In fine, the doctrine of the Old Testament upon this matter may be thus expressed:—"These be spirits created for vengeance, which in their fury lay on sore strokes; in the time of destruction, they pour out their force, sad appease the wrath of him that made them. They shall rejoice in his (God's) commandment, and they shall be ready upon earth, when need is: and when their time is come, they shall not transgress his word." Ecclesiasticus xxxix. 28.
A CONSIDERATION OF THE "GIFT OF TONGUES," AND OTHER MIRACULOUS GIFTS ASCRIBED O THE PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANS; AND WHETHER RECORDED MIRACLES ARE INFALLIBLE PROOFS OF THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF DOCTRINES SAID TO HAVE BEEN CONFIRMED BY THEM.
Paul, in his 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, speaks to them as possessing several spiritual gifts, conferred on them by his ministration; such as the gift of prophecy, discerning of spirits, and speaking in unknown tongues. He gives them directions about the proper use of their gifts, and speaks to them as absolutely possessing those gifts, with the utmost confidence. Dr. Paley, in his Defence of Christianity, lays great stress upon the manner in which Paul addresses the Corinthians upon these miraculous powers; and he considers it as an absolute proof of the truth of Christianity— because, he says, it is not conceivable that Paul could have had the boldness and presumption to speak to these men concerning the use and abuse of these gifts, if they really had them not.
I am ready to confess, that this argument of Dr. Paley puzzled me; for though I was satisfied that Paul had imposed upon their credulity many irrelevant passages from the Scriptures as proofs of Christianity, yet I could not imagine that he could presume so much upon their stupidity, as to give them directions about the management of their miraculous powers, which being matters of fact known to themselves, therefore, if false, I conceived must place Paul in their minds in the light of a banterer, when he told them of gifts, which their own consciousness, I thought, must make them sensible they had not. I say I was puzzled with this argument, until I happened to meet with some extracts from Brown's "History of the Shakers," which convinced me at once, from the obvious likeness between these Shakers and the primitive Christians, that Paul might have written to the Corinthians " concerning their spiritual gifts," with perfect impunity.
This Brown had been a Shaker himself, and while with them, he was as great a believer in his own and their gifts, as the Corinthians could be; and since it must be obvious, that the gifts of these Shakers are mere self-delusions, there is, then, in our own times an example of the gifts of the primitive Christians, which enables us to comprehend their nature and character perfectly well.
"Many of them," (the Shakers) says Mr. Brown, "professed to have visions, and to see numbers of spirits, as plain as they saw their brethren and sisters, and to look into the invisible world, and to converse with many of the departed spirits, who had lived in the different ages of the world, and to learn and to see their different states in the world of spirits. Some they saw, they said, were happy, and others miserable. Several declared, that they often were in dark nights surrounded with a light, sometimes in their rooms, but more often when walking the road, so strong, that they could see to pick up a pin, which light would continue a considerable time, and enlighten them on their way. Many had gifts to speak languages, and many miracles were said to be wrought, and strange signs and great wonders shown, by the believers.
And these poor creatures believed, and at this day do believe, all this. They are not, you will observe, artful impostors, for the Shakers are, certainly, a harmless and a moral people, and yet they confidently asserted (and continue to assert), that they had these miraculous powers of "discerning spirits, speaking with tongues, and doing great signs and wonders" Nevertheless, it must be evident, that these powers were conferred upon them only by their enthusiasm and heated imaginations.
I have heard of the Shakers before, and have been informed, that those in New England are so convinced of their miraculous capabilities, that they have been known, in order to save their neighbours the trouble of applying to the tinman, charitably to offer to join the gaping seams of their worn-out tin coffee-pots, and other vessels, "without the carnal aid of solder," merely by a touch of their wonder-working fingers.
Mr. Brown, in describing their mode of conduct, in their religious assemblies, unwittingly gives a striking exposition of the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians. He describes "the brethren and sisters" praying, singing, dancing, and preaching in known and unknown tongues, and sticking out their arms, and extatically following their noses round the church.
He says, respecting such as speak in unknown tongues, "they have a strong faith in this gift, and think a person greatly favoured who has the gift of tongues; and at certain times, when the mind is overloaded with a fiery, strong zeal, it must have vent some way or other; their faith, or belief, at the time being in this, gift, and a will strikes the mind according to their faith, and then such break out in a fiery, energetic manner, and speak they know not what, as I have done several times. Part of what I spake at one time was—
"Liero devo jerankemango, ad sileambano, durem subramo, deviranto diacerimango, jasse vah pe cri evanigalio; de vom grom seb crinom, os vare cremo domo."
"When a person runs on in this manner for any length of time, I now thought it probable that he would strike into different languages, and give some words in each their right pronounciation, as I have heard some men of learning, who were present, say a few words, were Hebrew, three or four Greek, and a few Latin."
In another place he gives an account of his maiden speech in an unknown tongue; and it is easy to conjecture how he came by his gift, by attending to what passed before he broke out. Here it is:— "We danced for near an hour, several turned round like tops, and, to crown all, I had a gift to speak in some other language; but the greatest misfortune was, that neither I, nor any other, understood what I said."
My reader will not be surprized after this, at hearing them say, that the spectators of "these signs and wonders," instead of being properly affected, considered the performers as "out of their wits."
Let us, now, compare this account with what Paul says upon similar subjects, in the 14th chapter of the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians. He advises them, in exercising their gifts, to a discreet use of them, as follows:—"He who speaketh in an unknown tongue, speaketh not to men, but to God, for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries." Again: "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to battle? So, likewise, unless ye utter by the tongue words to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken, for ye will speak to the air?" And as others did not understand the Corinthians speaking in unknown tongues, so it seems, too, that the Corinthians themselves were in the same unfortunate predicament with the Shakers, in not knowing the meaning of what they themselves said on these occasions. This is clear from this argument of Paul:—"Wherefore, let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue, pray that he may interpret." Why, pray that he may interpret, if he understood himself? Does a man who speaks with understanding a foreign language, need to pray that he may be enabled to interpret what he says in his mother tongue? Surely every man who understands himself, can naturally do this? After more to the same purpose, Paul wisely concludes his argument by declaring, "that he would rather speak in the church five words with understanding, (i. e., knowing what he said) that he might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." And he fortifies his reasoning by this sensible remark, "If, therefore, the whole church come together into one place, and all speak in unknown tongues, and those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, come in, will they not say, that ye are mad?" as the spectators said of the Shakers.
He advises them, therefore, to conduct their assemblies with less uproar than formerly, and exhorts them as follows:—"How is it, then, brethren, when you come together, hath each of you a psalm, hath he a doctrine, hath he an unknown tongue, hath he a revelation? Let all things be done to edifying. Now, if any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at most by three, and that in succession, and let one interpret; but if there be no interpreter, let such keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God. And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others discern. But if any thing be revealed to another who sitteth by, let the first keep silence. For ye may all prophecy, one by one, that all may learn, and all may be exhorted."
I presume it will be needless to point out more particularly, the perfect correspondence between "the spiritual gifts" of the Corinthians, and those of the Shakers. And I would ask the venerable Paley, if it were now possible, whether an apostolical epistle of Ann Lee, William Lee, or Whitaker, (the spiritual mother and. fathers of the Shakers,) addressed to them, and seriously giving directions about the use of "their gifts of working miracles, and speaking with tongues," would be sufficient to prove that they really had those gifts? And, moreover, (to make the cases more analogous) suppose that the Shakers from this time become the dominant sect throughout the religious world, and kept the upper hand during a series of a thousand or two thousand years, taking especial care to collect and burn up every writing of their enemies and opposers. How should we, (supposing ourselves all the while invisible spectators of the thing), how should we pity our posterity, who, at the end of that period, should be gravely told by the learned and mitred advocates of Shakerism, that the miracles of the founders, and first followers of their religion were certainly true, for that they were honest and good men, with no motive to deceive, and had addressed letters to their first converts, wherein they make express mention of their possessing these gifts; and give in the simplest and most unassuming manner, directions for using them. Suppose, then, that our posterity, having been deprived by the prudential care of the old fathers of the then established church, of the means of detecting the fallacy which we possess; suppose that they should believe all this, and devoutly praise God every day for confirming the doctrines of his servants Lee and Whitaker, " with signs following"—how should we pity their delusion, and. what should we think of the unlucky authors of it.
From all this, I think my reader must be sensible how extremely fallacious are all proofs of doctrines, pretended to be from God, derived from Miracles said to have been wrought in proof of their Divine authority.
Miracles are related to have been performed in support of all religions without exception; even the followers of Mahomet, though he did not claim the power of working miracles, have said that he did. And they will tell you, that in proof of his mission, he, in the presence of hundreds, divided the moon with his finger, and put half of it in his pocket!*
Speaking of the gift of healing diseases, which the Primitive Christians claimed. Dr. Middleton, in his Free Inquiry, observes— "But be that as it will the pretence of curing diseases, by a miraculous power, was so suc-cessfully maintained in the heathen world by fraud, and craft, that when it came to be challenged by the Christians, it was not capable of exciting any attention to it among those who themselves pretended to the same power; which, although the certain effect of imposture, was yet managed with so much art, that the Christians could neither deny nor detect it; but insisted always that it was performed by demons, or evil spirits, deluding mankind to their ruin; and from the supposed reality of the fact, they inferred the reasonableness of believing what was more credibly affirmed by the Christians, to be performed by the power of the true God. "We do not deny says Athenagoras, "that, in different places, cities, and countries, there are some extraordinary works performed in the name of idols, from which some have received benefit, others harm." And then he goes on to prove that they were not performed by God, but by demons. Doctor Middleton then proceeds, (p. 77.) "whatever proof, then, the primitive Church had among themselves, yet it could have but little effect towards making proselytes among those who pretended to the same gift; possessed more largely, and exerted more openly, than in the private assemblies of the Christians. For in the Temple of Esculapius, all kinds of diseases were believed to be publicly cured by the pretended help of that deity: in proof of which, there were erected in each temple columns, or tables of brass, and marble, on which a distinct narrative of each particular cure was inscribed." He also observes that—"Pausanias writes, ' that in the temple at Epidauras there were many columns anciently of this kind, and six of them remaining in his time inscribed with the names of men and women cured by the god, with "an account of their several cases, and the method of their cure; and that there was an old pillar besides, which stood apart, dedicated to the memory of Hippolytus, who had been raised from the dead!' Strabo, also, another grave writer, informs us, that these temples were constantly filled with the sick, imploring the help of the god: and that they had tables hanging around them, in which all the miraculous cures were described." Dr. Middleton then proceeds thus—"There is a remarkable fragment of one of these tables still extant, and exhibited by Gruter, in his collection, as it was found in the ruins of Esculapius' Temple, in the island of the Tyber, at Rome, which gives an account of two blind men restored to sight, by Esculapius, in the open view, and with loud declamations of the people, acknowledging the manifest power of the god!!" Upon which he remarks, that "the learned Montfaucon makes this reflection, ' that in this, are seen either the wiles of the Devil, or the tricks of Pagan priests, suborning men to counterfeit diseases, and miraculous cures.'" He then proceeds, (p.79)—"Now, though nothing can support the belief, or credit of miracles more authentically than public monuments erected in proof, and memory of them at the time they were performed, yet, in defiance of that authority, it is certain all these Heathen miracles were pure forgeries, contrived to delude the multitude; and, in truth, this particular claim of curing diseases miraculously, affords great room for such a delusion, and a wide field for the exercise of craft."
I need not observe, that by far the greater part of the miracles recorded in the New Testament, are casting out devils, and healing diseases, powers claimed by the heathens as well as these Christians: and these miracles, (undoubtedly false) are as well, if not far better authenticated than those of the New Testament: for books may be forged, but public monuments of brass and marble are not so capable of being so: and these are always con-sidered as better evidence for facts than books. What then will the Christian say to this? for since these miracles, recorded on brass and marble, inscribed with the narratives of them almost immediately after the occurrence of them, are unquestionably Lies; what can he pretend to say of those recorded in books certainly written many years after the events they record, and, as will be proved hereafter, more than suspected to be apocryphal? And what would become of truth? and who would be able to distinguish truth from falsehood, in matters of religion, if attested miracles, such as these, are sufficient to establish the divine authority of doctrines said to be confirmed by them? Miracles are as numerous, and better authenticated on the part of Jupiter, Apollo, and Esculapius, than on the part of Christianity. They are strong on the part of Popery against Protestantism: for the Roman Catholic Churches in Europe are full of monumental records of miracles wrought by the Virgin Mary and the Saints, in favour of their worshippers. Nay, there never were miracles better proved, as far as human testimony could prove them, than the famous miracle mentioned by Gibbon in his History of the Roman Empire, where he relates the story of the Arian Vandals cutting out the tongues of a great number of orthodox Athanasians, who, strange to tell, preached as much to the purpose, in favour of the Trinity, without their tongues, as they did with them! Never was there a miracle better authenticated by testimony than this. It is mentioned by all the Christian writers of that age. It is mentioned by two contemporary Roman historians, one of whom lived in Constantinople, and who says he looked into the mouths of some of these confessors, who had in fact their tongues cut out entirely by the roots; and it is recorded in the archives of the Eastern Empire.
Is not this testimony enough; and yet, is it sufficient to prove the doctrine of the Trinity? Is it adequate to prove, that "the ancient of days" became a little child; was born of a woman, suckled, *******, &c., &c.; and that "He who liveth for ever and ever," was whipped, was hanged, and died upon the cross, and was buried? Can this miracle, well attested as it is, prove for truths, such strange, such shocking things as these?
The miracles of the Abbe Paris, too, are proved to be true, as far as testimony can prove any thing of the kind. For they happened within a hundred years, were seen by many, and were sworn to before the magistrates; by some of the most respectable inhabitants of the city of Paris. How can men, who pretend to believe the miracles of the New Testament upon such meagre evidence as they have in their favour, consistently reject the miracles of the Abbe Paris? attested by evidence recent, respectable, and so strong, that to this day, the juggle, and the means by which so many respectable people were imposed upon, have never yet been thoroughly developed, and explained.
APPLICATION OF THE TWO TESTS, SAID, IN DEUTERONOMY, TO HAVE BEEN GIVEN BY GOD, AS DISCRIMINATING A TRUE PROPHET FROM A FALSE ONE, TO THE CHARACTER AND ACTIONS OF JESUS.
In the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy God says,—"The Prophet which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that Prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, how shall we know (or distinguish,) the word which the Lord hath not spoken?" Here is the criterion. "When a Prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass; that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken. That Prophet hath spoken presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him."
Again, Deuteronomy 13, "If there arise among you a Prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and give you a sign or a wonder (i. e. a miracle,) and the sign or wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee saying, let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them: thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that Prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proveth (or tryeth) you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all you heart, and with all your soul."
And now Christian reader, I ask you what you think of miracles, or "signs and wonders," as proof of a divine mission, to teach doctrines novel and innovating, after such clear and unequivocal language as this, from such high authority? I am sure, that if you are a sincere lover of truth, you must certainly abandon that ground as untenable. For, from these direc-tions, the Jews were commanded these things#. 1. That the Prophet who presumes to speak a word, as from God, which God hath not commanded him to speak, must be put to death. 2. That the test, or criterion by which they are to discern a false prophet from a true one, is this: not his miracles, but the fulfillment of his words. If what he says comes to pass, he is a true prophet; if the event foretold does not take place, he has spoken presump-tuously, and must die the death. 3. "If any man arise in Israel," and advise, or teach them to worship any other besides the Eternal; and in proof of the divinity of his mission promise a sign, or a wonder, and in fact does bring to pass the sign or wonder promised, he is nevertheless, not to be hearkened to; but to be put to death. And these criteria given by God, or Moses, as the means whereby they might know a true Prophet from a false one, most exquisitely prove his wisdom and foresight. For if he had not expressly excluded miracles, or "signs and wonders," from being proof of the divinity of doctrines, the barriers which divided his religion from those of idolaters, must have been broken down; since, as we have seen, well attested miracles (meaning always by miracles, "signs and wonders," brought to pass by human agency,) are related to have been performed in proof of the divinity of every religion under Heaven. But veritable prophecy is, and can he a proof proper only to a true Revelation, because none can know what is to come but God, and those sent by him. Accordingly, we find that the Jewish Prophets were not acknowledged as such, but on account of their foretelling the truth, or being supposed to do so.
Thus, it is said, 1 Samuel iii. 20, "And all Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, knew, that Samuel was established to be a Prophet of the Lord." Why? Because he performed miracles? No! he performed none. But he was known as a Prophet because "the Lord was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground," i. e. fail of their accomplishment. The same, may be said of all the Hebrew Prophets, from Nathan to Malachi. For though Elijah and Elisha performed miracles, yet it was not in proof of their mission, for that was established before; but these miracles were occasional acts of beneficence, or protection, but were never considered, or offered by them as proofs of their being sent from God.
These things being by this time, it is hoped, made plain and evident, let us now test the character of Jesus as a true Prophet, by the criteria, by Christians, and by the Jews, believed to be given by God. If his prophecies were fulfilled, and if he taught the worship of no other being besides the Eternal, he was, according to the Old Testament, a true Prophet. But if any of his prophecies were not fulfilled, or, if he taught the worship of any other Being besides the Eternal, he was not a true Prophet.
And here it must be recollected, that those prophecies of Jesus only, can be brought forward in this question, which were committed to writing, before the event foretold came to pass; and therefore all Jesus' prophecies concerning the manner and circumstances of his death, &c., must be set aside, as all those events are allowed to have taken place before any of the Gospels were written; and of course it is not certain that Jesus did actually foretell them. This is acknowledged by Christians; and accordingly they confine themselves to bringing forward as conclusive evidence in their favour, his Prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem, and the events following. Here it is. Luke xxi. 21. "When ye shall see Jerusalem com-passed with armies, then know, that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let them which are in the midst of it, depart out, and let not them which are in the counter, enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them which give suck in those days. For there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and waves roaring, man's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then, shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud, with power, and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable, Behold the fig tree and all the trees. When they now shoot forth, ye see, and know of your own selves, that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
Such is the prophecy, and on it I would remark, first, that what Jesus here foretells concerning Jerusalem did in fact come to pass. But that was not a fulfillment of his prophecy, but of Daniel's, who did, as is set down in the 7th chapter of this work, expressly foretell the utter destruction of the city and the temple. And it was from Daniel that Jesus obtained his know-ledge of the approach of that event. For he expressly cites Daniel, Matthew xxiv. 15; Mark xiii. 14; and you will please to observe reader, that he refers to him in this quotation from Luke, in the words, "these be the days of vengeance that all things which are written, may be fulfilled. So that in foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem he did no more than any Jew of that age, who attentively read their Scriptures, could have done, and. been no prophet either.
2. It would have been better for his reputation as a Prophet, if he had stopped short where Daniel stopped. For what he goes on to foretell has not been fulfilled. For he proceeds to say, that "there shall be signs in the sun, and the moon, and the stars," &c. All this is taken from the 2nd chapter of Joel, who says that such things shall take place; not, however, at the destruction of Jerusalem, but in "the latter days," at the time of the restoration of Israel. So that here Jesus has been rather unlucky. For, in truth, there were no signs in the sun, and the moon, and the stars, at that time; neither was there upon earth any "great distress of nations," except in Judea. Nor were "the powers of heaven" shaken. Certainly, they did not see Jesus "coming in the clouds of heaven, with power, and great glory;" and most assuredly, that generation did pass away, and many others since, and "all these things" have not been fulfilled.
I know very well, and have very often smiled over the contrivances by which learned Christians have endeavoured to save the credit of this prophecy. They say that—it is a figurative prophecy relating entirely to the destruction of Jerusalem, which did in fact take place in that generation; that the expressions about the "distress of nations," and "the sea and waves roaring," the "signs in heaven," &c., are merely poetical; and that the shaking of the powers of heaven was merely the shaking and pulling-down the stones of the temple, figuratively called heaven; and that the glorious coming of Jesus "in the clouds of heaven, with power, and great glory," meant merely, that he sent Titus, and the Romans to destroy, Jerusalem, or perhaps might have been an invisible spectator himself.
The reader will easily see, that all this is nonsense. And the Commentator Grotius, after meddling a great while in this troublesome business, at length ventures to insinuate, that God might have suffered Jesus to be in a mistake about the time of his second coming, and to tell the Apostles what he did, for the sake of keeping up their spirits!
But to annihilate the figurative hypothesis of these well-meaning Commentators at once, it will be only necessary to bring forward the testimony following. 1. The other Evangelists make an express distinction between the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of Jesus; and not only so, but represent him as saying, that after that event, (i. e., the destruction of Jerusalem, "in those days," i. e., in the same era in which that event took place,) "the son of man shall come," &c. Witness for me, Mark, chapter xiii. 24:—"But in those days, after that tribulation, (i. e., the destruction of Jerusalem) shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the son of man coming in the clouds, with power and glory; and-then shall he send his angels, and shall gather his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth, to the uttermost part of heaven Verily, I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be accomplished." This is decisive, and cannot be evaded.
2. The Apostles and Primitive Christians believed that Jesus would come in that generation, as is evident from many passages of the New Testament. Paul's Epistles to the Thessalonians prove this, and contain an argument to them, intended to allay their terrors, or their impatience. John says in his first Epistle, chapter ii. 18, "Little children, it is the last hour; and as ye have heard that Antichrist should come, even now (or already) there are many Antichrists, whereby know that it is the last hour." Many passages of similar import might be brought forward. The meaning of it is this—It appears from Paul's 2nd Epistle to the Thessalonians, that just before the second coming of Jesus, there was a personage to appear who was to be called Antichrist, i. e., an enemy to the Messiah. (This notion they got from the interpretation given by the angel of the vision of the "little horn" in Daniel.) John, therefore, seeing many Antichrists, i. e., opposers of the pretensions of Jesus, considered the sign, and thus knew that it was ''the last hour," and that his master was soon to appear.
It appears from the 2nd Epistle of Peter, chapter iii., that there were many in his days who scoffed at his master, saying, contemptuously, "where is the promise of his coming?" And Peter replies by telling them that their contempt is misplaced, for that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." John, in the 1st chapter of Revelations, says, concerning the coming of Jesus, "Behold he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him." And in the last chapter of Revelations he represents Jesus, as saying, "Surely I come quickly"!
In short, the Apostles, when they wanted to encourage their desponding proselytes, they usually did it with such words as these,—"Be anxious for nothing, the Lord is at hand."—"Behold! the Judge standeth before the day."—"Be patient, therefore, brethren, (says James) for the coming of the Lord cometh nigh." And this persuasion did not end, as might be expected, with that century; for we find that the heathens frequently laughed at the expec-tations of the Primitive Christians, who, till the fourth century, never gave up the expectation of the impending advent of their master. Nay, so rooted was the idea in their minds, that, understanding the words of Jesus concerning John, "if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee," to mean that that disciple should not die, but survive till the glorious appearance of his lord, so far were they from being convinced of the vanity of their expectations by that Apostle's actual decease, that they insisted, that, though he was buried, he was not dead, but only slept, and that the earth over his body rose and fell with the action of his breathing!!
It is now hardly necessary to add, that Jesus did not at all answer the character of a true prophet, when tested by the criterion laid down in Deuteronomy for ascertaining the truth of the claims of a prophet to a divine mission.
Let us now see, whether he taught the worship of other beings beside the Eternal, for if he did, the other test laid down in Deuteronomy will also decide against him. Now, did he not command the worship of himself in these words, "All men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father?" This, certainly, commands to render to Jesus the same homage which is rendered to God. I might prove that his disciples did worship him, by referring to many passages in the New Testament, especially in the Revelations, in the latter part of which, Jesus is represented as saying, "I am the Alpha, and the Omega, the beginning, and the end, the first, and, the last," terms applied to the Eternal in Isaiah, where God says, (as if in express opposition to such doctrine) that "there is no God with him: He knows not any; there was none before him, neither shall there be any after him." I could also adduce many passages relating to the Eternal of Hosts, quoted from the Old Testament, and applied in the New to Jesus. Witness "the following:—John xii. 41, alludes to Isaiah vi. 5; Revelations i. 8,.11, 17, and ii. 8, to Isaiah xli. 4, xliii. 11, and xliv. 6; John xxi. 16, 17, and Revelations ii. 23, to 1st Kings viii. 39; John vii. 9, Jeremiah xi. 20, and xvii. 20, Revelations xx. 12,. to Isaiah xl. 10; and, to crown all, Jesus, in Revelations i. 13, 14,15, 16, 17, is described in almost the same words as is the Supreme God; "the Ancient of Days" in Daniel, 7th chapter; and were there not other proofs in abundance to this purpose, this resemblance alone would decide me.
I now leave it to the cool judgment of the reader, whether Jesus prophecied truly, or did, or did not, teach the duty of paying religious homage to other beings besides God? and, if so, it is consequent, according to the tests by Christians acknowledged to be given by God himself in Deuteronomy, that if Jesus was not sent by, or from, him; for if he was—God's own words would be contradicted by God's own deeds.
EXAMINATION OF THE EVIDENCE, EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL, IN FAVOR OF THE CREDIBILITY OF THE GOSPEL HISTORY.
In the preceding chapters, I have taken the New Testament as I found it, and have argued upon the supposition that Jesus and the apostles really said, and reasoned, as has been stated. I will now endeavour to show, by an examination of the authenticity of the four gospels, that it is not certain that they were really guilty of such mistakes as are related of them in those books.
*The life and doctrines of Jesus, and his followers, are contained in the pieces composing the volume called the New Testament. The genuineness of the books, i. e., whether they were written by those to whom they are ascribed, must be judged of, from the external testimony concerning them, and from internal marks in the books themselves; for the miraculous acts therein, and therein only, contained and related, cannot prove the truth and authenticity of the books, because the authority and credibility of the books themselves must be firmly established, before the miracles related in them can reasonably be admitted as real facts.
Now, the external evidence in favour of these books, is the testimony of those men called "the fathers;" and as the value of testimony depends upon the character of the witnesses, it would be proper, first, to state as much as, can be learned of these men. As time will not permit me to adduce all that might be said upon this subject, I shall here only take upon me to assert, that they were most credulous, superstitious, and weak men, and, what is worse, made no scruple of falsifying, to support and favour what they called "the cause of truth;" for they were writers of apocryphal books, attributing them to the apostles, and, moreover, great miracle-mongers, who vamped up stories of prodigies to delude their followers, and which they themselves knew to be false. I say, I take upon me to assert this; and to confirm and establish this accusation, I refer the reader to Dr. Middleton's "Free Enquiry," a learned Christian, who, therefore, had no interest to misrepresent this matter; and he will there find these accusations amply verified, and traits of character proved upon them. By no means favourable to the credibility of their testimony.
The first of these Fathers whose testimony is usually adduced to prove the authenticity of the Gospels, is Papias, a Disciple of John. The character given of him by Eusebius is, that "he was a superstitious, and credulous man." And this is easily proved by recording some of the stories, concerning Jesus, and his followers, written by this Papias in a book extant in the time of Eusebius. One of these stories is mentioned by Irenoeus, who says, that Papias had it from John; who, according to Papias, said, that Jesus said, that—" The days shall come, in which there shall be vines, which shall severally have ten thousand branches; and every one of these branches shall have ten thousand lesser branches; and every one of these branches shall have ten thousand twigs; and every one of these twigs shall have ten thousand clusters of grapes; and every one of these grapes being pressed shall yield two hundred and seventy-five gallons of wine. And when a man shall take hold of any of these sacred bunches, another bunch shall cry out "I am a better bunch, take me, and bless the Lord by me!" There's a Munchausen for you, reader! Well! this Papias is the first witness who lived after Matthew, who has spoken of his Gospel. He lived about the year 116 after Jesus. And what does he say of it? Why this. "Matthew composed a writing of the Oracles (meaning without doubt the Doctrines of the Gospel,) in the Hebrew Language, and every one interpreted them as he was able." So far as this Testimony goes it is positive evidence, that the only Gospel of Matthew extant in 116, was extant in Hebrew; and there was then no translation, of it, for "every one interpreted as he was able." The present gospel called of Matthew was then not written by him, for it is in Greek. And that it has not at all the air of being a translation is asserted by most of the learned. As it stands then, it was not written by Matthew: and that it cannot be a translation of Matthew's Hebrew, is not only plain from the circumstance of its style, and other marks understood by Biblical Critics, but can also be proved by another story related by this same Papias concerning the manner of the death of Judas. "His body, and head (says Papias) became so swollen, that at length he could not get through a street in Jerusalem, where two chariots might pass abreast, and having fallen to the ground, he—burst asunder.
Now though this ridiculous story is undoubtedly false, yet it is not credible that Papias, who had so great a reverence for the Apostles as to collect and gather all "their sayings," would so flatly by his story of the death of Judas contradict the story of Matthew, if the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew contained that part of the Greek Gospel of Matthew which relates the manner of Judas' Death.
Justin Martyr lived after Papias, in the middle of the second century; and though he relates many circumstances agreeing in the main with those recorded in the Gospels, and appears to quote sayings of Jesus from some book or books; yet it is substantially acknowledged by Dr. Marsh, the learned annotator on Michaelis's Introduction, that these quotations are so unlike the words, and circumstances in the received Evangelists to which they appear to correspond, that one of two things must be true; either, that Justin, who lived 140 years after Jesus, had never seen any of the present Gospels; or else, that they were in his time in a very different state from what they now are.
The next Christian father who mentions the Gospel of Matthew is Irenoeus, who says also that "Matthew wrote his gospel in the Hebrew Language." The character of Irenoeus is discoverable from his work against the Heresies of his time, to that I refer the Reader, who will find him to have been a zealous, though a very credulous, and ignorant man; for he believed the story of Papias just quoted, and many others equally absurd. He however furnishes this important intelligence, that in the second century, the Christian world was overrun with heresy, and a swarm of apocryphal, and spurious Books were received by many as genuine.
The next witness in favour of the Gospel is Tertullian, who lived in the latter end of the second century. And the soundness of his Judgment, and his capability to distinguish the genuine Gospels from among a hundred apocryphal ones, and above all his regard for truth, may be judged of from these proofs given by himself. He asserts upon his own knowledge, "I know it," says he—"that the corpse of a dead Christian, at the first breath of the prayer made by the priest, on occasion of its own funeral, removed its hands from its sides, into the usual posture of a supplicant; and when the service was ended, restored them again to their former situation." (Tertul. de anima c. 51.) And he relates as a fact, which he, and all the orthodox of his time credited, that—"the body of another Christian already interred moved itself to one side of the grave to make room for another corpse which was going to be laid by it." And it is on the testimony of such men as these, that the authenticity of the gospels entirely depends as to external evidence; for these are all the witnesses that can be produced as speaking of them, who lived within two hundred years after Jesus: Three men, (for Justin cannot be reckoned as a witness in favour of the gospels.) Three men, who are all of them evidently credulous, and two of whom are certainly *****.
To convince a thinking man that histories recording such very extraordinary, ill supported, improbable facts as are contained in the gospels are divine, or even really written by the men to whom they are ascribed, and are not either some of the many spurious productions with which (as we learn from Irenoeus) that early age abounded, calculated to astonish the credulous, and superstitious, or else writings of authors who were themselves infected with the grossest superstitious credulity; of what use can it be to adduce the testimony of the very few writers, of the same, or next succeeding age, when the very reading of their works shews him that they themselves were tainted with that same superstitious credulity, of which are accused the real authors of the New Testament?
It is an obvious rule in the admission of evidence in any cause whatsoever, that the more important the matter to be determined by it is, the more unsullied and unexceptionable ought the characters of the witnesses to be. And when no court of Justice, in determining a question of fraud to the amount of six pence, will admit the' testimony of witnesses who are themselves notoriously convicted of the same offence of which the defendant is accused; how can it be expected, that any reasonable, unprejudiced person, should admit similar evidence to be of weight, in a case of the greatest importance possible, not to himself only; but to the whole human race?
But there is still a greater defect in the testimony of those early writers, than their superstitious credulity, I mean their disregard of honour, and veracity, in whatever concerned the cause of their particular system.
Though Luke asserts, that many (even before he wrote his histories for the use of Theophilus,) had written upon the same subject: (who of course must have been of the Jewish nation,) and many more must have been written afterwards, whose writings must have been particularly valuable yet so singularly industrious have the fathers, and succeeding sons of the orthodox church been, in destroying every writing upon the subject of Christianity, which they could not by some means, or other, apply to the support of their own unholy superstition, that no work of importance of any Christian writer, within the three first centuries, hath been permitted to come down to us, except those books which they have thought fit to adopt, and transmit to us as the canon of apostolic scripture; and the works of a few other writers, who were all of them, not only converts from Paganism, but men who had been educated and well instructed in the Philosophic Schools of the latter Platonists, and Pythagoreans.
The established maxim of these schools was, that it was not lawful only, but commendable to deceive, and assert falsehoods for the sake of promoting what they considered as the cause of truth and piety, and the effects of this maxim, which was fully acted upon by both orthodox Christians, and heretics, produced a multiplicity of false, and spurious writings wherewith the second century abounded.
Nay, they did not spare from the operation of this maxim, the scriptures themselves. For they stuffed their copies of the Septuagint with a number of interpolated pretended prophecies concerning Jesus, and his death upon the cross; forgeries as weak, and contemptible, and clumsy in themselves, as they were impious and wicked. Whoever desires to see a number of them; may find them in the dispute, or dialogue of Justin with Trypho the Jew; where he will see the simple Justin bringing them out passage after passage against the stubborn Israelite, who contents himself with coolly answering, that these marvellous prophecies were not to be found in his Hebrew bible!
There is also another well known, incontrovertible proof of the deceit and falsehood of the leading Christians of early times, of which every person in the least conversant with the ecclesiastical history of those times must be convinced—their pretended power of working miracles! On this subject I shall say nothing, but refer the reader to the work of Dr. Middleton already mentioned, for an ample account of their lying wonders, which they imposed as miraculous upon the simple people.
With regard to the internal evidence for the authenticity of the writings; composing the New Testament, it is still less satisfactory than the external evidence. And this may be well believed, when the reader is informed that the great Semler, after spending his life in the study of ecclesiastical history; and antiquities, which he is allowed to have understood better than any before him, affirmed to his astonished coreligionists, that, except the Gospel of John, and the Apocalypse, the whole New Testament was a collection of forgeries written by the partizans of the Jewish and Gentile parties in the Christian church, and entitled apostolic, in order the better to answer their purpose. This opinion has been in part adopted in England, by a learned and shrewd clergyman named Evanson, who has almost demonstrated, that the Greek Gospel of Matthew was written in the second century after the birth of Jesus by a Gentile. For he proves that it could not be written by a Jew, on account of geographical mistakes, and manifest ignorance of Jewish customs. He also gives good reasons for rejecting the authenticity of some of the epistles. In short, he has poured such a flood of light upon the eyes of his terrified brethren, as will, ere long, no doubt enable them to see a little clearer than heretofore.
He gives several instances of geographical blunders in Matthew. I shall mention only one. Matthew says, in the 2nd chapter, that when Joseph, the husband of Mary, returned from Egypt, "hearing that Archelaus reigned in Judea, he was afraid to go thither, and therefore turned aside, into the parts of Galilee." Now this, as will appear from a map of Palestine, is just like saying, "a man at Philadelphia, intending to go to the State of New York, on his route heard something which made him afraid to go thither, and therefore he turned aside—into Boston!"
That the author of that Gospel was ignorant of Jewish customs will be evident from the following circumstances. He says Jesus told Peter, that before the cock crew he would deny him thrice; and that afterwards, when Peter was cursing and swearing, saying "I know not the man! immediately the cock crew." Now it is unfortunate for the credit of this story, that it is well known, that in conformity with Jewish customs, at that time subsisting, no cocks were allowed to be in Jerusalem, where Jesus was apprehended. This is known, and acknowledged by learned Christians, who have extricated themselves from this difficulty, by proving that the crowing of the cock, here mentioned, does not mean, as it appears to mean, absolutely the crowing of a cock, but that it means—what dost thou think reader? why it means—-the sound of a trumpet!!*
According to Luke, as soon as Jesus was dead, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate, and begged his body, and hasted to bury it, because the Sabbath (which began at sunset,) drew on; that his female disciples attended the burial; observed how the body was placed in the sepulchre, and returned and prepared spices and ointments to embalm it with, before the Sabbath commenced; and then rested the Sabbath day, according to the commandment.
The pretended Matthew, however, tells us, that "when the even was come (i. e., when the Sabbath day was actually begun,) Joseph went to beg the body—took it down, wrapped it in linen, and buried it; and that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, were sitting over against the sepulchre. From the time that this writer has thought fit to allot for the burial of Jesus, it is evident, that he was not only no Jew, but so ignorant of the customs of the Jews, that he did not know that their day always began with the evening, or he would never have employed, Joseph in doing what no Jew would, nor dared to have done, after the commencement of the Sabbath. He takes no notice at all of the preparation made by the women, mentioned by Luke; for that would not have agreed with the sequel of his story. But to make up for that omission, he informs us of a circumstance not mentioned at all by the other Evangelists. For he tells us that "on the next day which followeth the day of preparation, the Chief Priests, and Pharisees came together unto Pilate," &c. "The next day which followeth the day of preparation!!"—such is the periphrasis that he uses for the Sabbath day! It is well known that among the Jews it was, and is, customary to prepare, and set out, in the afternoon of the Friday, all the food and necessaries for every family during the Sabbath day. Because they were forbidden to light a fire, or do any servile work, on that day; and therefore Friday was very properly called "the day of preparation." But it appears to me next to impossible, that any Jew would call the sabbath "the day that followeth the day of the preparation." Yet this singular historian so denominates it, and moreover, goes on to inform us, that the chief priests, and Pharisees went to Pilate to ask for a guard to place round the sepulchre, till the third day, to prevent his disciples from stealing away his body, and then saying, that he was risen from the dead; and that after obtaining the governor's permission, "they, went, and secured the sepulchre by sealing the stone that was rolled against it; and setting a watch." Though there appears nothing very strange in this account to a Christian, yet, I assure my reader, that to the Jews, it ever did, and must appear utterly incredible. For it is wonderful! that the Jewish rulers, and the rigorous Pharisees should in so public a manner thus violate the precept for observing the Sabbath day; for the penalty of this action of theirs was no less than death! More wonderful still is it that they should have so much better attended to, and comprehended the meaning of the prediction of Jesus to his disciples, than his own disciples did; and most wonderful of all, that a Roman Proconsul should consent to let his troops keep watch round a tomb, for fear it should be thought that a dead man was come to life again.
But though our author's history of these extraordinary facts is neither consistent with reason, and probability, nor with the other histories of the same event; it proceeds in pretty strict conformity to the manner in which it sets out. For to convince us still more fully that the author was totally ignorant of the mode of computing time in use among the Jews, and habituated to that in use among the Greeks and Romans? He reckons the Sabbath to last till day light on Sunday morn, and says, (chapter xxviii.), "that in the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn, towards the first day of the week," the two Marys before mentioned, came, (not as in Luke, to embalm the body, for, with a guard round the sepulchre, that would have been impracticable, but) to see the sepulchre. "Whilst they were there, the author tells us, there was another great earthquake, and an angel descended, rolled away the stone, and sat upon it, at whose sight, the soldiers trembled, and were frighted to death. But to prevent the like effect of his appearance upon the women, he said unto them, fear not ye, for I know that ye seek Jesus who was crucified. That the women as well as the soldiers were present at the descent of this angel, appears not only from there being nobody else, by whom these uncommon circumstances could have been related, but also by the pronoun personal ye, inserted in the original Greek, which in that language is never done, unless it be emphatically to mark such a distinction, or antithesis, as there was on this occasion, between them and the Roman guard. Here, however, the author is inadvertently inconsistent with himself, as well as with the other evangelists; and forgetting that the sole intent of rolling away the stone, was to open a passage, absolutely necessary to the body of Jesus to come forth out of the sepulchre; and that if he had risen and come forth after the angel had rolled it away, both the women and the soldiers must have seen him rise, he makes the angel bid them look into the sepulchre, to see—that he was not there! and tell them that he was already risen; and that he was gone before them into Galilee, where they should see him! In their way, the author adds, Jesus himself met the women, and said, "be not afraid, go tell my brethren to go into Galilee, and there shall they see me." He says that the eleven apostles went into Galilee, to an appointed mountain, and saw him there; notwithstanding that some of them were so incredulous, as not to believe even the testimony of their own senses.
In the interim, whilst the women were going to the apostles, the author tells us, "some of the watch;" some strictly disciplined Roman soldiers left their station to bring an account of what had passed, not to the Governor their General, nor to any of their own officers—but to the chief priests of the Jews! that they assembled a council of the elders upon the occasion, and after deliberating what was to be done, induced the soldiers, by large bribes, to run the risk of being put to death themselves, upon the highly improbable chance of the Jewish rulers having influence sufficient with the Roman Proconsul to prevail on him to submit to the indelible infamy of neglecting the discipline of the army under his command, to such a degree, as to suffer an entire guard of soldiers avowedly to sleep upon their station, without any notice being taken of it! and to say "his disciples came and stole him away whilst we slept." This incredible story is another instance how necessary it is, that those who do not adhere closely to the truth, should have extraordinary good memories to enable them to keep clear of absurdities, or palpable contradictions in their narrations. For, consider the circumstances. How were the tongues of these soldiers to be restrained among the inquisitive inhabitants of a large city, (at that time too, greatly crowded on account of the paschal feast,) not only in their way to the chief priests; but also during the whole time while the priests assembled the Sanhedrim, and were deliberating what was to be done? And if that part of the watch, who, the author says, came to inform the chief priests, were poltroons enough for the sake of a bribe to undergo so shameful a disgrace to themselves, as well as to hazard the resentment of their General, how could they undertake that all their comrades who remained at the sepulchre would do the same? and to what purpose could the Jewish council bribe some, without a possibility of some one knowing how the rest of the corps would act? And even supposing all these difficulties surmounted, and that the whole guard had agreed, and persisted in saying, "his disciples stole him away while we slept," of what service could that be to the Jewish rulers? For if the guards were asleep, they could be no evidence to prove that the body was taken away; and it might be just as probable that he might rise to life again while the watch was asleep, as it was if no watch had been set.
In a word, it appears from the numbers of Latin words in Greek characters, which this book contains; from the numerous geographical blunders; and the author's evident ignorance of the customs of the Jews: from the form of Baptism enjoined at the conclusion, which was not in use in the first century, as appears from the form mentioned as then used in the Acts; from the Roman Centurion's being made to call Jesus "a Son of a God," which words in the mouth of a Pagan could only mean that he must be a Demigod, like Bacchus, Hercules, or Esculapius: it is clear that this Gospel is the patched work composition of some convert from the Pagan schools. At any rate, his gospel flatly contradicts the others in several important particulars in the history of the Resurrection. For he represents the apostles as being commanded by the Angel and by Jesus, to go to Galilee, in order to see him; and that they went there, and saw him on a mountain. Yet it is said by the other Evangelists, see Luke, ch. 24, and Acts 1, that he appeared on the saw day of the resurrection to Peter at Jerusalem; to two other disciples as they went to Emmaus; and on the succeeding night to this whole congregation of the Disciples, not in Galilee, but in Jerusalem, and that by his express command the apostles did not go into Galilee, but remained at Jerusalem till the feast of Pentecost.
But as this author differs from the other Evangelists, so they also differ among themselves. And the latter part of the last chapter of Mark is so irreconcilable to the other historians of the resurrection, that in many Manuscripts it is found omitted. And that gospel ends in them, at the eighth Terse of the last chapter. And Mr. West, in his attempted reconciliation of their accounts of the resurrection, is obliged to make a number of postulates, to take a number of things for granted, which might be denied: and after elaborately arranging the stage for the performance, he sets the women, and the disciples a driving backwards, and forwards, from the city to the sepulchre, and from the sepulchre to the city, and so agitated that they forgot to know each other when they cross in their journeys. Notwithstanding his great ingenuity in reconciling contradictions, in which he beats Surenhusius himself, he makes but a sorry piece of work of it after all. He had much letter have let it alone; for his work upon the resurrection which he calls "the main fact of Christianity," displays these contradictions in so glaring a light, that the very laboured ingenuity of his methods of reconciliation, inevitably, suggests "confirmation strong" to the keen-eyed reader, of that irreconcilability which the author endeavors to refute. What rational man therefore can reasonably be required to believe the story of a resurrection pretended to have been seen and known, only by the party interested in making it believed! when in their testimony even, they do not agree but contradict each other?
There is really an immense number of discrepancies and contradiction in the New Testament which the acumen of learned Christians has of late discovered, and pointed out to the world. And Mr. Evanson, in his work on "the Dissonance of the four Evangelists," has collected a mass enough, I should think, to terrify the most determined Reconciliator that ever lived. It is a little remarkable, that Mr. Evanson has asserted, and has proved, the spuriosness of the Gospel ascribed to John, which Semler spared, in the general wreck which he made of the authenticity of the other books of the New Testament. Mr. Evanson says, in his examination of it, what has been said before, that the speeches ascribed to Jesus in it, are most incoherent, contradictory, and falsified by well known facts. And indeed the author of the book itself, sterns to be sensible of this; for he very naturally represents the Jews repeatedly accusing Jesus of being mad. "He hath a devil, and is mad, (say they to the multitude) why hear ye him?" and so in other places. Mr. Evanson considers this work as the composition of a converted Platonist or of a" Platonizing Jew; the latter we think to be the most correct opinion; since it is evident that the author of that gospel had the works of Philo at his fingers' ends, which is more than can be supposed of John. As Semler excepted the Gospel of John only, so Mr. Evanson excepts the Gospel of Luke only from the charge of spuriousness: though he says that it is grossly corrupted, and interpolated. From these corruptions and interpolations, he endeavours to purify it; in which attempt wo think he has had very indifferent success. In short, his work has proved, (what he did not himself contemplate) that the providence of the God of truth has taken care, that so many absurdities and contradictions, should be contained in these books of the New Testament which were written to establish a mistake, as must I conceive, satisfy any man, who has them once pointed out to him, that the doctrine of those books is not, and cannot be from God.
But it may be still asked, "how did this notion of the resurrection of Jesus become current?" "How can you account for the apostles believing such a thing?" We answer sincerely—we cannot absolutely ascertain. The Jews of that age have left no documents upon this business. The origin of the Christian religion is so extremely obscure, that Josephus takes no notice of it at all, (for the passage relating to Christian affairs now found in Josephus are notorious interpolations.) And it is evident from the Chronological, and other mistakes about Jesus, in the Talmud, that the curiosity of the learned Jews had never been interested by Christianity, till so long after Jesus, that the memory of him, and his, was almost entirely lost among that nation. And it appears from the last chapter of the Acts, that when Paul was received by the Jews at Rome, he had not been considered by the Jews of Jerusalem as of sufficient importance, as to cause them to warn their brethren of the Dispersion concerning him; for these Jews tell Paul, on his enquiring, that they had not received any letters concerning him from Jerusalem. So that we can offer nothing but conjecture, to solve the difficulty.
It has been said by some, (and it is by no means an hypothesis destitute of plausibility) that Jesus was indeed crucified, but did not actually die on the cross. It is evident that Pilate was extremely desirous to save his life; and is it impossible that the Roman soldiers, who crucified him, had secret orders? Consider the ciscumstances. He was crucified at our nine in the morning, and was taken from the cross at about three in the afternoon. Now, crucifixion is not a death which kills men in six hours, and men have been known to have lived fastened to the cross for more than two days. Consider, besides, that when the soldiers gave the coup de grace to the two robbers, that they did not break the legs of Jews. This, the author of the Gospel according to John says, they did, in order to fulfill a prophecy; but I leave it to my reader, whether it is not more likely that they did so in order to fulfill secret orders? But to make up for that omission, the author adds, that they pierced Jesus with a spear. Now, besides that this is not mentioned by the other Evangelists, the very manner in which this circumstance is mentioned, and eagerly affirmed by him, looks as if the author was aware of the likelihood of a suspicion of the fact we are trying to prove probable, and that he wrote this in order to obviate it. And after all, the gospel according to John was certainly not written by him, and, therefore, what the author of it observes, may be true, or not. You will observe also, reader, that the body of Jesus was given by Pilate to his friends immediately; a favour never vouchsafed by the Romans in such a case, except "speciali gratia." You will observe also, that the body was taken down by his friends, no doubt with great care; probably was washed from the blood, and rubbed perfectly dry; and was deposited in the cave or sepulchre, with a large quantity of spices, and aromatics. Now suppose that Jesus only swooned on the cross, and that his naked body, after being cleansed as aforesaid, was laid in the new sepulchre where the air was cool and fresh, wrapped in a considerable quantity of dry linen, together with many spices, and aromatics, what could be more opportune, or proper, to stimulate his drowsed senses, and recall the unfortunate sufferer to life? Suppose then, that on awaking from his trance, he disengaged himself, and took himself away as secretly as possible, might not all this have happened? Is it impossible? And does it not look plausible? It is not improbable that he might after this have shewed himself privately to his particular disciples; for you will recollect, reader, that the appearances of Jesus to his disciples after his crucifixion were to them, only, and for the most part in the night. And it is by no means impossible, that the twelve apostles, who were, I doubt not, well meaning men, though extremely simple and credulous; I say it is thus by no means impossible, that they might have believed sincerely, that their master had risen from the dead. This hypothesis must not be considered only as the brain work of an unbelieving sceptic; for it has been (in its main principle) advanced, and elaborately defended by Dr. Paulus the professor of divinity in the principal University in Bavaria.
It is true, that it may be said, that this is all hypothesis, and mere conjecture. We allow it; it is true; and we assert that the account given by the Evangelists is no better, nay, worse than conjecture, as it is a mere forgery of the second century! For no man, we think, who knows all that has been made known by biblical critics, in later years, will now seriously contend for the literal truth of that account. [See Appendix A.]
If all this will not satisfy the man that "believeth all things," our last resource is to demy the act of this resurrection. And this we can do with perfect sang froid, as we know very well that it cannot be proved; for the only testimony in favour of it, are the four evangelists; four witnesses, the like of whose written testimony, with reference thereto, (being as contradic-tory as that is,) to say no more, certainly would not, we believe, be received in a modern court of justice, to settle the fact about a debt of five dollars. And if it be still urged, that such a story is unparalleled, and therefore respectable; we say that it is not unparalleled; as we have an account of a false Messiah, who applied the prophecies to himself, had a forerunner, and more than two hundred thousand followers, who publicly acknowledged him for the Messiah, raised contributions, and supported him magnificently. He too, quoted the prophets as speaking concerning him, and was said to have worked divers miracles, and was ultimately put to death by the order of the Grand Seignor at Constantinople; yet nevertheless was said to have been, seen again by certain of his followers, who wrote books in favour of that fact, and of his Messiahship. Many learned Rabbins enrolled themselves as his disciples, and wrote controversial works in his cause, as Paul did. And to conclude, his party was not entirely extinct within a very few years. Yet, notwithstanding all this, he was an impostor; and no man now believes the stories of his miracles, or his resurrection; notwithstanding that both are affirmed by more recent, more learned, and more respectable testimony than is, or can be, offered, in favour of the Messiahship of Jesus. The name of this famous impostor was Shabathai Tzevi, and his history is given by Basnage, in his history of the Jews, [and by other writers of Jewish history. See on this subject the Sepher Torath Hakenaoth, page 2. The learned Mr. Zedner has extracted the life of Shabetai Tsebi from tins book, and published it, with a German translation, in his Auswahl historischer Stucke aus Hebraischen Schriftstellern, Berlin, 1840.—D.]
I wish the Christian reader to peruse carefully, and cooly, that account; and if he then persists in believing the history given by the evangelists; with such faith as his, he certainly ought to be able to move mountains; and I have no doubt at all, that with such a good natured understanding as his, if he had found in his New Testament the story of Jonah misquoted, and and by a small transposition a la mode de Surenhusius, representing that "Jonah swallowed the whale!" this sturdy "confidence in things not seen," would, I doubt not have enabled him without difficulty to swallow the prophet with the whale in his belly.
OF THE PECULIAR MORALITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, AS IT AFFECTS INDIVIDUALS.
I have already expressed my respect for the character of Jesus. And I again declare, that I request it may be distinctly understood, that by nothing that I have said do I intend to impeach, or to deprecate his moral character. Whatever may have been his defects, or whatever were his foibles, they must have been the faults of his mind, not of his heart. For, though he may hare been a mistaken enthusiast; yet I do firmly believe, That, with such a character as he is represented to have possessed, he could not have been either a hypocrite, or a wilful impostor. And if it be replied, that I have, by some observations on his conduct, indirectly impeached the perfection of his moral character; I answer, that if so, it is certainly my misfortune, but it may not be his fault. To explain this observation, I request the reader to recall to mind, that Jesus wrote nothing himself! that the only accounts we have of him, are contained in books, probably apocryphal, certainly not generally known till after the middle of the second-century from his birth. The gospels now extant do not appear to have been known to Justin Martyr; and the earliest fathers, in their writings, generally quote traditions concernng Jesus, instead of histories. Since these things are so, who knows, but that the authors of the histories of him now extant, have attributed to him words and actions of which he was guiltless. We know how prone mankind are to invent falsehoods concerning eminent men; for instance, Mahomet expressly disclaimed the power of working miracles, and yet the writings of his early followers ascribe hundreds to him. Why may it not be possible then, since Jesus wrote nothing himself, that these books ascribe to him words and actions he neither spake nor performed? God grant that this may one day be proved! For I should rejoice to find the meek, gentle, and amiable man of Nazareth proved guiltless of the follies and impieties attributed to him in the New Testament as I find it, and to reason concerning the works and words of Jesus, as I find them there expressed, yet I would earnestly request the reader to consider me willing and desirous to exempt the author, or rather the cause of the Christian religion, from the reproach of the sentiments I am bound by my regard for one God, and his attributes, to express for the system itself. Yes! I can in my own mind separate Jesus from his religion and his followers. I read with admiration many of his beautiful parables. I shall ever contemplate his mildness, and benevolence with respect; and I peruse, with pity, the recital of his sufferings, and cruel death. All this I have done, and I believe I shall ever do; but I cannot! I cannot, in effect, deny the one living and true God, and renounce my reason, and common sense, by believing all the contradictory and strange doctrines contained in the New Testament.
Having unburthened my mind upon this subject, and frankly expressed my sentiments and feelings with regard to the character of Jesus; I hope I may now be allowed (without incurring the charge of maliciously exposing him, or the twelve apostles, to reproach) to state my opinions with regard to the merit of the moral maxims, ascribed to him and them, in the New Testament. And I again caution the reader, that he is not obliged to lay to his, or their, charge, the mischievous consequences that originated from acting upon these maxims and principles, since it is by no means impossible that they may have been falsely ascribed to him and to them.
Now then, let us attend to the subject of the chapter, viz., the moral maxims ascribed to Jesus. These moral maxims consist of 1st, Those which were adopted by him from the Old Testament. 2d, Those of which he himself is described as the author. With the consideration of those of the first class I shall not trouble the reader, but shall devote this chapter to the examination of those which are supposed to have originated from him. These are, 1st, ' Do to others what you would that others should do to you.' 2d, ' Resist not the injurious person; but if a man smite thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also.' 3d, If a man ask thy cloak, give him thy coat also.' 4th, ' If thou wouldest be perfect, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor; and come follow me.' 5th, ' Unless a man hate his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and possessions, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.' 6th, ' Take no thought for the morrow.'
With regard to the first of these maxims, it does not belong to Jesus, as the author. It is found in the book of Tobit, chapter iv. 15, and it was a maxim well known to the Rabbins. It is found in the Talmud verbatim. "What thou wouldest not have done to thee, do not thou to another." (Tal. Bab. Schabbat. fol. 31.) So also Hillel addressed a proselyte thus, "What is hateful to thee, do not thou to thy neighbour." Several other expressions of Jesus were, it appears from the Talmud, proverbial expressions in use among the Jews. For instance, the original of that saying recorded Matthew vii. 2. "With whatsoever measure ye mete," &c., is found in the Talmud of Babylon (Sanhedrim fol. 100, Sotah, chapter 4, 7, 8,9.) "With whatsoever measure any one metes it shall be measured to him. So also the original of that expression of "Cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then thou shalt see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother's eye is to be found in the Talmud*.
What is called by Christians "the Lord's Prayer," is merely a few clauses taken from Jewish prayers, and put together. Very many instances of a similar nature to these might be produced; but, as I must be brief, the reader is referred for further satisfaction to the works of Lightfoot, where he will learn, by extracts from Jewish writings, the source, and meaning of many more of the sayings of Jesus.
I now proceed to the most disagreeable part of the subject, viz.: The consideration of the other maxims mentioned, which, it must be allowed, do belong to Jesus, or at least to the New Testament, since they are the peculiar moral principles of Christianity, and the honour of them can be challenged by, I believe, no other religion.
These precepts are so extremely hyperbolical, that they are not, and cannot be perfectly observed by any Christian, who does not detach himself completely from the business of society; and these maxims, (which, as I said before, are the only parts of the morality of the New Testament, which are not borrowed,) never have been obeyed by any but the primitive Christians; and by the Monks, and Anchorets; for even the Quakers and Shakers, eminent as they are in Christian morality, have never been able to come quite up to the self denial required by the New Testament.
Indeed, the moral maxims peculiar to Christianity are impracticable, except by one who confines his wealth to the possession of a suit of clothes, sad wooden platter, and who lives in a cave, or a monastery. They bear the stamp of enthusiasm upon their very front, and we have always seen, and ever shall see, that they are not fit for man: that they lift him out of the sphere in which God designed him to move; that they are useless to society, and frequently produce the most dangerous consequences to it. In a word, in these maxims we find commands, the fulfillment of which, is impossible by any man who is a husband, a father, or a citizen.
It is an outrage to human nature, and to common sense, to order a virtuous man, in order to reach perfection, to strip himself of his property; to offer the other cheek to receive a new outrage; not to resist the most unjust violence, injury, and insult; not to defend himself, or his property, when "sued at the law;" to quit his house and goods, and to hate his parents, and brethren, and wife, and children, for the sake of Jesus; to refuse and reject innocent pleasures; to deny himself lawful enjoyments, appointed by the Creator to make the existence of man a blessing to himself and others.
Who does not see in these commands the language of enthusiasm of hyperbole? These maxims! are they not directly fitted to discourage, and debase a man? to degrade him in his own eyes, and those of others? to plunge him into despair? And would not the literal fulfillment of them prove destructive to society? What shall we say of that morality which orders the heart to detach itself from objects, which God, and reason, and nature order it to love? To refuse to enjoy innocent and lawful happiness,—what is it but to despise the benefits of God? What real good can result for society from these melancholy virtues, which Christianity regards as perfections? Will a man become more useful to society when his mind is perpetually inquieted by imaginary terrors, by mournful thoughts, which prevent him from fulfilling the duties he owes to his family, his country and those with whom he is connected?
It may be safely said, that enthusiasm is the base of the morality of Christianity; I say, the morality of Christianity, meaning thereby, not the morality of those called Christians, but the morality expressed, and required in the New Testament. The virtues it recommends, are the virtues caricatured, and rendered extravagant; virtues which divide a man from his neighbour, and plunge him in melancholy, and render him useless, and unhappy In this world we want human virtues, not those which make a man a misanthrope. Society desires, and wants virtues that help to maintain it, which gives it energy and activity. It wants virtues which render families industrious, and united; and which incite, and enable every one to obtain lawful pleasures, and to augment the general felicity. But the peculiar virtues of the New Testament, either debase the mind by overwhelming fears, or intoxicate it with visionary hopes, both which, are equally fitted to turn away men from their proper duties.
In truth, what advantages can society derive from those virtues styled by Christians, Evangelical? which they prefer to the social virtues, the real and the useful, and without which, they assert, a man cannot please God, Let us examine these vaunted perfections, and let us see of what utility they can be to society, and whether they really merit the preference which is given them by their advocates.
The first of these Christian virtues, which serves as a base for all the others, is faith. It consists in believing the truth of dogmas, of absurd fables, which Christianity (according to the catechisms) orders its disciples to believe—dogmas, as absurd and impossible as a square circle, or a round triangle—from which we see, that this virtue exacts an entire renunciation of common sense; an assent to incredible facts, and a blind credulity in absurd dogmas, which, yet, every Christian is required to believe, under pain of damnation.
This virtue, too, though necessary to all men, is, nevertheless, the gift of heaven! the effect of special grace. It forbids doubt and examination; it "forbids a man the right to exercise his reason; it deprives him of the liberty of thinking, and degrades him into a bearded baby.
This faith vanishes when a man reasons; this virtue cannot sustain a tranquil scrutiny. And this is the reason why all thorough going Christians are naturally, and, consequently, the enemies of science. This miraculous faith, which "believeth all things," is not given to persons enlightened by science and reflection, and accustomed to think. It is not given but to those who are afraid to think, lest they should offend God.
The next Christian virtue which flows from the first, is hope, founded upon the promises which the New Testament makes to those who render themselves miserable in this life. It nourishes their enthusiasm, it makes them "forget the things that are on earth, and reach forward unto the things" which are in another world. It renders them useless here below, and makes them firmly believe that God will recompense in heaven, the pains they have taken to make themselves miserable on earth. How can a man, occupied with such expectations of heavenly happiness, concern himself at all with, or for, the actual and present happiness of those around him, while he is indifferent as to his own? And how can he help this, when he believes that "friendship with the world is enmity with God?"
The third virtue is charity. We have elsewhere said, that if universal love or charity means only general benevolence, and a desire to makes others happy, and to do them good, all this is commanded by reason and the ancient revelation; but if by this precept it is commanded to love those who hate, oppress or insult us, we do not at all scruple to assert, that the thing is impossible, and unnatural. For, though we can abstain from hurting our enemy; or even can do him good, we cannot really love him. Love is a movement of the heart, which is governed and directed by the laws of our nature, to those whom we think worthy of it, and to those only.
Charity, considered as general benevolence of disposition, is virtuous and necessary. It is nothing more than a feeling which interests us in favour of our fellow beings. But how is this feeling consistent with the peculiar doctrines of the gospel? According to its maxims, it is a crime to offer God a heart, whoso affections are shared by terrestrial objects. And besides, does not experience show, that devotees obliged by principle to hate themselves, are little disposed to give better treatment to others?
We should not be surprised that maxims, originating with enthusiasm, should aim at, and have the effect of, driving man out of himself. In the delirium of its enthusiasm, this religion forbids a man to love himself. It commands him to hate all pleasures but those of religion, and to cherish a long face. It attributes to him as meritorious, all the voluntary evils he inflicts upon himself. From thence originate those austerites, those penances, destructive to health; those cruel privations by which the inhabitants of the monastic cell kill themselves by inches, in order to merit the joys of heaven. Now, how can good sense admit that God delights in seeing his creatures torment themselves?