« Prev A Discourse Concerning Our Saviour’s … Next »

A DISCOURSE

CONCERNING

OUR SAVIOUR’S RESURRECTION.


JOHN xx. 29.

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

CHRIST, the great Sun of righteousness and Saviour of the world, having by a glorious rising, after a red and a bloody setting, proclaimed his deity to men and angels, and by a complete triumph over the two grand enemies of mankind, sin and death, set up the everlasting gospel in the room of all false religions, has now, as it were, changed the Persian superstition into the Christian devotion; and, with out the least approach to the idolatry of the former, made it henceforth the duty of all nations, Jews and Gentiles, to worship the rising sun.

But as the sun does not display his rising to all parts of the world together, nor to the same region shews his whole light at the same instant; but by weaker glimmerings at the first, gradually ascends to clearer and clearer discoveries, and at length beams it forth with a full diffusion; so Christ here discovered himself after his rising, not to all his apostles at once, nor to any of them with the same evidence at first, but by several ascending instances 497and arguments; till in the end he shone out in his full meridian, and made the proof of his resurrection complete in his ascension.

Thomas we have one of the last in this chorus, resolving to tie his understanding close to his senses; to believe no further than he could see, nor to venture himself but where he could feel his way. He would not, it seems, take a miracle upon hearsay, nor resolve his creed into report, nor, in a word, see with any eyes but his own. No; he must trace the print of the nails, follow the spear into our Saviour’s side, till he even touched the miracle, and felt the article of the resurrection.

But as in the too inquisitive beholder, who is not content to behold the sun by reflection, but by a direct intuition of his glorious body, there comes such a light, as at the same time both informs and chastises the over-curious eye; so Christ here, in his discovering himself to this doubting apostle, condescends indeed to convince him in his own way; but so, that while he complies with his infirmity, he also upbraids his infidelity; humouring his patient, but not sparing his distemper: and yet all this with so gentle an hand, and such an allay of sweetness, that the reproof is only collateral or consequential, not directly reproaching him for his unbelief, but implicitly reflecting upon it, by commending the belief of others: nothing in the mean time sharp or corrosive dropping from his healing lips, even in passing such a reprehension upon his disciple. He only shews him his blind side in an opposite instance, and so leaves him to read his own case in an antithesis, and to shame himself by a comparison.

Now, inasmuch as the distinguishing eminency of 498the blessing so emphatically here pronounced by our Saviour upon a faith or assent springing not from sight, but a much higher principle, must needs import a peculiar excellency of the said faith; for its surmounting all those high difficulties and impediments attending it, though still with a sufficient reason to found it upon: (for that Christ never rewards any thing with a blessing, but so far as it is a duty; nor makes any thing a duty, but what is highly rational:) this, I say, is most certain. But then, as for those various and different objects which a genuine faith ought to come up to the belief of, we must not think that the same strength, as to the kind or degree of it, will be able to match them all; for even the particular resurrection of our Saviour, and that general one of all men at the last day, will be found to stand upon very different bottoms; the many difficulties, if not also paradoxes, allegeable against the resurrection of a body, after a total dissolution thereof, being infinitely greater and harder to be accounted for, than any that can be brought against the resurrection of a body never yet dissolved, but only once again united to the soul, which it had belonged to before.

Besides which, there have, as to this latter sort of resurrection from the dead, been several instances of persons so raised again, both before and in our Saviour’s time. And in truth, as to the very notion of the thing itself, there appears not the least contradiction in it to any known principle of reason: no, nor yet (which is more) does there seem any greater difficulty to conceive how God should remand a departed soul into its former body, while remaining entire and undissolved, than that after he had formed 499a body for Adam, he should presently breathe into it (so formed) a living soul, as we read in the second of Genesis.

So that St. Paul’s question, in Acts xxvi. 8, proceeded upon very obvious, as well as great reason. Why, says he, should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? pointing therein, no doubt, only to the latter sort of resurrection, specified in the person of our Saviour, and which alone he was at that time discoursing of.

But, on the contrary, if we consider that other sort of resurrection of a body raised after an utter dissolution of it into its first materials; neither has the world yet, as to matter of fact, ever seen any example thereof; nor, as to the theory of the same, does the reason of man well comprehend how it can be done. So that the belief of this must needs have been exceedingly more difficult than that of the former.

Which observations having been thus premised, I shall now proceed to close them all with something more direct to the main subject of the text, our blessed Saviour’s resurrection: touching which, though (as it has been already noted) his short continuance under death fully rescued his sacred body from all putrefaction, and consequently rendered his resurrection a thing of much easier speculation, and liable to fewer objections, as well as attended with lesser difficulties, than the resurrection of men’s bodies, after a total dissolution of them, can be imagined to be: nevertheless, it being a thing so confessedly above all the powers of nature, and so much an exception from the common lot of mortality, it could not but offer itself to the apprehensions of bare reason 500under great disadvantages of credibility; especially when the arguments brought from particular attestations were to encounter the prejudice of a general experience; nothing being more certain than that men commonly do not so much believe or judge of things as they really are, but as they use to be: custom for the most part passing for the world’s demonstration, and men rarely extending their belief beyond the compass of what they observe; so that bare authority urged against or beside the report of sense, may sometimes and in some cases control, yet it seldom convinces the judgment; and though possibly, meeting with a modest temper, it may in some cases impose silence, yet it very rarely and hardly procures assent.

And probably Thomas’s reason, arguing from the common topics of the world, might suggest to his unbelief such kind of doubts and objections about his master’s resurrection as these. “Jesus of Nazareth was put to death upon the cross, and being dead, was laid and sealed up in his sepulchre, strictly watched with a guard of soldiers. But I am told, and required to believe, that, notwithstanding all this, he is risen, and is indeed alive. Now surely things suitable to the stated course of nature should be believed before such as are quite beside it; and for a dead man to return to life is preternatural; but that those who report this may be mistaken, is very natural and usual. Dead I saw him; but that he is risen, I only hear: in what I see with my eyes, I cannot easily be deceived; but in what I only hear, I may, and often am.

“Neither can bare report of itself be a sufficient 501reason of belief; because things confessedly false have been as confidently reported; nor is any thing, though never so strange and odd, ever almost told of, but somebody or other is as positively vouched to have seen it. Besides that the united testimony of all ages and places will not gain credence against one particular experiment of sense; and what then can the particular report of a few conclude against the general experience of so many people and nations, who had never seen any thing like it?

“Moreover, as the reporters were but few, so they were generally looked upon as persons of little depth and great simplicity, and such qualifications too frequently render men very credulous: they were also frighted and disturbed, and therefore the more likely to mistake; and might likewise be very desirous, both for their master’s honour and their own credit, that he should make good his word and promise of rising from the dead by an actual resurrection; and upon that account (as great desire naturally disposes to a belief of the thing desired) they might be so much the proner to believe that he actually did so. But, above all, why did he not, after he was risen, shew himself to the Sanhedrim, to the Scribes and Pharisees, and to the unbelieving Jews, openly in the temple or in the market-place? For this doubtless would have been a much more effectual way of convincing the Jews, than the bare testimony of his own disciples, which might be liable to many, and those very plausible exceptions, (with the Jews at least,) since nothing commonly more detracts from the 502credibility of a report, than the credulity of the reporter.

“Besides all which, there appears also something of inconsistency in the main report; for that some report him to have appeared in one shape, and some in another: whereas truth uses to be uniform, and one man naturally should have but one shape; all agreeing, that in the telling of any story, variety (especially as to the chief subject of it) is ever suspicious.”

These and the like objections, I say, might be, and no doubt actually were made, both by Thomas himself, and several others, against the resurrection of our blessed Saviour; and how little weight soever we may allow them in point of strict argument, they have so much however of plausibility and verisimilitude in them, as may well warrant that remark of Calvin upon this subject. Namely,

“That Christ, in manifesting his resurrection to the world, proceeded after a very different way from what mere human sense or reason would probably have suggested or looked for in such a case.”4141   Quamquam aliterquam carnis nostrae sensus expeteret, resurrectionem suam Christus patefecit; haec tamen quae illi placuit ratio, nobis quoque optima videri debet. Calv. in Harm. Evangelistarum, p. 373. Nevertheless, I do not much question but the fore going objections may be fully answered and fairly accounted for, by the respective solutions which shall be here given of them and applied to them: and in order to this, I shall lay down these preliminary considerations.

1. That the truth of a proposition being once sufficiently 503and duly proved, no objections afterwards brought against it can invalidate or disprove the truth of the said proposition; and consequently, that a man is obliged to believe the same, though several objections should be so produced against it, which he is by no means able to answer.

2. That our Saviour, having done so many miraculous works in the sight of his enemies, beyond all possibility of doubt concerning them, as to matter of fact, ought not, even by his enemies themselves, who had been witnesses of the said works, (upon the strictest terms of reason,) to be looked upon in this dispute about his resurrection, as a person confined to or acting by the bare measures of nature; and consequently, that all arguments against it, taken from these measures, (they themselves being judges,) are to be rejected, as inconclusive and impertinent.

3. That God intended not the gospel (of which most things relating to the person and works of our Saviour, no less than his doctrines, make an integral part) should be received by mankind upon the evidence of demonstration, but by the rational assent of faith.

4. That this faith ought to be so far under the influence of the will, as thereby to render it an act of choice, and consequently free; and on that account fit for a reward.

5. That in order to its being so, not all possibility, but only all just reason of doubting, ought to be excluded by it, and reckoned inconsistent with it. And,

6. And lastly, that such an irresistible, overpowering evidence of the object, as is conveyed to the 504mind by clear and immediate sight, is not well consistent with such a freedom of the act of faith as we are now speaking of; forasmuch as it determines the mind to an assent naturally beyond its power to withhold or deny, let men object or pretend what they will to the contrary.

These considerations, I say, or some of them, duly applied, will account for every thing which is or may be objected against the resurrection of our Saviour. And accordingly, in answer to the first of the foregoing objections, to wit, that things, according to the common stated course of nature, ought to be believed before such as are beside it; and that it is beside, as well as above the course of nature, for a dead man to return to life: but that those, on the contrary, who report such strange things, may be deceived in what they report, is very natural and usual.

To this I say, that although I readily grant this latter proposition to be true; yet the former, upon which the objection chiefly bears, I cannot allow to be universally so, but only caeteris paribus; that is to say, supposing the ground of the arguments on both sides to be equal; and that for this reason, that it is not always the bare difference of nature, in the things or objects proposed to our belief, which is the cause that one of them should be believed by us rather than another; but it is the disparity of the grounds and motives, upon which the said things are to be believed, which must determine our belief in such a case. It must be confessed, that for a man to be mistaken, or judge wrong of a thing, is but too natural to mankind; and that on the other side, for 505a man to rise from the dead, is both beside and above nature. Nevertheless, in some cases and instances, there may be greater reason to believe this latter, (as strange and preternatural as it is,) than, in certain cases, to believe some other events, though perfectly natural. As, for instance, that Lazarus being dead, and laid in the grave, should continue there till he rotted to dust, was a thing in all respects according to the course of nature; and on the contrary, that he should rise from thence, after he had lain there four days, was a thing as much above and beside it: and yet for all this, there was a great deal more reason for the belief of this, than of the other; forasmuch as this was undeniably attested by a multitude of eyewitnesses, who beheld this great work, and neither could be deceived themselves, nor have any the least purpose of deceiving others, in what they reported. Nor did the Jews at all except against what was told them concerning Lazarus, upon any of those two forementioned accounts, but fully and firmly believed what they had heard, and that with such an absolute assurance, that they took up designs of killing Lazarus himself, to prevent people’s flocking after him, and being converted by the sight of him; which, had they believed him still dead, was surely such a method of dealing with him, as common sense and reason would never have thought of. But

2. Whereas the next objection represents Thomas pleading, as a reason of his present unbelief, that he saw our Saviour dead and buried, but only hears that he is risen; and that he can hardly be deceived in what he sees, but in what he hears he easily may.

506

I answer, that as to the simple apprehensions of these two senses, one takes in its respective object by as sure a perception as the other, though perhaps not so quick nor so refined. But the mistake in either of these is not from any failure in the bare simple perception of its proper object, but from the judgment passed by the understanding faculty upon the said perceptions, in wrongly affirming or denying something concerning them. Thus in the present case, Thomas, on the one side, had seen his Lord dead, and buried, with his own eyes; and on the other, heard that he was risen from the dead, from the mouth of several known witnesses unanimously affirming it: in which argument the point turns not upon this, that the sight represents and reports its object more surely than the hearing, but upon the qualifications of the witnesses attesting what had passed concerning the objects of either. And this being so much more advantageous, in point of credibility, on the disciples side than on Thomas’s, had there really been an inconsistency between both their testimonies, that of the disciples ought in reason to have outweighed and took place of his. But to render his unbelief so much the more inexcusable, there was no inconsistency at all between what had been affirmed by Thomas himself, and what was afterwards testified by his fellow-disciples. For as Thomas was an ocular witness of Christ’s death and burial, so were the other disciples of his resurrection, having actually seen him after he was risen. And as he had no cause to doubt of their veracity in what they told him, so neither had he any reason to doubt of the credibility of the thing 507told by them. Forasmuch as Thomas himself had seen three instances of persons raised from the dead by our Saviour, during the time of his converse with him. All which must needs, upon the strictest terms of reason, render his unbelief and doubting of our Saviour’s own resurrection (so unquestionably attested) utterly indefensible. But to proceed.

3. It being above objected also, that several reports, found at last to be confessedly false, have yet for some time been as confidently vouched for true, as this now before us was or could be; and moreover, that there is hardly any report so false, strange, and unusual, but that some have been as positively affirmed by others to have been eyewitnesses of the same:

In answer to which, all this must be granted to be extremely true, but withal nothing to the purpose, since if it proves any thing, it must prove a great deal too much, viz. That there is no credit to be rationally given to any thing that we hear, how credible soever in itself. For certain it is, that many, even the grossest falsehoods, have been reported, received, and actually believed as true; and many stories certainly true have (for a considerable time at least) been absolutely rejected as false: and if this must pass for a sufficient reason to deny, or so much as to suspect and question every thing else reported to us to be so likewise, then farewell all rational belief, credit, and certainty, as being hereby quite sent packing out of the world. But

4. It is yet further argued, that as the united testimony and report of all places and ages will not gain credence against so much as one particular experiment of sense; so, much less can the particular 508report of a few persons conclude any thing against the universal experience of all.

To this I answer, that the account given by those few disciples, of our Saviour’s resurrection, was so far from being contrary to the universal experience and sense of mankind, especially those of the Jewish church and nation, that the Old Testament, as well as the New, has several examples upon record, of persons who had been raised from the dead; which being so well known to the Jews, might justly pass rather for so many proofs and confirmations of the credibility of our Saviour’s resurrection, than that our Saviour’s resurrection, after such preceding instances of so like a nature, should be supposed to carry any thing in it contradictory to the common sense and opinion of the world. Besides all which, those words of Herod, upon his hearing of the miracles of Christ, seem here very observable. It is John, says he, whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead, &c.

These words, I say, so readily uttered by him, without any previous demur, or strain of thought, could not but shew, that the resurrection from the dead, of some particular persons, even as to this life, was no such strange, unheard of notion with him and the rest of the Jews, but that they were so far at least acquainted with it, as to account it neither impossible nor incredible. But

5. It is again alleged, for the invalidating of the report made by the disciples concerning our Saviour, that the fright and disturbance they were under, upon our Saviour’s crucifixion, and the rage expressed by the Jews against his disciples, as well as against himself, might naturally enough bring upon them such a confusion of thought and aptness to 509mistake, as might very well lessen the certainty, and consequently take off much of the credit of their testimony.

To which I answer, that fears or frights do not so operate upon the outward senses, as to supersede or hinder them in their first and simple apprehensions of their respective objects, which are also naturally the clearest and most impartial. I grant, indeed, that fear, and some other passions, may so divert the steadiness and intention of the intellectual judging faculty for some time, that it cannot presently form so exact a judgment upon the objects tendered to it by the senses, as otherwise it might do. But still this is only an interruption of the acts, rather than any disablement of the faculty; which, as soon as the present passion is over, comes to debate and judge of all objects presented to it, as perfectly as it did before. It is disputed, I know, in natural philosophy, whether the sense being duly qualified, and the object as duly proposed, and the medium fitted to both, the sense can be deceived in the apprehension of its object; and it is generally held in the negative. But supposing that the sense might be deceived, this would make nothing against us in the present case; forasmuch as natural fallibility may very well consist with actual certainty; nothing being more true, than that as a man is capable of being mistaken, so on the contrary he is oftentimes actually not mistaken; and whosoever is not mistaken, is, as to that particular act, and with reference to that particular object, truly and properly certain. And this was the very case of the disciples affirming Christ’s resurrection, from a full conviction of their sight and other senses; a conviction 510too strong and sure to admit of any reason sufficient to overbear it. For as to the foregoing objection, from the greatness of the fear, then supposed to have been upon them, we have shewn the weakness or rather nullity of that already; and not only so, but the very proceedings of the Jews themselves give us an irrefragable confutation of the same. For if a report, coming from persons under an extreme fear, ought upon that score to lose all credibility, surely this should, on a very eminent and peculiar occasion, have took place in the guards set by Pilate to watch Christ’s sepulchre; who (as we read in Matth. xxviii. 4) were seized with such an amazing, dispiriting fear, that they shook, and became as dead men. Nevertheless the priests (no fools, though something else) looked upon them as very credible witnesses of what they had seen, and after wards related to them: and consequently judged their testimony, if contrary, like to prove so disadvantageous to their design, that they thought they could not bribe them too high, nor buy their silence at too dear a rate; which, had they thought that all that was told them was but idle tales, and founded only in a panic, unaccountable consternation, no doubt, they would never have done at such a price. For Jews, of all men, are not wont to part with their money for nothing, or an idle tale, which was no more.

6. Some again argue, that since Christ had so expressly and openly beforehand declared and fore told his resurrection from the dead, that his adversaries, as well as his followers, had took particular notice thereof; no doubt his disciples thereupon could not but be highly concerned, that their master 511should make good that his word and promise in the face of the world: and accordingly (as great desire naturally disposes to facility of belief) they might be apt to persuade themselves, that the event had indeed answered the prediction; and that he was now actually risen, as he had several times promised them, while he lived and conversed with them. Thus their zeal for their Lord’s honour might cause them strongly to desire, and that desire as strongly incline them to believe, his resurrection. So, I say, some argue.

To which I answer, that as the objection before this represented the disciples in this whole business as persons extremely weak, so this would represent them as equally wicked; the former, as men wretchedly deceived, and this latter, as designing to deceive others; and that by a vile, fraudulent intrigue, contrived and carried on by them, both for their master’s and their own reputation; an intrigue so very fraudulent, that the known, unblemished simplicity, integrity, and veracity of the persons concerned, and so remarkable throughout the whole course of their lives, makes it morally impossible, and consequently incredible, that persons of such a character should ever be guilty of so foul a practice and so base a collusion. And no more needs be said for their vindication from so impudent a calumny. But

7. Whereas it is suggested, that nothing could be so powerful and effectual a means to cause and propagate a belief of Christ’s resurrection, as to have shewn himself, after he was risen, to the Scribes and Pharisees, and the unbelieving Jews, openly in the temple or the market-place, which yet he did not; I answer, that supposing that Christ, after he was 512risen, had appeared so publicly amongst the Jews, as the objection here requires, no doubt they would have offered to lay violent hands upon him, as they had before designed to kill Lazarus, and that for the same reason. In which case, had our Saviour vanished out of their sight and hands, (as question less he would have done, and as he had once or twice done from the eyes of his own disciples,) what would the Jews have concluded from hence, but that they had seen a ghost, a spectre, or apparition? And what conviction would that have wrought in them? Why, none at all, but that their senses had been abused, and imposed upon by some magical illusion. And what good effect could this have had upon their minds, for the bringing them to a belief, that Christ was truly risen? and much less that he was the Messias? which yet was the grand doctrine to be proved by the resurrection, and of which he had given them abundant proof before, by raising Lazarus and others from the dead; which yet we find had no such effect upon the generality of them at all. This to me seems as clear reason, and as natural consequence, as the mind of man, in such a case, can well be determined by. And no doubt, Almighty God foresaw this, and many more such consequences, which our short reason can neither reach nor pierce into; forasmuch as his ways and counsels may, and ought in all reason to be allowed, to proceed by measures quite different from ours; and accordingly, that he might not think fit to vouchsafe the Jews the highest evidence of Christ’s resurrection, which it was capable of, who had rejected such high evidence of the like nature before; but rather judged it enough for him to afford them 513such evidence of it, as was in itself sufficient to convince them, and consequently to render their disbelief thereof irrational and unexcusable; besides that the highest evidence of an object proposed to be believed, may not consist with such a worth and merit in the said belief, as may fit it for a reward; as our Saviour’s words to Thomas in the text manifestly import. From all which, I think we may, upon solid grounds, conclude, that the foregoing objection (how plausible soever it may seem at first) argues nothing against the belief of our Saviour’s resurrection. But

8. It is moreover objected, that there is no small disagreement found in the main report about our Saviour’s resurrection; as, that some of his disciples relate him to have appeared in one form, or shape, and some in another, whereas one man naturally can be allowed but one form and shape: and with al, that he came in to his disciples while the doors were shut; which seems wholly inconsistent with the essential dimensions of an human body, which cannot possibly pass through crevices or keyholes; the nature of quantity making such a penetration confessedly impossible.

To which I answer, according to the second preliminary consideration above laid down by us, that the bare measures of nature, after so many miracles done by our Saviour on the one side, and attested and owned by the Jews, as surpassing all power, merely natural, on the other, ought by no means to be a rule for us to proceed by in the present case. And therefore, to give the objection its full force and advantage, supposing it urged by some Jew against the truth of Christ’s resurrection, may we 514not hereupon ask the said Jew this plain question? Were the Jews eyewitnesses of the miracles and supernatural works done by our Saviour, or were they not? The latter cannot possibly be said, there being hardly a man in Jerusalem who had not personally seen some of them done. And if the former be granted, upon what ground of reason could those Jews deny, but that he, who acted by such a supernatural power in some things, might as well do the same in others? Or pretend that he who had raised Lazarus from the dead might not, if he pleased, present himself in different shapes and forms; whether it were by differently qualifying his own body, as the object then offered to be seen, or by differently disposing the visive faculty and organs of sight, in such as were to see it? (as we read he actually did to two of his disciples, whose eyes were so held, that though they looked upon him, yet they could not actually know him, Luke xxiv. 16.) And upon the same ground likewise, might he not as well by his supernatural power appear amongst his disciples, while the doors were shut? John xx. 19. Though these words, taken in sensu diviso, as the logicians speak, and not in sensu composito, may be accounted for upon very intelligible grounds; that is to say, that Christ came not through the doors continuing shut, or through chinks, or keyholes, (as some profanely word it,) while he passed into the room; but that, finding them shut, he, without any noise or difficulty, caused them by his supernatural power to fall open before him. And even this was enough to surprise his disciples so far, as to fright, and make them think that they saw a spirit. Which sense of the words, as it is fair, and unforced, and agreeable 515to the common way of speaking, so it infers not in the least that great absurdity in philosophy, of a penetration of bodies; though still it must be confessed and owned, that, in all this dispute, our Saviour’s body, after his resurrection, was not to be looked upon as a natural, but supernatural body; that is to say, of quite different qualities from what it had before, albeit we still grant it to have been the same in substance. Upon which account, for bare human reason to be able to assign what could or could not be done by a body so supernaturally qualified, (and as it were spiritualized,) I think it no reproach to it at all, freely to confess itself wholly at a loss; and consequently, that to argue from the state and natural properties of such bodies as we carry about us, to those of our Saviour’s body, after he was risen from the dead, would be a manifest transition a genere ad genus; and so a notorious fault, and fallacy in argumentation.

And thus, I hope, I have at length throughly examined and gone over all or most of those plausible arguments, which are or may be brought for the justification of this doubting disciple’s backwardness in believing his master’s resurrection; and trust, that I have given sufficient and satisfactory answers to them all. But as for that objection, or rather senseless lie, invented and made use of by the Jews, (as the evangelists record,) of Christ’s body being stolen and conveyed away by his disciples in the night, while the soldiers (set to guard it) slept; it is attended with so many improbabilities and absurdities, and those not more directly contrary to reason than to common sense and experience, that it hardly deserves a serious confutation.

516

For can any man of sense imagine that the soldiers, set to watch the sepulchre, and that with so strict and severe an injunction of care and vigilance from the priests and rulers of the Jews, should all of them (and those no inconsiderable number doubtless) fall asleep at one and the same time? No; it is wholly improbable, and consequently upon no terms of reason supposable. Nevertheless, admitting on the other side that so unlikely a thing had really happened, and the soldiers had all fallen asleep, (as the story pretends they did,) yet this could not have given the least encouragement to the disciples (at that time but a very few unarmed men) to venture upon such an enterprise: forasmuch as they neither then did nor could foresee this accident of the guards falling asleep; nor if, when they came upon this design, they had found all of them actually asleep, could they have imagined otherwise, but that the putting of the said design in execution would have raised such a noise, as must needs have awakened some of the watch; which if it had, the disciples assuredly must and would have perished in their fool-hardy undertaking; though yet all this while we may very well imagine, that even they, as well as other men, put too great a value upon their lives, to throw them away in so obstinate and senseless a manner. Be sides, had the whole matter succeeded as was desired, can we think it morally possible, that the Jewish priests, who had so set their hearts upon exposing Christ to the people for an arrant impostor, and particularly with reference to what he had fore told of his resurrection, would not have used their utmost interest with Pilate, for the inflicting some very extraordinary and exemplary punishment upon 517those guards, for betraying so great a trust, as the Jews accounted it? But we hear of no such thing; but on the contrary, of a very different way of treating these soldiers, from what the priests and rulers would otherwise have certainly taken; who, if the said story had been true, would have been much more liberal in scourging their backs, than they were in oiling their hands. To all which may be added, the utter unsuitableness of the season (as a foreign divine observes) for such a night-work; it being then at the time of the full moon, (when in those eastern countries the night was almost as bright as the day,) and withal at the time of the passover; when Jerusalem not able to accommodate so vast a multitude from all parts resorting thither upon so solemn an occasion, great companies of them (no doubt) were walking all night about the fields and other adjacent places; which must needs have made it next to impossible (if not absolutely so) for the disciples (had they got the body of our Saviour into their hands) to have carried it off without discovery. All which considerations, together with many more incident to this matter, render this Jewish story not more false and foolish, than romantic and incredible. And accordingly, as such I dismiss it.

Nevertheless, not to rest here, but having thus answered and removed whatsoever could with any colour, or so much as shadow of reason, be brought for an objection against this great article of our Saviour’s resurrection, we shall now pass to such arguments as may positively prove the same; and in order to it, shall premise this observation; namely, that to constitute, or render an act of assent properly an act of faith, this condition is absolutely necessary; to 518wit, that the ground, upon which the said assent proceeds, be something not evident in itself. And indeed so necessary a condition is this, that without it faith would not be formally distinguished from knowledge; knowledge (properly speaking) being an assent to a thing evidently and immediately apprehended by us, either in itself, its causes, properties, or effects. And upon this, and this account only, assent is properly said to be evident. But now, where such an evidence is not to be had, (as in things not falling under our personal, immediate cognizance, it is not,) then there can be no other way of assenting to any such thing, or proposition, but from the testimony of some one or more, who may be rationally presumed to know it themselves; but then such an assent is (as we have shewn) by no means evident, or scientifical, as not being founded in our own, but in another’s knowledge of the thing assented to by us. Where, for our clearer understanding of this whole matter, we ought carefully to distinguish between these three terms, evidence., certainty, and firmness of assent. As to the first of which, to wit, evidence: a thing is said to be evident, when there is an immediate perception of the object itself assented to, by an act of our sense or reason apprehending it. And in the next place, as for certainty of assent; that is, when a thing is so assented to, that although it be not in itself evident, yet that there is a sufficient ground for such an assent, and no rational or just ground to doubt of it; as where a thing is affirmed or attested, either by God himself, or by some person or persons whose credit is unquestionable. And thirdly and lastly, firmness of assent consists in an exclusion of all actual doubting 519about the thing assented to; I say actual doubting, whether there be a sufficient reason against such doubting, or no; forasmuch as men may be every whit as confident in a false, ungrounded belief, as in a well-grounded and true. Now the difference between these terms thus explained must, as I noted before, be very carefully attended to, or it must needs occasion great blunder and confusion in any discourse of this nature. And accordingly, to apply the forementioned terms to our present purpose, we are to observe, that although our assent to matters of faith be not upon grounds in themselves evident, yet it may nevertheless be upon such as are certain; and not only so, but in all matters necessary to be believed, (such as our Saviour’s resurrection, and other divine truths,) it must and ought to be sufficient. And the reason of this manifestly is, that if we might be bound to assent to a thing neither evident nor certain, we might, some time or other, and in some cases, be bound to believe or assent to falsehoods as well as truths; which God never requires, as by no means obliging us to the belief of any thing, but where there is much more reason for our believing than our not believing it; that being, as I conceive, sufficient to warrant the rationality of a man’s proceeding in what he believes; especially if it be necessary, that either the affirmative or the negative be believed by him. And for this cause the apostle commands us, 1 Pet. iii. 15, to be always ready to give a reason of the hope that is in us: and the same holds equally in faith too, both of them resting upon the same bottom. For neither St. Peter nor St. Paul ever enjoin belief merely for believing’s sake; though still they are far 520enough from requiring us to give a reason of the things we believe, (for that, I own, a Christian must not always pretend to,) but to give a reason of his belief of the said things. This every Christian may and must; for still his belief ought to be rational.

Thus far therefore have we gone, having proved, that although the resurrection of our Saviour be a thing in itself inevident to us now, and not shewing itself at such a distance of time by any light either inherent in it, or personally and immediately perceivable by our senses or understandings; yet being proposed to our belief upon certain and sufficient grounds, it ought, according to the measure of the said certainties, to be believed and assented to by us. So that it remains now for us to demonstrate, that the ground or reason, upon which we are to believe our Saviour’s resurrection, is certain, and by consequence sufficient. And accordingly I shall state the belief of it upon these two arguments; common I confess, but never the less forcible for being so.

1. The constant, uniform affirmation and word of those, who have transmitted the relation of it down to posterity. For this being merely a matter of fact, (the thing in dispute being, whether Christ rose from the dead or no,) is by no means knowable by us, who live at so great a distance from the time when it came to pass, but by one of these two ways, viz. either, 1. by immediate divine revelation; or, 2. by human testimony or tradition. As to the first of which, it is not nowadays, by any of the sober professors of Christianity, so much as pretended to; nor if it were, ought such pretences to be allowed of. And therefore we must fetch it from the other way, to wit, tradition; to the rendering of which certain, 521and beyond all just exception credible, these two conditions are required.

1. That the persons, who made it, and from whom it originally came, had sufficient means and opportunities to know, and to be informed of the truth of what they reported to the world. And

2. That they were of that unquestionable sincerity, as truly and impartially to report things as they knew them, and no otherwise.

Now for the

First of these two conditions, viz. that the reporters had sufficient opportunity to know the things reported by them, this is undeniable; forasmuch as they personally conversed with Christ, and were eye and ear-witnesses of all that was done by him, or happened to him, as it is in the first epistle of St. John, i. 1. 3. That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, declare we unto you. And surely, if knowledge might make a man a competent witness, there is none for evidence, as well as certainty, superior to that of sense: and if the judgment of any one sense rightly disposed be hardly or never deceived, surely the united judgment of them all together must needs upon the same terms pass for infallible, if any thing amongst us poor mortals may or ought to be accounted so. But

2. As for the other forementioned condition of a competent witness, viz. that he be a person of such unquestionable sincerity, as to report the naked truth of what he knows. This, with respect to the apostles in the present case, appears in a great mea sure from the meanness of their parts, abilities, and education, naturally disposing men to plainness and 522simplicity; and simplicity has ever yet been accounted one good step to sincerity. They were poor, mean fishermen, called in Acts iv. 13. ἰδιῶται καὶ ἀγράμματοί, in plain terms, persons wholly illiterate, and unacquainted with the politic fetches of the world, and utterly unfit to conceive, and more unfit to manage any further design, than only to deceive and circumvent the contemptible inhabitants of the watery region. And could such men, (think we,) newly coming from their fishermen’s cottages, and from mending their nets, entertain so great a thought, as to put an imposture upon the whole world, and to overturn the Jewish laws, and the gentile philosophy, with a new religion of their own inventing? It is not so much as credible, and much less probable.

But besides, admitting these persons to have been as subtle and deeply knowing, as they were in truth shallow and ignorant, yet still they were men, and consequently of the same passions and desires with other men; and being so, that they should relinquish all the darling pleasures, profits, and accommodations of life, and voluntarily expose themselves to scorn, tortures, persecutions, and even death itself, only to propagate a story, which they themselves knew to be a lie, and that an absurd, insipid, incredible lie, (if a lie at all,) this certainly was a thing unnatural, and morally impossible. For can any man, not abandoned by the native sense of man, bring himself to be in love with a gibbet, or enamoured with a rack? Can these tortures, which are even able to make a man abjure the truth, allure him to own and assert, and even die for a lie? Wherefore, there being no imaginable objection 523against the disciples’ sincerity and veracity, (which was the other qualification of a competent witness mentioned by us,) it follows, that their testimony concerning our Saviour’s resurrection is to be accepted and believed as true, certain, and unexceptionable. And so much for the first argument. But

2. The other argument shall be taken from those miraculous works, by which the apostles confirmed the testimony of their words. He who affirms a thing, and to prove the truth of it does a miracle, brings God as a voucher of the truth of what he says. And therefore he who shall affirm, that the apostles proclaimed to the world things false, must affirm also, that they did all those miracles by their own or the Devil’s power; or if they did them by God’s, then that God lent the exercise of his power to impostors, to confirm and ratify the publication of a lie, for the beguiling and deceiving of mankind; and that in a matter of the highest and most important concern to them that can possibly be. Which is so blasphemous for any one to assert, and so impossible for God to do, that the very thought of it is intolerable.

So that now the only thing remaining for our full conviction, is to shew that there is sufficient reason to persuade men, that such miracles were really done by the apostles, to confirm the doctrines delivered by them. And for this we are to hear the only proof which things of this nature are capable of; to wit, the voice of general, long continued, and uninterrupted antiquity; that is to say, the united testimony of so many nations, for so many ages successively, 524all jointly agreeing in one and the same report about this matter; which report, if it were untrue, must needs have been framed by combination and compact amongst themselves. But that so many nations of such various tempers, such different interests, and such distant situations from one another, should be able all to meet and combine together, to abuse and deceive the world with a falsehood, is upon all the rules and principles of human reasoning incredible. And yet, on the other side, that this could be done without such a previous combination is still more incredible; and consequently, that neither the one nor the other ought to be reckoned in the number of those things which we account possibilities. And now all that has been disputed by us hitherto, with reference to the apostles and disciples, as to their believing and preaching Christ’s resurrection to the world, may be naturally drawn from, and as naturally resolved into these following conclusions.

1. That no man of common sense or reason undertakes any action considerable, but for the obtaining to himself some good, or the serving some interest thereby, either in this world or in the next.

2. That our Saviour’s disciples, though they bore no character for political knowledge or depth of learning, yet shewed themselves, in the whole course of their behaviour, men of sense and reason, as well as integrity.

3. That being such, and so to be considered, had they known Christ’s resurrection to have been a falsehood, they would never have preached it to the world, to the certain bringing upon themselves thereby 525the extremity of misery and persecution in this life, and a just condemnation from Almighty God in that to come.

4. That had the resurrection of our Saviour been indeed false and fabulous, his disciples could not but have known it to be so.

To which I shall add the

Fifth, that in things proposed to our belief, a man safely may, and rationally ought to yield his assent to that, which he finds supported with better and stronger arguments (though short of a demonstration) than any that he sees producible against it.

From all which it follows, that our Saviour’s resurrection having been attested by persons so unexceptionably qualified for that purpose, whether we consider the opportunities they had of knowing throughly the things testified by them, or their known sincerity and veracity in reporting what they knew, as likewise the miraculous works done by them, in confirmation of what they delivered, and all this brought down to us by unanimous, undisputed tradition; and moreover, since such tradition has greater ground for its belief, than the discourse of any man’s particular reason can suggest for its disbelief, (universal tradition being less subject to error and fallacy than such discourses or argumentations can pretend to be;) and lastly, since it is a manifest absurdity in reasoning, to reject or disbelieve that, which a man has more ground and reason to believe than to disbelieve; I conclude that the doctrine of the apostles concerning our Saviour’s resurrection ought, upon the strictest terms of reasoning, to be believed and assented to, as a most certain, irrefragable, and uncontestable truth; 526which I take to be the grand conclusion to be proved by us.

In fine, if I have brought the point hitherto disputed of, so far as to make it appear that there are greater and stronger arguments for the belief of our Saviour’s resurrection, than for the doubting of it, (as I hope I have effectually done,) I conceive this to be sufficient in reason to strip men of all justification of their unbelief of the same, and consequently to answer all the great ends of practical religion, the prime business and concern of mankind in this world. Albeit it must be still confessed, (as we have noted from Calvin before,) that there are several passages relating to this whole matter, neither so demonstrative, nor yet so demonstrable, as might be wished. Nevertheless, since it has pleased Almighty God to take this and no other method in this great transaction, I think it the greatest height of human wisdom, and the highest commendation that can be given of it, to acquiesce in what the divine wisdom has actually thought the most fit in this affair to make use of.

And now to close up the whole discourse; with what can we conclude it better, than with a due encomium of the superlative excellency of that mighty grace, which could and did enable the disciples so firmly to believe, and so undauntedly to own and attest their belief of their blessed master’s resurrection? and that in defiance of the utmost discouragements, which the power, malice, and barbarity of the bitterest enemies could either threaten or encounter human nature with.

And to advance the worth of this faith, if possible, yet higher, we are to know, that it consists not (as 527has been hinted already) in a bare act of assent or credence, founded in the determining evidence of the object, but attended also with a full choice and approbation of the will, for that otherwise it could not be an act properly free; nor consequently valuable (and much less meritorious) in the esteem of God or man. And therefore some of the ablest of the schoolmen resolve faith, not into a bare credence, or act of the understanding only, but also into a pious disposition of the will, preventing, disposing, and, as it were, bending the former, to close in with such propositions, as bring with them a suitableness as well as truth; and it is not to be doubted, but inclination gives a powerful stroke and turn towards credence, or assent. So that while truth claims and commands the same, and suitableness only draws and allures it, yet in the issue this obtains it as effectually as even truth itself. Not that I affirm, or judge, that in strictness of reason this ought to be so, but that through the infirmity of reason it is but too manifest, that very often (if not generally) it falls out to be so.

In the mean time we may here see and admire the commanding, and (I had almost said) the meritorious excellency of faith. That while carnal reason argues, sense is stubborn and resists, and many seeming impossibilities occur, it can yet force its way through all such obstacles, and like Lazarus, (though bound hand and foot, as it were,) break even through mortality and death itself.

But as for those whom nothing will satisfy but such a faith as shall outvie omnipotence itself, by believing more than even omnipotence can do, I mean contradictions, and especially that grand astonishing 528one to all human reason, called transubstantiation; we poor Christians, I say, of a much lower form, presume not to aspire to such a pitch, and sort of faith; but think it sufficient humbly to own and admire that faith, which the apostle tells us can make its way, through the whole eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, and that by subduing of kingdoms, putting to flight armies, and not only believing, but also working miracles, and that to such a degree, as even to become a miracle itself. For (as we read there also) it was able to stop the mouths of lions; and, which was more, the mouth of a disputing reason. And certainly that faith, which our Saviour told us could remove mountains, might, (had our Saviour but given the word,) without the interposal of an angel, have removed also the stone from before the door of his sepulchre, as great as it was.

He who would have a masculine, invincible faith indeed, must in many cases balk his sight, and the further he would leap, the shorter he must look. Christ wrought many of his miraculous cures upon such blind men as believed: and as their faith contributed not a little to the curing of their blindness, so their blindness seemed a no improper emblem of their faith.

For which reason, may not he who requires no less than a sensible, irresistible evidence for all his principles, and, not content with a sufficient certainty for the same, will be satisfied with nothing under strict syllogism and demonstration for every article of his creed; may not such an one, I say, be very pertinently and justly replied to, in those words of our Saviour to the Jews, What do you more 529than others? And yet further, would not even the heathens and ancient philosophers have done as much? Would not they have believed whatsoever you could have demonstrated to them? allowed you so much persuasion for so much proof? and so much assent for so much evidence? And in a word, would not Aristotle himself have been convinced upon the same terms on which Thomas the disciple was?

But a Christian should go a large step higher and further, read all his credenda in an αὐτὸς ἔφη, sacrifice even his Isaac, the first-begotten of his reason, and most beloved issue of his brain, whensoever God shall think fit to be honoured with such a victim. For such a belief, though it has not the evidence of sight, yet it has all which sight and evidence can be valued for; that is to say, it has something instead of it, and above it too; so that where sense and carnal reason oppose themselves, fly back, and will by no means yield, faith comes in with the demonstration of the Spirit and power, scatters the dark cloud, and clears up all.

And in nothing certainly is the heroic excellency of such an entire submission of our reason to divine revelation so eminently shewn, as in this, that a man hereby ventures himself and his eternal concerns wholly upon God’s bare word; and questionless nothing can so powerfully engage one of a generous spirit, even amongst men, as an absolute confidence in him, and an unreserved dependence upon him. And if there be any way possible for a creature to oblige his Creator, it must be this.

Wherefore let us, in this state of darkness and mortality, rest content to see the great things of our 530 religion, but in part, to understand the resurrection but darkly, and to view the rising sun (as I may so express it) but through a crevice, still remembering, that God has in this world appointed faith for our great duty, and in the next, vision for our reward.

To which may He, of his infinite mercy, vouchsafe, in his good time, to bring us all; to whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.

531
« Prev A Discourse Concerning Our Saviour’s … Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |