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this, "Repent, and live ye;" they would have been the messengers of a blessing, among the most needful and the greatest, that man can receive in the peace so offered to his wounded conscience, and the encouragement supplied to the recovery of his frail and faultering virtue.
It is argued, and, I think, justly, that the admission to the benefit of repentance is an act of pure favour, in the gratuitous goodness of God; on which account nothing less than His own word could be a warrant for the doctrine. The fact is, that the best philosophy of paganism was ignorant of it; and so far that philosophy was unfitted to the condition of man, in supplying the helps and motives to his duty, or a remedy to the defects of it. But Prophets taught what Sages did not. Which of the two were the best friends of man, let every one's own reflexion inform him.
Comparing the Law and the Prophets together in this article, we mark the difference between them. The Law includes a general promise of pardon to the people when in captivity, in case of their national repentance; the pardon to comprehend a restoration to their land. The Prophets address the individual, and guarantee the promise to every soul "turning from the error of his ways." The Law in this point regards the nation
Deut. xxx. 1-6. Compare Nehemiah, who appeals to this Mosaic promise of national pardon. Chap. i. 8, 9. ↑ See Ezek. xviii.; Isaiah lvii. 15, 16.
as the object of the grace. The Prophets do more; they descend to the interests of personal religion.
It is true, the grace of repentance is eminently a Gospel doctrine; its foundation lies in the Atonement of the Christian Scheme. But here, as in other instances, prophecy made anticipations of Gospel truth. The prophets were empowered to preach repentance and pardon, before that Altar was raised on which the Atonement was to be offered which gives to the doctrine its consistency in our knowledge of the divine Economy respecting it. And I would observe generally, that in proportion as the predictions concerning the Gospel itself are enlarged, its practical doctrines, at the same time, are more unfolded. The revelation spreads in each point; and Prophecy, as I have wished to make it appear, is throughout an advancement and approximation to the Gospel. Viewed in which light it serves to elucidate not more its own use, than the entire progressive consistency of Revelation.
I have now given a cursory statement of the contents of the prophetic volume, taken apart from its predictions. I have noticed the essential principles of Morals and Religion, which Prophecy, after the Law, inculcates afresh, in some points with an expansion and improvement of them: the personal duty attached to the Prophet's
mission has also been considered: and lastly, the doctrines of Providence and Repentance; consolatory, efficacious doctrines, which it needed, and may I not say, it deserved, a revelation to bring down from heaven.
Whether the moral and didactic truths, which we have reviewed, are exactly the kind of matter which some persons might expect to find filling so large a portion of the prophetic books, is not of moment. They are there; and it is manifest that the Prophet had the inculcating of these truths in his commission. Perhaps it will be granted on a rational estimate, that it is no small recommendation of the absolute authority of those books, to see that they are so full of essential piety and morals, and take so much care of the unchangeable duties of man to God, and that those duties are so powerfully inculcated in them, and so perspicuously expressed.
If we compare them in this character of their composition with other pretended prophetic records, they will rise by the comparison above the suspicion of having proceeded from any similar origin. Read the oracles of Paganism; consult the most revered of the ancient temples and shrines of divination. Where are the pure morals? where the theology? where the incessant and systematic reference in those oracles to the cause of positive virtue and practical religion? Where, indeed, any great and unequivocal concern in such matters? "What is the
chaff to the wheat," is the demand of one of the Prophets of Israel*. May the inquirer after truth take the fan in his hand, and make the separation, in giving the chaff to the winds, and gathering the wheat with these inspired men of God.
Upon the whole of this branch of Prophecy which we have hitherto considered, I subjoin some concluding observations.
First, It was wisely ordered that the gift of prediction, and the teaching of material truth, should go together as they did in the ancient Prophets. It took from them the suspicion of being mere instruments to gratify the passion of natural curiosity, in the discoveries of the future which they professed to make. At the same time, what they taught was enforced by the more cogent evidence of their mission. The teacher and the prophet were combined. His predictions, from time to time fulfilled, gave authority to his doctrine. They did as much so as if they had been designed to no further end.
Secondly, We observe that the Prophets of the Old Testament, lay the practice of religion and virtue, where the teachers of the New have laid it, upon faith in the revelation of the Divine Will. It is not a formal system, but a rule, of Ethics, which they propose and it is best for the purposes of life that it should be so; though men do not seem
* Jeremiah xxiii. 28.
to understand as they ought the advantage of a clear and authoritative rule of moral Truth provided for their direction. If speculatists are willing to grant its use for the imbecility and ignorance of the mass of mankind, for themselves however they would prefer to rely upon their own independent reason, or the deductions of a philosophic system.
But the Truth which is to govern life, though it lose not its essence in whatever way it be obtained, has not in every way the same efficacy and influence. An operose deduction may convince the understanding, without disposing to practice; nay, it often happens that the greater is the success of the intellect in eliciting a principle or rule of duty, the less is its impression upon the springs of conduct; the reason of which may be, that the mind is wearied before it is satisfied, and the spirit of action is gone before the theory of it is settled. Let the same truth be dictated by the word of God, it puts on a new meaning; and if the maxim be true, that "all knowledge is power," the knowledge which is to give the impulse to duty takes its greatest sway and momentum as derived immediately from his paramount wisdom and will; and so it will be found that "the obedience of faith" is better than the philosophic; and that for action, and an efficient principle of it, none are more capable of being benefitted by Revelation, than the theorists of moral sentiment, the discoursers upon virtue.