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APOSTOLICAL PROOFS OF THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY.
ACTS ii. 32, 33.
THIS JESUS HATH GOD RAISED UP, WHEREOF WE ALL ARE WITNESSES. THEREFORE BEING
THE RIGHT HAND EXALTED, AND HAVING RECEIVED OF THE FATHER THE PROMISE OF THE HOLY GHOST, HE HATH SHED FORTH THIS, WHICH YE NOW SEE AND HEAR.”
THE truth of our blessed Saviour's character and the consequent validity of his pretensions, were made to depend, in a very eminent degree, upon his resurrection from the dead. To this great event he frequently alluded, both in his discourses with the Jews, and in his more familiar and intimate conversation with his chosen disciples. It was the grand feature in his history—that to which all his ministerial labours were directed, and from which all the future miracles of grace and mercy to mankind were made to spring. . No wonder, therefore, that he took pains to announce it in terms sufficiently explicit for all the purposes of verification and proof, whenever it should be accomplished, although it might seem inconceivable and gain little credit with men, who had no notion at the time of a bodily resurrection. The Jews, indeed, had no conception of the nature or necessity of the death of Christ. Whilst all their sacrifices bore testimony to it, and were shadows of the high sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the world, they never seem to have looked to this final and only satisfactory issue of their ritual, nor to have conceived, that God would prepare a victim in the body of a man like themselves. When our Saviour spake to them of his death, he used a figurative style of expression, partly, perhaps, to excite their attention the more closely, and partly, no doubt, because any literal explanation of his views would have been rejected. Nor were the chosen disciples themselves much more happy in their comprehension of their Lord. To them, indeed, he used a plainer language, and declared, very explicitly, both the mode and circumstances of his death. But their hearts were hardened by the defects of a bad education and the corrupt maxims of the world; and looking forward to the times of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, and to a glorious Messiah sitting on the throne of David, they could not comprehend his meaning. The Evangelist relates, that when he had given them a circumstantial account of his crucifixion, detailing its minute particulars, they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken." Even after our blessed Lord's death, and when the first tidings of his resurrection began to be currently reported, we find them still doubting and hesitating; and the utmost latitude to which their faith in him extended, went no farther than that they had “ trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel:"-redeemed it, not from Satan, hell, and misery, but from the grasp of the uncircumcised, and the yoke of foreign dominion. It deserves, therefore, to be well remembered, that neither the Jewish nation in general, nor the chosen disciples in particular, had any just apprehension of the necessity of Christ's death, nor any expectation whatever of his rising again to life. The care taken to secure the sepulchre, arose not from any belief of the Jewish rulers in the truth of his prediction, but purely from a fear that the sanctity of the dead would be violated to impose upon the living, and that his prediction was nothing more than a part of the scheme of his imposture.
It was a wise provision in Providence to suffer this ignorance to remain upon men's minds. Suppose any part of the Jewish nation had looked for his resurrection; suppose the disciples only had been thoroughly prepared for it; how different would bave been their conduct under such an impression. Instead of doubting and disbelieving the reiterated accounts of his appearance to different parties; instead of disputing and almost denying the possibility of such a fact, and requiring ocular and sensible demonstration of it; instead of going about, like a scattered remnant, and hiding themselves from the notice of the world; we should have found them watchful and ready for the first signal of his return, providing means for the earliest propagation and fullest development of that event, and so open to surmise, as to consider every flying rumour an evidence of the fact. Whereas, they were slow to believe and jealous of imposition. Surprise and joy overwhelmed them together; and when, at length, they were convinced, it was by personal evidence and immediate inter
As our blessed Lord meant his disciples to be the first propagators of his religion, it was necessary to make them witnesses of his resurrection from the dead. This was the corner-stone of the edifice they were to raise. In order to render their testimony the more valid, he allowed them to doubt. A doubting mind is never easily deceived. It requires satisfactory proofs of what it is called upon to receive, and is always scrupulous and exact. To arm them with increased confidence, and to remove every possible impediment to their fullest and firmest conviction of this great truth, he permitted them farther to be witnesses of his ascension. The same reason which rendered it necessary that certain friends, who knew him when alive, should be admitted to his presence after he rose from the dead, rendered it necessary likewise, that they should see him return into heaven, as well for their own farther conviction, as for the conviction of those who should believe on him through their name.
For the proof of his being seen alive would not have been complete for the purposes for which it was given, namely, to establish his divine mission and son-ship, unless it had been farther ascertained that he went back to the bosom of his Father. The captious Jew and the cavilling sceptic would still have demanded the result of his resurrection to himself, and any ambiguity thrown over his future history, would have opened a door for perplexity and doubt. He had told the Jews, “Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me.” It was important, therefore, that bis ascension should take place in a visible manner and before credible witnesses, both to verify his own predictions, and to bring his earthly ministration to a public and regular close.
Now, when the Apostles began to publish the Gospel, they insisted mainly upon three great topics, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus Christ, and the Descent of the Holy Ghost.
These were the three apostolical arguments with which they defended themselves, and inculcated the truths they taught.
I. The Resurrection was the basis of their teaching. Christianity, as a system of salvation for penitent sinners, stands or falls by this single argument. However afflicting the death of Christ might be, viewed as a painful and ignominious mode of punishment, or however salutary, as teaching mankind how to bear adversity and distress, anguish and suffering, and to bear it innocently, as proxy for others, still the effect would have been but trifling on the world, if all its benefits had terminated there. Animals without number had bled and died. Human victims had been offered up in expiation for the guilt of others, but their virtue perished with them, and no ulterior