[Footnote 6: I have here expressed myself in strong terms, with a view to check my doubts and prevent their running wild.]
"You will see by this, sir, in what light my argument views the apostles. It does not suppose 'that the apostles would enforce their moral doctrine with their pretentions to miraculous powers,' although they might with the 'testimony of the resurrection of Jesus,' but it supposes that their successors might contend that the apostles worked miracles, and many of them might believe that they did, just as the apostles believed in the resurrection, when no such thing as the resurrection or the miracles of the apostles ever existed in fact. This is what the argument supposes, and it is wholly predicated on the possibility of the apostles' being made to believe, some how or other, I do not pretend to say how, that Jesus had risen from the dead when no such thing had taken place. But, only believe in the resurrection, and there is no difficulty in believing in the miracles of Jesus or the miracles of his apostles. They are equally well attested, and no more improbable. Yea, if they were true, they were not believed, but absolutely known to be true by the apostles. They knew it as well as they could know the truth of any object of sight. And the truth of what they knew being all which they needed in support of what they taught, I do not see, on this supposition, how they could have the occasion, or the motive, to state one thing falsely concerning it. No, nor could their followers have any occasion to add to their testimony, for nothing which they could add would be of any more weight than that which we may suppose was already in their possession. The two first chapters of Matthew and Luke (or all except the genealogy in Matthew, and the preface of Luke) the authenticity of which has been suspected by some of the learned, and I believe not without pretty good reasons, do not contain a single word in support of the resurrection; neither is the subject of them, as I now recollect, mentioned either by Christ or any of the apostles in any other part of the New Testament. And although the truth of those narratives is no more miraculous than the resurrection, yet I presume you would not contend that a belief of these, also, is absolutely necessary to the Christian faith.
"With these observations, I shall once more, and probably for the last time quit my second proposition, and proceed to take notice of what you have written on my third.
"And here you must pardon me if I remark, without the least view of finding any fault, that if my words will admit of a bad construction, that construction seems to be the first one which strikes your mind. If you suppose me capable of such an abominable absurdity as to say, that if the man of this town who was born blind should be restored to his sight by some one's anointing his eyes with clay and spittle, and this done in our presence, we could not know it! that we could not know but that the seeing man was a total stranger whom we had never before seen, and that the blind man had absconded no body knows how or where! I say, if this was the way in which you understood my third proposition, you are perfectly excusable: otherwise, it is difficult to account for your remarks. But, having thus found your antagonist, you level your artillery against him, nor desist until you have put to death without mercy this creature of your own fruitful imagination. Having done, you begin to query whether you had not mistaken my meaning; and after making a wonderful effort, by calling up these penetrating powers of research, which are only summoned on extraordinary occasions, you dive through the mists of obscurity, in which my words seem to be too often placed, and behold my proposition in its true light!
"My proposition is no sooner seen than 'granted': which is, that we have no positive knowledge of miracles; or, to use your own words, 'miracles are not now wrought before our eyes.' But although you grant the truth of my proposition, you do not admit that this is any objection against the truth of divine revelation, for a number of reasons which you have given; all of which, no doubt, are satisfactory to your own mind.
"But sir, this is a matter of opinion only, and if I agree with you at all, it must be from the consideration that the Governor of the universe must do right. But, although the time may not be yet, nevertheless I am clear in the opinion that the revival of miracles will, in process of time, be absolutely necessary in order to preserve the faith in those which have already been. But, I contend, if the scriptures be true, we have a right to expect the revival of miracles; and I do not see how they can be fulfilled without. Considering the prejudices of the Jews, as a people, I cannot suppose that they will ever believe in Jesus, as their promised Messias, short of being convinced of its truth by a miracle; and should they return to the land of Palestine, and there rebuild their temple, at Jerusalem, it would be such a clear fulfilment of the prophecy of Ezekiel, that it would be equal to a miracle, and do as much towards corroborating the truth of all the other prophecies.
"You finally come once more to the circumstance of the conversion of St. Paul, where you again find some fault (and I must confess, not without some reason) at my neglect to meet your arguments on this subject; or in other words, to do away the scripture account, and reconcile it with my hypothesis; i.e. that of supposing him to be converted without a miracle. To be ingenuous with you, sir, I must acknowledge that I have ever supposed this to be the most difficult task I should have to do; and therefore I wished to hear all you had to say on the subject of the resurrection before I attempted it.
"Since I wrote my last I have examined Paley's Horae Paulinae, a work of extraordinary merit which had never before fallen into my hands: his Evidences of Christianity, I have read several years ago, but have not lately particularly examined that work. In the exposition of the argument, (of the work first mentioned) Paley sets forth, as I conceive, the only possible grounds on which either the epistles of St. Paul, or the acts of the apostles, can be supposed to be forgeries, in their full force. And then he attempts to prove their genuineness by their internal evidence, which they contain within themselves, entirely aside from those objections; and which would have been of equal weight even on the supposition that the whole had been concealed from the time they were written till now, and we should now, for the first time, examine them. And although I might not fully agree with him in all points, yet I think he proves, beyond all contradiction or rational doubt, what he mainly attempts to prove; i. e. that the epistles were written by some person acquainted with the circumstances mentioned in the history, and that the writer of the history must have been acquainted with the circumstances alluded to in the epistles, where, at the same time, there is not the least apparent design in those references or allusions; which, as he very justly argues, prove the genuineness of both. I do not pretend to quote his words, as the book is not now by me.
"This, it must be confessed, is a great acquisition in favour of the truth of christianity; because it evidently carries the writings back into those times when every thing was fresh in the minds of all who had any knowledge of the subject of which those writings treated. Now comes the point. Paul expressly declares that he saw Christ after he was risen from the dead. His declaring that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve, could have been only from the report of others; but it agrees pretty well with what has been recorded by the evangelists. His declaring that he had been seen 'of above five hundred brethren at once,' must have been also by report, which report might have been incorrect, as there is no mention made of it in either of the gospels. Yet if incorrect it might have been very easily refuted. But when he comes to say, 'And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time,' there remains for him no such excuse. Paul, as it seems, could not believe that he had seen Jesus, literally, and personally, when he had not. And if he knew that he had not, and yet declared that he had, and meant that others should believe that he had, he was not honest, as I before admitted that he was; and now to say that he was not honest, as I clearly see, would involve me in still greater difficulty, as then I could give no rational account for his life and conduct. What shift shall I now make? For having supposed that my doubts were really founded on reason, I must have good reason for so doing before I can give them up: i.e. I must be fully convinced that they are founded in error.
"What can we suppose that Paul meant by Christ's being seen of above five hundred brethren at once? Is it at all likely that such an extraordinary circumstance should have happened without any mention being made of it in either of the five histories which we have of those times? Might he not mean the same which the author of the Acts means, speaking of the day of Pentecost? And therefore the whole might not have been designed to be understood literally, but spiritually true? And notwithstanding the literality of the language, may not all the miracles of Christ and the apostles, and even the account we have of the resurrection, be all accounted for and reconciled in the same way? But here I involve myself in difficulty again; for, if I mistake not, this was very near the opinion of the Gnostics, whom the apostles and fathers every where spake against.—'These,' says Dr. Priestley, 'taught that it was not Jesus that was properly the Christ, or that he had not flesh and blood like other men.' They also 'denied the doctrine of the resurrection.' These therefore, 'Paul, Peter, Jude, and John, most strenuously opposed.' Again, says he, 'The apostles they considered as judging only by their senses, which were deceived in this case: and though they gave entire credit to them with respect to every thing which they had seen, or heard, they considered them as plain unlettered men who were ignorant of what was not within the sphere of their senses.' To these it is supposed that John alludes in his first Epistle iv. 1—3. If, therefore, the apostles did believe, and contend for the literal resurrection, and personal appearing of Jesus, and if in this they were opposed by the Gnostics, even in their day; there is no way now, that I see, any longer for me to maintain my doubts only by believing that the first disciples, as well as Paul, thought they saw Jesus when in fact they did not, and that the idea of miracles by which these things were said to have been propagated and which carried conviction to the multitudes, was nothing more than the bold figurative language of the day, designed, in reality, to deceive no one; or else mere exaggerations: or, what perhaps is still more probable, partly of both. But enough!
"I confess I begin to grow dissatisfied with this kind of reasoning. What does it all amount to? What am I bringing, after all, to oppose the laboured researches of Drs. Lardner, Paley, Priestley, and others, as well as the pertinent observations of my worthy friend who has so long borne with me, and obliged me with his friendly and christian-like aid on this subject? Let me pause and consider—I have acknowledged that there are evidences in favour of divine revelation; have I proved any of those evidences false?—No! this I have acknowledged I could not do. What have I put into the other end of the scale, to weigh down those evidences? Ah! what indeed! Nothing! except it be my own ignorance, and the errors of other men, in whose errors I have no more faith than those who believe in the truth of that which I have been disputing! I will therefore, instead of pursuing the dispute any further, begin to think once more whether the thing for which you so ardently contend may not in reality be true.
"But, here again, I must be cautious, lest I should err as far on the other hand. For notwithstanding when I found that I could not help doubting, I tried to reconcile myself to my doubts, and have sincerely and honestly tried to make myself believe that I was perfectly reconciled either way; yet the moment I begin to think about the certainty of immortality and eternal life, I am all on fire! I hardly know how to contain myself! And were it not for the special obligations, which I feel to my family, and to the world, more than any thing which I ever expect to receive from the world, I should long to 'depart, and be with Christ, which is far better.' Thus my doubts, whatever they are, may be needful for me.
"Your remarks respecting my claims to the privilege of one who is weak in the faith are very pertinent and just. For I must confess in proportion as my doubts arose, as to the truth of the resurrection, equal doubts would arise as to the propriety of preaching it for a truth. I wish you to understand, however, that my mind has never been settled there, if it has ever vibrated that way, it was only momentary, and rather on mere supposition than any confirmed opinion.
"In answer to what you say in regard to hope, I will only add: Though a man should have ever so firm a hope in any thing whatever, and should afterwards find that his hope was founded in error, the hope would be taken away; but if at the same time he should find that the truth is absolutely better than the error hoped for, he would also find that a better thing is given in lieu of his hope: but if a man has hope, though that hope should be founded in error, if the hope remain as long as the man exists, it is not taken away from him, as both cease to exist together. Once more, and finally: a hope which is founded in truth, a knowledge of the truth can never take away. Although a man may hope, and ardently desire to exist eternally, yet I do not see how a man can extend either his hope, or his desires, beyond the possibility of his existence. To my understanding, this is just like supposing that a man which does not exist may yet hope and desire; or that a man may hope and desire, after he shall have ceased to exist.
"After returning you my sincere thanks for your kind indulgence and labours of love, I shall close the present number. I cannot take my leave of this number, however, without expressing my humble gratitude to the Allwise disposer of events, that he has given such abundant manifestations of his unspeakable goodness to his creatures; that he has also, as I may perhaps be permitted to hope with you, given a divine testimony of his infinite love and universal benevolence to that part of his creation whom he hath distinguished with the attributes of his own nature, regarding at the same time all other beings and things, and that he had raised up so many faithful witnesses who have set to their seals that this testimony is true.
* * * * *
Dear sir, and brother,—The particulars contained in your ninth letter, which I have selected as the subject of this, are the following:
1st. You "do not see how the miracles of the Shakers are at all dependant on the miracles of Jesus for their imposition."
2d. You think, if Jesus had remained on the earth until now, or had appeared to every generation since his resurrection, the evidence would have been much greater; and yet not so great as to preclude the exercise of our reasoning faculties.
3d. In the supposed controversy between the Unitarians and Trinitarians, you think I have failed of making the case a parallel with my subject, not considering the great change which took place in the state of the Jews in consequence of their destruction by the Romans.
4th. The argument which you rest on the supposition, that the apostles did in reality believe in the resurrection of Jesus, when in fact the thing was not true.
5th. What you say of the necessity of miracles in some future time, to confirm the belief of those which have been.
6th. The difficulty you suggest concerning St. Paul's saying that Jesus was seen, after his resurrection, by more than five hundred brethren at once.
1st. As you object to the idea that the miracles of the Shakers depend at all on the miracles of Jesus for their imposition, it may be considered sufficient, on my part, if I show that you have fully supported the proposition which you profess not to see.
I will, however, first presume, that I am not authorised to say that the miracles of the Shakers are imposition, I have not contended that they are; the ground for which I contend is this, viz. if these or any other pretended miracles among us are impositions, they depend on the miracles of Jesus for this power, as much as counterfeit money depends on the true for its imposition. That you have given sufficient support to what I have stated, you will see at once by the following passage quoted from your arguments on this subject: "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 clothe their religion with the same divine authority." Is it possible that the writer of the foregoing sentence should not see, that he established the very thing which he had just said he could not see? What is that divine authority with which the religion of Moses, the prophets and of Christ is clothed? Answer, miracles. What authority do you pretend the Shakers make use of to clothe their religion? Answer "the same." How does this differ from counterfeit money, on the supposition that these miracles are imposition?
It is abundantly evident that the Jews expected that the Messiah, when he came, would establish his character by miracles as Moses did his, and as some of the prophets were enabled to do. Therefore, do we read Matt. xii. 22, 23.—"Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb: and he healed him insomuch, that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed and said, is not this the son of David?"
Jesus himself saith, Luke iv. 24, 27. "Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow; and many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saveing Naaman the Syrian."—See John vii. 31. "And many of the people believed on him, and said, when Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?"
By the foregoing quotations, as by many other passages, we learn that the Jews expected the Messiah would establish his character as a prophet like unto Moses and others, and also that Jesus did in reality a multitude of miracles more than the prophets did.
Now is it not evident, that if the miracles of Jesus were supposed to be impositions, they were dependant on those of Moses and the prophets for any power to impose on the people? Just so are all miracles wrought or pretended to be wrought since Christ, dependant on his miracles for any imposing power which they possess. If our religion had not been first propagated by the means of those miracles which are recorded in the New Testament, of what use would any pretended miracles be to any sect of Christians?
2d. What you say of the greater evidence of the resurrection which would have been furnished by Christ's continuance on earth until now, or by his making his appearance in every generation since his time, appears to me to be rather wanting in its merits by which it claims a reply.—Why should you neglect to delineate some special reasons for your suppositions, by showing how wide the difference would have been from the evidence we now have, and how that difference would have recommended your scheme?—You have left me to conjecture the particular features of your argument, and if I mistake them, you will reply that I understand you incorrectly. However, this is the way I must proceed.
We will suppose then that Jesus, in room of ascending into heaven, had remained on earth. Would this have done any good, unless he had made himself known to all the people? Well, we will suppose he had made himself known after his resurrection, to the whole house of Israel, would the people not have believed? They would have believed most assuredly, or his making himself known to them would have done no good. If they had all believed they would not have persecuted the religion of Christ, all would have embraced it at once being convinced by their eyes, that Jesus who was crucified, had actually rose from the dead, and was not subject to death any more. All this would have been as evident to the Roman government as to the Jewish hierarchy, and the whole would have been christianized at once. How long would all this remain a wonder? Jesus remains on earth from generation to generation. How long ago would the conjecture have arisen, that this man who has lived through so many ages, had always been here on earth, and that the tradition of his once having been mortal like other men, was nothing but a superstition gotten up in some age of antiquity beyond our reach? There would have been no occasion of preserving any records of the wonderful works of Jesus in the days of his flesh, for as the whole would become immediately connected to christianity, there would have been no necessity nor excitement to write and preserve the accounts we have in the gospel, or if they had been written, they could have had no support now but ancient tradition. Not one martyr, not one instance of persecution, not a Celsus in the second, a Porphyry in the third, nor a Julian in the fourth centuries to oppose the truth, and thereby bear testimony to the antiquity of the christian history.
This immortal man would be here on earth, and the sun and the moon and the stars would be in the heavens, the mountains and the rivers here on earth; and the same mind that would conjecture that all these visible things were from everlasting to everlasting, would make no exception of this man Christ Jesus. But now you are called on to prove your christian tradition; and what have you to convince the Deist with? Will you say my conjectures are by no means correct? Well, I expected it would turn out so. You mean then that Jesus should not only remain on earth, but that he should continue the evidences of his having been mortal, of his having died, and of his resurrection as clear as they were when they convinced the world in the first place.—Would there, in this case, be any room for any inquiry? any for doubts? Would there be as many denominations of christians as there are now? Should we get at this religion by reasoning? Perhaps you would prefer your second proposal, and have Jesus manifested in every generation. But this would have been a regular return of the same event, and would have been placed among the phenomena of nature, and the Deist would say that there never had been any beginning to this regular operation, it has always been so from time beyond date.
Thus far, but no more. The evidences of our religion are like the religion itself, infinitely superior to any thing ever contrived by human wisdom. And it is an opinion in which I am the more confirmed, the more I examine it, that if the wisest set of philosophers which ever lived on earth had been a council to contrive a method by which christianity could have been perpetuated in the world, that scheme which they would have projected, would of itself defeated the object.
The wisdom of this great scheme corresponds with the divine power which has been manifested in it. What set of impostors, either wise or simple, learned or unlearned would ever have thought of such an undertaking as that of which we have an account in the four evangelists? Would they be likely to find one who would be their leader, the one to die, and leave the rest to make the people believe that he arose from the dead? Could a man be found now who would be willing to undertake such a piece of madness and folly? If we pretend to reason shall we not keep to human nature, and reason according to those laws by which ourselves and others are governed?
Do you believe, sir, that a man could be found who would undertake to lead a party, whose object should be to impose on the people by a pretended resurrection, and consent himself to be the hero of this imposture?
You answer, no. But then ask; if this wonderful story was not written some considerable time after that period to which the dates of the writings are assigned, and such large additions made that the whole appears entirely different from what was really true?
This brings me to consider the third particular selected for consideration, out of your epistle.
3dly. In allusion to the supposed controversy between the Unitarians and Trinitarians, you think I ought to have considered the circumstance of the destruction of the Jews by the Romans, as giving a favourable opportunity for the fabricating the books of the evangelists, and of giving them success in the world, as the old pharisees and rulers of the Jews were principally cut off in that awful destruction of their nation and city.
You will observe that by your suggestion you leave the first section of the argument to which you refer, in which no book or books were used, and notice only the last section in which you were indulged, for sake of the argument, in the supposition that the gospels were not written until after the destruction of Jerusalem, nor propagated on the miracles on which the gospels have founded it. Here, sir, have I not an occasion of some little complaint? If you really thought that the gospels were, none of them, written in the life time of the apostles, and considered it safe to predicate an argument on this ground, why should you withhold the proof of this fact? Why did you not inform me of the authority by which your argument is supported in your own mind? And furthermore, why do you try to get away from the argument as stated in its first form, without showing its want of force, or without allowing its merit? By conducting arguments in this way, in room of converguing them to some definite point of conclusion, they are diverged indefinitely, and the mind seems bewildered without an object.
However, I am disposed to follow you, and will now endeavour to shew the probability of the gospel's having been written even before the destruction of Jerusalem.
The following passages are quoted from Paley's evidences from page 106 and on—
From the epistle of Barnabas, to which I have before alluded; "Let us, therefore, beware lest it come upon us, as it is written, there are many called, few chosen." Our author justly adds: "From the expression, 'as it is written,' we infer with certainty, that, at the time when the author of this epistle lived, there was a book extant, well known to christians, and of authority among them, containing these words—'Many are called, few chosen.'" For the authority of this epistle I refer unto Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome, noticed in a former communication. If Clement were liable to mistake the author, it seems hardly probable that he would be deceived concerning the time when this epistle, purporting to have been written by Barnabas, was written; as it is no later than A.D. 194 that he quotes this epistle as an ancient work. It may be proper to remark, that although authors differ respecting the genuineness of this epistle, both Dr. Priestly and Paley acknowledge and maintain its antiquity, and place it very near to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, which gives it all the authority for which it is here quoted; for the thing now to be proved is, that it is probable that the gospel of Matthew was written before the destruction of the Jewish hierarchy. Now as this epistle of Barnabas was written soon after this destruction, and refers to the gospel of Matthew in the manner above quoted, as refering to what was an acknowledged writing of scripture authority, it seems reasonable to infer that St. Matthew's gospel had been written long enough before, to obtain its establishment among Christian churches, which fairly throws its antiquity anterior to the destruction of Jerusalem. Sir, I see nothing to forbid this conclusion from being highly probable, and this, I expect to show, is all that is necessary to be made out in this case.
"Of Polycarp," who was appointed bishop of Symrna by the apostles themselves, says our author, "we have one undoubted epistle remaining. And this, though a short letter, contains nearly forty clear allusions to books of the New Testament; which is strong evidence of the respect which christians of that age bore for those books." It appears from this account, that, as Polycarp was a contemporary of the apostles, and referred to the books of the New Testament in his writings, as to books of established authority, these books must have been written as early as the time in which their reputed authors lived, which places their date prior to the destruction of Jerusalem; as it is not pretended that any of the evangelists continued until after the destruction of that city except St. John who is supposed to have lived to a very great age.
One more from our author: "Papias, a hearer of John, and companion of Polycarp, as Irenaeus attests, and of that age, as all agree, in a passage quoted by Eusebius, from a work now lost, expressly ascribes the respective gospels to Matthew and Mark, and in a manner which proves that those gospels must have publicly borne the names of these authors at that time, and probably long before." All this appears perfectly consistent with the idea that these gospels were written by the evangelists themselves, and proves together with the following considerations the probability of its being correct. Further considerations to be taken into the foregoing account are the following. St. Matthew, St. Luke and St. Mark, all speak of the prophesy of Jesus respecting the destruction of Jerusalem, but do not even hint that this prophesy had been fulfilled. In St. John's gospel no mention is made of this prophesy, and it is reasonable enough to suppose that this omission was on account of the prophesy's having been fulfilled before his gospel was written.
Again, if the gospels had not been written by these reputed authors, nor in the time that the evangelists lived, but some time after the destruction of Jerusalem, and these had been fabricated by designing men, they would certainly have been exposed as a fraud by the Gnostics who held many opinions so very contrary to the scriptures of the New Testament. So very contrary were some of the early heresies to the writings of the evangelists that they erased many things from them that they might the better maintain their own notions. Now this would never have taken place if these Gnostics could have proved that these Gospels were frauds, which they certainly could have done, for they existed as early as these writings are supposed to have been written. Furthermore, if the gospels had been forged books, written after the destruction of Jerusalem, it would have been an easy task for Celsus to have exposed the whole fraud. He certainly would never have admitted the truth of the miracles of Jesus if he could have proved that the books in which they were recorded were forgeries. But this neither he nor the learned Porphyry attempted to do.
I have suggested, that, if the probability of the gospel's having been written before the destruction of Jerusalem and by the evangelists themselves be proved it is sufficient for our present argument. And so, I think, it will appear to you, when you combine with this probability two more important considerations.
1st. That the internal evidences contained in the books of the New Testament, of their genuineness, are sufficient of themselves to establish their character as such; and:
2d. That the above probability of itself is to be relied on even from external evidence if no external proof can be proved against it, which is not pretended.
It should be kept in mind, that the writings of the evangelists are guarded by the early attacks of the enemies of christianity, who ever treated them as being, what they pretended to be, a faithful history of the origin of the religion they inculcated; and also by the opposition of the early sects who arose from the church, who would have demolished their foundations if they had been spurious.
4th. The argument you rest on the supposition that the apostles did, in reality, believe in the resurrection of Jesus, when in fact the thing was not true, may now be noticed.—As you would naturally expect, I shall by no means allow either your premises or conclusions.
1st. Why should I allow your premises? You have brought no argument, nor attempted to bring any to disprove what I contended for, viz. that the apostles could not have been persuaded to believe the resurrection with any evidence short of that recorded in the evangelists. "Here," you say "lies the mistake if there be any;" and to this I agree. Where then is your argument against mine, on which so much depends? You have attempted to bring none. But you say: "only suppose the resurrection to have been actually believed, by any evidence, or circumstance whatever, no matter what." What argument is there sir, in this "only suppose?" I contend the thing is not supposable. It was as true in that age of the world, that a fact naturally incredible requires indubitable evidence to substantiate it, as it is now. I would allow that it is supposable, that one man might, in a sort of a delirium, which generally throws the brain into a situation, by which, what only exists in the mind, appears a reality to the sense of sight, might think he saw Jesus after his crucifixion, when in fact he did not. But I cannot allow it to be a supposable case that the whole eleven apostles should all become delirious at once and with them a number more, and all be persuaded against the prejudices of their minds, that they saw Jesus, and that at a number of times, and in diverse manners, when there was no such thing. But:
2d. Even allowing your supposition, your consequences would be very unlikely to follow. You surely would not suppose that the apostles could believe they saw Jesus when they did not, if they had the use of their reason properly. We must suppose them to have been insane then.—What then would have been the consequences? Would the authority have put these mad-men to death? Would they have been persecuted at all for their misfortune? But these mad-men preached Jesus and the resurrection to the people, and so convinced them of the fact, that multitudes believed them, and on this supposition we are now to suppose our religion was first established in the world! If we may suppose such things, there are no absurdities that we may not suppose. You must suppose it to be a very dangerous thing to try a man for his life by a jury of twelve men, for if the man was innocent of the murder for which he was indicted and no evidence was produced to convict him on, these men might all be made to believe, some how, by some circumstance, "no matter what," that they all saw the murder committed by this very innocent person on trial.
5th. I thought of saying something on your suggestion of the necessity of miracles in some future time to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, but being a little more careful, than at first, I find you seem to give up this matter. You say: "considering the prejudices of the Jews, as a people, I cannot suppose that they will ever believe in Jesus, as their promised Messias short of being convinced of its truth by a miracle; and should they return to the land of Palestine, and there rebuild their temple, at Jerusalem, it would be such a clear fulfilment of the prophesy of Ezekiel, that it would be equal to a miracle, and do as much towards corroborating the truth of all the other prophecies." If the return of the Jews, etc. be equal to miracles, then it may preclude their necessity. But as this particular does not immediately concern our general subject it is dismissed.
6th. As none of the evangelists have been particular respecting the meeting in Galilee, and as this was an appointment even before the crucifixion, as well as afterward, it is fairly within the reach of probable conjecture, that this meeting was sufficiently numerous to justify St. Paul's words. He does not speak of this matter as of a subject with which his acquaintance was small, for he says; "he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep." He no doubt, had seen many of this great number and had been informed of the circumstances of the occasion, and of the time when this multitude was favoured with this sight.
To conclude; I heartily join with you in grateful acknowledgements, to the Almighty disposer of events, for the manifestations of his universal benevolence to his creatures, and especially unto man whom he hath seen fit to induce with the attributes of his own nature, and constituted him an heir of life and immortality. In view of this, I can be thankful for any faithfulness discoverable in those who publish the word of life, and endeavour to defend it in the spirit of meekness and Christian love.
And I will further add, that I feel a peculiar pleasure in finding your mind to be somewhat divested of its incumberances, and that your doubts of the grounds of your precious faith, are dispersing more and more from your mind, while the evidences of divine truth find a sincere reception in your understanding.
Let us endeavour to cherish, not only the evidences of truth, but truth itself in our afflictions, and in room of being idlers in the markets, go early into our Lord's vineyard trusting the words of him who saith; "whatsoever is right, ye shall receive."
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EXTRACTS No. X.
"Dear sir and brother—In remarking on your reply to my 8th number, as in a former case I shall follow the arrangement which you have made; taking up the articles in the same order.
"1st. I did not suppose but that the method which I proposed to account for the absence of the body of Jesus would be liable to serious objections; and these objections are increased by connecting with them, circumstances which, if the resurrection be false, must be considered equally false. Because, if the resurrection of Jesus was not a truth, whatever was the truth on which that belief was founded, must be now all mere conjecture.
"There might be persons, however, who thought that Jesus suffered death very wrongfully although he never pretended literally to perform those miracles. Yea I conceive it possible that when this language was first adopted, i. e. of his feeding the hungry, opening the eyes of the blind, raising the dead, &c. it was not understood, nor meant to be understood literally. Therefore although the account at first might have been literally false, though not so much so as what it grew to be afterward, yet it might have been considered spiritually true; and therefore not designed absolutely to deceive. The only difficulty, i.e. the only irreconcilable difficulty, which I conceive in the case, is in supposing that the first disciples could be made to believe in the resurrection, by any evidence which could have existed, and yet the resurrection not to be true. But we must suppose this, I think, in order to raise a reasonable doubt of the truth of the resurrection. For, if the disciples did not believe it, they could have had no interest or motive, (or certainly no justifiable motive) in making others believe it; and without this, it is difficult to account even for the existence of such a report. I should not think it so strange, however, that others, after the report was once in circulation, and that even St. Paul himself should have been made to believe this, merely by some visionary scene.
"I think therefore the question may be reduced to this point. Which of the two is the most incredible, either that the first disciples should absolutely believe in the resurrection, by any evidence which did not grow out of this truth, or that the resurrection should have been absolutely true?
"Here is where the two propositions, when reduced to their simplicity must finally come. And I contend that when two propositions are thus clearly placed before the mind or understanding, whether the judgment be right or wrong, the mind or understanding must reject, yea it is impossible to avoid rejecting, that which to the mind or understanding, is the most incredible.
"But when we admit that the disciples did believe in the resurrection, we are not obliged to admit that they had all or any of the evidences of that fact which have come down to us. This we may suppose might have been mostly or altogether fictitious; written by later hands, and attributed to the apostles. And here we must not suppose that the account was altogether made up at once, but grew gradually; and not to come out in writing until the persons, who could either attest or deny the literal truth of these facts, were taken off of the stage. Here as it respects the records also, the same question again occurs. Which is the most incredible (not to miraculous, for one miracle is no more miraculous, that I know of than another; I therefore say which is the most incredible) that such histories should have been thus, or in some other way got up, and be believed, altho' the various accounts, so far as they relate to miracles, and other circumstances necessary to be taken into the account only for the sake of supporting the truth of those miracles, should have been altogether fictitious, and such parts only true as could be accounted for in a rational way, without admitting the existence of miracles; or that all those miracles, or at least the most essential of them, should have been literally and absolutely true? The answer to these two propositions, i. e. the above questions, will, and must, decide the whole controversy.
"Now, were it not for the internal evidences which the writings of the New Testament do, and ever will, possess (the external evidences falling so far short of being conclusive in my mind, as I shall show more fully hereafter, when I come to speak of those evidences) I should still be inclined, in my own understanding, to reject the latter proposition in each of the above questions, and adhere to the former.—Much of the external evidence, I am very ready to admit is perfectly consistent with the supposed truth of the internal, but after all, in my humble opinion, it does not quite come to the point. But the internal evidence, I confess, I cannot withstand. The more I investigate the subject, the more I discover its force, its clearness, and its irresistibility; and although the truth it unfolds is so august, so momentous, so astonishingly and inexpressibly sublime, that it is with the profoundest and most reverential awe I speak, when I acknowledge my faith in the divine origin of those testimonies; yet, as I cannot resist their force, so I am obliged to acknowledge them true. The illusion, however, if it be one, I know is happifying to the mind; but this is no good reason, that I know of, why we should either embrace it ourselves, or propagate it in the world. Although I have endeavoured to calm my conscience, while meditating on my doubts, with the consideration that I am not accountable for the truth or the falsity of the scriptures; yet, I must confess, this did not fully satisfy my mind; and therefore I come to a determination to be more thoroughly persuaded of their truth, if possible, or else be more thoroughly convinced of their fallacy. With this motive I entered on the present controversy; and I feel very happy in its termination, having been much strengthened in my faith thereby, and humbly pray, that should it ever come before the public, it may be blest to the benefit of others.
"2d. What you have said on the divine mission, &c. of the apostles is satisfactory. For although it has not fully come to my question, yet it has had the same good effect by convincing me that my question went a little beyond the bounds of reason; for it was too much like asking a blind man how it is that other men see! It is not reasonable to suppose that the apostles themselves could have informed persons who were uninspired to their understanding, how or by what means, they were inspired. It was sufficient to demonstrate the fact by the works which they were enabled to perform, (admitting the account true,) in the name of JESUS.
"3d. My argument respecting a hope of future existence has been extended rather beyond my design. Without taking up time to recapitulate, I will only say I admit the truth of your argument on this subject; neither do I see how it stands altogether in opposition to mine. What I contend for is this. The idea of non-existence, i.e. of existing only in God, without retaining our individual consciousness of being, does not, like the idea of endless misery, absolutely destroy our present comforts. It only cuts short, or else prevents, future prospects. If it can be demonstrated, as I believe it can, that God is good to the animal creation, in giving them existence, on the supposition, that they have no future state, I contend that man is equally, if not more abundantly blessed, even on the same supposition.—But I never meant to contend that eternal life would not be still infinitely better, according to our conceptions of good, if true. To state a case, which will illustrate in some degree my ideas of this subject, the following may come something nigh it; viz. I should be pleased with the idea of living, say, ten years, in reference only to the blessing of this life, although I might know I should die at that time, provided that, during the ten years, I should enjoy the common blessings of life. This does not prevent my desiring to live longer; neither does a certain knowledge that I shall not prevent me from desiring to live, nor from being pleased with the idea of living, till that time. But let me know for a certainty, or, which would be the same thing to me, let me absolutely believe that I should live fifty years, and that although the ten first would be attended with all the common blessings of life, as usual, yet that the remaining forty years, which would be the remaining whole of my natural life, I should be placed in the most distressed and aggravated circumstances, of which I could possibly conceive; now, in reference to the whole fifty years, could I desire to live? No! I say, I rather choose instant death!
"When I look around on the circumstances and condition of men, I am so fully convinced that the aggregate of happiness so far overbalances the aggregate of misery, that I am firmly of opinion, yea, I do not entertain the least possible doubt of its truth, and therefore think I ever shall contend, that this life is a blessing, and we have abundant reason to be very thankful for it, without the least reference to a future state. But, nevertheless, I am very ready to admit, that, when futurity and immortality are taken into the account, and are connected with the same view of the character of the Deity, these blessings are all extended and magnified to infinity.
"But on the supposition that truth is any where connected with endless misery, the scene is wholly changed. On this supposition I am not reconciled to truth at all; I can find nothing in my moral nature, which I call good, but what stands directly opposed to it; Hence, the very brightest and most brilliant part of the picture is deformed by the awful idea; it takes away all the pleasure of investigation, and if this be truth, my only desire and prayer to God, is that I might be permitted to remain eternally ignorant of it! It is my confidence therefore in the goodness of the truth, and this only, which has reconciled my mind to it. You may contend that I have not obtained this confidence without the knowledge of divine revelation. Be that as it may; on this supposition only I am reconciled, and something must destroy this confidence before I can become unreconciled to truth. I think now I must be fully understood, and will therefore add no more on this subject.
"4th. What you say under the fourth article is satisfactory. Errors, no doubt, may be, and often are committed by applying instructions 'differently from their primary design.'
"5th. Your remarks under the sixth article are very judicious. Much injury no doubt is often done to the truth of divine revelation by contending so tenaciously as some do for things, which, if true, are not essential to its support.—It is often the case that, by trying to prove too much, we weaken the evidence, in the minds of many, respecting the main thing we wish to establish. Hence, the opposer, not being able, or else not disposed, to make proper distinction, considers it all of one piece; and not being able to see the propriety of many things, which are contended for with equal zeal, sets the whole down as a fallacy.
"6th. It is true, I thought you strained the argument a little too far in supposing that the apostles could not have been convinced of the truth of the resurrection by any evidence which could be counterbalanced. This induced me to state that supposed absurdity in still more glaring colors, with a hope that you would thereby be induced to take a review of your argument, and not without some expectation, that you would be able to see some defects in it. But in this I have been disappointed. You still hold on upon your argument, and turn the error wholly on your friend.
"But, as this is the turning point, I shall not blame you for straining every nerve, and holding on upon every fibre which gives you the least possible support.
"It would not do for you to give up the idea that the apostles could not have been convinced of the truth of the resurrection by any evidence which could have existed short of the fact's being true; (which, by the way, was what I meant by the first member of my criticism, though not exactly so expressed;) for the moment this is admitted, doubt and unbelief will soon contend that they were so convinced. Imagination may soon call up such evidence in the mind, without supposing any thing miraculous, and all the rest of the account may be supposed to be fictitious. I did not mean to insinuate, however, that you have contended that the apostles must have seen Jesus rise in order to be convinced of the fact. I suppose their seeing him after he was risen was as full a demonstration to them as though they had seen him rise. And if they could not have been convinced of its truth by any thing short of this, then they could not be convinced by any thing short of the fact; i.e. what was the same to them as the fact. The second member of my criticism, viz. 'If the fact did exist there is no evidence which can counterbalance it,' does not, as I conceive, suppose that you contend 'that the fact of the resurrection could not exist without proving itself to the apostles in such a way that no evidence could counterbalance it;' but it supposes that if the fact did exist, no evidence could prove that it did not exist, as it is always difficult to prove a negative, and utterly impossible when the positive is true.—Hence my conclusion; viz. As the apostles were convinced of the truth of the resurrection, which they could not have been only by evidence which could not have existed had not the fact been true, the fact did exist. How far does this criticism fall short of my other? (for it is exactly what I meant by my other.) Or how far does it go beyond your argument?
"Finally, I cannot conceive of any evidence that could sufficiently support the fact that Jesus who was crucified, did actually rise from the dead, if nothing could be brought to counterbalance it, that could possibly admit of being counterbalanced; and again: 'Thus we are brought to the suggestion, that any evidence which could be sufficient to prove such a fact, if no evidence appeared against it, must be such as admits, of no refutation.'
"Unless it may be reasonably supposed that the apostles were not absolutely so guarded against an error of this kind as this argument suggests, I know of no way to withstand its force. And I am sure I feel no disposition to withstand it, even against probability. It is the improbability of the fact it goes to prove, i. e. in my mind, that ever induced me to oppose it.
"I shall now take notice of the external evidence in support of the truth of divine revelation, which you have quoted from Paley in his view of the evidences of christianity.
"In your reply to my seventh number, you mentioned 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.' The object of this quotation is to prove that the gospel of Matthew (from which here is a quotation) was written before this epistle, and here appealed to as to a book of divine authority. And although it is perfectly consistent with such a supposition, yet there is great room to doubt whether such was the fact. Or, at least, there is room to conjecture that the gospel of Matthew might have been written before this epistle, and yet not written till after the destruction of Jerusalem.
"Speaking of the writers of this period, Dr. Priestly observes 'The oldest work of the age, if it had been genuine, is that which goes by the name of The epistle of Barnabas. Whoever was the author of this epistle, it was probably written soon after the destruction of Jerusalem.—It abounds with interpretations of the Old Testament which discover more of imagination, than judgement.' By this you will perceive that the authority of this epistle is doubtful. I should also have gathered the same idea, from what Paley himself says, whose work I have examined, on this subject, since I wrote my last number. It might have been written at a much later period than what is supposed and palmed upon Barnabas; and therefore does not, as was supposed, absolutely prove that the gospel of Matthew was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. It seems that christians of a later period were in the habit of palming works upon their predecessors; or in other words, writing in their name. After speaking of the epistle of Clemens, Priestly observes (p. 301) there is extant another epistle ascribed to this Clemens, but it is evidently spurious, and was probably written in the middle of the third century. Several other writings were palmed upon him also, especially the Apostolical Constitution and the Clementine homilies. The epistle of Barnabas, it seems, is first quoted by Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 194. This certainly gives room for my conjecture for aught which appears to the contrary, it might have been written a whole century after the days of the apostles.
[Footnote 7: Ch. Hist. vol. i. p. 200.]
"The next which Paley mentions is an epistle written by Clement, bishop of Rome. This is the same which Priestly calls Clemens. 'This epistle,' he says, 'was held in the highest esteem by all christians, and, like the scriptures, was publicly read in many churches.' In this epistle of Clement, you say, 'he quotes Matt. v. 7. xviii. 6.' But how does he quote those passages? Not as the writing of Matthew, but as the words of 'our Lord.' Although this therefore, as I have before suggested, is perfectly consistent with the supposed truth, it falls far short, in my mind, of proving that the gospel of Matthew, was written before this epistle. Clement or Clemens might have written this by tradition even if he had never seen the gospel of Matthew, or any other. It only proves that these words in the gospel and those in the epistle were indebted to the same original source, viz. the words of Jesus. I am not disposed to dispute, however, the genuineness of this epistle. 'It is an earnest dissuasive,' says Priestly, 'from the spirit of faction, which appeared in the church of Corinth, and which, indeed, was sufficiently conspicuous when Paul wrote his epistles.'
"'Another work of doubtful authority,' says Priestly, 'is the Shepherd of Hermes, by some thought to be that Hermes who is mentioned by Paul in his epistle to the Romans; but by others supposed to be either spurious, or to have been written by a later Hermes, or rather Hermes, brother of Pius, bishop of Rome, about the year 140. Whoever was the author of this work (and though it was so much esteemed by many christians, as to be publicly read in their churches) it is certainly a very poor performance.' If this work therefore be of so late a date, as, according to this account, it may be, and, from all which appears to the contrary, we may presume it is, as the first quotation of it is by Irenaeus, A. D. 178, it falls short of the proof we want.
"The same observations will apply to the allusions to the gospels in the epistles of Ignatius, as was mentioned in regard to the epistle of Clement. They are not literal quotations, and therefore might have been only traditions. I consider them no certain proof that the gospels were written previous to this time, though it is very natural to suppose that to have been the fact. The same will apply to the epistle of Polycarp, as we know not exactly what was meant at that time by the scriptures; neither do allusions to certain passages in the scriptures, especially such as the words of Jesus, prove the existence of those scriptures at that time.
"In the time of Eusebius there were extant five books of Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Syria, of the interpretation of the divine oracles. 'Papias,' says Priestly, 'was a great collector of the sayings of the apostles; and one of the traditions preserved by him was that, after the resurrection, Christ would reign upon earth a thousand years, an opinion which, from his authority, was long respected by many.' Papias, it seems, is the first who speaks of the gospels by name, and he mentions only Matthew and Mark. That all the gospels, however, existed in his day, and also bore the names which they now do, I should not be disposed to dispute; neither is there any thing to contradict the idea of their being written by the persons reputed to be the authors of them.
[Footnote 8: Ch. Hist. vol. i. p. 203 Euseb. Hist. Lib. iii. Cap. 39 p. 135.]
"But, supposing a few of these first bishops had taken it into ther heads, having succeeded so well, during a little respite from persecution, in consequence of those troublesome times at the destruction of Jerusalem, as to get appointed to their respective offices, and thinking it would lead greatly to their future success, I say, supposing they had taken it into their heads to write the four gospels and the acts of the apostles themselves, embracing all the traditions, which they knew, of the apostles, dressed up in the figurative style in which those things, even from the first, had been reported, together with many fictions of their own. And that they did write these books in the name of the apostles; who would be likely, or would be able, to contradict them? Or supposing, without any previous concert, some one should have written the gospel of Matthew; another, after having seen it, should write one in the name of Mark; a third, who had seen them both, should write that of Luke, and the acts of the apostles; and a fourth should write that of John.—These, of course, would make their first appearance at different times, and in different parts of the country; or, in other words, in different countries. Some story or other might have been got up, in regard to their first discovery, which should go currently with the common people, and which, after the works were received as canonical, would of course be done away.
"As a justification of the above hypothesis (which I am very sensible is not without its difficulties) in addition to what have said in regard to the writings palmed upon Clemens, I will mention the following from Priestly's Ch. Hist. vol. ii. p. 412. It appears to have been a quotation from Sozomen, by Socrates, Lib. vii. chap. 19, p. 307. 'The revelation of Peter, which is rejected as a spurious book by the ancients, is read once every year in some churches in Palestine on good Friday, which is a religious fast in commemoration of our Lord's sufferings. The book that is called the revelation of the apostle Paul, which was unknown to the ancients, is greatly commended by many of the monks. Some say that this book was first found in the reign of Theodosius. For they say that in the house of Paul at Tarsus, there was a marble chest in a subterraneous place, in which this book was deposited, and that it was discovered by a particular revelation.'
"Any work of this kind, got up at so late a period as that of the reign of Theodosius, would not be likely to be generally received among the churches; yet if it could be received by any, why might not a similar work, or similar works, which made their appearance so soon after the apostles, as might well be supposed to have been written by them and when too, the churches were few in number, without the least suspicion of fraud, have been received by all? Or if any fraud had been suspected, yet, believing in the main thing which all these were designed to support, those frauds whatever they were, might have been considered really pious!
"But, sir, you will perceive that I am not altogether pleased, nor fully satisfied, with this argument. I know it has its difficulties; but the question is, whether it has greater than the one which it is brought to oppose? The question is not, whether these things look probable? For I acknowledge they do not look probable. But the question is, which is the most incredible; either that the above hypothesis, or something like it, should be true; or else that the extraordinary miracles, related in the books referred to, should be true? If there were no better evidence in favor of the miracles than that which I have been examining, I should be obliged to decide against the latter, let me think what I might respecting the former. The most that we can say of this testimony is, it does not contradict the truth of those histories, but, so far as it goes, it is perfectly consistent with the truth of the main question. The weight of this testimony therefore, whatever it is, seems to be on the side of the truth of christianity.
"But what carries the most conviction to my mind is not who wrote those books; not the manner in which they have been handed down to us, nor in which they can now be traced to the apostles; but the manner in which the story itself is told. It must be confessed that, excepting a few things, which may be supposed to have been early interpolations, it carries in it all the internal marks of TRUTH. When this is admitted, we must also admit the propriety of bringing in these external evidences as auxiliaries; and when we find that they also, instead of being contradictory to, are perfectly consistent with the supposed truth, they add not a little to the weight of testimony. Hence we find that our faith is strengthened by the consideration of circumstances, which would not have been sufficient, in themselves alone, to have originated, or produced, that faith. The question may be still asked, why do you now believe? To which I give this plain and simple answer. It is because, notwithstanding the incredibility of the miracles of Christ, and of the apostles, and the resurrection, the truth of which these miracles go to confirm and substantiate; yet, the idea that this story should ever have been told in the manner it is, without having truth for its foundation, in spite of all my incredibility, is still more incredible! And it is my humble opinion that whoever will give themselves the trouble, to pay the same attention to the subject, must be of the same opinion: for, I am inclined to think that no one has been more predisposed to unbelief. Not that I ever felt any real opposition to the truth of the holy scriptures, as I now understand them, but I did not wish to be deceived. I had rather that my hopes and expectations should never be raised, than to have them raised upon a fruitless or spurious foundation.
"But after all, it will be perceived that I make no pretensions to a miraculous, or mysterious, conversion. My conversion, whatever it is, is altogether rational. It grows out of the evidence which I plainly have before my eyes. And it is my humble opinion that those who pretend to such conversions ought to be able to confirm the same by miracles, the same as the truth was first confirmed; and unless they can do it, it ought to be considered as nothing more than mere pretension.—According to the ideas of some, and of much too of that which is termed orthodox, every conversion is as much a miracle as was the resurrection of Christ. But as this is a fact, which if true, is entirely out of sight of the unconverted, and of which they can form no conception, nor judge of it in any sense whatever, is it not reasonable that they should have a demonstration of its truth, by some fact, of the truth of which they can judge, that they may know that the work is of God? And until we have such demonstration, may we not consider all such pretensions to be of men?
"With these remarks I hasten to a CONCLUSION.
"In taking leave of this subject, considering it probable that these letters will, at some future time, come before the public, it is but just that I should more fully avow my motives in this controversy. You will have perceived, all along, the ground on which I stood. I have endeavoured to personate an honest inquirer after truth; but one who was filled with doubts concerning every thing of which there is not positive demonstration. How far I have acted up to such a character, you and the public can best judge.
"I thought, however, I should be the most likely to do this, by bringing those objections, and these only, which, at one time or another, have occupied my own mind. But, that the controversy might not appear as a mere farce, or like a man raising objections against himself (in which case he generally takes care to raise none but what he thinks he can answer) and that I might engage all your interest and energy on the subject, I have carried the idea, through the whole, both by my letters and by my private conversation with you during the time (as you very well know) that those objections were now laboring in my mind with all their force. I have therefore endeavoured to dispute every inch of ground, and give way only as I found myself obliged to give way, by the force of your arguments. That I have not acted my part better must be imputed to want of ability and not to want of good will. I have endeavoured to throw every block in your way which I could think of, without deviating from the character which I had assumed; and that I have not made your task more arduous, is because I did not see how I could do it without betraying a manifest dishonesty on my part. The result is such as I anticipated.
"My real motive must be my only apology for the part I have taken. You know that no work of the kind has ever been really and seriously attempted by any one who is avowedly of our order; that our religious opponents are continualiy throwing the gauntlet of aspersions at us, as being nothing more than mere pretenders to christianity, but in reality, Deists in disguise. To repel, therefore, those charges, as well as to let the unbelieving world know our views on this subject, I thought a work of this kind was really needed. And it appeared to me that the work, in the first place, would be more likely to be read, and, in the end, more sure of success, to have it come forth by the way of controversy, than what it would in any other way.
"It is true, I may not have brought all the objections which some would wish to have brought; but if what I have brought are so far removed as not to remain a serious obstacle in the mind of candid readers (which I conclude will be the case, with others, as it is with me) then all objections may be as easily removed.
"That this work may be an instrument, in the hands of God, of removing the prejudices from the minds of many of our religious opponents, of strengthening the faith of many who are wavering, and, as it were, halting between two opinions, and of calling up the attention of those who, like Gallis, 'care for none of these things,' is the sincere prayer of:
"Yours in the bonds of the gospel.
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Dear sir, and brother,—A careful perusal of your tenth number has given me much satisfaction, and seems to suggest that my reply may be general. You discover the rational ground on which your scruples are removed, and state no difficulty that you do not surmount.
I agree with you, that the gloomy doctrine of eternal misery, when by the imagination it becomes incorporated into the system of divine revelation, "reverses the whole scene," and renders that, which in its divine and native beauty possesses the most powerful attractions, the most deformed picture that ever repelled the human affections. It is this heaven-dishonouring doctrine, so repugnant to and irreconcilable with the known goodness of God manifested to all nations in his divine providence, that has, more than any thing else, so buffeted all the best feelings of man, as in thousands of instances to drive the heart of benevolence to lay aside the scriptures to whose authority this unmerciful doctrine has been erroneously ascribed.
But let the scriptures be once considered as free from the above horrible sentiment as in reality they are, they will then perfectly correspond with the demonstrations of universal benevolence and grace, rendered conspicuous in all the ways of God; they will also compare as a perfect transcript of that inward light and love which renders man an image of his ever adorable Creator.
As the christian church emerges from the city of mystery Babylon and its suburbs, and advances into the light of the wisdom of God, the doctrine above mentioned loses its influence and its votaries; nor will it be in the power of our self-styled orthodox clergy, long to chain the public mind to such a forbidding absurdity.
Nothing discovers the deplorable state of depravity, to which the human mind is subject, by force of tradition, more than the unnatural and absurd notion of enhancing future bliss, by beholding fellow creatures of the nearest connexion in a state of indescribable misery, there to remain time without end!
It seems to us astonishing that parents were ever capable of causing their children to pass through the fire to an idol, but what is this compared with what our pious fathers and mothers have believed concerning their children's sufferings in the eternal world, for the glory of that God who is the Father of the spirits of all flesh?
Tradition makes the most horrible things acceptable to the mind which becomes blind to their deformity, and even the most detestable things, desirable, by a certain feigned sanctity which it attaches to them. But the charm once broken, the rational mind becomes transformed into another image, totally different, and entirely repugnant to the things which it before venerated as divine. You very justly remark, that if truth be in any way connected with endless misery, you are not reconciled to it; but the time has been when you and I viewed this doctrine as an essential article of the faith of the gospel. What an absurdity! Eternal misery an essential article of the faith of a Saviour!
And this very moment there are thousands who set their feet on this vagary, believing it to be the only rock of safety.
But we have reason to be thankful for our happy deliverance from such a pernicious tradition; a tradition which has poisoned the doctrine of the church, and hardened the hearts of Christian professors to such a degree, that cruelty of the worst kind has become habitual.
Will our pious clergy contend against this charge? Let them account then for all the persecutions, the anathemas, the hangings and the burnings, which owe their origin to this doctrine of eternal misery. Let them account for their own sermons, in our day, which sentence age, middle age, and infancy to endless torture, for offences they never heard of, nor will they ever be informed of them until they find themselves in hell for what a man and a woman did thousands of years before they were born, and of whom they never had heard one word in the land of the living! This they as constantly preach as they contend that man must be sensible of his fall in Adam, of the justice of his being eternally miserable for that offence, and of pardon through the atonement of Christ in this life, or be miserable forever hereafter; for thousands in all ages have lived and died who never heard this absurd story while on earth.
Sir, we have no reason to wonder that religion is so little set by, while it is held up in such a character. Let it put on the mild form of the meek and humble Jesus, let it appear in the mercy of him who said "the son of man came not to destroy men's lives but to save them," let it be represented by its own similitude, by pouring oil and wine into the wounds of an enemy, let it be heard when it declares in apostolic language, God "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth," let its language be strictly regarded when it informs us that charity is greater than faith or hope, then it will be pure and undefiled before God and the Father; it will engage the best affections of the human heart, and call to its devotion all the energies of man. Who can count the damages which have been occasioned by the preposterous error of setting up faith as a criterion of charity? Creed makers and creed defenders surely must have been averse to St. Paul's sentiment concerning the superiority of charity over faith; for they have sat charity at defiance with undefined items in their creeds, which were acknowledged mysterious in their own minds, and evidently repugnant to reason in the judgment of those who were proscribed as heretics by their authority.
Relative to my quotations from the epistle of Barnabas and others, your argument, as far as it is intended to lessen our belief in the genuineness of these epistles, has no direct bearing on the argument which I endeavoured to support by them; for it makes no difference who wrote those epistles, it is their containing quotations from the New Testament which gives them the consequence for which they were quoted.
In reply to what you say respecting Clement's not quoting Mat. v. 7, xviii. 6. as the writing of St Matthew, but as the words of "our Lord," I here set down Paley's answer.
"It may be said, that, as Clement hath not used words of quotation, it is not certain that he refers to any book whatever. The words of Christ, which he has put down, he might himself have heard from the apostles, or might have received them through the ordinary medium of oral tradition. This has been said; but that no such inference can be drawn from the absence of words of quotation is proved by the three following considerations:—First, that Clement in the very same manner, namely, without any mark of reference, uses a passage now found in the epistle to the Romans; which passage from the peculiarity of the words which compose it, and from their order, it is manifest that he must have taken from the book. The same remark may be repeated of some very singular sentiments in the epistle to the Hebrews. Secondly, that there are many sentences of St. Paul's epistle to the Corinthians standing in Clement's epistle without any sign of quotation, which yet are certainly quotations; because it appears that Clement had St. Paul's epistle before him, inasmuch as in one place he mentions it in terms too express to leave us in any doubt—'Take into your hands the epistle of the blessed apostle Paul.' Thirdly, that this method of adopting words of scripture, without reference or acknowledgment, was, as will appear in the sequel, a method in general use among the most ancient christian writers. These analogies not only repel the objection, but cast the presumption on the other side; and afford a considerable degree of positive proof that the words in question have been borrowed from the places of scripture in which we now find them."
[Footnote 9: Rom. i. 29.]
[Footnote 10: Paley's Evidences, p. 109, 110.]
I think, if we take into consideration the authority of external evidence, especially if we duly consider how easily Celsus couid have overthrown the gospels, if they had not been genuine, it must be acknowledged sufficient, even of itself, to establish any matter of fact however important, allowing no natural improbability were involved in the fact. And this is as much as we want of external evidence, of the sort refered to.
But as even the internal evidences of scripture would be insufficient to support their authority without the concurrence of external evidence, so would the external be found wanting without the internal. But these together are abundantly sufficient to establish the credibility of this gospel, which is, like every thing else of the work and wisdom of God, the wonder and admiration of the believing soul.
The purity of your motives in writing on the subject of our discussion, will fully justify the exertions you have made to draw forth such arguments as your brother has been enabled to adduce in support of our common faith. I regret that my almost constant employ on other subjects and other duties, has afforded so little time as I have been able to devote to your queries, which, together with my want of abilities to do justice to a subject of this importance is now an embarrassment on my mind in regard to giving my consent to the publication of this correspondence. And there is still another circumstance which seems to operate as an objection to the publishing of these letters, viz. the want of extension of argument in many instances, which would have been attended to, if the work had been written for the conviction of common readers, which was not thought to be necessary for the benefit of the mover of the queries.
However, as all human productions are imperfect and ought so to be considered, and especially those from your humble servant, I am willing to appear to some disadvantage if any considerable advantage may thereby result to the cause of Jesus Christ our Lord.
I cannot close this valedictory epistle without a solemn acknowledgement of heart felt gratitude to the merciful disposer of all events, for the ample evidence which his providence and grace have given of the truth of our religion, especially when consider the glorious hope set before us; and am permitted to anticipate the promised era when there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying; when there shall be no more pain; but when tears shall be wiped from all faces, and the rebuke of the nations removed from off all the earth, and every creature in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea shall harmoniously ascribe blessing, and glory, and honor unto him who sitteth upon the throne and unto the lamb forever and ever, I loose myself in the contemplation of the transporting scene.
To conclude, as you, my brother, have laboured together with your fellow servant, to look into, and examine these things which belong to the kingdom of righteousness, and as we have been favoured with mutual satisfaction in these researches, may it please the Great Head of the church still to hold us in his hand, still to engage us in his blessed cause, and render our mutual labours promotive of his grace among men. And however distant from each other it may best suit the captain of our salvation to place us, may it be his pleasure to continue our fellowship in the bonds of the gospel.
* * * * *
A SERIES OF LETTERS, BETWEEN THE REV. JOSEPH BUCKMINSTER, D.D. THE REV. JOSEPH WALTON, A.M. PASTORS OF CONGREGATIONAL CHURCHES IN PORTSMOUTH, N.H. AND THE REV. HOSEA BALLOU.
A SERIES OF LETTERS
FROM THE REV. JOSEPH BUCKMINSTER TO THE REV. HOSEA BALLOU.
PORTSMOUTH, DEC. 28, 1809.
Dear Sir,—At the close of the interview which we had at my house, some little time since, you expressed a wish to live in habits of friendship with the ministers of this town, and I think I expressed a hope that I should be always disposed to treat you and all men with those fruits of benevolence and friendship which the law of our common nature and the spirit and principles of the Christian religion, demand of me; with this profession, without its fruits, my conscience is not satisfied. It was neither friendship nor piety that dictated that early question, "Am I my brother's keeper?"—There is a reciprocal responsibility among mankind, both for the interest of time and eternity. Were I to see you or any others exposing themselves to danger, or running into situations that I apprehend would be prejudicial and destructive, friendship would require me to warn and admonish, and endeavour to restrain; and can I support my pretensions to this principle in withholding my warning and admonition, while I am verily persuaded that the present tendency and final issue of that system of sentiments which you have embraced, and which you have come among us to advocate and to support, will expose you, and those that embrace and build upon it, to danger and distress, with which no temporal calamity or ruin can bear any sort of comparison?
I know not what system of Universalism you have embraced or advocate, nor is it of any material consequence in my view; I presume I do not mistake or injure you in supposing that you publicly preach and advocate the final salvation of all mankind, their restoration and association with Jesus Christ in realms of glory. Whatever human ingenuity or plausible and sophistic reasoning may do with respect to either of these systems, they each and all of them are, in my view, destitute of divine authority, and have not a "thus saith the Lord," for their support.
There may be some little difference in the present tendency and effect of these different systems upon the present conduct of men, and so upon the interest of society; but in their general influence, and in their final results, they meet in the same point, and will be attended with the same dreadful consequences. They are neither of them true, and so can have no effect in quickening into life or sanctifying the soul, for it is the spirit that quickeneth, and the truth that sanctifieth; they may exhilarate, please, and produce triumph; but it will be a triumphing that is short, and a joy that is but for a moment; for God, to my apprehension, has been so far from giving any countenance to either of those systems, that he hath long ago pronounced them false, and their tendency destructive—these are his words:"Because with lies ye have made the hearts of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad, and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way by promising him life." But it is not my intention to enter into a dispute upon this subject, neither to enlarge upon arguments to support my own sentiments, nor to disprove yours; I have no apprehension that any good would result from it; it would be a tax upon time that might be better employed.
When persons have adopted a system and are engaged in its support, when the pride of peculiarity or the influence of party views are enlisted as auxiliaries, there is little ground to hope for a conviction of its errors by formal disputation, however temperately conducted; nothing will effect a change of views and feelings but "that still small voice" which induced the prophet to wrap his face in his mantle. This voice is more likely to attend our calm, retired reflections, than the perusal of arguments that tend to disprove what we have been accustomed to advocate and support.
The object of this letter is not to revile, to censure, nor to dispute; but, in friendship and affection, to entreat you to reflect and consider the consequences to yourself and others of that system of sentiments which you are advocating—anticipate the day of judgment, and realize yourself called upon to give an account of your stewardship. I am not disposed, my dear sir, to impeach your sincerity and honesty. I know how far men may be deluded and deceived. I am disposed to believe that you conscientiously think the sentiments you advocate are true. But remember, dear sir, this does not make them true, nor secure you from the dreadful consequences in which they may issue. With all this moral sincerity and uprightness, if you cease to warn the wicked, that he turn from his wicked way (and how can this be more effectually done than by leading him to expect final, everlasting happiness) his blood will be required at your hands. The apostle Paul most conscientiously persecuted the christians and declared to the council before whom he was arraigned, that he had lived in all good conscience before God till that day. He verily thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, yet his persuasion did not acquit him from guilt, nor would it have shielded him from destruction had he not been renewed to repentance and faith in Christ, while as yet Christ was in the way with him. Christ said to his disciples, "The time will come when whosoever killeth you will think he doth God's service;" and he has added, "many will say unto me, in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works? then will I profess unto them, I never knew you, depart from me ye that work iniquity." What must be your situation in the day of retribution if the system you advocate should in final evidence prove false? of which I have not the least shadow of doubt upon my mind, and therefore have all the forebodings for my erring and deceived fellow mortals which may be supposed to be the result of such conviction.—I cannot cease to warn and to entreat you to consider, friendship forbids, my withholding the voice of warning and adjuration; and both duty and respect to my own safety require me to endeavour to save you from the issue, of which I have such awful forebodings. We must both stand before the Son of man, and each one must give an account of himself and of his stewardship to God.—From our connextion here, there will probably be some interest in each other in that day; and I cannot bear the thought of your being able to say when the scheme of Universalism shall all vanish like the baseless fabric of a vision, and all the hopes built upon it will be like the spider's web and like the giving up of the ghost, that you should be able to say, I never warned you of this issue, nor admonished you of your danger.