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FAITH WELL FOUNDED ON CHRIST'S RESURRECTION.
ĄCTS X. 40, 41. Him God raised up the third day, and skewed him openly ; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and
drink with him after he rose from the dead. To fill the character, and answer the purposes, of a mediator, it was judged necessary by Almighty God, that Christ should suffer death, and rise again from the dead, before he had seen corruption. His sufferings gave weight to his intercessions; and no other miracle could so strongly prove his mission, as his resurrection.
If the latter was a real resurrection, then the truth of Christianity is equal to its importance; but if it was not, if Christ did not come to life again after he was dead, then our religion was an imposture from the beginning, and we are deceived in adhering to it. 'If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith also is vain.'
The apostles, and the rest of Christ's disciples, after seeing all his other miracles, and working many themselves, rested their faith or disbelief on the experiment about to be made upon his dead body, in order to see whether the divine power would actually attend him in his grave. And the Jews, who had him now at the utmost disadvantage, when, as they thought, he could not make even an attempt to impose on them with an appearance of a resurrection, took all the proper precautions to prevent its being attempted by any body else. For this purpose they “sealed his tomb,' which was in a rock, and 'set a guard of soldiers' to watch the entrance.
Impostures of all kinds are most easily passed upon the
world in ignorance and obscurity, and by surprise. They who carry them on, do it among the ignorant, and without giving sufficient warning beforehand of what they intend to do; lest the persons whom they would impose on, being prepared, should look sharp, and, by examining closely into every circumstance, should discover the deceit.
Far otherwise was the case in respect to the resurrection of Christ. It had been foretold many ages before, that ‘God would not leave his Holy One,' the Messiah,‘in hell,' that is, the grave, ‘nor suffer his flesh to see corruption :' and, when the time drew near in which this wonderful experiment was to be made, lest the persons concerned should not be sufficiently attentive, Christ took care to give both his friends and enemies timely warning of his intention to rise the third day after his death, that the latter might do their utmost to prevent it, and the former have the fullest evidence of the fact when done.
Now his enemies were persons of great understanding, and of malice, in regard to him, sufficient to put them upon doing every thing that could prevent the possibility of imposition. They had him entirely in their power ; they took care to have more than sufficient proof of his death, before they suffered him to be taken from the cross; and although they permitted him to be buried in the tomb of a disciple, yet they kept that tomb absolutely in their power, and subject to their own inspection.
Taking it for granted, that Christ was, at least, a man of common sense (and his enemies allow him to have had a very extraordinary understanding), how can we account for his putting the divinity of his person, the credit of his mission, and the success of his religion in all ages, on so difficult a proof, nay, on a proof so impossible to be given, had he not known that infinite power was ready to give it? No one, who attempts to impose on others, gives warning long and often beforehand of what he intends to do.
Our Saviour, considered merely as a man of common sense, could not have proposed suffering death only to impose on others, especially as death must deprive him of all power to deceive, and of all advantages to be hoped for from the deceit.
As a man of common sense, he could not hope that the Jews, who were his bitter enemies, and many ways interested to prevent his being taken for the Messiah, would let him slip out of their hands, till they had made sure work of his death.
As a man of common sense, he must have known, that, being once dead, if he could not raise himself again to life, his disciples would be as much interested to give him up, as his persecutors to destroy him, for an impostor; and that, even if they could have been, one and all of them, so mad as to assist in carrying on so fruitless a cheat in the teeth of a persecution already begun in the blood of their Master, they had neither resolution nor cunning sufficient for so difficult an enterprise; that, in short, they were almost as unable to carry on such a cheat successfully, as they were to give new life in reality to his body.
Supposing, then, that Christ knew himself to have no miraculous power more than other men, and that he was only a pretender, and a deceiver, he must have deliberately schemed his own misery, and untimely death. And for what? Not for even the wild hope of credit and success with the world after he was dead; for, having put the reality of his mission from God on his rising from death the third day, being sure to fail in this decisive proof, he must have schemed his own disgrace and infamy with all mankind ; he must have courted misery and death, for no other end, but to make his memory scandalous and odious to all ages.
Surely none but an idiot could have taken such a course as this, when he might have put his credit and success upon a more promising footing; when he might have rested both on the miracles he was believed to have already wrought; when he might, as Mahomet did, have assumed the character, not of a sufferer, but of a conqueror, and that with infinitely more hope of gaining a powerful army to support him; because he could do things that looked so like miracles, that the wisest and most malicious of his enemies took them for such; and because the Jews were, at that very time, ready to rise in favour of any one who should attempt ..to restore the kingdom again to Israel. A nation so 'numerous, so enthusiastic, and so obstinate, must have afforded the most hopeful prospect of success to the projected insurrection.
From this plain way of reasoning it follows, that we must either believe Christ knew he could raise himself from the
dead, or take him to have been the most weak and stupid of all men : yet, such must we be ourselves in the strongest sense of the words, if we do not look úpon his understanding as superior to that of other men; for, in all parts of his conduct, he discovered surprising gravity and wisdom; and, as a speaker, could please without ornament, could do what he would with the head and heart of his hearer, without logic or rhetoric, without the least assistance of art. Or, will suppose all this the effect of superior art; yet we cannot do so, without allowing him superior understanding. And could such a man deliberately set himself in such a course of life as must be miserable, and soon end in a shocking death, merely to prove, by a resurrection which he promised, but knew he could by no means perform, that he was the Son and messenger of God, in order to be adored after he was dead, when he could not possibly avoid foreseeing, that, by this very expedient, he should prove himself to have been a most impudent and scandalous impostor ? It shocks.common sense to suppose this; and therefore we must conclude, that Christ, in promising to return again to life the third day, did no more than he well knew he.could easily perform; and farther, if we have good reason to believe he did actually rise again to life, we must ourselves be something less than men, if we do not take him to have been more, to have been the Son and messenger of God, the instructor and saviour of men.
As to the proofs and evidences of his having risen from the dead, they are such as never appeared to vouch any other fact. His disciples, who in a manner gave him up upon his being put to death, having been eye-witnesses of his resurrection; having over and over again seen him alive after he was dead ; having conversed with him, eat with him, felt him, for' forty days successively; became the witnesses of his resurrection; and rejoiced to prove its reality, and their own veracity, to the world, by all the sufferings and variety of deaths that human nature is most apt to fear and decline, rather than give up a cause in which they saw the honour of God, and the salvation of men, were so immediately concerned. They had every worldly advantage to hope for, if they betrayed this cause; they had every worldly evil to encounter with, if they stood to it; yet every man of them did stand to it to the last, which is a thing utterly inconceivable, upon a supposition that they were cheats; for such always seek to impose on others, not themselves, and never fail, in cases like this," to detect and betray one another. Their Master had been crucified, their friend and fellow-disciple stoned to death in their sight, and the spirit of persecution was growing warmer and warmer both in the Jews and Romans; yet not one of them ever entertained a single thought of deserting the cause they had espoused. Now let common sense judge whether this is not, morally speaking, an impossibility, supposing them to have known their Master to be an impostor, and his resurrection a figment.
; To all this there is but one objection that seems to deserve our consideration. The adversaries of Christianity ask, Why did not Christ appear, after his resurrection, to the unbelieving Jews, particularly to the high-priest and sanhedrim? Why were his own disciples singled out to be his witnesses, and not his enemies, whose conviction must have weighed more with posterity than that of his disciples, who were ignorant, prejudiced in his favour, and persons of too little importance or esteem to evidence so great and so extraordinary a fact?
In answer to this, it must be observed, that the enemies of Christ, and the unbelieving Jews, had abundant evidence of his mission and resurrection. As to his mission, they saw him do and suffer all the prophecies had foretold of him. And, as to his resurrection, what farther evidence did they want of that, than was actually given them? Did he not tell them, he would rise again the third day? Had they not his person in their power? Did they not pursue him till it was impossible to doubt of his death; and use the most unsurmountable precautions to prevent the stealing away his body? And when, nevertheless, they had not his body to produce, how could they question the reality of his resurrection ?. They had, in short, evidence of this great event, sufficient for their own conviction, had they not been the most blind and perverse of mankind.
rverse of mankind. All farther evidence must have been thrown away on such men, both in respect to their conviction, and that of others through them.
As to the attestation of this fact to the world, it required