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At the same time, they lived as no impostor ever lived; and were able to say to their converts, with a full assurance of finding a cordial belief of the declaration : Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblameably, we behaved ourselves among you
that believe. That this was their true character is certain, from the concurrent testimony of all antiquity. Had they not nobly recorded their own faults; there is not the least reason to believe, that a single stain would have ever rested upon their character. .
If, then, the Apostles invented this story; they invented it without the remotest hope, or prospect, of making it believed; a thing which was never done by an impostor; propagated it without any interest; without any hope of gain, honour, power, or pleasure ; the only objects, by which impostors were ever allured; and with losses and sufferings, which no impostor ever voluntarily underwent; proposed as their only End, or at least the only end which has ever been discovered to mankind, an object, which no impostor ever pursued, or even wished; and, during their whole progress through life, lived so as no impostor ever lived; and so as to be the most perfect contrast, ever exhibited by men, to the whole character of imposition.
III. The Apostles were not deceived, and did not deceive others, with regard to this fact; but the fact was real.
In support of this declaration 1 observe,
1st. That, if Christ was not raised from the dead, it could cer. tainly have been proved.
Christ was put to death by the Roman Governor, at the instigation of the government and nation of the Jews. His body was in their hands, and entirely under their control. They knew, that he had predicted his resurrection. They knew, that, if he should rise, or should be believed to have risen, his cause would gain more by this fact, or by this belief, than by every thing which he had taught, or done, during his life. All this they declare to Pilate in form, for the express purpose of guarding against this dreaded evil. Now the next day, that followed
the day of the preparation, says St, Matthew, the chief Priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember, that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command, therefore, that the sepulchre be made fast until ihe third day; lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away; and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead. So the last error shall be worse than the first, Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch : go your way; make it as sure as you can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and selting a watch. In this remarkable passage we have a distinct account of their knowledge of Christ's prediction, that he should rise on the third day; of their dread of the prevalence of a future belief, that he had risen ; of their conviction, that this belief would advance his cause more than all his preaching, life, and miracles; and their earnest request to the Governor, thai effectual measures might be taken to prevent this peculiar evil. We are further informed, that the Governor, in compliance with their fears, and their wishes, after reminding them that they had a watch, or guard, under their control, directed them, with a communication of unlimited authority, to make the sepulchre as sure as they could. Finally, we are informed, that, with this power in their hands, they went their way, and made the sepulchre sure: that is, according to their own judgment: and we are completely assured, that such eagle-eyed and bitter enemies, under the influence of such apprehensions, left no precaution untried, to secure themselves against the danger, which they dreaded. Accordingly, the Evangelist informs us, that they not only set a guard at the sepulchre, which we may be certain was more than sufficient; but also set a seal
ироп the stone which was rolled to it for a door; in order to produce complete and universal conviction, that Christ was not raised, because the seal was unbroken.
But, notwithstanding all these precautions, thus carefully taken, the body was missing. In this great fact the Sanhedrim and the Apostles perfectly agree: it cannot therefore be questioned. The Sanhedrim would, otherwise, have certainly produced it; and thus detected the falsehood of the Apostles' declaration, that he was risen from the dead, and prevented it from gaining credit among the Jews.
There are but two ways, in which it could be missing. It was taken away; or it was raised. If it was taken away; it was undoubtedly taken by the Apostles. But this was not true; because,
First, They had no Interest in taking it away.
Christ had declared, that he should rise from the dead. The mere taking away of his body, instead of evincing the truth of this prediction to the Apostles themselves, would have been an unanswerable proof of its falsehood; and, by consequence, of the falsehood of him who uttered it. If the prediction were unfulfilled, of which the presence of his dead body would have been the proper and complete proof; Christ was a false prophet; an Impostor. Of course, the Apostles could expect no possible advantage from following him; and plainly saw themselves exposed to every disadvantage. They had, therefore, no conceivable inducement to take
away his body, nor even to accept it, if it had been offered to them freely. This, it is believed, has been sufficiently evinced under a former head.
To others they could never produce the body of Christ, as evidence, either of his sincerity, or their own : for it would have completely destroyed the character of both. The only end, therefore, which the theft could answer, would have been to gain some credit to the story of his resurrection, from the fact, that his body was missing. When we consider, that the body was perfectly in the power of their enemies, the Jewish Sanhedrim; it must be acknowledged, that an argument of some force might be drawn from this
fact, in favour of Christ's resurrection. At the same time it is evident, that this single fact would have been wholly insufficient to establish the point; and the Apostles, in attempting to palm the story on the world, would have engaged in a cause wholly desperate. We demand very important additional proof, derived from other sources, to establish this point in our own minds. cessity of such proof the Apostles could not but have seen with at least as much certainty, as ourselves; they could, therefore, never have been willing to take it away, for this purpose. .
Secondly, The Apostles durst not take away the body of Christ.
They knew that a guard was placed at the Sepulchre; a numerous and amply sufficient band of Roman soldiers. They themselves were few, friendless, and discouraged; in hourly expectation of being arrested, and put to death, as followers of Christ; and voluntarily confined to a solitary chamber, for fear of being either crucified or stoned. The time was that of the Passover; when Jerusalem customarily contained more than a million of people. It
a was the time of the full moon. The sepulchre was just without the walls of the city ; and exposed, therefore, to continual inspection. How could a body of men, who had just before fled from a similar guard, notwithstanding their Master was present with them, venture to attack this band of armed soldiers, for the purpose of removing the body of Christ from the sepulchre ? How, especially, could they make this attempt, when they had nothing to gain; and when they must become guilty of rebelling against the Roman Government; and, if they escaped death from the hands of the soldiers, were exposed to this evil in a much more terrible form?
Thirdly, The Apostles, with respect to this subject, had formed no plan; and entertained no expectations, and no hopes.
They disbelieved the story of his resurrection, when asserted by the most unsuspicious witnesses: his female disciples, and their own companions. Nay, they disbelieved it, after he had appeared several times; when they had seen, and known, that his body was gone from the sepulchre; and even when he had appeared to themselves. The truth is, they were completely discouraged and broken-hearted. The death of Christ had violated all their prejudices, destroyed their fondest hopes, and sunk their spirits in the dust. Nor was any expedient less fitted to revive their hopes, than the wretched cheat, imputed to them by their enemies.
Fourthly, The story told concerning this subject by the Sanhedrim, and thoughtlessly believed by the great body of the Jews, even to the present time, is itself strong evidence of the truth of the assertion, which I am maintaining.
This story, as you well know, is, that the disciples stole the body of Christ, while the guards were asleep. I will not, here, insist on the ridiculousness of this story; but will only consider it as the real account, given by the Sanhedrim concerning the disappearing of the body from the sepulchre. This sagacious
collection of men, VOL. II.
sharpened into extreme cunning by the constant management of human affairs in very difficult times, thought it proper to tell the world this story, as the best account which they could give of the subject. To what straits must their ingenuity have been driven, when they were compelled to such a resort ? Every man knows, that the guards would, of their own accord, have never ventured upon such a narration : for it would have been the infallible cause of their condemnation to death. It is scarcely possible, that a Roman Sentinel should acknowledge himself to have slept upon his post: nor is it much more possible, that a Jewish Senate should, unless under extreme pressure of circumstances, publicly accord with so contemptible a tale. Had that senate been possessed of any truth, which would at all have favoured their designs; they would have never disgraced their character by acknowledging their reliance, and persuading their countrymen to rely, on the testimony of a Heathen guard, nor of any other men, concerning what was done when they were asleep. Had truth favoured their wishes in any manner, neither the senate, nor the people, of the Jews, would have rested themselves, in a case of this consequence, nor indeed in any case, upon a story, which carried with it its own refutation.
2dly. The Jews in great numbers believed the Resurrection of Chrisi.
The Jews most ardently hated Christ and his Apostles. Him they persecuted throughout his public ministry; and at the end of it nailed him to the cross. The Apostles directly charged them with these enormous crimes; particularly in this very sermon of St. Peter, from which I have taken my Text. On this ground, they urged them to repentance: asserting always before them, that he had risen from the dead. Clear and unanswerable evidence, as I have already remarked, is necessary to convince the most candid man of so wonderful an event. But, to convince Jews, that the man, whom they had hated and crucified, was risen from the dead; Jews, so opposed to his character, mission, and doctrines; Jews, who, in admitting his resurrection, acknowledged themselves to have sinned in a manner unparalleled; demanded singular evidence. Yet three thousand of these Jews believed the Apostles' declaration of this fact, on the day of Pentecost; fifty days only after the crucifixion. Within a few days more, five thousand others adopted the same belief; and, soon afterward, very great multitudes.
The evidence of their faith is complete. All these men publicly professed it; and, in spite of their former prejudices, and their furious hatred, submitted themselves to Christ, as the Messiah. This crucified man they acknowledged in that glorious character; and yielded themselves to him, as the Son of God. Judaism, to which they had been attached with such bigotry, they now publicly renounced ; and gave up their ceremonious worship, their Sabbath,
Temple, Priests, and Sacraments; adopting in their stead the Christian worship, Sabbath, and Sacraments; submitting themselves to the ministers of the Gospel; and embracing a new life ; a life of real holiness; to them in the highest degree self-denying and difficult. A great number of them, also, sold their possessions, and distributed the avails of them, in mere charity, to their Christian Brethren. Beyond this, these converts voluntarily forsook their friends, their interests, and their hopes; and underwent a series of dreadful sufferings, terminating, not unfrequently, in a violent death.
To persuade men to renounce their religion, especially bigoted men, and to exchange a sinful life for a virtuous one, is undoubt. edly as hard a task, as was ever assigned to the human mind: especially, when that religion contravenes all the selfishness of man. Jews now exist in great numbers; and have existed ever since the crucifixion of Christ. They hold the same character, and the same religion. Christianity, the religion to which they are to be converted, is also the same. But more Jews were made converts to the religion of Christ by these two sermons of St. Peter, than have embraced it within the last sixteen hundred years.
It is therefore certain, that the Apostles possessed advantages for this end, which their followers have not possessed: and these advantages, independently of miracles, consisted, in a great measure at least, in the peculiar circumstances of their hearers. They knew and remembered the life, preaching, and miracles of Christ; and the wonderful events, which attended his death. These, as is obvious from the declaration of St. Luke, greatly affected their minds. And all the people, says the Evangelist, that came together to that sight, beholding the things that were done, smote their breasts, and returned. The guards, also, went into the city, and told the story of the descent of the Angel, who rolled away the stone from the sepulchre ; the awful circumstances, by which he was attended; and the resurrection of Christ.* When to these things were added the miraculous events of the day of Pentecost, and the marvellous cure of the lame man at the beautiful gate of the temple; these Jews yielded up their prejudices, and submitted to truths, which they could no longer resist. The facts, here specified, were, in the hands of the Spirit of grace, the means, by which such multitudes of enemies were converted to the faith of the Gospel.
3dly. The Sanhedrim believed the resurrection of Christ.
In the 4th of the Acts, we are informed, that the Sanhedrim had the Apostles brought before them for preaching, in the name of Christ, the doctrines of Christianity; and for affirming, that Christ was risen from the dead. Had they believed, that the Apostles stole away the body of Christ, they would now certainly have charged them with this gross fraud; this direct rebellion against
Matthew xxviii. 11.