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inquiry into the nature of any proposition is absolutely necessary; particularly in matters offered for our conversion. And it is a very just observation of Mr. Basnage, who says, “ We must prove “ the divine authority of the Gospel (to the Jews) before we en“ gage in the particulars of other controversies.”* And I add, till this is done, and the Jews admit the divine authority of the New Testament, nothing can be urged from thence for their conversion : for, in controversies, neither party can, with the least shadow of reason, make use of any authority which is not admitted or granted by the other. A Mahomedan might as consistently urge the authority of the Koran for the conviction of the ......ian, as a ......ian make use of or urge any thing from the New Testament for the conviction of the Jew. The absurdity of such a method in either case is equally plain and obvious: for as the ...... ian does not admit the infallibility or divine inspiration of the Koran, what force or validity could any argument drawn from thence have, or what regard would the ...... ian pay to any such authority ? So, in like manner, what regard can it be expected the Jew will pay to any proof drawn from the New Testament, the authority or infallibility of which they do not admit. Can conviction be reasonably expected from such grounds?
By inspiration I mean, God communicating bis will, and exciting a person to publish, by writing or speaking, such matters as are dictated to him. A person thus actuated, either in his writings or words, is properly inspired; and whatever he writes or says, under such circumstances, must be infallible or true; because, being under the immediate influence or guidance of God, he cannot be liable to error or deception. But the person so actuated or influenced, must necessarily lose his own free-agency; because he thereby becomes an instrument which God makes use of, under whose direction he acts :f for otherwise he would not be infallible. Therefore, when I speak of the infallibility of any book or writing, I mean thereby, that its author was under the circumstances afore-mentioned at the time of writing; for if he was not under those circumstances, then cannot his writings be in-' fallible, because he, like other free-agents, must be liable to deception, and may mistake the things concerning which he writes, or may impose upon others.
* History of the Jews, b. 7. c. 34.
+ The prophets of Ahab were inspired by the lying spirit. This is not the inspiration intended by our author; he means such inspiration as of Micah, the son of Imla, which does not err, neither can it, being of God. Ed. Jow.
1 He that is inspired by the lying spirit, or by a spirit of uncleanliness, called Ruach Hatuma, cannot, for that reason, lose his free-agency, unless he is otherwise judicially blinded, or he would not be accountable. Ed. Jew.
It is a doubt with me, whether there is any considerate person who believes the infallibility of the New Testament. For no person will undertake to say that every word it contains was dictated by God to those who wrote ; and if they were not all dictated by God, then cannot the whole be infallible.
That every word cannot be dietated by God is plain, from the contradictions it contains. And if only some part or parts of those writings shall be thought infallible, such difficulties must necessarily arise in settling what part is so, and what part is not so, that it would be impossible to come to any tolerable agreement concerning it. And I am sure that nothing less than an inspired person could understand it: for otherwise there would be as many different opinions as persons employed in the work. One would give us as fallible what the other asserted to be infallible.
Thus stands the case. Whoever believes or is persuaded of the divine inspiration or infallibility of the writings of the New Testament, must, I apprehend, have his evidence and conviction from one of the following means :
1. Immediate inspiration of the writer.
6. Evidence arising from examination. 1. As to immediate inspiration of the writer, or that evidence which the writer has, at finding himself, at the time of writing, under the irresistible influence and immediate guidance of God, whose dictates he is forced to set down, as an instrument (and during the time) with the loss of his natural free-agency, the person thus influenced and excited may very consistently believe such his writings to be inspired, and, consequently, infallible; because the circumstance in which he found himself at the time of his writing produced that conviction in him.
It is questionable whether such who are over anxious for pressing on others the infallibility of the writings of the New Testament, ever believed the writers thereof under the afore-mentioned circumstances; which they must necessarily do, otherwise their infallibility falls to the ground. But if they believed they were, I should be glad to know from whence arises their conviction ; for I can find nothing to this purpose.
2. The immediate evidence of God's influence; that is, when God is pleased to impress or influence the mind of a person irresistibly; forcing him, by some supernatural means, to believe such writings to be inspired. It is very certain that God may do this, but it is a question if he ever did; for no person did ever pretend to these supernatural illuminations, without being suspected by the cool and sedate; and they never met with any credit from the most discerning, who generally ascribe it to a distempered imagination. However, they, like the writer, may very consistently believe such writings to be infallible.* But then neither the writer nor the person so influenced can be any evidence to me, unless I attain to the certainty of it by the same supernatural means.
3. Immediate tradition from the inspired writer. This can be to me nothing but human fallible tradition; for if a person, whether really or pretendedly inspired, publishes a book or writing, and declares that it contains doctrines dictated by God to bimself, bis evidence to me is at last but human evidence; and, therefore, uncertain and precarious : for if I believe it wrote by inspiration, it is on his own authority, which is both human and fallible. This being the case, how or in what manner shall I be able to distinguish the truly inspired writer from the impostor, who should pretend to the like privilege? And if we take the writers' words in all cases, or give heed to their own testimony, we shall be liable to be deceived and imposed on by every impostor or pretender to revelation. And the want of a knowledge of, or attention to the certain criterion, I apprehend was the occasion that in the first ages of the church so many different Gospels appeared, which by some were received with veneration, while others rejected them as false and spurious : so that this immediate tradition can be no evidence at all of the divine inspiration or infallibility of any book or writing.
* This influence must also take away the free-agency of the object so irresistibly influenced, and, of a consequence, accountability also; as there can be neither reward or punishment for doing that we are, as machines, impelled to by the power irr sieti. ble. Ed. Jew.
4. As to distant tradition—this evidence must be proportionably less the further it is removed from the original. And if immediate tradition be but human fallible evidence, and a true revelation cannot by it only be distinguished from a false one, how can it be the better ascertained by being more distant from the original tradition ? for the farther it is removed, the more it is weakened.
5. The evidence arising from education or authority—and this, if it proves any thing, proves that all the different books which give rise to the different religions in the world, are all inspired; for on this evidence each person believes his to be so, and, therefore, this can be no evidence at all.
6. Evidence arising from examination.—This is the only one to be depended on; but even then, like immediate revelation, or immediate influence, it is solely and entirely personal, and can never extend further than the person who examines : for it may appear probable to me, or I may believe confidently and certainly, on examination, that such a book was wrote under God's immediate influence and direction, still this is no reason for another person that he also shall believe the same on the evidence of my examination, or even that it should appear to him in the same light, unless he likewise finds it to be so on his own examination.
And having myself examined the New Testament, and likewise what is generally offered to support the opinion of their inspiration, I declare it to be insufficient to me; for there does not appear any one circumstance, whether alleged by others, or contained in the Gospels, sufficient to prove that either of the writers at the time of writing was under the unerring guidance or special influence of God. Besides, there is not in all the Gospels any one expression intimating any such thing; neither do the writers thereof lay any claim, or in the least pretend to any such privilege or authority; nor indeed could such a prerogative be consistently ever allowed them: for if every one of them at the time of writing had been under the immediate guidance of God, they must all have given us the same account of things without the least difference or variation; for it is impossible, if God dictated to them all the same history, that any variation or difference of the facts should be found, unless it could be supposed that God could dictate different facts in different histories of the same person. And that there are frequent contradictions is evident.
From which circumstance, and many others, I conclude that the writers of the New Testament could not be under the infallible guidance of God; neither do I find that they published or gave out their writings as such. And if they did not declare themselves inspired, what authority could any one else have to declare them so ? On the contrary, it very evidently appears that there was no scriptures, no writings, deemed canonical in what is called the first ages of ...... ianity, but the Old Testament! The famous Dodwell says, “ We have at this day certain most authen“tic ecclesiastical writers of the times, as Clemens Romanus, “ Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, and Policarpus, who wrote in the “ same order wherein I have named them, and after all the wri“ ters of the New Testament, except Jude and the two Johns. “ But in Hermas you will not find one passage, or any mention of " the New Testament; nor in all the rest is any one of the Evan“ gelists named; and if sometimes they cite any passage like those “ we read in our Gospels, you will find them so much changed, " and for the most part so interpolated, that it cannot be known “ whether they produced them out of our, or some other apocry“ phal Gospels : nay, they sometimes cite passages which most “ certainly are not in the present Gospels."* The first who wrote was St. Matthew, but at what time he did write is uncertain ; some fixing its date at one time, and some at another. Again, some think be composed his Gospel in the Hebrew or Jerusalem dialect; for it seems the very language he wrote in is uncertain ; and it is confessed on all hands that no account can be had of the original, so that if he wrote at all, it disappeared; how and in what manner nobody knows. And what is still more extraordinary, the Judaizing ...... ians (for whose use it is said he wrote) had a Gospel under his name, but its authenticity was not admitted by the other sects; not because they found, on comparing it with the original, it was corrupted, (for this they could not do for want of the original,) but because it differed, or was contradictory to the many other spurious Gospels which they had received, or to the opinion which the majority of that council which settled the canon
* Dissert. 1. In Iren.