In VIEW of the Present Controversy between INFIDELS and APOSTATES.

Litteratos gravissimo Somno stertere con­vincam. HIERON.

By THOMAS WOOLSTON, sometime Fellow of Sidney-College in Cambridge.

LONDON: Printed for the Author, and Sold by him next Door below the Star in Alder­manbury, and by the Booksellers of London and Westminster. 1728. [Price One Shiling]

TO THE Right Reverend Father in GOD RICHARD, Lord Bishop of St. DAVID'S.


IN your Sermon before the Society for Refor­mation of Manners, you are pleased to give Discourse on Christ's Miracles; Notice of them; a Favour that I have long'd for from a considera­ble Clergyman; but could nor flat­ter [Page iv] myself with the Hopes of receiv­ing it from so great a Prelate.

Some of the inferior Clergy, whom I despise for their Ignorance and Malice, have before in their Con­versation represented me as an im­pious and blasphemous Infidel; and I have met with Affronts for it: But I never imagin'd that any, much less your Lordship, would have ventur'd such a Character of me from the Press, for fear of a Resentment, which would not be agreeable. Sure­ly your Lordship has not read my Discourses, but has taken a Report of them upon Trust, from some Ecclesiastical Noodle; or you could never have been so much mistaken about my Design in them.

I took myself to be a Christian of the same Faith with the Fathers of the Church; and, without Va­nity, think, I have publish'd some Tracts, in Defence of Christianity, [Page v] equal, if not superior to any Thing this Age has produced. I repeat­edly also in my Discourses on Mira­cles, to obviate the Prejudices of an ignorant Clergy, made solemn Pro­testations of the Sincerity of my Design, not to do Service to Infide­lity, but to make Way for the De­monstration of Jesus's Messiahship from Prophecy: But all these Asseve­rations of the Integrity of my Heart, it seems, stand for nothing (and I don't wonder at it) with the Clergy, who in their Principles, their Oaths, and Subscriptions are so accustom'd to prevaricate with God and Man. I shall make no more serious Pro­testations, of my Faith, but expect your Lordship should soon publish a Defence of your foul Charge a­gainst me, that I may see what Skill you have in the impious and blasphemous Writings of an Infidel.

And if your railing Accusation be not soon followed with a Disserta­tation [Page vi] of more Reason, I shall in­sist on a publick Reparation of the Injury done to my Reputation by your vile and slanderous Sermon; and appeal to the worshipful Societies for Reformation of Manners, whe­ther it be not just and reasonable, you should do one or the other.

Now I have laid hold of your Lordship, than whom I could not have wish'd for an Adversary, that will do me more Honour to overcome, I will hold you fast; and you must expect to be teaz'd and insul­ted from the Press, if you enter not the Lists against me.

A clear Stage, my Lord, and no Favour. If you have the Sword of the Spirit in your Hand, cut as sharply as you can with it. I had conceiv'd a great Opinion of your Learning, and should have been a little apprehensive of the Power of it; if you had not in your Sermon be­tray'd [Page vii] as great Weakness and Ig­norance, as could be in a poor Cu­rat; or you had never asserted that the Greek Commentators adher'd more strictly to the litteral Sense of the Holy Scriptures, as if you knew not, that St. Theophilus of Antioch, and even Origen himself and others, the greatest Allegorists, if a Com­parison may be made, were Com­mentators of the Greek Church.

The sooner your Lordship appears from the Press, the better, in as much as you may possibly prevent my Publication of more Discourses of this Kind. And that it may not be long first, I will accept of a Dissertation from you, on any two or three of the Miracles, I have handled, as sufficient for all. Take your Choice of them: but don't I beseech you, touch the Miracle of Jesus's driving the Buyers and Sellers out of the Temple, because it is a hot one, and may possibly burn [Page viii] your Fingers. The Miracles, that I have most ludicrously and of consequence most offensively hand­led, are the two of this present Discourse. If you please, my Lord, let them be the easy and short Task imposed on you. If you can defend the Letter of the Stories of these two Miracles, I'll quietly give up the Rest to you.

So heartily thanking your Lord­ship for the Favour done me, in taking Notice of my Discourses on Miracles, which shall be turn'd to good Use and Advantage, I sub­scribe myself,

Your most obliged Humble Servant, Tho. Woolston.


MY two former Discourses having met with a favoura­ble Reception, I am encou­rag'd to go on and publish another; which, without any more Preface, I enter upon, by a Repetition of the three general Heads, at first proposed to be spoken to, and they were,

[Page 2] I. To show that the Miracles of heal­ing all Manner of bodily Diseases, which Jesus was justly famed for, are none of the proper Miracles of the Messiah, neither are they so much as a good Proof of his divine Authority to found a Religion.

II. To prove, that the literal History of many of the Miracles of Jesus, as record­ed by the Evangelists, does imply Absur­dities, Improbabilities, and Incredibilities; consequently they, either in whole or in part, were never wrought, as they are commonly believed now-a-days, but are only related as prophetical and parabolical Narratives of what would be mysteriously and more wonderfully done by him.

III. To consider, what Jesus means, when he appeals to his Miracles, as to a Testimony and a Witness of his divine Authority; and to show that he could not properly and ultimately refer to those he then wrought in the Flesh, but to those Mystical ones, that he would do in the Spirit, of which those wrought in the Flesh are but meer Types and Shadows.

Tho' I have already spoken, what may be thought sufficient, to the first of these Heads; yet I have several Things still, both [Page 3] from Reason and Authority, to add to it; but having not here a convenient Place for that Purpose, I defer it to a better Op­portunity; and so pass immediately to the Resumption of my

II. Second general Head, and that is, to prove, that the literal History of many of the Miracles of Jesus, as recorded by the Evangelists, does imply Absurdities, Im­probabilities and Incredibilities; conse­quently they, either in whole or in part were never wrought, as it is commonly believed now-a days, but are only related, as prophetical and parabolical Narratives of what would be mysteriously and more wonderfully done by him.

To this Purpose I have taken into Exa­mination six of the Miracles of Jesus, viz. those,

1. Of his driving the Buyers and Sel­lers out of the Temple.

2. Of his exorcising the Devils out of the Mad-men, and sending them into the Herd of Swine.

3. Of his Transfiguration on the Mount.

4. Of his healing a Woman, that had an Issue of Blood, twelve Years.

5. Of his curing a Woman, that had a Spirit of Infirmity, eighteen Years, and

[Page 4] 6. Of his telling the Samaritan Woman her Fortune of having had five Husbands, and being then an Adulteress with another Man.

Whether I have not prov'd the Storys of these Miracles, either in whole or in part, to consist of Absurdities, Improba­bilities, and Incredibilities, according to the Proposition before us, I leave my Rea­ders to judge; and now will take in Hand

7. A Seventh Miracle of Jesus; viz. that 1 of his cursing the Figtree, for not bearing Fruit out of Season; which Miracle, upon the bare mention of it, appears to be such an absurd, foolish, and ridiculous, if not malicious and ill-natured Act in Jesus, that I question, whether, for Folly and Ab­surdity, it can be equalled in any Instance of the Life of a reputed wise Man. The Fathers, such as Origen, St. Augustin, St. John of Jerusalem, and others, have all said as smart Things, as the wittyest Infidels can, against the Letter of this Story. St. Augustin 2 very plainly says, that this Fact in Jesus, upon Supposition that it was done, was a foolish one. If therefore I treat [Page 5] this Story a little more ludicrously than ordinary, and expose the Folly of the Fact as well as of the modern Belief of it, I hope their Authority and Example will plead my Excuse for it.

Jesus was hungary, it seems, and being disappointed of Figs, to the Satisfaction of his Appetite, cursed the Figtree. Why so peevish and impatient? Our Divines, when they please, make Jesus the most patient, resign'd and easy under Sufferings, Troubles and Disappointments, of any Man. If he really was so, he could hard­ly have been so much out of Humour, for want of a few Figs, to the Allay of his Hunger. But to curse the Figtree upon it, was as foolishly and passionately done, as for another Man to throw the Chairs and Stools about the House; because his Dinner is not ready at a critical Time, or before it could be got ready for him.

But Jesus was hungry, some will say, and the Disappointment provoked him. What if he was hungry? He should, as he knew the Return of his Appetite, have made a better and more certain Provision for it. Where was Judas his Steward and Caterer with his Bag of Victuals as well as Money? Poor Fore­cast [Page 6] and Management amongst them, or Jesus had nevet trusted to the uncertain Fruits of a Figtree, which he espy'd at a Distance, for his Breakfast.

And if Jesus was frustrated of a long'd­for Meal of Figs, what need he have so reveng'd the Disappointment on the 3 sensless and faultless Tree? Was it, be­cause he was forc'd to fast longer than usual and expedient? not so, I hope neither: Could not Angels, if he was in a desert Place, have administred unto him? Or could not he miraculously have created Bread for himself and his Company, as he multiplied or increased the Loaves for his Thousands in the Wilderness? What Occasion then for his being out of Hu­mour for want of Food? If he was of Pow­er to provide Bread for others on a sud­den, he might sure have supply'd his own Necessities, and so have kept his Temper, without breaking into a violent Fit of Passi­on, upon present Want and Disappointment.

But what is yet worse, the Time of Figs was not yet, when Jesus look'd and long'd for them. Did ever any one here [Page 7] or read of any Thing more 4 unreason­able than for a Man to expect Fruit out of Season? Jesus could not but know this be­fore he came to the Tree, and if he had had any Consideration, he would not have expected Figs on it, much less, if he had regarded his own Reputation, as a wise Man, would he have so resented the Want of them. What, if a Yeoman of Kent should go to look for Pipins in his Orchard at Easter, (the supposed Time 5 that Jesus sought for these Figs) and, because of a Disappointment, cut down all his Trees? What then would his Neighbours make of him? Nothing less, than a Laugh­ing-Stock; and if the Story got into our publick News, he would be the Jest and Ridicule of Mankind. How Jesus salv'd his Credit upon this his wild Prank; and prevented the Laughter of the Scribes and Pharisees upon it, I know not; but I can­not think of this Part of the Letter of this Story, without smiling at it at this Day; and wonder our Divines are not laugh'd [Page 8] out of Countenance for reading it gravely, and having Jesus in Admiration for it.

Again, I would gladly know, whose Fig­tree this was, and whether Jesus had any legal Right to the Fruit, if haply he had found any on it, or any Leave or Authority to smite it with a Curse for its Unfruitful­ness? As to the Tree's being Jesus's Pro­perty, that could not be. For he was so far from being either Landlord or Tenant, that it's said he had not where to lay his Head. During the Time of his Ministry, he was but a Wanderer, like a Mendicant Fryar, or an itenerant Preacher, and before that Time was no better than a Journey­man Carpenter (of whose Workmanship, I wonder, the Church of Rome has no holy Relicks, not so much as a Three-footed-stool, or a Pair of Nutcrackers;) conse­quently he had no House nor Land of his own by Law, much less any Figtree, and least of all this which he espy'd at a di­stance in his Travels. How then had he any Right to the Figs, if he had met with any? I hope he ask'd Leave beforehand of the Proprietor, or Infidels will say of him, that if he had had an Opportunity he would have been a Rob-Orchard. And if he had no Right to the Fruit, much less to smite the Tree with a Curse; where was [Page 9] his Honour, 6 his Justice, his Good­ness, and his Honesty in this Act? The E­vangelists, if they would have us to think, Jesus did no wrong to any Man, should have left us somewhat upon Record, to Sa­tisfaction, in this Case; or Infidels, who have here Scope for it, will think worse of Jesus, than possibly he may deserve. Whether Jesus, modestly speaking, met with any Blame or Reprimand from the Proprietor, for his Act of Execration, none can affirm or deny. But if any one so spitefully and maliciously should destroy almost any other Tree, whether fruitful or not, of another Man's, in this Coun­try, he would have good Luck, if he e­scaped the House of Correction for it.

And what now have our Divines to say, to all this Reasoning against the Letter of this Story? Nothing more than "That the Act of cursing the Figtree, whe­ther it be at this Distance of Time re­concileable to Reason, Justice and Pru­dence or not, was a supernatural Work, above the Power of Nature or Art to imitate, consequently it was a Miracle, and they will admire and adore Jesus [Page 10] for it." And to agree with them at present, that it was a real Miracle, and a supernatural Event, yet I hope, they'll acknowledge, that if Jesus, as St. Au­gustin 7 says, had, instead of cursing the Figtree, made a dry, dead and withered one, immediately to bud, flourish and re­vive, and in an Instant to bring forth ripe Fruits, out of Season, it would have pleased them much better. Such an In­stance of his Power had been an indis­putable Miracle: Such an Instance of his divine Power had carry'd Goodness along with it, and none of the foresaid Excep­tions could have been made to it: Such an Instance of his Almighty Power, had been a Demonstration of his being Lord of the Creation, and Author of the Fruits of the Earth for the Use of Man, in their Season, or he could not have pro­duced them out of Season. In such [Page 11] an Instance of Power, his divine Care and Providence against Hunger and Want would have been visible; and it would have been an Admonition to us, to de­pend daily upon him for the Comforts and Necessaries of Life: Such an Instance of his Power would have been, as St. Augustin says above, like his Miracles of healing Diseases, of making the Languid, Sound; and the Feeble, Strong; and we might more certainly have infer [...]d from one with the other, that both were the Operations of a good God. But this Instance of his cursing the Figtree in this Fashion spoils the Credit, and sullies the Glory of his other Miracles. It is in its own Nature of such a malevolent Aspect, that its enough to make us suspect the Bene­ficence of Christ in his other Works, and to question whether there might not be some latent Poyson and diabolical Design under the Colour of his fairer Pretences to Al­mighty Power. It is so like the malignant Practices of Witches, who, as Stories go, upon Envy, Grudge, or Distaste, smite their Neighbours Cattle with languishing Distempers, till they die, that it's hard, if not impossible, to distinguish one from the other in Spite and Malice. If Maho­met, and not Jesus, had been the Author [Page 12] of this Miracle, our Divines would pre­sently have discover'd the Devil's Foot in it, and have said that Satan drew him into a Scrape, in the Execution of this mad and foolish Frolick, on purpose to ex­pose him for a Wizard and his Mussel­men of all Ages since for Fools in be­lieving on him. The Spirit of Christ, who is all Love and Mercy, should, one Would think, breath forth nothing but Goodness and Kindness to Mankind; but that such a pestilential Blast, like a morti­ferous North-East Wind in some Seasons, should proceed from his Mouth, to the Destruction of another Man's harmless and inossensive Tree, is what none upon Earth can account for.

Our Divines, one or other of them, have publish'd several notable Notions a­bout Miracles, and have laid down good Rules to distinguish true from false ones; but none of them, as far as I perceive, have taken any Pains to shew the Con­sistence of Jesus's Miracles to their own Rules and Notions. Mr. Chandler,(who as the Archbishop 8 says, has rightly stated the Notion of a Miracle) among [Page 13] his Rules of judging by whom Miracles are perform'd, says, 9 That the Things pretended to be done, are to be such, as that it is consistent with the Perfections of God to interest himself in; and again, they must be such as answer to the Character of God as a good and gracious Being; and again, It seems reasonable to believe, that whenever the first and best of Beings is pleased to send an extraordinary Messenger with a Revela­tion of his Will, he will furnish him with such Proofs of his Mission, as may argue not only the Power of him in whose Name he comes, but his Love to Mankind, and his Inclination to do them good. I have no Dis­like to these Notions of Mr. Chandler; but as it is not to be questioned, that he (and the Archbishop too) had this Mira­cle of Jesus's cursing the Figtree, and some others, as of his boisterous driving the Buyers and Sellers out of the Temple; of his sending the Devils into the Herd of Swine; of his turning Water into Wine for the Use of Men, who had before well drank, &c. in his View, when he gave forth the foresaid Rules; for acute and learned Writers in Theology are supposed to have their Wits about them; so it is [Page 14] to be hop'd that he or the Archbishop will soon publish somewhat to reconcile these Miracles of Jesus to their own Notions; tho' I don't expect it before latter Lam­mas.

But after all, it may be questioned, if Infidels should go about it, whether this Work of Jesus was miraculous; and whe­ther there was not more of the Craft of Man, than of the Power of God in it; or to use Mr. Chandler's 10 Words, Whether it don't look like the little Tricks and cunning Deceits of Impostors. St. Mat­thew says, presently the Figtree withered away; but this presently is an indetermi­nate Time, and may be understood of a Day, or a Week or two, as well as of the Moment in which the Words were spoken; Let no Fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. St. Mark says, that in the Morning as the Disciples passed by, they saw the Figtree dry'd up from the Roots, which was at least the Day 11 after the Curse was utter'd, so that there was certainly four and twenty Hours for its withering; and if it is said that the Tree dry'd up from the Roots, it does not imply that the Trunk of it perish'd or was reduc'd to [Page 15] nothing; but only that the green Leaves of the Whole, and of every Part of it, were in a withering Condition: And might not all this be done without a Miracle? What if Jews and Infidels should say, that Jesus, being minded to impose on his Dis­ciples and Followers, took a secret Op­portunity beforehand to lay his Capen­ter's Ax to the Root of this Tree, and so imperceptibly circumcised it, as that the Leaves did, what they will do, wither in a Night and a Day's Time. God forbid, that I should think, Jesus did so; but as to the Possibility of such a Fraud in an Impostor, none can doubt of it.

I am so far from thinking there was any such Fraud in this supposed Miracle of Je­sus, that I don't believe it was at all done by him according to the Letter: And for this I have not only a clear and intrinsick Proof from the Story itself; but the Autho­rity of the Fathers. St Ambrose, treating on the Parable of the Figtree in 12 St. Luke, intimates, that what St. Matthew and St. Mark write of Jesus's cursing the Figtree, is but 13 Part of the same Pa­rable. [Page 16] And St. John of Jerusalem 14 says expressly enough, that the three E­vangelists write of one and the same Fig­tree, consequently parabolically, and that, what St Matthew and St. Mark write of it, was no more a literal Transaction, than the Parable in St. Luke. Thanks to these holy Fathers for their ridding us of the Belief of the Letter of this Story, which otherwise might have perplex'd us with its Absurdities before urg'd. And to their Opinion I desire it may be added and con­sidered, whether it be not as reasonable in itself to take what the three Evange­lists write of this Figtree, as Part of one Story, as well as, what they write of the Woman with her Issue of Blood, and of Jesus's casting the Devils out of the Mad­men, and of other Miracles which are but several Relations of the same Story, Para­ble or Miracle. Neither is it any Argu­ment for a literal Transaction of this Mi­racle, that, the Evangelists speak of it, as a Thing done: For, as Origen says, there are some Things spoken of in the Evangelists, as Facts, which were never transacted; so it is of the Nature of Prophecy (and our [Page 17] Saviour in his whole Life prophesied) to speak of Things to come, as if they were already past; because such Prophecies are not to be understood till after their Ac­complishment, and then the Reason of the Use of the praeter, instead of the fu­ture Tense, in Prophecy, will be visible. But what, in my Opinion, is an abso­lute Demonstration, that there's no Truth in the Letter of this Story, is, what our Saviour adds, upon the Disciples wonder­ing at the sudden withering of the Figtree, saying, 15 that if they had Faith, they should not only do what was done to the Figtree; but should say to this Mountain, (that was near him, I suppose) be thou removed and cast into the Sea, and it shall be done. But these Things were never lit­terally done by them, consequently Jesus himself did not litterally curse the Figtree; or the Disciples wanted Faith for the doing the said Miracles, which is an Ab­surdity to suppose; or Jesus talked idly of a Promise to invest them with a Power. they were never to be possess'd of. But of what ill Consequence to Religion, either of these Suppositions is, let the old Ob­jection [Page 18] in Paschasius Ratbertus 16 speak; which I shall not stay here to urge and revive; but only say at present, that if Jesus actually cursed a Figtree, his Disci­ples ought to have done so too, and to re­move Mountains. If we adhere to the Letter in one Case, we must in the other also; but we are only to look to the Mystery in both, or St. Augustin 17 will tell us, that Jesus utter'd vain, empty and insignificant Words and Promises.

St. Augustin, who believes no more of the Letter of this Story, than I do, says, that Works of Jesus are all figurative and of a spiritual Signification, which is so manifest from his Act of cursing the Figtree, as Men must, 18 whether, they will or not acknowledge it. But he is mistaken: Tho' there might be none in his Time [Page 19] who would question, that this supposed Fact of Jesus had a mystical Significati­on yet if he had liv'd in our Days, he would have met with Divines, who, for all the foresaid Absurdities and their Cogen­cy to drive us to Allegory, do adhere to the Letter only, whether the Truth, Cre­dibility and Reasonableness of it be defen­sible or not. But then to do Justice to St. Augustin's Assertion, he would have met with others, who against their Wills, interpret this Miracle figuratively, such as Dr. Hammond and Dr. Whitby, who say, Jesus cursed the Figtree by way of Type of the Destruction of the Jewish State, which declined and wasted away after the Similitude of this withering Tree. But why then don't these Commentators al­legorically interpret and apply other Mi­racles of our Saviour? Because they think the Letter will stand good and abide the Test without an Allegory. And why do they allegorise this Miracle only? Because of the Dificulties and Absurdities of the Let­ter, which they can't account for. And are these Reasons good? No, certainly: The Evangelists should have made the Dis­tinction for them. They should have told us, which Miracles are to be allegoris'd and mystically applied, and which are not; or we are to allegorise all or none at all. [Page 20] how came these modern Allegorists of this Miracle to apply it as they do, and to make it a mystical Representation of the Ruin of the Jewish State? Did they take up this Notion of their own Heads, or did they borrow it of the Fathers? Why in all Probability they took the Hint from the Fathers; wherefore then don't they, what none of them do, cite and acknowledge their Authors for it? Because, like Men of Subtilty, they would be thought to devise it of themselves; for if they had quo­ted the Fathers for it, the Fathers would have oblig'd them, upon their Authority, to allegorise the rest of Jesus's Miracles, in the way that I have interpreted some of them; but this would not have agreed with their Stomachs for many Reasons. No Thanks then to the aforsaid Commenta­tors for their allegorical Application of this Miracle, which they are again to desert, or abide the Consequence of allegorising others also, which for their Interests and Reputations they will not do. Therefore let them return again to the Letter of this Miracle, and say for it, what is all that is to be said for it, with Victor An­tiochenus, an Apostatical Writer of the [Page 21] fifth Century, 19 that when we read this Passage of Scripture concerning the Figtree Jesus cursed we ought not curiously to en­quire whether it was wisely or justly done of Jesus, or not; but we ought to contem­plate and admire this Miracle, as well as that of Jesus's drowning the Swine, not­withstanding some think it void of the Face of Justice. Ay, ay, our Divines must al­legorise all Jesus' s Miracles, or betake themselves to this Opinion of Victor; which this free-thinking Age will hardly let them quietly rest in. So, supposing our Di­vines to be, what they generally are, still Ministers of the Absurdity of the Letter, I pass to the Consideration of the Autho­rity of the Fathers, and to see, whether we can't learn of them this Parable of the Figtree.

Who or what is meant by the Figtree seems not to be agreed among the Fathers; or, more properly speaking, they are not agreed, all of them to apply it always to [Page 22] one and the same Thing. Some, as 20 Gregory the Great, say Human Nature or Mankind is typified by the Figtree. Others, as 21 St. Hilary, say the Jewish Church or State is meant by it. Others, as 22 Origen say, it is a Type of the Church of Christ. So do the Fa­thers seem to be divided in their Opinions; but it is without any Difference or Incon­sistency with each other. For as there is, according to the Fathers, Mystery upon Mystery in all the Actions of Jesus; so I believe the Figtree here, as a Type, may be properly enough apply'd to the foresaid three Purposes. And if the Fathers had been ask'd their Opinion in this Case, I dare say, they would have said so too. This is certain that Origen 23 under­stands it as applicable to the Jewish as well as the Christian Church. And St. Augustin, as Occasion offers itself, takes it in the foresaid three Senses. When they understand it as a Type of all Mankind, they say that the three Years of its Un­fruitfulness [Page 23] are to be interpreted of the 24 three grand Periods of the World; the one before the Law of Moses; another under the Law; and the third under the Gospel; at the Conclusion of which third Period, as it was an ancient and common Opinion, Jesus in Spirit would come to his Figtree of Mankind, and animadvert on them for their Unfruitfulness, not by any Destruction of human Nature, but by a Cessation of its Unfruitful State, which then will wither away, and be turn'd into a fruitful one against the grand Sabbath, or acceptable Year, which is the Year signi­fied in the Parable, that it is to be let alone to bring forth Fruit in. They that under­stand the Figtree as a Type of the Jewish State, mean by the three Years Jesus came to it, the three Years of his preaching a­mong the Jews; at the End of which, af­ter Christ's Passion and Resurrection, the Jewish State, like the Figtree, withered a­way, and, for its Unfruitfulness, was root­ed up. They that understand the Figtree as a Figure of the Church of Christ, by the three Years, mean the apocalyptical [Page 24] twelve hundred and sixty Days (that is, three Years and a half) of the Church's barren and unfruitful State in the Wilder­ness, at the Conclusion of which, the Fa­thers say Jesus will come again to his Church or Figtree, seeking Fruit on it.

Some perhaps may be ready here to interpose with a Question, and say, how will Jesus then come to his Church? I have carefully perused the Fathers upon this Question, and can't find that they mean any more by Christ's second or spi­ritual Advent, than that clear Truth, right Reason and divine Wisdom (which are the mystical Names of Jesus) will descend up­on the Church, on the Clouds of the Law and the Prophets, to the Removal of her unfruitful and unprofitable Errors, and to enable her to bring forth the Fruits of the Spirit, against the grand Sabbath. Neither can any reasonable Man con­ceive how otherwise 25 the Lord should come, (not with ten thousand of his Saints, as our Translation has it, but) [...], that is, as Origen interprets, in his holy thousands of Allegorists [...], to criticise upon all the Scripture, and to convince Ministers of the Letter of their [Page 25] abominable Errors, and of their horrid Blasphemies spoken, preach'd, and prin­ted against the Holy (Ghost or) Spirit of the Law and Prophets. As to that litteral and common Pulpit-Story (with all its Appendages) of Jesus's second Com­ing on aetherial Clouds, as on a Wool­sack, in his human, tho' glorious and ma­jestick Appearance, for the Resurrection of Mens Bodies, by Sound of a Trumpet, in the Audience of the Dead, &c. it is the most absurd, nonsensical and unphilosophi­cal, (such groundless and worthless Stuff have the Clergy sold and preach'd to God's People!) that ever was told against Reason, against prophetick and evangelical Scrip­ture, and against other ancient and good Authority. It is no Place here to multiply Testimonies and Arguments to either of these Purposes, which my Readers, if they do but attend, will see no Occasion for. But if our Divines should think I have put a false Gloss on the Text of St. Jude above, I have a Bundle of Arguments and Testimonies to produce in Defence of it, at their Service.

In the Parable of St. Luke, it is said, Lo, these three Years come I seeking Fruit on this Figtree; as if Jesus came annually and successively for three Years together; but according to the Original, it ought to be [Page 26] read, Lo, it is three Years and 1 now come, or Lo, the three Years are now past, and I come. And here it is to be noted, that whether we understand the Figtree, as a Figure of the Church in particular, or of Mankind in general; the mystical Num­ber of three Years will terminate about the same Time, against the Evangelical Sabbath, on which the Unfruitfulness of the Church, or of Mandind, according to the Fathers, is to have an End put to it.

And Jesus, when he came to the Fig­tree: found nothing thereon but Leaves on­ly: So Jesus, when he comes to his Church, will find nothing in her but Leaves only. And what is here meant by Leaves? Let the Fathers, such as 26 St. Hilary, St. John 27 of Jerusalem, and 28 St. Theo­phylact tell us, who by Leaves understand a vain and empty Appearance of Wis­dom and good Works, or the Words and Letter of the Scriptures, which are the Leaves of the Oracle, without any Figs of [Page 27] spiritual Interpretations of them. And whe­her this ben't the Case of the Church at present, our Divines are to consider. The Figs that Jesus may be supposed to look for at his Coming, are not only the Fruits of the Spirit mention'd by St. Paul, but 29 spiritual Interpretations of the Scrip­tures, which St. Jerome 30 says are mystical Figs; because, as ripe Figs are sweet to the Palate of our Mouths, so are they no less delicious to the Soul of Man.

But Jesus is said to be hungry after Figs: so will Jesus in Spirit hunger for the mystical Figs of his Church, that is, as Origen 31 rightly interprets, he will earnestly desire, like a Man that is hun­gry, the Fruits of the Spirit in his Church, which will be as grateful to him as Figs can be to a Man naturally. To understand this Expression of Jesus's Hunger literally, is such a mean Circumstance of Life, that unless it be, what's next to impossible, ne­cessarily introductory to some noble Trans­action, [Page 28] it's unfit to be remember'd of a Saint in History. Diogenes Laertius would have disdain'd to mention such a frivolous Circumstance in the Life of a Philosopher as this of Jesus. But if we understand this Hunger in Jesus mystically, and fi­guratively of his Desires of the Fruits of the Spirit in his Church, it is sublime and noble; and the Emblem confessedly proper and instructive.

But Jesus is said to come to the Fig­tree at an unseasonable Time; For the Time of Figs was not yet; which Expres­sion has been the Perplexity of Commen­tators, who with all their Wit and Saga­city can't get well over it. I shall not mention here all or any of their pretend­ed Solutions of this Difficulty; but let us see whether we can't easily and at once unlose it. St. Mark's Words are [...], which are and have been commonly translated, for the Time of Figs is not yet. But if we change the Point into an Interrogation, and read thus, for was it not the Time of Figs? the Difficulty vanishes as certainly, as that it is absurd to suppose Christ should come to his Fig­tree and look for Fruit, when he could not reasonably expect any. This my So­lution of this Difficulty certainly serves the Purpose of the mystical Interpretati­on; [Page 29] and if it does not the litteral, I an­swer, we are not to heed the Letter, which seldom or never has any Sense or Truth in it. But, by the by, it does the litte­ral too, since there are no Grounds from the Text to think, what has been the common Opinion, that it was about the Jewish Passover that Jesus came to the Figtree. If this my Solution of the Dif­ficulty don't please, I must say with 32 Heinsius, that it must be left as a Knot for Elias to untie, who, according to the 33 ancient Jews, is first to gather Fruits off this mystical Figtree, and present them to the intellectual Taste of Mankind. But, that my Solution is good, will appear by what follows.

And Jesus finding Leaves only says, in St. Matthew, to the Figtree, Let no Fruit grow on thee henceforward for e­ver; which (with its parallel Place in St. Mark) is in my Opinion a false Transla­tion: The Original is, [...], and ought to be [Page 30] englished, not as yet, or not untill now, (that I came) against the (grand) Age (of the Sabbath) has Fruit grown on thee. So that the Miracle of Jesus was to make the Figtree of the Church fruitful; and if her preceeding unfruitful State, which (in St. Mark) Jesus is said to curse, or ra­ther to devote to Ruin, wasted away, it was by Consequence.

But what Time of Day was it that Jesus came to the Figtree? It was in the Morning. And of what Day? That is un­certain as to the Letter, but according to the mystical Extent of the Three Years, whe­ther we understand the Figtree as a Type of the Church, or of all Mankind of all Ages, it will be on the Morning of the great Sabbath, when, upon the Appearance of the Light of Christ, like the Rising of the Sun, an unfruitful and erroneous Church must needs wither away. And the Disciples on the said Morning will, as Origen 34 says, with their intellectu­al Eyes behold her waste with Admirati­on. And then too, they under Christ will do what is done to the Figtree, of the Church, and remove Mountains of Anti­christian Power, that exalt themselves a­gainst [Page 31] him, as the Fathers interpret, and I need not explain.

And what is meant by the Means, which St. Luke speaks of, to make the Figtree of the Church fruitful on the Sabbatical Year; the Year it is to be let alone to bear Fruit in? There must be digging a­bout it, that is 35 into the Earth of the Letter of the Scriptures, and dunging of it, that is calling 36 to Remembrance her Sins and Errors of the Time past, which rationally speaking will make the Church to bring forth good Fruit.

After this Fashion is the rest of the Pa­rable of the Figtree to be allegorized out of the Fathers. St. Gregory 37 the Great, and St. Augustin, make these two Stories or Parables, viz. of the Figtree, and of the Woman with her Spirit of Infirmity, as they are blended together in St. Luke, to be Figures of the same Mystery. The [Page 32] eighteen Years of the Woman's Infirmity and the three Years of the Figtree's Un­fruitfulness, they will have to be mysti­cally synchromical. And the Woman's In­curvity to the Earth is, they say, signifi­cative of the same Thing with the Un­fruitfulness of the Figtree. And the E­rection of the Woman on the Sabbath is of the same Import with the Reservation of the Tree for Fruitfulness on that Day. And let any one see, if they don't admi­rally agree, as I have interpreted these two Parables.

Before I dismiss this Story of the Fig­tree, I can't but adore the Providence of God, that the Miracle has been hitherto placed in the withering away of the Tree. If the Miracle had been a plain Story of a dead and wither'd Tree's being made to bring forth Leaves and Fruit on a sud­den; this would have been such a mani­festly supernatural Work, and so agreea­ble to modern Notionists about Miracles, that Mens Thoughts would have been so absorpt in the Consideration of the Letter, as they would never have extended them to the Contemplation of the Mystery. And our Divines would have made such a Noise, in our Ears of the Excellency and Mar­vellousness of such a Miracle, as that there would be no bearing of it. But [Page 33] But as the Evangelists have in a good Measure suppress'd all mention of the af­ter Fruitfulness of the Tree; and the Sto­ry, by Misconstruction, is clog'd with the foresaid Difficulties and Absurdities, we are of Necessity driven to the search after Mystery for good Sense and Truth in it.

And thus have I spoken enough to the Miracle of Jesus's cursing the Figtree, which according to the Letter is a foolish and absurd Story: But the mystical Operation, of which the Letter is a Shadow, will be ravishing, marvelous and stupendous; and not only a Proof of Christ's Power and Presence in his Church, but a Demonstration of his Messi­ahship, in as much as an infinite Num­ber of Prophecys upon Prophecys, will thereupon be discern'd to be accom­plish'd, or the Church can't bring forth the Fruits of the Spirit, that is Spiritu­al Interpretations of the Scriptures, like ripe Figs. And so I pass to an

8. Eighth Miracle of Jesus, and that is, 38 "of his healing a Man of an Infirmity, of thirty eight Years Dura­tion, at the Pool of Bethesda, that had five Porches, in which lay a great Mul­titude of impotent Folk, blind, halt, withered, waiting the troubling of the [Page 34] Waters, upon the Descent of an An­gel, who gave a Sanative Virtue to them, to the curing of any one, be his Distem­per of what kind soever, who first stept down into them."

This whole Story is what our Saviour calls a Camel of a monstrous Size for Absurdities, Improbabilities and Incredi­bilities, which our Divines, and their im­plicit Followers of these last Ages, have swallowed without chewing; whilst they have been straining at Knats in Theology, and hesitating at frivolous and indifferent Things of the Church, of no Conse­quence.

As to Jesus's Miracle in this Story, which consisted in his healing a Man, of no body knows what Infirmity, there nei­ther is nor can be proved any Thing su­pernatural in it, or there had been an express Description of the Disease, with­out which it is impossible to say, there was a miraculous Cure wrought. As far as one may reasonably guess, this Man's In­firmity was more Lazyness than Lameness, and Jesus only shamed him out of his pretended Illness, by bidding him to take up his Stool and walk off, and not lie a­ny longer, like a lazy Lubbard and Dis­sembler, among the Diseased, who were real Objects of Pity and Compassion: Or, [Page 35] if he was no Dessembler, he was only fancyfully sick, and Jesus by some proper and seasonable Talk touch'd his Heart, to his Relief; and so, by the Help of his own Imagination, he was cured, and went his Way. This is the worst that can be made of this infirm Man's Case; and the best that can be said of Jesus's Power in the Cure of him, as will appear, by and by, upon Examination into it. But the other Parts of the Story of the healing Virtue of the Waters, upon the Descent of an Angel into them, is not only void of all good Foundation in History, but is a Contradiction to common Sense and Reason, as will be manifest after an In­quiry into the Particulars of it.

St. John was the beloved Disciple of our Lord, and I hope he lov'd his Master; or he was worse than an Heathen, who loves those who love him: But this Story, and some others, that are peculiar to his Gospel, such as, of Jesus's telling the Sama­ritan Woman her Fortune; of his healing the blind Man with Eye-Salve made of Clay and Spittle; Of his turning Water into Wine for the Use of Men, who had before well drank; and of his raising La­zarus from the Dead, are enough to tempt us to think, that he wilfully design'd, ei­ther to blast the Reputation of his Master, [Page 36] or to try how far the Credulity of Men, who through blind Love were running a­pace into Christianity, might be imposed on; or he had never related such idle Tales, which, if the Priesthood, who should be the philosophical Part of Mankind, had not been amply hired into the Belief of them, would certainly have been rejected with Indignation and Scorn before now.

St. John wrote his Gospel many Years after the other Evangelists: What then should have been his peculiar Business? Certainly nothing more, than to add some remarkable Passages of Life, to Jesus's Ho­nour, which they had omitted; and to con­firm the Truths which they had before re­ported of him. But St. John is so far from doing this, that the Stories, he has parti­cularly added, are not only derogatory to the Honour of Jesus, but spoil his Fame for a Worker of Miracles, which the other Evangelists would raise him to. By reading the other Evangelists, one would think, that Jesus was a Healer of all manner of Diseases, however incurable by Art and Nature, and that where-ever he came, all the sick and the maim'd (excepting a few Infidels) were perfectly cured by him. But this Story before us will be like a Demonstration, that Jesus was no such Worker of Miracles and [Page 37] Healer of Diseases, as he is commonly believed to have been, and that he wrought not near the Number of Cures, he is sup­posed to have done, much less any great ones. The best Conception that an impartial Rea­der of the Gospel can form of Jesus, is, that he was a tolerable good natural Orator, and could handsomely harangue the People off hand, and was according to the Phi­losophy of the Times a good Cabalist; and his Admirers finding him endewed with the Gift of Utterance, which was thought by them more than human, they fancy'd he must have the Gift of healing too, and would have him to exercise it; which he did with Success, upon the Fan­cies and Imaginations of many, who mag­nified his divine Power for it. And the Apostles afterwards, to help forward the Credulity and Delusion of the People, amplified his Fame with extravagant As­sertions and strange Stories of Miracles, passing the Belief of considerate and wise Men. Whether this Representation of the Case, according to the Letter of the Gos­pels, be false and improbable, let my Readers judge by the Story before us, which I come now to dissect, and make a particular Examination into the several Parts of it. Accordingly it is to be ob­serv'd.

[Page 38] First, that this Story of the Pool of Bethesda, abstractedly considered from Jesus's Cure of an infirm Man at it, has no good Foundation in History: It merits no Man's Credit, nor will any reasonable Person give any heed to it. St. John is the only Author that has made any mention of this Story; and tho' his Au­thority may be good, and better than an­other Man's in Relation to the Words and Actions of Jesus, in as much as he was most familiar and conversant with him; yet, for foreign Matters, that have no immediate Respect to Jesus's Life, he's no more to be regarded than another Histo­rian, who, if he palm upon his Readers an improbable Tale of sensless and absurd Circumstances, will have his Authority questioned, and his Story pry'd into by the Rules of Criticism, and rejected or received as it is found worthy of Be­lief and Credit. If there had been any Truth in this Story before us, I cannot think but Josephus or some other Jewish Writers, it is so remarkable, peculiar and astonishing an Instance of the Angelical Care and Love to the distressed of Jeru­salem, would have spoken of it: But I don't find they have; or our modern Commen­tators would have refer'd to them, as to a Testimony of the Credibility of the [Page 39] Gospel-History. Josephus has professed­ly written the History of the Jewish Nation, in which he seems to omit no­thing that makes for the Honour of his Country, or for the Manifestation of the Providence of God over it. He tells us of the Conversation of Angels with the Patriarchs and Prophets, and intermixes Extra-Scriptural Traditions, as he thought them fit to be transmitted to Posterity. How came he then and all other Jewish Writers to forget this Story of the Pool of Bethesda? I think, we may as well suppose that a Writer of the natural Hi­story of Somersetshire would neglect to speak of the medicinal Waters of Bath, as Josephus should omit that Story, which, if true, was a singular Proof of God's di­stinguishing Care of his peculiar People, or an Angel had never been frequently, as we suppose, sent to this Relief of the Diseased amongst them. Is then St. John's single Authority enough to convey this Story down to us? Some may say, that there are several Prodigies, as well as po­litical Events of ancient Times, that, tho' they are reported but by one Historian, meet with Credit; and why may not St. John's Testimony be equal to another Writer's? I grant it; and tho' it is hardly probable but that this Story, if true, before [Page 40] us, must have had the Fortune to be told by others; yet St. John's single Authori­ty shall pass sooner than another Man's, if the Matter be in itself credible and well circumstanc'd. But were it is blindly Im­perfectly and with monstrously incredible Circumstances related, like this before us, it ought to be rejected. Which brings me,

Secondly, To ask, what was the true Occasion of the Angels Descent into this Pool? Was it to wash and bath himself? Or, was it to impart an healing Quality to the Waters for some one diseased Per­son? The Reason, that I ask the first of these two Questions, is, because some ancient Readings of v. 4. say 39 the Angel [...] was washed, which supposes some bodily Defilement or Heat contract­ed in the Caelestial Regions, that want­ed Refrigeration or Purgation in these Waters: But how absurd such a Thought is, needs no Proof. To impart then com­passionately an healing Power to the Wa­ters for the Benefit of the Diseased was the sole Design of the Angel's Descent in­to them. And God forbid, that any should philosophically debate the Matter, and enquire how naturally the Waters deriv'd that Virtue from the Angel's corporal [Page 41] Presence. The Thing was providential and miraculous, our Divines will say, and so let it pass. But I may fairly ask, why one diseased Person only at a Time reap'd the Benefit? Or why the whole Num­ber of impotent Folks were not at once healed? I have a notable Answer pre­sently to be given to these Questions; but I am afraid beforehand, our Divines will not approve of it: Therefore they are to give one of their own, and make the Matter consistent with the Goodness and Wisdom of God; or the said Questions spoil the Credit of the Story, and make an idle and ridiculous Romance of it. And when their Hands are in, to make, what is im­possible, a satisfactory Answer to the said Questions; I wish, that, for the sake of Orthodoxy, they would determine, whe­ther the Angel descended with his Head or his Heels foremost, or whether he might not come swauping upon his Breast into the Waters, like a Goose into a Horse­pond. But,

Thirdly, How often in the Week, the Month or the Year did the Angel vouchsafe his Descent into the Pool? And for how many Ages before Christ's Advent, and why not since and even 40 [Page 42] now, was this Gracious and Angelical Fa­vour granted? St. John should have been particular as to these Points, which he could not but know Philosophers would be cu­rious to enquire about. If it was but once in the Year, as St. Chrysostom 41 hints, little Thanks are due to him for his Cour­tesy. One would think sometimes, that his Descent was frequent; or such a Mul­titude of impotent Folk, variously dis­order'd had never attended on it. And again at other Times, one would think that his Descent was seldom, or the Dis­eased as fast as they came, which could not be faster than the Angel could dabble himself in the Waters, had been charita­bly dismissed with restor'd Health. Here then is a Defect in St. John's Story, and a Block, at which wise and considerate Free-Thinkers will stumble. But,

Fourthly, How came it to pass, that there was not better Care taken, either by the Providence of God, or of the Civil Magistrates of Jerusalem about the Disposal of the Angelical Favour to this or that poor Man, according to his Necessities or Deserts: But that he, who [Page 43] could fortunately catch the Favour, was to have it. Just as he who runs fastest obtains the Prize: So here the Diseased, who was most nimble and watchful of the Angel's Descent, and could first plunge himself into the Pool, carried off the Gift of Sanation. An odd and a merry Way of conferring a divine Mercy. And one would think that the Angels of God did this for their own Diversion, more than to do good to Mankind, Just as some throw a Bone among a Kennel of Hounds, for the Pleasure of seeing them quarrel for it; or as others cast a Piece of Mo­ney among a Company of Boys for the Sport of seeing them scramble for it: So was the Pastime of the Angels here. It was the Opinion of some Heathens, that Homines sunt Lusus Deorum, the Gods sport themselves with the Miseries of Mankind; but I never thought, before I considered this Story, that the An­gels of the God of the Jews did so too. But if they delighted in it, rare sport it was to them, as could be to a Town-Mobb. For as the poor and distressed Wretches were not to be supposed to be of such a polite Conversation, as in Complaisance to give place to their bet­ters, or in Compassion to make way for the most miserable; but upon the Sight [Page 44] or Sound of the Angel's Fall into the Pool, would without Respect of Persons strive who should be first: So those who were behind and unlikely to be cured, would like an unciviliz'd Rabble, push and press all before them into it. What a Number then, of some hundreds perhaps, of poor Creatures were at once tumbled into the Waters to the Diversion of the City Mob, as well as of God's Angels? And if one arose out of it, with the Cure of his Dis­ease, the rest came forth like drown'd Rats, to the Laughter of the foresaid Specta­tors; and it was well if there was not some­times more Mischief done, than the heal­ing of one could be of Advantage, to those People. Believe then this Part of the Story, let him that can. If any Angel was con­cern'd in this Work, it was an Angel of Satan who delights in Mischief; and if he healed one upon such an Occasion, he did it by way of Bait, to draw others into Danger of Life and Limb. But as our Divines will not, I suppose, bear the Thoughts of it's being a bad Angel; so I leave them to consider upon our Rea­sonings, whether it was credible that ei­ther a good or a bad Angel was concern­ed, and desire them to remember to give me a better Reason, why but one at a Time was healed.

[Page 45] If any Pool or Cistern of Water about this City of London was so blessed with the Descent of an Angel to such an End, the Magistrates, such is their Wisdom, would, if God did not direct, take care of the pru­dent Disposal of the Mercy to the best Advantage of the Diseased. And if they sold it to an infirm Lord or Merchant, who could give for it most Money, to be distri­buted among other Poor and distress'd Peo­ple, would it not be wisely done of them? To suppose they would leave the Ange­lick Favour to the Struggle of a Multitude, is absurd and incredible. And why then should we think otherwise of the Magi­strates of Jerusalem? Away then with the Letter of this Story! And if this be not enough to confute it. Then,

Fifthly, Let us consider, to its farther Confutation, who and what were the impotent Folk, that lay in the Porches of Bethesda, waiting the Troubling of the Waters. St. John says they were Blind, Halt, Withered, and as some Manuscripts 42 have it, Paralyticks. And what did any of these there? How could any of them be supposed to be nimble enough of Foot to step down first into the Waters, and carry off the Prize of Sanation, be­fore [Page 46] many others of various Distempers? Tho' the troubled Waters might be of such medicinal Force as to heal a Man of whatsoever Disease he had; yet none of the foresaid Persons for want of good Feet and Eyes could expect the Benefit of it. Tho' the Ears of the Blind might serve him to hear, when the Angel plump't like a Stone into the Waters, yet through want of Sight for the guidance of his Steps, he would by others be jostled out of the right Way down into them. And if the Lame had good Eyes to discern the the Descent of the Angel, yet Feet were all in all to this Purpose: Consequently these impotent Folk, specified by St. John, might as well have slay'd at Home, as re­sorted to Bethesda for Cure. I know not what Fools the Diseased of Jerusalem of old might be, but if there was such a Prize of Health to be strove for, by the Distem­pered of this City, I appeal to all Men of common Sense, whether the Blind, the Lame, the withered and Paralyticks would offer to put in for it. St. John then for­got himself, or else blundered egregiously, or put the Banter upon us, to try how far an absurd Tale would pass upon the World with Credit. There might be, if there was any litteral Sense in the Story, many of other Distempers, but there could [Page 47] be neither blind, halt nor withered, with­out such an Absurdity, as absolutely dis­parages the Story, blasts the Credit of the Relator, or rather brings to mind the Assertion of St. Ambrose, that the Letter of the New as well as the Old Testament lies abominably. If what I have here said does not overthrow the Letter of this Story; Then what I have,

Sixthly, To add, will do it more effect­tually, and that is, of the certain Man, that had an Infirmity thirty and eight Years, and lay at this Pool for an Opportunity to be cured of it. Tho' these thirty and eight Years are, in our English Translation prae­dicated of this Man's Infirmity, yet more truely, according to the Original, are they spoken of the Time he lay there; and the Fathers so understood St. John's Words. What this Man's Infirmity was, we are uncertain: For [...] Weakness or Infirmity is a general Name of all Distermpers, and may be equally apply'd to one as well as to another: Whereupon, tho' we can't certain­ly say from this Man's Infirmity, that he was a Fool to lay there so long, expecting that Cure, which it was impossible for him to obtain; yet what he says to our Saviour, I have no Man, when the Waters are troubled to put me into the Pool, but while I am coming, another steppeth down [Page 48] before me, does imply his Folly sufficient­ly, or rather the Incredibility of the whole Story. What then did this infirm Man at this Pool, if he had neither Legs of his own good enough, nor a Friend to assist him, in the Attainment of Sanarion? Was he not a Fool, if it was possible for any to be so great a one, for his Patience? Would it not have been as wisely done of him to wait, in the Fields so long, the Falling of the Sky, that he might catch Larks? The Fathers say, this Man's In­firmity was the Palsy; but whether they said so for the Sake of the Mystery, or to expose the Letter, I know not. But that Distemper after thirty and eight Years Duration, and Increase, if it was more curable than another at first, had in that time undoubtedly so weakened and render'd him uncapable to struggle with others for this Relief, that it is without Sense and Reason to think he should wait so long for it. Our Divines, if they so please, may commend this Man for his Patience, but after a few Years, or rather a few Days Experience, another Man would have been convinc'd of the Folly and Vanity of his Hopes, and returned Home. If he could not put in for this Benefit, with Prospect of Success in his more youthful Days, when the Distemper was young too, [Page 49] much less Reason had he to hope for it in his old Age, after thirty and eight Years Affliction, unless he dream'd of, what was not to be imagined, an Opportunity, with­out Molestation and Competition, to go off with it. Whatever then our Divines may think of this Man and his Patience, I will not believe there ever was such a Fool; and for this Reason will not sup­pose St. John could litterally so ro­mance, unless he meant to bambouzle Mankind into the Belief of the greatest Absurdity. A Man that Lies with a Grace to deceive others, makes his Story so hang together, as to carry the Face and Appearance of Truth along with it; which this of St. John, that for many Ages has been swallowed, for the Reason before us, has not. But what is the worst of all against this Story is,

Seventhly That which follows, and absolutely destroys the Fame and Credit of Jesus for a Worker of Miracles. And V. 1, 2, 3, Jesus went up to Jerusalem, where there was by the Sheep-Market, a Pool, called Bethesda, having five Porches, in which lay a great Multitude of impo­tent Folk, blind, halt, withered. Why then did not Jesus heal them? Here was a rare Opportunity for the Display of his Healing and Almighty Power; and why [Page 50] did he not exercise it, to the Relief of that Multitude of impotent Folk? If he could not cure them, there's an End of his Power of Miracles; and if he would not, it was want of Mercy and Compassion in him. Which way soever we take this Case, it turns to the Disho­nour of the Holy Jesus. What then was the Reason, that of so great a Multitude of diseased People, Jesus exerted his Power, and extended his Mercy, on only one poor Paralytick? St. Augustin 44 puts this Question and Objection into my Mouth; and tho' neither He nor I start it for the Service of Infidelity, but to make Way for the Mystery; yet I know not why Infidels, may not make Use of it, till Ministers of the Letter can give a satisfactory Answer and Solution to it.

The Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, tell such Stories of Jesus's healing Power, as would incline us to think he cured all where-ever he came. He heal'd, they say, all Manner of Diseases among the People, and they make mention of particular Times and Places, where all the Diseased were healed by him, which [Page 51] Assertions imply, that Jesus's healing Pow­er was most extensive and (excepting to an hard-hearted and unbelieving Pharisee now and then) universal; so far that it might be question'd, whether any died, during the Time of his Ministry, in the Places where he came: And our Divines have so harangued on Jesus's Mi­racles, as would confirm us in such an Opinion: But this Story in St. John confutes and confounds all. St. John in no Place of his Gospel talks of Jesus's healing of many, nor of all manner of Diseases, much less of all that were Dis­eased; which, if it be not like a Contra­diction to the other Evangelists, is some Di­minution of their Authority, and enough to make us suspect, that they stretch'd much in praise of their Master, and said more to his Honour than was strictly true. But this Place before us is a flat Contradicti­on to them, and Jesus is not to be sup­posed to heal many in any Place, much less all manner of Diseases, or he had never let such a Multitude of poor Wretches pass without the Exercise of his Pow­er and Pity on them. Some good Rea­son then must be given for Jesus's Con­duct here, and such a one as will adjust it to the Reports of the other Evange­lists; or Infidels will think, that either [Page 52] they romanc'd for the Honour of their Master, or that St. John in Spite told this Story to the Degradation of him. I can conceive no better of this Mat­ter according to the Letter.

The Bishop of Lichfield very remark­ably says, 45 that Jesus where-ever he went, healed all that came to home with­out Distinction, the important, halt, wither­ed. He certainly had this Text of St. John in his Eye, when he said so, because Impotent, Halt, Withered, are only men­tion'd here, where Jesus cured none of them: Whereupon if his Lordship had made but a marginal Reference to this Text, it would have been the best Jest and Banter, with a, Sneer, that ever was put upon Jesus and his Power of Miracles: As it is, it's a very good one, and I desire my Readers to take Notice of it, that his Lordship may not lose the Credit and Praise of it. It's sor such Cir­cumspection of Thought, Exactness of Expression, and Acuteness of Wit, that I admire that Prelate, and must needs say of him, whether he ever be translated to Canterbury or York, or not, that he's an arch Bishop. [Page 53] But to return and go on. The Con­duct of Jesus, to all Appearance, is not only blameable, his Power of healing dis­putable, and his Mercy indefensible, for that he cured but one infirm Man out of a Multitude, at Bethesda, but,

Eightly, and lastly, it may reasonably be questioned, whether he wrought any Mi­racle in the healing of this one Man. Miracles (to say nothing of the ridicu­lous Distinction between divine and dia­bolical ones) are Works done out of the Course of Nature, and beyond the Imi­tation of human Art of Power. Now whether the Cure of this infirm Man can be brought under this Definition of a Mi­racle, may be doubted. What this Man's Infirmity, which is a general Name for all Distempers, was, we know not. How then can we say he was miraculously cured, unless, we knew his Disease to be incurable by Art, which none can affirm? The worst that we know of this Man's Case, is, that it was of a long Conti­nuance, no less than of eight and thirty Years: And the Bishop of Lichfield and others in their florid Harangues of Jesus's Works, make the Cure of such Chroni­cal Diseases to be miraculous: But why so? Many Instances may be given of In­firmities of human Nature, of a long Du­ration, [Page 54] which in Time, and especially in old Age, wear off. If such Infirmites don't occur to the Memory of our Divines, I could put them in Mind of them. And who knows but this was the Case of this impotent Man, whose Infirmity Jesus observing to be wearing off, bid him to be gone, and take up his Couch, for he would soon be made whole.

The Fathers indeed call this Man's Infirmity the Palsy, which in truth is ge­nerally worse than better by Time, and after thirty and eight Years, must needs be very deplorable, and incurable with­out a Miracle. But why do they call it the Palsy? They have no Authority for it from the Text, without which, as our litteral Doctors will not subscribe to their Opinions in other Cases; so why should I here? In short, the Fathers had never call'd it the Palsy, but for the sake of the Mystery; and I am not bound to own that to have been the Distemper, any more than it was want of Legs; for that would be making of Miracles for Jesus, without Reason and Authority.

If Jesus here had healed the whole Multitude of impotent Folk; without En­quiry what Numbers there might be of them, I should have believed that he wrought there many great Miracles, in as [Page 55] much as in such a great Multitude, there must needs, in all Probability, be some incurable by Art or Nature: But since he cured only this one Man, it affords Mat­ter of Speculation, whether he was the most or the least diseased amongst them. Our Divines, for the sake of the Miracle, may possibly suppose him to be the most grieviously afflicted of any; but Infidels, on the other hand, will say, not so: but with their Cavils will urge that this infirm Man was either a Dissembler, whom Jesus shamed out of his pretended Dis­ease, or that he was only hippish, and fan­cyfully more than really distemper'd of a long Time, whom Jesus by suitable Ex­hortations and Admonitions, working up­on his Imagination, persuaded into a Belief of his Cure, and bid him to walk off. Certain it is, that Infidels will say, it was not a Power of Miracles in Jesus which heal'd him, or he had used it then and there for the Sanation of others also.

And thus have I finish'd my Invective against the Letter of this Story; which, if any are offended at, they enjoy, what is the most reasonable Thing in the World, the same Liberty to write for the Letter, which I have used against it: And so I pass to the Consideration of the Opini­ons [Page 56] and Expositions of the Fathers on this strange Story.

The Fathers, upon whose Authority I form'd my preceding Invective a­gainst the Letter, so universally betake themselves to the mystical Interpretation of this Story, that it may be question'd, whether any of them, more than myself, believ'd any Thing at all of the Letter of it. St. Chrysostom, who is as much a litteral Interpreter of the Scriptures as any of them, here intirely discards the Letter, saying admirably thus, 46 what a strange Way and Story of healing the Diseased is here? but what is the Mystery of it? that we are to look to. The Mat­ter could not be so simply and unadvisedly transacted litterally, as it is related. There must be somewhat future here, as by a Type and Figure, signify'd; or the Story, it is so incredible in itself, will give Offence to many. St. Chrysostom was certainly in the right on't; and I wonder, for which no Reason but want of Liberty can be [Page 57] given, that Infidels have not before now, with their Jests and Cavils, ridiculed this Story. St. Augustin, to the same Purpose, says, 47 Can any one believe, that these Waters of Bethesda were wont to be troubled in this Fashion, and that there was not Mystery, and a spiritual Significa­tion in it? Yes, I could tell St. Augu­stin, that our modern Divines seem to believe it, tho' he, if he was now alive, would laugh at them for it. But to come to the profound Mystery signified by this Story, which to use the Words of 48 St. Augustin, as God shall enable me, I will now speak to.

Our English Version says, There is at Jerusalem by the Sheep-Market, a Pool. How our Translators came by the Notion of a Market here, I can't imagine, since there is nothing to favour it in the Ori­ginal, which stands thus, [...]: By [...], the Fathers un­derstand 49 Baptism, or the spiritual La­ver [Page 58] of Regeneration; and who is that for, but the Flock of Christ, signified by [...]? So we have another and clearer Interpretation of these two Words. And as to Bethesda, that is a mystical Name of the Church, which according to the Signification of Bethesda, is the House of Grace. And if it is said to be at Je­rusalem, it is not to be understood of the Old Jerusalem, but of the New and Apo­stolical Jerusalem, at the Entrance into which the Flock of Christ will be baptiz'd by the Waters of the Spirit, as in mysti­cal Laver.

Bethesda is said to have five Porches, that is, as the Fathers 50 agree, the five Books of Moses, which are as so many Doors of Entrance into the House of Wisdom, or of the Grace of Christ.

At these five Porches of the five Books of Moses lay a great Multitude of impo­tent Folk, blind, halt, withered. And who are these mystically? The ignorant, er­roneous, and unstable in Faith and Prin­ciple, as the Fathers often understand them spiritually. And what is the Reason of these their mystical Diseases? Because, as [Page 59] St. Augustin 51 and other Fathers say, they rest on the Letter of the Law, which throws them into various Errors, like Diseases, of different Kinds, of which they can't be cured without the Descent of the Spirit, like an Angel, to instruct them mystically to interpret.

With these impotent Folk lay a certain Man who had an Infirmity. And who is this infirm Man? Mankind in general, say St. Cyril 52 and 53 St. Augustin. And what is his Infirmity? The Fathers call it the 54 Palsy, because of his In­stability, and Unsteadiness in Faith and Principles, which is now the Case of of Mankind. St. John calls it [...] a Weakness, which being a general Name [Page 60] of all Distempers, we can't guess what might be here the specifical one. But rea­sonably speaking, according to the Rule of Interpretation, this Man's Infirmity is the same with the Woman's Spirit of In­firmity, and that is a Weakness at the Spirit of Prophecy, which Mankind, as well as the Woman of the Church, is to be cured of in the Perfection of Time.

And how long did this Man with his Infirmity lay in these Porches of Bethesda? Thirty eight Years: So has Mankind with his Weakness at the Spirit of Prophecy lay eight and thirty (hundred) 55 Years, reckoning two thousand under the Law, and eighteen hundred since under the Gospel. St. Augustin 56 has an ingeni­ous and more mystical way of Compu­tation of these thirty and eight Years, which pleases me too, but possibly some Readers may not so easily apprehend it, unless they are well acquainted with the Mystery of Prophetical Numbers.

[Page 61] And how is Mankind to be cured of his Infirmity at the Spirit of Prophecy? By being instructed, by the Spirit of Truth, who is to come at the Conclusion of the said thirty and eight mystical Years, to arise and take up his bed and walk, that is, to raise his Thoughts to the Contem­plation of the divine Mysteries of the Law, and to lift up his Bed of the Letter, on which he has hitherto rested, into a sub­lime Sense, and then he will walk up­rightly and steadily in the Faith, with­out wavering like a Paralytick.

And at what Season did Jesus come to this infirm Man? It was at a Feast of the Jews. Irenaeus, Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Cyril call it the Feast of Penticost. And the grand Feast of Penticost is, as St. Cyril 57 says upon the Place, at the Perfection of Time, the Time of the E­vangelical Sabbath, and of Jesus's spiritual Advent, which will be a Time of feasting on intellectual and divine Mysteries, of see­ing Visions and of dreaming Dreams; con­sequently at that Time, as the ancient Jews and Fathers assert, Mankind will be cured of this Infirmity at the Spirit of Prophecy.

[Page 62] And this too is the certain Season, that the Angel will descend and trouble the Waters. By Angel is here meant 58 the Spirit of Christ. And by Wa­ters the Fathers understand, 59 the Peo­ple of all Nations. But how will the De­scent of the Spirit of Truth, like an An­gel, trouble these Waters, that is, give any Molestations and Disturbance to the People? Is there not a Mistake in the Oracle? If the Clergy will be but greater Lovers of Truth than of their In­terests; if they, who should be Teachers of Forbearance of one another in Love, will but keep their Temper, there would be found a mistake in it. But alas!

Lastly, The Jews, as is intimated, seem to have been mov'd with Indignati­on at the Cure of the infirm Man, say­ing to him, v. 10. it is the Sabbath, it is not lawful for thee to carry thy Bed; which litterally could not be true. The Jews were not such precise Obser­vers of the Sabbath; nor so stupid and foolish, as St. Cyril, 60 says, as to [Page 63] think the taking up and carrying a Stool to be a Breach of it. But mystically, it is to be fear'd, this will be most true, and that the Clergy, who would be Jews inwardly, and the Circumcision in Spi­rit, will be bitter Enemies to Man's Exaltation of his Couch of the Letter of the Scriptures on or against the Evangeli­cal Sabbath, and will make it, if possible, an unlawful Work; because it will bring to them Shame, Dishonour and Loss of Interests along with it.

After this Manner is every other Cir­cumstance of this Story to be allegori­cally apply'd out of the Fathers. The Moral or Mystery of the whole, in short, is this, that at the Perfection of Time, signified by the Sabbath, the Pentecost, the End of thirty eight Years, the Spirit of Truth will descend on Mankind, to their Illumination in Prophecy, and to the healing of their Errors, call'd Diseases; which is admirably represented by the Parable before us, that according to the Letter has neither Reason nor common Sense in it.

And thus have I spoken to eight of the Miracles of Jesus; and whether I have not shew'd them, in whole or Part, ac­cording to the Proposition before us, to [Page 64] consist of Absurdities, Improbabilities, and Incredibilities; and whether they are not prophetical and parabolical Narratives of what will be mysteriously, and more wonderfully done by Jesus, I appeal to my Readers.

After another Discourse of some other Miracles, I intend to take into Examinati­on the several Stories of Jesus's raising of the Dead as of Lazarus, Jairus's Daughter, and the Widow's Son of Naim; which reputedly are Jesus's grand Miracles; but for all the seeming Greatness and Ex­cellency of them, I don't doubt but to give the Letter of these Stories a Toss out of the Creed of a considerate and wise Man; at least show their Insufficiency for the Pur­pose for which they have been hitherto apply'd. And if I should afterwards, by the Leave and Patience of the Bishop of London, give my Objection against Christ's Resurrection a Review, and some more Force, then what will become of the Argument of Christ's Power, Authority, and Messiahship from his Miracles?

But, besides Jesus's Miracles, I am, as Opportunity serves, to take into Consi­deration some of the Historical Parts of his Life; and shew them to be no less sense­less, absurd and ridiculous than his Mi­racles.

[Page 65] And why may I not sometimes treat on the Parables of Jesus, and show what nonsensical and absurd Things they are, according to the Expositions of our most famous Commentators of these last Ages. Jesus was certainly the absolute, and most consummate Perfection of a Cabalist, Mystist, a Parabolist and Enigmatist; but according to modern Commentaries and Paraphrases, he was the merest Ideot and Blockhead that ever open'd his Mouth, in that sort of Learning, to the Instructi­on of Mankind. And I am oblig'd a little to speak to the Absurdities of Christ's Doctrine and Parables, because one Article of the Prosecution against me was for say­ing, that any of the Philosophers of the Gen­tiles, or any rational Man (meaning accord­ing to modern Expositions) would make a better Teacher, than Jesus was.

What a great deal of Work have I up­on my Hands, which, if God spare my Life and Health, I intend to go on with: If what I have already done in it be not acceptable to the Clergy, their Way to pre­vent the Prosecution of this great Un­dertaking, is to battle me upon what's past. Who knows but they may write, if they would try their Strength, so acutely in Defence of the Letter of Jesus's Mi­racles already discuss'd, as may effectually [Page 66] stop my Mouth, and prevent my giv­ing them any more Trouble of this Kind? And I suppose I have now gotten an Adversary in the Bishop of St. David's, Who has already discharg'd one Fool's Bolt at me.

There has nothing been a more com­mon Subject of Declamation among the the Clergy than the Reasonableness of Chri­stianity, which must be understood of the History of Christ's Life and Doctrine, or the Application of the Word Reasona­bleness to the Christian Religion is im­pertinent. But if I proceed, as I have begun in this Work, I shall shew Chistiani­ty, as it is understood, to be the most unreasonable and absurd Story, that ever was told; and our modern Systems of Theology groundless and sensless in al­most every Part of them. Mahometanism, without Offence be it spoken, is a more reasonable Religion than the Christian, up­on modern Schemes and Systems.

If what I here say is offensive to our Divines, the Press is open for them as well as for myself, and they may, if they can, shew their Resentment of it. Thanks un­to God and our most excellent Civil Go­vernment for such a Liberty of the Press: A Liberty that will lead and conduct us to the Fountain of Wisdom and Philoso­phy, which Restraint is a down-right Enemy [Page 67] to. And that this Blessing of Liber­ty may be continued, for all Bishop Smal­brook and Dr. Rogers's Hobbism, is, I dare say, the Desire of the curious, inquisitive, and philosophical Part of Mankind. If this Liberty should be taken away, what a notable Figure will our Divines make from the Press and Pulpit, declaming on the Reasonableness, Excellency and Per­fection of the Christian Religion, without an Adversary; and telling their Congre­gations, that all, their bitterest and acutest Enemies can object, is clearly answered!

The Press, of late Years, has been pro­ductive of so many cogent and persuasive Arguments for Liberty of debate, and the Advocates for this Liberty, in the Judg­ment of the impartial and considerate, have so far gotten the better of their Adversaries, that I wonder any one can appear in behalf of Persecution. If I was a Bishop or Doctor in Divinity, I shoud think it a Disgrace to my Station and E­ducation to ask the Assistance of the Ci­vil Authority to protect my Religion: I should judge my self unworthy of the Wages and Emoluments I enjoy'd, for the Preaching and Propagation of the Gospel, if I was unable to give an Answer to a­ny one, that ask'd a Reason of my Faith: Or if I was so Shallow-pated, as to [Page 68] think Heresie and Infidelity punishable by the Civil Magistrate, I should think my­self as much oblig'd to confute by Reason, as he is to punish by the Sword. If the Bishop of London had taken this Course with me; if he had publish'd a Refutation of my supposed Errors, as well as endeavour'd at a Prosecution of me for them, I had forgiven him the Wrongs and Injuries done me, and made no repeated Demands of Satisfaction for them.

Christianity is, as I believe, founded on a Rock of Wisdom; and what's more, has an omnipotent and omniscient God on its Side, who can incline the Hearts of Men to believe, and open the Eyes of their Understanding to discern the Truth of it; consequently there can be no Dan­ger in the Attempts of our Adversaries, whether Jews, Turks or Domestick In­fidels, against it. But Persecution implys Weakness and Impotency in God to defend his own Cause; or his Priests would not move for the Help of the Arm of Flesh in Vindication of it. And if, at this Time of Day, after so many Treatises of lnfi­dels, and some of them as yet unanswered, against our Religion, this good Cause should be taken out of the Hands of God, and committed to the Care of the [Page 69] Civil Magistrate; if instead of Reason, the Clergy should have Recourse to Force, what will By-standers, and even Well­wishers to Christianity say? Nothing less than that Infidels had gotten the better of Christ's Ministers, and beaten them at their own Weapons of Reason and Argu­ment.

The two great Pleaders for Persecu­tion, to the Disgrace of themselves and Dishonour of our Religion, that have lately arose are Dr. Rogers and the Bi­shop of St. David's. Dr. Rogers's chief Reason against Liberty of Debate, is be­cause, as he says, it is pernicious to the Peace and Welfare of the Community, by unsettling the Minds of the People about the Religion established: But here's no Con­sequence, unless it could be proved, that such as the great Mr. Grounds and Mr. Scheme, have it in their Hearts to raise Mobbs upon the Government, and to beat out the Brains of the Clergy. All the Harm, or rather Good, they aim at, is to exercise the Wits of the Clergy with their Doubts and Objections; and if the Passi­ons of our Ecclesiasticks are not raised up­on it, to the doing of Violence to these Gentlemen, the Peace of the Publick will never de disturb'd. As to myself, tho' I have a vast and numerous Party on [Page 70] my Side, no less than all the Fathers and primitive Christians for some Ages; yet as we were peaceable and quiet Subjects of old, and passively obedient to the Empe­rors of Rome; so we will continue to the Civil Authority of this Nation. We on­ly take the Liberty to awaken the Cler­gy out of a Lethargy of Dulness and Ig­norance; and hope the Civil Magistrate will consider the Goodness and Charity of our Intentions, and guard us against their Insults for it.

The Bishop of St. David's 61 says, "It is absurd to assert, that the Liberties of any Nation will allow, with Impu­nity, a Set of distinguish'd Infidels to insult and treat with the greatest Con­tempt and Scorn the most sacred and important Truths, that are openly pro­fessed, by the whole Body of the Peo­ple, of whatever Denomination." By a Set of Infidels, I suppose, he means me and the Fathers: And by treating with Contempt and Scorn the most sacred and im­portant Truths, he means, our burlesquing, bantering and ridiculing the Clergy for their Ministry of the Letter: And for this he would, I conceive, have incensed the Societies for Reformation of Manners to a Prosecution of me. And if they had not [Page 71] been wiser, and more merciful than their Preacher, I must have gone to Pot. But why should the Bishop dislike this way of Writing? Don't he know, that the Fathers of the Church used to jest and scoff at the Gentiles and their Priests for their foolish Superstitions? Don't he know, that our Reformers banter'd and ridicul'd Pope­ry out of Doors, and almost within the Memory of Man, it was reckon'd but a dull Sermon, that was not well humm'd for its Puns and Jests on the Papists? why then should the Bistop be a­gainst that way of writing, which was of good Use to the Reformers, and first Chri­stians? The grand Subject for Burlesque and Banter, in my Opinion, is Infidelity; and that Bishop, who can't break two Jests upon Infidels for their one upon Christi­anity, has but a small Share of Wit. The Christian Religion according to the Bishop, will abide the Test of calm and sedate Rea­soning against it, but can't bear a Jest; O strange!

But to leave these two Contenders for Persecution to the Chastisement of acuter Pens. What I have here pleaded for Li­berty is not through any Fears of Danger to myself, but for the Love of Truth and Advancement of Christianity, which, with­out it, can't be defended, propagated and [Page 72] sincerely embraced. And therefore hope, that the Controversy before us, between Infidels and Apostates will be continued by the Indulgence of the Government, till Truth arises and shines bright to the Dissi­pation of the Mists of Error and Ignorance; like the Light of the Sun to the Dispersion of the Darkness of the Night. I will by God's Leave, go on to bear my part in the Controversy; And, if it was not more a­gainst the Interests than Reason of the Clergy to believe me, would again solemn­ly declare that what I do in it is with a View to the Honour of Jesus, our spiritual Messiah, to whom be Glory for ever. Amen.


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