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was given to every book. How, in such circumstances, could material alterations be made without exposure? If made in one copy, they must have been made universally; or else some unaltered copies would have descended to us, or would have been noticed and quoted in ecclesiastical history and the writings of ancient times. If made universally, the work must have been done either by friends, or by heretics, or by open enemies. Is it supposable that open enemies, unnoticed by Christians, could have altered all or a hundredth part of the copies, when they were so continually read and so affectionately protected? Could the sects of heretics have done. such a work, when they were ever watching one another as jealously as all their doings were continually watched by the churches? Could true Christians have accomplished such a task, even if any motive could have led them to desire it, while heretics on one hand, and innumerable enemies on the other, were always awake, and watchful with the Scriptures in their hands to lay hold of the least pretext against defenders of the faith? It was at least as unlikely that material alterations in the New Testament should pass unnoticed, and become universal, in the early centuries and in all succeeding ones, as that an important change in a copy of the Constitution of the United States should creep into all the copies scattered over the country, and be handed down as part of the original document, unnoticed by the various parties and jealousies by which that instrument is so closely watched and so constantly referred to. Such
was the precise assertion of a writer of the fourth century on this very subject. "The integrity," says Augustine, "of the books of any one bishop, however eminent, cannot be so completely kept as that of the canonical Scripture, translated into so many languages, and kept by the people of every age; and yet, some there have been who have forged writings with the names of apostles. In vain indeed, because that Scripture has been so esteemed, so celebrated, so known." Reasoning with a heretic, he says, "If any one should charge you with having interpolated some texts alleged by you, would you not immediately answer that it is impossible for you to do such a thing in books read by all Christians? And that if any such attempt had been made by you, it would have been presently discerned and defeated by comparing the ancient copies? Well, then, for the same reason that the Scriptures cannot be corrupted by you, neither could they be corrupted by any other people."t
The agreement among the existing manuscripts of the New Testament proves that this holy volume has not been corrupted. Of no ancient classic are the extant manuscripts so numerous, as those of the New Testament. Griesbach in making his edition collated more than three hundred and fifty. These were written in different ages and countries. Some of them are as old as the fourth or fifth century. Some contain all, others only particular books or parts of books of the New Testament. Several contain detached
* Lardner, vol. 2, p. 594.
† Ibid. 2, 228.
portions or lessons, as appointed to be read on certain occasions in the churches. In none of them have we any thing differing in essential points from the text at present received. It is true, and it sounds to uninformed ears quite alarming, that in the manuscripts collated for Griesbach's edition of the New Testament, as many as one hundred and fifty thousand various readings are said to have been found. But all alarm will seem gratuitous, when it is known that not one in a thousand of these various readings makes any perceptible, or at most, any important variation of meaning; that they consist almost entirely in manifest mistakes of transcribers, such as the omission or transposition of letters, errors in pointing, in grammar, in the use of certain words instead of others of similar meaning, and in changing the position of words in a sentence. The very worst manuscript, were it our only copy of the New Testament, would not pervert one Christian doctrine or precept. By all the omissions and all the additions contained in all the manuscripts, no fact, no doctrine, no duty, presented in our authorized version, is rendered either obscure or doubtful. The diversity of readings is ample proof that our present manuscripts were made from various copies in ancient times; while the inconsiderable importance of this diversity of readings shows how nearly those copies conformed to the original Scriptures, and how little difference would be seen between our present New Testament and the autographs of its writers, could they be now collated. No ancient book has preserved its text so uncorrupt
as those of the New Testament. None is attended with so many means of detecting an inaccurate reading. A common reader, could he compare the various manuscripts, would be sensible of no more difference among them than among the several copies of his English Bible, which have been printed during the last two hundred years.
The uncorrupt preservation of the text of the New Testament is also evident from its agreement with the numerous quotations in the works of early Christian writers, and with those ancient translations which are now extant. In the remaining books of the fathers of the first three centuries, quotations from the New Testament are so abundant, that almost the whole of the sacred text could be gathered from those sources. Excepting some six or seven verses, the genuineness of which is not perfectly settled, there is an exact agreement in all material respects, between those quotations and the corresponding parts of our New Testament. The same confirmation, though still more satisfactory, is derived from ancient versions. We possess, in various languages, versions of the New Testament, reaching as far back as the early part of the second century. The Mæso-Gothic version, discovered by Mai in 1817, and made by Ulphilas, bishop of the Mæso-Goths, in the year 370, of which only fragments were possessed before, has the same text as ours. The old Syriac version, called Peshito, is considered by some of the best Syriac scholars to have been made before the close of the first century. It was certainly in exist
ence and general use before the close of the second. Though never brought into contact with our copies of the New Testament, because not known in Europe till the sixteenth century; though handed down by a line of tradition perfectly independent of, and unknown to, that by which our Greek Testament was received; yet when the two came to be compared, the text of the one was almost an exact version of the text of the other. The difference was altogether unimportant. So clearly and impressively has divine Providence attested the integrity of our beloved Scriptures.
It is now high time we had relieved your attention. You will allow me to proceed, in the subsequent lectures, on the belief that the authenticity and integrity of the New Testament have been satisfactorily proved. But let us not separate without acknowledging, in thankfulness of heart, our debt of gratitude to Him who, on a subject of such unspeakable importance, has given us such abundant reason for complete conviction. He has made the great truth for which we have been contending, like "the round world, so sure that it cannot be moved."