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Ballou, Hosea / A Series of Letters in Defence of Divine Revelation
Produced by David Starner, David King and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team from a book given for scanning by
Rev. Felicia Urbanski.



A
SERIES OF LETTERS,
IN DEFENCE OF
DIVINE REVELATION;
IN REPLY TO
REV. ABNER KNEELAND'S SERIOUS INQUIRY INTO THE AUTHENTICITY
OF THE SAME.

* * * * *

BY HOSEA BALLOU,
Pastor of the Second Universalist Society in Boston.

* * * * *

TO WHICH IS ADDED,
A RELIGIOUS CORRESPONDENCE,
BETWEEN
THE REV. HOSEA BALLOU, AND THE REV. DR. JOSEPH BUCKMINSTER
AND REV. JOSEPH WALTON, PASTORS OF CONGREGATIONAL
CHURCHES IN PORTSMOUTH, N. H.

_District of Massachusetts, to wit:
District Clerk's Office_.

Be it remembered, that on the twenty-fifth day of July, A. D. 1820, in
the forty-fifth year of the Independence of the United States of
America, HENRY BOWEN, of the said district, has deposited in this
office, the title of a book, the right whereof he claims as Proprietor
in the words following, to wit:

"A Series of Letters, in defence of Divine Revelation; in reply to
Rev. Abner Kneeland's Serious Inquiry into the authenticity of the
same. By HOSEA BALLOU, Pastor of the Second Universalist Society in
Boston. To which is added, a Religious Correspondence, between the
Rev. Hosea Ballou, and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Buckminster, and Rev.
Joseph Walton, Pastors of Congregational Churches in Portsmouth, N.
H."

In conformity to the Act of the Congress of the United States,
entitled, "An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by securing the
Copies of Maps, Charts and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of
such Copies, during the times therein mentioned:" and also to an Act
entitled, "An Act supplementary to an Act, entitled, an Act for the
Encouragement of Learning, by securing the Copies of Maps, Charts and
Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of such Copies during the times
therein mentioned; and extending the benefits thereof to the Arts of
Designing, Engraving, and Etching Historical, and other Prints."

JOHN W. DAVIS, _Clerk of the District of Massachusetts_

TO THE READER.

Some few suggestions respecting the following Controversy are thought
necessary in order to inform the reader how it was first introduced,
the motives which led to it, and those which induced to its being
published to the world.

We learn from the Rev. Mr. KNEELAND, that having at different times
been exercised in his mind with serious doubts respecting the
authenticity of the Scriptures, and the system of Divine Revelation,
recorded in them, he was induced to solicit a correspondence with the
Rev. Mr. BALLOU on the subject. That, in order to render the
controversy the more interesting, by calling into action the energies
of mind, and by directing the correspondence to definite purposes, he
assumed the character of a real opponent, determining to maintain the
opposition, in all its forms, until reduced, by necessity, to yield to
successful arguments directed against it. It was with great reluctance
that the advocate for the christian religion, in this controversy,
consented to undertake a work of this nature; not, however, because he
esteemed it unnecessary, or because he entertained any doubts with
regard to the defensibility of revelation, but, as he contends, on
account of the want of abilities and means to do the subject justice.
His opponent, however, being a familiar acquaintance and friend, as
well as a preacher in the same profession of faith with himself,
having led him to believe that a labour of this kind was called for by
the most sacred obligations of brother to brother, he was induced to
render what assistance was in his power, without infringing too much
on other important duties in which he was almost constantly engaged.

When the controversy closed, Mr. KNEELAND felt such an entire
satisfaction in his own mind, that the objections which he had stated
were fairly answered, and the validity of the Scriptures vindicated,
that he was led to believe that to publish the correspondence would be
of service to the cause of Christ. He therefore obtained leave of his
correspondent, and carried the manuscripts to the westward, where he
offered proposals for the work, and obtained a number of subscribers;
but being called to remove to Philadelphia, he was under the necessity
of postponing the publication for a season. The publisher having
obtained some knowledge of this correspondence, and being informed by
the Rev. Mr. KNEELAND that the arguments which it contains were, in
his opinion, calculated to strengthen the believer, as well as confirm
the doubting, he negotiated for the manuscripts and now presents the
work to the public, entertaining a hope that it may serve the interest
of christianity, and promote a respect and veneration for the sacred
writings.

The letters which passed between Mr. BALLOU and two respectable
clergymen in the town of Portsmouth, N. H. were some years since
published in Vermont; but several circumstances rendered it proper
that this work should be reprinted. Besides its being nearly or quite
out of print, the first edition was on an inferior paper, the work
badly executed, and a number of errors were discovered.

To those who believe in the universality of divine goodness, the
publisher feels confident the following work will be received and read
with no small satisfaction. And a hope is entertained that it may be
the means of enlightening some, who though they possess the spirit of
universal love and benevolence, have not the felicity of believing in
the divine goodness to the extent of their own desires.

H. BOWEN.

A SERIES OF LETTERS, &c.

EXTRACTS No. 1.

[The first letter of the _objector_ was designed merely as an
Introduction, inviting Mr. B. to the investigation of the important
subject of _moral truth_, or more particularly the truth of _divine
revelation_. The following are extracts.]

"The thought has long since occurred to me that the present age is an
age of discovery and improvement. The human mind seems to be
developing its powers in a most wonderful manner; new inventions, new
discoveries, and new theories are the fruits of new experiments; while
many are improving upon theories and subjects already existing. Thus
human nature seems to be almost prepared to make a regular advance in
_moral_ as well as _scientific truth_.

"However pleasing this must be to every real lover to the arts and
sciences, yet there seems to be a disposition (at least, as it
respects all moral and religious subjects) to chain down the human
mind to its present attainments, and thereby prevent all further
improvement. O how long will it be before common sense shall burst
this bubble of fanaticism, and all its mists become evaporated and
removed by the rays of simple and native truth? Then shall man know
for himself that, under God, all his powers and faculties are as free
as the element he breathes. Free to think, free to speak, and free to
act as reason and good sense shall dictate. Supposing that you and I
should think of setting an example for others, by trying to throw off
the prejudices of a false education, so far as we have been thus
entangled, and search for the _truth within us_, as the foundation of
all TRUTH which materially concerns us to know. Who, except our own
consciences, will ever call us to an account for so doing?

"It gives me pain when I see what time and money, what labour and toil
have been expended, and are still expending, in plodding over, as it
were an old dead letter; to learn languages which exist _no where_
only on paper, barely for the sake of reading the opinions of other
men, in other times; men who lived in other ages of the world, and
under very different circumstances from ourselves; whose opinions, all
of which are worth preserving, might be given in our own language, so
as to answer every purpose which can be answered by them, at less than
a hundredth part of the expense it necessarily requires to obtain a
competent knowledge of those languages in which almost every thing,
supposed to be valuable, has been originally written. And after all,
the truth, or falsity, of every proposition must depend on the truth
or falsity of the principles embraced in it; and not on the language
in which it was originally written.

"If the Greek and Hebrew languages be any security against things
being uttered or written falsely in those languages, I should not only
think it important to learn them, but to adopt them, if possible, as
our vernacular tongue.--But as I believe none will contend for this, I
should like to be informed of what possible service it can be to an
American to learn either of those languages? Is it not a fact, that
every natural as well as moral truth may be fully unfolded to the
understanding without them? This will lead the way to one of the
principal subjects which I mean to discuss. It maybe said, that the
_holy scriptures_ were originally written in Greek and Hebrew: viz.
the bible, which contains a revelation of the will of God concerning
the duty, interest, and final destination of mankind. This, if
admitted, gives the Greek and Hebrew languages an importance that
nothing else could. Hence the importance of preserving the Greek and
Hebrew languages, without which, religion could not be preserved in
its purity. And as all have not an opportunity of attaining to a
knowledge of those languages, it is the more necessary that some
should, lest the knowledge of languages, on which so much is supposed
to depend, should be lost to the world.

"If I understand the above proposition, it seems to be this: The only
revelation of God to man, which was ever recorded on either vellum or
paper, was written partly in Greek and partly in Hebrew; hence, the
revealed will of God cannot be known only through the medium of those
languages. If the truth of all this can be made to appear, I should
find no difficulty in admitting all the consequences which must result
from such premises. It appears a little extraordinary, however, to my
understanding, and not a very little neither, that God should make a
revelation of his will in one age, and not in another; to one nation;
and not to another; or that he should make a revelation in one
_language_, and not in another! If a special revelation, was ever
necessary at all, it is difficult for me to see why it was not equally
necessary in all ages of the world, to all the nations of the earth,
and in all languages ever spoken by man.

"How sweet is truth to the understanding! And, when spoken in a
language every word of which is familiar, how harmonious it sounds to
the ear by which the sentiments find their way to the heart!

"When God speaks to the _inward man_ there is no need of going to
Lexicons, Dictionaries, and Commentaries to know what he means. I
would not complain, however, even of this method to ascertain truth,
if I could be so happy as always to come away satisfied. But to
consider a subject on which much is supposed to depend, and, desiring
if possible to obtain the truth, plod through the dark mists
occasioned by the ambiguity and contradiction of authors, and after
all, be obliged to dismiss the subject as much in the dark as it was
found, is too insupportable to be confided in as the only road to
moral truth.

"Let it not be supposed however, that I mean to insinuate that the
bible contains no moral truth; so far from this, I conceive it to be
replete with moral instruction; that is to say, there are excellent
moral maxims in the bible; but respecting these there is neither
ambiguity nor obscurity; and probably for this plain reason, because
there seems to be no dispute about them. These however are none the
more true for being written, and would have been equally true if found
in any other book, and at the same time not found in the bible. Truth
is truth wherever found, and all moral truth, as well as natural, must
be eternal in its nature.

"Much of the bible however, is merely historical; and whether most of
the things there related are either true or not, I do not see any
connexion they either have, or can have, with either my present or
future happiness. As for instance, I do not see how my happiness is at
all connected with the story of Daniel's being cast into the den of
lions--or of Jonah's being swallowed by a fish! any more than it is
with the story of Remus and Romulus' being nursed by a she wolf! And
if not, these things are matters of total indifference; yea, as much
so as the extraordinary, and, were it not for comparing things
supposed to be sacred with profane, I would say, ridiculous stories in
the heathen mythology. If it should be contended that the facts
recorded in sacred history are necessary to prove the power and
providence of God towards his children, it may be answered that those
in profane history, if true, are equally conclusive. If it should be
said that we cannot place the same confidence in profane history as in
sacred, it brings me to the very subject of my inquiry--viz.

"If the things stated in the bible are no more reasonable than those
in profane history, what reason have we to believe _these_ any more
than _those_? Must not our own reason finally determine for ourselves
whether or not either be true? And if we are in no sense interested in
the truth or falsity of those accounts why need we trouble ourselves
about them?

"Yours, &c, A. KNEELAND."

* * * * *

LETTER I.

_Much esteemed friend_,--The desire you express of attempting those
researches which seem necessary to promote the further attainment of
moral truth, is appreciated as truly laudable; and did I feel myself
adequate to your wishes, I should enjoy a peculiar felicity in
complying with your request. But so far from this I am very sensible
that the magnitude of the general subject which you have introduced,
requires to be investigated by abilities far superior to those
possessed by me, and demands a tribute from resources not within my
possession. However, as you have imposed an obligation on me by the
communication which is here acknowledged, I will make a feeble attempt
to suggest a few reflections relative to the main subjects of your
epistle, which if they do nothing more, will return merited
acknowledgements and plead the necessity of calling to your assistance
abilities more promising.

While I view the advances which are making in the knowledge of the
arts and sciences, with the pleasure of which you speak, I am
apprehensive that the propensity "to chain down the human mind to its
present attainments, and thereby prevent all further improvements,"
relative to moral truth, may have its rise in a principle, which, so
far from being inimical to man, is, in its general tendency,
incalculably beneficial. No desire is entertained to justify all the
zeal and all the means which are employed to prevent the free exercise
of the human mind, in its researches after divine knowledge, and to
retard the influx of that light which would prove unfavourable to
doctrines which have little more than prescription for their support;
but it seems reasonable to make a proper distinction between what may
be called a salutary principle in the human mind, and a wrong
application or an erroneous indulgence of it. The principle referred
to, inclines us not only to hold in the highest veneration any
improvements which we have made, but also to retain such acquisitions
in their purity. Now it is believed that what you complain of, has its
rise from the foregoing causes, and is nothing more than a wrong or an
erroneous indulgence of a natural desire which in its general tendency
is advantageous. Nothing is more incident to man, than to misapply his
desires, and to overate his reasonable duty. But it is at the same
time believed that a remedy of such defects which should consist in
the destruction of those principles which are improperly acted on,
would be worse than the disorder. And now the thought strikes me, that
the way by which we account for the improprieties which have just been
traced up to their causes, will as charitably account for what seems
to incite you to aim a fatal stroke at a fabric which has its
foundation in the immovable principles of our moral nature, and which,
though through the wanderings of the human mind, may have not a little
hay, wood and stubble, yet possess too much gold, silver and precious
stones, to be forsaken as a pile of rubbish.

It gives you "pain to see what time and money, what labour and toil
have been expended and are still expending in plodding over as it were
an old dead letter; to learn languages which exist _no where_ only on
paper, barely for the sake of reading the opinions of other men who
lived in other times," &c. But you allow that all this would be
necessary if "the only revelation of God to man, which was ever
recorded on vellum or paper was written partly in Greek and partly in
Hebrew," and that "the will of God cannot be known only through the
medium of those languages." In this last particular, you express what
appears very reasonable, and I presume you would be willing to consent
to all this expense and toil, even if the proposition were to lose
part of its importance, and it were only contended that God had
actually made a revelation to man, which was written originally partly
in Greek and partly in the Hebrew, without saying that he has never
caused a revelation to be written originally in any other language.

A revelation from God, if it were written only in the Hebrew or Greek,
would be considered of sufficient value to recompence the labour of
learning the language. But you contend that this revelation, if real,
can be translated into English, but, you must allow that to translate
it, the original must be learned first. Will you say, that after the
translation is once made, the original is of no more use? How then are
future ages to determine whether they have not been imposed on?
Suppose no person of the present age understood the languages in which
the scriptures were first written, surely in this case, those
languages would be lost beyond recovery. Suppose then it should be
doubted whether our bible was not a fabrication, written originally
not in Hebrew nor in Greek, but in some more modern language, how
could the suggestion be refuted?

You appear to be perplexed with the disagreement of authors, as
commentators, and I presume, critics on the original text; you speak
on this subject, as if it were too much for patience to endure. Now,
dear brother, I confess I feel very differently on this subject. I
feel a devout, a religious gratitude to him whose wisdom is
foolishness in the sight of too many of my fellow creatures. I view
the very thing of which you complain, as that fire and crucible which
have preserved the written testimony from any considerable
corruptions. This is a subject on which volumes might be written to
the instruction and edification of the disciples of Jesus.

The queries which you state concerning a revelation's being made in
one age and not in another, in one nation and not in another, in one
language, and not in another, if a special revelation were necessary,
&c. are not considered as very weighty objections to the doctrine of
the scriptures. I believe you will allow that our species of being
commenced on this earth in a different way than that by which it has
been continued. But why should the Creator, create a man and a woman
at one time, and not at all times when he sees fit to multiply his
rational creatures? It is not only evident that God saw that the laws
of procreation were sufficient to perpetuate man, and to multiply his
rational offspring, but it is likewise apparent that the connexions,
relations, and harmonies of society are principally built on this law.
So I humbly conceive, that the continuance and propagation of a divine
revelation are even as well secured by the means which have been
employed for that purpose, as if the Almighty had in every age, and in
every country made such a revelation, and moreover, it is likewise
apparent, that the mental labours necessary in obtaining a knowledge
of these divine things greatly contribute to their enjoyment, and
render the christian fellowship, faith and hope peculiarly interesting
and edifying. Here again I can only suggest a subject on which
voluminous writings might be profitable.

You seem to entertain an idea that the historical part of the bible
can be of no importance to you, as it has no connexion with your
present or future happiness. You instance the particulars of Daniel's
being cast into the den of lions, and Jonah's being swallowed by the
fish, &c. As these are circumstances in the history of that nation
which continues a comment on, and an evidence of prophesy, they are
too interesting to be dispensed with. If you could produce the decree
of a powerful monarch, sent into all parts of his dominions, which was
occasioned by "Remus and Romulus' being nursed by a she wolf," the
case would bear some marks of a parallel. Profane authors advert to
such events as sufficient support of any fact which they endeavor to
maintain.

I come now to your main object. Speaking in regard to the credibility
of what is written by profane authors, and of that which is recorded
in the scriptures, you ask--"Must not our own reason finally determine
for ourselves whether or not either be true?" To this I reply in the
affirmative; but then reason must have its means and its evidences.
For instance, I read of the death and resurrection of the man Christ
Jesus, I consider this vastly important event as it stands in
connexion with the evidences which support it, and reason is the _eye_
with which I examine these evidences, and when reason is constrained
to say all these circumstances could never have existed unless the
fact were true, it is then I am a believer in Jesus. But if I must
consider the resurrection disconnected from the evidence, reason has
nothing to do with it. Please to accept these hasty remarks, not as an
answer, but as suggestions which may lead to one, and as a testimony
of my respect and esteem.

Yours, &c. H. BALLOU.

* * * * *

EXTRACTS No. II.

"A revelation from God, let it be made in any language whatever, I am
very ready to admit, must be considered of sufficient importance, not
only to justify all reasonable pains to preserve it, but also to hand
it down in its original purity to posterity. We owe it, not only in
gratitude to the _giver_, but we owe it in justice to _future
generations_, who would have just occasion to reproach us, if they
could know that so valuable a treasure was put into our hands, which
might have been handed down to them, and that we suffered it to perish
through what must be termed by them, a _criminal neglect_.

"You will perceive, therefore, that I had no particular allusion to a
revelation from God, when I spoke of translating the most valuable of
ancient writings into English. No one will pretend that such
translations could not be made sufficiently accurate to answer all the
purposes, either of history or of the useful arts. It is admitted that
the case is quite different, if there be a mystery in these writings,
the truth of which depends on literary criticism, or grammatical
exactness; but if these writings are nothing more than the bare
opinions and discoveries of _men_, and of men too, as liable to error
as ourselves, and if no one was to view them in a different light, I
apprehend there would be all the confidence placed in a translation,
that could with propriety be placed in the original itself. For, after
all, we should try the facts by other corroborating testimony; and as
to the opinions, we should judge of them only by the reasonableness
and fitness of things. Although I have heard it objected to the
translation of _Seneca's Morals_, that much of the beauty of the style
is lost in the translation, yet I never heard it pretended but that
the ideas are sufficiently clear; but the case would have been quite
different if mankind had ever been taught to believe that their final
and eternal salvation depended in the least degree on an exact
observance of those moral principles. And I very much question whether
there ever has been a translation of the bible, or even of any other
work, in which the most important facts were not sufficiently
apparent. If the fact can be supposed otherwise, it must be admitted
that, comparatively speaking, but very few people at the present day
are benefited by a revelation from God. For the great mass of mankind
have to receive the bible altogether on the credit of others. And who
are their guides in this case? Answer, Translators and Commentators!
And as these men made no pretentions to inspiration, unless the
translation is _substantially_ correct, as to matters of fact, how are
the common people benefited by a revelation from God!"

[Having adverted to the previous studies in the dead languages, which
are required before an admittance can be obtained in our common
colleges, the objector proceeds.]

"But I am off from my main subject. I will now endeavour to call up
all my mental faculties, seriously to attend to a revelation from God.
The idea suggested in these words is beyond all expression awfully
sublime. Yea, not even the bursting of _Vesuvius_, not the
_aurora-borealis_, not the forked _lightning_, not the tremendous
_earthquake_, no, nor yet the greatest _phenomenon in nature_, of
which the human mind can conceive, can afford such ideas of the truly
sublime, as the _truth_, if it could be realized, of the above
proposition. Let me not hastily reject without serious reflection,
that, which of all truths, must be the most important. O help me, my
dear friend, help me also, O thou who art the only source of truth,
thoroughly to investigate this momentous subject! But let me not be
deceived. Let me not receive for truth, that which cannot be made
sufficiently clear to my understanding. There can be no more harm in
_doubting_, than in _believing_, where the evidence is not clear. All
that which appertains to eternal truth will remain, whether I now see
it or not; and that which does not appertain to it will never be
realized, although I may now be made to believe it. There can be no
harm, therefore, in investigating this subject in the same way and on
the same principles, as I would investigate all subjects. Although I
cannot expect to offer any thing very new, yet I am disposed to
examine the subject for myself, and that too, in my own way. I shall
quote no authors, for I have not read but few on this subject which
meet my approbation, and even them are not now by me. My own
understanding is the only author to which I shall appeal. If that can
be cleared of the difficulties which have fallen in its way, I am
willing, yea I wish, still to believe in divine revelation.

"Here let me close my preamble, which is already made too lengthy, and
come immediately to discourse 'ON DIVINE REVELATION.'

"In order to know the truth or falsity of any proposition, we must in
the first place understand the terms by which the proposition is made;
for without such previous knowledge, we cannot know what is meant
either to be affirmed or denied. By _divine revelation_, I understand
'a communication of sacred truth,' made directly from God to man. In
order for any man to know that a revelation has been made to him from
God, it must be made in such a way, that neither his perception, nor
his judgment or understanding, can possibly be mistaken. For, as man
by his reason alone, never could have foreseen that a revelation would
be made, therefore, unless it should have been made in such a way that
he could not have been deceived, a rational man would be more likely
to conclude that he was deceived, than that, which to him would seem
more unlikely, should be true. It seems, therefore, that a revelation
from God to all our conceptions of the fact, must be considered, if
existing at all, as something supernatural; otherwise it could be
nothing more than discovery, or a fortuitous event. Hence a revelation
from God, however true, and however clear, to the person or persons to
whom it was first communicated, must lose its evidence, in some
degree, when it comes to be communicated by him or them to others;
for, being communicated to others, although it is still revelation,
yet not being received immediately from God, it cannot be accompanied
with the same evidence which it was in the first place; therefore, to
say the most of it, it is nothing more than the _history_ of a
revelation. It is made no less true than it was before; but its truth
now rests upon very different testimony.

"The principles in nature all existed, before they were discovered by
man. Their being discovered, neither changed their nature, nor made
them any more true. What consternation a total eclipse of the sun, or
of the moon must have produced, before their cause was known? They are
now viewed, especially that of the latter, among the common
occurrences of nature. Yea, many of the operations of nature, which
are now perfectly understood by chemists, could they be viewed by the
common people, who know not their causes, they would be inclined to
believe they were supernatural. At least, it would not be difficult to
make them believe so, especially when this knowledge was confined to a
few, and those few were so disposed. These remarks are not designed to
do away the force of any arguments which may be founded on miracles;
for this is no proof that miracles may not exist; but then, how is a
miracle a revelation of any thing more than what is contained in the
miracle itself? This is what I cannot see, but I shall have occasion
to say more on this subject hereafter. It will be needless for me to
object to the inferences drawn from miracles until a miracle is
proven.

"If a man absolutely knows something of which I am ignorant, and
informs me of it, it makes no difference to me how he come by his
knowledge--it is revelation to me. It may not be divine revelation;
but supposing it is, or is not, in either case, how am I to believe?
Is it any thing that will admit of mathematical demonstration? If so,
I shall take up with nothing short of being convinced in this way. Is
it any thing which he has discovered? If so, he must give me evidence
of such a discovery. Is it something to which he was an eye witness?
Then the truth to me, depends for the present, entirely on his
credibility. I must be convinced in the first place that he was not
deceived himself, and secondly, that he has no motive in deceiving me.
And evidence equally conclusive must accompany the truth of divine
revelation, or it ought not, nay more, it cannot, rationally be
believed. But supposing that I am convinced of the truth, and
therefore believe; and I relate the same to a third person; is it
equally revelation to him as it was to me? Yes, it may be so
considered, in one sense, at least, for it informs him of something of
which he was before ignorant, as much so as it did me, but then the
truth of the fact does not rest with him on equal testimony, and
therefore he is more excusable if he does not believe. If, however, he
can believe all that I believe, and in addition to that, believe also
in _me_, then, and not till then, he will become a believer in the
same truth. But if he even suspects my veracity, it weakens in his
mind, all the other testimony; and though he may still believe in the
main proposition, yet he believes with less strength of evidence.

"Here a very important question arises in my mind. Is divine
revelation something that rests entirely on matters of _fact_; or is
the most essential part, which concerns us to know, a mere matter of
_opinion_? On a few moments of reflection, however, it appears that
this can hardly admit of a question. For all that relates to a future,
and an eternal state, must be a mere matter of opinion only; and the
facts recorded in the scriptures are supposed to corroborate and
substantiate those opinions. Now, as they respect matters of fact, I
believe the scriptures are substantially the same in all versions, and
in all languages into which they have been translated. And if so,
there is no need of learning the original languages in order to become
acquainted with the matters of fact recorded in the bible. We never
should have seen, nor even heard, of so much controversy and biblical
criticism, if the disputes had been wholly relative to matters of
fact. No, all the various readings, different translations, and
interpolations, have little or nothing to do with a dispute of this
kind. But if the facts can he disputed, they must be disputed upon
other grounds than that of biblical criticism.

"Take, for instance, the 'death and resurrection of the man Christ
Jesus,' which you have mentioned; can any one suppose that there ever
was, or ever will be, a translation which makes any thing more or less
in favour of this fact? This is not pretended. And if not, how does a
knowledge of the Greek language help me to believe this fact?

"This brings me again to my main subject; and now two very important
questions arise in my mind.

"1. In relation to the facts, as stated, respecting the life, death,
and resurrection of the 'man Christ Jesus;' are they positively and
absolutely true?

"2. Admitting the truth of the facts, does it necessarily follow, or
is there any thing which renders it certain, that, in regard to other
things, neither he, nor the apostles, so called, could be mistaken?
And that, in all their writings, they have stated nothing which is
incorrect? That is, what certain evidence have we that the writers of
the books, which being compiled, are called the New Testament, were
all honest men? That they could not have been mistaken relative to the
things which they have written? And that in every instance, they have
written the truth?

"Respecting the first proposition, I have already observed that the
truth of it does not, neither can it, depend on biblical criticism.
They are either facts, which are substantially correct, or they are
fabrications. The circumstantial differences between the original
copies themselves, as recorded by the four Evangelists, are much
greater than what can be found in all the different versions,
translations, &c. that have been collated. Hence no argument can be
brought against the truth of those facts from either a real or
supposed difference between the translation, and their respective
originals. For even if not only the original copies, but the language
also in which they were originally written, should be entirely lost,
it would not militate, as I can see, against the truth of the facts
therein recorded.

"The translation acknowledges and affirms itself to be a _translation_
out of the 'original Greek,' together with former translations
compared, &c. Now permit me to ask, is not this as good evidence of
the existence of the _original Greek_, as the original Greek is of the
_facts_ intended to be proved thereby? I should consider the
translation of any work, which was generally known at the time of its
translation, better evidence of the existence of such a work, though
the original should be entirely lost, than the work itself, even in
the original, could be of the existence of facts, which, if they
existed at all, were known at first to but very few.

"You have suggested, sir, that if the original of the scriptures were
entirely lost, future ages would not know but they had been 'imposed
upon.' I think, however, you will not insist on this point, lest you
should destroy an argument, which, hereafter, you may very much need.
I recall my words. For this seems to imply that we are already engaged
in a controversy; whereas, I trust we are both candidly in search of
truth. I suspect, however, there is too much truth in your suggestion;
but then its truth, instead of relieving, only increases my
difficulty.

"Every one must know that when the translation of the scriptures was
first made, the original not only existed, but it must have been known
to others, beside the translators, who were able to detect the
_fraud_, if there had been any, as to substantial matter of fact. And,
in a work of so great importance, this certainly would have been the
case. Hence you will at once perceive, that when the copies were few
in number, and before the art of printing was discovered, fabrications
and interpolations might find their way into the original scriptures
with much greater facility, than could any considerable variations by
an intentionally erroneous translation; especially after the work
become generally known, and so highly valued, as to require a
translation of it.

"As you admit that 'reason is the _eye_ by which we are to examine the
evidences' which stand in support of the 'resurrection of the man
Christ Jesus,' and of course, as I presume, by which we are to examine
the evidences in support of all other subjects, I shall say no more
upon this part of the subject until I hear your reasons for believing
in the resurrection of Jesus; for this fact, as I conceive, must be
considered the main hinge on which the whole Christian system rests,
if it can be supported by any fact, on which it will finally turn.

2. "But after all, my greatest difficulty is with my second
proposition. To relate facts substantially correct, which persons have
either seen or heard, requires no degree of uncommon skill, or
uncommon honesty; but to state things which will absolutely take
place, which are yet future, requires something more than common
skill; and to state things correctly, which will take place in
eternity, must, as I conceive, require nothing short of _divine
wisdom_. That the evangelists have stated nothing more than what is
_substantially_ correct, as it respects matters of fact, will be
admitted by all: for every one knows there is a _circumstantial_
difference in their writings, both as it respects the order of time,
and in several instances, as it respects matters of fact.

"If the account given us of Jesus be even substantially correct, I
think there can be no reasonable doubt but that he was capable of
telling his disciples every thing which it concerns us to know
relative to a future state of existence.--But I have been often struck
with astonishment, when reflecting on the subject, that Jesus said so
little in regard to a future state! Notwithstanding he was long with
his disciples, as we are told after his resurrection, and did eat and
drink with them; yet, how silent he was upon the subject of eternity,
and of a future and spiritual world! At the only time when we should
rationally suppose that he could be a competent witness in the case,
admitting his death and resurrection true, is the time when he is
entirely silent as to the final and eternal state of man! Should we
admit therefore that Jesus at this time was capable of declaring
eternal truths, yet, as he testified nothing on the subject, nothing
relative to the subject can be proved from his testimony.

"It may be said that Christ had plainly taught his disciples
respecting this subject, previous to his death, and therefore it was
not necessary for him to say any thing more respecting it. But a
confirmation of what he had before taught, if it had been repeated
after his resurrection, would have added great weight to his former
testimony. We need not dwell however, upon these niceties, as the main
question is not involved in them. Yet I am inclined to think that if
all the words of Christ, which have been handed down to us, should be
closely examined, they would be found to be much more silent on the
subject of a future state than many have supposed. But the main
question is, are we certain that he could not have been mistaken in
the things whereof he affirmed? This question may be thought
_blasphemous_: but I cannot see wherein the blasphemy consists; for I
cannot help making the inquiry, in my own understanding, and as my
object is to gain instruction, I put the inquiry on paper. You may say
that Jesus was endowed with _divine wisdom_, and therefore could not
err. That divine wisdom cannot err, I admit, but does divine wisdom
secure man at all times, and under all circumstances, from mistake?



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