Luk_24:33-34 : And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, saying, The Lord is risen indeed.
AMONG the various proofs of the truth of Christianity, that which arises from the credibility of the witnesses is by no means the least: nor is their credibility established by any thing more than by their backwardness to believe the resurrection of Christ, upon which the whole of Christianity is founded. They had been repeatedly informed by our Lord, that he should die, and rise again on the third day; yet upon his death they were totally confounded and disconsolate. Two of them conversing together in their way to Emmaus, were overtaken by a person whom they knew not, but who was none other than Jesus himself. He inquired into the subject of their conversation: upon which they told him what expectations they had once formed concerning their deceased Master; they once thought that it had been He who should have redeemed Israel; but now their hopes were at an end. They had heard indeed that he was risen that morning from the grave; that certain women who were of their company had seen a vision of angels, who testified that he was alive; that moreover some others had gone to the sepulchre, and found that it was even so as the women had said: but yet they could not credit these reports. After their conference, Jesus discovered himself to them, as he had already done to many others; by this they were convinced; and, notwithstanding the day was far spent, instead of staying, as they had intended, at Emmaus, they returned that same hour to Jerusalem, that they might acquaint the other Disciples with these joyful tidings, and bear their testimony to the truth of the things which had been reported. And when they came to Jerusalem, they found the Eleven gathered together, and others assembled with them, all overcome by the weight of evidence, and full of this wonderful event; and heard them saying one to another, “The Lord is risen indeed.”
From these words we shall take occasion to consider,
The importance of Christ’s Resurrection;
The proofs of it; and
The uses we should make of it.
The importance of Christ’s Resurrection—
St. Paul, instructing his beloved Timothy what to do and teach, particularly gives him this advice, “Remember that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.” It was necessary that he should remember the resurrection of Christ, on many accounts; partly for his own comfort, because all his hopes of salvation were founded on it; but principally, that by endeavouring to establish this point, he might convince the ignorant, and confirm the enlightened. Whatever else he might omit, it was necessary that he should insist much on this, because it was a doctrine of the utmost importance: For,
First, If Jesus was not risen, he was an impostor. Our Lord, in his discourses, had frequently foretold his resurrection: sometimes he reminded his hearers of the Prophet Jonas, who, as a type of him, was three days and three nights in the belly of a whale: at other times he declared it in still plainer terms; “Destroy this Temple (viz. his own body), and in three days I will raise it up again:” and to his Disciples he said repeatedly, that he must be crucified, and that on the third day he would rise again. Now, though his Disciples understood none of these things, yet there was evidently, amongst his enemies, some expectation of his resurrection; because they made sure the sepulchre, sealed the stone, and set a guard to prevent it, or at least to prevent his being stolen away; that so, by ascertaining that he was not risen, they might prove him a deceiver. And, had he not risen, they had accomplished their utmost wishes: they had detected him in deluding his followers, and thereby discovered him to be an impostor. But by rising according to his own word, he manifested that he was no impostor; but, as the Apostle says, he declared himself to be the Son of God, “with power by his resurrection from the dead.”
Again: If Jesus rose not, the Apostles were false witnesses. It was the grand truth which they were to establish: for when another Apostle was to be chosen in the place of Judas, the traitor, they were to “take one who had accompanied them all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them, beginning from the baptism of John unto that same day wherein he was taken up from them, that he might be ordained a witness, with them, of His resurrection.” Accordingly, they “went everywhere, giving witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” When some among the Corinthian Church denied the resurrection of the dead, Paul proved it from the resurrection of Christ; and that again he proved by the most undeniable arguments: and then he very justly added, “If Christ be not risen, we are found false-witnesses of God.”
Again: If Christ be not risen, the Gospel is an imposition. The very ground-work of all the Gospel is, the resurrection of Christ; “that he died for our offences, and was raised again for our justification;” for as his death was necessary, because he had undertaken to pay our debt, so his resurrection was also necessary, to shew that he had fully discharged it: if therefore he be not risen, all preaching of the Gospel, all credit given to it, and all hope of deliverance through him is vain; and this is what the Apostle himself has said, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”
Again: If Christ be not risen, the Old Testament is also false—It is said, “He rose again according to the Scriptures;” His resurrection was typified, perhaps in the exaltation of Joseph from the prison to the government of the Egyptian kingdom; probably also in the live bird which was dipped in the blood of one that had been sacrificed and let loose into the air: there can be little doubt but that Isaac’s restoration, as it were, from the dead, was intended to prefigure it; and it is absolutely certain, that Jonas was a type of Christ in that particular: that type, therefore, must be fulfilled in Christ, or else it was false. It had also been foretold by David; “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption:” by this passage the Apostle Peter, in his first Sermon, convinces three thousand of the Jews that Jesus was to rise: and indeed it intimates the time of his continuance in the grave; for in Judea bodies began to corrupt on the fourth day; so that he must rise before that time, because he was to see no corruption. Thus the Old Testament, as well as the New, must be false, if Christ be not risen.
But further: If Christ be not risen, we, notwithstanding we be believers in Christ, are yet laden with the guilt of all our sins. By believing in Christ, we profess to be delivered from condemnation and to be cleansed from the guilt of all sin: but it has already appeared, that if Christ be not risen, he is a deceiver, his Apostles are false witnesses, the Gospel is an imposition, and the Old Testament itself is false: so that we must of necessity be under the guilt of our sins as much as ever, unless we can be delivered from it by crediting what is not true. And this is what the Apostle has also said, “If Christ be not risen, ye are yet in your sins.”
I add once more: If Christ be not risen, there neither is nor ever will be so much as one person in heaven. All those eminent saints that we suppose to have been exalted to heaven, died in the faith of Christ; of Christ, who should come; or of Christ, who did come. They themselves disclaimed every other hope but through Christ; and if they were deceived by him, woe be to them; for the Apostle testifies, “If Christ be not risen, ye are yet in your sins; then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished;” so that not one of them is saved, if Christ be not risen.
We see then of what importance the doctrine of the Resurrection is! for if it be not true, Christ is an impostor. The Apostles are false-witnesses. The Gospel is an imposition, (and consequently the Apostle’s preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain); moreover, ye are yet in your sins, and all the saints that have ever lived have perished. Surely a doctrine of such importance ought to be well considered, and unquestionably proved. I proceed therefore,
To the proofs of this doctrine—
Time will not allow us to enter into a large discussion of this point; nor indeed is it as necessary for us to do so, as it was for the Apostles; for the minds of men in these days are open to conviction, whereas they had to combat with all the prejudices of those who put him to death. A few proofs therefore may suffice. We will prove it then,
First; From the testimony of angels. At the sepulchre of our Lord there appeared, both to the women and to others, a vision of angels, who told them that he was risen, saying, “He is not here but is risen; come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
Next; From the testimony of friends. He appeared to many, and ate and drank with them at different times after he rose from the dead. He suffered them to handle his body, to put their fingers into the print of the nails, and to thrust their hand into his side. And the very incredulity of all his Disciples, and especially of Thomas, convinces us, that they would not have believed it without the fullest evidence. He moreover appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, and in the presence of them all was taken up into heaven.
Next; From the testimony of enemies. Where did the Apostles begin to preach Christ? At Jerusalem, the very place where he had been crucified; and that too within a few days after his death: and so clearly did they prove, that he who had been crucified was risen from the dead, that in the first sermon three thousand of his enemies were converted and became his followers. Paul declared, that the greater part of the five hundred who had seen his ascension, were then alive: now, if it had not been true, it must have been strange that so many should enter into such a conspiracy, from which they could derive no advantage, and which would most probably expose them to persecutions and death: and it must be a miracle indeed if neither fear nor interest had induced some one or other of them to discover the cheat, particularly since there was one traitor even among the Twelve Apostles. But the very falsehood which the enemies framed on this occasion, was a testimony in favour of what they endeavoured to disprove. They said, “His Disciples came by night and stole him away while we slept:” now this was the most absurd falsehood that ever was contrived; it confutes itself; for it might be asked, ‘If you were not asleep, Why did you suffer them to take him away? and if you were asleep, How could you tell that they did take him?’
The last testimony shall be from God himself. Jesus had said, that after his ascension to his Father, he would send down the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and that the Father also would send the Spirit in his name. Accordingly on the day of Pentecost, God poured out the Spirit upon the Disciples, and immediately after upon great numbers of his enemies, and thereby bore the strongest testimony both to the resurrection and ascension of Christ.
Here then are the united testimonies of Angels, of Friends, of Enemies, and of God himself: if these be not sufficient, further arguments would be multiplied to no purpose.
We come then,
To set before you the uses which we should make of this doctrine—
Doctrines are of no value any further than they have a practical effect: in order therefore to improve that which has been now established, permit me to point out in two or three particulars the uses which we are taught to make of it.
We should, in the first place, consider the Resurrection of Christ as a pledge of our resurrection. In the Old Testament the resurrection of the body was but obscurely intimated; but in the New Testament it is clearly revealed. Whatever difficulties may appear to arise from the innumerable changes which our bodies shall have undergone, He who first created us out of nothing, knows how to reunite our scattered atoms; and with him all things are possible. Moreover he has assured us, that he will do so: He has told us, that this frame of ours, which is sown in the earth a weak, corrupt, dishonoured body, shall be raised in incorruption, power, and glory. Of this the Resurrection of Christ is a pledge; for the Apostle says, “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.” The first-fruits were a sheaf taken from the field, and waved before the Lord as the appointed means of obtaining his blessings upon the whole harvest: so we, by virtue of Christ’s Resurrection, and through the favour which he has procured for us, shall in due time be raised, and “our vile body shall be made like unto his glorious body.” Let us remember therefore, that this life is only a state of probation for another; and that, though our mortal part sleep for a little season in the dust, “the hour is coming,” as our Lord expressly tells us, “when all that are in the grave shall hear his voice, and shall come forth, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and that they have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.”
Another use which we should make of Christ’s Resurrection is, to consider it as a pattern of our life. In this view the Holy Scriptures frequently represent it: St. Paul tells us that “We must be planted in the likeness of Christ’s Resurrection;” that “like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life:” and again he says, “Christ being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him; for in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God: likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Thus plainly is his Resurrection proposed to us as a pattern for our life; and this it should be, in the source, the manner, and the end of it. As to the source of his Resurrection, it was by the glorious power and operation of the Father: It is by the same divine power that we must be quickened from our death in trespasses and sins: that same Spirit which re-animated his body must restore our souls to life. As to the manner of his Resurrection, it was irresistible; the stone, the seal, the guard were all in vain. So must we break through every obstacle that might detain us in the ways of sin. No desire of man’s applause, no regard to worldly interests, no delight in sensual indulgence, must keep us from following the steps of our Divine Master. As to the end of his Resurrection, he rose, that he might “live unto God:” and such must be our life on earth; we must live unto God in a state of holy communion with him, making his word our rule, his glory our aim, and his service the joy and delight of our souls: nor is there any doubt, but that a life, thus begun in this world, will issue, like Christ’s, in a life of endless happiness and glory.
The last use of his Resurrection which I propose to mention, is, that we should make it the ground of our hope. Our salvation is most generally ascribed to the death of Christ; but sometimes also to his Resurrection: and when St. Paul mentions them as joint grounds of our hope, he seems to lay the greater stress upon his Resurrection; “Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again.” Nor is this without reason; for, by means of his Resurrection, he is enabled to execute his priestly office. The High Priest under the law was not only to slay the sacrifice, but to carry its blood within the vail, to sprinkle it before the mercy-seat, and to cover the mercy-seat with a cloud of incense: and this, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews informs us, Jesus is now doing: he has offered himself a sacrifice for our sins, and now he is entered into the highest heavens with his own blood, and ever liveth to make intercession for us. By his Resurrection also, we are assured, that God has accepted his sacrifice on our behalf: for if it had not been accepted in this view, Christ must have deceived his followers, and God must have countenanced that deception, by giving the author of it such a signal testimony of his approbation: and as God would not have done this, we may look to him now with confidence as a reconciled Father: and we are fully warranted to do so, because St. Peter has said, that “God raised up Jesus from the dead, and gave him glory, that our faith and hope might be in God.” We are further assured by the Resurrection of Christ, that he has all power committed to him in heaven and in earth, and is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him: and therefore St. Peter says again, that “we are begotten to a lively hope by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” But that particular consideration, which above all renders the Resurrection of Christ a ground of hope, is, that he rose, as he died, not in a private capacity, but as the Head and Representative of all his people; on which account we are said to be “risen in him,” and to be now “sitting with him in heavenly places.” However therefore the members of his mystical body upon earth may be still contending with the enemies of their salvation, they may rejoice in an assured expectation of victory through Christ their Head: they may already triumph in the thought, that the guilt of their sin is expiated; that God is reconciled; that the hosts of hell are vanquished; that heaven is opened; that grace is promised; and that glory is reserved for them at their departure hence. Who then would not hope in this exalted Saviour, especially when we are so expressly told that he rose again for our justification?
Seeing then that his Resurrection enables him to execute his priestly office; seeing it assures us that his sacrifice is accepted for us; seeing it is the means of his being in vested with almighty power; and seeing that by means of it his whole mystical body is risen and exalted with him, happy shall we be, if He be our hope and our confidence: but if He be not, we must be entirely hopeless and undone for ever; for there neither is nor can be any other ground of hope: we may have the faith of Abraham, the repentance of David, the self-denial of John the Baptist, the knowledge of the Apostles, and the fidelity of Stephen; yet all in vain; if Christ be not risen, all this will profit us nothing; we must inevitably perish notwithstanding all; for thus says the Apostle, in a fore-cited passage, “If Christ be not risen, ye are yet in your sins; then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished:” so that Abraham, David, John the Baptist, the first martyr, Stephen, yea and all the Apostles, are perished, if Christ be not risen. If then these words of St. Paul be true, we see the pernicious tendency of their doctrines who would persuade us to renounce our dependence upon Christ, and to rely on our own works as the ground of our hope. What! are we better than those saints of old? Or would it avail us any thing if we were? No: we might be possessed of every virtue that ever adorned a human being, and in the highest degree that it ever appeared in a fallen creature, and perish at last, if we made any thing but Christ the ground of our hope. Let us look then to this exalted Saviour: let us regard his Resurrection as the pledge of our resurrection, the pattern of our life, and the ground of our hope; and then we may adopt the triumphant language of the Apostle; “Who is he that shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? it is God that justifieth: Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again.”