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truth, and modesty, as leave, irresistibly, on the mind, a stronger impression of these attributes in St. Paul, than we could have felt, if he had not written this passage. Let it be remembered, that this is the conduct of a person, who had converted half the civilized world.
In the mean time, the Apostles, in the most frank, artless, and faithful manner possible, do that, which Enthusiasts never do at all: that is, they record their own mistakes, follies, and faults; and those of very serious magnitude ; acknowledged to be such by themselves, and severely censured as such by their Master. No example of this nature can be found in the whole history of Enthusiasm; and no other such example in the whole history of man. Enthusiasm is always a proud, vain, boasting spirit; founded in the belief, that the Enthusiast is the subject of immediate and extraordinary communications from heaven, and, therefore, designated by God as his peculiar favourite ; raised of course above the human level; and irresistibly prompted to publish, on every occasion, this peculiar testimony of heaven to its pre-eminent worth ; and to unfold to the view of all around it a distinction too flattering to be concealed.
Enthusiasts, also, in all their preaching and conversation on religious subjects, pour out, with eagerness, the dictates of passion and imagination; and never attempt to avail themselves of the facts, or arguments, on which reason delights to rest. Strong pictures, vehement effusions of passion, violent exclamations, loudly vociferated, and imperiously enjoined as objects of implicit faith and obedience, constitute the substance, and the sum, of their addresses to mankind. They themselves believe, because they believe; and know, because they know. Their conviction, instead of being, as it ought to be, the result of evidence, is the result of feeling merely. If you attempt to persuade them, that they are in an error, by reasoning, facts, and proofs; they regard you with a mixture of pity and contempt, for weakly opposing your twilight probabilities to their noon-day certainty, and for preposterously labouring to illumine the sun with a taper.
How contrary is all this to the conduct of the Apostles! When a proof of their mission, or doctrine, was demanded of them; they appealed instantly, and invariably, to arguments, facts, and miracles. These convinced mankind then; and produce the same conviction now. The lapse of seventeen centuries has detected in them no error, and in no degree enfeebled their strength. Their discourses were then, and are now, the most rational, noble, and satisfactory discourses on moral and religious subjects, ever witnessed by mankind. There is not an instance in them all, in which belief is demanded on any other grounds, than these ; and on these grounds it is always rightfully demanded. But on these grounds it is never demanded by Enthusiasts. There is not in the world a stronger contrast to the preaching of Enthusiasts, than that of Christ and his Apostles.
Secondly, The Apostles were unprejudiced Judges of this fact, because every thing, respecting it, contradicted their favourite prejudices.
In common with their countrymen, they expected a conquering; reigning, glorious Messiah ; who was to subdue, and control, ali the nations of men. With him, also, they themselves expected to conquer, and reign, together with the rest of the Jews, as princes and nobles in the splendid earthly court of this temporal Messiah. No expectation ever flattered the predominant passions of man so powerfully, as this. It was the source of almost all their follies, and faults; and, in spite of Christ's instructions, and their piety, it broke out on every occasion, and clung to them with immoveable adherence, till the day of Pentecost. For, just at the moment of
, Christ's ascension, ten days only before that festival, they asked him, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?
They did not, and could not, believe that he would die. After he had predicted his death at five, or six, different times, in as plain language as can be used, St. John informs us, that they understood not that saying, and that it was hidden from them. Peter also, when Christ had uttered a prediction of this nature, understanding the meaning of the prediction, took upon himself the office of rebuking his Master; and said, Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee.
Nor do they appear to have believed, that he would live again. They plainly disbelieved all the testimonies of his resurrection, except that of their own eyes and ears; and regarded the accounts of their companions, whom on all other occasions they esteemed persons of unstained veracity, as idle tales. It may seem strange, that, believing, as they did, implicitly, the declarations, and Messiahship, of their Master, they should not believe, that he would rise again, after his various prophecies concerning that event. But we are to remember, that his death bad violated all their prejudices, blasted all their fond hopes, and buried them in gloom and despondency. The Jews customarily, whenever passages of scripture admitted of no interpretation accordant with their established opinions, resolved the difficulty, or rather removed it, by pronouncing the passage to be mysterious. The Apostles in all probability had recourse to the same expedient, to reconcile the predictions of Christ with that train of facts, whose future existence they believed; and chose rather not to understand the true import of his predictions, plain as it was, than to admit an interpretation of them, which opposed all their riveted opinions. At the same time, melancholy as were their circumstances, and their feelings, they were ill fitted for the business of commenting on the predictions of Christ; and seem not to have made even an attempt to gain the conviction, which would so effectually have relieved their distresses. When, therefore, they had evidence of his resurrection, sufficient to convince any reasonable person, they still disbelieved; and were hardly brought to admit the testimony of their own eyes and ears. After various reports of his resurrection from those who had seen him ; reports so satisfactory, that Christ himself afterward upbraided them with their unbelief, and hardness of heart, because they had not believed them, who had seen him after he was risen ; Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and said, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. He ihen said unto them, Why are ye troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts ? Behold my hands, and my feet; that it is I myself. Handle me, and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. You are to remember, that the print of the nails, by which he was fastened to the cross, was still perfectly visible, both in his hands and feet. These were, therefore, appealed to by Christ, because they thus furnished evidence, that it was he himself, which no mar would counterfeit. Still they believed not, for joy, and wondered. To remove this doubt, which, like most that preceded it, was the result of feeling, and not of judgment, he further said to them, Have ye here any meat? In answer to this inquiry, they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honey-comb. And he took it, and did eat before them. At the end of this process only, did they entirely believe, that he was risen from the dead.
From this story, written after they had all in the fullest manner realized his resurrection, and, therefore, intended severely to censure their own unbelief; from this story, written in a manner so perfectly artless and natural, and with circumstances of such nice discrimination, as the writer could not have invented; and on both these accounts carrying with it the clearest evidence of its truth; we have the strongest proof, that the Apostles were slow of heart to believe the resurrection of Christ. Their assent was reluctant and gradual; such as is always yielded to evidence, which contradicts prejudices strongly imbibed.
I have observed that the story of St. Luke is written in a manner perfectly artless and natural, and with circumstances of such nice discrimination, as the writer could not have devised. It is extremely natural to the human mind, in a state of despondency, either not to believe at all, or to believe with extreme difficulty, those things which would remove its despondency. The good, in question, seems too great to be realized, and therefore too improbable even to be hoped. The Apostles for this reason disbelieved at first and for the same reason continued their disbelief, after Christ stood in the midst of them, and discovered himself to their eyes and
A strong and mixed emotion of pleasure and surprise partially overwhelmed their reason, and prolonged their doubts, in spite of the clearest evidence. Never was the nature of man exhibited with more exactness, or with nicer discrimination, than
in this remarkable declaration : They believed not for joy, and wondered.
From these observations it is, if I mistake not, unanswerably ev. ident, that the prejudices of the Apostles were all directed against the resurrection of Christ ; and that they were not inclined to admit this fact by any bias in its favour.
3dly. The Apostles had sufficient means, and opportunities, of judging whether Christ was raised from the dead.
He appeared to some or other of them, or their companions, eleven times, distinctly recorded in the Scriptures. He appeared to Mary Magdalene ; to her companions with her; to Peter; to the disciples going to Emmaus; to James ; to the ten Apostles, Thomas not being present; to the Eleven, Thomas being present; to the Apostles again at the sea of Tiberias; to above five hundred brethren at once; to the Apostles before, and during, his ascension ; and finally to St. Paul in his way to Damascus. Beside these instances, he appeared several times afterwards to St. Paul; and, as St. Luke informs us, shewed himself alive, after his passion, by many infallible proofs; being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. It ought to be particularly remembered, that in nine of the instances, mentioned above, he appeared to the Apostles themselves; in several instances to many, or all, of them; and once to more than five hundred disciples together. Should we then admit such an illusion of the senses, as infidels sometimes contend for, to be possible, and mankind to be capable of being deceived by it, in such degrees as they urge ; still the improbability must, even according to their own principles, be very great, that two persons should, at the same time, experience exactly the same illusion concerning the same object, and concerning so many circumstances attending it. Of a fact, of this kind, history furnishes no record, and conversation no testimony. All the extraordinary and inexplicable things, actually testified, in which such illusions may be supposed to have taken place, have invariably existed, if they existed at all, to the view of one person only. No instance can be mentioned, in which two unexceptionable witnesses have testified to the same illusion, at the same time, concerning the same thing. Far more improbable is it, that three persons should thus experience the same illusion. When we raise this number to Eleven, the improbability becomes incalculable; and when to five hundred, it transcends all limit.
The improbability is also enhanced, without measure, by the repetition of this fact in so many instances to so many persons, together with all the circumstances, by which it was attended. But when we remember, that Christ not only appeared, but ate, drank, walked, and conversed, with them, at so many different times, through forty days; and declared to them a great number of divine truths concerning the kingdom of God; the improbability ceases, and is changed into an impossibility. The Apostles and their companions
had, here, all the evidence, that Christ was living, which they had of the life of each other: all the evidence, which we have, that those around us, with whom we have daily intercourse, are alive. If, then, the Apostles could be deceived, with respect to the fact, that Christ was living; they could with the same ease, be equally deceived with respect to the life of each other. With the same ease, can we be equally deceived in our belief, that men, whom we see daily, with whom we converse, and with whom we act; are living men. A stranger, who has visited us, continued with us forty days, conversed with us, and united with us in eating, drinking, and the serious business of life, must, on the same grounds, be denied, or doubted, to be a living man; and supposed to be a spectre, a phantom of the imagination, an illusion of the senses, or an inhabitant of a dream. To this length the principles carry us, on which
a alone we can deny, that the Apostles had perfect evidence, that Christ was alive after his death. He, who can admit these principles, has renounced the evidence of his senses; and ought from motives of consistency, to believe a man to be a post, as readily, as to believe him to be a man.