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Observations on the Scriptures ;-their Authority-and
Necessity. § 1. Some may ask, wby the scripture expresses things so unintelligibly? It tells us of Christ's living in us, of our being united to him, of being the same spirit, and uses many other such like expressions. Why doth it not call directly by their intelligible names, those things that lie bid under these expressions? I answer, Then we should have an hundred pages to express what is implied in these words, “ Ye are the temple of the Holy Ghost;" neither would it after all be understood by the one-fourth part of mankind. Whereas, as it is expressed, it serves as well to practice, if we will believe what God says, that, some way or other, we are inhabited by the Holy Ghost as a temple, and therefore we ought to keep ourselves holy and pure. And we are united to Christ as much as members are to the head; and therefore ought to rejoice, seeing we know that this union proceeds from his love to us; and that the effects of it are, joy, happiness, spiritual and eternal life, &c. By such simi. litudes, a vast volume is represented to our minds in three words; and things that we are not able to behold directly, are presented before us in lively pictures.
§ 2. There is a strange and unaccountable kind of enchantment, if I may so speak, in scripture history, which although it is destitute of all rhetorical ornaments, makes it vastly more pleasant, agreeable, easy, and natural, than any other history whatever. It shines bright with the amiable simplicity of truth. There is something in the relation, that, at the same time, very much pleases and engages the reader, and evidences the truth of the fact. It is impossible to tell fully what I mean, to any that have not taken notice of it before. One reason doubtless is this : the scripture sets forth things just as they happened, with the minute circumstances of time, place, situation, gesture, habit, &c. in such a natural method, that we seem to be actually present; and we insensibly fancy, not that we are readers, but spectators, yea, actors in the business. These little circumstances wonderfully help to brighten the ideas of the more principal parts of the history. And, although the scripture goes beyond other histories, in mentioning such circumstances; yet no circumstances are mentioned, but those that wonderfully brighten the whole. So the story is told very fully, and without in the least crowding things together, before one has fully taken up what was last related ; and yet told in much less room, than any one else could tell it. Notwithstanding the minute circumstances mentioned, which other historians leave out, it leads along our ideas so naturally and easily, that they seem to go neither too fast nor too slow. One scems to know as exactly how it is from the relation, as if we saw it. The mind is so led on, that sometimes we seem to have a full, large, and particular history of a long time: so that if we should shut the book immediately, without taking particular notice, we should not suppose the story had been told in half so little room; and yet a long train of ideas is communicated. The story is so narrated, that our mind, although some facts are not mentioned, yet naturally traces the whole transaction. And although it he thus skilfully contrivedl, yet things are told in such a simple, plain manner, that the least child can understand them. This is a perfection in the sacred writers, which no other authors can equal.
§ 3. It is an argument with me, that the world is not yet very near its end, that the church has made no greater progress in understanding the mysteries of the scriptures. The scriptures, in all their parts, were made for the use of the church here on earth; and it seems reasonable to suppose, that God will, by degrees, unvail their meaning to his church. It was made mysterious, in many places having great difficulties, that his people might have exercise for their pious wisdom and study, and that his church night make progress in the understanding of it, as the philosophical world makes progress in the understanding of ihe book of nature, and in unfolding its mysteries. A divine wisdom appears in ordering it thus. How much better is it to have divine truth and light break forth in this way, than it would have bwen, to have bad it shine at once to every one, without any labour or industry of the understanding? It would be less delightful, and less prized and admired, and would have had vastly less influence on men's hearts, and would have been less to the glory of God.
$ 4. It seems to be evident, that the church is not as yet arrived to that perfection in understanding the scripture, which we can imagine is the highest that God ever intended the church should come to. There are a multitude of things in the Old Testament, which the church then did not understand, but were reserved to be unfolded in the Christian church, such as most of their types, and shadows and prophecies, which make up the greatest part of the Old Testament. So I believe there are now many truths that remain to be discovered by the church, in the glorious times that are approaching.
$ 5. Another thing from which we may draw the same conclusion, is, that it is the manner of God, to keep his church on earth in hope of a still more glorious state ; and so their prayers are enlivened, when they pray that the interest of religion may be promoted, and God's kingdom may come. God kept the church, under the Old Testament, in hope of the times of the Messiah. The disciples of Christ were kept in bope of the conversion of the Roman empire, which was effected about three bundred years after. But it seems to me, not likely, that the church, from that time, should bave no more to hope for from God's word, no higher advancement, till the consummation of all things. Indeed, there will be a great, but short apostacy, a little before the end of the world. But then, it is probable, the thing that the church will hope and long for, will be Christ's last coming, to advance his church to its highest and its everlasting glory; for that will then appear to be the only remedy; for the church will expect no more from the clear light and truth which will have been so gloriously displayed already, under the millennium. Another end of thus keeping his church in hope is, to quicken and enliven their endeavours to propagate religion, and to advance the kingdom of Jesus. It is a great encouragement to such endeavours, to think, that such times are coming, wherein Christianity shall prevail over all enemies. And it would be a great discouragement to the labours of nations, or pious inagistrats and divines, to endeavour to advance Christ's kingdom, if they understood that it was not to be advanced. And indeed, the keeping alive such lopes in the church, has a tendency to enliven all piety and religion in the general, amongst God's people.
§ 6. When we inquire, whether or no we have scripture grounds for any doctrine, the question is, whether or no the scripture exhibits it any way to the eye of the mind, or to the eye of reason ? We have no grounds to assert, that it was God's intent, by the scripture, in so many terms, to declare every doctrine that he would have us believe. There are many thing the scripture may suppose that we know already. And if wbat the scripture says, together with what is plain to reason, leads to believe any doctrine, we are to look upon ourselves as taught that doctrine by the scripture. God may reveal things in scripture which way be pleases. If, by what be there reveals, the thing is any way clearly discovered to the understanding, or eye of the mind, it is our duty to receive it as bis revelation.
$7. The greatest part of Christians were very early agreed, what books were canonical, and to be looked upon as
the rule of their faith. It is impossible, in the nature of things, but some churches must receive the books long after others, as they lay at a greater distance from the places where they were written, or bad less convenience of communication with them. Besides, as Christianity for a long time laboured under the disadvantages of continual persecution, no general councils could be convened, and so there could be no public notification of universal agreement in this matter. But notwithstanding all these things, it is yet discoverable, that, as soon as can be supposed, after the writing the books, the Christians, in all countries, remarkably agreed in receiving them as canonical.
$ 8. Several of the first writers of Christianity have left us, in their works, catalogues of the sacred books of the New Testament, which, though made in countries at a vast distance from each other, do very little differ. Great were the pains and care of those early Christians, to be well assured what were the genuine writings of the apostles, and to distinguish them from all pretended revelations of designing men, and the forgeries they published under sacred titles. Thus, when a presbyter of Asia bad published a spurious piece, under the name of Paul, be was immediately convicted, and notice of the forgery was soon conveyed to Carthage and the churches of Africa.
$ 9. Hence it follows, that the primitive Christians are proper judges to determine what book is canonical, and what not. For nothing can be more absurd than to suppose, in those early ages, an agreement so universal, without good and solid foundation; or, in other words, it is next to impossible, either that so great a number of men should agree in a cheat, or be imposed upon by a cheat. But there are some particular circumstances that make the inference more clear as to the Christian books, than others; such as, the prodigious esteem the books at first were received with; the constant use that was made of them in their religious assemblies; the translations made of them very early into other languages, &c.*
§ 10. The omission of a book in some one or two particular catalogues, cannot, with any reason, be urged against its canonical authority, if it be found in all, or most of the others, and any good reason can be assigned for the omission, where it occurs. Thus, for instance, the Revelation is omitted, either perbaps because it was not known to the author, or its credit was not sufficiently established in the country where he lived; or perhaps, which may be as probable as the other, because it being so full of mysteries, few or none were judged proper or able to read it to any purpose.
* See Jones's Canon of the New Testament, part i. chap. 5.
This was certainly the case in England: this book being, for this reason, omitted in the public calendar for reading the scriptures, though it be received into the canon. If, therefore, these, or any such good reasons, can be assigned for the omission of a book in a particular catalogue, it will be very unfair to inter that such book is apocryphal, especially when it is to be found in many or most other catalogues.
§ 11. The catalogues drawn up by ATHANASIUS, Bp. of Alexandria, (A. D. 315,)-by Epiphanus, Bp. of Salamis, (A. D. 370,) by Jerome, of Dalmatia, (A. Ď. 382,)-by Ruffin, presbyter of Aquilegium, (A.D. 390,)-by Augustine, Bp. of Hippo, (A. D. 394,)—by 44 Bps. assembled in the 3d council of Carthage, (A. D. 416,) were perfectly the same with ours now received.*
$ 12. It is exceedingly natural to suppose, that these two things together, would soon lead the apostles to write some history of the acts, and doctrine, and sufferings of Christ, their great Lord, and the Head of the Christian church; viz. first, Their unavoidable experience of the need of such a thing; and, secondly, The example of the penmen of the Old Testament, in writing the history of Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and others, whose persons and actions they esteemed of vastly less importance than those of the Son of God, who was greater than Jonas, or David, or Solomon, or Moses, or Abraham.
§ 13. It is a great argument, that there were some genuine gospels, or authentic bistories of Christ's life and death, that the Christian church had under the name of gospels, that there were such a multitude of forged fabulous accounts, or bistories of Christ, all under the same name of gospels. These fictions are evidently counterfeits or imitations of something that was looked on by all as true and undoubted. And, that there should be such a multitude of counterfeits and imitations of these gospels, shews not only that there were genuine gospels, but also shews the great value and importance of these genuine gospels, and the bigh repute they had in the Christian churches.--Mr. Jones mentions the following sparious gospels, now not extant, mentioned by the writers of the primitive church: By the writers of the second century, the gospel of Judas Iscariot; the gospel of Truth; the gospel of the Egyptians; the gospel of Valentinus; the gospel of Marcion. By writers of the third century, the gospel of the
+ See Jopes's Canon of the New Testament, part i. chap. 8.