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SERMON WE have seen how precarious all our reaIII. sonings on divine prophecy must be, when built on no better grounds than those of human fancy and conjecture. The text supplies us with a principle, as we believe, of divine authority; as all must confess, of scriptural authority; that is, of the same authority as that on which prophecy itself stands.
This principle has been explained at large. It affirms that Jesus, whose person and character and history are sufficiently known from Session
the books of scripture, is the end and object of the prophetic system, contained in those books.
We are now at liberty to reason from this principle. Whatever conclusions are fairly drawn from it, must to the believer appear, as certain truths; must to the unbeliever appear, as very proper illustrations of that principle.
In general, if difficulties can be removed by pursuing and applying scriptural principles, they are fairly removed : and the removal of every such difficulty, on these grounds, must be a presumption in favour of that system, whether we call it of Prophecy, or Revelation, which is thus found to carry its own vindication with it.
From the principle of the text may, I think, be deduced, among others, the following con
clusions; all of them tending to clear the sub
ject of prophecy, and to obviate some or other of those objections, which prejudiced or hasty reasoners have been disposed to make to it.
I. My first conclusion is, “That, on the idea of such a scheme of prophecy, as the text supposes, a considerable degree of obscurity
may be reasonably expected to attend the de livery of the divine predictions.”
There are general reasons which shew that prophecy, as such, will most probably be thus delivered. For instance, it has been observed, that, as the completion of prophecy is left, for the most part, 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 part 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. This reason seems to have its weight: and many others might still be mentioned. But I argue, at present, from the particular principle, under consideration.
An immense scheme of prophecy was ultimately designed to bear testimony to the person and fortunes of Jesus. But Jesus was not himself to come, till what is called the last age of the world, nor all the purposes of his com
ing to be fully accomplished, till the end of that age.
Now, whatever reasons might make it fit, in
the view of infinite wisdom, to defer the execution of this scheme to so distant a period, may probably be conceived to make it fit, that the delivery of it should be proportionably dark and obscure. A certain degree of light, we will say, was to be communicated from the date of the prophecy: but it is very conceivable that the ages nearer the completion of it, might be more immediately concerned in the event predicted; and that, till such time approached, it might be convenient to leave the prediction in a good degree of obscurity.
The fact answers to this presumption. Prophecies of very remote events, remote, I mean, from the date of the prediction, are universally the most obscure. As the season advanced for their accomplishment, they are rendered more clear: either fresh prophecies are given, to point out the time, and other circumstances, more determinately; or the completion of some prophecies affords new light for the interpretation of others, that are unfulfilled. Yet neither are we to conceive that those fresh prophecies, or this new light removes all obscu
so rity: enough is still left to prevent or disap
point the efforts of presumption; and only so much additional clearness is bestowed on the prophecy, as the revealer saw fit to indulge to those who lived nearer the time of its completion.
But this is not all: By looking into that plan of providence, which respects Jesus, and the ends to be accomplished by him, as it is drawn out in the sacred writings, we find a distinct reason for the obscurity of the prophecies, relative to that subject.
We there find it to have been in the order of the divine councils, that, between the first dawnings of revelation and the fuller light of the Gospel, an intermediate and very singular oeconomy, yet still preparatory to that of Jesus, should be instituted. This oeconomy (for reasons, which it is not to our present purpose to deduce, and for some, no doubt, which we should in vain attempt to discover) was to continue for many ages, and while it continued, was to be had in honour among that people, for whom it was more immediately designed. But now the genius of those two dispensations, the Jewish, I mean, and the Christian, being wholly different; the
one, carnal, and enforced by temporal sanc
tions only, the other, spiritual, and established