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THE CHRISTMAS DISPUTE REVIVED, IN A LETTER FROM MR. WILLIAM SMITH, OF NORWALK, CONNCTICUT, TO ELDER ELIAS LEE, OF BALLSTON, STATE OF NEW-YORK. NOW PUBLISHED WITH A REPLY BY MR. LEE.

BALLSTON—PRINTED BY W. CHILD FOR ELDER ELIAS LEE.—A FEW RODS NORTH OF THE COURT-HOUSE. 1800.

[Page 2]

A Letter from Connecticut to Elder E­LIAS LEE, Anabaptist Teacher in the Vicinity of Ballston, State of New-York.

SIR,

A CONTROVERSY between you and Mr. Ro­gers the Episcopal Minister of Ballston, having late­ly fallen into my hands, wherein you are pleased to treat the Episcopalians of these States in a very un­gentlemanly manner. I shall at present only advert to your assertions, that no man can ascertain the pre­cise day of the Nativity of our Lord, and of conse­quence that Episcopalians are superstitious and absurd in their observance of the 25th of December, as the anniversary of Christmas. Hereafter, I shall do my­self the pleasure of addressing you on the other obser­vances and doctrius sacred to Episcopalians, with which you have taken, in my judgment, very un­warrantable freedoms.

To a man so conversant with the sacred Scripture, and so replenished with the plenitude of the Holy Spirit, as you profess to be, the circumstance of St. Luke's beginning his Gospel with a chronological ac­count of an event immediately connected with our Saviour's Incarnation, and a virtual repetition of the same thing by the Holy Angel as the time of the An­nuciation, can hardly be supposed matters of indiffer­ence: And yet it is evident that you have either o­verlooked or mistaken the meaning of both; for you say it is a matter of indifference whether the day can be ascertained or not: The which I deny, and think it a matter of great consequence to Christianity that the day of our Lord's Nativity should be chronologi­cally ascertained. I will therefore, present you, and [Page 3]the candid public, a calculation of the precise day of the Nativity founded upon two data, viz. the Old and New Testament.

I. Chron. ch. 24, v. 7 to v. 20,—we find the twenty-four Courses of the Jewish Priests established by David, who was "a Prophet and a man after God's own heart," and knew perfectly what he was about when he made this establishment. Of these 24 Courses, the 8th at the institution, fell by lot to Abi­jah or Abias, to which course Zacharias the Father of the Baptist belonged. One course attended upon the Service of the Temple, eight days, from sabbath to sabbath. The ministry of each course began at the morning service of the first, and ended at the morn­ing service of the next sabbath; the High Priest en­tering into the Temple with the course which suc­ceeded, blessed and dismissed the course, which had fulfilled their ministrations, the Priests of which then departed to their own city. And both these facts are authenticated both by Josephus, and the Jewish Lit­urgy. The Jewish historian (book 6) says, "The High Priest went into the Temple with the other Priests, not every day, but only every sabbath day, the calends of every month, and the annaversary Feasts." And in the Jewish Liturgy we read, "On the Sabbath the High Priest added one benediction upon that course, which then went out of their min­istration."

Therefore, as the ministry of one course is 7 com­plete days, and the number of courses 24:—the com­plete cycle or period of time, wherein the 24 courses return to the same day and hour wherein they first mininstered is 224 years. But as the above cycle is somewhat unwieldy for calculation, a smaller cycle becomes necessary, and there is one of 50 revolutions concluding at the end of 23 years after their first in­stitution, or any revolution of the great cycle of [...]24 years, with an overplus of 18 hours.

[Page 4] From the dedication of the second Temple, in the 6th year of Darius Nothus, on the 3d day of the Heb. month Adas, that is on the 19th of February, to the destruction thereof, (according to Eusebius' Chron. of Daniel's 70 weeks, chap. 9) are exactly 490 years.

From our Saviour's birth to the destruction of Je­rusalem, and just 71 years, (according to Scaliger and others) and from the 15th of Tiberus to the de­struction of Jerusalem by Titus Vespasian are 40 years.

From these data, the calculation of the time of Zacharias' ministration (which St. Luke mentions so particularly) may be calculated thus:

In the 490 years that the Temple stood, there are two complete great sacerdotal cycles ending with the year 448. There remains till the fall of the Temple 42 years: which subtract from the year of our Lord 71, in which the Temple fell, and there remains 29, the year of Christ, when the second great sacerdotal cycle ended and the third began, out of which deduct the imperfect cycle of 50 revolutions, or 23 years, the remaining [...] denote the year of Christ, when the course began precisely on the same day on which they originally commenced, with an orverplus of 18 hours.

Therefore in these 6 years previous to the Nativi­ty of our Lord, the sacerdotal courses stand thus, viz.

  • In the 6th year, the 1st course, that of Jehoiarib began, Feb. 19
  • In the 5th year, the first, &c. Jan. 19
  • In the 4th year, the first, &c. Dec. 19
  • In the 3d year, the first, &c. Nov. 19
  • In the 2d year, the first, &c. Oct. 19
  • In the 1st year, the first, &c. Sept. 19

Therefore, the first course in the year of Christ's Conception began on the 19th of August; from whence, if we reckon to the 8th week, we come to [Page 5]the 8th course, the course of Abijah, or Abias which commences on the 7th of October, and ends on the 14th of the same month. On the 14th of October Zacharias having fulfilled his week's ministry, re­turned home on the 15th, when his wife conceived precisely 5 months and 3 days, before the Annuncia­tion.

Now from the 15th of Oct. to the Annunciation March 25th are 5m. 3w. 1d.—and just so long was Elizabeth advanced in her pregnancy at the time of the Angel's Salutation to the Virgin Mother—"This is the sixth month with her who was called barren." This circumstance is hinted at afterwards by the E­vangilist, when he says,—(ch. 1. v. 56.) "Mary abode with her about three months," that is, until the 24th of June, the day which the Church celebrates as the Nativity of the Baptist.

If then the Baptist was conceived on the 15th of October, and was advanced five months, three weeks and one day, at the time of the Conception of our Lord, that is the 25th of March, the day celebrated by the Church, in commemoration of so signal a mer­cy; it follows, that the 25th of December is the true day of the Nativity of the Son of God.

And hence it is evident, that the time of the Nati­vity of our Lord hath been fairly transmitted down to us, by our forefathers, and that the Christian Church is a faithful guardain, of so inestimable a piece of chronology. God saw proper to conceal the burial place of the body of Moses, lest it should in fu­ture times become an object of adoration;—but on the body of Christ he bestowed such honor, that all the Angels of God, and the sons of men worship it;— and as the Law and the Prophets, with the divine Shekina pointed to the Birth-place of the Son of God; so the courses of the Priests offered an infallible cal­culation to point out the precise time, when the [Page 6]Word became incarnate, and took delight to be with the sons of men.

Yours, &c. WILLIAM SMITH.

A Letter to Mr. WILLIAM SMITH, of Norwalk, Connecticut, being a reply to a Letter addressed by him to Elder ELIAS LEE, of Ballston, State of New-York, upon the subject of Christmas.

SIR,

ON the 9th of February last, I received a letter from a Mr. HUBBARD, of New-Haven, in which were inclosed two copies of a printed letter addressed by you to me. In this letter you inform me, that you have seen the controversy which trans­pired last winter, between Mr. Rogers, the Episco­pal minister of this town & myself, upon the subject of Christmas; and in which also, you have attempted a flual decision of it. I confess that I was somewhat sur­prised at first, for as Mr. Rogers had represented me in a very mean and contemptable light; and also pre­tended, that he had effectually answered my argu­ments, I never expected that any Episcopal Minister would take so much [...] of me again, as to write against me upon that or any other subject; nor was I under any great concern about it. But this attempt of yours, leads me to conclude, that you consider it as a matter of great consequence to your cause, and the only means to avoid the charge of superstition, to render it certain that Jesus Christ was born upon the 25th day of December; it seems also, that you are of opinion, that your friend Rogers, with all his preten­ces is quite inadequate to this important task. Indeed, it has furnished me with one conclusion more, & that [Page 7]is, that you are sensible of so much weight in the ar­guments, and testimonies, which I produced from scripture and history, that unless you introduced this savourite point to the public in some new method; or by a circumlocution of calculation, could bring it round at a distance from those objections, it would be of no avail to undertake to support it. But as it is, whether you have spent your strength for naught, and your labour for that which fatisfieth not, the public will judge from what follows.

The sole question, to be decided between us at pre­sent is, whether there be any certainty, that the birth of Christ happened upon the 25th of December. You say there is, and have given your reasons for it. I say, that notwithstanding all you have said, there is not; and shall now proceed to give the reasons which I have for my assertion.

The first thing I shall remark in your letter, is your asserting that I said, it was a matter of indffer­ence whether the day can be ascertained or not. But sir, you should look sharper, and read with more at­tention; for though such a conclusion might be drawn from the nature of my reasoning, yet the ob­servation was made by Mr. Rogers himself, and I have only made my remarks upon it. What you have said concerning the courses of the Jewish Priests will answer you no purpose, unless you can prove that they kept an exact pace in their service, with the or­der of time in your calculation; for the argument does not depend upon the time, as being regu­lated by their service, but upon their service, as being regulated by the time; one interruption there­fore, would throw your whole system into confusion, and wholly disappoint you of finding Zacharias in the temple at the expected time. And that there have been several interruptions, is certain; for when the ark was inducted into the sacred oracle, and the tem­ple dedicated by Solomon, the priests officiated alto­gether, [Page 8]and did not wait by course. Something sim­ilar, happened also in the days of king Hezekiah; and even some who have attempted to prove by their courses, that Christ was born in September, have failed to give satisfaction, because it could not be de­termined to a certainty, what number of years passed between the restoration of the temple worship, by Judas Maccabeus, and the time that Zacharias was struck dumb; neither with what course of priests Judas began the restoration.

But after giving a statement of these courses, it seems your whole dependence for the use of them, in this controversy, is rested upon Eusebius' calculation of the 70 weeks of Daniel; should there however be an uncertainty here also, your theory will appear in a worse situation than before. And now sir, I might launch into an almost boundless abyss of calculation, but I have no inclination to venture out, nor is my lit­tle bark, by any means sufficient to pass the unset­tled ocean of cronological difficulties; and even you, with all your skill and learning, will in my opinion, soon appear to have run fast aground upon the shoals of conjecture, while you imagine, that you have safe­ly arrived at that cardinal point in the Christian aera, the certain day of our Saviour's nativity. If you are a gentleman of much reading, you cannot be ignorant, that some writers have made of these weeks 70 years; so that the whole would amount to 4000 and 900 years. Some Rabbins make of them 49 years, reckoning from one jubilee to another; so that they would consist of 3000, 400 and 30 years. Others make an hundred years of them, which would bring the whole up to 7000 years. Most interpreters however, consider them as weeks of years, which makes exactly 490 years; but even those who be­lieve the prediction marks out the time of the birth & passion of our Saviour, are exceedingly divided, as to the certain time of their beginning and ending. Some [Page 9]begin them from the 1st year of Cyrus, and end them at the destruction of the temple by the Ro­mans; but if the temple was destroyed in the year 70, or 71, as some say; then according to the bible chronology, which is as correct, and I believe the most adhered to of any, the term of time from the 1st year of Cyrus to that event, was 606, or 7 years. Others begin them from the 1st year of Darius the Mede, and end them at the birth of Christ, as near as they can come to it; but this makes an interim of 538 years. Others begin them at the 1st year of Da­rius, and conclude them at the prophanation of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, which makes a pe­riod only of 370 years. I have not read Eusebius, but according to your account, he begins them at the dedication of the second temple, and ends them with the destruction of it; but instead of 490 years, you will find the space of time between these events, to be 585 or 6 years. Julius Africanus, begins them in the 2d year of Artaxerxes, and ends them at the death of Christ, which he thinks happened in the 15th year of Tiberius. This calculation comes with­in two or three years of it, and as a learned anon­ymous writer observes, is the most rational system of any proposed by the ancients, and to which a few things excepted, the greatest part of interpreters, and Chronologers agree. I confess however, that I differ a little from it; it being plain, that both the begin­ning, and end of this period, is hinted at in the pro­phecy—Know therefore, and understand, that from the going forth of the comandment, to restore, and to build Jerusalem &c. This appers to be the substance in part, of what is couched in the foregoing verse; and taking the sense of the whole verse complete, it finishes the period at the death of Christ; for the finishing of transgression, making an end of fins, ma­king reconciliation for iniquity, bringing in everlas­ting righteousness, sealing up the vision and prophe­cy, [Page 10]and anointing the most holy, sounds to me so much like the declaration of the dying Saviour on the cross—it is finished—that I can hardly believe it re­fers to any thing else. Almost all interpreters agree that Christ died between the age of 30, and 34 years; so that if we suppose the commandment, refers to the decrees given out in the 7th year of Artaxerxes Lon­gimanus, as recorded in the 7th chap. of Ezra, which was in the year before Christ 457, and then add 33 years for the life of Christ, it makes out the 490 years exactly. There are however so many difficulties attending these different hypothesis, that it would be folly to the last degree, to pretend to find an absolute certainty in any of them; much less in that of Eu­sebius, which is as destitute of probability, and per­haps as little attended to as any one of the whole, & is therefore, but a poor foundation for you to trust to in this case.

But Sir, supposing you was quite safe hitherto, yet what follows would completely unhinge your conclu­sion, and set all afloat at once. You say that Eliza­beth conceived on the 15th of October, precisely 5 months, and 3 days before the annunciation; but ac­cording to this, the annunciation must happen on the 18th of March. You then proceed to observe, that from the 15th of October to the annunciation, March 25th, are 5 months, 3 weeks, and one day; and just so long was Elizabeth advanced in her preg­nancy, at the time of the angels salutation to the vir­gin mother—but by what rule you have made this out, I cannot tell, unless you have split some of the days and made two of them, for I cannot find from the 15th of October to the 25th of March, but 5 months, 1 week, and 3 days. I thought this at first to have been a typographical error; but finding it a little after repeated at full length, I began to search after the mystery, and soon found, that from the con­ception of Christ to his birth, you had allowed just [Page 11]23 days more than you had allowed for John in the same case. And since you calculate from the concep­tion, to find the certain time of a birth; to make such a difference between these two, must appear very ex­traordinary indeed; it seems you were therefere sen­sible that the 3 weeks and 1 day, must be thrust in somewhere between the 15th of October, and the 24th of June. Your opinion however, that the 3 months, in which Mary tarried with Elizabeth extended from the 25th of March to the period last mentioned, left no room for them there; you have therefore, croud­ed them between the 15th of October, and the annun­ciation; but as only ten days of them are there, I shall leave you to search for the other 12 wherever you can find them.

Now Sir, to make your calculation consistent with the principle you set out upon, viz. of finding the time of a birth, by the conception; if we reckon by the month, from the 25th of March to the 25th of December, and from the 15th of Octo. to the 15th of July, are just 9 months each; but if we reckon by the day, there is a difference of 2 days; and as Ma­ry visited Elizabeth about the time of the annuncia­tion, and tarried with her 3 months, until John was born, or to the 15th of July the annunciation must have happened about the 15th of April, and Christ­mas must come about the middle of January. But if you suppose that John was born on the 24th of June, then you must either insist upon it, that John was born 23 days sooner, after he was conceived, than Christ was, which will evidently destroy the principle above referred to; or frankly admit that Elizabeth conceived on the 24th of September, which will effectually operate against the order of your cal­culation, so that turn which way you will, your whole system is unhinged, and must inevitably fall to the ground. And again, if Elizabeth conceived on the 15th of Octo. and was advanced 5 months, 3 [Page 12]weeks and a day, at the time of the annunciation, as you affirm; then the annunciation must happen upon the 6th day of April, and Christmas would come of course upon the 6th of January, the precise day on which most of the Greek Fathers after the 4th centu­ry, thought the Saviour was born.

But dear Sir, where now is the infalliable calcula­tion you speak of, which renders it so certain, that the 25th of December is the true Christmas? For my part, I think it evident, that as God saw fit to conceal the Sepulchre of Moses, lest it should after­wards become an object of adoration; so he has pro­videntially obscured the day of Christ's nativity, lest it should be more reverenced by the sons of men, than Christ himself;—but notwithstanding all this, super­stition has prevailed, a day has been appointed at un­certainty, and religious devotion paid to it, in such a manner, as in my opinion, highly derogates from the honor of the ever Adorable Redeemer. It is however improbable to me, that this will have any salutary effect upon your mind; I must therefore say to you, as Paul said to the Galatians of old, "ye ob­serve days, and months, and times, and years; I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." I was thinking to make a few more re­marks, but I finally conclude to lay up my pen, till I hear something from you, upon the other observanc­es, and doctrines sacred to Episcopalians.

Yours, &c. ELIAS LEE.

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