Page images
PDF
EPUB

generally unacquainted with Hebrew literature, and finding all these books in Greek, and frequently bound up in the same volume as the Canonical Scriptures, and observing that they contained excellent rules for the direction of life and the regulation of morals, they sometimes referred to them, and cited passages from them, and permitted them to be read in the church, for the instruction and edification of the people.

But the more learned of the Fathers, who examined into the authority of the sacred books with unceasing diligence, clearly marked the distinction between such books as were Canonical, and such as were merely human compositions. And some of them even disapproved of the reading of these Apocryphal books by the people; and some councils warned the churches against them. It was with this single view that so many catalogues of the Canonical books were prepared and published.

Notwithstanding that we have taken so much pains to show that the books called Apocryphal are not Canonical, we wish to avoid the opposite extreme of regarding them as useless or injurious. Some of these books are important for the historical information which they contain; and especially as the facts recorded in them are, in some instances, the fulfilment of remarkable prophecies.

Others of them are replete with sacred, moral, and prudential maxims, very useful to aid in the regulation of life and manners; but even with these are interspersed sentiments which are not perfectly accordant with the word of God. In short, these books are of very different value; but, in the best of them, there is so much error and imperfection, as to convince us that they are human productions, and should be used as such; not as an infallible rule, but as useful helps in the attainment of knowledge and in the practice of virtue. Therefore, when we would exclude them from a place in the Bible, we would not proscribe them as unfit to be read; but we would: have them published in a separate volume, and studied much more carefully than they commonly have been.

And while we would dissent from the practice of reading lessons from these books, as Scriptural lessons are read in the church, we would cordially recommend the frequent perusal, in private, of the first of Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, and, above all, Ecclesiasticus.

It is a dishonour to God, and a disparagement of his word, to place other books, in any respect, on a level with the Divine Oracles; but it is a privilege to be permitted to have access to the writings of men, eminent for their wisdom and piety,

And it is also a matter of curious instruction to learn what were the opinions of men in ages long past, and in countries far remote.*

SECTION VI.

NO CANONICAL BOOK OF THE OLD TESTAMENT HAS BEEN LOST.

On this subject, there has existed some diversity of opinion. Chrysostom is cited by Bellarmine as saying, “ 'That many of the writings of the prophets had perished, which may readily be proved from the history in Chronicles. For the Jews were negligent; and not only negligent, but impious; so that some books were lost through carelessness, and others were burned, or otherwise destroyed.”

In confirmation of this opinion, an appeal is made to ! Kings, iv, 32, 33, where it is said of Solomon, “ That he spake three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.” All these productions, it is acknowledged, have perished.

Again it is said in 1 Chron. xxix, 29, 30: “ Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer; with all his reign, and his might, and the times that went over him, and over Israel, and over all the kingdoms of the countries.” The book of Jasher, also, is twice mentioned in Scripture. In Joshua, x, 13, “ And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves on their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher?” And in 2 Sam. i, 18, “ Also he bade them teach the children of Israel the use of the bow: behold it is written in the book of Jasher.”

The book of The Wars of the Lord is referred to in Num. xxi, 14.

* Note H.

But we have in the Canon no books under the name of Nathan and Gad, nor any book of Jasher, nor of the Wars of the Lord.

Moreover, we frequently are referred in the Sacred History to other Chronicles or Annals, for a fuller account of the matters spoken of, which Chronicles are not now extant.

And in 2 Chron. ix, 29, it is said, “ Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat?" Now it is well known that none of these writings of the prophets are in the Canon; at least none of them under their names.

It is said also in 2 Chron. xii, 15, “ Now the acts of Rehoboam, first and last, are they not written in the book of Shemaiah the prophet, and of Iddo the seer, concerning genealogies?? Of which works nothing remains under the names of these prophets.

1. The first observation which I would make on this subject is, that every book referred to, or quoted in the sacred writings, is not necessarily an inspired or Canonical book. Because Paul cites passages from the Greek poets, it does not follow that we must receive their poems as inspired.

2. A book may be written by an inspired man, and yet be neither inspired nor Canonical. Inspiration was not constantly afforded to the prophets, but was occasional, and for particular important purposes. In common matters, and especially in things noways connected with religion, it is reasonable to suppose that the prophets and apostles were left to the same guidance of reason and common sense as other men. A man, therefore, inspired to deliver some prophecy, or even to write a Canonical book, might write other books with no greater assistance than other

good men receive. Because Solomon was inspired to write some Canonical books, it does not follow that what he wrote on natural history was also inspired. The Scriptures, however, do not say that his three thousand proverbs, and his discourses on natural history, were ever committed to writing. It only says that he spake these things. But

supposing that all these discourses were committed to writing, which is not improbable, there is not the least reason for believing that they were inspired, any more than Solomon's private letters to his friends, if ever he wrote any. Let it be remembered that the prophets and apostles were only inspired on special occasions, and on particular subjects, and all difficul

D

thesis as on any

ties respecting such works as these will vanish. How many of the books referred to in the Bible, and mentioned above, may have been of this description, it is now impossible to tell; but probably several of them belong to this class. No doubt there were many books of Annals much more minute and

particular in the narration of facts, than those which we have. It was often enough to refer to these state papers, or public documents, as being sufficiently correct in regard to the facts on account of which the reference was made. There is nothing derogatory to the word of God, in the supposition that the books of Kings and Chronicles, which we have in the Canon, were compiled by the inspired prophets from these public records. All that is necessary for us is, that the facts are truly related; and this could be as infallibly secured on this hypo

other. The book of The Wars of the Lord might, for ought that appears, have been merely a muster-roll of the army. The word translated book has so extensive a meaning in Hebrew, that it is not even necessary to suppose that it was a writing at all. The book of Jasher (or of Rectitude, if we translate the word) might have been some useful compend taken from Scripture, or composed by the wise, for the regulation of justice and equity between man and man.

AUGUSTINE, in his City of God, has distinguished accurately on this subject. “ I think,” says he, “ that those books which should have authority in religion were revealed by the Holy Spirit, and that men composed others by historical diligence, as the prophets did these by inspiration. And these two classes of books are so distinct, that it is only by those written by inspiration that we are to suppose that God, through them, is speaking unto us. The one class is useful for fulness of knowledge; the other for authority in religion; in which authority the Canon is preserved.”

3. But again, it may be maintained, without any prejudice to the completeness of the Canon, that there may have been inspired writings which were not intended for the instruction of the church in all ages, but composed by the prophets for some special occasion. These writings, though inspired, were not Canonical. They were temporary in their design, and when that was accomplished, they were no longer needed. We know that the prophets delivered, by inspiration, many discourses to the people, of which we have not a trace on record. Many true prophets are mentioned who wrote nothing that we know of; and several are mentioned whose names are not even given. The same is true of the apostles. Very few of them had any concern in writing the Canonical Scriptures, and yet they all possessed plenary inspiration. And if they wrote letters on special occasions, to the churches planted by them, yet these were not designed for the perpetual instruction of the universal church. Therefore Shemaiah, and Iddo, and Nathan, and Gad, might have written some things by inspiration, which were never intended to form a part of the Sacred Volume. It is not asserted that there certainly existed such temporary inspired writings; all that is necessary to be maintained is, that supposing such to have existed, which is not improbable, it does not follow that the Canon is incomplete by reason of their loss. As this opinion may be startling to some who have not thoroughly considered it, I will call in to its support the opinions of some distinguished Theologians. “ It has been observed,” says FRANCIS JUNIUS, “that it is one thing to call a book sacred, another to say that it is Canonical; for every book was sacred which was edited by a prophet or apostle; but it does not follow that every such sacred book is Canonical, and was designed for the whole body of the church. For example, it is credible that Isaiah the Prophet wrote many things, as a prophet, which were truly inspired; but those writings only were Canonical which God consecrated to the treasure of the church, and which, by special direction, were added to the public Canon. Thus, Paul and the other apostles may have written many things, by divine inspiration, which are not now extant, but those only are Canonical which were placed in the Sacred Volume for the use of the universal church: which Canon received the approbation of the apostles, especially of John, who so long presided over the churches in Asia.”*

The evangelical Witsius, of an age somewhat later, delivers his opinion on this point in the following manner:“ No one I think can doubt but that all the apostles, in the diligent exercise of their office, wrote frequent letters to the churches under their care, when they could not be present with them, and to whom they might often wish to communicate some instruction necessary for them in the circumstances in which they were placed. It would seem to me to be injurious to the reputation of those faithful and assiduous men, to suppose that not one of them ever wrote any epistle, or addressed to a church any writing, except those few whose epistles are in the Canon. Now, as Peter, and Paul, and James, and John, were induced to write to the churches on account

Explic. In Num. xxi.

*

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »