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Messiah, who applied the prophecies to himself, had u forerunner, and more than two hundred thousand followers, who publickly acknowledged him for the Messiah, raised contributions, and supported him magnificently. He too quoted the Prophets as speaking concerning him, and was said to have worked divers mira-.
were written in countries at a distance from Palestine. And the facts recorded in them were no where so little be'iered as in Judea, anong the people in whose sight they are said to have been wrought, where they ought, if true, to have met with miost credit. It is, however, evident from the histories themselves, that these stories were laughed at by the learned, and intelligent of ihe Jewish nation, and disbelieved by the great body of the people. In truth the first Christians were merely one hundred and twenty Galilæans, who asserted to their co-religionists, that Jesus of Nazareth was the expected Messiah. It was a mere national quarrel between the great body of the Jews, and a few schisma. ticks. This is evident from the dets, where we find that for several years they confined their preaching to Jerus only. Till the conversion of Cornelius, they do not appear to have thought the Gentiles any way interested in their dispute with their countrymen. So that it is not improbable, (as the Jewish Christians dwindled very rapidly.) that had it not been for the Gentile proselytes to Judaism, Christianity would have perished in its cradle. These people were very numerous, and formed the connecting link between the Jews and the Gentiles. And it was through the medium of these people, that Christianity became known to the heathens. For we find that after the Apostles could make nothing of the stubborn Jews “they shouk their garments, and told them that from henceforth we go to the Gentiles.” Accordingly, when the Apostles preached in the synagogues, and the Jews" contradictell, and blasphemed,” and made fun of their niode of proving from the Prophets, “that Jesus was the Christ;" yei the "proselytes and devout women" listened, and believed.
3. If “supposing the accounts to have the two foregoing qualifications, we still may suspect them to be false, if in the time when, and in the place where they took their rise, they might Le suffered to / ass without examination,” we have still less reason to believe the Gospels. For one reason why they might be suffered to pass withoxt examination is, where the miracles proposed coinci:led with the motions, and superstitions prejudices of those whom they were reported ; and uho, on that account, might be prone to receive them anexamined. Now we have documents in plenty, which abundantly prove, along with the virtues, the extreme credulity, and simplicity of the Primitive Chris. tians; whose maxim was “believe but do not examine, and thy faith shall save thee.” Another very good reason why they might he suffered to pass without examination is, that the miracles of the Gospels were entirely unknown to, or at least unacknowledged by any Heathen or Jew of the age in which they are recorded to have huppened. Nobody seems to have known a syllable about them but the Apostles and their converts. Even the books of the New Testament were not generally known to the heathens until some hundred years after the birth ot Jesus, and it seems from the few fragments of their works come down to us that the only notice they did take of them was to aceuse them of telling lies, and old wires fables. And as for the Jews, the origin and
cles, and was ultimately put to death by the order of the Grand Seignor at Constantinople ; yet nevertheless was said to have been seen again by certain of his followers, who wrote Books. in favour of that fact, and of his Messiahship. Many learned Rabbins enrolled themselves as his Disciples, and wrote controversial works in his cause, as Paul did. And to conclude, his party was not entirely extinct within a very few years. Yet notwithstanding all this, he was an Impostor; and no inan now believes the stories of his miracles, or his ressurrection ; notwithstanding that both are affirmed by more recent, more learned, and more respectable testimony, than is, or can be offered in favour of the Messiahship of Jesus. The name of this famous Impostor was Zebathai Tzevi, and his history is given by Basnage in his History of the Jews.
I wish the Christian Reader to peruse carefully, and cooly, that account; and if he then persists in believing the History given by the Evangelists,—with such faith as his, he certainly ought to be able to move mountains ; and I have no doubt at all, that with such a good natured understanding as his, if he had found in his New Testament the story of Jonah misquoted, and by a small transposition a la mode de Surenhusius representing, that “ Jonah swallowed the whale !" his sturdy « confidence in things not seen," would, I doubt not have enabled him without difficulty to swallow the Prophet with the whale in his belly.
early propagation of Christianity was so very obscure, that those who lived nearest the times of the Apostles do not seem to have known any thing abont them, or their doctrines.
Though a little out of place, yet I will here adduce a fact which illustrates and exemplifies the power of enthusiasm to make people believe they saw what they did not see. Lucian gives an account of one Peregrinus, a philosophist very famous in his time, who had a great number of disciples. He ended his life by throwing himself, in the presence of assembled thousands, into a burning pile. Yet such was the enthusiastick veneration of his followers, that some of his disciples did solemnly aver, that they had seen him after his death, cloathed in white, and erowned; and they were believed, insomuch that altars and statues were erected to Peregrinus as to a demigod. See Lueian's account.
I HAVE already expressed my respect for the character of Jesus Christ. And I again declare, that I request that it may be distinctly understood, that by nothing that I have said do I intend to impeach, or to depre. ciate his moral character. Whatever may have been his defects, or whatever were his foibles, they must have been the faults of his mind, not of his heart. For though he may have been a mistaken enthusiast, yet I do firmly believe, that, with such a character as he is represented to have possessed, he could not have been either a hy. pocrite, or a wilful impostor. And if it be replied, that I have, by some observations on his conduct, indireetly impeached the perfection of his moral character, I answer, that if so, it is certainly my misfortune, but it may not be his fault. To explain this observation, I request the reader to recall to mind, that Jesus wrote nothing himself, that the only accounts we have of him are contained in books, probably apocryphal, and cer. tainly not generally known till after the middle of the second century from his birth. The gospels now extant do not appear to have been known to Justin Martyr; and the earliest Fathers in their writings generally quote traditions concerning Jesus instead of histories. Since these things are so, who knows, but that the authors of the histories of him now extant, have attributed to him words and actions of which he was guiltless. We know how prone mankind are to invent falsehoods con. cerning eminent men ; for instance, Mahomet expressly disclaimed the power of working miracles, and yet the writings of his early followers ascribe hundreds to him, Why may it not be possible then, since Jesus wrote nothing himself, that these books ascribe to him words, and actions he neither spake, nor performed ? God grant that this may one day be proved! For I should rejoice to find the meek, gentle, and amiable man of Nazareth proved guiltess of the follies, and impieties attributed to him in the New Testament. And though I am obliged in this work, to take the New Testament as I find it, and to reason concerning the works, and words of Jesus as I find them there expressed, yet I would carnestly request the reader to consider me willing, and desirous to exempt the author, or rather the cause of the Christian religion, from the reproach of the sentiments I am bound by my regard for one God, and his attributes, to express for the system itself. Yes! I can in my own mind separate Jesus from his religion and his followers. I read with admiration many of his beautiful parables. I shall ever contemplate his mildness, and benevolence with respect : and I peruse with pity, the recital of his sufferings, and cruel death. All this I have done, and I believe I shall ever do; but I cannot! I cannot in effect deny the one living, and true God, and renounce my reason, and common sense, by believing all the contradictory, and strange doctrines contained in the New Testament. · Having unburthened iny mind upon this subject, and frankly expressed my sentiments and feelings with regard to the character of Jesus; I hope I may now be allowed (without incurring the charge of maliciously exposing him, or the twelve Apostles, to reproach) to state my opinions with regard to the merit of the moral maxiins ascribed to him and them in the New Testament. And I again caution the reader, that he, is not obliged to lay to his, or their charge the mischievous consesequences that originated from acting upon these maxims, and principles; since it is by no means impossible, that they may have been falsely ascribed to him, and to them.
Now then, let us attend to the subject of the Chapter, viz. the moral maxims ascribed to Jesus. These moral maxims consist of 1st, Those which were adopted by him from the Old Testament. 2d, Those of which he himself is described as being the author. With the consideration of those of the first class I shall not trouble the reader, but shall devote this Chapter to the examination, of those which are supposed to have originated from him. These are, 1st, Do to others what you would that others should do to you.' 2d, Resist not the injurious person, but if a man smite thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also.' 3d, “If a man ask thy cloke, give him thy coat also. 4th, If thou wouldest be perfect, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor; and come follow me.' 5th, · Unless a man hate his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and possessions, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 6th, 6 Take no thought for the morrow.' • With regard to the first of these maxims, it does not belong to Jesus, as the author. It is found in the book of Tobit, ch. iv. 15, and it was a maxim well known to the Rabbins. It is found in the Talmud verbatim. 6. What thou wouldest not have done to thee, do not thou to another." (Tal. Bab. Schabbat. fol. 31. T So also Hillel addressed a Proselyte thus, "What is hateful to thee, do not thou to thy neighbour.” Several other expressions of Jesus were, it appears from the Talmud, proverbial expressions in use among the Jews. For instance, the original of that saying recorded Mat. vii. 2. 66 With whatsoever measure ye mete,” &c. is found in the Talmnd of Babylon [Sanhedrim fol. 100, Sotah c. 4, 7, 8, 9.] “ With whatsoever measure any one metes it shall be measured to him.” So also the original of that expression of “Cast out the beam' out of thine own eye, and then thou shalt see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother's eye,” is to be found in the Talinud.
What is called by Christians 6 the Lord's Prayer," is merely a few clauses taken from Jewish Prayers, and put together. Very inany instances of a similar nature to these might be produced ; but as I must be brief, the reader is referred for further satisfaction to the works of Lightfoot, where he will learn by extracts from Jew. ish writings the source, and meaning of many more of the sayings of Jesus.
I now proceed to the most disagreeable part of the subjeet, viz : The consideration of the other maxims mentioned, which it must be allowed do belong to Jesus, or at least to the New Testament, since they are the peculiar moral principles of Christianity, and the hon. our of them can be challenged by, I believe, no other religion.
These precepts are so extremely hyperbolical, that they are not, and cannot be perfectly observed by any Christian, who does not detach himself completely from the business of Society; and these maxims, (which, as