« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
success so plainly depended on the reception of that testimony?
The foundation of our rational belief I take to be this. Christ either rose from the dead, or he did not rise from the dead : and, analogously, the disciples themselves either knew that they spoke the truth, or were conscious that they advanced a positive falsehood. If we admit them to have spoken the truth, there is an end of the argument at once : if we suppose them to have advanced a positive falsehood, we must at the same time take up and defend the following positions also. By the hypothesis, the disciples advanced a positive falsehood. But, if they advanced a positive falsehood, they must have advanced it, knowing all the while that they were advancing an absolute untruth. Now, on the strength of this known and absolute untruth, those, who were recently terrified, one into a denial of his master, and the rest into a cowardly abandonment of him, suddenly come forward, in the very face of the people and their rulers, firm and undaunted and mutually consistent. With astonishing steadiness and resolution, they declare the known falsehood on all occasions. Not one of them wavers or prevaricates in his story; though more than five hundred persons are concerned in the fraud, all asserting that with their own eyes they have seen Christ after his pretended resurrection *: not a single witness out
* 1 Corinth. xv. 3–7.
of so many ever comes forward to confess the shameful imposture; though males and females, apostles and disciples, are alike concerned in it. The object of their singular pertinacity, in thus promulging and maintaining a known falshood, is the establishment of a system, which, as they are fully aware, exposes them to hatred, contempt, destitution, discomfort, persecution, tortures, and death : and so strangely are they enamoured of what they themselves all the while know to be a gross fabrication of their own, quite destitute even of a shadow of truth; that, for the pleasure of making the world at large believe a conscious falshood, they are ready to sacrifice every thing and to lay down even their lives under the most aggravated circumstances of insult and cruelty.
These are the articles of belief concomitant upon the hypothesis, that Christ never in truth rose from the dead, that the apostles were impostors, and that the whole account of the resurrection was a tale known to be a falshood by the very promulgers themselves. If a man can admit such articles; and every infidel, on his own principles, stands pledged to admit them : he is certainly prepared, by a portentous credulity, to swallow, with the greediness of a depraved appetite, each absurdity which may be offered to him.
It is on this foundation, that we rationally admit the evidence of the apostles in regard to the
fact of the resurrection; while we reject, as palpably inconsistent and suspicious, the evidence of the Jewish rulers. But, if the fact of the resurrection be once admitted, every thing else follows as a matter of course : Christ was indeed a prophet sent from God; the apostles were true men, not impostors; the Gospel is no fraud upon the credulity of mankind, but a genuine revelation from heaven.
4. Such are the arguments furnished by an attentive examination of the conduct pursued by the apostolic college at large : others are additionally furnished by the conduct of two apostles in particular, which strike me as being so cogent that they ought not to be omitted in a discussion of the present nature. The individuals, to whom I allude, are Judas the traitor and Paul the persecutor.
(1.) With respect to Judas, he is mentioned at an early period of the history, as being one of those twelve select disciples, to whom Christ added as associates seventy other persons of an inferior rank and authority, and whom he sent out for the purpose of announcing to the house of Israel the near approach of his kingdom. These, having travelled from city to city, and having met with great success in the discharge of their commission, returned to him, we are told, with joy, on account of the prosperous issue of their undertaking *. Among them, of course, was Judas : and the whole of his conduct seems to have given general satisfaction ; for we find him afterwards acting the part of treasurer to the infant community; a circumstance, which implies that he was reckoned a man worthy of entire confidence *. Such being the case, we cannot reasonably doubt, that, whatever might be the true nature and object of the scheme contrived and carrying on by Christ and his twelve principal followers, Judas must have been thoroughly acquainted with it: that is to say, if the whole party were on good grounds fully persuaded that Christ was indeed a prophet sent from God, Judas must have known the universal belief and opinion; and, on the other hand, if they were conscious joint accomplices in the propagation of what was hoped might prove a lucrative imposture, Judas could not but have been in the secret.
* Matt. x. 1-7. Luke x. 1_20.
This man, instigated partly by the love of money, partly by disappointed ambition, and partly (it should seem) by anger on account of his having been openly denounced as a traitor in the presence of his fellows, agreed with the chief priests, for the sum of thirty pieces of silver, to betray his master into their hands. The money was paid : and Judas duly executed his detestable purpose. Christ was apprehended : and,
* John xii. 6. xiii. 29.
after having been subjected to the forms of a mock trial, was ignominiously put to death.
Under such circumstances, if Christianity had been an imposture, what would have been the obvious and natural procedure of Judas ? As one of the accomplices, he must have known that it was an imposture. Hence, as a deserter from the scheme, at the same time that he betrayed its author, or at all events after the death of its author, he would have unfolded the entire project to his employers. His evidence would have been of the very last importance : for how could an imposture be more completely detected and exposed, than by the voluntary confession of an accomplice ? To the high priests, therefore, such an instrument would plainly have been of incalculable value : for his evidence would at once have laid open all the hidden wheels of a hated fraud, and would have fully justified the proceedings of the Jewish rulers both to the people at large and to their own consciences in particular. Nor would his confession have been more desireable to the priests, than beneficial to himself. The character of an informer and a betrayer is always odious. Yet, if Judas had appeared as the repentant and conscientious revealer of a nefarious fraud, through which an impostor was to be impiously palmed upon the nation as their promised Messiah ; his honest treachery might not only have been pardoned,