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Messiah, prefigured by so long a train of prophecy, came into the world, corresponds to all the rest of the representation. It was not to deliver an oppressed nation from civil tyranny, or to erect a great civil empire, that is, to achieve one of those acts, which history accounts most heroic. No: it was not a mighty state, a victor people-
“ Non res Romanæ perituraque regna~" that was worthy to enter into the contemplation of this divine person. It was another and far sublimer purpose, which He came to accomplish; a purpose, in comparison of which, all our policies are poor and little, and all the performances of man as nothing. It was to deliver a world from ruin; to abolish sin and death; to purify and immortalize human nature; and thus, in the most exalted sense of the words, to be the Saviour of all men, and the blessing of all nations.
There is no exaggeration in this account. I deliver the undoubted sense, if not always the very words of Scripture.
Consider then to what this representation amounts. Let us unite the several parts of it, and bring them to a point. A spirit of prophecy pervading all time.
characterising one person, of the highest dignityand proclaiming the accomplishment of one purpose, the most beneficent, the most divine, that imagination itself can project.-Such is the scriptural delineation, whether we will receive it or no, of that economy, which we call prophetic !
And now then, (if we must be reasoning from our ideas of fit and right, to the rectitude of the divine conduct,) let me ask, in one word, whether, on the supposition that it should ever please the moral Governor of the world to reveal himself by
prophecy at all, we can conceive him to do it, in a manner, or for ends more worthy of him? Does not the extent of the scheme correspond to our best ideas of that infinite Being, to whom all duration is but a point, and to whose view all time is equally present: Is not the object of this scheme, the Lamb of God that was slain from the foundation of the world, worthy, in our conceptions, of all the honour that can be reflected upon him by so vast and splendid an economy? Is not the end of this scheme such as we should think most fit for such a scheme of prophecy to predict, and for so divine a person to accomplish? • You see every thing here is of a piece; all the parts of this dispensation are astonishingly great, and perfectly harmonize with cach other. • We, who admit the divinity of those records, which represent to us this state of things, cannot but be infinitely affected with it : since, in that case, we only contemplate an undoubted fact, in this representation. And it should further seem that even those, who question that authority of Scripture, must, if they be ingenuous, confess themselves struck by a representation at once so sublime and consistent. They require, on all occasions, to have reasons of what they call fitness, in the divine conduct, pointed out to them : Can they overlook them here, where they are so obvious and so convincing ? At least the credibility of such a scheme, as that of prophecy is in scripture represented to be, appears not, so far as we have hitherto considered it, to be opposed or lessened in any degree by our natural prejudices ; by the best notions, I mean, which we can frame on this subject ; but is, indeed, much strengthened and confirmed by them.
On the idea of such a scheme as is here present-
ed to us, I enlarge no further, at present, than just to make one general observation. It is this : That the argument from prophecy is not to be formed from the consideration of single prophecies, but from all the prophecies taken together, and considered as making one system; in which, from the mutual dependence and connexion of its parts, preceding prophecies prepare and illustrate those which follow, and these, again, reflect light on the foregoing: just as, in any philosophical system, that which shows the solidity of it, is the harmony and correspondence of the whole; not the application of it, in particular instances.
Hence, though the evidence be but small, from the completion of any one prophecy, taken separately, yet, that evidence being always something, the amount of the whole evidence, resulting from a great number of prophecies, all relative to the same design, may be considerable ; like many scattered rays, which, though each be weak in itself, yet concentrated into one point, shall form a strong light, and strike the sense very powerfully. Still more : this evidence is not simply a growing evidence, but is indeed multiplied upon us, from the number of reflected lights which the several component parts of such a system reciprocally throw upon each : till, at length, the conviction rise into a high degree of moral certainty.
It hath been said, indeed, of this scheme, or way of considering prophecy, that it is an imaginary scheme, of which there is not the least trace in any of the four gospels; and that it even contradicts the whole evidence of prophecy, as it was understood and applied by the apostles and evangelists*.
* DR. MIDDLETON's Worke, vol. iii. p. 137. London, 1752, 460.
But what, is there no trace of this scheme in the gospel, when Jesus himself began at Moses and the prophets, and expounded [to his disciples] in all the scriptures the things concerning himself? Is this scheme contradictory to the evidence of prophecy, as understood by the apostles, when St. Peter argued with the Jews from what God had spoken by the mouth of all his prophets, since the world began?.
Is not here a series of prophecies, expressly referred to, as running up not only to the times of Moses*, but to the beginning of the world? And is not this series argued from, as constituting one entire system of prophecy, and as affording an evidence distinct from that which arises from the consideration of each prophecy, taken singly and by itselt?
But Jesus and his apostles, usually applied the prophecies singly and independently on each other, as so many different arguments for the general truth of the gospelt.
Could they do otherwise, when the occasions offered, in the course of their ministry, to which those prophecies were to be applied ? Or, could they do better, in their discourses to the people, to whom the argument from single prophecies would be more familiar, than that complicated one, arising from a whole system? Does it follow, because the prophecies were applied singly, that therefore they might not with good reason be applied systematically; or that they inay not now be so applied, when we have to
* Though by Moses is here meant, not the prophecies of Moses only, but the books of Moses, containing those former prophecies, which, as St. Peter says, had been delivered, since the world began
† Dr. MIDDLETON, N, 139.
do with those who are capable of entering into this sort of argumentation ? Will it be said that, because the moral precepts of the gospel are delivered singly, there is therefore no such thing as a system of morality, or that the subject may not be treated with propriety, and with advantage too, in that form? ...On the whole, the prophecies of the Old and New Testament, having clearly all the qualities of what we call a system, that is, consisting of many particulars, dependent on each other, and intimately connected by their reference to a common end, there is no reason why they may not be considered in this light; and there is great reason why they should be so considered, since otherwise, on many occasions, we shall not do justice to the argument itself.
To return then to the text, (which implies the existence and use of such a system,) and to conclude with it. The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus. This angelic information presents, at first sight, an idea stupendous indeed, but, on such a subject, suitable enough to our expectations. It offers no violence to the natural sense of the human mind; but, on the contrary, hath every thing in it to engage our belief and veneration.