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However, some judicious commentators have been of opinion, that this very resurrection is intended, and foretold by our Lord, in those words, recorded in John v. 25. "Verily I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." And indeed our Lord does afterwards speak of the general resurrection, as a distinct thing from what is there mentioned. For he says, at ver. 28, 29: "Marvel not at this. For the hour is coming, when all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and come forth."
Seventhly, and lastly, we are to observe the uses of this miracle.
Doubtless, it was of advantage to some: though the resurrection of these persons, like that of Lazarus, might be without effect to others. But to their pious relatives, and divers others, who were serious and attentive, their return to life was matter of great joy, and an additional confirmation of their faith now, and all their days. They were hereby confirmed in the persuasion, that Jesus was the Christ, and in the belief of all the truths of his religion. And they were strengthened and animated for the trials and difficulties, which they might meet with in the profession of his name. Of such use was the resurrection of these persons to those who attended to it, as well as other miracles of Jesus, and the extraordinary appearances in his favour.
We will now make some reflections, suited to this argument.
1. We may perceive a great agreement between the life and the death of Jesus.
How great and excellent he was in his death, was lately shewn. He does also in all appear to be the beloved of the Father. There were testimonials to his dignity at his birth, and afterwards at his baptism, and in the course of his ministry, and when he was gloriously transformed on the mount. Nor were there wanting extraordinary testimonials of the divine favour and approbation during the dark and gloomy scene of his last sufferings. Even then "he was not alone. But the Father was with him," John xvi. 32. Soon after which he was raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven. And many wonderful works were done in his name by his apostles. Such was the regard shewn to him, who was the Messiah, the well-beloved Son of God, and the desire of all nations.
2. It cannot but be pleasing to observe the mildness of all the wonderful works performed by Christ, and done in his favour.
His own miracles were healing and beneficent. His power was shewn in restoring health, or limbs, or senses, or life. Scarce any miracle detrimental, except that one emblematical miracle of withering a barren fig tree.
It is the same at his death. This most excellent person, to whom so many then living were indebted for the most valuable benefits, is betrayed, apprehended, con lemned, insulted, derided, crucified. How aggravated, how commplicated was the iniquity of those proceedings! How grievous must those indignities have been to the innocent sufferer! and how offensive in the sight of the supreme Lord of all! And the divine displeasure was manifested. There was universal darkness over the land of Israel for three hours: the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom: the earth too was shaken, and rocks were rent. Awful and affecting events! And yet no dwellings were overturned, nor men swallowed up. The earthquake was preternatural, and reached so far as God appointed, and no farther, without doing any damage. And moreover, when Jesus dies, or when he riseth again, the tombs are not only opened by the shaking of the earth, but many saints also are awakened and restored to life.
The divine wisdom, power and goodness are here very conspicuous. And every sincere Christian has reason to triumph, and glory in the evidences of the truth of his religion. The doctrine is reasonable, the promises are most gracious and comprehensive, and the evidences of its truth are affecting, forcible and convincing, yet mild and beneficent.
3. The testimonials given from heaven to the authority and dignity of the Lord Jesus, during his painful and ignominious sufferings, should induce us to shew him all honour and reverence.
Let us be cautious of despising or slighting him, or any of his sayings. Let us not dare to speak a word, or admit a hard thought against the Son of man, who was also the Son of God: who suffered so meekly and so greatly and who whilst he was despised and abused by mistaken and prejudiced men, had honourable testimonials from him, who is Lord of heaven and earth.
Nor let any of us, who bear the character of his disciples and followers, by an unworthy behaviour, or by leaving and forsaking him, expose him again to shame and reproach.
Finally, Let these meditations on the greatness as well as meekness of Jesus under sufferings,
and the testimonials of divine favour and approbation then given him, inspire us with courage and resolution in the profession of his name, and the performance of the duties he has enjoined upon us, whatever reproaches or other disadvantages our fidelity to him may bring upon us: not doubting of a happy issue, and that if we suffer with him, or for him, we shall reign with him hereafter and that, if we now honour him, (though not altogether as he deserves, and we sometimes could wish, when our hearts are affected with the greatness of his love) he will honour and glorify us with himself in the kingdom of his Father.
THE ROMAN SOLDIERS AND THE JEWISH RULERS.
And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money to the soldiers. Saying: Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away whilst we slept. Matt. xxviii. 12, 13.
Ar the end of the preceding chapter, we are informed by the evangelist, that at the request of Joseph of Arimathea, Pilate granted him the body of Jesus after he had been crucified. "And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalen, and the other Mary sitting over against the sepulchre. Now the next day that followed the day of the preparation" (by which must be understood the sabbath, the seventh day of the week) "the chief priests and pharisees," or some of them, a deputation from the council, "came together to Pilate, saying: Sir, we remember, that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command, therefore, that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead. So the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them: Ye have a watch. Go your way, make it as sure as you can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, scaling the stone, and setting a watch." The guard would prevent violence. And the seal would be a security against any fraud of the soldiers, in confederacy with the disciples, if that could have been suspected.
Then at the beginning of the twenty-eighth chapter. "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn, toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre. And behold," a short time before their arrival, there was, or had been," a great earthquake. For the angel of the Lord decended from heaven, and came, and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the keepers, "the guards," did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered, and said unto the women: Fear not ye. For I know, that ye seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here. For he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples, that he is risen from the deadAnd as they went to tell his disciples, behold Jesus met them, saying: All hail. And they came, and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them: Be not afraid. Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee. And there shall they see me. Now when they were going, behold some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all things that were done."
By this account it appears that our Saviour's resurrection, and the preparations for it, were gradual. "There was a great earthquake: an angel descended from heaven, and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. For fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men." Now, at this instant, or soon after, the blessed Jesus arose, and came out of the tomb. Whether the guards saw the Lord come out of the sepulchre, and pass by them, is not altogether certain.
The evangelist's expressions are strong. "For fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men." It seems that they fainted, or fell into a swoon. If our Lord came out at that instant, they did not see him. But if they were recovered before he came out, and they saw him, they might be still under such an awe, as to let him pass leisurely and unmolested. For the first sight of a man returned to life, who had been dead and crucified, would be exceeding surprising. And the late earthquake, and the majestic appearance of the angel, still in view, who also, as may be supposed, shewed our Lord marks of subjection and reverence, as he passed, might make such impressions, as would restrain rudeness and violence.
If they did not see our Lord come out of the tomb, and pass by them; when they had recovered themselves from their fright, and looked round them, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, and that the body was gone, and they could make no doubt that the person whom they were set to guard was come to life.
From the order of the evangelist's narration we also perceive that our Lord had been raised to life some while before the soldiers came to the Jewish high priests. When the body was gone undoubtedly they had no farther business at the sepulchre. But it might require some time to recover themselves from the consternation they had been in: and before they went off they would look well about them. After which, as it seems, they retired to some house and rested themselves, and endeavoured to settle the account which they should carry to those who had employed them. Nor could they know how to find the chief priests so early in the morning. When they had access unto them, "they shewed unto them all the things that had been done :" that is, they told them that whilst they were watching at the sepulchre at such an hour, there 'was a great earthquake, that they saw a certain being resembling human shape, clothed in a garment uncommonly white, his countenance exceeding bright and shining, who with amazing swiftness descended from heaven, and that at the sight of him they were seized with great • consternation. He rolled away the stone, and opened the sepulchre. The body was gone, ⚫ and the man was certainly alive again.'
For vindicating themselves they added: They did not believe any others would have ⚫ behaved better. Who, but must have been in pain for their lives, when the earth trembled under them and around them? and when there appeared some god, or celestial being, from 'whose countenance issued flashes of lightning? If the body was gone, they could not help it. They were set to guard against the deceit and violence of men. But they were not able to 'contend with beings of a superior order.'
This was a disagreeable story to the high priests and very unfortunately for their cause, the soldiers had not come directly to them: they had stayed by the way and the high priests were justly apprehensive, that the account now brought to them, had been already divulged to others.
In so perplexing an emergency these chief priests thought it best to convene the whole sanhedrim. So it follows: "And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel," or deliberated and consulted what to do," they gave large money to the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came and stole him away whilst we slept. And, if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught. And this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”
The summary remarks of a judicious writer upon this history are to this purpose. The 'priests and pharisees must be thought a strange stupid sort of creatures, if they did not examine where the apostles were all night: beside many other particulars, which might have been a thread to lead them into strict inquiries, unless it was because they believed the report that 'the watch had brought them of Christ's rising again. When they had this certain reason to
a If it should be asked, how could the evangelist be assured of all this, and be able to relate these things so distinctly: I should answer, that the solution is very obvious. Some of the apostles, or other disciples of Jesus, had this account from the soldiers themselves, or others to whom they had related it. There was an interval of several hours between the opening the sepulchre and our Lord's resurrection, and their coming to the Jewish rulers. In that space they had much discourse among themselves about the things which had happened, and which had caused them so great surprise. And they had
related them to several. It is also very observable, that the whole band did not attend upon the chief priests, but a part only. Matt. xxviii. 11. "Some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done." Nor is it needful to suppose that the soldiers, who had been bribed by the Jewish council, were strictly obedient to their orders, and never said any thing but what they had been taught, when they knew otherwise.
Burnet.upon the Articles, p. 64.
believe it, and yet resolved to oppose it; the only thing they could do, was to seem to neglect the matter, and only to decry it in general as an imposture, without going into particulars. Which certainly they would not have done, if they themselves had not been too sure of the 'truth of it.'
"His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept."
I propose to show the falsehood and improbability of this report.
And then I shall add some observation upon this history of the evangelist.
Concerning the first, it may be thought, that I am about to take needless pains, the saying being so very absurd. And indeed, it is well that it deserves little regard, and that it appears so to us, after having carefully attended to the evidence of our Saviour's resurrection. But as "this saying was commonly reported among the Jews," it may be worth the while to show in some particulars, how unlikely it is, and that it could not be then much regarded by any, but such as were very weak, or very much prejudiced.
1. It is very unlikely that a guard of Roman soldiers should sleep upon duty.
For the Roman discipline was extremely strict. Such a thing would be improbable among any people, especially among the Romans. And for certain, they who set them here gave them a strict charge to be vigilant. Nor was there any long or tedious service required of them. The whole season of their attendance could not, at the utmost, much exceed four and twenty hours. The sabbath was begun when they were placed at the sepulchre. And soon after the sabbath was over, the body, which they were to take care of, was gone, and they came down into the city to let the high priests and Jewish rulers know what had happened.
2. The absurdity of this report is manifest from itself.
For men cannot say what is done when they are asleep. If the disciples had attempted to take the body away, and they knew it, they must have been awake, and could, and would have prevented it. If they were asleep, they deserved to be punished. But they could not make any credible report of what was done whilst they were in that condition. If the body was carried off whilst they were asleep, they could not say by whom it was done. Whatever happened at that time must have been altogether unknown to them.
3. If the guard of soldiers had fallen asleep as they were watching at the sepulchre, they must have awaked if any attempt had been made to steal away the body.
For the body had been laid in a new tomb hewn out in a rock. And a large stone was laid at the door of it. And after that the Jewish high priests had seen it securely fastened. It was impossible, in an ordinary way, that the sepulchre should be opened, and the body in it taken thence, without a good deal of noise, which must have awakened such as were near.
4. The remaining of the burial clothes affords proof that the body was not removed by friends or other men.
The women, who had been at the sepulchre, came to the disciples, and told them what they had seen. Luke xxiv. 12. "Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre: and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself. He beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves." The meaning of the original word, I think, is this: He saw nothing but the linen clothes lying.' Or, he saw the linen clothes only lying on the ground.'
This is more particularly related by St. John xx. 1-8, who gives an account of his own and Peter's going together to the sepulchre. "Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together. And the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying. Yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre. And he saw, and believed."
This circumstance is a proof that the body was not stolen away by the disciples, or other friends, nor by common robbers, nor by any other persons. Whoever came upon such a design, would have been in a hurry, and would have executed their design with all possible expedition: whereas here are marks of leisure and composure.
• Et quis credet, tot milites, vigiliis perpetuis assuetos, circumfusos sepulchro, in re tanti momenti, summæque expectationis jacuisse omnes quasi lethargo sepultos? Pol. Syn.
5. It is not conceivable, that the stealing away, or the clandestine removal of the body of Jesus, could answer any purpose whatever; therefore it was not thought of nor attempted by any.
I presume it was not intended or attempted by enemies: for it must have best answered their purpose that the body should remain where it had been laid; and, if produced on the fourth day after the death of Jesus, it would have overthrown all reports of his resurrection.
Nor is it conceivable that it should answer any design of the disciples: for what could they have done thereupon? By stealing away the body they would have been guilty of a great offence, and would have been liable to a heavy punishment. What expectation could they have had of support and defence either from God or men, in asserting and teaching the resurrection of Jesus, which they knew to be a lie and falsehood?
6. There does not appear any where in this history, any intimation of the disciples' expecting the resurrection of Jesus: therefore they did not contrive any account of his being risen, nor had they beforehand any thought of it, till they had more than sufficient evidence of that event.
If the disciples had in their minds contrived a design of the resurrection of Jesus, some hints would have appeared in the gospels of their having an expectation of it. There is a long and particular account in the gospels, written by four several persons, in which the tempers, and designs, and actions of various sorts of persons are exhibited during our Lord's prosecution, crucifixion and burial: but not any the least notice, or opening of such an expectation in the minds of any of the disciples. When our Lord is apprehended, the disciples flee and abscond. Peter, who goes into the hall of the high priest, is so affrighted when challenged, that he disowns all acquaintance with Jesus. When" the women," who had been first at the sepulchre, "returned," as St. Luke says, ch. xxiv. 9-11, "and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest, their words seemed unto them as idle tales, and they believed them not." And afterwards, in the evening of that day, as two of the company of the disciples were going to Emmaus, when Jesus came to them, as a stranger, and asked them, "What manner of communications are these, that ye have one to another, and are sad ?" they tell him "concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in word and deed, whom the chief priests and rulers had delivered to be condemned, and had crucified. But we trusted," say they, "that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel. And beside all this, to-day is the third day since these things were done yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre."-And thus they go on till our Lord interrupts them, "and says to them: Ó fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?"
Nor does the expectation of our Lord's resurrection appear in any others. But all were thrown into a state of dejection and despondency upon the death of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus bury the body, as if it were to lie there till the general resurrection. And the third day after his crucifixion, the women that had shown him so much respect before, come to show it again, by more completely embalming his body.
Since therefore there is not any where betrayed an expectation beforehand of his rising from the dead, the story of his resurrection is not a contrivance of the disciples. Nor did they remove the body, that they might with the better assurance give out, that he was risen.
7. This saying of the guard must have been false, forasmuch as no punishment was inflicted upon any for taking away the body.
This was their saying. This is what the Jewish council directed. They gave large money to the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away, whilst we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.'
If this saying be true, here were two great and heinous offences, deserving a severe punishment. The guard of soldiers slept when they were upon duty.' That is the first offence. The disciples came my night, and stole him away: another very great offence, no less than robbing a sepulchre, and also deserving severe punishment. And yet no one is punished. Nor is there any design formed, or attempt made, to bring guilty persons to justice. A certain sign, that the Jewish rulers knew the falsehood of what they bid the soldiers to say, and report to the world; and that they themselves were persuaded that Jesus was risen from the dead.