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In compliance with a custom, which is not without its advantages, I purpose, in this place, to lay before the reader some account of the following work, its rise and progress, nature and design. To do so, will, perhaps, be thought the more necessary, as there have been, in this and the preceding century, many publications on the Gospels, both abroad and at home, in some or other of which, it may be supposed, that all the observations of any consequence, which can be offered here, must have been anticipated, and the subject in a manner exhausted. I am not of opinion that the subject can be so easily exhausted as some may suppose. I do not even think it possible for the richest imagination to preclude all scope for further remark, or for the greatest acuteness to supersede all future criticism. On the other hand, it must be owned possible, that a man may write copiously on a subject, without adding to the stock of knowledge provided by those who wrote before him, or saying any thing which has not been already as well, or perhaps better, said by others.
How far this is applicable to the present publication, must be submitted to the judicious and intelligent reader. In the mean time, it may be hoped that it will not be judged an unfair attempt at bespeaking his favour, to give him a brief account of the origin and preparation of the work now offered to his examination.
As far back as the year 1750, soon after I had gotten the charge of a country parish, I first formed the design of collecting such useful criticisms on the text of the New Testament, as should either occur to my own observation, or as I should meet with in the course of my reading; particularly, to take notice of such proposed alterations on the manner of translating the words of the original, as appeared not only defensible in themselves, but to yield a better meaning, or at least, to express the meaning with more perspicuity or energy. Having, for this purpose, provided a folio paper book, which I divided into pages and columns, corresponding to the pages and columns of the Greek New Testament which I commonly used, I wrote down there, in the
proper place, as they occured, such alterations on the translation as, in my judgment, tended to improve it, and could be rationally supported. And having divided the pages in the middle, I allotted the upper part of each for the version, and the lower for scholia, or notes containing the reasons (wherever it appeared necessary to specify reasons) of the changes introduced. In this way I proceeded many years, merely for my own improvement, and that I might
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qualify myself for being more useful to the people intrusted to my care. I did not assign to this occupation any stated portion of my time, but recurred to it occasionally, when any thing occurred in reading, or offered itself to my reflections, which appeared to throw light on any passage of the New Testament.
Things proceeded in this train, till I found I had made a new version of a considerable part of that book, particularly of the Gospels. The scholia I had added, were indeed very brief, being intended only to remind me of the principal reasons on which my judgment of the different passages had been founded. But soon after, from a change of circumstances and situation, having occasion to turn my thoughts more closely to scriptural criticism than formerly, I entered into a minute examination of many points concerning which I had thrown together some
collection. On some of the points examined, I have found reason to change my first opinion : on others I have been confirmed in the judgment I had adopted. I have always laid it down as a rule, in my researches, to divest myself, as much as possible, of an excessive deference to the judgment of men ; and I think that, in my attempts this way, I have not been unsuccessful. I am even confident enough to say, that I can with justice apply to myself the words of the poet :
Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri ; or rather the words of one much greater than he ; I have learnt, in things spiritual, to call no man Master
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upon earth. At the same time that I have been careful to avoid an implicit deference to the judgment of any man, I have been ready to give a patient hearing, and impartial examination, to reason and argument, from what quarter soever it proceeded. That a man differs from me on some articles, has given me no propensity to reject his sentiments on other articles ; neither does the concurrence of his sentiments with mine on some points, make me prone to admit his sentiments on others. Truth I have always sought (now there is no respect of
persons in this pursuit): and, if a man may pronounce safely on what passes within his own breast, I am warranted to say, I have sought it in the love of truth.
It must be acknowledged that, though a blind attachment to certain favourite names has proved, to the generality of mankind, a copious source of error; an overweening conceit of their own roason has not proved less effectual in seducing many who affect to be considered as rational inquirers. In these I have often observed a fundamental mistake, in relation to the proper province of the reasoning faculty. With them, reason is held the standard of truth; whereas, it is, primarily, no more than the test or the touchstone of evidence, and, in a secondary sense only, the standard of truth. Now the difference between these two, however little it may appear, on a superficial view, is very great. When God revealed his will to men, he gave them sufficient evidence, that the information conveyed to them by his ministers, was a revelation from him. And it cannot be
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justly doubted that, without such evidence, their unbelief and rejection of his ministers would have been without guilt. The works, said our Lord, which the Father has given me to finish, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me! And again: If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin’. His works were sufficient evidence that what he taught was by commission from God; and without such evidence, he acknowledges their unbelief would have been blameless : whereas, on the contrary, having gotten such evidence, there was nothing further they were entitled to, and consequently their disbelief was inex. cusable.
Some modern rationalists will say, “Is not the subject itself submitted to the test of reason,, as well as the evidence ? It is readily granted, that a subject may be possessed of such characters as are sufficient ground of rejecting it in point of evi. dence, and is, therefore, in this respect, submitted to the test of reason. If any thing were affirmed that is self-contradictory, or any thing enjoined that is immoral, we have such internal evidence, that nothing of this sort can proceed from the Father of lights, and the Fountain of good, as all the external proofs which could be produced on the other side, would never be able to surmount. The proofs, in that case, might confound, but could not rationally convince, the understanding. We may, for example, ,