« PreviousContinue »
ON THE INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE.
2 TIMOTHY, CHAP. III. Ver. 16, 17.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God; and is pro
fitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
It has been observed by one of our most judicious and learned divines, that this passage may be taken either as it stands in the common translation, “ All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable,” or be rendered thus, “ All scripture, given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine,” &c. But the difference is immaterial, the sense being very nearly the same.
According to the established reading, this text lays down the following positions :—First, that all scripture is of divine authority, “ given by
inspiration of God." Secondly, That it is calculated to promote the knowledge, and facilitate the attainment, of true piety and moral virtue; “it is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Thirdly, That its design and end is to establish and confirm believers in the uniform and constant practice of holiness, and universal righteousness of life and manners; “ that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
By the word “scripture," we mean that collection of writings compiled by the Jewish and the Christian Church, and contained in the volume of the Old and New Testament. That these writings were inspired, that is, were dictated to their respective authors by the Spirit of God, cannot be a question here: every Christian receives them as from above. The only point of debate among us, is, how far, and in what degree, that inspiration was afforded, and to what limits it extended. Some have maintained, that this inspiration was absolute and unqualified; that the prophets and apostles were not only guided and instructed as to the general matter and substance of what they delivered, but that every
thing they said or wrote, every sentence and every word, were immediately suggested by the Holy Ghost; so that they never uttered their own sentiments, urged their own arguments, or formed their own conclusions, but were merely passive instruments, — vocal organs, through which the Divine Spirit breathed his sacred oracles. This opinion would not only involve us in considerable difficulties, not easily surmounted, but is moreover completely refuted by the discrepancies and disagreements we find in the different parts of Holy Writ; which, however minute and unimportant, cannot be accounted for on the supposition that every syllable is of divine inspiration ; disagreements, naturally to be expected, and which are always found, in accounts of every event or transaction published by differ. ent individuals; and which, so far from exciting distrust, tend to confirm the veracity of the relators, since they repel every suspicion of contrivance and collusion ; but which could not have existed, had these holy men been miraculously exempted from every possibility of the most trivial mistake or misconception.
It has therefore been concluded by other expounders and divines, that the inspiration of the Seriptures was only general; that, upon all great oceasions, the apostles were endowed with supernateral knowledge, and gifted with “a mouth and wisdom, which their adversaries would not be able to gainsay or resist;* and that when they sat down to compose those records, which were to be transmitted to after ages, "all things were brought to their remembrance necessary to be known; and all doetrines revealed, and precepts enforeed, essential to the propagation and support of rital religion: but that in other points, and with respect to the mode, or terms, in which their information and instruction were to be conveyed, they were left to their own private judgment and natural capacity. This view of the question appears to be not only more rational and unexceptionable, and more reconcilable with the general tenor of Scripture, and the very different style and manner of the different authors, but to be absolutely confirmed by several express declarations of the holy penmen themselves, who make no pretension to this unbounded and unqualified illumination; but, on the contrary, profess themselves, sometimes, doubtful; sometimes, speaking by their own authority; sometimes, by Divine command. “She is happier,"
says St. Paul, “ if she so abide, after my judgment; and I think also that I have the Spirit of God;"—again, “ to the rest speak I, not the Lord”—“ this I speak by permission, and not of commandment.” In another place, “to the married I command; yet not I, but the Lord,”—“I have no commandment of the Lord; but I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.”
We may then, I think, safely conclude, in the words of the great divine to whom I referred at the beginning of this discourse, “In the prophetic writings, when the whole subject matter was entirely new to the prophet himself, perhaps not understood by him, it is very plain inspiration necessarily means, that the whole was dictated to the inspired writer, either in vision, or by an angel, or otherwise, according as it pleased God to reveal himself at different times and in divers manners. But in the historical and moral books of Scripture, wherein the writers had perfect understanding of the doctrine taught, and perfect knowledge of the facts recorded, it was abundantly sufficient, that they had such assistance of the Holy Spirit, guiding them into all truth, as enabled them to express their own thoughts