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with credit to himself;—in divinity, I say, he must go much farther. Added to what he has demonstrated respecting St. Paul's reasoning inconclusively, and all the apostles and evangelists writing without inspiration, he must make it evident that they all in general, and St. Paul in particular, wrote without common sense. This, on the one nand, would be perfecting his work, and would for ever free him, and all other great and learned philosophers and divines, from what has long been found to be a prodigious clog upon the feet of those who are in haste to make discoveries, I mean that obsolete book, the Bible. And, on the other, it will be found absolutely necessary to gain credit to the discoveries already made, and especially to procure them a firm and lasting establishment. And then neither the doctor, nor any of his brethren of the school of Socinus, need give themselves any farther trouble, in fruitless endeavours to reconcile their sentiments with the antiquated doctrines taught by St. Paul, St. John, or any other of the New Testament writers, any more than they would to reconcile them with the reveries of a madman, or the dreams of an enthusiast.
As a specimen of what might be done in this way, and because it is reasonable to think that the doctor has not time, in the midst of his many and severe studies, and voluminous publications, to search the Scriptures for the examples which seem necessary to be produced in proof of so important a point, I have taken the pains to look over the New Testament, and especially the Epistles of St. Paul, and have put down many instances of this kind. I will not say they are all of them the most remarkable that could be found, but they are such as struck me most in the perusal, and I here take the liberty of presenting them to the public, along with these unfinished letters of the Rev. Mr. Fletcher. Whether I shall have the doctor's thanks for this my forwardness to serve him, I know not; but I can in truth say, I mean his good, as well as the good of all into whose hands these sheets may fall; and what is well meant, he will allow, should be well taken. His wisdom and learning, I doubt not, will direct him as to the use to be made of these quotations from the writings of the evangelists and apostles. They may properly be considered (like experiments in natural philosophy) as so many instances, demonstrating, in fact, not only the truth and certainty of the late discovery, that the persons who could write in such a manner, could not have been Divinely inspired; but, as I said, that they could not have had even common sense. The way will then be perfectly open for all that remains, and he may make an easy transition to Atheism, Deism, or what he pleases.
Birmingham, February 25, 1790.
THE REV. DR. PRIESTLEY,
LATE REV. JOHN FLETCHER, fcc.
Doctor Priestley is mistaken when he asserts that the prophets always spoke of the Messiah as of a mere man like themselves, and that the Jews never expected that the Messiah could be more than a man. In opposition to this error, this letter proves that our first parents expected a Divine Messiah, and that the Divine person who appeared to the patriarchs and to Moses, was Jehovah the Son. or Christ in his pre-existent state.
Rev. Sra,—You might have given us, at least, twenty lines of plain, uncontroverted truth in the beginning of your history; but regardless of so decent a caution, you stun us at once by a glaring, antichristian paradox. In the sixteenth line of your huge work, (for we need not go by pages to reckon up your errors,) speaking of the thoughts which the Jews entertained of the Messiah, you say, "None of their prophets gave them an idea of any other than a man like themselves in that illustrious character, and no other did they ever expect."
Now, sir, in opposition to this strange assertion, I shall show you, not only that the prophets gave the Jews an idea of a Divine person to appear in the character of the Messiah, and that accordingly they expected such a one; but that even our first parents must have formed a much higher notion of that " seed of the woman which was to bruise the serpent's head," than that of "a mere man like themselves." In proof of this, I shall not produce the expression of Eve upon the birth of Cain, whom, it is highly probable, she thought to be that seed, though according to the Hebrew it is, "I have gotten the man, the Jehovah." But I shall go upon surer grounds than any particular expression can afford. I shall argue from facts and from the reason of the case. However unwilling you may be to allow it, it is nevertheless, as we have already seen in the former part of this work, an unquestionable truth, that the Logos, the Word, who "was in the beginning with God and wasGoo," was the immediate Maker of our first parents, of that beautiful world in which he placed them, and of all the creatures over which he set them, nay, and of all things visible and invisible. Now can we suppose that Adam, who, as he came out of the hands of his Maker, had such knowledge, that at first sight he gave names to all the creatures as they passed in review before him, and names perfectly descriptive of their natures; can we suppose, (I say,) that he did not know who was his Creator, and the Creator of all these creatures he had named? Certainly we cannot. But if he knew who was his Creator, he could hardly be ignorant who would be his Redeemer. For, considering the holy and happy state he and his partner had been in before their fall, the serenity of their minds, the vigour of their bodies, and the beauty and fertility of the blissful spot where their bounteous Lord had placed them; and considering the sad change that had now taken place, the dreadful ruin they had brought on themselves and their posterity by their transgression; considering their crime itself, with its awful retinue, shame, the curse, sorrow, toil, death, and corruption; it was reasonable, surely, to think, that the repairer of the breach, the restorer of a ruined world, would be that Divine person by whom it was created. Thus, when we see an exquisite piece of mechanism, capitally injured in all its parts, we reasonably conclude, that none can completely mend it but the maker, or an artist who equals him in skill.
Nor was it unreasonable for our first parents to think, that their Redeemer would be he whom St. Paul calls "the Lord from heaven:" for, he who made and married them, who gave them the garden of Eden, and warned them not to eat of the forbidden fruit; he who came to them "walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and from whose presence they hid themselves, when they heard his voice;" he, who, after he had convicted them, and had passed sentence of death upon them, so kindly saved them from despair, by the unexpected promise of a deliverer; he, who already carried his merciful condescension so far as to strip them of their "fig leaves, to make them coats of skin," and to clothe them with needful and decent apparel;—he might, in some future period, condescend to unite himself, some way or other, to the woman's seed, and become the destroyer of death and the serpent.
The reasonableness of this hope is evident, if he taught our first parents (as it is highly probable he did) to offer in sacrifice the beasts, "of whose skins he made them coats," and thus already showed himself "our passover, the Lamb of God," typically "slain from the foundation of the world." Nor can we more reasonably account for the original notion and the universal custom of expiatory and propitiatory sacrifices, than by the supposition, that mankind were led to this part of Divine worship by a peculiar revelation, or by a positive command of that Divine person, who familiarly conversed with Adam, and who is called God, or Lord God, twenty-six times, in the second and third chapters of Genesis.
The same Scriptures which inform us, that "No man hath seen God [the Father] at any time, but thai the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, hath declared him," John i, 18, teach us, nevertheless, that God appeared to several of the patriarchs, and sometimes even in a human shape. Hence it follows, that we must either reject St. John's declaration, above quoted, or admit that he who thus appeared, is the Son, the Logos, who "was in the beginning with God, and was God."
The truth of this conclusion will appear more clearly, if we take a view of the design and circumstances of these ancient manifestations, these preparatory, and transient incarnations (if I may so call them) of the Word, who in a fixed period was to be really and lastingly manifested in the flesh.
Whether we consider his expostulating with Cain, about the murder of Abel, his trying and condemning that murderer, as he had done Adam, and his " sotting a mark upon" the guilty vagabond, "lest any finding him should kill him;" or whether we take notice of the manner in which he directed Noah to build his ark, made him enter into it, shut him in, saved him and his family from the flood, and then "speaking unto him, said, Go forth out of the ark," &c. Whether we advert to the friendly manner in which he appeared to, and conversed with Abraham, in his various stations and journeys; or, whether we attend to the familiarity with which, accompanied by two of his angels, he came to that patriarch in a human shape, condescended to eat with that friend of God, as he ate with Simon, and was worshipped and invoked by him, as the "Judge of all the earth," who claimed the absolute right of sparing Lot, and destroying Sodom, as he had spared Noah, and destroyed the whole world by water; and who actually destroyed that wicked city by raining, as Jehovah, fire from Jehovah upon it, when the two angels, who accompanied him, had made Lot and his daughters escape out of that accursed town: whether, I say, we consider these or any other of the Lord's appearances, he is represented as Jehovah, coming to do beforehand the work of the Messiah.
As supreme Prophet, he leads Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, opens the eyes of Agar, instructs Moses and all the prophets, Bezaleel and all the ingenious artists. As supreme High Priest, he directs Abraham and Aaron how to offer up proper sacrifices. As "Lord of Hosts," or "Captain of the Lord's Host," he overthrows five kings before Abraham; Pharaoh before Moses; the kings of Canaan before Joshua, and the Philistines before David. As Angel of the covenant, he strengthens, wrestles with, and blesses Jacob; he visits, directs, and animates Gideon; he assumes a human shape to promise a son to Abraham, and to Manoah: and as he said to the Jews, "Before Abraham was, I am," so speaking to Moses from the burning, unconsumed bush, which was an emblem of his eternal power and glory, he shows that, with his Father, he is "the First and the Last," and declares their common name, "lam that I am."
These manifestations of Jehovah's glory had circumstances characteristic of the Son's person, as appears by the accounts handed down to us in the sacred writings. When " Moses, Aaron, and seventy-two of the elders of Israel went up, and saw the God of Israel," it is said, "There was under his feet, as it were, a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness: and that upon these nobles he laid not his hand." He appeared therefore as a man, since he had "feet and hands," which it cannot be shown the Father ever did.
Accordingly the apostle, speaking of the preference which Moses' faith gave to the God of Israel over the idols and riches of the Egyp. turns, says that "Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt," Heb. xi, 26, the Israelites being then as