« VorigeDoorgaan »
A COMPENDIOUS VIEW OF THE EVIDENCES THAT THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, AND EVES I PART OF THEM,
AS THEY STAND IN OUR BIBLES, WERE GIVEN BY INSPIRATION FROM JI.
WHOEVER seriously reflects on the powers and capacities of the human mind, regarding them as the work of Him who doeth nothing in vain, and comparing them with those of the inferior creatures, will readily perceive that man alone was created to be RELIGIOUS. Of all the inhabitants of this earth, none else are capable of obtaining any knowledge of their Creator, or of rendering him worship and praise. Man alone pos. sesses the capacity of distinguishing between truth and falsehood, between moral good and evil; and of receiving instruction in social and relative duties, with the obligations under which he lies to perform them, and the advantages of doing it. He alone is capable of being governed by a law, and of being influenced by the proposal of rewards and punishments; of acting as under the eye of an invisible Observer, and with reference to a future season of retribution. From these premises we infer with absolute certainty, that the all-wise Creator thus constituted our minds, and conferred on us these distinguishing endowments, in order to render us capable of Religion, for the purpose of his glory, and of our own felicity in the most intimate connexion with that of our fellow creatures.
When further, we consider what this word Religion implies; and understand it, according to its most general acceptation, to be such an habitual regard to the one, true, living, and eternal God, the Creator, Governor, and Judge of all, as influences us to seek his favor, to do his will, and to aim at his glory, in the temper of our hearts, and the regulation of our actions, both in the worship which we render to him, and the duties which we perform to man, for his sake and according to his will; we shall be constrained to allow, that it is most reasonable and excellent.--Doubtless, the exercises of true devotion, form the noblest employment of the human mind, which in them emulates the angelic nature. A conscientious regard to the all-seeing eye of a righteous and omnipotent Judge is the best bond of human society, and regulator of our relative conduct; insomuch that if this principle of action were universal and complete, human laws and tribunals would be entirely unnecessary. This would likewise most effectually moderate our appetites and passions; and produce the greatest possible proportion of peace, contentment, and felicity, personal and social, of which our nature, in its present state, is capable. And when we look forwards, beyond the grave, to that immortality and future state of recompense, which reason itself pronounces at least highly probable, the absolute necessity of religion to our felicity appears evident beyond all dispute.
Hence, we determine with certainty, that religion is that great business, to which all men ought to attend; and that blessing, after which all men should seek, whatever else be neglected, or superseded, or postponed.
While, however, it is demonstrable, that man is capable of religion, and in duty and interest bound to it by the most indispensable obligations; stubborn facts, in every age and nation of the world, undeniably prove, that, left to himself, man would never be truly religious. According to the statement above given, where shall we find religion on earth, in any age or nation, which has not possessed, in a greater or less degree, the advantage of those writings, which we will now take for granted to be a divine Revelation, and which will hereafter be shewn to be so? An assemblage of the grossest idolatries in varied forms, and of the wildest absurdities in opinion; the most vain and irrational superstitions in worship, and the most dangerous mistakes, as well as the most horrible cruelty, and abandoned licentiousness, in morals; form that religion, (if it may be dignified by so venerable a name,) which forces itself upon our observation, wherever the light of revelation has not shone. Nor can so much as a single nation, or city, or family, be excepted from this general charge. If there have been a few individuals, who have manifested something not wholly dissimilar from true religion; and any Þe disposed to allow, that indeed it was such: it must be far more rational i ascribe it to the remains of original tradition, or even to a personal revelation afforded to them for their own benefit, though not authenticated for the good of others; than to make it an exception to the general rule, That without revelation, there never was any true religion on earth, since the fall of Adam.
Those, indeed, who live under the light of revelation, and make what use they choose of that light, may draw up systems of natural religion, sufficiently plausible, and apparently rational. But it should be remembered, that this light is originally, through one channel or another, derived from the Bible; though too often, with equal absurdity and ingratitude, set up in opposition to its sacred and sublime truths: and universal experience demonstrates, that no such natural religion ever was discovered, and delineated, by men of any nation, who had never seen any part of the Bible, or any thing deduced from that source.
However reasonable and excellent many of those truths and precepts are, which are proposed to us as the oracles of reason; not one of them ever was proposed by reason without revelation, with such certainty, clearness, and authority, as to become a constant principle and rule of action, in secret and in public, towards God and towards man, to any company of men on earth, perhaps not to one individual.
Indeed, after all the supposed improvements and discoveries of modern times, if we exclude the peculiar instructions of the Bible, what darkness and uncertainty rest upon points of the greatest imaginable importance!Even in respect of the immortality of the soul, when Reason, at her best advantage, has done her utmost, her boasted power of demonstration fails: for even, were the arguments indisputably conclusive, by which the natural immortality of the soul is supported; who knows, or can know without revelation, how it may please a just and holy God to deal with the souls of his offending creatures? 'He can create, and he destroy.'—But far greater obscurity and uncertainty rests on those subjects, which relate to the nature of the future world, and the rule of judgment, with which our whole conduct, and our hope and peace, are inseparably connected. It is difficult, if not impossible, to perceive by the light of nature, the consistency of perfect justice with boundless mercy: it still remains dubious, except to those who possess and believe revelation, whether God will punish at all, or pardon at all; or by what rule he intends to punish, or pardon: and indeed, wherever we turn, a thick cloud darkens our view, and discourages our inquiries, if we leave “the sure tes timony of God,” and bewilder ourselves in speculations on matters evidently too high for us.But how much worse has the case been of almost all the nations of the earth, and generations of men! Irdeed so far have they been, from advancing in religious knowledge, where revelation has not been afforded; that they have evidently sunk deeper and deeper into ignorance, and several of them almost into absolute atheism, as if the little glimmering which once shone among them, being the effect of original tradition, was gradually expiring and leaving them in utter darkness.
The most complete information, however, respecting doctrines and duties, would be wholly inadequate to the production of the desired effect; except such information were enforced by sufficient authority, gave necessary encouragement, and proposed effectual assistance. The knowledge of duty, and of its reasonableness is utterly unavailing, whilst men are under the dominion of their lusts and passions; as the laws and judicial proceedings of every civilized nation sufficiently manifest. In this case there is no disposition to perform the dictates even of conscience or prudence. A heathen could say, Video meliora proboque deteriora sequor. The proposal of virtue as amiable and excellent, by the feeble recommendation of the moralist's pen, is infinitely inferior in energy, to the authoritative command and sanction of the Almighty, denouncing his awful and eternal indignation against the transgressor: and yet facts undeniably shew, that men venture upon sin, even with the threatenings of everlasting misery sounding in their ears; nay, with the trembling apprehensions of it dismaying their hearts: for divine as well as human laws “are weak through the flesh,”* and, with all their sanctions and barriers, are unable to affix boundaries to the swelling tide of human depravity. Indeed, were men fully acquainted with all the glorious perfections of God; with his holy law, with the nature and malignity of sin, with their own real character and situation as sinners, and with the rule and consequences of the future judgment; and were they, at the same time, left utterly destitute of the encouragements and assistances, which the Gospel proposes, and which form the grand peculiarity of the Bible; their knowledge, so far from rendering them religious, would probably, by leaving them without hope, annihilate all appearances of religion. Wherever any semblance of religion is found, which has no respect at all to the mercy of God, as revealed in the gospel, through the righteousness, atonement, and mediation of Emmanuel, and to the effectual teaching and assistance of the Holy Spirit, it secms to have its foundation, not in men's knowl
* Note, Rom. 8:3,4.
Note, Ps. 130:3,4.
edge, but in their ignorance, of God, of themselves, of his law, and of the evil of sin, and this might easily be evinced, to be the case even upon rational principles.
But the proposal of suitable encouragements and assistance is entirely out of the province of reason: these are “heavenly things,'* of which we can know nothing, except by immediate revelation; and of which we can have no assurance, but the express declaration and faithful promise of God. He alone can inform us, on what terms, or in what manner, his honor permits him, and his sovereign pleasure disposes him, to forgive his offending creatures; and to communicate those gracious influences, which may produce a holy disposition of heart, and enable sinners to overcome all the obstacles, which retard the progress of those who endeavor to lead “a sober, righteous, and godly life.”
From such considerations, the necessity of a revelation from God, in order to true religion among men, may be decidedly inferred: and it might reasonably have been expected, that he would afford such a revelation, if he intended to accept of any worship and service from them. Indeed this expectation has been very general in the world. And as counterfeit coin proves the existence of sterling money, and the value which men put on it; so counterfeit revelations, instead of invalidating the argument,) if they do not prove the existence of a real revelation, yet evince that men have felt their need of one, have been sensible that it would be a most valuable acquisition, and have been generally disposed to expect it.
All the counterfeits, which hitherto have advanced a claim of being divine revelations, have also been successively exposed, and have sunk into general contempt or neglect: and, in this age and nation, it may be asserted, without hazard of contradiction, that there is but One Book in the world, which so much as appears to be of divine original. This we call, THE BIBLE, that is, by way of eminence, The Book: and such is the internal and external evidence, which authenticates its claim; that I am persuaded, were men as open to conviction on this subject, as they are in mathematical investigations, they could no more, after due examination, reject it, than they could contradict an evident demonstration.
It may therefore not be improper to insert, in this place, a few of the most obvious reasons, which the more studious Christian is “ready to give of the hope which is in him;'?t and which is grounded upon this first principle; "The BIBLE IS THE WORD OF God;' in order to shew that it is highly reasonable to believe the Bible to be a divine revelation; and if so, then equally reasonable to take all our measures of truth and duty from it, and to bow our understandings and inclinations to its teaching and governance.
Let it be here carefully observed, that the Divine INSPIRATION, and not merely the authenticity, or genuineness, of each part of the sacred writings, is intended.—Each part, and every part, may be authentic, or genuine; the work of the authors whose names they severally bear; or true and unsophisticated narratives of the times to which they refer: and yet they may be merely human, and of no authority in matters of doctrine and duty. The Odes of Horace, and Cæsar's Commentaries, are authentic: probably the first book of Maccabees is genuine history: yet they are not, on that account, in any degree the authoritative guides or standards of our faith and practice.--Many able and admired writers, who apparently have stood forth, as the champions of the Bible, appear to the author of this Exposition, to have (he hopes undesignedly) betrayed the cause. An ancient warrior, having murdered his predecessor, and usurped his throne, was some time after requested to permit him to be numbered among the gods; and it is said that he answered, Sit divus, modo non sit vivus:' “Let him be a god, provided he be not living.' These apologists for the Bible, seem to reverse the words, and to say, "Sit vivus, moclo non sit divus;' "Let it be genuine, provided it be not divine. It would, however, be waste of time, to attempt to prove either the authenticity or the genuineness of the sacred writings; unless in entire subserviency to the demonstration that they are divinely inspired. All the works and words of mere men are fallible, and may be erroneous: and the desideratum, that which is especially wanted, is an INFALLIBLE STANDARD; to which all other books, and instructions of every kind, may be referred, with which they may be compared, and by which they may be judged. Now, if the sacred writings are indeed “THE Word of God," if “all scripture is given by inspiration of God,” we have this desideratum; and have nothing further, in this respect, to expect or desire. But if the books, cailed by the apostles "The oracles of God,"I are merely the authentic writings of Moses, David, Isaiah, and others in former times, and not the infallible word of God; we are as far off from the desideratum above-mentioned as ever. We may indeed learn what these sages of Israel thought, as well as what the sages of China, Egypt, and Greece inaintained, concerning God and religion; and we may examine the testimony of each, and bring in our verdict, some in favor of the one, and some of the other; but we are still far from an infallible standard; as far, as if the Bible had never been written; whatever value, in other respects, may be attached to such ancient, venerable, and interesting records. John 3:12,13. ti Pet. 3:15. Rom. 3:2. Heb. 8:12.
1 Pet. 4:11.
With this view of the subject, gathering strength from year to year, the Author of this work is decided against any compromise; and he ventures to stand forth, as vindicating 'the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.' He wishes indeed to see far abler champions enter the lists against the Goliath of modern skepticism: but as most of those learned and eminent men, who take up the challenge, seem in some measure to compromise the main point, or to decline the discussion of it; he takes his sling and his stone, and says, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God."
By 'the divine inspiration of the Scriptures,' the author would be understood to mean, bsuch a complete and immediate communication, by the Holy Spirit, to the minds of the “sacred writers, of those things which could not have been otherwise known; and such an 'effectual superintendency, as to those particulars, concerning which they might otherwise bobtain information; as sufficed absolutely to preserve them from every degree of error, 'in all things, which could in the least affect any of the doctrines or precepts contained in their writings, or mislead any person, who considered them as a divine and infallible (standard of truth and duty. Every sentence, in this view, must be considered as "the sure testimony of God,” in that sense in which it is proposed as truth. Facts occurred, and words were spoken, as to the import of them, and the instruction contained in them, exactly as they stand here recorded: but the morality of words and actions, recorded merely as spoken and done, must be judged of, by the doctrinal and preceptive parts of the same book. On this ground, all difference or disparity between one and another of the sacred writers is wholly excluded: Moses, Samuel, David, and Isaiah; Paul, James, Peter, and John, are all supposed to speak, or write, “as they were moved by the Holy Ghost:" they are the voice, but the divine Spirit is every where the SPEAKER. They wrote indeed in such language, as their different talents, educations, habits, and associations suggested, or rendered natural to them: but the Holy Spirit so entirely superintended them, when writing, as to exclude every improper expression, and to guide them to all those which best suited their several subjects: “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth:”! Many particulars, which philosophers, orators, or critics, think inaccurate, may consist with this complete inspiration: but every kind and degree of misrepresentation, as springing from personal, popular, or national prejudices or opinions, or as calculated to mislead the humble believer, or to sanction error, must be totally excluded.
It will also appear, in the course of the work, that the few passages, (and they are but few, compared with the whole,) in which errors or interpolations have taken place, through the mistakes of transcribers, form no formidable difficulty, in thus regarding the Holy Scriptures. Nearly all such interpolations and errors may be detected and pointed out, by sober and well-informed critics, in this, as well as in other books: and if a few escape detection, it is because they do not so immediately affect the sense, as to make it evident to the most acute, penetrating, and accurate student, that they deviate from the style and sentiment of the writer, in whose works they are found.
The author has indeed, to this present time, always decidedly rejected all emendations of the sacred text, which are adduced either on conjecture, or without adequate authority: and even where the authority is respectable, he has chosen to abide by the present text, when there appeared no evident necessity, nor any very cogent reasons, for the contrary: being aware, how far such alterations may, and often do, lead men from the Scriptures; and how directly they tend gradually to substitute another book in the place of the Bible. Yet it is proper to observe, that if all the various readings, for which any respectable authority can be given, were adopted; they would not alter either the standard of truth, or the rule of duty, in one material point: but whither conjectural emendations might lead, he cannot undertake to prognosticate.
These things having been premised, he proceeds to state some of the leading reasons, which any intelligent man may assign, for believing the Scriptures, as we now have them, to be the infallible word of God.
1. Great numbers of wise and good men, through many generations and in distant countries, have agreed in receiving the Bible as a divine revelation. · Many of them have been distinguished and generally approved, for seriousness, erudition, penetration, and impartiality in judging of men and things. With much labor and patient investigation, they detected the impostures, by which their contemporaries were duped: yet the same assiduous examination confirmed them in believing the Bible to be “THE WORD of God;": and induced them, living and dying, to recommend it to all others, as the source of all true wisdom, hope, and consolation. In this view, even the tradition of the church has great weight: for, whatever abuse has been made of the term, by such as generally were no part of the true church; yet it must be allowed to
be a consideration of vast importance, * This part of the preface was written above thirty years ago; and pruent deliberate judgment.
espression, here used, may be considered as the author's 61
that the whole company of those who have worshipped the living God in spirit and truth,” (including those who ventured and laid down their lives for conscience sake, and who were the most pious, holy, and useful men in every age,) have unanimously concur red in handing down to us the Scriptures as a divine revelation, and have very little differed about the books, which form that sacred deposit. And I cannot but suppose, that it a being of entire impartiality, of sound mind, and holy disposition, should be shewn the two companies, of those who have received, and of those who have rejected the Scriptures; and should compare the seriousness, learning, patient investigation of truth, solid judgment, holy lives, and composure in a dying hour, without unmanly terror or indecent levity, of the one company, with the character and conduct of the other; he would be induced to take up the Bible with profound veneration, and the strongest prepossession in its favor.
II. The agreement of the sacred writers among themselves is another cogent argument of their divine inspiration. Should an equal number of contemporaries, of the same country, education, habits, profession, natural disposition, and rank in life, and associating together as a distinct company, concur in writing a book on religious sub jects as large as the Bible, each furnishing his proportion, without comparing notes together; the attentive reader, whose mind had been long inured to such studies, would be able to discover some diversity of opinion among them. But the writers of the Scripture succeeded each other, during the term of fifteen hundred years: some of them were princes or priests, others shepherds or fishermen; their natural abilities, education, habits, and employments, were exceedingly dissimilar; they wrote laws, history, prophecy, odes, devotional exercises, proverbs, parables, doctrines, and controversy; and each man had his distinct department: yet they all exactly coincide in the exhibition which they give us of the perfections, works, truths, and will of God; of the nature, situation, and obligations of man; of sin and salvation; of this world and the next; and in short of all things connected with our duty, safety, interest, and comfort, and in the whole of the religion inculcated by them. They all were evidently of the same judgment, aimed to establish the same principles, and applied them to the same practical purpose. Apparent inconsistencies may indeed perplex the superficial reader; but they vanish after a more accurate and persevering investigation: nor could any charge of disagreement, among the sacred writers, ever be substantiated; for it can only be said, that they related the same facts with different circumstances, which are perfectly reconcileable; and that they gave instructions suited to the persons whom they addressed, without systematically shewing the harmony of them with other parts of divine truth. They did not write by concert, and they bestowed no pains to avoid the appear ance of inconsistency: yet the exact coincidence, which is perceived among them by the diligent student, is most astonishing, and cannot be accounted for on any rational principles, without admitting that they wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."'* †
To this we may add, that the scriptural history accords, in a wonderful manner, with the most authentic records which remain, of the events, customs, and manners of the countries and ages to which it stands related. The rise and fall of empires; the revolutions which have taken place in the world; and the grand outlines of chronology, as mentioned or referred to in the scriptures, are coincident with those stated by the most approved ancient writers: whilst the palpable errors in these respects, detected in the apocryphal books, constitute one most decisive reason for rejecting them as spurious. But the history of the Bible is of far greater antiquity, than any other records extant in the world: and it is remarkable that, in numerous instances, it shews the real origin of those absurd fables, which disgrace and obscure all other histories of those remote times; and this is no feeble proof, that it was derived from some surer source of information, than human tradition. I III. The miracles, by which the writers of the Scriptures confirmed their divine mission
The to their contemporaries, afford us also a most convincing proof in this matter. narratives of these miracles may be clearly shewn to have been published, very soon after the time, and at the places, in which they were said to have been wrought in the most conspicuous manner, and before very great multitudes, enemies as well as friends. This constituted a public challenge to every man, to contradict or disprove them, if he could: yet this public challenge never called forth a single individual to deny that they were really performed; nor was an attempt of the kind ever made till long afterwards.Can any man of common sense th that Moses and Aaron could possibly have persuaded the whole nation of Israel, that they had witnessed all the plagues of Egypt, passed through the Red Sea with the waters piled on each side of them, gathered the manna every morning for forty years together, and seen all the wonders recorded in their histo
• 2 Pet 1:21.
1 Mohammed, to serre present purposes, produced his Koran by a little at a time: this occasioned an evident inconsistency of one part with another; concerning which he only said, that God had a right to change his laws as he saw good. Preface to the Book of Geuesis.