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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which w^e poffefs, is alone fufficient to
cflabhih the certainty of a divine Reve-
lation ; it may truly be declared^ that,
had it pleafed almighty Wifdom not to
have fanclioned his Religion by Propliecy,
had not a lingle inftance of divine pre-
fcience been admitted into the fvftem of

Revel a-

S E R M O N L 31

Revelation, the Gofpel of Chrift would ftiil
have been fupported by a weight of pre-
ternatural evidence, from which no candid
enquirer could withhold his affent. But in
unfolding that wonderful fcheme, which
has afforded the means of immortahty and
final happinefs to the whole human race,
our Maker has gracioufly doubled the proofs
of divinity, and multiplied the fources of
convidlion. Different minds are influenced
by different modes of perfuafion. He, for
whom Miracles may have been wrought
in vain, may be converted by the fure
word of Prophecy. Inffances have not
been wanting in thefe later ages, in which
the dying profligate has been reclaimed
from a ftate of the mofh flubborn Infi-
delity, by the authority of the ancient Pro-
phets. And circumftances will fully war-
rant the fuppofition,. that, in the days of
our Saviour, the Jewifh people, though
they beheld without convidion his won-
derful fufpenfion of the regular courfe^of
nature, would have proflrated themfelves
in dutiful fubmiffion before their Lord
and their God, could they once have been
perfuaded, that in his divine Perfon the
long train of their national Oracles had re-
ceived a full completion,

c ^ It

22 S E R M O N I.

It may not be improper, before I enter
upon the inveftigatlon of this evidence, to
exhort the younger part of my hearers, to
endeavour folely in the firft inflance to ar-
rive at a firm convid:ion of the reahty of a
preternatural foreknowledge in the Pro-
phets. When this convid:ion has once
been deeply fixed in the mind, it ought to
be allowed conftantly to operate with its
entire force. We ought frequently to re-
cal to our recollection the principal circum-
flances, by which it was originally pro-
duced, as fure preferyatives againfi; the ef-
fects of the flu(5luation of human opinion,
the allurements of novel dodrines, the in-
sidious obtrufion of real or pretended diffi-
culties, and the prejudicial influence of the
want of extenfive information in all the
branches of the fubjed. Againft the force
of fuch a perfuafion, rationally produced,
it is not unreafonable to e?cpe6l, that no
fubordinate confiderations will be able ef-
fectually to prevail.

It cannot be denied, that the Chrillian
may fometimes encounter very ferious dif-
ficulties, in confequence of minute re-
fearches into the inferior parts of the fub-
jed. And, unfortunately for the caufe of
* truth.



truth, the fuperficial enquirer too often en-
tangles himfelf with thofe perplexities, be-
fore he has difcovered the fundamental
principles, upon which the certainty of the
evidence depends. But if, in the moft im-
portant parts, facred Prophecy indifputably
rifes above the powqr of the unaffifted
human mind, no circumfiiance of inferior
confideration can deftroy or weaken the
proof of its divinity. Revelation will ad-
mit of no compromife. There can be no
fellowfhip between light and darknefs. If
Prophecy be not in all its parts human, it
muft be divine. And if the evidence of
its celeftial origin is really incontrovertible,
and irreiiftibly commands our affent, we
are bound, by the common dictates of rea-
fon, to reprefs all fufpicion, and to diftruft
the fufficiency of our own judgments on
thofe points, which may appear unfatisfac-
tory, and may really occafion perplexity.

The obfcure and unintelligible nature of
fome parts of fome Prophecies cannot
weaken the force of thofe, which may be
clearly underftood. The parts, which, from
the peculiar nature of the difpenfation, are
involved in obfcurity, or, at prefent, are
Q 4 really

24 S E R M O N I.

really incapable of a fatisfa6tory applica-
tion, poUefs no more influence in the quef-
tion, than if they had not appeared in the
facred Volume. They neither augment nor
diminifh the efFed: of thofe, which are free
from perplexities. Of fome inferior parts
of the human frame, and of feveral of the
works of nature, we know not yet the ufe.
But we do not, on this account, refufe to
acknowledge the intention of utility in
others, without the aid of which, exiftence
would inflantly ceafe. We do not with-
hold our aflent from the intelligible and
jufl opinions of an author, becaufe we may
be unable to interpret a few difficult fen-
tences in the obfcure or mutilated parts
of his compofition. We decide upon the
fentiments which we comprehend, with-
out any reference to the palTages which
are not underftood. In the fame manner,
the Prophecies, which have received a clear
and fai-isfadory explication, poflefs their en-
tire force, notwithihanding even the ap-
parently impenetrable obfcurity of others.

Whether the Prophets always iinderlliood
their own predictions, or whether they un-
derftood them in a fenfe different from


S E R M O N I. a5

that which was really intended, are confi-
derations totally irrelevant to the queilion.
Our convidion of a preternatural interpo-
fition will be but little aided by difcover-
ing, either that the holy Being, by whom
the Prophets were infpired, endued them
with his own unerring prefcience on the
fubjed upon which he employed them,
or that he only rendered them the paffive
inftruments of difclofmg to mankind his
knowledge of futurity. The Chriftian con-
tends, that they were the agents of a fu-
perior Power." If the divine agency is ad-
mittedj all which he demands is granted.
Every other enquiry may more or lefs be
fubjed to error and difficulty. By carrying
his refearches farther, he may gratify a juft
and pious curiofity; but can derive no advan-
tage eflential to the interefts of his Religion.

To endeavour to difcredit Prophecy by
cenfuring the means, which were ufed in
its delivery, has long been one of the fa-
vourite pradices of the Infidel. The means
have been artfully reprefented, either as
fubjeds of indecent ridicule, or as ill
adapted to the ends, for which they were
employed. Such confiderations are en-

'26 S E R M O N I,

tirely independent of the great quellion.
We cannot confiflently with reafon per-
mit our faith to be deftroyed, or even
weakened, becaufe the mode, in which the
divine foreknowledge of the Prophets was
conveyed, was not fuch as to our finite un-
derftanding may appear the moft fuitable,
or the moil: dignified. We mufi: not deny
the reahty of an Omnipotent agency, be-
caufe we approve not of the manner in
w^hich it has been exhibited. With equal
propriety might we deny, that the great
luminary of day was created by the AU
mighty, becaufe fome of its quahties may
not accord with our prefumptuous de-
termination? refped:ing fuch a produ6lior^
of divine Wifdom. With equal propriety
might we deny, that the gift of intel-
led; was imparted to man by his Maker,
becaufe it may not appear to exhibit that
kind or degree of perfecftion, with which
we may arrogantly fuppofe that fiich a
work of the Almighty muft necefTarily be
endowed. With humble curioiity we may
explore all the fubordinate parts of the won-
derful fcene of his Omnifcience, which the
facred Writings lay open to our view : but
we fhould explore them, not for the purpofe


S E R M O N I. 27

of prefumptuoufly arraigning the wifdom
of his meafures, and perplexing our minds
with ufelefs doubts and fufpicions; but v.ith
the pious defign of acquiring a more perfect
knowledge of the nature of his proceed-
ings, in an aftonifhing ad of his Provi-
dence, in which we have been previoufly
^compelled to admit his divine interference.

In this manner it may be eafily fhewn,
that all the inferior objed:ions, w:ith which
the argument from Prophecy has been af-
failed, are rendered nugatory and ineffec-
tual, by a clear and decifive proof, that, as
far as the peculiar circumftances of the
difpenfation required, the events fore-
told have all a<Sually occurred ; and that
the Prophets and their predictions were
diiliinguiflied by numerous peculiarities,
which bore the vifible marks of a pre-
ternatural and over-ruling influence. If in
thofe parts, which are the moft important
in their nature, and eflential to the con-
firmation of the argument, the Omnifcient
Infpirer has abundantly provided for the
removal of all reafonable doubts, and for a
firm eflablifhment of the truth, we cannot
juftly expect an equal degree of clearnefs


28 S E R M O N t

and fatlsfa6lion on every other pointy
"which from ignorance or prefumption we
may labour to explain. While we poflefs
the free and unbiaiTed exercife of reafon^
w^e ought not to renounce that conviftion^
in confequence even of inextricable diffi-
culties in the inferior parts of the fubjedl^
which divine Wifdom may have purpofely
ordained ; which the revolutions of ages^
together with the changes of fociety, man-
ners, and language, may have neceffarily
€>ccafioned ; which the peculiar nature of
the difpenfation may have inevitably re-
quired ; or which the pride of human rea-
fon, and the arrogant curiofity of man, maj
have ufelefsly raifed»

Before I quit this part of the fubje<5l^,
let me be allowed to fubmit to the judg-
ment of the candid and the unprejudiced,
one further remark upon the rational and
well-grounded perfuafion of a divine tef-
timony in favour of Chriftianity. As it
has been already urged, that fuch a divine
teftimony ought not to be weakened by
the confideration of any particular circum-
ftances attending the inferior parts of the
Revelation; fo it cannot juftly be re-



jiounced in confequence of the arrogant
aiTumptions and plaufible theories of the
Infidel, and of the pretended Philofopher,
It has been the poHcy of the fceptical wri-
ters of the prefent age, to prejudice the
minds of their readers againft the proofs of
revealed Religion, by fraudulent endeavours
to eilablilli, through metaphyfical fubtle-
ties, fallacious general principles, fubverlive
of all particular teftimony. The invefti-
gation of the refpcdive evidences has been
carefully avoided ; while ilrenuous though
ineffedual attempts have been made, to
prove the ufeleffnefs of a Revelation, the
univerfal prevalence of impoflure, the falli-
ble nature of human teftimony, the abfo-
lute invalidity even of the Ih'ongell; force
of evidence, the influence of our own per-
fonal inexperience of fupernatural efFeds, to-
gether with the improbability and even the
impoiTibility either of a miraculous action,
or of a knowledge of futurity ^. By thefe
fpecious but delufive theories, our adver-
faries hoped to prepcfTefs the minds of
their hearers, and to harden them againfh

*■ S<^e Philofophy of Jiiftory^ by Voltaire : Article Ora-



the admiffion of thofe incontrovertible evi-
dences, which can be adduced in favour of
Chriftianity. Such a fpecies of attack is
pecuUarly fubtle and infidious : among the
weak and the uninformed, it may give
birth to doubts and perplexities, which
cannot, without long and ferious inveftiga-
tion, be effecftually removed. But when the
Chriftian has once been convinced by tefti-
monies in themfelves unanfwerable, draw^n
from the particular circumftances of the di-
vine manifeitation, that there has been an
aftual difplay of fupernatural power, no
fpeculative opinions, or arbitrary pofitions,
however plaufible, ought ' to lliake that
perfuafion. There is a folid and durable
force in real fad:s, w'hen the proof of them
amounts to a moral certainty, againft which
it is a folly to allow any fophiilry to pre-

As it^has already been remarked, that
neither real nor pretended difficulties, nor
the fpecioufnefs of general principles, pof-
fefs any a6lual power of weakening the
truth of Revelation, againft the weight of
pofitive evidence ; fb it may not be un-
ferviceable to difmifs from the difcuffion



S E R M O N i. 31

thofe parts, which are unimportant, and
little connected with the general merits of
the queftion. The beUever, unintention-
ally from error, and the Infidel, infidioufly
for purpofes of delufion, have not unfre-
quently diminiihed the otherwife irrefifti-
ble force of the ftronger parts of the evi-
dence, by too fully occupying the atten-
tion in minute enquiries, which, after the
cleared: and mod fatisfadory iflue, are in
their very nature incapable of powerfully
producing convidion. For the purpofe,
therefore, of preferving the force of the ar-
gument unimpaired, and of employing the
mind upon objeds of the moft important
confideration alone, it may not be impro-
per to omit all inftances of ordinary and
inferior Prophecy ; and to confine the at-
tention to thofe Minifters of heaven, who
went forth upon extraordinary miffions,
and were endued with pre-eminent gifts
of prediction. All thofe modes of pre-
fcience will be excepted from the difcuf-
fion, v^hich feemed to be adopted for tem-
porary purpofes alone, and were folely or
principally employed as inftruments of
theocracy. Thus the Urim and the Thum-
mim were appointed by the Almighty to


32 S E R M O N L

reveal in certain cafes his divine purpofes :
yet they will be difmiffed from our confi-
deration in the following enquiry, becaufe
they were never employed in the deve-
lopement of diftant events, but were folely
intended to direct the immediate proceed-
ings of the Jewifli people. The fchools of
the Prophets appear to have been infti-
tuted for the ufeful purpofe of qualifying
the priefts and minifters of the theocracy for
a juft dlfcharge of their facred duties. The
more celebrated Prophets were in many in-
ftances feleded from thefe pious femina-
ries. But as the extraordinary degree of
infpiration, with which they were gifted,
was totally « independent of their connec-
tion with fuch inftitutions, thefe fchools
will not be admitted to bear any part
whatever in the general argument from

Upon the fame principles, it may not
be improper to exclude from the prefent
difcuffion, except as far as they were illuf-
trative of the principles and condudl of the
Prophets, all thofe predictions, which were

8 See Stillingfleet's Origlnes Sacrce, 1. ii. c. Iv.


S E R M O N I. 53

mote particularly delivered in aid of the
divine adminlftration in Judea, and re-
ceived almofl: an immediate completion.
They appear to have been given, in foma
degree, in compliance with the ftrong pre-
judices refpedling divination, which then
univerfally prevailed ; and to have been ra-
ther ah inftrument of the theocratic go-
vernment, than the means of convincing
future ages of the extraordinary foreknow-
ledge of the Prophets. In fubfervience to
the peculiar purpofe, for which they were
principally defigned, they partook not fo
much of the nature of direcfl and abfolute
Prophecies, as of promifes and commina-
tions, the accompli fliment or failure of
which was determined by the fubfcquent
condu6l of the people, for the benefit of
whom they were delivered. Though it
may clearly be fliewn, that they bear the
moft vifible marks of a divine prefcience ;
yet, as Pagan countries pretended to a fpe-
cies of divination in fome degree fimilar,
and as divine Revelation exhibits a long
train of Prophecies, which are more ftrik-
ingly preternatural, and are much more
capable of overpowering the mind with
convidion, under the reftri(5i:ion which has
D already

34 S E R M O N I.

already been propofed, they will generally
be omitted in the courfe of the following

The modern enemies of Chriftianlty
have difmgenuoufly and bafely confounded
the various fignifications which are con-
veyed by the terms Prophecy and Prophet.
To declare ^ to the world the mind of the
Almighty, as received by immediate reve-
lation from himfelf, is the firft and high-
eft duty of a Prophet. With this primary
meaning of the word, the prefent argu-
ment is not in the flighteft degree con-
cerned. It refers only to that fpecies of
Prophecy, which was intended as an infal-
lible teftimony of the reality of fuch a di'
vine Revelation. The fecondary fenfes are
numerous and varied. They were by no
means limited to the difplay of a real
knowledge of futurity. To pretend to di-
vine infpiration, to perform a miracle, to
explain the facred Writings, to deliver mo-
ral fentiments, to be convulfed with vio-
lent agitations, to affume a poetic charac-
ter, and even to fmg, to dance, and to play,

^ See Stillingfleet's Origlnes Sacrae, B. II. c. v. C 4.


S E R M.O N I. 35

were all promlfcuoufly denominated by the
common term of Prophecy. The youth-
ful ftudent cannot too forcibly imprefs
upon his mind thefe various ufages of the
word. It may at hrft appear, perhaps, to
fome of my hearers, that 1 ftand in need
of an apology, for defcending to explica-
tions, which a common vocabulary affords:
but I have been induced to allude to them,
in confequence of the unmanly arts, and
of the effrontery, with which a confuHon
of fenfes, too grofs, and too palpable, it is to
be feared, to have originated in ignorance,
has of late been infidioufly adopted by our
adverfaries, in order to hold up the general
evidence of Prophecy to the derifion and
contempt of the iminformed and the cre-
dulous. On occafions like the prefent, in
which an attempt is m^de to fhevv the
certainty of a fupernatural interpofition in
the inftance of Prophecy, the friend of
Chriftianity confines himfelf to that accept-
ation of the word, Vvhich implies a know-
ledge of futurity exceeding the reach of
any created underftanding. The argument
is not, in the fiighteft degree, implicated
with any other fenfe of the term.

r> 2, Thefe

36 S E R M O N I.

Thefe exceptions being made, the en-
quirer after truth lliould, in the fnft in-
ftance, folely endeavour to convince him-
felf, that, during a period of an extraordi-
nary interpofition of the Ahnighty in the
affairs of a chofen people, certain perfons,
independently of all local inftitutions and
cuftomary modes of divination, came forth
as extraordinary meffengers of heaven, and
exhibited indubitable teftimony, that they
were favoured with fuch a knowledge of
future events, as could only be derived
from the immediate infpiration of the

In examining the evidence from Pro-
phecy, the principal force of the argument
is found to lie in the firm eftablifliment
of the following pofitions : that, the books
containing the predi<5lions being genuine,
the Prophecies were feverally delivered
prior to the time of their accomplifh-
ment ; and that events have ad:ually oc-
curred, which accurately coincide with the
predi6lions. From a clear and fatisfa^lory
inveftigation of thefe points, refults the
moft confiderable part of that powerful ef-
fect, which this evidence is capable of pro-

S E R M O N L 37

ducing. But it mufl immediately occur
to every hearer, who is but moderately ac-
quainted with the fubjed:, that the full
difcuffion of thefe important branches
would carry me far beyond the limits,
which the nature of thefe Ledlures pre-
fcribes. They have frequently imdergone
the fulleft and moil fatisfad:ory inveftiga-
tion. I mean, therefore, entirely to omit
the confideration of them on the prefent

It will rather be my object to dire(5l the
attention of the ftudent in facred literature
to the difcovery of the moft ftriking cha-
rad:eri{lics, by which Prophecy is diftin-
guifhed. Of thefe charad:erifi:ics, fome are
indifpenfably requisite for the proper fup-
port of this teftimony; and others, though
not abfolutely elTential, are yet eminent-
ly important, and peculiarly calculated to
flrengthen our confidence in Revelation,
and to effed: in every candid mind an un-
alterable perfuafion of its truth.

There are various circumftances, which,,

in tracing Prophecies from their delivery to

their completion, muft come under the

D q confi-

38 S E R M O N I.

confideration of the Theological fcholar.
He renders himfelf acquainted with the
general nature of Prophecy, the condud:
and condition of the Prophets, the pecu-
liarities of the feveral predictions, and the
relative fituatlons of the countries and per-
fons concerned either in the delivery, or
the accompliflinient, together with a va-
riety of important circumftances attending
the feveral pretenders to divine infpiration
in heathen nations. This enlarged know-
ledge of the feveral parts of the fubjed:
will prefent to his view a number of thefe
charadierifliics, which, as I have already db-
ferved, contribute additional force to the
argument, and place in a ftronger point of
view the divine nature of Jew^fli and
Chriftian Prophecy. When it has been
clearly demonftrated, that there is a co-
incidence, which it is morally impoffible
that either chance or human abiUty could
{o invariably produce, between the predic-
tions, which were uttered, and the events,
in which they were fulfilled, though, in
fome inllances, the reality of their divine
origin does not, perhaps, become adually
more certain ; yet it is rendered, by a
kno^\lcdge of thefe diftinguiflnng m.arks,




more ftriking, and more forcible in pro-
ducing convidlion in the mind. When a
fimple narrative of fa<5ls, eflabUfhing an
allegation, has been fubmitted to the opi-
nion of the Jurors, their judgment may
be quickened, and their confidence flrength-
ened, by remarks, judicioufly made, upon
the long train of attending circumftances.
What before was indifputable, then be-
comes more palpably certain.

To this particular part of the fubjedt I
propofe- to limit my enquiries, and iliall
endeavour to prove.

That the events foretold were frequent-
ly REMOTE, were defcribed with minute-
ness, were fometimes novel, and were
very numerous :

That in the age of the refpedive Pro-
phets, by whom they were predided, they
muft have appeared often improbable,
and fometimes the exad: reverse of
what might have been reafonably ex-
pected \

That, in numerous inflances, the fub-
D 4 jecls

je(^ts of the pre;]l'5ti'. ns v.ere peculiarly UN-^


the Prophets, and the contr^^ry 'O thofe,
which, it is reafonable to fuppol^, i lui- Go-
to rs would have chofen :

That there is a propriety and coNr
siSTEXCY in all the parts of Prophecy,
conftituting one great and harmo-
nious SCHEME, which it feems morally
impoffible, that the Prophets could have
imparted to it, if they had not been really
inipired :

That the general conduct of the Pro-
PRINCIPLES, and can only be fatisfaclorily
accounted for by an acknowledgement of
their infpiration :

And laftly, That from the means which
they employed, and the end which they
purfued, from the circumftances attending
the origin and termination of facred
Prophecy, and from the present situa-
tion of a confiderable portion of man-
kind, affording a sensible demonstra-
tion of the prefcience of the ancient


S E R M O N I. 41

Prophets, a ftrong prefumptive argument
may be derived in favour of their pretea-
fions to a divine Revelation.

Though in the early part of this Dif-
courfe I have fpoken in general terms of
the peculiar force of the evidence from
Prophecy, yet it is not my intention to
urge it in thefe Lectures, as a teftimony of
the Chriftian Religion. I lliould occupy
too large a portion of your time, if I \^ ere
to difcriminate with the clearnefs and ac-
curacy, w^hich tlie nature of the fubjec^ re-
quires, betw-een thofe predidions, which
were more particularly intended to au-
thenticate the divine charader of Chrift
and his Religion, and thofe which wxrc
delivered, principally as inftruments of the
theocracy, during the long courfe of a mi-
raculous interpofition of the Almighty in
the affairs of a chofen people. It is boldly
and ftrenuoufly afferted by the Infidel, with
refped to facred Prophecy at large, that the
predictions were delivered for purpofes of
impofture ; and that their completion ei-
ther was forefeen by human fagacity, or
was the fortunate refult of chance. To
deted; the fallacy of this objedion, and to


42 S- E R M O N L

fliew the certainty of a miraculous prefcicnce
in the Prophets, is the fole objed:, which
it will be my endeavour to attain.

The preliminary obfervations have now

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 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 2 of 16)