The first evidence adduced by this celebrated author to prove his first proposition, proves that the gospel of St. Matthew, which contains a very particular account of the prophecy of Jesus concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, was written before the event took place. This evidence is a quotation from the epistle of Barnabas, St. Paul's companion, in the following words: "Let us therefore, beware lest it come upon us, as it is written, there are many called, few chosen." St. Matthew's gospel is the only book in which these words are found; and you will perceive by the expression, "as it is written," that Barnabas quoted the passage from an author of authority. Barnabas wrote his epistle during the troubles which ended in the destruction of the Jews and their city. This epistle of Barnabas is quoted by Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 194: by Origen, A.D. 230. It is mentioned by Eusebius, A. D. 315, and by Jerome, A. D. 392. (Paley's evidences, p. 106.)
Your insinuations that the origin of the christian scriptures is involved in fable and mystery, should have been accompanied with a clear refutation of the arguments used by Lardner, Paley, and others, who have with much learning and labour traced the stream to its fountain.
I must say something on the subject which you introduce concerning man, as a species of being, or you may think me inexcusable for the neglect. There seem to be two main questions suggested on this subject; the first inquires what man was farther back than history reaches; and the other directs the mind to a "line of demarcation" between the human and the brute.
We have no account that I know of when the use of fire was not known. We read Gen. iv. 22, that Tubal-cain was an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron, and if reason has any thing to do in this case, we may suppose that the use of fire was known to these mechanics. The date to which this reading belongs, is 3875 years before Christ; but there can be no reasonable doubt but that the use of fire was known long before, and that it was used in the offerings which were made by Cain and Abel.
That the discovery of arts and the progress of science have changed man from what he originally was, is no more reasonable, than to suppose that the education which a child acquires by degrees, by the same degrees changes him in respect to his nature. That the arts and sciences serve to improve and extend the human intellects is reasonable enough, but that they add any thing to the natural principles or faculties of man is not conceivable.
In fixing the "line of demarcation" between the human nature and the brutal, I will suggest two characteristics which you have noticed by which the distinction may be ascertained.
The first is the power or faculty of improving from generation to generation his condition by means of art, and knowing how to advance from one degree of science to another. This I will suppose belongs to man and is peculiar to our race of being. We know of no other animal on earth that has ever improved his condition by the discovery of the arts or an increase of science.
The other characteristic is one of your propositions, on which you build your system of doubting, viz. Superstition. This is found in no creature but such as is susceptible of religion. Man is the only religious animal, if I may be allowed this form of expression, found on the earth.
The progress which man has made in arts and sciences, and the progress he has made in divine or religious knowledge distinguish him from the brutal creation. As in the former he has run into thousands of errors, so in the latter he has wandered in darkness, with now and then a blessed ray of light which improved his mind. When the knowledge of the arts became generally defused by means of the extension of the Roman government, it pleased our blessed Creator to cause the sun of divine light to rise on the Jew and Gentile world. And gave him a covenant of the people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel.
Your opinion that men are seldom made unhappy in consequence of doubting a future existence, may be true in a comparative sense, for I believe there are few in comparison with the whole, who do doubt on this subject. Generally speaking, it is the few, who like the philosopher that rendered himself blind by endeavouring to find out what the sun was composed of, thought there was no sun nor any light, that so far give up a hope of futurity as to be miserable in their belief.
That the idea of endless torment, such as our clergy have represented, and with which they have most horribly terrified thousands and driven them into black despair, is more horrible than no existence at all will be allowed by every candid mind. But in contemplating an infinite source of divine benevolence, and his means of giving and perpetuating existence, and of rendering existence a blessing, the mind is not driven to the necessity of selecting between these two evils. No, sir, the mind thus employed has sweeter themes and brighter prospects—in belief of that invaluable treasure, that divine testimony of the inspired apostle: "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive;" which sentence you nor I ever heard a preacher of endless punishment recite in a sermon in our lives, the soul rises by faith into sublime regions of future peace and everlasting enjoyment, when death shall be swallowed up of life.
I need not tell you, my brother, that it has been through many trials, afflictions, doubts, and temptations, that your feeble humble servant has found the way to this rock; you cannot be altogether ignorant of this travail of mind. Permit me then to call to remembrance the bondage we have escaped, the sea through which we have passed, the sweet songs of deliverance and salvation which we have chanted to our Redeemer in the faith of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST. And here permit me to request your assistance in giving me support, and in strengthening my hands in the work of the Lord.
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EXTRACTS No. VIII.
"In regard to the story reported among the Jews, respecting the body of Jesus, I admit there is a greater probability of there being such a report, especially if the body could not be found, and the apostles affirmed that he was risen from the dead, than there is that the resurrection, should be actually true: hence, perhaps, I was not so much on my guard in the expression as I ought to have been. What I particularly had in my mind was, that I might find it difficult to prove even the existence of such a story, i. e. in the days of the apostles; and still more difficult to prove, even on the ground that there was no resurrection, that this story was true; and therefore there could be no use in urging the truth of this story in order to invalidate the truth of the resurrection. I do not conceive, however, that because I doubt the fact, I am under obligations to account for the fallacy. It always belongs to the advocates of the truth of any story, to bring forward sufficient evidence to prove the same. I can think of a solution, however, that would appear to my understanding much more probable, than to suppose, as mentioned in your seventh article, the 'account written long since the apostles' day;' yet it may, perhaps, be attended with equal or greater difficulties, viz. that the body was not stolen by the apostles, but was taken away by other persons, who were willing that Jesus should be deified, according to the then common acceptation of that word among the Greeks, and who studied this stratagem with an express design to deceive the Jews, as a punishment to them for so cruelly putting him to death, and also to deceive his disciples, in order to inhance the honour of the name of Jesus.
"This might have been done, as I conceive, by persons who never became his open followers, so far as to suffer death on his account, but were contented in having gained their object; to do which, it was only necessary in the first instance to frighten the soldiers. It may be difficult after all, as I have observed concerning the human species, to say where the truth of the account ends, or where the fallacy begins; but that some such thing should have taken place is more probable to my understanding than that the literal resurrection of Jesus should have been true. But I perceive that my expression, concerning the report among the Jews, was a little too strong; and carried rather more in it than what I was aware. For even on my hypothesis, as well as on every other which admits the absence of the body, such a report would appear very probable.
"It must be granted, as you have suggested, that there was such a report among the Jews at the time when that record was made, or else that record would not appear at all to 'advantage' in support of the truth of christianity.
"That 'reason is candid,' I also admit; and if I am blundering in making mistakes, I believe you will have the goodness to acknowledge that I am candid in retracting them again when they are so pointed out to me that I can see them.
"Respecting divine revelation, it is true, I understood you to mean something more than barely what is predicated on the resurrection of Jesus; yet in the second proposition of the three which you made, viz. 'Is the resurrection of Jesus capable of being proved,' I understand you to state one single fact, on which you are willing to rest the final issue of the argument. This being the most important fact, relative to the truth of christianity, and which, probably, is as difficult of proof as any, I do not perceive any disingenuousness in confining you now to this proposition till it is either proved or admitted. Neither do I perceive how this can embarrass your argument, as you have proposed to consider them 'true, disjunctively,' as well as conjunctively. When therefore you have proved the three propositions disjunctively; particularly the second, above named, then I shall be willing you should avail yourself of their union.—You may say, perhaps, I have proposed to admit the truth of your three propositions; but you will also perceive, it was only for the sake of introducing a fourth proposition, which it will not be necessary for you to consider until the three first are proved true.
"I conceive that reason has no more to do in this case than to judge of the evidences of facts; and then, if the facts are supported, reason can judge of their relation one to the other; but to assume, in the first place, the truth of revelation, and then infer from that the probability of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, appears to me to be unreasonable. Therefore, if you attempt to prove the truth of revelation, I conceive you must in the first place prove, 'disjunctively,' the truth of the resurrection. If, therefore, you have considered yourself excused from proving the facts on which the truth of revelation seems to rest, because I have granted them for the sake of the argument, you have misapprehended my meaning. I grant nothing, respecting the main question, until it is proved.
"Notwithstanding what you have said about 'the known facts,' and 'facts which you grant, for the sake of the argument,' &c. you will perceive by my seventh number, that I do not consider the 'miracles of Jesus, his resurrection, and the miracles wrought by the apostles,' either granted or proved, i. e. in relation to the main question; and hence, whatever weight your argument may have, when you have succeeded in that (if you should succeed at all) at present they seem to be hardly conclusive. I know it would save you much time, if you could draw from me an acknowledgement of the truth of the facts on which you rely; and you seem to argue, if I understand you, as though that was already the case; but whatever you may have understood, I must distinctly disavow any such acknowledgement; and I shall still expect (unless it is done in answer to my seventh number) when you come to reply to this, that you will state distinctly, and together, the evidences and arguments on which you mostly rely.
"If, however, you have meant nothing more by all this than to point out the use you shall make of the miracles, &c. (which have been granted for the sake of the argument) when those miracles, &c. shall have been either proven, or else acknowledged true, in relation to the main question, then I have no fault to find; but otherwise, your argument in this place seems to be a little premature.
"You say, 'the known facts, such as the miracles, &c. I used as proof of the divine mission of the 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.'
"Here you will perceive, sir, that, according to your own statement, to prove this divine mission, you must first prove the certainty of those miracles, &c. on which the truth of the divine mission is predicated. And these are things about the truth of which, as I indicated all along, there may be serious doubts.
"I am at a loss also to understand, what you mean by a 'divine mission.' You inform me that I misapprehended you 'in supposing that' you 'mean to contend, that what the apostles have said respecting a future state, was spoken by way of conclusions from certain known facts.' Here, I must confess, I am really at a loss to understand you: how that either Jesus, or his apostles, could understand a divine mission, even if they had received one, unless it were by conclusions from certain known facts, that is, facts well known to them, I cannot conceive; and therefore must have some further explanation on this subject before I can fully answer you. For I must be better informed than I am at present, what you mean by a divine mission, before I can see the necessity of 'denying the reality of those miracles—or of granting the authority of their (Christ and his apostles) testimony;' that is, in regard to a future state. But even if I should be made to see this, it would be of no use for the present; because as it respects the final issue of the argument, I have not, neither do I now admit the reality of those miracles: as you must have seen by my seventh number.
"The next particular which demands notice is the quoted passage which I pronounced Most excellent!
"Here a serious query suggests itself to my mind. I ask myself: am I, or am I not, as capable of writing my sentiments, so as to be understood by a rational man, as those plain illiterate men who wrote the gospels? And yet if my words are so wrested by logical twisticisms (if I may be allowed to use that expression) so as to mean what never entered my heart, and all this with apparent serious candor too, what may have been the fate of the writings of the evangelists? Now this is something in which I cannot be deceived, i. e. as it respects myself; for any man of common sense does know his own meaning, whether his words fully express his meaning or not, or whether they may be made to mean something else or not.
"Permit me therefore once more to explain. The expression, Most excellent! was not so much intended to have been applied to the sentence preceding it, as to the author of that sentence, whose goodness, in stating so explicitly what he understands by the christian faith, I commended. And you must excuse me for not being able to see any inconsistency, absurdity, or contradiction in my words which follow that expression. Suppose a case. You have a good and faithful servant, who feels happy in your service, and is perfectly contented with his fare. You promise him with some favours which you had never before made known to him. He is elated with the idea of your goodness, which he has never doubted, but did not know till now that it was to be manifested in this particular way. You tell him that a knowledge of this, with his former knowledge, 'is as much as his present welfare requires.' He very readily assents to the truth of the proposition; and further adds, it is even 'more than is necessary for his present welfare,' for he was contented and happy before. Would any rational man say that your servant talked unreasonably? Would he say that such reasoning was absurd? I think not. Your servant does not despise either your goodness or your bounty; he considers that his master knows best, what is best for his servant; and he receives with gratitude whatever is bestowed. Your argument would have appeared to me more just, if, after fully understanding me, which I perceive, by the use you have made of the quotation from my sixth number, you now do, you had proved from well known facts, or from conclusive argument, the absolute necessity of the hope of a christian in order for the 'present welfare' of mankind. In doing this you would have ingenuously refuted the proposition which I say would have been exactly right.
"You do not seem, sir, yet to have fully understood me as to my object in searching for truth. You ask, saying, 'Do you not appear to be solicitous to have your doubts removed, without expecting the least advantage by it?' You must know, sir, that this is only on supposition, that my doubts are founded in error; in which case I should reap the advantage, as my object is truth. You will recollect that my first object was to search for moral truth; without being at all solicitous where, or on what ground it shall be found. Truth only is my object. In this only I feel at all interested in this argument. Hence I shall be just as much obliged to you to confirm me in my doubts, admitting they are founded in truth, as I shall to remove them, admitting they are founded in error.
"I once thought just as you, viz. that the idea and contemplation of enjoying future life was absolutely necessary to present enjoyment; but I am now fully convinced, yea, more, it is absolutely known to be a fact, that the idea is altogether visionary and illusive. I admit that a knowledge of the truth, so far as the truth may be known, is perfectly congenial with the present happiness of mankind: though it is often the case that a partial knowledge of the truth, in relation to any particular subject, produces distress and misery rather than enjoyment. I now am very happy in knowing some things, which, once, only the idea of their being true would have given me pain. I am inclined to think that the idea of now enjoying the pleasures, or now enduring the pains of a future life is altogether chimerical. I can enjoy the life or lives of others in a future tense just as well as I can now enjoy my own future life. I have as much reason to believe that rational intelligence always did exist, as I have to believe it always will; yea, one idea is just as certain to me as the other, and no more so. And as I cannot reflect on the idea of eternity past, only with a kind of reverential awe mingled with sublime pleasure; so the idea of eternity to come produces in me the same sensation; yea, feeling myself equally ignorant of both, (which must be the case on the supposition that revelation is not true.) I can perceive no difference. I feel anxious to know, however, every thing which can be known on this subject; and yet, at the same time, I am inclined to think I should doubt of every revelation of which I can have any conception, unless it should be so made that I could see its truth, (or at least the evidences of its truth) over and over again, and that they should still remain by me at all times, so that I could examine them, and re-examine them, the same as I now look at the stars in the firmament.
"Thus I have opened my mind to you, more fully than I have ever done before, on this subject; and notwithstanding your writings may be very beneficial to others (as well as mine, for some may stand in need of one, and some of the other) yet, here comes up my doubts again, if I am benefited by them, I expect it will be in a different way than that of being any more persuaded of the truth of divine revelation. Nevertheless, I am no less anxious to continue the correspondence on this account.
"Your address to TRUTH, which you are pleased to put into the mouth of my argument, is closed with an idea which does not grow out of my hypothesis. 'The joyous expectation of soon losing sight of thee (i. e. truth) forever in the ellysium of non existence!' Non-existence, sir, does not exist! Neither does the term convey an idea to my understanding of any thing. I know of no existence, neither can I conceive of any, except that which I believe to be eternal in its nature. And the idea of something being formed or made out of nothing, or of something's returning to nothing again, I have long since exploded. Every thing, however, excepting first principles, is liable to change. Hence arises the various modes, states, circumstances, conditions and situations in beings and things: also their different properties, relations and dependences.
"I know not whether consciousness is a being, or whether it be only a mode of being. If it be the former, it always did, and always will exist, in some state or other; if the latter, the state of the being may be so changed that although identity exists, yet consciousness is not there. And there is no more absurdity in this idea than there is in supposing that the same matter which forms a cube, may become a globe. I can as well conceive of a conscious being to day, becoming unconscious to-morrow, as I can conceive of a person in a sound sleep. But non-existence (strictly speaking) sounds to my understanding something like the falsity of truth!
"I now come to your reply to my sixth number; and in my remarks, which will be but few, I shall follow the arrangement which you have made.
"1st. The candid concessions which you have made, and the charity which you have extended towards doubting Christians, or candid unbelievers (for such I conceive there may be) is honourable both to yourself and to the cause which you have espoused, and your writing, of course gains a much more favourable reception than the writings of those who appear to be filled with a spirit of acrimony, and are ready at once to deal out anathemas against every thing of which they cannot approve. But, sir, you will permit me to say, we ought to be cautious, lest our personal attachment to an author, and his charitable feelings towards us be such, as imperceptibly to blind us to correct reason, and cause us to imbibe his errors, merely because they are his, and mistake them for truth.
"I am well aware that I should find it difficult to prove that I now believe what I do without a miracle, as you have suggested; for if miracles have existed they may have, indirectly, more influence in my mind than I am at present sensible of; and therefore I will not undertake to say that I am not principally indebted to them for my present views of the character of the supreme Being. I am disposed to acknowledge in humble gratitude all the blessings which I have received, and am made sensible of, let them come to me by what means, or through what channel soever. But I do not see how you had a right to expect that I should either refute, or else acquiesce in your opinion on this subject.—What! must I either prove that there have been no such things as miracles, or else admit their truth! Must I either refute your notion that they have had great influence on my faith and practice, or else 'express my acquiescence' that such is the fact! Hard lines! I choose to take the easier course, and confess that I am too ignorant to do either. I am willing, however, still to be instructed.
"2d. I have nothing at present to say on the subject of prophecy; i.e. to reconcile the pretensions to it with the honesty of the prophets, without admitting divine inspiration, better than what I have written in my seventh number. When I have received your answer to that I may have something more to write. I would suggest, however, here, that as you frequently make use of the expression 'divine inspiration,' I want the expression more fully defined and explained. I have no distinct idea, that I know of, of divine inspiration. I suppose you mean the same by it which you did by the 'divine mission,' given to the apostles, or at least something similar; but still I am ignorant of the subject. You have sometimes spoken of divine revelation, as though it was something distinct from this divine mission, and which was a proof of it; but, you must excuse me, I am still all in the dark about it. Do be so good as to inform me how you suppose the prophets, or apostles, or even Jesus, could know for a certainty that they were divinely inspired?
"3. When I acknowledged that there are evidences in favour of divine revelation, I did not suppose it necessary to state what those evidences are; because some of them, to say the least, are very apparent. The bare report of any thing, I conceive to be evidence of the report's being true; and would be sufficient to acquire belief should nothing arise in the mind to counterbalance it: and as I had repeatedly promised to give you the reasons for my doubts I expected to have been indulged a little longer before I should have been again faulted on this subject. But as it respects this matter I am all patience and submission, if it may be so that truth shall finally come to light.
"Under this article you have gone into a very lengthy discussion to shew that the evidence by which the apostles believed in the resurretion could not be counterbalanced, &c. And if I understand what you have written it amounts in my mind to about the following, viz. the apostles could not have been convinced of the fact of the resurrection by any evidence short of the fact itself. 2dly. If the fact did exist there is no evidence which can conterbalance it. Ergo. As the apostles were convinced of the truth, the fact did exist. This is pretty much like saying, if the fact were true, it could not have been false! But I spoke of the evidence in relation to ourselves rather than the apostles: we believe or disbelieve for ourselves, and by such evidence as we have. You think if twelve men should testify in favour of a resurrection, and the body could not be found, 'various opinions would result from such evidence.' If so, some might believe the account true; and they might persuade others to believe it; and only let it be reported and believed that some one had died for the truth of it, and it would make no difference after this, as it respects the influence of faith, whether the account was true or false.
"You will excuse me for making no further remarks on what you have written under this article till you have answered my seventh number, and also given me a more clear definition of divine inspiration.
"4. What you have written under the fourth article, generally speaking, is satisfactory, till I come to the last sentence; and even with that I have not much fault to charge you with. It is true we may be mistaken as to our ideas of the eternity or immutability of any thing; but then, as it respects argument, it is just as well as though we were correct, as no one can prove us otherwise; no, nor even raise a reasonable doubt on the subject. But even if it could be demonstrated that there is not a rational being now in the universe who existed two centuries ago, or one who will exist two centuries hence, I conceive, as the fact could not, so the knowledge of the fact ought not to make any difference in the relation, dependence and moral obligation between man and man. Man learns by his own experience, as well as from the experience of others; and vice versa; hence we profit by the experience of those who have gone before us.
"When man shall universally learn this great moral truth that much of his happiness is inseparably connected with the happiness of his fellow beings, which is one of the immutable principles of moral nature, then each individual will strive to the utmost to promote the general welfare; for in so doing he increases his own individual happiness, and also the happiness of posterity.
"5. What you have said under the fifth article, for reasons already given, will be considered in my next number, when I hope I shall he furnished with more light on the subject.
"I will only observe here that a miracle, as I conceive, must be performed agreeable to, or else it must be a violation of the laws of nature. If the former, whatever it might be to others, to those who understood the means of its operation, it could be, strictly speaking, no miracle; and if no miracle, no evidence, to them, of divine inspiration: but if the latter, and those who performed the same were ignorant of the power by which they were performed, I do not see how that the performance of a miracle could give them any knowledge of futurity. And if not, what did give it to them, and in what way was it given?
"It will still be recollected that I do not admit the existence of miracles, although I speak of them as though they were true, merely to shew that even if they were true I should still have my difficulties respecting the truth of divine revelation.
"6th. Your remarks under the sixth article are satisfactory, though they have not convinced me of the incorrectness of my opinion; because that which is founded in truth is, after all the only thing that is 'good and nourishing' to the understanding. The sound mind pants only after truth; and as he knows eternal truth is unalterable, he is not foolish enough even to desire, it should be what it is not. The reason why we often desire that which we cannot have is because, not knowing the whole truth, we do not know but that we may have the things we desire.
"7th. As it respects 'not even deserving a future existence,' I was not fully understood. I only meant an anxious desire, as I expressed a little before, and as also I expressed anxious concern a little after; that is a desire which is incompatible with reconciliation to truth whether that truth gives us little or much. Had not truth been favourable to our existence we certainly should not have existed; and I can see no reason to fear a truth which has been so favourable as to give us being. It is true, a desire to exist as long as we can enjoy life seems to be inseparably connected with our moral nature; and yet I can see no terror in that which takes away our sensibility, whether it be for a night, for ages, or for eternity. I should just as soon think of being terrified at the idea of a sound and sweet sleep. If the truth be what I suspect it is, I see no good reason why it should be revealed to us, any more than the hour of our death! This truth is wisely concealed from us.
"8th. You have seen me so long in the dark that I begin to doubt whether you would be willing to own me correct, even if I should come fully into the light; i. e. according to your understanding. Is it possible sir, that you should suppose me capable of writing so great a solecism as the following, viz.: If a revelation were ever necessary, it was necessary only to convince mankind that a revelation is not true! But it seems that such must have been your construction, or very near it, or else you could not have found the error of so great magnitude, of which you speak. Although I did not express my idea so full and explicit as I might, and perhaps ought to have done, yet I can assure you that, by reconciling man to his present state, I meant nothing less than what you have expressed in a former letter; and I meant to include all for which you have contended in the article now under consideration. For 1st. If divine revelation were necessary, the thing revealed is undoubtedly true. 2d. If true, I am fully satisfied with your views on the subject.
"9th. Your explanation relative to what you suggested in a former letter (i. e. that I must mean that the apostles stated falsehood) is satisfactory; though what you now say you meant, as I have already informed you, was not exactly my meaning. The fact is, I did not mean to express any opinion as to the truth or to the falsity of the apostles' testimony. I very readily grant, however, that, if I 'do not believe that they stated the truth' 'I must believe that they stated falsehood;' unless (which would be very extraordinary) the weight of evidence be so exactly balanced in my mind that it is impossible for me to form an opinion on the subject.—But supposing I disbelieved their testimony altogether; what could I do more than to give my reasons for not believing it? Would it be reasonable to call on me to prove their testimony false? It is a very hard thing to prove a negative!
"You will have already perceived by my seventh number that I have no idea that the facts on which the Christian religion is said to have been founded can now be proved false. No, whatever might have been the case in the time of it, they were neglected too long before any attempt of this kind was made, though the accounts should have been supposed ever so erroneous as to promise any success in their refutation. And I am inclined to think that one century then would involve facts in as much obscurity as five centuries would now. But I have already expressed my doubts whether the facts on which the religion of the Shakers is said to be predicated, although not half a century standing, can now be proved false; and yet if they are true they are nothing short of miraculous.
"The Christian religion therefore, true or false, undoubtedly will stand, in some shape or other, and be believed more or less, as long as man remains upon the earth. For if it was introduced without any violations of the laws of nature, i. e. without miracles, which probably was the case, if false, we cannot expect any such violations for the sake of destroying it; and without such violations I do not see how it could be destroyed, because the believers of it, invariably, believe it to be established on such mysterious supernatural principles; and I expect but very few, comparatively, will ever have sufficient strength of mind to throw off the mystic veil.
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Dear sir, and brother—Desiring to bring our present correspondence to a close as soon as the merits of its subject will admit, I propose in replying to your 8th number, to remark only on the most essential particulars, taking no particular notice of two classes contained in your communication, viz. that which seems to grow out of a misconstruction of my arguments and that in which you appear to agree with them. Indulging in this liberty, the subjects to which I will endeavour to confirm myself are the following.
1st. Your method of accounting for the absence of the crucified Jesus, from the sepulchre where it was laid and guarded by the Roman soldiers.
2d. What you suggest respecting the divine mission of Christ and his apostles, the miracles which were wrought by them in attestation of the Messiah, and the credibility of their testimony regarding a future state.
3d. What you contend for respecting the utility, or inutility of the christian hope of future felicity.
4th. Something on the instructions of Jesus to his disciples respecting their conduct toward their enemies.
5th. What you suggest respecting Jesus' not being known to the two disciples, &c.
6th. Your criticism on my argument respecting the evidences of the resurrection, &c.
1st. You propose to account for the absence of the body of Jesus, by supposing, that some persons by frightening the guards were enabled thereby to convey the body away, which they did being willing that Jesus should be thought to have risen from the dead, whereby he would be deified, according to the notions of the Greeks respecting deifying men after they were dead, &c. Those who thus stole the body were not the disciples of Jesus, but some persons who were desirous thereby to punish the Jews for so cruelly putting Jesus to death.
Here you have proposed two subjects as forming the cause, in the mind of those who stole the body, of their undertaking so hazarduous an enterprise, neither of which appears to me to wear the necessary marks of probability.—1st. If they wished to have Jesus deified according to the notions of the Greeks, there was no need of establishing the belief of his having rose from the dead. This was not the case with those who among the Greeks were deified after their death. The tombs of their heroes whom they placed among the gods, remained among the people.
2d. Who that then lived in Jerusalem or its vicinity could look on the crucifixion of Jesus as an act of cruelty? Others than Jews would not feel very much interested in this affair, as Jesus had confined his ministry to the Jews, and directed his disciples not to enter into any of the cities of the Gentiles, this matter was a case which seemed to concern the Jews only. Now look at the case. The Jews expected a Messiah, a deliverer, one who should become their prince, and deliver them from the bondage of the Romans. Jesus pretended to be sent of God as their Messiah of whom the ancient prophets had spoken; he pretended to work miracles in confirmation of his divine mission; but in room of delivering the Jews from the Roman yoke, he prophecied of their destruction by the Romans. Now, sir, if Jesus made all these pretensions without divine authority for so doing, if he caused to be reported that he wrought miracles when he never wrought one in his life, if he kept the people in a continual uproar driving about the country from one extreme of Palestine to another all by his frauds and fascinating deceptions; and in order to quiet the people, and have things go on in a regular order, those who were charged with the public concerns brought about the crucifixion of this impostor, who knowing all these things, being a Jew would think of accusing these godly pharisees and rulers of cruelty for so doing? If Jesus did not do the works which he pretended to do, he certainly was an impostor, and it is in vain to attempt to save him from such a charge. And if he were such a blasphemous impostor as to pretend to work miracles by the power of God, when he knew he had no such power, it appears very plain that he deserved to die according to Jewish customs. If the miracles of Jesus had been of a different description, there might have been some deception. That is, if such miracles had been pretended as you state of the Shakers; in such a case nobody would trouble their heads about the matter. Some would say, the good woman perhaps was badly hurt, and she thought her ribs were broken, when in fact they were not, and with a little good nursing she was able to join the dance; others might be extravagant enough to suppose that something marvelous had taken place, but who would know? Or, I will add, who would care? But will you undertake to argue that the most learned and artful could impose on people by pretending to have power from God to open the eyes of the blind, to heal all manner of diseases with a word, and to raise the dead from their graves? No, sir, if Jesus did not perform the miracles which he pretended to perform, there is no propriety in believing that any body was disposed to charge the Jews with cruelty for ridding community of such an impostor. But after all, even allowing your proposed method of accounting for the absence of the body, which by no means is half as probable a story as that reported by the Jews, as this does not account for the disciples' believing that Jesus had actually arose from the dead. What is to be done with this circumstance? Are we to suppose that as soon as the disciples found that the body was missing, they took it into their heads that he had actually arose from the dead without any further evidence? Well if they really believed it they could honestly state their belief to the people. You will remember that you have agreed that the apostles were honest men. But then the apostles go further, they assert that they were certified of the real resurrection of Jesus by many infallible proofs, that they saw him, conversed with him, ate with him, heard his discourses in which he expounded the scriptures of the law, of the prophets, and of the psalms which respected his passion and resurrection. Will you allow these men to have been honest men, and still suppose that somebody stole the body of Jesus from the sepulchre? The boldness of the disciples in declaring the resurrection, their willingness to suffer all manner of persecutions for the name of Jesus, show plainly that they did believe in his resurrection. Here I refer you to my former arguments in which I have attempted to make it appear that the disciples could not have been deceived.
But even allowing, that the body was stolen, and that the disciples were deceived, there is still, if possible, a greater difficulty to account for, viz. the success of the preaching of Jesus and him crucified. Here I wish, in a special manner, to call your attention. The four evangelists and the acts of the apostles were written in the life time of the disciples of Jesus; this, Paley, in his Evidences of Christianity, fully proves. He likewise proves beyond any reasonable doubt that they were written by the men whose names they bear. These historians then relate all the miracles recorded in the four gospels, and inform us that Jesus actually performed them. They give each of them an account of the crucifixion and resurrection of their divine master. They relate the things of which they were eye witnesses. But supposing they were deceived, which I humbly conceive, is not supposable, can we reasonably believe that these gospels in which such barefaced falsehoods were recorded would ever gain credit among a people whose religious education was to be all overthrown by coming into the belief of those writings?
But the apostles had not these books to assist them in their ministry; they went on in preaching Jesus and the resurrection, first in the city of Jerusalem, and throughout all Judea, and among the Gentiles with astonishing success before they wrote the accounts which we have. Now, sir, on the supposition that the body was stolen will you account for the people's being persuaded that Jesus rose from the dead?—Is it possible to conceive of any thing to which the Jews could have been more opposed, than to the testimony, that the man whom they had crucified was the Messiah, and that God had raised him from the dead? Now turn to the account given in Acts, chap. ii. and let reason and candor have their voice in the matter under consideration. "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." Can you conceive of any thing that could have been more trying to the feelings of the people? Observe, "whom ye have crucified." Bring the matter home to yourself. Suppose you had been active in the prosecution of one of your fellow creatures, and the prosecution should have terminated in the execution of the accused, how would it try your feelings for your neighbours to come and tell you, that you had been the murderer of a good and innocent man? But in the case under consideration there are circumstances that heighten the importance of the subject. The great Messiah in which all the Jews were educated to believe, as much as we are educated to believe in Christ; this personage is the subject. See the account, "Now, when they heard this, they, were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter, and to the rest of the apostles, men and brethren, what shall we do?" Why do we hear this exclamation? "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Why should the people now feel thus affected? Why do they not cry out against the men who accuse them of having done this wickedness, as they did against Jesus a few days before? Can you, sir, believe that all that caused this, was the body's having been stolen from the sepulchre, the disciples having gotten the whim into their heads that Jesus had arose from the dead, now run about like mad men and accuse the people of having murdered the great Messiah, the anointed of God, affirming that God had raised him from the dead, when barely the absence of the dead body was all the evidence on which this could be founded? Not only did the testimony of Peter, on this occasion, which will remain a most memorable one while the world stands, carry pungent conviction to the very hearts of the people, but it happily issued in the glorious triumph of faith in the risen Jesus in about three thousand of the then present audience.
In the fore part of this chapter we have an account of the manifestation of the mighty and miraculous power of God which was the evident cause of the conviction of the people; and to no other cause, I humbly conceive, can we impute such consequences.
Permit me to remark here, that all that ingenuity has ever invented about how the body of Jesus was disposed of, can have no weight at all against the doctrine of the resurrection which the apostles propagated. The body's being absent from the sepulchre never convinced one reasonable being in the world, of the fact of the resurrection. It did not convince those who first saw the sepulchre empty.
"Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping; and they (the angels) say unto her, woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto him, because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She supposing him to be the gardner, saith unto him, sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, 'Mary.' She replied, 'RABBONI!'" How naturally is this account given. In what an artless manner is the story told. I so much admire the sincerity and unaffected love of Mary to her master that the following reflections demand a place here. The person who but three days before was crowned with thorns, was reviled and spat upon, was most ignominiously crucified between two thieves and laid in the sepulchre is so much the object of Mary's affection that she appears solicitous for the body. I cannot doubt the truth of Mary's being here, for the story is told without any design. But why is Mary here? If Jesus was an impostor she never knew of his working a miracle in her life. But if Jesus was in fact what he pretended to be and if he wrought those miracles which are recorded of him, all is explained. But it is evident that Mary had not thought of Jesus' having been raised from the dead, when she saw that he was absent from the sepulchre. When Jesus spake to her, and called her by name as he had frequently done before, she knew him. When this Mary and the other women that were with her went to the eleven, and told them the story, they did not believe it, nor does it appear that Peter believed in the resurrection, even after Mary and others had certified him, and he had been himself to the sepulchre and found it empty; but he went away "wondering in himself at that which was come to pass."
The evidences by which the disciples believed in this all-important truth were equal to its importance and to its extraordinary character. These evidences have been noticed.
2d. The mission of Christ and his apostles, the miracles wrought by them in attestation of that mission, and the credibility of their testimony respecting a future state may now receive some notice.
You are disposed to call on me to inform you what I mean by this mission, to which I reply; I mean a divine appointment to act in a certain official character, accompanied with certain powers by which they were enabled to evince, by miracles, this their appointment.
Jesus was appointed by God himself to reveal the divine character, nature, and will of the Father to the world, by his preaching, by his miracles of mercy, by his sufferings, by his death and resurrection. The apostles were sent by Jesus Christ on the same mission, on which Jesus himself was sent. See his prayer, John xvii. "As thou has sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." Those who believed in Jesus, and acknowledged him to be the Messiah, believed on account of the miracles which he wrought, and as I have before argued, Jesus never required of any a belief in him, barely on his testimony of himself, but on the evidence afforded by the works which he did in his Father's name. So likewise, those who believed on Jesus through the ministry of the apostles, never were called on to believe but by the authority of as great wonders as were wrought by Christ himself. I need not say much on this particular, as you must know that the ground on which I have here placed this subject, is the ground on which the New Testament places it.
The absurd notions which have been erroneously adopted by Christian doctors and councils concerning the mission of Christ to appease the divine wrath, to reconcile God to man, to suffer the penalty of the divine law, &c. &c. which have rendered the gospel a mystery and a mist, in room of a high way for the ransomed of the Lord to return to Zion in, is chargeable to the enemy who sowed tares among the wheat. These opinions with a multitude of studied inventions about a mysterious work of sovereign elective grace wrought in certain individuals, in an unknown way and frequently in an unknown time all which is to be followed by a system of mysterious sanctification, connected most mysteriously with final perseverance, together with all the intricate unknown items set down in the Westminister Catechism, have only served to perplex some, puff others up with spiritual pride and exalt them in the kingdom of spiritual wickedness in high places, to drive some to despair, and to disgust reason and common sense in others. There is not a word of all the above jargon in the sacred scriptures, which give us a most rational account of the great object of the gospel ministry. This object is the redemption of mankind from moral darkness, which is the whole occasion of moral evil, and to produce that improvement in the religious world which science is designed to effect in the political. It is to bring truth to light, to commend the character of God to man, to lead all men into the true knowledge, spirit, and temper of the divine nature. Thus we discover in Jesus no partialist, no sectarian, no friend to any one denomination, more than another. And when he had accomplished, by his sufferings, what the prophets had foretold, he then sent his gospel of the love and mercy of God to the whole world. His divinely inspired apostles followed the examples of their leader and preached the universal, impartial goodness of God to all men, and confirmed their mission by similar miracles to those wrought by Jesus.
You further inquire the grounds on which we are to believe Jesus and his apostles respecting a future state. Reply, on the same ground on which we believe them in other matters, viz. because they have proved the divinity of their mission or appointment to teach truth by the power of the God of truth. See 2 Cor. xii. 12, "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds." You need not be told that an apostle is a messenger, and that a messenger must have a mission. What then were the signs of St. Paul's mission? Answer, patience, signs, wonders, and mighty deeds. Jesus is said to be the great apostle, and high priest of our profession, and he evinced his apostleship by signs, by wonders, and mighty deeds. Now, sir, as these signs were designed to prove to us that Jesus and his apostles were divinely inspired, so they are the ground on which we may safely believe their testimony in all things.
If your inquiry extends further than the plain statements and facts go, you will at once see that they go beyond the demands of reason, for it is an unreasonable thing to require of an uninspired person any further account concerning the way by which an inspired man knows what he says to be true, than it has pleased God to enable his messenger to make known.
When the pharisees asked the man who was born blind, to whom Jesus had given sight, "What sayest thou of him? that he hath opened thine eyes? he said, he is a prophet." How comes this man to believe that Jesus was a prophet? Because the sign of a messenger of God had been given. If the pharisees had asked him, how he knew that Jesus was a prophet, would he not answer them by the miracle wrought upon him? If they should further ask him of particulars, how Jesus could be a prophet, how he knew things which others did not know, would they have discovered any wisdom in their questions? or would he have discovered any in attempting to answer them?
If I may further remark on the mission of Jesus and his apostles, it seems reasonable to say that it comprehends the whole doctrine of the gospel, that is to say, they were appointed to preach the gospel which comprehends the whole ministry of reconciliation, or a manifestation of reconciling truth. There is, therefore, no truth in the gospel which is not calculated in its nature to reconcile man to God, when such truth is understood.
If our heavenly Father had from all eternity predestinated far the greatest part of mankind to a state of endless un-reconciliation, the revelation of this to them who were thus destined, could have no effect in reconciling them to God. What had Jesus or his apostles to do with such doctrine as this? Nothing. They make no mention of any such thing. If according to the vain traditions received from the wisdom of this world that cometh to nought, our tender babes were doomed to everlasting wrath for the sin of the first man who lived on earth, the manifestation of such a truth could reconcile none of those victims to this God of unmerciful vengeance. But what had Jesus to do with such blasphemous doctrine? See him as the representative of God, as the great apostle of heaven to man, notice what he does and what he says. He takes young children in his arms and blesses them, he says suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. If our Creator was full of wrath and vindictive vengeance towards sinners, the manifestation of such a truth would by no means reconcile sinners to God; but when God commendeth his love towards the sinner through the mission, ministry, or dispensation of Jesus Christ, such truth when revealed, naturally reconciles the sinner to God. God is eternally the same, his love is the same, his will to do his creatures good is always the same, and his means to carry his good will into effect are always at his command.
Jesus taught sinners, enemies to God, that God to whom they were enemies, loved them. This he demonstrated by the rain and sun shine which was communicated to the evil and the good, and this impartial love of God, he urged as the perfect pattern for our imitation, and set it up as the mark where lies the prize to be won by our Christian vocation. I say unto you love your enemies, pray for them that use you spitefully and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; that is, that you may imitate him in your conduct and moral character. Now, sir, what has all this to do about reconciling God to man? What has it to do about appeasing divine wrath? If Jesus taught the doctrine of God's love to sinners, and our doctrine taught by our Christian doctors of God's wrath and hatred towards sinners be true, the matter is settled at once. These doctors being ministers of divine truth, Jesus may be any thing else, but he cannot be an apostle and high priest of God.
But I need not extend this article, you are as well persuaded of the erroneousness of these doctrines of men as I am; but it belongs to this subject, to take a general view of the ministry of Jesus and his apostles. It is so especially, because this view shows at once the necessity as well as the nature of this divine ministry. If you view the nature of truth as you have heretofore expressed it, and as I am confident you do, you cannot reasonably doubt the necessity of having it manifested to the world.
It was necessary then for God to endue one with this ministry of truth, it is reasonable that others, being taught by him should be appointed to the same ministry; but you will see at once that truth could not be preached to the Jews without moving the superstitious scribes, pharisees, and doctors of the law against it, this opposition hid its natural tendency, and terminated in the death of the divine teacher; and if the disciples had gone on and preached the same doctrine, reason would suppose that they would all have been put to death immediately, and the work of reformation would have stopped. Now, sir, if I am able to reason at all, it was necessary for God to make a display of divine power in vindicating truth, which would place it on ground too high for all the superstition of the world to remove. You contend that the voice of reason should be heard. What does it say? It says that God produced man in the first place on this earth, in a different way from that by which man is now multiplied. Reason says, there was a necessity for this; but it does not say that the means of procreation now do not answer even a better purpose than to have man multiplied by the same means by which he came first to exist. The same reason will contend that in the establishment of the gospel ministry in the world, different means were necessary from those which are successfully employed in perpetuating it.
3d. You contend that the Christian hope of a future happy existence, is not necessary to our present happiness; and that there is nothing more disagreeable in the thought of an eternal cessation of existence, than there is in the thought of reposing ourselves in quiet sleep. Notwithstanding what you say about non existence, all your play on words makes no difference about the thing talked of. Nor do I see that reason in your observations on this subject, for which you contend. You very well know that to cease to possess an identity of being and of intellect is what we mean by non-existence, and this is just the thing for which you argue. Now when we contemplate taking refreshment in sleep, it is in hope of awaking again in a better condition for enjoying ourselves and others, and for the performance of our duty. But the contemplation of passing out of existence, never to have another thought is certainly very widely different as to the nature of the subject, from the former. Now, sir, why should not these different subjects produce different sensations in the mind? And wherein one is entirely repugnant to the other, why is it not reasonable that the contemplation of them should be attended with effects in the mind as repugnant to each other as are the subjects? If it be a pleasure to a parent to contemplate, when he retires to rest with his family, the expectation of seeing them again in the morning, all refreshed and invigorated anew is it not reasonable to suppose that a contemplation exactly reverse from this would produce mental pain? I can conceive, without any violation of my reason or senses, how a fond mother can take satisfaction in nursing her babe to sleep, knowing that the tender being needs this repose; but I cannot conceive how the same affectionate mother could be equally pleased with the thought that her child would never wake again in time or in eternity. I feel grateful to the giver of every good and perfect gift, that he has given that blessed hope which is as an anchor to the soul, whereby the Christian in his dying hour is enabled to take a short farewell of his friends, expressing his hope of meeting them soon in a better world. And I think it unreasonable, even in the extreme, to suppose that a rational person could, in a similar situation, feel as well satisfied with an expectation of an extinction of being.
You fault the address to truth, which you say I put into the mouth of your argument, but this you do without the least occasion, nor is it in your power, sir, to show that your argument does not afford all I have made it say. You might, or rather you have varied the language a little, but the sentiment is preserved entire. The address to truth would, as before, extoll her existence, express the most ardent and constant love for her divinity and finish the climax by soaring down to non-existence, which you can contemplate with as much satisfaction as you could an eternal existence in the enjoyment of the object of your love!
But you contend that truth is lovely, and if your doubts are consistent with truth you shall be happy to be confirmed in them; &c. This hypothesis, sir, is too large to suit your own views; for you have before decided a choice between the doctrine of eternal misery and that of, I will call it, annihilation for this is its true meaning. You have revolted at the thought of eternal misery, but your hypothesis allows you no such liberty. Truth is lovely, and if the doctrine of eternal punishment, with all the fire and brimstone that has ever been preached by the most zealous advocates of torment be truth, your hypothesis compels you to embrace the goddess, and contemplate eternal misery with the same pleasure that you do non-existence, or with the same you would everlasting felicity did you believe in it!
If we would reason well, we must reason from what we know. We know that man is capable of being miserable, he is capable of great sufferings; likewise he is capable of being happy, he is capable of great enjoyments. Now to pretend that he has no choice, that it is as well for him to be miserable as to be happy, as well for him not to exist as to exist, is the reverse of reason.
4th. As Jesus, in the instructions which he gave to his disciples, respecting their conduct towards their enemies, had no design reaching to the laws of a body politic, but only to the conduct by which the ministry of the gospel would best succeed in its early beginning, while it was necessary for it to be persecuted, by which we are now favoured with its evidences, we may now err in applying those instructions differently from their primary design. St. Paul, as much as any of the disciples of Jesus, submitted himself to the directions of non-resistance, yet he insists on submission to the higher powers, because they were the ministers of God, even revengers to execute wrath upon them that do evil.
5th. With a confidence rather unusual, you challenge me to account for Jesus' not being known by the two disciples while he walked with them on their way to Emmaus; you bring a comparison, and urge the subject in a way to signify that you have found something in the scripture account that "refutes itself." You might have considered Mary's case too as a similar one. She saw Jesus with whom she had had a familiar acquaintance, but she thought it had been the gardner, and talked with him without knowing him, until, in the same manner as he used to address her, he said Mary, when in a moment she knew him. So the two brethren walked on the way with Jesus, and attended to his conversation, which must have been of considerable length, yet knew him not until he performed an office at table in which no doubt, he appeared as he had done many times before, which led them to know him at once. But I am called on to tell how they could walk and discourse with him and not know him. Well, sir, do you not understand that your question is asked on supposition that the miracle of the resurrection was a fact, and on the supposition that Jesus could appear and disappear to persons as he pleased? We are informed that when the two brethren knew him, "he vanished out of their sight." On the supposition then, that Jesus could appear and disappear at pleasure, is it at all difficult to allow that he could appear to his acquaintance as a stranger, if he pleased?
It seems to me, sir, a little unaccountable why you should take hold of this subject with so much seeming earnestness. Is it possible that you should suppose that the fate of this particular should have any power on our general subject? Without the least concern for the argument in which I am engaged, I might allow that St. Luke was wrongly informed respecting this particular, but that he wrote it just as he understood the matter. And what would follow? Would this prove any thing false on which christianity rests? I am unable to see how it affects the argument one way or the other. I am not the less inclined to believe the account, because it does not affect the truth of the resurrection; and I should think that as this story does not seem at all necessary in proof of that fact, it would be considered an evidence that the writer of it was not endeavouring to make a story for such a purpose. If we read the several accounts of the resurrection, we shall perceive that the writers probably put down as many particulars as come into their minds at the time of writing, without thoughts coming into their minds how the truth of the resurrection would be proved by the incidents which they wrote. There is no design of this sort in what they have written that we can see. They write as if they knew for certainty that Jesus rose from the dead, and as if the matter was out of all dispute. They discover no concern for fear the account they were giving would not be believed. There is not one instance of an attempt to guard the story by clearing up any difficulty. Would impostors write in this way? It is not believed that there was ever the instance. Imposture is like a thief who starts at his own shadow, and discovers guilt by endeavouring to hide it. But truth having no concern of this sort, discovers none.—And this is in all respects the apparent character of the four gospels.
6th. Your criticism on my argument respecting the evidences of the resurrection I shall now endeavour to show to be incorrect.
You criticise as follows; "The apostles could not have been convinced of the fact of the resurrection by any evidence short of the fact itself. 2d. If the fact did exist there is no evidence which can counterbalance it. Ergo, as the apostles were convinced of the truth, the fact did exist. This is pretty much like saying, if the fact were true it could not have been false!"
The first member of your criticism supposes that I contend that the apostles had no evidence of the resurrection but the fact itself. The second member of your criticism supposes that I contend the fact of the resurrection could not exist without proving itself to the apostles in such a way that no evidence could counterbalance it. Now in both of these you are under a mistake, I never urged the fact of the resurrection as evidence of itself to the apostles. I never pretended that they saw him rise. We have no account that any body saw this act performed. If the apostles had stood by the sepulchre and had seen the body of Jesus rise up and walk out of the house of death, then their evidences of his resurrection would have been the fact itself; but this was not the case, nor did I use any intimations of this nature. So the first member of your criticism is an error of yours. 2dly. If Jesus had rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and never had given any proofs of this to any one, would the fact of his having risen be any evidence of itself to any person? It surely would not. Nor have I suggested any thing which intimates that the resurrection could not have been true without proving itself to be so to the apostles. What seems a little remarkable respecting this subject, is, you profess to care for nothing but simple truth, and yet you seem to study how to avoid it, as the above criticism seems to evince. I say seems to evince, for I am not prepared to accuse you of such a fault—I would charitably believe that you thought your criticism would hit something or another nearly about right, without understanding what the amount of it is.
After having laboured, in a lengthy manner, as you acknowledge, to prove that the evidences which proved to the apostles the truth of the resurrection could not be counterbalanced, you must reasonably suppose that I feel a little disappointed that you should condescend to pay no other attention to my reasoning than the above criticism. If I did not make my argument clear why should you neglect to point out to me wherein it was wanting? Why should I not expect to have my errors corrected, as well as to be called on to correct my brother's? Should not these kind offices be reciprocal? If you conduct in this way, I shall certainly grow vain, and boast of doing more for you, than you do for me.
Having noticed in a brief manner, the several particulars which were proposed on my first page, I will occupy a few more with some observations on the evidences which we are favoured with, on which to build our belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
I have in one or two instances referred you to Paley, who has, with abilities and learning suited to such a task, brought forward the authorities on which the credibility of the gospels rests. I have set down his eleven propositions respecting the scriptures, and I humbly request you to examine the proof which he has brought to support them. If he has fairly supported all these propositions, as I humbly conceive he has, will you show why the scriptures of the New Testament are not worthy to be credited by us?
I am loath to attempt to present the evidences on which I conceive our faith rests, because in the first place they are vastly numerous; 2ndly, I do not believe that I am capable of doing that justice to the subject which it justly claims; and 3dly, Paley has done it by the assistance of Dr. Lardner's works, to so great an extent, that it renders unnecessary any attempt of mine.
However, as there seems a particular sort of pleasure in it, I will here make a little addition to what I quoted in my former communication, and notice that, following the passage from the epistle of Barnabas, Paley mentions an epistle written by Clement, bishop of Rome, another of St. Paul's fellow labourers. "This epistle is spoken of by the ancients as an epistle acknowledged by all; and as Irenaeus well represents its value," "written by CLEMENT, who had seen the blessed apostles and conversed with them, who had the preaching of the apostles still sounding in his ears, and their traditions before his eyes." In this epistle of Clement, he quotes Mat. v. 7, xviii. 6. Next to Clement, Paley notices Hermes who is mentioned by St. Paul, Rom. xvi. 14, in a catalogue of Roman Christians. Hermes wrote a work called the Shepherd or Pastor of Hermes. Says our author, "Its antiquity is incontestible from the quotations of it in Irenaeus, A.D. 178, Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 194, Tertullian, A.D. 200, Origen, A. D. 230." In the epistle there are allusions to St. Matthew's, St. Luke's, and St. John's gospels.
[Footnote 4: Paley's Evidences, p. 107. Referred to Dr. Lardner's Creed, vol. 1, p. 62, et seq.]
[Footnote 5: Paley's Evidences, p. 110. Lardner's Creed, vol. 1, p. 111.]
Next to Hermes our author mentions IGNATIUS, who became bishop of Antioch, about thirty-seven years after the ascension of Christ; and was without doubt personally acquainted with the apostles. Epistles of Ignatius are referred to by Polycarp his contemporary. Passages, found in the epistles now extant under his name, are quoted by Irenaeus, A.D. 178, by Origen, A.D. 130. In these epistles there are various undoubted allusions to the gospels of St. Matthew and St. John. Of these allusions the following are clear specimens: "Christ was baptised of John, that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him." "Be ye wise as serpents in all things, and harmless as doves." "Yet the spirit is not deceived, being from God; for it knows whence it comes, and whether it goes." "He (Christ) is the door of the Father, by which enters in Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and the apostles and the church." Ignatius speaks of St Paul in terms of high respect, and quotes his epistles to the Ephesians by name.
Next to Ignatius, our author mentions POLYCARP who had been taught by the apostles; had conversed with many who had seen Christ, was also by the apostles appointed bishop of Smyrna. This testimony concerning Polycarp is given by Irenaeus, who in his youth had seen him. "I can tell the place," saith Irenaenus, "in which the blessed Polycarp sat and taught, and his going out and coming in, and the manner of his life, and the form of his person, and the discourses he made to the people, and how he related his conversation with John amid others who had seen the Lord, and how he related their sayings, and what he had heard concerning the Lord, both concerning his miracles and his doctrine, as he had received them from the eye witness of the word of life: all which Polycarp related agreeably to the scriptures."
In one short letter of Polycarp's, there are near forty clear allusions to books of the New Testament: which is strong evidence of the respect which Christians of that age hear for these books, and positive evidence that the gospel had been written before this epistle.
Papias, a hearer of John, and companion of Polycarp, as Irenaeus attests, and of that age, as all agree, expressly ascribes the respective gospels to Matthew and Mark, in a passage quoted by Eusebius. He informs us that Mark collected his gospel from Peter's preaching, and that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew. This authority fully shows that the gospels bore these names at this early period.
The authors which are here mentioned, all lived in the days of the apostles, that is, when the apostles were aged men, these were their pupils in the gospel, and their epistles which have reference to the gospels are very justly used to prove that the gospels were written by the men whose names they bear. From these most early authors, Paley goes on, and brings down, by regular succession, the christian authors, until he comes into the fourth century, when they are vastly numerous.
By the foregoing authority, together with an innumerable multitude of corroborating circumstances, we are led to entertain no doubts but that the gospels of Matthew and John were written by these eye witnesses of the things which they relate; and that the gospel of Luke was written by a person of this name, who had his information from undoubted testimony of the apostles; and that Mark wrote his gospel from St. Peter's mouth, and that this gospel may be called the gospel of Peter.
Those eye witnesses then wrote what they saw, and if they were honest men they wrote the truth.
We, sir, do certainly know as well as we know any thing which ancient history records, that the testimony of the miracles and resurrection of Jesus was believed in the age to which these things are referred, and that this testimony was sealed by the sufferings and death of vast multitudes of believers.
It should be noticed, that according to all accounts which have come to us, there were no worldly motives of any sort by which the propagators of the gospel were induced to labour in this cause. But on the contrary, every earthly consideration was direct against them; and furthermore let us remember, that the whole hierarchy of the Jews and all the superstition of the Gentiles were in arms against this religion, as I have before observed, nearly 300 years.
Hoping, dear brother, that these hasty remarks will be favourably received, and duly considered. I remain,
* * * * *
EXTRACTS No. IX.
[As the objector here begins to give up his ground, his letters from this place will be given nearly entire. He commences this number as follows, viz.]
"Dear sir and brother—Your reply to my seventh number has been received, and hereby duly acknowledged. I have just given it a second reading, with peculiar care and attention; and I must add, generally speaking, with peculiar satisfaction too; for as it has tended in some degree to revive my almost extinguished faith in divine revelation, so it has in the same ratio served to obliterate, in some degree, those doubts which seemed to be rising mountains high, in my apprehension, and portended ere long to overturn all my former faith.
"There are some of my objections, however, which seem not yet to have been fully met on their proper ground, and of course not fully removed; and I must therefore be yet indulged with a few remarks.
"1st. Notwithstanding all the learning of the Greeks and Romans, in the days of Jesus and his apostles, yet, as you very justly insinuate, I am inclined to believe there never was a time in which 'the world of human kind, both Jews and Gentiles, was more deeply involved in the darkness and stupidity of superstition than when the Messiah (i. e. Jesus) entered on his public ministry.' And notwithstanding your argument drawn from superstition, is admitted as good, and weighty, as far as it goes; yet, as it is conceived, it does not fully come to the point.
"For, in the grossest ages of superstition it is reasonable to suppose that there are always some who entertain serious doubts and scruples in regard to the propriety of many of the superstitious notions of their leaders. These will be more easily wrought upon. And although they may be directed by various circumstances to fix the mind upon something much better in point of moral principle, yet how far this would prevent them from connecting many of the superstitious notions of the age with those moral principles, only giving them a different dress, I am not able to say; neither do I see how the superstition of the Jews and Gentiles, generally, would be likely to prevent a thing of that kind.—It is the suspected superstition of the apostles and primitive christians and not the superstition of their opposers, to which the proposition alludes. Men, I conceive, may be honest, and yet superstitious; they may also give up one superstition, by being convinced of its error, and yet another will gradually grow in its stead. I am sensible, however, that this argument will better apply to those who were converted to christianity after the days of the apostles, when it is agreed that miracles had ceased, than it will to the apostles themselves.
"But, from what you have written, together with my further investigation of this subject, I cannot but perceive that this argument, even on its proper ground, does not contain all that force which, at first view, I thought it might: because, 1st, it must apply to the apostles, or else, as it respects the main question, it does not seem to have any real bearing on the subject; and 2dly, the change of the appostles appears to have been too sudden, and too extraordinary, to be accounted for in this way. That superstitions, however, have arisen, even in the christian church, you do not undertake to deny, but seem rather to admit; and it was on this fact that the first proposition was founded; but I perceive there is a difficulty in carrying this objection back to the apostles; for then the doctrine was new, and without precedent; and (unless the miracles on which it is said to have been founded were real) without any certain prospect of success. Although therefore the religion of the despised Galatians (for such were the christians called by the Romans) was considered by their persecutors, to be nothing more than a gross, and even impious superstition, yet no one can expect successfully to account 'in a rational way,' for the facts, whether real or supposed, on which that supposed superstition is said to have been founded. Hence the doubts growing out of my first proposition seem to be rendered equally, if not more doubtful than the reality of that truth, the evidence of which this objection was supposed in some degree to counterbalance.
"2d. The truth of my second proposition, viz. that a part of mankind at least have been and still are believing in miracles and revelations which are spurious, you seem not disposed to deny; but yet, at the same time you think you are 'under no obligation to admit this fact as any evidence against christianity.' That a spurious or pretended miracle does not invalidate a real one I admit; yet if a spurious miracle may obtain credit, and be in fact believed, it raises a query whether there have ever been any others but spurious. Your argument respecting 'counterfeit money' is admitted good in relation to that subject, but whether it will apply with equal weight to the subject of miracles may admit of a doubt. I do not see how the pretended miracles of the Shakers are at all 'dependent' on the miracles of Jesus for their 'imposition.'
"I meant nothing more by the miracles of Mahomet than his pretended 'correspondence with the angel Gabriel,' which I considered, if true, miraculous; as I conceive every revelation must be let it be communicated how it will.
"I have nothing to object to the picture which you have given of the life and religion of Mahomet; and as to what I have said in regard to the conversion and influence of Constantine, in giving a particular tone to the christian religion, you are not disposed to disagree with me: and at the same time you are 'by no means certain that a proper attention to the pretended miracles of the Shakers might not issue in assigning a natural cause for them.' Of all this I have no doubt. But, that these miracles are believed by the Shakers, you do not undertake to deny; nor that their religion, their faith in Ann, as being Christ in his second coming, and that their present mode of worship are all predicated upon them. They do not deny the miracles of Christ and his apostles any more than Christians in general deny the miracles of Moses and the prophets; but appeal to theirs as being equally of divine origin, and thereby clothing their religion with the same divine authority. Now, unless these things can be accounted for 'in a rational way,' which you seem to think may be the case, though you do not attempt it, they certainly raise a query in the mind at least whether the miracles recorded in scripture rest upon any better foundation.
"If a thing is absolutely known or believed to be miraculous, it is miraculous; (at least to those who thus believe) and whether any thing can be justly argued from the inferiority or superiority of a miracle, I know not. In the raising of Lazarus, it is true, though the effect was the same, we discover as great a miracle, and perhaps greater, than in the raising of a son of the Shunamite by Elisha the prophet; 2 Kings iv. 34, 35, but the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus can hardly be said to have been wrought either by Jesus or by his apostles, and therefore that was not particularly referred to in the comparison of miracles; neither do I know that the comparison, in any sense, has much weight. Whether Lazarus ever died again or not we are not informed: neither do I recollect of ever hearing an opinion on the subject; but, if he died, it seems that his resurrection must have been very different from the resurrection of Jesus; i.e. to an immortal state, so that he 'dieth no more.'
"You admit, if I understood you, that the testimony of the apostles, concerning the resurrection of Jesus, had it not been accompanied with plain and astonishing miracles in the open day, and before the surrounding multitudes, who had ocular demonstration of their truth, would have been entitled to no more credit than the testimony of Mrs. A——, respecting her conversation with her deceased husband. For although it might have been true, and we could have no good reason to doubt the sincerity or belief of the witnesses, yet after all, its truth would solely rest on their mere ipse dixit, which would not be sufficient to establish so important a truth in the world. Hence, as you very justly observe, 'the declaration of the apostles of the resurrection of Jesus, until it was accompanied with power from on high, was never even communicated to the public, or ordered to be communicated.'
"In this manner I understood your reasoning, and I think I understand you correctly; and all this appears to be very candid; it is acknowledging all I would wish you to acknowledge on this subject. But here comes the difficulty. Miracles in process of time cease; and now people must believe, if they believe at all, without the testimony's being 'accompanied with power from on high.' And how can we believe in the miracles said to have been wrought by the apostles, without the testimony's being accompanied by miracles any more than they could at first believe in the miracles of the resurrection of Jesus without the testimony's being accompanied by miracles? You have already anticipated this objection, and have endeavoured to answer it by arguing that 'perpetual miracles would, if as powerful as they were at first, preclude the exercise of our reasoning faculties and the necessity of investigation, which is one of the most rational enjoyments of which we are capable.' Although this argument, it is confessed, has considerable weight, yet it does not seem wholly to remove the difficulty. I feel very much like those Jews who proposed the question to Jesus; 'how long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ tell us plainly.' I am not satisfied that the evidence of the truth of the resurrection is as great, at this day, whatever it was then, as it could have been. If Jesus had remained on the earth till this time, or if he had appeared to every generation since, it appears to me the evidence would have been much greater; and yet not so great as to 'preclude the exercise of our reasoning faculties.'
"In your statement respecting the controversy between Unitarians and Trinitarians, it appears to me you have left out some very important circumstances which ought to have been taken into the account to have made it any thing near a parallel. You seem to have forgotten the destruction of the Jews by the Romans about the time the books of the New Testament are said to have been written; during which calamity, as the history of those times inform us, about one million one hundred thousand Jews were cut off, and among whom, it is more than probable, all their leaders, who were then concerned in the death of Jesus, were included; and only about ninety-seven thousand, not a tenth part, were taken prisoners. The Jews in the adjacent countries, however, probably are not taken into this account, but they were all equally subdued to the Romans. And if the power of the Jews were so limited at the crucifixion of Jesus that they could not lawfully put a man to death without liberty from the Roman governor, what must we suppose was their power after the destruction of their city and temple? On a review of the subject, therefore, I think you will perceive that your case, however plausibly stated, falls very far short of being a parallel. We may well suppose, I think, that the Jews were so humbled by the Romans, that, 1st, they had not the power; and, 2dly, they might not under these circumstances be inclined any longer to persecute and put to death the christians. And this was the only way it seems, at that day, that either Jews or Gentiles thought of putting down what they considered heresy or superstition. I consider therefore the destruction of the Jews as giving a very favourable opportunity to get up a new system of religion, partly or wholly based on theirs, but a little removed from it, so as to neglect the use of sacrifices, which, if I mistake not, according to the Jewish traditions, could only be offered at Jerusalem. And the long lapse of time, before the dogmas of this new sect was attempted to be refuted by argument gave an opportunity to involve the supposed facts on which the christian religion is predicated in such obscurity, that it stands now in no danger of refutation from that source. Some may be made to doubt, others to disbelieve, but nevertheless no one can prove it false.
"If it be proved true, however, it must be proved from the record which we have; for I know of nothing which can now add much weight to that testimony, unless it be the fulfilment of some sinking prophecies which yet remain to be fulfilled, or else the return of miraclous powers and a new revelation in further confirmation of what we already have. And if what we have be true, it seems we have a right to expect, ere long, something of the kind. The ten last chapters of the prophecy of Ezekiel, I think no one will pretend has ever been fulfilled, as yet; and when fulfilled, the events will prove the divine inspiration of that prophecy. But if it should never be fulfilled, or its fulfilment be delayed till the Jews every where should give up all hope and expectation of any thing of this kind; and should, through unbelief, neglect their present customs, as many of them already have done, by intermarrying with other nations, and thereby should become both lost to themselves and to the world, which would be the same as though they were extinct, I apprehend that no confidence would be placed in that part of the prophecy after such a period. In like manner the fulfilment or the non-fulfilment of the following words will have a similar effect. 'This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.' Some pretend to say that even this prophecy has been already fulfilled; but we have no evidence of it, and I think we may say the prophecy in Ezekiel, above mentioned, has been fulfilled, with as much propriety. But this is rather off the point.
"In regard to the death of Stephen, notwithstanding his trial seems to have been by the council, yet the manner of his death, as stated, seems to have been rather turbulent than otherwise. 'When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they (whether the council, or the spectators I cannot say) gnashed on him with their teeth—then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city and stoned him.' Such proceedings at this day, as this appears to have been, we should be inclined to call a mob, let it bear what other appellation it may.
"That the first martyrs, however, did, from some circumstance or other, believe in the resurrection of Jesus, on which all their hope seems to have been predicated, I think cannot admit of a rational doubt. For to suppose otherwise, supposes such madness and folly in those unfortunate men, who suffered every thing which could be inflicted upon them rather than to give up their testimony; that it seems nothing can be a parallel, unless it be the madness and folly of such unreasonable doubts. And this seems to be all for which you contend, as it respects the present query; because you seem to think the first believers in this all-important truth could not have believed by any evidence which could have existed had it not been for the truth of the fact believed in. Now here is the mistake, as I conceive, if there be any; i.e. in supposing that the apostles and primitive Christians could not believe short of such indubitable evidence. Only suppose the resurrection to have been actually believed, by any evidence, or any circumstance whatever, no matter what, for it makes no difference in this argument, and the report would naturally be like all other reports of such an extraordinary nature. Both zeal and imagination would be enlisted on the side of its truth. Extraordinary discourses would be put into the mouths of the martyrs, after they were dead, as well as extraordinary deeds into their hands; and altho' contradicted ever so many times by their enemies and persecutors, yet the contradictions would never so out run the report but that many would still believe. When much strength of testimony had been thus added, by verbal reports, during twenty or thirty years, let a few men undertake to paint up real histories and letters in the name of the first disciples, and let these be kept in the hands of those who are strong in the faith, and let them be read for a long time, only in their own assemblies or churches although they might contain something of which they had not before heard, this is only what would be natural for them to expect, and as it contained the main thing which was the object of faith, and those other things, if true, went to establish their faith still more, who would be likely to call the truth of such writings in question? Not those who believe in the main question certainly. They would be a thousand times more likely to pass over in silence things of which they had some scruples, for the sake of the main question, then they would be to endanger the truth of the main question, as they might think they should, by criticising on mere circumstantial things. I am not now speaking of the apostles, whom I have considered honest men; yet I should suppose that even these men might have much good at heart, although they should conduct exactly in the way which I have suggested. And how little time would it require to put this matter beyond all possible refutation? Not so long, I conceive, as did elapse before that work was attempted by Celsus.