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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Inspiration

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The conveying of certain extraordinary and supernatural notions or motions into the soul; or it denotes any supernatural influence of God upon the mind of a rational creature, whereby he is formed to any degree of intellectual improvement, to which he could not, or would not, in fact, have attained in his present circumstances in a natural way. Thus the prophets are said to have spoken by divine inspiration.

1. An inspiration of superintendency, in which God does so influence and direct the mind of any person as to keep him more secure from error in some various and complex discourse, than he would have been merely by the use of his natural faculties.

2. Plenary superintendent inspiration, which excludes any mixture of error at all from the performance so superintended.

3. Inspiration of elevation, where the faculties act in a regular, and, as it seems, in a common manner, yet are raised to an extraordinary degree, so that the composure shall, upon the whole, have more of the true sublime or pathetic than natural genius could have given.

4. Inspiration of suggestion, where the use of the faculties is superseded, and God does, as it were, speak directly to the mind, making such discoveries are to be communicated, if they are designed as a message to others. It is generally allowed that the Scriptures were written by divine inspiration. The matter of them, the spirituality and elevation of their design, the majesty and simplicity of their style, the agreement of their various parts; their wonderful efficacy on mankind; the candour, disinterestedness, and uprightness of the penmen; their astonishing preservation; the multitude of miracles wrought in confirmation of the doctrines they contain, and the exact fulfillment of their predictions, prove this.

It has been disputed, however, whether this inspiration is in the most absolute sense, plenary. As this is a subject of importance, and ought to be carefully studied by every Christian, in order that he may render a reason of the hope that is in him, I shall here subjoin the remarks of an able writer, who, though he may differ from some others as to the terms made use of above, yet I am persuaded his arguments will be found weighty and powerful. "There are many things in the Scriptures, " says, Mr. Dick, "which the writers might have known, and probably did know, by ordinary means. As persons possessed of memory, judgment, and other intellectual faculties, which are common to men, they were able to relate certain events in which they had been personally concerned, and to make such occasional reflections as were suggested by particular subjects and occurrences. In these cases no supernatural influence was necessary to invigorate their minds; it was only necessary that they should be infallibly preserved from error. It is with respect to such passages of Scripture alone, as did not exceed the natural ability of the writers to compose, that I would admit the notion of superintendence, if it should be admitted at all. Perhaps this word, though of established use and almost undisputed authority, should be entirely laid aside, as insufficient to express even the lowest degree of inspiration. In the passages of Scripture which we are now considering, I conceive the writers to have been not merely superintended, that they might commit no error, but likewise to have been moved or excited by the Holy Ghost to record particular events, and set down particular observations.

The passages written in consequence of the direction and under the care of the Divine Spirit, may be said, in an inferior sense, to be inspired; whereas if the men had written them at the suggestion of their own spirit, they would not have possessed any more authority though they had been free from error, than those parts of profane writings which are agreeable to truth. 2. "There are other parts of the Scriptures in which the faculties of the writers were supernaturally invigorated and elevated. It is impossible for us, and perhaps it was not possible for the inspired person himself, to determine where nature ended and inspiration began. It is enough to know, that there are many parts of Scripture in which, though the unassisted mind might have proceeded some steps, a divine impulse was necessary to enable it to advance. I think, for example, that the evangelists could not have written the history of Christ if they had not enjoyed miraculous aid. Two of them, Matthew and John, accompanied our Saviour during the space of three years and a half. At the close of this period, or rather several years after it, when they wrote their Gospels, we may be certain that they had forgotten many of his discourses and miracles; that they recollected others indistinctly; and that they would have been in danger or producing an inaccurate and unfair account, by confounding one thing with another.

Besides, from so large a mass of particulars, men of uncultivated minds, who were not in the habit of distinguishing and classifying, could not have made a proper selection; nor would persons unskilled in the art of composition have been able to express themselves in such terms as should insure a faithful representation of doctrines and facts, and with such dignity as the nature of the subject required. A divine influence, therefore, must have been exerted on their minds, by which their memories and judgments were strengthened, and they were enabled to relate the doctrines and miracles of their Master in a manner the best fitted to impress the readers of their histories. The promise of the Holy Ghost to bring to their remembrance all things whatsoever Christ had said to them, proves, that, in writing their histories, their mental powers were endowed, by his agency, with more than usual vigour. "Farther; it must be allowed that in several passages of Scripture there is found such elevation of thought and of style, as clearly shows that the powers of the writers were raised above their ordinary pitch.

If a person of moderate talents should give as elevated a description of the majesty and attributes of God, or reason as profoundly on the mysterious doctrines of religion, as a man of the most exalted genius and extensive learning, we could not fail to be convinced that he was supernaturally assisted; and the conviction would be still stronger, if his composition should far transcend the highest efforts of the human mind. Some of the sacred writers were taken from the lowest ranks of life; and yet sentiments so dignified, and representations of divine things so grand and majestic, occur in their writings, that the noblest flights of human genius, when compared with them, appear cold and insipid. 3. "It is manifest, with respect to many passages of Scripture, that the subjects of which they treat must have been directly revealed to the writers. they could not have been known by any natural means, nor was the knowledge of them attainable by a simple elevation of the faculties. With the faculties of an angel we could not discover the purposes of the divine mind. This degree of inspiration we attribute to those who were empowered to reveal heavenly mysteries, 'which eye had not seen, and ear had not heard, ' to those who were sent with particular messages from God to his people, and to those who were employed to predict future events. The plan of redemption being an effect of the sovereign councils of heaven, it could not have been known but by a communication from the Father of Lights. "This kind of inspiration has been called the inspiration of suggestion.

It is needless to dispute about a word; but suggestion seeming to express an operation on the mind, by which ideas are excited in it, is of too limited signification to denote the various modes in which the prophets and apostles were made acquainted with supernatural truths. God revealed himself to them not only by suggestion, but by dreams, visions, voices, and the ministry of angels. This degree of inspiration, in strict propriety of speech should be called revelation; a word preferable to suggestion, because it is expressive of all the ways in which God communicated new ideas to the minds of his servants. It is a word, too, chosen by the Holy Ghost himself, to signify the discovery of truths formerly unknown to the apostles. The last book of the New Testament, which is a collection of prophecies, is called the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Paul says, that he received the Gospel by revelation; that 'by revelation the mystery was made known to him, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it was then revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit' and in another place, having observed that 'eye had not seen, nor ear heard, neither had entered into the heart of man the things which God had prepared for them that love him, ' he adds, "But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit, " Rev.i.1. Galatians 1:12 . Ephesians 2:5 . 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 . "I have not names to designate the other two kinds of inspiration. The names used by Doddridge, and others, Superintendence, Elevation, and Suggestion, do not convey the ideas stated in the three preceding particulars, and are liable to other objections, besides those which have been mentioned.

This account of the inspiration of the Scriptures has, I think, these two recommendations: that there is no part of Scriptures which does not fall under one or other of the foregoing heads; and that the different degrees of the agency of the Divine Spirit on the minds of the different writers are carefully discriminated. "Some men have adopted very strange and dangerous notions respecting the inspiration of the Scriptures. Dr. Priestley denies that they were written by a particular divine inspiration; and asserts that the writers, though men of the greatest probity, were fallible, and have actually committed mistakes in their narrations and their reasonings. But this man and his followers find it their interest to weaken and set aside the authority of the Scriptures, as they have adopted a system of religion from which all the distinguishing doctrines of revelation are excluded. Others consider the Scriptures as inspired in those places where they profess to deliver the word of God; but in other places, especially in the historical parts, they ascribe to them only the same authority which is due to the writings of well informed and upright men. But as this distinction is perfectly arbitrary, having no foundation in any thing said by the sacred writers themselves, so it is liable to very material objections.

It represents our Lord and his apostles, when they speak of the Old Testament, as having attested, without any exception or limitation, a number of books as divinely inspired, while some of them were partly, and some were almost entirely, human compositions: it supposes the writers of both Testaments to have profanely mixed their own productions with the dictates of the Spirit, and to have passed the unhallowed compound on the world as genuine. In fact, by denying that they were constantly under infallible guidance, it leaves us utterly at a loss to know when we should or should not believe them. If they could blend their own stories with the revelations made to them, how can I be certain that they have not, on some occasions, published, in the name of God, sentiments of their own, to which they were desirous to gain credit and authority? Who will assure me of their perfect fidelity in drawing a line of distinction between the divine and the human parts of their writings? The denial of the plenary inspiration of the Scripture tends to unsettle the foundations of our faith, involves us in doubt and perplexity, and leaves us no other method of ascertaining how much we should believe, but by an appeal to reason. But when reason is invested with the authority of a judge, not only is revelation dishonoured and its author insulted, but the end for which it was given is completely defeated.

"A question of very great importance demands our attention, while we are endeavouring to settle, with precision, the notion of the inspiration of the Scriptures: it relates to the words in which the sacred writers have expressed their ideas. Some think, that in the choice of words they were left to their own discretion, and that the language is human, though the matter be divine; while others believe, that in their expressions, as well as in their sentiments, they were under the infallible direction of the Spirit. It is the last opinion which appears to be most conformable to truth, and it may be supported by the following reasoning. "Every man who hath attended to the operations of his own mind, knows that we think in words, or that, when we form a train or combination of ideas, we clothe them with words; and that the ideas which are not thus clothed, are indistinct and confused.

Let a man try to think upon any subject, moral or religious, without the aid of language, and he will either experience a total cessation of thought, or, as this seems impossible, at least while we are awake, he will feel himself constrained, notwithstanding his utmost endeavours, to have recourse to words as the instrument of his mental operations. As a great part of the Scriptures was suggested or revealed to the writers; as the thoughts or sentiments, which were perfectly new to them, were conveyed into their minds by the Spirit, it is plain that they must have been accompanied with words proper to express them; and, consequently, that the words were dictated by the same influences on the mind which communicated the ideas. The ideas could not have come without the words, because without them they could not have been conceived. A notion of the form and qualities of a material object may be produced by subjecting it to our senses; but there is no conceivable method of making us acquainted with new abstract truths, or with things which do not lie within the sphere of sensation, but by conveying to the mind, in some way or other, the words significant of them.

In all those were written by revelation, it is manifest that the words were inspired; and this is still more evident with respect to those passages which the writers themselves did not understand. No man could write an intelligible discourse on a subject which he does not understand, unless he were furnished with the words as well as the sentiments; and that the penmen of the Scriptures did not always understand what they wrote, might be safely inferred from the comparative darkness of the dispensation under which some of them lived; and is intimated by Peter, when he says, that the prophets 'enquired and searched diligently what, and what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.' 1 Peter 1:10-11 . "In other passages of Scripture, those not excepted in which the writers relate such things as had fallen within the compass or their own knowledge, we shall be disposed to believe that the words are inspired, if we calmly and seriously weigh the following considerations.

If Christ promised to his disciples, that, when they were brought before kings and governors for his sake, 'it should be given them in that same hour what they should speak, and that the Spirit of the Father should speak in them.' Matthew 10:19-20 . Luke 12:11-12 . a promise which cannot be reasonably understood to signify less than that both words and sentiments should be dictated to them, it is fully as credible that they should be assisted in the same manner when they wrote, especially as the record was to last through all ages, and to be a rule of faith to all the nations of the earth. Paul affirms that he and the other apostles spoke 'not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost taught' 1 Corinthians 2:13 . and this general assertion may be applied to their writings as well as to their sermons. Besides, every person who hath reflected upon the subject, is aware of the importance of a proper selection of words in expressing our sentiments; and knows how easy it is for a heedless or unskillful person not only to injure the beauty and weaken the efficacy of a discourse by the impropriety of his language, but by substituting one word for another, to which it seems to be equivalent, to alter the meaning, and perhaps render it totally different.

If, then, the sacred writers had not been directed in the choice of words, how could we have been assured that those which they have chosen were the most proper? Is it not possible, nay, is it not certain, that they would have sometimes expressed themselves inaccurately, as many of them were illiterate; an by consequence would have obscured and misrepresented the truth? In this case, how could our faith have securely rested on their testimony? Would not the suspicion of error in their writings have rendered it necessary, before we received them, to try them by the standard of reason? and would not the authority and the design of revelation have thus been overthrown? We must conclude, therefore, that the words of Scripture are from God, as well as the matter; or we shall charge him with a want of wisdom in transmitting his truths through a channel by which they might have been, and most probably have been, polluted. "To the inspiration of the words, the difference in the style of the sacred writers seems to be an objection; because, if the Holy Ghost were the author of the words, the style might be expected to be uniformly the same. But in answer to this objection it may be observed, that the Divine Spirit, whose operations are various, might act differently on different persons, according to the natural turn of their minds.

He might enable one man, for instance, to write more sublimely than another, because he was naturally of a more exalted genius than the other, and the subject assigned to him demanded more elevated language; or he might produce a difference in the style of the same man, by raising, at one time, his faculties above their ordinary state; and by leaving them at another, to act according to their native energy under his inspection and control. We should not suppose that inspiration, even in its higher degrees, deprived those who were the subjects of it, of the use of their faculties. They were, indeed, the organs of the Spirit; but they were conscious, intelligent organs. They were dependent, but distinct agents; and the operation of their mental powers, though elevated and directed by superior influence, was analogous to their ordinary mode of procedure. It is easy, therefore, to conceive that the style of the writers of the Scriptures should differ, just as it would have differed if they had not been inspired. A perfect uniformity of style could not have taken place, unless they had all been inspired in the same degree, and by inspiration their faculties had been completely suspended, so that divine truths were conveyed by them in the same passive manner in which a pipe affords a passage to water, or a trumpet to the breath."

See Dick's Essay on the Inspiration of the Scriptures; Hawker on Plenary Inspiration; Appendix to 3d vol. of Doddridge's Expositor; Calamy and Bennett on Inspiration; Dr. Stennett on the Authority and Use of Scripture; Parry's Enquiry into the Nature and Extent of the Inspiration of the Apostles; Brown's Nat. and Rev. Relig. p. 78; and article CHRISTIANITY and SCRIPTURE, in this work.


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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Inspiration'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/cbd/i/inspiration.html. 1802.

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