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ON THE DUTY OF STUDYING UNFULFILLED PROPHECY.
WHATEVER is known by man of his origin and destiny, is the subject of Divine Revelation. Unassisted Reason has been, and ever must be, baffled in all her attempts to account for the present state, or to throw light on the future prospects, of our race. Of this there are many melancholy proofs, in the wild and disjointed systems into which the heathen mythology has moulded the early history of our world, and in the nature of those shadowy and joyless abodes, which it has fabled for the dwelling-places of good and bad men after death. Nor in these mysterious paths which Reason knows not, and which she cannot by any light of her own explore, has the learned philosopher been more successful in his inquiries than the untutored barbarian. With greater ingenuity, indeed, has he propounded his doubts concerning what we are, and in the darkness of a more magnificent gloom has he shrouded our hopes for futurity; but the speculations of both have alike tended to render perplexity more perplexed: and among all the thousand systems which learned and illiterate men have held on these deep matters, one only proposition has been laid down as certainly true; and that is, That man is miserable in time, and without hope for eternity.
This deplorable state of human knowledge, even when thus superficially glanced at, most plainly teaches two things: first, That man is in urgent need of a revelation from God; and secondly, That when such a revelation is given, his most important duty is carefully to study, and humbly to receive, all which it commands for his practice, and all which it proposes to his faith.
So far, no one, who professes to believe in the truth of the Christian revelation, will hesitate to accompany me. But it not unfrequently happens, that a truth generally stated meets with the willing acceptance of those who, in its more especial application, will resolutely deny some of its essential parts. And so it is in the case before us. The Papist, for example, and the Pelagian, the Arian, the Socinian, and many others--but to transcribe whose names would greatly exceed my limits-all zealously contend that the Bible is the word of God, and therefore the only standard of faith and morals; yet no sooner are its plainest doctrines stated, and individual texts cited in their proof, than each begins to take offence, and forthwith addresses himself to explain away, or altogether to invalidate the authority, of such passages as most clearly expose and condemn the fallacy and danger of his particular error.
It were to undertake a very unnecessary labour, did I attempt to refute the several opinions to which I have just alluded, the shafts of whose heresy have all been long blunted by ineffectual strokes against the shield of truth. I have only referred to them as many instances, in all of which Infidelity has had recourse to her uniform plan of attempting to misrepresent, or altogether to set aside, some portion of the word of God. But our godly fathers, who lived in the days when these several heresies began to infest the church, opposed them with all diligence and zeal, as so many stratagems of the devil, by the cruel deceitfulness of which he aimed at the subversion of the true faith. By the blessing of God on this their noble testimony, not seldom maintained through the agonies of martyrdom, we enjoy in its purity the faith once delivered to the saints: and it becomes us, in all meekness, but with unyielding faithfulness, to labour in like manner against the growth of such poisonous weeds amongst ourselves; if haply, by the same grace of God, we may succeed in repelling "those evils which the craft and subtlety of the devil and man are continually working against the church.
In compliance with this suggestion of duty, I have determined, if I shall be permitted, in a series of papers, of which this is the first, to expose the heresy and infidelity of an opinion very prevalent in these days, which obliquely contradicts some of the leading doctrines of Christianity, and which aims a more direct attack against the true and faithful declarations of prophecy, allegorizing and sublimating into absolute intangibility whatever is unfulfilled in its awful page. This opinion gives no uncertain note of its alliance, when it attempts to entrench itself in one of the strong-holds of the Papacy-namely, partial reading of the holy Scriptures. But to this it has betaken itself both in the pulpit and in the press. It is maintained through both these mediums of instruction, by men of no mean repute, that we should not meddle with the dark things of futurity. "It is wise," say they," and prudent, for Christians to leave unexamined the statements of prophecy not yet accomplished, which cannot be understood, because we see them not realized: it is enough for us that we believe what has already taken place." They tell us also, that it is rash and extravagant, and many unseemlier things than I choose to repeat, to search into the meaning of those glorious promises which pourtray the future blessedness of the true church, or to investigate those fearful threatenings which forebode the doom of the antichristian apostasy.
An opinion springing from such a source, and bearing on such principles, might well be expected to lead to wild and dangerous
conclusions. And this, as we shall hereafter see, it has not failed to do. In the mean time, I shall proceed, in what remains of this paper, to make some remarks on that most pestilent spirit of false humility, which seems in these times to be so much admired, and which deems it wise and prudent and modest in man that he give no heed to the words of his Creator.
And it is very plain that this spirit goes, in the first place, directly to destroy all true faith; the very essence of which is, to believe on the simple testimony of God's word that for which the common course of events affords no evidence, or that even which may seem rather to be contradicted by the probabilities of things. "Faith," says St. Paul, "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." That faith which believes only what is seen, or what is offered on the testimony of all history, is most obviously excluded by the Apostle's definition, as well as by the uniform tenor of Scripture, from being any part of the holy principle of which I speak. Does any one believe that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, led a life of sorrow, died on the cross, was buried, rose again, and ascended up to heaven? He only admits what he cannot deny, except on principles which would make it untrue that Cæsar governed Rome. Nay, has the testimony of Nature, as it is poured forth in the voice of her thunder, or inscribed on the leaves of her loveliness, convinced any one that there must be, and is, one God? He does well; but the devils also "believe and tremble." The faith which was counted to Abraham for righteousness, was that which believed the promise of God, though made as if to counteract the ordinary course of affairs. It could make glad the unquestioning Patriarch, while it directed his hopes, through the medium of dark sayings and obscure types of sufferings and glory, to the far-off day of the Messiah. In the exercise of no less unhesitating a faith could he believe, on the testimony alone of God's promise, that he-a childless old man-should yet, together with his own seed, numerous as the sand on the sea shore, inherit the land on which he was a stranger. By such a faith also it was that Job could know that his Redeemer lived, and that he should stand upon the earth at the latter day; and that, though his body should become the prey of worms, yet in his flesh he should see God." And how, let me ask, except in the exercise of a faith which made no account of this false prudence and modesty, could a pious Jew have believed any of all the prophecies which have already been fulfilled? Was it consistent, for example, with the ordinary course of things, that the "everlasting Father" should first be "the Son given?" that the Prince of Peace" should appear as a "Root out of a dry
ground?" that "the Messiah should be cut off?" that the mighty God" should be "found in fashion as a man," and "sold for thirty pieces of silver?" or that "a virgin should conceive and bring forth a Son?" Yet to all these, and many more points equally strange to the humility (i. e. pride) of human wisdom, was this assent required of the ancient Jewish church; and for her refusal to believe them, and her determination to study only such prophecies as she could understand, she was consumed with heavy judgments from God, but to read the accounts of which, at this distant period, makes the boldest pale. Such is faith; such the fulfilment of Prophecy, its proper object; and such is the vengeance of God on the unbelief of those who pay more respect to probability than to his word. And if there be truth in Scripture, and faithfulness in the all-faithful One, and power in the Omnipotent to keep his word, a storm of wrath will ere long visit unbelieving Christendom, so dreadful that the sacking of Jerusalem was but its faint fore-shadowing and type. Seeing, then, that the nature of faith is such as chiefly to regard things unseen and future, which must be the subjects of unfulfilled Prophecy; and since such is the fearful doom of unbelief; what principle can that be that requires us to leave unexamined what, if we believe not, we can have no faith beyond that of the infidel, no title to the inheritance of Abraham?
And towards this conclusion one of the arguments used by the supporters themselves of the dogma in question irresistibly presses. "Prophecy," say they, "cannot be understood till it be fulfilled; and that part alone of Prophecy which has met its accomplishment ought to be studied, for the strengthening of our faith." Of our faith in what? not surely in the prophecy fulfilled; that is no longer the object of faith, but of sense. And if in what is unfulfilled, how is our faith to be strengthened in that which we are not to examine? We cannot believe what we do not know.
But the commands in Scripture to read Prophecy, as well unfulfilled as what has been accomplished, are so numerous and so express, that no contradiction can address itself more grossly to the understanding, than that which asserts, first, that the Bible is the word of God; and in the same breath, that it is immodest, and imprudent, and unwise to study any part of it. 2 Pet. i. 19: "We have also a more sure word of prophecy, unto which we do well to take heed, as unto a light shining in a dark place." Rev. xix. 10: "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." Rev. i. 3: "Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand."
Dan. xii. 12: "Blessed is he that waiteth and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five-and-thirty days." Isai. xxxiv. 16: "Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read; no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his Spirit it hath gathered them."
To these, innumerable passages might be added to the same purpose; but those who will not be convinced by one, will withstand the force of all.
The opinion, therefore, that we ought not to search into the meaning of prophecy unfulfilled, is subversive of true faith, contradictory of itself, and most clearly against the express commandment of God. Where, then, shall it find its proper hiding place, if not in the bosom of infidelity?
Cambridge, Jan. 30, 1829.
ON THE VISIONS OF ZECHARIAH.
WHEN the sins of a people become ripe for judgment, and the measure of their iniquity is full, God has usually made a last appeal, by sending some prophet to warn them of the coming wrath—if haply they may repent; or, if none lay it to heart, to take witness against them that they have been warned, and are therefore self-condemned. Such to the old world were Enoch and Noah; such to the kings of Judah and Israel were the earlier of the Prophets; and such office did John Baptist and our Lord perform to the Jewish state and people. When, on the other hand, God is about to shew favour-to loose the bands of oppression, and let the captive go free-he sends notice of his gracious purpose, to prepare the hearts of his people, and to turn them to the Lord, who is about to have mercy upon them. Such notice Moses and Aaron carried to the bondsmen of Egypt; such were Ezra and Nehemiah to the captives of Babylon; and such were the invitations, of John Baptist and our Lord to those who would receive the Gospel. And when, again, they are entered upon the work whereunto they are called, having experienced the returning mercy of the Lord; other prophets are raised up, or further revelations given, to strengthen and encourage them in their labours, and to animate their hopes, by shewing the glorious termination of that course the entrance of which appears so disheartening. Such were Haggai and Zechariah to the restored captivity; and such were our Lord and his Apostles to the Christian church. These several messengers, whatever might be their peculiar message, have one cir