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CONTENTS OF THE PROPHETIC VOLUME, AS DISTINGUISHED FROM ITS PREDICTIONS.
JEREMIAH XXV. 4.
And the Lord hath sent unto you all his servants the Prophets, rising early, and sending them; but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear.
IN In my former Discourse I spoke of the connexion in which Prophecy stands with the other evidences of Revealed Religion. Let me recapitulate briefly what was there said.
It was pressed upon your reflexion, that Prophecy makes only one component part of the various and extensive proof by which it has pleased God to ascertain his last Revelation to us; and consequently, whatever force and weight we may choose to assign to it, it ought never to be taken alone, when the inquiry is, what are the grounds of our belief in that Revelation? Admitting that Prophecy may contain enough to satisfy the question, which I apprehend to be the fact, and shall endeavour to establish, still the case does not stand so, that we are left to any single medium of Evi
dence. We have a system of proof; an evidence drawn from testimonies differing in kind, but conspiring in effect, and combining together to an accumulated demonstration; in which neither the conclusiveness of any of the branches of the argument, taken alone, is charged with the whole weight of the question; nor the imputed insufficiency of any of them, when so taken, can touch the validity of the collective inference.
This limitation I premise, not of course to disparage the argument from Prophecy, which I am to state and apply, but to obviate the erroneous use which might be made of it; by pointing out to the Unbeliever, that there can be no safety for him, as assuredly there is none, till he has satisfied his mind that the supposed failure of cogent proof under any one head of the Christian Evidences is not compensated by the positive force of the rest ; or that a chain of attestations and inferences, deduced from distinct and independent reasons, ought to bring us to a disbelief of the common subject in which they all concur.
Would he put the case that the Miracles of the New Testament are not completely authenticated; that Prophecy is not luminous enough; the morality of the Gospel not so extraordinary as to be clearly beyond the wisdom of man; and the personal character of its Founder not so much above all example; the propagation of the Gospel, by such instruments, not incapable of being ex
plained on human principles; its profound adaptation to the nature of man not unlike an accident; the sincerity and martyrdom of its first teachers, who attested the facts of it, possibly a delusion?
Still he is only at the beginning of his difficulties, and must for ever remain there, till he is prepared to resist and reply to the reason which arises from these considerations put together, and repel the claims of a religion which they so strangely conspire, each in some degree, and all with a more pregnant evidence, to corroborate and establish.
The dispassionate inquirer will read these evidences in another sense. In each of them he will trace some real and substantial testimony; something not to be invalidated. Finding here, on the whole, so much, and in all the rest of the world so little, to create or fortify a rational faith, he will recognise in them the discriminating proofs, which designate the truth and certainty of the Revelation to which they adhere, and thereby command his assent to "the record which God hath thus given of His Son."
As to the believer in Revelation, he, with respect to this variety of evidence, may observe upon it, not without some confirmation of his faith, how many of the divine attributes are pledged and engaged to him, for the truth of the Gospel. For the evidence of it embodies to his view the very fulness of those attributes; there being no one just idea we can frame of the Supreme Being, which
does not find a place in some point of that attestation. The Sovereign Power of God, over-ruling nature as his creature, is seen in the miraclesHis Omniscience in the Prophecies-his Holiness in the laws of the Gospel-his Wisdom in the adaptation of it-his Providence in its propagation --and not one, but many of the divine perfections, illustrated in the life of his Incarnate Son; Benevolence, Long-suffering, Wisdom, Holiness. The very evidences, therefore, of the Christian Religion have impressions of the divine nature irradiating them; and thus they coincide with the system of that religion itself, wherein the Divine Being, in the exercise of these his perfections, is proposed to us as the object of faith, with its consequent affections and duties.
From this introductory survey of the general Evidences of Christianity, I pass to Prophecy, the proper subject of my inquiry. In opening which subject, so as to discourse upon it, I take for the present the prophetic writings of the Old Testament only; and keeping in view the Use of Prophecy, and its Inspiration, as the two chief points to which I direct myself, I shall begin with some consideration of the Prophetic Volume, as to its general nature and contents.
By examining the actual contents of Prophecy, we shall take the only legitimate method of investigating its Use. For our duty is not to assign to it
such a character as we might think it ought to have, and to read it to find that character; but to follow its course and reason, and thereby inform ourselves what was the mission of the Prophet, and what the purport and end of his prophecy. A restriction this, to which we must submit, whatever be our doubts or our belief. To the believer the ways and word of God will best explain and justify themselves. And with regard to the other inquirer, his business cannot be to say, à priori, what it is that revelation, or any part of it, ought to contain, but seeing it to be such as it is, whether it be not worthy of his acceptance.
If we take up the Prophetic Volume, we find it readily distinguishes itself into two parts, which may be called the Moral or Doctrinal, and the Predictive and although these parts were not disjoined in the first communication of Prophecy, or in the design of it, it will conduce to our purpose to take a view of them separately. I begin with the first, the Moral or Doctrinal, which I shall go through, with as much conciseness as I can, in the present discourse, that, this done, we may give an undivided attention to the Predictive, the more eminent branch of the same Revelation.
I. Prophecy, then, is not a series of mere predictions. Far from it. It abounds in matter of another kind: I mean the continued strain of moral