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the church required; giving only, in the first ages, a few obscure notices of good things to come, and enlarging the revelation, as the time fixed for the appearance of the Messiah approached. We trace the slow but progressive opening of the scheme from the first hint of a Saviour after the fall, to the ample and minute description of his character and actions, in the writings of Isaiah. Having, by the figures of the law, and the doctrine of the prophets, prepared the minds of men for a more perfect dispensation, he favoured them, “in the last days," with a final and complete declaration of his gracious counsels, by Jesus Christ, who lay from eternity in his bosom, and was qualified, in the human nature, for his high office, by the Holy Ghost, with whom he was anointed.
The revelation made by the ministry of the prophets, and of Christ and his apostles, was of inestimable advantage to those to whom it was immediately addressed, as it disclosed to them truths the most sublime and interesting, precepts the most salutary, and promises fraught with the 'sweetest consolations. But it was not intended solely for their benefit. Revelation now completed, was destined to be a blessing to mankind at large. From Judea, as a central spot, the knowledge of the truth was to be diffused among the nations of the earth ; and it was to descend, as the rule of faith and pràctice, to the latest posterity.
This design would have been frustrated, had no effectual method been adopted to preserve the revelation. If, by the pious care of parents, and of the
public teachers of religion, it might have been transmitted, in some degree of purity, to the generation immediately following;, though this could have hardly been expected with regard either to the law of Moses, or to the gospel, each of which comprehends such a variety of doctrines and facts, and such a multiplicity of particulars; in the course of a few generations, so much of it would have been lost, so many human dogmas and inventions would have been incorporated with it, and the parts which remained would have been so disfigured and adulterated, that the purpose for which it was given would have been entirely defeated. God, there. fore, who foresaw all the evils which would ensue, if tradition were the only mode of conveying the knowledge of his will to future ages, hath not left us to search for the foundation of our faith, in obscure reports and narrations, in which the true and the fabulous are blended together. While he raised up certain persons to be the messengers and interpreters of his will, he usually employed them to commit their messages to writing. What is writ. ten is not liable to be forgotten, nor so apt to be corrupted, as what depends for its preservation on the tenaciousness of the memories, and the honesty of the intentions of those, in whose breasts it is deposited. It may pass from age to age, without sus. taining any injury, ; and may reach the utmost limits of time, without material alteration. By this expedient, the revelation hath been preserved; and we, who are now alive, enjoy it, in equal purity and integrity, as they did, who heard the prophets, or
Christ and his apostles, with their own lips declaring the wonderful works of God.
The design of the following chapters is to state the arguments which make it reasonable in us to believe, that the books in which it is contained were divinely inspired. Acknowledging the Bible to be the word of God, and assigning to it an authority above every human composition, we should be able to give a satisfactory account of this part of our conduct to any man that asks us. Paul affirms, in the second epistle to Timothy, that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God ;'* but it will be easily perceived, that this assertion is not a sufficient reason, why we should believe the inspiration of those writings, which are reputed sacred among us. The same claim is advanced by books, which we certainly know to have been written by wicked and designing men. According to the principles of common sense, and impartial reasoning, the testi. mony of the scriptures in their own favour ought no more to be admitted, than the testimony of any other writing concerning itself, till we see it supported by satisfactory evidence. Their testimony, indeed, we know to be true ; but of its truth no man can be fully assured, who hath not discovered such internal characters, or such external attestations, as amount to a proof of their heavenly origin. If we believe their divinity without examination, in what respect do we differ from those, who, on the authority of their ancestors or their priests, receive the
2 Tim, jj, 16.
Koran of Mahomet, or the sacred books of any other nation, as revelations from God? With a faith so repugnant to reason, and so incapable of defence, how easily shall we be puzzled by the cavils, and bewildered by the sophisms of infidelity ?
The boldness and activity of the enemies of revelation are distinguishing features of the age. Formerly our religion was attacked with some reserve, and the assailants found it expedient to conceal their purpose under a mask of decency and respect ; but now the infidel, with undaunted and unblushing front, proclaims aloud to the world his hostility to the gospel. Impatient, too, of the limits within which he was accustomed to confine his exertions, instead of addressing the great and the wealthy, he goes, with a spirit of proselytism 'worthy of a better cause, in quest of converts among the vulgar; and strives, by specious arguments, deliberate misrepresentation, confident assertions, scurrility and ridicule, to pervert their judgments and corrupt their hearts. When the danger increases, our vigilance should be doubled, and our precautions should be multiplied. The peril of the present times, therefore, loudly calls upon us to examine with care the eyidences of our religion, and to acquaint ourselves with the arguments by which the inspiration of the scriptures is demonstrated, that no man may spoil us, “ through philosophy and vain deceit,” of that precious treasure, with which our most valuable earthly possessions deserve not to be compared.
In order to assist those, who may peruse this Essay, in conducting an inquiry so interesting, I shall observe the following plan.
First, I shall give an account of the inspiration of the scriptures ; or shall shew in what sense I believe them to be inspired.
In the SECOND place, I shall point out those writings, the inspiration of which is asserted by the christian church ; and assign some reasons why we attribute a divine origin to them alone.
In the THIRD place, I shall prove the inspiration of the scriptures, by a variety of arguments.
LASTLY, I shall consider the principal objections of infidels against their inspiration.