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Let us close with a few reflections. And,
(1.) From the view we have taken of the Scriptures, even before we come to consider the proof of their being divinely inspired, we derive a strong presumptive evidence of their truth.
They comprehend a large compass of time, no less than fifteen hundred years. They begin with Moses, and close with John, near one hundred years from the birth of Christ. They were written by a great variety of persons of different ranks and stations in life, of different natural capacities and talents, and of different education and acquired advantages; some legislators, some reformers, some kings, some priests, some prophets, and some men of learning, such as Luke and Paul, and some plain humble fishermen, such as Peter, James, and John. These all agree in one grand design of advancing the glory of God and promoting the good of men. Their doctrines, predictions, histories, precepts, and characters for probity, holiness, and benevolence, all agree.- What a wonderful book this ! Is there any thing like it to be found any where in our world ? Sure there is the strongest presumptive reason to conclude from this general view of it, before we examine the positive evidence, that it must be divine.
(2.) What consideration then can possibly excuse any man, who is capable of reading it or of having it read to him, from diligently attending to it?
Do I speak to any here of this description ? Let me address you, Sirs, with all possible seriousness and plainness. Your conduct, be your motive what it may, is indefensible upon every ground of prudence and common sense. Curiosity, a wish to escape danger, and a desire of happiness, are passions deeply implanted in our nature. Who is not struck with appearances out of the ordinary course of things ? Who is not disposed to listen to a story that is strange and marvellous, if it be not absolutely incredible? Here is a book said to be written by the finger of God. It has been believed to be such by men whose superior understanding and extensive learning are acknowledged by all the world. We do not wish you to believe it upon their testimony. But surely their testimony may
be urged as a reason to dispose you to enquire into the matter. A Bacon, a Newton, and a Locke, are characters of distinguished eminence. Did they receive this book? And can you think it beneath you to listen to the arguments that convinced them of its authenticity? Have you no curiosity to gratify ? Shall every new discovery in science, politics, and commerce engage your attention; and this great question be treated as unworthy your notice? What is such conduct but an argument of stupidity and want of sense ? Would Pagans, in the situation you are, have acted your part ?
But this is not all. Let me beseech you to consider the hazard you run by thrusting this book from you without examining its contents. Should it in the end prove to be an inspired book, and you cannot say that this is impossible, the consequence must be to you most tremendous. If God has been pleased to signify his will to men by a written revelation, and taken care to authenticate it by sufficient evidence, surely he must be displeased with those who will not so much as give him a hearing. The curses pronounced in this book upon men of this description are most alarming. And upon a supposition of its truth and the competence of the evidence, it cannot be said they are inequitable and cruel. Refuse not then, him who speaketh. If they escaped not who refused him who spake on earth, that is, Moses; much more shall not we escape if we turn away from him who speaketh from heaven a, that is, Christ.
Nor are these the only considerations I would use to urge you to enquiry. If God deigns to converse with men by an extraordinary revelation, and in a manner so mild and gentle, and so admirably adapted to their construction as reasonable creatures, it may be presumed that his intention is merciful and good. This appears upon the face of the book. It is given us to make us wise unto salvation. It opens scenes to our view the most enlivening and joyful. If it denounces wrath on the impenitent and obstinate, it promises also peace and happiness to the pénitent and believing. And are there no charms in peace and happiness, in the favour of God, the comforts of religion, victory over death, and the unutterable joys of a future world, to excite your attention, and stimulate you to serious consideration and enquiry? But I forbear.
a Heb. xii. 25.
(3.) How thankful, Christians, should we be to God for this book !
I speak to those who have read it, examined it with attention, received it upon a clear conviction of its truth, entered into the spirit of it, and been made wiser, better, and happier by its instructions. To the grace of God you owe the warmest tribute of gratitude. Thank God that your lot is cast under the most perfect dispensation of religion, and in a country where civil and religious liberty is so happily enjoyed. Thank God that you have opportunity of reading this book, and of hearing its doctrines explained and proved, and its duties illustrated and enforced. And, above all, be thankful to him for divine illumination and assistance. Let us improve these advantages by frequent meditation and fervent prayer. Let the same mind be in us as was in Christ Jesus. Let candour and benevolence be the prominent features in our counte
And let probity and holiness mark the actions of our lives. In fine, let us do our utmost to spread the knowledge and favour of divine truth, rejoicing in hope of that glorious day, when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea a.
a Isa. xi. 9.
THE NATURE OF DIVINE INSPIRATION CONSIDERED.
2 Tim. u. 16, 17.-AU Scripture is given by inspiration of
God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God
may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. In the present state of mankind, encompassed as we are with ignorance, temptation, and sin, a written revelation from God is most desirable. That God should communicate his will to us in this way is not impossible; and all things considered, I may venture to add, it is by no means improbable. A book is put into our hands claiming this character, I mean the Bible. Many wise and good men have admitted the claim to be wellfounded. And it is clear, there is no book we know of in the world that has any thing like the same pretensions to divine authority. Neither the Zend of Zoroaster, the Five Books of Confucius, nor the Koran of Mohammed, are to be put in competition with it. No consideration therefore can possibly excuse our diligently enquiring into the merits of this great question, Whether the Bible be really the word of God? It is in the highest degree important: our present comfort and usefulness, and our future and everlasting welfare depends
Now to place this subject in its true light, and to assist our enquiries upon it, I have proposed to discourse at large on the words just read. And the method I have laid down in treating the text is—To explain the term Scripture, and fix the bounds of it-all Scripture—To enquire what is the true and proper meaning of divine inspiration—To prove that the Scriptures are thus inspired-To consider their Use as signified in the text-And then to improve the subject.
The first of these heads was the subject of the former dis
Here we, first, explained the term Scripture, and shewed you that it is so called by way of distinction from tradition; and Holy Scripture to express its divine authority. We proceeded, secondly, to settle what is Scripture, that is, what was understood to be such in our Saviour's time, and what has been universally received as such since that period. This is a question of fact to be determined by historical proof, 'the rejection of which kind of evidence would leave us in absolute uncertainty about all past facts, and every thing beyond the reach of the senses. And upon a particular examination of the proofs adduced, the books of the Old and New Testaments as they stand in our Bibles have been found to be Scripture. This has led us, thirdly, to fix the bounds of Scripture, and to shew that what does not come within this description, was not given by inspiration : which we have been enabled to do by a brief detail of facts, and by the mention of a few canons or rules of judging between genuine and apocryphal writings, which are obvious to every one's understanding. And now, having fixed the fact respecting the phrase Au Scripture, we proceed to our second head of discourse, which is,
II. To enquire what is the true and proper meaning of divine Inspiration.
By divine inspiration I mean “ A supernatural influence exerted over the mind, whereby its faculties are instantaneously improved to a degree which they could not have acquired by the mere unassisted powers of nature.”
Thus, for instance, were a plain illiterate man on a sudden to speak all languages, we should conclude he was inspired. The like we should suppose of him who gave us a clear, accurate, circumstantial account of a prodigious variety of facts and discourses, not committed to writing for some years after they had happened. The same claim that man would justly have to inspiration, who should bring forward to our view doctrines or mysteries, the most sublime, interesting, and important, absolutely beyond the reach of human ken and penetration, and in language clear and unequivocal, and at the same time