« PreviousContinue »
and holy dispensations; then, there is a delineation of the policy, the ambition, the folly of his creatures. In the second place, a book may be styled the Word of God, to signify, that it was composed by his direction and assistance, and that every thing contained in it was inserted by his special appointment. It is plain, that, consistently with this definition, there may be things in the book which were neither spoken nor approved by God, though for wise purposes he has assigned them a place in it. In this sense the tiile, the Word of God, is applicable to the Scriptures at large, the whole having been written by men whom he inspired, and who, being guided and controlled by his Spirit, could neither fall into error, nor be guilty of mutilating and corrupting them by omissions and interpolations. Hence we are authorized, not only to consider all the doctrines, all the precepts, all the promises, and all the threatenings, delivered by God himself, or by others in his name, as true, righteous, and faithful; but farther to believe, that the events which are said to have happened, and the words and actions which are represented to have been spoken and done, did so happen, and were so spoken and done. But whether the conduct related be wise or foolish, moral or immoral, we must determine by the judgment pronounced in the Scriptures themselves on particular cases, or by applying those principles and general rules, which are laid down in them to regulate our decisions.
There remains a question which has engaged a considerable share of attention, Whether inspiration is to be understood as extending to the language as well as to the sentiments? In answering this question, it is necessary to distinguish one part of Scripture from another. In those parts which are delivered in the name of God, which are commands, messages, and communications from him, we cannot suppose that the writers were left to choose their own words, but are necessarily led to conceive them to have adhered with equal strictness to the words as to the thoughts. This must have been the case when they announced heavenly mysteries and new doctrines, of which they could have had no conception, unless the words had been suggested to them; and when they delivered predictions which they did not understand ; for it is plain that here the inspiration consisted solely in presenting the words to their minds. They were much in the same situation with a person who sets down a passage in an unknown tongue, at the dictation of another. And that they did not always understand their own prophecies, is obvious from the words of Peter, who represents them as studying them, and trying to discover their meaning,—" searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow."* Thus far, I do not see upon what ground it can be denied that inspiration extended to the words.
With regard to other parts of Scripture, consisting of histories, moral reflections, and devotional pieces, I would not contend for the inspiration of the language in the same sense. It is reasonable to believe that the writers were permitted to exercise their own faculties to a certain extent, and to express themselves in their natural manner. At the same time, when we consider the promise of Christ to his disciples, that when they were brought before kings and governors for his sake, it should be given them in that hour what they should speak,t and recollect the affirmation of Paul that he and the other apostles used not the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost taught, we cannot suppose that, when they were most at liberty, they were in no degree directed by a secret influence in the selection of words and phrases. It was of the utmost importance, that the facts and observations which God intended for the instruction of mankind in all ages, should be properly expressed ; and there was a danger that errors would be committed by
such persons as the penmen of the Scriptures, the greater part of whom were illiterate, and ignorant of the art of composition. If we had nothing to depend upon but their own skill and attention, we could have no certainly that the statements are always accurate, and our piely would be frequently disturbed by the suspicion, that what is only a difficulty might be a mistake. be granted, that even in relating what they knew, what they had seen, what they had learned from the testimony of others, the sacred writers were assisted, although we should concede only, that occasionally a more proper word or expression was suggested to them than would have occurred to themselves; and consequently, the style was not strictly their own, but was a style corrected and improved, and different from what they would have spontaneously used.
The objection against the inspiration of the language, founded on the diversity of style observable in the sacred writers, falls to the ground, if upon the whole they were permitted to express themselves in their natural way. If a diversity be remarked even in prophecy and revelation, properly so called, it may be accounted for by the hypothesis, which is in the highest degree probable, that God accommodated himself in his communications to the character and genius of the persons employed; and surely no man in his senses will affirm that there was only one style in which he could communicate his will. There is no force in the argument, that if the words were inspired, translations would be unlawful. There is no sacredness in the terms of a particular language, although they may be applied to a sacred purpose; they are still arbitrary signs, for which equivalent signs may be substituted. Those who use this argument, do not scruple to translate into English or Latin the ten precepts of the moral law, which were undoubtedly published by God himself verbatim in Hebrew. The only proper inference from the inspiration of the words is, that we should be exceedingly careful when we translate the Scriptures, to make word answer word, and phrase correspond to phrase, so far as the idiom of the two languages will permit.
The persons employed in declaring the will of God to the world, and committing it to writing, were not different from other men, in respect of their natural talents and dispositions. There was no peculiar aplitude in them for the work ; for no original conformation of mind, no course of education or habit of life, can be considered as predisposing individuals for the reception of supernatural gifts, which were distributed in the exercise of Divine sovereignty. Those who were inspired are called prophets and apostles ; the former signifying the messengers of God under the old dispensation, and the latter his messengers under the new. But the difference of the name implies no difference in the influence exerted upon their minds; no difference in the kind of influence, although there was a difference in degree, the apostles being favoured with a clearer illumination than the prophets. On some occasions, God declared his will immediately ; as when he proclaimed the threatening and the promise in the ears of our first parents, and subsequently made revelations to the patriarchs : and particularly when his awful voice, issuing from the midst of darkness and tempest, published the decalogue to the trembling millions assembled at the base of the mountain on which he appeared. But, in general, he made use of the ministry of men. With regard to character, they were saints ; for “ holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." There were, however, a few exceptions, among which Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, holds a conspicuous place ; but the inspiration of such persons was transient, and granted for a temporary purpose. Those who were permanently employed in communicating the will of God by word or by writing, were men of another spirit ; and it does not seem to us that it would have been suitable to the holiness of God, to have selected for so sacred a work, persons whose minds were alienated from the truth, and under the habitual influence of sin. As some of them were intended only to promote the interests of religion in their own age, they have left no records behind them, and their instructions are lost, or only a few fragments of them have been preserved. But others were directed by the Spirit to commit their revelations to writing, for the benefit of succeeding ages ; and the books collected into one volume, and called by way of eminence the Bible, constitute the perpetual rule of faith and practice.
To these persons God made known his will in various ways, as Paul expresses it, TOA UT PERC85, * in divers manners. Why he did not adhere to one mode, but changed it to different persons, and to the same person at different times, it is not for us to inquire. Sometimes he revealed himself by secret suggestion, or by infusing knowledge into the mind without the intervention of means. He who created the spirit of man has direct access to it, and stands in no need of words or external signs as the vehicle of communication. During profound silence, and complete abstraction from sensible things, the souls of his servants were irradiated by the pure rays of celestial light. To this mode of communication David refers, when he says, “the Spirit of the Lord spake by me," or "in me,”+ and Peter, when he tells us that the Spirit of Christ, who was in the prophets, testified beforehand his sufferings, and the glory that should follow."! In this manner were the apostles endowed with the knowledge of the mysteries of the gospel; and Paul in particular, “received not the doctrine which he preached of men, neither was he taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”'S Sometimes the will of God was communicated by audible sounds, or by a voice which is called the voice of God, because the sounds were formed by his immediate agency. This voice spake to our first parents, to Abraham, to Samuel, and on many occasions to Moses; for this is the account which he gives: “ And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with Him, then he heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy-seat that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubims.”'ll Again, a third mode of revelation was by visions, or representations made to the senses or to the imagination. We have examples in Isaiah, who saw Jehovah attended by the seraphim in the temple; 1 in Ezekiel, by the river Chebar;** and in Daniel, to whom the mighty revelations on the state of the world were exhibited in symbolical figures. Another mode of revelation was by dreams, than which nothing is usually more vain, nor is there greater folly' than to consider them as portending future events; but a different estimate must be formed of supernatural dreams, which have been regarded in all ages as means of communication with superior beings. Orzo ex Atos Boti, was a saying of the ancients; and dreams are related by them, which, whether true or false, were supposed to be of a higher character than the arbitrary creations of fancy. We have instances in Jacob's dream at Bethel, and in that of Paul, to whom there appeared a man of Macedonia, saying, “Come over, and help us.”H In some cases, the design of the dreams was obvious ; but in others, explanation was necessary. On a few occasions, the dream was sent to one person, and another was employed to interpret it. You will remember the history of Pharaoh and Joseph, and of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel. Lastly, revelations were made by the ministry of angels, as by Gabriel to Daniel, and by the same messenger to the blessed virgin.
I shall take notice, in a few words, of the peculiar privilege of Moses. “ If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak' unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all my house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently and not in dark speeches, and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold."* It is said in the account of his death, “ There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”+ Moses was the only person who could have explained these words, but as he has left no commentary upon them, we are ignorant of their meaning. This, however, they obviously import, that he enjoyed a familiar intercourse with God, to which other inspired men were not admitted ; and that the revelations made to him surpassed those with which they were favoured in clearness, and resembled the communications which one friend makes to another, when they meet and converse together.
• Heb. i. 1.
1 Num. vii. 89. VOL. I.--16
+ 2 Sam. xxii. 2
$1 Pet. i. 11.
$ Gal. i. 12. tt Acts xvi. 9.
STATE OF THE SACRED TEXT.
Existing MSS. of the Scriptures–Various Readings—Causes assigned for them-Sources
whence they are collected ; From different MSS., the Writings of the Fathers, ancient Versions and conjectural Criticism-Account of the principal Editions of the New Testament Utility of this Inquiry.
In some preceding lectures, we have considered the evidences of our religion, and the authority of the records in which it is contained. There is a question intimately connected with it, to which I mean to direct your attention in this lecture. It relates to the state in which these records have come down to us, and is confessedly of great importance, as every person must wish to be satisfied, whether they are a faithful representation of the original documents, or have been altered and corrupted through carelessness or design.
We do not possess the original copies of the sacred writings. The autographs of the apostles and prophets have long since disappeared. The copy of the law, which was written by the hand of Moses himself, seems to have been preserved for many ages, and it was probably that copy which was found by Hilkiah the high-priest, and read in the ears of Josiah ;I but it perished, we may presume, in the destruction of the temple. We have no information respecting the original copies of any other parts of the Jewish Scriptures. From a passage in Tertullian, who flourished towards the close of the second century, it has been inferred, that the autographs of the apostles were then in existence, but no mention is made of them by any later author, and they have been lost with all the other writings of that age. Modern times can boast only of transcripts, removed from the originals by more or fewer steps, according to the age in which they were written. The most ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, are the Codex Alexandrinus, so called because it was brought from Alexandria in Egypt; the Codex Vaticanus, in the Vatican library at Rome; the Codex Bezæ, or Codex Cantabrigiensis, which was presented by Beza to the University of Cambridge ; the Codex Cottonianus, in the Cottonian library, containing, however, only fragments of the four Gospels ; the Codex Ephremi ; and the Codex Claramontanus of the epistles of Paul. The dates of these manuscripts cannot be certainly fixed; but the oldest of them cannot be referred farther back than the fifth, or perhaps the fourth century, and is posterior to the last book of the New Testament by at least three hundred years. There are no manuscripts of the Old Testament of equal antiquity.
* Num, xii. 6–8.
† Deut. xxxiv. 10.
# 2 Kings xxii. 8.
It may be presumed, that the persons employed in transcribing the sacred writings would be at great pains to make the copies accurate, both from reverence for books which they believed to be inspired and from a regard to their own interest, as errors, when discovered, would have prevented the sale of the copies, or have greatly lowered the price. Yet, without a miracle, every transcript could not have been a faultless representation of the original ; and that no supernatural influence was exerted upon their minds, may be very confidently inferred from the different readings which appear upon a collation of manuscripts. It is certain that they cannot all be right, and it is probable that not one of them is perfectly correct.
The existence of various readings in the Old Testament was remarked, if not, as some suppose, in the days of Ezra, yet as far back as the fifth century, when the Jewish work called the Masora was composed, or at least was begun by the Jewish critics, who are known by the name of Masorites. The design of it was to ascertain the true reading, and much scrupulous care has been employed in numbering the verses, the words, the letters, the vowel points, and ihe accents. As they did not venture to alter the text, for which they entertained a superstitious reverence, but contented themselves with recording what they judged to be the true reading, we have a specimen of their criticisms on the margins of some of our printed Bibles, and are referred to them by a small circle over the word, for which that on the margin is to be substituted. Hence the origin of the words Keri and Chetib, which frequently occur. The Chetib denotes what is written, and the Keri what ought to be read; that is, you are not to read the text as it stands, but to correct it by the note. I shall give only one instance, in which there can be no doubt that the Masorites have done right in correcting the text, because they have the sanction of apos. tolical authority. In the tenth verse of the sixteenth Psalm, we read in Hebrew, “ Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer gooien chasidicha, thy holy ones, to see corruption.” But on the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted it thus, and applied it to Christ, “ Neither wilt thou suffer fron chasidcha, thy holy One, to see corruption;" and it is in this way that the Masoretic note requires us to read it, by marking the jod, the sign of the plural, as redundant. Had they wished to favour their own cause against Christians, they would have left the reading in the text unnoticed, and might have done so without incurring the charge of corrupting it, since it seems to have been vitiated before their time. But they acted with perfect fairness, and restored the word which, we are sure, was used by the Psalmist. In modern times, the industry of learned men has greatly augmented the number of various readings. More than six hundred manuscripts were more or less fully consulted for Dr. Kennicott's edition of the Hebrew Bible; and four hundred and seventy-nine manuscripts, besides two hundred and eighty-eight printed editions, for De Rossi's Variæ Lectiones Veteris Testamenti.
As I shall have occasion afterwards to speak more particularly of the various editions of the New Testament, I only observe at present, that to obtain an accurate text has been deemed an object of great importance almost since the revival of learning ; and that, in this work, many have laboured with great diligence and ability, among whom Mill, Wetstein, and Griesbach, are eminently entitled to notice.
The following causes of various readings have been assigned. First, when a copy was written from the dictation of another, he who dictated might read or pronounce wrong, or the transcriber might hear wrong, and in either case a mistake would be produced. Secondly, as some Hebrew and Greek letters are similar, and according to the modes of writing in former times, had a greater resemblance to each other than at present, negligent copyists might substitute one letter or word for another. Thirdly, a transcriber having read a