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ing to be fully accomplished, till the end of SERMON

III,

that age.

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Now, whatever reasons might make it fit, in the view of infinite wisdom, to defer the execution of this scheme to so distant a period, may probably be conceived to make it fit, that the delivery of it should be proportionably dark and obscure. A certain degree of light, we will say, was to be communicated from the date of the prophecy: but it is very conceivable that the ages nearer the completion of it, might be more immediately concerned in the event predicted ; and that, till such time approached, it might be convenient to leave the prediction in a good degree of obscurity.

The fact answers to this presumption. Prophecies of very remote events, remote, I mean, from the date of the prediction, are universally the most obscure. As the season advanced for their accomplishment, they are rendered more clear: either fresh prophecies are given, to point out the time, and other circumstances, more determinately; or the completion of some prophecies affords new light for the interpretation of others, that are unfulfilled. Yet neither are we to conceive that those fresh prophecies, or this new light removes all obscu

III.

SERMONrity : enough is still left to prevent or disap

point the efforts of presumption; and only so much additional clearness is bestowed on the prophecy, as the revealer saw fit to indulge to those who lived nearer the time of its completion.

But this is not all: By looking into that plan of providence, which respects Jesus, and the ends to be accomplished by him, as it is drawn out in the sacred writings, we find a distinct reason for the obscurity of the prophecies, relative to that subject.

We there find it to have been in the order of the divine councils, that, between the first dawnings of revelation and the fuller light of the Gospel, an intermediate and very singular economy, yet still preparatory to that of Jesus, should be instituted. This æconomy (for reasons, which it is not to our present purpose to deduce, and for some, no doubt, which we should in vain attempt to discover) was to continue for

many ages, and while it continued, was to be had in

that people, for whom it was more immediately designed. But now the genius of those two dispensations, the Jewish, I mean, and the Christian, being wholly different; the one, carnal, and enforced by temporal sanctions only, the other, spiritual, and established

honour among

1

NII.

on better promises, the prophets, who lived Sermon
under the former of these dispensations (and
the greater part of those, who prophesied of
Jesus, lived under it) were of course so to pre-
dict the future economy, as not to disgrace
the present. They were to respect the Law,
even while they announced the Gospel, which
was, in due time, to supersede it a.

So much, we will say, was to be discovered as might erect the thoughts of men towards some better scheme of things, hereafter to be introduced ; certainly so much, as might sufficiently evince the divine intention in that scheme, when it should actually take place; but not enough to indispose them towards that state of discipline, under the yoke of which they were then held. From this double purpose, would clearly result that character, in the prophecies concerning the new dispensation, which we find impressed upon them; and which St. Peter well describes, when he speaks of them, as dispensing a light indeed, but a light shining in a dark place.

Upon the whole, the delivery of prophecy seems well suited to that dispensation which it

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SERMON

III.

was given to attest. If the object in view had been one single event, to be accomplished all at once, it might perhaps be expected that the prophecies concerning it would have been clear and precise. But, if the scheme of Christianity be what the scriptures represent it to be, a scheme, commencing from the foundation of the world, and unfolding itself by just degrees through a long succession of ages, and to be fully accomplished only at the consummation of all things, prophecy, which was given to-attend on that schene, and to furnish a suitable attestation to it, must needs be supposed to adapt itself to the nature of the dispensation; that is, to have different degrees of clearness or obscurity according to its place in the general system; and not to disclose more of it, or in clearer terms, at any one period, than might consist with the various ends of wisdom which were to be served by the gradual opening of so vast and intricate a scene.

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ANOTHER circumstance, of affinity with this, is apt to strike us, in the contemplation of the scriptural prophecies. There is reason to believe that more than one sense was purposely inclosed in some of them; and we find, in fact, that the writers of the New Testament give to many of the old prophecies an inter

III.

pretation very different and remote from that Sermon which

may be reasonably thought the primary and immediate view of the prophets themselves. This is what Divines call the DOUBLE SENSE of prophecy: by which they mean an accomplishment of it in more events than one; in the same system indeed; but at distant intervals, and under different parts of that system.

Now, as suspicious as this circumstance may appear at first sight, it will be found, on inquiry, to be exactly suited to that idea of prophecy which the text gives us of it, as being, from the first, and all along, intended to bear Testimony to Jesus. For from that idea I conclude again,

II. “ That prophecies of a double sense may well be expected in such a scheme."

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And where is the wonder that, if prophecy was given to attest the coming of Jesus and the dispensation to be erected by him, it should occasionally, in every stage of it, respect its main purpose ; and, though the immediate object be some other, it should never lose sight of that, in which it was ultimately to find its repose and end?

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