Page images
PDF
EPUB

either forged or altered by him who could not have lacked inducement to the task, who had the best opportunity, and of whose character we know nothing. Will our Courts of Law allow a will so proved? or, is our souls' wealth of less consideration.

The authenticity of the Christian Scriptures, or New Testament, rests even on a worse foundation than that of the book which Hilkiah found. Voltaire gives a list with some extracts of about fifty Gospels, the evidence of whose existence is in the writings of the Fathers. In the time of Constantine, the Christian Church being split into many heresies, the clergy, like a gang of sensible bandits anxious only for the continuance of their own power, assembled at a general Council, and agreed to merge all differences in their common interest, and to decide which were the true and which the false Scriptures, by vote :* every one being willing to surrender some part of what he conscienciously believed to be the Word of God, and to acknowledge the truth of that which he had before stigmatized as spurious, rather than endanger their common craft. Doubtless the Holy Spirit gave the casting vote. Notwithstanding, the Gospels of Nicodemus and the Virgin Mary were rejected. Even the four voted genuine contradict each other in many material points. See especially the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, which flatly contradict each other in names and time: one tracing the family of Joseph for the genealogy is not that of Christ, but of Joseph, who was not his father -- to Nathan, the son of David; the other to Solomon. They should have given us the pedigree of the Virgin, to prove her son's descent from David : the other proves nothing except the folly and falsehood of the chroniclers. The worthies, who could select these, must have had a poor opinion of those whom they intended to dupe. Their inducements cannot be gainsayed, nor their facilities of fraud, when the emperor was their tool or accomplice; when they could thus decide their own differences, it being of little consequence by what lie they robbed the community; and when few of the laity could either read or write. Of the existence of such persons as the Apostles and Evangelists, we have no evidence whatever, except in the books they are supposed to have written. Not one of them is mentioned by any profane writer. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” (Acts, chap. 11, v. 26.) Whose disciples were they?

We have no reasor. to believe that Christ spoke all that is attributed to him. His opinions and doctrines were neither transmitted to writing by himself, nor during his life, so as to be subject to his revision. If the Evangelists were not inspired, it is not to be marvelled at that they sometimes differ in their recollections of doctrines which they had not learned by heart. The errors of memory may well be excused. But if they were inspired, how shall we account for their contradictory relations of facts? Their accounts of the resurrection-the great event-differ most materially. Shall we say, with Paley, that their opposition to each other is proof of their truth? What was the Spirit about, not to prevent such bungling?—It is probable that Christ taught a pure and simple code of morality, which was altered by his disciples according to the action of their various dispositions and prejudices upon their understandings and memories, and still further altered and corrupted by their successors. We all know how little verbal report may be depended upon; what various and almost contrary meanings are attached to the same words; how in frequent repetition the very words become altered ; and how even á tone or a gesture may give a totally different signification. These considerations plainly tell us that, though we be believers in Christ, we cannot be bound by the letter of the law, and that we are, consequently, judges of the spirit. How many interpreters will accord, the following remarks of the catholic Pascal may help to inform us :- _“ To understand the Scriptures, it is necessary to have a sense in which all the contrary passages agreethere must be one which reconciles even contrary passages.'

* " The Rabbins of the Jews had decided by vote upon the books of the Bible before."-Paine.

Genesis was never the work of Moses, but a compilation digested after the return from the Babylonish captivity, and containing the Chaldean opinions respecting the origin of the world.- Volney.

The Christian Faith (for that was once a schism !) is not unknown to have spread all over Asia, ere any Gospel or Epistle was seen in writing.

Milton.

There was no such book as the New Testament till more than three hundred years after the time that Christ is said to have lived.

At what time the books ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, began to appear is altogether a matter of uncertainty. There is not the least shadow of evidence of who the persons were that wrote them; The originals are not in the possession of any Christian church existing, any more than the two tables of stone, written on, as they pretend, by the finger of God, upon mount Sinai, and given to Moses, are in the possession of the Jews. And even if they were, there is no possibility of proving the handwriting in either case. At the time those four books were written, there was no printing, and consequently there could be no publication otherwise than by written copies, which any man might make or alter at pleasure, and call them originals.

The former part of the AGE OF REASON has not been published two years, and there is already an expression in it that is not mine. The expression is, The book of Luke was carried by a majority of only one vote. It may true but it is not I who have said it. Some person, who might know of that circumstance, has added it in a note at the bottom of the page of some of the editions, and the printers after that have erected it into the body of the work, and made me the author of it. If this has happened within such a short space of time, notwithstanding the aid of printing, which prevents the alteration of copies individually; what may not have happened in a much greater length of time, when there was no printing, and when any man who could write could make a written copy, and call it an original by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.—Paine's Age of Reason.

be

THE EARLY CHRISTIANS. It has been remarked, with more ingenuity than truth, that the virgin purity of the church was never violated by schism or heresy before the reign of Trajan or Hadrian, about one hundred years after the death of Christ. We may observe with much more propriety, that, during that period, the disciples of the Messiah were indulged in a freer latitude both of faith and practice, than has ever been allowed in succeeding ages. As the terms of communion were insensibly narrowed, and the spiritual authority of the prevailing party was exercised with increasing severity, many of its most respectable adherents, who were called upon to renounce, were provoked to assert their private opinions, to pursue the consequences of their mistaken principles, and openly to erect the standard of rebellion against the unity of the church. The Gnostics were distinguished as the most polite, the most learned, and the most wealthy of the Christian name, and that general appellation which expressed a superiority of knowledge, was either assumed by their own pride, or ironically bestowed by the envy of their adversaries. They were almost without exception of the race of the Gentiles, and their principal founders seem to have been natives of Syria or Egypt, where the warmth of the climate disposes both the mind and the body to indolent and contemplative devotion. The Gnostics blended with the faith of Christ many sublime but obscure tenets,

which they derived from oriental philosophy, and even from the religion of Zoroaster, concerning the eternity of matter, the existence of two principles, and the mysterious hierarchy of the invisible world. As soon as they launched out into that vast abyss, they delivered themselves to the guidance of a disordered imagination; and as the paths of error are various and infinite, the Gnostics were imperceptibly divided into more than fifty particular sects, of whom the most celebrated appear to have been the Basilidians, the Valentinians, the Marcionites, and, in a still later period, the Manichæans. Each of these sects could boast of its bishops and congregations, of its doctors and martyrs, and, instead of the four gospels adopted by the church, the heretics produced a multitude of histories, in which the actions and discourses of Christ and of his apostles were adapted to their respective tenets. The success of the Gnostics was rapid and extensive. They covered Asia and Egypt, established themselves in Rome, and sometimes penetrated into the provinces of the West. For the most part they arose in the second century, Hourished during the third, and were suppressed in the fourth or fifth, by the prevalence of more fashionable controversies, and by the superior ascendant of the reigning power.Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

(In the contest between St. Augustine and Faustus, about the year 400, the latter says,

“The books called the Evangelists have been composed long since the time of the Apostles, by some obscure men, who, fearing that the world would not give credit to their relation of matters, of which they could not be informed, have published them under the names of the Apostles; and which are so full of sottishness and discordant relations, that there is neither agreement nor connexion between them !"

(And in another place, addressing himself to the advocates of those books, as being the word of God, he says,),

“ It is thus that your predecessors have inserted in the Scriptures of our Lord many things which, though they carry his name, agree not with his doctrine. This is not surprising since we have often proved that these things have not been written by himself nor his apostles, but that, for the greatest part, they are founded upon tales, upon vague reports, and put together by I know not what, half Jews, with but little agreement between them; and which they have, nevertheless, published under the names of the Apostles, and have thus attributed to them their own errors and their lies."

The Marcionists (a christian sect) assured that the Evangelists were filled with falsities. The Manicheans, who formed a very numerous sect at the commencement of christianity, rejected as false all the New Testament; and shewed other writings, quite different, that they gave for authentic. The Corinthians, like the Marcionists, admitted not the Acts of the Apostles. The Eucratics and the Sevenians adopted neither the Acts, nor the Epistle of Paul. Chrysostome, in a homily made upon the Acts of the Apostles, says, that in his time (about the year 400) many people knew nothing either of the author or the book. St. Irene, who lived before that time, reports that the Valentinians, like several other sects of the Christians, accused the Scriptures of being filled with errors, imperfections, and contradictions. The Ebionists, or Nazarenes, who were the first Christians, rejected all the Epistles of Paul, and regarded him as an impostor. They report among other things, that he was originally a Pagan; that he came to Jerusalem, where he lived some time; and that having a mind to marry the daughter of the high-priest, he caused himself to be circumcised; but that not being able to obtain her, he quarrelled with the Jews, and wrote against circumcision, the observance of the Sabbath, and against all the legal ordinances.

Boulanger: (quoted by Paine.)

REASON AND FAITH.

I FIND every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out, it is matter of faith, and above reason. And I do not see how they can argue with any one, or even convince a gainsayer who makes use of the same plea, without setting down strict boundaries between faith and reason; which ought to be the first point established on all questions where faith has any thing to do.

Reason, therefore, here as contradistinguished to faith, I take to be the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas, which it has got by the use of its natural faculties, viz. by sensation and reflection.

Faith, on the other side, is the assent to any proposition, not thus made out by the deductions of reason, but on the credit of the proposer, as coming from God in some extraordinary way of communication. This way of discovering truths to men we call Revelation.

First, then, I say, no man inspired by God can by any revelation communicate to others any new simple ideas which they had not before from sensation and reflection. For whatsoever impressions he himself may have from the immediate hand of God, this revelation, if it be of new simple ideas, cannot be conveyed to another, either by words, or any other signs. " Because words, by their immediate operations on us, cause no other ideas but of their natural sounds: and it is by the custom of using them for signs that they excite and revive in our minds latent ideas; but yet only such ideas as were there before. For words seen or heard, recall to our thoughts those ideas only which to us they have been wont to be signs of; but cannot introduce any perfectly new and formerly unknown simple ideas. The same holds in all other signs, which cannot signify to us things of which we have before never had any idea at all.

Thus, whatever things were discovered by the Apostle Paul, when he was snatched up into the third heaven, whatever new ideas his mind there received, all the description he can make to others of that place is only this, that there are such things as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.” And supposing God should discover to any one, supernaturally, a species of creatures inhabiting, for example, Jupiter or Saturn, (for that it is possible there may be such, nobody can deny) which has six senses, and imprint on his mind the ideas conveyed to theirs by that sixth sense, he could no more, by words, produce in the minds of other men those ideas imprinted by that sixth sense, than one of us could convey the idea of any colour by the sounds of words into a man, who, having the four senses perfect, had always totally wanted the fifth of 'seeing. For our simple ideas, then, which are the foundation and sole matter of all our notions and knowledge, we must depend wholly on our reason, I mean our natural faculties ; and can by no means receive them, or any of them, from traditional revelation; I say traditional revelation, in distinction to original revelation.

By the one, I mean that first impression which is made immediately by God on the mind of any man, to which we cannot set any bounds; and by the other, those impressions delivered over to others in words, and the ordinary ways of conveying our conceptions one to another.

Secondly, I say, that the same truths may be discovered, and conveyed down from revelation, which are discoverable to us by reason, and by those ideas we naturally may have.. So God might, by revelation, discover the truth of any proposition in Euclid, as well as men, by the natural use of their faculties, come to make the discovery themselves. In all things of this kind, there is little need or use of revelation; God having furnished us with natural and surer means to arrive at the knowledge of them. For whatsoever truth we come to the clear discovery of from the knowledge and contemplation of our own ideas, will always be more certain to us, than those which are conveyed to us by traditional revelation. For the knowledge we have, that this revelation came at first from God, can never be so sure, as the knowledge we have from the clear and distinct perception of the agreement or disagreement of our own ideas; e. g. if it were revealed some ages since, that the three angles of a triangle were equal to two right ones, I might assent to the truth of that proposition, upon the credit of the tradition, that it was revealed; but that would never amount to so great a certainty, as the knowledge of it

, upon the comparing and measuring my own ideas of two right angles, and the three angles of a triangle. The like holds in matter of fact, knowable by our senses; e. g. the history of the deluge is conveyed to us by writings, which had their original from revelation ; and yet nobody, I think, will say he has as certain and clear a knowledge of the flood as Noah that saw it; or as he himself would have had, had he been alive, and seen it. For he has no greater an assurance than that of his senses, that it is written in the book supposed written by Moses inspired; but he has not so great an assurance that Moses wrote that book, as if he had seen Moses write it. So that the assurance of its being a revelation is less still than the assurance of his senses. —Locke.

RELIGIOUS WORSHIP. In the reign of Arcadius, Logomacos, a theologue of Constantinople, went into Scythia, and stopped at the foot of mount Caucasus, in the fertile plains of Zephirim, bordering on Colchis. The good old man Dondindac was, atter a light repast, kneeling in his large hall, between his vast sheepfold and his ample barn, with his wife, his five sons and five daughters, some of his kindred and his domestics, all chaunting the praises of the Bounteous Giver of all good things. Ho! What art thou about, idolater? said Logomacos to him. I am no idolater, said Dondindac. An idolater thou must be, said Logomacos to him, as being a Scythian, or at least po Greek. Well, and what wast thou gabbling in thy Scythian jargon? All languages are alike in God's ear, answered the Scythian: we were singing his praises. Very extraordinary indeed, replied the theologue; a Scythian family worshipping God without any previous instruction from us! He soon entered into conversation with Dondindac; for the theologue had a smattering of the Scythian, and the other understood a little Greek. This conversation is lately come to light in a manuscript kept in the imperial library at Constantinople.

Log. I will see whether thou knowest thy catechism: why prayest thou to God?

Don. Because it is just and proper to worship the Supreme Being: as of him we hold all we have.

Log. Pretty well, for a barbarian: and what askest thou of him?

Don. I thank God for the good things he gives me, and even for the crosses with which he tries me: but as for asking of him any thing, that is what I never presume to do ; he knows what we stand in need of better than ourselves: besides I should be afraid to ask for sunshine, when rain would better suit my neighbour.

Log. Ah! I apprehended we should soon have some nonsense or other from him. Let me take a retrospect of things; who told thee there is a God?

Don. All nature.
Log. That is nothing: what idea hast thou of God?

Don. That he is my Creator, my master : who will reward me if I do well, and punish me if I do amiss.

Log. That is but trivial and low: let us come to the essential. Is God infinite secundum quid , in his essence?

Don. I do not understand you. Log. Stupid dolt! Is God in a place, or out of all place, or is he everywhere?

« PreviousContinue »