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importance attached to it, which in former times it only received in its established relation to Christ's Church and Ordinances. We intend to call attention to this singular feature of the age, which, as far as we are aware, has been but little noticed, and to inquire how far it has tended to good or to evil.
The possession of a Bible, containing the whole of the books composing divine revelation, was never made necessary to the conversion of a heathen, or to a Christian man's comfort and edification, until the discovery of the art of printing, a providential event which conferred new responsibilities upon men, and opened up for them far greater privileges than had ever before been possessed. But, if we wish properly to know the true place of the Holy Scriptures in the order of divinely-appointed means, we must study their relations to the masses of the people before printing was discovered. Biblical knowledge was as highly estimated in the primitive ages of the Church, as it can possibly be among us; but the possession of a Bible could not then have been a sine quâ non of a Christian character, as it is with ourselves. The early pastors and bishops of the Church, and its great fathers, such as Tertullian, Chrysostom, and Augustin, always referred their hearers to the Word of God; but they could not have expected them to have complete Bibles for themselves. If we now go to the cottage of a poor man, and discover that its walls contain no copy of the Scriptures, we make a case of the circumstance as proving great ignorance and spiritual destitution. But Ephraem in the East, and Ambrose in the West, might have gone a long way visiting their flocks before they would have found a manuscript of the Bible; and the deficiency would have excited neither wonder nor compassion.
What God withholds from men he never makes necessary for their obedience and happiness. Before the canon of the New Testament was formed, Christianity secured its triumphs principally by oral teaching ; and the possession of copies of the single Gospels, or the Epistles, was more a privilege than a duty. Many could not read, and a still larger number probably could not incur the expense of obtaining manuscripts
, the price of which necessarily made them luxuries. As we approach nearer to apostolic times, we find a greater dearth of the written Word of God. This is gradually lessened, when the canon was settled and copies were multiplied ; but still, for fourteen hundred years, nothing at all approaching to our views of the necessity of having the Scriptures could have prevailed. The prohibition of the Bible from the common people by the Papacy, tells a tale on this subject which cannot be mistaken. Had Bibles been at all the common inheritance of the masses, such a scheme of astute priestcraft as that prohibition involves could never have been conceived, or have become capable of execution : but in a state of things which necessitated a general poverty of bibles, it was not difficult to turn a providential fact into a religious dogma, and from the Bible not being generally read, to argue that it ought not to be.
It increases our conceptions of the divine wisdom and power engaged in disseminating the Gospel through the world, to reflect on the means which were employed to accomplish the splendid triumphs which it achieved. The Apostles and their successors, in the various grades of their holy ministry, went forth to preach the glad tidings that God had given his Son to die for sinners, and that it behoved men everywhere to repent. They told this simple, yet all-important story, wherever they found an audience ; in Jewish synagogues, if they could get an entrance, by being the sons of Israel themselves; near heathen temples, in the market-places, on the decks of ships, by the sides of rivers, where prayer was accustomed to be made. Where men were found there was the sphere of the labours of a primitive Evangelist; and by the oral teaching of such zealous and loving agents, tens of thousands were converted to the truth as it is in Jesus. With Jews they reasoned out of the Scriptures, which they already possessed and reverenced ; but with the heathen an appeal to the Bible was of no use, because they knew nothing of its character and claims. This did indeed seem like casting seed upon the waters, and, to modern ideas and usages, will probably appear a very inadequate mode of seeking to make men Christians. But it is dangerous to forget that, by these means alone, the gospel became the God unto salvation : this simple oral testimony to great facts and principles, was honoured by the Holy Ghost for the mightiest results.
These were the weapons which were not carnal, but mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
When by this process hearts were moved and characters changed and sanctified, the subjects of these moral revolutions were gathered into communities for the purpose of attending to Christian ordinances, and seeking to advance their personal edification. Then it was that the Word disclosed its treasures to them ; then those who were competent read to others the words of the Law and the Gospel ; and, after the completion of the canon, in such assemblies the whole Bible became the standard of appeal and the storehouse of instruction. Various means would then be suggested by mutual love to afford to the poor and the unlettered the treasures of the word; but still public teaching must have formed the grand means of attaining to a knowledge of its blessings. Many
power of cases are now to be found, all over our land, of persons who cannot read a letter, and yet are wise and consistent Christians. The memory, made more retentive by the want of printed aids to instruction, will, in such instances, retain a vast amount of knowledge, often sufficient not only for personal use, but for the conviction of gainsayers. Such illustrations of what oral teaching can do are becoming more and more rare, as they ought to do in these days of general instruction, yet they exist still, and tell a tale we ought to hear. Despise not the knowledge of the aged Christian, who, by no fault of his own, cannot read the Bible; he is but an instance in modern times of what most Christians in former days must have been. Before the age of books, God cared for those who could not procure them, and, by the simplest natural means, made the humble followers of his Son, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom.
Such was the state of things in the most prosperous times of the Church, and such it continued to be amidst the outward events of its history, until PRINTING was discovered, and changed in a short time the whole character of Christian teaching and responsibility. It was a boon from heaven, richer than any which had been conferred since God's own Son came down to save us : it should have been received with rapture, and employed for the happiest and most exalted purpose. Alas! what is the history of this blessing to the world but a repetition of the oft-told tale of God's bounty and man's ingratitude ? Instead of a universal welcome and an immediate application of it to its lofty purposes, it was received with suspicion by the Church, and, in too many instances, abused to unholy purposes by the world.
Let us imagine, if we can, how the apostle Paul would have received the information that the Holy Scriptures which he recommended so earnestly to Timothy, and from which he preached to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, could be so multiplied that every
believer could have them! Or let us endeavour to think how Chrysostom, who so eloquently wrote comments on the book, would have treated the intelligence that the New Testament could be supplied to every inhabitant of Constantinople on the payment of a few small coins! We can as soon think of either of these renowned men closing the ports against consignments of wheat intended for hungry citizens, as of their attempting to deprive the masses of mankind of the Word of God. And yet those who professed to be their successors acted in this way, and treated as a portentous evil what ages before would have been received as an unmingled blessing. But as the fact of the scribes and pharisees sitting in Moses' seat did not ensure their having Mosaic wisdom, so the successors of the apostles were not endowed with the views and principles of their predecessors. The Bible had never yet been the possession of the common people; ergo it never ought to be. The ostensible expositors of that holy book drew this sapient conclusion, and then proceeded zealously to act upon
it. They forgot, as we are all too apt to do, that there is a progression and development in God's dealings with men, and that our wisdom is to discern the additions made to our advantages and responsibilities, and to act accordingly. But men will endeavour to stereotype that to which their Maker has given a mobility and freedom ; and, while actuated by this perverse spirit, the richest blessings will be thrown away upon them. Thus the very excellence of the New Testament, namely, that it is rather a collection of principles than a statute-book, was abused, and no allowance was made for the elastic capabilities of God's revelations to adapt themselves to the advancing condition of mankind. Slavery was not forbidden expressly in the New Testament, therefore slavery must always be lawful. Christians in primitive times gained their religious knowledge by oral instruction, therefore it must be heretical to print and distribute Bibles.
But when St. Paul advised slaves to be obedient to their masters, and addressed slave-holders without a hint that in keeping their fellow-creatures in bondage they were guilty of a crime, political circumstances were very different from those which exist in the nineteenth century, and what was then excusable, and to be tolerated, has now, by increased light and knowledge, become a practice which no man can follow with impunity. In the same manner, although the arrangements of Divine Providence rendered it necessary
centuries there should be a comparative scarcity of copies of the Scriptures, it by no followed that when the impediments to a free circulation were removed, the same restrictions should be maintained and upheld. What was once a natural state of things became, by God's good Providence, obsolete and abnormal. At one period of the world's history revelations were made at successive epochs, as mankind were prepared to receive them ;-God spake in sundry times and divers manners to the fathers by the prophets. The revelation is now complete, and nothing can be added to its substance ; and yet the same care of its great author to adapt it to successive stages of human development is plainly indicated. Whatever other purposes may be said to be secured by the printing press, the reflecting Christian must believe the principal one to be the happiness and the extension of the Church of God.
But we are not left to cherish this theory in a believing heart, in the midst of an apparent failure of our hopes; for, in spite of
all opposition, the art of printing has ministered with increased diligence to the cause of Christianity. This brings us to the topic before alluded to, that the last half century has been remarkable for the production and circulation of Bibles from a new point of view, as being in themselves the means of grace and channels of divine communications. This subject we feel to be a momentous one, to be approached with caution and treated with tenderness. This we shall endeavour to do, from a conviction that it is a matter of the utmost importance to the honour of our Lord and the happiness of our fellow men.
An apparently accidental discovery that vast numbers of the lower classes of our countrymen were destitute of Bibles led to the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society above fifty years ago, and it is in immediate connection with the progress of that institution that the concrete idea of the sufficiency of the Scriptures alone to carry on the work of the Church has originated and spread. For it must be remembered, in justice to others, and in order to place this Society on its proper basis, that its peculiar principle is not the circulation of the Bible, for that was understood and acted upon long before it began its labours; but the absence of note and comment is the real symbol or tessera by which it is distinguished. Noble confederacies, originating in pure benevolence, and carried on with holy zeal, ranged over the century and a half preceding the more gigantic institution, which may, without due caution, throw its humbler predecessors into the shade. But if ever it is necessary to attend to the neglected and to remember the forgotten,' it is so in the case now before
Ever since the Reformation the press had laboured in editions of the Scriptures in numerous languages and dialects, and the wants of the poor and neglected had excited to efforts to put them in possession of the precious boon. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, established in 1647, gave 3001. a-year for the circulation of the Bible among the Indians. In the same century a nonconformist minister printed 8000 Welsh Bibles to give away, and also established in Wales above 300 schools under the auspices of a Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was in active operation throughout the whole of the eighteenth century, and conferred invaluable blessings upon the world by the Bibles it circulated. These are only a few of the agencies which existed long before the Bible Society began its labours, and they are mentioned because many people even now ignorantly suppose that it originated such efforts, instead of merely taking up and continuing what others had begun.
It is the absence of note and comment, then, which is the peculiar