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There is, my lord, an excellent exhortation in the Report of the Naval-andMilitary Bible-Society, for 1811, in which the conductors of that institution remark, “Let the Naval-and-Military Bible-Society imitate the bright example of the British-and-Foreign Bible-Society.” How then has it come to pass, that of late, in the very quarter in which this opinion was expressed, is now found the very focus of the opposition to that institution? Is it that the Bible Society has changed its constitution or its measures ? Not in any respect has it done the former; nor the latter, unless a practical improvement in them, and the prohibition of the circulation of the Apocrypha be so considered. Is it that there are more Socinians now in the Society than in 1811? Quite the contrary; for those Socinians who at first hastily joined it, when it was a new thing and popular, have, as might be expected, gradually fallen off, as its scriptural character became better understood ; and few have since repaired to its standard. Is it then that the reports or public meetings are less orthodox, less devotional, less spiritual than formerly ? Quite the contrary; indeed so much so, that not merely Socinians, but worldly-minded men in general, complain that BibleSociety anniversaries have become dull religious meetings for exhortation and preaching. Is it that Socinians have gained any influence in the committee ? No; not an individual of Socinian sentiments has ever been admitted into that body. What then has the Bible Society done fairly to call forth this special opposition ? Nothing ; absolutely nothing. Its object is the same, its plans are the same, as ever ; the only difference is, that, in the execution of them, errors have been discovered and corrected, and the whole machine is at this moment in a far higher state of moral and religious efficiency than it was when the Naval-and-Military Society pronounced the above eulogium.
No, my lord; the opposition, I fear, must be traced to that fatal habit of our fallen nature, by which, after rising to a given height of improvement, we are too apt to verge to fastidiousness and to end in decadence. This has been the history of all states and empires ; from poverty men rise to riches, from riches to luxury, and from luxury to destruction. So in religious matters; a parish, by the Divine blessing upon the care of faithful and devoted pastors, grows from vice and ignorance to the true knowledge and love of God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent; and there is much of affection, simplicity, spirituality, soundness of doctrine, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost: but a new race comes upon the arena, finds all this but misty ignorance and carnal legality ; begins to denounce all that was holy, scriptural, and elevating; and rushes headlong into novelties, eccentricities of doctrine, fiery controversies, Antinomian licentiousness, spiritual pride, and all that is evil and of ill report. And thus does Satan find his work done to his hands, not by his avowed adherents, but by his professed enemies; and the issue is, that some even of the parties themselves eventually throw off all appearance of religion, and the favoured spot relapses to its pristine condition. The events of the seventeenth century furnish a memorable lesson on this subject. There was, first, the purity and spirituality, I speak comparatively—for what in this sinful world is absolutely so ?-of the Reformation; then men, grown wise in their own con. ceits, refined upon and misinterpreted Scripture, instead of receiving it in meekness and heavenly wisdom; and then followed all the excesses of the wretched fanatics, who were not worthy to be called Puritans; and lastly, came back coldness, impiety, heterodoxy, and irreligious living.
The nation did not recover this moral shock for two or three generations,
but at length God was pleased to cause a revival of scriptural knowledge and true piety in the land ; one among the many effects of which, was the formation or enlargement of institutions for the promotion of our Saviour's kingdom in the world, more especially by the three-fold cord of Bible, -scriptural education, and missionary institutions. The men who commenced these operations, did so with “singleness of heart as unto the
Lord :" they were affectionate, devoted, and in the main judicious; but in some instances the work enlarged beyond their direct powers of superintendence, and errors were occasionally committed, venial perhaps in themselves, but not so when viewed through the magnifying and multiplying glasses of perspicacious cold-heartedness, or weak-minded scrupulosity. The result has been, that a new race having sprung up, who are more inclined to criticise the plans of those who went before them, than to act upon them or really to amend them, all our religious institutions, from the national church-establishment to the humblest parochial charity, are placed under an ordeal, the burning ploughshares of which receive their glow in far other fires than those of Christian charity. I do not find fault with fair and honest, yea, rigorous examination : I would spare no abuse, shelter no delinquency ; but I cannot but lament the spirit of outrage upon truth and candour with which such investigations are too often conducted, and the hot-headed party-spirit which pervades them. It is the great effort of our spiritual enemy to mar, and not to mend; and if he can do this in the garb of an angel of light, instead of an emissary of darkness, he gains two objects instead of one. I fear, my lord, I may have spoken strongly, but I feel keenly; for persuaded I am that we are on the eve of perilous times, and that the only peril is not on the side of avowed ungodliness. If I go into certain companies, or read certain publications, I hear little but uncharitable denouncement; all is wrong out of that particular circle; there is no spirituality, no love for Christ, no zeal for the glory of God, no just knowledge of Scripture doctrine; every thing is cold, lifeless, and worldly; and upon inquiry, I find that the persons thus anathematized, are not the vain, the vicious, the secular, the servants of sin-in one word, the unconverted—but the most holy, exemplary, and solid Christians ; men of faith, and love, and charity; those of whom even the votaries of the world cannot but “ take knowledge that they have been with Jesus,” that they have studied his doctrines, and drunk into his spirit. Such men are the great supports of our religious institutions : there are sins and defects enough among them, and it were easy to point them out; but whatever these may be, I scruple not to say that they are “ the salt of the earth ; ” and that fatal will be the day when our Bible, Education, and Missionary Societies shall be snatched from their care, and placed in the hands of more excitable spirits, the men of the movement, the lovers of novelty, the rash and innovating, the theological speculatists, the theorists who expect complicated human machinery to work without friction, and, in pursuit of that ideal phantom, would pull down the most goodly edifice to clear the ground for their own novel experiments.
I will not add the links which attach this digression to my present thesis, but will return at once to the point from which I set out, "Let the Navaland-Military Bible-Society," and all kindred institutions, in the main, and with due allowance for mistake and infirmity, "imitate the bright example of the British-and-Foreign Bible-Society.” Such an exhortation may sound strangely at the opening of a letter, the object of which is to consider so serious a charge as that of perverting the word of God by means of exceptionable versions ; but it is because I believe it to be appropriate, even in reference to this very charge, that I have prefixed it to this discussion.
But let me, before I proceed, remind your lordship where it is we stand in the argument. The objectors to the Bible Society say, first, that our principle is faulty; and secondly, that our faulty principle has given rise to faulty practices. The principle I have already argued; and with regard to the so-called faulty practices, I have shewn that none of them, be they faulty or not, could have arisen from the cause alleged,—namely, the influence of Socinianism,-since no Socinian has ever been upon the committee. It would be just as true to say that the omission of public prayer, the circulation of the Apocrypha, or the imperfection of versions, arose from there not being a rule to exclude the emperor of China, as from there not being a test against Socinianism. It is utterly unfair and unchristian, and only calculated to catch stray votes, to exclaim “ See what comes of admitting Socinians into your committee," when the known fact is, that no Socinian was ever admitted. As regards therefore the question of changing the constitution of the Society, all the popular objections are mere partyweapons ; the principle is not in any way affected by them : let our versions be the best or the worst possible, the principle stands just where it did, for no Socinian has risen by means of it to any command in the Society; the alleged mischiefs would have equally taken place with a test as without one, and no adoption of expositions of faith would even now in the least alter the matter. Yet with this plausible non-sequitur have hundreds of wellmeaning people been deluded : they are told of a variety of alleged practical evils ; and when they are well excited with these exaggerated statements, they are assured that there is no remedy for them but to amend the constitution of the Society ; ergo, Will you not vote for the exclusion of Papists and Socinians? It does not occur to the good-natured listener to ask how it is that the abstract admissibility of these parties should have done so much mischief, since in point of fact they have never been admitted. This little logical interjection of a medium between the premises and the conclusion would have sadly spoiled a well-sounding popular argument; just as if an orator, with a view to shew that clergymen ought not to be magistrates, should add that all the evils of his county had arisen from this source, when in point of fact, though clergymen were eligible, it had so happened that no one had ever been elected. This is not upright dealing by a discussion. If I believed every one of the charges urged against the Bible Society, the abstract question would still remain to be discussed upon its own merits; all the rest is surplusage, so far as respects the constitution of the Society, though it is very important in discussing the propriety of particular measures, or considering in what way the working of the machine, or the character of its workers, may be improved.
Having thus placed the question in its just light, I proceed to notice the particular allegation respecting exceptionable versions.
The sin of Babel cursed mankind with various languages, and in no way has the curse been more fatal than in barring the universal access to knowledge, particularly that knowledge which makes men wise unto salvation. The art of printing has opened the way to rapid mental communication within a given district ; but pass the next rock or river, and there is an insuperable barrier in the want of a common tongue; and the evil will not be remedied, unless remedied in the era of millennial blessedness, till we arrive at that brighter world where all are of one language as of one mind :
Πολλαι μεν θνητοις γλωτται, μια δ' αθανατοισιν. Were it not for this impediment, missionaries, schoolmasters, and Bibles might penetrate with ease every where; and every where find intelligent recipients. The word of God in particular, if written in an universal language, might circulate from pole to pole, and, in a secondary sense at least, “the whole earth be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the seas.". But this is not the case; and it therefore becomes an arduous consideration for Christian benevolence in what way best to fulfil the command of our risen Saviour, to go forth into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Here then commences the missionary's task of acquiring oral languages, and the duty of Christians to promote biblical translations.
But how few persons, my lord, not versed in biblical studies, have considered, or really understood, the difficulties of this task. To transfuse the sentiments of a profane writer into a new language is comparatively easy, for the particular turn of the expression is of little moment; but not so to render the inspired words of the Most High, to transfer to a new dialect the charter and statute-book of eternal salvation. How greatly this difficulty is increased by the sacred oracles being written in what are now dead languages; the periods of their composition being remote, the style peculiar, the Old Testament almost the only book written in the same tongue, with various other considerations, is too obvious to require notice ; and I can only wonder, that, even with all modern assistances and former translations at their command, the conductors of the Bible Society did not shrink in despair from this very important but arduous part of their labours.
If I look at our own venerable and incomparable authorized translation, I see employed upon it forty-seven of the most eminent biblical, classical, and oriental scholars of the age, under royal patronage, with ample leisure, with the groundwork of a variety of former translations, learned and vernacular, including all the labours of the Wycliffes and Tyndals of successive ages. I find them dividing the sacred text into a given number of portions, and producing seven or eight new and independent translations of each part; then collating and correcting them by the whole body, and holding frequent conferences on difficult passages; till at length the best portions were selected from the aggregate of the versions, and received unanimously by the whole assembly, subject however still to reperusal and correction as the volume issued from the press. It would be impracticable for any society, university, or even a royal commission to pursue the same costly and elaborate process for a variety of translations into foreign tongues : but even were it practicable, it would not stop the mouths of objectors ; I do not mean fair conscientious critics, whose emendations would be highly valuable, but mere cavillers, such as king James's translators themselves were assailed by, and of whom they remark in their dedication,
“ If, on the one side, we shall be traduced by Popish persons at home or abroad, who therefore will malign us, because we are poor instruments to make God's holy truth to be yet more and more known unto the people, whom they desire still to keep in ignorance and darkness; or if, on the other side, we shall be maligned by self-conceited brethren, who run their own ways, and give liking unto nothing but what is framed by themselves, and hammered on their own anvil; we may rest secure, supported within by the truth and innocency of a good conscience, having walked the ways of simplicity and integrity, as before the Lord.”
It was hard upon the members of this venerable assembly to be thus “ maligned,” not only by “ popish persons at home and abroad," but by “ self-conceited brethren, who run their own ways, and give liking unto nothing but what is formed by themselves, and hammered on their anvil.” But so it has ever happened to the translators of God's blessed word ; and if those who have laboured in the Bible Society in this matter-doubtless with many indiscretions and numerous mistakes ; for I am not vindicating their infallibility either of purpose or design; yet in the main with integrity, diligence, and such a portion of qualification for the office as might allow them conscientiously to addict themselves to it—if they have met with the same rude handling which befel their honoured predecessors, they may, like them, “ rest secure, supported within by the truth and innocency of a good conscience, having walked the ways of simplicity and integrity, as
before the Lord.” I allude, in these remarks, not only to the partyspirited attacks made by Quarterly Reviewers, but, I grieve to say, to unfair representations in other quarters also.
The difficulties which beset the Bible Society in preparing or printing foreign versions were soon found to be formidable and perplexing. Into numerous languages the Scriptures had to be translated for the first time; some had not even words lucidly to express many of the ideas, and all were subject to much philological difficulty. Nor was the case always mended where translations were extant; for some were imperfect; some were worse than imperfect, particularly the Roman-Catholic versions; and even to this hour, in the French language, the language that boasts of being the vernacular tongue of educated Europe, and which is spoken by large bodies of Protestant Christians, there is not a generally received or highly valued version. The Society appear, particularly in former years, to have proceeded upon the plan of assisting the printing of a version where there occurred a favourable opening for circulating it, provided it came before them with such testimonials as induced the committee to think it a passable, though not a perfect translation, and no better being extant. In the case of foreign churches, they thought themselves incompetent to become a committee of critics, and viewed it as their duty, unless where strong ground appeared to the contrary, to aid the received or popular version, at least till a better could be procured, and which in various instances they earnestly endeavoured to effect, and I believe often with a very considerable measure of success.
The Society is charged with being too ready to print new versions, or to re-print old ones, without a sufficiently rigorous scrutiny as to their merits. Now, I can readily conceive, that in balancing between giving no copy at all, or giving only an imperfect one, the committee might be sometimes premature in deciding in the affirmative; but upon looking at the mass of their transactions, I discern no reason to question their care or diligence, or their conscientious desire to see the word of God go forth in a proper dress, and as free as possible from all human intermixture. I have read with astonishment the laborious correspondence which in many instances took place in regard to particular versions, and the minutes of innumerable committee and sub-committee meetings, and conferences and consultations with men of piety and learning in every department of biblical literature at home and abroad. On looking over the lists of the Society's editors, translators, and pious and learned advisers, I find the names of not a few of the most eminent scholars and Christians of the last quarter of a century. I fear to specify a few, as I should pass by others equally worthy to be mentioned: yet even at this hazard I glance at portions of the word of God in Persian, revised by Professor Lee and Henry Martyn; the Arabic Testament, edited by Lee, Martyn, and Thomson ; the Amharic Testament, edited by Mr. Platt and Professor Lee; the Modern-Greek Testament edited by a learned Greek bishop, and revised by ecclesiastics appointed by the synod of Constantinople, and printed under the care of Mr. Pratt, and Mr. Renouard the Arabic reader at Cambridge; the Chinese version by Dr. Morrison, the best Chinese scholar in the world; the Carshun and Syriac dialects, edited by De Sacy; the Turkish New Testament, of which so much has been said, edited by Professor Kieffer of Paris; the Syriac and Malay, by Lee; the Arabic, by Professor Macbride; the Coptic, by Lee and the Rev. H. Tattam ; and various versions by the Baptist Missionaries of Serampore, of whom the Bishop of Peterborough, Dr. Marsh, said in one of his publications against the Bible Society in 1812, speaking of Indian translations, that they were the scholars best qualified to complete the design so well begun, and hitherto so successfully performed.”