The Doctrine Relating to Canon – Part 1

Chris ThomasThe CanonLeave a Comment


The doctrine which concerns the canon of Scripture is this that God himself has made Himself its guarantee, that His almighty providence is engaged for the preservation of this sacred deposit, that He has guarded, now guards, and will guard it, till heaven and earth have passed away. In more precise terms, it is, that God, by a secret and perpetual agency, watches over His written “Word, because He watches over His Church; it is, that He has invisibly, but sovereignly, made use, first, of the Jewish people, during 3350 years, to make them the sure depositaries of the sacred oracles of the Old Testament and, still later, of Christian people that is to say, of all Christian churches, good or bad, to make them, in like manner, through fourteen centuries, and to make them to the end, depositaries not less sure of the oracles of the New Testament.
This doctrine may be established most firmly, as we think, by six classes of proofs.
(1.) By evident reasons taken from the wisdom of the Most High and His faithfulness.
(2.) By the very simple consideration of what “the God of the holy prophets” has not ceased to do, during more than thirty-three centuries, in relation to the sacred collection of His Scriptures.
(3.) By the infallible testimony borne by the apostles, and the Son of God himself, to the Old Testament, and to the preservation of His canon.
(4.) By a direct and positive declaration of the Holy Scriptures.
(5.) By the whole assemblage of the facts of Providence, splendid, incontestable, and numerous—facts extending through ages, all of which powerfully attest the sovereign agency of this Divine Providence for the preservation of Moses and the prophets.
(6.) Lastly, by a new assemblage of other facts, not less striking and incontestable, all of which attest, with equal force, the same continued agency of the Most High for the preservation of the New Testament


This doctrine, we affirm, is already proved, for every one who believes in the inspiration of the Scriptures, by the simple consideration of the divine wisdom and veracity.
This is almost a question of the plainest common sense. Only suppose that a clever watchmaker, by a wonderful exertion of his abilities, prepares and finishes, at a great expense, all the parts of a perfect chronometer, which is intended for the use of a beloved son in his travels to foreign parts; shall we not admit, as we would an axiom, that, having thus made it, he would not intentionally leave it out of doors exposed to all the accidents of the weather, or to injuries from passers-by? And who, then, can admit that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ would cause His only Son to come down from heaven for His chosen people, without guaranteeing for them the record of His life and teachings? or that He would have commissioned His apostles to write their books by the Holy Spirit, without taking care to preserve in after-time so precious a deposit? that He watched over these books while they were being written, and ceased to watch over them when once they were given to the world? that He cared no more about them when the churches had received them from the hands of the apostles? and that, in consequence, they have been transmitted from age to age, from country to country, from one generation to another, abandoned henceforward, like any common book to all the hazards of eighteen centuries? Would such negligence be in harmony with the principles of His government; with the care which He takes of the Church to the end of time; with His declarations of the value of the Scriptures, and the permanent certainty of their declarations; with His denunciations against the crime of adding anything to them, or taking anything from them?
He numbers the hairs of our head, and would He not number the books of His oracles ? He does not allow a sparrow to fall to the ground without His permission, and would He allow the Scriptures to fall from heaven to the ground, which have been given by Himself for the universal gathering together of His elect? What good to give them divinely inspired, unless He transmit them divinely guarded? Why preserve them from all error, if not preserved afterwards from all dangers ? He who said, ” Every word of God is pure, …. add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee,“ will He not keep a jealous eye upon it? And if, by the mouth of Paul, He pronounced an anathema against any who should preach “any other gospel than what His apostles preached,” would He afterwards permit this condemnation to fall on the entire collection of their oracles, by allowing inspired writings to be lost from it, or forged writings to be admitted into it? This is not possible. And we must all admit that, the inspiration of the Scriptures being recognised, our doctrine is already proved by the simplest knowledge of the wisdom and veracity of God. The learned Grotius has developed this thought very ably in the third book of his treatise on the truth of the Christian religion.


423. Nor must it be alleged here that books composed, it is said, by prophets of the Old Testament, or by apostles of the New, have been lost—”unfortunately lost “—to speak as some theologians do in the present day. None have been lost; and those persons who have advanced the contrary on mere suppositions can furnish no proof. The Church, for a longer or shorter time, may have suspended her judgment on the canonicity of this or that scripture; but not an instance can be cited of any book that has been once admitted into the canon that it has been afterwards excluded or lost.
424. Such allegations, it is true, have been made as to the Old Testament respecting The Book of the Wars of Jehovah, cited in the Pentateuch; The Book of Jasher, cited in Joshua and Samuel; also the books of Gad, of Nathan, of Ahijah, of Jeddo, of Semahiah, of Heddo, cited in the Chronicles ; and as to the New Testament, a pretended Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans, that no one has ever seen, and another pretended Epistle to the Corinthians, which also has not been seen,
425. But to speak first of the Old Testament. The Book of the Wars of Jehovah never made part of the Holy Scriptures as a distinct work. The Jews who came after Moses knew it only by the citation of Moses. They have even thought with Aben-Ezra, and some rabbis, that he meant only the Book of Numbers. Lightfoot believed it was a collection of instructions left by Moses to serve Joshua as a guide; others, with Hengstenberg, that it consisted of songs of praises on the wars of Israel; and others, with Calmet, that it was a series of annals written by public persons among the Hebrews, to which, perhaps, at different times, the successive titles had been given of The Book of the Wars of Jehovah, The Book of Jasher, The Book of Days. But at all events, none of these authors imagined that it was a lost canonical book. As to The Book of Jasher, (the right, the just,) the Jewish Targum explains it of The Book of the Law; others of Tlie Book of the Wars of Jehovah, or of the Book of Judges ; but no Israelite ever imagined that it was a sacred book which “had been lost.” And lastly, as to those of Gad and Nathan—those two prophets who had assisted King David in the difliculties of his reign and in the administration of holy things —they wrote themselves the history of this prince in the sacred book of Samuel, at least from the part where 2 Samuel left it at his death. Since, then, the scripture itself of the book of Chronicles declares that the history of David contained in the books of Samuel is the work of these two men of God, how can it be maintained that their books are lost? It is the same as to the history of King Solomon contained in the Book of Kings, and if the Chronicles inform us in like manner that the prophets Nathan and Ahijah wrote it, as Iddo and Shemaiah that of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, why should it be said that their books are lost? Do they not make a part of those scriptures which were deposited in the temple, as Josephus tells us?
426. Yet it will be said that these books, though they were deposited in the temple, have not preserved their distinct individuality, and we possess them at this day mixed in one body of history as Ezra or some other prophet compiled them. This is possible; but what does it signify? Even in that case they would not be lost, since they would be given to us under the form in which the Holy Spirit wished us to have them. And if it be true, which I do not affirm, that Ezra received as a prophet an order to digest their histories, and to combine them with care in one and the same book, called either the Book of Samuel or the Book of Kings, it would be absurd as well as incorrect to say that their books were “lost,” and “unfortunately lost.” We possess them as it was proper we should have them—abridged if you please—but, happily, surely and divinely guarded. So much for the Old Testament.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *