early Christlans, yet surely they were believers. He who believes in the divine authority of the great doctrines which are inculcated in the Scriptures, believes enough to entitle him to the honourable appellation of a Christian. Why should another article, without authority, be forced into his creed? Can any one Bible be produced which is throughout without imperfection or omission in the copying? More than two centuries had, I believe, elapsed after the Christian era, before the Canon of Scripture was agreed upon; but during that period, the number of believers increased in a manner unexampled at any other time.

In the primitive assemblies of the Church, the Epistles of Clemens and Polycarp were commonly read; might not

Acts v. 14. viii. 14.

many be led by the hearing of these, to embrace the truths and doctrines of Christianity? There may perhaps be many, who consider, how erroneously soever, that the Apocryphal writings are of divine authority, while they doubt the authenticity of some other books, or some portions of them, which are admitted into the Canon. But may not such men believe in, and guide themselves by, the genuine doctrines of revelation? I cannot see how a man is less a believer in Christianity, because he doubts the authority of any one particular text, than because he is doubtful of the sense of the same text. Nor, why any man should be compelled to yield an implicit assent to any proposition, as divine, the meaning of which he cannot understand.

It must be a gross mistake, the result of mere fanaticism, to assert, that in the style, the composition, the method of the Scriptures, there is no human imperfection, or, as I have heard it asserted, that they are so perfect, that God himself could not mend them, that the Scriptures are as divine and as much inspired as the doctrines which they contain. Or, indeed, as I once heard it said, "that any serious person may know that the Scriptures are inspired, by merely looking into them from their own innate light." How is religion lowered in the estimation of many, by the extravagant pretensions of many of its injudicious professors! How is the Scripture exposed to ridicule, by claims which it never sets up for itself, but which uninformed Christians assert in its name!

In some historical narratives which are left on record by more than one of the sacred writers, we find some minute differences in the detail of circumstances.* I conclude, then, that either one or both of these writers, was in this instance, deficiently, or erroneously informed in some particulars, though it may not affect the credit of either in the sum of the history.

I sometimes find in the New Testament, what appears to me a misapplication of texts quoted from the Old Testament: shall I be told, that to think thus, is to question the truth of Christianity? Christianity stands firmly, though the writers who have recorded it, may have misstated some minute particulars, or misunderstood some obscure prophecies. It appears probable to me, that some mistakes might have occurred in the original penning of the Scrip

* Mat. xxvi. 69.-Luke xxii. 58.


tures, some in transcribing them, afterwards some in the printing. These mistakes are fatal to their authenticity, if it must be believed that they were dictated in every phrase, in every expression, in every word, by the Holy Spirit; but are of no importance, if the Scriptures are to be considered as the works of pious men, who, in recording historical events which had a close connection with the ways of Divine Providence, might be, like others, liable to mistake in some particulars, or to express themselves so as to be mistaken by others, and particularly by those who made copies of their writings. In their quotations from the Old Testament, the Evangelists and the Apostles followed what is usually called the Septuagint translation, which, in many instances, does not agree with any Hebrew copy extant: both cannot be the dictation of the Holy Spirit. I may give the preference to the Hebrew text, and doubt the propriety of the Septuagint translation, think it erroneous, and, consequently, that the quotations from it are of questionable authority. I shall be told, perhaps, by some, that in doing so, I arraign the veracity of God, question the truth of the Scriptures, and raze the foundations of religion; but for all this, I must speak what I think; and I find my confidence in the religion which the Bible records, much stronger, and more firmly rooted than it would be, if the Bible asserted what some of its injudicious friends do, that it is in every word and phrase, the immediate dictation of the Holy Spirit.

In a zeal for converting (which I am very willing to allow, does certainly originate in a truly benevolent spirit), the whole Bible with all its contents, historical, doctrinal, moral, and prophetic, is proposed to the uninstructed heathen, and frequently through the medium of a hasty and incorrect translation, to be received by them as a divine law, dictated immediately by God. If any of them should consider it attentively enough, to discover in it some incongruous historical statement, some apparently unskilful composition, some deficiency of argument, or want of perspicuity, how are they to be answered? That all these apparent defects are real beauties-that it cannot be otherwise, because the Bible contains not a sentence

Compare Psalm xviii. with 2 Sam. xxii. or 2 Kings xx. 12, 13, with Isaiah xxxix. 12. and 2 Kings xvi. 2-20, with 2 Chron. xxix. 12. Compare also, Gen. xi. 12, with Luke iii. 35, 36.

« PreviousContinue »