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§. 1. Answer to Mr. W’s first Objection.
I WILL first consider all Mr. W’s objections to these literal stories.
Mr. W. says in his preamble, before he comes to propose his objections in form: That these three miracles are not equally great, but differ in degree, is visible enough to every one that but cursorily reads, and compares their stories one with another.—The greatest of the three, and indeed the greatest miracle, that Jesus is supposed to have wrought, is that of Lazarus’s resurrection; which, in truth, was a most prodigious miracle, if his corps was putrified and stank; and if there were no just exceptions to be made to the credibility of the story. Next to that, in magnitude, is Jesus’s raising of the widow's son, as they were carrying him to his burial.—The least of the three is that of his raising Jairus’s daughter, p. 4, 5.
For my own part, I will not pretend to affirm, that these three miracles are equally great, tho’ the difference is small:, But I should think it highly probable, that the Being which can give life to a person really dead, tho’ but for a quarter of an hour, or even a minute, is able also to raise to life another that has been dead many days. The length of time in which a person has lain dead from the time he expired does indeed somewhat increase the certainty of his death. But the difficulty of the work of a resurrection from real death is so very great, that length of time from the decease can add but little to it. This 3alone (if it be true) ruins Mr. W’s first observation, however plausible it may have appeared to some. And he himself says, p. 3. He believes, it will be granted on all hands, that the restoring a person, indisputably dead, to life again, is a stupendous miracle.
If then it shall be made appear, that the three persons here mention’d were indisputably dead, and raised to life again; or that there are no just exceptions against the credibility of these stories; we have in the gospels, three stupendous miracles which were wrought by Jesus Christ; and we have no occasion to have recourse to any mystical interpretations.
1. Observe, says he, p. 6. that the unnatural and preposterous order of time, in which those miracles are related, justly brings them undersuspicion of fable and forgery. The greatest of the three is indisputably that of Lazarus’s resurrection; but since this is only mentioned by St. John, who wrote his gospel after the other Evangelists;—Here is too much room for cavil and question, whether this story be not entirely his invention: Again: If Matthew, the first writer had recorded only the story of Lazarus, whole resurrection was the greatest miracle, and if Luke had added that of the widow of Naim’s son; and John lastly had remember’d us of Jairus’s daughter—then all had been well; and no objection had hence lain against the credit of any of these miracles, or against the authority of the evangelists: But this unnatural and preposterous order of time, in which these miracles are recorded (the greatest being postpon’d to the least) administers just occasion of suspicion of the truth and credibility of all their stories, p. 9, 16.4
On the contrary I maintain, that St. John the last Evangelist’s recording a miracle omitted by the former, even supposing it to be greater than. any related by them, does not administer any just occasion of suspicion of the truth and credibility of all their three stories, or of any one of them.
If there is any force in this argument of Mr. W. it must lie in some one or more of these following suppositions:
1. That some of the three former Evangelists have expressly declared, they have related all the miracles, or all the greatest miracles, which Jesus ever wrought, or which they knew of.
2. Or, if they have not expressly declared this, that however they have in their way of writing shewn an affectation of mightily encreasing the number of our Saviour’s miracles, or of setting down all and especially the greatest which they knew of.
3. Or else, that the later Evangelists have betray’d a fondness in their gospels, to record more in number, or greater in degree, than those who went before them; and thereby give ground for suspicion of forgery and invention.
4. Or lastly, that the omission of a miracle recorded by the last Evangelist, if it had been really done, is absolutely unaccountable.
1. That some of the three former Evangelists have expressly declared, they have related all the miracles, or all the greatest miracles that Jesus ever did, or that they knew of. This they have none of them said. Nor is it so much as pretended, they have said so. Indeed they have often declared the contrary.5
2. Or, If they have not expressly declared this; that the former Evangelists have however by their way and manner of writing shewn an affectation of mightily encreasing the number of our Saviour's miracles, or of setting down all; and especially the greatest which they knew of. This Mr. W. charges them with: To aggrandize the fame of their Master, as a worker of miracles, he says, was the design of all the Evangelists, especially of the three first, p. 7. This does not appear from their histories, but quite the contrary. Having related two or three miracles wrought by Jesus in any place, they content themselves therewith, though they knew of many other. St. Matthew in his eighth chapter, having set down the miraculous cures of a leper, of the centurion’s servant, and of Peter’s wife’s mother, relates no more miracles particularly, but only says in general: When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick, Matth. viii. 16. And in divers other places he affirms, many to have been healed, and many other mighty works to have been done, beside those he puts down. Mark has taken the same summary method upon many occasions. And at even, says he, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gather’d together at the door. And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils, Mark i. 32-34. St. Luke has followed the same compendious way of writing. Having related a cure, in a synagogue, of a man which had spirit of an unclean devil, and of Simon’s wife’s 6mother, he adds: Now when the sun was setting, all they which had any sick with divers diseases, brought them unto him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And devils also came out of many, crying out and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God, Luke iv. 40, 41.
As they do not multiply their particular relations of miracles, but omit great numbers which they knew, so neither do they affect always to take the greatest in degree, or those that seem so. I do not pretend to understand all the various degrees of miracles. But it appears to me a more showy and affecting work to cure a demoniac, than to heal a person with a fever. But yet Matthew in the chapter just quoted, at the same time that be relates the cure of Simon’s wife’s, mother, omits all particular accounts of those which were that same day delivered from evil spirits, though there many such instances. There is in all the gospels but one particular account of any person cured by only touching the hem of Christ’s garment; namely, the woman with the bloody issue. And yet there were many other such cases. St. Matthew says, that in the land of Gennesaret, they besought him, that they might only touch the HEM of his garment, and as many as touched were made perfectly whole, Matth. xiv. 35, 36. St. Mark assures us of the same thing. For he had healed many, insomuch that they pressed upon him for to TOUCH him, as many as had plagues, Mark iii. 10. And in another place he says: Whithersoever he entred,—they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch, if it were but the BORDER of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole, 7Ch. vi. 56. St. Luke also confirms this account: And the whole multitude sought to TOUCH him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all, Luke vi. 19.
Nay, there is a great deal of reason to think, that the Evangelists did know of more persons raised to life by Jesus, than those they have particularly mentioned. St. Luke, having given the history of raising up the young man, says immediately: And the disciples of John shewed him of all these things. And John calling unto him two of his disciples, sent them to Jesus, saying; Art thou he that should come, or look we for another.—Then Jesus answering, said unto them, Go your way, and tell John, what things ye have seen and heard, how that the blind see, the lame walk,—the DEAD are raised, Luke vii. 18, 19, 22. In St. Matthew our Lord says the same thing in his answer to John’s enquiry: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk,—the dead are raised up, Mat. xi. 5. He says, The dead are raised, in the plural number. St. Matthew therefore must have known of more than one, tho’ he has given the particular history of the ruler of the synagogue’s daughter only.
Farther, in answer to this assertion, that the design of all the Evangelists was to aggrandise the fame of their Master, as a worker of miracles; I would observe, that the gospels, though but short histories, are not filled with accounts of miracles. There are whole chapters together containing nothing, but an account of our Saviour’s pure and heavenly doctrine. Other chapters contain nothing but parables, which are also interspersed here and there in other parts of the 8narration. Other chapters ate taken up with the cavils of the Pharisees and others, and our Saviour’s answers to them, with discourses to the disciples, and divers other matters. So that the miracles alone, separate from the discourses and arguings which they occasion’d, make but a moderate part of the Gospels. Many miracles undoubtedly the Evangelists have related. Nor had Jesus proved himself to be the Messiah, if many miracles had not been perform’d by him. Such things were expected of the Messiah, when he came, by every body. Therefore it was, that, as St. John observes, Many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did, John ii. 23. And in another place, Many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done? Ch. vii. 31. Nor is there any ostentation in the working of any of these miracles, or in the manner in which they are related: But they are done for the confirmation of that excellent doctrine, which Christ taught, and that all men might know that the Father had sent him, and that the word he taught was not his own but the Father’s. If I do not the works of my Father, says he to the Jews, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works, that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him, John x. 37, 38. And to the disciples: The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself: But the Father that dwells in me, he doth the works. Believe me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works sake, Ch. xiv. 10, 11.9
Since then the first three Evangelists appear not to have given an account of all the miracles of Jesus which they knew, nor of all his greatest miracles, nor of all those which he had raised from the dead: since they have not filled up their gospels with accounts of miracles or other wonderful appearances, and have writ all without any marks of affectation or ostentation; it can be no prejudice to the credit of another later historian of Jesus, tho’ he relate some few particular miracles not expressly mentioned by the foregoing.
3. Or else, that the later Evangelists have in their gospels betrayed a fondness to record more in number, or greater in degree, than those that went before: and thereby give ground for suspicion of forgery and invention. Here St. John, the last Evangelist, in point of number, is perfectly innocent; he not having related half so many miracles, as any one of the former. The offence therefore, if there be any, must be this, that later Evangelists relate greater miracles than the foregoing. And this Mr. W. would insinuate to have been the practise of all in general. For he says, p. 11. That the first was sparing and modest in his romance; and the second, being sensible of the insufficiency of the former's tale, devises a miracle of a bigger size; which still not proving sufficient to the end proposed; the third writer, rather than his Prophet’s honour should sink for want of a resurrection miracle, forges a story of a monstrously huge one. To this I answer, that a general conclusion ought not to be drawn from a particular instance, or two: Supposing, that the raising of the widow’s son of Naim, related by Luke, be greater than that of raising 10 Jairus’s daughter, recorded by Matthew; and that the raising of Lazarus recorded by St. John be greater than either of the two former, a suspicion of forgery and invention cannot be fairly admitted, unless an affectation of enlarging miracles appear also upon other occasions. For which reason we will take a view of the conduct, first of all, of the three former Evangelists, and then of St. John.
In the first place we will take a view of the conduct of the three former Evangelists. Matthew relates a story of Christ’s feeding a multitude in a miraculous manner. He says, there were five thousand of them fed with five loaves, and that twelve baskets of fragments were taken up, Matth. xiv. Neither St. Mark, (Ch. vi.) or St. Luke (Ch. ix.) have related a greater miracle of this kind; but tell the same story with the same circumstances: whereas if they had been disposed to invent, the two later Evangelists might have easily told a much greater miracle of this sort than Matthew had done. Again, St. Matthew has given an account of raising Jairus’s daughter, Ch. ix. 18. St. Mark wrote after him, and yet he has not told any greater resurrection story, but only the same, Ch. v. 23. Nay sometimes a later Evangelist lessens a miracle, that had been told by a former: so far are they from forging huge miracles, rather than their Master’s honour should sink for want of them. Thus Matthew tells of TWO possessed with devils in the country of the Gergesenes healed by Jesus, Chap. viii. 28. But Mark who wrote after him, mentions but one of those men, Ch. v. 1. Matthew 11also speaks of two blind men restored to sight near Jericho, Ch. xx. 29; Mark mentions only Bartimeus, Ch. x. 46. and St. Luke says: There was a certain blind man by the way side begging, &c. Ch. xviii. 35.
There is another thing very observable. One and the same Evangelist, who has given an account of a very great miracle of a certain kind, does sometimes a good while after relate another miracle of the same sort, but a great deal less than the former.
Thus Matthew first gives a history of five thousand fed with five loaves and two fishes, and says there were twelve baskets of fragments, Ch. xiv. But when he afterwards speaks of another miracle of this kind, he mentions but four thousand fed with seven loaves and a few small fishes, and but seven baskets full of fragments, Ch. xv. These miracles are in the like order recorded in St. Mark, Ch. vi. viii. Nay if the raising of the widow of Naim’s son be a greater miracle than raising Jairus’s daughter, as Mr. W. supposes; then St. Luke has given an account of his resurrection stories also in this method. For the former is in the seventh, and the latter in the eighth chapter of his gospel.
It is utterly unaccountable, that a forger of miracles should fall into such a method. He who forges stories of miracles knows they are false. His reader’s mind must be humoured. By a lesser he may be prepared to receive a greater, which, if told first, had perhaps induc’d him to throw away the whole tale. Besides a forger of miracles certainly designs to entertain his reader, whereas in this way instead of being entertain’d 12he must be disappointed. And there can be no reason assign’d, why the Evangelists should have taken this method, as I have shewn they have done, more than one of them, in several instances, but that they had a strict regard to truth, and that the things they relate had been indeed so done. It serves to convince us also, that they had no undue desire to aggrandise their Master; that they have not used art in their compositions, or indulg’d their own fansie or invention; but have followed a certain train of real, tho’ wonderful and surprizing actions.
Now we will take a view of the conduct of St. John, the last Evangelist. It is St. John in particular, that Mr. W. means, when he says The third writer, rather than his Prophet’s honour should sink for want of a resurrection miracle, forges a story of a monstrously huge one, p. 11. But this is somewhat strange, that Mr. W. should impute such an action to St. John; since he has himself said, p. 7. That to aggrandise their Master, as a worker of miracles, was the deign especially of the three first. Moreover Mr. W. allows, p. 9. that one resurrection miracle is sufficient. Why then should it be thought, that St. John hath given an account of one raised from the dead, but that he knew it had been really done?
But not to rely on these observations of Mr. W. though so much in our favour: let us observe St, John’s conduct on other occasions; one instance, as I said, not being sufficient. It is he who has inform’d us of the turning water into wine at Cana in Galilee, John ii. 1. I am fully persuaded, this was a real miracle. But it appears to 13me, (and I suppose to others likewise) one of the lest miracles any where ascribed to our Saviour. If St. John forg’d miracles, Why did he put down here so inconsiderable an one? Why did he not tell a huge one? He had full scope here, as much as any where, the former Evangelists not having begun so soon in their account of our Saviour’s ministry: as is well known to those who are at all acquainted with the harmony of the gospels.
Nor may any say, that the reason of St. John’s relating here so small a miracle was, that he judged it not proper to tell a great miracle at first, but to reserve such an one, and particularly the huge miracle of Lazarus’s resurrection for the last. For soon after this he relates a surprising miracle of a great cure wrought on a person at a distance, and that the son of a nobleman. So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee.—And there was a certain noble man, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him, that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the POINT OF DEATH.—Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way, thy son liveth. And afterwards upon enquiry when the fever left him, the father knew, that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth. This is again the second miracle, that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judea into Galilee, John iv. 46-54.
Let us view St. John in another place. In the sixth chapter of his gospel he relates a story of Christ’s feeding a multitude in a miraculous manner, 14which is, that he fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two small fishes, and that they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. This is just the same, with what the three other Evangelists had told before. But why did not St. John, if he indulged invention, forge here, or somewhere else, a story of a monstrously huge miracle? It had been altogether as easie for him to have told a story of about ten or twelve thousand men, or more, fed with two loaves and one small fish: and to add, that when all had eat to satisfaction; there were twenty or thirty baskets full of fragments taken up.
There is no reason then to suspect the truth of the history of Lazarus’s resurrection, purely because it is a greater miracle than those recorded by the former Evangelists. If the miracle recorded by St. John be greater than those recorded by them, it is not owing (for any thing that yet appears) to St. John’s invention, but to truth and real matter of fact, and his regard to it, which was equally the concern of them all.
4. The last pretended ground of suspicion of fable and forgery to be considered is, That the first Evangelists omission of a miracle, recorded by the last, if the miracle had been really done, is absolutely unaccountable. Let us hear Mr. W. who is here very copious, in his way, saying the same thing over and over in different words. What could be the reason, he asks, p. 6. that Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who all wrote their gospels before John should omit to record this remarkable and most illustrious miracle of Lazarus?—What then was the reason, I ask it again, that the three first 15Evangelists neglected to record this renowned miracle of Lazarus? p. 8.
To which I answer, that we are under no obligation to account for the omission of the former Evangelists. It would be no sufficient ground to refuse our assent to St. John’s history of the raising of Lazarus, though we could think of no manner of reason at all for its being omitted by the three former.
However a variety of reasons for this omission offer themselves. I have already shewn, the Evangelists have not affected to increase the number of our Saviour’s miracles, but pass’d by many, and those very great ones, which they knew very well. Mr. W. himself allows, that one miracle of a resurrection is sufficient. He says likewise, p. 3. that the restoring a person indisputably dead, to life again, is a stupendous miracle. (I hope to shew hereafter, that every person said to have been raised to life by our Saviour had been certainly dead, and that therefore every one of these instances are stupendous miracles.) If then the lest of these, is a stupendous miracle, Why should we cavil with the Evangelists for not putting down, every one of them, the greatest miracle of all, if indeed there be a difference? Is it not very reasonable to suppose, that an Evangelist might content himself with the relation of one person raised from the dead; since one instance is sufficient, and is a stupendous thing?
Another very common occasion of omissions in writers is a regard to brevity. Mr. W. himself could not help thinking of this excuse, the 16studying brevity, p. 9; but he would not allow it to the first Evangelists. Nevertheless, I think, they have the best title to this excuse of any men that every wrote. The four gospels bound together do not make a large volume: each one singly is a very small book. And yet the Evangelists had before them the most copious and engaging subject. Beside the miracles of our Saviour, with circumstances of time and place, the names of the persons, occasions of working them; and divers other extraordinary testimonies given to him from heaven, they have actually inferred in these pieces an account of the wonderful manner of our Saviour’s birth, the dangers of his infancy, the miraculous appearances of Divine Providence in his favour, his removals and journeyings from one place and country to another. They have recorded the substance of his doctrine in plain terms, again and again. They have set down many parables spoke by him, together with their explications. Here is a mission of his twelve apostles and other seventy disciples. They have also given the cavils, and questions, of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, and our Lord’s answers to them; the observations and reflexions of the people; our Lord’s public discourses before all, and his more private instructions to his disciples; his predictions of his own sufferings, of the destruction of Jerusalem, and many other events; a long and particular account of our Saviour’s prosecution, condemnation, and crucifixion, as also of his resurrection and ascension: Not to mention the history of the birth, preaching, 17baptism, and sufferings of John the Baptist our blessed Lord’s forerunner.
He who considers this great number and variety of matters contained in the gospels, (as also the engaging nature of them, by which an historian must be much inclined to dwell upon them, both for his own sake and for the pleasure and entertainment of others) must needs allow, that the Evangelists have ardently desired and most carefully studied brevity, or their works had rose to a great bulk. They have certainly aimed at this all along, in almost every part of their accounts. And I have before shewn they have done this in their relations of miracles; since having given a particular history of some few, they mention many others in a summary way only. It is not at all strange then (we have here a very good reason of it) that when an Evangelist had given an account of one person raised from the dead, it being a stupendous miracle, he contented himself therewith.
Nor ought the Evangelists to be blamed for aiming at brevity. They deserve very high commendations both for the design itself, and for their excellent execution of it. Their intention was to give a history of Jesus, that all men might believe him to be the Christ, and might have life through his name. It was absolutely necessary therefore to put down the doctrine of Christ, and also somewhat under each one of those heads abovementioned. But though the subject was extremely copious; these books being intended for the use of all, for the learned and unlearned, for the poor, the rich, the busie, 18for all ranks and orders of men in all times, it was highly needfull they should be short. Great books are tedious and distasteful, many books are troublesome. And I am perswaded, that the Evangelists have much more effectually consulted the benefit of mankind by their short gospels, than by writing, as they might have easily done, many more, or much larger books of the history of Jesus Christ.
I have proved a regard to brevity in general, and particularly in the account of miracles, and have also shewn that this design was necessary and reasonable. This study of brevity must certainly have obliged each one of them to observe silence upon some matters, after they had related others; that they might reserve room for some important events, essential parts of their history, still behind: lest they should proceed to a length and prolixity, they had resolv’d to avoid. It is therefore very easy to suppose in behalf of the three former Evangelists, that when they had come to some certain place or period in their history of the ministry of Jesus, they observ'd they had given a sufficient account of his doctrine and miracles: and since they must reserve room for an account of his last sufferings, and his resurrection, they resolv'd to pass over in silence what happen’d between that period and the time of his last journey to Jerusalem, where he suffer'd.
Such a period as this may be observ'd in the three former Evangelists, by which means they had not an opportunity of relating the resurrection 19of Lazarus. I will shew this particularly of St. Matthew and St. Mark.
St. Matthew says, Ch. xix. 1, 2, 3. And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judea beyond Jordan. And great multitudes followed him, and he healed them there. The Pharisees also came unto him tempting him, &c. From which verse to the sixteenth verse of the next chapter follows an account of the question of the Pharisees concerning divorce, Jesus’s receiving little children, the young man that came to Christ, some discourses between Christ and the disciples about riches, and a parable. Then at ver. 17. of that chapter (the twentieth) are there words: And Jesus going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, &c. From which 'tis plain, that Jesus was then going toward Jerusalem, a little before his last passover.
St. Mark says, Ch. x. 1. And he arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judea by the farther side of Jordan, &c. From whence to the 31st verse is an account of the Pharisees question concerning divorce, the little children brought to Christ, the young man that came to him, a discourse between Christ and the disciples about riches. Then at ver. 32. it is said: And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem, &c.
From which it appears, that St. Matthew and St. Mark have given no particular account of any journeyings of Jesus and have spoke but very little of any thing else concerning him (except some discourses in the place of his retirement) 20from the time he came into the country beyond Jordan, till they find him in his way to Jerusalem, before his last passover.
The same thing appears to me in St. Luke also. But that I may not be tedious, I will decline showing that particularly at present. I may the better be excused, because he has two resurrection miracles, which is one more than is sufficient.
Now the time of our Lord’s coming into the country beyond Jordan may be learnt from St. John. It was soon after the feast of dedication, John x. 22. which was observ'd in the winter. For he says: They sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand, and went again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized: and there abode. And many resorted unto him, ver. 39, 40, 41. From which country (according to St. John’s account) Jesus afterwards came up to Bethanie, and rais’d Lazarus; and then went into a country near the wildernesse, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples, John xi. 54. These removes the other Evangelists have omitted for the sake of brevity, or some other reason. Therefore the resurrection of Lazarus could not be well brought into their relation.
There is another reason of their silence about this matter, concurring with their study of brevity. The design of a writer may be collected from his work. From the three first gospels it appears, that the design of the three first Evangelists was to give an account of the most public part of our Lord's ministry. They therefore entirely 21pass over the former part of it, and begin their relation after the imprisonment of John the Baptist. Thus Matthew, Ch. iv. 2. Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee. Mark i. 14. Now after that John was cast into prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. And that St. Luke also begins his account of our Lord’s ministry at about the same time, is apparent from his gospel. See Ch. iv. 14, &c.
For the same reason that they omitted the former and lest public part of his ministry, before the imprisonment of John the Baptist, they have also slightly pass'd over what happen’d from our Lord’s arrival beyond Jordan, till he is going up to his last passover. For in this interval he lived somewhat more privately than he had done before. He receiv’d all who came to him, either for instruction, or to be healed by him; but he did not go about the cities and villages of Judea preaching publickly, as he had done for some time before.
St. John observing what had been the method of the three former Evangelists, and that they had given a very sufficient account of that part of Christ’s ministry which succeeded the imprisonment of John the Baptist, resolv'd to supply their omissions. By which means he was led to give some history of things done by Jesus between his temptation in the wildernesse and the imprisonment of John the Baptist, and also of some things that happen’d between our Lord’s going into the country beyond Jordan, and his journey to the last passover at Jerusalem, in 22which last interval the miracle of Lazarus was perform’d.
We have here (so far as I am able to judge) a fair account of the occasion of the omission of Lazarus’s resurrection by the three former Evangelists, and of its relation by St. John.
Once more: Since the miracles of Jesus were so numerous (according to the account of all the three first Evangelists) that they could not be all particularly related without an inconvenient and unnecessary prolixity; these Evangelists might very reasonably prefer some miracles before others, and in particular the miracle wrought on Jairus’s daughter before that on Lazarus. If one of these miracles were to be omitted, I would ask, which of the two it should be? I can readily answer for myself; I should choose to omit that of Lazarus rather than the other. And though all men should not presently decide with me, I believe that most would waver in the choice.
The raising any person to life is an amazing and truly divine work. Jairus was a ruler of a synagogue, of an order of men generally averse to Jesus: Lazarus was a friend. The miracle therefore on Jairus’s daughter is more unexceptionable in this respect than that on Lazarus. All the miracles of Jesus, considering his blameless character, and the circumstances with which they are related, are really unexceptionable. But there are degrees in all kinds of things, and one miracle, even of Jesus himself, may be more unexceptionable than another; which is an important thing in a miracle, as well as the greatness 23of the work itself. In this respect the raising of Jairus’s daughter is preferable to that of Lazarus. I pass by the honour that results to Jesus from the earnest entreaties of so considerable a person as Jairus, that he would come and lay his hands on his daughter, who was at the point of death, or even now dead.
Moreover the miracle on Jairus’s daughter was perform’d in the very height of Christ’s public ministry, when there were great numbers continually attending on him; enemies undoubtedly and spies, as well as other people. But to Bethanie Jesus came privately with his disciples, and unexpectedly, to raise Lazarus. There happened indeed to be there at that time friends of the Pharisses (as I suppose there were every where) who went away, and told them what Jesus had done. But his arrival at Bethanie was perfectly unexpected to all, and a surprise even to the family of Lazarus. The evidences which there are in the relation, that our Lord’s corning to Bethanie at that time was unlook’d for, shew that there was no concert between him and his friends there: But for the same reason the Pharisees might not be so well prepar’d to observe this miracle as some others.
To conclude this point: Mr. W. says: p. 9. If Matthew the first writer, had recorded only the story of Lazarus, whose resurrection was the greatest miracle; and if Luke had added that of the widow of Naim’s son; and if John lastly had remember’d us of Jairus’s daughter, which the other Evangelists, not through ignorance or forgetfulness, but studying brevity, had omitted, then all had been well.24
Undoubtedly, all had been well then, because there are not in the gospels any tokens of forgery or fiction, but plain marks of a real history of matter of fact, and of the strictest regard to truth. But all things are as well now. And if Lazarus’s story had stood in the three first gospels in the room of that of Jairus’s daughter, there might have been as much room for exceptions, as there is now, as appears from what I have just said about the circumstances of these persons. Nor is there any good objection to be brought against the present order. The three first Evangelists have wisely taken that miracle, which occurred to them in the course of our Lord’s most public ministry, and which is in all respects most unexceptionable.
Upon the whole, the reasons I have here offer'd of the silence of the three first Evangelists about Lazarus’s resurrection are such as readily offer themselves to my mind; they arise out of the gospels themselves; and they appear to me to be of no small weight. But they are not intended to the prejudice of any other probable reasons assign’d by Grotius, or Dr. Whitby, or any other learned and judicious writers88See Dr. Harris’s Reasonableness of believing in Christ, p. 3. 4.. And whether the reasons offer’d by me or others appear fully satisfactory, or not, is not very material: We not being obliged, as I said at first, to assign any reason at all for this omission.
I have endeavour’d to put the force of this objection of Mr. W. into the four beforementioned suppositions, which I have considered. But 25there are yet several particulars he has mention’d under this head of what he calls the unnatural and preposterous order of time, which I suppose we must not pass by. He says then: p. 6. Since this [Lazarus’s resurrection] is only mentioned by St. John, who wrote his gospels above sixty years, according to the best computation, after our Lord’s ascension; here is too much room for cavil and question, whether this story be not entirely his invention.
No wise and honest man ought to countenance cavil. It is sufficient that there be no just reason for doubt and question, as there is not here. If any man were now to write a history (never heard of before) of some person raised from the dead, about sixty years ago, in a town not far from one of the chief cities of Europe; and should mention time and place; and names of persons concern’d, as St. John has done, he would find no credit with any one. Indeed the design is so foolish and extravagant, that no one will attempt it when there is a liberty of enquiry, as there certainly was in St: John’s time, the friends of christianity being fewer than its opposers. But there is no reason to suppose St. John first told this story now, sixty years after our Saviour’s ascension. He had undoubtedly told it before an infinite number of times, in conversation, and in public discourses, before many people, when the fact might be enquired into, and easily known to be true or false. Eusebius, who took a great deal of pains to get the best information concerning 26the authority of all the books of the New Testament informs us from the ancients. “And when now Mark and Luke [he had spoke of Matthew before] had publish’d their gospels, they say that John, who had hitherto all along preach’d only by word of mouth, was induced to write99Ἤδη δὲ Μάρκου καὶ Λουκᾶ τῶν κατ᾽ αὐτου... ἐυαγγελίων τὴν ἔκδοσιν πεποιημένων, Ἰωάννην φασὶ τὸν πάντα χρόνον ἀγράφῳ κεχρημένον κηρύγματι, τέλος καὶ ἐπὶ τὴν γραφὴν ἐλθεῖν τοιᾶσδου χαριν αἰτίας. Euseb. Hist. Eccl. l. 3. c. 24.” &c.
From which we learn two things; first, that St. John had spent his time in preaching Jesus Christ, from the time of our Lord's ascension: Secondly, that his gospel contains the substance of his preaching. For he wrote what he had hitherto taught only by word of mouth. Consequently he had often told his hearers this story of Lazarus’s resurrection, long before he wrote his gospel.
Soon after our author says: p. 7. The first writer of the life of an hero, to be sure makes mention of all the grand occurrences of it.—If a third or fourth biographer after him shall presume to add a more illustrious action of the hero’s life, it will be rejected as fable and romance; tho’ for no other reason than this, that the first writer must have been apprised of it, and would have inserted its story, if there had been any truth in it.
How the lives of heroes are writ, I do not know, not being read in legends and romances. But omissions are common in the lives of princes and other great men. Suetonius is allowed to be 27an excellent biographer, and was a very curious and inquisitive person. Yet no one doubts of the truth and credibility of several things omitted by him, concerning those emperours whole lives he has writ. The three first Evangelists have not related all the grand occurrences of Christ’s life. They expressly say, they have omitted a great number of them. lf, they had professed to be particular, and to take great care to omit nothing, there had been some ground for this objection: but to make it now a man must have first lost all modesty.
But it will be said: The objection is not, that the raising of Lazarus is another occurence, or another grand occurrence omitted by the three former historians; but that Lazarus’s resurrection is a most prodigious miracle, p. 4; a huge and superlatively great miracle, p. 7; the miracle of miracles, ibid; a monstrously huge one, sp. 11.) in comparison of the other; and especially of the first, which is an imperfect and disputable miracle in comparison of the other two, p. 9.
This indeed Mr. W. does say, and he is obliged to say it, however contradictory it may be to what he says at other times. For if the later miracle related by the last writer be only somewhat greater, more considerable than the former, the argument is of no force. Let us therefore see what the Evangelists say. According to St. Matthew, the first writer, Jairus’s daughter was dead before Jesus came to the house, for the musicians were come to make lamentations for her. And according to St. John, Lazarus had been 28dead four days1010St. John says, Ch. xi. 17. When Jesus came he found that he had lain in the grave four days already But, ver. 16. Martha says to Jesus: Lord by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Therefore the former four days were incompleat, and it was but the fourth day since his burial. Mr. Woolston therefore (to do him justice) is in the right, when he says, p. 30. “If those four days are number’d according to the arithmetick of Jesus’s three days in his grave, they are reducible to two days and three nights.” So it is: part of the day on which he was buried, then two whole days, and part of the day on which he was rais’d, and three nights. Thus, I suppose, if Lazarus died on the first day of the week, he was buried on the second, and raised on the fifth. He had been dead four days compleat, or thereabouts; buried four days, incompleat.. He mentions no longer time, But according to Mr. W’s representation of the resurrection of Lazarus; that it was a superlatively great miracle, a monstrously huge one, in comparison of the other; one would be apt to conclude, that Lazarus had been said by St. John to have been dead at lest forty or fifty years, whereas he does not say half so many days. The difference as to time between that of the widow of Naim’s son and Lazarus is still less; for he was not only dead, but carried forth to burial.
I argue therefore against Mr. W. thus: St. John’s miracle exceeds in degree the other two but a small matter, therefore he did not invent and forge it. For if he had had a design of forging a miracle, from a sense of the insufficience of the former, he would have made it prodigiously or vastly greater than these, which he has not done. The reader will judge, whether this be a confutation of this objection of Mr. W. or not.29
I will add farther: The miracle on Lazarus exceeds that on Jairus’s daughter in but one circumstance, which is that he had lain dead a little longer. In several other respects the miracle on Jairus’s daughter is superior to that on Lazarus; for Lazarus was a friend, but Jairus was a stranger and a ruler of a synagogue; and the miracle on his daughter was perform’d in the most public part of our Lord’s ministry. St. John therefore did not invent the story of Lazarus from a sense of the insufficience of the former: for if he had invented, he would have related not only a history of a person dead much longer than the other, (as I shewed just now) but the person to be the subject of his miracle would have been a stranger, and a rabby, a ruler, or a nobleman, or some other person of figure: and he would have placed it, in all likelihood, in the most public part of Christ’s ministry. What I say here appears to me to be of the highest degree of probability: That if St. John had contriv’d a miracle, because he judged the former not sufficient, he would not have taken a friend of Jesus for the subject of it; and he would have related it with several other different circumstances.
One quotation more from our author, before we leave this article. Supposing John (who was then above a hundred, and in his dotage) had not reported this miracle of Lazarus; but that Clement (joining it with his incredible gory of the resurrection of a Phoenix) or Ignatius, or Polycarp, or the Author of the Apostolical Constitutions 30 had related it; would not your christian critics have been at work to expose it? p. 12.
. This argument is proposed with great airs of assurance, but I cannot see the force of it. As, to Clement’s story of the Phoenix, we have nothing to do with it here, that I know of; it not being a christian miracle, but an old heathen story told by many authors, though with somewhat different circumstances. If Clement, Ignatius, or Polycarp had given the history of a miracle of Jesus, writ in a credible manner, with proper circumstances, I make no doubt but a due regard would be had to their authority; in proportion to their nearness to the time of Jesus.
As for John’s being above a hundred, when he writ his gospel; it shews us he was thirty years of age or more, when Jesus lived here on earth; and therefore was arrived at years of discretion, and was able to judge of things. That he was in his dotage, there is no proof. His gospel is not the work of a man in his dotage. Let Mr. W. shew me any where out of the bible, so fine, and yet so simple, so natural a narration of a matter of fact, as that of the cure of the man blind from his birth, contained in the ixth chapter of St. John’s gospel: Let him shew me any where else such a prayer, as that recorded in his seventeenth chapter: Let him shew me such discourses, so affectionate, so moving, so every way excellent, as those in his fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters: I say, let him shew me any where else 31such things as these, not writ by any man in his dotage, but in the prime of life, and the full vigour of his wit and understanding.
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