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and these sparkling stars, and yon blazing comet, planned themselves, and made themselves! Ay! and by a voluntary start and impulse, they set out and continued in their mighty career! Oh! most accomplished natural philosophers! Do they aim at elevating, and polishing the human mind? Yes! by withholding all elevating, and all purifying power and means! Yes! they bring man, and the soul of man, to the summit of perfectibility, by teaching him to live as the beasts that perish; and by assuring him that he has the noble and glorious career before him, of dying as a beast, without hope, without glory, without immortality! For there is neither a hell, nor a heaven; no! nor a soul in man to be lost!
In conclusion, I submit the argument with these questions:-Is there one sober reflecting person here, who will hesitate between Bible knowledge, and infidel ignorance of God's word; between Bible virtue, and infidel wickedness; between Bible glory, and infidel degradation; between Bible happiness, and infidel remorse and perdition; in a word, between the honorable service of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the slavery of the Evil one, waxing worse and worse through all eternity? In view of the fearful tendency of the system of infidels contrasted with that of the Christian, who does not exclaim-" O my soul! come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united! Rather let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" And, finally, in view of the strong language with which this Revelation of Heaven closes, who that dares even to speak light of any portion of it, or to neglect its truths, will not tremble lest he be found among those who fall under its condemnations at the last day ?—“ If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He who testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so come Lord Jesus!"
Preached Oct. 4, 1835, in commemoration of the first printing of an English Bible, A. D. 1535.
By REV. WILLIAM ADAMS,
THE HISTORY, CHARACTER, AND IMPORTANCE OF THE RECEIVED ENGLISH VERSION OF THE BIBLE.
ROMANS, XV. 4-Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
THE fourth of October, 1535-just three hundred years from this day— was signalized by the publication, for the first time, of the whole Bible in the English language. We call it a great event, because great results have followed. If it is natural for individuals to commemorate striking events in their history; if nations fail not to mark the return of the day which gave them the charter of their rights, and secured to them and their posterity the invaluable blessings of peace and liberty—with what propriety may a Christian pause, gratefully to celebrate the day which secured to him, and his children's children, the intelligible word of God-that charter of every earthly hope, the source of all true liberty, the title to a heavenly inheritance. Who has not noticed on the return of our national jubilee, a high-wrought patriotism, which seems to float in the air, causing multitudes to rejoice in view of all that day achieved for us and the world? Who that ever visited those memorable fields, where our ancestors fought in defence of their country, has not felt some deep emotion suffusing his eye, and agitating his frame, as he thought that he stood upon the very soď which was once wet with the blood of his fathers ;-and that all which we now enjoy the blessings of home and country, and religion—are to be traced back to the event which there occurred, and that their very existence was suspended upon that day's success? And what heart does not dilate with gratitude to God, on the morning of this Sabbath, which commemorates the bestowment of a gift to our parent country, from which Christian patriots have drawn all their inspiration-the unsealed fountain of light and truth, and intelligence, to which we trace back all our civil and religious privileges, our hopes for time and eternity, and without which we should now be sitting in darkness and primeval barbarism, the victims of a despotism whose "iron entereth into the soul."
Any information concerning the faithful transmission of the Holy Scriptures from other times; any testimony to the correctness of the version which we now possess, cannot be inappropriate or destitute of interest and profit.
The Scriptures were originally written upon rolls of parchment, similar, probably, to those which are to be seen in the holy place of Jewish synagogues, at the present day. These manuscripts were copied with the utmost care. Many versions of them were made from the original Hebrew and Greek, into other tongues. The various manuscripts which have come down to the present day, all agree essentially in their contents. This is admitted both by believers and unbelievers.
By whom, and at what time, Christianity was first introduced into the British Isles, cannot now be ascertained, with any degree of precision. It is certain, however, that many manuscript copies of the Scriptures, or parts of Scripture, in the Saxon tongue, existed at a very early date. One translation of the Psalms is ascribed to king Alfred. For several centuries after this, the general reading of the Bible was prohibited by the Papal See, whose supremacy was then felt and acknowledged.
The first translations of the Bible into English were previous to the invention of printing. They were the result of incalculable labor and expense of time. Transcripts were obtained with great difficulty, and being rare, were purchased at a price which seems to us incredible. The monks who employed their time, in lone seclusion, in executing these beautiful manuscript copies of the word of God, knew not for what vast and glorious results they were laboring:-like the electric chain, unconscious itself of the tremendous power it is transmitting to others.
The whole Bible was translated into English-but not printed—in the fourteenth century, by Wickliffe. Great efforts were made by the dignitaries of Church and State to suppress this translation. A decree was issued, prohibiting all from translating, or reading any English version of the Bible. Great persecutions arose. Many were punished severely, and some put to death for reading the Scriptures in English.
But the day had begun to dawn. It was not in the power of man to roll back the "living wheels" which the Prophet saw. A child may put in motion the nicely-poised rocking-stone; but the arm of a giant cannot stay it. The art of Printing was invented. The Reformation had commenced. Luther and his coadjutors had lifted up their voices, and Europe was beginning to shake with the volcanic fires which were rumbling beneath her.
William Tindal, was among the first in England to catch the spirit of the reformers; and to him are we indebted for the first printed translation of any part of the Bible in the English language. In order to accomplish his holy work, he left his order in the church, and retired from his native land. Nearly all the copies of this work which found their way to England were publicly burned, by authority; and all who were suspected of possessing and concealing any copies, were disgraced, fined, and punished. And let it be held in remembrance by us, enjoying without fear or molestation, as we do, the fruits of those labors, that the man who first printed any part of the word of God in our mother tongue, was himself strangled to death, and his body burned, for his temerity; praying, with his dying breath, in the true spirit of his Saviour, "Lord, open the king of England's eyes."
The first printed translation of the whole Bible, was by Coverdale, and was probably published at Zurich, in Switzerland, the last page bearing these words:
"Prynted in the yeare of our Lorde, 1535, and fynished the fourth day of October."
Versions of the Scriptures were now multiplied, copies circulated, and the power of God began to be felt. But as yet there was no common standard. To other times was reserved the emission of that version of the Sacred Text which we now possess; and which, we believe, is destined to stand to the end of time, as one of the most splendid monuments of scholarship and success the world has ever seen. This version of the Scriptures generally passes by the name of King James' Bible; during whose reign, and at whose instance, the translation was undertaken, and to whom it is dedicated. It is an intensely interesting question to every Christian, How much evidence have we that this is a correct translation of the word of God? As this is the version universally received by Protestants, wherever
the English language is spoken, and there exists no probability that any other will ever supersede it, a few remarks, in passing, upon this point, may not be inappropriate.
1. It is worthy of remark, in the first place, that the word of God, in the original, is so remarkably distinct, intelligible, and obvious in its import, that no translator, possessing a tolerable knowledge of the original, and aiming to give a correct version of it, can possibly fail of finding there, all the substantial doctrines of the gospel-all that is necessary to salvation.
There are some human faces, and many scenes in nature, so peculiar and striking that the rudest attempt to sketch them cannot fail to convey some idea of the original. Let a thousand artists, of every variety of talent and skill, undertake to paint the face and form of our immortal Washington, and in all their productions, from the finished and almost breathing pictures of Stewart and Peale, down to the rudest effort of village skill, there will be a convergence of resemblance to one and the same original, that cannot fail to strike the most superficial observer. Or let them attempt to sketch the same bold and lofty mountain, peculiar in its form, striking in its outline;-one may present a picture with the last touchings and finishings of skill-but in all you will see a substantial resemblance to an object so prominent and peculiar. So let a thousand men, possessing the least claims to scholarship, of heterogeneous habits and prejudices, undertake to give a translation of the original Scriptures, and, on all substantial points, there will be such an obvious resemblance, that none can mistake, and he that runneth may read—just as the eye catches the outline of the vast and lofty mountain.
Men of every character and nation agree in finding the same obvious and fundamental truths in the Bible. Infidel scholars even, have been forced to acknowledge that they were there, while they have denied their divine origin. Errorists of every name have admitted that these same declarations were in the sacred text, and then have resorted to notes and comments to explain them away. The following sentence from the writings of Chrysostom, one of the early fathers of the Church, not only expresses the same sentiment, but confirms our preceding assertion, that the Scriptures existed in Britain at a very early period. "Though thou visitest the ocean and the British Islands, though thou sailest to the Euxine Sea, and travellest to the Southern regions, thou shalt hear all men, every where, reading out of the Scriptures; with another voice indeed, but not with another faith; in a different language, but with the same understanding." In a word, no man has ever been able to maintain any reputation as a classical scholar, who has departed far from that obvious meaning of the Scriptures which is to be found in every version. So bold, and obvious, and deep-chisseled are these truths, that they can, by no process, be sunk below the surface, and another, false, far-fetched and unnatural construction made to take their place. This is a feature in the original structure of that book which came forth from God. We should have been led to expect it from what we know of the character and intentions of its Author. Revelation is a gift of light; it cannot thicken and multiply our perplexities. The Teacher of infinite wisdom cannot expose those whom he would teach to infinite error. He will rather surpass all other instructors in bringing down truth to our apprehensions. In the language of Milton, "The very essence of truth is plainness and brightness; the darkness and crookedness are our own. The Scriptures protest their own plainness and perspicuity, calling to be instructed, not only the wise and learned, but the simple, the poor, babes and sucklings."
2. But the version we possess claims the highest character for accuracy, and that claim is founded on the number and qualifications of those who made it; the manner in which they executed it; and the circumstances of the times in which they lived.
The men appointed for this important labor were fifty-four in number, all of them pre-eminently distinguished for piety and profound learning in the original languages of the sacred text. Seven of them deceased, or declined the task, before the commencement of the work; and the remaining fortyseven were divided into six classes, from ten to seven in each. To each of these classes was assigned a certain portion of the Scriptures. Each and every individual in that department translated this portion by himself. These several translations were subsequently read by the whole division, who together agreed upon the final reading. The portion thus finished was sent to each of the other divisions again to be revised; by which arrangement every part of the Bible passed the scrutiny of all the forty-seven translators successively. Furthermore, these translators were empowered to call to their aid any learned men, whose studies enabled them to shed light on points of difficulty. The completion of this holy work occupied about three years. The lives of all the venerable men, who commenced it, were spared to witness its successful close.
One circumstance in the aspect of the times in which this version was made, deserves our special attention; affording, as it does, another most satisfactory testimony to its impartiality. Protestantism was then one and homogeneous; or if not absolutely so, more nearly than at any after period. It was not yet sundered and divided into sects and parties. The friends of truth were all occupied in opposition to one mighty error-to a common enemy and had not yet found time or disposition to attack one another, and build up distinct and divided interests. Hence there existed no temptation on the part of the translators to impress upon their work a single sectarian feature. In this respect, certainly, it may be pronounced incapable of amendment. Any one can see that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make a translation, in the day in which we live, when so many unhappy divisions and sectarian jealousies exist, which would conciliate the favor, and secure the confidence of all, and be cheerfully acknowledged as the common standard. But so it happened, in the kind providence of God, that the received version was made just in that auspicious moment of peace and union among Protestants, which has secured its adoption by all as the common standard. None have charged it with partiality-as favoring this or that sect-for the good reason that these sects and partialities did not then exist. Men may now differ in their construction of particular passages, but I know of no denomination, which has generally expressed a desire for a new and different version. Men may differ in the construction which they put upon the constitution of their country, but to give up the constitution itself, and undertake to form another out of present discordant and heterogeneous materials, is a point essentially different in its nature, and, perhaps, impracticable in its execution.
Nothing which diligence, circumspection, scholarship, love of truth, and prayer, could avail, was wanting to perfect this version of the word of God. It is what it professes to be, a translation, not a paraphrase; each word and expression corresponding to the original. What has, by some, been deemed a defect, is in fact a great excellence in our translation-it preserves, as far as possible, the very idiom of the original, the peculiarities of oriental diction; thus proving that the men who made it understood what was the best style of translation-that, which, like a transparent glass, is not seen itself, but shows every thing which is beyond it.
Our version of the Scriptures is pure English. Its words are of Saxon origin. Those venerable translators had not acquired the modern taste for languages of foreign extraction. They used the language which belonged to their own soil. They have demonstrated its wonderful resources and powers. They have contributed much to fix our language and save it from premature and universal corruption. It is an interesting fact that the men who have done the most to corrupt the English language, have been the least familiar with the English Bible.