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1. We may perceive a great agreement between the life and the death of Jesus.
How great and excellent he was in his death, was lately shown. He does also in all appear to be the beloved of the Father. There were testimonials to his dignity at his birth, and afterwards at his baptism, and in the course of bis ministry, and when he was gloriously transformed on the inount. Nor were there wanting extraordinary testimonials of the divine favour and approbation during the dark and gloomy scene of his last sufferings. Even then “ he was not alone. But the Father was with bim," John xvi. 32. Soon after which he was raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven. And many wonderful works were done in his name by his apostles. Such was the regard shown to him, who was the Messiah, the well-beloved Son of God, and the desire of all nations.
2. It cannot but be pleasing to observe the mildness of all the wonderful works performed by Christ, and done in his favour.
His own miracles were healing and beneficent. His power was shown in restoring health, or limbs, or senses, or life. Scarce any miracle detrimental, except that one emblematical miracle of withering a barren fig-tree.
It is the same at his death. This most excellent person, to whom so many then living were indebted for the most valuable benefits, is betrayed, apprehended, condemned, insulted, derided, crucified.. How aggravated, how complicated was the iniquity of those proceedings ! How grievous must those indignities have been to the innocent sufferer! and how offensive in the sight of the supreme Lord of all! And the divine pleasure was manifested. There was universal darkness over the land of Israel for three hours; the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom; the earth too was shaken, and rocks were rent. Awful and affecting events! And yet no dwellings were overturned, nor men swallowed up. The earthquake was preternatural, and reached so far as God appointed, and no farther, without doing any damage. And moreover, when Jesus dies,
, or when he riseth again, the tombs are not only opened by the shaking of the earth, but many saints also are awakened and restored to life,
The divine wisdom, power, and goodness are here very conspicuous. And every sincere Christian has reason to triumph, and glory in the evidences of the truth of his religion. The doctrine is reasonable, the promises are most gracious and comprebensive, and the evidences of its truth
are affecting, forcible, and convincing, yet mild and beneficent.
3. The testimonials given from heaven to the authority and dignity of the Lord Jesus, during his painful and ignominious sufferings, should induce us to show him all honour and reverence.
Let us be cautious of despising or slighting him, or any of his sayings. Let us not dare to speak a word, or admit a hard thought against the Son of inan, who was also the Son of God; who suffered so meekly and so greatly; and who, whilst he was despised and abused by mistaken and prejudiced men, had honourable testimonials from him, who is Lord of heaven and earth.
Nor let any of us, who bear the character of his disciples and followers, by an unworthy behaviour, or by leaving and forsaking him, expose him again to shame and reproach.
Finally, Let these meditations on the greatness as well as meekness of Jesus under sufferings, and the testimonials of divine favour and approbation then given him, inspire us with courage and resolution in the profession of bis name, and the performance of the duties he bas enjoined upon us, whatever reproaches or other disadvantages our tidelity to bim
may bring upon us; not doubting of a happy issue, and that if we suffer with bim, or for him, we shall reign with him hereafter; and that, if we now honour him, (though not altogether as he deserves, and we sometimes could wish, when our hearts are affected with the greatness of his love) he will honour and glorify us with himself in the kingdom of his Father.
THE ROMAN SOLDIERS AND THE JEWISH RULERS.
And when they were assembled with the elders, and had
taken counsel, they gave large money to the soldiers; Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away whilst we slept. Matt. xxviii. 12, 13.
, AT the end of the preceding chapter, we are informed by the evangelist, that at the request of Joseph of Arimathea, Pilate granted him the body of Jesus after he had been crucified. “ And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalen, and the other Mary sitting over against the sepulchre. Now the next day that followed the day of the preparation” (by which must be understood the sabbath, the seventh day of the week) “ the chief priests and pharisees," or some of them, a deputation from the council, “ came together to Pilate, saying ; Sir, we remember, that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command, therefore, that the sepulcbre be made sure until the third day, lest bis disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead. So the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them; Ye have a watch. Go your way, make it as sure as you can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” The guard would prevent violence. And the seal would be a security against any fraud of the soldiers, in confederacy with the disciples, if that could have been suspected.
Then at the beginning of the twenty-eighth chapter, “ In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre. And behold,” a short time before their arrival, there was, or had been, “ a great earthquake. For the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came, and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as suow. And for fear of him the keepers," the guards, “ did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered, and said unto the women; Fear not ye. For I know, that ye seek Jesus, who was crucified, He is not here. For be is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his Disciples, that he is risen from the dead -And as they went to tell his disciples, behold Jesus met them, saying: All hail. And they came, and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them; Be not afraid." 'Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee. And there shall they see me. Now when they were going, behold some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all things that were done.”
By this account it appears that our Saviour's resurrection, and the preparations for it, were gradual. “ There was a
great earthquake; an angel descended from heaven, and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment wbite as snow. For fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.” Now, at this instant, or soon after, the blessed Jesus arose, and came out of the tomb. Whether the guards saw the Lord come out of the sepulchre, and pass by them, is not altogether certain. The evangelist's expressions are strong. “ For fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.” It seems that they fainted, or fell into a swoon. If our Lord came out at that instant, they did not see him. But if they were recovered before he came out, and they saw him, they might be still under such an awe, as to let him pass leisurely and unmolested. For the first sight of a man returned to life, who had been dead and crucified, would be exceeding surprising. And the late earthquake, and the majestic appearance of the angel, still in view, who also, as may be supposed, showed our Lord marks of subjection and reverence, as he passed, might make such impressions, as would restrain rudeness and violence.
If they did not see our Lord come out of the tomb, and pass by them; when they had recovered themselves from their fright, and looked round them, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, and that the body was gone, and they could make no doubt that the person whom they were set to guard was come to life.
From the order of the evangelist's narration we also perceive, that our Lord had been raised to life some wbile before the soldiers came to the Jewish high priests. When the body was gone, undoubtedly they had no farther business at the sepulchre. But it might require some time to recover themselves from the consternation they had been in; and before they went off they would look well about them. After which, as it seems, they retired to some house and rested themselves, and endeavoured to settle the account which they should carry to those who had employed them. Nor could they know how to find the chief priests so early in the morning. When they had access unto them, “ they shewed unto them all the things that had been done:” that is, they told them thata whilst they were watching at the
* If it should be asked, how could the evangelist be assured of all this, and be able to relate these things so distinctly: I should answer, that the solution is very obvious. Some of the apostles, or other disciples of Jesus, had this account from the soldiers themselves, or others to whom they had related it. There was an interval of several hours between the opening the sepulchre and
sepulchre at such an hour, there was a great earthquake, • that they saw a certain being resembling human shape,
clothed in a garment, uncommonly white, his countenance * exceeding bright and shining, who with amazing swiftness • descended from heaven, and that at the sight of bim they ' were seized with great consternation. He rolled away the
stone, and opened the sepulchre. The body was gone, • and the man was certainly alive again.'
For vindicating themselves they added : • They did not • believe any others would have behaved better. "Who but • must have been in pain for their lives, when the earth • treinbled under them and around them ? and when there • appeared some god, or celestial being, from whose counte• nance issued flashes of lightning ? If the body was gone,
they could not help it. They were set to guard against 6 the deceit and violence of men. But they were not able • to contend with beings of a superior order.'
This was a disagreeable story to the high priests; and very unfortunately for their cause, the soldiers had not come directly to them; they had stayed by the way, and the high priests were justly apprehensive, that the account now brought to them, had been already divulged to others.
In so perplexing an emergency these chief priests thought it best to convene the whole sanhedrim. So it follows: “ And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel,” or deliberated and consulted what to do, " they gave large money to the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came and stole him away whilst we slept And, if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught. And this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day."
The summary remarks of a judicious writer upon this history are to this purpose. * The priests and pharisees . must be thought a strange stupid sort of creatures, if they • did not examine where the apostles were all night; beside
many other particulars, which might have been a thread our Lord's resurrection, and their coming to the Jewish rulers. In that space they had much discourse among themselves about the things which had happened, and which had caused them so great surprise. And they had related them to several. It is also very observable, that the whole band did not attend upon the chief priests, but a part only. Matt. xxviii. 11, “Some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done." Nor is it needful to suppose that the soldiers, who had been bribed by the Jewish council, were strictly obedient to their orders, and never said any thing but what they had been taught, when they knew otherwise. • Burnet upon the Articles, p. 64.