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impartially considers, the gross errors, the palpable falsehoods, the improbable miracles, the idle tales, and the puerile conceits which they contain, and with which they everywhere abound.
When therefore they are brought into competition with the Bible, they appear as contemptible as the rant of fortune-tellers when compared with the sober reasonings of sound philosophy. And indeed when stript of what is most exceptionable in them, the light they give bears no other proportion to the Bible, than that of a dim candle to the meridian glories of the sun.
Let Zoroaster boast of his having forced his way into the presence of Darius through the tiling of the palace, and Mohammed of his splitting the moon; we will shew them Jehovah descending on Mount Sinai, in the view of a million of people, at the giving of the law; and the whole heavens covered with blackness, at the death of his Son to expiate the violations of that law. Let these eastern impostors pretend mighty zeal for the interests of mankind, while they are, on the one hand, awing them into subjection by the terrors of the sword; and on the other, drawing them into their toils by the fascinating indulgences of sense: we will shew them on the contrary the most glorious instance of benevolence imaginable, in the sacrifice of the Son of God to secure the rights of justice, and thereby at once to allure, to impel us to the practice of the purest devotion and morality.
We will hold up to the view of the whole world, truths which carry divinity on the face of them, a dignity and grandeur in their appearance infinitely surpassing the little schemes and contrivances of the most exalted human genius; truths too strange and marvellous to have entered into the mind of man, if not communicated by an immediate revelation from heaven; truths which ask no aid from without, either from the sword or the wit of man, to gain them admission to the heart: but demand our assent by their own native evidence, accompanied with a series of divine attestations the most august and stupendous.
What an incomparable book this ! To compare it with others may look like degrading it, and therefore require an
apology. The bringing it however into a comparative view with other pretended revelations, will have this important effect, to fix upon our minds this further plain truth, that if our Bible is not a revelation from God, there is none at all that we know of.- To proceed,
Thirdly, It follows from our account of the Bible, “ That it is a test by which all opinions in religion are to be tried and finally determined.”
This conclusion from the premises laid down in the former discourses, is so plain that to insist particularly on it may seem unnecessary. But it will be found in the sequel that there is occasion for establishing this important truth.
We say, If God is pleased to grant a revelation of his will, to men so circumstanced as we are; it is natural to expect it should contain in it every thing necessary to be known in order to our final salvation, and to guide our feet in the path that that leads to the heavenly blessedness. Such a revelation we assert is given us in the Bible, and that it is so inspired of God that we may depend upon the authenticity of its contents. All its doctrines, reasonings, precepts, promises, histories, and predictions are infallibly true. If therefore any question arises respecting the grounds of our acceptance with God, or the duty we owe him, one another, and ourselves; it is to be referred to this book, and by the sentence of it such question is to be determined. Nothing can be more plain and clear than this reasoning.
To which it must be added, that the Bible itself claims such duty from those who receive it as a divine revelation. To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them a. Search the Scriptures, says our Saviour, for in them ye think ye have eternal life b. The holy Scriptures, says the apostle to Timothy, are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus c. And in our text he adds, AU Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness : that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. a Isa. viii. 20. b John v. 39.
im. iii. 15.
Now from the reason and nature of the thing as we have stated it, and from these claims of the sacred writings, extended as they are to all Scripture, it undeniably follows, that the Bible is a test, a standard, a measure of all religious opinions. Whatever the man who diligently and impartially searches the Scriptures, is in his conscience satisfied is the sense of Scripture, that must in his idea be divine truth; and whatever is contrary to it, that must in his idea be error.
The importance of maintaining that the Scriptures are such a test is very great. It has been generally admitted by all Christians. Protestants have laid no small stress on it; and the Church of Rome has no otherwise denied it, than by inşisting that, as there are in the Bible some things hard to be understood, there ought to be an infallible judge in controversies about matters of faith; to which office, without any authority from this sacred book she has raised the bishop of Rome. The principle, that whatever can be proved to be the sense of Scripture ought to control all other opinions, they admit. Their only mistake lies in arrogating to themselves an exclusive right of determining what is the meaning of Scripture, and thereby depriving others of a claim, which if not exercised, their faith is to little, if any valuable purpose at all. The Bible then we insist is an infallible test of all doctrines, the dernier resort in every controversy about religion, the tribunal from whence lies no appeal on earth. And indeed to deny this, is in effect, as we shall quickly shew, to shake the foundation on which the Bible stands.
But we have lived to see the time in which this plain truth is questioned, if not absolutely denied. There are those who admit that the Bible contains in it a revelation of the will of God, but allow not that authority to some parts of it which we have proved belongs to the whole. To the Gospels they give the preference above the Epistles, which latter they consider as the reasonings of fallible men, no farther binding than as they appear to them conclusive; which in some instances they take the liberty to tell us they do not. And indeed as to the former, the Gospels, so dissatisfied are they with some passages which occur in them, that they are disposed to cashier
them as interpolations, though without any positive proof of this so injurious a charge. And in order to weaken that idea of inspiration for which we contend, they have introduced such a distinction between revelation, knowledge, prophecy, and doctrine a, as places the three latter upon a different ground of authority from the former. So that however we are to conceive of some things told us in our Bibles' as coming immediately from God, we are to consider others as submitted to our judgment whether to be received or rejected.
That this view of the Scriptures is most erroneous, clearly appears from the account given of inspiration in a former discourse, nor shall I here bring forward to
your recollection the evidence there adduced. What I mean at present is only to observe, that if this hypothesis be true, tbe Bible at once ceases to be a test of religious opinions, all appeal to it on questions of this nature is vain and nugatory; yea more than this, there follows from hence a strong presumption against the divine authority of the whole of this book. For you easily see, if a line is not satisfactorily drawn between what we are to consider as the reasoning of God, and the reasoning of mere men (and to do this would require a new revelation from heaven); it is not possible for us to determine what part of Scripture is, and what is not a divine test. And so we are to all intents and purposes without any divine test; and of consequence reduced to the dilemma of affirming, either that God has given us a revelation that is no way decisive on the great questions it discusses, or that the Bible is no revelation from God at all.
How directly therefore this view of Scripture leads to a total renunciation of its divine authority, let any impartial person judge. The affront too which, by this statement of the matter, is put upon those holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and I fear by consequence on the Holy Spirit himself, is such as must I think make a serious Christian tremble. Nor is this hypothesis, we may venture to affirm, less irrational and absurd than it is indecent and dishonourable. Let us therefore steadily maintain, that this book, being inspired of God, is a decisive test in every question
a 1 Cor. xiv. 6.
relative to matters of religion. Till this is admitted all dispute about the doctrines it contains is to no purpose.
But before I leave this head permit me to make one observation which I hope will not be deemed uncandid: it is this, that the pains taken to weaken and narrow the idea of divine inspiration, have an appearance at least of some apprehension, that those peculiar doctrines of Christianity for which we contend may possibly be contained in the Scriptures. For if it could be clearly made appear that these exceptionable points are not to be found in Scripture, is it imaginable that invention would be thus set on the rack, to find out such unnatural meas sures to get rid of them? But I forbear any further enlargement here, and proceed to our next conclusion from the
general argument of the divine inspiration of the Bible, and that
FOURTHLY, That “it shall surmount all opposition, and effectually attain the great ends of its publication.”
It was naturally to be expected that a book which reveals the mystery of redemption, and which was itself to be the main instrument of carrying that glorious design into effect, should rouse the resentment of the great enemy of mankind. This it has done. Every engine which the malice of hell could invent has been set to work, to annihilate, pervert, or conecal this book; or at least to obstruct thé salutary effect of its sacred truths on the minds of men. But these measures have hitherto failed, and ever will fail, of compassing the ends proposed. The Scriptures cannot be broken a. My word, says the blessed God, shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereunto I sent it b. Not one jot or tittle shall pass from it, till all be fulfilled c. On this rock, that is, the revealed will of God, our Saviour has built his church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it d. Yea, the name by which he is himself called is, The Word of God; and out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, with which he shall smite the disobedient nations e.
a John x. 35.
c Matt, v. 18.
b Isa. lv. 10, 11.