Page images
PDF
EPUB

ITS INFLUENCE ON LEARNING. 19 Testament having been printed during the reigns of Henry vii, and Edward vi., a period of only twenty-eight years. In India the history of missions illustrates the same truth. The first conversion in Bengal took place after seven years of labour, and as the first Bengali Testaments were beginning to circulate in that country. Since that time the progress of conversion has kept pace in India, and in most parts of the earth, with the progress of translation. The history of the Bible, therefore, is really the history of what is the great element of the revival and progress of all true religion.

It is also the history of civilization and learning. A written Bible, to be useful, must be circulated and read ; and a circulated Bible implies a correspondent duty. The principle involved in the existence and circulation of such writings is, that it is our right, and in this case our duty, to examine them : an ennobling right, a solemn duty! The ideas which the Bible reveals are the grandest that can occupy our thoughts, and the most powerful in their influence on our character. Wherever, therefore, the Bible goes and is studied, it carries with it thought, inquiry, decision. Popery teaches both error and truth—but with a system which most needs investigation, yet forbids it, and enjoins on all to submit the results of their inquiries to the lessons of authority.

The Bible, on the other hand, reveals all truth and nothing but truth, bids men examine its disclosures, and then submit to what they find

T

zo

BIOGRAPHY OF TAE BIBLE. to be revealed. “ Prove all things," is its first message ; and its second, Hold fast that: which is good." These precepts it enforces by telling men that for the results of this examination, and the conscientious discharge of the duties connected with it, they must finally give account unto God. Clearly, wherever the Bible goes, and this doctrine is embraced, men's minds cannot fail to be brought into contact with truth, nor can inquiry and truth fail to form a thoughtful, earnest character, even though, alas ! the spiritual significance of the gospel may not be fully perceived.

The tendency of Protestantism to promote inquiry and learning soon showed itself, and was strengthened by other influences. With the study of the Bible, for example, originated in modern times the study of antiquities, of the philosophy of languages, and kindred subjects. To translate Scripture it was needful to become acquainted with the original. To the Bible, therefore, we owe the labours, in this department, of Melancthon, Calvin, Zwingle, Buxtorf, Michaelis, Eichhorn, Schultens, Lightfoot, Kennicott, Lardner, and Lowth. To the Bible we owe the most eminent critical scholars of modern times-Heyne, Ernesti, Heeren, Schulz, Wolf, Bentley, Spanheim, Voss.

In jurisprudence and history, no authorities are superior to Grotius, Sleidan, Puffendorf, and Locke, the Basnages, L'Enfant, Mosheim, Walch and Cramer, and Niebuhr. The precepts of the Bible bid men inquire. The neces

?

ITS INFLUENCE ON LITERATURE. 21 sities of religious truth made inquiry essential, and hence these men, all Protestants, have mtermeddled with all knowledge, and done inore for the progress of literature in three hundred years than was done in the thousand which preceded them.

So in more modern times, and in distant countries, everywhere the progress of literature has been accelerated by the translation of the Bible. In India, for example, mere dialects have been raised by Christian missionaries into the place and dignity of settled tongues. Dr. Carey found the Bengali a rude medium of thought, without grammars and without ascertained principles of speech. He left it clearly defined ; adapted, moreover, for conveying to those who speak it the subtlest and sublimest truth.* Agents of the Society with which Dr. Carey was connected have, in the last fifty years, written fourteen grammars and nine dictionaries, beside a large number of elementary treatises in different tongues, the whole originating in an intense desire to make the Bible intelligible. The richness and beauty of the Sanscrit were praised by sir William Jones ; but its qualities were never fully tested or known till the era of missions and of biblical translation. At this moment the Chinese language is undergoing an amount of investigation and analysis such as the learned men of China have never attempted, and the motive is to make a perfect version of the word of life.

* H. H. Wilson, Esq.

22

BIOGRAPHY OF THE BIBLE. In Africa, in the South Seas, in Central America, and among the various Indian tribes of North America, the first books ever written consisted of portions of Scripture, and it may be sately affirmed that, but for the deep sense missionaries have entertained of the value of the Bible, the languages spoken by many of these tribes would never have been reduced to writing at all.

Nor is the influence of the study of the Bible seen in the progress of learning only; it is seen also in the advancement of general intelligence and civilization. More than half of the population of Germany are Roman Catholics, three-fourths of the universities are Protestant, and nearly every man who has gained influence in that country as a thinker was born and bred a Protestant: Leibnitz, and Lessing, and Klopstock, and Herder, and Wieland, Goëthe, and Schiller, and Kant, and Schelling, and Schleiermacher, and Eichhorn, and Müller, and Richter, and the Schlegels, the Humboldts, and Novalis, and Tieck, and Wolf, and Niebuhr. That all these men have submitted to the authority of evangelical truth cannot, alas! be affirmed, but they were all free from the bondage of dead traditions. They had all learned the first lesson of knowledge—to read and investigate for themselves.

Nor can any justly doubt that civilization and general improvement have followed in the track of the Bible. Scotland and Prussia have few advantages of climate or of soil, and yet ITS INFLUENCE ON FREEDOM. 23 they are among the most flourishing countries in the world ; while the states of Italy are infested with banditti. At the commencement of the Reformation, Portugal was unquestionably superior to Denmark ; now the superiority is as unquestionably on the side of the Danes. Compare England and Spain. In all the elements of temporal and intellectual greatness, the contrast is most striking ; in science, in arts, in letters, in commerce, in social institutions. Nor is the contrast peculiar to the parent states ; it inay be traced on the other side of the Atlantic. The very El Dorado of Columbus is in the possession of the Saxon, while the colonies which Spain still retains are sources of weakness and not of strength. Go where we may, it is impossible to avoid the conviction, that the mental depression of one member of the European family and the elevation of another, where these are not owing to physical causes, are to be ascribed to some moral power at work among some of the northern nations of Europe, and wanting in the southern; to the moral power, in fact, of the most suggestive and instructive of books, the Bible.

To the interests of true freedom the Bible is equally favourable. It impresses upon all the duty, and therefore claims for all the right, of inquiry, thought, and the diffusion of our thoughts. It teaches men to check every selfish passion, to respect each other's rights, so onsider themselves as part of one comniunity,

« PreviousContinue »