Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and inspired history of the life and doctrines of Jesus Christ, and would be desirous of possessing such an invaluable treasure. Hence, as we learn from unquestionable authority, copies were multiplied and disseminated as rapidly as the boundaries of the church increased; and translations were made into as many languages as were spoken by its professors, some of which remain to this day; so that it would very soon be rendered absolutely impossible to corrupt these books in any one important word or phrase. Now, it is not to be supposed (without violating all probability), that all Christians should agree in a design of changing or corrupting the original books; and if some only should make the attempt, the uncorrupted copies would still remain to detect them. And supposing there was some error in one translation or copy, or something changed, added, or taken away; yet there were many other copies and other translations, by the help of which the neglect or fraud might be or would be corrected.

"Further, as these books could not be corrupted during the life of their respective authors, and while a great number of witnesses was alive to attest the facts which they record; so neither could any material alteration take place after their decease, without being detected while the original manuscripts were preserved in the churches. The Christians, who were instructed by the apostles or by their immediate successors, travelled into all parts of the world, carrying with them copies of their writings; from which other copies were multiplied and preserved. Now, as we have already seen, we have an unbroken series of testimonies for the genuineness and authenticity of the New Testament, which can be traced backwards, from the fourth century of the Christian æra to the very time of the apostles and these very testimonies are equally applicable to prove its uncorrupted preservation. Moreover, harmonies of the four Gospels were anciently constructed; commentaries were written upon them, as well as upon the other books of the New Testament, (many of which are still extant), manuscripts were collated, and editions of the New Testament were put forth. These sacred records, being universally regarded as the supreme standard of truth, were received by every class of Christians with peculiar respect, as being divine compositions, and possessing an authority belonging to no other books. Whatever controversies, therefore, arose among different sects (and the church was very early rent with fierce contentions on doctrinal points), the Scrip

tures of the New Testament were received and appealed to by every one of them, as being conclusive in all matters of controversy; consequently it was morally impossible, that any man or body of men should corrupt or falsify them in any fundamental article, should foist into them a single expression to favour their peculiar tenets, or erase a single sentence, without being detected by thousands.

"If any material alteration had been attempted by the orthodox, it would have been detected by the heretics; and, on the other hand, if an heretic had inserted, altered, or falsified any thing, he would have been exposed by the orthodox, or by other beretics. It is well known that a division commenced in the fourth century, between the eastern and western churches, which about the middle of the ninth century, became irreconcileable, aud subsists to the present day. Now, it would have been impossible to alter all the copies in the eastern empire; and if it had been possible in the east, the copies in the west would have detected the alteration. But, in fact, both the eastern and western copies agree, which could not be expected if either of them was altered or falsified. The uncorrupted preservation of the New Testament is further evident,

"3. From the agreement of all the manuscripts. The manu scripts of the New Testament, which are extant, are far more numerous than those of any single classic author whomsoever; upwards of three hundred and fifty were collected by Griesbach, for his celebrated critical edition. These manuscripts, it is true, are not all entire: most of them contain only the Gospels; others, the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles; and a few contain the Apocalypse or Revelation of John. But they were all written in very different and distant parts of the world; several of them are upwards of twelve hundred years old, and give us the books of the New Testament, in all essential points, perfectly accordant with each other, as any person may readily ascertain by examining the critical editions published by Mill, Kuster, Bengel, Wetstein, and Griesbach. The thirty thousand various readings, which are said to be found in the manuscripts collated by Dr. Mill, and the hundred and fifty thousand which Griesbach's edition is said to contain, in no degree whatever affect the general credit and integrity of the text. In fact, the more copies are multiplied, and the more numerous the transcripts and translations from the original, the more likely is it, that the genuine text and the true original reading will be investigated and ascertained.

The most correct and accurate ancient classics now

extant are those of which we have the greatest number of manuscripts; and the most depraved, mutilated and inaccurate editions of the old writers are those of which we have the fewest manuscripts, and perhaps only a single manuscript, extant. Such are Athenæus, Clemens Romanus, Hesychius and Photius. But of this formidable mass of various readings, which have been collected by the diligence of collators, not one tenth,-nay, not one hundredth part, either makes or can make any perceptible, or at least any material, alteration in the sense in any modern version. They consist almost wholly of palpable errors in transcription, grammatical and verbal differences, such as the insertion or omission of an article, the substitution of a word for its equivalent, and the transposition of a word or two in a sentence. the few that do change the sense, affect it only in passages relating to unimportant, historical and geographical circumstances, or other collateral matters; and the still smaller number that make any alteration in things of consequence, do not on that account place us in any absolute uncertainty. For, either the true reading may be discovered by collating the other manuscripts, versions and quotations found in the works of the ancients; or, should these fail to give us the requisite information, we are enabled to explain the doctrine in question from other undisputed passages of holy writ.

Even

"4. The last testimony, to be adduced for the integrity and uncorruptness of the New Testament, is furnished by the agreement of the ancient versions and quotations from it, which are made in the writings of the Christians of the first three centuries, and in those of the succeeding futhers of the church.

"The testimony of versions, and the evidence of the ecclesiastical fathers, have already been noticed as a proof of the genuincness and authenticity of the New Testament. The quotations from the New Testament in the writings of the fathers are so numerous, that (as it has frequently been observed) the whole body of the Gospels and Epistles might be compiled from the various passages dispersed in their commentaries and other writings. And though these citations were, in many instances, made from memory, yet, being always made with due attention to the sense and meaning, and most commonly with a regard to the words as well as to the order of the words, they correspond with the original records from which they were extracted :—an irrefragable argument this, of the purity and integrity with which the New Testament has been preserved." (HORNE's Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, vol. i, chap. 2, sect. 3.)

CHAPTER XIV.

The Credibility of the Testimony of the Sacred Writers.

THE proofs of the existence and actions of Moses and Christ, the Founders of the Jewish and Christian Religions, having been adduced, with those of the antiquity and uncorrupted preservation of the Records which profess to contain the facts of their history, and the doctrines they taught, the only question to be determined before we examine those miracles and prophecies on which the claim of the divine authority of their mission rests, is, whether these records faithfully record the transactions of which they give us information, and on which the divinity of both systems, the Jewish and the Christian, is built. To deny this because we object to the doctrines taught, is equally illogical and perverse, as it is assuming the doctrine to be false before we have considered all the evidence which may be adduced in its favour; to deny it because we have already determined to reject the miracles, is equally absurd and impious. It has already been proved, that miracles are possible; and whether the transactions related as such in the Scriptures be really miraculous or not, is a subsequent enquiry to that which respects the faithful recording of them. If the evidence of this is insufficient, the examination of the miracles is unnecessary; if it is strong and convincing, that examination is a subject of a very serious import.

We might safely rest the faithfulness of the Scriptural Record upon the argument of Leslie, before adduced; but from the superabundance of evidence which the case furnishes some amplifications may be added, which we shall confine principally to the authors of the New Testament.

There are four circumstances which never fail to give credibility to a witness, whether he depose to any thing orally or in writing.

1. That he is a person of virtuous and sober character.

2. That he was in circumstances certainly to know the truth of what he relates.

3. That he has no interest in making good the story.

4. That his account is circumstantial.

In the highest degree these guarantees of faithful and exact testimony meet in the Evangelists and Apostles.

That they were persons of strict and exemplary virtue must by all candid persons be acknowledged; so much so, that nothing to the contrary was ever urged against the integrity of their conduct by the most malicious enemies of Christianity. Avarice and interest could not sway them, for they voluntarily abandoned all their temporal connections, and embarked in a cause which the world regarded, to the last degree, as wretched and deplorable. Of their sincerity they gave the utmost proof in the openness of their testimony, never affecting reserve, or shunning enquiry. They delivered their testimony before kings and princes, priests and magistrates, in Jerusalem and Judea where their Master lived and died, and in the most populous, inquisitive, and learned parts of the world, submitting its evidences to a fair and impartial examination.

"Their minds were so penetrated with a conviction of the truth of the gospel, that they esteemed it their distinguished honour and privilege to seal their attestation to it by their sufferings, and blessed God that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach and shame for their profession. Passing through honour and dishonour, through evil report and good report, as deceivers and yet true. Never dejected, never intimidated by any sorrows and sufferings they supported; but when stoned, imprisoned, and persecuted in one city, flying to another, and there preaching the gospel with intrepid boldness and heaven-inspired zeal. Patient in tribulation, fervent in spirit, rejoicing under persecution, calm and composed under calumny and reproach, praying for their enemies, when in dungeons cheering the silent hours of night with hymns of praise to God. Meeting death itself in the most dreadful forms with which persecuting rage could dress it, with a serenity and exultation the Stoic philosophy never knew. In all these public scenes shewing to the world a heart infinitely above what men vulgarly style great and happy, infinitely remote from ambition, the lust of gold, and a passion for popular applause, working with their own hands to raise a scanty subsistence for themselves that they might not be burdensome to the societies they had formed, holding up to all with whom they conversed, in the bright faithful mirror of their own behaviour, the amiableness and excellency of the religion they taught, and in every scene and circumstance of life distinguished for their devotion to God, their unconquered love for mankind, their sacred regard for truth, their self-government,

« AnteriorContinuar »