Page images
PDF

of his purpose, enduring every hardship, encountering every danger, sacrificing his pleasures, his ease, his safety, in order to bring men to the knowledge of this fact, and, by virtue of that knowledge, to the practice of holiness. Now this is the question; hath ever any falsehood been supported by testimony like this 2 Falsehoods, we confess, have found their way into conversation, into tradition, into books. But is an example to be produced of a man voluntarily undertaking a life of pain, of toil, of ignominy, of incessant fatigue, of continual peril, of want, of hardship ; Submitting to the loss of home, of country, of friends, to stripes and stoning, to imprisonment and death, for the sake of carrying about a story of what was false, and of what, if false, he must have known to be so What then shall we say to these things 2 If it be true that Christ is risen, then undoubtedly it is true that we shall live again in a new state. Christ, we are told, ‘hath abolished death.” Yet men still die. What, then, is the change whereof we boast 2 Death is so different a thing, according as it is regarded as the destruction of our existence, or only as a transition to some other stage of it, that, when revelation affords us solid ground for viewing it in this latter aspect, death is said by that revelation to be abolished, to be done away, to reign, to exist no more. Still farther; if it be not only by the intervention of Christ that the knowledge of this is discovered to mankind, but by his power and agency that the thing itself is effected ; if it be his mighty working, which is to change our vile bodies, which is to produce the great renovation that we look for ; then is it more literally and strictly true, that by death he hath destroyed him that hath the power of death. $ ‘Men,” saith the epistle to the Hebrews, ‘through the fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage;’ and well they might! It held them in constant terror; it was a fixed load upon the spirits; it damped the satisfaction, it exasperated the miseries of life. From that bondage we are delivered. New hopes are inspired, new prospects are unfolded; the virtuous enjoyments of life we possess here, an exceeding and eternal weight of glory we expect hereafter. Are we prosperous and fortunate 2 Instead of beholding the period of human prosperity with perpetual dread, we have it in our power to make it the commencement of a new series of never failing pleasures, of purer and better joys. Does the hand of adversity lie heavy upon us? We see before us a reward in heaven

for patience, for submission, for trials, for sufferings; and, what is still more important, what is infinitely so, when that hour which is coming shall come, when we find the enjoyments of life slipping from under us, when we feel ourselves loosening from the world, and infirmity and decay gathering fast around us, we have then an anchor of hope, a rock of confidence, a place of refuge; we are then able to commit our souls to the custody of a faithful Creator, knowing, as St Paul speaks, in whom we have believed; being persuaded that he is able to keep that which we commit unto him against that day. We shall rise again; but unto what? they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; they that have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation. How tremendous is the alternative What an event, what a prospect is this to look forward to ' If all this be true, if the hour of judgment will certainly come to pass, what manner of men, as the apostle asks, ought we to be, what manner of lives ought we to lead, seeing, as he expresses it, we have such a cloud of witnesses, such a hope, such a notice and revelation of the things which will befall us! Is it possible that these things can ever be out of our thoughts 2 Is it possible that being there they can allow us to sin: He is gone up on high ; he hath led captivity captive ; he is in glory. Hear what the angels said to the astonished apostles; ‘In like manner as ye see him ascend up into heaven, ye shall see him come down again from heaven. Even so, come, Lord Jesus !” but oh mayest thou find us in some degree prepared, not indeed to awaii the severity of thy justice, but to be made objects of thy mercy; prepared by penitence and humility, by prayer, by a desire and study to learn thy will; by what is still more, the return and conversion of our hearts to thee, manifested by a quick and constant fear of offending; by a love of thy laws, thy name, thy scriptures, thy religion; by sincere, though interrupted, it is to be feared, and imperfect, yet by sincere endeavours to obey thy universal will!

XXXIX.

EASTER, DAY.

Acts XIII. 29, 30, 31.

And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre; but God raised him from the dead; and he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are witnesses unto this people.

THE resurrection of Jesus Christ was on this wise. He had frequently, during the course of his ministry, foretold his own resurrection on the third day from his death, sometimes in parables, sometimes in plain terms. In parables, as when, pointing to his body, he said to the Jews, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it again;” and upon another occasion, “No sign shall be given you but the sign of the prophet Jonas; for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” At other times he foretold the same thing in direct terms; “While they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, the son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men, and they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again.” And at various other times he declared thus to his disciples. The Jews who had come to the knowledge of this declaration, did not, I suppose, give any credit to it, but thought that it might put it into the heads of his disciples to attempt the stealing of his body out of the grave, in order to give color to the report that he was risen as he had foretold. With this story the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said whilst he was yet alive, after three days I will rise again ; command, therefore, that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night and steal him away, and say unto the people, he is risen from the dead.” Pilate, upon this application, which probably he judged a very unnecessary caution, ordered them to close up and seal the door of the sepulchre, and place a guard to watch it. With respect to the apostles and disciples themselves, they hardly seem to have known what to make of it. They scarcely believed or understood our Lord when he had talked of rising from the dead. The truth is, they retained to the last the notion, which both they and all the Jews held, that the true Christ, when he appeared, would set up an empire upon earth, and make the Jews the masters of the world. Now when, by his death, they saw an end put to all such expectations, they were totally at a loss what to think. ‘We trusted,” said one, then in a sort of despair of the cause, ‘that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel;’ that is, from the bondage their country was then in to the Roman people. Yet these despairing reflections were mixed with some kind of confused notion that all was not yet over. ‘Besides all this,” said the same disciple, ‘today is the third day since these things were done ;’ which shows that they bore in mind something that he had said of his rising the third day. In this situation of the affair, the Jews feared nothing but that his disciples should steal the body. His disciples, disheartened and perplexed, at a loss what to do, or what they were to look for next ; in this disposition, I say, of all parties, mark what came to pass. Some women, early in the morning of this day, went to the sepulchre with no other intention than to embalm the body with some spices they had prepared, when, to their astonishment and surprise, they found the guards fallen down in fright, the sepulchre open, the body gone, and the clothes it was wrapped in left in their place. They ran back, as was natural, to give his disciples this strange account. Peter and John, the two first they met with, hastened instantly to the sepulchre, and in the mean title, Jesus himself appeared to them; first to the women, then to two of the disciples, then to the eleven apostles all together ; afterwards, upon different occasions, to the apostles and other disciples on the evening of the fourth day after his resurrection; and upon one occasion, as St Paul relates, “to five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part,” says he, “remain to this present,’ i. e. are still living. In one of these appearances he upbraided them, as well he might, for their unbelief and hardness of heart, in not believing those who made the report of his resurrection, and had first seen him after he was risen. On another occasion he bade them handle his body, that they might be convinced it was not, as they had suspected, a spirit which they saw ; for • a spirit hath not,’ says he, “ flesh and bones as ye see me have.” At other times he was still more circumstantial. Thomas, one of the apostles, happened, it seems, to be absent when he first appeared to the disciples assembled together; and though they all assured him they had seen the Lord, so incredulous was he, that he declared, unless he saw him himself, and not only saw him, but also felt and examined the very marks of the wounds which were given him upon the cross, he would not be convinced. It pleased Christ, for the satisfaction of those who came after, to indulge Thomas in this demand; and when he appeared unto them at their next meeting, he called Thomas to him; ‘Reach hither,’ says he, “thy finger, and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side ; and be not faithless, but believing.’ You need not be told that, after forty days, during which time he occasionally appeared to his disciples, he was, in the sight of the eleven apostles, for the twelfth was Judas the traitor, lifted up into heaven, and the clouds received him out of their sight. It will be proper to return and take notice of the conduct of the Jews upon this occasion. The watch, which they had placed to guard the sepulchre, came into the city and showed to the chief priests the things that were done. “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 ; 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,’ says Matthew, “unto this day.” • Now there are some marks of truth in this relation, which, though both obvious and considerable, may perhaps escape you, if you have not heard them mentioned. There are, you will perceive, if you read the narrative, some variations in the accounts of the evangelists, principally arising from one history relating one circumstance, and another, another; when, in truth, both circumstances took place. For example; Christ appeared at many different times. St Matthew relates what passed at one appearance, St Luke at another, St John at a third ; and so it must needs happen that their relations will be different, though not at all contradictory. But what, after all, do these variations, or, if you will, inconsistencies, prove Why, they prove to demonstration, that the writers of the gospel did not combine or lay their heads together to fill up a story for the public, but that each wrote according to his memory, information, and judgment, without any scheme or contrivance amongst themselves to make their stories tally and correspond. There are always variations, and often contradictions, where witnesses are without communication and independent of one another; and if there be not, it conveys a strong surmise that

« PreviousContinue »