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In the gradual manifestation of his will, the wisdom of God was difplayed. An intelligent parent, in instructing his children, accommodates himfelf to the weaknefs of their faculties; and, beginning with first principles, and fimple elements, leads them on by fucceffive fteps to perfection. In like manner, God communicated spiritual information, "in various portions," as the circumstances of the church required; giving only, in the first ages, a few obfcure notices of good things to come, and enlarging the revelation, as the time fixed for the appearance of the Meffiah approached. Having by the figures of the law, and the doctrine of the prophets, prepared the minds of men for a more perfect difpenfation, he favoured them, "in the laft days," with a final and complete declaration of his gracious counfels, by Jefus Chrift, who lay in his bofom, and, in his human nature, was qualified for his high office by the Holy Ghoft, with whom he was anointcd *.
The revelation made by the ministry of the prophets, and of Chrift, was of inestimable advantage
* Heb. i. 1, 2. The word wohusgas, which we tranflate
at iundry times," fignifies, "in many parts or portions."
vantage to thofe to whom it was immediately addreffed, as it difclofed to them truths the most Tublime and interefting, precepts the most falu tary, and promises fraught with the sweeteft confolations. But it was not intended folely for their benefit. It was the defign of God, that mankind, in fucceeding ages, fhould share in its bleffings; and that, by means of it, all nations fhould be taught, how they may glorify him in this world, and be admitted into his beatific prefence in the next.
This defign would have been frustrated, if no effectual method had been adopted to preserve the revelation. If, by the pious care of parents, and of the public teachers of religion, it might have been tranfmitted, in fome degree of purity, to the generation immediately following; though this could have hardly been expected with regard either to the law of Mofes, or to the gofpel, each of which comprehends fuch a variety of doctrines and facts, and fuch a multiplicity of particulars; in the course of a few generations, fo much of it would have been loft, fo many human dogmas and inventions would have been incorporated with it, and the parts which remained would
have been fo disfigured and adulterated, that the purpose for which it was given would have been entirely defeated. God, therefore, who forefaw all the evils which would enfue, if tradition were the only mode of conveying the knowledge of his will to future ages, hath not left us to fearch for the foundation of our faith, in obfcure reports. and narrations, in which the true and the fabulous are blended together. While he raised up certain perfons to be the ineffengers and interpreters of his will, he ufually employed them to commit their meffages to writing. What is written, is not liable to be forgotten, nor fo apt to be corrupted, as what depends for its prefervation on the tenaciousness of the memories, and the honefty of the intentions of thofe in whose breasts it is depofited. It may pafs from age to age,. without fuftaining any injury; and may reach the utmost limits of time, without material alteration. By this expedient, the revelation hath been preferved; and we who are now alive, enjoy it, in equal purity and integrity, as they did, who heard the prophets, or Chrift and his apoftles, with their own lips declaring the wonderful works of God.
The defign of the following chapters is to flate the arguments which make it reasonable in us to believe, that the books in which it is contained, were divinely inspired. Since we profefs to look upon the Bible as the word of God, and affign to it an authority above every human compofition, we should be able to give a fatisfying account of this part of our conduct to any man that afks us, -Paul affirms, in the fecond epistle to Timothy, that all scripture is given by inspiration of God *;" but it will be eafily perceived, that this affertion is not a fufficient reafon, why we should believe the infpiration of the scriptures. The fame claim is advanced by books, which we certainly know to have been written by wicked and defigning men. According to the principles of common fenfe, and impartial reasoning, the testimony of the fcriptures in their own favour ought not to be admitted, any more than the teftimony of any other writing concerning itself, till we fee it fupported by fatisfactory evidence. Their teftimony, indeed, we know to be true; but of its truth no-man can be fully affured, who hath not difcovered fuch internal characters, or fuch exterA 3
* 2 Tim, iii, 16.
nal atteftations, as amount to a proof of their heavenly original. If we believe their divinity without examination, in what refpect do we differ from thofe, who, on the authority of their ancestors, or their priests, receive the Koran of Mahomet, or the facred books of any other nation, as revelations from God? With a faith fo repugnant to reason, and fo incapable of defence, how eafily fhall we be puzzled by the cavils, and bewildered by the fophifms of infidelity?
The boldness and activity of the enemies of revelation, are distinguishing features of the age. Formerly our religion was attacked with fome referve, and the affailants found it expedient to conceal their purpose under a mask of decency and refpect; but now the infidel, with undaunted and unblufhing front, proclaims aloud to the world his hoftility to the gofpel. Impatient, too, of the limits, within which he was accustomed to confine his exertions, inftead of addreffing the great and the wealthy, he goes, with a spirit of profelytifm worthy of a better caufe, in queft of converts among the vulgar; and ftrives, by fpecious arguments, deliberate misrepresentation, confident affertions, fcurrility, and ridicule, to