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If modern refinement would throw a veil over somie scenes exhibited in the scriptures, it is a veil through which the objects might be seen, and would make a more dangerous impression than is now made, when they are displayed without disguise. Let any impartial person consult his own feelings, and he will acknowledge this peculiarity, as resulting from the chaste, and artless manner of relation used in the scriptures, that the same actions, which in the page of a novelist, and sometimes even of a historian or philosopher, would have awaked a train of sensual ideas, in the narrative of the sacred writers do not excite the slightest irregular emotion. Nothing but downright stupidity can lead any man to imagine, either that every thing mentioned in the scriptures is approved, if it be not expressly con demned; or that all the incidents should be dignified and sublime. A considerable portion of scripture history is the history of common men, and common events; and differs from ordinary history only in this respect, that it was recorded by the express appointment and direction of Heaven. It is a fair representation of things as they happened; and we ought not to be surprised, therefore, that we meet with frequent displays of lust, avarice, ambition, and cruelty. These are recorded to vindicate the divine conduct in the punishment of individuals and societies, and to administer an useful lesson to us on the depravity of human nature, and the odiousness and folly of vice. The passages in which they occur, could not justly be considered as unworthy of God, unless he were represented as giving his sanction to the immoralities related in them; or unless it were proy
od to be inconsistent with some of his perfections, to order the history of mankind in one age to be written for the moral improvement of following generations, and for the glory of his justice, good. ness, wisdom, and patience, manifested in the dispensations of his providence,
VII. The last objection respects the style of the scriptures. It is not so dignified, so elegant, so conformable to rule, as we might expect the style of a divine writing to be. We do not perceive in it the accuracy, the politeness, the energy, which characterize some human compositions; and how then can the scriptures, which in these respects are so much inferior to the works of man, be a revelation from God? Who can believe that they were dictated by the divine Spirit, or composed by his direction and assistance ?
It is not necessary that I should spend much time in answering this objection. Few are able to judge of the style of the scriptures in the original languages, especially in the Hebrew, which hath long since ceased to be spoken; and those who judge of it merely by translations, as many infidels do, are too unlearned, and on this question too ignorant, to be entitled to any regard. Yet even in translations, the scriptures are so far from appearing devoid of eloquence, that innumerable passages may be pointed out, which excel in beauty and sublimity every thing of the same kind, in the writings of profane authors. On this subject, every person who has ability and leisure may decide for himself. Were it proper to appeal to authorities, we could produce, in favour of the style and composition of the scrip
tures, the opinions of accomplished scholars, with whom few infidels, if any, deserve to be compared.*
It may be true, that the scriptures are not written according to the rules of art; but it would betray the most deplorable folly to account this circumstance an argument against their divinity. Must God, when he speaks, carefully observe the laws of rhetoric laid down in the schools ? Does he perceive any excellence in the artificial arrangement, and musical cadence of words? Are visible marks of human art necessary to prove, that a book was written by the inspiration of God ? Perhaps some objector against theism will tell us, that the world is not an effect of intelligence and design, because the landscapes of nature are not conformable to the present fashionable style of laying out pleasuregrounds ; the mountains are not regular figures and the rocks are not disposed according to the orders of architecture. This objection would be as good in favour of atheism, as that which we are at present considering is, in favour of infidelity. Besides, the rules of rhetoric, of which pedants are perpetually talking, were drawn from models, exhibited in the writings of authors, who lived in these western parts of the world. They seem to us to have a foundation in nature. But let us travel into the eastern countries, where the sacred books were written, and we shall find prevailing there, ideas of composition, totally different from ours. A similar diversity of taste will be observed in the distant regions of the west, the north, and the south. As it was impossible that the style of the scriptures should accord with so many different standards, and as there was no good reason, why it should be accommodated to the notions of a Greek or Roman critic, rather than of an Indian or a Chinese rhetorician, the mode of writing, which was common in the land of Judea, was adopted. He who does not consider the sacred books as the compositions of Jews, and as in the first instance ad. dressed, for the most part, to their own countrymen, is alike regardless of the laws of sound criticism, and the dictates of common sense. Had the scriptures resembled in their composition a Greek or Roman classic, we should long since have heard from infidels, that the proof of forgery was incontrovertible.
* The reader will be pleased to see the judgment of that great man, and profound scholar', the late Sir William Jones. The following words were written on the last leaf of his Bible. “I have regularly and attentively read these holy scriptures, and am of opinion, that this volume, independently of its divine origin, contains more sublinity and beauty, more pure morality, more important history, and finer strains of poetry and eloquence, than can be collected from all other books, in whatever age or language they may have been composed.”
Some of the ancients were of opinion, that if the gods should descend to the earth to converse with mortals, they would speak in the language of Plato. I differ widely from those admirers of the style of that philosopher. A style which admitted words and phrases not of vulgar use, and to the vulgar therefore unintelligible, which was too elevated, or too refined to be apprehended by uncultivated minds, would counteract the professed intention of a divine revelation. The scriptures were not designed exclusively for philosophers and scholars, for persons of discernment and taste, but likewise for the poor and illiterate ; and they are written therefore in a style, which learned and unlearned can understand. If the former be displeased, that truth appears in so plain a dress, the latter have cause to rejoice, that no paint hides her native beauty from their eyes, no meretricious ornament conceals her shape or her features.
It is a proof of the divinity of the scriptures, that they are not decorated with the tinsel of human eloquence. In respect of style, they are just such, as, laying all prejudice aside, we would expect them to be. It would be unworthy of God to speak after the manner of an orator. He speaks like himself, with majestic simplicity ; he employs no arts to impose on our imaginations, and steal upon our hearts, because his naked word is able to effect its purpose, without any adventitious aid.
I have now given a view of the chief objections against the inspiration of the scriptures. To these as to general heads all the other objections of infidels may be referred. The answers which have been returned to them will, I hope, be deemed satisfactory. Before concluding this chapter, it is proper to observe, That when we are at a loss for a particular answer to any objection, which may occur in reading or in conversation, we have a general answer ready in the evidences detailed in the fore. going part of this Essay. An objection cannot disprove a fact, or a truth clearly established. If it follow from the arguments formerly advanced, that the scriptures are inspired, we may safely and confidently rest in the conclusion, though there should bę some circumstances, for which we cannot account; some remaining difficulties, which we are unable to solve. It is certainly absurd and uncandid to go on disputing against luminous and decisive evidence. There is a point, at which opposition