« PreviousContinue »
The evidences of the truth of the Christian
2 Cor. iv. 3, 4. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are loft :
In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, left the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, would shine unto them.
The fourth sermon on this text.
Have been considering the evidence which those who lived in our Saviour's time had of his divine authority, from the power of working miracles,
with which he was endued. The miracles which concern our Saviour, I redu. red to three heads ; those of his life; those wrought at his death ; and the great miracle of his resurrection from the dead, together with those two that were consequent upon it ; his visible ascension into heaven, and his sending the Holy Ghost.
As to the resurrection of our Saviour, I have produced the testimonies for it, and have added some considerations that may give strength and advantage to that testimony; and shall now proceed to take notice of the most considerable exceptions that may be made against it. And all the exceptions that can be brought against it, that are of any moment, and that I know of, are these three ; that tradition of the Jews, that he was stolen out of the grave; or that he was not really dead ; or that his appearance was an illufion from evil spirits. The firit of these is ancient, and was the invention of the Jews, and denies the VOL. X. A
integrity of the witnesses of his resurrection, making them deceivers : The two last suppose the fidelity of the witnesses, but say, they were deceived, either as to his death, or as to his appearance afterward : and there have been since invented by atheistical fpirits. I shall briefly answer them, and first in general, I say these two things :
1. That they who deny this, have this disadvantage, that they are to prove a negative, which is never capable of that evidence, which an affirmation is.
2. These exceptions look very like envy, for they do not concur to make up one strong objection against the testimony of Christ's resurrection but each of them contradicts the other, and is inconsiste ent with them : For it the tradition of the Jews be true, that he was stolen out of the grave after that he was dead and buried, and that the itory of his appearing to them was a forgery, then the two latter exceptions are false, and so of the rest; so that these exceptions look like the false witnesses that were suborned against Christ, that they do not agree together. But to the objections themselves, I answer,
Firft, The tradition of the Jews ; that his body was itolen out of the fepulchre, and all that which is related afterwards of his appearing to his disciples, and conversing with them, and afcending into heaven, was a forgery and imposture.
Answ. 1. We have early notice given of this in the history of the gospel, Matth. xxviii. 1. that when the chief priests heard that his body was gone out of the grave, they consulted together, and hired the soldiers to say that the disciples came by night, and whilst they were asleep, stole him away. Observe what it was that the soldiers were to tefti. fy, that whilft they were alleep, the disciples came and stole away his body. Very credible persons, that were to give testimony of what they saw done, whilft they were asleep! A man had need be hired with a great sum to give such a testimony, so ridiculous : and it seems the Pharisees looked upon the governor as very simple, that would be so easily perLuaded of so unlikely a thing.
2. It should seem it was not believed by themselves ; for Josephus, a knowing and learned, man of that nation and religion, who lived immediately after that time, speaks positively in the 18th Book of his Antiquities, that is Christ was crucified, and
appeared to his disciples the third day, rising from “ the dead;” and he speaks not a word of the for. gery, which had been much for the credit of his nation and religion.
3. If we compare the fidelity of the persons on both sides the witnesses of Christ's resurrection cannot be suspected of any worldly interest or design; but the Priests and Pharisees were concerned, both in reputation and interest, to blast this miracle as much as they could ; because if it should be entertained, both their religion would be endangered, and they would be looked upon as murderers of him whose holiness and innocency was attested by such a miracle.
4. If this exception had been true, it had been easy to have discovered the impofture, and undeceived the people ; the gospel would have fallen and funk in a short time. Nothing but truth could have born up and prevailed against so much opposition. If this had been the work of men, and an impofture, ic would have come to nought į but it was truth, and of God, and therefore it could not be overthrown.
Secondly, That he was not dead when he was put into the grave, that he was but in a swoon or deliquium, and so might rise again without a miracle.
Answ. 1. We may reasonably suppose, that the malice of the Jews took care to kill him. Besides, the circumstances of the ftory do sufficiently evidence it. Upon the piercing of his side, water and blood came out ; which was an evidence that his heart was pierced. And after his body was exhausted of its blood, there could be no return to life again. But it seems the soldiers were satisfied in the thing, who, when they came to break his bones, spared him, because they saw that he was already dead.
2. If he was not dead, yet how should he rise again? It was a pitiful securing of the grave, and a little great stone that was rolled
upon a weak and wounded, and spent man, after so much pain, and the expence of so much blood, could roll it away.
3. Suppose he did rise, what became of him afterwards ? How came we to have no particulars of what became of him? If those which the story gives us be true, that after forty days he was taken up into heaven, we need not doubt of his resurrection, for this is as miraculous as that.
Thirdly, The third and last exception is as unreasonable as any, which grants that he did seem to appear to the disciples, but they were imposed upon by the illusion of evil spirits.
Answ. 1. That which may be an evasion in any case, is to be admitted in no case. This exception supposeth as much evidence for his resurrection, as this or any other thing is capable of ; and yet would make it an illusion : but this denies all certainty ; for if we may be deceived when we have the greatest assurance of a thing that our senses can give us ; then we may not only question the resurrection of Christ, but every thing else.
2. If we believe the providence of God, we cannot think it to be so little vigilant, as that honest and well-meaning persons should be continually exposed to the insolence and cheats of evil spirits, and in a matter of the greatest concernment should be ever liable to be deceived, and cannot help it.
Having thus considered our Saviour's resurrection, and answered the objections against it, I proceed to those two miracles which followed his resurrection; namely, his ascension into heaven ; and his sending the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles and primitive Christians in such miraculous powers and gifts.
First, His ascension into heaven. And of this the disciples of our Saviour were also eye-witnesses. So St. Luke tells us, Acts i. 4. 9. And when they were assembled together, and Christ among them after his resurrection, and when he had given them in charge
what he would have them to do, as they looked on, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their fight. What more visible demonftration could there be, that this man was sent of God, than that after he had preached the doctrine which he came to deliver to the world, and confirmed it by so
many racles, and God has given so great an attestation to him, by raising him up from the dead; I say, what more visible demonstration that he came from God, than to see him taken up into heaven, after he had finished the work for which God sent him into the world!
Secondly, The fending of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles and primitive Christians in such miraculous powers and gifts, whereby they were enabled to speak divers languages, in order to the more expedite publishing of the gospel to the world, to heal diseases, and to raise the dead, to foretel things to come, and (which was common with the Apostles and all Chriftians for some ages) they had a power of casting out devils, by, adjuring them in the name of Christ. Now what could be a clearer evidence that he came from God, and was returned to him, than the conferring of sucha miraculous powers and gifts apon men, after he was ascended inco heaven, as a teftis mony that he was invested in his royalty, having a power conferred upon him to dispenfe those gifts to men ?
But of the ascension * of our Saviour, and the exces traordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, † having upon other occasions discoursed at large, I shall need to add no more here ; only,before I conclude this head, I shall briefly mention the chief of those objections, which these miracles which were wrought by our Saviour, and on his behalf, are liable to, and endea.. vour to return a satisfactory answer to themi And there are two objeđions against his miracles in ge--. neral. First, That he wrought them by the power of the Devil.
Secondly, The other objection is taken from that
* Sermon 190 t Ser.-197, 198, 199. And Ser: 229,- 23.03