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ON TIIE DUTY OF PROPHETICAL INVESTIGATION AND DISCUSSION.
In taking up the subject of pro- has proved its meaning. But how phetical inquiry, and in proceeding contrary is this to the experience of to invite public attention to it, there the Church! Promise, the greater are two points, which owing to ex- portion of which is unfulfilled proisting circumstances seem to demand phecy, is declared in the New Tesa few preliminary observations. The tament to be a principal means first concerns the propriety of inves- whereby we are made partakers of tigating prophecy at all;—the second the divine nature ;c which could not respects the expediency of promoting be, wereit entirely vague and indefina discussion of it at this particular able: and under the Old Testament crisis. To these two points we now dispensation, the church was chiefly purpose, in unfeigned dependance sustained and nourished by propheon divine aid, briefly to address cy; most of the burning and shining ourselves.
lights raised up in it being prophets. I. We must here anticipate one of The very first promise, that the seed the advantages arising from discus- of the woman should bruise the head sion ; viz. that it has already tended of the serpent, was an unfulfilled to remove in most instances avowed prophecy, to which the church took objections to the study of prophecy. heed for 1000 years. Noah prepared It is not long since that ministers of his ark, moved by the fear of an unthe Gospel were frequently to be met fulfilled prophecy, or promise ; and with, who discountenanced investi. Abraham saw afar off, and rejoiced gation altogether: now it is gene- in the day of Christ, by means of rally admitted to be a duty, “ not to another. Joseph would not have didespise prophesyings;'abut “to take rected his bones to be removed, had heed thereto, as unto a light shining he not depended on prophecy for the in a dark place.”b There are indeed going out of his people : to which some who make this admission only prophecy the Lord afterwards rewith regard to fulfilled prophecies : ferred Moses and Aaron, as the and there are others, who, whilst pledge, that he would redeem them. they profess not to deprecate the The Israelites were encouraged to study of un-fulfilled prophecy, do ne- labour for their deliverance from capvertheless cumber the liberty of in- tivity by the prophecy concerning vestigation with so many exceptions, it: for as Jeremiah had prayed for and declare it in every instance to be and obtained an understanding of attended with so much danger, as the restoration of his people, when effectually to deter numbers of chris- they were about to be led into captians from entering upon the inquiry. tivity;d so Daniel understood the We shall confine our remarks there- times from the study of the writings fore under the first point for consid- of Jeremiah ;e-just as the faithful cration, to the duty of investigating were afterwards waiting for the Conunfulfilled prophecy in particular. solation of Israel from the study (as
1. The chief objection against this is presumed) of the book of Daniel. portion of Scripture is the alleged It was through attention to unfulimpossibility of understanding or filled prophecy, that the christians judging of prophecy, until the event left Jerusalem and escaped to the mountains, when the city was be- ed, that there were other prophecies, sieged by the Romans; and the which shewed that Messiah must Lord hath equally foretold the signs first suffer—they overlooked these, of that greater destruction, of which and suffered their attention to be abthe overthrow of Jerusalem was but sorbed with one class of predictions a type.
a 1 Thess. v, 20. 62 Pet, i, 19. c 2 Pet, i, 4.
Jer, xsxii, 16-41.
e Dan. ix, 2.
only. What was there to have preWe are aware that there are diffi- vented them from comprehending culties attending the interpretation such prophecies as the following: of the prophecies; and that, although viz.—that Jesus should be born of a some are to be literally understood, virgin ;—that he should ride upon an many are figurative or allegorical, ass ;—that he should be betrayed whilst others are constructed of the by one of his followers ;—that they literal and figurative intermixed: but should pierce his hands and his feet; of those which are not declared to be that they should part his garments sealed up, the difficulty has chiefly and cast lots for his vesture ;—that arisen from the extravagant practice he should be numbered with transof spiritualizing or allegorizing all gressors; and many other things, passages which relate to the future. which being plainly foretold were And great is the advantage which literally fulfilled ? The sharp rebukes this system has given to the enemies of Jesus, because the disciples did of revelation. They tell us that not understand that he ought to have Scripture is not a proper guide, be- suffered these things, and because cause every man hath his own inter- they were “slow of heart to believe pretation-his own way of explaining ALL that the prophets had written,” or accommodating it. The imagina- appear inconsistent, if they really tions of commentators, or the senti- could not have been understood. Inments of friends, have too frequently deed the whole Sanhedrim, ungodly been made the key to modern expo- and darkened as they were, did nesitions; whilst the plain text, which is vertheless answer Herod most corthe safest guide, has been neglected. rectly from the prophets, that Christ
2. The apostles are often brought should be born at Bethlehem : and forward, as an instance of men who it seems difficult to give a satisfacerred in regard to the proper under- tory reason therefore, why we may standing of those prophecies, which not previously derive some knowledge related to the first advent; and from of circumstances, which will attend their mistakes, the impossibility of the second advent; seeing that they any being able to understand what is are spoken of in Scripture, apparentforetold of the second advent, is con- ly as free from any figurative strucfidently insisted on. But we are of ture, as the passages already quoted. opinion that this circumstance is If the apostles erred, we have at commonly mis-stated and still more least the benefit of their example; misapplied. We do not think the which is undoubtedly recorded—not apostles and first disciples misunder- to lead us to conclude, that we must stood the prophecies, which led them inevitably mistake likewise ; but, to expect a manifestation of the
that we may profit by their errors kingdom of Christ on earth ; though and avoid them. they might have had much confu. 3. There is another series of prophesion and obscurity in regard to the cies, relating to God's dealings with time, and details, and nature of that the Jews, which are applicable to the kingdom : the fault of the apostles question before us; and which would was, that-though repeatedly warn- lead us to the conclusion, that one
eminent use of fulfilled prophecy is, tained, with sufficient correctness to argue from it as certain and liter- for us to be assured “that the time al an accomplishment of unfulfilled : of our redemption draweth nigh.” provided, as we are throughout as- St. Paul assumes of the Thessalonsuming, that the evident structure of ians, that they had so much of acit be not allegorical or emblemati. quaintance with “ the times and the
How remarkably has wrath seasons,” as to supersede the nefallen upon the Jews, without one cessity of writing to them on that jot or tittle having failed! They subject ;h insomuch that, though the are sifted among the nations; they day of the Lord would cume upon the are become a by-word, a hiss, a pro. world as a thief in the night, it would verb, a reproach; they abide without not overtake them in like manner. a prince, an altar, a sacrifice; not The Scriptures teach us, that there to mention other peculiar sufferings are prophecies, which which they endured of old time. Now intended to be known by the chris. Joshua lays it down as a rule, that tians of former ages, which never
as not one thing had failed of all the theless will be known by that genegood things which the Lord had ration for whom they are written ; of spoken concerning them: but all which Psalm cii, 18; Daniel xii. 4 had come to pass ; so therefore
so therefore and 9; and 1 Peter i, 10–12 are would the Lord bring upon them all remarkable instances. Let us bear in • the evil things.”f Seeing then that remembrance therefore, that it is dethe evil has now been brought to pass, clared to be one of the special offices and not one thing has failed of that: of the Holy Spirit,“ to guide us into by what rule, (it may be asked,) upon all truth and to slew us things to what consistent principle, can any
:"i and that the prophets, man venture to say, that the pro- who prophesied of the sufferings and mises of that good, now again to glory of Christ, did themselves insucceed is only a figure, and that quire and search diligently," conwe are not justified in expecting a cerning it,—"searching,"even when literal fulfilment?
the words were scarce uttered by 4. Weconclude this part ofour sub- them, “what, or WHAT MANNER OF ject by candidly avowing, that there TIME the Spirit of Christ which are difficulties attending the exposi- was in them did signify."j On the tion of prophecy; and that, if this be other hand there were men who true in regard to the events predicted, neglected the prophets, and were reit is more extensively the case with buked by our Saviour because they regard to times and dates. As re. knew not the signs of the times ;k and spects the day or even the year of an the burden of his lamentation over event, we are quite persuaded, that Jerusalem was, that they knew not God has purposely obscured it. But the time of their visitation.) our Lord would not therefore have II. If there are some, who disus indifferent and careless, either courage the study of unfulfilled proto the event or the period of its ful- phecy, there are more, who, from filment; but, on the very ground that various alleged causes, deprecate the we know not the hour, he commands discussion of the subject. In prous to watch.s
And though the day ceeding to refute some of the princicannot be known, something of the pal objections urged, we shall at the signs of its approach may be ascer- same time endeavour to shew the Compare Josh. xxiii, 14, 15, with Jer.xxxii, 42- 44. Matt. xxiv, 36-42. h 1 Thess. v, l
i Joha xvi, 13. j 1 Peter i, 10, 11. k Matt, xvi, 3. 1 Luke xix, 44.
duty and importance of discussion. benefit of the church, and to over
1. In the first place there is some- rule even their infirmities for the thing in the very word discussion, same end. He does not bestow on from which the minds of many ami- one individual all the various qualifiable persons revolt; who seem to cations which are necessary to keep view it as inconsistent with the ge- each other in due proportion, and to nius of christianity, and unfitted to produce a character without defect; promote the interests of true religion. (though doubtless some are more
We will not now press upon our richly gifted, and approach nearer readers the circumstance, that the to the standard of perfection, than ministry of the Lord Jesus, especi- others;) but he endows different men ally as set forth in the Gospel of the with opposite qualities, and by raising beloved disciple, is little else than a them
up in the same age, and bringseries of controversies ;--that the ing these opposite qualities into conchief part of the apostolical Epistles tact with each other, effects a wholeare likewise controversial;—and that
some equilibrium in the church at in the Scriptures we are urged to large. Thus we beliold sober judg· contend' and 'strive together' for ment given to one man, power of the faith of the Gospel.m We would imagination to another, caution to a now rather insist, that discussion has third, resolution to a fourth. Left been the principal means, whereby the to themselves, the judicious man beLord has promoted a proper know- comes fastidious; the imaginative ledge of the Gospel; as the experience man, extravagant; the cautious, tiof all ages evinces. In the first in- mid and inactive; the decided, rash stance itis useful in order to callatten
and presumptuous : but bring them tion to a new subject. There are ma- into mutual collision, and the one ny important doctrines which would proves a counterpoise to the other. have remained in obscurity, or atleast The fastidious and extravagant are have been confined to a few indivi- so far corrected, that dispassionate duals, had they not excited contro. members of the church obtain clearversy : but the stir which has been er views between them : and in the made concerning them has challenged mean while the impetuous provoke observation, and thereby many have and stir up the diffident and indolent; been led to make inquiry. And how- and the sanguineand unreflecting are erer true a doctrine may be in itself; compelled, by the doubts and objecyet, when it is confined to persons, tions interposed by men of an opwho are all of one opinion respecting posite temperament, to ponder their it, there is a tendency in human na- steps and often to retrace them. ture invariably to carry it to excess : Were these circumstances duly but when men, whose minds are va- considered and kept in mind by riously constructed, or whose preju- christians, it would be productive of dices are awakened, begin to cavil many advantages. First it would and object; then the doctrine is sifted, lead them to bear more patiently with extravagances are corrected, truth is each others infirmities : and, as refurther elicited and established, and gards themselves, when disposed to thus controversy is over-ruled for the take credit for some admirable qualadvancement of divine knowledge. ity in their own character, they
We have often admired the mode, would remember its proneness to in which it pleases God to distribute fall into excess, and to become a dehis manifold gifts unto men for the fect, without great watchfulness and
m Phil. i, 27. Jude 3 v.
humility. Secondly it would remind cannot at presentsee things with their them, that, though discussion is not cyes; as though the immediate recepwithout its concomitant evil, the re- tion or rejection of the views, which medy for that evil is not to abstain they themselves entertain, were the from inquiry ; still less to bid it touchstone of christian profession. into oblivion : but rather to meet Now, besides what we have advanced it in a candid and dispassionate under the last objection, it seems to spirit, and by calmly yet firmly us to betray a singular forgetfulness opposing our own views, endea- of gospel history to argue, that, bevour to correct and sober the opin- cause a man is for a time prejudiced ions of those whom we think in er- against some particular truth-even
And, thirdly, it would teach though that truth be of fundamenthem, that important propositions tal importance—therefore he cannot can rarely present themselves at once really be a child of God. Note the in such a light as to be seen by all prejudice and unbelief exhibited by with equal clearness; and that dis- men whose election of God, we must cussion and controversy are equally not for a moment question. Nathanessential to the entertainment of iel was at first disposed to doubt if right views, and to the preservation Jesus were the Messiah, because he of them when once acquired. As re- was reputed to be of Nazareth ; n and gards the prophetic question, this is many of the disciples of John the particularly the case; and we doubt Baptist appear to have regarded our not but God will over-rule our dif- Lord with sectarian jealousy. Niferences to correct and sober the codemus was not able to receive the opinions and expectations of all; and doctrine of regeneration, though to enable those, who now can only pressed upon him by Christ himself.P
see men as trees,” to behold the The necessity for the death of Jesus truth with greater clearness.
was not understood by any of his 2. But it will be objected, that dis- disciples before the event; whilst cussion has not only led good men to Peter in particular is rebuked, as dissent from each other; but that these speaking more after the spirit of dissensions have been accompanied Satan than of God in this matter.9 by much unchristian temper, evil Thomas was wonderfully sceptical surmisings, and alienation of heart, in regard to the resurrection from
We freely acknowledge--we deeply the dead. All the disciples, even deplore it : and because we do un- after the outpouring of the Spirit, feignedly deprecate the spirit, in were prejudiced in some measure which the subject has been urged against the calling of the gentiles : and opposed by some; together with whilst numbers of sincere persons the conclusions at which they hare had their minds warped in regard to arrived respecting each other; we the important doctrine of justificawould, before we reply to the ob- tion by faith. These things ought to jection drawn from hence, take the make us slow to judge our brethren. opportunity, in the spirit of affec- We conclude of these persons, that tionate remonstrance, to submit one they were brought before they died or two remarks for the consideration to receive the several truths at which of both parties.
they had stumbled : let the saints On the one hand then, some stu- now be patient in regard to those dents of prophecy have rashly pro- brethren, who differ from them in nounced on the safety of those, wbo matters which they deem important;
n John i, 46. o Ibid. iii, 26-30. p Ibid. iii, 9. 9 Matt. xiv, 23.