[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)
EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.
In 1830 and later the Harbinger published certain letters to Humphrey Marshal, written by Mr. Campbell. From these we make the following extracts: 1830--page 513.
I have no doubt, sir, but you have strong objections to the truth of the Christian religion, much stronger than you have either reason or argument to sustain. For Free-thinkers are not more free from prejudice and passion, from enthusiasm and infatuation, than those whom they denounce as dupes and impostors. With many of them, a Free-thinker is one who is free to form opinions as despots enact laws; free to infer without premises; free to conjecture without probability; free to assert and to decide, not only without, but even against, reason and well-established testimony. Those who are not so free in these respects, they rank amongst impostors and dupes. These they honor with such epithets as you bestow on Paul. In your style Paul was a "jack-with-the-lantern;" the Apostles were "cullies," and the most honorable women were "gossips." The Christian facts are "abominable falsehoods;" and the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are "apostolic romances." In this style, sir, you appear not to be a novitiate, but a master.
You assert in the following words:--"I say that Mary Magdalene was the author of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, by making the  first suggestions of the fact, and by adding to it circumstances of a marvelous kind."
Indeed, sir, you appear to be as free a reasoner, as thinker, or believer, touching all matters and things pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus. The freest piece of reasoning, which I recollect to have seen from the pen of a senator, is your reasoning about the robbery of the sepulchre. At the conclusion of your reasoning, you affirm--"I have now shown how, or by whom, the body of Jesus was removed from the sepulchre." Now for your showing by testimony and reason. Nay, indeed, you prove a fact, historic, too, without testimony. For the only testimony you adduce is your own conjecture. And your deposition is to the following effect:--"The Apostles were hypocrites." Joseph and Nicodemus, two of the disciples, stole the body. This is proved from the fact that Joseph and Nicodemus were not interrogated about its absence. The Apostles knew they had stolen it, and therefore would not have them interrogated; and they, Joseph and Nicodemus, conscious of having stolen it, did not interrogate the Apostles about it. Had they not had the body in custody, they would doubtless have called upon the Apostles to account for its absence. And how is it proved that they did not interrogate the Apostles? Because it is not recorded! "The fair inference from this silence is as strong and as plain as the war-toned trumpet, in affirming that no inquiry was made. "And that in like manner affirms, that knowing how the body was disposed of, they had no inquiry to make; or rather that they chose not to write it down if they made any. Such, had it been told, would have been the honest truth." Thank you, Mr. Marshal, for your deposition. But this is more than your testimony--it is your reasoning and testimony combined. This you call "showing by whom the body of Jesus was removed." I know of no Christian writer who ever demanded more credulity from his readers than you demand in this instance. This vies with the popish transubstantiation! Silence has not, as far as I have learned, ever before been summoned as a witness in any case, and made speak "louder than the war-toned trumpet." This is a new court, new judges, witnesses, and jury--one erected by Mr. Marshal for his own use and behoof. Now, sir, think you that a sane community will consent to such a tribunal, or that it can regard that man as possessing a sound mind in a sound body who would attempt--I say, attempt to subvert the faith of the most intelligent portion of the human race by such chimerical assumptions, and call it "showing by whom the body of Jesus was removed"!!
I shall only, in these introductory notices, attend to another of your proofs that the body was stolen. You inform us that Mary Magdalene was the author of the report of the resurrection, and yet the  same writer who informs you of Mary Magdalene affirms that her report was not even believed by the disciples. From what history, then, sir, do you learn that she was the author of the resurrection story? But your records inform you of a grand "caucus" held the night between the first and second days of the report and of the week touching this report. The proceedings of said caucus you are also apprized of. The debates you have read, well attested, and on the question "whether to suppress or to propagate the idea of their late Master's resurrection, the latter had the majority." If I do not forget what I have read in your pamphlet, I think you talk of the inductive philosophy, and the rules of evidence, testimony, etc. And is this your application of them? Is it by such reasonings, assumptions, and conjectures you propose to undermine the faith of Christendom? If so, indeed, you appear to have as much underrated the intelligence and the intellect itself of this generation as you have the evidences of the Christian religion. But the scoffer will rejoice with you in all the puns, witticisms, and scoffs which you bestow on the Author of the hope of immortality. They also, whose interest it would be that there were no God, will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." But as you assume to reason against the evidences of the great fact on which Christianity rests, and as you make a great ado about the contradictions of the original witnesses, I will attend to the marrow and pith of your reasonings, to show that the original witnesses were wittingly and knowingly a pack of impostors, lying and propagating lies for the express purpose of carrying some point, which you, however, can not name. We shall, nevertheless, calmly and dispassionately examine your "reasons," if such they may be called, by which you would disprove the fact of Christ's resurrection.
You seem to have reasoned yourself into the conviction that you have attacked the main point of my argument in support of the resurrection of Jesus. This, however, is not the fact. You have not even glanced at it. The testimony of the original witnesses is nowhere in your pamphlet submitted, presented, nor attacked with any reference to that which gives validity to the whole of it. You rely upon the contradictions which you have imagined you have found in the narratives of the Evangelists. And because they did not tell all the same incidents, nor those which they relate, in the same words, you prove them to be incredible witnesses, and the gospel to be a fiction. How successful you have been in finding contradictions the sequel will disclose.
The Christian religion has been attacked and defended by all sorts of intellects and by all sorts of men. It never sustained an injury from its enemies. Its friends--its professed friends, have always been its worst enemies. Its real friends have nothing to fear from  such attacks as you volunteer in the pamphlet before me. You fail to console even the Deists. And I have so much knowledge of human nature as to authorize me to say, that even those who wield as able a pen as yourself are unable to deface from their own minds the fears and apprehensions that Jesus rose from the dead. It is among the most common phenomena of the human mind to find persons pleading a cause which they do not believe, and to see others discrediting both facts and pretensions, which, with all their efforts, they can not cordially disbelieve themselves. How far this may be true of yourself I have no business to inquire. You have in your old days, at the close of a pretty long life, thought good to leave behind you a monument of your hatred against the Author of the Christian religion, and those who sustained his pretensions at the hazard of their lives.
It is a consolation which you promise yourself in death, the most unenviable, that not having found the present world more religious nor moral than to make it safe to live in, you put forth all your powers and all your influence, your last and best efforts, to rob the Christian of his hope in God, and to weaken all that restrains the arm of violence and the heart of wickedness, by denying the facts on which that purest and best of all systems of morality and virtue rests; and by offering in its place not a single ray of light or information on all that most interests man to know, viz.: what he is, whence he came, and whither he goes.
SIR:--No two writers, as far as I have read, attack the Christian religion in the same manner, nor upon the same principles. The sceptics are very far from being agreed among themselves as to the test to which it ought to be subjected, or as respects the tribunal before which its pretensions ought to be tried. It is true they all talk about its being "submitted to the test of reason," and some add, "to the test of experience." But the gentlemen of your fraternity are as much at odds on the subject of reason, as on the subject of religion. With some it is reasonable to try Christianity as they try a theorem in mathematics; with others, it is reasonable to examine its evidences as though it were a question of metaphysics; a third class say it is reasonable to decide upon its pretensions on the principles of individual experience; and a fourth will have it tried as a criminal in a court of law; and I may add, there are not a few who deem it most reasonable that it should be tried before all these tribunals in one general confederation. So long, then, as your brotherhood of philosophers are so variant on what reason decides, as to the court of inquiry before which Christianity is to be examined, it is not strange  that among sceptics there should be so many sects, so many modes of attack, and so general an ignorance of what Christianity is.
We may differ as much about reason as religion, and about the manner of conducting the trial as about the thing to be tried. For my part, I must confess that I esteem it unreasonable in the highest degree to submit the pretensions of the Scriptures to the same tribunal before which I might submit a poem, a fine painting, a piece of architecture, a question in algebra, in physics, or in metaphysics. Neither could I agree to have it tried in a court of common law, nor in a court of chancery, by such rules as litigated questions of law and equity are decided. If, however, any question of fact, one or two thousand years since asserted, can be decided before such canons, I object not to join issue with you on the premises, that by all the same rules, canons, and regulations which you can bring to bear upon any question of fact on record, will I have the question of the resurrection tried. In whatever court, before whatever judges, by whatever laws or trial you would ascertain the truth or falsehood of Cromwell's protectorate, or the Saxon conquests, of the ascension of the Cesars to imperial power, the victories of Hannibal, the birth, life and death of Cyrus, Alexander, Alfred, or Queen Elizabeth--in the same court, before the same judges, and by the same laws will the resurrection of Jesus be proved.
This I call reason. You may call it what you please. All mathematical questions I submit to the canons of Euclid--all questions in natural philosophy, to experiment and analogy--all questions of common law, to courts of law: but questions of fact, historical fact, to that tribunal before which all historical facts are decided. The error on which your objections proceed is, that you will try historical facts in the same court and before the same laws by which you would try a question of fact, the witnesses to which are all living. You can not elude the reasonableness of the distinction which I here lay down, by telling me that all questions of fact are questions respecting the past, and, consequently, so far historical, and therefore all belong to one and the same chapter: for the most common mind will at once perceive that no person would think of proving the truth of Cataline's conspiracy as was tried that of Aaron Burr. No person would have thought of proving the assassination of Col. Sharp, as he would prove the assassination of Julius Cesar. The evidence necessary to convict a thief or a murderer in our courts of law, differs essentially from that which is necessary to prove that Columbus was the first discoverer of America, or that Cicero wrote his Orations.
Some of our laughing sceptics, of the most fashionable schools, with an air of superior wisdom, inform us deluded Christians that we could not recover a shilling in any court of law upon such  testimony as we have to offer for our confidence in God and our faith in Jesus. This is one of Miss Frances Wright's finest thoughts--one of her most puissant blows at the Christian faith. Some of the Deists, too, in the neighborhood of Frankfort, Ky., likewise triumph in their own estimation by the same argument. No man, say they, could prove any fact in court upon such testimony as we have to offer for the resurrection of Jesus. This may all be true, and yet the gospel true. I would ask them but one question here: Could a person recover a shilling in any court of law or equity upon such testimony as he has to offer for any historic fact which happened from the Creation to the Year of Grace 1700? Could you, sir, recover a shilling in any court in the United States by such testimony as you have to offer for your belief in the existence of such persons as Newton, Boyle, Bacon, Locke, Columbus, or any other person or event of whose existence you are assured? If, then, you could not, why discredit the resurrection of Jesus by objections drawn from such reasonings--by conclusions from such premises! This boast of other sceptics, for which you manifest so strong an inclination, is just as pertinent to the points at issue, as though one should say, "All the arguments or evidences you have to offer for your belief in the resurrection would not prove that a triangle has three sides and three angles, or that things that are equal to the same are equal to one another!"
But, sir, if there be any historic fact which happened before the Christian era, contemporaneous with it, or during sixteen hundred years since, which you believe, name it; and I will undertake to show that you have better reasons to believe the fact of Christ's resurrection from the dead than that fact, whatever it may be. The only question here is, Can we act with certainty upon any testimony, or is testimony of any character capable of giving us assurance? If you say No, then you ought not to object to the testimony because of its character, because all testimony would then be inadequate. If you say Yes, then it behooves you to show that the apostolic testimony, with all its concomitants, is inferior to that testimony which you have to offer for other historic facts of which you are assured. But this we presume to assert you can not do.
Persons may reject the Christian religion on the ground that it is the subject of history--that it comes to us through human testimony--that it is based on facts, which facts are necessarily to us matters of belief. In one word, they may reject Christianity because it is first of all a matter of faith--because they suppose it incompatible with their views of Divinity that the salvation of men should be made dependent on that which does not always produce absolute certainty. They argue that it is unsafe, and consequently unworthy of the Author of the Universe, to make salvation directly or indirectly dependent  on belief. When a sceptic candidly avows this to be the ground of his objection to the Christian religion, we know how to address him. We are prepared to show that this power we have of proving testimony to be true, or what is the same thing, this power which we have of believing testimony, is the most simple, natural, powerful, and universal principle of action belonging to the human constitution, and that there is not in human nature a principle of action so suitable, so well adapted to become the basis of religion as this principle of faith. We are prepared to show, if we have not already showed, that it is impossible in the nature of things, as far as known to mortal man, that it could have been based upon any other principle. Good testimony, or testimony corresponding with the nature of the facts attested, is capable of producing all that certainty of assurance necessary to make man pure and happy: and that is enough, our enemies themselves being judges. If the facts to be believed are supernatural facts, the testimony is supernatural also, and supported by all that nature and reason can contribute to sustain any testimony.
But I have not found in your pamphlet that you make such an avowal. You, sir, object not to religion because founded upon testimony; but the burthen of your book is to prove that the testimony is incompetent, contradictory, or some way incredible.
As you have chosen your own course in objecting, I shall choose mine in replying; and as you single out the article of the resurrection of Jesus, or the testimony on which it is sustained, as, in your judgment incompetent, I will first turn my attention to that testimony.
Concerning contradictions of Scripture, Mr. Campbell wrote to Mr. Marshal, Millennial Harbinger, 1831, page 150, et seq.:
One, sir, would imagine, from the frequency, familiarity, and fluency of your allusions to "the contradictions" found in those sacred historians, and from the boldness which you assume and evince, at one time, in challenging; at another, in ridiculing their pretensions to honesty and veracity, that you had amply proved their testimony to be a collection of palpable fables, a bundle of contradictions; and that all the learned, the wise, and good men of ancient and modern Christendom were a pack of knaves, or a set of brainless dolts.
If, sir, you could find only one real contradiction in the whole volume, we might allow you to presume that there were others. But it is as intolerable on our part to hear you boast of "plenty of contradictions," as it is weak on yours to appear to triumph in victories which you have not gained.
Your tongue is your own, and so is your pen, and you may call harmony, discord; consistency, contradiction; or honesty, knavery. You may call virtues, vices, and give new names to things, or you may  attach meanings to words not only differing from, but in opposition to, general usage or their universal acceptation.
It would, perhaps, be useful to you and profitable to others, were we to attempt to define and establish the character of a contradiction, before we proceed to examine those you have imputed to the four Evangelists. By the term "contradiction," I mean not merely a verbal difference, nor even a verbal opposition, but an irreconcilable contrariety of statement. I ought not to presume to inform you, sir, a judge of law, evidence and fact; for doubtless it is well known to you, that it is, in most instances, a very difficult matter to establish a positive contradiction. A seeming, a probable, a possible contradiction is one thing, and a real contradiction another. The former convicts no person of falsehood, accidental or intended; the latter always does. But it must be clearly and unequivocally proved.
That there are seeming contradictions in every narrative which I have read, political, religious, or common, I think is probable. But in almost every instance these seeming contradictions are only proofs of my ignorance of some of the incidents, and not of the falsehood of the narrator. Often, very often, these seeming contradictions are in more perfect coincidence with the fact, than assertions free from such appearances could have been.
But a contradiction is neither more nor less than a contradiction. It is not a seeming, or a possible; but a positive, irreconcilable contrariety of statement which constitutes a contradiction. Of this there is not an instance in the New Testament. Remember, Sir, I have said, NOT ONE INSTANCE.
But we may, on the subject of contradictions, go still farther, and affirm, that even a contradiction in terms is not always, nor necessarily, a contradiction in fact, unless the terms be all used in the same sense. Of this innumerable instances might be given. For example; a Jew affirms, that "Elihu was the brother of Samuel;" a Grecian affirms, that "Elihu was not the brother of Samuel." This is a positive contradiction in terms; but yet it is not a contradiction in fact. Both writers speak of the same Elihu and of the same Samuel, and yet both declare the truth. The apparent and positive contradiction in terms is removed when it is ascertained that the term brother with a Jew frequently denotes a cousin, but never with a Greek. Now had the term brother been of the same acceptation in both propositions there would have been a contradiction in fact as well as in terms. It is an ambiguous word, not only because in the instances given it represents different natural relations; but because it also denotes natural, political, and religious relations. Even among us persons may be natural, and neither political nor religious brothers; they may be political, and neither natural nor religious brothers; and they may  be religious, and neither political nor natural brothers. How many contradictions in terms, and not in fact, might be framed on the ambiguity of this very definite term I need not enumerate for your conviction.
You can have many similar instances in the term day. The Babylonians reckoned a day from one sunrising to another; the Italians, from one sunsetting to another; other nations reckoned their day from noon to noon; we, from midnight to midnight; and the Jews, from evening to evening. Now suppose a Chaldean historian had asserted that Cyrus finished the destruction of Babylon in one day; and an Italian writer affirms that Cyrus did not finish the destruction of Babylon in one day; we would have a contradiction in terms, but none in fact. In our own acceptation, the term day is ambiguous, for in our civil sense a day is twenty-four hours. It sometimes includes both the light and the darkness--the day and the night; at other times, it is used in contradistinction from the night. How many contradictions in terms concerning the incidents of a single day, without a single contradiction in fact, could be formed, the humblest capacity may apprehend. It is unnecessary to multiply specifications--any one can furnish them in abundance. To constitute a contradiction in fact, it appears to be incontrovertible that all the terms must be used in the same sense, and that the statements made must be irreconcilable upon every conceivable possibility. From all of which we argue, and we hope, sir, with your conviction of its force, that if a contradiction in terms is often no contradiction in fact, with how much caution ought we to speak of contradictions in fact, when our premises are only mere circumstantial differences of statement!
If only one person had written the memoirs of Jesus Christ and the introduction of Christianity into the world, you, it seems, would have been a believer; for you are so fond of consistency, and so great a lover of truth, that nothing prevents your being a Christian but the contradictions between the four historians. Now, if but one had written these transactions, you must have believed, as then there would have been none of your contradictions: for you have not, dared because you are too honest, to censure any one of these historians for contradicting himself. If you apprehend the force of this, as I doubt not you do, then you must see it increases the difficulty tenfold on your part, to make them contradict one another. A thousand considerations explanatory of discrepancies between historians not writing in the same country, not exactly contemporaneous, can be adduced to solve difficulties which could not be made to bear upon the testimony of the same individual, presented to the same persons. And, indeed, the same individual, in telling the same story four times over to four different audiences, though more frequently appearing to contradict  himself, is not so easily convicted of real contradiction as he would be in telling the story once to the same audience; for one reason among many others, he may, for the sake of his audience, omit some things and enlarge upon others, which will cause more apparent discrepancies than could appear in addressing the same audience. In the ratio, then, of these reasons for varieties in narratives, is the difficulty of proving contradictions in fact, from any verbal differences or oppositions in statements made.
Thomas Paine and most of his admirers have licensed themselves to call omissions contradictions. Hence the numerous contradictions alleged against the four Evangelists, because some of them have omitted to record certain incidents which the sceptics think ought to have been recorded, and because they have not all recorded the same incidents in the same words. In the free and declamatory style of sceptical writers, every omission is called a contradiction. Of this I hope to convict you in the sequel. You have kept so much of their company that you have not only received their spirit, but caught their style.
But it is not only because some of the Evangelists have omitted to record what the others have mentioned, that they are so often arraigned before the merciless bar of sceptical criticism; but because Josephus, or some other writer, has omitted to state all that they have written, or more than they have recorded. The following instances and remarks from Chalmers are worthy, sir, of your attention; and, therefore, I will take the pains to lay them before you:
"In the gospel, we are told that Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee, married his brother Philip's wife. In Josephus, we have the same story; only he gives a different name to Philip, and calls him Herod; and what adds to the difficulty, there was a Philip of that family, whom we knew not to have been the first husband of Herodias. This is at first sight a little alarming. But, in the progress of our inquiries, we are given to understand from this same Josephus, that there were three Herods in the same family; and therefore, no improbability in there being two Philips. We also know from the histories of that period, that it was quite common for the same individual to have two names; and this is never more necessary, than when employed to distinguish brothers who have one name the same. The Herod who is called Philip, is just as likely a distinction, as the Simon who is called Peter, or the Saul who is called Paul. The name of the high priest, at the time of our Saviour's crucifixion, was Caiaphas, according to the Evangelists. According to Josephus, the name of the high priest at that period was Joseph. This would have been precisely a difficulty of the same kind, had not Josephus happened to mention that this Joseph was also called Caiaphas. Would it have been dealing  fairly with the Evangelists, we ask, to have made their credibility depend upon the accidental omission of another historian? Is it consistent with the acknowledged principle of sound criticism, to bring four writers so entirely under the tribunal of Josephus, each of whom stands as firmly supported by all the evidences which can give authority to a historian, and have greatly the advantage of him in this, that they can add the argument of their concurrence to the argument of each separate and independent testimony? It so happens, however, in the present instance, that even Jewish writers, in their narrative of the same circumstance, give the name of Philip to the first husband of Herodias. We by no means conceive, that any foreign testimony was necessary for the vindication of the Evangelists. Still, however, it must go far to dissipate every suspicion of artifice in the construction of their histories. It proved that, in the confidence with which they delivered themselves up to their own information, they neglected appearance, and felt themselves independent of it. This apparent difficulty, like many others of the same kind, lands us in a stronger confirmation of the honesty of the Evangelists; and it is delightful to perceive how truth receives a fuller accession to its splendor from the attempts which are made to disgrace and to darken it.
"On this branch of the argument the impartial inquirer must be struck with the little indulgence which infidels, and even Christians, have given to the evangelical writers. In other cases, when we compare the narratives of contemporary historians, it is not expected that all the circumstances alluded to by one will be taken notice of by the rest; and it often happens that an event or a custom is admitted upon the faith of a single historian; and the silence of all other writers is not suffered to attach suspicion or discredit to his testimony. It is an allowed principle that a scrupulous resemblance between two histories is very far from necessary to their being held consistent with one another. And what is more, it sometimes happens that, with cotemporary historians, there may be an apparent contradiction, and the credit of both parties remain as entire and unsuspicious as before. Posterity is in these cases disposed to make the most liberal allowances. Instead of calling it a contradiction, they often call it a difficulty. They are sensible that, in many instances, a seeming variety of statements has, upon a more extensive knowledge of ancient history, admitted of a perfect reconciliation. Instead, then, of referring the difficulty in question to the inaccuracy or bad faith of any of the parties, they, with more justness and more modesty, refer it to their own ignorance, and to that obscurity which necessarily hangs over the history of every remote age. These principles are suffered to have great influence in every similar investigation, every  ordinary principle is abandoned, and the suspicion annexed to the teachers of religion is carried to the dereliction of all that candor and liberality with which every other document of antiquity is judged of and appreciated. How does it happen that the authority of Josephus should be acquiesced in as a first principle, while every step in the narrative of the Evangelists must have foreign testimony to confirm and support it? How comes it that the silence of Josephus should be construed into an impeachment of the testimony of the Evangelists, while it is never admitted for a single moment that the silence of the Evangelists can impart the slightest blemish to the testimony of Josephus? How comes it that the supposition of two Philips in one family should throw a damp of scepticism over the gospel narrative, while the only circumstance which renders that supposition necessary is the single testimony of Josephus; in which very testimony it is necessarily implied that there are two Herods in that same family? How comes it that the Evangelists, with as much internal, and a vast deal more of external evidence in their favor, should be made to stand before Josephus, like so many prisoners at the bar of justice? In any other case, we are convinced, that this would be looked upon as rough handling. But we are not sorry for it. It has given more triumph and confidence to the argument. And it is no small addition to our faith that its teachers have survived an examination which, in point of rigor and severity, we believe to be quite unexampled in the annals of criticism."
But, with a full reference to your notions of contradictions, and to give you an idea with how much ease they can be dissipated, I will give you the following specimen of a case generically, if not specifically in point; only with this difference, that the circumstance is a very trivial one; but so much the better, as it can be examined without any movement of the passions or feelings from interest, or any other temptation:
Four persons who, as they passed along, witnessed the salvation of a drowning man, reported in the village where they stopped, as follows: A said he "saw a man in the act of being drowned in the river; but he was saved by a man on the bank." B reported that he "saw a man sinking in the river; but he was saved by a plank." C stated that he "saw a person narrowly escape drowning, and that he would have been drowned in the river, but for a skiff which came to his relief." And D affirmed that he "saw a man in the act of drowning, but was saved by a lad who threw him a rope." Each of these witnesses told this matter in his own neighborhood of the town in which they lived. After a short time their reports spread through the whole town, and the contradictions became a matter of criticism. Hitherto they had sustained a good reputation for veracity; but S, a very  captious gentleman in town, said it was all a fable, and he believed nothing of it. It was to no purpose that his neighbor O spoke of the general character of the witnesses, and that he alleged they could have no interest in fabricating such a thing. How can you believe such contradictions? he rejoined. Some of them falsifies, and which of them to believe, or whether any of them, I know not how you can decide. A says he was saved by a man on the bank of the river; B, that he was saved by a plank; C, that he was saved by a skiff; and D affirms that he was saved by a lad casting to him a rope. It is irreconcilable! Incredible! Who can believe such palpable contradictions? Perhaps, rejoins O, there is a possibility of reconciling all these seeming contradictions were we to hear all the circumstances.
In the meantime, A drawing near, they agreed to refer to him their difficulties. A observed that the reports of B, C, and D, were as correct as his own. But as he did not suppose it necessary to his being believed that he should narrate all the circumstances, he presumed neither did they. But, gentlemen, continues he, as you seem to take much interest in the matter, I will circumstantially narrate the whole of it:--
The person of whom we spoke had gone into the river to bathe, and after swimming some distance into the river, was returning to the shore; but having become faint and exhausted, he began to sink and called for help. At this crisis a person on the bank of the river ran to the shore, seized a small plank, and pushed it with all his might into the river. The exhausted stranger had just as much strength as to lay hold of it and raise his breast upon it, but the current was carrying him down the river with considerable velocity. After descending a few rods, a lad who was returning from the opposite shore, hastened out of his course to relieve him, and had nearly approached him before he was seen by the man on the plank, who, upon turning round to seize the skiff, lost the plank, and failed in reaching the skiff. In this crisis the lad threw him a rope which he succeeded in grasping, and by this means he was taken into the boat and brought safe to shore.
O exclaimed, I thought if the matter had been explained minutely, all the difficulties might have been overcome. But S, abruptly turning round, departed without making a single remark.
Thus, sir, the four testimonies are all true; the alleged contradictions vanish upon a careful examination of all the circumstances. It will be easy for you to make the application to your "plenty of contradictions" in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, touching the resurrection of the Saviour of the world. This task I will, with all respect for your intellect, assign you till you next hear from me.
In the next letter Mr. Campbell adds: 
In my last letter to you I have, without going into details, disposed of upon principles which can not be argued against, all your "plenty of contradictions." You can not overturn those principles; and admitting them, you can not find a single contradiction in the book. But more desirous to convince than to confute you, I wish to direct your inquiries to the state of mind in which you approach your "private studies" upon the evidences of Christianity.
Ridicule, you know, is no test of truth. You may ridicule the most exalted character, and the most brilliant virtue which adorns it. You may call patriotism, rebellion; heroism, knight errantry; humility, madness; generosity, extravagance; piety, superstition; and devotion, fanaticism. You may ridicule the forgiveness of injuries under the character of cowardice, and laugh at the courteous in the character of a parasite. Thus you are able to laugh at Mary and Martha, and Susannah and Joanna, under the character of gossips; and you can fill a few pages upon Mary Magdalene, as a woman of no good fame. You can take the words "some doubted," at the close of Matthew's testimony, and fill a page upon the incompetency of the witnesses. You can make a sentence for Peter or Paul, and then ridicule it as if Peter and Paul had spoken or written as yourself.
What a stupid impostor or knave must Matthew have been to have told that some of the disciples doubted whether it was the same Jesus when he meditated, as you allow, to give all the verisimilitude to his narrative possible! And what stupid souls have been all who have believed upon the testimony of those who declare that the witnesses themselves doubted whether he that appeared to give the commission was the same who was crucified!
Truly you represent Matthew as a very shrewd impostor! But if this shrewdness should be a proof of honesty, and the doubts expressed be only whether it was Jesus who appeared, and if these doubts were entertained only while he was at some distance, and vanished when he drew near, what then? Your wit and humor are your own! The laugh is at yourself.
But to explain the frequent appearances of the risen Saviour, you have only to assume that the Apostles had chosen one to personate him, and that Thomas was absent, and being an honest man was deceived by the others into a renunciation of his doubts. Again, you tell us that the historian Mark sends Jesus to heaven the day after he rose from the dead, while John keeps him on earth for five or six weeks--and a hundred other things about his resurrection which no man of sense can regard in any other light than as the most contemptible puerilities of an undiscerning mind; oppressed with some evil genius, or laboring under some species of alienation, either from infirmity, or from a conscience haunted with the recollections of many  years devoted to such practices as unfit a man for the enjoyment of immortality, and divest him of the desire for it.
Your representing the Apostles as laboring to induce the belief of a lie in which their fortune and fame were concerned, is so opposite to all probability that I never knew a deist who had the hardihood to make such an assertion. Great fame and fortune indeed! to lose all respectability among men, to suffer all privations, and the most severe death which deists, and atheists, and polytheists could inflict upon them.
The whole mind and strength of your pamphlet is fairly drawn to a focus in one proposition, viz.: The four Evangelists have not recorded a single miracle, the crucifixion, resurrection or ascension of the Saviour, in precisely the same words, or in words representing exactly the same ideas; therefore their narratives are tissues of lies, falsehoods, fables, and the whole is incredible. Now the fact is, that were the testimonies of the original witnesses just such as you would make them, or have them to be, neither yourself nor any person else could believe them.
Peter and Paul are the two most noted preachers of the gospel mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles--the former to the Jews, the latter to the Gentiles. We have several of their sermons on record. They always preached the gospel; and one of them said that if man or angel should proclaim any other gospel than he proclaimed, he ought to be accursed. Now in your mode of reasoning, neither of these men, nor any other men, ever did preach twice the same gospel; for they never used the same words, nor expressed on any two occasions all the same ideas--nay, there is on your principles no credible history in the world. Of some eight or ten histories of England, of Germany, of France, of the American Colonies and Revolution, there is not one credible; they are all a tissue of lies and fables, for no two of them agree in narrating any one prominent event: that is, no two of them use exactly the same words, or give exactly the same ideas.
You make much use of one sentence in my debate with Mr; Owen which you either totally misunderstood or greatly pervert. It is an attempt to discriminate between what in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures is worthy of the name of Divine Revolution. We contemplate not everything said by everybody whose name is found in the books in the light of a communication from heaven to men: and with us the phrase "the word of God," or "the word of the Lord," in the Apostolic writings, indicates only the last communication, called the gospel, or new institution of the Saviour. And, indeed, that which declares the philanthropy of God in the mission of his Son to be the Saviour of the world, that word of reconciliation which purifies the heart and reforms the life of man, is, the gospel, or word of God,  contradistinguished from all other things written in the book. It is as much the object of these writings to reveal man to himself, to gave a fair outline of the best and worst things in the history of man, and in God's government over man, as to reveal the character of God and his purposes concerning man. Much of both Testaments is occupied with all details necessary for this purpose. Besides, the prophecies of the, future, and the record of the past, are all intended to give proper emphasis to, and to accumulate light upon, the goodness concerning the Saviour, whom all good men love, honor, and obey, and whom all wicked men insult and traduce, as did his betrayers and murderers.
But, sir, your attack, scurrilous, abusive, and common as it is, upon the witnesses, is only a lying in ambush, like the dragon in the wilderness, to devour a certain child as soon as born: for no testimony could induce you to believe in such a miracle as the resurrection of a dead man! This is your own confession. But as I have shown you, long since, you do admit that one man, the father of the race, was raised from the dead, or that life was communicated to one man miraculously. In this you are at war with your own theory; and until you give some reconciliation of this matter with your own principles, it is preposterous to make that an objection to the second Adam which you ascribe to the first.
In this letter I only intended to call your attention to the state of mind in which you enter upon your private studies of the Evidences of Christianity; but lifting up your pamphlet, and glancing over a few pages of it, to find if there was anything unnoticed in my former letters worthy of attention, I have been led to make the above general and disconnected remarks. Whenever you can furnish me with one, and only one contradiction in the New Testament, on the principles submitted in my last, I will specially attend to it. If you please to send me one contradiction, made out in proper form, and written in such style as will not shock the nerves of any of my readers, male or female, I will engage to show, according to right reason, that there is no contradiction in it. In all good will, respectfully,
Accepting Mr. Campbell's invitation to present one contradiction of Scripture, Mr. Marshall presented the following as involving the credit of the whole Scripture. (See Matt. xxvi. 34.) "Jesus said unto him, [Peter,] Verily I say unto thee, that this night before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice." (See Mark xiv. 30.) "And Jesus said unto him, [Peter,] Verily I say unto thee, that this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice." Here the contradiction relied on consists in the contrast between once and twice, referring to the crowing of the cock, to say nothing of the entire member thrown into the sentence by Mark, viz.: "that this day."  Now, sir, each of these holy men give us, as the very words of Jesus, a recital variant from one another in matter of fact; as one is different from two, in meaning and effect, as well as in terms. Both are not true--which is? When, sir, you have digested this--and you want another, you shall have ONE more; reserving to myself the right of reply, within your given rules.
Mr. Campbell replied, Millennial Harbinger, 1831, page 371:
I gave you an invitation to select one of the many contradictions of which you complained; and upon that one we should test the merits of the whole. You have done so. You have made your selection, and if you sustain this, we shall admit, without a trial, that you can sustain others: if you can not, we must conclude, without trial also, that you can not sustain any one whatever. This is your Goliath: if he be slain your army is routed, and if he be triumphant we shall strike our tents and retreat without farther ceremony.
"A contradiction," as defined in my fifth letter to you, page 151, and to which no exception has been taken, "is an irreconcilable contrariety of statement." An omission, or a mere variety of statement, or a difference in expression, never can constitute a contradiction; for if that were the fact, all witnesses who do not use all the same words, and in all the same places, are contradictory. Every falsehood is not a contradiction, for then no single affirmative proposition could express a falsehood. Nor is every verbal contradiction a falsehood, as before demonstrated. But "especially, (you say,) a contradiction consists of an affirmative on one side, and a negative expressed or implied on the other." This, though vague enough, is sufficiently relevant to the case before us, because we are speaking of a contradiction between two witnesses. But now on your own definition, and in the case which you have selected: Does Matthew affirm and Mark deny the predicate of the subject. Of Peter, the subject of the proposition, it is predicated by Matthew that he will, before the cock crow, thrice deny his master. Does Mark deny this of Peter? No: there is no negative expressed or implied on the part of Mark. He does not say that Peter will not deny his Master thrice, nor that he will not deny him thrice before the cock crow once: for, mark it well, his affirming that he will thrice deny his Master before the cock crow twice, does neither express nor imply that he will not deny him thrice before the cock crow once! Where now is your affirmative on one side and your negative on the other? To say it shall be done before the cock crow twice, does not IMPLY that it shall not be done before the cock crow once; and most assuredly it does not EXPRESS that it shall not be done until the cock crow twice.
To give it even the semblance of a contradiction it ought to have read in Matthew, "Before the cock crow once you will thrice deny  me;" and in Mark, "Before, but not until the cock crow twice, you shall thrice deny me." Even then, however, I could demonstrate from other circumstances that there might not be a real contradiction, though there would be an apparent one; but as it now reads, and upon your own definition, there is not the semblance of a contradiction.
But in the event of failing to establish a contradiction here (which I think you must now see is impossible,) then you will say, "Whether does Matthew or Mark give the precise words which Jesus spoke?" To this I answer, Not one of the historians pretend to do this. Many of his maxims they quote, and a few of his sayings they publish, but not with a scrupulous or rather a superstitious regard to every letter, pause, and point; but with the most faithful regard to scope and meaning. This matter is adverted to and descanted upon in my "Hints to Readers" at the end of the Four Testimonies in the New Version. You will see, first edition, page 214, this very point enforced and explained.
But let me more fully illustrate the passage, and show how perfectly groundless is your alleged contradiction. And first, please to notice that in all writers, and as frequently in the New Testament writers as in any others, there are many general propositions spoken with a limitation not expressed. Of this sort are the following in the New Testament, common version, (John v. 31,) "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true." The Pharisees retorted these words, (John xii. 13,) "Thou bearest witness of thyself, thy witness is not true." Jesus replies, "Though I bear witness of myself, my witness is true." Again Jesus says, "The testimony of two men is true." These all are general propositions spoken without limitation, and yet every one of them is limited in their application, which is their specified sense: for the sense of words is not always ascertained from general laws, but from specific applications. The word "true" means worthy of regard; for there is no reason can be assigned why the testimony of two men must be true: but the testimony of two was always, according to the Jewish law, worthy of regard. Now there are some cases in which a person's testimony concerning himself is worthy of regard, and there are other cases in which it is not worthy of regard.
Another example, still more in point, is found in John xiii. 33. To the disciples Jesus says, "Whither I go ye can not come." This is very general, and taken absolutely would teach the disciples that they could not follow Jesus. But upon a question proposed a few verses afterwards by Peter, it is limited by the word "now" (v. 36). "Thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards." So that a general proposition which said, "Whither I go ye can not come," when limited by the circumstances, and explained upon a question made, is equivalent to "whither I go you can not come now."  Such is the case before us. "Before the cock crow" is a general and unlimited expression; but when considered with a reference to circumstances, it is equivalent to "before the cock crow the second time," or "before the cock crow twice."
I am now fairly brought to the explanation of this whole matter, which, had you examined more closely, you would never have selected as a contradiction, and still less as the most palpable one in the book! The facts in the case are these: The Jews reckoned the day from sun-setting to sun-setting. The night of each day preceded the light. Hence in Greek they called the day Nuchthemeron. They divided the night into four watches, of three hours each. The first was from sunsetting till 9 o'clock, called Hespera. The second, from 9 till 12, called Opsia. The third, from 12 till 3, they called Proia; and the fourth, from 3 till 6, or sun-rise, they called Orthros. The third watch, called Proia, began and ended by the crowing of the cock. In Judea the day and night being equal all the year, or nearly so, the cock very regularly crowed at 12 and at 3 in the morning. Hence that watch which began at the first crowing and ended at the second crowing was called the cockcrowing watch, or alektrophonia. (See Mark xiii. 35.) Hence "before the cock crow," in allusion to the watches of that night, is equivalent to "before the cock crow twice." And the fact proves the prediction and explanation; for before the end of the watch called "the crowing of the cock," Peter had thrice denied his Master.
Now, sir, I hope you will be so candid as to admit that neither the words themselves, independent of any allusion to Jewish history, nor the facts in the case, as now explained, according to the reference, Mark xiii. 35; will afford the least semblance of a contradiction. Let us now have a candid and honorable renunciation of your quibbles and imaginary contradictions: for if it has thus fared with your Goliath of Gath, where would your Lilliputian army appear!
Concerning reason and revelating, Mr. Campbell wrote in Millennial Harbinger, 1832, page 97:
Querist.--Are there not some truths in revelation, as commonly understood, contrary to thy decisions?
Reason.--No truth in any science is contrary to my decisions. I decide only what is truth. But many notions are called truths of revelation which are not found in revelation, but in the bewildered and confused imaginations of men. Some there are who affirm (and, no doubt, think) that whatever is contrary to their ignorance and prejudice, is contrary to reason; for they imagine that their own prejudices and ignorance are identical with reason. But I own nothing to be truth which is not correspondent with what exists. My definition of historic truth is the agreement of the narrative with the fact; of logical truth, the agreement of the terms of the proposition with one another,  or the conclusion with the premises; and of religious truth, whatever God, or some one deputed by him, has spoken. This is the truth concerning which you are interrogating me. Everything that God has spoken is true: for "God is truth."
Querist.--But if God should be reputed as having said anything contrary to your ascertained decisions on subjects within your scrutiny and jurisdiction, what then? Dost thou affirm it?
Reason.--What God has spoken, and what he is reputed to have spoken, are very different things. I hold it that God has spoken only truth. But he is represented to have spoken very contrary propositions, according to the testimonies of prejudice and imagination. But let me tell thee once for all, there is nothing contrary to me that is not contrary to truth; and my province is simply to decide all pretensions to truth.
To me it appears consistent with the principles developed in the constitution of the mundane system, that God has spoken to man concerning his origin and destiny. And certainly the positive evidence inscribed upon, transfused through, and collateral with, these oracles of God, is as clearly ascertained as that, if there be any design apparent in human action, there is design apparent in the creation and preservation of the universe.
I have in millions of instances, during four thousand years, decided that God has spoken repeatedly to man; and in millions of instances, during the last two thousand years, I have affirmed "that God, who in, sundry times and in diverse parcels, spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son." Such is my oracle, because I have decided from many processes of examination and cross-examination of the witnesses for God, with as much assurance as I have ever affirmed any historical fact.
Querist.--For the sake of argument, then, let it be conceded that your decision is accordant to truth. Then I ask, Admitting that God has spoken to man, and that the Bible contains these communications; but amongst the various copies and versions, ancient and modern, there are various readings and interpolations: how, then, do you discriminate the genuine from the spurious readings? What are thy criteria?
Reason.--The narrative of facts is the same in all manuscripts, copies, and versions, in every substantial particular. The facts are not only the basis, but the matter of Christian faith; and it is only in the verbal expositions of the meanings and tendencies of these facts, that interpolations or various readings of any importance occur. Comparisons of the more ancient manuscripts and translations, and of the quotations found in the writings of the primitive authors, together with the scope, style, and manner of the inspired penmen,  make it not difficult, when proper pains are taken, to ascertain the genuine readings, and to detect the supplements or mistakes of transcribers.
Querist.--But does not the detection of some supplements, interpolations, or erroneous readings, constitute some objection against the authenticity of the religion founded upon these writings?
Reason.--No: no more than the detection of the works of man upon the mountains and plains, upon the lakes, rivers, and seas, weakens the argument that the earth is the Lord's and that he is the maker of it. As soon would I reject all proof of the divine benevolence because there are found vegetable poisons in our gardens, and mineral poisons among our medicines which God has himself created, as reject a communication from him because he has permitted man to transcribe it, and left it possible for him to pervert it; affording, however, sufficient criteria to detect every foreign ingredient, as he has to discriminate the vegetables and minerals favorable to life, or to contradistinguish what are called the works of nature from the works of art.
Querist.--Tell me, then, what use dost thou make of revelation?
Reason.--All its communications are to me as the axiomata of Euclid to the mathematician. I use them all as first and fixed principles never to be called in question, as rules and measures by which all moral principles are to be tried. A "thus says the Lord" settles all debate, and is absolutely authoritative in every question concerning the spiritual and eternal world. So soon as I ascertain the meaning of the command, promise, or proclamation, I pause not to inquire whether it ought to be regarded, received, or obeyed, but proceed forthwith, according to its tenor and import, to act in accordance with it.
Querist.--But is not this implicit and unconditional surrender of thyself derogatory to thy true dignity, office, and honor?
Reason.--Nothing I conceive so honorable, so dignifying, so congenial to my office, as this implicit acquiescence in all the annunciations of the Great Father of reason and truth. Nothing so certain, so durable, so unchangeable as the word of the Lord. There is no error in it. There can be no error in the most strict and exact conformity to it; for it shall stand forever. Truth, like its author, is eternal and unchangeable. And when it is ascertained that God has spoken, to bow with reverence and without reserve is my duty and my honor.
Querist.--But is it not alleged by thee that God has always spoken in accordance with thee--that revelation and reason perfectly harmonize?
Reason.--When men speak of revelation and reason according and harmonizing, they can not mean a faculty of the human soul: for what sense is there in affirming that natural light and the eye  harmonize and accord? To say that light and the eye agree, is to say as much as that revelation and reason agree. Reason is that eye of the soul to which the light of revelation is addressed. But the babbling world, perhaps, mean that revelation and experience agree; which is true just as far as we have experience; but as revelation immeasurably transcends our experience, it can only be affirmed that so far as human experience reaches, it accords with revelation; and hence it is fairly to be presumed that experience will continue to agree or correspond with revelation until the terms "revelation" and "experience" will be terms of equal value, and cover the same area of thought.
The improper use of terms, the confounding of words and phrases, is an error as common among skeptics as among Christians, and it is equally pernicious to them as to any other class of reasoners. The phrases, "above reason," "contrary to reason," "accordant to reason," when fairly tested, mean no more among those who think, than above or beyond my experience, contrary to my experience, or accordant to my experience. He, therefore, who says he believes nothing above his reason, nor contrary to his reason, simply says he believes nothing above his experience or contrary to it; and therefore revelation to him is wholly incredible. A Christian may believe the Alcoran or the writings of Confucius or Zoroaster just as far as many persons believe the Old and New Testament: that is, as far as their experience goes.
I am wholly misapprehended by the great multitude who pretend to adore me. They are burning incense to a phantom which I abhor, and insulting me to my face by ascriptions of praise, which caricature rather than characterize me. Their philosophy concerning my being and perfections, when stripped of its flimsy veil, represents me as a deity of subcreative power, an independent dependant, originating and originated, creating and created. My worshippers, were they to understand themselves, would be astounded at the grossness of their idolatry and the stupidity of their devotion. One says, "I believe nothing above thee, O Reason!" Another says, "I believe nothing contrary to thee, O Reason!" In derision I have replied, "I see nothing above thee, O Eye!" "I see nothing contrary to thee, O Eye!" Yet they feel not the severity of my reproof, but repeat their unmeaning adorations. A votary of mine, carrying a candle in a dark night, once exclaimed, "I desire no guide but thee, O Reason!" to whom I whispered, "I want no guide but thee, O Eye!" and immediately blew out his candle. He stood confounded; but perceived not the meaning of my remonstrance, and forthwith cried out for a guide. No ear heard him, for he had declared himself independent of the ear; and, plunging into a ditch, he perished! 
Reproof, remonstrance, irony, and satire are in vain. This ignoble crowd still throng my courts, and are worshipping they know not what. I renounce them; they belong not to my school--they are not admitted into my secrets. I claim not divine honors. Whatever knowledge I have acquired I have gleaned from two volumes. I read but two--the volume of Nature and the volume of Revelation: the former for the present, the latter for the future destiny of man. I have not an original idea: all that I know of the material system is derived from the volume of Nature; and all that I know of the spiritual is derived from the volume of Revelation. With these lamps I can direct all who submit to my guidance; but without them I can not move one step, much less guide them in the path of life. I carry two lamps--one in each hand: these guide my true disciples; but the lamps which guide them illuminate my path and show me where to place my foot.
Querist.--Thou now speakest without a parable--and while thou claimest for thyself no higher honors than these, thou wilt ever find me thy advocate when thou demandest my aid.
Alexander Campbell. Extracts from "Letters to Humphrey Marshal, Esq.--No. I."
The Millennial |
----------. Extract from "Letters to Humphrey Marshal, Esq.--Letter II."
The Millennial Harbinger 1 |
----------. Extract from "Letters to Humphrey Marshal, Esq.--Letter V."
The Millennial Harbinger 2 (April |
----------. Extract from "Letters to Humphrey Marshal, Esq.--Letter VI."
The Millennial Harbinger 2 (June |
Humphrey Marshall. Extract from "To the Rev. A. Campbell, Bethany, Virginia."
The Millennial |
Alexander Campbell. Extract from "Letters to Humphrey Marshal, Esq.--Letter VII."
The Millennial |
----------. "Reason Examined by Interrogatories.--No. III."
The Millennial Harbinger 3 (March 1832): |
[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)