« AnteriorContinuar »
For the external Scripture, or written word, particularly of the New Testament (to say nothing of spurious books, with regard to which the apostle has long since cautioned us, 2 Thess. ii. 2. that ye be not shaken in mind..... by letter as from us; iii. 17. the salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle—?:) the written word, I say, of the New Testament, has been liable to frequent corruption, and in some instances has been corrupted, through the number, and occasionally the bad faith of those by whom it has been handed down, the variety and discrepancy of the original manuscripts, and the additional diversity produced by subsequent transcripts and printed editions. But the Spirit which leads to truth cannot be corrupted, neither is it easy to deceive a man who is really spiritual: 1 Cor. ii. 15, 16. •he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man: for who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him ? but we have the mind of Christ. xii. 10. to another, discerning of spirits. An instance of a corrupted text pervading nearly all the manuscripts occurs in Matt. xxvii. 9. where a quotation is attributed to Jeremiah, which belongs only to Zechariah ;* and similar instances are to be found in almost every page of Erasmus, Beza, and other editors of the New Testament.
Previously to the Babylonish captivity, the law of Moses was preserved in the sacred repository of the ark of the covenant : after that event, it was committed to the trust and guardianship of the priests and prophets, as Ezra, Zechariah, Malachi, and other men
* See Horne's Introduction to the Critical Study of the Scriptures, Vol. II. p. 385. Note 2.
taught of God. There can be no doubt that these handed down the sacred volumes in an uncorrupted state to be preserved in the temple by the priests their successors, who were in all ages most scrupulous in preventing alterations, and who had themselves no grounds of suspicion to induce them to make any change. With regard to the remaining books, particularly the historical, although it be uncertain by whom and at what time they were written, and although they appear sometimes to contradict themselves on points of chronology, few or none have ever questioned the integrity of their doctrinal parts. The New Testament, on the contrary, has come down to us (as before observed) through the hands of a multitude of persons, subject to various temptations; nor have we in any instance the original copy in the author's hand-writing, by which to correct the errors of the others. Hence Erasmus, Beza, and other learned men, have edited from the different manuscripts what in their judgment appeared most likely to be the authentic readings. It is difficult to conjecture the purpose of Providence in committing the writings of the New Testament to such uncertain and variable
guardianship, unless it were to teach us by this very
circumstance that the Spirit which is given to us is a more certain guide than Scripture, whom therefore, it is our duty to follow.
For with regard to the visible church, which is also proposed as a criterion of faith, it is evident that, since the ascension of Christ, the pillar and ground of the truth has not uniformly been the church, but the hearts of believers, which are properly “the house and church of the living God’ 1 Tim. iii. 15. Certain it is, that
the editors and interpreters of the New Testament (which is the chief authority for our faith) are accustomed to judge of the integrity of the text, not by its agreement with the visible church, but by the number and integrity of the manuscripts. Hence, where the manuscripts differ, the editors must necessarily be at a loss what to consider as the genuine word of God'; as in the story of the woman taken in adultery,* and some other passages.
The process of our belief in the Scriptures is, however, as follows: we set out with a general belief in their authenticity, founded on the testimony either of the visible church, or of the existing manuscripts ; afterwards, by an inverse process, the authority of the church itself, and of the different books as contained in the manuscripts, are confirmed by the internal evidence implied in the uniform tenor of Scripture, considered as a whole; and, lastly, the truth of the entire volume is established by the inward persuasion of the Spirit working in the hearts of individual believers. So the belief of the Samaritans in Christ, though founded in the first instance on the word of the woman, derived its permanent establishment, less from her saying, than from the presence and discourses of Christ himself, John iv. 42.t Thus, even on the authority
* For the authenticity of the passage alluded to John vii. 53, and viïi. 1-11. see Whitby and Mill in loco. Selden, Uxor. Heb. III. 11. Simon, Crit. Hist. of the New Testament, I. 13. Michaelis, Part I. Chap. vi. Sect. 11. Against its authenticity, see Beza, Grotius, Wetstein, Hammond and Le Clerc in loco.
t • As the Samaritans believed Christ, first for the woman's word, but next and much rather for his own, so we the Scripture: first on the church's word, but afterwards and much more for its own, as the word of God; yea the church itself we believe then for the Scripture,' Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes. Prose Works, III. 326.
of Scripture itself, every thing is to be finally referred to the Spirit and the unwritten word.
Hence it follows, that when an acquiescence in human opinions or an obedience to human authority in matters of religion is exacted, in the name either of the church or of the Christian magistrate, from those who are themselves led individually by the Spirit of God, this is in effect to impose a yokė, not on man, but on the Holy Spirit itself.* Certainly, if the apostles themselves, in a council governed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, determined that even the divinely instituted law was a yoke from which believers ought to be exempt. Acts xv. 10, 19, 28. why tempt ye God?' much less is any modern church, which cannot allege a similar claim to the presence of the Spirit, and least of all is the magistrate entitled to impose on believers a creed no where found in Scripture, or which is merely inferred from thence by human reasonings, carrying with them no certain conviction.
...... From that pretence
for, on earth,
Infallible ? Paradise Lost, XII. 520. • With good cause, therefore, it is the general consent of all sound Protestant writers, that neither traditions, councils, nor canons of any visible church, much less edicts of any magistrate or civil session, but the Seripture only, can be the final judge or rule in matters of religion, and that only in the conscience of every Christian to himself. Treatise of Civil Power, &c. Prose Works, III. 321.
An acquiescence in human traditions, whether written or unwritten, is expressly prohibited.* Deut. iv. ye
shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it. Prov. xxx. 6. add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.'. Rev. xxii. 18, 19. if any man shall add unto these things, &c. ..... and if any man shall take away from the words, &c, Isai. xxix. 13, 14. their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.' ' See also Matt. xv. 3, 9. Gal. i. 8. though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you—' 1 Tim. vi. 3. 'if any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words.' Tit. i. 4. 'not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. 1 Tim. i. 4. ' neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith.' Col. q. 8. beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.'
Neither can we trust implicitly in matters of this nature to the opinions of our forefathers, or of antiquity.t
* "He hath revealed and taught it us in the Holy Scriptures by inspired ministers, and in the gospel by his own Son and his apostles, with strictest command to reject all other traditions or additions whatsoever ; according to that of St. Paul, Gal. i. 8. and Deut. iv, 2. Rev. xxii. 18, 19. Of true Religion, &c. Prose Works, IV. 260.
t 'If we turn this our discreet and wary usage of them into a blind devotion towards them, and whatsoever we find written by them, we both VOL. II.