and absurd to enjoin a belief in the validity of scriptural tes: timony, or require a faith in any theological system which is built upon it.

Is it possible that the writer of this paragraph can know any thing of the character and tenor of those writings, upon which the council of Nice had to judge for in reality nothing can be conceived more opposite and dissimilar, in every respect, than the simple and unstudied narratives of the evangelists and the puerile and ridiculous gospels which were deemed spurious--than the manly and argumentative letters of Paul, and the trifling and absurd epistles of pretended saints. If this gentleman seriously thinks the task of selecting the genuine writings of the apostles of Jesus, from the vile trash which was manufactured in and about the third century, difficult and impossible, I shall form but a very low estimate of the pitch of his intellect; at present, I am free to declare, that though I do not conceive A. B. possesses, “all the sagacity, diséernment, and wisdom that ever yet adorned the mind of man;" yet do I reckon that even A. B. would have been perfectly competent to the task which devolved on the council of Nice.

Towards the close of his papers (vol. 2. p. 305), this same writer is pleased to object to the fitness and adequacy of writing, as a mean of preserving and handing down the doctrines of Revelation." The word of God! (exclaims A. B.)---what! shall this be abandoned to the mercy of a capricious copyist, a blundering translator, or a careless printer? 'shall these creatores have power to distort the word of God, and alter his divine commands?” This is simply asking, why the Deity has not chasen some infallible method of preserving the knowledge of his will to man, which should prevent the possibility of urisconception and alteration ?

To such a question the Christian does not pretend to an: swer--he rests contented with knowing that the Divine Being always treats his creatures as moral agents, leaving them in all his dealings with them liable to error--he declares himself in signs and miracles, and bigotry refers the effect to demoni: acal influence-he speaks in thunder and in storms, and superstition interprets it as an expression of his wrath! His eternal attributes, as set forth in revelation, are lost sight of

his benevolent designs, as existing in nature, are not appre. ciated! but what then? If the sources and means of our knowledge are imperfect in their operations, shall we reject them as unworthy the Deity to give, or shall we not rather receive theni as best fitted for imperfect beings, and adapted to our limited state and condition. Perhaps, after all, human ingenuity can suggest no better means of conveying truth and

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

handing down instruction, than those which have been employed.

The truths of Revelation are few and simple; they were made known in an extraordinary manner, and accompanied with extraordinary proofs. Those who were witnesses of these things, taught and convinced others of their truth--they united into societies, in order to establish and preserve them. Such associations were not free from the possibility of corruption, because they were human associations; but still they were as perfect in principle, as any thing which has to do with humanity can admit of. Errors crept in-false teachers misreprented the doctrines of the gospel ---and accordingly those who were best acquainted with the truth, in consequence of having been appointed by heaven to teach it, took occasion, by letter, to correct existing errors, to check the progress of corruption, and to declare the doctrine of Jesus, or in simple narrative to set forth the life and teaching of the great master of the Christian dispensation.

In this easy and natural manner, do we account for the existence of the various writings of the New Testament-to have preserved these writings free from corruption must have required a miracle, which A. B. would not suffer, and which I think unnecessary. And here it may not be amiss to notice an objection of J. R—'s (vol. ii. page 33), which seems to have considerable weight with him. Crities are agreed, that the original books of the New Testament were written in the Greek language; but J. R-s considers, that, from the situation in life of the evangelists they could not be acquainted with that language, and that consequently, “ if they did write, they must have written in their mother tongue (Hebrew); for it is very unlikely that poor fishermen's children were sent from Galilee to Greece to learn the Greek tongue.

If there were any difficulty in this objection, it might easily be solved by the fact of the apostles having been miraculously endowed with the gift of tongues; but to this there seens no necessity to have recourse; for J. R- -s appears deficient in information on the subject.

Calmet informs us, “ that after Alexander the Great, Greek was the cominon language of almost all the East, and generally used in their commerce with other people. And as the sacred authors had principally in view the conversion of the Jews scattered throughout the East, it was natural for them to write to them in Groek.? But it is to be observed, that Luke is the only writer who has written strictly in the Greek tongue, and his learning no doubt qualified him for the task. The rest (except Matthew, whose gospel is supposed to have been penned in the Hebrew), have used the style of writing

4 B

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

common among the Hellenists or Grecising Hebrews, " blending abundance of idioms and terms peculiar to the Syriac and Hebrew languages, and very different from the spirit of the Greek tongue. Those were called Hellenistic Jews, who lived in cities and provinces, where the Greek tongue was common. They used the Greek version of the Septuagint, and were little acquainted with either the Hebrew or Syriac. In Acts vi. 1, they are denominated Grecians, as opposed to the Hebrews; that Greeks or Gentiles is not there intended, is evident from the fact of the gospel not having been preached at that time to any but the Jews.

J. R-s expects also, that we are to inform him what has become of the original manuscripts of the books of the New Testament, before he can receive those writings as genuine. This is rather hard upon us; for, perhaps, they may have been lost. What would this gentleman think, if I were to ask him to give an historical account of the original manuscript of Homer's Iliad ? I remember somewhere to have read, that it was first found in a chandler's shop in Greece; and if some antiquary.were now to discover its time-eaten remains, and to prove the identity, by certain splashes of oil or tallow which it might have received in laying about the counter, I question whether, in the judgment of J. R-s, this discovery would add to the beauty, the majesty, or even the validity of the poem. Such objections are really ridiculous, and they only gain notice from the gravity with which they are urged.

By turning to the Magazine for January, the readers will find thať A. B. first introduces himself to their notice, in a letter containing several acute and sensible observations on a communication, intended to prove the resurrection from the dead accordant with nature; and the Christian, who places that doctrine on a far different ground, will go with A. B. the whole length of his reasoning. In this letter were also a number of objections to the manner of the resurrection of Jesus as set forth in the gospels. Though these objections proved the writer but ill acquainted with the subject, they were pressed with an appearance of seriousness, and an air of candour, that deserved attention. Accordingly Christophilus, in his next paper, replied to them in a manner, which will be reckoned as compleat and convincing as it was liberal and manly; and how has A. B. treated Christophilus for that ingenuousness on which he is pleased to compliment him? He immediately shifts his method of attack, without having the candour to own himself convinced, or the hardihood to declare the argument fallacious. All that he says (vol. ii. 305) on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus is, that it “ is built so much upon the authority of the New Testament, that it must neces

sarily stand or fall with it: until the genuineness and authenticity of the writings of that book are fairly and substantially proved, I must decline saying any thing about it.” This is most unfair! -- most evasive !--for the drift of a great part of the Evidences is to show, that the truth of the New Testament is absolutely necessary to account for facts and effects admitted to exist. Christophilus's arguments then, on the resurrection of Jesus, remain unanswered, and, shall I add, un-" answerable !!!

These arguments are to be found in the number for February : there is no time to do justice to them; and to adduce all that is cogent, clear, and judicious in them, would be to reprint the whole paper. Three facts may be instanced - the fact of the disciples laying down their lives, to prove the truth of the resurrection of their master; the fact of their sacrificing their ease, their happiness, and even their existence, to inculcate a manly and rational love of truth and virtue ; and the fact of unlearned and illiterate men, devising “a system so sublime and rational as A. B. admits Christianity to be;" for these facts causes remain to be found by the Deist, which shall not superinduce a helief in the veracity of the scriptures and of the resurrection of Jesus.

In the ensuing number the reasoning is continued on the resurrection of Jesus—it would not perhaps be going too far to

ng has ever been better written on that subject. All who know how to appreciate the laws of evidence, will esteem it a master-piece of argument, and we only feel sur, prised that a circumstance which occurred 1800 years ago should admit of such overpowering evidence in its favour at this day. The most prominent facts to be accounted for in this paper are, that the disciples should have been constrained to believe in the resurrection of their master, after they had given up all hopes, and when their prejudices and fears operated against such belief; and that after they had declared his resurrection to the world, in defiance of their malicious and bigotted enemies, the Jewish priests and rulers should have refrained from confronting these assertions, by producing the body of Jesus, which they must necessarily have had in the sepulchre, if he had not risen.

The last paper of the Evidences respects the success and spread of Christianity after the death of its founder, and is intended to prove the truth of the miraculous gift of tongues, as stated in the Acts. This concluding letter is not inferior to any that has preceded it: the writer shows from various extracts from “ the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," the amazing and rapid diffusion of the Christian religion throughout the vast territory of Rome, not withstanding the obstacles that were op


that no

posed to its spread. And considering how slow is the progress of truth, and the insurmountable obstacles which the various languages of men must have presented to its communication, he demands a cause for this effect, assigning at the same time the gift of tongues, which is stated to have been received by the apostles at the day of Pentecost, as the only appropriate and adequate cause that can be conceived us commensurate to the effect, under all the circumstances of the case. In this the Deist will suppose Christophilus goes too far—for myself, I think he stops short, and lias not even taken the whole of the advantage which his argument would allow of. The gift of tongues was absolutely necessary to the spread of Christianity, as a medium of communication to different nations; but, considering how little effect the demonstrations of reasoning, and the conclusions of argument, have on the bulk of society, I am compelled to admit that some more stupendous and striking mode of conviction must have taken place : and thus we make way for the general miracles of the New Testament-any thing short of which, from all we have observed of men and things, would have been insufficient to the effect produced.

Upon the whole, the arguments of Christophilus seem to have decidedly established the truth of revealed religion, independent of its own internal evidence, and its excellence as a systen of doctrines and of morals. The morality of the New Testament has been charged by Mr. Burdon with being means passive, and pusillanimous. Such attacks cannot but prove of the utmost service to Christianity, if they produce such replies as have appeared in the Magazine, under the signature of G. G. F. and J.D. The same gentleman has also accused Paul with proscribing the light of reason, and enlarging the doetrines of Jesus : in these points he has been more than fully met, and it is only astonishing how a writer, with talents not below midiocrity, can affix his name to arguments which prove nothing but the thoughtlessness and inattention of their author.

The immutability of the laws of nature has also been insist. ed upon, as precluding the possibility of a system of revealed religion. Two correspondents, V.C. and Juvenis, who eve hibit the same turu of thinking, have resisted all the reasoning that has been advanced in this respect ; and on attention to the controversy, it will appear that neither of these writers has attempted to deny the inmutability of the laws of nature, but it rests with “a Deist” to prove that miracles are necessarily incompatible with such immutability,

To conclude --The discussion of the Evidences of Revealed Religion, which has been so variously exhibited in the Free. thinking Christians' Magazine, must prove serviceable to the

« VorigeDoorgaan »