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SERM. most solemn time, to be guests at the Lord's Table, that you LXVII.
may prepare yourselves to come worthily; that others seeing your good works, and the good effects of God's grace given you at His Table, may think and speak worthily of our Saviour, and be prevailed with to become His faithful servants; that we and they may, by Him, be made eternally happy, through the same Jesus Christ. To whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be ascribed all honour, power, and glory, now and for ever.
A DISTINCT PART OF THE HISTORY OF OUR SAVIOUR'S RESUR
RECTION PRACTICALLY CONSIDERED AND APPLIED.
Matt. xxviii. 11-15.
Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into
the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.
And 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 while we slept. 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 until this day.
My design, in the choice of these words, is not to raise your indignation against the Jews, for persisting so far in their wickedness, as to endeavour to stifle the truth, by lies and bribery; for they did what all men, destitute of the grace of God, and following the bent of corrupt nature, are apt to do, have done, and will do, to the end of the world.
Neither would I take pains to shew the folly of this story, with which, after they had assembled the elders, and taken counsel, they possessed the heads and minds of the people : for all wickedness is folly at the bottom, let there be never so many to counsel it.
But there being a great many very useful instructions which may naturally be drawn from this history and passage, and which may serve to shew us our own sin and folly, as well as that of the Jews; that we are as liable to the same obstinacy and unbelief as they were, if we are not careful to preserve our minds from the prejudices they laboured under; that it is not for want of sufficient proofs, that there are so many unbelievers, but chiefly for want of good dispositions, honest hearts, and integrity of manners; and, lastly, that truth will get the better of falsehood, of lies, and of imposSERM. ture, at the last, though all the world combine to stifle and LXVIII.
These being useful instructions, and natural consequences from this part of the history of our Saviour's resurrection, I would, by the assistance of God's good Spirit, so treat of them, as that we may better see the prejudices we labour under; that we may endeavour to get clear of them; and that our faith in this, as well as in the other articles of the Christian religion, may be found unreprovable in the sight of God.
I. It appears very strange to us, at first sight, that the Jews, who had in their hands the many prophecies of the Messiah, who expected and prayed for His coming, should yet so violently oppose Him when He appeared amongst them. And yet this is very easily accounted for: their hearts and affections were much set upon this world; they expected, and they hoped for, such a Redeemer, as would fight their battles, overcome their enemies that kept them under, and who should set them above all the nations of the earth.
Now, it was plainly impossible, that people, under such prejudices and expectations as these, should generally receive our Saviour in the mean and humble circumstances in which He appeared. He owned and declared, that His kingdom was not of this world; that His followers must expect no earthly power or preferment from Him; and His appearance was accordingly. He affected no grandeur, He refused the very honours that were offered Him; and all His discourses to those poor people with whom He for the most part conversed, were concerning a world to come, and how they might fit themselves for future happiness, by refusing the present.
It is true, there were people who received this doctrine, and Him that brought it: but who were they? Why, such only whose affections were not too much set upon the things of this life; such as were convinced this is not the world they were made for; such as were sensible of, and mourned for their sins and infirmities; the humble and meek in spirit, the pure in heart, all such as desired to know and to do the will of God: to all these the appearance and the doctrines
of Jesus Christ were very reasonable and acceptable; to all others He was a stumbling-block and an offence.
And we shall not wonder it was so with the Jews, when we consider, that it is just so with us at this day.
The truths of the Gospel are preached, explained, recommended, insisted upon, as absolutely necessary to be believed and observed by all that hear them, as they hope for salvation. You need not be told, that many, very many, whose interest it is to hear these truths, do not at all regard them. The thing is too plain to be questioned.
Do you believe that such people would have been convinced of their error, and would have mended their lives, if they had heard our Saviour Himself, and seen His miracles ? In truth, they would not.
Our Saviour Himself tells us, that men who will not hearken to the ordinary means of conversion, they that will (Luke 16.
31.] not hear Moses and the Prophets, “will not be persuaded, though one rose from the dead:” and constant experience bears witness to this truth.
One man is affected with those passages of the Gospel, which another takes no notice of; one is convinced and converted, while another is hardened by the same arguments. What can be the reason of this, but that all men are not equally disposed to receive the truth, when it is fairly proposed to them?
Why else should the Jews be so very desirous to have our Saviour's resurrection disbelieved, as to break through all the rules of conscience and honesty, to discredit that truth? Why, this was truly their case: they had entertained in their hearts an aversion to His person and character, because of the humble condition in which He appeared; they hated His doctrine, because it discovered their vile hypocrisy, and required such a righteousness as far exceeded that they boasted of; they decried His miracles, because they were wrought to confirm a doctrine which they would not receive: in short; they proceeded so far at last, as by false accusations and false witnesses to take away His life; and, being thus prejudiced against Him, they could not hear of His resurrection from the dead, but with the utmost disdain and vexation of mind; for this made them murderers, at least, of
SERM. a person beloved of God, who otherways would not have raised
Him to life again, after they had crucified Him.
These things put them upon this vile act set down in the text,-to hire men to set abroad a lie, which they themselves had forged.
And there is nothing in this whole proceeding, which is not natural, and which is not acted every day by men who are given over to a mind void of judgment. They hate the persons and the characters of such as plainly reprove them; they hate the doctrines which would restrain them from following their own inclinations; and by these prejudices are prepared to do the vilest thing to discredit what they hate so bitterly.
Now, these passages are recorded in the Gospel, and in other Scriptures, not to make us find fault with others, but that we may discover the corruption of our own hearts, by the faults we may observe in other people.
And in this instance we learn how very hard it is, when we have done a weak, or an ill thing, to be brought to own it, and to confess that we have been in the
wrong The Jews here would not consider what a wicked thing they had done, and how hitterly they ought to repent of it, if this person whom they had crucified were indeed, what He said He was, the Son of God. And yet, if what the soldiers said were true, it was manifest, He was more than man; and yet they durst not enquire into the truth of this, because it would necessarily create in them great trouble of mind; they therefore took the short and usual way to get rid of the shame and confusion which attends conviction; they gave out, that Christ was not risen, but that His disciples had stolen Him away, and they hired others to say the same thing; hoping, by this means, to get quit of the shame of having murdered an innocent person. As for the guilt of such an act, such persons seldom lay that to heart.
Now, what are we to learn from all this? Why, in the first place, never to take up a prejudice against any thing or person, without reason; for it is plain we cannot lay it down when we please. There is no question of it, but that these very elders, who agreed to give money to propagate a lie of their own making, yet spoke what they thought, when, but