The purpose of the following pages is to show that our Lord was crucified, not on Friday, within nine hours of the Jewish Sabbath, as is generally supposed, but on Thursday, which was two days before it; and that, instead of being only two days and two nights in the heart of the earth, He was really three days and three nights, as He himself had predicted; so that all the well-meant and ingenious explanations that have been brought forward to prove that three days and three nights may mean two days and two nights are as unnecessary as they are unsatisfactory and inconclusive.
Our chief purpose, however, is to recover the real story of our Lord's burial, which has been lost to the Church for more than sixteen hundred years, in consequence of the tradition of Good Friday having cut out a whole day (Wednesday) from the week of our Lord's Passion, and crowded the events which took place during twenty-seven hours of Thursday and Friday into an afternoon of three hours, rendering them incongruous and contradictory.
We will show that the narratives of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in regard to the work of Joseph of Arimathea on the evening of the crucifixion, are not inconsistent with that of John; and instead of being imperfect and misleading, are not only in complete harmony with that of the fourth gospel, but literally and exhaustively true. We will show that Nicodemus was not at the sepulchre on the evening of the crucifixion, and did not take part in the burial till the following day. All that was done by Joseph that night, and witnessed by the women, was what is mentioned by the three evangelists—the taking down of the body from the cross, the wrapping it in linen, and the laying it in the sepulchre without either ointments or spices. To all appearance it was a poor man's burial; and the women, supposing that Joseph had done all that he intended to do, resolved that they themselves would supplement his labours, by providing the ointments and spices with which it was customary for the Jews to bury their honoured dead.
But Joseph had no intention of giving his Master so poor a burial, any more than the women. We will show that it was late in the evening before he arrived; nothing had been prepared, and, under the circumstances, all was done that possibly could be done that night. It was, therefore, only an interim burial until he should be able to make proper arrangements, and provide the necessary ointments and spices, which were usual on such occasions.
Our Lord having been crucified on Thursday, there was all the following day up till six o'clock to complete the burial before the Sabbath commenced, and that interval was occupied by both Joseph and the women, unknown to each other, in doing the very same thing, providing ointments and spices, to complete the burial in a manner more worthy of their beloved Master.
On the following day, therefore, Joseph took into his confidence his brother counsellor Nicodemus, and the two Marys were joined by Salome and perhaps other women, to enable them to complete their operations in time. For reasons to which we will afterwards allude, the women were not able to finish their preparations in time to have the body reinterred before sunset, whereas Joseph and Nicodemus, aided no doubt by their wealth and their servants, were more successful. Having completed their arrangements in sufficient time, they returned to the sepulchre, and, in the privacy of Joseph's garden, and when public attention was diverted from them, they did what the women intended to do but did not succeed in doing. They had brought ointments and spices more precious and in larger quantities than the women could afford to bring, and having unwound the linen in which Joseph had hastily wrapped the body the evening before, they anointed it, and, having swathed it anew among the mixture of myrrh and aloes which Nicodemus had brought for the purpose, they replaced it on its sepulchral bed, and again rolled the great stone to the door of the sepulchre unknown to the disciples or to the public.
Upon this question regarding the day of the crucifixion, the Bible and ecclesiastical tradition flatly contradict one another. The Bible in the most emphatic manner asserts that our Lord was crucified on Thursday, and that He was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Tradition, on the other hand, as emphatically affirms that the crucifixion took place on Friday, and that He was only two days and two nights in the heart of the earth.
In the gospels there are five, and only five, passages that give any direct information on the subject, and any one of these five would be sufficient to determine the whole question, even if it stood alone. How much more, then, must they be decisive when their testimony is combined, and when no other passage can be discovered which gives its testimony in an opposite direction. In fact, when the Bible is allowed to give its testimony alone, there is not even the appearance of a difficulty, for it is only when we attempt to reconcile it with the tradition of Good Friday that the difficulties present themselves, to tax the ingenuity and learning of commentators.
The testimony of tradition is equally decided in its affirmation that our Lord was crucified on Friday, and that He was only two days and two nights in the heart of the earth. This has been the voice of the Church from the earliest antiquity short of the apostolic age; and it lies at the very foundation of the Christian calendar. So decided and so unbroken has been this tradition that the Roman, the Greek, and the Lutheran Churches have not only accepted it but have committed themselves to it, so that it is interwoven with the most important and most solemn of their services. In commemoration of, and in homage to, the sufferings of Christ, "Good Friday" has been canonised as a day of fasting, humiliation, and abstinence from all worldly enjoyments; and not only so, but every Friday has been ordained, in a greater or less degree, to partake of this ascetic character, so that to eat flesh on Friday is regarded as a breach of ecclesiastical propriety.
As it was supposed that on Friday the powers of darkness were let loose upon Christ, it has been reckoned an unlucky day ever since; and no one who is under the influence of this superstition, and who can possibly avoid it, will either commence a journey or set sail from a port on that unholy day. And, most remarkable of all, it has been the experience of ecstatics that the prints of the nails on their hands and feet commence to bleed on Fridays in sympathy with what is erroneously supposed to have taken place on that day more than eighteen hundred years ago.
Under these circumstances, and in deference to such testimonies, theologians and commentators have given their adherence to the tradition, and it never seems to have occurred to them to call it in question. Not but that they find difficulties in reconciling it with Scripture, or rather in reconciling Scripture with it; but in their opinion it had to be done, and the only question has been, how it could be done in each case, with the least possible violence to the obvious meaning of the passage.
The consequence has been that, in connection with this subject, the Scripture has been made to bristle with fictitious difficulties, anomalies, and contradictions, and the learning and ingenuity of theologians have been strained to the utmost to reconcile what is really irreconcilable; but the moment that we abandon the tradition, and accept the statements of Scripture in their natural meaning, it is as when the sailors dropped Jonah into the sea—-immediately there is a great calm, everything falls naturally and spontaneously into its place, new and interesting facts begin to appear, and not even the shadow of a difficulty remains. The Wednesday of the Passion week is no longer a blank in regard to which the Scriptures maintain a mysterious silence, because the events which are erroneously supposed to have taken place on Thursday took place on Wednesday, and the crucifixion, which is erroneously supposed to have taken place on Friday, took place on Thursday. Everything is accounted for in the easiest and most natural manner, simply by ignoring Good Friday.
The Origin of the Error
THE mistake originated in this way. The Jews I counted their days not as we do, from midnight to midnight, but from even to even, sunset being the close of the one day and the beginning of the next, as it is written, "From even unto even shall ye celebrate your Sabbath" (Lev. xxiii. 32). But after the destruction of Jerusalem, and when the Gentile element began to predominate in the Church, the Jewish reckoning of time was not only disused but forgotten-—not forgotten or disused by the Jews, but forgotten and disused by the Christians.
Now, the gospel narratives are written in such a way that any one accustomed to the Roman reckoning of time from midnight to midnight, and who is not aware that the Jews reckoned their days from even to even, could not possibly come to any other conclusion than that our Lord was crucified on Friday. What, therefore, could we expect but that the Christians of the second, third, and fourth centuries, in reading the gospels, should read them in a Roman and not in a Jewish sense, and thus make the mistake. If we, with all our superior learning and knowledge, continually read the gospels without discovering the error, we need not be surprised that these leaders of the blind went first into the ditch.
If the reader be disposed to doubt this, let him make the experiment upon himself, and let him read Mark xv. 42, 43: "And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea . . . came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus." We ask, supposing he did not know that the Jews reckoned their days "from even unto even," would he not understand that our Lord was crucified on the day before the Jewish Sabbath? In fact, we believe that this was the very verse that was continually leading them astray; because although it is the verse that most expressly affirms that our Lord was crucified on the day before the preparation, we do not know any other that was likely to originate the mistake. It is not wonderful, therefore, that in those dark days, when the Jewish method of reckoning time was forgotten and the Roman method alone prevailed, the popular belief would gradually and inadvertently settle down to the understanding that the crucifixion took place on Friday. We must also keep in mind that during the apostolic age, when they knew Christ no longer after the flesh, and His birthday was never mentioned, they had neither saints' days nor festivals. The error, therefore, must have arisen long after the destruction of Jerusalem-—although, perhaps, also long before the institution of Good Friday—and the ecclesiastical authorities who appointed its observance merely walked into the same snare which long-continued inadvertence had prepared for them.
It is more difficult to understand why the error was not discovered and corrected long ago. It is true that Romanists and Ritualists had small inducements to be very inquisitive upon the subject, and would think it easier to strain a few points in biblical criticism than to call in question a tradition to which their Churches were so deeply pledged, and which had been inextricably interwoven with the most sacred solemnities of their worship. But in regard to the nonconformists, who might be supposed to be little in favour of sacred days and religious festivals, what shall we say of their silence on the subject? for their learning and ingenuity have been expended in explaining away the statements of the Bible when they appear to contradict the tradition, never in examining whether the tradition itself be true or not. They all, without exception, read the narratives in the Roman sense, without adverting to the fact that "when the even had come" another day had commenced. Even Westcott, who regards it as an open question whether our Lord was not crucified on Thursday in order to fulfil the prediction, and thinks the subject has still to be investigated, makes the same mistake.
The Lord's Last Passover
THERE is but one other topic that requires our attention in connection with this subject. Commentators are greatly perplexed by the question whether our Lord kept His last passover with His disciples on the same day as the rest of the nation, or whether He kept it the day before; and it is generally believed to be an insoluble difficulty.
There is at least the appearance of conflict between the testimony of John and that of the other evangelists upon this point, because they appear to say that the nation generally kept it on the same day with Christ and His disciples, whereas John appears to say that the Jews generally kept it on the day that followed. The passages are as follows:—
Matt. xxvi. 17: "Now the first day of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we prepare for Thee to eat the passover."
Mark xiv. 12: "And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, His disciples said unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we go and prepare that Thou mayest eat the passover?"
Luke xxii. 7, 8: "Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed: and He sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat."
These three passages certainly have the appearance of saying that our Lord kept the passover on the day on which the nation generally kept it. But the testimony of John appears to be equally, if not more decided, that the national observance of the passover took place a day later.
John xiii. 1, 2, 4: "Now before the feast of the passover, . . . the supper being ended, ... He riseth from supper," &c.
John xiii. 29: "For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast."
John xviii. 28: "Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.'
John xix. 14: "And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and He said unto the Jews, Behold your King."
There are other references not only in John's gospel, but in the others, tending in the same direction, but it is unnecessary to quote them, because this last passage is decisive, and would have been decisive were it not that the tradition of Good Friday made it ambiguous.
But the moment that we get quit of the tradition, we at the same time get quit of the ambiguity.
We have already referred to the two meanings which might be attached to the words, "the preparation of the passover " (chap. iii. p. 18). They might mean either "the day before the passover," or "the Friday of the passover week," both of these being possible interpretations, if our Lord was crucified on Friday. But if our Lord was crucified upon Thursday, as we have shown was the case, the only possible meaning must be "the day before the passover," because it could not be the Friday of the passover week.
Here, then, we have got firm footing, because we have the testimony of Divine revelation that our Lord was crucified on Thursday, the 14th day of Nisan, the 15th day of Nisan being Friday, the feast of the passover. Having thus both the day of the week and the day of the month, we have the means of calculating the year on which the Saviour died. The days of the week have come down to us without interruption from a period long before the Christian era, through both a Jewish and a Christian channel; and as the Jewish calendar could tell us on what years the 14th day of Nisan fell upon a Thursday, that would give us the exact year of the crucifixion. Any chronological calculation founded on the tradition that Friday was the day of crucifixion must be wrong; and it is not unlikely that some of the outstanding perplexities of chronology may now be solved by its rectification.
We have said that the synoptical gospels seem to say that our Lord kept the Passover on the same day on which it was kept by the nation generally, whereas in reality He kept it on the day before. The question arises, How can the statements of the synoptical gospels be made to harmonise with the fact?
Now that we know and are sure on which side to look for the explanation, there is only one way in which the difficulty can be solved, consistently with the literal truth of all that is stated by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and that is by supposing that our Lord had previously intimated to His disciples that He was to keep the feast of unleavened bread a day earlier than the appointed time. Matthew informs us that on Tuesday our Lord said to His disciples, "Ye know that after two days is the feast of unleavened bread." That obviously implies that Thursday evening was the 15th of Nisan, on which the passover was eaten, and Thursday morning was "the preparation of the passover." In this, then, the testimony of Matthew and John coincide, and all that is necessary to complete the harmony is to suppose that either then, or shortly after, He explained to them that as He was most desirous to eat that passover before He suffered, He would keep it a day earlier: that is, on the following day, Wednesday. [Alford suggests that we may observe in the message to the owner of the upper room an indication that time was pressing. Had He required it for the usual day, there would have been no need of the explanation, "My time is at hand."]
We readily admit that these three verses which we have quoted from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, if not qualified by other passages of Scripture, would naturally imply, that "the first day of unleavened bread" spoken of was that which was observed as such by the nation generally, and not its exceptional observance by our Lord and His disciples. But we do not admit that that is the only possible meaning; on the contrary, knowing as we do that it was not the day observed by the nation generally, we hold that the only possible meaning that it can have is, that it was their first day of unleavened bread upon which it was necessary to kill the passover. If we had found in any of the gospels a statement to the effect that they were to keep the feast of unleavened bread one day earlier than the usual time, there would be no contradiction in anything that followed. The circumstance that the fact is not recorded is no proof that it did not take place, because many things were said and done that are not recorded. We may know a fact by inference as well as by direct statement, and it is so in this instance. Appearances are important only when the facts are uncertain; in this case they are certain, and therefore mere appearances are of no importance.
It is quite a mistake to suppose that our Lord had no power to change the day for the keeping of the passover either for Himself or for the nation generally, if He had so willed it. It was He that originally appointed the 14th day of Nisan as the first day of unleavened bread, and if He also ordained the 14th day of the month following for those who could not keep it at the regular time, it was competent for Him, as King of the Jews and Lord of the Passover, to change the arrangements for Himself and His disciples when circumstances rendered it necessary. Had He not done so at this time, He could not have eaten that passover with His disciples before He suffered.
It is well that this question of the day of our Lord's keeping of the passover has been settled as it is because the paschal character of our Lord's death depended on the fact that He was slain on the day of the Passover, and died at the very hour when the paschal lamb was commanded to be killed. It was not every lamb that was offered in sacrifice that was a paschal lamb, it was only the lamb that was slain on that day, and at that hour, that was a paschal lamb, and, therefore, if our Lord had instituted His Supper on the evening of the Passover, and if His death took place on a day that was subsequent, it could not have been said, as was said by Paul, that (1 Cor. v. 7) "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us."
It must be kept in mind, however, that this question regarding the day on which our Lord kept the Passover, has nothing to do with the question of Good Friday, although the question of Good Friday has something to do with it. And we cannot help contrasting the two in respect to the difficulties involved in each. In the question of the Passover, there is some degree of difficulty in whichever way we answer it, and we are obliged to adopt an explanation of no less than three verses of Scripture which, although it is perfectly legitimate, is confessedly not the most natural or the most obvious. But in respect to the other question of the day of our Lord's death, which is by far the more important of the two, the remarkable thing is that we have not come upon a single verse of Scripture which it has been necessary to interpret in any other sense than that which is most natural and obvious.
The Lost Day
IF the tradition of Good Friday erred in compressing two days into one,—-that is to say, making Thursday and Friday one day, a necessary consequence must be to create a vacuum of one day as a compensation, because, instead of seven days in that week, we should not be able to find more than six.
Now, this is exactly what has taken place. Commentators in making up a harmony of the Passion week are surprised to find that one of the days has mysteriously disappeared, and they do not know what has become of it. ["How the day was passed by Him we do not know. A veil of holy silence falls over it."—Farrer's Life of Christ.] Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday are all right. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday also they can give account of, but as for the intermediate day, Wednesday, it is a blank, a day of mystery, in regard to which not one of the evangelists makes any allusion.
Commentators and harmonists generally say in regard to this part of the history, that Wednesday was spent by our Lord and His disciples in retirement. But this is pure conjecture on their part, there being nothing whatever in Scripture to warrant such a statement. Nowhere in the gospels is it said that our Lord spent this day in retirement, nor is there the slightest reference to the day at all. The narrative of what they think took place on Thursday follows without any break or interruption the proceedings of Tuesday, and it is only because they have to thrust Wednesday forward into Thursday to enable them to thrust Thursday into Friday that a vacuum occurs between Tuesday and Thursday, as if a piece had been cut out from the page. This vacuum they feel it necessary to fill up in the best way they can. But the vacuum exists only in their own imaginations; there is no vacuum, and there is no necessity for inventing a day of retirement for our Lord and His disciples, however necessary and appropriate to the circumstances such a day of retirement may appear to them.
The explanation is simplicity itself. Thursday was the day of the crucifixion, and the institution of the Lord's Supper took place on the evening before, that is, on Wednesday. If commentators, therefore, make Thursday the day of the institution of the Lord's Supper in order to make Friday the day of the crucifixion, what could be expected but that Wednesday should become a mysterious blank? Let us examine the sequence of the days.
First day (Sunday).
Our Lord enters Jerusalem in triumph, sitting on an ass's colt. He enters the temple, looks around, and then returns to Bethany.
Second day (Monday).
Jesus returning from Bethany to Jerusalem curses the barren fig-tree. He enters the temple and purges it a second time.
Third day (Tuesday).
Returning to Jerusalem, our Lord again enters the temple. He is challenged by the chief priests as to His authority. He then delivers the parables of the two sons, the wicked husbandmen, the marriage of the king's son, the ten virgins, and the talents. He gives answer regarding tribute money, the resurrection, and the law. He pronounces woes upon the Pharisees, praises the poor widow, foretells his own death, and the coming judgment.
Fourth day (Wednesday).
He sends two of His disciples to prepare the passover, and in the evening sits down with His disciples. He washes the disciples' feet, institutes the Lord's Supper, dismisses Judas, and comforts his disciples; prays for them, and retires to Gethsemane. Judas betrays Him, and He is arrested.
Fifth day (Thursday).
He is tried before the high priest, accused before Pilate, sent to Herod, and sent back to Pilate. He is condemned, scourged, and crucified. He dies, and his side is pierced by a soldier. Joseph begs the body, wraps it in linen and lays it in his sepulchre, unanointed and without spices.
Sixth day (Friday).
The women purchase and prepare ointments and spices, but not in sufficient time to enable them to complete the burial before sunset. Joseph and Nicodemus bring ointment and spices, and complete the burial. After sunset, the chief priests and Pharisees have a conference with Pilate, and obtain a guard to watch the sepulchre.
Seventh day (Saturday).
The women rest from their labours till sunset, when, the Sabbath being past, they purchase more spices for the morrow (Mark xvi. 1).
Eighth day (Sunday).
Very early in the morning our Lord rose from the dead, and appeared to Mary Magdalene. In the afternoon He makes himself known to two disciples at Emmaus, and in the evening appears to the eleven and gives them the commission to preach the Gospel to every creature.
Such is a simple statement of the events of that momentous week, as presented to us in the Gospel, and had it not been for the interjected tradition that our Lord was crucified on Friday there would not, and could not, have been any doubt or difficulty in regard to their sequence. But with the two fixed points, the triumphal entry on Sunday, and the crucifixion on Friday, it was impossible for the two lines to meet. The one was able to reach forward to Tuesday, but no further, and the other was able to reach backwards to Thursday, but no further; leaving Wednesday uncovered. Wednesday, therefore, is the mysterious dies non.
IT is a remarkable circumstance, and well worthy of our solemn regard, that in the New Testament Scriptures we find no trace of Christian anniversaries. With the exception of the first day of the week, called the Lord's Day, the Apostolic Churches regarded every day alike.
In this respect, the New Testament dispensation formed a contrast with the Old, because the Jewish calendar formed the very backbone of the Levitical system. Commencing with the Feast of the Passover on the first month, there was a complete round of periodical festivals and feasts, on to the Feast of Purim on the twelfth month.
The Levitical system was purely an educational and temporary dispensation, and material and external rather than spiritual and personal in its sanctities. It had its holy places and holy times, holy men and holy furniture, holy ceremonies and holy things, with which the Jew was able to give holy service, because of its carnal and material holiness, independent of any holiness of his own. They were, as it were, the ritualistic gamut, upon which it was possible for him to perform his religion to the admiration of all around him, while he himself was anything but holy. Whatever there was of spirituality in the Levitical system, belonged not to itself, but to the Abrahamic covenant, to which it was added because of transgression, but which was not disannulled. It consisted entirely of external ritualistic worship, which, without any loss, might at any time be swept away.
In the New Testament dispensation, by which it was superseded, there was nothing of the kind. There was no external ritual, no bodily service, and no material holiness as in Judaism; and therefore Christianity could not be "performed." Its service was the worship of the heart, and its only external accompaniment was the charities and sympathies of love. The hour had come when neither in Gerizim nor in Jerusalem, and neither at the Passover nor on the Day of Atonement, would men worship the Father. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. The artificial sanctities of the old dispensation were all done away, and nothing of the same kind was put in their place.
Of course, such a religion as that was most distasteful to the carnal mind; and when Christianity came to be the religion of the world, this was the point upon which it required to be modified. To an unconverted man, a religion without a ritual was no religion at all. Take away the outside from that which has no inside, and behold—nothing. Christianity, therefore, must be materialised and ritualised, so as to become tangible and visible, and capable of being "performed" as an outward bodily service. It must have holy days and holy places, holy men and holy ceremonies, so that a religious reprobate may perform a holy worship without a holy heart or a holy desire, and get credit for it, as he expects, in the sight of both God and man.
For that reason a Christian calendar was a first necessity if Christianity was to be reconstructed on the lines of Judaism. Instead of a high priest they had got a pope, instead of a temple they had got gorgeous cathedrals and consecrated churches; but what did all all this avail unless they had also fasts, and festivals, and holy days, in imitation of the Jews?
The birth, the death, and the resurrection of our Lord, were at once laid hold of to form the natural foundation and commencement of the Christian calendar. But here a difficulty arose. They knew the day on which our Lord rose from the dead, because that was preserved to them by the time of the Jewish Passover; and they thought they knew the day on which He was crucified, because universal tradition told them that it took place on the Friday; but in regard to the year, or the day of the year, on which He was born, tradition was altogether silent, and therefore they had no choice, but to calculate as nearly as they could the one, and to make as shrewd a guess as possible at the other.
In regard to the year in which our Lord was born, we do not know what materials were available in making their calculations; but this we know, that it was wrong to the extent of four years, proving that no record had been kept in the Church, and that it must have been a long time after the event before the calculation was made. The year on which He was born had been allowed to pass from human remembrance without any means being adopted to canonise it; and the day of His birth, although to His disciples He was the chiefest among ten thousand, was forgotten as a matter of no importance. His mother, Mary, could no doubt have given John the information if he had desired it, and John could have communicated it to the Church in all ages, if the celebration of it had been any part of the Christian religion. But neither he nor any other New Testament writer thought it necessary to transmit the information, and therefore they had to invent a day for the Nativity.
As for the day selected to represent our Lord's birthday, the guess was about as unfortunate as it was possible to be, being chosen, not on chronological or documentary, but upon political grounds. The 25th of December was called Yule, one of the most popular of the heathen festivals, and as it was a day of feasting and merriment, and not likely to be soon abandoned, it was considered politic to continue the feast, but to change its patron and call it after Christ; and so Yule was turned into Christmas.
But there were two circumstances which ought to have prevented them from planting the Nativity in the very heart of winter. The one was the fact that there were shepherds abiding in the field all night, watching their flocks, and the other was that a census had been ordered which was to extend over the whole Roman Empire. In regard to the former, it is well known that even in Palestine the shepherds could not and never do remain in the fields all night in the depth of winter; and, moreover, the 25th of December is in the midst of the rainy season; while in regard to the second, no government would choose such a time for taking a census, which was to cover such a great variety of climates and countries, many parts of which would be snowed up in winter, so as to render travelling not only difficult, but, in many places, impossible.
But even this mistake in regard to Christmas was not so gross as the blunder of Good Friday. In the good providence of God, the day of our Lord's birth had been obliterated from the memory of the Church, if it was ever generally known. But it was not so with His crucifixion. In every one of the gospels it was recorded, although in the Jewish cypher, which the Romanist was unable to understand.
These sacred anniversaries undoubtedly belong to the same category as the material relics that are venerated in the church of Borne, because the principle in each is the same. The person of Christ is supposed to communicate a sacredness to other things that are thereafter to be venerated for His sake. Whether it be a material object, or a place, or a time-—the object becomes sacred, the place becomes sacred, or the time becomes sacred. It is the same principle that runs through all the three.
Christmas and Good Friday therefore belong to the Roman reliquary quite as much as the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem, or the holy coat at Treves. Those who venerate Christmas because it was the day on which our Lord was born, ought also to venerate the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, because it is the place where He was born. And those who venerate Good Friday, because it was the day on which our Lord was supposed to be crucified, ought also to venerate the seamless coat, because it was the dress which He is supposed to have worn on that eventful day.
If the spirit of Romanism had animated the Apostolic Church, the birthday of our Saviour would never have been allowed to be forgotten, but would have been celebrated with rejoicings wherever there was a gathering of the saints; and the day of His death would have been solemnised in all their places of worship, as a day of fasting and humiliation. The winding sheet that was left in the empty sepulchre, and which had been wrapped around His sacred body, would have been most carefully preserved, and the articles of His dress would have been bought up at any price from the Roman soldiers. That would have been consistent Romanism, but it would not have been Christianity.
Had it been our Lord's intention that the loyalty of His Church should be cultivated and displayed in the veneration of times, and places, and objects, rendered sacred by their contact with His person or His history, the providence of God would have been displayed in its watchful care over them, so that there should be no difficulty, far less mistake, in regard to their genuineness and identity. And if it should afterwards be discovered that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre had been built by mistake over the tomb of Ananias and Sapphira, or worse still, that the veneration intended for the seamless garment of the Saviour, had all along been paid to the coat of the impenitent thief, stolen from some rich Pharisee on the day before his apprehension, should we not say that a special providence had permitted it, in order to prove that such veneration was no part of the Christian religion.
Whether it was so or not, in regard to the coat and the holy sepulchre, we cannot tell, but surely it is a significant fact that, of the three great anniversaries, Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter, two of them were chronological blunders; while, in regard to the third, it was correct only, because, depending on Jewish and not on Roman reckoning, it was impossible for them to go wrong.
Still more significant is the fact, that while the two that were wrong were never called in question, the only one that was right was the subject of unending controversy, leading to the first great disruption of the Church, and rending it into the Eastern and Western sections.