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Letters on Christianity.

No. VII.

By Rev. M. R. Miller

To the Rev. Dr. Schlessinger

Dear Sir:

The Sermon on the Mount is the Magna Charta of the kingdom of Jesus. If anything in that sermon can be clearly proved inconsistent with the identity of Judaism and Christianity, this furnishes the strongest proof against Christianity as identical with Judaism. You take up some points in this sermon, and endeavour to prove from them, Christianity, in some of its principles, repugnant to Judaism. My opinion is, that you could not have invited me to a more attractive field for the examination of the alleged identity.

The first sentence of the Sermon, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” excites a smile of piteous contempt. By poor in spirit you understand the opposite of compos mentis, and wonder if Jesus could have entered the kingdom of heaven on his own terms. This passage gives you your leading proof that Christianity encourages the neglect of mental cultivation. The meaning evidently is, that every Christian must be humble—must be ever ready to take his proper place in the dust before God. To prove conclusively the disputed identity in this point, let me give you the same principle in your own Scriptures. Isa. lxvi. 2: “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” Psalms xxxiv. 18, “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” You appear not to be pleased that I wait on you with so many questions; let me then here turn to our courteous reader, and ask him, if a man indeed rich in spirit may not, in one instance, be pinched with poverty of argument?

The doctrine of Jesus in relation to marriage, admitting <<546>>divorce in only one instance, appears to you excessively severe. It is worth the trouble of inquiry, how much truth there is in your assertion that Christians never pay any attention to it. It is important here to keep in mind the distinction between a divorce a vinculo, and a divorce a mensa et toro. The divorce which Moses gave a man who was not pleased with his wife the privilege of giving her (Deut. xxiv.), was a vinculo, man and wife separated for life. Judge Kent has the following in relation to the divorce a mensa et toro, i. e. from bed and board, “The decree of divorce is always by the canon law, sub spe reconciliationis.”* Blackstone says, “In case of divorce a mensa et toro, the law allows alimony to the wife, which is that allowance which is made to a woman for her support, out of the husband’s estate.”

* With the hope of a reconciliation.

Now, let me tell you that the English common law knows no such a thing as a divorce a vinculo. “For the canon law,” says Blackstone, “which the common law follows in this case, deems so highly and with such mysterious reverence of the nuptial tie, that it will not allow it to be un­loosed for any cause whatsoever, that arises after the union is made.” You will call this overdoing the matter in attention to the law of Jesus. It is true that man and woman who have been formally married can be separated, but only in those cases in which the union is proved ab initio null, in which the parties were in the beginning not competent to make the contract.

Hence the divorces a vinculo matrimonii, for adultery, have been granted by special acts of Parliament. Judge Kent says that no divorce took place in the colony of New York during a hundred years preceding the Revolution. “At length the legislature, in 1787, authorized the Court of Chancery to pronounce divorces a vinculo, in the single case of adultery, upon a bill filed by the party aggrieved.” Stricter attention to the law of Jesus could not have been given. A few pages after this we meet with the following from Judge Kent. “The policy of New York has been against divorces from the marriage contract, except for adultery. We meet with a great variety of practice and opinion on this subject, in this country and in Europe, and <<547>>among ancient and modern nations; but the stronger authority and the better policy are in favour of the stability of the marriage union.” “So strict and scrupulous has been the policy of South Carolina, that there is no instance in that state since the Revolution, of a divorce of any kind, either by the sentence of a court of justice, or by act of the legislature. In all other states divorces a vinculo may be granted judicially for adultery.” The Judge proceeds to state, that in some of the States an absolute divorce cannot be granted, for any other reason arising after the marriage than adultery; and that, in other States, adultery is not the only ground of absolute divorce.

One other extract from the Commentaries of Kent. “Voluntary divorces were abolished by one of the novels of Justinian, and they were afterwards revived by another novel of the Emperor Justin. In the novel restoring the unlimited freedom of divorce, the reasons for it are assigned , and while it was admitted that nothing ought to be held so sacred in civil society as marriage, it was declared that the hatred, misery, and crimes, which often flowed from indissoluble connexions, required as a necessary remedy, the restoration of the old law, by which marriage was dissolved by mutual will and consent. This practice of divorce is understood to have continued in the Byzantine or Eastern Empire, to the ninth or tenth century, and until it was finally subdued by the influence of Christianity.” This extract gives the precise reason for voluntary divorces which Jesus gave for the permissive enactment of Moses in relation to divorces. In both instances the law yielded to the hardness of men’s hearts. But, according to the teaching of Christ, there ought to be, in a Christian community, no divorces except for one cause. According to its origin and its nature, the union can, in no instance except one, be dissolved; the husband may receive any bodily injury, he may become insane, he may lose the means of procuring his daily bread, he may become so cruel that her safety requires her to live apart, yet the Christian wife always views herself as still his, and never thinks of another husband. And woman never has her full right in any community, where the husband is not considered equally bound to his wife. Happy <<548>>for the Jews in Russia, Poland, and Palestine if they had interpreted the law after Shammai and Christ, rather than after Hillel.

No reasonable objection can be made to Christ’s prohibition of the then customary oaths, by heaven, by the footstool of God, by Jerusalem, and by one’s own head. Such a custom of swearing implies a distrust, dishonesty, and degradation in society, which are inconsistent with the Christian character.

It is unquestionable that many Rabbis have so explained and asserted the perpetuity of the law of Moses in all its parts, that they could not have a fraternal feeling towards all Gentiles, or towards their enemies. It was a command to show no mercy to the seven doomed nations. In some of the Psalms, very severe language is used against enemies and strangers. Equally severe is the imprecation of Nehemiah, “Hear, O Our God, for we are despised, and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity, and cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee.”

A selfish, bigoted Jew could hardly fail to infer from such passages that he was not required to pray for his enemy. The possibility that such interpretations were current in the time of Christ, admits of no doubt. Hence the important question was to be settled, whether, in the new system which Christ would establish, the relations of the Hebrews to all other nations should remain precisely the same as laid down in the law of Moses. Should the Christian community look with more favour on one nation than on another, as the law did? Would it be consistent in a follower of Jesus to follow the example of Nehemiah, in praying that his enemies might be taken into captivity, and that their sins might not be covered? Jesus answered these questions, that the relations of hostility in which the law placed the Hebrews to certain nations were eventually to cease. Now it was a duty to pray for enemies, and treat them kindly, rather than hate them. Many severities of the law against other nations have had their time, and were proper in their time, but they must no loner be thought of. The disciples were to avoid the language of Nehemiah in prayer, and seek in Christianity an<<549>>other spirit, Jesus taught that the severities of the law towards other nations were its appendages, not its essence, its compulsions, not its freewill, its outward, temporary defence, not its inner life, and that the inner life, notwithstanding all accompanying temporary severities, was destined to issue in a system of universal brotherhood and love. This was, in his view, the grand fulfilment of the law, and he reproved the folly of holding the hull together, when the life and growth of the seed within required it to be broken.

This brings us to a point which you consider most important. Many of the laws of Moses are not obeyed by Christians: this appears to you very wrong, if Christ came to give the law its highest fulfilment in every point. My first answer is that there may be many points in which Christians are bound to follow the law of Moses more closely than they do. No one dare deny that there are any grievous inconsistencies. My second assertion is, that all the laws of Moses cannot be binding now, and never will be binding, even on the Israelites. If there is any truth in Christianity, there is now no obligation to sacrifice, and the restored Jews will never again be required to shed blood for the remission of sin. If the death of Christ was the great sacrifice, the former law was grandly fulfilled, and terminated in him.

Bear in mind, progress and development are God’s universal law. You appear to have forgotten the grand principle, that development or fulfilment necessarily imply change, and, generally, tremendous change. The mighty oak is the development or fulfilment, according to divine law, of the acorn; but how tremendous the change! The full-grown man is the development of the little infant; he is the same person that the infant was, yet his body has become entirely changed as to its substance, and  is changing every hour. To argue that Christianity is not identical with Judaism, because it does not observe, or even wish to observe, all the Mosaic laws in relation to fringes on the garments, festivals, sacrifices, marriage, divorce, the holding of a woman in slavery when her husband becomes free, meat and drink, &c., is just as great folly as to deny that a certain full-grown man ever was an infant because he has ceased to wear <<550>>the dress of an infant. The church of Israel had its life and growth as well as any man, and it could outgrow its original dress—its original forms and restrictions. In the changes themselves it could receive its grandest fulfilment.

According to promise, I now revert in a few remarks, as I conclude, to the vexed question of the unity. How you, Dr. Schlessinger and Mr. Leeser, smile when this is mentioned, confident that no argument on this point can move a Jew, and that I act foolishly in mentioning it again. This does appear extremely foolish for many reasons, a few of which I will mention. If we try to prove the deity of the Messiah from his names, Immanuel, The Lord our Righteousness, The Mighty El: you readily reply that Zedekiah means My righteousness is he, still Zedekiah was a mere man; that Elijah means My God is He, still Elijah was not divine; and that a common child may be called Immanuel; and so far your reply is true. If we lay before you the 110th Psalm, and assert that David there calls the Messiah his Lord, and that no one was properly David’s Lord except the Most High; or inquire how he could call his son, far in the future, his lord; you reply, that David speaks of Abraham and then you never lose your breath in wrestling with an the difficulties in the going forth of the sceptre from Zion or, you reply that a friend of David composed the psalm, and calls David his Lord, and you can easily invent some way satisfactory to yourselves, of evading the difficulty of showing how David was a priest for ever, like Melchizedech.

If we then open before you Ps. xlv. 11, to prove that the Messiah is called the Lord of the church of Israel, and that she is commanded to bow down to him or to worship him (וישתחוי-לו), you cannot find in this homage anything that might not have been rendered to Moses, or that may not eventually be rendered to the best of men. We may not be satisfied with these replies, still, knowing that we have a more potent argument in reserve, we may leave here, and place ourselves on a more commanding eminence. From Luke vii. 27, it is clear that Jesus considered himself the angel of the covenant whose coming is promised in Malachi, and John the Baptist, the forerunner. (This, by the way, is a <<551>> refutation of your assertion that there is no trace of my argument in the New Testament.) Now we prove from Exodus iii. 15, that the שם המפורש, the naked name, the most holy quadriliteral, is applied to the angel of the covenant. Moses inquires for the name of the God who would send him to Pharaoh. The angel or the God of the bush on whom Moses was afraid to look, replies, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD [here occurs the Tetragrammaton] God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.”

If ever a messenger had an imperative occasion to give the name of his master, and not his own name, this angel had it here; but mark! he first gives the most exclusive names of God, and then says that this is his own name for ever. Were it written on the sun’s pathway among the fixed stars, from the beginning of the first to the close of the twelfth sign of the zodiac, that the angel of the covenant is the Eternal, the assertion could not be clearer or the proof stronger; or were it written on heaven’s vault along the line of these twelve brilliant constellations, ישוע הנצרי ה׳ הוא Jesus of Nazareth he is the Lord, the letters could not be plainer or more remarkable than they are in these passages from Luke and Moses. My “identity” gives you several such passages: how do you answer them?

The Tetragrammaton, according to your view, is applied to created angels, to men, and even to places. Be careful that you do not piteously beg the question when you say that it is applied to created angels: this is the precise disputed point: your opponents say that it is applied to only one angel, and he is the Eternal. The naked simple name itself is never applied, either to a man or to a place. Remember how most sacred and exclusive this name was in the eyes of the Rabbis. From the Talmud we learn that Rabbi Aba Shaul reckoned among those who have no portion in the world to come אף ההוגה את השם באותיותיו. Yet this awfully sacred name you can trample in the dust, when its sacredness and exclusiveness make the Christian argument unanswerable. If this name will not settle our dispute, what can? If this name is not the exclusive of the God of Israel,—he has no name in the Bible.

Dr. <<552>>Raphall argued against me that as the Hebrews have no word in their language for trinity, they never believed the doctrine; you may argue in the same way that as there is no separate exclusive name in the Bible for the God of Israel, therefore Moses and the prophets were all atheists.

Most probably I made a mistake in giving such emphasis to the cruelty of Robespierre; I did not mean to accuse the Jews of cruelty; but if we Christians must give up Christianity as a system of error, and feel that we have no share in the covenant with Abraham and David, and take as little interest in the reading of the Bible as the Jews do in giving it to us, it appears to me that we have no other system of religion on which to fall than on Robespierre’s system.

In conclusion, I leave my “identity” and your refutation with the reader, and only ask that he examine both in love for the truth, and decide for himself. I remain,

Reverend and dear sir, most respectfully,

Your obedient servant,
New York, December 20, 1850.

Note by the Editor.—It would be useless in us to reiterate the arguments of Dr. S., and reply seriatim to Mr. Miller’s strictures. It is, however, precisely the accommodating of the doctrines of Christ, as developed in his Sermon on the Mount, not in the literal sense in which he speaks, but in the manner that his various followers choose to interpret his words, which gives us the strongest possible reason for doubting not alone his divinity, but his divine mission. In regard, for instance, to divorces, Mr. M. has himself shown that a great diversity of manner prevails, not alone in different states, but in the same state, at different times. Everything is afloat on the ocean of arbitrary enactment, and we refer our friendly opponent to the great facility with which divorces are obtainable in the very hotbed of Presbyterianism, the New England States. Is it possible that adultery alone can cause so many severances of the marriage tie? will it be insinuated that morality is at so low an ebb as to induce so many mortal sins to be daily committed? If the question be answered in the affirmative, it shows at once that Christian is no substitute for Jewish morality.

In the Church of Rome no divorces, we think, are granted, except by the authority of the Pope; and if history is to be depended upon, morality and <<553>>fidelity to the marriage vow are not very remarkably strong in exclusively Catholic countries. Vice dwells there in high places, and kings and queens are more than suspected. Does this prove the efficacy of the doctrines of the Sermon on the Mount? Must you drive people to absolute crime before they may be relieved by an act, which alone was wanting to save them from degradation? This is a question as much for the political economist and legislator as the theologian, and is so readily answered that it requires no reply.

We could easily go over the whole course; but Mr. Miller’s own quotations from Kent’s work relieve us from the task, as they confirm all we have advanced.

Respecting Moses’ vision in the thorn-bush, we fancy that no commentator among the Jews ever believed that the word “angel” there is synonymous with the Lord; and in truth the messenger only spoke the words of his Sender, and for Him only; repeating thus the words with which he was charged. In fact, the speakers change in the course of the narrative, as will appear on a candid perusal of the third chapter of Exodus. In other passages it also is made evident that Moses did not desire the presence of the angel, the same, perhaps, who first was sent to him, to accompany the people on their expedition against Palestine, and asked for the restoration of the Divine Presence, whatever that was, but which had been withdrawn for their sin in making the golden calf. It requires indeed, another than a Jewish education to discover Christianity in Judaism; and let us once adopt the notion that we are wrong, we cannot think otherwise but that Moses was wrong also: he speaks always of ONE, not of a combination; of a perpetuity in the Creator, not a birth or decay; and however ingeniously you may cover the idea of the trinity, it amounts to this, that there is a diversity in the godhead, which Moses, however, does not teach.

And as for that matter, Moses, speaking of himself, applies the name of מלאך “angel, messenger,” to his own person (Numb. xx. 16); and surely he claimed nothing like divinity, or desired to be worshipped as a supreme being. That some passages in the Scriptures are difficult of a plain exposition, will be readily admitted; but the commentary of Christian divines leads one to so many absurdities, that we cannot for a moment put any confidence in them especially as they are contradicted by other passages equally authoritative. Our endeavour is to reconcile, by a careful analysis, whatever appears strange, and not to produce more confusion by introducing new and incompatible ideas which the Bible emphatically condemns.

For the present at least we must close the controversy here, not, however, without a willingness to resume it at a later period, should the means be at our disposal. At the same time we expect that Dr. Schlessinger himself will reply to Mr. M. should he think it worth his trouble to continue the discussion, which has been forced upon us by the action of the Presbyterian Synod of New York.