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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vanity may be gratified, or intereft pro-
moted. But by the predidions contained
in the facred Volume no object of this na-
ture could poffibly be attained. The Pro-

^ Jeremiah xxvi.



phets uniformly arraigned with intrepid
boldnefs the immoraUties or impiety of
the fovercign, and predicted the awful
punifliments, which aw^aited fuch crimes.
They expofed themfelves in general to
thofe expreffions of bitter and inveterate
hatred, with which the fon of Imlah was
received by the impious Ahab ^, whofe re-
fentment was avowedly excited by the ha-
bitual oppoiition, which he had experienced
in his guilty career from the intrepid mi-
nifter of Heaven. They alTumed an au-
thority fuperior to all earthly powder. With
a loftinefs of conception, which mere hu-
man ability never yet has reached, they
dwelt upon the inftability and emptinefs
even of the higheft ftate of temporal gran-
deur and dominion, in comparifon with
the inexpreffible majefty of the Lord of
heaven and earth. They approached the
facred perfon of the Prince with a freedom
of manner, and manlinefs of addrefs, which
are rarely exhibited in palaces, and muft
have been peculiarly abhorrent from the
haughty magnificence and fulfome adora-

^ I Kings xxii. 8,


166 S E R M O N VIL

tion, by which the dignity of eaitern mo-
narchs is upholden.

That national profperity may be ad-
vanced, and national calamity averted, by
the ability of the fovereign, is a principle
of flattery, which often prevails among
fubjeds, and is fondly cheriflied by the
rulers. But what hopes of princely favour
or protedlion could reafonably be indulged
by men, who conilantly reproached their
countrynjen for their confidence in a mor-
tal arm, and publicly predi^ed the ruin of
imperial cities and extenfive empires, un-
lefs averted by general repentance, and by
the reliance of both prince and people
upon the only true God ?

Even thofe few Prophecies, which may
appear to have flattered the wiflies of
the monarch, were generally embittered
by other lefs grateful communications.
Though the forfeited life of David was
fpared in confequence of his iincere re-
pentance, yet the death of his child was
denounced by the Prophet. In like man-
ner, when Ifaiah was commiffioned to



iboth the mind of Ahaz, by divine aflur-
ances of fecurity, during the approaching
invafion of Syria and Ephraim, he fad-
dened the welcome intelHgence by predi6l-
ing the miferies of his fubjecls at a fu ure
period, in which they fhould be borne m
captivity to the diftant banks of the Eu-

He, who cenfures the Sovereign, may
wiih to become the favourite of the peo-
ple. To degrade by difreiped:, or abufe
the higher orders of the community, is not
unfrequently an eafy path to popular dif-
tin(R:ion and applaufe. But the Prophets
of Ifrael were not inflamed with fuch de-
praved ambition. Thejr predictions were
in general equally offeniive to all orders of
the ftate. To flatter the wiflies of the
multitude, to indulge them in their pre-
judices, to re-echo their fentiments, and to
facrifice even truth and virtue to their ca-
price and vicious inclinations, has been the
uniform practice of faClious demagogues.
The great Athenian Orator mofl: vigoroufly
and fuccefsfully expofed thefe unmanly ar-
tifices, when he warned his countrymen
againfl: the fpecious declaimers, who pros-

268 S E R M O N VIL

tituted the nobleft effufions of genius to
purpofes of flattery and deceit. It was in
a ftrain of captivating but infidious elo-
quence, that the falfe prophets of Ifrae]
addreffed themfelves to the evil paffions of
their hearers, and foothed their imagina-
tions with pleafmg but fanciful pi(5lures of
profperity ; gave them aflurances of peace,
when the banners of the enemy were un-
furled ; and promifed ferenity and funfhine,
when the fky w^as already darkened by
the clouds, and agitated by the whirl-

How difrerent was the character of the
real Prophets ! Though peace and fecurity
were the ardent hope and fondell wifli of
their countrymen ; yet to their cotempo-
raries and their immediate fucceflbrs, they
generally predicted fevere calamities, and
fometimes even inevitable ruin. The roll
of the Prophet was written within and
without, with lamentation, and m.ourning,
and woe. The forrows of defeat wxre em-
bittered by anticipation ; and flavery ap-
peared with aggravated horrors in the myf-
tic vifions of futurity.



With equal freedom they declared them-
felves the irreconcileable enemies of ido-
latry. They reprefented it as an impious
provocation of divine vengeance, degrading
to the dignity both of the creature and the
Creator. Yet the propenfity of the Jews
to idolatry was unconquerable. It was in-
dulged in oppofition to the. declared will
of God, and wuth a fearlefs defiance of
his almighty power, even while they yet
ilrongly retained in their memory innu-
merable inllances of his miraculous a(5ls
both of mercy and of vengeance. It was
indulged, while his fword was yet uplifted
in their caufe, and vvl\ile the air was ftill
tainted .with the peftilence, which their
former idolatries had provoked him to fend*
Yet notwithftanding the univerfal preva-
lence of this crime, the Prophets, neither
publicly favouring, nor filently negle<5ling
it, boldly held it forth as the conftant ob-
jedi'of their enmity. In their folemn ad-
dreffes to the people, they inveighed againft
them as loaded with this particular fpecies
of iniquity, as degraded by fuperflition the
darkeft of errors, and blackened by ingra-
titude the bafefl; of crimes. All the moil
loathfome and terrible images of nature



were fele6led, as refemblances both of their
fin and their punifhment. It is not fur-
prifing, that a race of Prophets, proceeding
thus in determined oppofition to the inve-
terate propenfities of the multitude, far
from attracting reverence or conciUating af-
fection, Ihould be conftantly expofed to re-
lentlefs perfecvitions, to mockery, to infult,
and to death ; the objects of common 'ma-
lice and common deteftation ; condemned
by the rulers, and yet unpitied by the peo-
ple ^

The candid enquirer will combat equal
difficulties, if he endeavours to afcribe the
conduft of the Prophets to the bafe defire
of pecuniary advantages. It is by no means

<^ Even the Infidel allows, that the Prophets of the Jew-
ifh people were expofed to the fevereft hardflilps. Alluding
to thefe hardfhipS;, the Letters of certain Jews to M. de Vol-
taire contain the following fentence : " Even according to
you (viz. Voltaire) moft of thefe holy men reaped nothing
from their labours, but the hatred of kings and the con-
tempt of nations, perfecution, exile, death. Vol, i. p, ^1^3.

So general, indeed, and indubitable were the hardlliips
endured by the Prophets, that they have been chofen by a
modern Infidel, as one of the faireft fubjefts for the indul-
gence of fcurrilous derifion and low buffoonery. (See Phi-
lofophy of Hiftor)^)



probable, that a fucceffion of impoftors
ihould have continiaed their arts through
fo many ages without detection. Had the
accumulation of wealth been the principal
aim, to which their endeavours had been
dire<fte<i, who can believe, that we fhouM
difcover among them thofe exalted per-
ibnages, who were of all men the leaft likely
to be allured by fuch unworthy and trifling
emoluments ? It cannot be. fuppofed, that,
under fuch circumftances, we fhould find
in the number of the Prophets, Daniel, the
favoured minifter of the Babylonian mo-
narch, Ifaiah, diftinguiilied by a noble and
perhaps a royal birth, and David, the power-
ful and profperous fovereign of Ifrael.

Again, Prophecy was exerted with more
than common fpirit in feafons of penury
and diftrefs ; when little profit could rea-
fonably be expe<fted from hearers, who
either languiflied in captivity abroad, or
were plundered and im.poveriflied by a vic-
torious enemy at home.

The general fubje^ls of their predidions
are proofs of their integrity. The com-
munications, which, in the awtul name of


272 S E R M O N VIL

God, they ufually made to the moil ex-
alted characters in the community, were, as
I have already had occafion to remark, ge-
nerally unpleafmg and fometimes even tre-
mendous. Thefe were furely not the
means beft adapted to infpire gratitude
or fecure reward. Flattering promifes and
pleafmg pictures of the future would, on
fuch occafions, have been held forth by
impoftors. " Come and curfe me this
people," faid the king of the Moabites to
Balaam, " and I will promote thee unto
very great honour, and I will do what-
foever thou fayeft unto me." Thefe were
the offices, for which the rulers of king-
doms and the leaders of armies were wil-
ling to recompenfe the mercenary prieft,
to load him with riches, and to invefl: him
with honours. But the Prophets of Ifrael,
in general, like the j-eluclant Balaam on
this occafion, were unwelcome mefiengers
•to their kings, and confined their predic-'
tions to fubjeds of calamity and difgrace.

Had their efforts been direded to the
accumulation of wealth, they w^ould either,
like the Heathen priefts, have enjoined
their votaries to approach them with rich



&nd fplendid offerings, or, like the authors
and fupporters of Papal corruptions, have
reprefented the protection and favour of
Heaven as abundantly indulged to thole,
who fliould exert their charity in the fer-
vice of God and his minifters. But ex-
cept in thofe fignal inftances, where their
rank entitled them to opulence and diftinc-
tion, poverty and folitude, voluntary mor-
tifications, and a contempt of worldly pomp
and pleafures, appear to have almofi: uni-
formly marked thefe holy men of God.
Far from coveting riches, or feeking the
means of voluptuoufnefs, they were gene-
rally influenced by the fame meek fpirit
with him, who was fed by the birds of
Heaven at the folitary brook of Cherith,
and who ate his humble but miraculous
meal with the pious widow of Sarepta.

To thefe obfervations it may be added,
that in almoft every age of the Jew ifli hif-
tory, a compliance with the unconquera-
ble propenfity of the people, in cultivating
the fraudulent rites of Heathen fuperfti-
tion, would have opened the fairell prof-
pe6l of ample and immediate wealth. And
had the Prophets been a6luated by worldly
T motives^


motives, had they not felt the influence of
an infpiring and over-ruhng Power, they
would have accommodated their religious
principles to their temporal interefts, would
have fled from the temple, when it was
deferted by the people, and would have
uttered their predictions with equal in-
difference at the altars of Moloch, or in
the fand-uary of Jehovah.

Having endeavoured to fliew the abfo-
lute unreafonablenefs of afcribing to im-
pofture the conduct of the Hebrew Pro-
phets, I fliall proceed to examine, whether
it was not equally remote from the phrenzy
of enthufiafm.

In entering upon this difcuffion, it may
be ufeful to recoiled:, that there is a wide
dillindion between zeal and fanaticifm.
The former was boldly and unremittingly
exerted by the Prophets of Ifrael. The
divine charadler, which they aflumed, ab-
folutely required this exertion, and could not
otherwife be fupported. They declared,
that they were commiflioned in a folemn
?nd moft wonderful manner, during the
courfe of an extraordinary interpofition, by



the almighty Ruler of the univerfe. It
may reafonably be fuppofed, that men,
who came forth in fo divine a character,
would difplay the moft ardent zeal, and
adhere with unfhaken fidelity to their God,
notwithftanding the general prevalence of
idolatry, or even the univerfal apoftaly of
the people.

With this zeal the Prophets of Ifrael
w^ere conftantly animated. But let not its
holy fervour be miftaken for the wild and
lawlefs emotions of fanaticifm. The caufe^
in which it was exerted, w^as direcftly op-
pofed to that, in which fanatics are ufual-
ly engaged. They are accuftomed to be
roufed and inflamed into a6lion by unufual
convuhions of the ftate, or by fudden
changes in government and religion. But
the facred Prophets, far from favouring a
fpirit of turbulence, or yielding to the al-
lurements of novelty, were chiefly animated
by the deflre of perpetuating the venerable
manifefliations of the Deity, which had
been made in remote antiquity, of fl:rength-
ening the attachment of the people to that
God, whom their fathers had worflilpped,
of preferving entire the religious eftabllfli-
T I? ment.


ment, Vvhich had defcended to them from
their anceilors, and of lecuring the con-
tinuance of a theology, which, having pre-
vailed through a long fucceffion of ages^
was perpetually endangered by the iickle-
nefs natural to the multitude, and by the
pernicious examples of the furrounding na-

The condu<^ of the Prophets was not
marked by the wild extravagancies, which
are ufually the offspring of fanaticifm.
They inflamed not their hearers to bold
and ambitious enterprizes ; nor kindled the
heated inaaginations of a faction ; nor iired
the impetuous fury of the multitude to
fudden violence and outrage.

The length of time, through which they
flourifhed, is an additional proof of juft and
properly direded zeal. The vifionary is
ibon conilimed in his own fire. The flame
is too intenfe for long continuance. Thfe
phrenzy either exhaufts his llrength, or
gives birth to extravagancies, which dif-
grace and ruin his caufc. Thus the fpirit
of licentious enthufiafm, which pre>ailed
in Germany at the period of the reforma-


tion^arofe and died away within the compafs
of a few years. Bnt the Prophets of Jehovah
continued their predi<3:ions, with few in-
terruptions, through many fucceffive gene-
rations. The prophetic' mantle was deli-
vered down in a kind of hereditary de-
fcent. The hght of infpiration, Hke the great
luminary x){ day, Ihone forth from age to
age, without exhaufting its power, or do-
ing injury by its heat.

The uniformity of principles among the
Prophets is equally ftriking with the cir-
cumftance of. their long continuance. Fa-
naticifm could not thus proceed in an even
and uniform tenor, and upon one uninter-
rupted plan. Its dire<5tion would have va-
ried with the iiu{5tuations of pubHc opi-
nion : its fentiments would have been
changed in compliance with the caprice or
phrenzy of its feveral votaries. But the
Prophets, arifmg in long fucceffion, never
deviated, as I have already more fully de-
fcribed in a former Lecture, from one
comprehenfive iyftem, fublime in its na-
ture, complex in its parts, and fingularly
difficult to be unfolded. They laboured
without ceiTation from century to CQntury

T ^ tQ


to refift the idolatrous propenfities of their
countrymen, to recommend the pure and
fimple worfliip of Jehovah, to open the
fcenes of futurity with a clearnefs gra-
dually increafmg, and to develope one con-
nected and harmonious fcheme of revela-
tion, defcending through all time, and
conneded with all nations.

Even the exalted fituation of fomc of
the Prophets may iuflly fecure them from
the charge of fanaticifm. The high of-
fices, with which they were fometimes in-
vefted, ought to place them far above the
iiafpicion of a vifionary fpirit of wildnefs.
Religious hypocrify has often been artfully
adopted by fuccefsful innovators, and by
bold and ambitious leaders. But religious
fanaticifm owes its birth to a weak and
precipitate temper of mind, which is pecu-
liarly unfavourable to the fubtle and ar-
duous defieris of ambition. All aafes have

o o

abounded with religious fanatics. But
where can one be found, who, exalted like
David from the fheep-fold, filled, through
numerous years, the throne of a large and
profperous kingdom, and left it as an in-
heritance to his children ; or who, emerg-


ing, like Daniel, from a ftate of ignomini-
ous captivity, direded through a long life,
and under fucceffive monarchs, the admi-
niftration of the greateft empire of the
world ?

If then the Books of the Prophets did
not owe their birth either to impofture or
fanaticifm, they could only be delivered
under the influence of Divine infpiration.
This is the high and holy character, to
which they uniformly aflert a claim. Let
us therefore finally examine, w^hether the
general complexion of their writings ap-
pears to fandtion and confirm fuch preten-

An affedion or ftrong propenfity of the
mind, which is cherifhed during a long
period, and permitted to govern our fenti-
ments and actions, cannot be indulged in
fecrecy, cannot be concealed from public
obfervation. It will be unintentionally ma-
nifefted on a thoufand trifling occafions.
It will imperceptibly intermingle itfelf with
anions, with which it is not neceifarily
conne6led, and give a tinge even to our
remotell thoughts and exprcffions. Thus
T 4 when


when the mind is deprefled by misfortunes^
and overcaft with gloom and defpondence;
or, when enhvened by hope, it indulges
the Tallies of joy and romantic expectation;
in either cafe, it imparts the character of
the particular feeling to the general tenor
of our fentiments, and gives a diftinguifhing
colour to our intercourfe with fociety.
Our profeffional employments, in propor-
tion to the zeal with which they are pro-
fecuted, determine in a confiderable de-
gree the diftinguiftiing charader and ge-
neral complexion of the mind. Into hif-
torical and poetical compofitions the fen^
timents of the writer both political and
religious imperceptibly infuiuate themfelves,
and bellow a peculiar call on the body of
the work. Though the real defign of the
poet may be pleafuigly veiled under a fable
or an allegory, yet it breaks forth on fo
many occafions in the courfe of the narra-
tive, that it cannot efcape the notice even of
the moll carelefs and fuperficial obferver,

From thefe obfervations, it appears al-
moll impoffible, but that the principal ob-
jecfl intended in any long feries of writings,
ox zealous order of men, mull of neceffity



be clearly expofed to the notice of the ac-
curate and unprejudiced enquirer. In di-
recting our attention to the Hebrew Pro-
phets, for the purpofe of arriving at a
knowledge of their real aim, we difcover,
that to fupport the honour of the true
God, and the authority of his revealed Re-
ligion, was the fole defign, vv'hich they ei-
ther openly avowed, or feemed in any way
to favour. Vv'hile we are totally unable to
reconcile their conduct with the vievv^s
either of impofhors or entlmfiafts, this prin-
ciple may eafily be fhewn to have been con-
ftantly and unremittingly purfued through
every period of their long and extraordi-
nary hiftory. It Mas aluays adive, always
kept in view. Like the fpirit of life, which
moves even the iTiinutell: particles of our
frame, it pervaded and animated the whole
fcheme of their Revelation. The noblelt
feelings of the foul wxre awakened by its
influence. It difplayed itfelf fometimes in
the loftieft conceptions of the Deity, fome-
times in the fevere invettive of honeil indig
nation, fometimes with a manly force of ar-
gument, and fometimes with the tender pc/
fuafions of pity, of gratitude, and of lov^^
The hypocrite will occafionally betraj 1i;;t

28s S E R M O N VII.

felf through inadvertence; the moft cautions
will fometimcs leave himfelf unguarded: he,
who poffefles the objed: defired, amidft the
triumph of the acquifition, may heedlefsly or
from oftentation difcover the artifice, which
he has previoufly employed: he, who repofes
in fancied fecurity, may no longer be anx-
ious to conceal the means, which facili-
tated his fuccefs. But never did the Pro-
phets of Ifrael betray any private or tem-
poral aim, or deviate, even in a fmgle in-
ftance, from the pure and fublime objed:,
which they avowedly laboured to attain.
In wealth and in poverty, in triumph and
in defeat, when feated like David upon a
throne, or like Amos tending the herds,
fhey invariably declared themfelvcs to be
employed as the minlfters of Jehovah in
revealing" his will to mankind.



EZEKIEL li. 4, 5.



JL HE early ages of nations have been uni-
formly diflinguiflied by the popular belief
of a fupernatural gift of Prophecy. A fup-
pofed acquaintance with futurity gratifies
the curiofity of man, and is peculiarly cal-
culated to delight and overpower his ima-
gination. He is naturally anxious with
refped to the probable events of future



times, the confideration of which av/akens
fome of his ftrongeft pafiions. The more
deeply he expec^b to be interefted in them,
the more powerfully he feels the alternate
afcendancy of hope and of fear, which
fuch a prefcieiice is calculated to excite.
Aflonifhed at effed:s, of which, from the
feeblenefs of his intelledual powers, he is
unable to affign the caufe, and alarmed at
appearances, the confequences of which lie
out of the reach of his penetration, he re-
curs for affiftance to the revelations of fu-
perlor beings, and receives with reverence
whatever he fuppofes them to difclofe.
Not yet enlightened by fcience and civili-
zation, he is unable to examine and detect
the grofs fallacies of the pretended Pro-
phet, in whom he creduloully repofes con-
fidence : while the gloomy fuperftition,
which at fuch an early ftage of fociety
univerfally prevails, enforces upon him a
blind and unfufpeding aflent. From the
influence of thefe caufes, the belief of a
fpirit of Prophecy has always exifted in the
infant ftate of fociety, whether we examine
the records of the favage and gloomy
hordes of the iN"orth, or the milder and
more nmple condition of primitive man-


UCTS In the Eaft; or attend to the in(l:m«fl-
ive fuggeillons of nature as manifefted in
the inhabitants of the weftern hemifphere.

Even civiiizatlonj when arrived at its
moil perfed; ftate, and intellectual im-
provement, when advanced to its utmoft
height, are unable completely to difpel the
illufion. They may temper its grolTnefs
and veil its abfurdities : they may par-
tially weaken its influence and deprive it
of fome of Its moft illuftrious votaries ;
but, unlels affifled by the authority of the
Chriftian Religion, they can neither eradi-
cate it from the minds of the ignorant and
fuperftitious multitude, nor wreft it from
the hands of the politician, who employs
it as a powerful engine of government, and
an ufeful inftrument of ambition.

I^et not the Believer, however, be dif-
couraged, nor the Infidel prefumptuoufly
hope to triumph, becaufe the numerous
fuperflitions of the world, equally with our
holy Religion, lay claim to a fpirit of Pro-
phecy. The preteniions of Chrillianity to
this dccifive proof of a fupernattiral inter-
pofition are fupported by evidence totally


286 S li R M O N VIIL

•unattainable by impoftorg. In every point
of view, in w^hich w^e contemplate the
Prophets of truth, the divine nature of
their miffion moft clearly and forcibly ap-
pears. Even from the detail of minute
circumftances, connected with their holy
office, additional arguments may be de-
rived, by which our confidence in revela-
tion may be invigorated and confirmed.

On a fubje(^l fo awful and momentous
as that of a miraculous communication be-
tween the great Creator and his humble
creatures, by the agency of infpired minif-
ters, it may without prefumption be ex-
pelled, that all the circumflances relative
to the OPENING and final close of fo
wonderful an intercourfe, together with
the MEANS employed and the object in-
tended, fiiould be in no refped: unworthy
of the higli and holy character implicated in
fuch confideration. It is my intention,
therefore, on the prefent occafion, to invcf-
tigate the particular parts of the fubje(ft, to
which I have juft alluded, for the purpofe
of difcovering farther evidence in favour of
the infpiration of the Prophets.


A teftimony fingularly ftriking, in proof

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16

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 13 of 16)