MAN is very loath to think ill of himself. The most of mankind are very prone to indulge in apologies for sin. They say, “If we had lived in better times we had been better men; if we had been born into this world under happier auspices we should have been holier; and if we had been placed in more excellent circumstances we should have been more inclined to the right.” The mass of men, when they seek the cause of their sin, seek it anywhere but in the right place. They will not blame their own nature for it; they will not find fault with their own corrupt heart, but they will lay the blame anywhere else. Some of them find fault with their peculiar position. “If,” says one, “I had been born rich, instead of being poor, I should not have been dishonest.” “Or if,” says another, “I had been born in middle life, instead of being rich, I should not have been exposed to such temptations to lust and pride as I am now; but my very condition is so adverse to piety, that I am compelled, by the place I hold in society, to be anything but what I ought to be.” Others turn round and find fault with the whole of society; they say that the whole organism of society is wrong; they tell us that everything in government:, everything that concerns the state, everything which melts men into commonwealths, is all so bad that they cannot be good while things are what they are. They must have a revolution, they must upset everything; and then they think they could be holy! Many, on the other hand, throw the blame on their training. If they had not been so brought up by their parents, if they had not been so exposed in their youth, they would not have been what they are. It is their parents’ fault; the sin lay at their father’s or their mother’s door. Or it is their constitution.
Hear them speak for themselves: “If I had such a temper as So-and-so, what a good man I would be! But with my headstrong disposition it is impossible. It is all very well to talk to me; but men have different turns of mind, and my turn of mind is such that I could not by any means be a serious character.” Others go a deal farther, and throw the blame on the ministry. “If,” say they, “at one time the minister had been more earnest in preaching, I should have been a better man; if it had been my privilege to sit under sounder doctrine and hear the Word more faithfully preached, I should have been better.” Or else they lay it at the door of professors of religion, and say, “If the Church were more consistent, if there were no hypocrites and no formalists, then we should reform!”
Ah! you are putting the saddle on the wrong horse, you are laying the burden on the wrong back; the blame is in your heart, nowhere else. If your heart were renewed you would be better; but until that is done, if society were remodeled to perfection, if ministers were angels, and professors of religion were seraphs, you would be none the better; but having less excuse you would be doubly guilty, and perish with a more terrible destruction.
But yet men will always be having it, that if things were different they would be different too; whereas, the difference must be made in themselves, if they begin in the right place.
Suppose a preacher should come from another world to preach to us, we must naturally suppose that he came from Heaven. Even the rich man did not ask that he or any of his compeers in torment might go out of hell to preach. Spirits that are lost and given up to unutterable wickedness, could not visit this earth; and if they did they could not preach the truth, nor lead us on the road to Heaven which they had not trodden themselves. The advent of a damned spirit upon earth would be a curse, a blight, a withering blast; we need not suppose that such a thing ever did or could occur. The preacher from another world, if such could come, must come from Heaven. He must be a Lazarus who had lain in Abraham’s bosom, a pure, perfect, and holy being. Now, imagine for a moment that such an one had descended upon earth; suppose that we heard that a venerable spirit, who had been a long time buried, had on a sudden burst his cerements, lifted up his coffin lid, and was now preaching the Word of Life. Oh! What a rush there would be to hear him preach! What place in this wide world would be large enough to hold his massive congregations! How many thousands of portraits would be published of him, representing him in the dread winding-sheet of death, or as an angel fresh from Heaven! Nations, far remote, would soon hear the news; and every ship would be freighted with passengers, bringing men and women to hear this wondrous preacher and traveler who had returned from the born unknown. And how you would listen! And how solemnly you would gaze at that unearthly specter!
And how would your ears be attent to his every word! His faintest syllable would be caught and published everywhere throughout the world — the utterances of a man who had been dead and was alive again. And we are very apt to suppose, that if such a thing should happen, there would be numberless conversions, for surely the congregations thus attracted would be immensely blest? Many hardened sinners would be led to repent; hundreds of halters would be made to decide, and great good would be done. Ah! stop; though the first part of the fairy dream should occur, yet would not the last. If someone should rise from the dead, yet would sinners no more repent through his preaching than through the preaching of any other. God might bless such preaching to salvation, if he pleased; but in itself there would be no more power in the preaching of the sheeted dead, or of the glorified spirit, than there is of feeble man today. “Though one should rise from the dead, they would not repent.”
If the testimony of one man who had been raised from the dead were of any value for the confirming of the Gospel, would not God have used it before now? It is undoubtedly true that some have risen from the dead. We find accounts in Holy Scripture of some men who by the power of Christ Jesus, or through the instrumentality of prophets, were raised from the dead; but ye will note this memorable fact, that they never any of them spoke one word which is recorded, by way of telling us what they saw while they were dead. It is memorable that there is not a record of anyone of them having given any description of what they saw while they were dead. Oh, what secrets might he have told out, who had laid in his grave four days! Do ye not suppose that his sisters questioned him? Do ye not think that they asked him what he saw — whether he had stood before the burning throne of God, and been judged for the things done in his body, and whether he had entered into rest? But, however they may have asked, it is certain he gave no answer; for had he given an answer we should have known it now; tradition would have cherished the record. And do ye remember, when Paul once preached a long sermon, even until midnight, there was a young man in the third loft named Eutychus, who fell asleep, and fell down, and was taken up dead? Paul came down and prayed, and Eutychus was restored to life. But did Eutychus get up and preach after he had come from the dead? No; the thought never seems to have struck a single person in the assembly. Paul went on with his sermon, and they sat and listened to him, and did not care one fig about what Eutychus had seen; for Eutychus had nothing more to tell them than Paul had. Of all the number of those who by divine might have been brought again from the shades of death, we have not one secret told; we have not one mystery unraveled by them all.
But if a man should rise from his tomb, and affirm the truth of the Gospel, the infidel world would be no more near believing than now. Here comes Mr. Infidel Critic. He denies the evidences of the Bible; evidences which so clearly prove its authenticity, that we are obliged to believe him to be either blasphemous or senseless, in that he does so, and we leave him his choice between the two. But he dares to deny the truth of Holy Scripture, and will have it that all the miracles whereby it is attested are untrue and false. Do you think that one who had risen from the dead would persuade such a man as that to believe? What? when God’s whole creation having been ransacked by the hand of science, has only testified to the truth of revelation — when the whole history of buried cities and departed nations has but preached out the truth that the Bible was true — when every strip of land in the far-off East has been an exposition and a confirmation of the prophecies of Scripture; if men are yet unconvinced, do ye suppose that one dead man rising from the tomb would convince them? No; I see the critical blasphemer already armed for his prey. Hark to him: “I am not quite sure that you ever were dead; sir, you profess to be risen from the dead; I do not believe you. You say you have been dead, and have gone to heaven; my dear man, you were in a trance. You must bring proof from the parish register that you were dead.” The proof is brought that he was dead. “Well, now you must prove that you were buried.” It is proved that he was buried, and it is proved that some sexton in old times did take up his dry bones and cast his dust in the air. “That is very good; now I want you to prove that you are the identical man that was buried.” “Well I am, I know I am; I tell you as an honest man I have been to heaven, and I have come back again.” “Well then,” says the infidel, “it is not consistent with reason; it is ridiculous to suppose that a man who was dead and buried could ever come to life again, and so I don’t believe you, I tell you so straight to your face.” That is how men would answer him; and instead of having only the sin of denying many miracles, men would have to add to it the guilt of denying another; but they would not be so much as a tithe of an inch nearer to conviction; and certainly, if the wonder were done in some far-off land, and only reported to the rest of the world, I can suppose that the whole infidel world would exclaim, “Simple childish tales and such traditions have been current elsewhere; but we are sensible men, we do not believe them.”
Although a churchyard should start into life, and stand up before the infidel who denies the truth of Christianity, I declare I do not believe there would be enough evidence in all the churchyards in the world to convince him.
Infidelity would still cry for something more. It is like the horse-leech; it crieth, “Give, give!” Prove a point to an infidel, and he wants it proved again; let it be as clear as noon-day to him from the testimony of many witnesses, yet doth he not believe it. In fact, he doth believe it; but he pretendeth not to do so, and is an infidel in spite of himself. But certainly the dead man’s rising would be little worth for the conviction of such men.
The most numerous class of unbelievers are people who never think at all.
There are a great number in this land who eat and drink, and do everything else except think; at least, they think enough to take their shop shutters down of a morning and put them up at night; they think enough to know a little about the rising of the funds, or the rate percent, of interest, or something like how articles are selling, or the price of bread; but their brains seem to be given them for nothing at all, except to meditate upon bread and cheese. To them religion is a matter of very small concern. They dare say the Bible is very true, they dare say religion is all right, but it does not often trouble them much. They suppose they are Christians; for were they not christened when they were babies? They must be Christians — at least they suppose so; but they never sit down to inquire what religion is. They sometimes go to church and chapel and elsewhere; but it does not signify much to them. One minister may contradict another, but they do not know; they dare say they are both right. One minister may fall foul of another in almost every doctrine; it does not signify, and they pass over religion with a queer idea — “God Almighty will not ask us where we went to, I dare say.” They do not exercise their judgments at all. Thinking is such hard work for them that they never trouble themselves at all about it.
Now, if a man were to rise from the dead tomorrow these people would never be startled. Yes, yes, they would go and see him once, just as they go and see any other curiosity, the living skeleton, or Tom Thumb; they would talk about him a good deal, and say, “There’s a man risen from the dead,” and possibly some winter evening they might read one of his sermons; but they would never give themselves trouble to think whether his testimony was worth anything or not. No, they are such blocks they never could be stirred; and if the ghost were to come to any of their houses the most they would feel would be they were in a fearful fright; but as to what he said, that would never exercise their leaden brains, and never stir their stony senses. Though one should rise from the dead, the great mass of these people never would be affected.
Then learn this truth, that no outward means in the world can ever bring you to the footstool of divine grace and make you a Christian, if Moses and the prophets have failed. All that can be done now is this: God the Spirit must bless the Word to you, otherwise conscience cannot awaken you, reason cannot awaken you, powerful appeals cannot awaken you, persuasion cannot bring you to Christ. Nothing will ever do it except God the Holy Spirit.