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Such are the words of St. Peter, with which I conclude: "For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth : who, when he was reviled, reviled not again: when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously," 1 Pet. ii. 21, 22.
DIVINE TESTIMONIALS GIVEN TO JESUS DURING HIS
And the graves were opened, and many bodies of saints, which slept, arose; and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Matt. xxvii. 52, 53.
I HAVE lately considered our blessed Lord's sufferings, chiefly in one particular light, for showing the excellency of his behaviour under them, his greatness and majesty during a scene of the utmost scorn and ignominy, his meekness under the most heinous provocations, and his full trust and confidence in God during that hour of darkness which concluded his wonderful life.
I would now observe, in one single discourse, the extraordinary testimonials given from heaven in that season, to his innocence, and the dignity of his person and character.
The miracles of our Saviour's ministry, the spotless innocence, and the unparalleled excellence of his life and death, his resurrection on the third day, together with the mighty works done after his ascension by his apostles in his name, would have been a sufficient vindication of his character, and a full attestation to the truth of his doctrine, and the divine original of his mission; notwithstanding the reproaches, and other indignities cast upon him by envious and designing men.
Nevertheless the Divine Wisdom saw fit not to leave him
without witness at that very season. And though our Lord was so far left and forsaken of God the Father, as to be given up into the hands of sinful men; and they were allowed to carry into execution their malicious purposes, so
far as to put him to a painful and ignominious death, there appeared, even then, some tokens of God's especial favour and approbation of him who suffered, and of his displeasure against those who presumed to touch that excellent person.
I. In the first place, I observe what is said by the evangelist Matthew at the nineteenth verse of this chapter, speaking of Pontius Pilate the Roman governor in Judea. "When he was set down on the judgment-seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream, because of him."
There can be no reason to doubt that the terrifying thoughts of this dream were owing to a divine impulse. There are in the scriptures many instances of extraordinary intimations given to heathen people as well as others, in dreams, which must have been of divine operation; as Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Joseph's fellow-prisoners, and others; and to bad as well as to good men.
Pilate's wife, when he was set down on the judgment-seat, sent him a message, earnestly entreating him not to pronounce a sentence, or do any thing whatsoever to the prejudice of the person now brought before him, and accused by the Jewish rulers. For she had that morning a dream, in which her thoughts had been mightily disturbed with the apprehension of calamities likely to befal Pilate and his family, if he should pronounce sentence against that person, who was just and innocent.
It was a testimony to our Lord's innocence, at the time that he was accused by the Jews. It was delivered publicly. Nor would the message have been brought at all, if it had not been judged important; but though it deserved the notice of all, it was more especially a warning to Pilate. It was a warning of an extraordinary kind, sent to him by his nearest relative, to deter and dissuade him from an action that could not but be criminal, and might be of fatal consequence.
Solomon says, "A dream cometh through the multitude of business," Eccl. v. 3: which may be a good way of accounting for ordinary dreams. In the night season, when the body is at rest, those things about which the mind was much engaged in the day time, may disturb the thoughts and produce dreams. But it does not appear that Pilate's wife could at this time have any knowledge of the Jewish prosecution of our Lord in an ordinary way. Jesus was not a prisoner that had been long in custody. He was apprehended late in the night, and was hurried away to the house
of Annas, and then of Caiaphas. Having been there examined, and detained some while by the Jewish council, he was carried by them early in the morning to Pilate; about which time his wife, still at rest, had a dream of an uncommon nature, in which she was admonished, and by which she was greatly affected. As soon as she awoke, she by the first opportunity sent this warning to Pilate, then upon his tribunal: "Have thou nothing to do with that just man ;for I have suffered many things this day in a dream, because of him."
Elihu says excellently well: " God speaketh once, yea, twice; yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed. Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction. That he may withdraw man from his purpose and hide pride from man," Job xxxiii. 14-17. Those observations may have been founded upon facts. There is an instance of a warning given to Abimelech, king of Gerar, in the time of Abraham, for preventing sin, and with effect, Gen. xxx. The warning, of which we are now speaking, was for the very same purpose. Nor was it altogether without effect. For this warning, now sent to Pilate, may be well supposed to have been one reason, together with his own clear discernment of the innocence of Jesus, upon examination, why he so long withstood the importunate and clamorous demands of the Jewish rulers and the multitude to pass sentence upon him.
II. In the next place we observe the darkness at this time, mentioned by three Evangelists. Matt. xxvii. 45, "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour." Mark xv. 33, "And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour." Luke xxiii. 44, 45, “ And it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened."
That is, there was darkness for the space of three hours, from the sixth to the ninth hour, according to the computation of the hours of the day in those times, reckoning the day from sun-rising to sun-setting; according to our method of computation, from about twelve at noon till three after
How great this darkness was, is not distinctly said. It might resemble that of a total eclipse of the sun, though there were glimmerings of light, whereby business might be transacted.
* See Matt. xxvii. 1, 2. Mark xv. 1. John xviii. 27, 28.
It was not in Jerusalem only, but in all the land of Judea. That this general darkness was not natural, is apparent: for our Saviour suffered at the time of the Jewish passover, when the moon was at full.. But natural eclipses of the sun, as all know, happen at the time of new moon,
This remarkable darkness must have been very awful and affecting, reaching all over the land of Israel where Christ had preached, and wrought many miracles. It continued three hours, and manifestly denoted the divine displeasure against the Jewish people for an action in which they and their rulers were guilty. Indeed, the main body of the nation was now assembled at Jerusalem, where Jesus suffered; and they could not but know for whose sake this darkness happened. However, that it might be the more observable, it was universal, over all the land of Judea, and for three hours; which was a remarkable testimony to the innocence and the dignity of the Lord Jesus.
III. The next extraordinary thing is the rending the veil of the temple.
At the fifty-first verse of this chapter: "And behold the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom." So likewise Mark xv. 38, "And the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom." And Luke xxiii. 45," And the sun was darkened. And the veil of the temple was rent in the midst."
There were two veils at the temple; one at the entrance into the holy place; the other between the holy place, or the sanctuary, and the most holy, or the holy of holies, called the inner veil, and the second veil, in the epistle to the Hebrews, ch. ix. 3. It is particularly described, Exod. xxvi. 31-33; that is the veil bere intended. It was of the strongest contexture, as well as of the richest materials, and the finest workmanship.
It has been thought by some, that the high priest might now, at this very time, be present in the temple, performing the solemn act of burning incense before the veil. There can be no doubt that many of the Jewish priests saw the veil after it was rent, and they must have been as fully convinced of the reality of this extraordinary event, as if they had been present when it happened.
It has been supposed by some, that this rending of the veil denoted and foresignified the sudden destruction of the temple, and the speedy abolition of the rites of the Mosaic law. But without relying too much upon any conjectural speculations, it may be reckoned certain, that it must have greatly surprised the Jewish priests, who entered into the
holy place; and it gave ground to believe that the Divine Being was displeased with the Jewish nation. And upon a little reflection and consideration they might know the reason of the divine displeasure.
IV. At the same time there was an earthquake at Jerusalem, but especially at mount Calvary, where our Lord was crucified.
So this is expressed by St. Matthew very briefly, yet fully, ver. 51: "And the earth did quake, and the rocks were rent." How this extraordinary event was then understood, and how it ought to be still understood by us, appears from what is added at ver. 54, " Now when the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God."
V. The fifth and last particular, is that in the text which may be reckoned a difficult portion of scripture, and the more so for being singular, without any parallel place. The words in connection are these, ver. 50-53: "Jesus, when he had cried with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent; and the graves," or tombs, "were opened; and many bodies of saints, which slept, arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city (meaning Jerusalem, so called, Matt. iv. 5. comp. Luke iv. 9,) and appeared unto many."
Here it will be proper to consider several queries. 1. The place where this resurrection happened. 2. Who were raised. 3. The time when they were raised. 4. To whom they appeared. 5. Whether they soon after ascended up to heaven, or died again. 6. The truth of this history. 7. The use of this extraordinary event.
First, The place of this resurrection. Some have thought it might be done in several parts of Judea. But, upon due consideration, I believe it will be reckoned more probable, that the tombs here spoken of were near to Jerusalem, the holy city, into which these saints went soon after their resurrection. There was an earthquake at mount Calvary, where our Lord was crucified. There the rocks were rent. And by that concussion the doors of many tombs upon that mount and near it were thrown open.
It is well known to have been the custom of the ancients to bury without the walls of their cities. Here, upon mount Calvary, and near it, were many tombs; it being a rock, it was a suitable place. We perceive as much from the evan