described, is obvious from the text of the Prophecies themselves, without assuming either their inspiration, or their fulfilment. For from Abraham to Malachi, the language in which they are conceived is so far clear and explicit as that we perceive, and every hearer or reader of them, when first they were given, might perceive the same, that they foreshewed the fortunes and condition of the Hebrew people, their Church and country, whether of good or evil; or the condition of the states with which they were most connected by vicinage, league, or hostility: or that they foretold the establishment of a new dispensation of things, to be effected by the advent of an extraordinary Person, for ends of a religious nature, particularly of Mercy and Redemption; which is the complex account.of the Gospel Dispensation.

Keeping, therefore, this partition of the subjects of Prophecy in view, and reverting to it as a principle of their order and connexion, we may go on to examine Prophecy in its progress; taking with us the observation which has been made, that the rational exposition of it requires that we attend to the seasons and circumstances under which it was given, and endeavour to take some measure of it by its adaptation to them. For it was never given to be an insulated phenomenon, nor merely to demonstrate the prescience of its all-wise Author; but by Him it was ingrafted upon the exigency of times

and persons, and made to serve as a light of direction to the attentive observers of it, before the event had set the seal to its truth. Let this reflexion be borne in mind, if I seem to be intent on keeping the line of Prophecy and of History united together. I must add also, that a certain acquaintance with the contents of Scripture must be presumed on the part of my hearers in this branch of our inquiry: without which I could not expect the general view proposed to be given, to be admitted as a just and faithful one; nor is it possible, by quotation made on the moment, to supply the materials for an adequate judgment in this case, which materials can be derived only from the knowledge or examination of the chief document itself, the Scripture volume. Nor is this the only instance wherein our satisfaction, and even our means of judging of the Truth, or Use of Revelation, are made to depend upon some personal study of it. There is cause to think that scepticism itself is often no more than a form of very unreasonable enthusiasm, demanding conviction without the pains of inquiry. But I must proceed,

I. The descendants of Abraham, whilst as yet he had no offspring, were constituted into a distinct people by the word of the divine prediction. For He "who seeth the things that are not as though they were," by granting to the progeny of the childless Patriarch the possession of the land of

Canaan, a grant implying an exclusive dominion of occupation, thereby circumscribed his promise, and, as a consequence, separated the people, to whom it was conveyed, from the rest of the world. But this people, so constituted in the designs of God, was yet to be formed, and to be formed and reared to maturity in another country, in Egypt. When therefore the patriarch Jacob was driven thither by the casualty of a famine, combined with the seemingly fortuitous elevation of one of his sons to be lord of that country, he received by the way the interpretations of Prophecy upon the designs of providence. "God spake unto Israel in visions of the


night; and said, I am God, the God of thy father: "fear not to go down into Egypt. For I will "there make of thee a great nation. I will go down "with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring "thee up again."

This prophecy in part repeats, in part fills up, a former given to Abraham. To Abraham it had been foretold, "Thy seed shall be a stranger in a "land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

they shall afflict them four hundred years. ・ ・ ・ ・ "But in the fourth generation they shall come "hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is


not yet full." The addition made in the prophecy to Jacob, is to shew that Egypt was to be the land of the last intermediate abode, and increase, of

* Genesis xlvi. 2, 3.

† Genesis xv. 13.

his race: a particular which had not been specified before, but was now supplied at the crisis when Jacob was carried thither, under the uncertainties of a momentary occasion; "not knowing whither he went;" to what further ends, till they were so explained of God.

"Three score and ten persons," composing the family of Jacob, were the beginnings of this people. Famine and Exile the preparatives of its greatness. But the seed of a nation, thus sown in weakness, was raised in power. Consider by what steps it was so raised. The men were Shepherds; "they were all men of cattle ;" and "every shepherd was an abomination to the Egyptians." It is of moment to observe this historical fact; because the circumstance in it which looked to be most adverse to the fulfilment of the divine prediction, did eventually conduce to, and almost prepare the way for it. First of all, their occupation and habits of life, as Shepherds, were a reason for a separate place being given to them to inhabit, the land of Goshen, the best fitted to their use. Next, the prejudices and antipathy of the Egyptians to their pastoral character, acted as a constant principle of separation to preserve the selected race in union with itself, and unmingled with the mass of their indigenous, but to them alien, fellow-subjects. The land of Goshen, covered with its cattle, in a country principally devoted, as Egypt always has been, to the labours

of tillage, and the inhabitants of that pastoral Oasis, fenced in, like their own flocks, within a separate pale and fold, by the very hatred of the people who had given them a reception, wore a character of their own, and gave signs of the purposes which the almighty Shepherd was preparing to bring out of such beginnings, when He should "lead his people forth like sheep," as he afterwards did, "by the hand of Moses and Aaron ;" and bring them, according to his promise, to their land of rest. Prophecy, therefore, seems to have entered into a course of preparation to its accomplishment, though with adverse and contradictory appearances, from the instant of the settlement in Egypt, which began with clear and distinct predictions of its long period of continuance, of the bondage of the adopted race, of their increase, of their deliverance, and their restoration to Canaan in the power of a great people.

II. The death-bed of Jacob, the founder of this sacred colony, was visited with a further effusion of prophecy. He was enabled to predict to his sons distinctively some striking points in the future condition of the Twelve Tribes which were to spring from them; points exceedingly unlike in their kind, and comprising a variety of determinate particulars. The general scope of his prophecy, however, is this, that it is directed to the land of Canaan, and distributes the Tribes there with a peculiarity of lot, under a geographical restriction; which

« VorigeDoorgaan »