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And to shew that they were indeed sincere, they readily laid down their lives for the truth of what they affirmed; that is, for the truth of what they affirmed that they themselves had (Acts 4.20;
22. 15; seen and heard.
1 John 1. It is true, there have been men who have suffered death, 1, 3.] rather than renounce a false persuasion which they had embraced ; but never man, since the creation, suffered death in defence of a thing which he knew to be untrue.
As then the resurrection of Christ is a matter of fact of the greatest importance to mankind; for if He rose from the dead, it must be by the power of God; and then God owned Him for His Son; and consequently He was a teacher sent from God, to let the world know what must be hereafter; then whatever He said must be true.
It is for instance, most certainly true, as sure as God is true, that there is a life after this; that there will also be a judgment after this life; that they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. And consequently, those laws and rules which Jesus Christ has given to men are of divine authority, and by them we shall all most certainly be judged at the last day.
These, I say, being the consequences of Christ's resurrection, it was necessary, God being infinitely good and just, that there should be such a number of witnesses, and such infallible proofs of His resurrection, as should be sufficient to put the truth out of all doubt to men disposed to receive the truth in sincerity. Especially, since both these witnesses themselves, and all that heard and received their testimony, were bound to lay down their lives in defence of this truth.
Observe then the steps which our blessed Lord took to establish this truth, and to leave those that would not believe it without excuse, and without hopes of mercy. And first; He assured His disciples, “ that as Jonas was Matt. 12.
39, 40. three days and three nights in the whale's belly;" which was a sufficient proof of Jonas' being sent from God, for it was certainly known to the Ninevites; “so shall the Son of Man be three days in the heart of the earth.”
But lest His disciples should not understand this way of speaking, He tells them at another time plainly, “The Son Mark 9. 31.
John 14. 29.
SERM. of Man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall LXX.
kill Him; and after that He is killed, He shall rise the third day.”
And again, speaking of the same subject, he adds, “ And now I have told you before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass ye might believe;" that is, that ye may know for certain, that ye are not imposed upon, either by your own senses, or by the malice of evil spirits, when ye shall see Me again ; " for, as sure as ye see Me now, ye shall see Me after I am risen from the dead.”
And according to this prediction, He (after that by wicked hands He had been put to death) the very third day shewed
Himself alive to His Apostles, by many infallible proofs; and Acts 1. 3. after that conversed with them for forty days together; "speak
ing of the things pertaining unto the kingdom of God ;" 1 Cor. 15. 6. during which time “ He appeared unto five hundred of His
disciples at one time ;” and so as to convince them, to leave them without any doubt of the truth of His resurrection. For otherwise the holy writers would have plainly told the whole truth, as they have done in the case of St. Thomas. They tell us, for instance, that he would not believe, unless he might have such proofs as he himself should think sufficient ; he would not take the testimony of ten men, of whose honesty
he had had sufficient experience, but he would be convinced John 20.25. after his own way, or else he would still be an infidel. “Ex
cept,” saith he, “I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe."
No infidel on earth could be more positive, or could require more particular proofs, than one of Christ's own Apostles. But then he did not persist in his unbelief, when our Lord had condescended to satisfy him after his own heart's desire ; for it seems he had not, by other wickednesses, filled up the measure of his sins : and his Lord, who knew what instruments of good both he and St. Peter were like to be, was graciously pleased to pass by the infirmities of His servants ; and this doubting Apostle became one of those twelve witnesses of Christ's resurrection, by whose evidence the whole Christian world has been established in the truth of this most important article of the Christian faith.
And if there have been people in all ages, who have not been persuaded by their testimony, they are such (our Lord Himself has said it), they are such as "would not be persuaded (Luke 16.
31.] though one rose from the dead,” as often as they are pleased to call in question any received truth of the Christian religion; being such as either will not be at pains to consider these proofs; or such as have provoked God to leave them to themselves, by giving way to, and entertaining, unnecessary doubts; or lastly, they are such as, by consenting to known iniquity, have made it their interest not to believe any thing which must make them uneasy; and for that reason they bribe their understandings, as the Jews did the watch, to own a falsehood rather than believe the truth.
But indeed it is now too late to make objections, and raise scruples, when the most interested wit, and inveterate malice, of the Jewish rulers, when these things happened, could not stop the world from embracing this truth.
And if you ask why did not they believe? The answer is short; they were not disposed to receive the truth, or out of desperate madness, they would not own, what they could not but suspect was true, because they must then have owned that they had been the betrayers and murderers of the Son of God. Whereas a much less crime will, at this day, hinder wicked men from confessing the truth, if it is their worldly interest to deny what they know and have reason to believe is true.
Now, add to all these proofs, that God did ratify the testimony of these twelve Apostles, by enabling them to work miracles, for confirmation of this very truth; for with great (Acts 4.
33.] power, that is, with mighty signs and wonders, gave the Apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus ; God Himself setting, as it were, His seal to their testimony; which had this effect, that the Gospel, wherever this truth was preached, was received by all sorts of people. Well therefore might St. Luke say, that by many infallible proofs the resurrection of Christ was made known to the Apostles, and by them to the whole world.
And now, good Christians, you see upon what undeniable grounds this article of the Christian faith is founded; and I have set them in order before you, that your faith may be confirmed, and that I may from hence have an occasion of
SER M. shewing you, bow a firm belief of this truth may become a
principle of life to every one that believeth.
I observed to you before, that by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the doctrine of the Gospel is established beyond any possibility of doubting, provided men are disposed to receive the truth ; particularly, we are not now to doubt whether or not our souls are immortal; whether they live when the body is dead. It is plain our Saviour's soul did so, and was again united to His body.
We are not now to make it a question, whether there will be a judgment to come? Whether there are rewards and punishments hereafter, as men shall have behaved themselves here? Whether repentance, and an holy life, are not absolutely necessary to salvation ?
These are truths as certain now, as that there is a God. And the manner of making them plain to the very meanest capacity will leave all men, who shall hear of these things, without excuse, if they shall not order their lives accordingly. This, therefore, I shall not insist upon any farther; but what I would now desire you to consider, are these following things :
First ; that the great care and pains which the Holy Ghost has taken to put this matter out of all doubt, shews the great importance thereof to mankind. And indeed, it is the foundation of our faith; it is by this we know certainly, that the Christian religion is of God; it is the foundation of
all our hopes of "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, 3, 4.
and that fadeth not away.” It is the only support of Christians in the midst of the many changes and chances of this mortal life. And lastly, it is the great blessing we have in exchange for the loss of an everlasting life, which we for
feited when our first parents broke through the commands (Heb. 2.15; of God; for ever since that time, all mankind have, all their 2Tim.1.10.)
life long, been subject to bondage through the fear of death, until Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light, as well as purchased them for His otherwise miserable creatures. For by His resurrection (having taken our nature upon Him) He has assured us, that although God has passed the sentence of death upon us for our transgression, yet for Christ's sake, He will restore us to a much better
1 Pet. 1.
life, provided we will submit to the conditions He requires of us in order to obtain it.
“He was” (saith St. Paul) “delivered to death for our Rom. 4. 25. offences, and raised again for our justification ;" that is, as a plain proof that God accepted of His death as a full satisfaction for the sins of all those whose nature He took upon Him; that is, for the sins of the whole world.
Now God having, in this instance, given the world the most certain and convincing proof of the truth of Christianity, men are obliged, at their utmost peril, not only to embrace it, as the only means of recovering the favour of God, but of living as becomes the Gospel of Christ, since that is the only way of qualifying themselves for eternal happiness. So that there is now no choice left but this : “He that be- Mark 16.16. lieveth and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned.”
People may argue, and hope, and fancy, as they please; but as sure as Jesus Christ rose from the dead, (and you have seen what infallible proofs there are of that, this, and this only, will be the issue of believing, or not believing the Gospel; to wit, eternal happiness, or eternal misery.
II. The next thing, therefore, which I would recommend to
your serious consideration is this : that there is an effectual power which goes along with a hearty belief of this article of the Christian faith, and which is plainly experienced by those that have embraced it sincerely.
The Apostle desires, above all things, that he may know Phil. 3. 10. Christ and the power of His resurrection ; which will enable such as believe it heartily to raise themselves from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness, by rooting out all the vices of our nature, and planting in their room such virtues as are absolutely necessary to fit us for heaven and happiness.
There is no Christian who has seriously considered, and has attempted to master the corruptions of his nature, but has found, to his sorrow, that it is the most difficult thing in the world to break off evil habits ; so very difficult, that as one expresses it“, “ It is easier to take a dagger, and