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which they wrote, and make large quotations from
them. In the course of the first four centuries, the
greater part of the New Testament was transcribed
in the writings of the Christians, and many parti-
cular passages were quoted and referred to by Cel-


sus and Julian, in their attacks upon Christianity.
From the beginning of the Church, throughout the
whole Christian world, the books of the New Testa-
ment were publicly read and explained to the people
in their assemblies for divine worship ; and they
were continually appealed to by Christian writers as
the standard of faith, and the supreme judge in con-
troversy. The Christian world was very far from
being prone to receive every book which claimed in-
spiration. Although many were circulated under
respectable names, none were ever admitted by the
whole Church, or quoted by Christian writers as of
divine authority, except those which we now re-
ceive. And it was very long before some of them
were universally acknowledged. When you come to
examine the subject particularly, you will find that
we stand upon ground which we are fully able to
defend, when we admit the Epistle to the Hebrews,
the smaller Epistles, and the book of Revelation, as
of equal authority with any other part of the New
Testament. At the same time, the hesitation which,
for several ages, was entertained in some places of
the Christian world with regard to these books, is
satisfying to a candid mind, because this hesitation
is of itself a strong presumption, that the universal
and cordial reception which was given to all the o-
ther books of the New Testament, proceeded uj^on
clear incontestable evidence of their authenticity.

If, then, we readily receive, upon the authority of
tradition, the History of Thucydides, the Orations
of Cicero, the Dialogues of Plato, as really the com-
position of these immortal authors, we have much
more reason to give credit to the explicit testimony
which the judgment of contemporaries, and the ac-


knowledgment of succeeding ages, have borne to the
writers of the New Testament. There is not any-
ancient book with regard to which the external evi-
dence of authenticity is so full and so various : and
this variety of external evidence is confirmed to eve-
ry person who is capable of judging, by the most
striking internal marks of authenticity, — by num-
berless instances of agreement with the history of
those times, which are most satisfying when they ap-
pear to be most trivial, because they form altogether
a continued coincidence in points where it could not
well have been studied ; a coincidence which, the
more that any one is versant in the manners, the
geography, and the constitution of ancient times, will
bring the more entire conviction to his mind, that
these books must have been written by persons liv-
ing in the very country, and at the very period to
which we refer those who are accounted the authors
of them. Undesigned coincidences between the Acts
and the Epistles are pointed out with admirable taste
and judgment in Paley's Horse Paulinas, which is
perhaps the most cogent and convincing specimen of
moral argumentation in the world ; and in the first
volume of his Evidences of Christianity, — which are
professedly a compilation, but so condensed and com-
pacted, so illuminated and enforced, that it is impos-
sible not to admire the matchless powers of the com-
piler's genius in turning the patient drudgery of
Lardner to such account, — the authenticity of the
Gospels and Acts is established.

2. Having ascertained to your own satisfaction the
authenticity of the books of the New Testament, you
will next proceed to inquire whether they are ge-
nuine, that is, uncorrupted. For even altliough they


proceeded at first from the apostles or evangelists
whose names they bear, they may have been so al-
tered since that time as to convey to us very false
information with regard to their original contents.
It does not become you to rest in the presumption
that the providence of God, if it gave a revelation,
would certainly guard so precious a gift, and trans-
mit entire through all ages " the faith once delivered
to the saints." * The analogy of nature does not sup-
port this presumption; for the best blessings of heaven
are abused by the vices or the negligence of those upon
whom tliey are bestowed ; and succeeding genera-
tions often suffer in their domestic, political, and re-
ligious interests, by abuses of which their j^redeces-
sors were guilty. It becomes a divine to know,
that the manuscripts of the books of the New Tes-
tament, which were originally deposited with the
Christian societies, no longer exist ; that there have
been the same ignorance, haste, and inaccuracy in
transcribing the Gospels and Epistles, as in tran-
scribing all other books ; and that the various read-
ings arising from these or other sources were very
early observed. Origen speaks of them in the third
century. They multiplied exceedingly, as was to be
expected from the nature of the thing, after his time,
when the copies of the original MSS. became more
numerous and more widely diffused ; so that Mill,
in his splendid and valuable edition of the Greek
Testament, has numbered 30,000 various readings.

This has been a subject of much declamation and
triumph to the enemies of our Christian faith. Shaf-
tesbury, Bolingbroke, Collins, Toland, Tindal, and

* Jude V. 3.


many other deistical writers in the beginning of the
last century, boasted that Christians are not in pos-
session of a sure standard ; and they built upon the
supposed corruption of the Greek text, an argument
for the superiority of the light of nature above that
uncertain instruction which varies continually as it
passes through the hands of men. A scholar must
be aware of this difficulty, and prepared to meet it.

When you come to estimate the amount of the
30,000 various readings, you will find that almost
all of them are trifling changes upon letters and syl-
lables, and that there is hardly one instance in which
they affect the great doctrines of our religion. It will
give you much satisfaction to observe, that the dif-
ferent sects into which the Christian church was ear-^
ly divided, watched one another; that any great alter-
ation of a book which, soon after its being published,
had been sent over the whole world, was impossible ;
that even those who corrupted Christianity have
preserved the Scriptures so entire, as to transmit a
full refutation of their own errors ; and that from
the most vitiated copies the one faith and hoi^e of
Christians may be learned. Still, however, it is de-
sirable that these various readings should be correct-
ed, and it is jiroper that you should have a general
acquaintance with the sources from which the cor-
rection of them is to be derived. These sources are
four. 1. The MSS. of the New Testament which
abound in Germany, France, Italy, England, and
other countries of Europe. I mean MSS. written
long before printing was in use, some of which, par-
ticularly Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexandrinus,
are referred to one or other of the three first centu-
ries of the Christian era. 2. The ancient versions of


the New Testament, which having been made in ear-
ly times from copies much nearer the original MSS.
than any that we have, may be considered as in some
degree vouchers of the contents of those MSS. The
most respectable of the ancient versions is the old
Italic, which, we have reason to believe, was made
in the first century for the benefit of those Christians
in the Roman empire who understood the Latin bet-
ter than any other language. It has, indeed, under-
gone many alterations ; but so far as it can be re-
covered in its most ancient form, it is the surest
guide, in doubtful places, to that which was the ori-
ginal reading. 3. A third source of correction is
found in the numberless quotations from the New
Testament with which the works of the Christian
fathers and other early writers abound. Had they
always copied exactly from books lying before them,
the extent of their quotations would have rendered
them as certain guides to the genuine reading, as
they are unquestionable witnesses of the authentici-
ty. But it cannot be denied, that as the books of
the New Testament were perfectly familiar to them,
they have often quoted from memory, and that being
more careful to give the sense than the words, they
differ from one another in some trivial respects, when
quoting the same passage, so that their quotations
cannot be applied indiscriminately to ascertain the
original. 4. The last source of correction is sound
chastised criticism, which, joining to the sagacious
use of the most ancient MSS., versions, and quota-
tions, cautious but skilful conjecture, determines
which of the various readings is to be preferred, up-
on principles so clearly established, and so accurately
applied, as to leave no hesitation in the mind of any


scholar. The canons of scripture criticism have been
investigated and digested by many learned men. You
will find collections of them in the Prolegomena to
the larger editions of the Greek Testament. They
are frequently applied by the later commentators,
and they are the introduction to a kind of learning
whicli, although it is apt, when prosecuted too far,
to lead to what is minute and frivolous, yet is in ma-
ny respects so essential, that it does not become any
one who professes to interpret the Scriptures to o-
thers to be entirely a stranger to it.

Superficial reasoners may think it strange that so
much discussion should be necessary to ascertain the
true reading of the oracles of God ; and in their
haste they may pronounce, that it would have been
more becoming the great purpose for which these
oracles were given, more kind, and more useful to
man, that the originals should have been saved from
destruction ; and that, if the great extent of the
Christian society rendered it impossible for every one
to have access to them, the all-ruling providence of
God should have preserved everj^ copy that was tak-
en from every kind of vitiation. They who thus
judge, forget that there is no part of the works of
creation, of the ways of Providence, or of the dis-
pensation of grace, in which the Almighty has done
precisely that which we would have dictated to him,
had he admitted us to be his counsellors, although
we are generally able, by considering what he has
done, to discover that his plan is more perfect, and
more universally useful, than that which our narrow
views might have suggested as best. They forget
the extent of the miracle which they ask, when they
demand, that all who ever were employed in copy^-


ing the New Testament should at all times have been
effectually guarded by the Spirit of God from negli-
gence, and their works kept safe from the injuries
of time. And they forget, in the last place, that the
very circumstance to which they object has, in the
wisdom of God, been highly favourable to the cause
of truth. The infidel has enjoyed his triumph, and
has exposed his ignorance. Men of erudition have
been encouraged to apply their talents to a subject
which opens so large a field for the exercise of them.
Their research and their discoveries have demonstrat-
ed the futility of the objection, and have shown that
the great body of the people in every country, who
are incapable of such research, may safely rest in the
Scriptures as they are ; and that the most scrupu-
lous critics, by the inexhaustible sources of correc-
tion which lie open to them, may attain nearer to an
absolute certainty Avith regard to the true reading of
the books of the New Testament, than of any other
ancient book in any language. If they require more,
their demand is unreasonable ; for the religion of
Jesus does not profess to satisfy the careless, or to
overpower the obstinate, but rests its pretensions up-
on evidence sufficient to bring conviction to those
who with honest hearts inquire after the truth, and
are willing to exercise their reason in attempting to
discover it.

Griesbach, professor at Jena, in Saxony, published in 1 796 the
first volume of his second edition of the Greek Testament,
containing the four Gospels ; and in 1S0(), the second volume,
containing the other books of the New Testament. He availed
himself of the materials which sacred criticism had been col-
lecting from the time of the publication of JNIill's edition.
And;, adverting to all the manuscript quotations and versions


which the research of a number of theological writers, in diffe-
rent parts of the world, had brought into view, he went far-
ther than the former editors of the New Testament had done.
They adhered to what is called the textus receptus, which had
been established in the Elzevir edition of the Greek Testa-
ment in iGS^, which is very much the same with that of the
editions of Beza and Erasmus, and which is now in daily use.
They only collected various readings from manuscripts, ver-
sions, and quotations, introduced them in a preface or notes,
and explained in large and learned prolegomena, the degree of
credit that was due to them ; thus furnishing materials for a
more correct edition of the Greek Testament, and unfolding the
principles ujjon which these materials ought to be applied. But
Griesbach proceeded himself to apply the materials, by intro-
ducing emendations into the text. This he is said by Dr. Marsh,
late Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and now
Bishop of Peterbro', to have done with unremitted diligence,
with extreme caution, and with scrupulous integrity. His
emendations never rest merely upon conjecture, but always
upon authority which appeared to him decisive. They are
printed in a smaller character than the rest of the text, or in
some clear way distinguished from the received text ; and
when he was in any doubt, they are not introduced, but remain
in the notes or margin. I have great satisfaction in saying, that
in as far as I have examined Griesbach's New Testament, it
does not appear to differ in any material respect from the re-
ceived text ; so that all the industry and erudition of this la-
borious and accurate editor serve to establish this most com-
fortable doctrine, that the books of the New Testament are ge-
nuine. Dr. Marsh says, that Griesbach's edition is so correct,
and the prolegomena, or critical apparatus annexed to it, so full
and learned, that there will be no occasion for a different edi-
tion of the Greek Testament during the life of the youngest of
us. I quote Dr. Marsh, because in that portion of his lectures
which has been published, he gives the most minute and ample
information concerning all the editions of the Greek Testa-
ment. He mentions repeatedly, with due honour. Dr. Gerard's
Institutes of Biblical Criticism, to which I refer you.

JNIarsh's Lectures, and his translations of Michaelis's Introduc-

Mackniglit's Preliminary Discourses in his Commentary on the


Lardner's Credibility of the Gospel History, and Supplement to


Hartley in vol. 5th of Watson's Theological Tracts.
Prettyman's Institutes.
Paley's Horae Paulinae, and Evidences of Christianity.





The leading; characteristical assertion in the books
of the New Testament is, that they contain a di-
vine revelation. Jesus said, " My doctrine is not
mine, but his that sent me ;"* and when he gave his
apostles a commission to preach his gospel, he used
these words, " As the Father hath sent me, even so
send I you."f " He that heareth you, heareth me ;
and he that despiseth you, despiseth him that sent
me.":}: This is the highest claim which any mortal
can advance. It holds forth the man who makes it
under the most dignified character ; and, if it be well
founded, it involves consequences the most interest-
ing to those who hear him. Such a claim is not to
be carelessly admitted. The grounds upon which it
rests ought to be closely scrutinized ; and reason
cannot have a more important or honourable office
than in trying its pretensions by a fair standard.

As every circumstance respecting those who ad-
vanced such a claim merits attention, the first thing
which presents itself to a rational inquirer, is the
manner in which the claim is made, and the state of
mind which those who make it discover in their con-
duct, in the general style of their writings, or in par-

* John vii. 16'. t John xx. 21. + Luke x. 1 6.


ticular expressions. Now, if you set yourselves to
collect all the characters of enthusiasm, either from
the writings of those profound moralists who have
analysed and discriminated the various features of
the human mind, or from the behaviour of those
who, in different ages, have mistaken the fancies of
a distempered brain for the insj^iration of heaven,
you will find the most marked opposition between
these characters and the appearance which the books
of the New Testament present. Instead of the ge-
neral, indistinct, inconsistent ravings of enthusiasm,
you find in these writings discourses full of sound
sense and manly eloquence, connected reasonings,
apposite illustrations, a multitude of particular facts,
a continual reference to common life, and the same
useful instructive views preserved throughout. In-
stead of the gloom of enthusiasm, you find a spirit of
cheerfulness, a disposition to associate, an accommo-
dation to prejudices and opinions. Instead of credu-
lity and vehement passion, you observe in the writ-
ers of these books a slowness of heart to believe, a
hesitation in the midst of evidence, perfect possession
of their faculties, with calm sedate manners. Instead
of the self-conceit, the turgid insolent tone of enthu-
siasm, you find in them a reserve, a modesty, a sim-
plicity of expression, a disparagement of their own
peculiar gifts, and a constant endeavour to magnify,
in the eyes of their followers, those virtues in which
they themselves did not pretend to have any pre-
eminence. The claim which they advance sits so
easy and natural upon them, that the most critical
eye cannot discern any trace of that kind of delusion
which has often been exposed to public view ; and
they are so unlike any enthusiasts whom the world


ever saw, that, as far as outward appearances are to
be trusted, tliey " speak the words of truth and so-
berness." *

But you will not trust to appearances. It becomes
you to examine the words which they speak, and you
are in possession of a standard by which these words
should be tried, and without a conformity to which
they cannot be received as divine. Reason and con-
science are the primary revelation which God made
to man. We know assuredly that they came from
the Author of nature, and our apprehensions of his
perfections must indeed be very low, if we can sup-
pose it possible that they should be contradicted by
a subsequent revelation. If any system, therefore,
which pretends to come from God, contain palpable
absurdities, or if it enjoin actions repugnant to the
moral feelings of our nature, it never can approve
itself to our understandings. It is unnecessary to
examine the evidences of its being divine, because no
evidence can be so strong as our perception of the
falsehood of that which is absurd, and of the incon-
sistency between the will of God and that which is
immoral. When I say that a divine revelation can-
not contain a palpable absurdity, I am far from
meaning, that every thing contained in it must be
plain and familiar, such as reason is already versant
with. The revelation, in that case, would be unne-
cessary. Neither do I mean that every thing con-
tained in it, although new, must be such as we are
able fully to comprehend ; for many insuperable dif-
ficulties occur in the study of nature. We have daily
experience, that our ignorance of the manner in

* Acts xxvi. 25.


which a thing exists, does not create any doubt of its
existence ; and in the ordinary business of life, we
admit, without hesitation, the truth of facts which,
at the time w^e admit them, are to vis unaccountable.
The presumption is, that if a revelation be given, it
will contain more facts of the same kind ; and it ad-
dresses you as reasonable creatures, if it require you,
in judging of the facts which it proposes to your be-
lief, to follow out the same principles upon which
you are accustomed to proceed with regard to the
facts which you see or hear. If the books of the
New Testament be tried with this caution by the
standard of reason, they will not be found to con-
tain any of that contradiction which might entitle
you to reject them before you examine their evi-
dence. There are doctrines, to the full apprehen-
sion of which our limited faculties are inadequate ;
and there has been much jjerplexity and misappre-
hension in the presumptuous attempts to explain
these doctrines. But the manner in which the books
themselves state the doctrines, cannot appear to any
philosophical mind to involve an absurdity. The
system of religion and morality which they deliver
is every way worthy of God. It corresponds to all
the discoveries which the most enlightened reason
has made with regard to the nature and the will of
God ; and it comprehends all the duties which are
dictated by conscience or clearly suggested by the
love of order. The few objections whicli have been
made to the morality of the gospel, as being defec-
tive in some points, by not enjoining patriotism or
friendship, or too rigorous in others, admit of so
clear and so easy a solution, that nothing but the
desire of finding fault, joined to the difficulty of dis-


covering any exceptionable circumstance, could have
drawn remarks so frivolous from the authors in
whose works they appear.

You may, then, without much trouble, satisfy
yourselves that neither the manner in which the
writers of the New Testament advance their claim,
nor the contents of their books, afford any reason
for rejecting that claim instantly, without examining
the evidence. I do not say that this affords any
proof of a divine revelation ; for a system may be
rational and moral without being divine. This is
only a pre-requisite, which every person to whom a
system is proposed under that character has a title
to demand. But we state the matter very imper-
fectly when we say, that there is nothing in the
manner or the contents of these books which de-
serves an immediate rejection. A closer attention
to the subject not only renders it clear that they
may come from God, but suggests many strong pre-
sumptions that they cannot be the work of men.
These presumptions make up what is called the in-
ternal evidence of Christianity.

The Jlrst branch of this internal evidence is the
manifest superiority of that system of religion and
morality \v hich is contained in the books of the New
Testament, above any that was ever delivered to the
world before. Here a Christian divine derives a
most important advantage from an intimate acquaint-
ance with the ancient heathen philosojihers. He
ought not to take ujDon trust the accounts of their
discoveries which succeeding writers have copied
from one another. But setting that which they
taught, over against the discourses of Jesus Christ,
and the writings of his Apostles, he ought to see


with his own eyes the force of that argument which
arises from the comparison. Do not think your-
selves obliged to disparage the writings of the hea-
then moralists. The effort which they made to raise
their minds above the grovelling superstition in
which they were born was honourable to them-
selves ; it was useful to their disciples, and it scat-
tered some rays of light through the world. It
does not become a scholar, who is daily reaping in-
struction and entertainment from their works, to
deny them any part of that applause which is their
due ; and it is not necessary for a Christian. You
may safely allow that they were very much supe-

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 32)