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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were of fuch a kind as to lie entirely out
of the reach of the natural foreiight of
man. I have already obferved, that hu-
man fagacity, affifled by long experience,
may arrive at a very confiderable degree
04 of


of excellence in difcovering confequences,
which a common mind is altogether inca-
pable of difcerning. Let an accurate ob-
ferver ftudy the paffions of man, and the
hiftory of the human race ; let him ac-
cuftom himfelf to trace events from their
firft caufes, to their mofl: remote efFe(5ts ;
let him penetrate the latent policy of the
nations which lie around him, with the
power which they poiTefs of giving effi-
cacy to their defigns : — he may at length
be enabled fometimes to unveil the fcenes
of diflant times, which are concealed from
general view, and to predict a variety of
events, fome of which, depending upon
caufes fubje6l to his fpeculation,will occur in
their proper feafon, and feemingly fandiion
his pretenfions to a knowledge of futurity.
Hence the perfon mol^: llcilful in conjec-
ture was reprefented by the Greek trage-
dian ^ as moft worthy of the name of Pro-
phet. And in the fpirit of the fame prin-
ciple, according to the annals of antiquity.

* Muvns y a-^iro;, oittk; siy.a^n natrui;. EuRlPlDES.
Thus tranflated by Cicero :

Bene qui conjiciet, vatem hunc perhibebo optimum.

De Divinatione, lib, ii. fe&i. 5,

a fpe-


a fpecles of divination was fuppofed to re-
fide in Thales, the Milefian philofopher,
and Epimenides, the poet of Crete. From
this fource alfo was probably derived the
opinion, prevalent among all nations, that
men at the approach of death are fome-
times endowed with the gift of Prophecy.
And hence the experience of age has been
reprefented as bearing a diflant refem*
blance to the ftrain of the Prophet.

The enemies of Chriftianity are fully
fenfible of the weight, which is due to an
objection drawn from this fource. They
have reprefented the facred Writers, as
men endowed with a keen difcernmentj
and capable of forefeeing very remote con-
fequences. They boldly fuppofe them to
have rifqued a variety of probable predic-
tions, fome of which, being thus founded
upon an intimate knowledge of the na-
tural courfe of human events, have been
accomplifhed ; while others, which were
hazarded upon groundlefs conje6lure alone,
continue without application, and are fi-
lently negleded.

Too fevere a wound might be given to



the feelings of the pious Chriftian, were I to
lay before him the expreffions of impious
levity, with which this artful obje6lion has
been repeatedly enforced. The danger,
however, to which our Religion is expofed
by fuch a mode of attack, is alarming in a
very high degree. Though the Theolo-i-
gian may inftantly difcern the falfehood of
the affertion, the weaknefs of the argu-
ment, and the indecent fcurriiity of the
language ; yet the ignorant may be de-
ceived, the gay may be dazzled by the vi-
vacity of the thought, and the fuperficial
may be mifled by the fpecioufnefs of an
objection, the futility of which they pof-
fefs not the ability to difcover. In this age
of daring Infidelity, when our adverfaries,
cafting afide all fenfe of decorum and
manly ingenuoufnefs, for the fake of adapt-
ing their objections to the capacities of the
inferior orders, have proceeded in open
defiance of truth and honeft argument, it
becomxcs us to be doubly vigilant, and not
only to enforce the evidences of Chriflian-
ity, but to enforce them in fuch a manner
as may beft be calculated to oppofe the
particular mode of attack adopted by the
modern Sceptic.



In order to expofe the futility of the
objedion juft ftated, it is abfolutely ne-
ceflary to prove in a variety of impor-
tant inftances, that the events predicted
by the facred Writers were removed far
beyond the reach of human foreiight,
and could never have been feleded as
fair fubjecfls of ingenious conjedure by
impoftors. In my laft Difcourfe I en-
deavoured to iliew^, that thefe events fre-
quently occurred in an age long fubfe-
quent to that of the Prophet, were cir-
cumftantially defcribed, were frequently
novel, were very numerous, and aptly co-
incided with the predidion. Through the
following Difcourfe it will be my objed
to prove, that, in many of the moft im-
portant Prophecies, the occurrences fore-
told muft, from their peculiar character, be
univerfally and inftantly acknowledged to
have been indifcernible during the age of
the Prophet ; and that in others they were
the very reverse of what a judicious de-
ceiver, judging from the appearances be-
fore him, would have fuppofed likelt
TO take place.

On the days immediately preceding tho



crucifixion, our bleiTed Lord difclofed with
clearnefs and accuracy, which nearly refem-
ble the detail of the hiilorian, many of the
moft memorable circumftances, with which
the fiege of Jerufalem would be attended.
The aftonifhing forefight, which he mani-
fefted, by defcribing the figns, the manner,
and the exa6l time of the deftru6kion of
the holy city, muffc, if maturely confidered,
overpower the mind of the Chriftian with
wonder and conviction. But the circum-
ftance, which perhaps moft effectually
raifes this predid:ion above all fufpicion of
its being the refult of human fagacity, is
the entire deftruc^tion which it reprefented
as awaiting the vafl: edifice of the Temple.
" Before this generation pafs away," faid
|he holy Founder of Chriftianity, when he
beheld the magnificent pile, " not one ftone
iliall be left upon another." Even if we
fuppofe, what mufl only be fuppofed for
the fake of the argument, that the conquefl
of Jerufalem could be conjediured from the
prevailing fpirlt and circumitances of the
times ; yet the total deflruClion of the
Temple was not the necefTary, or even the
probable, confequencc of fuch a calamitous
'Cvent. Its prefer vation would rather ha-ve



been the them^ of a fagaclous pretender to
Prophecy. I will not here infift upon the
ftrength of this fortrefs, both natural and
artificial, which the Jewifli hillorian has
reprefented as one of the moft ^ impregna-
ble which had ever been ereded in the
world. Even the conqueror, furveying it in
ruins, and difcovering that it could not, if
ikilfully defended, have been fhaken by mili-
tary engines, nor ftormed by the moft intre-
pid hoft, acknowledged the abfolute incom-
petence of the human inftruments, and
afcribed its demolition to the manifeft in-
terference of God *'. Independently of theie
confiderations, it muft have been evident,
in the age of our Saviour, that, whatever
might be the fate of the city and of its
inhabitants, in confequence of the ftub-
bom hoftility of the Jews, and the inve-
terate fury of the Romans, it would be the
common objedl, both of the vid:ors and the
vanquifhed, to fave this venerable building
from de{lru6lion.

The Jews, trufting in their own mif-
taken interpretation of the ancient Pro-

* Jofephus, b. V. 14. « Jofephus, b. vi. 43.



phets, confidered their Temple placed un-
der the immediate protedion of the Al-
mighty, as fecure from mortal violence,
and immoveable as the ground on which
it ftood '^, So infatuated were they by this
blind confidence, that, when their city was
given up for plunder to the legions, they
Tuflied, fecure of fafety, into the burning
ifles of the Sanctuary, and thoufands pe-
riflied in the ruins.

If WQ examine the annals of the Ro-
mans, we fliall difcover, that, during the
period of their grandeur and profperity,
which long preceded the fall of Jerufalem,
when the fpirit of rivalfhip no longer pre-
vailed, which in the earlier ages of the re-
public had occafioned the deftrudion of
Corinth, Carthage, and Numantia, it was
the cufliom of that great people to pre-
ferve entire the ftupendous monuments of
their vidories. The chief cities of the
conquered kingdoms were permitted to
flourifh as tributaries of Rome. The
works of elegant art alone, with which
they were enriched, were carried away to

^ Phllode Monarch, p.- 821. Vit. Mof. ii. p. 6^6.



grace the triumph of the general, and
adorn the capital of the empire. Thus
Alexandria, the emporium of Egypt ; A-
thens, the feat of fcience ; and the fplendid
and opulent cities of Afia Minor, continued
entire after their fubjugation, and con-
tributed to the glory and profperity of
their conquerors. In addition to the above
argument, let it be remembered, as ano-
ther ftrong reafon for the probable preferv-
ation of the Temple, that it was the uni-
form policy of the Romans to refpc6l the
religious prejudices of the conquered coun-
tries. So accommodating were their max-
ims of univerfal toleration, that within the
regions of Paleftine, in compliance with
the wiflies of its inhabitants, they even
lowered their imperial eagles, and defifted
from their defign of ereding the ftatue of the
Emperor in the fand:uary of Jehovah. So
powerful was the influence of this princi-
ple among their commanders, at the pe-
riod of which we are fpeaking, that the
illuftrious chief, who condu<^ed the fiege
of Jerufalem, manifefted a moft ardent
anxiety for the prefervation of the Tem-
ple. At the^ commencement of his mi-
litary operations, he repeatedly folicited



the Jews to fave the magnificent build-
ing; and again, at the ftorming of the
city^ when a brand had been thrown within
the pile by the hand of a foldier, he in-
ftantly commanded his legions to extin-
guilh the flames. It was natural, there-
fore, to fuppofe, that, even under the moft
extraordinary and defperate circumftances,
they would be induced, in conformity with
their ufual principles of toleration, to pre-
ferve the Temple of Jerufalem.

From thefe confiderations it muft ne-
ceflarily be inferred, that to a Jew, during
the reign of Tiberius, the demolition of
that facred edifice mufh have appeared ab-
folutely impoffible : and, even if its poili-
bility had been admitted, that its demoli-
tion by a Roman ^ army muft have ap-
peared fmgularly improbable, as that peo-
ple feemed to be engaged by the flrongefl
motives to favour its prefervation.

In paffing from the confideration of fm-

^ The Romans were marked out with a confiderable de-
gree of precifenefs by our Saviour : and it was evident, that
they were the only people in the world likely to contend
with the Jews before the paffing away of that generation.




gle edifices to that of the imperial cities, our
aftonifliment will be ilill more powerfully
excited, by the extraordinary fubjeds of
fome predid;ions fo oppofite to thofe, which
an impoftor would have been induced to
feled:. When Nineveh and Babylon, thofe
mighty feats of empire, the pride of early
ages, and the wonder of all fucceeding
times, had advanced to the higheft ftate of
greatnefs and fplendour, the moft flriking
pi(5lures were drawn by the Prophets of
their overthrow and defolation. The entire
dellrudlion of tv/o cities eminently the mofl
formidable which have ever appeared in the
world, was in the higheft degree improba-
ble. Much, undoubtedly, may be conjec-
tured by the fpeculative mind, from a
knowledge of the revolutions of, empires,
and of the inftability of human gran-
deur : but vaft capitals, overflowing with
inhabitants, and enjoying dominion over a
confiderable portion of the earth, muft
have appeared to the fpedtator, w^ho gazed
in aftonifhment upon them, to be ex-
empted from the general lot, and to be
raifed above the reach of fortune and mor-
tal decay.

H In


bears a ftriking refemblance to the for-
tune of individuals. The flucfhuations of
adverfity and profperity may be equally
obferved in both. There is not, perhaps,
a fpot upon the globe, of which, look-
ing down through the long fuccellion
of time, and contemplating the capricious
rcverfes of fortune, we might venture to
declare fiich a continued humiliation, as
that which the Prophet pronounced againft
Egypt. Even the unfruitful marfhes of
Batavia have rlfen to opulence, diftindion,
and power. While upon the fmall and
barren illands in the Adriatic, whofe tops
fcarcely rife above the waters, the Vene-
tians ere6led a power once formidable
throughout the world, which the united
efforts of nearly all the moft powerful na-
tions of Europe were unable to fliake.

But of all the countries of the world,
Egypt, in the age of Ezekiel, was that, upon
which it vvas peculiarly improbable, that
the hard condition of unceafmg fervitude
Ihould be impofed. There the human
mind had made fome of its earlieft and moft
aufpicious efforts. It was long the gene-
ral opinion, that there the laws of fociety



had been difcovered, and the fountains of
fcience opened. Though the refearches of
the modern fcholar into Indian antiquities
may at length induce us to luppofe, that
the inhabitants of a more eaftern country
are juftly entitled to the honour of many
of thofe ufeful difcoveries, which have hi-
therto been afcribed to the Egyptians ; yet
unqueftionably that ingenious people were
very early diftinguifhed by an ardent fpirit
of enterprize, and a peculiar happinefs of
invention. The ftupendous monuments
of art, which ftill lie fcattered over the
banks of the Nile, attell the vaftnefs of
their defigns, and the extent of their powxr.
The earlieft profeffors of literature, and
the firft founders of civil polity in Europe,
and in the more weftern provinces of Afia,
travelled into Egypt, and there acquired a
knowledge of the fundamental principles
of fcience and government, which, at their
return to their refpe^live countries, they
advanced to a very high degree of perfec-
tion ; and thus moft eflentially contributed
to the ornament and dignity of human

But if we omit the confideration of

thefe advantages, which muft be acknow-

H 4 ledged


event, which no man could reafonably ex-
pert ; yet the particular fpecies of ruin,
which -was predl<^led to Babylon, muft have
appeared even more improbable. They
were both fituated upon the fide of great
rivers ; yet the defolation foretold to the
one was of that peculiar fpecies, which is
occafioned by the overflow of waters ; and
that of the other was entirely independent
of the ftream, by which its walls were
wafhed. In exadl conformity with the
expreffions of the Prophet, the ^ traveller
now wanders in vain along the banks of
the Tigris, in fearch of the ruins of Ni-
neveh : whilffc within the broken arches
and rifted walls of Bab^n ^, buried in
filth, and loathfome w4th infediion, where
the foot of man feidom treads, the deadly
ferpents hifs, and the owl and the bittern
inhabit. There the Arabian never pitches
his tent, nor does the fliepherd make his
fold : but wild beafts of the ifland cry in
the defolate houfes, and dragons in the
pleafant palaces. And let it be remem-
bered, that the means^ without which

' Xahum 1, 8, 9. ii, 11.

^ Ilaiah xx, 20, 21^ 22. Jeremiah 1. 39.



this city could not have been reduced to
its prefent peculiar ftate of ruin, muft have
been placed entirely out of the reach of
human forefight. It was occafioned by an
enterprize perhaps the moft vs^onderful
which hiftory records, the turning of a
great river from its channel, and the de-
pofition of its waters in a vaft artificial
bafon. The ftream was never again con-
fined entirely within its natural bed ', and
the vapours engendered by its ftagnation
in the furrounding plains and marihes,
drove away the fickening Inhabitants, and
thus gradually diipeopled the city.

If the complete and lafting defolation
of a great city cannot be forefeen by hu-
man fagacity, ftill greater muft be the dif-
ficulty of foretelling the permanent de-
bafement of a powerful and extenfive ter-
ritory. Yet Ezekiel declared, in the moft
exprefs terms, that the kingdom of Egypt
iliould no more be governed by its own
native princes, but iliould fmk for ever
into the bafeft and moft fervile condition.
More than two thoufand years have now
elapfed fince this Prophecy v>^as delivered
to the world. The fortune of kingdoms
H ^ bears


In tliofe early periods of foclety, the
Prophet could not have been emboldened
by fimilar examples, colle(5led from the
varied hiflories of nations. Cities, pofleiTed
of fmall power, and of a limited territory,
might, in the time of the Prophet, have
been fubverted in war, or have filently
funk into ruin : but no inftance had then
occurred, in which the metropolis of a
mighty empire, or even of a great king-
dom, had been rooted up from its founda-
tions, and had totally difappeared from the

Even had the Prophets been gifted with
a knowledge of the fortunes of all the
great cities, which were in future to ap-
pear, they would by no means have found,
that they all terminated in that complete
deftrudlion, with which Nineveh and Ba-
bylon were threatened. Though fpoiled of
their grandeur, and deprived of their autho-
rity, they have generally continued to exift,
and have exhibited, even in their fallen Itate,
the monuments of their former magnifi-
cence. Athens, Alexandria, and Conftan-
tinople; Bagdat, the pride of the Saracens;
and Rome, the miftrefs of the world; thefe,



and many other places, once fplendld and
glorious, have furvived the empires, over
which they prefided, and ftill occupy the
rank of cities.

But whatever may be the final condi-
tion of great capitals in general, the pecu-
liar charad:er of Nineveh and Babylon
muft have appeared to exempt them from
the common doom. Their vail extent,
the means of annually raifmg a great ftore
of provifions within their circumference,
the enormous height and bulk of their
gates, towers, and walls, and the gigantic
appearance of their facred edifices; all thefe
feemed to give them means of duration
eminently beyond what have been enjoyed
by any other city. They appeared to be
tooted, like mountains, to the foil, and to
be unmoveable but by fome violent con-
vulfion of nature. Under thefe peculiar
circumftances, how oppofite to all, which
human artifice would have uttered, were
the expreffions of the Prophets, v/hich
doomed thofe cities to complete and final
deftru<5tion !

Though this total demolition was an
H 2 event,


ledged to be tranfient, though experience
had not then, even in a fingle inftance,
difcovered their inftabiUty, Egypt was pof-
feffed of natural refources, which could
feldom fail, and which feemed to promife
a continuance of independence, wealth,
and power. The fituation of the country
was fingularly calculated to defend it againil:
the attacks of foreign invaders. Surrounded
almoft entirely either by Teas, or by a
vaft expanfe of defcrts, it might cafily be
rendered impenetrable to the inroads of
hoftile armies, except in the narrow ifth-
mus, w:hich connects it with Paleftme and
Syria. Belldes, the uncommon fruitfuhiefs,
occafioned by the inundations of the Nile,'
which might determine the firft founders
of this kingdom in their choice of a terri-
tory, which afterwards rendered her the
granary of Rome, and which, in later ages,
has often refcued Europe from the dreary
apprehenfions of famine ; — this uncommon
fruitfulnefs, I fay, promifed to fecure the
pountry, which it enriched, from poverty,
bafenefs, and fubjedion. Agriculture, fuc-
eefsfully promoted, is one of the mod cer-
tain prefervatives of national independence.
Yet after a long courfe of grandeur, before
any fym^tom of decline appeared, in con-


tradi^lion to the general fluctuation of em-
pire, in contradiction to the ftrong ex-
pe<5lation, which would naturally be enter-
tained, from the fuccefsful progrefs of ci-
vilization and the arts ;' in contradiction to
the peculiar improbabihty arifnig from the
natural* advantages of fituation, and the
extraordinary fertility of the 'foil; Ezekiel
pronounced that the kingdom ^ fliould be
the bafeft of kingdoms ; and that ' there
fliould be no more a prince of the land of
Egypt. The event has exactly correfponded
with the prediction. The Egyptians have
fucceffivtjy funk under the dominion of
the Babylonians and the Perfians, of Ma-
cedon and Rome. When the laft great
empire was dilTolved, and many of the tri-
butary provinces arofe out of its ruins to
freedom and importance, Egypt did but
change her tyrants. She groaned through
many ages imder the oppreffion of the
Greek emperors, of the Saracens, and even
of the fervile Mamalukes. In our own
times, we have feen her an inglorious ob-
jeCl of contention between foreign inva-
ders, and foreign ufurpers ; and ftie is now

^ Ezekiel xxix. 15. ' Ezekiel xxx. 13;



ment, and given birth to combinations
moft dangerous to their fecurity. Exclu-
iive of the love of glory and empire, which
would prompt the more ambitious fove-
reigns to annex Arabia to their dominions,
it muft have been the common caufe of
kings and of people, to reduce to fubjec-
tion, or utterly to extirpate, a race of law-
lefs and daring wanderers, who confidered
themfelves as releafed from the opera-
tion of the eftabliflied laws of focial life,
and arrogated the right of violence and
plunder, as an heritage bequeathed to them
from heaven. They were not therefore
negle<5ted or defpifed. The moft illufhrious
conquerors of the world marched their ar-
mies againft them. But in vain was their
fubje^lion attempted by the Egyptians, the
Ailj'rians, and the Perfians, when in the
meridian of their power. Alexander, after
fubduing the kingdoms of the Eaft, was
preparing an expedition againft them, when
his death intercepted the deilgn. Five
times did the Roman legions, condudled
by their mofl renowned generals ^ and em-
jDerors, attempt to reduce Arabia to a tri-

^ Lucullus, Pompey, /Elius Galjus, Trajan, Severus.



butary province : and five times did they
return unfuccefsful from the deferts, and
leave the Arabs free. This uniform failure
mull not be attributed to human caufes
alone. Large armies haVe frequently fub-
fifted v^^ithin their hot and fandy plains,
which are interfperfed with rich and mofl
delightful fpots, where the fountain and
the grove of palm afford fhade and refrefh-
ment to the exhaufted foldier. But the
expeditions were fruftrated, fometimes by
unexpected revolutions among their ene-
mies, and fometimes by the moft tremen-
dous interpofition of heaven "". And to the
divine Infpirer alone, the Lord of heaven
and earth, can we attribute this anomaly
in the ftate of fociety, the work of his
power, as well as the fubjed: of his Pr6-
phecy, which it is equally impoffible that
human ability fhould produce, or human
wifdom forefee.

But the Oracles of God do not refer to
individual kingdoms alone ; they include

"^ Partleularljr in the expeditions condu6led by Trajan
and Severus. See Dionyf. Hid. lib. Ixviii. p. y^j. lib. Ixxv.
?• ^55-



have not fmce been paralleled in the annals
of hiftory. The Arabians were to . be a
wandering and ^ unfettled people ; they
were iiever to be fubje6l to a foreign yoke;
and they were to be at conftant enmity
with all mankind. If, therefore, we were
difpofed to allow, that, in the greater num-
ber of inftances, the national character con-
tinues unvaried through the revolutions of
ages, ftill it was in the higheft degree im-
probable, that fuch diftindions as thofe, by
which the Arabs are marked, would un-
ceafingly remain ; and it is an abfolute ab-
furdity to fuppofe, that their continued
duration could have been forefeen by the
natural penetration of a theorifl, before
they had even begun to exift.

The region inhabited by the Arabs is
not remote or infulated, feparated from fo-
cial life, and therefore exempt from the
influence, which naturally refults from in-
tercourfe with other countries. It is fi-
tuated in that portion of the globe, in
which fociety originated, and the firft
kingdoms were formed. The greateft em-

^ Genefis xvi. i2.




pires of the world arofe and fell around
thern. They have not been fecluded from
correfpondence with foreign nations, and
thus attached through ignorance and pre-
judice to fimple and primitive manners.
In the early periods of hiftory they were

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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 5 of 16)