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LUKE, CHAP. XVI.-VERSE 31.
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.
IT sometimes happens in matters of reason, as it often does in objects of sense; that which at first appearance makes a fair show, on examination proves to be worthless and of no esteem. Some fruits which allure the eye most, can the least bear the test of the palate: they may be admired by the traveller who rides hastily by and only sees them at a distance; but when they are served up at the table, the taste soon rectifies the mistake of the eyes. So likewise in matters of reason: some arguments strike the fancy immediately, and take the judgment captive, before it has time fairly to examine the merits of the cause; and yet when the vigor of the first onset is over, and time is given for reflexion, the demonstration dwindles into nothing, and leaves a man admiring that he was so easily deceived by so palpable a cheat. And 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? Or were we for ourselves to desire the last evidence for a future state, what more should we desire than to see one come from the dead; one of our old acquaintance; and to hear from him the relation of what happened to him after death, and of what he had seen and experienced in the other world? And yet this evidence, our Saviour tells us, would have no effect on an unbeliever he who can hold out against the evidence that God has already given that he will one day judge the world in righteousness, would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead.’
Our Saviour does not deny the coming of one from the dead to be an evidence of a future state; nor yet, allowing it to be an evidence, does he determine of what weight and authority it is or ought to be. This only he affirms; that let the authority of it be what it will, they who will not submit to the authority of a divine revelation will not submit to this; the reason of which judgment may appear from the following considerations:
First, if the evidence of revelation be in itself greater and more convincing than the evidence given by one from the dead can possibly be, then there is no reason to expect that he who rejects the greater should submit to the less authority.
Secondly, if the objections which the unbeliever makes use of against the authority of revelation, lie stronger against the authority of one coming from the dead, it is not to be supposed that he will pass over that in one case which he so mightily stumbles at in the other. Or,
Thirdly, if unbelief be the effect of a vitiated and corrupted mind, which hates to be reformed; which 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 will be lost labor to ply such a man with reason or new evidence, since it is not want of reason or evidence that makes him an unbeliever. And it is on this case chiefly that our Saviour grounds his judgment in the text.
First, then, let us consider whether the evidence on which revelation stands be in itself greater or more convincing than the evidence of one coming from the dead can be if it is, we must subscribe to our Saviour's judgment; that he who will not hear Moses and the prophets,' or Christ and his Apostles, 'would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead.' Whatever a dead man, who appears to you, may tell you concerning another world, all the reason you can have to believe him is, because you suppose him to come from the other world, and to relate things which he has seen and known so that his authority is no more than barely the authority of a traveller, who relates things of the countries through which he has passed. And how will it appear to you, that one from the dead cannot possibly deceive you? As he is a man, I am sure you
have reason to mistrust him; and what reason you have to rely on him as a dead man I know not. Possibly you may think that the very seeing of one come from the dead will of itself prove the great point of all, the reality of a future state. But are you sure it is impossible for any being of the other world to personate a dead man, and to appear to you in the shape and figure of one you formerly knew? Surely it is one thing to prove that there is another world and beings belonging to it, and another to prove a future state, that is, a world in which dead men shall live.
Our Saviour's resurrection was something more than merely the apparition of a dead man: he foretold the time and circumstances of his resurrection, and put the proof of his mission and doctrine on the performance of this great wonder; so that by this means his resurrection became a direct proof of this, that the doctrine he taught was the doctrine of him who has power to raise the dead. And since part of his doctrine is, that the dead shall be raised; we are thus far certain that he, who has power to raise the dead, has assured us that the dead shall be raised for no one can foretel the time and circumstances of a dead man's rising to life, who has not the power, or is not commissioned by him who has the power, of life and death. So that the authority of our Saviour's word after his resurrection was not barely the authority of one coming from the dead, but it was the authority of him who has power to raise the dead; which authority we know belongs not to man, and therefore is greater than the authority of any man either from the dead or the living. So that our Saviour's resurrection proves a commission from the highest power to teach the world; which cannot be proved merely from the appearance of one from the dead. And here lies the true difference between the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrection of those whom our Saviour himself raised from the dead. We have been asked why Lazarus and the rest did not publish their knowlege of the other world? One plain answer is, they were not commissioned so to do their resurrection was a proof of his power and commission, who raised them to life, but of their own power and commission, it was no proof: 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.
Then as to the reality of our Saviour's resurrection, there was warning given to expect it; which of itself is a great evidence of sincere dealing. Men do not use to give public notice of the cheats they intend to play; or if ever they have, the success has been answerable to the management, and yielded nothing but shame and confusion to the contrivers. And after his resurrection, his stay on earth was so long, as to give full satisfaction to all concerned, of the truth and reality of what they saw. At his first appearance, the disciples were in the same case with others who think they see spectres and apparitions; that is, they were confounded and amazed, and did not know well what they saw and had not the frequency of our Saviour's appearances made them familiar to them, so that they bore the sight of him with the same sedateness of mind as they did in his lifetime, and consequently had all the necessary qualifications to judge rightly concerning what they heard or saw; had it not been for this, I say, their evidence in this case would not have been equal to the weight of those truths it is to support. And farther, since this appearance was in consequence of the prediction he made of his own resurrection, there is no room to doubt that it was a true and proper resurrection of his body: for it is much easier to imagine that he should come to life, and fulfil his prediction, than that he should, being really dead, contrive and execute any thing that should seem to fulfil it.
Possibly this may be allowed, and yet not give satisfaction in this matter for it is not, you will say, that the resurrection of our Saviour is such a work as is not proper to satisfy all doubts, that makes you desire to see one from the dead; but it is that you would willingly be satisfied by your own eyes, and not depend on the credit of another for a thing of this nature: had you been in the place of the Apostles, and seen our Lord come from the grave, that then you would not have desired to have seen any body else; but now you think you might find that conviction in seeing one come from the dead yourself, which you cannot find in the reports of those who pretend to have seen one. Let us consider this case then; 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. I will not deny but that a man's fancy may be more powerfully wrought on, not only by seeing, but even by supposing that he sees, one from the dead: but this is so far from being an advantage, that in truth it is quite otherwise; for the more work things of this nature find for the imagination, the less room do they leave for the judgment to exercise itself in. Our senses at all times are liable to be imposed on, but never more than when we are in a fright or surprise. In such cases it is common to overlook our friends, and not to know who was with us or who not: and the very surprise that would necessarily attend on seeing one come from the dead, would be a great reason for us to suspect afterwards the report our senses made of what they had seen. And this was indeed the case of those who saw our Saviour on his first appearance: nor could any thing have cured this but his staying with them so long as he did; so that at last they were able to see him without being disturbed, or suffering any alteration in their usual temper and this qualified them to judge for themselves, and report to others with authority what they saw. So that the circumstances of our Saviour's resurrection were such as admitted a due testimony; whereas it is very much to be doubted, whether he who sees one come from the dead be capable to give himself satisfaction afterwards, either as to what he saw or what he heard. And judge you, whether you would choose to believe the concurring testimony of many persons in their right senses so well qualified to judge, or rely on yourself at a time when you are hardly master of your senses.
But farther; suppose you could converse with a man from the dead with the same temper and calmness that you do with one of your friends or acquaintance; what would be the consequence? You would probably rest assured that you had seen a man from the dead, and perhaps be more satisfied of this than at present you are that the disciples saw Christ after his death. Allowing this, what follows? The question is not, whether he that sees a man come from the dead, may be sure he sees a man come from the dead; but whether he has a better foundation for faith and religion than the present revelation affords? This is what our Saviour affirms; If they hear not