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Acts xxvi. 8.
“ WHY SHOULD IT BE THOUGHT A THING IN
CREDIBLE WITH YOU THAT GOD SHOULD RAISE THE DEAD ?”
The passage we have thus introduced to your attention, is an admirable specimen of what has ever been considered one of the happiest, and has ever proved one of the most successful, methods of encountering intellectual opponents. Instances are continually occurring, in which a plain and pointed interrogation like this, is calculated to become far more effective than a simple statement of the positions it may involve. This arises from its peculiar adaptation to excite a spirit of enquiry. It is to the absence of such a spirit that much of the error and infidelity prevailing in the world must be ascribed ;-it is owing to the neglect of that which pre-eminently qualifies man for the discovery of truth, that so many of the sentiments he embraces are false ;—and the fact of there being points concerning which Israel doth not know, is in a great measure attributable to the fact that, upon those points, Israel doth not consider. The question before us, and questions analogous to it, have a direct tendency to awaken the powers of thought and reflection, and to keep them awake, and employed, until they have gone through adequate processes of investigation, and have arrived at correct and satisfactory conclusions. The abruptness with which they are introduced, excellently suits them for catching the attention, and being themselves left unanswered, they necessarily leave the mind which has been at all roused by them upon the stretch, and in a state of anxiety; while the tone of confidence, and, at the same time, of candour, in which they are put, challenges the most rigid scrutiny, and lays an antagonist under imperative obligation either to be able to give a reason for the opinions he avows, or else at once to abandon them as groundless and indefensible.
The want of due consideration, may undoubtedly be assigned as a principal cause of the early rejection of the doctrine, appointed to be the subject of this morning's exercise. The resurrection of the body, is indeed a matter of pure revelation. It is, perhaps, more exclusively so than any other part of our system ; and when presented to the attention of heathens by the apostles of Christ, the proposition would not only strike them as altogether novel, but as directly opposed to the ideas they had been taught to entertain. It was what they had never learned from any of their oracles ;-it was what they had never met with in the writings of any of their philosophers ;-it was a theme which poets, the most celebrated for boldness and sublimity, had never woven into any of their songs ;-and it was a doctrine completely at variance with the sentiment of all preceding ages. We cannot, therefore, be surprised, that the first impression produced upon their minds in reference to it, should have been an impression of its falsehood. And, moreover, such an impression could not fail of being strengthened and confirmed, by the first view which a bare announcement of the fact would obviously suggest to them. For, conceiving that by the resurrection of the body, was intended to be signified a restoration to existence of precisely the same animal substance; and, regarding the body, as many of the wisest among them were wont to do, with contempt and abhorence ;-considering it, as they did, to be nothing better than a loathsome prison-house, where the magnificent spirit was degraded and encumbered, and kept in a state of irksome and ignoble confinement;—and acquainted, as they were, with the variety of changes consequent upon dissolution, and the frequent transference of the materials of one body into the constitution of other bodies,-it was perfectly natural for them to conclude, that such an event must be at once both undesirable and impracticable. But if, instead of concluding thus, they had, for a time, suspended their judgments, and examined the subject more extensively ;-if, breaking away from the trammels of prejudice and partiality, they had brought to the investigation of it an unbiassed reason, and a heart only anxious to find out the truth, and had honestly and diligently enquired what the tenet promulgated and insisted upon by the apostles really was ;-they might easily have perceived, on the one hand, that the novelty of a doctrine, or the circumstance of its opposing ideas previously entertained, is in itself no argument against its correctness; while, on the other hand, they would assuredly have discovered, that the view which they took of the subject now to be discussed, was perfectly erroneous; and that the resurrection of the dead, as understood by themselves, and the resurrection of the dead, as taught by the Son of God, and afterwards more fully explained by his authorized servants, were two very different things.