A SERIES OF LETTERS, IN DEFENCE OF DIVINE REVELATION; IN REPLY TO REV. ABNER KNEELAND'S SERIOUS INQUIRY INTO THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE SAME.
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BY HOSEA BALLOU, Pastor of the Second Universalist Society in Boston.
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TO WHICH IS ADDED, A RELIGIOUS CORRESPONDENCE, BETWEEN THE REV. HOSEA BALLOU, AND THE REV. DR. JOSEPH BUCKMINSTER AND REV. JOSEPH WALTON, PASTORS OF CONGREGATIONAL CHURCHES IN PORTSMOUTH, N. H.
District of Massachusetts, to wit: District Clerk's Office.
Be it remembered, that on the twenty-fifth day of July, A. D. 1820, in the forty-fifth year of the Independence of the United States of America, HENRY BOWEN, of the said district, has deposited in this office, the title of a book, the right whereof he claims as Proprietor in the words following, to wit:
"A Series of Letters, in defence of Divine Revelation; in reply to Rev. Abner Kneeland's Serious Inquiry into the authenticity of the same. By HOSEA BALLOU, Pastor of the Second Universalist Society in Boston. To which is added, a Religious Correspondence, between the Rev. Hosea Ballou, and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Buckminster, and Rev. Joseph Walton, Pastors of Congregational Churches in Portsmouth, N. H."
In conformity to the Act of the Congress of the United States, entitled, "An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by securing the Copies of Maps, Charts and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of such Copies, during the times therein mentioned:" and also to an Act entitled, "An Act supplementary to an Act, entitled, an Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by securing the Copies of Maps, Charts and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of such Copies during the times therein mentioned; and extending the benefits thereof to the Arts of Designing, Engraving, and Etching Historical, and other Prints."
JOHN W. DAVIS, Clerk of the District of Massachusetts
TO THE READER.
Some few suggestions respecting the following Controversy are thought necessary in order to inform the reader how it was first introduced, the motives which led to it, and those which induced to its being published to the world.
We learn from the Rev. Mr. KNEELAND, that having at different times been exercised in his mind with serious doubts respecting the authenticity of the Scriptures, and the system of Divine Revelation, recorded in them, he was induced to solicit a correspondence with the Rev. Mr. BALLOU on the subject. That, in order to render the controversy the more interesting, by calling into action the energies of mind, and by directing the correspondence to definite purposes, he assumed the character of a real opponent, determining to maintain the opposition, in all its forms, until reduced, by necessity, to yield to successful arguments directed against it. It was with great reluctance that the advocate for the christian religion, in this controversy, consented to undertake a work of this nature; not, however, because he esteemed it unnecessary, or because he entertained any doubts with regard to the defensibility of revelation, but, as he contends, on account of the want of abilities and means to do the subject justice. His opponent, however, being a familiar acquaintance and friend, as well as a preacher in the same profession of faith with himself, having led him to believe that a labour of this kind was called for by the most sacred obligations of brother to brother, he was induced to render what assistance was in his power, without infringing too much on other important duties in which he was almost constantly engaged.
When the controversy closed, Mr. KNEELAND felt such an entire satisfaction in his own mind, that the objections which he had stated were fairly answered, and the validity of the Scriptures vindicated, that he was led to believe that to publish the correspondence would be of service to the cause of Christ. He therefore obtained leave of his correspondent, and carried the manuscripts to the westward, where he offered proposals for the work, and obtained a number of subscribers; but being called to remove to Philadelphia, he was under the necessity of postponing the publication for a season. The publisher having obtained some knowledge of this correspondence, and being informed by the Rev. Mr. KNEELAND that the arguments which it contains were, in his opinion, calculated to strengthen the believer, as well as confirm the doubting, he negotiated for the manuscripts and now presents the work to the public, entertaining a hope that it may serve the interest of christianity, and promote a respect and veneration for the sacred writings.
The letters which passed between Mr. BALLOU and two respectable clergymen in the town of Portsmouth, N. H. were some years since published in Vermont; but several circumstances rendered it proper that this work should be reprinted. Besides its being nearly or quite out of print, the first edition was on an inferior paper, the work badly executed, and a number of errors were discovered.
To those who believe in the universality of divine goodness, the publisher feels confident the following work will be received and read with no small satisfaction. And a hope is entertained that it may be the means of enlightening some, who though they possess the spirit of universal love and benevolence, have not the felicity of believing in the divine goodness to the extent of their own desires.
A SERIES OF LETTERS, &c.
EXTRACTS No. 1.
[The first letter of the objector was designed merely as an Introduction, inviting Mr. B. to the investigation of the important subject of moral truth, or more particularly the truth of divine revelation. The following are extracts.]
"The thought has long since occurred to me that the present age is an age of discovery and improvement. The human mind seems to be developing its powers in a most wonderful manner; new inventions, new discoveries, and new theories are the fruits of new experiments; while many are improving upon theories and subjects already existing. Thus human nature seems to be almost prepared to make a regular advance in moral as well as scientific truth.
"However pleasing this must be to every real lover to the arts and sciences, yet there seems to be a disposition (at least, as it respects all moral and religious subjects) to chain down the human mind to its present attainments, and thereby prevent all further improvement. O how long will it be before common sense shall burst this bubble of fanaticism, and all its mists become evaporated and removed by the rays of simple and native truth? Then shall man know for himself that, under God, all his powers and faculties are as free as the element he breathes. Free to think, free to speak, and free to act as reason and good sense shall dictate. Supposing that you and I should think of setting an example for others, by trying to throw off the prejudices of a false education, so far as we have been thus entangled, and search for the truth within us, as the foundation of all TRUTH which materially concerns us to know. Who, except our own consciences, will ever call us to an account for so doing?
"It gives me pain when I see what time and money, what labour and toil have been expended, and are still expending, in plodding over, as it were an old dead letter; to learn languages which exist no where only on paper, barely for the sake of reading the opinions of other men, in other times; men who lived in other ages of the world, and under very different circumstances from ourselves; whose opinions, all of which are worth preserving, might be given in our own language, so as to answer every purpose which can be answered by them, at less than a hundredth part of the expense it necessarily requires to obtain a competent knowledge of those languages in which almost every thing, supposed to be valuable, has been originally written. And after all, the truth, or falsity, of every proposition must depend on the truth or falsity of the principles embraced in it; and not on the language in which it was originally written.
"If the Greek and Hebrew languages be any security against things being uttered or written falsely in those languages, I should not only think it important to learn them, but to adopt them, if possible, as our vernacular tongue.—But as I believe none will contend for this, I should like to be informed of what possible service it can be to an American to learn either of those languages? Is it not a fact, that every natural as well as moral truth may be fully unfolded to the understanding without them? This will lead the way to one of the principal subjects which I mean to discuss. It maybe said, that the holy scriptures were originally written in Greek and Hebrew: viz. the bible, which contains a revelation of the will of God concerning the duty, interest, and final destination of mankind. This, if admitted, gives the Greek and Hebrew languages an importance that nothing else could. Hence the importance of preserving the Greek and Hebrew languages, without which, religion could not be preserved in its purity. And as all have not an opportunity of attaining to a knowledge of those languages, it is the more necessary that some should, lest the knowledge of languages, on which so much is supposed to depend, should be lost to the world.
"If I understand the above proposition, it seems to be this: The only revelation of God to man, which was ever recorded on either vellum or paper, was written partly in Greek and partly in Hebrew; hence, the revealed will of God cannot be known only through the medium of those languages. If the truth of all this can be made to appear, I should find no difficulty in admitting all the consequences which must result from such premises. It appears a little extraordinary, however, to my understanding, and not a very little neither, that God should make a revelation of his will in one age, and not in another; to one nation; and not to another; or that he should make a revelation in one language, and not in another! If a special revelation, was ever necessary at all, it is difficult for me to see why it was not equally necessary in all ages of the world, to all the nations of the earth, and in all languages ever spoken by man.
"How sweet is truth to the understanding! And, when spoken in a language every word of which is familiar, how harmonious it sounds to the ear by which the sentiments find their way to the heart!
"When God speaks to the inward man there is no need of going to Lexicons, Dictionaries, and Commentaries to know what he means. I would not complain, however, even of this method to ascertain truth, if I could be so happy as always to come away satisfied. But to consider a subject on which much is supposed to depend, and, desiring if possible to obtain the truth, plod through the dark mists occasioned by the ambiguity and contradiction of authors, and after all, be obliged to dismiss the subject as much in the dark as it was found, is too insupportable to be confided in as the only road to moral truth.
"Let it not be supposed however, that I mean to insinuate that the bible contains no moral truth; so far from this, I conceive it to be replete with moral instruction; that is to say, there are excellent moral maxims in the bible; but respecting these there is neither ambiguity nor obscurity; and probably for this plain reason, because there seems to be no dispute about them. These however are none the more true for being written, and would have been equally true if found in any other book, and at the same time not found in the bible. Truth is truth wherever found, and all moral truth, as well as natural, must be eternal in its nature.
"Much of the bible however, is merely historical; and whether most of the things there related are either true or not, I do not see any connexion they either have, or can have, with either my present or future happiness. As for instance, I do not see how my happiness is at all connected with the story of Daniel's being cast into the den of lions—or of Jonah's being swallowed by a fish! any more than it is with the story of Remus and Romulus' being nursed by a she wolf! And if not, these things are matters of total indifference; yea, as much so as the extraordinary, and, were it not for comparing things supposed to be sacred with profane, I would say, ridiculous stories in the heathen mythology. If it should be contended that the facts recorded in sacred history are necessary to prove the power and providence of God towards his children, it may be answered that those in profane history, if true, are equally conclusive. If it should be said that we cannot place the same confidence in profane history as in sacred, it brings me to the very subject of my inquiry—viz.
"If the things stated in the bible are no more reasonable than those in profane history, what reason have we to believe these any more than those? Must not our own reason finally determine for ourselves whether or not either be true? And if we are in no sense interested in the truth or falsity of those accounts why need we trouble ourselves about them?
"Yours, &c, A. KNEELAND."
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Much esteemed friend,—The desire you express of attempting those researches which seem necessary to promote the further attainment of moral truth, is appreciated as truly laudable; and did I feel myself adequate to your wishes, I should enjoy a peculiar felicity in complying with your request. But so far from this I am very sensible that the magnitude of the general subject which you have introduced, requires to be investigated by abilities far superior to those possessed by me, and demands a tribute from resources not within my possession. However, as you have imposed an obligation on me by the communication which is here acknowledged, I will make a feeble attempt to suggest a few reflections relative to the main subjects of your epistle, which if they do nothing more, will return merited acknowledgements and plead the necessity of calling to your assistance abilities more promising.
While I view the advances which are making in the knowledge of the arts and sciences, with the pleasure of which you speak, I am apprehensive that the propensity "to chain down the human mind to its present attainments, and thereby prevent all further improvements," relative to moral truth, may have its rise in a principle, which, so far from being inimical to man, is, in its general tendency, incalculably beneficial. No desire is entertained to justify all the zeal and all the means which are employed to prevent the free exercise of the human mind, in its researches after divine knowledge, and to retard the influx of that light which would prove unfavourable to doctrines which have little more than prescription for their support; but it seems reasonable to make a proper distinction between what may be called a salutary principle in the human mind, and a wrong application or an erroneous indulgence of it. The principle referred to, inclines us not only to hold in the highest veneration any improvements which we have made, but also to retain such acquisitions in their purity. Now it is believed that what you complain of, has its rise from the foregoing causes, and is nothing more than a wrong or an erroneous indulgence of a natural desire which in its general tendency is advantageous. Nothing is more incident to man, than to misapply his desires, and to overate his reasonable duty. But it is at the same time believed that a remedy of such defects which should consist in the destruction of those principles which are improperly acted on, would be worse than the disorder. And now the thought strikes me, that the way by which we account for the improprieties which have just been traced up to their causes, will as charitably account for what seems to incite you to aim a fatal stroke at a fabric which has its foundation in the immovable principles of our moral nature, and which, though through the wanderings of the human mind, may have not a little hay, wood and stubble, yet possess too much gold, silver and precious stones, to be forsaken as a pile of rubbish.
It gives you "pain to see what time and money, what labour and toil have been expended and are still expending in plodding over as it were an old dead letter; to learn languages which exist no where only on paper, barely for the sake of reading the opinions of other men who lived in other times," &c. But you allow that all this would be necessary if "the only revelation of God to man, which was ever recorded on vellum or paper was written partly in Greek and partly in Hebrew," and that "the will of God cannot be known only through the medium of those languages." In this last particular, you express what appears very reasonable, and I presume you would be willing to consent to all this expense and toil, even if the proposition were to lose part of its importance, and it were only contended that God had actually made a revelation to man, which was written originally partly in Greek and partly in the Hebrew, without saying that he has never caused a revelation to be written originally in any other language.
A revelation from God, if it were written only in the Hebrew or Greek, would be considered of sufficient value to recompence the labour of learning the language. But you contend that this revelation, if real, can be translated into English, but, you must allow that to translate it, the original must be learned first. Will you say, that after the translation is once made, the original is of no more use? How then are future ages to determine whether they have not been imposed on? Suppose no person of the present age understood the languages in which the scriptures were first written, surely in this case, those languages would be lost beyond recovery. Suppose then it should be doubted whether our bible was not a fabrication, written originally not in Hebrew nor in Greek, but in some more modern language, how could the suggestion be refuted?
You appear to be perplexed with the disagreement of authors, as commentators, and I presume, critics on the original text; you speak on this subject, as if it were too much for patience to endure. Now, dear brother, I confess I feel very differently on this subject. I feel a devout, a religious gratitude to him whose wisdom is foolishness in the sight of too many of my fellow creatures. I view the very thing of which you complain, as that fire and crucible which have preserved the written testimony from any considerable corruptions. This is a subject on which volumes might be written to the instruction and edification of the disciples of Jesus.
The queries which you state concerning a revelation's being made in one age and not in another, in one nation and not in another, in one language, and not in another, if a special revelation were necessary, &c. are not considered as very weighty objections to the doctrine of the scriptures. I believe you will allow that our species of being commenced on this earth in a different way than that by which it has been continued. But why should the Creator, create a man and a woman at one time, and not at all times when he sees fit to multiply his rational creatures? It is not only evident that God saw that the laws of procreation were sufficient to perpetuate man, and to multiply his rational offspring, but it is likewise apparent that the connexions, relations, and harmonies of society are principally built on this law. So I humbly conceive, that the continuance and propagation of a divine revelation are even as well secured by the means which have been employed for that purpose, as if the Almighty had in every age, and in every country made such a revelation, and moreover, it is likewise apparent, that the mental labours necessary in obtaining a knowledge of these divine things greatly contribute to their enjoyment, and render the christian fellowship, faith and hope peculiarly interesting and edifying. Here again I can only suggest a subject on which voluminous writings might be profitable.
You seem to entertain an idea that the historical part of the bible can be of no importance to you, as it has no connexion with your present or future happiness. You instance the particulars of Daniel's being cast into the den of lions, and Jonah's being swallowed by the fish, &c. As these are circumstances in the history of that nation which continues a comment on, and an evidence of prophesy, they are too interesting to be dispensed with. If you could produce the decree of a powerful monarch, sent into all parts of his dominions, which was occasioned by "Remus and Romulus' being nursed by a she wolf," the case would bear some marks of a parallel. Profane authors advert to such events as sufficient support of any fact which they endeavor to maintain.
I come now to your main object. Speaking in regard to the credibility of what is written by profane authors, and of that which is recorded in the scriptures, you ask—"Must not our own reason finally determine for ourselves whether or not either be true?" To this I reply in the affirmative; but then reason must have its means and its evidences. For instance, I read of the death and resurrection of the man Christ Jesus, I consider this vastly important event as it stands in connexion with the evidences which support it, and reason is the eye with which I examine these evidences, and when reason is constrained to say all these circumstances could never have existed unless the fact were true, it is then I am a believer in Jesus. But if I must consider the resurrection disconnected from the evidence, reason has nothing to do with it. Please to accept these hasty remarks, not as an answer, but as suggestions which may lead to one, and as a testimony of my respect and esteem.
Yours, &c. H. BALLOU.
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EXTRACTS No. II.
"A revelation from God, let it be made in any language whatever, I am very ready to admit, must be considered of sufficient importance, not only to justify all reasonable pains to preserve it, but also to hand it down in its original purity to posterity. We owe it, not only in gratitude to the giver, but we owe it in justice to future generations, who would have just occasion to reproach us, if they could know that so valuable a treasure was put into our hands, which might have been handed down to them, and that we suffered it to perish through what must be termed by them, a criminal neglect.
"You will perceive, therefore, that I had no particular allusion to a revelation from God, when I spoke of translating the most valuable of ancient writings into English. No one will pretend that such translations could not be made sufficiently accurate to answer all the purposes, either of history or of the useful arts. It is admitted that the case is quite different, if there be a mystery in these writings, the truth of which depends on literary criticism, or grammatical exactness; but if these writings are nothing more than the bare opinions and discoveries of men, and of men too, as liable to error as ourselves, and if no one was to view them in a different light, I apprehend there would be all the confidence placed in a translation, that could with propriety be placed in the original itself. For, after all, we should try the facts by other corroborating testimony; and as to the opinions, we should judge of them only by the reasonableness and fitness of things. Although I have heard it objected to the translation of Seneca's Morals, that much of the beauty of the style is lost in the translation, yet I never heard it pretended but that the ideas are sufficiently clear; but the case would have been quite different if mankind had ever been taught to believe that their final and eternal salvation depended in the least degree on an exact observance of those moral principles. And I very much question whether there ever has been a translation of the bible, or even of any other work, in which the most important facts were not sufficiently apparent. If the fact can be supposed otherwise, it must be admitted that, comparatively speaking, but very few people at the present day are benefited by a revelation from God. For the great mass of mankind have to receive the bible altogether on the credit of others. And who are their guides in this case? Answer, Translators and Commentators! And as these men made no pretentions to inspiration, unless the translation is substantially correct, as to matters of fact, how are the common people benefited by a revelation from God!"
[Having adverted to the previous studies in the dead languages, which are required before an admittance can be obtained in our common colleges, the objector proceeds.]
"But I am off from my main subject. I will now endeavour to call up all my mental faculties, seriously to attend to a revelation from God. The idea suggested in these words is beyond all expression awfully sublime. Yea, not even the bursting of Vesuvius, not the aurora-borealis, not the forked lightning, not the tremendous earthquake, no, nor yet the greatest phenomenon in nature, of which the human mind can conceive, can afford such ideas of the truly sublime, as the truth, if it could be realized, of the above proposition. Let me not hastily reject without serious reflection, that, which of all truths, must be the most important. O help me, my dear friend, help me also, O thou who art the only source of truth, thoroughly to investigate this momentous subject! But let me not be deceived. Let me not receive for truth, that which cannot be made sufficiently clear to my understanding. There can be no more harm in doubting, than in believing, where the evidence is not clear. All that which appertains to eternal truth will remain, whether I now see it or not; and that which does not appertain to it will never be realized, although I may now be made to believe it. There can be no harm, therefore, in investigating this subject in the same way and on the same principles, as I would investigate all subjects. Although I cannot expect to offer any thing very new, yet I am disposed to examine the subject for myself, and that too, in my own way. I shall quote no authors, for I have not read but few on this subject which meet my approbation, and even them are not now by me. My own understanding is the only author to which I shall appeal. If that can be cleared of the difficulties which have fallen in its way, I am willing, yea I wish, still to believe in divine revelation.
"Here let me close my preamble, which is already made too lengthy, and come immediately to discourse 'ON DIVINE REVELATION.'
"In order to know the truth or falsity of any proposition, we must in the first place understand the terms by which the proposition is made; for without such previous knowledge, we cannot know what is meant either to be affirmed or denied. By divine revelation, I understand 'a communication of sacred truth,' made directly from God to man. In order for any man to know that a revelation has been made to him from God, it must be made in such a way, that neither his perception, nor his judgment or understanding, can possibly be mistaken. For, as man by his reason alone, never could have foreseen that a revelation would be made, therefore, unless it should have been made in such a way that he could not have been deceived, a rational man would be more likely to conclude that he was deceived, than that, which to him would seem more unlikely, should be true. It seems, therefore, that a revelation from God to all our conceptions of the fact, must be considered, if existing at all, as something supernatural; otherwise it could be nothing more than discovery, or a fortuitous event. Hence a revelation from God, however true, and however clear, to the person or persons to whom it was first communicated, must lose its evidence, in some degree, when it comes to be communicated by him or them to others; for, being communicated to others, although it is still revelation, yet not being received immediately from God, it cannot be accompanied with the same evidence which it was in the first place; therefore, to say the most of it, it is nothing more than the history of a revelation. It is made no less true than it was before; but its truth now rests upon very different testimony.
"The principles in nature all existed, before they were discovered by man. Their being discovered, neither changed their nature, nor made them any more true. What consternation a total eclipse of the sun, or of the moon must have produced, before their cause was known? They are now viewed, especially that of the latter, among the common occurrences of nature. Yea, many of the operations of nature, which are now perfectly understood by chemists, could they be viewed by the common people, who know not their causes, they would be inclined to believe they were supernatural. At least, it would not be difficult to make them believe so, especially when this knowledge was confined to a few, and those few were so disposed. These remarks are not designed to do away the force of any arguments which may be founded on miracles; for this is no proof that miracles may not exist; but then, how is a miracle a revelation of any thing more than what is contained in the miracle itself? This is what I cannot see, but I shall have occasion to say more on this subject hereafter. It will be needless for me to object to the inferences drawn from miracles until a miracle is proven.
"If a man absolutely knows something of which I am ignorant, and informs me of it, it makes no difference to me how he come by his knowledge—it is revelation to me. It may not be divine revelation; but supposing it is, or is not, in either case, how am I to believe? Is it any thing that will admit of mathematical demonstration? If so, I shall take up with nothing short of being convinced in this way. Is it any thing which he has discovered? If so, he must give me evidence of such a discovery. Is it something to which he was an eye witness? Then the truth to me, depends for the present, entirely on his credibility. I must be convinced in the first place that he was not deceived himself, and secondly, that he has no motive in deceiving me. And evidence equally conclusive must accompany the truth of divine revelation, or it ought not, nay more, it cannot, rationally be believed. But supposing that I am convinced of the truth, and therefore believe; and I relate the same to a third person; is it equally revelation to him as it was to me? Yes, it may be so considered, in one sense, at least, for it informs him of something of which he was before ignorant, as much so as it did me, but then the truth of the fact does not rest with him on equal testimony, and therefore he is more excusable if he does not believe. If, however, he can believe all that I believe, and in addition to that, believe also in me, then, and not till then, he will become a believer in the same truth. But if he even suspects my veracity, it weakens in his mind, all the other testimony; and though he may still believe in the main proposition, yet he believes with less strength of evidence.
"Here a very important question arises in my mind. Is divine revelation something that rests entirely on matters of fact; or is the most essential part, which concerns us to know, a mere matter of opinion? On a few moments of reflection, however, it appears that this can hardly admit of a question. For all that relates to a future, and an eternal state, must be a mere matter of opinion only; and the facts recorded in the scriptures are supposed to corroborate and substantiate those opinions. Now, as they respect matters of fact, I believe the scriptures are substantially the same in all versions, and in all languages into which they have been translated. And if so, there is no need of learning the original languages in order to become acquainted with the matters of fact recorded in the bible. We never should have seen, nor even heard, of so much controversy and biblical criticism, if the disputes had been wholly relative to matters of fact. No, all the various readings, different translations, and interpolations, have little or nothing to do with a dispute of this kind. But if the facts can he disputed, they must be disputed upon other grounds than that of biblical criticism.
"Take, for instance, the 'death and resurrection of the man Christ Jesus,' which you have mentioned; can any one suppose that there ever was, or ever will be, a translation which makes any thing more or less in favour of this fact? This is not pretended. And if not, how does a knowledge of the Greek language help me to believe this fact?
"This brings me again to my main subject; and now two very important questions arise in my mind.
"1. In relation to the facts, as stated, respecting the life, death, and resurrection of the 'man Christ Jesus;' are they positively and absolutely true?
"2. Admitting the truth of the facts, does it necessarily follow, or is there any thing which renders it certain, that, in regard to other things, neither he, nor the apostles, so called, could be mistaken? And that, in all their writings, they have stated nothing which is incorrect? That is, what certain evidence have we that the writers of the books, which being compiled, are called the New Testament, were all honest men? That they could not have been mistaken relative to the things which they have written? And that in every instance, they have written the truth?
"Respecting the first proposition, I have already observed that the truth of it does not, neither can it, depend on biblical criticism. They are either facts, which are substantially correct, or they are fabrications. The circumstantial differences between the original copies themselves, as recorded by the four Evangelists, are much greater than what can be found in all the different versions, translations, &c. that have been collated. Hence no argument can be brought against the truth of those facts from either a real or supposed difference between the translation, and their respective originals. For even if not only the original copies, but the language also in which they were originally written, should be entirely lost, it would not militate, as I can see, against the truth of the facts therein recorded.
"The translation acknowledges and affirms itself to be a translation out of the 'original Greek,' together with former translations compared, &c. Now permit me to ask, is not this as good evidence of the existence of the original Greek, as the original Greek is of the facts intended to be proved thereby? I should consider the translation of any work, which was generally known at the time of its translation, better evidence of the existence of such a work, though the original should be entirely lost, than the work itself, even in the original, could be of the existence of facts, which, if they existed at all, were known at first to but very few.
"You have suggested, sir, that if the original of the scriptures were entirely lost, future ages would not know but they had been 'imposed upon.' I think, however, you will not insist on this point, lest you should destroy an argument, which, hereafter, you may very much need. I recall my words. For this seems to imply that we are already engaged in a controversy; whereas, I trust we are both candidly in search of truth. I suspect, however, there is too much truth in your suggestion; but then its truth, instead of relieving, only increases my difficulty.
"Every one must know that when the translation of the scriptures was first made, the original not only existed, but it must have been known to others, beside the translators, who were able to detect the fraud, if there had been any, as to substantial matter of fact. And, in a work of so great importance, this certainly would have been the case. Hence you will at once perceive, that when the copies were few in number, and before the art of printing was discovered, fabrications and interpolations might find their way into the original scriptures with much greater facility, than could any considerable variations by an intentionally erroneous translation; especially after the work become generally known, and so highly valued, as to require a translation of it.
"As you admit that 'reason is the eye by which we are to examine the evidences' which stand in support of the 'resurrection of the man Christ Jesus,' and of course, as I presume, by which we are to examine the evidences in support of all other subjects, I shall say no more upon this part of the subject until I hear your reasons for believing in the resurrection of Jesus; for this fact, as I conceive, must be considered the main hinge on which the whole Christian system rests, if it can be supported by any fact, on which it will finally turn.
2. "But after all, my greatest difficulty is with my second proposition. To relate facts substantially correct, which persons have either seen or heard, requires no degree of uncommon skill, or uncommon honesty; but to state things which will absolutely take place, which are yet future, requires something more than common skill; and to state things correctly, which will take place in eternity, must, as I conceive, require nothing short of divine wisdom. That the evangelists have stated nothing more than what is substantially correct, as it respects matters of fact, will be admitted by all: for every one knows there is a circumstantial difference in their writings, both as it respects the order of time, and in several instances, as it respects matters of fact.
"If the account given us of Jesus be even substantially correct, I think there can be no reasonable doubt but that he was capable of telling his disciples every thing which it concerns us to know relative to a future state of existence.—But I have been often struck with astonishment, when reflecting on the subject, that Jesus said so little in regard to a future state! Notwithstanding he was long with his disciples, as we are told after his resurrection, and did eat and drink with them; yet, how silent he was upon the subject of eternity, and of a future and spiritual world! At the only time when we should rationally suppose that he could be a competent witness in the case, admitting his death and resurrection true, is the time when he is entirely silent as to the final and eternal state of man! Should we admit therefore that Jesus at this time was capable of declaring eternal truths, yet, as he testified nothing on the subject, nothing relative to the subject can be proved from his testimony.
"It may be said that Christ had plainly taught his disciples respecting this subject, previous to his death, and therefore it was not necessary for him to say any thing more respecting it. But a confirmation of what he had before taught, if it had been repeated after his resurrection, would have added great weight to his former testimony. We need not dwell however, upon these niceties, as the main question is not involved in them. Yet I am inclined to think that if all the words of Christ, which have been handed down to us, should be closely examined, they would be found to be much more silent on the subject of a future state than many have supposed. But the main question is, are we certain that he could not have been mistaken in the things whereof he affirmed? This question may be thought blasphemous: but I cannot see wherein the blasphemy consists; for I cannot help making the inquiry, in my own understanding, and as my object is to gain instruction, I put the inquiry on paper. You may say that Jesus was endowed with divine wisdom, and therefore could not err. That divine wisdom cannot err, I admit, but does divine wisdom secure man at all times, and under all circumstances, from mistake? If the man Christ Jesus was in fact man (and that he was man, even Trinitarians admit) notwithstanding he was endowed with divine wisdom, why might he not without any dishonour to the Deity, be sometimes left to exercise only the wisdom of man? And to say that the wisdom of man cannot err, would be saying contrary to daily experience. I have not contended that Jesus ever erred; but I contend that he must have been liable to error, or else he was not man. And the supposition that he did not err, not even in thought or opinion, ought not to be admitted without the most conclusive testimony.
"But whatever may be the conclusion on this subject, as it respects the 'man Christ Jesus—a man approved of God,' yet what shall we say concerning the apostles? Were they also absolutely secured from error? These men, according to the confession of one of them at least, not only had been, but still were—sinners. Paul, notwithstanding his apostleship, still acknowledges the plague of his own heart 'I am carnal, sold under sin—when I would do good, evil is present with me—O wretched man that I am!' &c. Are such men absolutely proof against even the error of opinion? It appears to me there are too many incidents of imperfection recorded in the lives of the apostles to admit all this. Peter once rebuked his master, at another time denied him. He once objected to the voice of the spirit, and was afterwards accused by his brethren for obeying it. Paul accused Peter to his face, and also disagreed with Barnabas. And other circumstances might be named, proving them to be destitute of intuitive knowledge. Considering, therefore, all these things, how do we know but that in their zeal to do good, (for I do not consider the apostles bad men; neither do I think any the worse of Paul for either acknowledging his own faults, or detecting the dissimulation of Peter,) I say therefore, in their zeal to do good, how do we know but that they stated things relative to another world, which were only inferences, which, as they supposed, were justly drawn from what they had either seen or heard, or else what their own fruitful imagination dictated? If we are at liberty to view the apostles in this light, however highly their opinions are to be valued and respected, yet I see no occasion of investigating their writings with the eye of biblical or grammatical criticism; for after all, they are but the opinions of men like ourselves.
"But if it can be demonstrated that the opinions of the writers of the New Testament can be relied on, as containing eternal truth, without any mixture of error, then it is very important for us to know the meaning of all the words they used, not only as it respects their general import, but also the exact and particular sense in which they used them. This however cannot be done without a thorough acquaintance, not only with the Greek, but also with the Hebrew language, for they used many Hebraisms, which, with a knowledge of the Greek only, we should not be likely fully to comprehend.
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Much esteemed friend,—In replying to your second number, you will excuse me if I begin by finding some fault, in which, however, I will endeavour to be as sparing as the case will admit.
On the subject of the languages, after reading in your first number the following in its connexion: "If I understand the above proposition, it seems to be this; the only revelation of God to man, which was ever recorded on vellum or paper, was written partly in Greek and partly in Hebrew; hence the revealed will of God cannot be known only through the medium of these languages. If the truth of all this could be made to appear," &c. and after replying to your argument on this subject, I can hardly account for the insinuation in your second number, by which you suggest, that you had no particular allusion to a revelation from God when you spoke of translating the most valuable of ancient writings, &c. The subject of a revelation you acknowledge to be your main object; if this be the case, you have this object in view when you speak of the Greek and Hebrew, and also when you speak of the arts and sciences.
You contend in your second number, that the translation of the Scriptures out of the original languages is as good evidence of the existence of the original, as the original could be of the facts they relate, &c. And this I believe is the only acknowledgement you make in favour of the original's having been any benefit. You seem not willing to allow that the retaining of the original language is of any use in proving to after generations that the translation was correct, which seems not easy to account for. But I will give you no further trouble on the subject of this nature; nor will I occupy my time in investigating the question relative to the necessity of studying those languages, which you acknowledge is off from your main subject, and take some notice of your queries respecting a divine revelation. Although I am unable to trace the connexion of many of your remarks with which you call your main subject, yet I am not disposed to doubt that you comprehend such connexion—I think I understand your statements so as to be able to discern the following particulars, as subjects of your inquiry.
"1st. Is it reasonable to suppose that God has ever made a special revelation to man? 2d. Is the resurrection of Jesus capable of being proved? And, 3d. If so, does it follow that this was designed by divine wisdom to give us any hope respecting a future state?"
It is not pretended that you have stated these questions just in this order, but these are the subjects which your second number suggests to my mind.
I shall take a much nearer road to come to a solution of these questions, than that which would lead me to follow you through all your remarks, because you have furnished me with the means to do so.
1st. You acknowledge that a divine revelation "if real," is of "all truths the most important." Here let the eye of reason examine. Why should a revelation from God be more important than those discoveries which our Creator has enabled us to make in the arts and sciences? Why should such revelation be more important than the use of the mariner's compass, or the art of printing? Even without contending that a divine revelation is of any greater importance than the arts and sciences, your allowing it any importance at all, is, in the eye of reason an argument in its support. Had you taken the other road, and contended that there was no necessity of a revelation, and had you been able to make this appear, you would have proved to the eye of reason, that a Being of infinite wisdom, who can never act without a just cause, had never made a revelation. But if reason admits of its importance, as long as this is the case, it will be looking not only with a fervent desire, but with expectation till it makes the discovery. You will, no doubt, allow that a divinely munificient Creator would not omit any thing which is of importance to his intelligent creatures.
Perhaps you will, (though I do not see why you should) call up a former query, which was answered in my first, which answer was not receipted in your second, and ask why this revelation was not made in every nation, in every language, and in every age? But you will be sensible that the same questions might be stated respecting the progress of science and the discovery of the arts useful to a refined state of society.
You will not think it strange that I am some disappointed that you took no notice of my remarks on the above query as I really attach importance to that little piece of reasoning. If reason has no reluctance in acknowledging that man is multiplied and continued here by a law which was not able to bring him into existence at first, why may not a revelation from God, be perpetuated by different means than those which first made it, and thereby the great object be even better secured than by a perpetual revelation, which would seem to render research unnecessary, and leave the reasoning powers without employ?
But it is time for me to inform you that I feel myself under no obligations to labour to prove what you and I and many thousands of others have considered sufficiently proved from ancient prophesy with which our heavenly Father has favoured so many ages and nations and languages. And furthermore, permit me to tell you, that if you are disposed to doubt and to disprove what you acknowledge to be of such vast importance, it is your province to bring forward your strong reasoning, if such you have, by which the prophesies of the old testament, those delivered by Christ and his apostles shall be made to appear either to have no just analogy with the events of which they speak, or that they were contrived by impostors since the events took place.
2d. You acknowledge the validity of the evidences in favor of the resurrection of Jesus. You say; "That the evangelists have stated nothing more than what is substantially correct, as it respects matters of fact, will be admitted by all." Again; "I do not consider the apostles bad men." Now the apostles are the deponents who solemnly testify the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. Why should you wish me to prove what you allow to be true? Why do you not take the other hand, and say the apostles were impostors, they were the opponents of the righteous rulers of the Jews who put their master to death? Why do you not avail yourself of the story put into the mouths of the guard who watched the sepulchre, and say that those timid disciples who all fled and left Jesus when they saw him bound, not only went to the sepulchre and stole the body of Jesus and hid it where no mortal could ever find it, but then went to Jerusalem and boldly affirmed he was alive, who was dead, and then had the boldness and audacity to accuse the rulers of having "denied the holy one and the just, and desired a murderer to be delivered unto them; and of having killed the prince of life, whom God had raised from the dead?" The reason is obvious, you see the impropriety of such argument.—But:
3d. Allowing the resurrection of Jesus, the truth of divine revelation, the honesty of the apostles of Jesus, are we to rely on what they say respecting a future state? Answer, yes, most assuredly. For here let reason ask, whether a divine revelation founded on the resurrection of Jesus could have a more reasonable object, than the bringing to light, life and immortality? Again let reason ask whether the divine Being would endow Jesus and his apostles with the gift of miracles, by which the divinity of their missions was proved to the understanding of all who believed, and then suffer them to teach things of a moral, a religious, or of an eternal nature which were not true? By so doing, it would seem that God gave power to heal the sick and to raise the dead for no other purpose than to gain the attention of men to what was the mere guess work of men subject to error in the things which they pretended to teach.
For myself I am perfectly satisfied that infinite goodness would never do any thing so imperfectly. I am satisfied, being convinced of the truth of the facts which you acknowledge, that the testimony of Jesus and his apostles respecting this and the coming world, may be relied on with the utmost confidence and safety. You intimate that Jesus said but a little on the subject of a future state. I am entirely of your opinion. And yet I am persuaded that he and his apostles have said as much on the subject as is necessary for us to believe. They have given sufficient proof that the design of our Creator is a design of eternal goodness to our race of being. Jesus has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. The Christian is enabled to hope for existence with God in an eternal state, and this is as much as our present welfare requires. I have no doubt that many passages of scripture have been applied to a future world, by Christian expositors, which have no allusion to such a case—but this harms not the glorious truths and divine realities of the religion of the blessed Saviour.
I have many reasons for not believing in the general sentiment that supposes the revelation contained in the scriptures was designed to prepare men in this world for happiness in another, and that a want of a correct knowledge of this revelation here, would subject the ignorant to inconveniences in a future state. Such a sentiment is an impeachment of the wisdom and goodness of God. For if this were the case, why was the gospel not early published to all people? Why were ages after ages suffered to pass away, and generations after generations permitted to sink into eternity without a ray of that light which was indispensable to their everlasting happiness? Was it not as easy for the eternal to send his son at the dawn of time as after so many ages had passed away? Was it not as easy for him to communicate to all nations as to one? But divine wisdom has seen fit to manifest itself by degrees in the system of the gospel as well as in the knowledge of science; and we have no more evidence to believe, that those who go from this state to another ignorant of the gospel of Christ, will, on that account, be rejected of God from his favour, than we have to believe that those who have died ignorant of the sciences, will, on that account be so rejected.
Every communication from God, whether relative to the moral or physical world is evidently designed for our profit in the state where such communication is made. This improvement of the moral and religious state of man was the evident design of the revelation of God, and to this agree all the prophets. "Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle-tree."
You seem to be opposed to biblical criticisms. So am I, if the object be to fix a creed to which all must conform on pain of being anathematized, but if the object be to get the right understanding of the sacred text all in humble submission to that CHARITY which is greater than a FAITH that could remove mountains, no harm can ever arise from it, but a benefit.
No one can more sincerely wish to have the frivolities of superstition and the endless multitude of nothings which arrogant creed-makers have impiously superadded to pure christianity removed from the church than I do; but wisdom must direct in this great and necessary work. It was those who had more zeal than discernment who asked if they should pluck up the tares from among the wheat? They were told that they would pluck up the wheat with the tares.—Let us be careful, my brother, and in our zeal to cleanse, take care and not destroy.
If you are troubled with unbelief, if this plague have entered your heart, permit me to suggest a remedy. Humility is the first step, sincere piety towards God the second, let these be followed by that for which the Bereans were commended and the deadly virus of unbelief will soon be purged. Will you say; "physician heal thyself?" I reply, I think I have found relief by the use of the prescription, and am so much in favour of it, that I am determined to continue its application myself as well as recommend it to others. If you ask why I do not direct some arguments more cogently to prove divine revelation? I answer, in the first place, you have granted the validity of the evidences; and secondly, if I think of the attempt, the brilliant labours of better abilities argue the impropriety of it.
But if you think it necessary to labour this subject, I will propose the single instance of the conversion of St. Paul for investigation. By this means we shall be kept from rambling after different subjects. If you can give a reasonable account of this conversion without admitting the truth of christianity, I will acknowledge you have left me destitute of one evidence on which I now rely. On the other hand, if you fail in this, you may reasonably suppose that you would fail in any other case of equal moment in this general controversy.
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[The letter containing extracts No. 1, having been laid before the Rev. EDWARD TURNER, of Charlestown, Mass. he saw fit to reply to it. The following are extracts from his letter.]
"Passing over the principal parts of your introduction, which generally embrace sentiments to which I readily subscribe, I will just notice what you say concerning the study of languages. I am not so tenacious of this kind of study, as to believe that too much time has not often been employed in it. I am also convinced with you, that 'the truth or falsity of every proposition must depend on the truth or falsity of the principles embraced in it.' But still I am not able to say that the study of Greek and Hebrew can be of no 'possible service to an American.' Neither, because those languages are not a perfect 'security' against falsehood, does it necessarily follow that they are no 'security' at all. For how shall we arrive at the knowledge of the 'principle embraced in a proposition' without the knowledge and use of language? We cannot in any other way. Now if it be a fact, that a proposition embracing certain principles may suffer by translation, and even its principles be perverted and misrepresented, then, an understanding of the original, in which the proposition was written, may, in my opinion, be very useful. It may assist a man to arrive at a true knowledge of the 'principles' upon which said proposition is founded.
"'It gives you pain to see what time and money, what labour and toil are expended in plodding over an old dead letter, to learn languages, which exist no where only on paper, barely for the sake of reading the opinions of other men, in other times; men who lived in other ages of the world, and under very different circumstances from ourselves, whose opinions (all of which are worth preserving) might be given in our own language, so as to answer every purpose,' &c.—But if these 'opinions' should be given in our own language, there must be some to understand Greek and Hebrew, or the opinions of those ancient writers, let them be worth ever so much, would never find their way to us. And when we have gained those supposed opinions, through the translation, how do we know that the translators were faithful? Who can say they were not warped by system? not misled by preconceived ideas? Who can say they have not wilfully imposed upon us? Under such circumstances, the ability to detect any inaccuracies or imposition, would, in my view, be very desirable. You have, yourself, my brother, availed yourself of this ability, and very justly merited the gratitude of your readers, by rectifying the judgment, upon certain terms used in the scriptures, the former translation of which, you have disavowed. As I value those efforts of yours, and have been instructed and edified by them, I am proportionably sorry to find them treated in the language of disparagement.
"You observe that 'the learned are as much at variance with each other as the unlearned,' and this circumstance you say, 'weakens your confidence.' But upon what subject are they not at variance, even where Greek and Hebrew are not concerned? Have philosophers been always agreed, when they have discoursed in one language? Have chemists been always of one opinion, though the subjects of their investigations are material bodies? You will not reply affirmatively. And if not, and no system can be found which is not in some degree 'liable to misconstruction, disputation and deception,'—what are we to do? Shall we depend upon nothing? Shall we remain immovable for fear we should fall? Shall we never attempt to walk for fear we should stumble? I must be allowed to express my concern, that, it should appear 'not a little extraordinary to you that God should make a revelation of his will in one age and not in another, to one nation and not to another, or in one language and not in another, and if a special revelation was ever necessary at all it is difficult for you to see, why it is not equally necessary, in all ages of the world, to all nations of the earth and in all languages ever spoken by man.' It is true, I may be unable to see why a revelation was not equally necessary to one nation as well as to another, and at the same time, but is this a proof that no revelation was ever made to any nation at any time? I know of no special reason why the laws of electricity were not developed to my grandfather as well as to Dr. Franklin, with whom he was contemporary; or why the great principles of civil liberty should not have been discovered to other nations as well as to our own, and at the same time, or to ALL nations, a thousand years before they were discovered to one. But all this is no discredit to those discoveries. But I find reason to doubt whether a revelation 'is equally necessary in all ages of the world.' I doubt whether a special revelation is NOW necessary; and for a very obvious reason; because a special revelation has already been made. And as this, though at first, really special, follows the general course of other things which are beneficial, and which commence with a few and diffuse themselves to many, it is a reason which precludes the necessity of a constant recurrence of miracles or any other special medium of revelation. You certainly will not deny, that, admitting there has been a revelation from God, it has been progressive like all things else, which involve the interests of man. If we admit these facts, they will go far to explain some of the difficulties, to which you allude; but if we do not, our disbelieving in a special revelation will not remove, but increase our difficulties.
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EXTRACTS No. III.
[To the extracts above, the objector replied as follows.]
"Remarking on the doubts which unavoidably arise in my mind on account of the diversity in the opinions of the learned respecting the meaning of certain parts of the scriptures, our friend asks, 'upon what subject are they (the learned) not at variance, even when Greek and Hebrew are not concerned? Have chemists been always of one opinion?' &c. which must be answered in the negative. Nevertheless I may take liberty to observe that inasmuch as they have disagreed, it shews that the subjects about what they have disagreed, are as yet obscure, and therefore perhaps none of them are entitled to full and complete 'confidence:' for whatever is plain and obvious, men seldom disagree about. That the sun and moon are globes, and not triangles, all are agreed; and it would be impossible to raise a dispute on the subject: but whether either or both of them are inhabited, or even capable of being inhabited, by rational beings, similar or like unto ourselves, is a proposition not so clear, and respecting which the greatest philosophers might possibly disagree. The above remarks are intended to shew that when men differ in opinion, whether learned or unlearned, it is obvious that the truth about which they differ, to say the most of it, is yet but obscurely made manifest to their understanding.
"In order to remove an objection, to the idea of revelation, on account of its being made only to one nation, &c. our friend says, 'It is true, I may be unable to see why a revelation was not equally necessary to one nation as well as to another, and at the same time; but is this a proof that no revelation was ever made to any nation at any time?' I am very ready to answer this question in the negative. But at the same time I must be excused for not being able to see any analogy between revelation and the discovery of the laws of electricity; as mentioned by our brother; and therefore my mind is not to be relieved from its difficulty in this way. If it could be proved that the principles manifested by revelation were like the principles in nature, against the developement of which there is no great barrier at one time than at another except what exists in the ignorance of man; and if the Christian could now try the experiment over again, and thereby demonstrate the truth of the doctrine of the resurrection, the same as the philosopher can try the experiment for himself, and thereby demonstrate the truth of the doctrine of electricity, then my doubts or surprise at the seeming partiality in the developement or discovery of the principles of the doctrine of revelation would be entirely removed. But the very idea of a revelation supposes the manifestation of it to differ essentially from all the discoveries of man. Therefore the remarks of our friend relative to the laws of electricity, &c. seem to be hardly in point. The evidences of revelation to all, excepting those to whom the revelation was first made, are in their very nature essentially different from the evidences of natural philosophy, chemistry, &c. For these are founded in immutable principles which never vary, and are ever open at all times to thorough investigation and experiment. Hence if the learned have any doubts on the subject, those doubts may be removed by occular demonstration; and even when they are enabled by any new discoveries to correct some former opinions, which were either founded on mere conjecture or imperfect reasoning, yet the first principles still remain, and the former evidences, instead of being weakened, are increased by every new discovery or experiment in the developement of truth. But not so with evidences of divine revelation. Although ever so clear at first, and so well supported by facts, concerning which the witness had the clearest evidence, yet the evidences being of such a nature as preclude a repetition, like those respecting a vision of the night or any other phenomenon, are liable to suffer by passing from one to another, and also to be impaired by every change which they are caused to pass. And if the evidences of any fact may be weakened at all, either by lapse of time, or by passing through different hands; by the same causes, if continued, they may lose all their strength. That the evidences of some facts may be thus weakened, I believe will not be denied. Hence what was once clear may be now doubtful, and in process of time may become entitled to no credit. If therefore the evidence of revelation either have been, or ever shall by any circumstances whatever be thus impaired, then a new revelation may become necessary either to revive or to strengthen the evidences of the old. If Christ should make his second appearance, according to the opinions of some, it would be as much of a revelation as his first appearance was; and this new revelation would corroborate and confirm the old; but if nothing of the kind should ever take place, and if there should be nothing more to confirm the validity of prophesy, but let the world pass on for several thousand years as we know it has for fifteen hundred years past, how long will either the Jews or christians believe in divine revelation?
"I believe however, we had better see whether the old revelation can be fully proved before we go very far into the inquiry whether a new one is necessary.
"That I deserve any credit in the opinion of our friend or my own conscience for the unwearied pains I have taken to ascertain the correct ideas communicated to us in the scriptures is very grateful to my feelings; and let it not be imagined for a moment that I feel at all disposed to shrink from my former assiduity; for as long as the world, or any considerable part thereof, believe the scriptures to be divine revelation I think it very important that they should have a correct understanding of them. So long therefore as I hold this to be my profession, I mean faithfully to pursue it; ever remembering that I am not accountable in the least degree either for the truth or falsity of the bible, but only for my faithfulness in preaching, taking heed that I do not preach that for bible, which is not bible.
"Let not my brethren be 'concerned,' or made in the least degree unhappy on my account. My mind was never more tranquil respecting religious subjects than at the present moment. My doubts, whatever they are, give me no uneasiness; they only excite me to diligence and assiduity in endeavouring by all possible means to ascertain the truth; and wherever, or in whatever light, it shall be discovered, I am fully satisfied that eternal truth is perfectly right, yea just as it should be.
"For, provided deism should prove true in its stead, what is there to be lost if christianity fails? Ought we not to be thankful for, and also satisfied with the truth of either? It appears to me that all ought to be satisfied with the truth whatever it may be; and therefore my present object is to ascertain, if possible, what truth is.
"'Did human reason,' saith he, 'unassisted by divine light make the discovery?' (i. e. of the 'unity of God.')—'Then indeed would "all nations, in all ages," have possessed the great object made manifest by revelation.' In answer to this, I would only ask, were not the laws of electricity discovered by 'human reason unassisted by divine light?' Why then were they not known to 'all nations, in all ages?'—The fact is, what reason is capable of discovering may also be long concealed from the eye of reason.
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Dear Sir, and Brother,—As I have not the opportunity of presenting your third number to our mutual friend and brother, to whom it most properly belongs to reply, I have thought it no more than reasonable that I should acknowledge the receipt of your favour accompanying this acknowledgement with some observations on the most essential parts of what you have suggested.
You wish us to take it for granted, that those parts of our communications to which you make no reply, are at least, generally speaking, satisfactory to your mind. Respecting this particular, you will suffer me to point out, what appears to me, a very material defect in your proposed method.
Suppose, sir, an argument be laid down on which much depends, in the opinion of the writer, and out of a proper reply to which, he anticipates great advantages; he waits for a reply—No reply comes to this particular, but the very same query which the argument was designed to answer is still urged; is it not easy to see that much labour may be in vain in consequence of this method? If you answer to a question, stating with great seeming earnestness, viewing the question of importance in the mind of him who states it, you would not only expect, but you might really need to be informed what effect your reply was allowed to have in the mind of your opponent. And as he might not anticipate the use which you had designed to make of his answer, you would not judge it advisable to submit to him whether he should reply or not.
You have finally put the dispute about the necessity of retaining the dead languages at issue on the question relative to a future state, in the following words; "If the opinions recorded in scripture relative to a future state of existence are to be relied on, as being dictated by God himself, and in a way too, that was not mistaken; and that the writers of the scriptures being thus inspired, have written nothing but the truth, then I admit," &c. Now from this your own statement you will see the importance of retaining those languages until it be fully discovered that no credit is due to these writings which we have been in the habit of believing to be divinely inspired. Your discernment will at once discover that it would be imprudent in the extreme, to obliterate, without first knowing that what was to be defaced was of no utility. A child, ever so old, who should utterly deface his father's last will and testament, which had made ample provisions for his future wants, merely because he had not a perfect understanding of it, or on suspicion that there were some possible defects in it, could not be considered prudent in so doing. But if the will should finally fail, and prove invalid, no loss would be sustained even if it were committed to the devouring element. To say, the will may be destroyed until it has been proved, would be absurd.
In your further remarks on our brother's communication, you find occasion to suggest a difference between the subject of revelation and the discoveries which have been made by men in the powers and properties of nature. But when you have contended successfully for this (which by no means has any power to refute his argument) you seem not to realize that there must be as great a difference in the evidences by which these different subjects are communicated to the mind, as there are in the subjects themselves. It is acknowledged, without controversy, that we cannot demonstrate by any mathematical or chemical process that there ever was such an emperor in Rome as Augustus Caesar, or such a governor in Judea as Pilate, or such a man as Jesus; but then we are not, on this account, or any other, unable to find such kind of evidence as the nature of the case admits, and such as is sufficient to satisfy the candid mind. Should any one now pretend to deny that Louis XVIth. was beheaded, and allege as proof that no such thing was to be credited, because it had never been discovered as the result of a chemical process, would you hesitate to fault his reasoning?
Should it occur to your mind that you have contended that the evidence of revelation is as different from the evidence required in natural discoveries, as the subjects themselves are different, you are reminded that you have contended for this only with a view to weaken the force of the former, and in a way to disallow its validity. At the same time you state that you do not undertake to deny a special revelation from God, but "wish only to take a review of the evidences, and see if they are such that it is impossible it should be false." Of these evidences you speak thus; "Although ever so clear at first, and ever so well supported by facts, concerning which the witnesses had the clearest evidences, yet the evidences being of such a nature as to preclude a repetition, like those respecting a vision of the night or any other phenomenon, are liable to suffer by passing from one to another," and finally "lose all their strength." Here it seems you pretend to state the character of the evidences of a divine revelation, which evidences you wish to review. Permit me to ask, dear brother, if it would not have appeared more consistent with piety and candor to have reviewed before you fixed the character of the evidences?—There is a proper order in which every thing should be conducted. All our researches should be kept from the embarrassments of prejudice. Though I feel much reluctance in entering on so great a subject as the vindication of the truth of divine revelation, fearing, I should fail in doing that honour to the subject which I am confident it deserves, I am inclined to suggest a few things which I think are worthy of some notice. As you speak of a vision of the night, the evidences of which were clear to the person and satisfactory at the time, those evidences would naturally lose their force when communicated to others and finally lose their strength. Let us suppose a case. A man shall have a vision of the night, in which it shall be revealed to him that some time before the present generation shall leave the stage of life, the kingdom of Great Britain will be overcome by the power of France; that very many of the flourishing cities of England will be destroyed in a very awful manner; that London will be laid level with the ground; that the distress of the inhabitants during the siege will be extreme; that for some time before this great event, there will be wars and rumors of wars among the nations, and certain signs very wonderful will be seen in the heavens. This man tells his vision very circumstantially and several persons write it down. Now suppose as the time passes away, these events, one after another, should take place, all in the same order in which the vision represented them; do you feel willing to say that the evidences of the truth of this vision, are all the time losing their force? No surely they are not; they are all the time gaining strength and waxing brighter. Whether I am able to satisfy you that the above case is a fair representation of the evidences of divine revelation, or not, it discovers in some degree the ground on which, in my mind, revelation is established.
Compare, if you please, the prophesy of Jesus recorded in the 24th of Matthew, with the history of the events of which the divine messenger spake.
P. S. You have noticed, no doubt, in a parenthesis, that I do not allow your argument on the dissimilarity of divine revelation and principles of nature to have any force to do away the argument of our brother, to which you replied. It was evidently not his design to argue a similarity between the nature of these widely different subjects, but to show that no greater partiality appears in the divine wisdom, in not discovering the truths of revelation in all ages, to all nations and in all languages, than in its not leading the human mind to the discovery of electricity or any other of the laws of nature in the same manner. Will you endeavour to maintain that the divine economy has nothing to do in directing means and circumstances to the developement of the laws of nature and to the discovery of useful inventions? And if you allow it has, why do you not assign a reason why these discoveries should not have been made in all ages, to all nations, and written or rather printed, in all languages that cannot as well be applied in the other case? In this way you would do away his reasoning and my own likewise, for as you notice, we were both of one mind on this subject.
Before I close this postscript, I wish to remark on the subject which you have in view, in reviewing the evidences of divine revelation, which you say is to "see if they are such that it is impossible it should be false." Now it appears to your humble servant, that faith does not require evidence of the description you lay down. I grant it wants to be satisfied and it has a right to expect it; it feels under no obligation to evidence which comes short of conviction; but it does not require all possibility to be taken into its account. This would seem to go beyond the limits of faith and enter into the regions of certainty. If the evidences in support of faith be sufficient to give rest, peace, and consolation to the mind, and if the faith be strong enough to effect the conduct of the believer in a proper manner, the object of faith is obtained.
The hopes of the husbandman may serve to illustrate this particular. He does not know for certainty that his fields will produce him any thing; he does not know that the coming season will be favourable to his crops, yet he plants and sows in comfortable expectation. He rises early and labours cheerfully, his expectations are full of comfort, he sleeps quietly and enjoys content. But if you ask him whether he views it impossible that he should fail of a harvest? he will with but very little concern answer in the negative.
"The just shall live by faith, we walk by faith and not by sight." All, therefore, that we can reasonably expect in the case before us, is to find a decided balance of evidence in favour of the religion of the gospel. And to review the evidences of this religion, it seems necessary first to allow that there are evidences in existence which go to prove it, if their validity be allowed. For instance, the four evangelists, the acts of the apostles, together with the epistles of the apostles are considered evidences of the truth of this religion. And can you reasonably require more until you are able to show that all these come short of establishing the credibility of the facts which they relate with apparent honesty and simplicity not to be met with in any other ancient writings?
There are a great many other evidences which serve to corroborate those mentioned, but if you can do them away, no doubt the others may be as easily removed.
You will duly consider that in disproving the religion of Jesus Christ, you disprove all religion, for I am satisfied that you will not pretend that you are making a choice between the gospel and some other doctrine. No, the choice is between the gospel and no religion at all.
Come then, strip away all the clouds of superstition, and demonstrate at once that there has been no sun in the firmament during the whole of a cloudy day! Soar like the strong pinioned eagle, make your tour beyond the mists of error and bring us the joyless tidings that there is no clear sky in the heavens. Can you imagine any thing to be more pleasing than the coming of one that brought good tidings? But let us have the worst of it. Show from undoubted authority that there never was such a man as Jesus, or show that he was a wicked impostor and deservedly lost his life. Show moreover, that there never were such men as the apostles of Jesus, or that they were likewise impostors, and all suffered death for their wicked impiety! Give the particulars of Saul's madly forsaking the honourable connexion in which he stood, for the sake of practising a fraud which produced him an immense income of suffering!
But you say the apostles were not bad men. Very well, then let us see how good men could tell so many things which they knew were not true, and suffer and die in attestation of what they knew to be false. You will see the danger of supposing that honest men can bear testimony to falsehood under the pretence of doing good, as this would destroy all testimony at once; even your own cannot be relied on after you maintain this abominable principle, which has been practised a wicked priesthood for ages. H.B.
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EXTRACTS No. IV.
[The objector in his fourth number begins by explaining himself in some particulars wherein he had not been fully understood, and also by making some concessions respecting the importance of retaining the original languages in which the scriptures were written; and, bringing these remarks to a close, he proceeds as follows:]
"In regard to a revelation from God, the three propositions which you have stated answer my mind well enough, as far as they go, to which, however, I would wish to add a fourth; and ask, admitting the three first propositions true. 'Fourth. Is it reasonable to suppose that the apostles had any other means of forming their opinions relative to a future state than what passed before their eyes?—viz. the miracles of Christ, the circumstances attending his death, his resurrection, and the miracles wrought by themselves in his name?'
"1st. Is it reasonable to suppose that God has ever made a special revelation to man?
"You say I have acknowledged that a divine revelation 'if real, is of all truths the most important;' hence you call upon the 'eye of reason' to examine this proposition to see why it should be considered more important than the discoveries made in the arts and sciences, &c. I think these questions may be easily and correctly answered. One relates to the blessings of eternity; and the others to those only of time; hence if the truths manifested by a revelation had been of no more importance to man than the truths in natural philosophy, reason would say, God would have left them also to be discovered, if discovered at all, like all other truths, without a special revelation. But, you must excuse me for not being able to see the force and conclusiveness of your reasoning, when you say that my 'allowing it any importance at all, is, in the eye of reason, an argument in its support.' Supposing I am informed of a large estate bequeathed to me by some benefactor. I acknowledge that it is very important to me, if true, as I am in great need; yet I do not believe it true. Now, is my acknowledging its importance, if true, an argument in support of its truth? If it is so, the reason of it is out of my sight.
"I should think that the reason of man (the only reason with which we are acquainted) would hardly undertake to say whether a revelation is either necessary or not necessary. The only evidence that reason can have of its necessity is its truth; and a supposition that it is not true equally supposes it not to be necessary. For to suppose otherwise supposes that God has omitted something which was necessary to be done! Try the matter as it respects a new revelation. Who will undertake to say that a new revelation either is or is not necessary? No one who believes in a revelation will deny the possibility of such an event. Suppose then for the moment it is true; and something is brought to light infinitely more glorious than any thing of which the human mind has yet conceived; will any one say it is unimportant? Or is the 'allowing it any importance—an argument in its support?'
"I am very ready to allow that a 'divinely munificent Creator would not omit any thing which is of importance to his intelligent creatures:' and on this ground I admitted the importance of revelation 'if real;' but I am yet unable to see how this is any argument in its support. It seems to me that this argument might be turned right the other way with equal force. If revelation be not true, it is not necessary it should be; and man can be made just as happy in this world by knowing all that he can know without it, as those are who believe in it; and admitting it not true there is no more importance in all the stories about it, than there is in the Alcoran! Now, supposing you should 'allow' all this, would it be any argument against the truth of revelation? I think not.
"In answer therefore to the first particular, I must be allowed to say that the only reason in favour of a divine revelation must grow out of the evidence in support of the facts on which it is predicated; for, aside from those evidences, I do not see why mankind should be taught to believe in a future life and immortality by special revelation, any more than they should be taught the arts and sciences by special revelation; yet reason does not reject the evidences of such an event when they are made clear to the understanding.—Therefore, it appears to me that your first proposition is involved in the second, viz.
"2d. Is the resurrection of Jesus capable of being proved?
"I should have said something more on the subject which was answered in your first number, and which I neglected to acknowledge in my second, if it had occurred to me as being necessary. I will briefly state here that your reasoning on that subject is satisfactory; and if a revelation can be fully proved I feel not disposed to complain on account of its seeming partiality. Infinite wisdom dispenses his blessings so as best to answer his benevolent designs; and were we to object to the manner, merely because we do not comprehend the equality, we should be satisfied, strictly speaking, with nothing.
"But you have excused yourself from undertaking to prove your second proposition in a way that I did not expect, viz. by finding, as you supposed, in my words, an acknowledgement of its truth. Here again I must confess my misfortune in giving too much grounds for the wrong construction. Every one knows however the ambiguity of words, and how the meaning of a sentence may be altered by placing the emphasis on a different word from what the author intended. I acknowledge that my words will admit the construction you have given them; yet you could but see that it was giving up at once what I had in a number of places, both before and after, considered a main question. And then, you ask me why I wish you to prove what I acknowledge to be true. If you will be good enough to review the passage, and notice that the word substantially was emphatic, and contrasted with circumstantial, a little below, you will perceive that my meaning was simply this. No one will pretend that the evangelists were correct in every minute particular, but only correct in substance; and by the ALL, by whom this will be admitted, I mean those who believe in divine revelation; that even they would acknowledge, that in point of correctness, the writers were 'no more' than substantially so. However:
"You think if I am 'disposed to doubt,' &c. it is my province to bring forward my 'strong reasoning,' &c. I know of no disposition that I feel respecting the subject but to ascertain, if possible, the truth. If I have doubts, it is not because I choose to doubt, but because I cannot help them; and if I have faith it is such as is given me. Of one thing I have no doubt; that is, that the truth, whatever it is, is right. But:
"Admitting the scriptures are not true, I shall not attempt to guess what is true respecting the subjects to which they relate. For I might guess a hundred different ways to account for what we know is true, and all of them be wrong.
"My doubts on this subject are nothing more than doubts; they do not amount to a confirmed unbelief; because they admit the possibility of the account's being true.
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Much esteemed friend,—Your fourth number is hereby acknowledged; and though occasions for finding fault are in some measure extenuated, it still appears that you have lost the real connexion of your arguments, and have made the subject of the languages one of your main subjects, when judging from your first number, it was no more than a vestibule to the grand edifice which it was in your mind to examine.
However, you having paid more than half, we will not stand about the fraction, as long as we have a profitable object in view. You call up what you call the subject. I suppose the main subject. This you state as follows: "In regard to a revelation from God, the three propositions which you have stated answer my mind well enough, as far as they go; to which however, I would wish to add a fourth, and ask; admitting the three first particulars true.—4th. Is it reasonable to suppose, that the apostles had any other means of forming their opinions, relative to a future state, than what passed before their eyes? viz. the miracles of Christ, the circumstance attending his death, his resurrection, and the miracles wrought by themselves in his name?" I wish, in this place, to show you that your added proposition possesses no power relative to our argument which is not comprehended in the last of the three which I stated. For if it be allowed, as you propose, that my propositions are true, then you consent to the validity of the apostles' testimony respecting a future state, which granted, it makes no difference in what way the apostles come to the knowledge of futurity. When a thing is known, it is known. The means by which it is known add nothing to either side of the argument. If you allow that my argument on this subject is correct, as it seems you do, then you acknowledge that God would not endow men with the power to heal the sick and raise the dead, whose testimony concerning a future state could be justly doubted. I will not be too positive that I rightly apprehend your meaning on this subject, but as you propose to allow my three propositions, and as you make no attempt to do away my reasoning, especially on my last, I think I should not understand you according to your own proposal in any other way.