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Paul in his epistles, afford an ample moral demonstration that the book of Acts was really composed, as it professes to be, by one of Paul's companions, and that the epistles attributed to Paul were actually the work of that wonderful apostle, whose labours and ministry are so graphically represented in the book of Acts. So also a striking uniformity of style may, in general, be observed between those different works in the New Testament, which are attributed to the same author. On this ground, if we prove the genuine origin of the Gospel of John (as we may do by a reference to innumerable quotations,) that of his first epistle is, on critical grounds, easily established. If, from historical evidences, we are satisfied that the Acts of the apostles were written by Luke, we cannot reasonably dispute the genuineness of his Gospel. If the testimonies of many early fathers compel us to admit that the epistle to the Romans was really the work of Paul, we mav be sure that he was the author also of the other twelve epistles inscribed with his name; since they are all written in the same inimitable manner; all display the same extraordinary mind; and with respect to the mode of thought, of argument, and of practical application, are generally cast in the same peculiar mould. On a reference to the principal points adverted to in the present essay, it will be observed: Jirst, that, from a fair view of the attributes of God and of the condition of man, there arises a strong antecedent probability of such an especial revelation of divine truth as Christianity professes to be. Secondly, that the introduction of the Christian revelation into the world is matter of undisputed history, and that the substance of it is contained in the New Testament. Thirdly, that this volume, deserving as it is of the
regard and attention of all men from its intrinsic excellence, professes to have been written by six of the apostles of Jesus Christ, and two of their companions. Fourthly, that, in the early part of the fourth century, at a time when the New Testament was very largely disseminated in the church of Christ, the bulk of it was "confessed by all to be genuine," and that the same character was soon afterwards, with equal unanimity, attributed to its remaining parts. Fifthly, that its genuineness is amply evinced by a variety of both external and internal evidences, viz:—innumerable quotations in the writings of the early fathers; catalogues, harmonies, and commentaries; early versions into foreign dialects; the testimony of heretics and of heathen enemies; the peculiarity of the language in which it is written; the correct allusions contained in it to the customs which prevailed, and to the events which occurred, during the age of Christ and his apostles; and, lastly, the reciprocal accordances of its several parts.
Now, I conceive that the more we examine these evidences, and make them the subject of our reflexion, the more ready shall we be to adopt the opinion of Paley and other authors, that, in point of number, extent, variety, and harmony, they are far superior to those which can be brought to bear on any ancient classical book whatsoever. If, then, we entertain no doubt that the Cyropaedia is the work of Xenophon; the JEneid, of Virgil; the Tusculan Disputations, of Cicero; and the Gallic Commentaries, of Caesar; much less have we any reason to hesitate in receiving the New Testament, as the production of the evangelists and apostles.
Here, perhaps, the enquiry may be suggested, what
16 SPURIOUS GOSPELS, &C.
appearance of evidence is it probable could have been produced in favour of the books of the New Testament, had they been really spurious? This enquiry may be answered by an appeal to facts. We are actually in possession of spurious gospels, spurious Acts of Paul, and spurious epistles, purporting to be written by Christ or his followers. It is probable that these wretched forgeries were produced during the second, third, and fourth, centuries of the Christian era; and the first production of some of them is matter of history. Now, they are not once alluded to by the fathers of the first century. By those of the three next centuries they are seldom cited: when cited, they are never adduced as Scripture, and are sometimes expressly declared to be destitute of all authority. They were the subjects of no commentaries. They were uniformly excluded from the canons of sacred books. They are written in a style totally differing from that of the New Testament, though unskilfully copied from it in parts: and lastly, they abound in absurdities, contradictions, anachronisms, trifling ridiculous details, and narrations even of an immoral tendency. While,therefore, these spurious productions afford a proof of the antecedent existence of those books which they so irreverently mimic, the inherent and extrinsic circumstances appertaining to their character and history, may serve to show us how matters would have stood with the New Testament, had it also been spurious; and the absolute genuineness of that pure and unsophisticated volume is rendered more than ever manifest by the contrast: see Horne's Intr., vol. i, p. 717. Jones on the Canon.5
5 The apocryphal Gospels and epistles, now extant, form but a small proportion of that mass of absurd and irreligious forgery, which was poured forth by the wilder sects of heretics during the second, third, and fourth, centuries. The very fact, that almost the whole of these productions have long since been lost and forgotten, while the canonical books have, in all ages of the Christian church, been received and carefully preserved, affords, in itself, a sufficient evidence of the spuriousness of the former, and of the genuineness of the latter. The ancient fathers were accustomed to cite these spurious works, for the purpose of shewing, that, in point of learning, they were on a par with their opponents. When speaking of the forged Gospels, Origen, after distinguishing them from the four genuine ones, writes as follows:—" Legimus ne quid ignorare videremur, propter eos qui se putant aliquid wire, si ista cognoverint:" Horn. in Luc. i, 1. So also Ambrose, "Legimus ne legantur (ab aliis); legimus ne ignoremus; legimus non ut teneamus, sed ut repudiemus, et ut sciamus qualia sint in quibus magniftci isti cor exultant suum:" Comment. in Luc. i, 1. Jones on the Canon, vol. i, 129.
TEXT OF NEW TESTAMENT. 17
Finally, while it is thus abundantly evident that the New Testament is the genuine work of the evangelists and apostles, we have every reason to believe that its text, as we have long been accustomed to read it, is substantially correct and uncorrupted. The early multiplication of copies among persons of so many different characters and situations, and, in process of time, of such various religious persuasions, while it would naturally give rise to a vast number of unimportant various readings, afforded a sure check against the corruption or wilful alteration of the sacred text. The copies thus early made and disseminated, may be regarded as the precursors and prototypes of those very numerous manuscripts of the New Testament which are still preserved. These therefore form one proper criterion for the final settlement of its text. Other criteria, of no less efficacy and importance, are found in the ancient versions of that volume, and in the multitudinous extracts from it, transfused into the pages of the early fathers. Now, the whole of these criteria havexbeen applied by a succession of modern critics, with astonishing industry and great discrimination; and, the result of their labours is this—that the Greek Testament, as it was read by the earliest reformers, and translated by the authors of our common English version, continues unimpaired, and, with