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of the scriptures is displayed in making men better; in removing their imperfections; in inspiring them with pious affections towards God, and benevolent dispositions towards their brethren; in improving their moral faculties, and transforming them into the likeness of him who created them. Their whole force is exerted in restoring that state of innocence and purity, which, tradition informs us, was the original state of mankind; and in which alone our reason pronounces it to be agreeable to the moral attributes of God, to have placed his intelligent offspring. Here then his finger is perceived ; and we conclude that from him hath proceeded that book, which conducts us to himself, and by repro. ducing his holy image in our souls, qualifies us for his service in this world, and for the enjoyment of his presence and love in the next.
V. The harmony of the scriptures supplies a fifth argument in proof of their inspiration.
A religion devised by men, a system of philoso phy, or a code of laws, will undergo, in the course of a few centuries, very great alterations, in consequence of new discoveries, and changes in ideas and manners. Opinions and maxims, which were once in high repute, will be exploded ; and principles and practices of modern date, will be substituted in their room. Such, on examination, is the actual history of the human mind and its productions. False religions, which have had some continuance, are found, when viewed at two distant periods, to have varied in dogmas and observances, in the objects and forms of their worship. Schemes of philosophy appear and vanish like the transient modes of fashion; and principles, of which the
truth was not questioned in one age, are discard ed as foolish and absurd in another. In the scriptures, we see a religion of which one fundamental article hath not been changed, during the long period of several thousand years. The christian wor. ships the same God, confides in the same Mediator, obeys the same moral precepts, and expects the same immortality, as the Israelite did in the wilderne ss, or the patriarch before the flood.
In a collection of the writings of authors, who lived in very distant ages, and different states of society, it is impossible that there should not be several contradictions, if the subject of which they treat be the same. Their capacities, their modes of life, their information, their views, their dispositions, being exceedingly diversified, it could not be expected, that, if permitted to give free scope to their thoughts, they would, in every point, exactly agree. The Bible consists of the writings of men, who ap-. peared in very distant periods of the world ; for from Moses the first, to John the last of them, there is a long interval of more than fifteen hundred years. The writers, consequently, lived in very different states of society, and were familiarized to very different manners and opinions. As man is, in a great degree, the creature of circumstances ; as his soul receives impressions from surrounding objects, and takes the form of the situation in which he is placed, their views of many subjects must have been various, like the modes of thinking which prevailed in the times when they respectively flourished. Hence we might have looked for the same diversity on the subject of religion. It was natural that the ideas of the more early writers should be
rude and inaccurate, when compared with the ideas of those who lived in a more enlightened and refined state of society ; and that their representations of the Divine Being, and the nature of our duty to him, should be accommodated to the manners and taste of their contemporaries. Besides, there was a similar diversity in their education and rank, some of them being princes and rulers, and others the lowest of the people ; some of them being learned, and others illiterate. The sentiments of the great and the vulgar, of philosophers and mechanics, usually differ as much, especially on abstract subjects, such as many of the doctrines of religion are, as the sentiments of a polished and a barbarous age.
Notwithstanding these considerations, from which we might have expected to find the Bible full of contradictions, we observe in it, with no small astonishment, the most perfect harmony in sentiment and design, though it contain the writings of more than thirty different authors. All the prophets agree in predicting a person, who, by some of them is styled the Messiah, and by them all is described as the Saviour of his people ; and their ideas of his dignity, his humiliation, his sufferings, and his glory, are in exact unison with those which are detailed by the evangelists. The whole of the New Testament, indeed, agrees with the Old, as being a fulfilment of its types, promises, and predictions. In the writers, whether of the former or of the pres. ent dispensation, we meet with the same represen. tations of the character and perfections of the Deity ; the same plan laid down for the restoration of sinful men to his favour ; the same views of the nature and blessings of redemption, though in one place the language may be figurative, and in another place, plain ; the same method pointed out of enjoying an interest in those blessings ; the same vices condemned, and the same virtues enjoined. The religion which they teach, is in substance the same ; the only alteration which we observe, is in its external form ; and for that alteration such reasons are assigned, as exempt God from the charge of mutability, and the sacred writers from the charge of contradiction. In fact, the introduction of a new dispensation having been announced by the prophets, not to overthrow, but to perfect the dispensation under which they lived, had not the ceremonial law been abolished, the New Testament would have been at variance with the Old ; and we should have searched in vain for evidences of divine, wisdom, in the continuance of institutions, which were become useless and unmeaning, because their end was accomplished. Some instances, indeed, in which it is pretended that the inspired writers con-, tradict themselves or one another, have been industriously collected and pompously displayed, in order to disprove the divinity of the scriptures. As I purpose to consider the objection drawn from this topic in the next chapter, it is at present only neeessary to observe, that the alleged contradictions do not affect the grand doctrines and principles of the scriptures, but only some subordinate and less important matters ; and that, after all, with a little diligence and attention, they may be reconciled.
It must be acknowledged, that a number of individuals, by a previous arrangement of their plan, and mutual communication in the course of executing it, might compose a work, which should ex
hibit perfect unity of thought and design. It is certain, at the same time, that such an attempt could rarely succeed ; and that, if they should endeavour to impose their work upon the world, as the production of one man, the fraud could hardly fail to be detected by some means or other. The har. mony of the sacred writers cannot be suspected to be the result of a well-concerted scheme to give to a fable the air and the consistency of truth, because they lived, as we have seen, not at one time, but in different ages, and by consequence could be under no engagement to co-operate, nor have any common purpose to accomplish. They could never meet to contrive a plan, nor to give an uniform appearance to the parts which they had separately executed. As, then, they could not write in concert ; as, notwithstanding the detached character and absolute freedom of the writers, (freedom, I mean, from the restraint which human authority, or a previous stipulation might have laid upon their thoughts) their works most perfectly harmonize ; as it would be a proof of insanity to suppose that their harmony, since it could not be the effect of design, was the result of accident ; is it not mani. fest that they were guided by one and the same Spirit; namely, the Spirit of truth, who is the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever? When the laws of nature are suspended in the moral and intellectual world, we have equal reason to infer an interposition of the Deity, as when there is a suspension of its physical laws. If then a number of persons, who would have differed much had they acted according to their native genius and dispositions, unite most cordially in all their views, we must con