There are books, which sin as it would be in us to reject, I think any candid person would grant are presented to us under circumstances less promising than those which attend upon the Church doctrines. Take, for instance, the Book of Esther. This book is not quoted once in the New Testament. It was not admitted as canonical by two considerable Fathers, Melito and Gregory Nazianzen. It contains no prophecy; it has nothing on the surface to distinguish it from a mere ordinary history; nay, it has no mark on the surface of its even being a religious history. Not once does it mention the name of God or Lord, or any other name by which the God of Israel is designated. Again, when we inspect its contents, it cannot be denied that there are things in it which at first sight startle us, and make demands on our faith. Why then do we receive it? Because we have good reason from tradition to believe it to be one of those which our Lord intended, when He spoke of "the prophets." [Luke xxiv. 44.]
In like manner the Book of Ecclesiastes contains no prophecy, is referred to in no part of the New Testament, and contains passages which at first sight are startling. Again: that most sacred Book, called the Song of Songs, or Canticles, is a continued type from beginning to end. Nowhere in Scripture, as I have already observed, are we told that it is a type; nowhere is it hinted that it is not to be understood literally. Yet it is only as having a deeper and hidden sense, that we are accustomed to see a religious purpose in it. Moreover, it is not quoted or alluded to once all through the New Testament. It contains no prophecies. Why do we consider it divine? For the same reason; because tradition informs us that in our Saviour's time it was included under the title of "the Psalms": and our Saviour, in St. Luke's Gospel, refers to "the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms."
Objections as plausible, though different, might be urged against the Epistles of St. James, St. Jude, the Second of St. Peter, the Second and Third of St. John, and the Book of Revelation.
Again: we are told that the doctrine of the mystical efficacy of the Sacraments comes from the Platonic philosophers, the ritual from the Pagans, and the Church polity from the Jews. So they do; that is, in a sense in which much more also comes from the same sources. Traces also of the doctrines of the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, may be found among heathens, Jews, and philosophers; for the Almighty scattered through the world, before His Son came, vestiges and gleams of His true Religion, and collected all the separated rays together, when He set Him on His holy hill to rule the day, and the Church, as the moon, to govern the night. In the sense in which the doctrine of the Trinity is Platonic, doubtless the doctrine of mysteries generally is Platonic also. But this by the way. What I have here to notice is, that the same supposed objection can be and has been made against the books of Scripture too, viz., that they borrow from external sources. Unbelievers have accused Moses of borrowing his law from the Egyptians or other Pagans; and elaborate comparisons have been instituted, on the part of believers also, by way of proving it; though even if proved, and so far as proved, it would show nothing more than this,—that God, who gave His law to Israel absolutely and openly, had already given some portions of it to the heathen.
Again: an infidel historian accuses St. John of borrowing the doctrine of the Eternal Logos or Word from the Alexandrian Platonists.
Again: a theory has been advocated,—by whom I will not say,—to the effect that the doctrine of apostate angels, Satan and his hosts, was a Babylonian tenet, introduced into the Old Testament after the Jews' return from the Captivity; that no allusion is made to Satan, as the head of the malignant angels, and as having set up a kingdom for himself against God, in any book written before the Captivity; from which circumstance it may easily be made to follow, that those books of the Old Testament which were written after the Captivity are not plenarily inspired, and not to be trusted as canonical. Now, I own I am not at all solicitous to deny that this doctrine of an apostate Angel and his host was gained from Babylon: it might still be divine, nevertheless. God who made the prophet's ass speak, and thereby instructed the prophet, might instruct His Church by means of heathen Babylon.
In like manner, is no lesson intended to be conveyed to us by the remarkable words of the governor of the feast, upon the miracle of the water changed to wine? "Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine, and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse; but Thou hast kept the good wine until now." [John ii. 10.] Yet at first sight they have not a very serious meaning. It does not therefore seem to me difficult, nay, nor even unlikely, that the prophets of Israel should, in the course of God's providence, have gained new truths from the heathen, among whom those truths lay corrupted. The Church of God in every age has been, as it were, on visitation through the earth, surveying, judging, sifting, selecting, and refining all matters of thoughts and practice; detecting what was precious amid what is ruined and refuse, and putting her seal upon it. There is no reason, then, why Daniel and Zechariah should not have been taught by the instrumentality of the Chaldeans. However, this is insisted on, and as if to the disparagement of the Jewish Dispensation by some persons; and under the notion that its system was not only enlarged but altered at the era of the Captivity. And I certainly think it may be insisted on as plausibly as pagan customs are brought to illustrate and thereby to invalidate the ordinances of the Catholic Church; though the proper explanation in the two cases is not exactly the same.
The objection I have mentioned is applied, in the quarter to which I allude, to the Books of Chronicles. These, it has already been observed, have before now been ascribed by sceptics to (what is called) priestly influence: here then is a second exceptional influence, a second superstition. In the Second Book of Samuel it is said, "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel: and He moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah." [2 Sam. xxxiv. 1.] On the other hand, in Chronicles it is said, "Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel." [1 Chron. xxi. 1.] On this a writer, not of the English Church, says, "The author of the Book of Chronicles ... availing himself of the learning which he had acquired in the East, and influenced by a suitable tenderness for the harmony of the Divine Attributes, refers the act of temptation to the malignity of the evil principle." You see in this way a blow is also struck against the more ancient parts of the Old Testament, as well as the more modern. The books written before the Captivity are represented, as the whole discussion would show, as containing a ruder, simpler, less artificial theology; those after the Captivity, a more learned and refined: God's inspiration is excluded in both cases.
The same consideration has been applied to determine the date and importance of the Book of Job, which has been considered, from various circumstances, external and internal, not to contain a real history, but an Eastern story.
But enough has been said on this part of the subject.