If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain..–1 Corinthians 15: 14
In Defense of the Resurrection
This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein.
Eight days ago, we were standing near the cross, on which died the Man of Sorrows (Is. liii. 3.), abandoned by His Father, and rejected, by a solemn judgement of the Synagogue, as a false Messias: and lo! this is the sixth time the sun has risen upon our earth since the voice of the Angel was heard proclaiming the Resurrection of this adorable Victim. The Church, His widowed spouse, then lay prostrate before the justice of the eternal God and Father, who ‘spared not even His own Son (Rom. viii, 32),’ because He had taken upon Himself the likeness of sin; but now she is feasting in the sight of her Jesus’ triumph, for He bids her be exceeding glad. But if within this glad Octave, there be one day, rather than another, on which she should proclaim His triumph, it assuredly is the Friday; for it was on that day she saw Him ‘filled with reproaches (Lament. iii. 30)’ and crucified.
To-day, therefore, let us meditate upon our Saviour’s Resurrection as being the zenith of His own dear glory, and as the chief argument whereon rests our faith in His Divinity. ‘If Christ be not risen again,’ says the Apostle, ‘your faith is vain: (I Cor. xv. 17)’ but, because He is risen again, our faith rests on the surest of foundations. Our Redeemer owed it to us, therefore, that our certainty with regard to His Resurrection should be perfect. In order to give this master-truth such evidence as would preclude all possibility of doubt, two things were needed: His Death was to be certified, and the proofs of His Resurrection were to be incontestable. Jesus fulfilled both these conditions, and with the most scrupulous completeness. Hence, His triumph over death is a fact so deeply impressed on our minds, that even now, nineteen hundred years since it happened, we cannot celebrate our Easter without feeling a thrill of enthusiastic admiration akin to that which the guards at His tomb experienced when they found their Captive gone.
Yes, Jesus was truly dead. The afternoon of Friday was at its close, and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took down the Body from the cross; they gave it, stiff and covered with blood as it was, to His afflicted Mother. Who could doubt of His death? The terrible agony of the previous night, when His human Nature shrank at the foresight of the cup He had to drink; the treachery of one, and the infidelity of the rest of His Apostles, which broke His sacred Heart; the long hours of insult and cruelty; the barbarous scourging, which Pilate devised as a means for softening brutal Jews to pity; the cross, to which He was fastened with nails that opened four founts of Blood; the anguish of His agonizing Heart, when He beheld His Mother at the foot of the cross; the burning thirst, which choked the throbs of life still left; the spear that pierced His side through to the very Heart, and drew from it a stream of Blood and water:–these are proofs enough that death had made God his victim. Dear Jesus! they are now but so many motives for us to love Thy beautiful glory. How could we, for whom Thou didst suffer death, be unmindful of the sufferings that caused it? How could we forget them now, for they enhance the splendour of Thy Resurrection?
He, therefore, gained a true victory over death: He appeared on the earth as a conqueror of a very different kind from any that had hitherto been known. Here was a fact which it was impossible to deny: a Man, whose whole life had been spent in obscurity, was put to death by the most cruel tortures, and amidst the insulting shouts of His unworthy fellow-citizens. Pilate sent to the Emperor Tiberius an official account of the judgment and death of One, whom he represented as calling Himself the King of the Jews. What would men think, after all this, of them that professed themselves followers of this Jesus? The philosophers, the wits, the slaves of the world and pleasure, would point the finger of scorn at them, and say: ‘Lo! these are they that adore a God who died on a cross!’ But, if this God rose again from the grave, is not His death an evidence of His Divinity? He died, and He rose again; He foretold His death and His Resurrection; who but a God could thus hold in His power ‘the keys of death and hell (Apoc. i. 18)?’
Yet so it was: Jesus was put to death, and rose again from the grave. How do we know it? By the testimony of His Apostles; they saw Him after He had risen, they touched Him, they conversed with Him for forty days. But are these Apostles to be credited? Surely they are, for never was there a testimony that bore such internal evidence of truth. What interest could these men have in publishing the glory of their Master, who had been put to a death that brought ignominy both upon Himself and them, if they knew that He never rose again, as He had promised He would? The chief priests bribed the soldiers to say, that while they were asleep, His disciples, poor timid men as they were, came during the night and stole away the Body. They thought, by this, to throw discredit upon the testimony of the Apostles. But what folly! We may justly address to them the sarcastic words of St. Augustine: ‘What! do you adduce sleeping witnesses? Surely, you yourselves must have been asleep, to have had recourse to such a scheme as this!’ But, as for the Apostles, what motive could they have for preaching the Resurrection, if it never took place? ‘In such a supposition,’ says St. John Chrysostom, ‘they would have looked upon their Master as a false prophet and an impostor: and is it likely they would go and defend Him against the accusations of a whole nation? Would they expose themselves to all manner of suffering for One who had so cruelly deceived them? What was there to encourage them in such an undertaking? The rewards He had promised them? But if He had not fulfilled His promise of rising again, how could they trust to the rest of His promises?’ No: we must either deny every principle of nature and common sense, or we must acknowledge the testimony of the Apostles to be a true one.
Moreover, this testimony was the most disinterested that could be, for it brought nothing but persecution and death upon them that gave it. It was a proof that God was with such men as these, who, but a few hours before, had been timid cowards, and now were fearless of every danger, asserting their conviction with an intrepidity which human courage could never inspire, and this, too, in cities which were very centres of civilization and learning. The world was made to listen to their testimony, which they confirmed by miracles; and thousands of every tongue and nation were converted into believers of Jesus’ Resurrection.
When, at length, these Apostles laid down their lives for the doctrines they had preached, they left the world in possession of the truth of the Resurrection; and the seed they had sown in lands, where even the Roman Empire had not extended its conquests, produced a quick and world-wide harvest. All this gave to the astounding fact, which they proclaimed, a guarantee and a certainty beyond suspicion. It was impossible to refuse such evidence, without going against every principle of reason. Yes, O Jesus! Thy Resurrection is as certain as Thy death. Thy Apostles could never have preached, they could never have converted the world, as they did, unless they had had truth on their side.
But the Apostles are no longer here to give their testimony: the equally solemn testimony of the Church has succeeded to theirs, and proclaims, with a like authority, that Jesus is no longer among the, dead. By the Church we here mean those hundreds of millions of Christians, who have proclaimed the Resurrection of Jesus by keeping, for now nineteen hundred years, the Feast of the Pasch. And can there be room for doubt here? Who is there, that would not assent to what has been thus attested every year since the Apostles first announced it? Among these countless proclaimers of our Lord’s Resurrection, there have been thousands of learned men, the bent of whose mind led them to sift every truth, and who, before embracing the faith, had examined its tenets in the light of reason; there have been millions of others, whose acceptance of a dogma like this, which puts a restraint on the passions, was the result of the conviction, that the only way to eternal happiness is in the due performance of the duties this dogma imposes; and finally, there have been millions of others, who, by their virtues, were the support and ornament of the world, but who owed all their virtues to their faith in the death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Thus, the testimony of the Church, that is of the wisest and best portion of mankind, is admirably united with that of the Apostles, whom our Lord Himself appointed as His first witnesses. The two testimonies are one. The Apostles proclaimed what they had seen; we proclaim, and shall proclaim to the end, what the Apostles preached. The Apostles made themselves sure of the Resurrection, which they had to preach to the world; we make ourselves sure of the veracity of their word. They believed after experience; so also do we. They had the happiness of seeing, hearing, and touching the Word of Life; we see and hear the Churoh, which they established throughout the world, although it was but in its infancy, when they were taken from the earth. The Church is that tree of which Jesus spoke in the parable, saying, that though exceeding small in its first commencement, it would afterwards spread out its branches far and wide (St. Matth. xiii. 31, 32). St. Augustine in one of his Easter sermons has these fine words: ‘As yet, we see not Christ; but we see the Churoh: therefore let us believe in Christ. The Apostles, on the contrary, saw Christ; but they saw not the Church except by faith. They saw one thing, and they believed another: so, likewise, let us do. Let us believe in the Christ, whom, as yet, we see not; and by keeping ourselves with the Church, which we see, we shall come at length to see Him, whom as yet we cannot see.’
Having thus, O Jesus! the certainty of Thy glorious Resurrection, as well as that of Thy death on the cross, we confess Thee to be the great God, the Creator and sovereign Lord of all things. Thy death humbled, Thy Resurrection exalted Thee: but Thou Thyself wast the author of both the humiliation and the exaltation. Thou saidst to Thine enemies: ‘No man taketh My life away from Me; but I lay it down of Myself; and I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again (St. John, x. 18).’ None but God could have such power, none but God could have exercised it as Thou hast done: we, therefore, are confessing Thy Divinity when we confess Thy Resurrection. We beseech Thee, make worthy of Thine acceptance this humble and delighted homage of our faith!