"Dear sir and brother -- Your reply to my seventh number has been received, and hereby duly acknowledged. I have just given it a second reading, with peculiar care and attention; and I must add, generally speaking, with peculiar satisfaction too; for as it has tended in some degree to revive my almost extinguished faith in divine revelation, so it has in the same ratio served to obliterate, in some degree, those doubts which seemed to be rising mountains high, in my apprehension, and portended ere long to overturn all my former faith.
"There are some of my objections, however, which seem not yet to have been fully met on their proper ground, and of course not fully removed; and I must therefore be yet indulged with a few remarks.
"1st. Notwithstanding all the learning of the Greeks and Romans, in the days of Jesus and his apostles, yet, as you very justly insinuate, I am inclined to believe there never was a time in which 'the world of human kind, both Jews and Gentiles, was more deeply involved in the darkness and stupidity of superstition than when the Messiah (i. e. Jesus) entered on his public ministry.' And notwithstanding your argument drawn from superstition, is admitted as good, and weighty, as far as it goes; yet, as it is conceived, it does not fully come to the point.
"For, in the grossest ages of superstition it is reasonable to suppose that there are always some who entertain serious doubts and scruples in regard to the propriety of many of the superstitious notions of their leaders. These will be more easily wrought upon. And although they may be directed by various circumstances to fix the mind upon something much better in point of moral principle, yet how far this would prevent them from connecting many of the superstitious notions of the age with those moral principles, only giving them a different dress, I am not able to say; neither do I see how the superstition of the Jews and Gentiles, generally, would be likely to prevent a thing of that kind. -- It is the suspected superstition of the apostles and primitive christians and not the superstition of their opposers, to which the proposition alludes. Men, I conceive, may be honest, and yet superstitious; they may also give up one superstition, by being convinced of its error, and yet another will gradually grow in its stead. I am sensible, however, that this argument will better apply to those who were converted to christianity after the days of the apostles, when it is agreed that miracles had ceased, than it will to the apostles themselves.
"But, from what you have written, together with my further investigation of this subject, I cannot but perceive that this argument, even on its proper ground, does not contain all that force which, at first view, I thought it might: because, 1st, it must apply to the apostles, or else, as it respects the main question, it does not seem to have any real bearing on the subject; and 2dly, the change of the appostles appears to have been too sudden, and too extraordinary, to be accounted for in this way. That superstitions, however, have arisen, even in the christian church, you do not undertake to deny, but seem rather to admit; and it was on this fact that the first proposition was founded; but I perceive there is a difficulty in carrying this objection back to the apostles; for then the doctrine was new, and without precedent; and (unless the miracles on which it is said to have been founded were real) without any certain prospect of success. Although therefore the religion of the despised Galatians (for such were the christians called by the Romans) was considered by their persecutors, to be nothing more than a gross, and even impious superstition, yet no one can expect successfully to account 'in a rational way,' for the facts, whether real or supposed, on which that supposed superstition is said to have been founded. Hence the doubts growing out of my first proposition seem to be rendered equally, if not more doubtful than the reality of that truth, the evidence of which this objection was supposed in some degree to counterbalance.
"2d. The truth of my second proposition, viz. that a part of mankind at least have been and still are believing in miracles and revelations which are spurious, you seem not disposed to deny; but yet, at the same time you think you are 'under no obligation to admit this fact as any evidence against christianity.' That a spurious or pretended miracle does not invalidate a real one I admit; yet if a spurious miracle may obtain credit, and be in fact believed, it raises a query whether there have ever been any others but spurious. Your argument respecting 'counterfeit money' is admitted good in relation to that subject, but whether it will apply with equal weight to the subject of miracles may admit of a doubt. I do not see how the pretended miracles of the Shakers are at all 'dependent' on the miracles of Jesus for their 'imposition.'
"I meant nothing more by the miracles of Mahomet than his pretended 'correspondence with the angel Gabriel,' which I considered, if true, miraculous; as I conceive every revelation must be let it be communicated how it will.
"I have nothing to object to the picture which you have given of the life and religion of Mahomet; and as to what I have said in regard to the conversion and influence of Constantine, in giving a particular tone to the christian religion, you are not disposed to disagree with me: and at the same time you are 'by no means certain that a proper attention to the pretended miracles of the Shakers might not issue in assigning a natural cause for them.' Of all this I have no doubt. But, that these miracles are believed by the Shakers, you do not undertake to deny; nor that their religion, their faith in Ann, as being Christ in his second coming, and that their present mode of worship are all predicated upon them. They do not deny the miracles of Christ and his apostles any more than Christians in general deny the miracles of Moses and the prophets; but appeal to theirs as being equally of divine origin, and thereby clothing their religion with the same divine authority. Now, unless these things can be accounted for 'in a rational way,' which you seem to think may be the case, though you do not attempt it, they certainly raise a query in the mind at least whether the miracles recorded in scripture rest upon any better foundation.
"If a thing is absolutely known or believed to be miraculous, it is miraculous; (at least to those who thus believe) and whether any thing can be justly argued from the inferiority or superiority of a miracle, I know not. In the raising of Lazarus, it is true, though the effect was the same, we discover as great a miracle, and perhaps greater, than in the raising of a son of the Shunamite by Elisha the prophet; 2 Kings iv.34, 35, but the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus can hardly be said to have been wrought either by Jesus or by his apostles, and therefore that was not particularly referred to in the comparison of miracles; neither do I know that the comparison, in any sense, has much weight. Whether Lazarus ever died again or not we are not informed: neither do I recollect of ever hearing an opinion on the subject; but, if he died, it seems that his resurrection must have been very different from the resurrection of Jesus; i.e. to an immortal state, so that he 'dieth no more.'
"You admit, if I understood you, that the testimony of the apostles, concerning the resurrection of Jesus, had it not been accompanied with plain and astonishing miracles in the open day, and before the surrounding multitudes, who had ocular demonstration of their truth, would have been entitled to no more credit than the testimony of Mrs. A -- -- , respecting her conversation with her deceased husband. For although it might have been true, and we could have no good reason to doubt the sincerity or belief of the witnesses, yet after all, its truth would solely rest on their mere ipse dixit, which would not be sufficient to establish so important a truth in the world. Hence, as you very justly observe, 'the declaration of the apostles of the resurrection of Jesus, until it was accompanied with power from on high, was never even communicated to the public, or ordered to be communicated.'
"In this manner I understood your reasoning, and I think I understand you correctly; and all this appears to be very candid; it is acknowledging all I would wish you to acknowledge on this subject. But here comes the difficulty. Miracles in process of time cease; and now people must believe, if they believe at all, without the testimony's being 'accompanied with power from on high.' And how can we believe in the miracles said to have been wrought by the apostles, without the testimony's being accompanied by miracles any more than they could at first believe in the miracles of the resurrection of Jesus without the testimony's being accompanied by miracles? You have already anticipated this objection, and have endeavoured to answer it by arguing that 'perpetual miracles would, if as powerful as they were at first, preclude the exercise of our reasoning faculties and the necessity of investigation, which is one of the most rational enjoyments of which we are capable.' Although this argument, it is confessed, has considerable weight, yet it does not seem wholly to remove the difficulty. I feel very much like those Jews who proposed the question to Jesus; 'how long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ tell us plainly.' I am not satisfied that the evidence of the truth of the resurrection is as great, at this day, whatever it was then, as it could have been. If Jesus had remained on the earth till this time, or if he had appeared to every generation since, it appears to me the evidence would have been much greater; and yet not so great as to 'preclude the exercise of our reasoning faculties.'
"In your statement respecting the controversy between Unitarians and Trinitarians, it appears to me you have left out some very important circumstances which ought to have been taken into the account to have made it any thing near a parallel. You seem to have forgotten the destruction of the Jews by the Romans about the time the books of the New Testament are said to have been written; during which calamity, as the history of those times inform us, about one million one hundred thousand Jews were cut off, and among whom, it is more than probable, all their leaders, who were then concerned in the death of Jesus, were included; and only about ninety-seven thousand, not a tenth part, were taken prisoners. The Jews in the adjacent countries, however, probably are not taken into this account, but they were all equally subdued to the Romans. And if the power of the Jews were so limited at the crucifixion of Jesus that they could not lawfully put a man to death without liberty from the Roman governor, what must we suppose was their power after the destruction of their city and temple? On a review of the subject, therefore, I think you will perceive that your case, however plausibly stated, falls very far short of being a parallel. We may well suppose, I think, that the Jews were so humbled by the Romans, that, 1st, they had not the power; and, 2dly, they might not under these circumstances be inclined any longer to persecute and put to death the christians. And this was the only way it seems, at that day, that either Jews or Gentiles thought of putting down what they considered heresy or superstition. I consider therefore the destruction of the Jews as giving a very favourable opportunity to get up a new system of religion, partly or wholly based on theirs, but a little removed from it, so as to neglect the use of sacrifices, which, if I mistake not, according to the Jewish traditions, could only be offered at Jerusalem. And the long lapse of time, before the dogmas of this new sect was attempted to be refuted by argument gave an opportunity to involve the supposed facts on which the christian religion is predicated in such obscurity, that it stands now in no danger of refutation from that source. Some may be made to doubt, others to disbelieve, but nevertheless no one can prove it false.
"If it be proved true, however, it must be proved from the record which we have; for I know of nothing which can now add much weight to that testimony, unless it be the fulfilment of some sinking prophecies which yet remain to be fulfilled, or else the return of miraclous powers and a new revelation in further confirmation of what we already have. And if what we have be true, it seems we have a right to expect, ere long, something of the kind. The ten last chapters of the prophecy of Ezekiel, I think no one will pretend has ever been fulfilled, as yet; and when fulfilled, the events will prove the divine inspiration of that prophecy. But if it should never be fulfilled, or its fulfilment be delayed till the Jews every where should give up all hope and expectation of any thing of this kind; and should, through unbelief, neglect their present customs, as many of them already have done, by intermarrying with other nations, and thereby should become both lost to themselves and to the world, which would be the same as though they were extinct, I apprehend that no confidence would be placed in that part of the prophecy after such a period. In like manner the fulfilment or the non-fulfilment of the following words will have a similar effect. 'This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.' Some pretend to say that even this prophecy has been already fulfilled; but we have no evidence of it, and I think we may say the prophecy in Ezekiel, above mentioned, has been fulfilled, with as much propriety. But this is rather off the point.
"In regard to the death of Stephen, notwithstanding his trial seems to have been by the council, yet the manner of his death, as stated, seems to have been rather turbulent than otherwise. 'When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they (whether the council, or the spectators I cannot say) gnashed on him with their teeth -- then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city and stoned him.' Such proceedings at this day, as this appears to have been, we should be inclined to call a mob, let it bear what other appellation it may.
"That the first martyrs, however, did, from some circumstance or other, believe in the resurrection of Jesus, on which all their hope seems to have been predicated, I think cannot admit of a rational doubt. For to suppose otherwise, supposes such madness and folly in those unfortunate men, who suffered every thing which could be inflicted upon them rather than to give up their testimony; that it seems nothing can be a parallel, unless it be the madness and folly of such unreasonable doubts. And this seems to be all for which you contend, as it respects the present query; because you seem to think the first believers in this all-important truth could not have believed by any evidence which could have existed had it not been for the truth of the fact believed in. Now here is the mistake, as I conceive, if there be any; i.e. in supposing that the apostles and primitive Christians could not believe short of such indubitable evidence. Only suppose the resurrection to have been actually believed, by any evidence, or any circumstance whatever, no matter what, for it makes no difference in this argument, and the report would naturally be like all other reports of such an extraordinary nature. Both zeal and imagination would be enlisted on the side of its truth. Extraordinary discourses would be put into the mouths of the martyrs, after they were dead, as well as extraordinary deeds into their hands; and altho' contradicted ever so many times by their enemies and persecutors, yet the contradictions would never so out run the report but that many would still believe. When much strength of testimony had been thus added, by verbal reports, during twenty or thirty years, let a few men undertake to paint up real histories and letters in the name of the first disciples, and let these be kept in the hands of those who are strong in the faith, and let them be read for a long time, only in their own assemblies or churches although they might contain something of which they had not before heard, this is only what would be natural for them to expect, and as it contained the main thing which was the object of faith, and those other things, if true, went to establish their faith still more, who would be likely to call the truth of such writings in question? Not those who believe in the main question certainly. They would be a thousand times more likely to pass over in silence things of which they had some scruples, for the sake of the main question, then they would be to endanger the truth of the main question, as they might think they should, by criticising on mere circumstantial things. I am not now speaking of the apostles, whom I have considered honest men; yet I should suppose that even these men might have much good at heart, although they should conduct exactly in the way which I have suggested. And how little time would it require to put this matter beyond all possible refutation? Not so long, I conceive, as did elapse before that work was attempted by Celsus.
[Footnote 6: I have here expressed myself in strong terms, with a view to check my doubts and prevent their running wild.]
"You will see by this, sir, in what light my argument views the apostles. It does not suppose 'that the apostles would enforce their moral doctrine with their pretentions to miraculous powers,' although they might with the 'testimony of the resurrection of Jesus,' but it supposes that their successors might contend that the apostles worked miracles, and many of them might believe that they did, just as the apostles believed in the resurrection, when no such thing as the resurrection or the miracles of the apostles ever existed in fact. This is what the argument supposes, and it is wholly predicated on the possibility of the apostles' being made to believe, some how or other, I do not pretend to say how, that Jesus had risen from the dead when no such thing had taken place. But, only believe in the resurrection, and there is no difficulty in believing in the miracles of Jesus or the miracles of his apostles. They are equally well attested, and no more improbable. Yea, if they were true, they were not believed, but absolutely known to be true by the apostles. They knew it as well as they could know the truth of any object of sight. And the truth of what they knew being all which they needed in support of what they taught, I do not see, on this supposition, how they could have the occasion, or the motive, to state one thing falsely concerning it. No, nor could their followers have any occasion to add to their testimony, for nothing which they could add would be of any more weight than that which we may suppose was already in their possession. The two first chapters of Matthew and Luke (or all except the genealogy in Matthew, and the preface of Luke) the authenticity of which has been suspected by some of the learned, and I believe not without pretty good reasons, do not contain a single word in support of the resurrection; neither is the subject of them, as I now recollect, mentioned either by Christ or any of the apostles in any other part of the New Testament. And although the truth of those narratives is no more miraculous than the resurrection, yet I presume you would not contend that a belief of these, also, is absolutely necessary to the Christian faith.
"With these observations, I shall once more, and probably for the last time quit my second proposition, and proceed to take notice of what you have written on my third.
"And here you must pardon me if I remark, without the least view of finding any fault, that if my words will admit of a bad construction, that construction seems to be the first one which strikes your mind. If you suppose me capable of such an abominable absurdity as to say, that if the man of this town who was born blind should be restored to his sight by some one's anointing his eyes with clay and spittle, and this done in our presence, we could not know it! that we could not know but that the seeing man was a total stranger whom we had never before seen, and that the blind man had absconded no body knows how or where! I say, if this was the way in which you understood my third proposition, you are perfectly excusable: otherwise, it is difficult to account for your remarks. But, having thus found your antagonist, you level your artillery against him, nor desist until you have put to death without mercy this creature of your own fruitful imagination. Having done, you begin to query whether you had not mistaken my meaning; and after making a wonderful effort, by calling up these penetrating powers of research, which are only summoned on extraordinary occasions, you dive through the mists of obscurity, in which my words seem to be too often placed, and behold my proposition in its true light!
"My proposition is no sooner seen than 'granted': which is, that we have no positive knowledge of miracles; or, to use your own words, 'miracles are not now wrought before our eyes.' But although you grant the truth of my proposition, you do not admit that this is any objection against the truth of divine revelation, for a number of reasons which you have given; all of which, no doubt, are satisfactory to your own mind.
"But sir, this is a matter of opinion only, and if I agree with you at all, it must be from the consideration that the Governor of the universe must do right. But, although the time may not be yet, nevertheless I am clear in the opinion that the revival of miracles will, in process of time, be absolutely necessary in order to preserve the faith in those which have already been. But, I contend, if the scriptures be true, we have a right to expect the revival of miracles; and I do not see how they can be fulfilled without. Considering the prejudices of the Jews, as a people, I cannot suppose that they will ever believe in Jesus, as their promised Messias, short of being convinced of its truth by a miracle; and should they return to the land of Palestine, and there rebuild their temple, at Jerusalem, it would be such a clear fulfilment of the prophecy of Ezekiel, that it would be equal to a miracle, and do as much towards corroborating the truth of all the other prophecies.
"You finally come once more to the circumstance of the conversion of St. Paul, where you again find some fault (and I must confess, not without some reason) at my neglect to meet your arguments on this subject; or in other words, to do away the scripture account, and reconcile it with my hypothesis; i.e. that of supposing him to be converted without a miracle. To be ingenuous with you, sir, I must acknowledge that I have ever supposed this to be the most difficult task I should have to do; and therefore I wished to hear all you had to say on the subject of the resurrection before I attempted it.
"Since I wrote my last I have examined Paley's Horae Paulinae, a work of extraordinary merit which had never before fallen into my hands: his Evidences of Christianity, I have read several years ago, but have not lately particularly examined that work. In the exposition of the argument, (of the work first mentioned) Paley sets forth, as I conceive, the only possible grounds on which either the epistles of St. Paul, or the acts of the apostles, can be supposed to be forgeries, in their full force. And then he attempts to prove their genuineness by their internal evidence, which they contain within themselves, entirely aside from those objections; and which would have been of equal weight even on the supposition that the whole had been concealed from the time they were written till now, and we should now, for the first time, examine them. And although I might not fully agree with him in all points, yet I think he proves, beyond all contradiction or rational doubt, what he mainly attempts to prove; i. e. that the epistles were written by some person acquainted with the circumstances mentioned in the history, and that the writer of the history must have been acquainted with the circumstances alluded to in the epistles, where, at the same time, there is not the least apparent design in those references or allusions; which, as he very justly argues, prove the genuineness of both. I do not pretend to quote his words, as the book is not now by me.
"This, it must be confessed, is a great acquisition in favour of the truth of christianity; because it evidently carries the writings back into those times when every thing was fresh in the minds of all who had any knowledge of the subject of which those writings treated. Now comes the point. Paul expressly declares that he saw Christ after he was risen from the dead. His declaring that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve, could have been only from the report of others; but it agrees pretty well with what has been recorded by the evangelists. His declaring that he had been seen 'of above five hundred brethren at once,' must have been also by report, which report might have been incorrect, as there is no mention made of it in either of the gospels. Yet if incorrect it might have been very easily refuted. But when he comes to say, 'And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time,' there remains for him no such excuse. Paul, as it seems, could not believe that he had seen Jesus, literally, and personally, when he had not. And if he knew that he had not, and yet declared that he had, and meant that others should believe that he had, he was not honest, as I before admitted that he was; and now to say that he was not honest, as I clearly see, would involve me in still greater difficulty, as then I could give no rational account for his life and conduct. What shift shall I now make? For having supposed that my doubts were really founded on reason, I must have good reason for so doing before I can give them up: i.e. I must be fully convinced that they are founded in error.
"What can we suppose that Paul meant by Christ's being seen of above five hundred brethren at once? Is it at all likely that such an extraordinary circumstance should have happened without any mention being made of it in either of the five histories which we have of those times? Might he not mean the same which the author of the Acts means, speaking of the day of Pentecost? And therefore the whole might not have been designed to be understood literally, but spiritually true? And notwithstanding the literality of the language, may not all the miracles of Christ and the apostles, and even the account we have of the resurrection, be all accounted for and reconciled in the same way? But here I involve myself in difficulty again; for, if I mistake not, this was very near the opinion of the Gnostics, whom the apostles and fathers every where spake against. -- 'These,' says Dr. Priestley, 'taught that it was not Jesus that was properly the Christ, or that he had not flesh and blood like other men.' They also 'denied the doctrine of the resurrection.' These therefore, 'Paul, Peter, Jude, and John, most strenuously opposed.' Again, says he, 'The apostles they considered as judging only by their senses, which were deceived in this case: and though they gave entire credit to them with respect to every thing which they had seen, or heard, they considered them as plain unlettered men who were ignorant of what was not within the sphere of their senses.' To these it is supposed that John alludes in his first Epistle iv.1 -- 3. If, therefore, the apostles did believe, and contend for the literal resurrection, and personal appearing of Jesus, and if in this they were opposed by the Gnostics, even in their day; there is no way now, that I see, any longer for me to maintain my doubts only by believing that the first disciples, as well as Paul, thought they saw Jesus when in fact they did not, and that the idea of miracles by which these things were said to have been propagated and which carried conviction to the multitudes, was nothing more than the bold figurative language of the day, designed, in reality, to deceive no one; or else mere exaggerations: or, what perhaps is still more probable, partly of both. But enough!
"I confess I begin to grow dissatisfied with this kind of reasoning. What does it all amount to? What am I bringing, after all, to oppose the laboured researches of Drs. Lardner, Paley, Priestley, and others, as well as the pertinent observations of my worthy friend who has so long borne with me, and obliged me with his friendly and christian-like aid on this subject? Let me pause and consider -- I have acknowledged that there are evidences in favour of divine revelation; have I proved any of those evidences false? -- No! this I have acknowledged I could not do. What have I put into the other end of the scale, to weigh down those evidences? Ah! what indeed! Nothing! except it be my own ignorance, and the errors of other men, in whose errors I have no more faith than those who believe in the truth of that which I have been disputing! I will therefore, instead of pursuing the dispute any further, begin to think once more whether the thing for which you so ardently contend may not in reality be true.
"But, here again, I must be cautious, lest I should err as far on the other hand. For notwithstanding when I found that I could not help doubting, I tried to reconcile myself to my doubts, and have sincerely and honestly tried to make myself believe that I was perfectly reconciled either way; yet the moment I begin to think about the certainty of immortality and eternal life, I am all on fire! I hardly know how to contain myself! And were it not for the special obligations, which I feel to my family, and to the world, more than any thing which I ever expect to receive from the world, I should long to 'depart, and be with Christ, which is far better.' Thus my doubts, whatever they are, may be needful for me.
"Your remarks respecting my claims to the privilege of one who is weak in the faith are very pertinent and just. For I must confess in proportion as my doubts arose, as to the truth of the resurrection, equal doubts would arise as to the propriety of preaching it for a truth. I wish you to understand, however, that my mind has never been settled there, if it has ever vibrated that way, it was only momentary, and rather on mere supposition than any confirmed opinion.
"In answer to what you say in regard to hope, I will only add: Though a man should have ever so firm a hope in any thing whatever, and should afterwards find that his hope was founded in error, the hope would be taken away; but if at the same time he should find that the truth is absolutely better than the error hoped for, he would also find that a better thing is given in lieu of his hope: but if a man has hope, though that hope should be founded in error, if the hope remain as long as the man exists, it is not taken away from him, as both cease to exist together. Once more, and finally: a hope which is founded in truth, a knowledge of the truth can never take away. Although a man may hope, and ardently desire to exist eternally, yet I do not see how a man can extend either his hope, or his desires, beyond the possibility of his existence. To my understanding, this is just like supposing that a man which does not exist may yet hope and desire; or that a man may hope and desire, after he shall have ceased to exist.
"After returning you my sincere thanks for your kind indulgence and labours of love, I shall close the present number. I cannot take my leave of this number, however, without expressing my humble gratitude to the Allwise disposer of events, that he has given such abundant manifestations of his unspeakable goodness to his creatures; that he has also, as I may perhaps be permitted to hope with you, given a divine testimony of his infinite love and universal benevolence to that part of his creation whom he hath distinguished with the attributes of his own nature, regarding at the same time all other beings and things, and that he had raised up so many faithful witnesses who have set to their seals that this testimony is true.
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Dear sir, and brother, -- The particulars contained in your ninth letter, which I have selected as the subject of this, are the following:
1st. You "do not see how the miracles of the Shakers are at all dependant on the miracles of Jesus for their imposition."
2d. You think, if Jesus had remained on the earth until now, or had appeared to every generation since his resurrection, the evidence would have been much greater; and yet not so great as to preclude the exercise of our reasoning faculties.
3d. In the supposed controversy between the Unitarians and Trinitarians, you think I have failed of making the case a parallel with my subject, not considering the great change which took place in the state of the Jews in consequence of their destruction by the Romans.
4th. The argument which you rest on the supposition, that the apostles did in reality believe in the resurrection of Jesus, when in fact the thing was not true.
5th. What you say of the necessity of miracles in some future time, to confirm the belief of those which have been.
6th. The difficulty you suggest concerning St. Paul's saying that Jesus was seen, after his resurrection, by more than five hundred brethren at once.
1st. As you object to the idea that the miracles of the Shakers depend at all on the miracles of Jesus for their imposition, it may be considered sufficient, on my part, if I show that you have fully supported the proposition which you profess not to see.
I will, however, first presume, that I am not authorised to say that the miracles of the Shakers are imposition, I have not contended that they are; the ground for which I contend is this, viz. if these or any other pretended miracles among us are impositions, they depend on the miracles of Jesus for this power, as much as counterfeit money depends on the true for its imposition. That you have given sufficient support to what I have stated, you will see at once by the following passage quoted from your arguments on this subject: "They do not deny the miracles of Christ and his apostles any more than Christians in general deny the miracles of Moses and the prophets; but appeal to theirs as being equally of divine origin, and thereby clothe their religion with the same divine authority." Is it possible that the writer of the foregoing sentence should not see, that he established the very thing which he had just said he could not see? What is that divine authority with which the religion of Moses, the prophets and of Christ is clothed? Answer, miracles. What authority do you pretend the Shakers make use of to clothe their religion? Answer "the same." How does this differ from counterfeit money, on the supposition that these miracles are imposition?
It is abundantly evident that the Jews expected that the Messiah, when he came, would establish his character by miracles as Moses did his, and as some of the prophets were enabled to do. Therefore, do we read Matt. xii.22, 23. -- "Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb: and he healed him insomuch, that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed and said, is not this the son of David?"
Jesus himself saith, Luke iv.24, 27. "Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow; and many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saveing Naaman the Syrian." -- See John vii.31. "And many of the people believed on him, and said, when Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?"
By the foregoing quotations, as by many other passages, we learn that the Jews expected the Messiah would establish his character as a prophet like unto Moses and others, and also that Jesus did in reality a multitude of miracles more than the prophets did.
Now is it not evident, that if the miracles of Jesus were supposed to be impositions, they were dependant on those of Moses and the prophets for any power to impose on the people? Just so are all miracles wrought or pretended to be wrought since Christ, dependant on his miracles for any imposing power which they possess. If our religion had not been first propagated by the means of those miracles which are recorded in the New Testament, of what use would any pretended miracles be to any sect of Christians?
2d. What you say of the greater evidence of the resurrection which would have been furnished by Christ's continuance on earth until now, or by his making his appearance in every generation since his time, appears to me to be rather wanting in its merits by which it claims a reply. -- Why should you neglect to delineate some special reasons for your suppositions, by showing how wide the difference would have been from the evidence we now have, and how that difference would have recommended your scheme? -- You have left me to conjecture the particular features of your argument, and if I mistake them, you will reply that I understand you incorrectly. However, this is the way I must proceed.
We will suppose then that Jesus, in room of ascending into heaven, had remained on earth. Would this have done any good, unless he had made himself known to all the people? Well, we will suppose he had made himself known after his resurrection, to the whole house of Israel, would the people not have believed? They would have believed most assuredly, or his making himself known to them would have done no good. If they had all believed they would not have persecuted the religion of Christ, all would have embraced it at once being convinced by their eyes, that Jesus who was crucified, had actually rose from the dead, and was not subject to death any more. All this would have been as evident to the Roman government as to the Jewish hierarchy, and the whole would have been christianized at once. How long would all this remain a wonder? Jesus remains on earth from generation to generation. How long ago would the conjecture have arisen, that this man who has lived through so many ages, had always been here on earth, and that the tradition of his once having been mortal like other men, was nothing but a superstition gotten up in some age of antiquity beyond our reach? There would have been no occasion of preserving any records of the wonderful works of Jesus in the days of his flesh, for as the whole would become immediately connected to christianity, there would have been no necessity nor excitement to write and preserve the accounts we have in the gospel, or if they had been written, they could have had no support now but ancient tradition. Not one martyr, not one instance of persecution, not a Celsus in the second, a Porphyry in the third, nor a Julian in the fourth centuries to oppose the truth, and thereby bear testimony to the antiquity of the christian history.
This immortal man would be here on earth, and the sun and the moon and the stars would be in the heavens, the mountains and the rivers here on earth; and the same mind that would conjecture that all these visible things were from everlasting to everlasting, would make no exception of this man Christ Jesus. But now you are called on to prove your christian tradition; and what have you to convince the Deist with? Will you say my conjectures are by no means correct? Well, I expected it would turn out so. You mean then that Jesus should not only remain on earth, but that he should continue the evidences of his having been mortal, of his having died, and of his resurrection as clear as they were when they convinced the world in the first place. -- Would there, in this case, be any room for any inquiry? any for doubts? Would there be as many denominations of christians as there are now? Should we get at this religion by reasoning? Perhaps you would prefer your second proposal, and have Jesus manifested in every generation. But this would have been a regular return of the same event, and would have been placed among the phenomena of nature, and the Deist would say that there never had been any beginning to this regular operation, it has always been so from time beyond date.
Thus far, but no more. The evidences of our religion are like the religion itself, infinitely superior to any thing ever contrived by human wisdom. And it is an opinion in which I am the more confirmed, the more I examine it, that if the wisest set of philosophers which ever lived on earth had been a council to contrive a method by which christianity could have been perpetuated in the world, that scheme which they would have projected, would of itself defeated the object.
The wisdom of this great scheme corresponds with the divine power which has been manifested in it. What set of impostors, either wise or simple, learned or unlearned would ever have thought of such an undertaking as that of which we have an account in the four evangelists? Would they be likely to find one who would be their leader, the one to die, and leave the rest to make the people believe that he arose from the dead? Could a man be found now who would be willing to undertake such a piece of madness and folly? If we pretend to reason shall we not keep to human nature, and reason according to those laws by which ourselves and others are governed?
Do you believe, sir, that a man could be found who would undertake to lead a party, whose object should be to impose on the people by a pretended resurrection, and consent himself to be the hero of this imposture?
You answer, no. But then ask; if this wonderful story was not written some considerable time after that period to which the dates of the writings are assigned, and such large additions made that the whole appears entirely different from what was really true?
This brings me to consider the third particular selected for consideration, out of your epistle.
3dly. In allusion to the supposed controversy between the Unitarians and Trinitarians, you think I ought to have considered the circumstance of the destruction of the Jews by the Romans, as giving a favourable opportunity for the fabricating the books of the evangelists, and of giving them success in the world, as the old pharisees and rulers of the Jews were principally cut off in that awful destruction of their nation and city.
You will observe that by your suggestion you leave the first section of the argument to which you refer, in which no book or books were used, and notice only the last section in which you were indulged, for sake of the argument, in the supposition that the gospels were not written until after the destruction of Jerusalem, nor propagated on the miracles on which the gospels have founded it. Here, sir, have I not an occasion of some little complaint? If you really thought that the gospels were, none of them, written in the life time of the apostles, and considered it safe to predicate an argument on this ground, why should you withhold the proof of this fact? Why did you not inform me of the authority by which your argument is supported in your own mind? And furthermore, why do you try to get away from the argument as stated in its first form, without showing its want of force, or without allowing its merit? By conducting arguments in this way, in room of converguing them to some definite point of conclusion, they are diverged indefinitely, and the mind seems bewildered without an object.
However, I am disposed to follow you, and will now endeavour to shew the probability of the gospel's having been written even before the destruction of Jerusalem.
The following passages are quoted from Paley's evidences from page 106 and on --
From the epistle of Barnabas, to which I have before alluded; "Let us, therefore, beware lest it come upon us, as it is written, there are many called, few chosen." Our author justly adds: "From the expression, 'as it is written,' we infer with certainty, that, at the time when the author of this epistle lived, there was a book extant, well known to christians, and of authority among them, containing these words -- 'Many are called, few chosen.'" For the authority of this epistle I refer unto Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome, noticed in a former communication. If Clement were liable to mistake the author, it seems hardly probable that he would be deceived concerning the time when this epistle, purporting to have been written by Barnabas, was written; as it is no later than A.D.194 that he quotes this epistle as an ancient work. It may be proper to remark, that although authors differ respecting the genuineness of this epistle, both Dr. Priestly and Paley acknowledge and maintain its antiquity, and place it very near to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, which gives it all the authority for which it is here quoted; for the thing now to be proved is, that it is probable that the gospel of Matthew was written before the destruction of the Jewish hierarchy. Now as this epistle of Barnabas was written soon after this destruction, and refers to the gospel of Matthew in the manner above quoted, as refering to what was an acknowledged writing of scripture authority, it seems reasonable to infer that St. Matthew's gospel had been written long enough before, to obtain its establishment among Christian churches, which fairly throws its antiquity anterior to the destruction of Jerusalem. Sir, I see nothing to forbid this conclusion from being highly probable, and this, I expect to show, is all that is necessary to be made out in this case.
"Of Polycarp," who was appointed bishop of Symrna by the apostles themselves, says our author, "we have one undoubted epistle remaining. And this, though a short letter, contains nearly forty clear allusions to books of the New Testament; which is strong evidence of the respect which christians of that age bore for those books." It appears from this account, that, as Polycarp was a contemporary of the apostles, and referred to the books of the New Testament in his writings, as to books of established authority, these books must have been written as early as the time in which their reputed authors lived, which places their date prior to the destruction of Jerusalem; as it is not pretended that any of the evangelists continued until after the destruction of that city except St. John who is supposed to have lived to a very great age.
One more from our author: "Papias, a hearer of John, and companion of Polycarp, as Irenaeus attests, and of that age, as all agree, in a passage quoted by Eusebius, from a work now lost, expressly ascribes the respective gospels to Matthew and Mark, and in a manner which proves that those gospels must have publicly borne the names of these authors at that time, and probably long before." All this appears perfectly consistent with the idea that these gospels were written by the evangelists themselves, and proves together with the following considerations the probability of its being correct. Further considerations to be taken into the foregoing account are the following. St. Matthew, St. Luke and St. Mark, all speak of the prophesy of Jesus respecting the destruction of Jerusalem, but do not even hint that this prophesy had been fulfilled. In St. John's gospel no mention is made of this prophesy, and it is reasonable enough to suppose that this omission was on account of the prophesy's having been fulfilled before his gospel was written.
Again, if the gospels had not been written by these reputed authors, nor in the time that the evangelists lived, but some time after the destruction of Jerusalem, and these had been fabricated by designing men, they would certainly have been exposed as a fraud by the Gnostics who held many opinions so very contrary to the scriptures of the New Testament. So very contrary were some of the early heresies to the writings of the evangelists that they erased many things from them that they might the better maintain their own notions. Now this would never have taken place if these Gnostics could have proved that these Gospels were frauds, which they certainly could have done, for they existed as early as these writings are supposed to have been written. Furthermore, if the gospels had been forged books, written after the destruction of Jerusalem, it would have been an easy task for Celsus to have exposed the whole fraud. He certainly would never have admitted the truth of the miracles of Jesus if he could have proved that the books in which they were recorded were forgeries. But this neither he nor the learned Porphyry attempted to do.
I have suggested, that, if the probability of the gospel's having been written before the destruction of Jerusalem and by the evangelists themselves be proved it is sufficient for our present argument. And so, I think, it will appear to you, when you combine with this probability two more important considerations.
1st. That the internal evidences contained in the books of the New Testament, of their genuineness, are sufficient of themselves to establish their character as such; and:
2d. That the above probability of itself is to be relied on even from external evidence if no external proof can be proved against it, which is not pretended.
It should be kept in mind, that the writings of the evangelists are guarded by the early attacks of the enemies of christianity, who ever treated them as being, what they pretended to be, a faithful history of the origin of the religion they inculcated; and also by the opposition of the early sects who arose from the church, who would have demolished their foundations if they had been spurious.
4th. The argument you rest on the supposition that the apostles did, in reality, believe in the resurrection of Jesus, when in fact the thing was not true, may now be noticed. -- As you would naturally expect, I shall by no means allow either your premises or conclusions.
1st. Why should I allow your premises? You have brought no argument, nor attempted to bring any to disprove what I contended for, viz. that the apostles could not have been persuaded to believe the resurrection with any evidence short of that recorded in the evangelists. "Here," you say "lies the mistake if there be any;" and to this I agree. Where then is your argument against mine, on which so much depends? You have attempted to bring none. But you say: "only suppose the resurrection to have been actually believed, by any evidence, or circumstance whatever, no matter what." What argument is there sir, in this "only suppose?" I contend the thing is not supposable. It was as true in that age of the world, that a fact naturally incredible requires indubitable evidence to substantiate it, as it is now. I would allow that it is supposable, that one man might, in a sort of a delirium, which generally throws the brain into a situation, by which, what only exists in the mind, appears a reality to the sense of sight, might think he saw Jesus after his crucifixion, when in fact he did not. But I cannot allow it to be a supposable case that the whole eleven apostles should all become delirious at once and with them a number more, and all be persuaded against the prejudices of their minds, that they saw Jesus, and that at a number of times, and in diverse manners, when there was no such thing. But:
2d. Even allowing your supposition, your consequences would be very unlikely to follow. You surely would not suppose that the apostles could believe they saw Jesus when they did not, if they had the use of their reason properly. We must suppose them to have been insane then. -- What then would have been the consequences? Would the authority have put these mad-men to death? Would they have been persecuted at all for their misfortune? But these mad-men preached Jesus and the resurrection to the people, and so convinced them of the fact, that multitudes believed them, and on this supposition we are now to suppose our religion was first established in the world! If we may suppose such things, there are no absurdities that we may not suppose. You must suppose it to be a very dangerous thing to try a man for his life by a jury of twelve men, for if the man was innocent of the murder for which he was indicted and no evidence was produced to convict him on, these men might all be made to believe, some how, by some circumstance, "no matter what," that they all saw the murder committed by this very innocent person on trial.
5th. I thought of saying something on your suggestion of the necessity of miracles in some future time to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, but being a little more careful, than at first, I find you seem to give up this matter. You say: "considering the prejudices of the Jews, as a people, I cannot suppose that they will ever believe in Jesus, as their promised Messias short of being convinced of its truth by a miracle; and should they return to the land of Palestine, and there rebuild their temple, at Jerusalem, it would be such a clear fulfilment of the prophesy of Ezekiel, that it would be equal to a miracle, and do as much towards corroborating the truth of all the other prophecies." If the return of the Jews, etc. be equal to miracles, then it may preclude their necessity. But as this particular does not immediately concern our general subject it is dismissed.
6th. As none of the evangelists have been particular respecting the meeting in Galilee, and as this was an appointment even before the crucifixion, as well as afterward, it is fairly within the reach of probable conjecture, that this meeting was sufficiently numerous to justify St. Paul's words. He does not speak of this matter as of a subject with which his acquaintance was small, for he says; "he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep." He no doubt, had seen many of this great number and had been informed of the circumstances of the occasion, and of the time when this multitude was favoured with this sight.
To conclude; I heartily join with you in grateful acknowledgements, to the Almighty disposer of events, for the manifestations of his universal benevolence to his creatures, and especially unto man whom he hath seen fit to induce with the attributes of his own nature, and constituted him an heir of life and immortality. In view of this, I can be thankful for any faithfulness discoverable in those who publish the word of life, and endeavour to defend it in the spirit of meekness and Christian love.
And I will further add, that I feel a peculiar pleasure in finding your mind to be somewhat divested of its incumberances, and that your doubts of the grounds of your precious faith, are dispersing more and more from your mind, while the evidences of divine truth find a sincere reception in your understanding.
Let us endeavour to cherish, not only the evidences of truth, but truth itself in our afflictions, and in room of being idlers in the markets, go early into our Lord's vineyard trusting the words of him who saith; "whatsoever is right, ye shall receive."
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