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1. We learn with pleasure, from this part of the gospel history, that our master was not deserted by all his friends, in the last moments of his life. His twelve disciples forsook him and fled, when he was first apprehended. Of those two whom a sense of shame brought back to him, and who followed at a distance, to see what would become of him, one publicly denied having any connection with him, and retired from sight, full of fear, shame and remorse: the multitude, who once followed him with their hosannas, all disappeared, or joined his enemies in reviling him: yet, amidst this combination of enemies and desertion of friends, there were a few who ventured to discover their attachment, by attending upon him while upon the cross, and exposing themselves to all the odium of being called his disciples; and, to the honour of the female sex, those few were women, who displayed more fortitude and courage, on this occasion, than those who boast of it as the characteristic excellence of their peculiar constitution. These women would not forsake him, while there appeared any remains of life; and they afterwards followed to see him laid in the tomb. This, although a silent, was a public testimony to the merit of the suf. ferer, and must have afforded hiin consolation in the agony of death. These marks of attachment proceeded from the most honourable motives, from esteem for his character, and gratitude for benefits received : such instances of virtuous conduct afford us the more satisfaction, as they appear amidst so many affecting examples of weakness and depravity: they show that however human nature may be degraded in some men by cowardice, malice and cruelty, it is capable of fortitúde, gratitude and friendship; and thus they vindicate the character of the Almighty from any aspersions, on account of the vices of his offspring.
2. We may observe how vain are the efforts of man, in opposition to the designs of God, or rather how lie makes use of that opposition for accomplishing more effectually his own purposes. By putting Jesus to death, the chief priests and rulers of the Jews thought they had effectually crushed their enemy: but God takes occasion hence to raise him from the dead, and to exalt him to greater dignity and power than before. By a public crucifixion, by inflicting upon a pretended prophet the most ignominious of punishments, they thought that they had for ever disgraced his pretensions, and effectually discouraged his disciples: but a public execution, by affording the best evidence of his death, established the truth of his resurrection from the dead. By placing a guard of soldiers at his tomb, and sealing the stone with their own seal, they hoped to destroy the credit of every report which might afterwards prevail about his resurrection: but this proved the means of making it believed. So compleatly were they baffled in all their attempts to oppose the will of Heaven; and so effectually did Providence over-rule these attempts for accomplishing what they were intended to defeat !
If we remember these circumstances, we shall cease, to be offended at the cross of Christ: on the contrary, we shall still find it to be the power of God and the wisdom of God. To suffer a person who had lived in so innocent and exemplary a manner to die like a malefactor, by cruel torments and a public execution, may appear, at first view, inconsistent with that equity and goodness which we ascribe to the Divine proceedings : but if we consider that the resurrection of Christ from the dead, was necessary to prove the resurrection of his followers, and that in order to prove the certainty of Christ's resurrection, it was necessary to ascertain his death, we shall then see the necessity of his dying in a public manner, in the presence both of friends and enemies, so as to leave no doubt of the fact: hence the necessity of his being crucified; for in no other way could this circumstance be so well ascertained. By this consideration the mystery of the cross is unfolded; and the plan of Providence respecting Jesus compleatly justified. 3. From what has taken place in regard to the death of Christ, let us learn to rely upon the wisdom of Divine Providence under the most unpromising circumstances, Nothing could appear more unlikely than that the doctrine of one who died upon the cross as a malefactor, should meet with a general reception, and overthrow every other system of religious faith which had been established in the world for so many ages: yet this we find to be the case: Providence employed that very circumstance as the principal mean of accomplishing this important design: it was brought about by the cross of Christ. However melancholy and alarming then our situation may be, either as a nation or as individuals, let us not give up ourselves to despair: God can bring light out of darkness, and good out of seeming evil. Let us chearfully trust in him, and wait patiently for the time when his plan shall be unravelled.
Matt. xxviii. 1----10.
1. In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, or rather after the end of the week, as the first day of the next week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre.
The Jewish Sabbath ended at six o'clock on Saturday night; agreeably to that command of the Mosaic law, Lev. xxiii. 52, « from even to even shall ye
celebrate your sabbath:” this period, which was the end of the sabbath, was also the end of one week and the beginning of another: it is of this time, which corresponds to our Sunday morning, that the evangelist here speaks, and at which the women went to the sepulchre: their object in going thither so early was to know whether the body remained there; intending, if they found it there, to return, and to embalm it with the spices which they had provided, as soon as possible. This was necessary in order to render that process effectual to the purpose for which it was designed, viz. the preservation of the body from putrefaction: they seem to have imagined that Jesus was taken from the cross, and laid in this new sepulchre, only out of regard to the Sabbath, and that it was the intention of his friends to remove him to some other place afterwards. It is plain therefore that they had heard nothing of the guard of soldiers, which had been placed there, and of the scal which had been affixed to the stone.
2. And behold there was, or rather there had been, for these things had taken place before the women came there, a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord had descended from heaven, and gone and rolled back the stone from the door, from the entrance, and was sitting upon it.
The same almighty power which raised Christ from the dead could have removed the stone which confined him, without the ministration of an angel: but the appearance of this angel, and the earthquake which preceded it, were necessary to strike terror into the guard, and to prevent them from attempting to detain Jesus after he was risen; which they might have been inclined to do in consequence of the strict charge which they had received, when set to watch. As these extraordinary appearances took place before the women came to the sepulchre, the evangelist must have acquired the knowledge of them from some other source: inost probably from some of the soldiers, who although paid to keep silence, might yet divulge the secret, or might have mentioned these circumstances before they were bribed by the priests and elders. Matthew has not told us the exact time when Jesus was raised to life, whether it was during the earthquake, before or after the descent of the angel; nor is it a matter of any importance to be informed when it happened.
3. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow.
That is, light darted from his countenance, as it does from the lightning; and his clothes were perfectly luminous. It is generally supposed that this angel was one of a superior order of beings, who have their general residence with God in heaven, but who are occasionally sent down to perform services for him in this world: others have supposed that, as this appearance had the figure and voice of a man, he was no more than a man miraculously created for the occasion by divine power, and said to descend from heaven because he
appeared to come from the sky or air.
4. And, for fear of him, the keepers, the guard, did shake and become as dead men.
That is, The soldiers trembled through fear, and became as incapable of moving from the ground upon which they stood, as if they had been dead men : not that they actually swooned away, as some have supposed; this effect seems to have been produced entirely by the angels splendid and supernatural appearance; for we do not find that he spoke to them at all. They probably expected that he was come to execute signal vengeance upon them,
5. And the angel answered, and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus which was crucified.
The women were alarmed, as well as the guards, by the appearance of this extraordinary stranger, who, al. though he had lost much of that splendour which terrified those who beheld him, still retained enough to denote a supernatural origin. While they stood at a distance, through fear, or were upon the point of retir