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Chrysostom ascribes the same caution to the apostles on this subject. He says that they concealed the doctrine of the miraculous conception on account of the incredulity of the Jews with respect to it; and that when they began to preach the gospel, they insisted chiefly on the resurrection of Christ.* With respect to the former, (and the same may no doubt be applied to the latter,) he says, he did not give “his own opinion only, but that which came by tradition from the fathers and eminent men. He therefore would not have his hearers to be alarmed, or think his account of it extraordinary.”+
Thus, he says, that "it was not to give offence to the Jews that Peter, in his first speech to them, did not say that Christ did the wonderful works of which he spake, but that God did them by him; that by speaking more modestly he might conciliate them to himself.”# The same caution he attributes to him, in “ not saying that Christ, but that God spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, that by these means he might bring them gradually to the faith.”
I cannot help observing how extremely improbable is this account of the conduct of the apostles given by Athanasius, Chrysostom, and other orthodox fathers of the church, considering what we know of the character and the instructions of the apostles. They were plain men, and little qualified to act the cautious part here ascribed to them; and their instructions certainly were to teach all that they knew, even what their Master communicated to them in the greatest privacy. . Whereas, upon this scheme, they must have
* Matt. cap. i, Hom. iii. VII. p. 20. (P.)
+ Αλλα μη θορυβείσθε προς το παραδοξον του λεγομενε" ου δε γαρ εμος ο λογος, αλλα πατερων ημετερων θαυματων και επισημων ανδρων. In cap. Μatt. i. Ηom. iii. VΙΙ. p. 20. (P.)
1 Ουκετι λεγει ότι αυτος, αλλ' ότι δι' αυτό ο Θεος, ένα μαλλον τω μετριαζειν εφελκυσηται. In Acta Apostolorum, Cap. ii. Hom. vi. VIII. p. 491. (P.)
και Ου λεγει ών ειπεν ο Χριςος, αλλ' ων ελαλησεν ο Θεος, ετι τα συσκιαζειν μαλλον αυτες ETTA YOLEVOS ELS TT1518 mpena. Ibid. Hom. ix. VIII. p. 511. (P.)
li To these observations I would add, that, as among the twelve apostles there must have been men of very different tempers and abilities, it is not probable that they should all have agreed in conducting themselves upon the plan of not divulging the doctrine of the divinity of their Master till their hearers were sufficiently persuaded of his Messiahship. Some of them would hardly have been capable of so much refinement, and they would certainly have differed about the time when it was proper to divulge so great a secret. Besides, the mother of Jesus, and many other persons of both
sexes, must have been acquainted with it. For, that this secret was strictly confined to the twelve apostles will hardly be maintained. And yet we have no account either of their instructions to act in this manner, or of any difference of opinion or of conduct with respect to it.
It might have been expected also, that the information that a person whom they first conversed with as a man, was either God himself, or the maker of the world under God, should have been received with some degree of doubt and hesitation
suffered numbers to die in ignorance of the most important truth in the gospel, lest, by divulging it too soon, the conversion of others should have been prevented. The case evidently was, that these fathers did not know how to account for the great prevalence of the Unitarian doctrine among the Gentiles as well as the Jews in the early ages of Christianity, but upon such a hypothesis as this. Let their successors do better if they can.
This observation on the character and instructions of the apostles must make all such accounts of their conduct absolutely incredible with respect to every doctrine of consequence, on which they could not but lay proportionable stress. But it may perhaps enable us to account for the ignorance of the Jews, and other early Christians, with respect to matters of little or no consequence, on which the apostles did not lay any stress, and for which reason they might say little or nothing about them, as for instance with respect to the miraculous conception.
In our Saviour's lifetime he certainly passed for the son of Joseph with the Jews in general. The first disciples would naturally adopt the same opinion; and it does not appear that the apostles thought it a matter of consequence enough to set them right with respect to it; for there is no reference whatever to the miraculous conception either in the book of Acts, or in any of the Epistles. Indeed that doctrine has never been thought to be of any importance in itself ; Christ being as properly a man on one supposition as on the other. It is therefore only of importance with respect to the credit of Matthew and Luke, as historians, and that not with respect to what they write from their own knowledge, but only as to what they collected from others. Whereas if Christ was not a mere man, but either truly God, or the maker of the world under God, it could not but have appeared to be a matter of the greatest consequence in the scheme of Christianity itself; and the apostles would certainly have taken some opportunity of inculcating it with an energy suited to its importance. We may, therefore, easily by some or other of them; especially as they had been so very hard to be persuaded of the truth of his resurrection, though they had been so fully apprized of it before hand. And yet, in all the history of the apostles, there is the same profound silence concerning this circumstance, and every other depending on the whole scheme, as if no such thing had ever had any existence but in the imaginations of Athanasius, Chrysostom, and those other fathers who maintained it; which I therefore believe to have been the case, and that they invented this hypothesis in order to account for the early rise and general spread of the Unitarian doctrine, which they could not deny, and of which it may therefore be considered as very good evidence, (P.) Postscript to Letters, 1783.
account for the general prevalence of the opinion of Christ being the son of Joseph, though it was false; but it is absolutely impossible to account for the general prevalence of the doctrine of the mere humanity of Christ, on the supposition of his being either God, or the maker of the world under God, and consequently of his being known to be so by the apostles. I may perhaps take some future opportunity of making some further observations on the subject of the miraculous conception, and in the mean time the Monthly Reviewer may be indulging his conjectures, aud preparing his exclamations; for which our readers will likewise be pretty well prepared.
I am, &c.
LETTER V. An Argument for the late Origin of the Doctrine of the
Divinity of Christ, from the Difficulty of tracing the Time in which it was first divulged.
Dear Sir, I cannot dismiss this subject of the strong prejudices of the Jews in general in favour of their Messiah being merely a man, (thus explicitly acknowledged by Athanasius, Chrysostom, and others, who say, that on this account the apostles did not preach the doctrine of the divinity of Christ at first, but only after the people were satisfied with respect to his Messiahship,) without requesting your opinion with respect to the time when this great secret of Christ not being merely a man, but the eternal God himself, or the maker of heaven and earth under God, was communicated, first to the apostles themselves, and then by them to the body of Christians.
You cannot say that John the Baptist preached any such doctrine; and when the apostles first attached themselves to Jesus, it is evident they only considered him as being such a Messiah as the rest of the Jews expected, viz, a man and a king. When Nathaniel was introduced to him it was evidently in that light, John i. 45: “ Philip findeth Nathaniel, and saith unto him, We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” He had then, we may suppose, no knowledge even of the miraculous conception.
Now, as you say, that Christ " was so much more than man, that his being found in fashion as a man was really the most extraordinary part of his history and character;' and at first the apostles, you must allow, were wholly ignorant of this; there must have been a time within the compass of the evangelical history when this most extraordinary part of his character was communicated to them. Now what period in the gospel history can you pitch upon, in which you can suppose that this great discovery was made to them? What traces do
What traces do you find of it? That Jesus was even the Messiah, was divulged with the greatest caution, both to the apostles and to the body of the Jews. For a long time our Lord said nothing explicit on this subject, but left his disciples as well as the Jews at large, to judge of him from what they saw. In this manner only he replied to the messengers tliat John the Baptist sent to him.
If the high-priest expressed his horror by rending his clothes, [Matt. xxvi. 65, Mark xiv. 63,] on Jesus avowing himself to be the Messiah, what would he have done if he had heard or suspected that he had made any higher pretensions ? And if he had made them, they must have transpired. When the people in general saw his miraculous works, they only wondered that God should have given so much power to a man. Matt. ix. 8: “When the multitude saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, who had given such power unto men;" and yet this was on the occasion of his pronouncing the cure of a paralytic person, by saying, (ver. 5,] “ Thy sins be forgiven thee,” which the Pharisees thought to be a blasphemous presumption.
At the time that Herod heard of him, [Luke ix. 7,] it was conjectured by some, (ver. 8,] that he was Elias, by others that he was a prophet, and by some that he was John risen from the dead; but none of them imagined that he was either the most high God himself, or the maker of the world under God. It was not so much as supposed by any person that Jesus performed his mighty works by any proper power of his own; so far were they from suspecting that he was the God who had spoken to them by Moses, as you now suppose him to have been.
If he was known to be a God at all before his death, it could only have been revealed to his disciples, perhaps the apostles, or only his chief confidants among them, Peter, James, and John, suppose on the Mount of Transfiguration, though nothing is said concerning it in the history of that
Charge, p. 21. (P.) Tracts, pp. 23, 24.
transaction. [Matt. xvii. 2—5; Mark ix. 2—7.] Certainly what they saw in the garden of Gethsemane could not have led them to suspect any such thing. But if it had ever been known to Peter, can we suppose he could have denied him as he did ? Besides, as our Lord told them there were many things which he could not inform them of before his death, and that they should know afterwards ; this was a thing so very wonderful and unsuspected, that if any articles of information were kept from them at that time, this must certainly have been one.
If you suppose that Thomas was acquainted with this most extraordinary part of his Master's character, which led him to cry, “ My Lord and my God,” when he was convinced of his resurrection, * as he was not one of the three who had been intrusted with any secrets, it must have been known to all the twelve, and to Judas Iscariot among the rest. And suppose him to have known and to have believed that Jesus was his God and Maker, was it possible for him, or for any man, to have formed a deliberate purpose to betray him ? (Peter, you may say, was taken by surprise, and was in personal danger.) Or, if he had only heard of the pretension, and had not believed it, would he not have made some advantage of that imposition, and have made the discovery of this, as well as of every thing else that he knew to his prejudice? If
you suppose that the divinity of Christ was unknown to the apostles till the day of Pentecost ; besides losing the benefit of several of your arguments for this great doctrine, which you now carefully collect from the four evangelists, we have no account of any such discovery having been made at that time, or at any subsequent one. And of other articles of illumination, of much less consequence than this, we have distinct information, and also of the manner in which they impressed them. This is particularly the case with respect to the extension of the blessings of the gospel to uncircumcised Gentiles. But what was this article, to the knowledge of their master being the most high God?
If the doctrine of the divinity of Christ had been actually preached by the apostles, and the Jewish converts in general had adopted it, it could not but have been well known to the unbelieving Jews; and would they, who were at that time, and have been ever since, so exceedingly zealous with respect to the doctrine of the divine unity,
* John XX. 28. See Vol. XIII. pp. 378, 379.