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city, the new Jerusalem, descending out of heaven,
there is One part of the image that is a beautiful ex-
pression of that authority in settling the form of the
Christian church, and in teaching articles of faith,
which the apostles derived from their inspiration :
" The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and
in them the names of the twelve apostles of the
Lamb." §

These are only a few of the many passages to the
same purpose which will occur to you in reading the
New Testament : but it is manifest even from them.

* Col. iv. 16. f- Ephes. ii. 20.

X 2 Pet. iii. 2. § Rev. i. 1, 10—19 ; xxi. 14.


that the manner in which the apostles speak of their
own writings is calculated to mislead every candid
reader, unless they really wrote under the direction
of the Spirit of God. So gross and daring an im-
posture is absolutely inconsistent not only with their
whole character, but also with those gifts of the
Holy Ghost, of which there is unquestionable evi-
dence that they were possessed ; and which, being
the natural vouchers of the assertion made by them
concerning their own writings, cannot be supposed,
upon the principles of sound theism, to have been
imparted for a long course of years to persons who
continued during all that time asserting such a false-
hood, and appealing to those gifts for the truth of
what they said.

IV. The claim of the apostles derives much con-
firmation from the reception which it met with
amongst the Christians of their days. It appears
from an expression of Peter, that at the time when
he wrote his second epistle, the epistles of Paul were
classed with the other scriptures, the books of the
Old Testament ; i. e. were accounted inspired writ-
ings. * It is well known to those who are versant
in the early history of the church, with what care
the first Christians discriminated between the aposto-
lical writings, and the compositions of other authors,
however much distinguished by their piety, and with
what reverence they received those books which
were known by their inscription, by the place from
which they proceeded, or the manner in which they
were circulated, to be the work of an apostle. In
Lardner s Credibility of the Gospel History you will

* 2 Peter iii. 16.


find the most particular information upon this sub-
ject ; and you will perceive that the whole history of
the supposititious writings, which appeared in early
times, conspires in attesting the veneration in which
the avithority of the apostles was held by the Chris-
tian church. We learn from Justin Martyr that,
before the middle of the second century, '■« ccmiMriiMViv-

(JMra. ruv Anroiirokuv %ai ra ovyy^afitutra, ruiv TQ^ocpriTuv were read

together in the Christian assemblies : we know that,
from the earliest times, the church has submitted to
the writings of the apostles as the infallible standard
of faith and practice ; and we find the ground of
this peculiar respect expressed by the first Christian
writers as well as by their successors, who speak of
the writings of the apostles as ^s'"' yfa^a/, eg smwoiai

ayiov m/ivfzarog.*

V. The only point that remains to be considered
is, whether there be any thing in the books them-
selves inconsistent with the notion of their being in-
spired. It is impossible for me to follow the detail
into which this point runs. But I may suggest the
general heads of answer to the multiplicity of ob-
jections which fall under it. Even those who ac-
knowledge the excellence of the general system con-
tained in the New Testament, who admit that it
must have been revealed to the authors of the books
by the Spirit of God, and that there are some in-
stances in which the clearness of the predictions, and
even the majesty of the style imply a peculiar illu-
mination and direction of their minds, even such
persons meet, in reading the New Testament, with
difficulties which they are unable to reconcile with

* Lardner's Cred. vol. i. p. 273 ; voJ. iii. p. 230.


the notion of inspiration ; and if they are stumbled,
others, who wish to discredit the truth of Christian-
ity,, represent the notion of inspiration as rendered
wholly indefensible, and even ridiculous, by the mis-
takes in small matters, the contradictions, the varie-
ties, and littlenesses that occur in several places, and
the numberless instances of a style verv far removed
from that which the Almighty might be conceived
to assume.

When you come to examine these objections, there
are two general remarks which it will be of great
importance for you to carry in your minds.

1. Recollect that the objectors ujion such a svib-
ject have great advantage. It is very easy to start
difficulties and objections. And when the solution
is to be derived from an examination of the context,
and from a knowledge of ancient languages and cus-
toms, the difficulty or objection may be urged in so
specious or lively a manner as to make a deep im-
pression, before the solution can be brought forward.
But the diligence, the learning, and sagacity of mo-
dern commentators have furnished every student,
who wishes the scriptures to be true, with satisfying
answers to the most formidable objections against
particular parts of them ; and it is a general rule
which you ought to observe in your study of the
scriptures, never to suppose, never to allow the most
positive affirmation or the most pointed ridicule to
persuade you, that a passage is indefensible, because
that measure of information respecting antiquity and
of experience in sacred criticism which you possess,
does not suggest the manner in which it can be de-
fended. You will find, upon inquiry, that apparent
contradictions in the narration of the Gospels, or in


the doctrine of the epistles, may be easily reconciled ;
that expressions which have been represented as
mean, are justified by the practice of classical writ-
ers ; that the harsh sense, which single phrases seem
to contain, is removed either by a more accurate
translation of the original, or by the connexion in
which they stand ; that supposed errors in chrono-
logy or geography either disappear upon being closely
examined, or arise from some of those trifling varia-
tions in the copies of the New Testament which mo-
dern criticism has investigated ; that those parts of
the conduct of Peter and Paul which have been cen-
sured are in no respect inconsistent with the general
doctrine which they taught ; and, upon the whole,
that as the general matter of the New Testament
could not have been known to any who were not
inspired of God, and as the manner in which that
matter is delivered appears, the more it is consider-
ed, to be the more fit and excellent, so there is no-
thing throughout all the books unworthy of that
measure of inspiration of which we have hitherto

2. Observe that the objections which have been
urged against particular passages of the New Testa-
ment are in general of no weight in overturning the
doctrine of inspiration, unless you suppose that the
authors wrote continually under the influence of
what has been called the inspiration of suggestion,
i. e. that every thought was put into their mind,
and every word dictated to them by the Spirit of
God. But this opinion, ^vhich is probably enter-
tained by many well-meaning Christians, and which
has been held by some able defenders of Christianity,
is now generally abandoned by those who examine


the subject with due care. And the following rea-
sons will satisfy you that it has not been lightly
abandoned. It is unnecessary to suppose that this
highest degree of inspiration is extended through all
the parts of the New Testament, because there are
many facts in the Gospels, which the apostles might
know perfectly from their own observation or recol-
lection, many expressions which would naturally oc-
cur to them, many directions and salutations in their
epistles, such as were to be expected in that corre-
spondence. It is not only unnecessary to suppose
that the highest degree of inspiration was extended
through all the parts of the New Testament, but
the supposition is really inconsistent with many cir-
cumstances that occur there. I shall mention a few.
Paul in some instances makes a distinction between
the counsels which he gives in matters of indiffer-
ence, upon his own judgment, and the command-
ments which he delivers with the authority of an
apostle : " I speak this by permission, and not of
commandment." " This I command, yet not I, but
the Lord :" a distinction for which there could have
been no room, had every word been dictated by the
Spirit of God.* Paul sometimes discovers a doubt,
and a change of purpose as to the time of his jour-
neyings, and other little incidents, which the highest
degree of inspiration would have prevented.-}- It is
allowed that there is a degree of imperfection and
obscurity, which, in some instances, remains on the
style of the sacred writers, and particularly of Paul,
which we cannot easily reconcile with the highest

* 1 Cor. vii. 6, 10. + 1 Cor. xvi. 3—6, 10, 11.


degree of inspiration. * Once more, there are pecu-
liarities of expression, and a marked manner, by
which a person of taste and discernment may clearly
distinguish the writings of every one, from those of
every other. But had all written uniformly under
the same inspiration of suggestion, there could not
have been a difference of manner corresponding to
the difference of character ; and the expression used
by all might have been expected to be the best pos-

These circumstances lead us to abandon the no-
tion that the apostles wrote under a continual in-
spiration of suggestion. But they are not in the
least inconsistent with that kind of inspiration which
we found to be necessary for the purposes of their
mission ; v/hich is commonly called an inspiration of
direction, and which consists in this, that the writ-
ers of the New Testament, although allowed to ex-
ercise their own memory and understanding, as far
as they could be of use ; although allowed to em-
ploy their own modes of thinking and expression, as
far as there was no impropriety in their being employ-
ed, were, by the superintendence of the Spirit, effec-
tually guarded from error while they were writing,
and were at all times furnished with that measure
of inspiration which the nature of the subject requir-
ed. In his history every evangelist brings forward
those discourses and facts which had made the deep-
est impression upon his mind ; but while, from the
variety which thus natm'ally takes place in the his-
tories, there arises the strongest proof that there
was no collusion, the recollection of every historian

* 2 Pet. iii. 16".


was SO far assisted, that he gives us no false inform-
ation ; and by laying together the several accounts,
we may attain as complete a view of the transactions
recorded as the Spirit of God judged to be necessary.
In the book of Acts we see the mind of the apostles
gradually led, by the teaching of the Spirit, to a full
apprehension of the whole counsel of God, In the
Epistles they apply the knowledge which had thus
been imparted to them by revelation, in ministering
to the edification, the comfort, or reproof of the
churches which they had established ; and the Spirit,
who had by this time guided them into all truth,
abode with them, so that from the words and com-
mandments of the apostles we may learn the truth
as it is in Christ Jesus.

It hath pleased God that the Christian world
should derive those treasures of divine knowledge
which resided in the apostles, not by formal syste-
matical discourses composed for the instruction of
future ages, but by the short familiar incidental
mention of the Christian doctrines in their epistles.
This form of the doctrinal writings of the apostles
has been stated as an objection to their being inspir-
ed ; but by a little attention you will perceive the
great advantages of their being permitted to adopt
this form. Our industry is thus quickened in search-
ing the Scriptures. The doctrines are rendered
more level to the capacity of the great body of
Christians, and more easily recalled to their minds
by this mode of being delivered : and the books con-
taining the doctrines are thus made to bring along
with them internal marks of authenticity, which
could not have belonged to them had they been in


another form. * The inscription of the epistle is a
sure I'oucher, transmitted from the earliest times,
that a letter had truly been sent by an apostle of
Christ to a church. The character of the apostle is
marked in his epistle, and the many little circum-
stances, which his situation or that of the church
introduces into an affectionate letter, while they ex-
hibit the natural expressions of Christian benevo-
lence, bring a conviction, more satisfying than that
which arises from any testimony, that the apostles
of Jesus proceeded, in execution of the charge given
them by their Master, to make disciples of all na-

In the prophecies which the New Testament con-
tains there must have been the inspiration of sug-
gestion. Neither the words nor the thoughts could
there come by the will of man ; and the writ-
ers spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
Accordingly Paul introduces his predictions with
these words : The Spirit speaketh expressly ; and
John, we found, says in the book of Revelation, that
he was commanded to write what he saw and heard.

I have explained under this second remark that
kind of inspiration, which the different branches of
the evidence that has been stated appears to me
clearly to establish, and which is now generally con-
sidered as all that was necessary for the purposes of
the apostolical office. We do not say that every
thought was put into the mind of the apostles,
and every word dictated to their pen by the Spirit
of God. But we say, that by the superintendence

* Paley's Horse Paxilinse.


of the Spirit, they were at all times guarded from
error, and were furnished upon every occasion with
the measure of inspiration which the nature of the
subject required. Upon this view of the matter, we
can easily account for all the circumstances that are
commonly urged as objections against the notion of
inspiration. We may even admit that the apostles
were liable to err in their conduct, and were left ig-
norant of some things which they wished to know t
and at the same time we have all that security a-
gainst misrepresentations of fact, or error in doc-
trine, which the nature of the commission given to
the apostles and the importance of the truths de-
clared by them render necessary for our faith. By
this kind of inspiration, while a provision is made
for the introduction of those internal marks of au-
thenticity by which the Bible is distinguished above
every other book in the world, there is also a perfect
fulfilment of the promise given to the apostles by
Jesus, a justification of the claim which their writ-
ings contain, and a rational account of that entire
submission which the Christian church in every age
has yielded to the authority of the apostles.

Here then is the ground upon which I rest my
foot, and the point from which I desire to be consi-
dered as setting out in my Lectures upon Divinity.
Jesus was a teacher sent from God. His apostles,
who were commanded by him to publish his doctrine
to the world, received, in fvilfilment of his promise,
such a measure of the visible gifts of the Spirit as
attested their commission, and such a measure of in*,
ternal illumination and direction, as render their
writings the infallible standard of Christian truth.
From hence it follows, that every thing which is


clearly contained in the Gospels and epistles, or
which may be fairly deduced from the words there
used, is true ; and that every thing which cannot be
so proved is no i)art of the doctrine that Christians
are required to believe. After we have attained this
point, sound criticism becomes the foundation of
Theology. My business is not to frame a system of
Divinity, but to delineate that system which the
Scriptures teach, by a clear exposition of the pas-
sages in which it is taught ; and to defend it, by
rescuing the Scrijitures from misinterpretation. We
shall be very much assisted in this course by our
knowledge of the Greek language. The Greek Tes-
tament will be our constant companion ; and the
best preparation for what you are to learn from me
is to apply the knowledge, which you have acquired
elsewhere, in rendering the Greek Testament fami-
liar to your minds.

The doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture is touched upon in
all the complete defences of Christianity ; of most of which
you have both an Index and an Abridgment in Leland's view
of the Deistical Writers.

Bishop Burnet has treated it shortly in his Exposition of the 6th
Article of the Church of England.

There are many excellent Sermons of English Divines upon this
subject. I mention particularly Archbishop Seeker's, in the
third volume of his works.

And there is a rational, masterly Essay upon this subject, in Bi-
shop Benson's Paraphrase on the Epistles of Paul.

Potter's Praelectiones Theologicae in Opera Theologica, torn. iii.

Le Clerc's Letters on Inspiration, with Lowth's Answer.

Randolph's Works.

Wakefield on Inspiration.


Prettyman's Elements of Christian Theology.

Watson's Apology for the Bible and for Christianity.



Preliminary Essays prefixed to Dr. Macknight's new translation

of the Epistles.
Dick on the Inspiration of Scripture.
.Jones's Canon of Scripture.
Marsh's Michaelig.




Having established the divine inspiration of the
books of the New Testament, we have next to learn
from this infallible guide that system of doctrine
which characterizes the Christian religion. It is
presumptuous and childish to busy ourselves in fan-
cying what that system ought to be. If the books
containing the Gospel of Christ were really written
by men under the direction of the Spirit of God,
they will teach us the truth without mixture of er-
ror ; and all our speculations vanish before the au-
thoritative declarations which they bring.

I need not occupy time with delineating the great
truths of natural religion. These must be the same
in every true system, because they are unchangeable ;
and it occurred formerly, in stating the evidences of
Christianity, that this revelation carries along with
it one strong presumption of its divine original, by
giving in the simplest language, and the plainest
form, views of the nature of God, and of the duty of
man, more clear, more consistent, and more exalted
than are to be found in any other writings. If you


were to throw out of the Scriptures all the peculiar
doctrines of Christianity, there would remain a com-
plete system of natural religion, in comparison with
which, even the speculations of the en^liglitened and
virtuous sage of Athens appear low and partial.
But it is of these peculiar doctrines that Christian
theology consists ; and I mean at present to prepare
for examining them particularly, by stating them in
a short connected view. I cannot propose to meet
in this view the sentiments of all the different sects
of Christians ; for if I were to attempt to accommo-
date the sketch that is to be given, to the peculiar
tenets of some sects, I should be obliged to leave out
several doctrines which appear to me most essential
to Christianity. But although I cannot meet the
sentiments of opposite sects, I do not wish to derive
this short system from the discriminating tenets, or
the peculiar language of any one sect : I wish to
avoid the use of any terms that are not scriptural,
and to present to you the form of sound words which
is taught by the apostles themselves. We shall have
enough of controverted opinions when we come to
attend to the different facts of the system. But it
seems to me proper that you should carry in your
minds a general distinct conception of the subjects
upon which the controversies turn, before we be en-
tangled in that thorny path.

The foundation of the Gospel is this, that men are
sinners. If you take away this proposition, the
whole system is left without meaning : if you re-
ceive it in its full import, you perceive the use of
the different parts, and the harmony with which
they unite in producing the effect that is ascribed to
the whole. The proposition is often enunciated in


Scripture ; but the truth of it is independent of the
authority of any revelation, and must be admitted
by every candid observer, whether he believes or re-
jects the divine mission of Jesus. Although differ-
ent states of society have exhibited different forms
of wickedness, authentic history does not record any
in which human virtue has appeared pure. A great
part of the business of every government is to inter-
pose restraints upon the evil passions of the subjects :
yet so ineffectual are those restraints, that the peace
of the best constituted society is often disturbed by
enormous crimes, while there are transgressions of
virtue which elude the law, that indicate a deeper
depravity of mind than those enormities which are
punished ; and even the best of the sons of men,
those who by the innocence of their lives are ex-
empted not only from the punishments, but even
from the censures of human society, have the con-
sciousness of imperfection, of failing, and demerit.

The Scriptures connect this abounding of iniquity
with a transaction which took place soon after the
creation of Adam. " By one man," says Paul, " sin
entered into the world, and death by sin, and so
death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned :
— By the offence of one, judgment came upon all
men to condemnation : in Adam all die." * This is
the commentary made by an apostle upon the third
chapter of Genesis ; and when we take that chapter,
the commentary of Paul, and other incidental ex-
pressions in connexion, we are led by the Scriptures
to consider the transgression of the first parents of
the human race as altering the condition of their

* Rom. V. 12, 18, I Cor. xv. 22.


posterity, rendering this earth a less comfortable, and
less virtuous habitation, than without that trans-
gression it would have been, and introducing sin,
with all its attendant misery, amongst a part of the
rational creation who were made at fir^t after the
image of God.

Something analogous to this effect of the trans-
gression of our first parents, may often be observed
in human connections. And we are guarded against
wantonly rejecting the Scripture account of this
early transaction, as incredible or inconsistent with
the government of God, when we see, in numberless
instances, the sins of some persons extending their
baleful influence to the minds and the fortunes of
others, a father corrupting the manners of his chil-
dren, entailing upon them disease, disgrace, poverty
and vice, and thus reducing them by his wickedness
to a calamitous state, which, had they sprung from
other parents, it appears to us they might have

To this it must be added, that in the present con-,
dition of the humfin race there are many symptoms
of degradation. The combat between the higher and
the lower parts of our nature, the temptations to
vice which every thing around us presents, the judg-
ments which are often executed by changes upon
the face of nature, that abridgment of the comforts
of life which arises from our own faults, or those of
others, and the violence which is done to our feelings
and our affections by the manner in which we are
called out of the world ; all this, and much more of
the same kind, indicates a disordered state, and ac-
cords with the slight incidental openings which the
Scriptures give vis into that ancient transaction, to


which they trace the sin and misery of mankind.
The effects of this transaction continued in the world
notwithstanding all the efforts of philosophy, good

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 24 of 32)