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 7 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 7 of 9)
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judge, it will, in this cafe, have none at all with
any other thinking man. As to Jefus and his Apof-
ties, it muft be remembered that the promulgatioB
of the new covenant did not commence till the day
of Pentecoft, after our Lord's afcenfion ; and that
the religion of that new covenant cannot, in any
fenfe, be faid to have been properly eftabliihed in
the world till after the old covenant had been pro-
videntially abolifhed by the deftrudiionof the tem-
p]e and city of Jerufalem.

Article ii, is divided into two diflinft parts;
and what the Doftor has infinuated in the firft refts
entirely upon fuppolitions of the ancients and him-
felf, made without the ilighteft foundation from
the fcriptures. Their recourfe therefore to fuch
hypothefes fliews they were aware of the difficulty,
but does not remove it. The fecond part relates
to the cafe of Lazarus, who. Dr. Prieilley inti-
mates, was " ready to leave all and follow him,
but that Jefus had not required of him fo to do.**
But when you coniider that, on his fending out the
feventy other difciples to announce the fpeedy ap-
proach of the new covcnantof the kingdom of God,
he told them * that the harveft was plenteous, but
the labourers few; -and diredted them to pray/o tht
Im'd of the harvejl to fend forth labourers into his har-
veji; when lie told the young pharifee § that, if he
would complete his virtuous difpolition, he mult
Tell and diftribute all he had and come and follow
him ; can you believe that any man could be his
dearefl and moft beloved friend, who never follow-
jed him, nor gave up any worldly comfort jor con-

* Luke X. a- § Luke xviil. 72,

t So ]

Venience, nor took the leaft pains to forward the im-
portant objcdt of his million; but continued to live
inactively until his death with his family at Bethany^'
and then, according to this hillory, was mofl mira-
culouily reftored to life again, only that he might
remain as ufelefs for the purpofe of preaching the
Gofpel of the new covenant, as he had been before.
In article 12, the Doctor has quoted my objec-
tion to the miraculous transforraation of water in-
to wine; but he has not faid one word that can tend
to render credible a miracle iii its very nature fp
highly improper and improbable.
. In article 13, he acknowledges that the (lory al-
luded ro is attended with co,-ifiderable difficultieii
which he does not even attempt to remove; only
with a view to obviate one di;'liculty arifmg froni
our Saviour's being made to fay that the time of
that converfation was four months before the har-
vefl, he tells you, that is not the meaning of the
words; but it is merely a proverbial expreffion de-
noting that " the natural harveft followed the feed
time, at the diftanceof four months." If Dr. Priell-
ley, at his time of life, is really unacquainted with
the feafons of feed-time and harveft in the climate
of Paleiline, fince the duties of hisprofefiion requi-
red ot him a perfedt knowledge of the manners and
cufloms of the inhabitants, fuch ignorance niuft
appear as culpable, as it is unaccountable. Yet
jfince it would be ftill more unpardonable in him,
wilfully to alFert a falfehood, we muft fuppofe that
he does not know at what feafon their corn was
fown. Pleafe, therefore to inform him that, if he
will turn to the conclufion of Genefis, c. 8, he will
find feed-time and harveft put for feafons of the year
as diametrically oppofite to eachotheras/?/ww^r and


[ 8i ]

winter, and ufed with the latter to denote the four
regular feafons of the year, inftead of autumn and
Jprin^. Their barley harveft began firft; and, if he
will look for the word Barley in Calmet's diftiona-
ly, he will find that in Judea it wa& /own in autumn
and reaped in fpring. Or, if he will confult the
travels of the liberal-minded, intelligent Volney
into Egypt and Syria c. 2c. fee. 9, he will fee that,
from the nature of that climate it is impoflible it
ihould be otherwife; for that there are no rains to
render the grounds cultivable except about the
times of the equinoxes; that, therefore^ after the
autumnal rains are over, the inhabitants foiv their
barley and wheat in Od:ober, and begin their har-
veft in April; fo that the diftance between the two
feafons is nox. four, but^^: months; and the words of
this Gofpel are capable of no other fenfe than thay
in which I underftand them.

To my remark quoted in article 14, the anfwet
is quite hypothetical.

In article 15, to what I l\ave faid of the incredi-
ble hiflory of the Pool of Bethefda, the Dodtor
mentions an interpolation of the paffage which de-
fcribes the miraculous virtue of the water; an in-
terpolation that may well be doubted of, (though
fome copyifls have omitted the palTage, convinced
perhaps from the filence of every other writer that
it could not be true,) becaufe the impotent man's
anfwer to our Saviour implies the very fame; and
feems to ftand in need of the fourth and latter part
of the third verfe to make it clearly intelligible.
But fuppofe the whole to be a groundlefs fid:ion
palmed upon the writer, "how^, fays the Dodtor,
does this affedt his character ? He might have been
credulous, in this refped:, and yet his hiftory not

M the

[ S2 ]

the lefs authentic." You fee, Sir, that according
to Dr. Priefiiey provided you allow thcfe books to
be the genuine works of the apoftles, you may
deem the writers themfelves to be as ignorant, ill-
informed, fuperftitious, credulous old fools as you
pleafe. But I, Sir, and I hope you, expedt the cho-
fen meffengers of heaven to be men of a very dif-
ferent character from this; which mufl: as effed:u-
ally deftroy all rational confidence in what they
have told us, as if they were convid:ed of wilful
falfehood. And indeed if John was the writer of
this Gofpel, he muft alio have been the author of
this abfurd fid:ion, for he lived long at Jerufalem,
and therefore muft have known it to be falfe. As
he was one of the twelve too, he muft have been
prefentwith his matter at the time when the mira-
cle is faid to be wrought, fo that he muft relate it
as a fad: of which he himfelf was eye-witnefs,
and not as a thing taken for granted upon the credit
of another narrator.

The numerous contradi(ftions ftated in the paf-
fage quoted from my book in article i6, Dr. Prieft-
ley allows to exift; but tells you, it is more pro-
bable that the milinformation, i. e, the falfehood,
ihould be on the part of Luke's narration than of
John's. Should i: appear fo to you, Sir, I have in-
deed written to little purpofe^ But then you muft
of neceffity rejeft the Gofpel of Luke out of your
creed : for I cannot perfuade myfelf that you alfo
can be fo irrational, as to believe the truth of two
hiftories which flatly contradid: each other. As to
the groundlefs fuppofition "ahouz the preparation
of the pajover/' it will not bear a moment's confi-
deration ; becaufe when the author afferts that the
rulers of the Jews went not into the judgment hall*
that they might not by contamination be prevent-

[ 83 ]

ed trom eating the Pajfover, he plalnl)' tells us that
the Paffover remained to be eaten; whereas^ accor-
ding to all the other Gofpels^ it had been eaten the
evening before.

I vvili not fo far affront your underflanding, as to
take any notice ot the remaining fuppoiitions of the
Doftor's ninth letter. But with refpedt to the cir-
cumftance of our Lord's wafliing the apoftle's feet
upon what authority can he, v/ho allows the truth
of this hiftory, prefume to fay that it was not "in-
tended to be imitated literally?" When the exprefs
words of Jefus are faid to be, // / your Lord and
Majler have waffled your feeii (and he had literally
walhed them;) ye alfo ought (without doubt literal-
Iv) to wajh one a}20ther^s feet. For I have given you
an example f that ye JJooidd do as I have done untoyou>

The Dodtor's tenth letter to you is on the fubjedt
of the Epiftle to the Romans; and he begins with
telling you, I ought to fiiy "what, in my idea,
conilitutes a canonical book of the New Tefiament.*'
By a canonical book, I iuppofe he means a book wor-
thy to be admitted by a rational chriftian as the
rule of his religious faith and prad:ice. To confti-
tute fuch a book. Sir, in my idea, it is indifpeofa-
bly requifite, thatitlhould befreefrom all grounds
of reafonable doubt and fufpicion; that it fhould
have every poflible external it^iniOTq in its favour;
and contain every neceffary internal evidence of its
being the work of an apoftle or fome other primi-
tive difciple of Jefus commiffioned by him and both
naturally and fupernaturally qualified to proclaim
and teach the religion of the new covenant of the
kingdom ot God: and I think myfelf abundantly
warranted in rejecting out of my canon of holy fcrip-
ture every book or every pallage of a book which is


[ 84 ]

unable to (land thefe tefts of examination. Thq
Epiftle to the Romans, after mature and impartial
examination, appears to me to be one of tliofe and
therefore I rejed it, notwithftanding its containing
what Dr. Prieftley is pleafed to call an important
prophecy; for it is fo far from being a prophecy pe-
culiar to this Epiftle, that it is merely a reference
to pre-exifting prophecies attended with fuch ob-
fervations upon the ftate of the Jewifti nation at the
time of writing the Epiftle, as plainly Ihew that it
could not be written by any body till after their
final difperfion by the Romans.

In article i,the Doftor controverts fome obfer-
vations of mine founded on the information given
us in the laft chapter of the adts of the Apoftles.
Firft he is pleafed to quibble about my having
afked, who that other Apojlle to the Gentiles was
who preceded St. Paul at Rome? As if I, or any
perfon who had read that hiftory, could fappofe
that none but the twelve difciples of Jefus empha-
tically called Apojlles were commiflioned to preach
the Gofpel. I ufed the word there in its general
fenfe of mijfionary; and if either you or the Dodtor
choofe to fubftitute preacher of the Gojpel in its
room, it will anfwer my purpofe equally well.

He next tells you that, contrary to what I ap-
prehend to be the fenfe of the hiftorian, " it is e-vi-
dent that they were Chrijlians who met Paul at Pu-
teoli and Appii Forum." Yet the only circum-
llances, from which this evident propofition is in-
ferred, are that they are called Brethren; and that
upon ibme of them coming from Rome to Appii
Forum to meet them, Paul thanked God a?id took
courage. Now, Sir, young as you are, you muft
Isnow that though Chriftians called each pther bre^


C Si ]

ibren, becaufe they were taught to regard them*
felves as adopted fons of God, who like Jefus were
to be begotten by God to a future life of immor-
tality; and who, in the interim, compofed under
the new covenant one common family, united by
the bands of Chriftian love and benevolence; as
the Jews under the old covenant were literally all
one family, the common fons of Abraham, and
heirs of the promifes made to him through Ifaac;
yet that, throughout the whole hiilory of the Adls,
the Apoftles and other Chriftian teachers always
call even the unconverted Jews brethren; and that
fuch they certainly \vere. From the word Brethren
alone, therefore, it is impoffible to difcover whe-
ther the perfons here fpoken of were Jews or Chrif-
tians. But Dr. Prieftley infinuates that they muft
have been Chriftians, becaufe, on feeing thofe who
came from Rome to meet them, it is faid Paul
took courage. Before this time. Sir, you have
feen that the Dodtor and I view the fame objects
through fuch different mental optics, that you will
not be furprifed to find that the very circumftanee
of Paul's taking courage at their fight, helps to
convince me that they mull be Jews. For it was
againfl: an accufation of the Jews that Paul had ap-
pealed unto C^far, and to be tried before the Em-
peror was the caufe of his being brought prifoner
to Rome. In fuch a fituation, any friendly notice
taken of him by Chrifl:ians, had there been any
there at that time, however agreeable to him, could
have given him no caufe of courage or confidence
refpe£ting his expedled imprifonment and her.ring
before Nero : but fuch a token of national friend-
fhip from the Jews of Rome might well give him
courage and confidence in his caufe; as it was an


[ 86 ]

evident proof that they had not been inftigated a-
gainft him by their brethren in Judea; and that no
Jew there was prepared to carry on the profecution
againft him. Yet fuch a concluiion Dr. Prieftley
thinks very extraordinary ; and would perfuade you
that there was a Chriftian Church at Rome " con-
fining of both Jews and Gentiles/" before Paul
was commiffioned to preach the Gofpel in Greece :
though there is not in any other hiftory the flight-
eft foundation for fuch an opinion; though it is
diredtly contrary to the hiftory of Silas or Luke,
which plainly teaches us that the light of the Gof-
pel proceeded from Jerufalem, as from a centre,
extending itfelf gradually in all diredions, and that
before the vilion of Paul at Troas, Chriftianity had
never been taught beyond the limits of Alia to-
wards Europe ; though the Jews at Rome were fa
far from knowing that any of the Gentiles had been
converted, that they fpoke of Chriftians to St. Paul
as of a Je£l only of their own nation ; and though,
on their rejecting the dodlrine of the Gofpel preach-
ed by him to them firft, as was his cuftom every
where, he told them thai falutary do<ftrine was to
be preached to the Gentiles alfo, and ihey, fays he,
will hear, not have heard it, which latter phrafe he
muft have ufed, if a Chrijlian Church of Jews and
Gentiles had been eftablilhed at Rome fome years

What the Dodtor has thought proper to add re-
fpedtingthe public reading of the Epiftles in Chrif-
tian Churches will be coniidered, when I come to
give a general reply to all his arguments of that

In articles 2 and 3, nothing is advanced which
y^oUf Sir, can think merits a reply. But he tries to


evade the infuperable objedtion alluded to in arti"
cle 4, by fuppofing that the writer did not fpeak
of the feverity of God towards the Jews difplayed
in their Jail, their cafting away, and their being cut
off, in reference to events already paft; but as
prophetically forefeeing that this fevere infliftion
of the divine judgments would come upon them a
few years afterwards in confequence of their gene-
ral unbelief. It is not poffible, however, that any
writer endowed with common fenfe fhould argue
in fuch a manner, and expeft to convince any bo-
dy by reafoning upon predidled events before their
accomplifliment, as if they had already taken place.
Paul could not call upon the Romans to beholdxh^t
feverity of the divine juilice, which exifted only in
idea; and which they could not be certain would
ever be inflicted till the prophecies which excited
that idea were fulfilled by the event. Our Saviour
limply predi<S:ed, during his life, his own refurrec-
tion; and after that event was accomplifhed, he
informed his difciples and they taught all other
converts to the religion of the new covenant that,
as he the firjl s zvas rifen, fo they alfo would be
raifed from the dead at his coming. But had Jefus
and thofe he commiflioned to announce the approach
of the Gofpel covenant whilil he was alive, becaufe
of that prediction, called out upon the people to
behold that Jefus the firft fruits was rifen from the
dead; and that therefore all who would become
his difciples would rife to another life after death,
inftead of convincing any body, their hearers muft
have concluded that they were ablblutely out of
their fenfes.

In the firft article of his eleventh letter, the
Doftor makes a very feeble attempt to evade one


C 88 ]

^art of my objedllon to the Epiille to the Ephe=
iians arifmg from the language in which the au-
thor addreffes them, which is that of an entire
Granger, though Paul was the firft preacher of
Chriftianity at Ephefus ; but he takes hot the leaft
notice of that flill more infuperable part of it^
which arifes from the writer's doubting whether
they had heard of his Apoftlelhip, and referring
to a former letter he had written to them, as
the only means whereby they might underjiand his
knowledge in the myjlery ofChriJi. To feem to make
amends, however, for this extraordinary omiffion
in himfelf, the Doctor tells you that "Ignatius
appears to have read the Epiftle to the Epheiians^
jjnd Polycarp that to the Philippians." This he
infers from certain dubious paitages in the Epif-
tles publifhed in their names. But I do aflure you,
Sir, after examining all the evidence that can be
produced in their favour, I am thoroughly fatisfied
/as I thought Dr. Prieftiey muft have been) that
thofe -Epiftles were neither the production of the
pens nor of the age of Polycarp and Ignatius : al-
though, were they ever fo genuine, and the pafTa-
ges alluded to ever fo explicit, fuch a reference
could never prove thofe two Epillles to have been
written by St. Paul. It would only prove that
their faith in Chrift, like that of fo many millions
more, of their own and later times, was not duly
combined with knowledge and underjlanding.

The Doctor's attempt to anfwer my objedlions
mentioned in the fecond article, confifts entirely in
hypothelis. And thofe of the five or fix remain-
ing articles he alTures you are fo 'manifejlly weak and
trifling that " it cannot be neceffary to reply to
Jihem" there is therefore nothing for me to anfwer;


[ S9 ]

and all you have to do, Sir, is to read my book
attentively and judge for yourfelf.

Before he concludes this letter he thinks proper
again to reprefent me to you as perfedtly unac-
quainted with the fources of his own profound
learning and critical fcience; and tells you that
" if Mr. Evanfon had read that truly mafterly
piece of criticifm, the Hor^ Paulina of Mr. Paley,
he would have faved himfelf the trouble of wri-
ting his treatife, and him that of anfwering it."
Now, Sir, happening to have fome perfonal know-
ledge of Mr. Paley, and being well acquainted,
with his eminent abilities, erudition and liberal
candour, I read that work almeil as foon as it was
publifhed, with avidity and with the greater atten-
tion, becaufe of the judgment I myfelf had long
formed of thofe very Epirtles. And I devoutly
wifli that every profeffional teacher of religion
would imitate the worthy Archdeacon's highly
meritorious example in fo diligent, rational and.
ufeful a mode of ftudying the facred fcriptures.
I know nothing which would more effedtually lead
to the diftindtion of authentic from fpurious fcrip-
tures, of religious truth from fabulous falfehood.
But the refult of my reading Mr. Paley's ingeni-
ous performance, (which I earneftly recommend
to your perufal, ior the fame purpofe) was to
ftrengthen my convidtion that thofe Epiftles of
Paul, which I have ftated as his, were really writ-
ten by that Apoflle; whilft the arguments deduced
from the fame fource in favour of thofe which I
rejedt are to me by no means equally fatisfadtory ;
and feem far from fufficient to remove the objec-
tions which I have urged againfl: their authen-

N The

[ 90 ]

The twelfth and concluding letter with which
Dr. Prieftley has favoured you, Sir, is of a very ex-
traordinary kind indeed. As if I had given no
reafons for my preference of the Gofpel of Luke ;
as if I had not produced internal evidence of the
authenticity of both his hiftories far fuperior to
any thing contained in the three other Gofpels ;
he again mifreprefents me to you as having been
led to give that preference by mere chance or ca-
price, and goes on to amufe himfelf with giving
you a few fpecimens of the manner in which, he
fays, I might have " objected to the Gofpel of
Luke, had I been previouily fo difpofed." Yet this
fame Gentleman, in his preface to thefe letters,
tells you, p. 7, that " in my early years I muft have
been taught and habituated to perufe the whole of
the New Teflament with nearly equal refpeft."
How then could I be previoujly difpofed to objedt to
any of them? How could I be induced to prefer
one Gofpel and rcjedi the others, by any other mo-
tives than thofe which a more ftudious and atten-
tive perufal of thofe fcriptures, and of the hiftori-
cal evidence adduced in their favour, fuggelled to
my mind? Thofe motives and the arguments on
which thev are founded are now before the public;
and if they are really futile and weak, as the Doc-
tor repeatedly tells you they are, it muft be very
eafy to refute them: Dr. Prieftley, however, is
very far from having refuted even fuch of them as
he has picked out on purpofe to anfwer; and ma-
ny of the ftrongeft an^ moft important he has palT-
ed over in profound filence. Of the proofs urged
that the pretended Marthew and John could not
be Jews, becaufe their writings fhew that they did
not even reckon their time as the Jews did, with


[ 9J 3

ieveral other objedlions, which do not apply to
Luke, and which are equally difficult to furmount,
he takes not the leaft notice. And though in p. 40,
he has, in a very mutilated, unfair manner, quoted
the concluiion of the argument ftated in my pre-
face as ariiing from the prophecies, to fliew that,
in order to their completion, it is abfolutely necef-
lary that fevcral of the canonical fcriptures of the
Apoftate Church fhould be found fabulous and
falfe, efpecially thofe on which her fundamental
articles of faith are built, he does not make the
leaft mention of the argument itfelf.

I have already replied to what he here repeats
concerning interpolations, which comes with a very
ill grace from a man who himfeif aiierts there are
fo many, beliJes tranfpofitions not only of iingle
paflages, but of entire chapters : and I certainly
fhall not wafte your time nor my own in remark-
ing the objediions which he fays might be made to
thofe parts of the Gofpel of Luke that I have en-
deavoured to prove could not be written by him.

As to the inconfiftency between Luke and Paul
refped:ing the five hundred brethren by whom the
latter fays Jefus was feen after his refurredtion, if
it was before his afcenfion, Luke has been fo par-
ticularly exad in ftating the number of the difci-
pies at that period, and their fubfequent gradual
increafe to five thoufand, that the error muft be in
St. Paul's Epiftle, not of his making, but made
perhaps undefignedly by the tranfcriber's miftak-
ing the letter p, 100, for the letter (p, 500: for if,
as appears moil probable, all his difciples that at-
tended him to Jerufalem were witnelTes of his af-
cenfion, fince their number amounted to about 120,
St. Paul might juftly fay he was feen by above 100


[ 9^ ]

brethren at once; but his difciples never amonnted
to 300, before the day of Pentecoft.

That Dr. Prieflley Ihould underltand being caft
into unquenchable fire, (the figurative phrafe ufed
by the Baptift and in the book of the Revelation,
to denote what Paul, in plain language, calls ut-
ter deJiru6lion) to fignify the fame as exiflence in
everlajling puniJJoment, appears very extraordinary
to me. But it is flill m.ore furprifing that, on
fuch an occafion, he fhould refer you to the para-
ble of the rich man and Lazarus ; for it is an apo-
logue founded upon the popular, fuperftitious i-
deas of the Jews, with a view, like that of all other
apologues, to enforce upon them a particular doc-
trine. He therefore who fhould from that parable
infer any thing refpedting the intermediate ftate of
the dead, might juft as reafonably infer from the
apologue of the bramble and fruit trees in the old
Teftament that, in Judea, the trees fpoke like men
and eledied themfelves a king. The parable, how-
ever, teaches one and that the only dodtrine it was
defigned to teach in a manner fo ftriking, as merit-
ed much greater attention from Dr. Prieftlcy than
he feems hitherto to have thought proper to pay
it. Its fole and obvious intent was to teach the
hearers and through them all mankind, that the
tejlimony of prophecy is the only neceflary, the on-
ly fatisfadtorv evidence of the certainty of re-
vealed religion : and that wherever that fails, the
greatefl ot miracles would be unable to work
convidtion. If, fays our Lord, they believe not
Mojes and the prophets, neither will they be perfuaded
though one rofe from the dead. Such is the dodtrine
of this parable; and the v^^hole hiflory of the Jews
from the refurredtion of Jefus to the prefent time,

1 2 3 4 5 7 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 7 of 9)