Page images
PDF
EPUB

been necessarily incomplete, for it would take some time to send to the church or people with whom the autographs were deposited, and to write off fair copies. This necessary process will also account for the fact, that some of the smaller books were not received by the churches so early, nor universally, as the larger. The solicitude of the churches to possess immediately the more extensive books of the New Testament, would doubtless induce them to make a great exertion to acquire copies; but probably the smaller would not be so much spoken of, nor would there be so strong a desire to obtain them without delay. Considering how difficult it is now, with all our improvements in the typographical art, to multiply copies of the Scriptures with sufficient rapidity, it is truly wonderful how so many churches as were founded during the first century, to say nothing of individuals, could all be supplied with copies of the New Testament, when there was no speedier method of producing them than by writing every letter with the pen. Even as early as the time when Peter wrote his second epistle, the writings of Paul were in the hands of the churches, and were classed with the other scriptures.* And the citation from these books by the earliest Christian writers living in different countries, demonstrates that from the time of their publication they were sought after with avidity, and were widely dispersed.” “How intense the interest which the first Christians felt in the writings of the apostles can scarcely be conceived by us, who have

2 Peter, 3:14, 15.

been familiar with these books from our earliest years.

How solicitous would they be, for example, who had never seen Paul, but had heard of his wonderful conversion and extraordinary labors and gifts, to read his writings. And probably they who had enjoyed the high privilege of hearing this apostle preach, would not be less desirous of reading his epistles. As we know from the nature of the case, as well as from testimony, that many uncertain accounts of Christ's discourses and miracles had obtained circulation, how greatly would the primitive Christians rejoice to obtain an authentic history from the pen of an apostle, or from one who wrote precisely what was dictated by an apostle. We need no longer wonder, therefore, that every church should wish to possess a collection of the writings of the apostles; and knowing them to be the productions of inspired men, they would want no further sanction of their authority. All that was requisite was to be certain that the book was indeed written by the apostle whose name it bore.' Hence the care of St. Paul, as he commonly wrote by an amanuensis, to have the salutation in his own hand, or to annex his signature; as, for example, in the second epistle to the Thessalonians : “ The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write." Hence, also, the care so often manifest in the epistles, to designate those by name to whom the office of carrying them whither they were addressed was intrusted. Alexander on the Canon, p. 138, etc.

5

*

Evidences.

From the authorities quoted in the previous lecture, it must be full in your reccllection that while the agreement of the ancient churches may be considered to have been complete, so far as is important to the argument for the divine origin of Christianity; still, there was a difference of opinion as to the authenticity and canonical authority of the epistle to the Hebrews, of the epistle of James, the second of Peter, the second and third of John, the epistle of Jude, and the book of Revelation. This diversity was not by any means so great or important as some suppose. Had it not been for the great care and candor of those early Christians, from whom we learn the fact, it would have seemed of too limited an extent, and too inconsiderable in its origin, to merit any more than a very transient notice in their writings. But we have no reason to regret the publicity they have given it. They have thus put into our hands a very strong proof of the discriminating care and jealous vigilance with which the primitive churches investigated the title of any book to admission into the canon of the New Testament. That some doubted, though afterwards universally acknowledg. ed, exhibits in a very strong light the certain authenticity of all those of which there was never a question.

The canonical authority of the six epistles abovenamed, as well as of the Apocalypse, has no material connection with the argument of the ensuing lectures. The evidence of the divine origin and revelation of Christianity is entirely independent of the question of

were

course we are

their authenticity. Should we acknowledge them to be spurious, no point of Christian doctrine or duty would be removed ; no gospel truth would be shaken; no evidence of divine revelation would be diminished. To vindicate their authenticity cannot, therefore, be required of a lecturer on the evidences of Christianity. It is the appropriate office of the biblical critic, and belongs to discussions on the canon of Scripture, and to the prolegomena of a commentary, instead of the

now pursuing. But lest the mere statement of the fact that doubts were once entertained as to the authenticity of these writings, should leave on some minds an impression unfavorable to their character as inspired Scriptures, it will be well to bestow a moment's attention on the amount of importance to which those doubts are justly entitled.

With regard to the epistle to the Hebrews, no question was entertained as to its being the work of St. Paul, among the churches of the earlier centuries, except those of the Latin Christians. The fact that the Arians were the first in the Greek churches who are said to have denied that it was written by St. Paul, is an important testimony in its favor. The objections of the Latins did not pretend to any ecclesiastical tradition, or any authority of earlier churches, in opposition to its Pauline origin; but were based entirely on its internal character, and especially on the handle which the fourth and fifth verses of the sixth chapter seemed to afford the sect of the Montanists, in vindication of their prominent doctrine, that those guilty of grievous transgressions should be irrevocably cut off from the church. Hence it was that Jerome and Augustine, though of the Latins, could not adopt the opinions held by many of their contemporaries, being convinced of their incorrectness by the testimony of the ancient churches to the authenticity of the epistle.

It should be remarked, that all those who questioned the canonical authority of this epistle, treated it with high respect as a Christian and very ancient writing of the apostolic age, if not by an apostle's hand. They ascribed it either to Barnabas or Clement. But for this they had no testimony to appeal to. On the contrary, the testimony of the earliest Christian writers is very decidedly for St. Paul. The fathers of the Greek church unanimously ascribed it to him. Jerome, of the fourth century, testifies that it was received as a production of that apostle, not only by the eastern churches, but by all the Greek ecclesiastical writers. “I receive it," said he, “as genuine-guided by the authority of the ancient writers.” Eusebius, the historian of the church of the fourth century, quotes it as the work of St. Paul, and says it had, not without reason, been reckoned among the other writings of the apostle. Theodoret positively asserts that Eusebius received this epistle as St. Paul's, and that he manifested that almost all the ancients were of the same opinion. Augustine said “he followed the opinion of the churches of the East, who received it among the canonical Scriptures.” Origen, born A. D. 184, expresses his opinion that "it was not without cause that the ancients,"

« PreviousContinue »