The methaphor which you use to help you away from my argument respecting the importance of a revelation from God, does not appear fully adequate to the purpose for which you use it. It might not be a reasonable, a necessary disposition of property for the proposed benefactor, to give you a large estate; it might be, in the eye of reason a very improper donation, and one which would deprive legitimate heirs of what they had a right to expect from a father towards whom they had always acted with filial obedience.—But if you will make the case a parallel, and suppose you are an heir, a lawful child, and your father has a large estate to dispose of, then you will see that it is right and just, and no more than what you have reason to expect; that it is necessary, and that this necessity is the importance of the subject, you will at once see that this importance is a reason, yea an evidence that you have a right to expect it. I called on you to prove that no revelation was needed; I acknowledged that if none was necessary, a being of infinite wisdom would make none. You venture to say, that the "only evidence that reason can have of the necessity of divine revelation is its truth." It is believed, sir, that this hypothesis involves too much. It is saying that reason can discern the necessity of nothing until it obtains it, whereas the truth is evidently the other side of the assertion. We are frequently experiencing the necessity of things which we have not already attained, and by this want we are incited to use the means by which we finally obtain them.—"Ask, and ye shall receive, seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you," &c. It is believed, and no doubt it may be argued with success, that the moral and religious state of man really required a divine revelation. Never did the parched ground, the withering plant, the thirsty herds need the showers from heaven, more than man, that WORD of life which descended as the rain and distilled as the dew, when the gospel was published by a cloud of faithful witnesses, called of God for that purpose.
After acknowledging that your words admit of the construction which I gave them respecting the apostles stating no more than what was substantially true, you inform me that you meant something very different; then, sir, it seems you must mean that they stated that which is not true. And if so, why do you not prove wherein they testified falsely, which would at once cast their bands from us? By this mean you would show that their testimony is deserving of no credit.
On the subjects of your doubts, you recollected my request, that you bring forward your reasons, &c. But in room of doing this you inform me that your doubts are involuntary. But I wish to know if this renders it improper for you to state your reasons for doubting? You further inform me that your doubts do not amount to a confirmed unbelief. Again, I would ask if it be necessary for you to wait until you are a confirmed unbeliever before you state your reasons for doubting the truth of the testimony which Christians call divine?
By these questions you will perceive that I am waiting for you, and if I am not able to meet your arguments, I am ready on making the discovery, to acknowledge your reasoning too strong for my weak powers to manage.
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EXTRACTS No. V.
[After acknowledging the receipt of Letters Nos. 3 and 4, and remarking on several parts of the reply to Extracts No. 2, making some concessions, &c. as he found it necessary, the objector proceeds as follows.]
"But, your final conclusion, after all, comes so near what I conceive to be the truth, that, were you as correct in every thing as you appear to be in this, I should hardly think it expedient to pursue this controversy any further. "The Christian is enabled," you say, "to hope for existence with God in an eternal state, and this is as much as our present welfare requires." Most excellent! To this proposition I cherfully assent. Yea, I would consent even to pruning it a little, which no doubt would spoil it in your view. Instead of 'this is as much as,' read, 'even this is more than,' and your proposition would stand exactly right. Again, you say,
"'I have many reasons for not believing in the general sentiment that supposes the revelation contained in the scriptures was designed to prepare men in this world for happiness in another, and that a want of a correct knowledge of this revelation here, would subject the ignorant to inconvenience in a future state. Such a sentiment is an impeachment of the wisdom and goodness of God.'
"Here again, should I admit a divine revelation, I most heartily agree with you; and also with the reasoning which follows under this proposition. For it is more consistent with reason and good sense to believe (like the fool) in the existence of no God, than to believe in a God who is either partial or cruel! If such were the general sentiment of mankind, the evils resulting from it, in my humble opinion, would not be worse than the evils which have resulted from the belief in a God of the character just mentioned. One who, according to the sentiment, has let millions, even millions of millions, of his rational creatures die ignorant of a divine revelation, when he knew without the knowledge of, and belief in, such a revelation, they must sink down into eternal ruin and misery! And, so far as a revelation respects the damned, as though it was designed to aggravate and increase their misery by increasing their sensibility, he makes known his will, by special revelation, to a few, accompanied with the gift of his holy spirit, through the divine efficacy of which, a selected and chosen number will be admitted to bliss and glory, to the utter and eternal exclusion of the millions above mentioned!!!
"If such a sentiment does not impeach the divine character, not only of partiality, but of cruelty, I know of nothing that could. But, Sir,
"Are you not aware that your sentiment, as above stated, which has met my approbation, on the supposition that divine revelation can be maintained, is as much opposed to the general sentiment of Christianity, as it respects this particular, as any thing which I have written or probably shall write on this subject? I presume you are aware of all this, and I hope you are prepared for its consequences. You have more to apprehend, however, from this general sentiment, than I have. You have levelled an arrow at the very seat of life of what is considered orthodoxy in divinity, it is impossible but that the wound should be severly felt. For you are not insensible sir, that it is not only the general, but almost the universal sentiment of orthodoxy, from his holiness the Pope down to the smallest child who has been taught to lisp the christian name, that the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ was designed to prepare mankind in this world for heaven and happiness in another. Hence it has been believed that those who have died ignorant of the gospel, and being at the same time born of ignorant or unbelieving parents, must be lost forever. But those who hear and reject the gospel must be still more wretched in another world. With this sentiment, however, it seems you have no more fellowship than I. Therefore, my brother, it may be well for both, but more especially for you, that the days of rigorous persecution are over. For notwithstanding orthodoxy will consider us both equally opposed to christianity at heart, yet, of the two, you will be considered the most dangerous character. I shall be considered the open, but you the secret enemy; who, under the garb of professed friendship, are doing your utmost to sap the very foundation of the christian's hope! And you will not be considered any the less dangerous for your writings, being approved in any sense, by one who has the audacity, as they will term it, to doubt of the truth, of divine revelation! Instead of discovered impious blasphemy in the honest inquiry of your friend as it will be supposed you ought to have done, and instead of threatening him with endless burnings therefor;—or for not being disposed to receive, even truth, without cautious and thorough examination, you have painted christianity in such beautiful colours that infidelity itself finds but little cause to oppose it. Should these letters therefore ever come before the public you must be prepared for the gathering storm. For should you be able to reconcile revelation with the above proposition, if reason be not fully convinced of its truth, it will find nothing to object to the principles it inculcates. However, as this is not the avowed sentiment of christians, generally speaking, you must permit me to proceed.
"As it respects biblical criticism, notwithstanding all I have written on the subject, if the object is what you have proposed, 'to get the understanding of the sacred text,' I have no objection to it, but, for those who have time and inclination, think it laudible. Your caution, likewise, that in our zeal to cleanse we 'take care and not destroy,' is no doubt reasonable, and I trust duly appreciated. Your method also for curing or removing unbelief is happily chosen, and is what I am now attempting, which, with your assistance, I hope to make a proper, if not a successful application.
"Although the 'validity of the evidences' of revelation was not intended to have been granted, as I have informed you in my fourth number, yet I shall not press you to argue the points till I have given you the reasons for my doubts; for these being removed, nothing more will be necessary.
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EXTRACTS No. VI.
[Here twelve pages or more of the objector's manuscript are omitted, as the nature of his arguments will pretty fully appear in the reply; and as he has been obliged to rescind the ground he had taken, it is not expedient to publish his remarks. That the reader may see a little of the manner, however, in which he has given up his part of the argument, the following is inserted.]
"Speaking however on the evidences of revelation, you have stated some things worthy of serious consideration; which if correct, and I cannot say but they are, give me considerable satisfaction; and are very grateful to my feelings. 'It' (faith) say you 'does not require all possibility to be taken into the account: this would seem to go beyond the limits of faith and enter into the regions of certainty.'
"According to this doctrine, I may yet, perhaps, be considered a believer in divine revelation, and of course in Christianity. If 'all possibility' is not required, then certainly some doubts, some possibility of failure, may be admited without destroying the consistency of the Christian faith.
"Here as it respects the argument, you have seemingly forclosed every thing which I shall say by way of objection; at least, you have anticipated all my arguments on this subject. For evidences and circumstances calculated to raise doubts in the mind; and shewing the possibility of uncertainty, are all the arguments which I have expected to produce in this case. But it may not be improper to inquire how much uncertainty, or possibility of uncertainty, may I admit in my calculation without destroying the Christian faith? That there are evidences in favor of divine revelation, and, which would support it, if there were nothing to counterbalance their testimony, is a proposition which I admit, and which I think cannot be disputed. Hence I conceive it must be admitted that there is a possibility, at least, of its being true.—But after all, if the weight of evidence in the mind of any one should preponderate against it, I doubt whether such an one could consistently be called a believer in divine revelation.
"You have suggested that in disproving the religion of Jesus Christ, I should disprove all religion; as there can be no choice between this and any other; for if this can be proved false all may be proved false &c. or words to that effect. In this I hardly know how to understand you. So far as the religion of Christ consists in 'feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and keeping himself unspotted from the world,' I admit, that 'in disproving the religion of Christ,' I should 'disprove all religion:' that is to say, in other words, so far as the religion of Christ is not founded on revelation, but on the relation and dependence existing between man and man, to disprove it would disprove all religion: but if the religion of Jesus Christ consists purely and exclusively in believing in a future state of existence, then disproving it would not disprove all religion. A man may be what the poet calls 'the noblest work of God' i.e. 'an honest man,' and attend to all the duties embraced in that religion which St. James calls 'pure and undefiled before God and the father,' and yet have no opinion, that is, no settled opinion, in regard to a future state. If a man has religion enough to be a good husband, a good neighbor, a good citizen, and can rationably enjoy all the blessings which appertain to this life, of what consequence is it to him, or to any one else, what he believes in regard to a future state? This is a question worthy of serious consideration.
"The denial of revelation, much less to doubt its truth, does not render it necessary that I should do what you have proposed; neither is it my disposition to destroy if I could the peace even of an individual. Hence, I have no wish to 'demonstrate that there is no sun in a cloudy day;' but only to prove that clouds and darkness are as necessary to the well being of man as clear sunshine. Neither would I be the bearer of the 'joyless tidings that there is no clear sky in the heavens;' but only to query whether our portion of 'clear sky' is not that which reflects upon the earth; and that only during the short period of our lives? Who has a right to complain, if our blessings are circumscribed to our sphere of action? Must we enjoy nothing, because more is not allotted to our share? It is very probable there may be millions of other suns, enlightening other worlds, and systems of worlds, giving life, light and warmth to rational beings like ourselves, exceeding all imagination in number; and yet, have little of the blessings of those heavenly luminaries that falls to our enjoyment! They merly form a beautiful canopy over our heads. It is true, their greatest use to us may be that of which we are mostly ignorant; in balancing systems &c. but yet we must have some knowledge of those benefits, before me can feel grateful for them. Dost thou wish to visit them? Dost thou desire to know more concerning them than thou canst know in this state? Calm and deliberate reason would say unto the, 'Be content, O vain man! with thine own lot, and not try to soar above thy proper station!'
"The above is not designed as a reflection; it is only what I take to myself.
"You have proposed what I conceive you think is the only alternative to which I must flee, when I give up the truth of divine revelation. But may I not stop to inquire whether there is not some medium between the two extremes which you have mentioned? Must I believe that there was no such man as Jesus, or if there were, that he was an impostor; or else believe all that is stated concerning him? Must I also believe the same of the apostles or else believe them impeccable? May not even good men be honestly deceived? and being deceived, honestly lead others into an error?—That honest men do not bear 'testimony to falshood,' I admit; neither could such a principle be justified even under a 'pretence of doing good;' yet I will not undertake to say that no such pious frauds have ever been practiced in the world, and even among professed christians; and how soon it was practiced after the days of the apostles, and whether or not by some even in their day, would be very difficult now to determine. Neither is it necessary I should say any thing more upon the subject, as you admit this principle 'has been practised upon by a wicked priesthood for ages!'
"In remarking on my fourth proposition, which I added to the three which you had proposed, you say, 'I will not be too positive that I rightly apprehend your meaning on this subject, but as you propose to allow my three propositions, and as you make no attempt to do away my reasoning, especially on my last,' &c. Here permit me to observe, I am well persuaded you did not fully understand me, whatever you did yourself, on this subject. You will perceive, sir, both by my fourth number, and also by my fifth, that my answer to your three propositions was not completed. Probably if you had waited for the whole of my answer you would have understood me much better, and also would have seen the use and propriety of my fourth proposition.
"I think, as you will perceive by my fifth number that even honest men may be mistaken. And if so, it is very important to know whether the apostles judged only from outward circumstances, or whether they had some internal evidence, called inspiration, by which they always knew the truth of the things whereof they affirmed. This was the object of my fourth proposition.
"That you did not fully understand me appears by your saying, 'If it be allowed that my propositions are true, then you consent to the validity of the apostles' testimony respecting a future state.' If this could be allowed, it might then be admitted, that in this argument it makes no difference how the apostles come by their 'knowledge of futurity.'—But I did not know, neither do I now perceive, that my admitting the apostles to be honest men makes it necessary also to admit the validity of their 'testimony respecting a future state;' unless it can be shown that honest men are never mistaken respecting the things whereof they affirm. I admit the 'honesty' of my good friend, in the above quoted proposition; but I can hardly be willing, purely on this account, to 'consent' to its truth.
"As it respects an inheritance given in a WILL, &c. I have some doubts whether reason always carries things as far as you would wish to carry this metaphor to make it a parallel. Reason sometimes moves in a small circle; and that too without being unreasonable. If the benefit is said to have been absolutely made, and reason is informed of the fact, it has a right to take it for granted, that the donor had the property to give, and that it is not given to the injury of any one else. But yet he consults his own interest, and that only, when he says, 'this is very important to me, if true, yet I doubt, yea I have reasons for not believing it true.' Would any one say that such a man talketh unreasonably?
"You have called on me to prove 'that no revelation was needed;' and have acknowledged, 'that if none was necessary, a being of infinite wisdom would make none.' And at the same time you have argued very pathetically indeed to prove the necessity of a revelation; that is, if that can be called argument which grows out of a man's own feelings: A man, however, of different feelings might bring forward arguments equally energetic, and perhaps equally conclusive, but diametrically opposite.
"I know not what evidence you wish, or what evidence would be accepted, to prove that a revelation is not necessary. Even if such were the fact, it appears to me to be hardly susceptible of proof. It may be no more difficult, however, than it is to prove that a revelation is true. I presume that nothing short of a revelation would convince you that a revelation is not necessary! For who but God can know what either is, or is not necessary for God to make known?
"But if arguments drawn from our feelings are admissible, hear, for once, the voice of simple nature, proclaiming in her simplicity by every thing which exists either in or around you, that a revelation is neither necessary nor useful. That every thing which can be enjoyed in life can be enjoyed equally as well, and often better, without either its knowledge or belief. That every duty, either to God or man, can be performed as well, and with the same beneficial effect. And finally that man may be brought, without either the aid, knowledge, or belief of revelation, not only to be reconciled to his conditions and station in life, but also to curtail all his anxious desires to which he not only believes but knows there is a natural possibility of obtaining.
"If one could be brought who would solemnly testify to the truth of the above paragraph, would you believe his testimony? I presume not. But why not? Will you say it is impossible it should be true? No one can know this for a certainty, except those whose misfortune it is, if it be a misfortune not to believe in a future state of existence. If such there are, however, and yet their lives are exactly correct, their examples in society equally good, and their enjoyments apparently equally as great as other men, why should you doubt their testimony? Would you say they were bad men?—could you say they were dishonest men?—and if honest, according to your argument, why not believe them? I can see no inducement that any one could have to deny a revelation, if he believes it true; but I can see a very great inducement for mankind to maintain the reality of a revelation, although at the same time they may doubt its truth.
"If you doubt whether the human mind can be brought to such a state as has been mentioned above, it is only for the want of proper evidence; the fact, however, is susceptible of proof. Yea, it can be more than proved; the happy unbeliever in idle tales, but believing in eternal principles, knows it for a certainty. I do not mean that he knows for a certainty, that there is no revelation, but he knows for a certainty that a belief in revelation is not absolutely necessary to a happy life. Now, if such characters exists, will you receive their own testimony in support of the above fact? If not, it will be of no use to produce them.
"In order to make a proper estimation of virtue, we should take into consideration the motives and inducements a person has to be virtuous. The virtue of some men seems to be predicated on the following principles; on the consideration that they are going to heaven and happiness in another world, while others, whom they conceive not so good as themselves are going to hell, a place of never ending torments. On this ground they can be very pious also, and do a great deal for religion. At the same time they will tell you, as many have, if they believed all were to be alike happy in another world, they would then stick at no crimes to obtain their object, but would indulge themselves in all manner of gratifications, &c. Such virtue, however, I conclude does not stand very high in your estimation. No; but you would be virtuous on a more noble scale; so long as you can believe that you shall have an eternal existence with God, in a happy conscious identity, you are willing every body else should enjoy the same blessing; on supposition that this is true, or as you can believe it, you are for doing all the good in your power, and at the same time taking all the comfort you can in doing it. You are trying to make every one believe what you believe, that they may enjoy what you enjoy. But the moment this faith, and this hope of yours is gone, your virtue is gone with it; you can now do nothing, and of course enjoy nothing!
"Now compare this virtue with the virtue of one whom the christian world would call an infidel! One whose faith, and of course, hope, does not extend beyond what he knows has been the lot of some, and, as far as circumstances will admit, may be his own; and yet he is always faithful in the discharge of whatever appears to be his duty, always enjoys life, whether in prosperity or adversity, and is always, so far as it respects circumstances over which he has no control, reconciled and contented with his lot. He knows his life is uncertain, and although he has no real faith or well grounded hope beyond the present state of existence, yet the thought gives him neither anxiety nor concern. His only object is to do good; to enjoy life while it lasts, to cultivate and improve human nature for the benefit of posterity; to bear the evils and misfortunes of life with fortitude, and to be unfeignedly thankful for all the happiness of which he is made susceptible. Therefore whether his life be for a day, or for eternity, it matters not, because, for the present, it is all the same to him: his duties are the same, and his enjoyments are the same. O how happy! How inexpressibly happy, is such a state as this!
"While others are feasting their fruitful imaginations with the idle and visionary dreams of fanaticism; with a kind of chimerical heaven of which they know nothing, as to its certainty: this man is in heaven already: dwelling in love, he 'dwelleth in God, and God in him.'
"Do you not wish, my brother, that you could find such a character among Christians? But Christianity does not afford such a character, in full, nor is it possible that it ever should. Such a character, however, there may be, and when the world, or any considerable part of them can receive his testimony, he may make his appearance.
"You seem to think it may be successfully argued 'that the moral and religious state of man really required a divine revelation.' This argument, if I understand you, grows out of the ardent desires of man; which, it is admitted, would be pretty conclusive if it could be made to appear that the desires of man are never fruitless. Man, it is true, rationally desires happiness; for this is essential to his moral existence; yet, may he not, through ignorance, or from some other cause, suppose things essential to his happiness, which, in fact, are not essential, and therefore ardently desire them? But does it necessarily follow that the particular things desired in such cases are absolutely necessary? and therefore will absolutely be granted? I believe not.—And if he may be thus deceived in any one thing, why may he not be deceived in the supposed necessity of a divine revelation? It is believed that a perfect reconciliation to the present state of man; to what he is, with the prospect only of what he yet may be in this life, without either the hope or the fear of a future existence, would be infinitely better than any thing which has yet been produced by a belief in divine revelation; especially any further than a revelation is conducive to this end; and if a revelation ever was necessary, it was necessary only to reconcile man to his present state of existence. But if man can be equally reconciled without the knowledge, or, what amounts to the same thing, without the belief of divine revelation, then the end of such a revelation is obtained.
"It seems to be expedient that I should say a few more words, 'respecting the apostles' stating no more than what was substantially true.'
"I hope, however, we shall not lose sight of the main subject in debate, by criticising on words. I say main subject here, as I think there will be no occasion of saying any thing more on the subject of the languages in relation to the arts and sciences.
"I am not disposed to think, sir, that you have designedly wrested the meaning of my words; nor that you are unwilling to receive my meaning when it is fully understood; and yet, having once explained on this subject, I am unable to account for your remarks.
"After my informing you that you had misconstrued me, and also stating my meaning, as I supposed, more explicitly, you have informed me that if your first construction was not my meaning, it seems that I must have meant the reverse of it, which, I must aver, is as foreign from my meaning as your first construction! For neither your former nor latter construction was in my mind when I wrote the sentence to which I allude: but a different idea from either of your constructions was in my mind, and was what I meant to state; which idea, as I conceive, is as fairly expressed by my words, and is a more just construction of them, taking into consideration the sentence which follows, than either of the ideas which you have expressed as their meaning.
"Permit me therefore to state again, that whatever might have been my opinion respecting the writings of the apostles, I did not mean to suggest, and much less to affirm in that sentence 'that they stated that which is not true!'—Neither did I mean to acknowledge in that sentence that they had stated 'no more' than what is true, at least in substance; but I did mean this, and this only, that admitting those things were true, all would admit that the design of the apostles was nothing more than to state the truth of those things in substance; because all would acknowledge that they were not careful to be correct as to every minutiae. But as this makes nothing either for or against the main point, I wish to add no more respecting it, than simply to remark, that even if the apostles had gone on the opposite extreme of what I meant I should not think them 'deserving of no credit.' Supposing they had descended into minutiae, and related, to an exact nicety, every particular circumstance (which is exactly the reverse of what I mean to state), would they on this account have been deserving of no credit? I think not. Considering the time, however, which had elapsed after the facts are said to have taken place, before a history of them was given in writing, I think the evangelists are entitled to more credit, on the whole, than what they would have been if their testimony had borne the complexion last mentioned.
"To close this letter, which perhaps is already too long, I would here acknowledge that as I have expressed doubts in the subject of divine revelation, you have a right to hear my reasons for doubting. These I promised to give you (as I thought) at the close of my fourth number. You have informed me, verbally, that I promised to give you my doubts only. If I did so, it was only a slip of the pen, to which I am too prone; it was my reasons for doubting, which I meant to have promised you; and in my next I shall endeavor to fulfil that promise.
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Dear sir, and brother,—Your fifth and sixth numbers were received together, and will be noticed in the order in which they came to hand.
You observe that you know of no better evidence that "there ever was such a story reported among the Jews, in the days of the apostles, than there is to prove the actual resurrection of Jesus," &c. This suggestion leads to the following queries.
1st. Was there in the days of the apostles, such a man known in the country of the Jews, as Jesus Christ?
2d. Was this man put to death, as the four evangelists and others testify?
3d. Did the apostles declare to the people who put him to death, that they knew that he had arisen from the dead?
4th. If the Jews who put Jesus to death could go to his sepulchre and show his dead body to the people, would the story of the resurrection ever have gained any credit among the Jews?
5th. If they could not find the body of him who had been crucified, would the opposers not endeavour to report something that might appear as plausible as they could, especially as they had the keeping of the sepulchre in their own hands?
6th. What would more naturally suggest itself to the imagination of men, in the situation of the rulers of the Jews, than the story of the disciples having stolen the dead body, &c. Or,
7th. Was this account written long since the apostles' days, by an unknown author, who made the whole story as he wrote it? If this last question cannot be answered in the affirmative without doing violence to the most authentic testimony and also to the plainest dictates of reason, it seems to follow that the 6th preceding question, must be accepted in the affirmative, which furnishes sufficient evidence to prove that such a story was reported among the Jews in the days of the apostles.
Whether you are correct in supposing there is as much evidence to prove the resurrection as to prove the report of the disciples' having stolen the body, or not, it appears to me, that there is no proper ground on which the latter can even be doubted.
Suppose a writer in vindicating believer's baptism in opposition to the sprinkling of infants, should relate a wonderful story concerning the persecutions of the baptists, in which he should set forth the particulars of one of their leading characters having been put to death by their opposers. In this account, the author says; Those murderers, after they put the man to death, for fear his friends should steal the body, went and placed a strong guard round the tomb to watch for the space of three days and nights, but before the expiration of this period, the guard came to the rulers and make known that the body is gone, and acknowledge at the same time, that there were such wonders seen by them at the tomb, that they were unable to endure the sight and retain their natural powers; that the rulers gave them money to report that a number of the baptists came while the guard was asleep and stole the body—"So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Paedobaptists unto this day." Would this story appear any ways to the advantage of a cause, with which reason and common sense have any thing to do?
Reason, sir, for which you seem determined to contend, is candid; it readily acknowledges that the account of this report among the Jews is a true account. And it acknowledges also that the truth of this account is good evidence to prove that the rulers of the Jews found it necessary, in order to oppose the truth of the resurrection, to get such a report in circulation.
You have not taken me exactly on the ground of my argument, in supposing that, by revelation, I mean nothing more than "what was revealed to me by the resurrection of Jesus, allowing the resurrection true." My design was to consider the three propositions, viz. revelation, the resurrection of Jesus, and the truth of the testimony of the apostles, concerning matters of fact, true, disjunctively; and also to avail myself of whatever might arise to the advantage of my argument from the relation of these facts. All this you will, as a generous and candid antagonist, be willing to allow me to do, on the supposition that the three propositions, above named, be granted. For surely no necessary deduction from granted premises can mislead, unless what is granted be false. You will furthermore see, that by granting the truth of divine revelation some degree of allowance is given to the probability, at least, of the testimony of the apostles respecting a future state. The confining of the subject of revelation, to that only which is revealed by the resurrection of Jesus, seems an unnecessary restriction, which can answer no purpose but to embarrass an argument which it would have no real force in refuting; for if the resurrection be admitted, which affords such an important revelation as grows out of the fact, it establishes the general truth of a DIVINE REVELATION from God to man. This being granted, all that stands in a necessary relation to it may with propriety be used in defence of any particular question relative to the general subject. I have already argued the truth of what the apostles say of a future state, from the facts which you grant for the sake of the argument, but you seem to misapprehend me in supposing that I mean to contend, that what the apostles have said respecting a future state, was spoken by way of conclusion from certain known facts. The known facts, such as the miracles of Jesus, his resurrection, and the miracles wrought by the apostles, I used as proof of the divine mission of these servants of God. This divine mission being proved, gives the ground on which I contend for the merit of their testimony concerning a future state. You should have regarded my argument, as placing the credibility of the apostles' testimony concerning a future state, on the fact of their divine mission, and not as you seem to have done, on the supposition, that they could not err in drawing conclusions, &c.
You have misunderstood me also, in supposing that by "the guess work of men," I had any allusion to the known miracles related by the apostles. What I called "mere guess work of men," was the opinions of the apostles on supposition they were not divinely directed, in the testimony they laid down respecting a future state. On this particular subject, all you have said in reply to my reasoning, has no just relation to my argument.
It was expected, that in relation to the foregoing subject, you would have seen the necessity of either denying the reality of those miracles, which, if true, prove the divine mission of Christ and his apostles, or of granting the authority of their testimony. But in room of finding what was so confidently expected, I find the mistakes above pointed out, which occupy considerable space, without deciding any thing, or furnishing ground on which I feel disposed to place any argument.
The next particular which demands notice is stated as follows: "Your final conclusion, after all, comes so near what I conceive to be the truth, that were you as correct in every thing as you appear to be in this, I should hardly think it expedient to pursue this controversy any further." You then quote me. "The Christian is enabled to hope for existence with God in an eternal state, and this is as much as our present welfare requires." You rejoin; "Most excellent! to this proposition I cheerfully assent. Yea, I would consent even to pruning it a little which no doubt would spoil it in your view. Instead of, 'this is as much as,' read, 'even this is more than,' and your proposition would stand exactly right." You assure me that you are in search of truth.—Truth is the only design of your heart. It would be uncharitable in me to doubt your sincerity. You sincerely and cheerfully assent to the above proposition viz. that the christian is enabled to hope for existence with God in an eternal state, and this is as much as our present welfare requires. This you say is most excellent. But notwithstanding you cheerfully assent to this proposition, and can pronounce it most excellent! Yet you think, if the proposition was so altered as to allow us no hope of a future existence with God, it would stand exactly right! This variation is so small, this difference is so little that you think if I were as correct in every thing as I am in this, there would be no need of pursuing this controversy any further! Let me ask dear sir, if such reasoning as this can promise a profitable reward for our labours, and a recompence for the precious time we are spending? The eye of reason, I say is candid: it sees and knows, that if a hope of existence with God hereafter is more than our present welfare requires, such an expectation is awfully dreadful beyond the power of language to describe. Reason knows that there is an infinite difference between no existence hereafter, and an eternal existence. And it knows, that if the former is exactly what our present welfare requires, the latter is completely repugnant to it.
With what you here contend for, I will connect a passage from your sixth number. "He knows that a belief in revelation is not absolutely necessary to a happy life." By bringing these passages together, I am led to understand what you mean by the latter viz. that a belief in a happy future state, is not necessary to our present felicity. This is what you know! What then are you in pursuant of? You pretend to be earnestly solicitous to have your doubts respecting divine revelation removed if possible; you call on me to assist in this work as if you viewed it with deep concern.—If your doubts should be removed, if you should be altogether convinced that God has actually revealed the truth of a a happy immortality, you know it would add nothing to your happiness. Furthermore you argue, following the passage quoted from your sixth number, that this belief in the revelation of a happy futurity is not necessary to produce a virtuous life. Allowing all you argue on this subject, you feel sure that a real conviction of the truth of the christian doctrine, and hope of future blessedness, would be of no advantage to your virtue or happiness! I ask again, what are you in pursuit of? You compliment me too highly in your encomium on the sermon in which I laid down that man is so constituted that he is always willing to exchange that which gives him trouble, for that which gives him comfort. And you advert to this particular sentiment of mine, in your observations on St. Paul's conversion, and very justly refuse to allow him to be an exception of the general rule. But are you not an exception of this rule? Do you not appear to be solicitous to have your doubts removed without expecting the least advantage by it? Are you not employing your time in writing voluminously on a subject which you know can yield you no recompence? In search after the evidences of the christian hope, you cannot say: where is that faithful, that friendly witness by which I can believe, and believing, enjoy as a precious reality that hope which is as an anchor to the soul, both sure and stedfast; which entereth into that within the veil, where our forerunner hath for us entered; which hope would enable me to sing that triumphant song; "O death where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory? Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." No, this hope would add nothing to your happiness, and what you want it for is not for me to imagine.
You can employ the powers of luminous reason in contemplating eternal nothing with sweet complacency. This is "exactly" as it should be! Varying from this the proposition would need to be "pruned!" Dear brother, does reason countenance all this absurdity? If it be a pleasure to contemplate non-existence does it not involve the absurdity of enjoying the expectation of the discontinuance of enjoyment?
You have expressed, with interjections, the value of truth. You seem almost disposed to arrogate to yourself a peculiar regard for this divine treasure. I can fancy I hear your secret addresses to this lovely divinity; in rapturous language, with aspect of eager affection saying; O truth, the loveliest of all attractions, thou art balsam for every wound, antidote for every poison; thou sweetenest every bitter cup; the gloomy prospect of living, in thy bright sunshine is by thee changed into the joyous expectation of soon losing sight of thee forever in the elysium of non-existence!
I will not burden you with further deductions, so repugnant to the dictates of reason; but I will cherish a hope, that you will see sufficient reason for rescinding the arguments which lead to them.
[Footnote 1: Perhaps the reader may be a little astonished here, that the objector should ever have consented to publish arguments which makes him appear so much to a disadvantage. But an honest objector, who has been so blind to his own heart as not to perceive the real cause of a perfect reconciliation to the general providence of God, instead of feeling chagrined, will feel grateful, when his errors are honestly exposed. Believing, therefore, that others may be in the same predicament, these arguments are published to the world.]
On supposition divine revelation be true, you agree with me on the subject wherein I differ from the general opinion, that a knowledge of the gospel in this world is indispensable to the soul's felicity in the next, but you are confident that this my sentiment will be viewed by the Christian world in general, with greater abhorrence than even your own arguments, &c. And you hope I am prepared for the consequences. Reply—I have little or no concern about what opinion reputed orthodoxy may entertain of the truths which reason and revelation harmonize in supporting, nor am very careful about any preparation to meet the consequences which may result from the inseparable companions, superstition and ignorance.
In my view, the commonly received opinion, on the subject under consideration, is no more reasonable, than the supposition that the happiness and wellbeing of our children, in this world, depend on their having had a correct knowledge of their parents, of their wisdom and parental providence for them, before they were born. The wisdom and goodness of God, according to scripture and reason, are universal. The ignorance of mortals concerning them, on the one hand, makes them no less, and their knowledge, on the other makes them no greater. We must duly regard, however, the evident fact, that the enjoyment of reasonable beings, is extended by the extension of knowledge, which renders acquirements in science and divinity an object of the first magnitude.
The sentiment which you express on the above subject is what I am well persuaded can never be refuted, and it appears to me that by placing the system of divine revelation on the ground above noticed, it is rendered free from these absurdities which have rendered it exceptionable to the eye of reason and philosophy.
The gospel of everlasting life, like all real science, has always existed, but like the sciences, has been developed by degrees, and brought to the understanding of mankind as a mean of refinement, improvement, and of conformity to mortal principles, as expressed by that eminent divine St. Paul, 2 Cor. 5, 18, 19, 20. "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them: and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." Now to suppose that men, who on account of their ignorance of the gospel are unreconciled to God, who has undertaken the gracious work of reconciling them to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, are on account of their unreconciliation excluded from being the objects of divine favour is a grand absurdity to say the least.
The fact is, the gospel is a dispensation of general favour, and it actually communicates many invaluable blessings to those who know nothing of its divine principles. There are millions of people in the world who are blessed in a great variety of respects by means of civil government, who know nothing of the principles of the governments by which they are protected. How many blessings are constantly falling, as it were like a shower, on our infants and youth in America, from the favourable government of our happy country, and yet these children know not the difference between an absolute monarchy and a republic.
How many millions of the human race are daily fed from the products of agriculture, who know nothing of the principles which produce those rich supplies. So there are multitudes who enjoy many blessings procured by the gospel of Christ, who have no knowledge of the sublime principles of this religion. But here again I will repeat the remark, that our rational felicity is greatly increased by an extension of our knowledge in the principles of the doctrine of Jesus, which consideration is a proper incentive to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Knowledge is food for the mind and nourishes and strengthens it as aliment does the body. Our youth learn to read the books which they are favoured with in consequence of the discovery of the art of printing, and they obtain great advantages by means of those books, while they remain entirely ignorant, many of them, of the art by which such a favour is put into their hands. But still it is healthy to the youthful mind, to receive the knowledge of this and other arts, and even to know that an art so extensively useful was not known in the world four hundred years ago. A person on being informed of the first discovery of this art, and of its being practiced, in the first place, with separate wooden types, might be disposed to doubt the ignorance of men in those times. He might think it incredible that any thing so easy, that even children can perform was unknown to the learned world in those times when learning flourished in ancient Greece and Rome. And I am of opinion that many now, who are disposed to doubt the circumstances which attended the first promulgation of the gospel, and even call themselves unbelievers, do in reality, owe even their existence and of course every blessing they enjoy to those facts of which they now doubt. Yes, sir, the light of reason, and the knowledge of moral principles, on which you feel disposed to place so much consequence, I am inclined to believe are reflections of that light which was the delightful theme of the evangelical Isaiah, chapters 6, 7, 8. "I the Lord hath called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. I am the Lord; that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, nor my praise to graven images." Am I deceived, sir, or is it evident, that the glorious LIGHT which illuminates our moral hemisphere, and distinguishes our country from barbarism and savage ignorance, is the gospel? The name of Jesus, his doctrine, the reformation, seceding from the Church of England and persecution for conscience sake, rank as causes of the settlement of New England by our forefathers, and of the existence of the men who are carrying on this correspondence. This is mentioned with a view to direct your mind to the consideration of that course of causes and effects by which we are enabled to reason on what wo call moral and physical principles. And a hope is entertained that due regard will be paid to this self-evident fact, that nothing ever took place without an adequate cause to produce it.
With this reflection, I come to notice your remarks on the subject of St. Paul's conversion; for it appears to me that you have allowed certain facts without assigning any adequate causes by which those facts came to exist. You make no attempt to deny that there was such a man as St. Paul, nor do you deny his having been educated, and religiously instructed as the scripture history concerning this man sets forth. But you assign no reason why he became a believer in Jesus Christ, you assign no reason for his becoming a preacher of the doctrine of Jesus, you assign no reason why he should so patiently suffer for the religion, the truth of which you are now calling in question. You allow that before his conversion he persecuted unto death the "weak and defenceless disciples of the meek and lowly Jesus." But you assign no reasons why weak and defenceless men should become the disciples of Jesus. You would fain insinuate that what he relates of the particular circumstance which happened to him on his way to Damascus was a mere reverie. But you make no attempt to show how such a reverie could produce in this learned pharisee a belief that Jesus, who was crucified had actually arose from the dead, when there were not even the shadow of evidence existing to prove such an improbable fact. You are inclined to this notion of a reverie on account of some experience of your own, which your good sense and after reflection have discovered to be nothing on which dependence ought to be placed. Sir, where is the similarity of your case with that of the learned pharisee? Do you really believe you ever experienced a reverie, that would go in the least to cause you to believe in the resurrection of a man who was hanged in your sight, and who you knew was buried, and of whose resurrection you had no evidence, only a vague reverie? Do you believe you ever experienced a mere imagination which was strong enough to produce the above belief, and which could continue to influence you all your life long, lead you to forsake a most honourable connexion, and to espouse a religion which all the prejudices of your education opposed, and to labour continually for its support and to suffer every thing for its defence? No, you pretend to no such thing, therefore your case is very different from St. Paul's.
I agree with you, that the case of this apostle comes under the rule which you recollect I suggested in my sermon. He undoubtedly viewed the religion which he received in room of the one he parted with the most valuable. And to this agrees his own testimony. Phil. iii. 7, &c. "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."
As you promise to say more on this subject, I shall continue to expect an attempt to deny the conversion of such a man as St. Paul is set forth to have been, to the Christian religion, under all the circumstances which the scripture account mentions; or an attempt to show that such a conversion could probably take place without supposing the facts on which the religion of Christ was founded were realities; or lastly, an acknowledgment that this conversion may reasonably be allowed as evidence to us of the truth of the Christian religion.
Should you be disposed to disallow the account which the scripture gives of St. Paul, I will ask the favour of you to point out and show to my understanding where in Paley's Horae Paulinae fails of proving the truth of the scripture history of St. Paul.
* * * * *
What follows is designed to notice your sixth number; out of which the following subjects are selected, on which some remarks are made.
1st. You observe that "when we hear things, which to our understanding are improbable, the improbability of the facts raises a doubt in our minds; and certainly there can be no harm in suspending our judgment, nor yet in withholding our belief until we are fully satisfied." This first subject regards the degrees of evidences which are required in different cases, and the moral propriety of withholding the assent of the mind in the case of a want of evidence.
2d. You are not disposed to doubt that many of the prophets were good men; nor will you contend that they were not all such, and taught the people according to the best of their abilities—And yet you hesitate to allow the divinity of their testimony.
3d. I notice that you acknowledge that there are evidences in favour of divine revelation, which would support it, if there were nothing to counterbalance their testimony.
4th. You hardly know how to understand me where I suggest, that in disproving the religion of Jesus Christ, you disprove all religion, &c.
5th. An inquiry whether Jesus and the apostles might not be honest men, and yet their testimony in certain cases not to be relied on!
6th. You suppose that arguments equally energetic and equally conclusive might be drawn from our feelings against, as in favour of the necessity of divine revelation.
7th. In enumerating the virtues and enjoyments of one who does not even desire a future state, you mention unfeigned thankfulness for all the happiness of which he is made susceptible.
8th. You assert, that if a revelation ever was necessary, it was necessary only to reconcile man to his present state efexistence. And,
9th. You seem to fault me for supposing that in case you did not mean as I took you, on the subject of the apostles' testimony, you must mean the reverse, &c.
These nine particulars, it is true, do not comprehend every item contained in your sixth number, but I believe that a candid reply to each of them will satisfy you that a competent degree of attention has been paid to this communication.
1st. Concerning the degrees of evidence required in certain cases to carry conviction of facts to the mind; it has always been allowed by those who have vindicated the religion of Jesus, that a belief in miracles requires more evidence than a belief in ordinary events recorded in history. Having granted this they proceed to associate the evidences, which God in his divine economy has given and preserved, and conclude with grateful assurance that the evidence of the miracles of Jesus, his unspeakably glorious resurrection from the dead, together with the miracles with which the first promulgation of the gospel was effected, are abundantly sufficient to carry conviction to vastly the greatest part of candid minds.
In the mode the last sentence is concluded, I must, in justice to others, take the sentiment there expressed to myself; for I am sorry to say that christians, who have contended against infidelity have, generally, been less charitable than the genius of the religion they have, in many respects, most ably defended. I cannot find authority for denying candor to one who is unable to believe on the ground of such evidence as may satisfy my mind of a fact. I will therefore suppose that some who are candid, may, from some cause which we cannot analyze, be unable to believe the great truths of the gospel, on such evidence as is abundantly sufficient to convince others who are as scrupulous as necessary investigation requires.
It is, sir, the opinion of some very learned authors, who stand in the very first rank, for candor and erudition, that the proofs of which the gospel is susceptible are, in all respects, equal to what they could have been in any other way concerted, within the reach of human conception. This is going to a great length I confess; and yet I am strongly inclined to their opinion. I will candidly state why I am so.—1st. Taking the subject in the gross, I am convinced of the truth of the gospel of Christ. Now as I believe this gospel is not of man, but of God, I likewise believe that God in consummate wisdom has planned the evidences by which it is and will be supported in the world, until it fills the whole earth. 2d. As I believe that divine wisdom has planned, ordered and directed all the means which will finally operate as evidences in defence of the gospel, I cannot believe that the wisdom or sagacity of man could have suggested a chain of evidences which could so well have secured the cause to be supported. And 3d. I have spent much time in reflecting and studying on this momentous subject, some time in reading authors on both sides of the question, a great deal of time in reading the scriptures, and have come to this conclusion that no set of men ever lived in this world that could either have planned such a scheme as the gospel, or ever have invented such a chain of evidences for its support.
If the single miracle of the resurrection be considered, as the fact on which all other facts relating to the gospel seem to rest, it is confidently believed that no human invention could have concerted a system so well calculated to secure the fact to all future generations, as that which has been adopted by the divine economy. Had the whole of the Jewish nation with their Gentile neighbours, together with the Roman authorities, all confessed Christianity, being fully convinced of the resurrection of Jesus, and had they inscribed all the miracles recorded in the new testament on monuments which should defy the hand of time to bring them to decay, it requires but a moment's reflection to see that all this would have vastly increased the difficulty now to prove that it was not all contrived by man's invention.
But let us consider the unbelief of the Jews, the violent opposition of that ancient priesthood, its coalition with the Roman government against the gospel, the great jealousy which the acknowledged miracles of Jesus had excited, the vigilance by which he was watched by his religious enemies, the careful scrutiny employed to discover fraud in his miracles if it were possible; and then add to these considerations that the miracles of Jesus were publically performed, and of such a nature as to admit of the easiest possible detection if they had not been real: and finally to disarm unbelief at once, consider that the ministry of the gospel was set up by the apostles, on the bold declaration that God had raised the crucified Jesus from the dead! A declaration, which if it had not been true, mark well, sir, could have been as easily refuted and rendered the derision of all people as any declaration that could have been made. But I shall lose myself, and forget that you have not yet called my attention so directly to this subject, as to justify my entering largely into it.
What you have said on the subject of believing in the testimony of David, that the "Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works," also the same sentiment communicated by Jesus Christ, that God loves his enemies and that he requires of us the same exercise towards our enemies, though perfectly reasonable, as I view the subject, seems to call up the question, how it happens that thousands of professed Christians, who believe in the miracles of Jesus, his resurrection and the miracles of the apostles, are notwithstanding hostile to this divine and glorious sentiment of the blessed Jesus! Being compelled, by the visible evidences of divine goodness, seen in the rain and sunshine, they advance so far as to acknowledge that temporal favours are generally distributed, but that God does really love the wicked, they utterly deny. Now while you can believe this great moral truth without a miracle, Christian people in general cannot believe it with one. You are not to suppose that I am willing to allow that you believe this sentiment without a miracle, though you would insinuate, that this is the case. My opinion is, that had it not been for the miracles recorded in the new testament, the truth of which you are disposed to call in question, you and I, if we had existed, would have had no more light on this subject than the rudest savage, or what is worse, the most superstitious and contracted Christian. If you have any ground on which you can fairly refute my opinion on this subject, I hope you will faithfully perform it; if not, it will be expected that you will express your acquiescence. Such is the power of natural prejudice which we know exists in the human mind, that without a divine revelation from God, supported by the most evident miracles, man will not extend his views of divine benevolence scarcely beyond the rivers and mountains which environ the circumscribed vicinity of his birth. Trace the power and operation of this prejudice and you find it maintaining hostility against the light of revelation itself, and it is only by slow degrees that it is brought into submission. We reason very injudiciously when we bring ourselves to believe, that by the light of reason we could know and understand all the moral truths which we have been taught by revelation; we forget that revelation has illuminated our reason and taught it how to see and understand.—Just as well might the sprightly youth refuse to acknowledge that its mother learned it to walk, and ever gave it nourishment and strength to perform the exercise, and allege that it can walk as well as she can. As well might the learned graduate refuse the grateful honours due to his instructors, and say: my reason, my understanding comprehend these sciences, of what use then are these learned professors and this college institution? But would not reason point him to the condition of those, to whom the blessings of instruction, which, through much difficulty had given him the light of science, had not extended? Would it not force the comparison on his understanding, and humble him into gratitude?
It seems impossible, sir, for reason to compare our situation with theirs, who have not been enlightened by the gospel, without kneeling, like the woman in Simon's house, at the feet of Jesus.
2d. If the prophets where not divinely inspired, will you suggest any way by which their pretentions to divine inspiration can be reconciled with their honesty? They all speak in the name of the Lord, and evidently aim at the high pretention of being spoken to, in a special manner, by God himself. Will you say: they were a set of poor deluded enthusiasts? But this would contradict your reason which can see in every page of their writings a very different character. A passage from the 1st chapter of Jeremiah is here quoted for an example. "Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, before I formed thee &c. I sanctified thee; and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak, for I am a child: But the Lord said unto me, say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said unto me, behold, I have put my words in thy mouth."
Here Jeremiah evidently designed to declare himself an inspired prophet of God, by which he was justified in speaking in his name. Now if all this was mere fiction, how can it be entitled to a better character than that of blasphemy?
As a specimen of this prophet's knowledge of future events we may notice his prophesy of the seventy years captivity. See chap. xxv. 11, &c. xxix. 10, &c. Compare with 2 Kings xxiv. 2 Chron. xxxvi. Ezra i. 1, and other corresponding passages.
I will ask you to consult the character of Daniel, and observe with what genuine humility he pretends to divine inspiration, chap. ii. xxx. "But as for me, the secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but that the secret might be made known, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart." If Daniel did not receive a divine revelation, it must be allowed that he was deceived, or that he meant to deceive the king. But if he were deceived, or if he meant to deceive, can you give any good account how he could tell the king's dream and the interpretation, which reached into the far distant periods of time, and which has been remarkably fulfilled in the rise and fall of the four great empires of the world, and is still fulfilling by the advances of the kingdom of Christ? I will say nothing of the prophet Isaiah, who speaks of the Messiah more than seven hundred years before he was born, as if he had been his contemporary. Nor need I speak of Moses who foretold the dealings of God with the house of Israel as if he had lived now and had written their history. But I must insist on your paying some nice attention to the prophesies of Christ concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. This prophesy is recorded very circumstantially in the 24th of Matt. Be so good, sir, as to compare this prophesy with the history written by Josephus and let candor decide whether the author of that prophesy was divinely inspired, or whether he was a poor deceived enthusiast.
If you allow that Jesus Christ was an honest man how is it possible for you to deny his being divinely inspired? He certainly pretended to foretell events; he most surely pretended to perform most astonishing miracles. Of these facts we have as much evidence as we have that there was such a man. Now, sir, if he were honest, he was divinely inspired and endued, or he was an enthusiast even to insanity. And yet in every instance, where the powers of his mind were tried, by the profoundest learning, and sharpest wit that could be brought against him, he discovered a mind as clear as light. A volume of vast extent could not exhaust the subject I am now upon, but as you have the same opportunity and means which I have to trace it, I shall insist on your treating this subject with candor and shall expect you to acknowledge that Jesus was divinely inspired, or show how he could be honest, without this divine endowment.
3d. You acknowledge, that there are evidences in favour of divine revelation, which would support it, if there were nothing to counterbalance their testimony. I shall here find some fault. Why do you allow that there are evidences in favour of divine revelation, and not state what they are? Why do you insinuate that there is something to counterbalance their testimony and not state what it is? When an antagonist finds his opponent candid enough to allow that some evidence stands on his side of the argument is it not necessary for him at the same time to be informed what it is? Does he not need to know what his opponent is willing to allow to be evidence? And does he not likewise need to know how this evidence is counterbalanced? However, as you have not favoured me with such necessary assistance, I will attempt to proceed without it. But here I must go partly on presumption and partly by guess. In the first place I will inquire what particular circumstance recorded in scripture, which, if true, would substantiate revelation; and which you may suppose there is evidence sufficient to prove, if there was nothing to counterbalance it? This I will presume is the resurrection of Jesus. Why I think you would be most likely to have this particular in your mind, is, because on this event, I believe all will agree, depend the validity of the prophecies, the truth of the testimony of Christ himself, and the authority of the apostles. I will then presume that you acknowledge that there is evidence of this wonderful fact; but at the same time I am to understand, that, in your mind there is something to counterbalance, in some degree, if not entirely, this evidence.
Having proceeded so far, I am now to guess what the evidence is that you think would support this all important fact, if it were not counterbalanced. But here I find myself in difficulty. My difficulty is in finding any kind of evidence which could prove such an event, if there were nothing to counterbalance it, that could possibly be counterbalanced. Will you say that the testimony of the disciples, that they had seen the man alive after his death would be sufficient evidence to prove the fact? Suppose twelve men of honest fame, should report, and even depose, that the last man who was publicly executed in Boston, had actually arose from the dead, and that they had ate and drank with him a number of times since he was executed. Should you suppose this sufficient evidence, if there were nothing to do it away? But what could do it away? If the people could go to the grave and find the body there, the testimony of the twelve would remain no evidence at all, and therefore could not afterwards be called evidence sufficient to support the fact if there were nothing to counterbalance it. But suppose the people cannot find the body, would it not be thought that the body might possibly have been conveyed away by design of some who might have occasion to keep it a secret? But a guard is placed to watch the grave; but a guard might be bribed. The one we have account of was bribed, according to the story; and if they could be bribed by the chief priests and rulers, why not by some body else? Finally, would the testimony of these men be sufficient to prove such an extraordinary fact even if the body could not be found? I think for myself, that various opinions would result from such evidence. Some would believe that these men had entered into some very extraordinary plot, and calculated that they should be most likely to succeed by means of persuading the people that they were favoured with a knowledge of this resurrection. Others might believe them honest men, but by some crafty contrivance imposed on. Others might believe that the spirit of this man had appeared to the twelve, but that no real resurrection had taken place. But I very much doubt whether any very stable people would consider the testimony of the twelve men sufficient to support this fact if there were nothing brought, or if nothing could be brought against it. Such a circumstance would no doubt cause a great deal of talk, the depositions and the names of the deponents would be published in the newspapers, perhaps for several weeks, but after a little time it would die away.
Finally, I cannot conceive of any evidence that could sufficiently support the fact that Jesus who was crucified, did actually rise from the dead, if nothing could be brought to counterbalance it, that could possibly admit of being counterbalanced.
The question seems to remain, and the substance of it is this. 1st. If Jesus did actually rise from the dead what kind of evidence would his disciples need in order to be satisfied of the fact? And 2d. What kind of evidence must they be able to bring to the people in order to convince them of the fact?
I will here suppose that it is not necessary to prove that the disciples of Jesus, who preached him and his resurrection all their lives after they commenced at the day of pentecost, really believed what they preached; but the evidence by which they believed it I now inquire for. We must notice that the disciples did not expect the resurrection, they were not believers of this fact when their master was crucified. They were awfully disappointed, and not only disappointed but intimidated, as the account fully shows. They all forsook Jesus at his trial, and Peter for fear of being involved with him denied being his disciple.
The evidence then of his resurrection must be such as will convince those of the fact who have no expectation of the event. We will now look at the account. "And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had brought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him." This very rational account shows as plainly as the case will admit that these women had no expectation of his resurrection. I omit here what passed at the sepulchre when these women were there, for this does not relate to the disciples. The angel at the sepulchre told these women that Jesus had risen, and directed them to go and tell his disciples. "Now when Jesus was risen eariy, the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept." This mourning and weeping could not be the effect of the pleasing expectation of soon having their divine master with them; no, it was the natural effect of the amazing disappointment which had closed all the hopes they had entertained. "And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her," believed? no, "believed not." After that he appeared in another form to two of them as they walked, and went into the country.—And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. "Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he had risen." It seems unnecessary to quote into this communication all the instances related by the four deponents of Jesus' being seen of the eleven; his frequently being with them, eating with them, holding lengthy conversations with them, &c. Now as these disciples knew that Jesus had been crucified and buried, and a guard had been placed to guard the sepulchre, and moreover knowing for certainty that the body of Jesus was not where it had been deposited, and being favoured with his presence on a variety of occasions for forty days, the evidence to the disciples was of a character described by the author of the Acts. "To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." I believe, sir, that such evidence as Jesus is said to have given his disciples of his resurrection would be entirely sufficient to remove all doubts in their mind, however prone they were to unbelief. I am of opinion that such evidence would convince you and me of a similar fact.—Two questions are here necessary. 1st. Can we conceive how the evidence could have been less without being insufficient? And 2d. Can we conceive how it could have been stronger? I will not take up time to argue these questions, I feel satisfied on them myself. I will now ask whether we can imagine the possibility of any evidence that could counterbalance the evidence of the resurrection in the minds of the disciples? Thus we are brought to the suggestion, that any evidence which could be sufficient to prove such a fact, if no evidence appeared against it, must be such as admits of no refutation.
You will not forget, and think that I have been endeavouring to prove the resurrection of Jesus, or that the disciples even believed it; all I have been seeking for is that kind of evidence which would be necessary to prove to the disciples such a fact, and to show that such evidence cannot admit of refutation. However, you will at once see that, allowing our reasoning to be correct, and allowing the disciples did really believe the resurrection, either of which, I do not believe you will undertake to dispute, the resurrection is proved beyond all contradiction.
2d. Let us now inquire what kind of evidence was necessary for the disciples of Jesus to bring to the people, in order to convince them of this all-important fact on which the whole scheme and ministry of the gospel rested. It seems that the disciples did not believe on the testimony of others, though of their own intimate acquaintance, persons in whom they would place as much confidence as in any in the world, no doubt. Of course, they could not expect other people, who had not been the disciples of Jesus, would believe in his resurrection on their testimony. The evidence which the disciples had was sufficient for them, but their testimony would surely be much less; and any thing less would be insufficient as before stated.
We will now have recourse to the account. But first let us notice, that we are not endeavouring to prove that the disciples ever persuaded any to believe in the resurrection of Jesus; this is, as it must be, considered a fact, not disputed. The question is by what evidence did the apostles convince thousands of the people in Jerusalem and its vicinity, that Jesus who was publicly executed, was not only the true Messiah promised in the law and prophets, but that he had actually arose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Before Jesus ascended, he, after saying many other things to his disciples who were together in the city of Jerusalem, said to them; "Thus it is written, and thus it behoveth Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high." See the same account in Acts, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth." According to this account, Jesus did not direct his disciples to undertake to convince the people by their testimony, but charged them to wait for divine power. Accordingly they did wait. Now look at the account which we have, of what took place on the day of pentecost. I will not mutilate this account by quoting parts, there is no need of quoting what you have perfectly in your memory. Take particular notice of what Peter said to the people who had been accessary to the crucifixion of Jesus. He who was so intimidated as to deny Christ, now stands in the midst of the people and boldly asserts, that Jesus of Nazareth was a man approved of God among them by miracles and wonders, and signs which God did by him, among them; and that they knew this to be the case. He further tells them that they had with wicked hands crucified and slain this man who was thus approved of God. And he assured the whole house of Israel, that God had made this same Jesus whom they had crucified both Lord and Christ. He moreover boldly declared that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Now add to the testimony of Peter, the astonishing manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit, as described in the account, and you have the evidence by which about three thousand souls were convinced of the resurrection of Jesus in one day. Here let us consider; the people had been acquainted with Jesus, and had been eye witnesses of his miracles; many of them were personally acquainted with Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. They had been, many of them, fed by his miracles and had seen his wonderful works. Now put all together and it is evident that they had sufficient reason to believe. I cannot conceive how reasonable people in the candid exercise of their judgments, could avoid believing.
Look, sir, at the account of the miraculous cure of the lame man, who lay at the gate of the temple. Notice the words used to effect it. "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." "And all the people saw him walking and praising God: and they knew that it was he who sat for alms at the beautiful gate of the temple." Hear what Peter says to the wondering multitude on this occasion. "Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the holy one and the just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead: whereof we are witnesses. And his name, through faith in his name, hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, and the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all." Here we have the evidence by which about five thousand men, besides women, believed—that is, owned their belief. When the high priest and others called Peter and John before them, and demanded, by what power, or by what name they had done this thing, Peter answers, filled with the Holy Spirit; "Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, if we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole: be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at naught by you builders." Hear what these rulers say when Peter and John were sent aside. "What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it."
Such evidence as we have noticed, which the disciples were enabled to bring to the people, of the resurrection of Jesus, was sufficient to remove every reasonable doubt and to bring over to this faith, those who had been his murderers.
I will now inquire whether it is reasonable to suppose that less evidence would have effected such conviction?—And on the other hand, I will ask whether stronger proof could in the nature of things be given? And lastly, to come to our object again, does such evidence possibly admit of being counterbalanced? I understand that these questions admit of no other answers than such as go to show, that if there be any evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, sufficient to support it, if there were no evidence to counterbalance it, such evidence is not capable of being counterbalanced.—You will perceive that our reasoning must issue in the truth of the resurrection, unless we assume the extravagant notion, that the people who lived in Jerusalem and its vicinity, at the time of the crucifiction of Jesus, were not brought over to believe it.
It is hoped that no objection will be brought from the circumstance of the rejection of the gospel by the rulers of the Jews, and by the major part of that hierarchy, as long as it is perfectly evident that their opposition and unbelief were indispensably necessary for the fulfilling of the prophecies, for the carrying of conviction to the Gentiles, and for the purpose of perpetuating the necessary evidences on which we, at this day, must rest our belief of this religion.
4th. You hardly know how to understand me when I suggest, that in disproving the religion of Jesus Christ, you disprove all religion, &c. I think I added, that there is no choosing between this religion and some other, we must have this, or none.
By the religion of Jesus Christ, I mean to comprehend all that the doctrine of the scriptures encourage us to believe in and hope for, and also all that this doctrine requires, also all that it teaches us to expect as resulting from obedience and disobedience. I am fully persuaded that you never can disprove this religion, so as to do away its effects on your own mind. Its maxims contain all the morality you know of, and all that a Deist calls natural religion, he has been taught from the revealed wisdom of God. The further you advance into the society of man, where the light of the holy scriptures has least extended, so much the more do you lose sight of the moral virtues; and so much the more do you lose sight of the simple unity and divine benevolence of God.
My meaning, sir, however, was not very extensive. It was to say, as in a familiar conversation, I might express myself as follows: Brother, if we disprove the religion of Jesus Christ, that is, if we give up our present belief, there is no other religion, that we have heard of, that can have the least claim to our belief. Judaism, Paganism, Mahomedanism, could neither of them have any claims; nor in fact could what people call Deism, or the belief in one God. If you say there is certainly demonstrated in the very nature of things an eternal unchangeable principle or law which governs all things; I will answer, I am surprised to hear a rational being, who cannot remember forty-five of our short years, and knows not that he shall live in the world another hour, talk about eternal things, use great swelling words of vanity about unchangeability, and yet deny that God has made a revelation to man! I am really of the sentiment expressed by him who is justly styled the light of the world, who said "No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son revealeth him."
5th. You seem to inquire whether Jesus and his apostles might not be honest men; and yet their testimony, concerning a future state be erroneous. Answer, this case comes into the same argument as the case of the prophets, to which attention has been paid. We have no more reason to believe that Jesus and his apostles were honest men, than we have to believe that they pretended to divine inspiration, and to the power of working many very astonishing miracles. It does not appear reasonable to suppose that these servants of God, thought they could, and did heal the sick and raise the dead, when in fact they could do no such thing. Therefore, if they pretended to do such things and did them not, they were all impostors, and surely deserve no better appellation. Now if I can bring to your mind my inference, it is this. God would not endue Jesus Christ and his apostles with power to work miracles, by which the attention of the people would be drawn to them and by which they would naturally be led to place confidence in their testimony, and yet leave them in the dark concerning those things of which they speak to the people.
What you say on this subject, indicates that you did not understand me to infer the validity of the apostles' testimony concerning a future state, from any higher authority than their simple honesty unconnected with the other part of the argument, which was as plainly set forth in my former communication as you will now find it in this.
6th. You suppose that arguments equally energetic, and equally conclusive might be drawn from our feelings, against, as in favour of the necessity of divine revelation.
Though I am not of your opinion, yet I am disposed to think that desires very fervent may in some instances exercise the human heart against the knowledge of divine truth. But, sir, this is the effect of moral disease, not of a sound mind. A foul stomach will nauseate at the sight of wholesome food; distempered eyes are rendered painful by the rays of light; one whose deeds are evil loves darkness for this very reason. Now that people affected with these infirmities should be exercised with fervent desires to avoid what gives them uneasiness is surely very natural; but that a person in health and having good exercise should loathe that which is good and nourishing, that one who has sound eyes should dislike the enlivening beams of the sun, or that one whose works are wrought in God, should love darkness rather than light is not reasonable.
You are cautioned against supposing that these remarks are designed to be applied to yourself, for I bear you record that your exertions and assiduity for the attainment of true knowledge have been laudable, and worthy of imitation. But all this only proves to me that your reasoning is unnatural, and that no man would be more rejoiced to know the truth of divine revelation than yourself.
7th. That a person who does not even desire a future existence should realize the goodness of the divine Being, and feel truly grateful for all enjoyments does not stand in a clear light in my mind. I cannot conceive that it is possible that any thing could remove a desire to exist in the future, except a very strong fear that that state would be awfully miserable. To be thankful to God, and to rejoice in his goodness, and at the same time feel no desire to continue in the enjoyment of such favour is to me a complete solecism, which sufficiently refutes itself.
8th. Your assertion, that if a revelation was ever necessary, it was necessary only to reconcile man to his present state of existence, is thought to be an error of no small magnitude. If you had said that revelation was necessary only for the improvement of man in his present state it would have been more correct.
As for man's present existence, it seems he has love enough; people wish to live here, and no doubt they would wish to stay forever if they had no hope in the future. By improving our present state by a divine revelation, I wish to be understood to comprehend all that is meant by the ministry of reconciliation. This has for its object the reconciliation of man to God. But it is a soul rejoicing fact, that of the precious things brought forth by the sun of righteousness, the hope of immortality is its most precious jewel. This makes every thing valuable. Hence we may lay up our treasures where neither moth nor rust can corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. Here God's bright favour will never grow dim, nor will our love and gratitude ever decay. Do you see this celestial form leaning on her anchor, and while the raging waves of a restless sea dash against her, feel unmoved? Do you observe her aspect firm, and her eyes turned towards Heaven? And wouldst you wish to cast her down and wreck her on the quicksands of dismal doubt? Go, brother, to the chamber of sickness, where life's waning embers can no longer warm the dying heart, there hear from cold and quivering lips this hope expressed, I long to be with Christ, I long to be at rest. Would you blast this amaranthine flower? Would you plant in its stead the night shade of dispair?
Do not, dear sir, listen too long to the wild suggestions of vain fancy and wandering imagination, under the specious pretence of searching after truth. I am apprehensive that she who persuades you that she is truth, really deserves another name. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, he also is made unto us wisdom.
Give me the light of this bright sun to see, All other lights like met'ors are to me; Give me that way, that pleasant path to know, I'll walk no other path while here below. Wouldst thou be wise? This wisdom learn to scan, Which brings to God, the wandering heart of man.
9th and last. You misunderstand me in supposing that I meant to insinuate, that by what you wrote respecting the apostles' stating nothing more than what was substantially true, you must mean that they stated falsehood. I meant, if you do not believe that they stated the truth you must believe that they stated falsehood, in which case I called on you to make a short work of our argument by proving that what they stated was not true. I wonder you should not have thought of this way to understand me, because there is no way to explain your words into the meaning which you supposed I had attached to them, while what I now suggest is fairly the necessary result of what you stated.
On this subject I am disposed to say a little more. If we find ourselves in serious doubts respecting any important particular of our religion, and we wish to have the matter cleared up to our satisfaction, why should we spend much time and write many sheets, with no other apparent object, than to keep away from the subject which labours in our minds? If you were under the necessity of bringing a tree to the ground, and of removing it from the forest, would you ascend the tree and begin your work on the extreme twigs, or would you cut the trunk off near the roots, when the whole mass would come down together?
You will apprehend my meaning. The fact is, if the Christian religion is ever overthown, it must be done, not by proving that professors of it have held errors and have been superstitious, and have ever practised wickedness, using the name of Christ for a cloak, &c. but by proving the testimony, of the new testament false. Cut the trunk of the tree off at this place and the work is done.
But if it were possible, in the nature of things for the testimony borne in the new testament to be proved false, can you persuade yourself to believe that it would not have been done? If a book containing the grossest falsehood, the most palpable frauds, pretensions the very easiest to be detected of any that can be imagined, could be got up and published, and be copied by many hands, and be translated into different languages on purpose to overthrow the popular religion of all countries where the book is sent or carried, and if in spite of truth, and all the learning of a learned age, if in spite of all sorts of superstition combined with civil government, if in spite of reason, argument, persuasion, the tender love and compassion of parents, interest, honour, ease, peace and quiet; if in the face of the most cruel sufferings and most awful deaths, this book, with all its abominable lies, and most palpable frauds could succeed, its doctrines run and be glorified; if ancient superstitions, than which nothing can have a more despotic sway over the human heart, if the priests of long venerated idols with thousands of their votaries were humbled before this testimony, what is there now on which we can rely for success against it?
How beautiful are reason and candor. Dr. Gamaliel gives us a handsome specimen. "Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves, what ye intend to do as touching these men.—For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody: to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered and brought to naught. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, wore dispersed. And now, I say unto you, refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."