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

. (page 16 of 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 16 of 16)
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ftill generally remain in that ftate of fo-
reign fubje(5lion, to which they were ori-
ginally condemned by the Prophets ; while
all the barbarous people of that extenfive
quarter of the globe, from the fhores of
the Mediterranean to the extreme promon-
tories, which projed; into the Southern
Ocean, prefent to the eye an awful pic-
ture of human nature in its bafeft and
moft degraded ftate.

But it is not in fingle provinces alone
that the traveller may wltnefs the comple-
tion of ancient prediftions. This accom-
plifhment difplays itfelf over the whMe
globe. It will be offered to his view in
almoft every country through which he
may pafs. Long before the appearance of
the divine Founder of Chriftianity upon
earth, it was the conftant boaft of the He-



brew



S E R M O N IX. 3S3

brew Prophets, that his benevolent reU-
gion Ihould be communicated to the Gen-
tiles, and without any violent efforts, or any
confiderable addition of mortal aid, ihould
eventually prevail among all the human
race. The hiftorian will inform him, that
Chriftianity was little benefited in its au-
fpicious propagation by the worldly power,
or worldly wifdom of its moft fuccefsful
mifTionaries ; while his own eyes, where-
ever he may dired them, will convince
him of the wonderful completion of the
ancient Prophecies in the calling of the
Gentiles, and the wide efFufion of Chrii^
tianity. He will view the religion of Je-
iiis triumphant throughout all the nations
of Europe "", the civilized parts of the im-
menfe continent of America, and the In-
dian iflands of the Weft. Among the
favage tribes, which occupy the woody
and mountainous receffes of the new hemi-
fphcre-, he will fee it increafmg the num-
ber of its converts, and extending its be-



"^ Its prefent apparent extin6lion among the i-ulers of
France may furely be confidered as temporary, and feems
not to require any c^ualitication of the alfertion, which I
have made.

nevolent



334 SERMON IX.

nevolent influence. He nqay follow the
miffionaries of the Gofpel to the iilands of
the vaft Southern and Pacific Ocean, to the
fandy wilds of Africa, and to the various
nations which have been laid open to the
knowledge of Europeans by their com-
mercial intercourfe with the Eaft.

Even thofe kingdoms once blefled with
Chriftianity, in which its light has been
either partially obfcured by corruptions, or
totally extinguifhed by apoftafy, will exhi-
bit to his view, in thefe very circumftances,
a ftrong teftimony in favour of the truth
of divine Revelation. Within the walls of
Conftantinople, and over the weftern pro-
vinces of Afia, the principal circumftances
in the completion of the Prophecies, which
relate to the Mahometan apoftafy, cannot
perhaps be difcerned with exa^l precifion
in thefe later times. They occurred at the
rife, and during the early progrefs of that
wonderful impofture. But the accurate
obferver may contemplate the vifible ef-
fe(5ls, which refulted from the comple-
tion. He may fee the " fun and the air of



" Revelations ix. 2,

the



S E R M O N IX, 335

the eaftern world ftill darkened with the
fmoke, which arofe, when the bottomlefs
pit was opened. Amidft the violent con-
vulfions, which now agitate the kingdoms
of Europe, he difcerns, it may be, the aw-
ful accomplifliment of the ancient Oracles
of God. He beholds perhaps the tremen-
dous operation of thofe means, which the
Almighty in his wifdom may employ in
haftening the ruin of that fpiritual ufurpa-
tion, of which the diftinguifhing features
were delineated, and the certain fubverfion
foretold : while through the Hates, in which
its declining authority is ftill acknowledged,
and its fuperftitious rites continue to be
pradlifcd, is exhibited a vifible, though
faint reprefentation of moft of thoie enor-
mous abufes, which were once permitted
to threaten even the utter annihilation of
genuine Chriftlanity, and which are fo
ilrongly pourtrayed in the energetic de-
fcriptions of the Prophets.

When he has obfcrved in the refpedllvc
countries the accomplifhment of various
Prophecies, let him dired: his moft ferious
attention to an appearance fmgularly won-
derful difplayed in all countries, and realiz-
ing



33^ S E R M O N IX.

ing one of the cleareft, fulleft, and moft
extraordinary predictions, which divine Wif-
dom has condefcended to deliver. Let him
examine the fituation ofi the Jev^^s. We
have already feen, that it is in its nature
miraculous ; and that the numerous and
ftriking peculiarities, by which it is diftin-
guillied, were clearly and forcibly fore-
told. The confirmation of thofe Prophe-
cies in the Pentateuch, in Jeremiah, and
in the Gofpels, which relate to the prefent
condition of that unhappy people, may be
afcertained by the ac^lual obfervations ot
the moft common beholder in every king-
dom of the globe. In Chriftian, in Ma-
hometan, and in Pagan countries, the de-
fcendants of Abraham univerfallj abound :
and they afford almofl as vifible and deci-
five a teftimony of the truth of Prophecy, as
the creation and the government of the
world afford of the wifdom and power of
God.

Let the Sceptic contemplate with fe-
rioufnefs and impartiality all thefe remark-
able circumftances in the prefent condition
of mankind, with which the defcriptions
of the ancient Prophets thus accurately co-
incide.



SERMON IX. 337

incide. The reality of them does not de-
pend upon opinion, which may fluAuate,
or upon hiftorical evidence, which may in-
fidioufly be rcprc Tented as erroneous. They
are objeds of fenfe : they are fa6ls flib-
mitted to his perfonal obfeA'ation. They
are confiderable in number, and highly im-
portant in their nature. They are great
features in the portrait of the human race.
It may, perhaps, be juftly alferted, that no
period has occurred fmce the infpiration of
the firft Prophet, in which a larger portion
of mankind, or a more extenfive range of
territory has been employed by the Al-
mighty in fulfilling his revealed decrees.

When thefe confiderations have been
imprefled upon his mind, and thefe facfts
fubmitted to his infpedion, if he ftill he-
fitates, and is reflrained by apprehenfions of
deception and impoilure from yielding his
entire affent, let him enquire, whether de-
fcriptive predictions of the prefent ftate of
cities, kingdoms, and extenfive portions of
mankind, either fimilar, or bearing even
the moll diftant refemblance, are evidently
apparent, or can by the moft forced con-
flru6tions be made even plaufibly to ap-
z pear



338 S li R M O N IX.

pear in any other compofition of antiquity.
The Greeks and Romans boafted of nu-
merous Oracles, which pretended to deve-
lope the future fortunes of individuals and
of ftates : many of their vaunted predic-
tions have defcended to thefc later times :
but do they contain a prophetic picture
of any of the extraordinary chara^leriftics,
which diftinguifli the prefent generation ?
Have we not feen, that not one of their
numerous priefts even attempted to difpel
the gloom, by which remote events are ne-
ceiTarily concealed from mortal knowledge ?
The mofl celebrated hiftorians recorded in-
numerable prophecies, in which the paf-
fions of a fuperftitious people were pecu-
liarly interefted : but do the annals of He-
rodotus and Livy contain even the flight-
efi: marks of any prefcience refpe6ling the
prefent condition of the hum.an race ? Do
they in a fmgle inftance afford a proof of
the acquaintance of their refpe(5live authors
with the condition of any part of mankind
in thefe later ages ? The ancient poets fre-
quently broke forth in bold fallies of imagi-
nation : the ancient philofophers frequently
indulged themfelves in unreftrained fpecu-
lations upon the poffible combinations of

human



SERMON IX.



339



human fociety. But where is the philofb-
pher, and where Is the poet, in whofe wild-
efl failles, or moft licentious {peculations,
even a fingle clear and circumftantial de-
fcription can be found applicable to the con-
dition of any one part of the modern world ?

From thefe obfervatlons it appears, that
the prefclence of fuch numerous and im-
portant chara^teriftics of the prefent flate
of mankind is at once ftriking and unpa-
ralleled. The fa(fts, by which it is illuf-
trated and confirmed, being placed within
our perfonal obfervation, are fubmitted to
the evidence of our own fenfes. They
are indeed of the nature of a miracle ;
and are admirably adapted to produce the
fame unalterable convidion of the inter-
ference of a fupernatural Power, as would
immediately refult from a vifible fufpen-
lion of the regular order of the univerfe.

I have now proceeded through the feve-
ral parts of the fubjeft, which it has been
my obje6l in thefe Le(5lures to inveftigate.
Through the whole of the difcufTion, I have
cautioufly endeavoured to reflrain myfelf
from indulging in hazardous conje<5lures. It
z 2 has



54P SERMON IX, -

has been my rmcere and earneft defire to
bring forward a feries of fuch fads, and of
fuch oblervations grounded upon fad:s, as
appear peculiarly calculated to convince the
ferious and impartial enquirers ot the di-
vine origin of one of the principal evi-
dences, by which our holy Religion is con-
firmed.

When the followers of Chrift are re-
quired to affign a reafonable caufe for their
belief in the infpiration of the Prophets,
they will not, it is prefumed, appear either
precipitate or injudicious in their decifion,
if they reply in the following terms. Be-
ing convinced of the public appearance of
the feveral parts of the facred Volume prior
to the refpedive occurrences illuftrative of
the predidions, and perceiving an cxad and
ftriking coincidence between the prophecies
j.nd the events in which they were com-
pleted, we felt an carneft dcfire of know-
ing, whether this coincidence might not
be the ctied of Impofiurc, of human faga-
city, of cnthufiafm, or of chance. Profe-
cuting our refearches for tliis purpofc, we
liavc difcovcrcd, that the Prophets revealed
^evcnt'= of the moft diftant times, that they

frc-



SERMON IX. 341

frequently defcribed the minute clrcum-
ftanccs attending thofe events, that fomc
of the pecuUarities prcdi(5led were unex-
ampled in the age of the Prophets, and
that the predidions thus circumflantially
detailed were very numerous: — that the
occurrences foretold were often in the
higheft 4^gree extraordinary or improbable,
and fometimes even diredly oppofite to
thofc, which, to a mere human fpeculator,
mud have appeared likely to take place : —
that the fubje<5ls of the predidions w^crc
frequently hoftile, and fometimes inevitably
ruinous to the worldly interefts of the Pro-
phets; and, therefore, fuch as it is not
conceivable that an impoftor would have
feleded : — that the diftinguifhing charac-
teriftics of the Prophets and of their pre-
didions, are peculiarly adapted to the de~
fign, for which Prophecy uniformly pro-
felled to have been given ; and that the
Prophets, if uninfpired, appear to have
been morally incapable of pcrfevering un-
interruptedly through fo long a period, in
the profecution of fo complicated a dcfign,
and of maintaining, with fuch nicety of
difcrimination, the propriety of the fcveral
parts : — that the condud uf the Prophets,

as



34a SERMON IX.

as recorded in the Old Teftament, is inex-
plicable upon any principles of human po-
licy, and can only be reafonably accounted
for upon the prefuiTiption of a divine agen-
cy : — that the means, which they em-
ployed, and the fublime objed:, which they
purfued, together with the circumftances
attending the opening and the final clofe of
their fuppofcd intercourfe with the Deity,
are peculiarly calculated to flrengthen and
confirm us in our belief of their real infpi-
ration : — and, laftly, that in cafting our eyes
over the feveral parts of the human race,
we difcover the exad: completion of many
clear and important predictions, in the pre-
fent condition of a great portion of the in-
habitants of the globe. We confider all
thefe circumftances taken colled:ively as
exhibiting an accumulation of evidence,
which amounts to a moral certainty ; we
are utterly unable to refufe it our unequi-
vocal and abfolute affent ; and we there-
fore acknowledge the divine infpiration of
the facred Prophets.

When, in addition to thefe confidera-
tions, we refledl, that the foreknowledge of
events, which depend upon the will of free



S E R M O N IX. 343

agents not yet in exiftence, evidently ex-
ceeds the powers of any finite being, whe-
ther angel or evil demon ; that it is as
manifeft a difplay of fupreme perfedlion as
the creation and prefervation of the uni-
verfe ; and that it can only be imparted to
man by revelation from God himfelf, we
feel ourfelves moft forcibly compelled to
believe, that the wonderful foreknowledge,
which is difcovered in the facred Writings,
proceeded from the high and holy mini-
ilers, whom he, in his w^ifdom, infpired.

There is not a fubje(5l in theology more
capable of imparting pleafure in the prole-
cution than that, which we have been in-
vited to purfue in the courfe of thefe Lec-
tures. It carries us back into paft ages,
and interefts us in the moft important
tranfad:ions, which are recorded In the hif-
tory of the human race. By the abfolute
certainty, which it affords of the interpofi-
tion of the fupreme Being in the affairs of
the world, it is calculated to fill the mind
with aftonifhment, and a kind of facred
delight. And w^hen, in addition to thefe
powerful confiderations, we refled:, that it
is one of the moft effedual means of bring-
ing the creature to a more perfed know-

ledjie



344 S E R M O N TX.

ledge of the Creator, and of ilrengthcning
the confidence of mankind in divine reve-
lation, v/e need not hefitate to pronounce
it the moft interefting and the moft mo-
mentous, which can occupy the attention
of a being, endued, like man, with reafon,
and formed for immortal life.

It has been averted by the philofophic
Infidel, that if the Almighty had really dif-
clofed his will to mankind, the revelation
would have been written in the heavens.
Such is the contra (5led wifdom of the hu-
man mind. But that exalted Being, who
onlv knoweth what is good for his crea-
tures, in order to affifb the imperfedion of
our nature, has given us a Revelation, not,
like the afiedions, inflin^lively rifmg in the
foul, not, like the great objefts of creation,
:fpontaneoul]y expofed every moment to
the fenfes, but dependent upon the exercife
of our underflanding, and fupplying frefh
means of convidion at every repetition of
our enquiries. He forcfaw, that even his
divineft gift to man, if prefenting itfelf to
his infant faculties, and perpetually felf ap-
parent through his whole exiftence, might
lofe a confiderable part of its pofTible in-
fluence over his heart, and fall into negled:






S E R M O N IX. 345

or dlfufe. B-at that truth, which the di-
ligence of men alone can fully difcover,
and which difplays more vifible marks of
its divine origin at every renewal of their
refearches, is peculiarly adapted to operate
effedually upon the underflanding, to pro-
duce a continued aflent to its dictates, and
finally to acquire an abfolute dominion over
the heart. Of all the evidences, by which.
Chriftianity is fupported, that of Prophe-
cy moft abundantly poileiTes this quality.
When wc have entered upon our exami-
nation of this evidence, the exalted cha-
ra(5ler of our Religion begins to brighten
on the view ; continually fliines forth with,
frefh acquifitions of luftre ; and at length
appears in all the glow and fplendour of
its divine nature. For w'hen w^e thus be-
hold, in multiplied inftances, a clear and
ample difplay of that ftupendous foreknow-
ledge, which can only be polTeffed by the
great Maker and Ruler of the univerfe, the
truth of Revelation does in reality appear
•as manifeil and ftriking, as if it were in-
scribed in characters of light on the wide
sexpanfe of Heaven.

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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 16 of 16)