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ART. I.-REVIEW OF WOODS ON INSPIRATION.
Lectures on the Inspiration of the Scriptures, by Leonard
Woods, D.D., Abbot Professor of Christian Theology in the Theological Seminary, Andover. Published and sold by Mark Newman. Flagg & Gould, printers. pp. 152.
This little volume, written on a subject of great importance and no small difficulty, deserves the serious attention of theological students, and of all others who are solicitous to understand the true grounds of evidence on which our religion stands. Commonly, no distinction is made between the authenticity and the inspiration of the New Testament; whereas, the proof of the former does not necessarily involve that of the latter, and accordingly, many believe in the authenticity and divine origin of the New Testament, who utterly reject the doctrine of inspiration. They believe that the scriptures contain a true revelation from God, and consequently that somebody must have been commissioned to make known the Divine will; but they deny that the persons who wrote the books of the New Testament were under an infallible guidance in making those compositions; acknowledging that they were men of integrity, who delivered the truth according to the best of their knowledge and ability; yet subject to the usual prejudices and mistakes which are common to men.
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Thus, :Dr. Priestley, in his « Institutes of the Christian Religion,” in a very able manner vindicates the authenticity of the facts recorded in the gospels; but in the same work, expressly rejects every idea of plenary inspiration in the writers. And in our day, there are multitudes who profess to receive the Christian religion as substantially true, who have no belief in the inspiration of the sacred penmen. Indeed, this distinction is recognised by almost every writer in defence of revelation; for the first step in stating the external evidence always is, to establish the miraculous facts recorded in the New Testament, by testimony merely human. And until this is satisfactorily done, no argument can be raised for the truth and divine origin of the Christian religion. It is evident, therefore, that the proof of the inspiration of the writers of the New Testament is entirely a distinct thing from the evidence of authenticity. This distinction is clearly and justly expressed in a passage quoted by Dr. Woods from Dr. Knapp.
“ These two positions,” says Dr. Knapp, " the CONTENTS of the sacred books or the DOCTRINES taught in them are of divine origin, and, the BOOKS THEMSELVES are given by inspiration of God, are not the same, but need to be carefully distinguished. It does not follow from the arguments which prove the doctrines of the Scriptures to be divine, that the books themselves were written under a divine impulse. A revealed truth may be taught in any book; but it does not follow that the book itself is divine. We might be convinced of the truth and divinity of the Christian religion, from the mere genuineness of the books of the New Testament, and the credibility of the authors. The divinity of the Christian religion can therefore be conceived, independently of the inspiration of the Bible. This distinction was made as early as the time of Melanc
The importance of this subject is strongly exhibited by Dr. Woods in his preface.
“There is no subject, which is more intimately connected with the great controversy in Christian countries at the present day, and none which in its various bearings and consequences
is more interesting to man, than that which is presented in the following Lectures. On the particular views we entertain of the inspiration of the Scriptures must depend our views of the Christian religion. For, if the Scriptures were written by men divinely inspired_by those who enjoyed the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit; then they are truly the word of God, and a perfect standard of faith and practice. The doctrines and laws which they contain, are settled by the highest authority in the universe; and our business is, not to
sit in judgment upon these doctrines and laws, and to determine whether they are right or wrong, but to understand, believe, and obey them. soon as we discover the sense of an inspired book, we are bound to yield it our cordial assent, not indeed because we could make out that sense by the exercise of our own unaided reason, but simply on the authority of God. Our belief, resting on such a basis, is not to be moved aside by any difficulties or objections which the wisdom of this world can suggest.
“But the moment men start from this high position, that the Scriptures are divinely inspired, they cease to have a sure and infallible standard for their faith, and are thrown back upon human ignorance as their guide. Not regarding the Bible as the word of God, they will feel at liberty to doubt or deny any of its decisions; and the most they will do will be to use it, as they do other books, to assist them in forming a system of religion for themselves.
* The question whether the common doctrine of inspiration is true, must therefore be acknowledged to be of vast importance. The particular decision which is adopted on this question will have a direct and sensible influence upon the degree of reverence which will be felt for the Holy Scriptures; upon the manner in which they will be perused by the common Christian, and studied and interpreted by the critic and the theologian ; upon the manner in which Christianity will be exhibited by the preacher, and apprehended and received by the hearer. Every thing which pertains to the doctrines and precepts of religion, and to the belief and practice of those who embrace it, will be coloured by the particular views which are entertained of the inspiration of the Scriptures. And each of the different grades of opinion which may prevail on this subject, from the direct denial of all supernatural guidance, to the belief of a plenary inspiration, will be found to produce its appropriate effect upon those who maintain it.
“ Considering, then, that the subject of inspiration is calculated to have an influence which will be so powerful, and will so extensively affect the highest interests of man and the welfare of the church ; we ought surely to examine it with great seriousness and candor, and with persevering diligence. And we are under very peculiar obligations to do this at the present day, because, if I mistake not the signs of the times, this subject is likely, before long, to form the dividing line between those who adhere to the evangelical doctrines of our forefathers, and those who renounce them."
It appears, also, from the preface, that these Lectures formed a part of Dr. Woods's regular course of instruction, at the Institution in which he is a professor; and that by special request they were published in THE SPIRIT OF THE PILGRIMS,
in a form somewhat abridged. And we feel grateful to the respectable author, that he has thought proper to give these fruits of his long and profound reflections, on a very interesting subject, in a distinct volume. For, although we feel constrained to dissent from some of the opinions advanced by Dr. Woods, yet upon the whole, we cannot but view this as a very able work, in which the orthodox doctrine of inspiration is maintained, and some of the most formidable objections considered and obviated. It is evident that the learned author has taken profound and comprehensive views of this difficult subject, in all its bearings; and that what he here gives to the public is not the result of superficial investigation, but, as he says himself, “is the fruit of much thought.
In the first Lecture, Dr. Woods labours to remove some common mistakes on the subject of inspiration, and to furnish the reader with some salutary cautions in regard to its proper evidence.
Two questions are, in the commencement, proposed and answered. The first is, “Can the inspiration of those who wrote the Scriptures, be proved from the miracles which they performed?” The second, “Can the inspiration of those who wrote the Bible be proved from the excellency of what it contains?” Both these questions are answered in the negative, in our opinion, with too little explanation. In regard to miracles, it is said, that they are proofs of the divine commission of those who perform them, and of the truth and authority of what they teach, but furnish no direct and certain proof that those who perform them are under divine inspiration.” There seems to be some want of perspicuity and perfect accuracy in this statement. The truth is, that miracles, separate from any annunciation or declaration, prove no doctrine whatever.
God, no doubt, has often wrought miracles for other purposes, than to confirm the truth of any proposition; as, for the deliverance of his servants from danger and death. Miracles alone, therefore, do not even prove that the person performing them is commissioned of God to teach any truth, unless he makes such a declaration; and if such a person declares himself to be inspired, the miracle wrought will prove this as fully as that he is sent of God. There seems, therefore, to be no just foundation for the distinction here set up; and we are apprehensive that the rejection of miracles as a proof of inspiration will lead us into inextricable difficulties; for on this basis ultimately, must the whole
weight of the external evidence rest; and indeed, Dr. Woods afterwards declares himself, that the truth of inspiration depends on the truth of the miracles.
But we have still stronger objections to the answer given to the second question; in which, if we understand the author's meaning, the whole body of internal evidence for the truth of Christianity and the inspiration of the Scriptures, is pronounced to be « unsatisfactory and inconclusive.” The reason assigned is, “because we allow great excellence to what is contained in many books, which no one supposes to be inspired. Merely writing a book which contains excellent doctrines and precepts, and which exhibits them in a very impressive manner, cannot be deemed sufficient proof of the inspiration of the writer.” But we would appeal to the candour of the excellent writer, whether this is a fair statement of the case. May there not be a kind and degree of excellence, which is evidently above the ability of man, or which is manifestly superior to what could have been accomplished by writers under particular circumstances. An edifice erected by man may possess great and varied excellence; but would it be just to infer from this, that we could not fairly conclude the firmament to be the work of God and not of man? If a mere child, or a man wholly unlearned, should discover that he possessed a profound knowledge of the abstruse branches of mathematical science, we might infer that he was inspired; for although this knowledge is attainable by human industry, when the requisite talents are possessed, yet it never could have been attained in a natural way by the persons supposed. What excellence of knowledge, theological and moral, men can attain by their own unassisted efforts, is made known by the experience of the world for ages: now, if an obscure nation, little cultivated by learning, is found to possess a system of theology and morals far surpassing every thing which the most learned and polished nations were ever able to reach, why may it not be inferred, that the writers of the books containing this superhuman excellence, received their doctrine from heaven; or, in other words, were inspired? Or if a few unlettered fishermen and mechanics produce books, which, for sublimity, simplicity, purity and graphical delineation of character, are inimitable; so that every attempt to equal or surpass them in these qualities fails, why may it not be inferred that these ment were inspired, from the excellency of the matter contained in their writings? Accordingly, we profess,