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xxii. 36-40, St Mark xii. 28-34, St. Luke x.
These passages hold forth the love of God and man as the essence of revealed practical religion, and if you know any thing of the principles of natural religion, you must know them to be essentially the same with these; why then would you reject the Bible, which teaches these principles in the shortest, plainest, most comprehensive and easiest manner? Man has need to be taught his duty in the directest manner possible, for his time on earth is short; and if he must be obliged to read the great book of nature or creation through, and understand it well, in order to learn his duty to God and man, few men will ever be found to have sufficient time, abilities, or means to attain this knowledge. And if a man should spend a thousand ages in the study of the creation, he could find out nothing in practical religion more than he might learn in an hour, by reading in the Bible. Hence the inconceivable advantage of study-possessing that amiable disposition, love, with ing the Scriptures, wherein our duty is so which true christianity never fails to inspire plainly revealed. the hearts of all its real possessors.
I shall recite one passage more out of the New Testament, containing a most beautiful comment upon the second table of the law, showing how easily all those important precepts may be observed or fulfilled, by only
Another beautiful passage, wherein we are taught how to conduct ourselves infallibly right towards our fellow creatures, at all times, without the least difficulty in point of knowledge; is expressed in these words, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them for this is the law and the prophets." St. Matt. vii. 12, St. Luke vi. 31. If you were to study astronomy or philosophy for a thousand ages, you could never learn a proper conduct towards your fellow creatures more effectually, than you are taught in this short passage. Here you have a rule which is so short that it will never burden the memory, and so plain that the most simple may understand it, and so easy and pertinent, that it is impossible to mistake in the application of it. You may set the most blind and prejudiced of all judges in the chair, (I mean, self-love) and he will give a right verdict in this case; he will tell you how you would wish others to conduct themselves towards you, in all possible circumstances. If this was the only moral precept in all the New Testament, I should esteem it a truly valuable book; but there are several hundreds more, and all worthy of our attention.
There is a passage in St. Paul's epistle to Titus, that for importance and conciseness I never expect to see exceeded: "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men, hath appeared; teaching us, that deny ing ungodliness, and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." Titus ii. 11, 12.
lives, to deny ungodliness, impiety and profaneness of every kind, and worldly lusts, such as intemperance, uncleanness, anger, envy, pride, covetousness, ambition, &c., that we should live soberly, this comprehends in one word all the duties we owe to ourselves, such as temperance, charity, meekness, humility, &c., righteously, this one word includes all our duty towards mankind, such as doing justly, and loving mercy; and godly, herein is comprehended that reverence, love, gratitude, worship, and constant obedience that we owe to our great Creator. And all this is ordered to be practised in this present world, for the purpose of bringing glory to the name of God, honour to religion, peace to our own minds, and happiness to society.
How much here is in a little? The favour or grace of God, bringing the greatest of all Blessings, salvation, which is a complete deliverance from the love, reigning power, guilt, pollution, practice and existence of sin, and also a final destruction of sorrow, crying, pain, death, and every evil, which are the consequences of transgression; to all men, the whole human race without exception. Glorious news! This grace teacheth us a most important lesson, enough to engage us all our
Rom. xiii. 8, 9, 10. "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this say. ing, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." This one paragraph is sufficient to give a candid reader a very high opinion of the excellency of the New Testament, and of the great abilities of the admirable St. Paul, whom you ridicule as the manufacturer of quibbles; though it is well known, that the great Longinus, in his treatise on the sublime, mentions Paul of Tarsus with much respect, as a most accomplished orator.
I must quote a very considerable part of the New Testament, if I would point out all its beauties; but enough has been said to prove that you have done it great injustice, by representing it entirely barren of any one idea of what God is, and as having but one poor reference to any of his works, and as being chiefly controversial. Our readers will judge by the specimen given, what credit is due to your many bold assertions respecting the poverty, absurdity, falsehood, obscenity, cruelty, wickedness, and uncertainty of the Bible, that book which has done more good to mankind than all the other books that ever were written; and this is to me an infallible proof of its truth and inspiration, of which I trust I shall never be ashamed.
I am, with respect, Yours, &c.
SIR, as I write in the form of letters, it is no great matter which part of your book I answer first, and which last; I shall therefore take up this letter in proving one of those
grand and most important facts, which you refuse to believe, but of which there is the fullest possible evidence, I mean the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The proof of this will greatly shorten this controversy; for if it can be fairly proved that Jesus arose from the dead, then it will necessarily follow, that the scriptures are true; that Christ is the true Messiah, the Saviour of the world; that his death was of great importance, and shall answer very valuable purposes; and in fine, that the great plan of the redemption of mankind, through the death of Jesus on the cross, which to you appears in such a gloomy and ridiculous light, was a plan of infinite wisdom and goodness. For nothing can be more certain, than that God would never have confirmed falsehood and deception by such an astonishing fact, as the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Let this therefore be our present subject.
There are four marks of historical truth, which no falsehood ever had, or in the nature of things can have; and if the resurrection of Jesus bears them all, it must be true; and all the ridicule you have treated it with, will fall upon yourself.
The four infallible marks are these: First, That the things done, or said to be done, are such as the senses of men can judge of.
Secondly, That there be a competent number of faithful witnesses of the things done, or affirmed to be done.
Thirdly, That not only histories be written, but certain outward actions be performed, or certain institutions set up, in remembrance of those facts which have been done: and,
Fourthly, That such institutions commence from the very time when those things took place.
There are many true facts which have not all these marks, but nothing can be false which has them, as must appear evident to all who are capable of reflection. Now this important fact, the resurrection of Jesus, has all these four marks of truth: the apostle says, "That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life; that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you," &c. 1 John i. 13. In what you call, the anonymous book of the Acts, (which by the way was evidently written by the same hand who wrote St. Luke's gospel) we read, that Jesus "showed himself alive to his apostles by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." Acts 1-2. This was long enough for them to be fully satisfied, and to have all their doubts removed; and it appears from the accounts given, that they were as slow of belief as any of us should have been; and this, far from weakening their evidence, tends greatly to strengthen it.
And as the resurrection of Christ was a thing the senses of men could judge of, (for they could and did see him, hear him speak, handle him, eat and drank with him, in all which things they could not be deceived) so
it also had the second mark mentioned above; for there were a competent number of witnesses to whom he appeared, sufficient to prove and authenticate the fact, even though their number should have been no greater than you are willing to allow, eight or nine persons; but St. l'aul informs us that Christ was seen of above five hundred brethern at once, of whom the greater part were alive when he wrote. See 1 Cor. xv. 6. And St. Peter says to Cornelius and his family, "him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before of God, even us, who did eat and drink with him after he arose from the dead." Acts x. 40, 41.
The witnesses were sufficient to authenticate the fact: and by the same rule that you can overthrow the testimony of so many hundreds, you might that of as many thousands or millions.
The resurrection of Christ has the third mark of truth; there were not only histories written of the great event, by those who were eye-witnesses, but there is a perpetual obser vance of a particular day every week in remembrance of Christ's rising from the dead; and most christian nations have yearly observed the feast of Easter for the same purpose. And we are sure that this great fact has the fourth mark of truth, for the weekly observation of that day on which Jesus rose, commenced from the very time, and has been observed without intermission ever since.
There are a number of historical facts, that have these four marks of truth, and they are all undoubtedly true; as the beheading of King Charles the first: this was a thing that the senses of men could judge of; it was done openly in the face of the world; histories have been written of it, which though they vary in some circumstances, agree in the main; and an institution is kept up in remembrance of it, even the observation of a fast upon the 30th of January; and this commenced within about twelve years from the time the fact was done, while many were sull alive who beheld it with their own cyes.
The restoration of king Charles the second, was another fact of the same nature: the eyes of men could see him when he landed upon the English shore; their ears could hear the acclamations of the multitudes; he came publicly into the kingdom; an institution is to this day kept up in remembrance of his restoration, even the observation of May 29; and this commenced from the very time when the event took place. The facts of the revolution in England, in the time of king William the third, the independence of America, and the late revolution in France, are all facts of the same kind; they were facts that the senses of men could certainly judge of; they were done openly; there are institutions, or the observation of certain days in remembrance of them; and those institutions commenced from the very time when those things took place. Now, if you can overthrow the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, which has all these infalli ble marks of truth, I can, by the same rule, destroy the evedence of every historical fact that has ever taken place since time began. The
great andlearned Dr. Priestly, in his sermom on | accordingly on the day, vast numbers flocked the resurrection of Christ (which I would high- to the place where this man was buried, and ly recommend to your perusal) observes, that waited to see him rise, but in vain, for he rose we have much more evidence of that great not. The consequence of which was, that event, than of any other that ever took place. the sect immediately fell into contempt, and For it was not only made so plain to the first came to nothing, and Dr. Eames was soon witnesses of it, that they could not be de- forgotten; so that I suppose few of you ever ceived themselves, but their characters, and heard of his name. And this would certainly the persecutions they were exposed to and have been the case with Jesus and his resuffered on account of their testimony, forbids|ligion, if he had not truly have risen from the every idea or possibility of their being impostors. The fact was as fully investigated for nearly three hundred years as it was possible it should be, while it was fresh; and the opposers of it had all the possible power, policy, malice, and every advantage to have the falsehood of it detected; which, if it could have been done, would certainly have been done then; and which detection would immediately have ruined the cause of Christian system, which is so little, weak, and ridictianity forever. But instead of this being the ulous in your esteem, is truly a plan of infinite case, the long and severe trial ended in the wisdom, power, and goodness; worthy of the conviction of the greater part of the inhabi- acceptation of all mankind. tants of the vast Roman empire, and their This subject is the more important, because free and hearty acknowledgment of the truth this is the turning point between Deists and of the fact, contrary to all their most invete- Christians; here we divide: for if the doctrine rate prejudices. This is no inconsiderable of Christ's resurrection can be overthrown, argumentin favour of the certainty of this im- then is Christianity a fable; but if it be fairly portant event; for what, but the amazing pow-proved, then the Christian system can be easier of truth, could possibly have wrought so ly maintained against Deism. Here I am great an effect. willing to rest the merits of the cause, being fully persuaded that the ground is good. I am, Sir, Yours, &c.
SIR-What you have advanced in your
For my own part, I think that the existence of Christianity in the world is a full and infallible proof that Jesus rose from the dead; which if he had not done, we should scarce ever have heard of him; and his religion could not have existed a year, nor scarcely a week; for the whole depended on his rising from the dead, according to his predictions so frequently delivered to his disciples. For book against the ascension of our Saviour had he failed in that point, none would have Jesus Christ, appeared to me on reading, so ever trusted in him, nor propagated his doc-weak, vague, inconclusive, and so little to trine in the world; and I am confident that the purpose, that I thought at first not to take we at this distance of time should never have any notice of it: but lest any should imagine heard of him. from my not noticing it, that what you had written upon that subject was unanswerable, I concluded upon second thoughts to make some observations upon that important fact.
You, disregarding all facts that do not suit your hypothesis, though ever so well attested, undertake to represent the resurrection and ascension as 'fictions, told with the "most wretched contrivance," so as to "exceed every thing that went before." But as I have already proved the resurrection to be certainly true, there is but little difficulty in proving the ascention also.
I had an opportunity when in London, of illustrating this, by an example worthy of notice. One evening I thus addressed my audience:
And I had the satisfaction of learning from a number of my hearers, that they had never heard of Dr. Eames, until that evening; although he lived, died, and was buried in their city. Thus it appears to me to be proved beyond all contradiction, that Christ Jesus actually rose from the dead. And this fact being true, it will necessarily follow, that the Chris
"To prove that you could never have heard of Jesus, if he had not actually risen from the dead, according to his predictions, I wil! mention an affair that happened in your own city, and since the beginning of the present century. "There was a new sect arose about that time, who prophesied and declared that their religion would spread over the whole world in a short time; and in proof of these assertions, gave this sign, that Dr. Eames, one of their brethren, who was buried on the 25th of December, should on the 25th of the next May, five months from the time of his burial, between the hours of twelve and six in the afternoon, rise from the dead, burst open his grave, and walk home to his house publicly through the streets of London. And this prediction they published beforehand, as a sign, to which they invited the attention of the people; and they said, 'If this wonder takes place, of which we are fully assured, it will be certainly known that we are the Lord's people.'
You suppose the resurrection and ascension of Jesus not to be true, because all the inhabitants of Jerusalem did not see him arise, and behold him ascend. You say, "the resurrection and ascension, supposing them to have taken place, admitted of public and ocular demonstration, like that of the ascension of a balloon, or the sun at noon-day, to all Jerusalem at the least. A thing which every body is required to believe, requires that the proof and evidence of it should be equal to all, and universal; and as the public visibility of this last related act was the only evidence that could give sanction to the former part, the whole of it falls to the ground, because the
evidence never was given. Instead of this, a small number of persons, not more than eight or nine, are introduced as proxies for the whole world, to say, they saw it, and all the rest of the world are called upon to believe it." Thus you write, and further declare, that you will not believe without ocular and manual demonstration yourself, &c. How unreasonable and impossible is this. Would you have Christ to be continually dying, rising, and ascending, before the eyes of every individual, in order that all should have equal evidence of these great facts? Is there no possibility of evidence being so authenticated, and facts so proved, as may warrant the safety of believing them, even to those who in the nature of things could not have seen them with their own eyes? If not, human nature is in a most deplorable situation indeed! The death, resurection, and ascension of Christ could happen but once, and therefore but a small part of the human race could see those facts with their own eyes; and if all the people alive at once were to see them, they must be proxies for other generations; some must of necessity give credit to them from the reports of others. And therefore a few honest, upright men, being eye-witnesses of a fact, are as capable of authenticating that fact, and their evidence is as valid, as though millions had beheld it with them.
these were witnesses of Christ's resurrection, and by them, great proof was given to the citizens in general of the reality of the fact. And as for Christ himself, he remained on earth forty days after his resurrection, and shewed himself many times to his disciples and followers, and at one time to more than five hundred at once; which surely were enough in all reason to authenticate any fact. And when he was going to ascend, he assembled his followers at Jerusalem, and commanded them not to depart from the city till they received the Holy Ghost in a miraculous manner, which should inspire them with the gift of tongues, &c. and which would testify that he had entered heaven, and be as full a proof to all that should see this sign, that he had actually ascended, as though they had seen him go up with their own eyes, if not more so. After he had discoursed with them in a friendly manner for some time, he led them out of the city as far as to Bethany or the mount of Olives, which is near two miles distant, on the cast of Jerusalem; this was doubtless early in the morning, (as he rose early in the morning from the grave) while the inhabitants of great cities are generally in their beds, locked up in sleep. And if any of them were up, as they had not the least intimation of what was going forward, it is not in the least probable that they should turn their attention towards the mount of Olives, but on the contrary it is likely they would attend to their business; as the earliest risers in cities are generally the most industrious. When Christ had led his disciples as far as this favoured place, to which he shall descend when he comes again, (see Zech. xiv. 4, 5,) "he lifted up his hands and blessed them; and it came to pass while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and a cloud received him ont of their sight, and he was carried up into heaven. And while they looked steadfastly towards heaven as he went up, behold, two men (or angels in the form of men) stood by them in white apparel; who also said, ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." See St. Luke xxiv. 50, 51. Acts i. 4-11.
There was a reason why Jerusalem as a city was not allowed to behold Christ after his resurrection, and to see him ascend: for the inhabitants of that unhappy city had, by their rejection of him and his doctrine, moved him to say, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." Matt. xxiii. 37-39. Luke xiii. 34, 35. Now if the whole city had seen him after his resurrection, and beheld him ascend, this prophecy of our Saviour would have been null, void, and of none effect; and then you would have had some real ground for objection against Christianity; whereas now it doth not appear that you have any, but what you After beholding this glorious sight, on a frame out of your own heart. It was there-beautiful morning in the month of May, the fore of a million times more consequence disciples of our Lord returned to Jerusalem, that our Lord's words should be all fulfilled, to wait for the fulfilment of the promise, the than that you or I should have had our humour gift of the Holy Ghost. How many the compleased, or all Jerusalem should be gratified pany consisted of that beheld him ascend, with that sight, of which the inhabitants in we are not positively told; but as if on purgeneral had rendered themselves unworthy, pose to censure your scoffing sneer of a small by their wilfully rejecting the highest moral number of persons, not more than eight or nine, and even miraculous evidence of the Mes- introduced as proxies for the whole world, to say siah's mission. they saw it; &c., the sacred historian informs us, that "the number of the names together were about an hundred and twenty." Acts i. 15. These all having beheld their Lord ascend, agreed to continue daily together, praying for his promise, spending the time in prayer and other religious exercises. Probably many more saw him ascend, but all these certainly, because they continued together, waiting for the accomplishment of what Christ
But though Christ himself was not seen by the inhabitants of Jerusalem in general, after the resurrection, yet St. Matthew informs us in his gospel, that "the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, (by which is meant Jerusalem) and appeared unto many." Chap. xxvii. 52, 53. So that all
had promised them at the time of his as
How different this story appears to me from what it does to you? To you, it appears in vain to attempt to palliate or disguise this matter. To me it appears so evidently true and reasonable, as to stand in no need of any palliation whatever. To you, the story as far as relates to the supernatural part, has every mark of fraud and imposition stamped upon the face of it. To me, it appears to have every mark of truth that could be desired. I think, and I trust I can prove it to be a true story, and it is evidently told in a very artless, natural
lible proof of its truth is yet behind; I mean that part of it which relates to the ascension of Jesus; for as to his resurrection from the dead, I have demonstrated the truth of that in a former letter.
On the feast of Pentecost, which was fifty days from the Sabbath that was in the seven days of the feast of unleavened bread, and consequently ten days after our Saviour's ascension, as the disciples were all with one accord in one place, "suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting, and there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts ii. 1-4.
Jesus is related to have predicted his sufferings and resurrection beforehand, at various times, that the scene might become common and familiar to his disciples. Then his death is set forth in the most particular man- Here was a miracle as great and wonderful ner, with a vast variety of circumstances, in as the ascension of Christ, and which fully which a great number of prophecies written proved that fact; and this was evident to the many hundreds of years before were exactly senses, not only of those who were the imme accomplished. His burial is then related diate subjects of it, but to all the nation of the with the peculiar circumstances attending it. Jews, then assembled to keep the feast of The guards placed at the door of the sepul- Pentecost. Here was no possibility of decepchre, and for what purpose, at whose request, tion or imposture; the Jews that assembled and by whose order. Then follows the his- upon this occasion, had been many of them tory of the resurrection of Jesus, with many born and brought up among all the nations then infallible proofs of the same. Many inter- known, and perfectly understood the several views between Christ and his disciples, and languages of the world, and therefore could several conversations upon the subject are set certainly tell whether the apostles spoke them down. Ten or eleven distinct appearances with propriety; which if they did, the miracle of Christ are recorded. Forty days he is said was as evident as the sun shining in his to have remained on earth, to instruct and con- strength at noon-day, and was as plainly the firm his disciples, and fully to satisfy them of immediate work of God, as the creation of the the reality of his resurrection. During this world itself. For that a number of ignorant, time there seems to have been one general illiterate Galileans, the least improved of any meeting of all his followers and friends, to the of the Jews, should at once be capable of number of about five hundred; which it is speaking fluently and correctly all the differprobable was held by appointment, upon a ent tongues spoken by the most polished, as mountain in Galilee, and was notified before-well as rudest nations, which they could not hand, soon after his resurrection: He goeth have learned in many hundreds of years, must before you into Galilee; there shall ye see have been as impossible for them to do withhim, as he said unto you." St. Mark xvi. 7. out the highest inspiration, as to create anThen after various other interviews, with other universe, and fill it with inhabitants. some of his disciples, a general gathering of And this amazing wonder being fully shewn them that took place at Jerusalem, for the in the presence of all the inhabitants of Jerusapurpose of beholding his ascension; there he lem, and many thousands of Jews out of all conversed with them freely, gave them his nations, was a proof of Christ's ascension, last instructions, promised them the gift of the far more full and satisfactory, than if they spirit in a miraculous manner; ordered them had all seen him go up with their own eyes.
to abide at Jerusalem till that sign was fulfill-There can be no room here for debating, to
what extent the laws of nature, and the pow ers of nature and art could possibly go; for every person of common sense must know,
ed; then he led them out of the city to the mount of Olives, and arriving at its summit, probably before the rising of the sun, he lifted up his hands, and gave them a parting bless-that for ignorant men in a moment to learn to ing; in the action of which he was parted speak all languages, is absolutely naturally from them, and ascended a little way in their impossible, unless by immediate inspiration. open view; but in a short time, a cloud re- And this event took place, not in an obscure ceived him out of their sight, and they saw corner of the world, but in the famous city of him no more. Then bowing their knees, they Jerusalem; not in a private conventicle, but worshipped him, being now fully convinced in the public temple, the place of general reof his glorious character; then returning with sort; not only before a few persons, but in great joy to Jerusalem, about an hundred and the sight and hearing of many thousands; not twenty of them continued daily together, wait-only before an ignorant rabble, but in the ing for the descent of the Holy Ghost. Now presence of the most devout, learned, and juwhat is there in all this, that has the least ap-dicious of the nation of the Jews, gathered out pearance of fraud or imposition? I never of all nations under heaven: not in the night, heard a story in all my life, told more natural- but in the morning of a public feast day. And ly, or in which all the parts better correspond- this miracle of the gift of tongues, was not ed with each other. But the great and infal- only a sign for a day, but lasted many years;