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Of the Hiftory of the Refurrection.
THE hiftory of the refurrection of Chrift is a part of the evidence of Christianity; but I do not know, whether the proper ftrength of this paffage of the Chriftian history, or wherein its peculiar value, as a head of evidence, confifts, be generally understood. It is not that, as a miracle, the refurrection ought to be accounted a more decifive proof of fupernatural agency than other miracles are; it is not that, as it ftands in the Gofpels, it is better attested than some others; it is not, for either of these reasons, that more weight belongs to it than to other miracles, but for the following, viz. That it is completely certain that the apostles of Chrift, and the firft teachers of Christianity, afferted the fact. And this would have been certain, if the four gospels had been loft, or never written. Every piece of fcripture recognizes
cognizes the refurrection. Every epiftle of every apostle, every author contemporary with the apostles, of the age immediately fucceeding the apostles, every writing from that age to the prefent, genuine or fpurious, on the fide of Chriftianity or against it, concur in representing the refurrection of Chrift as an article of his hiftory, received without doubt or difagreement by all who called themselves Chriftians, as alledged from the beginning by the propagators of the institution, and alledged as the centre of their tef timony. Nothing, I apprehend, which a man does not himself fee or hear, can be more certain to him than this point. I do not mean that nothing can be more certain. than that Chrift rofe from the dead; but that nothing can be more certain, than that his apoftles, and the firft teachers of Chriftianity, gave out that he did fo. In the other parts of the gofpel narrative, a question may be made, whether the things related of Chrift be the very things which the apostles and first teachers of the religion delivered concerning him? And this question depends a good
a good deal upon the evidence we poffefs. of the genuineness, or rather, perhaps of the antiquity, credit, and reception of the books, Upon the fubject of the refurrection, no fuch difcuffion is neceffary, because no fuch doubt can be entertained. The only points, which can enter into our confideration, are, whether the apoftles knowingly published a falfehood, or whether they were themfelves deceived; whether either of these suppositions be poffible. The firft, I think, is pretty generally given up. The nature of the undertaking, and of the men; the extreme unlikelihood that fuch men fhould engage in fuch a measure as a scheme; their personal toils and dangers and fufferings in the cause; their appropriation of their whole time to the object; the warm and feemingly unaffected zeal and earneftnefs with which they profefs their fincerity, exempt their memory from the fufpicion of impofture. The folution more deferving of notice, is that which would refolve the conduct of the apoftles into enthufiafm; which would clafs the evidence of Chrift's refurrection with the
the numerous ftories that are extant of the apparitions of dead men. There are circumstances in the narrative, as it is preserved in our hiftories, which deftroy this comparison entirely. It was not one person, but many, who faw him; they faw him. not only separately, but together, not only by night but by day, not at a distance but near, not once but feveral times; they not only faw him, but touched him, converfed with him, ate with him, examined his perfon to fatisfy their doubts. These particulars are decifive: but they ftand, I do admit, upon the credit of our records. I would anfwer, therefore, the infinuation of enthufiafm, by a circumftance which arises out of the nature of the thing; and the reality of which must be confeffed by all who allow, what I believe is not denied, that the refurrection of Chrift, whether true or falfe, was afferted by his difciples from the beginning: and that circumftance is, the nonproduction of the dead body. It is related in the hiftory, what indeed the ftory of the refurrection neceffarily implies, that the corpfe
corpfe was miffing out of the fepulchre it is related alfo in the hiftory, that the Jews reported that the followers of Chrift had ftolen it away *. And this account, though loaded with great improbabilities, fuch as the fituation of the difciples, their fears for their own' fafety at the time, the unlikelihood of their expecting to fucceed, the difficulty of actual fuccefs †, and the inevitable
* "And this faying," St. Matthew writes, "is commonly reported amongst the Jews until this day.” (xxviii. 15.) The evangelift may be thought good authority as to this point, even by those who do not admit his evidence in every other point: and this point is fufficient to prove that the body was missing.
It has also been rightly, I think, obferved by Dr. Townsend (Dif. upon the Ref. p. 126.), that the story of the guards carried collufion upon the face of it:"His difciples came by night, and stole him away, while we flept." Men in their circumftances would not have made fuch an acknowledgment of their negligence, without previous affurances of protection and impunity.
"Especially at the full moon, the city full of people, many probably paffing the whole night, as Jefus and his disciples had done, in the open air, the fepulchre fo near the city as to be now inclofed within the walls." Priestley on the Refur. p. 24.