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persons than we can distinctly apprehend. "This saying," says St. Matthew," is commonly reported among the Jews until this day." This lie was cherished and propagated by many, for justifying their own infidelity, and for hardening others against the testimony of Christ's apostles, and the evidence of the many miracles wrought by them.
Every man knows when he utters a lie; for it is something contrary to his own inward persuasion; but he may not be always able to foresee the consequences. The soldiers knew the falsehood of what they said; but they did not duly consider the issue of this calumny upon the disciples. We now can better perceive it than they did, when they were first drawn into this prevarication, This therefore may increase our dread of a lie. We know it is not innocent. We feel it to be contrary to our own conviction; but it may be worse than we are aware of; and may have consequences which we do not think of.
5. This history may help us in forming a just and great idea of the diligence and zeal of the apostles of Jesus in asserting his resurrection, and spreading the doctrine of the gospel in the world.
They met with, as we hence perceive, many opposers, and a powerful opposition. Force and fraud, and every method was taken to suppress and invalidate their testimony, and to defeat their endeavours. They therefore must have been laborious and active, zealous and diligent; or they had not prevailed as they did. And we should learn to imitate them if there be occasion. And occasion there is, and will be. There always will be adversaries of the truth. Nor should we grudge any labour for promoting the principles of true religion. But should do our utmost to convince gainsayers, to strengthen those who believe, and assist such as are disposed to admit the evidence that is fairly set before them.
6. From this text we may argue, that St. Matthew's gosgel was not written quite so soon as some have been willing to suppose.
Some have been apt to think, that the gospel according to St. Matthew was written about eight years after our Lord's ascension. But the account of the most ancient christian writers which we have, is, that it was not published till about thirty years after our Lord's ascension. Which date much better suits the expression of the text than eight years. "And this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day." Which words imply, that some considerable space of time had passed since the event here spoken of.
Indeed, a written gospel was not immediately wanted. And a period of between twenty and thirty years after our Lord's resurrection was early enough. There would be still living a good number of the eye and ear-witnesses of our Lord's person, teaching, and miracles. As believers were by that time become numerous, some would desire to have written memoirs and histories of the Lord Jesus. And the doctrine of Christ having made considerable progress in the world, many copies of the gospels would be taken soon after they were written. Which affords the best security for their being preserved, and transmitted sincere and uncorrupted to future times. We seem to have good reason to believe, that the first three gospels were all written about the same time. These, soon after they had been written, were brought to St. John, who thereupon wrote, and published his gospel as a supplement; thereby both confirming their histories, and making some valuable additions to them. And probably, all the four gospels were written before the destruction of Jerusalem.
7. Every one must observe in this context a remarkable instance of the fidelity, impartiality, fairness, and simplicity, with which the history of the Lord Jesus has been written by the apostles and evangelists.
They have recorded many injurious reflections cast upon our Lord himself in person. Here is mentioned a calumny upon his disciples. And it is a thing that seems to weaken their testimony in a point of the greatest importance; and, if true, would overthrow all the evidence of the resurrection of Christ. And though not true, it obtained credit with many Jews. And yet the evangelist has been so fair as to put it down. This honesty and simplicity of narration must, in the esteem of all good judges, recommend the evangelist's performance; and induce men to receive every thing else related by him.
And this is what christians should still imitate. They should not be afraid of difficulties and objections; but should be willing to state them clearly and fully; or let them be so stated by others. There is a superior evidence for truth. Otherwise, we should not be able to say, that it ought to be received. And when things are carefully examined, and impartially considered, that superiority of evidence will be discerned and allowed of.
"The disciples came, and stole him away whilst we slept." So said those persons who were set to guard the sepulchre of Jesus; who therefore should know what was done there. But when we observe that this is said to
have been done" when they slept:" and when we do also take notice of the other things before mentioned, it appears to be a story of very little significance. Yea, it tends to confirm the persuasion of our Lord's resurrection, as already shown.
To which may be added, that this story, or saying of the soldiers, assures us, and all men, that there was a guard set at the sepulchre, and that all possible precautions were taken to prevent fraud, and to hinder the disciples and others, if any had been so minded, from making, or feigning a story of a resurrection, when there was none.
The disciples had it not in their power to remove the body. Our Lord therefore was raised to life. The Divine Being interposed for his resurrection. And then supported the disciples in their testimony to the resurrection of Jesus, by wonders and signs, accompanying the word spoken by them. Therefore we need not be shy to represent things as they really are.
8. Finally in the eighth place. We hence perceive the nature of the evidence, by which our Lord's resurrection, and the truth of the christian religion are supported.
It is not an overbearing, but a sufficient evidence. It is not an evidence that leaves no room for cavils and exceptions. It is not such, but that some may reject it, if they are biassed and prejudiced; and may make a shift to satisfy themselves in so doing. But yet it is an evidence sufficient to persuade reasonable men. It will bear the strictest scrutiny and examination; and to serious, attentive, and rational men, it will appear convincing and conclusive; sufficient to induce their assent, and to encourage and support their diligence and perseverance in the profession of religious truth, and the practice of virtue.
Let us, then, show ourselves to be children of wisdom, by diligently examining the evidences of the principles of religion, and by embracing and maintaining those which appear to be reasonable, and supported by good and sufficient evidence.
THE APOSTLE THOMAS.
Jesus saith unto him:
Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. John xx. 29.
THESE words are part of a remarkable conversation between an affectionate disciple, and a more affectionate Lord and Saviour. Thomas, in the time of his Master's ministry, upon an occasion of great danger to his person, had been willing" to go, and die with him," John xi. 16. Jesus, out of love for his disciples, and for mankind in general, had now laid down his life, with as many aggravations of pain and disgrace, as the loss of an innocent life can well be attended with. But he was delivered from the grave, and raised up again to life, now to die no more.
And that the disciples themselves, and the world in general, might obtain the benefits proposed by his death and sufferings, and all his transactions on this earth, he was willing to give his disciples, and others who had known him, the most satisfactory evidence of his resurrection. The same love that had carried him through the pains of death, still reigned in the risen Saviour, and Lord of life. And he condescends, after his resurrection, to renew his acquaintance with his disciples, and to give them in a free and familiar manner the proofs of his being alive again.
He had already before this shown himself to several, and to all the other disciples on the day on which he arose, ver. 19, 20,"Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut, where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them; Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he showed them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord--ver. 24-29. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him; We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them; Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days, again his disciples were within, and
Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said; Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas; 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. And Thomas answered, and said unto him; My Lord, and my God. Jesus saith unto him; Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
The consideration of which words will lead me to three heads of discourse.
I. The conduct of Divine Providence in not giving to all the highest evidence of the objects of faith, even the evidence of sight, or of extraordinary works done before them; and the reasonableness of that conduct.
II. That an evidence below that of sense may be a sufficient ground of belief.
III. The blessedness of such as believe, though they have not the highest evidence, that of their senses.
I. The conduct of Divine Providence, in not affording to all the highest evidence of the objects of faith, that of sight, or of extraordinary works done before them; and the reasonableness of that conduct.
Here it may be worth the while to observe, that the great and ultimate objects of faith are always, or, at least, usually, invisible to men in this world; and that none, or very few, have the demonstration of sense for their truth and existence. We believe the being of God; but he himself is invisible. They are his works only, the proofs and evidences of his being and perfection, that are visible. That the world was made, is the object of our faith, the subject matter of our persuasion. But we did not see it made. Nor could its formation be seen by any man. But we believe that it was made, from the considerations of reason, and from the testimony of the word of God conveyed to us. So it is also, when promises of temporal blessings are made to any for the encouragement of their obedience. God promised to Abraham, that he would give his posterity the possession 'of the land of Canaan. And Abraham believed that God would perform his word and promise. That was the object of his faith. But he did not see the thing believed. He might for his satisfaction have afforded to him the sight of some extraordinary effects, such as consuming his sacrifice by fire, and other miraculous appearances, to assure him, that the promise was made by God himself, and might be relied upon as certain. Still the object of his faith, that