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Letter to Rev. Alex. M’Caul, D. D.

Hackney, April, 1849.

Reverend Sir,—

I received a copy of your “Lectures on the Prophecies,” which you had the kindness to send to me. I shall not make any apology for troubling you with some remarks on them, as I consider that a person who publishes a work addresses it to the public, and is subject to receive an answer from any individual, without his incurring the charge of impertinent interference.

Previous to bringing forward your proofs of the divine origin of Christianity, you think it necessary to answer the objections which <<26>>have been urged against it, and begin with the argument of the Jews, that it is unnecessary to examine the claim of Jesus to the Messiahship, as it was judged by the competent authorities at the time, and pronounced invalid. As you cannot impugn their verdict, you object to their personal character. (as in your attack on Orobio). “Caiphas and Hanno were ambitious and unprincipled men, ready to truckle to the heathen idolater, and to trample under foot the most sacred precepts of their religion;” the other members of the Sanhedrin, you say, appear in the same light. But the question is not as to their private character. Did they judge according to the precepts of their religion? Did they not view the prophecies which treat of the Messiah in the same light as the very great majority of their nation? A council of seventy men most likely will decide justly in the cases which they are competent to take cognizance of, though some of them may have obtained their seats by means not strictly legal; in the same manner as Orobio, though you stigmatize him as a hypocrite for concealing his religion, and not suffering himself to be burnt by the Inquisition, may have urged many unpalatable objections against Christianity.

You object to the Sanhedrin the quality of infallibility, which I believe was never claimed for it; the institution was a wise precaution of the Almighty to preserve unanimity in religious matters, and prevent such a distressing sight as is presented by Christianity divided into a thousand sects, where even among the lowest classes a man may collect a few dozen followers, and establish a new sect,—Jumpers, Shakers, Ranters, Southcoteans, Muggletonians, &c. The council of elders, or Sanhedrin, as it was latterly called, was not liable to error on important religious points; as it had the Mosaic law to guide them in its decisions. The members may at different periods have differed as to the extension or contraction of certain precepts, not so defined as to be applicable to all cases and circumstances; but as a superior court of appeal, the Almighty instituted and ordered the people to abide by its decisions, notwithstanding it was composed of fallible men.

But how does the fallibility of the Sanhedrin affect the divine origin of Christianity? The Jews, as in duty bound at that time, received the decision of the existing Sanhedrin; they now individually come at the same conclusion by reference to the same evidence that convinced their judges,—the holy Scriptures. The Jews, as a nation, have no doubt as to the truth of their religious faith: if they have sometimes written in support of it, it has generally been to refute imputations on it or to repel attacks. Put what are we to think of the thousands of volumes which have been written to explain to Christians what Christianity is? to <<27>>elucidate its mysteries? to laud it? to encourage its votaries in their faith of its saving power? what ingenuity has been applied to the reconciliation of some inconsistencies in its doctrines? and even now, after a lapse of eighteen hundred years, you thought it necessary to prove in a course of lectures “The Divine Origin of Christianity,” and these not addressed to Jews, Turks, or Infidels, which might be justified by the command given to make converts, but to Christians, and dedicated to the head of the Anglican church.

Your first lecture is devoted to an investigation of the formation of the Sanhedrin, and the value of its decisions, in answer to one of the objections of the Jews as to the claim of Jesus to be the Messiah foretold by the prophets. It is a pity you did not attempt to refute some of the more weighty objections which are made. However, in the second lecture you bring forward, as proof of the subject you treat of, the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6. To my great surprise you have passed over the prophecy, Is. 7:14, “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,”—a prophecy appealed to by Matthew, 1:23, in support of the dogma of the miraculous conception of Mary without the agency of man, by the influence of the Holy Ghost!

It is true you must have perceived that the prophecy could not allude to Jesus, and that it was accomplished by the birth of the child followed by the actual occurrence of the event which was predicted in the same prophecy; and although your intimate knowledge of the Hebrew must have convinced you that the word used does not necessarily imply a virgin, yet the quotation is so generally received by Christians (to whom your lectures were addressed) that it might have been employed with great it effect. However, as you have omitted it and begun with, “Unto us a son is born,” &c., which you say, together with other prophecies in their obvious grammatical meaning, announce the acknowledgment of Messiah’s deity: I shall follow you to p. 29. But here you say “We are met with a direct denial; it is asserted that not only such prophecies do not exist, but that they cannot exist.” Who are they who so boldly assert that the words you quote do not exist in their places? Surely not the Jews; they acknowledge them to exist and hold them to be true prophecies; but deny the forced construction which Christians put on them.

In examining the objection that the union of the Godhead and manhood in one person is impossible, you say “The objectors should point out the impossibility.” But those who broach a new doctrine (and you must allow that Christianity is new in respect to Judaism), it rests with them to produce their proofs, and not call on their opponents to prove <<28>>the negative. You say, “If the union is impossible, it must be, because some of the attributes of the Deity are incompatible with the attributes of the humanity.” But it may be, because the attributes of humanity are incompatible with Deity. Now the condition of humanity is a a succession of changes from the helpless state of infancy to adolescence, maturity, decadence, and death. The Deity cannot change; there cannot, therefore, be any union of the two natures in one person. It is not like the union of the body and soul, to which it is compared in your creed; because the body of Jesus was provided with a reasonable soul which resided in the mortal frame, and nowhere else, as is the case with other men. Indeed it is not clear what is meant by the phrase, “Union of Deity and manhood in one person.” So deep is the mystery that “Melancthon in his last illness wrote on a scrap of paper some of the reasons which reconciled him to his departure; one of them was that he should be able to comprehend some mysteries which he was unable to penetrate on earth, such as what was the union of the two natures in Jesus Christ.”

It seems there was not anything in the gospels, the epistles, or the writings of the fathers, which could convey any information to his mind on the subject. The writers of the New Testament affirm that the being whom they call Jesus was actually the son of God; that it was he who spoke and was spoken to, and walked about among their countrymen. They do not explicitly declare the union of the human with the divine nature; but they leave it to be inferred that the Deity abode in a human body, which increased in size, was nourished like other men, by victuals and drink, and died on the cross. This certainly is confining the son of God, for whom they claim omnipresence, to a certain limited space, in a frame which changed its locality, and is a question quite distinct from that of the union of the two natures, which phrase must be understood in the most restricted sense; merely implying the residence of the Divinity in the mortal frame of Jesus,—a juxtaposition, but not a union of the two natures.

You will not admit that infinite and finite cannot co-exist in one person, “because we do not know what infinite is; the term is merely a negation.” You say, “if God is omnipresent, where is the space of creation? If God is eternal, how can eternity and time exist together? All eternity is comprehended in every flying moment of time; if so, the being who has existed but an hour has lived through many eternities.” Your arguments, if I comprehend them, tend to prove that we cannot attribute infinity, omnipresence, or omnipotence to God? These strange assertions are brought forward to overturn the objections to the <<29>>union of the Godhead and the manhood in one person. But do you really deny the infinity, omnipresence, and omnipotence of God? or are these arguments only brought forward to mystify your readers? Your train of reasoning is very confused; but I conclude that when you say that your opponents deny a circumstance, it is to be understood that you maintain it. For instance, you say, “they deny that the whole Deity is present with each of its creatures;” then you maintain the converse of the proposition, namely; that the whole Deity is present with each of its creatures. Now it would appear to be thereby admitted that the union of the two natures in Jesus was not more real and complete than in any other person, as well as the doctrine of the Roman Catholics, of the real presence and whole fullness of the Son in as many wafers as may be consecrated simultaneously all over the world. But I suspect that here is some equivocation intended by the use of the word “present.” You say, “admitting the doctrine of God’s omnipresence as we do, it will not follow from thence that God cannot become incarnate, or that the whole fullness of the Godhead cannot dwell bodily in the Messiah.” This is an absurdity; for if you admit the omnipresence of the Deity, the whole fullness cannot dwelt bodily in any distinct locality, for then he would not be present anywhere else, and consequently would not be omnipresent.

You defend your position by saying, “If the whole Deity can be present in heaven, and also on earth, which are finite localities, it is proved that the whole Deity can dwell in limits, and therefore in the human nature of the Messiah.” I wonder you could indulge yourself with such a sophism. When it is said God is in heaven and on earth, it is not intended to exclude Him from any or every other locality. When Moses addressed Israel, heaven* and earth were all the localities of which they had any conception, and his intention most likely was to teach them that neither in heaven nor on earth was there any other God; supposing he had also in view the omnipresence of the Deity, it is not proved that because he filled heaven and earth he could also dwell wholly and bodily in the human nature of the Messiah.

* Our correspondent did not perhaps reflect, that the words “heaven of heavens,” (Deut. 10:14,) convey the utmost extent of nature; the heaven simply no doubt conveyed the blue vault as it appears above us which, as containing the sun, moon, and stars, was superior to the earth; but then the other heavens beyond prove a vastness of conception much beyond what meets the eye.—Ed. Oc.

When you speak of the incarnation, I suppose you use the word in its most restricted sense, “enclosed in flesh;” but in the “Second Article” you confess that the son “took  man’s nature,” &c., those <<30>>words can only mean that he entered the womb of Mary and there become man. I know that it afterwards says that the two natures, the Godhead and the manhood were joined together in one person; but if so, the Deity did not become man, but with the humanity which was conceived, (no matter how,) by and born of Mary, became joined together in one person. Bishop Pearson expressly says that, though the two natures were joined, “each kept their respective properties distinct, without the least mixture or confusion;” therefore the Son never became man, but united himself with man by dwelling in the frame of Jesus. There is no longer any question about the Son’s taking man’s nature; the only point to be discussed is whether the Deity could be wholly and bodily enclosed in the frame of Jesus. I have stated the objections above, and leave it to Christians to remove them.

To return to the verse, it says, “a child is born;” then it prophesies that the government shall be upon his shoulders, and the names by which the child shall be called. Now whoever may be meant by this prophecy, it certainly was not accomplished in the person of Jesus; he never possessed any authority, nor was he called by the names enumerated there; on the contrary, an angel directed that he should be called Jesus. The angel must certainly have known of the prophecy, and by directing him to be called by those names, would have incontestably proved that he was the person predicted by Isaiah. If you hold that the person alluded to was the Messiah, the verse does not offer any evidence that Jesus was the Messiah; and on the other hand there is no reason to doubt that the Messiah will receive those titles in completion of the prophecy. The following verse, which is a continuation of the prophecy, can as little be applied to Jesus. It says, “Of the increase of his government there shall be no end upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order it so for ever and ever;” for he did not sit upon the throne of David nor govern his kingdom. This objection has been met by the assertion that the throne and authority here spoken of was a spiritual rule, which has been realized by the spread of Christianity; but during the life of Jesus, he was only the leader of a small band of the lowest class in the nation, who abandoned him in his adversity. For many years after his death, Christians were considered as an heretical sect of Judaism; Christianity spread secretly and slowly from the lowest to the highest rank, and at last was declared by Constantine to be the state religion. During its progress, almost from its birth, it was vexed by continual heresies. The first Christian emperor received baptism from an Arian bishop, and his wavering mind alternately favoured Athanasius and Arias. As to the peace attending on the <<31>>establishment of Christianity, I think you will not insist on it; as soon as the one party acquired power it was employed against the rival sects and its pagan enemies, and its whole course has been marked by bloodshed and by persecution.

(To be continued.)