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of the inquisitive student. Such are the following: Who were the writers and compilers, and at what periods, in what places, and on what occasions, were the writings and compila. tions made ? Whence arises that authority they have so gened rally obtained ? Has this been an immediate, or a gradual consequence, of their publication ? Has the christian world been unanimous in this respect, in regard to all these books, or has it been divided, as to all, or any of them? And if divided, what have been the most cogent arguments on the different sides? How, by whom, where, and when, were they collected into one volume ? What hath been their fate and reception since? What have been the most remarkable editions and translations they have undergone? What the variations occa. sioned by these, and what the most eminent paraphrases and commentaries they have given rise to? I would not be understood by this enumeration, as meaning to insinuate, that all these questions are of the same importance. There is a manifest and very considerable difference among them in this respect. A succinct account, however, of all the facts, which would serve for a solution to the several queries above-men. tioned; those at least which are of principal moment to the theologian, would constitute what is commonly called the history of the sacred canon.
The utility of such inquities to the theologian is the point which naturally comes next to be discussed. As the questions themselves are pretty different in their nature, however much connected by their concurrence in composing the history of the Bible, the purposes they are fitted to answer are also dif. ferent. In order to prevent mistakes, let it be observed once for all, that by the history of the Bible, I do not here mean, the history contained in the Bible, but the history of the compilement, and of the various fates of the book so denominated. The same thing may be said of that synonymous phrase, the history of the canon. As to those queries which regard the origin of the sacred books, they are chiefly conducive for confirming the truth of our religion; and as to those which regard their reception, good or bad, with all the consequences it hath produced, they are chiefly conducive for illustrating its doctrines. I use the word chiefly in both cases, because, in inquiries into the origin of the scriptures, discoveries will sometimes be made, which serve to itlustrate and explain the meaning of things contained in them; and, on the other hand, in inquiries into their reception, with its consequences, we shall often be enabled to discover the grounds of the favoura.' ble reception they have met with, and thereby to trace the vestiges of a divine original. To the former class belong
questions like these: Who were the writers? When, where, for whose use, and to what purpose were they written? Whence arises the veneration they have drawn? Why, by whom, and on what occasion or occasions, were they collected? To the latter class belong the following, In what manner have they been received in different countries, and at different peri. ods? To what causes does the reception, whether good or bad, appear imputable? What are the most eminent editions ? What are the principal variations to be found in the editions and manuscripts still extant? What translators and commentators have been occupied in conveying and illustrating their doctrine to the most remote nations and distant ages? In the discussion of such questions, especially in what regards tho books of the New Testament, there arises a number of curious investigations, tending to discriminate the genuine produce tions of the authors, whose names they bear, from the spurious pieces ascribed to them, the authentick dictates of the Holy Spirit from those which, at most, can only be styled apocry. phal, that is hidden or doubtful. That the church was early pestered with a multitude of fictitious accounts of the life of Christ, and the labours of his apostles, is manifest not only from the concurrent testimony of all antiquity, but even from the introduction which the evangelist Luke hath given to his Gospel: “ Forasmuch," says he, “as many have taken in hand " to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are 5 most surely believed among us." It is universally acknowledged, that John's Gospel was not written till a considerable time afterwards; and if none had preceded Luke in this work but Matthew and Mark, he would never have denominated them many. Besides, it is plain, from the manner in which preceding attempts are mentioned, that several of the accounts that had been given, were such as could not be depended on; otherwise, this circumstance, that many had undertaken the work before him, instead of being a good reason for his taking up the subject, would have been a very strong reason for his not doing it, since christians were already so amply supplied with information. But the very expressions he uses, evidently contain an insinuation, at least, that the writers he alludes to, had not themselves been sufficiently informed of the truth, “ It seemed good to me,” says he, “having had per.. « fecť understanding of all things, from the very first to write “ them to thee in order, most excellent Theophilus.”
But to return to the two classes into which the questions relating to the history of the canon were divided, they will generally be found, agreeably to the observation already made, concerning the principal utility of each, to be treated by authors
of different denominations, and with different views, Those who, as defenders of revelation, have entered the lists with its adversaries, more especially those, who, like Stillingfeet, in the last age, or Lardner, in the present, have applied them. selves to support the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures, did always consider themselves as under a necessity of doing something for our satisfaction, in regard to the ques. tions of the first order. Those, on the other hand, who have ássumed the character not of the champions of religion, but of its interpreters, do commonly attach themselves more to the discussion of the questions of the second order. Accordingly, we find a great deal of information on these topicks in the works of some of our scriptural criticks; whether they come under the denomination of scholiasts, paraphrasts, commentators, trans, lators, or barely editors, particularly the two last. The only examples of these I shall now mention, are, Houbigant's prolegomena to the different parts into which he has divided his Latin version of the Old Testament, and Mill's and Wetstein's prolegomena to the splendid and valuable editions they have given of the Greek New Testament, with the various read. ings. These I only mention by the way as deserving to be carefully perused by you, if you should happen to meet with them. For all the three (especially the first being voluminous and expensive works, and not very common, there are not many that, in this part of the world, have an opportunity of consulting them.
There is, indeed, one author, who, in a particular work written on purpose, has, with a good deal of judgment and acuteness, treated all the questions of both classes above enua merated : the author I mean, is Richard Simon, a priest of the Oratory, commonly known by the name of Father Simon, This man first published, in French, a book, entitled, A critia cal History of the Old Testament, which was soon after follow, ed by another in the same language, entitled, A critical History of the New Testament; both which together complete the hise tory of the sacred canon. This work has been translated, not badly, into Latin. There is a translation of it into English (which I have seen) that is very ill executed, in regard both to the sense and to the expression. In relation to the character of the performance, it will not be improper to make here a few observations. In the first place, it clearly evinces in the alla thor a large fund of erudition, accompanied with an uncommon share of critical sagacity and penetration ; and, I may justly add, a greater degree of moderation, than is generally to be met with in those, either of his sect as a romanist, or of his order as a priest. What particularly qualified him for the task
he has undertaken, was not only his thorough acquaintance with ancient history, sacred and profane ; but his profound skill in the oriental languages, and in all branches of rabbini. cal literature, To say thus much is no more, in my apprehension, than doing justice to his abilities and indefatigable application; at the same time, it is but doing justice to you, my hearers, to take notice of what I think amiss in his per. formance, I told you, and told you truly, that he shows more moderation than is customary with those of his sect and order, yet not so much of impartiality, as not to betray, on several occasions, that (if he was not a disguised freethinker, as has been suspected by some eminent catholicks) he was deeply tinctured with the servile spirit of his church. Hence the implicit deference he sometimes officiously displays, to human prescriptions, to oral tradition, to those customs which can plead the sanction of antiquity, or of a general reception, however absurd they may be, when examined on the princi. ples of reason, however unscriptural, or even antiscriptural, when examined on those of holy writ : nay, I might add, his deference to those practices and tenets, concerning which his knowledge and discernment must have satisfied him, that their origin was such as could by no means serve to recommend them. Hence also the propensity he shows, on every occasion, to insist on the ambiguity and obscurity of the scriptures, which he greatly exaggerates, and on the need of an infallible interpreter. Hence the straitened and ambiguous manner where. in he expresseth himself on some delicate points, which he could not altogether avoid mentioning, and on which it is plain that he did not think himself at liberty to speak out his sentiments. On such topicks, you will perceive a timidity and caution very unlike the generous freedom and boldness of a man, who hath ever been unaccustomed to the galling yoke of human authority. He puts one in mind of the situation described by the poet, and even appears to consider himself, as, incedens per ignes suppositos cineri doloso. But I shall say no more here of this author, having had an occasion, of late, both of giving, and of supporting my opinion, of him, more fully in the third preliminary dissertation to the translation of the Gospels, to which I refer you. As to his work, I may justly say, that on the whole, with all its errours and defects, (and what human composition is exempt from errours and defects?) The critical History of the Old and New Testaments contains a valuable fund of knowledge, and deserves an attentive perusal from every serious inquirer into the divine oracles. On some points, he has been warmly opposed by some protestant divines, to whose animadversions on his work he has returned answers. The controversy is published in the later editions of his book. In some things they appear to be in the right, but not in all.
Houbigant, also, another priest of the oratory, has, in the work of his above-mentioned, freely animadverted on some of Simon's observations. He too is no inconsiderable critick, though of a very different turn. The excess of Simon (where alterations appeared necessary) perhaps was diffidence ; of Houbigant, temerity. I am not sure, that some of our mo. dern English criticks on the Hebrew scriptures are not charge. able with this fault of Houbigant; I mean their making too free with the text, in setting aside the common reading for the sake of emendations merely conjectural. But as to these things, every person ought to judge for himself. I purpose to lay only the materials before you, which may serve as premises : it is yours to canvass and arrange them, and to draw the proper conclusions. It is not my province to dictate, but to suggest. Your assent to any opinions, that might be laid before you, would be of little value, if it were the result of a lazy and implicit confidence, and not of a careful examination and rational conviction. Let me only subjoin, before dismis. sing this article, a recommendation of Michaelis's Introductory Lectures to the sacred books of the New Testament, which will deserve your serious perusal. Thus much shall suffice for what concerns the history of the canon, and the valuable pur. poses to which this branch of knowledge is subservient.
I proceed now to consider the ends which may be answered by ecclesiastical history, and to inquire what is the readiest and most profitable way of studying it. Before that memoi able era, the incarnation of the Son of God, the history of the church of God was the history of one particular people, first distinguished by the name of the patriarch Israel, (otherwise called Jacob) whose descendants they were ; and after the loss of the ten tribes, who were carried into captivity by Shalmanezer, king of Assyria, denominated from Judah, one of the sons of Jacob, and one whose progeny the greater part of the remnant were, the nation of the Jews. The history of that people, and the history of the church, was under the Mosaick economy the same thing. Neither do we find in the annals, and other remains of those ancient times, the least vestige of the distinction of a community into church and state, such as hath obtained universally in the nations who have received the christian law. This distinction hath given rise to a species of history, whereof the world before had not conceived so much as an idea. It may not therefore be improper, in the first place, to trace its origin, that we may the better apprehend what is meant by the history of the church.