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Variety of Scripture.
[Ess. v. accordance subsisting amongst all the component parts of the Bible, what Christian does not perceive a conclusive evidence, that the writers of that sacred volume, distinguished as they were from one another by differences of talent, character, and circumstance, were all instructed by the same Heavenly Guide to promulgate, in its several successive stages, the same essential and efficacious system of vital religion?
The harmony of Scripture is the more admirable, because it accompanies an almost endless diversity of subject. In the history which the Bible presents to us of events connected with religion, and of the people of God, from the beginning of the world-in its account of the moral government of the Deity, commencing in this life, and completed in the life to come -in its representations of a multitude of characters, some intended for example, and others for warningin its descriptions of religious experience-in its exercises of devotion, its prayers, praises, and thanksgivings -in its types, prophecies, and doctrines-in its holy and heavenly law-in its luminous statements respecting the attributes of the Almighty-in its manifold delineations of that Saviour, of whom the patriarchs, the prophets, and the apostles, unite in testifying— we are furnished with an inexhaustible variety of divine instruction, with which the spiritual mind is continually refreshed and nourished, but never satiated.
In accordance with this observation, it only remains for me to adduce, in evidence of the divine origin of the Scriptures, the practical effect which (under the influence of the Spirit) they actually produce: namely, the conversion of sinners, and the sanctification and edification of believers. As these effects are to be attributed primarily to God, as their author, and secondarily to Christianity, as the religious system which he has adapted to these ends, so are they found,
Effect of Scripture.
in a multitude of instances, to arise immediately out of the use of that holy book, in which Christianity is embodied. The Scriptures are able to make wise unto salvation," through faith which is in Christ Jesus." Such is the declaration of an apostle, and such is the fact. Now, the believer who experiences this effect to be produced in his mind, and is able to trace it to the Bible as the instrumental cause, enjoys an evidence that the Sacred Volume has proceeded from God, which is entirely satisfactory to himself, and of which the most ingenious arguments and cavils will never be able to dispossess him. He finds in that volume a mine of wisdom, from which he is constantly deriving instruction, consolation, and spiritual improvement. He resorts to it as to his daily food; he reverts again and again to the same passages, without any wearisome sense of sameness, and seldom without deriving from them important practical lessons, with which he was before less perfectly acquainted. Thus is he encouraged and strengthened to pursue his Christian course; and the more his knowledge of divine things, and the limits of his own religious experience, are extended-the more fully is he persuaded that the contents of Scripture are no cunningly devised fables, but celestial truths. He finds in himself a witness of their reality.
It may indeed be observed, that the evidence of the divine origin of Scripture, which the Christian derives from the source now mentioned, is, in some measure, confined to himself: because he obtains it chiefly by watching the condition and progress of his own mind. But this is not the case altogether; for the tree is known by its fruits. It is matter of external observation, when the sinner is turned from the error of his ways, the proud man humbled, and the Christian character formed. It cannot be concealed from others,
Effect of Scripture.
[Ess. v. when the designed effect of an acquaintance with Scripture is actually produced in the individual; when "the man of God is perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works:" nor can any one who entertains a just notion of the moral attributes of the Supreme Being refuse, under such circumstances, to confess that the writings, from the use of which these consequences result, have originated in the power, the wisdom, and the love, of God.
Religious instruction is, indeed, communicated through a variety of channels besides the Scriptures; such as the more modern writings of pious Christians, and especially the ministry of the Gospel. But the good effect produced by these means affords additional strength to the argument now stated; because they are found by experience to be efficacious for the purposes of conversion and edification, only inasmuch as they present to the mind the truths already revealed to us in the Bible. It is no inconclusive evidence of the divine origin of the Scriptures, that in them we find both the foundation and the boundaries of all secondary means of religious improvement. That the ministry of the Gospel ought to be exercised under the immediate direction of the great Head of the Church, is a principle which will probably be allowed by many pious Christians; yet we are not to forget that, when that ministry is most spiritual in its origin, it is still found to dwell on the declarations of Scripture. The purest gifts of the Spirit, as they are now administered, are almost exclusively directed to the application of those materials which originated in a higher and more plenary operation of the same divine influence. Thus, also, the sentiments which chiefly edify in the writings of modern Christians are precisely those sentiments which, in their original form, have been expressed by prophets and apostles. It is divine truth,
as applied to the heart of man by the Spirit of God, which converts, sanctifies, and edifies; and of this divine truth the only authorized record--a record at once original and complete-is the BIBLE.
Let us now briefly recapitulate the argument of the present Essay.
It being an established point, that Christianity is the religion of God, we are in possession of a strong antecedent probability that the books, by means of which that religion was appointed to be handed down from generation to generation, are of divine authority.
That the Old Testament was given by inspiration, we learn from the testimonies whether more or less direct, of Jesus Christ and his apostles.
That the New Testament was also of divine origin, we may therefore conclude, from analogy.
This conclusion is confirmed by the positive evidences which the authentic narrative of the New Təstament affords, that the apostles who wrote the greater part of it were inspired; and that their inspiration was of a very exalted kind, we infer from the acknowledged fact that they wrought miracles.
It is highly probable, and under all circumstances nearly certain, that similar endowments were enjoyed by Mark and Luke, the only writers of the New Testament who were not apostles.
Inspiration was bestowed on the writers of Scripture in various measures according to circumstancesyet in such a manner, that the whole contents of the Bible (exclusive of a few passages in his writings, expressly excepted by the apostle Paul) are to be regarded as of divine authority.
If however it be supposed, that, in the composition of certain subordinate parts of their works, some of the sacred writers were left to the unassisted exercise of their natural powers, every thing in the Scriptures
Propositions on the authority,
[Ess. v. essentially connected with religious truth (for the promulgation of which its authors were inspired) is nevertheless unquestionably of divine origin. Lastly, that the Bible was given by inspiration, is plainly indicated by the exact fulfilment of its prophecies; by the purity of its law, and the wisdom of its doctrines; by its wonderful moral harmony, in the midst of almost endless variety; and by its practical effects, as the divinelyappointed means of conversion and religious edification.
Having thus considered some of the principal evidences which evince that the Christian Scriptures have the same divine origin as the revelations which they record, we may henceforth consider the Bible as identified with those revelations; and, in searching for that which has been revealed, we need no longer hesitate in directing our attention to that which is written. I cannot, however, satisfactorily conclude the present disquisition, without offering to the reader's attention, by way of corollary to my argument, a few general propositions.
1. Since the authority of divine revelation is, on the subject to which it relates, paramount to all other authority, and since the subject of the Christian revelation is religious truth, it follows that, on all questions connected with religious truth, the clear decisions of Scripture are not only sufficient, but final.
2. It is evident that the Scriptures, like every other book, must be interpreted according to the received rules of criticism and philology; but, since they are a divine source of information on all points connected with Christian doctrine, and since the declarations of God are unspeakably superior, in point of validity, to the imaginations of the mind of man, it is equally evident, that we cannot justly apply to the interpretation of Holy Writ, any preconceived and unauthorized opinions of our own on such points.