According to the calendar, Sunday, March 27, 2016, will be the day dedicated by Christians to remembering the resurrection of Jesus. The sermon in this post on Presbyterians of the Past by Rev. Henry Kollock, DD, is titled, “Resurrection of Christ.” He chose an interesting passage not from the gospels or First Corinthians 15 for his exposition. He turned to Peter’s comments when he and the other apostles defended their ignoring the council’s command not to say anything about Jesus. Then, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men,” followed by the text for this sermon in Acts 5:30-32. The date the exposition was originally delivered is not known to the editor.
Dr. Kollock was born in New Providence, New Jersey, December 14, 1778, to Shepard and Susannah Kollock. He received his B.A. at the age of fifteen and the A.M. three years later from what is currently Princeton University while he served as a tutor. After a brief ministry in his home church in Elizabeth Town, he returned at the age of 24 to Princeton to become Professor of Divinity Henry Kollock. In 1806 he received a ministerial call from Independent Presbyterian Church, Savannah, Georgia, where he continued until his death just a few days after his forty-first birthday, December 19, 1819.
The two sermons previously posted on Presbyterians of the Past, one by Archibald Alexander, and the other by Henry A. Boardman, were conservatively edited for archaic terminology and to improve their presentation for modern readers. However, Henry Kollock’s sermon has had almost no editing at all because it reads quite well. The enumeration of points in the sermon is not correct, but rather than try to interpret Kollock’s intention, they have been transcribed as in the original. The editor has added a few Bible references in parentheses.
As has been said before on Presbyterians of the Past, published sermons are words on paper that do not capture fully the event that is the delivery of God’s message by his servant. The minister’s stature, presence, gestures, stance, head motion, direction of sight, pauses, and vocal inflection contribute to the sermon. Archibald Alexander was known in his day as an exemplary preacher. It is commented in his biography, The Life of Archibald Alexander, that in Princeton “the talk…was about a young man, lately a tutor in the college, whose eloquence was awakening attention. This was the celebrated Henry Kollock” (234).
As you read the sermon, you will notice that Pastor Kollock’s proofs for the historicity of the resurrection of Christ are all from Scripture, so for one to accept his case one must first accept that the Bible is what it claims to be, God’s inspired revelation, the Word of God. He did not rationalize, apologize, make concessions, nor hedge; Henry Kollock called his listeners then and his readers today to believe what the Bible says about the resurrected Christ. As he said in his first paragraph, he proposed to “demonstrate … that the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which St. Peter declares in the text, is a certain fact; as certain as any of those which are recorded in history and regarded as incontestable.” He made his application by challenging his congregation to live like they believed the resurrection to be true.
Users of this website should read the “Copyright and Use” page accessed by the button on the tool bar at the top of the Presbyterians of the Past home page. For a biography of Dr. Kollock on Presbyterians of the Past, click HERE.
Resurrection of Christ, Acts 5:30, 31, 32
(Barry Waugh, editor, © Copyright 2016, Presbyterians of the Past)
A consideration of the conduct of the greater part of those who profess to believe in Christianity, gives us but too much cause to doubt whether they are really persuaded of the truth of this religion. To believe so holy a religion, and to live a worldly and sinful life, these are two things which it is difficult to reconcile, perhaps they are entirely incompatible. It is not then a useless labor for the ministers of the gospel to endeavor to persuade their hearers of the divinity of the gospel which they preach. It is proper for us constantly to press those powerful motives to obedience which the gospel presents to lead men to holy living, but nevertheless, it is certain, that these motives will have no effect upon an unbelieving heart and probably this unbelief is the cause of the little effect of our preaching. It will not then be a loss of time to demonstrate to you that the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which St. Peter declares in the text, is a certain fact; as certain as any of those which are recorded in history and regarded as incontestable. This is what I shall endeavor to do in the ensuing discourse. It is not an unimportant matter. If we can establish the certainty of the resurrection of Christ, we establish at the same time, the certainty of the Christian religion, since this resurrection is the seal which God annexed to the teachings of the Redeemer.
I confine myself at present to a single point. I propose to establish the truth of our religion by proving the resurrection of Christ, which is the most important and most wonderful of the facts which Scripture records. The text affords me two decisive proofs: one is the testimony of the apostles; the other is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The first of these we shall illustrate in this discourse. “We are witnesses,” says St. Peter, “of the resurrection of Jesus, and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to them that obey him.”
The first proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and consequently of the Christian religion, is the testimony that the apostles give to this miraculous event. We are witnesses of these things; of the resurrection of that Jesus whom ye have crucified. We do not know it merely by report; we are eye-witnesses; we ourselves have seen this risen Jesus; we have seen him many times; we have conversed with him; we have touched his body; we have attended him to the place where he left us, and seen him ascend into heaven. It is not only one of us who have seen him; we have all seen him, and the other apostles have seen him as well as we. We are all witnesses of this miraculous resurrection: many others of his disciples, many women of his acquaintance, unite their testimony with ours. We can even mention, nearly five hundred persons who are still living, and who with their own eyes, have beheld this risen Savior. (1 Corinthians 15:6.)
This is the testimony which the apostles give to the resurrection of Christ. We must receive this testimony unless we maintain one of these two things: either that all these witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, were themselves deceived when they supposed that they saw Jesus risen; or else that they agreed to deceive others, by falsely pretending to be eye-witnesses of a thing which none of them ever saw.
The first of these things must be acknowledged to be impossible, if we consider but a single moment, who were these eye-witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? They were all persons who had frequently seen him; and who regarding him as an extraordinary character, had attentively considered him. They were even the most intimate friends of Christ, his disciples, who, during many years, had continually been with him; who had very lately eaten the Passover, and celebrated the holy supper with him; who had passed the night with him in the garden, and accompanied him to the place where he was taken by his enemies. To say that these were all deceived, when they supposed that they saw Jesus Christ risen from the dead, we must maintain that they had lost entirely, and all at the same time, every idea of their Master; that in three days, they had all forgotten what were the traits of his countenance, his appearance, his voice, and the aspects which distinguish one person from another.
Still this would be more possible, if they had said that they saw him but once. But no; they witnessed that this risen Jesus showed himself to them numerous times; sometimes to one of them in particular; sometimes to many together; sometimes to all at once; sometimes in one place, and sometimes in another; that he has allowed them even to handle his body and touch his wounds, to assure the most incredulous that he was the same Jesus who expired upon the cross. Besides, Jesus Christ was not content to show himself to his disciples one moment here and another moment there; he remained a long time with them, travelled and ate with them, held different conversations with them, gave different instructions to them, and made them many promises; and before he quitted them, instituted the solemn ordinance of baptism. Is it possible that the disciples, the intimate friends of Jesus Christ, could mistake their Master while he did, said, and instituted these things? Is it possible that the force of imagination could so far enchant the senses of so many men, and for so long a time, and upon so many several occasions, as to possess them with a belief that they saw a person alive who had been dead; a person with whom they had been intimately acquainted; and that they felt the substance of his flesh and bones, and conversed with him, when there was really no such thing nor nothing like it? Most certainly not. It is then evident that the witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ could not themselves be deceived.
An infidel, then, to reject this testimony, must maintain that these witnesses agreed among themselves to deceive others. This is the only entrenchment which the unbeliever can have, after we have proved that they themselves could not be deceived. But I will show you clearly, that such a suspicion is,
I. Without any foundation.
II. That this suspicion is totally improbable. And,
III. That it is a suspicion entirely false and unreasonable.
I say such a suspicion is without foundation. To accuse a person of fraud with any foundation, we must observe in him some mark of imposture, or be convinced that he has acted deceitfully on other occasions. But nothing of this nature has ever been proved against either the apostles or the other witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus, although it was the highest interest of the enemies of Christianity to make these witnesses pass for impostors. There is, then, no foundation to suspect their fidelity.
But if this is evident from considering the doctrine that these witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ would confirm by their testimony, it is no less evident from considering in themselves these witnesses and the witness which they give.
To accuse these witnesses of fraud, we must not only say that they have lied, but that they have lied for nothing, and without hoping for any benefit from it. Who can believe this? Who can suppose that they would utter a falsehood which was at once most criminal and most dangerous, which brought down upon them the greatest miseries, and exposed them to a shameful death? What could these persons seek in inventing and uttering so strange a fable? This was not the way to arrive at honors, to amass riches, to procure the pleasures and enjoyments of this world. On the contrary, it was necessary for them to forego all these advantages, and expose themselves to the contempt of the world, to severe persecutions, to a thousand woes and miseries. What object could they possibly have in asserting that Christ was risen, if he still was in the tomb?
Another reason which proves that it is against all probability to suspect the faithfulness of those who testify to the resurrection of Jesus, is this, by forming such a suspicion we suppose that these witnesses attested a most criminal and most dangerous falsehood, not with a design to obtain any profit or glory for themselves, but in favor of another, in favor of a dead person, in favor of a dead person who had horribly deceived them for many years. The apostles attached themselves to Jesus Christ because they supposed him the Messiah promised to the people of God. They had left all to follow him. They had experienced with him many afflictions, had suffered the contempt of the world, reproach, and poverty. They hoped to be richly recompensed for this in the kingdom of this Messiah which they expected. When Jesus Christ died upon the cross, they were afflicted and terrified. There was, however, still one resource. Jesus Christ had promised that he should rise again the third day; but if that had not happened, we may easily imagine what would have been the sentiments of these apostles. They would have been convinced that this Jesus whom they had so long followed, for whom they had forsaken all, was but an impostor, who had amused them with vain hopes, who had deceived them in a shameful manner, who had exposed them to the contempt and hatred of the world, who had cast them into poverty and the extremity of misery. Could the memory of such a man be dear to them? Who can believe that for his sake they would have invented the most dangerous of all falsehoods, and that they would have maintained this falsehood with so much constancy in the midst of the greatest afflictions which they had to experience and to apprehend because of it? Is there in this supposition the least probability?
I add a third reason which proves that it is entirely improbable that these witnesses of the resurrection attempted to deceive the world; it is this, none of them could hope that their fraud would succeed, if their report had been fraudulent. It was a strange design to make the world believe, that a criminal who died upon the cross, and was buried, had recovered his life three days afterwards. The apostles must have felt every moment that they did not possess talents to persuade the world of a thing so incredible, and to conduct an enterprise so dangerous. But besides, none of them could confide in the others, who must necessarily be of the plot; and as no interest connected them together, each of them must every moment be apprehensive that he would be betrayed by one of his companions who might either be gained or frightened. And certainly if such people as the apostles had been a company of impostors, it would have been a real miracle if so many powerful enemies of Christianity, who held in their hands punishments and rewards, had found no means to destroy a plot so miserably concerted. What would have been easier than to seduce one of these people, by promises or benefits, to intimidate another by threats and violence, and even to constrain some of them by torments to confess the truth?
These observations clearly prove, that any suspicion of an intention in the apostles to deceive is not only without foundation, but is besides contrary to all probability. But even supposing that a suspicion could be formed against them with some foundation and some probability, these reflections that we are about to add would entirely destroy it.
If we had a presumption sufficiently strong against the fidelity of a witness, would it not be sufficient to destroy this presumption, if this witness showed all the world by an irreproachable life, by an exemplary piety, by a constant holiness, that he was not a man capable of giving false witness? Would it not be sufficient, if besides, this witness should suffer with much constancy the greatest afflictions, the most dreadful torments, to support his testimony; if finally, he should seal this witness with his blood? Now this is what the witnesses of the resurrection of Christ have done.
They have first supported their testimony by a holy life and an exemplary piety. We may be assured of this by the testimony even of their enemies, who have confessed that their morals were irreproachable. We may be assured of it by reading their writings, which every where breathe sincerity, charity, humility, renunciation of the world, love to God and a zeal for his glory. We may be assured of it by considering with what warmth they press their holy morality; what a fervent desire and holy anxiety they have for the conversion and sanctification of all men; if we reflect with what boldness they tell their hearers to be followers of them, as they also are followers of Christ. We may be assured of this piety of the apostles, by the wonderful efficacy of their preaching, by the astonishing number of conversions under their ministry; which would have been impossible had not their preaching been accompanied with extraordinary holiness of life. We may be assured of it by the testimony of their disciples, whose writings we still possess, who like their teachers were holy men, and who suffered martyrdom for the truths which they learned of these apostolic martyrs. Is it possible to suspect such men of a fraud, as impious as theirs would have been, if they themselves had invented what they testified of the resurrection of Christ?
But if the witnesses of this resurrection have proved their sincerity by the holiness of their lives, they have proved it still more clearly by what they suffered to support the truth of their testimony. I know that martyrdom is not a decisive proof of the truth of the doctrines which the martyr maintains, and that it is possible for a man to suffer martyrdom for a false doctrine, but at least martyrdom is a certain proof of the sincerity of him who suffers it. I believe even that it is the strongest proof which can be given. We may take a lie for a truth; we may be so convinced of it as to suffer great torments for this pretended truth; but it is incredible that we should suffer the severest tortures for a lie which we know in our consciences to be a falsehood. But nevertheless, we must say that this was done by the apostles, if they were impostors. I have not time, my brethren, to show you the great number and the severity of the torments to which the first preachers of the gospel and their immediate successors were exposed. I will only remark, that they suffered these persecutions voluntarily, and because of the testimony which they gave to Christ. They foresaw all that they would have to encounter in preaching his resurrection. They saw on the other hand that they would avoid all these calamities by remaining silent. They saw even that after they had begun to preach the gospel, they could still elude these miseries by going over to the enemies of Christianity. They even might expect great rewards if they would abandon their companions, and forsake the cause in which they were engaged. Yet notwithstanding all this, they announce everywhere the resurrection of Christ; they love better to expose themselves to a thousand woes than to deny or conceal this point; they love better to lay down their lives, to die in the acutest agonies, than to cease their testimony. Surely there is nothing but the force of truth, of truth with which he is intimately affected, that can push forward a man to so extraordinary a resolution, and encourage him to sustain it with so wonderful a constancy.
You see then, my brethren, that the testimony of the apostles is unexceptionable; that neither their knowledge of the matter they attested, nor their fidelity in attesting it can be called in question without the most monstrous absurdity. We may confidently challenge infidels to mention a single one of those historical facts which no man of sense has ever called in question, that has better witnesses than the resurrection of Christ. We may boldly assert that a person who would reject such testimony in any thing except religion, would be accused by all the world of blindness and folly.
Perhaps some of you have thought that we have already spent too much time upon this argument. Perhaps some of you are inwardly saying, “Why need all these reasonings be employed to demonstrate a thing which none of us disputes? We are all Christians; we have never doubted of the resurrection of Christ, nor of the other truths of the gospel.” Grant, my brethren, that if a person look only at our outward worship, and observe us constantly attending the courts of the Lord, he would suppose that we were fully persuaded of the truths of religion. But let us not deceive ourselves; all this may be performed, while the heart is unbelieving. What, then, must we do, to prove the sincerity of our faith? Is it necessary that we suffer some great affliction for the cause of Christ? Is it necessary that we seal with our blood the sincerity of our profession? No, my brethren, God does not now call us to so severe a test. What he requires of us as a proof of our sincerity, is only a life conformed to our belief. “Show,” says he by the mouth of his apostle, “show your faith by your works” (James 2:18). This is what must prove that we are truly persuaded of these truths. Our lives must evince that we believe that Christ is risen from the dead; that, therefore, the doctrine which he taught is true; that, therefore, there will be a judgment for all men, a heaven for the righteous, and a hell for the wicked. We vainly boast of our faith, if our whole conduct does not prove that we are truly convinced of these important doctrines.
But, alas, my brethren, if nothing but a Christian life can show the sincerity of our faith, if all other marks are vague, how many unbelievers are there who bear the name of Christians? What must we say of so many open and reckless sinners whose whole lives are a perpetual violation of the law of God?
Let us conclude this discourse by considering the Resurrection of Christ as a pledge of the resurrection and happiness of believers, and as a source of abundant consolations.
The resurrection of Christ is an assured pledge of the resurrection and subsequent happiness of believers. All mankind must sink under the stroke of death. Our friends, our neighbors, are falling around us, under the arm of this destroyer. Our turn must shortly arrive; in a little while the dust of the cemetery must press upon our cold and palpitating breasts. When once deposited in the tomb, no philosopher has sufficient wisdom, no prince sufficient power, to restore us to light and life. But when human help fails, the Son of God exclaims, “Believe in me, become my disciple, and I will raise you to an immortal life; though you were dead, yet shall you live.”
His own resurrection is a proof of this promise, since this resurrection shows that there is no natural or moral impossibility in our restoration to life. For, since Jesus by the power which he received from the Father, raised his own dead body from the tomb, and clothed it with glory, and bore it to the heavens, we cannot doubt that he is able to raise and to glorify us also. And as to the moral impossibility of our resurrection, that is, the impossibility which springs, not from want of power in God to produce such an effect, but from the resistance which reason and justice would oppose to it, the resurrection of Christ has satisfied us on this point also. For this moral impossibility would be caused only by our sin, but the resurrection of Christ has shown that our sin is expiated and justice satisfied. For since the Father has restored him from a death which he suffered only for our crimes; since he has raised him from the tomb, which he entered only for our offences; since he has delivered him from a prison in which he was cast only for our debts; since on raising him from this death, from this tomb, from this prison, he has crowned him with glory; he has thereby declared that he is well pleased with his obedience, and has accepted from him, our Mediator and Surety, an atonement for our sins. Our guilt then, will not prevent him from employing in our behalf, his almighty power.
But besides these considerations, we are, from the resurrection of Christ, assured of our own resurrection, because he rose from the dead, and took possession of heaven not merely for himself, but in the name and in behalf of believers. For all those who believe in him are so closely united to him, as to be esteemed one body with him, of which he is the head and they the members. Therefore, they are said to be predestinated to be conformed to his image, and he is declared to be the first fruits of them that slept; and we are said to be raised together with him.
Be of good cheer, then, believers. Your Redeemer lives! Death, who cries to the wicked, “Fools, quit your enjoyments, your pleasures, your Gods!” will accost you in accents of tenderness, and say, “Faithful servants, the period of your anxieties, your griefs, and your tears is ended. Your Savior calls you. Go, enjoy heaven and your Redeemer. Tremble not to consign your body to the dust—Jesus will watch its scattered particles.”