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"I say, that thou, O son of Eacus, art able to conquer the Romans: thou shalt go, thou shalt return, thou shalt never perish in war." Or, "I say, that the Romans are able to conquer thee, O son of Eacus: thou shalt go, thou shalt never return, thou shalt perish in war." Of the same kind was the answer of the oracle to Croesus, when he was going to make war with the Persians; Κρισςι Αλυν διαβας μεγάλην αρχήν διαλύσει. "Croesus, having passed the river Halys, shall overturn a great empire." This was a safe prediction, because it would prove true whether his own kingdom or that of the Persians was subverted. The obscurity which attends the prophecies of Scripture has proceeded from the wisdom of God, who designed to give such notice of future events as should excite a general expectation of them, but not to make the information so perspicuous and minute as to induce men to attempt either to hasten or to impede their fulfilment. They are a part of his moral administration, and were adjusted, like all the other parts of it, to the moral nature of the persons who were to be the instruments of accomplishing his purposes. "As the completion of the prophecy is left for the most part," says Bishop Hurd, "to the instrumentality of free agents, if the circumstances of the event were predicted with the utmost precision, either human liberty must be restrained, or human obstinacy might be tempted to form the absurd indeed, but criminal purpose of counteracting the prediction. On the contrary, by throwing some parts of the predicted event into shade, the moral faculties of the agent have their proper play, and the guilt of an intended opposition to the will of Heaven is avoided." But the obscurity is not so great as to render it uncertain whether they are prophecies or happy conjectures. It is dispelled by the event; and when the prediction is turned into history, we perceive the exact correspondence. It may be observed, that the degree of obscurity is not equal in all predictions; and that some of them are more minute and explicit than others, insomuch, that on account of their particularity, it has been affirmed, that they must have been written after the events. This was the charge of Porphyry against the prophecies of Daniel.
The argument from prophecy, for the truth of revealed religion, may be thus stated. As it is the prerogative of God alone to declare the end from the beginning, he who predicted future events must have derived his knowledge from inspiration. A prophecy, therefore, like a miracle, attests the commission of the person by whom it was delivered, proves him to be a messenger from God, and stamps the character of truth upon the instructions which he delivered in his name. A prophecy vouches not only for itself, but for all the communications which are connected with it. By bestowing this gift upon an individual, God pointed him out as one whom he had authorized and qualified to declare his will to us; and we ought implicitly to believe the religion which has been published by a succession of prophets, because we are sure, that he who has an absolute control over the minds and hearts of men, would not permit them to mix their own sentiments with the revelation which they were empowered to make, and to impose them upon the world, as of equal authority with the dictates of his wisdom.
Miracles were proofs of religion to those before whom they were wrought; and being fully attested, they are proofs to succeeding generations. Prophecies were not proofs to those who heard them delivered, but serve this purpose to those who see them fulfilled. If it be asked, Why are not miracles continued? we may answer, that they are not necessary, for various reasons; and particularly, because there is a standing evidence of the truth of religion in the prophecies which have been fulfilled, and are fulfilling before our eyes And, to adopt the words of Bishop Newton, "this is one great excellency of
* Hurd's Works, vol. v. p. 46.
the evidence drawn from prophecy for the truth of religion, that it is a growing evidence, and the more prophecies are fulfilled, the more testimonies there are, and confirmations of the truth and certainty of divine revelation. And, in this respect, we have eminently the advantage over those who lived even in the days of Moses and the prophets, of Christ and his apostles. They were happy, indeed, in hearing their discourses, and seeing their miracles; and doubtless, many righteous men have desired to see those things which they saw, and have not seen them, and to hear those things which they heard, and have not heard them; but yet, I say, we have this advantage over them, that several things, which were then only foretold, are now fulfilled; and what were to them only matters of faith, are become matters of fact and certainty to us, upon whom the latter ages of the world are come.' "Miracles may be said to have been the great proofs of revelation to the first ages, who saw them performed; prophecies may be said to be the great proofs of revelation to the last ages, who see them fulfilled."*
After these general observations, I proceed to lay before you some of the prophecies which are found in the Sacred Books.
First, let us consider the prophecies respecting the Jews; and I select those which are contained in the writings of Moses, relating to the future calamities of the nation; and which, at whatever period the Pentateuch may be supposed to have been published, were undoubtedly written long before the event. To go over them minutely would lead us into too long a detail; I shall therefore take notice of only a few particulars. First, He clearly foretells the invasion and conquest of their country. "The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand; a nation of fierce countenance." "He shall eat the fruit of thy cattle and the fruit of thy land, until thou be destroyed." In these words it is impossible not to see a description of the Romans; who were not neighbours to the Jews, as the Philistines, the Syrians, and the Egyptians were, but had established the seat of their government at a great distance in Italy; who were distinguished by the extent and rapidity of their conquests; spoke a language totally different from that of Judea; first reduced the country into the form of a province, and afterwards laid it waste in the reign of the Emperor Vespasian. In the second place, Moses foretells the dreadful sufferings of the Jews at the time of the conquest. "He shall not regard the persons of the old nor show favour to the young.' "He shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down; and thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the Lord thy God hath given thee, in the siege, and in the straitness wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee." Let Josephus, an eyewitness, prove how awfully this prediction was verified in the indiscriminate slaughter of men, women, and children, by their unpitying foes, and in the dreadful famine which the wretched inhabitants suffered during the siege of Jerusalem. He relates one instance, and there might be many, of a woman who ate the flesh of her own child; and he says, "that no other city ever suffered such things, as no generation from the beginning of the world so much abounded in wickedness." In the third place, Moses foretells the dispersion of the nation: "And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people from the one end of the earth even unto the other."§ We all know that the prediction has been fulfilled, and that the present state of the Jews exactly corresponds with it. They have no country, no province, no city which they can call their own, but for more than seventeen centuries have
* Dissertation on the Prophecies. Introd.
†Deut. xxviii. 49-51.
been strangers and wanderers, yet remain distinct. The last circumstance to which I shall direct your attention, is signified in the following words: "And there shalt thou serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, wood and stone."* This prediction was long since fulfilled in the fate of the ten tribes, who, wherever they reside, have adopted the false religion of the heathen among whom they sojourn; and has been fulfilled in that of the Jews, who were more lately dispersed by the Romans; for it is well known that in popish countries, particularly in Spain and Portugal, many of them, to avoid persecution, have conformed to the established religion, and become worshippers of images. The whole prophecy is truly wonderful, and affords a striking proof of the divine prescience, when we reflect that it was delivered fifteen hundred years before the events, and foretold the rejection of the Jews, at the very same time when God was taking them to be his peculiar people.
There is a prior prophecy concerning Ishmael, which is worthy of our notice. "He will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren."† It was also foretold that he should become a great nation; but the description, which seems at the first view to relate to himself alone, and was to a certain extent applicable to him, is understood to refer ultimately to his descendants. These are the Arabians, whose character and history exactly correspond with it. The greater part of them have been from time immemorial, and still are, wild men, ranging the deserts, and living upon the spoils which they gather from solitary travellers, from caravans, and from the adjacent countries into which they make frequent incursions. Their hand is against every man, and every man's hand has been against them. They have provoked the hostility of different nations; of Sesostris, the famous king of Egypt; of Cyrus,, the conqueror of Babylon; of Alexander the Great; and of the Romans; but their attempts to subdue them were baffled. Throughout all past ages they have maintained independence, and dwelt "in the presence of their brethren."
I pass over the prophecy concerning Egypt, "the basest of kingdoms," which has been fulfilled in its constant subjection to foreign domination, and in the poverty and wretchedness of its inhabitants amidst the stupendous monuments of its ancient greatness; and the prophecy concerning Tyre," the mart of nations." "When you come to it," says Maundrell, "you find no similitude of that glory for which it was so renowned in ancient times, but a mere Babel of broken walls, pillars, and vaults, there being not so much as one entire house left. Its present inhabitants subsist chiefly upon fishing, and seem to be preserved by Divine Providence, as a visible argument how God has fulfilled his word concerning Tyre,‡ that it should be like the top of a rock, a place for fishers to dry their nets on.''
The fate of Babylon was foretold in the following words. "And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation; neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces; and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged."§ The destruction of a city so extensive, containing magnificent buildings, and surrounded by lofty walls, could have been effected suddenly only by an earthquake. It was the work of time; but every particu
Ezek. xxvi. 14.
Isa. xiii. 19-22.
• Deut. xxviii. 64. † Gen. xvi. 12. VOL. I.-11
lar has been fulfilled. For centuries, the very place where it once stood, the wonder of the world, was unknown. If modern travellers, who think that they have discovered it, are right, it is an awful monument of the truth and power of God. It is a mass of ruins, and nothing but ruins, covering the face of the country for miles; and amidst these they have heard the cry of wild beasts, and seen them roaming in their solitary domain. Other particulars connected with its doom are specified; that it should be besieged by the Medes and Persians;* that the Euphrates, which flowed through the midst of it, should be dried up; that its gates should be open to Cyrus, its conqueror; that it should be taken during the dissipation and security of a feast; § and that the country around it should be turned into a marsh.|| How exactly these things were accomplished, we learn from the writings of Xenophon and Herodotus.
The prophecies concerning the Messiah comprehend a considerable portion. of the Old Testament, and branch out into a great variety of particulars. The prophets foretell the family from which he should spring; the place of his birth; the time of his appearance; his supernatural endowments; the manner of his life; the nature of his doctrine; his miracles; his rejection by his countrymen; his sufferings; his death; his resurrection; his ascension; the establishment of his religion; and its progress in the world. They enter into so minute a detail as to give notice of the mode of his death; of the character of the persons in whose company he should die; of the accidental circumstances of presenting vinegar to him on the cross, and casting lots for his garments, and of the piercing of his side with a spear. One prophet writes almost as if he had been a spectator of the sorrowful scene;¶ and among all the efforts of Grotius to wrest the Scriptures, there is none more wretched and detestable than his abortive attempt to apply that chapter to another person. The unassisted human mind could not have conceived such a character, and such a train of events, as prophecy has described. Nothing similar ever occurred before, or will occur again, while the world endures. When we attentively consider the predictions relative to our Saviour, they divide themselves into two classes, of which the one describes his humiliation, and the other his glory. They predicate of the same subject, things apparently the most inconsistent, which could not have been contrived by any imagination. So impossible has it appeared to the Jews to unite them in one person, that they have dreamed of two Messiahs, to whom they have respectively allotted them. The one is the descendant of Ephraim, who, aided by some of the tribes, shall attempt to deliver the Jews from the power of their enemies, but shall fall in the enterprise. The other is a descendant of David, who will restore the first Messiah to life, raise the departed Jews from the grave, rebuild their temple, and subdue all the nations of the earth. They have fallen into this error by totally misapprehending the character of the Messiah, and the design of his mission. He is represented as a worm and no man, but as a prince higher than the kings of the earth; as a man of sorrows, but anointed with the oil of joy above his fellows; as dying, and yet abolishing death; as despised and rejected of men, and as called the Blessed by the grateful tribes of mankind. Every reader of the New Testament perceives that these discordant attributes meet and harmonize in Jesus of Nazareth, who is both God and man, and who, having abased himself, and submitted to the death of the cross, is exalted at the right hand of the Father, and has received dominion and a kingdom, that all nations and languages should serve him. To him bore all the prophets witness; and as most of their predictions have been punctually fulfilled, we believe that those which remain will also be accomplished in their season.
* Isa. xxi. 2. Jer. li. 11.
§ Jer. li. 39. 57.
Isa. xliv. 27. Jer. 1. 38. and li. 36.
There are also many prophecies in the New Testament, among which we might notice that which relates to the fall of Jerusalem; but it is in substance the same with the prophecy of Moses, which has been considered. It is, however, more particular, and besides mentioning by name the city which was to be the scene of desolation, it points out, not obscurely, the armies by which it would be destroyed, marks the time of the event, and enumerates the signs which would announce its approach. Three of the gospels, it is universally acknowledged, were published before the catastrophe; but the fourth did not appear for a considerable number of years after it. It is worthy of attention, that it is omitted in the fourth, but is inserted in the other three.*
In the writings of Paul, and in the Revelation of John, there are clear intimations of the rise of a power hostile to the religion and the church of Christ, while professedly it would be connected with both. "Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." The scene of his impious deeds is the temple of God, not that in Jerusalem, which was laid in ruins a short time after these words were written, but the church, which is called the house of the living God. There, he would usurp the attributes and prerogatives of Deity, and claim authority to supersede the ordinances of heaven, and to establish his own laws in their room. We learn from other passages, that this power would erect his throne in the city of Rome; that it would succeed in extending its dominion over nations, and peoples, and tongues; that it would persecute with unrelenting fury those who should refuse to submit to it, and would profusely shed the blood of the saints. It was quite improbable at the time that such a power should ever arise among Christians, few in number, as they comparatively were, and professing a humble and holy religion. It was improbable, that, if it should make its appearance, it should meet with encouragement, as its claims could not succeed, unless men would consent to surrender their spiritual liberty, and yield up their judgments and consciences to the dictates of a self-constituted tyrant. It was improbable that imperial Rome, which, at that moment, reigned over the kings of the earth, and where idolatry displayed its splendour and its triumphs; that Rome, where Christianity had made little progress, and was regarded as a detestable superstition, should, at some future period, crouch at the feet of a Christian priest. I need not tell you how exactly these things have been fulfilled in that corrupt, idolatrous, and persecuting church, which derives its name from the seat of the Cæsars; and in its proud, presumptuous head, who calls himself the vicar of Christ, claims infallibility, and requires from his subjects obedience to his unholy decrees on pain of eternal damnation.
Many of the predictions in the book of Revelation relate to the antichristian power; but it embraces other subjects, and contains a history of the world, as connected with the true church, from the days of John to the second coming of Christ. A considerable part is yet to be fulfilled, and the interpretations which have been given are conjectural. But a considerable part has been fulfilled, as different writers have satisfactorily shown; and hence we confidently expect that every particular will be accomplished in its order and season.
This is the second argument for the truth of our religion. The fulfilment of prophecy attests the commission of the prophet, and lays us under an obligation to receive whatever he delivers to us in the name of God.
The third argument for the truth of our religion is founded on its success. I acknowledge that mere success is not a decisive proof of the truth of a reli
Matt. xxiv. 15. &c. Mark xiii. 14, and Luke xxi. 20.
†2 Thess. ii. 3, 4.