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several times promised them, while he lived and conversed with them. Thus their zeal for their Lord's honour might cause them strongly to desire, and that desire as strongly incline them to believe, his resurrection. So, I say, some argue.
To which I answer, that as the objection before this represented the disciples in this whole business as persons extremely weak, so this would represent them as equally wicked; the former, as men wretchedly deceived, and this latter, as designing to deceive others; and that by a vile, fraudulent intrigue, contrived and carried on by them, both for their master's and their own reputation; an intrigue so very fraudulent, that the known, unblemished simplicity, integrity, and veracity of the persons concerned, and so remarkable throughout the whole course of their lives, makes it morally impossible, and consequently incredible, that persons of such a character should ever be guilty of so foul a practice and so base a collusion. And no more needs be said for their vindication from so impudent a calumny. But,
ought in all reason to be allowed, to proceed by measures quite different from ours; and accordingly, that he might not think fit to vouchsafe the Jews the highest evidence of Christ's resurrection, which it was capable of, who had rejected such high evidence of the like nature before; but rather judged it enough for him to afford them such evidence of it, as was in itself sufficient to convince them, and consequently to render their disbelief thereof irrational and inexcusable; besides that the highest evidence of an object proposed to be believed, may not consist with such a worth and merit in the said belief, as may fit it for a reward; as our Saviour's words to Thomas in the text manifestly import. From all which, I think we may, upon solid grounds, conclude, that the foregoing objection (how plausible soever it may seem at first) argues nothing against the belief of our Saviour's resurrection. But,
7. Whereas it is suggested, that nothing could be so powerful and effectual a means cause and propagate a belief of Christ's resurrection, as to have shewn himself, after he was risen, to the Scribes and Pharisees, and the unbelieveing Jews, openly in the temple or the market-place, which yet he did not; I answer, that supposing that Christ, after he was risen, had appeared so publicly amongst the Jews, as the objection here requires, no doubt they would have offered to lay violent hands upon him, as they had before designed to kill Lazarus, and that for the same reason. In which case, had our Saviour vanished out of their sight and hands, (as questionless he would have done, and as he had once or twice done from the eyes of his own disciples,) what would the Jews have concluded from hence, but that they had seen a ghost, a spectre, or apparition? And what conviction would that have wrought in them? Why, none at all, but that their senses had been abused, and imposed upon by some magical illusion. And what good effect could this have had upon their minds, for the bringing them to a belief, that Christ was truly risen? and much less that he was the Messias? which yet was the grand doctrine to be proved by the resurrection, and of which he had given them abundant proof before, by raising Lazarus and others from the dead; which yet we find had no such effect upon the generality of them at all. This to me seems as clear reason, and as natural consequence, as the mind of man, in such a case, can well be determined by. And no doubt, Almighty God foresaw this, and many more such consequences, which our short reason can neither reach nor pierce into; forasmuch as his ways and counsels may, and
8. It is moreover objected, that there is no small disagreement found in the main report about our Saviour's resurrection; as, that some of his disciples relate him to have appeared in one form, or shape, and some in another, whereas one man naturally can be allowed but one form and shape: and withal, that he came in to his disciples while the doors were shut; which seems wholly inconsistent with the essential dimensions of a human body, which cannot possibly pass through crevices or keyholes; the nature of quantity making such a penetration confessedly impossible.
To which I answer, according to the second preliminary consideration above laid down by us, that the bare measures of nature, after so many miracles done by our Saviour on the one side, and attested and owned by the Jews, as surpassing all power, merely natural, on the other, ought by no means to be a rule for us to proceed by in the present case. And therefore, to give the objection its full force and advantage, supposing it urged by some Jew against the truth of Christ's resurrection, may we not hereupon ask the said Jew this plain question? Were the Jews eye-witnesses of the miracles and supernatural works done by our Saviour, or were they not? The latter cannot possibly be said, there being hardly a man in Jerusalem who had not personally seen some of them done. And if the former be granted, upon what ground of reason could those Jews deny, but that he, who acted by such a supernatural power in some things, might as well do the same in others? Or pretend, that he who had raised Lazarus from the dead might not, if he pleased, present himself in different shapes and forms; whether it were by differently qualifying his own body, as the object then offered to be seen, or by differently disposing the visage faculty and organs of sight, in such as were to see it?
(as we read he actually did to two of his disciples, whose eyes were so held, that though they looked upon him, yet they could not actually know him, Luke, xxiv. 16.) And upon the same ground likewise, might he not as well by his supernatural power appear amongst his disciples, "while the doors were shut?" (John, xx. 19.) Though these words, taken in sensu diviso, as the logicians speak, and not in sensu composito, may be accounted for upon very intelligible grounds; that is to say, that Christ came not through the doors continuing shut, or through chinks, or keyholes, (as some profanely word it,) while he passed into the room; but that, finding them shut, he without any noise or difficulty, caused them by his supernatural power to fall open before him. And even this was enough to surprise his disciples so far, as to fright, and make them think that they saw a spirit. Which sense of the words, as it is fair, and unforced, and agreeable to the common way of speaking, so it infers not in the least that great absurdity in philosophy, of a penetration of bodies; though still it must be confessed and owned, that, in all this dispute, our Saviour's body after his resurrection, was not to be looked upon as a natural, but supernatural body; that is to say, of quite different qualities from what it had before, albeit we still grant it to have been the same in substance. Upon which account, for bare human reason to be able to assign what could or could not be done by a body so supernaturally qualified, (and as it were spiritualized,) I think it no reproach to it at all, freely to confess itself wholly at a loss; and consequently, that to argue from the state and natural properties of such bodies as we carry about us, to those of our Saviour's body, after he was risen from the dead, would be a manifest transition a genere ad genus; and so a notorious fault, and fallacy in argumentation.
And thus, I hope, I have at length thoroughly examined and gone over all or most of those plausible arguments, which are or may be brought for the justification of this doubting disciple's backwardness in believing his master's resurrection; and trust, that have given sufficient and satisfactory answers to them all. But as for that objection, or rather senseless lie, invented and made use of by the Jews, (as the evangelists record,) of Christ's body being stolen and conveyed away by his disciples in the night, while the soldiers (set to guard it) slept; it is attended with so many improbabilities and absurdities, and those not more directly contrary to reason than to common sense and experience, that it hardly deserves a serious confutation.
the Jews, should all of them (and those no inconsiderable number doubtless) fall asleep at one and the same time? No, it is wholly improbable, and consequently upon no terms of reason supposable. Nevertheless, admitting on the other side that so unlikely a thing had really happened, and the soldiers had all fallen asleep, (as the story pretends they did,) yet this could not have given the least encouragement to the disciples (at that time but a very few unarmed men) to venture upon such an enterprise: forasmuch as they neither then did nor could foresee this aceident of the guards falling asleep; nor if, when they came upon this design, they had found all of them actually asleep, could they have imagined otherwise, but that the putting of the said design in execution would have raised such a noise, as must needs have awakened some of the watch; which if it had, the disciples assuredly must and would have perished in their fool-hardy undertaking; though yet all this while we may very well imagine, that even they, as well as other men, put too great a value upon their lives, to throw them away in so obstinate and senseless a manner. Besides, had the whole matter succeeded as was desired, can we think it morally possible that the Jewish priests, who had so set their hearts upon exposing Christ to the people for an arrant impostor, and particularly with reference to what he had foretold of his resurrection, would not have used their utmost interest with Pilate, for the inflicting some very extraordinary and exemplary punishment upon those guards, for betraying so great a trust, as the Jews accounted it? But we hear of no such thing; but, on the contrary, of a very different way of treating these soldiers, from what the priests and rulers would otherwise have certainly taken; who, if the said story had been true, would have been much more liberal in scourging their backs, than they were in oiling their hands. To all which may be added, the utter unsuit-! ableness of the season (as a foreign divine observes) for such a night-work; it being then at the time of the full moon, when in those eastern countries the night was almost as bright as the day; and withal at the time of the passover, when Jerusalem, not able to accommodate so vast a multitude from all parts resorting thither upon so solemn an occasion, great companies of them (no doubt) were walking all night about the fields and other adjacent places; which must needs have made it next to impossible (if not absolutely so) for the disciples (had they got the body of our Saviour into their hands) to have carried it off without discovery. All which considerations, together with many more incident to this matter, render this Jewish story not more false and foolish, than romantic and incredible. And accordingly, as such I dismiss it.
For can any man of sense imagine that the soldiers, set to watch the sepulchre, and that with so strict and severe an injunction of care and vigilance from the priests and rulers of
Nevertheless, not to rest here, but having thus answered and removed whatsoever could with any colour, or so much as shadow of reason, be brought for an objection against this great article of our Saviour's resurrection, we shall now pass to such arguments as may positively prove the same; and in order to it, shall premise this observation; namely, that to constitute, or render an act of assent properly an act of faith, this condition is absolutely necessary; to wit, that the ground, upon which the said assent proceeds, be something not evident in itself. And indeed so necessary a condition is this, that without it faith would not be formally distinguished from knowledge; knowledge (properly speaking) being an assent to a thing evidently and immediately apprehended by us, either in itself, its causes, properties, or effects. And upon this, and this account only, assent is properly said to be evident. But now, where such an evidence is not to be had, (as in things not falling under our personal, immediate cognizance, it is not,) then there can be no other way of assenting to any such thing, or proposition, but from the testimony of some one or more, who may be rationally presumed to know it themselves; but then such an assent is (as we have shewn) by no means evident, or scientifical, as not being founded in our own but in another's knowledge of the thing assented to by us. Where, for our clearer understanding of this whole matter, we ought carefully to distinguish between these three terms, evidence, certainty, and firmness of assent. As to the first of which, to wit, evidence: a thing is said to be evident, when there is an immediate perception of the object itself assented to, by an act of our sense or reason apprehending it. And in the next place, as for certainty of assent; that is, when a thing is so assented to, that although it be not in itself evident, yet that there is a sufficient ground for such an assent, and no rational or just ground to doubt of it; as where a thing is affirmed or attested, either by God himself, or by some person or persons whose credit is unquestionable. And thirdly and lastly, firmness of assent consists in an exclusion of all actual doubting about the thing assented to; I say actual doubting, whether there be a sufficient reason against such doubting, or no; forasmuch as men may be every whit as confident in a false, ungrounded belief, as in a well-grounded and true. Now the difference between these terms thus explained must, as I noted before, be very carefully attended to, or it must needs occasion great blunder and confusion in any discourse of this nature. And accordingly, to apply the formentioned terms to our present purpose, we are to observe, that although our assent to matters of faith be not upon grounds in themselves evident, yet it may nevertheless
be upon such as are certain; and not only so, but in all matters necessary to be believed, (such as our Saviour's resurrection, and other divine truths,) it must and ought to be sufficient. And the reason of this manifestly is, that if we might be bound to assent to a thing neither evident nor certain, we might some time or other, and in some cases, be bound to believe or assent to falsehoods as well as truths; which God never requires, as by no means obliging us to the belief of any thing, but where there is much more reason for our believing than our not believing it; that being, as I conceive, sufficient to warrant the rationality of a man's proceeding in what he believes; especially if it be necessary, that either the affirmative or the negative be believed by him. And for this cause the apostle commands us, (1 Pet. iii. 15,)" to be always ready to give a reason of the hope that is in us:" and the same holds equally in faith too, both of them resting upon the same bottom. For neither Saint Peter nor Saint Paul ever enjoin belief merely for believing's sake; though still they are far enough from requiring us to give a reason of the things we believe, (for that, I own, a Christian must not always pretend to,) but to give a reason of his belief of the said things. This every Christian may and must; for still his belief ought to be rational.
Thus far therefore have we gone, having proved, that although the resurrection of our Saviour be a thing in itself inevident to us now, and not shewing itself at such a distance of time by any light either inherent in it, or personally and immediately perceivable by our senses or understandings; yet being proposed to our belief upon certain and sufficient grounds, it ought, according to the measure of the said certainties, to be believed and assented to by us. So that it remains now for us to demonstrate, that the ground or reason, upon which we are to believe our Saviour's resurrection, is certain, and by consequence sufficient. And accordingly I shall state the belief of it upon these two arguments; common, I confess, but never the less foreible for being so.
1. The constant, uniform affirmation and word of those, who have transmitted the relation of it down to posterity. For this being merely a matter of fact, (the thing in dispute being, whether Christ rose from the dead or no,) is by no means knowable by us, who live at so great a distance from the time when it came to pass, but by one of these two ways, namely, either, 1st, by immediate divine revelation; or, 2d, by human testimony or tradition. As to the first of which, it is not nowdays, by any of the sober professors of Christianity, so much as pretended to; nor, if it were, ought such pretences to be allowed of. And therefore we must fetch it from the
other way, to wit, tradition; to the rendering of which certain, and beyond all just exception credible, these two conditions are required:
1. That the persons, who made it, and from whom it originally came, had sufficient means and opportunities to know, and to be informed of the truth of what they reported to the world. And,
2. That they were of that unquestionable sincerity, as truly and impartially to report things as they knew them, and no otherwise. Now, for the
First of these two conditions, namely, that the reporters had sufficient opportunity to know the things reported by them, this is undeniable; forasmuch as they personally conversed with Christ, and were eye and earwitnesses of all that was done by him, or happened to him, as it is in the First Epistle of Saint John, (i. 1. 3.) "That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, declare we unto you." And surely, if knowledge might make a man a competent witness, there is none for evidence, as well as certainty, superior to that of sense: and if the judgment of any one sense rightly disposed be hardly or never deceived, surely the united judgment of them all together must needs upon the same terms pass for infallible, if any thing amongst us poor mortals may or ought to be accounted so. But,
Second, As for the other forementioned condition of a competent witness, namely, that he be a person of such unquestionable sincerity, as to report the naked truth of what he knows. This, with respect to the apostles in the present case, appears in a great measure from the meanness of their parts, abilities, and education, naturally disposing men to plainness and simplicity; and simplicity has ever yet been accounted one good step to sincerity. They were poor, mean fishermen, called in Aets iv. 13. ἰδιῶται καὶ ἀγράμματοι, in plain terms, persons wholly illiterate, and unacquainted with the politic fetches of the world, and utterly unfit to conceive, and more unfit to manage any farther design, than only to deceive and circumvent the contemptible inhabitants of the watery region. And could such men, (think we,) newly coming from their fishermen's cottages, and from mending their nets, cutertain so great a thought, as to put an imposture upon the whole world, and to overturn the Jewish laws, and the gentile philosophy, with a new religion of their own inventing? It is not so much as credible, and much less probable.
But besides, admitting these persons to have been as subtile and deeply knowing, as they were in truth shallow and ignorant, yet still they were men, and consequently of the same passions and desires with other men; and being so, that they should relinquish all the
darling pleasures, profits, and accommodations of life, and voluntarily expose themselves to scorn, tortures, persecutions, and even death itself, only to propagate a story, which they themselves kuew to be a lie, and that an absurd, insipid, incredible lie, (if a lie at all,) this certainly was a thing unnatural, and morally impossible. For can any man, not abandoned by the native sense of man, bring himself to be in love with a gibbet, or enamoured with a rack? Can these tortures, which are even able to make a man abjure the truth, allure him to own and assert, and even die for a lie? Wherefore, there being no imaginable objection against the disciples' sincerity and veracity, (which was the other qualification of a competent witness mentioned by us,) it follows, that their testimony concerning our Saviour's resurrection is to be accepted and believed as true, certain, and unexceptionable. And so much for the first argument. But,
2. The other argument shall be taken from those miraculous works by which the apostles confirmed the testimony of their words. He who affirms a thing, and to prove the truth of it does a miracle, brings God as a voucher of the truth of what he says. And therefore, he who shall affirm that the apostles proclaimed to the world things false, must affirm also, that they did all those miracles by their own or the devil's power; or if they did them by God's, then that God lent the exercise of his power to impostors, to confirm and ratify the publication of a lie, for the beguiling and deceiving of mankind, and that in a matter of the highest and most important concern to them that can possibly be. Which is so blasphemous for any one to assert, and so impossible for God to do, that the very thought of it is intolerable.
So that now the only thing remaining for our full conviction is, to shew that there is sufficient reason to persuade men that such miracles were really done by the apostles, to confirm the doctrines delivered by them. And for this we are to hear the only proof which things of this nature are capable of; to wit, the voice of general, long continued, and uninterrupted antiquity, that is to say, the united testimony of so many nations, for so many ages successively, all jointly agreeing in one and the same report about this matter; which report, if it were untrue, must needs have been framed by combination and compact amongst themselves. But that so many nations of such various tempers, such different interests, and such distant situations from one another, should be able all to meet and combine together, to abuse and deceive the world with a falsehood, is upon all the rules and principles of human reasoning incredible. And yet, on the other side, that this could be done without such a previous combination, is
1. That no man of common sense or reason undertakes any action considerable, but for the obtaining to himself some good, or the serving some interest thereby, either in this world or in the next.
2. That our Saviour's disciples, though they bore no character for political knowledge or depth of learning, yet shewed themselves, in the whole course of their behaviour, men of sense and reason, as well as integrity.
3. That being such, and so to be considered, had they known Christ's resurrection to have been a falsehood, they would never have preached it to the world, to the certain bringing upon themselves thereby the extremity of misery and persecution in this life, and a just condemnation from Almighty God in that to
4. That had the resurrection of our Saviour been indeed false and fabulous, his disciples could not but have known it to be so.
To which I shall add the
5th, That in things proposed to our belief, a man safely may, and rationally ought to yield his assent to that, which he finds supported with better and stronger arguments (though short of a demonstration) than any that he sees producible against it.
From all which it follows, that our Saviour's resurrection having been attested by persons so unexceptionably qualified for that purpose, whether we consider the opportunities they had of knowing thoroughly the things testified by them, or their known sincerity and veracity in reporting what they knew, as likewise the miraculous works done by them, in confirmation of what they delivered, and all this brought down to us by unanimous, undisputed tradition; and moreover, since such tradition has greater ground for its belief, than the discourse of any man's particular reason can suggest for its disbelief, (universal tradition being less subject to error and fallacy than such discourses or argumentations can pretend to be ;) and lastly, since it is a manifest absurdity in reasoning, to reject or dis believe that, which a man has more ground and reason to believe than to disbelieve; I conclude that the doctrine of the apostles concerning our Saviour's resurrection ought, upon the strictest terms of reasoning, to be believed and assented to, as a most certain, irrefragable, and incontestable truth; which I take to be the grand conclusion to be proved by us.
In fine, if I have brought the point hitherto disputed of, so far as to make it appear that there are greater and stronger arguments for the belief of our Saviour's resurrection, than for the doubting of it, (as I hope I have effectually done,) I conceive this to be sufficient in reason to strip men of all justification of their unbelief of the same, and consequently to answer all the great ends of practical religion, the prime business and concern of mankind in this world. Albeit must be still confessed, (as we have noted from Calvin before,) that there are several passages relating to this whole matter, neither so demonstrative, nor yet so demonstrable, as might be wished. Nevertheless, since it has pleased Almighty God to take this and no other method in this great transaction, I think it the greatest height of human wisdom, and the highest commendation that can be given of it, to acquiesce in what the divine wisdom has actually thought the most fit in this affair to make use of.
And now to close up the whole discourse; with what can we conclude it better, than with a due encomium of the superlative excellency of that mighty grace, which could and did enable the disciples so firmly to believe, and so undauntedly to own and attest their belief of their blessed master's resurrection? and that in defiance of the utmost discouragements, which the power, malice, and barbarity of the bitterest enemies could either threaten or encounter human nature with.
And to advance the worth of this faith, if possible, yet higher, we are to know, that it consists not (as has been hinted already) in a bare act of assent or credence, founded in the determining evidence of the object, but attended also with a full choice and approbation of the will, for that otherwise it could not be an act properly free; nor consequently valuable (and much less meritorious) in the esteem of God or man. And therefore some of the ablest of the schoolmen resolve faith, not into a bare credence, or act of the understanding only, but also into a pious disposition of the will, preventing, disposing, and, as it were, bending the former, to close in with such propositions, as bring with them a suitableness as well as truth; and it is not to be doubted, but inclination gives a powerful stroke and turn towards credence, or assent. So that while truth claims and commands the same, and suitableness only draws and allures it, yet in the issue this obtains it as effectually as even truth itself. Not that I affirm, or judge, that in strictness of reason this ought to be so, but that through the infirmity of reason it is but too manifest, that very often (if not generally) it falls out to be so.
In the meantime we may here see and admire the commanding, and (I had almost said) the meritorious excellency of faith: