Thomas Scott's Commentary on the Bible
PREFACE TO THOMAS SCOTT'S COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE, 1804
Thomas Scott was an English clergyman who succeeded John Newton (author of "Amazing Grace") in the Olney Parish when Newton moved to London. Scott had been a Unitarian but came to accept Jesus as Redeemer and Lord largely through Newton's influence. Scott wrote of his conversion in The Force of Truth, a testimony of God's grace still in print today. Scott's 6-volume Commentary on the Bible, first published in America in 1804, was extremely popular and went through numerous American editions in the 19th century. The Dunham Bible Museum has 5 copies of Scott's commentaries, published between 1804 and 1845. Scott's "Preface" to his commentaries, printed below, was often reprinted in Bibles, without the commentaries. R. A. Torrey heavily relied on Scott's Commentaries when writing his Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge.
Whoever seriously reflects on the powers and capacities of the human mind, regarding them as the work of Him who doeth nothing in vain, and comparing them with those of the inferior creatures; will readily perceive that man alone was created to be religious. Of the inhabitants of this earth, none else are capable of obtaining any knowledge of their Creator, or of rendering him any worship or praise. Man alone, possesses the capacity of distinguishing between truth and falsehood; between moral good and evil; and of receiving instruction in social and relative duties, with the obligations under which he lies to perform them, and the advantages of doing it. He alone, is capable of being governed by a law, and of being influenced by the proposal of rewards and punishments of acting as under the eye of an invisible Observer, and with reference to the future season of retribution. From these premises we infer, with absolute certainty, that the all-wise Creator thus constituted our minds, and conferred upon us these distinguishing powers, in order to render us capable of Religion, for the purposes of his own glory, and of our own felicity, in connexion with that of our fellow-creatures.
When further, we consider what this word Religion implies; and understand it, according to its most general acceptation, to be such an habitual regard to the one, true, living and eternal God, the Creator, Governor, and Judge of all, as influences us to seek his favour, to do his will, and to aim at his glory in the temper of our hearts, and the regulation of our actions, both in the worship which we render to him, and the duties which we perform to man, for his sake, and according to his will; we shall be constrained to allow, that it is the most reasonable and excellent thing in the world. - Doubtless, the exercises of true devotion, form the noblest employment of the human mind, which in them emulates the angelic nature. A conscientious regard to the all-seeing eye of a righteous and omnipotent Judge, is the best bond of human society, and regulator of our relative conduct, and were this principle of action universal and complete, human laws and tribunals would be entirely unnecessary. This would likewise most effectually moderate our appetites and passions, and produce the greatest possible proportion of peace, contentment, and felicity, personal and social, of which our nature, in its present state, is capable. And when we look forward beyond the grave, to that immortality and future world of recompense, which reason itself pronounces at least highly probable, the absolute necessity of religion to our felicity, appears self-evident.
Hence with certainty we determine that religion is that great business, to which all men ought to attend; and that blessing, after which all men should seek, whatever else be neglected or superseded.
While, however, it is demonstrable, that man is capable of religion, and in duty and interest bound to it, by the most indisputable obligations; stubborn facts, in every age and nation of the world, undeniably prove that, left to himself, man would never be truly religious. - According to the statement above given, where shall we find religion on earth, in any age or nation, which has not possessed, in a greater or less degree, the advantage of those writings, which we will now take for granted, and hereafter shall attempt to prove, a divine Revelation? - An assemblage of the wildest absurdities in opinion the most vain and irrational superstitions in worship, and the most dangerous mistakes, as well as the most abandoned licentiousness in morals, forms that religion (if it may be dignified by so venerable a name,) which forces itself upon our observation, wherever the light of revelation has not shone. Nor can so much as a single nation, or city, indeed scarcely a family, be excepted from this general charge. If there have been a few individuals, who have manifested something not dissimilar from true religion; and we be disposed to allow that indeed it was such, it must be vastly more rational to ascribe it to the remains of original tradition, or even to a personal revelation afforded them for their own benefit, though not authenticated for the good of others; than to make it an exception to the general rule, That without Revelation, there never was any true religion on earth since the fall of Adam.
Men, indeed living under the light of revelation, and making what use they choose of that light, may draw up systems of natural religion sufficiently implausible, and apparently rational. But it should be remembered, that this light is originally, through one channel or another, derived from the Bible, though too often, with equal absurdity and ingratitude, set up in opposition to its sacred and sublime truths, and universal experience demonstrates, that no such natural religion ever was discovered and delineated by men of any nation, who had never seen any part of the Bible, or any thing deduced from that source.
However reasonable and excellent many of those truths and precepts are, which are proposed to us as the oracles of reason; not one of them ever was proposed by reason without revelation, with such certainty, clearness, and authority, as to become a constant principle and rule of action, in secret and in public, towards God, and towards man; to any company of men on earth, perhaps not to one individual.
Indeed, after all the supposed improvements and discoveries of modern times, if we exclude the peculiar instructions of the Bible, what darkness and uncertainty rest upon points of the greatest imaginable importance! - Even in respect of the immortality of the soul, when Reason, at her best advantage, has done her utmost; her boasted power of demonstration fails: for even, were the arguments indisputably conclusive, by which the natural immortality of the soul is supported; who knows, or can know, without revelation, how it may please a just and holy God to deal with the souls of his offending creatures? 'He can create, and he destroys.' - But far greater obscurity and uncertainty rests on those subjects, which relate to the nature of the future world, and the rule of judgment, with which our whole conduct, and our hope and peace, are inseparably connected. The consistency of perfect justice with boundless mercy is difficult, if not impossible by the light of reason, to be perceived; it still remains dubious, except to those who possess and believe revelation, whether God will punish at all, or pardon at all; or by what rules he means to punish, or pardon; and indeed a thick cloud darkens our view, and discourages our inquiries, wherever we turn, if we leave the sure testimony of God, to bewilder ourselves in speculation on matters evidently too, high for us. But how much worse has it been with almost all the nations of the earth, and generations of men! Indeed so far have men been from advancing in religious knowledge, where revelation hath not been afforded; that they have evidently sunk deeper and deeper into ignorance, and several of them almost into absolute Atheism, as if the little glimmering that once shone among them, being the effect of original tradition, was gradually expiring, and leaving them in utter darkness.
The most complete information, however, respecting doctrines and duties, would be inadequate to the production of the desired effect; except such information were enforced by sufficient authority, gave necessary encouragement, and proposed effectual assistance. The knowledge of duty, and of its reasonableness, is utterly unavailing, whilst men are under the dominion of their lusts and passions; as the judicial proceedings of ever civilized nation sufficiently manifests. In this case, there is no disposition to perform the dictates even of conscience. A heathen could say: Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor. The proposal of virtue as amiable and excellent, by the feeble recommendation of the moralist's pen, is infinitely inferior in its energy, to the authoritative command and sanction of the Almighty, denouncing his awful and eternal indignation against the transgressor; and yet facts undeniably shew, that men venture upon sin, even with the threatenings of everlasting misery sounding in their ears; nay, with the trembling apprehensions of it dismaying their hearts, for divine as well as human laws "are weak through the flesh" and with all their sanctions and barriers, are unable to affix-boundaries to the swelling tide of human depravity.
Indeed, were men fully acquainted with all the glorious perfections of God; with his holy law; with the nature and malignity of sin; with their own real character and situation as sinners; and with the rule and consequences of the future judgment; and were they left at the same time, utterly destitute of the encouragements and assistances, which the Gospel proposes, and which form the grand peculiarity of the Bible; their knowledge, so far from rendering them religious, would probably, by leaving them without hope, annihilate all appearances of religion. Wherever appearances of religion are found, which have no respect at all to the mercy of God, as revealed in the Gospel, through the righteousness, atonement, and mediation of Emanuel, and to the effectual teaching and assistance of the Holy Spirit; they seem to have their foundation, not in men's knowledge, but in their ignorance of God, of themselves, and of his law, and of the evil of sin as might easily be evinced even upon rational principles.
But the proposal of suitable encouragements and assistance is entirely out of the province of reason; these are heavenly things, of which we can know nothing but by immediate revelation, and of which we can have no assurance, but the express declaration and faithful promise of God. He alone can inform us, on what terms, or in what manner, his honour permits him, and his sovereign pleasure disposes him, to forgive his offending creatures; and to communicate those gracious influences, which may produce a holy disposition of heart, and enable sinners to overcome all those obstacles that retard the progress of those who essay to lead "a sober, righteous, and godly life."
From such considerations, the necessity of revelation from God, in order to true religion among men, may be decidedly inferred; and it might reasonably have been expected, that he would afford such a revelation, if he intended to accept of any worship and service from them. Indeed this expectation has been very general in the world. And, as counterfeit coin proves the existence of sterling money, and the value which men put on it; so counterfeit revelations, (instead of invalidating the argument,) if they do not prove the existence of a real revelation, yet evince that men have felt their need of one, have been sensible that it would be a most valuable acquisition; and have been generally disposed to expect one.
All the counterfeits, which hitherto have advanced a claim of being divine revelations, have also successively been exposed, and have sunk into general contempt or neglect; and, in this age and nation, it may be asserted, without hazard of contradiction, that there is but one book in the world, which so much as appears to be of divine original. This we call The Bible, that is, by way of eminence, The Book; and such is the internal and external evidence, which authenticates its claim, that I am persuaded, were men as open to conviction on this subject, as they are in mathematical investigations, they could no more, after examination, reject it, than they could contradict an evident demonstration.
It may, therefore, not be improper to insert, in this place, a few of the most obvious reasons, which the most studious Christian is ready to render, of that "hope which is in him;" grounded upon this first principle, "The Bible is the Word of God." In order to shew that it is highly reasonable to believe the Bible to be a divine revelation; and if so, then equally reasonable to take all our measures of truth and duty from it, and to bow our understandings and inclinations to its teaching and governance.
Let it be here carefully observed that the Divine Inspiration, and not merely the authenticity, or genuineness, of each part of the sacred writings, is intended. Each part, and every part, may be authentic, or genuine; the work of the authors whose names they bear; or true and unsophisticated narratives of the times to which they refer, and yet they may be merely human, and of no authority, in matters of doctrine and duty. The Odes of Horace, and Cæsar's Commentaries, are authentic; probably the first book of Maccabees is genuine history, yet they are not, on that account, in any degree the authoritative guides, or standards of our faith and practice. - Many able and admired writers, who apparently have stood forth as the champions of the Bible, appear to the author of this Exposition, to have, (he hopes undesignedly,) betrayed the cause. An ancient warrior, having murdered his predecessor, and usurped his throne, was requested to permit him to be numbered among the gods; and it is said that he answered, 'Sit divus, modo non sit vivus:' (Let him be a god, provided he be not living.) These apologists for the Bible, seem to reverse the words, and to say, 'Sit vivus, modo no sit divus.' (Let it be genuine, provided it be not divine.) It would, however, be waste of time, to attempt to prove either the authenticity or genuineness of the sacred writings; unless in entire subserviency to the demonstration that they are divinely inspired. All the works and words of mere men are fallible, and may be erroneous; and the desideratum, (that which is especially wanted,) is an infallible standard, to which all other books, and instructions of every kind, may be referred, with which they may be compared; and by which they may be judged. Now, if the sacred writings are indeed "The Word of God," if "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God," we have this desideratum; and have nothing further, in this respect, to expect or desire. But if the books, called by the apostle "The oracles of God," are merely the authentic writings of Moses, Samuel, Davis, &c. and not the infallible word of God, we are as far off from the desideratum above mentioned, as ever. We may indeed learn what these venerable sages of Israel thought, as well as what the sages of China, Egypt, and Greece maintained, concerning God and religion; and we may examine the testimony of each, and bring in our verdict, some in favour of the one, and some of the other, but we are still far from an infallible standard; as far, as if the Bible had never been written; whatever value, in other respects, may be attached to such ancient, venerable, and interesting records.
With this view of the subject, gathering strength from year to year, the author of this work, is decided against any compromise; and he ventures to stand forth, as vindicating the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. He wishes, indeed, to see far abler champions enter the lists against the Goliath of modern skepticism; but as most of those learned and eminent men, who take up the challenge, seem in some measure to compromise this main point, or to decline the discussion of it, he takes his sling and his stone, and says, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?'
By the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, the author would understand to mean, "Such a complete and immediate communication, by the Holy Spirit, to the minds of the sacred writers, of those things which could not have been otherwise known; and such an effectual superintendency, as to those particulars, concerning which they might otherwise obtain information, as sufficed absolutely to preserve them from every degree of error, in all things, which could in the least affect any of the doctrine, or precepts, contained in their writings, or mislead any person who considered them as a divine and infallible standard of truth and duty." Every sentence, in this view, must be considered as "the sure testimony of God," in that sense, in which it is proposed as truth. Facts occurred, and words were spoken, as to the import of them, and the instruction contained in them, exactly as they stand here recorded; but the morality of words and actions, recorded merely as spoken and done, must be judged of, by the doctrinal and perceptive parts of the same book. - On this ground, all difference, or disparity, between one and another of the sacred writers, is wholly excluded; Moses, Samuel, David, and Isaiah; Paul, James, Peter, and John, are all supposed to speak, or write, "as they were moved by the Holy Ghost;" they are the voice, but the divine Spirit is everywhere the Speaker. They write, indeed, in such language as their different talents, education, habits, and associations suggested, or rendered natural to them; but the Holy Spirit so entirely superintended them, when writing, as to exclude every improper expression, and to guide them to all those which best suited their several subjects; "Which things we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth." Many particulars, which philosophers, or orators, or critics, think inaccurate, may consist with this complete inspiration; but every kind and degree of misrepresentation, as springing from popular or national prejudices, or opinions, or as calculated to mislead the humble believer, or to sanction error, must be totally excluded.
It will also appear, in the course of this work, that the few passages (and they are but few, compared with the whole) in which errors or interpolations have taken place, through the oversight of transcribers, form no formidable difficulty, in thus regarding the Holy Scriptures. Nearly all such interpolations and errors, may be detected and pointed out, by sober, well-informed critics, in this, as well as in other books; and if a few escape detection, it is because they do not so immediately affect the sense, as to strike the most acute, penetrating, and accurate student, that they deviate from the style and sentiment of the writer, in whose works they are found.
The author has, indeed, uniformly set himself against emendations of the sacred text; either on conjecture or inadequate authority; nay, where the authority is respectable, he has always chosen to abide by the present text, without clear necessity, or very cogent reasons, for the contrary; being aware, how far such alterations may, and often do, lead men from the Scriptures; and of their tendency gradually to substitute another book, instead of the Bible. Yet it is proper to observe, that if all the various readings, for which any tolerable authority can be given, were adopted, they would not alter either the standard of truth, or the rule of duty, in one material point, but whither conjectural emendations might lead, he cannot undertake to prognosticate.
These things having been promised, he proceeds to state some of the leading reasons which any intelligent man may assign, for believing the Scriptures, as we now have them, to be the infallible word of God.[*]
I. Vast numbers of wise and good men, through many generations and in distant countries, have agreed in receiving the Bible as a divine revelation. Many of them have been noted for seriousness, erudition, penetration, and impartiality in judging of men and things. With much labour and patient investigation, they detected the impostures, by which their contemporaries were duped, yet the same assiduous examination confirmed them in believing the Bible to be the word of God; and induced them to recommend it. Living and dying, to all other, as the source of wisdom, hope, and consolation. In this view, even the tradition of the church has much weight; for, whatever abuse has been made of the term, by such as generally were no part of the true church, yet the whole company of those who have worshipped the living God “in spirit and in truth,” (including them who ventured and laid down their lives for conscience sake, and who were the most pious, holy, and useful men in every age,) having unanimously concurred in handing down to us the Scriptures as a divine revelation; and having very little differed about the books which form a part of that sacred deposit, must be allowed to be a consideration of vast importance. And I cannot but suppose, that if a being of entire impartiality, of sound mind, and holy disposition, should be shewn the two companies, of those who have received, and those who have rejected the Scriptures, and should compare the seriousness, learning, patient investigation of truth, solid judgment, holy lives, and composure in a dying hour, without unmanly terror, or indecent levity, of the one company, with the character and conduct of the other, he would be induced to take up the Bible with profound veneration, and the strongest prepossession in its favour.
II. The agreement of the sacred writers among themselves, is another cogent argument of their divine inspiration. Should an equal number of contemporaries, of the same country, education, habits, profession, natural disposition, and rank in life, and associating together as a distinct company, concur in writing a book on religious subjects a large as the Bible, each furnishing his proportion without comparing notes together; the attentive reader, whose mind had been long inured to such studies, would be able to discover some diversity of opinion among them. But the writers of the Scriptures succeeded each other, during the term of fifteen hundred years; some of them were princes or priests; others, shepherds and fishermen; their natural abilities, education, habits, and employments, were exceedingly dissimilar; they wrote laws, history, prophecy, odes, devotional exercises, proverbs, parables, doctrines, and controversy; and each man had his distinct department; yet they all exactly coincide in the exhibition which they give us of the perfections, works, truths, and will of God; of the nature, situation, and obligations of man; of sin and salvation; of this world and the next; and in short of all things connected with our duty, safety, interest, and comfort, and in the whole of religion inculcated by them. They all were evidently of the same judgment, aimed to establish the same principles, and applied them to the same practical purposes. Apparent inconsistencies may indeed perplex the superficial reader, but they will vanish after a more accurate investigation; nor could any charge of disagreement, among the sacred writers, ever be substantiated; for it can only be said, that they related the same facts with different circumstances which are perfectly reconcilable; and that they gave instructions suited to the persons whom they addressed, without systematically shewing the harmony of them with other parts of divine truth. They wrote not by concert, and bestowed no pains to avoid the appearance of inconsistency; yet the exact coincidence that is perceived among them by a diligent student, is most astonishing, and cannot be accounted for on any rational principles, without admitting that they wrote “as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”[†]
To this we may add, that the scriptural history accords, in a wonderful manner, with the most authentic records which remain, of the events, customs, and manners of the countries and ages to which it stands related. The rise and fall of empires, the revolutions that have taken place in the world, and the grand outlines of chronology, as mentioned or referred to in the Scriptures, are coincident with those stated by the most approved ancient writers, whilst the palpable errors in these respects detected in the apocryphal books, constitute one of the most decisive reasons for rejecting them as spurious. The History of the Bible is of far greater antiquity than any other records extant in the world; and it is remarkable, that in numerous instances it shews the real origin of those absurd fables, which disgrace and obscure all other histories of those remote times; which is no feeble proof, that it was derived from some surer source of information than human tradition.
III. The miracles by which the writers of the Scriptures confirmed their divine mission to their contemporaries, afford us also a most convincing proof in this matter. The narratives of these miracles may be evidently shewn to have been published very soon after the time, and at the places, in which they were said to have been wrought in the most conspicuous manner, and before vast multitudes, enemies as well friends: yet this public challenge never called forth any one to deny that they were really performed, nor was an attempt of this kind made until long afterwards. – Can any man of common sense think, that Moses and Aaron could possibly have persuaded the whole nation of Israel that they had witnessed all the plagues of Egypt, passed through the Red Sea with the waters piled on each side of them, gathered the manna every morning, and seen all the wonders recorded in their history, had no such events taken place? If, then, that generation could not be thus imposed on, when could the belief of these extraordinary transactions be palmed upon the nation? Surely, it would have been impossible in the next age, to persuade them that their fathers had seen and experienced such wonderful things, when they had never before heard a single word about them in all their lives; and when an appeal must have been made to them, that these were things well known among them! What credit could have been obtained to such a forgery at any subsequent period? It would have been absolutely necessary, in making this attempt, to persuade the people, that such traditions had always been current among them; that the memory of them had for ages been perpetuated, by days and ordinances observed by all the nation; and that their whole civil and religious establishment had thence originated: and could this have possibly been effected, if they all had known; that no such memorials and traditions had ever before been heard of among them? The same might be shewn concerning the other miracles recorded in Scripture, especially those of Christ and his apostles; and it might be made evident that the man, who denies that they were actually performed, must believe more wonderful things without any evidence, than those are which he rejects, though established by unanswerable proof. To evince this, as to one most important instance namely, the resurrection of Christ, which being once proved, undeniably establishes the divine original and authority of Christianity, let the reader consult the note on John xx,24-29, latter part.
On this subject, it may again be demanded, when could the belief of such events, as the resurrection of Christ, and the miracles wrought by his apostles and disciples, have been obtruded on mankind, if they had never happened? Surely, not in the age when they were said to have been witnessed by tens of thousands, who were publicly challenged to deny them if they could! Not in any subsequent age; for the origin of Christianity was expressly ascribed to them, and millions must have been persuaded, that they had always believed those things, of which they had never to that time so much as heard! We may indeed venture to assert, that no past event was ever so fully proved as our Lord’s resurrection; and that it would not be half so preposterous to doubt, whether such a man as Julius Cæsar ever existed, as it would be to question, whether Jesus actually arose from the dead. – What then do they mean, who oppose some trivial apparent variations in the account given of this event by the four Evangelists, (which have repeatedly been shewn capable of an easy reconciliation,) to such an unparallel complication of evidence that it did actually take place.
IV. The prophecies contained in the sacred Scriptures, and fulfilling to this day, fully demonstrate that they are divinely inspired. These form a species of perpetual miracles, which challenge the investigation of men in very age; and which though overlooked by the careless and prejudiced, cannot fail of producing conviction proportioned to the attention paid to them. The prophecies of the Messiah, which are to be found in almost all the books of the Old Testament, when compared with the exact accomplishment of them, as recorded in the authentic writings of the Evangleists, abundantly prove them to have been penned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whilst the existence of the Jews, as a people differing from all others upon the face of the earth, and their regard to these writings, as the sacred oracles handed down from their progenitors, sufficiently vouch for their antiquity, though that admits of abundant proof of another kind. According to the predictions of these books, Nineveh hath been desolated; [‡] Babylon swept with the besom of destruction; [§] Tyre became a place to dry nets in; [**] Egypt the basest of the kingdoms, which has never since been able to “exalt itself among the nations.”[††] These, and many other events, fulfilling ancient prophecies so many ages after they were delivered, can never be accounted for, except by allowing, that He, who sees the end from the beginning, thus revealed his secret purposes that the accomplishment of them might prove the Scriptures to be his word of instruction to mankind.
In like manner, there are evident predictions interwoven with the writings of almost every penman of the New Testament, as a divine attestation to the doctrine contained in them. The destruction of Jerusalem, with all the circumstances predicted in the evangelists, (the narrative of which may be seen in Josephus’s History of the Jewish wars;) the series of ages, during which that city hath been “trodden under foot of the Gentiles;” the long continued dispersion of the Jews, and the conversion of the nations to Christianity, the many antichristian corruptions of the Gospel, the superstition, uncommanded austerities, idolatry, tyranny, and persecution of the Roman hierarchy, the division of the empire into ten kingdoms, their concurrence during many ages to support the usurpation of the church of Rome, and the existence of Christianity to this day, amidst so many enemies, who have used every possible method to destroy it, when diligently compared with the predictions of the New Testament, do not come short of the fullest demonstration, which the case will admit of, that the books that contain them are the unerring word of God.
The grand outline of prophecy generally takes in the whole, or that part which was future, when the prophet wrote; and as subordinate predictions, concerning Israel and the nations, which form a kind of episode to the main design, were fulfilled, other prophecies were delivered from age to age, till Sty. John closed the whole in Revelation. (Notes, Is. xli,21-23;xliii,9) Can any reasonable man conceive that a design of this kind could ever have entered into the thoughts of an uninspired writer; that he could form the astonishing idea into a regular plan; and that during more than fifteen hundred years, he should have successors, who entered fully into his views, and assisted in carrying them into effect? Or can it be conceived, that such a plan, however formed, could have been so executed as to have even a plausible appearance of being successful? He, who can believe this, has no right to call those credulous, who receive the Bible as the word of God.
There are two further observations, on this subject, which seem of great importance.
I. The predictions of Scripture, if carefully examined, will be found to contain a prophetical history of the world, as to all the grand outlines, from the beginning to the present time; not to speak of such as have not yet received their fulfillment. Who can deny, that the history of Abraham’s posterity, of Israel especially, of Judah and Joseph, and the most renowned sons of Jacob, and of the Jews, in their present dispersions, and their preservation as a distinct people, “dwelling alone, and not numbered among the nations,” might be clearly and particularly stated in the very words of prophecy? Does not almost the whole of ancient profane history, consist principally in the records of the four great empires, the Chaldean, the Medo Persian, the Grecian or Macedonian, and the Roman? And are not these predicted in the book of Daniel, so exactly and particularly, as to give some plausibility to the objection, which is demonstrated to be unfounded, that they were written after the event? But especially, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” The changes, which have taken place, in the state of the world, in consequence of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, his claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God, by some virulently opposed, by others zealously supported, have been great, extensive and durable, beyond all comparisons with other revolutions; but is there one particular, in all the history of Jesus, and the subsequent establishment of Christianity, with all the opposition made to it, and the corruptions made of it; that it is not expressly predicted in Scripture? And might not a narrative, in many instances very circumstantial of our Lord’s life and death, be drawn up in the words of prophecy?
II. From the preceding consideration, another arises, as inseparably connected with it. The prophesies of Scripture are not detached, or insulated predictions, but constitute a grand system of previous information, as to the designs of Providence, extending from the earliest ages, even to the consummation of all things, and accompanied by such distinct notions of order, place, and time, as may be well called the geography and the chronology of prophecy. Insomuch, that any one, in any age, who well understood the prophecies, extant in his day, might have known what to expect, at the specified times, and in the specified countries. As one prediction received its accomplishment, others were given connecting prophecy with history, till the revelation of St. John concluded the whole. Events have hitherto, in every age and nation, corresponded with these predictions as every one well knows, in proportion to his acquaintance with history, and the care and impartiality with which he compares the prophecies with it. And, as it is the manifest and avowed plan of prophecy, to predict events, occurring in their own place and season to the end of the world; the circumstance of several prophecies being yet unfulfilled, does not in the least deduct from the proof of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, derived from this source; for on such a plan, some must remain unfulfilled, till the end shall come. It may also be added, that in respect of the state of the Jews, and in many other particulars, there is an evident preparation made for the accomplishment of all the prophecies, which yet remain to be fulfilled. Now, I ask, is there any thing like such a system of prediction, in any other book in the world except the Bible? And could so many, and such extraordinary and improbable events, through so many ages and nations, have occurred in so undeniable a manner, as foretold in the Scriptures, had not the Omniscient God himself inspired the Scriptures.
V. Only the Scriptures (and such books as make them their basis,) introduce the infinite God speaking in a manner worthy of himself, with simplicity, majesty, and authority. His character, as there delineated, comprises all possible excellence without any intermixture; his laws and ordinances accord to his perfections, his works and dispensations exhibit them; and all his dealings with his creatures bear the stamp of infinite wisdom, power, justice, purity, truth, goodness, and mercy, harmoniously displayed. The description there given of the state of the world, and of human nature, widely differs from our ideas of them; yet facts unanswerably prove it to be exactly true. The records of every nation, the events of every age, and the history of every individual, confute man’s self-flattery in this respect; and prove the writers of the Bible knew the human character better than any philosopher, ancient or modern ever did. Their account teaches us what men are actually doing, and what may be expected from them; whilst all, who form a different estimate of human nature, find their principles inapplicable to facts, their theories incapable of being reduced to practice, and their expectations strangely disappointed. The Bible, well understood, enables us to account for those events, which have appeared inexplicable to men in every age; and the more carefully any one watches and scrutinizes all the motives, imaginations, and desires of his own heart for a length of time, the clearer will it appear to him, that the Scriptures give a far more just account of his disposition and character, than he could have done of himself. In short, man is such a being, and the world in such a state, as they have described: yet multiplied facts, constant observation, and reiterated experience, are insufficient to convince us of it, till we first learn it from the Bible, and then comparing all that passes within us and around us, with what we there read, we become more and more acquainted with our own hearts, and established in the belief of the divine original of this most wonderful book.
The mysteries contained in Scripture rather confirm than invalidate this conclusion for a book, claiming to be a revelation from God, and yet devoid of mystery, would confute itself. Incomprehensibility is inseparable from God, and from all his works, even the most inconsiderable, as the growth of a blade of grass. The mysteries of the Scripture are sublime, interesting, and useful; they display the divine perfections, lay a foundation for our hope, and inculcate humility, reverence, love, and gratitude. What is incomprehensible above our reason, it may imply nothing contrary to it. So that, in all respects, the contents of the Bible are suited to convince the serious inquirer, that it is the Word of God.
VI. The tendency of the Scripture constitutes another unanswerable proof. Did all men believe and obey the Bible as a divine revelation, to what tenor of conduct would it lead them? And what would be the effect on society? Surely repentance, and renunciation of all vice and immorality, when combined with the spiritual worship of God in his ordinances; faith in his mercy and truth, through the mediation of his Son: and all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, as visible in the life of every true believer, if universal or even general, would form such characters, and produce such effects, as the world has never yet witnessed. Men would then habitually and uniformly do justice, speak truth, shew mercy, exercise mutual forgiveness, follow after peace, bridle their appetites and passions, and lead sober, righteous, and godly lives. Murders, wars, bitter contentions, cruel oppressions, and unrestrained licentiousness, would no more desolate the world, and fill it with misery, but righteousness, goodness, and truth, would bless the earth with a felicity exceeding all our present conceptions. This is, no doubt, the direct tendency of the Scriptural doctrines, precepts, motives, and promises: nothing is wanting to remedy the state of the world, and to fit men for the worship and felicity of heaven, but to believe and obey the Scriptures. And if many enormous crimes have been committed, under colour of zeal for Christianity, it only proves the depravity of man’s heart: for the Scripture, soberly understood, most expressly fobids such practices; and men do not act thus, because they duly regard it, but because they will not believe and obey it.
The tendency of these principles is exhibited in the character delineated in the sacred writings, whilst the consistency between the doctrines and precepts of Scripture, and the actions of men recorded in it, implies another argument of its divine original. The conduct of ungodly men as there related, entirely accords to the abstract account given of human nature; and it appears, that believers conducted themselves exactly in that manner, which the principles of the Bible might have led us to expect. They had like passions with other men; but these were habitually restrained and regulated by the fear and love of God, and by other holy affections. Their general behaviour was good, but not perfect, and sometimes their natural proneness to evil broke out, and made way for bitter repentance and deeper humiliation: so that they appear constantly to have perceived their need for forgiveness and divine assistance, to have expected their felicity from the rich mercy of God; and instead of making a bad use of that consideration, to have deduced from it motives for gratitude, zeal, patience, meekness, and love to mankind.
But one character is exhibited, in the simplest and most unaffected manner, which is perfection itself. Philosophers, orators, and poets, in their several ways, have bestowed immense pains to delineate a faultless character: they have given us complete models of their own estimate of excellence, and sufficient proof that they had laboured the point to the uttermost of their ability. But the four Evangelists, (whose divine inspiration is now frequently doubted on the most frivolous pretenses,) without seeming to think of it, have done that which all other writers have failed in. They have shewn us a perfect human character, by recording facts, without making any comment on them, or shewing the least ingenuity in the arrangement of them. “They have given the history of One, whose spirit, words, and actions were, in every particular, what they ought to have been; who always did the very thing which was proper, and in the best manner imaginable, who never once deviated from the most consummate wisdom, purity, benevolence, compassion, meekness, humility, fortitude, patience, piety, zeal, or any other excellency: and who, in no instance, let one virtue or holy disposition intrench on another, but exercised them all in entire harmony, and exact proportion,” – “This subject challenges investigation, and sets infidelity at defiance. Either these four men exceeded, in genius and capacity, all other writers that ever lived, or they wrote under the guidance of divine inspiration: for, without labour or affectation, they have performed what hath baffled all others, who have set themselves purposely to accomplish it.”[‡‡] This is a fact which cannot be denied: no perfect character is elsewhere delineated, and probably no mere man could have drawn one; no person would have thought of such a character as that of Jesus: this alone, I apprehend, and their entire consistency in this respect with each other, demonstrates that the Evangelists wrote under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
It hath often been observed, that Satan would never have influenced men to write the Bible, for then he would have been divided against himself: wicked men would not have written a book,, which so awfully condemned their whole conduct, and good men would never have ascribed their own inventions to divine inspiration; especially as such forgeries are most severely reprobated in every part of it. But indeed, it is a work as much exceeding every effort of mere man, as the sun surpasses those scanty illuminations, by which his splendour is imitated, or his absence is supplied.
VII. The actual effects, produced by the Scripture, evince their divine original. These are indeed far from being equal to its tendency; because, through human depravity, the Gospel is not generally or fully believed and obeyed; yet they are very considerable; and we may assert, that even at present, there are many thousands, who have been reclaimed from a profane and immoral life, to sobriety, equity, truth, and piety, and to a good behaviour in relative life, by attending to the sacred oracles. Having been “made free from sin and become the servants of God, they have their fruit unto holiness,” and after “patiently continuing in well-doing” and cheerfully bearing various afflictions, they joyfully meet death, being supported by the hope of eternal life, “as the gift of God through Jesus Christ:” whilst they who best know them, are most convinced, that they have been rendered wiser, holier, and happier, by believing the Bible; and that there is a reality in religion, though various interests and passions may keep them from duly embracing it. There are indeed enthusiasts; but they become such by forsaking the old rule of faith and duty, for some new imagination: and there are hypocrites; but they attest the reality and excellency of religion, by deeming it worth their while to counterfeit it.
VIII. Brevity is so connected with fullness in the Scriptures, that they are a treasure of divine knowledge which can never be exhausted. The things that are absolutely necessary to salvation, are few, simple, and obvious to the meanest capacity, provided it be attended by a humble teachable disposition: but the most learned, acute, and diligent student cannot, in the longest life, obtain an entire knowledge of this one volume. The more deeply he works the mine, the richer and more abundant he finds the ore, new light continually beams from this source of heavenly knowledge, to direct his conduct, and illustrate the works of God, and the ways of men; and he will at last leave the world confessing, that the more he studied the Scriptures, the fuller conviction he had of his own ignorance, and of their inestimable value.
IX. Lastly, “He that believeth hath the witness in himself.” The discoveries which he hath made by the light of the Scripture, the experience he hath had, that the Lord fulfils its promises to those who trust in him, the abiding effects produced by attending to it, on his judgment, dispositions, and affections, and the earnests of heaven enjoyed by him in communion with God, put the matter beyond all doubt: and though many believers are not at all qualified to dispute against infidels, they are enabled, through this inward testimony, to obey, and suffer for, the Gospel: and they can no more be convinced, by reasonings, and objections, that uninspired men invented the Bible, than they can be persuaded that man created the sun, whose light they behold, and by whose beams they are cheered.
And now, if an objector could fully invalidate one half, or two thirds, of these arguments, (to which many more might easily be added,) the remainder would be abundantly sufficient. Nay, perhaps any one of them so far decides the question, that, were there no other proof of the Bible being the Word of God, a man could not reject it, without acting in opposition to those dictates of common sense, which direct his conduct in his secular affairs. But in reality, I have a confidence that not one of these proofs can be fairly answered; at least it has never yet been done; and the combined force of the whole is so great, that the objections by which men cavil against the truth, only resemble the foaming waves dashing against the deep rooted rock, which hath for ages defied their unavailing fury. But though these can effect nothing more, they may beat off the poor ship-wrecked mariner, who was about to ascend it, in hopes of deliverance from impending destruction.
A very small part of the evidences which, with combined force, establish the divine original and authority of our holy religion, has here been adduced. Many books have, of late years, been published on the important subject, the writers of which have treated it in different ways; yet, in general, the arguments advanced by each seem separately to be conclusive. It does not appear that any view of the subject, materially new, remains to be exhibited; but the following particulars have not, as far as the author has observed, been as yet brought forward in that prominent manner, and to that advantage, of which they are capable.
I. A vast multitude, in these days, seem to allow the sacred writers to have been wise and good men; but they hesitate, and speak doubtfully, as to their divine inspiration. Yet, do not all the prophets, in the Old Testament, speak most decidedly of themselves and of their predecessors, as declaring, not their own words, but the Word of God? Do not the apostles, and other writers of the New Testament, speak concerning prophets that wrote the Old Testament, as “holy men of God, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost?” Do they not adopt language, which, in it most obvious meaning, claims the attention of their readers, to their own instructions, as to the Word of God? Do they not thus attest and sanction one another’s writings? Do they thus attest and sanction any other books? The answer to these questions at least effectually confutes the sentiments above sated If the sacred writers were indeed wise men, but not inspired, how were they deluded into the false imagination, that they, and their predecessors and coadjutors, were inspired? If they were good men, but not inspired, would they have thus confidently asserted their own inspiration and sanctioned that of each other, knowing that this was contrary to the truth, and that they merely delivered their own private sentiments?
II. There are also numbers, who so far reverence the name of our Lord Jesus, as to suppose his words to be divine and infallible; and yet they speak of the writers, both of the Old and New Testaments, in more hesitating language. Now our Lord himself in numerous instances, has quoted and referred to the Old Testament, and the several parts of it, as “the oracles of God;” and this, in a manner which directly tended to mislead the people if the passages referred and appealed to, were merely the private opinion of some venerable men of former ages, but not the infallible word of God. And his appointment of the apostles, and his giving them the power of the keys, of opening and shutting the kingdom of heaven, must imply, that in their writings, and in those which they sanctioned, his doctrine and religion might be found unmixed and genuine. Indeed, if it cannot be found there, where are we to look for it? These considerations shew, that he himself hath attested the divine inspiration of both the old and New Testament.
An argument, comprising so many and such important transactions, cannot here be fully discussed; but a few specimens may not improperly be annexed, of the manner, in which the author supposes that the position might be maintained, with great effect, by any man who had talents and leisure for such an attempt.
When the divine Redeemer was tempted by the devil, he selected all those texts with which, as by the sword of the Spirit, he put the enemy to flight, from one of the Books of Moses. Does he then quote them as the words of man? Surely no: he says repeatedly, “It is written.” And had any one inquired, Where? Would he not have answered, “In the oracles of God” – In his sermon on the Mount he continually refers to the law given by Moses; declaring that “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall not pass, till all be fulfilled;” for “he came not to destroy the law; - but to fulfill.” Now who can deny that our Lord came to fulfill the types of the ceremonial law, and the requirements of the moral? And who can imagine, that the Son of God was manifested thus to honour any institution of mere human authority?
The Pharisees and Scribes in general maintained, that Jehovah spoke by Moses, and that his writings were the word of God: but does our Lord ever so much as intimate that this opinion was unwarranted, or held in too absolute and unrestricted a manner? Indeed, when he saw good to expose the traditions of the elders, he charges them with rejecting and making void the law of God by their traditions. – Again, when the Pharisees proposed a question to him respecting divorces, he referred them to the Mosaic history of the creation, and the original institution of marriage, saying “Have ye never read, that He which made them at the beginning, “made them male and female,” &c (Matt. xix, 4-8). Does not this method of appealing to these records imply an express attestation to the indisputable truth of them? And does not that attestation amount to a declaration, that they were written by divine inspiration? When the Pharisees further adduced the permission of the law concerning divorces, our Lord only shewed that a special reason existed, which rendered it proper to make this judicial regulation, that worse consequences might be prevented.
Who was intended by the Householder, (Matt. xxi, 35-46;) that enclosed the vineyard of Israel, but Jehovah? By whom did he enclose it, but by Moses? What Moses enacted and performed, was done in the name and by the authority of Jehovah; and can his writings be treated as the word of man, by any who consider the testimony of Christ as the word of God.
The Sadducees proposed a case to Jesus, which they imagined inconsistent with the resurrection of the dead: but he decisively answered, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God;” and he then referred them to the Books of Moses, as a confutation of their error. Now did the Son of God, indeed, appeal to the writings of an uninspired man, or to the oracles of God?
On another occasion, he inculcated a regard to the Scribes and Pharisees; as sitting in Moses’s seat, that is, teaching according to his law: though at other times, he exposed their instruction; when following their own traditions, they disannulled that law; what could this mean, but that the one was a divine revelation, the other a mere human invention?
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, (if indeed it be a parable,) our Lord introduced Abraham, saying to the rich man concerning his brethren, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them;” and again, “If they believe not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” – But would he have thus called the attention of hearers, and of all through revolving ages who read his words, to the writings of Moses, if any part of them had been erroneous, and the mere opinion of a fallible man? It is worthy of notice, that our Lord also expressly attested the truth of the Mosaic history, in some particulars which have not been most implicitly credited, in their evident and literal import: I mean the account given by Moses of the universal deluge, and Noah’s preservation in the ark, while all else were drowned; and the destruction of Sodom by fire and brimstone from heaven; with the sudden and awful doom of Lot’s wife. (Luke xvii, 26-32.)
When discoursing with Nicodemus, he referred to the Mosaic history of the brazen serpent in such a manner, as both attested the typical import of that transaction, and the reality of the miracle recorded by Moses.
On another occasion, probably before the Sanhedrin, our Lord says to the Jews, “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?”- Hence we may infer, that an intelligent belief of the words of Moses necessarily leads to faith in Christ; and that it could not be expected, that the Jews, who did not believe the testimony of Moses in this particular, would believe in him of whom he spake. Let this suffice, in respect of the Books of Moses, a few more specimens may be added from other parts of the Old Testament. When the Pharisees condemned the disciples for robbing the ears of corn on the Sabbath-day, our Lord said unto them, “Have ye not read what David did?” “Have ye not read so much as this, what David did?” (1 Sam. xxi, 1-7. Matt. xii, 1-5. Luke vi, 1-5.) and directly referred also to the Law in the same words. Now this surely authorizes us to conclude, that he regarded both the law and the Books of Samuel as alike the word of God. – In like manner, he called the attention of his hearers to the history of the queen of Sheba, as of undoubted authority; and this is recorded both in the Books of the Kings and in the Chronicles. (Matt. xii.42.)
When he anticipated the objection of the Nazarenes, by referring them to the conduct of the Lord in sending Elijah to Zarephah, to a Zidonian woman, rather than to any of the widows in Israel; and in cleansing Naaman the Syrian by Elijah, rather than any of the lepers in Israel; he not only authenticated the historical records of those facts as genuine, but attested the miracles recorded in them. It should also be observed, that our Lord never referred to any works in this manner, except those received by the Jews as the word of God; he opposed oral traditions, and hath not once quoted the Books of the Apocrypha, some of which were then extant. It may, therefore, be fairly inferred, that he expressly designed to confirm the opinion of the Jews on that subject, by his repeated attestations.
Jehovah had given commandment by Moses, that the people should offer sacrifices exclusively at the place which he should appoint; and Joshua after his death, by divine direction as the Jews supposed, placed the tabernacle at Shiloh, where it continued till the ark was taken by the Philistines. Afterwards David removed the ark to Jerusalem, and Solomon builded the temple on mount Zion; which was from that time regarded as exclusively the place appointed by God for sacrifice. A large proportion of the Old Testament, from the Books of Moses to the end of it, relates to this tabernacle and temple, to the sins of the people in offering sacrifice elsewhere, or hypocritically attending on the ordinances there administered; to the judgments of God upon them for these sins, to the destruction of the temple by the Chaldeans, the rebuilding of it by Zerubbabel, and events of a similar nature. – These things are so interwoven with the historical records of the Old Testament, that to deny the divine authority by which Joshua separated Shiloh, and David mount Zion, as the exclusive place for offering sacrifice, according to the command given by Moses, would invalidate the whole narrative; as it would imply, that the Lord inflicted tremendous judgments on the nation for violating the appointments of uninspired men. The Samaritans indeed argued, that “men ought to worship” on mount Gerizim, and not at Jerusalem: but out Lord declared to the woman of Samaria, that her countrymen “knew not what they worshipped, for salvation was of the Jews.” (John iv, 22.) Now who can doubt, but that this declaration, and his own constant attendance on the worship performed at Jerusalem, fully attests the divine inspiration of those books in which the appointment of this place, and the building of the temple are recorded, as done by the directions and command of God himself?
Let us also very briefly consider our Lord’s testimony to the writings of the prophets, and the Book of Psalms. The Psalms are indeed ascribed to different writers,; but they constituted a book of the Scriptures among the Jews at that time, as they now do (Luke xxiv,44. Acts i, 20; xiii,33:) so that a quotation form that book, as the word of God, without adding any limitation, is indeed an attestation to the whole.
When the children of Israel cried “Hosanna to the Son of David,” the chief priests said to Christ, “Hearest thou not what these say?” To which he answered, yea, “Have ye never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?’” (Ps. viii. Matt. xxi, 15, 16.)
On another occasion he demanded of the Pharisees “How David in Spirit, or by the Holy Ghost, called the Messiah Lord?” (Ps. cx. Matt. xxii, 41-46. Mark xii, 36,) which is equivalent to David’s declaration concerning himself; “The Spirit of God spake by me, and his word was in my tongue,” (2 Sam. xxiii,2.) And accordingly our Lord, after his resurrection, declared that all things written in the Psalms concerning him, must be fulfilled. ( Luke xxiv, 44-46.)
Many other attestations of our Lord to different prophets might be adduced, as to Hosea, Micah, Jonah, &c. for the sake or brevity I shall not mention his attestation to the Scriptures in general, and to the division of them which was received at that time, into the law, the prophets, and the Psalms. This he says to the Scribes, “Did ye never read in the Scriptures, the Stone which the builders rejected is become the Head of the corner?” (Ps. cxviii, 22,23. Matt. xxi,42,43;) and when he adds, “Therefore I say unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruit thereof,” he evidently shews that he quoted the passage as the word of God that cannot be broken. – “How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it may be?” and again “All this was done, that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” (Matt. xxvi, 54-56).
Would we know more particularly what Scriptures he meant? Let us hear his words to the apostles; “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me.” (Luke xxiv. 26,27; 44-46.) But why must all these things be fulfilled? Surely, among other reasons, because they were penned by immediate inspiration, and were the unfailing oracles of God.
The words of our Lord (probably before the Sanhedrin,) are very remarkable: “Search,” says he, “the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of men.” (John v. 39,40.) Now what could the Jews suppose Jesus to mean by the Scriptures, but the books which they had been accustomed to distinguish by that appellation? In these they had thought, that the way of eternal life was to be found; these testified of him as the Messiah; and yet they rejected him, without whom they could not obtain eternal life! – This one testimony confirms indubitably the divine revelation of the whole Old Testament as it stood at that time. With all that truly believe the words of Christ; but, reversing his conclusion in another case, we may say, ‘If ye believe not his words, how can ye believe the writings of the Old Testament?’
When the Jews went about to stone him, because he had said, “I and my Father are One,” he quoted a passage from the Psalms, adding, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” (John x,29-39.)But what can we understand by the Scripture, in this connexion, but the canonical books of the Old Testament, as then received by the Jews? And who can deny this to be a complete authentication of them, as the unfailing word of the unchangeable God? Indeed, all those passages, in which Christ speaks of his sufferings, death, and resurrection, with the various circumstances connected with them, as what must be, with reference to the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, prove, as far as men regard his testimony, that not one tittle of those sacred records could pass away, till the whole had received its full accomplishment, for which no other satisfactory reason can be given, except this, that the whole is a divine revelation; “for the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
But, it should be granted that our Lord’s own words demonstrate the whole Old Testament to be “given by inspiration from God,” as far as men reverence and believe his testimony; yet does it follow, that the books of the New Testament admit of the same kind of proof? – Let us then briefly examine this subject also. It is not indeed practicable to adduce so large a body of evidence, as hath been brought in the former case; nor is it necessary, yet I apprehend that the argument may in a short compass be made very conclusive. When Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, (Note, Matt. xvi, 13-19.) He answered, “I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Peter had spoken in the name of the other apostles, as well as in his own, and it is generally allowed, that the answer included them also; indeed, this appears by another passage of similar import, in which they were all addressed. (John xx,23.)
If we allow, that this absolute promise was given exclusively to the apostles, we must next inquire, how they could exercise this power of binding or loosing, especially after their decease, except by their doctrine. And where must the church, or the world, look for their doctrine, if not in their writings? Should we suppose, that the exercise of this exclusive authority was confined to the short time of their continuance on earth; then the church has ever since been left destitute of any rule, either for censures or absolutions, even of a declarative nature; and also of all criteria for the discrimination of true Christians from other men, either for the purpose of self-examination, or for the regulation of our conduct towards the household of faith, and the world around us. But if this promise was not exclusively made to the apostles, nor the authority given by it intended to be exercised according to their doctrine; the consequence must be, either that there are in every age, ministers of religion possessed of this absolute power of binding and loosing; or that the words of Christ have not received their accomplishment. And, as it does not seem to accord with the prevailing sentiments of this age, to invest ministers, of any kind or description, with such an infallible and final authority we may, I apprehend, be allowed to conclude, that the promise was made exclusively to the apostles; and was fulfilled, when they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, to deliver that doctrine to the church, according to which the state of men, in respect of acceptance or condemnation, is and will be finally decided. If this be allowed, it will inevitably follow, that our Lord’s express testimony proves that their writings are a divine revelation; for in them especially they delivered to the church what they received from the Lord; and these have been, and will be to all subsequent generations, exclusively the doctrine of Christ.
The night before his crucifixion, our blessed Saviour repeatedly promised to send to his apostles, “the Spirit of Truth, who should guide them into all Truth, and shew them things to come;” who should “teach them all things, and bring all things to their remembrance whatsoever he had said unto them,” and who “should receive of His, and shew it to them.” There is a subordinate sense, in which these promises are in a measure accomplished to all true Christians but the persons who advance doubts respecting the divine authority of the books contained in the New Testament, will scarcely deny that they were addressed, in a vastly superior sense, to the apostles and those immediately connected with them. Now the Spirit was given to them, as well as to others, to profit withal: and it is undeniable, that genuine Christianity, without unremitted miracles, could be delivered down to future ages for the profit of mankind, not only by writings in which it should be stated without error or corrupt mixture, and preserved as a sacred deposit in the church from generation to generation. What then could the Holy Spirit, promised in such strong expressions to the apostles, be so rationally supposed to do for them, as to guide their minds, when they dictated those writings, by which it was evidently the design of Providence that the doctrine of Christ should be perpetuated in the church? Indeed, either they did deliver the doctrine of their Lord and Master pure and uncorrupted to mankind, or they did not: if they did not, the revelation God made of himself by his well-beloved Son, hath answered very little purpose; as no man, without a new revelation, properly so called, can, or ever could, distinguish the truths of Christ from the errors of the apostles: but if they did, why should we maintain, that they were preserved from error when preaching the gospel, in which one generation of men alone was immediately concerned; and yet left to fall into errors in their writings, in which all future ages and nations were most deeply interested? If when they were brought before governors for a testimony to them, “It was not they that spoke but the Holy Spirit, who spake by them,” (Matt. x,20;) we may surely conclude, that what they wrote for a testimony to all future ages and nations, was arranged under the same efficacious teaching and superintendency.
Our Lord, just before his ascension, renewed, as it were, and ratified his commission to the apostles: “All power,” says he, “is given unto me in heaven and earth; go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. xxviii,18,19,20.) “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark xvi, 15,16.) But none, those alone excepted, to whom the apostles personally preached, can have any concern in this important declaration; unlike the doctrine of Christ delivered to the apostles, may be certainly found in their writings. Our Lord, just before his crucifixion, intercedes for his whole future church in these words: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also, which shall believe on me though their words” (John xvii,20) and indeed all real Christians, in every age, have believed on him, not so much through the word of the ministers that preached to them, as through that of the apostles, by which their doctrine must be tried, from which, if sound, it is deduced, and to which it is properly their custom to make an unreserved appeal. In this sense St. Paul says, that believers are “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief Corner Stone:” for the Old Testament penned by the prophets, and the New by the apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, contain that doctrine which is the foundation of the faith and hope of the whole church, as resting on Christ, and united in him into an holy temple, “an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Eph. ii,20-22.)
The several books of the New Testament were written by the apostles themselves, excepting the gospels of Mark and Luke, and the Acts of the apostles: and these were penned by the attendants on the apostles. And under their immediate inspection; and consequently were equally authenticated by them, as if they had themselves written them. If any should object, that Paul was not one of those apostles to whom Christ gave his express testimony, and yet he wrote a great part of the Epistles, it may be answered, first, that there is no alternative between denying all the facts recorded concerning him, or allowing his apostolic authority in its fullest extent, or that “he was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles,” and secondly, that Peter has attested his Epistles to be a part of the Scriptures, calling him “Our beloved brother Paul!” (2 Pet. iii.15.) If, therefore, our Lord’s own words authenticate the writings of the other apostles as a divine revelation; Peter, who in some respects might be called the chief of the apostles, by revelation from God, authenticates the writings of his beloved brother Paul.
The consequences of our present conduct, according to the Scriptures, are so vast, that if there were only a bare possibility of their truth, it would be madness to run the risk of rejecting them, for the sake of gaining the whole world. What then is it, when we have such unanswerable demonstrations that they are the Word of God, and cannot reasonably doubt of it for a moment, to disobey the commands and neglect the salvation, revealed in them for the veriest trifle that can be proposed to us! Especially, as it may be shewn that, (Besides the eternal consequences,) the firm belief of the Scriptures, and the conscientious obedience which true faith always produces, will render a man happier in this present life, even amidst trials and self-denying services, than any other man can be made, by all the pomp, pleasure, wealth, power, and honour which the world can bestow on him.
If these arguments; which certainly contain a full demonstration of the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, excite in any reader a greater attention to the sacred volume, and dispose him to read it with stricter impartiality, and large expectations of improvement; if they induce any one, who has not hitherto turned his attention to the subject, to examine it carefully for himself if they obviate the unhappy prejudices, or confirm the wavering faith, of one individual; if they stir up any one to seek and wait for “the witness in himself,” the author’s object, in prefixing them to this publication, will be thus far attained.
We must now proceed to consider the nature of a divine revelation, and the reception to which it is entitled. Knowledge, in different degrees, may be acquired by us in diverse ways. We know some things by intuition, or the testimony of our senses, and other things by demonstration, or undeniable conclusive arguments. Many things, which do not admit of this kind of proof, may be shewn to be probable, in so great a degree, that it would be absurd to doubt of them, and madness not to regulate our conduct according to them. A very small proportion of men’s actions are directed by personal knowledge, demonstration, or even by the higher degrees of probability. A moderate degree of probability is generally sufficient to excite them to activity, and to direct their conduct. Testimony, especially influences by far the greatest part of human actions; and forms the main spring of men’s vigorous self-denying exertions, their daring attempts, and their persevering labours. By this, all the grand concerns of nations are conducted; causes, in which life and death are involved, receive their final determination, and commerce, on all its branches, is directed and influenced: and the same regard to testimony, and confidence in our fellow-creatures, is inseparable from the most ordinary affairs of human life.
Now, “if the testimony of man be great, the testimony of God is greater,” infinitely greater. Indeed his testimony, when ascertained, is the highest possible degree of demonstration: and when the Bible is proved, by adequate evidences, to be the testimony of God, the information contained in it is sure, far beyond all other information, from whatever quarter, or in whatever manner, it is obtained. – The judge and the jury in court, the merchant on the exchange, the commander of a fleet or army, the minister of state in council (not to mention cases of subordinate importance;) are fully aware, that no testimony or information can be useful, to direct their conduct in their respective concerns, except it be credited. To appreciate its credibility and its import, is the first consideration; and the next, when it is believed and understood, should be to form the plan of conduct according to it. Thus, let it be well considered, almost all human actions, and those especially of the greatest importance, are performed and regulated by faith; by that same principle, which is the mainspring of human activity; in the great concerns of religion; with this sole difference, that belief of human testimony, and reliance on human faithfulness, to promises by word or on paper, influence men in their secular concerns; the belief of God’s testimony, and reliance on his faithfulness to his promises, as written in the Scriptures, influence Christians in their spiritual and eternal concerns.
The Bible is the testimony of God to truths and facts, many of which are not otherwise discoverable, or not with sufficient clearness and certainty, to become principles of our habitual conduct. Things past, future, and invisible; truths most important, sublime, and mysterious, are thus brought to our knowledge, attested by him, who cannot mistake, who cannot deceive. But faith is the only exercise of our rational faculties, the only operation of the human mind, by which we can avail ourselves of this information. Faith, receiving and appropriating the testimony of God, is to reason, not unlike what the telescope is to the eye of the astronomer; who by it discerns objects invisible to all others; and sees clearly and distinctly those things, which to others appear obscure and confused. Reason, thus appropriating, by faith, the information communicated by revelation, adds immensely to her former scanty stock of knowledge; possessing at the same time, certainty instead of conjecture; and thus, in the posture of a humble disciple, she receives that instruction, which must be forever withheld from her, whiles she proudly affects to be the teacher. Thus even the most illiterate of mankind, believing and becoming acquainted with the sacred oracles, acquire a knowledge in the things of God and religion, as much more certain and useful than ever was possessed by the wisest and most learned unbeliever; as the bosom-friend or confidential counselor of the prince, who is informed of his real purposes and designs, exceeds in practical knowledge of state-affairs, the most sagacious speculating politician; who merely supposes that those things have been done, or will be done, which he thinks ought to be done.
When relying on the veracity of God, we receive the Scriptures as in every proposition infallibly true, the whole of the instruction contained in them becomes our own and we may consider them as a mine of precious metal, which will more and more enrich us, in proportion to our diligence in exploring, and, so to speak, in working the mine.
But this faith differs widely from the mere assent of the understanding to any proposition, without respect to its importance, and our own concern in it. Noah, for instance, was informed, that the deluge would come we are informed that it actually came; but he was immediately interested in the event; we are not. We may, therefore, assent to the truth of it, as a historical fact, without being influenced by it in our habitual conduct; but if he truly believed the divine testimony and monition, it must necessarily have influenced his conduct. “By faith Noah, moved with fear, prepared the ark.” The truths of revelation are not like the reports of the day, which are of little consequence to us, true or false. They all relate to our eternal interests, and therefore have an inseparable connexion with our practice. The Bible conceived in true faith, becomes the foundation of our hope, the standard of our judgment, the source of our comfort, the lantern of our feet, and the light of our paths; and implicit faith always produces unreserved obedience.
The province of reason, therefore, in respect to revelation, is first to examine and decide on, with modesty and caution, the evidences by which it is supported; to understand and explain the language, in which it is conveyed; to discern, in many things, the excellency of the things revealed to us; and to use them as motives, encouragements, and rules of obedience; and in things evidently mysterious, to bow in humble submission to the divine teaching, to receive in adoring faith and love what we cannot comprehend; and to rest satisfied with what is revealed; and to leave secret things to God, to whom alone they belong. Should indeed any one presume to interpret any text of Scripture, in a sense which contradicts the testimony of our senses, or clear demonstration, we may venture to reject this interpretation; for nothing can possibly prove that to be true, which we certainly know to be false. But when the doctrine of revelation, or the interpretations of them, according to the common use of language, are only mysterious, but involve no real contradiction; when they are only above our comprehension, or contrary to the general notions and preconceptions, or ordinary reasonings, of mankind, but are not opposite to the testimony of our senses, or any demonstrated truth; to reject, on such grounds, the testimony of God, must be irrational in the highest degree; unless man be indeed wiser than his Creator.
Seeing, therefore, that the Bible may be unanswerably proved to be the word of God, we should reason from it, as from self-evident principles, or demonstrated truths; for “His testimony is sure, making wise the simple.”
Many parts of Scripture accord so well with the conclusions of our rational powers, when duly exercised, that either they might have been known without revelation, or else men have mistaken the capacity of perceiving truth, for that of discovering it. Hence various controversies have arisen about natural religion, which many suppose to be rather taken for granted, than made known by revelation. But the term is ambiguous; for the word natural includes the propensities of our hearts, as well as the powers of understandings, and the same truths which accord to the latter, are often totally opposite to the former. The Gentiles might have known many things concerning God and his will, if they had “liked to retain him in their knowledge,” but their alienation at heart from him prevailed to keep them in ignorance, or entangle them in error. So that the religion of reason would express the idea much more intelligibly, if any such distinction be deemed necessary.
This, however, is obvious, that many truths and precepts which are found in the Bible, have been maintained by such persons who were ignorant of that divine revelation, or who did not choose to own their obligations to it; add many others, professing to receive the Scriptures as the word of God, assent to some truths contained in them, not so much because they are revealed, as because they think that they may be proved by other arguments, whereas they reject, neglect, or explain away, those doctrines which are not thus evident to their reason, or level with their capacities. So that at last it comes to this, that they discard all that is deemed peculiar to revelation; and refuse to believe the testimony of God, if their own reason will not vouch for the truth of what he says.
It may indeed be questioned, whether those opinions, which men so confidently magnify ‘as the oracles of reason,’ were not originally without exception, borrowed from revelation, as far as there is any truth in them; and it is evident, that they cannot possess sufficient certainty, clearness, and authority, to render them efficacious principles of action, except as enforced by revelation, and its awful sanctions. And the wildest enthusiast never dreamed of a grosser absurdity than those persons maintain, who suppose the only wise God hath given a revelation to man, confirmed the miracles and prophecies, and established in the world by the labours and sufferings of his servants, and the crucifixion of his well beloved Son; and that this revelation, at last is found to contain nothing, but what we might have known as well without it! Nay, that it is expressed in such language, as hath given occasion in those who have most implicitly believed and reverentially observed it, to maintain sentiments, and adopt practices, erroneous and evil in themselves, and of fatal consequence to mankind!
We might, therefore, have previously expected, that a revelation from God should illustrate, confirm, and enforce such things, as seem more level to our natural powers; and that it should make known to us many important matters, which we could not have otherwise discovered, and which would be found exceedingly different from all our notions and imaginations; seeing that our contracted views and limited capacities are infinitely distant from the omniscience of God. So that it is most reasonable to conclude, that the doctrinal truths, which more immediately relate to the divine nature, perfections, providence, and government, the invisible and eternal world, and the mysteries of redemption, should constitute by far the most important part of revelation; as discovering to us such things, “as eye hath not seen, nor ear hear, neither hath the entered unto the heart of man” and yet they are essentially connected with our present hope, worship, and duty,, and with our future happiness or misery.
[*] The subsequent arguments form a great part of the first Essay, in a volume of Essays, on the most important subjects in religion; but they were first published for substance, in the preface to the original Edition of the Family Bible; and must be here omitted.
[†] Mohammed, to serve present purposes, produced his Koran, by a little at a time: this occasioned an evident inconsistency of one part with another; concerning which he only said, that God had a right to change his laws as he saw good.
[§] Is. xiii,xiv.
[**] Ez. xxvi, 4,5.
[††] Ez. xxix,14,15.
[‡‡] The author’s answer to Paine’s Age of Reason, p. 66, 2 Ed.
[§§] John iii, 12-21, 31-38. 1John v, 9-12.
[***] John xvii,17-19.
[†††] 2 Cor. Iii,18; iv, 3-5.