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from the dead. The truth is, they retained to the last the notion, which both they and all the Jews held, that the true Christ, when he appeared, would set up an empire upon earth, and make the Jews the masters of the world. Now when, by his death, they saw an end put to all such expectations, they were totally at a loss what to think.
. We trusted,' said one, then in a sort of despair of the cause, that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel ;' that is, from the bondage their country was then in to the Roman people.
Yet these despairing reflections were mixed with some kind of confused notion that all was not yet over. . Besides all this,' said the same disciple, "today is the third day since these things were done;' which shows that they bore in mind something that he had said of his rising the third day. In this situation of the affair, the Jews feared nothing but that his disciples should steal the body. His disciples, disheartened and perplexed, at a loss what to do, or what they were to look for next ; in this disposition, I say, of all parties, mark what came to pass. Some women, early in the morning of this day, went to the sepulchre with no other intention than to embalm the body with some spices they had prepared, when, to their astonishment and surprise, they found the guards fallen down in fright, the sepulchre open, the body gone, and the clothes it was wrapped in left in their place. They ran back, as was natural, to give his disciples this strange account. Peter and John, the two first they met with, hastened instantly to the sepulchre, and in the mean time, Jesus himself appeared to them; first to the women, then to two of the disciples, then to the eleven apostles all together ; afterwards, upon different occasions, to the apostles and other disciples on the evening of the fourth day after his resurrection; and upon one occasion, as St Paul relates, 'to five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part,' says he, remain to this present,' i. e. are still living. In one of these appearances he upbraided them, as well he might, for their unbelief and hardness of heart, in not believing those who made the report of his resurrection, and had first seen him after he was risen. On another occasion he bade them handle his body, that they might be convinced it was not, as they had suspected, a spirit which they saw; for • a spirit hath not,' says he, flesh and bones as ye see me have.' At other times he was still more circumstantial. Thomas, one of the apostles, happened, it seems, to be absent when he first appeared to the disciples assembled together; and though they all assured him they had seen the Lord, so incredulous was he,
that he declared, unless he saw him himself, and not only saw him, but also felt and examined the very marks of the wounds which were given him upon the cross, he would not be convinced. It pleased Christ, for the satisfaction of those who came after, to indulge Thomas in this demand; and when he appeared unto them at their next meeting, he called Thomas to him; Reach hither,' says he, thy finger, and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side ; and be not faithless, but believing.'
You need not be told that, after forty days, during which time he occasionally appeared to his disciples, he was, in the sight of the eleven apostles, for the twelfth was Judas the traitor, lifted up into heaven, and the clouds received him out of their sight. It will be proper to return and take notice of the conduct of the Jews upon this occasion. The watch, which they had placed to guard the sepulchre, came into the city and showed to the chief priests the things that were done. When they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, Say ye, his disciples came by night and stole him away; 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,' says Matthew, “unto this day.'
Now there are some marks of truth in this relation, which, though both obvious and considerable, may perhaps escape you, if you have not heard them mentioned. There are, you will perceive, if you read the narrative, some variations in the accounts of the evangelists, principally arising from one history relating one circumstance, and another, another; when, in truth, both circumstances took place. For example ; Christ appeared at many different times. St Matthew relates what passed at one appearance, St Luke at another, St John at a third ; and so it must needs happen that their relations will be different, though not at all contradictory. But what, after all, do these variations, or, if you will, inconsistencies, prove ? Why, they prove to demonstration, that the writers of the gospel did not combine or lay their heads together to fill up a story for the public, but that each wrote according to his memory, information, and judgment, without any scheme or contrivance amongst themselves to make their stories tally and correspond. There are always variations, and often contradictions, where witnesses are without communication and independent of one another; and if there be not, it conveys a strong surmise that they are prepared with a made-up story, constructed and connected amongst themselves beforehand. It is not said, you may likewise remember, that Christ appeared after his resurrection to any but his own disciples. Unbelievers, Jews especially, lay hold of this circumstance. He ought, for so they speak, , to have appeared openly to the Jews, to enemies as well as friends. His confining his appearance to his friends and followers is, as they would intimate, suspicious. Now what were Christ's reasons for refusing his appearance to the unbelieving Jews we may not know. It is just like inquiring why he did not come down from the cross when they called upon him to do so. It might be fitting to withhold this last proof from those who had so shamefully and obstinately resisted and abused every other proof he had given in evidence of the resurrection, and might be designed for the instruction, comfort, and support of his followers, to whom it was necessary, for they could not stir a step without it, rather than for the conviction of the unbelieving Jews, inhabitants of Jerusalem, who had abundant evidence before, if they would have attended to it. And then, whether this was the reason, or whatever was the reason, it proves the sincerity and candor of the four evangelists, who have given the history. They could have said that Christ appeared to the Jews; and, had they thought themselves at
: liberty to have carved the story as they pleased, in order to make it plausible and probable, no doubt they would have said
The objection that would be made to their present accounts was obvious; and nothing but a strict adherence to truth, and disposition to relate them honestly as they were, whether they made for them or against them, would have induced them to lay themselves open to the objection. Forgeries of all kinds take care to guard against objection; and we are apt to overdo it with cautious exactness.
With respect to the resurrection itself, as I have collected it briefly out of the four evangelists, you will observe, in the first place, that Christ had publicly foretold his own resurrection at the precise time of it, the third day from his death. This he would not have done, had any imposition been intended, because it was giving the public notice to be upon their guard, and look to themselves that they were not imposed upon. It had also this effect; for they did accordingly take such precautions as they thought most secure. Then, foretelling of his resurrection must likewise have ruined his cause for ever, if it had not actually come to pass.
Not very many years ago, there appeared in this country a set of bold and wild enthusiasts called French prophets. They found means to draw after them a considerable party, till at length they had the confidence to give out that one of their teachers should, at a certain time and place, publicly rise from the dead. The time and place being thus known beforehand, many of all sorts attended. What was the effect ? No resurrection being actually accomplished, they and their prophecies were blasted together. And the same thing must have happened to Christ and his followers, had he not actually risen ; for the two cases are in this respect pretty parallel.
Another way of considering this history is this. I think it manifest that the body of Jesus was missing out of the sepulchre. Thus much may be taken for granted, not merely on the credit of the gospels, but from the nature of the transaction. It is certain, and allowed by all, that the followers of Christ did, after his death, fully preach and assert that he was risen from the dead, and this they did at Jerusalem. Now if the Jews had the dead body of Jesus to produce, while his disciples were preaching that he was risen from the dead, how ready and complete a refutation would it have been of all their pretensions ! It must have exposed them in a moment to the derision and scorn of all who heard them.
This being so, we may be very sure that the Jews had not the body forthcoming, as there cannot be a doubt but they would have made this use of it if they could have found it. Allowing, then, the body to be missing, the next question seems to be, whether it was stolen away, as the Jews pretended, by his disciples, or miraculously raised out of the sepulchre, as we maintain. The Jewish story, if you attend to it, is charged with numerous absurdities and improbability. The watch gave out that, while they slept, the disciples stole the body. This watch were Roman soldiers, remarkable for their military discipline and strictness. For a Roman soldier to sleep upon his post was punished, we know, with death. Is it credible, that they should sleep, all of them at this particular time, the third day after his death of all other times? The story carries improbability upon the face of it. Nor is it more likely that the disciples of Christ, dispirited and discouraged by their master's fate, should think of such an attempt as stealing away the body, an attempt likely to be soon detected, and which, if detected, was sure to ruin and confound them for ever.
Could they expect to find the guards asleep? Could they hope to escape the vigilance of those who were to answer for it with their lives? Now by the same rule that the Jewish story of the
body's being stolen is improbable, the apostles' account of its being raised from the dead is probable, because missing out of the sepulchre it certainly was; and if it could not be conveyed away by actual means, it must have been removed by a miracle. I thought this circumstance fit to be attended to in confirmation of the apostles' testimony; though, to say the truth, the testimony of the apostles to the resurrection of Christ needs neither this nor any other circumstance to confirm it; for where men lay down their lives, as many of them did, in support of an assertion which they must know whether it was true or false, it were an unaccountable piece of misplaced incredulity not to believe.
In reading the New Testament, especially the Acts of the Apostles, you must have observed what a great stress the apostles in their preaching laid upon the fact of the resurrection ; more, by much, than upon any other miracle Christ wrought, or indeed than all. When they chose a successor in the place of Judas, it was to be one, as St Peter says, to be witness with him of his resurrection. This also was what Peter rested upon in his first and second discourse to the Jews, and in his preaching to Cornelius; and there is reason to believe that it was what he bore with him, and laid the main stress upon, wherever he went.
In like manner, Paul, at Antioch and Athens, and some other places, delivers long discourses to the people, of which, however, the resurrection of Christ was the burthen and substance; and that this was his custom, may be collected from what he writes to the Corinthians. "I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day. The reason of which was, that they considered the resurrection of Christ as a direct and decisive proof of their own resurrection at the last day. Without doubt if it pleased God willingly to give mankind the plainest possible argument of his intention to raise them up at the last, we cannot imagine any more satisfactory than his raising up a dead man before their eyes. St Paul was so struck with this proof, that he thought no man could resist it. • If Christ be risen, how then say some among you,' that is, how are any among you so absurd as to say, there is no resurrection?'
Let us lay these things to heart. If Christ be risen, of which we have proof that cannot deceive us, then most certainly will the day arrive when all that are in the grave shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and come forth. We shall