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The Nature of Inspiration ; or, the sense in which
the Scriptures are inspired.
I DEFINE inspiration to be such an influence of the Holy Ghost on the understandings, imaginations, memories, and other mental powers of the writers of the sacred books, as perfectly qualified them for communicating to the world the knowl. edge of the will of God. The definition is ex. pressed in general terms; and it will be necessary therefore, in order to give clear and precise ideas of the subject, to descend to particulars.
Instead of retailing the opinions of others, I shall submit to the consideration of the reader, the following account of the inspiration of the scriptures:
I. There are many things in the scriptures, which the writers might have known, and probably did know, by ordinary means. As persons possessed of memory, judgment, and the other intellectual faculties which are common to men, they were able to relate events, in which they had been personally concerned; and to make such occasional reflections, as were suggested by particular subjects and occurrences. In these cases, no supernatural influence was necessary to enlighten and invigorate their minds : it was only necessary, that they should be infallibly preserved from error. They did not need a revelation to inform them of what had passed before their eyes, nor to point out those inferences and moral maxims, which were obvious to every attentive and considerate observer. Moses
could tell without a divine afflatus, that on such a night the Israelites marched out of Egypt, and at such a place they murmured against God; and Solomon could remark, that “a soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger;" or, that “ better is a dinner of herbs, where love is, than a stalled ox, and hatred therewith.” It is with respect to such passages of scripture alone, as it did not exceed the natural ability of the writer to compose, that I would admit the notion of superintendence, if it should be admitted at all. But, perhaps, this word, though of established use, and almost undisputed authority, should be entirely laid aside, as insufficient to express even the lowest degree of inspiration. In the passages of scripture, which we are now considering, I conceive the writers to have been not merely superintended, that they might commit no error, but likewise to have been moved or excited, by the Holy Ghost, to reveal particular events, and set down particular observations. They were not like other historians, who introduce facts and reflections into their narratives, in the exercise of their own judgment, and according to their own ideas of propriety; but they rather resembled amanuenses, who commit to writing those things only which are selected for them by their employer. Passages written by the direction, and under the care of the Divine Spirit, may be said, in an inferior sense, to be inspired; whereas, had the men written them at the suggestion of their own spirit, they would have been, in every respect, human productions, and, though free from error, would have been exactly on a level with those parts
Prov. Iv. 1. 17.
of profane writings, which are agreeable to truth. Superintendence, indeed, is no peculiar kind of inspiration ; but is the care exercised by providence over all the sacred writers, in whatever degree or manner inspired, to secure a faithful relation of the histories, doctrines, prophecies and precepts, which they were employed to communicate to mankind.
II. There are other passages of scripture, in composing which, the minds of the writers must have been supernaturally endowed with more than ordinary vigour. It is impossible for us, and perhaps it was not possible for the inspired writer himself, to determine, where nature ended, and inspiration began. He could not have marked, with precision, the limits which separated the natural operation of his faculties, and the agency of the Spirit of God. It is enough to know, in general, that there are many parts of scripture, in which, though the unassisted mind might have proceeded some steps, a divine impulse was necessary to enable it to advance. I think, for example, that the evangelists could not have written the history of Christ, if they had not enjoyed miraculous assistance. Two of them, Matthew and John, accompanied our Saviour, during the whole, or the greater part of the time of his personal ministry. At the close of that period, or rather a considerable number of
years after it, the gospel of Matthew having been published, as is generally agreed, at least eight years, and that of John between sixty and seventy, posterior to the ascension, we 'may be certain, that they had forgotten some of his discourses and miracles ; that they recollected others indistinctly; and that, if left to themselves, they would have been in danger of pro
ducing an unfair and inaccurate account, by omissions and additions, or by confounding one thing with another. Simple and illiterate men, who had never been accustomed to exercise their intellectual faculties, could not, it is probable, have retailed his shorter discourses, immediately after they were delivered, and much less those of greater length, as his sermon on the mount, and his last instructions to his disciples. Besides, from so large a mass of materials, writers of uncultivated minds, such as Jewish fishermen and publicans may be conceived to have been, who were not in the habit of distinguishing and classifying, could not have made a judicious selection; nor would persons unskilled in the art of composition, have been able to express themselves in such terms, as should ensure a faithful representation of doctrines and facts, and with such dignity as the nature of the subject required. A divine influence, therefore, must have been exerted on their minds, by which their memories and judgments were invigorated, and they were enabled to relate the doctrines and miracles of their Master with fidelity, and in a manner the best fitted to im. press the readers of their histories. The promise of the Holy Ghost to bring to their remembrance all things whatsoever Christ had said to them, * proves, that in writing their gospels, their mental powers received from his agency new degrees of strength and capacity.
Farther, there are several passages of scripture, in which there is such elevation of thought, and of style, as clearly shews the faculties of the writers to have been raised above their ordinary pitch
* Johp xiy. 26.
There is a grandeur, a sublimity of iders and ex. pressions, to which their acknowledged powers bare no proportion, and which, therefore, must han sulted from superior influence upon them. Showd a person of moderate talents give as elevated à description of the majesty and attributes of God, or reason as profoundly on the mysterious doctrines of religion, as a man of the most exalted genius and extensive learning, we could not fail to be convinced, that he was supernaturally assisted ; and the conviction would be still stronger, if his composition should transcend the highest efforts of the human mind. In either of these cases, it would be impossible to account for his production, by the operation of any ordinary cause, Some of the sacred writers were taken from the lowest ranks of life ; and yet sentiments so dignified, and representations of divine things so grand and majestic, occur in their writings, that the noblest flights of human genius, when compared with them, appear cold and insipid. This remark on the matter and language of scripture admits of an obvious application to the prophetical and devotional books of the Old Testament; and may be extended to many other passages, in which the purest and most sub. lime lessons are delivered on the subject of God and religion, by the natives of a country, unacquainted with the philosophy, the literature, and the arts of the more polished nations of antiquity.
III. It is manifest, with respect to many passages of scripture, that the subjects, of which they treat, must have been directly revealed to the wri. ters. They could not have been known by any natural means ; nor was the knowledge of them attain