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jurious enough to their own character, I do not Sermon see how it affects that of the prophets; unless whatever may be abused (as every thing may) be answerable for the abuses made of it. But to reply more directly to this charge.
The ill success of men in explaining prophecies of events, not yet come to pass, can in no degree discredit those prophecies, unless it be essential to this sort of revelation to be so clearly proposed, as that it may and must be perfectly understood, before those events happen; the contrary of which I have already shewn, in a preceding discourse. The very idea of prophecy is that of a light shining in a dark place : and a place is not dark, if we have light enough to discern distinctly and fully every remote corner of it. But the thing speaks itself. For to what end is the prediction delivered in obscure and enigmatic terms, if the purpose of the inspirer was that the subject of the prediction should be immediately, and in all its circumstances, precisely apprehended? Why, then, is any distinction made between Prophecy, and History? The mode of writing clearly demonstrates, that some
" and things by this prophecy, as if God designed to make " them prophets.” Sir I. Newton, p. 251.
thing, for a time at least, was meant to be concealed from us: and then, if men will attempt, out of season, to penetrate this mystery, what wonder if mistake. be the fruit of their presumption ?
Again: the declared end of prophecy is, not that we may be enabled by it to foresee things before they come to pass, but when they come to pass, that we may acknowledge the divine author of the prophecy What dishonour, then, can it be to the prophet, that he is not perfectly understood, till we be expected to make use of his information? Nay, in the case before us, it would dishonour him, if he was. For, of the prophecies concerning Antichrist we are expressly told, that they are shut up and sealed, till the time of the end; that is, till Time brings the key along with him. So that, if men could open them, by their own wit and sagacity only, they would give the lye to the prophet. And thus we see, that the very mistakes of interpreters attempting prematurely to unfold the sealed prophecies con
i “God gave this, and the prophecies of the Old Testa“ ment, not to gratify men's curiosities by enabling them " to foreknow things; but that, after they were fulfilled, “they might be interpreted by the event ; and his own “ providence, not the interpreter's, be then manifested or thereby to the world." Sir I. Newton, p. 251.
cerning Antichrist, far from subverting, sup- SERMON port the credit of those prophecies k.
But I have something more to say on this subject. Though we cannot see every thing in the prophecies, which we are impatient to see, it is not to be supposed that we can see nothing in them. If this were the case, we should scarce regard them as prophecies at all; at least, we should hardly be prevailed upon to read and consider them. For, it is on the supposition that soine light is communicated to us, that we are disposed, as well as required, to take heed to it. In short, if we saw nothing, we should expect nothing: such prophecies would not engage our curiosity, or so much as take our attention. In one word, they would be utterly lost upon us.
. This seems to have been, in some measure, the case with regard to this very book of the Revelations. The early Christians saw so little in this prophecy, that they were led by degrees to neglect the study of it. Otherwise, the little they did see, might have given them
k “ 'Tis a part of this prophecy, that it should not be “ understood before the last age of the world; and there“ fore it makes for the credit of the prophecy, that it is “ not yet understood.” Sir I. Newton, p. 251.
SERMON a glimpse, at least, of many things, that intiVIII.
mately concerned both their faith and conduct.
It being then necessary, as I said, that prophecy should, from the first, convey some light to us, and time having now very much increased that light, it follows, that men may excuseably employ themselves in studying and contemplating even unfulfilled prophecies. They may conjecture modestly of points which time has not yet revealed: but they should, in no case, pronounce confidently, or decide dogmatically upon them.
It seems therefore to be going too far, to pass an indiscriminate censure on all those, who have proposed their thoughts on the sense of prophecies, not yet completed, though it be ever so clear that a wrong construction has been made of them. Nay, it is worth considering whether they may not even have conjectured right, when they have been thought to mistake the most widely. I say this, chiefly, with regard to the time, which some writers have beforehand assigned for the accomplishment of certain prophecies, and that, on principles apparently contained in those prophecies; but so unhappily, as to draw much scorn and ridicule upon themselves..
I explain myself by a famous instance. No- SERMON thing has been more censured in Protestant divines, than their temerity in fixing the fall of Antichrist ; though there are certain data in the prophecies, from which very probable conclusions on that subject may be drawn. Experience, it is said, contradicts their calculation. But it is not considered, that the fall of Antichrist, is not a single event, to happen all at once; but a state of things, to continue through a long tract of time, and to be gradually accomplished. Hence, the interpretation of the prophecy might be rightly formed, though the expectations of most men are disappointed.
It is visible, I suppose, that the papal power (if we agree to call that, Antichrist) is now on the decline; whensoever that declension began, or how long soever it may be, before it will be finished. And therefore interpreters may have aimed right, though they seemed to others, and perhaps to themselves, to be mistaken..
Suppose, the ruin of the Western Empire had been the subject of a prediction, and some had collected, beforehand, from the terms of the prophecy, that it would happen at a particular time; when yet nothing more, in fact, came to pass, than the first irruption of the