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They met with, as we hence perceive, many opposers, and a powerful opposition. Force and fraud, and every method was taken to suppress and invalidate their testimony, and to defeat their endeavours. They therefore must have been laborious and active, zealous and diligent; or they had not prevailed as they did. And we should learn to imitate them if there be occasion. And occasion there is, and will be. There always will be adversaries of the truth. Nor should we grudge any labour for promoting the principles of true religion. But should do our utmost to convince gainsayers, to strengthen those who believe, and assist such as are disposed to admit. the evidence that is fairly set before them.
6. From this text we may argue, that St. Matthew's gospel was not written quite so soon as as some have been willing to suppose.
Some have been apt to think, that the gospel according to St. Matthew was written about eight years after our Lord's ascension. But the account of the most ancient Christian writers which we have, is, that it was not published till about thirty years after our Lord's ascension. Which date much better suits the expression of the text than eight years. "And this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day." Which words imply, that some considerable space of time had passed since the event here spoken of.
Indeed, a written gospel was not immediately wanted. And a period of between twenty and thirty years after our Lord's resurrection was early enough. There would be still living a good number of the eye and ear-witnesses of our Lord's person, teaching, and miracles. As believers were by that time become numerous, some would desire to have written memoirs and histories of the Lord Jesus. And the doctrine of Christ having made considerable progress in the world, many copies of the gospels would be taken soon after they were written. Which affords the best security for their being preserved, and transmitted sincere and uncorrupted to future times. We seem to have good reason to believe, that the first three gospels were all written about the same time. These, soon after they had been written, were brought to St. John, who thereupon wrote, and published his gospel as a supplement; thereby both confirming their histories, and making some valuable additions to them. And probably, all the four gospels were written before the destruction of Jerusalem.
7. Every one must observe in this context a remarkable instance of the fidelity, impartiality, fairness and simplicity, with which the history of the Lord Jesus has been written by the apostles and evangelists.
They have recorded many injurious reflections cast upon our Lord himself in person. Here is mentioned a calumny upon his disciples. And it is a thing that seems to weaken their testimony in a point of the greatest importance; and, if true, would overthrow all the evidence of the resurrection of Christ. And though not true, it obtained credit with many Jews. And yet the evangelist has been so fair as to put it down. This honesty and simplicity of narration must, in the esteem of all good judges, recommend the evangelist's performance; and induce men to receive every thing else related by him.
And this is what Christians should still imitate. They should not be afraid of difficulties and objections: but should be willing to state them clearly and fully; or let them be so stated by others. There is a superior evidence for truth. Otherwise, we should not be able to say, that it ought to be received. And when things are carefully examined, and impartially considered, that superiority of evidence will be discerned and allowed of.
"The disciples came, and stole him away whilst we slept." So said those persons who were set to guard the sepulchre of Jesus. Who therefore should know what was done there. But when we observe that this is said to have been done" when they slept :" and when we do also take notice of the other things before-mentioned, it appears to be a story of very little significance. Yea it tends to confirm the persuasion of our Lord's resurrection as already shown.
To which may be added, that this story, or saying of the soldiers, assures us, and all men, that there was a guard set at the sepulchre, and that all possible precautions were taken to prevent fraud, and to hinder the disciples and others, if any had been so minded, from making, or feigning a story of a resurrection, when there was none.
The disciples had it not in their power to remove the body. Our Lord therefore was raised to life. The Divine Being interposed for his resurrection. And then supported the disciples in their testimony to the resurrection of Jesus, by wonders and signs, accompanying the word spoken by them. Therefore we need not be shy to represent things as they really are.
8. Finally in the eighth place. We hence perceive the nature of the evidence, by which our Lord's resurrection, and the truth of the Christian religion are supported.
It is not an overbearing, but a sufficient evidence. It is not an evidence that leaves no room for cavils and exceptions. It is not such, but that some may reject it, if they are biassed and prejudiced; and may make a shift to satisfy themselves in so doing. But yet it is an evidence sufficient to persuade reasonable men. It will bear the strictest scrutiny and examination; and to serious, attentive, and rational men, it will appear convincing and conclusive; sufficient to induce their assent, and to encourage, and support their diligence and perseverance in the profession of religious truth, and the practice of virtue.
Let us, then, show ourselves to be children of wisdom, by diligently examining the evidences of the principles of religion, and by embracing and maintaining those which appear to be reasonable, and supported by good and sufficient evidence.
THE APOSTLE THOMAS.
Jesus saith unto him: Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. John xx. 29.
HESE words are part of a remarkable conversation between an affectionate disciple, and a more affectionate Lord and Saviour. Thomas, in the time of his Master's ministry, upon an occasion of great danger to his person, had been willing "to go, and die with him," John xi. 16. Jesus, out of love for his disciples, and or mankind in general, had now laid down his life, with as many aggravations of pain and disgrace, as the loss of an innocent life can well be attended with. But he was delivered from the grave, and raised up again to life, now to die no more.
And that the disciples themselves, and the world in general, might obtain the benefits proposed by his death and sufferings, and all his transactions on this earth, he was willing to give his disciples, and others who had known him, the most satisfactory evidence of his resurrection. The same love that had carried him through the pains of death, still reigned in the risen Saviour, and Lord of life. And he condescends, after his resurrection, to renew his acquaintance with his disciples, and to give them in a free and familiar manner the proofs of his being alive again.
He had already before this shewn himself to several, and to all the other disciples on the day on which he arose, ver. 19, 20. "Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut, where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them: Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he showed them his hands, and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord-ver. 34-29. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him: We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them: Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days, again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas: Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands. And reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side. side. And be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered, and said unto him: My Lord, and my God. Jesus saith unto him: Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
The consideration of which words will lead me to three heads of discourse.
I. The conduct of Divine Providence in not giving to all the highest evidence of the objects of faith, even the evidence of sight, or of extraordinary works done before them, and the reasonableness of that conduct.
II. That an evidence below that of sense may be a sufficient ground of belief.
III. The blessedness of such as believe, though they have not the highest evidence, that of their senses.
I. The conduct of Divine Providence, in not affording to all the highest evidence of the objects of faith, that of sight, or of extraordinary works done before them: and the reasonableness of that conduct.
Here it may be worth the while to observe, that the great and ultimate objects of faith are always, or at least, usually invisible to men in this world; and that none, or very few, have the demonstration of sense for their truth and existence. We believe the being of God: but he himself is invisible. They are his works only, the proofs and evidences of his being and perfection, that are visible. That the world was made, is the object of our faith, the subject matter of our persuasion. But we did not see it made. Nor could its formation be seen by any man. But we believe that it was made, from the considerations of reason, and from the testimony of the word of God conveyed to us. So it is also, when promises of temporal blessings are made to any for the encouragement of their obedience. God promised to Abraham, that he would give his posterity the possession of the land of Canaan. And Abraham believed that God would perform his word and promise. That was the object of his faith. But he did not see the thing believed. He might for his satisfaction have afforded to him the sight of some extraordinary effects, such as consuming his sacrifice by fire, and other miraculous appearances, to assure him, that the promise was made by God himself, and might be relied upon as certain. Still the object of his faith, that "his seed should possess the land of Canaan," was a thing future, distant, and invisible.
In like manner Christ's miracles were visible to those who lived at that time, and were present when they were performed. But his divine commission and authority, the thing to be proved by them, was not visible. Nor was the heavenly life, which he promised, visible to the men of that time, but only the evidences of it, his mighty works.
Of such things the disciples themselves had not a sight. It was only the evidence of them that was visible. After all that they had seen in Christ, the disciples, as well as others, were to exercise a faith of invisible things.
Thomas, and the other disciples, had the evidence of their senses, that Jesus, their master,. was alive again, after his crucifixion. But the heavenly state, the future happiness of good men, the general judgment, the things to be proved by his resurrection, were still distant and invisible: not objects of sense, but assented to by faith only.
The difference therefore between the disciples of Christ, and others, who see not his miracles, is this. The disciples, and many others at that time, had visible and sensible proofs or evidences of invisible things. But still the heavenly state, and future retributions were invisible to them, and objects of faith. Others, who live not at the time of the revelation of the divine will, but after it, and after the ceasing of extraordinary works, and miraculous operations, neither see the heavenly state, nor the external evidences of it. But they receive upon testimony the evidences that had been set before others. Upon that testimony they believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the miracles wrought by himself, and by others in his name. And they admit them to be sufficient evidences of a life to come, and the recompences of it.
For shewing the reasonableness of this conduct of Divine Providence, in not giving to all the highest kind of evidence, it may be observed, that there seem to be but three several ways supposable for a revelation to be made by God to mankind, concerning the obligation of duty, and the recompenses of it.
For, if over and above the light, which may be attained in the exercise of our natural powers and faculties, God is graciously pleased to vouchsafe a revelation to men; in order to make it general, it must be one of these three ways: first, by a particular revelation of himself to every man in every age. Or, secondly, by affording a revelation in every age, and in every country, to some few, or a certain number of persons, endowed by him with a power of performing extraordinary works before other men, sufficient to satisfy them, that the doctrine,
taught by those persons, is from heaven and the will of God. Which all ought to receive, and conform to, as the rule of life, and to rely upon, as the ground and measure of their hopes and expectations concerning future recompenses. Or, thirdly, God may send some messenger of high character and authority, who shall communicate his will to the men of some one age and country; and by many miracles give full proof, that what he delivers is with authority from heaven. And then they, who have received this revelation from the divine messenger, shall communicate it to others; who having received it upon good evidence, shall be bound, not only to conform to it themselves, but also to deliver, and transmit it to others; both the revelation itself, and the evidences of its divine original; that it may be handed down from age to age, as the rule of action, and the ground of comfort and hope to all..
This is very much the method, which we suppose God to have taken in the revelation by Moses, and by Jesus Christ, his well-beloved Son, our Lord and Saviour.
And it is not difficult to perceive, that the other two methods, before-mentioned, would be attended with many inconveniences, and very much break in upon the established order of things in this present world.. Nor would they, in all probability, be more effectual, than the method which God appears to have taken.
II. The next thing to be shown is, that an evidence below that of sight may be a sufficient ground of belief and action..
And it is plain, that it is so, because in many cases men act upon it. And the evidence, which we still have of the revelation made by Jesus Christ, is a sufficient reason for receiving it, as a true revelation. For the account of it contained in the New Testament is delivered with all possible marks of simplicity and integrity. The revelation was received by a great number. of persons from the beginning. It has been confirmed by great and remarkable effects, and the vast alteration which has been thereby made in the false notions and sentiments, and evil prac-tises and customs of mankind. And from that time to this there have been many in the world, in every age, who have made an open profession of this doctrine; great numbers of whom have borne their testimony to it by patiently enduring all kinds of sufferings on account of it. And the resurrection of Jesus has been celebrated on the first day of the week in all the ages of Christianity. And his death, and all the wonders of his ministry, have been frequently remem-bered and rehearsed in the assemblies of his followers..
Though therefore we have not the evidence of sight, we have a sufficient evidence of the resurrection of Christ and consequently, of all the religious truths which were to be confirmed by it and by this evidence we may, and ought to be guided and influenced.
III. The third thing is the blessedness of those who believe, though they have not the evidence of sense, or the highest evidence of all.
The meaning of our Lord seems to be, that they are more blessed than they who believe only upon the evidence of sight. "Jesus saith unto him: Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
The reason is this. Such do in this respect shew a greater love of truth, than they who yield only to the evidence of sight. They who have only the evidence of testimony, and that testimony conveyed through several successions of witnesses, have need to use more attention and care than they who have before them the evidence of sight.
They who out of love for truth, and a desire of the knowledge of religious principles, carefully examine this lesser kind of evidence, and the several branches of it, till they arrive at a full conviction of the truths attested, show a very good and laudable disposition.
They likewise manifest a humble and teachable temper in submitting to the will of God, and acknowledging the wisdom of this disposal: who has appointed visible and supernatural evidences of invisible things in that way, which is best adapted to the established order of nature, and so as may least break in upon the settled discourse of things.
Moreover they may be said to have a nobler faith, who upon an evidence, sure and satisfactory indeed, but below that of sight, are induced to be faithful to God, and practise selfdenial in those many occasions in which it is necessary in the present state of things.
I may add farther, that they "who have not seen, and yet have believed," will have a faith in more truths than they who yield only to the evidence of sight: for we may know of many more things by hearing and reading than have been done before us. Certainly there may be
good evidence of many remarkable works of God, and of many eminent acts of goodness, patience, meekness, integrity of our fellow-creatures, beside those which we have seen with our own eyes, done in distant parts, and in past ages. And, if upon due examination, we are persuaded of them, we may be thereby much confirmed in the belief of the truth of the invisible things of the heavenly state. And we may be established in the practice of virtue; and may be animated and strengthened in the Christian course, much more than we should be if we disbelieved every thing which we have not seen with our eyes.
APPLICATION. IV. I now proceed to mention some observations suitable to the subject. 1. We are led to observe in this history, one of the many instances of plainness, simplicity, and integrity, which do so much recommend the gospels to our belief and reception.
The apostle and evangelist John, who wrote this gospel, we may be assured had a respect to truth in his history: or he had not inserted this account of Thomas's unbelief; for though it is far from being honourable to that disciple, St. John has related it plainly. But it is a particular that may tend to satisfy us of the truth of our Lord's resurrection, in that there was such full proof given of it again and again to the disciples; so as to convince them all of it, though they had for a while been under great doubts and prejudices: therefore St. John has inserted this account that we might believe. As he says ver. 30, 31, "And many other things truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through
2. From this text may be inferred the great necessity, and many advantages of serious and impartial inquiry and examination into the grounds and evidences of the principles of religion.
For it has not been at all my intention in this discourse, concerning the reasonableness of believing without the highest degree of evidence, to persuade any to believe without ground, or without sufficient evidence: nor does the text lead to any such thing, but quite the contrary. Thomas is not reproved for not believing, whilst he had no ground to believe; but because he had resisted very cogent evidence.
And the conduct of Providence in not affording to all the evidence of sight should put men upon examining and considering, with care and diligence, that evidence which is proposed to them. It was the duty of those who lived in our Saviour's time, before whom his miracles were wrought. There was, even then, a necessity of this. There were several branches of the evidence of his authority, and the truth of his doctrine. All which were to be carefully attended to, and impartially weighed. He himself referred them to these evidences. He directed them to consider the reasonableness of his doctrine, and its agreement with the writings of Moses and the prophets: to consider the testimony of John, and the greatness of his own works. John viii. 45, 46.
It is as needful, or more needful for us now to inquire and examine. We should be at the pains of observing the many proofs there are in the New Testament of the certainty of a Providence, a future judgment, and a life to come. We should, as we have opportunity, consider what evidence there is, that the books of the New Testament are the writings of the apostles and evangelists of Christ, to whom the mind of God was revealed. We may do well to observe the marks of simplicity, veracity and integrity, which there are in the historical parts of the New Testament: and also how reasonable, how perfect, how heavenly the whole doctrine of the evangelical scriptures, and consequently, how worthy of God.
This examination is a duty incumbent upon all, that they may gain such a knowledge, and rational conviction of the truths of religion, as shall be sufficient for their own satisfaction.
And for some others, who have more opportunities, and better abilities, it may be incumbent. upon them, so far to inquire into the grounds and evidences of the principles of religion, as to be able to propound them to other men, and assist them in their searches after truth.
3. Which brings me to another observation upon this text and context in the third place, that it may be our duty, of some at least, to propose and recommend the evidences of the principles of religion frequently, and with great plainness.
Though some are greatly prejudiced, and hard to be convinced of some things that appear to us very reasonable and well founded. Yet if they have but sincerity of mind, they should not. be abandoned as obstinate, and incapable of conviction.