Page images

they are prepared with a made-up story, constructed and connected amongst themselves beforehand. It is not said, you may likewise remember, that Christ appeared after his resurrection to any but his own disciples. Unbelievers, Jews especially, lay hold of this circumstance. He ought, for so they speak, to have appeared openly to the Jews, to enemies as well as friends. His confining his appearance to his friends and sollowers is, as they would intimate, suspicious. Now what were Christ's reasons for refusing his appearance to the unbelieving Jews we may not know. It is just like inquiring why he did not come down from the cross when they called upon him to do so. It might be fitting to withhold this last proof from those who had so shamefully and obstinately resisted and abused every other proof he had given in evidence of the resurrection, and might be designed for the instruction, comfort, and support of his followers, to whom it was necessary, for they could not stir a step without it, rather than for the conviction of the unbelieving Jews, inhabitants of Jerusalem, who had abundant evidence before, if they would have attended to it. And then, whether this was the reason, or whatever was the reason, it proves the sincerity and candor of the four evangelists, who have given the history. They could have said that Christ appeared to the Jews; and, had they thought themselves at liberty to have carved the story as they pleased, in order to make it plausible and probable, no doubt they would have said so. The objection that would be made to their present aceeunts was obvious ; and uoiiling but a strict adherence to truth, and disposition to relate them honestly as they were, whether they made for them or against them, would have induced them to lay themselves open to the objection. Forgeries of all kinds take care to guard against objection; and we are apt to overdo it with cautious exactness. With respect to the resurrection itself, as I have collected it briefly out of the four evangelists, you will observe, in the first place, that Christ had publicly soretold his own resurrection at the precise time of it, the third day from his death. This he would not have done, had any imposition been intended, because it was giving the public notice to be upon their guard, and look to themselves that they were not imposed upon. It had also this effect; for they did accordingly take such precautions as they thought most secure. Then, foretelling of his resurrection must likewise have ruined his cause for ever, if it had not actually come to pass. Not very many years ago, there appeared in this country a set of bold and wild enthusiasts called French prophets. They found means to draw after them a considerable party, till at length they had the confidence to give out that one of their teachers should, at a certain time and place, publicly rise from the dead. The time and place being thus known beforehand, many of all sorts attended. What was the effect? No resurrection being actually accomplished, they and their prophecies were blasted together. And the same thing must have happened to Christ and his followers, had he not actually risen; for the two cases are in this respect pretty parallel. Another way of considering this history is this. I think it manifest that the body of Jesus was missing out of the sepulchre. Thus much may be taken for granted, not merely on the credit of the gospels, but from the nature of the transaction. It is certain, and allowed by all, that the followers of Christ did, after his death, fully preach and assert that he was risen from the dead, and this they did at Jerusalem. Now if the Jews had the dead body of Jesus to produce, while his disciples were preaching that he was risen from the dead, how ready and complete a refutation would it have been of all their pretensions ! It must have exposed them in a moment to the derision and scorn of all who heard them. This being so, we may be very sure that the Jews had not the body forthcoming, as there cannot be a doubt but they would have made this use of it if they could have found it. Allowing, then, the body to be missing, the next question seems to be, whether it was stolen away, as the Jews pretended, by his disciples, or miraculously raised out of the sepulchre, as we maintain. The Jewish story, if you attend to it, is charged with numerous absurdities and improbability. The watch gave out that, while they slept, the disciples stole the body. This watch were Roman soldiers, remarkable for their military discipline and strictness. For a Roman soldier to sleep upon his post was punished, we know, with death. Is it credible, that they should sleep, all of them at this particular time, the third day after his death of all other times? The story carries improbability upon the face of it. Nor is it more likely that the disciples of Christ, dispirited and discouraged by their master’s fate, should think of such an attempt as stealing away the body, an attempt likely to be soon detected, and which, if detected, was sure to ruin and confound them for ever. Could they expect to find the guards asleep 2 Could they hope to escape the vigilance of those who were to answer for it with their lives 2 Now by the same rule that the Jewish story of the body’s being stolen is improbable, the apostles’ account of its being raised from the dead is probable, because missing out of the sepulchre it certainly was ; and if it could not be conveyed away by actual means, it must have been removed by a miracle. I thought this circumstance fit to be attended to in confirmation of the apostles’ testimony ; though, to say the truth, the testimony of the apostles to the resurrection of Christ needs neither this nor any other circumstance to confirm it; for where men lay down their lives, as many of them did, in support of an assertion which they must know whether it was true or false, it were an unaccountable piece of misplaced incredulity not to believe. In reading the New Testament, especially the Acts of the Apostles, you must have observed what a great stress the apostles in their preaching laid upon the fact of the resurrection; more, by much, than upon any other miracle Christ wrought, or indeed than all. When they chose a successor in the place of Judas, it was to be one, as St Peter says, to be witness with him of his resurrection. This also was what Peter rested upon in his first and second discourse to the Jews, and in his preaching to Cornelius; and there is reason to believe that it was what he bore with him, and laid the main stress upon, wherever he went. . In like manner, Paul, at Antioch and Athens, and some other places, delivers long discourses to the people, of which, however, the resurrection of Christ was the burthen and substance; and that this was his custom, may be collected from what he writes to the Corinthians. “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day.” The reason of which was, that they considered the resurrection of Christ as a direct and decisive proof of their own resurrection at the last day. Without doubt if it pleased God willingly to give mankind the plainest possible argument of his intention to raise them up at the last, we cannot imagine any more satisfactory than his raising up a dead man before their eyes. St Paul was so struck with this proof, that he thought no man could resist it. ‘If Christ be risen, how then say some among you,' that is, how are any among you so absurd as to say, “there is no resurrection ?’ Let us lay these things to heart. If Christ be risen, of which we have proof that cannot deceive us, then most certainly will the day arrive when all that are in the grave shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and come forth. We shall arise indeed; but to what? “They that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory, honor, and peace to every one that worketh good.’


MARK X. 17.

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life 2

THE question which was here asked our Saviour, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life P’ comprehends the whole of religion. He that can tell me this, tells me every thing. All knowledge and all faith is but to ascertain this one great point. *

‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ is a question which there is no man or woman living, one would suppose, but must have thought upon. In the height and vigor of health and spirits, when every night brings rest, and every morning joy, when pleasures, new and fresh, are continually presenting themselves to the imagination, it is possible to be so in love with this world, as to forget, or rather wilfully to shut our eyes against the thoughts that it is ever to have an end. But this round of festivity and delight is not every man’s portion, nor any man’s portion long. The amusements of life flag and slacken. Wexations and disappointments teach us that they are not to be relied upon. We pursue them with the eagermess of a child who is chasing a butterfly, and who, when he has caught it, finds that he is only grasping painted dust. We find that something more solid than mere diversion and sport must be attended to, to make even the present life comfortable and satisfactory. When we once grow serious, the most awful of all reflections opens itself full before our eyes; namely, that our interests and pleasures and prospects here will soon be finished ; that we have another, and a far greater concern to take care of. There is, we acknowledge, a period of man’s life, about the time of his coming to manhood, when, himself and his acquaintance being all young and strong, he, for a course of perhaps nine or ten years, sees little alteration in the world about him. All things appear to stand firm. His enjoyments and connexions seem secure and steadfast. Instances of the fickleness of human affairs happen, but none which reach him. He is not yet admonished by experience, the only lesson which many will attend to, that this world is not the place to set up our staff in ; and that we are called upon by the events of life, which is the voice of God himself, to look beyond it. However, this season, so flattering to thoughtlessness, is of short duration. In the course of no great number of years, the most happy and fortunate have examples brought home to them of the uncertainty of every earthly dependence. Their acquaintance drop off; their friends and equals and companions go down into the grave; instances of mortality take place in their own families, or immediately before their eyes. Decay, and change, and death press upon them on all sides, and in a thousand shapes; the scene of the world moves and shifts; the present generation he sees passing along, and soon to be swept away from off the face of the earth. Finding therefore this world to be no abiding place for any one ; that, however it once Smiled and delighted, its gay prospects are either gone or going, have either left us or are preparing to leave us; finding, I say, this; not taught it by others, but finding it out itself, the mind, musing and meditating upon what is hereafter to become of it, into what new scene it shall next be introduced, is powerfully led into the inquiry which the words of the text presents us with, ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life 2' Diversion, or company, or hurry of business may keep this reflection for a while out of our thoughts; but in a silent hour or a wakeful night, in a Solitary walk, or a pensive evening, it must and will come over our souls. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” If there be any who have not yet asked themselves this grand question, let me assure them that the time will come, and that it will not be long before it comes, when it will be the only question in the world which they will think worth caring about at all; that, although they may try to remove it from their minds at present as being too awful for their spirits, they will soon come to know, that awful or not, it must be regarded, and inquired after, and searched into. It is, I think, a strong observation, that in managing our worldly affairs, we always consider ourselves as having

« PreviousContinue »