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RESURRECTION OF CHRIST.
Acts iji. 15. And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the
dead : whereof we are wilnesses.
In the preceding discourse, I made a number of general observations concerning the miracles of Christ. The subject, which next offers itself to our view concerning this glorious Person, is his Resurrection. This interesting subject I propose now to examine with particular attention. Its importance in a system of Theology can scarcely nced to be illustrated.
If Christ was raised from the dead, he was certainly the Messiah; or, in other words, whatever he declared himself to be. His doctrines, precepts, and life, were all approved by God; possess Divine authority; and demand, with the obligation of that authority, the faith and obedience of mankind. To prove this fact, therefore, is to prove beyond a reasonable debate the truth of the Christian system.
At the same time, the arguments, which prove the reality of this miracle, lend their whole force to the other miracles, recorded in the Gospel. For this reason, I haye reserved most of the direct arguments in behalf of miracles for the present occasion.
In the context we are informed, that a certain man lame from his mother's womb, who was now more than forty years old, and who had been carried, and laid, daily, at the gate of the temple called Beautiful, to receive alms of them that entered into the temple, was cured of his lameness by the command of St. Peter. So extraordinary an event astonished the Jews, assembled to worship in the temple ; and collected them in great numbers around Peter and John. Peter, observing their astonishment, addressed to them a pertinent and very pungent discourse ; in which he informed them, that the Lord Jesus Christ, whom they had killed, and whom God had raised to life, had restored this lame man to soundness and strength. This proof of christ's Messiahship he made the foundation of an earnest and persuasive exhortation to them to repent of their sins, and turn to God. The efficacy of this discourse on those, who heard it, was wonderful. About five thousand men received it with the faith of the Gospel, and were added unto the Lord.
In the text, (the hinge on which all this discourse of St. Peter turns) he declares to the Jews the three following things.
1st. That they had killed the Prince of life :
2dly. That God had raised him from the dead : and,
3dly. That the Apostle himself and his companions were witnesses of this wonderful event.
The first of these assertions has very rarely been doubted. I know of but a single instance, in which it has been denied in form. Volney has made a number of silly observations, intended to persuade the world, that Christ never existed; and that the history of him, contained in the Gospel, is a fiction, compiled, with some variations and improvements, from the Hindoo tales concerning the God Creeshnoo. I will not attempt a serious answer to such nonsense. Infidelity must be pitied, when it is driven to such fetches as this, in order to support itself, and maintain its contest. with Christianity.
The second assertion has been often disputed; as, indeed, it must always be by every man, who denies the revelation of the Scriptures, or the mission of Christ. It is the design of this discourse to state the evidence concerning the great fact, here declared, with candour and fairness. It demands no other manner of statement : as will, I trust, be sufficiently evinced in the prosecution of this design. As the proof of this fact is almost all furnished by the Apostles, and their companions; the witnesses appointed by Christ himself; the evidence, alleged here, will of course be principally derived from them. It will be unnecessary, therefore, to make the two last assertions of St. Peter the subjects of distinct heads of discourse.
If the Apostles have not given us a true account concerning tho resurrection of Christ, it must be,
1. Because they were themselves deceived: or, II. Because they intended to deceive others.
For if they were not themselves deceived, but knew the truth, and have faithfully declared it in their writings; the plainest and most ignorant man cannot fail to discern, that Christ was certainly raised from the dead. That neither of these suppositions is just, I shall now attempt to prove.
1. Then, the Apostles were not themselves deceived with regard to This fact.
In support of this assertion I observe,
1st. The fact is of such a nature, that they were competent judges, whether it existed, or not.
In the nature of the case, it is just as easy to determine, whether a person, once dead, is afterwards alive, as to determine whether any man is living, who has not been dead. A familiar instance will prove the justice of this assertion. Suppose a person, who was an entire stranger to us, should come into the family, in which we live. Suppose he should reside in this family, eat and drink, sleep and wake, coriverse and act with them, exactly in the manner in which these things are done by us, and the rest of mankind. Suppose him, further, to enter into business in the manner of other Vol. II.
men; to cultivate a farm; or manage causes at the bar; or practice medicine; or assume the office of a minister, and preach, visit, advise, and comfort, as is usually done in discharging the duties of this function. Every one of us, who witnessed these things, would, beyond a doubt, know this stranger to be a living man, in the same manner, ard with the same certainty, with which we know each other to be alive.
The proofs of life, in this and every other case, are the colour, the motions, the actions, and the speech, of a living man. These we discern perfectly by our senses, under the general regulation of Common sense. The proofs, thus furnished, are complete ; and, when united, as in a living man they always are, they have never deceived, they can never deceive, any man, who has the customary use of his senses.
As these are complete proofs of the facts in question, so they are always equally complete. The evidence, which they contain, admits of no gradations; but is always entire; always the same; and in every supposable case perfectly satisfactory. Nor is there an instance within our experience, nor an instance in the records of history, which has impaired this evidence at all; or rendered it capable of being even remotely suspected.
Were this evidence not entire in every instance, considered by itself; were it capable of being suspected in the smallest degree; we should be obliged, when we met, conversed, or bargained, with each other, to settle the question, whether we were mutually living beings. The Farmer would be obliged, before he bought a piece of land of his neighbour, to settle by a formal investigation the question, whether he was about to buy it of a real man, or a phantom of the imagination. The Judge, when called upon to try a prisoner, would in the same manner be compelled, before he began the trial, to decide, whether he had brought to him for adjudication, a living being, or a spectre.
The religious Assembly would be equally necessitated to examine, whether such an Assembly was really gathered, and whether a real and living preacher was in the desk; or whether what seemed to be a preacher, and a congregation, were only the phantasms of a waking dream.
As these proofs are in every instance complete; so they are the only evidence of the fact in question. If then they can deceive us, we are left wholly without a remedy: for we have no other possible mode of coining to the knowledge of the fact.
To the case of the stranger, whom I have supposed, all these proofs have obviously a perfect application. We know as well as we can possibly know, we know beyond any possible doubt, that he is a living man. But we do not, and cannot know, that he has never been dead, and afterward raised to life. To prove this, we must be supplied with totally new evidence, derived from totally other sources, than any hitherto supposed to be furnished by him. The evidence, therefore, that he is a living man, is wholly independent of the fact, that he has, or has not, been raised from the dead; and is, by itself, absolutely complete. If, then, we should be afterwards informed, with evidence which could not be questioned, that this stranger had been actually dead, and buried, and had been afterwards raised to life: the evidence, which we had before received, that he was a living man, from the time when we first became acquainted with him, could not in the least degree be affected by the fact, that he had before been dead. The story of his death and resurrection we should undoubtedly admit, if we acted rationally, only with extreme slowness and caution, and upon decisive evidence. But no one of us would, or could, hesitate to believe the man, circumstanced as above, to 'be alive. Otherwise, it is plain, we could not know, that any man is alive: for all the proofs, which can attend this subject, actually attend it in the case supposed. If, therefore, the evidence can be justly doubted in one case, it can with equal propriety be doubted in all.
That the Apostles possessed all the means of judging accurately concerning the existence, and the nature, of these proofs, cannot be denied. They were possessed of the common sense, and had the usual senses, of man. No judges could be better qualified for this purpose. Had Newton, Bacon, or Aristotle, been employed in examining these proofs, they must have used exactly the same means of examination, which were used by Peter and John. Had they summoned Philosophy to their assistance, it could only have told them, that it had no concern with cases of this nature.
2dly. The Apostles were unprejudiced Judges.
Enthusiasm is a persuasion, that certain religious doctrines are true, derived from a peculiar strength of imagination and feeling, relying on internal suggestions supposed to come from God, and not relying on facts, or arguments. In the whole history, preaching, and writings, of the Apostles, there is not the least appearance of this character. According to their own accounts of themselves, (which in this case we readily believe, because, in their view, they were accounts of their defects) they were slow of belief, even to weakness and criminality. For this conduct they were often, and justly, reproved by their Master; and as we see in their writings, received his declarations with difficulty, when their evidence was complete. Nor were they finally convinced, even when uninfluenced by this sceptical spirit, except by evidence of the best kind; to wit, that of facts. These also existed before their eyes and ears, in the presence of multitudes, and enemies, who were equally convinced with themselves. Nor were they witnesses of such facts, once, twice, or a few times, only: but beheld them in an uninterrupted succession for several years. Had they not yielded to them in such circumstances, they must have been either idiots, or madmen.
Enthusiasts also appeal to their internal suggestions. as a proof, which plainly ought, in their view, to satisfy others. The Apostles have never made such an appeal; nor demanded belief on any other considerations, except those, which reason, in the highest exercise, perfectly approves.
Enthusiasts always boast of the leaders, whom they professedly follow. The Apostles, although following the most extraordinary leader ever seen in the world, have written the history of his life, without a single panegyric, and recorded the unparalleled injustice, abuse, and cruelty, which he suffered from his enemies, both in his life and death, with only a single, direct censure of those enemies, contained in these words: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
Enthusiasts always boast of their own excellencies, and atlainments.
The Apostles had higher reason for such boasting, than ever fell to the lot of men. They set up a new religion ; and to the belief and profession of it converted a great part of mankind. They wrought, or were certainly believed to work, miracles of the most stupendous nature; rose to an influence, which Kings never possessed; and ruled more human beings, than most monarchs have been able to claim as their subjects. To this height of influence they ascended, also, from the humble employments of fishing, collecting taxes, and making tents. How few of the human race, nay, who, beside these very men, would not have become giddy in the ascent from such a lowly condition to-such distinguished eminence. Yet Matthew records nothing of himself, except that he was a publican; that he followed Christ; and that he once entertained him at his table. Mark and Luke do not even mention their own names. John says nothing of himself by way of commendation, unless that he was the disciple, whom Jesus loved ; and this he expresses obscurely, in the most modest manner conceivable. Indeed, the subject of self-commendation seems never to have entered their thoughts.
There is, I acknowledge, one apparent exception to this remark in the writings of the Apostles. I mean St. Paul's commendation of himself to the Corinthian Church. This, however, is prefaced with a quotation from the Old Testament as the word of God; in which it is declared, that not he who commendeth himself is approve ed, but he whom the Lord commendeth. He then pronounces boasting to be folly ; and declares himself to be compelled to this folly by the Corinthian Church; because some of its members had denied his Apostleship: a denial, fraught with the utmost mischief to the Christian cause, and particularly in that city. The things, which he recites, are calculated in the most perfect manner to establish his character as an Apostle, and to refute the unworthy calumnies, which they had uttered against him. At the same time, they are accompanied with such proofs of ingenuousness,