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Art. II. A Course of Lectures, containing a Description and Syste
matic Arrangement of the several Branches of Divinity : accompanied with an Account both of the principal Authors, and of the Progress which has been made at different periods in Theological Learning. By Herbert Marsh, D.D. F.R.S. and F.A.S. Lord Bishop of Peterborough, and Margaret Professor of Divinity.
Parts V., VI., and VII. 8vo. Cambridge, 1820, 2, 3. No great number of years has èlapsed since the utmost
alarm was excited throughout the country, in reference to the prevalence of irreligion, and the diffusion of infidel sentiments by means of cheap publications, adapted to the capacities of the lower classes of society. Speeches were delivered, and addresses were got up, full of vehement declamations against the agents of infidelity and blasphemy; and the agitations and outcries of the period were such as might have induced the apprehension that the subversion of Christianity could be at no great distance. It might now be neither uninteresting nor unprofitable to institute an inquiry into the methods employed in those times, to counteract the spreading mischief, for the purpose of estimating the amount of the services rendered to the cause of Revelation by those who repre sented it as being in peril, and whose stations and connexions would have imparted to their efforts an extensively beneficial influence. The “ Apology for the Bible" of Watson, and the “ Evidences of Christianity” of Paley, not to advert to other contemporaneous publications, are highly honourable memorials of the zeal of those writers, and of their solicitude to preserve their fellow Christians from the contagion of infidelity. What parallel examples of authorship have the later times to produce? What defences of the Bible, what refutation of calumnies against the Scriptures, what expositions of its principles, what exhibitions of its facts, what representations of its utility, have come from the pens of mitred or unmitred Dignitaries, as demonstrations of their Christian zeal? “A child may “ write them.”
At Cambridge, however, the Bishop of Peterborough was rendering a service to the cause of truth, by the delivery of the Lectures which are comprised in the first two of the parts before us. These Lectures are on the authenticity and credibility of the New Testament;' and it is hardly possible,' the Author remarks, that these important questions should be ex• amined at a period more seasonable than the present, when every effort has been made to shake the fabric of Christianity to its
very basis.' In respect to the persons who composed the Professor's auditory, a concise, perspicuous statement of
the grounds on which the New Testament is received as of Divine authority, could not but be considered as desirable, and could not fail of being useful. Such a service the Professor was well qualified to perform. His extensive learning, his critical acumen, his practised skill in comparing testimonies and estimating authorities, the clearness and strength with which his judgement can conduct an argumentative process, and the luminous order in which he is able to arrange the several branches of a subject, qualify him for treating with great advantage the several topics which this portion of his lectures includes. In this department, we willingly acknowledge his merits, and receive with pleasure these products of his labour.
To expect novelty in the pages of a writer who brings under discussion subjects already examined by the keenest minds, and viewed in every form and relation in which the advocates and the opponents of Christianity have for successive centuries been accustomed to consider them, would be most unreasonable. Such a writer accomplishes his own purpose, and satisfies every fair demand, if the information which he communicates be full and appropriate, though it may be repeated for the fiftieth time, and if the reasoning by which he endeavours to establish the ultimate facts for which such information is collected, be clear, compact, and convincing. No reasoner can be more attentive to the framing of his propositions, or the nicety of his expressions, than is Bishop Marsh : his advances are never made to new positions, till the points necessary for their defence have been secured.
The authenticity of the New Testament is the first of the questions which the Margaret Professor examines. He commences his inquiries by defining the sense in which he employs the term • Authentic,' in the use of which many preceding writers have been very inaccurate.
• Some writers use the term • authentic' in so extensive a sense, as to make it include both the question of authorship, and the question of fidelity and truth. In this acceptation of the term, a book, though genuine if written by the person to whom it is ascribed, is not authentic, unless the accounts which it contains are worthy of credit. With this distinction between the terms authentic and
genuine,' great caution is necessary to prevent confusion in the conduct of the argument. For, with this distinction, the proof of genuineness is one thing, the proof of authenticity another. And though we may often argue from the former to the latter, we cannot always do it. There are many books, both ancient and modern, of which no doubt is entertained in regard to the question of authorship, but of which doubts may be entertained in regard to the question, whether the authors have related what is worthy of credit. But
the Apostolic Fathers, and especially the Epistles, which bear the name of Ignatius, have descended to us in a very questionable shape. And though we should probably go too far, if we asserted, as some critics have done, that they are entirely spurious, this at least is cere tain, that if they came originally from the hands of those Fathers, their writings have been so interpolated with passages, which from the nature of the subjects could not have existed in the first century, as to cast a shade over that which may probably be genuine. At the same time it must be admitted, that if those writings have been only interpolated, the interpolations appear to have been made for a different purpose, than that of obtaining evidence for the authenticity of the New Testament. But still they are not exempt from it. And even if every doubt were removed, even if it were certain, that all the passages were genuine, which have been quoted from the Apostolic Fathers, as evidence for the New Testament, they would still fail of producing the effect intended. For most of them are really of that description, that the authors might have written them, though they had never seen the book, or books, to which they are supposed to allude. If then we make their writings the foundation of our proof, we expose ourselves to the charge of building on a foundation of sand. Of this weakness our adversaries have taken advantage; and nothing has so contributed to impair the proof, that the New Testament is authentic, as the importance which has been falsely attached to the works of the Apostolic Fathers. pp. 17, 18.
In the twenty-fourth lecture, the historical evidence, for which the reader has been prepared by the remarks of the learned Professor in the preceding lecture, is given in detail, commencing with Jerome, and including Gregory of Nazianzum, Epiphanius, Athanasius, Eusebius of Cæsarea, Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Irenæus. These authorities are selected because they form the links of a chain of evidence which connects, on the one hand, with the fifth century, when the existence of the books which are included in the New Testament is so unreservedly admitted as to require no inductions of proof; and, on the other, with an age so near to the
apostolic age, that where the chain of evidence will cease, its place can be supplied by argument which will incontestably prove, that there was only one short period, in which a forgery was possible, and that, if during that period a forgery had been attempted, it could not have escaped detection. These authorities are not merely cited, but their testimonies are compared with each other, and the specific value of each is distinctly shewn: the enumeration is in every part accompanied with very useful remarks. In the twenty-fifth lecture, are stated the results of the evidence adduced in the preceding one ; and the position is argued at considerable length, that, if the historical books of the New Testament were universally received, they Vol. XXII. N.S.
must have been received as authentic in the very places where they were composed, and by the persons to whom they were first delivered. This argument is applied in several directions, for the purpose of making manifest the absurdity of the supposition, that the books of the New Testament could have been a forgery. The internal evidence is the subject of the succeeding lecture, the last of part V. Its nature and value are well explained, and instances of undesigned coincidences are given as confirmatory of the external evidences, and as proofs of authenticity. Paley's truly admirable book, the “ Horæ Paulinæ,” is distinctly pointed out to the attention of Bishop Marsh's readers; which we noticechiefly forthe sake of remarking that, in these parts, no account is given of the ' principal Authors in Theological
Learning, an omission which we shall be glad to have supplied in the future parts. The account is included in the title of the Lectures, as an essential part of the Professor's plan, but has, we believe, appeared only in reference to the first branch of them, the Criticism of the Bible.
The sixth part of the “ Course of Lectures,” relates to the Credibility of the New Testament, which is considered in reference to the character and situation of the writers, and the contents of the writings themselves. But, as the conclusiveness of arguments derived from such sources, necessarily depends on the integrity of the works attributed to the writers of the New Testament, the Bishop discusses this point previously to undertaking to establish their credibility and the truth of their contents. He proceeds to shew, that the books which we now possess as the works of the Apostles and Evangelists, are the same books as those which were composed by Apostles and Evangelists. The notion of integrity, as related to credibility, does not imply a verbal perfection: it is sufficient for this purpose, if the facts originally
recorded, and the doctrines originally delivered in the New Testament, are the same in the existing copies.
That integrity which is necessary to establish Credibility, does not depend on a variation of words, if there is no variation in the sense. 'It will be sufficient, therefore, if we can prove, that the New Testament has descended to us, upon the whole, in the same state in which it was originally written; and that we may justly confide in every thing which relates to facts and to doctrines.
In proceeding with his subject, Bishop Marsh argues, that a general corruption of the sacred text was impracticable, and justly concludes, that the mutual and general check against corruption, which was afforded by the joint operation of manuscripts, fatbors, and versions, must have preserved to us the