Edward Evanson.

A letter to Dr. Priestley's young man; with a postscript concerning the Rev. D. Simpson's essay ... in answer to Evanson's Dissonance and Volney's Ruins .. online

. (page 6 of 9)
Online LibraryEdward EvansonA letter to Dr. Priestley's young man; with a postscript concerning the Rev. D. Simpson's essay ... in answer to Evanson's Dissonance and Volney's Ruins .. → online text (page 6 of 9)
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[ 65 ]

gle life who have made themfclves lead a fingle
life for the kingdom of heaven's fake," Can Dr.
Prieflley be ferioully in earneft in all this? Yet as if
he fuppofed you could be fatisfied with fuch child-
ilh abfurdity, he tells you my objeftion requires no
cither animadverfton. But he adds that, Tatian the
difciple of Juftin Martyr was the founder of the
fc(ft of the Encratites; and that if this gofpel had
been written after his time, it could never have
been received as the produdtion of Matthew. Now
when a man lays fo very great and important aflrefs
upon the teftimony of the early ecclefiaflical wri-
ters as Dr. Prieftley does, he ought at leaft to be
very well verfed in them, and perfectly to under-
fland what that teftimony is. But whether Eufe^
bius is as incomprehenfible to the Dodior as Ter
tullian feems to be, or whether he reads with the
fame inconfideratc precipitancy with which he
fometimes appears to write, and fo does not allow
himfelf time to attend to the author's meaning, I
know not. I only know that, in the very paflage
from which he learned that Tatian was at all con-
nedted with the Encratites,* Eufebius fays, that
fed: proceeded from Saturninus and Marcion, who
both preceded Juftin •, and confequently it exifted,
as Sir Ifaac Newton long ago obferved, in the be-
ginning of the fecond century.

To what I have remarked upon the parable al-
luded to in article 7. the Dodtor has given nothing
like an anfwer ; and therefore, if the matter were of
greater importance than it is, no reply is neceflary
on my part.

In the eighth and laft article of his defence
of this Gofpel, Dr. Prieftley tells you that it muft

K be

f Hlft. £ccl. 1. iv. c. 29,

[ 66 ]

be owing to my ignorance or inattention, that I un-
derftand the word oaooviog, in the lame fenfe in which
it has always been tranilated hitherto, as fignifying
literally everlajiing or eternal; for that it fignifies
merely an indefinite long period. Even this new
tranilation however would not remove the difficul-
ty I have ftated. But lince the very fame word is
ufed to exprefs the duration of the future life of
the righteous and the duration of the puniihment
of the wicked, and in the very fame fentence, either
it mud fignify ftridtly everlajiing in both cafes ; or
elfe the future exiftence promifed to the righteous
muft be underftood to mean only exiftence for an
indefinite long period : and the longeft period com-
pared with eternity is the mere exiftence of a mo-
ment. Upon what authority then does Dr. Prieft-
ley, by fuch modes of interpreting the fcriptures,
prefume to deprive the faithful difciple of Jefus
Chrift of his brighteft and moft encouraging prof-
pedt, reduce his hopes of future happinefs from
eternity to time and rob him of the moft precious
promifcs of the Gofpel ?

In his Appendix, p. i68, to invalidate the ob-
jection ariiing from this waiter's reprefenting the
women as prefent at the fepulchre of Jefus, at the
fame time with the foldiers, the Dodror tells you
that " there are feveral inftances in which the pro-
noun "v^iigy ye is ufed without any particular em-
phafis, or contraft; as when our Saviour fays, Matt.
V. 48, Be ye perfeB even as your Father zvho is in
heaven is perfeB. Matt. xiii. 18, Hear ye therefore
the parable of the fower." Yet, in the firft inftance,
the difciples, in the words immediately preceding,
are informed how other men and efpecially publi-
cans behave, and taught that theii own benevolence


[ ^7 ]

mufl be of a more exalted and perfedt kir.d. And,
in the fecondj replying to the queilion aflced by his
difciples, why he fpoke to the multitudes in para-
bles? Jefus fays, " becaufe it is givesi unto you to
know the myfteries of the kingdom of heaven, but
to them it is not givcn^" &c. '* Hear ye therefore
the parable of the fower." So that when the Doc-
tor with an air of triumph aiks, *' where is the con-
trail here ?" If you w-ere much younger than, I lup-
pofe, he takes you to be, you would readily aiifwer
hinij in the former cafe, between the difciples and
the publicans; and, in the latter, between them
and the generality of the people to wdiomthe para-
bles were not explained.

The Doctor^s eighth letter to you is on my ob-
jections to the Gofpel of Mark. And he begins
and ends it with reprefenting me as having prefer-
red the Gofpel of Luke merely by accident or ca^
price; and tells you that I iliould " have found as
much to objecl: to in this Gofpel as in the former if
I had bellowed equal pains on it," &c. If you
have read my book with any attention, you mult
know. Sir, that inftead of forming my judgment
upon no grounds, as the Doftor thinks fit to alTert^
I have ftated my reafons for that judgment very
fully and explicitly. Whether thole reafons may
be as convincing to any of my readers as they are
to myfelf, is not for me to determine ; but how-
ever weak and trifling they may appear to Dr.
Priellley, in common decency as well as juilice,
he ftiould have contented himfelf with expofing
their weaknefs and futility ; and not have repeat-
edly mifreprefented me as having adbed in a mat-
ter of fuch high importance without aay reafoa
at all.


[ 68 ]

With refpeft to the paucity of my obfervntions
on the Gofpel called Mark's, according to the ta-
bles of Ammianus, there are but twenty paffages
of any kind in the whole Gofpel which are pecu-
liar to this writer. The reft, excepting what I
have taken notice of in the conclulion as borrow-
ed from the Gofpel of John, are all found either
in that of Matthew or of Luke. The latter I could
rot objeft to confiftently with my own principles;
the former had been already animadverted upon
in my objediions to the Gofpel of Matthew ; and
of the remaining twenty paffages I have made re-
marks upon feven, which were all that appeared
to me worthy of being noticed on fuch an oc-

The only anfwer which the Dodtor has vouch-
fafed to give to my remark. No. i, is a mere con-
fident affertion, which every perfon converfant in
the eccleiiaftical writings of the fecond and third
centuries knows to be diredtly contrary to the mat-
ter of fadt. Of this you yourfelf may be eafily
fatisfied by the perufal of thofe teftimonies to
which I have referred you in the paffage quoted
by Dr. Prieftley.

In article 2, the Dodtor tells you no anfwer is
neceffary to the obfervations he has quoted ; there-
fore I can have nothing to reply. I only beg leave
to remark to you that, I have never called this Gof-
pel an abridgment, nor the author an abridger of the
others, though the Dodior here afferts and elfe-
where repeatedly inlinuates that I have done fo.

In article 3, Dr. Prieftley choofes to infinuate
alfo that I have called the author a mere copter of
Matthew and Luke, though I never thought of
fuch a thing, except in thofe paffages where they


[ 69 ]

do not clalh with each other. As to the reft of his
remark, if 5'ou will turn to the Evangelifl l\imfelf,
you will find that his words will not warrant fuch
an evafive anfwer as the Dod:or has thought pro-
per to give.

To my objed:ions quoted in article 4, the Doc-
tor's only dired: anfwer is altogether unwarrantably
hypothetical ; but his illultration from the old tef-
tament muft not pafs unnoticed.

Elijah and Elilha are by no means proper ob-
je6ls of comparifon with the prophet Jefus ; but
Mofes certainly is lo. And I beg your attention
to the two inftances of his condud: upon fimiiar
occafions produced by Dr. Prieflley. The latter,
which in order of time ought to have been men-
tioned firft, was no miracle, but a reftoration of the
waters of Mara to falubrity and an agreeable tafte
by means of the naturally medical property of a
particular wood, as the author of Ecclefiafticus
has very properly obferved. The other, ziv. the
ftriking the rock, which tended to make the peo-
ple believe that his ftroke alone gave vent to the
imprifoned waters and made them flow, is record-
ed as being immediately condemned by the Deity
himfelf ; and in punifliment for his not clearly
manifefling the miraculous interpofition of the Al-
mighty, by merely fpeaking to the rock as he was
commanded, he was doomed like all the other re-
bellious Ifraelites to die in the wildernefs and not
to enter into the promifed land. And had Jefus of
Nazareth been guilty of the practices afcribed to
him in this Gofpel, he would have been equally
criminal in the fight of God.

To the firft of the objections quoted in the fifth
and laft article of this letter the Do6lor,anfvvers, that


C 70 ]

the words are not to be taken in their literal fenfe,
which he allows is impoffible ,• but only to mean
that the fufferer ''would have more than an equiva-
lent fatisfadtion of another kind.'* But lince the
centuple compenfation is exprefsly limited to the
prefent life, this feems to me equally impoffible
with the literal fenfe in a great variety of cafes.
And even fuppofing the confolation of a good con-
fcience to be more than an equivalent for any lolTes
that can be caufed by perfecution, (which, fetting
futurity out of the queftion, I believe nobody will
allow,) becaufe Dr. Prieflley has, without doubt,
received this more than equivalent fat is faSl ion for the
lofsof his library and laboratory, would any writer
be warranted in afferting that he had now, in this
t'tniey received an hundred fuch libraries and aa
hundred equally valuable laboratories ?

The other objedlion the Dodlor tells you ''needs
no anfwer;" and accordingly he has given none
to it.

The concluding fentence of this eighth letter is
really curious; and feems to imply that Dr. Priefl-
ley has conceived fo thoroughly contemptible an.
opinion of the apoflles and firft preachers of chrif-
tianity as to think it highly improbable that any of
them fhould have been capable of fhewing by the
ftyle and manner of their writing that they were en-
dued with any degree of genius and mental abili-
ties; or that they had common fenfe fufficient to
underftand propriety of language. Under fuck
great obligations to their zealous, decent advocate.
Oft this occafion, are Matthew, Mark and John \
' The Dod;or*s ninth letter contains his animad-
veriions on my objediions to the Gofpel of John.
And in article i. replying to my remark on the


[ 7' ]

great difference between the ftyle of this Gofpel
and the Revelation, he tells you that there is as
great difference of ftyle between fome of Paul's
Epiftles. If he means thofe Epiftles of Paul which
I allow to be genuine, nothing can be lefs true;
and I defy him to prove it. If he means only to
compare the ftyle of them to that of the Epiftle to
the Hebrews, as I fufpedt, or of any other of the
Epiftles which I reje<5t as fpurious, though the ar-
gument is urged by him with all the unfairnefs of
a profeflional polemic, inftead of anfwering his end
in this cafe, it tends only to confirm my arguments
againft thofe Epiftles.

As to the fuppoiition that the apoftles, even af-
ter the gift of tongues, did not underftand Greek
enough to compofe their ow^n writings without the
affiftance of different perfons at dffere?it times, it is
too abfurd to merit any notice. It is made too of
Paul for one, who we know fpoke the greek lan-
guage with the utmoft fluency : and who preached
the Gofpel to the Athenians and to every princi-
pal city of Greece in their native language. Flow-
ever, for fear this fuppofition Ihould not prove fa-
tisfadtory even to 3. young man, he fubjoins an infi-
nuation, that the Apocalypfe was not Vv'ritten by
John the apoftle, but by the other John, Pray Sir,
afk him who the other John was? The fcriptures
mention only two difciples of that name; one the
apoftle, emphatically the fervant oi ]e^us Chu^,
who, according to his own avowal and the whole
weight of the DoQ:or's all-fufhcient tejiimony of evi-
^ence, was the author of the Apocalypfe; the other
furnamed Mark, by which latterappellation he was
vifually called to diftinguifh him from the apoftle^
^nd who there is not the High teft pretence to ima-

[ 72 ]

gine was made the organ of thofe important pro-
phecies. The grand revelations of the Gofpel, af-
ter our Lord's afcenlion, were made firft to John
in the vifions of the Apocalypfe, and fecondly to
Paul, as he has informed us in his Epiftles. And,
iince the latter was the apoftle to the Gentiles, no-
thing can be more improbable, than that our Sa-
viour Ihould have pafTed by all his other chofen
apoftles and manifefted his prediledtion of fome
other John that nobody ever heard off, by fending
angels to ihew him the prophetic vifions of that
book, which is emphatically denominated the Re-
velation ofjefus Chrtfi.

In article 2. Dr. Prieftley tells you that the term
Logos, ufed by the author of this Gofpel and the
Epiftles called John's and by no other didadtic wri-
ter of the new teftament, w^as moft probably not
borrowed from Plato, but is ufed only in the fame
fenfe as the word of God is in the old teftament, by
which we are told all things were made. But thofe
expreflions of Mofes and David are evidently mere
figures of fpeech, denoting that every part of the
creation rofe into exiftence at the command, or more
properly at the will of the Deity ; for it is not to be
imagined that God adtually fpeaks as men do, when
he wills any thing to be done. When the prophet
defcribes the almighty as bringing a fword over
any particular country and i^y'iu^ fword go through
that land, is any man abfurd enough to think that
God really fpeaks fo to a fword? Yet it were e-
qually unreafonable to underftand that the Deity
made ufe of any words at all, when Mofes defcribes
the exertion of his infinite power by the phrafe and
God (aid, or when David alluding to that Mofaic
phrafe tells us the world was created by the com-

t 73 3

mdnd or rrord of God and by the breath of his mouths
Now, inftead of thefe figurative phrafes, put the
plain literal meaning, viz. the will of God, and
try whether you can make any tolerable fenfe of
this Gofpel, if Logos is fo underftood. "In the
beginning was the will of God, and the will of God
was \vithGod; and the will of Go^ was God." And
again, *'and the will of God was made ilefh and
dwelt amongft us and we beheld its glory, the glo-
ry as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace
and truth." As long as men, who think it their
duty, which it certainly is, to ufe their reafon in
judging of religious queflions, fhall from long ha-
bit and the prejudice of education remain under
the deluiion of believing all the prelent canoni-'
cal fcriptures to be genuine works of the apoftles
and firft difciples of our Saviour, fo long they will
mifapply their time and abilities in imagining hy-
pothefes which may, in fome ideal manner, recon-
cile contradiftions abfolutely irreconcilcable; and
in endeavouring td give fome femblance of a ratio-
nal meaning to thofe abfurdly fabulous, fuperftiti-
ous palTages on which have been founded, firft the
pagan doftrine of the ;pre-exiftence of Jefus and his
miraculous birth, and fecondly the blafphemoils
and Vv^orfe than pagan dodtrine of his deification in
the monftrous fyftem of the Trinity. But though
their fkilful difplay of great learning and ingenuity
in their endeavours on thefe occafions may perhaps
fatisfy themfelves and their own religious party,
their arguments are never convincing to other peo-
ple; for one infuperable objection to the fuccefs
of their well intended labours always remains.

If thefe books are the works of men chofen, de-
legated and miraculoufly impowered by the heaven-

L ly

I 74 ]

ly fource of truth, light and wifdom to teach all
men, even the moft unlearned and ignorant, the
true obj eft of their religious vvorllilp, the duties
which that Deity requires them to pradtice and the
profped: of a future recompenfe promifed to their
obedience; the true meanin gof the feveral pafla-
ges they contain ought to be obfcure and hard to be
underftood to no perfon endowed with common fenfe
not even to a child. This was the cafe with the re-
ligion revealed by Mofes to the people of Ifrael.
It is impoffible for any Jew to read the Pentateuch
without perfe<ftly underftanding the proper and on-
ly object of his adoration ; the duties enjoined upon
him; and the temporal rewards and punifhments
annexed to the obedience and difobedience both
of individuals and of their nation. And fince the
religion of the Gofpel is declared to be far more
pure and pcrfed:, of far more extenfive influence,
and defigned by heaven to illuminate the under-
Itandings and reform the morals of all the nations
of the earth, furely it ought to be, if not more per-
fpicuous, at leaft as univerfally intelligible, in all
thofe effential points, as the religion of the Mofaic
l^avv. And therefore, in every authentic fcripture
of the new covenant, not that to which the labour-
ed glofTes of learned ingenuity may wreft it, but
that which the words tliemfelves would naturally
luggeft to the illiterate reader, mull be the true
fenfe of every pafFage; a fenfe which no candid,
impartial realbner can I'uppofe to be unintelligible
to a large majority of readers both learned and un-
learned, and difcernible only by a few. The in-
coniprehenfibility therefore, or ambiguous obfcu-
rity of certain paflages, or their inconfiftency with
reafon or with other parts of fcripture which are


[ 75 ]

clear and plain and unlverfally intelligible^ may
furniHi us with a very ftrong aigument to ihew that
unlefs there are fatisfadtory marks of their interpo-
lation, the fcriptures which contain them cannot be
the works of the apoflles or primitive difciples of
Jefus Chrift; but whilft thofe fcriptures and thofe
paflages are allowed to be genuine, the fenie in
which the many, not that in which the few readers
underftand them, muft be fuppofed to be the fenfe
in which God intended they fhould be underftood.

When you have read the Doctor's anfwer as it
flands in article 3, I beg, Sir, you will turn to p.
226, of my treatife, and read the whole paffage
which he refers to. The perufal will fatisfy you,
that all the objections I have there urged remain
in full force. But it is curious to fee the Dodtor
(defend the authenticity of this Gofpel, at the ex-
pence of the veracityof thofe of Matthew and Mark
and ftili determine to adhere to all three as apofto-
lie hiftories of divine truths.

His remark on article 4, is exadlly fimiiar to the
laft. He allows the contradidlory falfehood to ex-
ift; and concludes it to be on the part of the wri-
ter called Matthew ; yet tells you it gives not "any
jufl grounds for arraigning the authenticity" of his

In article 5, what little the Do6lor has thought
fit to advance is merely hypothetical.

To my objedtion introduced in article 6, the
Dod:or anfwers only by afking whether it is necef-
fary, that every true, authentic book of fcripture
ihould contain fome prophecy ? To which I reply,
it is abfolutely necelTary. For fince I am affured
that the fpirit of prophecy ^ not the opinions of the
Fathers of the Church or of fuccedcing commen-

[ 76 ]

tators, is the tejlimony ofjefus; I can never admit
any book in evidence of the truth as it is in Jejus^
unlefs it is ftamped with the unqueflionable mark
of this celeftial atteflation. When Dr. Prieille^r^
tells you that the Gofpels "of Matthew and Mark
have as much of this internal evidence as that of
Luke," he raihly affirms what it is not in his pow-
er to prove; as I have fully fhewn in my exami-
nation of all the prophecies they feverally contain.

In anfwer to what Dr Prieflley is pleafed to call
my cavil, article 7, he gives you a curious fpecimen
of an enigma, which you find confifts in a man's fay-
ing that he himfelf will do, what he knows he can
not do, but what he believes another will do for
liim. As a Chriftian, the Dodtor knows that the
fame powerful being that raifed up Jefus from the
dead will alfo raife him up : but would this war=
rant his faying, deftroy this body and in the courfe
of a few years / will raife it up f In our Saviour,
however, he thinks fuch an enigmatical cxpreffion,
in plain Englifh, a direft falfehood is very allow-
able, becaufe *Mie was in no danger of being under-
flood to fay that a dead man could do any thing."
But according to this author Jefus was not proper-
ly a man; but, even before his death and refurrec-
tion, the Son of God, the Logos (which he calls God
himfelf) made jlejh. And Dr. Prieflley muft be very
ignorant of the arguments of the Trinitarians, if he
does not know that he has been for feveral centu-
ries fo underllood by a great majority of proi^lTed
Chriftians; and that much ftrefs is laid on this ve-
ry pafiage of fcripture to prove the divinity of Jefus

Having endeavoured to evade one palpable falfe-
hood under the name of an enigma, in article 8, he


[ 77 ]

xries to get rid of another by denominating it a fi-
gurative exprejjiofi. But if the words, a man JJjall
never jee death, fhall never iajle of death, Jloall never
die are not plain literal language devoid of every fi-
gurative meaning, I fliould be glad to know what
words are fo. You and I, Sir, have nothing to do
with the frivolous attempts of interpreters to ex-
plain away the grofleft abfurdities by changing the
M^ords as well as the fenfe of the author ; but with
Jthe obvious meaning of the author's own words;
and we know that the words never die cannot fig-
nify the fame as )?ot die for ever; and that they arc
fpoken of every man then living who believed on
him, not only of thofe who are to live at his coming,
I prefer a refidcnce in the country to on.e in the
metropolis; but fhould I fay / never abode in Lon-
don, becaufe / did not abide there for ever, no pre-
tence oi figurative meaning could exculpate me of

In article 9, the Dodtor not only introduces a
remark of mine upon a paffage in this Gofpel, but
alfo recurs back again to the Gofpel of Matthew.
If you will take the trouble of turning to both
the pages of my book, which he has quoted, you
will find in them both feveral irreconcileable con-
tradidions ftated, which muft be abfolute falle-
hoods on one fide or the other; and, in that re-
fpecfting John's Gofpel, one unanfwerable argu-
ment urged to prove that the author could not be
a Jew. Of all thcfe Dr. Pricftley takes not the
leaft notice; but in reply to my objedlion to both
paflages on account of the power laid to be given
to the Apoftles of forgiving or retaining whofcfo-
ever fins they pleafed, he tells you it was a power
exerted by our Saviour himfelf. One of the very


Zttms, indeed, of the new Covenant is the remiffion
©fall paft fins to thofe who faithfully receive it,
and fo-far all its preachers muft declare : but when
did Jefus retain any perfon's fins ? The Dodtor
tells you alfo that, *' whatever power Jefus had he
transferred it to the Apoftles." If this were true.
Sir, fince one of thofe powers mufl have been the
power of transferring them to others, the Apoftles
too, as the Priefthood of the orthodox and holy Ca-
tholic Church affirms, have transferred the very fame
pawers to their fucceflbrs; and every Priefl regu-
larly ordained has mm the power of forgiving or
fetaining fins at pleafure. Who then can wonder
at the earneft contention of even the reformed
Churches to prove their lineal fucceffion from
the Apoftles ) And what a pity it is that the Doc-
tor's anti-epifcopal ordination fhould bar his claim
to that valuable transfer ! Otherwife he might
have opened as pretty and perhaps as lucrative an
office for indulgencies, ahfolutions, and anathemas^ as
any Roman-Catholic Prieft or even the Pope him-

The only thing deferving your or my attention
m what the Doctor has faid on article lo, is his af-
fertion that God has been and will be worfhipped
with facrifices and oblations under the new covenant;
that is, by the faithful members of that covenant.
To prove the firft part of an afTertion fo repugnant
lareafon and to the plain fenfe of the moft authen-
tic fcriptures, he refers you to the cafe of Jefus and
his Apoftles who worftiipped God according to the
lites of Mofes; and for the latter, to his own pe-
culiar opinion that, at the converfion of the Jews
to Chriftianity, their temple at Jerufalem will be
tebuilt, and the Mofaic ritual of oblations and


L 79 J

burnt offerings reeflablilhed. But wliatever weight
his opinion may have with himlelf, as far .as I can

1 2 3 4 6 8 9

Online LibraryEdward EvansonA letter to Dr. Priestley's young man; with a postscript concerning the Rev. D. Simpson's essay ... in answer to Evanson's Dissonance and Volney's Ruins .. → online text (page 6 of 9)