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LETTER V. On the Genuineness and Authenticity of the Scriptures. Having endeavoured in my preceding letters to point out the absurdity of Deism—the necessity of Revelation, especially as manifested by the defectiveness of all the discoveries of the ancient philosophers in respect of morals and theology,--and to show that mysterious and incomprehensible things occur in every branch of knowledge; I shall now proceed to an examination of that collection of writings which the majority of Christians in all ages have considered as coming from God, and revered as constituting that system of Revealed Religion by which our conduct should be regulated, and on which should be founded our hopes and fears of " future bliss or future woe."
The Bible is not to be contemplated as one book, but as a collection of several, composed at different times by different persons, and in different places. It is a collection of writings, partly historical, partly prophetical, partly didactic, composed some previously, some subsequently, to an important event, adverted to in most of them, called “ the coming of the Messiah ;": an event which is generally described as having a remarkable tendency to enhance the glory of God and the happiness of man. Now, to believe the Christian
. Religion is to believe that Moses and the Prophets, Christ and his Apostles, were what they were described to be in these books; that is, were endued with divine authority, that they had a commission from God to act and teach as they did, and that He will verify their declarations concerning future things, and especially those concerning a future life, by the event;—it is to receive the Scriptures as our rule of life, as the foundation of our hopes and fears. Such a belief, that it may be operative, must have a substantial basis: and so varied and persuasive are the evidences of Christianity,
that every man, whether his intellectual faculties are weak or strong, have been little or much cultivated, may obtain evidence suited to his circumstances. He who cannot enter into elaborate disquisitions concerning the credibility of the Scriptures, has other and often stronger grounds of faith. He may see the provision which the Bible makes for the restoration of man to happiness to be precisely such as his own necessities require: he may see that the purity of its commands has a wonderful tendency to elevate the nature of man, and to produce universal felicity; he may experience that actual change of heart and life which the Gospel promises to all sincere believers; and then, as the Apostle expresses it, “ he that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself",” a witness that may grow and triumph during the decay of the mental faculties, the anguish of a sick-bed, and the agonies of death. But the evidence of which I now intend principally to speak, is that deducible from a more critical examination of the Bible itself, and from collateral testimony drawn from historic and other indisputable sources.
Now, any candid and reflecting person, when he first directs his attention to this wonderful volume, and notices the awful, characteristically authoritative, language which is often assumed in it, will be naturally impelled to inquire, Is this book what it professes to be, the Word of God? Were its various authors instructed by God to relate the histories, announce the doctrines, enforce the precepts, predict the events, which are the subjects of their respective books? Were they “ holy men of God, who spake as they were moved by ihe Holy Ghost,” or were they impostors? Or, to reduce these inquiries into a methodical form, it will be asked generally, Are the Books of the Old and New Testaments (excluding those which are avowedly apocryphal) genuine Are they authentic? Are they inspired? Here nothing is asked that is tautologous, noibing that is superfluous. For a book may be genuine
11 John, v. 10.
that is not authentic; a book may be authentic that is not genuine; and many are both genuine and authentic that are not inspired. The History of Sir Charles Grandison, for example, is genuine, being indeed written by Richardson, the author whose name it bears; but it is not authentic, being a mere effort of that ingenious writer's invention in the production of fictions. The Account of Lord Anson's Voyages, again, is an authentic book, the information being supplied by Lord Anson himself to the author; but it is not genuine, for the real author was Benjamin Robins, the mathemati. cian, and not Walters, whose name is appended to it. Hayley's Memoirs of the Life of Cowper are both genuine and authentic; they were written by Mr. Hayley, and the information they contain was deduced from the best authority. The same may be said of many other works, which, notwithstanding, lay no claims to the character of being inspired. These three characteristics of genuineness, authenticity, and inspiration, meet no where but in the books which constitute the Old and New Testaments. In order to establish this position, I shall now attend to the qualities of genuineness and authenticity, which will furnish ample employment for the present letter; and shall consider that of inspiration in a subsequent part of the series.
Here I shall first present you with three general propositions on the genuineness of Scripture, taken principally from an ingenious philosopher of the last century”; and then suhjoin some such particular considerations as must, I think, in conjunction with those propositions, remove all doubt from every candid mind.
I. The Genuineness of the Scriptures proves the Truth of the principal Facts contained in them.
For, First, it is very rare to meet with any genuine writings professing to be real history, in which the principal facts are not true; unless where both the motives which engaged the author to falsify, and the circumstances which gave some plausibility to the fiction,
2 Hartley on Man, vol. ii.
are apparent; neither of which can be alleged in the present case, with any colour of reason. Where the writer of a history appears to the world as such, not only his moral sense, but his regard to his character and his interest, are strong motives not to falsify in notorious matters; he must, therefore, have stronger motives from the opposite quarter, and also a favourable conjuncture of circumstances, before he can attempt this.
Secondly. As this is rare in general, so it is much more rare where the writer treats of things which happened in his own time, and under his own cognizance or direction, and communicates his history to persons under the same circumstances. All which may be said of the writers of the Scripture History.
That this and the following arguments may be applied with more ease and perspicuity, I shall here, in one view, refer the books of the Old and New Tesiaments to their proper authors. It is assumed, then, that the PENTATEUCH consists of the writings of Moses, put together by Samuel, with a very few additions; that the books of Joshua and Judges were, in like manner, collected by him; and the book of Ruth, with the first part of the book of SAMUEL, written by him; that the latter part of the first book of SAMUEL, and the second book, were written by the prophets who succeeded Samuel, probably Nathan and Gad; that the books of Kings and CHRONICLES are extracts from the records of the succeeding prophets concerning their own times, and from the public genealogical tables, made by Ezra; that the books of Ezra and NEHEMIAH are collections of like records, some written by Ezra and Nehemiah, and some by their predecessors; that the book of Esther was written by some eminent Jew, in or near the times of the transactions there recorded, perbaps Mordecai, though some conjecture it was Ezra; the book of Job by a Jew, probably by Moses; the Psalms by David, Asaph, Moses, and other pious persons; the books of PROVERBS and CANTICLES by Solomon; the book of ECCLESIASTES by Solomon, towards the close of
his life, when distress and anguish had reclaimed him from idolatry; the Prophecies by the prophets whose names they bears; and the books of the New TESTAMENT by the persons to whom they are usually ascribed. There are many internal evidences, and, in the case of the New Testament, many external ones too (which will be touched upon as we proceed), by which these books may be shown to belong to the authors here specified. Or, if there be any doubts, they are merely of a critical nature, and do not at all affect the authenticity of the books, nor materially alter the application of the arguments in favour of this proposition. Thus, if the Epistle to the Hebrews be supposed to have been written not by St. Paul, but by Clement, or Barnabas, or Luke, the evidence therein given to the miracles performed by Christ and his followers, will not be at all invalidated by this circumstance.
Thirdly. The great importance of the facts men. tioned in the Scriptures makes it still more improbable that the several authors should either have attempted to falsify, or have succeeded in such an attempt. This, indeed, is an argument for the truth of the facts, which proves the genuineness of the books at the same time. The truth of the facts, however, is inferred more direcily from their importance, if the genuineness of the Scriptures be previously allowed. The same thing may be observed of the great number of particular circumstances of time, persons, &c. mentioned in the Scriptures, and of the harmony of the books with themselves, and with each other. These are arguments both for the genuineness of the books, and the truth of the facts distinctly considered, and also arguments for deducing the truth from the genuineness. And indeed the arguments for the general truth of the history of any age or
3 For the doubts expressed by sound biblical critics respecting the last six chapters of the prophecies ascribed to Zechariah, and the reasons on the whole for concluding that they were composed by Jeremiah, see Newcome's Improved Version of the Minor Prophets, pp. 303-305 of the Pontefract edition.