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them as the oracles of heaven, by which they were bound to regulate all their opinions and practices in religion ; and on which they founded all their hopes of future felicity. The rejection of a single inspired book, and the reception of a forged one, would have equally exposed them, in their own apprehension, to eternal damnation. Their circumstances, too, were peculiar, and contributed to render them cautious and exact in examining the authority of the scriptures. Their attachment to the religion of Christ exposed them to incredible hardships and sufferings. By embracing it, they lost the favour of their friends and countrymen, the prospect of wealth and honour, the ease and quiet which the laws secured to the professors of the established faith ; and they subjected themselves to contempt, hatred, obloquy, and every thing terrible to human nature. Now, as no man will voluntarily submit to pains and losses, without the hope of a recompense, and as their expectations could only be realized, if the religion was true, and their ideas of it were just, we may be assured, that they exercised the utmost care, in distinguishing the genuine records of it from all such as were forged. They would not stake their all upon an uncertainty ; they would not' risk every thing dear and valuable, without examining the offered security, that they should be ultimate gainers. · While these considerations render it highly probable, that the canon of the New Testament was not settled at random, but was framed in consequence of prudent and diligent investigation, we are able to produce some facts, which fully establish this conclusion. We know, that, in the early ages,
there were many gospels, and acts, and epistles, and revelations, besides those which we at present receive, claiming to have been written by inspiration ; such as the acts of Paul, Andrew, and John, the gospels of Peter, Thomas, and Matthias, the revelation of Peter, with many others, which it would be tedious to mention. We know, likewise, that the authority of a few of the books, which we believe to be inspired, was called in question by some; as the epistles of James and Jude, the second epistle of Peter, the second and third epistle of John, the Revelation, and the epistle to the Hebrews, because no name being prefixed, it was uncertain, who was the writer of it.* But these facts, instead of begetting any suspicion in our minds, with respect to our present scriptures, serve to confirm us in the belief, that "? they are authentic. They shew, that the church did not rashly give credit to every pretence of inspi.. ration, but examined every such pretence with the most scrupulous care ; whence some books, which were really inspired, were not at once received in: every part of the christian world, and others, which bore the names of apostles, being found supposititious, were rejected. A proneness to believe, and a disposition to scepticism are alike unfavourable to
* Euseb. Hist. Lib. iii. cap. 25. In that chapter Eusebius takes notice of three classes or orders of books; those which were universally acknowledged; those which were called in question by some, though received by many; and those which were manifestly spurious. When enumerating the books, the authority of which was disputed, he does not mention the epistle to the Hebrews; but we learn from the third chapter of the same book, that some re. jected it, from the notion that it was not written by Paul. He points out two marks, by which the spurious writings might be distinguished from those which were truly inspired. These are the style, o της φρασεως χαρακτης ; and the sentiment and scope of the matter contained in them, ý groun xechte å tøv øv divros pogojevay #goaigtis.
the discovery of truth. The primitive church nei. ther received nor rejected all the books, which laid claim to inspiration ; but admitted or excluded them, after the evidence on both sides had been maturely considered. A spirit of discrimination was exercised; and we may have the greater confidence, therefore, in the canon which was finally agreed upon.
Similar reasoning may be used with regard to the Old Testament. The Jews were impelled by motives of the most powerful nature, to employ the greatest diligence in examining the grounds, on which the books, which were presented to them as divine, rested their claim. They entertained the same ideas with the first christians, respecting the consequences of embracing a false, and rejecting a true revelation. That they did not rashly admit books into their canon, but received or excluded them, according as the evidence of their inspiration was satisfactory or not, we learn from the case of the apocryphal books, of which we shall afterwards speak. The books thus carefully distinguished, they have delivered to the christian church; and we know that those alone, which are now in our possession, were acknowledged by them in the days of our Saviour. They arrange them in three classes, the law, the prophets, and the holy writings; and to this arrangement he seems to have alluded, when he said to his disciples, “ 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."* There is extant a Greek
* Luke xxiv. 44. The law comprehends the five books of Moses. The prophets are sub-divided into the former and the latter.
translation of the Old Testament, known by the name of the Septuagint, or the translation of the Seventy, and made before the christian æra; in which are the same books that are at present found in the Hebrew copies. Since the time of our Saviour it hath not been in the power of the Jews, though they had been so disposed, to add to, or take from the ancient canon, because the custody of the books hath been transferred to the christian church ; nor, on the other hand, could the christian church have made any alteration, because the Jews have watched her with a jealous eye, and would not have failed, from malignity as well as zeal, to exclaim against the unhallowed deed. Hence, at this moment, the Jews and we recognise the same books, as containing the revelation which God made to their fathers.
But besides the scriptures of the Old Testament, which were acknowledged by the Jews, there are some other books, to which divine authority hath been assigned; and of which, therefore, it is necessary to take notice, before we leave this part of the subject. The church of Rome, by her last council
The former prophets are Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings; the latter prophets are again distinguished into the greater, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel ; and the lesser, Hosea, Joel, Amos, &c. The holy writings are Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles. In the text quoted above, the Psalms are put for the holy writings, probably because they were the principal book, or occupied the first place in that division. This elassifieation affords but a poor specimen of the judgment of its authors; for none, it may be presumed, but themselves, would have denied Daniel a place among the prophets, and ranked Ruth rather than Judges or Samuel, among the holy writings. Dr. Owen thinks, that, though the general division be ancient, the present arrangement of the books is the work of the post-talmudical doctors, who had a regard, in making it, to the different degrees, or modes of revelation, mentioned in note, page 26. Owen on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol. I. Exercit. vii.
which met at Trent, hath placed, in the same rank with the law and the prophets, the following apocryphal books : Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, the first and second book of the Maccabees, Baruch, with the additions to Esther and Daniel.* By all protestant churches, however, they are accounted mere human compositions ; and, in defence of this judgment, the following reasons may be advanced.
They were not acknowledged to be of divine authority by the Jews. This circumstance is decisive. If they were not received by those, to whom the oracles of God were committed, and who were never blamed for rejecting any of his oracles, what right has any council, or any individual, under the present dispensation, to assign them a place among the canonical writings ? In confirmation of this ar. gument, it may be remarked, that they are not written, either in pure Hebrew, or in that mixed dialect which was spoken after the captivity, but in Greek ; and it is highly improbable, that God would deliver any part of revelation to his people in a language which they did not understand.t
• Vide Canones et Decreta Concilii Tridentini, Sess. Quart, There are some other apocryphal books; but those which have been named, are the only ones sanctioned by the council. Its vords are worthy to be transcribed. “Si quis libros ipsos integros, eum omnibus suis partibus, (with the stories, no doubt, of the sparrow's dung, which fell on the eyes of Tobit, and of the heart and liver of the fish, the smoke of which frightened the devil,) pro sacris et canonicis non susceperit, anathema sit.
† It has been supposed, indeed, that Judith, Tobit, and the first book of Maccabees, were originally written in Chaldaic, and afterwards translated into Greek, in which language alone they are now extant; but about this point learned men are not fully agreed. The wisdom of the Son of Sirach is a translation of an imperfect work of his grandfather, written, as he says, in Hebrew. The argument applies, without doubt, to all the other apocryphal books.