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The judge perceiving the disposition of the company, thought it a proper time to begin, and called out, Gentlemen of the jury, take your places; and immediately seated himself at the upper end of the table : The company sat round him, and the judge called upon the counsel for Woolston to begin.
Mr. A. Counsel for Woolston, addressing himself to the judge, said, May it please your lordship; I conceive the
gentleman on the other side ought to begin, and lay his evidence, which he intends to maintain, before the court; till that is done, it is to no purpose for me to object. I may perhaps object to something which he will not admit to be any part of his evidence, and therefore, I apprehend, the evidence ought in the first place to be distinctly stated.
Judge. Mr. B. what say you to that?
My lord, if the evidence I am to maintain, were to support any new claim, if I were to gain any thing which I am not already possessed of, the gentleman would be in the right; but the evidence is old, and is matter of record, and I have been long in possession of all that I claim under it. If the gentleman has any thing to say to dispossess me, let him produce it ; otherwise I have no reason to bring my own title into question. And this I take to be the known method of proceeding in such cases; no man is obliged to produce his title to his
possession; it is sufficient if he maintains it when it is called in question.
Mr. A. Surely, my lord, the gentleman mistakes the case : I can never admit myself to be out of possession of my understanding and reason ; and since he would put me out of this possession, and compel me to admit things incredible, in virtue of the evidence he maintains, he ought to set forth his claim, or leave the world to be directed by common sense.
Judge. Sir, you say right, upon supposition that the truth of the christian religion were the point in judgment. In that case it would be necessary to produce the evidence for the christian religion; but the matter now before the court is, whether the objections produced by Mr. Woolston, are of weight to overthrow the evidence of Christ's resurrection, You see then the evidence of the resurrection is supposed to be what it is on both sides, and the thing immediately in judgment, is the value of the objections, and therefore they must be set forth. The court will be bound to take notice of the evidence, which is admitted as a fact on both parts. Go on, Mr. A.
Mr. A. My lord, I submit to the direction of the court. I cannot but observe that the gentleman on the other side, unwilling as he seems to be to state his evidence, did not forget to lay in his claim to prescription, which is, perhaps, in truth, though he has too much skill to own it, the very strength
of his cause. I do allow that the gentleman maintains nothing but what his father, and grandfather, and his ancestors, beyond time of man's memory, maintained before him: I allow too, that prescription in many cases makes a good title; but it must always be with this condition, that the thing is capable of being prescribed for: and I insist, that the prescription cannot run against reason and common
Customs may be pleaded by prescription; but if, upon shewing the custom, any thing unreasonable appears in it, the prescription fails, for length of time works nothing towards the establishing any thing that could never have a legal commencement. And if this objection will overthrow all prescriptions for customs; the mischief of which extends perhaps to one poor village only, and affects them in no greater a concern, than their right of common upon a ragged mountain ; shall it not much more prevail, when the interest of mankind is concerned, and in no less a point than his happiness in this life, and in all his hopes for futurity ? Besides, if prescription must be allowed in this case, how will you deal with it in others ? What will you say to the ancient Persians, and their fire-altars? Nay, what to the Turks, who have been long enough in possession of their faith to plead
Mr. B. I beg pardon for interrupting the gentleman. But it is to save him trouble. He is going into his favourite common-place, and has brought us from Persia to Turkey already; and if he goes
I know we must follow him round the globe. To save us from this long journey, I'll wave all advantage from the antiquity of the resurrection, and the general reception the belief of it has found in the world ; and am content to consider it as a fact which happened but last year, and was never heard of either by the gentleman's grandfather, or by mine.
Mr. A. I should not have taken quite so long a journey as the gentleman imagines, nor, indeed, need any man go so far from home to find instances to the purpose I was upon. But since this advantage is quitted; I am as willing to spare my pains, as the gentleman is desirous that I should. And yet I suspect some art even in this concession, fair and candid as it seems to be. For I am persuaded that one reason, perhaps the main reason, why men believe this history of Jesus, is, that they cannot conceive that any one should attempt, much less succeed in such an attempt as this, upon the foundation of mere human cunning and policy; and it is worth the while to go round the globe, as the gentleman expressed himself, to see various instances of the like kind, in order to remove this prejudice. But I stand corrected, and will go directly to the point now in judgment.
Mr. B. My lord, the gentleman in justification of his first argument has entered upon another of a very different kind. I think he is sensible of it, and seeming to yield up one of his popular topics, is indeed artfully getting rid of another; which has made
a very good figure in many late writings, but will not bear in any place, where he who maintains it may be asked questions. The mere antiquity of the resurrection I gave up; for if the evidence was not good at first, it cannot be good now.
The gentleman is willing, he says, to spare us his history of ancient errors, and intimates, that upon this account he passes over many instances of frauds that were like in circumstances to the case before'us. By no means, my lord, let them be passed over. I would not have the main strength of his cause betrayed in complaisance to me. Nothing can be more material than to shew a fraud of this kind, that prevailed universally in the world. Christ Jesus declared himself a prophet, and put the proof of his mission on this, that he should die openly and publicly, and rise again the third day. This surely was the hardest plot in the world to be managed ; and if there be one instance of this kind, or in any degree like it, by all means let it be produced.
Mr. A. My lord, there has hardly been an instance of a false religion in the world, but it has also afforded a like instance to this before us. Have they not all pretended to inspiration ? Upon what foot did Pythagoras, Numa, and others, set up? Did they not all converse with the Gods, and pretend to deliver oracles ?
Mr. B. This only shews that revelation is, by the common consent of mankind, the very best foundation of religion, and therefore every impostor pre