« AnteriorContinuar »
And here I will not argue merely from the piety of the primitive Christians, and the heroic resolution with which they chose to endure the greatest extremities, rather than they would deliver up their Bibles, (though that be a consideration of some evident weight;) but shall entreat you to consider the utter impossibility of corrupting them. From the first ages they were received and read in the churches, as a part of their public worship, just as Moses and the prophets were in the Jewish synagogues; they were presently spread far and wide, as the boundaries of the church were inereased; they were early translated into other languages, of which translations some remain to this day. Now, when this was the case, how could they possibly be adulterated ? Is it a thing to be supposed, or imagined, that thousands and millions of people should have come together from distant countries; and, that with all their diversities of language, and customs, and, I may add, of sentiments too, they should have agreed on corrupting a book, which they all acknowledged to be the rule of their faith, and their manners, and the great charter by which they held their eternal hopes ? It'were madness to believe it; especially when we consider what numbers of hereties appeared in the very infancy of the church, who all pretended to build their notions on Scripture, and most of them appealed to it as the final judge of controversies; now it is certain, that these different parties of professing Christians were a perpetual guard upon each other, and rendered it impossible for one party to practise grossly on the sacred books, without the discovery and the clamour of the rest.
Nor must I omit to remind you, that in every age, from the apostles' time to our own, there have been numberless quotations made from the books of the New Testament; and a multitude of commentaries in various languages, and some of very ancient date, have been written upon them: so that if the books themselves were lost, I believe they might in a great measure, if not entirely, be recovered from the writings of others. And ove might venture to say, that if all the quotations, which have ever been made from all the ancient writings now remaining in Europe, were to be amassed together, the bulk of them would be by no means comparable to that of the quotations taken from the New Testament alone. So that a man might, with a much better face, dispute whether the writings ascribed to Homer, Demosthenes, Virgil, or Cesar, be in the main such as they left them, than he could question it concerning those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, aud Paul, whether they are in the main so.
I say, in the main, because we readily allow, that the hand of a printer, or of a transcriber, might chance, in some places, to insert one letter or word for another, and the various readings of this, as well as of all other ancient books, prove, that this has sometimes been the case. Nevertheless, those various readings are generally of so little importance, that he who can urge them as an objection against the assertion we are now maintaining, must have little judgment, or little integrity; and indeed, after those excellent things which have been said on the subject by many defenders of Christianity, if he have read their writings, he must have little modesty too.
Since, then, it appears, that the books of the New Testament, as they now stand in the original, are, without any material alteration, such as they were, when they came from the hands of the persons whose names they bear, nothing remains to complete this part of the argument, but to show,
5. That the translation of them, now in your hands, may be depended upon, as, in all things most material, agreeable to the original. This is a fact of which the generality of you are not capable of judging immediately, yet it is a matter of great importance. It is, therefore, a very great pleasure to me to think, what ample evidence you may find another way, to make your minds as easy on this head as you could reasonably wish them. I mean, by the concurrent testimony of others, in circumstances in which you cannot imagine they would unite to deceive you.
There are very few of us whose office it is publicly to preach the gospel, who have not examined this matter with care, and who are not capable of judging in so easy a case. You know, indeed, that we do not scruple, on some occasions, to animadvert upon certain passages; but these remarks affect not the fundamentals of religion, and seldom reach any farther than the beauty of a figure, or, at most, the connection of an argument. Nay, I can confidently say, that, to the best of my knowledge and remembrance, as there is no copy of the Greek, so neither is there any translation of the New Testament, which I have seen, whether ancient or modern, how defective or faulty soever, from which all the principal facts and doctrines of Christianity might not
be learned, so far as the knowledge of them is necessary to salvation, or even to some considerable degrees of edification in piety.
But I desire not, that with respect to our own translation of the New Testament, a matter of so great moment as the fidelity of it should rest on my testimony alone, or entirely on that of any of my brethren, for whose integrity and learning you may have the greatest and justest esteem. I rejoice to say, that this is a head on which we cannot possibly deceive you, if we were ever so desirous to do it. And indeed, in this respect, that is our advantage, which in others is our great calamity; I mean, the diversity of our religious opinions. It is certain, that wheresoever there is a body of dissenters from the public establishment, who do yet agree with their brethren of that establishment in the use of the same translation, though they are capable of examining it, and judging of it, there is as great evidence as could reasonably be desired, that such a translation is in the main right; for if it were in any considerable article corrupted, most of the other debates would quickly lose themselves in this; and though such dissenters had all that candour, tenderness, and respect for their fellow Christians which I hope we shall always endeavour to maintain, yet they would, no doubt, think themselves obliged in conscience to bear a warm and loud testimony against so crying an abomination, as they would another day appear free from the guilt of a confederacy to poison the public fountains, and destroy the souls of men. But we make no complaint on this subject; we all unite in bearing our testimony to the oracles of God, as
delivered in our own language. Oh that we were equally united in regulating our doctrine and our discipline, our worship, and our practice by them!
You see then, on the whole, how much reason there is to believe, that the books of the New Testament, as they are now in your hands, were written by those whose names they bear, even the first preachers and publishers of Christianity. This is the grand point; and from hence it will follow, by a train of easy and natural consequences, that the Gospel is most certainly true: but that is a topic of argument, abundantly sufficient to furnish out matter for another discourse. May God command his blessing on what has been already laid before us, that, through the operation of his Spirit
, it may be useful for establishing our regard to the Scripture, and for confirming our faith in that Almighty Redeemer, who is the Alpha aud the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last; whom to know is life everlasting, and in whom to believe is the great security of our eternal salvation !
THE EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY DEDUCED FROM THE
NEW TESTAMENT ALLOWED TO BE GENUINE.
When we are addressing ourselves to an audience of professing Christians, I think we may reasonably take it for granted, in the main course of our ministry, that they believe the truth of the Gospel, and