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Several great events happened soon after the birth
of the Messiah, according to the ancient Scriptures.
Other instances of fulfilment are at this day seen in
the religious state of the world, and there are parts
of the prophecy yet to be fulfilled. We are thus
placed in the middle of a great scheme, of which we
have seen the beginning and the progress. The
conclusion remains to be unfolded. But the corre-
spondence to the words of the prophets both in the
events which are past, and in the present state of
things, may establish our hope that the mystery of
God will be finished ; and the succession of events,
as they open in the course of Providence upon the
generations of men, gradually explains those parts
of the prophecy which were not understood.

The prophecies of the temporal state of Babylon,
Tyre, Egypt, and other nations which are now ful-
filling in the world, are so clear, that any one ver-
sant in history may compare the event with the pre-
diction — and I do not know a more pleasing, satis-
factory book for this purpose than Newton on the
Prophecies. But the prophecies of those events in
the spiritual state of the world, which were to hap-
pen after the birth of the Messiah, are in general
short and obscure ; and although any person who is
capable of considering the scheme of ancient pro-
phecy, may be satisfied of its looking forward to
the end of all things, yet without some assistance
it would be impossible for him to form a distinct


conception of what was to follow the birth of the
Messiah, and difficult even to refer events as they
arise, to their place in the prediction. This kind of
obscurity was allowed by God to remain upon the
ancient predictions respecting the future fortunes of
the Messiah's kingdom, because a remedy was to
arise in due time by the advent of that great Pro-
phet who, having fulfilled in his appearance one
part of those predictions, became the interpreter of
that which remains. The miracles by which he
showed that he was a messenger of heaven, and the
exact coincidence between the history of his life,
and the characters of the Jewish Messiah, were suf-
ficient to procure credit for his interpretation. He
was worthy to take the book which Daniel had said
was sealed till the time of the end, to open the seals
of it, and to explain to the nations of the earth the
words which were shut up therein. Thus Jesus
stands forth not only as the personage whom ancient
prophets had foretold, but as himself a Prophet. The
same spirit which had moved them, but whose signi-
fications of future events had ceased with Malachi,
speaks by that messenger of the covenant whom
Malachi had announced, and upon whom Isaiah had
said the spirit of the Lord should rest : and there is
opened in the discourses of Jesus and the writings of
his apostles, a series of predictions explicatory of the
dark parts of ancient prophecy, and extending to the
consummation of all things.

It is not possible to conceive a more perfect unity
of design than that which we have now traced in the
system of prophecy ; and every human scheme fades
and dwindles when compared with the znagnificence
and extent of this plan — Jesus Christ the corner-


stone which connects the old and the new dispensa-
tion ; in whom one part of the ancient predictions
received its accomplishment, and from whom the
other received its interpretation. The spirit of pro-
phecy thus ministers in two distinct methods to the
evidence of Christianity. It enclosed in the words
and actions of the Old Testament a proof that Jesus
was that person whom the Father had sanctified,
and sent into the world ; and it holds forth, in the
words uttered by Jesus and his apostles, that mark
of a divine mission, which all impostors have assu-
med, and which mankind have often ascribed to those
who did not possess it, but which, where it really
exists, may be easily distinguished from all false pre-
tensions, and is one of the evidences which the Al-
mighty hath taught us to look for in every messen-
ger of his. He claims it as his prerogative to declare
the end from the beginning, and from ancient times
the things that shall be ; he challenges the gods of
the nations to give this proof of their divinity ;
" Produce your cause, saith the Lord : bring forth
your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Show
the things that are to come hereafter, that we may
know that ye are gods." * And he hath given this
mark of his messengers : " When the word of the
prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be
known, that the Lord hath truly sent him."f

As Jesus assumed this universal character of a di-
vine messenger, so he was distinguished from other
prophets by the clearness, the extent, and the im-
portance of his predictions. And he showed that the
spirit was given to him without measure, by exercis-

* Isaiah xli. 21, 23 ; xlvi. 9, 10. t Jer. xxviii. 9-


ing the gift of prophecy upon subjects very diffe-
rent from one another, both in their nature, and in
their times. He foretold events which seem to be
regulated by the caprice of men, and those which
depend purely upon the will of God. He foretold
some events so near, that we find in Scripture both
the prophecy and the fulfilment ; others which took
place a few years after the canon of Scripture was
closed, with regard to which we learn the complete
fulfilment of the prophecy from contemporary histo-
rians ; others which are now carrying forward in
the world, with regard to which the fulfilment of
the prophecy is a matter of daily observation ; and
others which reach to distant periods, and to the
consummation of all things, which are still the ob-
jects of a Christian's hope, but with regard to which,
hope rises to perfect assurance by the recollection of
what is past.

This is a general view of the prophecies of Jesus
and his apostles ; and I recommend them to your
particular attention and study, because, in my opi-
nion, the evidence of Christianity derives two great
advantages from the study of them. The jirst ad-
vantage arises from their appearing to be the expli-
cation and enlargement of the short obscure predic-
tions contained in the Old Testament with regard to
the same events ; such an explication as no other
person was qualified to give, and therefore as clear
a demonstration of the prophetical spirit of Jesus as
if he had uttered a series of predictions perfectly new,
yet such an explication as illustrates the intimate
connection of the two dispensations. The prophe-
cies of Jesus and his apostles, while they introduce
many particulars that are not found in the writings


of the ancient prophets, are always consistent with
the^words spoken by them, referring to their images,
and unfolding their dark sayings. The highest
honour is, in this way, reflected upon the extent of
the scheme of ancient prophecy ; and Jesus, by
honouring this scheme, and carrying it forward, con-
firms his claim to the character of Jewish Messiah,
because he speaks in a manner most becoming that
great Prophet, who was to be raised up like unto
Moses. The second advantage arising from a parti-
cular study of the predictions of Jesus, is this, that
all the events, which constitute the history of his re-
ligion, thus appear to be the fulfilment of prophecy.
Besides the support which every one of them in its
place gives to the truth of Christianity, all together
unite as parts of a system, which had entered into
the mind of the Author of our religion, and when
they happen, they afford a demonstration that the
God of knowledge had put words into his mouth.

To perceive distinctly the nature and the import-
ance of this secondary advantage, the four Gospels
should be read from beginning to end, with a special
view to mark the prophecies of Jesus. In doing
this, you will set down the many instances in which
he discovers a knowledge of the human heart, of the
intentions and thoughts of both his friends and his
enemies, as of the same order with the gift of pro-
phecy. You will find predictions of common occur-
rences, and near events, which must have made a
deep impression upon those who lived with him ;
and, scattered through all his discourses, you will
meet with predictions of remote events, for which the
fulfilment of the predictions of near events was fitted
to procure credit. Out of the many particulars


which, upon such a review, may engage your atten-
tion, I select the following important objects, as af-
fording a specimen of the variety of our Saviour's
prophecies, and of the manner in which those events
which constitute the history of his religion, may be
considered as the fulfilment of his predictions ; the
prophecies of his death, of his resurrection, of the
gift of the Holy Ghost, of the situation and behavi-
our of his disciples, of the destruction of Jerusalem,
of the progress of his religion previous to that pe-
riod, of the condition of the Jewish nation subse-
quent to it, and of the final discrimination of the
righteous and the wicked.

1. The death of Jesus, that great event which,
when considered in the Scripture view of it, is cha-
racteristical of the Gospel as the religion of sinners,
is the subject of many of our Lord's prophecies. He
marks, without hesitation, the time, the place, and
the manner of it ; the treachery of one disciple, the
denial of another, the desertion of the rest, the sen-
tence of condemnation which the supreme council of
the Jewish nation, at a time when Jews were gather-
ed from all corners of the land, was to pronounce in
Jerusalem upon an innocent man, whom many of the
people held to be a prophet, and the execution of that
sentence by the Gentiles, to whom the rulers of the
Jews, jealous as they were of their own authority,
and indignant under the Roman yoke, were to de-
liver the pannel. But of all the kinds of death which
might have been inflicted, the prophecy of Jesus se-
lects one unknown in the land of Judea, and reserv-
ed by the Romans for slaves, who, having been dis-
tinguished from freemen in their life, were distin-
guished also in the manner of their death. It is not


possible to conceive any events more contingent than
those which this prophecy embraces. Yet it was
literally fulfilled. When you examine it attentively,
there are several particulars which you will be de-
lighted with marking, because they constitute an in-
direct support to the truth of Christianity, arising
out of the contexture of the prophecy. Thus, you
will find that the prophecy applies to Jesus many
minute circumstances in the Jewish types of the
Messiah, and in this way shows us that as the death
of the Messiah had been shadowed forth by the sacri-
fices of the law, and foretold by Isaiah and Daniel,
so the manner of it had, from the beginning, been in
the view of the spirit of prophecy, and was signified
beforehand in various ways. You will admire the
magnanimity of that man who came into the world
that he might lay down his life, and who never court-
ed the favour of the people, or shrunk from the dis-
charge of any duty, although all the circumstances
of barbarity that marked his death were fully before
his eyes. You will admire the dignity, and the re-
gard to the peace of his country, which restrained
Jesus from raising the pity and indignation of the
multitude by publishing his future sufferings to them,
and which led him to address all the clear minute
predictions of his death to his disciples in private.
You will admire the tenderness and wisdom with
which he delayed any such communication even to
them, till they had declared a conviction of his be-
ing the Messiah, and then gradually unfolded the
dismal subject as they were able to bear it ; and you
will perceive the gracious purpose which was pro-
moted by the growing particularity of his prophecy,
as the event drew near. " Now," says he, " I tell


you before it come, that when it is come to pass, ye
may believe that I am he." *

2. The circumstances of his death, every one of
which had been foretold by himself, thus served to
procure credit for that prophecy of his resurrection,
which was always conjoined with them. The an-
cient prophets had declared that the Messiah was to
live for ever ; and as both Isaiah and Daniel, who
spoke of his everlasting kingdom, had spoken also
of his being cut off out of the land of the living, their
words implied that he was to rise from the dead.
This implication of a resurrection was brought out
by our Lord. Conscious of the divine power which
dwelt in him, he said that on the third day he should
rise again ; and in the hearing of all the people, he
held forth Jonas as a type of himself. The people
recollected his words as soon as he was put to death,
for " the chief priests and Pharisees came together
unto Pilate, saying. Sir, we remember that that de-
ceiver said, while he was yet alive, after three days
I will rise again :" f and they vainly employed pre-
cautions to prevent the fulfilment of his prophecy.
The apostles have left a most natural picture of their
own weakness and disappointment, by transmitting
it upon record to posterity, that the death of Jesus
effaced from their minds his promise of rising again,
or at least destroyed in the interval their faith of its
being fulfilled. But you will find that both the an-
gels who appeared to the women, and our Lord in
his discourses with the disciples, recalled the jn-o-
phecy to their minds: and, by one expression of
John, you may judge of the confirmation which their

* John xiii. 19. t Matt, xxvii. 02, 63.


faith was to receive from the recollection of predic-
tions which had been addressed to themselves, and
the fulfilment of which they had seen. When the
Jews asked a sign of him, he said, '• Destroy this
temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The
Jews understood him to mean the temple in which
they were standing. " But he spake," says John,
*• of the temple of his body. When, therefore, he
was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered
that he had said this unto them ; and they believed
the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said." *
There is no fact in the history of the Christian re-
ligion more important than the resurrection of Jesus.
It is that seal of his commission, without which all
the others are of none avail ; the assurance to us
that the purpose of his death is accomplished, and
the pledge of our resurrection. " If Christ be not
risen, our faith is vain." As the evidence of the fact
therefore will appear to us, when we jDroceed to exa-
mine it, to be most particular and satisfying, so it
was most natural that this very important fact
should be the subject of jDrophecy.

S. Our Lord foretold also that he was to ascend
into heaven ; and the fulfilment of this prophecy was
made an object of sense to the apostles as far as their
eyes could reach. But that they might be satisfied
there was no illusion, and that the rest of the ^vorld
might know assuredly that he was gone to the Fa-
ther, the prophecy of this ascension was connected
with the promise of the Holy Ghost, which he said
he would send from his Father to comfort the dis-
ciples after his departure, to qualify them for preach-

* John ii. 18—2;?.


ing his religion, and to ensure the success of their
labours. You learn from the book of Acts the ful-
filment of this promise ; and, when you examine the
subject, the following circumstances will deserve
your attention. The miraculous gifts poured forth
on the day of Pentecost are stated by the apostle
Peter as " that which was spoken by the prophet
Joel ; And it shall come to pass in the last days,
saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all
flesh." * The last days is a prophetical expression
for the age of the Messiah, which was to succeed the
age of the law. It is plain that the prophecy of Joel
had not been fulfilled before the day of Pentecost ; for
during the greater part of the time that had elapsed
between the word of Joel and that day, the prophe-
tical spirit had ceased entirely. His word did receive
a visible fulfilment upon that day ; and this fulfilment
being an event which our Lord had taught his apos-
tles to look for, Peter was entitled to apply the word
of Joel to the event which then took place ; and our
Lord appears in his promise of the Holy Ghost, as in
his other prophecies, to be the true interpreter of an-
cient predictions. Further, The promise of Jesus
does not respect merely the inward influences of the
Spirit. These, however essential to the comfort and
improvement of man, do not admit of being clearly
proved to others, either by the testimony of sense,
or by the deductions of reason, and cannot always be
distinguished by certain marks from the visions of
fanatical men. But the promise of Jesus expresses
precisely external visible works, to which the power
of imagination does not reach, and with regard to

* Acts ii. HJ, 17.


which every spectator may attain the same assurance
as with regard to any other object of sense. " These
signs," said Jesus before his ascension, " shall fol-
low them that believe. In my name shall they cast
out devils ; they shall speak with new tongues ;
they shall take up serpents, and, if they drink any
deadly thing, it shall not hurt them ; they shall lay
hands on the sick, and they shall recover." * It limits
a time, within which the faculty of performing sucli
works was to be conferred ; and it chooses the most
public place as the scene of their being exhibited.
For Jesus, just before he was taken up into heaven,
" commanded his apostles that they should not de-
part from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the
Father, which," saith he, " ye have heard of me ;
ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many
days hence." f Lastly, You will be led by the exa-
mination of this subject to observe, that when the
works performed, in consequence of the gifts con-
ferred upon the day of Pentecost, became palpable to
the senses of men, they were, like the miracles of
Jesus, the vouchers of a divine commission. Being
performed in his name, and in fulfilment of his pro-
mise, they were fitted to convince the world that he
had received power from the Father after his ascen-
sion, and that he had given this power to his apostles.
These men were, in this way, recommended to the
world as sent by Jesus to carry forward the great
scheme which he had opened. Full credit was pro-
cured for all that they taught, because their works
were the signs of those internal operations by which
they were inspired with the knowledge, wisdom, and

• Mark xvi. 17, IS. t Acts i. 4, 5.


fortitude necessary for their undertaking ; and their
works were also the pledges of the fulfilment of that
promise which extends to true Christians in all ages,
that the Holy Spirit shall be given to those who ask
it, according to the measure of their necessities.

4. The fourth subject of our Lord's prophecies
which I mentioned, was the situation and the beha-
viour of his apostles after he should leave them. He
never amused them with false hopes ; he forewarn-
ed them of all the scorn, and hatred, and persecution
which they were to exjiect in preaching his religion :
and yet, although he had daily experience of their
timidity, and slowness of apprehension, although he
foretold that at his death they would forsake him, yet
he foretold with equal assurance, that after his ascen-
sion they should be his witnesses to the ends of the
earth ; and he left in the hands of these feeble men,
who were to be involved in calamities upon his ac-
count, that cause for which he had lived and died,
without expressing any apprehension that it would
suffer by their weakness. " If ye were of the world,"
he says in his last discourse to them before his death,
" the world would love his own, but because ye are
not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the
world, therefore the world hatetli you. They shall
put you out of the synagogues ; yea, the time cometh,
that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth
God service. And these things will they do unto
you, because they have not known the Father, nor
me. But these things have I told you, that when
the time shall come, ye may remember that I told
you of them." * There is in all this a dignity
of manner, and a consciousness of divine resources,

* John XV. ].0; xvi. 2, .% 4.


which exalts Jesus above every other person that
appears in history. When we see in the propagation
of his religion, the fortitude, the wisdom, and the
eloquence of his servants, their steadfastness amidst
trials sufficient to shake the firmest minds, and the
joy which they felt in being counted worthy to suf-
fer for his name, we remember his words, and we
discern the fruits of that baptism, wherewith they
were baptized on the day of Pentecost. In a hero-
ism, so different from the former conduct of these
men, and so manifestly the gift of God, we recognise
the spirit which both dictated the prophecy, and
brought about the event ; and our Lord's prediction
of the situation and behaviour of his apostles, when
thus compared with the event, furnishes the most
striking illustration of his truth, his candour, his
knowledge, and his power.

5. ^\ e come now to the longest and most circum-
stantial of our Lord's prophecies. It respects imme-
diately the destruction of Jerusalem ; but we shall
find that it embraces also the remaining subjects of
prophecy which I mentioned, and, in speaking of
them, I mean to follow it as my guide.

The prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem was
uttered at a time when Judea was in complete sub-
jection to the Romans. A Roman governor resided
in Jerusalem with an armed force ; and this state,
no longer at enmity with the masters of the world,
was regarded as a part of the Roman empire. There
was, it is true, a general indignation at the Roman
yoke, a tendency in the minds of the people to sedi-
tion and tumult, and a fear in the council lest these
sentiments should at some time be expressed with
such violence, as to provoke the Romans to take


away their place and their nation. It was, in fact,
the turbulent spirit, and the repeated insurrections
of the Jewish people, which did incense the Romans ;
and a jDerson well acquainted with the disaffection
which generally prevailed, and the character of those
who felt it, might foresee that the public tranquilli-
ty would not continue long, and that this sullen stiff-
necked people were preparing for themselves, by their
murmurings and violence, more severe chastisements
than they had endured, when they were reduced in-
to the form of a Roman province. But although a
sagacious enlightened mind, which rose above vul-
gar prejudices, and looked forward to remote conse-
quences, might foresee such an event, yet the man-
ner of the chastisement, the signs which were to an-
nounce its approach, the measure in which it was to
be administered, and the length of time during which
it was to continue, — all these were out of the reach
of human foresight. There is a particularity in this
prophecy, by which it is clearly distinguished from
the conjectures of wise men. It embraces a multi-
tude of contingencies depending upon the caprice of
the peojile, upon the wisdom of military command-
ers, upon the fury of soldiers. It describes one cer-
tain method of doing that which might have been
done in many other ways, a method of subduing a
rebellious city very different from the general con-
duct of the Romans, who were too wise to destroy
the provinces which they conquered, and very op-
posite to the character of Titus the emperor, under
whose command Jerusalem was besieged, one of the
mildest and gentlest men that ever lived, who,
placed at the head of the empire of the world, is called
by historians, the love and delight of mankind. The


author of a new religion must have been careless of
his reputation, and of the success of his scheme, who
ventured to foretell such a number of improbable
events without knowing certainly that they were to

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 32)