Imágenes de páginas

not perfect and infallible, any more than the saints who are now alive,their speeches and behaviour must not instantly be presumed to be right, unless it appear, that they were under the influenge of the Spirit of God, or their example be expressly or implicitly commended. From the mere admission of any fact into the inspired history, no other conclusion can be warrantably drawn, than that it actually took place, and it was the will of God, that we should be acquainted with it: its moral nature, its conformity or disconformity to the standard of truth and rectitude must be ascertained by some other method than its simple insertion in the Bible. Were clear ideas formed on this subject, some misapplications of passages would be prevented ; and some objections which are brought against the inspiration of the sacred books, would either not be advanced at all, or, as we shall afterwards have occasion to shew, would be immediately perceived to be ill-founded and inconclusive.

For the more complete elucidation of this point, let it be observed, that there are two senses considerably different, in which a book may be denominated the word of God. In the first place, the meaning may be, that all the contents of the book were spoken or revealed by God himself; or that they proceeded directly from the eternal source of wisdom and purity, and by consequence, are all true and holy. It is evident, that, according to this sense of the word of God, the designation can be given only to a part of the scriptures, because they contain, besides a revelation of the divine counsels, an account of human opinions, manners, customs, superstitions, and crimes. Sometimes, it is God

who speaks, and at other times it is man. Now, we are presented with a view of his wise and holy dispensations; then, there is a delineation of the policy, the ambition, the folly of his creatures. In the second place, a book may be styled the Word of God, to signify, that it was composed by his direction and assistance, and that every thing contained in it was inserted by his special appointment. It is plain, that, consistently with this definition, there may be things in the book which were neither spoken nor approved by God, though for wise purposes, he have assigned them a place in it. In this sense, the title of the word of God is applicable to the scriptures at large, the whole having been written by men whom he inspired, and who, being guided and controlled by his Spirit, could neither fall into error, nor be guilty of mutilating and corrupting it by omissions and interpolations. Hence we are authorized not only to consider all the doctrines, all the precepts, all the promises, and all the threatenings delivered by God himself, or by others in his name, as true, righteous and faithful ; but farther to believe, that the events, which are said to have happened, and the words and actions, which are represented to have been spoken and done, did so happen, and were so spoken and done. But whether the conduct related be wise or foolish, moral or immoral, we must determine by the judgment pronounced in the scriptures themselves on particular cases, or by applying those principles and general rules, which are laid down in them to regulate our decisions.

A question of great importance demands our attention, while we are endeavouring to settle, with precision, the notion of the inspiration of the scriptures. It relates to the words, in which the sacred writers have expressed their ideas. On this subject christians are divided in opinion, some maintaining, that, in the choice of words, they were left to their own discretion, and that the language is human, though the matter be divine; while others believe, that, in their expressions, as well as in their sentiments, they were under the infallible direction of the Spirit. It is the last opinion, which appears to be conformable to truth; and it may be supported by the following reasoning.

Every man, who hath attended to the operations of his own mind, knows, that we think in words ; or that when we form a train or combination of ideas, we clothe them with words; and that the ideas which are not thus clothed, are indistinct and confused. Let a man try to think upon any subject, moral or religious, without the aid of language, and he will either experience a total cessation of thought; or, as this seems impossible, at least while we are awake, he will feel himself constrained, notwithstanding his utmost endeavours, to have recourse to words as the instrument of his mental operations. As a great part of the scriptures was suggested or revealed to the writers ; and as the thoughts or sentiments, which were conveyed into their minds by the Spirit, were perfectly new to them, it is plain that they must have been accompanied with words proper to express them; and, consequently, that the words were dictated by the same influence on their minds, which communicated the ideas. The ideas could not have come without the words, because without them they could not have been conceived. A notion of the form and qualities of a material object may be produced by subjecting it to our senses ; but there is no conceivable method of making us acquainted with new abstract truths, or with things which do not lie within the sphere of sensation, but by conveying to the mind, in some way or other, the words significant of them. In all those passages of scripture, therefore, which were written by revela. tion, it is manifest, that the words were inspired ; and this is still more evident, with respect to those passages which the writers themselves did not understand. No man could write an intelligible discourse on a subject, which he does not understand, unless he were furnished with the words, as well as the sentiments ; and that the penmen of the scriptures did not always understand what they wrote, might be safely inferred from the comparative darkness of the dispensation under which some of them lived ; and is intimated by Peter, when he says, that the prophets “inquired and searched diligently what, and what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." Their subsequent inquiries into the meaning of their own predictions, prove, that while they delivered the words, they had no distinct knowledge of the sense.

In other passages of scripture, those not excepted in which the writers relate such things as had fallen within the compass of their own knowledge, we will be disposed to believe, that the words are inspired, if we calmly and seriously weigh the following considerations. If Christ promised to his

* 1 Pet. i. 10, 11.

disciples, that when they were brought before kings and governors for his sake, “it should be given them in that same hour what they should speak, and that the Spirit of their Father should speak in them ;'* a promise which cannot be reasonably understood to signify less than that both words and sentiments shouid be dictated to them; it is fully as credible, that they were assisted in the same manner, when they wrote, especially as the record was to last through all ages, and to be a rule of faith to all the nations of the earth. Paul affirms, that he and the other apostles spoke, “not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost taught ;"+ and this general assertion may be applied to their writings, as well as to their ser.

Besides, every man who hath reflected upon the subject, is aware of the importance of a proper selection of words in expressing our sentiments ; and knows how easy it is for a heedless or unskilful person, not only to injure the beauty and weaken the efficacy of a discourse, by the impropriety of his language, but by substituting one word for another, to which it seems to be equivalent, to alter the meaning, and perhaps render it totally different. If, then, the sacred writers had not been directed in the choice of words, how could we have been assured, that those, which they have chosen, were the most proper? Is it not possible, nay, is it not certain, that they would have sometimes expressed themselves inaccurately, as many of them were illiterate ; and by consequence, would have obscured and misrepresented the truth? In this case, how could our faith have securely rested on their testi


* Matth. X. 19, 20. Luke xii. 11, 12.

71 Cor. ii. 13.

« AnteriorContinuar »