<< DISCOURSE III: The Grand Miracle. The Resurrection >>
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.–-JOHN xx. 19.
THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED, and hath appeared to Simon. Such were the words said by the apostles to each other, when announcing that the Savior was risen.
The great subject that forms the theme for our contemplation today, is the resurrection of our Divine Master. We have just recently been considering the reality, and the spiritual signification of the Lord’s death. We have sought to obtain some conception of the infinite love that brought the Almighty One into open contact with fallen human nature. And, while we are endeavoring to perceive the Divine mercy of the Lord, in coming down to us, and while we are contemplating the Divine Love, expressed in these glorious words–He saved others; Himself he cannot save,–and who is there that does not perceive that such is the nature of all true love,–of all spiritual–and much more of all Divine affection, we may have the deepest conviction that however low such love may descend to suffer, it will always re-appear in glorious resurrection.
We are now led to consider our Lord’s resurrection, the announcement of the full glorification of his Humanity. This result was infinitely important in itself, and is most attractive in its lessons for us. The death and resurrection of the Lord teach that when the Humanity of the Savior was allowed to come into contact with the powers of darkness, for the sake of exhibiting the unutterable depth of the Divine Love, He conquered by suffering; conquered by bearing and purifying the nature He assumed, and, not by saving Himself; being content to be maltreated, even to the lest, for mans salvation.
We must ever bear in mind, that there was a Divinity in the Humanity; a Divinity even in His suffering; this was that Divine condescension, that Divine contentedness–to bear and suffer what all hell could inflict. He was glorious even in bearing this for us. There was a Divinity in this. No similar suffering, no similar sorrow, was ever displayed. This depth of sorrow and of love, can only be found in God manifest in the flesh. When all hell was arrayed against Him, and assailing Him with the bitterest violence, He bore it for the sake of others–for the sake of the vilest-the rebellious, who were the instruments of the miseries that He experienced. He bore all these outrages for their sakes. Even at this time the Divinity of His Humanity was manifested. Himself he could not save. But although it seemed that He was deserted and without help, His Heavenly Father cared for Him; Infinite Love saved Him. When all were finite love and finite life had expired, infinite love and life took its place. This was seen in symbol at the temple, when the veil was rent in twain, the whole was then laid open. So in the temple of the Lord’s body, part was rent, but the Divine love and wisdom descended in all their fullness; filling the temple of His Body. He had not saved himself, but the Infinite Father had saved Him. He had not glorified Himself, but God glorified Him in and for Himself. He then prepared that triumph of His Divine life, His glorious resurrection. He rises, both God and man complete.
All His Humanity made Divine; all His Godhead made Human. In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. It was this Divine Person then, who manifested Himself so that we might here no doubt that all these glorious facts were accomplished. He rose because there was nothing dead about Him; nothing that could be held by death. All the principles of Humanity were there, made perfect. This was the completion of the great work. Today, and tomorrow, I shall do cures, and cast out devils. The third day He was perfected. (Luke xiii. 32.)
It had been intimated from the first, during the Lord’s life in the world that He should die and rise again; but by reason of the extraordinary nature of such events, the disciples were not prepared for them when they came, although they had been from time to time informed, That the Lord would go to Jerusalem, and be crucified and die, and rise again on the third day. These were facts they could not grasp. Even after the Lord had been crucified, His followers still could not fully comprehend the truth; not fully grasp the fact, that He would rise again. It is said in the ninth verse of this chapter, For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the deed. Not that they had not been told it, but they could not realize it to themselves. It was a matter that they had not, fully brought home to their faith, and therefore it is said, They knew not what the rising of the dead might be. But they were to know, in order that they might know the Lord.
The Lord revealed Himself first to Mary–she who had fondly watched at the foot of the cross during the sad gloom of the crucifixion. He was gone, and she exclaimed, They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him. The angels had spoken to Simon and John; but His first manifestation was to Mary. Afterwards, He appeared to the two disciples going to Emmaus; subsequently, to the ten, as we have read in our text. They were sitting sorrowfully, thinking of what had occurred; their hearts were heavy with grief, and they thought that the death of the Lord was but the prelude to their own; the doors were shut for fear of the Jews.
They had heard of the vision of angels, but were yet uncertain of the wondrous truth. The word which is here rendered shut, is expressed in the original by a word which signifies barred; and it is of some interest to remember, that the doors were barred where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews. They knew little yet of the import of this great resurrection. They yet shrunk from fear, and felt that the strictest guard was necessary. Some interpreters have applied themselves to this account of the Lord’s appearance, and supposed that, when He manifested Himself, He was still subject to the laws of time and sense; and that, therefore, the doors would be a very serious hindrance to His progress. They suppose, therefore, He suddenly opened the doors. They can account for his entrance, if it were really so performed. They can imagine they see enough power in, the Lord to force the doors, but they can scarcely conceive how he could have entered, if the doors were shut. This fact, nevertheless, the Gospel confirms, not only by the declaration here, the doors were shut, but also by the repetition of it, in the twenty-sixth verse. We are there informed: Then came Jesus, THE DOORS BEING SHUT, said stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Both by this fact, and by the other intimations of His appearance, as continually given in the Gospel, it is intended to teach us, first, that the Lord’s Humanity was now no longer what it was. It was, superior to matter, to time, and to space. He came in and out, the doors being shut. He appeared where He would; He was, invisible merely by the closing of the spiritual eyes of those about him. He was glorified. The Divine Love had come down to men in Him, so that He was glorified in all respects. We may say, then, the doors were shut–not opened, either suddenly or slowly. He was now above all material laws. That Jesus would be glorified, is declared from time to time in the Gospel. (John vii. 39; xii. 27, 28; Luke xii. 50.) It was a fact provided for in the Incarnation.
As we have said, His Humanity was a Divine Humanity always. He was a Divine child: the wise men worshiped Him. When the Father put forth the Son the First-begotten–it was said, Let all the angels of God worship Him. (Heb. i. 6.)
He was a Divine youth in the temple. We are only imperfect imitations of humanity. The Lord alone is the true Divine man–the more truly Human, the more truly Divine.
In every man, there is a foundation laid by the Lord, that he may be regenerated. We are fallen, but the Lord has left unto us a very small remnant, lest we should be as Sodom, even as Gomorrah. (Isa. i. 9.) Divine Mercy implants in every child the germs of angelic life, and the commencement of the kingdom of God. This heaven in embryo, this germ of every angelic excellence, every human being bears within him. It is the Creators stamp and warrant for immortal happiness. It is not the will of our Father, who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. (Matt. xviii. 14.) Of such is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. xix. 14.) These first germs of salvation appear in childhoods embraces–are felt in childhoods kiss; they are the holy seeds which make salvation possible. The Lord comes to His own in man. So long as there is anything good from Him still remaining, any Israelites in our Egypt, any righteous men in our Sodom, so long destruction tarries. Only when the last impulses of conscience are extinguished, the last embryos, of perishing humanity die within us, is all hope of salvation over. The Savior still comes, but there is none to answer.
Just as the Lord provides for mans regeneration in his birth, so He provided for His own Humanity’s glorification in its birth. That Holy Thing that shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God; (Luke i. 35.)
There was from the first, in the Lord’s Humanity, the Son of God, as well as the son of Mary. The Word was made flesh in Him. There was the Divine in Him as well as the Human, in every part of His nature. The Lord laid on Him, (as it is said in the fifty-third of Isaiah), the iniquities of us all: or as it might be better rendered, Jehovah met in Him the iniquities of us all. Jehovah was there, our nature was there, our frailties were there. While there were all the germs in Him of humanity, there were also all the germs of Divine Humanity, in Him at the commencement of His human life.
These were put forth more and more during the Saviors whole life in the world. It is said, as you find in Luke xiii. 33, Behold I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. This glorious work of perfecting His human nature, described by the apostle (Heb. ii. 10; v. 9) was going on continually. Hence, too, it is described in the Gospel according to John, in the thirteenth chapter and thirty-first and thirty-second verses, Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him; Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him. In this way, there was an inward Divine essence in the Humanity. The Father was in the Son everywhere, like love in a purpose, like a tone in a word, like life in every faculty. While this work of glorification was incomplete the Redeeming Spirit was straitened (Luke xiii 50), but when the glorification was completed in the Divine Humanity, the Father was everywhere in the Son, and the Son embosomed in and surrounded by the Father (John xiv. 10). Then was the Resurrection; then the glorified Savior was manifested in His glorious Humanity. Then the Lord appeared, after overcoming death and hell, triumphing over all evil, and free from all matter, He appeared among His disciples as the center of all happiness, saying, Peace be unto you.
This was the grandest fact in the worlds history. It was the fact of facts. It was the turning point in the progress of humanity. It was the degradation of the universe arrested: a Divine life inserted into the worlds death. It was a new core, from which could spring a world renewed and regenerated; an endless addition to heaven.
In the discourse on the Miracles, we drew attention to the fact, evident from the records of all antiquity, that at the time of the Lord’s incarnation, the world was in the last stage of a downward course, and trembling on the brink of Diabolism. Belief in religion as a Divine communication, and a Divine law, had died out. The period of the French Revolution in our own time, presents perhaps the nearest parallel.
Insincerity, hypocrisy, and a refined but all-polluting corruption, reigned in the higher circles of society, and a coarse universal brutality in the lower. We know what a dread night was ushered in during the terrible time dwelt upon in the Essay of Mr. Pattison, during the degeneracy from 1688 to 1750. The eighteenth century was a thorough heartless swindle upon mankind; a vile, a brutal, a bankrupt century, as Carlyle names it. The chief churchmen were infidel, the kings were infidel all over Europe, with perhaps one or two exceptions. The Archbishop of Paris, who organized the procession of asses in priests surplices, and desecrated in public the sacred elements of the Sacrament, was but the outward visible sign of the universal infidelity where religion ought to have reigned. The king, Louis Quinze, with his harem in the Parc-aux-Cerfs, was but an exhibition a, little more striking than usual of the contempt in which earths rulers lived of every law of purity and right, human and Divine. The lamp of religion was dying down to the dregs; the light flickered m the socket. It was a period, says Mr. Pattison, of decay of religion, licentiousness of morals, public corruption, profaneness of language; a day of rebuke and blasphemy. Even those who look with suspicion on the contemporary complaints from the Jacobite clergy, of decay of religion, will not hesitate to say that it was an age destitute of depth or earnestness; an age whose poetry was without romance, whose philosophy was without insight, and whose public men were without character; an age of light (sin?) without love, whose very merits were of the earth, earthy. In this estimate the followers of Mill and Carlyle will agree with those of Newman. (p. 254.) This period, entailed that terrible scourge, the French Revolution, with its consequent wars. The storm was needed to clear away the moral lurid glooms that tainted the whole atmosphere in which mens spirits breathed. This was, to a great extent, a repetition of the epoch of the Saviors advent. In the pages of Tacitus, of Cicero, of Sallust, and of Juvenal, the awful picture of a degenerate world is drawn in terms so dark, and with details so revolting, that one sees the counterpart in the fullest extent of the Apostle Paul’s description, which was indeed addressed to the Romans, the then universal rulers.
Even as they did not like to God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which were not convenient; being filled with unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.
The pages of ancient history only too faithfully verify the picture of man thus drawn by the pen of the apostle. The Sadduceeism of infidelity, the Phariseeism of hypocrisy and the gross corruption of sensuality claimed the entire allegiance not of the Jews only, but. under one form or another, of all mankind. The whole world lieth in wickedness, said St. John, and the terrible pages of Tacitus manifest the fact that this was as true of the Roman world as of the Jewish. The immense nations of the East we know were no exceptions. The dark places of the earth were full of cruelty, Abominations the most loathsome were idolized. The tyrants and slaves who harassed each other in ceaseless struggles, tortures, and rebellions, presented on earth a representation of the infernal regions, but a few shades lighter, than the grim nations of the dead themselves. There were none righteous, no, not one.
How then, could salvation come to such a world? How could health be poured into the veins of this diseased humanity? How could Lazarus live again, unless One all-powerful to give life to the dead should visit and raise him?
The writers of the Essays seem to have but little sympathy with the supernatural; and some of them to imply that the records of demoniacal possessions in the Now Testament, and the personality of evil spirits, and even the nature of angels ass subjects of a questionable character. (p. 177.) Of course, all subjects are fairly matters of scrupulous inquiry. We have no sympathy with that weakness of mind which esteems any subject too sacred for inquiry.
Things too sacred for inquiry are often only too weak to bear it. But, me are satisfied, that honest and faithful inquiry and reflection will verify the creed of all ages and of all countries, the creed of the Sacred Scriptures, that me are in association with the supernatural, as well as with the natural, every moment. There are worlds visible and invisible.
Millions of spirits walk the earth unseen.—MILTON.
The frank and genial lovers of all truth call it natural or supernatural, from Socrates to Channing; confess cheerfully their conviction that there is a ladder of being, graduating between ourselves and heaven, on which the angels of God ascend and descend in communion with the good; there are stages of connection too by which the malignant doers of past sin on earth, who have gone into the inner world, still influence the groveling and the wicked; affecting them with suggestions, from bad to worse, and then to worst.
The unceasing spring of ever-deepening suggestions to the soul prove this. The occurrences of supernatural facts, recorded and unrecorded in almost every family throughout the whole of human existence and history–and not less, certainly, in the present age than any other–prove this. The readiness with which we accept, and are affected by, information which shows that men live and act after death proves this. The sceptic feels a shudder creep over him even while he denies. The great Scripture doctrine of the ministry of angels, and its counterpart, of the agency of deceased wicked men, naturally explain the contrary influences that affect us all constantly, as well as throw light on the necessity of Redemption, and unveil the unseen causes of the debasement of mankind, down to the Redeemers time. There was a mental association between evil men on earth, and evil men who heel left the earth, ever increasing in orient and malignity, as each succeeding generation added increasing numbers to the vile hordes of the evil.
The fallen condition of the ancient world before the coming of our Lord, is fully admitted by the Essayists. The moral degradation of Greece and Rome are too well known to be questioned.
Fleshly lusts not only widespread, but defiled and worshiped, gave a hideous pre-eminence to vice, which proclaimed the utter desecration of the conscience. The vile prostrations before Bacchus and Venus in the Greek and Roman world, and the loathsome abominations of the religions of India, Tartary, and China, all alike give an appalling illustration of the words of the Gospel They sat in the region and shadow of death. Mankind were groping for the wall like the blind, they groped as if they had no eyes; they stumbled at noon-day as in the: night; they were in desolate places as dead. They looked for judgment but there was none; for salvation, but it was far from them. Isaiah lix. 10,11. One only hope the Scriptures constantly hold forth, and all the religions of mankind embody–that God would visit the world, and redeem it. The Avatars of Hindooism, the Boods of Boodhism, the advents of the gods in Grecian Mythology, all embody this one hope, given; in the earliest Scriptures, that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpents head. This one hope, held up persistently throughout the whole line of prophets, gathering fullness and clearness with each successive utterance, was, that in the Savior, Jehovah would become a man. (Isa. xl. 3, 10; ch. xliii. 11; ch. xlv 115, 21, 22; Hosea xiii. 4, 14; Zech. xiv. 9.) God would be manifest in the flesh, Godhead in Manhood. This hope, the New Testament takes up, and assumes to have been fulfilled in the Lord Jesus. It is God becoming a central Divine Man and thence radiating redemption into the world. It is the Divine descending to save the human, the human alienated, from the Divine, being desecrated, polluted and lost, but capable of salvation by its adorable Parent,– that Parent who was from eternity, Infinite. Love and Wisdom, the very essence of all that is human. The whole life of the Savior is the life of the Divine in the Human. Nothing but Divinity could have originated such a life; nothing but reality could have suggested it.
The problem was, how the world could be saved. War had wasted provinces, kingdoms, continents. It could harass and destroy, change one tyrant for another, but it could not save. Philosophy had a pompous promise for man.
It prosed, and explained, and reasoned, and expounded, and divided, and disputed, and contradicted itself in learned attempts at exploring the origin of things, and ended in laughing at its own absurdities. In nothing it began, and in nothing it ended. The old falsified religions were worn out. Their priests could not seriously perform their idle service. All was hopeless, helpless. How was the world to be saved? The answer of the prophet is, Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The Everlasting Father, and The Prince of Peace. (Isa. ix. 6.)
We can see now, that salvation for the world, and for each individual, can only come from the supremacy of pure love. But how could this be seen two thousand years ago, in the worlds murkiest hour, but; by Supreme Love manifesting itself, and how could Supreme Love manifest itself but as a man, a man of sorrows in the transgressions of the world, suffering yet saving, dying yet rising again. No man has ever saved himself. It is the truth that has come to him individually that has saved him. No nation has ever saved itself, the truth that has been brought to it has saved it. So the world could not save itself, the Truth in Person, the Word made flesh, coming to it alone could save it.
This descent of Divine Life in the Son from the Father to vivify the morally-dead world is the very burden of the New Testament, the very soul and proclamation of the Old Testament, and certainly what reason hails as the only mode of saving a lost world. He who ignores God in Christ, the Divinity of the Father in the Son, ignores, as it appears to us, the greatest fact in the worlds history, the fact which accounts for all its present progress, and gives warrant for all the glory that shall follow. There were wonders of love, and wonders of power, as well as of wisdom, in the Son from the Father. No man knew the Son but the Father. (Matt. xi. 27.) He was God hiding Himself to approach man (Isa. xlv. 15), but revealing Himself to save him. And He has saved man, will save, and can save man to the uttermost.
With the Divine Man, whom the New Testament places in the foreground, all the wonders it relates are in harmony. Each fact, each occurrence is human, but Divinely human. He has compassion upon the multitudes and then creates them bread. He sympathizes and even weeps with Mary and Martha, and then raises their brother from the dead. He suffers, bearing with Divine dignity, contumely, contempt, insolence, blows, crucifixion, and death, still breathing compassion to others, Divine Love towards his destroyers to the last, and then He raised His human, from the deed. No man taketh my life from me, I lay it down of myself I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John x. 18.) His death was human, in which the Divine tenderness and love was manifested, in suffering. His resurrection was the Divine love now triumphant, now glorious, malting the human form the very fullness of the Godhead bodily. (Coll. n. 9.)
Here, then, was a life Divine, a love triumphant, a doctrine, and an evidence to proclaim to the world, of a kind that could save, of a power that would save.
Without the resurrection as a crown to the life, the apostles would have had a defeat to preach, not a triumph: that would never have raised the world.
Let us contemplate the twelve active apostles going forth, including Paul, who seems to have been actually chosen personally, by the Savior, instead of Judas. They preach Jesus, and the resurrection. Their story if true. This, Peter proclaimed, and the rest confirmed, at Jerusalem, where the event happened. This Jesus, he said, hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. (Acts ii. 32.) This fact, instead of being disproved on the spot, was so cogent, that combined with the inward convictions pressing upon men from the Spirit of the Lord, three thousand were converted in one day. (verse 41.)
Peter and John went into the Temple, and after raising the lame man in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, reproaches the people around with having killed the Prince of life, whom GOD HAD RAISED UP, WHEREOF WE ARE WITNESSES. (Acts iii. 15.)
The Sadducees came round and joined with the priests, and the captain of the temple, being grieved that they taught the people in Jesus (scanner unable to insert phrase) the resurrection of the dead (Acts iv. 2.) Now the two apostles were seized, and cast into prison. After being all night confined, did they quail the next morning and flinch from their testimony from fear, or from guilt? Not in the least. They appealed to the fact just recently performed in the name of Jesus, of the good deed done to the impotent man and said, Be it known unto you that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God hath RAISED FROM THE DEAD, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole. Now, when they the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus: (Acts iv. 10, 13.)
They were threatened, they were commanded, not to speak at all, nor to teach in the name of Jesus, but in vain. In the court, and amid the crowd of hearers, at their own home, they declared boldly they were witnesses of the Saviors resurrection. With great power gave the apostles witness of the RESURRECTION of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. (verse 33.)
The Sadducees were filled with indignation at a doctrine and a fact which entirely overthrew their teachings; and they, together with the high-priest, who at that time was also a Sadducee, opposed with all their might. But, instead of producing the body of the Lord Jesus, or otherwise convicting the apostles of fraud, they determined to try the prison, They laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. (Acts v. 18.) This time, however, by some means, the apostles were set free; the sacred history says, the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. And early in the morning there certainly the apostles were, not abashed or overcome with dread, but boldly declaring we ought to obey God rather than man. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel and the forgiveness of sins.
And WE ARE HIS WITNESSES OF THESE THINGS, and so is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him.
The high-priest, and the rulers, and the council, and all the senate of the children of Israel had sent the apostles to prison, and now were astonished at finding them free, and not only free, but in the temple, declaring the self-same things as before, Jesus has risen, and we are His witnesses. The council were thereto disprove it if they could. They were on the spot where the alleged resurrection had taken place, hardly three months before. They had every motive to exterminate the new religion. They were bearded in their very temple, by men who declared nothing at second-hand, but said WE ARE THE WITNESSES. Under these circumstances can any one conceive that if the fact of the Lord’s resurrection could have been successfully disproved, it would not have been done. But all that was done is recorded. When they had called the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
Now, how can we reconcile these circumstances with anything but the truth of the alleged RESURRECTION, or at least with the belief of it by the apostles, and the inability to disprove it on the part of the Jewish authorities. Could the apostles have acted as they did unless they believed the facts of the Lord’s life, death, and resurrection. They were timid in the hour of danger; they forsook their master and fled; they were disheartened when they saw Him die. But now they are bold, and face anything, because they say they have seen Him again and again; they are witnesses of His resurrection. They were formerly divided and inclined to dispute; now they are united and enthusiastic. They suffer gladly, they preach boldly, and multitudes believe. And all this in Jerusalem itself, within three months of the death of the Savior.
Now what must we, what can me, believe of these things if me do not accept them as grounded on rigid truth.
No people were so thoroughly in the letter of things, so thoroughly matter of fact, as the Jews. They refined, and particularized, but all on literal trifles, losing the spirit of a precept, by a minute attention to literal applications; yet, among this people, and in their very temple, a new religion appeared, preached by Jews, asserting a great fact, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the PREACHERS AS WITNESSES ready to testify against all opposition, and under all affliction, even unto death, the resurrection and triumph of Him who had died. This was indeed essential to the spread of the religion. Without this, it was a failure, and could make no progress. It must have been crushed in its bud, and, with it, all the past progress which has grown out of the Christian religion, the progress of 300 millions in the present age, and an ever increasing number. It was needful then that this central fact should be placed before the world in the most unexceptionable manner, and so IT WAS. Here were the original witnesses testifying boldly and freely, having themselves embraced new and higher truths against their national and religious prejudices, against their Jewish nature, proclaiming the brotherhood of all mankind, flowing from the Lord Jesus: these truths consequent upon facts of which they had been the living observers, and especially of the fact of the resurrection, testifying to their countrymen on the spot, immediately after the event testifying in the temple, in the prison–testifying before the council–testifying when beaten–testifying when they saw Stephen put to death, and when threatened with death themselves-testifying and glorying in their testimony, notwithstanding the loss and danger, the charge of apostasy, the hatred, the opprobrium and the martyrdom to which they daily exposed themselves, and this not for a speculative opinion, but for the declaration of a palpable fact, Jesus and His resurrection, which to them, if it were not true, must have been a palpable falsehood. Can any explanation be given that reason can receive, except this, that the statement was true; that the effect thus manifest had an adequate cause?
They had not had a slight opportunity of observation. It was no single vision they had seen, a vision explicable by the supposition of a momentary illusion, caused by a vivid imagination. They had not readily believed the wondrous fact. They were astonished, and hesitated, even about what they saw and heard. The Lord had appeared to them, again and again. On the resurrection morning, He was seen first by the women, especially by Mary Magdalene. They had come with spices to manifest their feelings towards Him they loved, by offering them at his venerated sepulcher, and if possible to anoint Him. On the first sight of the stone disturbed, they were alarmed, but were permitted to see an angel, who addressed them, took them into the sepulcher, and told them that their Master and Savior was risen. These occurrences were so surprising that they could scarcely realize or believe them. They went, however, and told the apostles; and two of these, Peter and John, hasted to the sepulcher. Within, they saw two angels. They found what the women had said so far true that the body of the Lord could not be found, only the clothes in which it had been wrapped. They wondered and pondered, yet believed not. Two disciples who had gone to Emmaus, returned, and declared they had seen and conversed with the Lord. Though now in another form, not material, as He had been, only known when those inward eyes were open, which ordinarily were closed, the eyes of the spiritual body, yet they had fully seen Him, and were sure of His resurrection.
That same day, he appeared to the: apostles called the eleven, although Thomas was absent. The doors were shut (barred), (scanner unable to insert phrase) when the Savior appeared amongst them. But, from their sight, and His words, they had no doubt of His presence. They rejoiced in this new and definite manifestation, and they announced to Thomas the wondrous circumstance we have seen the Lord.
Thomas seems to have been the representative of the rationalists of that time, a well-disposed man, but not too ready to believe, asking for complete external demonstration.
He declared he would not believe unless he should see and touch the print of the nails, and thrust his hand into the sacred side of his risen Master; a rude proof certainly, but suggested evidently by honest doubt. In eight days the Savior again appeared, again the doors being shut (barred), the whole of the faithful apostles being present, including Thomas. Full proof was given of the actual presence of the Divine Redeemer, even to the satisfaction of Thomas, who, when thus convinced, hailed the Savior with the exclamation, My Lord and my God. A third time, the Lord appeared to the disciples collectively, when they were fishing (John xxi. 4.) Another time he appeared to 500, according to the Apostle Paul, the greater part of whom were still living when the apostle wrote (1 Cor. xv. 6), and lastly, the eleven apostles, with many others, saw His ascension. (Acts i. 9.)
These, and probably many unrecorded appearances (John xxi. 25, Acts i. 3) formed the infallible proofs upon which the apostles underwent so decided a change that, from being timid and fearful doubters themselves, they became the undoubting and enthusiastic witnesses of the truth, and the proclaimers of their Masters kingdom. They hesitated no more. In labors, in difficulties, in stripes, and in death, they were faithful to their mission; they were witnesses of the resurrection. They were successful witnesses also. Their earnestness, their courage, their manifest truthfulness, their daring, their living zeal, their self-forgetfulness for the truth, defying danger explicable on no other principle than their having truth to declare; and this, not respecting opinions only, but respecting facts, and in favor of a religion of purity, sincerity, and goodness. These, to say nothing here of their miraculous powers, were the invincible reasons that converted thousands, and established the New Church of the Savior. These are the evident and the alleged causes, and they are perfectly sufficient to account for the continued and undoubted triumph of the Church, the great fact that has continued from the first century to the present day.
If we do not admit this solution, so natural, so complete, and so fully testified by all documents from the first century onwards, what must we believe?
Can we suppose that a number of men combined together, to give up the religion of their country, a traditional religion, revered as the very gift of the Almighty, sanctioned by the most wonderful miracles, inwoven into the national life of the most tenacious people in the world, confirmed by many centuries of time, and long venerated customs, hallowed by religious services daily presented, and connected with. imposing structures, and all that individuals and nations hold sacred; and that these men mode this change in their faith land life in favor of a religion of truth and goodness, because of facts which they averred they had witnessed, and persevered in their declarations through loss, imprisonment, long years of toil and danger, and ultimately through death itself, and yet all their pretended facts were only fabrications? Are we to believe this? Really unbelief is fearfully credulous.
Or, must we suppose that about the time of Nero, some documents,* twenty-seven in number, some appearing in one part of the Roman dominions and some in another, were forged by persons unknown, alleging the most extraordinary things, as having taken place within the life-time of many persons appealed to and alluded to, and that these documents were not only accepted without question, but that thousands of people changed their most cherished convictions of religion and duty, and on such baseless grounds began a dispensation which has changed the face of the world and given rise to a progress undoubtedly immensely superior to the old world it changed, and with undoubted signs of ever-growing nearness to complete victory over sin, fraud and misery, on earth, as well as peopling the higher abodes of our Heavenly Father.
Can this be a rational and philosophical account of the issue of effects from adequate causes? With facts, with undoubted truths, it is difficult enough to induce men to change their convictions, and still more their habits, to any great and lasting extent; but to imagine that preachers have changed their own faith and braved difficult labors for years, and painful deaths, to prepare men for a better world, on what they must have known were merely forged papers, and have succeeded is triumphing over opposing multitudes, rulers and ruled, and, undetected, accomplishing their fraudulent impositions,–this is really so outrageous a supposition that it is wholly untenable.
The books of the New Testament were separate before the Council of Nice, A. D. 324, and should be regarded as a collection of separate testimonies. It is occasionally asked. by inquirers if there are no historical works of the times of the New Testament which refer to the events connected with the rise of Christianity. The short incidental notices in Pliny, Suetcnius, and Juvenal, heathen writers of the time, may be referred to, but the true reply is, that the New Testament itself is a collection of documents, originally separate, all being parts directly illustrating each other, and containing the separate direct histories, and letters relating to the great event, of the birth of the new religion.
But, we must believe that the apostles acted the unaccountable part we have suggested, or that there were no apostles, and multitudes of men began to change their religion from a belief in forged unauthenticated documents, both of which propositions seem really incredible; or, lastly, accept the facts of Christianity, the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, as witnessed by His apostles, and followed by the existence of the Church. The Church began to exist at the epoch named, it did work its way and triumphed. Let those who will not accept as truth, the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ as offered in the New Testament itself, assign some other, equally sufficient and satisfactory.
There is however another witness of the resurrection, the apostle Paul. And last of all, He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. (1 Cor. xv. 8.)
This apostle, formerly a zealous persecutor, well-intentioned, learned, but prejudiced, while hunting the disciples of the Lord with cruel fervor, was suddenly arrested in his course; he fell to the earth, trembling and astonished; at length he arose, unable to see earthly objects, but declaring he had seen and heard the Lord Jesus. For three days, he was without sight, but at the end of that time, he was visited by a Christian, one Ananias, fearful of him of whom he had heard as a determined waster of the Churches, but commanded as he said, by the Lord to visit tide persecutor now humbled. He did so; as it were scales fell from the penitents eyes at the prayer of Ananias, and he went forth changed in his life and purposes, dedicating both, now, to that Jesus whom he before opposed.
This man continued faithful through life to his new convictions; in stripes above measure, in prisons frequent, in deaths oft, of the Jews receiving five times forty stripes save one, twice beaten with rods, once stoned, thrice suffered shipwreck, in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethen,* in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. (2 Cor. xi, 23, 27.) The changed course, and the fearful tribulations undergone by the apostle are facts undisputed, the reason he gave for this transformation was always the same I have seen the Lord Jesus and he has commanded me to preach this Gospel. This he declared at Damascus, this at Jerusalem. To the Jews, and to the Greeks, to the circumcised, and the uncircumcised, he gave the same testimony. Before King Agrippa, before the high-priest, before the Roman Governors Felix and Festus, he had the one thing to Preach, the resurrection of the dead, as manifested in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus whom he had seen. This he declared in all his epistles, and this he desired to declare in the presence of Caesar. Here, surely is no mean witness of the resurrection. We may suppose him an enthusiast, and a visionary, if we are quite certain we have solid proofs, that visions are not realities to the inner sight, but the certainly was not insincere, and when he was the companion of the other apostles, he sometimes gravely differed from them (Acts xxi. 21; Gal. ii. 9, 13); and, if they had been wanting in truthfulness h, would have been sure to proclaim it. He had a groundwork for his knowledge of the Gospel, and his authority to preach distinct from theirs; he had seen the Lord himself, and bed revelations direct from Him.
The circumstance of the Apostle Paul, always acting and suffering with the other apostles, proves that they were faithful men in ms estimation, and if they did not live a life of pain, and die a death of martyrdom to induce their fellow men to become good, by believing a lie, then the facts of which they witnessed must be true, and especially the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Indeed, it may be truly said that no single fact has had testimony so efficient in evidence, as this fact of the resurrection. The sealed tomb, the terrified keepers, the silent and baffled priests; the disheartened, doubting, and then exulting apostles; Thomas objecting, and then adoring; the whole sealing their testimony by their sorrows and their blood; the Church winning its may against all opposition, and ever widening and deepening its influence under the providence of the Most High, as servants of Him whose name was exalted above every name (Phil. ii. 9), all this forms an accumulation of testimony invincible to the seeker after truth, strong enough to afford a sufficient means of bringing again to a benighted world life and immortality to light.
There were false brethren then, and had there been any collusion and imposition their difference and divisions must have brought it out.
The resurrection of the Lord was not the resurrection of a spirit, it was the resurrection of a body, the body of God-man, no doubt, but still the resurrection of a body. He said A spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. (Luke xxiv. 39.)
In this, our Lord is First and Last, as well as in all other things. For mediation, between His hidden Deity which no man hath seen, or can see. (John i. 18; 1 Tim. vi. 16.) His Humanity, even to the very body, though glorified, is still needed. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. (Col. ii. 9.) There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, (1 Tim. ii. 5.) To bring His Love and Wisdom in power upon earth, to redeem mankind, He assumed a Humanity, even to the body. Son of God and Son of man, that He might seek and save that which was lost. To be a perpetual Redeemer, he glorified and raised the body, that the Holy Spirit might flow through it. (John vii. 39; xx. 22.) In that glorified humanity, all power is His, in heaven and on earth (Matt. xxviii. 18); the Government is on His shoulder. He is the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.
The angelic host now adore God in His Divine Humanity. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. (Rev. v. 12.)
Mr. Wilson has well said, that, according to St. Paul, our Lord’s resurrection was a prerogative resurrection. (p. 163). Every man in his own order. [Scanner unable to insert phrase]. The prerogative of the Savior is to govern both worlds, those of mind and of matter. He has, therefore, a body to communicate with, and protect the earth, and will thus reign Lord and King for ever and ever. (Rev. xi. 15.)
We see with pleasure that Mr. Wilson draws clearly the distinction made by the apostle between the Lord’s resurrection and that of man. The Lord’s body, having no human father, was different from that of man, though, from the mother, in the likeness of sinful flesh, the Divine element was in his body from the first. That holy thing that shalt be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God. (Luke i. 35.) This was never to see corruption. With this, therefore, the Lord rose. He did not leave it behind him, as man does his earthly body, and in this glorified body, He is the Father in the Son, the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Regenerator.
We stay only for a moment to note the satisfaction with which we observe the Vicar of Great Staughton recognizes the resurrection of man, not as the gross, conception of the aimless recalling of scattered atoms from the soil, at some unknown distant day, but as the rising of the real man in a spiritual body immediately after death. He says of Paul,–first, he represents the rising to life again, not as miraculous or exceptional, but as a law of humanity; and he treats the resurrection of Christ not as a wonder, but as a prerogative instance. Secondly, he shows, upon the doctrine of a SPIRITUAL BODY, how the objections against a resurrection of a flesh. and blood body, fall to the ground. (National Church, p. 163.) Again, he says,So in Luke xxii. 27, 35, the Sadducees are dealt with in a like argumentative manner. They understood the doctrine of the resurrection to imply the rising of men with such bodies as they now have; the case supposed by them loses its point when the distinction is revealed between the animal and the angelic bodies.
A similar clear view of mans resurrection is evidently that of Bunsens, mentioned with approbation by Professor Williams, who remarks, in reference to Bunsen,But the second volume of Gott in der Geschicte, seems to imply that if the author recoils from the fleshly resurrection and Indian millennium of Justin Martyr, he still shares the aspiration of the noblest philosophers elsewhere, and of the firmer believers among ourselves to a revival of conscious and individual life, in such a form of immortality, as may consist with union with the Spirit of the Eternal Lawgiver. (P. 90.) Surely the time is coming when all Christians will understand and accept the apostolic doctrine which science is teaching to be the only possible one, and reason accepts as the only satisfactory one–the resurrection at once in a spiritual body. There are celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial. (1 Cor. xv. 40.) Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. (verse 50.) And, when the earthly house of this tabernacle falls off, look not for the living amongst the dead, but remembering the words of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life–see the rising immortals in their spiritual bodies entering the inner circles of their Fathers kingdom, while faith listens reverently, and trustingly, to the Divine words,He is not a God of the dead, but of the living; all live to Him. (Luke xx. 38.)
We return again to the Lord’s resurrection. Though Mr. Wilson evidently accepts that great truth, as well as the truth of mans resurrection, yet he is not very hopeful of seeing the Gospel narratives as clearly harmonious as faith hopes for and desires. He says, But, neither to any defect in our capacities, nor to any reasonable presumption of a hidden wise design, nor to any partial spiritual endowments in the narrators, can we attribute the difficulty, if not impossibility of reconciling the genealogies of St. Matthew and St. Luke, or the chronology of the Holy Week, or the accounts of the Lord’s resurrection. (Essays &c.–National Church, p. 180.)
The Vicar of Great Staughton, in many parts of his Essay so plainly admits and suggests a spiritual significance in the Scriptures, that one cannot but wonder that in the instances cited by him, where difficulties exist in harmonizing the Gospels, all reference to spiritual significance should have failed him. Nay, he says, there can be no reasonable presumption of a hidden sense to account for the apparent discrepancies he finds so perplexing. me cannot but imagine that here again we have the same feeling as that which addressed the Savior at the well of Samaria. Sir, the well is deep, and thou hast nothing to draw with. Yet it is a sad case when me are compelled to feel our helplessness, and deplore that nothing in our religious system can aid us. We have nothing to draw with, nor, we think, has any one else.
In this case, too, it is the more deplorable, because the confession that the Gospels cannot be reconciled by us in the letter, and that there is no reasonable presumption of a hidden wise design, amounts to a surrender of Divine revelation as existing in a definite form, in a Divine Book as the Word of God. We ought to look this alternative full in the face. If the Sacred Volume is not definitely Divine, inspired by Infinite Wisdom, composed according to definite laws, for the Spiritual sustentation, comfort, and strength of mankind, but only Divine as having some truth mixed with error and some holy purpose in it, more or less like ten thousand other books, then are we still at sea, compassless, rudderless. We have no Word of God. In the sense of a term the Word of God are the utterances of men, partly right and partly wrong. Our books are as Divine as they. We have Divine Life flowing into us, and with the admixture, more or less, of the human element, it influences our utterances and our writing. This would indeed be a sorry result of our progress, and of our science. If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do? Again, the Church will cry out as Mary of old, They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him. How do we know, however, that there is no hidden wise design, justifying these differences of statements.
There would have been no use for four gospels, to say just the same thing. They would not have been four in such case, but only one repeated four times. Does not such an assertion grow out of a foregone, perhaps unconsciously received, conclusion, that Divine revelation is only a record of the past, not a living speech to every soul that listens. Yet the Word of the Lord is Spirit and Life. It is not body and death. Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter i. 21.) The Word is a fire, the Word is a hammer. (Jer. xxiii. 29.) The Word is the sword of the Spirit. (Heb. iv. 12.) The Word is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver. (Ps. cxix. 72.)
The great and the good of the first six centuries of Christianity* had a profound conviction that there were Divine reasons why four Gospels were written; and these reasons, or some of them, it is not difficult to define.
On this subject see Nobles Plenary Inspiration.
The value of the Gospels is inestimable, as the record of the Divine Life of the Savior in the world, but it is not less so as the means of producing the Life of the Savior in us. Christ in you, is the hope of Glory.
Jesus in the world redeemed it. Jesus in the miniature world of each soul, saves it. He must be born in us, live in us, die in us, and rise again in us, or he will never reign in us. If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. (Rom. viii. 9.) Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any man will open the door I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me. (Rev. iii. 20.) Now the great power of the Gospels is, the power of thus introducing the Savior to the soul, that He may walk in us and live in us. (2 Cor. vi. 16.) Of His own will, begat He us, by His Word of Truth. (James i. 18.) If we advance in the regenerate life, all the great scenes of the Gospel will, in miniature, be transacted in us, and the Gospels contain the truths which are mirrors by which our progress may be read as well as sustained. The Lord lives with us, for a while, and then lives in us. (John xiv. 17.) We know Him for a time as one who is a Savior to us, historically and doctrinally; the period comes, however, when He is uplifted into our inmost affections; nay, above them all, and reigns there for evermore. (John xiv. 23.)
He dies, as an external doctrinal Savior. He rises as an internal living Savior, inspiring the heart. A crisis comes in the spiritual history of every Christian, he dies with the Lord, and rises again with Him. We suffer with Him first, and reign with Him afterwards.
In the solemn crisis of the souls progress, the terrible scene of the crucifixion is re-enacted. Self-will, pride, envy, lust, discontent,–each with its army of followers, arraign the Lord within. He is opposed, mocked, beaten, crucified. All religion is sullenly renounced; not ostensibly, perhaps, but really. We will not have this man to reign over us. Still, there are better sentiments within like a Mary, and a John, and a Joseph of Arimathea. They watch round, and lament, and cry for deliverance. If they cannot have Him living, they cling to the deed body of religion, and of the Lord, with veneration and love. They regard the Word with hallowed love, as containing Divine Truth, though they do not, as yet, see or feel its presence.
My Lord is dead, they say,
Oh, when will He arise;
His power and peace again display,
And bless my waiting eyes.
O burst the awful tomb,
Jesus, my Lord ascend:
Dispel once more my spirits gloom,
The night of sorrow end.
They watch, and ponder, and pray, and come to anoint with spices. The Word is a tomb, which they know contains the Savior. For the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever. Heaven and earth pass away, but the Word of the Redeemer will not pals away. System after system, dispensation after dispensation, comes and goes, as wave follows wave; but Divine Truth still remains the source of future progress.
The Lord dies, as it were, or is not acknowledged, to one class of men, but He is in His Word, and will surely rise again.
He is in a tomb, in which never man has been laid.
The Resurrection of the Lord in the soul and in the Church, is what the Word depicts, and what the Divine Wisdom has in view, in describing the Resurrection of the Savior. The one is as red as the other. The Resurrection of the Savior in the soul, is as essential to mans salvation as the Resurrection of the Savior in person was to the worlds redemption. Now, if we be dead with Christ, me shall also live with Him. (Rom vi. 8.) If there he evils in us which crucify the Son of God afresh, so are there holy affections in us that watch for His Resurrection.
But this Resurrection in the soul, and indeed the whole life and operation of the Savior within, take place by the same general stages, yet with differences in detail, according to the class of character to which a mind belongs. Four great groups may he seen without difficulty: men of action, men of doctrine, men of inward thought, men of inward love. Four streams were said to flow out from the one source in paradise, the symbols of heavenly wisdom accommodated to end class; four living ones to fill the throne in heaven, the symbols of heavenly excellence and happiness attained by each; and why not four Gospels, to describe the mode in which the Divine Regenerator trains each for their spirit-work, and for their eternal home? Why attribute to chance, and to imperfection, those differences of detail which the Holy Spirit intended to represent, those differences in character and experience which really distinguish the children of the Lord? The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. (Ps. xix. 1.)
Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter i. 21.) They were moved to insert this, or to omit that detail, to place the events in this or that order, as the Divine Wisdom required for its spiritual teaching. The great and general features, would teach the general lessons of duty and of doctrine; the particular details would address themselves to the inner experiences of the soul, according to the differences of each class of mind.
This difference of object and character in each Gospel is easily discernible, and will impress itself on the devout and thoughtful reader. Matthew’s Gospel is so full of injunctions to the performance of good works, so incessant in its commands to do, so frequently reiterates the necessity of fruits, as essential to the character of the Christian exhibited as a tree, that many of those who preach the emasculated Gospel of only believing, have not hesitated to declare this Gospel to be filled for the greater part with were morality, and to suppose the genuine Gospel not to have been revealed at the time our Lord taught, but to have been given afterwards through Paul. It is true, indeed, that in the glorious Sermon on the Mount, the very pith and broad charter of the Gospel, the word faith only occurs once, and then only in the sense of trust and confidence in the Divine will and Providence. The Lord insists perpetually on keeping the commandments as the indispensable requisite for heaven. In no case can a men enter heaven without. Whoso breaks the least commandment will be called least there; whosoever clods and teaches them will be called great there. (Matt. v. 20, 21.) Do the will of God, Do what I say. Not; every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not, prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? and then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from ye that WORK iniquity. (Matt. vii. 21-23.) This Gospel of obedience, of course, implies faith, for no one will do a duty unless he believes he ought to do it; no one will obey a command unless he believes in the authority of Him who commands. Love, faith, obedience are all implied in DOING; and when our Savior in this Gospel by Matthew places Christianity before us in its practical character, it is not to exclude, but to include, that humble love which rejoices to piece the Divine will above its own will, that trustful Spirit which confides in the rectitude of Divine truth, and that willing obedience which asks, Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?
The Christian, however, to whom this Gospel is addressed, is the Christian prepared to do his Lord’s will unquestioning, and this is the early state of every Christian.
This Gospel of DOING, addressed to the MAN OF DUTY, is rightly placed the first, and all its descriptions and narratives will be found to have a, remarkable practical external bearing. Matthew is pre-eminently the evangelist of obedience.
In Mark there is much more frequent reference to doctrine. When this evangelist describes the Savior as teaching, he especially relates that they were astonished at His doctrine. When the unclean spirits were cast out men said, What new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth He even the unclean spirits, and they do obey Him. (Mark i. 22-27.) Peter, the apostle of doctrine, is oftener mentioned in this Gospel than in any other, and particularly by the single term, Peter. A literal reason has been given for this, which has been supplied from very ancient records in the church, that Mark was the companion of Peter, who mentions him 1 Peter v. 13, and that naturally he would give distinctness to all proceedings connected with that apostle; but we cannot doubt the spiritual reason is the better one. The Gospel of Mark was intended to relate the Saviors life, not only such as it occurred, but also such as it will again be found in the experience of the doctrinal Christians.
The Gospel of Luke is adapted to the man of inward thought, and the events recorded in it are so ordered by the Divine Wisdom, that they describe the regeneration of the soul, and the discernment of heavenly things such as they occur in the inwardly reflecting mind. There is a striking instance of this distinction of character in the Gospel, as exemplified in the account of the behavior of the two thieves at the crucifixion. Matthew and Mark represent both malefactors as joining the railing multitude, and reviling the crucified Redeemer. Luke mentions only one as railing, and the other, he informs us, reproved his more vicious companion, and expressed a full faith in the Divine Sufferer before him. Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. (Luke xxiii. 42.)
The ordinary way of reconciling the accounts is that the first two evangelists record what happened at the beginning of the crucifixion, when both thieves reviled, while Luke relates what happened near the termination of the suffering, when one had been brought to a better state, and now humbly trusted in Jesus. The literal reason for the discrepancy is good, so far as it goes, but the spiritual reason goes deeper, and is not only perfectly satisfactory, but is intended to convey most weighty instruction. The Crucifixion was a graphic living picture of the mental state of mankind when the Church is at its end. The Lord is rejected, hated, and transfixed they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to open shame. (Heb. vi. 6.) But when the fallen Church robs her Lord of His authority, rejects and crucifies Him, her state is represented by these two thieves, and she is herself rejected and crucified by the world. She has robbed the Lord of His glory, and man of his good. She has prostituted to herself what was meant for the universal good. She is convicted and condemned. All such a Church are regarded as alike to the external observer; they believe the same false doctrines; they say the same things; they are parts of the same evil system. To one who looks at the things in the light to which the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are adapted, all revile the Savior. But inwardly there are two great classes–those who love darkness rather then light, because their deeds are evil; and those who have been taught by education, custom, and fashion, to go with the multitude, but inwardly love light, and desire better things. These in heart do not deny. They believe they are doing God service, even when speaking against Him, and the truths he owns. Seen by the Lord, and by men of inward thought, they do not revile when they seem to revile, and because they are inwardly better than their creed–better than their speech–they are speedily converted like St. Paul, and the penitent malefactor; where they had railed in ignorance, they penitently adore. The Gospel according to Luke, then, because it describes things accommodated to the mind of the Christian of inward thought, places every subject it describes in the lights in which they are seen by him. The Gospel of John has always been regarded in the Church as the Gospel of Love. It describes things as LOVE sees them, Love learns them, and Love does them.
The character of the evangelist was such as to qualify him to be a proper medium for such a Gospel. He was the disciple whom Jesus loved. He leaned upon the breast of Jesus. To him was committed the Saviors mother, and he beheld in vision the descent of the New Jerusalem, the golden city, the symbol of a Church of celestial love. The Gospel given then by Infinite Wisdom through him, was the Gospel of Love, given, and it contains the life of the Lord as seen and heard by His loving disciple, and descriptive of the phases of the Divine life in the loving Christian. In the soul of such one, the Savior turns all the water of strict and purifying truth, into the new wine of tenderest wisdom. He shows Himself and the Father to be One, and when He examines Peter, it is not to ask him what he believes, but, Lovest thou me?
These various aims and objects of the Divine Gospels, all required, and all complementary to each other, show the reason why the Gospels should be four, and why there should be those differences and seeming imperfections, which, when understood by the heavenly-minded Christian, are perceived to be the very glory and perfection of the Word, which will not pass away.
The facts occurred, with all the details mentioned in the four Gospels, but some are omitted in one, and some in another, and they present the appearance of inconsistency perhaps, for want of some details which are omitted altogether; because the object of the Divine wisdom was not to construct a narrative curiously exact and complete for the natural man, but a lesson Divinely important for the different classes of spiritual men.
The literal narrative of the resurrection, may be harmonized as a whole, by noticing that Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, visited the sepulcher twice,*–the first time by themselves, and this visit Matthew and John relate: it took place while it was yet dark.
The second time, they were joined by the other women, with spices; this visit, Mark and Luke relate, and it happened when the sun had risen. Matthew and John further narrate what happened as the women were returning from the second visit. Mary could not fully believe that the Lord was risen, from what the first angel on the stone told her, whom she probably mistook for a human being, its was frequently done on such appearances, for
Angels are men in lighter bodies clad.
They are not winged men (see Gen. xviii. 2; Judges xiii. 11). But after the second visit, the .Lord himself appeared to her as she was about to return, and fully blessed her with the assurance of His Resurrection. Matthew, then relates what occurred to Mary and the women, after the second visit.
Dr. Bloomfield writes: After the researches of recent Harmonists and Interpreters have established the fact, which had escaped the earlier commentators, namely, that there were two parties of women, to show the two Evangelists refer respectively, thus also we are enabled satisfactorily to remove a difficulty, which had embarrassed the old Commentators, namely, how to reconcile [Greek: anateilantos tou eiliou] (Mark xvi. 8), with [Greek: proi skotias eti ouseis] (John xx. 1.)
Few particulars in relation to the Resurrection are named in Matthew, more in Mark, still more in Luke, and most of all in John. In relating the account of the Crucifixion, the order is reversed; Matthew’s description is the fullest; Mark’s is less copious; Luke’s still less; and John’s the least of all.
We have already intimated how the differences may be reconciled in the literal narrative, namely, by the records referring to two visits. But in the spiritual sense the Divine wisdom is full of significance, for it relates to the appearances of spiritual power and beauty, which appear in the soul when the Lord rises within. To the man of duty, treated of in Matthew, that spiritual power, represented by the angel, is seated on the stone cover of the sepulcher, representing the letter which covers the Word; to the man of doctrine, treated of by Mark, the spiritual power is in the inner sense of Scripture–the angel is within the sepulcher; to the man of inward reflection, the spiritual man, there are two angels seen, but standing. He perceives that the whole Word embodies two heavenly influences, love end truth, end desires to embody them in himself; to the man of love, there are two angels, and sitting, because these represent the two heavenly principles of love and truth settled and confirmed in the soul, represented by the sitting.
MATTHEW, Chap. 21.
At early dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, came to see the sepulcher. The angel of the Lord rolls away the stone from the door, and sits upon it. The angels assures them the Lord has risen. He invites them in to see the place where the Lord lay, and then desires them to go and tell the disciples that the Lord will meet them in Galilee.
As they are going, Jesus meets them, and repeats the charge to be given to the brethren, and they worship him.
No other appearance is mentioned in Matthew, until the last, when the eleven went away, into Galilee, to a mountain where Jesus had appointed. They received His last charge; they worshiped Him, but some who were there doubted.
Ascension not named, but they are assured of His presence if they do what He commands.
MARK Chap. 16.
Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, who brought sweet spices that they might come and anoint him. They arrived at the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. They saw the stone rolled away, and entering into the sepulcher, were addressed by the angel, and charged to tell the disciples, and Peter especially, the Lord would meet them in Galilee.
The Lord appeared to Mary, out of whom he had cast seven devils. She told this, but was not believed.
After that he appeared to two disciples, as they went into the country. They were not believed.
Then he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat.
He afterwards again appeared; gave them his last charge; and they are assured of the blessed changes that will follow true belief. Devils will be cast out, new tongues will be spoken with, &c.
Afterwards he ascended to heaven.
LUKE. Chap. 24.
Very early in the morning, Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James, and other women with them, came to the sepulcher, brining spices. They found the tone rolled away. They went in and found not the body of the Lord Jesus, but saw two angels, who stood in shining garments.
The women returned and told their news, but were not believed by the apostles.
Peter, however, arose and went to the sepulcher, saw the linen clothes lying by themselves.
The same day the Lord appeared to the two going into the country. Their eyes needed to be opened to see Him, but He was known and the breaking of the bread.
They return to Jerusalem and tell the rest; and while they are relating, Jesus himself appears in the midst, asserts His reality, and instructs them.
The last interview is then mentioned, and His ascension at Bethany.
JOHN. Chap. 20.
Early, while it was yet dark, came Mary Magdalene, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher. She runneth and cometh to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, and said, They have taken away my Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid Him.
Peter and the other disciple ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter, and arrived first at the sepulcher, and looked in, but did not go in.
The two went away to their own homes.
Mary stood without, weeping; she stooped and looked into the sepulcher, and saw two angels sitting. They speak to her, and when she had uttered her sorrowing reply, she turned and saw Jesus, but did not know him until He called her by her name, Mary.
The same day He appeared to the disciples, when the doors were shut, Thomas being absent.
Eight days after He appeared again, when Thomas was present and convinced him. A third time he appeared to the assembled apostles at the sea of Galilee.
Ascension not named.
In Matthew, the Lord is spoken of as appearing to Mary, and then meeting the disciples on a mountain in Galilee, in the north of Palestine, having all power in heaven and earth, and being present with those who obey His commandments; because the man of obedience and duty sees the Lord, and is blessed, but there is little expansion and fullness in his state.
The Lord spiritually meets him on a mountain in Galilee, that is in a spirit of love, though comparatively in an external state. He does what the Lord commands, and he feels his presence.
In Mark, whose narrative is so ordered as to represent how the Lord rises in the man of doctrine, more women are brought into view, because more affections for truth are awakened, and brought into activity. There is more light, too; it is the rising of the sun. The angel they see, is inside the sepulcher. The inward spirit of the Word is opened to them, and they see it is truth ever animated by goodness–the angel on the right side. The Lord appears to such in their inward affection for Him, which has been purified from all evil-Mary Magdalene, out of whom he has cast seven devils. He unfolds his presence, power, and blessing, over them when they make their efforts to exercise love to God, and charity to their neighbors. He commands them to tell Peter, the apostle, who represents faith. He speaks much to these, of belief, and assures them that faith, in practice, will cast out their evils–give them to speak with new tongues–no falsity will hurt them–they will come into full heavenly strength. He then rises into the interior of their souls, and, consciously or unconsciously, directs them for ever.
In Luke, who describes spiritual events as they take place with the man of inward reflection–the lover of inward things–the same openings take place as with the man of doctrine, but with greater fullness, and more particulars. He sees two angels, where the other saw only one; but our space entirely forbids the expansion of the idea. We can only indicate the principle by which the Divine wisdom may be unfolded.
In John, by whom the Lord’s rising in the man of inward love is portrayed, the particulars are the fullest of all. He sees a thousand heavenly things, where others saw but few, and he is sure there is an infinity he does not see. (Chap. xxi. 25.) Mary Magdalene comes while it is yet dark. Affection is stirring, even where there is no light.
The two disciples, Simon Peter and John, are stimulated, and John outran Peter, but did not go into the sepulcher until Peter had come up. Again, portraying the ardency of love symbolized by the loving disciple John, but its impossibility to enter into the interiors of the Word without faith, represented by Peter. They see two angels sitting. Mary, the symbol of inward celestial affection, sees the Lord, and knows Him by the tone of His voice. Numerous particulars are given in this Gospel, all relating to and unfolding the spirit of love. Upon these, however, we cannot further dwell. We must, however, be brief, and shall conclude by illustrating the words of our text, for this, too, has its spiritual, as well as its literal, application: Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut (barred) 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.
There were the disciples assembled, alone, withdrawn from the harassing tumult of the world without–a world that had slain their Master. Jews, hating and hateful. They had closed, and barred, the doors. They had heard tidings too blessed to be believed in their fearful, doubting state. They durst scarcely hope; they trembled with excitement and expectation when gently the Savior appeared amongst them, and uttered the heavenly Peace be unto you. Then were they glad, when they saw the Lord. It was a touching scene, but eminently suggestive also. The human mind is like a house, especially the interior of the soul. Into this house we can retire, when mental storms infest us. Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. (Isaiah xxvi. 20.) When temptation thus assails us, it is always evening. We dwell in shade and gloom. All around seems threatening and uncertain: the brightness we once enjoyed has gone. It is spiritual evening. Our wisdom is in sitting still. Rest. Wait. Rely. We have principles as opposed to the Lord as those Jews were who slew the Savior.
When we have been infested by turbulent and evil passions–when deep trials have troubled us, but we have entered upon a new state when new hopes have been awakened, but as yet we dare scarcely venture to trust those hopes, and we are vigilantly watching ourselves, and keeping the doors closed for fear of the Jews, or, in other words, for fear of everything that is opposed to the Lord we are then in the collected, guarded state that the assembled disciples represented. And while we long, yet tremble; while we hope, yet fear; while we dread, yet guard a Holy presence appears in the midst of us, and speaks, Peace be unto you.
Happy are they who, when it is evening with them, and evils are about, thus close their doors! Happy are they into whose midst Jesus comes! It will ever be true of them, as it was of the little trembling group in the house at Jerusalem—Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.
In conclusion, I trust we may assume that the great miracle of the Lord’s Resurrection has been shown to be worthy of all acceptation. It was that upon which the Redemption of the universe hung. Without His Resurrection, His death would have been in vain. We are saved by His life. Because He lives, we live. Because He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also walk in newness of life. His Resurrection announced His conquest over Hell. His resurrection was the manifestation of His Glorification. His Resurrection exhibited the Divinity made completely Human; the Humanity completely Divine; the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb in One Glorious Divine Person, King of kings and Lord of lords. Well, then, may it be said, the Resurrection is the Grand Miracle.
Author: Jonathan Bayley—Twelve Discourses (1862)