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gelists; Matt. xxvii. 58–60, “ Joseph, a rich man of Ari-. mathea, begged of Pilate the body of Jesus-and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock.” John xix. 41, “ Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man laid. There laid they Jesus.” Compare Mark xv. 43–46; and Luke xxii. 50–53. So eminent a person as Joseph of Arimathea had a sepulchre in this place. It may be inferred, that there were other tombs there, and some of persons of distinction. Out of those tombs, now opened, came the bodies of the saints here mentioned.
Secondly, Who were now raised ? Some have imagined that the persons here intended were the most eminent patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament; but that opinion is without foundation. The tombs now opened, and out of which these saints came, as has been already argued, were near Jerusalem. But the patriarchs and ancient prophets could not be all interred in this place, or near it; nor could they at this time have any known tombs remaining. And there is an argument insisted on by St. Peter, after our Lord's ascension, which may be reckoned to overthrow this supposition. Having largely cited the sixteenth psalm, he says to the company then present at Jerusalem : “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you concerning the patriarch David ; that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day,” Acts iii, 25—31. But if any of the ancient patriarchs had been now raised, in order to be assumed up to heaven, it might be reasonable to think that David would have been one of them.
Without offering any more arguments against that opinion, we may reckon it to be more probable, that the saints now raised up were good men, who had died lately, a few years, or rather perhaps not many weeks or days before, who upon going into Jerusalem would be well known to their friends still living. The miracle is more evident in the resurrection of such than of any others who had been dead and buried long ago, so as to be known by face to none then living on this earth.
The evangelist calls them saints; which word in the New Testament often denotes disciples of Jesus, who believed in him as the Christ. Acts ix. 13, “ Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem.” Compare xxvi. 10, and ch. ix. 32, “ And it came to pass, as Peter passed through all quarters, he came down also to the saints which
dwelt at Lydda.” And see there ver. 41, and Rom. xv. 25, 26, and 2 Cor. i. l; and other places. It is very likely therefore that the persons here intended by St. Matthew are disciples, or believers in Jesus, who had died not long ago.
Thirdly, We are to consider the time when these saints were raised. Were they raised when our Saviour expired? or, were they not restored to life until after his resurrection ?
The words of the evangelist are: “ And the graves were opened, and many bodies of saints which slept arose and came out.of the graves after his resurrection." They did not come out of their graves till after Christ's resurrection, consequently I think they were not restored to life before he had risen... When our Lord expired, the rocks were rent by the earthquake, and the doors of the tombs were shaken and loosed and flew open. Nevertheless the bodies of these persons still rested there. We are therefore led to think, that when Christ arose from the dead, or soon after, these saints were restored to life; and then they came out of their tombs and went to Jerusalem early in the morning of the first day of the week.
Fourthly, To whom did they appear ?
The text says, to many. We have already argued, that the saints, now raised, were persons who had not been long dead. It is likely, that they first went to their friends and acquaintance. To them they appeared ; to them they were manifested to be the same persons, whom they knew to have lately died. They were known to them by their shape, their features, their discourse, their action. Thus they were known to their friends and relatives at their return to them. They therefore, who had been before acquainted with them, and knew that they had been dead and buried, were now fully persuaded, that they had been raised from the dead. When these had been satisfied about their resurrection, they might be seen also by others, who, upon serious inquiries, were likewise persuaded of the wonderful work whích God had wrought upon them.
Fifthly, What became of the persons, who were now raised ? Were they soon after this assumed up to heaven? or did they die after their resurrection ?
I answer, that there is no account of their ascending, or being assumed up to heaven. Which is so important a thing, that I think it could not have been omitted, if it had been done. It is more probable therefore, that they died afterwards, as Lazarus did; whom our Lord, in a very signal manner, called forth out of his grave after he had been dead four days. They behaved here among their friends and acquaintance with great modesty and humility ; showing little relish of the delights and entertainments of this life. Having been for a while examples of undissembled piety in this world, God gave them a comfortable and placid exit out of it.
In the sixth place, let us observe the truth of this his, tory.
There can be no reason to doubt of it. Its being related by one evangelist only, is no objection. Each one of the evangelists has some things peculiar to himself, not mentioned by any of the rest. Nor is that at all strange, considering the copiousness of the subject. St. John, who had seen and read the first three evangelists, before he wrote, has confirmed their histories, and has also added divers things omitted by them. And yet he assures us, that there were still 66
many other signs" done by Jesus, John XX. 30, and that they were too numerous to be all written, and that those recorded are sufficient.
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 shown. 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 bis ministry, and when he was gloriously transformed on the inount. 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 shown 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 shown 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, condemned, insulted, derided, crucified. How aggravated, how complicated 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 pleasure 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 show 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 bis 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. AT 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 cru