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describes, with characters strongly marked, the divine dispensations of judgment and mercy.
Prophecy, in this view, acquires a wonderful accession of evidence. If men may conjecture some near and insulated events, depending on causes which already exist, it is utterly impossible for any but those who are taught of God, to foretel so extensive and complicated a plan, where many of the causes were not, at the time of the prediction, brought into existence; nor could human or even angelic sagacity foresee that they ever would exist.
The Design of Prophecy.
To be able to gratify curiosity, feeds the pride of the human heart. To display qualities which others do not possess, in order to acquire superiority, and to be admired, is exceedingly natural to man. But how remote are these things from the spirit and design of the holy prophets! In pretences to prophecy among the heathens, all the object of the inquirer was to have curiosity gratified, or to render the answer subservient to the pursuits of ambition, avarice, or pleasure; and if the person pretending to divination or oracular responses had any object beyond the reward presented by the inquirer, it was merely to produce admiration, and give credit to a gainful imposture. But the prophets of the Scriptures have infinitely higher ends in view. To confirm the truth and authority of a revelation, to give more exalted views of God, to produce faith in the Saviour, to create submission to the divine will, to excite to perseverance in the service of God, to communicate support under sufferings for religion, to console Christians amidst the rage and enmity of the world, and to justify the ways of God to man, is the design of their predictions; and who can say but that it is a design worthy of men who came with a commission from God?
That unity of design in the doctrines and scope of the gospel, which appears in the writers of the New Testament, might well be urged as a forcible argument in support of the general question. It is here adduced only in confirmation of the prophecies of Scripture. This connected chain of events, this previous history of future times, is the more remarkable, as the prophets lived in different countries and in different ages.
When men live all in one place, it may be said they have conspired to impose on the world, by inventing a tale in which they all may agree. But as to the prophets who preceded Christ's coming, many could have no connexion with the others. Each, however, performs the part assigned him by God; and we see the stone which he has polished, exactly fit the place it was designed for in the building, and give enlargement, strength, and beauty to the whole. None of them are copyists. While they speak (as is often the case) of the same thing, it is with some additional circumstances; and each has something new to predict, which was made known to him alone.
The Degree of Clearness in Prophecy.
COMPLAINTS have been made of the darkness and uncertainty of prophecy; but do they not arise from not duly considering its manner and design? The language is assigned as one cause of its obscurity; the indistinctness of its representation as another. With what reason shall be seen.
As prophecy is a peculiar species of writing, it is natural to expect a peculiarity in the language it makes use of. Sometimes it employs plain terms, but most commonly figurative signs. It has symbols of its own, which are common to all the prophets; but it is not to be considered on this account as a riddle. The symbols are derived from the works of creation and providence, from the history of the Jews, and of the nations with which they were most closely connected, or by which they were most violently opposed. These symbols have their rules of interpretation as uniform and as certain as any other kind of language; and whoever applies his mind with patience and attention to the subject, will be able to understand the general scheme of prophecy, and the colour of events foretold, whether prosperous or calamitous; though he may be utterly unable to discover to what person, or precise time and place, they are to be applied.
Complaint has likewise been made of want of clearness in prophecy, from an indistinct representation of the event. But yet let it be remembered, that if some prophecies be obscure, others are clear. The latter furnish a proof of the inspiration of the Scriptures; the former contain nothing against it. The obscurity is in many instances accounted for from the extensive grasp of prophecy. Some predictions were to have their accomplishment in the early ages of the church, and were peculiarly designed for the benefit of the first Christians. These were on that account more plain. There are other predictions designed for the benefit of those who lived in the middle ages. To the first Christians these were obscure; but when the time advanced toward their accomplishment, the veil was gradually drawn aside, and they were more clearly seen, and better understood. Another class of predictions looked forward to the latter ages of the church. These appeared obscure both to the first Christians, and to those who lived in the middle ages; but when that generation appeared, for whose use it was the will of Heaven they should be left on record, light began to shine upon them; and the minds of men were awakened to look out for the accomplishment, in some great events, which would display the glory of God, and advance the happiness of his servants. The obscurities of many prophecies will be accounted for in this way.
Another reason for throwing a veil over the face of prophecy, whether by its peculiar symbols, or a dark representation, will appear by considering the nature of the subject. Some of the events foretold are of such a nature, that the fate of nations depends upon them; and they are to be brought into existence by the instrumentality of men. Had plain language or clear description been employed, the friends of Christianity would have endeavoured to accomplish them, by means used with this express design. On the other hand, its enemies would have exerted every nerve in order to prevent the accomplishment. In the present form of prophecy, men are left in these matters entirely to themselves; and fulfil the prophecies without intending, or thinking, or knowing that they do so. The accomplishment strips off the veil; and the evidence of prophecy appears in all its splendour. How much wiser God's methods are than man's would be!
The Prophecies concerning Christ.
Let those who assert predictions to be fortunate conjectures, stop for a moment and seriously consider the prophecies of the Old Testament (the first volume of this book, and of equal authority, as will be afterwards shown) concerning the Messiah. Perhaps there may be a hundred passages or more, each containing somewhat distinct and peculiar in the description of his character; a character in which are many things very remarkable, and some apparently contradictory; see particularly Isaiah lüi. They were recorded by different men, in different countries, and in different ages; and the last, some centuries before his appearance. Christians say, that all these predictions relate to Jesus Christ. The matter is capable of accurate examination. History, sacred and profane, furnishes us with a number of heroes, warriors, statesmen, kings, sages, and philosophers. Apply the prophecies to any one of them you please. Take Judas, or Peter, or John, or Herod; or go to profane history; take Alexander or Cæsar; or, if you think it will answer better, take Confucius, Socrates, or Marcus Antoninus. Apply to any of them the prophecies of the Old Testament. If one particular suits, a second does not; a third renders it evident, that not one of them is the man designed. Apply them to Christ; apply all the hundred or more; an astonishing correspondence appears; every one fits him; there is not a single prediction which is discordant. He that will call this chance, and ascribe the agreement merely to fortuitous circumstances, is not fit to be argued with; and must not say that Christians alone are credulous.
There is a circumstance peculiarly striking, which we should not pass over, namely, that the predictions concerning Christ are all in the keeping of his enemies. Had the disciples of Jesus been the sole guardians of the sacred books, it might be said that they altered them to make the prophecy accord with the event. But the Jews are the keepers, the jealous keepers of the ancient prophets; and their hatred to Christ and his cause is at least as strong as their veneration for the prophets of their nation. Ask them for the book; they will give it you, and curse Jesus of Nazareth. But read it, and you
will find a perfect agreement between the prediction and the event, in the character of Christ; and that it is not without sufficient reason we believe that Jesus is the true Messiah promised of old.
The Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
There are three examples peculiarly striking, which I shall present to view from the New Testament; one is near the time of the prediction—the second remote by many centuries, the third holding forth the light of its evidence from the age of the prophecy to the present hour, with this difference only, that the light grows clearer and stronger as we advance in the journey; the star is become a sun. Thus, men in every age have a prophecy in actual fulfilment to support their faith. Let us begin with the first, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Ro
A mere general declaration that an event will take place, deserves not much attention, nor furnishes much evidence. It may come to pass, although the prediction has no higher origin than human sagacity, or even bold conjecture. But the case is widely different, when time, place, circumstances, persons engaged, causes and effects, are particularly delineated : all these enter into the prophecy before us.
The event itself was improbable, for Jerusalem was already in the hands of the Romans; and there was no likelihood that the Jews would drive them away. Though they felt sore under the Roman yoke, their state presented nothing like the power of shaking it off. Few instances are on record of cities in that age so totally destroyed. The slaughter of the inhabitants far exceeded what ordinarily took place. The particular circumstances of the siege, the causes which protracted it, the reasons of the fearful loss of lives which ensued, the miseries which spread over the land, the depopulation of the country in general, the degradation of the survivors to personal slavery, and the scattering of them over the face of the earth _these no human wisdom could foresee; and all was to take place before that generation should pass away,
As the prediction was remarkable, so was the accomplishment. Were I to send you to a Christian writer for information on the point, you might say, “ Zeal for his religion has filled his book with pious frauds, to make the event accord with the prediction.” I rejoice that I can send you to a Jew; an enemy of the gospel shall be your oracle. Josephus's history of the wars of his countrymen with the Romans contains a full account of the fate of his nation; and he was well qualified for writing it, for he was deeply concerned in the work, and bore a public office at the time. Do not take a Christian's word for the fulfilment; but read the Jewish record, and compare it with the prediction of Christ, in the gospel by Matthew, xxü. 38, xxiv; and Luke xxi. If you be earnest in wishing to know the true religion, that you may attain eternal happiness, you will not think the labour too great.