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“their inspiration. And let this be admitted, and a wide gap “ is opened to enthusiasm, and there is no remedyy."
3. I argue against this, as the only right method of proving the canon of scripture
from matter of fact, or by appeal to the consciences of all men. According to this hypothesis, all men, who believe the scripture to be the word of God, must have the testimony of the Spirit. Now I ask, whether it be not notorious in fact, that multitudes firmly believe the truth of the revelation, who are neither conscious of any inspiration, nor even desired it, nor even so much as heard of the necessity of it? Did the Spirit ever tell them, or do they so much as pretend it told them, they should receive one book, and reject another ? “ For my part,” said Mr. Baxterz, “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." He speaks, without doubt, the common sentiments of most Christians; and if the matter of fact be thus, there can be no possible method of answering the argument, but by saying, the greatest part of them who profess to believe, do not believe the scriptures, and that the unregenerate cannot believe them to be the word of God; which though some, through a too great fondness for their opinion, have ventured to assert, is so very rude and groundless a charge, that it deserves no answer. I conclude this head with the words of a late writer abovecited a ; “I cannot see, how any immediate revelation of the “ Spirit should be necessary to a rational conviction in this “ case; or how we can suppose the divine Spirit should whisper “ it in the ear of every man, that is satisfied
this head, “ that this book we call the Bible is of divine inspiration." Thus I have endeavoured to make way for, and indeed I hope in a great measure established, my first proposition, That tradition, or the testimony of the ancients, is the principal method of determining the canon; a more direct proof of which shall be the work of the following chapter.
y Loc. sup. cit.
a Dr. Calamy, at the place above cited.
CHAP. VII. That the best method, by which the canonical authority of any
book or books can be established, is by the testimonies of those,
who lived nearest to the times in which they were written. HAVING in the preceding chapter largely shewn, that neither, 1. The authority of the church; nor, 2. The innate evidences of the scripture, with the testimony of the Spirit, are the means by which we can establish the canon of scripture, I come now to shew,
III. That the principal means, whereby we can know whether any books be canonical, is by tradition, or the well-approved testimonies of those, who lived in or near the time of their being first written.
The question concerning the canon of the New Testament, is plainly a question concerning certain matters of fact, that were about 1700 years ago, viz. Whether such and such books were written by the persons under whose names they go. Whether they were inspired, or no, is not the business here to inquire; but, Whether such persons wrote such and such books. If then the question be about a plain fact, it is evident, the way to decide it must be by the testimony of some, who either themselves knew the certain truth of the fact, or else received it from others who did so. Thus, and thus only, we know, there was such a person as Julius Cæsar, who did such and such things; thus we know that Ovid, Virgil, or Livy, wrote the books under their names, &c. and thus we know, the disciples of Jesus Christ wrote the books which go under their
And since (as has been above proved, Prop. II. Coroll. 2.) the witnesses to be produced, viz. the first Christians, are good and capable witnesses, or judges, of the fact; it is evident, the principal method of knowing which is a truly canonical book, is to search into the most ancient and authentic records of the Christian church, which was the thing to be proved. This was the method the first Christians constantly
made use of, to prove against the heretics the truth of the sacred books, viz. by appealing to that certain and undoubted tradition, which assured them they were the writings of the persons whose names they bear. Irenæus b, Tertullian, Eusebiusd, Cyrile, Austinf, and others, have frequently made use of this argument to very good purpose. But there is no need of producing authorities; the matter is clear. A fact must be proved by the testimony either of those who knew it, or of those who received it by good and credible tradition from them. I would have the contrary minded (as a noted writer well argues 8) tell me “ How they know, without human testimony or tradition, that these are the same books, which the
prophets and apostles wrote ? and wholly the same ? that they “ are not depraved, and wilfully corrupted ? that these are “ all? How know you that one of the books of Esther is ca“nonical, and the other apocryphal ? Where is the man that “ever knew the canon from the apocrypha, before it was told “ him ?” &c. I might argue yet further, and ask, Hów, but by tradition, do most men believe the scriptures to be truly translated out of their originals ? For, not understanding them themselves, they are liable to be imposed upon, and necessitated to credit the fidelity of those who do understand them. If they do not believe the testimony and faithfulness of the translators, it is impossible any internal evidence should convince them of the truth of the books translated. But to omit this, it is indeed very observable, that the same writers, who at some times have wrote warmly for the testimony of the Spirit, have at other times, forgetting this, given up the whole of the controversy, by allowing all to the church and tradition. Nothing less than this is certainly implied in that concession of Dr. Whitaker h, " That the church has power, or it belongs to “ its office, to judge or determine, what are true, genuine, and “ canonical books; and what are false, spurious, and apocry
phal.” And I cannot but observe, that Calvin himself, though in the passages above cited, he says, “ Men cannot by
b Adv. Hæres. I. 3. c. 1, 2.
€. Adv. Marcion. 1. 4. C. 5. Vid. Pamel. ad loc.
Hist. Eccl. 1. 3. C. 3. et 25. • Catech. IV. §. 33. et §. 36.
f Contr. Faust. Manich. I. II. C. 2. et l. 22.
- 79. et 1. 33. c. 6. & Pref. to Saints' Rest, part 2. §. 6.
1 Controvers. de Scriptur. I. Quæst. III. C. 2. juxt. fin.
any arguments be brought to believe the scriptures;" yet, in the next chapteri, does himself make use of many arguments taken from testimony and tradition for this purpose; such as, The providence of God in preserving them under the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Septuagint translation, &c. for the Old Testament: the wonderful success of Christianity against all opposition, the mighty prevalence of its doctrines, the death of martyrs, &c. all which are founded only upon history and tradition. Others who, unwilling to dispute the sufficiency of the argument from internal evidences, have attempted a sort of medium, or compounding the matter, by a strange sort of mixture of both. Thus Dr. Cosin k, allowing the force of internal testimonies to prove the scriptures, says, that “notwithstanding this, for the particular number of such “ books, whether they be more or less, we have no better nor “ other external testimony, or rule herein to guide us, than " the constant voice of the catholic church, as it hath been de“ livered to us upon record from one generation to another.” To me (though I freely own, and thank God, I am able to see an excellency in the scriptures far beyond all other books, and trust to feel more of the efficacy daily upon my own heart, by the Spirit of God) nothing seems more unreasonable than this sort of composition. It is in other words no more than this: The internal evidences of the scriptures convince us in general they are divine, but not in particular; they convince us all the books are, but not such and such particular ones ; which, I think, is a direct contradiction. Placæus is somewhat more consistent with himself; though, I believe, his compounding notion will hardly be approved?; viz. “ That the “ truly canonical books have more or fewer, greater or smaller, 66 characters and evidences of their divinity, as they are more “ or less necessary to the church; and on the contrary, apo“cryphal books, as they are more or less unfit for the canon, “ have more or fewer, greater or less evidences of human com
posure: so that,” says he, “there may be some canonical “ books, such, for instance, as the Book of Esther, which we “ shall hardly be able to prove canonical ; and some apocry
i Instit. Christ. Relig. 1. 1. c. 8. 9. 10. k Scholast. Hist, of the Canon, §. 8.
1 Dissert. de Canon. §. 24. inter Thess. Salmur.
phal pieces, such as the Prayer of Manasses m, which we “ shall hardly be able to prove apocryphal, by any
argu“ ments, than such as are drawn from the language in which " they are written, and the constant testimony of the ancient “church.” The plain meaning of which is, That some books prove themselves to be of divine original, others do not; the Spirit dictated some books, which evidence they are his, others which do not. Every one can see, how contrary this is to the reformers' doctrine; and I am unwilling to make any other inference; only would hence observe, what absurdities the greatest men run into, who do not allow themselves a just freedom of thought.
Upon the whole, then, the substance of what I contend for is; The sacred books of the New Testament at their first writing, were published abroad in the world, and delivered to the first churches, in distant countries, for their use: they who first received them, knew them to be the books of the persons under whose names they were published, and could and did testify to the succeeding ages, what they thus knew of these facts. This testimony of the primitive churches is still faithfully preserved in the writings of the ancient Christians, and is therefore not only a good and sufficient, but the principal means, by which we know the truth of the fact, viz. that the books were written by such and such men. Beside this, the books themselves contain in themselves evidences of their excellency above all others; which should be the means to strengthen and confirm our faith: and for our further help, we are to hope for the influences of God's holy Spirit, to clear our judgments, and free us from those prejudices, which we naturally have against divine things; to help us to see the former evidences in their due strength, and so to impress the things revealed on our minds, as to produce a suitable conduct and behaviour.
There is only one objection, as far as I can see, left, which deserves any consideration; and that is, If it is by tradition, and searching the records of the ancients, that we are to have satisfaction as to the truth of the scriptures, then the greater part of Christians, who are not capable of doing this, must be without satisfaction. m It is extant among the apocrypha of the Old Testament.