« PreviousContinue »
Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead. The same reasons that move you to reject the authority of Christ and his Apostles, would move you to reject the authority of your new acquaintance from the dead : which will appear by considering,
Secondly, that the objections which unbelievers urge against the authority of revelation, will lie stronger against the authority of one coming from the dead : for first, as to the nature of this sort of evidence, if it be any evidence at all, it is a revelation; and therefore whatever has been said against the authority of revelation will be applicable to this kind of it: and consequently those who, on the foot of natural religion, stand out against the doctrine of the gospel, would much more stand out against the authority of one coming from the dead. And whether it would weigh more with the Atheist, let any one consider ; for no revelation can weigh with him ; for the being of God, which he disbelieves, is supported with greater arguments and greater works than any revelation can be: and therefore, standing out against the evidence of all nature, speaking in the wonderful works of the creation, he can never reasonably submit to a less evidence. Let then one from the dead appear to him; and he will, and certainly may, as easily account for one dead man's recovering life and motion, as he does for the life and motion of so many men whom he sees every day. Is it not as hard, do you think, to make a man at first, and breathe into him the breath of life, as it is to make him up again, after he has once been dead? And therefore he that can satisfy himself as to the first, need not be troubled about the last. For I am sure the appearance of a dead inan could never teach the Atheist, on his own principles, to reason himself into the belief of a Deity, though possibly it might scare him into it; which is too low a design for the providence of God to be concerned in, and therefore can never be a reason for his giving this sort of evidence to mankind.
But farther ; let us suppose a man free from all these prejudices, and then see what we can make of this evidence. If a dead man should come to you, you must suppose either that he speaks from himself, and that his errand to you is the effect of his own private affection for you, or that he comes by com
mission and authority from God. As to the first case, you have but the word of a man for all you hear: and how will you prove that a dead man is incapable of practising a cheat
you 1 ? Or allowing the appearance to be real, and the design honest, do you think every dead man knows the counsels of God, and his will with respect to his creatures here on earth? If you do not think this, and I cannot see possibly how you should think it, what use will you make of this kind of revelation ? Should he tell you that the Christian faith is the true faith, the way to heaven and happiness, and that God will reward all true believers; you would have much less reason to believe him, than now you have to believe Christ and his Apostles: and therefore, if you reject Christ and his Apostles, neither can this new evidence prevail with you : for suppose that a man from the dead should presume to teach you a new religion, to instruct you in new rites and ceremonies, to institute new sacrifices and oblations; would
think yourself warranted by a sufficient authority to do and practise as he taught you ? Would you not require better evidence of his knowing the will of God, than merely seeing him come from the dead? And yet this is the case : should an unbeliever receive the gospel on such evidence, he receives a new religion ; for to an unbeliever it is new, and the whole weight of his faith must rest on the credit and authority of this man from the dead; and it would be as reasonable for an unbeliever to receive a perfectly new doctrine on this authority, as to receive an old one which he before disbelieved. But on the other side, should you suppose this man to come by the particular order and appointment of God, and consequently that what he says
is the word and command of God; you must then be prepared to answer such objections, as you are now ready to make against the mission and authority of Christ and his Apostles.
First, then, we ask, how this commission appears ?. If you say, because he comes from the dead, we cannot rest here ; because it is not self-evident that all who come from the dead are inspired : and yet farther than this you cannot go ; for it is not supposed that your man from the dead works miracles. The mission of Christ we prove by prophecies, and their completion ; by the signs and wonders he wrought by the hand of God; by his resurrection, which includes both kinds, being in itself a great miracle, and likewise the completion of a prophecy: which circumstance, as was before observed, adds great weight to his authority. Besides, we are often urged to show that the authors of our religion were free from interest and design, and that our faith is not founded in the politics of cunning and artificial men; and we must desire you to do the same good office for the prophet who comes from the dead. As for ourselves, we appeal to the known history of those who were founders of our religion: there you may find them persecuted, afflicted, and tormented:' their gain was misery ; their recompense, hatred from the world; and their end, in the eyes of men, was destruction. These are the proofs of their worldly cunning and policy, and the results of their deep laid designs. But how will you support the suspected credit of one from the dead? He comes and tells his story, goes off, and there is an end of him: and unless you can prove there are no evil spirits, or no evil men dead, you cannot clear him from the suspicion, nor fathom the depth of his design : he appears to you like the wind, the sound of which you hear; but whence it comes, or whither it goes, you know not. If you will listen to the evidences of the gospel, we will show you in whom we have believed : we will show you men like ourselves, armed with the power of God, with innocence of life, with patience in all manner of affliction, and at last sealing with their blood the truth of their mission. But if you cannot digest this evidence, in vain do you call out for help from the other world; for neither would you be persuaded though one rose from the dead.' And this will farther appear,
Thirdly, by considering the temper of infidelity; for where unbelief proceeds, as generally it does, from a vitiated and corrupted mind, which hates to be reformed; which rejects the evidence, because it will not admit the doctrine, not the doctrine, because it cannot admit the evidence; in this case all proofs will be alike, and it will be lost labor to ply such a man with reason or new evidence, since it is not want of reason or evidence that makes him an unbeliever. And this case chiefly our Saviour seems to have in his view ; for the request to Abraham to send one from the dead was made in behalf of men who lived wantonly and luxuriously; who, as the Psalmist expresses it, had not God in all their thoughts. The rich man in torment could think of no better expedient to rescue his brethren from the danger they were in of coming into the same condition with himself, than sending one from the dead to admonish them, and to give them a faithful account how matters stood there, and how it fared with him. To which Abraham answers, that they had already sufficient evidence of these things; that they wanted no means of knowlege, if they would make use of those they had : “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.' But still he insists, Nay, Father Abraham ; but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. Then follows the text, which is the last resolution of this case, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.' And indeed where infidelity is the effect of such proAligate wickedness, it deserves not so much regard from God, as that he should condescend to make particular applications to it by new lights and evidences : and should he do it, there is reason to suspect it would be ineffectual. We see, in the ordinary course of providence, many judgments inflicted on sinners to reclaim and amend them; but they harden themselves against them; so that their last state is worse than their first. I will not answer for the courage of sinners, how well they would bear the sight of one from the dead; nay, I am apt to imagine it would strangely terrify and amaze them. But to be frightened and to be persuaded are two things : nature would recover the fright, and sin would recover strength, and the great fright might come to be matter of ridicule. How easy would it be, when the fright was over, to compare this event with the many ridiculous stories we have of apparitions, and to come at last to mistrust our own senses, and to conclude that we were misled, like a man in a dark night who follows an ignis fatuus? And what is worse, when the infidel had once conquered his own fears, and got loose again from the thoughts of religion, he would then conclude that all religion is made up of that fear which he felt himself, which others cannot get rid of, though he so manfully and happily subdued it. You may think it perhaps impossible that a man should not be con
vinced by such an appearance: the same I believe you
would think of the judgments which befel Pharaoh, that it is hardly possible any man should withstand them; and yet you see he did : nay, did not the guards, who were eye-witnesses of our Saviour's resurrection ; who saw the angel that rolled away the stone from the mouth of the sepulchre ; who shook and trembled with fear, and became as dead men; did not they, after all this, receive money to deny all they saw, and to give false evidence against the person they beheld coming from the grave ? So you see, it is in the nature of man to withstand such evidences, where the power of sin is prevalent.
Besides, there are many sinners who are not infidels: they may believe Moses and the prophets, though they will not hear them, that is, obey them. Now, should one come from the dead to these men, the most they could do would be to believe him : but that does not imply their obeying him; for they believe Moses and the prophets, Christ and his Apostles, an yet obey not them ; and why should obedience be the consequence of belief in one case more than another ? There can be no greater arguments for obedience than the gospel affords; and therefore he who believes the gospel, and disobeys it, is out of hope to be reformed by any other evidence. So that, considering this case with respect to all manner of infidels or sinners, there is reason in our Saviour's judgment; If they will not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.'
And hence, perhaps, we may learn the reason, why this sort of intercourse between the other world and this is so very rare and uncommon, because it could serve no good end and purpose ; for God having already given a sufficient evidence of all things which we are concerned to know, there is no room to expect or hope for such kinds of admonition. He sent the greatest person of the other world to us, his own Son, and sent him too from the dead : he has come himself down to us in signs and wonders and mighty works; and why he should send a man from the dead to tell you what is legible in the book of nature, what he, his Son, his Apostles and Prophets have already told you, you that can give the reason, give it.