« AnteriorContinuar »
ledge as such, and with the design of presenting to his readers Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah,-should have omitted all mention of the raising of Lazarus,—and of the subsequent prophecy of Caiaphas, whereby that Messiahship was so strongly recognized? The ordinary supposition, of silence being maintained for prudential reasons concerning Lazarus and his family, is quite beside the purpose. For the sacred books of the Christians were not published to the world in general, but were reserved and precious possessions of the believing societies: and even had this been otherwise, such concealment was wholly alien from their spirit and character.
2. The absence of completeness from our Gospels is even more strikingly shewn in their minor omissions, which cannot on any supposition be accounted for, if their authors had possessed records of the incidents so omitted. Only in the case of St. Luke does there appear to have been any design of giving a regular account of things throughout : and from his many omissions of important matter contained in Matthew, it is plain that his sources of information were, though copious, yet fragmentary. For, assuming what has been above inferred as to the independence of our three Evangelists, it is inconceivable that St. Luke, with his avowed design of completeness, ch. i. 3, should have been in possession of matter so important as that contained in those parts of Matthew, and should deliberately have excluded it from his Gospel.
3. The Gospel of St. Mark,-excluding from that term the venerable and authentic fragment at the end of ch. xvi.,-terminates abruptly in the midst of the narrative of incidents connected with the resurrection of our Lord. And, with the exception of the short prefatory compendium, ch. i. 1-13, there is no reason for supposing this Evangelist to be an abbreviator, in any sense, of the matter before him. His sources of information were of the very highest order, and his descriptions and narratives are most life-like and copious; but they were confined within a certain cycle of apostolic teaching, viz. that which concerned the official life of our Lord and in that cycle not complete, inasmuch as he breaks off short of the Ascension, which another Evangelistic hand has added from apostolic sources.
THE INSPIRATION OF THE EVANGELISTS AND OTHER N. T. WRITERS.
1. The results of our enquiries hitherto may be thus stated :-That our Three Gospels have arisen independently of one another, from sources of information possessed by the Evangelists :-such sources of information, for a very considerable part of their contents, being the narrative teaching of the Apostles; and, in cases where their personal
testimony was out of the question, oral or documentary narratives, preserved in and received by the Christian Church in the apostolic age;that the Three Gospels are not formal complete accounts of the whole incidents of the sacred history, but each of them fragmentary, containing such portions of it as fell within the notice, or the special design, of the Evangelist.
2. The important question now comes before us, In what sense are the Evangelists to be regarded as having been inspired by the Holy Spirit of God? That they were so, in some sense, has been the concurrent belief of the Christian body in all ages. In the second, as in the nineteenth century, the ultimate appeal, in matters of fact and doctrine, has been to these venerable writings. It may be well, then, first to enquire on what grounds their authority has been rated so high by all Christians.
3. And I believe the answer to this question will be found to be, Because they are regarded as authentic documents, descending from the apostolic age, and presenting to us the substance of the apostolic testimony. The Apostles being raised up for the special purpose of witnessing to the Gospel history,-and these memoirs having been universally received in the early Church as embodying that their testimony, I see no escape left from the inference, that they come to us with inspired authority. The Apostles themselves, and their contemporaries in the ministry of the Word, were singularly endowed with the Holy Spirit for the founding and teaching of the Church: and Christians of all ages have accepted the Gospels and other writings of the New Testament as the written result of the Pentecostal effusion. The early Church was not likely to be deceived in this matter. The reception of the Gospels was immediate and universal. They never were placed for a moment by the consent of Christians in the same category with the spurious documents which soon sprung up after them. In external history, as in internal character, they differ entirely from the apocryphal Gospels; which, though in some cases bearing the name and pretending to contain the teaching of an Apostle, were never recognized as apostolic.
4. Upon the authenticity, i. e. the apostolicity of our Gospels, rests their claim to inspiration. Containing the substance of the Apostles' testimony, they carry with them that special power of the Holy Spirit which rested on the Apostles in virtue of their office, and also on other teachers and preachers of the first age. It may be well, then, to enquire of what kind that power was, and how far extending.
5. We do not find the Apostles transformed, from being men of individual character and thought and feeling, into mere channels for the transmission of infallible truth. We find them, humanly speaking, to have been still distinguished by the same characteristics as before the descent of the Holy Ghost. We see Peter still ardent and impetuous,
still shrinking from the danger of human disapproval; we see John still exhibiting the same union of deep love and burning zeal ;—we find them pursuing different paths of teaching, exhibiting different styles of writing, taking hold of the truth from different sides.
6. Again, we do not find the Apostles put in possession at once of the divine counsel with regard to the Church. Though Peter and John were full of the Holy Ghost immediately after the Ascension, neither at that time, nor for many years afterwards, were they put in possession of the purpose of God regarding the Gentiles, which in due time was specially revealed to Peter, and recognized in the apostolic council at Jerusalem.
7. These considerations serve to shew us in what respects the working of the Holy Spirit on the sacred writers was analogous to His influence on every believer in Christ; viz. in the retention of individual character and thought and feeling,-and in the gradual development of the ways and purposes of God to their minds.
8. But their situation and office was peculiar and unexampled. And for its fulfilment, peculiar and unexampled gifts were bestowed upon them. One of these, which bears very closely upon our present subject, was, the recalling by the Holy Spirit of those things which the Lord had said to them. This was His own formal promise, recorded in John xiv. 26. And if we look at our present Gospels, we see abundant evidence of its fulfilment. What unassisted human memory could treasure up saying and parable, however deep the impression at the time, and report them in full at the distance of several years, as we find them reported, with every internal mark of truthfulness, in our Gospels? What invention of man could have devised discourses which by common consent differ from all sayings of men-which possess this character unaltered, notwithstanding their transmission through men of various mental organization-which contain things impossible to be understood or appreciated by their reporters at the time when they profess to have been uttered-which enwrap the seeds of all human improvement yet attained, and are evidently full of power for more? I refer to this latter alternative, only to remark that all considerations, whether of the Apostles' external circumstances, or their internal feelings respecting Him of whom they bore witness, combine to confirm the persuasion of Christians, that they have recorded as said by our Lord what He truly did say, and not any words of their own imagination.
9. And let us pursue the matter further by analogy. Can we suppose that the light poured by the Holy Spirit upon the sayings of our Lord would be confined to such sayings, and not extend itself over the other parts of the narrative of His life on earth? Can we believe that those miracles, which though not uttered in words, were yet acted parables,
would not be, under the same gracious assistance, brought back to the minds of the Apostles, so that they should be placed on record for the teaching of the Church?
10. And, going yet further, to those parts of the Gospels which were wholly out of the cycle of the Apostles' own testimony, can we imagine that the divine discrimination which enabled them to detect the lie to the Holy Ghost,' should have forsaken them in judging of the records of our Lord's birth and infancy,-so that they should have taught or sanctioned an apocryphal, fabulous, or mythical account of such matters? Some account of them must have been current in the apostolic circle? for Mary the mother of Jesus survived the Ascension, and would be fully capable of giving undoubted testimony to the facts. (See notes on Luke i. ii.) Can we conceive then that, with her among them, the Apostles should have delivered other than a true history of these things? Can we suppose that St. Luke's account, which he includes among the things delivered by those who were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word from the first, is other than the true one, and stamped with the authority of the witnessing and discriminating Spirit dwelling in the Apostles? Can we suppose that the account in the still more immediately apostolic Gospel of St. Matthew is other than the same history seen from a different side and independently narrated?
11. But if it be enquired, how far such divine superintendence has extended in the framing of our Gospels as we at present find them, the answer must be furnished by no preconceived idea of what ought to have been, but by the contents of the Gospels themselves. That those contents are various, and variously arranged, is token enough that in their selection and disposition we have human agency presented to us, under no more direct divine guidance, in this respect, than that general leading, which in main and essential points should ensure entire accordance. Such leading admits of much variety in points of minor consequence. Two men may be equally led by the Holy Spirit to record the events of our Lord's life for our edification, though one may believe and record that the visit to the Gadarenes took place before the calling of Matthew, while the other places it after that event; though one in narrating it speaks of two dæmoniacs,-the other, only of one.
12. And it is observable, that in the only place in the Three Gospels where an Evangelist speaks of himself, he expressly lays claim, not to any supernatural guidance in the arrangement of his subject-matter, but to a diligent tracing down of all things from the first; in other words, to the care and accuracy of a faithful and honest compiler. After such an avowal on the part of the editor himself, to assert an immediate revelation to him of the arrangement to be adopted and the chronological notices to be given, is clearly not justified, according to his own shewing
and assertion. The value of such arrangement and chronological connexion must depend on various circumstances in each case :-on their definiteness and consistency,-on their agreement or disagreement with the other extant records; the preference being in each case given to that one whose account is the most minute in details, and whose notes of sequence are the most distinct.
13. In thus speaking, I am doing no more than even the most scrupulous of our Harmonizers have in fact done. In the case alluded to in paragraph 11, there is not one of them who has not altered the arrangement, either of Matthew, or of Mark and Luke, so as to bring the visit to the Gadarenes into the same part of the Evangelic History. But, if the arrangement itself were matter of divine inspiration, then have we no right to vary it in the slightest degree, but must maintain (as the Harmonists have done in other cases, but never, that I am aware, in this) two distinct visits to have been made at different times, and nearly the same events to have occurred at both. I need hardly add that a similar method of proceeding with all the variations in the Gospels, which would on this supposition be necessary, would render the Scripture narrative a heap of improbabilities; and strengthen, instead of weakening, the cause of the enemies of our faith.
14. And not only of the arrangement of the Evangelic History are these remarks to be understood. There are certain minor points of accuracy or inaccuracy, of which human research suffices to inform men, and on which, from want of that research, it is often the practice to speak vaguely and inexactly. Such are sometimes the conventionally received distances from place to place; such are the common accounts of phænomena in natural history, &c. Now, in matters of this kind, the Evangelists and Apostles were not supernaturally informed, but left, in common with others, to the guidance of their natural faculties.
15. The same may be said of citations and dates from history. In the last apology of Stephen, which he spoke being full of the Holy Ghost, and with divine influence beaming from his countenance, we have at least two demonstrable inaccuracies in points of minor detail. And the occurrence of similar ones in the Gospels would not in any way affect the inspiration or the veracity of the Evangelists.
16. It may be well to mention one notable illustration of the principles upheld in this section. What can be more undoubted and unanimous than the testimony of the Evangelists to THE RESURRECTION OF
5 To suppose St. Luke to have written, "It seemed good to me also," if he were under the conscious inspiration of the Holy Spirit, superseding all his own mental powers and faculties, would be to charge him with ascribing to his own diligence and selection that which was furnished to him independently of both. Yet to this are the asserters of verbal inspiration committed.