George Richards.

The divine origin of prophecy illustrated and defended : in a course of sermons preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCC .. online

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LIBRARY

FEIN Ci: TON, K. J. A

No. (hse. &i».««vGn ^ \ .

- BR fi b .B3 5 l &QO.,^

Bampton lectures






^



THE DIVINE ORIGIN OF PROPHECY
ILLUST1R.ATED AND DEFENDED

IN A COURSE OF

SERMONS

PREACHED BEFORE

THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD,

IN THE YEAR MDCCC.

AT THE

V

LECTURE FOUNDED BY JOHN BAMPTON, M. A.

CANON Of SALISBURY. -^



BY

THE REV. GEORGE RICHARDS, M. A.

VICAR OP BAMPTON ; AND RECTOR OF LILLINGSTONH

LOVELL, OXFORDSHIRE ; AND LATE FELLOW

OF ORIEL COLLEGE.



De divinatione, quae eft earum rerum, quae fortuity putantur, pra?-
didlio, atque prafenfio; id, fi placet, videamus, quam habeat
vim, et quale fit. E50 enim fie exiftimo ; fi fint ea genera divi-
nandi vera, de quibus acccpiraus, qusque coF aus, effe Deoj.

Cic, deDiv. lib. i. fea. 5.



OXFORD:

AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, FOR THE AUTHOR ;

SOLD BY HANWELL AND PARKER;

AND F, AND C. BIVINGTON, AND T. HATCHARD, LONDON.

1800.



IMPRIMATUR,



Coll. Di. Joh. Baft.
8 Mail 1800.



MICH. MARLOW,
Vice-Can. Oxon.



TO THE HONOURABLE AND RIGHT REVEREND

SHUTE BARRINGTON, LL. D.

LORD BISHOP OF DURHAM,

WHOSE ZEAL IN PROMOTING SACRED LITERATURE,

AND FAITHFUL DISCHARGE OF THE DUTIES

OF AN EXALTED STATION,

EFFECTUALLY CONTRIBUTE

TO THE SUPPORT

OF THE

CHRISTIAN RELIGION ;

WHILE HIS UNREMITTING ASSIDUITY

IN IMPROVING THE CONDITION

OF THE HONEST AND LABORIOUS POOR

ADORNS ITS PROFESSION

AND ILLUSTRATES ITS PUREST PRECEPTS j

THESE LECTURES,

COMPOSED IN ITS DEFENCE,

ARE RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED

BY HIS MUCH OBLIGED

AND VERY GRATEFUL SERVANT,

G. RICHARDS-







Extradi from the laji Will and 'Teflameni of
the late Rev, John Bamptoriy Canon of
Salijbury.

*' I dire(5l and appoint, that the

" eight Divinity Le6lure Sermons Ihall be
" preached upon either of the following
*' fubje<5ls — to confirm and eftablifh*the
*' Chriflian Faith, and to confute all here-
** tics and fchifmatics — -upon the divine
" authority of the Holy Scriptures, &Cc — •



*p>PERTY~or



'^m




ON I.



ZECHARIAH vii. ^

Should ye not hear the word, which
the lord hath spokenby the former
prophets, when jerusalem was in-
habited and in prosperity ?

X HE prevailing Infidelity of the prefent
times has diverted attention from all in-
ferior confi derations, to a defence of the
fundamental arguments in favour of Chrif-
tianity. The fubjecfts, v^^hich were once
.difcuffed as the moft important in Theo-
logical warfare, are difregarded, and al-
moft loft, in the momentous conteft, to
which the Chriftian champion is now fum-
moned. We no longer ftrive for the fub-
ordinate parts of our Religion ; the whole
has been afiailed. The controveriy is not
B confined



2 S E R M O N I.

confined to a fnigle article of faith, to a
few difputed paflages in the facred Writ-
ings, or to the particular difcipline of a
favoured Church. Our adverfaries have re-
jeded all articles of faith, have renounced
the holy Scriptures at large, and have de-
clared their hoftility againfl the very prin-
ciple of a Religious Eftablifliment. Ar-
guments the moll: fubtle, and raillery the
moll infidious, have been but too fuccefs-
fully employed in diminifliing the effed: of
the evidences of Chriftianity, and releafmg
the mind from the falutary influence of
Religion. Though the writings of thefe
daring unbelievers are diftinguiflied by
palpable mifreprefentatlons, which the moft
fliamelefs alone could venture to obtrude,
and which the moft ignorant alone can be
induced to credit ; yet they deliver their
fentiments with a perfpicuity and fami-
liarity, which the meaneft underftanding
may apprehend, with a flow of vulgar
pleafantry, which is peculiarly calculated
to affect the imaginations of the lower or-
ders of fociety, and with an authoritative
decifion, which the fcholar only can firmly
and efFeduaily refift. The faith even of

the



SERMON I. 3

tlie inhabitants of our own happy country
has of late been feverely tried by tiiefe
impious produdions. While moft of the
great kingdoms of Europe have not only
been inundated with the pernicious p;orks
of the blafphemers ; but in too many in-
stances the people at large have fallen the
pielancholy victims of the fatal delufion.

But Infidelity has not merely been pro-
pagated in the writings of the pretended
philofopher with a degree of zeal which
is without example ; it has alfo been
adopted as a powerful infiirument of am-
bition : it has fallacioully been propofed to
the people of all nations, as one of the prin-
cipal means, by which they may arrive at
an ideal ftate of liberty which is really im-
pra(5licable, and of happinefs which is really
unattainable ; and, in its later ftages, it has
received a temporary addition of authority
and importance, from the fplendor of fuc-
cefs and the fword of the civil magiftrate.

To oppofe the effrontery of thefe nu-
merous and powerful adverfaries, and to
deted and remove thefe pernicious errors,
B a we



4 SERMON I,

wx mufl: recur to the fundamental argu-
ments in defence of our Religion. On 'all
occafions, but efpecially in feafons like the
prefent, we fhould more particularly la-
bour to convince the young and the unin-
formed by ftatements, which in the judg-
ment of cool and reafonable enquirers may
appear irrefiftible, that Chriftianity is not
an human fidion, but the undoubted Re-
velation of God. All inferior confidera-
tions iliould in the firil ififtance be entirely
neglected ; and the attention fliould be
folely direded to this one momentous
truth. When, after a full and candid in-
veftigation, it has been deeply impreiTed
upon the mind, the fubtleties of the fophift
will be vain, and the wit of the fcofFer
will be heard with indignation or difguft.
One decifive teftimony in favour of a mi-
raculous interpofition, when eftablifiied be-
yond the poffibility of doubt, muft operate
upon the mind of the m_odern Chriftian,
with the fame refiftlefs effed, which was
produced among the early converts, when
they beheld Chrift and his Apoftles by a
word, or by a touch, reftoring fight to the
blind, and making the lame to walk.

Meta-



S E R M O N L 5

Metaphyfical difcuffion, fallacious rea-
fbning, and brilliant wit, have been di-
reSicd, with uncommon energy, againft
the preternatural evidences, which efta-
blifh the divine claims of Revelation. The
exiftence of Miracles, and the truth of
Prophecy, have been affailed by every fpe-
cies of attack, which could fuggeft itfelf to
men, who feem to have been aduated hf'
a fpirit of iyftematic oppofition, of hard-
ened prejudice, and fbmetimes, it is tq be
feared, even of inveterate malignity.

I fliall not, therefore, I truft, undertake
an ufelefs or unwelcome office, if I direct
your attention to one of the two great
preternatural evidences, by which the di-
vine origin of Chriflianity has been aiTerted
and confirmed.

That men would not be left to the in-
fufficient and treacherous guidance of their
own unaided reafon, upon the fubjedl of
Religion, but that their Maker would
afford them additional affiftance, and re-
veal the important truths, upon which
their eternal happinefs depends, muft ^e
B 3 allowed^



6 SERMON I.

allowed, by all candid and difpaflionate en-
quirers, to be in the higheft degree probable.
We are indeed compelled to admit this
probability both by our juft conceptions of
the benevolence of the Creator, and by the
urgent wants of the creature, as acknow-
ledged in the modeft confeffions of the
wifeft philofophers ^ of antiquity, and de-
monftrated by the religious ignorance and
moral depravity of the whole Pagan world.
The hiftory of all nations from which the
light of Revelation has been withholden,
the prevailing unconfcioufnefs of a fuper-
intending Providence, the horrid rites by
"w^hich they have fometimes been polluted,
the corrupt fentiments by which they have
always been partially degraded, the errors
of principle, and the bafenefs of pradtice,
which they exhibited, and the cheerlefs
uncertainty, with which, even in ages of
fcience and refinement, they contemplated
the profpedl of a future world, — thefe cir-
cumilances coUedively confidered abun-
dantly juftify our expedlation, and even

* Plato in Alclbiade 51. Id, in Apol. Socrat. Cic. TufcuL
Quaeft. 1. i. Plato de Republica, 1. vi. See alfo Clarke's
Evidence of Natural and Revealed Religion, feft. 6, J.

clearly



SERMON I. 7

clearly demonftrate the ilrong neceffity of
a divine Revelation.

But it is indifpenfably requiiite, that he,
who offers himfelf to the notice of man-
kind as the MeiTenger of the fupreme
Being, lliould afford indubitable proofs of
the reality of his facred commiffion. Thefe
proofs muft confifl of a diiplay of powers,
which exceed the utmoft poflible efforts of
mere human ability. He, who acknow-
ledges, that the Almighty was able to
create and give order to the whole uni-
verfe, muft alTuredly allow, that he is able
alfo, by a miraculous interpofition, to fuf-
pend that general order in any fubordinate
part. That he would be induced to fufpend
it, for the fake of affording a divine fan&.ion.
to his own gracious Revelation, is. a fuppofi-
tion rendered highly probable by the pecu-
liar circumftances of the occafion. In the
corrupted ftate of mankind, even the pureft
fyftems of moral and religious inftrudlion
muft be rendered eminently more effedlive
by the authority of a divine atteftation. The
inquifitive and the confiderate may, not
unreafonably perhaps, hefitate to receive it
B 4 as



$ S E R M O N I.

as the will of the fupreme Being, uklefb
it is authenticated by vifible proofs of Jiisi
interpoiition in its favour. The paffions of
men are, fo inordinate, and their depravity
{6 flagrant, that if the truth of a Revelar
tion depended upon aflertion alone, the en-
terprizing and the wicked would often im-
pioufly pretend to a divine commiffion, in
order to increafe their authority, and pro-
mote their worldly defigns. Thus unlefs
the real Revelations of the Almighty had
been eftablifhed by proofs of divine perfec-
tion, which are raifed far above the reach
even of the moft ingenious artifice, man-
kind would be conftantly perplexed by the
claims of contending fyftems of Religion ;
and, not being able to afford implicit con-
fidence to any one in particular, might at
length become incredulous and indifferent
towards alL

. A preternatural evidence, therefore, in
proof of Divine Revelation, not only may
be reafonably expected, but appears to be
indifpenfably requifite.

It has pleafed the Almighty to atteft the

truth



SERMON I. 5

truth of Chriftianity by Miracles, and by
Prophecy ; by a fufpenfion of the laws of
nature, which Omnipotence alone could
effed:; and by a developement of the fe-
crets of futurity, which Omnifcience alone
could forefee.

To the latter of thefe evidences I mean
to folicit your attention in the following
Difcourfes.

I have already remarked, that, from the
unhappy temper of the prefent tiroes, it is
neceffary for the Chriftian teacher to recur
to the fundamental arguments in favour of
our Religion. It may with equal juftice be
obfcrved, that, in feafons like the prefent,
the argument from Prophecy in particu-
lar is likely to attrad; a more than ordi-
nary att^tion,.and to make a verv ftrong
impreffion upon, the public mind. The ages
of great revolutions excite in an uncom-
mon degree the curiofity of mankind.
The Chriftian, on fuch occafions, is natu-
rally induced to look up with additional
reverence to the fupreme Being. Unable
|;p affign any adequate human caule for

the



lo SERMON!

the mighty effe6ts which are dlfplayed
around him, he recurs to an higher agen-
cy. When he is filled with apprehenfion,
he flies to his almighty Protestor ; when he
is bleffed with uncommon profperity, he is
animated by gratitude to afcribe the praife
to his gracious Benefactor. Knowing that
many important tranfad;ions of thefe later
ages, involving the interefts of Chriftianity,
were difclofed to the view of the ancient
Prophets, he is induced humbly to expe6l the
completion of fome of the facred Oracles, in
the extraordinary events, in which he bears
a part : and thus awakened to a ftrong
fenfe of divine prefcience, in examining
the momentous occurrences of his own
times, he is prepared to contemplate, with
mcreafmg ferioufnefs and a more lively in-
tereft, the inftances of divine prefcience in
the times which are paft. Peace and fecurity
frequently produce a torpor and ina«5lion of
the mind. , The wonderful revolutions of
former ages, which were peculiarly the
fubjed:s of Prophecy, are fo very different
from the tranquillity which then prevails,
that they aiTume in fome degree the ap-
pearance of fable and romance^ and do

not



S E R M O N I. II

not operate with their full natural force
upon the mind. But when changes of an
equally high importance are paffing dread-
fully before our view, we are roufed to
more energetic Cf)nceptions of the revolu-
tions of former times. Kindred ideas and
congenial feelings enable us to difcem
them with quicker perception, and to re-
gard them with keener fenfibility ; as he,
who has been expofed to the terrors of a
tempeft on the ocean, liftens with more
than common earneftnefs to the recital of
the dangers of the mariner.

From thefe obfervations it appears, that
the wonderful fcenes, which have of late
been prefented to the view of the Chrif-
tian world, are particularly favourable to
the enforcement of the argument from
Prophecy, and that they feem to render it
more peculiarly incumbent upon us, to
place it in that high rank among the evi-
dences of Chriftianity, to which, from its
impreffive nature, it is juftly entitled, but
from which, for a confiderable length of
time, it appears to have been undefervedly
degraded,

To



12 S E R M O N L

To this argument very different degrees
of importance have been attached, in the
feveral flages of Chriftianity. Sometimes
it has been enforced with imprudent and
unjuftiiiable zeal : fometimes it has been
treated with unmerited indifference and
even negleft. D^uring one period it has
been injudicioufly advanced, fo as to fuper-
fede all other teftimonies : during another
it has been funk to a low and unimpor-
tant fituation among the evidences of th(?
Chriftian Religion.

In the Apoftolic age, the Miracles, which
were performed in the prefence of the afto-
niilied multitude, were fometimes fcarcely
urged by the firft preachers of the Gofpel ;
and the accomplifliment of Prophecy was
principally employed as the apology, of
faith, or the inftrument of converiion. But
let it be obferved, that the argument thus
diftinguiflied with pre-eminence was folely
applied to the Jevv^s. The Jews poffelfed
the prophetic writings : they revered them
as divine ', and founded upon their own
erroneous interpretations of them, their
fondcfl hopes and proudefl expe(5lations.



S E R M O N I. 13

It was natural, therefore, that the Apoflles,
in recommending Chnftianity to them,
iliould accommodate their arguments to
the pccuhar circumftances of their hearers,
and particularly labour to reprefent it as
the full and adequate completion of their
national Oracles.

The Gentile world, at the time of the
promulgation of the Gofpel, was inflamed
with a ftrong defire of exploring the events
of futurity. This ardent propenfity may
be difcovered in the writings of the fatirifts,
hiftorians, and philofophers, in the attach-
merit of the people at large to the arts of di-
vination, and in the reverence with which,
at Rome, through fo long a feries of years,
the myfterious volumes ,of the Sibyl had
been contemplated. So generally, indeed,
did the defire of forefeeing future events
prevail, that the Roman empire was over-
fpread with the caves and iliady recelTes of
the pretended prophets. #The moft illuf-
trious perfonages were fometimes employed
in the prophetic office: while the great
body of the people revered the eftufions of
the priefts as the undoubted revelations of

the



14 S E R M O N I.

the gods. Oracles were the chief cre-
dentials, which the Heathen produced in
fupporting the divine pretenfions of his fu-
perftition : and at the firft propagation of
Chriftianity, the public curiofity was ex-
cited, and a fpirit of enquiry almoft uni-
verfally prevailed ^, in confequence of the
declining authority and gradual cefTation of
oracles through the whole Roman world.
It was natural, therefore, that the early Fa-
thers Ihould avail themfelves of the popu-
lar fpirit ; and, exerting their warmeft elo-
quence in fupport of the prophetic evi-
dence, Ihould appeal to it as peculiarly de-
ciiive of the truth and divine nature of the
Religion, which they laboured to promul-
gate. To thefe obfervations it may be
added, that, from the general belief of the
extraordinary influence of magical arts, the
reflilt of mere human ingenuity, the know-
ledge of future times was confidered as a
furer and more ftriking proof of Divinity '^
than a fufpenlion of the order of nature.

^ Plutarch, lib. dc defeft. Orac. Julian, apud Cyrillum.
Pliny the elder, &c, &c.

' Juftin, Apol. prima, p. 48. Iren, 1, ii. c. 57. La6l.
V. 3.

The



SERMON I. 15

The firft ApologiftSj therefore, were more
willing to reft their claims upon Prophecy,
which was the acknowledged infpiration of
God, than upon Miracles, which were re-
prefented as the efFed: of magic and a de-
moniacal agency.

Through the long courfe of the dark
ages, the more important fubjed:s of theo-
logy appear to have been totally neglected.
The genuine truths of Chriftianity were
buried under a load of corruptions : while
the flender portion of literature which ftill
remained, was folely employed in fcholaftic
jargon, metaphyfjcal fubtleties, and perti-
nacious bigotry, collectively exerted in fup-
port of the moft frivolous and abfurd opi-
nions, which it was equally unneceiTary
and impoffible to fettle.

At the revival of learning, an enquiry
into the genuine fpirit of the Gofpel was
vigoroufly profecuted; and the feparation
from a corrupt Church was attempted
with fuccefs over a conliderable portion of
Europe. The advocates of the Reformat
tion reforted to the facred Scriptures, not

only



iS S E R M O N L

only for proofs of the grofs abufes of tbe
Romifh fee, and for the eftabhlliment of
the real do6lrmes of' Chriftianlty ; but alfb
for the prophetical delineation of the mon-*-
ftrous corruptions, from which they earneft-
iy ftruggied to feparate themfelves. They
found among the Prophets the moft ample
encouragement, not only in the defcrip-
tions, which they gave of the fpiritual
ufurpation, but in the earneft and impref-
five exhortations, which they addrelTed to
the Chriftian, '' Come out of her, my peo-
ple, that ye be not partakers of her fms."
It cannot, therefore, furprife us, that the
enemies of the Papal corruptions, thus de-
riving from the prophetic wTitings a con-
fiderable authority to thejr caufe, fliould
elevate the teftimony of ancient predictions
above all other proofs. Perhaps the appeal,
w^hich was then made to the authority of
the ancient Fathers, might farther induce
the theological champion to afford to
Prophecy that Superiority over all other
teftimonies, w^hich had beien allowed to it
by thofe venerable writers, by whofe in-
terpretations of Scripture he fortified his
faith in many of the mofl important doc-
* trines



S E R M O N I. 17

tiines of Revelation. Thefe circumftances,
together with an enthufiaftic curiofity in
developing, by the arts of divination, the
fccrets of futurity, influenced the character
of a part of the Chriilian w^orld, even
through the fucceeding ages.



This injudicious and unwarrantable ex-
altation of a fingle evidence, the fagacity
of our adverfaries quickly difcerned, and
artfully converted to their advantage. They
reprefented our Religion as depending, even
for its ^ exiftence, upon the fole fupport of
Prophecy. And then, with an energy pro-
portionate to their increafmg hopes of
triumph and final fuccefs, they laboured to
weaken its authority, by magnifying the
difficulties, wnth which, from its nature.



^ Tindal laboured to prove, that Chriftianlty was founded
upon Judailm. Collins, in his Difcourfes on the Grounds
and Reafons of the Chriftian Religion, endeavoured to fliew,
that Chrift and his Apoftles founded the divine authority of
their Religion folely on the Prophecies of the Old Tella-
ment. A paifage from the fecond Epiftle of St. Peter
(2 Pet. i. 19.) erroneoully explained, afforded to the Deifts
a plaufible argument in fupport of this part of their theory.
The fenfe of this text has been clearly and fully afcertained
By Bilhop Sherlock. See Sherlock's Difcourfes on the (Jfe
and Intent of Prophecy. Difc. i.

c it



i8 S E R M O N I.

it is in fome degree neceflarily perplexed 5
and which have been confiderably height-
ened by the erroneous exphcations of ig-
norant or- enthufiaftic fupporters. The
defender of Chriftlanity inftantly diverted
his attention to other incontrovertible evi-
dences ; and, by a fate to which all hu-
man affairs are fubjed, the argument fuf-
fered from abufe, and has not fnice been
generally admitted to that high name and
commanding ftation'', to which it is unquef-

^ If we allow, what cannot, it is apprehended, be fairly-
controverted, that the teftimoriy of Jefuswas the fpirit, end,
and fcope of Prophecy ; we (hall not be able to agree with
the learned and moft able author of Dlfcourfes- on the Ufe
2nd Intent of Prophecy, who fuppofes, that the predictions
of the Old Tefiarnent were ^^)it^ intended to fupport ithe
faith and religion of the Old World. See Sherlock's Difc.
&c, D. ii. p. 37, ,58,

Dr, Pa1ey, in his recent publication, the general merits
of which cannot be too highly appreciated, has ranked Pro-
phecy among the auxiliary evidences of Chriftianity, has
refled almoft the whole weight of this teftimony upon two-
prediiljons, and has confined his remarks to the particular
circumftances of the inftances v/hich he fele6ted. May I
venture to obferve, that his valuable work would, perhaps,
have been rendered more complete, if he had affigned a
higher rank to this evidence, confidered it in all its impor-
tant parts, and afforded to it the advantage of his clear,
comprehenfive, and forcibly method of ftating an argument.
See Paley's Evidences, vol, ii.

tionably



S E R M O N I. 19

tlonably entitled among the evidences o£
the Chriflian Rehglon.

The friend of facred Infpiration will
furely hefitate, before he confents to affign
to the prophetic teftimony fo degrading a
fituation. The forefight, with which the
ancient Prophets were endowed, was emi-
nently more than human, and was alone
abundantly fufficient to eftablifli the cer-
tainty of a divine miffion. The frequent
difplay of a diftant and unerring prefcience,
at which the unailifted mind of man can
never arrive, is a decifive proof of infpira-
tion, and bears upon it the feal of divinity.
Miracles and Prophecy are the two great
preternatural teftimonies, by which the truth
of Revelation has been fandioned. And we
may juftly contend, that it would be diffi-
cult to fliew in what refpeds a feries of
Prophecies, all of which are acknowledged
to be accomplifhed, is inferior in its efFeds
upon the mind to a feries of Miracles, all of
which are acknowledged to have been per-
formed. They were both employed in the
fame holy and momentous caufe ; they
both demonftrate a fupernatural interpo-
fition : and when we have once confellcdly
c 2, ad-



CO S E R M O N L

advanced beyond the limits of human abi-
lity, w:e furely muft not venture to affix
different degrees of credibility to different
difplays of Omnipotence. We muft bow-
down with equal adoration before the fu-
preme Being, w^hether he attefts his divine
perfe<5lion, by difcovering a prefcience of
diftant events, which exceeds the know-
ledge of man; or by performing thofe won-
derful works, which exceed the powers of
man. We cannot decifively acknowledge
his interference in the one inftance, and
hefitate equally to acknowledge it in the
other. Far be it from me to infniuate,
what our injudicious friends and infidious
adverfaries have not unfrequently in former
times aiTerted, that the truth of Chriftian-
ity refts folely, or chiefly, upon the evidence,
'which it will be my objed: in thefe Lec-
tures to confirm. While, on the one hand,
it is fuppofed, that the feries of predi<flions,


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Online LibraryGeorge RichardsThe divine origin of prophecy illustrated and defended : in a course of sermons preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCC .. → online text (page 1 of 16)