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roof. They find the door lying flat, and the word
i^o^u^avng implies that some force was necessary to
break it open. That force might have disturbed the
family had they been quiet. But at present they
are too much engaged to attend to it, or their know-
ledge of the purpose for which the force was used,
prevents them from giving any interruption. The
door being made to allow persons to come out upon
the roof, and the couch being a xXjvtdt»v,* it would not
be difficult for four men to let down the couch by
the stair on the inside, two of them going before to
receive it out of the hands of the others. After the
couch is thus brought into the room where Jesus
was, in the only method by which access could be
found to him, he rewards the faith of the sick man
by performing, in presence of his enemies, several of
whom appear to have mingled with the multitude,
an instantaneous and wonderful cure. The palsy is
a disease seldom completely, never suddenly remov-
ed. The extreme degree in which it affected this
man was known to the four who carried him, to the
multitude in the midst of whom he was laid, to all
the inhabitants of Capernaum. Yet by a word from
the mouth of Jesus, he is enabled to rise up and car-

* Luke V. 19. 24.


ry his couch. Judge from this simple exposition,
whether the narrative of Mark deserves to be called
monstrously absurd and incredible.

The turning of water into wine is recorded in the
second chapter of John. The only objection to this
miracle which merits consideration, is the offence
conceived by Mr. Woolston at the expression which
our Lord uses to his mother. And I doubt not that
it sounds harsh in the ears of every English reader.
" When they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith
imto him, they have no wine ; Jesus saith unto her.
Woman, what have I to do with thee ? Mine hour is
not yet come." Here an analysis of the words in
the original appears to me to afford a satisfying an-
swer to the objection. I need scarcely remark, that
yuwj is the word by which women of the highest
rank were addressed in ancient times by men of the
most polished manners, when they wished to show
them every mark of respect. It is used by Jesus,
when with filial affection, in his dying moments, he
provides every soothing attention for his mother.
The phrase n si^i xai eoi occurs in some places of the
Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, and
also in the New Testament. It is uniformly render-
ed " What have I to do with thee ?" and seems to
mark a check, a slight reprimand, a degree of dis-
pleasure. It was not unnatural for our translators
to give the Greek phrase the same sense here ; and
many commentators understand oiu* Lord as check-
ing his mother for directing him in the exercise of
his divine power. I do not think that such a check
would have been inconsistent with that tender con-
cern for his mother which our Lord showed upon
the cross. It became him who was endowed with


the Spirit without measure, to be led by that Spirit
in the discharge of his public office, and not to commit
himself to the narrow conceptions of any of the chil-
dren of men. I do not therefore find fault with those
who understand Jesus as saying, the time of attest-
ing my commission by miracles is not come, and I
cannot receive directions from you when it should
begin. This may be the meaning of the words.
But as they will easily bear another translation, per-
fectly consistent with the meekness and gentleness
of Christ, I am inclined to jH'efer it. " What is that
to thee and me ? The want of wine is a matter that
concerns the master of the feast. But it need not
. distress you ; and my friends cannot accuse me of
unkindness in withholding an exercise of my power,
that may be convenient for them, for I have yet done
no miracle, the season of my public manifestation not
being come." We know that Jesus did not enter
upon his ministry till after John was cast into prison.
We find John, in the next chapter, baptizing near
Salim, and this is called the beginning of miracles.
According to this translation, every appearance of
harshness is avoided, and the whole story hangs per-
fectly together. You will observe, Mary was so far
from being offended at the supposed harshness of the
answer, or conceiving it to be a refusal, that she says
to the servants, " Whatever he saith unto you, do
it :" and our Lord's doing the miracle after this
answer, is a beautiful instance of his attention to his
mother. Although his friends had no reason to ex-
pect an interposition of his power, because his hour
was not come, yet, in compliance with her desire, he
supplies plentifully what is wanting.


To the resurrection of Lazarus, in the eleventh
chapter of John, Mr. Woolston objects, that the per-
son raised was not a man of eminence sufficient to
draw attention — that he gives no account of what
he saw in the separate state — that it was absurd in
Jesus to call with a loud voice to a dead man — that
Lazarus having his head bound is suspicious — and
that the whole is a romantic story. Now the answer
to all this is to be drawn from the contexture of the
narrative, in which, beautiful, simple, and tender as
it is, there are interwoven such circumstances as can
leave no doubt upon the mind of any person who
admits the authenticity of this book, that the great-
est of miracles was here really performed. Instead,
therefore, of following the frivolous objections of Mr.
Woolston one by one, I shall present you with a con-
nected view of these circumstances, as a specimen of
the manner in which the credibility of other miracles
may be illustrated.

Jesus lingered in the place where he was, when
he received the message from the sisters, till the time
when, by the divine knowledge that he possessed, he
said to the apostles, " Our friend Lazarus sleepeth."
After this, he had a long journey to Bethany ; and
it does not appear that he performed it hastily, for
he learned, as he approached the village, that Lazarus
had lain four days in the grave. He delayed so long,
that the divine power, which he was to exert in the
resurrection of Lazarus, might be magnified in the
eyes of the spectators ; and, at the same time, he 2:)ro-
vided an unquestionable testimony for the truth of
the miracle, by arriving before the days of mourning
were expired. You will be sensible of the effect of
this circumstance, if you attend for a moment to the



manners of the Jews respecting funerals. One of
the gTeatest calamities in human life, is the death of
those persons whose society had been our comfort
and joy. It has been the jn-actice of all countries to
testify the sense of this calamity by honours paid to
the dead, and by expressions of grief on the part of
the living. In eastern countries, M'here all the pas-
sions are strong, and agitate the frame more than in
our northern climates, these expressions of grief were
often exceedingly violent; and, notwithstanding some
wise prohibitions of the law of Moses, the mourning
in the land of Judea was more expressive of anguish
than that which we commonly see. The deatl body
was carried out to burial not long after the death.
But the house in which the person had died, the fur-
niture of the house, and all who had been in it at
that time, became in the eye of the law unclean For
seven days. During that time, the near relations of
the deceased remained constantly in the house, un-
less when they went to the grave or sepulchre to
mourn over the dead. They did not perform any of
the ordinary business of life ; they were not consider-
ed as in a proper condition for r.ttending the service
of the temple, and their neighbours and acquaint-
ances, for these seven days, came to condole with
them, bringing bread and wine and other victuals,
as there was nothing in the house which could law-
fully be used. Upon this charitable errand, a num-
ber of Jews, inhabitants of Jerusalem, had come out
to Bethany, which was within two miles of the city,
upon the day when Jesus arrived there ; and thus,
as we found the sisters brought out to the sepulchre
one after another, by the most natural display of
character, so here, without any appearance of a di-


vine interposition, but merely by their following the
dictates of good neighbourhood or of decency, the
enemies of Jesus are gathered together to he the
witnesses of this work. AVhen the Jews saw Marv
rise hastily and go out, after the private message
which Martha brought her, knowing that she could
not go any where but to the sepulchre, they natural-
ly arose to follow her, that they might restrain the
extravagance of her grief, and assist in composing her
spirit and bringing her home. Tliey found Jesus in
the highway where Martha had first met him, groan-
ing in spirit at the distress of the family, and sooth-
ing Mary's complaint by this kindly question, "Where
have ye laid him?" a question which showed his rea-
diness to take part in her sorrow, by going with her
to the house of the dead. The Jews answer his
question, " Lord, come and see;" and Jesus suffers
himself to be led by them, that they might see there
was no preparation for the work he was about to per-
form, when he stepped out of the highway along
with them, and allowed them to reach the sepul-
chre before him. His tears draw the attention of
the crowd as he approaches the place ; and the
Evangelist has presented to us, in their different
remarks, that variety of character which we disco-
ver in every multitude. The candid and feeling-
admired this testimony of his affection for Lazarus,
" Behold how he loved him !" Others, who pretend-
ed to more sagacity, argued from the grief of Jesus,
that, in the death of Lazarus, he had met with a
disappointment which he would have prevented if
he could. Jesus, without making any reply to either
remark, arrives at the grave. John, who wrote his
Gospel at a distance from Jerusalem, for the benefit


of those who were strangers to Jewish manners, has
given a short description of the grave, which we
must carry along with us. The Jews, especially
persons of distinction, were generally laid, not in
such graves as we commonly see, but in caves hewn
in the rocks, with which the land of Judea abound-
ed. Sometimes the sepulchre was in part above the
ground, having a door, like that in which our Lord
lay. Sometimes it was altogether below ground,
having an aperture from which a stair led down to
the bottom, and this aperture covered with a stone,
except when the sepulchre was to be opened. The
body, swathed in linen, with the feet and hands
tightly bound, and the whole face covered by a nap-
kin, was laid, not in a coffin, but in a niche or cell
of the sepulchre. As the Jews, at the command of
Jesus, were attempting to take away the stone,
Martha seems to stagger in the faith which she had
formerly expressed. " Lord, by this time he stink-
eth, for he hath been dead four days," riru^raiog yao icn.
The word means, that he has been four days in
some particular condition^ without expressing what
condition is meant. Now, his present condition is,
being: in the cave. It vvas mentioned before, that he
had been there four days, and therefore our trans-
lators should have inserted in italics the word bur-
ied^ not the word dead. Jesus revives the faith of
Martha ; and as soon as the stone is removed, he
lifts up his eyes to heaven, and thanks the Father
for having heard him. His enemies said, that he
did his mighty works by the assistance of the devil.
Here, in the act of performing the greatest of them,
he prays, with perfect assurance of being heard,
ascribes the honour to God, and takes to himself


the name of the messenger of heaven. Think of
the suspense and earnest attention of the multitude,
while, after the sepulchre is opened, Jesus is utter-
ing this solemn prayer. How would the suspense
be increased, when Jesus, to show the whole multi-
tude that the resurrection of Lazarus was his deed,
calls with a loud voice, " Lazarus, come forth !"
And what would be their astonishment when they
saw this command instantly obeyed ; the man who
had lain four days in the sepulchre, sliding his
limbs down from the cell, and standing before it
upright ! The bandages prevent him from moving
forward. But Jesus, by ordering the Jews to loose
him, gives them a nearer opportunity of examining
this wonderful sight, and of deriving, from the dress
of his body, from the state of the grave clothes,
from the manner in which the napkin smothered his
face, various convincing proofs, that the man whom
they now saw and touched alive, had been truly
numbered among the dead.

The contexture of this narration is such as to ef-
face from our minds every objection against the con-
sistency of it ; and the greatness of the miracle is
obvious. We behold in this work the Lord of Life.
None can restore a man who had seen corruption,
but He who in the beginning created him. Jesus
gives us here a sample of the general resurrection,
and a sensible sign that he is able to deliver from
the second death. This is the meaning of that ex-
pression, " Whosoever liveth and believeth in me
shall never die," ov ij.n ameav?] ng rw aiuia, i. e. shall not
die for ever. Natural death is the separation of soul
and body ; eternal death is the loss, the degradation,
and final wretchedness of the soul. Both are the


wages of sill, and Jesus delivers from the first, which
is visible, as a pledge of his being able to deliver, in
due time, those who live and believe in him, from
the second also, llie miracle is in this way stated
by himself, both as a confirmation of his mission,
and as an illustration of the great doctrine of his re-

Before leaving the circumstances of the miracle I
would observe, that however ably such objections as
I have mentioned may be answered, there is much
caution to be used in stating them to a Christian
assembly. It is very improper to communicate to
the people all the extravagant frivolous conceits that
have been broached by the enemies of Christianity.
The objection may remain with them after they have
forgotten the answer ; and their faith may be shaken
by finding that it has received so many attacks. It
becomes the ministers of religion indeed, to possess
their minds with a profound knowledge of the evi-
dences of Christianity, and of the answers that may
be made to objections. But out of this store-house
they should bring forth to the people a clear unembar-
rassed view of every subject upon which they speak,
so as to create no doubt or suspicion in those who
hear them, but to give tlieir faith that stability which
is always connected with distinct apprehension.

III. It remains to say a few words upon the ef-
fects which this miracle produced. Some of the per-
sons who had come to comfort Mary, when they
saw " the things which Jesus did, believed on him."
It was the conclusion of right reason, that a man
who, in the sight of a multitude, exerted, without
prejiaration, a power to which no human exertion
deserves to be compared, was a messenger of heaven.

or CHllISTIAMTV. 13.5

It was the conclusion of an enlightened and unpre-
judiced Jew, that this extraordinary person, appear-
ing in the land of Judea, was the Messiah, whose
coming was to be distinguished by signs and won-
ders. The chosen people of God, who " waited for
the consolation of Israel," found in this miracle the
most striking marks of him thfit should come. The
conclusion seems to arise naturally out of the pre-
mises. Yet it was not drawn by all. Many be-
lieved, " but some went their ways to the Pharisees
and told them what things Jesus had done." They
knew the enmity which these leading men entertain-
ed against him. They were afraid of incurring their
anger, by appearing to be his disciples ; they hoped
to obtain their favour by informing against him ;
and, sacrificing their conviction to this fear and this
hope, they go from the sepulchre of Lazarus, where
with astonishment they had seen the power of Jesus,
to inflame the minds of his enemies by a recital of
the deed. And what do these enemies do ? They
could not entertain a doubt of the fact. It was told
them by witnesses who had no interest in forging
or exaggerating miracles ascribed to Jesus. The
place was at hand ; inquiry was easy ; and the im-
posture, had there been any, could not have remain-
ed hidden at Jerusalem for a day. The Pharisees,
therefore, in their deliberations, proceed upon the
fact as undeniable. ** This man doth many mira-
cles." But, from mistaken views of political expe-
diency, the result of their deliberation is, '' They
take counsel together to put him to death."

There is thus furnished a satisfactory answer to a
question that has often been asked, If Jesus really
did such miracles,, how is it possible that any who


saw them could remain in unbelief ? Many, we are
told, did believe ; and here is a view of the motives
which indisposed others for attending to the evi-
dence which was exhibited to them, and even deter-
mined them to reject it. You cannot be surpris-
ed at the influence which such motives exerted at
that time, because the like influence of similar mo-
tives is a matter of daily observation. The evidence
upon which we embrace Christianity is not the same
which the Jews had ; but it is sufficient. All the
parts of it have been fully illustrated ; every objec-
tion has received an apposite answer ; the gainsay-
ers have been driven out of every hold which they
have tried to occupy ; the wisest and most enlighten-
ed men in every age have admitted the evidence,
and " set to their seal that God is true." Yet it is
rejected by many. Pride, false hopes, or evil pas-
sions, detain them in infidelity. They ask for more
evidence. They say they suspect collusion, enthu-
siasm, credulity. But the example of those Jews,
who went their ways to the Pharisees, may satisfy
you that there is no defect in the evidence, and that
there is the most literal truth in our Lord's declara-
tion, " If they hear not Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from
the dead."

The different effects which the same religious
truths and the same religious advantages produce
upon different persons, afford one instance of a state
of trial. God is now proving the hearts of the
children of men, drawing them to himself by per-
suasion, by that moral evidence which is enough to
satisfy, not to overpower. Faith in this way be-
comes a moral virtue. A trial is taken of the good-


uess and honesty of the heart. " If thine eye be
single, thy whole body shall be full of light ; but if
thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of
darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be
darkness, how great is that darkness !" The same
seed of the word is scattered by the blessed sower in
various soils, and the quality of the soil is left to
appear by the produce.

Pierce's Commentary.




Had Jesus appeared only as a messenger of
heaven, the points already considered might have
-finished the defence of Christianity, because we
should have been entitled to say that miracles such
as those recorded in the Gospel, transmitted upon so
unexceptionable a testimony, and wrought in sup-
port of a doctrine so worthy of God, are the com-
plete credentials of a divine mission. But the na-
ture of that claim which is made in the Gospel re-
quires a further defence : for it is not barely said
that Jesus was a messenger from heaven, but it is
said that he was the Messiah of the Jews, " the
prophet that should come into the world."* John,
his forerunner, marked him out as the Christ, f He
himself, in his discourses with the Jews, often re-
ferred to their books, which he said wrote of him.1^
Before his ascension, he expounded to his disciples
in all the Scriptures, the things concerning him-
self. J They went forth after his death declaring
that they said none other things than those which

* John iv. 26; vi. 14. f John i. 2^—31.

+ John V. 39, 46". § Luke xxiv. 27-


the prophets and Moses did say should come ; *
and in all their discourses and writings they held
forth the Gospel as the end of the law, the fulfil-
ment of the covenant with Abraham, the perform-
ance of the mercy promised to the fathers.

If the Gospel be a divine revelation, these allega-
tions must be true ; for it is impossible that a mes-
senger from heaven can advance a false claim. Al-
though, therefore, the nature of the doctrine, and
the confirmation which it receives from miracles,
might have been sufficient to establish our faith,
had no such claim been made ; yet, as Jesus has
chosen to call himself the Messiah of the Jews, it is
incumbent upon Christians to examine the corre-
spondence between that system contained in the
books of the Jews, and that contained in the New
Testament ; and their faith does not rest upon a
solid foundation, unless they can satisfy their minds
that the characters of the Jewish Messiah belong to
Jesus. It is to be presumed that he had wise rea-
sons for taking to himself this name, and that the
faith of his disciples will be very much strengthen-
ed by tracing the connection between the two dis-
pensations. But the nature and the force of the ar-
gmnent from prophecy will unfold itself in the pro-
gress of the investigation ; and it is better to begin
with attending to the facts upon which the argu-
ment rests, and the steps which lead to the conclu-
sion, than to form premature conceptions of the
amount of this part of the evidence for Christianity,

* Acts xxvi. 22.



In every investigation, it is of great importance
to ascertain precisely the point from which you set
out, that there may be no danger of confounding
the points that are assumed, with those that are to
be proven. There is much reason for making this
remark in entering upon the subject which we are
now to investigate, because attempts have been
made to render it confused and inextricable, by mis-
stating the manner in which the investigation ought
to proceed. Mr. Gibbon, speaking of that argument
from prophecy, which often occurs in the apologies
of the primitive Christians, calls it an argument be-
neath the notice of philosophers. " It might serve,"
he says, " to edify a Christian, or to convert a Jew^
since both the one and the other acknowledge the
authority of the prophets, and both are obliged
with devout reverence to search for their sense and
accomplishment. But this mode of persuasion loses
much of its weight and influence, when it is ad-
dressed to those who neither understand nor respect
the Mosaic dispensation, or the prophetic spirit."* Mr.
Gibbon learned to use this supercilious inaccurate
language from Mr. Collins, an author of whom I
shall have occasion to speak fully before I finish the
discussion of this subject, and who lays it down as
the fundamental position of his book, that Christi-
anity is founded upon Judaisms and from thence
infers that the Gentiles ought regularly to be con-

* Gibbon's Rorriiin History, chap. xv.



verted to Judaism before they can become Christ-
ians. The object of the inference is manifest. It
is to us, in these later ages, a much shorter process
to attain a conviction of the truth of Christianity,
than to attain, without the assistance of the Gospel,
a conviction of the divine origin of Judaism : and,
therefore, if it be necessary that we become con-
verts to Judaism before we become Christians, the
evidence of our religion is involved in numberless
difficulties, and the field of objection is so much ex-
tended, that the adversaries of our faith may hope
to persuade the generality of mankind that the sub-
ject is too intricate for their understanding. The
design is manifest ; but nothing can be more loose
or fallacious than the statement which is employed
to accomplish this design. In order to perceive this
you need only attend to the difference between a
Jew and a Gentile in the conduct of this investiga-
tion. A Jew who respects the Mosaic dispensa-
tion and the prophetic spirit, looks for the fulfilment

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 10 of 32)