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of erudition. True; but, on the other hand, will not that ve ry circumstance of its universality justly fix the brand of ignorance on him, in whom there appears, in this respect, a remarkable deficiency? Besides, to be ignorant in one's own profession, is always accounted a matter of the greatest reproach the divine is, by profession, an interpreter of Scripture; therefore, to be deficient here, is the most unpardonable kind of ignorance. I am the more particular, on this point, because, by a very common tendency in our nature, what we think we have it in our power to do at any time, we are apt, by perpetually procrastinating, to leave undone at last.
But, it may be asked, in what manner shall we read this book most profitably for the attaining of a thorough acquaintance with the history it contains? For this purpose, I would humbly suggest to you some such method as the following: it will require but a superficial notion of the whole to be able to distinguish the most remarkable epochs in sacred history; let these be marked for heads of study at different times. It is not a matter of great consequence, whether, in the division you make, you consider most the celebrity of the era at which the period terminates, or what will nearly produce an equal division of the subject. Let the first epoch, for example, be from the creation till the call of Abraham; the second, from that period till Jacob's journey into Egypt; the third, till the deliverance from Egypt, by the passing through the Red Sea, and the extinction of Pharaoh's host; the fourth, till the death of Moses; the fifth, till the death of Joshua; the sixth, till the commencement of the Israelitish monarchy; the seventh, till the defection of the ten tribes from Rehoboam; the eighth, till the captivity; and the ninth, till the restoration of the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin. Let the student, first, attentively read over so much of the sacred volume as contains the account of one period; let him then lay by the book, and write in his own style and manner, an abstract, or abridgment, of the narrative he has read, carefully noting all the memorable events, and interspersing such remarks of his own, as he shall judge to arise naturally out of the subject. After finishing one epoch, let him proceed in the same manner to the succeeding epoch. By this method, he will fix in his mind the sacred history more effectually, than it could be done by twenty readings.
Besides, there are several other very considerable advantages which will redound from this plan regularly prosecuted. First, the student will acquire a habit of reading with greater attention, having close in his view the use he must make of what he reads, immediately after reading; secondly, he will
find this practice an excellent exercise of memory, and one of the best methods of strengthening it; thirdly, it will produce in him a habit of reflection; fourthly, as it will render com position habitual to him, there is not an expedient that I know of, which will contribute more to give him a readiness of writ ing his sentiments on any subject with a natural facility, and perspicuity of expression.
Permit me to add a few more directions for assisting you in the prosecution of the plan proposed. In periods, of which an account is given by more than one of the inspired historians, it will be proper to read both accounts, and compare them together; those, for example, given in the books of Kings, and in the books of Chronicles, before you begin to compose the intended abstract. It will not be improper to join, in like manner, the reading of the prophets, with those parts of the history which relate to the times wherein they lived. The historians, and the prophets, will often be found to reflect light upon each other. As to other helps, the chief I would recommend to you is Josephus, the Jewish historian; and the best way of studying him, as I imagine, is carefully to read his relation of every particular epoch, immediately after perusing the account of it given by the inspired penmen of the Old Testament, as far as their history extends. Both may be read previously to the attempt of forming a narrative of the different periods as mentioned above. In this there will be a twofold advantage; first, by the double representation of the facts, there is a probability they will be more deeply rooted in the memory; secondly, by the diversity of manner in which the same things are told, a fuller view is given of the subject, and the reader's own manner is better secured against too close an imitation of either.
Before I conclude this lecture, allow me to subjoin a few remarks in regard to the character of that historian, and the credit that is due to him. That he was a man, who, to a considerable degree of eminence in the Jewish erudition of those days, added a tolerable share of Greek and Roman literature, is a character which, in my opinion, cannot justly be refused him. As a compiler of history, it must be admitted, that in every instance in which his account, on a fair examination, is found to contradict the account given in holy writ, he is entitled to no faith at all. In cases wherein he may be said not to contradict scripture, but to differ considerably from it, by the detail of additional circumstances, it will be proper to distinguish between the earlier ages of his history and the later ages. With regard to the first, we are sure that he had no other authentick records to draw his information from, than
those we have at this day in our hands. These are Moses, and those prophets, who came nearest to the time of that lawgiver. With regard to the last, though within the era of the Old Testament history; we are not so certain, that he might not have had the assistance of credible annals extant in his time, though now lost. There are two things, however, in his character, that affect his manner of writing, and require a particular attention: one is, too close an affectation of the manner of the Greek historians. This appears, as in the general tenour of his style, so especially in the endeavours he uses to embellish his narration with long speeches, which he puts in the mouths of the persons introduced, a silly device for displaying the talents and eloquence of the writers rather than of the historical characters. I cannot help taking notice of one instance, in which, through an ill-judged attempt to improve and adorn, he hath spoiled, one of the finest speeches in all the history. The speech I mean, is that of Judah to his brother Joseph, then governour of Egypt, offering to ransom his brother Benjamin, by the sacrifice of his own liberty. It is impossible for any one, whose taste can relish genuine simple nature, not to be deeply affected with that speech as it is in the Pentateuch. On reading it, we are perfectly prepared for the effect which it produced on his unknown brother. We see, we feel, that it was impossible for humanity, for natural affection, to hold out longer. In Josephus, it is a very different kind of performance: something so cold, so far-fetched, so artificial, both in sentiments and in language, that it savours more of one who had been educated in the schools of the Greek sophists, than of those plain, artless, patriarchal shepherds.
The other thing that deserves our notice in this author, is the excessive fear he had of exposing himself to the ridicule of his Greek and Roman readers, whose favour he very assiduously courts. This hath made him express himself on some points with such apparent skepticism, as hath induced many to think, that he was not a firm believer in his own religion. But this, on a closer examination, will be found entirely without foundation: on the contrary, he piques himself not a little, on the distinction of his nation from all others, by the knowledge and worship of the true God. But he did not write his history to make proselytes, and therefore chose to put on those parts of his work which he thought would expose him most to the sneer of the infidel, such a gloss as would make it pass more easily with gentile, and even with philosophical readers, (for he had an eye to both) amongst whom he knew the Jews were branded with credulity, even to a proverb. It may be thought, indeed, that with regard to the more ancient part of his histo
ry, as nothing in point of fact can be got from it, which is not to be learnt from the Bible, that part, at least, can be of little or no service to christians. But even this conclusion would not be just. As the historian himself was a pharisee, a contemporary of the apostles, and one who lived till after the destruction of the Jewish temple and polity by Titus Vespasian, we may reap instruction even from his errours. They will serve to show, what were the tenets of the sect at that time, what were their notions both concerning historical events, and sacred institutions, and what were some of their principal traditions. All this to the christian divine is a matter of no little consequence for the elucidation of several passages in the New Testament, which allude to such erroneous sentiments, and vain traditions. From the time of the rebuilding of the temple under Ezra, to its final demolition, and the total extinction of the Jewish government by the Romans, Josephus alone affords almost all the light we have.
The two books of Maccabees are the only other ancient monuments now extant of the transactions of that people within the aforesaid period. These books, though they are not acknowledged by protestants to be canonical scripture, very well deserve your attention as historical tracts of considerable antiquity, and, to all appearance, worthy of credit. We have, indeed, in English, an excellent work of Prideaux, called, The Connexion of the Old Testament history with that of the New, which I would also earnestly recommend to your perusal. I hope I scarcely need to mention, that it is more proper for the student to read Josephus in his own language than in a translation: it will thus answer a double end, as an exercise in Greek as well as in history.
To the knowledge of the sacred, it will be found proper to add as much at least of profane history, as is most nearly connected with it, and may serve to throw some light upon it, together with a little of the chronology and the geography of the times and the countries about which the history is converThe connexion which the four great monarchies, the Assyrian, the Persian, the Macedonian, and the Roman, have with the Jewish history, is manifest; but as to these, it is by no means requisite that, in this place, I should be particular. The Jewish history is necessary to the theologian, the others are useful. The former ought to be begun immediately, the latter should be studied afterwards, as you find leisure and opportunity: but we do not incline to embarrass you with a needless multiplicity of directions.
In the next prelection, I intend to begin with some observations on the history of the sacred canon.
THE subject of this day's discourse is, as I hinted to
you at a former meeting, some observations on the nature and utility of the history of the sacred canon; to which I shall add some reflections, tending to explain both the origin and the character of that species of history which is denominated ecclesiastical. As to the history of the canon, it will be proper, in the first place, to give an explanation of the phrase. That book which we christians denominate the Bible, Bißnog, the book, by way of eminence, and which is also termed the canon, and the sacred canon, comprehends a considerable number of treatises, or pieces totally distinct, composed (for the most part) at periods distant from one another, and in sundry. places, written by diverse penmen, on different subjects, and in various styles: nor were they all originally in the same language. The greater part of the books which compose the Old Testament, are in Hebrew, a small part in Chaldeë, and all the books of the New Testament in Greek; at least, if the originals of any of them were in another tongue, they are not now extant: some are in prose, and others in verse; some are historical, some juridical, and some prophetical; some instruct us by the way of simple narrative; some are written in a highly figurative and allegorick diction; some in a vehement and declamatory; others address us in a free epistolary strain: one piece is a collection of devotional hymns and prayers, another is an assemblage of moral maxims and observations. The name canon, in like manner as the word Bible, we have borrowed from the Greek. The term xv, with them, signifies rule, or standard. Now the Scriptures are thus denominated, as being eminently the great rule or standard to the christian, in all that concerns both faith and manners. Hence also those writings, of whose authenticity and inspiration there is sufficient evidence, are termed canonical scripture.
Now concerning the several books of which the Bible ist composed, a number of questions naturally arise in the mind