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from the dead; but that nothing can be more certain, than that his apostles, and the first teachers of Christianity, gave out that he did so. In the other parts of the gospel narrative, a question may be made, whether the things related of Christ be the very things which the apostles and first teachers of the religion delivered concerning him ? And this question depends a good deal upon the evidence we possess of the genuineness, or rather, perhaps, of the antiquity, credit, and reception, of ihe books. On the subject of the resurrection, no such discussion is necessary, because no such doubt can be entertained. The only points which can enter into our consideration are, whether the apostles knowingly published a falsehood, or whether they were themselves deceived ; whether either of these suppositions be possible. The first, I think, is pretty generally given up. The nature of the undertaking, and of the men; the extreme unlikelihood that such men should engage in such a measure as a scheme; their personal toils, and dangers, and sufferings, in the cause; their appropriation of their whole time to the object; the warm, and seemingly unaffected, zeal and earnestness with which they profess their sincerity ; exempt their memory from the suspicion of imposture. The solution more deserving of notice, is that which would resolve the conduct of the apostles into enthusiasm ; which would class the evidence of Christ's resurrection with the numerous stories that are extant of the apparitions of dead
There are circumstances in the narrative, as it is preserved in our histories, which destroy this coinparison entirely. It was not one person, but many, who saw him; they saw him not only separately but together, not only by night bat by day, not at a distance but near, not once but several times ; they not only saw him, but touched him, conversed with him, ate with him, examined his person to satisfy their doubts. These particulars are decisive : but they stand, I do admit, upon the credit of our records. I would answer, there. fore, the insinuation of enthusiasm, by & circumstance which arises out of the nature of the thing: and the reality of which mist be confessed by all
who allow, what I believe is not denied, that the resurrection of Christ, whether true or false, was asserted by his disciples from the beginning; and that circumstance is the non-production of the dead body. It is related in the history, what in. deed the story of the resurrection necessarily implies, that the corpse was missing out of the sepulchre: it is related also in the history, that the Jews reported that the followers of Christ had stolen it away.* And this account, though loaded with great improbabilities, such as the situation of the disciples, their fears for their own safety at the time, the unlikelihood of their expecting to succeed, the difficulty of actual success, and the inevitable consequence of detection and failure, was, nevertheless, the most credible account that could be given of the matter. But it proceeds entirely upon the supposition of fraud, as all the old objections did. What account can be given of the body, upon the supposition of enthusiasm ? It is impossible our Lord's followers could believe that he was risen from the dead, if his corpse was lying before them. No enthusiasm ever reached to such a pitch of extravagancy as that : a spirit may be an illusion ; a body is a real thing, an object of sense, in which there can be no mistake. All accounts of spectres leave the body in the grave. And, although the body of Christ might be removed by fraud, and for the purposes of fraud, yet, without any such intention, and by sincere but deluded men, (which is the representation of the apos
And this saying (Saint Matthew writes) is commonly reported amongst the Jews until this day," (chap. xxviii. 15.) The evangelist may be thought good authority as to this point, even by those who do not admit his evidence in every other point : and this point is sufficient to prove that the body was missing,
It has been rightly, I think, obseried by Dr. Townshend (Dis. upon the Res. p. 126,) that the story of the guards carried collusion upon the face of it :-" His disciples came by night, and stole bim away, while we slept." Men in their circumstances would not have inade such an acknowledgment of their negligence, without previous aggurances of protection and impunity,
" Especially at the full moon, the city full of people, many prohably passing the whole night, as Jesus and his disciples had done, in the open air, the sepulebre so near the city as to be now inclose within the walls." Priestley on the Resurr. p. 21,
tolic character we are now examining,) liv attempt could be made. The presence and the absence of the dead body are alike inconsistent with the hypothesis of enthusiasm ; for, if present, it must have cured their enthusiasm at once ; if absent, fraud, not enthusiasm, must have carried
But farther, if we admit, upon the concurrent testimony of all the histories, so much of the account as states that the religion of Jesus was set up at Jerusalem, and set up with asserting, in the very place in which he had been buried, and a few days after he had been buried, his resurrection out of ihe grave, it is evident that, if his body could have been found, the Jews would have produced it, as the shortest and completest answer possible to the whole story. The attempt of the apostles could not have survived this refutation a moment. If we also admit, upon the authority of Saint Matthew, that the Jews were advertised of the expectation of Christ's followers, and that they had taken due precaution in consequence of this notice, and that ihe body was in marked and public custody, the observation receives more force still. For, not. withstanding their precaution, and although thus prepared and forewarned; when the story of the resurrection of Christ came forth, as it immediately did; when it was publicly asserted by his disciples, and made the ground and basis of their preaching in his name, and collecting followers to his religion, the Jews had not the body to produce : but were obliged to meet the testimony of the apostles by an answer, not containing indeed any impossibility in itself, but absolutely inconsistent with ihe supposition of their integrity ; that is, in other words, inconsistent with the supposition which would resolve their conduct into enthusiasm.
CHAP. IX. The propagation of Christianity. In this argument, the first consideration is the fact; in what degree, within what time, and to what extent, Christianity actually was propagated.
The accounts of the matter, which can be collected from our books, are as follow: A few days after Christ's disappearance out of the world, we find an assembly of disciples at Jerusalem, to the number of “ about one hundred and twenty ;'* which hundred and twenty were, probably, a little association of believers, met together, not merely as believers in Christ, but as personally connected with the apostles, and with one another. Whatever was the number of believers then in Jerusalem, we have no reason to be surprised that so small a company should assemble : for there is no proof, that the followers of Christ were yet formed into a society ; thrt the society was reduced into any order; that it was at this time even understood that a new re. ligion (in the sense which that term conveys to us) was to be set up in the world, or how the professors of that religion were to be distinguished from the rest of mankind. The death of Christ had left, we may suppose, the generality of his disciples in great doubt, both as to what they were to do, and concerning what was to follow.
This meeting was holden, as we have already said, a few days after Christ's ascension : for, ten days after that event was the day of Pentecost, when, as our history relates, upon a signal display of Divine agency attending the persons of the apos. tles, there were added to the society “ about three thousand souls."| But here, it is not, I think, to be taken, that these three thousand were all converted by this single miracle; but rather that many, who before were believers in Christ, became now professors of Christianity ; that is to say, when they found that a religion was to be established, a society formed and set up in the name of Christ, governed by his laws, avowing their belief in his mission, united amongst themselves, and separated from the rest of the world by visible distinctions ; in pursuance of their former conviction, and by virtue of what they had heard and seen and known of Christ's history, they publicly became members of it.
We read in the fourth chapterll of the Acts, that, soon after this, " the number of the men," i. e. the society openly professing their belief in Christ, “ was about five thousand.” So that here is an increase of two thousand within a very short time.And it is probable that there were many, both now and afterward, who, although they believed in Christ, did not think it necessary to join themselves to this society; or who waited to see what was likely to become of it. Gamaliel, whose advice to the Jewish council is recorded, Acts v. 34, appears to have been of this description; perhaps Nicodemus, and perhaps also Joseph of Arimathea. This class of men, their character and their rank, are likewise pointed out by Saint John, in the twelfth chapter of his Gospel : “ Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also, many believed on him : but because of the Pharisees, they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Persons such as these, might admit the miracles of Christ, without being immediately convinced that they were under obligation to make a public profession of Christianity, at the risk of all ihat was dear to them in life, and even of life itself.*
Acta i. 15.
| Ib. ii. 1.
|| Verse 4.
Christianity, however, proceeded to increase in Jerusalem by a progress equally rapid with its first success; for, in the nextt chapter of our history,
“Beside those who professed, and those who rejected and opposed, Christianity, there were, in all probability, multitudes between both, neither perfect Christians, nor yet unbelievers. They had a favourable opinion of the gospel, bat worldly considerations made them unwilling to uwo it. There were many circumstances which inclined them to think that Christianity was a Divine revelation, but there were many inconveniences which attended the open profession of it: and they could not find in themselves courage enough to bear them, to disoblige their friends and family, to ruin their fortunes, to lose their reputation, their liberty, and their life, for the sake of the new religion. Therefore they were willing to hope, that if they endeavoured to observe the great principles of morality, which Christ had represented as the principal part, the sum and substance, of religion; if they thought honourably of the gospel, if they offered no injury to the Christians, if they did them all the services that they could safely perform, they were willing to hupe, that God would accept this, and that he would excuse and forgive the rest." Jortin's Dis on the Cbrist. Rel. p. 91. ed. 4.
Acts v. 14.