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destine removal of the body of Jesus, could answer any purpose whatever; therefore it was not thought of nor attempted by any.
I presume it was not intended or attempted by enemies; for it must have best answered their purpose that the body should remain where it had been laid; and, if produced on the fourth day after the death of Jesus, it would have overthrown all reports of his resurrection.
Nor is it conceivable that it should answer any design of the disciples; for what could they have done thereupon? By stealing away the body they would have been guilty of a great offence, and would have been liable to a heavy punishment. What expectation could they have had of support and defence either from God or men, in asserting and teaching the resurrection of Jesus, which they knew to be a lie and falsehood?
6. There does not appear any where in this history, any intimation of the disciples' expecting the resurrection of Jesus; therefore they did not contrive any account of his being risen; nor had they beforehand any thought of it, till they had more than sufficient evidence of that event.
If the disciples had in their minds contrived a design of the resurrection of Jesus, some hints would have appeared in the gospels of their having an expectation of it. There is a long and particular account in the gospels, written by four several persons, in which the tempers, and designs, and actions of various sorts of persons are exhibited during our Lord's prosecution, crucifixion, and burial; but not any the least notice, or opening of such an expectation in the minds of any of the disciples. When our Lord is apprehended, the disciples flee and abscond. Peter, who goes into the hall of the high priest, is so affrighted when challenged, that he disowns all acquaintance with Jesus. When "the women," who had been first at the sepulchre, "returned," as St. Luke says, ch. xxiv. 9-11, " and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest, their words seemed unto them as idle tales, and they believed them not." And afterwards, in the evening of that day, as two of the company of the disciples were going to Emmaus, when Jesus came to them, as a stranger, and asked them, "What manner of communications are these, that ye have one to another, and are sad ?" they tell him" concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in word and deed, whom the chief priests and rulers had delivered to be condemned, and had crucified. But we trusted," say they, " that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel. And beside all this, to-day
is the third day since these things were done; yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre.”—And thus they go on till our Lord interrupts them," and says to them; O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?"
Nor does the expectation of our Lord's resurrection appear in any others. But all were thrown into a state of dejection and despondency upon the death of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus bury the body, as if it were to lie there till the general resurrection. And the third day after his crucifixion, the women that had shown him so much respect before, come to show it again, by more completely embalming his body.
Since therefore there is not any where betrayed an expectation beforehand of his rising from the dead, the story of his resurrection is not a contrivance of the disciples. Nor did they remove the body, that they might with the better assurance give out, that he was risen.
7. This saying of the guard must have been false, forasmuch as no punishment was inflicted upon any for taking away the body.
This was their saying. This is what the Jewish council directed. "They gave large money to the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away, whilst we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.”
If this saying be true, here were two great and heinous offences, deserving a severe punishment." The guard of soldiers slept when they were upon duty." That is the first offence. "The disciples came by night, and stole him away:" another very great offence, no less than robbing a sepulchre, and also deserving severe punishment. And yet no one is punished. Nor is there any design formed, or attempt made, to bring guilty persons to justice. A certain sign, that the Jewish rulers knew the falsehood of what they bid the soldiers to say, and report to the world; and that they themselves were persuaded that Jesus was risen from the dead.
It has been very justly observed upon this history: The 'priests going along with the party of soldiers placed them in their post, and sealed the stone that was rolled to the 'door of the sepulchre, to hinder the guards from combining 'with the disciples in carrying on any fraud—Thus Macknight's Harmony. Sect. 147. p. 200.
'whilst the priests cautiously proposed to prevent our Lord's ' resurrection from being palmed upon the world, resolving, no doubt, to show his body publicly after the third day, as an impostor, they put the truth of Christ's resurrection beyond all question, by furnishing a number of unexceptionable witnesses to it, whose testimony they themselves 'could not refuse.'
So that this saying is not only false, and exceeding improbable, but it also serves to confirm the belief of our Lord's miraculous resurrection from the dead.
8. It remains therefore, that the testimony of the disciples of Jesus concerning his resurrection is true and credible.
There is nothing incredible, nor improbable in the thing itself, that Jesus should rise from the dead. If we do but consider what miracles he wrought during his life on earth, and how excellent a doctrine he taught, that he was a prophet mighty in word and deed, so as none before him had been, and what signal testimonies were given to him from heaven in the time of his ministry, and during the time of his crucifixion, and at his death; and that he openly declared more than once, that after having been put to death, he should rise again in three days. If we consider all these things, his resurrection cannot be thought improbable.
Moreover what the disciples say, they aver upon good grounds. They saw him, and conversed with him frequently, and had full satisfaction of his being alive. Therefore he was risen again. For all men knew that he had been put to death, and had expired on the cross, and was laid in a sepulchre. They themselves were with difficulty convinced of his being alive again after his passion. But seeing evidently, that it was he with whom they had conversed formerly, and seeing him often, they could no longer withhold their assent. And being convinced, they openly published the Lord's resurrection to all the world.
And, in the name of Jesus Christ risen from the dead, they wrought many miracles, which were testimonies given from heaven by God himself to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.
This testimony to the resurrection of Jesus was received. Many at Jerusalem hereupon believed in Jesus as the Christ. Which could not have been, if he had not risen from the dead. For, if he had remained in the grave, no one could have any expectations from him. His word, in that case, had failed; and there could not have been any ground to rely upon him, and trust in him. But because his word had not failed, but the promise made by him had been ful
filled, of coming again to his disciples, and endowing them with power from above, therefore many believed on him.
Finally, the report, or testimony of the disciples, is consistent, and harmonious throughout. They teach, that Jesus is risen from the dead, and their behaviour is suitable to such a faith and doctrine.
Once they were timorous, dejected, inconsiderable. But now, when they say, Jesus is risen from the dead, they are knowing, discreet, intrepid in dangers, and glory in sufferings; and they inspire the like sentiments in others. They all unanimously bear witness to the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. Nor can any of them, or of those who receive their testimony, be brought to disown or conceal this thing. They therefore knew, and were persuaded of the truth of it.
And now they preach the doctrine of the gospel to all, a doctrine of the greatest importance, words on which the life and happiness of men depend, Acts v. 20. They address the whole nation at Jerusalem, saying, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words," ch. ii. 22.— "Let all the house of Israel know, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ," ver. 36." Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins," ver. 38" Repent, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. you first, God having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities," ch. iii. 19-26. In a word, the illiterate disciples of Jesus, who was lately crucified, are now superior to all men. And they "sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel," Matt. xix. 28, Luke xxii. 30, as he had foretold, and promised. A demonstrative proof, that their master was not still in the grave, but was risen from the dead, and that he was ascended up into heaven, and had sent down upon them the promised gift of the Spirit.
II. I would now mention some remarks, partly instructive, partly practical, upon this history of the evangelist Matthew.
1. Sad is the condition of a people when their rulers and teachers practise themselves, and recommend to others falsehood and prevarication, and other wickedness.
Such conduct we see in the Jewish rulers. They had before given money to Judas, to induce him to betray into their hands an innocent and excellent person, and also sought for false witness to put him to death. Here is If this sermon is too long to be read at once, here is a proper pause.
another like instance of their disregard to all religious obligations. Now they have to do with heathens, Roman soldiers, and they put into their mouths a downright falsehood, and tempt them with money, and give them a large sum, to say as they directed them. We may charitably hope, that it was not the act of all the Jewish council, or of every one in it. But it is a deliberate thing, and there was a general concurrence in this great and aggravated wickedness. Some of the guards came into the city, to the priests, who had placed them at the sepulchre. They convene the council, and when they had consulted together," they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying: Say ye, that his disciples came by night, and stole him away, whilst we slept." It is a studied falsehood, contrived by the chief priests and rulers, when assembled together. Justly did our Lord reprove the hypocrisy of these men. How must irreligion and baseness, and every evil thing prevail and spread among a people that are under such rulers and instructors!
2. Here is another instance of the sad degeneracy of men, and the hardness of some men's hearts.
The guard of soldiers were actually present at our Lord's resurrection. An angel descended, and appeared in a glorious form; the door of the sepulchre was opened, and the earth shook, and the "keepers trembled." These things the soldiers themselves had told the chief priests, and particularly how they had been affrighted; but all this terror soon wears off. The Jewish elders put a contrived falsehood into their mouth, and offer them money, which they take, and say as they had been directed.
3. We likewise here see the dangerous consequence of an inordinate love of worldly gain, and indeed of the prevalence of any bad principle in the heart.
The fear of God should always possess and govern us. If an inordinate love of worldly gain, or an excessive fear of any worldly evil be admitted, there is great danger that the next temptation we meet with may make a breach in our integrity.
4. This history may put us upon our guard against every temptation to a known falsehood, and make us very apprehensive of a lie.
We know not what may be the consequence; the mischief is oftentimes wide and durable. We may say, that the mischief of some lies is infinite and without end. The bad effect of this lie of the soldiers is dreadful to think of. It was the occasion of the unbelief of many of the Jewish people at that time; which also affected their posterity, and more