It may be said to all this, perhaps, that this is mere declamation, for Christians now a days do not torment themselves, but live as comfortable as others. To this I answer that Christianity is to be judged not by what Christians do, but by what it commands them to do. Now, I presume it will not be denied that the New Testament commands its professors to renounce the world, to be dead to the world, to "crucify the flesh with its passions, and desires." Certainly these directions were literally complied with by the primitive Christians; and, in doing so, they acted consistently. In those times, the deserts, the mountains, the forests were peopled with perfect Christians; who withdrew from the world, deprived their families of support, and their country of citizens, in order to lead unmolested "the divine life." It was the New Testament morality that spawned those legions of monks and cenobites, who thought to secure the favour of heaven, by burying their talents in the deserts, and devoting themselves to inaction and celibacy.
And at this very day we see these very same things in those Christian countries, which are truly faithful to the principles of their religion.
In fine, Christianity seems from the first, to have taken pains to set itself in point blanc opposition to nature, and reason. If it admits and includes some virtues ordered and appointed by God, good sense, and universal experience; it drives them beyond their bounds into extravagance. It preserves no just medium, which is the point of perfection. Voluptuousness, adultery and debauchery are forbidden by the laws of God and reason. But Christianity not content with commanding, and encouraging marriage, as did the Old Testament, must forsooth go beyond it, and therefore encourages celibacy, as the state of perfection God says, in Genesis, "it is not good that man should be alone. I will make a companion for him." And he blessed all his creatures, saying, " increase and multiply." But the gospel annuls this law, and represents a single life to be most pleasing, to the very being, whose very first command was, "increase and multiply"! It advises a man to die without posterity, to refuse citizens to the state, and to himself, a support for his old age.
"It is to no purpose to deny that Christianity recommends all this; I say, it substantially does! and I boldly appeal,—not to a few Protestant Divines,—but to the New Testament; to the Homilies of the Fathers of the Church; to the History, and Practice of the Primitive Christians; to the innumerable Monasteries of Europe, and Asia; to the immense multitudes who have lived, and died hermits; and, finally, (because I know very well, the Protestant divines attribute these follies to the influence of Platonism, Pythagoranism, and several other isms upon pure Christianity) I appeal to living evidence now in the world, to the only thoroughgoing Christians in it, viz., to the Society of the Shakers, who I maintain, and can prove, to be true, genuine imitators of the Primitive Christians, and a perfect exemplification of their manners, and modes of thinking. I adduce them the more confidently, because, being simple, and unlearned, their character has been formed by the spirit of the New Testament, and perfectly represents the effects of its principles fully carried out, and acted upon. They never heard of Platonism, or of Pythagoras in their lives, and, consequently, the polemic tricks, and evasions, which have been, as hinted just now, resorted to by Protestant divines, to shift from the shoulders of Christianity to those of Plato or Pythagoras, the obnoxious principles we have been considering, are of no use in this case, as, whatever the characters of these Shakers may be, they were formed by the New Testament, and by nothing else; and I believe, that every scholar in ecclesiastical history, who reads Brown's history of the Shakers, will be immediately and powerfully struck with the resemblance subsisting between them, and the Christians of the two first centuries.
As examples of the effects of those precepts of Christian morality, which command us to hate father, and mother, and sister, and brother, for the Bake of Jesus, take the following extracts from the history referred to.
"According to their faith, natural affection must be eradicated; and they say they must love all equally alike, as brothers, and sisters in the gospel. It would exceed the limits of this work to give a particular account of the various schemes that have been contrived, to destroy all natural affection and social attachment between man and wife, parent and child, brothers and sisters; especially towards such as have left the society. Two instances that occurred about this time, as specimens of others, may suffice. A mother, who had renounced the faith, (i. e. left the society,) come to Niskeuna to see, her daughter. Eldress Hannah Matterson told the daughter to go into the room to her carnal mother, and say, ' What do you come here for? I don't want you to come and see me with your carnal affections!' 'The mother being grieved, replied, 'I did not expect that a daughter of mine would ever address me in that manner.'
'The daughter, in obedience to what she was taught, replied again, 'You have come here with your carnal fleshly desires, and I don't want to see you,' and left her mother."
"Some time after, one Duncan Shapley, who had belonged to the society, called to see Abigail, his sister, at Niskeuna, whom he had not seen for six or seven years; but he was not admitted: he waited some time, being loath to go away without seeing her. At last she was ordered to go to the window and address him in the language of abuse and scurrility. The words she made use of, it would be indecent to mention. For this she was applauded, and that in the author's hearing, when he belonged to the society."
This man gives a very curious account how the elders treated " their babes," in their spiritual nursery; but I shall notice only one or two examples, which illustrate what I have advanced concerning the natural hostility of the spirit of the New Testament towards science. "I know of several, who, soon after they joined the Church, have been counselled by the Elders to dispose of their books; and have accordingly done it. Elder Ebenezer being at my house one day, on seeing a number of books, he said—'Ah! Thomas must put away his books if he intends to become a good believer.'
As an instance of its effects upon the human understanding, take the following:—"A short time after, being at a believer's house, at eleven o'clock at night, they all having retired to rest, and I laying awake in a dry well finished room, in which was a stove and fire, there fell a large drop of water on my temples; on examination, I could not discover where the water came from. I told the believers of it in the morning."
"One said, ' Ah! it is a warning to you respecting your unbelief.'
"I then assigned some inconclusive reason, how the drop might have become formed in the room, and its falling."
"One replied, 'Ah! that is the way you render a natural reason for the cause of every thing, and so reason away your faith and yourself out of the gospel.'"
As another proof, that genuine Christianity discourages marriage, and considers celibacy as the only state of perfection, the Shakers allow of no marriages at all.
Thus you see that, among these people, to become a "good believer," you must insult your parents, revile your brother, depise learning, and never render a "natural reason" for any thing, lest you should "reason away your faith, and yourself out of the gospel."
ON THE PECULIAR MORALITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, AS IT AFFECTS NATIONS AND POLITICAL SOCIETIES.
After having seen the uselessness, and even the danger, to individuals, of the perfections, the virtues, and the duties, which Christianity peculiarly commands; let us now see whether it has a more happy influence upon politics; or whether it produces real happiness among the nations with whom this religion is established, and the spirit of it faithfully observed. Let us do so, and we shall find, that wherever Christianity is established and obeyed, it establishes a set of laws directly opposed to those of a well ordered national society; and it soon makes this disagreement and incompatibility distinctly to be felt.
Politics are intended to maintain union and concord among the citizens. Christianity, though it preaches universal love, and commands its followers to live in peace; yet, by a strange inconsistency, consequentially annihilates the effect of these excellent precepts, by the inevitable divisions it causes among its followers, who necessarily understand differently the Old and New Testaments, because the latter is not only irreconcilably contradictory to the former, but it is even inconsistent with itself. From the very commencement of Christianity, we perceive very violent disputes among its founders and teachers; and through every succeeding century, we find, in the history of the Church, nothing but schism and heresy. These are followed by persecutions and quarrels, exceedingly well adapted to destroy this vaunted spirit of concord, said by its defenders to be peculiar to Christianity; and the existence of which is, in fact, impossible in a religion which is one entire chaos of obscure doctrines and impracticable precepts. In every religious dispute, both parties thought that God was on their side, and, consequently, they were obstinate and irreconcilable. And how should it have been otherwise, since they confounded the cause of God with the miserable interests of their own vanity? Thus, being little disposed to give way on one part or the other, they cut one another's throats; they tormented, they burnt each other: they tore one another to pieces; and having exterminated or put down the obnoxious sects, they sung Te Deum.
It is not my intention to pursue, in this place, the horrid detail of ecclesiastical history, as connected with that of the Roman empire. Mr. Gibbon has exhibited in such colours this dreadful record of follies, and of crimes, that it is difficult to see how the maxim of judging the tree by its fruit, will not fatally affect the cause of the Christian religion. I refer to Mr. Gibbon's history as a cool and impartial narrative; for I am well satisfied that, so far from having reason to complain of him, the advocates of Christianity have very great reason, indeed, to thank him for his forbearance, since, with his eloquence, he might have drawn a picture that would have made humanity shudder. For, throughout the whole history, if a man had wished to know what was then the orthodox faith, the best method of ascertaining it, would have been, undoubtedly, to ask, " What is the catechism of this public executioner."
The Christian religion was, it is evident from his history, the principal, though by no means the only cause of the decline and fall of the Roman empire. Because it degraded the spirit of the people, and because it produced monks and hermits in abundance, but yielded no soldiers. The heathen adversaries of Christianity were in the right when they said, that "if it prevailed, Rome was no more!" The Christians would not serve in the armies of the emperor, if they could possibly avoid it. They justly considered the profession of a soldier, and that of a Christian, as incompatible. Celsus accuses them of abandoning the empire, under whose laws they lived, to its enemies. And what is the answer of Origen to this accusation? Look: at his pitiful reply! He endeavours to palliate this undutiful refusal by representing that—"the Christians had their peculiar camps, in which they incessantly combatted for the safety of the emperor and empire, by lifting up their right hands— IN PRAYER!!" (See Origen contra Celsum, Lib. 8, p. 437.) This is a sneaking piece of business truly! But Origen could have given another answer, if he had dared to avow it, which is, that his co-religionists, in his time, had not ceased to expect their master momentarily to appear; and, of course, it little mattered what became of the emperor, or the empire. This notion was the principal engine for making proselytes; and it was by this expectation that many were frightened into baptism.
That Christianity was considered incompatible with the military profession, is evident from many passages of the fathers. And one of them, I believe, Tertullian, ventures to insinuate to the Christians in the legions, the expediency of deserting, to rid themselves of "their carnal employment." Nay, to such a height did this spirit prevail, that it never stopped till it taught the Roman youth in Italy the expedient of cutting off the thumbs of their right hands in order to avoid the conscription, and that they might be allowed to count their beads at home in quiet.
If we examine, in detail, the precepts of this religion, as they affect nations, we shall see, that it interdicts every thing which can make a nation flourishing. We have seen already the notion of imperfection which Christianity attaches to marriage, and the esteem and preference it holds out to celibacy. These ideas certainly do not favour population, which is, without contradiction, the first source of power to every state.
Commerce is not less obnoxious to the principles of a religion whose founder is represented as denouncing an anathema against the rich, and as excluding them from the kingdom of heaven. All industry is equally interdicted to perfect Christians, who are to spend their lives "as strangers, and pilgrims upon earth," and who are "not to take care of the morrow."
Chrysostom says, that "a merchant cannot please God, and that such a one ought to be chased out of the church."
No Christian, also, without being inconsistent, can serve in the army. For a man, who is never sure of being in a state of grace, is the most extravagant of men, if, by the hazard of battle, he exposes himself to eternal perdition. And a Christian who ought to love his enemies, is he not guilty of the greatest of crimes, when he inflicts death upon a hostile soldier, of whose disposition he knows nothing: and whom he may, at a single stroke, precipitate into hell? A Christian soldier is a monster! a non-descript! and Lactantius affirms, that "a Christian cannot be either a soldier, or an accuser to a criminal cause." And, at this day, the Quakers, and Mennonites refuse to carry arms, and, in so doing, they are consistent Christians.
Christianity declares war against the sciences; they are regarded as an obstacle to salvation. "Science puffeth up." says Paul. And the fathers of the church, St. Gregory, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine denounce vehemently astronomy, and geometry. And Jerome declares, that he was whipped by an angel only for reading that Pagan Cicero.
It has been often remarked, that the most enlightened men are commonly bad Christians. For independent of its effects on faith, which science is exceedingly apt to subvert, it diverts the Christian from the work of his salvation, which is the only thing needful. In a word, the peculiar principles of Christianity literally obeyed, would entirely subvert from its foundations every political society now existing. If this assertion is doubted, let the doubter read the works of the early Fathers, and he will see that their morality is totally incompatible with the preservation and prosperity of a state. He will see according to Lactantius, and others, that "no Christian can lawfully be a soldier." That according to Justin, "no Christian can be a magistrate." That according to Chrysostom, "no Christian ought to be a merchant" And that according to several, "no Christian ought t study." In fine, joining these maxims together with those of the New Testament, it will follow, that a Christian, who as he is commanded, aims at perfection, is a useless member of the community, useless to his family, and to all around him. He is an idle dreamer, who thinks of nothing but futurity; who has nothing in common with the interests of the world, and according to Tertullian "has no other business but to get out of it as quietly as possible."
Let us hearken to Esebius of Caesarea, and we shall abundantly discover the truth of what has been said.
"The manner of life, (says he,) of the Christian church, surpasses our present nature, and the common life of men. It seeks neither marriage, nor children, nor riches. In fine, it is entirely a stranger to human modes of living. It is entirely absorbed in an insatiable love of heavenly things. Those who follow this course of life, have only their bodies upon earth, their whole souls are in heaven, and they already dwell among pure and celestial intelligences, and they despise the manner of life of other men" Demonstrat. Evang. vol. ii. p.29.
Indeed a man firmly persuaded of the truth of; Christianity cannot attach himself to any thing here below. Every thing here is "an occasion of stumbling, a rock of offence." Every thing here, diverts him from thinking of his salvation. If Christians in general, happily, for society, were not inconsistent, and did not neglect the peculiar precepts of their religion, no large society of them could exist; and the nations enlightened by the gospel would turn hermits, and nuns. All business, but fasting and prayer, would be at an end. There would be nothing but groaning in "this vale" of tears;" and they would make themselves, and others, as miserable as possible, from the best of motives, viz; the desire to fulfill what they mistakenly conceived to be the will of God.
Is this a picture taken from the life, or is it a fanciful representation of something different from the peculiar morality of the New Testament? This serious question demands a serious answer. If it be such as it is represented above and such it really appears to me, and such I have unfortunately experienced its operation to be on my own mind—I would respectfully ask—can such a religion, whose peculiar principles tend to render men hateful, and hating one another: which has often rendered sovereigns, persecutors, and subjects, either rebels, or slaves: a religion, whose peculiar moral principles and maxims, teach the mind to grovel, and humble, and break down the energies of man; and which divert him from thinking of his true interests, and the true happiness of himself and his fellow men. Can such a religion, I would respectfully ask, be from God, since where fully obeyed, it would prove utterly destructive to society?
A CONSIDERATION OF SOME SUPPOSED ADVANTAGES ATTRIBUTED TO THE NEW, OVER THE OLD, TESTAMENT; AND WHETHER THE DOCTRINE OF A RESURRECTION, AND A LIFE TO COME, IS NOT TAUGHT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT; IN CONTRADICTION TO THE ASSERTION, THAT "LIFE AND IMMORTALITY WERE BROUGHT TO LIGHT BY THE GOSPEL."
From the preceding chapters, you may judge, reader, of the justice and truth of the opinion, that "the yoke of Christian morality is easy, and its "burthen light;" and also of the veracity and fairness of that constant assertion of divines, "that Jesus came to remove the heavy yoke of the Mosaic Law, and to substitute in its room one of easier observance."—Whether this, their assertion, be not rash, and ill founded, I will cheerfully leave to be decided by any cool and thinking man, who knows human nature, and is acquainted with the human heart. I say, I would cheerfully leave it to such a man, "whether the Mosaic Law, with all its numerous rites, and ceremonial observances, nay, with all "the (ridiculous) traditions of the Elders," superadded, would not be much more bearable to human nature, and much easier to be observed and obeyed, than such precepts as these, "Sell all thou hast, and give it to the poor." "If a man ask thy cloak, give him thy coat also." "Resist not the injurious person, but if a man smite thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also." "Extirpate and destroy all carnal affection, and love nothing, but religion." "Take no thought for to-morrow;"—I am confident that the decision would be given in my favour; and have no doubt, that with thinking men, the contrary opinion would be instantly rejected with the contempt it merits.
Whether the Mosaic Code be the best possible, or really divine, is of no consequence in this inquiry, and is with me another question from that of its inferiority to that of the New Testament. I do by no means assert the former; but have no hesitation to give my opinion, after a pretty thorough examination of the subject, that the reflections of Paul, and those usually thrown out against the Mosaic Code by Theologians, when comparing it with that of the New Testament, in order to deprecate the former, appear to me extremely partial and unjust; and so far from true, that I think, that the ancient law has the advantage over the precepts of the New Testament, in being, at least, practicable and consistent.*
Another unfounded reproach which Theologians, in order to magnify the importance of the New Testament, cast upon the Old, is this: They say, that the Old Testament represents God only as the tutelary Deity of the Israelites, and as not so much concerned for the rest of mankind. To show that this is a very mistaken notion, and to manifest that the Eternal of the Old Testament is represented therein, not as the God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles, I refer to these words:—"The Lord thy God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty and a terrible; who regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward. He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless, and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye, therefore, the stranger. Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him, for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. One law shall be to him that is home born, and to the stranger that sojourneth among you. The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself. I am the Lord your God."
Indeed, so little truth is there in the notion, that the law and religion of the Old Testament were established with the intention of confining them to one people, exclusive of all others, that the Old Testament certainly represents them in such manner, as shows, that they were intended to be as unconfined as the Christian, or Mahometan; its religion, in fact, admitted every one who would receive it. And what is more, it can be proved that the Old Testament dispensation claims, as appears from itself, to have been given for the common advantage of all mankind. And it is asserted in it, (whether truly or not, is not the question; it is sufficient for my purpose, that it asserts it), that the religion contained in it, will one day be the religion of all mankind. For it declares that Jerusalem will be the centre of worship for all nations, and the temple there, be "the house of prayer for all nations;" that the Eternal will be the only God worshipped; and his laws the only laws obeyed. It represents Abraham and his posterity as merely the instruments of the Eternal to bring about these ends; it is repeatedly declared therein, that the reason of God's dispensations towards them was, "that all the earth might know that the Eternal is God, and that there is no other but Him." According to its history, when God threatened to destroy the Israelites for their perverseness in the wilderness, and offers Moses, interceding for them, to raise, up his seed to fulfil the purposes for which he designed the posterity of Abraham; he tells Moses that his purpose should not be frustrated through the perverseness of the chosen instruments; "but, (saith He), as surely as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord," Numbers xiv. 21. Many passages of similar import are contained in the Psalms, and the Prophets. In fact, there is no truth at all in the statement of the Catechisms, that the Old Testament was merely preparatory, and intended merely to prepare the way for "a better covenant," as Paul says; even for another religion, (the Christian) which was to convert all nations; for, (if the Old Testament be suffered to tell its own story,) we shall find, that it claims, and challenges the honour of beginning, and completing, this magnificent design solely to itself. I was going to overwhelm the patience of the reader with quotations from it, to this purpose; but being willing to spare him and myself, I will only produce one, which, as it is direct and peremptory to this effect, is as good as a hundred, to demonstrate that the Old Testament at least claims what I have said. Zech. viii. 20, "Thus saith the Eternal of Hosts: It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities; and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying: "Let us go speedily to pray before the Eternal, and to seek the Eternal of Hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people, and strong nations shall come to seek the Eternal of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Eternal. Thus saith the Eternal of Hosts: In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all the languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, we will go with you."
Be it so, it may be said;—"Still, it is to Christianity the world owes the consoling doctrine of a life to come. Life and immortality were brought to light by the Gospel," say the Christian divines; and they assert, that the doctrine of a resurrection was not known to Jew or Gentile, till they learned it from Jesus' followers. The Old Testament, (say they,) taught the Jews nothing of the glorious truths concerning "the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting," their "beggarly elements" confined their views to temporal happiness, only." These assertions I shall prove from the Old Testament itself, to be contrary to fact; for the Jews both knew, and were taught by their Bibles to expect a resurrection, and believed it as firmly as any Christian can, or ever did. For proof hereof, I shall, in the first place, quote the 37th chapter of Ezekiel, and which is as follows, "The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley, which was full of bones. And caused me to pass by them round about, and behold there were very many in the open valley, and behold they were dry.—And he said unto me. Son of man, can these bones live? and I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me. Prophecy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones, behold I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live, and I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you; and cover you with skin, and put breath into you; and ye shall live, and know that I am the Lord. So I prophesied as I was commanded, and, as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And "when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me. Prophecy son of man, and say unto the wind, thus saith the Lord God, come from the four winds, O breath! and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up again upon their feet, an exceeding great army."
A plainer resurrection than this is, I think never was preached either by Jesus or his followers. Again, Daniel the prophet says, "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt," Daniel xii. 2. Now Ezekiel lived almost six hundred years before Jesus, and Daniel was contemporary with the former; and is it not a little surprising, that the Jews should learn, for the first time, the doctrine of a resurrection of the followers of Jesus Christ, when they knew of the resurrection almost six hundred years before he was born? Isaiah also, (who lived before either Ezekiel or Daniel), in the 26th chapter of his prophesies, (exciting the Jews to have confidence in God, and not to despair on account of their captivity, and the troubles and afflictions which they should suffer therein), foretells to them that death would not deprive them of the reward of their piety and virtue; for God would raise them from the dead, and make them happy. "Thy dead men shall live, my dead bodies# (i. e., the bodies of God's servants) they shall arise. Awake! and sing! ye that dwell in the dust, for thy dew is as the dew of herbs," The meaning of the last clause is—that, as the grass, which in Oriental countries becomes brown and shrivelled by the heat of the sun; from the effects of the dew it changes and springs up, as it were, in a moment, green and fresh and beautiful; so, by the instantaneous influence of the word of God, the dry and decayed remains of mortality shall become blooming with immortal freshness and beauty. See also Hosea xiii. 14. I might easily multiply passages from the Old Testament, to prove that the doctrine of a resurrection was familiar to the ancient Israelites, but I suppose that what I have already produced, is sufficient. Those, however, who wish to see the subject more thoroughly examined, are referred to "Greave's Lectures on the Pentateuch," a work lately published in Europe, highly honourable to the author. See also a Tract upon this subject, published by Dr. Priestley, in 1801.
I shall only add one observation more on this subject, viz., that it is very singular that Christian divines should assert, that "life and immortality were first brought to light by the Gospel," when the New Testament itself represents the resurrection of the dead as being perfectly well known to the Jews, and describes Jesus himself as proving it to the Sadducees out of the Old Testament!!!
I have now finished my work, which I have written in order to exculpate myself, and to do justice to others; and having re-examined every link of the chain of my argument, I think it amply strong to support the conclusions attached to it. Though there might have been drawn from the Old and New Testaments, many additional arguments corroborative of what has been said, yet, at present, I shall add no more; as I think that what has been brought forward has just claims to be considered by the impartial as quite sufficient to prove these two points—that the New Testament can neither subsist with the Old Testament, nor without it; and that the New Testament system was built first upon a mistake, and afterwards buttressed up with forged and apocryphal documents.
Let the candid now judge, whether the author, knowing these things, or, at least persuaded of their truth, could have persisted in affirming, (in a place where sincerity is expected), in the name of the Almighty, that the claims of the New Testament were valid, without being a hypocrite, and an impostor.
Let them also consider, whether, after being unable to obtain a satisfactory refutation of the objections contained in this volume, his resigning a profession whose duties obliged him to say what he was convinced was false, was conduct to be reprehended. And lastly, he appeals to the good sense of the public, for a decision, whether, with such objections and difficulties weighing upon his mind, as he has now exposed, his conduct in that respect can reasonably be attributed to the unmanly influence of caprice and fickle-ness, (as has been circulated by some who had an interest in making it believed;) or to the just influence of motives deserving a better name.
With regard to the unfortunate people whose arguments have been brought forward in this volume, we have, reader, now gone over, and distinctly felt, the whole ground of the controversy between them and their persecutors, mentioned in the Preface. And as they make use of the Old Testament as a foundation, admitted, and necessarily admitted by Christians, to be of divine authority, and are surrounded by the bulwarks they have raised out of the demolished entrenchments of their adversaries, I do not see but that "their castle's strength may laugh a siege to scorn." And after reviewing, and revolving, over and over in my own mind the arguments on both sides, I am obliged to believe, that the stoutest Polemical Goliath who may venture to attack it, especially their strong hold—their arguments about the Messiahship, will find to his cost, that when his weak point is but known, the mightiest Achilles must fall before the feeblest Paris, whose arrow is—aimed at his heel.
The author hopes, and thinks he has a right to expect, that whoever may attempt to answer his book, will do it fairly, like a man of candour; without trying to evade the main question—that of the Messiahship of Jesus. He fears, that he shall see an answer precisely resembling the many others he has seen upon that subject. Except two—those of Sukes, and Jeffries. (who acknowledge that miracles have nothing to do with the question of the Messiahship, which can be decided by the Old Testament only;)— all that he has ever met with, evade this question, and slide over to the ground of miracles. Such conduct in an answerer of this book would be very unfair, and also very absurd. For the case is precisely resembling the following—A father informs by letter his son in a foreign country, that he is about to send him a Tutor, whom he will know by the following marks; "He is learned in the mathematics, and the physical sciences; acquainted with the learned languages, and an excellent physician; of a dark complexion; six feet high, and with a voice loud, and commanding." By and by, a man comes to the young man, professing to be this tutor sent to him by his father. On examining the man, and comparing him with the description in his father's letter, he finds him totally unlike the person he had been taught to expect. Instead of being acquainted with the sciences, therein mentioned, he knows nothing about them; instead of being "six feet high, of a dark complexion, and with a voice loud and commanding," he is a diminutive creature of five feet, of a light complexion, with a voice like a woman's.
The young man, with his father's letter in his hand, tells the pretended tutor, that he certainly cannot be the person he has been told to expect. The man persists, and appeals to certain "wonderful works" he performs in order to convince the young man, that he is acquainted with the sciences aforesaid, and that he is also six feet high; of a dark complexion; and talks like an Emperor! The young man replies. "Friend, you are either an enthusiast, a mad man, or something worse. As to your ' signs and wonders,' I have been warned in my father's letter to pay no regard to any such things in this case. Besides, you ought to be sensible, that your identity with the person I am taught by my father's letter to expect, can be only determined by comparing you with the description of him given therein. Whether your 'wonderful works' are real miracles or not, I neither know, nor care. At any rate, they cannot, in the nature of things, be any thing to the purpose in; this case. For you to pretend, that they prove what you offer them to prove, is quite absurd; you might as well, and as reasonably, pretend, that they could prove Aristotle to have been Alexander; or the Methodist George Whitfield to be the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte!"
To conclude, if any person should feel inclined to attempt to refute this book, let him do it like a man; without evading the question, or equivocating, or caviling about little things. Let him consider the principal question, and the main arguments on which he perceives that the author relies, and not pass over these silently, and hold up a few petty mistakes and subsidiary arguments as specimens of the whole book. Such a mode of defence would be very disengenuous, and with a discerning reader, perfectly futile and insufficient. It would be as if a man prostrate, and bleeding under a lion whose teeth and claws were infixed in his throat, should tear a handful of hairs out of the animal's mane, and hold them up as proofs of victory.
In fine, let him, before his undertaking, carefully consider these pungent words of Bishop Beveridge, "Opposite answers, and downright arguments advantage a cause; but when a disputant leaves many things untouched, as if they were too hot for his fingers; and declines the weight of other things, and alters the true state of the question: it is a shrewd sign, either that he has not weighed things maturely, or else (which is more probable,) that he maintains a desperate cause."
As reasons for this assertion, (that "the account of the resurrection given by the evangelists is no better, nay, worse, than conjecture, as it is a mere forgery of the second century.—Vide page 86) take the following facts, which are now ascertained, and can be proved:—1. Several sects of Christians in the first century, in the apostolic era, denied that Jesus was crucified, as the Basildeans, &c. The author of the epistle ascribed to Barnabas, I think, denied it, and the author of the gospel of Thomas certainly did. 2. The Jewish Christians, the disciples of the twelve apostles, never received, but rejected every individual book of the present New Testament. They held in especial abomination the writings of Paul, whom they called "an apostate;" and there is extant, in " Cotelerius' Patres Apostolici," a letter ascribed to Peter, written to James at Jerusalem wherein he complains bitterly of Paul, styling him "a lawless man," and a crafty misrepresenter of him (Peter,) and his doctrine, in that Paul represented, every where, Peter as being secretly of the same opinions with himself; against this he enters his protest, and declares that he reprobates the doctrine of Paul. (See Appendix B.) 3. It is certain, that from the beginning, the Christians were never agreed as to points of faith; and that the apostles themselves, so far from being considered as inspired, and infallible, were frequently contradicted, thwarted, and set at naught by their own converts: and there were as many sects, heresies, and quarrels, in the first century, as in the second or third. 4. Jesus and his apostles were no sooner off the stage, than forgeries of all kinds broke in with irresistible force: Gospels, Epistles, Acts, Revelations without number, published in the names, and under the feigned authority, of Jesus and his apostles, abounded in the Christian church; and as some of these were as early in time as any of the writings in the present canon of the New Testament, so they were received promiscuously with them, and held in equal credit and veneration, and read in the public assemblies as of equal authority with those now received. 5. The very learned and pious Dodwell, in his Dissertations on Iraeneus avows, that he cannot find in ecclesiastical antiquities, (which he understood better than any man of his age,) any evidence at all, that the four Gospels were known or heard of, before the time of Trajan, and Adrian, i.e. before the middle of the second century, i. e. nearly a hundred years after the apostles were dead. (See Appendix C.) Long before this time, we know that there were extant numbers of spurious gospels, forged, and ascribed to the apostles; and we have not the least evidence to be depended on, that those now received were not also apocryphal. For they were written nobody certainly knows by whom, or where, or when. They first appeared in an age of credulity, when forgeries of this kind abounded and were received with avidity by those whose opinions they favoured, while they were rejected as spurious by many sects of Christians, who asserted that they were possessed of the genuine apostles, which, however, those who received "the four," denied. 6. All the different sects of Christians, without a known exception, altered, interpolated, and without scruple garbled, their different copies of their various and discordant gospels, in order to adapt them to their jarring and whimsical philosophical notions, Celsus accuses them of this, and they accuse each other. And that they were continually tampering with their copies of the books of the New Testament, is evident from the immense number of various readings, and from some whole phrases, and even verses, which for knavish purposes were foisted into the text, but have been detected, and exposed by Griesbach, and others. They also forged certain rhapsodies under the name of "Sybbiline Oracles," and then adduce them as prophetic proofs of the truth of their religion. They also interpolated certain clumsy forgeries as prophecies of Jesus into their copies of their Greek version of the Old Testament. 7. The present canon of the New Testament has never been sanctioned by the general consent of Christians. The Syrian church rejects some of its books;—some of its books were not admitted until after long opposition, and not until several hundred years after Jesus. The lists of what were considered as canonical books, differ in different ages, and some books now acknowledged by all Christians to be forgeries, were in the second and third centuries considered as equally apostolic as those now received, and as such, were publicly read in the churches. 8. The reason why we have not now extant gospels, different and contradictory to those now received, is, because that the sect or party which finally got the better of its adversaries, and styled itself Catholic, or orthodox, took care to burn and destroy the heretics, and their gospels with them. They likewise took care to hunt up and burn the books of the pagan adversaries of Christianity, "because they were shockingly offensive to pious ears." 9. Semler considered the New Testament as a collection of pious frauds, written for pious purposes, in the latter part of the second century, (the very time assigned for their first appearance by Dodwell.) Evanson adopts, and gives good reasons for a similar opinion with regard to most of the books which go to compose it. Lastly. The reason why the New Testament canon has been so long respected, seems to have been purely owing to the credulity of the ignorant, and the laziness, indifference, or fears of the learned.
Douglas, in his famous "Criterion," gives us, as infallible tests, by which we may distinguish when written accounts of miracles are fabulous, the following marks:—
1. "We have reason to suspect (he says) the accounts to be false, when they are not published to the world till after the time when they are said to have been performed."
2. "We have reason to suspect them to be false, when they are not published in the place where it is pretended the facts were wrought, but are propagated only at a great distance from the supposed scene of action."
3. "Supposing the accounts to have the two fore-mentioned qualifications, we still have reason to suspect them to be false, if in the time when, and at the place where, they took their rise, they might be suffered to pass without examination."
These are the marks he gives us as infallible tests by which we may distinguish the accounts of miracles in the New Testament to be true; and accounts of miracles in other books (though supported by more testimony than the former,) to be false; with how much justice, may be evident from the following observations:—
1. If "we have reason to suspect the accounts to be false, when they are not published to the world till long after the time when they are said to have been performed," then we have reasons to suspect the accounts given in the four gospels; for we have no proof in the world, that any of them were written till nearly one hundred years after the supposed writers of them were all dead.
2. If "we have reason to suspect them to be false, when they are not published in the place where it is pretended the facts were wrought, but are propagated only at a great distance from the supposed scene of action," then it is still further evident that the accounts in question are not true. For they were apparently none of them published in Judea, the scene of the events recorded in them. But it is pretty clear that they were written in countries at a distance from Palestine. And the facts recorded in them were-no where so little believed as in Judea, among the people in whose sight they are said to have been wrought, where they ought, if true, to have met with most credit. It is, however, evident from the histories themselves, that these stories were laughed at, by the learned and intelligent of the Jewish nation, and disbelieved by the great body of the people. In truth the first Christians were merely one hundred and twenty Galilaeans, who asserted to their co-religionists, that Jesus of Nazareth was the ejected Messiah. It was a mere national quarrel between the great body of the Jews, and a few schismatics. This is evident from the Acts, where we find that for several years they confined their preaching to Jews only. Till the conversion of Cornelius, they do not appear to have thought the Gentiles any way interested in their dispute with their countrymen. So that it is not improbable, (as the Jewish Christians dwindled very rapidly,) that had it not been for the Gentile proselytes to Judaism, Christianity would have perished in its cradle. These people were very numerous, and formed the connecting link between the Jews and the Gentiles. And it was through the medium of these people, that Christianity became known to the heathens. For we find that after the apostles could make nothing of the stubborn Jews "they shook their garments, and told them that from henceforth we go to the Gentiles."—Accordingly, when the apostles preached in the synagogues, and the Jews contradicted, and blasphemed," and made fun of their mode of proving from the prophets, "that Jesus was the Christ; yet the "proselytes and devout women" listened, and believed.
3. If "supposing the accounts to have the two foregoing qualifications, we still may suspect them to be false; if, in the time when, and in the place where, they took their rise, they might be suffered to pass without examination," we have still less reason to believe the gospels. For one reason why they might be suffered to pass without examination is, where the miracles proposed coincided with the notions and superstitious prejudices of those whom they were reported, and who, on that account, might be prone to receive them unexamined. Now, we have documents in plenty, which abundantly prove, along with the virtues, the extreme credulity and simplicity of the Primitive Christians, whose maxim was, "believe, but do not examine, and thy faith shall save thee." Another very good reason why they might be suffered to pass without, examination is, that the miracles of the gospels were entirely unknown to, or at least acknowledged by, any heathen or Jew of the age in which they are recorded to have happened. Nobody seems to have known a syllable about them but the apostles and their converts. Even the books of the New Testament were not generally known to the heathens until some hundred years after the birth of Jesus; and it seems from the few fragments of their works come down to us, that the only notice they did take of them, was to accuse them of telling lies and old wives fables. And as for the Jews, the origin and early propagation of Christianity was so very obscure, that those who lived nearest the times of the apostles, do not seem to have known any thing about them, or their doctrines.
Though a little out of place, yet I will here adduce a fact which illustrates and exemplifies the power of enthusiasm, to make people believe they saw what they did not see. Lucian gives an account of one Peregrinus, a philosophist very famous in his time, who had a great number of disciples. He ended his life by throwing himself, in the presence of assembled thousands, into a burning pile. Yet such was the enthusiastic veneration of his followers, that some of his disciples did solemnly aver, that they had seen him after his death, clothed in white, and crowned; and they were believed, insomuch that altars and statues were erected to Peregrinus as to a demi-god. See Lucian's account.
See Cotelerius "Patres Apostolic," Tom. 1, p. 602. Extract of a letter from Peter to James, prefixed to the Clementines.
"For, if this be not done, (says Peter, after entreating James not to communicate his preachings to any Gentile without previous examination,) our speech of truth will be divided into many opinions, nor do I know this thing as being a prophet, but as seeing even now the beginning of this evil. For some from among the Gentiles have rejected my legal preaching, embracing the trifling, and lawless doctrine of a man who is an enemy; and these things, some have endeavoured to do now in my own lifetime, transforming my words by various interpretations, to the destruction of the Laws: as if I had been of the same mind, but dared not openly profess it, (see Galatians ii. 11, 12, &c.,) which be far from me! For this were to act against the law of God, spoken by Moses, and which has the testimony of our Lord for its perpetual duration; since he thus has said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, yet one jot, or one tittle, shall not pass from the law." But these, I know not how, promising to deliver my opinion, (see Galatians as above) take upon them to explain the words they heard from me, better than I that spoke them; telling their disciples, my sense was that of which I had not so much as thought. Now, if in my own life time, they dare feign such things, how much more will those that come after, do the same."
Extract from Dodwell's Dissertations on Irenaeus, Diss. 1, p.p. 38, 39.
"The Canonical writings (i. e. of the New Testament), lay concealed in the coffers of private churches, or persons, till the latter times of Trajan, or rather perhaps of Adrian; so that they could not come to the knowledge of the church. For if they had been published, they would have been overwhelmed under such a multitude as were then of apocryphal and suppositious books, that a new examination and a new testimony would be necessary to distinguish them from these false ones. And it is from this new testimony (whereby the genuine writings of the apostles were distinguished from the spurious pieces which went under their names,) that depends all the authority which the truly apostolic writings have formerly obtained, or which they have at present in the Catholic Church. But this fresh attestation of the canon is subject to the same inconveniences with those traditions of the ancient persons that I defend, and whom Irenaeus both heard and saw; for it is equally distant from the original, and could not be made except by such only as had reached those remote times. But it is very certain that before the period I mentioned of Trajan's time, the canon of the sacred books, was not yet fixed, nor any certain number of books received in the Catholic Church, whose authority must ever after serve to determine matters of faith; neither were the spurious pieces of heretics yet rejected, nor were the faithful admonished to beware of them for the future. Likewise, the true writings of the apostles used to be so bound up in one volume with the apocryphal, that it was not manifest by any mark of public censure which of them should be preferred to the other. We have at this day, certain authentic writings of ecclesiastical authors of those times, as Clemens Romanus, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, who wrote in the same order wherein I have named them, and after all the other writers of the New Testament, except Jude, and the two Johns. But in Hermas you shall not meet with one passage, or any mention of the New Testament; nor in all the rest is any one of the evangelists called by his own name. And if sometimes they cite any passages like those we read in our gospels; yet, you will find them so much changed, and for the most part so interpolated, that it cannot be known, whether they produced them out of ours, or some apocryphal gospels; nay, they sometimes cite passages which it is most certain are not in the present gospels. From hence, therefore, it is evident that no difference was yet put between the apocryphal and canonical books of the New Testament, especially if it be considered, that they pass no censure on the apocryphal, nor leave any mark whereby the reader might discern whether they attributed less authority to the spurious than to the genuine gospels; from whence it may reasonably be suspected, that if they cite sometimes any passages conformable to ours, it was not done through any certain design, as if dubious things were to be confirmed only by the canonical books, so as it is very possible that both those and the like passages may have been borrowed from other gospels besides these we now have. But what need I mention books that are not canonical, when indeed it does not appear from those of our canonical books which were last written, that the church knew any thing of the gospels, or that the clergy made a common use of them. The writers of these times do not chequer their works with texts of the New Testament, which yet is the custom of the moderns, and was also theirs in such books as they acknowledge for scripture; for they most frequently cite the books of the Old Testament, and would, doubtless, have done so by those of the New, if they had then been received as canonical."
So far Mr. Dodwell, and (excepting the genuineness of the writings of Barnabas and the rest, for they are incontestably ancient,) it is certain that the matters of fact with regard to the New Testament are all true. Whoever has an inclination to write on this subject, is furnished from this passage with a great many curious disquisitions wherein to show his penetration and his judgment, as—how the immediate successors and disciples of the apostles could so grossly confound the genuine writings of their masters with such as were falsely attributed to them; or since they were in the dark about these matters so early, how come such as followed them, by a better light; why all those books which are cited by the earliest fathers with the same respect as those now received, should not be accounted equally authentic by them; and what stress should be laid on the testimony of those fathers, who not only contradict one another, but are often inconsistent with themselves, in relating the very same facts; with a great many other difficulties, which deserve a clear solution from any capable person.
I have said the ancient heretics asserted that the present gospels were forgeries. As an example of this, take the following, from the works of Faustus, quoted by Augustine, contra Faustum Lib. 32, c. 2. "You think, (says Faustus to his adversaries,) that of all the books in the world the Testament of the Son only, could not be corrupted; that it alone contains nothing which ought to be disallowed; especially when it appears, that it was not written by the apostles, but a long time after them, by certain obscure persons, who, lest no credit should be given to the stories they told of what they could not know, did prefix, to their writings, the names of the apostles, and partly of those who succeeded the apostles, affirming, that what they wrote themselves, was written by these. Wherein they seem to me to have been the more heinously injurious to the disciples of Christ, by attributing to them what they wrote themselves so dissonant and repugnant; and that they pretended to write those gospels under their names, which are so full of mistakes, of contradictory relations and opinions, that they are neither coherent with themselves, nor consistent with one another. What is this, therefore, but to throw a calumny on good men, and to fix the accusation of discord on the unanimous society of Christ's disciples."
ADDENDA. There is, in the Gospel ascribed to John, a passage, quoted as a prophecy, which, as it has been looked on as a proof text, ought to have been mentioned in the 7th chapter. It is this. The evangelist (John xix. 23) says, "Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat—now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said, therefore, among themselves, ' Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it'; that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, 'They parted my raiment among them and for my vesture they did cast lots.' "Now, however plausible this prophesy may appear, it is one of the most impudent applications of passages from the Old Testament that occurs in the New. It is taken from the 18th verse of the 22d Psalm, which Psalm was probably made by David, in reference to his humiliating and wretched expulsion from Jerusalem by his son Absalom, and what was done in consequence, viz., that he was hunted by ferocious enemies, whom he compares to furious bulls, and roaring lions, gaping upon him to devour him; that his palace was plundered, and that they divided his treasured garments, (in the East, where the fashions never change, every great man has constantly presses full of hundreds and thousands of garments, many of them very costly: they are considered as a valuable part of his riches), and cast lots for his robes. This is the real meaning of this passage quoted as a prophecy. In the same Psalm, there is another verse, which has been from time immemorial quoted as a prophecy of the crucifixion, (v. 16,) "They pierced my hands and my feet." In the original, there seems to have been a word dropped importing "they tear," or something like it, for it is literally, "Like a lion—my hands and my feet," and there is there no word answering to "pierced." The meaning, however, of the verse is not difficult to be discerned, "dogs have compassed me; the assembly of wicked men have enclosed me; like a lion—(they tear) my hands and my feet." The meaning may be discovered from the context, where David represents himself as in the utmost distress, helpless, and abandoned amidst his enemies, raging like wild beasts around him; then, by a strong, but striking Oriental figure, he represents himself like a carcass surrounded by dogs, who are busied in tearing the flesh from his bones; their teeth fixed in his hands and feet, and pulling him asunder. This is the import of the place, and this interpretation is at last adopted, for the first time, I believe, by Christians, in the new version of the Psalms used by the Unitarian Church in London.
There is not a more palpable instance of the facility with which good natured and voracious piety is made to swallow the most flimsy arguments, if only agreeable to its wishes and wants, than the case under consideration. This Psalm, containing these passages, "they parted my raiment among them;" and "they pierced my hands and my feet," is read, and for ages has been read, in the name of God, to the good people of the Church of England, on every Good Friday, as undoubtedly a prophesy of the Crucifixion; when yet the learned divines of the Church of England (and of these it can boast a noble Catalogue indeed) certainly know, and are conscious that the Psalm, which contains these passages, has no more relation to Jesus, than it has to Nebuchadnezzar.
A reference ought to have been subjoined at the end of the 10th chapter to the dialogue, called "Philopatris" in Lucian's Works, for an account of the customs, habits, and personal appearance of the early Christians, corroborative of what is said in the 17th and 18th chapters of this work. Lest, however, Lucian's testimony in this matter should be objected to, because he was a satirist, and, of course, may have been guilty of giving an overcharged picture of the subjects of his ridicule, I request the reader to peruse, if he can obtain it, "Lami's Account of the domestic habits and personal appearance and practices of the primitive Christians." Lami was a very learned and sincere Christian, and of course his testimony cannot be objected to, and the reader will find, on a perusal of his work, that what I have asserted in the 17th and 18th chapters is altogether true, and not the whole truth neither. Indeed, that the statements in those chapters, as to the effects of the peculiar maxims of the New Testament upon the heart and understanding, are substantially correct, will, I believe, be discovered by asking any honest individual among the Methodists, who is an enthusiast, i. e sincere, and thorough-going in his religion. I have no doubt that he or she will avow, without hesitation, to the enquirer, and glory in it, that chastity is more honourable than marriage; that faith is every thing; that doubt is damnable, and a proof of "an unregenerated mind;" that all the goods and pleasures of this world are "trash;" that human institutions are mere "carnal ordinances;" and that human science and learning is a snare to faith and an abomination to a true disciple of the cross.
* In the present day, various-attempts, insidious and powerful, have been made, even here, to coerce in matters of conscience, and to overthrow those wise barriers to the destructive effects of sectarian fanaticism and intolerance, which the great founders of the Republic, to their everlasting glory, erected.—D.
* Do you know (says Rousseau) of many Christians who have taken the pains to examine, with care, what the Jews have to say against them? If some persons have seen any thing of the kind, it is in the books of Christians, A fine way, truly, to get instructed in the arguments of their adversaries! But what can they do? If any one should dare to publish among us, books, in which be openly favours their opinions, we punish the author, the editor, the bookseller. This policy is convenient, and sure always to be in the right. There is a pleasure in refuting people who dare not open their lips"—(Emilius.) In the same work he says that "he will never be convinced that the Jews have not something strong to say, till they shall be permitted to speak for themselves without fear, and without restraint." It was this hint of Rousseau which first excited the author's curiosity with regard to the subject of this book.—E.
* There are a great many persons who conceive that Christianity is sufficiently proved to be true, if the miracles of Jesus are true, even without any regard to the prophecies, so often appealed to by him. But supposing the miracles to be true; yet no miracles can prove that which is false in itself to be true. If therefore Jesus be not foretold as the Messiah in the Old Testament, no miracles can prove Jesus to be the Messiah foretold. Nay, it would be a stronger argument to prove Jesus to be a false pretender, that he appealed to prophecies as relating to him, when in fact they had no relation whatever to him; and by that means imposed upon the ignorant people; than it would be that he came from God, merely because he worked miracles; for "False Christs and false prophets may arise, and may show such great signs and wonders as to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect." Matt. xxiv. 24. Yet no Christian would allow it to be argued from thence, that those false Christs were true ones: nor would any one conclude; that a man came from God, (notwithstanding any miracle he might do) if he appealed to Scripture for that which is no where in it. In fine, if miracles would prove the Messiahship of Jesus, so also they would prove the Messiahship of the false Christs, and false prophets spoken of above. Nay more, they would demonstrate the Divine mission of Antichrist himself; who, according to the epistle to the Thessalonians, (2 Thes. ch. ii. 8, 9,10) and the Revelations, ch. xiii. 13, 14, was to perform "great signs and wonders," equal to any wrought by Jesus, for the same Greek words are used to express the wonderful works or "great signs and wonders" of Antichrist, which are elsewhere used to express the miracles, or "great signs and wonders" of Jesus himself.
It is a striking circumstance, that the earliest apologists for Christianity laid little stress upon the miracles of its founder.
Justin Martyr, in his Apology, is very shy of appealing to the miracles of Jesus in confirmation of his pretentions; he lays no stress upon them, but relies entirely upon the prophecies he quotes as in his favor. Jerome, in his comment on the eighty-first Psalm, assures us, "that the performance of miracles was no extraordinary thing: and that it was no more than what Appollonius, and Apulias, and innumerable impostors had done before."
Lactantius saw so little force in the miracles of Christ, exclusive of the prophecies, that he does not hesitate to affirm their utter inability to support the Christian religion by themselves. [Lactan. Div. Inst. L. v. c. 3.]
Celsus, observing upon the words of Jesus, that "false prophets and false Christs shall arise, and show grant signs and wonders," sneeringly observes, "A fine thing truly! that miracles done by him should prove him to be a God, and when done by others should demonstrate them to be false prophets and impostors."
Tertullian, on the words of Jesus, here referred to by Celsus, says as follows;
"Christ, foretelling that many imposters should come and perform many wonders, shews, that our faith cannot without great temerity be founded on miracles, since they were so early wrought, by false Christians themselves." [Tertul. in Marc. L. ii. c. 3.]
Indeed, miracles in the two first centuries were allowed very little weight in proving doctrines. Since the Christians did not deny, that the heathens performed miracles in behalf of their gods, and that the heretics performed them as will as the orthodox. This accounts for the perfect indifference of the heathens to the miracles said to have been performed by the founders of Christianity. Hierocles speaks with great contempt of what he calls "the little tricks of Jesus," And Origen, in his reply to Celsus, waves the consideration of the Christian miracles: "for (says he) the very mention of these things sets you heathens upon the. broad grin." Indeed, that they laughed very heartily at what in the eighteenth century is read with a grave face, is evident from the few fragments of their works written against Christianity which has escaped the burning zeal of the fathers, and the Christian emperors; who piously sought for, and burned up, these mischievous volumes to prevent their doing mischief to posterity. This conduct of theirs is very suspicious. Why burn writing they could so triumphantly refute, if they were refutable? They should have remembered the just reflection of Arnobius, their own apologist, against the heathens, who were for abolishing at once such writings as promoted Christianity.—"Intercipere scripta et publicatam velle submergere lectionem, non est Deos defendere, sed veritatis testificationem timere."[Arnob. contra Gentes. Liber ni.]—E.
* Before going into the consideration of the following prophecies, the author would warn the reader to bear in mind, that whether these prophecies ever will be fulfilled, is a question of no import in the world to the question under consideration, which is—whether they have been fulfilled eighteen hundred years ago, in the person of Jesus Christ, who is asserted by Christians to be the person foretold in these prophecies, and to have fulfilled their predictions. This question can be easily decided, and only, we think, by appealing to past history, and to the scenes passing around us, and comparing them with these predictions.—E.
* The word in the original being Vayikra, in the Kal or Active form of the verb, and not Vayikare the Niphal or Passive form.—D.
# reprove or argue.—D.
* Or, in righteousness.—D.
# Mr. English very properly takes notice of the disjunctive accent (Pasek) occurring here in the text.—D.
# For a more correct enumeration of the thirteen cabalistic rules of exposition, the English reader is referred to vol. 1, page 209, of the "Conciliator" of B. Menasseh ben Israel, translated by E, H. Lindo, Esqr.—D.
# Mr. E. was, doubtless, aware that this is an exposition given by Jewish Commentators.—D.
# There exists an English translation of this work by Abraham de Sola. —D.
* The person here spoken of by Isaiah is said to make his grave with the wicked, and be with the rich in his death. Whereas Jesus did exactly the contrary. He was with the wicked (i. e., the two thieves) in his death, and with the rich (i.e., Joseph of Arimathea) in his grave, or tomb. In the original, the words may be translated that "he shall avenge, or recompence upon the wicked his grave, and his death upon the rich." Thus does the Targum and the Arabic version interpret the place, and Ezekiel ix. 10, uses the verb in the verse in Isaiah under consideration translated (in The English version)—"He made," &c—in the same sense, given to this place in Isaiah, by the Targum, and the Arabic, as said above. See the place in Ezekiel, where it is translated—"I will recompence their way upon their head." See also Deut. xxi. 8, in the original. The Syriac has it—"The wicked contributed to his burial, and the rich to his death." The Arabic—"I will punish the wicked for his burial, and the rich for his death." The Targum—"He shall send the wicked into hell, and the rich who put him to a cruel death."—E.
# Or, shall destroy.—D.
* The remainder of this chapter is taken from Levi and Wagenseil.—E.
* The reader is requested to consider the reasoning in the last paragraph. The prophecy in the second chapter of Daniel, is commonly supposed to relate to the four Great Empires, the Babylonian, Persian, Grecian and Roman. This last, it is (according to this interpretation,) foretold, should be divided into many kingdoms, and that 'in the latter days of these kingdoms,' (which are now subsisting) God would set up a kingdom which would never be destroyed,—that of the Messiah. Of course, according to this interpretation, the kingdom of the Messiah was not to be not only sustain after the destruction of the Roman Empire, but not till the latter days of the kingdoms which grew up out of its ruins; whereas, Jesus was born in the time of Augustus, i. e., precisely when the Roman Empire itself was in the highest of its splendour and vigour. This is a remarkable, and very striking, repugnance, to the claims of the New Testament, and, if substantiated, must overset them entirely.—E.
* The sum of our argument may be expressed thus. God is represented in the prophecies of the Old Testament as designing to send into the world an eminent deliverer, descended from David, the peace and prosperity of whose reign should far exceed all that went before him, in whom all the glorious things foretold by the prophets should receive their entire completion; and who should be distinguished by the character of the Messiah or Christ. This is an article of faith common to Christians and Jews. But that Jesus of Nazareth should be esteemed this Messiah, and that Christians can support that opinion, by alledging the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures as belonging to, and fulfilled in, him, is what we can by no means allow, and that especially on account of these inconsistencies.
1. Because, these prophecies, acknowledged on both sides to point out the Messiah, could not otherwise answer the end of inspiring them than by an accomplishment so plain and sensible as might sufficiently distinguish the person meant by them to be that Messiah. But no such accomplishment, we contend, can possibly be discerned in Jesus, and, consequently, he cannot be the person meant by them.
2. Because, several predictions which Christians apply to Jesus, are wrested to a meaning which quite destroys the historical sense of scripture, and breaks the connexion of the passages from whence they are taken. Thus many shreds and loose sentences are culled out for this purpose, which do not appear to have any relation to Jesus, or to the Messiah either; but to have received their proper and intended completion in some other person, whom the prophet, as is manifest, had then only in view.
3. Because, in their forced applications of the prophecies, Christians, finding themselves hard pressed by the simple and natural construction, forsake the literal, and take shelter in spiritual and mystical senses; fly to hyperboles and strained metaphors, and thus expound the true meaning and importance of the prophecies quite away; the intent whereof being to instruct men in so necessary a point of faith as that relating to the Messiah, it is reasonable to think they would be delivered in the most perspicuous and intelligible terms. Since ambiguous expressions (capable of such strange meanings as they pretend,) would be too slippery a foundation to build such a point of faith upon; would be of no use, or worse than none; would be unable to teach the clear truth, and apt to ensnare men into dangerous errors, by leaving too great a latitude for fanciful interpretations, and introducing darkness and confusion, and contradiction inexplicable.
4. Because, admitting (as indeed it never was, or can be denied) that many passages of scripture, and of prophetical scripture especially, must be figuratively taken; yet, we must always put a wide difference between a sense not just as the words in their first signification import, and a sense directly the contrary of what they import. And yet we complain that this latter is the sense which Christians labour to obtrude upon the gainsayers. We say, that a kingdom of this world, and not of this world; contempt and adoration; poverty and magnificence; persecution and peace; sufferings and triumph; a cross and a throne; the scandalous death of a private man upon a gibbet, and the everlasting dominion of a universal monarch, must be reconciled, and mean the self same thing, before the prophecies appealed to, can do their cause any service. Granting, then, the goodness of God (according to them,) to have been better than his word, by giving spiritual blessings, instead of temporal; yet, what will become of the truth of God, if He act contrary to his word, even when it would be for our advantage, if He misleads people by expressions, which, if they mean any thing at all, must mean what the Jews understand by them?
In short, it seems to me, that if Providence has, in truth, any concern with the predictions of the Old Testament, it could not have taken more effectual care to justify the unbelief and obstinacy of the Jews, than by ordering matters so, that the life and death of Jesus should be so exactly, and so entirely, the very reverse of all those ideas under which their prophets had constantly described, and the Hebrew nation as constantly expected of their Messiah, and his coming; and to suppose that the Supreme Being meant to describe and point out such a person as Jesus by such descriptions of the Messiah as are contained in the Old Testament, is certainly substantially to accuse him of the moat unjustifiable prevarication, and mockery of his creatures.
In order that the subject we are examining, and the arguments we make use of, may be clearly understood by the reader, he is requested to bear in mind, that the author reasons all along upon the supposed Divine authority of the Old Testament; which is admitted by both Jews and Christians. Whether the supernatural claims of the Old Testament be just, or not, is of no consequence in the world to the controversy we are considering. For the dispute of the Jew with the Christian is one thing, and his dispute with the sceptic is another, totally different. For whether such a personage as the Messiah is described to be, has appeared eighteen hundred years ago, is quite a different thing from the question, whether such a personage will appear at all. The Christian says, that he has appeared in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This the Jew denies, but looks forward to the future fulfilment of the promises of his Bible, while the Sceptic denies that the Messiah has come, or ever will.
But the subject at present under consideration is the dispute of the Jew with the Christian, who acknowledges the Old Testament to be a Revelation, upon which a new Revelation, that of the New Testament, is founded and erected. To him the Jew argues, that if the Old Testament be a Divine Revelation, then the New Testament cannot be a Revelation, because it contradicts, and is repugnant to, the Old Testament, the more ancient, and acknowledged Revelation. Now God cannot be the author of two Revelations, one of which is repugnant to the other. One of them is certainly false. And if the Christian, conscious of the difficulty of reconciling the New, with the Old, Testament, attempts to support the New, at the expense of the Old, Testament, upon which the former is, and was, built by the founders of Christianity; then the Jew would tell him, that he acts as absurdly as would the man who should expect to make his house the firmer, by undermining, and weakening its foundation.
So that whether the Christian affirms, or denies, he is ruined either way. For he is reduced to this fatal dilemma. If the Old Testament contains a Revelation from God, then the New Testament is not from God, for God cannot contradict himself: and it can be proved abundantly, that the New Testament is contradictory, and repugnant to the Old and to itself too. If, on the other hand, the Old Testament contains no Revelation from God, then the New Testament must go down at any rate because it asserts that the Old Testament does contain a Revelation from God, and builds upon it, as a foundation.—E.
* There was nothing which gave the author, in writing this Book, so much uneasiness, at the apprehension of being supposed to entertain disrespectful sentiments of the Founder of the Christian Religion. I would most earnestly entreat the reader to believe my solemn assurances, that by nothing that I have said, or shall be under the necessity of saying, do I think, or mean to intimate the slightest disparagement to the moral character of one, whose purity of morals, and good intentions, deserve any thing else but reproach. That he was an enthusiast, I do not doubt, that he was a wilful impostor I never will believe. And I protest before God, that from the apprehensions above-mentioned alone, I would have confined the contents of this volume to myself, did I not feel compelled to justify myself for having quitted a profession: and did I not, above all, think it my duty, to make a well meant attempt, which I hope will be seconded, to vindicate the unbelief of an unfortunate nation, who, on that account, have for almost eighteen hundred years, been made the victim of rancorous prejudice, the most infernal cruelties, and the most atrocious wickedness. If the Christian religion be, in truth, not well founded, surely it is the duty of every honest and every humane, man, to endeavour to dispel an illusion, which certainly has been, notwithstanding any thing that can be said to the contrary, the bona fide, and real cause of unspeakable misery, and of repeated, and remorseless plunderings, and massacres, to an unhappy people; the journal of whose sufferings, on account of it, forms the blackest page in the history of the human race, and the most detestable one in the history of human superstition.—E.
* Jerome, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, says, that "The Church of Christ was not gathered from the Academy, or the Lyceum, but from the lowest of the people." [Vili Plebecula.] And Coecilius, in Minutius Felix, says, that the Christian assemblies were made up "de ultima faece collectis, imperitioribus, et mulieribus credulis sexus suae facilitate labentibus," i. e. "that they consisted of the lowest of the mob, simple and unlearned, men, and credulous women."
The president of a province is introduced, by Prudentius as thus addressing a martyr:—"Tu qui Doctor, ait, seris novellum Commenti genus, ut Leves Puellae, Lucos destituunt, Jovem relinquant; Damnes, si sapias, ANILE DOGMA."
The Christian Fathers confess, and glory in it, that the greater part of their congregations consisted of women and children, slaves, beggars, and vagabonds.
The Jewish Christians were, as appears evidently from the New Testament, exceedingly poor, and therefore there is frequent mention made of contributions for "the poor Saints at Jerusalem." From thence it was that the Jewish Christians got the name of Ebionites, i. e. Poor. The Jewish Christian Church consisted of the dregs of the Jewish people, simple and ignorant men, Samaritans, &c. No person in Judea of eminence, or learning, appears to have joined the sect of the Nazarenes, except Paul; after the destruction of Jerusalem they gradually dwindled in number, and became extinct.—E.
* I will here lay before the reader the arguments advanced by the Mahometans in behalf of the miracles of their prophet, extracted from the learned Reland's account of Mehometanism. They say that—"the miracles of Mahomet and his followers have been recorded in innumerable volumes of the most famous, learned, pious, and subtle Doctors of the Mahometan Faith, who let nothing pass without the strictest and severest examination, and whose tradition, therefore, is unexceptionable among them; that they were known throughout all the regions of Arabia, and transmitted by common and universal tradition from father to son, from generation to generation. That the books of Interpreters and Commentators on the Koran, the books of Historians, especially such as give an account of Mahomet's life and actions, the books of annalists and lawyers, the books of mathematicians and philosophers, and, last of all, the books of both Jews and Christians concerning Mahomet, are full of his miracles. That if the authority of so many great and wise doctors be denied, then, for their part, they cannot see but that a universal scepticism as to all other accounts of miracles must obtain among people of all persuasions. For authority being the only proof of facts done out of our time, or out of our sight, if that be denied, there is no way to come to the certainty of any such, without immediate inspiration; and all accounts of matters recorded in history, must be doubtful and precarious."
"And these witnesses would not have dared to assert these miracles unless they were true; for such as forged any miracles for his, which he really did not, lay under a hearty curse from the prophet. For it was a received tradition among the faithful, that Mahomet denounced hell and damnation to all those who should tell any lies of him. So that none who believed in Mahomet, durst attribute miracles to him which he was not concerned in; and those who believed not in him, would certainly never have given him the honour of working any, unless he had done so." Christian reader, thou seest how much can be said, and how many respectable witnesses and authorities can be adduced to prove that Mahomet wrought miracles. Canst thou adduce more, or better, authorities in behalf of the miracles of the New Testament? Art thou not rather satisfied how fallacious the evidence of testimony is in all such cases?
This is not all that the Mahometan might urge in behalf of his prophet, for he might tell the Christian, boasting that Jesus and his Apostles converted the Roman world from idolatry, that they overthrew one system of idolatry, only to build up another, since the worship of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints, and their images was established in a few hundred years after Jesus, and continues to this day; an idolatry as rank, and much more inexcusable than the worship of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Whereas, Mahomet cut "up root and branch, both Christian and Pagan idolatry, and proclaimed one only God as the object of adoration; and if the Christian should urge the rapid propagation of Christianity, the Mahometan might reply, that Mahomet was a poor camel-driver, but that Islamism made more progress in one hundred years, than Christianity did in a thousand; that it was embraced by the noble, the great, the wise, and the learned, almost as soon as it appeared; whereas, Christianity was skulking and creeping among the mob of the Roman Empire for some hundred years before it dared to raise its head in public view. If the Christian should reply to this, by ascribing the success of Mahometanism to the sword, the Mahometan might reply, with truth, that it was a vulgar error; for that vastly more nations embraced Islamism voluntarily, than there were who freely received Christianity; and he might remind him, how much Christianity owed to the accession of Constantine; to Charlemagne; and the Teutonic Knights; and bid him recollect that the monks were assisted by soldiers to convert to Christianity almost every nation in Modern Europe.—E.
# Compare the above with Maimonides, Hilchot Yessode Hattorah, from chapter 7.—D.
* The reader is requested by the author to understand, and bear in mind, that it is not at all intended by any of the observations contained in this chapter on the histories of the four evangelists, to reflect upon, or to disparage, the characters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, under whose names they go; because he believes, and thinks it is proved in this chapter, that the real authors of these histories were very different persons from the Apostles of Jesus; and that, in fact, the accounts were not written till the middle of the second century, about a hundred year's after the supposed authors of them were dead. Of course, none of the observations contained in the chapter relative to these histories, ware considered, or intended, to apply to any of the twelve apostles, who were not men who could make such mistakes as will be pointed out. These mistakes belong entirely to the authors who have assumed their names.—E.
* That the pretended Gospel of Matthew was not written by Matthew, or by an, inhabitant of Palestine, may also be inferred, I think, from the blundering attempts of the author of it to give the meaning of some expressions uttered by Jesus, and used by the Jews, in the language of the country, which was the Syro Chaldaic; and which the real Matthew could hardly be ignorant of. For instance, he says that Golgotha signifies—"the place of a skull." Matthew xxvii. 33. Now, this is not true, for Golgotha, or as it should have been written, Golgoltha, does not signify "the place of a skull," but simply "a skull." The Gospels according to Mark, and John, are guilty of the same mistake, and thus betray the same marks of Gentilism. Again, the pretended Matthew says, that Jesus cried on the cross, "Eli Eli lama, sabackthani," which he says meant, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew xxvii. 46.) If the reader will look at what Michaelis, in his introduction to the New Testament, says upon this subject, he will find the real Syro Chaldaic expression which must have been used by Jesus, to be so different from the one given by the supposed Matthew, that he will, (and the observation is not meant as a disparagement to the real Matthew, who certainly had no hand in the imposition of the Gospel covered with his name) I suspect be inclined to believe, that this pretended Matthew's knowledge of the vulgar language of the Jews, used in Christ's time, must have been about upon a par with the honest sailor's knowledge of French; who assured his countrymen, on his return home, that the French called a horse a shovel and a hat a chopper!—E.