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deserted; prostrated, but not destroyed:* for when one was cut down, crucified, burnt at the stake, as in the gardens of Nero, or torn by wild beasts in the amphitheatre, others rose up to fill his place and persecution proved like the sowing of dragon's teeth, where every one sprung up an armed man; so the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. The more effort was made against it, the more it progressed, till, from being a despised sect, it rose to occupy the seat of its former per
Now, men may suffer martyrdom in error, in defence of what they suppose true, when it is not; but they cannot do it, in the face of every human motive to the contrary, in defence of what they know to be a lie, a false statement of a fact. They gave the highest proof of their own faith in what they testified; and what would satisfy them, ought to create belief in all the world. They give us the evidence on which they believed, and we may go and do likewise. If all false, why not one even turn state's evidence?
4. But that is not all; they had the unequivocal testimony of Him that cannot lie, in their favor to confirm their words; just as much as if he had spoken, as in reference to Christ, by word of mouth from heaven.
Hence they were not to leave Jerusalem to begin their testimony till they were endued with power from on high.
"And then they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following." "Who gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands."
A miracle then is an act of God, above the power of men, but by their hands, to confirm their words; and it is conclusive, for it is impossible to suppose that God would thus add his testimony to what is false, and to give credence to a message that he did not send. But he does become a voucher for the message which they delivered; they call for attestation from him, and he gives it.
5. We have a monument commemorating this great fact, and confirming the testimony of the witnesses, in the Holy Sabbath. Immediately after the resurrection they set apart the first day of the week, and called it the Lord's Day, for this very reason, that on it he had risen-they made it their day of religious worship.
Ancient writers assert that this day was kept for that purpose. Barnabas says, that in his time "the eighth day was observed with gladness, being that on which Jesus rose from the dead." Many other ancient writers speak of the same thing. If the resurrection be denied, how can the fact of the observance of this day distinct from the Jewish Sabbath be accounted for ?
* This is the literal rendering, and in the exact form of the original in 2 Cor. iv. 9.
"The first day of the week was everywhere celebrated for the Christian Sabbath, and which is not to be passed over without observing; as far as appears from Scripture, there is nowhere any dispute about the matter. There was controversy concerning circumcision, and other points of the Jewish religion, whether they were to be retained or not, but nowhere do we read concerning the change of the Sabbath. There were indeed some Jews converted to the Gospel, who as in some other things they retained a smack of their old Judaism, so they did in the observance of days (Rom. xiv. 5; Gal. iv. 10), but yet not rejecting or neglecting the Lord's day. They celebrated it and made no manner of scruple, it appears, concerning it; but they would have their old festival days too; and they disputed not at all, whether the Lord's day were to be celebrated, but whether the Jewish Sabbath ought not to be celebrated also."*
6. We have one argument more bearing on this point, and that is, The coming of Christ in power to destroy Jerusalem, and put an end both to the Church and State. His foretelling this is no ordinary prophecy; His fulfillment of it no ordinary miracle; when he took vengeance on them to the utmost for imbruing their hands in his blood; and then imprecating it upon themselves, and leaving it as a legacy to their children.
It was predicted under a variety of forms of expression: "There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom," "till they have seen the Kingdom of God come with power;" "till they see the Kingdom of God;""when the Son of Man is revealed."
In the 24th chapter of Matthew, after giving a great variety of signs that are to precede, he says, "Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven;" and soon after he "This generation shall not pass away till all these things be fulfilled." The people then of that generation would have full proof that the Son of Man was the Divine Messiah, just as much as if he had appeared in person. And that his words were fulfilled to the very letter, in the terrible calamities that befell that unhappy nation, and that guilty city, we have the accounts of Josephus, a cotemporary and an eye-witness, and not a Christian: who seems to have been raised up and qualified by Providence, for this very purpose, to confirm the words of our Saviour unwittingly. Tacitus and Suetonius also relate many of the same facts; and they constitute part and parcel of Roman History.†
And there is no rebutting evidence. The story told by the soldiers that the disciples stole the body away while they slept, is incredible on the face of it; they did not believe it themselves. If true, it would involve them in ruin, for it was death to sleep
Lightfoot's Works. 1670.
+ Josephus' Jewish War, Book V. Sec. 8, &c. Tacitus' History, Book V. Sec. 18.
on guard. And how could they testify to what occurred while they were asleep? This story shows the inability of the Scribes and Pharisees to confute the testimony of the apostles. They have made no other denial of the facts.
When Peter, on the day of Pentecost, and in their most august council, charged home upon them the guilt of killing the Prince of Life, by wicked hands, whom God raised from the dead, and in whose name he and the other apostles wrought miracles, would they not have disproved his assertions, if in their power? But "They could say nothing against" what he had said and done. When they were cut to the heart, and took council to slay Peter, would they not have disproved his assertions if there had been any way to do it?
If they made any such attempt, why have not their writings come down to us-books written then and there on the spot? They could be as easily preserved as the writings of the Evangelists. They would not have as many enemies-not so much effort would be made to destroy them; and there have always been men ready to preserve and perpetuate them; but there is no evidence that any such book ever existed. While it can easily be shown that we have the record of the story told by the apostles; it has been quoted and copied so often'; guarded by the providence of God from the malice of priests and kings; that it cannot be denied that we have essentially the words of the Holy Spirit, penned so long ago by holy men who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
"Wrath and lightning" have guarded the sacred page, and if even every copy of the Bible were destroyed, it might all be collected again from the abundant quotations made from it in former times.
We remark, in closing, then
1. It is vastly easier to believe in the resurrection of Christ than to disbelieve it. It is impossible not to receive the testimony we have, and account for the facts of the case in any other
It amounts, if not to a mathematical, yet, to a moral demonstration; unless we deny the possibility of proving such a fact, on any other, by human testimony, with the addition of Divine confirmation; and set aside all historical evidence.
2. We have here a most convincing proof of the Divinity of Christ. He has the keys of hell and of death. He laid down his life voluntarily, and took it up again. "He was declared to be the Son of God, with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead." He claimed to be Divine: he was put to death on the charge of blasphemy, for falsely setting up such a claim; but he made it good by this act of raising himself from the dead. By the exertion of Divine Power, he proved that he was what he claimed to be, and God acknowledged
it. It was not possible that he should be holden by the cords of death, or the bars of the
3. We see that he finished the work for which he came into the world, made an atonement for sin, introduced everlasting righteousness, and is every way qualified to be the Saviour of the world, for he ever liveth to make intercession.
God has accepted his work; and now on the ground of it, invites all to come and seek the pardon of their sins.
He proclaims to all that feel their wants, to come, and they shall be supplied out of a full treasury in the hands of Christ, who hath done all things well, and is sealed by the Father and by authority offered to the world. All the prophecies, types, and shadows of the Old Testament met in Him.
4. We have in the resurrection of Christ a pledge of the resurrection of his people. "Because I live, ye shall live also." "He that believeth in me shall never die." "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen." "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." He is the first fruits, they are the full harvest. He is the point of union and the principle of life. He was made a life-giving spirit. He has only to order, as in the case of Lazarus, and all the realms of the dead will become instinct with life.
5. But, finally, though it is true that if Christ be not risen, you may be still in your sins; yet it does not follow of course when it is proved that he has risen, that you are not in your sins.
Without personal application to him, and faith in him as your Saviour, you cannot be saved. He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification; but we are justified by faith in his name, and faith is an operative assent to his word.
His precious blood must be sprinkled upon our consciences to purge them from dead works to serve the living God. We may have all remedies for disease at hand, but if not employed and applied, they will do no good. So with the provisions of the Gospel they do not operate in a magical way, and at a distance; Christ must be brought nigh to us, and we to him. He must be formed in us the hope of glory.
THE ELEVENTH HOUR WORKER.
Two great facts at once meet us in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. One is, that so far as making God's glory the grand end of our being, we are all by nature standing idle. The other is, that God, whose favor we have all forfeited by our sins, is pleased to call and receive the willing and obedient into his vineyard at all hours of the day of life. Wonderful as it is, that he should call us at all, the wonder of wonders is, that at life's
latest evening hour, he should bid us enter his vineyard. But this arrangement is to the praise of the glory of his grace.
God is pleased to call aged sinners into his kingdom, to show the sovereignty of his grace. As every man, young or old, has forfeited his favor, God would teach us that he is under obligation to none, and therefore has mercy on whom he will. So that while it is true that all who seek him early shall find him, it is not true that none who seek him late shall find him. We know that the young, with hearts tender and impressible, are the most hopeful subjects of renewing grace; that in old age the moral sensibilities become more indurated, evil habits more confirmed, and the chains of sin more strongly riveted upon us. But yet God is pleased to interpose by his all-conquering grace, and bring even aged sinners into his kingdom. Nicodemus, though old, could be born again. That so many of the aged do not come to Christ is owing to the fact--not that they are not called-but that they do not hear the voice of God. It is the merciful province of the Spirit to unstop their deaf ears, and so incline them to hear, that their souls shall live.
Again God calls aged sinners into his kingdom to teach us that none should despair of mercy. All who penitently and believingly beg for mercy shall find mercy. If we may not pray and hope because we are great sinners, then the mouths of all, young and old, must be stopped. Many of the young, so rapidly downward is their course, are more bold and hardened in sin, than some on whom rests the weight of three score years and ten. Let the aged then remember that God, who is rich in mercy to all that call upon him, delights in showing mercy to the " poor in spirit" in all periods and conditions of life; that one day is with him as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day; that he looks not to the number of years at all, or to the number of sins, but to this man will he look "that is poor and of a contrite heart and that trembleth at his word."
"And while the lamp holds out to burn,
Though they may have stood idle so far as seeking their salvation and God's glory is concerned till the Eleventh hour, yet the voice of the Master is: "Why stand ye all the day idle? Go ye also into my vineyard, and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive." Life's one hour remains, and that is one of mercy and hope. Luke Short hears the Saviour's voice after an hundred years spent in sin. And if the aged may come, let none despair. Again God may call aged sinners into his kingdom, that by the great good done by them the little remaining time, they may rebuke the inefficiency of those who have been many years in the Church. What multitudes go limping and halting through long years in the church, as with the unequal legs of the lame man!