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THE whole of that revelation which is peculiar to Christians is contained in the books of the New Testament; and, therefore, it appears to me, that before we begin to judge of the divine mission or inspiration of the persons to whom these books are ascribed, we ought to satisfy ourselves that the books themselves are authentic and genuine. For even although the apostles of Jesus did really receive a commission from the Son of God, yet if the books which bear their names were not written by them, or if they have been corrupted as to their substance and import since they were written, that is, if the books are not both authentic and genuine, we may be very much misled by trusting to them notwithstanding the divine mission of their supposed authors. I oppose the word authentic to supposititious; the word genuine to vitiated; I call a book authentic which was truly the work of the person whose name it bears; I call a book genuine which remains in all material points the same as when it proceeded from the author. Upon these two points, the authenticity and genuineness of the books of the New Testament, I am at present to fix your attention. Both the subjects open a wide field, and have received much discussion. All that I can do is to mark to you the leading circumstances which have been discussed, and with regard to which it becomes you to inform and satisfy your minds.

1. The canon of the New Testament is the collection of books written by the apostles or by persons under their direction, and received by Christians as of divine authority. This canon was not formed by any General Council, who claimed a power of deciding in this matter for the Chris

tian Church; but it continued to grow during all the age of the apostles, and it received frequent accessions, as the different books came to be generally recognised. It was many years after the ascension of Jesus before any of the books of the New Testament were written. The apostles were at first entirely occupied with the labours and perils which they encountered in executing their commission to preach the Gospel to all nations. They found neither leisure nor occasion to write, till Christian societies were formed; and all their writings were suggested by particular circumstances which occurred in the progress of Christianity. Some of the Epistles to the Churches were the earliest of their writings. Every Epistle was received upon unquestionable evidence by the Church to which it was sent, and in whose keeping the original manuscript remained. Copies were circulated first among the neighbouring churches, and went from them to Christian societies at a greater distance, till, by degrees, the whole Christian world, considering the superscription of the Epistle, and the manner in which it came to them, as a token of its authenticity, and relying upon the original, which they knew where to find, gave entire credit to its being the work of him whose name it bore. This is the history of the thirteen Epistles which bear the name of the apostle Paul, and of the First Epistle of Peter. Some of the other Epistles, which had not the same particular superscription, were not so easily authenticated to the whole Church, and were, upon that account, longer of being admitted into the canon.

The Gospels were written by different persons, for different purposes; and those Christian societies, upon whose account they were originally composed, communicated them to others. The book of Acts went along with the Gospel of Luke, as a second part composed by the same author. The four Gospels, the book of Acts, and the fourteen epistles which I mentioned, very early after their publication, were known and received by the followers of Jesus in every part of the world. References are made to them by the first Christian writers; and they have been handed down, by an uninterrupted tradition, from the days in which they appeared, to our time. Polycarp was the disciple of the Apostle John; Irenæus was the disciple of Polycarp; and of the works of Irenæus a great part is ex

tant, in which he quotes most of the books of the New Testament, and mentions the number of the Gospels, and the names of many of the Epistles. Origen in the third century, Eusebius and Jerome in the fourth, give us, in their voluminous works, catalogues of the books of the New Testament which coincide with ours, relate fully the history of the authors of the several books, with the occasion upon which they wrote, and make large quotations from them. In the course of the first four centuries, the greater part of the New Testament was transcribed in the writings of the Christians, and many particular passages were quoted and referred to by Celsus and Julian, in their attacks upon Christianity. From the beginning of the Church, throughout the whole Christian world, the books of the New Testaments were publicly read and explained to the people in their assemblies for divine worship; and they were continually appealed to by Christian writers as the standard of faith, and the supreme judge in controversy. The Christian world was very far from being prone to receive every book which claimed inspiration. Although many were circulated under respectable names, none were ever admitted by the whole Church, or quoted by Christian writers as of divine authority, except those which we now receive. And it was very long before some of them were universally acknowledged. When you come to examine the subject particularly, you will find that we stand upon ground which we are fully able to defend, when we admit the Epistle to the Hebrews, the smaller Epistles, and the book of Revelation, as of equal authority with any other part of the New Testament. At the same time, the hesitation which, for several ages, was entertained in some places of the Christian world with regard to these books, is satisfying to a candid mind, because this hesitation is of itself a strong presumption, that the universal and cordial reception, which was given to all the other books of the New Testament, proceeded upon clear incontestable evidence of their authenticity.

If, then, we readily receive, upon the authority of tradition, the History of Thucydides, the Orations of Cicero, the Dialogues of Plato, as really the composition of these immortal authors, we have much more reason to give credit to the explicit testimony which the judgment of con

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temporaries, and the acknowledgment of succeeding ages, have borne to the writers of the New Testament. There is not any ancient book with regard to which the external evidence of authenticity is so full and so various; and this variety of external evidence is confirmed to every person who is capable of judging, by the most striking internal marks of authenticity, by numberless instances of agreement with the history of those times, which are most satisfying when they appear to be most trivial, because they form altogether a continued coincidence in points where it could not well have been studied; a coincidence which, the more that any one is versant in the manners, the geography, and the constitution of ancient times, will bring the more entire conviction to his mind, that these books must have been written by persons living in the very country, and at the very period to which we refer those who are accounted the authors of them. Undesigned coincidences between the Acts and the Epistles are pointed out with admirable taste and judgment in Paley's Horæ Paulinæ, which is perhaps the most cogent and convincing specimen of moral argumentation in the world; and in the first volume of his Evidences of Christianity,-which are professedly a compilation, but so condensed and compacted, so illuminated and enforced, that it is impossible not to admire the matchless powers of the compiler's genius in turning the patient drudgery of Lardner to such account,―the authenticity of the Gospels and Acts is established.

2. Having ascertained to your own satisfaction the authenticity of the books of the New Testament, you will next proceed to inquire whether they are genuine, that is, uncorrupted. For even although they proceeded at first from the apostles or evangelists whose names they bear, they may have been so altered since that time as to convey to us very false information with regard to their original contents. It does not become you to rest in the presumption that the providence of God, if it gave a revelation, would certainly guard so precious a gift, and transmit entire through all ages "the faith once delivered to the saints."* The analogy of nature does not support this

Jude v. 3.

presumption; for the best blessings of heaven are abused by the vices or the negligence of those upon whom they are bestowed; and succeeding generations often suffer in their domestic, political, and religious interests, by abuses of which their predecessors were guilty. It becomes a divine to know, that the manuscripts of the New Testament, which were originally deposited with the Christian societies, no longer exist; that there have been the same ignorance, haste, and inaccuracy in transcribing the Gospels and Epistles, as in transcribing all other books; and that the various readings arising from these or other sources were very early observed. Origen speaks of them in the third century. They multiplied exceedingly, as was to be expected from the nature of the thing, after his time, when the copies of the original MSS. became more numerous and more widely diffused; so that Mill, in his splendid and valuable edition of the Greek Testament, has numbered 30,000 various readings.

This has been a subject of much declamation and triumph to the enemies of our Christian faith. Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke, Collins, Toland, Tindal, and many other deistical writers in the beginning of the last century, boasted that Christians are not in possession of a sure standard; and they built, upon the supposed corruption of the Greek text, an argument for the superiority of the light of nature above that uncertain instruction which varies continually as it passes through the hands of men. A scholar must be aware of this difficulty, and prepared to meet it.

When you come to estimate the amount of the 30,000 various readings, you will find that almost all of them are trifling changes upon letters and syllables, and that there is hardly one instance in which they affect the great doctrines of our religion. It will give you much satisfaction to observe, that the different sects into which the Christian church was early divided, watched one another; that any great alteration of a book which, soon after its being published, had been sent over the whole world, was impossible; that even those who corrupted Christianity have preserved the Scriptures so entire, as to transmit a full refutation of their own errors; and that from the most vitiated copies the one faith and hope of Christians may be

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