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“and canonical books, not because the church receives them
as such, but because the Holy Spirit witnesseth to our con“ sciencesk, that they proceeded from God, and themselves
testify their authority!."
The Gallican church, in their Confession, go somewhat furtherm; not only declaring their faith in the scriptures to depend upon the testimony and internal persuasion of the Spirit, “but that hereby they knew the canonical from ecclesiastical:” i.e. apocryphal books. I should proceed no further in citations to this purpose, were it not for the zealous assertions of a divine famous among us in England, whose own words are », “ The scriptures of the Old and New Testament do abun
dantly 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 66 needful for us. Such have been the assertions of the reformers, and many great men after them; which, for my part, I freely own, seem to be of a very extraordinary nature. For though I would by no means detract, either from the dignity of the canon, or from the influences of God's holy Spirit, (to whom we certainly owe more than we commonly imagine,) yet I can by no means think the doctrine of our reformers in this matter to be very evident and clear; for neither by the internal evidences of the scriptures themselves, nor the testimony of the Spirit attending them, do men generally believe, that the scriptures of the present canon are the word of God. To consider each distinctly;
1. As to the internal evidences of the scriptures, I readily grant, they are such as bespeak them plainly to be the most
* Happy men! who, in such num. m Confess. Gallic: Art. 4. bers, were blessed with so satisfying n See Dr. Owen's Discourse conan evidence.
cerning the Divine Original of the | Confess. Belgic. Art. 5.
Scripture, ch. 2. §. 5. and ch. 4, 5.
excellent books in the world; but that these are such as will prove, or ought to extort our assent to, their divinity, upon pain of eternal damnation, without any other arguments, seems to be a very unguarded and groundless position. Were the great number of apocryphal books and epistles, under the names of the apostles, now extant, and had they happened to have been put in and continued in the canon till now, is it likely, is it possible, that every Christian, who now believes the scripture to be the word of God, would have distinguished between these and the books we now receive, by the divinity and majesty that appear in the one above the other ? Can it be supposed, that out of a hundred books, or, as we may well suppose, out of ten thousand, (for the argument will be just the same with the largest assignable number,) that private Christians, or even our most learned reformers, should by any
internal evidence, agree precisely on the number of twenty-seven, which are now esteemed canonical, induced thereto by some characters those books contain, of their being written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost ? Especially when we consider, how various and divided the sentiments of Christians are, who now agree in the same canon? If of these books claiming and pretending to inspiration under such names, we are to judge of their inward evidences, without any external arguments from tradition, it is most certain each party would be proportionably fond of any book, as it more or less favoured their particular scheme of notions; and those which we now know to be apo cryphal books, must have been judged canonical above others, as they had more evidences of what they reckoned the mind of God, than others. If men therefore are stript of all other ways of determining, to me it seems very clear, that, considering the zeal of the contending denominations of Christians for their particular opinions, several of the books of the present canon would have been rejected, and perhaps most of them in their turns by one party or other; and so nothing could ensue but perpetual quarrels and disagreement. This will appear more probable, because it was really matter of fact, in a great measure, in the first ages of Christianity. It is well known that the heretics of those times, disregarding the true testimony or tradition of the church, and other rational arguments,
wonderfully cried up their spurious pieces under apostles' names, because they favoured their peculiar systems. Thus, for instance, the Manichees rejected many of the books of the New Testament which we now receive, and substituted others in their room; because the former agreed, and the latter disagreed, with those ridiculous ideas they had formed of Christianity; and so contemned all other proofs, that were brought by good testimonies, &c. to evidence that our present books were the only rule of faith. But the folly and madness, as St. Austin calls it, of this sort of reasoning, is so well confuted by that father P, that I need say no more.
Those therefore who are zealous for this sort of proof, would do well to consider, that this argument alone, without other external ones, does certainly make the canon of scripture uncertain, and lay men under a necessity of continual brangles and disputes. St. Paul tells us, there were in the church of Corinth false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ: and no marvel ; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light 9: such who would artfully imitate their doctrines. And if such as they had published their books under the apostles' names, imitating their style and doctrine, would it not have been exceeding difficult, yea, almost impossible, without some rational arguments, for the common Christians at Corinth to have seen the clear evidences of divinity in the one, which were not in the other ? Could they, without some other assistance, have been assured, that the first and second Epistles, wrote to them under Paul's name, were his, and the third was not ? Sure I am, St. Paul did not put the Christians, to whom he wrote, upon this method of knowing the genuineness of his Epistles. Though he knew them to be from God, though he proposed them as such, yet he did not apprehend the evidences of their divinity were such, as would always manifest them to be such, and infallibly direct the Christians to distinguish them from all spurious writings under his name: else what need of the caution he gives them against counterfeit epistles, and a particular mark, which he made use of in all his Epistles, to distinguish his real ones from all sup
posititious onest? This was certainly needless and superfluous, if the books themselves would extort assent from those who read them. And if it be, as Calvin says, preposterous to endeavour, by any solid arguments, to beget a solid credit to the scriptures, distinct from their internal evidence; then it was certainly preposterous in St. Paul to add that mark to his Epistles, as an evidence they were his. But perhaps it will be urged, that it is not the inward characters of the scriptures alone, but the inward testimony of the Spirit along with them, that manifests them to be genuine and of divine authority. Some indeed there are, who join these two arguments together as one, but generally they are made distinct; I shall therefore consider,
2. How far the opinion of our reformers, and others after them, concerning the testimony of the Spirit to the truth of the scriptures, is to be depended upon. What their opinion is, may be seen from their own words, produced at large above: the substance is, that we are to have recourse to some secret illumination or testimony of the Spirit, by which alone we can be convinced rightly, what scriptures are the word of God. That the influences of the Holy Spirit are necessary to produce such a faith in divine things, as shall effectually transform the heart, and powerfully incline the soul to a due obedience to the gospel, can be reasonably denied by none, who own the account the scripture has given of his offices to be true. To open our eyes to see that evidence of scripture verity which is already extant, to remove our blindness, and, by further sanctifying, to remove our natural enmity to the truth, &c. is a testimony of the Spirit, which every good Christian ought to hope and pray fors. Some have thought this was all our reformers meant, among whom is Dr. Calamy, in his excellent Sermons of Inspirationt: but the passages above make it evident, as Mr. Baxter observes “, that it is another kind of testimony than this, which many great divines resolve their faith into; in short, no other than an immediate revelation or inspiration, like that of the prophets or apostles. But concerning this I observe, 1 2 Thess. ii. 2. &c.—iii. 17. See
t Serm. 2. p. 40. above, p. 21, 22.
· Saints' Rest, part 2. c. 2. §. 3.
1. That if any are made happy with this argument to convince them, it can only be an argument to himself, and cannot be made use of to convince another; because he may justly except either against the judgment or veracity of him who pretends to it. - This is only an argument,” says bishop Burnet”, “ to him that feels it, if it be one at all.” If therefore we attempt to reconcile a heathen, Jew, or unbeliever, as all men once were, to the belief of the scriptures, it must be by some other arguments.
2. To assert, the scriptures only can be proved by the testimony of the Spirit, is very likely to introduce such enthusiasm among Christians, as will infallibly render the canon of scripture uncertain and precarious. For as every person is, and must be, judge of this testimony, it is not strange if men should urge it for other books, which are not commonly received: and if they do so, how can these divines answer them? Will they say, the Spirit never does nor can give his testimony, but to books of his own inspiration, and consequently not to any but the books of our present canon? This would be plain trifling, because it supposes the thing, which is to be proved, for granted; it first supposes the books are inspired, and then proves that they are so, because they are so. And yet no better answer can be given to one, who claims inspiration for an apocryphal book, by those who allow no other arguments but the testimony of the Spirit. Upon this principle, therefore, men are at their liberty to bring in all the rhapsodies of the ancient heretics, if they please, and there is no opposing them. They pretend the testimony of the Spirit for their book, and we can do no more for ours.
How uncertain this leaves the canon, every one must see: besides, to use the words of the ingenious writer just mentioned, " If a person
say, he is assured of the inspiration of the scriptures now re“ceived, by the inspiration of the same Spirit who indited “ them, it is natural to inquire, what evidence he has, that this
inspiration he pretends to is real, and not imaginary? that it “ is from the Spirit of God, and not from a spirit of delusion ? “ His only answer, I suppose, must be this: That he is satis“ fied in the same way the sacred penmen were at first, as to
x On Artic. VI. p. 79.