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BY CHARLES F. DEEMS, D.D., LL.D.
"AN EVIL AND ADULTEROUS GENERATION SEEKETH AFTER A SIGN; AND THERE SHALL NO SIGN BE GIVEN IT, BUT THE SIGN OF THE PROPHET JONAS." — MATTHEW, XII. 39.
The natural heart is an evil heart of unbelief. This is seen as much in the fact that men are continually demanding an addition to the overwhelming evidences of the truth of Christianity, as in any other index of the heart. " The u>is/i is father to the thoiight" that Christianity may be false. Men have no desire, no will to believe. The depravity is in the will. The intellect is blinded by the will, which keeps the light persistently shut out.
If this were not true every person present would this hour be soundly converted to God, by faith in Jesus, through the influence of the Holy Ghost. Instead of which blessed case, we are still requiring to have the oft-repeated proofs
of the truth presented to our intellects ; and when we have received evidence of a sufficient amount and kind to convince us of any other possible proposition, evidence which we have not the ability to refute nor the courage wholly to reject, we are demanding that supplementary proof be supplied and additional evidence be produced to the truth which has been so powerfully pressed upon our understanding. We would add light to the sun at noon-day. This was the sin of the Jews. Jesus Christ had wrought many miracles among them. He was then in their midst ministering music to the deaf and light to the blind; He was giving tone and nerve and strength to the palsy-stricken ; He was performing those two miracles which the Jews had always regarded as peculiar exhibitions of divine power, the renovation of lepers and the resuscitation of the dead ; and yet, with what now appears unto us as the coolest imaginable impudence, the scribes and Pharisees come unto him and say, " Master, we would see a sign of thee !" It is probable the Jews meant to indicate a sign from heaven, some great national miracle, visible and profitable to the whole people. Perhaps a historical reason
for the spirit which prompted this demand, may be found in that succession of wondrous performances of the Divine Hand by which they were
brought out of bondage and made a notable
people. While this system of national education
may account for the demand, it by no means justifies that skeptical spirit which asks evidence to a truth already established by multiplied and striking proofs. The rays of all prophetic lights concentrating at the person of the Divine Redeemer would be supposed sufficient to fasten the attention and convince the judgment of those who had the Scriptures for their study and gloried in being the repository of the oracles of God. And yet, with an apparent detervtmation not to believe on him "of whom Moses, in the law, and the prophets did write," they turned away from the evidence which God had offered them and demanded a species of proof which their own presumption dictated.
That unreasonableness of the Jewish people has survived the scribes and Pharisees who made the request of our text. There are those now living who, although they have never investigated the question of the amount and kind of evidence which ought to decide the minds of men even upon so momentous a subject as the salvation of their souls,- and altogether they have never examined the evidences of the divine origin and authority of the Sacred Scriptures and of Christianity, have nevertheless dismissed the subject of their souls' salvation, because God does not with an audible voice from the skies say unto them, personally and individually. The Bible is my word, Christ is my son, and Christianity came forth from me !
Now, we presume that it might be safely said the proof of Christ's divinity and of the conse» quent divine origin of Christianity is quite as convincing as though Jesus should appear to every man, or God out of heaven declare the truth to our race individually. That is to say, that the same difficulties might be raised and the same skepticism be entertained in the one case as in the other.
Let us suppose such a mode of proof adopted by Heaven. God would speak in clear day to you, to your neighbor, to me, to every man. In my case the evil heart of unbelief would suggest that it was a dream, an illusion, a vivid figment of the imagination. This would espe-
daily be the case if I heard that tremendous voice but once. How could I know that it was really the voice of God ? Will any one solve that question for me ? It is altogether possible that I might have been mistaken, that a finely strung or diseased system of nerves had gathered up a casual sound and wrought it to a solemn sentence on my brain. But suppose that for the time I believed it to be the voice of God : now that voice would have to be constantly repeated, or I would have to build my belief and my subsequent conduct on my memory. That this voice should every moment or every hour repeat the words of truth, not only to me but to all my neighbors, is to suppose that the world is to be constantly filled with confused thunderings.
And this is to be remarked : If the millions of
voices, which are to be so loud as to startle and so solemn at first as to fix attention, were continued, we should all soon come utterly to disregard what was said. If a thunder gust had never passed over our continent, and one were to visit us now, it is granted that every man and woman, and perhaps all the children who are not mere babes, would be able, to the last hour of their existence, to tell precisely how often the tremendous voice crashed through the atmosphere. But who can tell how many claps of thunder there were in the last storm, or how many claps of thunder he has heard in the past year ? Now, my dear friends, if we have failed to note what if but once heard would be of surpassing grandeur, what would be every man's highest notion and a most complete conception of the solemn and the awful in sound, so would the oft-repeated voice of Jehovah soon come to be as the idle breeze which we regard not.
Thus much may be said of the evidence to each man so far as himself is concerned. The voice must come only once to be impressive, and then in the future he may rest his faith on his memory. But, unless I could know that other
men had heard the same voice that I heard, I should be still more likely to treat the sound as imaginary. It must be confirmed by my neighbor. If I can find out that you heard the voice, I shall be more disposed to trust my own ears. Did you hear it ? You say, yes ! Now, shall I believe you or not ? Perhaps you were deceived : I will try others. Five hundred intelligent men, who have no motive to deceive me, tell me the same. I try their statements repeatedly by all the laws of evidence, and the decision invariably is that their testmiony is to be received. Now my faith in that voice of God is to be founded upon my own ;/zt'w^r)/ and upon the me)iiory 2Ci\^
testimony of others, or, in disbelieving, I must act upon the principle that no proposition is susceptible of moral proof, that no man can believe this moment what he saw the last, or the conclusion to which he came the last moment, and consequently that the testimony of my fellow-men is not worth a straw.
What is the conclusion to which I have ar-
rived ? Simply and plainly this — I believe that nothing can be believed. Indeed ! then, with this excellent absurdity, I cannot believe that Christianity is false. But it is trifling even to ridicule so doting a dogma ! My dear friends, to the complexion of this absurdity you must come at last, or else every external method of revelation from heaven must be a ground of faith just so far as confidence is to be placed in the senses, in human memory, and in human testimony, tried by the rational laws of evidence ; — and this, take notice, is the identical ground upon which Christianity asks you to place its claims.
" Seeing is believing." Yes, and there is believing without seeing. Those of you who have never been in Rome, would have no stronger assurance of the existence of the seven-hilled city than you now have, if you were this moment pacing the area of the crumbling Coliseum or looking down from the Capitol upon the Forum where Tully thundered and vvhere Caesar stood. You would have no stronger belief in the fact that the battle of Waterloo was fought, as represented, or in the existence of the great Corsican, if you had seen the onset, tlie cloud, and the car-
nage, or sat beside the Emperor when the star of his glory went down. Now, just as we have come to the perfectly confident trust in these facts, we may come, and, if we will hear evidence, must come to a belief in the existence of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the fact of His resurrection.
The Saviour predicted this event, namely. His resurrection, and held it as a sufficient ground for the belief that He was divine. To all men of all ages who believe that there is a God, this fact, if it can be established, must confirm the divinity of our Lord. If there be a God, He must hold the gift of life, the power over existence, in His own hand, or there must be a life-giving agent in the universe out of Himself. That extra being, if He can give life at pleasure, has the power of contravening the wishes of God and robbing Him of His glory by peopling His universe with those who would not be His subjects. This is so manifest, that all who believe in a God believe that life and death are in His hands. Then, if it can be shown that Jesus
The Sign of Jonas.
arose from the dead, either God favored an imposition by giving it its seal of perfection and most glorious foundation of hope, — an imposition, which was to raise the impostor up to His own throne of supreme dominion, — or else, Jesus was holy, and consequently, by His own words — for He must have been true under the circumstances — He was God. He raised Himself if His words be true, — an unparalleled circumstance even in the history of miracles. One who held delegated power from God might raise another ; but only a divine Being — God Himself — could raise His own assumed body from the grave. If this occurred, then the prophecies, which the Jews believed to refer to the Son of God, and His own prophetic speech when He spoke to His disciples about rearing the temple
again in three days, and His express application of the type of Jonah to Himself in our text, and His other and even more distinct declaration of the fact, were wonderfully fulfilled, and Jesus is God and Christianity is true !
Notice this fact : In all the four Gospels, and in nearly every book of the New Testament, the resurrection of our Lord from the dead is most distinctly recognized and stated ; and all the Christian authors of the earliest centuries of the Christian era speak of this as a notorious circumstance, and a fact of so vast importance that the truth of Christianity is based upon it. They agree on no point more fully and clearly than on this. The question at once diverts to the genuineness and authenticity of the New Testament Scriptures, the proof of which we have not time to examine, perhaps scarcely to indicate. We have Ccesar's War in Gaul constantly in our midst. It is read by us in boyhood and in manhood, and none of us ever had the slightest doubt as to the genuineness and authenticity of that book. Now this we assert, and the proof is abundant and at hand, that it is as easy an undertaking to prove the existence of Jesus as of
Julius Cassar, and the genuineness and authenticity of the Evangely than the genuineness and authenticity of the Commentaries. The internal and the external evidences are as clear and forcible, and much more abundant.
In the evangelical history there is a concurrence of testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ died. It was not supposed to be a mere temporary suspension of animation, as in a swoon, but a literal and complete giving up of the ghost. His disciples believed it, and it was so painfully impressive to their minds that they regarded it as the blasting of their budding hopes and the termination of the new religion. They had
"trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel." The very tense used by the disciple in this remark is indicative of the effect which the death of their Master had upon the minds of his followers. The Jews and the Roman officers believed that he was dead. When they went out to see if He and the malefactors had expired, that they might take them down before
the Sabbath, they broke the legs of the malefactors, but they were so perfectly convinced that Jesus was dead that they spared themselves this trouble : and by this very course they unwittingly fulfilled the prophecy, "A bone of him shall not be broken." But, to make assurance doubly sure, a Roman soldier pierced His side, "and forthwith came there out blood and water." Where can a case be cited of a man retaining life after his heart has been ruptured ? The annals of science, and the absurd stories of monkish literature, do not, as far as I know, furnish an instance. But notice these facts. Supposing Christ to have still retained life up to the time when the legs of the malefactors were broken, yet the circumstances which attended the thrusting of the soldier's spear into His side show that He must have expired then. Medical writers tell us that there is a small portion of water (or, as they call it, lymph') existing in th€ pericardium, and that the bloody and watery liquor is found in the cavities of the side (pleura) after a stab in the pleura, when the membrane which incloses the heart has been pierced, and that such a stab is always mortal. The body of Christ then was as perfectly dead as any
corpse which presses the battle-field or crumbles in our churchyards.
" He was crucified, dead, and buried !" Then, if His disciples were not the wildest enthusiasts, one of these three propositions must, in the nature of things, be true :
1. He remained in the grave U7itil the third day, — and in the acknowledged possession of the Jews, and of the officers ; or,
2. He was stolen from the sepulchre ; or,
3. He arose froin the dead.
Let us examine these propositions in their order, remembering that we are not any more bound to prove the resurrection of Christ than those who deny it are bound to show either that He was stolen from the grave or was in possession of the Jews and Romans until after the third day succeeding His burial.
I. Did the corpse of Jesus Christ remain in the grave until the third day, and in the acknowl-
edged possession of the Jews and of the officers ?
If it did, then Christianity falls, for the doc-
The Sign of Jonas.
trine of the resurrection is completely refuted. But it is impossible to show this, and the facts in the case show that it is not true. The Roman officers had no particular interest in retaining Him, except so far as, for selfish ends, they may have come under the influence of the Jews. But the Jews had everything at stake. They saw that if the people could be induced to believe that Jesus had risen, the arguments from prophecy and miracle would combine to give the new religion a rapid propagation, and a perpetuity. It is manifest, that if they could have
retained and exhibited the body three or four days, Christ's claims to the Messiahship would have been completely destroyed, and this poor and pitiful imposture would have utterly expired. They seemed to be aware of this. *' The chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, — Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command, therefore, that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first."
Did they make it so sure until the third day as to retain the body ? If so, when the disciples preached Jesus and the Resurrection, why did they not call the m.ultitude to see the well-known corpse ? Why did not some, and even many of that multitude, when the Gospels and Epistles were first published among the people, give their testimony to the truth, and show upon how grand a lie Paul and Peter, and others of the apostles, were attempting to erect a superstructure of error? This thing was not done in a corner. In the presence of thousands, upon the
very spot where it was said to have occurred, they declared themselves witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. Did any witness of the multitudes around them arise to deny? Is it to be supposed that Christianity could have survived the refutation of this bold pretension ? Or, is it to be supposed, in a controversy on which hung so many and such important interests, that no vestiges of counteracting testimony have come down to us, when there were .so many interested in disseminating and perpetuating it, while we have received the whole body of luminous evidence to the statement that Christ rose from the dead ? It is easier to believe in the resurrection than to receive this. No, my friends, the Jews themselves never said that He remained in the grave, never offered to produce His dead body. All their statements and arguments presuppose that He could not be found there on the third day.
2. If the first supposition must be abandoned, we are compelled to choose between the belief that he was stolen from the sepulchre, and the belief that he arose from the dead.
Was he stolen ?
We will first call to mind the fact that the sepulchre was made sure by sealing the stone, and setting a watch. It must not be forgotten that this occurred at the celebration of the passover, when the moon was at its full ; full as it was last week when it streamed down the avenues and streets of our city, and it was on the second night of a great feast, when the city was crowded, and the theft could have been easily detected. We must suppose that a matter of such surpassing interest was filling the minds and the mouths of the multitudes, and that they were waiting with anxious solicitude to see the termination of so wonderful a matter. Christ was to rise, or the imposture was to be exploded. They must all have felt too deeply interested to have suffered the body to be quietly taken away. These things may be said of the difficulties of the theft in general.
But, if stolen, who stole the body?
It must have been either the Jews or the disciples, the foes or the friends of Christianity.
On the supposition that the Jews abstracted the body from the grave, the difficult question again arises : why did they not produce the dead body? But, indeed, the Jews had no motive in removing the body ; if they could prevent the disciples from obtaining it, their end was gained. Indeed, it is so improbable that the Jews committed such a theft, that our question almost answers itself in the negative.
Did the disciples steal it ? The Jews so charged them, on the authority of the Roman guard. Let us look at that authority.
If the body was taken away, it was done when the guard were awake or when they were asleep. If awake, they must have been overpowered or bribed ; — but the disciples of Christ were few, and by no means courageous, and certainly poor; how then could they overpower or bribe a company of Roman soldiery ? And it is not probable that the guard s'ept. What ! a number of armed men, on a m.oonlight night, when the city was full, being on watch over a dead body whose dying throes had agonized all na-
ture, and convulsed the elements ; when they were expecting to see prodigies every hour, and when they knew that to slumber at their posts, on this occasion, by Roman law was death; — that they, every one, had fallen asleep and slept unanimously, soundly, and long, while the
The Sign of Jonas.
seal of the grave was broken, and the stone rolled away, and the body removed ! It is a supposition that would choke the greediest credulity ! But, if the guard were asleep, then they could have known nothing of the matter, and their testimony was worthless. But even this testimony was bought. When the body was gone they knew that by the law they must die, and so they told all that had happened ;
but finding that they should receive pay, and what was more, that a powerful interference would be made in their behalf, that they could but lose their lives whether they told the truth or not, and might probably save their lives by asserting a falsehood, they said that the disciples stole him while they slept !
But there are other difficulties here. If the disciples stole him, why were they not arrested ? They did not flee, but boldly preached the resurrection. Why were they not arrested for breaking the government seal ? There was a charge which would have blasted their reputation, and put an end to their labors and their lives. The bare fact that they were not arrested shows, at least, that the Jews had no proof of their guilt.
Is it probable, from what we know of the character of the men, that they were likely to engage in an act of this kind ? They were plain men, without cunning, without rnany friends, without wealth. They appeared to be honest to a degree, and by nature cowardly to a fault. Judas had betrayed, Peter (the most courageous) had denied, and all had forsaken their Lord in the
hour of peril. What sudden power was it, what element of human character, that brought them together and furnished the unanimity, the skill, and the daring to accomplish so hazardous and bootless a performance ? Their Head was cut off. Some of them seem to have believed that, at the last, He would rescue Himself from His enemies ; but then He was a mangled and ignominious corpse in the grave. They had not yet recovered froin the stupor of grief in which His death had left them. And what good, I pray, would the presence of that dead body have done them ? A sign of shame and of misplaced confidence, the monument, the embodiment of their hopelessness, they would have hurried it out of their sight.
I have said that one of these three propositions must be true, if /lis disciples were not the wildest of enthusiasts. I know that some, who give them the credit of being good, honest men, affect to think that they were weak, and actually labored under the hallucination of a belief in the resurrection of their master. In replj to that, I
ask why did not the Jews charge them with that, instead of constantly charging the fraud ? And, is it possible that so many could be mistaken as to a bodily appearance ? He was seen by Mary Magdalene, who loved Him passionately and must have known Him ; by His early and intimate friend Peter, by the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, by the twelve, by five hundred brethren at once, and by Saul as he went to Damascus.
Be it observed, that these persons, so far as we can learn, were not disposed to be credulous. Christ frequently upbraided them for their unbelief. The last mentioned was a man of enlarged mind and polished intellect, and for three days he bore on his person the mark of blindness, occasioned by the sight of Jesus. Could so many persons be so deceived about a body which they saw and heard, and felt ; one who handed them bread which they ate, and gave them large discourse, and laid his hand in theirs ? Thomas was as incredulous as any man, but his infidelity at last gave way before the power of evidence. It is easier to believe in the resurrection than be-
lieve that so many were deceived.
And look at their unwavering unanimity ! They vary in nothing for a moment. There is no fact upon which testimony was ever called, in which a large number of persons have so wondrously agreed in statement. And we are accustomed upon this point to cite the sufferings and labors of the disciples as a proof that they were neither combining in an imposture nor yielding to a deception. Was it ever known that men adhered to the statement of a known falsehood, or what they did not certainly know to be true, when that falsehood did them no good, but an injury; when such adherence, without present profit, or hope of future good involved loss of caste, reputation, wealth and ease ? It is impossible to suppose that so many men could do so. If the dead body was in their possession, its presence would unnerve such a determination; if it was not with them, they had nothing to kindle and keep their enthusiasm glowing.
Trying this ciuestion, then, by the common rules of testimony, we repeat, that unless the
disciples were wilder enthusiasts than history or fiction anywhere presents, in the nature of things, as the body of Christ was crucified, dead, and buried ; and as on the third morning he was not in the grave, and could not have been eillicr in the hands of the Jews, or in possession of liis disciples ; andas there are only three cases that can be supposed, and two are showji to be inipossi-
The Sign of Jonas.
ble; — we must give up all reliance upon human memory and human testimony, or be irresistibly driven to the conclusion, that jESUS CHRIST AROSE FROM THE DEAD
Thus, then, was the type of the prophet Jonas fulfilled in the person of our Lord, and the most
powerful possible proof of His divinity afforded. Now, if we do not hearken to the teachings of this Risen Redeemer, we give proof that we would not listen to the voice of the great God speaking to us individually from the skies. " The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation and shall condemn it : because they repented at the preaching of Jonas, and behold a greater than Jonas is here." The prophet Jonah was disobedient, peevish, and unlovely. Flying from the face of God, he was cast into the sea and became a type of our Lord, by being three days and nights in the whale's belly. He then conveyed the message to Nineveh, in which there were six score thousand persons, and cried aloud that in forty days the city should be destroyed. Impressed by the miracle of his preservation, the king and the people gave themselves to repentance and fasting and prayer. The Lord had pity upon them and spared them ; and this act of divine clemency, which should have moved the prophet to adore the goodness of God, aroused in him a spirit of bitter complaining. His reputation as a prophet was at stake, and he would have had an hundred and twenty thousand people perish
that he might seem to have spoken the truth in the delivery of a conditional threatening from God, in the fulfillment of which he had no personal interest. And yet, at the preaching of
such a man as this, and to avoid the loss of their city and the pains of temporal death, the whole people, from the king to the beggar, repented in sackcloth, and found the mercy of God. And yet, the men of this generation, the men of wit and learning, the men of mind and information and thought, pay no attention to the Lord of life and glory, who conquered death for them, and with a heart of infinitely profound benevolence is warning them of impending destruction. Can it be possible? The proof of Jonah's miraculous escape and the consequent assurance of his divine commission were strong ; but that most stupendous miracle which adorns the annals of the universe, and which has for its proof the most powerful, luminous, and perfect body of testimony in the whole range of moral evidence, comes to our understandings after the lapse of eighteen centuries, in which it has been
scrutinized by friend and foe, and again and again dissected by the light of all learning and the scalpel of most impartial criticism, and still stands surrounded by the impenetrable bulwark of the most compact and unanswerable argument. If this shall fail to arrest our attention and fix our faith on Jesus, as His word is true, when we shall stand at the judgment-seat, there shall come trooping up against us six score thousand souls from Nineveh, and hundreds from Jerusalem, and the men of learning in the intermediate centuries, and the blessed martyrs of all ages in the holy cause, and they shaU condemn us : for they repented at the preaching of Jonas, and bore witness to the truth as it is in Jesus ; but a greater than Jonas, even the Truth Himself, is here in His Holy Word.
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