It is now more than half a century since we began reading the Holy Scriptures with spiritually-opened eyes, and we avow our deep and growing conviction that these imperishable, because Divine, records of eternal truths and realities are indelibly impressed with the character of God, and hence of unquestioned authority over the soul.
We can readily understand an unbeliever questioning the truthfulness of the Divine oracles, because thus only can the authority of God, so troublesome to a guilty conscience, be set aside. We may also remark that the religious infidelity of the day is characterised by impeaching the veracity of everything divinely revealed, and ends by believing nothing. But what we so earnestly desire for every Christian reader of the Scriptures is, if possible, a deepening moral certainty that these writings, from the first word in Genesis to the "Amen" closing the Revelation, are fully and verbally inspired of God. We refer, of course, to the original Scriptures.
The Scriptures are Either Divine or Human.
To say that the Scriptures are supernatural in character because of the grand subjects they unfold, because of the practical duties they inculcate, because of the Divine Saviour and magnificent salvation they disclose, is but a feeble, and at best a partial statement of a weighty and profound truth. But if only supernatural, do they reflect angelic intelligence? Were they written by the pen of the archangel? Nay; the Holy Scriptures are either human or Divine in their source and character. Just face the difficulty. Could man have forged these sixty-six separate books? Could man have delineated, in every detail, the life of the Holy One? Why, the objector must have been absolutely perfect ere he could have sketched such a divinely perfect life.
Would it not be a miracle to suppose a succession of about forty to fifty impostors, of different nationalities, living at different times, and some residing 1400 miles apart, totally unacquainted with each other — so that many never exchanged word or letter — and this course of systematic deception continued during the long period of nigh 1600 years? — for, mark it well, Divine authority is claimed for each book, and the same themes as ruin and redemption, but with ever-increasing fulness of disclosure, run through the entire Divine volume. It would just be as easy for man to create and sustain worlds as to have written the Bible. Is it not so? But the Bible is Divine.
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" is a comprehensive statement, embracing all then penned, as also those then unwritten. Nor must the reader for an instant suppose that the Holy Spirit influenced the minds of the writers merely, leaving thereby the Divine truths of revelation to be communicated in words of man's choice. The Scriptures, not the thoughts or truths of Scripture, are inspired. Scripture means writing, and writings are composed of words and letters; hence these are inspired. But we are not left to reason it out, however logically this may be done. Let this Divine oracle suffice for all who have ears to hear — "Which things also we speak . . . in the words . . . which the Holy Ghost teacheth" (1 Cor. 2:13).
Has the reader ever seriously reflected upon the admirably-chosen words in which the Holy Ghost has clothed the doctrines, truths, and facts of Divine revelation? Has the inimitable perfection of the Word of God, so stamped its character upon his soul that he rises from every fresh reading and study of these precious records, with ever-increasing delight and deepening conviction that they are in deed and in truth the very revelation of God, of Christ, of eternity to man?
Preservation of the Old Testament Scriptures.
The Old Testament oracles were committed to Jewish keeping (Rom. 3:2), and more faithful guardians, even to the least letter of their sacred books, there could not be. We cannot but own the providential care and rich mercy of God in the singular preservation of the text, uncorrupted, of the Old Testament — preserved through sixty centuries of unexampled trial and oppression, of striking and eventful vicissitudes, of persistent and determined efforts to destroy it — making up a story which reads more like romance than reality. The Pharisees, morally blind, as undoubtedly they were, yet scrupulously observant of the least of their traditional observances, were never guilty of tampering with the sacred text; nor were the rival sect of the Sadducees, who held the Pentateuch only, to be of Divine authority, ever charged with corrupting the text of Moses. We possess the books of the Old Testament in our noble English version substantially as they left the hands of the inspired penman.
Where are the records of antiquity? Where are the Hebrew and the Greek books prior to the times of Christ? Where are the classical MSS. of the ancients? All have perished and are forgotten, save the names of some which have been rescued from oblivion, and fragments, not original, of others. The oldest and only trustworthy documents of the past ages are those of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.
Professor Gaussen on the Preservation of the Text of the Old Testament.
The following weighty extracts, from the French of Professor Gaussen, present some admirable and scholarly statements on the preservation of the sacred text: —
"The Lord has miraculously watched over His word. Facts demonstrate this. In the first place, by constituting the Jews its depositaries, and afterwards the Christians, His providence thus charged itself with watching that the oracles of God should be faithfully transmitted to us. This has been done; and to attain this result, various causes were brought into operation, of which we shall have to speak hereafter. Recent researches of science have placed this fact in the light of day. Herculean labours have been undertaken to collect all the readings, or variations, which could be supplied, either by the diligent examination of the manuscripts of the sacred writings, preserved in the various libraries of Europe, the study of the most ancient versions, or the investigation of the innumerable quotations made from the sacred books throughout the writings of the Fathers of the Church; and this immense labour has furnished a result admirable in its insignificance, imposing by its nullity.
"All this labour has established so convincingly the astonishing preservation of the text, copied, nevertheless, so many thousand times (in Hebrew during thirty-three centuries, and in Greek during 1800 years), that the hopes of the enemies of religion, in this channel, have been overwhelmed: they have ceased to hope for anything from the critical researches which they were at first so vehement in recommending, because they expected discoveries which have not been made. A learned rationalist himself acknowledges that the different readings of the Hebrew manuscripts scarcely afford enough interest to repay the labour bestowed upon them. But these very miscalculations, and the absence of these discoveries, have been a precious discovery for the Church of God. This was what she expected; but she has to rejoice in owing it to the labours of her adversaries 'In truth,' says a scholar of our times, 'if we set aside those admirable negative conclusions at which they have arrived, the obvious result obtained by the lives of so many men consumed in these mighty researches appears to be nothing; and it may be said that to arrive at it they have foolishly squandered time, talent, and science.'
"But, as we have said, this result is immense by its nothingness, and all-powerful by its insignificance. When it is remembered that the Bible has been copied during thirty centuries, as no book of man ever was, or ever will be; that it was borne with Israel in all their vicissitudes and captivities; that it was transported for seventy years to Babylon; that from the days of the Philistines to those of the Seleucidae it has been so often persecuted, forgotten, interdicted, and burnt; when it is remembered that from the time of Jesus it had to endure the first three centuries of imperial persecutions, in which those convicted of having it in their possession were sentenced to be torn by wild beasts; after which came the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries, in which were everywhere multiplied false books, legends, and decretals; the tenth century, in which so few men knew how to read, even among princes; the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth, in which the use of the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue was punished by death. In the remembrance of all this, it will be well understood how necessary it was that God should always keep His powerful arm uplifted, in order that, on the one hand, the Jewish Church should give us, in full integrity, that word which records their rebellion, predicts their ruin, and testifies of Jesus; and of the other, that the Christian Churches (the most powerful of which, and especially the Roman sect, prohibited the people from reading the sacred books, and set aside the word of God for traditions) should, notwithstanding, transmit to us, in all their purity, those writings which condemn all their traditions.
"Now, although all the libraries which possess ancient copies of the sacred books have been summoned as witnesses; although the commentaries of the Fathers of every country have been examined; although the Arabic, Syriac, Latin, Armenian, Ethiopic, and other versions have been compared; although all the manuscripts of all countries, and of every age, from the third to the sixteenth century, have been examined a thousand times by innumerable critics, who sought with ardour, as the reward and glory of their sleepless toil, for some new reading; and although the learned, not content with the libraries of the West, have visited those of Russia, and extended their researches to the convents of Mount Athos, of Asiatic Turkey, and of Egypt, in quest of new records of the sacred text: — yet has nothing been discovered, not even a single reading, which can cast doubt upon any of the passages hitherto received as authentic. All the variations, with scarcely one exception, leave untouched the essential meaning of each sentence, and relate merely to points of secondary importance, such as the insertion or omission of an article or conjunction, the position of an adjective before or after its substantive, and the accuracy, more or less important, of grammatical construction.
"It is well known that among the Jews it was the profession of the Masorites, or doctors of tradition, to transcribe the Scriptures. We know to what extent these indefatigable scholars carried their respect for the letter; and when we read the rules under which their labours were carried on, we understand the use that the providence of God (who had 'confided his oracles to the Jews') made of their reverence, severe exactitude, and even of their superstition. They reckoned the number of verses, words, and letters in each book. They tell us, for instance, that the letter A occurs forty-two thousand three hundred and seventy-seven times in the Bible; the letter B thirty-eight thousand two hundred and eighteen times; and so on to the end. They were scrupulous of changing the position even of a letter, though evidently misplaced, but limited themselves to noting it in the margin, supposing some mystery was involved. They tell us which is the middle letter of the Pentateuch, as well as of each of the books of which it is composed. They never allowed themselves to correct their manuscript; and if any mistake escaped them, they rejected the papyrus or the skin which they had blemished, and recommenced upon a fresh one; for they were equally interdicted from even correcting one of their errors, and from retaining for their sacred volume a single parchment or skin in which an erasure had been made. . .
"These facts, we repeat it, together with the astonishing preservation of the Hebrew text (1200 years more ancient than that of the Septuagint), plainly tell us how the intervention of the mighty hand of God was needed in the destinies of this sacred book.
On the Preservation of the Text of the New Testament,
"So far the Old Testament; but think not that the Providence which watched over this holy book, and confided it to the Jews (Rom. 3:1, 2), has less protected the oracles of the New Testament, which were committed by God to His new people. To these He has not left less reason for gratitude and confidence.
"Such, then, has been the astonishing preservation of the Greek manuscripts which have handed down the New Testament to us, that — after the sacred text has been copied and re-copied so many thousand times in Europe, Asia, or in Africa, in convents, colleges, palaces, or in presbyteries, and this almost without interruption, during the long course of 1500 years — notwithstanding during the last three centuries (and especially during the lapse of the last 130 years) so many noble characters and ingenious minds, and so many learned lives have been devoted to labours hitherto unheard of in extent, admirable for their sagacity, and scrupulous as those of the Masorites — after the collation of all the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, which were buried in the private, monastic, or national libraries of the East and West — after comparing them not only with all the ancient Latin, Armenian, Sahidic, Ethiopic, Arabic, Sclavonic, Persic, Coptic, Syriac, and Gothic versions of the Scriptures, but also with all the ancient Fathers of the Church, who have quoted them in their innumerable writings, in Greek or in Latin — after so much research, what have they been able to find? . . .
"It is calculated that, in the seven thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine verses of the New Testament, there scarcely exist ten or twelve in which corrections introduced by the new texts of Griesbach and Scholz, at the close of their laborious investigations, have any weight. These, moreover, do not, for the most part, extend beyond the difference of a single word, and sometimes even of a single letter.
"Thus, then, all the efforts of the adversaries of inspiration to shake our faith in this channel have in the end only had the effect of strengthening it. They have compelled the Church to follow them in their investigations, and very soon afterwards to precede them; and what has been the result Why, that the text is found more pure than the most pious ventured to hope; and that the opponents of inspiration, and those of orthodox doctrines (at least in Germany), have been compelled to come to the same conclusion. After the labours of Erasmus, Stephens, and Mill, they had hoped to have derived, from among the numerous manuscripts of our libraries, readings more favourable to Socinian doctrines than those which they could gather from Beza and the Elzevirs. Several, indeed, anticipated that the differences would be so great, and such uncertainty would result, that (to use their own terms) all exclusive, positive, evangelical belief would be thereby overthrown. But it has not been thus. It is now a suit terminated; the plaintiffs are cast at their own appeal; the inquest having been held by modern criticism, all the judges — even the bench of Rationalists — have unanimously pronounced that it is a lost cause, and that the objectors must go to some other quarter for arguments and grievances.
"When this question of the integrity of the original text presented itself for the first time — upwards of 120 years ago — to the learned and estimable Bengel, he was dismayed at it, and his upright and pious mind became deeply exercised. Then commenced on his part that work of sacred criticism which gave a new direction to this science in Germany. The English had preceded the Germans; but the latter soon outstripped them. At length, in 1721, after long and laborious research, Bengel, who had become satisfied and happy, thus wrote to one of his disciples:— Eat the Scripture bread in simplicity, just as you have it; and do not be disturbed if here and there you find a grain of sand which the mill-stone may have suffered to pass. You may hereby avoid all the doubts which, for a season, so horribly tormented me. If the Holy Scriptures, which have been so often copied, and have so often passed through the erring hands of fallible men, were absolutely without variations, this would be so great a miracle that faith in them would be no longer faith. I am astonished, on the contrary, that from all these transcriptions there has not resulted a greater number of different readings.' . . .
"How can we avoid recognising here the powerful intervention of God in this unanimous agreement of all the religious societies of the East and of the West Everywhere the same Scriptures. What a distance separates in their worship Christians from Jews! and, notwithstanding, enter our schools, examine our Hebrew Testaments, then go into their synagogues, ask of their Rabbins their sacred rolls, you will there find the same books, without the difference of a letter! What a distance separates the reformed Christians from the sectaries of Rome! Yet you will find in our respective schools the same Greek Testament, without the difference of an iota. Again, what a distance separates the Latin Church from the Greek Church, which also calls itself the catholic, but orthodox apostolic, daughter of Antioch, condemning the Romans as rebel and schismatic sons! and yet ask of one and the other their sacred texts, neither will you find any difference here. There are no variations to make two schools; they will bring forward the same manuscripts; priests and popes, Munich and Moscow, will give you the same testimony. We were then to have amongst us — Greeks, Romanists, and Protestants — the same sacred book of the New Testament, without the difference of a single iota.
"We come, then, once more to the conclusion, that not only was Scripture inspired at the time when God caused it to be written, but that this word, which was inspired eighteen centuries ago, is now in our possession; and that, moreover, holding the sacred text in one hand, and all the readings which science has collected from hundreds of manuscripts in the other, we can exclaim with gratitude, I now hold in my hands the eternal word of my God!"