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AUTHENTICITY AND INTEGRITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
OUR attention was exclusively occupied, during the last lecture, in tracing up the line of testimony by which the church of Christ in these days is certified that her sacred books, composing the volume of the New Testament, are those very books which were written by the apostles of the Lord Jesus. A series of attestations was followed up, by which we were conducted into the very age and presence of the apostles, and enabled to inquire of those who, having been their contemporaries and in habits of intercourse with them, must necessarily have known what books they wrote. A mass of evidence was obtained, by which the authenticity of the New Testament was placed on the most immovable basis. But, inasmuch as we are now laying the foundation of our subsequent and more direct arguments for the truth of Christianity as a divine revelation, it is of the greatest importance, that in respect to this preliminary subject, every mind be well assured, and that nothing of importance to the impressiveness as well as sufficiency of the evidence be omitted. In the present lecture therefore, we pursue still further the question to which the last was devoted.
From the whole tenor of the previous lecture, it is evident that THE CANON OF THE NEW Testamentin other words, the collection of those books which were considered as the inspired and authoritative writings of the apostles and evangelists, to the exclusion of all others-WAS NOT MADE WITHOUT GREAT CARE, AND THE MOST DELIBERATE, INTELLIGENT INVESTIGATION.
Such is the witnessing of an eminent writer of the fourth century. "Our canonical books," says Augustine, "which are of the highest authority among us, have been settled with great care: they ought to be few, lest their value should be diminished; and yet, they are so many, and written by so many persons, that their agreement throughout is wonderful."* The method pursued by the early Christians in determining what books had a just claim to the character of canonical scriptures, was precisely that by which we have been investigating the same subject. It was not enough, for the reception of a writing, that it came to them under the name of an apostle, and was considered by some as justly entitled to that honor. Its descent was carefully traced. How was it regarded by the preceding generation, and by the generation before that? Was it known by those who lived nearest the time and the person associated with its claims? Had it been received by the churches-referred to and quoted, as possessing canonical authority, by Christian writers since the period of its general publication? Had it been handed down by the general and concurrent tradition of the church, written * Lardner, vol. 2, p. 596.
and unwritten, as the work of the writer whose name it bears? Such was the mode which, we know from the remaining works of Irenæus, Tertullian, Eusebius, Cyril, and Augustine, was employed in their days, and in all times of the primitive church. "The books of the canonical Scriptures," says Augustine, "established in the times of the apostles, and confirmed by the testimony of the succession of bishops and churches in all following times, are placed in a peculiar degree of authority, to which the judgment and understanding of all pious men are subject."
The numerous catalogues which have descended to us from the early centuries, are sufficient evidence of the care with which the canon of the New Testament was settled. In primitive times, when, from a variety of causes, spurious books abounded, and the distant and scattered churches, incapable of much intercourse with those near the centre of Christian light, were most liable to be deceived, these catalogues were of the greatest importance. How numerous they must have been may be, in some wise, conceived from the fact, that although but a very small portion of the works of the first four centuries are extant, there are among them no less than thirteen independent catalogues, all of them composed by authors scattered over a period of not more than one hundred and eighty, out of the first four hundred years after the birth of Christ.
The same care is seen in the pains that were taken to obtain the most exact information as to the authenticity of the books bearing apostolic names; and also
from the decisive censure and aversion with which an attempt to pass a spurious work upon the church was visited. Pious and learned heads of the churches used to journey to Palestine, and reside there for a considerable length of time, for the express object of obtaining whatever valuable knowledge might be found there as to the New Testament writings. And of the treatment bestowed upon attempted forgeries, we have an example in the case of a certain presbyter of Asia, soon after the death of St. John, who published a book, which is still extant, under the title of the "Acts of Paul and Thecla." The attempt at imposition was charged upon the author, and confessed. Whereupon he was degraded from his office, and the whole matter was notified to the churches, that they might feel the need of the strictest care thereafter.*
The gradual steps by which the books of the New Testament were multiplied to their present number, afforded the best opportunity for a careful and accurate determination of their authenticity. Had they all appeared at once, claiming in their collective form to be received by the churches as inspired Scripture, the attention of Christians being thus divided among twenty-seven independent writings which professed to have been written by eight different authors, the diligence of their investigation would have been also divided; its accuracy would have been endangered, and the opportunity of imposition greatly increased. But such was not the case. The books of the New Testament were published singly. They came before Lardner, vol. 1, p. 435.
the churches one by one, with considerable intervals between them; thus giving time for the claims of each to be deliberately and singly examined. The epistle to the Romans appeared at the bar of the church in the city of Rome, and had its authority as a writing of St. Paul determined, without embarrassment from any question as to the authenticity of the epistle to the Ephesians. The Ephesians received the epistle directed to them, and could sit in judg ment upon its claims, without any necessity of deciding at that time upon the authenticity of the epistle to the Romans, or Corinthians, or Philippians. Thus were there several years between the beginning and completion of the canon of the New Testament. For a little while, a portion of the church might possess an additional book, which a distant region, on account of the difficulty of multiplying and transmitting copies, would not have received. It may have been a period of some years before a church in the distant parts of Asia received and was enabled satisfactorily to authenticate the epistle to the Romans. Meanwhile, the canon of Scripture might have been composed of more books at Rome, than at that distant church.
How long this state of things continued, or when precisely the canon was closed, is a question rather of curiosity than of importance, the authenticity and canonical character of any particular book being independent of its determination. We know that the principal parts of the New Testament were collected before the death of St. John, or at least not long sub