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FALSE IDEAS OF PROPHECY
2 Peter, i. 21.
Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man:
but holy men of God spake, as they were moved by the Spirit of God.
THE argument from prophecy, in support of the Christian revelation, would be thought more conclusive, at least would be more distinctly apprehended, if men could be kept from mixing their own prejudices and preconceptions with it.
The general question may be expressed thus" Whether the predictions in the Old and New • Testament do not appear to have been so far, " and in such sense, fulfilled, as to afford a rea"sonable conviction, that they came not, as the text “speaks, by the will of man, but from the Spirit “of God.”
In examining this question, the predictions themselves cannot be too diligently studied, or too cautiously applied : But, while this work is carrying on, we are still to suppose, and should not for a moment forget, that they may be, what they manifestly claim to be, of divine suggestion; I mean, we are to admit, not the truth indeed, but the possibility, of such suggestion, till we can fairly make it appear that they are of human contrivance only.
It will not be denied, that the tenour of scrip. ture, as well as the text, clearly asserts the divine original and direction of the prophecies. A just reasoner on the subject will, therefore, proceed on this supposition, and only try whether it be well founded. He will consider, whether the construction of the prophecies, and the application of them be such, as may accord to those pretensions ; and will not argue against them on other principles, which they do not admit, or suppose. All this is plainly nothing more than what may be expected from a fair inquirer, and what the rules of good reasoning exact from him.
The use of this conduct would be, to prevent, or set aside, all those fancies and imaginations which . too frequently mislead inquirers into the evidence of prophecy; which fill their minds with needless
perplexities, and disgrace their books with frivolous and impertinent disquisitions. And, because I take it to be of principal moment, that this use be perfectly seen and understood, I shall, first, apply myself to justify and explain it.
It is true that prophecy, in the very idea of that term, at least in the scriptural idea of it, implies the divine agency; and that, exerted not merely in giving the faculty itself, but in directing all its operations.
. Yet I know not how it is that, when men address themselves to the study of the prophetic scriptures, they are apt to let this so necessary idea slip out of their minds; and to discourse upon them just as they would or might do, on the supposition that the prophet was left at liberty to dispense this gift in all respects, as he should think proper. No wonder then, that they should misconceive of its character, and entertain very different notions about the exercise of this power from what the scriptures give them of it. Nay it is no wonder that they should even treat the subject with some scorn, while they judge of it by the rule of human prudence, and not of divine wisdom: for, though they would readily own themselves incapable of pronouncing on the secret counsels of God, if prophecy, in its whole administration, be regarded as proceeding merely
from him ; yet, from their knowledge of human nature, they would think, and with some reason, they were well able to conceive how the spirit of prophecy would be administered, if man had the disposal of this spirit committed to him.
Now it happens, as I said, (by an inexcusable perverseness, or inattention, indeed, yet in fact it so happens) that, to the consideration of the argument from prophecy, as applied to the proof of the Christian religion, many inquirers bring with them this strange and fatal prejudice ; and then their reason
ings, or rather conjectures, on the subject, the | END, and the DISPENSATION of prophecy, are
only such, as this prejudice may be expected to inspire.
I. Judging for ourselves, and by the light of human investigation only, there might be some ground for supposing, that, if it should please God at any time to confer the gift of prophecy on his favoured servants, they would be solely or chiefly commissioned to unfold the future fortunes of the most conspicuous states and kingdoms in the world : that so divine a power would embrace, as its peculiar object, the counsels and enterprises, the successes and triumphs of the most illustrious nations ; those especially, which should rise to the summit of empire by generous plans of policy, and by the
efforts of public virtue ; of free states, in a word, such as we know to have flourished in the happier ages of Greece, and such as we still contemplate with admiration in the vast and awful fabric of Consular Rome. This we might think a fit object for the prophetic spirit to present to us; as corresponding in some degree to the sublime character of a prophet; and as most worthy, in our conceptions, of the divine attention and regard.
But how are we surprised to find that this astonishing power, the most signal gift of heaven to man. kind, hath, in its immediate application at least, respected, many times, obscure individuals, whose names and memory are only preserved in one barbarous chronicle, hath been chiefly employed, and, as we are ready to express it, thrown away on one single state, or rather family; inconsiderable in the extent of its power or territory; sequestered from the rest of the nations, and hardly known among them ;* with some mention, perhaps, of greater
• * Thus Celsus represents the Jews- μηδέν σώποτε αξιόλογον πράξαντας, έτ' εν λόγω, 86° έν αριθμώ αυτές πολε γελενημένες. Orig.contra Cels. l. iv. p. 181, ed. Spenc. Cantab. 1677. And in p.175, he represents it as the highest absurdity in such reptiles to pretend that their insignificant concerns were the objects of divine prediction, and that the supreme Governor of the world, who had so many greater things upon his hands, should be only solicitous, as it were, to keep up a perpetual intercourse with them. See