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obtain a better resurrection; which hope both animated and supported them, (Heb. xi. 10, 14, 16, 39.) And the hope derived from prophecy of things to come sustained the primitive Christians, and likewise the Reformers, in some of their severest trials both of body and mind.
3. But there is another plausible objection must now be met. For it is by some conceded, that fulfilled prophecy may be useful: it is not only unfulfilled prophecy they consider dangerous, and its study to be consequently avoided. The intelligent reader will at once perceive, that even this dogma would still divert us from the cordial reception and serious consideration of a portion of God's word: but not only so, it betrays a great want of acquaintance with the intent and use of prophecy. For the believer derives but little advantage from fulfilled prophecy, so far as he is himself personally concerned. Its chief use to him is a weapon against the infidel and sceptic: and it has proved mighty in this respect (particularly of late in the hands of Mr. Keith*) as an evidence of the truth of Christianity. The believer wants not this evidence to convince him: it will afford him, indeed, an exalted notion of the prescience of that God whom he already adores; and it is further useful to assist him to a right apprehension of that which is un-fulfilled, and to increase his confidence in its accomplishment; but he is more concerned to keep his eye continually fixed upon the latter, on the right understanding of which does the correctness of his views in regard to the expectations and destinies of the church entirely depend. Thus the apostles appealed continually to the fulfilled prophecies, to convince those who were not persuaded that Jesus was the Christ; but the attention of believers in him is constantly directed to the hope of his coming again in glory, and to the circumstances which are to precede and accompany that event.
But let us suppose an ingenuous inquirer were induced implicitly to adopt the notion, that it were unsafe to give heed to other than fulfilled prophecy; in what perplexity would he find himself immediately involved! For how is he, in the first place, to ascertain what is fulfilled and what unfulfilled, without studying both?t Prophecies containing warnings must, according to this system, not be studiously considered until the danger be overpast in regard to which the warning is given; whereby the purport and use of such prophecies would be manifestly frustrated. And unless the mind were become * See the Evidence of Prophecy, by the Rev. A. Keith.
+ The absurdity is the more apparent in the present day, when a race of interpreters is springing up, (as the Rev. S. R. Maitland, the Rev. W. Burgh, &c.) who argue of many large portions of prophecy, supposed by the majority of commentators to be fulfilled, that they are yet unaccomplished.
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familiar with them, it would not be possible to recognise the events as the accomplishment of prophecy when they did come to pass: the want of which familiarity with their prophets prevented the Jews, during our Lord's ministry on earth, from perceiving and understanding the peculiar signs of their own times, and exposed them to the severe rebuke and awful charge of HYPOCRISY!* Many, indeed, who allow that it is proper to study fulfilled prophecy, do not intend to go the full extent of the admission they make: viz. they do not approve of making the application of it to their own times, even though the things predicted be accomplishing before their eyes. They have no objection to consider prophecies which they presume to have been accomplished some two or three centuries, or two or three thousand years back; but when they come to be urged with those things that apparently belong to the age in which we live, they deprecate the presumption of such a use of prophecy as warmly, as if some one had affected to offer them an oracular interpretation of what was unfulfilled.
Various other instances, which illustrate the duty and the practical advantages of taking heed to unfulfilled prophecy, will come before us in the course of this volume: one or two, however, of a remarkable and decisive character, may in this place be brought forward. The first is contained in Jeremiah xxvii. wherein is a prophecy concerning the dominion and greatness given for a time to the king of Babylon; insomuch that all nations should serve him and his son's son; after which he should suffer a reverse, and all nations should serve themselves of him. Now, on the conviction from the inspired word, that only those nations should enjoy quiet who would at once peaceably submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon, the prophet exhorts his country men at once to go and be subject to him, warning them of the fatal consequences if they should rather listen to those who prophesied peace. This was unfulfilled prophecy: and can we conceive it possible for a practical application of scripture to be more bold, and at the same time more unpalatable, than that made by Jeremiah? Was it not calculated to expose him to the reproach of being an indiscreet and unsober visionary, alarmist and fanatic? was not its tendency such as might plausibly be questioned by worldly
* Why of hypocrisy? It would be well if all religious professors would seriously consider what appears to be the ground of this charge. They were persons professing godliness to whom it was spoken. Now they did take so much interest in worldly matters, as to think it worth their while to notice the signs of the heavens, and to judge from them what sort of weather was likely to follow; but though affecting to esteem heavenly things of far more importance, they betrayed, by the very circumstance of neglecting prophecy, that they were not really in earnest about them. See Matt. xvi. 3.
men, and suited to bring on the prophet (as indeed it did) the suspicion of being a traitor in the pay of the king of Babylon? What instance can be pointed to in modern times, even among abuses of the study, (which have undoubtedly occurred), more fitted to prejudice men against prophecy than this? Yet where can we turn for a more decided proof of the peril of those who despise or disparage unfulfilled prophecy.
The above instance is taken from the more literal prophecies; the next shall be from those which, by the generality of commentators, are declared to be veiled in symbol or allegory; of which the most prominent and copious is the Apocalypse of St. John. Could it be lawful in any instance to neglect prophecy, we should surely find some intimations of it in connection with such a book as this. We might expect to find it open with a warning of the danger of misapprehending or misapplying it, or even of meddling with it at all until fulfilled. But instead of this we have, at its opening, first, an express encouragement for ministers to bring it before their people; (blessed is he that READETH)-secondly, a blessing pronounced also on those who attend to him when he does so; (and they that HEAR the words of this prophecy)—thirdly, a blessing on the devout bearing it in mind, and that KEEP those things which are written therein,) (Rev. i. 3.) And the book concludes by declaring that he is accursed who keeps this prophecy, or any part of it, back: for such is the scope of the words—oIf any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book," (Rev. xxii. 19.) How different is this from the admonitions of the danger of looking at prophecy, put forth so frequently in an authoritative tone, by those who ought rather diligently to exhort their hearers “to hearken to it, and to keep the words,” &c. Where do we meet with one single warning of the kind in Scripture? Had it been needful to have clogged the subject with such restrictions, doubtless the Holy Spirit would have done it, and not have left it to fallible human beings, who are commonly the victims, more or less, of prejudice, to prescribe to us what portions of God's word are profitable, and what are not. On the contrary, we have seen declared the blessedness of those who take heed to prophecy, and the hypocrisy and danger of those who may neglect it.
4. The same may be said concerning the requirements for the study of prophecy, which are so often insisted on. Such learning, such reading, and such various qualifications and endowments of mind and spirit, are prescribed, as to make modest men (the men least in danger) shrink back from the study in despair. Thus it is to many believers absolutely shut up; whilst the persons who bind these heavy burdens on others, are not in general laborious and diligent inquirers themselves: on the contrary, they neither enter on the study, nor suffer them to enter that are disposed. It is freely admitted, that some students of prophecy have betrayed great insobriety, dogmatism, and the like. It is evident also that Daniel and St. John, who enjoyed such remarkable revelations, were men much in the Spirit and in communion with God; men professing much love and lowliness of mind, and who sought the Lord in this matter by prayer and fasting. These are the requisites to be brought to the study; but they are requisites within the attainment of all who believe in the power and promises of God, and the riches of the fulness of the grace of Christ; and they are requisites equally needed for the study or perusal of every part of God's word, if only our desire is to profit by it. As much dogmatism and extravagance is to be met with in the setting forth what are called the doctrines of grace, especially of election, as can possibly be complained of in regard to prophecy; but we do not find those, who object against prophecy on this account, warn us on the same ground against the other doctrines.
Neither must it be concluded, that the truth may not be with men, because they do not come up to our notions of a becoming temper or spirituality of mind: for this were to make the measure of piety, or the Christian attainments of men, the criterion of the things they teach, instead of testing them by the scriptures of God; and it would set us upon judging and surmising concerning each other; when we ought rather to be inquiring, what is written. God has, undoubtedly, spoken important truths by the mouths of men whom we consider destitute of grace, as Balaam and Caiaphas; and by men of weak faith also and ungracious temper, as Jonah: and why may not like-minded persons be even now made the instruments of throwing light upon his word?
If the reader of these remarks happen to be a minister of the word of God, he is affectionately entreated to consider his responsibility; how he is bound, as a faithful minister, to deliver the whole counsel of God; and especially, in regard to the Apocalypse, not to take away from or add to it, (Rev. xxii. 18.) And is it not to take away from the words of this prophecy,” yea, to take away all the words of it, when ministers systematically abstain from bringing forward its contents? An idea prevails with some who do not deprecate prophetical investigation in the abstract, that it is suited only for the private study of ministers, and that it were improper to make it, in its regular turn with other scripture, the subject of their pulpit expositions. Now it is certainly not for men, before they have arrived at some conviction in regard to prophetic truth, to utter their crudities before the church; but the Lord nevertheless commands that every scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven should bring forth out of his treasure things new and old:” (Matt. xxiii. 52.) and this is said with respect to subjects decidedly of a prophetical character; as may be seen by the context. So again, what ministers have been been told in darkness, they are to speak in light; and what they hear in the ear, they are to preach upon the housetops, (Matt. x. 27.) It is a leaven of popery to suppose that any class of men are, by the mere circumstances of birth, rank, wealth, office or education, privileged to monopolize any portion of the word of God.
It must be admitted, therefore, that that system which deprives prophecy of the degree of importance, (whatsoever it may be,) which the scriptures assign to it, must be so far wrong: and whatsoever is wrong in doctrine must be, to that extent, mischievous in practice, however plausible. It may be that individuals are, notwithstanding, saved; but its pernicious effects upon the generality of hearers, and to a great degree upon those who are in the main believers, is incalculable. Faith is, in a measure, deprived of its food; though faith, it is true, regards the past and present as well as the future, (Heb. xi. 1, 3:) but HOPE never can be called into action but by the consideration of things future; and it therefore ceases to be an active principle in the heart, so soon as futurity is withdrawn from its contemplation. Who can say, for example, how far that lukewarmness, which is admitted to exist among professors of the present day, may not be owing, in a great degree, to the want of realizing belief and hope in the testimony of God concerning the impending advent of the Lord Jesus—the morning star and great sun of prophecy? For the passions and affections will necessarily be languid, if they be moved at all, by bare assent to a thing, even though the thing itself be of the greatest moment; whereas a full persuasion of the reality of an interesting object, excites the most lively and vigorous emotions. Those writers or preachers who put off the advent of the Lord Jesus to a remote period, do at least speak directly contrary to the scope and tenor of the New Testament, which every where keeps it in view. * Their arguments for so doing, if good for anything, will be good until doomsday itself arrive; and the Church, according
* See, on this point, the Investigator on Prophecy, vol. i. p. 18.