Page images

enjoyed the promised aid of the Holy Ghost, in bringing things to their remembrance wbich had been taught by their Master, and in bestowing the consolations and fortitude which might be requisite to support them in the trials and afflictions to which they were exposed. But, with regard to the doctrine of Christianity, we assert that it was completed by Christ himself, and that all which we find in the writings of the Apostles ought to be considered in subordination to this fact. The Epistles are to be interpreted by the Gospels, and not the Gospels by the Epistles. It is of importance that this state of the question be constantly kept in mind. The object of our argument, is not to depreciate the peculiar gifts and authority of the Apostles in their proper place, but to mark the difference between them and their Master, and to show his peerless superiority.

Upon this subject, we may first take notice of certain general grounds, on which there has arisen a different opinion, viz. that the doctrine of Christianity is more fully developed in the Epistles than in the Gospels. This opinion rests upon some expressions used by Christ to his Apostles, in which he said, that he had many things to tell them, which they could not bear at the time, but which they should know hereafter; and this is coupled with the promise of the Spirit “to teach them all things.” Whence it is concluded, that when the Apostles composed their Epistles, they were acting under this influence, and completed the doctrine of their Master. And as these writings were not composed and published for a great many years after the ascension, it is farther alleged, that the Apostles were meantime preaching the same things, and that their Epistles are in fact specimens of their ordinary sermons.

Now, with regard to the promise of further teaching by the Spirit, it may be remarked, that while it is expressed in general terms in one passage of the Gospels, yet in another it is distinctly described and limited to the purpose of bringing all things to their remembrance, whatsoever he had taught them.” The tenor of their general commission runs in similar language. 66 Go, teach all nations whatsoever I have commanded you." There is nothing either in the promise or the instruction about matters of doctrine which were to be in future revealed to them. When, indeed, we find that they had a special revelation, we ought to attend to it; but these cases are few, and relate to their own personal conduct, and the government of the Church in peculiar circumstances, or to prophetic notices. It is about matters of general doctrine that we are alone concerned in our present inquiry. On that subject, the source of the Apostolic inspiration was properly the living voice of Christ himself. He was to his disciples what visions, or the voice of angels, or the word of the Lord, or the suggestions of the Spirit, had been to the ancient prophets. His words were the WORD of God, and his hearers, who received and cherished it, became its depositaries; they were inspired by it, or with it, as truly as ever any prophet had been by any message or doctrine from Heaven.

There was, indeed, this difference, that whatever he said, he said it not to one but to many, whereas the word of the Lord, in old time, came separately and individually to the prophets; but this did not alter the character of the thing. The material sun is not less the source of light and life to any man because it shines alike on millions at the same time. And herein was fulfilled the desire of Moses, “Would to God that all the Lord's people were prophets ;” also the prediction of Joel, " that in those days God would pour

his Spirit upon all flesh," without regard to sex, to age, to condition in life, of to official character, all should enjoy in common what was equivalent to the special visions and dreams of inspired men in older times. Henceforth, Christ was to be the only “way, and the truth, and the life, whereby men could come to the Father.” All the disciples of his religion were to be " in him as he was in the Father". to receive the knowledge and influence of that doctrine and grace from him, which he received from the Father. He was to be the sole Mediator, or channel of intercourse, between God and man; the ancient system of “individual vision and prophecy was sealed up." (Dan. iv. 24.) In this way, the inspiration of the Apostles was, indeed, more plenary than that of the old prophets. “He that was least in the kingdom of Messiah was greater than they.". But it was not a personal inspiration, peculiar to individuals, and direct from God to them.

Nor were the twelve in this way inspired with any faculty of understanding and illustrating the doctrine of their Master more than others. They had, indeed, enjoyed the opportunity of being more fully acquainted with all that their Master had taught; and in that view, their inspiration was more full than that of the other attendants on our Lord's ministry. But these advantages did not put them on any equal or similar footing with their Master, whose inspiration arose directly from the Father dwelling in him," and "showing him all things that he himself did.". There appears no sufficient ground, therefore, from the promise of Christ recorded in the Gospels, to infer, that the Apostles were to receive any additional revelation of doctrine by the Spirit, which had not been taught by himself personally.

It has been alleged, however, that after his resurrection he instructed the Apostles more fully in his doctrine, during the interviews he had with them for the forty days that intervened before his ascension; and that in their sermons and Epistles they develope the instructions they had so received. To a certain degree, this is true. Upon those occasions, we are told, he opened their minds to understand the Old Testament Scriptures, in those instances in which they testified of himself. So long as be lived with the disciples, they could never be made to believe that he should be put to death. This idea was totally inconsistent with their preconceived notions of the Messiah, whose destiny they supposed was to be that of a triumphant temporal Prince. Their Master, indeed, had foretold them, in the plainest terms, that he would be taken and killed; but “they would not believe him.” This was a thing which could not be impressed on their minds till the event actually took place, and therefore they were not in a condition to listen to, nor to understand the Scriptures upon that point, till after the resurrection. Then he showed them whow it was written, that Christ ought first to suffer these things, and afterwards enter into his glory."

Besides, it is remarkable that none of the historians who undertook to record what Jesus bad said, thought

it requisite to mention the particulars of any of those post mortem conversations; nor that the Apostles refer to them as authorities in their Epistles. Why was this ? Was it not because the subject of them was so palpable, after the event had taken place, and after the attention of the disciples was pointed to it, that there was no need to give particulars ? Every Christian, who was so disposed, could discover the principal passages in the Prophets, and make the application himself. And this appears, from the book of Acts and the Epistles, to have been a favourite practice. It was, indeed, the most natural argument to use with Jews or Jewish proselytes, in order to convince them of the mission of Jesus, and the spiritual nature of Messiah's kingdom. But in these respects, such arguments were only of the nature of evidences and defences of Christianity. The account or view which the Old Testament gave of what Christianity was, otherwise, was necessarily obscure and defective. Such evidences, or such illustrations, could not add anything authoritative and doctrinal to a religion designed for, and adapted to be universal-addressed to mankind at large, of every nation and age of the world. The arguments from the Old Testament were addressed to the Jews, and important in that particular generation; but whaterer Jesus taught as part of his special doctrine, was universal in its import and application.

If the Apostles had thought, or been instructed to such effect, some of them would have preserved a record of Christ's teaching after his resurrection, as well as before his death; or they might have made some digest of the general scope of the prophetical doctrine concerning the kingdom of Messiah. “But we have nothing of that sort, unless it be the Epistle to the Hebrews. In substance, it looks something like this; but when we consider it particularly, we discover no mark of such authority in it. It is not authenticated, like the other Epistles, by the name of any Apostle. There was even a question in the early ages about its authorship; and although it has been generally ascribed to Paul (and this may be the most probable opinion), yet this uncertainty, and in reference to the above idea, deprives it of the authoritative sanction of any one Apostle, and still more of a collegiate digest. Neither does the writer pretend to rest his views and illustrations on any tradition, as having been identical with what Christ himself taught after his resurrection. In fact, the entire style and form of it is not authoritative, but argumentative. And when a writer, but especially an anonymous writer, argues with his reader, he rests his credibility upon facts or principles that are common to the reader as well as to himself; and the inferences he wants to establish from his premises, are to be judged of by the reason of the party he addresses, and not by deference to the opinions or authority of the writer.

This observation, in some measure, applies to parts of the other Epistles as well as to that of the Hebrews; but the other Epistles have the advantage of being unquestionably the production of one Apostle or another. It does not appear upon the face of any of the other Epistles, however, that there is anything in them purporting to have been the additional personal instructions which Christ gave to his disciples after his resurrection; and therefore they do not at any rate embody the inspired words of Christ, nor rest directly upon his authority, as the doctrines of the Gospels do. Let us proceed to inquire, therefore, what these Epistles themselves profess to be in respect of authority and inspiration.

We have seen the claims which Jesus put forth in support of his inspiration and authority, and how it was supported by the testimony of John Baptist, by voices from Heaven, and by the miracles he wrought in proof of his mission and doctrine. All is clear and positive to the point-nothing equivocal-nothing reserved. Compare the claims and professions of the Apostles in this respect. Remember, we are speaking at present only of doctrine. They uniformly introduce their Epistles with a claim of attention as being from the servants and missionaries of Jesus Christ. They preached him, and not themselves; therefore his doctrine, and not their own, in their usual ministrations. In their special Epistles (and we will take Paul's as the principal), they do not profess, as individuals, to have any doctrine of their own to propound. They take it for granted that the churches know the Christian doctrine, having been already in

« PreviousContinue »