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RESURRECTION OF CHRIST.
Acts iii. 15.
-And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the
dead : whereof we are witnesses.
In the preceding discourse, I observed, that in this passage St. Peter declares to the Jews the three following things :
1st. That they had killed the Prince of life:
3dly. That the Apostle himself and his companions were witnesses of these facts.
The first of these assertions, I observed, had been scarcely controverted, and therefore needed no discussion from me. To establish the second, I remarked, was indispensable to a system of Christian Theology; as being the great point, on which such a system must depend; and therefore proposed it as the immediate object of that discourse. The evidence of its truth, I further observed, was chiefly furnished by the Apostles and their companions. This evidence, therefore, I proposed to state ; and to show, that it was a proper and unexceptionable object of reliance for the truth of the important fact, declared in the text.
In pursuance of this design I observed, that, if Christ was not raised from the dead, the Apostles were either themselves deceived, or have of design deceived others. That they themselves were not deceived, I endeavoured to prove in that discourse, and shall now attempt to show.
II. That they have not deceived others.
By this you will understand, that they have not deceived others of design: all other deception having been considered under the former head.
In support of this assertion I observe,
1st. That the known probity of the Apostles places them beyond every reasonable suspicion of intentional deception.
The probity of the Apostles stands on higher ground, and has been regarded with higher confidence by mankind, than that of any other men whatever. This has been so often evinced, and with arguments so plainly unanswerable, that it would be probably thought tedious to expatiate on the subject at the present time. Suffice it, then, to say, that the histories, which they have given us of our Saviour's life, contain more internal, and decisive, proofs of sincerity, than any other human writings; that they recite facts, and utter doctrines, with a simplicity, and artlessness, unequalled; that their story, both as to the subject, and as to the manner, is such, as no impostor could, or would tell; that the character of Christ is drawn with excellencies so great, combined with features so distinctive, as to prove it beyond the power of human invention, and much more beyond the invention of such humble, uneducated men; that, greatly as they respected him, horrible as were the injuries which he received from his enemies, gross and abominable as was the character of those enemies, and intensely as the Apostles abhorred both them and their conduct, they have recited his whole story without a single panegyrical remark concerning him, and without a single testimony of resentment, unkindness, or prejudice, against them. Let it be remembered, also, that no Impostor would have ever thought of terminating his account concerning a favourite and splendid character with the history of his trial and crucifixion as a malefactor ; that no Impostor, if we were to sup: pose him to have done this, would have prefaced this history with a recital of his own disbelief, that this favourite was to die; especially after he had predicted his death, many times, in the plainest language ; that no Inpostor would have recorded his own ignorance, and disbelief, of the true character, mission, and doctrines, of the hero of his story; or his severe and stinging reproofs of his follies and faults, and all this without disguise or palliation; that the doctrines and precepts, contained in the Gospel, are beyond the discovery of any men, particularly of such men; that, if an Im. postor could discover them, he could never have enjoined them on mankind, because of their spotless purity and perfect excellence; that every Impostor must, of course, have blended with the better doctrines and precepts, which he thought proper to deliver, others, sufficiently licentious to countenance, or at least to palliate, his own crimes; that the end, uniformly proposed, and intensely pursued, in the Gospel; viz. the amendment of the human character; is such, as no Impostor would be willing to promote ; that four Impostors, writing independently, or without concert, could not possibly have exhibited the same accordance of facts, nor the same perfect harmony of doctrines; and that the character of the Apostles was, in their own age, not only unimpeached, but considered as superior to that of all other virtuous men. To these proofs of integrity ought to be added that decisive one; their cheerful relinquishment of all the pleasures of this life, and their voluntary endurance of all its distresses; and, in the end, their voluntary surrender of life itself; for the sake of the religion which they professed, and of the Master whom they served.
That men, who gave so many efficacious, and uniform, proofs, of integrity, should conspire to palm upon mankind this gross imposition, is too replete with absurdity, to be admitted by any sober man.
2dly. The Apostles had no interest in attempting to deceive mankind, with respect to this event.
In order to render the imposition profitable to its authors, it was necessary, that it should be believed; and, to gain credit elsewhere, it must first gain credit were it was originally published. The story was first declared to the Jewish nation; and without a single hope, or thought, of spreading it among other nations. It was for twelve years confined io Jews only. Now, let me ask, What inducement had the Apostles to believe, that a tale, so incredible in itself, would be received by this people ? a tale concerning the resurrection of a crucified malefactor: for such, if false, must the story have been; and such, although true, it was believed to be by the Jews. By them Christ was regarded as an impostor; as a blasphemer of God; as an impious pretender to the Messiahship; and an impious opposer of a religion, unquestionably derived from heaven. Yet, with the Jews, this publication was to begin ; and, so far as they knew, to end : Jews beyond example bigoted to their own religion, and furious in their hostility to every other; the bitter persecutors of Christ, while he lived; and the accusers and witnesses, who caused his death. What hope could any, but a madman, entertain, that among such people, such a story could gain even a solitary admission ? To give credit to this story was, in a Jew, no other, than to yield up his religion ; his bigotry ; his connexion with the Jewish Church; his interest in the public opinion of his countrymen, and in the protection of its government. It was to expose his possessions, his family, and his life; to become excommunicated, outlawed, and an outcast from society; and to place himself within the reach of all the dreadful threatenings, contained in the law of Moses. At the same time, it was to acknowledge himself a murderer; a murderer of the Messiah ; a murderer of the Son of God; to confess, that he had found this glorious person in the son of a carpenter; in a man, emphatically styled by him, and his countrymen, a friend of publicans and sinners; a gluttonous man, and a wine-bibber. It was, also, to renounce all his bright and dawning hopes of the deliverance of himself, and his nation, from Roman servitude, by that mighty Prince, with whom they were all in hourly expectation of triumphing, and reigning, over every nation on earth. All this, also, was to be done without any good, to balance these mighty evils, either in hand, or in reversion. Never was there a field, so unpromising to the talents, or the efforts, of an impostor.
At the same time, this tale was to be told by the followers of the person professedly raised, and the enemies of those, to whom it was told ; by men, poor, ignorant, and despised; without friends, and without influence; abhorred by their countrymen, and regarded as apostates from their religion. Never were persons so ill qualified for successful efforts at imposition. Suppose such a story were now to be told. None of these embarrassments, it is evident, would attend the recital, except those, which arise out of the story itself. The narrators would lie originally under no public odium. The subject would be obnoxious to no peculiar prejudice. The reception of it would be followed by no peculiar sacrifices; by no civil or religious disqualifications ; by no loss of property, reputation, safety, or even quiet. How plain is it, that such a story, if false, could not, even here, produce any other effect, but pity, contempt, and ridicule! To persuade others to believe it, is in the nature of the case, a thing so hopeless and desperate, that no Impostor has been found weak, rash, or impudent, enough, to think of making the attempt. But, of all persons on earth, none were ever more disadvantageously situated to propagate such a story, than the Apostles. The Jews were certainly less inclined to believe this story, than the Apostles themselves. They refused to believe it, long after very sufficient evidence had been furnished them of its truth. The Jews would certainly require evidence still more ample. This the Apostles could not but know; and, therefore, must have been hopeless of persuading them to believe it, unless themselves were able to support it by such evidence. But this evidence could never be produced in support of a falsehood.
If the story did not gain belief; the attempt to spread it could be of no possible use to the Apostles. As, then, they could not entertain a single hope of inducing the Jews to believe it; they could have no possible inducement to attempt to palm it upon the Jews. But if the Jews did not believe it, it could never be received by any other people. Jews, in great numbers, were scattered over all the countries, in which the Apostles could ever hope, or wish, to spread the story. These Jews carried on a continual correspondence with those at Jerusalem; and, in immense numbers, visited that city every year. If, then, the story was not believed at Jerusalem; this fact would be perfectly well known wherever Jews resided.But the knowledge, that the story gained no credit at Jerusalem ; the place, where the event had professedly existed; would effectually prevent it from gaining the least credit in any other place. To the spot, where the event was said to exist, all thinking men would have recourse, to learn the true state of the evidence concerning it. If it was there found insufficient; it would at once be pronounced to be insufficient by all men. The Gospel was, probably, directed by Christ to be preached first at Jerusalem, and in Judea, for this, as one great reason; that the story of his resurrection, on which his whole scheme depended, being established there in the immoveable belief of multitudes, might be successfully and irresistibly published in other countries.
But, whatever advantages the Apostles could derive, or expect to derive, from their imposture, (if it was one) must be wholly derived from persuading mankind to believe this story. They themselves perfectly understood, and frankly declared to mankind, that their whole system turned on this single hinge. If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching tain, and your faith is also vain; is the constant language of all which they said. For proof of this you need only examine the sermons of St. Peter and St. Paul, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Unless this fact were established, therefore, they could not hope for a single follower, nor for the smallest reward. But of the establishment of this fact among either Jews, or Gentiles, I flatter myself I have shown, they could not, in the existing circumstances, form even the remotest hope. They had not, therefore, the smallest interest in making the attempt.
3dly. They were assured, with absolute certainty, of suffering every imaginable disadvantage.
All the losses and injuries, mentioned under the preceding head, must have stared them in the face at the beginning. At every step of their progress new evils could not fail to arise ; and those of the most distressing kind. Had they been blind enough not to have perceived their miserable destiny, before they commenced this wretched work of deception; the first attempt could not fail to produce the most ample conviction : and to this, every new attempt would add fresh proof. The scourge, the prison, and the cross, have always proved effectual antidotes to imposition. All other dishonest men are, equally with Voltaire, no friends to Martyrdom. Had the Apostles possessed the same character, they would have soon been wearied of the sufferings which they every where underwent. Every where they were hated; calumniated ; despised; hunted from city to city; thrust into prison ; scourged; stoned; and crucified. For what where all these excruciating sufferings endured ? Gain, honour, and pleasure, are the only gods, to which Impostors bow. But of these the Apostles acquired, and plainly laboured to acquire, neither. What, then, was the end, for which they suffered? Let the Infidel answer this question.
As they gained nothing, and lost every thing, in the present world; so it is certain, that they must expect to gain nothing, and suffer
every thing, in the world to come. That the Old Testament was the Word of God, they certainly believed without a single doubt. But, in this Book, lying is exhibited as a supreme object of the Divine abhorrence, and the Scriptural threatenings. From the invention, and propagation, of this falsehood, therefore, they could expect nothing, hereafter, but the severest effusions of the anger of God.
For what, then, was all this loss, danger, and suffering, incurred ? For the privilege of telling an extravagant and incredible story to mankind, and of founding on it a series of exhortations to repentance, faith, and holiness; to the renunciation of sin, and the universal exercise of piety, justice, truth, and kindness; to the practice of all that conduct, which common sense has ever pronounced to be the duty, honour, and happiness of man; and the avoidance of all that, which it has ever declared to be his guilt, debasement, and misery Such an End was never even wished, much less seviously proposed, by an Impostor.