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Dias’ Letters

(Concluded from vol. viii. page 362.)


The absurdity and inconsistency of the doctrines treated of in my two last letters, prove the impossibility of applying the prophecy, or <<40>>making it answer the purposes intended thereby, as some pretend, that a twofold death was implied in the sentence. They infer that Adam and his posterity were condemned both to a natural and spiritual death, from which they could only be released by the sufferings and passion of one, who was both God and man. They say an agreement being made between God the Father and God the Son, the latter offered himself to be made a sacrifice on the cross, to appease the wrath of God the Father, and to atone by this ignominious death for Adam’s sin; restoring the human race thereby to God’s grace and favour, freeing them from the power of the Devil, and from the penalties under which they must have continued, as no other satisfaction could have been accepted or deemed sufficient. We shall now, therefore, inquire into the foundation of this twofold death; “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,”* which in Heb. is expressed by the words מות תמות moth tamuth, very properly rendered in the margin of the English Bible, “Dying thou shalt die,” which phrase denotes the certainty of its being inflicted; as will very evidently appear by considering the use and intent of the same phrase in other places. When Solomon passed sentence on Shimei, the very same phrase is made use of, “On the day thou goest forth, and passest over the Brook Kidron, thou shalt know for certain thou shalt surely die,” Heb. Moth tamuth.†

* Gen. ii. 17.   † 1 Kings ii. 87.

The prophet Elisha uses the same phrase to Hamel, to denote thereby the certain death of Benhadad, king of Syria. “The Lord hath shown me that he shall surely die.” (Heb. Moth Tamuth.)‡ When Saul doomed his son Jonathan to death, he makes use of the same expres­sion, “Thou shalt surely die, Jonathan.” (Heb. Moth tamuth.)§ He also uses the same phrases when he sentenced the priest, “Thou shalt surely die, Ahimelech,” Heb. Moth tamuth.|| From which passages, and from all others in Scripture where the same phrase is made use of, it is plain that nothing but a corporeal death could be intended.

‡ 2 Kings viii. 10.        § 1 Sam. xiv. 44.         || 1 Sam. xxii. 16.

Thus you see the foundation on which this grand superstructure is built. The sentence, therefore, only imports that on the day Adam ate the forbidden fruit, he should commence to be mortal, or be liable to death. That being the punishment, which was to be inflicted, he was banished from paradise, that he might be exposed to want and calamities, that by a decay of nature and frame of body it might come on him. The punishment being thus inflicted on the aggressor, would it be just to doom his race to eternal damnation? is such a conduct reconcilable to the goodness and mercy of God?* Supposing a legislator instituted a law, and enacted a certain punishment to be inflicted on those who transgressed that law; would any other punishment be inflicted on the transgressor, besides that which had been enacted? would it not be a very great injustice to inflict a greater punishment on the offender? If this would be so in human laws and tribunals, how much more so would it be in the All-merciful God? In what a woful and miserable state must the whole human race be, if, notwithstanding, they in all respects obeyed the will of God, by which they were entitled to mercy, they should continue, and be under his wrath and heavy displeasure both here and hereafter? to what purpose did He give laws, if those who practised the duties enjoined by them were not to be benefitted thereby? Can this be made consistent? No, this opinion is invented to give a colouring to what is not on any grounds whatever to be maintained or supported.

* See Univ. Hist. vol i. page 125.

To support the doctrine before mentioned, it is pretended that the history of the fall ought not to be taken literally. I cannot better answer this objection than in the words made use of by the authors of the Universal History. “It cannot be denied (say they), that some of the ancient philosophers affected such an allegorical way of writing to conceal their notions from the vulgar, and keep their learning within the bounds of their own school; yet it is apparent Moses had no such design; and as he pretends only to relate matters of fact just as they happened, without art or disguise, it cannot be supposed but that the history of the fall is to be taken in a literal sense is well as the rest of his writings.”†

† Univ. Hist. vol. 1. page 135.

Notwithstanding this assertion, these authors immediately declare themselves of opinion, that it was the Devil who made use of the serpent’s body. That this beast stands for, and means the Devil, is also the opinion of almost every Christian commentator, and is particularly asserted by Dr. Sherlock, who has taken great pains to establish this point But conscious that the passage as it stands, could  not bear that meaning, he adds: “You’ll say, What an unreasonable liberty of interpretation this is; tell us by what rules of language the seed of the woman is made to denote one particular person (that is, Jesus), and by what art you discover the mystery of Christ’s miraculous conception and birth, in this common expression? Tell us, likewise, how bruising the serpent’s head comes to signify destroying the power of sin, and the redemption of mankind by Christ? As the prophecy stands there” (he ought to have said, the history) “nothing appears <<42>>to point out this particular meaning, much less to confine the prophecy (the history) to it.”* And I think that many good reasons ought to be given to his own objections, and a proper authority produced for giving this history any other sense; since, as he himself owns, and readily allows that the expressions do not imply necessarily this sense. “We allow farther (says he), that there is no appearance that our first parents understood them this sense, or that God intended they should so understand them.”† Yet notwithstanding this he has, on doctrines of which our first parents knew nothing, on doctrines which “God never intended they should understand,” placed and established all the hopes and comforts of religion.‡

* Intent and Use of Prophecy, p. 59. †Ibid.. 70, 71.  ‡ Ibid. 60, 61.

But whatever may be pretended, though Adam by his fall forfeited that, whatever it was, which he for a very short interval had possessed, and was reduced to a state of labour, and subject to sorrow: yet it no where appears that they (he and Eve) were bereft “of a rational foundation for their future endeavours to reconcile themselves to God by a better obedience,”§ the best foundation, and indeed the only one, on which they would place their hope (which I choose to give you in the Bishop’s words); and whenever this foundation has been neglected, and dependence on a Mediator introduced, you may then be sure that false religion and false worship take place, and it would be very easy to prove that it was such schemes and inventions which gave the first rise to idolatry, and defaced true religion.

§ Ibid. 61

But whatever hopes this learned person makes our first parents to have different from a better obedience; or whatever foundation he is pleased to make necessary for the preservation of religion, by the hopes “that their posterity should one day be restored:” this much is certain, that any such dependence must have been ill-grounded; for if Adam’s posterity was to be restored by the satisfaction made by Jesus on the cross, nothing like it was effected. For the serpent still labours under the curse; women still bear children in pain, and continue in subjection to their husbands (which some of them think the worst part of the curse); the men still labour and endure sorrow; and death makes of the same havoc now as it did before. Let them represent things in what light they please, they still continue as they were. Such inconsistencies put me in mind of what this learned bishop says, “When unbelievers hear such reasoning, they think themselves entitled to laugh;”|| in truth who can forbear it ? I pity any person of his <<43>> learning and parts advancing inconsistencies and contradictions, rolling (as it were) with all his might a stone up a steep mountain, and then being obliged to let it fall, not able to stop it, beholding his lost labour.

|| Ibid. p. 70.

To establish these doctrines they will have the serpent stand for, and be the Devil. But can anything be plainer than that every part of the sentence is only applicable to a literal serpent, a beast of the field, the being more accursed than any other beast, or above all cattle? Rank him with the brute creation: the Devil, I think, has nothing to do in this part of the curse. The serpent was to go on his belly; in this punishment the Devil is also excluded. He was to eat dust all the days of his life; very improper food this is for the Devil, therefore it is not intended for him. The serpent and his seed, and the woman and her seed were to be in continual enmity; the woman and her descendants were to bruise the serpent’s head, whilst the serpent and his seed, being by nature or by the curse made reptiles, should bite the others heels, that being the part which they could most conveniently come at.

This being a conflict between the woman and the serpent, and their offsprings, has the Devil any concern in this strife? Can words be made use of plainer to denote that the whole concerns the serpent and his seed and not the Devil? and that the woman and her seed is Eve and her descendants, and not Jesus in particular, as is pretended? that in this enmity or strife each should hurt the other as they had it in their power? Could the Devil hurt or bite Jesus, or has he any seed or posterity at all? It is plain, therefore, that the curse concerns the serpent only; he is represented at the very first mention, as a cunning creature: “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made;”* and for making a bad use of his subtlety he was punished. Now had the serpent been actuated by the Devil, he could deserve no punishment. short, there is nothing in the sentence which concerns the Devil.

* Gen. iii. 2.

Neither can I find in this whole history, any promise of a Messiah, nor any agreement between God the Father and God the Son. Indeed such an agreement must be inconsistent, and would prove different wills in the Godhead; that is, there must have been one willing to make satisfaction, and another willing to receive it, whilst a third remained passive or neuter; acts as contrary to each other as any distinct beings are capable of, and inconsistent in the same God.

Thus you see the impossibility of proving what they pretend to, from the first eight verses of this chapter, and how contradictory it is in <<44>>every respect. The remainder will appear not less so. Verse 9th. “And he made his grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death;” this happened the very reverse; for he died with the wicked, being crucified between two thieves, and was buried in the tomb belonging to Joseph Arimathea, who is represented as an honourable, just man, and a councillor.

Verse 10. “He shall see his seed, be shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” Here are three blessings, of which none can be applicable to him (Jesus.) The first is, that he should see his seed or descendants; but children, we don’t hear he had any. The second, length of days, or long life; this he had not; for he was cut off in the thirty-third year of his age. Thirdly, prosperity, of which he had none, as appears from the account of his life and sufferings. To make out these blessings, they have recourse to the mystical application, though they pretend this whole chapter to be literal of him; they say that seed here does not mean children or descendants, but that the phrase denotes the church, or his followers, spiritually so called. But this has not the least foundation, the word זרע Zerang being used always to denote descendants or posterity, and there is no such thing in all the Scripture as spiritual seed or descendants. In the same manner they explain his length of days, and pretend it means immortality. But this is trifling; since immortality could not be given as a privilege, but is general and common to every soul, the privilege even of the wicked and the damned; so that length of days in the next world could be no peculiar blessing, since immortality takes place there. Length of days, therefore, could only be an earthly blessing. As to “the pleasure of the Lord prospering in his hands,” or prosperity here—as they cannot make it out here, they send us to his heavenly kingdom; but as they know nothing at all of it, you must therefore take it from their guesses.

Verse 11. “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” This I have shown very plainly he did not; therefore I shall say nothing more on this head.

Verse 12. “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.” This part of the verse is no ways applicable to him; for far from dividing a portion with the great, or having any spoil allotted him, he never possessed anything of his own; of this he complains himself. “Because he poured out his soul unto death,” this being contrary to his will, and forced on him, he could not pretend to any merit from it. How “he bore the sin <<45>>of many,” or “made intercession for transgressors,” I have already considered.

Thus, sir, from the objections and considerations aforesaid, it is evident that they cannot apply this chapter to Jesus, neither can they prove the benefit which they pretend must be the necessary consequence of their doctrine. It now remains that I give a different application. The generality of Jewish commentators explain this prophecy, and apply it to the whole body of Jews. They tell us that Isaiah, in the 51st chapter, speaks great matters concerning the redemption or restoration of Israel, and denounces God’s wrath and indignation against the oppressors and afflicters of his people. In the next, or 52d chapter, the prophet continues the same subject, and that he does in the most endearing terms that can be expressed; and under the denomination of a servant,* exalts and extols Israel above all nations,—this term best describing the low and despicable state to which that people should be reduced, and what it should be made to suffer; but from which it should be delivered. They prove that the whole body of the Jews are often mentioned under this epithet, and in particular that Isaiah calls them by this name. “Yet now hear, O Jacob, my servant.” “Fear not, O Jacob, my servant.” “Thou art my servant, O Israel.” (See Isaiah xl. 1, 2, and xlix. 3.) And in the passage now under consideration: “Behold my servant shall deal prudently,” he shall be “exalted and extolled, and be very high.” Verse 14. At this exaltation the world will be astonished ; and the more so, because like a servant be was oppressed and despised, and that in such sort as hardly to appear like other sons of men. At this change (verse 15th), even kings or great men should be astonished, and shut their mouths; for in this an expected exaltation, they should see that which had not been told them, and consider which they had not heard. The admiration which this event should occasion is continued by the prophet, and he breaks out, chapter 53, verse 1, with, “Who could believe our report, or that power of the Lord should be manifested as revealed to this despicable people,” or that (verse 2d), “a tender plant should sprout from a root out of dry ground, which had neither form or comeliness to make it desirable? (Verse 3.) Being such as was always despised and rejected and made to undergo much sorrows and grief; hiding our faces from him, as not worthy of esteem; for (verse 4), it was always thought that that he was stricken, and smitten of God ; and for that reason made to undergo much sorrow and grief; for (verse 5) we continually wounded

* This term is not used to describe 4 state of servitude, but a servant of God is the highest character.—Note of the copier.

<<46>>him with our transgressions, and bruised him with our iniquitous proceedings against him, the weight of which we made him feel; and laid on him the chastisement of our peace, i. e., persecuting him in times of peace and leisure, sporting with his sufferings; thinking that by his stripes we should atone for our sins,* (as is the case actually in Portugal and Spain, where it is believed that the merit of persecuting the Jews atones for all crimes.) But (verse 6) in so doing we strayed like sheep (say the gentiles), and turned every one to his own way, God permitting us to do that to him which we deserved ourselves; (verse 8) though he was taken from prison and from judgment, and made to undergo  torments and death, in the midst of his best days,—all which is brought on him for the transgression of my people; (verse 9) making his grave with the wicked, or like the worst of malefactors (for he is denied even burial, as thinking him unworthy of it); notwithstanding this, his death was honourable, as he was not brought to it for either violence or deceit; (verse 10) but merely because it pleased the Ld to afflict him and punish his soul for his sin.”

*At the time these letters were written the Inquisition was still in full force in Spain and Portugal.—Ed. Oc.

His sufferings and afflictions have now an end in his exaltation and restoration; for “he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hands. Verse 11. He shall see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many,” for  he shall bear or clear them of their iniquities, teaching them the ways of the Lord, and making them acceptable; for many will join themselves to the Jews, as is declared, “Also the sons of the strangers that join themselves to the Lord to be his servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold on my covenant, even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; and their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people; so saith the Lord God which gathereth the outcasts of Israel yet will I gather others unto him.” (Isaiah lvi. 6-8.)

“For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land, and the stranger shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.” (Isaiah xiv. 1.)

“Therefore,” continues the prophet, (liii. 12,) will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;” and that for the merits of “having poured out his soul unto death,” in witness of God’s holy NAME: for which “he was numbered with <<47>>the transgressors;” patiently bearing the sinful and unrighteous behaviour of many; and now in his exaltation interceding for (those) transgressors.

Thus, sir, have I given you a sort of paraphrase on this famous chapter of Isaiah. To me this appears to be the true and genuine sense and I am confirmed in my opinion, both from the subject of the preceding chapters, and from that which follows, containing a description of the deliverance to be wrought, which the prophet concludes with the following remarkable words: “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest and not comforted, behold I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundation with sapphires; and I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates with carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established; thou shalt be far from oppression, for thou shalt not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near thee. Behold they shall surely be gathered together, but not by, me whosoever shall gather together against thee, shall fall for thy sake. Behold I have created the smith that bloweth the coals on the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work: and I have created the waster to destroy. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn; this the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” liv. 11, &c.) There are those who apply this prophecy of Isaiah liii. throughout to King Josiah; but there are many things, in my opinion, which do not answer to his character. The great Grotius I think with better success, applies it to the prophet Jeremiah; there are many things in his life and persecutions which make the application to fit him more probably; though I choose to give you the explanation which is more generally followed. But let the prophecy concern the Jews in general, let it concern Jeremiah or Josiah this much is evident,—it cannot be applied to Jesus; and of this opinion must the New Testament writers have been, or they would have quoted and made application of it.        

I am, &c.

Note by the Editor—With the above closes the series of Dias’ Letters in the collection which we obtained from our friend Samson Simson Esq., of Yonkers, Westchester County, New York. We began their publication soon after the commencement of our Magazine, nearly eight years ago, and we then expressed a hope that it might live long enough to enable us to give publicity to all these able letters <<48>>in our pages. This hope at least has been fulfilled, and it is with truly grateful feelings that we have seen it accomplished.

In the collection before us there are yet two independent dissertations, which we mean to insert in our first disposable space. Since we commenced printing the correspondence which we now close, we have ascertained that another copy, in MS., is in possession of Mr. Dias of London, a grandson of the author, and yet another in that of the heirs of the late Chapman Levy, who died not long since in Kosciusko, Attala County, Mississippi. We have endeavoured to obtain a sight of this, in order to compare it with the copy before us, but we have been unsuccessful. The family of the author in England have hitherto not sent us their MS.; we in fact did not ask for it; but we have no doubt whatever that all three are substantially the same. We however know not whether there are more letters contained in the others than in Mr. Simson’s copy; should this be found to be the case, we hope to be enabled to obtain them for publication hereafter.

We have copied the whole with the greatest care from the MS., only altering in some places the antiquated spelling, and correcting here and there slight inaccuracies, evidently the result of carelessness either in writing or transcribing, just as Mr. Dias himself would have done had he lived to print his valuable letters. We are happy to find that they have attracted a large share of public attention, and many have ked us to issue them in a separate volume, in order to have them in a connected form. We approve heartily of the suggestion, and should be happy to be the means of diffusing them wherever Israelites dwell, as a ready means of defence when attacked. We would, therefore, request all those who are desirous of possessing such a book to inform us without delay; and if then in our power, we promise to issue them in a form proper to be carried about the person when travelling, so as to answer the purpose intended. We especially request the attention of ministers to the subject, and hope that they may deem it of sufficient importance to recommend it to their respective congregations.