Creation Science Information & Links!
MAIN
F A Q
LINKS
ARTICLES
BOOKS
IMAGES
MP3
VIDEOS

 
Christianity & Science
A Series of Ten Lectures
 
by Andrew P. Peabody, D.D., LL.D.
GO TO START
Professor of Christian Morals in Harvard University · 1875
<<  PREV
LECTURE VI
Christ's Resurrection as History
NEXT  >>


PAUL'S TESTIMONY TO CHRIST'S RESURRECTION THE EARLIEST EXTANT.
- ITS SOURCE AND VALIDITY.
- ACCOUNTS OF THE RESURRECTION IN THE GOSPELS.
- THE APOSTLES BELIEVED IN CHRIST'S RESURRECTION.
- THE CHURCH BUILT UPON IT.
- CHRIST'S SUPPOSED REAPPEARANCE NOT AN HALLUCINATION.
-NOT REVIVAL FROM A SWOON.
- USES OF THE RESURRECTION.
- ITS PROOF GROWS WITH TIME.

THE earliest written mention of the resurrection of Jesus Christ which has come down to us is by St. Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians,- an epistle on whose genuineness there rests not the shadow of a doubt, and which was written some twenty-three or twenty-four years after the crucifixion. In this epistle Paul speaks of the resurrection of Christ as the fundamental fact on which repose alike his preaching and the faith of those to whom he writes. It is worthy of the most emphatic notice, also, that he does not treat this fact as needing proof, but employs it by way of argument, as of itself established and admitted beyond question. There were, it seems, among the Corinthians, some who had vague and loose notions about the life to come; denied the resurrection of the dead, or the renewal of personal identity after death; and probably, in opposition to such ultra-realistic views of the resurrection as Paul himself disclaims, maintained ultra-spiritualistic notions which refined away individual immortality, and left the disembodied spirit to be reabsorbed into the soul of the universe. To meet this error, Paul plants himself on the broken sepulchre in the garden, and takes as the basis of a masterly structure of conclusive argument the resurrection of Jesus as a universally received and unquestioned fact. He rehearses a list of witnesses, as if he had taken pains to examine the matter for himself. The risen Jesus, he says, was seen by Peter, by James, and by the apostles collectively. He certainly must have learned this directly from Peter and James, when, several years before, he went to Jerusalem to confer with them about his new faith, and was authorized by them to become its preacher; for if they had been silent about the resurrection then, and afterward professed to believe it, to a man of Paul's clear and cultivated mind the story would have seemed a fabrication unworthy of credit.

This visit of Paul to Peter and James took place not more than ten, probably not more than six, years after the crucifixion; and thus early Christ's resurrection must have been the fixed belief, real or pretended, of his disciples A myth could not have grown up in so short a time. What was professed or believed then could have been no other than a story grafted immediately upon the crucifixion, and must have been either a fact, an illusion, or an imposture.
Paul farther mentions the appearance of the risen Jesus to more than five hundred brethren at once, and says that the greater part of them were still living, though some had died. This certainly looks as if he were acquainted with many of the five hundred, and it is hardly possible that in a matter of so grave importance he should not have examined and weighed their testimony.

Not only in this chapter, but throughout the four epistles that are admitted to be genuine by the most rationalistic critics, the resurrection of Christ is referred to as the one salient fact of the Christian history. The reader of these epistles cannot doubt that Paul believed it as firmly as he believed his own existence, and that he wrote to converts who had no thought of calling it in question.

There are not a few to whom Paul's testimony is the most weighty that can be adduced. He was a man of singular acuteness, and of large and high culture; no man of his time was his superior, if his equal; and some who are no mean judges of their fellow-men look upon him as the greatest man that God ever made. He had been a vehement opposer and persecutor of the new faith. On that route lay office, honor, influence, wealth. He chose penury, contempt, the prison, the stocks, stripes, perpetual peril of death, - and Christ; and he was not ashamed of his choice. Only the strongest conviction could have started and sustained him on this new career, and conviction with a man like him meant impregnable proof, - solid and substantial reasons. In the circle in which he moved before his conversion, Christianity was held in at least as low esteem as Mor-monism is with us; and for such a man as he to become a Christian was as strange and abnormal as it would be for one of our divines, or judges, or princely merchants to join the motley community of Brigham Young. He had not a friend who was not ashamed of him, and whose respect for him was not changed into contempt. To face all this, must he not have had a belief tantamount to knowledge?

From the Acts of the Apostles, - which, whatever slurs may be cast upon it, undeniably represents the general tone, drift, and scope of the apostolic preaching, - it appears that the resurrection of Jesus was proclaimed within a few weeks after his death, in a discourse which won a multitude of converts in the city where he died; and it is hardly possible that among them there were not many who had seen him on the cross. Certainly the story was on this occasion put to the severest test possible. If there existed any means of refuting it, they were close at hand. The necessary inference is that the belief was founded either on fact, on a delusion which had a strange resemblance to reality, or on a deception planned and carried through with the most consummate dexterity. From that time onward the apostles and their associates so uniformly gave this story a foremost place in their preaching, that we might not unfittingly call theirs the Gospel of the Resurrection.

We have the most ample proof, which none can call in question, that this event was the universal belief of Christians long before either of the Gospels was written; and had neither of them ever been written, this belief would be none the less an indisputable fact in the history of the Church. But in the Gospels alone we have detailed narratives of the event. These narratives, as I said in a former Lecture, though not by any means coincident, fit into one another, each supplying details which the others omit, but for which they leave room. If all four of the evangelists were in Jerusalem at the time (as they probably were), each undoubtedly related such occurrences as came within his own cognizance; and the four harmonize as the stories of four commanders of divisions in a battle, or of four witnesses of the transactions of any eventful day would harmonize It is alleged, however/that there are some irreconcilable discrepancies. While to me, as I have said, they are not irreconcilable, yet, if they were so, they would rather confirm than shake my faith in the reality of the event described. It is to me astonishing that there should not have been such discrepancies. It is the uniform tendency of an event that strongly moves the imagination and the emotional nature to throw accessory circumstances into the background, to confuse and blur the memory with regard to them, and thus to generate narratives irreconcilable in their details. . A case in point occurs to me in Roman history. The history of the Second Punic War was written by several authors, whose narratives, entire or in part, have been preserved. They all tell the story of ten prisoners of war whom Hannibal sent to Rome, bound by an oath that they would return into captivity if they failed to obtain an exchange of prisoners. One of them, at the outset, pretended to have forgotten something, returned to the Carthaginian camp as if to look for it, and then rejoined the other nine on the route to Rome. He claimed to have been absolved of his oath by this constructive return, in accordance with its letter, but in violation of its spirit. One account says that he was sent back from Rome to Hannibal in chains; another, that he remained at Rome, but was degraded for life from the rights of citizenship; and there are vestiges of still a third version of the story (see Appendix II, Note H). The flagrancy of the crime, in an age when good faith was held inviolably sacred at Rome, and when its infraction was regarded with intense loathing, so impressed the public mind as to throw the actual doom of the perjured man into the shadow of his own guilt. Not a few instances of the same kind, in which, in the record of momentous or startling events, accessory facts that must have been publicly known have been transmitted in different forms, might be quoted from both ancient and modern history. The principle is an important one. I see no need of applying it to the narratives of the resurrection; but, were there need, it would be to the fullest extent applicable.

That the apostles and their associates believed in their Lord's resurrection hardly needs proof. It is admitted by Renan, who expressly says that without this belief they would never have incurred the labors, hardships, persecutions, and perils, incident to the founding of the Christian Church. Strauss writes to the same purpose: " Faith in the resurrection of Jesus is a fact of prime historical importance; for without it one cannot see how a Christian community would ever have been formed;" and, again, " There can be no doubt that the apostle Paul had heard from Peter, James, and others beside, that Jesus had appeared to them, and that all these persons and the five hundred brethren were fully convinced that they had seen Jesus living, who had been dead." Baur, who has as little Christian faith as either Strauss or Renan, but whose surpassing erudition and critical acuteness cannot be denied, writes in the same vein : " History must hold fast to this fact, that for the faith of the disciples the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a certain and immovable truth, and that it is only in this faith that Christianity found a solid basis for its whole historical development." In the face of such admissions from the chief pundits of scepticism, there is no need of our doing any thing more to establish the fact that the apostles and their associates believed in the actual resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Nor do these authors cast any doubt on the supposed appearances of Jesus as having been recorded in good faith by the evangelists. Indeed, it hardly needs to be said that, if they honestly believed the story, they were honest in their relation of the grounds on which they believed it. Pascal goes too far when he says, " I readily believe stories whose witnesses offer themselves to death for their truth; " but, while even such witnesses may be grossly mistaken, we must admit their truthfulness, and suppose that they think they saw all that they pretend to have seen.

The two hypotheses which divide the sceptical world on this subject are, first, that Jesus really died, and that the apostles were under an hallucination in supposing that they saw him alive; and, secondly, that he did not die, but fell into a swoon from which he recovered, and thus actually reappeared after his crucifixion.

We will first test the theory of hallucination. On this theory the body of Jesus was somewhere. Where was it? Who removed it from the sepulchre? Who could have done this? A great stone was laid on the mouth of the sepulchre, and Roman sentinels guarded its approach. But suppose that the stone was not too heavy to be easily moved, and that the Roman sentry was a mere figment, or that the soldiers slept on their watch, or suffered themselves to be bribed,- who took the body? Not the disciples; for if they had taken it, they would not have believed in the resurrection. Not the Jewish or Roman authorities; for they would have produced the body to refute the story of the resurrection. Tertullian quotes those who say that the gardener removed it, to prevent the trampling down of his lettuce-beds by those who visited the sepulchre.* But he could hardly have done this without the order of his master; he could not have removed the body far; it could have been easily found; nay, he himself would have produced it in view of the reward which would have been readily paid to. negative the growing rumor of the resurrection. Moreover, the removal of the body while the grave-clothes were left behind is inconceivable, unless it were a contrivance to substantiate the story of the resurrection: such a stratagem would have been possible only for those who were going to circulate the story, that is, for the disciples; and we have seen that the supposition of fraud on their part is utterly untenable. Renan, with characteristic frankness, confesses himself unable to solve this mystery, yet suggests that Joseph of Arimathea may have procured the removal. But Joseph either was or was not a thoroughly sincere and steadfast disciple of Jesus. If he was a disciple, he must have taken upon himself the risks incurred by every professed believer in the resurrection, which he could not have believed, if he -had surreptitiously procured the report of it. If, on the other hand, his allegiance to Christ was not genuine and stable, he would certainly have sought peace with his brethren of the Sanhedrim by aiding in the detection of the imposture. In fine, there was no party, there was no individual man, who had any thing to gain, any possible purpose to advance, by stealing the body of Jesus and keeping it concealed. This difficulty stands, then, immovable in the way of the theory of hallucination. But we will waive it, to examine the theory in other aspects.

Visual hallucinations have their laws and their limits. They occur rather by night than by day.

They are not apt to recur under altered circumstances. They affect individuals rather than groups of men. They do not run at the same moment through large bodies of men in broad daylight, so that five hundred persons falsely think that they see the same unreal, man or object at the same time. They are not accompanied by imagined long conversations, by imagined serial transactions with their object, by imagined sittings at the same table, and receiving food from his hands. Had Mary Magdalene's story been the only one, it would certainly be conceivable that, in the misty dawn and with tear-dimmed eyes, she mistook the gardener for Jesus. But it is impossible to apply the same solution to the supposed separate appearances to the eleven and to different groups of disciples. It is impossible that Thomas should have been deceived as to the reality of the wound-marks; for uniform experience shows that the hand corrects the errors of the eye. There could have been no delusion in the conversations put on record, - in Christ's expounding the Scriptures, calling forth the expressions of love from the disciple who had denied him, giving his parting commands to those who were to go out into the world to preach his Gospel; nor yet when his disciples thought that he was sitting with them at their noonday meal, partaking of it himself, and dispensing the viands with his own hands. Least of all could the five hundred brethren have been deceived in mass, so that they should have imagined his presence, when where they thought he stood there was only empty air. Nor must it be forgotten that, according to this hypothesis, the only ground for the strangest series of delusions on record was the mistake of a woman whose previous insanity (for the seven demons must denote a most deplorable condition of mind, whether from natural causes or possession by evil spirits) would have rendered her the least credible witness in the whole company of the disciples. She was the only person who, unless Jesus really appeared, saw any thing out of which the phantasm could have taken shape. The apparition came to all the others when they were on the road, or assembled in the upper chamber, or fishing on the lake, - when there could have been no doubtful appearance like that which is said to have occasioned Mary Magdalene's mistake. If any one part of this theory is weaker than the rest, the misapprehension from which the story is alleged to have grown and spread is the weakest of all.

We pass now to the theory of suspended animation and apparent death, followed by resuscitation. To this we encounter at the outset what might seem to any person of sound ethical discernment a fatal objection, in the moral character of Jesus. If he had not died, he knew it, and he himself invented the figment of his resurrection. How would this story tally with the character of any of the great men with whom we so often see him named by those who admit his purity and excellence, yet deny the tokens of his divine Son-ship? If Socrates had swooned and not died on drinking the hemlock, and then tried to make his friends believe that he had really died and come to life again, think you that he would stand before an admiring world on the pedestal of moral elevation which he now occupies? Was it possible for him, being the man he undoubtedly was, to lend himself to such an infamous fraud? What shall we say, then, of him in whose robe of righteousness unbelievers have striven in vain to detect rent or seam? If we are to judge of a man by his previous character, under circumstances that do not carry with them their own full interpretation, and if Jesus was but a man and no more, certainly no man ever trod the earth who in precept and example presents a more perfectly transparent honesty and truthfulness, - none whose whole aim in living and dying was so manifestly the promotion of virtue, - none who has shown so intense an abhorrence of shams and falsities.

But we will not take shelter under his character. We will try the issue as if he had been morally capable of enacting a falsehood. It is said that death by crucifixion was very slow, frequently not occurring till the second day, or even later, and that at the end of six hours there is at least a strong probability that life was not extinct. To this suggestion the first answer is that the Roman executioners were accustomed to this mode of punishment, and knew the signs of death; that they were not the men to let their victims escape from their hands with their work but half accomplished; that in this case they did not see sure signs of death in the two malefactors, though from the narrative we may infer that to an unpractised eye they seemed already dead; and that nothing but absolute certainty on the part of the soldiers would have deterred them from employing on Jesus the barbarous mode of disablement to which they had recourse in the case of the malefactors. Then, again, we have reason to believe that crucifixion inflicted fatal injury, though often not immediately fatal. It could hardly fail, in the first few hours, to produce a congestion of the vital current, of which death at no great distance of time would be the inevitable result, - a congestion, too, which would of itself render spontaneous revival from a swoon impossible.

From the nature of the case we should, indeed, have on record very few instances of the recovery of crucified persons. I remember but one - there may be others - and that is a case which, though much employed by non-believers in the reality of the resurrection, bears with great weight of argument against their hypothesis. I refer to the case described by. Josephus in his autobiography. He says that he was one day sent by Titus to Thecoa, which was within sight of Jerusalem, about twelve miles distant from it; that on his return he found many captives crucified, three of them persons with whom he had been well acquainted; that he procured of Titus leave to have these persons taken down, and subjected to the most careful treatment; and that two of them died under the physician's hands, while the third recovered. From this account it would seem that the crucifixion had not begun when Josephus left the city, and the narrative would lead us to suppose that he was absent but a few hours, certainly not overnight; yet two of these men had sunk beyond recovery, and the third survived only under the most skilful treatment accessible (see Appendix II, Note I). The inference is that fatal lesion of the vital organs was wont to ensue even from the earlier stages of this horrible punishment. Then, too, the Roman soldiers, with characteristic barbarity, were intent, in the case of Jesus, on exploring the seat of life; and the serous fluid that followed the spear wound indicated the puncture of the pericardium, which, if not already dead, he could not have survived. Even had not the inevitably fatal wound been given, if there had still remained intermittent flickerings of life, these must have been extinguished in the close, mephitic air of the tomb. Moreover, if continued respiration had been possible, whence the strength that enabled him after thirty-six hours of fasting, bleeding, fainting, to raise from within the heavy stone, and so to reappear in the eyes of his friends as to seem not snatched from the jaws of the grave, but Conqueror of death? The double walk between Jerusalem and Emmaus on that very day, and all the traces that we have of him for the ensuing forty days, indicate not slow and painful convalescence, but at least the wonted vigor of his former life. Bodily weakness would have rendered him utterly incapable of playing a part in such a drama as awaited him for its chief actor. It would have betrayed itself to the disciples. It would have thrown him upon their anxious care, instead of casting them at his feet in wondering awe. The disciples were not the fools they are commonly assumed to have been by those who account for every thing that looks strange in the Gospel narrative by their feeble credulity. They were sensible men; disciplined by a rough, hard life; familiar with the appearances and the reality of things, and amply able to know the difference between one who had barely evaded and one who had surmounted death. The latter they believed Jesus to be. They had no interest which in the former capacity could have been served by proclaiming him as their Lord. To protect him from further persecution, to nourish him in secret, and to continue their kind regard for him, was the utmost that could have been expected of them. That they should throw away all that this world had for them in the present and future, to sustain any baseless pretensions of his or of their own about him, would have been sheer madness.

The improbability of the solution which we are now considering seems still more glaring, when we remember that Jerusalem was filled with keen eyes and active brains that were implacably hostile to Jesus and his memory; that of these the Sadducees at least had neither superstition nor credulity, while the Pharisees can have had very little (hypocrites seldom have much); and that the same interests which had succeeded in bringing Jesus to the cross were still more concerned in crushing out this rumor of the resurrection. If it was merely resuscitation, there must have been numerous ways in which the real fact, if concealed by friends, would have betrayed itself to unfriendly eyes, or have got abroad in the gossip which can no more be muffled or choked in any community, than you can smother fire with linen garments.

Still farther, if Christ's was merely a case of suspended and renewed animation under ordinary physical laws, death was still before him, and friends, or enemies, or both, must have known when, where, and how he died. If he lingered on for years in retirement and obscurity, his disciples knew it; they knew that he was no longer the man he had been; and he would have been a dead weight on their faith and their zeal. If he died early, they knew it, and if he had not lived imbecile years enough to cloud the memory of his better days and to eclipse his fame, they would have recorded his final departure and done honor to his sepulchre; for, though they believed his resurrection, they yet could not have anticipated what we so clearly see, - the fitness that he should not die again: his death would have seemed to them no more strange than the second death of Lazarus or of the young man of Nain. In fine, his death could not but have been a known event and a matter of record. The very fact that he disappeared, and "no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day," adds a strong probability to the story of the resurrection, inasmuch as it makes the ascension probable; while, on the other hand, the ascension postulates the resurrection as its antecedent, and has its meaning, its appropriateness, its didactic power, its essential place in the Christian history, only as the sequel, crown, and consummation of the former miracle. The ascension, inconceivable as a delusion on the part of the disciples; as a figment, beyond the easy scope of their very prosaic imaginations, adding gratuitously to the heavy draft they were already making on the faith of their dupes, and contributing no one element of strength to their cause,- was yet the very mode of leaving the world which, in the retrospect, seems alone in harmony with a passage through life and the death-shadow like Christ's. It was fitting that he who, alone of all those born of woman, had "power to lay down his life and power to take it again," should not even seem to succumb to his once vanquished foe, should leave upon the earth no trophies for death to boast, but should pass on to his heavenly throne,

"His human form dissolved on high In its own radiancy."

We have thus seen that the undoubted belief of the primitive disciples in their Lord's resurrection can be accounted for neither by delusion nor by imposture, but only by the actual occurrence of the event. It is worthy of emphatic remark that no alleged fact in the early history of Christianity has had so prominent a place as this, or has so constantly invited test, inquiry, cavil. The church in all time has been ready to stand or fall upon this record. The resurrection was commemorated from the beginning by the use of the first day of the week for Christian worship, at the outset supplementing, then superseding, the Jewish sabbath. Its anniversary was the earliest of the . Christian festivals, and must have been so observed in the apostolic age; for in the next generation we find record of a controversy in which primitive usage was appealed to, as to the proper time for celebrating the resurrection, whether always on Sunday, or on the day succeeding the paschal full moon, whether on Sunday or not (see Appendix II, Note J). These commemorations might be cited, did we need them, as historical proofs; for there are no historical records so absolutely infallible as rites or festivals commemorative of single events. It is impossible that such observances should not have originated in real or supposed facts, and equally impossible that they should retain their form and change their meaning. I refer to them now, however, not for their direct evidential value, but to show that this alleged event, from the prominence thus given to it, has always presented a broad mark for attack, and has challenged the keenest weapons of the opposite camp. I have exhibited to you the most and best that these assailants have been able to effect. They have not succeeded in casting any doubt on the genuineness and sincerity of the primitive belief in the resurrection, nor have they produced any counter-hypothesis other than these which we have seen to be so baseless and flimsy. In view of the controversy, we are entitled to say that no fact in history rests on more solid and substantial evidence than this.

But we may be held to the Horatian rule, " Let not a God intervene, unless there be an occasion worthy of his intervention." The uses of the resurrection may be called in question; and though God is not bound to account to man for what he does, still we may reasonably expect that man shall understand in part what he does for man, and those who deny the resurrection may justly claim that we should show how and why it was needed. It may be said, The resurrection does not prove immortality, and it is this which we want to have proved. I answer that it demonstrates all that we need to know, in order to be sure of immortality. Death is the only obstacle in the way of our belief of eternal life. Could we follow with our apprehensive faculties those who die, and see them living on, we should have no doubt that they would live for ever. The gulf once safely passed, the heavenly shore once reached, we should have no farther fear of the suspension of being. Now the resurrection of Jesus proves that death is not destruction; that if a man die, he may live again. Jesus did not return to life; but he resumed his dead body to show that he had not ceased to live, and that no soul born of God can ever die; and we know not how this could have been so clearly shown in any other way.

The resurrection was also needed to put the seal upon Christ's example, and to demonstrate the safety and the wisdom of following it. Whatever purposes in the divine counsels his death may have served, his earthly life, without the resurrection, was an utter failure. If we may in our thought listen to the conversation of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, it might have run in this wise, " To what purpose is this life, wasted, thrown away? A little yielding would have been to him an infinite gain. Let him at the outset have had a wise reference to his own interest; let him have made a few harmless concessions to popular tastes and prejudices; let him have stepped aside now and then instead of marching straight on in the face and eyes of what he deemed wrong and evil: he might have gained a name and influence; he might have been efficient as a reformer; he might have raised up a strong sect among the very rulers and Pharisees; he might have lived to see his cause triumphant, and have passed away in old age with universal reverence and honor. But now all that has come of his uncompromising rigidness of principle has been a scanty, lessening and discouraged following, the general hatred and scorn, a hard lot, a barbarous doom, a felon's death." This was sound reasoning on the day when he slept the death-slumber in Joseph's garden; and, had he not awoke from that slumber, it would be sound reasoning now, and the best morality of our race would still be comprehended in that incomparable maxim of worldly wisdom, " Be not righteous overmuch; for why shouldest thou destroy thyself?" When the powers of evil have hunted Jesus to his destruction, and laid him low in the dust, they certainly have for the time the upper hand. But how is all this changed when, like the midsummer sun on the verge of the Arctic circle, Jesus just dips beneath the horizon, and lo ! from the very twilight of his setting bursts the glorious dawn of his resurrection day ! It now appears that the power of life and death is not in the hands of moral evil or its abettors; that they cannot kill; that virtue, integrity, piety, live on unharmed through death, as asbestos in fire; and that it makes no manner of difference whether the right seem to succeed in this world or not, while it has the eternal years of God for its ascendancy and triumph. The resurrection has thus made Christ's example availing for all who pursue the right with earthly and human influence on the adverse side. His path, had it stopped short at the sepulchre, would have won no follower; but now that it stretches on in a line of living light through the valley of the death-shadow, it has drawn a multitude that no man can number of elect and loyal souls to follow him in his death to sin, that they may follow him in heaven arid for ever.

But it may be asked, Why should the revelation of the eternal life have been given in this dramatic form? Why might not a verbal assurance of immortality, with unmistakable tokens that it came from God, have met the needs of human faith and virtue equally with this scenic transaction, which has given rise to so much doubt and cavil? Why should a physical testimony have been borne to a spiritual truth? I reply that immortality, and especially resurrection, that is, the essential identity of the being that lives for ever with that which lived and died on earth, is primarily a physical truth, and may therefore admit, or even demand external, visible proof. If eternal life be the destiny of man, it is because God has made the vital organism in man indestructible by material forces. Had it been made destructible by those forces, there might have been re-creation, not immortality. Now, God has shown us in the resurrection of Christ that human life is not destructible by the agencies that destroy the body, and has thus literally made the eternal life manifest in the flesh, and more clearly manifest than mere words could ha\e made it.

Still further, verbal revelation addresses the reason alone; but in the matter under discussion the imagination and the emotional nature are profoundly concerned. They are concerned, are influential, and often dominant on all subjects of religious belief and evidence. Moreover, they are apprehensive faculties no less than reason. They have their own tests of truth, no less authentic and trustworthy than those employed by the reason. The dogmas which they, in their legitimate exercise, repudiate are not true, though logically proved; the dogmas which they postulate have in their favor a strong prestige prior to proof. The naturalism which excludes the Christ-element from religion, and reduces it to abstract propositions and principles, finds no point of attachment to humanity except through the intellect. The imagination spurns it. The affections shiver in the face of it.

Now these portions of our nature have their special needs and cravings with reference to death, and what may lie or may not lie beyond it. There is in many minds a shrinking, even to horror, from the physical phenomena and accessories of death,-the ebbing pulse, the shortening breath, the sad surroundings, the conscious nearness of the plunge into an untried state of being, the solitary passage through the death-shadow. It is a feeling which, entirely independent of belief, cannot be allayed by mere belief. This condition of the imaginative or emotional nature can be soothed and transformed only by influences of its own order, and such are those flowing from a scenic display of the conquest over Death on the very stage where he is wont to move in kingly guise. All these accessories of the dissolution of the body - in their mildest forms so appalling - were clustered in their direst aspects about the cross and burial of our Lord; and they are all transfigured in the light of the resurrection morning, - symbols no longer of death, but of undying life, - no longer of the soul unclothed, but clothed upon, - no longer of the dismantling of the earthly tabernacle, but of the opening portals of the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Who that has watched by the Christian deathbed has not felt moved to dwell in converse and in prayer on the place where the Lord lay, and witnessed the sweet peace and the hope surmounting fear, as the dying believer has thought of that far-off sepulchre in Judæa while he was sinking into his own grave?

The sensibilities which crave this support are not confined to weaker minds, though, if they were, we should expect to find them only the more tenderly cared for by Infinite Love. They are often keenest and most craving in the very minds that might seem most capable of satisfying themselves by abstract truth. I know of no more explicit and touching confession of them than in the words of Dr. Arnold, whose firm faith and clear reason might have seemed sufficient, if they ever are sufficient. He says, in writing about the death of one of his children : " Nothing afforded us so much comfort, when shrinking from the outward accompaniments of death, the grave, the grave-clothes, the loneliness, - as the thought that all these had been around our Lord himself, round him who died and is alive for evermore."

These needs become solid arguments, when we are reasoning about Him who knoweth our frame, and who, as a Father, pitieth his children. If from the resurrection of Christ spring a consolation, peace, and hope which even his words could not give, we have added confirmation of no little force for that crowning miracle of power and mercy on which the Church is built, on which the faith of these Christian ages has rested with a unanimity of consent that can be affirmed of no other truth or fact appertaining to our religion or its history.

One closing thought, which impresses me with great force. The evidence of our Lord's resurrection, so far from being impaired by time, has gained strength with the lapse of ages. I think that even with regard to a common man such proof as we possess would constrain our belief in his resurrection, yet not without a vague reluctance, a rebellion of reason against reason, of strong opposing probabilities against overwhelmingly strong testimony. But suppose that the man whose resurrection was thus attested were not a common, but a unique man; one in whom had been witnessed from infancy to death an unequalled purity and loveliness; one whose words had seemed to those who heard them as utterances from heaven, and with an authority to which men had instinctively yielded as divine; one who had not his like in the whole antecedent history of the world, - then, that death should not have had the same power over him as over other men would not seem so very improbable. Suppose, still further, that, as the centuries roll on, this man, said to have risen from the dead, proves to be the author of a new epoch for humanity; that his influence broadens and deepens from age to age; that the very tokens of his ignominy become more glorious than the badges of royalty, and the effigy of his death as a felon-slave is made the most precious ornament of crowns and sceptres; in fine, that not only God in his revealed purpose, but men - his opposers no less than his adherents - give him a name above every name, - then does his culminating career on the way to universal empire add perpetually new attestation to the record of his resurrection from the tomb and his ascension on high.
 

<<  PREV
End of  LECTURE VI
NEXT  >>

 
MAIN
F A Q
LINKS
ARTICLES
BOOKS
IMAGES
MP3
VIDEOS