DIFFICULTIES FELT BY OUR OPPONENTS
There are some who avoid all close examination into the circumstances attendant upon the death of our Lord, using the plea that however excellent a quality intellect may be, and however desirable that the facts connected with the Crucifixion should be intelligently considered, yet that after all it is spiritual insight which is wanted for a just appreciation of spiritual truths, and that the way to be preserved from error is to cultivate holiness and purity of life. This is well for those who are already satisfied with the evidences for their convictions. We could hardly give them any better advice than simply to "depart from evil, do good, seek peace and ensue it" (Psalm xxxiv., 14), if we could only make sure that their duty would never lead them into contact with those who hold the external evidences of Christianity to be insufficient. When, however, they meet with any of these unhappy persons they will find their influence for good paralysed; for unbelievers do not understand what is meant by appealing to their spiritual insight as a thing which can in any way affect the evidence for or against an alleged fact in history--or at any rate as forming evidence for a fact which they believe to be in itself improbable and unsupported by external proof. They have not got any spiritual insight in matters of this sort; nor, indeed, do they recognise what is meant by the words at all, unless they be interpreted as self-respect and regard for the feelings and usages of other people. What spiritual insight they have, they express by the very nearly synonymous terms, "current feeling," or "common sense," and however deep their reverence for these things may be, they will never admit that goodness or right feeling can guide them into intuitive accuracy upon a matter of history. On the contrary, in any such case they believe that sentiment is likely to mislead, and that the well-disciplined intellect is alone trustworthy. The question is, whether it is worth while to try and rescue those who are in this condition or not. If it IS worth while, we must deal with them according to their sense of right and not ours: in other words, if we meet with an unbeliever we must not expect him to accept our faith unless we take much pains with him, and are prepared to make great sacrifice of our own peace and patience.
Yet how many shrink from this, and think that they are doing God service by shrinking; the only thing from which they should really shrink, is the falsehood which has overlaid the best established fact in all history with so much sophistry, that even our own side has come to fear that there must be something lurking behind which will not bear daylight; to such a pass have we been brought by the desire to prove too much.
Now for the comfort of those who may feel an uneasy sense of dread, as though any close examination of the events connected with the Crucifixion might end in suggesting a natural instead of a miraculous explanation of the Resurrection, for the comfort of such--and they indeed stand in need of comfort--let me say at once that the ablest of our adversaries would tell them that they need be under no such fear. Strauss himself admits that our Lord died upon the Cross; he does not even attempt to dispute it, but writes as though he were well aware that there was no room for any difference of opinion about the matter. He has therefore been compelled to adopt the hallucination theory, with a result which we have already considered. Yet who can question that Strauss would have maintained the position that our Lord did not die upon the Cross, unless he had felt that it was one in which he would not be able to secure the support even of those who were inclined to disbelieve? We cannot doubt that the conviction of the reality of our Lord's death has been forced upon him by a weight of testimony which, like St. Paul, he has found himself utterly unable to resist.
Here then, we might almost pause. Strauss admits that our Lord died upon the Cross. Yet can the reader help feeling that the vindication of the reality of our Lord's reappearances, and the refutation of Strauss's theories with which this work opened, was triumphant and conclusive? Then what follows? That Christ died and rose again! The central fact of our faith is proved. It is proved externally by the most solid and irrefragable proofs, such as should appeal even to minds which reject all spiritual evidence, and recognise no canons of investigation but those of the purest reason.
But anything and everything is believable concerning one whose resurrection from death to life has been established. What need, then, to enter upon any consideration of the other miracles? Of the Ascension? Of the descent of the Holy Spirit? Who can feel difficulty about these things? Would not the miracle rather be that they should NOT have happened! May we not now let the wings of our soul expand, and soar into the heaven of heavens, to the footstool of the Throne of Grace, secure that we have earned the right to hope and to glory by having consented to the pain of understanding?
We may: and I have given the reader this foretaste of the prize which he may justly claim, lest he should be swallowed up in overmuch grief at the journey which is yet before him ere he shall have done all which may justly be required of him. For it is not enough that his own sense of security should be perfected. This is well; but let him also think of others.
What then is their main difficulty, now that it has been shewn that the reappearances of our Lord were not due to hallucination?
I propose to shew this by collecting from all the sources with which I was familiar in former years, and throwing the whole together as if it were my own. I shall spare no pains to make the argument tell with as much force as fairness will allow. I shall be compelled to be very brief, but the unbeliever will not, I hope, feel that anything of importance to his side has been passed over. The believer, on the other hand, will be thankful both to know the worst and to see how shallow and impotent it will appear when it comes to be tested. Oh! that this had been done at the beginning of the controversy, instead of (as I heartily trust) at the end of it.
Our opponents, therefore, may be supposed to speak somewhat after the following manner:- "Granted," they will say, "for the sake of argument, that Jesus Christ did reappear alive after his Crucifixion; it does not follow that we should at once necessarily admit that his reappearance was due to miracle. What was enough, and reasonably enough, to make the first Christians accept the Resurrection, and hence the other miracles of Christ, is not enough and ought not to be enough to make men do so now. If we were to hear now of the reappearance of a man who had been believed to be dead, our first impulse would be to learn the when and where of the death, and the when and where of the first reappearance. What had been the nature of the death? What conclusive proof was there that the death had been actual and complete? What examination had been made of the body? And to whom had it been delivered on the completeness of the death having been established? How long had the body been in the grave--if buried? What was the condition of the grave on its being first revisited? It is plain to any one that at the present day we should ask the above questions with the most jealous scrutiny and that our opinion of the character of the reappearance would depend upon the answers which could be given to them.
"But it is no less plain that the distance of the supposed event from our own time and country is no bar to the necessity for the same questions being as jealously asked concerning it, as would be asked if it were alleged to have happened recently and nearer home. On the contrary, distance of time and space introduces an additional necessity for caution. It is one thing to know that the first Christians unanimously believed that their master had miraculously risen from death to life; it is another to know their reasons for so thinking. Times have changed, and tests of truth are infinitely better understood, so that the reasonable of those days is reasonable to us no longer. Nor would it be enough that the answers given could be just strained into so much agreement with one another as to allow of a modus vivendi between them, AND NOT TO EXCLUDE THE POSSIBILITY OF DEATH, THEY MUST EXCLUDE ALL POSSIBILITY OF LIFE HAVING REMAINED, or we should not hesitate for a moment about refusing to believe that the reappearance had been miraculous: indeed, so long as any chink or cranny or loophole for escape from the miraculous was afforded to us, we should unhesitatingly escape by it; this, at least, is the course which would be adopted by any judge and jury of sensible men if such a case were to come before their unprejudiced minds in the common course of affairs.
"We should not refuse to believe in a miracle even now, if it were supported by such evidence as was considered to be conclusive by the bench of judges and by the leading scientific men of the day: in such a case as this we should feel bound to accept it; but we cannot believe in a miracle, no matter how deeply it has been engrained into the creeds of the civilised world, merely because it was believed by 'unlettered fishermen' two thousand years ago. This is not a source from which such an event as a miracle should be received without the closest investigation. We know, indeed, that the Apostles were sincere men, and that they firmly believed that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead; their lives prove their faith; but we cannot forget that the fact itself of Christ's having been crucified and afterwards seen alive, would be enough, under the circumstances, to incline the men of that day to believe that he had died and had been miraculously restored to life, although we should ourselves be bound to make a far more searching inquiry before we could arrive at any such conclusion. A miracle was not and could not be to them, what it is and ought to be to ourselves--a matter to be regarded a priori with the very gravest suspicion. To them it was what it is now to the lower and more ignorant classes of Irish, French, Spanish and Italian peasants: that is to say, a thing which was always more or less likely to happen, and which hardly demanded more than a prima facie case in order to establish its credibility. If we would know what the Apostles felt concerning a miracle, we must ask ourselves how the more ignorant peasants of to-day feel: if we do this we shall have to admit that a miracle might have been accepted upon very insufficient grounds, and that, once accepted, it would not have had one-hundredth part so good a chance of being refuted as it would have now.
"It should be borne in mind, and is too often lost sight of, that WE HAVE NO ACCOUNT OF THE RESURRECTION FROM ANY SOURCE WHATEVER. We have accounts of the visit of certain women to a tomb which they found empty; but this is not an account of a resurrection. We are told that Jesus Christ was seen alive after being thought to have been dead, but this again is not an account of a resurrection. It is a statement of a fact, but it is not an account of the circumstances which attended that fact. In the story told by Matthew we have what comes nearest to an account of the Resurrection, but even here the principal figure is wanting; the angel rolls away the stone and sits upon it, but we hear nothing about the body of Christ emerging from the tomb; we only meet with this, when we come to the Italian painters.
"Moreover, St. Matthew's account is utterly incredible from first to last; we are therefore thrown back upon the other three Evangelists, none of whom professes to give us the smallest information as to the time and manner of Christ's Resurrection. THERE IS NOTHING IN ANY OF THEIR ACCOUNTS TO PRECLUDE HIS HAVING RISEN WITHIN TWO HOURS FROM HIS HAVING BEEN LAID IN THE TOMB.
"If a man of note were condemned to death, crucified and afterwards seen alive, the almost instantaneous conclusion in the days of the Apostles, and in such minds as theirs, would be that he had risen from the dead; but the almost instantaneous conclusion now, among all whose judgement would carry the smallest weight, would be that he had never died--that there must have been some mistake. Children and inexperienced persons believe readily in all manner of improbabilities and impossibilities, which when they become older and wiser they cannot conceive their having ever seriously accepted. As with men, so with ages; an unusual train of events brings about unusual results, whereon the childlike age turns instinctively to miracle for a solution of the difficulty. In the days of Christ men would ask for evidence of the Crucifixion and the reappearance; when these two points had been established they would have been satisfied- -not unnaturally--that a great miracle had been performed: but no sane man would be contented now with the evidence that was sufficient then, any more than he would be content to accept many things which a child must take upon authority, and authority only. WE ought to require the most ample evidence that not only the appearance of death, but death itself, must have inevitably ensued upon the Crucifixion, and if this were not forthcoming we should not for a moment hesitate about refusing to believe that the reappearance was miraculous.
"And this is what would most assuredly be done now by impartial examiners--by men of scientific mind who had no wish either to believe or disbelieve except according to the evidence; but even now, if their affections and their hopes of a glorious kingdom in a world beyond the grave were enlisted on the side of the miracle, it would go hard with the judgement of most men. How much more would this be so, if they had believed from earliest childhood that miracles were still occasionally worked in England, and that a few generations ago they had been much more signal and common?
"Can we wonder then, if we ourselves feel so strongly concerning events which are hull down upon the horizon of time, that those who lived in the very thick of them should have been possessed with an all absorbing ecstasy or even frenzy of excitement? Assuredly there is no blame on the score of credulity to be attached to those who propagated the Christian religion, but the beliefs which were natural and lawful to them, are, if natural, yet not lawful to ourselves: they should be resisted: they are neither right nor wise, and do not form any legitimate ground for faith: if faith means only the believing facts of history upon insufficient evidence, we deny the merit of faith; on the contrary, we regard it as one of the most deplorable of all errors--as sapping the foundations of all the moral and intellectual faculties. It is grossly immoral to violate one's inner sense of truth by assenting to things which, though they may appear to be supported by much, are still not supported by enough. The man who can knowingly submit to such a derogation from the rights of his self-respect, deserves the injury to his mental eye-sight which such a course will surely bring with it. But the mischief will unfortunately not be confined to himself; it will devolve upon all who are ill-fated enough to be in his power; he will be reckless of the harm he works them, provided he can keep its consequences from being immediately offensive to himself. No: if a good thing can be believed legitimately, let us believe it and be thankful, otherwise the goodness will have departed out of it; it is no longer ours; we have no right to it, and shall suffer for it, we and our children, if we try to keep it. It has been said that the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge, but, more truly, it is the eating of sweet and stolen fruit by the fathers that sets the teeth of the children jarring. Let those who love their children look to this, for on their own account they may be mainly trusted to avoid the sour. Hitherto the intensity of the belief of the Apostles has been the mainstay of our own belief. But that mainstay is now no longer strong enough. A rehearing of the evidence is imperatively demanded, that it may either be confirmed or overthrown."
It cannot be denied that there is much in the above with which all true Christians will agree, and little to find fault with except the self-complacency which would seem to imply that common sense and plain dealing belong exclusively to the unbelieving side. It is time that this spirit should be protested against not in word only but in deed. The fact is, that both we and our opponents are agreed that nothing should be believed unless it can be proved to be true. We repudiate the idea that faith means the accepting historical facts upon evidence which is insufficient to establish them. We do not call this faith; we call it credulity, and oppose it to the utmost of our power.
Our opponents imply that we regard as a virtue well-pleasing in the sight of God, and dignify with the name of faith, a state of mind which turns out to be nothing but a willingness to stand by all sorts of wildly improbable stories which have reached us from a remote age and country, and which, if true, must lead us to think otherwise of the whole course of nature than we should think if we were left to ourselves. This accusation is utterly false and groundless. Faith is the "evidence of things not seen," but it is not "insufficient evidence for things alleged to have been seen." It is "the substance of things hoped for," but "reasonably hoped for" was unquestionably intended by the Apostle. We base our faith in the deeper mysteries of our religion, as in the nature of the Trinity and the sacramental graces, upon the certainty that other things which are within the grasp of our reason can be shewn to be beyond dispute. We know that Christ died and rose again; therefore we believe whatever He sees fit to tell us, and follow Him, or endeavour to follow Him, whereinsoever He commands us, but we are not required to take both the commands of the Mediator AND HIS CREDENTIALS upon faith. It is because certain things within our comprehension are capable of the most irrefragable proof, that certain others out of it may justly be required to be believed, and indeed cannot be disbelieved without contumacy and presumption. And this applies to a certain extent to the credentials also: for although no man should be captious, nor ask for more evidence than would satisfy a well-disciplined mind concerning the truth of any ordinary fact (as one who not contented with the evidence of a seal, a handwriting and a matter not at variance with probability, would nevertheless refuse to act upon instructions because he had not with his own eyes actually seen the sender write and sign and seal), yet it is both reasonable and indeed necessary that a certain amount of care should be taken before the credentials are accepted. If our opponents mean no more than this we are at one with them, and may allow them to proceed.
"Turn then," they say, "to the account of the events which are alleged to have happened upon the morning of the Resurrection, as given in the fourth Gospel: and assume for the sake of the argument that that account, if not from John's own hand, is nevertheless from a Johannean source, and virtually the work of the Apostle. The account runs as follows:
"'The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene while it was yet dark unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth and cometh to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, 'They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid Him.' Peter therefore went forth and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they both ran together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying, yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him and went into the sepulchre and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin that was about His head not lying with the linen clothes but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw and believed. For as yet they knew not the Scripture that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own home. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping; and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain, and they say unto her, 'Woman, why weepest thou?' She saith unto them, 'Because they have taken away my Lord and I know not where they have laid him.'"
"Then Mary sees Jesus himself, but does not at first recognise him.
"Now, let us see what the above amounts to, and, dividing it into two parts, let us examine first what we are told as having come actually under John's own observation, and, secondly, what happened afterwards.
I. "It is clear that Mary had seen nothing miraculous before she came running to the two Apostles, Peter and John. She had found the tomb empty when she reached it. She did not know where the body of her Lord then was, NOR WAS THERE ANYTHING TO SHEW HOW LONG IT HAD BEEN REMOVED: all she knew was that within thirty-six hours from the time of its having been laid in the tomb it had disappeared, but how much earlier it had been gone neither did she know, nor shall we. Peter and John went into the sepulchre and thoroughly examined it: they saw no angel, nor anything approaching to the miraculous, simply the grave clothes (WHICH WERE PROBABLY OF WHITE LINEN), lying IN TWO SEPARATE PLACES. Then, AND NOT TILL THEN, do they appear to have entertained their first belief or hope that Christ might have risen from the dead.
"This is plain and credible; but it amounts to an empty tomb, and to an empty tomb only.
"Here, for a moment, we must pause. Had these men but a few weeks previously seen Lazarus raised from the corruption of the grave--to say nothing of other resurrections from the dead? Had they seen their master override every known natural law, and prove that, as far as he was concerned, all human experience was worthless, by walking upon rough water, by actually talking to a storm of wind and making it listen to him, by feeding thousands with a few loaves, and causing the fragments that remained after all had eaten, to be more than the food originally provided? Had they seen events of this kind continually happening for a space of some two years, and finally had they seen their master transfigured, conversing with the greatest of their prophets (men who had been dead for ages), and recognised by a voice from heaven as the Son of the Almighty, and had they also heard anything approaching to an announcement that he should himself rise from the dead--or had they not? They might have seen the raising of Lazarus and the rest of the miracles, but might not have anticipated that Christ himself would rise, for want of any announcement that this should be so; or, again, they might have heard a prophecy of his Resurrection from the lips of Christ, but disbelieved it for the want of any previous miracles which should convince them that the prophecy came from no ordinary person; so that their not having expected the Resurrection is explicable by giving up either the prophecies, or the miracles, but it is impossible to believe that IN SPITE BOTH OF THE MIRACLES AND THE PROPHECIES, the Apostles should have been still without any expectation of the Resurrection. If they had both seen the miracles and heard the prophecies, they must have been in a state of inconceivably agitated excitement in anticipation of their master's reappearance. And this they were not; on the contrary, they were expecting nothing of the kind. The condition of mind ascribed to them considering their supposed surroundings, is one which belongs to the drama only; it is not of nature: it is so utterly at variance with all human experience that it should be dismissed at once as incredible.
"But it is very credible if Christ was seen alive after his Crucifixion, and his reappearance, though due to natural causes, was once believed to be miraculous, that this one seemingly well substantiated miracle should become the parent of all the others, and of the prophecies of the Resurrection. Thirty years in all probability elapsed between the reappearances of Christ and the earliest of the four Gospels; thirty years of oral communication and spiritual enthusiasm, among an oriental people, and in an unscientific age; an age by which the idea of an interference with the modes of the universe from a point outside of itself, was taken as a matter of course; an age which believed in an anthropomorphic Deity who had back parts, which Moses had been allowed to see through the hand of God; an age which, over and above all this, was at the time especially convulsed with expectations of deliverance from the Roman yoke. Have we not here a soil suitable for the growth of miracles, if the seed once fell upon it? Under such conditions they would even spring up of themselves, seedless.
"Once let the reappearances of Christ have been believed to be miraculous (and under all the circumstances they might easily have been believed to be so, though due to natural causes), and it is not wonderful that, in such an age and among such a people, the other miracles and the prophecies of the Resurrection should have become current within thirty years. Even we ourselves, with all our incalculably greater advantages, could not withstand so great a temptation to let our wish become father to our thoughts. If we had been the especially favoured friends of one whom we believed to have died, but who yet was not to beholden by death, no matter how careful and judicially minded we might be by nature, we should be blind to everything except the fact that we had once been the chosen companions of an immortal. There lives no one who could withstand the intoxication of such an idea. A single well-substantiated miracle in the present day, even though we had not seen it ourselves, would uproot the hedges of our caution; it would rob us of that sense of the continuity of nature, in which our judgements are, consciously or unconsciously, anchored; but if we were very closely connected with it in our own persons, we should dwell upon the recollection of it and on little else.
"Few of us can realise what happened so very long ago. Men believe in the Christian miracles, though they would reject the notion of a modern miracle almost with ridicule, and would hardly even examine the evidence in its favour. But the Christian miracles stand in their minds as things apart; their PRESTIGE is greater than that attaching to any other events in the whole history of mankind. They are hallowed by the unhesitating belief of many, many generations. Every circumstance which should induce us to bow to their authority surrounds them with a bulwark of defences which may make us well believe that they must be impregnable, and sacred from attack. Small wonder then that the many should still believe them. Nevertheless they do not believe them so fully, nor nearly so fully, as they think they do. For even the strongest imagination can travel but a very little way beyond a man's own experience; it will not bear the burden of carrying him to a remote age and country; it will flag, wander and dream; it will not answer truly, but will lay hold of the most obvious absurdity, and present it impudently to its tired master, who will accept it gladly and have done with it. Even recollection fails, but how much more imagination! It is a high flight of imagination to be able to realise how weak imagination is.
"We cannot therefore judge what would be the effect of immediate contact even with the wild hope of a miracle, from our conventional acceptance of the Christian miracles. If we would realise this we must look to modern alleged miracles--to the enthusiasm of the Irish and American revivals, when mind inflames mind till strong men burst into hysterical tears like children; we must look for it in the effect produced by the supposed Irvingite miracles on those who believed in them, or in the miracles that followed the Port Royal miracle of the holy thorn. There never was a miracle solitary yet: one will soon become the parent of many. The minds of those who have believed in a single miracle as having come within their own experience become ecstatic; so deeply impressed are they with the momentous character of what they have known, that their power of enlisting sympathy becomes immeasurably greater than that of men who have never believed themselves to have come into contact with the miraculous; their deep conviction carries others along with it, and so the belief is strengthened till adverse influences check it, or till it reaches a pitch of grotesque horror, as in the case of the later Jansenist miracles. There is nothing, therefore, extraordinary in the gradual development within thirty years of all the Christian miracles, if the Resurrection were once held to be well substantiated; and there is nothing wonderful, under the circumstances, in the reappearance of Christ alive after his Crucifixion having been assigned to miracle. He had already made sufficient impression upon his followers to require but little help from circumstances. He had not so impressed them as to want NO help from any supposed miracle, but nevertheless any strange event in connection with him would pass muster, with little or no examination, as being miraculous. He had undoubtedly professed himself to be, and had been half accepted as, the promised Messiah. He had no less undoubtedly appeared to be dead, and had been believed to be so both by friends and foes. Let us also grant that he reappeared alive. Would it, then, be very astonishing that the little missing link in the completeness of the chain of evidence--ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY CONCERNING THE ACTUALITY OF THE DEATH--should have been allowed to drop out of sight?
"Round such a centre, and in such an age, the other miracles would spring up spontaneously, and be accepted the moment that they arose; there is nothing in this which is foreign to the known tendencies of the human mind, but there would be something utterly foreign to all we know of human nature, in the fact of men not anticipating that Christ would rise, if they had already seen him raise others from the dead and work the miracles ascribed to him, and if they had also heard him prophesy that he should himself rise from the dead. In fact nothing can explain the universally recorded incredulity of the Apostles as to the reappearance of Christ, except the fact that they had never seen him work a single miracle, or else that they had never heard him say anything which could lead them to suppose that he was to rise from the dead.
"We are therefore not unwilling to accept the facts recorded in the fourth Gospel, in so far as they inform us of things which came under the knowledge of the writer. Mary found the tomb empty. Ignorant alike of what had taken place and of what was going to happen, she came to Peter and John to tell them that the body was gone; this was all she knew. The two go to the tomb, and find all as Mary had said; on this it is not impossible that a wild dream of hope may have flashed upon their minds, that the aspirations which they had already indulged in were to prove well founded. Within an hour or two Christ was seen alive, nor can we wonder if the years which intervened between the morning of the Resurrection and the writing of the fourth Gospel, should have sufficed to make the writer believe that John had had an actual belief in the Resurrection, while in truth he had only wildly hoped it. This much is at any rate plain, that neither he nor Peter had as yet heard any clearly intelligible prophecy that their master should rise from the dead. Whatever subsequent interpretation may have been given to some of the sayings of Jesus Christ, no saying was yet known which would of itself have suggested any such inference. We may justly doubt the caution and accuracy of the first founders of Christianity, without, even in our hearts, for one moment impugning the honesty of their intentions. We are ready to admit that had we been in their places we should in all likelihood have felt, believed, and, we will hope, acted as they did; but we cannot and will not admit, in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, that they were superior to the intelligence of their times, or, in other words, that they were capable critics of an event, in which both their feelings and the prima facie view of the facts would be so likely to mislead them.
II. "Turning now to the narrative of what passed when Peter and John were gone, we find that Mary, stooping down, looked through her tears into the darkness of the tomb, and saw two angels clothed in white, who asked her why she wept. We must remember the wide difference between believing what the writer of the fourth Gospel tells us that John saw, and what he tells us that Mary Magdalene saw. All we know on this point is that he believed that Mary had spoken truly. Peter and John were men, they went into the tomb itself, and we may say for a certainty that they saw no angel, nor indeed anything at all, but the grave clothes (WHICH WERE PROBABLY OF WHITE LINEN), lying IN TWO SEPARATE PLACES within it. Mary was a woman--a woman whose parallel we must look for among Spanish or Italian women of the lower orders at the present day; she had, we are elsewhere told, been at one time possessed with devils; she was in a state of tearful excitement, and looking through her tears from light into comparative darkness. Is it possible not to remember what Peter and John DID see when they were in the tomb? Is it possible not to surmise that Mary in good truth saw nothing more? She thought she saw more, but the excitement under which she was labouring at the time, an excitement which would increase tenfold after she had seen Christ (as she did immediately afterwards and before she had had time to tell her story), would easily distort either her vision or her memory, or both.
"The evidence of women of her class--especially when they are highly excited--is not to be relied upon in a matter of such importance and difficulty as a miracle. Who would dare to insist upon such evidence now? And why should it be considered as any more trustworthy eighteen hundred years ago? We are indeed told that the angels spoke to her; but the speech was very short; the angels simply ask her why she weeps; she answers them as though it were the common question of common people, and then leaves them. This is in itself incredible; but it is not incredible that if Mary looking into the tomb saw two white objects within, she should have drawn back affrighted, and that her imagination, thrown into a fever by her subsequent interview with Christ, should have rendered her utterly incapable of recollecting the true facts of the case; or, again, it is not incredible that she should have been believed to have seen things which she never did see. All we can say for certain is that before the fourth Gospel was written, and probably shortly after the first reappearance of Christ, Mary Magdalene believed, or was thought to have believed, that she had seen angels in the tomb; and this being so, the development of the short and pointless question attributed to them--possibly as much due to the eager cross-questioning of others as to Mary herself--is not surprising.
"Before the Sunday of the Resurrection was over, the facts as derivable from the fourth Gospel would stand thus. Jesus Christ, who was supposed to have been verily and indeed dead, was known to be alive again. He had been seen, and heard to speak. He had been seen by those who were already prepared to accept him as their leader, and whose previous education, and tone of mind, would lead them rather to an excess of faith in a miracle, than of scepticism concerning its miraculous character. The Apostles would be in no impartial nor sceptical mood when they saw that Christ was alive. The miracle was too near themselves--too fascinating in its supposed consequences for themselves--to allow of their going into curious questions about the completeness of the death. The Master whom they had loved, and in whom they had hoped, had been crucified and was alive again. Is it a harsh or strained supposition, that what would have assuredly been enough for ourselves, if we had known and loved Christ and had been attuned in mind as the Apostles were, should also have been enough for them? Who can say so? The nature of our belief in our Master would have been changed once and for ever; and so we find it to have been with the Christian Apostles.
"Over and above the reappearance of Christ, there would also be a report (probably current upon the very Sunday of the Resurrection), that Mary Magdalene had seen a vision of angels in the tomb in which Christ's body had been laid; and this, though a matter of small moment in comparison with the reappearance of Christ himself, will nevertheless concern us nearly when we come to consider the narratives of the other Evangelists."