Illustrious, in the church of Jesus in general, and in the church of England in particular, is the name of Conyers Middleton. Signal was, and is, the service rendered by him to the religion of Jesus. By that bold, though reverend, hand, it now stands cleared of many a heap of pernicious rubbish, with which it had been incumbered and defiled, by the unhallowed labours of a succession of writers, who,—without personal intercourse with the founder, any more than we have now,—have, from the mere circumstance of the comparative vicinity of their days to those in which he lived, derived the exclusive possession of the imposing title of Fathers of the Church, or, in one word, The Fathers.
So able, so effectual, has been this clearance, that, as it has been observed by the Edinburgh Reviewers,—speaking of course of protestants, and more particularly of English protestants,—till one unexpected exception, which it mentions, had presented itself, they had thought that in no man's opinion were those writers any "longer to be regarded as guides, either in faith or morals."
One step further was still wanting. One thorn still remained, to be plucked out of the side of this so much injured religion,—and that was, the addition made to it by Saul of Tarsus: by that Saul, who, under the name of Paul, has,—as will be seen, without warrant from, and even in the teeth of, the history of Jesus, as delivered by his companions and biographers the four evangelists,—been dignified with the title of his apostle: his apostle, that is to say, his emissary: his emissary, that is to say, sent out by him: sent out, by that Jesus, whose immediate disciples he so long persecuted and destroyed, and whose person,—unless dreaming of a person after his death, or professing to have dreamt of him, is seeing him,—he never saw.
In the course of the ensuing examination, the subject of miracles has come, unavoidably, under consideration. On this delicate ground, it has been matter of no small comfort to the author, to behold precursors, among divines of different persuasions, whose reputation for piety has not been diminished by the spirit of critical inquiry which accompanies it. Such were Mede, Sykes, and others, whose ingenious labours were, in the case called that of the daemoniacs, employed in the endeavor to remove the supernatural character, from what, in their eyes, was no more than a natural appearance. On the success of these their labours, any judgment would here be irrelevant. Not altogether so the observation, that in no instance does it appear to him that any such latitude of interpretation has been employed, as that which, on that occasion, was found necessary for the conversion of devils into diseases.
The dissentions which, at all times, have had place among persons professing the religion of Jesus, are but too notorious. The mischiefs, produced by these dissentions, are no less so. These dissentions, and these mischiefs—in what have they had their source? In certain words. These words, of whom have they been the words? Of Jesus? No: this has not been so much as pretended. Of Paul, and of Paul alone: he giving them all along not as the words of Jesus, but as his own only:—he all along preaching (as will be seen) in declared opposition to the eleven who were undisputedly the apostles of Jesus: thus, of Paul only have they been the words.
That, by these words, and, consequently, by him whose words they were and are, all the mischiefs, which have been imputed to the religion of Jesus, have been produced,—in so far as the dissentions, from which these mischiefs flowed, have had these words for their subjects,—cannot be denied. But, moreover, in these same words, that is to say, in the doctrines delivered by them, cannot but be to be found the origin, and the cause, of no small part—perhaps of the greatest part—of the opposition, which that religion, with its benevolent system of morals, has hitherto experienced. If this be so, then, by the clearing it of this incumbrance, not only as yet unexampled purity, but additional extent, may not unreasonably be expected to be given to it.
It was by the frequent recurrence of these observations, that the author of these pages was led to the inquiry, whether the religion of Paul,—as contained in the writings ascribed to Paul, and with a degree of propriety which the author sees no reason to dispute,—whether the religion of Paul has any just title to be considered as forming a part of the religion of Jesus. The result was in the negative. The considerations, by which this result was produced, will form the matter of the ensuing pages.
If, by cutting off a source of useless privations and groundless terrors, comfort and inward peace should be restored or secured;—if, by cutting off a source of bitter animosity,—good-will, and peace from without, should be restored or secured;—if, by the removal of an incongruous appendage, acceptance should be obtained for what is good in the religion commonly ascribed to Jesus;—obtained at the hands of any man, much more of many, to whom at present it is an object of aversion;—if, in any one of these several ways, much more if in all of them, the labours of the author should be crowned with success,—good service will, so far, and on all hands, be allowed to have been rendered to mankind.
Whosoever, putting aside all prepossessions, feels strong enough in mind, to look steadily at the originals, and from them to take his conceptions of the matter, not from the discourses of others,—whosoever has this command over himself, will recognise, if the author does not much deceive himself, that by the two persons in question, as represented in the two sources of information—the Gospels and Paul's Epistles,—two quite different, if not opposite, religions are inculcated: and that, in the religion of Jesus may be found all the good that has ever been the result of the compound so incongruously and unhappily made,—in the religion of Paul, all the mischief, which, in such disastrous abundance, has so indisputably flowed from it.
1. That Paul had no such commission as he professed to have;—2. that his enterprize was a scheme of personal ambition, and nothing more;—3. that his system of doctrine is fraught with mischief in a variety of shapes, and, in so far as it departs from, or adds to, those of Jesus, with good in none;—and that it has no warrant, in anything that, as far as appears from any of the four gospels, was ever said or done by Jesus;—such are the conclusions, which the author of these pages has found himself compelled to deduce, from those materials with which history has furnished us. The grounds of these conclusions he proceeds to submit to the consideration of his readers.