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V. If the ascription of the Gospels to their res spective authors had been arbitrary or conjectural, they would have been ascribed to more eminent
This observation holds concerning the first three Gospels, the reputed authors of which were enabled, by their situation, to obtain true intelligence, and were likely to deliver an honest account of what they knew, but were persons not distinguished in the history by extraordinary marks of notice or commendation. Of the apostles, I hardly know any one of whom less is said than of Matthew, or of whom the little that is said, is less calculated to magnify his character. Of Mark, nothing is said in the Gospels ; and what is said of any person of that name in the Acts, and in the Epistles, in no part bestows praise or eminence upon him. The name of Luke is mentioned only in Saint Paul's Epistles,* and very transiently. The judgment, therefore, which assigned these writings to these authors proceeded, it may be pre. sumed, upon proper knowledge and evidence, and not upon a voluntary choice of names.
VI. Christian writers and Christian churches appear to have soon arrived at a very general agreement upon the subject, and that without the interposition of any public authority. When the diversity of opinion, which prevailed, and prevails among Christians in other points, is considered, their concurrence in the canon of Scripture is re. markable, and of great weight, especially as it seems to have been the result of private and free inquiry. We have no knowledge of any interference of authority in the question, before the council of Laodicea in the year 363. Probably the decree of this council rather declared than regulated the public judgment, or, more properly speaking, the judgment of some neighbouring churches;
other ancient writer mentions it. He also, and he alone, lotices, and that in order to condemn it, an epistle ascribed to Christ by the Manichees, A. D. 270, and a short bymn attributed to him by the Priscillianists, A. D. 378. (cont. Faust. Man. lib. xxviii. c. 4.) The lateness of the writer who notices these things, the manner in which he notices them, and, above all, the silence of every preceding writer, render thern unworthy of consideration.
* Col. iv, 14. 2. Tim. iy. 11. Philemn. 24.
the council itself consisting of no more than thirty or forty bishops of Lydia and the adjoining countries.* Nor does its authority seem to have extended farther; for we find numerous Christian writers, after this time, discussing the question, " What books were entitled to be received as Scripture," with great freedom, upon proper grounds of evidence, and without any reference to the decision at Laodicea.
These considerations are not to be neglected: but of an argument concerning the genuineness of ancient writings, the substance, undoubtedly, and strength, is ancient testimony.
This testimony it is necessary to exhibit somewhat in detail : for when Christian advocates merely
that we have the same reason for believing the Gospels to be written by the evangelists whose names they bear, as we have for believing the Commentaries to be Cæsar's, the Æneid Virgil's, or the Orations Cicero's, they content themselves with an imperfect representation. They state nothing more than what is true, but they do not state the truth correctly. In the number, variety, and early date, of our testimonies, we far exceed all other ancient books. For one, which the most celebrated work of the most celebrated Greek or Roman writer can allege, we produce many.
But then it is more requisite in our books, than in theirs, to separate and distinguish them from spurious competitors. The result, I am convinced, will be satisfactory to every fair inquirer : but this circumstance renders an inquiry necessary.
In a work, however, like the present, there is a difficulty in finding a place for evidence of this kind. To pursue the details of proofs throughout, would be to transcribe a great part of Dr. Lardner's eleven octavo volumes : to leave the argument without proofs, is to leave it without effect; for the persuasion produced by this species of evidence depends upon a view and induction of the particulars which compose it.
The method which I propose to myself is, first, to place before the reader, in one view, the propo
* Lardner, Cred. vol. viil. p. 291, &c.
sitions which comprise the several heads of our testimony, and afterward to repeat the same propositions in so many distinct sections, with the necessary authorities subjoined to each.*
The following, then, are the allegations upon the subject, which are capable of being established by proof :
I. That the historical books of the New Testament, meaning thereby the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, are quoted, or alluded to, by a series of Christian writers, beginning with those who were contemporary with the apostles, or who immediately followed them, the proceeding in close and regular succession from their time to the pre
II. That when they are quoted, or alluded to, they are quoted or alluded to with peculiar respect, as books sui generis ; as possessing an authority which belonged to no other books, and as conclusive in all questions and controversies amongst Christians.
III. That they were, in very early times, collected into a distinct volume.
IV. That they were distinguished by appropriate names and titles of respect.
V. That they were publicly read and expounded in the religious assemblies of the early Christians.
VI. That commentaries were written upon them, harmonies formed out of them, different copies carefully collated, and versions of them made into different languages.
VII. That they were received by Christians of different sects, by many heretics as well as catholics, and usually appealed to by both sides in the controversies which arose in those days.
VIII. That the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of Saint Paul, the first Epistle of John, and the first of Peter, were received, without doubt, by those who doubted concerning the other books which are included in our present canon.
* The reader, when he has the propositions before him, will observe that the argument, if he should omit the sections, proceeds connectedly from this point.
IX. That the Gospels were attacked by the early adversaries of Christianity, as books containing the accounts upon which the religion was founded.
X. That formal catalogues of authentic Scriptures were published; in all which our present sacred histories were included.
XI. That these propositions cannot be affirmed of any other books claiming to be books of Scripture; by which are meant those books which are commonly called apocryphal books of the New Testament.
SECT. I. The historical books of the New Testament, meaning
thereby the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, are quoted, or alluded to, by a series of Christian writers, beginning with those who were contemporary with the apostles, or who immediately followed them, and proceeding in close and regular succession from their time to the present.
The medium of proof stated in this proposition is, of all others, the most unquestionable, the least liable to any practices of fraud, and is not diminished by the lapse of ages. Bishop Burnet, in the History of his Own Times, inserts various extracts from lord Clarendon's History. One such inser. tion is a proof, that lord Clarendon's History was extant at the time when bishop Burnet wrote, that it had been read by bishop Burnet, that it was received by bishop Burnet as a work of lord Clarendon, and also regarded by him as an authentic account of the transactions which it relates ; and it will be a proof of these points a thousand years hence, or as long as the books exist. Quintilian having quoted as Cicero's,* that well-known trait of dissembled vanity ;
“Si quid est iu me ingenii, Judices, quod sentio quam sit exiguum;" the quotation would be strong evidence, were there
* Quint. lib. xi. c. i.
any doubt, that the oration, which opens with this address, actually came from Cicero's pen. These instances, however simple, may serve to point out to a reader, who is little accustomed to such researches, the nature and value of the argument.
The testimonies which we have to bring forward under
this proposition are the following: I. There is extant an epistle ascribed to Barnabas,* the companion of Paul. It is quoted as the epistle of Barnabas, by Clement of Alexandria. A. D. CXCIV; by Origen, A. D. ccxxx. It is mentioned by Eusebius, A. D. cccxv, and by Jerome, A. D. cccxcii, as an ancient work in their time, bearing the name of Barnabas, and as well known and read amongst Christians, though not accounted a part of Scripture. It purports to have been written soon after the destruction of Jerusalem, during the calamities which followed that disaster; and it bears the character of the age to which it professes to belong.
In this epistle appears the following remarkable passage :-“ Let us, therefore, beware lest it come upon us, as it is written ; There are many called, few chosen.” From the expression, as it is writa ten,” we infer with certainty, that, at the time when the author of this epistle lived, there was a book extant, well known to Christians, and of authority amongst them, containing these words :-“ Many are called, few chosen." Such a book is our present Gospel of Saint Matthew, in which this text is twice found, and is found in no other book now known. There is a farther observation to be made upon the terms of the quotation. The writer of the epistle was a Jew. The phrase “ it is written," was the very form in which the Jews quoted their Scriptures. It is not probable, therefore, that he would have used this phrase, and without qualification, of any books but what had acquired a kind of scriptural authority. If the passage remarked in
Lardner, Cred. edit. 1755, vol. i. p. 23, &c. The reader will observe from the references, that the materials of these sections are almost entirely extracted from Dr. Lardngr's work; my office consisted in arrangement and selection. bet Matt. ax. 16. xxii. 14.