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these remarkable words : “ These are the volumes which the fathers have included in the canon, and out of which they would have us prove the doctrine of our faith *."
* Lardner, Cred. vol. X. p. 187.
These propositions cannot be predicated of
any of those books which are commonly called Apocryphal Books of the New Testament.
I do not know that the objection taken from apocryphal writings is at present much relied upon by scholars. But there are many, who, hearing that various gospels existed in ancient times under the names of the apostles, may have taken up a notion, that the selection of our present Gospels from the rest, was rather an arbitrary or accidental choice, than founded in any clear and certain cause of preference. To these it may be very useful to know the truth of the case. I observe, therefore,
I. That, beside our Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, no Christian history, claiming to be written by an apostle or apostolical man, is quoted within three hundred years
after the birth of Christ, by any writer now extant, or known; or, if quoted, is not quoted but with marks of censure and rejection.
I have not advanced this assertion without inquiry; and I doubt not, but that the passages cited by Mr
cited by Mr Jones and Dr Lardner, under the several titles which the apocryphal books bear; or a reference to the places where they are mentioned, as collected in a very accurate table, published in the year 1773, by the Rev.J. Atkinson, will make out the truth of the proposition to the satisfaction of every fair and competent judgment. If there be any book which may seem to form an exception to the observation, it is a Hebrew Gospel, which was circulated under the various titles of the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, of the Ebionites, sometimes called of the Twelve, by some ascribed to Saint Matthew. This Gospel is once, and only once, cited by Clement Alexandrinus, who lived, the reader will remember, in the latter part of the second century, and which same Clement quotes one or other of our four Gospels in almost every page of his work. It is also twice mentioned by Origen.
A. D. 230; and both times with marks of diminution and discredit. And this is the ground upon which the exception stands. But what is still more material to observe is, that this Gospel, in the main, agreed with our present gospel of Saint Matthew*.
Now if, with this account of the
apocryphal Gospels, we compare what we have read concerning the canonical Scriptures in the preceding sections; or even recollect that general but well-founded assertion of Dr Lardner, “ That in the remaining works of Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, who all lived in the first two centuries, there are more and larger quotations of the small volume of the New Testament, than of all the works of Cicero, by writers of all characters, for several ages to;"
* In applying to this Gospel, what Jerome in the latter end of the fourth century has mentioned of a Hebrew Gos. pel, I think it probable that we sometimes confound it with a Hebrew copy of Saint Matthew's Gospel, whether an original or version, which was then extant.
+ Lardner, Cred. vol. xii. p. 53.
and if to this we add, that, notwithstanding the loss of many works of the primitive times of Christianity, we have, within the abovementioned period, the remains of Christian writers, who lived in Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, the part of Africa that used the Latin tongue, in Crete, Greece, Italy, and Gaul, in all which remains, references are found to our evangelists; I apprehend, that we shall perceive a clear and broad line of division, between those writings, and all others pretending to similar authority.
II. But beside certain histories which assumed the names of Apostles, and which were forgeries properly so called, there were some other Christian writings, in the whole or in part of an historical nature, which, though not forgeries, are denominated apocryphal, as being of uncertain or of no authority.
: Of this second class of writings, I have found only two which are noticed by any author of the first three centuries, without express terms of condemnation, and these áre, the one, a book entitled the Preaching