The Truth, Inspiration, and Authority of Scripture
Originally published as
Evidences of the Authenticity, Inspiration and Canonical Authority of the Holy Scriptures
The Truth, Inspiration, and Authority of Scripture
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Originally published as Evidences of the Authenticity, Inspiration and Canonical Authority of the Holy Scriptures, Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1836.
Print ISBN 9781577997870
Digital ISBN 9781683590309
Cover art: Hubert Robert, A Hermit Praying in the Ruins of a Roman Temple, 1760. Public domain.
This edition of the Evidences has been enlarged by the addition of one-fourth part of the volume, and contains nearly twice as much matter as was included in the first editions of the work. The parts which have been added to the preceding and to the present edition are the chapter on “the necessity of Divine Revelation;” a new chapter on prophecy, relating to Nineveh, Babylon, and Tyre; the chapters on Inspiration; and the whole of what relates to the Canon of the Old and New Testaments. This last is an abridgment of the volume which the author published on the Canon; of which work two editions have been given to the public.
Part I: Evidences of Christianity
The Right Use of Reason in Religion
That it is the right and the duty of all men to exercise their reason in inquiries concerning religion, is a truth so manifest, that it may be presumed there are none who will be disposed to call it in question.
Without reason there can be no religion: for in every step which we take, in examining the evidences of revelation, in interpreting its meaning, or in assenting to its doctrines, the exercise of this faculty is indispensable.
When the evidences of Christianity are exhibited, an appeal is made to the reason of men for its truth; but all evidence and all argument would be perfectly futile, if reason were not permitted to judge of their force. This noble faculty was certainly given to man to be a guide in religion, as well as in other things. He possesses no other means by which he can form a judgment on any subject, or assent to any truth; and it would be no more absurd to talk of seeing without eyes, than of knowing any thing without reason.
It is therefore a great mistake to suppose that religion forbids or discourages the right use of reason. So far from this, she enjoins it as a duty of high moral obligation, and reproves those who neglect to judge for themselves what is right.
It has frequently been said by the friends of revelation, that although reason is legitimately exercised in examining the evidences of revelation, and in determining the sense of the words by which it is conveyed; yet it is not within her province to sit in judgment on the doctrines contained in such a divine communication. This statement, though intended to guard against the abuse of reason, is not, in my opinion, altogether accurate. Without reason we can form no conception of a truth of any kind; and when we receive any thing as true, whatever may be the evidence on which it is founded, we must view the reception of it to be reasonable. Truth and reason are so intimately connected that they can never with propriety be separated. Truth is the object, and reason is the faculty by which it is apprehended, whatever be the nature of the truth, or of the evidence by which it is established. No doctrine can be a proper object of our faith which it is not more reasonable to receive than to reject. If a book, claiming to be a divine revelation, is found to contain doctrines which can in no way be reconciled to right reason, it is a sure evidence that those claims have no solid foundation, and ought to be rejected. But that a revelation should contain doctrines of a mysterious and incomprehensible nature, and entirely different from all our previous conceptions, and, considered in themselves, improbable, is not repugnant to reason; on the contrary, judging from analogy, sound reason would lead us to expect such things in a revelation from God. Every thing which relates to this Infinite being must be to us, in some respects, incomprehensible. Every new truth must be different from all that is already known; and all the plans and works of God are very far above and beyond the conception of such minds as ours. Natural religion has as great mysteries as any in revelation; and the created universe, as it exists, is as different from any plan which men would have conceived, as any of the truths contained in a revelation can be. But it is reasonable to believe what by our senses we perceive to exist; and it is reasonable to believe whatever God declares to be true.
In receiving therefore the most mysterious doctrines of revelation, the ultimate appeal is to reason: not to determine whether she could have discovered these truths; not to declare whether considered in themselves they appear probable; but to decide whether it is not more reasonable to believe what God speaks, than to confide in our own crude and feeble conceptions. Just as if an unlearned man should hear an able astronomer declare that the diurnal motion of the heavens is not real but only apparent, or that the sun is nearer to the earth in winter than in summer, although the facts asserted appeared to contradict the senses, it would be reasonable to acquiesce in the declarations made to him by one who understood the subject, and in whose veracity he had confidence. If then we receive the witness of men in matters above our comprehension, much mere should we receive the witness of God, who knows all things, and cannot deceive his creatures by false declarations.
There is no just cause for apprehending that we shall be misled by the proper exercise of reason on any subject which may be proposed for our consideration. The only danger is of making an improper use of this faculty, which is one of the most common faults to which our nature is liable. Most men profess that they are guided by reason in forming their opinions; but if this were really the case, the world would not be overrun with error; there would not be so many absurd and dangerous opinions propagated and pertinaciously defended. In one sense, indeed, they may be said to follow reason, for they are guided by a blinded, prejudiced, and perverted reason.
One large class of men are accustomed, from a slight and superficial view of the important subject of religion, to draw a hasty conclusion, which must prove in the highest degree detrimental to their happiness. They have observed, that in the modern as well as ancient world, there is much superstition, much imposture, much diversity of opinion and variety of sects, many false pretences to Divine inspiration, and many false reports of miracles and prophetic oracles. Without giving themselves the trouble of searching diligently for the truth amidst the various contending claims, they draw a general conclusion that all religions are alike; that the whole affair is a cheat, the invention of cunning men who imposed on the credulity of the unthinking multitude: and that the claims to Divine Revelation do not even deserve a serious examination. Does right reason dictate such a conclusion as this? If it did, and we were to apply it to all other concerns, it would make a sad overturning in the business of the world. Truth, honesty, and honour might, on these principles, be discarded as unmeaning names; for of all these there have been innumerable counterfeits, and concerning all of them an endless diversity of opinion.
A second class, who profess to be men of reason, pay more attention to the subject of religion; but their reason is a prejudiced judge. They listen with eagerness to all that can be said against revelation. They read with avidity the books written against Christianity, and but too faithfully treasure up every objection to religion; but her advocates never obtain from them a fair hearing. They never inquire whether the arguments and objections which appear to them so strong, have not been refuted. With the means of conviction within their reach, they remain firmly fixed in their infidelity; and as long as they pursue this partial method of investigation, they must ever remain in the same darkness.
A third class, who wish to be considered as taking reason for their guide, are under the dominion of vicious passions; ambition, avarice, lust, or revenge. Men of this character, however strong their intellect, or extensive their erudition, can never reason impartially on any subject which interferes with the gratification of their predominant desires; and as religion forbids, under severe penalties, all irregular passions and vicious indulgences, they pursue it with malignant hatred. As one well observes, “they are against religion because religion is against them.” Such men never reason calmly on the subject, and they are incapable of receiving any benefit from the arguments of others. They never think of religion but with a feeling of enmity: they never speak of it out in the language of sneer or abuse. There is no object which this race of infidels have more at heart, than to root up every principle of religion from the minds of men, and to drive it from the earth, so that not one vestige of it may remain to give them torment. Voltaire may be considered as the leader of this band, and his humble imitators have been too numerous in every Christian country.
But there is still another class of men, more distinguished, as masters of reason, than those who have been mentioned. They are the cold, speculative, subtle skeptics, who involve themselves in a think mist of metaphysics, attack first principles, and confound their readers with paradoxes. The number of those who belong to this class is perhaps not large, but they are formidable; for while the other enemies of the truth scarcely make a show of reason, these philosophers are experienced in all the intricacies of a refined logic; so that in their hands error in made to appear in the guise of truth. Should we yield ourselves to the sophistry of these men, they will persuade us to doubt, not only of the truth of revelation, but of our senses and of our very existence. If it be inquired how they contrive to spread such a colouring of skepticism over every subject, the answer is, by artfully assuming false principles as the premises of their reasoning; by reasoning sophistically of correct principles; by the dexterous use of ambiguous terms; by pushing their inquires beyond the limits of human knowledge; and by calling in question the first principles of all knowledge. It is not easy to conjecture what their motive is; most probably it is vanity. They are ambitious of...