Did The Promise So Entirely Fail?

Dean Burgon on the Traditional Text:

“Before our Lord ascended up to Heaven, He told His disciples that He would send them the Holy Ghost, Who should supply His place and abide with His Church for ever. He added a promise that it should be the office of that inspiring Spirit not only ‘to bring to their remembrance all things whatsoever He had told them’ (John 16:26), but also to ‘guide’ His Church ‘into all the Truth,’ or, ‘the whole Truth (John 16:13). Accordingly, the earliest great achievement of those days was accomplished on giving to the Church the Scriptures of the New Testament, in which authorized teaching was enshrined in written form. And first, out of those many Gospels which incompetent persons had ‘taken in hand’ to write or to compile out of much floating matter of an oral or written nature, He guided them to discern that four were wholly unlike the rest—were the very Word of God.

There exists no reason for supposing that the Divine Agent, who in the first instance thus gave to mankind the Scriptures of Truth, straightway abdicated His office; took no further care of His work; abandoned those precious writings to their fate. That a perpetual miracle was wrought for their preservation that copyists were protected against the risk of error, or evil men prevented from adulterating shamefully copies of the Deposit no one, it is presumed, is so weak as to suppose. But it is quite a different thing to claim that all down the ages the sacred writings must needs have been God’s peculiar care; that the Church under Him has watched over them with intelligence and skill; has recognized which copies exhibit a fabricated, which an honestly transcribed text; has generally sanctioned the one, and generally disallowed the other. I am utterly disinclined to believe—so grossly improbable does it seem—that at the end of 1800 years 995 copies out of every thousand, suppose, will prove untrustworthy; and that the one, two, three, four or five which remain, whose contents were till yesterday as good as unknown, will be found to have retained the secret of what the Holy Spirit originally inspired. I am utterly unable to believe, in short, that God’s promise has so entirely failed, that at the end of 1800 years much of the text of the Gospel had in point of fact to be picked by a German critic out of a waste-paper basket in the convent of St. Catherine; and that the entire text had to be remodelled after the pattern set by a couple of copies which had remained in neglect during fifteen centuries, and had probably owed their survival to that neglect; whilst hundreds of others had been thumbed to pieces, and had bequeathed their witness to copies made from them.

I have addressed what goes before to persons who sympathize with me in my belief. To others the argument would require to be put in a different way. Let it then be remembered, that a wealth of copies existed in early times; that the need of zealous care of the Holy Scriptures was always felt in the Church; that it is only from the Church that we have learnt which are the books of the Bible and which are not; that in the age in which the Canon was settled, and which is presumed by many critics to have introduced a corrupted text, most of the intellect of the Roman Empire was found within the Church, and was directed upon disputed questions; that in the succeeding ages the art of transcribing was brought to a high pitch of perfection; and that the verdict of all the several periods since the production of those two manuscripts has been given till a few years ago in favour of the Text which has been handed down: let it be further borne in mind that the testimony is not only that of all the ages, but of all the countries: and at the very least so strong a presumption will ensue on behalf of the Traditional Text, that a powerful case indeed must be constructed to upset it. It cannot be vanquished by theories grounded upon internal considerations often only another name for personal tastes, or for scholarly likes or dislikes, or upon fictitious recensions, or upon any arbitrary choice of favourite manuscripts, or upon a strained division of authorities into families or groups, or upon a warped application of the principle of genealogy. In the ascertainment of the facts of the Sacred Text, the laws of evidence must be strictly followed. In questions relating to the inspired Word, mere speculation and unreason have no place. In short, the Traditional Text, founded upon the vast majority of authorities and upon the Rock of Christ’s Church, will, if I mistake not, be found upon examination to be out of all comparison superior to a text of the nineteenth century, whatever skill and ingenuity may have been expended upon the production or the defence of it. (pp 11-13)”

[Online source, various formats: https://archive.org/details/traditionaltexto00burgrich]

Source: http://www.puritanboard.com/showthread.php/87309-Ecclesiastical-Text-%E2%80%94-Response-to-James-White/page2, Comment #76

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