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John, xx. 29.
Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast be
lieved : blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.
These were the words of Christ's reply to his apostle Thomas, when he, who had refused to credit the resurrection of Jesus upon the report of the other apostles, received the conviction of his own senses in a personal interview, and recognised our Saviour for Lord and God.
What is most remarkable in these words, on the first general view of them, is the great coolness with which our Lord accepts an act of homage and adoration offered with much warmth and cordiality; a circumstance which plainly indicates some defect or blemish in the offering, by which its value was much diminished. And this could be nothing but the lateness of it, the apostle's wonderful reluctance to believe much less than what he at last professes : but eight days since, he would not believe that Jesus to be alive whom now he worships as the living God.
But this is not all : the apostle is not only reproved for his past incredulity; he is told besides, at least it is indirectly suggested to him, that the belief which
he at last so fervently professes hath little merit in it, – that it was not of that sort of faith which might claim the promises of the Gospel ; being, indeed, no voluntary act of his own mind, but the necessary result of irresistible evidence. This is clearly implied in that blessing which our Lord so emphatically pronounces on those who not having seen should yet believe. Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed :" you now indeed believe, when the testimony of your own senses leaves it no longer in your power to disbelieve. I promise no blessing to such reluctant faith : “ Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Here arise two questions, which, either for the difficulty which each carries in the first face of it, or for the instruction which the speculation may afford, may well deserve an accurate discussion. The first is, why Thomas was reproved for not believing till he was convinced ? the second, what should be the peculiar merit of that faith which hath not the immediate evidence of sense for its foundation or support, that our Saviour should on this sort of faith exclusively pronounce a blessing? A readiness to believe wonders upon slender evidence hath ever been deemed a certain mark of a weak mind; and it may justly seem impossible that man should earn a blessing by his folly, or incur God's displeasure by his discretion.
For the clearing up of these difficult questions, this shall be my method, - First, to consider what ground there might be for St. Thomas to believe the fact of our Lord's resurrection upon the report of the other ten apostles, before he had himself seen him; and from what motives it may be supposed that he withheld his assent. In the course of this enquiry, it will appear that an evidence very different from ocular demonstration may in many cases command the assent of a reasonable man; and that no man can be justified in setting a resolution within himself, as Thomas did, that he will not believe without this or that particular kind of proof. Secondly, I shall show that the belief of any thing upon such evidence as Thomas at last had of Christ's resurrection is a natural act of the human mind, to which nothing of moral or religious merit can reasonably be ascribed. These preliminary disquisitions will furnish the necessary principles for the resolution of that great and interesting question, What is the merit, and at the same time what is the certainty, of that faith which believes what it hath not seen?
In the first place, I propose to consider what ground there might be for Thomas to believe the fact of our Saviour's resurrection, upon the testimony of the other apostles, before he had himself seen him ; and what may be supposed to have been the motives upon which he refused his assent. And here the thing principally to be considered is, what degree of trust the apostle might reasonably have placed in our Lord's promise of rising again after the event of his crucifixion ; and what there might be on the other hand to outweigh the expectation of the thing, and the positive testimony of his fellow disciples. Our Saviour had on many occasions foretold his own death ; and never without assurances that he would rise again on the third day. This he generally declared enigmatically to the Jews, but in the most explicit terms to the apostles in private : and it is very remarkable, that though he had spoken of nothing more plainly in private, or more darkly in public, than of his resurrection, describing it under the figure of rebuilding a demolished temple, and under allusions to the prophet Jonah's miraculous deliverance, — yet the Jews, whose understandings had been blind to the meaning of the easiest parables, took the full meaning of these figured predictions ; while the apostles either understood them not, or retained not in their memory the plain unequivocal declarations which our Lord had made to them ; so that while the rulers of the Jews were using all precaution to prevent the success of a counterfeit resurrection, nothing could be more remote from the expectations of the apostles than a real one. In this we see the hand of Providence wonderfully directing all things for the conviction of after ages.
Had the caution of the Jews been less, or the faith of the apostles more awake, the evidence of this glorious truth, that “ Christ is risen, and become the firstfruits of them that slept,” might not have been to us what now it is. Nevertheless, though none of the apostles seem to have had positive expectations of our Lord's resurrection before it happened, yet St. Thomas seems to have been singular in treating the report of the resurrection as a manifest fiction.
From the conversation of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, it may be gathered that the first report of the holy women, though it had not yet obtained belief, was by no means rejected with absolute contempt. On the contrary, it seems to have awakened in all but Thomas some recollection of our Lord's predictions, and some dubious solicitude what might be the events of the third day. And yet it cannot be supposed that St. Thomas at this time had
no remembrance of our Lord's predictions of his resurrection ; of which the other ten could not but remind him: but the consideration, it seems, had no weight with him. And yet the person who had given his followers these assurances was no ordinary man : his miraculous conception had been foretold by an angel; his birth had been announced to the peasants of Judea by a company of the heavenly host, the learned of a distant country by a new wonder in the air ; his high original had been afterwards attested by voices from heaven ; he had displayed powers in himself which amounted to nothing less than an uncontrolled and unlimited dominion over every department of the universe, - over the first elements of which natural substances are composed, in his first miracle of changing water into wine, and in the later ones of augmenting the mass of a few loaves and a few small fishes to a quantity sufficient for the meal of hungry multitudes, - over the most turbulent of the natural elements, composing the raging winds and troubled waves, — over the laws of nature, exempting the matter of his body on a particular occasion from the general force of gravitation, and the power of mechanical impulse, so as to tread secure and firm upon the tossing surface of a stormy sea, — over the vegetable kingdom, blasting the fig-tree with his word, over the animal body, removing its diseases, correcting the original defects and disorders of its organs, and restoring its mutilated parts, - over the human mind, penetrating the closest secrets of each man's heart, - over the revolted spirits, delivering miserable mortals from their persecution, and compelling them to confess him for their Lord and the destined avenger of their crimes; and, what might