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them all at once; and an Angel marched through them up to the sepulchre, and rolled away the stone from the mouth of it, though too weighty for any man to stir it; and that they had seen him sit down upon it when he had done, while they were unable to stir from the ground, and were terrified out of their strength, and nearly out of their senses. That the sepulchre being now open, the body of Jesus was certainly gone, while they were under this state of fear and amazement, and that he was actually risen from the dead.
Had the Chief Priests felt in their minds as you feel at the hearing of these things, they would have been pricked to the heart with the sense of their own guilt and folly; and have said—“ Then is Jesus of Nazareth our true Messiah, whose doctrine we contradicted, whose person we persecuted, and put him to death at last as a malefactor and a felon! Let us turn then from our errors ; let us forsake our evil ways, and pray that he will pardon our ignorance, and receive us to his favour, that we may at last partake of his salvation.” Thus you would have said. But what did they say ? Instead of confessing their sin, they added to all their other counsels and plots, one more, which was the last and worst of all : they hired the soldiers, who had been witnesses of his resurrection, to deny it, and to confirm the slander they had published before, that his disciples would come by night, and steal him away, and then pretend that he was risen from the dead.
I shall not stay to examine the folly and absurdity of this lie; which tells us, that soldiers were asleep, who were to be punished with death for confessing it; that they knew what was done while they were asleep: that the Disciples who had fled with fear
when their Master was condemned in the judgment hall, had turned mad all of a sudden, and exposed themselves to the arms of the Roman guards, to make the desperate attempt of stealing away the body of their master; that is, to bring death upon themselves if they should succeed, and everlasting contempt upon him and his religion : and moreover, that in the hurry of their theft, they had time to lay all the linen clothes by in an orderly manner, and to fold up the napkin that was bound about his head, as they were found by those who visited the sepulchre. These things are so obvious that it is not worth while to insist upon them. I shall therefore desire to consider what was the cause of this vile conduct of the Chief Priests? They had fallen into many religious notions, which were contrary to the preaching of Jesus Christ, and therefore they could not endure him or his doctrine. They would not believe him; and they could not answer him nor resist the force of his miracles. Under this state of things, there arises a battle between truth and falsehood: and when proud men fail of argument, they have nothing to depend upon but lying ; and one lie produces another, till they are involved and embarrassed past all recovery. Thus it hath always been, and always will be. Mistakes in religion make men wickeder than any other principle upon earth. Religious blindness is the worst of ignorance; and religious pride is more cruel and mischievous than any other. When the mind is under religious delusion, especially such delusion as flatters the evil passions of avarice, lust, and ambition; they mistake their wickedness for godliness; and so become incapable of shame or remorse. This was the case of the Jews and the Heathens ; and therefore,
in opposing the Gospel, they perpetrated more outrageous acts of falsehood, injustice, and cruelty, than men had ever done upon any other principle before.
Did the world ever hear of two such shameless lies, as those of the Jews? That Christ cast out devils by the power of Belzebub: and that when he was raised from the dead he was stolen away by his disciples ? and when one wicked wretch has invented a lie, the rest of his party fall into it, and spread it abroad. Thus you find, that when one assembly had invented the lie which the soldiers were to publish, the whole body of the Jews afterwards took up
the story and held to it: for the Evangelist adds, “ and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews to this day.” God deliver us therefore from pride, malice, and ignorance, which when united together form what we call religious bigotry. No falsehood can be too absurd for this bigotry to propagate; no action can be too unjust or cruel for it to perpetrate.
When we think on these things, we cannot but lament that the hearts of men are so miserably divided by false opinions. Hence we shall be led to set a greater value upon truth; which never fails to unite them. But best of all it is, to look with pity and compassion upon those who are in error, and to pray for them; that their pride may be humbled, their ignorance informed, and their hearts turned to peace and charity; for so long as we can pray for men, we shall never be angry with them, how great soever may be their errors and offences. We must expect, that some for malice, as the priests; and some for interest, as the soldiers; will go on lying to the end of the world : and the appearance of an angel from heaven would not cure them: for the more the truth is manifested, the more will some
people hate it. Disaffection is a deaf adder which hears no reason; a blind mole which sees no evidence : and obstinacy instead of being softened, is only hardened the more by the labour you bestow upon it, like iron under the hammer: which is only beaten closer into its own body. How common is it for one man to hate and rail at another, only because he has injured him. The priests and rulers of the Jews having despised and opposed our Saviour's doctrine, and finding it all confirmed by his resurrection, were brought to the tremendous dilemma, either of being converted, or of denying the resurrection : and you see which part they took. As bad people go on from bad to worse, it is wonderful to see what trouble those Jews gave themselves in running about the world, to poison the minds of men with their lying reports, and hinder the spreading of the Gospel; as if the best thing that ever came from heaven had been the worst of all! And the more it prevailed, the more were they disappointed and enraged. They preserved their influence with the Heathens against the Christians, till the time when · their city was destroyed and their temple burned; and from thence they became vagabonds and slaves, contemptible to all the world.
In their conduct relating to the resurrection of Christ, one circumstance more is observable. We are frequently informed in the Gospel how covetous these Jews were, and how devoted to the world. But one bad passion is frequently overcome by another, as the wild beast will sometimes fall upon and devour his fellow, if he is the stronger and the more hungry of the two. Thus did the malice of the Jews get the better of their covetousness; for well as they loved their money, they could readily part with it
for the gratification of their malice. The elders gave large money to the soldiers to say as they were bid, and deny their senses. No small sum must have been requisite to quiet those men, whose minds were big, and ready to burst, with so great and terrible a secret. Covetousness is a vice which lays fast hold upon the mind, and forces men upon many unjust, and mean, and even cruel actions : but pride and malice are of more force: so they who devoured widows' houses, and could sell the children of them to make a little profit, could part with their money freely when their pride and their malice were in danger. Such contrarieties are not peculiar to Jews; the case is the same with Christiạns, when their passions have drawn them into a snare : they are engaged, and must go on whatever it costs.
I have now gone through the peculiar circumstances of our Saviour's resurrection. Very instructive they are when we rightly consider and apply them : therefore every Christian, at this season of the year, should visit in heart and mind the tomb of Jesus Christ, to see where he was laid, and how he was raised, and what are the consequences upon ourselves and others; that is, upon believers and unbelievers.
To make a right use of this occasion, and store our minds with such reflections as arise from it, may be of service to us through the whole year, till the season comes about to us, if it shall please God to let us see the return of it. On Good Friday we commemorate the sorrows and sufferings of Christ; his death and burial. On this day we celebrate the glory of his resurrection. In these two memorable days we find the example of the whole Christian life and character. All of it is compounded as it were of Good Friday and Easter Day; that is, of sorrow