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Though I hope fully to confute these specious objections, and all others that can be made against our present collection, in the fourth part of this book; yet every one must allow such objections to make the business of settling the canon not so easy, as is commonly imagined.
1. As to the first of these, viz. That we cannot assign any certain time, when a collection of these books was made, or a canon settled by the apostles, or any inspired persons near their time, the matter is too certain to need much to be said of it. Mr. Dodwell!, Dr. Grabem, and Dr. Millsn, our best writers on these heads, have observed it already; though I hope to prove their arguings on this head (I mean of the two former) to be false and groundless.
2. That many, or most of the books of the New Testament, have been rejected by heretics in the first ages, is also certain.
Faustus Manichæus and his followers are said to have rejected all the New Testament, as not written by the apostleso.
Marcion rejected all, except St. Luke's Gospelp.
The Manichees disputed much against the authority of St. Matthew's Gospel 9.
The Alogians rejected the Gospel of St. John, as not his, but made by Cerinthus'.
The Acts of the Apostles were rejected by Severus, and the sect of his name s.
The same rejected all Paul's Epistles', as did also the Ebionites u, and the Helkesaites x,
Others, who did not reject all, rejected some particular epistles, of which instances will be given hereafter.
3. Several of the books of the New Testament were not universally received, even among them who were not heretics, in
c. 2. et 8. This
urged by Toland in Amynt. p. 61, &c. but disputed by Mr. Nye in bis Answer, p. 87, &c.
p Epiphan. Hæres. 42. de Marcionit. q Vid. August, cont. Faust. 1. 2, 3,
Atqui certe ante illam epocham, quam dixi, Trajani, nondum constitutus est librorum sacrorum canon, nec receptus aliquis in ecclesia catbolica librorum certus numerus--nec rejecti hæreticorum pseudepigraphi, &c. Dissert. in Iren. §. 39.
Canon sacrorum librorum non statim constitutus est ab initio ecclesiæ, &c. Spicileg. Patr. 1. p. 320.
# Vid. ejus Prolegom. in Novo Testam. p. 23
August. cont. Faust. Manich. 1. 32.
r August. lib. de Hæres. 30. et Epiphan. Hæres. 51. de Alog.
s Euseb. Hist. Eccl. l. 4. c. 29.
u Id. lib. 3. c. 27. Vid. et Epiphan. Hæres. 30. de Ebion.
* Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 1. 6. c. 38.
the first ages. Eusebius tells us y, the authority of the second Epistle of Peter, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, was disputed; and in another place ?, that the Epistles of James, Jude, the second Epistle of Peter, the second and third Epistles of John, were not universally received, but doubted of by some: the same, or rather more,
of the Revelation of St. John.
4. Several of them have had their authority disputed by learned men in later times. Luther and several of his followers utterly reject the Epistle of James, not only as a spurious piece, but as containing things directly contrary to the gospela. Erasmus had a very mean opinion, and doubted the canonical authority, of the Revelationsb. Calvin, Cajetan, and the learned Kirsteniusc, had the same sentiments of it. But referring this and many other things, which might be said under this and the foregoing heads, to their proper place, I shall only infer from the whole, that if so many books, beside what we now receive, claim admission into our canon, in the judgment of learned men; if we can prove no certain time, when the canon was fixed in the first, or beginning of the second century; if there were such controversies, not only among the orthodox and heretics, but among the orthodox themselves, concerning the authority of several books; and lastly, if several books have been rejected by learned men of late; it follows most undeniably, that it requires our utmost diligence and industry, as being apparently a work of the greatest difficulty, to settle the canon of the New Testament.
OBSERV. II. That settling the canonical authority of the books of the New
Testament, is a matter of the greatest consequence and importance. FOR if, on the one hand, any book be received as the word of God, which is not so; or, on the other hand, any book be not received as the word of God, which really is so, the conse
y Euseb. Hist. Eccl. I. 3. C. 3.
1. Vid. Aunot. in Rev, xxii.
• See the Preface to Dr. Gregory's Works, p. 10.
quences are fatal and dangerous, and the neglect of due inquiry in such a matter must needs be very criminal.
1. As to the first, viz. Receiving books for inspired, which are not so, the consequences are evidently very bad; as,
1. We thereby offer a notorious affront to our Maker, not only making him the author of lies and forgeries, but imputing the false, perhaps blasphemous conceptions of ill-designing men, suggested by the father of lies, to the inspiration of his holy Spirit. Thus injurious to the honour of God are many of the apocryphal books both of the Old and New Testament, in which we find, not only the most silly and frivolous stories, not like the dictates of the Holy Ghost, but direct contrarieties to the most certain truths. Thus the author of the book of Tobit makes his angel guilty of a gross lie, saying first, that he was Azarias the son of Ananias, ch..v. ver. 12. and afterwards, ch. xii. ver. 15. that he was Raphael, one of the seven angels.
The author of the Wisdom of Solomon very plainly asserts the doctrine of the preexistence of souls, before they are brought into bodies, ch. viii. ver. 19, 20.
The author of Baruch says, ch. i. ver. 1, 2, 3. that he read his book to the captives the fifth year of the captivity in Babylon, when it is certain the true Baruch was with Jeremiah in Egypt, Jer. xlii. ver. 5, 6, 7.
To omit a hundred such instances, I shall only produce a few such from the apocryphal books of the New Testament, by which it will appear, how bad the consequence would be of receiving those books for genuine, which are not. Thus for instance it would be, should any receive those spurious books, attributed to our Saviourd, which, the wicked authors of them pretended, did contain those magical arts, by which he wrought his miracles.
Thus it would be, should the celebrated Gospel of the Nazarenes (which father Simon and others reckon the true one of St. Matthew) be received as inspired; which makes our Lord Jesus Christ unwilling to be baptized by John, nay intimates, he was not baptized at all; that he questioned, whether
Vid. August. de Consens. Evangel. I. 1. C.9, 10. Tom. Opp. 4.
he was not a sinner, &c.e that the Holy Ghost took him by one of his hairs into the great mount Thaborf, &c.
In the book, entitled The Preaching of Paul, we have almost the same story of Christ's unwillingness to be baptized, till forced to it by his mother; his confessing his sins, &c.
It were easy to produce many such instances; these may shew us, of how dangerous consequence it is, to receive any books for the word of God, which are not so, seeing we impute such wretched fooleries, nonsense, and contradictions to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
2. By receiving books as the word of God, which are not so, we assent to the most gross and notorious errors as indubitable truths, and so very often shall be like to oblige ourselves to many burdensome imaginary duties, not only not required in the word of God, but perhaps directly contrary to the true mind and will of God revealed in it.
St. Luke was so sensible of this dangerous consequence from the many spurious apocryphal Gospels extant in bis time, that he wrote his Gospel with this kind intention to prevent it, as he himself informs us in his preface h. St. Paul likewise, apprehensive of such pernicious evils, that might be produced by any spurious Epistles pretending under his name to inspiration, warns the Thessalonians not to receive them, nor be influenced in their judgment by themi And indeed there is
. apparently the greatest reason for care and caution in this matter; for instance,
What wretched principles in Christianity must they have, who received the forementioned books, of Christ's working his miracles by magical arts, or believed him to be a sinner! What an odd religion must they profess and practise, who should re
• Ecce mater Domini et fratres ejus dicebant ei, Joannes Baptista baptizat in remissionem peccatorum; eamus et baptizemur ab eo. Dixit autem eis, Quid peccavi, ut vadam et baptizer ab eo, nisi forte hoc ipsum quod dixi ignorantia est? Hieronym. adv. Pelag. 1. 3. c. 1.
ή "Αρτι έλαβε με ή μήτηρ μου το άγιον πνεύμα εν μιά των τριχών μου, και από ενεγκί με εις το όρος το μέγα Θαβώρ, &c. Origen. tom. 2. in Joan. p. 58. et Hieronym. I. 2. Cominent. in Mich. vii. 6.
ceive that other book, attributed to our Saviourk, in which he declares, he was no way against the heathen gods, &c.
They who received the book, called The Acts or Journeys of the Apostles, Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas, and Paul, must believe, that Christ was not really, but only appeared as a man; and was seen by his disciples in various forms, sometimes as a young man, sometimes as an old one, sometimes as a child, sometimes great, sometimes small, sometimes so tall, that his head would reach the clouds ; that he was not really crucified himself, but another in his stead, while he laughed at those who imagined they crucified him', &c.
A little acquaintance with Christian antiquities will furnish us with various instances of this sort. Pretences to inspiration were very frequent in the first ages, and it was the constant artifice of evil-minded designing men, to publish their errors under the great name of some apostle, or inspired writer, in order the more effectually to propagate them among the unthinking multitude. Irenæus tells us m, the Gnostics for this purpose “ made a prodigious number of apocryphal and spu“rious scriptures in his time;" and it is well known, that Basilides, Apelles, Cerinthus, Marcion, Tatian, and many other of the first heretics, pursued the same method with too great success. Thus, to give now no other instance, the Nicolaitans, mentioned Rev. ii. 6. “ forged a book under the name of the “ inspired apostle Matthias", to justify themselves in the exe"crable vice of the communion of women.” Thus does the receiving spurious books, under specious pretences, lay us under a necessity of errors in doctrine and practice; and it is not without concern, that I put the reader in mind of a living instance of this in the learned Mr. Whiston, whom one cannot
Vid. August. de Consens. Evang.
11. c. 34.
1 See this whole matter related by the learned Photius, who read the book Biblioth. Cod. cxiv. I am apt to think it was in the Gospel of Basilides also, since such a gospel there certainly was; and Irenæus adv. Hæres. I. 1. c. 23. and Epiphanius Hæres. 24. tell us, Basilides and his followers said, it was pot Christ that was crucified, but Simon of Cyrene.
N. B. If these were the Acts of
Peter, Mr. Whiston would have reckoned them among the sacred books; he must strike out several of these to make room for it.
η 'Αμύθητον πλήθος αποκρύφων και νοθων γραφών έπλασαν. Αdν. Heres. 1. 1. c. 17.
n'Clem. Alex, Strom. I. 3. p. 436.
• It is supposed by learned men, that the Traditions of Matthias, cited by the Nicolaitans, was a book, though perhaps properly called Traditions, being never written.