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ITS VARIATIONS. 99
by which they are either miraculously informed of matters before unknown to them, or by which ideas already acquired through natural means, are presented to their memory, and impressed on their feelings, with an extraordinary degree of clearness and force; and by which, further, they are often led to promulgate to others, either in speaking or in writing, that which has been thus imparted to themselves. Such being a general definition of inspiration, it must evidently vary in degree, and in the method of its operation, according to the circumstances under which it acts, and the subjects to which it is applied.
When the ideas communicated to the inspired person, and by the inspired person to others, were altogether new, and his knowledge of them attained only through an immediate and supernatural discovery, it seems probable that the very words in which those ideas were communicated to others, must also have been suggested by the Holy Spirit. Such, I conceive, to have been the case with the prophets, when they found themselves constrained to predict events which were not only concealed in the bosom of futurity, but were of so singular a nature that they were probably very little understood by those who predicted them: see for example, Isa. vii, 14. ix, 6. liii. Such also may probably have been the case with Moses, when he described the creation of the world; and with the apostles when they communicated to their disciples those doctrinal mysteries, of which their knowledge was derived exclusively or principally from immediate revelation. But as far as relates to the more simple didactic parts of Scripture, as well as to the greater part of its historical narrative, we may presume that the sentiments and facts impressed upon the minds of the writers, were
100 EXCEPTIONS IN THE EPISTLES OF PAUL.
promulgated by them in their own words, under the especial and extraordinary superintendence of that divine Remembrancer, who by no means superseded their natural talents and acquired knowledge, but enlarged, strengthened, protected, and applied them4. Now, although the inspiration under which the several parts of Scripture were written, may have been differently modified, according to their respective characteristics, yet if these premises are correct, we may safely deduce from them the general inference, that the whole contents of the Bible are of divine authority.
Some little exception, however, attaches to this general inference, as it relates to the epistles of Paul, which were all of them addressed either to particular churches, or to individuals. Since, notwithstanding his inspiration, the natural situation of the apostle continued unaltered, he was undoubtedly at liberty to reply to the inquiries of his friends, to the best of his ability, even on points respecting which he had received no direct illumination from his divine Master. Accordingly, in part of his reply to certain practical questions addressed to him by his disciples at Corinth, we find him expressly declaring, that he delivers not the commandments of the Lord, but the conclusions of his own judgment: I Cor. vii. On this subject it need only be remarked, that the care which the apostle has displayed in marking those particulars of his answer in which it was not the Lord who spake, but himself,
* It is obvious that the inspiration of the sacred writers did not prevent their making use both of the dialects, and of the styles, to which they were severally accustomed. In the case of the inspiration of superintendence, this was to be expected. And even in that of actual verbal inspiration, it can be no matter of just surprise, that the divine communication should be made to the inspired person, under that form which was the most familiar and intelligible to himself. The object of inspiration is not the improvement of language, or the perfecting of eloquence; but the promulgation of divine truth. And yet, what writers are more eloquent than some of the prophets and apostles?
OBJECTIONS ANSWERED. 101
affords a powerful confirmation of other more positive evidences that in the rest of his religious communications, it was not he that spake, but the Lord.
But there are other passages in Paul's epistles, respecting which the apostle has made no such distinction, but for which, since they relate to matters of a circumstantial and subordinate description—such as, the salutation of many individuals, the course of his intended journeys, and commissions to be executed—. it is supposed, that inspiration was wholly needless. Since, however, there is nothing in these passages inconsistent with truth, there is nothing in them which proves that the apostle, when he wrote them, was not inspired; and since even these parts of his epistles are by no means destitute of practical importance, it is not unreasonable to suppose that they were actually written under a divine influence proportioned to the occasion. There are few or none of them from which we may not derive some lesson of Christian kindness, courtesy, and friendship; and inferior as they may be considered, when compared with other more essential parts of the apostle's writings, they nevertheless fall in with the harmony of divine truth, and help to constitute that perfect whole, which every impartial observer must trace to the hand of God.
It is, in the second place, urged as an objection against the universal inspiration of Scripture, that a considerable diversity of statement, and sometimes an appearance of actual contradiction, is to be observed in reference to several minor particulars, in the historical narratives of the four evangelists. On the subject of this objection, the limits of the present work preclude my entering at large. I would remark, however, that the inspiration of the evangelists by no
means prevented the use of their natural observation, and acquired information—that hence, in the selection of their subjects, and in their mode of narration, considerable variety would necessarily arise—that the same scene might be presented to different witnesses in different points of view; and that the several parts of that scene would of course be impressed on them respectively, with different degrees of force—that most of the apparent contradictions referred to in the objection, have been satisfactorily reconciled on critical grounds—and that the few which cannot now be so readily explained, would probably be found, were all the circumstances precisely known, to involve no real error. On the whole, therefore, we may safely accede to the sentiments of Archbishop Newcome, who in the preface to his harmony of the Greek Testament, expresses himself as follows: "The result of my thoughts and enquiries is, that every genuine proposition in Scripture, whether doctrinal or historical, contains a truth, when it is rightly understood; that the evangelists conceived alike of the facts related by them, but sometimes place them in different lights, and make a selection of different circumstances accompanying them; and that their seeming variations would instantly vanish, were the history known to us in its precise order, and in all its circumstances."5
5 It has been remarked in a former essay, that the apparent differences in the narratives of the four evangelists, have served an invaluable purpose in promoting the cause of Christianity; for they afford a decisive evidence, that the four Gospels, (plainly coincident as they are with respect to all matters of importance) have proceeded from witnesses essentially independent of one another, and that, therefore, the history which they contain is credible and true. Might not this be the very reason why such apparent differences were permitted to exist, and why the inspiration of the evangelists was not so directed as to prevent them? A similar inquiry applies to those familiar parts of Paul's epistles, which are deemed by some persons below the mark of inspiration; for the comparison of some of these very passages with others in the book of Acts, has established, on the clearest grounds, the credibility of that important history, as well as the genuineness of the apostle's letters.
Now, if there be nothing trivial in the epistles of Paul, and nothing really erroneous in the gospels, the objections made on the opposite supposition to the divine origin of the whole Scriptures, will fall to the ground at once. Let us, however, take up that opposite supposition, and grant for a moment, that one or more of the evangelists have actually fallen into mistake in their statement of some minor circumstances, and that certain parts of Paul's epistles are so absolutely destitute of weight, that they could not have been given by inspiration. Such facts, if facts they were, could not be pleaded against the divine authority of the Bible in general. We are in possession of positive evidence of a highly satisfactory nature, that the writers of the Scriptures were inspired, and inspired for the purpose of promulgating religious truth; and this evidence is by no means counteracted by the supposed circumstance, that in the composition of certain small parts of their works, considered to be non-essential in reference to that object, they were left to the unassisted exercise of their natural powers. As far as the great practical purposes of Scripture are concerned, it appears from our premises to be unquestionable, that these sacred authors wrote under the immediate and extraordinary influence of the Holy Ghost. These purposes are, "doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness." Every thing therefore in the Bible, whether historical or didactic, essentially connected with the promulgation of religious truth; every thing which has a practical bearing; every thing which is important for doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness; every thing which affects those questions in morals and divinity, which