allowing for fragmentary character, misappropriations, and distortions, many of the fables of antiquity may be traced to occurrences recorded in the sacred annals. And, assuming the truth of Scripture history, there is nothing surprising in this. The disposition of men to forget God, to exclude him from the government of his own world, is undeniable. Epicurus has only too many scholars among those who call themselves Christians. There is therefore nothing unnatural, nothing in disagreement with the scriptural system of the divine government, that in the earlier ages of the world, in order to check this tendency to forgetfulness, direct and visible instances of that government should be afforded; nor that they should be only gradually withdrawn,-withdrawn when public opinion had been so far educated and instructed as to be in a fit state to be called to walk by faith and not by sight,—withdrawn when the great fact of the mediatorial government of all things by Christ had been clearly established, and when an order of men had been fixed whose great work was to say to Zion, itself existing to receive the message, and to testify to its truth: Thy God reigneth."

[ocr errors]

That in the Scripture there is much parabolic instruction, no one, of course, would think of denying. The evangelical record of our Lord's ministry includes a large number of parables, given almost always in the form of regular narrative. But the record contains, likewise, what has always been considered as plain history, the simple relation of matters of fact. And no one can confound the one with the other. On the face of the record they are perfectly distinct. The parables are given as parables. The history is given as history. Ordinary readers do not require to be taught how to distinguish the one from the other. Such is the manner in which the history is written, that we will venture to say that every reader, at first, regards it as being what it appears to be, and likewise as intended to be as it appears. Even the few who subsequently take another view of it, received it as history before they were led, by some system they had laid down, to represent it as parabolic fable. the sower, for instance. The disciples at once parable, and sought for the explanation of it. of the householder, who inclosed and planted a vineyard, and let it out to certain husbandmen: the Scribes and Pharisees "perceived that he had spoken this parable against them."

There is the parable of perceived that it was a And so as to the parable

And just as plain is the evangelical narrative. Be it truth or fiction, it is most evident that the writers intended to be understood as relating a series of facts that actually occurred. Some of those facts, indeed, might embody, and be designed and adapted to embody, certain important principles; but the record, if anything could be absolutely undeniable, is undeniably historical. And as an instance, we may take the account of the transfiguration, as given by three of the Evangelists. If this be not narrative, where, in the Gospels, can we be certain that we have narrative before us? It stands in the midst of narrative, and bears the same characteristics. Narrative goes before. Narrative follows after. There are no lines of demarcation to point out to us where fact ceases, and fable begins, and where fable ceases, and fact again begins. The stream flows without interruption. And yet we are told that this is not fact, but fable; that it is not a narrative, but a myth, intended to represent the teaching of our Lord as being of a superior character to that of the law and the Prophets, as well as the substantial agreement of them. Undoubtedly, the narrative does teach this; but not by means of fabulous representation. The

Evangelists state, and they meant to state, that the facts occurred, just as they describe them; and they leave the reader, from those facts, to infer the proper lessons. The inimitable simplicity of their style proves the truthfulness-we might add, the oneness—of their minds. They were all of a piece. The men who wrote the Gospels were not the men to write laboriously-constructed, recondite fables. Unless there be no evidence in style whatsoever, in the Gospels we have no inventors, no fabulists, but plain narrators, whose single and concentrated care was to place the facts on permanent record, and then themselves to stand aside, and leave them and the reader, as it were, alone together.

But this is not a subject on which we are left to reasoning. As though foreseeing this attempt, by a vain philosophy, to reduce the supernatural occurrences related in the Gospels to artfully-constructed parables, and designing distinctly, and in set terms, to guard against it, one of the holy men of old who spoke as moved by the Holy Ghost, has, in plain words, denied the mythological, and asserted the historical, character of the evangelical narration. And it is remarkable that that holy man was one of the three who accompanied our Lord to the mountain where he was transfigured before them, witnessed his transfiguration, heard the solemn testimony from the visible glory of the divine presence, and declared to others what they had thus seen. The language of St. Peter on this subject deserves the most attentive consideration. He says, "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty." (2 Peter i. 16, &c.) The announcement is, that our Lord Jesus possessed not only authority, but power and might for its exercise; and that, according to the appointment and promise of God, he had actually come in the flesh the Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil. The Gospel preached by the Apostles consisted, not only of the momentous facts of the history of the Saviour, including his personal ministry; but also of the great doctrines concerning his appearing, his life and death, his resurrection and ascension, and enthronization as the Sovereign Mediator. But there is more than mere announcement: there are strong assertions, amounting to this, that they who made the announcement were neither deceived nor deceivers, for they stated, not fables, but facts, of which themselves were positively witnesses; so that, as St. Paul stated on another occasion, and in reference to one of these facts, if the facts themselves had not occurred just as the Apostles testified, (declaring, too, that they constituted the basis of the whole religion,) then were they, preachers of truth and uprightness as they professed to be, "false witnesses before God," because they testified that something had taken place which, nevertheless, had not taken place. This argument St. Peter pursues through the entire paragraph, which only closes with the chapter.


He says, first,- "We have not followed cunningly devised fables," referring, generally, to the power and the coming of Christ; and then, particularly, to one remarkable fact, as illustrating and establishing both his divine power, and his coming as a man, in the likeness of sinful flesh. This fact is, the transfiguration, with its attendant testimony of the Father to the Son.

"For we have not followed cunningly-devised fables."*

With all the excellencies of our authorized version, it has not escaped the fate to which human writings are exposed from the changes to which

* Ου γαρ σεσοφισμενοις μυθοις εξακολουθησαντες.


words are liable, as spoken, in the course of advancing generations. words remain the same, but the later generation expresses by them, it may be, even where the general signification remains the same, some particular phase, which the former generation did not intend. Sometimes the signification is by this means extended, sometimes it is narrowed. Something of this kind appears to have occurred in reference to the two principal words of this assertion, "cunningly-devised," and "fables." Both are now used in a lower and somewhat more limited sense. Cunning refers to lowminded artifice; fable to a false and fanciful tale; and the assertion is in general thus understood, as if it merely said that the Apostles had not followed low artifices and falsehoods. Certainly the assertion includes this, as the greater contains the less; but the words, properly understood, seem to go beyond this. The single word (used as a participial adjective) rendered" cunningly-devised," is (in the verb) employed by St. Paul, 2 Tim. iii. 15. The sacred Scriptures are able σopioai, "to make thee wise" (if a word may be coined for the occasion, to enwise thee) "unto salvation;" where, of course, nothing either low or wrong is intended to be insinuated. All who are familiar with our old writers know, that cunning did not always signify what it mostly signifies now,-low artifice, as distinguished from wisdom, but was often used as signifying "wisdom and skill." So in the translation of the Psalms: "Let my right hand forget her cunning." The breastplate of the High-Priest, also, was to be "of cunning work." It may be applied to the bad, as well as the good; just as "the children of this world" are said to be "wiser in their generation than the children of light: "but still the notion presented is that of a wise skilfulness. The word "fable " seems to have undergone a similar change; so much so, that at the present day the neological critics have almost naturalized the original term, in order that they may express their meaning more accurately than they could do, were they to speak of fables. Such and such narrations, they say,-whether referring to the evangelical history, or the history of Rome,—are (not fables, but) myths; or, giving the Greek word a Latin termination, they would say, for instance, of the narrative of the transfiguration, "It is not a statement of facts that really occurred, but a mythus, a wisely and skilfully constructed statement, in which, under the form of a narrative, highly-important truth is intended to be conveyed."

Now, this is, we think, precisely that which St. Peter, in direct terms, denies: "In what we say to you of the power and coming of the Lord Jesus, and of the instances by which they are both illustrated and confirmed, we give you no skilfully constructed myths, (μvoi,) disguising, under seeming, but unreal, facts, certain moral instructions; so far from this, we state what we ourselves have actually seen : 66 "we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." So, afterwards, spoke St. John: "That which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you.'


The mythical interpretation of the supernatural facts of the Gospel is, therefore, distinctly, and in set terms, denied. Peter and John-two of the three who "were with him in the holy mount"—tell us, as plainly as words can enable them to do it, that of these supernatural facts they were actual witnesses; thus pledging their personal veracity for the honesty of their declarations. Or, to deal only with the evidence of Peter: if the account of the transfiguration is only a myth, a skilfully-constructed narration, then is the character of the Apostle for straightforward honesty irrecoverably gone. Whatever his intention might be, to delude the people,

or to instruct them; to entrap them into discipleship, or to present recondite truths in a mysterious, but impressive, form; still, speaking as he does, if the narrative be not plain matter of fact, as ordinary hearers or readers would understand it, but only a fabulous envelopment of truth; then, even though the narrative should contain truth, in the statement of the narrative, as such, there was nothing but falsehood. He reiterates his statement: "We have not followed cunningly-devised fables:" we were eye-witnesses of his majesty." If the facts of the transfiguration did not occur as the Evangelists represent them, then, even supposing that Peter taught what was doctrinal truth, yet he spoke that which was not true in point of fact.


If we go on with the paragraph, we shall find Peter exactly agreeing with the very words of John: "That which we have seen and heard,” &c. He says first, "We were eye-witnesses of his majesty.' He was transfigured before us; we saw the wonderful, the undeniably-supernatural, alteration of his appearance. He became, as it were, all light. His face shone as the sun. We saw Moses and Elias present with him. We beheld the bright cloud which had occasionally been visible to the Jewish fathers. We saw the excellent glory.' It came upon us, and overshadowed us, and we feared as we entered the cloud. And we not only saw, but heard; for he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.""


It is not possible for language to be plainer than this. The record of the Evangelists, taken by itself, is sufficiently clear. To every one, on first reading it, and so long as he has no object to serve by seeking whether it may not be barely possible to ascribe to it another character, it must unavoidably appear to have been intended by the writers to be a simple narrative of facts; supernatural facts, it is true, but still facts, not parabolic fictions. But, in addition to the record itself, here is the decisive testimony of Peter, one of those who were present on the occasion. He not only denies the mythical character of the wonderful occurrences,— "We have not followed cunningly-devised fables," skilfully constructed myths; but repeatedly asserts that he himself had witnessed them: "We were with him in the holy mount; we were eye-witnesses of his majesty; we know that he received honour and glory from God the Father; for we saw the excellent glory, and heard the voice which came forth from it, and by which God declared him to be his well-beloved Son. All this we saw and heard." And if they did not see and hear all this, their character as men of truth is worth nothing. If, under pretensions of teaching truth, they might thus violate truth, then does the religion which they preach contain no real obligation for speaking the truth; then may the entire system of pious frauds, the whole collection of fabulous legends on which Popery so much relies, be fully justified by their example.

Having thus delivered his personal testimony concerning the power and coming of Christ, St. Peter proceeds to a wider scope, and refers to what, considered as an argumentum ad homines, was a yet "surer one, even the combined and harmonizing declarations of the entire series of the ancient Prophets, who all speak the same things in reference to the same great object. "The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy." "To Him give ALL the Prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." He says, "We have also a more sure

[ocr errors]

word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." And as his object was to confirm them in the belief they had embraced, and to guard them against the errors of the teachers of falsehood, whose springing-up he foresaw, with the mischiefs it would produce, he addresses them immediately on the subject, devoting to it the whole of the second chapter, and showing them the similarity of character and plans between the older and the more recent "false prophets : and then, in the first two verses of the third chapter, he sums up what he had previously stated more fully, reminding them distinctly of his own design in writing to them. "This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance that ye may be mindful," first, " of the words which were spoken before by the holy Prophets, and," second, "of the commandment of us the Apostles of the Lord and Saviour." As if he had said, "For your establishment in the holy faith which you have embraced, and do profess, your earnest attention must be paid to the Scriptures of both dispensations, as testifying to the same great facts, and in reference to the same great purposes, even that you may receive remission of sins,' and not only have the light of divine revelation shining around you, but the light of spiritual experience shining within you." That the Apostle, in his references to faith, included these its results in personal and spiritual experience, is evident, not only from the conclusion of his address to Cornelius and his friends, already quoted, but from the similar language which he employs in his first epistle, speaking to those to whom it was written. Believing in Christ, as described to them, though they had not seen him, he adds the phrase, whose significance is heightened by comparing it with his language to Cornelius, "Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls;" that deliverance from the dominion of sin which flows from the reception of personal pardon, and enables the receivers to "serve God without fear, in righteousness and holiness before him, all the days of their life."

Before remarking on the language of St. Peter, we may advert to what is, in so many respects, the parallel passage of St. Paul, writing to Timothy: “From a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." Both writers refer to spiritual establishment, and also to the same instrumentality, the divinely-inspired Scriptures. St. Paul refers to faith in Christ as enabling the believer to understand the otherwise inexplicable writings of the ancient Prophets, and to derive from them, thus understood in their references to Christ, whose actual history fulfilled the foregoing prophecies, and was described by the Apostles, the wisdom by which salvation might be secured. St. Peter refers to the same Prophets, as furnishing, by their consentaneous agreement in one subject, an irrefragable testimony to the truthfulness of the historical descriptions of Christ given by St. Peter and his fellow-Apostles, which, properly received, directly tended to remove all doubt and darkness from their minds, to

« VorigeDoorgaan »