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THE PLENARY INSPIRATION OF THE SCRIPTURES.
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man ; but holy men of God
spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 PETER, i 21.
Some able writers in favor of divine revelation have ventured to compound the matter with infidels, and have given up the inspiration of some parts of scripture for the sake of maintaining the inspiration of the rest. This looks like carrying candor and condescension too far, and betraying the cause which they mean to defend. It is not to be expected that unbelievers will be satisfied with their partial concessions; but will continue their demands until they allow them to place the whole Bible upon a level with the writings of uninspired men. There seems, however, to be no occasion for the least yielding on the part of believers, if they can only make it appear that, so long as the sacred penmen were employed in writing the books of the Old and New Testament, they were constantly moved and guided by the Holy Ghost. And this, it must be allowed, is expressly asserted in the words of our text. “ For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man ; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” It appears from the preceding verses, that the apostle is here speaking of scripture in general; and therefore his real meaning must be that the Holy Ghost was the supreme agent, and holy men were but mere instruments, in writing the word of God. Agreeably to this construction of the text, it will be the business of the ensuing discourse to make it appear,
That the book which we emphatically call the Bible, was written by the inspiration of suggestion.
I shall first explain the meaning of this general proposition ; and then offer several considerations to establish the truth of it.
Let us, in the first place, inquire what is to be understood by the inspiration of suggestion. Some suppose there are three kinds of inspiration; which they distinguish from each other by calling the first, the inspiration of Superintendency; the second, the inspiration of Elevation; and the third, the inspiration of Suggestion.
The inspiration of Superintendency is supposed to be such a divine control over the sacred penmen, as left all their rational powers in their natural state, but yet constantly preserved them from writing any thing false or absurd.
The inspiration of elevation is supposed to be a certain divine impulse upon the minds of sacred writers, which warmed their imaginations and raised all their natural faculties to an unusual degree of vigor and activity.
And there can be no doubt but the inspiration of suggestion took place, “when the natural faculties of the sacred penmen were superseded, and God spake directly to their minds, making such discoveries to them as they could not have otherwise obtained, and dictating the very words in which such discoveries were to be communicated.”
It was this last and highest kind of inspiration, which, we suppose, God was pleased to afford those holy men whom he employed in writing the books of the Old and New Testament. He not only directed them to write, but at the same time suggested what to write; so that, according to the literal sense of the text, they wrote exactly as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
Now the truth of this observation will appear, if we consider,
I. It was necessary that the sacred penmen should be conscious of divine inspiration, all the while they were writing. It was not sufficient for them barely to know that they began to write under the influence of the Spirit; but it was equally necessary for them to know how long the Spirit continued to move upon their minds. For nothing short of a constant realizing sense of his motion and direction, could give them full assurance that what they wrote was the infallible word of God, which they might honestly present to the world under the sanction of divine authority. It must be supposed, therefore, that they were actually conscious of some kind of inspiration, every moment while they were writing. But it is difficult to conceive how they could be conscious of the inspiration of superintendency, which suggests neither thoughts nor words. And it is no less difficult to conceive how they could be conscious of the inspiration of elevation, which only assists the natural powers of the mind to operate in their natural way. Whereas it is easy to conceive how they could be conscious of the inspiration of suggestion. For this must have constantly and powerfully governed all their thoughts and words, just so long as it continued to operate. And whatever they wrote under the immediate and sensible influence of such a divine impulse, they might safely and confidently offer to the world as a divine revelation. Hence it is natural to conclude that they enjoyed, and were conscious of enjoying, the suggesting influences of the Spirit, all the while they were writing the sacred pages.
2. The Supreme Being was as able to afford them the highest, as the lowest kind of inspiration. He could as easily suggest thoughts and words to their minds, as either superintend, or elevate their intellectual faculties. This must be allowed by those who distinguish divine inspiration into various kinds. They suppose the Deity always granted the suggesting influence of the Spirit to the sacred penmen whenever they had occasion for such assistance; and can assign no other reason for its being sometimes suspended, but only that it was sometimes unnecessary. This, however, is much easier to suppose than to prove. For, if the sacred writers stood in constant need of some kind of inspiration, as they allow, how does it appear that any thing short of the inspiration of suggestion would afford them sufficient aid? And since it is natural to suppose that they did constantly need to be guided by the Holy Ghost all the while they were writing, it is natural to conclude that they were constantly favored with the inspiration of suggestion. This leads me to observe,
3. That the sacred penmen were utterly incapable of writing such a book as the Bible, without the constant guidance of the Holy Ghost. The professed design of this book is, to afford weak and depraved creatures an infallible rule of faith and practice. But even holy men of God were incapable of writing a book which should answer this important purpose, without being constantly guided and dictated by the Holy Ghost. Mere superintendency could not afford them sufficient assistance. This could only preserve them from writing any thing false, or absurd, without imparting the least light or strength to their intellectual powers. And supposing they had written under such a divine protection, yet their writings must have been totally destitute of divine instruction, and might have been equally destitute of the common beauties and excellences of human compositions. A book may be written without a single
A error or falsehood, and yet be a weak, inaccurate and contemptible performance. Had it been possible, therefore, for God to preserve the sacred writers from every mistake or blunder, without suggesting either thoughts or words to their minds, yet such a superintendency would have left them totally incapable of writing a divine revelation. Nor would they have been able to perform such a difficult and important work, had they been farther favored with the inspiration of elevation. It is true, this kind of inspiration might have guarded them in some measure against their natural weakness and imperfection, and given them some real assistance in their compositions. A divine elevating influence upon their minds might have enabled them to write with peculiar ease, animation and sublimity. But supposing their writings had posessed all these qualities, yet they would have wanted both divine information and divine authority; which alone could have rendered them the real word of God.
Now, if neither the superintending nor the elevating influences of the Spirit were sufficient to enlighten and direct the sacred penmen in writing the scriptures of truth, then it undeniably follows that they stood in constant and absolute need of the inspiration of suggestion. No lower or less constant assistance than this could enable them to write a book so free from error, and so full of information, as God designed the Bible should be. It is true, he did not intend the scriptures should reveal his will upon all religious subjects; nor so clearly reveal it upon some subjects, as to prevent all human doubts, mistakes, or disputes. But yet he meant that the Bible should be free from all human errors and imperfections, and contain all the truths which it was necessary to reveal, in order to answer the purposes of his providence and grace. And it is easy to see that every sentence, and even every word in such a book as this, was of too much importance to be written by any unassisted pen. Hence, it is natural to conclude, the Holy Ghost suggested every thought and word to the sacred penmen, all the while they were writing the holy scriptures. Besides,
4. To suppose that they sometimes wrote without the inspiration of suggestion, is the same as to suppose that they sometimes wrote without any inspiration at all. The distinguishing of inspiration into three kinds is a mere human invention, which has no foundation in scripture or reason. And those who make this distinction, appear to amuse themselves and others with words without ideas. The Supreme Being is able both to superintend and elevate the minds of men, in the common dispensations of providence and grace. Solomon tells us, “ The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.” In the exercise of such a universal control over the views, and thoughts, and words of men, God does nothing which is either supernatural or miraculous. But inspiration, in every degree of it, always means something which is truly supernatural and miraculous, and which is essentially different from both cornmon and special grace. This clearly appears in the case of the primitive christians. They were the subjects, not of common and special grace only, but of divine inspiration. “ For to one was given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another, prophecy; to another, discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues.” All these spiritual gifts partook of the nature of inspiration, and were truly miraculous. They were above nature, and such as the natural powers of the mind could not attain by any mere common or natural assistance. But the inspiration of superintendency, and the inspiration of elevation, have nothing supernatural or miraculous in them; nor can they be distinguished from common and special grace. This may be easily illustrated. Common and special grace leave all the intellectual faculties of the mind in their natural state; and so does what is called the inspiration of superintendency. Common and special grace sometimes enliven and invigorate the natural powers of the mind to a great and unusual degree; and so does what is called the inspiration of elevation. In short, no person is able to describe, nor even to conceive of any inspiration which is higher than common assistance, and yet at the same time lower than the inspiration of suggestion. It is no less contrary to reason to suppose there are three, than to suppose there are thirty kinds of inspiration. And the dictates of reason upon this subject are confirmed by the dictates of scripture, which speaks only of one kind of inspiration, and represents that one kind to be the moving of the Holy Ghost, or the inspiration of suggestion. This, therefore, was the only inspiration under which the sacred penmen wrote, so long as they were divinely inspired. And if they were divinely inspired all the while they were writing, then they all the while enjoyed the suggesting influences of the Spirit. But it is generally believed and maintained that they were, in some measure, really inspired, all the time they were writing the , books of the Old and New Testament. And if we allow this to be true, then we must necessarily suppose that every book, and every sentence in every book, was written under the plenary inspiration of suggestion. I may now add,