|Vol. V, No. 9
Kislev 5608, December 1847
Remarks on Dias’ Letters
“Quotation from other writers,” says Mr. H., “are made in two ways; one in order to show their opinions on some particular subject, and the other by way of adaptation, where we make use of another person’s words as suitable to express our meaning without at all wishing it to be understood that such was the meaning or object of the original writer.” On this second plan he gives us a paraphrase of what he thinks Paul meant to say, and adds: “If this interpretation be correct, all Mr. Dias’ objections and ridicule fall to the ground.” And if his interpreta<<447>>tion be not correct, of which there is little probability, then Mr. Dias’ objections and ridicule stand confirmed and justified, and however we may admire the worthy gentleman’s ingenuity in the apology he has made, I cannot help seeing in the words of the text an intention that his readers should apply to Jesus what Moses said of the Law.
Mr. H. having favoured us with his explanation of No. 19., of Dias’ objections, does not think it necessary to say a word about No. 20; but gratifies his readers with a dissertation on faith and works, and argues that unless a person has faith he cannot believe; and that, “if a Jew has no faith in the forgiveness of God, how call he approach Him in his spirit, how can he pray to Him for good, how can he remain anything else but an outcast from God’s presence, like a cursed spirit enshrouded in darkness and misery for ever?” This passage reveals a certain want of kindliness as well as proper reflection on the part of the writer. Who world accuse the Jews of wanting faith? where is there an instance of a nation whose faith has triumphed over so many difficulties and trials? They have seen their kingdom overthrown, their nation dispersed; they have for 1800 years been in exile, suffering imprisonment, confiscations, tortures and death, been everywhere treated with scorn; have had their children torn from them and brought up in error. If any nation received and tolerated them, it was only till a pretext was invented to pillage and banish them. And yet, under all these trials and persecutions, they have not faltered in their faith of the fulfillment of the promises which God made to their fathers, that after having been chastised for their transgressions, He would mercifully restore them to the happy and glorious state from which they had fallen. Where can be found a more splendid instance of Faith under circumstances which seem almost to preclude hope? Yet the worthy gentleman insinuates that the Jew has not faith, and must remain like a cursed spirit in darkness and misery for ever. I guess the gentleman restricts the meaning of the word Faith to the belief in the doctrine of Christianity, and perhaps to only one of the sects into which it is divided; but surely he will not deny that the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, the Chinese, the Hindoos, the Greeks and the Romans, all had faith in their respective schemes of religion, though they were founded in error.
<<448>>Mr. H. dwells on the visionary theory of types and antitypes, the supposed connexion of things which assuredly does not exist. This, he says, in course, a Jew will not acknowledge; “but all these things upon the matter of fact, the matter of history, knowing that Jesus rose from the dead, knowing his teaching, knowing the spirit which he gave to his apostles, and the work they did, all these allusions of the law become unsealed to us.” But a Jew knows nothing of all this: the resurrection of Jesus rests on the authority of those only who were interested in its being believed. What is the fact as related in the gospel? The body of Jesus was buried in the evening of Friday. The women went early on Sunday morning, and were told that the body was gone. A part of this time the sepulchre was guarded by the Roman soldiers. The chief priest on the Saturday morning applied to Pilate for a guard; but from Friday evening to Saturday morning when the guard was set, there must have been an interval of at least fifteen hours, including the night between Friday and Saturday. What evidence can be given that the disciples did not carry off the body in the mean time? To them it was a matter of the utmost consequence, as to what regarded their future position, that the body should not be found, to disprove the assurance Jesus had given of his resurrection. The priests on the other hand were interested that the body should be found, but did not take the necessary steps to prevent its removal until the next morning. The other party were on the alert. There is no evidence that the body was in the sepulchre when the guard was placed there, and Mr. H. has the boldness to say that Jesus rose from the dead. That it is a matter of history, a matter of fact!
One of the Evangelists who relates the circumstances of the resurrection says (Matt. 27:52): “And the graves were opened, and many of the saints who slept arose, and came out of their graves after his resurrection, and went into the Holy City, and appeared unto many.” These many resurrections resting on the same authority as that of Jesus, Mr. H. must believe all or none. Nobody will doubt the power of God to resuscitate a dead body; but can we believe He did so without any object? for we do not hear that these resuscitated saints had any mission to perform. We may indeed suppose they sadly frightened those to whom they appeared; but that does not seem an adequate cause <<449>>for the performance of such a miracle; the more we study the case, the more incredible it appears.
The worthy gentleman asks the Jews in reference to the words of Moses, quoted: “If the knowledge of the law be so ample and easy a thing as he describes, what becomes of the volumes upon volumes of rabbinical comments?” He advises us to establish again Moses’ Law in all its simple grandeur, and throw away all the multitudinous rabbinical comments and additions. That the wisdom of God could have provided for all possible cases and contingencies cannot admit of a doubt; but it is equally undeniable that such a code of laws would be inconvenient if not inoperative to a people who must depend on their memory for the due performance of the divine commands; a certain number of precepts were given for their general conduct, and a provision was made in case any question should arise, as to the extent of the application of any precept; they were to apply to the priests and judges, and conform to their decision under penalty of death. This was the practice during the existence of the Judges, Kings, and Sanhedrin. After our dispersion, our Rabbins, men of eminent piety, found it necessary to write comments on such points of the Law as they conceived required more particular explanation, now that the people could no longer have recourse to a Supreme Ecclesiastical Tribunal. But diffuse as Mr. H. may think them, do they amount to one thousandth part of the tomes which encumber the shelves of the Christian colleges and universities, on the Christian theology and religion? Are they equal to the volumes on divinity which may be found in any second or third rate bookseller’s shop in London? What are they in comparison to the controversial works of the different sects and schisms which vexed the early ages of the Christian church? At least if we may judge from the works of the fathers of the sect which finally triumphed; for it seems to have been the policy of the successful sect to destroy the works of their vanquished opponents, and it is only from quotations made in order to refute what they termed the heresies of their opponents that we have any knowledge of their works. Who told Mr. H that it was necessary “again to establish Moses’ Law?” We have never ceased to acknowledge it as the guide we ought to follow,—that which alone can insure our happiness here and hereafter. We continue to revere the writings of <<450>>our Rabbins as valuable directions on minute points, which for the reasons assigned above were not included in the text of the Law.
I will not longer encroach on your valuable time, by making any farther remarks on Mr. H.’s excuses and modifications of the assertions and quotations of Paul, whose spirit seems to pervade
the present teachers of Christianity. I will not say they promulgate error intentionally; but they certainly deliver their doctrine in such terms as must almost necessarily be misconstrued. I doubt whether any Christian pastor would venture to tell his flock that the Son of God did not become incarnate in the frame of Jesus; that it is an absurdity to suppose that the Son whom he believes to be omnipresent could be contained in or inhabit a human body; that it is impossible for a divine person to die or be resuscitated, consequently that the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection were mere fictions. Yet I am persuaded that the same preacher, if pressed, would admit all these points, and affirm that the terms in which these dogmas were expressed, must not be understood literally, being only intended as adaptations. Indeed, it is not pretended that the fundamental dogmas of Christianity are to be taken in the literal meaning of the words; but that any one may interpret them in the manner most consonant to his reason. In the year 1844, the Reverend Mr. Woodhouse sent his resignation of the canonry which he held, by his subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles, and which he could not conscientiously retain in consequence of his dissent from them. The Bishop of Norwich, to whom he addressed himself, made the following remarks in a letter which was published in the Times newspaper of Jan. 22d, 1845: “Because considering the number and nature of many of the propositions included in the Thirty-nine Articles, the Homilies and the Book of Common Prayer to which assent is given by subscription, it is impossible that any number of individuals should view such prepositions in exactly the same light, or subscribe them in exactly the same sense; latitude in subscription is therefore absolutely unavoidable. There would therefore be a manifold injustice in allowing you to resign a situation which you have filled long and usefully, while others who on the same grounds would be equally called on to resign theirs, continue to retain them.” Here it is unequivocally <<451>>admitted that the dogmas are laid down in such a vague manner that the clergy themselves cannot be assured of their meaning, and that the church has no rule as to the interpretation of those propositions. Were I to adopt Mr. H.’s plan and suggest a paraphrase of the Bishop’s answer, it would be in the following words:
“My dear Mr. Woodhouse,—You request me to accept your resignation of the canonry you have so long and usefully held, in consequence of your no longer believing some of the dogmas to which you subscribed on your appointment, in the view which, as an honest man, you did and do see them. Your conscience need not feel hurt on this account; it is sufficient if you find some sense in which you can assent to the Thirty-nine Articles, &c. There are other persons who do not assent to what is the natural meaning of those propositions, and who, perhaps, do not discover any sense in which they can receive them, but who do not on that account think it necessary to resign their livings.”
Ought not the Christians in honesty and good sense determine among themselves what is meant by their dogmas, since it is clear they must not be understood in the natural meaning of the words, before they ask a Jew to believe them?
I remain respectfully,