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Mercy towards Mankind: Though all were under the dominion of sin, and unable of themselves to become righteous, yet some were more wicked than others j great numbers of Men were carried away to commit heinous Impieties, through their own Ignorance, and the Example of others , and though the Heathen were never without excuse, yep they were chiefly inexcusable,'becausc God had always a Revealed Will, which he would by some means or other have brought them to the Knowledge of, if they had lived according to their Natural Knowledge cijf Jiim, and of their Duty towards him; and though the Heathen had many opportunities of becoming acquainted with the Revealed Will of God, yet much allowance was to be made for the times of Ignorance before the Gospel. God was pleased to reveal himself from time to time ■■, and at last by the Gospel, in a more wonderful and evident manner than ever he had done before, and to afford Men fuller means of Conviction, and greater measures of Grace to comply with it, and work out their own salvation. And God has made ' these Revelations of his Will, by enduing certain Men with a Power of Prophesying, and working Miracles, who were to declare his Will to others, and to certifie the rest of the World that it wasindeed his Will and Commandments which they delivered.
And this was the most proper Method, and most worthy of God. For, as I have proved, God would not create Mankind, and then take no farther care of them; since, in the state of Innocence, they better deserved his Care, and have ever after stood in so much need of it, and could at no time be happy, either in this World or the next, without it: And it cannot with any reason be objected, by those who have never so great a mind to cavil at the Terms and Means of Salvation by the Gospel, That God should apply himself to every Person by a particular Revelation:
both both because so much Condescension and Indulgence would be ill bestow'd upon those who have so little desciVd it j and because it would have no better effect than Prophecies and Miracles have had towards the Conversion of Men y but a very ill one, in affording Pretences to all sorts of Impostures: .And where two several Means are alike sutable to any End, no Man, sorely, will presume to prescribe to Almighty God, and say, that he ought to have used one rather than the other •, much less when one is inconvenient, and the other the only proper Means to be used.
II. I proceed therefore to shew, That Prophecies and Miracles are the most fitting and proper Means for God to discover and reveal himself to theWorld by. It is evident,that they are not accompany'd with those Inconveniencies, with which immediate Revelations would have been y there is no Prophecy, nor Miracle, but it has the defign'd effect upon many Per- ., sons,j the Majesty and Honour of God is not exposed to the Scorn of every profane and obstinate Offender; and there is as effectual Care taken to prevent Impostures, as possibly could have been. And as Prophecies and Miracles have none of the Inconveniences which immediate Revelations would have had so I shall shew, that they have all the Advantage and Usefulness which it can be suppos'd that immediate Revelations would have had, if they had been granted to every Person in particular. All that any immediate Revelation-could do, is to afford Men the Means of Conviction, and Assurancethat the Revelation proceeds from God, as certainly as that God himself is: And this Prophecies and Miracles do.
i. Concerning Prophecies, it is observable, That the Oracles and Lying Divinations with which the Devil has impos'd upon the World, (hew, That it is natural for Men to expect that God should reveal
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himself by Prophecies: Which made them so prone , to receive false Prophecies from their false Gods. And this may teach us, That True Prophecies are to be expected from the True God. Many Prophecies are of that nature, that none but God Omniscient could be the Author of them ■■, and these, in their Accomplishment, must carry an indisputa- ble Evidence of Divine Revelation along with them. Such are the Predictions of Things to be fulfilled many Ages afterwards, which, in the fulfilling, depend upon the Counsels and Determinations of free Agents \ and Predictions of the Sins of Men, which ■ they could not be determined to, but by their own Choice. It is above the Capacity of Humane Understanding, to conceive how it is poslibe, that Things should be foreseen so long before either the Actions or the Agents themselves have any Existence, or how Contingencies can be the Object of Infallible Prescience: And therefore for God to foretel Things of this nature by his Prophets , is a most proper and certain way of Revelation because it is above the Power of any Finite Being to do the like. It is the Prerogative of him that formeth the mountainsand cre-ateth the wind, to declare unto man what is his thought: The Lord', the God of Hosts is his name-, Amos iv. 13. For which reason the False Gods are challeng'd to foretel these Things; Shew the things that are to came hereafter., that we may know that ye are Gods, Isai. xlii. 23.
But because Things foretold may sometimes come to pass by chance, or it may be in the Power of Evil Spirits to foretel them when they are in Design and Agitation, and just ready for Action; or to discern things done at distant places, and to make probable Guesses, which may prove true, from the various Circumstances of Affairs which they observe in the World : we may therefore be assured, from the Consideration of the Divine Attributes of Goodness ness and Truth, that God will not suffer false Religions to be imposed upon the World, under his own Name, by Diabolical Predictions, without affording Means to discover them to be such. When a Prophet speaketh in the Name of the Lord, is the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the Prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou Jloalt not be afraid os him, Deut. xviii. 22. This is the Mark of Distinction between a False and a True Prophet, That whatever the latter foretold in the Name of the Lord, mould come to pass*, but whatever the first foretold in his Name, mould not come to pass: which implies, that God will disappoint such Predictions, as he threatens Eaek. xiv. 9. and not suffer them to come to pass j otherwise the coming to pass of Things foretold, could be no certain Mark of a true Prophet, because they might come to pass by chance.
The Prophet which prophesieth os peace, when the word os the Prophet shall come to pass, then shall the Prophet be known that the Lord hath truly sent him, Jer. xxviii. 9. k Maimonides delivers it, not only as his own Opinion, but as the received Doctrine of the Rabbins, that if a Prophet foretold prosperous Events, and they did not come to pass, ft was a convincing Argument of a false Prophet: But if he threatened Judgments, tho' they were not inflicted, he might be a true Prophet. Which Doctrine they advanc'd from a Misinterpretation of the Words of Jeremiah now mention'd. For the false Prophet Hananiah, having declar'd in the Name of the Lord, that Je~ coniah and all the Captives of Judah, with the Vessels of the Temple, should within Two Years be brought back from Babylon to Jerusalem; Jeremiah
K Maim, de Fundamencis Legis. c. 10, §. 6, 7. Praef. in Seder fceraim. p. 8. >
C 4 tells tells him, that he heartily pray'd, that if it pleased God, this might prove true •, but that it was no new thing to prophefie of Calamities, that were to befal a People, which was the thing, that had rais'd so great Hatred against him. The Prophets, that have been before me , and before thee of old ^ prophesied both against many Countries, and against great Kingdoms, of War and of Evil, and of Pestilence. The Prophet which prophefeth of Peace, when the Word of the Prophet shall come to pass, then shall the Prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him, Jer. xxviii. 8, p. He speaks here* of Peace with relation to this particular Cafe in question at that time, and fays that the Event would shew who was the true Prophet: but he lays down no Rule to detect false Prophets by the Prediction of Prosperous rather than of Adverse Events : which is directly contrary to God's express Declaration by him. At what instant I snail speak concerning a Nation, and concerning a Kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down and to destroy it, if that Nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their Evil, I will repent of the Evil, that T thought to do unto them. And at what in* stant I shall speak concerning a Nation and concerning a Kingdom , to build and to plant it; if it do Evil in my Sight, that it obey not my Voice , then I will repent of the Good, wherewith 1 said J would benefit them, Chap, xviii. 7, 8, 9, 10. And the righteous xMan, that committed Iniquity, was to have no Benefits from the Promises made to him \ &s the wicked Man, upon his Repentance, was not to suffer the Punishment denounced against him, Ez.ek. xxxiii. 13, 18. So manifestly contrary is this Rule of the Rabbins for the discerning of false from true Prophets, to the express Words of Scripture; and ' Maimonides confesses it fail'd at the Destru