The extraordinary working of the Divine Power is a convincing proof of the Verity of the Christian Reli∣gion. The internal Excellencies of it are clear marks of its Divinity, to the purified Mind. The external Operations of God's power were requisite to convince men in their corrupt state, that the Doctrine the Gospel came from God. The miraculous owning of Christ by the whole Divinity from Heaven. The Resurrection of Christ the most important Article of of the Gospel, and the demonstration of all the rest. How valuable the Testimony of the Apostles is con∣cerning it. That 'twas impossible they should deceive, or be deceived. The quality of the Witnesses con∣sidered. There cannot be the least reasonable suspicion of them. 'Tis utterly incredible that any humane temporal respects mov'd them to feign the Resurrecti∣on of Christ. The nature of the Testimony consi∣dered. It was of a matter of fact, and verified to all their Senses. The Uniformity of it secures us there was no corruption in the Witnesses, and that it was no illusion. They seal'd the truth of it with their Blood. The Miracles the Apostles did in the Name of Christ▪ a strong demonstration that he was rais'd to a glorious life. That Power was continued in the Church for a time. The Conclusion, how reasonable it is to give an entire Assent to the truth of Christi∣anity. 'Tis desperate Infidelity not to believe it; and the highest Madness to pretend to believe it, and to live in disobedience to it.
Page 4661 FRom what hath been discours'd concerning the extraordinary working of the Divine Power, we have a most convincing proof of the Ve∣rity of the Christian Religion. For since God hath by so many miraculous Effects, the infallible indi∣cations of His Favour to the Person of Jesus Christ, justified his Doctrine, no reasonable doubt can re∣main concerning it. Indeed the internal excellen∣cies of it which are visible to the purged Eye of the Soul, are clear marks of its Divinity. The Myste∣ry of our Redemption is made up of various parts,* in the Union of which such an evident Wisdom ap∣pears, that the rational Mind, unless enslaved by prejudice, must be ravisht into a compliance. Even that which most offends Sense, the Meanness of our Saviours condition in the world, and the miseries to which He was expos'd, do so perfectly correspond with his great design to make Men holy and heaven∣ly, that it appears to be the effect of most wise Counsel. And such a Beauty of Holiness shines in the Moral part, as clearly proves God to be its Au∣thour. It denounces war against all Vices, and commands every Vertue. All that is excellent in humane Institutions it delivers with infinite more authority and efficacy: And what natural reason did not reach to, it fully describes in order to the Glory of God and the Happiness of Man. Now as God, the Authour of Nature, hath by Tasts, and Smells, and other sensible qualities, distinguish'd things whol∣som from noxious, even to the lowest living Crea∣tures: So He hath much more distinguish'd objects that are saving from deadly, that is, the true Religion from the false, by undoubted evidences to any who Page 467 will exercise their Spiritual Senses, and sincerely de∣sire to know and obey it. And that all the wise and holy embraced it in the face of the greatest discou∣ragements, is an unanswerable Argument that 'tis pleasing to God. For how is it possible that the Good God should suffer those to fall into mortal Er∣rour, who from an ardent Affection to Him despis'd whatever is amiable or terrible in the world? How is it possible He should deny the Knowledg of Himself to those to whom He gave such a pure Love to Him∣self?
But the humane Nature in its corrupted state is contrary both to the Doctrine of the Gospel, that propounds Supernatural Verities hard to believe, and to the commands of it, that enjoin things hard to do: For this reason 'twas necessary that God by some ex∣ternal Operations, the undeniable effects of His Power, should discover to the World his approbation of it.
Now that Christ is the Son of God, and Redeemer of the World, was miraculously declared from Hea∣ven by the whole Divinity, There are Three that bear Record in Heaven, the Father, and the Word,*and the Holy Ghost, and these three are One. The Father testified by a Voice as loud as Thunder at his Baptism, and Transfiguration, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.* The Son by his glo∣rious appariton to Paul, when He struck him to the earth with these words, Why persecutest thou me? The Light was so radiant, the Voice so strong,* the impression it made so deep and sensible, that he knew it came from God. And He manifested Himself to St. John with that brightness, That he fell at his feet as dead, till in compassion He reviv'd him, and said, Page 468I am He that liveth and was dead,*and behold I am alive for evermore. And the Holy Spirit by his mi∣raculous descent in the shape of a Dove upon Him, and in fiery Tongues upon the Apostles, gave a visible testimony that Jesus Christ was sent from God to save the World. I will particularly consider one Effect of the Divine Power, the Resurrection of Christ, this being the most important Article of the Gospel, and the demonstration of all the rest. For 'tis not conceivable that God would by his Almighty Power have rais'd Him from the Grave to a glorious Life, (and it is impossible He should be otherwise) if He had taken the Name of the Son of God in vain, and arrogated to himself Divine Honour, and only pre∣tended that he was sent from Him. By the Resur∣rection He was declar'd to be the Son of God with Power.* For that being the proof of his Mission, justifies the truth of his Doctrine, and particularly of the quality of God's Son, which He alwaies attri∣buted to Himself. Now if Infidelity object, that we who live in the present Age have no sensible testimony that Christ is risen, and what assurance is there, that the Apostles who reported it were not Deceivers or deceived? In Answer to this, I will briefly 〈◊〉 how valuable the Testimony of the Apo∣stles is, and worthy of all acceptation; and that 'twas equally impossible they should be deceived, or intend to deceive. His Death is attested by his Enemies. 〈◊〉 a Pagan relates that He Suffered under Pontius Pilate. And the Jews to this day 〈◊〉 so unhappy as to boast of their being the causes of his Crucifixion, and call him by a name that is the mark of his Punishment. But his Resurrection they peremptorily deny. Now the Apostles being Page 469 sent to convert the World, were to •ay this down as the foundation of their Preaching, that Jesus Christ was rais'd from the dead, that all might yield Faith and Obedience to Him. This was then spe∣cial charge, as St. Peter declares,*Wherefore of th•se men which have companied with us, all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the Baptism of John, unto the same day that He was taken up from us, must be one ordained to be a witness of his Resurrection. They were to testifie concerning His Doctrine and Life, His Miracles and Sufferings, but principally His Resurrection. For this reason St. Paul, who was extraordinarily admitted into their Order, had a miraculous Sight of Christ from Heaven (Last of all He was seen of me) to testifie it to the World. Now for our full conviction,* 'tis ne∣cessary to consider the quality of the Witnesses, and the nature of their Testimony.
1. The Witnesses were such of whom there can∣not be the least reasonable Suspicion.* In Civil Causes of the greatest moment, the Testimony of the Honourable and the Rich are accounted valuable, be∣cause they are not easily corrupted: one of a low degree may from baseness of Spirit, through Co∣wardize and Fear be tempted to deny the Truth: one in a poor condition may be so dazled with the lustre of Gold, when he considers the price of Perjury, as to be induced to assert a falshood. But who is more incorruptible, the Noble that from a sense of Honour abhor a Lie,* or those who by their Divine Birth and Qualities did so detest it, that they would not tell a Lie for the Glory of God? Who is more worthy of Credit, the Rich whose Riches sometimes excites their desires after more, or those who by a generous Page 470 disdain despised all things. Besides, Persons of known Integrity whom the different images of hopes and fears cannot probably encline to evil, are ad∣mitted to decide the weightiest Causes: Now the Apostles were so innocent, sober, honest and un∣blameable in the whole tenour of their Conversati∣ons, that their most malignant Adversaries could never fasten an accusation upon them. Indeed if their carnal Interests had been concern'd, there might have been some colourable Objections against their Testimony: But if we duely consider things, it will appear utterly incredible that any deceit could be in it. For as all the actions of reasonable Men proceed from Reason solid or apparent, so particularly Im∣posture and Fiction are never without some Motive and Design: For being contrary to Nature, there must •ntervene a forreign Consideration for their con∣trivance. Now the universal Motives to invent Fa∣bles are Honour, Riches, or Pleasure. But none of these could possibly move the Apostles to feign the Resurrection of Christ. Not to insist on the Mean∣ness of their Extraction and Education, who had only seen Boats and Nets, and convers'd with Lakes and Fishes, whereas Ambition usually springs up in Persons of high birth and breeding; 'tis evident that no respect to humane Praise excited them, since they attributed the Doctrine of the Gospel, that should give them reputation in the World, to the Holy Spirit, and ascribed the Glory of their miraculous Actions entirely to the Divine Power. When the People of Lystra would have given Divine Honour to St. Paul,* he disclaim'd it with abhorrency:* And presently after, those who would have ador'd him as a God, stoned him as a Malefactor; he chose rather to be their Page 471 Sacrifice than their Idol. Besides, how could they expect to be great or rich by declaring that One who came to such a Tragical End in the face of the world, was rais'd to Life, when the hands of the Jews were still bloody with the Wounds of their Master, and their hearts so enraged against all that honoured his Name, as to excommunicate them for execrable Persons. It had been as extravagant to have de∣signed the acquiring of Reputation or Riches by their Preaching, as for one to throw himself into a flaming Furnace to be cool'd and refresh'd: And that Plea∣sure could not be their Aim is manifest: For they met with nothing but Poverty and Persecution, with Derision and Disgrace, with Hardships and all the effects of Fury, which they willingly endured rather than cease from Preaching, or deny what they had Preach'd. Their unheard of Resolution to forsake their Native Countey, and travel to all the known parts of the Earth, to convey the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, is a strong Demonstration that they believed it to be true, and of infinite moment, most worthy of all the dangers to which they voluntarily exposed themselves. Never did Ambition or Avarice, the most active Passions, cause men to be more diligent, than they were to communicate the Knowledg of our Saviour to all Nations. Now what greater assurance can we possibly receive that they were sincere in their Report.
Secondly, The nature of the Testimony makes it very credible.
1. It was of a matter of Fact. If it had been some high Speculation of universal Things abstracted from Matter, and above the cognizance of the Senses, there might be some pretence to object, That the Page 472 Disciples, unexercised in Sciences, were deceived by the Subtlety of ther Master: But 'tis a singular Thing of which the Senses are the most faithful In∣formers, and competent Judges.
2. It was an ocular Testimony, which as it makes the strongest impression upon the Spectator, so upon the belief of others. Thus St. John, That which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked on declare we unto you.* And that they were not de∣ceived we have great certainty; For Jesus had con∣vers'd a long time with them before his Death, and their Respect and Love to Him, and after their Com∣passion had deeply engraved the lineaments of his Visage in their memories, and He presented him∣self not many years, but three daies after his ab∣sence, so that it was impossible they should have for∣got his Countenance. He appear'd to them not once or twice, but many times, and not suddenly as a flash of Lightning that presently vanisheth, but converst with them familiarly for forty daies. And 'tis observable, the Apostles themselves were not easily wrought on to believe this Truth. When the Testi∣mony of the Angels assur'd them that He was risen, yet they were suspended between Hopes and Fears. And at his first Appearance they were vehemently surpriz'd; They saw Him die on the Cross three daies before, and their Memories were still fill'd with the frightful images of his Sufferings, so that they were ballanc'd between the present testimony of Sense,* and the fresh remembrance of what they had seen. Therefore He justified the truth of his Resurrection to all their Senses. He discours'd with them, made them feel his Wounds, eat and drank with them,* so that 'twas impossible they should be Page 473 deceived, unless willingly. Thus by the wise dis∣pensation of God, their doubting hath confirmed our Faith.
Thirdly, The Uniformity of the testimony makes it valuable upon a double account. First, As it se∣cures us, there was no corruption in the Witnesses. Secondly, That it was no Illusion.
1. That there was no Corruption in the Wit∣nesses. The most prudent way to discover the falsity of a testimony, is to interrogate the Witnesses severally, to see if there be any contradiction between them. But if they concur not only as to the Substance, but Circumstances, their Deposition is very credible. Now the Apostles exactly agreed in their testimony, as appears by the several Gospels, in which, al∣though wrote in divers times and places, yet there is an admirable Harmony not only as to the Fact it self, but the least particularities.
2. The Agreement of so many proves it was no Illusion. If He had only appear'd to some persons separately, carnal Reason, which is ingenious to de∣ceive itself, might object that it was only the effect of a distemper'd fancy, and no real object of Sence. But after He had shewn Himself to some of the Disciples apart, and that holy Company was met together, uniting the several sparks, to encourage their hopes of his Resurrection, He came to them altogether; and for many daies conversed with them. Now who can believe that so many should be obstructed with Melancholy for so long time, so as constantly to remain under the power of a De∣lusion? Besides, He afterwards appear'd to five hundred at once: Now how could such a number of Page 474 different Ages, Sexes, Temperaments be at the same time struck with the same Imagination?
Add further, If a strong Imagination had deceiv'd them by Melancholy, there would have been some discoveries of that Humour in their Actions. For 'tis impossible that the Mind so indisposed, should for a long time act regularly. But in the whole course of their Lives not the least extravagan∣cy appears. Their Zeal was temper'd with Pru∣dence, their Innocence was without Folly, their Conversation was becoming their great Office. And of this we have unquestionable Evidence: For other∣wise so many Persons of excellent Wisdom had never been perswaded by them to embrace Christianity; neither had their Enemies so furiously persecuted them: For 'tis beyond belief that they had so far ex∣tinguish'd the Sentiments of Humanity, as to treat the Apostles as the most guilty Criminals, whom they knew to be distracted, and therefore worthy of Com∣passion rather than Hatred.
But if it be objected, that it might be a Phantasm, or solid Body form'd according to the Likeness of Christ, that abus'd the Apostles, and after some time withdrew itself. The vanity of the Objection is ve∣ry apparent: For such an effect could not be without the operation of a Spiritual Cause. Now the good Angels cannot be guilty of falshood, of which they had been in that representation: for He that appear'd, declar'd himself to be Jesus that suffer'd: neither would the evil use such an Artifice: The old Serpent was too wise to promote the belief of Christ's Re∣surrection, which is the Foundation of Christianity. An Institution most holy, that would destroy his Altars, discredit his Oracles, bring Glory to God, Page 475 and Happiness to Man, to both which he is eternally opposite. By all which it appears there was no de∣ceit in the subject nor object.
4. They seal'd it with their Blood. This last proof confirms all the other. If a person of clear fame assert a thing, which he is ready to maintain with the loss of his Life, there is no reason to doubt of the truth of his Deposition. 'Tis no wonder that Philostratus, a bold Grecian, to shew his Art, painted Apollonius Tyanaeus as a Demi-god, exempted from death, and cloathed with immortality. But if he had been drawn from his Study, where he drest that Idol of Iniquity, to appear before the Magi∣strates, to give an account of the truth of his Rela∣tion, he certainly would have renounc'd his preten∣ded Hero, rather than have given his Life for a Lie. Now the Apostles endur'd the most cruel Deaths to confirm the Truth of their Testimony. And what could possibly induce them to it, if they had not been certain of his Resurrection? Could love to their dead Master animate them to suffer for the honour of his Name? This is inconceiveable▪ For He pro∣mis'd that He would rise the third Day, and ascend to Heaven, and make them partakers of his Glory: So that if He had lain in the rot•enness of the Grave, What charm, what stupidity was able to make them preserve so high a Ven•ration for a Deceiver? No∣thing could remain in them but the memory and in∣dignation of his Imposture. Now if it be the dictate of natural Reason, that the concurrent Testimony of two or three credible Persons, not weaken'd by any exception, is sufficient to decide any Cause of the greatest moment, that respects Life, Honour and Estate, how much more should the attestation of Page 476 the Apostles put this great Truth beyond all doubt, since they parted with their Lives, the most precious possession in this World, for it; and which is infinite∣ly more, if Deceivers, they would certainly be de∣prived of Eternal Life in the next. In short, Since the Creation never was a Testimony so clear and au∣thentick, the Divine Providence so ordering the cir∣cumstances, that the Evidence should be above all Suspicion. Neither did it ever happen, that any thing affirm'd by so many and such worthy Persons, was ever suspected, much less found, to be false. 'Tis the most unreasonable stifness not to yeeld an intire Assent to it. For there would be no secure Founda∣tion of determining innumerable weighty Cases, if we should doubt of things reported by the most cre∣dible circumspect Persons, since we can be certified by our own Senses but of a few Objects.
I shall only add, That the Apostles did many and great Miracles in the Name of Christ, which was the strongest demonstration that He was rais'd to a glo∣rious Life. They were invested by the Spirit with the habits of various Tongues. This kind of Miracle was necessary for the universal Preaching of the Gospel: For how difficult and obstructive had it been to their Work, if they must have return'd to their Infant-state, to learn the Signification of forrein Lan∣guages, to pronounce the words in their original Sound, and the Accents proper to their Countrey? Therefore the Holy Spirit, according to the promise of Christ, descended upon them, and became their Master, and in a moment imprest on their Memories the forms of discoursing, and on their Tongues the manner of expressing them. Where-ever the Do∣ctrine of Jesus was preach'd, God bare them witness Page 477 both with Signes and Wonders,*and with divers Mi∣racles and Gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will. When St. Peter pass'd through the streets, fill'd with persons diseased and half dead, he caused an universal resurrection by touching them with his reviving shadow. They tamed Serpents, and quencht the malignity of their Poison; they commanded Death to leave its prey, and Life to return to its mansion that was not habitable for it. And that miraculous Power continued in their Successours so long as was requisite for the conviction of the World. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, mention divers Miracles perform'd by Christians in those times. Tertullian offers to the Emperour, to whom he addrest his admirable Apology, to compel the Devils that possest Humane Bodies to confess themselves to be evil Spirits, to constrain the Prince of darkness to enlighten his own Slaves. And Cyprian assures the Governour of Africa, that he would force the Devils to come out of the Bodies they tormented, lamenting their ejection. Now we cannot imagine they would so far discredit their Do∣ctrine and Reputation, as to pretend to such a Power without they had it. In short, To deny the Mira∣cles wrought by the Primitive Christians, were as great rashness, as to deny that Caesar conquer'd Pompey, or that Titus succeeded Vespasian. For we have the concurrent Testimony of the gravest and best Men, of Understanding and Conscience, who were Eye-witnesses, and which was not contradicted by those of the same Age. Briefly, There are such clear characters of the Divine Hand to render the Gospel authentick, that to deny it to be true, is to make God a liar.
Page 478The Conclusion is this, We see how reasonable it is to give an entire assent to the truth of Christianity. The Nature of the Doctrine that is perfecty Di∣vine, declares its Original. 'Tis confirmed by Su∣pernatural Testimonies. The Doctrine distin∣guishes the Miracles from all false wonders, the illu∣sions of Satan, and the Miracles confirm the Doctrine. What doubt can there be after the full deposition of the Spirit in raising Christ from the Grave; in qua∣lifying the Apostles, who were rude and ignorant, with Knowledg, Zeal, Courage, Charity, and all Graces requisite for their great enterprise, and in converting the World by their Ministry and Mi∣racles? If we believe not so clear a Revelation, our Infidelity is desperate. When our Saviour was up∣on the Earth, the Meanness and Poverty of his appearance lessen'd their Crime, who did not ac∣knowledg and honour him in the disguise of a Ser∣vant: Therefore they were capable of favour. Many of his bloody Persecutors were converted and saved by the Preaching of the Apostles. But since the Holy Ghost hath convinc'd the World by so strong a Light, of Sin, Righteousness and Judgment; viz. That Jesus whom the Jews most unworthily Crucified was the Son of God, that in dying He purchased the Pardon of Sin; since He is risen and received to Glory, That all power in Heaven and Earth is given to Him, the effect of which is most visible: For spiritual Wickednesses trembled at his Name, were expelled from their Dominions, and sent to their old Prison to suffer the Chains and Flames due to them: To refuse his Testimony, is a degree of Obstinacy not far distant from Malice of of the Devils, and puts Men without the reserves of Page 479 pardoning Mercy. And 'tis not a slight, superficial Belief of this great Truth that is sufficient, but that which is powerful in making us universally obedient to our Glorified Redeemer, who will distribute Crowns to all his faithful Servants. We cannot truly believe his Resurrection, without believing his Doctrine, nor believe his Doctrine without un∣feigned Desires after the eternal Felicity it promises, nor desire that Felicity without a sincere compliance to his Commands in order to the obtaining it. In short, 'Tis Infidelity approaching Madness, not to believe the Truth of the Gospel, but 'tis Madness of an higher kind and more prodigious, to pretend to believe it, and yet to live in disobedience to its Pre∣cepts, in contempt of its Promises and Threatnings, as if it were a meer Fable.