Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

settled in the land of Canaan. To the same sanctuary were consigned, as they were successively produced, the other sacred books, which were written before the building of the temple at Jerusalem. And when Solomon had finished the temple, he directed that these books should be removed into it; and also, that the future compositions of inspired men should be secured in the same holy place. We may therefore conclude, that the respective works of Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Joel, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Obadiah, all of whom flourished before the Babylonian captivity, were regularly deposited in the temple. Whether these manuscripts perished in the flames, when the temple was burnt by Nebuchadnezzar, we are not informed. But as the burning of the Scriptures is not lamented by any of the contemporary or succeeding Prophets, and as the other treasures of the temple were preserved and set apart as sacred by Nebuchadnezzar, it is probable that these original manuscripts also were saved; and more especially, as it does not appear that Nebuchadnezzar had any particular enmity against the religion of the Jews. If however the original books were destroyed with the temple, it is certain that there were at that time numerous copies of them; and we cannot doubt but some of them were carried by the Jews to Babylon, and that others were left in Judea. The Holy Scriptures were too much reverenced, and too much dispersed, to make it credible that all the copies were lost or destroyed; and indeed we find Daniel, when in captivity, (ch. ix. 11.13,) referring to the book of the Law as then existing; and soon after the captivity, (Neh. viii.) Ezra not only read and explained the Law to the people, but he restored the publick worship and sacrifices according to the Mosaick ritual; and therefore there must have been, at that time, at least a correct copy of the Law; for it is impossible to believe that he would have attempted the re-establishment of a church, in which the most minute observance of the rites and ceremonies prescribed by Moses was not only absolutely necessary for the acceptable performance of Divine worship, but the slightest deviation from which was considered as sacrilege or abomination, unless he had been in actual possession either of the original manuscript of the Law, or of a copy so well authenticated as to leave no doubt of its accuracy in the minds of the people.

There is an uncontradicted tradition in the Jewish church, that about fifty years after the temple was rebuilt, Ezra, in conjunction with the great synagogue, made a collection of the sacred writings, which had been increased, since the Jews were carried into captivity, by the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the Prophecies of Ezekiel, of Daniel, Haggai, and Zechariah ; and as Ezra was himself inspired, we may rest assured, that whatever received his sanction was authentick. To this genuine collection, which, according to former custom, was placed in the temple, were afterwards annexed the sacred compositions of Ezra himself, as well as those of Nehemiah and Malachi, which were written after the death of Ezra. This addition, which was probably made by Simon the Just, the last of the great synagogue, completed the Canon of the Old Testament; for after Malachi no Prophet arose till the time of John the Baptist, who, as it were, connected the two covenants, and of whom Malachi foretold, (ch. iv. 5,) that he should precede “the great day of the Lord,” that is, the coming of the Messiah. It cannot now be ascertained, whether Ezra's copy of the Scriptures was destroyed by Antiochus Epiphanes, when he pillaged the temple; nor is it material, since we know that Judas Maccabeus repaired the temple, and replaced every thing requisite for the performance of Divine worship, which included a correct, if not Ezra's own, copy of the Scriptures. This copy,

whether Ezra's or not, remained in the temple till Jerusalem was taken



by Titus, and it was then carried in triumph to Rome, and laid up with the purple vail in the royal palace of Vespasian.

Thus, while the Jewish polity continued, and nearly 500 years after the time of Ezra, a complete and faultless copy of the Hebrew canon was kept in the temple at Jerusalem, with which all others might be compared. And it ought to be observed, that although Christ frequently reproved the rulers and teachers of the Jews for their erroneous and false doctrines, yet He never accused them of any corruption in their written Law, or other sacred books: and St. Paul reckons among the privileges of the Jews, “ that unto them were committed the oracles of God,” (Rom. iii. 2,) without insinuating that they had been unfaithful to their trust. After the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, there was no established standard of the Hebrew Scriptures; but from that time, the dispersion of the Jews into all countries, and the numerous converts to Christianity, became a double security for the preservation of a volume held equally sacred by Jews and Christians, and to which both constantly referred as to the written word of God. They differed in the interpretation of these books, but never disputed the validity of the text in any material point.

The books of the Old Testament have been always allowed, in every age and by every sect of the Hebrew church, to be the genuine works of those persons to whom they are usually ascribed; and they have also been, universally and exclusively, without any addition or exception, considered by the Jews as written under the immediate influence of the Divine Spirit. Those who were contemporaries with the respective writers of these books, had the clearest evidence, that they acted and spoke by the authority of God Himself; and this testimony transmitted to all succeeding ages, was in many cases strengthened and confirmed by the gradual fulfilment of predictions contained in their writings. “We have not,” says Josephus,“ myriads of books which differ from each other, but only twenty-two books, which comprehend the history of all past time, and are justly believed to be Divine. And of these, five are the works of Moses; which contained the laws, and an account of things from the creation of man to the death of Moses: this period falls but little short of 3000 years. And from the death of Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes, who succeeded Xerxes as king of Persia, the Prophets after Moses wrote the transactions of their own times in thirteen books; and the four remaining books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of hunian life. And from Artaxerxes to the present time there is a continuation of writings, but they are not thought deserving of the same credit

, because there was not a clear succession of Prophets. But what confidence we have in our own writings is manifest from hence; that after so long a lapse of time no one has dared to add to them, or to diminish from them, or to alter any thing in them; for it is implanted in the nature of all Jews, immediately from their birth, to consider these books as the oracles of God, to adhere to them, and if occasion should require, cheerfully to die for their sake.” The Jews of the present day, dispersed all over the world, demonstrate the sincerity of their belief in the authenticity of the Scriptures, by their inflexible adherence to the Law, and by the anxious expectation with which they wait for the accomplishment of the prophecies. “Blindness has happened to them” only “in part,” Rom. xi. 25; and the constancy with which they have endured persecution, and suffered hardships, rather than renounce the commands of their lawgiver, fully proves their firm conviction that these books were divinely inspired, and that they

remain uninjured by time and transcription. Handed down, untainted by suspicion, from Moses to the present generation, they are naturally objects of their



unshaken confidence and attachment—but suppose the case reversed-destroy the grounds of their faith, by admitting the possibility of the corruption of their Scriptures, and their whole history becomes utterly inexplicable. “A book of this nature,” says Dr. Jenkin, speaking of the Bible, “which is so much the ancientest in the world, being constantly received as a Divine revelation, carries great evidence with it that it is authentick: for the first revelation is to be the criterion of all that follow; and God would not suffer the ancientest book of Religion in the world to pass all along under the notion and title of a revelation, without causing some discovery to be made of the imposture, if there were any in it; much less would He preserve it by a particular and signal providence for so many ages. It is a great argument for the truth of the Scriptures, that they have stood the test, and received the approbation of so many ages, and still retain their authority, though so many ill men in all ages have made it their endeavour to disprove them; but it is a still farther evidence in behalf of them, that God has been pleased to shew so remarkable a providence in their preservation.”

But the most decisive proof of the authenticity and inspiration of the ancient Scriptures is derived from the New Testament. The Saviour of the world Himself, even He who came expressly from the Father of truth “ to bear witness to the truth,” in the last instructions which He gave to his Apostles just before his ascension, said, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me,” Luke xxiv. 44. Our Lord, by thus adopting the common division of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, which comprehended all the Hebrew Scriptures, ratified the Canon of the Old Testament as it was received by the Jews; and by declaring that those books contained prophecies which must be fulfilled, He established their Divine inspiration, since God alone can enable men to foretel future events. At another time Christ told the Jews, that they made “the word of God of none effect through their traditions,” Mark vii. 13. By thus calling the written rules which the Jews had received for the conduct of their lives, “the word of God,” He declared that the Hebrew Scriptures proceeded from God Himself. Upon many other occasions Christ referred to the ancient Scriptures as books of Divine authority; and both He and his Apostles constantly endeavoured to prove that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the writings of the Prophets. St. Paul bears strong testimony to the Divine authority of the Jewish Scriptures, when he says to Timothy, 2 Tim. iii. 15, “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.” This passage incontestably proves the importance of the ancient Scriptures, and the connexion between the Mosaic and Christian dispensations :--and in the next verse the Apostle expressly declares the inspiration of Scripture; “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” To the same effect St. Luke says, ch. i. 70, that “God spake by the mouth of his holy Prophets.” And St. Peter tells us, that “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,” 2 Pet. i. 21. In addition to these passages, which refer to the ancient Scriptures collectively, we may observe, that there is scarcely a book in the Old Testament, which is not repeatedly quoted in the New, as of Divine authority.

When it is said that Scripture is divinely inspired, it is not to be understood that



God suggested every word, or dictated every expression. It appears from the different style in which the books are written, and from the different manner in which the same events are related and predicted by different authors, that the sacred penmen were permitted to write as their several tempers, understandings, and habits of life, directed; and that the knowledge communicated to them by inspiration upon the subject of their writings, was applied in the same manner as any knowledge acquired by ordinary means. Nor is it to be supposed that they were even thus inspired in every fact which they related, or in every precept which they delivered. They were left to the common use of their faculties, and did not upon every occasion stand in need of supernatural communication; but whenever, and as far as, Divine assistance was necessary, it was always afforded. In different parts of Scripture we perceive that there were different sorts and degrees of inspiration : God enabled Moses to give an account of the creation of the world; He enabled Joshua to record with exactness the settlement of the Israelites in the land of Canaan; He enabled David to mingle prophetick information with the varied effusions of gratitude, contrition, and piety; He enabled Solomon to deliver wise instructions for the regulation of human life; He enabled Isaiah to deliver predictions concerning the future Saviour of mankind, and Ezra to collect the sacred Scriptures into one authentick volume; “but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will,” 1 Cor. xii. 11. In some cases inspiration only produced correctness and accuracy in relating past occurrences, or in reciting the words of others: in other cases it communicated ideas not only new and unknown before, but infinitely beyond the reach of unassisted human intellect; and sometimes inspired Prophets delivered predictions for the use of future ages, which they did not themselves comprehend, and which cannot be fully understood till they are accomplished. But whatever distinctions we may make with respect to the sorts, degrees, or modes of inspiration, we may rest assured that there is one property which belongs to every inspired writing, namely, that it is free from errour, I mean material errour; and this property must be considered as extending to the whole of each of those writings, of which a part only is inspired; for we cannot suppose that God would suffer any such errours, as might tend to mislead our faith, or pervert our practice, to be mixed with those truths, which He Himself has mercifully revealed to his rational creatures as the means of their eternal salvation. In this restricted sense it may be asserted, that the sacred writers always wrote under the influence, or guidance, or care of the Holy Spirit, which sufficiently establishes the truth and Divine authority of all Scripture.

These observations relative to the nature of inspiration, are particularly applicable to the historical books of the Old Testament. That the authors of these books were occasionally inspired is certain, since they frequently display an acquaintance with the counsels and designs of God, and often reveal his future dispensations in the clearest predictions. But though it is evident that the sacred historians sometimes wrote under the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit, it does not follow that they derived from revelation the knowledge of those things, which might be collected from the common sources of human intelligence. It is sufficient to believe, that by the general superintendence of the Holy Spirit, they were directed in the choice of their materials, enlightened to judge of the truth and importance of those accounts from which they borrowed their information, and prevented from registering any material errour.

The historical books appear, indeed, from internal evidence, to have been chiefly written by persons contemporary with the periods to which they



relate; who, in their description of characters and events, many of which they witnessed, uniformly exhibit a strict sincerity of intention, and an unexampled impartiality. Some of these books, however, were compiled in subsequent times from the sacred annals mentioned in Scripture as written by Prophets or seers, and from those publick records, and other authentick documents, which, though written by uninspired men, were held in high estimation, and preserved with great care by persons specially appointed as keepers of the genealogies and publick archives of the Jewish nation. To such well-known chronicles we find the sacred writers not unfrequently referring for a more minute detail of those circumstances which they omit as inconsistent with their design. For “these books,” says Dr. Gray, “are to be considered as the histories of revelations, as commentaries upon the prophecies, and as affording a lively sketch of the economy of God's government of his selected people. They were not designed as national annals, to record every minute particular and political event that occurred; but they are rather a compendious selection of such remarkable occurrences and operations as were best calculated to illustrate the religion of the Hebrew nation; to set before that perverse and ungrateful people an abstract of God's proceedings, of their interests and duties; as also to furnish posterity with an instructive picture of the Divine attributes, and with a model of that dispensation on which a nobler and more spiritual government was to be erected; and moreover, to place before mankind the melancholy proofs of that corruption, which had been entailed upon them, and to exhibit in the depravity of a nation highly favoured, miraculously governed, and instructed by inspired teachers, the necessity of that redemption and renewal of righteousness, which was so early and so repeatedly promised by the Prophets. It seems probable, therefore, that the books of Kings and Chronicles do not contain a complete compilation of the entire works of each contemporary Prophet, but are rather an abridgment of their several labours, and of other authentick publick writings, digested by Ezra after the captivity, with an intention to display the sacred history under one point of view; and hence it is that they contain some expressions, which evidently result from contemporary description, and others which as clearly argue them to have been composed long after the occurrences which they relate.”

Since then we are taught to consider the Divine assistance as ever proportioned to the real wants of men; and since it must be granted that their natural faculties, though wholly incompetent to the prediction of future events, are adequate to the relation of such past occurrences as have fallen within the sphere of their own observation, we may infer that the historical books are not written with the same uniform inspiration, which illumines every page of the prophetick writings. But at the same time we are to believe that God vouchsafed to guard these registers of his judgments and his mercies from all important mistakes; and to impart, by supernatural means, as much information and assistance to those who composed them, as was requisite for the accomplishment of the great designs of his providence. In the ancient Hebrew Canon they were placed, as has been already observed, in the class of prophetical books; they are cited as such by the evangelical writers; and it must surely be considered as a strong testimony to the constant opinion of the Jews respecting the inspiration of these books, that they have never dared to annex any historical narrative to them since the death of Malachi. They closed the sacred volume when the succession of Prophets ceased.

If it be asked by what rule we are to distinguish the inspired from the uninspired

« AnteriorContinuar »