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We see then, on the principle, that pro- SERMON phecy was given for the sake of Jesus only, that no presumption lies against the truth of it, on account of its respecting chiefly one people, how inconsiderable soever in itself, or from its silence in regard to some of the largest and most flourishing kingdoms that have appeared in the world.
IV. Lastly (for I now hasten to an end of this discourse) I infer from the same principle, “ That, if, even after a mature consideration of the prophecies, and of the events, in which they are taken to be fulfilled, there should, after all, be some cloud remaining on this subject, which with all our wit or pains we cannot wholly remove, this state of things would afford no objection to prophecy, because it is indeed no other than we might reasonably ex
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For, 1. If Jesus be the end of prophecy, the same reasons that made it fit to deliver some predictions darkly, will further account to us for some degree of obscurity in the application of them to their corresponding events.
I say--will account to us for such obscurity
for, whatever those reasons were, they could not have taken effect, but by the intervention of such means, as must darken in some degree, the application of a prophecy, even after the accomplishment of it; unless we say, that an object can be seen as distinctly through a veil, as without one. For instance; figurative language is the chief of those means, by which it pleased the inspirer to throw a shade on prophecies, unfulfilled; but figurative language, from the nature of it, is not so precise and clear, as literal expression, even when the event prefigured has lent its aid to illustrate and explain that language.
If then it was fit that some prophecies concerning Jesus should be delivered obscurely, it cannot be supposed that such prophecies, when they come to be applied, will acquire a full and absolute perspicuity m.
m To this purpose the late learned and ingenious author of the Discourses on Prophecy" A figurative and dark description of a future event will be figurative and dark still, when the event happens." And again -“No event can make a figurative or metaphorical expression to be a plain or literal one.” Bishop Sherlock, Disc. II. p. 32 and 36. London, 1749.
2. If the dispensation of Jesus be the main Sermon subject of the prophecies, then may some of them be still impenetrable to us, because the various fortunes of that dispensation are not yet perfectly disclosed, and so some of them may not hitherto have been fulfilled. But the completion of a prophecy is that which gives the utmost degree of clearness, of which it is capable,
3. But lastly and chiefly, if the end and use of prophecy be to attest the truth of Christianity, then may we be sure that such attestation will not carry with it the utmost degree of evidence. For Christianity is plainly a state of discipline and probation : calculated to improve our moral nature, by giving scope and exercise to our moral faculties. So that,
. though the evidence for it be real evidence, and on the whole sufficient evidence, yet neither can we expect it to be of that sort which should compel our assent. Something must be left to quicken' our attention, to excite our industry, and to try the natural ingenuity of the human mind.
Had the purpose of prophecy been to shew, merely, that a predicted event was foreseen, then the end had been best answered by throw, ing all possible evidence into the completion. But its concern being to shew this to such only as should be disposed to admit a reasonable degree of evidence, it was not necessary, or rather it was plainly not fit, that the completion should be seen in that strong and irresistible light
For all the reasons, now given, (and doubtless, for many more) it was to be expected, that prophecy would not be one cloudless emanation of light and glory. If it be clear enough to serve the ends, for which it was designed ; if through all its obscurities, we be able to trace the hand and intention of its divine author; what more would we have? How improvidently, indeed, do we ask more of that great Being, who, for the sake of the natural world, clothes the heavens with blackness [Is. 1. 3.]; and in equal mercy to the moral world, veils his nature and providence in thick clouds, and makes darkness his pavilion [Ps. xviii,
n Le dessein de Dieu est plus de perfectionner la volonté, que l'esprit. Or, la clarté parfaite ne serviroit qu'à l'esprit, & nuiroit à la volonté. Pascal.
TO THESE deductions from the text, more might be added. For I believe it will be found that if the end of prophecy, as here delivered, be steddily kept in view and diligently pursued, it will go a great way towards leading us to a prosperous issue in most of those inquiries, which are thought to perplex this subject. But I mean to reason from it no farther than just to shew, in the way of specimen, the method in which it becomes us to speculate on the prophetic system. We are not to imagine principles, at pleasure, and then apply them to that system. But we are, first, to find out what the principles are, on which prophecy is founded, and by which it claims to be tried ; and then to see whether they will hold, that is, whether they will aptly and properly apply to the particulars, of which it is compounded. If they will, the system itself is thus far clearly justified. All that remains is to compare the prophecies with their corresponding events, in order to assure ourselves that there is real evidence of their completion.
The use of this method has been shewn in POUR capital instances. It is objected to the. scriptural prophecies, that they are obscure that they abound in double senses--that they were delivered to one people-- that, after all,