« VorigeDoorgaan »
But though these ideas be exceedingly reasonable, there is no material consequence depending upon them. For if Enoch was the example and the prophet of the old world, yet since his predictions have not been transmitted in a distinct form to a later it is clear that they were meant for the Faith of the times in which they were better known, not of ours to which they have not descended. His translation to reward has been a perpetual motive of hope, and will be so, to the end of the world; but how far it was interpreted and explained by collateral notices, we have the less occasion to inquire, since we want the means to decide.
Reverting then to the state of Gospel prophecy prior to the time of Abraham, I have no desire to make the written contents of it appear to be other than they are, or to suggest by implication any apology for them, as though they needed to be anxiously vindicated, because they are not more full and expressive. We have only a brief memorial of the state of Prophecy and of Religion at the first. But the fewness, as well as the indefiniteness, of the older discoveries of prophecy will soon be forgotten, in the copiousness and circumstantial delineations of those which follow in their proper age. For my own part, I think we ought rather to perceive and admire the perfect order of written Prophecy, as it now stands, taken in conjunction with the known order of the Divine Economy. For when God
began, by the Call of Abraham, to make the first visible disposition and determination of things in the world, towards the accomplishment of his intended mercy, prophecy began also to unfold the scheme of that mercy. The free communication of the Gospel promises, bears date with the commencement of that system of Providence, in the appointment of a family, a nation, and a temporary covenant, out of which the completion of those promises, in the fulness of time, was ordained to spring. The event was at a distance; but in the first step taken towards it, there is a disclosure made, ascertaining the distant design: and the Patriarch, who is the original Heir of the promises, is made the depositary of those chief informations which convey them. The Father of the Faithful is put in possession of the oracles of Faith. There is a harmony and consistency here which cannot be denied.
Moreover, in the general simplicity of the earlier records of prophecy, we have a pregnant evidence (that I may take notice of that also) of the veracity and good faith of the sacred Historian. For with respect to the Antediluvian period, who does not see that room was given, by the defect of permanent authentic memorials of that time, and by the opportunities of a broken tradition, intercepted in many of its channels by the ruin of the deluge, to cast back upon that period more favourable and prominent revelations of prophecy, than are now to be found in the Pentateuch ascribed to so early an
origin? For example, some monument of prophecy to bear upon the history of the Jewish people, or any other subject incident to the time of Moses, or his own purposes, might have been carried to that remote age, more safely, than the later predictions, which do actually occur, could be submitted to scrutiny with the more distinct checks of a recent evidence pressing upon them. But there is an absence of all such remote and well-accommodated. predictions; and whilst the scantiness of early prophecy, in its actual records, is no impeachment to the completeness of the Mosaic Scriptures for every end of our faith and instruction, it is one of the many palpable indications of the truth and integrity wherewith they were written.
One other supposed evidence there is, which I must not pass by without a particular notice, since it is sometimes so much insisted on, of a specific revelation having been made to the primitive race, concerning the Christian Redemption; that supposed evidence is the use of Sacrifice. If the rite of Sacrifice conveyed to the Antediluvian race that kind of information which some Christian divines, have assigned to it, it would be one of the greatest of prophecies. But whether we are justified in constructing the proof of a prophetic revelation, in any degree, out of that rite of primitive worship, is yet a question: for the case is, that both the primary fact, and the explication of it, are precarious in
the argument. By the primary fact, I mean, whether Sacrifice was a Divine appointment; and if it were, the next question is, whether it were explained, in any degree, to the sense of the Christian Atonement. All prophecy must be of God: and a type, or prophetic fact, can come into the census of prophecy, only by his ordinance of that type, or prophetic fact. If we admit others not known to be so positively ordained, we shall have nothing but uncertainty in our deductions. That the first Sacrifice was by divine Institution, is more than the text of scripture will permit us to say. Its silence, in such an article, an article connected with the very life of religion, suggests the contrary opinion. But be that as it may; in default of the direct information, whatever the reasons of probability may be, it is wiser to forbear to treat of primitive Sacrifice as a prophecy, or an evidence of one, lest we forget the great difference there is between the known positive ordinances of the Jewish Covenant, and the uncertain authority of an earlier usage, on which the stamp of a special appointment is not clearly set. In truth, unless we have the certain datum of the Type having been instituted, or the Prophecy delivered, we shall be joining materials of our own to the sacred edifice, presuming to make the prophecy as well as interpret it; and all such speculation, whatever else it may be, is not fit to be committed with the solid evidences of our Faith and Religion, or with the history of them.
I conclude by resuming the authentic testimonies of Prophecy. The dispensation of it was not confined to Abraham. It reached through the Patriarchal age, and the whole body of its predictions belonging to this age easily combine together. The oracles of God became to the Patriarchs a bond of personal religion. His name and his worship were invested with authority and honour among them, whilst Idolatry*, and Corruption of life and practice, polluted the nations around them. Their faith was directed by multiplied promises of his favour, but still involving the same specific objects which were contained in the revelation to Abraham, the blessing of mankind, and the possession of Canaan. But prophecy deigned to take these early disciples of it by the hand. We see their personal fortunes, and in many particulars their life and conduct, were guided by it: this was a present pledge, a sensible evidence of the faithfulness of God in all his promises; and so the supports of their faith grew with the enlarged duties of it: reserved and distant hopes acquired a footing to rest upon, and drew strength from the conviction which they had, not only of his revelation, but of his experienced providential care and goodness. "They drank of the brook in "the way." Immediate mercies guaranteed the greater in prospect. Such was the service rendered to religion by prophecy in the patriarchal
* Joshua xxiv. 2.