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sition on this occasion; and more important cannot possibly be conceived.
The Jews, the most inveterate enemies of Christianity, preserve, with profound veneration and scrupulous care, the books of the Old Testament, which have been handed down in the same manner from generation to generation, during a long succession of ages. These books evidently contain a system of prophecy, centering in the person and redemption of the Messiah ; and, among other particulars, his sufferings and death are circumstantially foretold, with clear intimations of his resurrection and subsequent glorious kingdom.
We know also that the gospels were made public in the earliest ages of Christianity; for they are continually quoted and referred to by those writers whose works have been preserved: and from them we learn, that our Lord predicted his own death and resurrection on the third day, in so explicit a manner that the Jewish rulers were aware of it, and took their measures accordingly. Yet, when the body of Christ was delivered to Joseph, they were so fully satisfied, by what they saw and heard, of his being really dead, that they made no objection on that ground: but they requested Pilate that the sepulchre might be securely closed, and guarded by Roman soldiers, till the third day was past ; lest the disciples should steal his body, and say that he was risen again. After all their precautions, however, the body was gone, and they were never able to shew by whom it was removed, or what became of it.
· Psalm ii. xvi. 8-11. Isai. liii. 10-12.
Here let us pause, that we may consider the credibility of testimony.-One consistent witness, of sound understanding and fair character, who has no apparent interest in deceiving, is often decmed sufficient to determine the sentence of life or death, the most important of all temporal concerns: but, if three or four such witnesses should agree in deposing, that they saw such a murder or robbery committed by the prisoner at the bar, no sober man could doubt of the fact, or scruple to pronounce him guilty. Now there were twelve appointed witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, of plain good understanding, and unexceptionable character: for Peter's denial of his Lord, through the force of sudden temptation, forms no impeachment of his integrity; seeing he so honestly confessed his guilt, and so fully proved the sincerity of his repentance by his subsequent conduct : and, when Judas by transgression fell, another was chosen in his place. These witnesses had constantly attended Jesus during some years, and must have been competent to know him from all other men. They were remarkably incredulous respecting his resurrection; and his crucifixion seems almost to have extinguished their hopes : how then can it be supposed that they would have attempted to overpower or deceive the vigilant and valiant Roman soldiers, and to steal the body of Jesus? In so desperate an undertaking they must have been sure to excite the combined rage of both the Jewish and the Roman rulers : and success itself could only expose them to hatred, persecution, and all kinds of hardships and sufferings. It is manifest that, from the time they
began to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ, they renounced all prospects of worldly interest, ease, or greatness; and willingly embraced poverty, labour, contempt, bonds, stripes, and perils as their portion. So that no possible account can be given of their conduct, unless it be ascribed to a principle of conscience: while the strict and exact morality of their writings demonstrates, that they could not be actuated by false principles : for they do not allow men, in any case, to do evil that good may come; and they condemn all kinds of imposition with the most decided severity. Is it then possible for human beings deliberately to choose temporal and eternal misery, and to persevere in decided adherence to a plan which, on their own principles, ensures their damnation in another world, as well as a complication of miseries in this present life?
The witnesses of our Lord's resurrection survived that event a long time; some of them nearly forty years, and John still more. They were after a while separated into different parts of the world; and seemed to have no common interest, except in the success of Christianity: they passed through a series of the severest trials, and almost all of them died martyrs in the cause : but no change of circumstances or situation, no promises or threatenings of men, no repeated tortures or impending dangers, induced one of them in the smallest degree to waver in his testimony. They declared unanimously that, on the third morning after the crucifixion, a vision of angels told some of their company, at the sepulchre, that their Lord was risen ; that afterwards they all saw him repeatedly;
that they examined his hands, feet, and side, and were sure it was the same body which had been nailed to the cross; that he ate and drank with them several times; that at length, after giving them particular instructions relative to their future conduct, he ascended from among them, till a cloud intercepted their sight of him; and that two angels appearing to them declared he was gone heaven. Such an unwavering, persevering testimony of twelve persons, whose holy lives, diligent labours, disinterestedness, and patient sufferings evince their sincerity, forms so complete a proof, that, in any other case, he who should not be satisfied with it would be deemed sceptical almost to insanity.
This is, however, but a very small part of the evidence afforded us in this most important concern.–Saul the persecutor was a man endued with superior talents cultivated by education, and possessed of peculiar advantages for rising in the world; of which he was evidently availing himself while gratifying his implacable enmity to the gospel. Yet was he, all at once, converted into a most zealous preacher of that faith which he had attempted to destroy: and, renouncing all his former principles and worldly prospects, yea, exasperating above measure his powerful patrons and employers; he spent all the remnant of his days in the most self-denying labours, hardships, and sufferings, endured with the greatest alacrity, for the sake of Christ and the gospel : and at length he sealed his testimony with his blood. How can this fact be accounted for, unless we allow the truth of his narrative concerning the manner of his conversion ? And, if that be allowed, the resurrection of Christ is demonstrated.
In the chapter whence our text is taken, this man declares, that Christ appeared after his resurrection to “ above five hundred brethren at once," of whom “the greater part remained” to that time. This was an appeal to nearly three hundred living witnesses of that event : but no one ever attempted to disprove the truth of his assertion ; though false teachers would have concurred with open enemies in such an attempt had it been practicable.
The testimony of the apostles to the resurrection of Jesus implied a charge of the most complicated wickedness against the rulers of the Jewish nation: these had the power in their hands, and were every way concerned to vindicate their characters, and punish those who thus accused them. This might readily have been done, had they produced the Roman soldiers in court, to testify that the body of Jesus had been stolen, or to state in what way it was removed from the sepulchre.
But in fact they had bribed the soldiers to circulate a self-contradictory report on this subject, which would not bear investigation : and, when St. Matthew soon afterwards charged this publicly upon them, and declared that the story was generally current among the Jews to that time ; no one attempted to deny or disprove the charge! In every case of this nature silence must be construed into a confession of guilt: and, if the rulers could have accounted for the removal of the body, without either admitting the truth of Matthew's charge, or our Lord's resurrection, no doubt can reasona