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Image Map : Christian Books : EXTRACTS No. IV.

A Series Of Letters In Defence Of Divine Revelation by Hosea Ballou


[The objector in his fourth number begins by explaining himself in some particulars wherein he had not been fully understood, and also by making some concessions respecting the importance of retaining the original languages in which the scriptures were written; and, bringing these remarks to a close, he proceeds as follows:]

|In regard to a revelation from God, the three propositions which you have stated answer my mind well enough, as far as they go, to which, however, I would wish to add a fourth; and ask, admitting the three first propositions true. 'Fourth. Is it reasonable to suppose that the apostles had any other means of forming their opinions relative to a future state than what passed before their eyes? -- viz. the miracles of Christ, the circumstances attending his death, his resurrection, and the miracles wrought by themselves in his name?'

|1st. Is it reasonable to suppose that God has ever made a special revelation to man?

|You say I have acknowledged that a divine revelation 'if real, is of all truths the most important;' hence you call upon the 'eye of reason' to examine this proposition to see why it should be considered more important than the discoveries made in the arts and sciences, &c. I think these questions may be easily and correctly answered. One relates to the blessings of eternity; and the others to those only of time; hence if the truths manifested by a revelation had been of no more importance to man than the truths in natural philosophy, reason would say, God would have left them also to be discovered, if discovered at all, like all other truths, without a special revelation. But, you must excuse me for not being able to see the force and conclusiveness of your reasoning, when you say that my 'allowing it any importance at all, is, in the eye of reason, an argument in its support.' Supposing I am informed of a large estate bequeathed to me by some benefactor. I acknowledge that it is very important to me, if true, as I am in great need; yet I do not believe it true. Now, is my acknowledging its importance, if true, an argument in support of its truth? If it is so, the reason of it is out of my sight.

|I should think that the reason of man (the only reason with which we are acquainted) would hardly undertake to say whether a revelation is either necessary or not necessary. The only evidence that reason can have of its necessity is its truth; and a supposition that it is not true equally supposes it not to be necessary. For to suppose otherwise supposes that God has omitted something which was necessary to be done! Try the matter as it respects a new revelation. Who will undertake to say that a new revelation either is or is not necessary? No one who believes in a revelation will deny the possibility of such an event. Suppose then for the moment it is true; and something is brought to light infinitely more glorious than any thing of which the human mind has yet conceived; will any one say it is unimportant? Or is the 'allowing it any importance -- an argument in its support?'

|I am very ready to allow that a 'divinely munificent Creator would not omit any thing which is of importance to his intelligent creatures:' and on this ground I admitted the importance of revelation 'if real;' but I am yet unable to see how this is any argument in its support. It seems to me that this argument might be turned right the other way with equal force. If revelation be not true, it is not necessary it should be; and man can be made just as happy in this world by knowing all that he can know without it, as those are who believe in it; and admitting it not true there is no more importance in all the stories about it, than there is in the Alcoran! Now, supposing you should 'allow' all this, would it be any argument against the truth of revelation? I think not.

|In answer therefore to the first particular, I must be allowed to say that the only reason in favour of a divine revelation must grow out of the evidence in support of the facts on which it is predicated; for, aside from those evidences, I do not see why mankind should be taught to believe in a future life and immortality by special revelation, any more than they should be taught the arts and sciences by special revelation; yet reason does not reject the evidences of such an event when they are made clear to the understanding. -- Therefore, it appears to me that your first proposition is involved in the second, viz.

|2d. Is the resurrection of Jesus capable of being proved?

|I should have said something more on the subject which was answered in your first number, and which I neglected to acknowledge in my second, if it had occurred to me as being necessary. I will briefly state here that your reasoning on that subject is satisfactory; and if a revelation can be fully proved I feel not disposed to complain on account of its seeming partiality. Infinite wisdom dispenses his blessings so as best to answer his benevolent designs; and were we to object to the manner, merely because we do not comprehend the equality, we should be satisfied, strictly speaking, with nothing.

|But you have excused yourself from undertaking to prove your second proposition in a way that I did not expect, viz. by finding, as you supposed, in my words, an acknowledgement of its truth. Here again I must confess my misfortune in giving too much grounds for the wrong construction. Every one knows however the ambiguity of words, and how the meaning of a sentence may be altered by placing the emphasis on a different word from what the author intended. I acknowledge that my words will admit the construction you have given them; yet you could but see that it was giving up at once what I had in a number of places, both before and after, considered a main question. And then, you ask me why I wish you to prove what I acknowledge to be true. If you will be good enough to review the passage, and notice that the word substantially was emphatic, and contrasted with circumstantial, a little below, you will perceive that my meaning was simply this. No one will pretend that the evangelists were correct in every minute particular, but only correct in substance; and by the ALL, by whom this will be admitted, I mean those who believe in divine revelation; that even they would acknowledge, that in point of correctness, the writers were 'no more' than substantially so. However:

|You think if I am 'disposed to doubt,' &c. it is my province to bring forward my 'strong reasoning,' &c. I know of no disposition that I feel respecting the subject but to ascertain, if possible, the truth. If I have doubts, it is not because I choose to doubt, but because I cannot help them; and if I have faith it is such as is given me. Of one thing I have no doubt; that is, that the truth, whatever it is, is right. But:

|Admitting the scriptures are not true, I shall not attempt to guess what is true respecting the subjects to which they relate. For I might guess a hundred different ways to account for what we know is true, and all of them be wrong.

|My doubts on this subject are nothing more than doubts; they do not amount to a confirmed unbelief; because they admit the possibility of the account's being true.

|Yours, &c.


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Much esteemed friend, -- Your fourth number is hereby acknowledged; and though occasions for finding fault are in some measure extenuated, it still appears that you have lost the real connexion of your arguments, and have made the subject of the languages one of your main subjects, when judging from your first number, it was no more than a vestibule to the grand edifice which it was in your mind to examine.

However, you having paid more than half, we will not stand about the fraction, as long as we have a profitable object in view. You call up what you call the subject. I suppose the main subject. This you state as follows: |In regard to a revelation from God, the three propositions which you have stated answer my mind well enough, as far as they go; to which however, I would wish to add a fourth, and ask; admitting the three first particulars true. -- 4th. Is it reasonable to suppose, that the apostles had any other means of forming their opinions, relative to a future state, than what passed before their eyes? viz. the miracles of Christ, the circumstance attending his death, his resurrection, and the miracles wrought by themselves in his name?| I wish, in this place, to show you that your added proposition possesses no power relative to our argument which is not comprehended in the last of the three which I stated. For if it be allowed, as you propose, that my propositions are true, then you consent to the validity of the apostles' testimony respecting a future state, which granted, it makes no difference in what way the apostles come to the knowledge of futurity. When a thing is known, it is known. The means by which it is known add nothing to either side of the argument. If you allow that my argument on this subject is correct, as it seems you do, then you acknowledge that God would not endow men with the power to heal the sick and raise the dead, whose testimony concerning a future state could be justly doubted. I will not be too positive that I rightly apprehend your meaning on this subject, but as you propose to allow my three propositions, and as you make no attempt to do away my reasoning, especially on my last, I think I should not understand you according to your own proposal in any other way.

The methaphor which you use to help you away from my argument respecting the importance of a revelation from God, does not appear fully adequate to the purpose for which you use it. It might not be a reasonable, a necessary disposition of property for the proposed benefactor, to give you a large estate; it might be, in the eye of reason a very improper donation, and one which would deprive legitimate heirs of what they had a right to expect from a father towards whom they had always acted with filial obedience. -- But if you will make the case a parallel, and suppose you are an heir, a lawful child, and your father has a large estate to dispose of, then you will see that it is right and just, and no more than what you have reason to expect; that it is necessary, and that this necessity is the importance of the subject, you will at once see that this importance is a reason, yea an evidence that you have a right to expect it. I called on you to prove that no revelation was needed; I acknowledged that if none was necessary, a being of infinite wisdom would make none. You venture to say, that the |only evidence that reason can have of the necessity of divine revelation is its truth.| It is believed, sir, that this hypothesis involves too much. It is saying that reason can discern the necessity of nothing until it obtains it, whereas the truth is evidently the other side of the assertion. We are frequently experiencing the necessity of things which we have not already attained, and by this want we are incited to use the means by which we finally obtain them. -- |Ask, and ye shall receive, seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you,| &c. It is believed, and no doubt it may be argued with success, that the moral and religious state of man really required a divine revelation. Never did the parched ground, the withering plant, the thirsty herds need the showers from heaven, more than man, that WORD of life which descended as the rain and distilled as the dew, when the gospel was published by a cloud of faithful witnesses, called of God for that purpose.

After acknowledging that your words admit of the construction which I gave them respecting the apostles stating no more than what was substantially true, you inform me that you meant something very different; then, sir, it seems you must mean that they stated that which is not true. And if so, why do you not prove wherein they testified falsely, which would at once cast their bands from us? By this mean you would show that their testimony is deserving of no credit.

On the subjects of your doubts, you recollected my request, that you bring forward your reasons, &c. But in room of doing this you inform me that your doubts are involuntary. But I wish to know if this renders it improper for you to state your reasons for doubting? You further inform me that your doubts do not amount to a confirmed unbelief. Again, I would ask if it be necessary for you to wait until you are a confirmed unbeliever before you state your reasons for doubting the truth of the testimony which Christians call divine?

By these questions you will perceive that I am waiting for you, and if I am not able to meet your arguments, I am ready on making the discovery, to acknowledge your reasoning too strong for my weak powers to manage.

Yours, &c.


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