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The evangelist's expressions are strong. “ For fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.” It seems that they fainted, or fell into a swoon. If our Lord came out at that instant, they did not see him. But if they were recovered before he came out, and they saw him, they might be still under such an awe, as to let him pass leisurely and unmolested. For the first sight of a man returned to life, who had been dead and crucified, would be exceeding surprising. And the late earthquake, and the majestic appearance of the angel, still in view, who also, as may be supposed, shewed our Lord marks of subjection and reverence, as he passed, might make such impressions, as would restrain rudeness and violence.
If they did not see our Lord come out of the tomb, and pass by them; when they had recovered themselves from their fright, and looked round them, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, and that the body was gone, and they could make no doubt that the
whom they were set to guard was come to life.
From the order of the evangelist's narration we also perceive that our Lord had been raised to life some while before the soldiers came to the Jewish high priests. When the body was gone undoubtedly they had no farther business at the sepulchre. But it might require soine time to recover themselves from the consternation they had been in : and before they went off they would look well about them. After which, as it seems, they retired to some house and rested themselves, and endeavoured to settle the account which they should carry to those who had employed them. Nor could they know how to find the chief priests so early in the morning. When they had access unto them, “ they shewed unto them all the things that had been done : that is, they told them that a whilst they were watching at the sepulchre at such an hour, there · was a great earthquake, that they saw a certain being resembling human shape, clothed in a 'garment uncommonly white, his countenance exceeding bright and shining, who with amazing • swiftness descended from heaven, and that at the sight of him they were seized with great
He rolled away the stone, and opened the sepulchre. The body was gone, • and the man was certainly alive again.'
For vindicating themselves they added : • They did not believe any others would have • behaved better. Who, but must have been in pain for their lives, when the earth trembled
under them and around them ? and when there appeared some god, or celestial being, from • whose countenance issued flashes of lightning ? If the body was gone, they could not help it.
They were set to guard against the deceit and violence of men. But they were not able to • contend with beings of a superior order.'
This was a disagreeable story to the high priests : and very unfortunately for their cause, the soldiers had not come directly to them: they had stayed by the way: and the high priests were justly apprehensive, that the account now brought to them, had been already divulged to others.
In so perplexing an emergency these chief priests thought it best to convene the whole sanhedrim. So it follows: “ And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel,” or deliberated and consulted what to do,
they gave large money to the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came and stole him away whilst we slept. And, if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught. And this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”
The summary remarks of a judicious writer • upon this history are to this purpose. · The • priests and pharisees must be thought a strange stupid sort of creatures, if they did not examine
where the apostles were all night: beside many other particulars, which might have been a • thread to lead them into strict inquiries, unless it was because they believed the report that • the watch had brought them of Christ's rising again. When they had this certain reason to « believe it, and yet resolved to oppose it; the only thing they could do, was to seem to neglect • the matter, and only to decry it in general as an impasture, without going into particulars. · Which certainly they would not have done, if they themselves had not been too sure of the • truth of it.'
a If it should be asked, how could the evangelist be assured related them to several. It is also very observable, that the of all this, and be able to relate these things so distinctly: 1 whole band did not attend upon the chief priests, but a part sbould answer, that the solution is very obvious. Some of only. Matt. xxviii. 11. “ Some of the watch came into the the apostles, or other disciples of Jesus, had this account from city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were the soldiers themselves, or others to whom they had related done.” Nor is it needful to suppose that the soldiers, who it. There was an interval of several hours between the open- had been bribed by the Jewish council, were strictly obedient ing the sepulchre and our Lord's resurrection, and their com- to their orders, and never said any thing but what they had ing to the Jewish rulers. In that space they had much dis- been taught, when they knew otherwise. course among themselves about the things which had happened,
& Burnet.upon the Articles, p. 64. and which had caused them so great surprise. And they had
“ His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept."
Concerning the first, it may be thought, that I am about to take needless pains, the saying being so very absurd. And indeed, it is well that it deserves little regard, and that it appears so to us, after having carefully attended to the evidence of our Saviour's resurrection. But as “ this saying was commonly reported among the Jews,” it may be worth the while to show in some particulars, how unlikely it is, and that it could not be then much regarded by any, but such as were very weak, or very much prejudiced.
1. It is very unlikely that “ a guard of Roman soldiers should sleep upon duty.
For the Roman discipline was extremely strict. Such a thing would be improbable among any people, especially among the Romans. And for certain, they who set them here
them a strict charge to be vigilant. Nor was there any long or tedious service required of them. The whole season of their attendance could not, at the utmost, much exceed four and twenty hours. The sabbath was begun when they were placed at the sepulchre. And soon after the sabbath was over, the body, which they were to take care of, was gone, and they came down into the city to let the high priests and Jewish rulers know what had happened.
2. The absurdity of this report is manifest from itself.
For men cannot say what is done when they are asleep. If the disciples had attempted to take tlte body away, and they knew it, they must have been awake, and could, and would have prevented it. If they were asleep, they deserved to be punished. But they could not make any credible report of what was done whilst they were in that condition. If the body was carried off whilst they were asleep, they could not say by whom it was done. Whatever happened at that time must have been altogether unknown to them.
3. If the guard of soldiers had fallen asleep as they were watching at the sepulchre, they must have awaked if any attempt had been made to steal away the body.
For the body had been laid in a new tomb hewn out in a rock. And a large stone was laid at the door of it. And after that the Jewish high priests had seen it securely fastened. It was impossible, in an ordinary way, that the sepulchre should be opened, and the body in it taken thence, without a good deal of noise, which must have awakened such as were near.
4. The remaining of the burial clothes affords proof that the body was not removed by friends or other men.
· The women, who had been at the sepulchre, came to the disciples, and told them what they had seen.
Luke xxiv. 12. “ 'Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre: and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself. He beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves.” The meaning of the original word, I think, is this : • He saw nothing but the linen clothes lying.' Or, · he saw the linen clothes only lying on the ground.'
This is more particularly related by St. John xx. 1–8, who gives an account of his own and Peter's going together to the sepulchre. “ Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together. And the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying. Yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre. And he saw, and believed.”
This circumstance is a proof that the body was not stolen away by the disciples, or other friends, nor by common robbers, nor by any other persons. Whoever came upon such a design, would have been in a hurry, and would have executed their design with all possible expedition : whereas here are marks of leisure and composure.
• Et quis credet, tot milites, vigiliis perpetuis assuetos, circumfusos sepulchro, in re tanti momenti, summæque expectationisji cuisse omnes quasi lethargo sepultos ? Pol. Syn.
5. It is not conceivable, that the stealing away, or the clandestine 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 exhībited 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: 0 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 my 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 partv 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 whilst the priests cautiously proposed to prevent our Lord's resurrection from
being palmed upon the world, resolving, no doubt, to shew his body publicly after the third day, as an impostor, they put the truth of Christ's resurrection beyond all question, by fur* nishing 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 confirma 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 be'fore 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 fulfilled, of coming again to his disciples, and endowing them with power from above, therefore many
be. lieved 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
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.Unto 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
· Macknight's Harmony. Sect. 147. p. 200.
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.
I. 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 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, much 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 persons than we can distinctly apprehend. “ This saying,” says St. Matthew, “is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.” This lie was cherished and propagated by many, for justifying their own infidelity, and for hardening others against the testimony of Christ's apostles, and the evidence of the many miracles wrought by them.
Every man knows when he utters a lie; for it is something contrary to his own inward persuasion ; but he may not be always able to foresee the consequences. The soldiers knew the falsehood of what they said; but they did not duly consider the issue of this calumny upon the disciples. We now can better perceive it than they did, when they were first drawn into this prevarication. This therefore may increase our dread of a lie.
increase our dread of a lie. We know it is not innocent. We feel it to be contrary to our own conviction : but it may be worse than we are aware of; and may have consequences which we do not think of.
5. This history may help us in forming a just and great idea of the diligence and zeal of the apostles of Jesus in asserting his resurrection, and spreading the doctrine of the gospel in the world.
• If this sermon is too long to be read at once, bere is a proper pause.