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in which the linen clothes and napkins were disposed. John, after having taken a view of them, though per suaded in his own mind that his LORD was risen from the dead, did not communicate his opinion to his companion at that time, resolving to have still farther proofs of it; but returned with Peter, that they might confer in private on this wonderful event.
Mary, who was overwhelmed with sorrow that her pious purpose was defeated, and apprehensive that the body of her beloved LORD, instead of being embalmed with fragrant spices, would be treated by his enemies with the utmost indignity, and perhaps exposed as food. for the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, stood weeping without; but at length stooping down, and casting an affectionate look towards the place where the body had lain, the angels again became visible, but veiled their heavenly lustre under an human form; and she beheld them sitting one at the head, the other at the feet, of the niche in which the sacred corpse had been deposited. The angels certainly had a power of becoming visible or invisible as occasion required, therefore were not seen by Peter and John. Whether Mary perceived: them to be angels, or took them for young men, is uncertain; but it seems she was so immersed in grief. at not being able to find the body of JESUS, that she took little or no notice of this extraordinary appearance, and. answered the angels without any emotion, and without. quitting the object upon which her mind was wholly fixed, till her attention was awakened by the well-known voice of her Master, calling her by her name." must have been the transports of her soul at this instant? Whilst she was deploring his death, and grieving that his body was not to be found, JESUS stood before her,
* West on the Resurrection.
and kindly accosted her. At first she knew him net; but when she fixed her eyes on him, she was thoroughly convinced that it was CHRIST himself, and would have embraced his feet, but that he commanded her not to stay to do so at present; intimating, that she would have other opportunities, as he had not left the world; and he directed her to go immediately to his disciples, and carry a message from him: which would serve at once to convince them he entertained the same affectionate regard for them as ever, and revive their hopes, that the promises he had repeatedly made them would be fulfilled *.
We read, that other women were commanded by the heavenly messengers who appeared to them, to tell the Apostles that CHRIST was risen from the dead, &c. It is likely that they went a different way into the city; for they did not meet Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John, After our LORD had dismissed Mary Magdalene he met the other women, whom he affectionately accosted, and also permitted them to pay their homage to him; during which time Mary proceeded on her way, and was ready to give her testimony concerning our Lord's resurrection with them; which she could not have done, had she staid to indulge the effusions of her joy as she wished to do. It is likely that all the Apostles, in consequence of the report made by Peter and John, were assembled together by the time the women arrived; but so thoroughly were their spirits dejected, and their hopes disappointed, by the untimely death of their LORD, that they were ready to impute what the women related to the power of imagination; and resolved to suspend their belief, till they had more convincing proofs of so
* Compare this message with our Lord's discourse to his disciples in Section xxvii.
important a fact, and were satisfied of the reality of it by the testimony of their own senses.
* While these things were transacting, some of the guards, a little recovered from their consternation, arrived in the city; and, in order to excuse themselves, made their report to the chief priests concerning the earthquake and the vision of the angel. This news must undoubtedly have thrown the Council into great confusion; but neither they nor the soldiers were converted, by what the one saw or the other heard. The High Priests were under a judaical blindness, as a punishment from God for their obstinacy in rejecting the MESSIAH; and the soldiers being heathens, might think that Jesus was the son of some deity, the God of the Jews, with whom they had no concern, who brought him to life again.
The High Priests were in the utmost perplexity, what measures to pursue on this extraordinary occasion, and immediately assembled the Sanhedrim; who, after holding a consultation, could devise no method to prevent the people's belief of the resurrection, but bribing the guards to spread a false report, that "the disciples had come by night and stolen the body;" for had they accused the soldiers of neglect, they could not have proved it to the satisfaction of the Roman governor, whose conscience being in some degree awakened by his own observa. tions on JESUS during his trial, and the prodigies which happened at his death, he would most likely have acquitted them, and by this means confirmed the belief of the resurrection: the Council, therefore, gave the sol diers a considerable sum of money to keep the matter gecret, promising to exert their interest with the governor
• Doddridge's Family Expositor.
in their behalf, should they be in danger of punishment for sleeping on their watch, which was death by the Roman law. The guards for the sake of the bribe consented, and those Jews who resolved to disbelieve the resurrection, gave credit to their report; thus proving, that prejudiced persons will often believe the greatest inConsistencies, if they have the least tendency to confirm their own opinions. It certainly was very improbable that the disciples, who were weak ignorant men, full of the popular opinions and superstition of their countrymen, which all their Master's discourses had not eradicated, should engage in so desperate a design as to steal away the body, in opposition to the combined power of the Jews and Romans. They had no temptation to comìnit such a theft. The dead body could do them no good; or if it could have done them any, they had no hope of sacceeding in their attempt. A dead body is not to be removed. by sleight of hand; it requires many hands to move it. Besides, the stone at the mouth of the sepulchre was to be removed, which could not be done silently, or by men walking upon tiptoe to prevent discovery; so that if the guards had really been asleep, it was hardly possible but that the rolling away of the stone, moving the body, and the hurry and confusion of carrying it off, must have awakened them. But supposing the thing practicable, yet the attempt was such as the disciples, consistently with their own notions, could not undertake. They continued all their Master's lifetime to expect to see him a temporal prince; but, after he was dead, they could not expect to make a king of his lifeless corpse, if they could get it into their power.
Bishop Sherlock's Trial of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Or, if they even expected his resurrection, they could not suppose it depended on their having his body in their own possession. And in respect to the guards, if they really were asleep, it was not possible for them to give so punctual an account of the transaction, and know that the disciples had stolen him, since they saw nobody.
We perceive then, how very inconsistent the story was which the Council put into the mouths of the soldiers. We will now consider the report which they originally made to the chief priests.
The soldiers asserted, that they guarded the sepulchre agreeably to the orders they had received, and continued quietly on their watch till the dawning of the day; when suddenly there was a great earthquake, and the stone, which the High Priests had so carefully scaled, was rolled away from the mouth of the sepulchre by a glorious Being, whose radiant appearance so dazzled their eyes, that they could behold no other ob. ject, but fell on the ground like dead men; and when they recovered a little from their consternation and terror, they fled away, not daring to remain on a spot where such prodigies had happened. This account is perfectly consistent with our SAVIOUR's declaration, that he was the Son of GOD, and should rise again the third day; for though it was impossible that his disciples should steal his body away, and absurd to suppose they would attempt it, yet if he was the Son of GoD, it might reasonably be expected that Divine power would be exerted to break open the sepulchre, which the guards certainly could not resist.
Our LORD's prediction, that he should rise again the third day, was exactly fulfilled.
CHRIST expired on the cross about three o'clock on Friday afternoon, he lay in the grave all Saturday, and VOL. VI.