Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

rules that promote holiness, bụt as being the fountain of all true religion; and its being adapted above any book of human composure, to answer this end, affords an argument of some weight to prove it to be of God. For,

1. Man, who is prone to sin, naturally blinded and prejudiced against divine truth and holiness, could never compose a book that is so consonant to the divine perfections, and contains such a display of God's glory, and is so adapted to make us holy.

2. If we suppose that man could invent a collection of doctrines, that tended to promote holiness, could he invent doctrines so glorious, and so much adapted to this end, as these are? If he could, he that does this must either be a good or a bad man: if we suppose the former, he would never pretend the Scripture to be of divine authority, when it was his own composure ; and if the latter, it is contrary to his character, as such, to endeavour to promote holiness; for then Satan's kingdom must be divided against itself: but of this, more in its proper place, when we come to consider the character of the penmen of Scripture, to give a further proof of its divine authority.

3. It it plain, that the world without Scripture could not arrive to holiness; for the apostle says, 1 Cor. i. 21. That the world by wisdom knew not God; and certainly where there is no saving knowledge of God, there is no holiness; and the same apostle, Rom. i. 29, 30, 31. gives an account of the great abominations that were committed by the heathen; being destitute of Scripture light, they were filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, &c.

If therefore the doctrines contained in Scriptures are not only pure and holy themselves; but tend to promote holiness in us, this is not without its proper weight to prove their divine original.

III. The scriptures farther manifest themselves to be the word of God from the consent or harmony of all the parts thereof. (a.) This argument will appear more strong and con

(a.) “ The enquiries of learned men, and, above all of the excellent Lardner, who never overstates a point of evidence, and whose fidelity in citing his authorities has in no one instance been impeached, have established, concerning these writings, the following propositions :

I. That in the age immediately posterior to that in which St. Paul lived, his letters were publicly read and acknowledged.

Some of them are quoted or alluded to by almost every Christian writer that followed, by Clement of Rome, by Hermas, by Ignatius, by Polycarp, disciples or cotemporaries of the apostles; by Justin Martyr, by the churches of Gaul, by Irenæus, by Athenagoras, by Theophilus, by Clement of Alexandria, by Her. mias, by Tertullian, who cccupied the succeeding age. Now when we find a

clusive, if we compare them with other writings, in which there is but little harmony. Thus, if we consult the writings of

book quoted or referred to by an ancient author, we are entitled to conclude, that it was read and received in the age and country in which that author lived. And this conclusion does not, in any degree, rest upon the judgment or character of the author making such reference. Proceeding by this rule, we have, concerning the First Epistle to the Corinthians in particular, within forty years after the epistle was written, evidence, not only of its being extant at Corinth, but of its being known and read at Rome. Clement, bishop of that eity, writing to the church of Corinth, uses these words : “ 'Take into your hands the Epistle of “ the blessed Paul the apostle. What did he at first write unto you in the be“ginning of the gospel? Verily he did by the Spirit admonish you concerning “ himself and Cephas, and Apollos, because that even then you did form parties This was written at a time when probably some must have been living at Corinth, who remembered St. Paul's mipistry there and the receipt of the epistle. The testimony is still more valuable, as it shows that the espistles were preserved in the churches to which they were sent, and that they were spread and propagated from them to the rest of the Christian community. Agreebly to which natural mode and order of their publication, Tertullian, a century afterwards, for proof of the integrity and genuineness of the apostolic writings, bids “any one, who " is willing to exercise his curiosity profitably in the business of their salvation, " to visit the apostolical churches, in which their very authentic letters are reci. “ ted, ipsæ authenticæ literæ eorum recitantur." Then be goes on : "Is Achaia “ near you? You have Corinth. If you are not far from Macedonia, you have “ Philippi, you have Thessalonica. "If you can go to Asia, you have Éphesus ; "but if you are near to Italy, you have Romet." I adduce this passage to show, that the distinct churches or Christian societies, to which St. Paul's Epistles were sent, subsisted for some ages afterwards; that his several epistles were all along respectively read in those churches; that Christians at large received them from those churches, and appealed to those churches for their originality and authenticity.

Arguing in like manner from citations and allusions, we have, within the space of a hundred and fifty years from the time that the first of St. Paul's Episties was written, proofs of almost all of them being read, in Palestine, Syria, the countries of Asia Minor, in Egypt, in that part of Africa which used the Latin tongue, in Greece, Italy, and Gault. I do not mean simply to assert, that, with. in the space of a hundred and fifty years, St. Paul's Epistles were read in those countries, for I believe that they were read and circulated from the beginning; but that proofs of their being so read occur within that period. And when it is considered how few of the primitive Christians wrote, and of what was written how much is lost, we are to account it extraordinary, or rather as a sure proof of the extensiveness of the reputation of these writings, and of the general respect in which they were held, that so many testimonies, and of such antiquity, are still extant, “In the remaining works of Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, * and Tertullian, there are perhaps more and larger quotations of the small vo" lume of the New Testament, than of all the works of Cicero, in the writings " of all characters for several ages." We must add, that the Epistles of Paul come in for their full share of this observation; and that all the thirteen epistles, except that to Philemon, which is not quoted by Irenæus or Clement, and which probably escaped notice merely by its brevity, are severally cited, and expressly recognized as St. Paul's by each of these Christian writers. The Ebionites, an early, though inconsiderable Christian sect, rejected St. Paul and his espistles); that is, they rejected these epistles, not because they were not, but because they were St. Paul's; and because, adhering to the obligation of the Jewish law, they chose to dispute his doctrine and authority. Their suffrage as

• See Lardner, vol. xii. p. 29. + Lardner, vol. 1. p. 198. See Lardner's Recapitulation, vol. xii, p. 53. 'See Lardner's Recapitulation, vol, sii. r, 53, I Lardner, vol. ii. 4. *os.

most men uninspired, we shall find that their sentiments contained therein often times very widely differ; and if, as his

to the genuineness of the epistles does not contradict that of other Christians. Marcion, an heretical writer in the former part of the second century, is said by Tertuilian to have rejected three of the epistles which we now recere, viz. the two Epistles to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus. It appears to me not improbable, that Marcion might make some such distinction as this, that no apostolic epistle was to be admitted which was not read or attested by the church to which it was sent; for it is remarkable that, together with these epistles to private persons, he rejected also the catholic episties. Now the catholic epistles and the epistles to private persons agree in the circumstance of wanting this particular species of attestation. Marcion, it seems, acknowledged the Epistle to Philemon, and is upbraided for his inconsistency in doing so by Tertullian“, who asks “ why, when he received a letter written to a single person, he should re. “fuse two to Timothy and one to Titus composed upon the affairs of the church?” This passage so far favours our account of Marcion's objection, as it shows that the objection was supposed by Tertullian to have been founded in something, which belonged to the nature of a private letter.

Nothing of the works of Marcion remains. Probably he was, after all, a rash, arbitrary, licentious critic (if he deserved indeed the name of critic,) and who offered no reason for his determination. What St. Jerome says of him intimates this, and is beside founded in good sense: speaking of him and Basilides, “ If " they had assigned any reasons," says he, “ why they did not reckon these epis“tles," viz. the first and second to Timothy and the Épistle to Titus,“ to be the “apostle's, we would have endeavoured to have answered them, and perhaps "might have satisfied the reader: but when they take upon them, by their own "authority, to pronounce one epistle to be Paul's, and another not, they can “only be replied to in the same mannert. Let it be remembered, however, that Marcion received ten of these epistles. His authority therefore, even if his credit had been better than it is, forms a very small exception to the uniformity of the evidence. Of Basilides we know still less than we do of Marcion. The same observation however belongs to him, viz. that his objection, as far as appears from this passage of St. Jerome, was confined to the three private epistles, Yet is this the only opinion which can be said to disturb the consent of the two first centuries of the Christian æra; for as to Tatian, who is reported by Jerome alone to have rejected some of St. Paul's Epistles, the extravagant or rather delirious notions into which he fell, take away all weight and credit from his judgment. If, indeed, Jerome's account of this circumstance be correct; for it appears from much older writers than Jerome, that Tatian owned and used many of these epistlest.

11. They, who in those ages disputed about so many other points, agreed in acknowledging the Scriptures now before us. Contending sects appealed to them in their controversies with equal and unreserved submission. When they were urged by one side, however they might be interpreted or misinterpreted by the other, their authority was not questioned. “Reliqui omnes,” says Irenæus, speaking of Marcion, “ falso scientiæ nomine inflati, scripturas quidem confiten“tur, interpretationes vero convertunts."

m. When the genuineness of some other writings which were in circulation, and even of a few which are now received into the canon, was contested, these were never called into dispute. Whatever was the objection, or whether, in truth, there ever was any real objection to the authenticity of the Second Epistle of Peter, the Second and Third of John, the Epistle of James, or that of Jude, or to the book of the Revelations of St. John, the doubts that «ppear to have been entertained concerning them, exceedingly strengthen the force of the testimony as to those writings, about which there was no doubt; because it shows, that the matter was a subject, amongst the early Christians, of examination and discussion; and that, where there was any room to doubt, they did doubt.

Lardner, vol. xiv. p. 455. + Lardner, vol. xiv. p. 458. | Lardner, vol. i. p. 313. Iren. advers. Haer. qooted by Lardner, vol, xv. p. 425.

torians, they pretend to report matters of fact, their evidence, or report, does not, in all respects, agree together, which shews

What Eusebius hath left upon the subject is directly to the purpose of this observation. Eusebius, it is well known, divided the ecclesiastical writings which were extant in his time into three classes; the “ Hvertidante, uncontradict. "ed," as he calls them in one chapter; or "scriptures universally acknowledg: "ed," as he calls them in another; the “controverted, yet well known and " approved by many; and “the spurious." What were the shades of difference in the books of the second, or in those of the third class; or wha: it was precisely that he meant by the term spurious, it is not necessary in this place to en. quire. It is sufficient for us to find, that the thirteen epistles of St. Paul are placed by him in the first class without any sort of hesitation or doubt.

It is further also to be collected from the chapter in which this distinction is laid down, that the method made use of by Eusebius, and by the Christians of his time, viz. the close of the third century, in judging concerning the sacred authority of any books, was to enquire after and consider the testimony of those who lived near the age of the apostles*

IV. That no ancient writing, which is attested as these epistles are, hath had its authenticity disproved, or is in fact questioned. The controversies which have been moved concerning suspected writings, as the epistles, for instance, of Phalaris, or the eighteen epistles of Cicero, begin by showing that this attesta. tion is wanting. That being proved, the question is thrown back upon internal marks of spuriousness or authenticity; and in these the dispute is occupied. In which disputes it is to be observed, that the contested writings are common, ly attacked by arguments drawn from some opposition which they betray to • authentic history," to " true epistles,” to “ the real sentiments or circum. ".stances of the author whom they personatet;" which authentic history, which true epistles, which real sentiments themselves, are no other than ancient docu. ments, whose early existence and reception can be proved, in the manner in which the writings before us are traced up to the age of their reputed author, or to ages near to his. A modern who sits down to compose the history of some

ancient period, has no stronger evidence to appeal to for the most confident as, . sertion, or the most undisputed fact, that he delivers, than writings, whose

genuineness is proved by the same medium through which we evince the authenticity of ours. "Nor, whilst he can have recourse to such authorities as these, does he apprehend any uncertainty in his accounts, from the suspicion of spuriousness or imposture in his materials.

V. It cannot be shown that any forgeries, properly so called , that is, wri. tings published under the name of the person who did not compose them, made their appearance in the first century of the Christian æra, in which century these epistles undoubtedly existed. I shall set down under this proposition the guarded words of Lardner himself: "There are no quotations of any books of them " (spurious and apocryphal books) in the apostolical fathers, by whom I mean * Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, whose writings “ reach from the year of our Lord 70 to the year 108. I say this confidently, because I think it has been proved.Lardner, vol. xii. p. 158.

Nor when they did appear were they much used by the primitive Christians. " Irenæus quotes not any of these books. He mentions some of them, but he “ never quotes them. The same may be said of Tertullian : he has mentioned a “ book called Acts of Paul and Thecla:' but it is only to condemn it. Clement u of Alexandria and Origen have mentioned and quoted several such books, but "never as authority, and sometimes with express marks of dislike. Eusebius

quotes no such books in any of his works. He has mentioned them indeed, “ but how? Not by way of approbation, but to show that they were of little op

• Lardner, vol. viii. p. 106. + See the tracts written in the controversy between Tun stal and Middleton upon certain suspected epistles ascribed to Cicero. f I believe that there is a great deal of truth in Dr. Lardner's observations, that comparatively few of those books. which we call apocryphal, were strictly and originally forgeries. See Lardner, vol. xii. p, 102 VOL. I.

L

that they are fallible ; but the exact and harmonious agreement of scripture proves it divine. That other writings of human

no value; and that they never were received by the sounder part of Christians." Now, it with this, which is advanced after the most minute and diligent examination, we compare what the same cautious writer had before said of our received scríptures, “ that in the works of three only of the above-mentioned fa"thers, there are more and larger quotations of the small volume of the New

Testament, than of all the works of Cicero in the writers of all characters for "several ag-s;" and if, with the marks of obscurity or condemnation, which ac. companied the mention of the several apocryphal Christian writings, when they happened to be mentioned at all, we contrast what Dr. Lardner's work completely and in detail makes out concerning the writings which we defend, and what, having so made out, he thought himself authorized in his conclusion to assert, that these books were not only received from the beginning, but received with the greatest respect; have been publicly and solemnly read in the assemblies of Christians throughout the world, in every age from that time to this; early translated into the languages of divers countries and people; commentaries writ to explain and illustrate them; quoted by way of proof in all arguments of a religious nature; recommended to the perusal of unbelievers, as containing the authentic account of the Christian doctrine; when we attend, I say, to this re. presentation, we perceive in it, not only full proof of the early notoriety of these books, but a clear and sensible line of discrimination, which separates these from the pretensions of any others.

The Epistles of St. Paul stand particularly free of any doubt or confusion that might arise from this source. Until the conclusion of the fourth century, no intimation appears of any attempt whatever being made to counterfeit these writings; and then it appears only of a single and obscure instance. Jerome, who flourished in the year 392, has this expression: “ Legunt quidam et ad Laodi. « censes ; sed ab omnibus exploditur;" there is also an Epistle to the Laodiceans, but it is rejected by every body*. Theodoret, who wrote in the year 423, speaks of this epistle in the same termst. Beside these, I know not whether any ancient writer mentions it. It was certainly unnoticed during the three first centuries of the Church; and when it came afterwards to be mentioned, it was mentioned only to show, that, though such a writing did exist, it obtained no credit. It is probable that the forgery to which Jerome alludes, is the epistle which we now have under that title. If so, as hath been already observed, it is nothing more than a collection of sentences from the genuine Epistles; and was perhaps, at first, rather the exercise of some idle pen, than any serious attempt to impose a forgery upon the public. Of an Epistle to the Corinthians under St. Paul's name, which was brought into Europe in the present century, antiquity is entirely silent. It was unheard of for sixteen centuries; and at this day, though it be extant, and was first found in the Armenian language, it is not, by the Christians of that country, received into their scriptures. I hope, after this, that there is no reader who will think there is any competition of credit, or of external proof, between these and the received Epistles: or rather, who will not acknowledge the evidence of anthenticity to be confirmed by the want of success which attended imposture.

When we take into our hands the letters which the suffrage and consent of an. tiquity hath thus transmitted to us, the first thing that strikes our attention is the air of reality and business, as well as of seriousness and conviction, which pervades the whole. Let the sceptic read them. If he be not sensible of these qualities in them, the argument can have no weight with him. If he be; if he perceive in almost every page the language of a mind actuated by real occasions, and operating upon real circumstances, I would wish it to be observed, that the proof which arises from this perception is not to be deemed occult or imaginary, because it is incapable of being drawn out in words, or of being conveyed

• Lardner, vol. x. p. 103. † Lardner, vol. xi. p. H.

« ZurückWeiter »