Typescript converted to computer file by Lee Dunbar - July 2002
The TRIAL of the WITNESSES of the RESURRECTION of JESUS CHRIST
N.B. Not only Mr. Woolston's objections in his Sixth Discourse on our Saviour's Miracles, but those also which he and others have published in other Books, are here considered.
First Published about the Year 1729
THE T R I A L OF THE WITNESSES OF THE Resurrection of Jesus
We were, not long since, some Gentlemen of the inns of court together, each to other so well known, that no man's presence was a confinement to any other, from speaking his mind on any subject that happened to arise in conversation. The meeting was without design, and the discourse, as in like cases, various. Among other things we fell upon the subject of Woolston's trial and conviction, which had happened some few days before. That led to a debate, How the law finds in such cases? what punishment it inflicts? and, in general, whether the law ought at all to interpose in controversies of this kind? We were not agreed in these points. One, who maintained the favorable side to Woolston, discovered a great liking and approbation of his discourses against the miracles of Christ, and seemed to think his arguments unanswerable. To which another replied, I wonder that one of your abilities, and bred to the profession of the law, which teaches us to consider the nature of evidence, and its proper weight, can be of that opinion: I am sure you would be unwilling to determine a property of five shillings upon such evidence, as you now think material enough to overthrow the miracles of Christ.
It may easily be imagined, that this opened a door to much dispute, and determined the conversation for the remainder of the evening to this subject. The dispute ran thro' almost all the particulars mentioned in Woolston's pieces; but the thread of it was broken by several digressions, and the pursuit of things which were brought accidentally into the discourse. At length one of the company said pleasantly; Gentlemen, you don't argue like lawyers; if I were judge in this cause, I would hold you better to the point. The company took the hint, and cried, they should be glad to have the cause reheard, and him to be the judge. The Gentlemen who had engaged with mettle and spirit in a dispute which arose accidentally, seemed very unwilling to be drawn into a formal controversy; and especially the Gentleman who argued against Woolston, thought the matter grew too serious for him, and excused himself from undertaking a controversy in religion, of all others the most momentous. But he was told, that the argument should be confined merely to the nature of the evidence; and that might be considered, without entering into any such controversy as he would avoid; and, to bring the matter within bounds, and under one view, the evidence of Christ's resurrection, and the exceptions taken to it, should be the only subject of the conference. With such persuasion he suffered himself to be persuaded, and promised to give the company, and their new-made judge, a meeting that day fortnight. The judge and the rest of the company were for bringing on the cause a week sooner; but the council for Woolston took the matter up, and said, Consider, Sir, the Gentleman is not to argue out of Littleton, Plowden, or Coke, authors to him well known; but he must have his authorities from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and a fortnight is time little enough of all conscience to gain a familiarity with a new acquaintance: and, turning to the Gentleman, he said, I'll call upon you before the fortnight is out, to see how reverend an appearance you make behind Hammond on the New Testament, a concordance on one hand, and a folio Bible with references on the other. You shall be welcome, Sir, replied the Gentleman; and perhaps you may find some company more to your own taste. He is but a poor council who studies on one side of the question only; and therefore I will have your friend Woolston, Tl, and Cs, to entertain you when you do me the favor of the visit. Upon this we parted in good humour, and all pleased with the appointment made, except the two Gentlemen who were to provide the entertainment.
The Second Day
The company met at the time appointed: but as it happened in this, as in like cases it often does, that some friends to some of the company, who were not of the party the first day, had got notice of the meeting; and the Gentlemen who were to debate the question, found they had a more numerous audience than they expected or desired. He especially who was to maintain the evidence for the resurrection, began to excuse the necessity he was under of disappointing their expectation, alledging that he was not prepared; and he had persisted in excusing himself, but that the strangers who perceived what the case was, offered to withdraw; which the Gentleman would by no means consent to: they insisting to go, he said, he would much rather submit himself to their candour, unprepared as he was, than be guilty of such rudeness, as to force them to leave the company. Upon which one of the company, smiling, said, It happens luckily that our number is increased: when we were last together, we appointed a judge, but we quite forgot a jury: and now, I think, we are good men and true, sufficient to make one. This thought was pursued in several allusions to legal proceedings; which created some mirth, and had this good effect, that it dispersed the solemn air, which the mutual compliments upon the difficulty before mentioned had introduced, and restored the ease and good humour natural to the conversation of Gentlemen.
The judge perceiving the disposition of the company, thought it a proper time to begin, and called out, Gentlemen of the jury, take your places; and immediately seated himself at the upper end of the table. The company sat round him, and the judge called upon the council for Woolston to begin.
Mr. A. Council for Woolston, addressing himself to the judge, said,
May it please your Lordship, I conceive the Gentleman on the other side ought to begin, and lay his evidence, which he intends to maintain, before the court; till that is done, it is to no purpose for me to object. I amy perhaps object to something which he will not admit to be any part of his evidence; and therefore I apprehend, the evidence ought in the first place to be distinctly stated.
Judge. Mr. B What say you to that?
Mr. B. Council on the other side:
My Lord, If the evidence I am to maintain, were to suppose any new claim; if I were to gain any thing which I am not already possessed of, the Gentleman would be in the right: but the evidence is old, and is matter of record; and I have been long in possession of all that I claim under it. If the Gentleman has anything to say to dispossess me, let him produce it; otherwise I have no reason to bring my own title into question. And this I take to be the known method of proceeding in such cases: no man is obliged to produce his title to his possession; it is sufficient if he maintain it when it is called in question.
Mr A. Surely, my Lord, the Gentleman mistakes the case. I can never admit myself to be out of possession of my understanding and reason; and since he would put me out of this possession, and compel me to admit things incredible, in virtue of the evidence he maintains, he ought to set forth his claim, or leave the world to be directed by common sense.
Judge. Sir, you say right, upon supposition that the truth of the Christian religion were the point in question. In that case it would be necessary to produce the evidence for the Christian religion. But the matter now before the court is, Whether the objections produced by Mr. Woolston, are of weight to overthrow the evidence of Christ's resurrection? You see then the evidence of the resurrection is supposed to be what it is on both sides; and the thing immediately in judgement is, the value of the objections; and therefore they must be set forth. The court will be bound to take notice of the evidence, which is admitted as a fact on both parts. Go on, Mr. A.
Mr. A. My Lord, I submit to the direction of the court, I cannot but observe, that the Gentleman on the other side, unwilling as he seems to be to state his evidence, did not forget to lay in his claim to prescription; which is perhaps, in truth, tho' he has too much skill to own it, the very strength of his cause. I do allow, that the Gentleman maintains nothing, but what his father and grandfather, and his ancestors, beyond time of man's memory, maintained before him: I allow too, that prescription in many cases makes a good title; but it must always be with this condition, that the thing is capable of being prescribed for: and I insist, that prescription cannot run against reason and common sense. Customs may be pleaded by prescription; but if, upon showing the custom, anything unreasonable appears in it, the prescription fails; for length of time works nothing towards the establishing anything that could never have a legal commencement. And if this objection will overthrow all prescriptions for customs; the mischief of which extends perhaps to one poor village only, and affects them in no greater a concern, than their right of common upon a ragged mountain: shall it not much more prevail, when the interest of mankind is concerned, and in no less a point than his happiness in this life, and all his hopes for futurity? Besides, if prescription must be allowed in this case, how will you deal with it in others? What will you say to the ancient Persians, and their fire-altars? nay, what to the Turks, who have been long enough in possession of their faith to plead ——-
Mr. B. I beg pardon for interrupting the Gentleman, but it is to save him trouble. He is going into his favorite common-place, and has brought us from Persia to Turkey already; and if he goes on, I know we must follow him around the globe. To save us from this long journey, I'll waive all advantage from the antiquity of the resurrection, and the general reception the belief of it has found in the world; and am content to consider it as a fact which happened but last year, and was never heard of either by the Gentleman's grandfather, or by mine.
Mr. A. I should not have taken quite so long a journey as the Gentleman imagines; nor, indeed, need any man go far from home to find instances to the purpose I was upon. But, since this advantage is quitted, I am as willing to spare my pains, as the Gentleman is desirous that I should. And yet I suspect some art even in this concession, fair and candid as it seems to be. For I am persuaded, that one reason, perhaps the main reason, why men believe this history of Jesus, is, that they cannot conceive, that any one should attempt, much less succeed in such an attempt as this, upon the foundation of mere human cunning and policy; and 'tis worth to go round the globe, as the Gentleman expressed himself, so see various instances of the like kind, in order to remove this prejudice. But I stand corrected, and will go directly to the point now in judgement.
Mr. B. My Lord, the Gentleman, in justification of his first argument, has entered upon another of a very different kind. I think he is sensible of it, and seeming to yield up one of his popular topicks, is indeed artfully getting rid of another; which has made a very good figure in many late writings, but will not bear in any place where he who maintains it may be asked questions. The mere antiquity of the resurrection I gave up; for, if the evidence was not good at first, it can't be good now. The Gentleman is willing, he says, to spare us his history of ancient errors; and intimates, that upon this account he passes over many instances of fraud, that were in like circumstances to the case before us. I would not have the main strength of his case betrayed in complaisance to me. Nothing can be more material than to show a fraud of this kind, that prevailed universally in the world. Christ Jesus declared himself a Prophet, and put the proof of his mission on this, that he should die openly and publickly, and rise again the third day. This surely was the hardest plot in the world to be managed; and if there be one instance of this kind, or in any degree like it, by all means let it be produced.
Mr. A. My Lord, There has hardly been an instance of a false religion in the world, but it has also afforded a like instance to this before us. Have they not all pretended to inspiration? Upon what foot did Pythagoras, Numa, and others set up? Did they not all converse with the gods, and pretend to deliver oracles?
Mr. B. This only shews, that revelation is by the common consent of mankind the very best foundation of religion; and therefore every imposter pretends to it. But is a man's hiding himself in a cave for some years, and then coming out into the world, to be compared to a man's dying, and rising to life again? So far from it, that you and I and every man may do the one, but no man can do the other.
Mr. A. Sir, I suppose it will be allowed to be as great a thing to go to heaven, and converse with angels, and with God, and to come down to earth again, as it is to die, and rise again? Now, this very thing Mahomet pretended to do; and all his disciples believe it. Can you deny this fact?
Mr. B. Deny it, Sir? No. But tell us who went with Mahomet? Who were his witnesses? I expect, before we are done, to hear of the guards set over the sepulchre of Christ, and the seal of the stone. What guard watched Mahomet in his going or returning? What seals and credentials had he? He himself pretends to none. His followers pretend to nothing but his own word. We are now to consider the evidence for Christ's resurrection, and you think to parallel it, by producing a case for which no one ever pretended there was any evidence. You have Mahomet's word; and no man ever told a lie, but you had his word for the truth of what he said: and therefore you need not go round the globe to find such instances as these. But this story, it is said, has gained great credit, and is received by many nations. Very well. And how was it received? Was not every man converted to this faith with the sword at his throat? In our case, every witness to the resurrection, and every believer of it, was hourly exposed to death. In the other case, whoever refused to believe, died; or, what was as bad, lived a wretched conquered slave. And will you pretend these cases to be alike? One case indeed there was, within our own memory, which, in some circumstances, came near to the case now before us. The French prophets put the credit of their mission upon the resurrection of Dr. Emmes, and gave publick notice of it. If the Gentleman pleases to make use of this instance, it is at his service.
Mr. A. The instance of Dr. Emmes is so far to the purpose, that it shews to what lengths enthusiasm will carry men. And why might not the same thing happen at Jerusalem, which happened but a few years ago in our own country? Matthew and John, and the rest of them, managed that affair with more dexterity than the French prophets; so that the resurrection of Jesus gained credit in the world, and the French prophets sunk under their ridiculous pretensions. That is all the difference.
Mr. B. Is it so? And a very wide difference, I promise you. In one case everything happened that was proper to convince the world of the resurrection; in the other, the event manifested the cheat: and upon the view of these circumstances, you think it is sufficient to say, with great coolness, That is all the difference. Why, what difference do you expect between truth and falsehood? What distinction
Judge. Gentlemen, you forget you are in a court, and are falling into dialogue. Courts don't allow of chit-chat. Look ye, the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus is before the court, recorded by Matthew, Mark, and others. You must take it as it is; you can neither make it better, or worse. These witnesses are accused of giving false evidence. Come to the point; and let us hear what you have to offer to prove the accusation.
Mr. B. Is it your meaning, Sir, that the objections should be stated and argued all together, and that the answer should be to the whole at once? or would you have the objections argued singly, and answered separately by themselves?
Judge. I think this court may dispense with the strict forms of legal proceeding; and therefore I leave this to the choice of the jury.
After the jury had consulted together, the foreman rose up,
The Foreman of the Jury. We desire to hear the objections argued and answered separately. We shall be better able to form a judgement, by hearing the answer while the objection is fresh in our minds.
Judge. Gentlemen, you hear the opinion of the jury. Go on.
Mr. A I am now to disclose to you a scene, of all others the most surprising. "The resurrection has been long talked of, and, to the amazement of everyone who can think freely, has been believed through all ages of the church." This general and constant belief creates in most minds a presumption that it was founded on good evidence. In other cases the evidence supports the credit of the history; but here the evidence itself is presumed only upon the credit which the story has gained. I wish the books dispersed against Jesus by the ancient Jews had not been lost; for they would have given us a clear insight into this contrivance: but it is happy for us, that the very account given by the pretended witnesses of this fact, is sufficient to destroy the credit of it.
The resurrection was not a thing contrived for its own sake. No! it was undertaken to support great views, and for the sake of great consequences that were to attend it. It will be necessary therefore to lay before you those views, that you may be the better judge of this part of the contrivance, when you have the whole scene before you.
The Jews were a weak superstitious people, and, as is common among such people, gave great credit to some traditionary prophecies about their own country. They had, besides, some old books among them, which they esteemed to be writings of certain Prophets, who had formerly lived among them, and whose memory they had in great veneration. From such old books and traditions they formed many extravagant expectations; and among the rest one was, that some time or other a great victorious prince would rise among them, and subdue all their enemies, and make them lords of the world. In Augustus's time they were in a low state, reduced under the Roman yoke; and as they never wanted a deliverer more, so the eagerness of this hope, as it happens to weak minds, turned into a firm expectation that he would soon come. This proved a temptation to some bold, and to some cunning men, to personate the prince so much expected. And "nothing is more natural and common to promote rebellions, than to ground them on new prophecies, or new interpretations of old ones; prophecies being suited to the vulgar superstition, and operating with the force of religion." Accordingly, many such imposters rose, pretending to be the victorious prince expected; and they, and the people who followed them, perished in the folly of their attempt.
But Jesus, knowing that victories and triumphs are not things to be counterfeited; that the people were not to be delivered from the Roman yoke by sleight of hand; and having no hope of being able to cope with the Emperor of Rome in good earnest, took another and more successful method to carry on his design. He took upon him to be the prince foretold in the ancient Prophets; but then he insisted that the true sense of the prophecies had been mistaken; that they related not to the kingdoms of this world, but to the kingdom of heaven; that the Messias was not to be a conquering prince, but a suffering one; that he was not to come with horses of war, and chariots of war, but was to be meek and lowly, riding on an ass. By this means, he got the common and necessary foundation for a new revelation, which is to be built and founded on a precedent revelation.
To carry on this design, he made choice of twelve men of no fortunes or education, and of such understandings, as gave no jealousy that they would discover the plot. And, what is most wonderful, and shews their ability, while the master was preaching the kingdom of heaven, these poor men, not weaned from the prejudices of their country, expected every day that he would declare himself a king, and were quarreling who should be his first minister. This expectation had a good effect on the service; for it kept them constant to their master.
I must observe further, that the Jews were under strange apprehensions of supernatural powers: and as their own religion was founded on the belief of certain miracles said to be wrought by their lawgiver Moses; so were they ever running after wonders and miracles, and ready to take up with any stories of this kind. Now, as something extraordinary was necessary to support the pretensions of Jesus, he dextrously laid hold of this weakness of the people, and set up to be a wonder-worker. His disciples were well qualified to receive this impression: they saw, or thought they saw many strange things, and were able to spread the fame and report of them abroad.
This conduct had the desired success. The whole country was alarmed, and full of the news of a great Prophet's being come among them. They were too full of their own imagination, to attend to the notion of a kingdom of heaven. Here was one mighty in deed and in word; and they concluded that he was the very prince their nation expected. Accordingly they once attempted to set him up for a King; and at another time attended him in triumph to Jerusalem. This natural consequence opens the natural design of the attempt. If things had gone on successfully to the end, it is probable that the kingdom of heaven would have been changed into a kingdom of this world. The design indeed failed, by the impatience and over-hastiness of the multitude; which alarmed not only the chief of the Jews, but the Roman governor also.
The case being come to this point, and Jesus seeing that he could not escape being put to death, he declared, that the ancient Prophets had foretold, that the Messias should die upon a cross, and that he should rise again on the third day. Here was the foundation for the continuing this plot, which otherwise had died with its author. This was his legacy to his followers; which, having been well managed by them and their successors, has at last produced a kingdom indeed; a kingdom of priests, who have governed the world for many ages, and have been strong enough to set Kings and Emperors at defiance. But so it happens, the ancient Prophets appealed to are still extant; and there being no such prophecies of the death and resurrection of the Messias, they are a standing evidence against this story. As he expected, so it happened, that he died on a cross; and the prosecuting of this contrivance was left to the management of his disciples and followers. Their part is next to be considered——-.
Mr. B. My Lord, Since it is your opinion that the objections should be considered singly, and the Gentleman has carried his scheme down to the death of Christ, I think he is come to a proper rest; and that it is agreeable to your intention that I should be admitted to answer.
Judge. You say right, Sir. Let us hear what you answer to this charge.
Mr. B. My Lord, I was unwilling to disturb the Gentleman by breaking in upon his scheme; otherwise I would have reminded him that this court sits to examine evidence, and not to be entertained with fine imaginations. You have had a scheme laid before you, but not one bit of evidence to support any part of it; no, not so much as a pretence to any evidence. The Gentleman was, I remember, very sorry that the old books of the Jews were lost, which would, as he supposes, have set forth all this matter; and I agree with him, that he has much reason to be sorry, considering his great scarcity of proof. And since I have mentioned this, that I may not be to return to it again, I would ask the Gentleman now, how he knows there ever were such books? And since, if ever there were any, they are lost, how he knows what they contained? I doubt I shall have frequent occasion to ask such questions. It would indeed be a sufficient answer to the whole, to repeat the several suppositions that have been made, and to call for the evidence upon which they stand. This would plainly discover every part of the story to be mere fiction. But since the Gentleman seems to have endeavored to bring under one view the many insinuations which have of late been spread abroad by different hands, and to work the whole into a consistent scheme; I will, if your patience shall permit, examine this plot, and see to whom the honour of the contrivance belongs.
The Gentleman begins with expressing his "amazement, that the resurrection has been believed in all ages of the church." If you ask him, Why? he must answer , Because the account of it is a forgery; for it is no amazement to him, surely, that a true account should be generally well received. So that this remark proceeds indeed from confidence rather than amazement; and comes only to this, that he is sure that there was no resurrection. And I am sure that this is no evidence that there was none. Whether he is mistaken in his confidence, or I in mine, the court must judge.
The Gentleman's observation, That the general belief of the resurrection creates a presumption that it stands upon good evidence, and therefore people look no farther, but follow their fathers, as their fathers did their grandfathers before them, is in great measure true; but it is a truth nothing to his purpose. He allows, that the resurrection has been believed in all ages of the church; that is, from the very time of the resurrection: what then prevailed with those who first received it? They certainly did not follow the example of their fathers. Here then is the point, How did this fact gain credit in the world at first? Credit it has gained without doubt. If the multitude at present go into this belief through prejudice, example, and for company sake, they do in this case no more, nor otherwise, than they do in all cases. And it cannot be denied, but that truth may be received through prejudice, (as it is called), i.e. without examining the proof, or merits of the cause, as well as falsehood. What general truth is there, the merits of which all the world, or the one hundredth part has examined? It is smartly said somewhere, That the priest only continues what the nurse began. But the life of the remark consists in the quaintness of the antithesis between the nurse and the priest; and owes its support much more to sound than to sense. For is it possible that children should not hear something of the common and popular opinions of their country, whether these opinions be true or false? Do they not learn the common maxims of reason this way? Perhaps every man first learned from his nurse that two and two make four; and whenever she divides an apple among her children, she instills into them this prejudice, That the whole is equal to its parts, and all the parts equal to the whole: and yet Sir Isaac Newton, (shame on him!) what work has he made, what a building he has erected upon the foundation of this nursery-learning? As to religion, there never was a religion, there never will be one, whether true or false, publickly owned in any country, but children have heard, and ever will hear, more or less of it from those who are placed about them. And if this is, and ever must be the case, whether the religion be true or false; 'tis highly absurd to lay stress on this observation, when the question is about the truth of any religion; for the observation is indifferent to both sides of the question.
We are now, I think, got through the common-place learning, which must forever, it seems, attend upon questions of this nature; and are coming to the very merits of the cause.
And here the Gentleman on the other side thought proper to begin with an account of the people of the Jews, the people in whose country the fact is laid, and who were originally, and in some respects principally concerned in its consequences.
They were, he says, a weak superstitious people, and lived under certain pretended prophecies and predictions; that upon this ground they had, some time before the appearance of Christ Jesus, conceived great expectation of the coming of a victorious prince, who should deliver them from the Roman yoke, and make them all kings and princes. He goes on then to observe, how liable the people were, in this state of things, to be imposed on, and led into rebellion, by any one who was bold enough to take upon him to personate the prince expected. He observes further, that in fact many such imposters did arise, and deceived multitudes to their ruin and destruction.
I have laid these things together, because I do not intend to dispute these matters with the Gentleman. Whether the Jews were a weak and superstitious people, and influenced by false prophecies, or whether they had true prophecies among them, is not material to the present question: it is enough for the Gentleman's argument if I allow the fact to be as he has stated it, that they did expect a victorious prince; that they were upon this account exposed to be practised on by pretenders; and in fact were often so deluded.
This foundation being laid, it was natural to expect, and I believe your Lordship and every one present did expect, that the Gentleman would go on to shew, that Jesus laid hold of this opportunity, struck in with the opinion of the people, and professed himself to be the prince who was to work their deliverance. But so far, it seems, is this from being the case, that the charge upon Jesus is, that he took the contrary part, and set up in opposition to all the popular notions and prejudices of his country; that he interpreted the prophecies to another sense and meaning than his countrymen did; and by his expositions took away all hopes of their ever seeing the victorious deliverer so much wanted and expected.
I know not how to bring the Gentleman's premisses and his conclusion to any agreement; they seem to be at a great variance at present. If it be the likeliest method for an imposter to succeed, to build on the popular opinions, prejudices and prophecies of the people; then surely an imposter cannot possibly take a worse method, than to set up in opposition to all the prejudices and prophecies of the country. Where was the art and cunning then of taking this method? Could anything be expected from it but hatred, contempt, and persecution? And did Christ in fact meet with any other treatment from the Jews? And yet when he found, as the Gentleman allows he did, that he must perish in this attempt, did he change his note? did he come about, and drop any intimations agreeable to the notions of the people? It is not pretended. This, which, in any other case which ever happened, would be taken to be a plain mark of great honesty, or great stupidity, or of both, is in the present case art, policy, and contrivance.
But, it seems, Jesus dared not set up to be the victorious prince expected, for victories are not to be counterfeited. I hope it was no crime in him that he did not assume this false character, and try to abuse the credibility of the people; if he had done so, it certainly would have been a crime; and therefore in this point at least he is innocent. I do not suppose the Gentleman imagines the Jews were well founded in their expectation of a temporal prince: and therefore when Christ opposed this conceit at the manifest hazard of his life, as he certainly had truth on his side, so the presumption is, that it was for the sake of truth that he exposed himself.
No. He wanted, we are told, the common and necessary foundation for a new revelation, the authority of an old one to build on. Very well. I will not inquire how common, or how necessary this foundation is to a new revelation; for, be that case as it will, it is evident, that in the method Christ took, he had not, nor could have the supposed advantage of such foundation. For why is this foundation necessary? A friend of the Gentleman's shall tell you "Because it must be difficult, if not impossible, to introduce among men (who in all civilized countries are bred up in the belief of some revealed religion) a revealed religion wholly new, or such as has no reference to a preceding one; for that would be to combat all men on too many respects, and not to proceed on a sufficient number of principles necessary to be assented to by those on whom the first impressions of a new religion are proposed to be made." You see now the reason of the necessity of this foundation: it is, that the new teacher may have the advantage of old popular opinions, and fix himself upon the prejudices of the people. Had Christ any such advantages? or did he seek any such? The people expected a victorious prince; he told them they were mistaken: they held as sacred the traditions of the elders; he told them those traditions made the law of God of none effect: they valued themselves for being the peculiar people of God; he told them, that people from all quarters of the world should be the people of God, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom: they thought God could be worshipped only at Jerusalem; he told them God might and should be worshipped everywhere: they were superstitious in the observance of the sabbath; he, according to their reckoning, broke it frequently: in a word, their washings of hands and pots, their superstitious distinctions of meats, their prayers in publick, their villanies in secret, were all reproved, exposed, and condemned by him; and the cry ran strongly against him, that he came to destroy the Law and the Prophets. And now, Sir, what advantage did Christ have of your common and necessary foundation? What sufficient number of principles owned by the people did he build on? If he adhered to the old revelation in the true sense, or (which is sufficient to the present argument) in a sense not received by the people, it was in truth the greatest difficulty he had to struggle with: and therefore what could tempt him, but purely a regard for truth, to take upon himself so many difficulties, which might have been avoided, could he have been but silent as to the old revelation, and left the people to their imaginations?
To carry on this plot, we are told, that the next thing which Jesus did, was, to make choice of proper persons to be his disciples. The Gentleman has given us their character; but, as I suppose he has more employment for them before he has done, I desire to defer the consideration of their abilities and conduct till I hear what work he has for them to do. I would only observe, that thus far this plot differs from all that ever I heard of. Imposters generally take advantage of the prejudices of the people, generally too they make choice of cunning dextrous fellows to manage under them; but in this case Jesus opposed all the notions of the people, and made choice of simpletons, it seems, to conduct his contrivances.
But what design, what real end was carrying on all this while? Why, the Gentleman tells us, that the very thing disclaimed, the temporal kingdom, was the real thing aimed at under this disguise. He told the people there was no foundation to expect a temporal deliverer, warned them against all who would set up those pretensions; he declared there was no ground from the ancient prophecies to expect such a prince: and yet by these very means he was working his way to an opportunity of declaring himself to be the very prince the people wanted. We are still upon the marvelous; every step opens new wonders. I blame not the Gentleman; for what but this can be imagined to give any account of these measures imputed to Christ? Be this never so unlikely, yet this is the only thing that can be said. Had Christ been charged with enthusiasm, it would not have been necessary to assign a reason for his conduct: madness is unaccountable: Ratione modoque tractari non vult. But when design, cunning, and fraud are made the charge, and carried to such an height, as to suppose him to be a party to the contrivance of a sham resurrection for himself, it is necessary to say to what end this cunning tended. It was, we are told, to a kingdom: and indeed the temptation was little enough, considering that the chief conductor of the plot was crucified for his pains. But were the means made use of at all probable to achieve the end? Yes, says the Gentleman, that can't be disputed; for they had really this effect, the people would have made him King. Very well: Why was he not King then? Why, it happened unluckily that he would not accept the offer, but withdrew himself from the multitude, and lay concealed until they were dispersed. It will be said, perhaps, that Jesus was a better judge of affairs than the people, and saw that it was not yet time to accept the offer. Be it so; let us see then what follows.
The government was alarmed, and Jesus was looked on as a person dangerous to the state; and he had discernment enough to see that his death was determined and inevitable. What does he do then? Why, to make the best of a bad case, and to save the benefit of his undertaking to those who were to succeed him, he pretends to prophecy of his death, which he knew could not be avoided: Men do not use to play tricks in articulo mortis; but this plot had nothing common, nothing in the ordinary way. But what if it should appear, that after the foretelling of his death (through despair of his fortunes it is said) he had it in his power to set up for King once more, and once more refused the opportunity? Men in despair lay hold on the least help, and never refuse the greatest. Now, the case was really so. After he had foretold his crucifixion, he came to Jerusalem in the triumphant manner the Gentleman mentioned; the people strewed his way with boughs and flowers, and were all at his devotion; the Jewish governors lay still for fear of the people. Why was not this opportunity laid hold on to seize the kingdom, or at least to secure himself from the ignominious death he expected? For whose sake was he contented to die? for whose sake did he contrive this plot of his resurrection? Wife and children he had none; his nearest relations gave little credit to him; his disciples were not fit even to be trusted with the secret, nor capable to manage any advantage that could arise from it. However, the Gentleman tells us, a kingdom has arisen out of this plot, a kingdom of priests. But when did it arise? Some hundred years after the death of Christ, in opposition to his will, and almost to the subversion of his religion. And yet we are told this kingdom was the thing he had in view. I am apt to think the Gentleman is persuaded, that the dominion he complains of is contrary to the spirit of the gospel; I am sure some of his friends have taken great pains to prove it is so. How then can it be charged as the intention of the gospel to introduce it? Whatever the case was, it cannot surely be suspected that Christ died to make Popes and Cardinals. The alterations which have happened in the doctrines and practices of churches, since the Christian religion was settled by those who had an authentick commission to settle it, are quite out of the question, when the inquiry is about the truth of the Christian religion. Christ and his Apostles did not vouch for the truth of all that should be taught in the church in future times; nay, they foretold and fore warned the world against such corrupt teachers. It is therefore absurd to challenge the religion of Christ, because of the corruptions which have spread among Christians. The gospel has no more concern with them, and ought no more to be charged with them, than with the doctrines of the Alcoran.
There is but one observation more, I think, which the Gentleman made under this head. Jesus, he says, referred to the authority of ancient prophecies to prove that the Messias was to die and rise again; the ancient books referred to are extant, and no such prophecies, he says, are to be found. Now, whether the Gentleman can find these prophecies or no, is not material to the present question. It is allowed that Christ foretold his own death and resurrection; if the resurrection was managed by fraud, Christ was certainly in the fraud himself, by foretelling the fraud which was to happen: disprove therefore the resurrection, and we shall have no further occasion for prophecy. On the other side, by foretelling the resurrection, he certainly put the proof of his mission on the truth of the event. Whether it be the character of the Messias, in the ancient Prophets, or no, that he should die, and rise again; without doubt Jesus is not the Messias, if he did not rise again: for, by his own prophecy, he made it part of the character of the Messias. If the event justified the prediction, it is such an evidence as no man of sense and reason can reject. One would naturally think, that the foretelling his resurrection, and giving such publick notice to expect it, that his keenest enemies were fully apprised of it, carried with it the greatest mark of sincere dealing. It stands thus far clear of the suspicion of fraud. And had it proceeded from enthusiasm, and an heated imagination, the dead body at least would have rested in the grave, and without further evidence have confuted such pretensions: and since the dead body was not only carried openly to the grave, but there watched and guarded, and yet could never afterwards be found, never heard of more as a dead body, there must of necessity have been either a real miracle, or a great fraud in this case. Enthusiasm dies with the man, and has no operation on his dead body. There is therefore here no medium: you must either admit the miracle, or prove the fraud.
Judge. Mr. A. You are at liberty either to reply to what has been said under this head, or to go on with your cause
Mr. A. My Lord, the observations I laid before you, were but introductory to the main evidences on which the merits of the cause must rest. The Gentleman concluded, that here must be a real miracle or a great fraud; a fraud, he means, to which Jesus in his lifetime was a party. There is, he says, no medium. I beg his pardon. Why might it not be an enthusiasm in the master which occasioned the prediction, and fraud in the servants who put it in execution?
Mr. B. My Lord, This is new matter, and not a reply. The Gentleman opened this transaction as a fraud from one end to the other. Now he supposes Christ to have been an honest, poor enthusiast, and the disciples only to be cheats.
Judge. Sir, if you go to new matter, the council on the other side must be admitted to answer.
Mr. A. My Lord, I have no such intention. I was observing, that the account I gave of Jesus was only to introduce the evidence that is to be laid before the court. It cannot be expected, that I should know all the secret designs of this contrivance, especially considering that we have but short accounts of this affair, and those too conveyed through hands of friends and parties to the plot. In such a case it is enough if we can imagine what the views probably were; and in such case too it must be very easy for a Gentleman of parts to raise contrary imaginations, and to argue plausibly from them. But the Gentleman has rightly observed, that if the resurrection be a fraud, there is an end to all pretensions, good or bad, that were to be supported by it: therefore I shall go on to prove this fraud, which is one main part of the cause now to be determined.
I beg leave to remind you, that Jesus in his lifetime foretold his death, and that he should rise again the third day. The first part of his prediction was accomplished: he died on the cross and was buried. I will not trouble you with the particulars of his crucifixion, death, and burial; it is a well known story.
Mr. B. My Lord, I desire to know, whether the Gentleman charges any fraud upon this part of the history. Perhaps he may be of the opinion by and by, that there was a sleight of hand in the crucifixion, and that Christ only counterfeited death.
Mr. A. No, no; have no such fears; he was not crucified by his disciples; but by the Romans and the Jews; and they were in very good earnest. I will prove beyond contradiction, that the dead body was fairly laid in the tomb; and it will be well for you if you can get it as fairly out again.
Judge. Go on with your evidence.
Mr. A. My Lord, the crucifixion being over, the dead body was conveyed to a sepulchre; and in the general opinion there seemed to be an end of the whole design. But the governors of the Jews, watchful for the safety of the people, called to mind that Jesus in his lifetime had said, that he would rise again on the third day. It may at first sight seem strange that they should give any attention to such a prophecy; a prophecy big with confidence and presumption, and which to the common sense of mankind carried its confutation along with it: and "there is no other nation in the world which would not have slighted such a vain prognostication of a known imposter." But they had warning to be watchful. It was not long before, that the people "had like to have been fatally deluded and imposed on by him in the pretended resuscitation of Lazarus." They had fully discovered the cheat in the case of Lazarus, and had narrowly escaped the dangerous consequences of it. And though Jesus was dead, yet he had many disciples and followers alive, who were ready enough to combine in any fraud, to verify the prediction of their master. Should they succeed, the rulers foresaw, the consequences in this case would be more fatal than those which before they had narrowly escaped. Upon this account they addressed themselves to the Roman governor, told him how the case was, and desired that he would grant them a guard to watch the sepulchre; that the service would not be long, for the prediction limited the resurrection to the third day; and when that was over, the soldiers might be released from the duty. Pilate granted the request; and a guard was set to watch the sepulchre.
This was not all. The chief priests took another method to prevent all frauds, and it was the best that could possibly be taken; which was, to seal up the door of the sepulchre. To understand to what purpose this caution was used, you need only consider what is intended by sealing up doors, and boxes, or writings. Is it not for the satisfaction of all parties concerned, that they may be sure things are in the state they left them, when they come and find their seals not injured? This was the method used by Darius, when Daniel was cast into the lions den; he sealed the door of the den. And for what purpose? Was it not to satisfy himself and his court, that no art had been used to preserve Daniel? And when he came and saw Daniel safe, and his seal untouched, he was satisfied. And indeed if we consider the thing rightly, a seal thus used imports a covenant. If you deliver writings to a person sealed, and he accepts them so, your delivery and his acceptance implies a covenant between you, that the writings shall be delivered and the seal whole; and should the seal be broken, it would be a manifest fraud, and breach of trust. Nay, so strongly is this covenant implied, that there needs no special agreement in the case; it is a compact which men are put under by the law of nations, and the common consent of mankind. When you send a letter sealed to the post- house, you have not indeed a special agreement with all persons through whose hands it passes, that it shall not be opened by any hand , but his only to whom it is directed; yet men know themselves to be under this restraint, and that it is unlawful and dishonorable to transgress it.
Since then the sepulchre was sealed; since the seal imported a covenant, consider who were the parties to this covenant. They could be no other than the chief priests on one side, and the apostles on the other. To prove this, no special agreement need be shewn. On one side, there was a concern to see the prophecy fulfilled; on the other, to prevent fraud in fulfilling it. The sum of their agreement was naturally this, that the seals should be opened at the time appointed for the resurrection, that all parties might see and be satisfied, whether the dead body was come to life or no.
What now would any reasonable man expect from these circumstances? Don't you expect to hear, that the chief priests and the apostles met at the time appointed, opened the seals, and that the matter in dispute was settled beyond all controversy one way or other? But see how it happened, The seals were broken, the body stolen away in the night by the disciples; none of the chief priests present, or summoned to see the seals opened. The guards, when examined, were forced to confess the truth, though joined with an acknowledgement of their guilt; which made them liable to be punished by Pilate: they confessed that they were asleep, and in the mean time that the body was stolen away by the disciples.
This evidence of the Roman soldiers, and the far stronger evidence arising from the clandestine method of breaking up the seals, are sufficient proofs of fraud.
But there is another circumstance in the case, of equal weight. Though the seals did not prevent the cheat entirely, yet they effectually falsified the prediction. According to the prediction, Jesus was to rise on the third day, or after the third day. At this time the chief priests intended to be present, and probably would have been attended by a great multitude. This made it impossible to play any tricks at that time; and therefore the apostles were forced the hasten the plot: and accordingly the resurrection happened a day before its time; for the body was buried on the Friday, and was gone early in the morning on Sunday.
These are plain facts; facts drawn from the accounts given to us by those who are friends to the belief of the resurrection. The Gentleman won't call these imaginations, or complain that I have given him schemes instead of evidence.
Mr. B. My Lord, I am now to consider that part of the argument upon which the Gentleman lays the greatest stress. He has given us his evidence; mere evidence, he says, unmixed, and clear of all schemes and imaginations. In one thing indeed he has been as good as his word; he has proved beyond contradiction, that Christ died, and was laid in the sepulchre: for, without doubt, when the Jews sealed the stone, they took care to see that the body was there; otherwise their precaution was useless. He has proved too, that the prediction of Christ concerning his own resurrection, was a thing publickly known in all Jerusalem; for he owns, that this gave occasion for all the care that was taken to prevent fraud. If this open prediction implies a fraudulent design, the evidence is strong with the Gentleman: but if it shall appear to be, what it really was, the greatest mark that could be given of sincerity and plain dealing in the whole affair, the evidence will still be as strong, but the weight of it will fall on the wrong side for the Gentleman's purpose.
In the next place, the Gentleman seems to be at a great loss to account for the credit which the chief priests gave to the prediction of the resurrection, by the care they took to prevent it. He thinks the thing in itself was too extravagant and absurd to deserve any regard; and that no one would have regarded such a prediction in any other time or place. I agree with the Gentleman entirely: but then I demand of him a reason why the chief priests were under any concern about this prediction. Was it because they had plainly discovered him to be a cheat and an imposter? It is impossible. This reason would have convinced them of the folly and presumption of the prediction. It must therefore necessarily be, that they had discovered something in the life and actions of Christ which raised this jealousy, and made them listen to a prophecy in his case, which in any other case they would have despised. And what could this be, but the secret conviction they were under, by his many miracles, of his extraordinary powers? This care therefore of the chief priests over his dead, helpless body, is a lasting testimony of the mighty works which Jesus did in his lifetime; for had the Jews been persuaded that he performed no wonders in his life, I think they would not have been afraid of seeing any done by him after his death.
But the Gentleman is of another mind. He says, they had discovered a plain cheat in the case of Lazarus, whom Christ had pretended to raise from the dead; and therefore they took all this care to guard against a like cheat.
I begin now to want evidence; I am forbid to call this imagination, what else to call it I know not. There is not the least intimation given from history, that there was any cheat in the case of Lazarus, or that any one suspected a cheat. Lazarus lived in the country after he was raised from the dead; and though his life was secretly and basely sought after, yet no body had the courage to call to a trial for his part in the cheat. It may be said, perhaps, the rulers were terrified. Very well: but they were not terrified when they had Christ in their possession, when they brought him to a trial; why did they not then object this cheat to Christ? It would have been much to their purpose. Instead of that, they accuse him of a design to pull down their temple, to destroy their law, and of blasphemy; but not one word of any fraud in the case of Lazarus, or any other case.
But not to enter into the merits of this cause, which has in it too many circumstances for your present consideration; let us take the case to be as the Gentleman states it, that the cheat in the case of Lazarus was detected; what consequence is to be expected? In all other cases, impostors, once discovered, grow odious and contemptible, and quite incapable of doing further mischief; so little are they regarded, that even when they tell the truth, they are neglected. Was it so in this case? No, says the Gentleman; the Jews were the more careful that Christ should not cheat them in his own resurrection. Surely this is a most singular case. When the people thought him a Prophet, the chief priests sought to kill him, and thought his death would put an end to his pretensions: when they and the people had discovered him to be a cheat, then they thought him not safe, even when he was dead, but were afraid he should prove a true Prophet, and, according to his own prediction, rise again. A needless, a preposterous fear!
In the next place, the Gentleman tells us how proper the care was that the chief priests took. I agree perfectly with him. Human policy could not invent a more proper method to guard against and prevent all fraud. They delivered the sepulchre, with the dead body in it, to a company of Roman soldiers, who had orders from their officer to watch the sepulchre. Their care went further still; they sealed the door of the sepulchre.
Upon this occasion, the Gentleman has explained the use of seals when applied to such purposes. They imply, he says, a covenant, that the things sealed up shall remain in the condition they are till the parties to the sealing agree to open them. I see no reason to enter into the learning about seals: let it be as the Gentleman has opened it; what then?
Why then, it seems, the apostles and chief priests were in a covenant that there should be no resurrection, at least no opening of the door, till they met together at an appointed time to view and unseal the door.
Your Lordship and the court will now consider the probability of this supposition. When Christ was seized and carried to his trial, his disciples fled, out of a just apprehension that they should, if apprehended, be sacrificed with their master. Peter indeed followed him; but his courage soon failed, and it is well known in what manner he denied him. After the death of Christ, his disciples were so far from being ready to engage for his resurrection, or to enter into terms and agreements for the manner in which it should be done, that they themselves did not believe it ever would be; they gave over all hopes and thoughts of it; and far from entering into engagements with the chief priests, their whole concern was, to keep themselves concealed from them. This is a well known case, and I will not trouble you with particular authorities to prove this truth. Can any man now in his right senses think, that the disciples under these circumstances entered into this covenant with the Jews? I believe the Gentleman don't think it, and for that reason says, that seals so used import a covenant without a special agreement. Be it so; and it must then be allowed, that the apostles were no more concerned in these seals, than every other man in the country, and no more answerable for them; for the covenant reached to every body as well as to them, since they were under no special contract.
But I beg pardon for spending your time unnecessarily, when the simple plain account of this matter will best answer all these jealousies and suspicions. The Jews, it is plain, were exceedingly solicitous about this event; for this reason they obtained a guard from Pilate; and when they had, they were still suspicious lest their guards should deceive them, and enter into combination against them. To secure this point, they sealed the door, and required of the guards to deliver up the sepulchre to them sealed as it was. This is the natural and true account of the matter. Do but consider it in a parallel case. Suppose a prince should set a guard at the door of his treasury, and the officer who placed the guard should seal the door, and say to the soldiers, You shall be answerable for the seal if I find it broken: would not all the world understand the seal to be fixed to guard against the soldiers, who might, though employed to keep off others, be ready enough to pilfer themselves? This is in all such cases but a necessary care; you may place guards, and when you do all is in their power: Et quis custodes custodiat ipsos?
But it seems, that, notwithstanding all this care, the seals were broken, and the body gone. If you complain of this, Sir, demand satisfaction of your guards; they only are responsible for it: the disciples had no more to do in it than you or I.
The guards, the Gentleman says, have confessed the truth, and owned that they were asleep, and that the disciples in the mean time stole away the body. I wish the guards were in court, I would ask them, how they came to be so punctual in relating what happened when they were asleep? what induced them to believe that the body was stolen at all? what, that it was stolen by the disciples; since by their own confession they were asleep and say nothing, saw no body? But since they are not to be had, I would desire to ask the Gentleman the same questions; and whether he has any authorities in point, to shew, that ever any man was admitted as an evidence in any court, to prove a fact which happened when he was asleep? I see the Gentleman is uneasy; I'll press the matter no further.
As this story has no evidence to support it, so neither has it any probability. The Gentleman has given you the character of the disciples; that they were weak, ignorant men, full of the popular prejudices and superstitions of their country,which stuck close to them notwithstanding their long acquaintance with their master. The apostles are not much wronged in this account; and is it likely that such men should engage in so desperate design, as to steal away the body, in opposition to the combined power of the Jews and Romans? What could tempt them to it? What good could the dead body do them? Or if it could have done them any, what hope had they to succeed in their attempt? A dead body is not to be removed by sleight of hand; it requires many hands to move it: besides, the great stone at the mouth of the sepulchre was to be removed; which could not be done silently, or by men walking on tip-toes to prevent discovery: so that if the guards had really been asleep, yet there was no encouragement to go on this enterprise; for it is hardly possible to suppose, but that rolling away the stone, moving the body, the hurry and confusion of carrying it off, must awaken them.
But supposing the thing was practicable, yet the attempt was such as the disciples consistently with their own notions could not undertake. The Gentleman says, they continued all their master's lifetime to expect to see him a temporal prince; and a friend of the Gentleman's has observed, what is equally true, that they had the same expectation after his death. Consider now their case. Their master was dead; and they are to contrive to steal away his body. For what? Did they expect to make a King of the dead body, if they could get it into their power? Or did they think, if they had it, they could raise it to life again? If they trusted so far to their master's prediction, as to expect his resurrection, (which I think is evident they did not), could they yet think the resurrection depended on their having the dead body? It is in all views absurd. But the Gentleman supposes, that they meant to carry on the design for themselves, in the master's, if they could but have persuaded the people to believe him risen from the dead. But he does not consider, that by this supposition he strips the disciples of every part of their character at once, and presents to us a new set of men, in every respect different from the former. The former disciples were weak, plain men; but these are bold, hardy, cunning, and contriving: the former were full of the superstitions of their country, and expected a prince from the authority of their Prophets; but these were despisers of the Prophets, and of the notions of their countrymen, and are designing to turn these fables to their own advantage; for it cannot be supposed that they believed the Prophets, and at the same time thought to accomplish or defeat them by so manifest a cheat, to which they themselves at least were conscious.
But let us take leave of these suppositions, and see how the true evidence is this case stands. Guards were placed, and they did their duty. But what are guards and sentinels against the power of God? An angel of the Lord opened the sepulchre; the guards saw him, and became like dead men. This account they gave to the chief priests, who, still persisting in their obstinacy, bribed the guards to tell the contradictory story, of their being asleep, and the body stolen.
I cannot but observe to your Lordship, that all these circumstances, so much questioned and suspected, were necessary circumstances, supposing the resurrection to be true. The seal was broken, the body came out of the sepulchre, the guards were placed in vain to prevent it. Be it so: I desire to know, whether the Gentleman thinks that the seal put God under covenant? or could prescribe to him a method for performing this great work? or whether he thinks the guards were placed to maintain the seal in opposition to the power of God? If he will maintain neither of these points, then the opening of the seals, notwithstanding the guard set upon them, will be an evidence, not of the fraud, but of the power of the resurrection; and the guards will have nothing to answer for, but only this, that they were not stronger than God. The seal was a proper check upon the guards: the Jews had no other meaning in it; they could not be so stupid as to imagine, that they could by this contrivance disappoint the designs of providence. And it is surprising to hear these circumstances made use of to prove the resurrection to be a fraud, which yet could not but happen, supposing the resurrection to be true.
But there is another circumstance still, which the Gentleman reckons very material, and upon which I find great stress is laid. The resurrection happened, we are told, a day sooner than the prediction imported. The reason assigned for it is, that the execution of the plot at the time appointed was rendered impracticable, because the chief priests, an probably great numbers of the people, were prepared to visit the sepulchre at that time; and therefore the disciples were under a necessity of hastening their plot.
This observation is entirely inconsistent with the supposition upon which the reasoning stands. The Gentleman has all along supposed the resurrection to have been managed by fraud, and not by violence. And indeed violence, if there had been an opportunity of using it, would have been insignificant: beating the guards, and removing the dead body by force, would have destroyed all pretences to a resurrection. Now, surely the guards, supposing them to be enough in number to withstand all violence, were at least sufficient to prevent or to discover fraud. What occasion then to hasten the plot for fear of numbers meeting at the tomb, since there were numbers always present sufficient to discover any fraud; the only method that could be used in the case?
Suppose then that we could not give a satisfactory account of the way of reckoning the time from the crucifixion to the resurrection; yet this we can say, that the resurrection happened during the time that the guards had the sepulchre in keeping; and it is impossible to imagine what opportunity this could give to fraud. Had the time been delayed, the guards removed, and then a resurrection pretended, it might with some colour of reason have been said, Why did he not come within his time? why did he chuse to come after his time, when all witnesses, who had patiently expected the appointed hour, were withdrawn? But now what is to be objected? You think he came too soon. But were not your guards at the door when he came? did they not see what happened? and what other satisfaction could you have had, supposing he had come a day later?
By saying of this, I do not mean the decline the Gentleman's objection, which is founded upon a mistake of a way of speaking, common to the Jews and other people; who, when they name any number of days and years, include the first and last of the days or years to make up the sum. Christ, alluding to his own resurrection, says, In three days I will raise it up. The angels report his prediction thus, The Son of Man shall be crucified, and the third day rise again. Elsewhere it is said, After three days; and again, that he was to be in the bowels of the earth three days and three nights. These expressions are equivalent to each other; for we always reckon the night into the day, when we reckon by so many days. If you agree to do a thing ten days hence, you stipulate for forbearance for the nights as well as days; and therefore, in reckoning, two days, and two days and two nights, are the same thing. That the expression, After three days, means inclusive days, is proved by Grotius on Matt. xxvii. 63 and by others. The prediction therefore was, that he would rise on the third day. Now, he was crucified on Friday and buried; he lay in the grave all Saturday, and rose early on Sunday morning. But the Gentleman thinks he ought not to have risen before Monday. Pray try what the use of common language requires to be understood in a like case. Suppose you were told, that your friend sickened on Friday, was let blood on Saturday, and the third day he died; what day would you think he died on? If you have any doubt about it, put the question to the first plain man you meet, and he will resolve it. The Jews could have no doubt in this case; for so they practised in one of the highest points of their law. Every male child was to be circumcised on the eighth day. How did they reckon the days? Why, the day of the birth was one, and the day of the circumcision another; and though a child was born towards the every end of the first day, he was capable of circumcision on any time of the eighth day. And therefore it is not new nor strange, that the third day, in our case, should be reckoned into the number, though Christ rose at the very beginning of it. It is more strange to reckon whole years in this manner; and yet this is the constant method observed in Ptolemy's canon, the most valuable piece of ancient chronology, next to the Bible, now extant. If a King lived over the first day of a year, and died the week after, that whole year is reckoned to his reign.
I have now gone through the several objections upon this head: what credit they may gain in this age, I know not; but 'tis plain they had no credit when they were first spread abroad; nay, 'tis evident, that the very persons who set abroad this story of the body being stolen, did not believe it themselves. And, not to insist here upon the plain fact, which was, that the guards were hired to tell this lie by the chief priests, it will appear from the after conduct of the chief priests themselves, that they were conscious that the story was false. Not long after the resurrection of Christ, the disciples having received new power from above, appeard publickly in Jerusalem, and in the very temple, and testified the resurrection of Christ, even before those who had murdered him. What now do the chief priests do? They seize upon the apostles, they threaten them, they beat them,. they scourge them, and all to stop their mouths, insisting that they should say no more of the matter. But why did they not, when they had the disciples in their power, charge them directly with their notorious cheat in stealing the body, and expose them to the people as imposters? This had been much more to their purpose, than all their menaces and ill usage, and would more effectually have undeceived the people. But of this not one word is said. They try to murder them, enter into combinations to assassinate them, prevail with Herod to put one of them to death; but not so much as a charge against them of any fraud in the resurrection. Their orator Tertullus, who could not have missed so fine a topick of declamation, had there been but a suspicion to support it, is quite silent on this head, and is content to flourish on the common-place of sedition and heresy, profaning the temple, and the like: very trifles to his cause, in comparison to the other accusation, had there been any ground to make use of it. And yet as it happens, we are sure the very question of the resurrection came under debate; for Festus tells King Agrippa, that the Jews had certain questions against Paul, of one Jesus which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. After this, Agrippa hears Paul himself; and had he suspected, much less had he been convinced that there was a cheat in the resurrection, he would hardly have said to Paul at the end of the conference, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
But let us see what the council and senate of the children of Israel thought of this matter, in the most solemn and serious deliberation they ever had about it. Not long after the resurrection, the apostles were taken; the High Priest thought the matter of that weight, that he summoned the council and senate of the children of Israel. The apostles are brought before them, and make their defence. Part of their defence is in these words: The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. The defence was indeed a heavy charge upon the senate, and in the warmth of their anger, their first resolution was to slay them all. But Gamaliel, one of the council, stood up, and told them, that the matter deserved more consideration. He recounted to them the history of several imposters who had perished, and concluded with respect to the case of the apostles then before them: If this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it, lest haply ye be found to fight against God. The council agreed to this advice, and after some ill treatment, the apostles were discharged. I ask now, and let any man of common sense answer, Could Gamaliel possibly have given this advice, and supposed that the hand of God might be with the apostles, if he had known that there was a cheat discovered in the resurrection of Jesus? Could the whole senate have followed this advice, had they believed the discovery of the cheat? Was there not among them one man wise enough to say, How can you suppose God to have anything to do in this affair, when the resurrection of Jesus, upon which all depends, was a notorious cheat, and manifestly proved to be so? I should but lessen the weight of this authority by saying more, and therefore I will rest here, and give way to the Gentleman to go on with his accusation.
Mr. A. My Lord, Before I proceed any further, I beg leave to say a few words in reply to what the Gentleman has offered on this head.
The Gentleman thinks, that the detection in the case of Lazarus ought to have made the Jews quite unconcerned in the case of Jesus, and secure as to the event of his own resurrection. He says very true, supposing their care had been for themselves: but governors have another care upon their hands, the care of their people; and 'tis not enough for them to guard against being imposed on themselves, they must be watchful to guard the multitude against frauds and deceits. The chief priests were satisfied indeed of the fraud in the case of Lazarus, yet they saw the people deceived by it; and for this reason, and not for their own satisfaction, they used the caution in the case of the resurrection of Jesus, which I before laid before you. In so doing, they are well justified; and the inconsistency charged on the other side, between their opinion of Jesus, and their fear of being imposed on by his pretended resurrection, is fully answered.
The next observation relates to the seal of the sepulchre. The Gentleman thinks the seal was used as a check upon the Roman soldiers. But what reason had the Jews to suspect them? They were not disciples of Jesus; they were servants of the Roman governor, and employed in the service of the Jews: and I leave it to the court to judge, whether the Jews set the seal to guard against their friends, or their enemies? But if the seals were really used against the guards, then the breaking of the seals is a proof that the guards were corrupted: and if so, 'tis easy to conceive how the body was removed.
As to the disciples, the Gentleman observes, that the part allotted them in the management of the resurrection supposes an unaccountable change in their character. It will not be long before the Gentleman will have occasion for as great a change in their character: for these weak men you will find soon employed in converting the world, and sent to appear before Kings and Princes in the name of their master; soon you will see them grow wise and powerful, and every way qualified for their extensive and important business. The only difference between me and the Gentleman on the other side will be found to be this, that I date this change a little earlier than he does: A small matter, surely, to determine the right of this controversy.
The last observation relates to King Agrippa's complaisance to Paul, and Gamaliel's advice. I cannot answer for Agrippa's meaning: but certainly he meant but little; and if this matter is to be tried by his opinion, we know that he never did turn Christian. As for Gamaliel, 'tis probable that he saw great numbers of the people engaged zealously in favour of the apostles, and might think it prudent to pass the matter over in silence, and not to come to extremities. This is a common case in all governments: the multitude and their leaders often escape punishment, not because they do not deserve it, but because it is not, in some circumstances, prudent to exact it.
I pass over these things lightly, because the next article contains the great, to us indeed, who live at this distance, the only great question; for whatever reason the Jews had to believe the resurrection, it is nothing to us, unless the story has been conveyed to us upon such evidence as is sufficient to support the weight laid on it.
My Lord, we are now to enter upon the last and main article of this case; the nature of the evidence upon which the credit of the resurrection stands. Before I inquire into the qualifications of the particular witnesses whose words we are desired to take in this case, I would ask, why this evidence, which manifestly relates to the most essential point of Christianity, was not put beyond all exception? Many of the miracles of Christ are said to be done in the streets, nay even in the temple, under the observation of all the world; but the like is not so much as pretended as to this; nay, we have it upon the confession of Peter, the ringleader of the apostles, that Christ appeared, not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God. Why picking and culling of witnesses in this case more than in any other? Does it not import some suspicion, raise some jealousy, that this case would not bear the publick light?
I would ask more particularly, Why did not Jesus after his resurrection appear openly to the chief priests and rulers of the Jews? Since his commission related to them in an especial manner, why were not his credentials laid before them? The resurrection is acknowledged to be the chief proof of his mission, why then was it concealed from those who were more than all others concerned in the event of his mission? Suppose an ambassador from some foreign prince should come into England, make his publick entry through the city, pay and receive visits, and at last refuse to shew any letters of credence, or to wait on the King, what would you think of him? Whatever you would think in that case, you must think in this; for there is no difference between them.
But we must take the evidence as it is. It was thought proper, in this case, to have select chosen witnesses; and we must now consider who they were, and what reason we have to take their word.
The first witness was an angel, or angels. They appeared like men to some women who went early to the sepulchre. If they appeared like men, upon what ground are we to take them for angels? The women saw men, and therefore they can witness only to the seeing of men. But I suppose it is the women's judgement, and not their evidence, that we are to follow in this case. Here then we have a story of one apparition to support the credit of another apparition: and the first apparition hath not so much as the evidence of the women to support it, but is grounded on their superstition, ignorance, and fear. Every country can afford an hundred instances of this kind; and there is this common to them all, that as learning and common sense prevail in any country, they die away, and are no more heard of.
The next witnesses are the women themselves. The wisest men can hardly guard themselves against the fears of superstition; poor silly women therefore in this case must needs be unexceptionable witnesses, and fit to be admitted into the number of the chosen witnesses to attest this fact. One part of the account given of them is very rational, that they were surprised and frightened beyond measure; and I leave it to your Lordship and the court to judge, how well qualified they were to give a just relation of what passed.
After this, Jesus appears to two of his disciples as they were upon a journey; he joins them, and introduces a discourse about himself; and spent much time, till it began to grow dark, in expounding the prophecies relating to the death and resurrection of the Messias. All this while, the disciples knew him not. But then going into an house to lodge together, at supper he broke bread, and gave it to them; immediately they knew him, immediately he vanished. Here then are two witnesses more. But what will you call them? eye-witnesses? Why their eyes were open, and they had their senses, when he reasoned with them and they knew him not. So far therefore they are witnesses that it was not he. Tell us therefore upon what account you reject the evidence of their sense before the breaking of the bread, and insist on it afterwards? And why did Jesus vanish as soon as known; which has more of the air of an apparition, than of the appearance of a real man restored to life?
Cleopas, who was one of these two disciples, finds out the apostles, to make the report of what had passed to them. No sooner was the story told, but Jesus appears among them. They were all frightened and confounded, and thought they saw a spectre. He rebukes them for infidelity, and their slowness in believing the prophecies of his resurrection: and though he refused before to let the women touch him (a circumstance which I ought not to have omitted); yet now he invites the apostles to handle him, to examine his hands and feet, and search the wounds of the cross. But what body was it they examined? The same that came in when the doors were shut; the same that vanished from the two disciples; the same that the women might not touch: in a word, a body quite different from a human body, which we know cannot pass through walls, or appear or disappear at pleasure. What then could their hands or eyes inform them of in this case? Besides, is it credible that God should raise a body imperfectly, with the very wounds in it of which it died? Or, if the wounds were such as destroyed the body before, how could a natural body subsist with them afterwards?
There are more appearances of Jesus recorded; but so much of the same kind, so liable to the same difficulties and objections, that I will not trouble your Lordship and the court with a distinct enumeration of them. If the Gentleman on the other side finds any advantage in any of them more than in these mentioned, I shall have an opportunity to consider them in my reply. It may seem surprising to you, perhaps, that a matter of this moment was trusted upon such evidence as this: but it will be still more surprising to consider that the several nations who received the gospel, and submitted to the faith of this article, had not even this evidence: for what people or nation had the evidence of the angels, the women or even of all the apostles? So far from it, that every country had its single apostle, and received the faith upon the credit of his single evidence. We have followed our ancestors without inquiry; and if you examine the thing to the bottom, our belief was originally built upon the word of one man. I shall trouble you, Sir, but with one observation more; which is this: That although in common life we act in a thousand instances upon the faith and credit of human testimony; yet the reason for so doing is not the same in the case before us. In common affairs, where nothing is asserted but what is probable, and possible, according to the usual course of nature, a reasonable degree of evidence ought to determine every man: for the very probability, or possibility of the thing, is an support to the evidence; and in such cases we have no doubt but a man's senses qualify him to be a witness. But when the thing testified is contrary to the order of nature, and, at first sight at least, impossible, what evidence can be sufficient to overturn the constant evidence of nature, which she gives us in the uniform and regular method of her operations? If a man tells me he has been in France, I ought to give a reason for not believing him; but if he tells me he comes from the grave what reason can he give why I should believe him? In the case before us, since the body raised from the grave differed from common natural bodies, as we have before seen; how can I be assured that the apostles' senses qualified them to judge at all of this body; whether it was the same, or not the same which was buried? They handled the body, which yet could pass through doors and walls; they saw it, and sometimes knew it, at other times knew it not. In a word, it seems to be a case exempt from human evidence. Men have limited senses, and a limited reason: when they act within their limits, we may give credit to them; but when they talk of things removed beyond the reach of their senses and reason, we must quit our own, if we believe theirs. Mr. B. My Lord, in answering the objections under this head I shall find myself obliged to change the order in which the gentleman thought proper to place them. He began with complaining, that Christ did not appear publickly to the Jews after his resurrection, and especially to the chief priests and rulers; and seemed to argue, as if such evidence would have put the matter in question out of all doubt: but he concluded with an observation to prove that no evidence in this case can be sufficient; that a resurrection is thing in nature impossible, at least impossible to be proved to the satisfaction of a rational inquirer. If this be the case, why does he require more evidence, since none can be sufficient? Or to what purpose is it to vindicate the particular evidence of the resurrection of Christ, so long as this general prejudice, that a resurrection is incapable of being proved, remains unremoved? I am under a necessity therefore to consider this observation in the first place, that it might lie as a dead weight upon all I have to offer in support of the evidence of Christ's resurrection.