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literal one ; or restrain the language of any prophecy to one determinate sense only, which was originally capable of many.
I have said thus much to shew what sort of clearness and evidence we ought to expect from prophecies after their accomplishment. It is a great prejudice against this argument, when men come to it, expecting more from it than it will yield. This they are led to by hearing it often said, that prophecy, however dark and obscure at first, grows wonderfully plain upon the accomplishment : which in some cases, as I have shewn, is in fact true; but is not, cannot be so in all cases.
You may think it perhaps strange, that I should be here pleading, as it were, for the obscurity of ancient prophecies; whereas you may very well conceive it would be more to the purpose of a Christian divine to maintain their clearness. Now as Moses in another case faid, I would to God all the Lord's people were prophets ; fo say I in this case; I would to God all the prophecies of the Lord were manifest to all his people. But it matters little what we wish for, or think beft; we must be content with such light and direction as God has thought proper to bestow on us: and to inquire why the ancient prophecies are not clearer, is like inquiring why God has not given us more reason, or made us as wise as angels : he has given us in both cases so much light as he thought proper, and enough to serve the ends he intended.
It is, doubtless, a mistake to conceive prophecy to be intended solely or chiefly for their fakes, in whose time the events predicted are to happen. What great occasion is there to lay in so long beforehand
the evidences of prophecy to convince men of things that are to happen in their own times; the truth of which they may, if they please, learn from their own senfes ? How low an idea does it give of the adminiftration of Providence, in fending prophets, one after another, in every age from Adam to Christ, to imagine, that all this apparatus was for their fakes who lived in and after the times of Christ, with little regard to the ages to whom the prophecies were delivered? As I think the prophecies of the New Testament are chiefly for our sake, who live by faith, and not by sight; fo I imagine the ancient prophecies had the like use, and were chiefly intended to support the faith and religion of the old world. Had it been otherwise, a set of prophecies given some few years before the birth of Christ, would have served our purpose as well as a series of prophecies given from the very beginning, and running through every age. · Let us then consider the use of prophecy, and this will help us to conceive the degree of clearness which ought to attend it. Some people are apt to talk, as if they thought the truth of some facts, recorded in the Gospel, depended upon the clearness of the prophecies relating to them; they speak, for inftance, as if they imagined the certainty and reality of our Saviour's refurrection were much concerned in the clearness of the prophecies relating to that great and wonderful event, and seem to think that they are confuting the belief of his resurrection, when they are trying to confound the prophecies relating to it. But can any thing be more abfurd? For what ground or pretence is there to inquire, whether the prophecies foreshewing that the Messiah should die and rise again, do truly belong to Jesus, unless we are first satisfied that Jesus died and rose again? We must be in possession of the fact, before we can form any argument from prophecy: and therefore the truth of the resurrection, considered as a fact, is quite independent of the evidence or authority of
The part, which unbelievers ought to take in this question, should be, to thew from the prophets that Jesus was necessarily to rise from the dead; and then to prove, that in fact Jesus never did rise: here would be a plain consequence. But if they do not like this method, they ought to let the prophecies alone ; for if Jesus did not rise, there is no harm done if the prophets have not foretold it: and if they allow the resurrection of Jesus, what do they gain by discrediting the prophecies? The event will be what it is, let the prophecies be what they will.
There are many prophecies in the Old Testament relating to the Babylonish captivity, and very distinct they are, describing the ruin of the holy city, the destruction of the temple, the carrying the tribes into a distant country, and the continuance of the captivity for seventy years. Can you suppose these prophecies intended to convince the people of the reality of these events when they should happen? Was there any danger they should imagine themselves safe in their own country, when they were captives at Babylon, unless they had the evidence of prophecy for their captivity ? Or, that they should think their temple standing in all its glory, when it was ruined before their eyes? If the supposition be absurd in
this case, it is so in every case; for the argument from prophecy is in all instances the same. It is plain then, that matters related in the Gospel do not depend for their reality upon the evidence of prophecy: they may be true, though never foretold, or very obscurely foretold; nay, they must be admitted as true, before we can so much as inquire whether any prophecy belongs to them.
But if this be the case, that we must admit all the facts of the Gospel to be true before we can come at the evidence of prophecy, what occasion have we, you will say, to inquire after prophecy at all ? Are not the many miracles of Christ, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension to heaven, the pouring forth the gifts of the Spirit upon the Apostles, their speaking with tongues, and doing many wonders in the name of Christ, sufficient evidence to us of the truth of the Gospel, without troubling ourselves to know whether these things were foretold, or in what manner they were foretold? To answer this question plainly, I think such facts, once admitted to be true, are a complete evidence of the divine authority of a revelation : and had we known no more of Christ, than that he claimed to be attended to as a person sent and commissioned by God, he needed no other credentials than these already mentioned; and it would have been impertinent to demand what prophet foretold his coming. For, in a like case, who foretold the coming of Moses to be a lawgiver to Israel ? God had promised Abraham to give his pofterity the land of Canaan : but that he would give it by Moses he had not promised ; that he would talk with him face to face, and deliver his
law to him, and by him to the people, he had not foretold : the authority therefore of Moses, as a. divine lawgiver, stands upon the miraculous works performed by him; and the wonderful attestations given to him by the presence of God in the mount, in the eyes of all the people: but upon prophecy it does not stand, for of him there were no prophecies. This shews that prophecy is not an evidence essential to the proof of a divine revelation; for it may be spared in one as well as another.
But the case of the Gospel differs from that of the Law ; for though the Law was not prophesied of, the Gospel was ; he who delivered the Law was one of the first who prophesied of the Gospel, and told the people so long beforehand, That God would raise a Prophet like unto him, whom they must hear in all things : by which prediction he guarded the people against the prejudice which his own authority was like to create against a new lawgiver ; telling them beforehand, that, when the great Prophet came, their obedience ought to be transferred to him. The succeeding prophets speak more fully of the office, character, sufferings, and glory of the Saviour of Ifrael, and the desire of all nations. Now one of the characters, which our Saviour constantly assumes and claims in the Gospel, is this ; that he is the person (poken of by Moses and the prophets. Whether he is this person or no, must be tried by the words of prophecy; and this makes the argument from prophecy so far neceflary to establith the claim of the Gospel ; and it has been very justly, as well as acutely, oblerved, that the proof of this point must rely entirely on the evidence of prophecy. Mira