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THE EVIDENCES OF THE TRUTH OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.—2 Cor. iv. 3, 4.
IN my last discourse, I was considering the third evidence which those who lived in our Saviour’s time had of his Divine authority, viz. The power of working miracles, with which he was endowed. And in treating on this, I proposed briefly to run over the chief of those miracles of our Saviour, which we find recorded in the gospel, and to shew that they have all the advantages that miracles can have, to give satisfaction to men concerning their reality. And that I may proceed in some kind of order and method, I shall reduce the miracles that concern our Saviour to these three heads:
First, The miracles of his life.
Secondly, Those that were wrought at his death.
Thirdly, The great miracles of his resurrection from the dead, and those two that were consequent upon it, his ascension into heaven, and his sending the Holy Ghost upon the apostles and Christians in miraculous gifts and powers.
I begin with the first, the miracles of his life. And, in speaking of these, I shall shew, that they had all the advantageous circumstances to convince 459men of the reality of them, and to free them from all suspicion of imposture. They were many; they were great and unquestionable miracles; they were frequently wrought, and for a long time together; publicly, and in the presence of multitudes; and they were beneficial, and for the good of men.
J. They were many. There might be something of imposture suspected in a few instances, that might be chosen out for the purpose. But our Saviour gave instances of his Divine power in several kinds; so that there is scarce any thing that is miraculous can be instanced in, wherein he did not shew his power. He healed all manner of diseases, and that in multitudes of people, as they came accidentally, without any discrimination; (Matt. iv. 23, 24.) And though most of his miracles were healing, yet he gave instances in other kinds; as in turning of water into wine, commanding down the storm, and walking upon the waters, &c. And though the history of the gospel mentions very many miracles that he wrought, yet St. John tells us, that those that are recorded are but very few in comparison of what he did; (John xx. 30.) “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.” And, (chap. xxi. 35.) “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” An hyperbolical expression, to signify the great number of his miracles and actions, besides what are recorded by the evangelists.
2. As they were many, so they were great and unquestionable, both as to the manner of doing them, and as to the things that he did.460
(1.) Many things which were not miraculous in themselves, yet were so as to the manner of doing them, which was not by any magical words, and figures, and charms, and superstitious rites, according to the manner of those who pretended to work miracles among the heathens. It is true, he healed many diseases which were curable by physic and art: yet then the manner was such as was above the ordinary course of nature; many he cured by a word only, or by a touch, and the cure was wrought immediately, and in the same instant when he spake the word, though they were at a great distance. Many were cured without his taking any notice of them, by touching the very hem of his garment, of all which I might give several instances, but that they are so well known to those who are acquainted with the history of the gospel . Sometimes, indeed, he performed the cure by degrees; as in the man that was restored to sight, and saw men at first confusedly, and without any distinction, as if they had been trees; (Mark viii. 24.) Sometimes he used some kind of means, but such as were very disproportionate in their nature to the effect that was produced; as in the case of the deaf man, which he cured by putting his finger into his ear, and by his spittle; (Mark vii. 33.) and the blind man, whose eyes he anointed with clay mixed with spittle, and sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam; (John ix. 6, 7.) but most of his miracles he wrought in an instant, and merely by his word.
(2.) As to the things he did, many of them were miraculous in themselves. He cured many inveterate diseases; (Matt. ix. 20.) a woman that had an issue of blood twelve years. He made the woman straight, by touching her, that had been crooked and bowed together eighteen years; (Luke xiii. 13.) and 461the man that had an infirmity thirty-eight years, only by bidding him take up his bed and walk; (John v. 8.) He cured the man that was born blind; (John ix.) And, which all men will grant to be miraculous, and to have exceeded all the power of nature that we know of, he raised several from the dead; and because it might be said that several of those were not really dead, but in a delirium or swoon, there is one instance beyond all exception; (John ix.) he raised up Lazarus to life, after he had been four days in the grave.
3. He wrought his miracles frequently, upon all occasions that were offered, and for a long time together, during the whole time of his public minis try, which is generally computed to have been three years and a half; a time sufficient to have detected any impostor in; especially one that shewed him self so openly, and conversed indifferently with all sorts of persons with so little guard and caution.
4. He did all his miracles publicly, not in corners and among some select company of people, but before multitudes, and in the greatest places of concourse; so that if there had been any thing of imposture in them, he gave the fairest opportunity that could be to his enemies to have detected him. Mahomet’s miracles were wrought by himself alone, without witness, which was the best way in the world, certainly, for one that could work no miracles, but yet could persuade the people what he pleased: but our Saviour did nothing in private. His transfiguration only was before three of his disciples; and therefore, he made no use of that as an argument to the Jews, but charged his disciples to tell it to none, till after his resurrection, because that would give credit to it; after they were assured 462of that, they would easily believe his trans figuration; but all his other miracles were in the sight of the people. He healed publicly, and admitted all to see what he did. When he turned the water into wine, it was at a public feast; when he multiplied the loaves and the fishes, it was in the sight of four or five thousand people; when he raised Lazarus from the dead, it was before a great multitude of the people. The works that he did durst abide the light, and the more they were manifested, the more miraculous they did appear.
6. His miracles were generally beneficial, and for the good of men; so that they had these two characters of Divinity stamped upon them that they were effects both of power and goodness. Most of his miracles were such as tended to the benefit of mankind; most of them were either healing or feeding miracles; or refreshing, as turning the water into wine; or tending to the peace of human society, as the miracle that he wrought rather than he would give offence by not paying tribute. It is true, indeed, he might have shewn his power every way; he gave some instances of it in other kinds, which might seem more for his purpose, and for the manifestation of his power, as in his allaying the storm, and walking upon the water: but he wrought no miracles that were destructive, except only two; namely, his permitting the devil to enter into the swine, (Matt. viii. 28.) whereby the inhabitants of the place sustained a great loss. But our Saviour did this upon very good reason, as a reproof of that sordid temper which he saw to be in them; they were so immersed in the world, and wedded to their interests, that they would, rather than lose any thing in that kind, forfeit all the 463blessings that the Messias brought with him; and this temper appeared afterwards in them; for though they were convinced that he had wrought a miracle, yet, because they had sustained some prejudice, they desired him to depart out of their coast.
The other exception is his cursing the fig-tree; (Matt. xxi. 19.) which had a moral signification to his disciples, and was a sharp warning to them, what they must look for if they were unfruitful. Our Saviour rebukes our sloth and barrenness in the fig-tree.
Secondly, Next to the miracles of our Saviour’s life, I mentioned those that were wrought at his death, which, though they were not wrought by him, yet they were wrought to give testimony to him, that he was some extraordinary person; forasmuch as when he died the frame of nature was put into such a trembling and melancholy posture; so the history of the gospel tells us, (Matt. xxvii. 45.) that “from the sixth hour till the ninth, there was darkness over all the land;” which, as learned men have calculated, could not be an eclipse, according to the natural course of things. And, (ver. 51, 52, &c.) “The veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom, and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened.”
Thirdly, The great miracle which was wrought after his death, in raising him up from the dead, together with those two that were consequent upon it, his visible ascending into heaven, and his sending the Holy Ghost upon the apostles and primitive Christians, in such miraculous gifts and powers.
First, The great miracle of his resurrection, after he had lain three days in the grave. This was the miracle which was to be the chief attestation of his 464Divine authority, and to give confirmation to the doctrine which he declared to the world. And accordingly we find that the chief office of the apostles was to be witnesses of his resurrection; and the great evidence they were to give to the world of his Divine authority was, that “God raised him from the dead.” And we find the Scripture every where laying the great stress of his Divine authority upon this miracle: (Acts xvii. 31.) “By that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Rom. i. 4.) “Declared mightily to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead.” (1 Pet. i. 21.) “Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory.” Now that this miracle was really wrought, I shall endeavour to shew, by producing such evidence for it, as the nature of the thing to be proved (which is matter of fact) will bear. I shall, therefore,
First, Produce such testimony as we have for it.
Secondly, Add some considerations that may serve to give strength and advantage to the testimony.
First, For the testimony we have of this. In short, we have it attested by an abundantly sufficient number of eye-witnesses; and greater evidence than this, matter of fact is not capable of. For the eye witnesses and the number of them, you have them produced by St. Paul, (1 Cor. xv. 5-8.) The sum of what he saith is this;—that Christ, after his resurrection, was seen once by Peter alone, once by James alone, and twice by all the apostles together, and by above five hundred brethren at once. So that the number of the eye-witnesses is abundantly sufficient. And that they did attest this, appears by the history of the gospel, which hath descended 465down to us by uncontrolled tradition. And in this case we require no more credit to be given to the gospel, than to any other history or narrative of matter of fact; which whosoever doth deny takes away the faith of history, and makes it impossible to prove the truth of any thing that is past.1616 Of this see more, Sermon CXCII. vol. viii. p. 308.
Secondly, I shall add some considerations that may serve to give strength and advantage to this testimony; partly relating to the persons that give this testimony, and partly to the matter or thing which they attest.
I. In reference to the persons that gave this testimony, we may consider them with these three advantages:
(1.) That they are credible persons.
(2.) That they agree in their testimony.
(3.) That the greatest sufferings could not make them conceal it or deny it.
(1.) For the credibility of the persons. Two things render a witness suspected—want of knowledge, or of integrity; if either he do not sufficiently know the thing which he attests; or there be reason to suspect his fidelity in relating the thing. Now the witnesses in this case of the resurrection cannot be questioned for either of these; not for want of knowledge, because they were eye-witnesses, as I said before: nor for want of faithfulness. There are two things which ordinarily make us suspect the fidelity of a witness; if there be either an appearance of deceit in the manner of the relation, or of design in the end of it: but the witnesses of Christ’s resurrection are free from both these grounds of jealousy.
1. There is no appearance of deceit in the manner 466of their relating it. We suspect a relation that is either too general, or too artificial; but the report of these witnesses cannot be charged with either of these. For,
(1.) They report the thing with all its circumstances of time and place; when he rose, what were the circumstances of it, where he was seen, and by whom, how often he appeared, what he did and said.
(2.) They use no art or insinuation in the manner of delivering, but report it with the greatest plainness, and nakedness, and simplicity, that can be imagined; without any ambiguity, or obscurity, or flourish of language, as becomes an honest relator, who useth no arts, because he is not guilty to himself of any design to deceive.
2. Nor is there any appearance of design as to the end of their testimony. What design could they have, who did knowingly renounce all secular advantages of honour, and riches, and reputation, and forego all worldly contentment, and expose themselves to continual hazards and sufferings? They got nothing by bearing this testimony, but what every man that hath worldly designs doth most solicitously avoid.
(2dly.) They concur and agree in their testimony. They constantly delivered the same testimony, with alt its circumstances, both in word and writing, several persons in several places, without varying or disagreeing in the least material circumstance.
(3dly.) The greatest sufferings could not make them either deny it or conceal it; which is a great argument of their integrity. If the thing they attested had been false, it had been an unparalleled madness for any one to persist in it to the loss of life; and incredible, that so many should conspire in 467the same unreasonable and unaccountable folly; especially when the religion which they professed, did exclude all liars from all the happiness and rewards of the next life, which they pretended to be persuaded of; so that whatsoever those persons might be otherwise, and however they might falsify in other things, there is no reason to doubt of their truth and fidelity in this report, because they died for the testimony of it. Therefore the highest attestation of a thing is called martyrdom, and the most credible witnesses, martyrs. And though bare martyrdom be not an argument of the infallible truth of a testimony, or of the infallibility of the person that gives it; yet it is one of the highest arguments that can be of his honesty and integrity in that thing, and that he believes himself; otherwise he would not die for it: and it is a good evidence of the general integrity of these persons, as to all other things, that they were so conscientious, as not, for fear of death, to deny that which they believed to be a truth, nor to conceal that which they believed to be of importance.
II. As to the matter or thing which they attested, we may consider it with these advantages:
1. The resurrection of Christ was such a thing, as in its own nature they were capable of giving evidence to.
2. We will consider a little the circumstances of it, which add much to the credit of it.
3. We will consider the effects that this relation and report had in the world.
4. The circumstances of the persons who entertained the belief of it.
1. Let us consider that the resurrection of Christ is such a thing, as in the nature of it they were capable of giving testimony to. Indeed, if it were 468such a thing, as either in the nature of it were absolutely impossible, as if a man should say he had seen or handled a pure spirit; or else such, as these persons could not reasonably be presumed to be competent witnesses of it, as if a man that is altogether ignorant in geometry should say, that he had seen such a man demonstrate a proposition in Euclid; in these cases, though a man be ever so credible, yet he is not to be credited. But the resurrection of Christ is no such thing; no man that believes that God can make a living body out of nothing, can think it absolutely impossible to raise a dead body to life: nor was it a thing they could not be presumed competent witnesses of: for that which they attest concerning the resurrection of Christ, is that which every man may give evidence in, for it requires nothing but common sense and understanding; as to touch and handle a body, and know that it is a body; to see a man perform the operations of life, to see him walk, and eat, and hear him speak: and this they attest of Christ, after he was crucified, dead, and buried; that they saw him several times, and conversed with him; and they could not be mistaken in the person, being so intimately and familiarly acquainted with him in his life-time.
2. We will consider a little the circumstances of his resurrection. He had foretold in his life-time, that he would rise again the third day. The chief priests and the pharisees remembered this saying, and therefore, lest his disciples should come by night and steal him away, they make the sepulchre sure, seal the stone, and set a guard of soldiers. The disciples, whom they were afraid of, they were scattered with fear; and that it might appear that it was the work of God, there was a great earthquake, 469which made the guard to tremble; and in their sight an angel, appearing in a most glorious manner, rolled away the stone; and when he was risen, and appeared to his disciples, they were terrified, and thought it had been a spirit, until our Saviour bids them see him, and handle him, that he had flesh and bones, which a spirit could not have. He conversed familiarly with them; and for their greater satisfaction did eat with them; and to satisfy the scrupulous unbelief of Thomas, he bid him put his hand into the hole of his side, and see in his hands the print of the nails, to shew that it was the same body that was crucified. Now the greater their jealousy and unbelief were, the greater is the evidence of the thing; and it shews that it was upon great conviction, and when they could no longer resist the evidence of the thing, that they did believe it: and after all this, they saw him ascend up into heaven, and found the promise of the Spirit made good to them, to furnish them with power and gifts for carrying on the work of the gospel.
3. We will consider the strange and wonderful effects that this report and relation had in the world. The preaching of Christ crucified, and rising from the dead, had a strange operation upon the world. With such admirable success did this prevail, that in a few years the gospel was entertained in a great part of the world. The plain and naked relation of this, by men that were destitute of secular learning and arts, without the help of power, or policy, or any other worldly advantage, did prevail with men to entertain and embrace that profession, against the prejudice of education, the bias of corrupt nature, and the advantages of worldly interests: nor could all the opposition of the great and the 470wise, the princes and the philosophers of the world, give a check to the prevalency of it. Surely nothing but Truth could have wrought those great wonders and effects, naked and unarmed. Those strange and miraculous effects which are matter of fact, and undeniable, one would think should render it very easy to any man to believe the miracle of Christ’s resurrection.
4. We will consider the circumstances of the persons who entertained the belief of it. Many of them were very rational, and serious, and inquisitive persons, who had opportunity to satisfy themselves about the truth of it; and if there had been any reason to disbelieve the testimony that was given, had such great and generous spirits, that if it had been for their advantage and interest to have believed it, yet out of the greatness of their minds they would not have entertained any ungrounded relation, much less a religion built upon it. Such were some, eminent among the Jews and heathens for their great learning, and knowledge of philosophy, and all excellent endowments, who were early converted to Christianity. And as for the multitude who embraced the gospel, the doctrine of it was so contrary to their lusts, and the profession of it to their interests, that nothing can be imagined to have persuaded them to the belief of it, but a high satisfaction of the truth of it; and particularly of this great miracle of Christ’s resurrection, upon which principally the gospel doth rely. And thus I have endeavoured to give you the best evidence I could of the truth of this miracle.
I should now proceed to take notice of the objections that maybe made against it: but this I shall reserve to the following discourse.471
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