Prophecy is by some thought to be miraculous, and by others to be supernatural, and there are others, who indulge themselves in an opinion, that they amount to no more than mere political conjectures. Some nations have feigned an intercourse with good spirits by the art of divination; and others with evil ones by the art of magic; and most nations have pretended to an intercourse with the world of spirits both ways.
The Romans trusted much to their sibylline oracles and soothsayers; the Babylonians to their magicians and astrologers; the Egyptians and Persians to their magicians; and the Jews to their seers or prophets; and all nations and individuals, discover an anxiety for an intercourse with the world of spirits; which lays a foundation for artful and designing men, to impose upon them. But if the foregoing arguments in chapter sixth, respecting the natural impossibility of an intercourse of any unbodied or imperceptible mental beings with mankind, are true, then the foretelling of future events can amount to nothing more. than political illusion. For prophecy as well as all other sorts of prognostication must be super-naturally inspired, or it could be no more than judging of future events from mere probability or guess-work, as the astronomers ingenuously confess in their calculations, by saying: “Judgment of the weather,” &c. So also respecting astrology, provided there is any such thing as futurity to be learned from it, it would be altogether a natural discovery; for neither astronomy nor astrology claim anything of a miraculous or supernatural kind, but their calculations are meant to be predicated on the order and course of nature, with which our senses are conversant, and with which inspiration or the mere cooperation of spirits is not intended to act as part. So also concerning prophecy, if it be considered to be merely natural, (we will not at present dispute whether it is true or false) upon this position it stands on the footing of probability or mere conjecture and uncertainty. But as to the doctrine of any supernatural agency of the divine mind on ours, which is commonly called inspiration, it has been sufficiently confuted in chapter sixth; which arguments need not be repeated, nor does it concern my system to settle the question, whether prophecy should be denominated miraculous or supernatural, inasmuch as both these doctrines have been confuted; though it is my opinion, that were we to trace the notion of supernatural to its source, it would finally terminate in that which is denominated miraculous; for that which is above or beyond nature, if it has any positive existence, must be miraculous.
The writings of the prophets are most generally so loose, vague and indeterminate in their meaning, or in the grammar of their present translation, that the prophecies will as well answer to events in one period of time, as in another; and are equally applicable to a variety of events, which have and are still taking place in the world, and are liable to so many different interpretations, that they are incapable of being understood or explained, except upon arbitrary principles, and therefore cannot be admitted as a proof of revelation; as for instance, “it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God.” Who can understand the accomplishment of the prophecies, that are expressed after this sort? for every day in its turn has been, and will in its succession be the last day; and if we advert to the express words of the prophecy, to wit, “the last days,” there will be an uncertain plurality “of last days,” which must be understood to be short of a month, or a year; or it should have been expressed thus, and it shall come to pass in the last months or years, instead of days: and if it had mentioned last years, it would be a just construction to suppose, that it included a less number of years than a century; but as the prophecy mentions “last days” we are at a loss, which among the plurality of them to assign for the fulfilling of the prophecy.
Furthermore, we cannot learn from the prophecy, in what month, year, or any other part of duration those last days belong; so that we can never tell when such vague prophecies are to take place, they therefore remain the arbitrary prerogative of fanatics to prescribe their events in any age or period of time, when their distempered fancies may think most eligible: there are other prophecies still more abstruse; to wit, “And one said unto the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, how long shall it be to the end of these wonders? and I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto Heaven, and sware by him that liveth forever, that it should be for an time, times and an half.” The question, in the prophecy is asked “how long shall it be to the end of these wonders?” and the answer is given with the solemnity of an oath, “it shall be for a time, times and a half.” A time is an indefinite part of duration, and so are times, and the third description of time is as indefinite as either of the former descriptions of it; to wit, “and an half;” that is to say, half a time. There is no certain term given in any or either of the three descriptions of the end of the wonders alluded to, whereby any or all of them together are capable of computation, as there is no certain period marked out to begin or end a calculation. To compute an indefinite time in the single number or quantity of duration is impossible, and to compute an uncertain plurality of such indefinite times is equally perplexing and impracticable; and lastly, to define half a time by any possible succession of its parts, is a contradiction, for half a time includes no time at all; inasmuch as the smallest conception or possible moment or criterion of duration, is a time, or otherwise, by the addition of ever so many of those parts together, they would not prolong a period; so that there is not, and cannot be such a part of time, as half a time, for be it supposed to be ever so momentous, yet if includes any part of duration, it is a time, and not half a time. Had the prophet said half a year, half a day, or half a minute, he would have spoken intelligibly; but half a time has no existence at all, and consequently no period could ever possibly arrive in the succession or order of time, when there could be an end to the wonders alluded to; and in this sense only, the prophecy is intelligible; to wit, that it will never come to pass.
The revelation of St. John the divine, involves the subject of time, if possible, in still greater inconsistencies, viz: “And to the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place: Where she is nourished for a time, and times and half a time.” “And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hands to heaven, and sware by him that liveth forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that therein are, and the earth and the things that therein are, and the sea and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer.” Had this tremendous oath been verified there could have been no farther disputations on the calculation of “time and times and half a time,” (or about any thing else) for its succession would have reached its last and final period at that important crisis when time should have been “no longer.” The solar system must have ceased its motions, from which we compute the succession of time, and the race of man would have been extinct; for as long as they may be supposed to exist, time must of necessary consequence have existed also; and since the course of nature, including the generations of mankind, has been continued from the time of the positive denunciation of the angel to this day, we may safely conclude, that his interference in the system of nature, was perfectly romantic.
The apostle Peter, at the first Christian pentecost, objecting to the accusation of their being drunk with new wine, explains the prophecy of the prophet Joel, who prophesied of the events which were to take place in the last days, as coming to pass at that early period; his words are handed down to us as follows: “But this is that which is spoken by the prophet Joel, and it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
The history of the out-pouring of the spirit at the Pentecost, admitting it to have been a fact, would have been very inadequate to the prophetical prediction, viz: I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; the most favorable construction is that the prophet meant human flesh, i. e. all human flesh; but instead of a universal effusion of the spirit, it appears to have been restricted to a select number, who were collected together at Jerusalem, and the concourse of spectators thought them to be delirious; It may however be supposed, that St. Peter was a better judge of the accomplishment of the prophecy than I am: well then, admitting his application of the prophecy of the last days to take place at the first pentecost; it being now more than seventeen hundred years ago, they consequently could not have been the last days.
Still a query arises, whether every of the prophecies, which were predicted to be fulfilled in the last days, must not have been accomplished at that time; or whether any of the prophecies thus expressed are still to be completed by any events which may in future take place; or by any which have taken place since those last days called pentecost; or whether any prophecy whatever can be fulfilled more than once; and if so, how many times; or how is it possible for us, out of the vast variety of events (in which there is so great a similarity) which one in particular to ascribe to its right prediction among the numerous prophecies?
Furthermore, provided some of the prophecies should point out some particular events, which have since taken place, there might have been previous grounds of probability, that such or such events would in the ordinary course of things come to pass; for instance, it is no ways extraordinary, that the prophet Jeremiah should be able to predict that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, should take Jerusalem, when we consider the power of the Babylonish empire at that time, and the feebleness of the Jews. “The word, which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army, and all the kingdoms of the earth of his dominion, and all the people fought against Jerusalem, and against all the cities thereof, saying, thus saith the Lord the God of Israel, go and speak unto Zedekiah king of Judah, and tell him thus saith the Lord, behold, I will give this city of Jerusalem into the hand of the king of Babylon.” No politicians could at the time of the prediction be much at a loss respecting the fate of Jerusalem. Nor would it be at all evidential to any candid and ingenious enquirer, that God had any manner of agency in fabricating the prophecies, though, some of them should seem to decypher future events, as they might, to human appearance, turn out right, merely from accident or contingency. It is very improbable, or rather incompatible with human nature, that the prophecy of Micah will ever come to pass, who predicts that “they,” speaking of mankind, “shall beat their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Some of the prophecies are so apparently contradictory, that they contain their own confutation; as for instance, the prophecy of Micaiah contained in the book of Chronicles, which probably is as absurd as any thing that is to be met with in story: “And when he was come unto the king, the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth Gilead to battle, or shall I forbear? and he said go ye up and prosper, and they shall be delivered into your hand, and the king said unto him, how many times shall I adjure thee, that thou shalt tell me nothing, but that which is true in the name of the Lord? then he said I did see all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd, and the Lord said, these have no master, let them return, therefore, every man to his house in peace: and the king said unto Jehoshaphat, did not I tell thee, that he would prophecy no good concerning me, but evil?” “Again he said, therefore, hear the word of the Lord — I saw the Lord sitting upon his throne, and all the host of Heaven standing on his right hand and on his left, and the Lord said who shall entice Ahab, King of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth Gilead, and one spake saying after this manner, and another saying after that manner; then there came out a spirit and stood before the Lord, and said I will entice him, and the Lord said unto him wherewith? And he said I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets, and the Lord said thou shalt entice him and thou shalt prevail; go out and do even so. Now therefore, behold the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets and the Lord hath spoken evil against thee.” It is observable that the prophet at first predicted the prosperity of Ahab, saying, “go ye up and prosper, and they shall be delivered into your hand,” but after a little adjurement by the king, he alters his prediction and prophecies diametrically the reverse. What is more certain than that the event of the expedition against Ramoth Gilead must have comported with the one or the other of his prophecies? Certain it was, that Ahab would take it or not take it, he must either prosper or not prosper, as there would be no third way or means between these two; and it appears that the prophet was determined to be in the right of it by his prophecy both ways. It further appears from his prophecy, that there was a great consultation in Heaven to entice Ahab King of Israel to his destruction, and that a certain lying spirit came and stood before the Lord, and proposed to him to go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of the king’s prophets. But what is the most incredible is, that God should countenance it, and give him positive orders to falsify the truth to the other prophets. It appears that Micaiah in his first prophecy, viz: “Go up to Ramoth Gilead and prosper, and they shall be delivered into your hand,” acted in concert with the lying spirit which stood before the Lord, but afterwards acted the treacherous part by prophecying the truth, which, if we may credit his account, was in direct opposition to the scheme of Heaven.
Whoever examines the writings of the prophets will discover a spirit of strife and contention among them; they would charge each other with fallacy and deception; disputations of this kind are plentifully interspersed through the writings of the prophets; we will transcribe a few of those passages out of many: “Thus saith the Lord to the foolish prophets that follow their own spirit, and have found nothing, they have seen vanity and lying divination, saying the Lord saith, and the Lord hath, not sent them, and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word.” And in another place, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran; I have not spoken unto them, yet they prophecy.” Again, “I have heard what the prophets said, that prophecy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed, yet they are the prophets of the deceit of their own hearts.” And again, “Yea, they are greedy dogs, which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand; they all look to their own way, every one for his gain from his quarter.” It being the case that there was such a strife among the prophets to recommend themselves to the people, and every art and dissimulation having been practised by them to gain power and superiority, all which artifice was to be judged of by the great vulgar, or in some instances by the political views of the Jewish Sanhedrim, how could those who were cotemporaries with the several prophets, distinguish the premised true prophets from the false? Much less, how can we, who live more than seventeen hundred years since the last of them, be able to distinguish them apart? And yet, without the knowledge of this distinction, we cannot with propriety give credit to any of them, even admitting there were some true prophets among them. Nor is it possible for us to know but that their very institution was merely a reach of policy of the Israelitish and Judaic governments, the more easily, implicitly and effectually to keep their people in subordination, by inculcating a belief that they were ruled with special directions from heaven, which in fact originated from the Sanhedrim. Many other nations have made use of much the same kind of policy.
In the 22d chapter of Genesis, we have a history of a very extraordinary command from God to Abraham, and of a very unnatural attempt of his to obey it. “And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham, and he said unto him, Abraham, and he said behold here I am, and he said take now thy son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee to the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of;” “And they came to the place which God had told him of, and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood; and Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son.” Shocking attempt! Murder is allowed by mankind in general to be the most capital crime that is possible to be acted among men; it would therefore be incompatible with the divine nature to have enjoined it by a positive command to Abraham to have killed his son; a murder of all others the most unnatural and cruel and attended with the most aggravating circumstances, not merely from a prescribed breach of the ties of parental affection, but from the consideration that the child was to be (if we may credit the command,) offered to God as a religious sacrifice. What could have been a more complicated wickedness than the obedience of this command would have been? and what can be more absurd than to suppose that it came from God? It is argued, in vindication of the injunction to Abraham to kill his son, that it was merely for a trial of his obedience, and that God never designed to have him do it; to prevent which an angel from heaven called to him and gave him counter orders, not to slay his son; but to suppose that God needed such an experiment, or any other, in order to know whether Abraham would be obedient to his commands, is utterly incompatible with his omniscience, who without public exhibitions understands all things; so that had the injunction been in itself, fit and reasonable, and also from God, the compliance or non-compliance of Abraham thereto, could not have communicated any new idea to the divine mind. Every part of the conduct of mankind is a trial of their obedience and is known to God, as well as the particular conduct of Abraham; besides in the canonical writings, we read that “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” How then can it be, “that God did tempt Abraham?” a sort of employment which, in scripture, is commonly ascribed to the devil. It is a very common thing to hear Abraham extolled for attempting to comply with the supposed command of sacrificing his son; but it appears to me, that it had been wiser and more becoming the character of a virtuous man, for Abraham to have replied in answer to the injunction as follows, to wit, that it could not possibly have come from God; who was the fountain of goodness and perfection, and unchangeable in his nature, who had endowed him with reason and understanding, whereby he knew his duty to God, his son, and to himself, better than to kill his only son, and offer him as a religious sacrifice to God, for God would never have implanted in his mind such a strong affection towards him, nor such a conscious sense of duty to provide for, protect and succor him in all duties, and to promote his happiness and well being, provided he had designed that he should have laid violent hands on his life. And inasmuch as the command was, in itself, morally speaking, unfit, and altogether unworthy of God, he presumed that it never originated from him, but from some inhuman, cruel and destructive being, who delighted in wo, and pungent grief; for God could not have been the author of so base an injunction, nor could he be pleased with so inhuman and sinful a sacrifice.
Moses in his last chapter of Deuteronomy crowns his history with the particular account of his own death and burial. “So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there, in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in a valley, in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor, but no man knew of his sepulchre unto this day; and Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eyes were not dim, nor his natural force abated, and the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days.” This is the only historian in the circle of my reading, who has ever given the public a particular account of his own death, and how old he was at that decisive period, where he died, who buried him, and where he was buried, and withal of the number of days his friends and acquaintances mourned and wept for him. I must confess I do not expect to be able to advise the public of the term of my life, nor the circumstances of my death and burial, nor of the days of the weeping or laughing of my survivors.
Part of the laws of Moses were arbitrary impositions upon the tribes of Israel, and have no foundation in the reason and fitness of things, particularly that in which he inculcates punishing the children for the iniquities of the father; “visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.” There is no reason to be given, why the iniquity of the father might not as well have involved the fifth, sixth and seventh generations, and so on to the latest posterity in guilt and punishment, as the first four generations; for if it was possible, that the iniquity of the father could be justly visited upon any of his posterity, who were not accomplices with him in the iniquity, or were not some way or other aiding or accessary in it, then the iniquity might as justly be visited upon any one of the succeeding generations as upon another, or upon the generation of any indifferent person: for arbitrary imputations of iniquity are equally absurd in all supposable cases; so that if we once admit the possibility of visiting iniquity upon any others than the perpetrators, be they who they will, we overturn our natural and scientifical notions of a personal retribution of justice among mankind. It is, in plain English, punishing the innocent for the sin of the guilty. But virtue or vice cannot be thus visited or imputed from the fathers to the unoffending children, or to children’s children; or which is the same thing, from the guilty to the innocent; for moral good or evil is mental and personal, which cannot be transferred, changed or altered from one person to another, but is inherently connected with its respective personal actors, and constitutes a quality or habit, and is the merit or demerit of the respective agents or proficients in moral good or evil, and is by nature inalienable, “The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” But as we shall have occasion to argue this matter at large in the twelfth chapter of this treatise, where we shall treat of the imputed sin of Adam to his posterity, and of imputative righteousness, we will discuss the subject of imputation no farther in this place. However, the unjust practice of punishing the children for the iniquity of the father having been an ordinance of Moses, was more or less continued by the Israelites, as in the case of Achan and his children. “And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zorah, and the silver and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had, and brought them to the valley of Achor, and all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones, and they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day; so the Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger.” “Fierce anger” is incompatible with the divine perfection, nor is the cruel extirpation of the innocent family, and live stock of Achan, to be accounted for on principles of reason. This flagrant injustice of punishing the children for the iniquity of the father had introduced a proverb in Israel, viz: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But the prophet Ezekiel in the 18th chapter of his prophecies, has confuted Moses’s statutes of visiting the iniquities of the father upon the children, and repealed them with the authority of thus saith the Lord, which was the manner of expression by which they were promulgated. But the prophet Ezekiel did not repeal those statutes of Moses merely by the authority of thus saith the Lord, but over and above gives the reason for it, otherwise he could not have repealed them; for Moses enacted them as he relates, from as high authority as Ezekiel could pretend to in nullifying them; so that had he not produced reason and argument, it would have been “thus saith the Lord,” against “thus saith the Lord.” But Ezekiel reasons conclusively, viz: “The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying, what meat ye that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge; as I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold all souls are mine, as the soul of the father so also the soul of the son is mine; the soul that sinneth it shall die, the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son, the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him, therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to their ways saith the Lord God.” It is observable, that the prophet ingeniously says, “Ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel,” implicitly acknowledging that the law of Moses had given occasion to that proverb, nor was it possible to remove that proverb or grievance to which the Israelites were liable on account of visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, but by the repeal of the statute of Moses in that case made and provided; which was effectually done by Ezekiel: in consequence whereof the administration of justice became disencumbered of the embarrassments under which it had labored for many centuries. Thus it appears, that those laws, denominated the laws of God, are not infallible, but have their exceptions and may be dispensed with.
Under the dispensation of the law a breach of the Sabbath was a capital offence. “And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks on the Sabbath day, and the Lord said unto Moses, the man shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp; and all the congregation brought him without the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died, as the Lord commanded Moses.” The very institution of the Sabbath was in itself arbitrary, otherwise it would not have been changed from the last to the first day of the week. For those ordinances which are predicated on the reason and fitness of things can never change: as that which is once morally fit, always remains so, and is immutable, nor could the same crime, in justice, deserve death in Moses’s time (as in the instance of the Israelite’s gathering sticks), and but a pecuniary fine in ours; as in the instance of the breach of Sabbath in these times.
Furthermore, the order of nature respecting day and night, or the succession of time, is such, as renders it impossible that any identical part of time, which constitutes one day, can do it to all the inhabitants of the globe at the same time, or in the same period. Day is perpetually dawning, and night commencing to some or other of the inhabitants of the terraqueous ball without intermission. At the distance of fifteen degrees of longitude to the east of us, the day begins an hour sooner than it does with us here in Vermont, and with us an hour sooner than it does fifteen degrees to the westward, and thus it continues in succession round the globe, and night as regularly revolving after it, succeeding each other in their alternate rounds; so that when it is mid-day with us, it is mid-night with our species, denominated the Periaeci, who live under the same parallel of latitude with us, but under a directly opposite meridian; so likewise, when it is mid-day with them, it is mid-night with us. Thus it appears that the same identical part of time, which composes our days, compose their nights, and while we are keeping Sunday, they are in their midnight dreams; nor is it possible in nature, that the same identical part of time, which makes the first day of the week with us, should make the first day of the week with the inhabitants on the opposite side of the globe. The apostle James speaks candidly on this subject, saying, “Some esteem one day above another, others esteem every day alike, let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind,” and keep the laws of the land. It was unfortunate for the Israelite who was accused of gathering sticks on the Israelitish Sabbath, that he was convicted of it; for though by the law of his people he must have died, yet the act for which he suffered was no breach of the law of nature. Supposing that very delinquent should come to this world again, and gather sticks on Saturday in this country, he might as an hireling receive his wages for it, without being exposed to a similar prosecution of that of Moses; and provided he should gather sticks on our Sunday, his wages would atone for his crime instead of his life, since modern legislators have abated the rigor of the law for which he died.
The barbarous zeal of the prophet Samuel in hewing Agag to pieces after he was made prisoner by Saul, king of Israel, could not proceed from a good spirit, nor would such cruelty be permitted towards a prisoner in any civilized nation at this day. “And Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.” The unmanly deed seems to be mentioned with a phiz of religion, viz: that it was done before the Lord; but that cannot alter the nature of the act itself, for every act of mankind, whether good or evil, is done before the Lord, as much as Samuel’s hewing Agag to pieces. The orders which Samuel gave unto Saul, (as he says by the word of the Lord) to cut off the posterity of the Amalekites, and to destroy them utterly, together with the cause of God’s displeasure with them, are unworthy of God as may be seen at large in the 15th chapter of the Book of Samuel, “Spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” The ostensible reason for all this, was, because the ancestors of the Amalekites, as long before the days of Samuel as when the children of Israel came out of Egypt, which was near five hundred years, had ambushed and fought against Israel, in their passage from thence to the land which they afterwards inhabited. Although it appears from the history of Moses and Joshua, that Israel was going to disposess them of their country, which is thought to be a sufficient cause of war in these days. It is true they insinuate that the Lord had given the land to the children of Israel, yet it appears that they had to fight for it and get it by the hardest, notwithstanding, as is the case with nations in these days, and ever has been since the knowledge of history.
But be the old quarrel between Israel and Amalek as it will, it cannot on any principle be supposed, the successors of those Amalekites, in the days of Samuel, could be guilty of any premised transgressions of their predecessors. The sanguinary laws of Moses did not admit of visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children in the line of succession, farther than to the fourth generation, but the Amalekites against whom Samuel had denounced the wrath of God, by the hand of Saul, were at a much greater remove from those their progenitors, who were charged with the crime for which they were cut off as a nation. Nor is it compatible with reason to suppose, that God ever directed either Moses or Joshua to extirpate the Canaanitish nations. “And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men and the women, and the little ones of every city, we left none to remain.” There is not more propriety in ascribing these cruelties to God, than those that were perpetrated by the Spaniards against the Mexican and Peruvian Indians or natives of America. Every one who dares to exercise his reason, free from bias, will readily discern, that the inhumanities exercised towards the Canaanites and Amorites, Mexicans and Peruvians, were detestably wicked, and could not be approbated by God, or by rational and good men. Undoubtedly avarice and domination were the causes of those abounding cruelties, in which religion had as little to do as in the crusades of the holy land (so called.)
The writings of the prophets abound with prodigies, strange and unnatural events. The walls of Jericho are represented to have fallen to the ground in consequence of a blast of ram’s horns; Balaam’s ass to speak to his master, and the prophet Elijah is said to have been carried off bodily into heaven by a chariot, in a whirlwind. Strange stories! But other scriptures tell us, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” The history of the affront, which the little children of Bethel gave the prophet Elisha, his cursing them, and their destruction by the bears, has the appearance of a fable. That Elisha should be so exasperated at the children for calling him bald head, and telling him to go up, was rather a sample of ill breeding; most gentlemen would have laughed at the joke, instead of cursing them, or being instrumental in their destruction, by merciless, wild and voracious beasts. Though the children were saucy, yet a man of any considerable candor, would have made allowance for their non-age, “for childhood and youth are vanity.” “And he went up from thence unto Bethel, and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city and mocked him, and said unto him, go up thou bald-head, go up thou bald-head, and he turned back and looked on them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord, and there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.” It seems by the children’s address to Elisha, that he was an old bald-headed man, and that they had heard, that his mate, Elijah, had gone up a little before; and as it was an uncommon thing for men to kite away into the air, and leave the world after that sort, it is likely that it excited a curiosity in the children to see Elisha go off with himself in the same manner, which occasioned their particular mode of speech to him, saying, “go up bald head.” The writings of Solomon, Song of Israel, must needs have been foisted into the canonical volume by some means or other, for no one passage therein gives the least intimation of inspiration, or that he had any immediate dictation from God in his compositions, but oh the contrary, he informs us, that he acquired his knowledge by applying himself to wisdom, “to seek and to search out concerning all things that are done under the sun. This sore travail,” says he, “has God given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith.” And since Solomon never pretended to inspiration, others cannot justly claim his writings to have been anything more than natural reasonings, for who can, with propriety stamp his writings with divine authority, when he pretended no such thing, but the contrary? His song of songs appears to be rather of the amorous kind, and is supposed to have been written at the time he was making love to the daughter of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, who is said to have been a princess of exquisite beauty and exceeding coy, and so captivated his affections that it made him light headed and sing about the “joints of her thighs,” and her “belly.”
The divine legation of Moses and the prophets is rendered questionable from the consideration that they never taught the doctrine of immortality, their rewards and punishments are altogether temporary, terminating at death; they have not so much as exhibited any speculation of surviving the grave; to this is ascribed the unbelief of the Sadducees of the resurrection of the dead, or of an angel or spirit, as they strenuously adhered to the law of Moses, for they could not imagine, but that their great prophet and law giver would have apprised them of a state of immortality had it been true; and in this the Sadducees seem to argue with force on their position of the divine legation of Moses. For admitting the reality of man’s immortality, it appears incredible to suppose, that God should have specially commissioned Moses, as his prophet and instructor to the tribes of Israel, and not withal to have instructed them in the important doctrine of a future existence.
It appears from the writings of the prophets and apostles, that part of their revelations were communicated to them by dreams and visions, which have no other existence but in the imagination, and are defined to be “the images which appear to the mind during sleep, figuratively, a chimera, a groundless fancy or conceit, without reason.” Our experience agrees with this definition, and evinces that there is no trust to be reposed in them. They are fictitious images of the mind, not under the control of the understanding, and therefore not regarded at this day except by the credulous and superstitious, who still retain a veneration for them. But that a revelation from God to man, to be continued to the latest posterity as a divine and perfect rule of duty or law, should be communicated through such a fictitious and chimerical channel, carries with it the evident marks of deception itself, or of unintelligibleness, as appears from the vision of St. Paul. “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory, I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord; I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, whether in the body I cannot tell, or whether out of the body I cannot tell, God knoweth such an one caught up to the third heavens. And I knew such a man, whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell, God knoweth how that he was caught up into Paradise and heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” That God knoweth the whole affair, will not be disputed, but that we should understand it is impossible, for the apostle’s account of his vision is unintelligible; it appears that he was rather in a delirium or a stupor, so that he knew not that whether he was in or out of the body: he says he heard “unspeakable words,” but this communicates no intelligence of the subject-matter of them to us; and that they “were not lawful for a man to utter,” but what they were, or wherein their unlawfulness to be uttered by man consisted, he does not inform us. His revelation from his own story was unspeakable and unlawful, and so he told us nothing what it was, nor does it compose any part of revelation, which is to make known. He is explicit as to his being caught up to the third heaven, but how he could understand that is incredible, when at the same time he knew not whether he was in the body or out of the body; and if he was in such a delirium that he did not know so domestic a matter as that, it is not to be supposed that he could be a competent judge whether he was at the first, second, third, or fourth heaven, or whether he was advanced above the surface of the earth, or not.
That the apostles in their ministry were dictated by the Holy Ghost, in the settlement of disputable doctrines, is highly questionable. “Forasmuch as we have heard that certain, which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, ye must be circumcised and keep the law, to whom we gave no such commandment, for it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no other burden than these necessary things.” Acts 15. And after having given a history of the disputations concerning circumcision, and of keeping the law of Moses, and of the result of the council, the same chapter informs us, that a contention happened so sharp between Paul and Barnabas, “that they parted asunder the one from the other.” Had the Holy Ghost been the dictator of the first teachers of Christianity, as individuals, there could have been no disputable doctrines or controversies, respecting the religion which they were promulgating in the world or in the manner of doing it, to be referred to a general council of the apostles and elders held at Jerusalem, for had they been directed by the Holy Ghost, there could have been no controversies among them to have referred to the council. And inasmuch as the Holy Ghost neglected them as individuals, why is it not as likely that it neglected to dictate the council held at Jerusalem or elsewhere? It seems that the Holy Ghost no otherwise directed them in their plan of religion, than by the general council of the apostles and elders, the same as all other communities are governed. “Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus, and finding certain disciples, he said unto them have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? and they said unto him we have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost; and when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.”
The spirit of God is that which constitutes the divine essence, and makes him to be what he is, but that he should be dictated, or his spirit be communicated by any acts or ceremonies of the apostles, is by no means admissible; for such exertions of the apostles, so far as they may be supposed to communicate the holy spirit to their disciples, would have made God passive in the premised act of the gift of the spirit; for it must have been either the immediate act of God or of the apostles, and if it was the immediate act of the one, it could not have been the immediate act of the other.
To suppose that the act of the gift of the spirit was the mere act of God, and at the same time the mere act of the apostles, are propositions diametrically opposed to each other, and cannot both be true. But it may be supposed that the gift of the spirit was partly the act of God and partly the act of the apostles; admitting this to have been the case the consequences would follow, that the act of the gift of the spirit was partly divine and partly human, and therefore the beneficence and glory of the grant of the gift of the spirit unto the disciples, would belong partly to God and partly to the apostles, and in an exact proportion to that which God and they may be supposed to have respectively contributed towards the marvellous act of the gift of the spirit. But that God should act in partnership with man, or share his providence and glory with him, is too absurd to demand argumentative confutation, especially in an act which immediately respects the display or exertion of the divine spirit on the spirits of men.
Such delusions have taken place in every age of the world since history has attained to any considerable degree of intelligence; nor is there at present a nation on earth, but what is more or less infatuated with delusory notions of the immediate influence of good or evil spirits on their minds. A recent instance of it appears in the Elect Lady (as she has seen fit to style herself) and her followers, called Shakers; this pretended holy woman began her religious scheme at Connestaguna; in the northwestardly part of the State of New York, about the year 1769, and has added a new sectary to the religious catalogue. After having instilled her tenets among the Connestagunites, and the adjacent inhabitants, she rambled into several parts of the country, promulgating her religion, and has gained a considerable number of scattering proselytes, not only in the State of New York, but some in the New England States. She has so wrought on the minds of her female devotees, respecting the fading nature, vanity and tempting allurements of their ornaments (which by the by are not plenty among her followers,) and the deceitfulness of riches, that she has procured from them a considerable number of strings of gold beads and jewels, and amassed a small treasure; and like most sectaries engrosses the kingdom of heaven to herself and her followers, to the seclusion of all others. She gives out that her mission is immediately from heaven, that she travails in pain for her elect, and pretends to talk in seventy-two unknown languages, in which she converses with those who have departed this life, and says, that there has, not been a true church on earth since the apostles days until she had erected hers. That both the living and the dead must be saved in, by, and through her, and that they must confess their sins unto her and procure her pardon, or cannot be saved. That every of the human race who have died since the apostle’s time, until her church was set up has been damned, and that they are continually making intercession to her for salvation, which is the occasion of her talking to them in those unknown tongues; and that she gathers her elect from earth and hell. She wholly refuses to give a reason for what she does or says: but says that it is the duty of mankind to believe in her, and receive her instructions, for they are infallible.
For a time she prohibited her disciples from propagating their species, but soon after gave them ample license, restricting them, indiscriminately, to the pale of her sanctified church, for that she needed more souls to complete the number of her elect. Among other things, she instructs those who are young and sprightly among her pupils, to practise the most wild, freakish, wanton and romantic gestures, as to that of indecently stripping themselves, twirling round, extorting their features, shaking and twitching their bodies and limbs into a variety of odd and unusual ways, and many other extravagancies of external behavior, in the practice of which they are said to be very alert even to the astonishment of spectators, having by use acquired an uncommon agility in such twirling, freakish and romantic practices. The old Lady having such an ascendancy over them as to make them believe that those extravagant actions were occasioned by the immediate power of God, it serves among them as a proof of the divinity of her doctrines.
A more particular account of this new sectary has been lately published in a pamphlet by a Mr. Rathburn, who, as he relates, was for a time, one of her deluded disciples, but after a while apostatised from the faith, and has since announced to the world the particulars of their doctrine and conduct.
Probably there never was any people or country, since the era of historical knowledge, who were more confident than they that they are acted upon by the immediate agency of the divine spirit; and as there are facts now existing in a considerable tract of country, and are notoriously known in this part of America, I take the liberty to mention them, as a knowledge of these facts, together with the concurrent testimony of the history of such deceptions in all ages and nations, might induce my countrymen to examine strictly into the claim and reality of ghostly intelligence in general.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05