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they have all come down to us unmutilated, in the original tongue in which they were penned by the Apostles.
Our liveliest gratitude is due to the great Head of the Church for this divine treasure, from which we are permitted freely to draw whatever is needful for our instruction and consolation. And it is our duty to prize this precious gift of divine revelation above all price. On the Law of the Lord, we should meditate day and night. It is a perfect rule—it shines with a clear light—it exercises a salutary influence on the heart—it warns us when we are in danger-reclaims us when we go astray-and comforts us when in affliction. The word of the Lord is “more to be desired than gold, yea,
than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and the honeycomb." They who are destitute of this inestimable volume, call for our tenderest compassion; and our exertions in circulating the Bible should never be remitted, until all are supplied with this divine treasure; but they who possess this Sacred Volume, and yet neglect to study it, are still more to be pitied, for they are perishing in the midst of plenty. In the midst of light, they walk in darkness. God has sent to them the word of life, but they have lightly esteemed the rich gift of his love. O that their eyes were opened, that they might behold wondrous things in the Law of the Lord!
ORDER OF THE BOOKS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT TIME OF THE GOSPELS BEING
WRITTEN-NOTICE OF THE EVANGELISTS.
The order of the books of the New Testament is not uniform in the Manuscripts now extant, nor are they mentioned by the Fathers. Eusebius arranges them thus:- The four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of John, and the Revelation of John. " These,” says he, “were received (except the last-mentioned) by all Christians.” Then he mentions those which were not unanimously received; as, the Epistle of James, the Epistle of Jude, the Second of Peter, and the Second and Third of John.
* Ps. xix, 10.
the books omitted, or represented as doubtful, were received as authentic by the persons who have given the catalogues. . It may be asserted, therefore, that the consent of the ancient church, as to what books belonged to the Canon of the New Testament, was complete. The Sacred Volume was as accurately formed, and as clearly distinguished from other books, in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, as it has ever been since.
2. Let it be considered, moreover, that the earliest of these catalogues was given by ORIGEN, who lived within a hundred years of the death of the Apostle John, and who, by his reading, travels, and long residence in Palestine, had a full knowledge of all the transactions and writings of the church, until his own time. In connexion with this, let it be remembered, that these catalogues were drawn up by the most learned, pious, and distinguished men in the church, or by Councils; and that the persons furnishing them, resided in different and remote parts of the world; as, for example, in Jerusalem, Cesaræa, Carthage, and Hippo in Africa, Constantinople, Cyprus, Alexandria in Egypt, Italy, and Asia Minor. Thus, it appears that the Canon was early agreed upon, and that it was every where the same; therefore, we find the Fathers, in all their writings, appealing to the same Scriptures; and none are charged with rejecting any Canonical book, except heretics. 3. It appears
from the testimony adduced, that it was never considered necessary, that any council
, or bishop, should give sanction to these books, in any other way than as witnesses, testifying to the churches, that these were indeed the genuine writings of the Apostles. These books, therefore, were never considered as deriving their authority from the church, or from councils, but were of complete authority as soon as published, and were delivered to the churches to be a guide and standard in all things relating to faith and practice. The Fathers would have considered it impious, for any bishop, or council
, to pretend to add any thing to the authority of inspired books; or to claim the right to add other books to those handed down from the Apostles. The church is founded on the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone; but the Sacred Scriptures are noways dependent for their authority on any set of men who lived since they were written.
4. We may remark, in the last place, the benignant providence of God towards his church, in causing these precious books to be written, and in watching over their preservation, in the midst of dangers and persecutions; so that, notwithstanding the malignant designs of the enemies of the church, tament were usually included in two divisions, or volumes; the first containing the Gospels; the second, the Acts and the Epistles; the book of Revelation being omitted.
Chrysostom follows an order which appears to be peculiar: he places first, the fourteen Epistles of Paul; next, the four Gospels; then the Acts; and in the last place, the Catholic Epistles. Gelasius places Revelation before the Catholic Epistles.
The Apostolical Canon, as it is called, contains the following catalogue: The four Gospels, fourteen Epistles of Paul, seven Catholic Epistles, two Epistles of Clement, the Constitutions, and the Acts. If this were, indeed, the genuine Canon of the Apostles, as the title imports, it would be decisive, and all other authorities would be superfluous; but it is acknowledged by all good critics, that it is spurious, and of no authority in settling the early Canon.
The order of the four Gospels has generally been, as in our copies, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Irenæus, Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, the Council of Laodicea, Gregory Nazianzen, Amphilochius, the Syrian Catalogues, Jerome, Rufin, Augustine, the Alexandrian Manuscript, with most others, agree in this order.
But that this order was not uniform, appears from Tertullian, who arranges them thus—Matthew, John, Luke, Mark. And the same order of the Gospels is followed in the very ancient Manuscript, commonly called Codex Cantabrigiensis.
There is very little variation observed in the arrangement of Paul's Epistles; they are generally found in the same order as we have them in our copies; but this is not universally the case—for in some copies, the Epistle to the Hebrews occupies the fourteenth place among Paul's Epistles, and in others the tenth. But in all copies, the Epistle to the Romans stands first, though not first in the order of time.
With respect to the time when the Gospels were written, no precise information can be obtained, as ancient authors differ considerably on the subject. It seems to be agreed, however, that they were not published immediately after the ascension of Christ, nor all at the same time. The best thing which we can do, is to place before the reader the principal testimonies of the Fathers, and leave him to judge for himself.*
The earliest writer who says any thing explicitly on this subject, is IRENÆUS; but he does not inform us what time inter
• The testimonies here adduced are, for the most part, selected from the Collections of Lardner, to whose works the reader is referred.
vened between the resurrection of Christ, and the writing of these Gospels. His words are, “For we have not received the knowledge of the way of salvation, from any others than those by whom the Gospel has been brought to us; which Gospel they first preached, and afterwards, by the will of God, committed to writing, that for time to come it might be the foundation and pillar of our faith. Nor may any say that they preached before they had a competent knowledge of the Gospel; for after that our Lord rose from the dead, and they (the Apostles) were endued from above, with the power of the Holy Ghost, which had come down upon them, they received a perfect knowledge of all things. They went forth to all the ends of the earth, declaring to men the blessing of heavenly peace; having all of them, and every one of them, the Gospel of God.”
Now, let it be considered, that Irenæus was the disciple of Polycarp, who was the disciple of the Apostle John; and this testimony will have great weight in confirming the fact, that the Gospels were written by the Apostles, some time after they began to preach; and that, wherever the apostles went, they preached the same Gospel to the people.
EUSEBIUS, to whom we are obliged so often to have recourse, as a witness of ancient ecclesiastical facts, does not fail us here: “ Those admirable and truly divine men,” says he, “the Apostles of Christ, did not attempt to deliver the doctrine of their Master with the artifice and eloquence of words. . . . Nor were they concerned about writing books, being engaged in a more excellent ministry, which is above all human power. Insomuch that Paul, the most able of all, in the furniture of words and ideas, has left nothing in writing but a few Epistles.—Nor were the rest of our Saviour's followers unacquainted with these things, as the Seventy Disciples, and many others, besides the Twelve Apostles. Nevertheless, of all the Disciples of our Lord, Matthew and John only have left us any Memoirs; who, also, as we have been informed, were impelled to write, by a kind of necessity.
THEODORE of Mopsuesta, who lived in the latter part of the fourth century, has left us the following testimony:-“ After the Lord's ascension to heaven, the Disciples staid a good while at Jerusalem, visiting the cities in the vicinity, and preaching chiefly to the Jews; and the great Paul was appointed openly to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
“In process of Divine Providence, they, not being allowed to confine themselves to any one part of the
earth, were conducted to remote countries. Peter went to Rome; the others.
elsewhere. John took up his abode at Ephesus, visiting, however, other parts of Asia. ... About this time, the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, published their Gospels, which were soon spread over the world, and were received by all the faithful with great regard. That numerous Christians in Asia having brought these Gospels to John, earnestly entreated him to write a further account of such things as were needful to be known, and had been omitted by the rest; with which request he complied.”
By divers Christian writers of antiquity, it has been asserted, that Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, at the earnest request of the brethren at Rome, wrote a short Gospel, according to what he had heard related by Peter. This testimony, among others, is given by JEROME, in his book of Illustrious Men.
It is probable, that Peter did not visit Rome before the reign of Nero; perhaps, not until Paul had returned a second time to that city, which must have been as late as the year A.D. 63, or 64. Now, as the brethren requested of Mark to give them, in writing, the substance of Peter's preaching, his Gospel could not have been written at an earlier period. And it would seem, if this fact be undoubted, that they had, until this time, never seen a written Gospel; and, probably, did not know that there was one in existence.
The Jewish war, according to Josephus, began in the year of our Lord 66, and ended in September of the year 70; when the city and temple were brought to desolation. Now, there is strong probable evidence, that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, were finished before this war commenced; that is, before the year of our Lord 66.
Each of them contains the predictions of our Lord, respecting the destruction of Jerusalem; and there is no hint in any of them, that the remarkable events connected with this overthrow had begun to make their appearance. But there are some expressions in these Gospels, which probably indicate that the writers thought that these wonderful events were at hand: Such as the following admonition—“Let him that readeth, understand.”
It is certain, that the Acts of the Apostles could not have been finished before A.D. 62, or 63, because the history which it contains comes down to that time. The Gospel by Luke, was probably written a short time before; at least, this seems to be the common opinion of learned men. Jerome supposes that he composed his Gospel at Rome; Grotius thinks, that