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not be said, after the ruin of the city, that the five porches subsisted. Vol. VI. p. 204. But, as Michaelis justly remarks, "Authors do not always weigh their words with such exactness as to warrant this inference." And we may add, that John frequently uses the present participle in the past sense; wv, for "was," iii. 13, ix. 25, xii. 7, and exwv, for "had," Rev. iv. 7, viii. 9, ix. 17,. xiii. 17, &c. with the most correct writers, ancient and modern.
Hence we are warranted to conclude, that the most probable dates of the canonical Gospels are,
The prevailing opinion of the primitive Fathers of the Church, as we have seen, was the plenary inspiration of all the Evangelists. Hence originated that high authority and veneration, in which they have ever been held by the orthodox, from the beginning. The doctrine of their inspiration, therefore, must not be hastily surrendered to ancient or modern infidels and heretics, making unfounded distinctions, and questioning what they cannot conceive; idly presuming to measure the depths of revelation by the scanty plummet of reason: while it equally concerns the interests of sober and rational religion, that the genuine nature, and scriptural limits of inspiration, should be carefully explained and correctly ascertained.
Its necessity in general is thus ably stated by Bishop Warburton, in his Doctrine of Grace, B. I. Ch. 5.
"The Apostles [and Evangelists] were fully gifted for the business of their mission: they worked miracles, they spake with tongues, they explained mysteries, they interpreted prophecies, they discerned the true from the false pretences to the Spirit: and all this for the temporary and occasional discharge of their ministry. Is it possible then, to suppose them to be deserted by their DIVINE ENLIGHTENER, when they sat down to the other and more important part of their work, to frame an [infallible] rule [of faith] for the lasting service of the Church? Can we believe, that THE SAME SPIRIT, who so bountifully
assisted them in their assemblies, had withdrawn himself when they retired to their private oratories [or closets?] or that when their "speech was with all power," their writings should convey no more than the weak and fallible dictates of human knowledge? -No candid man, therefore, will be backward to conclude, that whatever powers the Apostles [and Evangelists] had, for the temporary use of their ministry, they had, in at least as large a measure, for the perpetual service of the Church." B. I. Ch. 5.
And he represents the HOLY SPIRIT as having operated on the sacred writers, by "watching over them incessantly, but with so suspended a hand, as permitted the use, and left them to the guidance of their own faculties, while they kept clear of error; and then only interposing, when, without the Divine assistance, they would have been in danger of falling," Ch. 7.
The sacred writers, indeed, had various sources of information besides. They had their own experience and observation for many facts which they record; and the testimony of others, who were eye-witnesses and attendants of THE ORACLE, CHRIST; and they had authentic documents of history for many more; such as the genealogies, the Roman Census, the dates of John the Baptist's ministry, &c.
In such cases inspiration would have been superfluous. Nor is it by any means necessary to suppose, that the sacred writers were, on every occasion, favoured with immediate revelations, or direct communications with heaven; but rather, that acting under the same energetic influence which guided their preaching, ("we cannot but speak what we have seen and heard," Acts iv. 20,) they at "sundry times," and in "divers degrees" of illumination, committed to writing, the mysterious truths of the Gospel, which had been previously revealed to them; and of which they either retained, or were gifted with an accurate recollection. Such was the Apostle John's commission to write the Apocalypse, Rev. i. 1-19, and his Gospel also, as we learn from ecclesiastical history: and such, we may presume, from analogy, was that of the other Evangelists likewise; not making a difference, in the inspiration of the Apostles, Matthew and John, and of the Disciples, Luke and Mark; their Gospels being all equally dictated by ONE and THE SAME SPIRIT, dividing severally their allotted tasks to each, according to his own good pleasure, 1 Cor. xii. 11.
Even in cases of immediate revelation, we are warranted to conclude, that the plenary inspiration, for which we contend, with the primitive Church, related rather to the substance than to the language in which it was to be delivered to the world. The great object of Divine instruction, is things, not words. The subject-matter, or whatever concerned the thoughts, was most fully communicated to them; the expression or enunciation, was left, in great measure, to themselves. This was the grand distinction between the Jewish and Christian, and the Pagan Prophets; "the spirits," or "spiritual gifts" of the former, were" subject to the Prophets" themselves, or amenable to their controul, 1 Cor. xiv. 32; they had free agency, they might speak, or forbear, begin, or desist, when they pleased; they might even decline the task, like Jonah, and disobey the divine command; while the latter were usually entranced, and underwent a temporary suspension of their faculties. Even the celebrated prophecies of the heathen diviner, Balaam, were delivered, contrary to his usual mode of "vision and trance, when he sought for enchantments;" to mark their superior authority, as coming immediately from GOD himself, Numb. xxiv. 1—23.
In extraordinary cases, however, we may be assured, that the words were communicated by inspiration, as well as the matter: wherever the revelation was of such a sublime and abstruse nature, that it could not be understood by the Prophet himself; and that an improper expression might defeat the very design of the revelation, and convey an idea different from what was intended. Such were Jacob's prophecy of SHILOH; Moses' Song, or Divine Ode; Daniel's Seventy Weeks; CHRIST'S Prophecies, the Apocalyptic Prophecies, &c. Ezek. xx. 49, Dan. viii. 27, 1 Pet. i. 11.
But in ordinary cases THE SPIRIT seems to have left them at liberty to use their own expressions; this is both reasonable in itself, and conformable to the divine procedure in the whole economy of grace, which is to assist, not to supersede our natural powers; and it is rendered unquestionable by the writings themselves, which have the same characteristic differences of style that we find in other literary compositions. Sometimes also,
When Samuel the Prophet communicated to Sau' that he should be inspired, and turned into another man, still he advised him to act as occasion should serve, or to use his own discretion, which Saul accordingly did, 1 Sam. x. 6-16.
for greater clearness, the succeeding Evangelists were allowed even to alter the original terms of prophecy. A very remarkable instance of this kind occurs in our Lord's prophecies respecting the destruction of Jerusalem; the last sign, or prognostic of which, was “when they should see the abomination of desolation, foretold by Daniel the Prophet, standing in the Holy Place," Matt. xxiv. 15. But for the benefit of those who might "read," but could not "understand" that mysterious expression, denoting the "idolatrous and desolating standards” of the Romans; the next Evangelist clearly explained its meaning"when they should see Jerusalem surrounded by encampments," (σTpaTOTTεdolç,) Luke xxi. 20. This deviation from OUR LORD's prophetic expression, furnishes a sufficient voucher for Luke's inspiration: for surely otherwise he would not have dared, not only to alter the terms of the prophecy, but even to put the alteration in CHRIST's mouth, without "the guidance" of the HOLY SPIRIT into "all the truth," or meaning thereof.
While we hold fast, however, the plenary inspiration of the Apostles and Evangelists, respecting the matter of their compositions, we are not bound to contend for that of every word and particle, like the superstitious Jews, for every "jot and tittle" of their Masorete Hebrew Bible; because such scrupulousness is neither reasonable nor necessary. For example, when Paul directed Timothy " to take a little wine for his stomach's sake," 1 Tim. v. 23, and " to bring the letter-case *, books, and parchments, from Troas," 2 Tim. iv. 13, we see no occasion, in such ordinary cases, for a special interposition of THE HOLY SPIRIT. And indeed, this great Apostle, elsewhere is careful to distinguish what "he spake" or wrote of himself, by " permission,” from what," by command" of the HOLY SPIRIT, 1 Cor. vi. 6. Yet even such passages, though not of equal importance with the mysterious truths, or moral and religious precepts of the Gospel, may be occasionally instructive and useful, for the regulation of our diet, and of our studies. The former recommending a prudent attention to our health, in opposition to the abstinences and mortifications of hermits and fanatics; the latter
* λovηy, here, is improperly rendered "cloke," (as if it were corruptly put for the Latin φαινόλη, Panula.) Hesychius explains it by ἡλατηριον, (i. e. εἱλατηριον) μεμβραινον, η γλωσσοκομον, a parchment covering, or a letter-case." And Lex. Reg. MS. explains γλωσσοκομον-ενθα τα βιβλια εκειντο, "where the small books (or papers) lay."
teaching us, by the example even of this most highly gifted Apostle, to whom was " expressly revealed the mystery of the Gospel" in its fullest extent, Eph. iii. 3, not to undervalue nor despise, with some illiterate enthusiasts, the adventitious aids of human learning; and who also, in addition to his masterly instructions, advised his favourite pupil, Timothy, " to attend to reading" as well as "to exhortation and doctrine," for his own improvement, as well as that of his hearers, 1 Tim. iv. 13-16.
The spiritual gifts of the writers of the NEW TESTAMENT, appear to have been higher in general than those of the OLD. To the former, inspiration is attributed, to the latter, that fuller measure of it also, called illumination. Ilaoa yрapn JeoπvEVσTоç*, may more closely be rendered, " every scripture-prophecy is divinely inspired," 2 Tim. iii. 16, for this is the usual acceptation of yoapn, by OUR LORD and his Apostles, applying it to the OLD TESTAMENT, before the publication of the written GOSPEL, Luke iv. 21, xxiv. 27, John xix. 36, 37, Rom. i. 1, 2, &c. whereas, the Apostles and Evangelists were not only "inspired," Rom. viii. 23, 1 Cor. ii. 16, vii. 40, 1 Thess. iv. 8, 1 John iii. 24, Rev. i. 10, Acts ii. 4, v. 31, &c. but also "illuminated," Eph. i. 18. with "the illumination of the Gospel," 2 Cor. iv. 4-6, or 2 Tim. i. 10, "with the word of wisdom," as distinguished from "the word of knowledge," 1 Cor. xii. 8.
The curious reader may see much useful information collected on this mysterious but important subject, in Van Mildert's excellent Sermons at Boyle's Lecture, and learned Notes, Vol. II. Serm. XXIII. and Appendix, p. 85, &c. and also in Campbell's Preliminary Dissertations on the Gospels, Vol. I. p. 24, &c.
Though the Evangelists were unlettered and private persons," neither trained in the schools of the synagogue, nor "scribes, doctors, nor Pharisees, who sat in Moses' seat," as public and authorized teachers, Acts iv. 13, they were by no means grossly ignorant or illiterate, as they have been misrepresented. They were well read in the OLD TESTAMENT, and
• This expression is well explained by πασα προφητεια γραφης, " every prophecy of Scripture" in the excellent commentary of Peter, 2 Pet. 20, 21, who declared that in the Epistles of his brother Paul were 66 some things hard to be understood," which the unlearned and unstable, wrested (as they did also the other Scripture-prophecies,)" to their own destruction," 2 Pet. iii. 16.