By Adam Clarke
THE NECESSITY OF REVELATION.—The absolute
necessity of a divine revelation is sufficiently established. If God
be the sole Fountain of light and truth, all knowledge must be
derived from him. "The spirit of a man may know the things of a man;
but the Spirit of God can alone know and teach the things of God."
That is, the human intellect, in its ordinary power and operation,
is sufficient to comprehend the various earthly things that concern
man's sustenance and welfare in social life; but this intellect
cannot fathom the things of God; it cannot find out the mind of the
Most High; it knows not his will; it has no just idea of the end for
which man was made; of that in which his best interests lie; of its
own nature; of the nature of moral good and evil; how to avoid the
latter, and how to attain the former, in which true happiness, or
the supreme good, consists: and these things it is the province of
divine revelation to teach, for they have never been taught or
conceived by man.
How unspeakably we are indebted to God for giving us a revelation of his WILL and of his WORKS ! Is it possible to know the mind of God but from himself? It is impossible. Can those things and services which are worthy of, and pleasing to, an infinitely pure, perfect, and holy Spirit, be ever found out by reasoning and conjecture? Never; for the Spirit of God alone can know the mind of God; and by this Spirit he has revealed himself to man, and in this revelation has taught him, not only to know the glories and perfections of the Creator, but also his own origin, duty, and interest. Thus far it was essentially necessary that God should reveal his WILL ; but if he had not given a revelation of his WORKS, the origin, constitution, and nature of the universe could never have been adequately known. The world by wisdom knew not God. This is demonstrated by the writings of the most learned and intelligent heathens. They had no just, no rational notion of the origin and design of the universe. Moses alone, of all ancient writers, gives a consistent and rational account of the creation; an account which has been confirmed by the investigations of the most accurate philosophers.
THE SCRIPTURES ARE REVELATIONS FROM GOD.—The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are, generally, through all Christian countries, and in almost all languages, termed, THE BIBLE, from a Greek word, Βιβλος, , A BOOK, as being the only book that teaches the knowledge of the true God; the origin of the universe; the creation and fall of man; the commencement of the different nations of the earth; the confusion of languages; the foundation of the church of God; the abominable and destructive nature of idolatry and false worship; the divine scheme of redemption; the immortality of the soul; the doctrine of the invisible and spiritual world; a future judgment; and the final retribution of the wicked in the pains of eternal perdition, and of the good in the blessedness of an endless glory. These Scriptures we know to be revelations from heaven:—
This revelation is now complete. God will add nothing more to it, because it contains every thing necessary for men, both in reference to this world and that which is to come; and he has denounced the heaviest judgments against those who shall add to it, or diminish any thing from it.
The oldest records among both Jews and Christians mention the books, both by number and name, which constitute the Old Testament Scriptures, and these are the identical books, both in number and name, that remain in the Hebrew canon to the present day. Not one has been added; not one has been taken away. Nor have we the slightest evidence that even one chapter or paragraph, in any one of the books come down to us, has been either added or omitted. And it is the same with the New Testament: we have not lost or received a single book or chapter which the genuine church of God has ever accounted divinely inspired and canonical. I have diligently examined this question in all the accounts we have from antiquity; and in all the collections of Hebrew and Greek MSS., both of the Old and New Testament, and their various readings, which the ablest critics have produced to public view, and some of the chief of those MSS. I have collated myself, and most, if not all, of the ancient versions, and I can conscientiously say that we have the sacred oracles, at least in essential sum and substance, as they were delivered by God to Moses and the prophets; and to the church of Christ by Jesus, his evangelists and apostles; and that nothing in the various readings of the Hebrew and Greek MSS. can be found to strengthen any error in doctrine, or obliquity in moral practice. All is safe and sound,—all pure and holy: it is the perfect law of the Lord, that converts the soul; the testimony of the Lord, that abideth for ever; and the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ, which is able to make men wise unto salvation, through faith in him. This is the testimony of one who has examined this subject from the beginning to the end. And may I not ask, Is not such a testimony infinitely superior to the rash and bold assumptions of such men as are slaves to their passions, who find from the unholiness of their own hearts, and the irregularity of their lives, that it is their interest to find that called the word of God to be false or spurious, because they have too much reason to dread the perdition of ungodly men, of which the Scriptures so amply treat? I might add, too, the superiority of such a testimony to that of those bold and presumptuous men who have never examined the question, and who were as incapable of examining the streams which have proceeded from the fountain, as they were of tracing those streams to the fountain itself! Of what worth is the testimony of such men against the testimony of God, and of the whole church of Christ, through all ages; and of the best, wisest, and most learned men that ever existed? Well may it be said here, and said with triumph, "What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord."
Who then are they who cry out, "The Bible is a fable?" Those who have never read it, or read it only with the fixed purpose to gainsay it. I once met with a person who professed to disbelieve every tittle of the New Testament, a chapter of which, he acknowledged, he had never read. I asked him, had he ever read the Old? He answered, No! And yet this man had the assurance to reject the whole as an imposture! God has mercy on those whose ignorance leads them to form prejudices against the truth; but he confounds those who take them up through envy and malice, and endeavour to communicate them to others.
The men who can despise and ridicule this sacred book are those who are too blind to discover the objects presented to them by this brilliant light, and are too sensual to feel and relish spiritual things.
The book of GENESIS is the most ancient record in the world; including the history of two grand subjects, CREATION and PROVIDENCE ; of each of which it gives a summary, but astonishingly minute and detailed account. From this book almost all the ancient philosophers, astronomers, chronologists, and historians have taken their respective data; and all the modern improvements and accurate discoveries in different arts and sciences have only served to confirm the facts detailed by Moses; and to show that all the ancient writers on these subjects have approached to or receded from TRUTH and the phenomena of nature, in proportion as they have followed the Mosaic history.
The works of Moses, we may justly say, have been a kind of text book to almost every writer on geology, geography, chronology, astronomy, natural history, ethics, jurisprudence, political economy, theology, poetry, and criticism, from his time to the present day; books to which the choicest writers and philosophers in pagan antiquity have been deeply indebted, and which were the text books to all the prophets; books from which the flimsy writers against divine revelation have derived their natural religion and all their moral excellence; books written in all the energy and purity of the incomparable language in which they are composed; and finally, books which, for importance of matter, variety of information, dignity of sentiment, accuracy of facts, impartiality, simplicity, and sublimity of narration, tending to improve and ennoble the intellect, and meliorate the physical and moral condition of man, have never been equalled, and can only be paralleled by the GOSPEL of the Son of God! Fountain of endless mercy, justice, truth, and beneficence! how much are thy gifts and bounties neglected by those who do not read this law; and by those who, having read it, are not morally improved by it, and made wise unto salvation!
Had not the history of Joseph formed a part of the sacred Scriptures, it would have been published in all the living languages of man, and read throughout the universe! But it contains "the things of God," and to all such the "carnal mind is enmity."
Numerous prophecies, long previously delivered, and in the keeping of those who in the days of Christ's flesh were his most inveterate enemies, had announced his approach, described his person, detailed his sufferings, showed forth his death and resurrection, and foretold the propagation and influence of his religion over the earth. From this fountain of light and salvation a new race of inspired authors proceeded, who shone with that clear and steady light which they received from Him, and reflected his brightness throughout the universe. It is worthy of remark that, notwithstanding the most numerous and the most eminent writers that ever adorned the republic of letters sprang from this light of life and truth, yet He himself was never known to write but once, John viii, 8, and that in the dust, in reference to a sinner who was brought to be condemned by him;—and what he then wrote no man knows, as he did not think proper to hand it down to posterity.
The facts which St. Luke mentions, chap. iii, 1, 2, tend much to confirm the truth of the evangelical history. Christianity differs widely from philosophic system; it is founded in the goodness and authority of God; and attested by historic facts. It differs also from popular tradition, which either has had no pure origin, or which is lost in unknown or fabulous antiquity. It differs also from pagan and Mohammedan revelations, which were fabricated in a corner, and had no witnesses. In the above verses we find the persons, the places, and the times marked with the utmost exactness. It was under the first Cesars that the preaching of the gospel took place; and in their time the facts on which the whole of Christianity is founded made their appearance: an age the most enlightened and best known from the multitude of its historic records. It was in Judea, where every thing that professed to come from God was scrutinized with the most exact and unmerciful criticism. In writing the history of Christianity, the evangelists appeal to certain facts which were publicly transacted in such places, under the government and inspection of such and such persons, and in such particular times. A thousand persons could have confronted the falsehood, had it been one. These appeals are made—a challenge is offered to the Roman government, and to the Jewish rulers and people—a new religion has been introduced in such a place, at such a time—this has been accompanied with such and such facts and miracles! Who can disprove this? All are silent. None appears to offer even an objection. The cause of infidelity and irreligion is at stake! If these facts cannot be disproved, the religion of Christ must triumph. None appears, because none could appear. Now, let it be observed that the persons of that time, only, could confute these things had they been false; they never attempted it; therefore these facts are absolute and incontrovertible truths: this conclusion is necessary. Shall a man, then, give up his faith in such attested facts as these, because, more than a thousand years after, an infidel creeps out, and ventures publicly to sneer at what his iniquitous soul hopes is not true?
How impartial is the history that God writes! We may see, from several commentators, what man would have done, had he had the same facts to relate. The history given by God details as well the vices as the virtues of those who are its subjects. How widely different from that in the Bible is the biography of the present day! Virtuous acts that were never performed, voluntary privations which were never borne, piety which was never felt, and, in a word, lives which were never lived, are the principal subjects of our biographical relation. These may be well termed the Lives of the Saints, for to these are attributed all the virtues which can adorn the human character, with scarcely a failing or a blemish; while, on the other hand, those in general mentioned in the sacred writings stand marked with deep shades. What is the inference which a reflecting mind, acquainted with human nature, draws from a comparison of the biography of the Scriptures with that of uninspired writers? The inference is this—the Scripture history is natural, is probable, bears all the characteristics of veracity, narrates circumstances which seem to make against its own honour, yet dwells on them, and often seeks occasion to REPEAT them. It is true! infallibly true! In this conclusion common sense, reason, and criticism join. On the other hand, of biography in general, we must say that it is often unnatural, improbable; is destitute of many of the essential characteristics of truth; studiously avoids mentioning those circumstances which are dishonourable to its subject; ardently endeavours either to cast those which it cannot wholly hide into deep shades, or sublime them into virtues. This is notorious, and we need not go far for numerous examples. From these facts a reflecting mind will draw this general conclusion—an impartial history, in every respect true, can be expected only from God himself.
The sacred writings contain such proofs of a divine origin that, though all the dead were to rise to convince an unbeliever of the truths therein declared, the conviction could not be greater, nor the proofs more evident, of the divinity and truth of those sacred records, than that which themselves afford.
HOW REVELATION HAS BEEN GIVEN.—God communicated the Scripture in ancient times to holy men, by the inspiration of his own Spirit, who carefully wrote it down, and delivered it to those to whom it was at first more immediately sent; and they have handed it down from generation to generation, without addition, defalcation, or wilful corruption of any kind.
In many cases the silence of Scripture is not less instructive than its most pointed communications.
There is sufficient evidence from the Scriptures themselves, that the Revelation of the Divine Will was given to men in the five following ways:—
Why is it that God has observed so slow a climax in bringing the necessary knowledge of his will and their interest to mankind? For instance, giving a little under the patriarchal, an increase under the Mosaic, and the fulness of the blessing under the gospel dispensation? It is true, he could have given the whole in the beginning to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, or any other of the ante or post-diluvian fathers; but that this would not have as effectually answered the divine purpose, may be safely asserted.
God, like his instrument, nature, delights in progression; and although the works of both, in semine, were finished from the beginning, nevertheless they are not brought forward to actual and complete existence, but by various accretions. And this appears to be done that the blessings resulting from both may be properly valued, as, in their approach, men have time to discover their necessities; and, when relieved, after a thorough consciousness of their urgency, they see and feel the propriety of being grateful to their kind Benefactor.
Were God to bestow his blessings before the want of them were truly felt, men could not be properly grateful for the reception of blessings the value of which they had not known by previously feeling the want of them. God gives his blessings that they may be duly esteemed, and he himself become the sole object of our dependence: and this end he secures by a gradual communication of his bounties as they are felt to be necessary. To give them all at once would defeat his own intention, and leave us unconscious of our dependence on and debt to his grace. He, therefore, brings forward his various dispensations of mercy and love, as he sees men prepared to receive and value them; and as the receipt of the grace of one dispensation makes way for another, and the soul is thereby rendered capable of more extended views and communications, so the divine Being causes every succeeding dispensation to exceed that which preceded it: on this ground we find a climax of dispensations, and in each a progressive, graduated scale of light, life, power, and holiness.
THE USE OF REVELATION.—The word torah or LAW comes from the root Yarah, which signifies to "aim at, teach, point out, direct, lead, guide, make straight or even;" and from these significations of the word (and in all these senses it is used in the Bible) we may see at once the nature, properties, and design of the law of God. It is a system of INSTRUCTION in righteousness; it teaches the difference between moral good and evil; ascertains what is right and fit to be done, and what should be left undone, because improper to be performed. It continually aims at the glory of God, and the happiness of his creatures; teaches the true knowledge of the true God, and the destructive nature of sin; points out the absolute necessity of an atonement as the only means by which God can be reconciled to transgressors; and in its very significant rites and ceremonies points out the Son of God, till he should come to put away iniquity by the sacrifice of himself. It is a revelation of God's wisdom and goodness, wonderfully well calculated to direct the hearts of men into the truth, to guide their feet into the path of life, and to make straight, even, and plain, that way which leads to God, and in which the soul must walk in order to arrive at eternal life. It is the fountain whence every correct notion relative to God—his perfections, providence, grace, justice, holiness, omniscience, and omnipotence—has been derived. And it has been the origin whence all the true principles of law and justice have been derived. The pious study of it was the grand means of producing the greatest kings, the most enlightened statesmen, the most accomplished poets, and the most holy and useful men that ever adorned the world. It is exceeded only by the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is at once the accomplishment of its rites and predictions, and the fulfilment of its grand plan and outline. As a system of teaching or instruction, it is the most sovereign and most effectual; as by it is the knowledge of sin; and it alone is the schoolmaster that leads men to Christ, that they may be justified through faith, Gal. iii, 24. Who can absolutely ascertain the exact quantum of obliquity in a crooked line, without the application of a straight one? And could sin, in all its twistings, windings, and varied involutions, have ever been truly ascertained, had not God given to man this perfect rule to judge by? The nations who acknowledge this revelation of God have, as far as they attend to its dictates, the wisest, purest, most equal, and most beneficial laws. The nations that do not receive it have laws at once extravagantly severe and extravagantly indulgent. The proper distinctions between moral good and evil, in such states, are not known: hence the penal sanctions are not founded on the principles of justice, weighing the exact proportion of moral turpitude; but on the most arbitrary caprices, which in many cases show the utmost indulgence to first-rate crimes, while they punish minor offences with rigour and cruelty. What is the consequence? Just what might be reasonably expected: the will and caprice of man being put in the place of the wisdom of God, the government is oppressive, and the people, frequently goaded to distraction, rise up in a mass and overturn it; so that the monarch, however powerful for a time, seldom lives out half his days. This was the case in Greece, in Rome, in the major part of the Asiatic governments, and is the case in all nations of the world to the present day, where the government is despotic, and the laws not formed according to the revelation of God.
The word lex, "law," among the Romans, has been derived from lego, "I read," because when a law or statute was made, it was hung up in the most public places, that it might be seen, read, and known by all men; that those who were to obey the laws might not break them through ignorance, and thus incur the penalty. This was Called promulgatio legis, quasi provulgatio, "the promulgation of the law," that is, the laying it before the common people. Or from ligo, "I bind," because the law binds men to the strict observance of its precepts. The Greeks call a law νομος nomos, from νεμο "to divide, distribute, minister to, or serve," because the law divides to all their just rights, appoints or distributes to each his proper duty, and thus serves or ministers to the welfare of the individual, and the support of society. Hence, where there are either no laws, or unequal and unjust ones, all is distraction, violence, rapine, oppression, anarchy, and ruin.
"The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," cuts every way; it convinces of sin, righteousness, and judgment; pierces between the joints and the marrow, divides between the soul and the spirit, dissects the whole mind, and exhibits a regular anatomy of the soul. It not only reproves and exposes sin, but it slays the ungodly, pointing out and determining the punishment they shall endure.
"It is a critic of the propensities and suggestions of the heart." How many have felt this property of God's word where it has been faithfully preached! How often has it happened that a man has seen the whole of his own character, and some of the most private transactions of his life, held up as it were to public view by the preacher; and yet the parties absolutely unknown to each other! Some, thus exhibited, have even supposed that their neighbours must have privately informed the preacher of their character and conduct; but it was the word of God, which, by the direction and energy of the divine Spirit, thus searched them out, was "a critical examiner of the propensities and suggestions of their hearts," and had pursued them through all their public haunts and private ways. Every genuine minister of the gospel has witnessed such effects as these under his ministry in repeated instances.
The law of God is a code of instruction, in which God makes himself known in the holiness and justice of his nature, his displacence at sin, and his love of righteousness;—as also to manifest himself in the magnitude of his mercy, and readiness to save. In a word, it is God's system of instruction by which men are taught the knowledge of their Creator and of themselves—directed how to walk so as to please God—redeemed from crooked paths—and guided in the way that leads to everlasting life. This is the Bible—The Book, by way of eminence—the Book made by God—the only book that is without blemish or error—the book that contains the TRUTH, the whole TRUTH, and nothing but the TRUTH : that without which we should have known little about God, less concerning ourselves, and nothing about heaven, the resurrection, or a future state: the book that contains the greatest mass of learning ever put together—the book from which all the sages of antiquity have, directly or indirectly, derived their knowledge: by means of which, the nations who have studied it most, and known it best, have formed the wisest code of laws, and have become the wisest and the most powerful nations of the earth.
The revelation which God has given of himself is a perfect system of instruction. It reveals no more than we ought to know; it keeps nothing back that would be profitable. It gives us a proper view of the nature and authority of the Lawgiver. It shows the right he has to govern us.
All well constituted and wisely enacted laws are for the benefit of the subjects. This is emphatically the case with the law of God. He needs not our allegiance—he wants not our tribute. He is infinitely perfect, and needs nothing that we can bring. There was the utmost necessity for this law:—he that is without law is without reason and rule. He has no line to walk by—nothing to teach, restrain, or correct him. He is led astray by his passions; and lives to his own ruin and destruction. God in his mercy has given him a law to bind, to instruct, and to lead him. In this law he has shown man at once his duty and his interest.
The revelation of God is the mind of God made known to man; and the mind is not truer to itself, than the inspired writings are to the mind and purpose of God.
All God's commandments lead to purity, enjoin purity, and point out that sacrificial offering by which cleansing and purification are acquired.
How true is that word, "The law of the Lord is PERFECT !" In a small compass, and in a most minute detail it comprises every thing that is calculated to instruct, direct, convince, correct, and fortify the mind of man. Whatever has a tendency to corrupt or injure man, that it forbids; whatever is calculated to comfort him, promote and secure his best interests, that it commands. It takes him in all possible states, views him in all connections, and provides for his present and eternal happiness.
As the human soul is polluted and tends to pollution, the great doctrine of the law is "holiness to the Lord." This it keeps invariably in view in all its commands, precepts, ordinances, rites, and ceremonies. And how forcibly in all these does it say, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; and thy neighbour as thyself!" This is the prominent doctrine of the Bible; and this shall be fulfilled in all them who believe, for "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to them that believe." Reader, magnify God for his law, for by it is the knowledge of sin; and magnify him for his gospel, for by this is the cure of sin. Let the law be thy schoolmaster to bring thee to Christ, that thou mayest be justified by faith; and that the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in thee, and that thou mayest walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
The law is not to be considered as a system of external rites and ceremonies; nor even as a rule of moral action. It is a spiritual system; it reaches to the most hidden purposes, thoughts, dispositions, and desires of the heart and soul; and it reproves and condemns every thing, without hope of reprieve or pardon, that is contrary to eternal truth and rectitude.
The law could not pardon; the law could not sanctify; the law could not dispense with its own requisitions; it is the rule of righteousness, and therefore must condemn unrighteousness. This is its unalterable nature. Had there been perfect obedience to its dictates, instead of condemning, it would have applauded and rewarded; but as the flesh, the carnal and rebellious principle, had prevailed, and transgression had taken place, it was rendered weak, inefficient to undo this work of the flesh, and bring the sinner into a state of pardon and acceptance with God.
Where the law ends, Christ begins. The law ends with representative sacrifices; Christ begins with the real offering. The law is our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ; it cannot save, but it leaves us at his door, where alone salvation is to be found. Christ, as an arguing sacrifice for sin, was the grand object of the whole sacrificial code of Moses; his passion and death were the fulfilment of its great object and design. Separate this sacrificial death of Christ from the law, and the law has no meaning, for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.
Take Jesus, his grace, Spirit, and religion out of the Bible, and it has neither scope, design, object, nor end.
The gospel is God's method of saving a lost world, in a way which that world could never have imagined. There is nothing human in it; it is all truly and gloriously divine, essentially necessary to the salvation of man, and fully adequate to the purposes of its institution.
Every language is confounded, less or more, but that of eternal truth. This is ever the same; in all countries, climates, and ages, the language of truth, like that God from whom it sprang, is unchangeable. It speaks in all tongues, to all nations, and in all hearts: "There is one GOD, the Fountain of goodness, justice, and truth. M
AN, thou art his creature, ignorant, weak, and dependent; but he is all- sufficient—hates nothing that he has made—loves thee— is able and willing to save thee; return to and depend on him, take his revealed will for thy law, submit to his authority, and accept eternal life on the terms proposed in his word, and thou shalt never perish nor be wretched." This language of truth all the ancient and modern Babel- builders have not been able to confound, notwithstanding their repeated attempts. How have men toiled to make this language clothe their own ideas; and thus cause God to speak according to the pride, prejudice, and worst passions of men!
But through a just judgment of God, the language of all those who have attempted to do this has been confounded, and the word of the Lord abideth for ever.
ALL SHOULD KNOW THE SCRIPTURES.—The Holy Scriptures are plain enough; but the heart of man is darkened by sin. The Bible does not so much need a comment, as the soul does the light of the Holy Spirit. Were it not for the darkness of the human intellect, the things relative to salvation would be easily apprehended.
Nothing can be more preposterous and monstrous than to call people to embrace the doctrines of Christianity, and refuse them the opportunity of consulting the book in which they are contained. Persons who are denied the use of the sacred writings may be manufactured into different forms and modes; and be mechanically led to believe certain dogmas, and perform certain religious acts; but without the use of the Scriptures they never can be intelligent Christians; they do not search the Scriptures, and therefore they cannot know Him of whom these Scriptures testify.
 For a brief account of the subjects, the author, and the date of every book in the Holy Scriptures, see the preface to each in Dr. Clarke's Commentary; and also his " Clavis Biblica," a work that contains a fund of most important information in a very small compass.—S.D.