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They were written after the days of Malachi, in whom, according to the universal testimony of the Jews, the spirit of prophecy ceased, and who not obscurely hints, that after him no prophet should arise, till the Baptist appeared in the spirit and power of Elijah.* The vain pretence, in the book of wisdom, that it was written by Solomon, is an addition, al proof, that it is not inspired, because the pretence is manifestly false. In another part of the book, the writer represents the Israelites as in subjection to their enemies; whereas we know, that, during the reign of Solomon, they enjoyed peace and prosperity.t
No part of them is quoted by Christ or his apostles. Indeed, all the books of the Old Testament are not cited in the New; but we meet with references to the most of them; and they are all recognised, as we have seen, under the general titles of the law, the prophets, and the psalms. Is it credible, that, if the apocryphal books were inspired, not a sentiment would be transcribed, not a passage, would be produced as an authority from any of them, in the gospels or epistles; and that not a single word would be found in all the New Testament, from which it could be inferred, that such books were in existence ?
They were not admitted into the canon of scripture, during the first four centuries; and when they began to be used in the religious assemblies, they were read, as Jerom says, not for the confirmation of doctrine, but for the edification of the common people, ad ædificationem plebis, non ad authoritatem dogmatum confirmandam." Even the
* Mal. iv. 4, 5, 6.
+ Wisd. ix. 7, 8. XV. 14.
council of Carthage, which met in the early part of the fifth century, and placed the apocryphal books among the canonical scriptures, has been supposed to use the word canonical in that loose sense, which was sometimes annexed to it by the fathers, when they applied it to all those books, which might be read in the church.* The same council seems to ascribe divine authority exclusively to the undisputed scriptures of the Old and New Testament, when, in a preceding unanimous decree, it warns every man not to act in opposition to the prophets, and the gospels.t
Not one of the writers, in direct terms, advances a claim to inspiration; and some of them say such things, as amount to an acknowledgment that they were not inspired, The Son of Sirach begs the reader to pardon any faults which he may have committed, in translating the work of his grandfather into Greek. It is acknowledged in two places of the first book of the Maccabees, that there was, at that time, no prophet in Israel. The second book is a professed abridgment of five books of Jason of Cyrene ; || and the author concludes with the following words, which are unworthy of a person who wrote by inspiration : “ If I have done well, and as is fitting the story, it is that which I desired;
* Vide Codic. Canon. Eccles. Afric. Can. xxiv. The uninspired books, which might be read in the church, were generally called ecclesiastical ; but as a canon was formed, or a list of such books was drawn up by authority, they sometimes received, in conjunction with the inspired books which were comprehended in the same list, the title of canonical.
+ Vide Can. v. Universum Concilium dixit. Nemo contra prophetas, nemo contra evangelia facit sine periculo.
# Prologue to Ecclesiast.
|| 2 Maccab. i. 25.
but if slenderly and meanly, it is that which I could attain unto."*
Lastly, the apocryphal books contain fables, lies, and contradictions. The story of Judith is, on good grounds, pronounced to be a fiction. After the return of the Jews from captivity, when it is said to have happened, there was no Nabuchodonosor, king of Assyria, by whose army their land could be invaded. The most remarkable incidents in Tobit are exactly on a level, in point of probability, with the tales which amused our childhood. Antiochus is said, in the first book of the Maccabees, to have died in Babylont; but in the second, to have been slain in the temple of Nanea, in Persia ; and again, to have died in a strange country, in the mountains. Several other instances of falsehood and contradiction might be added.
Before we close this chapter, it will be proper to make a few remarks, on a question intimately connected with the present subject ; namely, whether any inspired books have been lost.
With regard to the New Testament, there is no ground for imagining, that any of the books are now wanting of which it originally consisted. But in the Old Testament, we read of several books which are not at present found in the canon ; as the book of Jasher, the book of the wars of the Lord, the
2 Maccab. xv. 38. +1 Maccab. vi. 4, 16.
# 2 Maccab. i. 13—16. ix. 28. s From Colossians, chap. iv. 16. some have inferred, that Paul wrote an epistle to the Laodiceans, which, it is pretended, is still in existence. But that verse speaks of an epistle, not to the Laodiceans, but from Laodicea ; and the epistle to the Laodiceans, which bears the name of Paul, is a mere cento, a thing patched up of sentences from his other epistles, without any determinate end. Vide Witsium in Vita Pauli, Sect. xiv.
books of Nathan and Gad, and the book of Shemaiah the prophet, and Iddo the seer concerning genealogies. Before, however, the inference, for which the names of these books are quoted, can be fairly drawn, it must be proved, either that they were all inspired, or that such of them as were written by inspiration, have perished. But while it is extremely fool. ish to conclude, that every book was inspired, to which there is a reference in the scriptures, the opinion of the Jews and of many christian writers is not improbable, that some of the books concerning which we are inquiring, are still extant under other names, and constitute part of the books of Samuel and Kings. Our Lord, who reproved the Jews with so much fidelity, never charged them with having suffered any part of revelation to perish ; and he seems to assure us of the integrity of the Hebrew scriptures, when he
says, not one jot, nor one titlle, shall pass from the law, till all be fulfilled :" * for the law signifies in this place, agreeably to the sense of the word in many other passages, not the five books of Moses alone, but the whole system of doctrines and precepts, which had been delivered to the church; or, what is called more distinctly in the preceding verse, the law and the prophets. If we believe in a providence, vigilant, active, and almighty, we can no more allow ourselves to think, that it would permit any part of a revelation, which was intended to be a complete and perpetual rule of faith, to be lost, than that it would suffer the light of the sun to be extinguished. The productions of human genius and eloquence may perish, and the very names of their authors be forgotten ; but the oracles of heaven shall last, till all the purposes for which they were given, be accomplished.
* Mat. v. 18.
WE have spoken, in the preceding chapter, of the canonical scriptures, or those writings which the church hath recognised, as constituting the only rule of faith and manners to the professors of the christian religion. We do not mean, however, that our faith in them is founded in the care with which she hath discriminated them from other writings claiming inspiration, and the decrees which she hath published in their favour. It is a paradox, which none could believe, but those who are able to digest the monstrous figment of transubstantiation, that the scriptures derive all their authority from the church, which derives all her authority from them. On what grounds, it might be asked, does the church assert their inspiration ? If it should be answered, that the present church is possessed of traditional evidence from the testimony of the ancient fathers and doctors ; ascending through the intermediate ages, to the time when the books were first presented to the world, we ask again, by what considerations the primitive church was induced to receive them as inspired? The evidence which satisfied the first christians, may satisfy us; and it is not reasonable to demand, that less should suffice us, while our interest is equally great as theirs in ascertaining