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the most illiterate as well as the learned in these important matters. Which being the case, it is by no means strange that modes of speech common among mankind, and some of them not strictly, that is, philosophically, true, are frequently adopted; such as that the sun moves, that the earth hath corners, and that it stands upon pillars. Nor is it to be thought strange, that little or no attention is paid, at least in some parts of Scripture, to the beauties of oratory; and that the style of one book should differ from that of another, which books when compared are found in this particular to have less or more excellence. In a word, the grand object being attained, namely, that of ascertaining the essential facts and docof religion, it is not at all wonderful that a series of miracles should not be wrought, to preserve every manuscript from the trifling mistakes which it would be scarce possible for an infinite number of transcribers to avoid. · Now for want of duly considering these things, some pious people, when they meet with an expression in Scripture which seems scarce conformable to philosophical truth, or with language which strikes them as rather inelegant or improper, are instantly thrown into a fit of incredulity respecting the divine authority of the Bible.
Again, there is one other class of people, and these perhaps the most numerous, who profess to have no doubt of the authenticity of Scripture, but admit that from the beginning to the end it is the word of God, yet, alas ! have little or no reverence for this sacred book. They seldom read it, or, if they do, run it over in the most desultory and careless manner. And so, not having God before their eyes, his word makes little impression on their hearts.
With a view therefore to the establishment and comfort of the real Christian, and the instruction and conviction of all, I propose to discourse at large on this very important subject of THE DIVINE AUTHORITY AND VARIOUS USE OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES. To which purpose I have chosen the words of the text, All 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.
The method I shall pursue in treating this fundamental article of our faith, shall be,
I. To explain the term Scripture--ascertain what is Scripture—and fix the bounds of Scripture. · II. Enquire what is the true and proper meaning of Inspiration.
III. Prove that the Scriptures are thus inspired.
I. We are to explain the term Scripture—ascertain what is Scripture and fix the bounds of Scripture.
1. As to the term Scripture.
It signifies what is written by way of distinction from what is spoken. The utility of writing is very great. Words va+ pish into air. But litera scripta, as we say, manet, what is written abides. Writing was an early invention. But whether it was in use before the flood is uncertain. There was, however, no written revelation that we know of before the time of Moses. Nor should this seem strange, since there was no occasion for it. The antediluvians, and the generations immediately after the flood, lived to so great an age that the will of God revealed to Adam, Enoch, Noah, and others, was conveyed down to posterity with little or no danger of being adulterated. Tradition might then be as surely depended on as writing may now, there being persons alive of six, seven, or eight hundred years of age, who might be appealed to on all occasions respecting facts and doctrines said to have been declared and revealed by God. But about the time of Moses the age of man was reduced to nearly what it is now.
And then, for this reason as well as many others, a written revelation became necessary. Accordingly God was pleased at that time to grant a written revelation.
Now this revelation, which gradually increased to its present state, is called Scripture by way of distinction from tradition; and the Holy Scriptures as coming from God. Not that the will of God was not, after Moses's time as well as before, in
some instances delivered to holy men without being committed to writing. For we may easily conceive it possible and probable, that extraordinary information might be communicated to individuals, to be published by them and to the people for present important purposes, which information was of no essential use and importance to posterity.
The Jews, who were a superstitious and bigotted people, failed not to abuse this idea to the most pernicious purposes. They pretend that the law delivered by Moses was of two kinds, the one written the other oral. And they tell us à story, the mere idle figment of their Rabbies, that the latter was delivered by Moses to Joshua and the seventy elders, and by them down from one generation to another, till about the middle of the second century of the Christian era. At which time this oral law of theirs was committed to writing, and collected into a book called the Mishnah ; two comments upon which were afterwards written, the one called the Jerusalem, the other the Babylonish Talmud. And these books contain the whole of the Jewish religion as it is now professed by them.
But this oral law of the Jews is no part of Scripture in the sense of the text. This is evident beyond a doubt. For they themselves admit that it was not committed to writing till about the middle of the second century. And whereas their doctors in our Saviour's time availed themselves of it among the ignorant people, as a deposit committed to them to dispense as they pleased, our Lord often and in the strongest terms of disapprobation protested against it, charging them with teaching for doctrines the commandments of men ;-rejecting the commandment of God, that they might keep their own traditions ;-and making the word of God of none effect through their traditions a.- The Bible then is called Scripture by way of distinction from tradition, and holy to express its divine authority.–And this leads us,
2. To settle what is Scripture, which I think may be done with the clearest precision and certainty. The question here is not whether Scripture is divinely inspired. That will come to be considered hereafter. But, what was understood to be Scripture in our Saviour's time, and what has been universally received as such since that period? It is a question of fact to be determined by that kind of historical proof which all mankind are agreed in, and the rejection of which would totally destroy the credit of all past facts, and leave us in utter ignorance and uncertainty about every thing that hath happened before our time, and beyond the reach of our own senses.
a Mark vii. 7, 9, 13.
(1.) We begin then with the Old Testament, to which the apostle chiefly refers in our text as, at the time this epistle was writ, the canon of the New Testament was not completed.
Now the history of the Old Testament, and of the collection of the several books of which it consists, is this. It begins with Genesis and closes with Malachi, which includes, I mean the time between the publication of the former and the latter, a space of above one thousand years! What care the Jews took of their law in the beginning is sufficiently known. It was laid up in the ark, and watched with a jealous eye. And, however, at the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar it was probably consumed and lost, yet it is evident that copies had been taken before that time of the law and the prophets, and that the Jews carried them with them to Babylon. Daniel had the holy Scriptures with him, for he quotes the law a, and speaks of the prophecies of Jeremiah b. And so had Ezra upon his return, for it is agreed on all hands that this last person was he who settled the canon of the Old Testament to his own time c.
Ezra was a Jewish priest, a wise, learned, and pious man. Hé corrected the errors that had crept into the copies of the holy Scriptures through the fault of transcribers. He disposed the books of which they consisted into their proper order. He added in several places, throughout the books of this edition, what appeared necessary for explaining and connecting them. He changed the names of places that were grown obsolete, inserting in the room of them the new names by which they were at that time called. And he writ out the whole in the Chaldee character, which at the Babylonish captivity grew into use among the Jews. And in this laborious and important work he was assisted, as is I believe universally acknowledged, by the same Spirit that inspired the other penmen of the Old Testament scriptures.
a Dan. ix. 11.
b Dan. ix. 2. c Whoever wishes to have more particular information on these matters, may consult the learned Dean Prideaux's Connection of the History of the Old and New Testament.
The sacred books he divided into three parts-The Law The Prophets—The Hagiographa, or holy writings. To this division our Lord is supposed to allude a, where he speaks of . all things being fulfilled which were written in the Law, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning him;' the word Psalms, with which the Hagiographa begins, standing for the whole of that division of Scripture, according to a known practice among the Jews.
This threefold division contained, according to Josephus by an universally respected historian, Twenty-two Books which were deservedly accounted divine (τα δικαιως θεια πιπισευμενα). The Law contained the five books of Moses, viz. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Prophets (that is, those prophets who flourished between the time of Moses and the reign of Artaxerxes the son of Xerxes king of Persia) contained thirteen books, viz. Joshua, Judges with Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah with Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, the twelve minor Prophets, Job, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. And the Hagiographa contained four books, viz. Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.
The ancient and latter Jews agree in establishing the divine authority of these books. But they vary as to the order in which they place them. The particulars of these variations it is not necessary to mention, as they affect not the grand question. It must however be observed, that they bring the two books of Chronicles, and some of them the other books of the latest date, under the head of the Hagiographa. For the elucidating of which matter it will be proper to give you the
a Luke xxiv. 44. 6 Joseph. Op. contra Apion. Lib. 1. Sect. 8. Edit. Hudson.