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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united as allies to the moft powerful mo-
narchs of the Eaft : under their victorious
Prophet they once carried their arms over
the moft confiderable kingdoms of the
earth : through many fucceeding ages, the
caravans of the merchant, and the compa-
nies of Mahometan pilgrims, pafTed regu-
larly over their defcrts : even their reli-
gion has undergone a total change. Yet
all thefe circumftances, Vvhich, it might
be fuppofed, would have fubdued the moll
ftubbom prejudices, and altered the moft
inveterate habits, have produced no effedl
upon the Arabs, and they ftill prefefve un-
impaired a moft exa^l refemblance to the
firft defcendants of Iflimael.

Their habits of life, far from inducing
the furrounding nations to leave them to
a peaceable enjoyment of their native wild-
nefs and independence, muft have con-
ftantly awakened a general fpirit of refent-


io6 S E R M O ISr IIL

prepared to yield herfelf, a "weak and igno-
ble province, according to the decifion of
diitant kingdoms, whofe interefls are in-
Yolved in her fortunes.

To predid: the difcriminating charac-
teriftics of the inhabitants of a large terri-
tory, which would be unchangeable through
all future time, muft, if poffible, lie ilill
farther out of the reach of human ability,
than to foretel their endlefs fubjed:ion.
This ftrong proof of divine infpiration is
ftrikingly exhibited in the Prophecy deli-
vered refpcd:ing the defcendants of Ifli-
mael. Even when a people have arrived
at maturity, and have difplayed the dif-
tingulfliing features of their national cha-
radrer, it is impoffible to forefee, that thofe
features will for ever remain unaltered.
The great map of the world, even upon a
fuperficial furvey, will fupply us with forci-
ble evidence of the rafhnefs of fuch an at-
tempt. The countries, wiiich it brings
within our view, will recal to our imme-
diate recolledion the varieties of charad:er,
through which their inhabitants have fe-
verally palTed. The vaft continent of A-
merica is gradually undergoing an entire



change, in confequence of the difcoveries
of Columbus. The Europe of the ancient
world differs as widely from the Europe
of the prefent age, as the haughty and
oppreffive principle of republican Rome,
from the meek and benevolent fpirit of
Chriftianity. The vales and mountains of
Greece, once the feat of freedom, elegance,
and the arts, are now ignobly tenanted hy a
race of flothful and willing flaves.

If then we are compelled, by the force
of general experience, to allow, that the
permanence of any peculiarities already
exifling among a people can not be fore-
feen even with the flightefl degree of cer-
tainty, we fhall be obliged to acquiefce in
the divine origin of the Prophecy now un-
der confideration, which was delivered un-
der circumftances fmgularly unfavourable
to fuch a foreknowledge. Before this pe-
culiar caft of national character had begun
to difplay itfelf, before the child was born,
from whom the nation was to fpring, it
was clearly and ftrikingly delineated.

The very charadleriftics, it may further
be urged, were fmgular in their kind; and



•within their comprehenfive fcheme the
fortunes of the greateft empires of the
world. Thofe, which were given for this
momentous end, are diftinguifhed by a
ftriking fmgularity in the mode of their
delivery. The Prophet not only uttered
the prediction, but fubjoined the interpre-
tation. This circumflance, added to the
peculiar clearnefs of the exprefTions, has
caufed the wTitings of Daniel to bear a
nearer refemblance to Hiftory tha« to Pro-
phecy, and has induced fome bold and fu-
perficial unbelievers unwarrantably to con-
demn them, as the forgeries of an age fub-
fequent to the refpedive events.

The four great empires of the w^orld,
with the triumphant ftate of Chriftianity,
were clearly and llrongly pourtrayed. We
fhall be filent refpeding the firft and fe-
cond empire. The Babylonian had reached
the fummit of profperity in the age in
which the Prophecy -vvas delivered : and
the Perfian, by which it was overthrown,
fucceeded after fo Ihort an interval o^ time,
that its rifing fortune may be fuppofed to
have been difcernible by a fagacious politi-
cal obfcrver.



In the age of Daniel, which preceded
the conquefts of Alexander more than two
hundred years, Macedon was a fmall and
unciviUzed kingdom, fituated amidfb wilds
and mountains, undreaded and unknown.
It was not dillinguiflied among the nations
of the world by military valour, fuperiority
of internal policy, or a national fpirit of
enterprize. It had not even obtained a
name among the Grecian ilates : nor had
thofe ftates, upon whofe ruins it afterwards
arofe, advanced far in the attainnient of
that greatnefs, which for a time flione forth
with fuch uncommon brightnefs.

In the age of Daniel, Rome could fcarcelj
be ranked among cities. It was a mean
and unimportant town, placed in a remote
and uncivilized quarter of the globe, the
name of which had not reached the im-
perial court of Babylon. She was expofed
to constant wars with the petty Hates
around her, in each of which her very ex-
iftence was endangered. Long did fhe
continue to ftruggle humbly in Italy, and
even centuries elapfed before Ihe took her
flight above the nations, and foared to
fame and empire.

I Five

214 SERMON ni.

Five hundred years after the age of Da-
niel, a perfonage, who, uniting in a mira-
culous manner the divine and human na-
ture, has been regarded through , all fuc-
ceeding times as the everlafdng Son of the
high God, born in an obfcure village of an
obfcure territory, poffeiTed of no human
means of attradion, and fupported by no
earthly authority, promulgated a new Reli-
gion, and difplayed figns and mighty won-
ders. Though he wasdefpifed and rejected by
his countrymen, and, after a fhort miniftry,
was cut off by an ignominious death ; yet
his Religion, triumphing at length over all
oppofition, overthrew the altars of poly-
theifm ; while the temples of the God,
whofe will he revealed, were ereded
throughout all the faireft provinces of the

Now it cannot be conceived poiTible,
that any caufes favourable to the propaga-
tion of Chriftianity could have been fub-
jecl to the obfervation of the Prophet.
Though human affairs were undoubtedly
fo difpofed by divine Wifdom, as peculiarly
to favour its fuccefsful progrefs ; yet they
could not, it is prefumed, have been ren-


dered effedive, except in conjun(?!;ion with
thofe miraculous powers, which were ac-
tually difplajed. And it may with truth
be aflerted, that in the age immediately
preceding its rife, and even at the time
when its divine Founder firft appeared
among mankind, no appearances could be
difcerned, which to an uninfpired mind
would afford the flighteft prefage of the
extraordinary event about to be accom-
pliflied. No intimation of it could be dif-
covered, except in the writings of the in-
fpired Prophets, and in general rumour
vague and fallacious, the confequence of
erroneous explications of their meaning.

Yet in the age of Daniel were clearly
predided thefe three changes in the affairs
of mankind, the moft momentous which
hiftory records. The charaderiftics, by
which they were refpedively diftinguiflied,
wei?e accurately delineated ; and the order,
in which they fucceffively arofe, was faith-
fully defcribed. The figures, under which
the atchievements of Alexander were re-
prefented, point out the rapidity of his
conquefts, the univerfality of his domi-
nion, and the quadruple divifion of his
I z empire

ii6. SERMON III. •

empire among his favourite chiefs. Rom,e
was depicted by the difference of its go-
verninent from that of the preceding em-
pires, by its greatnefs, and by its terrible
and irrefiftible power in war, by the fub-
.^iigation of the nations under its iron yoke,
and by its proud rule over the whole
globe. Chriftianity was defcribed as fi-
iently emerging without the aid of human
policy, holy and Spiritual in its nature,
extending over all nations, and enduring
through all time.

Weak, indeed, muft be the Sceptic,
who, after a candid inveftigation of the
iubjed:, fhali afcribe to the natural pene-
tration of the human mind iuch a fore-
knowledge of the greateft kingdoms and
of their charad:eriil;ic differences. Let the
boldeil and moft fubtle fpeculator ftand
forth, and take the next thoufand years for
the wide iield of his Prophecies. Let him
foretei the grandeft and moft furprifmg re-
volutions, which will occur during that
period, in the importance of which all
other events are fwallowed up and loft:
let the principles, and the agents, by which
they flaall be effeded, be fuppofed to be



1 1.7

at this moment entirely concealed from his
knowledge : let the order in which they
fhall arife, and the diftinguifliing features
by which they Ihall be chara6lerized, be
accurately pourtrayed : let the firft empire,
to be founded upon the ruins of the moft
flourifhing monarchies of the earth, be
predicted as about to come forth, not from
the bofom of civilized fociety, from a po-
pulous territory, or a powerful kingdom,
but from fome rude and mountainous
country, remote from the refidence of the
fpeculator, and now obfcurely known : let
the fecond empire, the future miftrefs of
the world, be deftined to arife, when the
firft fhall have pafTed away, from fome diA
tant and unimportant town, the name of
which has not yet reached our Ihores : let
the third revolution, far the moft remarkable
both in its nature and its duration, and un-
paralleled in the annals of all paft agesj be
filently effected by a poor and humble in-
dividual, wandering aniong unibcial and
bigotted tribes, the members of which are
regarded with contempt by the inhabitants
of civilized regions : let the Sceptic, I fay,
fubmit to our obfervation fuch a map of
future hiftory, in which the events recorded
I 3 are


are few, fimple, and in the higheft degree
important; and let but one obferver, pof-
feiTed of cool and difpaffionate judgment,
maintain, either that future occurrences fo
fingular and momentous, the caufes of
which have yet fcarcely begun to operate,
with all their moft diftinguilliing pecu-
liarities, can be brought to our knowledge
by the happieft effort of human wifdom,
or that, when boldly conjed:ured, it lies
within the compafs of our ideas refpe6ling
the nature of human contingencies, that
they fhall all really take place in the pre-
cife order, with the feveral peculiarities,
and to the full extent predided : let but
one difpaffionate obferver 'Be found, who
lliall maintain either of thefe pofitions,
and we may almoft venture to declare,
that we will forego our belief in facred
Prophecy, and no longer exalt the predic-
tions of Sion above the frantic effufions of
Heathen Oracles, or the wild conjectures of
Heathen Augury. »

But the fpirit of Prophecy was once
.manifefled on an occafion even more lin-
gular perhaps than any, which has already
been confidered. It forelhewed the future




exigence of a fpiritual tyranny the moll
extraordinary, to which the ambition and
ingenuity of man have ever given birth.
I Ihall be pardoned, I truft, for repeating the
defcription of this ftrange and moft formi-
dable power. In the fixth century before
Chrift, and again in more exprefs terms
during the age immediately fubfequent to
his appearance, it w^as predicated; that, at a
diftant period ", when the Roman empire,
then triumphant over the world, Ihould
fall into decay, a power °, the name of
which w^as hieroglyphically fpecified, fhould
arife from its ruins, and fix p its feat of
dominion in the ancient capital of the
world ; that this power fhould be founded
in the myftery of iniquity, and exhibit
that prodigy in the moral and political
world, which the Prophet emphatically de-
nominated the Man of Sin ; that it fhouM
impofe upon the credulity of ^ its followers,
by flagrant falfehoods, and an abandoned
profligacy of deceit ; that it fhould alter
the courfe of fociety, and even abrogate
the laws of nature, by forbidding both

" Daniel vll. 7, 8, 24. 2 Vheffalonians ii. 6, 7.

" Revelations xiii, i8. p Revelations xvii. 9.

I 4 • mar^


^ marriage and the ufe of meats ; that it
Ihould fupport its ufurped authority by the
moft relentlefs cruelty, by deluging '' its
extenfive territories with the blood of its
enemies, or by driving ^ them forth, help-
lefs and hopqlefs, from all the comforts
and charities of focial life ; that it lliould
^ impioufly lay claim to a fupernatural in-
fluence, and fubdue the untutored mind
by pretended ads of Omnipotence ; that,
deviating from the pure and fimple wor-
Ihip of the firft Chriftians, it fliould intro-
duce " idolatry and the dodrine of demons;
and, negleding the mediation of the ever
blefled Jefus, fhould fupplicate the divine
Power through the intervention of departed
mortals ; that it fliould carry up its blaf-
phemous pretenfions ^ to an height, which
it is fcarcely poffible to contemplate with-
out feelings of awful appreheniion, fliould
arrogate the incommunicable attributes
^nd omnipotent authority of the fupreme

< I Timothy iv. 2.

*■ Daniel vii. 21, 2^. Revelations xvii. 6. xviii. 24.

' Revelations xiii. 16, 17.

' 2 Theffalonians ii. 9, lo. Revelations xiii. 13, 14.

* 1 Timothy iv. i. Daniel xi, 38.

xi, 36. 2 Theffalonians Ii. 4,



Being, and, feated in his hallowed temple,
Ihew itfelf to an idolizing world, as the
eternal and incomprehenfible God, the
Lord of heaven and earth ^ : and laflly,
that, having tyrannized more than twelve
hundred years over the minds as well as
perfons of the greateft portion of the
Chriftian world, it fliould fall at length
into decay, and be ^ delivered over to con-
demnation and endlefs perdition.

Such .are the features of the Papacy,
than which no fyftem could have been
devifed, more unlikely to arife from a
perverfion of the dodrines and fpirit of
the Gofpel. Though, in the Apollolic age,
to a prophetic eye the fatal power was
then Ihewn to be working ^ yet by un-
affifted human reafon the dawn of fuch a
tyranny could not furely be difcerned.
The imagination could fcarcely have con-
ceived one more inconfiilent with the fpot-

y Compare' 2 Theflalonians ii. 4. with Bhliop Newton's
account of the adoration paid to the new-ele6\ed Pope.
" ^em creant, adorant" was the infcription ufed on the
medals of Martin V. See Newton's DilTertations on the
prophecies. Diff. xxv.

^ Daniel vii. 25. Revelations six, 19, 20,



lefs and imaffuming character of primitive
Chriftianitj. Had the ingenuity of man,
fpeculating upon the corruptions by which
even the pureft gifts of divine benevolence
are Hable to be deformed, been employed
during thofe early times in divining the
probable perverfions, to which Chriftianity
would be fubje(5l in its progrefs through
a vicious world, he would not furely have
been induced to predict the proud pomp
of fuperftition, nor the arrogance and ty-
ranny of predominating power, nor the
impious pretenfions of an afTumed divinity.-
With much greater probability might he
have apprehended the temporary preva-
lence of that lawlefs ipirit, of that equal
diftribution of property, and of thofe vifion-
ary plans of fociety, which gave difturb-
ance to fome parts of Germany at the
period of the Reformation, and were the
fubje^s of dangerous fpeculation in our own
country during the civil diifenfions of the
lafi: century. Let me not be fuppofed to
iniinuate, that our pure and holy Reli-
gion affords the flighteft fanclion or coun-
tenance to fuch dellrudive principles. No.
It marks them with decifive and unquali-
fied difapprobation. I wifh merely to ob-



ferve, that, from the pecuHar nature of
fome of the original doctrines of Chriftian-
ity, and from the probable effed: of their
operation upon corrupt or fanatical minds,
fuch a fpecies of abufe was more likely
than any other to arife. Hence it is rea-
fonable to fuppofe, that an impoftor would
naturally have feledted this particular kind
of perverfion, as the moft proper fubjed: of
conjecture. But the real Prophets were
filent upon this part of the fubjed: ; and
difplayed their eloquence in defcribing
events, the poffibility of which could
fcarcely have been admitted, till it was
fenfibly demonftrated by their occurrence.

From the whole tenor of the preceding
Difcourfe, it appears, that, in many of the
moft momentous inftances, the events fore-
ihewn were not only all in the higheft degree
IMPROBABLE, but fomc the very reverse
of thofe, which might naturally have been
expeded from the general courfe of hu-
man affairs, or the peculiar charader of
circumftances, as they exifted in the age of
the Prophet. To afcribe therefore fuch a
prefcience of the Prophets to a mere fpirit
of conjedure, or to confider the comple-

124 SERMON an,

tion of their predi6lions as the fortunate
rohicidence of circumftances, appears to be
an a6l of grofs ignorance, of obflinate bhnd-
nefs, or of wilful perverfion of the truth.

Let it not be imagined that inftances
illuftrative of the argument are rare, and
that thofe, which I have now adduced, can
alone be difcovered among the numerous
prediftions of the Old and New Tefta-
ment. I have expatiated more fully upon
thofe few, for the fake of exciting the cu-
riofity of the inquifitive, and of inducing
them to contemplate Prophecy at large,
with a reference to the particular propor-
tion, which I have now endeavoured to
confirm. When attention has once been
awakened, numerous predictions will pre-
fent themfelves, by which the truth of the
pofition will be amply illuftrated.

What but divine infpiration could have
inftru6led Noah in that intimate know-
ledge of futurity, by which he forefaw ^
the unceafmg fervitude of the defcendants
of his three fons ?

^ Genefis ix. 25, 26, 2}.



What but divine infpiration could have
enabled the favoured Patriarch to mark,
with fuch precifion, thofe difcriminating
and feemingly inconfiftent circumflances
in the future fortunes of his two fons, Ja-
cob ^ and Efau ; that the elder Ihould de-
light in war and violence, and yet be fub-
jetfl to the younger ?

> What but the forefight of God could
have conceived the poffibility, and what
but the illuminating fpirit of God could
have excited in Balaam the opinion, that
the Ifraelites, a people entirely unknown to
the Prophet, fhould, in oppofition to every
principle of national policy, and to fome
of the flronsfeft inclinations of the human
heart, always dwell " alone, in a feparate
and peculiar ftate of fociety ?

What but the over-ruling influence of
divine Wifdom could have impreffed upon
his mind the final extindion '^ of the Ama-
lekites, and efpecially at that particular fea-
fbn, in which they wxre confidered even

^ Genefis xxvii. 40. <= Numbers xxiii. 9.

^ Numbers xxiv. 22,


126 SERMON lit

by himfelf as the firft, the moft ancient,
and the moil powerful among the nations,
which inhabited that part of the globe ?

Who on principles of mere human fpc-
culation could have dared to predift the
overthrow of Tyre by the power of the
Chaldeans ^, in an age when Chaldea was
yet in the form of a tributary province ;
and when the Aflyrian empire, advanced
to its higheft ftate of power and profperity,
was moft likely, if its overthrow was at all
probable, to effe6t the utter deftrudlion of
that haughty city ?

Was it probable in the age of Ifaiah,
that the glory of the God of the Hebrews
Tvould be peculiarly advanced by the fu-
ture fucceffes of a Perfian conqueror ? Is
there not a coincidence in the highell de-
gree extraordinary, and inexplicable upon
mere human principles, between the * pre-
dl(ftions of that Prophet, and the adlual
proclamations of Cyrus ? In the former it
is alferted, that the founder of the Perfian
empire would be elevated by the Almighty

'■ Ilalah xxiii. ij. 5 Isaiah xliv. xlv.



to an uncommon height of power, fame,
and riches, for the exprefs purpofe of mak-
ing known his name and glory to all the
inhabitants of the earth. In the latter
the ^ royal conqueror, contrary to the ge-
neral practice, publickly afcribes the merit
of his vidories, not to the Eaftern deities,
whom he and his fathers had worfliipped,
but to the one only God, the Lord God
of heaven, the Lord God of Ifrael.

Was it probable that the ^^ Egyptians
Ihould be converted to the knowledge of
the true God, and that the defcendants of
Abraham fhould worfhip Jehovah in that
very land, in Which their anceftors had
been treated with unparalleled feverity,
and the inhabitants of which had fmce
been uniformly held forth as obje(5ts of
their juil abhorrence and continued en-
mity ?

Was it not contrary to all probability in
the days of the ancient Prophets, in the
peculiar ftate of feparation in which the

6 Ezra i. I, 2, 3. 2 Chronicles xxxvi. 25.
•* Ifaiah xix. 18, 25,



Jewilli people had been placed by the Al-
mighty, that an univerfal Religion would^,
at a future period, be promulgated by an
inhabitant of Judea, or that it would be
generally received at the preaching of a
Jew by the Gentiles ?

Was it not contrary to all probability in
the days immediately preceding the cruci-
fixion, when the followers of our Lord, ter-
rified, difpirited, and defpairing, were about
to forfake him, and to flee, that neverthelefs,
before the paffing away even of that gene-
ration, his * Gofpel fliould be publifhed in
all the world ; and that at length it lliould
obtain a complete and lafting triumph over
the fuperftitions of the earth, though in-
evitably expofed to a general and moft in-
veterate oppofition, from the mercenary
views of the artificer and the prieft, from
the pride of the philofopher, from the
power and policy of the m^agiftrate, and
from the religious prejudices and corriipt
pafi[!ons of the people ?

Was it not contrary to all probability in

^ Matthew xxlv. 14. Mark xlji. lO.



the days of our Saviour, that the inhabi-
tants of Judea would be led away captive
into all nations by the Romans ? They had
before yielded to the arms of Rome, and
no fuch calamitous confequence enfued.
Nay, it w^as the generous policy of that vic-
torious people, almoft uniformly obferved
in the later ages of the ftate, to leave to
the vanquiflied kingdoms the fecure pof-
fcffion of the greateft part of their terri-
tories, and, in general, their national po-
lity and the exerclfe of all their religious
rites. In the inftance of the Jews alone,
this cuftom was flagrantly violated : and
it is not perhaps unworthy of remark^ that
it was violated, not by a ftern, capricious,
and fanguinary tyrant, a Tiberius, a Cali-
gula, or a Nero; but by a prince, who was
the brighteft ornament of imperial Rome,
whofe character was marked by an un-
bounded fpirit of philanthropy, and who
was diftingui filed by the godlike appel-
lation of the love and delight of man^
kind \

The time would fail me, were I to pro-

^ Amor et delicise human! generis.

K ceed


ceed through all the numerous inftances
recorded in the facred Writings corrobo-
rative of the principle, which has been ad-
vanced. By thofe already given, curiofity
may perhaps be excited, and the fource of
enquiry opened. The more clofely this
part of the fubjeft is purfued, the ftronger
convidiion will be produced of the infpira-
tion of Jewifh and Chriftian Prophecy.
Let the unprejudiced enquirer, inftead of
feeking, like the Sceptic, for doubts, or
magnifying real difR(;ulties and plauiible
objections, inveftigate the precife nature of
the Prophecies, and refled; upon the pe-
culiar circumftances, under which they
were refpedtively uttered. By fuch a
mode of examination he w^ll be enabled
rationally to convince himfelf, that, at the
time of delivery, their completion muft
frequently have feemed diredlly oppofite
to prefent appearances, to reafonable expec-
tations, and to the regular order of human
occurrences. And let it be remembered,
that he, who has once been firmly fixed
in this perfuafion, will fcarcely be induced,
even by the moft fpecious arguments, to
renounce his faith in their divine origin,

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

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