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In compliance with a custom, which is not without its advantages, I purpose, in this place, to lay before the reader some account of the following Work, its rise and progress, nature and design. To do so will perhaps be thought the more necessary, as there have been in this and the preceding century many publications on the Gospels, both abroad and at home, in some or other of which, it may be supposed, that all the observations of any consequence which can be offered here must have been anticipated, and the subject in a manner exhausted. I am not of opinion that the subject can be so easily exhausted as some may suppose: I do not even think it possible for the richest imagination to preclude all scope for further remark, or for the greatest acuteness to supersede all future criticism. On the other hand, it must be owned possible, that a man may write copiously on a subject, without adding to the stock of knowledge provided by those who wrote before him, or saying any thing which has not been already as well, or perhaps better said by others. How far this is applicable to the present publication, must be submitted to the judicious and intelligent reader. In the mean time it may be hoped, that it will not be judged an unfair attempt at bespeaking bis favor, to give him a brief account of the origin and preparation of the Work now offered to his examination.
As far back as the year 1750, soon after I had gotten the charge of a country parish, I first formed the design of collecting such useful criticisms on the text of the New Testament, as should either occur to my own observation, or as I should meet with in the course of my reading ; particularly, to take notice of such proposed alterations on the manner of translating the words of the original, as appeared not only defensible in themselves, but to yield a better meaning, or at least to express the meaning with more perspicuity or energy. Having for this purpose provided a folio paper book, which I divided into pages and columns, corresponding to the pages and columns of the Greek New Testament which I commonly used, I wrote down there, in the proper place, as they occurred, such alterations on the translation as in my judgment tended to improve it, and could be rationally supported. And having divided the pages in the middle, I allotted the upper part of each for the version, and Vol. I.
the lower for scholiu, or notes containing the reasons (wherever it appeared necessary to specify reasons) of the changes introduced. In this way I proceeded many years, merely for my own improvement, and that I might qualify myself for being more useful to the people intrusted to my care. I did not assign to this occupation any stated portion of my time, but recurred to it occasionally, when any thing occurred in reading, or offered itself to my reflections, which appeared to throw light on any passage of the New Testament.
Things proceeded in this train till I found I had made a new version of a considerable part of that book, particularly of the Gospels. The scholia I had added were indeed very brief, being intended only to remind me of the principal reasons on which my judgment of the different passages had been founded. But soon after, from a change of circumstances and situation, having occasion to turn my thoughts more closely to scriptural criticism than formerly, entered into a minute examination of many points concerning which I had thrown together some hints in my collection. On some of the points examined I have found reason to change my first opinion, on others I have been confirmed in the judgment 1 had adopted. I have always laid it down as a rule in my researches, to divest myself as much as possible of an excessive deference to the judgment of men; and I think that in my attempts this way I have not been unsuccessful. I am even confident enough to say, that I can with justice apply to myself the words of the poet
Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri ; or rather the words of one much greater than he—I have learnt, in things spiritual, to “call no man Master upon earth.” At the same time that I have been careful to avoid an implicit deference to the judgment of any man, I have been ready to give a patient hearing and impartial examination to reason and argument, from what qua ter soever it proceeded. That a man differs from me on some articles, has given me no propensity to reject his sentiments on other articles; neither does the concurrence of his sentiments with mine on some points, make me prone to admit his sentiments on others. Truth I have always sought, (now there is no respect of persons in this pursuit ;) and if a man may pronounce safely on what passes within his own breast, I am warranted to say I have sought it in the love of truth.
It must be acknowledged, that though a blind attachment to certain favorite names has proved, to the generality of mankind, a copious source of error, an overweening conceit of their own reason has not proved less effectual in seducing many who affect to be considered as rational inquirers. In these I have often observed a fundamental mistake, in relation to the proper province of the reasoning faculty. With them, reason is held the standard of truth ; whereas it is, primarily, no more than the test or the touchstone of evidence, and in a secondary sense only the standard of truth. Now the difference between these two, however little it may appear on a superficial view, is very great. When God revealed his will to men, he gave them sufficient evidence, that the information conveyed to them by his ministers was a revelation from him. And it cannot be justly doubted, that, without such evidence, their unbelief and rejection of his ministers would have been without guilt. “ The works,” said our Lord," which the Father hath given me to finish, bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me,” John 5:36. And again, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin," John 15: 24. His works were sufficient evidence that what he taught was by commission from God; and without such evidence, he acknowledges their unbelief would have been blameless : whereas, on the contrary, having gotten such evidence, there was nothing further they were entitled to, and consequently their disbelief was inexcusable.
Some modern rationalists will say, 'Is not the subject itself submitted to the rest of reason, as well as the evidence?' It is readily granted, that a subject may be possessed of such characters as are sufficient ground of rejecting it in point of evidence, and is therefore, in this respect, submitted to the test of reason.
If any thing were affirmed that is self-contradictory, or any thing enjoined that is immoral, we have such internal evidence that nothing of this sort can proceed from the Father of lights and the Fountain of good, as all the external proofs which could be produced on the other side would never be able to surmount. . The proofs, in that case, might confound, but could not rationally convince, the understanding. We may, for example, venture to assert, that no conceivable evidence from without could render the theology of Hesiod or Homer in any degree credible. Thus far, therefore, it will be allowed, that reason is entitled to examine and judge concerning the subject itself: for there may be something in the subject that may serve as evidence, either in its favor or against it. At the same time it must be owned, that, the more the subject is above the things which commonly fall under the discussion of our faculties, the narrower is the range of our reason; insomuch, that in things so far beyond our reach, as those may be supposed to be which are conveyed by revelation from God, there is hardly any internal character that can be considered as sufficient to defeat a claim, otherwise well supported, but either, as has been said, absurdity or immorality.
Now, here lies the principal difference between the impartial seekers of truth, whose minds are unbiassed on every side, and those who, under the appearance of exalting human reason, idolize all their own conceptions and prejudices. I speak not of those who reject revelation altogether ; but of those who, whilst they admit the truth of the Christian revelation in general, consider their own reason as competent to determine, and prejudge, as I may say, what is fit for God, either to declare as truth, or to command as duty. Such people, for example, if they do not discover an useful purpose that any particular declaration in Scripture can answer, boldly conclude, in defiance of the clearest positive evidence, that it is not there : if they cannot divine the intention of Providence in the production of any being, or order of beings, of which there may be frequent mention in holy writ, they infer that such being, or order of beings, notwithstanding the notice there taken of them, does not exist. They will not admit the reality of an operation, of which they do not perfectly comprehend the manner, though the former may be a matter clearly revealed in Scripture, the latter not. Now the rejection of the aid of reason altogether, . (the common error of fanatics of every denomination), and such a conviction as that now described of its all-sufficiency, are extremes which the judicious but humble-minded Christian will think it incumbent on him equally to guard against.
Indeed those deifiers of human reason, of whom I have been speaking, seem all the while to mistake the proper province of reason : They proceed on the supposition, that from her own native stock, she is qualified for the discovery of truth-of all such truths, at least, as are of any consequence to a man to be acquainted with. The fact is nearly the reverse ; for, except those things which
within our own minds, and which we learn solely from what is called consciousness, and except the deductions made from self-evident or mathematical axioms, all our information relating to fact, or existence of any kind, is from without. Hence all our knowledge of arts, sciences, languages; of history, philosophy, and every thing in which human life is concerned. Do I, by this, mean to depreciate human reason as a thing of little consequence ? Far from it. Reason, I am sensible, is absolutely necessary to render us capable of that information from without, by which we are enabled to make so great progress in knowledge. For want of this power entirely, or at least in the requisite degree, how little, comparatively, is the greatest knowledge which the most sagacious of the brute creation can attain? I cannot, therefore, be justly thought to derogate from a faculty which, by my hypothesis, constitutes the radical distinction between man and beast. Would a man be understood to depreciate that admirable organ of the body, the eye, because he affirmed, that unless the world, which is without the body, furnished us with light, our eyes could be of no service to us ?' Reason is the eye of the mind : it is in consequence of our possessing it, that we are susceptible either of religion or of
law. Now the light by which the mental eye is informed comes also from without, and consists chiefly in testimony, human or divine.
I would recommend it to those who are accounted the most refined rationalists in religion, to take the trouble to reflect a little, and inquire what is the method which they, and indeed all, must follow, in the acquisition of human knowledge. In natural history, for example, how insignificant would be our progress, if our conviction were to be regulated by the same maxims by which those men seem to regulate their faith in matters of revelation ? If our not knowing the use of any thing were a sufficient reason for disbelieving its existence, how many animals, how many vegetables, how many inanimate substances, apparently useless, or even noxious, should we discard out of our systems of nature, inflexibly denying that they exist any where except in the disordered imaginations of men ? Nor should we make greater proficiency in the other branches of science. Of nothing have we clearer evidence than of this, that, by means of the food which animals swallow, life is preserved, the body is nourished, the limbs gradually advance in strength and size to their full maturity. Yet, where is the philosopher, where is the chemist, who can explain, or will pretend to understand, the process whereby the nourishment is converted into chyle, and the chyle into blood, and the blood into skin, and flesh, and bones, and sinews?
Now if, in matters of science merely human, our ignorance of the use in the one case, and of the manner of operation in the other, does not preclude our belief of the fact, a belief which ultimately rests in most cases, on the testimony of our fellow-creatures ; can we think it reasonable to be more shy of admitting a fact on the testimony of God, when, in effect, we admit that sufficient ground is given us to conclude that we have his testimony? For I do not here argue with the deniers of revelation, but with those who, professing to believe it, reject its obvious meaning. Are we better acquainted with things divine than with things human? or with things eternal than with things temporal ? Our Lord, in his conversation with Nicodemus, seemed to consider it as an acknowledged truth, that things earthly are more level to the natural capacity of man than things heavenly; John 3: 12. Yet how soon would an effectual stop be put to our progress in every branch, even of earthly science, were we to lay down as maxims, that the existence of any being, however well attested, whereof we cannot discover the use, is not to be believed; and that the production of an effect, if we do not comprehend the mode of operation in the cause, is incredible? The much greater part of all human knowledge, whether of things corporeal or things spiritual, things terrestrial or things celestial, is originally from information. Revelation means no other than information from God; and whatever human know