« PreviousContinue »
geous splendour, and memorials of ancient times, and divine presence, could not boast. Micah mentions even the place of his birth Bethlehem of Judah. In Isaiah, the most inconsistent particulars, to appearance, are foretold concerning his person and office, his life and death; and, in the Psalms, of his resurrection and assumption of supreme power--of his abolishing the temporary system of Judaism, and bringing all nations under his power. The astonishing circumstance connected with the whole of this scene of prophecy is, that in the long course of these thousands of years there is not one misgiving or faltering of the mysterious voice—not one despairing anticipation of the long-delayed fulfilment; in every succeeding age it becomes fuller, and wider, and based upon a greater number of circumstances. To suppose, for one moment, that all this is nothing more than the expression of a nation's hopes, that had their unauthorized origin in some ancient prejudice and superstitious belief of times of barbarous ignorance, indicates an extent of credulity, or rather an impassible callousness of belief, or pitiful perversion of intellect, that will not be convinced, whatever be the nature or power of the evidence. If we could conceive all that overwhelming system of divine evidence, given by Moses and the Prophets, connected with the counter-part of the fulfilment of all prophecy, as given in the Evangelists, viewed impartially by an inquirer after truth, and his mind still remain unconvinced that all was the work of God, and conveyed the truth of God, remain unconvinced that these men spoke as they were moved by the eternal Spirit of Truth, we could form no other conclusion, than that such an unfortunate individual would not be persuaded, though one arose from the dead to declare expressly to him that all was true which the Bible discloses. For it is very obvious, that to predict the birth and character, and doings, and sufferings, and fate of such a person as Christ, requires a knowledge that is infinite-requires, in fact, the omniscience of that supreme ruler of the universe, who has foreordained all from the beginning, who has ever before his all-seeing eye all the individuals, and all the events of eternity. But such a series of prophecy pervades the whole of the Old Testament: this one object is the burden of all its multiplied predictions; and, therefore, stamps upon all the sanction of infinite wisdom-the dictate of eternal truth.
In this bare sketch of an argument, we cannot follow out the illustration of prophetic evidence, by adducing the many predictions regarding the fate of the nations that surrounded the chosen people, whose history, at various times, was implicated with theirs—whom the universal Lord of all used as instruments to carry on his plan of moral rule, to warn, to chastise, to humble his own selected nation. Neither can we do any thing more than merely allude to the many predictions in regard to the Israelites themselves, which, with wonderful particularity, have been fulfilling since the time of their deliverance. The contemplation of this immense field fills the mind with wonder, and expands the imagination with a picture of awful sublimity. Stationed on this towering hill of ancient prophetic vision, the whole panorama of the world's great monarchies is unfolded to the eye;-we see their history written in the annals of heaven's record, and their agency and destiny unfolded, many a century before some of them came into political existence in the history of time. From that lofty watch-tower of heaven, we see them wax and flourish in palmy pride, or tyrannic oppression, then wane into feeble decay, and swept from the guilty scene of their triumph; remaining, however, imperishable witnesses to the justice and truth of him who rules among the kingdoms of men. Above all, we thence see that nation over whom God ruled in present and visible majesty for nearly two thousand years, standing forth through all time, and all change of circumstances, as they were from the first, a marked and separate people, spread over the whole earth, mixed with all, but distinct in character and habits from all, without a national home or resting-place on the earth, as it was predictedthe despised, the hated, the persecuted of all the world. All this we see in inseparable connexion with the grand theme of all prophecy, the coming and kingdom of the Messiah. When he did come, he answered not their carnal expectations of temporal power, and worldly pomp; they therefore rejected him, as was foretold—were driven from the home of their fathers, and scattered over the earth, witnesses against themselves, but striking evidence, to the whole world, of the awful truth of the religion, whose temporary forms they still adhere to, after it had served its temporary purpose, and, in the fulness of time, was superseded by that perfect and universal system, for which, from the first, it was destined to prepare.
Upon the whole, when we consider the argument from prophecy and miracles as pervading, and introducing, and supporting the whole of the religion of the Old Testament, we cannot but think it impossible that any rightly-constituted mind, which reflects upon its nature, should not see the footsteps of God throughout all, and hear his voice in all, as the present teacher, as the guide, and guardian, as the ruler and judge of men. That evidence, indeed, cannot be of the same nature as that of mathematical demonstration, nor is it the same as that of our senses. But there are other kinds of evidence than these, that the elementary and indestructible principles of our mental constitution compel us to receive as equally conclusive, and, when well substantiated, as equally certain. In a matter of such paramount and eternal interest as religion, it is right that the convictions of man should not be gained over, upon slight or insufficient grounds. But this principle is far from justifying in any the sceptical withholding of the assent of the mind, and consent of the heart, to doctrines that come recommended on every page with the sanction of the authority of God, and the certainty of eternal truth. Such a principle, on the contrary, is placed within man for the very purpose of stimulating his mind to anxious inquiry, and patient and profound examination. We cannot presume to assert that some minds may not be so unfortunately constituted, as not to be capable of conviction, by all this awful and imposing array of external evidence; but certainly it is altogether unworthy of sound philosophy to reject, without examination, the whole system, because it is recommended to the mind by proofs which are no longer observed among the visible phenomena of the world. This has happened, because the system is fully established, and no longer requires such evidence.
While we assert that the evidence ought to be satisfactory and convincing to every understanding, we say in addition, that this thorough persuasion of the intellect is only the initiatory process of the mind, the introduction of it to the study of those doctrines that lie in richest store within these mere outworks of the citadel of truth, which have been thrown around it, as an impregnable bulwark against all its enemies. It is in the body of the system that the celestial food of the mind is contained. After the thorough conviction of the understanding, then, these truths ought not to be laid aside like a set of historical facts, or metaphysical propositions, as if they were nothing more than an interesting or healthful exercise of the imagination and the intellect. They ought to be imbibed into the depth of the thoughtful and immortal spirit, as the very essence of its loftiest existence, and treasured up in the heart as objects of its holiest affection and firmest trust, the only effectual means of elevating and purifying all its feelings. It is thus alone that these dictates of heavenly truth can become to us the power of God, and the wisdom of God unto
salvation. If we hold the truth otherwise, we might as well regale the fancy with the classic fables of heathen mythology, or the sensual dreams of the Arabian impostor. To promote this purpose, we intend, in several of the following sections of this Essay, to enter into the interior of the preparatory dispensation of religion, and see what proofs are there afforded of its divine origin and authority, from the wisdom and goodness exhibited in it, as a system of moral government under the immediate superintendence and administration of its divine author.
THE SUCCESSIVE DEVELOPMENT OF REVELATION IN DIRECT AXALOGY
WITH THE PROGRESS OF MAN IN KNOWLEDGE.
The Scriptures of the Old Testament bear upon their face that God's constant superintendence of the affairs of the world, and his successive interference, by miracle, and prophecy, and revelation, of his will, were intended not only to keep alive among men a knowledge of the principles of truth, but also to carry them onwards, as their opening minds were gradually prepared, for higher degrees and more extended applications of those principles. With all his boundless capacities of mind
- with unlimited scope in the inexhaustible riches of nature's materials, in liberal profusion thrown around him, and in the loftier and more ethereal region of mental science, man has advanced with wonderful slowness in the conquest of that kingdom of knowledge and power, which he is clearly destined by his nature to possess. Even in our own day, when art and science co-operate with the combined power of the intellect and genius of the ardent spirit of man over the extent of the round earth, and when the advances already made, and the conquest gained, enable him to move onward with steadier step and surer aim—the most gifted of the race are only beginning to see that they are just at the entrance of those immense regions of nature's profounder mysteries, which lie in glorious and inviting prospect before us. Newton himself, the most lofty minded of all the students and interpreters of the material splendours of the works of God—who carried science to regions which his successors have yet scarcely cultivated and improved—saw that he was only on the outer verge of the boundless region of knowledge, which these works displayed, to cheer onward the profound and eager investigator in his noble task; and he compared himself to the child which amused itself in picking up a few shells and pebbles on the shores of the boundless ocean of truth. We are far from be