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The Inspiration of the Scriptures.
LET us now proceed to the writings of the New Testament, some of which are historical, others epistolary.
The author or founder of our religion, is Jesus Christ. By his name we are called. The Apostles are also, sometimes, called founders;* but not in the same sense as Christ. He laid the foundation of the general Church. They were his instruments in raising the superstructure. He is that Prophet whom God raised up, whom we are bound to hear in all things. He is the deputed Lawgiver, from whose mouth we have received the law of God, as the people of old did by the mouth of Moses. Christ is the Mediator of a new and better covenant. As he had his appointment from God, as his divine authority was attested, beyond all possibility of doubt, by miracles, by a voice from heaven, by his resurrection from the dead, we are bound to attend to him, since God, in these latter days, has spoken to us by his Son.
Christ has not left to the world, any record of his doctrine written by himself. He asserted himself to be the promised Messiah-the Christ; he proved his divine authority by his miracles; he declared, that the end of his mission was to save the world—to reconcile man to God. He gave but few new precepts; but he confirmed the dictates of natural reason by divine authority; he gave a new sanction to the moral precepts of the Mosaic religion, by the promise of eternal life. He broke down the partition-wall between Jew and Gentile, and enlarged the Church of God. He rescued the true principles of nature and reason, from the false glosses of pharisaical teachers, which had erverted the very design of the Mosaical precepts. He restored decayed religion, but neither gave nor insisted upon any positive institutions. All this he did by oral instruction.
* Rom. xv. 20. 1 Cor. iii. 10.
+ Acts iii. 22; vii. 37.
When he commissioned his Apostles-when he first sent out his seventy disciples to plant and propagate the Gospel, we have no intimation that he gave them any charge to digest any form of written laws, nor, indeed, to leave any writing at all. I do not mean to say, that, by writing, they exceeded their authority. They were commanded to teach and to preach, consequently, they were to do this in any way which they thought would most effectually promote the purpose of their mission. To this day, his followers have the same authority. The doctrine which they taught, was that which was so frequently termed the Word of God, before any particle of it was committed to writing. In the primitive Church, no written authority was looked for, thought of, or ever expected. It no where appears, that the authors of the New Testament ever thought of collecting their several writings into one volume; or that they ever expected they would be so collected at any future time, and then quoted and referred to as the immediate dictate of the Holy Spirit, as is now the case, when every text is quoted as the Word of God, when we are repeatedly told, that the Holy Spirit says thus and thus in such a chapter and verse. In the New Testament writings themselves, we find no such appeal. Peter once makes mention of St. Paul's writings, but not under the notion of an inspired law.* Luke, the only authentic historian of the early times of Christianity after the death of Christ, makes no mention of any inspired writings, or of any texts taken from them by the first teachers of Christianity, to prove any point of doctrine. But after they were written, undoubtedly the Gospels and the several Epistles were read in the different churches.
Of all those who were immediately commissioned by Christ, few committed any thing to writing, though all had the same commission; and of what they did write, it is probable we have but little left. It is quite clear, that Paul wrote more than has come down to us; and when he had written many letters, and found his authority despised, he vindicated himself, but not his letters. He never asserted that they were the dictates of immediate inspiration, and that he was only the amanuensis.
The writings of the New Testament are invaluable.
Col. iv. 16; 1 Cor. v. 9. 1 Cor. iii. 4, 5; 2 Cor. x. 10.
* 1 Peter iii. 16.
Of the truth of their contents, of the fidelity of the writers, I have not the shadow of a doubt. The historical books contain a record of what Jesus did—of what he taught-of his miraculous actions-of his death, his resurrection, and ascension. The Evangelists related what they saw, and what they heard, during the time that they were continually with Jesus; they could not be deceived-they had no motive nor any inclination to deceive. But these writers make no pretensions to inspiration in writing their narratives. They have given an account of what they knew, either by the evidence of their own senses, or by the testimony of others, on whose fidelity they knew they could rely. Luke particularly tell us, that as others had given an account of the things which are believed among Christians, on the report of those who had from the beginning been eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, so he also, though not taxing the others with falsehood or misrepresentation, yet, having a perfect knowledge of all the transactions from the beginning, undertook to give an account of them. He does not say, that he had obtained this perfect knowledge from revelation-from immediate inspira ́tion, but, as others had done, from credible witnesses. If any one should say, that all must be written by inspiration, or else our faith can have no firm foundation, this is not only an assertion without proof, but an assertion that tends to subvert Christianity. Since the originals being all perished, we have nothing but transcripts or printed copies remaining, and no one can say that every successive copy was guided by divine impulse.
We have, I think, every assurance possible, of the fidelity of the writers of these books, much more so, in my opinion, than we have of many authors whose statements are never called in question. But in reading them, it is necessary that we should make a distinction between what they report as coming from the mouth of Christ, and what are merely their own remarks and observations: such, for instance, as the Proem to St. John's Gospel, and their applications of the Old Testament in the way of proof, allusion, or argument. We ought to be aware, that Christ, most probably, conversed in Syriac; that the Evangelists, therefore, record his words in a translation, in which they frequently do not record the whole, and what they do, not in the same order in which it was spoken. A diligent reader, by comparing the Evangelists, may frequently dis
cover this. Not that they vary in any point important to religion. The oriental manner of teaching was allegorical, and sometimes not very obvious to our understanding: this may occasion some obscurity in many passages, if not explained by others that are more clear; and it is generally allowed, that many quotations and references to passages in the Old Testament, are only allusions, not intended as proofs of what they are applied to, but simply as illustrations.*
The authors of some of the Epistles, were unknown before the several books of the New Testament were collected. The Epistle to the Hebrews for instance, and that which bears the name of St. James. Some commentators have asserted, that it cannot be of any importance to know who were the authors of the several books, since they all carry in themselves the characteristics of divine inspiration, and whoever was the writer, the Holy Ghost was the dictator. But how or whence do they know this? Some will say, From the grandeur, the perspicuity of the style, which is far beyond the reach of any human author; and yet these same persons, after making this assertion, will immediately paraphrase many passages, either, I suppose, to mend the style, or to make it more clearly intelligible. And frequently men of equal abilities, equal piety, and equal learning, will stake their lives on the accuracy of interpretations, which are in direct opposition to each other. Others will say, They know it from the excellence the purity of its contents, and by these they are certain, it can be no book of human composition. But, from what are their notions of purity and excellence derived? Are they not something like a man who should endeavour to prove the truth of the common standard of weights and measures, by their agreement with his own at home? To prove the truth of what is written, and that it is written by divine inspiration, are very different things. And whatever may be said of the Roman Church, I believe it is equally true among the generality of Protestants, that it is the Church which decides the Canon.
(To be Continued.)
* See Calvin on Heb. ii. 6, 7.-Hammond on Matt. ii. 22.
"A Letter to the Protestant Dissenters in the Parish of Ballykelly, Ireland, occasioned by their objections to their late Minister.-By John Nelson. 1766."
[IN our last Number, page 176-179, as well as in No. XIII. p. 36, we made some extracts from this admirable address. We now continue them, deeming them as applicable now, as when their author originally penned them.]
"There are other things in this Confession still more hard to be understood, and in which it is of much greater importance for us to be rightly informed. Thus, chap. 9, sec. 3, we are told, that a natural man is not able to convert himself, nor to prepare himself thereunto;' and, chap. 16, sec. 7, that works done by unregenerate men, though they may be things which God commands, yet they are sinful and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God; and yet the neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God.' Every one at all acquainted with these authors, knows, that by a natural and unregenerate man, they mean the same character. How wretched, then, is this unregenerate man! and why should he pray to God for deliverance from this state? Since he cannot thereby convert himself, nor prepare himself thereunto:' nay, since this will be so far from making him meet to receive favour from God, that it will be a sin, according to this scheme. Must not the person who really believes this, be disposed, in the bitterness of his soul, to curse the author of his existence, who has brought him into being in such deplorable circumstances, that he cannot please God, but must sin, even by doing those things which God has commanded? How happy for us, that such distracting notions are seldom attended to by any body. Whence ariseth the necessity or expediency of calling upon any Christian, to profess that he believes these doctrines? Have they any other tendency than to put people mad, or to make them desperate and quite unconcerned about their conduct? Are they not contrary to the command of Jesus, enforced by his promise to the multitude, Ask, and ye shall receive?' And to the declaration of the Apostle Paul, that God will freely give his Holy Spirit to them that ask it?'
"It were easy to show, that the texts of Scripture brought to prove such opinions, are egregiously misapplied; but a particular explication of these would be inconsist