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nations) was peculiarly adapted. The successive scheme of Providence,” observes Bishop Hurd, “could only be signified together in a mode of language that contracted or enlarged itself as the occasion required. A figurative style is so proper to that end, that we can scarcely conceive how it could be accomplished by any other. For none but this hath fold and drapery enough, if I may so speak, to invest the greater subject; while yet (so complying is the texture of this expression) it readily adapts itself to the less considerable, which it ennobles only, not disfigures. It is the ordinary, accustomed dress of the one; and the robe of state for the other.”
And if the double sense and the symbolical style serve also to cast an intentional and commodious obscurity over much of the prophecies, (that very obscurity which the immensity of the plan, the nature of the subject, and the moral genius of the revelation to which prophecy belongs, rendered expedient,) this still further marks a foresight inimitable by human art or prudence.
That many branches of the prophetic scriptures, and much of its general scope, are sufficiently perspicuous even to the world at large, is manifest from the indignation which the bitterest adversaries of Christianity have betrayed. The objections of the modern Jew, admit all our chief predictions to be applicable to the Messiah, though they deny that our Jesus was be; that is, they admit the predictions to be sufficiently intelligible. The prophecies concerning the four empires of the world, and that of the destruction of Jerusalem, were so well understood by Porphyry and Julian the apostate, in the third and fourth century of the Christian æra, as to induce them to make different, but equally resolute, attempts to weaken and overturn their authority. The hardy assertions of modern unbelievers," that parts of the prophecies were composed after the events, are the most striking concessions which adversaries can make. These involuntary witnesses are the glory of the prophetic inspiration, and at once silence all objections on the ground of their obscurity.
Whilst, on the other hand, the rash and eager curiosity of too many persons in every age to pry into unfulfilled predictions, and the gross follies into which they have been betrayed, serve to show that if much larger measures of light had been thrown into the contexture of them, all the evils and confusion which we before adverted to, would have arisen. These opposite testimonies proclaim,
11 Bolingbroke, Voltaire, &c.
with a loud voice, the infinite wisdom and contrivance of the divine system.
V. Nor is THE CHARACTER OF THE PROPHETS themselves a consideration of small moment.
We observed, when we were speaking of the evidence derived from miracles, that they were performed by persons who had every other sign of a divine commission. A similar observation may be made here.
Our sacred prophets were not, like the heathen priests, the creatures of a base polytheism, driving a gainful trade, and communicating their oracles only occasionally, and upon the inducement of large gifts, without any holy doctrine, any connected purpose, or any one sign of a divine authority, either in themselves or in the religion which they supported. No. The characters of Abraham and Jacob; of Moses and Samuel; of Isaiah and Jeremiah; and of the prophets of the succeeding age, proved that they were holy men of God, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
1. They had a solemn mission and call known by all the nation. The word of the Lord came to them. They were set apart to the prophetical function. The mantle of the dying seer fell on the survivor.
2. They were men of sincere and elevated personal piety. Their holy lives became their office, and gave assurance of the inspiration with which they spake. Balaam and Caiaphas were indeed of a different character; but they are branded with the divine reprobation, and leave the spotless devotion of Samuel, and Moses, and David, and the other prophets, the more illustrious.
3. Their prophecies were but a small part of their general instructions; the great body of their doctrine was designed to teach the people all the practical parts of a divine religion-a religion the most pure, the most elevated, the most beneficent--as far above all other instructions ever given by man, as the Lord whom they served was superior to the idols of the heathen. They proclaimed the being and providence of God; they exposed the pretensions of the Pagan deities ; they put the truth of their mission on the footing of their declarations, and dared the false prophets to the prediction of futurity; they called men to repentance, conversion, and newness of heart; and they proffered the merciful promises of pardon and grace. In the midst of this course of doctrine, and in order to encourage the people to yield to it, they delivered their sacred oracles of a Saviour to come.
4. Moreover, their messages were often of the most distressing nature to their personal feelings, and the most obnoxious to the kings and princes of Israel and Judah. They were the pastors, and monitors, and reprovers of the great and powerful. Lamentation, and mourning, and woe, were written within and without the prophetic scroll. The offices of Nathan, and Gad, and Elijah, and Jeremiah, and Amos, compelled them to denounce the most unwelcome truths, under the most trying circumstances.
5. They also gave every sign of integrity, by suffering even unto death in the cause for which they pleaded. Frequently had the prophets to meet, not only the ordinary enmity of the human heart, but all the force of the secular arm, all the irritation of monarchs and princes, roused by false prophets. They were martyrs to the words which they predicted: Thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, was the reproach addressed to Jerusalem by our Lord.
6. Then they record minutely all the circumstances which might seem at first sight to make against them; they conceal not their own errors. Thrice doth Moses record his exclusion from Canaan on account of his unadvised expressions. The false prophets, who opposed