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heaven — his sending forth his aiiffels with a truni-
pet, and gathering his elect from the four winds ;
all these circumstances bring to our minds a day
more awful and important than the destruction of
Jerusalem, or any of its immediate consequences.
And although it is possible, and agreeable to the
analogy of Scripture langitage, to find a meaning for
the various expressions here used, in the dissolution
of the Jewish state, in the general publication of the
gospel after that event, and the great accession of
converts which it contributed to bring to Christian-
ity — yet we know that these are the very expres-
sions by which our Lord and his apostles have de-
scribed that day, when all who have lived upon the
face of the earth shall stand before the judgment
seat of Christ. Several commentators have been of
opinion that there is here, in addition to the pro-
phecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, a direct pro-
phecy of the day of judgment. But the limitation
of the time of the fulfilment to the existence of the
generation then alive, is an unanswerable objection



to this opinion ; and, therefore, I consider the latter
part of this prediction as a specimen given by our
Lord of a prophecy with a double sense. We found
that, in the Old Testament, the language of the pro-
phet is often so contrived as to apply at once to two
events, the one near and local, the other remote and
universal. Thus David, in describing his own suf-
ferings, introduces expressions which are a literal
description of the sufferings of the Messiah, and
are applied as such by the Evangelists ; and the
words in lyhich he paints the peaceful reign of Solo-
mon, received a literal accomplishment in the king-
dom of the Prince of Peace. So here the Messiah,
who often, in other respects, copies the manner, and
refers to the words of ancient prophets, while he is
immediately foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem,
looks forward to the day of judgment, and expresses
himself in a language which, although, by the esta-
blished practice of the prophets, it is applicable in a
figurative sense to the fall of a city and the disso-
lution of a state, yet in its true, literal, precise mean-
ing, applies to that day in which all cities and states
are equally interested. While the fulfilment then
of the direct sense of this prophecy is a standing
proof of the divine knowledge of Jesus, it is also
a pledge, that the secondary sense shall in due
time be accomplished ; and thus the exhortation
with which our Lord concludes this prophecy, and
which is manifestly expressed in such a manner, as
shows that it was intended for his disciples in every
age, is enforced upon us as well as upon those that
heard him. The Christians were delivered from the
destruction in which their countrymen were involved,
by following the directions of Jesus ; and upon our


watchfulness and obedience to liim depend our com-
fort, our improvement, and the salvation of our
souls, in the great day of the Lord.

Josephus, Hard, and Commentaries on the 24th chapter of ]\Iat-
thew, in the works of Tillotson, Jortin, Newton, Newcome,




Many of the principal facts in the Christian reli-
gion may be introtluced as instances of the fulfilment
of the prophecies of Jesus, and as thus serving to il-
lustrate the abundant measure in which the spirit of
prophecy was given to that Great Prophet who had
been announced from the beginning of the world.
But two of these facts deserve a more particular con-
sideration in a view of the evidences of Christianity,
because, independently of their having been foretold,
they bring a very strong confirmation to the high
claim advanced in the Scriptures. The two facts
which I mean are, the resurrection of Jesus, and the
propagation of Christianity.

The first of these facts is the resurrection of Je-
sus. Had he never returned from the grave, his
enemies would have considered his death as the com-
pletion of their triumph : and those who had admi-
red his character, and had been convinced by his
works that he was a teacher sent from God, must
have considered his blood as only adding to the sum
of all the righteous blood that had been shed upon
the earth. His friends miffht have made a feeble at-
tempt to transmit, with distinguished honour to pos-


terity, the name of Jesus of Nazareth as a prophet
mighty in word and in deed. Yet even they would
have been stumbled when they recollected his pre-
tensions and his prophecies. He had claimed a cha-
racter and an authority very inconsistent with the
notion of his being a victim to the malice of men ;
and he had foretold that after being three days, that is,
according to the Jewish phraseology, a part of three
days in the grave, he would rise from the dead on
the third day : resting the truth of his claim upon
this fact as the sign that was to be given. The re-
surrection of Jesus, then, is not merely an import-
ant, it is an essential fact in the history of Christian-
ity. If the Author of this religion did not return
from the grave, he is, according to his own confes-
sion, an impostor : if he did, all who are satisfied
with the evidence of this singular fact, must acknow-
ledge, from the nature of the case, that he was the
Son of God with power, by his resurrection from the

It behoves you to examine with particular care
the kind of evidence upon which the wisdom of God
has chosen to rest a fact so essential. To the apos-
tles, who were with Jesus when he was apprehend-
ed, who knew certainly that he was crucified, one of
whom saw him on the cross, and all of whom were
permitted to converse with him after he was risen, his
resurrection was as much an object of sense, at least it
was an inference as clearly deducible from what they
did see, as if they had been present when the angel
rolled the stone from the door of the sepulchre, and
when Jesus came forth in the same manner as Laza-
rus had done a little before at his command. But
tills evidence of sense eould not extend bevond the



forty (lays during which Jesus remained upon earth.
And the first thing that meets you, in an inquiry into
the truth of the resurrection, is the number of per-
sons to whom this evidence of sense was vouchsafed.
The time is limited. But there is no necessary limi-
tation of the number that might have seen Jesus
during that time, and, as the faith of future ages
must in a great measure rest upon their testimony,
it is natural to consider whether there be any thing
in the particular number to whom this evidence of
sense was confined, that serves to render the fact in-

The number is much greater than will appear at
first sight to a careless reader of the Gospels. The
soldiers, the women, and the disciples only are men-
tioned there. But you will find it said, that Jesus
went before his disciples into Galilee, where he had
appointed them to meet him ; and one of the appear-
ances narrated by John is said to have been at the
sea of Tiberias, which lay in Galilee. Now Galilee
was the country where our Lord had spent the
greatest part of his life, where his person was per-
fectly well known, where his mother's relations and
the families of the apostles resided. His going to
Galilee therefore, after his resurrection, was giving to
a number of persons de.;ply interested in the fact,
an opportunity of being convinced by their own
senses that the Lord was risen indeed, and thus
crowned those evidences of his divine mission which
they had derived from their former acquaintance
with him. Accordingly, Paul says, that our Lord
" was seen of above five hundred brethren at once,"
which must have happened in Galilee, for the num-
ber of disciples in Jerusalem after the ascension was


but ** au hundred and twenty." The testimony of
this multitude of witnesses in Galilee was sufficient
to diffuse through their neighbours and contempo-
raries a conviction of the fact which they saw.

But, it has been asked. Why did Jesus retire to a
remote province, and show himself at Jerusalem on-
ly to a few witnesses ? Why did he not appear open-
ly in the temple, in the synagogue, in the streets of
the holy city, as he was accustomed to do before his
death, and overpower the incredulity of the Jews
by an ocular demonstration of his divine power ? It
is admitted that he did not show himself to all the
people. But the objection arising from this suppos-
ed deficiency in the evidence, has been completely
answered by some of the best commentators u^ion
the New Testament, and by writers in the deistical
controversy. 'Jlie heads of the answers are these.
The Jewish nation, who had resisted all the eviden-
ces of our Lord's divine mission which were exhib-
ited before their eyes during his ministry, were not
entitled to expect that any further means should be
employed by heaven for their conviction. The pro-
bability is, that the same narrow views and evil pas-
sions which had produced their unbelief while he
lived, would have rendered his appearance in their
city after his death ineffectual. Our Lord, who fore-
saw this inefficacy, seems to suggest it as the reason
of his conduct in this matter, when he concludes one
of his parables with saying, " If they hear not Mo-
ses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded,
though one rose from the dead." After our Lord
spake these words, the experiment was made in the
case of Lazarus. ]Many of the neighbours of Mary
jnight kno^v certainly that her brother had becu


raised by the jiower of Jesus. Yet some of them
who had seen all the things that were done, went
and told the Pharisees ; and the Pharisees, upon the
report of this miracle, took counsel to put Jesus to
death. It was not meet that his own resurrection
should give occasion to similar plots again to take
away his life. To all this it is to be added in the
last place, that, whatever reception Jesus had met
with in Jerusalem, the evidence for Christianity
might have been injured by his appearing there
after his resurrection. Had the Jews continued to
reject and persecute him, the united testimony of
the nation against the resurrection might have been
represented as sufficient to outweigh the positive
testimony of the apostles. Had they received him
as their Messiah after he was risen, the Christian
religion might have been represented as a state-trick
devised by able men for the glory of the nation,
which met with opposition at first, but to the faith
of which, a well-concerted story of the death and
resurrection of its author did at last subdue the
minds of the people. From this specimen of the
answers which may be made to the objection, it ap-
pears that God tries the honesty of our hearts by the
methods which he employs to enlighten our reason,
that the evidence of religion was not intended to
overpower those whose minds are perverted, but to
satisfy those who love the truth, and that, in ex-
amining any branch of that evidence, our business
is not to inquire what God might have done, but
to consider what he has done, and to rest on those
facts which appear to our understanding to be suffi-
ciently proven, although our imagintition may figure
other proofs by which they are not supported.
Having seen that the objection suggested by the


limitation of the number of those who saw Jesus
after his resurrection, may easily be answered, I
proceed to state the different kinds of evidence
Avhich we, in these later ages, have for the truth of
this fact. They are three. The traditionary evi-
dence arising from the universal diffusion of the
belief of this fact through the Christian world — the
clear testimony of the apostles recorded in their
writings — and the extraordinary powers conferred
upon the apostles.

The lowest degree of evidence which we enjoy for
the resurrection of Jesus, is that kind of traditionary
evidence which arises from the universal difiusion
of the belief of this fact through the Christian world.
It appears from the earliest Christian writers, that
it was the general faith of all who named the name
of Christ, that he had risen from the dead. We are
told that the first Christians, in that exultation of
mind of which our familiarity with the great truths
of religion makes it difficult for us to form a just
conception, were accustomed to salute one another
when they met with this expression, Xwrog av-s-r^} : and
tlie first day of the week, which, from the begin-
ning of the Christian church was called Kv^iay.rt i'j.soa,
and in all parts of the Christian world has been ob-
served as the day upon which the followers of Jesus
assemble for the exercises of devotion, is a standing
unequivocal memorial of the truth of the fact which
upon that day especially is remembered. It is im-
possible to conceive how so extraordinary a fact
should have been so universally propagated, if it had
not been founded in the certain uncontradicted
knowledge of those v/ho lived near the time. But,
strong as this presumption may justly be held, the


faith of future ages in so essential a fact required a
more determinate support. And this is found in

The dear precise testimony of the apostles, those
witnesses chosen before of God, who did eat and
drink M'itli Jesus after he rose from the dead ; a
testimony transmitted to us in the authentic genu-
ine record of discourses that were delivered before
his murderers in the city where he suffered, six
weeks after he rose ; and of other discourses, and
histories, and epistles, in which eye-witnesses de-
clare what they had seen, and heard, and handled
of the word of life. To this office Jesus separated
the apostles, when he called them, as soon as he
began to teach, to be always with him ; and when
he said to them a little before liis death, *•' Ye also
shall bear vv^itness, because ye have been with me
from the beginning ;" and a little before his ascen-
sion, " Ye shall bo witnesses unto me to the utter-
most parts of the earth." The apostles had this
apprehension of the nature of their office ; for when
the place of Judas was to be supplied, Peter says to
the disciples, " Of these men that have companied
with us, all the time tliat the Lord Jesus went in
and out among us, must one be ordained to be a
witness with us of his resurrection." And to Paul,
who was an apostle " born out of due time," Jesus
appeared from heaven, that he might also be a wit-
ness of the things which he had seen.

You may mark here an uniformity in the evi-
dence of Christianity. The same persons, who are
to us the witnesses of the signs which Jesus did in
the presence of his disciples, are witnesses also of
his having risen from the dead. In both cases they
do not declare opinions upon doubtful points, but


they attest palpable facts, level to the apprehension
of the plainest understanding ; and their dear un-
ambiguous testimony to the miracles and the resur-
rection of Jesus, in which they agreed with them-
selves and with one another till the end, is Vv^'itten
in the same books, that we may believe that he is
the Christ, the son of God.

We are thus led back to those circumstances
which were formerly stated as giving credibility in
our days to the miracles of Jesus ; such as the char-
acter of the apostles, the scene of danger and suffer-
ing in which their testimony was given, the forti-
tude with which they adhered to it, and that simpli-
city, that nir of truth, which pervades the evangeli-
cal history, and which falsehood cannot uniformly
preserve. All these circumstances are common to
the record of the miracles and to the record of the
resurrection. But there are some internal marks
of truth in the history of the resurrection, which
are peculiarly fitted to impress conviction upon all
who are capable of apprehending them. I shall
mention the three following. The history of the
resurrection, published during the life of the witness-
es of that event, relates the consternation Vv^hich it
excited amongst the enemies of Jesus, the av/kward
attempts which they made to affix the charge of im-
posture upon the disciples, and the currency of that
report among the Jews at the time of the publication
of the history. Again, the historians exhibit the
prejudices of the apostles, their slowness of heart to
believe, the natural manner in which their doubts
were overcome, and the combination of circumstan-
ces by which a firm belief of the resurrection was
established in the minds of the witnesses, and a


foundation was laid for the faith of succeeding ages.
There are, lastly, that apparent imperfection and
inaccuracy in the several accounts of this transac-
tion, and those seeming contradictions, which render
it impossible for any person to believe that there
was a collusion amongst the evangelists in framing
their story, and which yet are of such a kind, that
the ingenuity of learned men, by attending to min-
ute and delicate circumstances which escape ordi-
nary observers, has formed out of the four narra-
tions a consistent, probable account of the whole
transaction. It is not possible for me to enlarge
upon these points. But they are so essential to this
inost interesting article of our faith, that they de-
serve your closest study. And for that purpose I
i"ecommend to you the four following books, which
every student of divinity ought to read. The first
is Ditton on the Resurrection. One part of this
book is a general view of the nature of moral evi-
dence, and of the obligation wliich lies upon every
reasonable being to assent to certain degrees of mo-
ral evidence ; the other j^art is an application of this
general view to the testimony upon which the re-
surrection of Christ is received ; and is calculated
to show that this testimony has all the qualifications
of an evidence obligatory to the human understand-
ing. The second book is known by the name of
the Trial of the Witnesses. There are a judge, a
jury, and pleaders upon both sides of the question.
The arguments are summed up by the judge, and
the jury are unanimous in their verdict that the
I postles w'ere not guilty of bearing false witness in
their testimony of the resurrection. The form of
the book, as avcII as the excellence of the matter.


has rendered it popular ; and it will be particularly
useful to you by making you acquainted with the
objections and the heads of the answers. The third
is, Gilbert West's Observations upon the History of
the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which you will
find both as a separate book, and also inserted in
AVatson's Tracts. This masterly writer lays toge-
ther the several narrations, so as to form a consist-
ent account of the whole transaction. He gives a
very full view, first, of the order and the matter
of that evidence which was laid before the apos-
tles, and then of the arguments which induce us, in
this remote age, to receive that evidence. His book,
according to this plan, not only places in the strong-
est light those internal marks of credibility by which
the history of the resurrection is distinguished, but
also embraces most of the arguments for the truth
of Christianity. The fourth is Cook's Illustration
of the General Evidence of the Resurrection of
Christ, a work which displays much acuteness, and
a degree of novelty in the manner of stating that
evidence. Even Dr. Priestley, an author whom I
frequently mention in the following parts of my
course, but whose name I seldom have occasion to
quote in support of any doctrine of the Christian
religion, and whose creed Mr. Gibbon has well call-
ed a scanty one, has said in one of his latest publica-
tions, " The resurrection of our Saviour, being the
most extraordinary of all events, the evidence of it
is remarkably circumstantial, in consequence of
which, there is not perhaps any fact in all ancient
history so perfectly credible, according to the most
established rules of evidence, as it is." *

* Hist, of Early Opinions, iv. If).


Besides the universal tradition in the Christian
church, and the written testimony of the apostles,
there is yet a third ground upon which we believe
the resurrection of Christ.

" If we receive the witness of men, the witness
of God is greater ;" and that witness was given in
the extraordinary powers which were conferred up-
on the apostles before they began to execute their
commission, and which continued with them always.
I stated these powers formerly as the fulfilment of
prophecy. But they present themselves at this place
as the vouchers of the testimony of the apostles ;
and in this light they are uniformly stated both by
our Lord and by the witnesses themselves. He said
to them before his death, " But when the Comforter
is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father,
he shall testify of me ;" and " he will convince the
world of sin, because they believe not on me."*
Again, a little before his ascension, he said, ** Ye
shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is
come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses to me." f
Peter, in one of his first sermons, speaking of the
resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, says, " We are
his witnesses of these things ; and so is also the
Holy Ghost whom God hath given to them that obey
him." :j: The word translated comforter, in the first
passage that I quoted, is vaoaxXrirog, which exactly
corresponds in etymology to the Latin word advoca-
tes, from which comes our word advocate, a person
called in to stand by another in a court of justice,
to assist him in pleading his cause, and confuting
his adversaries. The apostles spake before kings

* John XV. 26 ; xvi. 8, 9. t Acts i. 8. t Acts v. 32.


and governors, before the whole world, bearino* wit-
ness to the resurrection of Christ. But lest they
should be confounded by the subtlety, or over-
whelmed by the power of their enemies, here is a
divine person promised to confirm what they said,
and to join with them in convincing the world of
their sin in rejecting Jesus, and of his righteousness,
that although he had been condemned as a malefac-
tor, he was accounted righteous in the sight of God.
His own works were the evidence, to which he al-
ways api3ealed in his lifetime, that God was with
him ; and when he left the earth, the works which
he enabled his servants to perform, the same in kind
with his own, were the evidence that he had return-
ed to his Father. '*' Therefore," says Peter on the
day of Pentecost, " being by the right hand of God
exalted, and having received of the Father the pro-
mise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this,
which ye now see and hear." *

Here is another instance of that uniformity which
we have often occasion to mark in the evidence of
Christianity ; the same divine attestation of the ser-
vants of Jesus as of himself ; the same proof of his
resurrection from the dead, as of the high claim
which he advanced when he was alive. " The
works which I do," he said, " bear witness that the
Father hath sent me ; and the works which I do,
shall ye my apostles do also, because I go to my
Father." We are thus led back to the amount of
the argument from miracles, in order to perceive
the nature of that confirmation which this testimony
of the Spirit gives to the testimony of the apostles.

* Acts ii. 33.


If there be an almighty Ruler of the universe, who has
established what we call the laws of nature, and who
can suspend them at his pleasure; and if this almighty-
Ruler be a God of truth, who takes an interest in
the happiness of his reasonable offspring, it is im-
possible that the apostles of Jesus could be invested
with powers, the exertion of which was fitted to con-
vince every canditl observer of the truth of an im-
posture ; and, therefore, since signs and wonders,
far beyond the measure of human j)ower are ascribed
to the apostles in authentic histories published at
the time, in epistles addressed by themselves to the
witnesses of those signs, and in the writings of au-
thors nearly contemporary ; since no attempt was
made to disprove the facts at the time when the im-
posture might have been easily exposed, and since

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 18 of 32)