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ON THE STUDY OF PROPHECY.
PRODUCE your cause, saith the Lord: bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen; let them shew the former things what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come." (Isai. xli. 21.) Thus strongly doth the Lord appeal to Prophecy, as the surest test of the true God, and rest the evidence of his own Deity on the truth of his prophetic word. And with a cogency equal to the strength of the appeal, and with a solemnity commensurate with our reverence for God, do we feel ourselves called on to take up the argument, and vindicate our study of that portion of his word which is both a pole-star to direct our course, and an anchor of safety to the soul; and which we have special reason to make sure of now, when a storm seems gathering in the horizon, in which we shall need both light to steer by, and a "sure and stedfast anchor" to rely on, "which entereth within the veil." (Heb. vi. 19.) All mankind endeavour to provide for the future; the natural man by natural sagacity, the spiritual man by spiritual discernment: natural sagacity calculates on probabilities founded on experience, spiritual discernment looks to the declared purpose of God. But there are many who belong not strictly to either of these classes, who endeavour to separate between spiritual and temporal things; and, while content to take direction in spiritual things from the word of God, expect no direction thence for temporal affairs, and call it presumption in those who do. With these, who now form a large class, we are directly at issue. We say, that the Scriptures are the only sure guide, not only in spiritual but in temporal things: we say that Prophecy was
given for this express purpose; and we would seek to conform ourselves in all respects to the will of God, as revealed in his word. And seeing that some modern divines have supinely glanced over the Prophecies, with slight and superficial notice; while others, distracted by their numerous avocations, have wholly disregarded them; we shall endeavour to rescue that large portion of the Holy Scriptures from this unmerited neglect, and give it in our theology the place which its transcendent importance demands. And since on the fulfilment of Prophecy an issue so mighty as the Divine verity has been staked, it deeply behoves us to beware how we dare to pass it by as unworthy of attention, or how we timidly wait for the sanction of man before we will venture on its study. And may that allmerciful Being, who knows our weakness and ignorance, but who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hath perfected praise, and without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; may He, in vindication of whose word we are now girding ourselves for the contest, endue us with the requisite strength! may He so direct our meditations, that we may think only such things as be right, and so controul our words that we may express nothing unbecoming the disciples of Christ, or prejudicial to the progress of the Gospel among men.
For interpreting the prophetic parts of Scripture, we intend to follow the same methods by which all students attain their knowledge of the doctrinal and practical parts of Holy Writ. We assume that every part of the revelation of God, being given either to make known his character and dealings to men, or to teach men their duty to him and to each other, must have been intended to be understood. Then it follows, that those for whose instruction and guidance it was intended may, nay, ought, to understand the whole of Scripture; if not on the simple perusal, yet surely by the help of means which God has put within their reach, who, by faith apprehending it, and employing these means, go on to the "full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. ii. 2). But though thus intelligible to the faithful, the mere natural man does find in the same Scriptures a degree of mystery which he cannot penetrate, and which, while not laying him under such a moral compulsion as would destroy will and responsibility, and reduce faith to mere persuasion, establishes the doctrine that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. ii. 14).-These hints, which we suggest without attempting to follow them out, shew the general principles on which we intend to act in our investigation of Prophecy.
This part we regard as having of necessity no greater obscurity than other parts of Scripture. We do not, for instance, find those Psalms which are universally called prophetic, more difficult than the rest; and Isaiah in his address to Rabshakeh is quite as figurative and poetical as in his other writings. But to understand any part of Scripture requires its own appropriate kind of knowledge. The appropriate knowledge for understanding the doctrinal and practical parts, every believer carries about with him in the experience of his own heart: the prophetic parts require external aids, as history, chronology, &c.; and these constitute their chief, their only peculiar difficulty. For though it be true that certain classes of Prophecy become better understood at some particular times, so do certain classes of doctrine; and men are raised up and means afforded for explaining both the one and the other, according as the several purposes of God approach their accomplishment.
We might, à priori, expect the prophetic language to be unambiguous in its terms, and definite in its object; that when the predicted event had taken place no man might justly say, The prophecy was unknown, doubtful, or inapplicable. But these characteristics, which are to a certain extent necessary, are modified by the equally strong necessity of keeping the accomplishment of it, as well as the prophecy itself, in God's own hand; that no man might be able to say, Mine own wisdom and power have brought it to pass: God must have all the glory in the accomplishment of his own word. Now we find, that in this point of view the Prophecies fall under two great classes: First, Those given explicitly, but to be miraculously accomplished; Secondly, Those given implicitly, but to be accomplished in the ordinary course of providence.-Those of the first class are given with an exactness of object, time, and place which precludes every application but one; and yet the accomplishment is reserved to God alone, since it is to be avowedly miraculous. Under this head we may instance the deliverance from Egypt in past times; and its antitype, the restoration of the Jews, in times yet future. Those of the second class are given in language so wonderfully arranged, and in figures so aptly chosen, that though the people of God whose faith is in exercise, have at all times understood such parts of the prophecy as concerned themselves, and derived from thence guidance and support, yet none of these prophecies are understood by the faithless, or by the men of the world, till after their accomplishment; who are thus left to all the responsibility of their own wilfulness, while they are in fact only more strikingly carrying into effect the declared purpose of God. Under this head we may instance the rejection of Christ by the Jews at his first coming, and their
consequent destruction, in past times; and the apostasy of the Gentile church, with its consequent judgments in times yet future. To prophecies of the first class we shall sometimes have occasion to resort, as affording sure instances, which cannot be denied or cavilled at by any believer in the Bible; but it is among those of the second class that all the difficulty of interpretation lies, and it is to these that we shall most frequently direct our attention these, which have been in all ages" the stronghold of the daughter of Zion," a beacon-light in the night, the pole-star to the eye of faith: " for prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost:" to it we "do well to take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in our hearts." (2 Pet. i. 19.)
Prophecy is not darkness: it is "a light that shineth in a dark place:" to it no servant of God can take heed, but he shall have the eyes of his understanding enlightened, to direct him in all things which he may be called on either to do or to suffer, The present age is one in which, by the confession of all, the church is called on to do much; and the time may not be far distant when she shall be called to suffer much: in either case, an ample portion of light is necessary. It may be in futherance of this work, and in preparation for this time of trial, that the attention of the church has been in this our day so much turned towards the Prophecies, and that God has now so far removed the veil in which futurity was shrouded in times past, when, the calls of duty being ordinary, ordinary light would suffice. The duties now required of the church are of that spécial kind as to need the special guidance of the light of Prophecy; and we shall endeavour briefly to point out the several means, by the help of which such a knowledge of the true interpretation of God's prophetic word is to be attained as may serve for our direction and comfort in these critical times. What, then, are the means, in the use of which we may expect to understand and interpret the Scriptures of truth?
The first and most important of these is earnest, persevering Prayer-prayer for this special object, and with a full belief that the same Holy Spirit who spake by the Prophets of old "shall guide into all truth;" and that his teaching is as necessary to us now, for understanding and explaining Divine revelation, as his inspiration was of old for its first promulgation. This was the course resorted to by the servants of God in former times. Daniel "set his face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplication ;" and "while he was yet speaking" in prayer, the angel came " to give him skill and understanding." (ix. 22.) And again (x. 12): " from the first day that thou