William Stevenson.

A conference upon the miracles of our Blessed Savior : wherein all the objections against them proposed in Mr. Woolston's six Discourses, and several other greater difficulties, are fully stated and considered ... online

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fing that they afiembled together the evening
after the Paflbver ; and that the fraud of fteal-
ing away the body of Jefus was then to be con-
certed : is it credible that fuch poor, artlefs, well
meaning Men fhou'd contrive or attempt fuch
an impofture ? Before this time, they gave fuffi-
cient proofs indeed of their ignorance, weak-
nefs, and ilownels of apprehenfion ; but there
appears no reafon to fufpect their Virtue and In-
tegrity. We cannot conceive it poflible that
men of their Character, and (lender abilitys,
ihou'd fo fuddenly change all their Views and
Conduct; abandon Truth* Honour and Pro-
4 bity ;

our SAV i o u RS Miracles. 307

bity i and contrive a fenfelefs, wickedy dano-e- SECT. VI-
rous Im pod ure.

M. When people are at a plunge, they will
attempt the moft abfurd and feemingly imprac-
ticable things. The Apoftles had not time to
weigh and confider things fully. The Propofol
might appear fomewhat plaufible at firft view.
And fmce they had not leifure for much deli-
beration, they might come into it rafhly : and
meeting with fuccefs in their firft Attempt, they
were the more encouraged afterwards to go on.

N. We muft not proceed too faft. It will
be time enough to talk of fuccefs, when the Pro-
ject appears to be pojjible. Let me ask you
whom you fancy to have been the firft devyfer
of this fraud ?

M. I cannot tell which of them it was. Pe-
ter feems to have been the boldeft. He cou'd
curfe and fwear like a Trooper. And his de- Difc
n yi n g 7 e fa thrice, mows that he was capable
of any thing.

N. He had mown fiich fhameful cowardice
and falfhood in denying his Mafter, while he
thought him capable of defending himfelf and
his Difciples from danger ; that he cou'd not
offer fuch a fhocking propofal to the reft now,
when Jefus was dead j and that they had no lon-
ger any hopes from him. He cou'd not expedl
that any one of them wou'd bear the thoughts
of fudi a bafe ridiculous Impofture : He found
by experience that he cou'd not depend upon
himfelf, and his-own Steddynefs, even in doing
his duty, when there was little or no danger to
difcourage him from it : and therefore he cou'd
not pofiibly rely upon the courage, fecrecy, and
refolute wickednefs of thofe whom he knew to
be as weak and timorous as himfelf j and unac-
X 2 quauited

3 o 8 A Conference upon

SECT- VI quainted with the arts of Fraud, and Hypocrify.
.cs, if the impofture of ftealing away
Carift's body cou'd have appear'd feafible to
him ; he cou'd not have had the Boldnefs to
propofe it. He muft have feared (and been af-
fured) that one or other of the Difciples wou'd
have gone and difcover'd it to the Chief-Priefts
and Pharifees , and have been glad of fuch a
favourable opportunity to fecure themfelves from
the danger they now dreaded -, and to procure
Honour and Advantage by difclofing the Fraud.
Common Honefty, Self-prefervation, Intereft,
and Duty, muft have led them to it. So that
Peter, or whoever elfe you may imagin was to
contrive and propofe the Impofture, cou'd not
but forefee it wou'd be difcover'd fome time or
other. And the dread of its being difclofed by
fome of the Difciples before he cou'd efcape from
Juftice, muft have deterr'd him from communi-
cating fuch a wicked Project to them > if he
himfelf were fuppofed bafe and foolifh enough
to devyfe it. And yet Infidels who reject the
moft credible and beft-attefted Facts, can be-
lieve that this impracticable hazardous project
was readily acquiefced in by all the Apoftles ;
and executed fuccefsfully before they parted. I
cannot conceive any thing more extravagant and
incredible than this. Indeed the Suppofition is
morally impoflible.

M. I don't well know what you mean by a
thing's being morally impoflible. If it was pof-
fible at all ; that is enough. I mail afterwards
prove that it muft have been actually true.

N. A thing is morally impojfible when it is al-
together inconfiitent with the Principles, No-
tions, Views, and Motives that influence moral
Agents ; and help to determin them as to the na-
ture, manner, and circumftances of their ac-

ti ens.

our SAV i OURS Miracles. 3 09

tions. Thus it is morally impoffible for a wife SECT. VI-
Man to aft often like a Fool ; and deliberately
to do the moft abfurd and extravagant things :
or for any man, while he continues in his Senies,
to murder himfelf, or his neighbour, in cool
blood, without the leaft Provocation, Paffion,
or any profpect of eafe, or advantage. It is
morally impoffible that the fame kind of Mad-
nefs mou'd at the fame time feize feveral per-
fons ; and fliow itfelf in the fame manner, by a
feries of regular (but extravagant) actions. For
inftance, it is morally impoffible that our twelve
Judges mou'd agree to dance together publickly
at Court, the next Birth-night ; or to go to the
Play-houfe together in their Robes : or that half
our Bifhops (hou'd go and try whether they
cou'd convert the Pope and Cardinals ; and efta-
blim the Proteftant Religion in Italy. It is mo-
rally impoffible that a number of People, with-
out any view of-Intereft, or Pleafure, mou'd
combine together to impofe upon the world, by
falfe reports : or that we mou'd be deceived in
relying upon the teftimony of credible Perfons,
who folemnly declare they faw or heard the
things they relate to us. Thus it is morally im-
poffible we mou'd be deceived in believing that
there are fuch IJlands (or Country <s at leaft) as Ja-
pan, Borneo, and California : that Julius C&far
was murder'd in the Senate : that Jefus was cru-
cify'd at Jerufalem in the reign of .Tiberius-, and
that his Apoftles teftify'd his refurrection, and
made numerous Converts at Rome, and through-
out feveral parts of the Roman Empire foon af-
ter: that St. Paul and Pliny wrote the Epiftles
that pafs under their names : that William the
Conqueror reign'd in England: and that King
Charles the firft was beheaded before his-own
Palace : tho, by the way, there is not now
X 3 greater

310 A Conference upon

SECT. VI. greater Evidence for the truth of this laft and
s -"v^~> late Fact, than there is for the refurrection of
Jefus. Once more : feeing all men have a na-
tural and invincible de fire of Happinefs; whe-
ther they place it chiefly in the enjoyment of
Honour, Power, Pleafure, or Wealth , or in
the purfuit and practice of Truth and Virtue:
it is morally impoflible that any twelve Men
fhou'd agree together to renounce all profpecl
of the common Means of Happinefs ; and im-
ploy their life in preaching, and feemingly prac-
tifing Juftice, Charity, Candour, Temperance,
and every thing that is good, and virtuous ;
while at the fame time they really and induftri-
oufly propagate what they know to be a wicked
Jmpofture ^ and yet expect Oppofition, Con-
tempt, Difgrace, Perfecution, dayly Toils and
Hazards, and at laft Death itfelf, as the only re-
ward of all their Labours. This is not only mo-
rally impoflible j but as naturally impoflible as
that the heavyeft Bodys fhou'd move without
any impulfe: or that the mofl furprizing Effects
fhou'd be produced without a fufficient Caufe.
When twelve Quakers travel through Spain and
Italy to propagate their notions of Religion-,
and publickly preach againft Popifh Idolatry
and Superftition, in the ftreets of Rome, or
Madrid ; I mail grant that Enthufiafm is capa-
ble of leading Men to the moil abfurd and ha-
zardous Attempts. But even this wou'd not
prove that it is fo much as pojjible^ for any Set of
Men whatever, to run the fame hazards in order
to propagate what they know to be a vile intr
fofture j while they have no view of Honour,
Pleafure, or Profit in the Succefs of it. This
js fo contrary to all the experience and notions
we ha,ve j and to all the Views, Pafiions, and

. "Working^

our SAV i o u RS Miracles. 3 1 1

"Workings of human-nature *, that we cannot but SECT. VI.
conclude it to be abfolutely impoflible.

y*. Did not Mahomet devyfe and carry on fuch
an Impofture ?

N. Not without the faireft views of Intereft
and Advantage. He had not only the profpeft
but the * foffeffion of power, credit^ and the moft
brutifh heights of criminal pleafure in the gra-
dual fuccefs of his Impofture. He met with the
moft ignorant credulous people j who had fcarce
any fenfe at all of Religion ; and were therefore
the more eafily prevail'd on to follow him with
tlae moft implicite obedience. He taught fuch
doctrine as was exactly fuited to the warlike
Temper and luftful Inclinations of thofe he fe-
duced. He wrought no Miracles ; nor preten-
ded to work any. His followers took his word
for his journey to Heaven one night upon a
Beaft ; and the Angel Gabriel's attending him
thither with feventy pair of wings : and they be-
lieved that, in every Fit he had of the Falling-
ficknefs, that Angel came to him with a new
revelation. When he was blamed for his Poli-
gamy, Adultery, and Lyes ; he ftill framed a
new Chapter of his Alcoran to vindicate his Con-
duct-, and pretended a warrant from Heaven
for all his wickednefs. He run no other hazard
by promoting his Fictions, than any-one muft
do who propofes Dominion and Conqueft over
others, and the enjoyment of the moft immoral
and infamous Pleafures, as the chief aim of his
actions. None were fo much expofed to danger
as thofe who oppofed him. His notions were
fpread at firft by the moft fubtle Addrefs, and
afterwards by the utmoft P'orce and Violence.
And conquelt over hisEnemys, was own'd to be

See Dean Pridetux's Life of Mekcmet.

X 4 the

3ii A Conference upon

SECT. VI. the moft convincing Proof he- cou'd give of his
V*v*v-> Doctrine. The Character and Conduct of Je-
fus and his Difciples were in all refpects as con-
trary to Mahomet's, as light is to darknefs ; Vir-
tue, to Vice ; and Truth, to Impofture. They
patiently bore the moit unjuft reproaches and
injurious treatment. They lived contentedly
under poverty, difgrace. perfecution, and con-
aCor.xi. tinual afflictions. St. Paul tells us that he and
the other Apofdes fuffered hunger and nakednefs,
ch. vi. 4, 5. Jiripes and imprisonment ; and day ly perils, necef-
fitys and diftrejjes. Under thefe, no thing cou'd
poffibly have fupported them but the teftimony
of their Confcience ; and the afiured hopes of
endlefs Glory and Happinefs in Heaven, which
yefus promifed them as the reward of their faith-
ful and patient continuance in well doing. Hi-
therto then it does not fo much as appear pof-
fible that any Set of Men, however wicked
they were, if they be allowed any fliare of coin-
mon-fenfe, fhou'd undertake fuch an impoilure
as you charge upon the Apoflles..

M. The Project was very hazardous, diffi-
cult, and difcouraging ; and what we cou'd not
fuppofe they wou'd have undertaken, if we had
not fufficient Proof of it from fubfequent Fads.
TV. We mail confider your proof afterwards.
Let us firft obferve their Conduct after the death
of yefus ; and fee whether thai, gives any reafon
to fufpecl: their having concerted any Fraud as
to his refurreclion. When he was crucify'd
they fcem to have been in the moft deftitute de-
jefted condition. On the firft day of the week,
joh xx. 19. they were afiembled together fecretly for fear
of the Jews. What was the fubjecl: of their con-
Mark xvi. iultation does not appear: but it feems they
faourn'd together, and wept, when the women
brought them the news of Cbrifi's refurrectioii :


our SAV i o u R'J Miracles. 313

and fo little did they exped it -, that they wou'd SECT. VI,
fcarce believe their-own eyes, when he appeared *fC^>*

,, J , \ r , L.UK. XXIV.

to them, as they iat together at meat. Is there u.
any thing in this part of their behaviour, that ^ trk Wl *
looks like Artifice or Fraud? If they had ftole
away the body of Jefus, and defign'd to deceive
the world into the belief of his refurre&ion ;
they wou'd not have fhown themfelves fo back-
ward to believe it. They wou'd rather have
been ready to confirm the women, and every o-
ther perfon in their miftake. They muft have
feem'd to expett it i and have fhown the utmoft
joy and fatisfa6tion when they firft heard the
welcome news. They wou'd have told the wo-
men that this was what Jefus declared to them
often before his death ; what the Scriptures
foretold ; and that they were fure the Almighty
wou'd not fuffer his Holy-one to fee corruption, pfti.xvi.ift>
But inftead of this, the Apoftles look't on the
women's words as no better than idle tales j and
did not believe them.

M. This was nothing but fham, and refined
policy, to carry on their Fraud the more fuc-
cefsfully , and prevent the difcovery of it. They
feem indeed to have carry'd things too far, when
they pretended to grieve and mourn, as if they
had no hopes of Chrift's rifing again : and af-
terwards to disbelieve the very thing that they
were to publifh to the world. But it is com-
mon for Hypocrites to difcover themfelves by
over-acting their part.

N, There is a great difference betwixt Hy-
pocrites' over-atting a part ; and their acting
the very reverfe to what their part requires ; as
you mud fuppofe the Apoftles to have done in
the prefent cafe. Their conduct was altogether
inconfiftent with your Suppofition of Fraud.
If they had ftole the body of Jefus, and de-


314 -^ Conference upon

SECT. VI. fign'd to propagate the belief of his being rifen ;
they themfelves wou'd not have been the firft to
doubt of it : and when it was reported to them
by others, who faw him, they wou'd not have
disbelieved it ftill, with a furprizing degree of
obftinacy. There cou'd be no room for ailing
fuch an inconfiftent part as you fuppofe they
did ; nor the leaft pretence for feeming to doubt
of a Fad which you fancy they then defign'd,
(and muft have wifh't) to make others believe.
The thing was in itfelf highly probable even be-
fore they heard of it from the Women. They
had feen Jefus raife the dead ; and had heard
him declare plainly that he ihou'd rife on the
third day after his death : and therefore when
they found that his Body was gone from the Se-
pulchre, they ought to have concluded that he
was certainly rifen, according to his own pre-
diction. They had feen other of his Prophecys
punctually fulfill'd : fo that they ought firmly
to have believ'd that his prophecy concerning
his rifing again wou'd likewife be verifyed. No
thing but dulnefs, inattention, forrow, defpair,
and dejection of Spirit cou'd have led them to
doubt of it ! But certainly if they had then de-
fign'd to make others believe that Jefus was ri-
fen ; they themfelves wou'd never have -preten-
ded to queftion it ; but wou'd have induftri-
oufly confirm'd the Faith, (or, as you reckon
it, the miftake and delufion) of the women who
firft reported it. Befides, upon the fuppofition
of Fraud, it is impofiible to account for the
women's receiving the firft news of the Refur-
rection. Had it come from the Apoftles, or
any one of them, there might have been fome
(lender pretence (tho no juft reafon) for fufpect-
ing Fraud in the cafe. And indeed if there had
been any Fraud i they themfelves muft firft


cur SAV i o u R 5 5 Miracles. 3 1

have fpread about the news of Cbrift's being ri- SKCT - VI.;
fen. But on the contrary the matter was frft
declared in a miraculous manner to the women
who came early in the morning to the fepulchre
to anoint and embalm the body of Jefus. There
they faw an Angel, whofe countenance was
like lightning, and his garments mining, andkexxiv.
white as fnow. And when the women were af- 4<
.frighted, the Angel faid to them, " Why feek v - 5*6* 7-
" ye the living among the dead ? He is not
" here ; but is rifen : remember how he fpake
* unto you when he was yet in Galilee ; faying,
the Son of Man muft be delivered into the
" hands of fmful Men ; and be crucify 'd, and
*' the third day rife again." This Fact, con-
firm'd by the terror, and flight, (and teftimony) Mat.xxviii;
of the Souldiers who watch' t the Sepulchre, seevr.w
when they felt an Earthquake, and faw one in a
glorious Form roll away the Stone from thcVer.2.
door of it-, fufficiently proves the truth of
Cbrift's refurreftion -, and removes all fufpicion
of Fraud from the Apoitles.

M. I'm furprized that you fliou'd argue fo
long againft the foffibility of a Fraud that can
be evidently proved. By the teftimony of Mat"
tbew it appears that the Chief-priefts were ap-
prehenfive of an impofture , and took the moft
prudent meafures they cou'd to prevent it. They
apply 'd themfelves to Pilate in a Speech wherein Difc. 6. p.t:
they plainly allude to a former impojfare of Je-
fus ; which cou'd be no other than that which
they had difcovered in the pretended refurrec-
tion of Lazarus. Inflead of the loft Error, as
it is in your tranflation, it fhou'd be the laft im-
pofture will be ivorfe than tbe firft. If the Rab-
bi's criticifm, and application be juft and true, m. P . 4 :
the confequence is, that the refurrections of Je-
fm and Lazarus are both impoftures.

N. Your

3 1 6 A Conference upon

SECT. VI. N. Your Argument I think is this. If b

avjj the Chief-priefts meant deceit or *>
ture } (which, to pleafe you, I'll at prefent mp-
pofe they did ;) and pointed at the refurreclion
of Lazarus as a former impofture that Jefus had
been guilty of} then the confcquence is, that
the refurrections of Jefus and Lazarus are both
impoftures. What a furprizing blunder is this !
Without the help of this trifling criticifm, and
a precarious gueffing at what the Chief-priefts
meant by 7rA*vj ; you might by the fame way
of reafoning, prove that Jefus was not only a
Deceiver or Impoftor ; but in a confederacy with
Devils: for the Priefts and Pharifees manifeflly
charged him with this too. And your Friend's
Argument fuppofes that their faying fo was a fuf-
ficient proof of it. But if the Chief-priefts
without any dark hint, or ambiguous exprefllon,
had told Pilate in plain terms that Jefus had
been guilty of a vile impofture in his pretended
raifmg of Lazarus, and that therefore it was
nec'efiary to fet a guard at his Sepulchre to hin-
der his Difciples from ftealing his body away,
and fay ing that he was rifen; left this loft impof-
ture (if it fucceeded) fhou'd be ivorfe than the
frsJ : wou*d this have proved Jefus or his Dif-
ciples to be guilty of what the Chief-priefts laid
to their charge ? If they had known, or fufpect-
ed any fraud in the raifmg of Lazarus^ we may
be fure they wou'd not have minced the matter,
nor been content with giving Pilate a diftant
hint of their meaning. They wou'd have fpoke
out their mind in the plaineft terms. The
truth is, they had not the leaft fufpicion of any
Fraud in the cafe of Lazarus > as I proved fuf-
ficiently before. By TrAavj? they meant the falu-
fion of the People : and told Pilate that if the
Difciples fhou'd fteal away their Mailer's bo-

our SAV i o u R'J Miracles* 317

dy, and fay he was rifen from the dead, the laft SECT. VI;
delufion of the people after this pretended refur-
rection, wou'd be greater, or worfe, than the
former. The Pharifees and their Followers had
charg'd him before this, with deluding or fedu-
cing the feo^le ; 'AA# srA#v<* ?ov O^AOV.
this is all that the Chief-priefts meant by arA'v)j
in their addrefs to Pilate. They were afraid that
the people wou'd be more ftrongly influenced,
(or as they call'd it, deluded) by the belief of
his Refurre&ion, than they were by the Miracles
he wrought in his life-time: or, in other words,
that the laft delufion [of the people] wou'd be
worfe than tie firft. But if it cou'd be proved
that the Chief- Priefts pointed at ttye refurrection
of Lazarus ; and meant to call that an impofture >
this wou'd only mow that they were fpiteful e-
nough to load Jefus with the moft malicious re-
proaches. As for the Confequence that Mr. W.
draws from the Rabbi's application of 7rAa'v>} to Difc 6> ,
the raifing of Lazarus, (fuppofmg the Criticifm4i-
to be right) it is one of the grofleft blunders he
ever made. I need not expofe it farther. You
yourfelf muft now perceive the abfurdity of it.

M. This is but an incidental remark that does
not affect the Rabbi's main proof of Fraud ta-
ken from the fecret breaking of the Seals put on
the Stone of the Sepulchre. The j<ws cou'd Dlfc 6 . p .
not poflibly devyfeabetterfecurityagainftFraud 10 -
than what they took. They fealed the Stone at
the mouth of the Sepulchre j and placed a guard
of Souldiers about it.

N. The placing a guard at the door of the
Sepulchre was an effedtual fecurity both againft
Fraud and Violence. But the fealing of the
Stone cou'd be of no fervice.

N. What

5 1 8 A Conference upon

SECT. VI. JVf. What better fecurity cou'd pofTibJy be
V-OP^ devyfed for preventing or detecting any Fraud,
than fealing the Stone ?

N. It cou'd be no fecurity at all : becaufe if
Jefus really rofe early on the third day, he cou'd
not come out of the Sepulchre without break-
ing the Seals. And fince they muft have been
broken in cafe of an early refurrection ; it is ab-
furd to make that a proof of Fraud, or a fecu-
rity againft it, which muft unavoidably have
happen'd in cafe Jefus really rofe fooner than the
Chief-priefts expected he wou'd.

M. But this early rifmg is the very thing that

Difc.6. p. the Rabbi infifts upon as a fufficient Proof of

" Fraud. The Chief-priefts carefully feal'd the

Stone of the Sepulchre ; which they defign'd to

be prefent at the opening of, on the third day,

the time appointed by himfelf for his refurrec-

tion ; and then to give ample fatisfaction to the

people, either that he was really rifen, or that

there cou'd be no refurrection of his Body.

j> . But notwithftanding this precaution in fealing

of the Stone, Jefus's body was privately flipt off

early in the morning of the day before , and a

refurrection was pretended by hisDifciples. And

yet you wou'd have people believe there was no

fraud in the Cafe -, tho confelfedly none of the

Sealers of the Sepulchre were prefent : who can

believe it ? Can there be any impofture more a-

gainft Senfe and Reafon palm'd upon the under-

Difc. 6. p. ftandings of mankind? You may as well fay,

17 when a fealed Clofet is broken open and the

Treafure gone, without the Privity of the Sig-

nators, that there is no wrong done ; as that in

the tefurrection of Jefus there was no fraud.

The Cafes are equal and parallel.

N. If the Signators had a right to the Clofet,
or the Treafure i it cou'd not be open'd by o-


our S AV i o u R'$ Miracles. 5 r p

ther hands without fome fufpicion of Fraud. SECT. VI.
But if it was arbitrarily feal'd ; it might be v -"v^-'
warrantably open'd by the owner of the Trea-
fure , or by one that had an authority fuperior
to the Signator's : which was the Cafe in the re-
furrection of Jefus. The Chief-priefts had no
right to the Sepulchre ; nor to feal it up. The
treafure in it belonged to Jefus ; who was under
no obligation to regard their arbitrary act ; but
might freely break their Seals, and come out of
the Sepulchre at any hour he pleafed on the
third day. He acted by an Authority far fupe-
rior to that of Pilate or the Chief-priefls. And
to pretend that his breaking their Seals was un-
juftifiable, or a proof of fraud, is highly ab-
furd. If Jefus really rofe from the dead ; who
muft have raifed him ?

M. None cou'd do it but God.
N. Might not God raife him to life at any
hour of the third day that he thought proper ?
M. Doubtlefs.

N* If God then raifed up Jefus very early on
the third day ; was he not at liberty to come out
of the Sepulchre as foon as his life was reftored ?
M. I think not. He Ihou'd have waited till
the proper time that the Chief-priefts and Rulers
cou'd conveniently come to the Sepulchre, and
be prefent at the opening of the Seals. If they Difc 6
had trefpafs't upon his patience; or had beenu-
for confining him longer than was meet accor-
ding to prophecy ; then his rcfurrection with-
out their prefence had been excufable and jufti-
fiable. But his pretended rifing to life, not on-
ly a day before the Chief-priefts cou'd imagin
he wou'd, or earlyer in the morning than he
fhou'd for their requifite prefence, together with
the fracture of the Seals againit the law of fe-
curity, is fuch a manifeft and indifputablc mark


310 ^ Conference upon

SECT. VI. and indication of fraud, as is not to be equaled
in all or any of the impoftures that ever were
attempted to be put upon the world.

TV. Are you fure that Jefus knew of the Chief-
priefts' having feal'd his Sepulchre ; or any thing

Online LibraryWilliam StevensonA conference upon the miracles of our Blessed Savior : wherein all the objections against them proposed in Mr. Woolston's six Discourses, and several other greater difficulties, are fully stated and considered ... → online text (page 23 of 31)