Thomson’s “Harmony of the Four Gospels” was
published in 1815. Did Jefferson show any interest
in this “Synopsis of the Four Evangelists?”

In 1815 Thomson’s “Harmony of the Four Gospels” appeared, the Title Page, reading:

“A Synopsis of the Four Evangelists; by Charles Thomson. Philadelphia: Published for the Author, William McCulloch,
Printer, 1815.”

Thomson compiled the important sayings and events in the life of Christ. He arranged all such passages according to the dates, places, and circumstances, employing a literal translation of the very words of the Evangelists.

In 1816, the Sage of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson, wrote to Thomson:

“This work bears the stamp of that accuracy which marks everything from you, and will be useful to them who, not taking things on trust, read for themselves to the fountain of pure morals. I too have made a wee book from the same materials which I call the ‘Philosophy of Jesus.’ ”

Jefferson, like Thomson, in the closing years of his life, spent much time meditating upon the Bible and Christianity. In 1803 he made a comparison of the genuine ethics, or – moral teachings of Jesus Christ, as opposed to the false ethics of the ancient philosophers.

Thomson had been an elder in the First Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, but in 1801 he wrote, when speaking of the progress of his Bible translation,

“Attached to no system nor peculiar tenets of any sect or party, I have sought for Truth with the utmost ingenuity.”

In 1803, Jefferson declared that his whole life had been devoted to an inquiry and reflection on the Christian religion. As a result he found that Christ had,

“pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.”

After Jefferson had disestablished the Anglican state-controlled Church in Virginia, with his 1786 Statutes for Religious Freedom – thus allowing other Christian Protestant denominations to worship in their own mode – he was attacked and criticized by the demoted clergy. Jefferson wrote to his friend, Thomson, on this subject in January, 1817:

“Say nothing of my religion; it is known to myself and my God alone; its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life; if that has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one. It is a singular anxiety which some people have that we should all think alike. Would the world be more beautiful were all our faces alike? Were our tempers, our talents, our tastes, our forms, our wishes, aversions and pursuits cast exactly in the same mold? If no varieties existed in the animal, vegetable, or mineral creation, but all move strictly uniform, catholic and orthodox, what a world of physical and moral monotony would it be! These are the absurdities into which those run who usurp the Throne of God, and dictate to Him what He should have done. May they with all their metaphysical riddles appear before that tribunal with as clean hands and hearts as you and I shall. There, suspended in the scales of eternal justice, faith and works will show their worth by their weight.”

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