« AnteriorContinuar »
eration, on this subject, upon another occasion.* We have in confirmation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1. Presumptions, 2. Proofs, and, 3. Demonstrations.
1. The circumstances of the death of the Saviour, and of his burial, furnish us with presumptions on this subject. Jesus Christ died: bis body was deposited in the tomb; but a few days afterwards was not to be found there. We thence presume that Jesus Christ is risen again. If Jesus Christ be not risen, his body must have been conveyed away: but how is it possible to maintain such an assertion ? To whom shall we impute such conveyance ? Not surely to his enemies. Could they be suspected of à design to contribute to his glory, by giving currency to the report of his resurrection? It can as little be imputed to his disciples. They had no inclination to do so: for how could men, so notoriously timid, have formed an enterprize so daring and dangerous, and that in favour of a man, (I go on the supposition that Jesus Christ did not rise again) who had thus abused their credulity? But had their inclination been 'ever so strong, was it in their power either to surprize or to discomfit aguard forewarned of the design? These I call presumptions.
2. The testimony of the apostles furnishes us with proofs of the resurrection.
This testimony possesses no less than eight distinct characters, which raise it beyond the reach of all suspicion : i, The nature of the witnesses, who had neither the credit, nor the riches, nor the eloquence necessary to practise an imposture on mankind : ii, The number of those witnesses, amounting to more than five hundred: iii, The nature of the facts which are the subject of their evidence, things in which it was impossible they should deceive themselves, things which they had seen, heard, and perceived in the most sensible and palpable manner: iv, The uniformity of their testimony, which in no one instance ever contradicted itself: v, The judges before whom their evidence was given; judges expert in the art of involving cheats in self-contradiction, but who never could detect any, in the witnesses of whom we are speaking : vi, The place where their testimony was published; for had the apostles gone and published the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, in regions remote from that where the fact could be completely sifted, they might have fallen under suspicion; but they attest it to the face of the whole city of Jerusalem itself: vii, The time when this testimony was published, respecting which the same reasoning applies which does to the circumstance of place: viii, The motives by which those witnesses were actuated, and which could be no other but the satisfying of their own consciences, as, so far from having a temporal interest to promote, by the publication of this event, every temporal interest pressed in the opposite direction.
* The reader is referred to the sermon on The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, page 249, &c. of Sermon VIII. Vol. II. of Mr. Robinson's Selection.
3. But we have likewise, of this truth, demonstrations properly so called. With these we are furnished in the miraculous gifts communicated to those who attest it; of which we cannot entertain any doubt, without taxing with extravagance three sorts of persons, equally clear of all ground of suspicion, on such an occasion: i, The apostles, who give the history of those miracles, and relate in a manner the best adapted to expose imposture, on the supposition of their having been impostors: ii, Their enemies, who in their writings against them, have not denied that they wrought miracles, but that these miracles were a proof of the truth of their doctrine: iii, Finally, their proselytes, who had the greatest imaginable interest in examining whether it were true that the apostles wrought miracles, who had all possible opportunities of ascertaining the fact, and who sacrificed their property, their reputation, their life, for a religion entirely resting on this truth The apostles work miracles. These we call so many demonstrations,
This recapitulation sufficiently instructs us, that we are not called upon to believe an event so very extraordinary, as if it were destitute of proof: on the contrary, we believe it on proofs clear, cogent and decisive. When, therefore, Jesus Christ saith: Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed, he means not to say, that it is blessed to believe things destitute of evidence; he speaks only of things which have not the evidence of object, but which have that of testimony.
Let us pursue this thought a little farther. The idea which we have suggested of obscure faith, distinguishes it from three kinds of conviction, which are but too frequently confounded with it; the faith
extorted by tyranny; the faith generated in the brain of the enthusiast; and the faith of the superstitious.
(1) The faith of which we speak, must be carefully distinguished from the faith which is extorted by tyranny. We do not here understand that which violence would attempt to produce by the terror of punishment. Never did racks, gibbets and stakes produce, in the soul, any thing like conviction in farour of a religion which pretended to establish itself by arguments so odious and detestable. But there is a tyranny of a different kind, which has produced believers not a few. By dint of attesting fictions, men have forced them into credit; by dint of insolent pretensions to infallibility, the simple have sometimes been prevailed upon to admit it; and the simple generally constitute the bulk of mankind.
We denominate that the faith extorted by tyranny, which is yielded to the insolent decisions of a doctor, who gives himself out as infallible, without proving it; or to fabulous legends, unsupported by any respectable testimony. How, under the pretext that I am bound to believe facts, which I may never have seen with my own eyes, am I laid under an obligation to swallow every thing that a legendary is pleased to tell me? How, under the pretext that I ain bound to believe truths which are above the reach of my reason, am I laid under an obligation to believe every thing proposed to me by a man, who may be practising upon my credulity ? And upon my refusing to believe on such a foundation, shall I be taxed with being incredulous like Thomas, and with saying as he did, “ 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 ?"
If you would have me believe the facts which you propose, produce me the proofs which support them, if not as complete as those which assure me of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, at least such as are somewhat of a similar nature; and if you wish I should consider you as infallible, like the apostles, produce me proof of your infallibility, equivalent to those which the apostles produced of their's. But if on examining such pretended facts, I discover that they are fictions merely; if on examining the foundation upon which your infallibility rests, I find that the men who gave themselves out for infallible, while thèy lay claim to the infallibility of the apostles, are undermining the doctrine of the apostles, I shall not reckon myself obliged to pay the slightest deference to their decision. The faith which these decisions attempt to produce, will be faith extorted by tyranny, and which will have no relation whatever to that faith which Jesus Christ expects from his disciples, and which is, in truth, obscure, but, nevertheless, well founded; which is destitute, indeed, of the evidence of object, but which is ever accompanied with the evidence of testimony.
(2) In the second place, the faith, of which we are treating, must be distinguished from that of the enthusiast; I mean that of certain Christians, who found the reasons which induce thein to believe, en