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number of the beast in the Apocalypse means? If a man may believe and be saved without these things, to what purpose are they objected for the overthrow of the Christian faith? Do you think a man hath not reason enough to believe there is extended matter in the world, unless he can solve all the difficulties that arise from the extension or divisibility of matter? Or that he hath a soul, unless he can make it clear how an immaterial and material substance can be so united as our soul and body are? Or that the sun shines, unless he can demonstrate whether the sun or the earth moves ? Or that we have any certainty of things, unless he can assign the undoubted criterion of truth and falsehood in all things? These things I mention, on purpose to let you see that the inost certain things have difficulties about them, which no one thinks it necessary for him to answer in order to his assurance of the truth of the things; but as long as the evidence for them is much more considerable than the objections against them, we may safely acquiesce in our assent to them, and leave the unfolding these difficulties to the disputers of this world, or the knowledge of another. Is it not far more reasonable for us to think, that, in books of so great antiquity as those of Moses are, written in a language whose idiotisms are so different from ours, there may be some difficulty in the phrases, or computation of times or customs of the people, that we cannot well understand, than that all the miracles wrought by Moses should have been impostures; and that law which was preserved so constantly, maintained with that resolution by the wisest of the people of the Jews, who chose to die rather than disown it, should be all a cheat? Is it not more reasonable for us to suspect our own understandings, as to the speeches and actions of some of the prophets, than to think that men who designed so much the advancing virtue, and discouraging vice, should be a pack of hypocrites and deceivers ? Can any man of common sense suspect the Christian religion to be a fourb or an imposture, because he cannot understand the number of the beast, or interpret the Apocalyptic visions? I could hardly have believed any man, pretending to reason, could object these things, unless I saw them, and were called upon to answer them.
Therefore, Sir, my serious and impartial advice to you is, in the first place, to consider and debate the main point, i. e. the proofs of the Christian doctrine, and not to hunt up and down the Scriptures for every thing that seems a difficulty to you, and then, by heaping all these together, to make the Scriptures seem a confused heap of indigested stuff; which being taken in pieces, and considered with that modesty, diligence, and care, that doth become us, will appear to contain nothing unbecoming that sacred and venerable name which the Scriptures do bear among us.
If, therefore, you design not cavilling, but satisfaction, you will join issue with me upon the most material point, viz. Whether the Christian religion were from God, or from men? For if this be proved to have been from God, all the other things will easily fall off of themselves, or be removed with a little industry.
In the debate of this, I shall consider, first, what things are agreed upon between us, and then, wherein the difference lies.
1. You grant an absolutely perfect and independent Being, whom we call God.
2. That the world was at first created, and is still governed by him.
3. That he is so holy as to be the author of no sin, although he doth not hinder men from sinning.
4. That this God is to receive from us all worship proper to him, of prayers, praises, &c.
5. That it is the will of this God that we should lead holy, peaceable, and innocent lives.
6. That God will accept men's sincere repentance, and hearty endeavours to do his will, although they do not perfectly obey it.
7. That there is a state of rewards and punishments in another world, according to the course of men's lives here.
8. That there are many excellent precepts in the writings of the New Testament, inducing to humility and self-denial, and to the honour of God, and civil duty and honesty of life; and these in a more plentiful manner than is to be found in any other profession of religion publicly known.
The questions then remaining are, 1. Whether the matters of fact are true, which are reported in the writings of the New Testament? 2. Supposing them true, Whether they do sufficiently prove the doctrine to have been from God?
1. Whether the matters of fact were true or no ? And as to this point, I wish you had set down the reasons of your doubting more clearly and distinctly than you have done. What I can pick up, amounts to these things. l. That there can be no certainty of a matter done ‘at such a distance of time, there having been many fictitious histories in the world. 2. That it is probable that these things might be written when there was no one living to detect the falsehood of them; and thus you say, the Grecians, Romans, Egyptians, and other nations, were at first imposed upon by some men, who pretended to deliver to them the history of their gods and heroes, and the wonders wrought by them. 3. That these things might more easily be done before
printing was used; and that there is reason to suspect the more, because of the pious frauds of the primitive Christians, and the legends of the Papists. 4. That there may have been many more deceptions and impostures in the way of propagating false revelations and miracles, than we can now discover. 5. That we ought not to take the testimony of Scripture, or the Christian writers in this case, because they may be suspected of partiality; and that the testimony of. Josephus is suspected by divers learned men to be fraudulently put in by Christians. 6. That there are sufficient grounds from the story itself, and the objections of enemies, to suspect the truth of it; because of the contradiction and inconsistency of the parts of it; the want of accomplishment of the promises and prophecies of it; the obscurity and unintelligibleness of other parts; the defects of the persons mentioned therein; St. Paul's ostentation; the jars between Peter and Paul, and Paul and Barnabas., 17. That from these things you have just cause to doubt the Apostles' sincerity, and you think they might have indirect ends in divulging the miracles recorded in Scripture; and that men might be contented to suffer, to make themselves heads of a new sect of religion, and to rule over the consciences of men ; and that they had time enough to make a considerable interest before the persecutions began.
This is the force of all I can find out, in the several parts of your papers, towards the inyalidating the testimony concerning the matters of fact reported in the writings of the New Testament.
In answer to all these things, I shall shew, 1. That matters of fact, done at such a distance of time, may have sufficient evidence to oblige men to believe them. 2. That there is no reason to suspect the truth of those matters of fact which are contained in the history of the New Testament. 3. That the Apostles gave the greatest testimonies of their sincerity that could be expected from them; and that no matters of fact were ever better attested than those which are reported by them: from whence it will follow, that it is not reason, but unreasonable suspicion and scepticism, if not wilfulness and obstinacy, which makes' men to continue to doubt after so great evidence.
1. That we may have such evidence of matters of fact done at such a distance of time, as may oblige us to believe the truth of them. This we are first to make out, because several of your objections seem to imply that we can have no certainty of such things, because we cannot know what tricks may have been played in former times, when it was far more easy to deceive ; and that it is confessed there have been several frauds of this kind, which have a long time prevailed in the world. But have not the very same arguments been used against all religion by Atheists? And if the cheats that have been in religion have no force against the being of God, why should they have any against the Christian religion ? And if the common consent of mankind signify any thing as to the acknowledgment of a Deity, why should not the testimony of the Christian church, so circumstantiated as it is, be of sufficient strength to receive the matters of fact delivered by it? Which is all I at present desire. Do we question any of the stories delivered by the common consent of Greek or Latin historians, although we have only the bare testimony of those historians for them ? And yet your objections would lie against every one of them. How do we know the great prevalency of the Roman empire? Was it not delivered by those who belonged to it, and were concerned to make the best of it? What