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A Series of Letters In Defence of Divine Revelation by Hosea Ballou

Part 2 out of 6

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nothing!

"Now compare this virtue with the virtue of one whom the christian
world would call an infidel! One whose faith, and of course, hope,
does not extend beyond what he knows has been the lot of some, and, as
far as circumstances will admit, may be his own; and yet he is always
faithful in the discharge of whatever appears to be his duty, always
enjoys life, whether in prosperity or adversity, and is always, so far
as it respects circumstances over which he has no control, reconciled
and contented with his lot. He knows his life is uncertain, and
although he has no real faith or well grounded hope beyond the present
state of existence, yet the thought gives him neither anxiety nor
concern. His only object is to do good; to enjoy life while it lasts,
to cultivate and improve human nature for the benefit of posterity; to
bear the evils and misfortunes of life with fortitude, and to be
unfeignedly thankful for all the happiness of which he is made
susceptible. Therefore whether his life be for a day, or for eternity,
it matters not, because, for the present, it is all the same to him:
his duties are the same, and his enjoyments are the same. O how happy!
How inexpressibly happy, is such a state as this!

"While others are feasting their fruitful imaginations with the idle
and visionary dreams of fanaticism; with a kind of chimerical heaven
of which they know _nothing_, as to its certainty: this man is in
heaven already: dwelling in love, he 'dwelleth in God, and God in
him.'

"Do you not wish, my brother, that you could find such a character
among Christians? But Christianity does not afford such a character,
in _full_, nor is it possible that it ever should. Such a character,
however, there may be, and when the world, or any considerable part of
them can receive his testimony, he may make his appearance.

"You seem to think it may be successfully argued 'that the moral and
religious state of man really required a divine revelation.' This
argument, if I understand you, grows out of the ardent desires of man;
which, it is admitted, would be pretty conclusive if it could be made
to appear that the desires of man are never fruitless. Man, it is
true, rationally desires happiness; for this is essential to his moral
existence; yet, may he not, through ignorance, or from some other
cause, suppose things essential to his happiness, which, in fact, are
not essential, and therefore ardently desire them? But does it
necessarily follow that the particular things desired in such cases
are absolutely necessary? and therefore will absolutely be granted? I
believe not.--And if he may be thus deceived in any one thing, why may
he not be deceived in the supposed necessity of a divine revelation?
It is believed that a perfect reconciliation to the present state of
man; to what he is, with the prospect only of what he yet may be in
this life, without either the hope or the fear of a future existence,
would be infinitely better than any thing which has yet been produced
by a belief in divine revelation; especially any further than a
revelation is conducive to this end; and if a revelation ever was
necessary, it was necessary only to reconcile man to his present state
of existence. But if man can be equally reconciled without the
_knowledge_, or, what amounts to the same thing, without the _belief_
of divine revelation, then the end of such a revelation is obtained.

"It seems to be expedient that I should say a few more words,
'respecting the apostles' stating no more than what was substantially
true.'

"I hope, however, we shall not lose sight of the main subject in
debate, by criticising on words. I say _main subject_ here, as I think
there will be no occasion of saying any thing more on the subject of
the _languages_ in relation to the arts and sciences.

"I am not disposed to think, sir, that you have designedly wrested the
meaning of my words; nor that you are unwilling to receive my meaning
when it is fully understood; and yet, having once explained on this
subject, I am unable to account for your remarks.

"After my informing you that you had misconstrued me, and also stating
my meaning, as I supposed, more explicitly, you have informed me that
if your first construction was not my meaning, it seems that I must
have meant the reverse of it, which, I must aver, is as foreign from
my meaning as your first construction! For neither your former nor
latter construction was in my mind when I wrote the sentence to which
I allude: but a different idea from either of your constructions was
in my mind, and was what I meant to state; which idea, as I conceive,
is as fairly expressed by my words, and is a more just construction of
them, taking into consideration the sentence which follows, than
either of the ideas which you have expressed as their meaning.

"Permit me therefore to state again, that whatever might have been my
opinion respecting the writings of the apostles, I did not mean to
suggest, and much less to affirm in that sentence 'that they stated
that which is not true!'--Neither did I mean to acknowledge in that
sentence that they had stated 'no more' than what is true, at least in
_substance_; but I did mean this, and this only, that admitting those
things were true, all would admit that the design of the apostles was
nothing _more_ than to state the truth of those things in _substance_;
because all would acknowledge that they were not careful to be correct
as to every _minutiae_. But as this makes nothing either for or
against the main point, I wish to add no more respecting it, than
simply to remark, that even if the apostles had gone on the opposite
extreme of what I meant I should not think them 'deserving of _no
credit_.' Supposing they had descended into _minutiae_, and related,
to an exact nicety, every particular circumstance (which is exactly
the reverse of what I mean to state), would they on this account have
been deserving of _no credit_? I think not. Considering the time,
however, which had elapsed after the facts are said to have taken
place, before a history of them was given in writing, I think the
evangelists are entitled to _more credit_, on the whole, than what
they would have been if their testimony had borne the complexion last
mentioned.

"To close this letter, which perhaps is already too long, I would here
acknowledge that as I have expressed doubts in the subject of divine
revelation, you have a right to hear my reasons for doubting. These I
promised to give you (as I thought) at the close of my fourth number.
You have informed me, verbally, that I promised to give you my
_doubts_ only. If I did so, it was only a slip of the pen, to which I
am too prone; it was my _reasons for doubting_, which I meant to have
promised you; and in my next I shall endeavor to fulfil that promise.

"Yours, &c.

A. KNEELAND."

* * * * *

LETTER V.

_Dear sir, and brother_,--Your fifth and sixth numbers were received
together, and will be noticed in the order in which they came to hand.

You observe that you know of no better evidence that "there ever was
such a story reported among the Jews, in the days of the apostles,
than there is to prove the actual resurrection of Jesus," &c. This
suggestion leads to the following queries.

1st. Was there in the days of the apostles, such a man known in the
country of the Jews, as Jesus Christ?

2d. Was this man put to death, as the four evangelists and others
testify?

3d. Did the apostles declare to the people who put him to death, that
they knew that he had arisen from the dead?

4th. If the Jews who put Jesus to death could go to his sepulchre and
show his dead body to the people, would the story of the resurrection
ever have gained any credit among the Jews?

5th. If they could not find the body of him who had been crucified,
would the opposers not endeavour to report something that might appear
as plausible as they could, especially as they had the keeping of the
sepulchre in their own hands?

6th. What would more naturally suggest itself to the imagination of
men, in the situation of the rulers of the Jews, than the story of the
disciples having stolen the dead body, &c. Or,

7th. Was this account written long since the apostles' days, by an
unknown author, who made the whole story as he wrote it? If this last
question cannot be answered in the affirmative without doing violence
to the most authentic testimony and also to the plainest dictates of
reason, it seems to follow that the 6th preceding question, must be
accepted in the affirmative, which furnishes sufficient evidence to
prove that such a story was reported among the Jews in the days of the
apostles.

Whether you are correct in supposing there is as much evidence to
prove the resurrection as to prove the report of the disciples' having
stolen the body, or not, it appears to me, that there is no proper
ground on which the latter can even be doubted.

Suppose a writer in vindicating believer's baptism in opposition to
the sprinkling of infants, should relate a wonderful story concerning
the persecutions of the baptists, in which he should set forth the
particulars of one of their leading characters having been put to
death by their opposers. In this account, the author says; Those
murderers, after they put the man to death, for fear his friends
should steal the body, went and placed a strong guard round the tomb
to watch for the space of three days and nights, but before the
expiration of this period, the guard came to the rulers and make known
that the body is gone, and acknowledge at the same time, that there
were such wonders seen by them at the tomb, that they were unable to
endure the sight and retain their natural powers; that the rulers gave
them money to report that a number of the baptists came while the
guard was asleep and stole the body--"So they took the money, and did
as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the
Paedobaptists unto this day." Would this story appear any ways to the
advantage of a cause, with which reason and common sense have any
thing to do?

Reason, sir, for which you seem determined to contend, is candid; it
readily acknowledges that the account of this report among the Jews is
a true account. And it acknowledges also that the truth of this
account is good evidence to prove that the rulers of the Jews found it
necessary, in order to oppose the truth of the resurrection, to get
such a report in circulation.

You have not taken me exactly on the ground of my argument, in
supposing that, by _revelation_, I mean nothing more than "what was
revealed to me by the resurrection of Jesus, allowing the resurrection
true." My design was to consider the three propositions, viz.
revelation, the resurrection of Jesus, and the truth of the testimony
of the apostles, concerning matters of fact, true, disjunctively; and
also to avail myself of whatever might arise to the advantage of my
argument from the relation of these facts. All this you will, as a
generous and candid antagonist, be willing to allow me to do, on the
supposition that the three propositions, above named, be granted. For
surely no necessary deduction from granted premises can mislead,
unless what is granted be false. You will furthermore see, that by
granting the truth of divine revelation some degree of allowance is
given to the probability, at least, of the testimony of the apostles
respecting a future state. The confining of the subject of revelation,
to that only which is revealed by the resurrection of Jesus, seems an
unnecessary restriction, which can answer no purpose but to embarrass
an argument which it would have no real force in refuting; for if the
resurrection be admitted, which affords such an important revelation
as grows out of the fact, it establishes the general truth of a DIVINE
REVELATION from God to man. This being granted, all that stands in a
necessary relation to it may with propriety be used in defence of any
particular question relative to the general subject. I have already
argued the truth of what the apostles say of a future state, from the
facts which you grant for the sake of the argument, but you seem to
misapprehend me in supposing that I mean to contend, that what the
apostles have said respecting a future state, was spoken by way of
_conclusion_ from certain known facts. The known facts, such as the
miracles of Jesus, his resurrection, and the miracles wrought by the
apostles, I used as proof of the divine mission of these servants of
God. This divine mission being proved, gives the ground on which I
contend for the merit of their testimony concerning a future state.
You should have regarded my argument, as placing the credibility of
the apostles' testimony concerning a future state, on the fact of
their divine mission, and not as you seem to have done, on the
supposition, that they could not err in drawing conclusions, &c.

You have misunderstood me also, in supposing that by "the guess work
of men," I had any allusion to the known miracles related by the
apostles. What I called "mere guess work of men," was the _opinions_
of the apostles on supposition they were not divinely directed, in the
testimony they laid down respecting a future state. On this particular
subject, all you have said in reply to my reasoning, has no just
relation to my argument.

It was expected, that in relation to the foregoing subject, you would
have seen the necessity of either denying the reality of those
miracles, which, if true, prove the divine mission of Christ and his
apostles, or of granting the authority of their testimony. But in room
of finding what was so confidently expected, I find the mistakes above
pointed out, which occupy considerable space, without deciding any
thing, or furnishing ground on which I feel disposed to place any
argument.

The next particular which demands notice is stated as follows: "Your
final conclusion, after all, comes so near what I conceive to be the
truth, that were you as correct in every thing as you appear to be in
this, I should hardly think it expedient to pursue this controversy
any further." You then quote me. "The Christian is enabled to hope for
existence with God in an eternal state, and this is as much as our
present welfare requires." You rejoin; "Most excellent! to this
proposition I cheerfully assent. Yea, I would consent even to pruning
it a little which no doubt would spoil it in your view. Instead of,
'this is as much as,' read, 'even this is more than,' and your
proposition would stand exactly right." You assure me that you are in
search of truth.--Truth is the only design of your heart. It would be
uncharitable in me to doubt your sincerity. You sincerely and
cheerfully assent to the above proposition viz. that the christian is
enabled to hope for existence with God in an eternal state, and this
is as much as our present welfare requires. This you say is _most_
excellent. But notwithstanding you cheerfully assent to this
proposition, and can pronounce it _most_ excellent! Yet you think, if
the proposition was so altered as to allow us no hope of a future
existence with God, it would stand _exactly_ right! This variation is
so small, this difference is so little that you think if I were as
correct in every thing as I am in this, there would be no need of
pursuing this controversy any further! Let me ask dear sir, if such
reasoning as this can promise a profitable reward for our labours, and
a recompence for the precious time we are spending? The eye of reason,
I say is candid: it sees and knows, that if a hope of existence with
God hereafter is _more than_ our present welfare requires, such an
expectation is awfully dreadful beyond the power of language to
describe. Reason knows that there is an infinite difference between no
existence hereafter, and an eternal existence. And it knows, that if
the former is exactly what our present welfare requires, the latter is
completely repugnant to it.

With what you here contend for, I will connect a passage from your
sixth number. "He knows that a belief in revelation is not absolutely
necessary to a happy life." By bringing these passages together, I am
led to understand what you mean by the latter viz. that a belief in a
happy future state, is not necessary to our present felicity. This is
what you know! What then are you in pursuant of? You pretend to be
earnestly solicitous to have your doubts respecting divine revelation
removed if possible; you call on me to assist in this work as if you
viewed it with deep concern.--If your doubts should be removed, if you
should be altogether convinced that God has actually revealed the
truth of a a happy immortality, you know it would add nothing to your
happiness. Furthermore you argue, following the passage quoted from
your sixth number, that this belief in the revelation of a happy
futurity is not necessary to produce a virtuous life. Allowing all you
argue on this subject, you feel sure that a real conviction of the
truth of the christian doctrine, and hope of future blessedness, would
be of no advantage to your virtue or happiness! I ask again, what are
you in pursuit of? You compliment me too highly in your encomium on
the sermon in which I laid down that man is so constituted that he is
always willing to exchange that which gives him trouble, for that
which gives him comfort. And you advert to this particular sentiment
of mine, in your observations on St. Paul's conversion, and very
justly refuse to allow him to be an exception of the general rule. But
are you not an exception of this rule? Do you not appear to be
solicitous to have your doubts removed without expecting the least
advantage by it? Are you not employing your time in writing
voluminously on a subject which you _know_ can yield you no
recompence? In search after the evidences of the christian hope, you
cannot say: where is that faithful, that friendly witness by which I
can believe, and believing, enjoy as a precious reality that hope
which is as an anchor to the soul, both sure and stedfast; which
entereth into that within the veil, where our forerunner hath for us
entered; which hope would enable me to sing that triumphant song; "O
death where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory? Thanks be to
God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." No, this
hope would add nothing to your happiness, and what you want it for is
not for me to imagine.

You can employ the powers of luminous reason in contemplating eternal
nothing with sweet complacency. This is "exactly" as it should be!
Varying from this the proposition would need to be "pruned!" Dear
brother, does reason countenance all this absurdity? If it be a
pleasure to contemplate non-existence does it not involve the
absurdity of enjoying the expectation of the discontinuance of
enjoyment?

You have expressed, with interjections, the value of truth. You seem
almost disposed to arrogate to yourself a peculiar regard for this
divine treasure. I can fancy I hear your secret addresses to this
lovely divinity; in rapturous language, with aspect of eager affection
saying; O truth, the loveliest of all attractions, thou art balsam for
every wound, antidote for every poison; thou sweetenest every bitter
cup; the gloomy prospect of living, in thy bright sunshine is by thee
changed into the joyous expectation of soon losing sight of thee
forever in the elysium of non-existence!

I will not burden you with further deductions, so repugnant to the
dictates of reason; but I will cherish a hope, that you will see
sufficient reason for rescinding the arguments which lead to them.[1]

[Footnote 1: Perhaps the reader may be a little astonished here, that
the objector should ever have consented to publish arguments which
makes him appear so much to a disadvantage. But an honest objector,
who has been so blind to his own heart as not to perceive the real
cause of a perfect reconciliation to the general providence of God,
instead of feeling _chagrined_, will feel _grateful_, when his errors
are _honestly exposed_. Believing, therefore, that others may be in
the same predicament, these arguments are published to the world.]

On supposition divine revelation be true, you agree with me on the
subject wherein I differ from the general opinion, that a knowledge of
the gospel in this world is indispensable to the soul's felicity in
the next, but you are confident that this my sentiment will be viewed
by the Christian world in general, with greater abhorrence than even
your own arguments, &c. And you hope I am prepared for the
consequences. Reply--I have little or no concern about what opinion
reputed orthodoxy may entertain of the truths which reason and
revelation harmonize in supporting, nor am very careful about any
preparation to meet the consequences which may result from the
inseparable companions, _superstition_ and _ignorance_.

In my view, the commonly received opinion, on the subject under
consideration, is no more reasonable, than the supposition that the
happiness and wellbeing of our children, in this world, depend on
their having had a correct knowledge of their parents, of their wisdom
and parental providence for them, before they were born. The wisdom
and goodness of God, according to scripture and reason, are universal.
The ignorance of mortals concerning them, on the one hand, makes them
no less, and their knowledge, on the other makes them no greater. We
must duly regard, however, the evident fact, that the enjoyment of
reasonable beings, is extended by the extension of knowledge, which
renders acquirements in science and divinity an object of the first
magnitude.

The sentiment which you express on the above subject is what I am well
persuaded can never be refuted, and it appears to me that by placing
the system of divine revelation on the ground above noticed, it is
rendered free from these absurdities which have rendered it
exceptionable to the eye of reason and philosophy.

The gospel of everlasting life, like all real science, has always
existed, but like the sciences, has been developed by degrees, and
brought to the understanding of mankind as a mean of refinement,
improvement, and of conformity to mortal principles, as expressed by
that eminent divine St. Paul, 2 Cor. 5, 18, 19, 20. "And all things
are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and
hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was
in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their
trespasses unto them: and hath committed unto us the word of
reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God
did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled
to God." Now to suppose that men, who on account of their ignorance of
the gospel are unreconciled to God, who has undertaken the gracious
work of reconciling them to himself, not imputing their trespasses
unto them, are on account of their unreconciliation excluded from
being the objects of divine favour is a grand absurdity to say the
least.

The fact is, the gospel is a dispensation of general favour, and it
actually communicates many invaluable blessings to those who know
nothing of its divine principles. There are millions of people in the
world who are blessed in a great variety of respects by means of civil
government, who know nothing of the principles of the governments by
which they are protected. How many blessings are constantly falling,
as it were like a shower, on our infants and youth in America, from
the favourable government of our happy country, and yet these children
know not the difference between an absolute monarchy and a republic.

How many millions of the human race are daily fed from the products of
agriculture, who know nothing of the principles which produce those
rich supplies. So there are multitudes who enjoy many blessings
procured by the gospel of Christ, who have no knowledge of the sublime
principles of this religion. But here again I will repeat the remark,
that our rational felicity is greatly increased by an extension of our
knowledge in the principles of the doctrine of Jesus, which
consideration is a proper incentive to grow in grace and in the
knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Knowledge is food for the mind and nourishes and strengthens it as
aliment does the body. Our youth learn to read the books which they
are favoured with in consequence of the discovery of the art of
printing, and they obtain great advantages by means of those books,
while they remain entirely ignorant, many of them, of the art by which
such a favour is put into their hands. But still it is healthy to the
youthful mind, to receive the knowledge of this and other arts, and
even to know that an art so extensively useful was not known in the
world four hundred years ago. A person on being informed of the first
discovery of this art, and of its being practiced, in the first place,
with separate wooden types, might be disposed to doubt the ignorance
of men in those times. He might think it incredible that any thing so
easy, that even children can perform was unknown to the learned world
in those times when learning flourished in ancient Greece and Rome.
And I am of opinion that many now, who are disposed to doubt the
circumstances which attended the first promulgation of the gospel, and
even call themselves unbelievers, do in reality, owe even their
existence and of course every blessing they enjoy to those facts of
which they now doubt. Yes, sir, the light of reason, and the knowledge
of moral principles, on which you feel disposed to place so much
consequence, I am inclined to believe are reflections of that light
which was the delightful theme of the evangelical Isaiah, chapters 6,
7, 8. "I the Lord hath called thee in righteousness, and will hold
thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the
people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring
out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out
of the prison house. I am the Lord; that is my name: and my glory will
I not give to another, nor my praise to graven images." Am I deceived,
sir, or is it evident, that the glorious LIGHT which illuminates our
moral hemisphere, and distinguishes our country from barbarism and
savage ignorance, is the gospel? The name of Jesus, his doctrine, the
reformation, seceding from the Church of England and persecution for
conscience sake, rank as causes of the settlement of New England by
our forefathers, and of the existence of the men who are carrying on
this correspondence. This is mentioned with a view to direct your mind
to the consideration of that course of causes and effects by which we
are enabled to reason on what wo call moral and physical principles.
And a hope is entertained that due regard will be paid to this
self-evident fact, that nothing ever took place without an adequate
cause to produce it.

With this reflection, I come to notice your remarks on the subject of
St. Paul's conversion; for it appears to me that you have allowed
certain facts without assigning any adequate causes by which those
facts came to exist. You make no attempt to deny that there was such a
man as St. Paul, nor do you deny his having been educated, and
religiously instructed as the scripture history concerning this man
sets forth. But you assign no reason why he became a believer in Jesus
Christ, you assign no reason for his becoming a preacher of the
doctrine of Jesus, you assign no reason why he should so patiently
suffer for the religion, the truth of which you are now calling in
question. You allow that before his conversion he persecuted unto
death the "weak and defenceless disciples of the meek and lowly
Jesus." But you assign no reasons why weak and defenceless men should
become the disciples of Jesus. You would fain insinuate that what he
relates of the particular circumstance which happened to him on his
way to Damascus was a mere reverie. But you make no attempt to show
how such a reverie could produce in this learned pharisee a belief
that Jesus, who was crucified had actually arose from the dead, when
there were not even the shadow of evidence existing to prove such an
improbable fact. You are inclined to this notion of a reverie on
account of some experience of your own, which your good sense and
after reflection have discovered to be nothing on which dependence
ought to be placed. Sir, where is the similarity of your case with
that of the learned pharisee? Do you really believe you ever
experienced a reverie, that would go in the least to cause you to
believe in the resurrection of a man who was hanged in your sight, and
who you knew was buried, and of whose resurrection you had no
evidence, only a vague reverie? Do you believe you ever experienced a
mere imagination which was strong enough to produce the above belief,
and which could continue to influence you all your life long, lead you
to forsake a most honourable connexion, and to espouse a religion
which all the prejudices of your education opposed, and to labour
continually for its support and to suffer every thing for its defence?
No, you pretend to no such thing, therefore your case is very
different from St. Paul's.

I agree with you, that the case of this apostle comes under the rule
which you recollect I suggested in my sermon. He undoubtedly viewed
the religion which he received in room of the one he parted with the
most valuable. And to this agrees his own testimony. Phil. iii. 7, &c.
"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of
the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the
loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ,
and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of
the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the
righteousness which is of God by faith."

As you promise to say more on this subject, I shall _continue_ to
expect an attempt to deny the conversion of such a man as St. Paul is
set forth to have been, to the Christian religion, under all the
circumstances which the scripture account mentions; or an attempt to
show that such a conversion could _probably_ take place without
supposing the facts on which the religion of Christ was founded were
realities; or lastly, an acknowledgment that this conversion may
reasonably be allowed as evidence to us of the truth of the Christian
religion.

Should you be disposed to disallow the account which the scripture
gives of St. Paul, I will ask the favour of you to point out and show
to my understanding where in Paley's Horae Paulinae fails of proving
the truth of the scripture history of St. Paul.

* * * * *

What follows is designed to notice your sixth number; out of which the
following subjects are selected, on which some remarks are made.

1st. You observe that "when we hear things, which to our understanding
are improbable, the improbability of the facts raises a doubt in our
minds; and certainly there can be no harm in suspending our judgment,
nor yet in withholding our belief until we are fully satisfied." This
first subject regards the degrees of evidences which are required in
different cases, and the moral propriety of withholding the assent of
the mind in the case of a want of evidence.

2d. You are not disposed to doubt that many of the prophets were good
men; nor will you contend that they were not all such, and taught the
people according to the best of their abilities--And yet you hesitate
to allow the divinity of their testimony.

3d. I notice that you acknowledge that there are evidences in favour
of divine revelation, which would support it, if there were nothing to
counterbalance their testimony.

4th. You hardly know how to understand me where I suggest, that in
disproving the religion of Jesus Christ, you disprove all religion,
&c.

5th. An inquiry whether Jesus and the apostles might not be honest
men, and yet their testimony in certain cases not to be relied on!

6th. You suppose that arguments equally energetic and equally
conclusive might be drawn from our feelings against, as in favour of
the necessity of divine revelation.

7th. In enumerating the virtues and enjoyments of one who does not
even desire a future state, you mention unfeigned thankfulness for all
the happiness of which he is made susceptible.

8th. You assert, that if a revelation ever was necessary, it was
necessary only to reconcile man to his present state efexistence. And,

9th. You seem to fault me for supposing that in case you did not mean
as I took you, on the subject of the apostles' testimony, you must
mean the reverse, &c.

These nine particulars, it is true, do not comprehend every item
contained in your sixth number, but I believe that a candid reply to
each of them will satisfy you that a competent degree of attention has
been paid to this communication.

1st. Concerning the degrees of evidence required in certain cases to
carry conviction of facts to the mind; it has always been allowed by
those who have vindicated the religion of Jesus, that a belief in
miracles requires more evidence than a belief in ordinary events
recorded in history. Having granted this they proceed to associate the
evidences, which God in his divine economy has given and preserved,
and conclude with grateful assurance that the evidence of the miracles
of Jesus, his unspeakably glorious resurrection from the dead,
together with the miracles with which the first promulgation of the
gospel was effected, are abundantly sufficient to carry conviction to
vastly the greatest part of candid minds.

In the mode the last sentence is concluded, I must, in justice to
others, take the sentiment there expressed to myself; for I am sorry
to say that christians, who have contended against infidelity have,
generally, been less charitable than the genius of the religion they
have, in many respects, most ably defended. I cannot find authority
for denying candor to one who is unable to believe on the ground of
such evidence as may satisfy my mind of a fact. I will therefore
suppose that some who are candid, may, from some cause which we cannot
analyze, be unable to believe the great truths of the gospel, on such
evidence as is abundantly sufficient to convince others who are as
scrupulous as necessary investigation requires.

It is, sir, the opinion of some very learned authors, who stand in the
very first rank, for candor and erudition, that the proofs of which
the gospel is susceptible are, in all respects, equal to what they
could have been in any other way concerted, within the reach of human
conception. This is going to a great length I confess; and yet I am
strongly inclined to their opinion. I will candidly state why I am
so.--1st. Taking the subject in the gross, I am convinced of the truth
of the gospel of Christ. Now as I believe this gospel is not of man,
but of God, I likewise believe that God in consummate wisdom has
planned the evidences by which it is and will be supported in the
world, until it fills the whole earth. 2d. As I believe that divine
wisdom has planned, ordered and directed all the means which will
finally operate as evidences in defence of the gospel, I cannot
believe that the wisdom or sagacity of man could have suggested a
chain of evidences which could so well have secured the cause to be
supported. And 3d. I have spent much time in reflecting and studying
on this momentous subject, some time in reading authors on both sides
of the question, a great deal of time in reading the scriptures, and
have come to this conclusion that no set of men ever lived in this
world that could either have planned such a scheme as the gospel, or
ever have invented such a chain of evidences for its support.

If the single miracle of the resurrection be considered, as the fact
on which all other facts relating to the gospel seem to rest, it is
confidently believed that no human invention could have concerted a
system so well calculated to secure the fact to all future
generations, as that which has been adopted by the divine economy. Had
the whole of the Jewish nation with their Gentile neighbours, together
with the Roman authorities, all confessed Christianity, being fully
convinced of the resurrection of Jesus, and had they inscribed all the
miracles recorded in the new testament on monuments which should defy
the hand of time to bring them to decay, it requires but a moment's
reflection to see that all this would have vastly increased the
difficulty now to prove that it was not all contrived by man's
invention.

But let us consider the unbelief of the Jews, the violent opposition
of that ancient priesthood, its coalition with the Roman government
against the gospel, the great jealousy which the acknowledged miracles
of Jesus had excited, the vigilance by which he was watched by his
religious enemies, the careful scrutiny employed to discover fraud in
his miracles if it were possible; and then add to these considerations
that the miracles of Jesus were publically performed, and of such a
nature as to admit of the easiest possible detection if they had not
been real: and finally to disarm unbelief at once, consider that the
ministry of the gospel was set up by the apostles, on the bold
declaration that God had raised the crucified Jesus from the dead! A
declaration, which if it had not been true, mark well, sir, could have
been as easily refuted and rendered the derision of all people as any
declaration that could have been made. But I shall lose myself, and
forget that you have not yet called my attention so directly to this
subject, as to justify my entering largely into it.

What you have said on the subject of believing in the testimony of
David, that the "Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over
all his works," also the same sentiment communicated by Jesus Christ,
that God loves his enemies and that he requires of us the same
exercise towards our enemies, though perfectly reasonable, as I view
the subject, seems to call up the question, how it happens that
thousands of professed Christians, who believe in the miracles of
Jesus, his resurrection and the miracles of the apostles, are
notwithstanding hostile to this divine and glorious sentiment of the
blessed Jesus! Being compelled, by the visible evidences of divine
goodness, seen in the rain and sunshine, they advance so far as to
acknowledge that _temporal_ favours are generally distributed, but
that God does really love the wicked, they utterly deny. Now while you
can believe this great moral truth without a miracle, Christian people
in general cannot believe it with one. You are not to suppose that I
am willing to allow that you believe this sentiment without a miracle,
though you would insinuate, that this is the case. My opinion is, that
had it not been for the miracles recorded in the new testament, the
truth of which you are disposed to call in question, you and I, if we
had existed, would have had no more light on this subject than the
rudest savage, or what is worse, the most superstitious and contracted
Christian. If you have any ground on which you can fairly refute my
opinion on this subject, I hope you will faithfully perform it; if
not, it will be expected that you will express your acquiescence. Such
is the power of natural prejudice which we know exists in the human
mind, that without a divine revelation from God, supported by the most
evident miracles, man will not extend his views of divine benevolence
scarcely beyond the rivers and mountains which environ the
circumscribed vicinity of his birth. Trace the power and operation of
this prejudice and you find it maintaining hostility against the light
of revelation itself, and it is only by slow degrees that it is
brought into submission. We reason very injudiciously when we bring
ourselves to believe, that by the light of reason we could know and
understand all the moral truths which we have been taught by
revelation; we forget that revelation has illuminated our reason and
taught it how to see and understand.--Just as well might the sprightly
youth refuse to acknowledge that its mother learned it to walk, and
ever gave it nourishment and strength to perform the exercise, and
allege that it can walk as well as she can. As well might the learned
graduate refuse the grateful honours due to his instructors, and say:
my reason, my understanding comprehend these sciences, of what use
then are these learned professors and this college institution? But
would not reason point him to the condition of those, to whom the
blessings of instruction, which, through much difficulty had given him
the light of science, had not extended? Would it not force the
comparison on his understanding, and humble him into gratitude?

It seems impossible, sir, for reason to compare our situation with
theirs, who have not been enlightened by the gospel, without kneeling,
like the woman in Simon's house, at the feet of Jesus.

2d. If the prophets where not divinely inspired, will you suggest any
way by which their pretentions to divine inspiration can be reconciled
with their honesty? They all speak in the name of the Lord, and
evidently aim at the high pretention of being spoken to, in a special
manner, by God himself. Will you say: they were a set of poor deluded
enthusiasts? But this would contradict your reason which can see in
every page of their writings a very different character. A passage
from the 1st chapter of Jeremiah is here quoted for an example. "Then
the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, before I formed thee &c. I
sanctified thee; and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then
said I, ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak, for I am a child: But
the Lord said unto me, say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all
that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt
speak. Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee to deliver
thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my
mouth; and the Lord said unto me, behold, I have put my words in thy
mouth."

Here Jeremiah evidently designed to declare himself an inspired
prophet of God, by which he was justified in speaking in his name. Now
if all this was mere fiction, how can it be entitled to a better
character than that of blasphemy?

As a specimen of this prophet's knowledge of future events we may
notice his prophesy of the seventy years captivity. See chap. xxv. 11,
&c. xxix. 10, &c. Compare with 2 Kings xxiv. 2 Chron. xxxvi. Ezra i.
1, and other corresponding passages.

I will ask you to consult the character of Daniel, and observe with
what genuine humility he pretends to divine inspiration, chap. ii.
xxx. "But as for me, the secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom
that I have more than any living, but that the secret might be made
known, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart." If
Daniel did not receive a divine revelation, it must be allowed that he
was deceived, or that he meant to deceive the king. But if he were
deceived, or if he meant to deceive, can you give any good account how
he could tell the king's dream and the interpretation, which reached
into the far distant periods of time, and which has been remarkably
fulfilled in the rise and fall of the four great empires of the world,
and is still fulfilling by the advances of the kingdom of Christ? I
will say nothing of the prophet Isaiah, who speaks of the Messiah more
than seven hundred years before he was born, as if he had been his
contemporary. Nor need I speak of Moses who foretold the dealings of
God with the house of Israel as if he had lived now and had written
their history. But I must insist on your paying some nice attention to
the prophesies of Christ concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. This
prophesy is recorded very circumstantially in the 24th of Matt. Be so
good, sir, as to compare this prophesy with the history written by
Josephus and let candor decide whether the author of that prophesy was
divinely inspired, or whether he was a poor deceived enthusiast.

If you allow that Jesus Christ was an honest man how is it possible
for you to deny his being divinely inspired? He certainly pretended to
foretell events; he most surely pretended to perform most astonishing
miracles. Of these facts we have as much evidence as we have that
there was such a man. Now, sir, if he were honest, he was divinely
inspired and endued, or he was an enthusiast even to insanity. And yet
in every instance, where the powers of his mind were tried, by the
profoundest learning, and sharpest wit that could be brought against
him, he discovered a mind as clear as light. A volume of vast extent
could not exhaust the subject I am now upon, but as you have the same
opportunity and means which I have to trace it, I shall insist on your
treating this subject with candor and shall expect you to acknowledge
that Jesus was divinely inspired, or show how he could be honest,
without this divine endowment.

3d. You acknowledge, that there are evidences in favour of divine
revelation, which would support it, if there were nothing to
counterbalance their testimony. I shall here find some fault. Why do
you allow that there are evidences in favour of divine revelation, and
not state what they are? Why do you insinuate that there is something
to counterbalance their testimony and not state what it is? When an
antagonist finds his opponent candid enough to allow that some
evidence stands on his side of the argument is it not necessary for
him at the same time to be informed what it is? Does he not need to
know what his opponent is willing to allow to be evidence? And does he
not likewise need to know how this evidence is counterbalanced?
However, as you have not favoured me with such necessary assistance, I
will attempt to proceed without it. But here I must go partly on
presumption and partly by guess. In the first place I will inquire
what particular circumstance recorded in scripture, which, if true,
would substantiate revelation; and which you may suppose there is
evidence sufficient to prove, if there was nothing to counterbalance
it? This I will presume is the resurrection of Jesus. Why I think you
would be most likely to have this particular in your mind, is, because
on this event, I believe all will agree, depend the validity of the
prophecies, the truth of the testimony of Christ himself, and the
authority of the apostles. I will then presume that you acknowledge
that there is evidence of this wonderful fact; but at the same time I
am to understand, that, in your mind there is something to
counterbalance, in some degree, if not entirely, this evidence.

Having proceeded so far, I am now to guess what the evidence is that
you think would support this all important fact, if it were not
counterbalanced. But here I find myself in difficulty. My difficulty
is in finding any kind of evidence which could prove such an event, if
there were nothing to counterbalance it, that could possibly be
counterbalanced. Will you say that the testimony of the disciples,
that they had seen the man alive after his death would be sufficient
evidence to prove the fact? Suppose twelve men of honest fame, should
report, and even depose, that the last man who was publicly executed
in Boston, had actually arose from the dead, and that they had ate and
drank with him a number of times since he was executed. Should you
suppose this sufficient evidence, if there were nothing to do it away?
But what could do it away? If the people could go to the grave and
find the body there, the testimony of the twelve would remain no
evidence at all, and therefore could not afterwards be called evidence
sufficient to support the fact if there were nothing to counterbalance
it. But suppose the people cannot find the body, would it not be
thought that the body might possibly have been conveyed away by design
of some who might have occasion to keep it a secret? But a guard is
placed to watch the grave; but a guard might be bribed. The one we
have account of was bribed, according to the story; and if they could
be bribed by the chief priests and rulers, why not by some body else?
Finally, would the testimony of these men be sufficient to prove such
an extraordinary fact even if the body could not be found? I think for
myself, that various opinions would result from such evidence. Some
would believe that these men had entered into some very extraordinary
plot, and calculated that they should be most likely to succeed by
means of persuading the people that they were favoured with a
knowledge of this resurrection. Others might believe them honest men,
but by some crafty contrivance imposed on. Others might believe that
the spirit of this man had appeared to the twelve, but that no real
resurrection had taken place. But I very much doubt whether any very
stable people would consider the testimony of the twelve men
sufficient to support this fact if there were nothing brought, or if
nothing could be brought against it. Such a circumstance would no
doubt cause a great deal of talk, the depositions and the names of the
deponents would be published in the newspapers, perhaps for several
weeks, but after a little time it would die away.

Finally, I cannot conceive of any evidence that could sufficiently
support the fact that Jesus who was crucified, did actually rise from
the dead, if nothing could be brought to counterbalance it, that could
possibly admit of being counterbalanced.

The question seems to remain, and the substance of it is this. 1st. If
Jesus did actually rise from the dead what kind of evidence would his
disciples need in order to be satisfied of the fact? And 2d. What kind
of evidence must they be able to bring to the people in order to
convince them of the fact?

I will here suppose that it is not necessary to prove that the
disciples of Jesus, who preached him and his resurrection all their
lives after they commenced at the day of pentecost, really believed
what they preached; but the evidence by which they believed it I now
inquire for. We must notice that the disciples did not expect the
resurrection, they were not believers of this fact when their master
was crucified. They were awfully disappointed, and not _only_
disappointed but intimidated, as the account fully shows. They all
forsook Jesus at his trial, and Peter for fear of being involved with
him denied being his disciple.

The evidence then of his resurrection must be such as will convince
those of the fact who have no expectation of the event. We will now
look at the account. "And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene,
and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had brought sweet spices,
that they might come and anoint him." This very rational account shows
as plainly as the case will admit that these women had no expectation
of his resurrection. I omit here what passed at the sepulchre when
these women were there, for this does not relate to the disciples. The
angel at the sepulchre told these women that Jesus had risen, and
directed them to go and tell his disciples. "Now when Jesus was risen
eariy, the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,
out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that
had been with him, as they mourned and wept." This mourning and
weeping could not be the effect of the pleasing expectation of soon
having their divine master with them; no, it was the natural effect of
the amazing disappointment which had closed all the hopes they had
entertained. "And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had
been seen of her," believed? no, "believed not." After that he
appeared in another form to two of them as they walked, and went into
the country.--And they went and told it unto the residue: neither
believed they them. "Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat
at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart,
because they believed not them which had seen him after he had risen."
It seems unnecessary to quote into this communication all the
instances related by the four deponents of Jesus' being seen of the
eleven; his frequently being with them, eating with them, holding
lengthy conversations with them, &c. Now as these disciples knew that
Jesus had been crucified and buried, and a guard had been placed to
guard the sepulchre, and moreover knowing for certainty that the body
of Jesus was not where it had been deposited, and being favoured with
his presence on a variety of occasions for forty days, the evidence to
the disciples was of a character described by the author of the Acts.
"To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many
infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the
things pertaining to the kingdom of God." I believe, sir, that such
evidence as Jesus is said to have given his disciples of his
resurrection would be entirely sufficient to remove all doubts in
their mind, however prone they were to unbelief. I am of opinion that
such evidence would convince you and me of a similar fact.--Two
questions are here necessary. 1st. Can we conceive how the evidence
could have been less without being insufficient? And 2d. Can we
conceive how it could have been stronger? I will not take up time to
argue these questions, I feel satisfied on them myself. I will now ask
whether we can imagine the possibility of any evidence that could
counterbalance the evidence of the resurrection in the minds of the
disciples? Thus we are brought to the suggestion, that any evidence
which could be sufficient to prove such a fact, if no evidence
appeared against it, must be such as admits of no refutation.

You will not forget, and think that I have been endeavouring to prove
the resurrection of Jesus, or that the disciples even believed it; all
I have been seeking for is that kind of evidence which would be
necessary to prove to the disciples such a fact, and to show that such
evidence cannot admit of refutation. However, you will at once see
that, allowing our reasoning to be correct, and allowing the disciples
did really believe the resurrection, either of which, I do not believe
you will undertake to dispute, the resurrection is proved beyond all
contradiction.

2d. Let us now inquire what kind of evidence was necessary for the
disciples of Jesus to bring to the people, in order to convince them
of this all-important fact on which the whole scheme and ministry of
the gospel rested. It seems that the disciples did not believe on the
testimony of others, though of their own intimate acquaintance,
persons in whom they would place as much confidence as in any in the
world, no doubt. Of course, they could not expect other people, who
had not been the disciples of Jesus, would believe in his resurrection
on their testimony. The evidence which the disciples had was
sufficient for them, but their testimony would surely be much less;
and any thing less would be insufficient as before stated.

We will now have recourse to the account. But first let us notice,
that we are not endeavouring to prove that the disciples ever
persuaded any to believe in the resurrection of Jesus; this is, as it
must be, considered a fact, not disputed. The question is by what
evidence did the apostles convince thousands of the people in
Jerusalem and its vicinity, that Jesus who was publicly executed, was
not only the true Messiah promised in the law and prophets, but that
he had actually arose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Before
Jesus ascended, he, after saying many other things to his disciples
who were together in the city of Jerusalem, said to them; "Thus it is
written, and thus it behoveth Christ to suffer, and to rise from the
dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should
be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And
ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my
father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be
endued with power from on high." See the same account in Acts, "But ye
shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and
ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea,
and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth." According
to this account, Jesus did not direct his disciples to undertake to
convince the people by their testimony, but charged them to wait for
divine power. Accordingly they did wait. Now look at the account which
we have, of what took place on the day of pentecost. I will not
mutilate this account by quoting parts, there is no need of quoting
what you have perfectly in your memory. Take particular notice of what
Peter said to the people who had been accessary to the crucifixion of
Jesus. He who was so intimidated as to deny Christ, now stands in the
midst of the people and boldly asserts, that Jesus of Nazareth was a
man approved of God among them by miracles and wonders, and signs
which God did by him, among them; and that they knew this to be the
case. He further tells them that they had with wicked hands crucified
and slain this man who was thus approved of God. And he assured the
whole house of Israel, that God had made this same Jesus whom they had
crucified both Lord and Christ. He moreover boldly declared that God
had raised Jesus from the dead. Now add to the testimony of Peter, the
astonishing manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit, as
described in the account, and you have the evidence by which about
three thousand souls were convinced of the resurrection of Jesus in
one day. Here let us consider; the people had been acquainted with
Jesus, and had been eye witnesses of his miracles; many of them were
personally acquainted with Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead.
They had been, many of them, fed by his miracles and had seen his
wonderful works. Now put all together and it is evident that they had
sufficient reason to believe. I cannot conceive how reasonable people
in the candid exercise of their judgments, could avoid believing.

Look, sir, at the account of the miraculous cure of the lame man, who
lay at the gate of the temple. Notice the words used to effect it. "In
the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." "And all the
people saw him walking and praising God: and they knew that it was he
who sat for alms at the beautiful gate of the temple." Hear what Peter
says to the wondering multitude on this occasion. "Ye men of Israel,
why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by
our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of
Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath
glorified his son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the
presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye
denied the holy one and the just, and desired a murderer to be granted
unto you; and killed the prince of life, whom God hath raised from the
dead: whereof we are witnesses. And his name, through faith in his
name, hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, and the
faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the
presence of you all." Here we have the evidence by which about five
thousand men, besides women, believed--that is, owned their belief.
When the high priest and others called Peter and John before them, and
demanded, by what power, or by what name they had done this thing,
Peter answers, filled with the Holy Spirit; "Ye rulers of the people,
and elders of Israel, if we this day be examined of the good deed done
to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole: be it known unto
you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus
Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead,
even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the
stone which was set at naught by you builders." Hear what these rulers
say when Peter and John were sent aside. "What shall we do to these
men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is
manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it."

Such evidence as we have noticed, which the disciples were enabled to
bring to the people, of the resurrection of Jesus, was sufficient to
remove every reasonable doubt and to bring over to this faith, those
who had been his murderers.

I will now inquire whether it is reasonable to suppose that less
evidence would have effected such conviction?--And on the other hand,
I will ask whether stronger proof could in the nature of things be
given? And lastly, to come to our object again, does such evidence
possibly admit of being counterbalanced? I understand that these
questions admit of no other answers than such as go to show, that if
there be any evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, sufficient to
support it, if there were no evidence to counterbalance it, such
evidence is not capable of being counterbalanced.--You will perceive
that our reasoning must issue in the truth of the resurrection, unless
we assume the extravagant notion, that the people who lived in
Jerusalem and its vicinity, at the time of the crucifiction of Jesus,
were not brought over to believe it.

It is hoped that no objection will be brought from the circumstance of
the rejection of the gospel by the rulers of the Jews, and by the
major part of that hierarchy, as long as it is perfectly evident that
their opposition and unbelief were indispensably necessary for the
fulfilling of the prophecies, for the carrying of conviction to the
Gentiles, and for the purpose of perpetuating the necessary evidences
on which we, at this day, must rest our belief of this religion.

4th. You hardly know how to understand me when I suggest, that in
disproving the religion of Jesus Christ, you disprove all religion,
&c. I think I added, that there is no choosing between this religion
and some other, we must have this, or none.

By the religion of Jesus Christ, I mean to comprehend all that the
doctrine of the scriptures encourage us to believe in and hope for,
and also all that this doctrine requires, also all that it teaches us
to expect as resulting from obedience and disobedience. I am fully
persuaded that you never can disprove this religion, so as to do away
its effects on your own mind. Its maxims contain all the morality you
know of, and all that a Deist calls natural religion, he has been
taught from the revealed wisdom of God. The further you advance into
the society of man, where the light of the holy scriptures has least
extended, so much the more do you lose sight of the moral virtues; and
so much the more do you lose sight of the simple unity and divine
benevolence of God.

My meaning, sir, however, was not very extensive. It was to say, as in
a familiar conversation, I might express myself as follows: Brother,
if we disprove the religion of Jesus Christ, that is, if we give up
our present belief, there is no other religion, that we have heard of,
that can have the least claim to our belief. Judaism, Paganism,
Mahomedanism, could neither of them have any claims; nor in fact could
what people call Deism, or the belief in one God. If you say there is
certainly demonstrated in the very nature of things an eternal
unchangeable principle or law which governs all things; I will answer,
I am surprised to hear a rational being, who cannot remember
forty-five of our short years, and knows not that he shall live in the
world another hour, talk about eternal things, use great swelling
words of vanity about unchangeability, and yet deny that God has made
a revelation to man! I am really of the sentiment expressed by him who
is justly styled the light of the world, who said "No man knoweth the
Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son revealeth him."

5th. You seem to inquire whether Jesus and his apostles might not be
honest men; and yet their testimony, concerning a future state be
erroneous. Answer, this case comes into the same argument as the case
of the prophets, to which attention has been paid. We have no more
reason to believe that Jesus and his apostles were honest men, than we
have to believe that they pretended to divine inspiration, and to the
power of working many very astonishing miracles. It does not appear
reasonable to suppose that these servants of God, thought they could,
and did heal the sick and raise the dead, when in fact they could do
no such thing. Therefore, if they pretended to do such things and did
them not, they were all impostors, and surely deserve no better
appellation. Now if I can bring to your mind my inference, it is this.
God would not endue Jesus Christ and his apostles with power to work
miracles, by which the attention of the people would be drawn to them
and by which they would naturally be led to place confidence in their
testimony, and yet leave them in the dark concerning those things of
which they speak to the people.

What you say on this subject, indicates that you did not understand me
to infer the validity of the apostles' testimony concerning a future
state, from any higher authority than their simple honesty unconnected
with the other part of the argument, which was as plainly set forth in
my former communication as you will now find it in this.

6th. You suppose that arguments equally energetic, and equally
conclusive might be drawn from our feelings, against, as in favour of
the necessity of divine revelation.

Though I am not of your opinion, yet I am disposed to think that
desires very fervent may in some instances exercise the human heart
against the knowledge of divine truth. But, sir, this is the effect of
moral disease, not of a sound mind. A foul stomach will nauseate at
the sight of wholesome food; distempered eyes are rendered painful by
the rays of light; one whose deeds are evil loves darkness for this
very reason. Now that people affected with these infirmities should be
exercised with fervent desires to avoid what gives them uneasiness is
surely very natural; but that a person in health and having good
exercise should loathe that which is good and nourishing, that one who
has sound eyes should dislike the enlivening beams of the sun, or that
one whose works are wrought in God, should love darkness rather than
light is not reasonable.

You are cautioned against supposing that these remarks are designed to
be applied to yourself, for I bear you record that your exertions and
assiduity for the attainment of true knowledge have been laudable, and
worthy of imitation. But all this only proves to me that your
reasoning is unnatural, and that no man would be more rejoiced to know
the truth of divine revelation than yourself.

7th. That a person who does not even desire a future existence should
realize the goodness of the divine Being, and feel truly grateful for
all enjoyments does not stand in a clear light in my mind. I cannot
conceive that it is possible that any thing could remove a desire to
exist in the future, except a very strong fear that that state would
be awfully miserable. To be thankful to God, and to rejoice in his
goodness, and at the same time feel no desire to continue in the
enjoyment of such favour is to me a complete solecism, which
sufficiently refutes itself.

8th. Your assertion, that if a revelation was ever necessary, it was
necessary only to reconcile man to his present state of existence, is
thought to be an error of no small magnitude. If you had said that
revelation was necessary only for the improvement of man in his
present state it would have been more correct.

As for man's present existence, it seems he has love enough; people
wish to live here, and no doubt they would wish to stay forever if
they had no hope in the future. By improving our present state by a
divine revelation, I wish to be understood to comprehend all that is
meant by the ministry of reconciliation. This has for its object the
reconciliation of man to God. But it is a soul rejoicing fact, that of
the precious things brought forth by the sun of righteousness, the
hope of immortality is its most precious jewel. This makes every thing
valuable. Hence we may lay up our treasures where neither moth nor
rust can corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. Here God's
bright favour will never grow dim, nor will our love and gratitude
ever decay. Do you see this celestial form leaning on her anchor, and
while the raging waves of a restless sea dash against her, feel
unmoved? Do you observe her aspect firm, and her eyes turned towards
Heaven? And wouldst you wish to cast her down and wreck her on the
quicksands of dismal doubt? Go, brother, to the chamber of sickness,
where life's waning embers can no longer warm the dying heart, there
hear from cold and quivering lips this hope expressed, I long to be
with Christ, I long to be at rest. Would you blast this amaranthine
flower? Would you plant in its stead the night shade of dispair?

Do not, dear sir, listen too long to the wild suggestions of vain
fancy and wandering imagination, under the specious pretence of
searching after truth. I am apprehensive that she who persuades you
that she is truth, really deserves another name. Jesus is the way, the
truth and the life, he also is made unto us wisdom.

Give me the light of this bright sun to see,
All other lights like met'ors are to me;
Give me that way, that pleasant path to know,
I'll walk no other path while here below.
Wouldst thou be wise? This wisdom learn to scan,
Which brings to God, the wandering heart of man.

9th and last. You misunderstand me in supposing that I meant to
insinuate, that by what you _wrote_ respecting the apostles' stating
nothing more than what was substantially true, you must mean that they
stated falsehood. I meant, if you do not believe that they stated the
truth you must believe that they stated falsehood, in which case I
called on you to make a short work of our argument by proving that
what they stated was not true. I wonder you should not have thought of
this way to understand me, because there is no way to explain your
words into the meaning which you supposed I had attached to them,
while what I now suggest is fairly the necessary result of what you
stated.

On this subject I am disposed to say a little more. If we find
ourselves in serious doubts respecting any important particular of our
religion, and we wish to have the matter cleared up to our
satisfaction, why should we spend much time and write many sheets,
with no other apparent object, than to keep away from the subject
which labours in our minds? If you were under the necessity of
bringing a tree to the ground, and of removing it from the forest,
would you ascend the tree and begin your work on the extreme twigs, or
would you cut the trunk off near the roots, when the whole mass would
come down together?

You will apprehend my meaning. The fact is, if the Christian religion
is ever overthown, it must be done, not by proving that professors of
it have held errors and have been superstitious, and have ever
practised wickedness, using the name of Christ for a cloak, &c. but by
proving the testimony, of the new testament false. Cut the trunk of
the tree off at this place and the work is done.

But if it were possible, in the nature of things for the testimony
borne in the new testament to be proved false, can you persuade
yourself to believe that it would not have been done? If a book
containing the grossest falsehood, the most palpable frauds,
pretensions the very easiest to be detected of any that can be
imagined, could be got up and published, and be copied by many hands,
and be translated into different languages on purpose to overthrow the
popular religion of all countries where the book is sent or carried,
and if in spite of truth, and all the learning of a learned age, if in
spite of all sorts of superstition combined with civil government, if
in spite of reason, argument, persuasion, the tender love and
compassion of parents, interest, honour, ease, peace and quiet; if in
the face of the most cruel sufferings and most awful deaths, this
book, with all its abominable lies, and most palpable frauds could
succeed, its doctrines run and be glorified; if ancient superstitions,
than which nothing can have a more despotic sway over the human heart,
if the priests of long venerated idols with thousands of their
votaries were humbled before this testimony, what is there now on
which we can rely for success against it?

How beautiful are reason and candor. Dr. Gamaliel gives us a handsome
specimen. "Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves, what ye intend
to do as touching these men.--For before these days rose up Theudas,
boasting himself to be somebody: to whom a number of men, about four
hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed
him, were scattered and brought to naught. After this man rose up
Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people
after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, wore
dispersed. And now, I say unto you, refrain from these men, and let
them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come
to naught; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye
be found even to fight against God."

Let us remark, 1st. You will notice that this passage ranks with
hundreds of others which to the understanding of sound judgment wears
every feature of an honest and true statement of facts. I will take it
on myself to say that it does not appear reasonable that men who were
fabricating a falsehood, would ever have thought of such a method as
this to give it currency. 2d. You will naturally observe that this
learned doctor of the law was himself persuaded of the truth of the
apostles' testimony, and though he was not willing to make so great a
sacrifice as he must if he professed Jesus openly, he was willing to
espouse the cause so far as his learning and influence would go,
without rendering himself odious to his friends.

3d. It is pretty evident, that whatever Theudas made a handle of in
order to obtain disciples, Judas of Galilee had that very unpopular
tax (I do not consult any authority as it is immaterial, but only
follow a probable suggestion) which was collected about the time of
the birth of Jesus, or some other, by which he no doubt, strove to
disaffect the Jews against the Roman government, which they very
naturally were opposed to. But Judas did not succeed.

4th. Jesus never tried to persuade the people against the civil
authorities, nor did he ever promise his disciples any worldly
benefits, nor try to allure the people after him by holding out, as
inducements, any thing that the carnal passions of men are in love
with; and yet he succeeded though he lost his life. 5th. Dr. Gamaliel
was of opinion that if the gospel were not of God, it would come to
naught, but it did not, nor is there the least probability it ever
will.

Yours, &c.

H. BALLOU.

* * * * *

EXTRACTS No. VII.

[In this number the objector gives the whole ground of his objections,
and the reasons for his doubts: _which he states as follows_, viz.

"1. Mankind, in all ages of the world, have been, and still are prone
to superstition.

"2. It cannot be denied, but that a part of mankind at least, have
believed, and still are believing in miracles and revelation, which
are spurious.

"3. The facts on which religion is predicated are unlike every thing
of which we have any positive knowledge."

Under the first article, the objector appealed to the known
superstitions of the world: not only of the Pagan; but of the Jewish,
Mahometan, and Christian world. He took a view of the present state of
Asia, spake of the "voluntary sacrifices of human life to the great
image at Hugernaught!" and of women "voluntarily climbing the funeral
pile to be burned with their deceased husbands!" He took a view of the
_Inquisition_ in Old Spain; and finally of the various superstitious
notions and practices among the different sects of christians in our
own country.

Under the second article, he discanted largely on the pretension of
Mahomet, and of their great influence and extent; and also of the
particular tone given to the Christian religion by Constantine, who,
holding the reigns of government, had superior means in extending his
influence over the Christian world. Having made these remarks, the
objector proceeds:]

"If therefore, he had happened only to have favoured the opinions of
the Gnostics, we might have expected, and probably it would have been
the fact, that the learned clergy of the present day would have held
that Jesus was not a man in reality, but only a man in appearance;
that he assumed a body that he could put on or throw off at pleasure;
and that he died and was raised again _in appearance only_. Or
otherwise, if he had been disposed to come down to the simplicity and
understanding of the common people, then indeed Christ might still
have been considered as the Jews' expected Messiah; yet we should have
considered him a man, and nothing more than a man; though 'a man
approved of God;'--'a man who hath told us the truth;'--even 'Jesus of
Nazareth, the son of Joseph;' as it seems was the opinion of Peter,
John and Philip. But the former opinion had been too long treated as
heresy by all the bishops to be imbibed by Constantine, while the
bishops themselves, on the other hand, had been too long contaminated
with the Platonic philosophy to descend to the simplicity of the
latter; therefore we have a religion, compounded, partly of the
simplicity of the truth, and partly of Platonism. Constantine,
however, being supported by a great majority of all the bishops, in a
great measure effected his purpose; though not fully to his
expectation: for it seems he did not expect that any one would presume
to oppose the decisions of this grand council, which he had summoned
and convened at his own expense, or at the expense of the empire, but
in this he was mistaken; for many, even after this, would take the
liberty not only to think for themselves, but also to speak their own
thoughts.

"One circumstance more I cannot avoid mentioning in this place, viz,
the conversion of Constantine from heathenism to the Christian faith.
Great men, if turned about at all, must be turned about by great
means! But whatever might have been thought of Constantine's
conversion by the people of that day, the account given of it does not
argue any thing very forcibly in my mind, in favour of the truth of
divine revelation. Great men, however, are not always free from
superstition; and they are just as likely to be deceived respecting
things which are above their comprehension as others. This is the most
charitable way in which I can reconcile the following account which,
as Eusebius, the contemporary and historian of Constantine, says, was
stated under the solemnity of an oath. For a full account of this
extraordinary story. See the 2d vol. of Dr. Priestley's Church
History, per. 7, sec. 9. I shall not attempt to quote it in full, nor
is it necessary, and what I do quote is from memory only, as I write
abroad, my books not being with me.

"Reflecting on the ill success of his predecessors in the numerous
wars in which they had been engaged, when their priests and oracles
had ever promised them success, and also considering the better
success of his father, Constantine concluded from these circumstances
that his father prayed to, and was assisted by a different god! When
he prayed, therefore, he always prayed to the God of his father. And
being thus praying one evening, towards the going down of the sun,
with his face toward the same, he saw the appearance of a _cross_ in
the sun, with these words over it in Greek, [Greek: tetw nika] _by
this conquer_. Not knowing, (or else pretending not to know) what this
sign should mean, he called together some of the christian priests for
an explanation; who explained it as might naturally have been supposed
they would, that it was a representation of the cross, on which Christ
was crucified, and that there could be no doubt but that he had now
interposed as God, in behalf of the christians, to deliver them from
their enemies, and of course from further persecution! I do not
pretend to be any thing more than _substantially_ correct in the above
account (by which you will further see how I use the word
_substantially_, about which we have had some dispute) i. e. I may,
yea undoubtedly, have differed, as to words, yet I know I am correct
in the most material part, and of the use which Constantine made of
this supposed miraculous, or supernatural appearance. He said also,
the soldiers saw it as well as himself! Now, if we give full credit to
this account, what must we think of Christianity? The meek and lowly
Jesus, who was led 'like a lamb to the slaughter,' without the least
resistance, and who had suffered thousands to follow him in the same
way, now, by a miraculous interposition, arms a man with carnal
weapons, and, Mahometan like, authorizes him to vindicate his cause,
and avenge his wrongs, by shedding the blood of his enemies! Or, if we
do not credit this account, what must we think of Constantine? and
also of Christianity so far as it can be traced to, and made to depend
on his influence? That candor and charity, however, which I ever wish
to maintain, will oblige me in this, as in all other cases of a
similar nature, to take the middle course. I shall therefore suppose
that there was some natural appearance, perhaps a parhelion, the cause
of which Constantine did not fully understand, and, from the
appearance in the sky around it, his fancy, aided by superstition,
painted to his imagination the supposed cross, as also the Greek
words, which being pointed out to the soldiers they might easily
imagine the same, or, if they did not, would not like to oppose the
opinion of their general. Thus circumstanced, whether he really
believed it to be any thing supernatural or not, Constantine was
disposed to make the most of it he could, by turning it to the best
possible account.[2]"

[Footnote 2: "Upon the whole," says Dr. Priestly, (vol. 2, p. 96) "it
appears to me most probable, that Constantine and his friends saw a
natural parhelion, and that all the other circumstances were either
imagined, or invented; and that the story has lost nothing in passing
through the hands of Eusebius." Constantine also states (which I
forgot to mention above) that "Christ appeared to him in a dream, the
night following, with the very same sign which he had seen in the
heavens, ordering him to make a military standard like it, and
assuring him that it would be his security in battles." "By this note
it will be perceived that I have compared what I have written with the
part of the history from whence it was taken, and that I find nothing
in it materially erroneous."]

"It appears, however, after all, that Constantine was a man of great
moderation, and on the whole, a very good man: yet, that he was not
wholly clear from superstition is very evident from the following
circumstance. Notwithstanding his extraordinary, and what was supposed
by all, miraculous conversion, together with his great pretensions;
and all that he had done for christianity, yet he neglected his own
_baptism_ till he found he was very nigh his end; when he dressed
himself in white, and the bed on which he lay, also all in white, in
which dress he was baptised and partook of the _sacrament_! and thus
he continued in _white_ till he died. This was undoubtedly from a
mistaken notion, that there was something really purifying in those
outward ceremonies, and also from the doctrine of the Navatians, a
certain sect, whose opinions it was supposed he favoured, though not
very openly, i.e. if a person committed sin after having been thus
purified he could not die in union with the church.

"You may perhaps object here and say, all this is to no purpose, as
christianity was well established before; and had existed for nearly
three centuries, and increased too, notwithstanding the many most
bitter and cruel persecutions. Therefore what you say respecting
Constantine only proves that christianity has been corrupted, but it
is no objection against its truth. Very good. If the facts above
stated are admitted, let them prove what they will, I am not the
author of those facts, nor accountable for what is proved by them. The
conversion of Constantine, however, if correct, bears some analogy to
the conversion of St. Paul: hence, the supposition that one is not
correct, brings a little doubt over the mind respecting the truth of
the other: for both being by means which were supernatural; if both
are supported on equal testimony, why should they not both share the
same fate in our minds? Both were equally possible; it is the want of
probability, therefore, arising from the want of equal evidence in its
favour, which leads us to reject the truth of the circumstances
attending the conversion of Constantine, rather than those attending
the conversion of St. Paul. The conversion of Constantine also, if
genuine, seems to have been designed for a very different object, and
was attended with a very different effect. This would incline me to
believe in the validity of that of the apostle's, rather than that of
the emperor. Nevertheless, as it respects the facts; he who caused a
light at mid-day, above the brightness of the sun, might as easily
have painted the sign of the cross on his disk; and he who spake to
Saul from Heaven, with an audible voice, in the Hebrew tongue, might
as easily have painted letters and words in Greek, so that they might
be distinctly read in the firmament!

"Leaving all ancient miracles and revelation, I will come down to
those of our own times, and in our own country.--Strange to tell,
there is a sect of people now among us, who sprang up less than half a
century ago, whose religion is professedly founded on miracles and
revelation. On miracles wrought by the first founders of the sect, as
by Christ and his apostles, and on a revelation also made directly to
them, and through them to the believers, as by the inspired writers of
the new testament. They appear to be something similar in sentiment,
as it respects the person of Christ, to the ancient Arians; with this
difference only, they conceived that as Christ made his first
appearance in Jesus, the son of a _carpenter_, so he has made his
second appearance in Ann, the daughter of a _blacksmith_, whom they
call _mother_; and they consider their church the _New Jerusalem_,
that holy city which was to come down from God out of Heaven.

In the year 1808, about the same time after their first rise as it was
after the days of Jesus to the writing of the new testament, they
published a history of their sect, in a work entitled '_Christ's
second appearance,' or the New Jerusalem Church_, setting forth their
rise, progress and present state; together with their principles,
customs and mode of worship. This work contains an account of their
mother _Ann_, and the first elders; and particularly an account of the
miracles said to have been wrought by them. If my memory serves me,
(as the book is not by me) there is an account of about _forty_
miracles, all of which are well attested, and though they acknowledge
that most of them are inferior to those wrought by Jesus and his
apostles, yet they contend that they are no more inferior to those
than those are to the miracles wrought by Moses. They contend that for
the plagues in Egypt, the dividing the red sea, bringing water out of
the rock, feeding Israel forty years in the wilderness with bread from
heaven, and that there should always fall a double portion on the
sixth day, but none on the seventh, that that which fell on the sixth
day, should keep two days, but on all other days it would keep but
one, and that afterward, some of the same bread or manna was laid up
in the ark of the covenant which kept for ages, as a memorial; also
the dividing the waters of the river Jordan, and the fall of the walls
of Jericho; yea most or all of these, according to reason or human
appearance, are as much greater than the miracles wrought by Jesus and
his apostles, as those are greater than those wrought by Ann and her
elders! It is true, they did not pretend to raise the dead, but either
these accounts are all fabrications and lies, or else they had among
them the gift of healing, and that too miraculously. A woman who had
fell with her horse, by the falling of a bridge, and had broken
several of her ribs, besides being otherwise very much bruised, was
cured in one evening, so that she joined in the dance! A boy who had
cut his foot so that a person might have laid his finger into the
wound, which bled very profusely, was cured in a few hours so that
nothing was to be seen of the wound excepting a white streak, about
the bigness of a common thread! and many others of a like kind, too
numerous to be mentioned in this place.

"You will readily perceive that I allude to the _Shakers_; a people
who are enjoying privileges among us which no other people enjoy,
except the Friends, called also _Quakers_: and who are debarred from
no privileges excepting those from which they either religiously or
_superstitiously_ debar themselves. Thus people, in consequence of
their religion, have entirely changed their manners, customs, and
modes of worship. They have also endured considerable persecution; and
that they have not suffered martyrdom in defence of their religion, is
no fault of theirs. There can be no doubt but that there has been
fanaticism enough on their part to have done it, if there had been
only bigotry and cruelty enough in the people, at that time, to have
put it in execution. Let the same spirit reign among the people for a
short time, which reigned in Boston when the _Quakers_ were put to
death for their religion, and the _Shakers_ also would be able to
boast of their martyrs in defence of the truth of their particular
sect, and of course of the miracles and revelation on which it is said
to have been founded.

"And here I wish to remark a little on _martyrdom_, seeing it is often
brought in defence of the truth of divine revelation. I am aware that
great stress has been laid upon this, and it will still be considered
as one of its main pillars. I apprehend, however, that more stress has
been laid upon martyrdom than what it will justly bear. If this is a
test of the truth of religion, there is scarcely any religion but what
may be proved true. Only make death honourable, of any kind whatever,
in the eyes of the people, and there are always enough who are ready
and willing to die for the sake of the honour which will be in
consequence attached to their names. But only let any particular kind
of death be considered, in the eyes of the people, _meritorious_, and
the sure and certain road to _endless bliss_, and there will not only
be enough found willing to undergo this death, if they can find any to
inflict it upon them, but they will absolutely court it! Instead
therefore of having my faith strengthened by reading the book of
martyrs, as I thought I had some reason to expect, it has produced a
quite contrary effect. Notwithstanding these accounts were taken down
by the friends of the martyrs, and by them have been handed down to
us, who, as we may well suppose, were rather prejudiced in their
favour, yet nevertheless, it is impossible to disguise the spirit and
motives with which many of those infatuated people eagerly sought and
met death.

"In all those accounts it is but too clearly discovered, what has been
too often the fact, that the most bitterly persecuted would have
become the most violent persecutors, if there had been only a chance
for them so to have done, and if there had been, in their view, an
equal occasion. The persecutors of people for their religion have
always considered the persecuted, either heretics or infidels; who if
persecuted by heathens, unless they could be brought to sacrifice to
their heathen gods, or if by christians, unless they could be brought
to acknowledge the particular faith embraced by the _orthodoxy_ of the
day, were considered as mere nuisances or pests to society; and
therefore for the public good, it was thought necessary to take them
out of the world! While on the other hand, the persecuted have always
considered that, if they suffered death in defence of their religion,
they were certain of being raised to great honour and dignity in
another world; a privilege which they undoubtedly believed their
persecutors would never enjoy! And, whatever was the opinion of Christ
and his apostles on this subject, it cannot be denied but that the
idea very soon become prevalent among their followers that the
distinction between them and a wicked world, particularly their
persecutors, would be eternal! Under these circumstances, I do not
wonder at all that men have been found willing to die for their
religion; yea, and even to court death by all the means of which their
own consciences would approve!

"But, you may say, all this does not account for the death of the
first martyrs. Very true. I admit that it does not. But it shews that,
only let the work be begun, from any cause whatever, there is no
difficulty in its being continued.

"Suppose then, if you please, that the first martyrs were killed by a
_mob_, a mere _rabble_, without any legal process, or even form of
_trial_; as, from which appears by the account, was the case with the
death of _Stephen_, the first christian martyr; and, according to
tradition, most of the other apostles: (and it may be remarked here,
it is only by tradition that we have any account of the death of the
apostles; as all authentic documents on the subject, if there ever
were any, are lost:) I say, let such a circumstance as the death of
Stephen take place in any country, and in any age of the world; but
more especially in that age and country in which he lived; and then
let the same honour, and the same supposed consequences be attached to
such a death, as undoubtedly were attached to the death of Stephen;
and there can be no doubt but that others would be willing to follow
the example.

"Only let the blood once begin to flow, no matter how, and then only
attach eternal consequences to it, and hold out inducements of an
eternal nature, and persuade men to believe them (which is not so
difficult a thing as some may imagine) and you will never want for
victims, so long as you can find a zeal sufficiently blind and _mad_;
as to continue the slaughter. In this way, I conceive martyrdom, of
every species and kind, may be rationally accounted for.

"But it may be said all this does not disprove the miracles and
revelation on which the christian religion is founded.

"I acknowledge it does not; neither do I expect to disprove them. I
admit that revelation, and of course the christian religion may
possibly be founded in truth, notwithstanding the truth of all that I
have as yet urged, or shall urge against it. But I call on you, sir,
to disprove the miracles and revelation which I have mentioned, of a
more modern date, or else acknowledge their truth. If you acknowledge
the truth of those miracles, I shall expect you will conform to the
religion predicated upon them; and of course forsake your bosom
companion (which I presume would be a much greater cross than ever you
have yet taken up,) and also your darling offspring (or else take them
with you) and go and live with the _Shakers_!!! But if you prove them
false, it will only be that people may become so infatuated as to
believe in miracles which are spurious.

"For notwithstanding the smallness of the numbers of this people,
which by the way, are considerable; and notwithstanding the
contemptible view in which they have been, and still are held by the
world; yet, you may find it more difficult to prove the falsity of
their pretended miracles than at present you are aware; for they are
very well attested; and some of the witnesses are still living, or
were so when their testimony was first published; as also, if I
recollect right, some of the persons on whom the miracles were said to
have been wrought; who, no doubt, would still testify to the same
things. If they testify falsely, who can help it?--Although thousands
may _believe_ to the contrary; many of whom being too in situations,
probably to have known these things, if true; yet I believe it would
be difficult, and very difficult indeed, to find any who could
absolutely say that those things did not take place.

"And if there is a people now existing among us, in different parts of
the country, and in different, but large extensive families, whose
manners, customs, and worship are all very different from ours, and
who believe in miracles on which their religion is said to have been
founded; and if those miracles, although not founded in truth, cannot
now be proved false, notwithstanding they are said to have taken place
in our own country, and ever since we were born, I would ask, ought
any one to be censured for not giving full credit to miracles said to
have been wrought, all of them nearly two, and most of them above
three thousand years ago; and among a people too, of which we know but
very little? I say, ought any one to be censured for doing this,
although he should not be able to prove any of those miracles false?

"I conclude I shall not be censured for not believing in the miracles
said to have been wrought by the Shakers; but let the government
undertake to annihilate that blind and superstitious class of people:
let them increase their numbers by persecution, which, like the
effects of all other persecutions, undoubtedly they would; let them,
in the course of two or three centuries, get the reins of government
into their own hands;[3] let them then follow the example of
Constantine in demolishing the temples of the heathen gods; let them
demolish every steepled meeting-house, and introduce an entire new
order of things; let them also remake their scriptures, change in some
degree their mode of worship and manner of living, and fix every thing
to the policy of the state; let the old opposition be entirely
extinguished, and new sects spring up among themselves; let this be
the order of things for a number of centuries, and then let a man call
in question the truth of Shaker miracles or Shaker revelation, and he
must do it as his peril! It would undoubtedly cost him his life!

[Footnote 3: Were it not for other causes besides that of
Christianity, I should think this full as likely as it was that
Christianity should ever get the reins of government, judging from
what Christianity was when it had existed no longer than the Shakers.]

"I might also mention here another person now living in the western
part of the state of New-York, who also makes pretensions to be Christ
in his second coming, and in imitation of him has chosen _twelve_ as
immediate apostles, and who has a considerable number of followers.
But as this person is still living, and it is uncertain whether the
sect will take much root, I choose to pass it over in silence.

"I shall only call your attention to one circumstance more, and then
dismiss my second proposition.

"You very well recollect, I presume, the account given by Mrs. A----,
of W----, N. H. in which she affirms that she saw and conversed with
her husband, Mr. John A----, for about an hour and a half, who
appeared to her some considerable time, I believe about three months,
after he had been dead! This is no fiction. Mrs. A---- is still
living, and still affirms to the truth of what she has testified;
which account you know was published by two respectable witnesses who
took it down, for that purpose, from her lips.

"It is true, there has been but very little said in the world
respecting this matter, and I presume, for this plain and obvious
reason; the account did not correspond with the views of what is
termed _orthodoxy_ in Christianity. If if had, i. e. if he had brought
as much tidings concerning the supposed _hell_ in another world, as he
did respecting the supposed _heaven_, the account would have been
published in every magazine, in every religious tract, and in every
periodical work throughout the globe! Why not so, as well as many
accounts which were similar in other respects? But as this account did
not favour such views, it is left to die in oblivion.

"As the particulars of this account, however, make nothing either in
favour or against my present purpose, I shall not occupy time and room
to relate it. Suffice it only to say, if there were no mistake or
deception in the matter, this account can be nothing short of a
revelation from God; as much so as any revelation which has ever been
made from God to man.

"For no one can believe that Mr. A. could appear to his wife, after he
was dead, unless God sent him; and if God sent him, no one can doubt
the truth of his testimony. No one can well conceive of any motive
Mrs. A. could have in giving this account, unless she fully believed
it. Her daughter also was able to corroborate the account in some
degree, by saying that she heard her mother conversing in the bedroom,
but heard no other voice; and she interrogated her on the subject when
she came out, by asking with whom she had been talking, &c. But
surprised on being informed that it was with her father, and
supposing, as she naturally would, that her mother had been talking in
her sleep, she requested her to say nothing about what she had either
seen or heard, saying, that no one would believe her if she did. But
Mrs. A. was able to convince her daughter that she had not been
asleep, by telling her of persons who had gone by her window during
the time; one man in a soldier's dress, and another driving a yoke of
oxen. I state these things from memory only, for I have not seen the
account since soon after it was published, or at least within three or
four years, that I now recollect; yet I believe I could state the
whole of it nearly verbatim as it was published. Now I do not believe
that Mrs. A. ever designed to state, or that she now has the least
idea that she has stated any thing incorrect on this subject. And yet
after all, I doubt of its reality!

"Such is my incredulity; and I see no way to avoid it. If it be a
fault in me, may God forgive it; though I am wholly unconscious of
it's being one.

"When one of two things presented to the mind must be true, and the
truth of one absolutely excludes the truth of the other, a rational
man will always believe that which to his own understanding is the
most probable. Concerning therefore the account given by Mrs. A. it
stands, in my mind thus: either it is all a reality, i. e. that her
husband did absolutely appear to her; that he did give her the account
which she has stated; and that that account is in fact true; or else,
it was nothing more than the power of imagination, which a certain
train of ideas and reflections had produced in her mind, which, like a
kind of reverie, seemed to her like a reality. And although I should
not have made the same conclusion once, yet from my present knowledge
of human nature, together with my own experience, I do not hesitate to
reject the former idea, and believe the latter. If in judging thus, I
do injustice either to Mrs. A. or to the truth of God, I can only ask
forgiveness of a wrong, which, in truth, is by no means intended. But
in justice to my own understanding I could not state differently, if I
knew this would be the last sentence I should ever write.

"Hence after making proper deduction for all that can be accounted for
in this way, laying out of the question at the same time all that we
may justly suppose were the mere glosses of the historian, or the
lubricous figures of the poet, which are very peculiar to the ancient
style of writing; after making due allowances also for interpolations,
or what in more modern times have been considered _pious frauds!_ and
after rejecting every thing (if any such there be) which savors of
gross imposition! if there be any thing left to support the truth of
divine revelation, then it may rationally be believed.

"3. The facts on which revelation is predicated are unlike every thing
of which we have any positive knowledge.

"Of the truth of this proposition you must be sensible; yea, unless
the revelation had been made directly to ourselves, it is impossible
that it should be otherwise than true. Neither of us have ever seen
any thing miraculous! The ancients, however, were carried away with
this _supposition_; the same as the moderns have been with the idea of
witches, wizards, ghosts, apparitions, &c. and many things which once
would have been considered _ominous_, are now rationally accounted
for. In this way, things once supposed to be _miraculous_ also, may
have lost their supposed divine qualities.

"This much, however, I believe, and of this much I have no doubt, that
Paul and the other apostles were convinced of the truth and the
salutary effects of the moral precepts which had been taught and
practised by Christ; and they were willing to preach and enforce them
by all the means in their power, even at the risk of their lives.
Believing this, and practising accordingly, constituted them wise and
good men; and happy would it have been for the Christian world if they
had always followed in their steps, without ever undertaking to
dictate to others, either modes or forms of worship, or to use
coercive means to compel men to the faith.

"That the apostles also believed in the resurrection, and also in
eternal life, I have no doubt; this sentiment, however, was neither
new nor peculiar to them, but had been held long before, not only by
the pharisees, among the Jews, but by some of the Grecian
philosophers; and the truth of it I am not at all disposed to dispute;
yet nevertheless, whether the evidences on which it was founded were
not originally mere _visionary_, like the appearance of Mr A. before
mentioned, is the subject under consideration.

"There may be, and undoubtedly are principles in nature which are not
yet understood by any; and many more which are understood only by a
few. The operations of these principles would undoubtedly, even at the
present day, appear miraculous to thousands; and must appear very
extraordinary to every one until they are understood. But this I
conclude is not what is meant by miracles. Respecting miracles, I have
only to ask myself this question, viz.--Which is the most likely to be
true; either that men should have been honestly deceived, in the first
instance, or otherwise facts should have been so misrepresented, that
fabrication should have been honestly believed for truth; or else,
that things so contrary to every principle of which I know in nature,
should have taken place? Let reason only dictate the answer.

"Another source of evidence in support of divine revelation is
prophecy. And here, notwithstanding I think it very probable that much
importance has been attached to many writings, under the idea of their
being prophetic, which are nothing more than the poetic effusions of a
fruitful imagination; yet I have long been of opinion that there have
been, and perhaps still are men in the world who are endowed, by
nature, with gifts and faculties differing from men in general; and
particularly, say if you please, with a _spirit of prophecy_, which,
however, I must consider nothing less nor more than a _second_ or
_mental sight_. By this sense, or faculty of seeing, they are enabled
to bring events which are yet future, as well as those otherwise out
of sight, present to their minds; and thus they can behold them with
their mental eye, as clearly as we behold objects at a distance.

"This, you may say, is visionary indeed. And you may wonder how I can
doubt of the truth of miracles, if I can believe in such a chimerical
idea as this!

"But stop, my dear sir, you believe in such a power some where or
other; for without it there could be no such thing as prophecy, and if
such a power exist, even in the universe, why may it not exist in man?
For myself, I cannot account for the spirit of prophecy in man, (and
it must be in man, or else men could not be prophets) in a more
rational way. I should not be disposed, however, to consider such a
power, sense, faculty, or by what other name it might be called, any
more supernatural than the organs of sight and hearing. If the natural
eye is so formed that objects may be painted on it, simply by the
action of vision, to the immense distance of the fixed stars, so that
we are enabled to behold them, why may not the mental eye be so
constituted as to bring future events present to the mind with equal
certainty?

"If such a power, however, were once known to exist, it would be
likely to be counterfeited; and hence we may suppose, arose that horde
of impostors, by the name of soothsayers, sorcerers, necromancers,
magicians, &c.

"But even where this power exists, if it be a natural power, it must
have its limits, and some may have it to a greater degree than others,
and also some may make a good use of it, and others bad.

"Accounting for prophecy in this way, you will readily perceive that
it is no certain evidence of a future state; for although the time may
come when all creatures in all the vast dominions of God may be made
happy in the enjoyment of his blessings, yet it does not necessarily
follow that you and I shall _exist_ at that time! i.e. in conscious
identity!

"If I am asked why I wish to explain every thing upon natural
principles, without admitting the immediate agency of the Deity, my
only answer is, because to my understanding it is more rational, and
of course more likely to be true.

"That men could divine, or foretell future events, or declare present
things which are beyond their sight by intuition, all of which seems
to be embraced in the word _prophecy_, is an idea which has existed
perhaps from time immemorial; and however unaccountable it may seem,
yet, to a certain degree, at least, we are obliged to admit the fact;
but whether, after all, this is any thing more than the effect of that
kind of foresight or ratiocination, which all men (idiots excepted)
have to a greater or less degree, but some much greater than others,
is still a question. But should I be obliged to admit the truth of
prophecy, in the sense in which it is generally understood, I should
account for it in the way you have seen.

"I do not perceive, at present, how a revelation could be made to the
understanding of any man only through the medium of the operations of
nature. Unless it were made to some of his outward senses, how could
he know whether it was any thing more than a chimera of his own brain?
If there were any faculty in his mind by which he could view these
things over and over again, (the same as we look at the heavenly
bodies) and did he always behold them in the same light, then he would
feel safe in declaring that such things did exist; and unless the
prophets had some such criterion by which they could determine on the
truth of their predictions. I do not see how that even _they_, and
much less _we_, should feel safe in placing any real confidence in
them.

"The prophecies of our Saviour, however, concerning the destruction of
Jerusalem, are more clear and striking than any thing else we have of
the kind; and if it were certain that these were written before the
event took place, it would be a very strong proof of something more
than what any one can suppose could have been the result of human
foresight. There must, at least, on such a supposition, have been a
faculty of seeing which we do not possess. These predictions, however,
if made by Jesus, must have been made in the hearing of John, as well
as Matthew; and of course, he must have known them with more certainty
than Mark or Luke; who, in consequence of not being personally
acquainted with Jesus, could have known them only from hear say; and
as it is pretty generally agreed, that John wrote his gospel more than
twenty years after the event took place, it is very remarkable that he
should be entirely silent on this subject! John, as we must suppose,
knowing of this prediction; knowing also that it had been recorded by
all three of the other Evangelists, (though Luke is not very
particular on the subject) and knowing also that they had all written
before the event took place; and he living to see the whole verified,
and then wrote his gospel afterwards, how natural it would have been
for him, first to have recorded this prediction, at least, in
substance, and then to have mentioned its fulfillment, as a
confirmation of the prophecy! But not a word on the subject.

"This, however, is no evidence that Jesus did not deliver those
predictions, and that they were not written by Matthew and Mark, and
also hinted at by Luke before the events took place; yet still it
raises a doubt and a query in the mind whether these are not
interpolations, or else the books wholly written after the events took
place, and of course these predictions put into the mouth of Jesus by
the historian. When the copies were few in number, and those kept by
the Christians only, interpolations might have been made without much
danger of detection. The heretics were early accused of interpolating,
altering, and forging the scriptures; and although they, i. e. the
majority of the believers, as it is likely would be very careful to
detect any thing which contradicted their views in point of doctrine,
yet whether they would be equally careful respecting those
interpolations which favoured the Christian faith is a question worthy
of consideration.

"In Calmet's dictionary of the bible, under the word gospel, we have
an account of between thirty and forty gospels, of which he gives
their names, but none of which are now extant. Neither is there any
thing, which I now recollect, of any disputes about the validity of
the writing of the apostles, except what is merely traditional, until
about the year 180, when Celsus undertook to disprove the whole. I may
be incorrect, in this, however, if I am, you will correct me: for
excepting barely the bible, as I have informed you before, I have no
books by me on this subject.

"Another circumstance must be taken into consideration, and which
bears great weight in my mind. That is, the great and astonishing
difference there has been made in the state and condition of mankind
by the discovery or invention of the art of printing; an art for which
we cannot be too thankful, nor too highly appreciate its benefits. For
it would be very difficult now to realize the situation of mankind
previous to the invention of this art.

"Writing, it is true, as we may rationally suppose, was carried to a
greater state of perfection at that time, than it is at present; for
it was of more use, yet its use must have been very limited, and it is
reasonable to suppose that a very great proportion of the common
people could neither read nor write. For it could be of but little use
to them, as they had nothing to read, for books of all descriptions,
and upon all subjects, must have been, comparatively, very few. This,
as you would readily perceive, would have a tendency to cause the
common people to place great confidence in any thing that was written.
Hence, generally speaking, it was sufficient barely to say, concerning
any matter, [Greek: gegraptai], _it is written_ to gain full belief.

"It is with all ancient sects, as it is with ancient nations and
kingdoms; their history may be traced back until we find it veiled in
mystery, and mingled with fable. We are not to suppose, however, that
these things were done at the time, with an intent to deceive; but
after the events, whatever they were, had passed away, and the
imagination had been long in operation respecting the traditions
concerning them, they are dressed up with all the appearance of real
history; and might so be construed and believed, were it not for
improbability. The probability is, that when such histories were first
written, they deceived no one, or at least, no one thought it worth
while to undertake to detect them, because, not knowing what effect
they would have, they considered their errors were of no material
consequence. The Shaker Book has been published nine years; and
although I conclude that very few, if any, except the Shakers
themselves, believe the miracles therein recorded; yet no one that I
know of has thought it expedient to undertake to refute them. And
unless the sect should grow to more consequence than it is at present,
I presume that no one will give himself much trouble on the subject.
If it should be thought necessary, however, to refute these pretended
miracles, in order to prevent those in scripture from growing into
disrepute, then it will alter the case.

"I am perfectly reconciled and willing, however, that whatever is
truth should be true; and have not the least inclination, even if it
were in my power, to alter one truth respecting eternity. This is the
state of my mind exactly; a state into which it has been growing,
gradually, for many years; and, strange as it may seem to you, I can
assure you in the fear of that God before whom I stand or fall, and by
whom I have been supported hitherto, it is the most happy state of
mind in which mortals can be placed! "Gloria in altissimis Deo, et in
terra pax in homines benevolentia." Luke ii. 14, Beza.

"Whatever may be your opinion concerning miracles, I believe it must
be admitted that there was no more of a miracle in the production of
man, originally, than there was in the production of other animals;
and as nature has not provided man with clothing for the body, which
it does for other animals, especially those which inhabit cold
climates, it is evident that man was originally produced under the
torrid zone; and that he could not have lived in any other part of the
world, had it not been for art. What alteration the discovery of the
arts has made in the original constitution of man, it would he
difficult now to determine.

"What man must have been previous to the discovery and use of _fire_,
is difficult now to conceive. We can trace man down, however, from
grade to grade, until we are at a loss to determine whether such a
race of beings belongs to the human species.

"I have long desired, and should be glad if some one of sufficient
learning and skill would point out to me the line of demonstration
between the human and brutal creation; and say where the human ends,
and where the brutal begins!

"Naturalists take care to say but little on this subject, and I
believe the task would be more difficult than what people in general
imagine.

"Come then, ye learn'd, ye great and wise,
Unfold the soul to mortal eyes;
Say where eternal life shall end,
Or where eternal death begins!
For death eternal theirs must be,
Whose souls no future life shall see!
And why should mortals vainly weep
For creatures wrapt in endless sleep?
They've had their day, they've had their bliss,
Their life, their joy, and happiness,

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