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place where Jesus was crucified, he deposited the body there : and, for the sake of decency and security, rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre.
Such is the account given us of the burial of our Lord: and at first sight perhaps it may appear, if not uninteresting, at least destitute of any important instruction. But we shall not be of this opinion, if we duly weigh, as we propose to do,] II. The practical benefits resulting from it
There is not a single circumstance in this account which is not very important; and the whole taken together is of singular USE,
1. To establish our faith
[Two things are necessary to be ascertained, before we can have just grounds for our faith in Christ; namely, first, the truth of the facts recorded concerning him; and next, the agreement of those facts with the prophecies of the Old Testament. Now the main facts to be ascertained, are, the death and the resurrection of Jesus: for, if he did not die, he has made no atonement for our sins; and, if he did not rise again, we have no evidence that his atonement has been accepted in our behalf. But behold how these facts are contained in the history before us! Pilate had doubts respecting the death of Jesus; and would not consent to Joseph's request, till the point was ascertained from the very person whom he had appointed to superintend the execution. Had there been a spark of life in the body, the enemies of Jesus would not have given it into the possession of his friends; nor would his friends have consigned it to the tomb. His death therefore was proved beyond a doubt; nor was the truth of his resurrection less clearly manifested for the tomb was new; and we are repeatedly told, that no corpse had ever yet been laid in it. Had there been any other corpse there, the resurrection of Jesus might. have been ascribed to that; as the restoration of a dead body to life was effected by its being brought in contact with the bones of the Prophet Elisha: or it might have been affirmed, that it was the other corpse, and not that of Jesus, that revived. But, when there never had been any other corpse deposited there, the resurrection of Jesus could not be confounded with that of any other person; nor could it be ascribed to any other power than his own. Moreover, the sepulchre being hewn out of a solid rock, was inaccessible, except at that entrance which was stopped by the stone, and guarded by the band of soldiers: had it been accessible in any other way, there might have been some plausibility in the story that the corpse
f 2 Kings xiii. 21.
was stolen from it by the Disciples; but the very nature of the grave precluded a possibility of removing the body from it, without the knowledge of the Roman guard.
Thus far then the facts are clear and now mark their correspondence with the voice of prophecy. It had been expressly foretold, that, though Christ should be "numbered with transgressors," and have "his grave appointed with the wicked; yet with the rich should be his tombs." This was as improbable as any event that could be conceived: the order was the same in relation to him as to the other malefactors, that his bones should be broken, and that he should be dealt with precisely in the way that the others were: yet behold, at the very instant when this prophecy appeared to have failed, God put it into the heart of " a rich man," already provided with a tomb, near to the very place, to ask permission to inter the body, and actually to inter it in his own tomb! Surely, if the minute accomplishment of prophecy in the person of the Lord Jesus were duly considered, it would not be possible for any human being, whether Jew or Gentile, to entertain a doubt respecting the truth of his Messiahship: yet is this but one point of a hundred whereon our faith rests, and whereby it may be established.]
2. To confirm our hope
[Many are the prophecies relating to the Church at large, and the promises relating to every individual believer, which yet remain to be accomplished, and for the accomplishment of which no visible means exist. Look at the state of the world, and see, how impracticable, humanly speaking, the idea is, of forming the whole race of mankind into one great society, who shall all acknowledge the Lord Jesus as their Supreme Head, and trust in him as their only Saviour, and serve him with their whole hearts, and enjoy and glorify him with their whole souls. Or look at any individual believer, and see his manifold corruptions, his innumerable temptations, his potent enemies: how can we conceive that he shall ever attain the Divine image, and triumph over all the powers of earth and hell? Yet we may see in the history before us, that God will never want means to effect his gracious purposes. He that raised up a Moses in the very court of Pharaoh, to deliver his people from Egyptian bondage; and foretold Cyrus even by name, three hundred years before he was born, as the destined Restorer of his people from their captivity in Babylon; and raised up Esther, in so astonishing a way, in the house of Ahasuerus, to save the whole Jewish nation from destruction; may safely be trusted to accomplish his own purposes in his
8 See Isai. liii. 9. Bishop Lowth's translation.
own time and way. We have no occasion to inquire, How shall he do this or that? it is quite sufficient that he has promised and it is our privilege to know, that "what he has promised he is able also to perform;" and that of all the good things which he has authorized us to expect, "not one shall ever fail" -]
3. To enlarge our charity
[We are too apt to judge of things according as they appear to us, without considering how limited our views are, and how incompetent we are to judge aright. If we see not many who openly acknowledge God, we are ready to think the number of his worshippers much fewer than they really The Prophet Elijah erred in this respect: he thought that he stood alone in Israel, and that all besides himself were idolaters; whereas God informed him that there were no less than seven thousand men in Israel who had not bowed their knee to the image of Baal. And we, if we had lived at the time of our Lord's crucifixion, should have concluded, that amongst the great council of the Jewish nation, who condemned him to death, there was not one who was not a decided enemy of the Lord Jesus. But the history shews, that there were two persons of great eminence amongst them, who were truly pious, though they had been restrained by fear from making a public profession of their sentiments. We must not be understood as intending to justify or excuse the fear of man; for it is certainly a great and heinous sin; and a man who is ashamed of Christ, and denies Christ now, has reason to fear that Christ will be ashamed of him, and deny him at the last day but still it is comfortable to think that God has many "hidden ones" even amongst his most inveterate enemies, and many who will perhaps come forth at a future period with more 66 boldness," and to more effect, than others who have made an open profession of his truth. I say again, We mean not to extenuate the guilt of cowardice; but still it is a fact, that many persons, whose cowardice we deplore, have opportunities of rendering services to God which they could never have rendered, if their profession of religion had been more avowed: and therefore, whilst we lament the weakness of the religious principle within them, we must neither judge them too severely, nor undervalue their real worth. We must make just allowance for those who are in high official stations, whose difficulties are thereby greatly increased. We must not despise the day of small things; but must rather bear with the infirmities of the weak; and rejoice in the hope, that they who are yet but "babes in Christ," will, in God's time, become men and warriors, and "valiant for the truth." Many,
h See Josh. xxiii. 14.
like Paul, are training in the ranks of Christ's enemies, who shall one day come forth as champions to fight and conquer in his cause.]
4. To reconcile us to the thoughts of death
[Death is universally regarded as "the king of terrors." Our nature revolts at the idea of being committed to the tomb. But why should we shudder at it, when we see the Lord of life and glory going down into the heart of the earth? Surely he has perfumed and sanctified the grave: and we may well be satisfied to be conformed to him in his death, when we have the blessed prospect of resembling him also in his resurrection. He indeed 66 saw no corruption" there; whereas we shall be devoured by worms, and return to our native dust: but then this will be only for a time; for we shall surely at the last day be raised again, and "that which was sown in weakness, dishonour, and corruption, shall be raised in incorruption, power, and glory:" yes, "this mortal body shall be fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body," and, together with our souls, be made partaker of everlasting felicity. All that we have to be concerned about, is, to be ready for the change; to seek an interest in that adorable Saviour who died for us, and to get an experimental "knowledge of him in the power of his resurrection," that, "being rendered conformable to his death, we may by any means attain the resurrection of the dead."
We condemn not the respect shewn to departed friends, when we consign them to the grave. The pomp and splendour indeed of some funerals are an insult, rather than an honour, to the putrefying remains of one who is paying the penalty of sin: but a modest respect is due to that, which lately was a temple of the living God, and which shall ere long be restored, in perfect purity, to the full enjoyment of his presence. Yet we need not be solicitous about this: let us only be anxious, whether for ourselves or others, to "fall asleep in Jesus;" and then, whether honoured or not in our funeral rites, we shall be raised, through him, to endless felicity and glory.]
i Phil. iii. 10, 11.
CHARACTER OF NICODEMUS.
John xix. 39. There came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night.
IT is generally supposed, that by conversion a man's character is altogether changed. But this is by no means true. Divine grace gives a new direction
to a man's natural powers; but it does not divest him of them, so that he shall altogether cease to be the same as he was before. His moral dispositions, so far as they were evil, will be corrected; and, so far as they were good, will be improved: but the natural temperament of his mind will remain in a great measure the same as it was in his unconverted state, only under the controul of a higher and better principle. For instance, a bold and confident Peter will carry into his religious profession the same boldness and precipitancy which characterized him as a natural man and, for the most part, a man's besetting sins (due allowance being made for a change of age and circumstances) will prove his besetting sins even to his dying hour. In conduct, the lion will become a lamb; but the disposition of courage or timidity will still adhere to each, according to his natural bias. Yet sometimes these matters shall be reversed, as we see in the history before us. At the period of our Lord's lowest extremity, when he hanged dead upon the cross, a cowardly Nicodemus united with another no less timid than himself, Joseph of Arimathea, to honour the Saviour, whom the intrepid Peter had forsaken, and denied even with oaths and curses.
To cast further light upon this subject, I shall, I. Consider the character of Nicodemus—
He was a man of very considerable distinction, at the time of our Lord's death. In his religious profession he was a Pharisee; in his civil station he was a member of the great council of the nation, and a ruler and teacher in a synagogue; and in the habit of his mind, a candid and honest man. Having heard of the miracles which the Lord Jesus had wrought, he concluded, that a person endued with such powers must necessarily have come from God, and, consequently, must have much religious information to impart. He determined, therefore, to obtain an interview with Jesus, and learn from him whatever he was commissioned to reveal. And, when he went to Jesus, he, though possessed of such rank and