cess of Christianity: they passed through a series of the severest trials, and almost all of them died martyrs in the cause: but no change of circumstance or situation, no promises or threatenings of men, no repeated tortures or impending dangers, induced one of them in the smallest degree, to waver in his testimony. They declared unanimously, that on the third morning after the crucifixion, a vision of angels told some of their company, at the sepulchre, that their Lord was risen; that afterwards they all saw him repeatedly; that they examined his hands, feet, and side, and were sure it was the same body which had been nailed to the cross; that he ate and drank with them several times; that at length, after giving them particular instructions relative to their future conduct, he ascended from among them, till a cloud intercepted their sight of him; and that two angels appearing to them declared he was gone to heaven. Such an unwavering, persevering testimony of twelve persons, whose holy lives, diligent labours, disinterestedness, and patient sufferings evince their sincerity, forms so complete a proof; that in any other case, he who should not be satisfied with it would be deemed sceptical almost to insanity.

This is, howeyer, but a very small part of the evidence afforded us in this most important concern.-Saul the persecutor was a man endued with superior talents cultivated by education, and possessed of peculiar advantages for rising in the world; of which he was evidently availing himself, while gratifying his implacable enmity to the gospel. Yet was he, all at once, converted into a most zealous preacher of that faith which he had attempted to destroy: and, rẹ

pouncing all his former principles and worldly prospects, yea, exasperating above measure his powerful patrons and employers; he spent all the remnant of his days in the most self-denying labours, hardships, and sufferings, endured with the greatest alacrity, for the sake of Christ and the gospel and at length he sealed his testimony with his blood. How can this fact be accounted for, unless we allow the truth of his narrative concerning the manner of his conversion? And if that be allowed, the resurrection of Christ is demonstrated.

In the chapter whence our text is taken, this man declares, that Christ appeared after his resurrection to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remained to that time, This was an appeal to nearly three hundred living witnesses of that event but no one ever attempted to disprove the truth of his assertion; though false teachers would have concurred with open enemies, in such an attempt, had it been practicable.

The testimony of the apostles, to the resurrection of Jesus, implied a charge of the most complicated wickedness against the rulers of the Jewish nation: these had the power in their hands, and were every way concerned to vindicate their characters, and punish those who thus accused them. This might readily have been done, had they produced the Roman soldiers in court, to testify that the body of Jesus had been stolen, or to state in what way it was removed from the sepulchre.

But in fact they had bribed the soldiers to circu hate a self-contradictory report on this subject, which


would not bear investigation: and when St. Mat thew soon afterwards charged this publickly upon them, and declared that the story was generally current among the Jews to that time; no one attempted to deny or disprove the charge! In every case of this nature silence must be construed into a confession of guilt and if the rulers could have accounted for the removal of the body, without either admitting the truth of Matthew's charge, or our Lord's resurrection, no doubt can reasonably be made, but they would have done it in the most publick manner.

Every reflecting person must perceive, that the evidence is completely satisfactory, provided it can be made clear, that these books were published at the time to which they refer. To obviate therefore every doubt on that head, without engaging in an argument far too complicated for this occasion, I would enquire, at what subsequent time it could have been possible to obtain credit to writings of this description? If a manuscript, said to have been long concealed in some library, be produced or published, as the work of an eminent author, who flourished two or three centuries ago; it immediately is subjected to a severe scrutiny, and imposture in such cases seldom escapes detection. But writings which contain a circumstantial narrative of "things not done in a corner," but in the open view of mankind, during several years; and connected with an epistolary correspondence resulting from them; could never have obtained the least credit in the world, if published after the times referred to, with an express appeal to mankind, that they all along had been familiarly acquainted

with them. Such an insolent attempt, to persuade whole nations out of their senses and understandings must have excited universal astonishment and indignation or had it been possible to convince a few individuals that they had received these books from their ancestors, and been taught from infancy to revere them as the writings of the apostles, when in fact neither they nor any other persons had ever before seen or heard of them; the effrontery of the deceivers and the credulity of the deceived must have constituted an unprecedented event, and marked the age in which it occurred. As therefore no time can be mentioned, when any attempt of this kind is so much as hinted at, by either Christian, Jewish, or Pagan historians; we might be confident, that the writings in question were extant, and well known in the church, from the very period in which they are said to have been published; even had we no other evidence. But no impartial man of learning can be imposed upon by pretences of this kind; having access to abundant proof of another nature that the books of the New Testament were extant in the early ages of Christianity and this argument is principally adduced for the benefit of those, who have neither leisure nor advantages for these investigations.

We should also remember, that on the day of Pentecost, immediately following the resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the assembled apostles, with such extraordinary circumstances, as drew together vast multitudes who then resided at Jerusalem. In the presence of all these witnesses they spake, fluently and correctly, in the languages of the


several countries, from which their hearers were col lected; though it was certainly known that they had not had the opportunity of learning them: and this stupendous miracle, together with Peter's sermon of the occasion, was made effectual to the conversion of three thousand persons. The gifts of tongues, and of working miracles in the name of Jesus, were ever after continued to them, and were frequently exercised in the most publick and undeniable manner, before numerous witnesses, enemies as well as friends. The same powers were likewise communicated to many others, by the laying on of the apostles' hands. The time, place, occasion, and circumstances of these extraordinary transactions are frequently specified in their writings. Thus the inhabitants of many cities and countries were appealed to; and the enemies of Christianity were challenged to disprove their pretensions. But none ever attempted to do it: for the Jews themselves do not deny that many extraordinary works were performed by Jesus and his disciples : and the way, in which they try to account for them, demonstrates that from the first their ancestors had nothing plausible to object. In this manner the witnesses and proofs of our Lord's resurrection were multiplied, in almost every part of the vast Roman empire: yea, "God also bare them witness, both with


signs, and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost." And can any reasonable man suppose, that a general belief could ever have prevailed, through whole nations, of such publick and extraordinary events, without any person attempting

« VorigeDoorgaan »