Wednesday, April 19, 2017

John Dick - The Very Words of Scripture Given By God

Every man, who hath attended to the operations of his own mind, knows, that we think in words; or that when we form a train or combination of ideas, we clothe them with words; and that the ideas which are not thus clothed, are indistinct and confused. Let a man try to think upon any subject, moral or religious, without the aid of language, and he will either experience a total cessation of thought; or, as this seems impossible, at least while we are awake, he will feel himself constrained, notwithstanding his utmost endeavours, to have recourse to words as the instrument of his mental operations. As a great part of the scriptures was suggested or revealed to the writers; and as the thoughts or sentiments, which were conveyed into their minds by the Spirit, were perfectly new to them, it is plain that they must have been accompanied with words proper to express them; and, consequently, that the words were dictated by the same influence on their minds, which communicated the ideas. The ideas could not have come without the words, because without them they could not have been conceived. A notion of the form and qualities of a material ob ject may be produced by subjecting it to our senses; but there is no conceivable method of making us acquainted with new abstract truths, or with things 'which do not lie within the sphere of sensation, but by conveying to the mind, in some way or other, the words significant of them. In all those passages of scripture, therefore, which were written' by revelation, it is manifest, that the words were inspired; and this is still more evident, with respect to those passages which the writers themselves did not un derstand. No man could write an intelligible dis course on a subject, which he does not understand, unless he were furnished with the words, as well as the sentiments; and that the penmen of the scriptures did not always understand what they wrote, might be safely inferred from the comparative darkness of the dispensation under which some of them lived; and is intimated by Peter, when he says, that the prophets 'inquired and searched diligently what, and what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which wag in them did signify, when it testified be forehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.' Their subsequent inquiries into the meaning of their own predictions, prove, that while they delivered the words, they had no distinct knowledge of the sense.

In other passages of scripture, those not except ed in which the writers relate such things as had fallen within the compass of their own knowledge, we will be disposed to believe, that the words are inspired, if we calmly and seriously weigh the following considerations. If Christ promised to his disciples, that when they were brought before kings and governors for his sake, 'it should be given them in that same hour what they should speak, and that the Spirit of their Father should speak in them;' a promise which cannot be reasonably understood to signify less than that both words and sentiments should be dictated to them; it is fully as credible, that they were assisted in the same man ner, when they wrote, especially as the record was to last through all ages, and to be a rule of faith to all the nations of the earth. Paul affirms, that he and the other apostles spoke, 'not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost taught; and this general assertion may be applied to their writings, as well as to their sermons. Besides, every man who hath reflected upon the subject, is aware of the importance of a proper selection of words in expressing our sentiments; and knows how easy it is for a heedless or unskilful person, not only to injure the beauty and weaken the efficacy of a discourse, by the impropriety of his language, but by substituting one word for an other, to which it seems to be equivalent, to alter the meaning, and perhaps render it totally different. If, then, the sacred writers had not been directed in the choice of words, how could we have been assured, that those, which they have chosen, were the most proper? Is it not possible, nay, is it not certain, that they would have sometimes expressed themselves inaccurately, as many of them were il literate; and by consequence, would have obscured and misrepresented the truth? In this case, how could our faith have securely rested on their testimony? Would not the suspicion of error in their writings have rendered it necessary, before we received them, to try them by the standard of reason; and would not the authority and the design of revelation have thus been overthrown? We must conclude, therefore, that the words of scripture are from God, as well as the matter; or we shall charge him with a want of wisdom, in transmitting his truths through a channel, by which they might have been, and most probably have been polluted.” 

John Dick, Essay on the Inspiration of the Scriptures (1800)

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