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A Vindication Of Three Of Our Blessed Saviours Miracles by Nathaniel Lardner

Answer to the Jewish Rabby's Letter.

WE Are now come to the letter of Mr. W's Jewish Rabby, whom Mr. W. calls his friend, and says his letter consists of calm and sedate reasoning, p.55. I on the other hand can see no reason in it. But the reader than not need to rely upon my judgment. Therefore I will transcribe some parts of it, and then make some remarks. The argument of the letter is, that the story of Lazarus's being raised is an imposture; or else the Jews could not have been so wicked, as to be on that account provoked against Jesus and Lazarus.

If there had been an indisputable miracle wrought in Lazarus's resurrection, why were the chief priests and Pharisees so incensed upon it, as to take council to put Jesus and Lazarus to death for it? p.43.

The reason is very evident; because that by reason of it many of the Jews went away, deserted the proud Pharisses, and believed on Jesus, John xii.10.

If, says he, historians can parallel this story of the malignity of the Jews towards Jesus and Lazarus upon such a real miracle with thing [things] equally barbarous and inhuman in any other sect and nation; we will acknowledge the truth of it against our own nation: or if such inhumanity, abstractly considered, be at all agreeable to the conceptions any one can form of human nature, in the most uncivilized and brutish people, we will allow our ancestors in this case, to have been that people. -- And he promises to make it out as foolish and wicked an imposture as ever was contrived and transacted in the world that it is no wonder the people by an unanimous voice, call'd for the releasement of Barabbas, a robber and murderer before Jesus, p.46, 53, 54.

The demand made of a parallel of the malignity of the Jews against Jesus, upon such a real miracle, is very idle, because there never was such a public miracle done by any other for so pure a doctrine. But if this Jew or any one else will produce an instance of such a miracle done by any one, who also taught the same spiritual heavenly doctrine that Jesus did, and nothing else; and who converted and taught as publickly as Jesus did; and spoke the truth to all without fear or favour: And I will shew he had an ignominious death, or else wondrous escapes and deliverances by manifest interpositions of Divine providence.

But though an instance of equal malignity cannot be shewn, because there is no other character equal to our Saviour's in innocence of life and greatness of works; yet the Jewish nation will afford an instance, which I am very sorry is so near parallel. Moses was the greatest prophet, and meekest man, they ever had among them, except Jesus, and they often murmured against him. And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? They be almost ready to stone me. When they should have gone to have taken possession of the land of Canaan, All the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron. -- All the congregation bade stone them with stones, that is, Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua, or at lest these two, the only persons that stood by Moses and his brother.

This people were to a man obliged to Moses, who had brought them up out of a state of servitude. Nor had they any just ground of complaint against him, whilst in the wilderness, for God says: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles wings, The blessings Moses proposed were far more agreeable to carnal minds (such as the Jews and most other mens are) than those promised by Jesus. He engag'd to raise them to a state of independence in a land flowing with milk and honey, The time set for this event according to Divine promise was now come. And he had perform'd many great miracles before them, and yet they rebell'd continually against God and this his servant. Nor did any of all this congregation, except Caleb and Joshua, believe God, as Moses tells them expressly. They are called by the Psalmist a stubborn and rebellious generation. -- They believed not for all his wondrous works . Not that they disbelieved the works themselves: They knew them, but though they saw the works of God, they were not obedient.

Thou knowest, says Aaron to Moses, that this people is set upon mischief . As they were then, so they continued to be; and slew the prophets which God sent to them. They are upon record in their own writings as the most obstinate of all people . They are said to have chang'd God's judgments into wickedness more than the nations . One would think these, and many other such things, were recorded on purpose to prevent such an objection as we have now before us; or to help us to answer it, if any should be so unreasonable as to make it.

Why should it be thought strange that this people, who would have stoned Moses, and who slew many other prophets, should also conspire against Jesus; especially considering that they abounded now as much as ever with all kinds of the worst wickedness, except idolatry; if we may credit Josephus, and other writers of this nation; and were now disappointed in their fondest expectations of worldly power and splendour. I will transcribe here an answer of Origen to a like objection of Celsus, proposed in the person of a Jew. |Well then, Sirs, how will you (says Origen) answer such questions as these, if put to you by us? Which are in your opinion the greater miracles? those which were wrought in Egypt, and in the wilderness, or those which we say were wrought among you by Jesus? If in your opinion those are greater than these later: Is it not hence apparent, that according to your custom, you may despise the less, who disbeliev'd the greater? Since you think those ascribed to Jesus lesser than those former. But if those which are related of Jesus are equal to those written by Moses: Is it any thing strange, that the same people should be equally unbelieving upon both occasions? For the beginning of the law was by Moses: and in that are recorded the transgressions of the unbelievers and sinners among you. And the beginning of the second law and covenant is allowed to have been given unto us by Jesus. And by your unbelief in Jesus you make it appear, that ye are the children of those who did not believe the divine appearances in the wilderness.|

Any man may perceive, that a prophet is the most unpopular of all characters. For he is to cry aloud and spare not; to lift up his voice like a trumpet, and shew men of all ranks their transgressions and their sins. Moses at first supposed his brethren would have understood, how that God by his hand would deliver them . But when he endeavoured only to reconcile two of them, and said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? what a smart reply did he meet with ? Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me as thou killedst the Egyptian ? These were his apprehensions then; but when he was forty years older, and knew the world better, and God appeared to him and told him, he would send him to bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt: After divers fine excuses, which are not accepted of, he in a modest way positively refuses to go, And he said, O Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send . Nor does he yield, till the anger of the Lord is kindled against him. So hazardous and difficult was this office, that God some times promises a prophet, as a special favour and a most necessary qualification, together with a commission, boldness of countenance to execute it. As an adamant harder than flint, says God to Ezekiel, have I made thy forehead: Fear them not, neither be dismayed . And Jeremiah he made a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land .

It is a very unjust way of judging: Such an one suffered, or was hated and opposed; therefore he was a wicked man, or an impostor. If we will pass a judgment on men, we should. examine their conduit, as well as the treatment they meet with: otherwise we are in danger of being unjust to the memory of some of the bell men that ever were. Solomon says, A just man falleth [into trouble] seven times, and riseth up again . And his father David: Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all . Many were the affictions of our Blessed Saviour, but he was delivered out of them all, if ever man was; having been soon raised up from the grave, and seated at the right hand of God.

Solomon says again: An unjust man is an abomination to the just: and he that is upright in the way, is abomination to the wicked . Which last observation is confirmed by divers heathen writers, of good knowledge in human nature: |That a man can no sooner be an enemy to all vice, and walk in the way of virtue, but he becomes the object of hatred |. Socrates, who had been pronounced by the oracle of Apollo the Wisest man, and who has since had almost universally the character of the best man among the Greeks , was put to death by his countrymen the Athenians, a people more renowned for civility and good humour than the Jews. He was always apprehensive of suffering, and sensible of the danger he incurred by opposing the evil practises of men. He goes so far as to tell the Athenians: |It is impossible for any man to be safe among them, or any where else, who honestly and courageously opposes vice and injustice.| He says also that he had chosen a private life as best suited to answer his design; and that if he had been in the magistracy, and taken the course he had done of instructing and admonishing all people, he had not lived so long. And Cicero observed in his time, that philosophy, which proposed to cure the minds of men, was suspected and hated by the most, as a dangerous thing. Some sovereign princes have lost their lives in attempts of reformation. Many indeed are the instances of the unjust judgments of the most. A peaceable prince, who protests the estates, the commerce, the persons and consciences of his subjects, is barely beloved: A conquerour is adored; though he needlesly hazards the lives of his own subjects, and violates toward his neighbours all the laws of nations, and all the laws of honour and humanity.

But I am ashamed to give this argument its full force. I little expected to have ever seen this objection seriously produced against the miracles, or any other branch of the history of the New Testament, and called calm and sedate reasoning, p.55. An apologist for christianity might have brought it forth and stated it, to adorn his triumph, after a confutation of other more plausible objections but for any seriously to mention the enmity of the Jews against Jesus as an objection against him, can be owing to nothing in my opinion, but strange ignorance or prejudice, or a most contemptuous opinion of all the reason and observation of mankind.

Let us examine another passage in the Jew's letter. Such a manifest miracle, let it be wrought for what end and purpose, we can possibly imagine, would strike men with awe and reverence, and none could hate and persecute the Author of the miracle; least he who could raise the dead, should exert his power against themselves, and either wound or smite them dead with it. For which reason, the resurrection of Lazarus, on the certain knowledge of our ancestors was all fraud, or they would have reverenced and adored the power of him that did it, p.48, And more such stuff has this Jew again and again to this same purpose.

I must therefore remind him of some examples in the books of the Old Testament. In 1 Kings xvii. is the history of Elijah's raising the widow's son. In the next chapter he works a great miracle at the altar, and after that obtaineth rain. Nevertheless it is said, Ch. xix.1, 2. And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, and solemnly swears she would destroy him, saying, so let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. Whereupon Elijah absconds, and in a prayer to God, he says: They seek his life to take it away. In the xxii. chapter is mention of another prophet of the Lord, by name Micajah, of whom Ahab says to Jehosaphat in plain terms: I hate him.

Ahaziah, another king of Israel, fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber, and was sick, 2 Kings i. Nevertheless, in this condition, (such stubborness is there in the heart of man!) he sends officers, one after another, to Elijah, requiring him to come to him. Elisha also, successor of Elijah, raised a person to life and wrought divers other miracles, 2 Kings iv. Notwithstanding this, Jehoram, another king of Israel, says: Ch. vi..31. God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day.

One story more to our purpose out of the Jewish writings , but wherein a foreigner is concern'd. The king of Syria is at war with Israel. Elisha informs the king of Israel of all his enemy's steps. The king of Syria is amazed, and complains to his servants that they discover his secrets: Will ye not shew me, which of us is for the king of Israel? and one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king; but Elisha the prophet, that is in Israel; telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bed-chamber. This king of Syria believ'd what his servant said, otherwise he had not concern'd himself about Elisha. But it follows there: And he said, Go and spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him. And it was told him, -- Behold he is in Dothan. Therefore sent he thither horses and chariots, and a great host, and they came by night, and compassed him about. So that it is plain, miracles do not always fill wicked men with such awe and reverence, but that they can still hate and persecute, and break forth into rage against the authors of them.

This Jew says, p.49: That it is certain, according to christian commentators, that some of them did not believe the miracle. Again he says, p.51: It is plain from the story in John, that there was a dispute among the by-standers at Lazarus's resurrection, whether it was a real miracle or not. I presume to say: This is a false account. It is not plain, that there was any dispute among the by-standers, whether it was a real miracle. It is plain those people, who went to the Pharisses, told them of a real miracle. And the Pharisses, when met in council, say: What do we? for this Man doth many miracles.

Nor do I know, that any christian commentators say, that some of them did not believe the miracle. They did not believe in Jesus indeed, but they knew the miracle. Many of the Jews that came to Mary, says St. John, believed on him. But some of them, (which were present, who did not believe in Jesus notwithstanding the miracle) went their ways to the Pharisees. This is the sense of the place. So the Jews in the wilderness did not believe God, but no Jew sure will say, they disputed whether the things done by Moses were miraculous.

Perhaps, says this Jew, they discovered some fragments of the food, that for four days in the cave, he had subsisted on. There is no ground here for a perhaps. How should a man take any food, who was bound hand and foot with grave clothes? and whose face was bound about with the so often mention'd napkin?

As it is plain, (says the Jew again) from the story in John, that there was a dispute among the by-standers at Lazarus's resurrection, whether it was a real miracle; so it is the opinion of us Jews, which is of the nature of a tradition, that the chief priests and civil magistrates of Bethany, for the better determination of the dispute -- required that Jesus should repeat the miracle upon another person, there lately dead and buried. But Jesus declining this test of his power, the whole multitude -- questioned the resurrection of Lazarus -- And this was one reason of that vehement and universal outcry and demand at Jesus's tryal, for his crucifixion, p.50, 52.

There is no reason to believe, that this is the opinion of the Jews; but supposing it to be so; it is groundless. And here a present opinion is advanced into a tradition. This tradition is set up against authentic history, writ by witnesses and other well informed persons, who lived near the event. Is that a good cause, that needs such a defence? Will any man of sense and reason engage, in any other case, in so desperate a cause?

There are innumerable proofs in the Evangelists not only that the raising of Lazarus was a real miracle, but also that the Pharisees knew it to be so. Their not putting Lazarus or any other person to death, as an accomplice with Jesus, is demonstration that this and the other miracles of Jesus were known to be real, and not impostures. It is apparent from the trial of Jesus, that the truth of his miracles could not be called in question. If they had, the Evangelists, who have recorded so many charges against Jesus, and so many spiteful, scurrilous reproaches on him, would not have omitted this.

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