« PreviousContinue »
and are utter strangers to the erudition of the external argument, must have access to the knowledge and belief of the inspiration of each particular book in some other way. And, as it is not any thing without the book which forms their reason; it is imagined, if they have found a reason at all, they must find it in the book. There are several writers on the canon of scripture, who appear to have reduced themselves to this conclusion, by the manner in which they had urged the vital and fundamental importance of a well-grounded belief, in the scriptural authority of every book that we receive as scripture. And as the unlearned are ignorant of the external, there seems no other resource left for them, than that they must be guided and determined, in the homage which they render to the divine authority of any book, by the internal evidence. And accordingly, it has been argued of these pious and unlearned believers, that, in the perusal of scripture, they have the taste and discernment of its inspired quality—in virtue of which, they could make distinction for example, between the Book of Proverbs as the genuine progeny of inspiration, and the Book of Wisdom or the Book of Ecclesiasticus as not so.
4. These writers seem to have involved themselves in a dilemma, or at least to have outrun the convictions of the intelligent in their speculations on this subject. To us it appears palpably incompetent for a reader, either learned or unlearned, to discriminate between all the genuinely scriptural, and all the apocryphal books in this way. But again, it is quite as obvious of the great
majority of Christians, that neither have they sought for satisfaction in the other way, or by the study of the external evidence. Between the one and the other, it remains a question for solutionwhether there be any real or rational ground of evidence for the faith of the common people.
5. This question, substantially at least if not in one particular form, was much agitated in the days of the reformation. Papists of course affirmed that the power of determination between canonical and apocryphal scriptures, lay with the Pope or council; and that the people at large had no other way of distinguishing between them, than by the decrees of the church. The champions of protestantism, in opposing such a high pretension of authority over the faith of the people in this question, behoved to find out a principle, on which the people might determine it for themselves. It is obvious, that, if the scriptural authority of any particular book was made exclusively to rest on the testimonies of ancient times, they were only the learned who could be satisfied of this at first hand; and still, as before, the few had to tell the many what books they were to receive as inspired, and what they were to reject.
This had the appearance of Popery in another form, inasmuch as the great bulk of the people still believed, or at least acquiesced, in certain books as scriptures, at the dictation of others : And, to exalt the authority of private judgment over all other authority, it seemed necessary to find out some other principle than the historical evidence, on which it might be competent for all to form their own independent decision. And accordingly, among the Protestant writers of these days, we find it contended that the books of scripture can only manifest themselves as such, by their own internal evidence, or powerful influence upon the heart
or even by the internal testimony of the Spirit to their divinity. It is the language of Whitaker, that “our scriptures are to be acknowledged or received, not because the church has appointed or commanded so, but because they came from God; and that they came from God cannot be certainly known by the church, but from the Holy Ghost." Even Calvin says, “all must allow that there are in the scriptures manifest evidences of God speaking in them. The majesty of God in them will presently appear to every impartial examiner, which will extort our assent: So that they act preposterously who endeavour by any argument to beget a solid credit to the scriptures—the word will never meet with credit in men's minds, till it be sealed by the internal testimony of the Spirit who wrote it." The following extracts by Jones, from certain Protestant confessions, are in the same strain. “ These," say the compilers of the Dutch Confession, in 1566, “ these we receive as the only sacred and canonical books, not because the church receives them as such, but because the Holy Spirit witnesseth to our consciences that they proceed from God, and themselves testify their authority.” The Gallican church declares in their confession not only that their general faith in scripture depends on the testimony of the Spirit, giving to the mind an internal persuasion of their truth; but that
hereby also they know the canonical from the apocryphal books. In like manner Dr Owen, in his Treatise on the Divine Original of Scripture, says “ that the scriptures of the Old and New Testament do abundantly and uncontrollably manifest themselves to be the word of the living God; so that merely on the account of their own proposal to us, in the name and majesty of God as such, without the contribution of help or assistance from tradition, church, or any thing else without themselves, we are obliged, upon the penalty of eternal damnation, to receive them with that subjection of soul, which is due to the word of God. The authority of God shining in them, they afford unto us all the divine evidence of themselves, which God is willing to grant to us, or can be granted to us, or is any way needful for us.” -Now, it must be quite obvious, that, if left to this test alone, we could not, by the single virtue of its application, determine on the rightful place in scripture, of all the thirty-nine books in the Old, and twenty-seven books in the New Testament. Let each individual be left to himself in this matter, with but this guidance only, and there could be no security, either that he admitted all that was right into his canon, or kept all that was wrong out of it.
Richard Baxter seems to have thought more judiciously on this subject than some of his contemporaries. “ For my part,” says he, “ I confess, I could never boast of any such testimony or light of the Spirit (nor reason neither) which, without human testimony, would have made me believe, that the book of Canticles is canonical and written by Solomon, and the book of Wisdom apocryphal and written by Philo, &c. Nor could I have known all, or any historical books, such as Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, &c., to be written by divine inspiration, but by tradition,” &c. There is obviously then a confusion of sentiment on this subject, and amongst theologians of highest name -a mixture of truth and error, which error, at the same time, is but truth misapplied, or a right principle carried to extravagance. By a right statement of the order of proof, we think, that the whole of this perplexity might be unravelled; and the question be adjusted in all its parts.
6. A book in scripture might be made the subject of two distinct affirmations--one belonging to the history of the book, the other to its character or properties. It may be said of it, that it has been regarded as scripture from the earliest times -and by those too most competent to judge of its title to a place in the collection. Or it may be said of it, that it has the power of so influencing the heart, and so convincing the judgment, both by its adaptations to human nature and by its harmonies with the general system of revealed truth —that, when these are fully manifested, they evince its authorship to be of God. These propositions are distinct; but they are not incompatible. And each may be tested by a proper and peculiar evidence of its own. The one, if true, is an historical truth; and the way to ascertain it is by an examination of the testimonies of ancient times. The other, if true, is an experimental truth ; and to ascertain