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that the writers of the New Testament, although allowed to exercise their own memory and understanding, as far as they could be of use; although allowed to employ their own modes of thinking and expression, as far as there was no impropriety in their being employed, were, by the superintendence of the Spirit, effectually guarded from error while they were writing, and were at all times furnished with that measure of inspiration which the nature of the subject required. In his history every evangelist brings forward those discourses and facts which had made the deepest impression upon his mind; but while, from the variety which thus naturally takes place in the histories, there arises the strongest proof that there was no collusion, the recollection of every historian was so far assisted, that he gives us no false information; and by laying together the several accounts, we may attain as complete a view of the transactions recorded as the Spirit of God judged to be necessary. In the book of Acts we see the mind of the apostles gradually led, by the teaching of the Spirit, to a full apprehension of the whole counsel of God. In the Epistles they apply the knowledge which had thus been imparted to them by revelation, in ministering to the edification, the comfort or reproof of the churches which they had established; and the Spirit, who had by this time guided them into all truth, abode with them, so that from the words and commandments of the apostles we may learn the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.
It hath pleased God that the Christian world should derive those treasures of divine knowledge which resided in the apostles, not by formal systematical discourses composed for the instruction of future ages, but by the short familiar incidental mention of the Christian doctrines in their epistles. This form of the doctrinal writings of the apostles has been stated as an objection to their being inspired; but by a little attention you will perceive the great advantages of their being permitted to adopt this form. Our industry is thus quickened in searching the Scriptures. The doctrines are rendered more level to the capacity of the great body of Christians, and more easily recalled to their minds by this mode of being delivered and the books containing the doctrines are thus made to bring along with them internal marks of authen
ticity, which could not have belonged to them had they been in another form.* The inscription of the epistle is a sure voucher, transmitted from the earliest times, that a letter had truly been sent by an apostle of Christ to a church. The character of the apostle is marked in his epistle, and the many little circumstances, which his situation or that of the church introduces into an affectionate letter, while they exhibit the natural expressions of Christian benevolence, bring a conviction, more satisfying than that which arises from any testimony, that the apostles of Jesus proceeded, in execution of the charge given them by their Master, to make disciples of all nations.
In the prophecies which the New Testament contains there must have been the inspiration of suggestion. Neither the words nor the thoughts could there come by the will of man; and the writers spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Accordingly Paul introduces his predictions with these words, The Spirit speaketh expressly; and John, we found, says in the book of Revelation, that he was commanded to write what he saw and heard.
I have explained under this second remark, that kind of inspiration, which the different branches of the evidence that has been stated appear to me clearly to establish, and which is now generally considered as all that was necessary for the purposes of the apostolical office. We do not say that every thought was put into the mind of the apostles, and every word dictated to their pen by the Spirit of God. But we say, that by the superintendence of the Spirit, they were at all times guarded from error, and were furnished upon every occasion with the measure of inspiration which the nature of the subject required. Upon this view of the matter, we can easily account for all the circumstances that are commonly urged as objections against the notion of inspiration. We may even admit that the apostles were liable to err in their conduct, and were left ignorant of some things which they wished to know and at the same time we have all that security against misrepresentations of fact, or error in doctrine, which the nature of the commission given to the apostles
*Paley's Horæ Pauling.
and the importance of the truths declared by them render necessary for our faith. By this kind of inspiration, while a provision is made for the introduction of those internal marks of authenticity by which the Bible is distinguished above every other book in the world, there is also a perfect fulfilment of the promise given to the apostles by Jesus, a justification of the claim which their writings contain, and a rational account of that entire submission which the Christian church in every age has yielded to the authority of the apostles.
Here then is the ground upon which I rest my foot, and the point from which I desire to be considered as setting out in my Lectures upon Divinity. Jesus was a teacher sent from God. His apostles, who were commanded by him to publish his doctrine to the world, received, in fulfilment of his promise, such a measure of the visible gifts of the Spirit as attested their commission, and such a measure of internal illumination and direction, as render their writings the infallible standard of Christian truth. From hence it follows, that every thing which is clearly contained in the Gospels and Epistles, or which may be fairly deduced from the words there used, is true; and that every thing which cannot be so proved is no part of the doctrine that Christians are required to believe. have attained this point, sound criticism becomes the foundation of Theology. My business is not to frame a system of Divinity, but to delineate that system which the Scriptures teach, by a clear exposition of the passages in which it is taught; and to defend it, by rescuing the Scriptures from misinterpretation. We shall be very
much assisted in this course by our knowledge of the Greek language. The Greek Testament will be our constant companion; and the best preparation for what you are to learn from me is to apply the knowledge, which you have acquired elsewhere, in rendering the Greek Testament familiar to your minds.
The doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture is touched upon in all the complete defences of Christianity; of most of which you have both an Index and an Abridgment in Leland's view of the Deistical Writers.
Bishop Burnet has treated it shortly in his Exposition of the 6th Article of the Church of England.
There are many excellent Sermons of English Divines upon this subject. I mention particularly Archbishop Secker's, in the third volume of his works.
And there is a rational, masterly essay upon this subject, in Bishop Benson's Paraphrase on the Epistles of Paul.
Potter's Praelectiones Theologica in Opera Theologica, tom. iii. Le Clerc's Letters on Inspiration, with Lowth's Answer. Randolph's Works.
Wakefield on Inspiration,
Prettyman's Elements of Christian Theology.
Watson's Apology for the Bible and for Christianity.
Preliminary Essays prefixed to Dr. Macknight's new translation of the Epistles.
Dick on the Inspiration of Scripture.
Jones's Canon of Scripture.
PECULIAR DOCTRINES OF CHRISTIANITY.
HAVING established the divine inspiration of the books of the New Testament, we have next to learn from this infallible guide that system of doctrine which characterizes the Christian religion. It is presumptuous and childish to busy ourselves in fancying what that system ought to be. If the books containing the Gospel of Christ were really written by men under the direction of the Spirit of God, they will teach us the truth without mixture of error; and all our speculations vanish before the authoritative declarations which they bring.
I need not occupy time with delineating the great truths of natural religion. These must be the same in every true system, because they are unchangeable; and it occurred formerly, in stating the evidences of Christianity, that this revelation carries along with it one strong presumption of its divine original, by giving in the simplest language, and the plainest form, views of the nature of God, and of the duty of man, more clear, more consistent, and more exalted than are to be found in any other writings. If you were to throw out of the Scriptures all the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, there would remain a complete system of natural religion, in comparison with which, even the speculations of the enlightened and virtuous sage of Athens appear low and partial. But it is of these peculiar doctrines that Christian theology consists; and I mean at present to prepare for examining them particularly, by stating them in a short connected view. I cannot propose to meet in this view the sentiments of all the different sects of Christians; for if I were to attempt to accommodate the sketch that is to be given, to the peculiar tenets of some sects, I should be obliged to leave out several doctrines which appear to me most essential to