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SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XXXIV.
LUKE, CHAP. XVI.–VERSE 31.
It is shown that in matters of reason, as well as in objects of sense, we may at first be deceived by the fair appearance of things which on examination prove worthless. This seems to be the case of the argument in which the text is concerned. Who would not think that the coming of one from the dead would effectually convince an unbeliever? Yet we are told by our Saviour it would have no effect: he who is not convinced by the evidence which God has already given of a future judgment, would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead. Our Saviour does not mean to deny that the coming of one from the dead is an evidence of a future state ; but that they who would not submit to the authority of a divine revelation, would not submit to this. The reason of this judgment is considered: I. if the evidence of revelation be in itself greater and more convincing than the evidence given by one from the dead could possibly be, then there is no reason to expect that he who rejects the greater should submit to the less authority : II. if the unbeliever's objections to the authority of revelation be stronger against the authority of one coming from the dead, he cannot pass over that in one case which he stumbles at in the other : III. if unbelief arises from the corruption of a mind which hates to be reformed, and rejects the evidence because it will not admit the doctrine, not the doctrine because it cannot admit the evidence; in this case all proofs will be alike; and it is on this that our Saviour chiefly grounds his judgment. In the first place, as the au
thority of a dead man is no more than that of a traveller who relates things of countries through which he has passed, how are we sure that he will not deceive us ? are we even sure that it is impossible for any being of the other world to personate a dead man whom we formerly knew? To prove that there is another world, and beings belonging to it, is not proving a future state, that is, a world in which dead men shall live. Christ's resurrection was not merely the apparition of a dead man : he foretold the time and circumstances of it, and put the proof of his mission and doctrine on its performance. His resurrection therefore became a proof that the doctrine he taught was the doctrine of him who had power to raise the dead; so that the authority of our Saviour's word after his resurrection, being the authority of him who has power to raise the dead, must be greater than that of any man dead or living; and proves a commission from the highest power to teach the world; which cannot be proved merely by the appearance of one from the dead. To the question why Lazarus and the rest did not publish their knowlege of the other world, it may be answered, they were merely passive in their resurrection, and brought no more authority from the grave than they carried to it, and therefore had no right to set up for teachers : in proof of Christ's resurection, there was warning given to expect it; and the duration and frequency of his appearance after he had risen, enabled those who saw him to become familiar with it, and qualified them to judge rightly of what they heard and saw; and
appearance was in consequence of his own prediction, we cannot doubt that it was a true and
proper surrection of his body ; it being easier to imagine that he should rise to fulfil his prediction, than that, being really dead, he should contrive and execute any thing that should seem to fulfil it. To satisfy those who affirm that they cannot depend on the credit of others in a case of this nature, it is considered, whether he who believes on the credit of a private apparition to himself,
believes on a surer evidence than he who receives the gospel account on that evidence on which it at present stands : it is shown that the very surprise and fright that would be caused by our seeing one come from the dead, would be a great reason for us to suspect afterwards the report which our senses made of what they had seen- thus it was with those who saw our Lord on his first appearance ; nor could any thing but his staying so long with them have cured this, and qualified them to judge for themselves, or report to others with authority what they saw: we may therefore judge whether it is safer to believe the concurring testimony of many persons in their right senses so well qualified to judge, or rely on ourselves when we were hardly masters of our senses. The question, however, is not whether we can be convinced of the fact of such an appearance, but whether we should in that case have a better foundation for faith and religion than the present revelation affords? This is answered by our Saviour in the text, and will appear by considering, secondly, that the objections of unbelievers to the authority of revelation will lie stronger against the authority of one coming from the dead. Whatever has been said against the authority of the gospel revelation, will be applicable also to this kind of it: consequently those who on the foot of natural religion object to the doctrine of the gospel, must much more object to the authority of one coming from the dead. With the atheist, who stands out against the evidence of all nature, no inferior evidence can weigh; he would as easily account for one dead man’s recovering life and motion, as he does for the life and motion of so many men whom he daily sees. But what can an unprejudiced person make of this evidence, allowing the dead man's appearance to be real, and his design honest ? Should he tell us that the Christian faith is true, we should have less reason to believe him than we have to believe Christ and his Apostles; and should an unbeliever receive the gospel on such evidence, on what would he rest his
-faith? The mission of Christ is proved by the completion of prophecies, by the signs and wonders which he wrought by the hand of God, and by his resurrection. We can appeal to the known history of the founders of our religion, in proof of their freedom from worldly cunning and policy. But how can we support the suspected credit of one from the dead? Unless we can prove that there are no evil spirits, or no evil men dead, we cannot clear him from suspicion. Thus, if we cannot digest the evidence of the gospel, in vain do we call for help from the other world. The truth of our Saviour's words will farther appear by considering, thirdly, the temper of infidelity: where unbelief arises from a corrupt mind, which rejects the evidence from hatred of the doctrine, all proofs will be alike ; and this is the case our Lord seems to have had in view : for the request to Abraham was made in behalf of men who lived wantonly and luxuriously. Abraham answers, that they had already sufficient evidence of these things if they would make use of it; and the rich man still insists, but if one went to them from the dead, they will repent: then follows the text, which is the last resolution of this case. We have reason to suspect that no new lights or evidences would be effectual in reclaiming hardened sinners : they might be terrified for a time; but when the infidel had conquered his own fears, he would conclude that all religion is made up of that fear which he felt himself, and which others, cannot so manfully get rid of : that it is in the nature of man to withstand such evidences, may be learned from the example of Pharaoh, and of the guards who were eyewitnesses of our Lord's resurrection. It is shown that belief does not imply obedience, as all sinners are not infidels; and .why should obedience be the consequence of belief in one case more than another? The strongest arguments for obedience are afforded by the gospel; therefore he who believes and yet disobeys it, will not be reformed by any other evidence : so that our Saviour's judgment is just with regard to all infidels and sinners. God having once sent his own Son from the dead to admonish us, has already given a sufficient evidence of all things which we are concerned to know; and all other intercourse with the other world would be useless.