صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

claiming divine derivation, could long succeed in escaping de tection. In truth, both ecclesiastical history, and the proem to St. Luke's Gospel, acquaint us with the existence of other Gospels and other writings assuming to be inspired, during the apostolic age. Some of these compositions' were contempo

Of the numerous apocryphal works which appeared during the four first centuries, while some are entirely lost and are known to us only from the description of ancient authors, and the fragments which have been preserved by the latter, others have reached the present times, and afford curious specimens of human folly and fraud. Among those which have been destroyed by the ravages of time, the following are some of the most remarkable : The Gospels of St. Peter and of Judas Iscariot; the Gospel according to the Hebrews; the Gospel according to the Egyptians; the preaching of Peter; the revelation of Peter; the acts of Paul and Thecla; the Gospel of Marcion; the revelation of Cerinthus; the Gospel according to the twelve apostles; the Gospels of Thomas, of Mattbias and of Basilides; the preaching of Paul ; the acts of Paul; the acts of Peter; the acts of Andrew and John; the Gospels of Bartholomew, of Tatian, and of Apelles; the Gospel of the Nazarenes, which the learned have determined to be only another name for the Gospel according to the Hebrews; the Gospel of the Ebionites; the Gospels of Eve, of Philip, and of Jude; an Epistle of Christ produced by the Manichees; a Hymn of Christ which he is said to have taught his disciples, received by the Priscillianists; the judgnient of Peter; the revelation of Paul, and the revelation of Stephen. Of the apocryphal books which are still extant, the following catalogue will be found io contain the principal: the letter of Abgarus king of Edessa to Christ, and our Saviour's answer; six Epistles of Paul to Seneca, and eight from the latter in reply; the constitutions of the Apostles; the Creed of the Apostles; the Gospel of the infancy of Christ; the ProtEvangelion of James; the Gospel of the birth of Mary; the Gospel of Nicodemus, or the acts of Pilate; the martyrdom of Thecla, published by Dr. Grabe from a Ms. in the Bodleian, and supposed to be no other than the acts of Paul and Thecla mentioned by Tertullian; St. Paul's Epistle to the Laodiceans; and Abdias's history of the twelve apostles. Amidst so incongruous a mass of writings, some of them coeval perhaps with the primitive church, it might appear to be no very easy task to discriminate our own authentic books from those of a spurious character. Nothing, however, can be established on a firmer basis than the genuineness of our canonical scriptures, as we possess an uninterrupted series of quotations from them, handed down in the writings of the Fathers from the earliest period, where the authenticity of the former is either expressly affirmed or evidently implied. If to this irrefragable proof we add that afforded by the oldest Śyriac and Latin versions, which are referred by some divines to the first, and by others to the beginning of the second century, the Diatessaron of Tatian composed in the middle of the second century, the catalogues of the canonical scriptures contained in the works of the Fathers of the third and fourth centuries, and the testimony of Heathen and Jewish authors, we shall have a body of evidence in favor of the authenticity of the New Testament, to which no.

rary with the publication of our own Scriptures, while others are known to be the indisputable forgeries of a later period; and in order to attract the notice and secure the belief of Christiau converts, they were contidently ascribed either to the apostles themselves, or to persons who were known to have enjoyed their friendship. Of this indeed we may rest persuaded, that could any diligence of research have proved these writings to be genuine, they would have been received with all that ardor and confidence which the venerable names attached to them would naturally inspire. But though many of them contained an admixture of truth with falsehood, yet the vigilant examination to which they were of necessity made to submit, would soon disclose the futility of their pretensions; and they were accordingly rejected as unworthy of admission into the catalogue of canonical works publicly recognised by the primitive Christians. Admitting, as we unquestionably must, that the bighest degree of vigilance and circumspection was exercised by the early followers of Christ in the formation of that Canon of Scriptures which was for ever to regulate the faith and to involve the salvation of succeeding generations,' it must require

1

other compositions in existence can lay claim, and which completely excludes the pretensions of those fictitious writings enumerated in this note.

Respecting the writings of the upostolic Fathers, a great diversity of opinion has prevailed; and though vast learning has been displayed in establishing the authenticity of many of them, there are others which are universally admitted to be spurious; some divines, indeed, have not scrupled to question the authority of all of them.

Respecting the origin of the term canonical, as applied to the Scriptures, there are three different opinions. The learned French critic Dupin observes, that as one signification of the Greek word Kavir, is a catalogue, the books of the New Testament were termed canonical, because the catalogue of them was called the canon. To this, however, it is replied that there is no authority to show that the word Kayar was used in this sense till the fourth century, long prior to which the same term was applied to the sacred volume.

The eccentric Whiston imagined that the books of the New Testament were called canonical because they are enumerated in the last of the apostolical constitutions or canons, forgetting that for the same reason many apocryphal writings would be entitled to that appellation. To this it may be added that these constitutions have long ceased to be considered as genuine.

The third and best reason alleged for the original application of the term is this, that the word canon, both in Greek and Latin, properly signifies a rule or standard by which other things are to be tried; and as the sacred books are acknowleged by all Christians to be the standard of their faith and practice, the collection of them obtained at an early period the title of canon. The precise period when our present canon was

arguments of more than ordinary weight to induce us to reject any part of the sacred text which has reached, without disturbance, so late a period as the present. Notwithstanding the reliance which it was natural to expect would be reposed on the authenticity of every part of the New Testament, still there are a few passages which have at different times been openly called in question, and which it therefore becomes our duty to examine with all that diligence and candor so' peculiarly required in a subject of this nature.

Whatever may have been the origin of these objections, whether they have arisen from an imperfect comprehension of the proofs, by which the genuineness of ancient writings can alone be established, or whether, which has not unfrequently been the case, they are to be traced to the powerful prepossessions generated by the tenets of particular sects, no friend to revelation would willingly suffer them to be disseminated without examining the foundation on which they are alleged to be supported, and without ascertaining the degree of attention to which they are really entitled.

It is well known to those who are at all acquainted with theological science, that the authenticity of the first and second chapters of the Gospel of St. Matthew has been the subject of controversy, and has been more particularly contested by that class of Christians who avowedly disclaim the divinity of the Saviour.

As this part of the sacred writings contains the detail of Christ's nativity, we shall not be greatly surprised at the anxiety displayed by the advocates of Unitarianism to annul a portion of the text so subversive of their favorite opinions, and which they trust, if once expunged, would effectually undermine the belief of the received doctrine of the miraculous conception, As long as these chapters are considered as forming part of the original Gospel of one of our Lord's immediate disciples, as long as they retain the confidence which has so long been reposed in them, it will be in vain to attempt to invalidate the doctrine which they explicitly declare, by reasoning on the abstract nature of the fact, or by any arguments derived from the antecedent probability of its truth,

formed cannot be ascertained with any degree of certainty. There does indeed exist an account of its having been arranged and settled at Ephesus before the close of the first century, but it is now generally rejected as destitute of sufficient proof to entitle it to belief; and it is the opinion of many eminent critics, aniongst whom are Griesbach and Semler, that the scriptural canon could not have been formed before the middle of the second century. See Jones on the Canon. Dupin's Hist. of the Canon, Marsh's Michaelis, vol. ii, notes to ch. 7. sect. 6. Paley's Evid, vol. i.

This a priori mode of reasoning, however, has too frequently been resorted to in discussing the credibility of the peculiar articles of the Christian faith; but by no class of men bas it been more notoriously perverted, than by those who without hesitation reject from their creed every doctrine which cannot be supported by obvious analogy or undisputed experience. On the same principle many have ventured to question the divine origin of Christianity itself; and because it was promul gated at a period so remote from the creation of the world, they think themselves justified in refusing their assent; falsely assuming that what so intimately concerned the felicity of buman creatures, if communicated at all, must have been so froin the beginning, or at least long anterior to the general depravity of the species; and that it is in the highest degree improbable that the Deity should restrict the revelation of his mercy within the narrow limits which the present case apparently supposes. Such, however, is the nature of the proofs in our possession, such the powerful body of evidence which the inquiries of every day tend to confirm, that it appears almost impossible, consistently with the unbiassed exercise of our sane faculties, to deny that the Christian religion has actually been published, though not till four thousand years after the formation of man; and that the sublime truths which it unfolds are not the less intimately connected with our highest interest because they have hitherto extended to only a portion of mankind. Our previous conceptions of what would be the conduct of the Supreme Being under any proposed circumstances, or of the manner in which he would display his attributes in the government of his intelligent creatures, have so repeatedly led to the most palpable errors, that they ought to obtain but little influence in our estimate of the positive proofs of any religious system offered to our examination, Nor will it require any elaborate investigation to impress upon the mind a conviction, which daily observation alone is almost sufficient to produce. In the phænomena of external nature, in the occurrences which excite our attention in the records of history, and in the moral system which influences the conduct of man both as an individual, and as connected with society, numerous instances might be alleged, apparently at variance with the perfections of the Divine Being, or, at least, very remote from our preconceived ideas of their probability. Their actual existence, however, is not on that

account the less certain, nor less the effect of prospective wisdom.

All that the rational part of the creation can be admitted to claim with justice, or rather naturally to expect, from the benevolence of the Deity, is, that a preponderance of happiness should be placed within their reach, sooner or later, during the continuance of their existence. The means which the Almighty may adopt in the plenitude of his wisdom for effectuating and securing this happiness, may very consistently be supposed to form a subject far removed from the reach of human examination, and even beyond the limits, of human comprehension. Why man should originally have been so constructed as to be liable to fall from his primeval state of bliss, when assailed by temptation, and why so many ages should elapse before the advent of that illustrious character appointed to be the great instrument in accomplishing his redemption, are questions which involve no greater difficulty than is to be discovered in that long contested point, the origin of evil. To expect to fathom the counsels of the Supreme Intelligence, with faculties so inades quate as our own, and to make the removal of every shade of darkness the previous condition of our assent, is what we practise on no other subject; and it has not yet been explained why we should adopt so unreasonable a conduct in that of religion.

After all the objections which have been advanced against the historical detail of the great legislator of the Jews, and all the bold attempts which have been made to destroy its credibi. lity, still to every unbiassed inquirer it will be found to be more consistent with the facts of subsequent bistory, and with the observations of philosophers relative to the superficial structure of the globe, than any hypothesis, which the infidelity of some and the love of distinction in others have led them to ipvent. Our proper object, therefore, is not to institute an inquiry how far the Mosaic account accords with the ideas which we have previously entertained respecting the means which the Almighty would select in the creation and government of the universe, but whether the authority of the writings ascribed to the Jewish lawgiver is supported by incontrovertible evidence, and whether they contain nothing which the consent of cultivated understandings has decided to be contrary to the first principles of reason.

[ocr errors]

See Bryant's System of Ancient Mythology; Maurice's Indian Antìquities; Sir William Jones's Discourses before the Asiatic Society.

« السابقةمتابعة »