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SERMON that they should even treat the subject with some
scorn, while they judge of it by the rule of human prudence, and not of divine wisdom: for, though they would readily own themselves incapable of pronouncing on the secret counsels of God, if prophecy, in its whole administration, be regarded as proceeding merely from him ; yet, from their knowledge of human nature, they would think, and with some reason, they were well able to conceive how the spirit of prophecy would be administered, if man had the disposal of this spirit committed to him.
Now it happens, as I said, (by an inexcusable perverseness, or inattention, indeed, yet in fact it so happens) that, to the consideration of the argument from prophecy, as applied to the proof of the Christian religion, many inquirers bring with them this strange and fatal prejudice ; and then their reasonings, or rather conjectures, on the SUBJECT, the end, and the DISPENSATION of prophecy, are only such, as this prejudice may be expected to inspire.
I. Judging for ourselves, and by the light of human investigation only, there might be some ground for supposing, that, if it should please God at any time to confer the gift of prophecy on his favoured servants, they would be solely
or chiefly commissioned to unfold the future SERMON fortunes of the most conspicuous states and kingdoms in the world: that so divine a power would embrace, as its peculiar object, the counsels and enterprizes, the successes and triumphs of the most illustrious nations; those especially, which should rise to the summit of empire by generous plans of policy, and by the efforts of public virtue; of free states, in a word, such as we know to have flourished in the happier ages of Greece, and such as we still contemplate with admiration in the vast and awful fabric of Consular Rome. This we might think a filt object for the prophetic spirit to present to us; as corresponding in some degree to the sublime character of a prophet ; and as most worthy, in our conceptions, of the divine attention and regard,
But how are we surprized to find that this astonishing power, the most signal gift of Heaven to mankind, hath, in its immediate application at least, respected, many times, obscure individuals, whose names and memory are only preserved in one barbarous chronicle, hath been chiefly employed, and, as we are ready to express it, thrown away on one single state, or rather family; inconsiderable in the extent of its power or territory; sequestered
SERMON from the rest of the nations, and hardly known 1.
among them a; with some mention, perhaps, of greater things, but incidentally touched, as it may seem, and as they chanced to have some connexion with the interests of this sordid people!
Was this a stage, on which it might be expècted that the God of heaven would condescend to display the wonders of his prescience; when He kept aloof, as it were, from more august theatres, and would scarcely vouchsafe to have the skirts of his glory seen by the nobler and more distinguished nations of the World?
Such questions as these are sometimes asked. But they are surely asked by those, who con
6 Thus Celsus represents the Jews-μηδέν πώποτε αξιόλογος πράξανθας, τα εν λόγω, έθ' έν αριθμό αυτές πολε γεγενημένες. ORIG. contra Cels. l. iv. p. 181, ed. Spenc. Cantab. 1677. And in p. 175, he represents it as the highest absurdity in such reptiles to pretend that their insignificant concerns were the objects of divine prediction, and that the supreme Governor of the world, who had so many greater things upon his hands, should be only solicitous, as it were, to keep up a perpetual intercourse with them. See the whole passage, which the philosopher seems to have taken a pleasure to work up with much oratorical amplification.-- Julian, too, was much pleased with this foolish objection.
sider the prophets, 'as acting wholly on human "SERMON views and motives; and not as over-ruled in all their predictions by the spirit of God. For it is natural enough for vain man, if left to himself in the exercise of the prophetic power, to turn his view towards such objects as appear to him great, in preference to others; and to estimate that greatness by the lustre of fame, in which they shine out to the observation of mankind. But a moments reflection may shew the probability, the possibility at least, that God's thoughts are not as our thoughts ; and that, if the prophet's foresight be under the divine influence, there may be reason enough to direct it towards such scenes and objects, as we might be apt to undervalue or overlook. It is even very conceivable, that, if God be the dispenser of prophecy, and not man, all that seems great and illustrious in human affairs may to his all-judging eye appear small and contemptible b; and, on the other hand, what we account as nothing, may, for infinite reasons, unknown to us, but so far as he is pleased to discover them, be of that importance as to merit the attention of all his prophets from the foundation of the world.
b Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the dust of the balance. Isaiah xl. 16.
It is evident, then, that to reason in this manner on the subject of divine prophecy, is to suffer ourselves to be misled by a poor and vulgar prejudice, and to forget, what we should ever have present to us, the claim of God's prophets to speak, not as themselves will, but as they are moved by his Spirit.
II. The End, or ultimate purpose of pro
, END phetic illumination, is another point, on which many persons are apt to entertain strange fancies, and to frame unwarrantable conclusions, when they give themselves leave to argue on the low supposition, before mentioned,
1. It is then hastily surmized that the sçriptural prophecies, if any such be acknowledged, could only be designed, like the Pagan oracles, to sooth the impatient, mind under its anxiety about future events; to signify beforehand to states or individuals, engaged in high or hazardous undertakings, what the issue of them would be, that so they might suit their conduct to the information of the prophet, and either pursue
with vigour, or expect their impending fate with resignation, For, what other or worthier end, will some say, can Heaven propose to itself by these extraordinary communications, than to prepare