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COURSE OF SERMONS.
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
EVIDENCE SUFFICIENT. LUKE xvi. 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.
[Text taken from the Gospel for the Day.] Who would not think, that the coming of one from the dead would effectually convince an unbeliever? And yet this evidence, our Saviour tells us, would have no effect upon him : the reason of which judgement may appear from the three following considerations :
First : Let us consider, whether the evidence upon 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 judgement; 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.
Our Saviour's resurrection was something more than merely the apparition of a dead man: he foretold the time and cir
cumstances of his resurrection, and put the proof of his mission and doctrine upon the performance of this great wonder : 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 : 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 : 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, warning was given to expect it, which of itself is a great evidence of sincere dealing; as men do not use to give public notice of the cheats they intend to play. And, after his resurrection, his stay upon 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 life-time, and consequently had all the necessary qualifications to judge rightly concerning what they heard or saw ; had it not been for this, their evidence in this case would not have been equal to the weight of those truths it is to support. But, perhaps, you think you might find that conviction in seeing one come from the dead yourself, which you cannot find in the reports even of the Apostles, who have seen one.
Let us then consider, whether he who believes upon the
credit of a private apparition to himself, believes upon a surer evidence, than he who receives the gospel account upon 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 judgement 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 upon 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 upon 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 upon yourself, at a time when you are hardly master of your senses.
But further; 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? The same reasons, that move you to reject the authority of Christ and his Apostles, may move you to reject the authority of your new acquaintance from the dead : which will appear by considering,
Secondly: That the objections which unbelievers urge against the authority of revelation, will lie stronger against the authority of one coming from the dead. For, first, as to the nature of this sort of evidence, if it be any evidence at
all, it is a revelation. And therefore whatever has been said against the authority of revelation will be applicable to this kind of it; and, consequently, those who, upon the foot of natural religion, stand out against the doctrine of the Gospel, would much more stand out against the authority of one coming from the dead.
But further; let us suppose a man free from all these prejudices, and then see what we can make of this evidence. If a dead man should come to you, you must suppose either that his errand to you is the effect of his own private affection for you, or that he comes by commission and authority from God. As to the first case, you have but the word of a man for all you hear: and how will you prove, that a dead man is incapable of practising a cheat upon you ? Or, allowing the appearance to be real, and the design honest, do you think every dead man knows the counsels of God, and his will with respect to his creatures here on earth? If you do not think this, what use will you make of this kind of revelation ? Should he tell you, that the Christian faith is the true faith, you would have much less reason to believe him, than now you have to believe Christ and his Apostles. For, suppose that a man from the dead should presume to teach you a new religion, to instruct you in new rites and ceremonies, to institute new sacrifices and oblations; would you not require better evidence of his knowing the will of God, than merely seeing him come from the dead? And yet this is the case : should an unbeliever receive the Gospel upon such evidence, he receives a new religion ;-for to an unbeliever it is new; and the whole weight of his faith must rest upon the credit and authority of this man from the dead; and it would be as reasonable for an unbeliever to receive a perfectly new doctrine upon this authority, as to receive an old one, which he before disbelieved.-But, on the other side, should you suppose this man to come by the particular order and appointment of God, you must then be prepared to answer such objections, as you are now ready to make against the mission and authority of Christ and his Apostles. First then we ask, how this commission appears? If you say, because he comes from the dead, we cannot rest here; because it is not self-evident, that all who come from the dead, are inspired. And yet farther than this, you cannot go; for it is not supposed that