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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been ftated, which appeared moft requifitc,
previoufly to our entrance upon the fub-
je6l, which is about to be difcufled. The
neceffity of recurring in thefe times to the
principal evidences in favour of Chriftian-
2ty has been ftrenuoufly urged. The fe-
veral degrees of impor;:ance have been
pointed out, wdiich at different times have
hecn attached to this argument ; and the
propriety of affording to it the high autho-
rity, to w^hich it is unqueftionably entitled,
has been fuggefted, and earneftly recom-
mended. The fubject has been difen-
cumbered from all inferior topics, which
either poiTefs no influence in producing a
convi(51:ion of the divine origin of the facred
Oracles, or cannot reafonably be allowed
to weaken that convi6lion, when it has
once been thoroughly produced. And an
endeavour has been made to ilicw by what
manner of treatment the argument from
Prophecy may be enforced with the faireft
probability of fuccefs. In my next Dif-


S E R M O N I. 43

courfc I lliall enter upon the propofed
difcuffion. And with fervour and humi-
lity let us implore the high Omnifcient
Being, whofe Revelation we labour to
confirm, to prevent us with his mofl gra-
cious favour, and further us with his con-
tinual help.

SERMON , ir.

ISAIAH xlvi. 9, 10,



XT has been aflerted by the enemies of
Chriftianity, that no evidence can be fuf-
ficiently ftrong to eftablifh a miracle ^
Though this is a pofition, to which it is
impoffible that the impartial enquirer after
truth Ihould aflent ; yet the teftimonies
adduced in favour of a preternatural inter-
pofition in the affairs of mankind ou^ht

* See Hume's Eflays.


46 S E R M O N II.

to be received with caution, and examined
with feverity. Trifling and unimportant
occurrences may, perhaps, be credited upon
vague report and the ilighteft appearance
of truth : but our behef ought to be the
refult of fuller and more accurate enqui-
ries, in proportion as the fads, which claim
it, advance in dignity and importance.
The farther we may recede from the regular
occurrences of human life, and the more
extraordinary may be the character, which
events bear, with the greater diligence
ought we to collecfl all the proofs which
their peculiar nature admits. Their diftin-
guifliing charaderiftics and minute Angu-
larities ought to be fully confidered, for
the fake of fuppreffing fufpicion and con-
firming faith. We have no inducements
to reje<5l the truth of an ordinary event,
to which we are familiarifed by dally ex-
amples, and which the relator has no in-
tereft to pervert, or the hearer to credit.
But miraculous interpofitions, which the
weak and the fuperftitious are naturally
difpofed to believe, and the crafty and the
ambitious are peculiarly interefted in feign-
ing, ought to be minutely inveltigated in
all their circumflances, before we afford




tliem our unqualified affent. The effcS:,
which is produced in the mind by the
knowledge of all the moft ftriking circum-
ftances, is fcarcely inferior to that of the
pofitive afllirance firom an eye-witnefs of
the reality of the fad:. On that, which
before, perhaps, we were unable to deny,
w^e repofe, after fuch an inveftigation, with
entire and unfufpeding confidence. With
refped to the miracles difplayed by the holy
Founder of our Religion, had we only been
informed that, on many occafions, the or-
der of nature was fufpended, though w^e
might not have been able to diipute their
authority, yet we could not have felt their
full and overpowering effed:. But v/hen, in
addition to the flatement of this fnnple
fad, we are told, that the miracles were
frequently mepeatdd ; that they were per-
formed in open day, before a large and ever
varying multitude, and frequently in the
fight of inveterate and vigilant enemies ;
that they were uniformly exerted in the
caufe of benevolence ; that many of the
fufFerers relieved were publicly known to
have been born with their infirmities, and
yet were healed in an inflant ; that the
eye-witneifcs of thefe miracles not only per-


48 S E R.M O N IL

fevered, amidil continued perfecutions, ill
attefting their reality, but even laid down
their lives in confirmation of their tef-
timony ; and, laftly, that the Religion^
for the proof of which fuch miracles
were wrought, in advancing to eminence,
triumphed over obftacles, which, without
the alfiftance of miracles, according to
human appearances, it w^as not capable of
furmounting; when all thefe attending
circumftances, with m.any others, which
it is unneceffary to enumerate, are added
to the plain hiftorical fad:, that the law^s
of nature wxre fuperfeded, we are over-
powered with convidiion, and yield to the
authority of fo manifeft a difplay of Om-»

The peculiar and extraordinary circum-
ftances connected with Prophecy, that
other fupernatural proof of a divine Reve-
lation, are not lefs numerous and convinc-
ing, than thofe, from which the authority
of miracles receives fo confiderable an ad-
dition of fupport. It will be my objed: in
the, following Ledures, as it has been al-
ready ftated, to bring the moft important
of thefe circumftances fucceffively under


S E R M O N II. 49

our consideration. On the prefent occa-
fion, I ihall examine the predicted events,
with refped to their remoteness from
the time, at waich they were feverally
foretold; to the minuteness and no-
velty of their diftinguifliing charadterif-
tics ; to their numbers; and to their
EXACT coincidence with the previous
defcriptions of the Prophets.

When powerful principles have begun
to operate upon the public mind, and the
adlors already appear upon the ftage, human
fagacity, affifted by long experience, may
fometimes forefee the confequences with a
confiderable degree of accuracy. Yet fo
flu(5luating are human affairs, and fo fud-
den the revolutions of fociety, that even
the events of the approaching day, which
may frequently be conjediured with fuc-
cefs, can never be predid:ed with certainty.
Though free agency is the noble privilege
of man ; yet, in confequence of the imper-
fedl and corrupt condition of his nature,,
his actions are often the effeds of fudden
impulfes and of a momentary caprice. Even
his moft favourite fchemes, and the de-
figns, which moft truly harmonize with his
e natural


natural difpofitlon, are not unfrequentl)r
countera<fled either by his own perverfe-
nefs, or by the mahgnity or the oppoling
interefts of others. Hence we may eafily
difcern the impoffibiUty, as far as human
means of prefcience extend, of foretelhng
with any degree of confidence even oc-
currences probably approaching, which de-
pend upon the voluntary exertions of fuch
an agent.

The impoftor, who, like the minifters of
Pagan fuperftition, confines his predictions
to his own times, like them mufh be fre-
quently expofed to error, and thus forfeit
all pretenfions to divine infpiration. But
to look down through a courfe of ages,
and to difclofe with accuracy the fecrets
of a remote futurity, is one of the moft
diftinguifhing attributes of Omnipotence.
This unattainable excellence of the real
Prophets has indeed been feldom attempted
by the boldefl and mofl: prefumptuous pre-
tender to infpiration. The inftances are
very rare, in which the Prophets of Greece
and Rome extended their conjed:ures be^
yond the times, in which they flourifhed.
In that interefting treatife upon Divina-

S E R M O N II. 51

tion, which was compofed by the Roman
Orator, when he retired from the ufurpa-
tion of Caefar to fohtude and philofophy,
and in which are coUeded the ftrongeft
examples in favour of Heathen Oracles,
not a fingle Prophecy is recorded^, which
reached beyond the ordinary period of hu-
man life. It may be prefumed, therefore,
that a foreknowledge of remote events was
in general not even pretended in the fyflem
of Pagan impofture. Indeed the priefts of
that fuperfliition were in general lefs anxious
to afford proofs of their knowledge of fu-
turity, than to difplay their acquaintance
with the events of the paffmg day, tranf-
acled in a remote region, the knowledge
of which muft have appeared, to their ig-
norant votaries, to lie far beyond the reach
of an uninfpired mind.

The Chriftian difpenfatlon alone can
with truth exhibit, among the proofs of its
divine origin, the long courfe of time,
through which many of its Prophecies ex-

^ A general exprelTion uttered by an augur (feft, xxii.)
refpefting the future greatnefs of Rome, cannot be confi-
dered as a reafonable exception to the truth of the obferva-

E :? tended.

52 S E R M O N II.

tended. A period, comprifing ages, fre-
quently intervened between their delivery
and their completion. Many of the moft
important changes in the Eaft w^ere antici-
pated in the animated defcriptions of the
Prophets, even previoufly to that peculiar
difpofition of human affairs, in confequence
of which they were eventually effe<R:ed.
Some of the moft illuftrious characters
in facred hiftory, Jofias '', Cyrus '^j the
Baptift ^, and the bleffed Son * of God,
were promifed in the prophetic writ-
ings many centuries before their birth.
The rife and even the character of § na-
tions was predided, while the Patriarchs
yet lived, from whom thofe nations were
to defcend. The effed: of particular prin-
ciples was developed, before the principles
themfelves had been difcovered to man-
kind ^, Thus the benevolent influence of

■= I Kings xili. 2, '^ Ifalah xllv. aS. xlv. i.

« Malachi iii. i. ^ O. T. paffim.

g See the Book of Genefis.

*^ To fome of the ancient philofophers this circumftance
fcemed an abfolute impolTibility, " Qui potell provideri,
" quidquam futurum elfe, quod neque caufam habet ullam,
" neque uotanij cum futurum fit ?" Cicero de Divinatione,
lib. ii. fea. 6.


S E R M O N II. 53

^ Chri'ftianity, and the baleful confequences
of the Papal '' ufurpation, appeared in the
prophetic Writings, when the world was
an entire ftranger to an authority like that
of the Roman Pontiff; and when doctrines,
like thofe of the Gofpel, had never entered
into the human mind. Even conditions,
which were never to be changed, but were
to reach to the end of time, were fre-
quently the fubje6ls of facred Prophecy.
Such were the predidions, which fixed the
final doom of Babylon \1 Nineveh "", and
Tyre"; and which determined the unal-
terable charadler of the Arabs °, who were
to traverfe the deferts ; and of the defcen-
dants of Ham p, who w^ere to fpread over

In the inftances now feleded, it is not
poffible to conceive, that the predi(5led
events could have come within the verge

• See Ifaiah and the later Prophets.

^ 2 Theffalonians ii. i — lo. i Tim. iv. I — 2' ^^''
niel vii. 24, 25. Revelations xiii.
' Jeremiah 1. 39, 40.

^ Nahum i. 8, 9. Zephaniah ii, 13, 14, 15.
" Ezekiel xxvi. 3, 4, 5, 14, 21.
" Genefis xvi. I2.
P Genefis ix. 25, 26, 27.

E 3 of


of probability ; and they were altogether
unfit for conjecSlure. So frequently was
the attention of the Prophets occupied
upon the occurrences of a remote futurity,
that this confideration alone effentially
contributed to weaken their authority
among their contemporaries, and to render
their revelations lels interefting. And that
peculiar circumftance was then urged for
the purpofe of derifion and reproach, which
may now be feleded as one of the faireft
fubjedls of praife, and one of the ftrongeft
arguments for our confidence. " The Vi-
fions, which they faw, were for many days
to come, and they propheiied of the things
that were far off 'i."

With whatever particularity of defcrip-
tion the predictions, to which I have ap-
pealed, might be delivered, the Prophets
have hitherto been confidered as expreff-
ing the events foretold in general terms

But had facred Prophecy fimply revealed
remote events, without marking them by

^ Ezekiel xii. 27.



fome of their attendant circumllances, and
dlftinguifliing charaaeriftics ; though, upon
a candid inveftigation; the predidions would
undoubtedly have appeared to lie out of
the reach of human fagacity ; yet by the
Infidel they might, with fome degree of
plaufibility, have been wrefted to the pur-
pofes of fcepticifm ; and even upon the
mind of the fmcere and ardent believer,
they would not, perhaps, have operated
with the immediate and ftrong convidion,
which they are really calculated to pro-
duce. General expreffions are fo accom-
modating in their nature, and are capable
of fuch varied application, that they may
fometimes be hazarded, with a faint ex-
pedation of fuccefs, even upon fome of
the moft momentous tranfadions of future
ages. Amidft the regular progrefs of hu-
man affairs, the frequent repetition of the
fame events, and the fimilarity of effeds
produced by fimilar caufes, it is not fur-
prifing, that conjedures of a peculiar kind^
cautioufly exprefled in general terms alone,
ihould fometimes be apparently juftified
by the events. In our own times, in which
a confiderable portion of the weftern con-
tinent, enriched with the moft valuable
E 4 gifts


gifts of nature, and pofTefled by an active
and enterprizing race of inhabitants, has
burft afunder the bonds, which united it
to the parent ftate, and eredled itfelf into
an independent nation, the philofopher
and politician have indulged their fpecula-
tions, by foretelling, in general terms, the
future importance and celebrity of the new-
born republic. Their conjectures, it is pro-
bable, may be fan6lioned by the event.
Fourteen hundred years before the birth of
Columbus, a Roman "■ poet, roufed, per-
haps, by the knowledge of remote iflands,
which had been acquired by his enterpriz-
ing and fuccefsful countrymen, in a beau-
tiful and romantic flight of imagination,
enlarged upon the future difcovery of a
mighty continent, which was concealed
beyond the untraverfed ocean. The happy
fiction of the poet was realized, when the
intrepid adventurer conducted his followers

' The following are the words of Seneca :

venient annis

Secula ft. is, quibus Oceanus
Vincula lerum laxet, et ingens
Pateat tellus, Tiphyfque novos
Detegat orbes 5 nee fit terris
Ultima Thule.

Medea, v. 374.



to the other hemifphere. The Roman
empire advanced in the courfe of about
fix centuries to the meridian of glory, and
to univerial dominion. The fymptoms of
its declenfion foon appeared. In kingdoms,
as in the works of nature, the period of de-
cUne is often nearly equal to the period
which has pafled in their progrefs to ma-
turity. The fagacious augur ^, therefore,
who could difcern the latent but increafmg
caufes of decay, might, without the impu-
tation of rafhnefs, hazard a conjecture re-
fpe<5ling the duration of the empire ; while
the principal circumftance ^ attending the


* Seven hundred years after the building of Rome, Vet-
tius Valens, a celebrated augur, afferted, that the twelve
vultursj which appeared to Romulus, portended, that his
city fhould continue through twelve hundred years 5 one
hundred years being fuppofed to be fignified by each bird.
This circumftance has come down to pofterity, upon the au-
thority of M. T. Varro.

See Cenforinus de Die natali, c. xvii. p. .97. See alfo
Kurd's Sermons, v. i. p. iot.

* More than feven hundred years had elapfed fmce the
age of Romulus. A century, therefore, was the only cycle
of time, which he could reafonably pretend to have been
fignified by each bird. He was abfolutely excluded from
all leffer cycles. And had he proceeded to a longer period,
he would, probably, have been obliged to allow a thou-


58 S E R M O N n.

augury, upon which he founded his £Sii-
tious Oracle, appears to have hmited him
to a particular period of time. He, there-
fore, boldly declared, that at the founda-
tion of the city it was forefhewn by the
gods, that Rome fliould enjoy fovereignty
through twelve centuries. At the expira-
tion of the predid:cd time, the imperial
city fell, and fubmitted to the vid:orious
arms of the Goths.

Thefe, perhaps, are the moil remark-
able inftances recorded in the annals of
paft ages, of a fortunate infight into the
fcenes of a diftant futurity. But ftill they
are no more than the unaffifted efforts of
the human mind, and could be effeded
without the aid of divine infpiration. The
expreffions are general, and are confined to
a fma;le idea. The naked event is alone
foretold. Had a variety of the minute
and diftinguifhing peculiarities, which cha-
raderize it, been predided, there would
have been that wonderful difplay of pre-
fcience, which, it may juftly be contended^

fand years for each bird, and thus have rendered the ac-
eomplifhment of his prgdiftion incredible.


S E R M O N II. 59

can only proceed from the immediate re-
velation of the Deity. Were it now de-
clared, at what precife period the celebrity
of America will commence ; what will be
the diftinguiihing marks of her greatnefs ;
what particular countries ihe will fubdue
during her profperity, and to what indi-
vidual nation fhe will in turn fubmit, when
fhe dechnes : — or had it been fignified by
the Roman tragedian, in what age the new
hemifphere would be difclofed, what king-
dom would render itfelf illuftrious by the
difcovery, what would be the mofl: re-
markable features of the new found conti-
nent, and what the confequences to Eu-
rope of fo vaft an acceffion of territory and
riches : — or, again, had the Heathen prieft
fpecified the particular nations of the
world, who were to be the conquerors
of Rome ; had he defcribed their language,
their perfons, their manners, and their
arms ; had he traced the gradations of their
conquefts, and marked out the peculiar
changes of fociety, which fliould take place
at the fall of the empire : — in all thefe in-
ftances, by fuch a minute difcrimination of
the attending circumftances, the philofo-
pher, the poet, and the augur, would have


6o S E R M O N II,

advanced far beyond the limits of the hu-
man underftanding ; and might not un-
juftly, perhaps, have been brought into
competition with the favoured Prophets of
the Moft High.

The author of the Rehgio Medici, a writer
whofe learning and fagacity have feldom
been rivalled by the profeflbrs of modern
literature, in a fhort ElTay ^ indulged his
imagination with forming conjedlures, un-
der the fhape of Prophecies, upon fome of
the moft momentous changes, which to
him appeared likely to diftinguifh future
ages. His predictions relate to the proba-
ble aggrandizement of North America, of
Jamaica among the wefi:em iilands, and of
Batavia in the eaft, to the triumph of the
Turks along the fhores of the Baltic, to the
emancipation of the nations of Africa from
the infamy of foreign fervitude, to the dif-
covery of the northern paiTage to China,
and to the union of Venice with the con-
tinent. Thefe important conjecflures re-
ipeding the great changes of future times.

" See certain jiilfcellany Trails, by T. Browri;, K'. Trac^^



^ E R M O N ir. 6i

of which it is already evident that fome
muft fail, while a few have received their
accomplifhment, and others may yet be
fulfilled, were all delivered in the moft
general terms ; the exprellions refer folely
to the one great event ; minute difcrimi-
nations and attending circumflances are
entirely omitted.

What we reqviire in vain in the con-
jectures of uninfpired man, is abun^iantly
difplayed in the facred Prophets, In pre-
dicting the fate of the great cities of the
eaft, the Prophets foretold, not only the
general overthrow of all, but the particular
and charaCleriftic ruin of each. Of Tyre ^
it was predicted, that the folitary fifher-
man fhould fpread his nets over the rocks,
on which her towers and palaces were
raifed ; of Babylon, that her ruins fhould
bear the appearance of a defolation, occa-
fioned by the overflow of waters ; that the
^ fea fhould come up upon her, and that
fhe lliould be covered with the multitude
of the waves thereof ; that flie fhould be

" Ezekiel xxvi. 14.

y Jereiji'uh li. 42. Ifaiah xiv. 23.



made a pofleflion for the bittern, and fof
pools of water : and of Nineveh, that flie
fiiould entirely "^ difappear from the earth,
and that her Situation fhould no where be

Again, in anticipating the great empires
of the world, the Prophets did not fimply
enumerate their regular fucceffion ; they
marked alfb their diftind: and appropriate
features. The Macedonian ^ was pour-
trayed by rapidity of conqueft, and by the
quadruple partition. The Roman ^ was dif-
tinguifhed by a peculiarity of government,
a tremendous and irrefiftible power, uni-

* The entire deftrudlion of this city was clearly and
ftrikingly predi6led by Zephaniah, (ii. 13, 14, 15.) But
Nahum proceeds even farther than Zephaniah, and in more
than one paffage ftrongly intimates, that, in future ages, the
place fhould not be known, on which it ftood. (i. 3, 9. ii. 11.
iii. 17.) And fo complete has been the defolation, that
travellers, critics, and hiftorians, cannot agree in fi>:ing the
precife fpot, on -Which it was fituated. See Herodotus, Dio-
dorus Siculus, and Ammianus Marcelllnus j Sir John Mar-
fliam's Chron. Saec. Lucian, the native of a city on the Eu-
phrates, fays exprefsly, that it had utterly perifhed in his
time, and that there was no footftep of it remaining. See
Benjamin of Tudela, Thevenot, and Tavernler.

3 Daniel vii, 6. viii. 22.

^ Daniel ii. 40. vii. 7, 23.

*•■ verfality

S E R M O N n. 63

verfality of dominion, and a final divifion
into ten independent kingdoms.

Of Egypt *", the lafting monument of
divine difpleafure, they not only denounced
the perpetual fervitude, but even expreiTcd
the particular infamy of its unceafmg fub-
jeAion to a foreign Prince. Mahomet, the
Arabian conqueror ^, if we may venture to
give entire afient to the explications of
fome of the moft able interpreters of the
Revelations, v^^as defcribed, many ages be-
fore his birth, by the fierce countenance,
but effeminate hair, and peculiar head-
drefs of his followers, by the rapidity of
his victorious career, by the fuperior ex-
cellence of his cavalry, and by his remark-
able anxiety for the prefervation of the
fruits of the earth, joined to a feeming
contradi(5lion of imagery, in the happy
comparifon of his tribes to a defolating
army of locufiis. When the Apoftle of the
Gentiles ^, eager to preferve the difciples
of Chrift from the corruptions of the Papal
fee, predicted the rife of that ftrange and

*^ Ezekiel xxx. 13.

^ Revelations ix. 3, 4, 7, 8,9.

^ I Timothy iv. 3. 2 ThelTalonians ii. 4, 9, 10.


64 S E R M O N IL

monftrous ufurpation, he accurately marked
it by fome of the minuteft traits, which
afterwards diftinguifhed that power ; the
abftinence of its adherents from meats,
their renunciation of marriage, their im-
pious pretcnftons to miracles, and their
blafphenious exaltation of a frail mortal,
the follower of the humble Jefus, to an
equal worfhip and authority ^ with the in-
vifible Lord of heaven and earth. The
minute traits of character, which continue
to diftinguiih the tribes of Arabia ^, were
revealed by an angel, in the infancy of the
world, to the favoured Hagar, when fhe
fled in terror to the wildernefs. In ex-
amining the awful defcription, which was
given by our Saviour ^, of the deftrudlion
of the holy city, we feem to be carried out
of the regions of Prophecy, and to perufe
the detail of an inhabitant, who had wit-
nefled the overthrow of Jerufalem, and
efcaped in peril from its ruins. The pre-
dictions of Daniel are fo full and fo mi-

f 2 Theflalonians li. 4. For the application of this
ftrlking paffage to the head of the RomilTi Church, fee
Newton on the Prophecies. DUr, xxii.

g Genefis xvi, 12.

*» Matthew xxiv. Mark xiii. Luke xxl,


S E R M O N II. 6^

nute, that no fingle record of the Eaft is
fufRcient to explain them. Events are
more circumftantially ftated by the Pro-
phet than by the Hiftorian. So ftriking,
indeed, is the refemblance, which fubfiils^
between his Prophecies and the Eallern an-
nals which illuftrate them, that the fceptic

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

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