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It has been very justly observed upon this history: The priests going along with the 'party of soldiers placed them in their post, and sealed the stone that was rolled to the door of the sepulchre, to hinder the guards from combining with the disciples in carrying on any 'fraud-Thus whilst the priests cautiously proposed to prevent our Lord's resurrection from being palmed upon the world, resolving, no doubt, to shew his body publicly after the third day, as an impostor, they put the truth of Christ's resurrection beyond all question, by furnishing a number of unexceptionable witnesses to it, whose testimony they themselves could • not refuse.'
So that this saying is not only false, and exceeding improbable, but it also serves to confirm the belief of our Lord's miraculous resurrection from the dead.
8. It remains therefore, that the testimony of the disciples of Jesus concerning his resurrection is true and credible.
There is nothing incredible, nor improbable in the thing itself, that Jesus should rise from the dead. If we do but consider what miracles he wrought during his life on earth, and how excellent a doctrine he taught, that he was a prophet mighty in word and deed, so as none be'fore him had been, and what signal testimonies were given to him from heaven in the time of his ministry, and during the time of his crucifixion, and at his death; and that he openly declared more than once, that after having been put to death, he should rise again in three days. If we consider all these things, his resurrection cannot be thought improbable.
Moreover what the disciples say, they aver upon good grounds. They saw him, and conversed with him frequently, and had full satisfaction of his being alive. Therefore he was risen again. For all men knew that he had been put to death, and had expired on the cross, and was laid in a sepulchre. They themselves were with difficulty convinced of his being alive again after his passion. But seeing evidently, that it was he with whom they had conversed formerly, and seeing him often, they could no longer withhold their assent. And being convinced, they openly published the Lord's resurrection to all the world.
And, in the name of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, they wrought many miracles, which were testimonies given from heaven by God himself to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.
This testimony to the resurrection of Jesus was received. Many at Jerusalem hereupon believed in Jesus as the Christ. Which could not have been, if he had not risen from the dead. For, if he had remained in the grave, no one could have any expectations from him. His word, in that case, had failed: and there could not have been any ground to rely upon him, and trust in him. But because his word had not failed, but the promise made by him had been fulfilled, of coming again to his disciples, and endowing them with power from above, therefore many believed on him.
Finally, the report, or testimony of the disciples, is consistent, and harmonious throughout. They teach, that Jesus is risen from the dead, and their behaviour is suitable to such a faith and doctrine.
Once they were timorous, dejected, inconsiderable. But now, when they say, Jesus is risen from the dead, they are knowing, discreet, intrepid in dangers, and glory in sufferings; and they inspire the like sentiments in others. They all unanimously bear witness to the resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus. Nor can any of them, or of those who receive their testimony, be brought to disown or conceal this thing. They therefore knew, and were persuaded of the truth of it.
And now they preach the doctrine of the gospel to all, a doctrine of the greatest importance, words, on which the life and happiness of men depend, Acts v. 20. They address the whole nation at Jerusalem, saying, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words," ch. ii. 22." Let all the house of Israel know, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ," ver. 36.-"Repent, and be baptized eve one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins," ver. 38. Repent, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.Unto you first, God having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities," ch. iii. 19-26. In a word, the illiterate disciples of Jesus, who was lately crucified, are now superior to all men. And they "sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel," Matt. xix. 28, Luke xxii. 30, as he had foretold, and promised. A demonstrative proof, that their master was not still in the
Macknight's Harmony. Sect. 147. p. 200.
grave, but was risen from the dead, and that he was ascended up into heaven, and had sent down upon them the promised gift of the Spirit."
II. I would now mention some remarks, partly instructive, partly practical, upon this history of the evangelist Matthew.
I. Sad is the condition of a people when their rulers and teachers practise themselves, and recommend to others falsehood and prevarication, and other wickedness.
Such conduct we see in the Jewish rulers. They had before given money to Judas, to induce him to betray into their hands an innocent and excellent person, and also sought for false witness to put him to death. Here is another like instance of their disregard to all religious obligations. Now they have to do with heathens, Roman soldiers, and they put into their mouths a downright falsehood, and tempt them with money, and give them a large sum, to say as they directed them. We may charitably hope, that it was not the act of all the Jewish council, or of every one in it. But it is a deliberate thing, and there was a general concurrence in this great and aggravated wickedness. Some of the guards came into the city, to the priests, who had placed them at the sepulchre. They convene the council, and when they had consulted together, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying: Say ye, that his disciples came by night, and stole him away, whilst we slept."
It is a studied falsehood, contrived by the chief priests and rulers, when assembled together. Justly did our Lord reprove the hypocrisy of these men. How much irreligion and baseness, and every evil thing prevail and spread among a people that are under such rulers and in
2. Here is another instance of the sad degeneracy of men, and the hardness of some men's hearts.
The guard of soldiers were actually present at our Lord's resurrection. An angel descended, and appeared in a glorious form: the door of the sepulchre was opened, and the earth shook, and the "keepers trembled." These things the soldiers themselves had told the chief priests, and particularly how they had been affrighted: but all this terror soon wears off. The Jewish elders put a contrived falsehood into their mouth, and offer them money, which they take, and say as they had been directed.
3. We likewise here see the dangerous consequence of an inordinate love of worldly gain, and indeed of the prevalence of any bad principle in the heart.
The fear of God should always possess and govern us. If an inordinate love of worldly gain, or an excessive fear of any worldly evil be admitted, there is great danger that the next temptation we meet with may make a breach in our integrity.
4. This history may put us upon our guard against every temptation to a known falsehood, and make us very apprehensive of a lie.
We know not what may be the consequence: the mischief is oftentimes wide and durable. We may say, that the mischief of some lies is infinite and without end. The bad effect of this lie of the soldiers is dreadful to think of. It was the occasion of the unbelief of many of the Jewish people at that time: which also affected their posterity, and more persons than we can distinctly apprehend. "This saying," says St. Matthew, "is commonly reported among the Jews until this day." This lie was cherished and propagated by many, for justifying their own infidelity, and for hardening others against the testimony of Christ's apostles, and the evidence of the many miracles wrought by them.
Every man knows when he utters a lie; for it is something contrary to his own inward persuasion; but he may not be always able to foresee the consequences. The soldiers knew the falsehood of what they said; but they did not duly consider the issue of this calumny upon the disciples. We now can better perceive it than they did, when they were first drawn into this prevarication. This therefore may increase our dread of a lie. We know it is not innocent. We feel it to be contrary to our own conviction: but it may be worse than we are aware of; and may have consequences which we do not think of.
5. This history may help us in forming a just and great idea of the diligence and zeal of the apostles of Jesus in asserting his resurrection, and spreading the doctrine of the gospel in the world.
• If this sermon is too long to be read at once, here is a proper pause.
They met with, as we hence perceive, many opposers, and a powerful opposition. Force and fraud, and every method was taken to suppress and invalidate their testimony, and to defeat their endeavours. They therefore must have been laborious and active, zealous and diligent; or they had not prevailed as they did. And we should learn to imitate them if there be occasion. And occasion there is, and will be. There always will be adversaries of the truth. Nor should we grudge any labour for promoting the principles of true religion. But should do our utmost to convince gainsayers, to strengthen those who believe, and assist such as are disposed to admit. the evidence that is fairly set before them.
6. From this text we may argue, that St. Matthew's gospel was not written quite so soon as as some have been willing to suppose.
Some have been apt to think, that the gospel according to St. Matthew was written about eight years after our Lord's ascension. But the account of the most ancient Christian writers which we have, is, that it was not published till about thirty years after our Lord's ascension. Which date much better suits the expression of the text than eight years. "And this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day." Which words imply, that some considerable space of time had passed since the event here spoken of.
Indeed, a written gospel was not immediately wanted. And a period of between twenty and thirty years after our Lord's resurrection was early enough. There would be still living a good number of the eye and ear-witnesses of our Lord's person, teaching, and miracles. As believers were by that time become numerous, some would desire to have written memoirs and histories of the Lord Jesus. And the doctrine of Christ having made considerable progress in the world, many copies of the gospels would be taken soon after they were written. Which affords the best security for their being preserved, and transmitted sincere and uncorrupted to future times. We seem to have good reason to believe, that the first three gospels were all written about the same time. These, soon after they had been written, were brought to St. John, who thereupon wrote, and published his gospel as a supplement; thereby both confirming their histories, and making some valuable additions to them. And probably, all the four gospels were written before the destruction of Jerusalem.
7. Every one must observe in this context a remarkable instance of the fidelity, impartiality, fairness and simplicity, with which the history of the Lord Jesus has been written by the apostles and evangelists.
They have recorded many injurious reflections cast upon our Lord himself in person. Here is mentioned a calumny upon his disciples. And it is a thing that seems to weaken their testimony in a point of the greatest importance; and, if true, would overthrow all the evidence. of the resurrection of Christ. And though not true, it obtained credit with many Jews. And yet the evangelist has been so fair as to put it down. This honesty and simplicity of narration must, in the esteem of all good judges, recommend the evangelist's performance; and induce men to receive every thing else related by him.
And this is what Christians should still imitate. They should not be afraid of difficulties and objections: but should be willing to state them clearly and fully; or let them be so stated by others. There is a superior evidence for truth. Otherwise, we should not be able to say, that it ought to be received. And when things are carefully examined, and impartially considered, that superiority of evidence will be discerned and allowed of.
"The disciples came, and stole him away whilst we slept." So said those persons who were set to guard the sepulchre of Jesus. Who therefore should know what was done there. But when we observe that this is said to have been done "when they slept :" and when we do also take notice of the other things before-mentioned, it appears to be a story of very little significance. Yea it tends to confirm the persuasion of our Lord's resurrection as already shown.
To which may be added, that this story, or saying of the soldiers, assures us, and all men, that there was a guard set at the sepulchre, and that all possible precautions were taken to prevent fraud, and to hinder the disciples and others, if any had been so minded, from making, or feigning a story of a resurrection, when there was none.
The disciples had it not in their power to remove the body. Our Lord therefore was raised to life. The Divine Being interposed for his resurrection. And then supported the disciples in their testimony to the resurrection of Jesus, by wonders and signs, accompanying the word spoken by them. Therefore we need not be shy to represent things as they really are.
8. Finally in the eighth place. We hence perceive the nature of the evidence, by which our Lord's resurrection, and the truth of the Christian religion are supported.
It is not an overbearing, but a sufficient evidence. It is not an evidence that leaves no room for cavils and exceptions. It is not such, but that some may reject it, if they are biassed and prejudiced; and may make a shift to satisfy themselves in so doing. But yet it is an evidence sufficient to persuade reasonable men. It will bear the strictest scrutiny and examination; and to serious, attentive, and rational men, it will appear convincing and conclusive; sufficient to induce their assent, and to encourage, and support their diligence and perseverance in the fession of religious truth, and the practice of virtue.
Let us, then, show ourselves to be children of wisdom, by diligently examining the evidences of the principles of religion, and by embracing and maintaining those which appear to be reasonable, and supported by good and sufficient evidence.
THE APOSTLE THOMAS.
Jesus saith unto him: Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. John xx. 29.
THESE words are part of a remarkable conversation between an affectionate disciple, and a more affectionate Lord and Saviour. Thomas, in the time of his Master's ministry, upon an occasion of great danger to his person, had been willing " to go, and die with him," John xi. 16. Jesus, out of love for his disciples, and or mankind in general, had now laid down his life, with as many aggravations of pain and disgrace, as the loss of an innocent life can well be attended with. But he was delivered from the grave, and raised up again to life, now to die no more.
And that the disciples themselves, and the world in general, might obtain the benefits proposed by his death and sufferings, and all his transactions on this earth, he was willing to give his disciples, and others who had known him, the most satisfactory evidence of his resurrection. The same love that had carried him through the pains of death, still reigned in the risen Saviour, and Lord of life. And he condescends, after his resurrection, to renew his acquaintance with his disciples, and to give them in a free and familiar manner the proofs of his being alive again.
He had already before this shewn himself to several, and to all the other disciples on the day on which he arose, ver. 19, 20. "Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut, where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them: Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he showed them his hands, and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord-ver. 34-29. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him: We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them: Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days, again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas: Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands. And reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side. And be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered, and said unto him: My Lord, and my God. Jesus saith unto him: Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
The consideration of which words will lead me to three heads of discourse.
I. The conduct of Divine Providence in not giving to all the highest evidence of the objects of faith, even the evidence of sight, or of extraordinary works done before them, and the reasonableness of that conduct.
II. That an evidence below that of sense may be a sufficient ground of belief.
III. The blessedness of such as believe, though they have not the highest evidence, that of their senses.
I. The conduct of Divine Providence, in not affording to all the highest evidence of the objects of faith, that of sight, or of extraordinary works done before them: and the reasonableness of that conduct.
Here it may be worth the while to observe, that the great and ultimate objects of faith are always, or at least, usually invisible to men in this world; and that none, or very few, have the demonstration of sense for their truth and existence. We believe the being of God: but he himself is invisible. They are his works only, the proofs and evidences of his being and perfection, that are visible. That the world was made, is the object of our faith, the subject matter of our persuasion. But we did not see it made. Nor could its formation be seen by any man. But we believe that it was made, from the considerations of reason, and from the testimony of the word of God conveyed to us. So it is also, when promises of temporal blessings are made to any for the encouragement of their obedience. God promised to Abraham, that he would give his posterity the possession of the land of Canaan. And Abraham believed that God would perform his word and promise. That was the object of his faith. But he did not see the thing believed. He might for his satisfaction have afforded to him the sight of some extraordinary effects, such as consuming his sacrifice by fire, and other miraculous appearances, to assure him, that the promise was made by God himself, and might be relied upon as certain. Still the object of his faith, that "his seed should possess the land of Canaan," was a thing future, distant, and invisible.
In like manner Christ's miracles were visible to those who lived at that time, and were present when they were performed. But his divine commission and authority, the thing to be proved by them, was not visible. Nor was the heavenly life, which he promised, visible to the men of that time, but only the evidences of it, his mighty works.
Of such things the disciples themselves had not a sight. It was only the evidence of them. that was visible. After all that they had seen in Christ, the disciples, as well as others, were to exercise a faith of invisible things.
Thomas, and the other disciples, had the evidence of their senses, that Jesus, their master,. was alive again, after his crucifixion. But the heavenly state, the future happiness of good men, the general judgment, the things to be proved by his resurrection, were still distant and invisible not objects of sense, but assented to by faith only.
The difference therefore between the disciples of Christ, and others, who see not his miracles, is this. The disciples, and many others at that time, had visible and sensible proofs or evidences of invisible things. But still the heavenly state, and future retributions were invisible to them, and objects of faith. Others, who live not at the time of the revelation of the divine will, but after it, and after the ceasing of extraordinary works, and miraculous operations, neither see the heavenly state, nor the external evidences of it. But they receive upon testimony the evidences that had been set before others. Upon that testimony they believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the miracles wrought by himself, and by others in his name. And they admit them to be sufficient evidences of a life to come, and the recompences of it.
For shewing the reasonableness of this conduct of Divine Providence, in not giving to all the highest kind of evidence, it may be observed, that there seem to be but three several ways supposable for a revelation to be made by God to mankind, concerning the obligation of duty, and the recompenses of it.
For, if over and above the light, which may be attained in the exercise of our natural powers and faculties, God is graciously pleased to vouchsafe a revelation to men; in order to make it general, it must be one of these three ways: first, by a particular revelation of himself to every man in every age. Or, secondly, by affording a revelation in every age, and in every country, to some few, or a certain number of persons, endowed by him with a power of performing extraordinary works before other men, sufficient to satisfy them, that the doctrine,