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SERMON CXCII.

THE EVIDENCE OF OUR SAVIOUR’S RESURRECTION.

To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion, by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.—Acts i. 3.

THESE words comprehend in short the whole evidence of our Saviour’s resurrection, which maybe referred to these four heads:

First, His appearance to them after his death and passion: “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion.” “To whom;” that is, to the apostles whom St. Luke had mentioned just before: “After he had given commandment to the apostles, whom he had chosen; to whom also,” &c.

Secondly, The proof of the reality of his appearance: “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion, by many infallible proofs;” ἐν πολλοῖς τεκμηριοις, “idque compluribus argumentis,” saith Erasmus, “and that by many certain and undoubted proofs, or arguments.”

Thirdly, The duration and continuance of his appearance to them: “Being seen of them forty days.”

Fourthly, The subject matter of his discourse with them: “And speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Each of these affords us a considerable evidence of Christ’s resurrection.

First, His appearance to them after his death and 309passion: “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion.” In which words there are three things very considerable, and which give great evidence to our Saviour’s resurrection.

I. His appearance to his apostles.

II. That he was really alive, and his body vitally united to his soul.

III. And this after he was really dead—“after his passion;” that is, after he was crucified, dead, and buried, he was raised to life again. I shall speak briefly of these.

I. His appearance to his apostles: “To whom also he shewed himself alive.” The apostles are here only mentioned, because this is here spoken of, in order to their designation and appointment to be the witnesses of Christ’s resurrection to the world, as the great confirmation of that doctrine which they were to publish: but because I am considering his appearance after his resurrection, as an evidence of the truth of it, I shall therefore take in his appearance to others also of his disciples and followers; and consider, likewise, why he only appeared to his own followers, and not also to the unbelieving Jews, who had put him to death, for the full conviction of his enemies and murderers, and the conversion of that whole nation, to whom he was primarily sent.

In considering his several appearances, not only to his apostles, but to his other disciples and followers, that I may give the shortest and fullest view of them, I shall take them as they are briefly summed up by St. Paul; (1 Cor. xv. 4, &c.) where, giving an account of the sum of his doctrine among the Corinthians, he tells us, that the foundation of all his preaching was the death and resurrection of Christ. 310“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 according to the Scriptures.” And then follows the particular evidence of his resurrection: (ver. 5.) “And that he was seen of Cephas.” St. Paul here takes no notice of his first appearance to the devout women, who brought spices and ointments to his sepulchre; “Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women,” as we find, Luke xxiv. 10. The reason of which seems to be this: because his first appearance was in consideration of their piety and affection to him, and of the weakness of their sex, their faith being liable to be first staggered; and they were only to relate it to the apostles, and to be honoured with carrying the first news of it, not to be witnesses of it to the world; so that this appearance was only for the private confirmation of their faith, and therefore not particularly taken notice of by St. Paul among the public evidences of Christ’s resurrection.

“He was seen of Cephas.” This is mentioned Luke xxiv. 34. “The Lord is risen, indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.”

St. Paul goes on; “And then of the twelve.” The college of the apostles, because their number was twelve by our Saviour’s institution, are most frequently called “The Twelve,” though at some meetings some one of them might perhaps be absent: it is true there was a short interruption by the miscarriage of Judas, from the time of our Saviour’s apprehension to his ascension, and then they are called “The Eleven,” as before and after they are called “The Twelve:” yea, at this first appearance 311of our Saviour to them, when they were but ten, Thomas being absent, they are called “The Eleven.” (Mark xvi. 14.) “He appeared to the eleven as they sat at meat;” because they were then but eleven in all. And, indeed, in this text of St. Paul, both the Vulgar translation, which certainly follows a very ancient copy, and St. Ambrose there, instead of twelve, render it eleven; so that St. Paul probably means our Saviour’s first appearance to them, mentioned by St. Mark, where they are also called “The Eleven,” though Thomas was absent; which is the reason why St. Paul says afterwards at the 7th verse, that he was seen of all the apostles, that is, Thomas also being present, as I shall shew by and by.

“After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once.” This was the most solemn appearance of all, mentioned Matt. xxviii. 10. and John xxi. 1. where our Saviour appointed a general meeting of all his disciples and followers. “Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there they shall see me.” (Ver. 16.) “They went into Galilee into a mountain, where Jesus had appointed them.” This mountain, according to the ancient tradition, was Mount Thabor.

There is one considerable difficulty concerning the greatness of this number of five hundred; namely, that after our Saviour’s ascension we find, (Acts i. 15.) that after their return from Mount Olivet (from whence our Saviour ascended) to Jerusalem, the whole number of their meeting was but a hundred and twenty, for so it is expressly said—“the number of names together, were about a hundred and twenty;” that is, of the persons there met. Now we cannot reasonably suppose 312that any of those five hundred, who had seen him after his resurrection, were fallen off from them.

For the clear solution of this, it is to be considered, that the great meeting of five hundred was in Galilee, where our Saviour’s residence chiefly had been, and where he had preached most constantly, and by consequence he had probably there the greatest number of followers, which was the reason why he chose to appear there, and appointed that place for the general meeting. After which, the apostles who went thither by our Lord’s appointment, together with others who accompanied them from Jerusalem, returned back: but his followers who lived in Galilee remained there; so that there might very well be five hundred at the meeting in Galilee, and but a hundred and twenty at Jerusalem.

St. Paul goes on; (ver. 7.) “After that he was seen of James.” This particular appearance of our Lord to St. James, the brother of our Lord, is no where mentioned in the evangelists. St. Paul, probably, had it from the common tradition mentioned by St. Jerome, out of the Hebrew gospel of the Nazarenes, in which are several passages omitted by St. Matthew, and this for one; “That our Lord immediately after he had risen, went and appeared to James: for James had vowed that hour that he drank of the cup of the Lord, (viz. in the sacrament) he would not eat bread, till he saw him risen from the dead. The Lord, when he appeared to him, said, Bring hither bread and a table; and he took the bread, and blessed and brake it, and gave it to James the Just, and said to him, My brother eat thy bread; for the Son of man is risen from among them that sleep.” To this tradition St. Paul 313probably alludes; but then ἔπείτα, which we translate afterwards or then, ought to be rendered, as it elsewhere is, præterea, besides, “moreover he appeared to James,” without denoting the order of the time; for, according to the tradition, it was presently after his resurrection, before he had appeared to the other apostles.

It follows, “Then he was seen of all the apostles;” that is, by Thomas, as well as the rest. And this was his second appearance to the apostles together; of which St. Luke gives us an account, (Luke xxiv. 5.) and St. John, (chap. xx. 19.)

“And last of all, he was (says St. Paul) seen of me also, as an abortive,” or one born out of due time. This he speaks of the appearance of our Lord to him in his way to Damascus, whereby he was in a very powerful and extraordinary manner, on a sudden, converted to Christianity.

Thus I have given you an account of the several appearances of our Saviour, not only to the apostles, but to others, and have endeavoured to explain the chief difficulties relating to them; so that here is a very plentiful testimony of our Saviour’s appearance after his resurrection. I proceed to the

II. Second thing here observable, That our Lord was really alive when he thus appeared, and his body vitally united to his soul: “to whom also he shewed himself alive.” To which purpose, there is a remarkable passage in Ignatius, in his epistle to the church of Smyrna, out of the same Hebrew Nazarene Gospel; “That Christ said to Peter, after his resurrection, Behold, touch me, and see that I am not a spirit that have assumed a body.” For that was one great objection—that his body was not a real body united to his soul, but a thin airy 314body, such as are assumed by spectres and apparitions. But the farther evidence of this I refer to the second general head, concerning the proofs of the reality of his appearance. I proceed to the

III. Third thing I observed; viz. That he appeared alive after he had been really dead; “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion,” says the text; that is, after he was crucified, and dead, and buried, he was raised and restored to life again. And this likewise is necessary, to evidence the truth and reality of his resurrection, that he was really dead. That this was so, we cannot doubt, whether we consider the malice of the Jews, who would take care he should be dead before he was taken from the cross; or the manner of his death, his heart being pierced by the spear, which was evident from the water and blood which came out of his side, which shewed that his heart was mortally wounded; or the time of his being in the grave, which was part of three days.

And now, if he was really dead, his restitution to life, which we call his resurrection, must be miraculous; it being beyond any natural power, that we know of, to effect it.

As for that malicious tradition of the Jews, that he was stolen out of his grave by his disciples, while the watch was asleep, and given out to be risen from the dead; besides the undeniable proofs of his resurrection, which I shall produce by and by, the evidence which these suborned witnesses gave of his disciples stealing away his body destroys itself; for they said, “his disciples came by night, and stole him away, while we slept;” which amounts to no more, but that, when they awaked, his body was some way or other conveyed or gone out of the 315grave; which is consistent with his resurrection. But surely none will think fit to give credit to what they testify was done while they were asleep. They are very willing to believe a thing, who will admit of such a deposition.

Thus much concerning our Saviour’s appearance to his disciples and followers after his resurrection. I shall briefly consider, in the

Second place, Why he only appeared to his own followers, and not also to the unbelieving Jews, who had put him to death, for the full conviction of his enemies and murderers, and the conversion of that whole nation to whom he was primarily sent.

Of this matter, so far as is fit for us to inquire into the reason of the Divine dispensations, this probable account may be given:

1. It was only of absolute necessity, that those who were to be the first publishers of the gospel, and the witnesses of his resurrection to the world, should have the utmost evidence and satisfaction concerning the reality of it: others might very soon credit it upon the testimony of so many witnesses, who also gave evidence to the truth of their testimony, by the miracles which they wrought; and of their own sincerity, by dying for this testimony. And thus St. Peter takes notice of the reason why our Lord, after his resurrection, did not appear to all the people, but only to select witnesses: because his appearance was necessary only to those, who were designed and appointed to be the witnesses of it. If more had been necessary, he must, by the same reason, have appeared to all the world, as well as to the Jews: (Acts x. 40, 41.) “Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before of God, 316even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead; and he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify,” &c.

2. The unbelieving Jews, especially the chief priests and rulers, upon whose authority the people depended, were very unworthy, to whom God should afford so extraordinary a way of conviction, who had already despised and rejected so great evidence as was offered to them: and not only so, bat maliciously imputed the plainest miracles that ever were wrought amongst them, to the power and operation of the devil. Now if any thing can render men incapable of the favour of farther means of conviction, such a malicious resistance of the evidence which our Saviour’s miracles daily wrought among them, carried along with them, would probably do it: especially if we consider, that the greatest of all the miracles which he wrought in his life-time (I mean the raising of Lazarus from the dead, after he had been dead four days), was so far from convincing them, though they could not deny the thing, that from thence their malice took occasion to resolve to put him to death; (John xi. 47.) “Then gathered the chief priests and pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles: if we let him alone, all men will believe on him.” And, (ver. 53.) “Therefore from that day they took counsel together to put him to death.” Now was it reasonable that he should appear to them for their conviction, after he was risen from the dead, who maliciously conspired to compass his death, for this very cause, because they knew that he had raised one from the dead?

3. This would have been inconsistent with that 317just punishment, which God had determined to bring upon the Jewish nation for their obstinate in fidelity, and malicious rejection, and cruel usage of the Son of God. After fitting means used for the conviction of men, it is just with God to let men remain in their own obstinate infidelity, and to punish them for it. And it is not to be expected, that God should use violent and irresistible means, to bring such persons to repentance, and to prevent their ruin. He pities the weakness and infirmities of honest minds, and condescends to give them such evidence as it is reasonable to demand; as he did to his disciples: but he hath not thought fit to provide so extraordinary a remedy for wilful and obstinate infidelity; which was the case of the scribes and pharisees.

Secondly, We will consider the proofs of the reality of our Saviour’s appearance after his resurrection: “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs;” ἐν πολλοῖς τεκμηριοις, a by many certain and undoubted proofs or arguments;” for so the words properly signify, as Quintilian from Aristotle tells us: τεκμήρια, says he, are indubitata et necessaria signa, “undoubted and necessary signs of a thing;” as the actions of speaking, walking, eating, and drinking, are the τεκμήρια, undoubted signs, of life.

And these τεκμήρια, or undoubted proofs of our Saviour’s resurrection, may be referred to these two heads—the natural, and the supernatural and miraculous evidences of the thing.

1. The natural evidence of the thing to their senses; to their eyes, the quickest and surest of senses, men being least apt to be deceived in those things, quæ sunt oculis commissa fidelibus, “which are committed 318to such faithful witnesses as our own eyes.” He was seen of all his disciples, not once, but several times; not by a transient view and glance, but in a way of the most familiar conversation; he discoursed with them, and did eat and drink with them, and with the same circumstances that he used in his life-time, he gave thanks, and brake bread with them: he suffered his body to be touched by them, that they might be convinced that it was a real body, consisting of flesh and bones: (Luke xxiv. 39.) “Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see me have.”

And to convince them, beyond all doubt and scruple, that the very same body was raised in which he had suffered, he gives them leave to handle the wounds of his hands and feet; (Luke xxiv. 39.) “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is myself.” (John xx. 20.) “He shewed them his hands and his side.” And to Thomas, who was more unbelieving than the rest, he says, in the presence of them all, (ver. 27.) “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands: and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.” But, besides this natural sensible evidence, he gave them likewise,

2. A supernatural and miraculous evidence. St. John mentions two or three instances: his coining on the sudden upon them, and standing in the midst of them when the doors were shut. Not that he passed through the door with his body, which is not a miracle, but a plain impossibility, and therefore just as fit to countenance transubstantiation as one impossibility is to prove another; but that he did miraculously open the door, and come in upon them so quickly, as was undiscernible to them; which 319very man will grant not only to be possible, but easy to the Divine power. But this way of our Saviour’s conveying himself into the midst of his disciples, though it be also miraculous, yet the church of Rome will by no means allow it; it is too plain, and easy to be reconciled with the nature and possibility of things; they love at their hearts a lying wonder, a foppish miracle.

And this miracle was repeated twice; first when Thomas was absent, (John xx. 19.) and when he was present the same was done again, (ver. 26.)

And then the miraculous draught of fishes, by which also he had made himself known to them in his life-time.

And then Peter’s casting himself into the sea, when he knew it was he, in confidence of that Divine power, which, in the like kind, he had experience of before.

These miracles St. John mentions; but he tells us, (chap. xx. 30.) that “many other miracles Jesus did in the presence of his disciples, which are not set down in that book.” The

Third thing in the text is, The duration and continuance of his appearing to them, “being seen of them forty days.” And this is of great moment to confirm the reality of the thing: a man may for once be imposed upon by an illusion of fancy, in a thing which he vehemently desires and expects, and which runs strongly in his mind: but where there is time to examine things, and compare all circumstances together, and to look narrowly into them, and to try them by several senses, and at several times, for so long a space, it is morally, nay, almost naturally impossible, that any one man in his senses, much more so many hundreds of persons, should, in such circumstances, 320be grossly deluded in a plain sensible matter of fact.

Fourthly, and lastly, Here is the subject-matter of our Saviour’s discourse with his disciples, concerning things which “pertain to the kingdom of God; or, as it is in the verse before, “after he had by the Holy Ghost (which was not given him by measure, as the evangelist tells us elsewhere) given commandment to his apostles, whom he had chosen:” that is, after he had given the full orders and instructions concerning the doctrine which they were to publish, and all other things pertaining to that spiritual kingdom which he was setting up in the world: by the agreement of all which, with what he had said to them in his life-time, they were more and more confirmed that it was the very same person whom they had conversed with before for above three years together. And yet in this discourse concerning his kingdom, he reserved some things to be afterward revealed to them by the Holy Ghost, according as he had promised, “that when the Spirit of truth was come, he should teach them all things;” particularly concerning the spiritual nature of his kingdom, which they did not yet fully understand, as appears by that question which they put to him, (ver. 6.) “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom unto Israel?” They still dreamed of a temporal kingdom, in which our Saviour would appear in great pomp and splendour to subdue the world to them.

From all this discourse which I have made, you see what evidence the apostles, who were to be the first publishers of the gospel, and witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, had of the truth and reality of it; so plentiful, and clear, and convincing, as nothing 321more could either be desired or expected. And we have a credible relation of these things brought down to us, abundantly sufficient to satisfy those who are free from the bias of passion or interest, or the prejudice and prepossession of a contrary religion in which they have been educated and brought up, and sufficient to gain some few ingenuous and teachable persons here and there, who do more impartially consider things; and though they have been educated in a contrary religion, yet have preserved in themselves a greater freedom of judgment than education does usually leave in the minds of men.

But yet this credible relation of actions and miracles done long ago, how true soever in itself, does not carry so present, and sensible, and strong a conviction with it, as to be able to bear down in the common people the violent prejudice of education in a contrary religion, and consequently is not likely to do any great matter of itself toward the conversion of infidel nations.

And therefore the Divine wisdom, which does no thing that is superfluous and unnecessary, thought fit, not only to send the apostles armed with this evidence, which had abundantly convinced them, to testify the resurrection of Christ to the world, but also to give an immediate testimony to them, by enabling them to work present miracles upon the spot, for the confirmation of their testimony. And this Divine power which went along with them, was a sensible testimony and conviction both to the knowing and ignorant part of mankind, that they were teachers and witnesses sent by God; and therefore our Lord commands them, “not to depart from Jerusalem, till they had received power 322from on high,” to qualify them to be witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, not only in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, but to the utmost parts of the earth.

And this I still believe to be the case of those many nations of the world, that are yet under the violent, and almost invincible, prejudice of education in another religion. That which may reasonably satisfy us who are brought up in the Christian religion, is not likely to be effectual enough to convince them; and, therefore, I think it still very credible, that if persons of sincere minds did go to preach the pure Christian religion, free from those errors and superstitions which have crept into it, to infidel nations, that God would still enable such persons to work miracles; without which there would be little or no probability of success. For as the wisdom of God is not wont to do that which is superfluous, so neither to be wanting in that which is necessary; and though the morality of the Christian religion be admirable, and very apt to recommend itself to the reason of mankind, yet the doctrine of the death of the Son of God would be such a stumbling-block, as would be hard for them to get over; and the relation of ancient miracles would not easily be admitted, by those who are utterly strangers to our histories of former times; and, consequently, not so fit to judge of what credit and value they are.

It is not good to be confident where we are not certain; but this I piously believe, that God would extraordinarily countenance such an attempt by all fitting assistance, as he did the first publication of the gospel; because the reason and necessity is plainly the same in this case as it was at first. For 323if God did not think the apostles naked testimony, unless it were armed with miracles, sufficient for the conviction of the world, concerning the resurrection of Christ, of which themselves had been eye-witnesses, much less can we expect to gain credit, who only carry the relation of these ancient matters of fact, attested by histories to which they are wholly strangers.

And I do strongly hope, that there still remains a great harvest among the gentiles, yet to be gained to Christianity before the end of the world; and that the providence of God will, in his own appointed time, make a further step in the conversion of the infidel nations; and that more of the kingdoms of the earth shall become the kingdoms of the Lord, and of his Christ; and that yet before the end of all things, the light of the gospel shall be displayed in a glorious manner, not only in those vast empires of Tartary, and China, and Japan, and Hindostan, and other great kingdoms of the east, but in the large and dark regions of the new-discovered world; for that solemn promise which God made to his Son, (Psal. ii. 8.) “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession,” seems to be very far from being yet fully accomplished; and since this is like to be the work of some ages, the time, perhaps, is not far off, when it shall begin: and though I see no sufficient grounds from Scripture to believe the personal reign of Christ upon earth for a thousand years; yet it seems to be not improbable, that some time before the end of the world, the glorious kingdom of Christ, I mean the prevalency of the pure Christian religion, should be of as long continuance, as the reigns of 324Mahomet and Antichrist have been, both which have now lasted about a thousand years.

For it is clear, that the “fulness of the gentiles” is not yet come in, because the Jews still continue dispersed over the world, which is the mark our Saviour hath given of the call and restitution of the Jews: (Luke xxi. 24.) “They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the gentiles, until the time of the gentiles be fulfilled.” And thus St. Paul explains to us this prediction of our Saviour: (Rom. xi. 25.) “I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, that blindness, in part, is happened unto Israel, until the fulness of the gentiles be come in.”

So that this we have reason to expect, and this let us pray for, “That the knowledge of the Lord may fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea; that his ways may be known upon earth, and his saving health among all nations;” and with St. Paul, “Let our hearty desire and prayer for Israel be, that they may be saved; that there may come out of Sion a deliverer, and he may turn away unrighteousness from Jacob;” especially, since St. Paul hath given us reason to hope, that this would be of so great benefit and advantage to the gentile world: (Rom. xi. 12.) “If the fall of the Jews be the riches of the world, and the diminution of them the riches of the gentiles; how much more their fulness?” and, (ver. 15.) “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world; what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” Intimating, that as the rejection of the Jews was the occasion of publishing the gospel, that “doctrine of reconciliation,” to the world, as the same apostle doth elsewhere 325call it; so the receiving them to favour again, should be “life from the dead;” that is, a kind of resurrection to the remainder of the gentile world, who had so long “lain in darkness and the shadow of death.” Which “the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,” grant in his due time may be accomplished; that those “other sheep which are not yet of this fold, may hear his voice, and be brought in, that there may be one fold, and one Shepherd; and all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.”

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