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Mr. Paine, after the example of many others, endeavours to discredit the scriptures by representing the number of hands through which they have passed, and the uncertainty of the historical evidence by which they are supported. "It is a matter altogether of uncertainty to us," he says, "whether such of the writings as now appear under the names of the Old and New Testament, are in the same state in which those collectors say they found them; or whether they added, altered, abridged, or dressed them up.' It is a good work which many writers have undertaken, to prove the validity of the Christian history; and to show that we have as good evidence for the truth of the great facts which it relates as we have for the truth of any ancient events whatever. But if, in addition to this, it can be proved that the scriptures contain internal characteristics of divinity, or that they carry in them the evidence of their authenticity, this will at once answer all objections from the supposed uncertainty of historical evidence.
Historians inform us of a certain valuable medicine, called Mithridate, an antidote to poison. It is said to have been "invented by Mithridates, king of Pontus; that the receipt of it was found in a cabinet, written with his own had, and was carried to Rome by Pompey; that it was translated into verse by Democrates, a famous physician; and that it was afterwaads translated by Galen, from whom we have it." Now supposing this medicine to be efficacious for the professed purpose, of what account would it be to object to the authenticity of its history? If a modern caviller should take it into his head to allege that the preparation has passed through so many hands, and that there is so much hearsay and uncertainty attending it, that no dependence can be placed upon it, and that it had better be rejected from our Materia Medica; he would be asked, Has it not been tried, and beer found to be effectual; and that in a great variety of instances? Such are Mr. Paine's objections to the Bible; and such is the answer that may be given
* Age of Reason, Part I. pp. 10, 11. + Lardner, Simpson, and others. Chambers's Dictionary, Art. Mithridate.
This language is not confined to infidel writers. Mr. Locke speaks of what he calls "traditional revelation," or revelation as we have it, in such a manner as to convey the idea, that we have no evidence of the scriptures being the word of God, but from a succession of witnesses having told us so. But I conceive these sacred writings may contain such internal evidence of their being what they profess to be, as that it might, with equal reason, be doubted whether the world was created by the power of God, as whether they were written by the inspiration of his Spirit and if so, our dependence is not upon mere tradition.
It is true, the scriptures having been conveyed to us through the medium of man, the work must necessarily, in some respects, have been humanized; yet there may be sufficient marks of divinity upon it, to render it evident to every candid mind that it is of God.
We may call the Mosaic account of the creation a tradition, and may be said to know through this medium that the heavens and the earth are the productions of divine power. But it is not through this medium only that we know it: the heavens and the earth carry in them evident marks of their divine original. These works of the Almighty speak for themselves; and in language which none but those who are willfully deaf can misunderstand: Their sound is gone forth throughout all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. Were any man to pretend that its being a matter of revelation, and to us merely traditional revelation, that God made the heavens and the earth, and therefore that a degree of uncertainty must necessarily attend it; he would be reminded that the thing itself carried in it its own evidence. Let it be candidly considered whether the same may not be said of the holy scriptures. They will admit of historical defence; but they do not require it. Their contents, come through whose hands they may, prove them to be of God. It was on this principle that the gospel was proclaimed in the form of a testimony. The primitive preachers were not required by him who sent them to prove their doctrine in the manner that philosophers were wont to establish a
* Human Understanding, Book IV. Chap. XVIII.
proposition; but to declare the counsel of God, and leave it. In delivering their message, they commended themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
It is no objection to this statement of things that the scriptures are not embraced by every man, whatever be the disposition of his mind. This is a property that no divine production whatever possesses; and to require it is equally unreasonable, as to insist that for a book to be perfectly legible it must be capable of being read by those who shut their eyes upon it. Mr. Paine holds up the advantages of the book of nature in order to disparage that of scripture, and says, "No Deist can doubt whether the works of nature be God's works." An admirable proof this that we have arrived at the age of reason! Can no Atheist doubt it? I might as well say, No Christian doubts the truth of the scriptures: the one proves just as much as the other. A prejudiced mind discerns nothing of divine beauty, either in nature or scripture; yet each may include the most indubitable evidence of being wrought by the finger of God.
If Christianity can be proved to be a religion that inspires the love of God and man; yea, and the only religion in the world that does so; if it endues the mind of him that embraces it with a principle of justice, meekness, chastity, and goodness; and even gives a tone to the morals of the society at large; it will then appear to carry its evidence along with it. The effects which it produces will be its letters of recommendation; written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart. Moreover, if Christianity can be proved to be in harmony with itself, correspondent with observation and experience, and consistent with the clearest dictates of sober reason, it will further appear to carry in it its own evidence: come through whose hands it may, it will evince itself to be what it professes to be—a religion from God.
I will only add, in this place, that the Christianity here defended is not Christianity as it is corrupted by popish superstition, or as interwoven with national establishments, for the accomplishment of secular purposes; but, as it is taught in the New Testament, and practised by sincere Christians. There is no doubt,
but that, in many instances, Christianity has been adopted by worldly men, even by Infidels themselves, for the purposes of promoting their political designs. Finding the bulk of the people inclined to the Christian religion under some particular form, and attached to certain leading persons among them who sustained the characters of teachers, they have considered it as a piece of good policy to give this religion an establishment, and these teachers a share in the government. It is thus that religion, to its great dishonour, has been converted into an engine of state. The politician may be pleased with his success, and the teacher with his honours, and even the people be so far misled as to love to have it so; but the mischief resulting from it to religion is incalculable. Even where such establishments have arisen from piety, they have not failed to corrupt the minds of Christians from the simplicity which is in Christ. It was by these means that the Church at an early period, from being the bride of Christ, gradually degenerated to a harlot, and, in the end, became the mother of harlots, and abominations of the earth. The good that is done in such communities is not in consequence of their peculiar ecclesiastical constitution, but in spite of it: it arises from the virtue of individuals, which operates notwithstanding the disadvantages of their situation.
These are the things that afford a handle to unbelievers. They seldom choose to attack Christianity as it is drawn in the sacred writings, and exemplified in the lives of real Christians, who stand at a distance from worldly parade, political struggles, or state intrigues; but as it is corrupted and abused by worldly men. Mr. Paine racks his imagination to make out a resemblance betwixt the heathen mythology and Christianity. While he is going over the ground of Christianity as instituted by Christ and his apostles, the resemblance is faint indeed. There are only two points in which he even pretends to find an agreement; and these are formed by his misrepresenting the scriptures. The heathen deities were said to be celestially begotten; and Christ is called the Son of God. The heathens had a plurality of deities, even * To give a colour to this statement, he is obliged to affirm a most palpable falsehood, that only Gentiles believed Jesus to be the son of God.
twenty or thirty thousand; and Christianity has reduced them to three! It is easy to see that this is ground not suited to Mr. Paine's purpose he therefore hastens to corrupted Christianity; and here he finds plenty of materials. "The Statue of Mary," he says "succeeded the statue of Diana of Ephesus. The deification of heroes changed into the canonization of saints. The my. thologists had gods for every thing. The Christian mythologists had saints for every thing. The church became as crowded with the one, as the pantheon had been with the other; and Rome was the place of both."* Very true, Mr. Paine; but you are not so ignorant as to mistake this for Christianity. Had you been born and educated in Italy, or Spain, you might have been excused in calling this "The Christian theory;" but to write in this manner with your advantages is disingenuous. Such conduct would have disgraced any cause but yours. It is capable, however, of some improvement. It teaches us to defend nothing but the truth as it is in Jesus. It also affords presumptive evidence in its favour; for if Christianity itself were false, there is little doubt but that you, or some of your fellow labourers, would be able to prove it so; and this would turn greatly to your account. Your neglecting this, and directing your artillery chiefly against its corruptions and abuses, betrays a consciousness that the thing itself, if not invulnerable, is yet not so easy of attack. If Christianity had really been a relic of heathenism, as you suggest, there is little reason to think that you would have so strenuously opposed it.
Age of reason, Part I. p. 5.