תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

ESSA YS.

ESSAY I.

On the Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. It is manifest to all, who seriously reflect on the powers and propensities of human nature, that we are formed capable of religion, and have an inward consciousness that we ought to worship some superior Being, on whom our safety and happiness depend: but, at the same time, the state of the world, in all places where the Bible has not been known, unanswerably proves, that we are incapable of discovering for ourselves, a religion which is worthy of God, suited to our wants, and conducive to our true interest. The shortness of life also, and the reasonable persuasion that men in general entertain of a future state, concur to shew that our grand concern lies in another world. Yet uncertainty and perplexity, nay, palpable error and absurdity, have ever encumbered men's reasonings and conjectures on these important subjects. Even at Athens, Jehovah was “ the unknown God," Acts xvii. 23. and all beyond the grave was an unknown world.

The wisest of the pagans, therefore, considered a revelation from the Deity as exceedingly desirable, in order that bewildered mortals might learn the way in which they could worship him with acceptance, and be happy; and some of them entertained hopes that such an inestimable favour would at length be vouchsafed. Indeed confused expectations of this kind have been common in the world; as is manifest from the reception that hath been given to pretended revelations, which otherwise could not have obtained credit and currency.

Various impositions, in this matter, have been detected by a careful investigation; and there is but one book in the world, which so much as appears to be a revelation from God. This has stood the test of ages, and undergone the most severe scrutiny; and the more it has been examined by serious inquirers, the fuller conviction have they obtained of its authenticity. No one now ventures forth as an avowed adversary, to dispute its claim in the open field of fair argument: yet few in comparison are practically convinced, that it is the unerring word of God; and an increasing number of objectors perplex themselves and others, by discovering supposed inconsistencies, or unimportant difficulties; or by setting up their own reasonings and imaginations in opposition to its doctrines, and making that disagreement a ground of hesitation or rejection. So that scepticism, or a partial, frivolous, disingenuous, carping infidelity, have become exceedingly common; the minds of young persons especially are poisoned by them; great

pains are taken to disseminate these cavils and objections (though they have been solidly answered again and again); and those persons are treated as weak enthusiasts, or irrational bigots, who simply believe the Scriptures as the sure testimony of God.

It may, therefore, be seasonable to state, with all possible brevity, sume of the most conclusive reasons, by which reflecting men have been induced to submit to the authority of the Bible, and to believe, that it is a revelation from the God of Truth. By the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures I mean, such an immediate and complete discovery, by the Holy Spirit to the minds of the sacred penmen, of those things which could not have been otherwise known, and such an effectual superintendency as to those matters which they might be informed of by other means, as entirely to preserve them from all error, in every particular, which could in the least affect any of the doctrines or commandments contained in their writings. Every proposition, therefore, is to be considered as the sure testimony of God, in that sense, according to which the sacred penmen proposed it as truth. Thus facts occurred, and words were spoken, as they stand recorded in the Scripture, as to the import of them, and the instruction to be deduced from them: but we must judge of those facts, or discourses, by the doctrinal and preceptive parts of the Scriptures: nor does it at all invalidate the complete inspiration of the sacred writers to allow, that they expressed themselves in common language, and wrote of things as men generally spoke of them, rather than according to philosophical exactness, or in the style that was used in the schools of the learned, during the ages in which they lived. Supposed, or unimportant errors, or inaccuracies of expression in such things, are not in the least inconsistent with that entire divine inspiration of which we speak; for the Scriptures were not written to render us exact philosophers, or to instruct us in ancient history and geography, but to make us wise unto salvation. Nor do the few immaterial mistakes, which in a long course of years have crept in, through the errors of transcribers, create any difficulty or uncertainty to the humble and teachable inquirer; though they may give occasion to the self-sufficient to cavil and object; for the “ Lord taketh the wise in their own craftiness."

Moreover, it is futile and absurd for any man to dispute against particular doctrines, as unreasonable, to disallow any facts as incredible, or to quarrel with any divine dispensations as unrighteous, when he finds himself unable to answer the plain arguments, which are adduced to prove the whole, to be the word of God. If our premises be undeniable, and our deductions unavoidable, obstinacy and self-conceit alone will persist in incredulity; and ridicule, reviling, subtile insinuations, or witty sarcasms, are, in such a case, certain indications of a proud and bitter enmity to the truth itself. If, then, the arguments that shall be adduced, be sufficient to prove the Bible to be the word of God, I hope the reader will recollect, thai as a reasonable man, he is bound to study, believe, and obey it, as the rule and standard of all his principles, affections, and conduct. These things having been premised, I observe

I. That vast 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 noted for seriousness, erudition, penetration, and impartiality in judging of men and things. With much labour 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 to recommend it, living and dying, to all others, as the source of wisdom, hope, and consolation. In this view, the tradition of the church has much weight; for whatever abuse has been made of the term, by such as were no part of the true church, yet the whole company of those, who have worshipped the living God in spirit and truth (including them who ventured and laid down their lives for conscience sake, and who were the most pious, holy, and useful

men in every age), having unanimously concurred in handing down to us the Scriptures as a divine revelation, and having very little differed about the books which form a part of that sacred deposit, must be allowed to be a consideration of great importance. And I cannot but suppose, that if a being of entire impartiality, of sound judgment, and holy disposition, should be shown 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 favour.

II. The agreement of the sacred penmen 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, concur in writing a book on religious subjects, 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 penmen of the Scripture succeeded each other, during the term of fifteen hundred years : some of them were princes, or priests : others shepherds and fishermen, &c. : their natural abilities, education, habits, and employments, were exceedingly varied : they wrote laws, history, prophecy, odes, devotional exercises, proverbs, parables, doctrines, controversy, &c. each man had his distinct department: yet they all exactly coincide, in the exhibition 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 purposes. Apparent inconsistencies will indeed perplex the superficial reader: but they will vanish after a more accurate investigation: nor could ever any charge of disagreement among the penmen of the Bible 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 wrote not by concert, and bestowed no pains to avoid the appearance of inconsistency; yet the exact coincidence that 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 Scripture 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 that have taken place in the world, and the grand outlines of chronology, &c., are coincident with those stated by most approved ancient writers; whilst the palpable errors in these respects, detected in the apocryphal books, constitute one of the most decisive reasons for rejecting them as spurious. The history of the Bible is of far greater antiquity than any other records extant in the world ; and it is remarkable, that in many instances it shows 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.

III. The miracles by which the penmen of the Scriptures confirmed their divine mission to their contemporaries, afford us also a most convincing proof in this matter. The account of these miracles may be evidently shown to have been published in the very ages and places in which they were said to

have been wrought, openly, in the presence of vast multitudes, enemies as well as friends; yet this public challenge never called forth any man to deny that they were really performed, nor was an attempt of this kind ever made till long afterwards. Can any man of common sense think, 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, and seen all the wonders recorded in their history, if no such events had taken place? If, then, that generation could not be thus imposed on, when could the belief of such extraordinary events be palmed upon the nation ? Surely it would have been impossible, in the next age, to persuade them that their fathers had seen and experienced such wonderful things, when they had never heard a single word about them in their lives; and when an appeal must have been made to them, that these were things well known among them! What credit could have been obtained to such a forgery at any subsequent period ? It would have been absolutely necessary, in making this attempt, to persuade the whole people, that such traditions had always been current among them; that the memory of them had for ages been perpetuated by days and ordinances observed by them all ; and that their whole civil and religious establishment had thence originated : and could this have possibly been effected, if they all had known, that no such memorials and traditions had ever before been heard of among them? The same might be shown concerning the other miracles recorded in Scripture, especially those of Christ and his apostles; and it might be made evident, that the man who denies them to have been actually performed, must believe more wonderful things without any evidence, than those are which he rejects, though established by unanswerable proof. But brevity will only allow me to insist on one miraculous event, viz. the resurrection of the Lord Jesus ; for this being once proved, the whole Scripture is evinced to be a divine revelation. His doctrine and authority establishes the authenticity of the Old Testament; and the witnesses of his resurrection were the penmen of the New Testament.

Almost all human affairs are conducted by testimony ; the concurrence of two or three unexceptionable witnesses is sufficient to prove any fact, that is in its own nature credible: and the resurrection of a dead person, by Omnipotence, and for the most important purposes, cannot reasonably be deemed incredible. The ancient prophets had predicted the resurrection of the Messiah (Psalm xvi. 10; Isaiah liii. 10–12): and indeed every pre-intimation of his glorious and perpetual kingdom, when compared with the prophecies of his sufferings and death, implied that he would rise again from the dead. His very enemies knew, that he had foretold his own resurrection within three days, and took precautions accordingly; yet the body was gone, and they could give no rational account what was become of it. They had the whole authority vested in them; and their reputation was deeply concerned : yet they rather chose to bear the open charge of the basest murder and prevarication imaginable, than excite any further inquiry ; by bringing either the soldiers, who guarded the sepulchre, or the disciples, who were said to have stolen the body, to a public trial; though they had the latter in their custody. The eleven apostles (to whom a twelfth was soon added) were a sufficient number of competent witnesses, being men of plain sense and blameless lives; they could not but identify the person of their Master, whom they had so long attended; they unanimously testified, that they had received the fullest assurance of their senses to his resurrection, and at length beheld him ascend up towards heaven, till he was received out of their sight: and they persisted invariably in this testimony for many years. They were evidently intimidated, to a great degree, by the crucifixion of their Lord, and backward to credit his resurrection : they could have no possible secular motive to invent and propagate such a report ; for ignominy, torture, and death must be the probable consequences of espous

« הקודםהמשך »